Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Cel Ringers

In Asia, there are two cell-phone ring tones called "Rockmelon" and "Body Thinning" which are marketed to increase one's bust size and make one lose weight, respectively. The following interviews were published in the October issue of Easy Finder, a Hong Kong youth magazine (*):

Age: 19

Before: 34.5" bust. After: 35.5"

The bust-boosting ring tone sounded strange at first, but after listening to it, it was super-easy to fall asleep. I used to go to the club maybe only once a month, but now I go at least once a week. I've become a better conversationalist, and more animated too! One of the times I went to the club, an artist came over and started flirting with me. After we flirted, I went into the bathroom and listened to the bust-boosting ring again to make myself feel ever more energetic. Although we didn't end up going on a date, we exchanged cell-phone numbers and sent each other text messages. I'm already happy!

Age: 22

Before: 35.5" bust. After: 36.5"

The bust-boosting ring tone sounds a bit scary, like a horror movie. I listened to it while I ate, and after a while it made my appetite decrease. I used to eat a big bag of chips as a snack every day, but after listening to the ring tone I didn't want to eat that kind of snack. The most amazing thing is that in a month my bust grew one inch---I couldn't believe it! Before, I wouldn't dare wear a see-through shirt, but now I wear one with a colorful bra underneath. When middle-aged guys pass me on the street they do a double-take!

Age: 24

Before: 102 pounds. After: 98 pounds.

The weight-loss ring tone is so harsh. It's really annoying! But after I had listened to it for a week, I started seeing results. I don't know why, but the ring tone makes me want to drink and eat less. Previously, after eating dinner I would eat four servings of ice cream in one sitting. Now one serving is enough! My boyfriend promised me that if I lose two more pounds he'll buy me a Burberry miniskirt! comment. But what it did make me think of is what would happen if ring-tones that are popular in the US had the same sort of testimonials? Here's mine, for instance.

Age: 26

Before: Six double-oh one. After: Dee oh double-gee.

The 50-cent ring tone is a little bit scary, like being in the hood. I listened to it while I drove, and after a while, I bought my car hydraulics and starting flipping switches. The most amazing thing is that I used to be an MIT nerd, and now I'm an honorary member of G-G-G-G Unit---I couldn't believe it! Before, I wouldn't dare approach any girls, but now when I'm "In Da Club" I get all the attractive ladies! Some of them wear see-through shirts with colorful bras underneath, but their ring tones sound like a horror movie, so I stay away from them. When middle-aged women pass me on the street they do a double-take!

I didn't even get to the Celine Dion tribute yet, either.

* - And subsequently in Harper's magazine, from where once again I lifted them. The translation from the Chinese was done by Christopher Rea.

Friday, December 3, 2004

Language Play

Some writers need more than one letter's worth of the dictionary to compose renditions of biblical events; and some do not...

Seduced, shaggy Samson snored.
She scissored short. Sorely shorn,
Soon shackled slave, Samson sighed,
Silently scheming,
Sightlessly seeking
Some savage, spectacular suicide.
-- Stanislaw Lem, "Cyberiad"

And when you're penning that next love/breakup letter, don't waste your energy writing different words for different men---just move around a few periods and commas.

Dear Thomas,

I want a man who knows what love is all about. You are generous, kind, thoughtful. People who are not like you admit to being useless and inferior. You have ruined me for other men. I yearn for you. I have no feelings whatsoever when we're apart. I can be forever happy--will you let me be yours?


* * *

Dear Thomas,

I want a man who knows what love is. All about you are generous, kind, thoughtful people, who are not like you. Admit to being useless and inferior. You have ruined me. For other men, I yearn. For you, I have no feelings whatsoever. When we're apart, I can be forever happy. Will you let me be? Yours,


Friday, November 12, 2004

Dangerous Bug

Being a ridiculous geek, even being in Japan doesn't stop me from reading, for instance, the release notes to the latest Python 2.4 beta. Here was one of the bug fixes:

Bug #1055820 Cyclic garbage collection was not protecting against that calling a live weakref to a piece of cyclic trash could resurrect an insane mutation of the trash if any Python code ran during gc.

If you see anyone in lab spurting blood from his severed neck, chances are he was gored by an insane mutant resurrected from the dead. Glad they fixed that one.

Wednesday, November 3, 2004


Well, at least something amusing happened today. This spam was sent to me:

Our latest survey displays that it takes usually of only 1.2 drunkenness to induce a hangover. But this tablets aids you avoid katzenjammers and come alive feeling immense from head to belly and all over else.

What sort of testimonials will this product get?

"I used to get 1.5 drunkenness, but now even if I am drunk 1.8 or 1.9, I feel immense in my belly and everywhere!"

"Boy, if there's something I hate it's katzenjammers. They used to steal my food and charm my women, but now I avoid them all the time."

It's also possible that all these things are real, and my lack of drinking knowledge is embarrassingly exposed.

