Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Church Taglines

In Baltimore, and, I suppose, in many American cities, some of the churches don't simply have names, they have taglines:
The Rock Church: A Unique Ministry
Upon This Rock Deliverance Ministries: A Church Determined to Live for Christ [I have seen this tagline on many churches, or used as a slogan for a weeks-long ministry campaign. Also, there was a sign on the church saying, "Salvation is Free," I suppose this is a secondary tagline.]
Mason Memorial Church of God in Christ: God's Only Business is Soul Business
Lion of Judah Worship Center: Home of Total Praise
Eleventh Hour Ministries International: Jesus Can Work it Out
New Union Baptist Church: Come Unto Me [The tagline in blue neon lights; the church building is a beautiful old gray stone structure.]
Spirit of Truth Church: Where Families Come Together
Central Baptist Church: The church where everybody is somebody
Patterson Park Baptist: Where everybody is somebody and Jesus Christ is Lord
[I forget the church this tagline is for.] A place for everyone and everyone in their place

Monday, December 29, 2008

Rather brief update

I wasn't sure what to write, the past three days have been dense. I could just list the things we did, but Matthew's account is quite effective. I'm not very interested in touristy things in general; I wouldn't have come here just for fun. I'm trying to get a sense of the place to see if I want to move here when I grow up, and I don't know a quick and easy way to talk about the things that play into that decision. I'm thinking about:

  • How awesome the lightswitches are (very)
  • How I'd do with the language (it shouldn't be too bad--I'm surprised by how much I'm picking up. I'ma go agglutinate some crap!)
  • How nice the people are (excessively)
  • What the universities are like (hip, but there's not as much English used as I had expected, even in the "English" universities)
  • How easy it is to eat vegetarian (not too hard, except that it's assumed here, moreso than in the states, that everyone wants to devour as much beef as they can get their hands on)

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Layover in London

Matthew and I have arrived in Istanbul. I don't have anything really amazing to report about Turkey so far, because we landed at the airport and immediately headed for our place to stay for this leg of the journey. Couchsurfing rocks. Thanks, Elizabeth!

Matthew and I had a long layover in London, so we went to see Westminster Abbey, but it cost 9 pounds to get in, and I didn't feel like paying that. We saw Big Ben and the Parliament building, then took the Tube (mind the gap) to the British museum, which was closed. Instead, we popped into the Museum Tavern, which opened in, I think, the 1720's, and had a pint of Old Peculiar.

We've been flying British Airways. I've never traveled internationally before, so I don't have much of a standard of comparison, but they're really amazing! I got to watch Curb Your Enthusiasm on the trans-Atlantic flight to London. They gave us toothbrushes and socks! The food was pretty okay, as far as airplane food is considered. I requested vegan meals, and they've done an excellent job of accomodating me.

[Brief editorial note: I normally release posts on Tuesdays at 1 AM. I intend for this to continue; I have one post in the hopper for next week, and I'm working on the next. These posts will be in my normal style. However, during my trip, I'll be posting all willy-nilly, mainly so that you can tell that I'm still alive.]

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Bumper Stickers

Bumper stickers are a peculiar form of communication, because there is barely enough space to introduce a new idea. Instead, normally old ideas are referenced, so I can know the stranger in the car in front of me identifies himself or herself with environmentalism or Wicca or Jesus. Unfortunately, many bumper stickers are obscure enough that I have difficulty comprehending the statement that the stranger is making.

I have, here, recorded a passel of peculiar bumper stickers. I have included explanations for the bumper stickers with obtuse meanings; some, I could not figure out for myself. I would appreciate conjectures from my readers on the meanings of these more enigmatic bumper stickers.

I saw an old car on the I-195 exit onto UMBC with a total of eight bumper stickers, six saying:
  • Go Climb a Rock: Yosemite
  • Underarmour: Run
  • MS Marshall Street Disk Golf [Marshall Street Disk Golf is a supplier of disc golf equipment in Leicester, Massachusetts.]
  • Disk Golfer on Board
  • Rock me sexy Jesus [This is the name of a musical number in Hamlet 2.]
  • Nader-Gonzales '08

The other two bumper stickers depicted:
  • A flower
  • A giant robot destroying a city

I would like to be friends with the driver of this car, if I'm not expected to be excellent at disc golf.

