Monday, October 19, 2015

Previously Me

From around the ages of 5 to 7, my mother had this annoying habit of refusing us kids the chance to get out of bed in the morning on weekends when we were dying to get up and watch cartoons. The rule was that we had to wake her up and ask her permission first before we could turn on the tv. And if she said "no," then we'd have to return to our beds and simply lie awake there until she deigned to get up herself and grant us our freedom. Problem was, my mother was a very heavy sleeper and a notorious late riser. She sometimes didn't wake up until just after noon!

This was extremely frustrating to me, obviously, but it also allowed me time to sit in bed for hours and ruminate on life's big mysteries. No, seriously, I spent a lot of time in my head in those early years when my mom was still alive and oversleeping on weekends. At that time, I only just recently became acquainted with the concept of God, and that his scary long-haired, mustachioed son had been murdered and nailed to wood planks for something that was supposed to be good for all of us. 

Dudes! WTF, seriously? Jesus!

Seemed crazy to a kid like me in those days ... but then, I already knew by that point that the adult world made no damn sense! So I just filed this away among more crazy shit adults believed in that didn't seem to reconcile with my uninformed view of the world around me.

So, hence, while I would wile away the Saturday morning hours in bed, I would attempt to make sense of said world in my own precocious way. Many of my ruminations have long since been forgotten. Or, in some cases, my conclusions were too embarrassing for me to want to admit to nowadays. Such as the morning I thought to myself: Is baby shampoo made from real live babies?

But sometimes my mental wanderings lead to more ... philosophical territory. Such as the morning I tried to understand what happened to people when they died. Informed, no doubt, by the passing of my youngest brother a year prior; and also fueled by the recent indoctrination, on mother's decree, of us kids into the Catholic church (something we were not born into, since her own upbringing was Presbyterian) -- I can see now why it was supposedly so important to little 5-year old me to ponder this concept. Where did we go after we die, anyway?

In my little mind, I imagined a ghost like figure rising up from the deceased body it had just inhabited, and heading toward the sky where I believed God was supposed to live. I think I had seen this allusion once in a Bugs Bunny cartoon, and so the visual vocabulary was already imprinted on me. Up and up the ghost of the dearly departed would rise, and then an old man sitting on a cloud would lift up a finger to stop its ascent, before pointing back down the opposite end of the cloud to the Earth spinning below. And down that spirit would plunge ... down, down, down, returning to the ground where a baby was just being born. And into that baby the spirit would dissolve, and the newborn's eyes would open to the world for the first time.

Now, everyone I tell this story to these days think that I'm full of shit! That a little 5-year old boy, without any knowledge of other world religions, could have possibly thought up the theory of reincarnation all by himself.

And yet, I say to this: where in all that did I just say I invented the concept? Given the fact that more than one culture on this planet firmly possess the belief system that our souls are engaged in a constantly moving wheel of birth, life, death, and rebirth: did it ever occur to anyone that a child with a significantly curious and open mind might just tap into something that, to him, is just an obvious forgone conclusion? That, perhaps, he was just awakening to a realization that should have been as natural to every other human being as the sun rising each morning?

For me, I thought I figured it all out. And it wasn't until some years later when I was a 'tween of about 11 or 12, that I discovered other, more ancient, peoples had already beaten me to the punch! And that this so-called theory of mine was in fact called "reincarnation."

Something quite like this.

Scary, no? It makes me think that maybe, just maybe, there may be some truth to all this.

And if so, then what about our past lives? Do we have them? And if so further: is it possible to remember them?

I honestly don't claim to know the answer for sure (heh, heh), but I suspect it might be true.

But I'm also crazily intrigued by the possible lives my particular "soul" has lived. I can't quite put the finger on why exactly, but I get this sense that my soul has been wandering this planet for a very, very long time. It's a feeling I've had since early in my childhood. I've always had this "world weary" heaviness in my heart, like as if I've been through the ringer and back again -- and this was clearly before even all the major bad shit that was yet to happen to the younger me in this current lifetime occurred.

So what have I done in my previous lives. Who was I, and did I lead mostly good lives instead of bad over the millennia? I do get the feeling that, before this life, my soul hadn't been in circulation for centuries. Like as if the last time I was human was back when the center of the world was still in the Middle East. Who knows, maybe I did something so bad back then that I had to spend the next 400 to 500 years as various forms of insect before I could eventually work my way back up to human form. Exciting, eh?!

