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Sunday, October 31, 2004


number five

Running around back and forth between DC and NC is making it difficult for me to celebrate Halloween the way I’d like. Also, it is leaving my head with very little time to dry. 916 words.

[NC]—Dateline Halloween. Of course, Halloween is on a Sunday this year, so much of the entertaining to-do stuff came on the thirtieth instead of today. Last night was the official fun night including: the Mr. Beaver Halloween Spooktacular, the Downtown thing with the puffy tent that looked a lot like one of those things you had to do in your socks at the state fair, and clubs, clubs, clubs. It is always a little hard for me to take pre-Halloween celebrations seriously, so an average of four out of every seven years (and I’ll spare you the leap year math that I used to arrive at this) are spent harassing myself to deliver holiday spirit on a strange deadline. Meanwhile, I have to seek out some sort of plan for the actual holiday, and often have to make it up myself. Boom, second deadline.

But, see, I truly love it when Halloween is on a Sunday. Thursday is my Birthday, ending long into Friday. Saturday is the eve, and there is usually a party or trick-or-treating at the mall/zoo/etc., Sunday might be a little low-key for a big adult party night, we sadly being the type of adults in “mature adult,” not the type in “adult novelties;” but that just provides an excuse to stay home, watch poorly made movies, hand food to kids, and gaze at the Autumn stars in frank appreciation of our mortal veil. It means there is a jack-o-lantern on the front page of the paper—or at least some alert child-safety scare-mongering—all weekend long. It means that Halloween is twenty-five hours long most places.

Of course, I started working on my costume on Friday, a bit later than the usual, and spent much of the time between my birthday and the Mr. Beaver Spooktacular worrying over whether it would be finished in time, whether it would fit, and what the hell it was going to be. This entailed a process that I have been known to call “evolution” even when I am screaming in a frustrated panic. This year’s evolution unraveled in the usual way.

I have been hoping to one day make for myself a wonderful calavera mariachi costume, knowing full well that this will require planning and resource. So I tossed that out the window again this year. I had also been threatening to be the devil every year for the rest of my life for several Halloweens now, so I decided this would be the time to start. I gathered all of the paper mache makings I had abandoned for my costume last year and put them in a box in the trunk of the car and carried them around for weeks while I thought about how to use them. Devils have, like, ears and goatees and horns that make for a crazy amount of pre-work and sculpting while creating a head; and while I had gone out and bought the devil’s suit, I lacked the proper devil’s tie and shoes. Time was getting tight while my costume was still ingredients. So, I decided I had to simplify the head. I simplified away the horns and the goatee. By the time I simplified the ears off, I realized that I was making a skull. Fine. It dawned on me that I could maybe go as a calavera for Halloween.

Excited by my new plan, I commenced sticking padding to a mannequin head that was far too small, and then I started sticking wet, pasty newspaper to that. Then I waited for it to dry. I ran some errands, and then I waited some more. Then I hauled all of the fans back out of the closet, and pointed them at my small, new head. Then I waited. Then it was yesterday, and I had not even started to paint the damn thing yet. You know, it was interesting, though: a skull-head made out of newspaper. I had never seen any paper mache stuff unpainted before, and that was pretty finished looking, in a novel light. I wondered how long it would take for several layers of paint to dry. I decided that it really wasn’t very necessary to paint the whole thing after all, and opted to paint a face on it, only. This way, through intelligent design, my newspaper skull-head man costume was born with about two hours to spare. It even sort-of fit me. I decided that I was the Media Culture of Fear. I had a pretty good Culture of Fear tie already hanging from the doorknob. I used the Culture of Fear shoes that were creepy Pumpkin-Head Guy shoes two years ago (something old, something new…).

Evolution had done its trick again. Had I had the time I had hoped to have for my Media costume, I would have used all newspaper articles relating to child-safety scare-mongering: razors in apples and such. As it is, I used a Washington Post I found on the Metro. Scary enough.

The party was swell, and everyone looked really wonderful. There were Bitches and Bugs, Giant Cardboard Dragons and Wood Nymphs, the Requisite Number of Droogs, one really cool Luchador, one probiscular French Sci-Fi Writer, and Sunshine looking stunning in a Consultant’s suit. There was surely a badass Culture of Fear.

