12.30.2014

Tips on Using Facebook and Keeping That Good Life You've Got Going

There's a New Yorker article about how Facebook could be making us unhappy (or just slightly diminishing our quality of life).  But the quality of your Facebook experience really comes down to the way you use it. And on that point, I have some tips.

I've found that hardened spittle on my laptop screen, from years of food detritus, has really improved Facebook for me. When I compare myself to the pictures of my peers and acquaintances with their beautiful smiles and trim bodies, surrounded by friends and sunsets, I can think - why is he so dirty, just smudge-smear all over his face? Doesn't she do laundry? Dirt spots all over that stylish outfit which includes boots. These people might have their fancy vacations and cameras and jackets, but at least I've kept an eye on my hygiene. (Says the woman recommending stain build-up on the screens of your electronics. At least I'm happy, OK!)

That's actually my only tip other than having enough self-control to stay off social media.

Oh, one more: if you want to feel more sympathetic towards someone, I would suggest looking at the photos that the person's taken/uploaded instead of just the one she's tagged in. It's helpful to get a small glimpse into how a person sees the world instead of just what she looks like.

That's my advice on passive viewing! Go forth and whittle your time away more expertly.

12.26.2014

Blues

I've spent the holidays in Los Angeles, this year, where I have moved in order to become a screenwriter. It's expensive, here, and Mitch and I had been out of work for a few (more like several) months, so we didn't have the money to go home.

Christmas went pretty well just the two of us. We made breakfast casserole and went hiking in Topanga State Park.  Today, though, I've felt off. I eat because I'm hungry until I'm suddenly too full; I've had that restless unproductiveness that's a mixture of boredom and lack of focus; I troll the internet, and it depresses me. I told Mitch I had a dementor, and he laughed, which I felt pretty good about until I realized he was quoting the Big Lebowski.


I've finally got myself settled in on our makeshift couch (an air mattress in the living room), The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay opened on my lap, just started. If I were at my parent's house, right now, I'd be doing my best to get away from people. I'd want to sit by myself and read my book.

I miss friends and family, but it helps a little bit to have finally gotten myself to do what I'd be doing around them, anyway.

11.30.2014

This should be the next interior of the TARDIS:

 Awesome shot of Pope Francis visiting Turkey's Blue Mosque. (Photo: Reuters) http://t.co/briGKrZzzV pic.twitter.com/HcqG0Bqw7m

11.06.2014

V for Vendetta

I watched V for Vendetta, last night, in honor of November 5th, and it turned out to be a bad idea. I'm moving to L.A., today, and my jitteriness about that wrapped itself like a glove over the tragically-burned hand of the movie. I stayed awake way too late last night thinking about it.

I'd seen V before, but it had been a while. I hadn't seen it since I heard about Anonymous and their apparent affection for it. Liking it in the past, this time I went into the movie, my suspicions pre-raised.

What was it in particular that made gobs of angry anonymous nerds on the internet cling to this movie and its central superhero, V?

Maybe they are drawn to the power, drama, and beauty of destruction: of a building collapsing in flames, of a deftly cut artery. There's a quote I like from Too Loud a Solitude, a book about a man crushing books into waste paper by decree of a corrupt ruler:

"By then I had mustered the strength to look upon misfortune with composure, to still my emotions, by then I had begun to understand the beauty of destruction [...] and as I stood there leaning on a lamppost like Leonardo da Vinci, who stood leaning on a column and looking on while French soldiers used his statue for target practice, shooting away horse and rider bit by bit, I thought how Leonardo, like me, standing and witnessing such horrors with complete composure, had realized even than that neither the heavens are humane nor is any man with a head on his shoulders."

I could see that, that draw.

My problem is that the movie is much too in love with its central character. It insists that V at once has a love of burning, of killing, of revenge, of chaos and is totally good.

He kidnaps his friend, Evey, and while charading as a member of the British secret police, tortures, freezes, and starves her for a month. He does it to free her of her fear, to let her find her inner strength. I'm okay with this development; it's enthralling in a certain way, reflective of how awful experiences in our lives shape us and sometimes make us stronger.

What's not okay is how, once it's over and Evey finds out who her torturer is, several frames later she is dancing with him, kissing him, and delivering his stirring eulogy. It's part of the falseness that a lot of movies have of victims of trauma - especially female victims - recovering way too quickly after their ordeal. This often happens because the trauma inflicted on auxiliary characters is simply a motivation and plot point for the central protagonist. These side characters are not real.

V for Vendetta makes Evey a bit more fleshed out than most "victim" characters. She makes several choices in the movie; we follow her closely; she is our way into that movie. But her love and forgiveness of V - her lack of any negative after affects of her month of torture - tells us that we should have no problems with V either, that his actions are morally right.

Violence against women is justified if it's "for their own good."

You can kill people and blow up buildings and torture your friend for a month and still be unequivocally good. A hero.

So I'm beginning to see why Anonymous likes this guy. No amount of inflicted pain, damage, and destruction has to disrupt his idea - the movie's idea - that he is a good person. Oh, what comfort!

The movie references The Count of Monte Cristo a lot. In her Eulogy for him, Evey says that V is "Edmond Dantes." Edmond Dantes is the happy innocent man at the beginning of TCMC. By the end, once Dantes has taken his revenge on all the people who have grievously harmed him, even Edmond Dantes is not Edmond Dantes. His actions - death, destruction - while being in the name of "justice" have taken their toll on him. The price of those actions is that the innocent happy man is gone, and all that remains is the Count of Monte Cristo, a rich murderer who is tired and feels very little. Edmond Dantes is dead.

10.27.2014

A Series of Physical Assaults

I'm working as a temp at Colorsado State University in Fort Collins, right now, and because of that, I get emailed these security notices about what happens in the community.

In the past month, there have been reports of a man physically assaulting women in the community. The reports provided by the police department have been vague on what's actually happening, but they have emphasized that the women in question were alone, outside, after dark.

The first couple of press releases remind citizens that they can increase their safety by "never travelling alone and by being aware of their surroundings". After two more women were attacked last weekend, the police department lengthened the list of safety precautions, saying:

"Fort Collins Police are encouraging citizens to exercise additional caution especially for female residents who are out in the community after dark. Please consider traveling in groups, carrying a cell phone, remaining in well-traveled areas, and carrying a flashlight."

Assuming these mostly uninformative press releases keep coming as the suspect keeps "physically assaulting" - I add quotes because I would like to know what that means, exactly - women, I was wondering how the Fort Collins Police Department's suggestions would evolve. 

So I traveled to the future to find out...



Then I traveled further into the future...


And further...

But the situation was never resolved. 

10.12.2014

On Wedding Receptions and Taylor Swift

I was at a wedding reception, last night, It was for a couple in their early twenties, and after an hour or so of dancing, the party was starting to die. At least until the DJ put on the new single from Taylor Swift, "Shake It Off".


Women freaked out and rushed to the dance floor while the men filed off, at least initially. Generally, the attitude surrounding media made by, about, or (primarily) for women is that men need to get the fuck out of there.