Sunday, October 17, 2004


During the fall of my first year in college, when I lived in the chill daytime and long dusks of a New England fall, I bought a "Best of Techno" collection that among other things had a CD with one long mix of strange, eclectic electronic music. I used to listen to this mix as I was going to bed, and being as tired as I was, after ten or fifteen minutes of the track had played I'd begin to drift off to sleep and dream would mingle with the music, imbuing it with the subtle connotations and significance of those visions; by the end of that first semester, the mix had come to represent a journey into a peculiar land through which I'd never gotten very far, having always fallen into oblivion before the CD could finish. I would only listen to it when I was going to bed, thinking somehow that each part of the track contained its own mysteries that would be lost if I heard it fully awake, when my mind was more rigid.

Still I haven't heard the mix through to the end.

Sunday, October 10, 2004

Auto Repair

In Wyandanch, beside the LIRR train tracks, there is an auto-repair store named "God's Auto Repair": I should take my car there.


How did you manage to fix this old junker? It's a miracle.


I know.

Thursday, September 30, 2004

Uncommon Newspaper

I read this on a page describing the great early Chinese inventions.

The Chinese invention of moveable type, credited to Bi Sheng in the year 1045 AD, did not significantly impact Chinese society. Three hundred years later in Europe, Gutenberg's development of moveable type revolutionized the Western world. Why? The Chinese language uses 3000 to 5000 characters in an average newspaper. The English language, in comparison, uses 26 characters in an average newspaper.

Indeed, average English newspapers use only 26 characters, unlike exemplary papers like the New York Times and Washington Post, which use 28 characters, and pulps like USA Today, which use 24 characters, omitting the "p" and "g" on weekdays.

Thursday, September 23, 2004


I have just finished typing in the last of the hundreds of pages of the various hand-written journals that I kept in my life, and after the 130,000-odd words, my fingers are tired. It has been almost three years since I decided to type in my old pages, and after fits and runs of this drudging---but also touchingly nostalgic---work, I am done. As much as is possible, in the future I plan to keep my writing in electronic form, so that it becomes immune from the depredations of years and sun and the chance loss of a single book; so that I can search through the volumes looking for a topic that I discussed, but the date of which entry eludes my recollection; and so that I can quote from my work much easier, and extract passages for use in my more formal writing.

As I wrote on October 22, 1996 , "Very well, I have said most of what I wanted to say, so now I shall go to sleep at this late hour."

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Driving on the Mind

If we who live modern lives are good at something, it should be driving, for we do so much of it. In the nearly ten years that I've been driving now, I cannot think of any other single activity that has occupied so much of my time. Should it surprise me that I can watch the side-view mirrors without explicit thought, to develop an almost tactile feel for the space around my car? Only the most devoted athlete or musician spends as much time at her avocation as many of us do behind the wheel.

Monday, September 20, 2004

Blank-Mind and Transport

Recently I began practicing a type of mind-emptying meditation, wherein I try to push out of my consciousness the spurious little thoughts that, if left unchecked, flit through one's brain ephemerally in a layered spiral, the connection from each to the next soon lost in their light dance. In my neophyte state, keeping them at bay takes an effort that lets me continue for only short spans at a time, but I have observed an interesting result of my endeavor: the odd sense of being in a certain place or time, brought on periodically by a scent or the air of a season or an oblique glimpse of a shape, that comes across one unbidden and powerfully, and operates at a level deeper than that which can consciously be recalled from memory---this occurance, almost like déjà vu, happens so much more often now than before. The emptiness of my mind makes it more receptive to these infusing states of remembrance, that normally to have to bubble up through conscious thought like stones. Old places and years come to me unbidden now.

Wednesday, September 1, 2004

Musical Inspiration

These were some requests sent to a web site named "Songs to Wear Pants To", which creates made-to-order songs. (And in turn I took these from a selection in a Harper's article.).
I think you should write a song about a man ordering a burrito and being extremely intimidated by the size of it. The music should be Celtic techno, or any other blend of two genres that would not be caught eating a burrito together.

you should make a song about how awesome Superdeer is.

you should write a little love song with male and female vocals, both of which you should sing. the premise of this song being that girl loves boy because he knows how much milk and sugar she likes in her coffee. and boy loves girl because she likes zombies.

I'm from Germany and I would love to hear a song in German. If you don't speak any German just sing some gibberish that sounds like German. But you should use the words "Vorsprung durch Technik", maybe to some smooth piano sounds.

I was wondering if you could make a song about a samurai flying on the back of a giant eagle? And if you could say "Ra-pa-pa-pa" really fast somewhere within it too.

make a song about a polar bear fighting a unicorn, preferably early 80s rap.

I think that we have some Billboard chart-toppers here.

Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Last Night Musings

On the last night before I leave a place, I come into a contemplative vein, remembering the simple images and haunts that constituted my days. Tomorrow I leave this tropical grove and its languid spans, the little stray dog who will most likely be gone when next I return, and my family; I remember the flatteningly bright morning sunshine when we would share Cuban coffee out of small plastic cups at the Genesis Bakery, and long afternoons that draw into the wide, slow dusk of this part of Florida. Last night I went to the waterfront near Coconut grove with a full moon in the sky that limned the tall, soft clouds in such bright shades that they looked as though someone had painted them in oil on a vaulting canvas.

