Last weekend I popped up to see friends, and on Friday we went to pick up my friend’s son at grundschule – elementary school.
I think that it was my first time inside an elementary school in years – to be honest I cannot remember the last time I was inside one – and it was interesting.
The first thing I noticed is that the school lacked the security that I typically expect exists in American elementary schools: a locked front door, a paranoid secretary guarding it, and a strong fence. We waltzed right in the front door and were immediately confronted with a massive chaotic crowd of screaming kids – running all about.
Clearly this is not my environment.
But what immediately popped into my head was my father’s comment about elementary school.
Actually, he said it was misnamed: it should be named Yellamentary school.
I might have been a bit too young to fully appreciate his observation at the time, but today – I totally agree.
I’m ending the year (right now) at 116 books, plus a second book that I’ve not finished because, well… this time because it’s terrible.
Tonight I’m going to start reading what’s either book 117 or book 1: The Eternal Zero (Naoki Hyakuta; translated by Chris Brynne and Paul Rubin). The book was just translated into English, but it’s also a movie that I’ve once seen while flying ANA. It’s a movie that I suspect most Americans would abhor, especially since it features a heroic Japanese pilot during World War II.
In the meantime, here are the books that I’ve already finished:
111) Selling Apartheid: South Africa’s Global Propaganda War (Ron Nixon) – This is an interesting book that examines how the white led South African government did its best to sell apartheid to the world, even going so far as to co-opt African-Americans to lobby the US Government against sanctions. Although fascinating, the book is one of those works that reminds me that humanity is filled with inhuman assholes.
112) Focus on Me (Megan Erickson) – This is a semi-sweet gay romance novel featuring a character with a mental issue. The book worked as mental relief whenever Selling Apartheid got a bit too heavy.
113) Between the World and Me (Ta-Nehisi Coates) – This is an impressive work that examines what it means to be African-American in America – the binding constraints that come with it.
114) Purity (Johnathan Franzen) – I’d never heard of Johnathan Franzen before he came up in conversation in October – and Purity was proposed to be a book club book. A copy was loaned to me and I tackled it over Christmas. The book is incredibly long, incredibly dense, and incredibly boring – at least for me. I didn’t get some parts of the story and, to be frank, I didn’t care.
115) Pleasured (Philip Hensher) – This is a strange Berlin-centric novel that starts in December 1988 and ends after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Early in the book there’s a rant about how Berlin is being gentrified and that people are being forced out because they can no longer afford to live in the city. Strangely, I’ve heard this rant several times in the last twelve months.
116) Confessions of a D.C. Madam: The Politics of Sex, Lies, and Blackmail (Henry W. Vinson) – This is an interesting memoir of Henry Vinson, who was the man behind one of Washington D.C.’s male escort businesses in the 1980s. There are many amusing aspects to his life, the prostitution aspect, and the blackmail. The book is certainly an engaging page-turner, even if I’m not sure I believe everything he says.
And the second unfinished book of the year: Promised to Two Bears (Bear Mountain Book 4) (Kelex) – This is a terrible gay(ish) romance novel that should never have been written.
Back in October, while visiting my family, I picked up a small stack of random mail that had some how found my Mom’s mailbox instead of my mailbox. And by mail, I mean actual letters, delivered by a friendly person in a uniform.
It looks like your membership renewal has come and gone. We last received a gift from you on 3/26/1998. It is our hope that you will renew your membership today and help keep Public Radio alive and well in Wyoming.
This is the kind of letter that makes me snort: a mere 17.5 years after I last donated money to Wyoming Public Radio (and it was Wyoming Public Radio back then), they tracked me down – at the wrong address – and begged for money.
Make no mistake, Wyoming Public Radio, at least when I was listening to it back in the 1990s, was the finest public radio station in America. I was still listening to Colorado Public Radio whenever I commuted home, but CPR was mediocre, with illusions of grandeur.
It wasn’t actually until after I moved to Bloomington, Indiana, and suffered through WFIU-FM, that I came to understand how incredibly good Wyoming Public Radio was – WFIU was (and presumably still is) the most pretentious, odious, awful public radio station in America. Held hostage by classical music freaks, I once heard the station apologize for omitting a five-minute interlude of classical music due to an excess of important news.