But "Shake It Off" is one hell of a good pop song. The guys got back on the dance floor; the guests proceeded to foist the bride and groom into the air on chairs - despite the bride's initial protestations.

In a world where women are subject to a great deal of scrutiny, Taylor Swift is perhaps an example of how to get through life with one's identity still in tact. And, in my mind, she's only getting better.

Compare the end of the "Shake It Off" video, where Taylor goofily slides to floor and gives an approving nod, to her 2012 song "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together".


The 2012 video is full of goofy dancing bears and other animals, an example of her exuberance. But just before the three-minute mark, Taylor shrugs at the camera and mouths "I don't know." She apologizes. She, in effect, takes it all back. I'm glad she doesn't feel like she needs to do that anymore.

She's giving us an excuse to dance aggressively and joyfully whether it's generally approved of or not.

10.02.2014

Growing Up

I've been thinking about growing up, considering it. Mitch and I visited some friends of ours, last weekend, who have a baby, their first. It's kind of thrilling to me seeing people go through different phases of life. Their context changes so much that you get to see them under new lights.

I am not considering having children, but - when times are good - I think this growing-up and -old thing won't be so bad. Maybe I'll develop some of those big middle-aged woman breasts or finally get into bangles. Growing old won't be so bad if I can establish some weekly activity with friends, like trivia night. We can get together and talk about leaky roofs and aching bones and marriages that aren't looking as good as we had hoped. Then we'll drink cocktails and try to remember which president imposed the embargo on Cuba (Kennedy).

I think the best way to get old would be as a british man growing fat on ale and chips. If you're a middle aged british man, you're allowed to be as ugly and honest as you want. All you have to care about is going to the pub for a pint after work and following Arsenal.

The gout would be a drawback.

When I'm not terrified of the future, about failures and breaking-down bodies, I'm optimistic. If we live, we'll get to see so much.

Here's a vine my friend's baby helped me make. We're adorable.

9.25.2014

Emma Watson's UN Speech #HeForShe


If this is the sort of thing you follow, I'm sure you've seen the speech Emma Watson made at the UN in support of the #HeForShe campaign. Unfortunately, #HeForShe is a dumb name. We're struggling in the name department as far as gender equality goes. Regardless, I'm encouraged by the target audience of the campaign.

Male voices are super important in the feminist movement; as redundant it is to call male voices important, I mention it just in case that's unclear (and because I'm a panderer ;)).

The first time I heard a man talking excitedly about a female-fronted band (NPR All Song Considered), I felt thrilled. Up through college, female musicians were never spoke of that way. They never quite reached the status of cool.

During the final of the Women's World Cup in 2011, I was in a packed bar in Portland, everyone on their feet for the American team. It was the first time I participated in a crowd of people that were in no part sneering at women's athletics. It felt novel and wonderful to have men praise these player's ability - to really cheer for them - rather than oggle their looks.

Playing pickup basketball at the gym, a guy on the other team joked to me "Make sure you go easy on [the guy you're guarding]". I was the only woman on the court. I laughed, thought nothing of it. My brother, Nick, though, immediately spoke up. "Actually, she's pretty good." I considered how the joke the guy made was in the mutual assumption that, as a girl, I sucked at basketball. It was awesome that Nick stood up for me.

All you have to do is be male and say something slightly pro-lady and I will get a tick of adrenaline. It's really powerful.

Which is good because we need that power. Part of Emma's (my pal, Emma's) speech that was obvious and remarkable:

"I think it is right I am paid the same as my male counterparts. I think it is right that I should be able to make decisions about my own body. I think it is right that women be involved on my behalf in the policies and decisions that will affect my life. I think it is right that socially, I am afforded the same respect as men.

"But sadly, I can say that there is no one country in the world where all women can expect to see these rights. No country in the world can yet say that they achieved gender equality"

I was talking with some friends about gender inequalities in Botswana. The oppression of women is a major factor in the ongoing AIDS epidemic in that country. It isn't culturally acceptable for women to insist on condom use or to expect their partners to be faithful. Young girls often rely on older lovers as a source of income. In addition, domestic violence is an ever present (but taboo) reality. Gender inequality for these women often times costs them their lives.

While we were talking about the situation in Botswana, my male friend, whom I love and have known for a long time, felt attacked. He said he was tired of us "man hating". I was surprised. He is a good person.

Gender inequality is tricky. Some prejudices seem to be reduced as people form relationships. For example, people who are homophobic are often swayed by getting close to someone who's gay; they're less afraid, less hateful. This doesn't seem to be the case with gender. Everybody's close to a woman.

Men seem to have a tendency to align with their gender rather than the people who are closest to them. Please guys, fight this impulse. Don't shut down the conversation.

My friend, who felt attacked when we criticized the gender hierarchy in Botswana, spoke in support of the status quo. It's logically not his position, but that's where we're letting our emotions, our allegiances, lead us.

Another part of Emma's speech:

"Statesman Edmund Burke said, “All that is needed for the forces of evil to triumph is for good men and women to do nothing.”"

A couple of years ago, I fought hard against the notion that the feminist movement needed any male voices. I didn't want women to have to rely on men in order to enact change. Now, though, I've embraced the idea because it seems like guys might actually speak up. I've seen it happen.

So if you do get to speak up, do. It'll make me so excited.

9.17.2014

Defensive Line

I was talking to my friend, Jamie, yesterday, about the recent domestic violence cases in the NFL. Within weeks of one another, Ray Rice knocked his wife unconscious and Adrian Peterson beat his four-year-old with a stick.

A video showed Ray Rice pulling Janay Palmer's unconscious body from an elevator. To be clear, Palmer was conscious when she entered the elevator, but the Ravens and the NFL wanted to give Rice the benefit of the doubt. Who knows what his 5'1" fiance did to deserve it? Who knows how she left him no choice but to cold clock her? They suspended Rice for two games.

Adrian Peterson was suspended for one game after he whipped his son until the boy bled (including severe injuries to the boy's leg and scrotum).

Both of these men have been dealt harsher punishments from the NFL since then.

I'm assuming you've heard about these stories.

Speaking of violence against women and children, I don't care if you, person reading this, think you are a good person. I hope you feel like a good person. I don't want you to feel bad or uncomfortable, but that is emphatically not the point. Resist the impulse to get defensive, if you can, because this matters a lot.

Violence against women and children is a demonstrable fact, and we live in a society that is slow to respond, reluctant or unwilling to step in on behalf of those who suffer from it. Our response, is to blame the victim, to lament the ruined future of the accused, to rage about the feminization of U.S. culture, to argue that men have the right to hit a woman, or to give up, to concede that violence against women and children is inevitable.

The epiphany I had while talking to Jamie is how we can change all that. Domestic violence will go away when all parts of society find it unacceptable. It's like in soccer when a defense holds its line; as long as nobody falls back, they can keep their opponent offsides, away from the goal. The NFL could be part of that line. Needs to be part of that line.

