Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Drugs over here and over there


So I just listened to an NPR report on organized crime’s move into the marijuana industry. The report said the drug generates $35 billion annually in the US, making it the nation’s number one cash crop. The story went on to detail federal busts in suburban California communities, and illustrated with little room for argument how those busts point to organized crime. Before I get to comparing the US’s view of marijuana to Hungary’s view of the drug, I want to say something more general.

I don’t like organized crime. I think people who make a living off the black market do harm to the rest of us. This is a view I didn’t have when I lived in the States, but since moving to Hungary where the black market is doing visible harm to honest people who work harder then they should considering the wages they make, I’ve come to view organized criminals as weak-minded parasites. If there are two things I have grown disdainful of, they are organized crime and corruption. The two often go hand in hand, but right now I’m mostly concerned with the dickless goons who think they’ve beat the system because they control the liquor market, the casinos, the high-end dance clubs, and the strip clubs without paying a penny in taxes. Sounds like a sweet gig, but they’re dragging down the rest of the country. There are a few people who see the damage being done, but whether it is through threats of violence or through their connections to corrupt officials, the small-minded goons in charge of the whole system have secured their strangle-hold and won’t be happy until Hungary has no more money left to steal.

That said, I think it would be in America’s best interest to keep the marijuana market out of the hands of organized criminals. And considering the country’s understanding/acceptance of the drug, I think the only way to do that is decriminalization. The NPR report features a police officer pointing out that the busts being made did not involve the hobby home growers or the groovy gardeners. These bust involved criminal rings looking to cash in on a widely accepted, yet illegal commodity. The criminals in California are taking advantage of the drug’s status as a risky investment. The state of California has all but agreed to look the other way, but the Federal government is riding around on their high horse and kicking in pot-growers doors. The small-time growers can’t afford the risk anymore, but the demand persists. Who will supply the market? Well, it will be people who can afford to invest in an operation that uses economy of scale to make up for the occasional loss. It will be people who can hire someone willing to go to jail for a while. It will be people accustomed to flagrantly breaking the law. The Federal government is all but handing them the market.

Marijuana is easy to grow. It is called weed for a reason. It should be dirt cheap. Even the good stuff can be grown on a small scale with minimal investment. If growing a plant or two for personal use means jail time, however, the value goes up and the criminals move into the market. So, attempting to control the supply with harsh law enforcement not only fails to achieve its goal, it fills the pockets of the worst kinds of people.

So, can America do anything about the demand side of the equation? In short, the answer is no. I’m over here in Hungary where the Soviets did a bang up job brainwashing the population. If you ask anyone over forty about marijuana, they will tell you that the stuff will kill you, give you herpes, make you impotent, and put a curse on your family line for generations to come. Of course that same person will also tell you that being gay is a disease you can catch by watching too much Western television (someone actually told me that). America, while it doesn’t say nice things about the drug, does allow a healthy exchange of ideas to take place among its citizens. If you like pot, you don’t feel bad telling your best friend about it. When the Soviets were here in Hungary, however, even if you thought marijuana was harmless, hell if you were going to tell your friend at work. He’d get a promotion for reporting you. In the States we don’t have that kind of paranoia to deal with, and over time people have come to realize that pot isn’t all that bad. Sure there are a number of drawbacks, but overall the harm is nowhere near that of harder drugs. It has gotten to a point where people are okay with marijuana. They don’t want to see it sold in gas stations, but if someone keeps a little wooden box stocked with rolling papers and an ounce or two, no harm no foul. Without an expensive public “education” campaign aimed at un-learning America’s three to four decades of experience with the dreaded marijuana, there seems to be few choices other than decriminalization. And so my question to you, dear reader, is: Does that sound like, totally, really like the most awesome plan ever, or am I just soooo stoned?

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Dog debate

The correct word order, I finally decide, would be canine menstrual blood not menstrual canine blood, but since it’s come up, let me take this opportunity to say that this is a defining moment for me in that I never could have predicted my life taking a path that would lead to a debate over the proper adjective order necessary to describe the rust-colored stain left on the day bed by my young dog Szóda. It would be trite to point out that my move from Midwestern America to Central Europe came as a surprise to even myself. Perhaps equally so to say that I never saw teaching English rhetoric to Hungarians as a source of income I would one day tap. What makes this moment poignant, however - what highlights the disparity between what I am and what I was before my arrival in Hungary, is a memory of the famed host of “The Price is Right”, the peerless Bob Barker. For those in the know, you’ll remember the public service announcement Mr. Barker made as “The Price is Right” came to a close. The credits would start rolling. The family and friends of the Showcase Showdown winner would be storming the stage. The Barbie doll presenters would be comforting the contestant who came in second place, and then Bob would say it: “Remember folks, help to control the pet population. Spay and neuter your pets.” For those of you who didn’t know, this was how a very popular American game show would come to a close nearly everyday at 11:00am Central Standard Time.

Bob Barker had me convinced that, if you had a dog or cat, the humane thing to do was to take away its ability to procreate. I accepted his word as gospel. Why would that man lie to America?

Well, I realize he wasn’t lying. He was simply using the soapbox he’d helped to construct in an effort to convey a message he believed in. The man believes the pet population is out of control, and spay/neuter clinics are the answer to that problem.

Now that I live in Hungary, however, I’ve come to question Bob’s belief. Most people here do not clip off their pets’ reproductive organs. It is simply not common practice. Throughout the year I meet many dog-walkers in the street who ask me if Szóda is a girl or a boy. Some are worried about two boy dogs getting into a fight, but many are worried because their female dog is in heat. You don’t want to allow a male dog’s nose too close to a menstruating female’s behind. Just trust me on that.

I will admit, getting Szóda fixed would make things a bit easier. I can’t let her run around willy-nilly when she’s in heat, not unless I want puppies. Beyond that, however, there isn’t much of an issue. It’s not as messy as you might think. In fact it's not messy at all. And there is no stray dog problem in Hungary, at least not as far as I can see. I’ve lived in the city and in the countryside, and I have yet to see more than one or two strays. So I am left with a question: do I take Bob Barker’s advice or do I allow Szóda to keep her ability to reproduce? Let me know what you think.

Monday, December 11, 2006

The passing of a legend


Just something brief today, something about the passing of a football legend. Ferenc Puskas was a Hungarian footballer (soccer player) who won the respect of every football fan in the world during his career. I have to admit, I didn’t know who he was before coming to Hungary. And I certainly didn’t realize his status as a national hero until he passed away. There was a national day of mourning; we’re talking black flags hung in the capitol and praise from the Prime Minister.

