Don't Shake the Flask

Because you don't know if it'll explode

Month: August, 2002

I should have been disappointed with my trip to Atlanta. Instead of sightseeing, I was stuck listening to my parents meet with old schoolmates they hadn’t seen for over thirty years.

One story stuck in my head. My parents’ friends had stayed in Vietnam for quite a while–it was profitable for them and they didn’t want to go to another country, to learn another language, to start up from scratch–until 1978. Yes, it was the year of the Vietnamese boat people.

They paid $200 to escape south Vietnam in a small boat crammed with refugees. They sat hip to hip, unable to get up or move, and were given gruel for sustenance. They lived in fear of the pirates who would board the boats to take the pretty girls into slavery and prostitution. They sat for days in their own refuse resulting in festering sores and death. Some people went overboard into the sea.

Halfway to the rendezvous point with a larger vessel, the passengers aboveboard saw something out in the sea. A pale woman with long curling white hair stood above the waves beckoning the men to come to her. He (my parents’ friend) heard her whispering, cajoling. Frightened, believing it was the ghost of a dead woman who had drowned in a previous boat crossing, he cowered on the deck while he watched other men leap over the railing to their deaths.

Was this really a ghost or the result of mass hallucination? His wife accused me of not believing although I said nothing to contradict her. I’m sure something must of happened to make normally sane men drown, just not the appearance of a siren ghost.

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Here’s this week’s Tuesday Too:

1. Are you dreaming now? How do you know you are, or how do you know you’re not?

Nope, not dreaming. I’m pretty sure I’m not dreaming because reality doesn’t abruptly change. Usually when I’m dreaming, I’m not aware that I am.

2. What’s going on that really makes your life a source of wonderment?

I’m always wondering how lucky I am. Life could be a lot worse.

3. Why do you think you’re here, and where is “here” anyway?

I’m not sure. I’m not philosophical or spiritual or religious. I find it a waste of energy to ponder the whys and hows of my existence. There’s other things to do.*

*Stay tuned for tomorrow when I talk about ghosts.

It’s hot. It must be the humidity. It’s surprising how much you forget about a place when you haven’t been there in a while. It’s also surprising how much home doesn’t really seem like home when you’ve been away. It’s my parents’ home now. Everything is alien, like trying on a different shoe that looks like yours but really isn’t. My old room–I can’t feel comfortable working there because I feel as if I’m invading someone else’s privacy.

But my main complaint is that it’s hot. The atmosphere, using my Mom’s term, cooks. The clouds always look bilious. It wants to rain but doesn’t–a bloated Venus. Wearing lots of clothes? Insane. Wearing as little clothing as possible? Also insane. Exposed flesh is mosquito fodder, and I’m the most awful mosquito fodder there is. My skin swells red in an area the size of a grapefruit. And it doesn’t itch. It hurts, like hell. It’s almost as bad as my allergies during September.

Being “home”, I realize that I miss diversity. Although I didn’t quite fit in on the west coast, I blended somewhat. Here, I stick out like a sore thumb. Whenever I have to talk with someone, I hope desperately that the first thing out of their mouths is not, “Do you speak English?” Everything here, though, (except the Chinese food) is cheaper, and I guess in my mercenary mind makes it mostly better.

I’m proud to say I’m not turning into a couch potato. I only watch the television when my Dad remarks, “Oh, the news is supposed to be on in a couple of minutes.” Then I spend my time making fun of the local journalists, Barbara Walters, and the intervening car commercials. Even if I wanted to watch the television, I would have to interrupt my grandmother’s Chinese soap opera watching marathon.

So see you after the weekend. I’m escaping to Atlanta.

Here’s the Tuesday Too:

1. Here’s something to RANT about: “Nigerian woman loses battle…

Yes, but mere words won’t change the perception that women should be held to higher standards yet treated worse.

2. After reading the above article, most questions seem trivial; however, isn’t something like this beyond toleration/acceptance of “other cultures ways of doing things?”

