spanish for beginners.

14 November 2010

i purchased a flight to san jose, costa rica. i will be in the country from december 21 to january 5, traveling solo by rental car, except for a couple days around christmas when i’m meeting my dad and sister at a resort on the pacific coast near liberia.

i’m going to let you in on a little secret, namely, i don’t quite know what i’m doing. i’m not particularly worried about navigating on poor roads or evading sticky situations, in and of themselves, but not being at all bilingual is disconcerting. i mean, i didn’t like montreal, in large part, because of all the french signs, so i’m not quite sure how i’m going to handle a predominantly foreign-speaking area that is outside my birth country.

i asked hector to tutor me since he’s the only spanish-speaking person i know1 and, also, he somehow has a larger english vocabulary than anyone i know2.

he was as helpful as he normally is.

hector: in costa rica i am sure you will be fine being a white man who speaks only english. half the country has been refurbished for you.

i think that if someone wants to scam you, language is not really an impediment.

just tattoo sida on your abdomen.

scott: see, you’re already trying to scam me.

hector: sida = aids

scott: so to turn english into spanish you just rearrange letters?

1 it was only a matter of time before my xenophobic heart let one of them in. it can’t be expected to be completely impermeable, like the borders of the united states.

2 i didn’t include myself. obviously.


no shortness of breath.

9 November 2010

leading up to the release of the age of adz, sufjan stevens’ amazing new album, the record label he founded, asthmatic kitty, sent an email to his fans.

we love getting good music into your hands. we think it makes you happy, and that makes us happy. and that’s why we’re writing this email: to make everyone happy. it’s admittedly a long email but we hope you’ll stick with us for at least a little while because we want to explain something.

on october twelve we are proud to release sufjan stevens’ first song-based full-length album in five years, the age of adz. we think it’s one of the best things we’ve heard in a long time and we’re hoping you’ll buy it.

so. we have it on good authority that amazon will be selling the age of adz for a very low price on release date, not unlike they did with arcade fire’s recent (and really terrific) the suburbs. we’re not one hundred percent sure amazon will do this, but mostly sure.

we have mixed feelings about discounted pricing. like we said, we love getting good music into the hands of good people, and when a price is low, more people buy. a low price will introduce a lot of people to sufjan’s music and to this wonderful album. for that, we’re grateful.

but we also feel like the work that our artists produce is worth more than a cost of a latte. we value the skill, love, and time they’ve put into making their records. and we feel that our work too, in promotion and distribution, is also valuable and worthwhile.

that’s why we personally feel that physical products like eps should sell for around $7 and full-length cds for around $10-12. we think digital eps should sell for around $5 and full-length digital albums for something like $8.

they continue by listing various avenues to acquire the album.

dear asthmatic kitty,

as one of those who took advantage of amazon’s discounted pricing of $3.99 to purchase sufjan stevens’ new album, i feel the need to comment on behalf of myself and other fans who have made the same (wise) choice.

in a time of pecuniary difficulties, it’s not a very good tactic to caution people away from lower prices, especially when the other acceptable option for them is downloading the album for free with file-sharing software. i’m not saying this option is viable to me, as i’m kind of old-fashioned in that respect, but the fact remains that the record company gets the same cut whether amazon sells it at their introductory price or they charge an amount that is more than a latte (i have never purchased a latte, by the way, let alone a $4 one, so i may be missing some subtle points you’re trying to make).

if you’ll permit, i’ll tell you about my own experience: i would not have owned this album when i did if i had not visited amazon at three thirty am on the release day and seen the deal. subsequently i would not have listened to it as soon as i did — and been astounded enough by it to contemplate driving three hours to asheville, north carolina, for a sufjan show ten days later. i attended and recommended both the album and remaining tour dates to friends and strangers afterward.

i paid $30 for the ticket, which i felt was fair enough. ticketmaster added another $17 in convenience charges, which, in case you don’t have a calculator nearby, is almost an additional sixty percent fee. asthmatic kitty, if you need a corporate monopoly to go after, one whose defeat will make fans happy, then sharpen your teeth against ticketmaster rather than amazon, though, according to eddie vedder, they don’t fight fairly, so you may want to have an extra inhaler ready.

while we’re on the topic of the show and fair prices, the merchandise table outside of the auditorium was selling the age of adz for $15. on your website you sell this same album for $10, in line with what you personally feel a physical full-length cd is worth (these are your words from the email). if you’re indeed made happy by making us happy (again these are your words from the email) then should we consider this added charge as a way of saying, thank you for coming out tonight and supporting us, because, on the surface, it seems a bit prohibitive.

enjoy your latte,

the widow maker.