As a Master’s student hard at work on my thesis, KUWR’s morning music program, which I think was hosted by Don Woods, was the most delightful mix of contemporary music – the perfect accompaniment to endless typing and sorting of source materials.
Wyoming Public Radio was a station I wholeheartedly supported – even volunteering to work the phones during their fund raising drives.
Which I guess makes it all the more ironic that I received this letter – 17.5 years later. It’s not that I do not miss Wyoming Public Radio Media, it’s that I haven’t listened to their programming on a regular basis since moving from Wyoming.
The letter was worth a laugh and a blog post, but my wallet remains closed to the station – I’m donating to the University of Wyoming, just not its radio station.
Another Christmas has rolled around – so to those of you of that particular faith tradition, Merry Christmas!
In the run up to this year’s celebration, I decided not to inflate my Christmas tree, instead opting to have a Spartan display consisting of a Christmas Tea Towel.
But at the same time friends sent me pictures of their real, authentic, living (at least for a brief while longer) trees.
Which brought back memories of growing up.
As a kid we had a real, authentic, living (at least for a brief while longer) tree each year, one that we personally cut down in a US Forest north of Denver. The annual adventure to cut down the tree is one of my favorite memories: we would get up early, get in the car, and drive north from Denver to Fort Collins, where we would get off the highway and get breakfast at McDonald’s. As a young kid I slept most of the way from Denver to McDonald’s.
After breakfasting, we would drive north on US 287, hang a left somewhere (I believe toward Red Feather Lakes), then into the forest, where the Forest Service had authorized tree cutting. We would hike through the snow – always deep and powdery (as I recall it) – until we found the perfect tree.
Using an axe to cut down the Christmas tree was an act signaling novice Christmas tree cutters, at least according to my Dad. He would pull out his trusty bow saw in order to quickly and efficiently bring the tree down.
From there, the tree would be carried back to the car and tied on the roof – stump first. Then we were off to the exit, where we would pay the US Forest Service for the trees, and a tag applied to each one, signaling that it was legally acquired.
There’s something to be said for real, authentic, living (at least for a brief while longer) trees – other than the tree sap. As I recall it, trees leak a lot of sap – leaving hands, jackets, and gloves sticky.
As a somewhat confirmed neat freak, the prospect of sticky tree sap on my clothing, or my apartment floor, appalls me, even as the memories make me feel cozy and happy.
The year is rapidly winding down – and in a year that I do not think of as particularly reading intensive, I’ve already read 110 books – and I have two more in progress, which should all be finished by the end of the year. I’ll even bet that I read a lot more than just those, after all I have a long weekend next weekend, which should provide a lot of time to curl up with books.
Of course, I should note that this list of books does not include any of the Economist magazines that I read weekly, any of the other media I read – including newspapers, other magazines, crap on the web – or, and most importantly, anything I read for work.
Suffice it to say, my life appears to revolve around the written word.
98) Male Sex Work and Society (Victor Minichiello and John Scott, eds) – This is a book that I had on the shelf a long time – and, to be honest, it did not really keep my attention. It’s a collection of 17 scholarly articles focused on rent boys, from a variety of perspectives. This is not a page turner – it’s a dense, heavy, scholarly book. Not really pleasure reading, if you ask me. But interesting on a meta-level.
99) A Man Called Ove (Fredrik Backman) – I picked this up leaving the UK – it’s originally Swedish, a very sweet story about a curmudgeonly old man who – well, I don’t want to spoil one of the main points of the plot, a reoccurring theme. What’s a bit disturbing is that I see a lot of myself in Ove – in how I want to live my life. The book is well worth the time.
100) The House at Otowi Bridge: The Story of Edith Warner and Los Alamos (Peggy Pond Church) – I picked this up in New Mexico in October and flew through it one Saturday. It’s a charming story about Edit Warner, a woman who lived in an isolated, remote house, far from others, but central to many. Her home was one of the few places that scientists working at Los Alamos could go while doing their wartime research.
