Wednesday, December 24, 2008

december pleasantries

These are some things I celebrate this time o' year, aside from the One Overarching Really Important Thing That Christmas Is All About:

Christmases past:

(including a post-white elephant gift exchange Darren's Dance Grooves session a couple years back)

The happiest place on earth:
(finding your names - Tron!, Wendy! - at the top of Santa's list, held by the noblest creature of all, the goat)
(teacups running over)

Grand And Glorious Gatherings:
(with Richard Simmons)
(Sunday Breast: Winter Edition)
(Santa Monica Silvers winning 56-35. 1 TFL for me! amazing!)(Jasminehood)

Christmas music:

(the kind that puts everyone to sleep at 03:00)

And KataTronic Christmas Monsters, of course (with Kristen's invaluable aid):

Christmas eve activities:
As I write, Dino and Mush are combing through the question cards of the Worst Case Scenario Survival Board Game. I have learned the following:

- how to treat someone struck by lightning
- to "smack a crocodile on its snout, and stab a shark in the eye. don't confuse the two," says PapaTron
- how to eat polar bear meat: AVOID THE LIVER! it contains a lethal dose of vitamin A.
- how to eat a frog: FALSE!
- how to breathe during a freefall while parachuting: actually, you do not need to breathe at all through your mouth or nose. you will breathe through your skin. (?!?!)

We also performed extensive psychological evaluations that resulted in effective Hogwarts house sorting for the folks here. Check out this test, or this one for a much shorter sorting experience.

Dad and Julie - both resounding Huffleclaws.
Mush - Gryffindor, with a strong Slytherin streak.
Dino - Gryffindor with strong Hufflepuff AND Ravenclaw tendencies. Further testing necessary.
Wendy - a Ravenpuff (see me personally for further very strong opinions about all this sorting business).

Essentially: general happiness abounds.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

rules to live by

it's ALWAYS means it is.
it's ONLY means it is.

It's true that I have devoted my life to goats.
[It is] true that I have devoted my life to goats.

its is ALWAYS possessive.

Did you see that mountain goat? Its beard was so majestic.
Did you see that mountain goat? [The mountain goat's] beard was so majestic.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

what with the flames and water and ice

a new favorite. thanks, felice.

Tuesday 9:00 AM
Denver Butson

A man standing at the bus stop
reading the newspaper is on fire
Flames are peeking out
from beneath his collar and cuffs
His shoes have begun to melt

The woman next to him
wants to mention it to him
that he is burning
but she is drowning
Water is everywhere
in her mouth and ears
in her eyes
A stream of water runs
steadily from her blouse

Another woman stands at the bus stop
freezing to death
She tries to stand near the man
who is on fire
to try to melt the icicles
that have formed on her eyelashes
and on her nostrils
to stop her teeth long enough
from chattering to say something
to the woman who is drowning
but the woman who is freezing to death
has trouble moving
with blocks of ice on her feet

It takes the three some time
to board the bus
what with the flames
and water and ice
But when they finally climb the stairs
and take their seats
the driver doesn't even notice
that none of them has paid
because he is tortured
by visions and is wondering
if the man who got off at the last stop
was really being mauled to death
by wild dogs.

from Triptych, 1999
The Commoner Press, New York

Sunday, October 26, 2008


I decided long ago to embrace Awkwardness. Whether I bring it upon myself, or whether I simply seek it out more because I find it delightful, I do not know. I know only this: I relish a good bit of discomfort.

And I, with the aid of several likeminded friends, have come to see the value in deploying one particular gesture to communicate that sense of awkwardness and delightful discomfort we find around us so readily. Friends, I give you... LÖL!

This extremely useful gesture can easily be performed by inserting the index finger in the high shirt collar (real or imagined, if the cut of the shirt is too low). The finger then extends the (real or imagined) shirt collar away from the neck while the face grimaces.

For written situations that require a transliterated version of the gesture and sound, there are several acceptable spellings: the aforementioned 'löl', as well as 'glllulllg'. Please note here that I am a hater of 'LOL'. I cringe just looking at those three horrid letters I have just typed with my own fingers. Felice explains the lameness of the acronym very well here. But 'löl' provides a clever way to reappropriate the laziness of 'LOL' and turn it into something spectacularly germanic and witty, and loads more evocative and useful than whatever visual you get for 'laughing out loud'. 'glllulllg' is likewise delightful in its palindromatic construction, and it can be extended to visually represent discomfort by degrees (ie, 'gllllllllllllulllllllllllg!').

