Friday, November 20, 2009

Kurgan-Teppa, Part One

Maybe it's strange to have waited so many months to write about my trip, but I was in Tajikistan in May and June, and it was...fairly indescribable. Therefore, describing it? Difficult.

Kurgan-Teppa is also spelled Qurghonteppa or Kurganteppa. Or Қурғонтеппа in Tajik. Formerly known as Курган-Тюбе (Kurgan-Tyube) in Soviet times. Don't ask where my particular hyphenated spelling comes from, because I don't actually know.

We drove through the city, then south, past mixed flocks of sheep and goats being herded along the road, over hills green as Scotland ("Fuck Scotland," I said), where men, women, and children used scythes to cut the grass, laying down another shade of green in squares and rectangles, sometimes on improbable slopes that seemed to threaten to dump the harvesters off into the valleys.

The grass packed on donkeys, or on bicycles, or in the trunks and backseats of cars, or piled onto square two-wheeled metal wagons, pulled by horses, or donkeys, or men, or boys. Mud towns, with corrugated tin roofs, in the distance or, twice or three times, surrounding the two-lane highway. The highway like a road and a farm road and a trail and a sidewalk all at once. The towns all shades of cream and ivory and tan and light brown, with the women's gowns and scarves flashes of color, vivid and strange.

A choikhana with tapchans on both sides of a small steep arroyo, seemingly advertising itself with a few abandoned tent frames over empty tapchans, set a hundred meters before the real teahouse.

In a village, a whole empty bazaar, with concrete-and-tin stalls and frames for sun shades, and tables and places for tables. Is it a weekly bazaar? Does it fill up? Or is there nothing to sell; does everything get sent on to the capital?

At a curve in the road, a line of brightly-dressed (always brightly-dressed) women, each sitting at a little table, each displaying the same small selection of sodas and snacks. Why there? And how does one choose which woman, that day, will take one's money?

A mural on the face of the road cutting, with an eagle and a deer and some nature. Very fetching, but what is it meant to tell us?

We get to Kurgan-Teppa, and pass a tractor--old, spare, awesone--on a pedestal, backed by a park with a collection of arching white cement pieces making a vaguely half-egg-shaped dingus. A monument to the greatness of the TRACTOR, a monument to nothing, as I have only seen the fields being worked by hand, groups of men, women, and children using hoes and shovels, stooping or crouching, working acres by hand, all by hand, the stupidest use of human labor imaginable. While at the moment what appears to be the only thing that the Industrial Revolution did to really, materially, improve people's lives is to make a tractor. Then make tractors.

No fuel? No parts? Just no damn tractors? What's the issue? That would be my NGO: Get the People Tractors. Give them a fuel allowance. Train tractor mechanics. Smuggle in the parts or pay the bribes and keep doing it over and over and over because each hour of working the fields by hand is another hour without rest, literacy, or (so I imagine, barreling by in our fancy Lada Niva four-wheel drive) hopefulness.


Never mind. Tractors can't take away dogtiredness and no doubt the hours freed from the fields would be focused anew, to new back-breaking chores.

Neal Stephenson writes that, "In the real world--Planet Earth, Reality--there are somewhere between six and ten billion people. At any given time, most of them are making mud bricks or field-stripping their AK-47s." That's the choice. I have other choices but my place is so privileged that the spot I take up cannot be doubled. The only way to free my spot would be for me to leave that spot, which I cannot do, because even were I to become a Tajik fieldhand, I would still carry my place of privilege with me; I would be choosing to act downtrodden.

Only when I die will my place be empty, but when that happens, that place will not be available to a Tajik fieldhand. No, it'll go to a nice infant, born of Western parents in a clean Western hospital. Maybe being born in a place with modern sanitation is the initiating mark of privilege. Maybe clean water and disinfectants are the baptismal fluids, holy, altering.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

I Felt a Feeling, and I Told You with Punctuation Marks

Last week, I got a message on this dating website where I have a profile. I don't know why I keep the profile on there. Maybe because I think I might want to meet someone in the future. I certainly couldn't be bothered now. Anyway, the message was...okay-ish. But then I read the guy's profile and under the "I’m really good at" section, he had included "oral sex."

Here was my (not very nice) reply:

"Dear Gene Simmons,

I was considering your proposal semi-positively, until I read your profile and saw your claim of oral sexual prowess. I see you have removed that reference, but the damage has been done. I no longer, nor have I really ever, spent any time with people who want to talk about sex unless they are actually having it (though wordlessness is often better even then), or who would talk about how good they are at it in a public profile.

