Friday, December 19, 2008

Africa, Apps, Assorted Angles

Man it's dark.

The darkest time of the year is a time of great contrast. For people who are in school, the strapped-down weighted feeling of stress gives way to some therapeutic family time at home for the holidays. On Christmas, in the blackness of the night, there is light of the lord. There are presents and there is coal. You give gifts and receive gifts. There is cold snow and hot cocoa. There is sullen sadness and jubilant joy. The waning of 2008 becomes the dawn of 2009.

All this contrast makes it a good time to evaluate one self and where they plan to go. If the year is like a springboard, this is the time when it is pushed all the way down. There is a lot of potential energy waiting to be released.

My time has been spent (in addition to holiday shopping/decorating/cookie consumption) filling out graduate school applications and planning for a trip to Africa in February. Both are time consuming. Friends and I have agreed that the application process is so arduous that all applicants who successfully submit an application should, without question, be granted admission. Due to "these times" more people are applying to grad schools than ever before, making an already competitive field seem insurmountable. Schools also have none or limited funding to take on new students. It's tough this year.

Africa is a whole other animal. Holy shit, what a chaotic place. I have been reading up on all the diseases and recommended innoculations and it frightens me. I've recently lost considerable sleep about it and I rarely lose sleep. Simply put, every shot is recommended. Even polio, a disease I thought the world had conquered decades ago, is a real threat. Ninety percent of people with malaria caught it in Africa. Yellow fever, also called black vomit or american plague, breaks out sporadically between the tropics. AIDS is abound.

I got started on my shots today. I received a typhoid shot, malaria pill prescription, and antibiotics to settle the stomach after I inevitably eat something dirty. Insurance doesn't cover this stuff. Generally, doctors and insurance companies are not completely supportive of administering and covering vaccinations, because they know what going to Africa means. I've even lost the support of my parents and my family regarding this trip. They all think I am young and foolish, which I admittedly am. But we are young only once and we are only for awhile.

For all the tribulations of travelling to this rampant continent, I know it's beauty is bound to astound. In Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, and Zimbabwe I will bear witness to most extreme conditions and upon my return I will be a messenger of it's wild majesty. Please pray for Rob, Karen, and I that we may return safe, unharmed, and unplagued.

I've been having some deep life-thoughts. These thoughts arise from a comparison of life in the USA and my impression of life in Africa. In developing countries like Africa, they seem to value nature, the gift of life, and each other. In developed countries like the USA, we seem to value money, things, and perhaps each other. Places like Africa have chosen the simpler stress-free life with it's resulting flaws. Places like the USA have chosen the stress-saturated life with it's resulting benefits. Neither country is "better" than the other. An 80-year life of hard work in the USA with all of it's pleasures might not be much better than a 40-year life of faith and joy in Africa. I think somewhere in the middle could be the best way to live.

Now I would like to whine about fashion, treadmills, and outdoor heating.

Fashion. I was hanging out with a desirable girl wearing a coat with three buckles, like the ones that hold up pants, fastened across her front. She also had matching triplets of buckles on each of her high boots. It took me a few minutes to notice these buckles. Why did I find this girl to be desirable? She certainly was not extraordinary. But then I figured out the psychology of the buckles. What do you do with buckles? You undo them. By appearing all locked up, I think it triggered the manliness in me and I subconsciously thought of unfastening those buckles. Having three of them emphasizes this point further. Those fashion designers know how to flirt with men's minds.

Treadmills. Our family owns a treadmill and no one uses it. What a waste. This dust-gathering aspect is the first thing I find wrong with treadmills. The more important, more aggravating thing about them is their inefficiency with respect to energy. Who uses a treadmill? Fat people or people trying not to get fat. How do people get fat? They eat too much and exercise not enough. To begin with, it takes lots of energy to harvest food (machinery/farmhands), ship it (trucks/barges), and maintain it (refrigeration/packaging). Then eating this food supplies a person with calories or energy. The energy of producing this food and the energy contained within this food have now been consumed by this person. Persons all too often consume too much, so they buy a treadmill to burn off energy they should not have put into themselves. What does a treadmill need to work? It needs electricity or energy. This energy is supplied by power plants, which convert tons of energy into electricity on a power grid. To sum up, treadmills expend excessive energy to help people expend their own excess energy. I think it would make more sense to eat less and to run outside.

Outdoor heating. Sometimes in the winter certain outdoor establishments will light up fiery heat lamps so they can still do business. Sure, it's neat to be outside in December, but think about how wasteful it is! These lamps are burning full blast and all the heat and energy is lost to the endless vacuum of winter cold. What makes it worse is that the lamps don't really keep you warm. All the heat is emitted from the top of the lamp about 7 feet up. The hot air rises, but the people stand below--they are cold. Outdoor heating should be abolished. Either stay inside or wear a thick coat instead.

I am going to finish off with an idea about the roots of success. I think you need three main things: drive, talent, confidence. If you don't have one, then you get stopped up. It's damn hard to have all of those, especially since the best way to get confidence is from some prior success. The bottom line here is that you need to find a way to be confident BEFORE you achieve success. Confidence is everything.

Cheers to the season,


Tuesday, November 18, 2008

GREtest, and which group is the greatest?

I got some alleviation getting the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) out of the way last week. The test is basically a computerized version of the SAT with an analytic writing section tacked on. You have 45 minutes to take a side on a controversial issue and support it using the breadth of knowledge you've supposedly gained over the course of your undergraduate career. Then you have 30 minutes to rip apart a fallacious argument in a concise essay. The quantitative and verbal sections are virtually identical to the SAT, you know, with analogies, complete the sentence, antonyms, reading comprehension for verbal and choice A, B, they are equal, or it cannot be determined from the given information. The only catch is that the test is computer adaptive, which means if you're doing well answering questions correctly, then the questions will get progressively more difficult. If you are choking, botching, flailing, then the questions get easier. So the test can psych you out. Oh no, these questions seem easy, did I fuck up before?!

Fact is, the test is done now. I drove 90 minutes to get there, went in prepared, practiced, and confident, endured 3+ grueling hours in front of the computer screen, tolerated the greasy keyboard and fidgety mouse, and got it done. And thankfully, my scores are competitive enough so that I never have to take it again.

So onward with graduate application process!

I'm having trouble showing that I want to be admitted. My joy and drive comes from acceptance. Once I'm in, I am so your man. You can count on me. The fear of rejection dampens my desire to give it my all on these applications. Every day I ask "why does everything have to be so damn competitive?" If someone is smart and reliable, why can't they go to school any place they want? The accepted ones are the people who know exactly what the admission officers want to hear. Funny thing is, I know what they want to hear, and for that reason I don't really wanna give it to 'em.

I'm also having trouble finding a third recommender. That's what I get for not going in for extra help and not going out for a coffee or whatever with professors at Gettysburg. None of them knew me that well and for the most part, I liked it that way. Three hours a week (6 hrs if you count labs) was enough professor time for me.

It's troublesome narrowing my interests down to the scale of one professor's research. It's like I have to pretend I like something before I try it. How can I know if I haven't done it, dude?

I'm a big whiner about all this. And I'll just have to deal.

In the last week, I had the privilege of meeting a few new groups of a few new people. The first was a party up in North Jersey in a town called Clark (ironically a GRE testing site, but I chose Toms River in South Jersey instead). There was no booze at this party. The party host was a chemist who develops new mascaras for L'Oreal. And there were others at the party, too, but I never got to talking with them. They were just plain. Plain in personality, plain in looks. Maybe a notch below plain in looks. But these folks were the remarkable young survivors from a competitive, expensive, populous part of New Jersey. They all seemed intellectually sound, and if they weren't intellectually sound, then they made up for it in professional grit. Maybe they were just fried from the tough work week. Anyway, the plain people opened a game that was a hybrid of taboo and cranium, played it for a blink, then I was driving home down the Jersey Turnpike. That was the first group.

The second group was just two girls, really. Rob met them a month ago at Clyde's martini bar in New Brunswick and at the end of that night they plugged it into their phones to meet again in exactly one month. In true Rob fashion, Rob kept to his word, and by by golly them gals did, too. On Friday night when Rob got off work, we met up and found the girls taking drags outside Clyde's. I never caught their ages, but I suspect one was older than us and the other was younger. These girls had a head start on Rob and I boozewise and it showed. They yapped complete nonsense for about 15 minutes before the older one declared that I wasn't having a good time, so she ordered me a 9 dollar "cruzan for a bruisin". I told them politely that I couldn't participate in their talk because it was so jumpy and random and unfocused. The younger one insisted on speaking with an annoying artificial english accent all night and used her word of the week "incognito" about twenty times. The older one wore a shiny engagement ring and discussed a honeymoon plan to go on a cruise around Greece in about a year. This was right after she fanned out her winnings from a successful gambling trip to Connecticut. At some point in the evening, I learned that both girls had gone to Middlesex Community College and both held some kind of accounting job. This was the second group.