101) Stolen Legacy: Nazi Theft and the Quest for Justice at Krausenstrasse 17/18, Berlin (Dina Gold) – This is a book about a building quite close to my office, in East Berlin. In the 1930s it was taken over by the Nazis, and this book is exploring how the family got justice from the German government following reunification. The book actually rocks along pretty well, until it gets to the third part, where she wants vengeance. I don’t mind the justice (getting compensation for the building), but at some point the vengeance aspect – which includes exploration of how her relatives survived (or not) Nazi Germany – gets tedious. Although maybe that’s because I live in Berlin and am constantly exposed to holocaust history.
102) Gay Berlin (Robert Beachy) – This book I first noticed while looking at the books for sale after exploring the large gay history exhibit at the Deutsche Historisches Museum. It’s actually a quite interesting book that covers gay history in Berlin from about 1880 through 1933; a period of time when Berlin was one of the greatest places to be gay – well, maybe not at the end. It’s a period of history that isn’t oft talked about, but is interesting. Unfortunately the book has a couple of dry spots that bored me. It did mention the next book in this list.
103) The Hustler: The story of a Nameless Love from Friedrichstrasse (John Henry Mackay) – I grabbed this because it was mentioned in Gay Berlin – it’s a book about a boy from northern Germany who comes to Berlin and becomes a rent boy. It’s also a story about older man who falls for the rent boy. The story wanders through the streets of 1920s Berlin, a city that is simultaneously familiar and not. The book moves around Friedrichstrasse, which is close to my office and so I found it seemingly close, but not that close.
104) Geek Girl (Holly Smale) – This is a sweet YA novel about a geeky girl who suddenly becomes a model. It’s charming, fairly well written, and fun. I have no idea how it ended upon my to-read list, but I am glad it did.
105) Latakia (JF Smith) – At some point, I needed a known quantity; an old favorite. So I re-read Latakia, a sweet gay romance novel that starts in Syria, a naval ship, and then the east coast. I like the novel because it’s well written (which actually describes all of JF Smith’s novels) and engaging. It’s a fast read… and when I read it, exactly what I needed.
106) Drunk in Love (Olivia Black) – A long time ago I started paying attention to Brent Everett, a gay porn star – it’s an off again and off again relationship. He’s not my type, but I decided to try reading this gay romance novel that is, if drunk, is loosely based on his life. He’s part of a throple – which in this novel is transformed into a paranormal shape-shifting couple and their human third, which then becomes a throple. Seriously stupid. What a waste of money.
107) A Single Man (Christopher Isherwood) – Christopher Isherwood is a guy who comes up frequently when talking about Berlin’s gay history. He’s a Brit who lived in Berlin in the late 1920s through 1933 and wrote several novels inspired by his time in Berlin – he also, per Wikipedia, said of The Hustler (book 103), “It gives a picture of the Berlin sexual underworld early in this century which I know, from my own experience, to be authentic.” Regardless, I’d avoided reading him because I assumed that he’d be a challenge – but I finally decided to give it the old college try, going with something I knew: A Single Man – a movie version of the book. The movie is excellent; the book is excellent. I found it completely engaging and absorbing.
108) Beyond Magenta (Susan Kuklin) – This is a collection of interviews with young, teen, transgender individuals, including one intersex individual. Not particularly engaging or enthralling, but definitely adding to perspective.
109) Kyle’s Bed & Breakfast: Without Reservations (Greg Fox) – Kyle’s Bed & Breakfast is the number one comic about a gay B&B on the planet, quite possibly because it’s the only comic about a gay B&B on the planet. It’s one of my favorite comics to read and I eagerly await each new addition, reading it as soon as it is released. This book is the fourth collection of the strip and made for an enjoyable afternoon.
110) Bad Feminist (Roxane Gay) – One of my friends gave me this book last summer and I finally started reading it a week or two ago – it’s my bedtime book which means that I did not make progress on it every night. The collection of essays starts strong, but then gets bogged down in esoteric material that, while relevant to Roxane, is not really of interest to me. Which made some of the essays a real struggle to finish.