Also, just so you know, not all women even enjoy said activity.

Reading your profile unfortunately made me feel a bit soiled, and I will be too busy taking multiple Silkwood showers to ever be able to leave the house again.


He responded with a combination of passive-aggression and aggression-aggression, and a couple of insults followed by a repeated invitation that we do something together. While strange, this reaction didn't bother me, because I figured I had gotten what I deserved. What DID bother me was his repeated use of ;^D

Putting ;^D after calling someone crazy and a prude; what's that supposed to MEAN? "You're crazy and a prude! Winky nosy big smile!"

My reply to the the message, and his reply to that, all occurred during work, and this is why I love my work: my coworkers decided to enact the winky nosy smile In Real Life, and this is what we got:

Inevitably, this led to the recreation of other emoticons. I hope you enjoy the following.



D: (Two versions)


The ever-popular :(

And finally :-D

Saturday, July 04, 2009

What to Do in Istanbul

1. Get frustrated by being sent back and forth along the ferry wharf.

2. Find the right ticket booth/dock.

3. Take the Boğazçi Özel Gezi ferry towards Anadolu Kavağı.

4. Sit next to a nice Turkish couple, on the shady side of the lower deck. It'll mean you see the European side only, but you can't have everything.

5. Get off at Sarıyer.

6. Figure out where the staircases go up the hill and follow them until they peter out in people's private yards.

7. Make an error in choosing a restaurant, and possibly drink from the hose.* (Uncertain as of yet.)

8. Fall into conversation with a young German-educated graphic designer with dyed blond hair and excellent English.

9. Stand on the stoop of his house, which 100 years ago went right to the water, whence the residents traveled in boats, though now it is separated from the water by a road.

10. Discuss Venice, protests in Iran, and one's own potential ability to protest even at the risk of one's life. (Positive, on his side, uncertain to negative on mine. Americans are lazy.)

11. Walk back along the waterfront, photographing the abandoned and inhabited Ottoman-era houses.

12. Go to the Sadberk Hanım Museum.

13. Be awestruck and, later, fatigued by the collection.

14. Buy a present in the gift shop of a coffee cup with an Iznik tile design of a felucca.

15. Catch the 25E bus back toward town.

16. Realize one could get off at any stop, walk around two hours, and return a better person for it.

16a. Have a fleeting fantasy of buying an abandoned Ottoman-era house and repairing it.

17. Have a (fairly handsome) Turkish guy stare at you, even when you stare right back at him for half a minute.

18. Feel weirdly flattered, then self-conscious.

19. Feel sardonic when he, his wife, and kid get off the bus, and you realize that--young-looking as he is--he has a pot-belly.

19a. Skip steps 17-19 if you are not available to such flirtation.

20. Get back to Sirkeci.

21. Pet some cats.

22. Drink tea under a grape arbor while watching an ear-splitting game of Turkish backgammon played between an old bald man in a short-sleeved shirt and Windsor-knotted striped ugly tie, and a younger old guy with a beard wearing a technical vest like a photojournalist, watched by a mild fellow in a blue t-shirt, all three bespectacled.

23. Have the tea be free, because Turks are friendly, or at least these Turks, and you are being rewarded for watching the game. "Turkish culture," the bearded man says, "Have a nice life." "Thank you. You, too," you reply, and mean it.

24. Overall believe you have dodged the hose.

25. Get ready to fall asleep at the sunset prayer hour, because sunset is at almost 9 o'clock, and 3 a.m., the shuttle to the airport, and the almost full day of travel home, is far too soon.

*A phrase used by Ray and Anya to indicate iffy dietary behavior in foreign lands.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

My Salad Days, When I Was Green in Judgement, Cold in Blood

I've been going through boxes of papers, dating back all the way to high school, but mostly consisting of my graduate school work. So, I find notes from classes I took and classes for which I was a teaching assistant. I find the papers from some of my students, which I kept because they were excellent. I find my own papers. And here, on the other side, as a doctoral program drop-out, those papers are an emblem of a life that I can no longer live, a career path I can no longer follow.

I should throw them all away, each and every paper. But instead, I am working to consolidate four boxes into one. And what I am keeping are my students' papers, some notes about topics that still particularly interest me, and my own writing.

