Leaving New York by train often takes one through the vast, baleful industrial swampscapes of New Jersey. I am so eager to explore these things that I can barely stay in my seat as they scroll by the train windows. What an awesome fantasyland: irregular water formations, ultra wilderness, combined with corrugated steel, smoke belching, robber-baron-scale nature-wasters. It is like a world built by animators for a movie like "The City of Lost Children."
Exploring it would require a mechanical device, either an ultralight (plane) or something with a paddle. Exploring it with non-mechanical means, just by swimming, would be very bold but unsuitable to the vastness of it. Still, some kind of swim of the Meadowlands would be a fun thing in the vein of the Coney Island Polar Bears or the MTV Jackass crew. It would be a bit adventurous, though not spectacularly so, like a very pedestrian version of B.A.S.E. jumping. There are no alligators or sharks so, technically it's not too dangerous, although I think I'd be at least swimming in hiking boots.
There must be homeless people in there too, although what would they be eating?
I went to the excitingly named Leaf Storm tea shop last week to buy
some green tea leaves. Boutique appearance and 94th Street cache
aside, the tea leaf quality was just passable. I am experiencing waves
of nostalgia for the excellent tea that I so took for granted over in
Looking at the tea leaf, post-steeping tells you all you need to know.
Good tea should unfurl to show you a nice intact leaf. If you just get
leaf fragments then it has been handled badly, is old, or is from the
remnants of the harvest and has been partially shredded so you can't
see that it's big old leaves from further down the branch, along with
all kinds of stems and little twigs. Stems in the tea were not too
common in Taiwan. To get them consistantly here just points out that
there are two grades of tea out there: 1) good tea 2) tea to be
exported to the West.
As an illustration of what's sought for in high quality tea, I heard
from Chris that there is something called 'monkey pick' that is just
the leaves that a monkey could get, tiny and inaccesible, harvested by
trained monkeys with baskets.
BTW: a list of many places to drink tea is here (all 50 states!): link.
Went to a nice 40th birthday party for Kevin W last weekend. The guests were all instructed to bring dioramas inside a shoebox. Not understanding the instructions I brought a bunch of photographs glued to a large square of cardboard. Several of the dioramas were the type where you have to squint through a peephole at one end of the box to see the contents inside. Dioramas aside, Etain brought her light show. This lightshow was formerly a series of handpainted frames on film loops, running on a 16mm projector but she has gone digital now and can run these same film loops from a hard drive hooked to a digital projector. Nice!
Dreams came again today (because I slept in an hour late). In my dream a cop rousted me from a doorstep. "Watcha doin there?" She treated me like an indigent vagrant or maybe a crazy. I was there for legitimate reasons (I'll spare the details here) but once she started poking me with the baton, my story got incoherent, I started stuttering. Vaguely knowing it was a dream situation I thought "I hope my skin is still white so I get treated like a white person." Before I knew it we were on a bus to some processing center so I could be 'helped'. The dream reminded me of three things.
1) Paul Theroux did an awesome job in the novel "O-Zone" with scenes of police helicoptors flying over ghettos with searchlights. Whenever they would get the searchlight on someone that person inevitably looked pretty pitiful -- just by fact that they were on the ground under a searchlight and the cops were looking down on them. It was a brutal framing for the person to be viewed through. Inevitably the person caught in the searchlight of the police-state helicoptor would freak out and start to run, making them appear to be even more like a guilty animal. The protagonist of the novel initially approves of hunting down these undesirables and admires the cops for their courage, service to community, risk to self, and esprit de corps. Perhaps predictably, later in the book, the protagonist finds himself trapped outside the shopping district, in the ghetto, and witnesses the chases from the other end of the telescope, essentially, and realizes that he, or anyone, looks guilty in that situation. By then it is too late. I think he gets chased by a coptor and shot.
2) As a teacher I have encountered the tendency to label a student and then treat them according to that label. My dream brought that to mind.
3) When USA Today shows war protestors rounded up or orangesuited muslims in Guantanamo, readers must feel pretty smug. Looking at the protestor they can think "He was probably breaking store windows at Nike Town." Looking at the bearded Guantanamo man they can think "Anyone in an orange jumpsuit must have been hatching terrorism plots." But after this last summer in New York, most people know someone who was standing on the wrong sidewalk at the wrong time, or coming out of a pizza place, and got rounded up in the orange net, flexi-cuffed, sent to the west side pier, and then released two days later -- all for being on that block during a sweep. How worse it would be to be a bearded man, worshiping at the wrong mosque at the wrong time.
I'm amazed that Titan has never been observed well. People always theorized that something strange was going on there because it reflects radar signals so strongly. They even theorized that it had oceans of liquified natural gas. That sounds pretty dramatic: natural gas, the stuff that burns with a blue flame on your kitchen stove could be on Titan where things are so cold that the stove gas is a huge liquid ocean with -100 degree methane "rain clouds" roaming around it, causing frigid little rainstorms.
"Later observations cast doubt on this idea too. Radar echoes from Titan are too strong to be explained by a smooth surface of liquefied natural gas; the reflectivity is more consistent with a surface of water ice whose deep cracks duct the incident radar signal and reflect most of the energy directly back to the observer." (Nature, October 8, 1998)
Which leads us to the present, November 2004, when we are finally getting a decent fly-by from the Cassini probe. Stay tuned for the planned landing of the Huygens probe on Titan's surface in January 2005!
I went to a play tonight that, strangely, seems to have been based entirely on a scene from a Michael Moore movie. It was alright -- I give it a "B-". I appreciated that, rather than pack in an endless series of punchlines it relied on situational humor -- the stuff of Canadian television. Details can impress me and I have my hat off to the set designer who thought to feature a grimy motel room complete with a bracket on the wall where the smoke detector used to be but there's now just the plastic bracket there. I especially liked the performances by Paul Urcioli and Eva van Dok. Van Dok gets to deliver the line, "Agent Number 3, you better shape up or else you're going to be manning a (Dept of Justice) recruiting station in the East Village!"