Safe Parachuting

“Pastoral literature,” I groaned.  I leaned back in my chair, and let out a heavy sigh.  I fanned myself with the manila folder that held the notes I had taken that semester.  My room was hot, so hot that I was sweating.  The air being forced against my body by my floor fan was hot, so I didn’t really feel any cooler.  The bright spring sun was beating in my window.  The brown sandstone building that housed my dorm room felt as if it was radiating heat, both in and out.  A year ago, when I started receiving brochures about attending this small, liberal arts college in the rolling fields of Ohio, there was no mention of hot and humid spring oppressing me now.  There were images of students playing on green, grassy quads outside collegiate looking buildings, of award winning writers giving lectures, and students smiling pleasantly as a professor pointed towards her chalk board.  It all seemed so idyllic, the type place that years later would evoke feelings of nostalgia and longing for my carefree college days.

Instead, I was regretting letting my academic advisor suggest I take a composition class despite the fact that I had earned enough AP credits in high school to already fulfill my requirements.

I reached over and turned up my radio.  I had a Cure tape playing.  Boys Don’t Cry.   “How ironic,” I said to myself.  I felt like screaming at the top of my lungs “I hate Pastoral Literature!”  Why had I taken this class?  For having spent 12 weeks listening to the chair of the English department lecture three hours a week, I knew nothing about Pastoral Literature.  And now I had to write a paper on the subject.  Not just a paper, but a final paper. There was no final exam in the class, just this 10-page paper.  And I did not want to write it.

I looked at my watch.  Five o’clock.  I decided to go to dinner.  I needed an excuse to leave my desk, and the world of sentimental stories about rustic people.  To lend a little credence to my procrastination technique I decided to tell my roommate it was time to eat.  I looked across the room to Steve, lounging on his bed.  Steve was what the college called a ‘scholar-athlete,’ a student who supposedly met the admission requirements as all the other applicants, but whose greatest contribution to the school was keeping the wealthy alumni happy by seeing their alma mater’s name appear on the sports pages.  The college was a division III school, which meant there were no scholarships for athletes, but everyone knew that a marginally qualified student who planned to join one of our better sports teams – soccer, swimming, lacrosse, or tennis – did not have to have the same academic qualifications as their non-athletically inclined counterparts did.  Steve, like most of the other scholar-athletes, was well aware of this.  We all were, and usually the college assigned the ‘Steves’ of the campus to live together.  But somehow, I ended up as his roommate.  Despite our differences, it worked out well.  During the week we usually went to dinner together with other people from our dorm, and had no problem procrastinating late at night by sharing stories about high school, or Steve filling me in on the happenings of the weekend lacrosse team party.  Most often these were stories of extreme drunkenness, and near-successful attempts to hook up with ‘a hottie,’ as he referred to most the girls he found attractive.

At the moment, Steve had on a pair of headphones, and had his eyes closed.  I could barely hear the music coming out of the speakers snug against his head, and for a moment I fantasized that my ‘scholar-athlete’ roommate might actually be a true intellectual and was listening to a pastoral symphony.  Maybe he would know something about pastoral literature.  Now I am being ridiculous.  Steve usually spent his spare time hurling a small white ball down the length of the hallway with his lacrosse stick.  One day he actually had someone draw his outline on a large piece of butcher paper he bought at the local grocery store, and then tacked it to the wall.  Then he dipped his lacrosse ball in a can of cheap paint he bought, and hurled it at his own image.  When he scored a hit in the crotch of his own silhouette, he called everyone out into the hallway to see it.  “That,” he said, “is what makes the other teams fear me.”

Any conversation I would try to have with Steve about Pastoral literature would involve lewd acts and sheep.  I wadded up a piece of paper, and threw it at him.

“What do you want?” he asked without even opening his eyes.

“Dinner time.  Wanna come?”

“What are we having tonight?”

“How the hell should I know?  What we always have – a plethora of nastiness.”

“Wiseass,” he said, and sat up.  “Did you call the slime line?  I really do not want to venture out into the heat for broccollini and breaded cod tail.”  He walked over to the phone, and dialed the dining hall’s hotline.  Steve closed his eyes, and began to repeat what he heard over the phone.