Was I a feared marauder of villages?

Who knows? It's possible! And maybe that will be a blog post ... for another time, eh?

And what about you? Do you have an old soul? Or do you feel like a Spring chicken in this game of (eternal) Life?

Let me know in the comments!

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The Have Some Have-Nots: Or, The Rise Of The Privileged Poor

So, yeah, I think I just came to the realization that I did all 4 years of my undergrad college life completely and utterly WRONG!!!

After reading this New York Times opinion piece on "the privileged poor" who benefit from going to elite high schools before entering college. Having read that piece, and seeing the research and statistics which fueled the author's opinions, I'm faced with the startling realization with what was wrong with my transition to the elite liberal arts college I attended. I'm upset at myself, mostly, as these conclusions shed light on a few troubling moments during my 4 years spent going to school in Northern Vermont. Moments with which I wish I had conducted myself better, and for which I'm also ashamed of my behavior. But in my defense, this article also shows that perhaps I was not entirely to blame.

Seriously, you should go read it. Here's an excerpt:

"My research shows that, on average, half of the lower-income black undergraduates at elite colleges today come from private high schools like Andover and Dalton. As early as middle school (and sometimes sooner), students participate in programs like Prep for Prep and A Better Chance. These programs remove lower-income students from typically distressed public schools and place them in predominantly white, resource-rich, affluent private schools. Elite colleges effectively hedge their bets: They recruit those already familiar with the social and cultural norms that pervade their own campuses.
"As a sociologist, I study this new diversity at elite colleges. I call lower-income undergraduates who graduated from private high schools the privileged poor. Although they receive excellent educations, my research shows that their ability to navigate the informal social rules that govern elite college life is what really gives them advantages relative to their lower-income peers who did not attend elite high schools, those whom I call the doubly disadvantaged.Although also academically gifted and driven, they enter college with less exposure to the unsaid expectations of elite academic settings."

Basically, the author comes to the conclusion that, although many universities across the country have gone to great lengths to diversify their student bodies since the late 1990s when I graduated college, that in effect they "cheated" by selecting many of their so-called "minority" students from already top-tiered, or elite, private high schools. Such students, while coming from severely disadvantaged backgrounds and upbringings compared to their more affluent classmates, nonetheless benefited from having spent one to four years prior to college immersed in a rigorous, challenging, and ultimately enriching academic regimen alongside their wealthier peers. And so, when it came to attend college, these "privileged poor" students were in effect already well trained and prepared for the culture of university life. That's the whole point of "prep schools" after all; to prepare students for college.

Elite high schools like this in the Bronx are now accepting
more black and Hispanic students into their campuses.

And then there's me, part of what the author calls the "doubly disadvantaged" crowd. All my life I was considered exceptionally gifted academically, but somehow or another always managed to escape being placed in an elite pre-university school. I was a minority, raised and living in poverty--in one of the most dangerous and economically deprived districts in the country--but whom also, despite earning excellent grades, always remained in public schooling straight on up until senior year of high school. I actually know why this happened, but I won't get into it now. Suffice to say that I did very well in public school, but was always bored by the material. I never truly felt challenged.

However, something more sinister was at play behind the scenes than mere boredom. Unbekownst to me, you see, I was missing out on key expectations required of me. To wit: I was not receiving the proper training to navigate through the complex social and academic circles of higher education. Skills you must have once you leave public schooling behind.

In public school, everything was handed to me. Things were "dumbed down," if you will. We were told what to do, and how to do it. Tests were merely regurgitating, in precisely the manner you were previously shown, every little minutiae of data taken from our teachers and text books on any given subject. More importantly, at least for me, there was always this barrier I felt between the students and the faculty. We never saw them outside of the classroom. When the bell rang, they all but vanished into smoke--or to the teacher's lounge, to be less dramatic, or wherever it is that the teachers in my high school went. And even those who were ostensibly available, most of us students did not feel welcomed to go up to them after class and ask for help. In my case, I didn't even know I should ask for help. The impression was that so long as you simply memorized everything you were given in class and applied it directly to any test, you would succeed.

Charter schools like this one in Brooklyn offer sometimes the
only alternative to the horrid public school system
in NYC for disadvantaged youth.

