Friday, November 28, 2008


My father is a faithful patron of the Macey's Thanksgiving Day parade.

Five years ago Dad could hardly sneak in to watch the second half of the parade-- due to his jam-packed Thanksgiving agenda. In order to make good time for this important event, he has learned to rise early, work quickly, and finish all preparations before the sun has fully risen. After speedily massaging the raw, naked fowl and popping it in the oven, he will inevitably go upstairs before any of us are awake and turn on the TV to watch the parade from tip to toe.

"Well it's a BEAUTIFUL Thanksgiving day here in the neighborhood of New York City," says one announcer to the camera. He is wearing earmuffs and a bow-tie.

"Why yes, Stan, it most certainly is," replies the female announcer on his right, "but the air is cleanest on (pause) SESAME STREET. Just look at those muppets!"

As an enormous float bearing Elmo, Oscar, and Big Bird fills up the TV screen, my dad begins his favorite part of Thanksgiving-- the critical commentary:

"Oh ho! Can you believe these guys? Every year they're drunk! They all have hangovers!"

There's a crash of cymbals and a high school marching band passes behind the float.
Bleary-eyed Stan takes the camera again.

"And here is the BEST high school marching band in the country-- they traveled over 2,000 miles from Pennsylvania to be here today. It's their first trip to NYC so we want to give them a warm, holiday welcome to the Big City," he says.
His smile has the odd ability to show all 32 of his teeth.

My dad's favorite part of the critical commentary is not the ridiculously huge floats, the creepy, King-Kong sized balloons, or the annoying circus music. It's making fun of the announcers.

"What?!? Pennsylvania is not 2,000 miles from New York!" He exclaims as if the announcers had done him an incredibly personal injustice. "What did they do? Get lost on the way? Stop in Disneyland first? Psh!"

After the parade is over my father reaches for the remote. As he turns the TV off he wears a satisfied smirk on his lips. For a man not accustomed to criticizing others, yelling at the stupidity of these holiday anchormen and women is a sort of therapy.

Another Thanksgiving Day, under the belt.

Monday, November 17, 2008

No Man's Land

I am an average American. I am an Earth abuser.

While walking on campus the other day, I noticed that the student body had taken upon itself the task of posting cardboard signs on the patio of the TSC. These signs were handwritten, and stated such facts as:

"Americans use 49 million diapers per day!!! Conserve!"


"Have you been drinking out of a plastic water bottle? It's plastic, NITWIT!!! Recycle it!!"

Further down the line, near the salt and pepper shakers were more signs.

"Napkins come from trees! Take ONE please!"

In case you missed the first one, there was another sign posted two feet away that read,


Though I hate to admit it, at this point I was feeling a little annoyed. Don't get me wrong-- I like our planet and think it should be kept in the best condition possible. However, I get a little tired of hearing the same news over and over again. Why don't we ever condemn the millions of people killing Panda Bears and rain forests while taking joyrides in their Range Rovers? Why do we glorify Rambo? Certainly he can take the enemy out with electrical wire and a bazooka, but he demolishes enormous trees with one blast of his machine gun in the process. How many napkins would it take to replace that precious tree, or the panda bear fearfully cowering in its branches? I'm sure that while directing "An Inconvenient Truth," Al Gore probably did not take into account that his $4 mocha latte in its plastic cup was probably contributing to that day's CO2 emissions.
I bet he recycles though.

For all our earnest efforts to stop global warming, America is still stigmatized as an extremely wasteful country-- a label we have no doubt earned. In Washington D.C. I stayed in an expensive hotel that had signs posted near every water spout exclaiming: SAVE THE EARTH. My initial thought was, "That's nice. But how?"
According to this $160 per night hotel, not washing my sheets, towels, and body is a good start.

"Millions of precious gallons of water are wasted everyday on room service..."