“Tonight, we are serving Big Beefburgers, home cut French fries, three cheese lasaaaagna, vegetable medley, soft serve ice cream, salad bar, fresh fruit cocktail, assorted beverages.”  He put the phone down, and walked back over to his bed, rubbing his eyes and knocking a piece of sleep to the ground.  It drifted into the current of the fan, and was shot somewhere off into the corner of the room.  I watched the whole event with more interest than I realized is healthy, and quickly turned my attention to my roommate.  My tape clicked to the end, and all was silent.

“Well?” I asked.

“Ah… fuck it,” Steve said, scratching just above the band of his white cotton boxer-briefs.  “Let me take a shower.  I’ll be ready in ten minutes.”  With that, he stood up, walked over to his dresser, and dropped his shorts.  He wadded up the underwear, and tossed it into a dirty clothesbasket.  He then rummaged through the closet, muttering the entire time.  Finally he turned to me and said, “Hey, do you know where my bathrobe is?”

“Why the hell would I know that, moron?” I said as I stretched in my chair.  “If you can’t find yours, then wear mine.  Just hurry up, cause I’m starving.”  He scratched one more time, and then opened my half of the closet, and pulled out my plaid robe. He drapsed it over his shoulders, and not bothering to close the front, grabbed a towel and headed out the door.

I reached up to my radio, and flipped my tape over.  More Cure to brighten my mood, I thought.  I rubbed my eyes, and opened my folder again.  I stared blankly at the semester’s worth of notes I had taken, and wondered what I was getting out of the $100 per class hour I was paying to go to school here.  What use was it to study about mid-sixteenth century peasants?  I really did not care to hear idealized stories about rustic people living simple country lives.  As Dr. McCall read long sections from works by Virgil and Spenser, I realized that not much happened in the lives of their characters; instead shepherds engaged in impromptu singing contests (with lots of text dedicated to the lyrics), or took turns delivering elegies of deceased friends.  In some regards, my having spent the afternoon sitting at my desk, attempting to write a paper on pastoral literature was a close to a modern-day pastoral poem.  I was saved from the truly depressing nature of that thought by a knock on my door.

“Yeah… come in,” I yelled, not getting up from my chair.  Rebecca opened the door, and walked in my room.  She lives two floors beneath Steve and me, with her roommate Penny.  They are both from Michigan, and got along great as roommates.  Of the two, Rebecca was definitely the more social one.  She spent most her evenings hanging out on our floor, and was friends with most the guys.  On Friday nights, she usually entered the floor from the stairwell, and called out “Fourth floor men, let the party begin!”  And the floor would respond by calling out “Rebecca!”

About two weeks ago, Rebecca asked if Steve and I were going to be roommates next year, and if so then the four of us should try to get in the same dorm again.  “It would be fun,” she said, and I took a strange sense of pride knowing that she associated me with fun.  Although Rebecca was friendly with all the guys on the floor, I secretly harbored the belief that Steve and I were actually her friends.  Her plans for being near us next year confirmed it.  I finally worked up the nerve to ask Steve what he thought about us rooming together again, and passed along Rebecca’s idea.  “I like that everything will be the same next year,” I told Steve.  Steve shrugged, which I learned was his way of agreeing to the idea, and then said “I like the that I will get to see Rebecca’s tits everyday again.”  I decided to keep that to myself when I reported back to Rebecca.

“Hey, how’s the paper coming?” she said, as she plopped herself onto my bed.

“Well,” I said.  “Not bad.  I only have 10 pages to go.”

“Ten pages?  You haven’t gotten anything done?  Weren’t you going to start on that when I was here at three?  What have you been doing?

“Nothing.  I haven’t moved from this chair all afternoon.  I just don’t know a thing about Pastoral Literature.  So it is impossible for me to write about it.  I am such a loser for having taking this course.  I just do not care about Pastoral Literature.  I think I want to be a mechanical engineering major.  What does a mechanical engineer need to know about pastoral literature?”

“You study it,” she said, half yawning, “because it makes you a better person.  You know, you’re more well-rounded, and it helps you get good jobs and stuff.”

“I truly don’t think anybody is ever going to say, “Well, he’s only an okay engineer, but did’ya hear him discussin’ pastoral literature at lunch?  We gotta take him,’” I  said.

“You’d be surprised,” she said.

