I'm sitting in the airport I hate above all others, with a passion that burns with the fury of a million fiery suns.

But I did confirm my first class upgrade for my flight to EWR so I am going to be full of drink and sandwich and not rubbing elbows with the overweight mother (who's brother actually had the gaul to ask me to switch to a middle seat three rows back so that he could have my aisle bulkhead one, yeah right pal) and her infant child who throws his food on me for a couple of hours. The flight from Sacto was fun.

My flight is delayed, because no flight, from any airline, between ORD and EWR has ever, EVER departed and/or arrived on time. Its one of the select few routes in the world (I kid not) that is routinely scheduled to take about a half an hour longer than it does in reality, because the powers that be have come to accept the fact that this route will never fly on time. But United gets the closest, which I have proven through long and painful empirical investigation.

I will concede this airport one commendation - they have about 10 available power sockets scattered throughout an airport of a couple hundred gates that see many thousand people a day. So, if you are smart, and you know how to beat all of those people, and you don't mind sitting on the floor, you might just be blogging from a laptop that's actually being charged while you type, so that you can work on email on the flight. If you're not busy eating and drinking on it.

The traffic to this airport, from anywhere, is some of the worst on the planet. That doesn't have to do expressly with the airport itself, but its close enough to be added to the list. The rental car facilities (which, thank God I did not have to deal with today, as I am only connecting through hell on this trip), are pretty much on the other side of the city from the airport. They cart you back and forth in buses that run on no discernable schedule or for that matter any regular route. They just kind of randomly show up at random terminals. At random times.

The terminals are conveniently located about 3 miles apart from each other, for no apparent reason. Thankfully, however, there is no convenient transportation assistance offered beyond the endless underground tunnels which have been donned with a neon light show to make you forget temporarily that you want to claw your eyeballs out. And the people-mover (you know, the flat escalator type thing) on the left hand side between terminals B and C has been broken for the better part of 5 years now. The pallet of spare parts they keep near the wall at the end is collecting dust. More every week.

Here's what really bites me though: I actually can tell by the turns the plane makes from the gate whether or not we are headed to a runway or to a holding pad. I don't even need to listen to the ATC channel or look outside to see where we are going. I can feel it in the plane's movements.

These are the terrible things you come to know when you travel for work.

I hate O'hare.


I'm back in the states now.

This past weekend was Lesotho with Tracy and Paul, I'll get to retroblogging it in due chronological order, but suffice to say it was underwhelming. But OK.

Monday was work and then I drove down to the Joburg office in the afternoon for a one-on-one with the head of my particular service line, to discuss the potential of further projects in Africa following ADP. Suffice to say it was pretty cool.

Tuesday was work and then I ran home to grab a shower, grab my bags, and drive the whip to the airport. It served me well for the last couple months and I'll miss that little manual transmission 1.6 Polo - I think I got one good picture of it on the Lesotho trip. Got on a 7:20pm flight bound for Dakar, Senegal, then on to JFK. Suffice to say I was not looking forward to that.

Wednesday I arrived in NY and Dave picked me up. Got a jacket and some ski gear out of my storage unit, picked up some pastrami sandwiches at Sarge's, showered and changed at Dave's place, caught a cab to LGA and flew to Denver, where I struggled to stay awake til 9pm, after being up for 50 some hours. Suffice to say I was tired.

Today was work here at WV's Denver site. Good stuff. Same tomorrow. Then home.

Being back is a little weird. Suffice to say.


It is now time to talk about the snake.

Apparently the closest thing I attained to lasting lore at my alma mater was the snake. I like to claim that I did much else of significant merit while there (golfing off the roof at security guards, sprinting around Map in the snow, sans clothes, the spoon fiasco, etc.), however this seems to be the one that stuck - I recently had yet another current student there call me out on it.

So, without further adieu...

I was living on my own for a bit from somewhere around the time I was 16 til - a few months before I turned 18, shortly after which I left for college. During that period that I lived on my own, I acquired a ball python from a co-worker of mine. He was named Cope (pronounced ko-pee) - the snake, not the coworker - after the chewing tobacco, Copenhagen (said co-worker was a hick, the kind that many northern California natives frown on because they make Phil Jackson's sweeping generalizations somewhat accurate).

When I moved back home before leaving for college, mom did NOT like the idea of having a snake around, but I was able to keep it in the garage when I moved back in on the promise that he would not come in the house.

Well, one day I'm working on my car and I had him draped around my neck, and I literally lean inside the door to grab a tool from the laundry room. Providence would have it that mom pulls up right then and that was close enough to the snake being in the house. So he had to go to the barn until I left for school, and that's when I gave him to my buddy Ed, down the street, for safe keeping.

Ed keeps him through my fresh and soph years at the grove, and everything's going fine. But then the summer between my soph and junior years, Ed informs me he's moving to the bay area for school and can't keep him. I didn't want to get rid of him, but I had no means / funds to transport him back to Pennsylvania (I had the faint thought that it might not be a good idea / within the school rules to own a snake there, but it faded pretty quickly).

And then the Grinch had a wonderful terrible idea.

The night before I was due to go back to GCC, I picked up Cope from Ed, and took him home - kept him in a pillowcase with the top tied in a knot - he would just sleep coiled up in there. Mom would have killed me if she knew he spent the night in my room. The next morning the pillowcase goes delicately in the top of my backpack, and I deliberately dress in nothing containing any metal whatsoever - shorts, sweatpants, t-shirt, big hoodie, and flip flops.

This was the year that Robbie was coming to join me at the grove as a freshmen. Being Robbie, she packed way, WAY too much stuff, and when we get to the airport they inform her that one of her bags is too heavy. So we have to start unpacking all her vital stuff and mom starts trying to put some in my bags. Well mine get pretty full in a hurry, and then mom starts angling for the backpack, which has not left my back, as it has a sleeping snake in the top of it.

At this point we got into a bit of an...arguement... about...the situation at large. I really wasn't upset like I was feigning, but there was no way I could let mom kill my snake cramming robbie's crap on top of him, much less risk her finding him in my backpack and freaking out in the middle of a busy SMF airport.

So I proceed to STORM off to the bathroom, and that was pretty much that.

Of course, the bathroom was all part of the plan anyway. I head into a bathroom stall, take Cope out, wrap him around my waist (he'd often just chill there like a big thick belt, if he wasn't feeling super active), and tuck my shirt around him and into my pants. I put the hoodie on over the shirt, close up the backpack, come back out, settle things with the folks, and then Robbie and I head off to security.

I've got Cope wrapped around my waist the whole time. Put the backpack on the x-ray belt, breeze through the metal detector, pick up my bag, head back to the next bathroom I can find, pack Cope back up in the pillowcase / backpack, and head for the gate (this is all pre-9/11 mind you, probably wouldn't have tried this after).