Now, if you understand the game and have a look at the man’s record, there’s good reason for Hungary’s adoration of Puskas. He earned his status as a legend. It’s not just the Hungarians who feel that way, as he also played with Real Madrid after defecting in ’56, a move that did not please the communists whatsoever. They branded him a traitor. Of course, Hungarians welcomed Puskas and his family back in the 80’s, showing that there are a few things more powerful then politics in this country.

So why, if I didn’t know much about the man, did I choose to write about him today? Well, it seems to me that nearly the entire world pays close attention to this game football (soccer). The passing of great players is marked by days of mourning. The issues of the Cold War are put to one side for one footballer’s desire to return to his homeland. It’s astounding how much people care about the game. And while I don’t doubt Americans have the same devotion to the sports we follow, I’m still left wondering why we don’t show much interest in this game. I’ve read a lot of theories: the rhythm of the game doesn’t jive with Americans (then how can one explain a love of both basketball and baseball?), there are too many American sports already (What? Maybe 3.5 with football, baseball, basketball, and the non-Canadian half of hockey), or a lack of talent (but with a population around 300 million and more money than… anybody else, that excuse falls short).

I think, however, that the most interesting reason behind it might be the real one. I don’t think America wants to compete on the world stage in a team sporting event. Aside from the team events at the Olympics and in track and field, we don’t like to play with others. And let’s face it, without a cold war, the Olympics and track and field are not exactly big draws anymore.

So what do you say about a country that doesn’t play well with others? I don’t know, but I thought I’d pose the question.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Like a rolling stone


I was writing to John Burns, an old friend, today. I was excusing my failed e-life: no person emails in months, no blog entries, no messenger... nothing. But in responce to his question about Hungarian politics, I just couldn't stop writing. Here's some of that message.

And as far as Hungarian politics is concerned... Wow, it's a lot to explain. The protests and the ensuing riots are filled with a couple hundred years of issues: loss of territory after WWI, anti-Semitism, communism vs socialism, xenophobia, police brutality, police incompetence, failed revolutions in 1848 and 1956, and more.

It's so hard for us as Americans to comprehend, the people here consider their whole history political. I've been here a while, and I'm still trying to wrap my head around all of it. Imagine an American politician invoking his party’s triumphs during the Civil War. It wouldn't happen outside a strictly academic conversation.

As a people, we Americans favor issues over context. I see it as both a blessing and a curse. I'm over here, however, and learning that most people in the world think the tendency makes Americans look stupid. Yet they acknowledge that we’re productive. They fail to understand the mechanism behind it, because divorcing themselves from their history is such an impossible concept.

Sounds like a good thing, right. But when there's been a peaceful change in regime and the nation is expected to move at the pace of the world economy, there’s a need for people to step back and look at the now – even if only for a couple of years. The Hungarians want a free-market economy, but they want to blame the government for any and all problems. They want the lower taxes of a full-fledged capitalist economy without losing the benefits that came with socialism. So the amateur politicians over here lie to the public while pushing through legislation aimed at one side or the other.

It’s a Sisyphean task if there ever was one. And in a moderately poor country full of people who enjoy revolutions, when the rock rolls back downhill… well you saw the news.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Back for the fall


Autumn has come and nearly gone here in Hungary. There has been a flurry of events to accompany it. Unfortunately this flurry knocked me out of the blogging loop for a bit, but I’m back… with a lot to say.

I should start with the announcement of my sister’s new baby. Thomas Earl Lutz was born on the 23rd of October, 2006. Congratulations to Courtney and Terry. I’m happy to have a nephew – my first. I hope he’s a trouble-maker.

Speaking of Thomas Earl, I was in an interesting place when I got the news of his arrival. My nephew was born on the 50th anniversary of Hungary’s revolution against the Soviets, and when I got the call telling me of his birth I was in a café trying to avoid the right-wing rioters out ravaging the streets of Budapest . Odd, you might think, that members of Hungary’s political right would choose to celebrate the anniversary of such a momentous event with eruptions of violence and anti-government themed protests. Odd because the Hungarian right is traditionally tied to themes of nationalism and to the proud history of Hungary. One would assume that such a party would attempt to ring in this anniversary with all the pomp and ceremony of an independence celebration.

It would seem ridiculous to politicize this event, this event that recognizes a time when Hungarians found one voice – despite the many disparate ideals in this country – one voice that railed against the Soviet Empire strongly enough to drive the occupying troops of the Russian army, the largest standing army of the day, out of Hungary entirely. Students, workers, the military, and even several politicians all came together to stand up against the Soviet occupation, and for a short time they were triumphant.

The brutal Russian retaliation that followed served as a wake-up call to Communist thinkers in the west. People saw the unpleasantness that Moscow had, until that point, kept hidden for the most part behind the Iron Curtain. The 56 Revolution and its aftermath is often considered as one of the first major dents in the Soviet façade, and is thought by many to be a major factor in what led to the eventual collapse of Soviet rule.

I had been looking forward to being here for Hungary’s celebration of the event, but when political events took an ugly turn last month I knew the event would be tainted. (For those out of the loop, the leader of the ruling socialist party was caught on tape admitting to lies, lies that likely got him re-elected. Since then, the opposition has been protesting and calling for the Prime Minister’s resignation.) I couldn’t have predicted, however, just how tainted the anniversary’s celebration would be.

The party representing the right organized a commemorative event at the intersection of the two busiest roads in the downtown area. The metro stop at that location is called Astoria, after a hotel at the intersection. People call the intersection by the same name (great PR for the hotel). Those familiar with my life here in Budapest may recognize the location as the metro stop just outside Lili’s apartment.

Dora and I picked up Lili after she finished work. We’d received a lot of phone calls urging us to keep Lili away from Astoria. For one thing, most of Dora’s family didn’t want us adding our number to the crowd, and thereby showing a kind of support for their cause. For another thing, there was fear of violence at the event.

Of course we headed straight for Astoria.

I suppose it was the large presence of skinheads that surprised me most. I have been engaged in an ongoing debate with a fellow teacher at McDaniel. He supports the right, and when I said the party needs to marginalize radical elements (like skinheads), he got upset and told me the party wanted nothing to do with such people. He even went so far as to suggest that the socialists were the ones responsible for sending such hooligans to events sponsored by the right. When we arrived at the commemoration, however, the skinheads were mingling with other people and seemed to fit in just fine.

