They say you can never go Home...

Soldiers of Sparta were allowed to return home after lost battles, only if carried dead upon their shields. I'm convinced this is a more practical and time-saving way to go about it.

Monday, December 20, 2004

The GRE


I'm at the CUSP of taking it, having put it off three times already.

I'm having some confidence issues.

I have been dutifully spending all Saturday evenings in recent memory, not (as I probably ought to be) whoring myself across large swaths of Tampa's nightlife, but instead at a coffee shop in Hyde Park, studying through my practice book. I'm getting worked over by the English sections.

Long have I prided myself on not being a complete imbecile when it comes to the English Language, my math skills being pretty degenerate as it is. But noooo, the GRE is not content to let that small bit of pride alone.

I will go through a section of 20, get like 1 question wrong, and feel more or less at peace with it. Then, in the very next section, I'll get donkey-punched with 5 incorrectly answered questions, and then I will let forth, repeatedly, a string of sotto vocce obscenities; the likes of which Starbucks Patrons will let me know, via the Stink Eye, they do not appreciate. They are totally insipid and unscrutable. And so aren't these GRE questions.

Here's a (rough) example from memory:

"This park has been preserved in all its ________ wildness so that visitors in future years may see how people lived during the 18th century.

A. hedonistic
B. dog-beshitted
C. untrammeled
D. pristine
E. ghetto

The choice falls to untrammeled and pristine. Considering the two, I think to myself: Park. What PARK, let alone one from the 18th century, is going to be pristine, as in "pure and virginal state", as in "uncorrupted by civilization"? The very nature of a park is to be developed in something other than wildness and/or changed by mankind. Or do they mean that NOW that it's overgrown, it's become a pristine sort of wild? Well, that's weak. Also, how the dammit is anyone going to show off some damned Victorian (or is it Edwardian?) park, left in what is obviously an advanced state of disrepair (if they're only NOW talking about preserving it), if they're not going to engage in some serious slash and burn? That doesn't make sense. Now, untrammeled on the other hand, meaning "unrestricted" or "unconfined" sounds like a better match. They're talking about preserving it, opening it to the public. That sounds pretty unrestrictive to me. I mean, we're assuming that the park was closed previously, maybe while they cleaned out the MTBE and the syringes, and instead of building a gated golf community, it's remaining in its untrammeled wildness.*

It makes perfect sense to me.

It spells dimwit to graduate school admission boards.

I should get a Master's Degree in Sounding LIke I Know What I'm Talking About.

*(The correct answer is dog-beshitted. No, just kidding! It's Pristine. Which you probably guessed, didn't you? No wait, don't tell me. I don't want to know.)





Saturday, December 18, 2004

Hidings of Comfort and Joy


Struck by some pranksters with my kind of humor.

Career Day

Several mornings ago, I awoke to the insistent klaxon of my alarm clock. This is normally my cue to slap it around for at least one additional half hour, to the end of gaining several, five-minute intervals of peace. Instead, I immediately crawled out of the warm envelope of my bed, showered, and dressed as if I were heading into the laboratory. It was Career Day at the middle school where my sister teaches, and I was to report early morning and talk about my extant career in cancer-related Biotechnology.

I wasn’t looking forward to the whole experience, chiefly because she teaches 5th graders, and I remember being in 5th grade altogether too well. At that age, you seem somehow less obligated to abide by certain social conventions. Which means, if your speaker happens to be obviously a little out of touch with his audience, and looks somewhat unconventional, they are free to yawn with supreme boredom and tell the speaker he looks like a giant penis head.

But I had promised my sister. So I grabbed my lab coat (still spotted with nasty stains from Freshman year in Organic Chemistry), a laboratory notebook, finished up a Powerpoint presentation, and drove in.

Now, you might be thinking at this point: “Em, Powerpoint, dude? That is exactly the sort of asinine miscalculation that guarantees you, an average, out-of-touch penis head, certain death at the hands of 5th graders. Do you really want your fragile Ego’s last gasp of air to be in a classroom smelling suspiciously of bologna? (To which, my responses would be You Might Be Right, and No, Not Really.)

But in this case, I was asked to make one. Did you know that Powerpoint has come to the young? Because I didn’t, and I’m kind-of surprised. Even though my sister’s school is in an economically-disadvantaged part of greater Tampa Bay, the classrooms are equipped with what is called a SmartBoard: a computer projects the image of its desktop upon the board, and the teacher can open, close, drag and click, simply by touching the board. Pretty cool stuff. (Fortunately for me, however, the thing was not functioning. This spared me the embarrassment of acting out my latent fantasies of serving aboard the Starship Enterprise, in the few minutes before the classroom flooded itself with the Impressionable Future of our Country.)

