Thursday, October 22, 2009


It's been entirely too long since I've posted. All of my deadlines decided to be early this week, and of course this weekend was also when my jobs decided to start. So really, I had to choose between spending time at my job (which pays my rent and feeds me), on my classes (which I'm investing a lot of both time and money into), or writing my blog (which I write basically for the attention). When I couldn't think of anything good to write here, I went back to the other two. Sorry.

Well this Tuesday night, like every Tuesday night for the past month or so, I took the train home from 125th Street. For those of you who are unfamiliar with New York City, 125th is the main drag through Harlem. Its extra wide sidewalks are famous for the street vendors that crowd it selling nothing but perfume and t-shirts with Michael Jackson or President Obama on them. Also on 125th Street is the Apollo Theater. The train station I use is actually an elevated station rather than a subway, which provides an excellent view of Harlem and constantly smells of fried chicken.

Now, I consider myself an educated person. And like most educated people, I like to think that I know that while stereotypes may provide some great stand-up bits, they do not accurately reflect an entire group of people. Which is why it irritated me beyond words that I always smell fried chicken up there.

My English nerd readers (if my writing hasn't scared them all away by now) may have noticed a problem with that last sentence. I said "irritated" and "smell" rather than "irritates" and "smell" or "irritated" and "smelled." There is, however, a reason for this: I still smell the fried chicken, but it no longer irritates me.

Why? I did what an old pal of mine, Toucan Sam, said I should do. I tell you, that bird is smarter than we give him credit for. The source of the scent was, I kid you not, Lincoln Fried Chicken on Dr. Martin Luther King Boulevard. If, as "Avenue Q" would have you believe, everyone is a little bit racist, it felt like this place was trying to make that little bit take over. I was left with two choices: pretend I didn't see it and find somewhere else to eat, or dive in head first. And since I was too hungry to keep looking, I went inside and ordered some fried chicken and some orange soda.

Wow. It never ceases to amaze me how many places sell delicious food for dirt cheap. It's hard enough to get motivated to cook (and by cook, I mean either microwaving something frozen, Mac and Cheese, or Pasta-Roni) as it is, but when food this good that I don't have to make is almost as cheap as eating in, it's darn near impossible. For just a few dollars I got some of the best fried chicken I have ever had.

As I polished off the last of it and wiped the grease off my fingers it dawned on me that I almost missed out on that place. Had I ignored it as part of an effort to convince myself that I'm too good to pay attention to stereotypes, I would have seriously missed out. My point is this: different cultures are known for different things and have different strengths. Don't judge people based on that, but don't run away from it either.

Now, if I can only find out why the engineering building smells like Chinese food so often.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Getting A Discount When Buying Happiness

I'm not going to sit here and act like I've ever thought it would not be cool to be rich. Money would certainly help me in my efforts to become James Bond. I could afford an Aston Martin, a pristine tuxedo, and a steady flow of Vodka Martinis, shaken, not stirred (although with all the martinis I've ever ordered, not once have I seen a bartender stir it anyway). I bet with enough money I could even buy a British accent. And, of course, I could have a killer place in Manhattan where I could entertain guests at my pleasure instead of a single room in the Bronx where three really is a crowd.

But the more I think about it, the more I realize that being rich is probably overrated. Take transportation, for example. Rich people get to ride around in limousines. What is a limo, anyway? It's a long vehicle that has a driver in his own compartment in the front and a bunch of drunk people not wearing seatbelts in the back. If that sounds familiar to some of my non-rich brethren, that's because it also perfectly describes the subway.

Yes, that's just one example. "What about Broadway?" you may be asking. "Surely the rich get to enjoy a better class of theater than the non-rich." Wrong again. Even if you ignore things like rush tickets and lotteries that can get you cheap tickets to Broadway shows, there's Off-Off-Broadway. Now before you say that Off-Off-Broadway is not the same caliber as Broadway, let me point something out. When I got here and I was looking for cheap things to do, I looked at Off-Off-Broadway. A lot of the shows look quite similar to those that are on Broadway, but with more zombies. Now ask yourself who's getting the better entertainment.