Back in 1992 when I arrived at the University of Wyoming, one of the first things we had to do was register for a computer account
Sitting down at the terminal, we were to type newuser for the username and newuser for the password—we would then be instantly launched into a series of steps which would result in us, as freshmen, to be able to sit down in computer labs and access WordPerfect 5.1 or chatrooms.
One of the key moments was to pick a username – up to eight characters and anything we wanted, as long as somebody else before us hadn’t registered that username before.
I went with Stingray – at the time that was my favorite Stephen J. Cannell TV show. Stephen J. Cannell was a man whose TV shows I was addicted to, including 21 Jump Street with that hunky hunk playing Officer Tommy Hanson, Johnny Depp. Stingray was a much more sophisticated and thoughtful show – or so I told myself.
The great thing about computer usernames in the 1990s was that they were easily memorable – everybody I worked with knew exactly how to email me. This compares to today where I don’t know anybody’s username, I have to remember how to spell their name, and at an office with a dozen people named “Alex” I also have to pick the right one. Don’t laugh: there are also a lot of people named “Chris” – and I once email something to the wrong one.
Things though, as they always do, changed – and by the time I started at my next educational facility, usernames were decided for us: first initials + last name and done. And if your last name ran too long, the end of it was cut off. This created a slight problem for Ms. Morehouse – inconveniently shortened to end MoreHo. Given that she wasn’t a ‘ho (there’s a slang term that has really vanished since then), she was the only person I ever knew who managed to convince the computer people to change her username.
Certainly I’ve not had a choice in my workplace environments since enrolling at UWyo. The only time I’ve had a choice in the intervening years was when I signed up for gmail – Google wouldn’t let me use my favorite screenname of the moment (then: elmada – which does, believe it or not, have a relevant meaning to me), so I had to improvise, ending up with elmadaeu – since I was, at that moment in time, about to embark on a short couple year trip to live in Germany, a member of the European Union.
All of this brings me to the point: at Wyoming I wrote for the Branding Iron, the student newspaper. Throughout my time at UW, I met a lot of people and every once in awhile I would meet somebody who had an awesome username – including one day when I met the professor who had procured Kowgirl. After I finished talking to her, I asked her about her username and how she had gotten it.
She revealed to me the truth: she’d picked it out more than a decade before, sometime in the 1980s, back when you had a username in order to log into the mainframe, and nothing else. At that precise moment in time, she’d chosen the username because it was silly and memorable – to her. There was a bit of regret (as I recall it) in her voice when she continued, “I had no idea that one day everybody would know my username because it would become my email address.”
Which is why while I am nostalgic for my Stingray days, I don’t mind the slightly obfuscating elmadaeu that I use for my personal email account or the bland first initials plus last name moniker that has been hung around me professionally ever since. At least there’s some dignity there.
While visiting my Mom, back in October, I visited my favorite Denver coffee shop – the one where the regulars at their group table haven’t changed in over a decade.
Although the regulars were regular, the fact is the coffee shop appears to have lost its edge, and the baristas working in the morning had plenty of time to bullshit – and bullshit they did.
From my perch directly behind the Marzocco espresso machine, my ears were in the prime location to hear all the gossip.
Not that I actually paid much attention until the duo decided to fantasize what they would do if they had $100,000: They agreed that they would open a bar.
From there they started discussing what kind of bar they wanted and what kind of liquor they would stock.
As I sat there, listening, I realized several salient facts: (1) They had no idea how little $100,000 is – it sure sounds like a lot, especially when you’re coming from minimum wage, but in reality, it probably wouldn’t pay for the liquor license; (2) if I had $100,000, I would put it into something safe and boring in the hopes that one day I could retire on it; and (3) my fantasies of what I would do if I were rich are, in comparison, dull.
Thankfully they moved on – a few more customers dropped by and by the time they had time to bullshit again, the topic had changed and I was tuned out.
I lost my father five years ago this coming February – this is not something I actually spend a great deal of time dwelling upon, but rather he comes to mind at some of the oddest moments.
When I least expect it, he pops into mind – environments where I don’t think I would have any reason to stop and think about him.