Now I don’t want people to think the right in Hungary is a bunch of skinheads. That’s not true at all. Families were present, old people, young businessmen, the working class, and more – all there in support of their party. The skinheads were only a fraction of the crowd, but they were there - the loud minority. Now, I do understand that they are a minority, but the party does little, if anything, to discourage their antics. In fact, the speech given by Victor Orban, the party’s charismatic leader, inspired the more radical elements to violence. He opened with some pleasantries, a few words about the anniversary, but then he turned his focus to the political events of the day. He pointed his finger at the ruling socialist party and all but sanctioned the ensuing riots.

They attempted a march to the Parliament where a government sanctioned commemoration was taking place, but the police pushed them back to Astoria. This contained the violence, but it did not stem it. The clashes with police lasted well into the night. Tear gas and rubber bullets.

So, I was disappointed, once again, by politics making their way into an event that shouldn’t be politicized. The events of 50 years ago represented a lashing out against the Soviets, not against the socialists. In fact, many of the leaders of the revolution were striving to form an independent communist state, like Tito’s Yugoslavia. They actually were socialists. They just weren't Soviets.

The right here in Hungary has distorted that history, however, and attempted to use the anniversary in their efforts to oust the democratically elected (albeit under false pretences) socialist party. I hate to see something like this used for political gain. It’s a similar feeling I have about the democrats in the States politicizing the Iraqi war’s decline in popularity, or the Republican’s ongoing efforts to politicize 9/11. It is hard to see history trivialized in such a manner. It is hard to stand by as pundits and politicians use the blood of other people to further their causes.

Still, in the hyper-analyzed world we live in, no one seems to be asking the questions that matter to me. Like, “Isn’t our history and our heritage more important than the price of oil?”

Well, isn’t it?

Monday, September 11, 2006

A moment


I have a lot to write about from over the last two weeks. I had an incredible weekend recently when I went hunting with Imre and family, and Dora has a birthday coming up tomorrow, but today I want to write something about the anniversary being observed today. It is September 11th. I was in New York City five years ago. I’ve been surprised by the emotions I’ve experienced today.

Dora left for work in the morning as usual. I didn’t have to work until four, so I went back to sleep. A phone call woke me up. It was my mother. She was describing the first crash when the second plane collided into the south tower. We spent a moment trying to understand whether or not it was a replay or a second crash, but when it became clear what had happened, we understood the reality of the situation.

All I could think of was the passengers on the airplanes, because those towers were so iconic that I didn’t even think about the people inside. Then my mother and I talked about my brother who worked two blocks from the towers at my aunt and uncle’s production company. My mom told me that they couldn’t get through to Drew, so I tried to get through on my mobil. I was fortunate in that my shitty mobile company didn’t have a lot of customers. I got through after a few calls. Drew told me he had seen some terrible things and he wasn’t sure what he should do. I told him to walk north. He did. His story is one of New Yorkers acting under duress. They didn’t panic. They didn’t turn violent. They didn’t loot. They pulled together and got through a day like no other people could. Drew walked north only to see the first tower collapse through the arch at Washington Square Park.

I think about those images of New Yorkers moving north without rioting or showing any real sense of terror, and I still feel a bit of victory. It felt to me like New York was giving a big old “Fuck you” to the people who carried out the attack. Like saying, “Sure, that was a pretty good attack, but is that all you got?” I was so proud to be a resident of the city that day.

After talking to Drew, I spent a moment thinking about Dora’s trip to work. She traveled underneath the towers to get to work, but when I remembered her departure time, I knew she had gotten to work before the attacks. After a few calls I got through to one of her co-workers. All passage off the island of Manhattan had been shut down, but Dora’s plan was to get back to Brooklyn as soon as she could.

I didn’t have TV, because we were receiving via antenna, and the broadcast towers were atop the WTC. So I listened to radio news and waited for Dora and Drew to arrive. Eventually they did, along with Sailor, Drew ex-girlfriend. The next 48 hours were a blur, but I was happy, and fortunate to have loved ones with me.

Five years on, I’m not proud of my nation’s response, but I’m proud of my nation. We aren’t a perfect people, and sometimes we look for an easy answer to complex problems. Nevertheless, the US works. I saw evidence of that five years ago. From time to time I see things that back that up. The bottom line is there is something American that no terrorist, no amount of poor leadership, and no amount of anti-Americanism can erode. We may not all be the smartest, we may not all be the toughest, we may not all be the most diplomatic, but when we pull together, Americans are a force to be reckoned with. I don’t want to sound all “Rah rah, USA!”, but I do think the nation that produced me has got some things going for it.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

A Fogotten Trip


So, the weekend is here again. Dora’s parents have arrived from the States. There’s a shitload of family birthdays to celebrate this time of year (it is perhaps a bit overwhelming, especially when you considerer my own family’s casual attitude toward birthdays – oh, by the way, Happy Birthday Courtney!! A day late, but it’s a busy time of year for you, I know.). And I’m getting ready for the school year to start up. So, I am plenty busy, and Dora is off to Poland for a work-sponsored training, and it is all a little overwhelming.

But the Poland thing reminded me of something I forgot to write about. Two weeks ago Dora and I celebrated our second year as a married couple in Poland. We drove up through Slovakia, a beautiful drive through the Tatra Mountains.

I did take a wrong turn about five hours into the drive and tagged an extra 90 minutes onto the trip. We saw a badass castle as a result, but the detour was a bit frustrating. My navigator was asleep when I went off course. She woke up to tell me I should have been more careful, but then we missed the turn a second time while backtracking. That’s when we realized that the Slovak people need to mark their roads better.

You hear that Slovakia! Mark those roads!

They can’t hear me…

Anyway, Krakow was the main destination, and it was worth it. It’s a beautiful city. There are pictures. If you want to see ‘em click this sentence. We saw the Jewish district and the Old City Centre. Very nice. “Here’s a famous church, here’s where some bad things happened, and here’s an example of architecture that was recently refurbished after it got blown up on forty separate occasions.” Did you know Poland stopped existing as a country for a while and then it just came back? I didn’t know countries were allowed to do that.

The food was good, but I think we should have asked someone for a traditional Polish place. We ended up at a bistro that was more French than anything else.

Then the next day we had two choices for a day-trip: Auschwitz or this famous 750 year old salt mine. I want to see Auschwitz at some point, but not on a wedding anniversary. So I opted for the salt mine and Dora agreed. People had told me the mine is amazing. And… well – No, wait, it is amazing. No, really, it is an impressive site. Don’t get me wrong, Dora and I were both duly impressed, but it’s a mass-tourism destination. And that means there’s the lines, the crowds, the cheap souvenirs, the overpriced fast food, and all the other trappings that come with a one-of-a-kind UNESCO protected destination.

Impressive, yes.

Ideal for a quick romantic getaway, not in any imaginable way. We stayed positive and appreciated it, blah, blah, blah, but we should have gone hiking or spent another day in the city.