Robbie and I proceed to fly cross-country with Cope sleeping at my feet. He spends the night with me at our uncle's place in Cleveland, then we arrive safe and sound at GCC where my first order of business was buying an acquarium.

That was how my junior year at the grove started, up there in that room in Alumni where I didn't really have a real roommate (another story, for another time), I had Cope instead. All the guys would come over once a month to watch me feed him, it was good times.

However, there were a few guys in particular who were NOT privvy to said feedings, namely the two Order of St. George (read: dorky goth) tools who lived in the room next to me, and generally ruined my otherwise serendipitous experience in Alumni. These guys were freaks, and they had their freak buddies up to do freaky stuff with them CONSTANTLY and it was usually in the middle of the night, when normal people (namely, me) were trying to sleep.

One evening I walked by their door and it was open, but all the lights were off in the room. I heard talking / giggling. I stood there for a minute trying to figure out what was going on, before I realized they were watching the Harker windows with binoculars, from the dark of their room. Harker was the girls dorm across the street.

Suffice to say they were just terrible to live next to. I couldn't stand these guys. I did not get on well with them.

Back to Cope.

A python's main goal in life is to find a way out of his acquarium and go explore for warm dark places to curl up and sleep, where no one will bother him. So of course one day about halfway through the semester he manages to break out and disappear. Now, these things can go almost anywhere, squeeze into almost any hole, find the most random places, etc. - so you have to be careful when searching, and you have to look EVERYWHERE.

So the first thing to do is make sure he's not in the room, which meant moving the entire room, piece by piece, into the hall. Check every drawer, between the clothes, inside the desk, check the mattresses for potential holes, look inside the couch lining, every box, the entertainment center - anything he could have burrowed into. It all goes into the hall once its deemed to be snake free.

Well, he's not in the room. The room is EMPTY and he's not there.

So its time to review alternatives. The ceiling tiles are too heavy for him and besides, I don't think he could have gotten up there, so the only options are a) he crawled through the heating vents to any of the other rooms on that side of alumni (one long vent ran the length of the building, 20 rooms or so, or b) he crawled through a hole in the floor into the ceiling of the first floor - the men's bathroom was just below me and the security office was next to that.

I move everything back into the room (I think this was around the time that the RD started to suspect weirdness was up in my room, but that's more related to the fact that I didn't have a real roommate, which as I already mentioned is another story for another time). I decide to check option b first, and that night I go down to the mens room on the first floor and climb up into the ceiling with a flashlight and make sure he's not there.

So that mean's its option a. He's in the vents or, more likely, in someone else's room on the hall.

I then let all the guys in the other rooms, everyone but the OSG tools, know that Cope's on the loose. They all know that he's harmless and they're more likely to hurt him than he is to hurt them, so they all are cool with it and look through their rooms (not to the same level that I did, but I encouraged as much thoroghness as possible).

Well, no one finds him, so that leaves one of two possibilities: he's either in the vents or the OSG room. There's simply no way I can tell these guys about him - we've gone to security over each other before (I would sometimes accidentally leave my stereo blasting in the early AM when they were just going to bed after they had kept me up all night, etc.). So i know they'll rat me out if I tell them, so I cross my fingers and hope for the best.

I figure cope will get thirsty in a week or so and come out looking for a drink. But snakes can go for a while without food / water (I only fed him monthly, for instance). About 3 weeks passed.

I kind of stopped thinking about it so regularly after a while. I had left a bowl of water in the middle of the acquarium in the middle of the room in hopes he would come back, but never saw him in the course of the three weeks, and the water didn't disappear.

Well, one night I'm doing laundry over by the new racquetball courts. The easiest way back to my room was through a long hallway above the old racquetball courts, which deposits one at the very far end of the long hall I lived on, from my room.

I get through the door with my arms full of clean laundry, and just about start down the long hallway towards my room when I realize there's about 20 people around it - everyone who's ever worked security for the school, Van Til's son (the head of security), a couple cops, and a few guys from the hall. Nobody's looking my way but then one of the guys from the hall sees me and gives me a very discreet wave-off, so I spin around and go into hiding for an hour or so.

When I finally sneak back into the hall, everything's settled down, so I head for the room of the guy who waved me off, before (he was with the Nu Lambs, I think). He and his roommate give me the scoop (this was at like 3 in the morning, mind you):

Apparently the OSG tool who stayed on the bottom bunk had been crawling into bed at an early hour (for him) and when he crawls in, he feels something at his feet. Throws back his covers, sees Cope. Jumps so hard he hits his head on the top bunk and either faints or knocks himself out. Falls on the floor.

Tool #2 sees this, and flees the room, screaming bloody murder, leaving his buddy behind to be eaten by the snake of doom.

He runs down to security, they come running up, help tool 1 out of the room, but no one will go near deathsnake.

The guys on the hall know he's harmless but nobody wants to admit knowing anything about the snake so they all just stand around saying nothing while security debates how best to kill Cope.

They end up calling all cars (cops, etc.) to weigh in on the decision, and fortunately one of the cops knows something about snakes and says it's a harmless one. That's about when someone indicated to security that there might be an acquarium in my room. So they go in there, find it, put him in it, take him down to the security office, and leave me a note, TYPED OUT (no joke) on a piece of scratch paper taped to my door.

Man I wish I still had that note. It said something about the owner of the acquarium needing to report to security immediately.

I check out security from the long end of the hall downstairs and there's still a bunch of people there waiting to see me show up, so I give them about another hour til things settle down (I did have laundry to fold, after all). Finally, I decide its time to face the music, head downstairs, and there's still 3 security guards and the smart cop.

They all inform me that yeah, I'm in HUGE trouble but its going to be up to the administration how to best deal with me, as stuff this big is out of their hands.

Then they start asking me all these questions like "why's he drinking so much water?" and "could he kill a small child?" etc..

I answer all the questions, fix the top of the acquarium for them, and then they keep him in the office that night and I have an 8am appointment with Toncic, the Dean of Men.

I head down to Crawford (where the administration offices were) in the morning thinking "That's it, I'm toast, they are sending me home. And then Mom and Dad will kill me."

I'm waiting out in the hall for my sentencing and T. Scott Gordon, this one guy who worked for the administration but I was never sure what exactly he did, who always had a mustache and a bowtie, walks by and looks at me grimly and just shakes his head in dismay over the low, low state I had sunk to.

Then I get called into Toncic's office. I'm waiting to hear the world "expelled" at any second. Toncic informs me its a very serious violation, and that this isn't going to be treated lightly. He then informs me I'm going to have to get rid of the snake immediately.

Then he starts in asking me questions about the snake, just like the security guys - how long i've had him, how big he can get, is he dangerous, etc...really curious about it.

Then he dismisses me to go work on getting rid of the snake.

I'm thinking, for about 3 seconds, that I actually might get out of this thing, as we head towards the door of his office.

