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Archive for June, 2007

The Groundhog Beneath My Feet

Friday, June 29th, 2007

There’s a groundhog under my house.

Well, technically it’s not there at this precise moment, but, judging from the gaping hole next to my rhododendron bush, he’s been working on getting his living room in order.

Now, you may be thinking to yourself, “Wait, Elissa, don’t you live in an urban neighborhood full of concrete and cars?” And you would be correct, dear reader. And yet, a week and a half ago, while putting away my gardening tools, I saw a large rodent-like creature scamper across my backyard and scuttle into the narrow space between my neighbors’ houses. It looked something like this:

rozerem.jpg

Thanks to that ubiquitous Rozerem commercial, I initially thought I had insomnia and was seeing beavers. Surely I was imagining things. Maybe it was just a brown possum. But, when Noel got home that night, he saw it too, hanging out in our backyard. Over the last week, the CREATURE — now generally identified as a groundhog — has become the source of neighborhood gossip.

Though frustratingly elusive when it comes to being captured on camera, the groundhog has appeared to almost everyone. And then, today, when I discovered the hole next to our house, I also discovered that the groundhog was not alone. “Girl,” my neighbor across the street yelled out of her window, “are you looking for those creatures? There’s two of them! One in the brush over there and one on that side of the street. Girl, they are BIG and you are small so you be careful.” Oh good, two.

I called Animal Control and was told that they don’t “do” wildlife. They directed me to the Missouri Department of Conservation who, appropriately for their name, said that they don’t “do” groundhogs unless we think it has rabies. We are, however, free to trap or hunt the beasts as we see fit.

And so here I am: on my front porch in the middle of Saint Louis, watching a groundhog and a rabbit waddle and bounce, respectively, in the empty lot across the street. Do my dreams miss me?

Soccer, Marriage, and the Incarnation

Thursday, June 28th, 2007

I am married to a man who loves soccer.

Pop

I myself have always preferred soccer to the ridiculously torpid pace of baseball, the erratic momentum of American football, and the braggadocio of professional basketball, but I never quite imagined living a life that would include:

Now, lest anyone be either too impressed or appalled, I tend to do these things in the company of said soccer fanatic, a state of affairs which makes it all a little less sad and, perhaps, a little more theologically sound.

Marriage is a relationship that can only exist — much less thrive — on a foundation of continual and mutual self-sacrifice. Jesus’ example is clear: by taking on flesh to live and die, He became like those He loved. In ministry, particularly overseas, Christians widely embrace the idea of living among those whom they serve; by eating the food, wearing the clothes, and singing the songs of the people who surround them, they live out Christ’s love. Yet, particularly in my early college years, I worried about ‘losing’ myself when I got married. I saw my identity as something I needed to protect, something that should never really be compromised by a man. I would have, of course, told you that marriage should be a selfless relationship, but I imagined such sacrifice taking place on the more grand and dramatic stage of, say, ‘life goals’ or ‘caring for an ailing spouse.’

Eyeful

What I’ve been learning for the past two and a half years, though, is that the Incarnation is realized most truly in the mundane. It is echoed when I ask Noel to teach me how to punt a soccer ball. It’s knowing — and caring — where Samuel Eto’o plays next year. For Noel, it means asking for rice with dinner or going to a slew of gallery openings.

Pursuing an incarnational marriage means that I’m watching the Copa America tonight — US versus Argentina — and that I can’t wait.

Post-colonializm

Wednesday, June 27th, 2007

Really, this may only be funny to me, but I kind of want it on a t-shirt or something:

hommi k.

Welcome to post-colonial theory for the internet generation.

For background, see lolcats which, oddly enough, led to TheLOLgians and PhiLOLsophers. All this reinspiration via Josiah.

Big Apple Bite

Tuesday, June 26th, 2007

I don’t think I’ve ever done this before in my life but, well, allow me to quote the Beastie Boys:

Brooklyn, Bronx, Queens and Staten
From the Battery to the top of Manhattan
Asian, Middle-Eastern and Latin
Black, White, New York you make it happen.

Picky readers may point out the lack of antecedent for the pronoun “it.” This supposed grammatical failure actually serves as the location for rendering intelligible what the text does not itself think but nevertheless allows to be thought. In this case, “it” refers to the extraordinary happiness experienced by my eyes.

Speckled SerraI only saw a touch of what a first time visitor is ‘supposed’ to see in New York, but my eyes were pleased to see my pile of research multiply, startled by Eric Fischl’s mosaic in Penn Station, refreshed by the mix of ethnicities, surprised by the orange trumpet vines crawling up Astoria apartments, tickled to see a subway mariachi band, delighted to see one of my favorite up and coming artists, excited to meet an art world rising star, and darn pleased to look at a lot of good art.

Thanks, New York. And thank you, too, Beastie Boys.