After, Sunshine and I were up till Halloween dawn, hanging out with friends; scary adjective-fest films on mute while we listened to scientifically recorded Bigfoot calls and Elvis Christmas carols and walked around outside and gazed at the stellar veil.

Media Culture of Fear, Mr. Beaver's Halloween party, 2005

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Thursday, October 28, 2004

Scary Animals

number four

Deadly fish and Robert Young Pelton all in one DC weekend with extras. 518 words.

[NC]—Man, it is late. But I reached home alive yet again, and I guess that is a load off. A week ago I left for DC today, even later than now, to see Sunshine’s swearing in ceremony. What was initially going to be a regular little trip of about three days sort of expanded on me for several reasons.

Firstly, there were other people there. The chance to hang out with Sunshine’s parents and show mom around DC was great fun; and through several harrowing Metro courses, two book sales, and eating and such, we whiled away most of the weekend. I wanted to see Sunshine some after everyone else had gone home, so I had counted on sticking around through Sunday. Several weeks ago, however, we had heard that Robert Young Pelton was going to be lecturing at the National Geographic Society. Well, thought I, that will be a neat little addition to my first week of yearly October vacationing. Sunshine, telling me about this, seemed to think that this was to be happening on the twenty-fourth or –fifth. Sounded nice, actually, and about perfect for snagging a few extra DC days. Turns out it was the twenty-seventh, so I ended up in DC for a week.

With all of the back and forth between towns lately, I had been pretty much waiting until this two week vacation to get some Greensboro things done. I will admit right up front that I am way too damn lazy to actually use a hard-won vacation to clean my house; let alone begin packing it up for storage. But there were some other pressing things: I was way behind on my movie watching, and I had not lifted a finger to begin creating my Halloween costume.

Not to worry, I took all of the costume making goods to Sunshine’s house, with the clear retrospective intent of letting them rest there in a box while I watched giant animal movies on the Sci-Fi Channel. My current favorite is Frankenfish, where folks in adjacent boats try to escape giant computer animated Snakeheads in buckets. If Tremors is like Jaws on dry land, then Frankenfish is like Tremors in the water! No really. Not to be missed. After that, a movie about a swarm of killer bees, some real-life emergency room shows, and an X-Files marathon, there was just no getting around to destroying Sunshine’s apartment with paper mache like the itinerary listed.

So now I am finally home. Pelton was a hoot, and I recommend his show if you ever have the chance. DC was wonderful as always, and I finally got to the Adams-Morgan neighborhood, where we ate Spanish instead of Brazilian or Turkish. Best coffee I have had since actually being in Spain, man, for real. Now it is time to turn in. Today is my birthday, and I have to rest up for all of the heavy drinking later tonight, and the twenty-four hours I have to do my Halloween costume from start to finish shortly thereafter.

And a party on Saturday, and a holiday on Sunday, etc.

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Saturday, October 23, 2004

The Suit

number three

A day of ceremony, walking, and clothes that come in their own special bags. 699 words.

DC—My new suit is hanging over there in the closet, back in its plastic bag with a knot tied in the bottom. My mother and the suit and I are staying at the Key Bridge Marriott in Arlington, VA, looking out over the river into DC. Three blocks from the Metro stop at Rosslyn (on the orange line) seemed like a pretty available locale on-line, but it feels longer after you factor in all of the roads that you have to cross that are sort of like highways. In the other direction, the same distance brought our troupe to Georgetown and some top notch Ethiopian. It was much easier to want to walk that way.

It has been a big week for spending money and organizing my trip to DC. I had to search all over for a room in the area, noting that I was going to be in no mood to walk too damn far through the city in my slick-soled little shiny new shoes. Plus, I had to actually buy those shoes, buy pretty much every other thing I would be wearing from there up, and have it all sized and clean and ready for departure. Departure was also a headache, even after the destination had been found and reserved. Two days before blast off and I still had no real handle on how many people I was supposed to be co-coordinating and how many destinations I was supposed to be helping direct those people to. As it turned out, I am a big whiny bastard: all was refreshingly easy and we arrived in plenty of time. Fretting makes sympathetic magic, I said to nobody at all. Whiny bastards get to talk to themselves a lot.