The third group was made up of many with an affection for nature. We gathered for a hike in Palisades park along the Hudson River. The group, in addition to two former fellow AmeriCorps members, had a three very normal guys and two interesting girls. I had a sweet day with them. The guys were gregarious and excited about professional sports. They talked up the New Jersey Devils hockey team. Maybe I'll go to a game with them someday soon. One of them was a lawyer who told me some interesting things, which I won't go into, about the US government that make me feel both very safe and very paranoid. The guys also talked enthusiastically about their environmental jobs while also showing curiosity about other people's jobs. They also admitted how great it was going on the hike and meeting new people like us. The lawyer even confessed at the end of the day that he would rather have us drink his beer than the mooches that do it now. As for the girls, one was the mosquito control superintendent for Essex County, NJ and the other had moved from California to do some environmental thing in the city. The mosquito woman was well-versed and a pleasure to walk with. The other was also a pleasure, except it saddened me when she said she hates where she lives in Brooklyn and hates her job. Bottom line here though is that this was the best group, by far. And to cap off the day we all gazed south, and we all reveled in the Manhattan skyline that was aesthetically silhouetted by the amazing glow of orange stratus clouds.

Now, I would like to judge the groups based solely on the quality of the people in them, but I cannot ignore some of the glaring external factors. The first group was the shortest meeting, at a house, boozefree, and at night. The second group was medium length, at a bar, boozy, and also at night. The third group was for a good several hours, outside, sober, and during the day. So I'm thinking that maybe I just prefer more time, the outdoors, the sobriety, and the daytime over the other settings. If the people from the third group were placed in the first two settings, I genuinely don't think I would've liked them quite as much.

My point is: maybe it's the setting of our hangouts that make for really good times. Perhaps the setting deserves just as much attention as the people when determining what sort of gatherings are best. Granted the first group was plain as hell and the second group was not very stimulating to me, but now I wanna go for an all-day hike in the Palisades with both of them and see if I still have the same opinions about them by sunset. But then there's the argument that certain types of people will only put themselves in certain situations and a Palisades hike might not be one of them. The plain folks and bar ladies might not do hikes. So maybe it's the person who chooses their preferred setting, making the qualities of the person the determining factor after all.

These anecdotes about hanging out with new groups of people are not things to be called fallacious arguments, but the analysis at the end sure feels similar to that GRE analytical writing section.



Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Dawn of Obama

President Barack Obama. Say it a few times. Lord, how did this happen? (I say this with a grin). I don't know the answer, but boy, is this moment beautiful.

Two score years ago, Martin Luther King Jr made his "I have a dream" speech, and on November 4th, 2008 the entire United States of America judged an African-American not by the color of his skin, but by the content of his character. Last night I cried sweet tears of joy and the tingles on my skin were electric and nothing could stop the swelling of my heart. After such a long spell of dissatisfaction, it feels like America again.
At an AmeriCorps diversity training event in Paterson, NJ earlier this year, a video showing a psychology experiment featuring black children was shared with the group. Two dolls were placed in front of each kid. One black, one white. Then they were asked questions. "Which doll is prettiest?" The majority of the kids picked the white doll. "Which doll is the bad doll?" The majority picked the black doll. Finally the kids were asked "which doll do you look like?"
It warms the soul to theorize that by having Obama hold the most powerful office on the planet, the results of future replications of this experiment will change.

Election day was surreal. My mother and I drove over to the Princeton Junction Fire House to cast our ballots around 10:30am yesterday. On the drive to the polling station, I could feel the weight of the moment. Inside the fire house the old lady at the sign-in table said I looked a bit like a boy who'd been in just a bit earlier. When she flipped to Andrew White, I saw that my brother Dan, who had turned 18 in October,had escaped from the confines of his high school and already voted. My father Larry had voted before he sputtered off to work in his '95 Honda Civic. After I signed next to their names, the old lady gave me my ticket, then I gave it to the poll man, and went through the curtains. After I moved the X into the Obama Biden rectangle, I stared at it for a few seconds, smiled like mad, and punched the CAST VOTE button. And when the curtains opened I was still smiling. I smiled right on out the door and met with my mother soon after. In the evening, my sister called to say she had driven in rush hour, back to her old apartment, all the way back to Clinton, NJ where she was registered, just so she could vote. This is the first time everyone in my family was old enough to vote. And I got some real feelings of family pride on this Election Day.
A corollary to this notion of family pride includes my late grandfather, Grandpa White. He lived in Indiana, a steadfast Republican stronghold, all his life, but always always voted democrat. An image of my Grandpa White sitting on a lone blue throne in a vast red field is forever carved out in my mind. The image is even crisper considering he spent his last years sitting in a fluffy blue easy chair. Anyway, nobody could have ever expected such a conservative state to turn blue, especially not in this election--but it did. And today my Grandpa is proudly smiling down on us from heaven.

At 7pm, my mother burst out of her TV den to announce that the networks had already projected Vermont to go for Obama and Kentucky to go for McCain. From that point on, the excitement of the night never let up. I nuzzled with my mommy for about an hour as the results from a few more states filtered in. By 9pm, five friends had made it to my house to watch the election outcome on my father's prized HD tv. We joked, drank beer, and watched as 150,000 people began gathering in Chicago's Grant Park, the same site as the Lollapalooza music festival which I had attended in August exactly three months prior. When the networks called Pennsylvania for Obama, it was special. When the networks called Ohio for Obama, it was over. Well, essentially over. We had to wait one more hour for the polls to close in California before they could officially project Obama as President-Elect. I was foolishly fumbling around with Comedy Central's InDecision 2008 program when Rob's phone rang. He answered it, turned his head, grinned, and said, "He won." I quickly flipped to CNN, and behold, in bold, white, highly defined letters, it said BARACK OBAMA ELECTED PRESIDENT.

Obama addressed McCain's supporters:
"As Lincoln said to a nation far more divided than ours, "We are not enemies, but friends…though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection." And to those Americans whose support I have yet to earn – I may not have won your vote, but I hear your voices, I need your help, and I will be your President too."
Then he assured all that we had made the right choice:
"And to all those watching tonight from beyond our shores, from parliaments and palaces to those who are huddled around radios in the forgotten corners of our world – our stories are singular, but our destiny is shared, and a new dawn of American leadership is at hand. To those who would tear this world down – we will defeat you. To those who seek peace and security – we support you. And to all those who have wondered if America's beacon still burns as bright – tonight we proved once more that the true strength of our nation comes not from our the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals: democracy, liberty, opportunity, and unyielding hope."
So there we were, six subtwenty-five-year-old people, sensing the historical greatness, soaking up the moment, and peering into the future, all at once. A fruit fly researcher slightly offended by GOP VP candidate Palin's belittling remarks about science. A scholar geared to be an English professor. An insightful sociological thinker aiming for a Master's. A middle music teacher aspiring to be a choral conductor. A decision science guru receiving a job offer with internet juggernaut, Facebook, a medium so instrumental in this campaign. And finally, myself, a future environmental scientist riding the wave of the green movement. Amidst all the swirling energy of the moment, we made a toast to change as I let the melodious song of hope wash me away.


Sunday, October 26, 2008

Everyone is a pretender

You know, when I was a wee lad (and then later a not-as-wee bloke) I thought the world and everything in it was a just a large swirl of chaos and confusion that was completely incomprehensible. And all the people I met seemed to know what they were talking about. When it came to judging people's competence, I naively gave everyone the benefit of the doubt. I genuinely believed that I was the one behind and pretty much everyone else somehow had a leg up on me. This false assumption that I was out of the loop and uneducated and therefore unintelligible about many of the worlds problems drove me to work very hard, maybe even too hard, in high school. I had nearly flawless grades, knew quite well what was going on in my classes, and this achievement gave me a little foundation of power and confidence. But still, I almost always felt like a novice in every intellectual conversation, and this often led me to silence.

Only now am I realizing that everyone is a novice, all fakers. To some extent, everyone is a pretender. We are all human and a human can only read and remember so much. The fact that we all share this intrinsic human handicap means that none of us are the all-confidant all-knowing all-powerful individuals we make ourselves out to be and, in this cruel competitive world, need to make ourselves out to be. It's amazing how someone can spit out all three things he/she knows about a topic and how the listener's perception of that person will then swell up to be much much bigger than that person's actual size. There are a few professor-like people who really are as smart and bright-witted as they make themselves out to be, but it's undoubtedly a rare thing. So, when you're out and about chatting, and you're feeling maybe slightly outclassed, remember that people are pretenders. We all have fears about our abilities and pride issues, so we do our best to gloss them over by talking about the few things we do know. When someone's getting high on a topic, think is this rhetoric substantive? or just a blaze of verbal confidance? More often than not, when you scrape off the ego facade, we're all vulnerable. We're all the same: pretenders.