Years ago I had stayed with a friend for a short while en route of a long drive, and the night that I left she stood in the driveway, a black silhouette against the lamplit street, waving goodbye as I drove away. At the time I described what I felt as having become "accustomed" to my days there---and that embodies the substance of what I feel in leaving a lifestyle that has become routine enough that one begins to take it for granted, and in the very act of doing so draws it deeper into the subconscious: put another way, if someone close to one's heart goes away, it is not the grand events of life together that one will miss in the end---the vacations to breathtaking waterfalls or striking the jackpot in Las Vegas---but the little daily habits, grocery shopping, playing Scrabble; the quick lackadaisical hours of life.

The night hours march inexorably onward, and my musings segue to sleep.

Sunday, August 29, 2004

Web Programs

The trend these days is to refashion traditional applications as web programs; start-up company PR statements declaim upon the obsolescence of any software that is not accessed through a browser; almost everyone I know uses a web-based email system. I feel, though, that the uniformity and simplicity of web-browsing, while making it an good medium for relatively passive information retrieval, draws out of a program the potential to embody a spirit of its own. Reading about the devoted fans of XYWrite (Check out to find a nice article on the cadre of users tending the temple of that word processor.), and how their fingers became intimate with customized keystrokes of their setup so that they could manipulate the program almost subconsciously, I saw that the level of connection between a user and her daily programs has become much more superficial in this time. A program's user-interface used to express a certain computing philosophy of the author---and could span the range from elegant, when the program's behavior was in accord with the user's thinking, to nauseatingly unintuitive---but on the web, user-interface design is distilled to the question, "Where should the user click?" It makes using a new program simple, but it severely constricts how a new program may act. Every text box on the web has the same primitive editing functionality, and as people have moved "forward" from terminal connections to check their mail, to web-mail programs, they've endured a accompanying decrease in efficiency. Gmail, the interface of which is lauded as quite advanced, uses heaps of JavaScript to bring novel features to web-mail, such as... keyboard shortcuts. Keyboard shortcuts? You mean like a real program? And even such modest improvements restrict the brands and versions of browsers that work with Gmail, somewhat reducing the basis for having web-programs in the first place. Experienced users of Pine, Mutt, VM, or myriad other character-based mail clients, can ply through their mail in a fraction of the time that webmail devotees spend waiting for the endless round-trip pages to load.

Universal accessibility of one's programs and data is a very good thing, so for many aspects of computing, like email, having some fat client for Windows only, or Linux only, or something else only, is a poor option. And so what, should everyone be using character-based applications? Well, never mind that---but what could the web experience have been if things happened a little differently? Let us say Java had succeeded on the client (not to say that it won't do so, or some Java-like environment), and every computer one would come to in the Internet cafes of the world would have a Java VM installed. Then, when one went to, say,, instead of getting the cumbersome pages we've become so accustomed to, a mail applet (probably cached locally, since a previous user had checked his Yahoo mail) would load in a few seconds, and then one would have the quick response and sleek interface of a local mail client, like Eudora or Thunderbird (Or Outlook. *cough*), as well as the near-ubiquitous access and server-stored data that web programs have today.

Think of the wars that have been waged throughout personal computing's years between devotees of WordPerfect vs. Word, Emacs vs. Vi, PageMaker vs. QuarkXpress---web-programs are geared towards a superficial knowledge of their layout, and in such a case, can there even be such a thing as a devotee?

For many types of web-pages, a traditional browser interface is indeed the best thing, but I hope that the future of computing won't be restricted to programs whose bodies are so conventional.

Wow, I feel nerdy right now. I think I'll go play with my pocket protector for a while.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004


Go lovely Rose,
Tell her that wastes her time and me,
That now she knows
When I resemble her to thee
How sweet and fair she seems to be.
Tell her that's young,
And shuns to have her graces spy'd
That hadst thou sprung
In desarts where no men abide,
Thou must have uncommended dy'd.
Small is the worth
Of beauty from the light retir'd;
Bid her come forth,
Suffer her self to be desir'd,
And not blush so to be admir'd.
Then die that she,
The common fate of all things rare
May read in thee;
How small a part of time they share,
That are so wondrous sweet and fair.

- Edmund Waller

We do not appreciate our graces of a time until intervening years reveal their worth---so as you be a rose, in the air and light live.

Sunday, July 11, 2004

Li Po

Li Po writes of drinking alone under a moon and walking with Zen masters beside clear streams of water that wind on and on to the edge of Heaven; he speaks of being in the midst of the vast, unbordered dream that is life, and floating on the currents that the spirits run through our transient, material world. Insouciant, lackadaisical musings count out the measure of his days.

At Yuan Tan-Ch'iu's Mountain Home

By nature, my old friend on East Mountain
treasures the beauty of hills and valleys.

Spring now green, you lie in empty woods,
still sound alseep under a midday sun,

your robes growing lucid in pine winds,
rocky streams rinsing ear and heart clean.