In my first year of graduate school, I had a mental breakdown. It was the second quarter, January through March, and my mind was just not quite my own. Yet still, as with my other breakdowns, I managed my schoolwork even as my emotional life flailed.

I was in a very engaging class called "Passing," in which we read and analyzed texts such as The Island of Dr. Moreau, M. Butterfly, and Passing. Animals passing as humans, men passing as women, blacks passing as whites.

I got interested especially in Dr. Moreau, and from that became interested in anti-vivisectionist movements in the nineteenth century. I gave a presentation on my research, and opened by saying "Before I begin, I want you all to know that it is a miracle of modern medicine that I can be with you here today." Then I passed around my bottle of anti-depressants.

It seemed like a good thing to do at the time. And the professors (there were two) liked it, probably because it was less boring than the usual introduction of a graduate student presentation.

Anyway, in going through my papers, I found a paper I wrote for that class, which is titled "sex, lies, and vivisection, or Fuck Black Beauty."

As I said, I was having some "issues."

I also found my handout for my presentation. I reproduce it here for your consideration.

This was during the first Gulf War, and so here are close-ups of some bits:

And here is my "Fun Words" list:

Thursday, April 09, 2009

The Heat Death of the Universe

Fig. 1: Photo © ewan.osullivan

Today (which will live in infamy blah blah blah) I will call The Great California OMG WTF :( :( 2009. Or, alternately, The Great Pwnage.

Some person or persons as yet unknown cut some fiberoptic cables in two separate locations in Silicon Valley, plunging a bunch of people into cellphone, internet, and credit card swipe machine darkness.

One would have thought it was the end of Time and Life as We Know It.

I got up. My computer wouldn't connect to the web. I listened to the radio briefly and heard there was a general service problem. Then I went to work. My boss is smart, and keeps paper credit card carbons on hand, which is an excellent idea around here. There are an astonishing number of short and long power outages in this two-bit podunk gin-joint, and who can actually afford to lose a day's business just because the power goes out? His mom took the machine that one uses with carbons, but my boss just rubs with the side of a pen, like a rabid genealogist creating a memento mori with charcoal and a tombstone.

People were ASTOUNDED that they could use credit cards in our store, because I guess no one else has carbons. Which I find weird, cf. frequent power outages.

All day the rumors were flying: it was terrorists; it was a disgruntled union member; it was construction. I liked my boss's explanation: Giant Gopher. Or my coworker's: space aliens. Or mine: the enormous radioactive ants from Them! At one point, my boss and I were discussing the whole reductio ad terrorum phenomenon, and I said we should apply Occam's Razor, which would result in us deciding that the problem had been caused by, as my boss put it, "Joe on his tractor." I mean, how many times has terrorism caused something bad to happen in the United States? I count three. And how many times has Joe on his tractor fucked something up? Pretty much constantly.

As it turned out, it was a Giant Gopher, or vandals, or--according to some sources--saboteurs, which I disagree with, since there were no wooden shoes involved. As far as I know. These vandals hoisted manhole covers at two different locations, went underground, and cut the cables. Once the online came back online, I read several different accounts, which all seemed to emphasize that the vandals had to use "special tools" both to lift the manhole cover and to cut the cables. You mean "special" like the crowbar from my car trunk and a pair of bolt cutters from the hardware store? (See Fig. 2). It's like rocket surgery!

I think the news should have just alerted us to the fact that the vandals have hands, and are tool-users, and that the public should be on the lookout for a band of rogue bonobos. Possibly unionized. Wearing black. With anarchist patches sewn on.

Fig. 2: Special Tool. Watch out!

My boss started pantomiming the event, first pretending he was using a crowbar to jimmy up the manhole cover and bolt cutters to cut the cables. Next pretending he was just grappling the cover out of the way and then gnawing the cable. Much like a Giant Gopher.

So, what with the customers having various kinds of cows about the whole thing, and us making fun of both the event and the customers' cows, it was a full day. The weirdest (okay, not weirdest; most aggravating) repeated comment ran along the lines of "Oh, I'm kind of enjoying the break of not having my cellphone."

I find this attitude mysterious and idiotic. This is what my mind heard: "Oh, one day a mean mean man came to my house and put a gun to my head and gave me a mobile phone and told me that he would torture and kill me and all my loved ones if I didn't carry the phone with me at all times and always leave it on and answer it even during the quiet parts of classical music concerts and yoga class and even when I should be talking to the Real Live Person who is right in front of me tapping a foot in frustration and today is Such a Relief because I actually can't follow his orders. Free at last! Free at last!"