And I did. That's exactly how I aced through my entire four years of high school. By some pretty nifty feats of rote memorization, a skill I was naturally gifted with.

But then came college, and everything changed. Due to my grades and test scores--and thanks in no small part to the fact that I was a much sought-after minority element for universities to tout--I received a full ride to a handful of prestigious universities. Nothing on par with the Ivy Leagues, mind you. I wasn't that industrious, after all. But very decent schools with well-known reputations. And best of all, the school on the very top of my list wanted me! I was high on myself around the time when school acceptance packages were coming through the mail like clockwork, addressed to me. My time had come!

But, of course, the reality of college quickly brought me down to size. Looking back at it now, I can't believe how young and unprepared I was. I took so many things for granted in high school, that when I started to screw up royally in my college pre-med courses, I had no idea where to turn. I honestly retreated within myself, blaming my own shortcomings for why I couldn't adapt to the work. And the worst I did in these courses, the more withdrawn I became. My academic advisor constantly tried to make me aware of his availability, but I refused his offers of help as a sign of weakness. I thought I should be able to handle my own affairs on just that -- on my own! It never once occurred to me that, unlike in high school, college professors and advisors welcomed students to seek out their help and advice.

Many minority students feel lost and underrepresented at
top-tier college campuses.

And this is the first tier of my shame. For rather than see the outstretched hands of support from faculty members as welcoming, my pride made me see it all as an insult to my intelligence. I mistrusted adults in the position to offer me the academic guidance I needed. I shunned them! And as a result, my grades continued to suffer and I ended up dropping out of pre med. I would eventually switch to a different course of study at the college (after coming very close to flunking out), and was then able to flourish. It took a great paradigm shift on my way of thinking about my potential employment future for it to happen, but it did. And I was a better student for it.

But unfortunately, it did nothing to address the original problem. And worse yet, it was a problem I didn't even know I had. Asking for help. I never did get the hang of it. And it causes me no end of embarrassment to this day when I look back at some of the pretty boneheaded mistakes I made with my academics during those four years.

For one:

Around once every semester I would have to meet up, in a private office, with representatives from the various scholarship funds and trusts paying my way through college. As someone living off the pension of his grandmother, I had to rely on almost total financial aid support just to be able to attend the elite private university I had chosen. At that time, the price tag for a year's tuition and board was roughly $29,000 per year! It has since nearly doubled at the same institution, by the way. Ouch!

So, part of the stipulations of my financial aid package was to meet up with these representatives so that they could assess me and evaluate how I was doing. But I didn't take it as such. Without having any prior reference as to what such arrangements were like, I thought I was being accused of not deserving the aid I was receiving. And so I went into these meetings extremely closed off and mistrusting. I gave straight-forward, perfunctory answers to direct inquiries only. I made almost no small talk, and rarely even made eye contact. I must have been deemed autistic or severely socially stunted by those conducting the interviews, I must assume. Little did I know that I should have been using these moments to build relationships out there in the working world. To make contacts, set up internships, etc. Instead, I must have come across as an ungrateful little snit!

Ugh! I hate myself for being so naive back then.

Another embarrassing example, perhaps even more so than the one I've just outlined:

Is when it came time to write my senior thesis paper. I had a very good thesis advisor--a professor I knew very well and liked a lot--and yet I almost never went to see him to discuss my progress. Yes, that's right! In the three or four months it took me to research, outline, and ultimately write my 100-page thesis, I probably saw my advisor a total of 3 times! To be fair, he did seem rather concerned, and rightly so. But as I kept assuring him that I didn't need his help, and because I had already previously demonstrated a certain high level of writing skill in his classes, he chose to take my word for it. Which would explain the look of alarm on his face, then, upon calling me into his office to tell me the grade that had been reached by the board on the thesis. He said: "I know this isn't the grade you were expecting," and he seemed so worried that I would be upset.

And yet, I was ecstatic! All I cared about at that point was getting a passing grade on it and being able to graduate. It never occurred to me that the look on my advisor's face was there because he feared he had not done right by me. He thought he had failed me. Me!!!