We spent our last night in Zakopane, a village in the Polish Tatras. It was really more of a ski town, but the place was bustling with hikers and the like. We had good Polish food and a rude waitress in a place that made me long for the ski season, wooden walls, live accordion, and traditional Polish dresses as uniforms (might have explained some of the rudeness).

And then we headed back. A nice trip.

Since then there’s been the Radiohead show, a lot of work, and now you’re more or less up to date.

What about you? What have you been up to?

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Saw a show

We saw Radiohead at Budapest’s Sziget Festival.

What to say? Um… Well, they remain my favorite band. Knowing that I went in with this bias, perhaps the following should be taken with a grain of salt.

I couldn’t have dreamt up a better set list then the one that was played on Saturday night. I remember the “Kid A/Amnesiac” tour fondly. I saw the Garden State Park show in 2001. I still think highly of the albums that the tour was promoting, and of course the show leaned on them heavily. The Sziget show, however, pulled from nearly every album, as well as throwing us a couple of new songs.

I fell for this band in ’97 with “OK Computer”, and I’ll admit to having hoped that Saturday’s show would draw heavily from that album. I figured it wasn’t unrealistic, seeing as the band isn’t promoting any specific album on this tour. So when they opened with “Airbag” I felt certain that there exists a concert genie who heard and granted my wish.

I was actually walking into the festival’s main stage area when “Airbag” sounded the beginning of the show. (Mark, Charlie, and I had been awed by a little four-piece Hungarian blues combo doing Rolling Stones covers, and we waited until the last minute to get to the big show.) The stage itself was enormous, and very far away. The audience was shoulder-to-shoulder all the way out to the food vendors. Dora and I had broken away from the crowd we were with. So, as we made our way closer to the stage, Dora was texting those we hoped to meet up with. As the band started “National Anthem” we found Donnie and Agi (Dora’s co-workers). If you know the song’s bassy distorted opening guitar riff, you’ll understand what got my blood pumping. I told the group that I didn’t want to spend the entire show looking for other people. They all agreed, and we made our way to a decent vantage point off to the right of the stage. We weren’t close, but we weren’t too far either.

We didn’t need to shove our way up front because the staging and sound were phenomenal. And besides, I’m tall; if I pushed my way to center-front, I’d ruin some short person’s show. The one drawback to being on the fringes: the audience out there was composed of the less-avid fans, people happy to chat through the two new songs, “There There” and “15 Step”. This was compounded by the festival setting, because a lot of these people weren’t fans really. They were festival goers who knew it would be foolish to turn down an opportunity to see Radiohead. I liked the new songs, but I was distracted.

When “Exit Music” started, however, I kind of got lost in the tune. It is one of my favorites. It was at this point that Donnie, who didn’t really know the band, pointed out, “This music is really very beautiful.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.

They moved right into “Karma Police”, and Agi got excited because she knew that one. Dora told me that she was pleasantly surprised at how many songs she was familiar with, and I knew then that I’ve done my duty as a husband.

The show was just one good song after another. “I Might Be Wrong” followed by the new “Nude” and then “Paranoid Android” (the song that really caught me of guard in ’97 and made me listen to rock with a more discerning ear) and then there was a wonderful mellow-down with “No Surprises”. That song always makes me happy that I’ve found a woman like Dora who’s asked me to make life an adventure.

“The Gloaming” was creepy, as always, and it was also the point where the show separated the fans from the on-lookers from the music connoisseurs. The fans know and love it all. The on-lookers start looking around and thinking, “I though this was a rock band?” And for the connoisseurs, while they might not know Radiohead, it is difficult to deny the beauty of these more low-key songs. It went from “The Gloaming” into “How to Disappear Completely” and then “Pyramid Song” and “Lucky”.

For those looking to pick things up again, the band closed up the main set in an appropriate way. They reached all the way back to ’95 for “Just”. Then they jumped forward and back again with “Idioteque” and “Street Spirit”.

Well, when they left us on that note, the crowd demanded more. It was when the encore started that I realized I was at a festival, but I was listening to a full-length show. Nearly two and an half hours, and those last twenty minutes were spectacular: “You and Whose Army?”(Yorke didn’t have a lot to say politically during the show. I think with the bombing plot and the Israeli-Lebanon affair this was an appropriate call. But this song’s feeling says a lot all by itself), “2 + 2 = 5”, a real surprise with “Fake Plastic Trees” and the big close with “Everything in its Right Place”.

It will be a long time before I see a show to match this one. If you get the chance, see them on this tour.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Asking for help


I need to “speak” with some people who have worked for non-profits.

I’ve rediscovered my interest in volunteerism recently. As part of that I'm starting an action-research program aimed at bolstering non-profit and volunteer activity in Hungary. Some of the research will include email interviews with people who have worked for non-profits in other countries. I’m hoping some readers can help me with this. If you or someone you know has ever worked for a non-profit organization, and you/he/she would be willing to answer some questions in the near future, please leave a comment below.

Here’s details if you need ‘em:

After an informal survey, I’ve come to the conclusion that there is not a substantial volunteer/community service culture in Hungary. This is not a fault of the people here. It is the result of history, economics, politics, and culture. Nevertheless, the new-ish market economy needs a strong non-profit sector and volunteer base to make up for the services lost since communism’s rejection. This is becoming clearer as Hungary's economic problems mount.

There is, as is always the case, a gap in community needs that cannot be filled by either the private or the public sector. The problem is, the transition from socialism was so fast, that no one had time to explain the importance of non-profit groups.

I have made it my goal to help non-profits and volunteer groups fill the service gap here in Hungary. One aspect of the project involves public relations. I plan to write a short article for the English-speaking papers, hopefully to have it translated for one of the local papers. Then I will, along with the students in one of my courses, perform a larger research project comparing Hungary’s non-profit/volunteer culture to that of other, more mature market economies. I’m hoping the research shows the importance of the work done in the volunteer sector.

Thanks for you help.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

A visit



So, this week the heat here in Budapest made a transition from excruciating to embarrassing. The reason, we had guests.

Andy and Aggie made a detour through our fair city on their way from Croatia to Greece. On a map such a route doesn’t make much sense, but with the rise of budget air travel the shortest distance between two points is no longer a straight line.

They were great guests. The fact that Dora and I live on the top floor without air-conditioning did not come up too often in conversation. The fact that Szóda went through their bags, leaving bite marks in most of Aggie’s cosmetics, was not dwelled upon. And most importantly, we all had an excellent time. They arrived late on Tuesday. We went for beers and caught up. It took us until two in the morning, even though I had an eight-thirty lesson the next day. Somehow that wasn’t too much of a problem, because I made it through the day, even managing to show off some of the sights during the afternoon. Then the night arrived. After an excellent meal at Két Szerecsen we went to Hold Udvar on Margaret Island. We drank, played ping-pong, danced, and reveled until 4:30 that morning (once again I had work in the morning, but I don’t get guests very often).