We both laughed, only half-heartedly because only half our hearts were truly in it.  We sat quietly for about five minutes, listening to Robert Smith moan about not having someone to love.  Having grown tired of sitting on my bed, Rebecca flopped back in full repose.  She threw her hands back over her head, and in doing so pulled her shirt just the slightest bit up her smooth, flat stomach. Right then I thought about Steve’s comment, and wondered why I had never thought about Rebecca’s tits?  And if so, what did that mean?  When Steve had made that comment, I actually just sat there, stunned, and did not say anything in return.  Finally, Steve just shook his head and said “Dude, you need to pay attention more.”

I realized that I had been just staring at Rebecca – or at her tits, actually. She turned her head, and smiled at my coyly.  I dipped my hands into the glass of ice water I had sitting on my desk, and with all the skill a completely un-athletic bookworm could muster, I flicked water at her.  I hit my mark.  She immediately jolted upright, pulling her t-shirt down tight against her flesh.

“Hey, bucko,” she warned.

“What?” I asked.  “You mean you didn’t like it?  I mean, you looked hot lying over there on my bed.”

She struck a most pious look on her face, and said, “I will not tolerate blatant come-ons.”

“I meant you looked as if your body temperature had exceeded normal due to the conditions of the environment,” I said back.  “It would be so inappropriate of me to call you hot,” I added with a smirk.

She giggled.  “So, where’s your slacker of a roommate?”

“In the shower.   I think this is something like his third shower today.”

“Seriously?  What’s he do in there?”

I gave her an “are you kidding” look, and said “Boxing with the bald champ, if you know what I mean.”  This time, we laughed uproariously, with all our hearts.

“So whenever he isn’t in the shower, he’s between rounds then,” Rebecca added.  By this time we were both laughing so hard, I couldn’t talk.  I only doubled over in my chair and pointed to her as if to say “good one.”

The door swung open, and in walked Steve, dripping from his last round.  The timing was too much, and I fell off of my chair laughing so hard.  Rebecca once again lay sprawled on my bed, her body heaving as she howled with delight.  Steve rubbed a drop of water from his nose.

“What the hell is your problem?” he asked, just slightly upset by the outburst that occurred when he entered.  He had decided that my bathrobe was unsuitable for wearing, as he had it flung over his left shoulder.  His white towel was wrapped around his waist.  “So, what’s so funny?” he asked again as he dropped my on the closet floor.

“Nothing, really,” Rebecca said, gaining some composure.   She started to stand saying, “Well, I’ll wait outside until you’re done Steve.”  With that, she started to giggle again.

“Hell,” escaped from Steve’s lips.  “I ain’t got nothing I’m sure you haven’t seen before.  Don’t bother.”  He walked over to his dresser, loosening his towel as he went.  With a shrug, Rebecca sat back down on the bed, which was directly behind the dressers.  Steve dug through his dresser looking for some boxer-briefs.  He found a pair, let the towel fall to his feet, and bent over to pull up the (this time gray) cotton shorts.

“Are you coming to dinner with us?” he turned to Rebecca, adjusting the band about his waist.

“Dinner?” Rebecca asked.  “No one told me you were going to dinner,” she said, giving me a hurt glance.

“Hey Rebecca,” I said, “want to join us for dinner?”

“Am I intruding on a roommate thing?” she said mockingly.

“Hell no,” Steve said as he pulled on a pair of linen shorts.


“Great, but we’re not leaving yet,” Steve said as he rummaged through my half of the closet looking for a shirt to wear.

“What?” I exclaimed.  “Look at me!  I’m wasting away to nothing!  Why aren’t we going to dinner now?  And yes, feel free to borrow my shirt.”

“Thanks,” he said with a smile. He turned to the mirror that hung next to the closet door and began fussing with his hair.  “We aren’t going to dinner now, because we will go as soon as I get back.”

“And where are you going?”

“Upstairs, to Heidi’s room.  I’m gonna ask her if she wants to go with us.  So, wait huh?” he turned, with an open, honest smile.

“Okay,” I said.  “But hurry up, because I am really hungry.  You might need to borrow my suit when you get back, because you’ll need it for my funeral after I starve to death.”

“No, you won’t,” Steve called as he disappeared through the door. “From the way this shirt fits me, you could stand to lose about ten pounds.”  He pulled the door shut and was gone.  The Cure was still playing, and Rebecca and I just stayed where we were.  Since I was still sitting on the floor from when Steve had walked in the room, I decided to crawl my way to my bed.  I flopped down beside Rebecca, and let out a heavy, discontented sigh.