And he opens it, and Nancy Paxton is standing there. I think her official title was Boss of the College. The college president was basically a front man for the whole thing, while she methodically pulled the strings that made the puppets of that school dance. She maintained (and boasted in) her 80% rate - fully that many students would someday marry a fellow student of the institution.

She asks me if I was the young man with the snake.

I reply that I am.

She tells me what a big deal this is, and I apologize and grovel, basically the same thing that just happened with AT in his office.

Then SHE starts asking me the same set of questions. AT is so excited at this point that he starts answering her questions FOR me. I'm standing there in dumb disbelief.

I'm not really clear on how the conversations ended but I do remember walking out of there with both of them kind of shaking their heads in a comical awe at me like I was some mildly-famous visitor to the college, or something.

So I walk back, find a friend of a friend over at Slippery Rock (the next college-town over) who was happy to have a free pet snake (he was worth a good deal of cash by that point), and drive it over there that afternoon.

And that was the last I heard about it from anyone in the administration. No fine, no suspension, no call to my parents, nothing. In fact, it got me on a first name basis with a bunch of them that I wasn't very close to before.

And that's pretty much the story of the snake.

(Oh and the OSG guys never gave me any crap again, EVER. That was the best part, in my book.)


Random stuff mostly related to being in Africa:

I'm going to Lesotho this weekend and am going to do the highest abseil in the entire world. So I can cross that off the list. See here.

South Africa has the highest number of HIV infections in the world. Something like 70% of the worlds' cases exist in sub-Saharan Africa. See here.

My hands are doing just fine, because its summer here, but even in the winter it stays warm enough and there's enough moisture in the air that I don't think I'd have a problem. I'm debating whether this is a sign, or not - but I like living somewhere that I don't have to worry about them.

Tipping is a bigger part of life here, there's more of it, but you tip less, amount-wise.

The food here is pretty good. Pizza rocks. Chinese sucks. Burgers are average. Bacon is different and is sub par so bacon cheeseburgers are right out. Salads are not big here as its a very meat-eating culture, so usually they're average at best. Steaks are pretty darn good, and the highest-end ones are cheap, in USD. They have most of the normal fruits and veggies I'm used to although my blueberries are now imported from Europe. They have Hass avocados (but they call them avos, here), so this officially qualifies as somewhere on the planet I could live long term. Cheeses are average, and the selection is much smaller. The water is fine, haven't had any problems with it. Oh and there's an organic strawberry yogurt from Woolies (Woolworth's) that I will miss very much when I leave.

Its still a pretty lonesome (which is a different word than lonely) experience here on the whole. I don't really have a lot of friends, and the nature of the work is such (typical of a consulting project) that I don't have a lot of evening time to make them. I've been trying to make them through church and so forth, but my social muscles have gone a little slack. Plus the whole introversion thing. I have more time to myself (be it working or otherwise) than is probably good for me.

The Rand (ZAR - their monetary unit) is back up to almost 6.80 against the USD. It was 7.30 when I got here, and dipped below 6.50 at points in the last 2 months. So now is a better time to go on vacation, but still could be better.

I am behind on my work.

Things that the sore on the inside of my cheek where I accidentally bit myself does not like: Italian dressing. Also, chips and guacamole, but its just had to learn to deal with that one.

There aren't a lot of cops here (and they wonder why there's a crime problem). So sometimes, when I stay late in the office, and there's not a lot of traffic out, I drive home like I'm in a Rally race. Which is pretty fun.

I've developed either a sinus infection or an allergy to something in the last 24 hours. I hope its the former and I hope it goes away soon.

I get to watch everybody wake up, so to speak, as daylight generally hits their part of the world and they log on to their various IM application of preference. When I get in, the London people usually show up about an hour after me. Around 2pm US the early birds from the Eastern US start to show up. Western US joins about 3 hours later, as 5pm here is 7am their time. I can also see who's generally up late in the US, because they're still online when I get in every morning.

It will be strange going back to the US and jumping straight into winter. Hasn't felt like Christmas here one little bit. Its hot. You don't have Christmas when its hot.

I'm gonna have a heck of a lot of video editing to catch up on when I get home.

We have a pretty cool 2-bed / 2-bath apartment here in Pretoria. By "we" I mean Paul, the consultant who joined the team recently, and myself. We're paying too much for the rent (by local standards) but its under our project budget so its not a big deal. Its furnished comfortably, although the general theme of the place is fairly minimalist, and has lots of nice deck space to sit out on (its a penthouse apartment). I'll try to get some pictures of it up. I miss the old place a little but the bed in this one is way more comfy, which is a big plus, although I'm struggling more to get up in the morning and run. Its right across the street from a shopping center, which is pretty key seeing as we share a car.

Dry cleaning is crazy expensive here.


(Retro- blogging) (Cape Town Part 1)

The weekend after Madikwe, Brian and I took off for Cape Town. I mis-booked my flight originally for a day later, so I had a minor fiasco at the airport securing a flight on another airline (SAA was less-than-not-very-helpful, thank you less-than-not-very-much). Then that other airline did something I was simply shocked by. I was near the front of the queue to board, since I was very early for that flight, seeing as I had arrived thinking I would be on another flight. So I was one of the lucky 30 people they asked to switch to another airplane (as this one was overbooked), "departing Joburg and arriving Cape Town" at the exact same time (right, like they have parallel runways here like its O'hare or something, I later realized). So I say "sure, why not" and they move 30 of us to the gate right next door. And then they board the other flight, the one I was originally on. And they don't board us. And they don't tell us anything. And our departure time comes and goes, and still they tell us nothing. A couple hours later they finally board us and fly us to CT, without so much as an apology from anyone. They lied to my face. Worst customer service experience ever.

But, the trip was not to be darkened by that nightmare. We got into Cape Town and drove to our first hotel on the waterfront in Simon's Town, near where we would go on a shark-breach viewing cruise early the next morning. Except the next morning I couldn't drag Brian out of his bed, even after pouring water on him (that pissed him right off!). So I drove to the docks alone, in the dark. Met up with the other folk there for the cruise and then met our boat operators, and then we were off. It was about a 20 minute ride out to Seal Island.

Seal Island is pretty much the only place in the entire world that you can go and watch the great whites actually breach (read: jump fully out of the water). Its due to the nature of the shallow waters around the island, the color on the bottom of the sea floor and the color of the sharks themselves, and the sheer numbers of endless seals that like to use this island when they're not off swimming around the world. There's anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand seals coming in from or going back out to sea from the island on a given day.

The way the sharks work is that they come straight from underneath their prey, and when they hit it (usually swimming along the surface), they are propelled by their momentum into the air, where they hang for a brief second before disappearing to the deep again, hopefully with a blubbery little snack in their maw.