Opportunities for use are abundant, you will find. You might as well leave your finger in your collar for the entire duration of any given episode of 'The Office', for instance. This week, these were a few of the moments when I found myself glllllullllg-ing:

Scary professionally printed grammar errors in businesses around USC. This is a big one for me, as I am a bit of a grammar and punctuation snob, especially when it comes to signage. I give a couple points for the team spirit and humor appeal, however:

Also not a fan of misused quotation marks, again on signage. Please note, dear business, that we are in fact real students. There's "nothing" approximate or imaginary about it. glllulllg!
And, I recently caught a few gigantically uncomfortable moments in past presidential debates (catch the spirit!). No amount of squirming or löl-ing makes these any more pleasant to watch!

Dan Quayle and Lloyd Bentsen. Gllullg!

Bush v. Clinton 1992. Oh wow.

Now, go! See how soon you too will have a use for this handy gesture. I can say, as a testimony to its viability, that my father's first public gesture (and possible first movement of the right elbow) following his open heart surgery was in fact a 'glllulllg'. It strained his neck and hurt his arm, but there simply wasn't any better or more amusing way to accurately convey his feelings at that time. You'll see.

Monday, October 6, 2008

the beat goes on

A week has now passed since PapaTron's CABG (that's a Coronary Artery Bypass Graft to all the uninitiated), and his heart is happy to finally be at home. He left the hospital Friday evening, delighted to bid farewell to Darvocet-induced hallucinations, catheters, and worn out snappy gowns. He's now crashing on the couch downstairs and may be welcoming visitors (or at least willing dog-walkers) soon.

pre-surgery fun:
Dad was quite the anomaly in the cardiac ward; everyone was surprised to see such a fit and healthy 50 year old young buck in there for surgery. friends, one word: checkups! especially if you have a history of any kind of any disease in your family.
Post CABG, feeling no pain...
We may have snuck my guitar in and serenaded the patient as he puffed on his respiration treatment.
We hijacked him for walks around the fourth floor as well. Yes, this man DOES walk. He'll be back to cycling and canyon rescuing and palm-tree-cutting-down in no time at all.
That's the smile of health!

Tuesday, September 30, 2008



The surgery went well. Just wound up being a triple bypass, no more (al-hamdul'allah!). Finished around 2:30pm (earlier than expected - awkwardly, Ryan and I were in the processing of donating blood when we got the call). He's in the ICU for 24-ish hours with a dedicated nurse who gave us the rundown and then sent us home since she wasn't going to wake him up for a while (we talked to him and gave him lucky squeezes anyways). Had a call a little later that because he was still bleeding more than they liked, the doctor was coming back and taking him back to the operating room in order to put a stitch or two more in. This went off without a hitch, and the doctor says he's doing just fine. I'm in touch with the nurse every hour or two - apparently he's awake-ish right now, and they're taking the breathing and nasal/stomach tubes out within the hour. When we go see him tomorrow morning, apparently he should be sitting up, eating breakfast, and having a generally fantastic, if somewhat immobile, time - what with the new and effecient heart pumping capacity and all.

I'm just glad it was Dr. Pa doing the surgery, not Dr. Nick. I think Dad is well re-arranged now, and fortunately he doesn't have a leg for an arm and an arm for a leg!


Thank you all so much for your words of support and your prayers. Again, if you want updates or anything, please feel free to call my cell phone or send an email. I'm running point on this so that the hospital isn't fielding loads of concerned phone calls from dad's fan club, so really...please don't hesitate to call me.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

my heart will go on

I'm not typically a fan of the movie "Titanic", but I found myself playing its theme song today in the chapel of Bakersfield Memorial Hospital, on an old electric organ with foot pedals that I quickly taught myself to use for an added emotional dimension to the tune. The family was gathered around, laughing.

My dad, the healthiest, most active recently-turned-50-year-old whom I know, went in for a routine checkup a month or so ago...and came out of what should've been an unexciting angiogram on Friday with news that he need triple bypass surgery. That surgery is going to be happening Monday morning, and he's in both excellent spirits and excellent health (minus those pesky arteries) as we all prepare for it. My brother and sister and I are all with him.

Please keep him in your thoughts and prayers. If you have questions or want updates, please feel free to call or text my cell.

We hooked up our TI computer from 1983 and practiced the heart surgery ourselves on the microsurgeon game. hope he's in better hands with BMH's surgeons.