Once you're out of college, there is this glorious welcoming party to the working world. Fact is, I don't know much about how it all works. Seems like it's networking that gets you a nice job, and it's not as much the result of hard honest work. This is troubling, but it's the truth.

What constitutes a nice job? The theory is that there are three integral things you can have at job, and you need at least two of them to be satisfied. They are: 1) liking the job itself, 2) liking the people at the job, 3) liking the pay from the job. Most people right out of college are not going to get thing number 3. That leaves you with liking the job and the people at it. It's mad crazy hard to find an authentic job with both of those. Which leads me to my next thought...

Working in America, are we truly free? Seems like the majority of americans work long hours. And only if you're lucky, you're getting paid what you deserve. The number of vacation days available is often slim, not enough. It's rare that you love your job itself. You've only convinced yourself that it's alright and you've adapted as was necessary. And you need this job to stay afloat, pay all the bills, send a child to college, etc. I don't know. To me, it sounds like most people aren't free, as in they have very limited power or control over their circumstances. Sounds more like wage slavery than freedom. I just may be an actual cynical bastard.

As I pick out a graduate school, people claim the location of the institution is a very important factor to consider while making my choice. I agree. But, only because of the close proximity with my family. Everything is so much easier when the drive home is a mere few hours, rather than a 3-day road trek or a cross-country flight. Calling the place important because of the deemed potential quality of the place is incorrect. I love the saying "there are no boring places, just boring people." No matter where you go there are always new things to do and new people to meet (unless you're in a sparsely populated zone like Wyoming). Your ability to enjoy a place is contingent on the quality of those people you meet. And at a top notch school in the academic arena, it is inevitable to be surrounded by interesting, enthusiastic, creative minds.

One more thought. I feel like I'm more clear-headed and intelligible when I eat less. This hypothesis has been corroborated many times over the last few weeks. The only explanation I think of is that if less food is in the stomach, then less blood is required by the stomach, leaving more oxygen rich blood for the brain. The other idea is the long established concept of fasting, reputably providing ascetics with amazing moments of clarity. Eat less, think more.

The clocks fall back in a week, condemning us to darkness in the cold months ahead. So let us enjoy this pretty autumn days while they last! Go outside! Jump in a leaf pile!



Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Rewarding Eloquence and Etiquette

I've realized that, at this point, three months after the fact, the excitement surrounding my June/July Guatemala service trip has all but dwindled. When I had just returned, I was keen to quickly make an online photo album. Those in-the-moment pictures and captions capture the eye-widening experience better than any words I could say here. So here they are, the links to my photo albums from my Guatemala service trip with the First Presbyterian Church of Cranbury:

As of late, I've been slothful to say the least. Fantasy football matches and fantastic presidential election gossip have been baneful to my productivity. I've learned that I am a polar person (not a soon-to-be-extinct bear). I either do a lot of stuff or I do nada. When I was enlisted in AmeriCorps I was busy all the time, but still found extra time to do more. Now, even the mundane tasks of the day don't get accomplished. I sleep in late, read the newspaper, cook a breakfast, brew a coffee, browse a internet, eat a dinner, watch a Daily Show, then go to bed. It's hard to sleep at night knowing you've wasted a blessed day of your glaringly finite life.

I believe the saying: the more you do, the more you can do. And the similar saying: If you want something done, give it to a busy person. It seems counterintuitive at first, but it's the truth. So, in order to combat my passive sloth approach, I am assigning myself routine activities. One is writing in this blog often. Another is walking with my mom in the neighborhood each morning. Another is cooking dinner for my family once a week. Another is exercising regularly. But let's get to the real task at hand here:

Applying to Environmental Studies Graduate Programs in the United States, matriculating in Fall 2009.

This process is a lot like applying for jobs (of which there are few to be had right now). You want to sell yourself. It's like you have to earn a self-marketing degree before you are eligible to apply for a position. It's not about what great work you've done or what great skills you have--it's how you present those things to the employer or the admission officer. What if marketing & sales is not your forte? Sorry. You're fucked, dude.

What do you need to sell yourself? Effective writing, speaking, and communications skills, that's what. When your high school english teacher said his/her course was the single most important course you'd ever take, they weren't lying. Why do you think Gettysburg College made me take English 101 my first semester? It wasn't just because I botched the verbal part of the SAT. It was because they knew it was the linchpin for our future, no matter what field of study or career we would decide to pursue.

Speaking is a whole other animal. Unless you took a speech class, how did you learn to speak? It was probably through the regular discourse of your life, whether it was telling ghost stories to your buds around a campfire or smooth-talkin' your honey on the other end of the line. Generally, they don't formally teach the subject of "talking". In fact, you get reprimanded if you're talking in class. The acceptable behavior in school is to go zip-lipped. And nobody ever taught me about body language and etiquette. I pick my nose. I stroke my wannabe-goatee. I don't stare people in the eyes for too long. I don't prefer button-down shirts or bowties. My hair is rarely nice, kempt, or even there at all.

In our society, the job search and graduate school application processes blatantly favor those with 1) good looks, 2) nice clothes, 3) a pleasant voice, 4) eloquence, 5) graceful manners, 6) effective writing skills. It seems that shining up my shoes and plucking my eyebrows and whitening my teeth are the best steps I can take to further my career. Some people are born ugly. And some just aren't wired to speak clearly and fluidly, but excel in other areas of intellect. There have been studies done showing that people with dyslexia often have an easier time analyzing multiple variables at once and tackling abstract spatial problems than people without dyslexia.

We are breeding our work force to mold to a certain set of character traits. We reward charm and people skills more than we reward hard work and substance. By excluding the eccentrics, the overall potential of our work force is considerably reduced. Change and innovation seems to come from the soft-spoken wacko, not from the prom king or mister best personality.

I understand why we reward eloquence and etiquette the way we do, but I do not like it. I think it's a shallow way to assess a person's level of qualification. Alas, but we have no choice if we want to get accepted or employed--we must play the game, and play it well. I'll always be a rebel, but I'm old enough and smart enough to know that "the game" is the only way you can make it in this sad world.

"Life is a game, boy. Life is a game that one plays according to the rules."
-The Catcher in the Rye

Yours truly,


Friday, September 5, 2008

Obama, Paradoxical Lessons, and Football!

Still holding off on the Guatemala entry. It was two-and-a-half months ago, so the passionate afterglow that goes along with it has retreated a bit. But I'll conjure my thoughts up again soon enough.

After the national conventions of the two political major parties, I really don't have anything very new or original to say. Fact is, Obama has always taken the high road, advocating his ideas never stooping to smear his opponent. His campaign has been tight, efficient, and well-run with a clear, unwavering message of needed change in Washington. His Veep pick in Biden was a very good one, probably the best available choice he had. And most of all, he has that natural-born ability to inspire. He takes us to that other place every time he speaks, hopeful and magical. And his use of Springsteen's "The Rising" as a campaign song sure don't hurt his chances in my mind.

We had a training for AmeriCorps at Sedge Island near Island Beach State Park at the Jersey Shore back in May. There, before Obama had even won the democratic nomination from Hillary, I made a surprise announcement on the beachfront before my Corpsmates declaring Obama would be our next president. I hope my foresight is right. I will say here that it is 99.9% certain Obama will win all the same states Kerry won in '04. He is also currently leading the polls in Iowa (where he won the caucuses over Hillary in January), New Mexico (where they got SuperDem Bill Richardson), and Colorado (the Democratic National Convention was in Denver), which puts him over the 270 electoral threshold. At minimum, those are the only states he needs to snatch up in order to clinch the presidency. Obama don't need no Ohio, Florida, or Virginny to win it (Florida is leaning Republican while Ohio and Virginia are virtually tied) but McCain definitely does. Obama might also turn Nevada and Montana blue. So, unless Obama seriously Obotches the debates, he's won this thing--it's his election to lose in November.

I found a handout from an AmeriCorps "Disaster Preparedness" training when I was sifting through my old materials from my recently completed program. The training seemed pretty useless at the time, telling us about crisis management and how to come to together when Katrina-style catastrophes strike. This handout, though, has some simple lessons that you can bridge over to your approach to life. Take from it what you will, but it sure gave be some ying-yang feelings. Here are the lessons:

1. Be Prepared.
2. You will never be completely prepared.
3. Accept chaos.
4. Emphasize order and structure.
5. People can behave at their worst during a crisis.
6. Crisis can bring out the best in people.
7. Expect that people are resilient, will recover, and a sense of normalcy will be restored.
8. Expect that nothing will ever be quite the same again after a significant crisis.
9. Good judgement is the product of experience.
10. Experience is the product of mistakes.