I didn't really get many pictures of this trip because I was working the video camera more than anything, as there's a much better chance of catching a breaching on video than on the digital cam. I did get one breaching on tape, albeit far off, but it was truly awesome to see, as you can hear in the video when I start freaking out about it (when I get some time off at home this month, I'll try to get clips up on youtube).

We did a little trolling around the island with our fake carpet seal behind us but didn't get much response there, nor to the chum in the water later - had a couple big ones come by briefly but none that stayed around, so no one bothered going in the cage. After that we poked around the bay and saw some whales, and then back to port. Brian had woken up and did a later-departing whale-watching cruise, so I waited for him to get back and then we kind of off-handedly decided to drive down and see Cape Point.

The park was pretty interesting, I'd like to go back and spend a little more time at the beaches there some time. The point itself is actually pretty hilly, so once you leave your car in the parking lot and dodge a few baboons there, you start either the hike up or can take a tram half the way. We opted for the tram, for time's sake, which was a good idea - there's still a pretty significant hike out towards the point from the top of the tram. So yeah - this is me, at the end of the earth.

We hiked back down (all the way), saw some more baboons, and then drove out of the park, stopping for Mr. Turtle, who was leisurely crossing the street. It was cool to see so many cars casually stopped for him, like this was what you did here, I wish I could have gotten a shot of the scene.

Upon picking up our gear back at the hotel, we were off to Gansbaai - it was a beautiful couple of hours drive down there, mostly along the the water, although not with a clear view of it the whole time. Coming through one mountain pass, I was zipping along at probably 140kms and BAM there goes a baboon shooting across the road like a bullet. We missed him by no more than a meter. It was just like in the states where you almost hit a deer, except it was a freakin baboon - yep, you're in Africa.

We arrived late afternoon in Gansbaai, to another hotel on the waterfront, dropped off our stuff and headed into town to get some internet, so I could send off my status report for work, and then find dinner at a local bar/restaurant joint where we were clearly the only sore thumbs in the place. The food was terrible and we were smart enough to get a pizza to help tide us over back at the hotel. When we got back we decided to trek down onto the rocks by the water in the dark, and no sooner had we got out there than we saw a couple of sets of headlights careening around the bay towards us. Turned out to be local cops trying to catch poachers (of what we didn't find out), but they looked pretty relieved to see two stupid tourists with a small flashlight, and we were relieved to see them relieved. Hung out on the rocks a little after that, then back to the hotel, for night 2 of going to sleep to the sound of waves crashing, which is pretty much the second best thing ever.

The first best thing ever would happen the next morning, and that will be Cape Town, part deux.


Reading update time!

Recently finished (in no particular order):

A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail - Bill Bryson. Bryson did an incredible job researching the subject and related subjects at large, and intertwined them cunningly with his story of adventures on the Appalachian Trail. I learned a lot about the trail and enjoyed the read, from his rather comical perspective. I'd never try the AT but perhaps the PCT someday...I think that would be a cool honeymoon, or perhaps fun to do with my brothers. Not both together, though. Anyhow, I'm going to try to add Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything to my list in the near future.

Blue Like Jazz - Donald Miller. This was, like many books, about what I expected of it. Not a completely amazing book, but it did make some good points, sometimes in interesting ways. Miller at times almost seemed to be trying a little too hard to be a spiritual "hipster," for lack of a better way of putting it - but it was still a pretty decent read. I like reading this genre because its close to some stuff I hope to write myself someday.

Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs - A Low Culture Manifesto - Chuck Klosterman. Basically a semi-structured rant on pop culture in the US. Really funny at parts, a bit pedantic at others. Kind of like Bell, above, came off as trying really hard to not appear to be trying to be cool, so as to actually be cool...and basically just losing the reader in the process.

Metal Men: How Marc Rich Defrauded the Country, Evaded the Law, and Became the World's Most Sought-After Corporate Criminals - A. Craig Copetas. Rich basically single-handedly created the futures markets for things like oil and a million other things that come out of the earth - metals, ores, etc.. He avoided paying hundreds of millions of dollars to the US and fled the country - Clinton pardoned him on his last day in office but Rich has never returned to the states - likely because acceptance of a presidential pardon implies guilt, and he's still afraid they'll figure out a way to get him. Rich also cunningly bought up the entire world's supply of boron at one point, allowing him to set the price on it, which he drove up - which had a significant affect on his mass ownership of other products dependent on a cheap supply of boron - although the book doesn't go into a lot of detail on that in particular. Interesting book for us businessy types.

Sex God: Exploring the Endless Connections Between Sexuality and Spirituality - Rob Bell. Similar to the BLJ genre, above - I liked it because I'd like to write from my own perspective on similar topics someday. Bell is a fantastically smart guy, however there were certain things (read: endless, long endnotes that should have just been included in the regular text) about his writing style that didn't quite jive with me. Also, not a lot of new ideas here, but some interesting additions / extrapolations to old ones.

Currently reading:
What is the What - Eggers;
Of Mice and Men - Steinbeck;
Teach Yourself Afrikaans - McDermott

(I can't read one book at a time, its a problem)
(There's probably 20-30 books that were read between these ones and the last time I updated my sidebar. FYI. I will probably never remember what they all were.)


The other day I had my normal salad for lunch but went with the French vinaigrette for a change in dressing (I'm mainly a bleu cheese man). Which jogged a funny memory.

I spent a year or two working in a Raley's supermarket mostly as a grocery-bagger / loader-into-your-car-er (I think the term was "Courtesy Clerk"). It was a weird point in my life for a lot of reasons, which is why a weird work environment like that probably suited me as well as it did. Had some psychotic management in the time I was there, ranging from derranged-but-pretty-funny to completely-control-freak-and-probably-has-human-heads-in-the-basement-at-home. This memory, however, focuses on the former.

He liked to play tricks on the new kids. Well, we all liked to play tricks on the new kids, but he just happened to be the first to play one on me. It was my first closing shift, so about ten til 11, he asks me to head out front and take down the flag. I'm new on the job and still responding with "yeah sure right away" and running off doggedly, so next thing I know, I'm outside looking for a flagpole. Which didn't exist. Come back inside and everyone's waiting for me to walk in with a huge grin on their face. Har.

Well this practice of jokery sounded like a fine thing to me, provided I wasn't the object of it, and so when the next kid got hired a couple weeks later and I was no longer the rookie, I promptly asked Steve, the shift manager, what the plan was. Steve said he saved this ones for the kids he thought were particularly naive, so I took it as somewhat of a complement that he hadn't pulled it on me. He called the new kid over, asked him to go get him a can of the dehydrated water on aisle 10, right next to the dehydrated milk. Poor girl.