1 November 2010

i found a black widow spider, circled below in red, inside an old grill.

i attempted to capture it in an empty apple juice bottle, and resettling it elsewhere, as i didn’t believe trespassing on abandoned territory was punishable by death. also, i hoped it could teach me something about grief. with gloved hands, i picked up a long stick to guide it towards its new home, but it was too quick. i slowly removed the grate and pieces of charcoal so i could view its hiding places.

few things are more invigorating than tracking something using insufficient weaponry. it would only take a couple quick movements on its part or a couple blinks of the eye on my end, to allow it the opportunity to knock me onto the grass where i would convulse and foam until death permitted me solace. for a brief time i felt like a fencer, parrying and riposting, performing balestras and fleches across the field, fighting with the grim reaper.

i thought about life and death, about how close they are, and about how we take things for granted, because you never know when you’re going to have to remove something as dangerous as a black widow from your backyard. later i read that the mortality rate from the spider’s bite if not treated with anti-venom, which i would have likely avoided, was around one percent, so all of my ideas about heroism, the flash of the sword, and impending doom, were false, as it would no doubt take a better war to kill a college man like me. the red hourglass on its abdomen, i learned, was less a symbol of the sands of time quickly slipping through our hands and, instead, more like the end of a game of boggle.

needless to say the spider passed away after i accidentally broke off one of its legs. in addition, there was still a bit of juice in the container, so as it labored, pulling itself across its prison’s floor in a horrifyingly depressing display, it drowned.

the next day i returned to the spot to say a few words of condolence. before me was a web with a hastily scrawled message, woven with seemingly-benign pink thread, evidence both that the spider has a sense of humor and that it mocks our feeble attempts at superiority.

flat on the track.

25 October 2010

i attended a roller derby bout. previously i thought i understood the sport, having attended a match a few years ago and watching it on television, as a boy, with my grandmother, not to mention somehow sitting through the entirety of whip it, but being so close to all the blood, sweat, and tears made me question a few things (one being, why weren’t there more tears?).

the point system: i was trying to keep score, knowing that a team gained a point with each girl that the jammer passed, but after each jam i looked at the scoreboard to find i was off. it seemed arbitrary, like a drinking game where you start changing the rules in order to drink more (for instance, while watching the hills, drink every time you see a white person). when one team was up by twenty one, it was as if the scorekeeper thought, their opponent was good that time, okay, lets give them nineteen. the crowd loves a close game.

players’ numbers: i picture everyone lining up to choose jersey numbers, and the first couple of girls pick sixteen, nine, and twenty eight, and then the fourth one selects 1464. sorry, i thought we were limited by the numbers that could fit across our backs.

one of the most memorable parts of the exhibition actually occurred at the after party when i was introduced to whiskey slaps. participants find a partner and take turns downing a shot and receiving a slap to the face. that’s really all there is to it. it’s simple, yet elegant, much like the universe.

i can imagine after reading this post some of you are interested in starting your own team or joining an existing one, so in parting i’ll suggest a few names for your newly-created alter ego: skate moss; mary flay blige; queefer sutherland; the cast of that 70s show, tokin’ grace, laura preponderate, ashton krusher, and, um, kill more valderrama (if i looked at a list of the cast i could no doubt get you an entire team); emma hotsun and scary (or fairy or mary) potter and volde-court (for a girl named courtney who must not be named); scimitara banks; michelle o’ bomb ya; sarah impalin’; chelsea manhandler; amanda binds; nicki minaj a trois; kim karcrashian; scarlette fever. if you want to adopt the famous new york yankee idea popularized by babe ruthless, then you have mickey dismantle, joy dismashio, or als, which could stand for many things other than amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

what i’m saying is that the naming process is not as difficult as some of you are making it look. i’m certainly not insisting that all the names i’ve suggested are amazing, but i came up with this list mostly by browsing maxim magazine’s website for twenty minutes, while you’re supposed to be passionate about this sport.

my sister is so gullible.