No noise, no confusion---all I want is
this life pillowed high in emerald mist.

* * *
Something Said, Waking Drunk on a Spring Day

It's like boundless dream here in this
world, nothing anywhere to trouble us.

I have, therefore, been drunk all day,
a shambles of sleep on the front porch.

Coming to, I look into the courtyard.
There's a bird among blossoms calling,

and when I ask what season this is,
an oriole's voice drifts on spring winds.

Overcome, verging on sorrow and lament,
I pour another drink. Soon, awaiting

this bright moon, I'm chanting a song.
And now it's over, I've forgotten why.

- Tr. David Hinton

Wednesday, June 16, 2004


At the end of my driveway grows a sprawling honeysuckle bush that now, at the vanguard of summer, flowers with its beautiful yellow and white blossoms whose soft, sweet scent wafts through the air at dusk and makes one stop for a moment and breathe in what feels like the essence of the season. The honeysuckles seem to glow in the fading light, and I experience a sensation of time having flown backwards.

Monday, June 14, 2004

At Least One Benefit

Months go by between entries, and I don't even feel the time passing. I mark the days only by the inches that my long, white beard grows. I thought today of how one of the characteristics of our foray into adulthood is the dropping away of the little social fears that almost every adolescent has, the worries about offending or being disliked. Without this diffidence, I feel one can judge decisions in life more clearly, and act properly, fairly when faced with a circumstance that in earlier years one would have backed down from because of perceived pressure---in retrospect, it is astounding, the cruelty and cowardice of which children are capable.

I'm so sleepy I can't even tell if I've written my sentences correctly; so to all a good night.

Monday, May 10, 2004


As I type this the first thunderstorm of the season is fulminating outside, menacing the darkness of night, giving the decent people who are asleep at this hour disturbed dreams. The clouds sailed in swiftly from the west, thunder getting louder with each clash, and soon the steady staccato sound of raindrops on the roof filtered down into my room. Sometimes the electricity flickers, but with my machines drawing power from battery backups, I fear not. Since my fledgling youth I have always found such storms compelling, as seen in a journal entry from the last millenium.

5/31/98 - During thunderstorms I always marvel at the dramatic power of nature, but also at the steadfastness of man and his creations. Earlier this evening I came home, and was walking towards the house carefully in the near complete obscurity of the stormy night. A rain was falling through blustering winds, making the environment seem very inhospitable. Blasts of lightning and crashing thunder were all about, making me feel small and vulnerable. As I approached the garage, the automatic light switched on, piercing the darkness. It seemed to me to represent man's stand against the dark of the world and nature.

When I was very young I had similar feelings during strong storms, marvelling at the fortitude of our house in its resistance to the assaulting elements. I remember building houses out of my colored blocks in occasion of such a storm.

Sunday, May 9, 2004


In the heroic style of food-writing, we have

Guest Entry #3:

Have you ever inhaled the scent of a just-picked tomato? Have you ever eaten a tomato like you would an apple? Those strange-looking pinkish rocks in most grocery stores are a mockery of the real thing: a deep-hued, wildly frangrant fruit that stuns with its flavor. When a woman takes a bite out of a sun-ripen Campari, her eyes will close, her neck will flush, and her face will tilt towards heaven.

Sunday, May 2, 2004

Guest Entry -- Pens

Welcome to Guest Entry #1 on Jesse's Blog.

Since Jesse does not update his blog regularly, I feel compelled to fill in for him in once in awhile - for the fans. I have been requested not to write anything "too girly". Too bad; my plan was to write about chocolate fondue and pedicures.

Actually, I will write about pens. For many students my age, there are few things that we have in our hands more often than pens. Some people do not notice or care about their pens; those people will use any writing implement laying around. I am not one of those people. I am particular about pens. I want my pen to roll in my fingers and glide across my paper leaving a thin, pure black line. Blue is too garish; globs, smears, or greyish ink are a betrayal. I use a pen to write notes and equations, things to do, and numbers to remember - practical things. My pen should be a pen of virtue.

- Special Gourmand J.

Tuesday, April 6, 2004

Poetry, Ghost City

During high-school and the early parts of college I'd been intrigued by poetry, and read regularly; however, in recent years prose had occupied me nearly entirely, and only a few weeks ago did I begin once more to walk upon poetry's strands. What I find compelling is the way in which certain poetry blurs the demarcation of narration and pure aesthetics, in the way that a powerful painting captures the eye with its beauty, yet also hints at the larger background story of the elements that compose it.

There is a segment in the film Ghost in the Shell that is imbued by a like composition of content and form, which has made it a very powerful piece for me. It is the Ghost City chapter, a nominally uneventful five minutes during which one travels through a rendition of Hong Kong while the dusk fades and a rain begins to fall; Kenji Kawai's melancholy strains provide the background as neon signs flash like idols in the gloom and the people of the city go about the routine of their lives. The tableau, positioned as it is against the larger story of the movie, evokes in me a sense of the beauty and unreality of everyday life: though were either of those aspects---the seemingly aimless artistry of the city, or the underlying plot and characters---removed, the force of the scene would be greatly diminished.