“So,” she said, turning towards me.  “Are you gonna come on Saturday?”

“Tell me about this again,” I said, rolling my head and rubbing my eyes.

“Okay,” she said, sitting up in excitement.  “You go up, and we all sign-up for the class.  Then, we spend like, four or five hours or something like that, learning how to dive.  Right?  You know, how to pack your chute, how to fall…”

“Wait, wait, wait,” I said laughing.  “They think they have to teach me to fall?  I mean, you basically step out of the plane, and you fall. That’s what gravity is for.”

“You know, like how to slow yourself down, work with the wind resistance.  Come on, you said you’d listen seriously about this.”

“I did not,” I quickly countered.  “What I said was, I said I would listen to what you had to say, and think about it.  I never said I would be serious.  I always reserve the right to not be serious.”

“Well, just for once, be serious.  Because I really want you to come.  I think you would like it.”

“You think I would like spending $300 to fall to the ground from 3,000 feet?”

“It doesn’t cost $300. It costs $180 for the first time.  That is why we get there at 5:30 am.  We spend all morning in the class, so we can get a jump certificate.  Then we jump, with an instructor.  After that, whenever we want to jump it is only $40, because we are certified.”  She sat there quietly for a moment, as I said nothing.  I ran my tongue over my teeth, an annoying habit I had whenever I was really thinking about something.  I really didn’t know if I wanted to do this or not.  It sounded fun, no doubt.  To sky dive, with your friends at the end of your first year of college.   But there were so many things that I just could not get past.  The cost was just about what I had left in my bank account, and unlike Rebecca’s parents, mine did not have extra cash to send me.  What I earned over the summer and each semester was all I had to spend at college.  I had explained this to Rebecca, and she had offered to help pay, which made me feel both excited and lame.

Then there was a silent, crazy fear I had.  Something I had not shared with Rebecca, or anyone.  I kept having thoughts of myself falling from the plane, and not pulling the ripcord.  That I would somehow forget, or be so paralyzed with the whole aspect of having just jumped – voluntarily jumped, no less – from a plane, that I couldn’t do it.  I knew that I would be jumping tandem, attached to a jump instructor whose own life preserving instincts would intercede even if mine did not.  The last thing I wanted, however, was for everyone to know that I could not even save my own life when I needed to.  And strangely enough, I found myself torn.  Part of me wanted to prove to myself that I wasn’t a chicken, and would be fine.  And part of me just wished Rebecca had never dreamed up this whole scheme at all.

“Come on,” Rebecca said, grasping her hands in her lap as she leaned forward to plead.  “You won’t regret it.  I promise.”

“Well, you know, I want to. I do.  But it sounds so, just dangerous or something.”

“It isn’t dangerous.  God, loosen up,” she said exasperatedly.  “You aren’t in any danger.  You have a parachute.  You’re falling toward the earth, fast as can be, and POP…” she jumped up from my bed and stood in front of me.  “Suddenly, everything is just kind of drifting.  It’s a jolt, a great shock, and you realize that the falling was fun.  It was the falling that makes the landing so worth it.”

“The falling, huh?  You’ve done this before?  You know about the falling, and the landing and jolt and everything?”  I sat up.

“No, I haven’t,” she droned and rolled her eyes.  “But I know about living.  I know what it is like to feel the rush of taking a chance.  I know how to live life, and take a chance and not be safe for a moment.”  She leaned forward, and put her lips right up against mine, kissing me with enough force to push me backward onto my bed.  I stopped breathing, only for a second.  Not knowing what else to do, I kissed her back.

She pulled away from me, hoisting her body up from mine with her arms locked at the elbows.  We looked at each other for a moment.  Then the door flew open, and there stood Steve stood with Heidi smiling beside him.

“Hey, ready? Are you guys coming?”  he asked, with a quizzical look on his face.

“You know, I’m not really in the mood for Big Beefburgers,” Rebecca said as she stood and adjusted her t-shirt.  She pushed past Steve on her way through the door.  “I think I’ll order pizza later tonight.  In my room.  At ten.”  She looked right at me.

“What about you?” Steve turned to me.

“I’m not hungry either,” I said, still leaning back on my elbows in my bed.  Steve’s face simultaneously dropped to the floor and flushed with frustration.  “Fine, whatever,” he intoned.  “Whelp, its you and me Heidi.”  The door closed and I was alone.