15 October 2010

out of the corner of my eye i caught my sister in preparations to send me a link asking for support in her efforts to raise awareness for autism. i tried to stop her, telling her that i didn’t want my mailbox to be filled with spam, but she was determined. i received a message a few minutes later, asking for sponsors to donate money to her team.

i replied quickly from my own email address in a poor attempt to attempt to trick her: this message has been reported as spam. if this is not spam, please call 1-800-555-2632.

she wrote back, you asshole, so i understood that i had to be a little more creative with my next message, though i again chose to send it from my own email address. you are receiving an automated message. we can not answer questions that you send to this email address. please call our phone number with your query. 1-800-555-2632.

after a few days without receiving a response, i tried one more time. at gmail we take allegations of spamming very seriously. we are reaching out to you because you have recently been implicated as a sender of spam email. we wish to speak with you about these charges and clear up any misunderstanding. your reticence in this matter, thus far, has caused us to take further action and we have notified in order to safeguard our customers. please call our toll free number at 1-800-555-2632 to discuss your views within seven days or we will be forced to limit or suspend your account.

i was ready to give up when i received a text from her the next day sarcastically thanking me for getting her into trouble. now i have to call gmail to talk about my allegations as a spammer. they have already contacted yahoo and my account may be suspended. i think you need to call instead. so not only had she believed the email was legitimate, but she had apparently been antagonizing over every word of it.

we continued sending texts back and forth:
scott: why should i call?
niki: you sent my autism email to spam. gmail takes that seriously, they said.
scott: i didn’t send it. they flagged it.
niki: i got the email that said you put it as spam. now i’m getting these emails saying i need to call.
scott: well, did you call?
niki: no, i just read it. i’m sick and you should call. i didn’t do this.
scott: you’re sick because of the email? just call them when you feel better, as long as it’s within the next seven days.
niki: and explain to them that my brother hates people with autism and is a doucheball? ok.
scott: no, just tell them it won’t happen again and say you’re sorry. be sincere.
niki: whatever! i’m telling them that my brother was being mean and sent my email to spam!
scott: well, as long as you call. i don’t want them to suspend your account.
niki: you suck.
scott: why do you say that?
niki: because you said my nice email asking for donations for the autism society was spam and now i have to deal with it.
scott: you just have to make a simple phone call to clear up your mistake.

twenty minutes passed.

niki: i called and it just had an automated thing, for fun, stimulating conversations call 1-800…. are you messing with me?
scott: hahahah
niki: really? you wrote those emails?

illustrated man.

8 October 2010

many of my friends have tattoos, which has made me often wonder if i too should get one. thus far i’ve held off because there is no image with which i would be content to permanently have on my skin. it’s not that there isn’t anything i love, it’s just that i don’t expect my interests to look very good in ink. it’s like in ninth grade, when we had to do an interview discussing our future career, i switched from writer to rodeo clown in order to be more entertaining. rather than talking about how i sat at my typewriter for seven hours a day hammering out sentences that i would eventually throw away, i turned it into a show, detailing close calls and saved lives, wearing ridiculous makeup while a giant animal attempted to maul everyone in its sight.

the lure of the tattoo remains. maybe it’s kind of like beards. i mean, no one really likes beards — they make you look homeless or at least age you unnecessarily; no one takes you seriously because if you’re too lazy to simply shave, how can you be expected to run my company in my absence; women compare it to kissing a wild animal, and not in the pleasurable, that-was-so-fucking-amazingly-hot way, more like the my-face-is-abraised-and-i-have-to-apply-moisturizer way. still we grow beards because one time a girl told us (or someone nearby) that facial hair was an improvement and we’re too dumb to understand that meant either, a. i can’t see your double chin anymore, b. it really hides your acne/scars, or c. i do not know what i like but i do know that caring about your appearance is so mainstream and uncreative.

anyway, i’ve thought a lot about tattoos. if i were to get one it would have to be something i designed so that no one would have anything similar. unfortunately, i cannot draw very well. below is one of my ideas, a dragon sitting on a stool eating an apple.