Driving north on I-795, to the Red Robin in Owings Mills, to hang out with Greg:
  • Gwapa Inside [It looked like an Intel Inside sticker. "Gwapa" is Filipino for good-looking, declined in the feminine.]

In San Antonio, Texas, near the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center:
  • In Guad we trust [This is a reference to Our Lady of Guadalupe.]

I forget where I saw all of the remaining bumper stickers.
A bumper sticker:
  • I heart golfing and biking [The heart was faded out.]

I saw a vanity plate:
  • GTD RNK [I like the Getting Things Done methodology; it is unlikely that this has anything to do with this vanity plate.]

One card had a fake license plate mounted above a real license plate. The fake license plate:
  • A map of Africa, on a background of a green, yellow, and red tricolor of horizontal stripes.

The real license plate:
  • Romans 8

I imagine that the driver of this car is an Afro-centric Presbyterian. I would like to be friends with this person.

A bumper sticker:
  • An icon of a fist with lightning bolts, next to the words, "BEW for Obama/Biden"

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Sharon and Wendell

One time about a month ago, I was having a bad anxiety day. I'd been cooped up in my house too much or something, I suppose. I tried all of my tricks for coping. I had a shot of Scotch before heading out to lead a lunchtime Bible study. I played violent video games. I went to the gym. I went to the grocery store and got some King's Hawaiian Sweet Bread and some terrible Knorr noodles. I really needed a shower, but, driving home, I saw my neighbors Wendell and Sharon sitting with John on his stoop, so I stopped and talked with them.

I first met Sharon as I was walking home one day at the end of the summer. Sharon has an ice shaver, so on hot days, she sells snow cones to neighbors at the corner; some people grab a lawn chair and sit in a circle with their feet in buckets of cold water.

I have no idea how this started, but Sharon started telling me about her cousin Rachel. According to Sharon, Rachel wore mens' size 38 pants at age four. Rachel had "a fat head." Rachel's grandmother would pre-chew her food for her until she was six years old. Rachel's teenage brothers would each drink a gallon of milk a day; it was a tough guy thing for them. Rachel drank two gallons a day. Sharon brought a bag of popcorn over one day, and Grandma tried to take it from her, swearing she'd choke. Rachel's grandmother didn't let her go to school, afraid Rachel would come home to find her dead.

One time, there was a home remedies book being passed around and Rachel's grandmother accused the owner of the book of witchcraft.

Wendell has white wisps of hair and black eyebrows and a knobby nose. He told me about some handy home remedies. If you have a boil, you can put a moist tea bag on it and that will soothe it. Mint tea aids digestion. Sassafras tea is an anti-coagulant and also aids digestion. Castor oil, everyone knows, is good for clearing out the colon.

Through all this, John didn't say much. John has a lot of tattoos and two tiny fuzzy dogs.

Wendell says that Barack Obama got elected because it's clear that OPEC chose him as president by driving up gas prices before the election to make people want a big political shift. I forget if Wendell likes Obama or not.

This was about a week after the election, and the state of Maryland had just passed legislation calling for five slot machine establishments to be opened. I asked Wendell what he thought of this. He recalled when the Bay Bridge was opened; it was supposed to be the case that the tolls would be in effect only until the construction was paid off, and then, Maryland citizens wouldn't have to pay a toll, but we still have to pay the toll now. "Where's the money going?" he asked. We talked about the lottery, and how the lottery was supposed to raise money for the schools, but it really just made rich the company that runs it. Wendell doesn't think that the legalization of slots will help all that much.

We talked about the future. Wendell wants to know why we don't have flying cars. There were amphibious cars made decades ago, but those aren't mainstream yet. He's not sure what to think of iPods.