But I’m getting way off track here.

I arrived at school, where I was kindly ushered to the office to sign in, and when I arrived at the office, the Extremely Gorgeous Yet Unavailable Guidance Counselor (who was my age) guided me into an adjacent room, where she offered me OJ, coffee, and a Danish. I felt myself unclench a little bit, having decided that ANY school going to all this trouble to be hospitable certainly would not tow a certain fellow who had mistakenly parked his car in the Faculty Lot.

But, the long and the short of it, is that I stood up in front of 30 odd fifth graders and told them how much fun Science was. And the whole experience was really, really fun. I couldn’t believe how many questions they asked. (Did I do that as a kid?) I mean, they wanted to talk about everything. Cancer, DNA, AIDS. And what would happen if a dog and a cat tried to reproduce. I told them about ligers and they looked at me with such amazement. I showed them cross-sections of tissue stained with various cancerous-elucidating agents, and they were simultaneously grossed-out and fascinated.



One of the little girls raised her hand and asked me “Did you know you wanted to be a scientist when you were little?”

It was one of those moments where a couple items popped into head at the same time.

I thought first of my 6th grade friend Justin (who had the modest beginnings of Tourettes, I think), who, when asked what he wanted to be when he grew up, looked specifically around for his mother, and having located her, screamed “I WANT TO BE A PIMP!” I still remember the way his mom’s head whipped around to face him, the Scowl of Death etched across her face.



I also remembered wanting to be a veterinarian.

But I answered the question, employing the use of several platitudes that do not belie the frequent reality of life—that reality being, that the vast majority of us do things that we either 1) don’t want to do, in pursuit of other things we do want to do someday or 2) do things because it was easy at the time and it was just easier to stick with it or 3) become slaves to the idea of living a comfortable material life and live with jobs we hate, stomachs that digest themselves under stress, and livers that swell under the influences of alcohol or antidepressants.



I believe the platitude I employed was “You should follow your heart and do what you feel excited about, understanding that it can change.”

I don’t really know if they got it.

But I did. I heard myself saying the words and wondered why it was that I wasn’t, at this very moment, following my own advice.

I briefly paralled this experience with kids to the same kind of growth that occurs in psychologists’ offices. That is, how the right line of questioning can jar one to a better understanding of something, and through it, hopefully, a sort of self-realization.


Which ultimately made me realize, having avoided it so judiciously, I must actually make a few decisions very, very soon.



Monday, December 13, 2004

Gott der Flüsse

May it rest in Piece(s).

Whatever will soccer moms with only one child named Kaitlin, and a pomeranian named Precious drive now?




Saturday, December 11, 2004

The New America

World, I give you Anne Coulter and Tucker Carlson, two humans* who open their mouths only to have a big, steaming turd fall out.

I would like to exile these people to Canada, where the good folks there can kill them. (With kindness, of course.)


*And by humans, I mean vituperative, mindless, wastes of extracellular fluid, dumber than a sack of hair, flatulent gas bags.


Friday, December 10, 2004

Boca Raton

Comfortable bed, no sleep has come yet, and it is 5:00 am.

Anyhow, I’m in Boca Raton.

The Weather is Here, Wish You Were Nice—that sort of thing.

I spent the vast majority of this Friday night watching television, which I never really seem to get to do while at home. As a result, I indulge in a sort of marathonesque, TV-watching regimen only while I am traveling on Friday nights. Inexplicably, at the moment I am watching a fairly heinous TNT feel-good TV-Movie. I don’t know what the hell I’m watching, but Juliette Lewis is playing a mentally challenged girl and I am RIVETED. She is spot on with her ability to pull off this role. Right now, she’s busy challenging her controlling, yet stylish, yet compassionate, emasculating bitch of mother (Diane Keaton) and her softie, historically distant, retired alcoholic, yet perpetually-understanding Dad (Tom Skerritt), into letting her go to a “real” school.

I was here primarily to attend an auction benefit for Cancer and Leukemia with several employees of a company that I represent independently. I didn’t know what to expect, but only that I was expected to meet new contacts and sell, sell, sell. Instead, I bonded briefly with the organizer of this event, who unfortunately lost his Father due to leukemia. I knew a lot more about Gleevec and other research options currently being investigated for blood-borne diseases, than the industry I was representing. It was a point of irony not completely lost on me.

I like working with this company, more or less. They’re young and hip, which is nice. Also, they’re almost exclusively Jewish. Which, according to my Mom, is good, because they will like me. Jewish and Italians get a long really well, she says. Mom’s a little crazy. I think she just wants me to be a good Mensch, and marry a nice Jewish girl.