Ah yes, football season is here. After a seven month drought, I have the comfort of knowing there will never be a Sunday without football until the last weekend of January, the weekend before the Big Game. Football is powerful stuff. And not just because the players are beastly. When the favorite team of a devoted fan succeeds, especially after a longwinded winless streak, it brings the fan long-awaited glory-filled feelings of jubilation. It's almost religious. In fact, you could make the argument that the Church of Football has, in essence, replaced the Church of God on American Sundays. Instead of cheering for the Lord in the sanctuary, we're cheering for our Herculean gridiron heroes on the couch.
At Rutgers University in NJ it's been reported that the head football coach makes more money than any other university staff member, including the university president. There's mad crazy money in football. They rack in the dough from ticket sales, merch sales, sponsors--they run the gamut. We all know money leads to more funding for better programs, better facilities, better professors, better everything. And it's not just physical things that you buy. A winning football team can instill pride in an institution (or a city if we're talking about the NFL) and bring about a true sense of unity. No matter what race we are, what our income is, or where we grew up, we can all be football fans. It's something common that anybody can latch onto.
I'm thinking about the Saints right now down in New Orleans. The city was evacuated upon the warning of the imminent storm Hurricane Gustav earlier this week. Looking at the footage, the levees barely held and the place is still in shambles from Katrina three years prior. I was down there 21 months ago with a Lutheran group from Gettysburg College and I saw the calamity firsthand. But I also soaked in the N'awlinz spirit through the people I met and the music I heard. The Saints were a shitty football team leading up to the 2005 season, but after Katrina, they seemed to kick it up a notch. They were one game away from the Super Bowl in 2006 (they lost to the Chicago Bears). I genuinely believe the success of the Saints lifted up the hopes of that flood-ridden city in some oblique, intangible way.
Then there's the fantasy football phenomenon. It's a lot like stock-trading. You have a draft at the start of the season where you pick players at each position that you think will perform the best. You get to start or bench your players each week based on their past performance or based on what the matchup looks like for that week or based on what all the analysts are saying. The value of a player rises if he scores 3 TD's. If you think the 3 TD's is just a fluke, then you might want to trade the guy. Trade now while his value is high! Do you pick the old veteran with 10 years experience running on creaky knees OR the new fresh-outta-college hotshot who doesn't quite know the NFL ropes yet? Tough choices all the time. Then there is the moral dilemma of picking fantasy players from teams you don't much like. Doing that would force you to root for a player on a team you despise, just so you can squeak out an unsatisfying victory. I intentionally crippled myself this year, opting for only players I like. Thus, my team is weaker and less likely to win, but funwise it's better this way. Team loyalty trumps bad-tasting triumph. To sum up, fantasy football is a frivolous, addictive, albeit highly recommended activity that allows for practice in morals, hypothesizing, and swindling your friends.

To me, and so many others, football matters. God almighty, it's here at last.

Go Giants!


Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Back in the Blogosphere

I realize my two-month summer hiatus. Since I last posted I've been to Guatemala as an amateur dentist with a church group, the Delaware Water Gap for some birthday camping (I turned 23 on July 12th), Cape May for a family beach vacation, Chicago for the Lollapalooza music festival, and Vermont to visit Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream Factory, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, my uncle's family, and my grandpa. A post dedicated to Guatemala is coming soon.

When my dad goes to the grocery store, he buys whatever is on sale and sometimes without looking at the label. Cereal was on sale this week. The box he brought home said: "NEW! Unfrosted" My cereal spirit has never been so dejected. Honestly, who wants UNfrosted Miniwheats? C'mon Kellogg's, you're breaking my heart (or maybe rescuing it).

As I was on the verge of closing down my AmeriCorps email account today, I came across peculiar message in my inbox:

Hi guys, Is the Andy White mentioned on your website the same Andy White who drummed on the first single of The Beatles? I gather he now lives in New Jersey. If so I would like to contact Andy for interview in a new book about The Beatles. Many thanks, Martin Creasy (author of Legends On Tour - The Pop Package Tours Of The 1960s).

Uh, yes Mister Creasy, in fact it was me who drummed on that first single of the Beatles. Any thoughts?

I've interacted with quite a few people younger than me over the last year or so. Some of them were in high school. Some were already in college. As a college graduate, I offered each of them these four pieces of advice:

1. Go to class --It's really easy to skip lectures, especially if you're hungover or it's a Friday, but why would you do that? When I was at Gettysburg College, a few of us did the calculations. Each lecture costs over $100, with one hundred being a conservative estimate. Why waste the money? Why waste the education? Because I went to class, I didn't have to spend as much time studying on my own and catching up on things I had missed and I ended up earning good grades. There are so many people out there who would be damn happy for the opportunity to go to college. If you are blessed with the privilege to be there, then GO. Woody Allen sums it up: "Eighty percent of success is showing up."

2. Do not go Greek --There are exceptions to this, but if your school is anything like Gettysburg, then you ought to stay away from the frats and sororities. In essence, each greek group has a personality and you get the chance to pick which one you want to be like. In your first year, you get to sample each one by way of parties and various events. By year's end, you probably have a good idea about which greek brothers or sisters you admire most and where you'd fit in best. Why become a greek clone when you can develop into your own person independently? Greek values, from my experience, are not very good ones. Getting shwasted and getting laid seem to be the things at the top of their to-do lists.

3. Study abroad --Do it. That's all I can say. You will certainly come back anew with a changed perspective about pretty much everything. It doesn't matter where you go, just GO. Mark Twain says it well: "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things can not be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime."

4. Choose courses based on the professor who teaches the course, not the subject of the course --I know for some majors you may not have a lot of flexibility when putting together a course schedule, but trust me on this one. If you've heard a bunch of your friends yapping about just how awesome their Sociology professor is, it's usually not by fluke. The approbation or negativity of the yaps is often a good indicator on how much you'll get out of a course. Students don't praise professors who suck (obviously), nor do they praise professors who don't give homework (they just say "easy A"). The students praise the ones who are intelligent, entertaining, and challenging--the ones who make you better. The enthusiasm of a professor can be contagious. You can tell which professors are there because they want to sculpt the young minds of the future and which ones are there because that's just what they were asked to do. Let's just say I learned more pertinent life skills in college from an engaging ceramics class than I did from a litany of poorly taught science courses.

Any other college tips you would add?

My AmeriCorps exit interview was last week. I am done with that now. These days I'm at home sifting through piles of AmeriCorps-related literature that have accumulated over the past year, extracting only the goods. I'm also preparing for the GRE test and beginning to search for graduate school programs. I would like to start in Fall 2009.

It's nice to be back.


Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Oh, baby. Oh, doctor.

Last week a close colleague of mine named Beth brought her three-month-old daughter, Emily Elizabeth, into the office. There were only two of us up on the 3rd floor and we were mesmerized by this little miracle of a baby. At first Emily was asleep, silent and still. But then, a little saliva-enhanced gasp and she was awake! Look at those dark blue eyes! She would stare and dribble and smile and we would melt. Even complete strangers fall for babies. Babies have some real power. But for all the power they possess, they are whiny and virtually helpless. Beth was describing how Emily had colic, a condition where the infant cries or screams for hours at a time and there is nothing anyone can do to stop them. I don't think Beth slept much in the last three months. But even through those uncontrollable cries, there is still unconditional motherly love. Disregarding the colic, babies pretty much just eat, sleep, and poop--and yep, mama deals with it. We don't give moms enough credit. Please, let us thank our mothers.

I didn't get my mom a mother's day card or gift. Seeing baby Emily made me think about what my mom did for me when I was a wee thing so I gave her a nice hug when I got home. Then she told me a story about how she brought me to a work meeting when I was baby. I was making baby sounds and her intimidating, macho boss thought the sounds were coming from a kitten. The boss was fuming about the idea of a pet in the meeting and as he was about to blow, his eyes fell on little me, and then his anger was instantly quelled.

On the other side of the spectrum, my long-time pediatrician Dr. Levin died this week. He had some sort of blood cancer. This is the man who charted my growth, watched me mature. I remember he did a spot on Donald Duck impersonation. That's how I identified him. But I was frightened of him as a little one. One time he reached down to pick me up, but I clenched my small fingers around the leg of a nearby chair. Dr. Levin still proceeded to lift me, but when he did, the whole chair went airborne. I was a strong baby.