I rubbed my hands over my head and rubbed my eyes.  I got up, and headed over towards my desk.  I took out the Cure, and shuffled through the random tapes on the shelf until I found U2’s Joshua Tree.  I dropped it in, hit play and “Running to Stand Still” filled the empty room.  I sat down at my desk, and began to tap my fingers.  Finally I picked up my pencil.

“Pastoral literature,” I wrote, “is about life.”


Cake or Death!

Early this fall I came upon Eddie Izzard’s standup on Netflix.  Transvestite, James Joyce Awardee, renown actor,  and once cited as the “Lost Python.”  He’s been cracking me up with his monologues about God, Jesus, Technology – and here he described how the Church of England would have handled the Spanish Inquisition.

Eddie Izzard.  That’s what is wasting my time now….

Here – we are all BIG family

Can't Stop Till We Get Enough

Last summer, three friends and I decided to do the Big Foot triathlon, located in beautiful Geneva Lake, Wisconsin.  After checking into our hotel, we decided we would ‘carbo-load,’ a triathlon (and marathon) race tradition, of eating pasta and other carbohydrate laden meals the night before, to give us energy for the next morning’s race.  Not knowing the area well, we stopped at an Olive Garden restaurant, located just down the road from our hotel.

As we waited for seats, one of my friends – who is allergic to wheat and gluten products – asked if there was a gluten free menu she could look at.  What we received was the food and nutrition fact sheet that US restaurants are required to provide.  I still have that fact sheet, in my office amongst books entitled Fat Land, and The Obesity Myth.  I kept it, because as we read the list looking for something my friend could eat, we were dumbfounded.  The restaurant’s two featured entrees, the stuffed rigatoni (either with chicken or sausage) contained over 1000 calories for a single serving (1050 for the chicken, and a whopping 1350 for the sausage).  This was for one item of food, and if you considered that most Olive Garden customers usually consume the free bread sticks (which was not on the fact sheet), a soft-drink (100 calories, assuming non-diet), and possibly a dessert (none of which were less than 300 calories), ordering a featured meal at the Olive Garden tipped the scale at over 1400 calories!  For perspective, health officials in the US government recommend that adult males 18 – 30 years of age consume about 2200 calories a day.  After a meal at the Olive Garden, you have less than 800 calories left for the entire day – or about one Venti Mocha and Taragon Chicken sandwich at Starbucks.

As I sat in the restaurant, consciously picking through my Ceasar Salad with Chicken (850 calories, not including the dressing), I kept reading through the information guide.  Quite frankly, one reason for the extreme calorie content of the Olive Garden’s meals is due to their portion size.  And this results in huge calories:  The average Classic Entree at Olive Garden has 1045 calories per serving.  If you thought ordering a chicken entree would be better – I mean, chicken is the lean meat! – think again.  The average is 1031 calories.  To be really healthy at the Olive Garden, order a seafood entrée: An average of 780 calories per serving (the best, calorie wise, is the Seafood Brodetto – 480 calories).

I must be fair – I am leaving out the entrees that Olive Garden labels as their healthy & low-fat fares (noted with an olive leaf), which range from 430 calories per serving (the Linguine alla marinara) to 840 calories (the Capallini Pomodoro).  But how many people come to the Olive Garden thinking, “tonight baby, I’m thinking light and low-fat.”  You go to the Olive Garden for pasta – hefty, filling, saucy, pasta.

I also noticed that it was not just the servings at the Olive Garden that were big – so were the customers.  In fact, Greg Critser, the noted science and medicine author of Fat Land, tells a story from the 1980s when an Olive Garden customer phoned Ron MaGrauder – the restaurant chain’s then president – to complain that he was too large to sit in the booth and seats at his local Olive Garden.  MaGruder responded as any responsible company president would – he order new over-sized seats so that each of the 256 Olive Garden restaurants in the United States could have three.  Customers get what they want.

And apparently, we want our food big, and our bodies big too.

My Cuban Girlfriend

Finca Vigia

Hemingway's Finca Vigia

“You want a girlfriend?”  I look up, and I guess she is about twenty-two, although if I hadn’t already been here two months I would have gone higher.  Living in Havana is hard, and it shows on everything: the dilapidated cars, the worn brick buildings, the lines and creases on everyone’s face.  She is literally squeezed into a pair of red satin shorts and a pink tank top.  The aesthetic here is not the heroin-chic from up in the States.  Women are big, and strong, and hefty.  The men are lean and emaciated.  It is all backwards.