Anyway, at some point, the evening afforded me the opportunity to speak with the owner of this company, who, truth be told, I had been a little bit afraid of. He’s a little intense, and he doesn’t seem bound to the same sort of social restrictions that the rest of us usually fall prey too. For example, he doesn’t mind peppering his speech with the F word.

Please don’t take me wrong. I have nothing against such words. I often use them. In fact, when I’m not using them, I practice using them. With some of my friends, I’ll indulge--no big deal. However, to my view, that is a shite sight different than using it at a quasi-business function with people who may or may not be busy formulating their first or (second impression) of you.
But that is the nature of this fellow. He has defined himself as a straight shooter, no-nonsense, I-Will-Tell-It-Like-It-Is guy. I do think thusly that this is the face he puts on to the rest of The World.

When I spoke with him one on one, it became an entirely different story. He’s articulate, circumspect, filled with advice, and the incidence of use of colorful language plummets. I just find that interesting.

{Update: OH, God. Juliette is now trying to convince her parents that she would like to live alone. I’m already panicked. Are we going to have to deal with something stupid here, like she accidentally burns the place down? I can’t get emotionally invested in this. I wish TV guides published something to forewarn people about any egregious depictions of sentimental themes here. Maybe though, I ought to have known. It is Lifetime, after all.}

Anyway, this guy (whom I’ll call Gabe) started giving me some really interesting advice. And, given the fact that he’s quite a bit older than me, and actually WANTED to talk about this stuff with me, I listened:

He started off as a CPA, then went into real-estate investment, then made a killing in the foreclosesures market. But he got out of it, because he says there is too much risk and activity going on right now. Everyone’s buying apparently, whether they can truly afford it or not. Foreclosure opportunities have dried up now, and the comparison between what people are making and what people owe on their houses is HUGE. Banks, he says, are in for some serious trouble.

I guess he’s predicting that the market will eventually stagnate. But that is not when it’s time to buy! he says. Wait a few years for rates and prices to normalize and come out of stagnation. We are a shiftless society; we move around a lot. Back in the day, people devoted themselves to a company and worked for many years. Now, people chase the money and people move on. The vast majority of people divorce, and therefore need more than one place of domicile. He explains that all of this activity and moving around has really increased the demand. You factor in a lackluster securities market, and you have defined Risk. A risk that appears to be, in some small part, recognizable, from the presence of EVERYONE ELSE in the market.

Gabe let me know that I am young, and there are several things that I’m going to learn as I stay in business for myself:

Firstly, that the expectation of perfection has to stop. Don’t expect it of anything, not even yourself. Don’t even give the ILLUSION of perfection. Admit it first on, don’t hide anything, and people will respect you for it. Why? Because intelligent, rational people know themselves that their own businesses are not perfect either. Owning up to the fact that nothing is perfect apparently can be an indication that one is committed to the idea of steady improvement.

Secondly, that I will fail pretty spectacularly as I continue to find and create business opportunities. This is essential for long-term success. “You can lose everything twice,” he says, “and still come out on top. The fear of failure is not unique, but how you work with it IS.”

If I screw-up enough, he explains, then I will eventually get to the point where the echoes of the Past start ringing loud enough in the Present, to prevent you from going down certain roads again.

Part of being successful is being able to predict a few steps down the road.

How to do this?

Past experience, for one. Secondly, a healthy respect for people’s abilities. There are several people you will meet out there, he says, who will strike you as complete morons. These are people who have the ability to otherwise surprise you with other strong skills. You miss out on them, because of your pre-conceived notion of who they are. Conversely, people who apparently seem With-It, skilled, and put together, require a certain amount of secret skepticism. Ultimately, it’s the yin and yang. Everyone has good abilities and skills, he says. It is vital to identify them and marshal them if one is to be a good Leader. By the same token, for every strong trait, there is usually an inadequate one that keeps the person more or less in a state of balanced equilibrium.

Naturally, this whole process of analyzing a potential business partner (especially a friend, which, as he says, is usually the nicest yet most dangerous scenario, if you’re not completely honest about things) extends to self as well.

Gabe wanted me to know that a good leader is very clear on his own skills and shortcomings. Period. He said nothing about being able to improve one’s shortcomings whatsoever. Have no illusions about them, do not deny them—and you will be successful. Instead, find people who have what you lack.

At my age, he said, I would do well to actively surround myself with other intelligent people. He feels that the vast majority of people in business are afraid to do just that, worried instead about being taken advantage of, looking stupid, etc. “Associate with intelligence in all its forms”, he said. Perhaps that’s the part that relates to self-improvement, which unfortunately his talk did not really cover.