Sunday, March 28, 2004

Web Vigilantes

Reading an article in the NY Times today about people who have taken it on themselves to police the corners of the web, I followed a link to this site, in which individuals pose as (very) underage girls in regional chat rooms, and see what sort of seedy characters solicit them. They arrange for a place to meet, but instead of a young girl awaiting these men, they find cameras to take their pictures. For each "wannabe pedophile" there is a photo and, more interestingly, the transcript of the chat session in which they were lured into the sting. The gullability of these men is astounding: "Hello, I'm Nikki, an unbelievably hot and innocent yet decadent 14 year old. Do you have any photos?" (man sends real photo to her email address) "Wow, no way! I'm always turned on by fat, bald 45 year old sweaty perverts. Let's meet for sex!" Guy: "Sounds good to me. I always knew that deep inside I'm a chick magnet."

    Link: Perverted Justice

Saturday, March 27, 2004

The Association of Things

Unfathomable to me is the vastness of memory that each person holds of his life, reclusively cumulated in the corridors of the brain, unindexed save for thin threads tying various disparate packages together. Entire chains of these recollections can lie dormant and forgotten for years, but then when a chance occasion brings but one of them to the surface, the rest rise in its wake, their impressions striking one's consciousness with tangible force. Looking through my medicine cabinet this evening, I found a pink tube of organic lip-balm. My buying organic lip-balm? Then I remembered the sunny afternoon in Cambridge in the spring of 1999, when a group of Whole Foods employees gathered at the crossing of Massachusetts Avenue on MIT's campus, distributing paper bags filled with various goods that would supposedly addict us to the natural and organic way of life. I can recall the sound that the arching tree branches made above my head as the temperate wind blew through them on its flight to the Charles River, and the sound of my friends' voices joking about the hippie qualities of our handouts, and the ineffable feeling of the energy that we had at that time of our lives.

It seems that the more atavistic the sense that invokes a recollection, the more complete one's immersion in the memory will be, as though maps of our animal awareness can be drawn from our bodies and stored whole, waiting. If I see a photo or read a once-familiar line, I can consciously send my mind's eye to the past and revisit the minutes of that vanished day; but sometimes I'll hear a snatch of sound, or catch a scent, and without warning my whole being is transported---often I do not even consciously know what history of mine I am re-experiencing, but I feel it throughout me, and for a moment my sense of location, time, and spatial awareness inform my brain that I am there. Only when the possession, as it were, has subsided can I turn the programmatic parts of my mind to scouring the sheaves of memory to find what it was that I just felt. On occasion I feel a sense of lost time, for it is as though I woke up from a dream to find that years and years have passed, and the day is gone.

One of the propitious aspects of aging is the richness that the world acquires from the populous vault of connections and interconnections held in one's memory, a depth that those too young to remember much can feel. Having known for oneself the history of a place, even if not consciously pondered, makes that place more intimate. When I walk around my neighborhood on Long Island, it has a presence for me larger than its superficial representation would suggest, because it exists in my mind as a montage of the ways I've known it throughout the changes that accrued in the years since I was a wee lad. The little junior-high kids that I pass cannot have such a knowledge of time, and indeed my own historical vantage is shallow compared with the old-timers who remember when the streets were pasty little things passing through the farming communities that lay here in bygone decades. But all of you, my classmates who may be reading this, you who have strayed far from Boston: when the years grow long and you come back perchance to visit, even the steps of Stratton will seem to be more than they are, resonating with all the times you sat there with a Tosci's ice-cream as summer drew near. Tosci's has been gone for a number of years now, and can those fledgling engineers who eat at the crêperie which has ousted it, appreciate the place quite so much, never having known what came before?

My body is telling me that if I don't want my varied years to end now, I'd better go to sleep; so with that I bid you all a good night.

Thursday, March 25, 2004

Old Writing

Cleaning out some of our dusty archives today, we came upon this page that I wrote for school, a number of weeks ago:

Jesse Nov.1, 1985

November is a month with thaksgiving, eleksion day and another one, I fergot what it is. November is a nice month. It's starting to get cold and people are starting to were heveare clothing. the kids were long sleevs and long pants. People are starting to think of holidays and other things. The leves are falling from the trees.
and yet another piece titled "My Family", enclosed in a nice folder that I made for art class:

My Family

My family has three people in it. My name is Jesse Nickolas Pavel. I am seven and a half. My birthday is March eighteenth My mother is thirty nine years old. My father is thirty three years old. My mothers name is Tina. My father's is an engineer. My Mother doesn't have a job yet. I don't have a pet now. I had a pet. His name was Puff. He ran away. He was a dog.

My house is white I have alot of trees at my house. My family isn't big at all. It only has three people in it. My house is big. I have many friends at school. I like my family very much. My father is an engineer. He likes the job. My mother wants to be a computer programer. She has to study very hard. She even goes to school two days a week. She has to send me to my grandma's.