Former NFL player Cris Carter said, regarding the Adrian Peterson case, in a room of men that mostly disagreed with him:

"Take him off the field...Take him off the doggone field. Because you know what? As a man, that's the only thing we really respect. We don't respect no women, we don't respect no kids. The only thing Roger and them do—take him off the field, because they respect that."

What if the NFL, that totem of masculinity and wholesome Americanness, considered the lives of women and children more important than football? What then? Maybe we could get other bubbles, other segments of society, on board. At once discouraging people from assaulting women because of the consequences and teaching everyone else what has what value.

The most revelatory thing about this is that I can picture it. The is the most-watched league of professional sports by far. It is a powerful organization. Get the right commissioner in there. Things can really change.

9.16.2014

First Wedding

Mitch and I had dinner with some friends we hadn't seen in a while. They have two kids ages five and three. They had just gotten back from a trip to Chicago; one of their sisters (Scott's) had gotten married.

It was the first time their kids had been to a wedding, and it happened to be a same-sex multicultural one. It's their template, now, for what weddings are like.

The three-year-old, Zoe, has taken to grabbing her mom's hand and saying, "Now we are married." I tear up about it because it makes me think that maybe some of our problems will go away.

9.15.2014

Talking Jesus

I found out in college that people in Christian communities dropped Jesus and God into everyday conversations. People like college students, who were not pastors, talking about tests or boyfriends or intramural games.

I grew up in a Christian home. Went to church twice a week. But my parents were never Jesus talkers. Hot topics of conversation were libertarian politics, household insulation, and how much my dad hated being in the army. (In New Zealand they don't insulate their houses, like, at all. My dad was appalled.) We'd pray before dinner, but a prayer of rote. "Come Lord Jesus, be our guest..." None of this personal or emotional interfacing with the big JC before prandial repose.

My mom comes from good German-American stock, who, as a rule, talk about nothing. And my dad grew up in a house next door to a Lutheran church and across the street from a Presbyterian one. His mother sent him but attended neither.

Mitch and I recently moved in with my brothers in Fort Collins. They (my brothers) have a bastion of Christian community. People going to church two, three times a week. Sunday morning service, Life Group, Discipleship Group, family dinner, camp volunteering, church planting, marriage counseling, singles group. And as much as Fort Collins is a college town with the requisite debauchery, it is a veritable church buffet.

What I'm saying is, we're back around people talking Jesus.

Not that this is bad, but even as a life-long Christian I find it hard to fit in. I'm not sure when to God drop if we're not talking about religion. "Boy, do these carrots look God-intended rotten. How long ago did we, by the grace of Jesus, buy them?" It's like when I was new at swearing I just throw the ol' fuck around everywhere. (But with practice and observation, I have become adept, I would like to think.)

Somebody said to me, yesterday, "I really feel God speaking to me through this community." and I thought, What does that mean? I have to check out of these conversations because I feel like people are talking in code. All I hear is "I am Christian; I am Christian." I'd ask them to clarify but don't want to expose myself as one of the uninitiated.

My annoyance with mentions of faith leaping through all topics of conversation, I'll be honest, could rapidly be turning into resentment. I don't want to be a linguistic Byzantine, an outsider to the truly faithful. I don't want to have to prove that I'm a Christian while I'm talking about those jeans that I really like that have gone missing. I feel bad about myself for it.

If God has a conversational Google alert set up for His name, he's getting very few hits from me, and I hope He's okay with that.

9.13.2014

There's a Limit to My Empathy

Friends keep recommending all these things for me to watch or read. I thought it'd be fairly obvious, but I have to tell them the reason I STAY AWAY.

Catcher in the Rye - guys, this is a book about a boy. That's like expecting me to read About a Boy. He goes to, like, a school with boys and talks a lot about what it's like to be him. I just can't relate. I shouldn't have to; I'm obviously not the target audience.

And then there's The Great Gatsby, which everybody says is such a classic. But I've never been a young man who's moved to Long Island. How do they expect me to connect with this character, to care about him? I don't know, male characters are a guy thing.

Brothers Karamazov? I mean they're brothers: my point exactly.

And then in TV, there are shows like Breaking Bad and Mad Men. Do I look like a man? Is that the problem? Am I not womanly enough for you? Why do you keep recommending stuff like that?

The Godfather, Fievel Goes West, Fight Club: these are films tailored towards the male demographic. They're dick flicks. No thanks.

It's not like I don't get why these things are made or why people watch them. Boys need entertainment, too.

But I have books that are meant for me: Hunger Games, Gone Girl, and To Kill a Mockingbird once somebody told me that Scout was a girl.

I like shows like Broad City and Girls... you know, female humor.

So to all you people out there trying to get me to watch guy stuff, stop wasting your time. Who do you think you're kidding, anyway?

9.03.2014

Traveling for a Year

When I was in Botswana with Lindsay we met an English/Kiwi couple who were out traveling for a year. It put my two-week trip to Africa to shame. Even when Mitch and I were on our six-week trip, we met loads of people who were traveling for longer periods. Leaving for months at a time seems to be a thing.

Something I like to think about - a game I like to play, really - is where I would go if I had a whole year to do it. If I had a month to spend in each country, which 12 countries would I go to?

Here are some cool itineraries that I've come up with:

The east coast of Africa to eastern Mediterranean trip:
South Africa, Mozambique, Madagascar, Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia, Sudan, Egypt, Israel, Lebanon, Turkey, Greece
The south east Asia to India trip:
Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Nepal, India, Sri Lanka
(Talk about great food and scuba-diving opportunities.)

The west coast of South America to Central America trip:
Antarctica, Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Columbia, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala 

It's a goal of mine to travel for a year (not that I'd be able to do it anytime soon). Other goals include "become employed" and simple ones like "write for television" and "make lots of money". All in good time, my pretties. All in good time.

What 12 countries would you visit?

8.26.2014

New Zealand Beers

After having a bunch of Chang and Anchor beer in Thailand and Cambodia, I was pretty excited to try some New Zealand beers. My Lonely Planet book listed it as a highlight. (NZ is one of the few places in the world that can grow hops.)

It ended up being exceptional. Here's a list of some of Mitch's and my favorites:

Sleuthhound, Scotch Ale
Parrotdog Brewery (Wellington)
6.1% ABV
- This one was extremely peaty. Sweet and toasty.

Oyster Stout 
Three Boys Brewery (Christchurch)
6.2% ABV
- This was one of the first beers I had when I got to NZ. That was a long time ago, and I honestly don't remember many specifics about this beer. I do remember it being dark and thick and awesome.



Supercharger, American Pale Ale
Panhead Brewery (Wellington)
5.6% ABV
- Panhead is less than a year old. That it already is making such tasty sensible beer bodes well for it, I think. Supercharger was one of the hoppiest beers we had in NZ. Kiwis don't hop it up quite as much as American breweries.