[Heinous TV update: Juliette got her way and now has her own apartment. Apparently her sister is a lesbian. Mom isn’t happy about this!]

What else? A word on complaining. There are complainers everywhere, he says. It’s okay to complain. It’s not okay if that’s all you do. You must find solutions; you must find easier ways to do things. Changing things isn’t usually a matter of thinking big. More often, it tends to be a matter of thinking of something small, and actually using the momentum to make it happen. People may have ideas all the time, but they do nothing to implement it. So, find out what’s wrong with something, and then start thinking about how to fix it.

Try to think 6 steps ahead.

Don’t get blinded solely by the seemingly insufficient aspects of a situation, or its glowing benefits. Try to think about the scenarios that can happen, and think of a way to manage it if it comes to that. BEFORE they occur. Remember, the good and bad have a way of balancing each other out.

{Juliette and her dreamy mentally challenged studmuffin are now hooking it up. I’m afraid that the candles they lit will somehow burn down the house during their lovemaking, and she will be forced to live with her parents again. The horror. I can’t handle this. I’m going to bed.}

Thanks for tuning in to all this drivel; which I think I posted more for me than for anyone else.


Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Burbank, California

I spent late Friday, the weekend, and Monday in California, after hitting Lost Vagus for business purposes. The reasons for the visit to Kalifornia were variegated and multifaceted and a lot of other SAT level words that are employed here only to obfuscate the reasons for my going. Tuesday was time to go home, and so accordingly, I turned myself into the Burbank Airport at early hours, for my flight back to the east coast.

I have a semi-sordid history of finding myself confounded at various security checkpoints around this great nation. Actually, confounded might be too vague and at the risk of being such, I think it necessary to broaden out that description with other terms. Like, “deeply humiliated”, “strip search”, “cavity search.” Just to name a few.

Okay, I'm kidding about the cavity search. And about the strip search too, I guess. The deeply humiliated part--don’t ask me to explain that now. Someday, if I’m brave enough, I will share with the Internet how I was outed at Security by several of Delta's Finest. Today is not that day however.

But regardless and notwithstanding, the time had come for me to voluntarily turn over my luggage to a TSA agent, so that my unlaundered briefs might be probed, ostensibly for trace evidence of biological residues that might-could possibly be converted into weapons of mass destruction. (Their confidence in this likelihood is not at all flattering. Also, why not hire a beagle to do this? It’s very hard to pack all that crap in there without having someone go and bugger it all up right before the baggage crew starts using my luggage as batting practice. Hey! I even have a Nervous Beagle who needs a job and might be interested in volunteering her time for this. In fact, I think most beagles are familiar with a myriad of crotch sniffing exercises, if my dog is any representative example. So really, what is the damned reason for this pawing and mulling over my clothes, unless these employees of TSA are just convicted perverts in a work release program?)


As my luggage is put onto the examination table, the proverbial stirrups adjusted and the speculum warmed, the TSA guy looks me in the eyes and says,

“We don’t do black bags on Mondays.”

Me: (Small cough). Excuse me?

TSA agent: (More insistent tone) We don’t do black bags on Mondays.

Me: Ha. Ha. Well, you see, sir, there was a dearth of purple bags, and I really don’t want any trouble. Ha. Ha.

TSA representative: (Looks at me like I’ve contracted a mild case of mental retardation) Think about it! WE don’t do BLACK BAGS on MONDAYS.

Me: (Thinking, to self). Do? What is this “DOING” Shit? Does “doing” constitute something other than pawing through my stuff?

Me: (pondering further) Surely, by “doing”, he isn’t making reference to any sort of humping of my black Samsonite Luggage, now, is he? I mean, it really is quite attractive, even if he’s not into the color. And it bulges quite suggestively, too. Hmm.

Me: (pondering even further). Dammit! I should think my stuff will be thoroughly screwed anyway, what with it being on Southwest and all. God, this is SO unfair!

Me: (coming to senses; arranges features into sheepish grin to avoid any trouble.)

TSA jokester: What day is it today?

Me: (Thinking) Not my lucky day?

Me: (Thinking) The day you don’t hump black bags, apparently?

Me: (Thinking) The day that MTV is filming “
Boiling Points” at Burbank Airport, and I'm being filmed right now?

Me: Tuesday?

Me: (Relieved, yet supremely irritated): OH! Not Monday! Ha. Ha. I get it. Ha. Ha. (more weak laughter).

TSA: (proceeds to swab my luggage down for any evidence of my dangerous bodily fluids or genetic material, all the while chortling). That joke always gets the real uptight ones! HA!

Me: Uptight! Ha! Yeah. Maybe I should get some Quaaludes out of that suitcase before you zip it back up. Ha!