It took me many, many years before I figured this out. And for that I am ashamed. In my entire 4 years at that college, I never did learn how to ask for help. I never learned how to recognize and appreciate the resources and opportunities I had available to me. When faced with the often bizarre and strange system of higher education, instead of seeking clarification I simply withdrew within myself and tried to "tough it out." Toughing it out, you see, was a skill you needed to learn early on in the streets of the South Bronx. You needed it to survive living on welfare, and dealing with tragic deaths and the loss of your parents. To dealing with abject poverty, disease, and drug abuse all around you. You learned to keep you nose down, your mouth shut, and to focus only on making it through to the next day.

All the survival skills you DID NOT need at college.

But once there, that behavior was my fallback. I wanted no fuss, no muss. I just wanted to do my duty and get the hell out of there in 4 years with a piece of paper in my hands as proof that I had made it. And all this because public school had never showed the faith in me to believe I would even go so far as college, and therefore did not care to structure an education around the preparation for such a career.

I thought this was the end-goal. Nothing prepared me for
what was to come next.

The public school system of the inner city is designed to do a civic duty in show only. It says: There, you're in high school, idiots. Now go ahead and cut class, get pregnant, and drop out of school like we know you will! Go ahead and prepare for incarceration, and become useful members of the industrialized prison labor force complex. This is all that you're good for. And if you do ... if you do somehow manage to go to college, prepare to be unprepared, and screw that up as well. We double dare you. We want you to fail! Which is why some days I believe I only made it to where I am by sheer, dumb luck. Or maybe by stubbornness; an inability to allow myself to fail.

But mostly, I know, I made it because I know that despite my anti-social ways, there were always people along the way in a position to help me out, and to do so. They probably gave me too much credit, I think, and which is why most of them accepted my excuses and allowed me to keep mostly to myself those 4 years. But they tried. And yes, I know exactly who they are in this case. And I appreciate all that they tried to do for me.

But, yeah, I was never the privileged poor. I was the "doubly disadvantaged," as the article states. And while colleges may wish to pat themselves on the back for the great strides made in welcoming more and more disadvantaged youths like myself, more work needs to be done to actually acclimate those students from poor backgrounds to the weird and overwhelming strangeness of college life.

Take it from me: it's not always an issue that's simple to observe, nor elucidate.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

More To Say On Introversion

*gulp* It's getting tight in here. Halp!!!

At the very tail end of 2014, I wrote this blog entry describing why "I am the way I am." Among other things, I took the time in said entry to go on about this idea of introversion. About how it's not the absence of social skill, nor is it the fear of interaction. But in fact, an introvert is someone who feels drained of energy when interacting with large groups of people in a social setting. Particularly if those people are not close loved ones or friends.

I've been thinking about that blog entry a lot because of a recent experience I had over the 3-day holiday weekend. While attending a BBQ/cookout being thrown by my sweetheart's parents at her childhood home this Labor Day, a bunch of us started debating the latest big-issue topics of the day. Stuff like Transgenderism, Black Lives Matter, the Kardashians ... and other very important subjects. Now, I must preface all that I'm about to say by first revealing that these people are all close to me. They're like my second family, and I've known them for going on two decades now.

I mention this just so you know how important this detail is to someone like me. For had they been all strangers, or even co-workers, I would have run fast for the hills the minute even a whiff of these topics became apparent to me. As a rule, I know better than to engage people I barely know on the topic of politics, religion, or race relations. I usually clamp shut and then excuse myself at the first opening that presents itself. And if you happen to press me for an opinion before I can make said escape, I quickly resort to canned, flippant remarks that are easy to digest and does not commit me to any one side or another. I'm very good at this, in fact. And it's a sure sign I don't want to engage when I'm being joking or sarcastic.

I'm ninja at escaping parties!

But, anyway, going back to the discussion me and around four other adults were having ... one of them decided to call me out for not contributing. This invariably happens every time we all meet up: they talk, and I listen. Hey, I can't help it: it's my natural state to revert to! But I feel that not everyone understands this about me. My sweetheart does, but no one else at this gathering really *got* this about me. So the perception was that I must be too timid or shy to butt into the conversation and interject my own feelings into the mix.


Oh, you foolish summer children. How little you understand!

I already mentioned it above, but I'll reiterate again: it's my default setting to simply listen in on conversations. I do it so automatically that I don't even know I'm doing it most the time. And while I'm listening, it doesn't even once occur to me to offer up my own thoughts on a subject.

Now, why do you think that is? Do you, like most people, assume that it is because I'm afraid? Does it appear that I think so little of myself that I assume my opinions are not important? Holy SHIT! You couldn't be further from the truth!