Hi, I’m a Maaa– (Faint Clicking Noises)

Monday, June 18th, 2007

Dear Apple,

In May 2006, I made the switch from lifetime PC user to buy my first Mac. I was initially delighted with my MacBook; I found it easy to use, wonderfully portable, and chic. Within two months, however, the glow faded. The chic factor was quickly soiled with a stained keypad. Then, right before my first semester of graduate school, my MacBook began randomly and frequently shutting itself down in the middle of working. After several arduous rounds with AppleCare and repeatedly and frustratingly losing work, I had to send the computer in to have the motherboard replaced. While the servicing was successful, I was hardly pleased that my new Mac had so quickly proven even less reliable than my old Dell. Admittedly, the MacBook functioned reasonably well for the next ten months, but, right after passing the one year mark and just prior to an important research trip, the hard drive suddenly and magnificently failed.

While I understand that flaws and breakage are part of technology’s life cycle, I have been sorely disappointed by the quality of your product. Having been converted by your witty Mac vs. PC commercials, I now find myself adding bitter commentary over your satirizing of the PC’s unreliability: “Hi, I’m a Ma…” “Mac? Mac? Wake up?” “Oh, sorry, my year old hard drive just died and had to be replaced.”

I was ready to convert, I really was. After my experienced with this MacBook, however, I will not be recommending your products to my friends who are currently shopping for new laptops. They may be better off paying less money for equal unreliability.

Unhappily yours,

Elissa Weichbrodt

In Loving Memory of Helga

Sunday, June 17th, 2007

In my quest to re-landscape our front yard, I have been making daily morning sojourns to our neighborhood park’s mountains of mulch. One of the perks of living in University City is that they randomly provide free mulch in the community park…towering, smelly piles of woods chips and peat moss created from the byproducts of the neighborhood. Every morning I pull up in our sweet little Jetta, Schmitterling, next to the quivering heaps of organic decay, pull out our two recycling bins and a shovel, and proceed to funnel a corner of a mulch mountain into my plastic box.

Schmitty Among the Plants

I realize, of course, that I look ridiculous. Schmitty is a petite, silvery, and kind of trendy. When she parks next to the other regulars at the mulch pile — the contractors’ white pick-ups, the gardening devotee’s Forerunners, or the occasional minivan with the middle seat removed — she seems pitiably unfit to haul large quantities of gardening stuffs. The contractors and experienced gardeners pitch huge amounts of furry peat moss into their truck beds or specially dedicated army of garden buckets; I precariously toddle about with a canary yellow recycling bin loaded down with wood bits. Sometimes, they look at me sadly, wondering when I’ll realize that my Jetta has no place in the world of committed gardening.

I love Schmitterling, but sometimes, particularly when I am loading mulch into plastic containers, I wonder what life would have been like if Helga was still with us. Helga was Noel’s previous vehicle, a 1994 GMC 1500 extended cab truck, who wore her 100,000+ miles proudly. Helga was big, blue, and big. When I first started driving her, I was slightly frightened; that solid Norsewoman could take a skinny half-Japanese girl any day. Soon, though, we developed a valuable working relationship, together inspiring truck drivers throughout the greater Chattanooga area to commit double takes when they saw us.

Shiny Helga

Helga loved to cart stuff around. She carried Goodwill couches, Bagpipe issues, groceries, luggage, oversized rolls of watercolor paper, and adventurous 2nd South residents in her spacious bed. She would have liked carrying mulch for me, I think.

We’re not sure where Helga is now. The last we heard of her, she was heading south, purchased by a nice Mexican from Atlanta who planned to take her across the border for his family to use. Sometimes I worry about her; how would a northern lady take to the warmer southern climate? Though I can’t say for certain that she’s in a better place, I think she’ll be okay. I still miss her, though, especially among the mulch mountains.

Raising Kids Without Race

Wednesday, June 13th, 2007

Towards the end of the semester, discussion in my 1930s class rabbit-trailed to more contemporary debates that left me uneasy and rather at odds with the practical outworkings of contemporary theories on race. At it’s pithiest incarnation, the question was such: should the white, adoptive parents of a Guatemalan child raise that child to know Spanish? The implications may run deeper than you think.

If you teach a dark-haired, almond-eyed child to speak Guatemalan even though she is living in a Caucasian community, what are you saying about race? Do we assume that, simply because of biology, the girl will have some sort of affinity for the language? If she will never live in Guatemala, is it inauthentic to teach her to like Chiles Rellenos when her adoptive parents just eat steak and potatoes? If you teach her Spanish and culture, are you simply caving to the folks who will profile her by appearance and assume that she must speak another tongue? Are you giving in to racism?
Currently, critical race theory is the defacto position of most academics. It posits that race is purely a social construction that people “perform.” In other words, there are no inherent character vices or strengths that accompany the DNA that makes someone’s skin yellow or hair curly. African Americans are not naturally energetic. Japanese Americans are not naturally conscientious. Caucasians are not naturally adventurous. Instead, any shared characteristics in groups of people who share biological race are the results of social conditioning. I mimic those around me. I act “white” — as I have seen it performed — when I want to be perceived as “white.” I act “Japanese-American” when I am expected to do so.