“You like me, be your girlfriend?” she asks again.  If I said yes, she would immediately pull up a chair and sit silently with me at the table.  In return I would buy her a sandwich – thin flat meat and cheese on white bread.  Back home, it would be a Cuban sandwich. Here, it is a girlfriend sandwich, reserved only for tourists who have no idea what they are ordering, and for girlfriends.

It confused me at first, why  hookers were called girlfriends.  But now I’ve seen enough single, lonely retired US Army officers (you can always tell by the haircut and the tattoos) smoking cigars with a girlfriend half their age to learn the intricacies.  A girlfriend is more than just someone you spend the night with.  You spend time with a girlfriend, perhaps days or your entire stay here.  You treat each other nice – which means you buy her a sandwich (and perhaps food and diapers for her kids), and she gets your rocks off twice a day, no questions asked.

She reaches out and caresses my hand.  “So, you need a girlfriend?”  I shake my head, say “No thanks.”  I look down, staring at the peeling laminated table.  I have learned the best way to make girlfriends go away is to avoid making eye contact.  Two months and I feel that is all I have to say about this place: keep to yourself.

After she leaves, Miguel comes over and brings me a new beer.  I do not even have to ask anymore, he brings them when he sees I have a few sips left in my bottle.  Miguel lives in the hotel, in what he describes as a ‘closet behind the kitchen.’  In the morning he works the lobby bar, and in the afternoon he waits the tables at the outdoor café.  Every day we chat, and he has become the closest thing I have to a friend.  The money he makes he sends to his sister and her family, who live somewhere far from the city, in what I imagine is a picturesque cabana on the beach. When he asks what I do that allows me to sit aimlessly in a hotel bar everyday, I answer that I am a writer.  He laughs, saying, “Every American comes thinking he can be the next Hemingway.”

“I forgot he was here,” I say, which is true.  When I confess that I haven’t written a word since arriving, Miguel volunteers, “You have to go to Casa Hemingway.”  He makes all the arrangements, and two days later I am standing in front of a beautiful, tiny oasis.  Everything is as Hemingway left it when Castro’s regime stopped him from coming.  Miguel is the ultimate of guides, and recounts stories about Hemingway with pride: His record of drinking sixteen Daiquiris in one evening at the El Floridita hotel; That there are eight thousand books lining the walls of the tiny house.  In Miguel’s opinion, it was not depression that caused Hemingway to blow off his own head with a shotgun, but the knowledge that he no longer could come visit this small piece of Paradise. Then he says to me, “My sister lives not too far from here, and she can get us lunch.”  Thirty minutes later we are sitting on the beach, as I had imagined, but in a deplorable shanty. Lunch is a sloppy cheeseburger, so rare that the unkempt mustache I have grown is sticky with the juices.  It is the best burger I have ever had, but I wonder if later tonight if my intestines will implode.

Miguel plays with his nieces and nephews on the beach, while his sister offers me homemade Mojitos, sickly sweet and slowly getting me drunk.  When she asks why I came to Cuba, I pause to think of an answer.

In the States, I had to fight the deforestation of the Amazonian Rainforest, protest oil drilling in nature preserves, and only eat range-free chickens.  I had to do all this, and still eke out a living on 300 word assignments and the occasional feature for a cooking magazine.  It was too complicated, and I felt guilty, mostly for not caring and simply going through the motions.  I figured coming to Cuba I could find some beauty in the Cubans and the nobility of living simply.  Despite the fact I had to sell my car to get here, I realize I have more money in my hotel room than most Cubans will make in their lifetime. Now I realize I have seen Miguel’s sister at the hotel bar, looking for boyfriends even while Miguel waited tables. Part of me is sickened by it, and part of me realizes she does it not because she is lonely, but because she needs to buy diapers. This doesn’t free me at all, but makes me feel even guiltier.

Miguel comes up from the beach, sweating and breathless, and sits down beside me.  “This is paradise, for you, right man?”  I nod.  “I hook you up, help you write, see the real Cuba.”  He leans over and whispers, “And my sister, she’s beautiful, right?”  My stomach churns, not from the hamburger, but from what I know is coming next.

