Nobler in the Mind

Friday, May 05, 2006

I came, I saw, I floundered

Many scientists have embraced the idea that Man is the “aquatic ape,” suggesting that our high body-fat levels relative to other land mammals can be explained by an affinity for submerging ourselves in water. These scientists obviously did not observe my performance in the lap pool yesterday.

Anyone who has ever seen a gangster film is familiar with the popular method of extracting information in which the victim’s head is held down in the toilet bowl and then yanked back up again just prior to suffocation. This is remarkably similar to my attempt at side-breathing, except I didn’t need help from any gangsters. They say the allure of swimming is that it exercises every muscle of the body simultaneously. Well, so does an epileptic seizure—but I wouldn’t recommend either one.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

A Delicate Ecosystem

The spiders have reclaimed the bathroom in my absence. I swear, take off for a few days and they get cocky; think they own the place. But as I reach for Sting (my rolled-up copy of The Economist), I’m faced with an unexpected dilemma: It seems that the spider population is inversely proportional to the cockroach population, which appears to have been reduced to a few carcasses that any homicide detective worth his salt can determine are no work of my own (flat is more my style). Are the spiders hunting the cockroaches? Should I call a temporary truce with my sworn enemy to eradicate this new menace? Cockroaches are more unsanitary, but spiders are . . . just so damned ugly!

Devout Buddhist that I am, I take no pleasure in killing living things. But I’m sorry folks; four legs is where I draw the line. If you’ve got more than four legs you’d better have something else to make up for it, like pretty wings or something. Otherwise, yous gonna hafta get whacked. Even if you do happen to be performing an important ecological function. As far as having a preference between spiders and cockroaches. . . . I believe it was Herman Hesse who once said: “Kill ‘em all and let God sort 'em out.”

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Back by Popular Demand

. . . Popular demand meaning a Gordon setter with too much time on his hands.

That’s right, I’m finally back from Puerto Vallarta. I extend my deepest apologies to my loyal reader(s) out there who has(/ve) waited ever so patiently for this entry. But you know how it is; sometimes you just have to get away from the hustle and bustle of life in Guadalajara and join the throngs of sweaty tourists competing for beach space (and damn near everything else) in Mexico’s premier gringo colony. You want to go where people know, troubles are all the same. You want to go where everybody . . . mispronounces your name.

Our journey began at the hotel Fiesta Americana in Guadalajara, where we showed up at 6:40 a.m.—twenty minutes before the scheduled departure time, as requested on the ticket—only to have the bus groan up to the curb at quarter to eight. Once aboard, our tour guide gave us all a warm welcome, and then proceeded to lecture us on the importance of punctuality and how anyone who failed to show up on time for the return trip would be left behind.

Five hours and one gag-me-with-a-spoon Julia Roberts movie later, our bus broke down, and we had to wait an extra hour or so for another one to come pick us up. We spent the rest of the trip standing in the isle of our new over-crowded bus, trying not to fall over every time the driver hit the breaks, and wondering who or what was touching our leg.

By the time we got to the hotel and made our way to the front of the reception line, even my girlfriend (who is a native Mexican, and thus accustomed to certain inconveniences) was pissed off. After I had talked her out of digging her nails into anyone’s face, we went to choke down what was left at the buffet (they were all out of G.I. rations, so we had to settle for Dickensian-orphanage gruel) and wait for bus number one to arrive with our baggage.

On Saturday we went on a boat tour for which I’m not sure who paid more, us or the restaurateurs and beach peddlers into whose hands we were delivered. The trip included snorkeling (for those quick enough to procure snorkeling equipment before it was all snatched up) and a visit to a waterfall (which was in fact two kilometers inland, requiring those with inadequate footwear to rent a horse for $150 pesos extra).

When it was time to go home on Sunday, the bus was surprisingly punctual. This made little difference, of course, as the post-Holy Week traffic conditions were such that it took us almost nine hours to get back to Guadalajara anyway.

But despite my many gripes, there was one redeeming factor that made the trip worthwhile: free booze. Sometimes you just have to appreciate the little things.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Intolerance Rears its Ugly Head

I despise prejudice. Why, not two weeks ago I was turned down for a modeling position with Calvin Klein for no other reason than the unsightly metal rod protruding from my cranium. But nothing can compare to the hateful and blatantly speciesist bumper-sticker I saw the other day while driving my cat to the vet, which read: “No ser humano es ilegal” (“It’s illegal not to be human”). Luckily, I was able to change lanes before my cat Leopold could see the sticker.