There is no question that it’s beyond toleration and acceptance.

3. Explain your yes position on question # 2, and tell us what should/can we as individuals, or nations do about it? If you answered no to question # 2, tell us why we should should close our eyes to injustice in other nations.

In the first place, they’re not treating women as even being human. What do they expect us all to be, paragons? I’m not saying that we should trash an entire culture but that they should change with the times. Adultry is wrong, but it’s a mistake that every human being has the potential to make. And making mistakes is human.

I don’t believe invoking higher powers can justify anything, because when you cut right down to it, the decision is still made by human beings. We’re prideful, self-righteous creatures and injustice should be examined in any situation by someone outside. If we’re too close to the situation, we’d get carried away, unable to see past our noses.

In the morning, before the sun reached the roof of the trees, the men came for the kitchen floor.

The floor was tiled in white and blue flourishes. Pretty. But it squeaked when a chair was dragged over it and its shiny gloss smudged under the oils of bare feet. The men were here for the floor and they did not care that many years ago, two giddy children picked out the tile because it was pretty.

Even before noon, it was hot. Muggy. Windows were pushed open, but it wasn’t roiling breezes that came into the house. Only stilted air. The air stuck to the skin, even when the skin was drenched with cold water and vigorously toweled dry. Moist, sticky. Everything felt like chewed bubble gum underneath a shoe.

The men worked shirtless, gleaming. Their drills and saws roared over the dog next door who barked wildly at these strange men. They even roared over Mahler’s paunchy symphonies which exploded with sopranos and tenors, the clicking keyboard, and even the large fans attempting to shove the stagnant air into action.

Then the men were gone, leaving only a dusty wood smell promising that they would be back the next day to finish the job. Half of the white kitchen floor was torn away leaving bits of wooden plank and a hole that had the exact width of a dishwasher. Down the hole was concrete and a trickling of light. The basement.

In about two hours I will physically be an ex-Techer.

For the last time I will hear the buzzing grass trimmers and see the hallowed halls of Lloyd House. (I never did get to paint that mural, but I suppose if current Lloydies wanted to do the hieroglyphics themselves or change the idea completely I wouldn’t mind. I’m an ex-Lloydie, after all, and ex-anythings usually don’t have a right to dictate what to do. The yellow wall , though, seems appropriate somehow–the very basics of the basics, yet unfinished.) Today is the last day of last days where I see students hunkered down on computers playing the latest game or the Southern California sun spilling down through the line of olive trees. It’s the last of many things.

Yet I don’t feel sad.

Perhaps I’ll feel fonder of the past four years the further I’m away from them. At the moment, I’m not sure how I feel. It’s all a muddle of ambiguous impressions that are so intertwinned and mixed that I can’t sort them out at all. When I say, I don’t know, I don’t mean that I’m apathetic or that I can’t make up my mind. I just need distance and time to stop me from thinking of what could have been.

As for what will be, I’m excited and nervous. Scared. Don’t let anyone tell you that chosing a path at the crossroads of their life is a piece of cake. It’s hard to be sure and confident once the path is chosen. It’s not that I regret saying, “This is what I want to do” or even “This is what I’m probably going to do,” but it’s terrifying to realize that the course has been already plotted through the desert and there’s no more leeway, at least for the next couple hundred miles.

It feels like it was just yesterday that I checked into Caltech at the housing office, the gruff woman at the desk slapping a tiny envelope into my hand that contained a room key. And when I opened the door to the room, I had realized that my very first roommate was a disaster–underwear and clothes draped everywhere, pots and pans on bookshelves, and the books on the floor–and when I was heading in to attempt to clear a space for myself, she was heading out with her new friends to buy $200 worth of make-up at Macy’s.

And now, my last roommate has headed off to boot camp before she enrolls in a military medical school in Maryland. The rest of my friends have mostly scattered, some staying in California, others also heading out east. No one in between though (making me wonder if middle America even exists). If anything, living in SoCal has made me realize that I could never be truly happy here. It’s not my irrational dislike for palm trees or the weather or the insane working conditions. When I first arrived, I thought I could fit. But it’s only been a “sort of.” I can wear the sparkly silver shirt if you asked me, but it wouldn’t be me.