“You need a good girlfriend, keep you happy and help you write.  She’s good for you, I know.”  I realize now that Miguel was not being my friend, but an opportunist.  All three of us sit there, watching the surf, and I look down at my feet.  But that won’t make this girlfriend go away.

Marbles will power the cars of the future!

To me this is reminiscent of the Monsanto House of the Future video – how science will make life better in the future.  Kind of goofy.

But at the same time, this really gets to something that we all feel – the pinch in our pocket at the gas station.  Right now gasoline is one of primary resources used for powering cars, energy plants – basically our lives.  Liquid gasoline is a great fuel source because it packs a huge PUNCH of power with only a gas-tank sized amount (like 200 – 300 miles for a 12-15 gallon tank).  But we all know the drawbacks to burning gasoline.

There are many gases which are not as harmful to the environment as gasoline when burnt – but one drawback to actually putting gas in a our ‘gas tanks’ is volume.  You get fewer particles of something in gas form compared to liquid form.  So we would have to create SUPER HUGE gas tanks (remember the Zeppelins?  Okay, fine, they were filled with gas, not powered by them, but you get the point).  Or find a way to pack more ‘gas’ into a gas tank.  Gases have a very quirky trait:  The gas particles like to hangout against walls (like hoodlums). To be scientific about it, the volume of these gases increases with increased surface area.  So if we could somehow just make gas tanks have more surface area…

A hoodlum gas particle

Nanotechnology to the rescue!  This video does a great job of explaining just how material scientists propose we do that (although the whole An der schönen blauen Donau part at the beginning seems out of place).  I imagine someday when gas tanks will really carry gases, and they’ll be filled with little synthetic marble-like structures that all the hoodlum gas particles gather around.

You know, like in 8th grade.

“If you are in danger and odd-sized, count on me.”

Somewhere along the interwebs I stumbled across Bad Lip Reading Soundbites, and this Michele Bachman “interview.” I watched it three or four times, laughing so hard tears streamed down my face as I thought, “Nothing could ever be funnier than this.”

Then I found the Hermain Cain one.

So, yeah: That is what is wasting my time now….

UFC: Zetas VS Anonymous

Earlier this month, the internet hacking group Anonymous threatened revenge on the ultra-violent, Mexican drug cartel called the Zetas.  Apparently, the death wreaking Zetas kidnapped one of the uber-geeks’ agents in Veracruz, Mexico.  Anonymous has given the Zetas until November 5th to release the agent, or it will attack the drug lords in the only way it knows how – through the interwebs:  Anonymous claims to have the names and addresses of police officers, journalists, and taxi drivers in Veracruz that either work for or protect the Zetas, and promises to make this information public.  “It will not be difficult. We all know who they are and where they are. You made a huge mistake by taking one of us,” it says. “We do not forgive. We do not forget.”

So what does Anonymous get out of this?  The Zetas are former Mexican military operatives, and like most drug cartels, operate above the law.  So there is little hope that the Mexican cavalry will come riding to the rescue.  Instead, experts assume, Anonymous secretly hopes that by releasing the information, other drug cartels competing with the Zetas will do the dirty work. The “An enemy of my enemy is my friend” theory.

Compared to the over 35,000 deaths attributed to the Zetas since 2006, the Anonymous threat to post names and addresses on websites seems anti-climatic.  But it is probably going to be very effective.  Drug cartels are all competing for the same customers – you and me – and whenever an opportunity exists to  break into a new market, they pounce.  Without remorse.  Most security experts agree that other drug cartels will definitely use the information to try and eliminate (no pun intended) the Zeta’s members.

Has Anonymous gone too far?  Until this event, Anonymous toyed with groups over social injustices and claims of censorship:  Shutting down Scientology, attacking Sony and Bank of America, and embarrassing the Westboro Baptist Church.  These stunts were mostly annoying – and in the case of Westboro, amusing.  But on November 5th, Anonymous essentially signs the death warrant for a group of people they have never met.  I have friends and family that work in the US military – and all would rather quit their jobs before being sent to Mexico to do counter-narcotics work.  The Zetas (like most drug cartels) are ruthless (See here.   And here – but be prepared for gruesome).  Believe me, I am not saying the Zeta’s deserve compassion, but part of me thinks this is like releasing Ebola virus to try and fight Swine Flu.  No one is really going to win here.

Except for Anonymous, who will feel even more smug and self-righteous than they usually do – which is saying something.