Also fun was the supremely important shopping cart count. This one was usually doled out in a very urgent fashion, and key to its employ was doing so at an at least somewhat busy time, to make it more difficult. We probably had 200 of them or so, and the manager would instruct the rookie that district management was visiting later today and needed a detail report on store assets, including an accurate cart count. Picture this exasperated kid trying to walk through the store, counting all the moving ones, while trying to keep an eye on the door for ones leaving / coming out, then running outside to count all the ones in the parking lot...etc.. Good times.

My personal favorite, however, was the salad dressing shake. This was another one saved for those leaning towards the more gullible side of the scale. All you did was ask them to go make sure all the oil-based salad dressings were well-shaken. Don't worry about the cream-based ones. Thanks.

I can't tell you the endless hours of joy we had at some people's expense, as they stood there with a bottle in each hand, diligently shaking. Customers walking by, staring oddly but apprehensive to say anything to the kid they were assuming was a little "slow."

And that's what I think of when I have French vinaigrette.


I recently achieved (very) mild internet fame. Here's how.

I'm part of this "community weblog" that basically anyone can sign up for. Its called Metafilter, and for various reasons its one of my very favorite places on the entire internets. Essentially, the way the site works is that any user can post a link to anything on the internet, given a few specific rules (it hasn't been posted before, etc.). Each user can only post one link every 24 hours, and the idea is that people should only post "the best of the web" (BOTW). So its a great way to find out about cool stuff on the internet you might have otherwise missed.

Anyway, the rather brilliant creator of this site is an internet / community moderating genius, he's written all these (basically) white papers on the subject, and he's started a few sister sites, the most successful of them being AskMetafilter.

AskMeFi is a site where, again, given a set of rules, any user can post a question for the community to answer - i.e. anyone can answer. The idea behind it is called "hive mentality" - basically the assumption that one of the other bees out there has dealt with my problem / query before, and you can usually get your question answered (questions can be about anything, as long as they're within the rules - not chatty, hypothetical, etc.). The questions work differently than the main page in that a user only gets one per week, instead of one per day.

Anyhow, AskMeFi has been so successful that it (basically) put Google Answers out of business (and I'm pretty sure that's still the only publicly-released venture they've ever shut down). Its a great site, very useful, and quite interesting.

Enter me. Yesterday some guy posts a question asking "Where do police / security dogs go when they are retired?" So I posted this answer (which I will copy-paste here for your convenience):

I used to work in Macy's Department Stores corporate offices (as a buyer, not a dog handler), above the Herald Square store in Manhattan. As the store is incredibly large (about 10 floors of retail space), they at one point had a problem with either a) homeless people hiding in the store for a warm place to sleep at night, b) would-be thieves hiding in the store waiting to plunder and then hopefully break their way out of the store after hours, or c) both.

So, naturally, they built a dog kennel on the roof. They keep about 4-5 retired police dogs (all german shepherds) up there and use them nightly for patrolling the store, after hours. I had more than a couple late nights in the office when most of the lights were out and people gone home, and I had to remind myself again and again - "they don't patrol the office floors, dummy."

I once ran into a guy on the service elevator taking a cart with bags of dog food on it up to the roof, and, being a dog lover, I started chatting him up. Turns out that his is a pretty lonely job up there on the roof, just him and the dogs, and he was more than happy to tell me all about them and invite me up for a visit.

Every once in a while I'd be driving by the store on the weekend, usually on the 35th street side, and I would see one or two of the dogs out there on the street with a handler, in the middle of the day. I'm not sure if they were using them to give the appearance of security for the sake of deterrence, or perhaps to chase down run-away shop lifters, or just giving the dogs a change of scenery.

So, that's one place some of them retire to.

Annnnnnnnnnyway...the front page of Metafilter, which probably gets about 1-200,000 visits / day (I have no idea and that's a completely random guess, but there are currently almost 63,000 registered members, so you do the extrapolating), has this "sidebar" - a column off to the left. The moderators sometimes post something they think is cool there, and then it gets a lot of visibility / hits that it otherwise wouldn't have gotten. Getting anything you wrote/did posted to the side-bar is something of an internet-nerd honor, so to speak - everyone "favorites" (tags) your answer, asks follow-on questions, etc....

Yeah so back on the fifth of November (remember, remember), I got side-barred on Metafilter.

So, yes, I am an internet nerd. And now I am a (very) mildly famous one.


(File under: things I won't be telling mom about.)

U.S. Consulate General, Johannesburg
Warden Message – November 27, 2007

This warden message is being issued to remind Americans that crime levels tend to increase during the holiday season. With that in mind, please review and put into practice the following security precautions. Please consult the Consular Information Sheet for South Africa at www.travel.state.gov for additional precautions.


Armed robbery of cash-in-transit vehicles and personnel occurs throughout South Africa, and peaks during December and January due to the increase in cash flow from commercial stores to banks. These attacks have also included incidents at major malls and in large grocery stores. Individuals should raise their level of situational awareness while in the vicinity of cash-in-transit vehicles, and to the extent possible avoid areas where they are located.

As an added note of caution, please be vigilant when using your Debit/Credit cards at ATMs. There have been several reports of ATM PIN thefts/ATM cloning schemes that result in multiple unauthorized cash withdrawals from personal accounts. If you need to use an ATM, first make sure no one is loitering in the area. Should someone offer to "help" you, leave the area immediately. Generally one should avoid using an ATM in a remote area.

Smash & Grabs/Carjacking:

Motorists are urged to be extremely cautious when approaching intersections and to hide bags, cell phones, and other valuables from view. Criminals are on the lookout for valuable items they can see through the car windows. Doors should be kept locked and windows rolled up at all times.

Crimes against property, such as carjacking, have often been accompanied by violent acts, including murder, when victims resist or are slow to respond to attackers’ demands. South Africa also has the highest incidence of reported rape in the world. Foreigners are not specifically targeted, but several have been the victims of rape. Victims of violent crime, especially rape, are strongly encouraged to seek immediate medical attention, including antiretroviral therapy against HIV/AIDS. Questions about how to receive such treatment should be directed to the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.

In Public Areas:

When in public, remain vigilant for signs of trouble. Before entering any establishment, scan the area for suspicious activity to avoid walking into a robbery in progress. Remember where the nearest fire exits and other avenues of escape are located. Avoid walking or driving near cash in-transit vans since they are frequently targeted by heavily armed gangs. If you hear shots fired, immediately get down on the ground. Do not try to investigate or intervene.

Registration with U.S. Consulates General:

We strongly recommend that you register your presence in South Africa with the nearest U.S. Consulate General via our registration site located at https://travelregistration.state.gov/ibrs/ui/.

For the latest security information, Americans living and traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs Internet web site at http://travel.state.gov, where the current Worldwide Caution, Public Announcements, and Travel Warnings can be found. Up-to-date information on security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S., or, for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).