Friday, March 19, 2004

Old Man

My mother has a routine of going to the gym early in the morning, when the only other people there are quite squarely in their golden years---even the lifeguard at the pool is a man of 80. He told her this story: "I recently got a pacemaker, and I felt so vigorous and full of energy. And I thought that I had fallen newly in love with my wife again, because when I saw her, I felt my heart stir in my chest. Ah, but I found out that my pacemaker was just out of whack, so I got it fixed."

Thursday, March 18, 2004


One more birthday of mine has come and passed, and now I am 26 years old, drawn presently by propinquity towards the momentous age of 30, as if I were a ball rolling up and over a hill, with 25 as its peak. In a month and a half I will be the exact age that my father was when I was born. But though turning 26 seems significant if I consciously consider it, I don't actually feel any different than I did last March, and encouragingly, the year passed no quicker to my perception than did the one before it---so the lament of the old that "the years rush by faster and faster" isn't yet chanting for my own life.

In a book today I read a fragmant of Tennyson's "Tithonus", in which a man who does not die, but yet grows older each year, grieves of his fate:

The woods decay, the woods decay and fall,
The vapours weep their burthen to the ground,
Man comes and tills the field and lies beneath,
And after many a summer dies the swan.
Me only cruel immortality
Consumes: I wither slowly in thine arms,
Here at the quiet limit of the world,
a white-haired shadow roaming like a dream
The ever-silent spaces of the East,
Far-folded mists, and gleaming halls of morn.

* * *

One driving incident that continually gives me chortles when I think about it, was the time that some guy through a clod of dirt at my car. Unlike New Yorkers, Bostonites (particularly Cambridgians) seem to feel that pedestrians own the road, and that if some pedestrian a mile down the sidewalk is even thinking about crossing the street, all drivers should stop and wait while he strolls peacefully across the lane. Anyway, I'm rolling down Windsor St. towards Mass Ave, and some trendy, scrawny twenty-something art-head, with black-rimmed glasses, disheveled hair, tight red and white T-shirt, and Converse high tops below pants that are too short for him; this guy is walking down the sidewalk pondering his navel, and I just fly right past him and hook a right on Mass Ave. He apparently took such umbrage at having a car come within ten feet of his shoes, his dander was so raised, that he picked up a ball of dirt from the street and flung it at my passing trunk. To his credit, he did make contact. Maybe now, with so many people playing Grand Theft Auto III, he would think twice before entering the Man vs. Car Challenge.

Tuesday, March 9, 2004


John Bayley wrote in Elegy for Iris of the significance of place in Iris Murdoch's mind, and this sense of the spiritual potency of a location carries over into The Bell. From the detailed description of Imber Court and the adjacent abbey with which we are presented near the beginning of the novel, we draw a vivid picture of the small grounds upon which nearly the entire drama of the story is acted out, and though the lands themselves are composed of conventional features---no Mount Doom towers over the English countryside---Murdoch invests certain scenes with a poignancy drawn from the experiences of the characters in those areas, and the characters' own memories of other events that happened there in the past. In that sense, she captures the method by which places in my own life have acquired an elegiac beauty: I think of the stars wheeling above Ames Street on MIT's campus not because the view from that spot is in any way particularly dramatic, but because on many nights in college when I was full of dreams I walked across that roadway on the way back to my dorm, and the power of my life on those clear evenings has imbued the place in my memory with moment. A place in which one has resided during passionate times of life, or where one has been long enough that one's character and outlook changed from the beginning to end, and thus has seen from a perspective that cannot be recaptured: such a place sparkles in one's mind with a phosphorescence that is like magic. With time, everyday places can be infused with a deep exoticism borne of all the experiences that happened there in the past, which, as time flows by, become more unattainable than a fertile garden in any Caliph's girdled grounds.

Wednesday, March 3, 2004

Dog Path

In her fourteen years living with us, my beagle-dog used to walk the perimeter of our yard sniffing the various grungy bits that accrued against the fences, and scouting for intruding wildlife. Over time, her constant tread wore away the flora along a narrow path beside the yard's edge, leaving this dirt trail by which one could mark the dog's rounds. This past weekend she died, and already when I wander through the yard now, in the afternoon on a day at the leading tip of spring, the path is being subsumed into its surroundings, dried leaves accumulating and creepers of grass beginning to wend their way into the unoccupied dirt. Eventually, within a few weeks or months, the path will be completely gone, and with it any trace in our yard that the dog roamed there for so long. That thin dirt line seems a more tangible expression than most, of the way one's mark on the world fades slowly with time in absence, other life and other problems filling in the space---physical and in the minds of others---that one used to occupy. My dog's place in our memories is much more lasting than her imprint in the grass, but the visceral strength of our recollections will diminish over time, and in the gray years of the future I'll probably remember her more in the abstract, as my dog when I was young, as opposed to the sound of her feet padding in the hallway, or the feel of her warm fur when she lay in the sun on summer days. But dogs have none of the longing to be remembered in posterity that drives some people to complete a magnum opus or erect a monumental tomb, and so we'll mark her passing in a simple way that she would herself have appreciated, by having Taco Bell burritos, with extra meat and sour cream.