Pot Kettle Black Remix, American-style Porter
Yeastie Boys Brewery (Wellington)
6% ABV
- Mitch liked this beer the most out of any that he had. It was dark colored, light in body, and extremely good smelling. I compulsively closed my eyes like I was in a coffee commercial when smelling this beer. (Mitch, by the way, considered himself a beer-picking savant by the time our trip was over.)

Tall Poppy, India Red Ale
8 Wired Brewery (Blenhiem)
7% ABV
- IRAs do exist! And in the case of New Zealand beers, are much better than IPAs (at least this one is). Medium bodied. Hoppy. Sweet.



Craftsman, Chocolate Oatmeal Stout
Renaissance Brewery (Marlborough)
4.9% ABV
- Everything we had by Renaissance was delicious and well made, but I especially liked the chocolate stout. It was desert. Not so much a desert beer as actually desert. Well balanced, not too sweet, and definitely chocolate-y.

Brewski, Pilsner
Wanaka Beerworks (Wanaka)
4.8% ABV
- Big-tasting pilsner. Crisp. Spicy hopped. And the brewery was next to the Wanaka Transport and Toy Museum, so that was fun.

Captain Cooker, manuka beer
The Mussel Inn (Onekaka)
4.4% ABV
- This was the most unique beer we tried. Manuka is a flowering bush native to New Zealand, and it made Captain Cooker taste something like a Gin Ale (if there were such a thing). Like, it was to gin what a scotch ale is to scotch. Red brown. Medium body.

Dunkel
Cassels and Sons Brewery (Christchurch)
5.6% ABV
- Highly drinkable and crisp. Carmel-y and another one of Mitch's "I'm a genius at picking beers" picks.

If you're a beer fan, make a point of getting out to New Zealand (if you can) someday.

8.05.2014

Week in Siem Reap

Mitch and I are in Siem Reap, Cambodia, the town adjacent to the temples of Angkor. Most of the tourists here are from Europe or China, but I have formed the opinion that an American with a week plus of vacation could do Siem Reap fairly easily.

Americans, fly into Siem Reap. Spend your next vacation in Cambodia of all places. Buy a week pass to the temples, go hiking in the jungle, visit the floating villages. Siem Reap itself is a booming little town with cocktails for $2, lodging for $10, and beer on tap for $0.50. Plus all the food and the shopping and the bumping tunes that you could ask for.

Seriously, do it. Bring some friends. It could be really fun.

It's hard not to get drunk, here.

The hedonism and touristy-ness is so strange, here, to me. The US bombed the shit out of Cambodia during the Vietnam war (more bombs than used in WWII), and landmines continue to be a problem. Siem Reap does not have a quarantined-off section for tourists like they have in, say, Jamaica or places in Mexico. It's all mixed together.

Tourism is so much more lucrative than other businesses in Siem Reap that tuk tuk drivers crowd the streets, assailing tourists constantly.

The Khmer Rouge is still on trial for war crimes - including genocide - that were committed as recently as the 80s. (The killing fields and such.) (The 80s!)

So it's strange to recommend it as a place to do your bachelorette party or your next spring break, but I still say Do it. Cocktails are $2.

8.04.2014

Postcard From Thailand

Do It to Julia

This post contains spoilers about the book 1984 and about my trip in Thailand.

In 1984, Big Brother demonstrates to the protagonist that his will can be broken. That his love, his individuality does not triumph over circumstance. BB threatens to put his head in a cage full of viscious rats. (He hates rats.) And he, under extreme durress, gives in. "Do it to Julia," he says. (Julia being his lover and fellow subversive element.)

I've found it takes me a lot less.

Unable to find reasonably cheap accomadation on the island of Kho Ngai, Thailand, we camped under an abandoned thatch awning. The mosquitos were massive and ever present. Grossed out by the thought of smashing them in the air, clapping my hands together, I would wave them towards my friends who are surely at least as tasty as me.

Do it to Julia, mosquitoes. Do it to Julia.

7.16.2014

Knowing

I'm hanging out in my underwear in a hotel room in a city of 12 million people that, before today, I didn't know existed.

"Didn't the Chinese invent the lampshade?" Mitch muses.

When we talk about knowledge, I'm the kind of person who tends towards the intimate. I did a week-long bike ride across Wyoming because covering that distance in a car would be too fast. I wanted to see everything, know that state, at a rate of 13 mph. And that was just Wyoming.

I think there's something to be said for doing the same things or visiting the same places over and over until they're in your blood. For knowing someone for 20 plus years. For reading the same book every three years or so, to get to know it better. To see how the experience changes as you change.

When I left college, I said good bye to the local Shell station where we would make late-night beer runs. In Chicago, I marked the last run to the Broadway Dunkin Donuts with a heavy heart. These are not exciting places, but you go there enough and they start to mean something.

Data from Star Trek TNG described friendship as simply getting used to someone, but I digress.

To supplement this habit towards the ultra-familiar, I tend towards science fiction. I imagine running away to the moon or envision what would happen if gravity reversed, like, right now. (Us indoor people would get massive head injuries.) I make up stuff in order for things to seem new or interesting. (Today, for one day only, plants can talk!)

But it's weird because even though there's globalization and the age of exploration has been left to cave  divers and astronauts, the world is full of the unfamiliar and even, flat out, unknown.

The 12 million people who live here know that Guangzhou exists (as do tons more, obviously). I didn't though. I have no stereotypes to assign it, no monuments to connect it to. Carmen Sandiego didn't come here, after all. And that's pretty cool.

Vanilla

Saw my friend get married on the 5th of July. I really like her husband; I was pleased she chose him for the particular occasion. The wedding was beautiful, the vows handwritten, and my friend was lovely. I wanted to write about it, in particular, because I heard an anectdote that I liked a lot.

My friend had dated some fringe-y guys. She has an edge that can attract that kind of thing. The last guy who was trying to date her invited her on a snowboarding trip under the guise of "group" snowboarding trip. When he rolled up and said that nobody else could make it, she went with him anyway. When they got to the slope, she hopped out, grabbed her board, and took off saying, "See you at lunch!"

"That's just the kind of person she is." Said the teller of this anecdote.

When she met her now-husband and they started going on dates, she was a little concerned. "He's kind of vanilla," she complained. Then she leaned in.

"But it's really good vanilla."

6.21.2014

Moving Books

Mitch and I were both English majors in college; we have a lot of books between us. We're selling most of them, 80%, and moving with few. Here are the ones that I've already read that I'm keeping because they're so damn good:

(In no particular order. Graphic novels, ebooks, and photo books not included.)