As always, please do not hesitate to contact us if you have any questions:

The U.S. Embassy is located at 877 Pretorius Street, Arcadia in Pretoria, telephone (27-12) 431-4000 (from South Africa 012-431-4000), fax (27-12) 431-5504 (from South Africa 012-431-5504). The U.S. Embassy web site is http://usembassy.state.gov/pretoria/.

The U.S. Consulate General in Johannesburg provides consular services for Americans in the Pretoria area. The Consulate General in Johannesburg is located at No. 1 River Street (corner of River and Riviera Road), Killarney, Johannesburg telephone (27-11) 644-8000 (from South Africa 011-644-8000), fax (27-11) 646-6916 (from South Africa (011-646-6916). Its consular jurisdiction includes Gauteng, Mpumalanga, Limpopo, NorthWest, and Free State provinces.

The Consulate General in Cape Town is located at the 2 Reddam Avenue, Westlake, Cape Town, telephone (27-21) 702-7300 (from South Africa 021-702-7300), fax (27-21) 702-7493 (from South Africa 021-702-7493). Its consular jurisdiction includes Western Cape, Eastern Cape, and Northern Cape provinces.

The Consulate General in Durban is located at the Old Mutual Building, 31st floor, 303 West Street, telephone (27-31) 305-7600 (from South Africa 031-305-7600), fax (27-31) 305-7691 (from South Africa 031-305-7691). Its consular jurisdiction includes KwaZulu-Natal Province.


(Retro- blogging)

Wonder- boom! A fitting name for a gate through which I was to make my first foray into the wonderful world of African safari. It was early September, almost 2 weeks after I got here, and Leslie and I drove up to Madikwe game park, which is situated in northern ZA, just south of the border with Botswana. And I would have gone to Botswana and had a coffee there with Brian and Jenny when they went at the end of the weekend, but I brilliantly left my passport at home. Smart, driving around a foreign country sans-passport. Go me.

But the trip was still great. We drove most of Saturday morning - I took a few pictures along the way, but the one thing my camera couldn't really capture were the literally hundreds of people we passed on the trip that were thumbing rides. Probably thousands is more accurate. Its just part of life here, they don't have cars, so they stand out in the African heat and try to get a ride. And here we zip past in our air-conditioned Toyota with an empty back row of seats. But you can't pull over and help them, because a) its not safe, b) it would be totally out of the ordinary and who knows how they might react to a white person doing that, and c) its not safe. People just don't do that here. Not one of the people we passed trying to get a ride was white. I resolved then and there on that drive that if I ever live here, I will own a pick-up truck, and I will give rides.

So, yeah. We arrived early afternoon at the gates to the park, and then took the poorly-kept dirt/rock road back to the particular resort that Jenny had booked us at. Saw a lot of stuff on the way in - the first wild thing I saw up close was the springbok, fittingly, followed soon by a kudu, up real close.

Then a joey, standing right by the road.

Then some zebra (I've learned its properly pronounced "zeb-ra" not "zeeb-ra"). Then we were at the lodge, and Brian and Jenny pulled in a couple minutes after us, in the ugliest car in the whole of ZA.

We were greeted with moist towels and champagne (or juice, I can't remember which), had a nice light lunch of fish cakes and salad, settled into our rooms (which were extravagantly 5-star African bush-lodge awesome), and marveled over what is my new favorite thing that I will have someday - a shower that opens via sliding glass door out onto the deck with an incredible view. So its kind of like showering outside, except you're enclosed enough by the way the building is designed to have sufficient privacy. If you don't mind some animals watching you bathe.

Checked out the pool and the view of the valley a bit, and then it was time for our first eveing game drive.

This is basically what I saw for the majority of the gamedrive. This is basically what you see for the majority of any gamedrive - the rest of the people in the Land Rover in front of you (if you're smart enough to sit in the highest row, in the back, where you will get the best pictures and also run the risk of being gored to death through the seat by an angry elephant tusk, which I later came to find happened a couple weeks before we got there to some poor dude), and the general landscape. Actually most of the time you're searching the landscape for animals, but it takes a while to find some.

This was our guide. He is holding a piece of crap and explaining the wonderful world of the dung beetle to us. He was very knowledgeable about the terrain, wildlife, plantlife, and everything else, right down to the crap.

The first thing of any significance (read: not springbok) that we saw was a crazy looking bird (that's its actual, real, scientific name, I kid you not).

Then we pulled up right next to a family of lions. Because, apparently, this is what people do every day in places like this. I was sitting, literally, 5 feet away from a small pride of wild lion. Me: wow. Lion: yawn. Needless to say we took a lot of pictures / footage. That was pretty much the high point of day one, and the trip so far, for that matter.

This is him about to pounce and devour us as we lie twitching and screaming in pools of our own blood. Or yawning. You decide.

MMMbeeeer. Or, as they call it on safari, a "sun- downer." I still call it MMMbeeeer.

Dinner was tres awesome, as the French say, and I will allow it to speak for itself:

There was one couple off having dinner in a secluded area of their own, they were on honeymoon or it was the wife's birthday or some such nonsense, but anyway it meant that after dessert we were treated to some real live tribal singing from the local kids who worked the kitchen / tables, which was pretty neat. I caught some of it on my camera's video function, but the light was pretty poor. Then we sat out on our deck and saw stars I've probably never seen before that night. That was a nice evening.

WAKE UP ITS MORNING ALREADY. Time for morning game drive. Now its me doing the yawning, but only until we cruise up next to mother elephant and her extended family. She looked not very happy with us, but didn't make signs of a charge, so we got some good shots. There were maybe 30 of them or so altogether, and unlike how you normally find elephant (eating, eating, and then stopping to eat, after which they eat some more), these guys were on a mission for something or other - we followed them for a few km across the plain, maybe they were headed to water, we never found out because we ran into another family of lions that had just finished a delightful breakfast of wildebeest.

Hi I'm a wildebeest.

Hi, we're lions. That red stuff around our mouths? That's the wildebeest.

Saw a few more zebs, wildes, joeys, and other stuff on the way back but nothing much new. Once back we had a late, oboxiously large breakfast - basically they serve you all this food - cereals, muffins, meats, cheeses, fruits - and then they come out and ask you what you'd like for breakfast - eggs, omlette, ham, toast, fried tomato, etc..

So you can get some idea of the main lodge...

Where we ate

Stairs to main lobby

One of the decks

Stairs up to the pool

Another deck

Then it was time to pack up and go. On our way out of the park, we came RIGHT up on a family of elephant trying to find some shade in the trees next to the road. I mean we were very close, but they didn't seem to mind, probably because it was too darn hot to be chasing away any smallish shiny silver human mover things.

I drove Leslie to JNB where she hopped on her flight back to the states, and then I was alone here in SA, which was an interesting feeling. Brian and Jenny, meanwhile, drove up to the Botswana border, had coffee in Botswana, and then drove back to their place in Joburg.

But at least I didn't have to bribe the police after being caught speeding.

