Wednesday, January 24, 2007

I've been meaning to write another hilarious post about my roommate but thinking about death instead. In Iraq last week, an aid-worker named Andi was ambushed outside the office of a Sunni political party; she and three security guards were killed. She was the girlfriend of Mike Hastings, a Newsweek reporter who used to sit in the office next to me. He had planned to ask her to marry him on Valentine's Day.

I barely know Mike, and didn't know Andi at all. But still. It reminds me that behind every death toll figure in the newspaper there is a story like this one, Iraqi, American, or otherwise.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

There's a brilliant piece in The New Yorker this week about Azzam Al-Amriki, a.k.a. Azzam the American, a.k.a. Adam Gadahn. He's a homegrown terrorist, a U.S. national now leading Al Qaeda's media operations from somewhere in Waziristan, Pakistan. Al Qaeda's second-in-command, Ayman al-Zawahiri, calls this American his "brother." He's the first citizen to be charged with treason in 50 years.

This alone is a fascinating premise, but what gives it added depth (for me, at least) is that Adam grew up in Orange and Riverside counties. He lived for a time at his grandparents' house in Santa Ana, only a few miles from Yorba Linda, where I've lived my entire life. He was friendly with radio DJs in Pomona, a dusty college town off the 57 freeway, about a 20 minute drive from Yorba Linda. Before that he lived on a farm in Riverside, where his family raised goats. He fell into the Orange County death metal scene, which he saw as a rebellion against the excess and superficiality of modern culture, converted to Islam at 17 (his father was half-Jewish but became a Christian mystic later in life), and then found Al Qaeda.

The shocking thing is that I'm not all that shocked. For any intelligent, lonely kid with tendencies toward extremism, Orange County is probably the place most likely to awaken them. Especially given the bizarre mix of tract-home SoCal suburbanism and rural homestead goat-farming that he was exposed to. A friend quoted his views on the Southern California sprawl:
"You know, this is crazy. We live out here in this area that's the end of the universe. Most of the people around me are brain-dead, nobody cares about anything that's going on, we're wrecking everything that's good, all the trees are disappearing, everything is being turned into suburbs. I feel like I'm the only one who notices this."
Although it's hard to admit, I find myself agreeing with an Al Qaeda operative.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

An Odoriferous Week

Yesterday all of midtown smelled like gas (the suspect, as usual, is Jersey). Today the elevator in my office smells like Play-Doh. I feel like the guy from "Perfume."

Anyway, I'm realizing that I've been remiss in talking about my crazy roommate on this blog. It'll be hard to catch everyone up, but let's start by saying that he's an OCD-level neatnik. He requested that after I take a shower I splash a cup of water down the tub to wash away any hair or "dead skin cells" that I might have left behind. We bleach the toilet every week, and I'm supposed to use a serving tray when eating food in my room.
There's another side to his craziness, what I've started to call Awkwardness Extreme (A.E.). It's hard to relay; our exchanges usually don't carry the punchiness of the "dead skin cells" comment. But last night there were a couple that I think will translate well to the page.

I get home at about 11:30pm, and he walks in literally 2 or 3 minutes later. In the transcription, CR stands for "Crazy Roommate" and "Me" stands for me.
Me: Hi.
CR: Hi. How are you?
Me: Good. How are you?
CR: Good. How are you?
Me: Uh, you just asked me that.
Now, this is a reasonable mistake. I've done it before. You get on a roll and just don't know when to stop. So I smile as I tell him that he just asked me that, in effect saying, "You just said something silly, and I recognize and embrace your silliness - let's laugh together." I'm giving him a way out. But his A.E. doesn't allow him to take it. He continues.
CR: I know. How are you?
Me: Uh, still good.
I'm still kind of smiling at this point, but the corners of my mouth have begun to drop. Then he just repeats the phrase over and over: "How are YOU? How ARE you? How are you, how are you, how are you?" By this point, I'm no longer smiling. I pour myself some water from the Brita filter and go to my room.

Our doors are next to each other, and if I'm not listening to music or changing I like to leave it open a crack. It's the socialite in me, I guess. I happened to be standing by my open door when he comes into his room. He pauses and turns to me.
CR: Have you ever been in a choral group?
Me: No. Have you?
I assume, naturally enough, that he has, because a) he's crazy and b) why else would he ask me? It's definitely possible that he's got some other peripheral connection to choral groups, or watched one perform recently, or is planning to go to a show, and that this, indeed, is the reason he's asking me. But no.
CR: No, I haven't.
(A pause.)
Me: Uh, so why the question?
CR: No reason.
Me: No reason? None at all?
CR: Just curious.
Me: Just sheer, random curiosity?
CR: Yep.
So either he's honest, and this rand-o question popped into his mind for no Godforsaken reason at all, or he's planning on taking me to an a cappella show for Valentine's Day. I'm so excited.

Monday, January 08, 2007

My second-to-most recent opus, this time on beer. In the magazine it has a pleasant-looking photo of the Utopias and other beers, but the virtual version is virtually bare-bones.

There's a more recent piece about Thermoses, but, well, it's about Thermoses. I value your time enough to not waste it with this trifle.

I have a strange niche writing about liquid and liquid-related products. I aim to break it soon. At lunch, a senior editor joked about sending me to Iraq. I got a little shiver of joy, even though I knew he was kidding.

Friday, January 05, 2007

I just watched the Saddam execution video, and it raised a few questions in my mind:

1. Iraq is a country of violence and social chaos. It is an economic blackhole. So why does some Iraqi guard have a video cell phone so much better than mine? Mine doesn't even capture sound!

2. Is there anyone in the world that a graying beard won't make look more dignified? Saddam's salt-and-pepper hairs are straight out of GQ for Baby Boomers.

3. Iraq is a country of violence and social chaos -- so why did leaders build a whole corrugated-tin execution shack for criminals? Doesn't seem to be getting much use!

Monday, January 01, 2007

From the Too-Good-To-Be-True Dept.

On's Week in Review: "A study found that standard-sized condoms were too large for the men of India. The National Institutes of Health said that circumcision is an effective method to limit heterosexual transmission of HIV, but Kevin De Cock, HIV/AIDS director of the World Health Organization, warned that circumcision was 'not a magic bullet.'"

Point duly noted, Mr. Cock.

P.S. Yes, it's been a while since I last posted. Holidays and what-not. If you sorely missed me (doubtful), I apologize. Otherwise, congratulations on not missing a beat.