David Foster Wallace

Brief Interviews with Hideous Men
Consider the Lobster
A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again

Fyodor Dostoevsky 

Crime and Punishment
The Brothers Karamazov
Great Short Works (collection)

Leo Tolstoy

Anna Karenina 

Jonathan Franzen

The Corrections

Josef Skvorecky

The Bass Saxaphone 

Bohumil Hrabal

Dancing Lessons for the Advanced in Age
Too Loud a Solitude

Penelope Lively

The Photograph

Andrzej Szczypiorski

The Beautiful Mrs. Seidenman

Mikhail Lermontov

A Hero of Our Time

Salvador Plascencia

The People of Paper

Thomas Pynchon

V. 
Gravity's Rainbow

Marek Hlasko

The Eighth Day of the Week

Jane Hirshfield

The Lives of the Heart

Yehuda Amichai

The Selected Poetry

Georgi Gospodinov

And Other Stories

Wislawa Szymborska

View with a Grain of Sand
Poems New and Collected

Ludmila Ulitskaya

The Funeral Party

Milan Kundera

The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Jane Kenyon

Otherwise

Cormac McCarthy

The Sunset Limited

Flannery O'Connor

The Complete Stories
Mystery and Manners

Anne Tyler

Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant

Donald Hall

Old and New Poems

George William Curtis

Prue and I

George MacDonald

Phantastes
The Light Princess

Adrienne Rich

The School Among the Ruins
Your Native Land, Your Life

Vivian Gornick

The Situation and the Story

John Jeremiah Sullivan

Pulphead

DBC Pierre

Vernon God Little

Zbigniew Herbert

Selected Poems

F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Great Gatsby

Antoine de Saint-Exupery

The Little Prince
Wind, Sand, and Stars

Brian Garner

A Dictionary of Modern American Usage

Messy

Mitch is gone, in Minnesota for a couple of days, and I am holding down the fort. Next week is our last real week in Chicago. We're having a garage sale, tomorrow. I'm supposed to get ready for it while Mitch is gone.

You guys, I do not pull my weight around here. My friend, Jamie, and I moved the couch on Wednesday, and the dust exposed from under it, I've left untouched. It's awful. I can't bear to put dry swiffer sheet to swiffer rod. And I just realized sitting here, on this end of the table, that this used to be Mitch's side. I can't sit on my side of the table because it is piled up with too much crap.

If you see Mitch, say a kind word to him.

Also, here's this:




6.15.2014

Do Things.






So, my internet reader friends: I am doing things. I am not solid on plans, but I am doing things.

This Jam is My Jam!


6.14.2014

Life Changes

I flew out of Johannesburg on my way back to Chicago. Jesse and Simone kept me company at the airport since it was a while until my flight. The beers we drank cost $1.30. I had such a good time on my Africa trip, and I knew that Lindsay, Jesse, and Simone were going to continue on. Keep traveling Africa and then move on to southeast Asia. I told them that I was going to go home and pitch it to Mitch. Simone said I might be surprised - he could say yes and we'd be seeing them in Asia.

Cut to:

Sunday morning, the day after I got back, Mitch and I were having unlimited mimosas with brunch. He gave me the news: he wasn't going to have his job back next year. It had been a rough two years for him, teaching in an underserved community in Chicago. Mitch is good at letting things wash over his back, not stick to him, but even so he had become a bit shell-like. Two mimosas in, I pitched it...

"In that case, why don't we leave Chicago a year early?"

Mitch told me I was still on a travel high, and that I should see what I thought about it after a week. Three days later we had pretty much made the decision to do it. 

My last day at work is June 27th. We'll be in Washington for a week then coming back to Chicago and moving around July 10th. We're flying from Denver to Thailand where we'll meet up with Lindsay, Jesse, Simone, and Lindsay's boyfriend, Mat. (Mat's the best.) Then from there we'll be going to Cambodia, Hong Kong, and New Zealand. (Staying with friends in Hong Kong and our former roommate, Bud, and his wife, Caitlin, in NZ.)

Mat and Lindsay

That trip will take us about six weeks, and then we'll crash in Fort Collins, Colorado for a while. We're moving in with my brothers. Planning on drinking some good beer. Nate gets married in mid-October, so the plan is to stick around until then. Mid-October to November, we plan on moving to L.A. 

Nate and Nick (brothers)

We don't have jobs lined up - my plan is to look for research administration-type jobs (like the one I have now) at hospital or university to get started in L.A. and then work my way towards writing for television. Mitch will do something, he assures me. We have some time to figure out what that is. 

Stay tuned. 

5.28.2014

Maybe Men are the Victims

This is going to be a response somewhat tangential to the UCSB massacre. Hatred towards and violence against women gets me to a dark place, mentally, in a hurry, and there have already been some good articles written in response to the massacre (and general misogyny). Plus the #YesAllWomen business on Twitter. 

But I wanted to suggest that maybe men are the victims. Not all men, and I don't mean victims of women. From that book, Sex at Dawn:

"Societies in which women have lots of autonomy and authority tend to be decidedly male-friendly, relaxed, tolerant, and plenty sexy. Got that, fellas? [sic] If you're unhappy at the amount of sexual opportunity in your life, don't blame the women. Instead, make sure they have equal access to power, wealth, and status. Then watch what happens.

"As with bonobos, where female coalitions are the ultimate social authority and individual females need not fear the larger males, human societies in which women are 'sassy and confident' [...] - free to express their minds and sexuality without fear of shame or persecution - tend to be far more comfortable places for most men than societies ruled by a male elite."

I think, when people hear about sexism, patriarchy, or feminism, they think: men > women. And men do certainly have privileges in our society and around the world that women do not. The propensity of gender-based violence is just one example of that. 


But, let's just think for a second about who really benefits from the patriarchy, from the gender structure in society. 

Take, for example, polygamy. Getting to have many wives and/or girlfriends while women are expected to stay sexually loyal, sounds pretty good, huh dudes? All you have to do is run the numbers for a second; population is 50/50, male/female; each guy who can afford it has two, three, as-many-as-he-can-afford wives. The supply of wives runs out fairly quick. And while this system sucks for women because of the spread of STDs, because of the gendered double-standard, and because they're attached, solely, to a person divided two or three ways, at least they have a companion. The whole host of less-advantaged men is left with nobody. 

It doesn't take too much effort to pull similar examples from our society. Slut shaming - men are congratulated for their sexual activity while women are seen as tarnished. (Something I've heard a friend say: "Men regret the women they don't sleep with; women regret the men they do.") I've heard this explained by way of male insecurity - men want to have lots of sex and sexual experience, but they want their partner (and especially long-term partner) to have little sexual experience by which to compare them. Who does this benefit, if men want to have lots of sexual experience but punish women, socially, for that experience? It benefits men who women will sleep with in spite of the social consequences, the male social elite. They're the only ones who can have it both ways.

Or how about ridiculous standards of beauty for women? Good for men, no? The more we pressure women to be beautiful - to really work on their appearance - the more beautiful women men will have to look at. I grew up intensely aware that I was not an ideal beauty. In high school, I pursued no guys at all. I was closed off, invulnerable because I didn't look like the women in magazines. I found out later that some of my crushes liked me back. Lots of opportunities lost that way. So who loses if only movie-star-grade women feel secure enough to talk to, flirt and/or have sex with men?

Even the idea that it must be the man who pursues the woman. Who benefits from that? Only men who are pursuers - not all guys are like that. And what if women didn't feel that they were in at least minimal physical danger on a daily basis? Maybe dating the buff jock guys wouldn't be such a priority. 