Here's a 40 oz. (steak) for you, dog.

Winnie Pavel
September 8, 1989 ---
February 28, 2004

Monday, February 2, 2004


One of the most lasting---if not commendable---skills with which college has endowed me is that of pen-twirling. In class, before campus was blanketed in wireless coverage (you kids have it so easy these days) what was there to entertain the masses but the art of pen-twirling? During my freshman year I learned from my Thai roommate, the man Wichakool, the over-the-thumb twirl, in which one's pen is spun over the back of the thumb, 360-degrees both forwards and backwards. Years later I augmented the one-shot twirls with the technique of having a backward spin immediately segue into a forward spin with no intermission to switch grips. Another type of twirl I learned, a quite simple variety widely practiced, is to hold the pen near its midsection, between the middle and ring fingers, and windmill it about in a quick, balanced way. The final of my pen-twirling skills is one that I saw performed early in my first semester, but whose practitioner refused to indulge my requests for a lesson. It is a variation of the simple twirl described above, but rather than keeping the pen always between the ring and middle fingers, it is skipped up as it rotates from the pinky and ring, to the ring and middle fingers in a smooth movement. Other than these three twirls I've not seen any in the wild, but if you, skillful reader, know another type of pen-twirl and share it with me, you will have my sincere gratitude as an artist of the twirl, generous and knowledgeable. Peace be unto pen-twirlers all over our fair earth.

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

On the Virtues of Drink

Much has been lectured about the vices, numerous as stalks of hops in Old World fields, of drinking, but little has been propounded in its defense, and what there is comes mostly from drunken guys trying to cajole pretty girls (and prettier, and prettier, ...) into having a drink along with them. But discount not the virtues of wine, of beer, of the velvet fire, for there are many! When alcohol seeps into the brain it softens the bonds that tie the mind to body, and allows the consciousness to float a little beyond its accustomed pale, to view life from a broader vantage; and as that ethanol is absorbed, it alters the specific gravity, as it were, of an individual's personality, bringing to the surface his inner character, which is normally obscured by affectations, or distorted by fears and manias. So take up your snifters of brandy, raise those steins of beer, throw back the shots, my friends---read on, and Abandon sobriety, all ye who enter here.

I am myself somewhat inebriated as I pen this paragraph, so I do hope that its account of the sensation is faithful. My overtly conscious mind, that part of my thoughts that is self-aware, that puts emotion into words---that part is floating behind my shoulder on a river of Mae Kong whiskey, watching me write, even watching me think the lower-level thoughts that are eventually fed upwards for distillation. This effect on one's consciousness is one of the primary commendable powers of drink. The psychic distance thus achieved reveals trivial worries and manias for the detritus of thought that they are, and when viewed with this clarity, they sublime into puffs of air. The feeling of otherness that alcohol manifests can also be used to allow one to introspect into the mind that normally is one's mental eye: as I sit here writing, part of my mind is disjoint from its common surroundings, and can look down upon the processes by which I formulate words and espouse my argument. And when a person looks on himself as from a distance, he acquires the aspect of a character in a play, and by writing the script for this character, one can have him be braver than one could be if wrapped in his body. With a broad vantage point and authorial separation from character, one can gain the courage to do things one knows is right, but which carry too much weight to be performed in a frighteningly sober state. The meek can most benefit from this asset of drinking, so those who would inherit the earth, take heed of your bottles, and know that drink can reveal certain stalwart philosophies otherwise elusive to all but the most devout.

Alcohol in one of its facets is like a magic mirror akin to that hanging in a cloistered tower of a medieval seer, that strips the facades from a person, reflecting back only her inner nature. With one's inhibitive consciousness floating apart from one's body, action and speech flow more directly from the subliminal rumblings that operate only covertly in a sober condition, and so one is arrayed unprotected to those who are around. This characteristic of drink is fearsome for people with secretly seething hearts, for cantankerous and belligerent individuals who daily put on a play of geniality, for sad-minded wanderers who hold back from themselves and others a caustic dissatisfaction with life---these are "bad drunks", though they often keep drinking because their moments of intoxication give release to the pressure built up by the psychological fermentation inside of them. But for the princes and princesses of spirit among us, those large-minded or rosy-souled people who are good and peaceful at heart, drinking can alleviate the weight of temporal exigencies and allow their élan to dance freely for a time---and they are all the more loved by their friends, because worries of pretense are made moot, and the nakedness, as it were, of personality bonds nice people quicker, in a way that none of them can quite articulate but which gives each a strong amiable feeling towards the others, because they have seen their unadorned characters, and found them bountiful. Drinking buddies become more than simply friends who drink together. The old aphorism of testing a man's (or woman's) mettle by watching how he drinks is rendered true, not by gauging how much liquor he can quaff into his belly, but by seeing what lies beneath when the alcohol, like the solvent that it is, washes away the cruft built up on the surface.