Is this what our society has come to? Have we extended our hatred and fear to other walks of life? What about all those hard-working Americans who have made this country what it is, and whose only crime is not being human: Kermit the Frog, Alf, Wile E. Coyote, Barbara Streisand. . . .? Is this how we show our gratitude?

Being the understanding fellow that I am, I’m inclined to give this confused driver the benefit of the doubt, and assume that what he meant to say was “Ningún ser humano es ilegal” (“No human being is illegal”). Perhaps he is not a hate-monger at all, just a well-meaning activist who slept through high-school Spanish.

I like bumper-stickers; bumper-stickers are great. Even if it’s a bumper-sticker I don’t agree with, if it’s clever, I chuckle. But please folks, please . . . know what your bumper-sticker says before you put it on your car. Otherwise, you make a fool of yourself and discredit whatever cause you are championing.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

It’s an outrage, folks! I have it from an article on Brave New World that in an effort to improve test scores, certain school districts have resorted to—gasp—offering more money to teachers whose students perform well!

This, according to the article, is a audacious affront to teachers, who, after all, aren’t in it for the money. When they go on strike, you see, it’s because they would “appreciate” more money, not because it’s their primary motivation for entering the profession. Offering monetary compensation for a job well done, we are told, “reduce[s] employees to chickens pecking at lighted buttons for pellets,” and shifts focus “away from the task and onto the reward.”

Now, I do have a metal rod jammed through my brain, but I fail to see the conflict of interest here. Here’s an idea: Why don’t we let the soulless money-grubbing teachers indulge their avarice by receiving bonuses for their performance, while sanctimonious teachers who take umbrage at the thought of working for money continue to teach for the sake of teaching? And if the latter should happen, by some freak accident, to receive increased pay for their efforts, they can always donate the ill-gotten spoils to a just cause, like say, Socialists for the Indiscriminate Allocation of Public Resources. It’s win win.

The real problem, states the article, is that the distribution of bonuses is determined by students’ performance on standardized tests, which are “inane” and “politically motivated.” Far be it from me to apologize for every fault in the standardized testing system, but whether Brave New World likes it or not, any type of evaluation has to be based on somebody’s criteria. And frankly, I would prefer standardized tests to BNW’s solution: an eclectic panel composed of teachers, secretaries, aides, and yes, custodial workers employed by each individual school. BNW’s efforts would be better spent identifying specific problems with standardized tests in order to rectify them, rather than throwing the whole idea of a unified system of evaluation out the window. Unless, of course, they are willing to accept the possibility of a particular school deciding that two plus two equaling four is just one possible interpretation, and that any attempt to regulate to the contrary is “inane” and “politically motivated.”

Monday, April 10, 2006

There are many myths about traveling to Mexico: If you eat the lettuce you’ll get amoebic dysentery; if you go to Chiapas you’ll be abducted by guerrillas; if you talk while the mariachis are playing you’ll be tied up in a sack and flogged with wooden spoons. . . . Ok, I just made that last one up. But my point is, we mustn’t allow hearsay and hyperbole to distract us from the very real danger that lies in wait for the uninformed American traveler in Mexico: individually-wrapped hotdogs.

Difficult as it may be to believe, I myself nearly fell victim to this unconscionable packaging practice when I was preparing one of my favorite blends of Mexican and American cuisines: hotdogs and cheese wrapped in tortillas (no, you can’t have the recipe; I’m planning to sell it to Kraft). While pan-frying the hotdogs, it occurred to me that they were not browning as usual, and were emitting a strange whistling sound. At first, I thought nothing of it—if unusually thick-skinned hotdogs were to be the extent of my culture-shock, I was in good shape. Only after biting into the wiener did I realize that this was no skin at all. It was plastic!

Now before anyone goes and nominates me for a Darwin Award, let it be known that: a.) I didn’t actually choke on the thing, and b.) it really wasn’t very obvious that it was wrapped in plastic. You’ve all seen hotdogs; with those crimped tips where the skin is tied off, who would notice the edge of a piece of plastic wrap? It was seamless, I tell you! And who ever heard of individually wrapping a hotdog, anyway? Are we meant to keep them in a cigar box? Put one in our shirt pocket for later?

Well, rest at ease, folks. I’ve personally written a letter to the Mexican Health Department requesting that this matter be fully investigated. I’m confident that the proper authorities will act swiftly and decisively in order to avoid any future mishaps with potentially graver consequences.

Your ever-watchful guardian,

Phineas Gage