We get so gender focused that guys often hear "feminism'' and think they have something to lose. Like, because they are male, they have a chance of breaking into the upper echelon of male elite. 

Social stability is often founded on hierarchy because it's so easy for the leaders to enforce. People at the near bottom will actively defend the status quo - even though the system is screwing them over - because if the status quo remains in tact, they'll always have someone beneath them. 

Guys, the dudes at the top are not going to let you in just because you are male. From way back, the restrictions on female sexuality were and are used to make you work harder, in the elite man's cog, so that you can afford a wife/girlfriend/lover. They're using the dehumanization and objectification of women to keep you down. And so many of you are eating it up.

5.26.2014

Coke Lot: Our Time at the Indy 500


We showed up to Lot 1C, "The Coke Lot", camping and parking for the Indy 500. Lisa hopped out of the car as soon as we arrived, set to meet the neighbors. There wasn't a person directing traffic at all. We just found an open-ish area and parked it there. Our neighbors were a group of guys (of indeterminate number, between 7 and 20) in a rental RV. Lisa approached, amping up her Indiana accent, "Hi, ya'll. I'm Lisa; we're going to be your neighbors."

"Want to play flip cup?" the guy asked.

"Oh yeah, maybe later."

"Want to have sex?"

"Um."

Then somebody squirted her with a supersoaker. Welcome to the Coke Lot.

Before I get on with describing our time there - a great time in faux redneck, frat boy tourism - I want to acknowledge the fact that a man was shot and killed on the Coke lot, the night before we arrived. And another man was shot the night we camped there. I learned about these events from the news, not seeing or experiencing the altercations in person. It's a freaking bummer, to say the least.

Our experience there, thankfully, was less destructive. The Coke Lot is a grass field where 1,000 plus people camp, party, and are left entirely to their own devices. It was a blend of Cool Party and Post-Apocalyptic Nightmare Complete with Roaming Bands of Pillaging Thugs. One of the provided forms of entertainment was walking around and getting sexually harassed. Catcalls and projectiles were a thing. Lisa liked to shout back at people as we were walking around. One heavy-set guy in a tank top was yelling at women through a bull horn re bleached ass holes. Lisa shouted back at him that it's just that he's been hurt by a woman and that it was going to be okay. We were all a little sad for a second.

It was my estimate that, of the people acting this way, about fifty percent were acting horrible recreationally, because it was the Coke Lot and there are No Rules, and the other fifty percent were just shitheads. It wasn't upsetting to me so much as fascinating. I have no inclination to yell abuse at strangers; I don't think it would be fun. And the guys shouting "Want to have sex?" confuse me, too. I mean, I suppose it's the least amount of effort necessary for putting it out there, just in case there's a chance, and it comes without the sting of rejection because it's ridiculous. But it's delivered tauntingly, which I don't understand. It's like saying unironically "Want to take a little time to (at least try to) make one another feel good and potentially forge some kind of connection?" and having all your dude bros be like, "Ah, diss!" (Fine, I don't really speak dude bro.) "You just got that guuurl!"

Random abuse was available to more than just women, though, I should mention. "Queer!" and various racial slurs were thrown around a bit, as well.

Other than the horrible things, though, people were nice. We got drunk and walked around talking to people, making friends. I usually have a hard time talking to strangers, but the atmosphere made it super easy. We met some cool guys from Chicago, Mitch and I won a game of Beersbee, and drank some guys whiskey while talking to said guy til very early in the morning.

We had left the lantern at home, accidentally, which I had been worried about, but luckily (unluckily) the RV guys next to us turned on a spot light as soon as it got dark and pointed it toward out tent. They also blasted music until their speakers literally (I don't know why it wouldn't be literally) broke.

The next day, when we came back from the race, the Coke Lot was a terror. There were a lot of bodily fluids all over the place; various camping structures had been destroyed; fires were left unattended, and porta potties were knocked to odd angles. It was official: we are humanity and we fucking suck. I mean, people weren't roaming around wearing the flayed skins of their enemies, but if they were they'd have the right setting for it.


Our neighbors burned their trash for no reason. They filled the air with plastic fumes.

They packed up all 7 - 20 of them, said their goodbyes, and drunk as skunks drove their RV back to civilization. Actual monsters. If society collapses, they are the first sort of people we should be worrying about. This is a call: band together you decent or only recreationally horrible people; there are monsters in this world and they are armed with a continuous loop of Michael Jackson.

But, like I said, only having to live like that for one night, we had a pretty great time.

5.19.2014

Not a Motherf*in' Zoo: an African Adventure

"Guys, get back in the car. I definitely see something." 

Everybody got in and shut the doors with an urgency that frightened me even though I asked for it. 

"Is it headed this way?"

"Not exactly. There are a couple of them, and they're kind of flanking us."

"Do you really think it's a cat?"

"I don't know. I could be making it up, but there's a slink to the way they move, so."

---

Back when I would visit Lindsay during my summer and winter breaks in college, she ate the following items: eggs, cheese, milk, bread, coffee, beer. Shes eat other things, occasionally, but as long as those basic items were in the apartment, she considered herself fully-stocked. 

It was strange going halfway around the world, to visit Lindsay in Africa, and have it feel so familiar. Eggs. Cheese. Bread. With the addition of some peri-peri sauce and boxed wine. I've known Lindsay since before I can remember, and we've been best friends since about fifth grade. We'd talk a lot, growing up, about how we were going to travel and have adventures just as soon as we were out from under the yoke of our parents. 

After high school, though, it started looking less probable. I went out of state for college, so Lindsay and I were apart. I realized that traveling took money that I didn't have and, with few job prospects after college, didn't look like I'd ever have. I got married; adding another person into the mix, with his own plans and obligations, seemed to put the lid on Lindsay's and my joint-adolescent dreams. 

So when Lindsay got into the Peace Corps, it seemed important to go and visit her, in homage to my younger self if nothing else. 


I didn't know there was real-life adventures to be had. 

Lindsay serves in Palapye, Botswana and has been there for almost two years. When I got to her village, I was greeted by her brother, Jesse, and his girlfriend, Simone, who had been in Africa for four weeks, already, and were going to continue living/traveling with Lindsay for a couple of months. They had been on one game drive already that lasted several days in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. They saw lots of kudu and ostriches, and they even saw a recent cheetah kill, but their attempts to track down the fast cat were ultimately in vain. 

Jesse and Simone were not complaining about their experience, but Lindsay wanted to make sure we got to see, for real, what Africa had to offer. To her, that meant we had to go to Savuti, her proclaimed favorite place on earth.

We hadn't made any actual plans or reservations prior to my arrival, so getting a campsite and being able to rent a car were on the far side of definite possibilities. Still we tried and figured, if nothing else, we'd at least head up to Kasane (population: 8,000), about eight hours to the north.


In Kasane, we checked into our campground, a compound surrounded by high electric fences. Kasane's a beautiful town on a sloping hillside facing down towards the blue-green Chobe river. It's civic issues include leopard attacks - at night, leopards leaping from the roofs of houses to attack residents and guests - and elephant tramplings as the herds make their way from the bush down to the river (hence our campground's electric fence.)

