Archive for January, 2009


January 23, 2009

It goes without saying that DC was the place to be over Inauguration weekend. I rarely feel that way about this city…but yeah. Lots of fun was had by all.

On Wednesday afternoon (after the dust settled) I was on my way back from campus huddled in a bus shelter trying to avoid the biting wind. I found myself leaning against a mural size Pepsi ad celebrating President Obama. I’ve seen similar Coke ads around; granted the Coke versions don’t mention the President, but they’re clearly in the same “inspirational” mode borrowed from his campaign. Now I think it’s a tremendous bulwark to President Obama’s reputation as a centrist that he’s made the two super rich multinational purveyors of sugar water unite in their adulation of him. But I also think there’s more than a touch of irony in the fact that big corporations apparently love him as much as us young left leaners!

So here I was contemplating the marketing wizardry behind Obama when one of my neighbors randomly spotted me and pulled up in her car.

“Hey! Good day today!” she proclaimed.
“Yeah, it’s not as cold as yesterday…” came my unassuming reply.
“…well, that was yesterday….” I attempted humor.
“OBAMA! YEAH!” she yelled, driving away.

My first impulse was to scoff.

But then I paused for a second and it just finally clicked that the highest office in the land is no longer occupied by an aristocratic, dithering, “ethically challenged”, bible thumping, borderline retarded OIL INDUSTRY PUPPET! It’s like waking up from a nightmare — it takes a few moments to comprehend that it’s all over.

Personally I think that the political system is too slow to react, and its participants too reluctant to challenge corporate power, for there to be a viable avenue away from ecological ruin.

Still, it feels pretty great to have a President who can at least make you believe that he *understands* the issues that are important to you. And just based on what my friends in other countries think of him, perhaps Obama does have a chance at repairing the American image abroad and actually engaging the US with the fledgling institutions of international cooperation that we really need to make this “green” shit meaningful.

Nothing fundamental has changed about the way “the system” (man!) works.

But it’s pretty great nonetheless.


Keeping Quiet

January 13, 2009

Now we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still.

For once on the face of the earth,
let’s not speak in any language;
let’s stop for one second,
and not move our arms so much.

It would be an exotic moment
without rush, without engines;
we would all be together
in a sudden strangeness.

Fishermen in the cold sea
would not harm whales
and the man gathering salt
would look at his hurt hands.

Those who prepare green wars,
wars with gas, wars with fire,
victories with no survivors,
would put on clean clothes
and walk about with their brothers
in the shade, doing nothing.

What I want should not be confused
with total inactivity.
Life is what it is about;
I want no truck with death.

If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with death.
Perhaps the earth can teach us
as when everything seems dead
and later proves alive.

Now I’ll count up to twelve
and you keep quiet and I will go.

~Pablo Neruda

Bookstores make me happy

January 8, 2009

I’ve been on winter break for the past month or so, during which time I’ve observed a few things about myself.

First, I tend not to be terribly constructive with my free time!

Second, I like bookstores.

Discounting the recently (and tragically) defunct Olsson’s Books & Music on 19th St., there are three bookstores within a 3 block radius of each other in Dupont Circle. Now say whatever you like about DC, but a bookstore a block is a pretty impressive ratio if you like bookstores! And while you would be quite right to suppose that Dupont is not a representative sample of the entire District, it turns out that DC is a pretty bookstore dense environment over all. The city occupies number 12 on the list of US locales with the most booksellers per capita. Of course we’re lagging behind hippie hangouts like San Francisco, Seattle and Portland…no surprise there I suppose…but there are some wildcards in there too. Cincinatti? Louisville? Scottsdale, AZ?? Hmph.

At any rate, I worked in the Dupont area on and off for much of the past semester and I’ve noticed that each of the three bookstores in question have a particular style to them. Kramer’s Books and Afterwords is, of course, the most tasteful and expensive of the three. I usually take visitors there because it’s like getting a little whiff of the nightlife without having to actually socialize or buy drinks. The staff must spend a lot of time choosing books for the front display section specifically for people like me, since I always want to read everything I see whenever I walk in there. The problem — the fatal flaw of Kramer’s — is that, much as I want to read these books, they don’t provide me with anywhere to get busy doing so! Unless you buy a coffee or a dessert or other value-added item, you are barred from sitting down. They even look askance at you if you stand there too long, there being little room for loafers in the Kramer’s universe.

So I go to Second Story Books on P st, which is a completely different vibe. They house an enormous collection of used books, prints, and other dust covered items in amusingly haphazard piles. They have so many books that there’s a handwritten divider denoting an entire section on the history of Thailand. Not that Thailand’s history is a narrow topic, but it’s certainly not a broad based category either. And the fact that the category label is handwritten reinforces the sense of flux, like nobody really cares about these books because the stock is always changing. Second Story is like one of those library clearence sales, where the books seem desirable because they look kind of kooky and worn and because they’re so cheap — so you buy them, but you never actually read them. There’s no place to sit, but nobody will object if you sit on the floor whittling away at a pile of obscure volumes…the general attitude is that if you’re actually interested in this stuff, then you have a right to be there.

Now my favorite of the trio is Books-a-Million. It’s a spacious, florescent-lit, basement store peddling mostly best seller swill and possessing neither the trendiness of Kramer’s or the bookworm appeal of Second Story. Like the Crown Books at the airport, it’s honest about being second rate. And it’s not independent — it’s corporate capitalism to the bone. My inner Anthony Hopkins from 84 Charring Cross Road is angry at me for hanging out there. (I remind him that this would only be an issue were I to actually spend money there.) Still, it has a decisive advantage over the other two, i.e. a good number of comfy chairs. In all of its soullessness, the corporate machine works in my favor because the staff have all seen the mandatory customer service video and they won’t harass me for sitting in said chairs and reading comics for however long I please! Much like Dunkin’ Donuts in the world of coffee, Books-a-Million is reliable, it’s pedestrian, it’s not half bad. Bookstores make me happy, and one where you can sit and unabashedly enjoy Sandman or whatever else, makes me particularly happy.

Happy New Year!

January 1, 2009

Like last year, I have found that a New York New Years pretty much hits the spot.
I must issue an apology to readers of this blog (few as they are) that I haven’t been keeping up with the posts.
I do not in fact have an orangutan capable of expressing hope, and love…but if I did, I would post one on this occasion and send it out to all of you. New year shall always symbolize a new beginning and new hope (not confined to star wars).

Happy New Years all, and to all a good night.