Friday, July 27, 2001

Song Fragment, to the tune of the Willie Nelson classic (you know the one):

Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to build websites.

Don't let 'em learn Java or HTML,

They'll just end up on the Gravy Train to Hell.

Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to build websites.

They'll work 'til they drop, and then they'll get laid off,

And try to move back in with you.

Still working on finishing it.

Tuesday, July 17, 2001

My son never has bad breath.

He's 6 1/2 months old, and he's never had bad breath. Not once. Not when he first wakes up, not when he's been crying for hours, not right after he eats...never.

For an adult, 6 and a half months without a single episode of halitosis would be a feat worthy of television coverage, or at least an interview in a local paper...maybe in the "would you believe" section. For babies, though, it seems like the rule rather than the exception. Granted, their diet is somewhat limited; no garlic, onions, or other known dietary/olfactory offenders. Still, my kid eats squash, and peas, and carrots, and other stuff that kind of stinks just in and of itself, with nary a zephyr of fetidness to be detected in his diminutive respirations.

I'll bet if you think about the various breaths you've smelled, you'll find that the majority of them have been bad. In fact, it seems to me that I only ever really remember somebody's breath when it reeks (case in point: my high school physics teacher, who seemed to exist solely on coffee and cigarettes. A classmate of mine aptly described his breath as "smell[ing] like he ate a 10-foot asshole for breakfast"). That octagenarian Sunday School teacher who was always whispering far too closely into your face to "be quiiiiiet during the seeeeermon,"...that girl whose mouth you were so ravenously devouring last night, much to your distaste and disbelief this morning (cigarettes are sexy...)...the merit-smoking, braunschwagger-munching aunt who always wanted a kiss...look at how smelling their breath influenced not only how you felt about them at that moment, but you view of them in general. Think of how you feel about yourself on those mornings when it feels like a baby bear used your mouth for a toilet. The eyes may be the windows of the soul, but the breath, like that smell of pent-up dog in the otherwise impeccable living room, is what first hits you when you walk inside.

It's primal. An evolutionary echo to our pre-hominid existance. Smell was vital to our survival, be it in evaluating a meal (or mate), finding our way home, or detecting a threat. Though the areas of our brains that process smells have atrophied considerably over the eons, there is still hefty evidence that smell is strongly tied to the unconscious. It has been shown to trigger memory and influence emotion. Studies have purportedly shown that students taking tests do better when in the presence of certain smells (particularly if they were present when they were studying), and that sexual attractiveness may be significantly affected by odor, and I'm not talking Chanel No. 5. Smell seems to be one of those direct mainlines to the unconscious - slipping in, often unnoticed, past the gates of the conscious mind to install code right on the hardware.

And breath, ahh, breath. It was how God placed life in our clay forms, and how we first check for its presence when we suspect otherwise. Breath infuses all we do. The Latin root spirare, meaning breath, is the etymological root not only of respire, but inspire, perspire, expire, and spirit. Breathing not only sustains us, it defines us. So many of the things that pollute our whole selves also leave their stain on the air that enters and leaves our bodies - tobacco smoke, alcohol, coffee - vices that all exact a tax on the body and mind as they leave their trace on the breath. Ultimately, breath binds us all together. We all breathe the same atmosphere, each breath like the proverbial drop of water that becomes the sea as we inhale and exhale all from this same ocean of air. Breath is life. Breath is soul. Breath is essence. The breathing of another's breath is like receiving, for a time, their being into our own - the most intimate of connections. The breath of another is a fleeting experience of their very soul. We need it, we share it, and cats are said to steal it. Breath is essence. Breath is soul. Breath is life.

The breath of my son smells to me like innocence.

Friday, July 13, 2001

Here's a funny joke.

Sneak into a co-worker's office, steal their desk calendar, and change it to April 1. Then, when they come into work, you can play a trick on them, and yell "April Fool!" They'll look at the calendar and say "Oh, you got me."

Then you can say "HA, Ha, it's not really April Fools' Day!! You're an IDIOT!!!"

This joke works best on days that are close to April Fools' Day, and is least effective actually on April Fools' Day.

Thursday, July 5, 2001

So yesterday was the 4th of July, the day on which America celebrates the birth of our nation by blowing up a small piece of it (that's a stolen quote; I stole it from Lee, but I think she stole it from somebody else first; I don't know to whom it is originally attributed). As for me and my family, we sort of eschewed the whole fireworks was cloudy, sort of cold, and we were all full of barbecued meat and vegetables. We watched a movie instead.

Does that make us less patriotic? I don't know, but...

The most memorable fireworks display I recall experiencing was on July 4, 1994. I was celebrating the birth of my nation by leaving it: "Happy Birthday, America, sorry I couldn't stay for cake and presents and stuff, but I gotta get outta here for awhile. You understand."

At 6:30pm, I was boarding a plane for Prague, in the Czech Republic, where I would spend the next 6 weeks. I was going over to teach English to a bunch of Czech high-schoolers, presumably so that they would be more able to participate in the "Global Economy," which was and is pretty much dominated by American rules, ideals, and cash. I was reasonably sure that my friend Jeff would be there to meet me when my plane landed; I hadn't actually spoken to him about it, but I'd sent him my travel plans, and his parents had assured me that they had spoken to him and he knew I was coming.

I really had no contingecy plan if he wasn't there. I had never been outside the US, except for Tijuana, which doesn't count. I was on the plane, it was in the air, and I was going to be on Czech soil in 22 hours (with an 8 hour layover in London).

As the plane flew eastward and the sky darkened, I saw the first of the fireworks. They were relatively small, seen from 37,000 feet, but they were still strangely engrossing. Gradually, more and more fireworks began to appear. From our airborne vantage point, we could see several displays at once - at least a dozen were visible at one point - all these little concentrated displays of enthusiastic nationalism and love of country. It was strange, seeing all of this from above. It was unifying, in that you could see that the whole country was celebrating the same thing at once, but at the same time, the displays were so small from our viewpoint, and so localized, each seeming to have nothing more than coincidence to connect them.

In 1990, the Berlin Wall had come down. In 1994, I was on my way to Central Europe, where nations were simultaneously trying to join "The Global Economy" and reclaim their individual national identities. The effort continues to this day with the endeavor to create the European Union. Even in the U.S.A., people still argue and fight about Federal vs. States rights. As someone who has grown up in California and then travelled to other states, it has often seemed to me that we're no more unified than the separate nations of Europe. Culture evolves in pockets and eddies, be it within a single nation or distributed among many. Common language, common currency, a certain measure of common law, and still we're pretty divided.

So, what? "The more things change, the more they stay the same," or "variety is the spice of life," or "vive la differance," or "diff'rent strokes for diff'rent folks?" What am I getting at here? Am I getting at anything at all?

I don't know. I just know that usually when looking at the earth from great altitudes, I am struck by how contiguous it all is, how the lines disappear, and all that. But this one time, when the Sun was down and the bombs were bursting in air, I saw the opposite, and began to wonder at what it means to be one of the largest nations, and arguably THE most powerful, on the globe. I wonder sometimes if it's real. Just who is the U.S.? Is it really us?