Again, they were great guests. I hope they had as much fun as I did. I know Dora did, she was an animal at Hold Udvar.

Flashback



I want to get in an entry with a real life adventure from last month. I got two sailing-trip log-entries in before we started getting ready for that party, but the end of the trip needs to be documented.

We were circumnavigating Ischia, the largest island in the Bay of Naples, on an excruciatingly calm day. In order to move forward at all we had to use the motor for the first two hours. Andras does not like to run the motor. He goes sailing so he can sail, not tool around in an underpowered motorboat. Fortunately, once we reached the western side of the island we were moving with the current, and as a result we could run without the motor at an astounding 2 knots. It was a relaxing last day of sailing – until…

We were heading toward the harbor at Ischia Town when I saw the first flash of lightning over Monte Epomeo. Then the wind picked up. At first it seemed we would catch a nice stiff wind and beat the storm to the harbor, but then the gusting started. Then it started to rain. Then the gusting started to make me nervous. I’ll admit, as a less experienced sailor – ok, as a completely inexperienced sailor – I was losing faith in the stability of our little craft. I could feel the center of balance lifting up out of the water at times. “A three hour tour, a three hour tour…”

Andras, however, kept the cool that is so important for the captain to keep. He told me to hold off on bringing in the sails until he had us pointed squarely into the wind. Well, he didn’t actually tell me this, he just did it and told me what to do when it needed to be done. It is only through the benefit of hindsight that I can now understand what was going on. It was a flurry of activity, all while being pelted by a cold rain and blown around by storm winds. When I felt on top of things, it made me feel like a badass. Then I would have to walk out to the mast and pull a line in; the badass feelings evaporated all too quickly.

In the end, however, we got to the harbor. No slips. Damn it. We went back out and cruised to a second harbor. No slips. Damn it all. We were tired and hungry. We decided to anchor just outside the harbor in a relatively calm spot. The boat was rocking, but not so bad.

Before we went in for our trip’s last supper, I had a coffee with rum and a hot shower. Of course, we then had to ride the dingy to shore in the rain, canceling the effect of the coffee, rum, and shower. We hiked around a little, found a place with good pizza, and went back to look at the boat. Things didn’t look good. The sea was choppy. The boat was being tossed around quite a bit. And the dingy was bobbing up and down even while inside the harbor. Andras decided to put the girls up in a hotel, and without really consulting me (his right as the captain), he decided that the two of us would risk the dingy ride back to the boat where we would spend the night. The ride was rough, and the boat was rising up and down in the water as we boarded, but we got on board without injury. Andras’ decision was the right one. I slept fairly well, waking up on occasion to be sure the anchor was holding. In the morning things were calm again. We headed back to the mainland, and sadly the trip was over.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Eric Clapton


Saw Clapton last night. Fantastic show. Robert Cray opened, and he came out to do a few during Clapton’s set, but the encore was the real highlight. Apparently the previous two shows did not include an encore, but the crowd was going nuts, and after a few minutes the whole band, including Cray, came out to do a asskicking rendition of “Crossroads”. The guitars were great all night. We got some nice piano solos. Overall, it was nothing but a joy.

Dora’s seeing another concert tonight, Robbie Williams. I didn’t get a ticket, not because I couldn’t. I turned down a nicely priced one this morning, but it’s not a show I need to see. Don’t get me wrong, of the pop musicians out there right now, I think Williams is one of the only interesting three-dimensional figures playing on an otherwise flat and flavorless pitch. And I’m sure his show will be a good one. The word spectacular comes to mind, but I saw Herbie Hancock last month (he closed with “Chameleon”, awesome in the true sense of the word) and then Clapton, and I’m learning a lot about the kind of shows I enjoy. I had a sincere smile on my face for the duration of both of those shows. I did not take the time to critically reflect on the choices the musicians were making because every choice they made felt like the right one.

I remember when John Andonov and I used to go to see these blues shows at the Memorial Union in Madison. I normally had a little something something in my system, and I’m fairly certain I repeated the following theory about music 47 times (and each time with the same awestruck enthusiasm): “Dude, John, dude, listen… In a novel or a play or a film, if you can predict the next moment, then the artist is failing in some way or another. But! But, in music, if the song, even during a solo or a jam, if the song is doing the right thing, then you should be able to feel where things are going. So, it’s like predictable is good.” I’m not ashamed of this analysis, despite the obviousness of it, because I had to make that realization at some point, and John was nice enough to listen... every time. I’d add some caveats nowadays. I don’t think pop music fits into the category of music I was describing back then, mostly because it is all so predicable now: One beat throughout, a simple breakdown instead of a bridge, some vanity vocal embellishments if the singer had the chops (computer effects if not), and a sample from something people used to enjoy but will now associate with the work of some hack producer.

Anyway, I don’t think Robbie Williams fits into the negative mold I’ve cast above, but he is more an entertainer than an artist. Last time I was at a show like that was over Christmas. Dora’s folks took us to see Gwen Stephanie. She's another one I don’t mind so much, and I’m glad to have seen her. But I did check my watch a couple of times during the show… and she only played for 65 minutes. I guess I want more of the music and less of the spectacular. I’m tempted to say that makes me sound old, but I don’t think I felt much differently when I was back at the Union with John.

Anyway, it was a great show last night.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Had us a party.


If you’ve ever bought a keg of beer in the States, you’re familiar with the large onus American beer distributors put on the small-scale buyer. You need to put down a deposit on the keg, provide your own tub, fill the tub with ice, rent a hand pump tap, and then pump the beer out of the keg with good old-fashioned elbow grease. Here in Hungary they make drinking beer much easier. I went to the brewery outlet and picked up a keg. With that keg I was given a CO2 tank and a tap that runs the beer through refrigerated tubes – no deposit and very little hassle. The amazing thing is, despite all this great service, barely anyone in Hungary buys kegs. At our party the general consensus was that the keg was ingenious, but a novelty. Everyone was happy the keg was there, but I don’t think we’re going to start a trend.