It seems to me that for every high class thing rich people can get, there is an equivalent thing for the non-rich. The main difference is usually that the non-rich version involves more crazy people. Instead of going to the fancy art gallery with an open wine bar, visit that neighbor one floor down who's been trying to get you to come over and have a beer while he shows you the painting he made on his wall when he was sleepwalking. If you can't afford tickets to the great concert coming up at Radio City Music Hall, head into the subway station and hear the woman singing Whitney Houston songs for donations (a few years ago, there was a chance it would have actually been Whitney Houston). When the living members of Monty Python perform live at Ziegfeld and tickets are hundreds of dollars, see them a couple nights earlier on Jimmy Fallon for free.

My point is this: life is cheaper when you can put up with crazies. And if you know me, chances are you can.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Observing Columbus Day

Growing up, Columbus Day was a lot like Flag Day. It's there, but beyond a little thought when you change the calendar, it basically gets ignored. It's ignored so much, you may not have even realized that it was yesterday. The only time I remember Columbus Day affecting me at all is once in elementary school. On Columbus Day one year, my history teacher told me a bunch of stuff about Christopher Columbus, much of which turned out to be lies.

Let me pause here for a second. Apparently my elementary school history teachers were liars. I've since found out that people knew the earth was round in Columbus' day, the Americans didn't win the revolutionary war by being the only ones smart enough to use cover (but that's a discussion for a potential spin-off blog: "Things I've Learned in Boston"), and that Donald isn't really a stupid-head. Okay, that last one may have been written in the book, not said by a teacher. And it may have been handwritten, not a part of the actual published work. And I may have had to follow instructions leading to pages 71, 236, 59, 28, 90, and 101 before I read it. And I may have been the one who wrote it.

Okay, back on track. Where was I? Oh yes, Columbus Day. Growing up in California, it was ranked behind numerous other random holidays, including Valentie's Day, St. Patrick's Day, Cinco De Mayo, and Cesar Chavez Day.

But in New York, Columbus Day is an actual thing. My housemate was surprised when I left for class. Then I got to campus and things got really strange. There were large signs around campus related to the holiday. There were people complaining that "every other workplace in America gets the day off." Right. Every other workplace. I didn't even get Veteran's Day or President's Day off at my last job, and those are real things. Still, I imagine that even a claim as ridiculous as that one has some basis in truth. It would seem that out here, Columbus Day is actually celebrated like an actual holiday.

And why not? He did, after all, discover America... y'know... after all the other people who were already living here. But you do have to admire him for setting an audacious goal and achieving it. Or at least you would, if his goal was to discover a continent and not to get to India. And the icing on the cake: Columbus cemented in history that white people cannot tell non-white people apart. Our punishment? Having to be confused because "Indian" can refer to either of two completely separate people groups.

There are benefits too, I suppose. What would we call Cleveland's baseball team? I suppose we could go the way of Washington's football team and name them after a racial slur. Or since Cleveland already has one team named after a color, maybe just the Cleveland Reds? Hm. On second thought, that may not work.

Anyway, the closest thing I have to a point is this: I like California's way better on this one. There are better holidays to make important. My vote goes to National S'Mores Day, because s'mores are delicious and August is the only month without a real holiday. Except April when Easter happens to fall in March. But my birthday's in April, so that's close enough.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

October Blues

We're now well into October, and for sports fans that means three things: baseball playoffs are starting, the hockey season is underway, and the Raiders are no longer in the running for a playoff spot. Living in the Bronx, home of the most successful professional sports team in the history of North America, has made one of those three things matter more to the community than the other two. Let me give you a hint: the Montreal Canadiens have three times as many titles as all three of the state of New York's hockey teams combined.

The important one around here is, of course, the MLB playoffs, and once again the Bronx Bombers are looking strong. But that's not why I'm writing today. You see, I moved from the beautiful Golden State to the Big Apple for three main reasons: to try city life, to avoid the real world, and to get away from Dodgers fans. I've been more or less successful when it comes to the first two, but the third has been an utter failure.