According to the statistics on the sign, the water wasted in washing millions of dead skin cells from my bedding is also the same water being stolen directly from the cupped hands of a dehydrated African child. I noticed the sign didn't say anything about the water used in their $20 pots of Earl Grey, nor did it denounce the thousands of plastic cups that are wastefully thrown into the garbage daily. Apparently that is a different kind of water.
I don't mind reusing a towel, but anyone who has seen an episode of CSI knows what resides on every hotel bed. If I am going to pay for room service, I WANT my sheets changed. The malnourished children will never know the difference.

Today I am wearing a shirt that says, "Save the Earth" across the chest. It's only a bit of a fad these days, but as I'm writing this blog I realize it is slightly hypocritical. I purchased the shirt at Old Navy for $3. It was probably assembled in mass quantities somewhere in China, transported by a ship or plane that belched out black smoke in the air or oil into the ocean, and eventually came to rest on my body. SAVE THE EARTH, it says. "Yes, this is a good cause," I thought, as I paid for it with my plastic card.

Tonight as I'm leaving the library I will play the part of the average American. I will finish up this Coke that I am drinking, belch carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and throw the plastic bottle into the garbage.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Above Ground

She was an investment-- a friend that could be purchased with cash and lured into affection with edible reinforcement. Her presence was supposed to be my salvation. I got her in anticipation of my friends dropping off the face of the planet in the desperate hope that her fluffy plumage and bright song would somehow take their place. For the week that she managed to stay alive she did an excellent job. When I came home from class, there she was in her little white cage, pipping and flitting lightly from one perch to the next.

"You got awhat?" my sister exclaimed when I told her of my newest purchase. "A bird? Why a bird?"

Every weekend I volunteer at the local Petsmart and assist with pet adoptions. In my downtime I like to investigate the store, mostly hoping that some new bunnies will arrive, but always making a stop in the bird section to watch the Finches. They are tiny creatures, very versatile, highly colored, and, as I came to discover, each harboring its own unique personality. When I found the little birdcage with the curling white metalwork, I could not resist. I bought the cage, and a little finch to put inside it. I hung the cage from my ceiling and watched the antics of Pip the Finch while I wrote papers, brushed my teeth, talked on the phone, and ate breakfast.

Two nights ago I came home late and crept up to Pip's cage to check on her. I expected to see her sleeping in her little nest. She'd look up at me with a cocked head and sparkling black eyes, I would coo at her, she'd coo back and we'd both go to sleep. Instead I saw her lying on the bottom of her cage, her feet straight in the air, and her feathers askew like she'd just pecked a light socket.

My shaking fingers dialed a number on my phone.

"Hello?" the warm voice of a dear friend was only slightly comforting to my hysterical and slightly dramatic personality.
"Ahhhhh! Pip is dead!! (sob sob sob)"
The mellow voice on the other end tried to talk me through the process.
"You need to take her out of the cage, wrap her up, and put her in a box."
(Sniff sniff)
"Did you do it?"

I never realized how afraid I was of dead things until Pip expired unexpectedly. When I was younger I would pick rotting animals up off the road and bury them with my bare hands. Since that time my resilience has started to wane. I picked up a pencil and poked Pip with the eraser.
"I'm afraid she's going to wake up and start flying around."
The voice on the other line was silent for a moment. "She isn't going to wake up, Jos. Just pick her up and take care of her body."
I tried maneuvering the pencil so I didn't have to touch the tiny, lifeless body.
"Gah! Why can't I do it? It's so hard! I wish I had gloves."
"Jos, just imagine you're not doing it, okay? Just think, it's MY hand picking up Pip."
Grimacing slightly, I reached my friend's hand into the cage and gently picked up my little dead Pip. Her body was almost entirely weightless and she felt soft, downy, and fragile. Using the pencil eraser I stroked her belly. "Oh Pip. Oh Pip, Pip, Pip."

I wrapped her up in a little blanket and placed her in the box-- her tiny sarcophagus, a pygmy coffin. As I began to seal her tomb I stopped. Her left wing, extended, looked flexed, like it could flap and fly about the room on its own accord. I kept the box open all night just in case she decided to ditch her funeral and fly away.