Elephant crossing signs abounded, but in our first few hours we had yet to see anything. We paid a taxi driver to take us up and down the road hoping to see elephants. We asked him if he liked elephants and he laughed at us. "Yes, I like elephants, but they are a nuisance. You have to be careful with elephants." Cape buffalo, on the other hand, he did not like because of their tendency to charge cars and their frequently inflicted damages on taxis.


The next day, having survived the night, we had no luck getting a rental truck - necessary in order to get up to Sivuti - we decided to stick around Kasane, take a boat tour, and try our luck the following day. The ground of our campsite was rock hard. Lindsay and I shared a tent she had gotten for $15. It was bright pink and blue, and when I laid down in it, my head touched one end and my feet the other. Its rain fly was the size of a handkerchief. All night I heard a strange whooping sound - oooOOOP, oooOOOP - which Lindsay later identified as hyenas.

On the boat tour, we spotted our first animals: elephants, hippos, crocodile, monkeys, monitor lizards, and impala. We drank boxed wine and met some scandinavians. We were relieved, considering our uneventful taxi ride the previous day, to have seen animals at all. 


 



The next day, we had better luck with the rental car situation. They had a truck available for three days. The catch was that they needed a credit card, debit cards would not do, in order to make the rental. I fortunately had one because I was the only one who did in our group. 

We decided that Jesse would drive; Lindsay, as a Peace Corps volunteer, was not allowed to drive, and Simone and I did not know how to drive stick. (I had been taught, several years ago, by John Guthridge. We spent a day doing circles around the block in Spokane in preparation for our upcoming move. I didn't end up driving the manual car during the move at all, preferring, instead, the gigantic automatic UHaul.)

When we got to the rental car place, Jesse and Lindsay went inside to take care of details. After a few minutes, they came outside to get me. "Whoever's credit card it is also needs to be the driver. It costs more to add extra drivers." So I walked in and sat down: "I will be the driver." I filled out all the paperwork, and when that was finished, one of the employees took us all out to get our truck. On the long walk to the parking lot, I was thinking I do not know how to drive stick and We'll see how this goes. 

The truck was beautiful. A big white diesel Toyota with a full cab and one of those topper things covering the bed. The rental car guy showed me all around the truck and then admonished me, "Hop in." I got into the driver's seat - on the right-hand side of the car, mind you, because in Botswana they drive on the left. I looked at the three pedals and could not faintly recall which ones were which.

"Go ahead and turn the car on," he said. 

I froze. Did I have to do something other than turn the key? Push a pedal?

Concerned, he then pointed the pedals out to me. "This is the clutch, brake, gas..."

"Ha ha!" I said. "I'm just not used to having the driver's side on the right."

"Turn on the car."

I pushed in the brake pedal and went to turn the key. Lindsay, from the passenger side, quickly tapped my left leg, and I put it on the clutch. I turned the key. Bingo: the car turned on. 

"Okay, you're good to go."

"Thanks!" I said, and everybody jumped in. Thinking I might have passed the test and he might then go away, I sat there expectantly. He stood outside waiting. He wasn't going to go anywhere. 

The parking lot was cramped. To get out, I'd have to reverse up a slight incline, and then maneuver my way around other cars and pedestrians. (I suppose like you'd do in a normal parking lot.) The area around the parking lot was under construction with construction workers nearby hard at work.

Jesse was in the passenger seat, and he started telling me what to do. "Push the clutch all the way in." He moved the stick into reverse. Now press the gas and ease up on the clutch. I did. The car lurched backwards and died. I put my hands on my face. "That's okay, turn it back on." I did and tried the whole thing again. The car lurched backwards a second time and died. 

The rental car walked up to me and motioned for me to roll down my window. This is it, I thought. I rolled down my window and smiled. "You have to go this way to get out," he said, motioning to the parking lot exit. "Oh! Ha ha, I see. Thank you." He looked very concerned. I rolled my window back up. At this point, all the construction workers had stopped what they were doing and were looking at me. 

"Okay, start the car, again." Jesse said. 

I considered not doing anything, just sitting there for as long as it took for everyone to go away. I started the car again. Jesse put it in reverse. I eased off the clutch and pushed in the gas. This time I didn't kill it. I backed all the way up, the guy next to me moving so that I'd have more space. 

"Okay, push in the clutch." I did while Jesse moved the stick into first. I made it all the way out of the parking lot, even having to stop for stop signs, and out onto the open road. I immediately drove on the wrong side. Fixed that quickly, though, and got passed by our rental car guy, me still proudly in the driver seat, working those pedals. 

When we got to the Chobe park gate, Jesse offered to let me keep driving, but I declined.

---


We packed up the car for our trip to Sivuti. We filled water bottles. We went to the Spar (O! Beloved grocery store) and bought cheese, eggs, bread, instant coffee, beer, Nando's (peri-peri) sauce. We got peanut butter (Black Cat brand from South Africa), jelly, energy bars, something called "long-life milk" that didn't need to be refrigerated and a couple of steaks for me and Jesse (the non-vegetarians). One item on our list was a cheap or disposable cooler. Lindsay picked one up and later, when we opened its packaging, found out it was the size of a lunch box. It was almost big enough for the two steaks and some ice. 

We took the five-ish hour drive outside and around Chobe National Park, two of those hours on a road that looked like this:


Savuti itself only consists of one lodge and two campgrounds. As we neared the park, we came across a lone elephant at a small watering hole not far off the road. 


We stopped and took pictures of it. Amazing. It turned towards us - how exciting! - and started to flap its ears. "Is that what they do when they're about to charge?" Jesse asked as the elephant made a shriek that was hard to misinterpret. We got out of there. 


---

Unlike at Kasane, our Savuti campground had no fences. We were the only people camping on the ground in tents; our neighbors all having special rigging where they can camp on the roofs of their vehicle. The compound with the bathrooms was set up like a fortress, with a walled perimeter reinforced with dirt. The trunks of the big trees at our campsite were wrapped with chicken wire so that leopards couldn't climb up into them.

We discovered, that with the heat of the truck motor combined with the African sun and the bumpiness of the road to Savuti, our food situation was a mess. The eggs were broken and dripping out the back of the truck. The peanut butter lid had come off, hot peanut butter pooling around our stuff. One of the steaks was very far gone, the lunch box not really having helped. 

The beer was okay, though, and that night we got drunk. It helped with the sleeping, that and what we told ourselves about predators not being interested in tents as long as the tents were all the way zipped up. I heard hyenas again all night. 

During the next couple of days, we saw everything on our game drives: zebra, elephants, an ostrich, giraffes, a leopard. It felt a lot like this: 


The terrain varied from desert to marsh to forest to grassland all within a couple of kilometers. It was beautiful. 

