Chatting to a stranger on a barstool after work. About four sentences into the conversation comes the expected question: “Forgive me for saying this,” starts the German, “ because I respect that you are a biology teacher, but in our country we find it hard to understand why American schools find it necessary to dissect frogs. Europeans see it as a ridiculous example of America’s tendency toward violence.”
This is the second time in two weeks some German has asked me this.
My kids love the idea though. At least five students on their own have demanded that we add dissecting to the curriculum (we don't currently do it -- for lack of supplies).
The German, Matthias, continued, adding that the week wasted on frog guts could be spent learning more important stuff. He had met an American girl who didn't know that camels come in either two hump or one hump varieties. "Can you believe it?" he asked, "she didn't know what a dromedary was. All because she was busy dissecting frogs in tenth grade."
Being known is easier, the farther you get from Manhattan. Kensington Brooklyn, my ‘hood, is full of homes that were handed down from generation to generation, everyone knows everybody. Yet I have become a ‘local’ in just 7 months. Witness: 1) the 24 hour bagel baker, probably Russian, possibly visa-less, knowingly pours my small black coffee before I even get up to the cash register. BTW, no one in New York drinks their coffee black. You almost have to give a clerk here written instructions on how to make a cup of black coffee. 2) I know which house my dry cleaner lives in and what he’s studying at Fordham Univ. 3) The Chinese carry-out clerk greets me in Chinese 4) The aging Trinidad patriarch on the block calls me “baby” when I walk by and he shoots me a fake pistol shot from his finger as he strikes his fist to his hip. He invited me to get high, which I had to tell him I’m not into. He’s a little out of it sometimes, especially once when I saw him in head to toe white, including a long-hair white fake fur in front of the Silver Rod Pharmacy. He was smiling blankly, twisting in exactly the motion that an inflatable doll does as it stands in front of a carwash, moved by the wind. Most of the time he is polishing his Continental Mark V (white of course) or walking around the block. 5) This morning the clerk made my day at the train. My card swiped as “insufficient fare”. The clerk made I eye contact that said “I know you, go on in” and then opened the service gate for me. I never expect a break from the MTA so this made my whole day shiney.
This is mad smart. Wish I - Wish I - Wish I had thought of this. After the uttter non-response to the 2004 War Protests I swear I will never march against war again. From now on it's gonna be cleverness or nought. Last thing so clever was the "Not Just A Statistic" wheatpastes here on the lamppost bases.
I caught the evil eye from my significant other for savaging a tree in the public park to get these. I gotta say, it was for a good cause though. Kids sketched them. It was one of those fortuitous teaching strategies where the curriculum (Botany) Nature (bloomin' time) and my disposition (had no idea what to teach) happily coincided in a sort of astral allignment. This is how teaching should be: a fortuitous blooming with fruitious pedagogy (and later literal fruitiousness as the blossoms let go with their little progeny ). Our class mascot this week is a potted tulip I bought at 5am. Kids are tittilated when we say the bee essentially is rubbing his face in flower sperm. It's been a pretty fun unit.
A wartime poster from Yugoslavia. I like the design of the entire poster. I like the emphasis of images over words. I like the unique style of the truck's disintegration. I love that the town of Tuzla ("salt") here is symbolized by a tiny but stubborn goat. Daoud Sarhandi explains what the poster commemorates:
"On May 15, 1992, JNA soldiers attempted to leave their garrison near the center of Tuzla with their weapons. Their plan was to encircle the town before shelling it into submission, as they had done throughout Bosnia. Unlike in many other towns, however, Tuzla had prepared for likely Serb aggression and there were snipers placed on high buildings along the JNA’s route. The JNA opened fire before they left town, but the snipers managed to pick off drivers in the leading trucks, blocking the convoy’s forward movement. Before long the entire convoy was in flames. This was the JNA’s first defeat in Bosnia, and it undoubtedly saved Tuzla from being ethnically cleansed and occupied by the Serbs."