These people fall in a certain clear camp in the whole free will vs. predestination debate, don't you think?

Jasmine Nguyen, spokesperson for St. Louise hospital in Gilroy, said it most ineptly: "We literally feel like we're on an island right now. It's bringing us back to the Stone Age."

Because literal is the new figurative, and the internet and cellphone communication arose directly after the Pleistocene-Holocene extinction of the North American megafauna. Actually (in case you didn't know) the internet was platformed on some proprietary software trademarked by Giant Sloths Eaten by Sabre-Toothed Tigers, L.L.C. (See Fig 3.)

Fig. 3: 1337 hax0r of yore, pictured with favorite plushie.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Daily Vitriol, or, A Comment I Wrote

I have Netflix. I get one DVD at a time, and watch TV hosted by Netflix on the computer. Recently Netflix changed their online viewer, and made the mistake of asking my opinion about the quality of my most recent viewing. I felt obligated to tell them. I didn't think I was in a particularly splenetic mood, but I guess I was. Or maybe I'm always like this.

"Since Netflix 'upgraded' to Silverlight, 'watch instantly' watching has become almost unwatchable: exceedingly choppy and often completely stop-and-go when viewed 'full screen.'

I am sure mine is not the first complaint about this. Nor will it be the last. (A simple Google search for 'silverlight sucks' should give you an idea of the problem).

In this economy, a business model that works to make customer satisfaction WORSE is probably not a very good idea. I would recommend you fix this problem as soon as possible.

In addition, the search engine on your site is really poor. Why don't you use Google search like normal people? You and amazon and your stupid terrible search engines. Amazon must seriously lose $100,000 a day because people simply cannot find stuff on their site.

Finally, I would like to say that only being able to 'watch instantly' using Internet Explorer is exceedingly trying. I don't know if you know this, but Internet Explorer is crappy, and only used by your grandma, who just learned to use the computer last month. And even grandma will have Firefox once one of her loving grandkids (a category that does not include you, obviously) comes over and installs it for her and puts a shortcut for it on her desktop labeled 'google.' I know this, because that's what I did for my grandma-aged parents. And all of a sudden their browser wasn't one invented in the Cretaceous Period by giant land animals who are now extinct. It's amazing. It's called 'evolution'!"

Monday, February 02, 2009

Not Good

So. Yesterday, I thought the smell might be, say, a mouse--cat slain and festering--under my shed. Today, that seemed impossible. So, I looked around. And then I saw two raccoon tails protruding from under my neighbor's trailer.

Pink rubber gloves, a respirator mask, quadruple garbage bags, and a neighbor to hold open the bags whilst the first one went in, and I had two full-grown dead raccoons ready to be picked up by Animal Services.

Why did they die right next to each other, as if in a suicide pact? Will Animal Services perform a necropsy so I will know whether someone is poisoning wildlife in my trailer park? How soon can I get the cats to the vet for their rabies shots?

And why, oh, why, was that NOT the grossest thing I've ever done?

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Best Newly-Learned Word of 2009, Thus Far

I was reading about trying to identify the offending birds responsible for plane crashes and that one emergency water landing a week ago. The New York Times informs me that "a staff of four in the Feather Identification Lab took in samples from 4,600 bird-plane collisions, or bird strikes, last year. Arriving mostly in sealed plastic bags, these included birds’feet, whole feathers or tiny bits of down, and pulverized bird guts, known as snarge."


Although it showed up--correctly defined--in the urban dictionary in 2005, I'm not the only one who seems to have enjoyed its more-recent appearance in The New York Times. And how could I be? IT'S A GREAT WORD.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Saddest Letter in the World

Found in a book bought at the thrift store more than 20 years ago, although I believe it dates from even earlier than that. Transcribed below.

[I have kept the mistakes and the overuse of commas, as I think they add to the effect of the text.]
Burlington, July 3:
Dear Forrest and Evelyn:

This is rather a lonely evening. Janell has been here, but since we were not going to do any special celebrating, she has gone to a friend’s home for the night. Some friends invited us both to their home to watch the fire works across the Lake( and for dinner) but, I hesitate to accept invitations that I know would only obligate me, as I can’t repay them.