This man is definitely not disheartened!

Thursday, September 11, 2008


How many people died on 11 September 2001?

Approximately 50,000.

Most common cause of death?



*in memoriam to those who died on that day, all around the world.
*with gratitude that America has not sustained additional terrorist attacks in the last 7 years.
*in hopes that we can broaden our perspectives, rid ourselves of ignorant stereotypes, and reach out more effectively to our brothers and sisters around the globe.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

another long road home

I watched The Dark Knight tonight.

At the Imax theatre.

I left speechless and jittery.

Escorted to MazdaTron by fellow moviegoers, I got into my truck alone, put the keys in the ignition, confirmed that no one had stowed away behind my seat, and reversed out of the parking space.

A black Escalade was speeding toward me. It stopped so I could finish reversing. I told myself not to be reckless; I was NOT in a parking lot chase, NOT in a chase, NOT in a chase.

I found the freeway and tried to shake the feeling that I was driving in Gotham City, that any minute the car next to me would be engulfed in a sudden explosion. I saw a sea of brake lights ahead, so I quickly slowed (quickly slowed? is such a thing possible?).

All lanes of traffic were completely stopped.

I tried to turn my radio on to find out what had happened - but nothing. Well, that was because me radio was stolen a couple years ago, which I remembered as my hand felt around the empty space. I looked up and realized I was parked right behind a huge double tanker truck full of gas. I could see the shot now; an opportunity for spectacular explosion and MazdaTron's imminent immolation, just as soon as someone trained their grenade launcher on said truck.

I switched lanes as soon as I could, though trading the possibility of pyrotechnics for the chance that the side panels on either of the 18-wheelers flanking me would suddenly open to a group of joker-masked villains holding tommy guns was equally unsettling.

Slowly, slowly we made our way toward the Washington Exit, where traffic had narrowed to a single lane as countless police cars with lights flashing eventually gave way to the sight of the most smashed black sports car I have ever seen in my life.

I exited on National Ave., anxious to get home. On the way, I passed another bad wreck that had just occurred moments before. I parked several blocks from my house and began my walk home, taking in my surroundings as if I was on methamphetamines (which, side note, I never have taken) - everything seemed more immediate, sharper, faster. Almost home, I began to question whether I had turned MazdaTron's lights off. About face, walk back. Lights off. Walk home again. Never have I been so prepared to confront evil in my alley.

There's a helicopter flying around overhead as I write this in the dark of my living room. I am certain that within minutes, someone is going to come crashing through my porch window.

The good thing is, I'm dreaming of Christian Bale tonight.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

the long road home

Apologies for another photo blog. It's just the quickest way I can attempt a summary of what my last couple weeks in the Middle East were like.

Early one morning, some friends and I rented a van and hired a driver and set off before sunrise, heading east toward Syria's most famous ruins - Palmyra. These are not the ruins.
These are the ruins.

I walked by this man and saw that he was sweeping. At first I just thought, right, early morning janitor at the ruins. And then I realized, he's sweeping...the dirt. [insert quizzical expression]

Nearby, there are really old tower tombs still standing. Ruth and I climbed up and explored. Ruth was my roommate at the monastery, a delightful British pianist and really lovely girl.
Play dead.

