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.