---

Early one morning, we rounded a bend to a hyena in the middle of the road. It looked straight at us. Not at the car as a unit, like the other animals, but at us,made eye contact. She came up to us; she rounded to the back. I think she smelled the rotting egg, meat, peanut butter combination that was leaking out of our truck bed. 

What you think about hyenas - that they're little, mangy, skittish, goofy animals - is wrong. This hyena was beautiful, healthy, and larger than a full-grown rottweiler. And she didn't flinch until we gunned the truck back up and left. 



---

We had some decisions to make. The car was due back at the rental place by one, the next day. We could stay another night in Savuti - although we couldn't get another night at the actual campground and would need to camp outside the gate - and then head back to Kasane early the next day. Or we could leave for Kasane that afternoon, turn in the car, and camp in Kasane that night. 

We opted for the conservative choice and headed back to Kasane that afternoon. To make things interesting, and because we had time, we decided to take the road through the park. It was only a little bit longer, and we figured we could see more animals that way. 

We headed out. We were flying over the sandy road, laughing (actually), and making up stories about the kingdom of elephants and zebras. (I was distinctly anti-elephant seeing that they destroyed the animal mall. Jesse insisted that they were not wreckers but job-creators.) Simone said she heard an elephant. 

What? We slowed down. Then we all heard an elephant, that shrieking hard-to-misinterpret sound. We were surrounded by high scrub oak, so it was hard to see where the sound was coming from. Then we saw it. Four elephants to our left and three to our right - no, five to our left, or seven? And all of them pissed. 

We sped through there, elephants shrieking on both side of us. We slowed back down when we got to a clearing. And from then on we crept through the park. It was tense as we kept wandering through groups of elephants that we didn't see until we were too close. I kept thinking of this:


"If you hold still, they can't see you," I said. 

"Really?"

"No..." I was crestfallen. If Mitch were there, he would have gotten the reference. 

After a couple of hours of driving, crawling through the bush, straining our eyes for elephants, stopping when we saw them, backing up, getting elephant yelled-at, the tension was too much, and Jesse had to stop for a smoke break. "This is not a motherfucking zoo," he proffered. We reconvened on the roof of the truck - too afraid to get out because of lions - and discussed what to do. 


We hadn't paid attention to how far we had gotten, but Jesse guessed it wasn't nearly enough to get us the 190 Ks to Kasane. We didn't have a GPS or a satellite phone, the road was in terrible condition, and we hadn't seen any people all day. He suggested that we maybe turn around. We had crossed and pissed off hundreds of elephants by that point, and nobody was in a hurry to go back there. 

"How about we keep going," I suggested. "We can go as far as we can before it gets dark. Then we can sleep in the truck and go the rest of the way in the morning" Everybody agreed. We had some food and enough water. And for how stressful the elephants were, I was enjoying myself and wanted to see more. 

We kept going. After a couple of hours of not seeing any elephants, we eased up. We started joking again. We passed through high grass that exploded its seeds at us when we drove over it, causing an upward waterfall-effect of grain. The path had gotten more obscure and we had to switch from looking for elephants to focusing on the path so that we didn't venture off it. 

We rounded a corner and came out, unexpectedly, into a clearing. It was a giant pan with odd, half-grown trees. In the center of it was a shallow lake with thirty elephants gathered around it and two enormous bulls playing, bathing themselves, stomping, and throwing water about. There was a herd of zebra, some cape buffalo, and a loan hippo bobbing in the water. 

Even though we were nervous, we stopped the car to take it in. It was gorgeous. It was hard to believe that a place like that still existed on earth. Beautiful. Wild. And hours away from any humans (usually and, in this case, except for us). Then for the first time, we realized we had kind of lost the path. 

The ground was covered in short grass and was marshy - no more of the sandy tracks we had followed earlier. We decided to check out a clearing in the trees on the far side. It checked out. We found some car tracks again. 



We started hitting sections where the trail was gone completely. And we had to look carefully to pick it back up. The area was full of elephant paths, which were misleading, and the actual trail when we found it, was often just a slight discoloration in the grass, where it had been run over before. About an hour before dusk, we lost the trail completely. 

We drove around looking for it, creating false trails as we did so. We got out on foot looking for it, wandering farther and farther from the car, stupidly, until somebody would call us back. We were going to have to turn around and go back. 

We set up "camp" for the night, meaning we pulled off the road somewhere where we though elephants were least likely to trample us. The precariousness of our situation dawned on me. We were an estimated 65 kilometers from Savuti in the African bush. We had no way of contacting anyone; no one had driven on this road in at least a month. If anything happened to the car - if we wrecked it running away from elephants, if we wrecked it getting charged by elephants, if we just happened to get two flat tires - we were in trouble. 

We came up with a worse-case scenario plan: wait. As much as I voted for hiking out, Lindsay said to wait. We could hunt Chobe chickens and filter water from the watering holes (where all the animals congregated, *sweats). If nothing else, Mitch would know that something was wrong when I missed my flight five days later. 


Lindsay and I decided to make our application video for the Amazing Race: 

video

We "slept" in the truck.

The next morning, spirits were pretty good. Lindsay made us coffee drink: instant coffee mixed with tepid water (the long-life milk we had been using not being long-enough-life) and sugar. We got going, the path even harder to see in the morning light, drove about 20 minutes, and came across a huge fallen tree baring our way. We had lost the path back, already.

We back tracked until we found a way that seemed more likely. We tied pieces of toilet paper to trees along the way to mark our path. We periodically stopped to scour the maybe-road for recent tire tracks. For the first hour and a half, things looked dicey.


Then we hit another fallen tree. This one, though, I swore I remembered from the previous day. We had gone off road and around it. I got out of the truck to see for sure. It looked like there could have been tracks routing around. I waived the truck over. We got to the other side, I looked at the dirt trying to distinguish the pattern of tires from the weave of shadows the grass was making. "I can't tell what I'm looking at." Jesse pointed farther down the road: definite tire tracks. We got back in the car.

Tire tracks!

Everybody beamed.

---

We made it out of there. We were much better at not pissing off the elephants, only running into one tricky spot where a herd was all over the road in front of us. We backed a ways off and waited. I stood on the window sill of the truck, keeping an eye on them. Everybody else took the opportunity to walk around a little.

Back behind us, I saw something move. It was hard to see, low to the ground, beige. Sometimes I couldn't see anything at all. Then I'd see it slink across the space between two bushes. Lions.

Okay, those could definitely be lions.

I told everybody to get back in the car, and we decided to take our chances with the elephants who, it turns out, had moved safely off the road.

---

Since we definitely didn't make it back to the car rental by one. We called the office as soon as we got to the nearest tuck shop outside of Savuti. To my relief, the car rental place seemed cool with it. We'd have to pay for an extra day in addition to a fine, but they didn't think we had stolen the truck or anything.

We had busted off a side mirror in the process of being lost in the bush, and when I drove the car back to the lot, Lindsay moving the stick this time instead of Jesse, they didn't look at bit surprised at not seeing the vehicle perfectly in tact.

"You are the people who got lost in the bush?" they asked.

Yes. Yes, that's us.