Palmyra is halfway between Damascus and the...Euphrates, I believe. This way to Iraq...
In Damascus, this is my favorite statue - Salah al-Din, very triumphant.
My friend Jen and I thought it was imperative to eat some really excellent Iraqi food before leaving Syria. We went down to Jaramana (home to many many thousands of Iraqi refugees, primarily Christians) and, after buying Ninja Turtle hand sanitizer and cola-flavored toothpaste, decided to eat at the Zarzoor Grill Fallujah Restaurant. It was a feast of epic proportions, and incredibly delicious.
The next night, my last in Syria, was spent at another graduation for Iraqi students - this time, students from beauty school. Several of us performed during the presentation, which was really special and a lot of fun. Usually the pre-graduation presentations are accompanied by Mariah Carey "Hero" or some Celine Dion, so we were pleased this time to switch it up with a few Zimbabwe songs, a little "Lean On Me", and even some dancing. I played piano for a couple and did some (gulp) backup singing for the others. The graduation was great, and afterwards, because I was leaving a little early from the program, I had dinner with some good friends at another amazing Iraqi shawarma place. These are some of the Iraqis and Syrians I worked with
at the Patriarchate:The next morning, I took a shared cab to Beirut (shared with the driver, a sheikh, a soon-to-be-married mechanical engineer named Amar Amar, and a Palestinian-Lebanese-Danish lady who didn't have a Lebanese visa organized). We (minus the Dane) made it successfully, and I then took a bus immediately to Tripoli in the north of the country. There's been a fair amount of unrest there lately. I was surprised as well how much other war damage could be seen as I explored the city:
But I think Tripoli is beautiful.The next day, I took a bus to Bcharre with Swiss friend Michel, and from there we got a cab in order to see the Cedars Of Lebanon. I say "Cedars of Lebanon" in capitals because they've been symbolic of Lebanon and famous throughout the world since Biblical times (sample random verse from Psalms: The voice of the Lord breaketh the cedars; yea, the Lord breaketh the cedars of Lebanon.) And apparently whatever was prophesied about the pride of Lebanon being cut like their cedars was true, because the cedar preserve we saw was pretty dismal. The trees are gorgeous, of course, but there aren't many of them around, and a lot of them are kind of hacked up. Well, at least they're preserved in picture on the Lebanese flag.....sigh.
Lots of soldiers around.
I went to Beirut later. I LOVE Beirut. This is the Place of the Martyrs.
And very nearby, I stumbled upon a gigantic tent. Turns out that inside said tent is buried Rafik Hariri, the former Lebanese Prime Minister who was assassinated in a huge explosion a couple years ago. Really really terrible.
I wandered around more and found some neighborhoods that were big Hezbollah strongholds. So many banners and pictures and paintings of leaders, of martyrs.
This is just one picture of many that displays one of Hezbollah's soldiers who died as a martyr.
Fast forward a day - I flew to Egypt. I will simply say that it was an incredibly frustrating and disappointing experience, as, when you fly Egypt Air, apparently you can't leave the care of the airline (which means if you want to go into Cairo, you go with an Egypt Air driver who takes 4 hours to arrive at the airport while you wait wait wait, and then gets you to the pyramids after they're already closed. Boo.)
Well, at least I saw them from the gate, anyways.
After Egypt, I returned to Yemen and saw a few friends in the wee hours of the morning, then flew to London and spent time with friends there as well, watching my first bit of the Olympics and eating some really excellent curry. On the plane home the next day, I wore my black balto and a hijab. I was curious how Americans would respond to it. Most people were perfectly normal, although one lady in line spoke to me really slowly and loudly as if I didn't speak English. I was most surprised, however, that when I went through immigration at LAX, the officer didn't even look through my passport - it was one of my quickest immigration experiences ever. Not that I had any desire to sit for a long interview, but I'm thinking someone should've asked a few more questions (especially considering some of the interesting things I had in my bags, like goat furs that technically should be reported to the Fish and Game dept, and Hezbollah posters). Hmm. Oh well.
From LA, I took a bus to Bakersfield to see family and pick up Mazdatron. I marveled the next morning at simple things like the availability of bacon. Other things I've realized since that were utterly lacking over the last 2.5 months: milk. microwaves. stop signs. I walk and drive like a reserved Yemeni, but I'm trying to readjust quickly.
I came back to my place in LA and found this in my shower (I love Kat):
As I unpacked my bags, I was able to share some of my delights with friends and roommates:
I love the Middle East. I really do. There remains so much more to understand and explore there, but the last 10ish weeks were phenomenal and full of adventure (such that I finally wore through the bottoms of my shoes).
I'm back in LA now, starting up the last year of my masters, but adventures will continue here, as well as better information to come on interesting issues in the Middle East. I am sure I will be going back soon.

Please note:

1. I did not get kidnapped. I did not get beheaded. I never had anyone curse me for being American.

2. After returning to LA and mentioning my work with Iraqis to someone, a remark was made about "sleeping with the enemy". Uh, yikes. No. Iraqis are not our enemy. The Iraqis I worked with were amazing. The situation for the refugees in Syria is heartbreaking.

3. If you look back, you'll note that I posted some pictures from a "friend's" trip somewhere near Jordan. The ambiguity was due to the possibility that Syria's secret police could have legitimately booted me from the country had they connected my name to a visit to Israel. Yes, I went to Jerusalem and the West Bank. Countries visited on this trip, if you're keeping tally: Yemen, Jordan, Israel/Palestine/West Bank/Golan Heights, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, England.

4. How does it feel to be back? Weird, in a word. I bought a lot of hummus today. We'll see how the transitioning goes.

Ma salaama, rafi'i.