(Editor's note: I've been going through all kinds of hell and high water trying to get this stupid spacing right on posts with pictures lately so that it actually appears half decent in FireFox. Need to figure out a way around that, but in the meantime, if the post looks all funky to you, its probably b/c you're viewing via Internet Explorer. Which is your loss.)

(Here's another new theme I'm kicking off here on the blog, similar to retroblogging. This one will be known as "story time." You get the idea. Might be real, might be fake, but most likely, its the former. And for these first few ones I have in mind, they're most likely an adaptation of an email or IM conversation I've had recently. You'll know its story time, because it will start with "It is now time to talk about...", which happens to be my favorite way to start any story. Enjoy.)

It is now time to talk about the hallucinations.

I'm on a malaria medication whilst here in Africa, you don't need it for most of South Africa (except Kruger park, where it is carried prolifically by the M.O.U.S.'s, or Mosquitos of Unusual Size, as they are known here. Seriously, Brian and I saw one eating a bee. A BEE.). Anyway, you do need it for much of the rest of Africa, like Kenya, and Zambia, both of which I've spent time in recently and still have to blog about.

So, the medication. First off let's point out that it won't prevent you from getting malaria. Only copius amounts of deet and running faster than the bugs can fly will do that. So there's that. It does lessen the effects of the disease, if you get it, which some locals argue might take you longer to realize you actually have it, which is detrimental, if you don't get to the doc sooner rather than later, to get tested and treated if in fact you do have it.

But everybody takes it, so, whatever. Basically there's two types, the once-a-week-you-might-have-hallucinations-type or the once-daily-other-probably-less-noticeable-side-effects-one (no hallucinations with that one). Shakespeare said "Know thyself," (although I once had a friend try to tell me it came from the Bible), and, well, having my horrible memory, taking a pill every day for a month and a half just isn't going to happen. I'm lucky enough to remember to take the thing once a week. Well, no, I'm not even that lucky, as you'll see shortly. Maybe its because there's no such thing as luck.

Early on, however, this malaria med had not been too hard to remember, because every Saturday night was hallucination night! Yay. Pass the popcorn. The first time I was supposed to take it before leaving for my London / Nairobi trip, both of which I've spent time in recently and still have to blog about. But I forgot. So I found myself debating whether or not to take it on the flight up to London (an overnight flight), but I very smartly didn't. Having my first dose at 37,000 feet over western Africa probably would have ended not very well, and by "not very well" I mean "in a London prison."

The first one in London actually wasn't that exciting. I was exhausted from the trip and my first day in London, so a couple of vodka cranberries and the pill and I was out for the night. There may have been some minor Mary Poppins related stuff (the animated part, in particular, also Dick Van Dyke dancing in that stupid outfit) in my dreams, but that's about it. Pretty tame.

The next week I was back in SA, after the brief trip to Kenya, and there were some pretty intense thunderstorms. And by "pretty intense" I mean "the worst I've ever heard in my life." Put the midwest ones I heard as a kid to shame. That was, suffice to say, a long night. I probably had about 60 dreams of nuclear holocaust, most of them beginning with me fleeing a glowing, flattened Manhattan in the background as my skin started to fall off.

The following week, I'm happy to report, was much worse, however, because it was just windy, and I had left the kitchen windows open. That's not so bad. Unless the kitchen windows have those thin-metal blinds, and the wind keeps banging them around all night long. And you're living in a country that has bars on all the doors and windows and you're inside a complex with a security guard and walls and electric fences at the top of the walls, and you regularly hear stories of break-ins and robberies and hi-jackings and whatnot. So that night I was up at least 3-4 times, in my shorts, ready to kill the non-existant-villans who were breaking in, with my flashlight, before I figured out that it was the wind. Each time, lights on in the whole place, search it for bad guys, ready for them to pop out of every closet, and then somehow I turn off the lights and go back to bed without thinking to close the window. I wasn't thinking very clearly.

Then, the 4th week, no weather, I figure I'm set. No nuclear bombs going off nearby because the weather is nice out, no people breaking in because the kitchen window is now closed, I'm going to finally have some more peaceful hallucinations.

No, instead, I get scorpions shooting across the floor. I had forgotton about the insect / spider problem here - they're bigger and they're more a part of everyday life, shall we say. So that's what the brain went with that night. Took me a while to get from the couch to bed, where I slept on top of the covers.

I've learned that London was the best idea. Now I won't have this pill with less than a little wine in me first, so I know I'm gonna crash immediately.

Last week wasn't too bad, nothing that I particularly remembered the next morning, although I was due for another one this past weekend and I've forgotten it for 3 straight nights now, so tonight is the night.

Not sure why I couldn't get the fun trippy mushroom hallucinations - not that I'd know what they're like - but I'd imagine recreational drugs make you see happier things. I certainly don't see happy things. Mine seem to be mainly related to stuff that you should naturally have a healthy fear of: anger-of-God thunderstorms (and/or nuclear war), break-ins, and the pervasive spider problem. Apparently, though, after I deal with it the first time, I'm fairly certain my brain can cancel it out for next time, seeing as I haven't had any repetition.

Maybe tonight I'll get ones about having to write a deliverable about a subject I have no experience on. Because there's been some of *that* going on lately, too.


I have, somewhat recently, come to the rather clear realization that I have a fairly textbook case of introversion. That is to say: I am an introvert. (I say that in the same manner I might had I just stood up in a big empty church basement with a group of 20 other people sitting in a circle holding styrofoam coffee cups - "Hi, my name is David…and I am an introvert.")

I have yet to conclude whether it is a good thing, a bad thing, or perhaps some of both. I think the most likely conclusion, however, is that it is in fact, none of the above. Its just a thing.

There is a day that I remember - a few years ago at most - that for me, is the best illustration I can possibly conjure to describe how I best relate to people. If a person (any person) could understand how and why I felt it was a such great day, I think they would, perhaps, "get" me a little better. And I think a lot of people do not "get" me - this is the typical claim of the introvert. We don't feel "got," and its usually not a good feeling.

It was while I was still living in the NYC area, a surprisingly warm weekend in the middle of winter. My friend Rebecca had come up from Virginia or Philly or wherever it was she was living at the time, and she had her aunt and sister with her. I don't remember where they were staying, but I do remember heading out for beers in Union Square with them on the Friday evening, at the Heartland Brewery. I got the coolest picture on my phone of Sarah, Rebecca's sister, drinking a beer (she was underage, so it screamed of scandal and I swore I would send it to her parents). It was just a really nice evening. It was right about the time that Rebecca and I were realizing what a great friendship we really had. We were friends - and only that - but just that, all the same.

The next morning, Saturday, Sarah and the aunt were off to do the touristy bits of the city, and Rebecca just wanted to hang out. Which is what I enjoy most and am most likely to be found doing on any lazy winter Saturday - just hanging out.