Here's the deal: I remain silent simply because I *like* keeping my thoughts to myself. They are private for a reason. I don't want people getting into my head unless I'm very intimate with them. Even my own family members don't get the privilege of hearing exactly what goes on in my mind. To be honest, only people I'm extremely connected with either on a mental or physical level (or both) get to see this part of me. These people include my two best friends whom I've known since childhood, my ex wife (once upon a time), and my current sweetheart ... whom I consider my best friend of all!

Why should this be, you might be asking? Simple, really. I just happen to be intensely private. I'm generally low key and calm of temperament. In fact, I'm probably the most unassuming, relaxed person I know. It's a state of being I come by quite naturally, and I've been this way even since I was a baby I've been told. So I'm quite sure I was born this way. And one of the ways I maintain this constant low stress zone is by employing the trick of letting everyone else around me speak themselves silly while I relax in the background and soak it all in. I soak in so much that I quite literally forget to speak myself, that's how absorbed I am in the conversation! It never occurs to me to contribute, because I simply don't care to rise to the bait. It's not a need of mine when in a social gathering. In fact, insomuch as I do contribute anything to a group conversation, it's simply as a means to be social and "play nice" with others.

Add to this, also, the fact that I usually wait very late into a conversation to add anything of my own. This is because I'm extremely meticulous and thorough in most everything I do, and the one way this manifests itself during debate is to first gather all the clues and opinions of those around me so that I ken the grift of the conversation -- which way the wind is blowing, so to speak. And in this matter I ensure that, when I do eventually speak, it's with all the facts gathered into my possession first. Of course, what usually ends up happening is that by the time I reach this point the topic has changed. And so I have to wait all over again until I hear everyone else out first.

In retrospect, this sort of behavior could be quite off-putting to others sitting around me. I would hazard to say it might even strike some as annoying! Oops. Hey, it's just the way I am.

Now ... back to the barbecue and the conversation that was raging around me. So this one person calls me out for not contributing, and pretty much demand that I let it be known how I felt on the subject currently under discussion. And so I decided to give it. But before I could, others in the group shouted over me to voice their own opinions. And when that happened, I immediately stopped and waited. It's what I do. When others start getting loud and boisterous, my instinct is to freeze and wait them out. Why? Because past experience has taught me that you only make a fool of yourself if you try to talk over other people talking over you. It ends up looking like a shouting match, and that's just a damn waste of energy if you ask me!

What this girl is thinking is my Shangri-la.

So I waited. Twice more when the noise level died down I tried to resume what I was saying, only to have the same offenders do it again. Seems rude, doesn't it? Well it would to me, too, except that these were close friends of mine. Like family, even, remember? And in that case, I don't mind. Plus, I'm far from one to shout other people down into submission. That is simply not who I am. I'm not rash like that.

I mean, what do you expect me to do? Jump up, shout and holler, and demand that I be heard? Pffft! You have a better chance of convincing a Republican that systematic and widespread oppression still does exist in this country despite the abolishing of slavery 150 years ago. (see what I did there?)

Anyway, I waited a second time until the flurry of pontificating died down. Then the original moderator insisted that I say my peace at last, and so I did. It was no big deal. I said what I had to say, engaged in a little back and forth to affirm my position, then said no more. But it strikes me as odd that this would mark me as shy, which is the feeling I got from this group.

Shy? Shyness had nothing to do with it, good people. I'm an introvert, don't you get it? And forcing me to be more than what I am is just folly on your part. I think this attitude must drive extroverts crazy, because they just have to find some other way of spinning this natural state of mine. Like the shaming of naturally skinny girls I mentioned in my previous blog entry, these people just can't accept that this is *my* natural state. They feel the need to assign some other impetus toward this apparent aberrant behavior. And I suppose convincing oneself that I'm shy rather than noncommittal is easier to accept, isn't it?

Typically me at a party.

Still, at the end of the day it was all a friendly family gathering. Not one of these people were monsters, nor were they being mean toward me. It's just that they are loud, fiery debaters and ... I'm so not. I hold my cards close to my chest, and when I do play them, it's not to dominate a conversation, but to let you in behind my barriers. So you can see, viewed that way, why I don't engage very often. The barriers only get dropped around those I'm most intimate with. I.e., those I trust the most.