Dr. Levin was also the one who to make a diagnosis about my hair loss ailment. He incorrectly prescribed Nizoral, an anti-fungal shampoo. It just shows that you can only see what you are prepared to see. Dr. Levin never read the chapter about Alopecia Areata too closely, I suppose. I've learned since that the kind I have is more of a mental condition, and in the same family as obsessive compulsive disorder. It is something that defines my character. It's called perfectionism and sometimes it prevents me from trying new things. I always want to be perfect at the outset, so I tend to avoid bouts with imperfection. Because I know this about myself, I combat it by blindly signing up for adventures. My next adventure is a ten-day service trip down to Guatemala with my church. I leave on June 26th. I'll tell you all about it.

Life is short, sweet, beautiful, and fragile. Babies are born. Doctors die. And golly gee, go give your mom a hug.



Thursday, May 29, 2008

Time, Money, Energy

You can never have all three.

Today, I went to a Rain Garden/Bioretention Symposium in New Brunswick where I met an 80 year old man. Since he is retired and essentially unoccupied during weekdays, the Montgomery Township (Robbily Bobbles Connacher's township!) Environmental Commission selected him to go as their representative. The man had just returned from Paris. He said that after converting euros to dollars and liters to gallons, gas costs over $9.00 per gallon there. Rather than driving, he said there was a nifty rent-a-bike service. It's as simple as: you swipe your plastic, the bike unlocks from the rack, you ride it to your destination, dock it, and swipe again. And the rental converts to something like 50 cents per hour. Exercise, no carbon emissions, convenient, and inexpensive. What a concept!

"Why did you choose Paris?" I asked the man.
"Because I likes it there," he slurred slowly in a viscous eastern european/russian accent.
"And I am retired so I haves the time and money," he added.
"Well, where should I go?" I asked.
"Anyvere...go anyvere...but do not go by yourself. Go with friends."
"Have you been to Europe?"
"Go dere. Go soon while you are young." His grey eyes were shiny and he put up three fingers.
"Time, money, energy," he said counting them off. "In life, dere are three things--but you can never have all three. Ven you are young, you have time and energy, but no money. Ven you are older, you have money and energy, but no time. Ven you are even older, like me, you have time and money, but no energy."
I laughed and asked, "So which one is the worst?"
"The last one," he said matter-of-factly.

It was hard to take him seriously though. His off-kilter tuft of combed-over hair had a distracting, comical personality. Tuft aside, I like his insight. We all know the mantra of economics 101 even if we've never been to a lecture: Time=Money. And you can't have both.

This old man brought energy into play. Cherish the energy we have. Expend it everyday for the common good. We are young.

With boundless liveliness,


Thursday, May 8, 2008

Leave the Light On

OK, I've been remiss in my duties as a blogger. But I am back now.

For starters, there is Hillary Clinton. She is running until the end. It's like a game of poker and you know you should fold, but then you think maybe the river card will bridge the gap and you'll get that unlikely straight. But let me tell you, I think her staying in the race is a good thing. First, it's getting more democratic voters registered. Young people, black people, educated white people...yeah all of those and more. And Hillary's campaign message has sort of changed. It's not all about Obama being inexperienced and how she's the stronger candidate. It's more about how she'll support the democratic nominee in November and a positive shout out for the the Dems. Having Obama and Hillary campaign in all these states is like double the press for the democrats--a wonderful, liberal two-headed monster.

I should just say here that I enjoy John McCain's hunch. No, not his political instincts, but rather the terrific hunch on his back. I just find his posture and gesticulations to be hilarious.

I got this book from the library, Mythology by Edith Hamilton. She says in the intro how the Greek Gods were corrupt. "Almost every one of the radiant divinities could act cruelly or contemptibly," she says. I mean, the Greeks worshiped these misbehaved deities. But shouldn't the Gods be perfect? Shouldn't they be role models for the mortals? This makes me think of other notorious people that we praise, like Benjamin Franklin and most of our other lauded forefathers. By indulging in booze, sex, partying and drugs does that make us God-like? Personally, I have this overwhelming moral compass that just pours on the guilt if I do all that stuff. To me, the instant pleasure isn't as satisfying as the assertive sense of self-control and the ability to abstain. I guess I'm a mere mortal.

I went to Gettysburg twice since my last post. The first time was for Springfest--alumni get free beers. I met my bud, Agatha, in her extravagant office in the admissions building before going to a Faculty Social Hour in Weidensall. The wine and appetizers were for free and I certainly had some. From then on, the night was good. It was like old Gburg times, bouncing around from room to room, bar to bar, just walkin' all over town and campus. Springfest, with featured act Rahzel, was just alright. I was more happy to socialize with my younger Gettysburg friends. The fact I still knew a large handful of people confirmed that I belonged there. The visit was legit.

I cruised right on back to Gettysburg the following weekend, my first time doing all the driving, all six hours. I was content to get a smoothie and a coffee at my beloved Ragged Edge and buy a bottle of local red wine from this odd antique shop annex, but this weekend was different than the last. All my lovely acquaintences were all shut up inside their rooms pounding out papers or pulling their hair out over final exams. Rob, Liz, Morgan, and I saw The National at Messiah College that Saturday night. Best show in quite a while for me. Whatever potential music has or whatever it's supposed to do, The National accomplished just that that evening--busted through the sound barrier and took me to another place. That night I crashed at Morgan's Quarry apartment. It was kind of her to let me stay.

Those last visits, I feel, were the capstone, the lid screwed onto the jar of my Gettysburg life. My only connection to Gettysburg now is a few people and a few professors, but both parties know it's not really worth six driving hours to see each other. The town will forever have a charm about it, but the chief Gettysburg legacy is undoubtedly my relationships with the people I met there. And maybe Steve Gimbel's blog, too. But that's all.

AmeriCorps is almost up. I plan to be done before the end of July. All I have left requirement-wise is about 20 stream monitoring assessments ( you can bang out 4 in a day) and a couple volunteer trainings. My problem is that I sign up for all these other things like field trips at Duke Farms, the Envirothon, the BioBlitz, the Rain Garden/Bioretention Research Symposium, etc. These are all welcome, awesome distractions, but I really ought to get my priorities straight and just do what's asked of me. They'll stop sending stipend paychecks on July 20th.

On Thursday night this week, Sam and I had the privilege of sitting in the second row of a Chris Smither concert at the Trenton War Memorial. The man has a most expressive face and a most impressive finger picking style, not to mention his wowzer philosophical lyrics written with a dash of laugh. He was out shaking hands with everybody during the intermission. Mr. Smither even signed a CD for me! He loves his fans. What a guy, that Chris Smither. I'll leave you with some of his words...

If I were young again I'd pay attention,
To that little-known dimension,
The taste of endless time.
It's like water,
It runs right through our fingers,
But the flavor of it lingers,
Like a rich red wine.
In those days we were single,
We lived 'em one by one,
Now we hardly see 'em,
They don't walk, they run,
But I got plenty left I've set my sight on,
Don't wait up, leave the light on
I'll be home soon.

Forward-looking and hopeful,


Tuesday, April 22, 2008


I firmly support Barack Obama for President of the United States. The United States.

Obama is intelligent, built with an honest moral foundation, and most importantly, he has the power to inspire an entire nation--to give us a kick in the ass. Every time I hear him, he makes me want to do better.

For two hours, I frivolously watched the results come in for the Pennsylvania democratic primary. Listening to the slew of various partisan commentators at MSNBC, I was able to paint a picture in my mind of what the two democratic nominees really mean, what their agenda is, what their intentions are. Hillary exuded the impression that she really wants to become president and that Obama is not as fit for the job. She mocked Obama's campaign slogan "Yes We Can" by saying to her supporters, "No, not 'yes we can,' Yes We Will!". Her campaign seems to be against Obama more than anything else and she acts like presidency is the ultimate goal, like her purpose is complete once she reaches the prized presidential destination.

Meanwhile, Obama clearly stands for hope, change, and unity. He does not give in to the squabble and bicker that frequents our notoriously corrupted political landscape. He is above that. He wants to be our president, bring us together, guide us back to being the United States, back to the exemplary country we once were. Obama has his heart and mind in the right place. Obama is for America.

If Hillary actually wants what's best for the democratic party, then she would stop polarizing the fuck out of it and concede to Obama. She is attempting to play her political cards and pull strings to rig this democratic primary, just like Dubya did to Gore in the presidential election back in 2000. She is vying, clawing at all costs, to get what is now pretty much an unattainable nomination. And now pundits are discrediting Obama because he was unable to send Hillary a fat"knock-out punch" tonight. They think that since he failed to show tenacity and grit in Pennsylvania, he will surely lose to Senator McCain come November.