i was told it looks like a tootsie roll holding a bomb, and if i’m going to go the route of humor i may as well go all out and get the following:

okay, there’s no way i would ever do that, plus the joke only works if pinocchio’s nose grows (nice self-deprecation there, eh?).

recently i solved all of my problems, however technology is not advanced enough to fulfill my vision. that is, i want to get a tattoo of a kaleidoscope where the colors and patterns change depending on the angle from which you are looking at it. even when i am ninety-five years old i will marvel at the loose beads, pebbles, and glass in my body.

simple steps to restore love.

2 October 2010

presumably there have been times in all of our lives where someone we love has stopped talking to us due to some slight, whether real or perceived, that we inflicted upon them. it could be that we cheated on them or accidentally slammed their fingers in a car door or urinated in their sink because lifting the toilet seat was inconvenient. regardless, no amount of apologizing can coax them to renew the conversation with you. some of us have sent jewelry and flowers or asked our assistants to look into whether a galaxy or constellation can be named after our former flame without a change in demeanor. the frosty glances will continue forever unless we can find the correct combination to unlock their hearts.

fortunately i have discovered the solution thanks to did you hear about the morgans? first you’ll need to convince the person of your dreams to meet you for dinner. maybe you still have some cherished possession that you want to return, maybe the dog you shared since it was a puppy was run over by a car and you just picked up its remains which were separated into two decorative urns. just make something up. it doesn’t even have to be believable if your object of attraction is a girl because they’ll do anything for a free meal.

eat quickly so that taking a walk afterward doesn’t seem like a ploy. the other person will understand that you couldn’t have possibly said all you needed to in such a short time. if that, in and of itself doesn’t work, bat your eyelashes and stammer when you speak to illustrate how uncomfortable you are. eventually your partner will suggest a leisurely stroll to calm the nerves and clear the head.

now for the most important part: witness a murder together, preferably one that has been perpetrated by a wealthy crime syndicate with plenty of trained killers and the latest technology at their disposal. when the police mention the witness protection program following a close call at your apartment, resist the urge to hire jack bauer as your personal security detail, and instead let them fly you to wyoming or montana or wherever it is that sam elliott and mary steenburgen reside.

when you arrive you’re sleeping separately, but over the next few days you converse more, you deliver more heartfelt apologies, and you begin to listen more to the sage advice offered by the u.s. marshals in whose house you are staying temporarily. then, all of a sudden, you realize you’ve bought him bear spray to ward off the predators that frighten him and he is always there to remind you of your assumed last name (foster) and fake relationship (cousin) with your custodians. trust blossoms between you. you understand that life doesn’t make sense without each other. you cannot fathom a world without his floppy brown hair and sarcastic quips, and he never wants to, um, sorry i cannot think of any redeemable qualities that pertain to sarah jessica parker, so i’m going to have to make something up.

here goes: he has so much he wants to share with you still, and while you can sometimes be a porcupine, quills poised to lodge into anyone who approaches, he knows that for him alone you’ll roll over to expose your underside, soft and sweet as a ripe peach.

the decline of the american empire.

22 September 2010

decorum dictates that i update you about the house next door since it’s been almost two years since i’ve written about it.

both parents moved out (he took their younger son to his partner’s pad; she moved in with her new boyfriend), leaving the house to the older son and society’s rejects. more cars appeared at night, more kids stood on the front lawn during the day, and i continued to avoid them while simultaneously hoping they would talk to me.

soon after, the house was raided, the officials leaving a list of things that had to be completed to bring the place up to code. for a few days, the kids loaded a pick-up truck with garbage bags, before retreating to the roof of the shed to smoke. one night, as i stood outside, hiding myself behind the garbage can, i watched a car slow down and then stop as it was passing the house. the older son and a friend approached through the shadows towards the front door. another car stopped before continuing its route when the older son chased after it with a baseball bat.