Wendell is disappointed with cloning. Cloning is supposed to give an exact copy, so my clone should be another 23-year old, not merely an embryo that is genetically identical to me.

Wendell has a sixth-grade education, but he's not ashamed of that, because he feels like life gave him the education that he really needed. "I've got common sense," he said. "That's what you really need."

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Why I go to the coffee shop

If a crazy person, in his ranting, were to give me a great idea for a short story, is it ethical for me to write it? Should I give him attribution? This is not a hypothetical situation--I like listening to a troubled friend I met at the coffee shop.

My lab is on a balcony, overlooking the engineering building atrium. When I leave the lab late in the evening, I often see a couple practicing ballroom dance. The man is tall, of medium build. The woman is short and trim, and well-dressed; the man wears a faded T-shirt and khakis. I wonder if one is teaching the other but I can't tell. I never see them dance to music. I wonder if they love each other, or are simply dance partners. I'm up on the balcony, which is good, because I don't want them to know I'm spying on them.

At meeting on Sunday morning, I often sit in the same row as a man who is serious about journaling; he is always writing in his fine leather-bound journal during the service. That is, that was my first impression. Then, peeking down the row at his journal, I saw that it wasn't a journal, but a day planner. I thought, "Who works out their schedule during the sermon?" This Sunday, I sat closer to him than usual, and was able to read the words he wrote. He wrote legibly enough, but the words didn't make any sense together. He's confided in me about how he made a mistake and became embarrassed one time, a couple of weeks ago. Still, I feel awkward asking him why he writes in a calendar during meeting.

At my sister's guitar recital, I saw a man reading the program with the aid of a magnifying glass. I wondered why one girl played a prelude, instead of the whole piece. I always thought that a prelude is an introduction to a longer piece. It turns out that that used to be the case. Now, preludes don't necessarily precede anything, they're just written in the style of the old preludes.

At the coffee shop, one time, I got excited about Sarah Palin and jostled my mug, spilling a little; I got up to get napkins. On my way back, I was stopped by a fellow patron of the coffee shop who told me that I could have gotten my napkins from him, instead of going back to the counter. This gent has a bushy mustache; maybe he's in his fifties. He introduced himself to me as "Cowboy."

"Cowboy?" I asked, wanting to be sure.


I don't think he is, or ever was, an actual cowboy. I wonder if he did something amazing to deserve being called cowboy. I'll ask him how he got his nickname the next time I see him.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Mr Willie

Mr Willie lived on Vincent Street, on the same block as the school that my church runs. He smoked a pipe--this is how I met him. Walking to my car after meeting, I saw Mr Willie sitting on his stoop with his pipe, and I commented that I'm a pipe smoker as well. He told me he was trying to quit. His shoes were falling apart. I told him I would come smoke with him, but I never got around to it.

One night, I was walking home from a meeting at church, and I passed Mr Willie's house. Mr Willie had a friend on the stoop with him, and they were looking up at the sky. In Baltimore, it's never truly dark, so Mr Willie was excited because he could see a star.

One time, I went to a community association meeting for the Mount Clare neighborhood. Mr Willie was, I suppose, the oldest person there, and by virtue of his seniority, he was the one appointed to open the meeting in prayer. Mr Willie's voice was notable, it was boyish and warm. He prayed as if he was familiar with God, as if he really thought that God made the sun rise and the rain fall, and that through this, God would always take care of him.

A representative of Mayor Sheila Dixon's office came to the meeting to encourage us to vote in favor of allowing slot machines. He had hipster glasses, and wore a sweater and tie under his sport-jacket. I wasn't sure what to think because I'm a libertarian, and I think people have a right to do very stupid things, but a government-enforced monopoly on gambling isn't very libertarian. None of my neighbors thought that allowing slots was a good idea. This poor gent from the mayor's office got shouted down by the neighbors, but, then, the head of the community association called the meeting to order. Mr Willie then said, "I remember when gambling was outlawed. What has changed that we should allow it now?"