That, however, proved to be the only disappointment of the party. The event was an overwhelming success. A very mixed crowd started drifting in after four, and by eight we had nearly fifty people eating appetizers, kebabs off the grill, drinking beer, cocktails, and spirits. The festivities continued until about two in the morning. We chalked up a visit from the local police, who proved to be the nicest cops in the universe. They actually insisted that we keep the music at the party-friendly level it had been at all night. The only reason they visited was because Arpi, an excitable friend of ours, got a little too excited while defending the valor of his favorite Hungarian football team. The language got a little earthy, and some neighbors with children put in a call. The only other bump in the road was when Hari, Dora’s MBA schoolmate, started trying to DJ. I had put together a nice eclectic play list for the event, and everyone seemed to be enjoying the music. But after a beer or two too many, Hari thought he was DJ-fucking-Shadow or something. He kept starting a song and changing it after ninety seconds. When I told him to stop, he gave me a thumbs up and changed the song again.

Lessons learned, lock the keyboard before people get drunk, always get a keg, and don’t get Arpi going about Fradi.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Happy Belated Anniversary to my Folks


First thing, I need to wish my folks a happy anniversary. They have been married 36 years. The anniversary was actually on the 20th. My sister sent a reminder, because my brothers and I aren’t the best at remembering these kinds of things, but I didn’t check email until today (and I didn’t remember). So, Happy 36th Anniversary, Mom and Dad! Sorry to be late in saying it.

Other than that good news… It’s still obnoxiously hot here in the city, and it is more fun for me to continue thinking back to our sailing trip.

So, after an overnight at our port of call we were off sailing. On my first trip to the Mediterranean, the trip on which I met Dora, I was struck by the blues of both the water and sky. On this trip I found myself awed by the land poking through and into those blues. Rock and vegetation rise up and out of the sea at sharp angles. It looks as if it takes effort to hold such postures, as though the land needs to prove its strength in the face of such an overwhelming sea. The rugged coastlines in Italy manage to bring the land and water together with the kind of aesthetic that I believe has been ingrained in the collective consciousness as the way opposites should co-exist.

Anyway, we sailed to Capri. Ahh, Capri. After Courtney visited Capri in 1993, she came back to the States and told me it was the most beautiful place she had ever seen. This kind of superlative is not common coming from my sister, so it sent me to Capri in 1999. I agreed with Courtney’s appraisal then, but on this trip I came to appreciate the island even more. Yes, the city of Capri is a bit too touristy for my taste. The island itself, however, is nothing short of stunning, and from a sailboat, that fact is driven home especially well. We approached from the west, headed for the Marina Grande, but when we got close Andras had us tack so we could navigate around to the island’s more intimate Marina Piccolo.

I am proud to say that I served as first mate on the trip, and I think I did a bang-up job. I knew a bit about sailing, but I learned a lot that day: some knots, the lines on a bigger boat, it was my first time putting out a jib, and… yeah, it was a learning experience and all that.

Once we anchored, we had some drinks and a snack then headed for shore. We planned to return to Capri on our return, so it was enough to just shop around in the city of Capri and find a place for dinner. And my oh my, did we find a place for dinner. The city itself is all white buildings along little winding alleys, no room for cars. We explored for an hour or so when we found a place that seemed to cater as much to the Italians as it did to the tourists. We sat down at eight, the place nearly empty. I ordered a proper Italian meal: antipasti, pasta, mussels, and dessert. I was halfway through the mussels when I noticed the place had filled up. We may have arrived a bit early, but I got the feeling we were seeing a side of Italy that is closer to real Italian than that which many tourists get to see. The wine was good, and the food was better. We got back to the boat close to midnight, and on that note I’ll stop for today.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Getting June Down


It is hot in Budapest, like torture hot… with humidity.

That’s okay, but there’s more. When Szóda was a puppy she peed on the rug once or twice. I have since shampooed the rug three times, but in this heat the smell is resurrected. I hate this smell. I want to do something about it, but I’m not sure what. I’ve shampooed the rug three times for god’s sake. (I actually just took a brake and shampooed the trouble spots a fourth time.) Before this, I had never shampooed a rug in my life, not ever. For those of you who haven’t done it, it’s a pain in the ass. I don’t have one of these big machines that does the job for me. I wish that were the case. I’m sure it would do a better job than my generic rug shampoo and elbow grease.

Anyway, the city is getting to me. I’m going to need to get out this weekend, but seeing as how it’s Tuesday, that doesn’t help me much.

I was at the bank today and yesterday, where I ran into nothing but delays and refusals. Two weeks to get a new PIN code for e-banking?!? And, “Oh, you’ve changed the name of your company? You’re going to need some other papers that you don’t have, and they are very difficult to get. Can you find your way to the door?”

I’ve been back from a killer vacation for just two weeks now, and I already need another break. Actually, work is fine. I have little to nothing to complain about when it comes to work. I have some new students, and I like them, and I like the classes.

Aside from all that, if you’ve read this far, you must know me, because why else would you wade through all that whining. And I know I owe family and friends an explanation of that sailing trip from the beginning of the month. So, here goes. If you want some pictures to go with this, you can see my yahoo slide show thing.

First off, I can’t figure out why the rest of the world won’t just shut up and live like the Italians. They eat well, and I mean both healthy and delicious. They live well. And they appear much more at ease than the other cultures I’ve become acquainted with, including American culture (actually, especially American culture. Now, make no mistake; I’m not being anti-American. In fact I’ve come to view anti-Americanism as an obnoxious incarnation of arrogance, equal to, if not greater than the arrogance of the all-too-common ugly American). Now I know we can’t all live in a Mediterranean climate. Nor can we all live in a location with roots stretching back 3000 years, but we could learn a lesson from these people.

All of that is beside the point. Dora, Lili, and I arrived in Naples early Saturday afternoon. Dora’s folks had arrived only 20 minute before us. We caught a bus to the port that took us through downtown. Scenic downtown n Naples; we saw a car-fire, street crime, a non-stop traffic jam, and lots of friendly Italian gesticulations. Then there was a ferry to Procida where we picked up the sailboat, a 46 foot Oceania. Four cabins. Nice boat. We had to wait an extra hour because the boat wasn’t ready as scheduled, and thus we got our first sample of Mediterranean punctuality. No one seemed to be in much of a hurry, and if you had a problem with that… well isn’t that interesting. I personally found it the perfect attitude for my week away from work. We had pizza that night, and yes it is better in Italy.

So, perhaps tomorrow or the next day I will have time to talk about the sailing, Capri, Amalfi, and Ischia. For now it is bedtime.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Back from sailing


I have been away from the log, because I have been away from electronic communication. I was on a sail boat tooling around the Bay of Naples. Dora’s mom turned 60 last weekend, and one of her presents was a family sailing trip.

Not a bad life they’ve got for themselves down there in Italy. I’d like to go into more detail tonight when I have the time, but for now I’ve got to get back to work.