I remember it was warm enough that we had the door to the roof deck open and the sun was filling the apartment. I remember that Rebecca was reading something, likely a book, and I was busy cleaning up my messy desk and goofing around on the internet.

I wish I could remember the rest of the details, because it really is one of my favorite days that I can remember, but I can't - and I actually am glad, in a way, that I can't. The details don't matter here so much as the emotional memory I have of that day: I was at peace. I was busying myself with minor things, stumbling upon things forgotten, allowing the mind to mull over the week before or ahead. I was taking time for the brain to do an internal audit of sorts. A defrag. A disk cleanup.

It wasn't that either of us were doing nothing at all, although we both might very well have been, at some point. It was that regardless of what we were or were not doing, there was not the slightest perceived need for communication about the doing or lack thereof. There was just peaceful quiet.

But not the peaceful quiet that comes when you are totally alone. That can be a good (wonderful, even) peaceful quiet. I crave those peaceful quiets, from time to time. I crave them in small ways, daily - when the brain knows its time to shut down the computer and go forage for food. I crave them in big ways, often - when I've had wonderful weekend with friends, but its just time to go back to my home. These peaceful quiets are good, and necessary, and exactly what I am not talking about here.

We had the peaceful quiet of the presence of another person in that same state of repose.


There's something about presence.

I am sure this occurs within marriages, and although I wouldn't know, I would hopefully speculate. But this, I do know, can happen amongst friends. Yet it hasn't happened to me much, which is why that day stands out. I have had other occasions, but I've found that very few people in my life can understand the unique pleasure that comes out of so many contiguous moments being shared, and perhaps even relished, in silence.


There's something about that too.

Do you know those people who can't sit at home without having the television or stereo on - some form of background noise even if they aren't dedicating themselves fully to the medium at the moment? I don't intend to vilify - I've been that person myself at times, but you know what I'm intimating - that constant need for aural stimulation. The car radio must be on, even if low; the television providing some din of life in from the corner of the room, combined with the soothing high-pitched electronic buzz that our generation has come to accept as a very real and necessary part of life. It is noise for noise sake - it is the absence of silence.

We've been stimulated, as it were, to the point that we can't stand *not* to be stimulated. The lack of it causes us to seek it out - we turn on the internet or reach for our cell phone or even for the latest magazine - something to focus our brain on so that we don't have to face the horror of focusing it on nothing, and perhaps hearing the ripples what lies beneath the surface.

And this is how we cut ourselves off from our own spirit. As long as we can keep the brain occupied, there's no time for reflection or introspection, no time for self examination or perhaps critique, and thus no opportunity for spiritual and mental growth. Instead you just stay there in your perpetual state of placated dormancy (not altogether unlike the humans in The Matrix, if a pop-culture reference isn't too ironic at this point).

There is something about being able to return to silence - and we do so very much have to return to it. The world we live in is structured primarily around the absence of it, and so we must make the conscious journey to those times and places where things stop speaking to our brain and it can deal with itself on its own. There is something about those times that makes them so very peaceful - even in those times where the reflection might bring up some past hurt or wrong that needs to be dealt with - even then, there is the underlying peace that, finally, it is being acknowledged. There is peace in the silence.

Its that beautiful peace, when combined with the wonderful presence of another person sharing it - that is my perfect day. There is no need for words, just the implied trust and comfort in the mutual understanding of the relationship with the other person, regardless of its contexts. A "poignant form of intimacy," as a friend once put it.

I've had many moments of personal reflection on my own, over the years - some pleasant, and some not so enjoyable - but what have been fewer and further between are the instances in which I shared the experience with other persons. I had it with a friend on a long road trip to see my sister and a football game - time to just watch the scenery roll by and think. It happened with another while she cooked us a Sunday meal and I enjoyed my book in the sun. And with another in a canoe we shared floating through silent river valleys. I can think of a couple of friends who have, at the best of moments, looked at me with a smile that says more than words could, and yet is free from the need of them, at the same time.

This is how I best relate to people. When I can be with you and not feel a need for words, or at least very few of them, I am at peace.

I wouldn't argue on behalf of introverts - that they are able to more easily reach this state of quiet repose, or that they are better in some way because of their awareness of it. Rather, I'd simply offer that the typical introvert senses a need for this more deeply - perhaps not even consciously, but often we find ourselves longing for those environments where the quiet can be bathed in. In fact, sometimes, the situations that prevent the comfort of quiet very often can become stressful for us.

And, as much as I'd like it to be the answer, I don't think requiring everyone else to understand and pander to how I'm psychologically structured is the correct response here. While I do believe that society at large does need to be more sensitive to much of the aforementioned, the pessimistic part of me doesn't expect people to change much. So, here are a few things I've been trying to implement in my life in order to mitigate some of the challenges that introversion often fosters:

1. Eye contact. I've been trying to use it more frequently in conversations with people to help them feel acknowledged. Further, I've been playing around with this in the context of what I'll term "experimenting." Its interesting to hold a person's gaze until they look away. It changes the dynamics of a situation - be it the gas station attendant, a co-worker, or a girl at a bar. Its something that takes concerted effort, but I am making it, when I remember to.

2. Small talk. I have always, and likely always will, have a severe distaste for small talk. I do not feel the need to state the obvious, repeatedly, every day. To talk about the weather when every human with the basic functioning senses already knows what the freaking weather is like. BUT...many people find small talk to be the lubrication of conversation - the initial part of connecting with other people that will eventually allow you to open into the deeper things. And, so, I've been working on this too - voicing thoughts that I normally would have just let slip by without a word spoken. Trying to compliment things I admire. Trying to find interesting things to share in the monotony of the day. I am working on all these and more.

3. Being more up-front about who I am. Like this post for example.

4. Asking questions. Questions that I might not really be curious about, but trying to develop a genuine interest in the little things about other people. Questions that encourage other people to open up about who they are and what cooks their bacon. Questions that take the focus off of me and helps me to more genuinely care about others.

So, this is where I'm at. Its a growing, evolving thing, but at least now I'm beginning to see it for what it is. Take this post, itself, for example. I've had it mostly written for over a month now. I've been reading articles and writing in discussion forums and getting lots of good input on the topic from friends and strangers alike, but I haven't felt like the post was quite ready, because it feels I learn something new (even if its small) almost every day, that applies to this situation that I will refer to as "life."

I've been thinking of this as my "Introvert's Manifesto." But it just can't be that, because once I post this, I'm going to go out and spend an evening mostly alone, and then a day following with friends and co-workers, and I'm going to realize something else about how I and they approach the world, and how that's different, and how that's ok. This post can never be what I want it to be. I'll never really be able to communicate exactly what I'm trying to say here, at least not in this life. And that's fine.

Sometimes, when you're down in the count, its just a really comforting thing to stop and realize that you get to play in the game.