But not everyone feels this way. If you would like to tell me how it is you approach social gatherings where debating of the hot-button topics is going on, do so in the comments below. Do you consider yourself an extrovert, or an introvert? I would love to know!

Friday, August 28, 2015

Real Women Have Curves

I *hate* this phrase! Or, rather, how it's being misappropriated by a certain younger portion of the population these days.

I think it's about time I address it. This particular saying that's been gaining traction in recent years, partly in reaction to the rail-thin and often anorexic-inducing trends in the fashion industry. Mostly the professional advertising segment of said industry, which includes modelling.

Now, see, I'm fully behind the idea that women should not feel pressured into looking a certain way. Reducing a person's self worth to how they look on the outside, and ignoring what they have going for themselves on the inside, is a dismissive attitude that can do a lot of harm. People should feel good for what they are, not how they look. This is true, of course, on a general level. Come on, we all know this!

But what is the saying "real women have curves" really about? Is it giving fatty Americans and women from other Western, industrialized nations free license to revel in their largeness? No. If you think that, then you are simply not getting it. The message. Which is, to wit: that it's okay to be naturally not-thin. That's it in a nutshell. And so if she has a bit more cushioning, what's it to you? If she's comfortable with herself, why are you trying to make her feel bad for not being a rail-thin Barbie doll? And I say women only because the phrase itself is being gender-specific. Yet we all know that this issue is not assigned to women alone. Men suffer with body image as well.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The "S" in Summertime is for "Sweating"

At least, this used to always be the case for me.

Confession #1: I hate to sweat! It's really uncomfortable, especially for a neat freak like myself.

Confession #2: I've never revealed this, but my discomfort from sweating is actually one of the major factors for why I claim to hate summer so much. It really is my least favorite season.

So, you see, many years ago when I was a wee lad, I got a summer job working in the produce section of a high-end supermarket in the upper east side of Manhattan. To walk there from the subway, however, took 20 minutes -- part of which was uphill. That summer was also one of the hottest on record. And at that time I still lived at home with my grandmother, which meant no AC whatsoever to come home to after a hard day at work.

I think you get the picture.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Update On The New Camera

It's been around three months now since I decided to pursue this new hobby, and I have to say things have been progressing rather nicely in terms of my education on the basic points of digital SLR photography. You may recall back in April I bought myself a used entry-level camera--the Canon "Rebel" T5i, to be precise, with 18-55mm IS STM lens--for the purpose of teaching myself how to take better photos.

And it's been a whirlwind of discovery ever since! I've attended a couple of 3-hour entry level courses offered by Canon themselves, but for the most part I've been practicing all on my own, reading everything I can get my hands on and watching just about as many Youtube videos on various photo taking techniques as my brain can handle without melting. It's been crazy!

But slowly I feel that I'm starting to get the hang of things. Around 2 weeks after starting to use my DSLR cam, I switched from automatic settings to using semi-manual controls--what Canon calls its "Creative Zone." Around one week after that, I forced myself to venture into full manual mode, supposedly as the professionals do. Although, to be honest, I find that my favorite mode to sit on is "Aperture Priority," which allows you to fiddle with the lens opening on the fly, but lets the camera handle the shutter speed. I still manually select the light sensor sensitivity, though--aka, the ISO. I've been told to go ahead and leave that on auto, too, but I sometimes like to leave the sensitivity low even when there is not a lot of ambient light around. For artistic reasons and, frankly, because, the look this achieves is just my personal taste.

Monday, July 6, 2015

'Cause I'm Close To The Edge ....

Looking back on my life recently, I startlingly came to the following realization:

I don't like doing what's expected of me, or taking the easy way out.

As I focused on this concept and really thought it through, it became increasingly clear just how much of my life has been dictated on this principle. It's actually scary, and it forces me to examine a lot about motivation, ambition, and drive -- or at least why I don't seem to have much of any of these things anymore. It's a sobering realization to come to, I must admit, and may even be my undoing.

Basically, it starts with my father. Yes, that old chestnut. Look, I really don't want to kick a dead horse. I've covered this subject many times on this blog already, so I won't be rehashing any of that. Most of you already know the most salient point, to wit: my father was a lazy bum who couldn't stay true to one woman, nor be there for the three boys he had with her.