I should let it be known that I did not win the Maurice Prize in Fiction. It had me down for half a day, but like I’ve said, being a finalist is something in and of itself.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Summer's coming...


I’ve got one hell of a summer ahead of me. The plan is this: sailing in Italy, Hungarian lessons, maintain the vegetable garden, train the dog to catch Frisbees (she’s already pretty good), see Eric Clapton in concert, long weekend in Transylvania, get a fishing permit, go fishing, see Radiohead and other bands at the Sziget Festival, and get a literary agent.

The list is not in order, but I’ve only got three months, so most of it will be happening as a blur. Lately things have been like that. I’ve been finishing the grading for the semester. Some very good papers, talented students. Some lame excuses, not so talented (at least not in the excuse department).

Dora’s started working out more regularly recently. She’s running the track around Margaret Island, a good run. I’ve been keeping up with sit-ups and other stuff for a while now, but that is nothing in comparison to Dora’s new run. Now, we’re not competing… but you know how it is. If she’s running 3 times a week I can’t use the dog walks as my excuse for cardio. I mean, I’ve never been much at keeping in shape, but I know I feel better when I’m trying.

Anyway, maybe you can tell from the entry here, the last month has been more about work than anything else. I don’t have much to say.

I did start listening to “Enter the Wu-Tang” again recently. If you own that album, listen to it tonight.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Crazy Good News


I expect I’ll be floating on a cloud of self-congratulatory satisfaction for the next week or two. I received news from UC Davis that my manuscript for Mifflin made it through the first round of selections for the Maurice Prize in fiction. I am one of five finalists, and I know the competition is tough. I have high hopes, but I also know there are some excellent writers in this thing. I won’t be crushed if the prize money goes to someone else.
Truth be told, I’m just happy to have something to add to my query letters. I think “I was selected as a finalist for the Maurice Prize in Fiction, as judged by Gail Tsukiyama.” sounds pretty damn nice. I will, of course, wait for a decision before sending out those letters. I can’t be too optimistic, but I’m not a pessimist by nature.
Anyhow, it is the end of the academic year here, and I have more than 200 pages of Composition Essays to grade before the end of the weekend. I’m just going to go out to the summerhouse and grade outdoors. Should be nice.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Election


It has been a while. I had a stomach flu. The Danube flooded to record levels. The first half of the Hungarian elections took place. There was Easter, and spring arrived.

It’s been good, but I do have a complaint. It is in regards to the Hungarian elections. Now that the weather has improved, I’m taking Szóda on longer walks, and this means I get stopped in the street more often by people who think my dog is beautiful or cute or smart or simply the most adorable creature ever to set foot on the sidewalks of Budapest (this happens a lot). As it is election season, however, some of these people will quickly switch the topic to politics. They know I can’t vote here, but that doesn’t stop them from asking me where I stand. Some of these people speak English, but most do not, and I lack the language skills to go into any kind of detail on my political beliefs.

But here is the complaint:

I have no answer for them in Hungarian or English because the politics in this country have no substance. I know that sounds harsh, but I have spent the last month digging for any kind of difference between the four major parties, and all I can tell you is that they hate each other. If I ask someone on the right why anyone should vote for their party, they tell me that the party on the left is destructive, that the party on the left is stealing money from the people, that the party on the left hasn’t done anything good for Hungary. On the other side of the spectrum, if I ask someone on the left why someone should vote left, I hear that the right is short-sighted, the leader on the right is a crazy man, the politicians on the right are all thieves, and the right is bad for Hungary.

Okay, I reply. I’ve heard why Hungarians shouldn’t vote for either side. Now, can anyone tell me why Hungarians should vote one way or the other; can anyone explain a party platform that would give me a reason to consider one party’s philosophy more to my liking than the other…?

There are not a lot of crickets in Budapest, but when everything goes quiet you can hear drunken tourists stumbling through the streets.

I have asked everyone that volunteered their political beliefs (I still think it is rude to ask someone about their politics.), and no one has given me a straight answer. When I express frustration, I get patronized: “Oh, it’s very difficult to understand. You’d have to know a lot of Hungarian history, and then you’d have to know the difference between the city and the countryside, and then…” And it’s all true, but it’s all bullshit as well. True because Hungarian history and culture do define the differences between parties; bullshit because those differences mean nothing today.

Oversimplified: On the left you have the socialists. These were the people who benefited under Soviet rule. A lot of them became wealthy during the privatization. On the right you have a more working-class-friendly party that appeals to nationalist sentiments of a once-great Hungary. With that distinction in place, it is easy to understand why the parties hate each other. It does not, however, shed any light on what these parties want for Hungary as a nation. Everyone promises: more money from the EU, money for the countryside, better employment rates, and improved social services. But don’t ask for specifics, and don’t ask for a philosophical difference. It may be true that the nationalism on the right is a bit more attractive to anti-Semites and other racists, but the two largest parties are far too moderate for such sentiments to force their way into legislation.

So I finish today’s entry with a request. Can any Hungarian illustrate a real difference, a difference with substance that will give me a better understanding of the election that will conclude today? I want to know what kind of government has been elected.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Getting back...


I have to get to work, but I wanted to put something up today. There is a lot going on, including the Hungarian elections(which I plan to write about tomorrow). But I needed to announce that this years Sziget Festival, a huge music fest here in Budapest, looks... promising. Take a look: http://www.sziget.hu/festival_english

Monday, April 03, 2006

Sunday, March 19, 2006

W. Needs a History Book


Big week for Hungary, there was big national celebration over here. We even got a shout out from G.W. Bush himself. It is unfortunate that his staff lacks a fact-checker, but it was nice of him to think of Hungary.

It’s like this:

On March 15th the Hungarians celebrate the revolution of 1848. It was a revolution against the Hapsburg Empire. The history of that revolution is loaded with great stories, the best one being the life and death of Sándor Petöfi. He was a revolutionary poet, meaning he incited an actually military revolution with his poetry, and then he went to fight and die in that revolution. How many poets can claim that?

Anyway, on the 15th, while addressing congress, Bush thanked the Hungarians for their contributions to democracy. He specifically cited the Revolution of 1956. That revolution took place on October 23rd. It is another moment in Hungarian history filled with incredible stories. And although everyone over here was happy to get a thank you from the US, it did seem a strange day for Bush to be acknowledging the ‘56 revolution.

See, the Hungarian awareness of its own history is profound, and that is something of an understatement. This country’s history is one of the few things it’s got left. Less than one hundred years ago the winners of WWI took away 70% of Hungarian territory and 60% of the nation’s population. This affected the side they eventually took in WWII, the wrong side. And as a result they spent the second half of the 1900’s under Soviet control, and the last 16 years of recovery haven’t exactly been easy.