Though I completely support the heroism of the Bosniaks, before we reflexively toe the NPR party line here, one way to consider the weirdness of all this is to imagine America using artillery to remove an ethnic group and then imagine that a local ragtag militia, led by a Timothy McVeigh (Patriot? Murderous nut? Returning war-hero turned mental?) wins. Can we even imagine it? Could Mayor Bloomberg bring the US Army to shell downtown Harlem to clear the way for another Magic Johnson Shopping Center on 125th Street? And if he did but the Black Panthers miraculously fended off the official US Army, guys in blue jeans defeating guys in Kevlar vests, how would we feel? What if there were a version of M.O.V.E. in Philadelphia that weren’t nuts? It’s a really really weird idea. This poster then might just as well say, Harlem, 2009 or something. If it did, whom would you support? I’m getting a little (okay, way) far out here. Back to reality.
Americans should study the post-Tito breakup of Yugoslavia and its CRAZY 1990s aftermath. We could wrestle with all kinds of really meaningful questions that could be then extended to 2007 and US foreign policy. What were the contradictions in choosing who we supported? Why did the Christians, Commies, and Bosniaks do what they did? What does “patriotism” mean, who was patriotic? Is anyone who joins any army on any side patriotic? Again, was Timothy McVeigh a patriot ? (I’m just trying to be provocative there.) Who are “the Muslims”? All of these questions were stood on their head and turned inside out in any history of the late 20th Century Yugoslavia. Learning this we could move beyond WWII as the only thing anyone seems to use as an example. It would sure elevate discussions of foreign policy if Joe Six Pack / The New York Post could make a point without bringing up Der Fuhrer, a completely overworked, hyperbolic example of … of nothing. The Third Reich is not a nuanced illustration of ANYTHING. Nazis are a tired, cliché example misapplied and misleading, a lazy argument, our anti-Nazi righteousness a dangerous comfort.
The poster image and caption were taken from a 200 page catalog of wartime Yugo posters, "Evil Doesn't Live Here" (ISBN 1-56898-268-2, Princeton Architectural Press)
I can’t work at home, that's for sure. I never work well at home. I’ll frequently make a good start, pen in hand after an 8 am omelet but somehow 3 o’clock chimes and I’m still in yesterday’s t-shirt, none of my BIG goals accomplished. Fearing this, I fled the house today, unshaved, unshowered. I arrived at 11 am in the airy, echoey room of light at the top floor of the “Stone Lions Library” (42d street main branch, NYPL). God himself could suitably sit at these long tables Under the 65 foot ceiling. This is what the Grand Central Terminal hall would look like if it were lifted up into heaven. And if every scurrying train traveler were stilled, made to squint at a laptop or an unabridged Shakespeare folio.
I worked well from 11 til 130. Hey, it’s a start. Even there, at the big library I wandered off for a good 15 minutes to gaze at the Gutenberg Bible as well as the adjacent, similiarly valuable, Honus Wagner baseball card.
I also managed to eat my contraband Snickers Bar, which contrary to claims, failed to satisfy. Best part of today so far has been talking to my sister while lying in the sun under a statue.
Last Friday was much better. In the daylight hours I managed all of the following: bought a vacuum cleaner at Lowe’s, vacuumed a half kilogram of dirt from my carpet, met Kyle on Spring Street for Cuban sandwiches and fish tacos, chilled at Lotus where I lost a bet that the ‘Bob Dylan’ guy would be pouring beers, met Octavius where he was fixing up a new tiny gallery (kitty corner to Lotus, up Clinton Street), test drove two bikes, both single-speed Bianchis, one with fixed gear and NO BRAKES, shopped for (and arranged delivery of) a futon pad (wool top layer but too thick and soft in the end), and finally meet met my honey at St Marks bookstore to browse the self-published small press section. All before the sun went down. Some kind of record day, that. That's all.