The attraction of this theory is, of course, that it firmly repudiates the dangerous xenophobic and racist logic of, say, the Third Reich. Where I get stuck, however, is in its actual practice.

We are all culture-bound image-bearers. At first consideration, I suppose that statement could fit nicely with critical race theory. Yet, I wonder if part of recognizing our tie to culture is to acknowledge and confront, rather than theoretically deny, the ways that race has shaped our current relationships. I think it’s worth it for a Guatemalan girl — even one raised in Missouri — to know how cultural, historical perceptions of race play into the ‘need’ for her to be adopted in the first place. It’s worth explaining to her why people might speak slowly and loudly to her and why some day she’ll have trouble finding makeup that matches her skin tone. Can you really raise kids without race?

Noel vs. Spam

Thursday, June 7th, 2007

By now, we should all know that, in Hawaii, Spam holds a place of honor in the local food pyramid. Noel, unfortunately, has yet to embrace the fabulousness of this food product. On this last trip out, Ian hatched a clever plan: challenge Noel to a Halo2 tournament, best of three. If Noel won, Ian would eat borscht. If Ian won, Noel would eat a slice of spam.

Ian won.

A complete lack of sincere excitement

A complete lack of sincere excitement.

It wiggles

It wiggles.

It bends

It bends.

Textural Issues

The first bite.

Ian Celebrates His Victory

Ian lives long and prospers in the wake of his victory.

He is not amused

Sadly, Noel remained unimpressed. Don’t worry; we’ll keep trying.

Drunken Cheers Upon Landing

Thursday, June 7th, 2007

Calling Hawaii ‘home’ clearly has undeniable benefits. Still, you never quite get used to the unusual happenings that accompany the conflation of ‘childhood home’ and ‘dream vacation paradise.’ I may be wrong, but I think it highly unlikely that you, oh native resident of Montana, have ever had your fellow passengers perform the wave during the plane’s final descent.

Great Pacific Adventure

Can you blame them, really?

Usually I enjoy the cabin-wide excitement. I can almost pretend that everyone is thrilled for the same reasons I am: the imminent consumption of manapua, fresh ahi poke, and go lo mein. (They’re not).

This last trip, however, I had trouble perpetuating this suspension of disbelief. The thorn in my alternate reality bubble was the group of thirty-somethings — some guy, his fiance, and a buddy — sitting next to us. Before we had even taken off, the engaged guy (hitherto referred to as Bacardi Bro) and his friend (hitherto referred to as Ginormous) had begun salivating over the imminent full beverage service. “Bro, I can’t wait to get ass drunk!” “Yeah, bro, when are they going to give us drinks?”

Once the beverage cart came around, Barcardi Bro procured two little bottles of Bacardi a can of coke, and a cup of ice. Ginormous (after explaining to us that he was, in fact, the founder and owner of “ginormous dot com” the newest search engine on the block which apparently is now a children’s book publisher…hmm) preferred two little bottles of Jack with his coke. Doubly strong drinks rendered Bacardi Bro and Ginormous incapable of remaining seated. Perhaps they believed that they could absorb alcohol more easily while standing. In any case, Ginormous and Bacardi Bro started a small but cheerful party by the lavatories which, should you be wondering, were also right next to our seats.

Before long, Ginormous and Bacardi Bro had been joined by a small but tightly clad coterie of almost-single women who were also enjoying tiny bubbles at 30,000 feet. More little bottles, more cokes, a few beers, and a few hours later, Bacardi Bro and Ginormous were still going strong. “Bro,” Bacardi announced loudly to the cabin in general, “I cannot WAIT to get drunk in Hawaii!”

So, to no one’s surprise but his own, Bacardi Bro was soon told that he and Ginormous were being “cut off” from any more alcohol. Ginormous handled this news relatively well — after all, he had already stashed an extra Jack in his shorts’ pocket — but Bacardi Bro was crushed. He simply could not fathom the inhumanity of being forced to spend the final hour and twenty minutes of the flight without another beer. This, too, could not be handled sitting down. Bacardi Bro swore, volubly, that he was far from intoxicated. He tried to get someone — anyone — else on the flight to order him another beer. After a quick smoke break in the lavatory, he resumed his pleas undiminished.

It was a long hour and a half for all of us.

After enduring Bacardi Bro’s incessant patter and very vocal longing for more alcohol, it was difficult to tell if the communal cheer upon landing was in celebration of Hawaii or in rejoicing over our imminent separation from Bacardi Bro. Of this I am sure: if Bacardi Bro and Ginormous have their wish, they may not remember much of their Hawaii vacation. As for me, things could only get better from there. And they did.