There are major flaws with this presumption. Firstly, this was just one state: Pennsylvania. Secondly, they are forgetting that these were registered democrats voting in a democratic primary and that the majority of Hillary's supporters will likely back Obama, the democratic candidate, in the presidential election rather than resorting to the GOP's McCain. Thirdly, they are also forgetting about all the unregistered, unaffiliated moderates who, by default, abstain from voting in primaries. These independents will hopefully see the blatant remiss of the republican party in the last 7 years and favor the other option in our little dual-party system.

Anyway, the bottom line is, anybody will make a better president than "shrublet". In a recent poll among respected historians, more than two-thirds selected GWB as our worst president ever. A while back Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam sang a wonderful song on Vh1 storytellers that passionately conveys the popular feeling about the Bush Administration these days. Here is the link:

When I was at Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival in June 2007, Wayne Coyne, frontman of the band Flaming Lips, went on a little political rant before a sea of thoroughly stoned youth. After pushing for us to vote and stay more politically attuned, he broke it down for us: "Guys, let's just not have another motherfucker in the white house, okay?" Agreed.


Obama has two decades of experience as a community organizer. He has made it clear that he believes change starts with grassroots groups and works it's way up rather than starting at the top and trickling down.

As an AmeriCorps watershed ambassador for 8 months, I've had a bit of a glimpse of what it means to be a part of a nonprofit, round up a community, and become more connected with the common folk. I think I understand where Obama's coming from and I'm beginning to believe that perhaps leading a grassroots style organization is for me. And lately, the idea of consigning myself to academia seems less appealing. I don't think I want to write stacks of detailed papers that only a few elite intellectuals would care about and fully understand. To me, the community approach carries much more weight. Literally, more weight when considering the 5 tons of litter the local volunteers pulled out at my stream cleanups this month.

I don't know what my plans are. AmeriCorps will be done in two months give or take, and I don't have anything lined up yet. I might find another environmental position in New Jersey. I might move to Vermont with my uncle and search for something up there. And I might just have to move to DC to volunteer to help with Obama's forthcoming campaign. I truly do not know.

But Mark Twain has offered me some reassurance about planning (or not planning) for the future. Recently, I bought Essays and Sketches of Mark Twain, essentially the glorified blog of beloved Samuel Clemens, and there is one particular sketch where he discusses his philosophy of Circumstance and Temperment. Circumstance is external, everything and everyone presented to you in your life. Temperment is internal, your gifts, skills, personality--all the characteristics that make you you. There is some elasticity for each of the two, but generally they are both fixed. You can change your Circumstance by maybe moving to a new place or maybe finding a new job, but you must consider costs, family, location and your qualifications, passion, desired wage. You can try to alter your Temperment, and maybe do it somewhat successfully, but there will always be your lingering residual demeanor underneath the new facade. I like to think of Circumstance and Temperment as set values on a figure, but you have some control with the range of the error bars.

When Circumstance and Temperment line up nicely, you get somebody like LeBron James. You're throwing down sweet dunks over your opponents, winning basketball games, and making millions of dollars. His physical attributes and athletic prowess (Temperment) match very well with the sport of basketball and the NBA (Circumstance), which gives him the financial means necessary to live the high life in our society. But LeBron got lucky. Most of us spend our lives looking for a perfect match, but can never really find it. That's because a perfect match often doesn't exist. We are all unique individuals with our own genetic code of which the possibilities are nearly infinite, so the chances that our specific code will match perfectly with what the world presents to us is quite remote.

But, we all end up settling into some kind of a match. And the match might not only with a certain activity or career, but also with another person or even a special place. Sometimes people forget about that. I know I did.

So we must accept that our Temperment has a limited capacity to fluctuate and that Circumstance can change at the drop of a fez. That's why we mustn't worry too hard about planning. If you don't make the search for something, you might miss out on what's out there, but at the same time, if you do go out searching, you might miss out on something even better had you only stayed put and waited. Opportunities come about and opportunities slip away, but, in the end, we all tend to latch onto a pretty good one and make ends meet.

Embracing the change,


Monday, April 14, 2008

Photographs and Numbers

2008 Second Annual Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Stream Cleanup

Councilman and Scout Leader pull out shopping cart from Rocky Brook in Hightstown.

Delaware-Raritan Canal cleanup in West Windsor.
From Left: Me, Rob, Jim Gambino, Mike Hornsby (Chair of WW Environmental Commission)
with his wife, and Andrew Kulley.
Weighing trash bags at Shabakunk Creek near Lawrence Shopping Center.

Bulldozer at Mile Run-Hawthorne Park.

Stream litter at the dump site in Franklin Township.

Rutgers Korean Club displaying their stream cleanup t-shirts.

8 towns.

237 volunteers.

Over 5 tons of litter removed from our local waterways.

A good many thanks to the Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association, American Rivers, New Jersey Clean Communities, and our other sponsors as well as the Environmental Commission, Public Works Department, and volunteers of Cranbury, East Windsor, Franklin, Hightstown, Lawrence, Millstone, Monroe, and West Windsor.

Keeping NJ beautiful,

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Cleaning Up

So I've been immersed in Americorps since the onset of April. Finalizing the details for eight stream cleanup events, on top of regular duties, can be grueling and cause a loss of faith. But let me tell you, all the energy you pack into what you do comes right back like a blazing boomerang. With just two more cleanups to go, I've already reaped many returns. This April, I've been cleaning up.

In Hightstown, after 53 volunteers from around the town pulled out over 1000 pounds of trash (pictured right), the great Gary Grubb was good to his word. The venison jerky was chewy and delicious and I was happy to wash it down with a Yuengling on the house. There is nothing more gratifying than earning the thanks of an entire town. A grinning, mud-freckled councilman accosted me, "Thank you! Thank you for coming to Hightstown. We appreciate everything you've done for us today." Gary Grubb called me on the phone yesterday. He said the Hightstown mayor was commending me at the town council meeting and wanted to put something about the cleanup in the Windsor-Hights Herald, the town newspaper. I'm going to send him a press release on Monday.

Two local papers, the Lawrence Ledger and the Princeton Packet, already ran this article in recent weeks regarding the stream cleanups:

Somehow I've been able to find time to squeeze in field trips at the Duke Farms Estate in Hillsborough, NJ for the 5th graders of Auten Road School during the week. I run the water monitoring station at Lake #31. The 2700-acre estate has a bunch of reservoirs that are all named after the number of feet they are above sea level. James Buchanon Duke had a monopoly in the US tobacco industry and stakes in electric power. He's the one Duke University is named for. He had places in North Carolina, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Hawaii. Everything he was worth was handed to his daughter and heiress, Doris Duke. Her most famous moment was when she accidentally ran over her interior decorator, Eduardo, with her car. Sitting on a billion USD, of course she was a prime target for lawsuits. The police ruled the death as just an unfortunate accident though. Anyway, Duke Farms is a beautiful place that is rather private and difficult to visit unless you have permission or you know someone inside. It really is a perfect sort of blend between old stone architecture and tidy landscaping. I am privileged to have access to such a place.

These 5th grade girls from Hillsborough have crushes on me. They snicker, swoon, and giggle all the time. It's because I look a lot like one of the Jonas Brothers, a tweenie band akin to Hannah Montana, whoever she is. Apparently, I also look like a character named Chase Matthews from Nickolodeon's Zooey 101 show. One girl asked me if I could be her "new best friend". Another tapped me on the shoulder and asked me if she could take a picture of me. It was nice she had the courtesy to ask. Then the shit blew up the fan when one of them asked me for my autograph. I won't be joining the girls at lunchtime from here on out.

More cleanups and more field trips to come.
Your busy 'bassador,


Sunday, March 30, 2008

An Alarming Moment

Our family has a household smoke alarm and it's finicky. It goes off without warrant, especially when someone opens the bathroom door unleashing the steam built up after a long hot shower. Another diagnosis we had was that the alarm was just detecting dust particles and cobwebs from the attic. We would make Larry, my dad, go and clean it out.

This week the alarm was acting up again. Standing on a chair I had carried from a nearby room, I was able to muzzle, unscrew, and tap the screeching device until it ceased. My ears nearly bled, but I got it to stop. Everyone in the family despises this alarm, but we put up with it because it could potentially save our house (the uncharred parts) and our lives in the event of a real fire disaster.

Today the alarm went off. My brother was upstairs near the alarm, but chose to go in his room down the hall and shut the door rather than taking the intitiative to end the annoying blare. My mom and I were downstairs. After 20 minutes, the shrillness got to her so she decided to escape it by going outside to water some plants on the deck. My brother and mother both elected to let the siren go because they didn't want to deal with it. After pondering the situation for a minute, I rationalized that none of us should have to put up with this incessant alarm and that I was going to take charge and do something about it. The alarm got louder and louder as I approached the top of the stairs, and before I could think or blink, I had already punched my fist into the plastic disc, up into the ceiling. The alarm stopped. My hand was puffy, white, and numb with trickles of blood starting to pool up around my knuckles. It was a moment of jubilance, pain, awe.