Like the last time I flew to the States: even though I am not required to fill out the immigration and customs form (I am registered for Global Entry), I take the time while sitting on the plane to fill it out in case I need it – better to only need to sign the thing than to fill it out completely. It’s also nice because it’s two or three minutes where I am forced to think about what is in my luggage and to ensure that I eat any of the food I have with me (or throw it away) since I do not want to take detours to agricultural inspection.
Father came to mind because as I put away my pen, one of the people sitting next to me asked to borrow it – she too needed to fill out the form.
And into my mind popped my Father: I remember him once explaining to a friend that when he loaned pens, he always kept the cap because it significantly increased the likelihood that the pen would be returned to him.
So as I handed over the capless pen, holding on to the cap, I could remember this moment when he was explaining it to his friend – we were sitting watching a Colorado Springs Sky Sox baseball game when some other person asked my father if they could borrow his pen – he said yes, but kept the cap.
And like my father, I got my pen back; only to loan it to the other person sitting in my row a bit later when he discovered that his pen had died.
I related this story to my mother a few hours later, safely stateside, safely visiting my Mom, only to have her tell me that it was she who taught this to my Father.
Some how it is fitting – this useful piece of knowledge that I thought was gleamed solely from my father actually has roots with my mother.
80: Betty in the Sky with a Suitcase by Betty Thesky (and others): I had high hopes for this book – I am a devoted fan of the Betty in the Sky podcast – and I thought that surely it would translate into an amusing book. Ultimately this book completely lacked the voice of Betty, and instead was a collection of short vignettes about flying – many of which I have read elsewhere. Love the podcast, but I wouldn’t bother with the book.
81: Cruising Attitude by Heather Pool – this was actually an amusing memoir of being a flight attendant, including experience at some very run-down airlines, before moving on to a major carrier. The stories told here are things I have heard echoes of before, but based on her actual life. An enjoyable read, if you’re into that kind of thing.
82: Trust the Focus by Megan Erickson: A very sweet story about a guy traveling with his friend to re-take photographs that had been taken by his father. Love does break out, but the story here actually works fairly well. It’s not perfect, but what story is?
84: A Line in the Sand by Robin Reardon: The first of two Robin Reardon books in this list: this one is a story about an out 15 year old meeting the boy of his dreams while on a beach vacation. Unfortunately the boy has parents who are not really all that understanding.
85: Silver and Black by Tyler May: This is a gay romance about a couple with a tremendous power imbalance – one is a rich man who owns a chain of coffee shops, the other is one of his minions. It kept me entertained on a long flight, but it isn’t great literature by any stretch of the imagination.
86: Ramona the Pest by Beverly Cleary: This book I re-read based on childhood memories. Beverly Cleary wrote a lot of books that I liked and this one contains scenes that would never happen today: Kindergartner Ramona walks to school alone. Yes, that’s right: Mom couldn’t supervise the walk, so Ramona walks alone. The reason I re-read the book is that I remembered this scene where Ramona’s Mom told her to leave the house at a quarter past in order to get to school on time. Ramona realized that a quarter was 25 cents, and therefore she must wait until 25 minutes past the hour. She gets concerned when she realizes that she is the only kid walking to school.
87: Roundup at the Palace by Kathleen Cook Waldron: This is a children’s picture book set at the Brown Palace Hotel in Denver, where I picked up my copy. It covers what happens when a bull escapes its ride and charges into the hotel lobby. Denver natives will appreciate this more than anybody else.
88: Falling (Fall or Break Book 1) by Barbara Elsborg: above average gay romance novel in which a fresh out of prison man meets a new boyfriend. Maybe it is just average. I read it, and by the time I got around to writing this, I had to look up what it was about.
90: Thinking Straight by Robin Reardon: Robin Reardon is a pretty amazing author, especially of novels aimed at the GLBTQ teen audience. This one centers on a teen boy who is sent to a Christian de-programming camp in order to become not gay – perhaps not her best effort, but I imagine there is a target audience for this book that is depressingly large.
91: My Year of Meats by Ruth Ozeki: I picked up this book because I saw it somewhere while on my trip around the world and the premise seemed amusing. It was – although the book was disturbing on a number of different levels. Through the narrative, the author manages to explore the US beef industry, Japanese domestic abuse, and whatever else she thought was important.