And while I am whining, I just spent a whole lot to look fitting for the Deputy Secretary, Sunshine’s new friends, the whole graduating class of new Junior Foreign Service Officers soon breaking for the far corners of the world, and, hopefully, the rest of my long life of non-casual functioning as arm candy. Sympathetic magic wins out, and I think that the hundreds of dollars helped you look pretty good, me.

So this was the swearing in. There were plenty of things like bag checks, metal detectors, and little stickers explaining to the security staff that I was not to be seen unescorted. Sunshine put her hand over her heart sometime after this sticker had fallen off my new suit jacket and repeated after Richard Armitage until she was duly sworn. I sat in an audience of parents and lovers and friends; most of whom, I remain convinced, wore some percentage of brand new clothing. After this blessedly neat ceremony, we were escorted, sticker or no, upstairs into an amazingly hyper-posh reception with balled melon and furniture expensive enough to have proper names. The view from the balcony was a map to all of Washington with Arlington and Pentagon City thrown in. I could see every single field trip destination I’d ever had in the nation’s capital. It was nice, the little finger desserts were quite good, and everyone had that familiar feeling of collective relief after publicly swearing an oath. We all relaxed and enjoyed ourselves until they all but kicked us out.

Of course, we immediately walked around the corner to the other State Department entrance and went through the whole metal detector thing again (this time with guest cards on neck lanyards and photos taken at the security desk), all so we could go to the last fifteen minutes of the State Department book sale. I didn’t buy anything but Sunshine’s dad bought a large decorated yak skin. Got it for a pretty decent price, too.

So after some Metro riding and highway crossing and deliberation; vegetarian nachos, bottles of champagne, and a taxi ride caught on the street at a closed Metro stop, here I am back where I started this morning (and in my framing device), one day old suit back in its bag and tied up tight. Its only got about four hours on its meter, and there’s still no way I can wear it again without cleaning it.

Except on Halloween.

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Saturday, October 16, 2004

Thoughts on Monterrey

number two

Why am I a little disappointed about the outcome of flag day? My assumptions about Monterrey revealed. 623 words.

[NC]-I think Monterrey is just great, by the way. I want to get that out at the very start so that it can be kept fresh in mind. I am afraid that at times I might confuse the issue by pointing out both the pros and the cons I seem to be feeling. So keep it in mind: Monterrey is great, even if there are no elephants there.

It’s just that I was certainly preparing myself for something altogether more alien. I had grown accustom to the idea that my life, in several months, was going to flick like a switch, and that I would be very far away from home and the things that I have come to expect out of life. I was under the impression that I was going to be somewhere remote, cut off, forced to trek for my mail and buy up a store of my favorite products for the figurative three-year winter. I had imagined that my day to day existence was suddenly to be fraught with cultural oddity that I would slowly come to recognize as normal before it happened again next time. I pictured myself drinking warm Fanta from a rented bottle beneath the shingle of a nearly forgotten consul, hailing outbound traders driving exotic animals to the sands or waters of the horizon.

But I just don’t think Monterrey is going to be like that. Culturally speaking, of course, Mexico is different form here. I’ve been to Mexico. I loved it. It was my epiphany of solo travel in ’95 when I bought a one-way train to ticket El Paso and walked across the border at Ciudad Juarez determined to return when I had found whatever it was that I was looking for. I stayed in Mexico, wandering its edges, for months; falling in love with the people I met, the places I stayed, and the food that I ate. Moreover, when I decided to return, half of my money still in my pocket, I skipped several cities I had wanted to see in an effort to get home for Christmas. One of those cities was Monterrey. So, yeah, I really want to go there. I really wanted to go there ten years ago (and Durango and Guanajuato, among others). So see, Monterrey is great.