I've been through all the logical reasons for it. First of all, yes, the Los Angeles Dodgers used to be the Brooklyn Dodgers. I know. But most of the Dodgers fans I've seen have been about my age, so the Dodgers were long gone before they were born. You might be thinking to yourself, "Yes, but a lot of times team loyalties are passed down from generation to generation. Maybe the parents are Dodger fans." I get that argument. The whole "sins of the father to the third and fourth generation" thing. But it still doesn't add up, because I'm hardly ever in Brooklyn. I spend all my time in Manhattan and the Bronx, where it would still make way more sense to be a Yankees fan even if the Dodgers were still in Brooklyn. The other logical reason that I thought of, that they, like me, moved from California to New York after already developing their sports loyalties, can explain some of them, but certainly not all of them.

The worst part is that because of this new thing called "fashion," they're harder to spot. I used to be able to just look out for that cursed shade of blue with the white writing (let's be honest, there aren't any Royals fans to make me wrong). But now you can get any team's hat in any color with any color writing. It makes the enemy so much harder to spot.

That's life I guess. There are some things you just can't run away from. And, truth be told, I'm kind of glad. As much as I hate to admit it, I have some friends who are Dodgers fans. I've even got a friend who's a Giants fan but wears a Dodgers jersey regularly. I love them anyway. Although think how much cooler they'd be if they were Giants fans.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

We Didn't Start the Fire

I've never been afraid of fire. As one of my friends (whose name will not be mentioned, although those I'm protecting him from will probably figure it out anyway) can tell you, and as my mother may just now be finding out (though it wouldn't surprise me if she already knew), I've spent a few minutes before many a day of junior high experimenting with lighters, matches, Raid, silly string, hairspray, and just about anything else that could take off my eyebrows. I wasn't afraid because a) penciled on eyebrows instead of the real thing were trendy, and b) I know how to stop drop and roll.

Recently, however, I've become more wary of the potential dangers that a fire can pose. Mostly because I think Columbia University (or at least the Fu Foundation) doesn't care if its students burn to death. I'm basing this entire theory on two things, which as it turns out, are not enough to take the school to court, even with the sleaziest of attorneys (1-800-GOT-HURT). It is, on the other hand, enough to rant about on the internet.

The first clue that the school may be an accomplice to arson related homicide is the way the desks are situated in the classroom. I knew enough people who had an impossible time getting classes at Cal Poly to appreciate a few extra spaces in the class, but this is out of control. A normal classroom has the desks situated into rows and columns (or little groups of four if your teacher is super cool and you all agree to behave... and you're in the fourth grade). I guess that's also true of these classrooms, but without the space in between the rows or columns. Getting in or out of the class (unless you want to sit in the front row with the people who want to learn), is like doing one of those puzzles where you have to move one block out of the room by pushing other blocks out of the way. If the building caught fire during class, the networks class would turn into a cooking class before you could say "Man, I wish I had some fun-fetti." Is this one of those things where I'm really just irritated about a minor inconvenience, so I try to make a serious issue out of it? Absolutely. Does that mean that I'm wrong? Not necessarily.

The other problem is with the fire alarms. I don't think the school quite gets the concept of an alarm. An alarm should create... alarm. I realize that nowadays they generally just create annoyance, but even so, a fire alarm in most places will at least disrupt the learning environment. Not true in my classrooms. When the alarm went off last week, people didn't even notice, not even the instructor. There was just one student who raised his hand and said, "Dr. Aho, that distant, quiet sound is actually the fire alarm. And it's going to stop in a minute, but that doesn't mean it's all clear, just that the alarm system sucks." And the worst part is, he was right. A minute or so later the alarm stopped, but officers came through the building to evacuate everyone and check the building for a fire. Had I been in, say, a "conference room," I might have been missed and may have not noticed anything was wrong until it was too late. A bit of a stretch, but in a 12 floor building odds are it's going to happen to somebody if an actual fire starts.

So what's the take away? What did I learn from all this? Why did I choose this from all the pending topics to share with you today? The moral of the story is this: when you don't get a class, or when you are annoyed by an alarm of any kind, you shouldn't be angry; you should be happy you're not dying in a fire.