My singular piece of luggage is impossibly heavy. I’ve packed too many things. But I’m going. Going. Gone.

Here’s this week’s Tuesday Too:

1. What is your favorite freeware program? If you don’t have have one you might want to check out some freeware sites. There’s still a lot of good stuff out there that’s free!

I’ve checked out a lot of stuff like browsers, P2P file-swapping systems, FTP clients, graphics utilities, and other programs, but they don’t compare to the eye-candy that is Chime. Okay, so it’s technically not free, but you can get the plug-in and visualize chemical and biological molecules in 3-D (among other things).

2. Do you think the way the internet has changed the world is essentially a good thing? Why or why not?

Definitely a good thing. Like jf, I think the research aspect of the web far outweighs the spam, pop-ups, and other crass commercial tactics that we have to put up with.

3. Is there something that’s really bothering you these days? It might be personal, political, scientific or just downright kinky. What is it?

Today? Nothing except whether or not my suitcase can fit the remainder of my belongings. I’m no longer working (at least for a few weeks anyway). All the snarky people who’ve been in my face are off to vacation–in fact, if I’m lucky, I’ll never see them again. I’m going to take my mentor’s advice and not think about science until grad school begins. Life is good.

This morning I stuffed my poor clunker of a computer into a cardboard box and carted it off to Central Recieving and Shipping. I knew I was a bit of a junkie when I realized I missed how I had arranged my desktop just so or how I had organized my files.

But I have other things to do than to lament my emptying room. I’ve been reading–attempting to whittle down the stack of books with me now (finally finished Tom Jones, whew!)–because when I get home, I know I’ll have a bunch of other books I’ve left on the shelf which I haven’t cracked open yet like Anna Karenina, The Dispossessed, and even So Long and Thanks for all the Fish. And of course, I’m using these precious few weeks to write like mad. So don’t worry if I become a bit sporadic this month.

Lies, deceit, grudges, temper tantrums, personality clashes. I watch as this toxic sludge oozes out the sides, perilously creeping close to my sneakers. Perhaps this is why I build a wall around myself so that no one really knows who I am–or perhaps more accurately, I contain myself so that I’m not the match that ignites the pile of explosives lying close-by. I worry when people get angry because they don’t seem to care who they hurt.

True, this apparent pettiness is Not My Problem, but when someone asked me to join the fray I’m close-lipped and non-partisan. I don’t take sides because I’m a coward. I don’t even try to mediate either, otherwise, I’ll be Luke trapped in the Death Star trash compactor.

I see but don’t do. Am I avoiding the real world? I am almost lackadaisical, perhaps even lazy, when it comes to social problems. I distance myself from them. I hope I’m not the student who glories in the destination and fails to look around and discover that the palace is actually a pile of rubble. Besides, I somehow always wind up being the soundboard for everyone else’s problems. Maybe I should become a psychologist.

In other overheard conversation: Some scientists speculate that hickeys are overzealous teenagers’ way of marking mating territory. Sort of like mindless dogs marking every other tree. Ew.

The bus driver was giving me evil looks as I hauled some boxes three times my size onboard. Hey, it’s not my fault that the people who have cars are too busy to drive me places.

A Reader’s Manifesto. Someone once described me as imperturbable. Well, I suppose that’s right. I don’t get angry or crazy visibly–I’m not prone to violent moodswings. So I’m not surprised that a critic is bashing “high-brow” literary fiction as pretentious, bad, and incomprehensible. All he’s trying to do is to create a stir in the writer’s world. I don’t read literary fiction very often, but I wouldn’t go so far as to regard all of it as trash.

I’m more of a “low-brow” genre reader myself. Check out my current bookrolling page (links also easily accessible on the chrono page) to find out where my interests are running nowadays.