I have only one viable explanation for what I did. I must have been innately possessed by the soul-jolting squeal and it inflicted deep psychological anguish inside of me. I know I did not intend on busting up the smoke alarm and the surrounding dry wall when I made the conscious decision to take action on the matter. I think it was an evolutionary reflex. It was like: this sound is hurting my eardrums and it's a threat to the survival of me and my kinsmen so it has to end, NOW! It was just a genuine human reaction.

Another interesting thing is the group psychology of the situation. My brother and mother both thought something is wrong here, it's affecting all of us, I don't really want to deal with it right now, I hope someone else does something about it. It reminds me of the murder of Kitty Genovese where dozens of people heard her scream on the street below as she was being fatally stabbed, but no one bothered to try to help, or even call 911 for that matter. The bystanders all watched her die and listened to her frantic screams from their apartment windows.

So anyway, with respect to this smoke alarm, I took matters into my own hands (just the right one, actually) and was able to end the alarming nuisance. My brother has been calling me the "man of the hour" since. Larry, my dad, was fuming when he saw the damage, but later, after I explained the circumstances, I saw him flash a grin. And my mother was just happy the ear-splitting shriek had ended.

I learned two things from this. The first is that in the end, you're all you've got. You can't on other people to do anything. The second is that no matter how aware you are of your actions, some of them are intrinsic, involuntary, and out of your conscious control. These actions are instinctively built into our genetic makeup and whether we like it or not we must come to accept them and also, to expect them.

Bandaged and sedate,


Thursday, March 27, 2008

Silent Spring

Boing! Spring has sprung. When I drive home from the office the yellow sun is still up. Little purple flowers squeeze up through the cracks in the concrete sidewalks. Red buds color the old winter skeletons of the trees and shrubs. The twitter of birdsong from the yard awakens my delighted ears. I can smell the earthiness of the outdoors after a rain shower. I like to taste the yolks of the hardboiled eggs stored in our fridge. Daffodils, frisbees, and good cheer are abound!

But, the truth is: I don't very much like springtime. Not yet anyway, in my 22 year old mind.

I'll attempt to explain why, but words and language are very limited in what they can express. Some feelings are abstractly unique, and there are no words for those feelings.

I've had a stress-induced hair loss condition, Alopecia areata, since I was in third grade. I always seem to have the least hair around the springtime, especially in recent years. Currently, my hair is pretty much fully intact and it should probably be cut soon, but that doesn't change the old emotions associated with low self-esteem that surface in the springtime.

Everyone is in love in the spring. After the dark doldrums of the winter, the warm sun comes out and the fresh green foliage branches into the psyche of plenty of young people. If you weren't already dating somebody, you convince yourself to become infatuated with a special girl/boy for the season of love.

I had a relationship with Emily, who I consider to be my first real girlfriend, in the spring of 2003. We were together for the final 6 weeks of high school. She broke up with me on graduation day--an emotional pinnacle. Anybody who has experienced young love knows what I went through. My mind was constantly surging with romantic thoughts and demanding that I go wherever she was. I was devastated when it ended. I remembering looking at myself in the mirror and putting my head in my hands, crying. Anyway, it'sanother self-esteem killing memory that occurred in and that I associate with the springtime.

Nobody likes to see other couples display their affection publicly, especially if you're single. I remember this song by The Smiths. Morrissey croons, "Two lovers entwined pass me by and heaven knows I'm miserable now." I bought The Smiths' album in the springtime and listened to it on my way to Shop Rite, where I worked in the Deli.

In the spring the semester ends. Any blooming relationship you might have started must now be terminated or postponed until school begins again in autumn (happens to be my favorite season). This was never a problem for me, personally, but I've seen it with other people. The thing that might get to me is the cozy period of time in the college bubble ending. Those summers between the years at college weren't very good ones and most people were elated to be back on campus and with their friends when August came around. Then, of course, there's college graduation itself, bulging with bittersweetness: Gettysburg College May 20, 2007.

Another thing that gets me is the feeling that I absolutely have to be active and productive. Everyone shares their spectacular summer plans around springtime. It serves only as a reminder that if you want to do something fun this summer you got to get your shit together and make it happen. Or it's a reminder that you don't have a summer job or internship lined up, which is pretty disconcerting because no one wants to be poor and bumming around on the couch all summer long. Either way, spring means you really need to make plans or reminds you that you didn't plan very well back in the winter months.

Spring brings pollen and allergies. Thankfully, I have no pollen allergies, but my mom does and so do lots of other people. Allergies make people uncomfortable. So, the people become irritable. Irritable people complain and sneeze and nobody likes that. Just another added annoyance to spring.

So all these spring things compounded create a melancholy ambience for me around this time.

Though, I should also mention the positive things about spring: warmth, longer days,
t-shirts/shorts/sandals, flowers, women wearing less clothing, birdsong, refreshing rain, easter candy, rita's water ice, pre-summer movies, hikes on wooded trails, music album releases, barefeet, just being outdoors.


On Tuesday evening, I had a four hour interview with Andrew Kulley, a retired West Windsor Environmental Commission member, at his home. We drank Coors Lights, talked about our favorite poet Bob Dylan, and shared some stories about our lives with each other. He gave some queer advice: often times it's better to ask for forgiveness afterwards rather than to ask for permission beforehand. From what I can tell, Andrew Kulley has one of the wisest, most organized minds I've encountered. He seems to know a lot about everything, and all in great detail, too (or maybe he just uses a lot of big words I don't know). He speaks eloquently and clearly and doesn't skimp on the jokes. I really like the guy. Before I left, he pulled a hardcover copy of Silent Spring by Rachel Carson from his massive bookshelf and gave it to me to read. He said he does want it back sometime though.

Wednesday started out badly. I awoke early to take my brother stream assessing up in Hillsborough, NJ. He needed community service hours for his National Honor Society application so I said he could get those hours by helping me out with my AmeriCorps stream assessments. Anyway, I was up early, half-conscious, and I backed up into our metal garage door, something my senile father has notoriously done before. I dislodged the guiding wheel off the track and seriously dimpled the door. Dan and I sped up to Hillsborough, parked in a dirt driveway, jumped into waders, and got in the stream near a small stony bridge. My waders had leaks in them. My socks and pants got soaked. I was miserable most of the time because of the soggy discomfort and the awful tedium of filling out the assessment forms. The highpoint of the morning was improvising a song with Dan as we plucked bugs off the kicknet: "Fuck you, midge, get off my tweezer!"

In the late afternoon I caught a train up to Secaucus Junction where I was picked up by Matt Manthey, the ambassador for the Hackensack River and the Meadowlands. We drove to the IZOD Arena, met Jen Gately another ambassador, parked in reserved parking, got special access passes, and took the elevator up into the concourse to set up our booth for Green Night at the New Jersey Nets game. The $78.00 tickets were free! And we actually had an extra one, so I called Rob up and invited him to the game. While we were waiting for the game to start, we went down near the court to watch the Nets and Pacers warm up. I got an autograph from a tall player on the Pacers. I think his name was Jermaine O' Neal. Our seats were really good. All the quick passing and dunks were particularly impressive up close. These players were pros, man. The Nets won 124-117. Rob and I stopped at McD's on the way back. He bought me a pie. It was warm, crusty, and appley--the best deal on the menu.

AmeriCorps is getting a little ridiculous. There is simply too much shit that I have to do. I also have soccer games and concerts on the calendar. Maybe, by being busy, the spring will pass more quickly.

On the bright side always,


Wednesday, March 19, 2008

100 Calorie Packs

I've been staying at my sister's new fiance Nick's apartment up in Bedminster, NJ for the last three nights. They are both down in Disney World (Nick proposed to Katy at Magic Kingdom, after the fireworks display on Sunday evening) and I had a bunch of AmeriCorps activities up around here, so it made sense for me to camp out for a bit and apartment-sit. I packed a decent amount of food from home, but I couldn't help but open their cabinets in search of something to chomp on.

Nick, the fiance, eats healthily from what I can gather. He's got the whole wheat bread and the nuts and the Kashi. As for my sister, well, she is trying to eat healthily. She has lots of individually packaged snacks like goldfish and cheez-its and oreos that typically come in 100 Calorie Packs.

The idea here is that you will knowingly limit yourself to just 100 calories worth of snack, rather than sitting down in front of the TV with a family-size bag of potato chips and finishing the whole thing off. But, you see, my take on it is that by choosing to eat a 100 calorie pack, you are really agreeing to eat 100 calories. Why not just have one or two cookies instead of all five that they cram into the tiny bag? I guess that might take self-control, something my sister might not have when it comes to snacks.