Do not think that drinking lacks its perils, spinning vertiginous terrors, and slow and quick deaths; but it is a mire whose murky waters can reveal the sheen of hidden gems. It can raise up philosophers and reveal human hearts, and let a person see the beauty of the world as in a dream. Drunkenness is not in its essence a depression brought about by the physiological effects of alcohol, but a state of mind, and the poets who oft used drunkenness as a metaphor for love or power or countless other mental flights, strike close to its truth. There are times when one can feel drunk (now again in the less fanciful sense) without imbibing, and times when downing a river of whiskey just makes one sick; and I advise for those who cannot physically tolerate alcohol, other than slowly building your familiarity through frequent but slight exposure, to keep your mind open to the waves of rollicking insouciance that sometimes pass through the ether, and draw a measure of hazy lightness from your inebriated comrades. Drink---but drink well---friend.

Monday, January 19, 2004

Shanghainese Bus-Driver School

Have you ever been driving 75 mph on I-95 between Boston and New York, on a rainy day when you can hardly see ten feet in front of you, only to jerk the wheel in surprise as some massive object hurtles past, careening on two wheels, and then seen that it was the Fung-Wa Chinatown bus making a $10 run? Well, those drivers are apparently Shanghai tour bus drivers who were awarded a merit for special safety. The bus drivers here change lanes by pulling two inches behind whatever unstable cement truck is impeding them, and then other cars be damned, drifting into a faster lane, letting all smaller vehicles with the cojones to drive in five feet of space, go around them. I guarantee the horn gets more use than the brake---hell, I'd be surprised if the brakes worked at all. As Mr. T might say, I pity the fool who crosses in front of a bus and expects to go home with his spine in one piece. I wish some of those busses made their way to the States to take out the Volvos (^) driving 55 in the left lane.

^ - No insult to Volvo drivers. Well, actually...

Sunday, January 18, 2004

Shanghainese Subway Etiquette

From what I have seen in my few days roaming Shanghai, the locals follow two basic tenets in their use of the subway: aggression and laziness. Though seemingly in conflict, the two traits both come to the fore in a common scenario, in which the microsecond the subway doors open, a person waiting on the platform will perform an Olympian feat of athleticism in leaping through the crowd of exiting passengers, arms raised, ready to put the pimp hand down on Mother Theresa herself if she were to try to sit in the seat he had eyed from outside. Then contentedly sitting for the three minutes it takes to reach the next stop, the Shanghainese commuter will repeat the previous display in a mad dash for the escalator, while two wide flights of stairs remain blissfully vacant. I've had eighty year-old women throw me a hip-check because I dallied too long in front of a standing pole, but to their credit, I'm sure they would have taken it in stride had I tried to wrestle them for rights to use a disabled seat in a bus. Ask no quarter, give no quarter.

Wednesday, January 7, 2004

Those Wacky Puritans

In Benjamin Franklin's autobiography, he writes about how when he was seventeen he got into conflict with his brother and decided to leave town; however, because of his tendency to have argumentative debates about religion, and certain other liberal views, the town council and father were disposed against him, and would attempt to block any travel plans that he made openly. As such, he arranged with a friend to be smuggled to New York aboard a ship, and because it would be too scandelous to tell the captain that he was a bit liberal, they concocted a more acceptable excuse: "[I] had got a naughty Girl with Child, whose Friends would compel me to marry her, and therefore I could not appear or come away publickly."

Can you envision a modern version of such a story?
"Bobby, where have you been? It's almost 2AM!"
"I was at the Democratic National Convention."
"What!? How could you do something like that, you dirty boy?"
"Did I say Democratic National Convention? I meant to say that I was on the street corner, impregnating naughty Girls."
"Oh, okay, you should have just said so in the first place."

Sunday, January 4, 2004

The Water

I went out recently in the waters southeast of Miami, on our sailboat in the late afternoon of a winter day in these tropics. The sky was still a brilliant blue as we idled through the channel leading to open main; on the rocks jutting up from the surface in low tide stood hundreds of birds, gulls and herons, biding their time and watching us go by. A daytime moon hovered above, pale and full, growing brighter as the sky faded with the hours. When we cut the engine, all that remained to us was the sound of wind blowing across the waves---the jumbled land noise that we don't even realize is constantly around us, was muted, leaving a contemplative peace in that now free part of my brain.

With a white wake behind, and only the undulating swells in front, we glided to the north, where in shrouded distances one could make out the tall buildings of Miami. The sun was setting in a crimson blaze, igniting the clouds lying on the horizon and painting striations of pink and brown and white on the tarrying tail of the day's sky. And then night came upon us, and the moon shone brightly enough so that I could see my shadow dimly on the faded white deck of our boat, and the wind becalmed so that all was in quiet.

In tropical climes, the clouds have a way of catching the last bit of light, and they look like streaks of glowing paint brushed onto the firmament, silhouetting in black the land and trees, and littler things we make. So was the world we saw as our sails carried us back to the docks and dry land, eager for our comforts yet begrudging to leave that potent briney atmosphere. For those who have been long near the sea, its expanses of water come into one's mind and spread themselves out beneath conscious thought, rumbling and echoing and always drawing one back to their shores.