For what it’s worth, it is my goal to use this journal, at least before my foot hits Mexico and my new Foreign Service houselife begins, to really get my attitudes and prejudices sealed in public stone so I can not forget them all when faced with realities like I usually do. With luck the end result will be a litany of ridiculous slapstick revelation about the dubious value of my expectations.

But I just don’t think Monterrey is going to be like that, either. It is closer to San Antonio than it is to Mexico City. If it wasn’t for Matamoros it would really be a border town. It is the third largest city in the country, and considered to be the richest. It is filled with industry and college students. It is really close to the gulf coast, and sports a proudly cosmopolitan world-city image familiar to San Franciscans, Milanos, Parisians, and people from Prague. While it is certain that there will be angels in the architecture, there will certainly not be cattle in the market place. Monterrey will be a wonderful place of distinctly first-world amenity and US adjacency where I wont have to feel estranged from home, commercial product, or diversity. My Region 1 DVDs will work fine on my NTSC Television. Americans will abound, and why not? They can drive here.

But I wont get to ride on an elephant, now will I?

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Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Flag Day

number one

Today is the day: Sunshine waited in a ceremony to discover where she will be spending the next two years; I waited by the phone at work. This is the real launching point of this journal. 559 words.

[NC]-Got the call at Kinko's right before my first break of the day. Sunshine calling from her Flag Day ceremony in DC. Flag Day is the day everyone from Sunshine's class discovers where they will be posted as Junior Officers over the coming months. There were a number of positions available, and many people making up the class. All had been instructed to list, in order of interest, twenty-five positions from the ninety-some available to them. Of course, I had had a hand in some of the choices on Sunshine's list, as well as a little input on the order they would be listed in. Not more than you would imagine, though, since in reality I would be fine living just about anywhere, and because she is the one responsible for being on the clock wherever it is we end up going.

So, just to drop back a bit, she accepted this job on August the third, I think, and since then has moved to DC. Something like September seventh was her first day of training class, and shortly after she was presented with the list of possible posts. I think that she turned in her completed top twenty-five, along with the rest of her classmates, later in September. Flag Day was today. This means that for something like three weeks, deep in the machinations of Sunshine's employer, people toiled with the thankless task of satisfying ninety-some professionals with designs on gaining or avoiding in the neighborhood of twenty-three hundred permutations of about one hundred jobs. Sheesh. Who am I to make any sort of fuss if Sunshine was presented with her twenty-second favorite choice?

So far as I can tell, she feels much the same as I do: what the hell, any position, twenty-second or not, will be fun, instructive, and in no way dull. I think that she would pretty much live about anywhere, too. Not that I will put opinions in her head of course, at least not here.

Some note should be made about "Now Posts" versus the twenty-five item lists, since re-reading this makes me want to be absolutely clear about the predictability of our fortune. Sunshine has demonstrated employable proficiency in speaking and reading the Spanish language, and was therefore obliged to list any jobs needing personnel immediately requiring this talent. These are called "Now Posts" and it's a rule. The five positions fitting this description (needing Spanish speaking Junior Officers now) occupied the following places of honor of Sunshine's top twenty-five: twenty-one through twenty-five. This, of course, was based on Sunshine's desire to immediately learn a new language, and her hope to stick around in DC for another six months, or so, to do it. Thus, preferred positions would have had her taking classes in Turkish, Romanian, Korean, Thai, or Portuguese for months, for example. Of course, this was not to be. At least not right now. Probably this will end up happening in a few years before her second post.

Number twenty-two on Sunshine's list was Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, Mexico. She will starting there in February, give or take. I spent my whole ten minute break excitedly calling everyone who would pick up the phone. Then I went back to work. I'll talk about Mexico in general in number two.

Until then I'll be learning a little bit about it, myself.

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It's that time again. Beginner headquarters is picking-up house and relocating back to the United States on July twenty-fifth, 2009, to enjoy a month at home with family and friends. By the end of August we'll have set-up a semi-permanent household in Washington, DC, near the Cleveland Park metro stop on the red line. [DC metro map] Then, sometime after Labor Day, our boxes and boxes of stuff should catch up with us. After that it'll be smooth sailing till sometime in July 2010, when we will be moving abroad again, this time to Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina for a little real winter.

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