I worked this afternoon, and think I am to work tomorrow. Must ask about that again. They have been calling on me pretty often, to work day times. I am glad for this as I know this Pneumonia will have run up a big bill. Beside that, I do enjoy the store work.

Went to the Dr. This A.M., and he checked me again for a 'tender spot' below my ribs. He suggested that I go to the Xray Clinic when I have a free day, and make sure it is alright.

I am really feeling very good again, except that I do tire too easily. But, I think this is a part of Pneumonia.

How are you doing, Forrest? And, did your Dr. call yours Pneumonia, too?It seems there are so many people around here, losing their voice. Janell, was terribly hoarse, for a couple of days. She is much better again, but it is still apparent.

Janell is picking strawberries, and thoroughly disgusted. The berries are so rotten.I am not real sure she will go back. Today, she killed more time, than she spent picking.And the farmers feel rather unkindly to those who ‘goof off!She won’t be here so very long anyhow, and may as well have fun with her old friends, while she is here.

We have been having the most unbelieveable weather!Now, it is 9:30 P.M., and nearly75’. It has been real warm in the days. We need rain again, too.

We went out to pick the gooseberries, and the mosquitoes were so bad that we gave it up. Will have to do that in daytime. I don’t think they will be so bad, then. So, Janell decided to go away for the evening, and night.Some kind of insect gets on the goose berries every year, and strips off all the leaves by the time they are ready to pick, that is bad enough, but, this year, it looks like every berry is damaged. In the morning, I will stem these,and check if they are too bad to use. I cant eat pies made of them, but do surely like jelly and jam. The raspberries are ripening now, too. I don’t have any desire to put up things this year-- not even to freeze berries, but, I am sure I will.

A friend brought us a big supply of fresh potatoes, peas, and carrots, and small beets with the greens still on. I think I will have to eat these alone, as Janell says she does not care for them (The beets, I mean)

I read an article a few days ago, about Salmonella. It said that the symptoms are so like other things, that it is often undetected, without w complete check up, with Salmonella in mind. It is a pretty serious thing, and I did wonder if it was possible that some so- called stomach flu, could be that.

I think you, Forrest, must feel like I did. I thought that if I was in a dryer climate, I would better off. But, now that I feel well again, and the weather is so fine, I can’t quite think of leaving.But no one can deny that the past winter was “LOUSY”.

I did have the nicest Birthday, in spite of myself. An unusual number of nice cards, gifts, phone calls, etc. etc. So, at least, I did not sit alone and mope and feel sorry for myself.

How is the shorthand coming Evelyn? I hope you either have passed or are ready to take your Exams, and pass with high grades. I think this may be like some of us think about College degrees. You are already proficient in Short hand, anent you? But to pas certain requirements you must be TOPS.

Of course, I know that to be a full fledged Court Reporter, a good speed is needed.I don’t see how any one can interpretor translate into short-hand, what is said, so fast.

I am glad that more new students are coming into the school, and hope they continue to come in. Have you gotten any students with Gov’t. Aid, as you had hoped?

Your Plainview house sounds interesting, and I hope it will work out to your advantage- whatever ou do with it. It does sound like it would make a lovely home for you. If you do the necessary work on it, to sell, it should be ready if you want to keep it, too. I have always thought it is nicer to live in a HOUSE than an APARTMENT, but there is a lot of yardwork involved, and in an apartment, the repairs are taken care of, and I am feeling it would be nice to be in one, so, we must each do as we feel is best,for ourselves.

I think I will get this to the P.O.and get ready for bed
As I said, “It is a lonely evening,” may as well sleep it off.

I almost forgot to thank you for your very generous Birthday gift to me. I have not yet used it, but will get something I, especially want, with it. I have put it away with other ‘Gift Moneys’ and am thinking of a real comfortable new chair.But in the meantime, Thank You very much!

Much Love to you both,


P.S. I forgot to tell you that Harold was here Saturday night and Sunday A.M. He had some business at Oak Harbor, and it took more time than he had thought it would. This was all done as a favor for a couple of his friends, and the paid his way up here to work out some Corporation Papers. Sat. eve. We all three, visited athomes of 4 friends. This is doing pretty well in such a short time.His plan was, to start backlast night, or this morning. He thought he had a new job, but he had not been called to it, before he left home.

I can hear fireworks, but cant see anything.I think I have lost my Youth. Even Fireworks , no longer fascinate me.