So when Bush spoke of the 1956 Revolution on the anniversary of the 1848 Revolution, Hungarian’s were confused… Well, not really confused, they just assumed Bush had no clue about Hungarian history. Something most reasonable Hungarians could accept; it’s a small country without much clout. Still, the President’s gesture was read as inappropriate by most over here.

Hungarians like getting props from the Commander in Chief as much as the next NATO member. It is a shame, however, that this time it felt more like patronization then actual acknowledgement.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Gotta get learning



I have to arrange Hungarian lessons this week. Recently Dora rightfully pointed out that I have been here for nearly two years without putting in the appropriate language-learning effort. Although today I was able to ask a woman at the flower shop, “Do you have potting soil?” I think knowing how to ask for potting soil shows a certain degree of…

Okay, it’s a stretch. I’ve been putting off the Hungarian lessons for a while now. I stopped making excuses some time last fall. The truth of the matter is; I’m not looking forward to the baby steps of elementary language lessons. I don’t care if my teacher is Anne Sullivan, I’ve always struggled with learning languages, and Hungarian ranks up there as one of the toughest languages to learn.

Nevertheless, I’m a dumbass if I don’t make an effort. My life over here will be made much easier if I learn the language.

This is not so much because of the day-to-day things. I can get by with English in most situations. I don’t like doing this, and if I can piece together a few scraps of Hungarian, I prefer a broken version of the native language to the pomposity my fluent lingua franca. Still, English does serve as a nice lingua franca, if a lingua franca is what I’m looking for. (I do like using that term)

No, it is my social life I hope to improve with Hungarian. It’s like this: Dora’s job at KPMG puts a definite extension on our time here in Hungary. I don’t know if we were planning on leaving anytime soon. I’m happy here, and so is Dora, but if her new consulting gig is going to mean anything, she needs to put a few years of work in. Now, like I said, I’m happy here, but there is something missing. I have yet to really connect with anyone over here as a good friend. I think learning Hungarian will help.

There are a lot of Americans and Brits over here who can communicate on that level so important in a friendship, and there are a lot of Hungarians with enough fluent English to maintain a quality back and forth. Language is not creating its traditional barrier in my case. No, it is not an inability to communicate. It is the feeling that I am only testing the waters, that I’m holding back.

I’m not sure if others sense it (I doubt that), but I am certainly aware of a hesitance on my part. I want Hungary to be an adventure, and it is, but it should be more. I have been reluctant to commit to this place or to any of the people I’ve met here.

Dora doesn’t count. Our life together started in another place, seems like another universe, and the commitment that comes with that has traveled here with its own importance.

So I’m here, but I think I have to start acting like that means more than just a new address.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Angry With Yahoo 360


Yahoo 360 sent me a message stating that one of my blog photos was rejected. It was an oil painting. In the painting a woman's breast is exposed, but it is far from pornographic. (See here.) They listed a few possible technical reasons for the rejection. Then in parenthesis they told me that any pictures with nudity will be rejected. The following is the feedback I sent Yahoo:

I had an image rejected. I posted a reproduction of an oil painting by Giuseppe Tampieri. The title of the painting is “Gypsies”. I believe the image was rejected because in the painting a woman's breast is exposed. I am pretty upset that a painting of a woman would be rejected when other users post RSS feeds to porn cites, and not even good porn. Go see for yourself; one click away from 360 and you’ll find promises of deep anal penetration, tight holes filled, and large cocks sucked. None of these promises are fulfilled.
Now, I can understand Yahoo's desire to keep a clean forum. I’m down with the whole family values line, but some of your users are not the family values types. My posting of a painting is the least of Yahoo’s worries. You’re not going to get 12-year-olds jerking off to Giuseppe Tampieri’s Gypsies. (If you did, they would be very cultured little masturbators.)
And anyway, aren't you the guys who sold out that Chinese dissenter? I posted an oil painting, for Christ's sake! I didn't send any Chinese journalists to jail. I’m this close to pulling out of this 360 thing--- Oh, now don’t misunderstand my use of the phrase “pull out”. I wasn’t making a sexual reference. I was suggesting that I am unlikely to bend over and take Yahoo’s big pulsating concept of decency thrusting in and out of my content much longer.

Writing Woes


I told Dora about the novel I’m working on. She had an interesting response. She asked me if I was ever going to write something for her. She didn’t mean, “Are you going to dedicate a book to me?” She was implying that she is not my target audience, and she’d like to be.

It really is a reasonable request. She’s not asking me to be a better writer. Nor is she asking me to write more commercial material. Dora’s a good reader. She doesn’t read crap… Well, not all crap. She does like that Shopaholic series, but then, I’m a sucker for cheap sci-fi. Dora reads good stuff, and she was asking if my books would be on her to-read list if she didn’t know me.

Well, if I can get my stuff published, I hope all of humanity will feel compelled to read my work. Short of that, however, I’m afraid I am unable to pick my reader. No matter how much I love Dora, she doesn’t directly influence what I write. I don’t even directly influence it. I’m not trying to claim some muse-bullshit, like, “The material comes to me and I am but a conduit.” It’s not that at all. When I started “Mifflin” (By the way, an agent asked to see the full manuscript last month. Keep your fingers crossed.) I thought the book was going to be about a young man who truly wanted to become the Anti-Christ. As I wrote, however, the characters became more real than I had anticipated. Theo didn’t want to be the Anti-Christ. He just wanted to move on after a difficult break up, and it took the death of an old schoolmate to put the fire under his ass. It was a big change in narrative.

Now with this new project, I have these two brothers, twins maybe? I’m not sure yet. One lives in New York. He’s a divorced PR consultant with questionable moral practices. (He staged the terrorist kidnapping of two pharmaceutical executives in Iraq to create brand awareness.) He becomes involved in a large scale project that changes his worldview, involves him in a Budapest crime spree, gets him three years in federal prison, and changes the direction of globalization (not all in that order). The other brother is happily married with four children. He and his family run a small farm in Central Wisconsin that specializes in ethically-grown crops. He and his wife are also labor activists and non-violent anarchists. The two brothers have a father whose health is faltering, a fuck-up of a cousin, in-laws, and other issues. But in the end the sorry is about these two very different brothers finding some common ground and attempting to make the world a more interesting place.

I can’t say where it will go as I write, but even since its conception the project has changed a great deal. So in answer to Dora’s question, I don’t know if I’ll ever write something for her; for you, dear reader; or for anyone. It’s frustrating, but I do enjoy being dragged through the process.