apparently their efforts at renovating weren’t sufficient, as a large lock appeared on the door one day. they returned once to carry off the trampoline, presumably the only item necessary for starting their new civilization. the police who visited the property advised us to call if we witnessed anything suspicious. they brought us inside to view a museum of trash and damaged furniture. the carpets were stained. clothing burst from the closet like a glutton who had eaten too much. the smell was overpowering, like a roomful of corpses that had vomited themselves to death after eating a roomful of corpses.

boards were placed over the front bedroom window and a blue tarp over most of the roof to prevent further leaking. i took a bird bath and feeder from their back yard, gifts for my dad; he took one of those gazing balls for his garden. i offered the grill to my friends but it was too rusty to be of any use. when i went to check on its condition, i found a bong sitting on its side shelf.

everything i’ve described above has taken place over the last three months. a few days ago, i discovered that the back door to the garage is unlocked, so maybe there’s a part three to this story.

great apes.

15 September 2010

i’ve long been a reader of earthweek which bills itself as a diary of the planet and features short pieces on science, health, weather, environment, and nature from around the globe.

a recent report on apes caught my attention so i’m reprinting it below:

some of humankind’s closest relatives are literally being eaten to extinction, according to wildlife experts.

a new study of human settlements in the most remote parts of the democratic republic of the congo shows that chimpanzees have become the victims of a wave of killing by bushmeat hunters.

meat from the primates is sold openly in the markets of kisangani and smaller towns, where officials are failing to enforce the ban on killing chimps.

I was actually astonished to see the sheer quantities of bushmeat being taken out of the forest, researcher cleve hicks of the university of amsterdam told the u.k.’s the guardian newspaper.

hicks says that the killing of adult chimps has left a large number of young orphans, many of which are captured and kept as pets.

the spread of christianity across the congo basin has swept away many traditional tribal beliefs, including taboos about eating bushmeat.

the barisi tribe used to never harm the primates because they believed they were the descendants of a union between a man and a female chimp.

one of the things i like about earthweek is that they do not operate under any sort of agenda, which is evident in the above excerpt (well, unless you treat evolution as an elitist concept that undermines your intelligence). their tone does, however, often take an apocalyptic slant: the world is probably not going to end as the result of a few landslides or antibiotic-resistant bacteria, so temper some of the talk about tons of mud and rock burying scores of people.

the most compelling part of this post is the conclusion that intrusion into this area by missionaries, whose efforts at proselytizing the savages rather than trying to understand their culture, has had some dramatic side effects. it’s a shame that we learn nothing after years of blindly insisting that our civilization is the only one that matters and subjecting individuals to our ways at all costs to their environment. earthweek’s greatest success is presenting these ideas and emphasizing areas of the world that are regularly avoided and elicit shoulder shrugs.

fair winds and safe voyages.

8 September 2010

i’ve always been skeptical of cap’n crunch’s claims that oops! all berries were the result of an accident, as if human or mechanical error had resulted in a surplus of artificially-colored and -flavored fruit cereal that left quaker oats scrambling for a way to unload them.

in response to my recent query, a representative from the company was very forthcoming regarding both the truth and the legend behind the origin of their product:

we appreciate the opportunity to let you know more about cap’n crunch’s oops! all berries cereal. I’ll be happy to help.

as the story goes, while the cap’n is on vacation, the kids have been put in charge of his cereal factory. to satisfy their craving for crunch berries, they decide to make what kids have always wanted — a 100 percent crunch berries cereal. even the original package had appeared to have been made by kids. it had cut-and-paste package graphics with hand-lettered-in-crayon words, smudged fingerprints, cellophane tape and scraps of lined yellow writing paper.

but, that was just the story. In reality, we just know that we have a lot of fans that really enjoy the crunch berries. we’re always striving to offer the types of products that can appeal to them, so we introduced oops! all berries in 1997.

we later discontinued oops! all berries. however, based on the feedback we received from our fans over the last few years, we decided to bring it back as a special limited time offer at the beginning of the year. based on the big response we received, we extended the availability. we hope you’ll look for oops! all berries. it will be available nationwide exclusively in wal-mart, target, and meijer stores through the remainder of 2010.

i hope this information is helpful for you, scott. we appreciate your interest in the origins of cap’n crunch’s oops! all berries and hope that you’ll enjoy the cereal.

the story is compelling, certainly, but it does make one question cap’n crunch’s stance on child labor.

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