The worst is the loving mom who pays a few extra bucks for a box of the neatly packaged 100 calorie packs for her titanic lacrosse-playing son. He comes back from practice very hungry, empties an entire pack into his mouth, says WTF it's already gone, and proceeds to empty another one. And another one. It's wasted money on the wastful packaging of trashy food.

100 calorie packs force you to eat in 100 calorie increments. If you want just a little taste of three different kinds of snacks, then you have to commit to eating 300 calories (unless you give away the rest of the packs to your fiance who really doesn't want them, but accepts them kindly anyway). And don't tell me that you don't have to eat the whole pack at once, because honestly, they don't make chip clips that small.

100 calorie packs don't seem to keep their snacks in one piece very well either. The bigger bags puff a bit of air into them to protect the product from crumbling during shipping. These smaller bags have no room for a coat of air protection, plus they are all jammed into an undersized box. Needless to say, the snacks in the 100 calorie packs are crummy.

The freshness of 100 calorie packs is analogous to a long loaf of Italian bread. The whole loaf stays fresh because all of the potential bread slices are still stuck together, protecting each other from becoming stale. Once the bread is broken into smaller parts, the bread becomes vulnerable and within hours it's inevitably hard and spoiled. The same thing happens when snack pieces are split into smaller groups.

100 calorie packs are also terrible from an environmental standpoint because they use much more plastic and cardboard in their packaging than their larger counterparts.

100 calorie packs: snacks distributed in excessive, environmentally-straining packaging for the purpose of helping people watch their weight, when actually inspiring more consumption of stale, partially damaged snack foods that we shouldn't be eating anyway.

Reese's peanut butter egg in hand, and now, in mouth--CHOMP!
Have a Happy Snacky Easter!


Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Goodness of Gary Grubb

Ah... this choice organic mango tea smells fruity and leafy. Perhaps it will help me to concentrate as I write my second blog entry.

So, where did I get this teabag? I got it from the Murray Dodge basement on Princeton University campus. It's a hangout with organic tea, cookies straight from the oven, chocolate fondue, etc. provided for students from 10:30pm-12:30am. I am not a student, but I have a friend named Christel who is a student.

On Saturday night, I took a detour into Princeton due to downed power lines blocking 571 and Alexander Road. They were the result of a high-powered windstorm. A little after 9pm I met Christel at Starbucks on Nassau Street. We drank green tea and talked for an hour before heading over to a "study break" with free food and games. During midterms Princeton provides ample stress-relieving nourishment in the form of these "study breaks". Gettysburg College supplied us with similar nourishment when I was at school. The study break was pretty much a bunch of wigged out college kids eating fast food while standing up. Food wasn't allowed into the game area (I think it was their gym), so not very many people were playing games. The food choices were White Castle and Taco Bell. Having never tried White Castle and having had a desire to try it ever since Harold & Kumar famously decided to eat there (they actually visit Princeton in the movie), I took the leap and ate a tiny burger morsel. The meat was cold and tasted fake. Later on, when the Taco Bell arrived, Christel somehow conjured up four tacos pretty much instantaneously. When she handed them to me, I didn't know what to do with them--I wasn't hungry. The quartet of tacos ended up alone on a table untouched, uneaten, completely ignored by the charge of dorks attending the Glutton Bowl.

This is when Christel took me by the arm and brought me to Murray Dodge, a much more low-key place. It was quieter, darker, had chocolate fondue with sliced fruit and marshmellows for dipping, and a shelf full of table games like scrabble, boggle, taboo, and the Sex in the City trivia game. Christel and I filled our plates with chocolate and played dominoes. We played three games, splitting the first two and tying the last, so I guess overall we tied.

Then Christel showed me her dorm room. She hooked up her laptop to the TV monitor to show me some Youtube videos and then I showed her some videos. It was a good night.

Tuesday night is when I got the teabag for this choice organic mango tea, half of which is left. But, first, let me tell you about my three-hour tour of Hightstown Borough with a swell man by the name of Gary Grubb.

For AmeriCorps, I am organizing stream cleanups for nine townships in the watershed: Cranbury, East Windsor, Franklin, Hightstown, Lawrence, Millstone, Monroe, Princeton, and West Windsor. And I am doing cleanup site visits to familiarize myself so that things will run smoother on the days of the events. I agreed to meet Gary Grubb on Tuesday at 1pm at the Rocky Brook Environmental Resource Area on Bank Street in Hightstown for a walkthrough. I didn't quite know what I was signing up for.

I turned into the Resource Area parking lot, which was potholed and inhabited by about a hundred old plastic garbage cans (apparently quite a few people had recently converted to communal dumpsters). While I had my head in the backseat rummaging for my clipboard and pencil, Gary Grubb had already parked his car, gotten out, and extended his hand.

Gary is in alright shape for a 68 year old. His hair still has some dark color to it and it looks rather kempt. He speaks with a slight Long Island slur that's overcome by a kind of bounciness akin to Simpsons' character, Mayor Quimby. He always starts his sentences with "Now I'll tell you [insert first name]." He seems like a very here-and-now type of person. He loves to talk.

The modestly-sized area was swampy with pools of standing water, but thankfully there was a plastic boardwalk for us to walk along and keep our pants dry. Or so I thought! Actually, there were little aeration holes in the plastic so little pellets of water would shoot up from underneath us with every step. Gary told me about the time his niece screamed when he took her out on the boardwalk--she was wearing a skirt.

Gary proceeded to show me the "Greenway", a town encompassing path that was in the works. He pointed out a labelling company that used to be a grocery store that he worked at. He pointed out a hump in the road where the railroad tracks used to be. He pointed out the spot where the town had a rubber duck race under the town's main bridge. He pointed out Hightstown's new town monument with dual copper horseheads spitting out fountain water into bowls in the center of Main Street. He introduced me to the municipal clerk, a business owner, the gas station/car repair owner, the town landscapers, the diner hostess, the man behind the bar at Theo's Tavern ( it smelled like a pizza place from a Ninja Turtles movie). Gary talked for at least 5 minutes with every person we came across. He knew everyone in town and they all knew him. They were all a lot like him, too! All personable, funny, and happy to be talking to you on a Tuesday afternoon. It was Gary's town. And later when he drove me around town, he could tell me the name of the person living in every house and something about them. "Now I'll tell you Andy, you see that young man across the street painting the outside of that store? He's the son of the man you met earlier today working at the car repair shop. Smart kid, went to Cornell and got a degree, but decided he likes it here in Hightstown with his dad." It was truly amazing.

Later, Gary Grubb took me to the Hightstown Apollo Lodge. He asked me if I was thirsty and opened a refridgerator stocked with Coors Light. When I opted for an iced tea, I think he may have been disappointed. He pounced on a cold one unflinchingly. He told me stories about how he went to school with Carl Yastremski of the Boston Red Sox and his summer trips to Cape May with his wife, Dale and the many failed marriages of his two brothers. Before we parted ways, Gary vowed that after the cleanup on April 5th, we would eat homemade hickory-smoked venison jerky together and drink beer at Theo's Tavern. I think every town needs a Gary Grubb.

The cup of choice tea is long gone. My level of awakeness is long gone, too. So, in short, on Tuesday night I met Rob at Triumph Brewery where we had a round of Abbey Trippel's and a round of Irish Dry Stouts. I chatted with two British girls who were "on holiday in the states." This made me lose track of time and I was late to Murray Dodge where I was supposed to meet Christel. She was forgiving and could only stay for a short while anyway. Rob and I ate lots of cookies and picked up organic teabags on our way out.

I'm on my way out.


Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Blog Beginnings

Currently, I'm on my sister's laptop at her boyfriend Nick's place near Basking Ridge, NJ. I was reading my buddy Nick Boire's blog about his adventures in Namibia and decided I should make my own online journal documenting my own happenings.

Today I played guitar and taught about watersheds to all 5 of my sister's 8th grade science classes. Tomorrow I'm going to present to 3 more classes taught by my sister's coworker, Mr. Swanson before driving home to Princeton Junction to meet with Andrew Kulley of the West Windsor Environmental Commission for a short interview.

I need to call a lot of townships and potential sponsors for my watershed-wide stream cleanup events scheduled for April 5, 6, 12, and 13 this spring. It's stressful.

Friday I might go to a jazz club near the shore with Rob and Steve. Saturday I'm helping at an environmental fair at a school in Chester, NJ in the morning and early afternoon. In the evening, I might be eating at Princeton University dining hall with a freshman girl named Christel. I met her on a train to New York City a few weeks ago during free student transit week.

I need to go to bed now. I have to be up and ready to go to my sister's school in 6 hours! Yuck!

I think this blog is a good idea. It's the start of a good thing.