92: Rainbow Road by Alex Sanchez: A trio of recent high school graduates takes a road trip across the country; hilarity and growth ensues. Alex Sanchez is actually an excellent author, especially when writing for the teen audience
93: The Children Act by Ian McEwan: This is a very nice, very powerful, relatively short story about a high court judge in London who intervenes into the life of a 17 and three-quarters year old Jehovah’s Witnesses. It’s an incredibly powerful and moving book.
94: All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque: I read this for book club – it is certainly one of those books that everybody has heard of, but not many people seem to have actually read. Set from the perspective of a German soldier on the frontlines, it’s actually rather depressing to read about what it is to fight, the exhaustion, the pointlessness of it all.
95: What Daniel Did With His Life by Keith Hale: This book puzzles me – not sure why I decided to buy it. It’s a rather complicated book with several nuanced stories told throughout it – perhaps too complicated. There is a nice moral for overly religious parents who treat their children badly.
96: Misfits by Garrett Leigh: This is a charming gay romance that explores how a couple with an open relationship become a closed throple. It’s actually a rather sweet story that is surprisingly well written given its genre.
97: Understanding a Photograph by John Berger: A physical book that I am not quite yet done with, but will talk about now, since I’ll finish it in a couple hours. This is a nice collection of essays (and other short narrative pieces) regarding photography and how one views photographs. I’m learning a lot from this book.
I’m happy to report that 2015 had a lot of travel — more than it should have. I managed to snag my 50th US State and two more territories (or whatever you call them), plus an around the world trip that hit up a lot of amazing places. I also flew my first airline where I paid cash at the ticket counter (Star Marianas Air, Saipan to Tinian and back).
At the moment I have no more plane trips planned (or booked) for this year. There are a couple in the thinking stage for 2016, but time will tell — and the ones in the thinking stage will add neither new airports nor new airlines.
Star Alliance Hubs Used (as hub): Auckland, Brussels, Chicago/ORD, Cleveland, Denver, Frankfurt, Houston, LAX, Munich, Newark (as Continental & United), San Francisco, Tokyo (HND), Tokyo (NRT), Vancouver, Washington/Dulles, Zurich (Hubs as O&D not listed as hub: Copenhagen, Guam, Istanbul, Montreal, Seoul (ICN), Seoul (GMP), Taipei (TPE), Toronto, Vienna)
SkyTeam Hubs Used (as hub): Amsterdam, Atlanta, Cincinnati, Detroit, MSP, Memphis, Moscow (SVO), New York/JFK, Newark (as Continental), Paris, Salt Lake City (Hubs as O&D: Amsterdam, Prague, Tokyo (NRT))
Places I’ve Entered the USA:Air: Atlanta (ATL), Chicago (ORD), Cincinnati (CVG), Denver (DEN), Detroit (DTW), Guam (GUM); Houston (IAH); Memphis (MEM), Montreal (YUL); New York (JFK), New York (EWR), Pago Pago (PPG), Saipan (SPN), Salt Lake City (SLC), San Francisco (SFO); Vancouver BC (YVR), Washington (IAH) (17). Land: Detroit, El Paso, Niagara Falls, New York Northway (4)
Places I’ve Entered Schengen:Air: AMS, AOC, BRU, CDG, EIV, ERF, FRA, MAD, MUC, SXF, TXL, ZRH (11) Land: Dresden (train from Czech Republic), Görlitz (Foot from Poland), Konstanz (Road from Switzerland), Vienna (train from Bratislava) Sea: Helsinki (Ferry from Estonia) Note: Some of these crossings are no longer Schengen border crossings, but they were when I made them.
DEN1 = Stapleton International Airport; no longer exists
I'm an American living in Berlin, Germany -- which makes me an expatriate, not an ex-patriot. Before landing in Germany, I've lived in Denver, Colorado; Laramie, Wyoming; Bloomington, Indiana; and Weimar, Germany. If you want to write to me, feel free! The username is elmadaeu on the gmail.com service.