Typical deadbeat dad scenario, no?

What does this have to do with me? Well, knowing this about my dad, from a very early age I made it my goal in life to never be like him. Where he was lazy and uneducated, I strove to be the best in my class and to always be a hard worker. I was quite good at my studies as a kid, even math. It was easy, actually. Whenever I felt myself slack off in school, I remembered my dear ol' dad -- and, boom! Suddenly there was my motivation to be different. And the thing is, growing up as a mixed Caucasian/Latino kid in the South Bronx, whose mother was on welfare ... see, no one ever expected much of me. In school I was the quiet, unassuming kid. I interacted with NO ONE! I simply did what was expected of me and went home to where I could just be myself and no one would bother me. I was the UNSEEN in class, and so this had the consequence of everyone around me underestimating me and writing me off.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

My New Sports Crush

With all the news on tv lately about the success of the US Women's National Team at the 2015 FIFA World Cup, I suppose it was only inevitable that my old sport's crush, Olympic Ice Dancing gold medalist Meryl Davis, would be supplanted by someone off that roster. And so it has happened.

Meet my new, new sport's crush:

Oh, Christen Press. Why have I not known about you until now?

Perhaps it's because I barely watch men's soccer, let alone women's? Except at the Olmpics, or at the FIFA World Cup, that is. And so I suppose this makes sense, then. But I only started watching this particular cup last week when the American women's team went up against China. Being that China is my second country (adopted), I was more than a little invested in this match-up. I still wanted the USA to win, of course. And win they did! But it was during that game that I learned a little about Ms. Press:

At first I tried to ignore 26 yr old, 5ft 7in, Ms. Christen Annemarie Press, one of the national team's skilled Forwards. Just another sweaty face on the team, I thought. But when they started airing interviews of her off the grass and before the game, that's when I noticed two things:

1) Just how striking she looked (longish, angular face; thin athletic build; cute mouth and wondrous smile; and -- omg, those green eyes! *swoons*); and also

2) How personable and humble she seemed.

I don't know about you, but something about that combo just gets me EVERY TIME! More so the down-to-earthness of a gal. I hate arrogant, snobbish people. And in athletics, that's pretty much anyone good enough to play on the national or world level.

But not Christen Press. Something about her is just so endearing. She captivates me! And as if to hammer the message home even more, just this past weekend I saw one of her Coppertone commercials air for the very first time. Must be due to all the hype about the World Cup. Here it is:

There? Do you see what I'm talking about? Full on CRUSH!!!

How can you even question it? Does she not just melt you all the way through to the core? Well, maybe not -- if you're not me. But still! :)

Anyway, I'll be sure to watch more women's soccer now. I'm especially excited our national team is in the semifinals and going up against Germany tonight, of all teams. It's *always* Germany, isn't it? And in the meantime, as I am wont to do, I'll leave you with more Christen Press:


Oh, and ...  ... GO USA!!!

And just for good measure, here is one last video - an interview with Christen and her World Cup teammate, Kelley O'Hara. I love this clip so much!

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Introducing My New Hobby

So, this happened.

I've always been drawn to taking pictures. I'm old enough to remember the joy of taking Polaroids as a wee lad for my first venture into this field. In college I carried around a basic film-based camera, and all the joys that entailed. And for about two decades after that I used various digital point-and-shoot cameras of ever increasing megapixel count. Then, of course, there's the advent of the smartphone, which more and more lately is how I snap the majority of my pics.

But now, I've graduated to the next level. Yes, over the weekend I purchased my very first Digital SLR camera:

I haven't undertaken this endeavor lightly, mind you. I don't intend to just put this camera on the shelf, and only bring it out during family events and the odd holiday overseas. No. I want to put this baby to use! I want to travel all over this great big city I live in and engage in a new art form. Yes, I see this as art, not unlike painting or writing. Another outlet to unleash my creativity, along with my writing. I think it's a great idea, and I'm very excited.

The Canon EOS "Rebel" T5i, or so I've been told by those in the know, is a perfectly good camera with which to begin and learn on. As a neophyte to this level of photography, I must admit to being just a tad intimidated. But I plan to learn as much as I can. To that effect, I've signed up for two entry-level seminars which cover the basics of DSLR photography. These are three-hour classes which I plan to take back-to-back on the same day. I figure I'll take copious notes and ask around a hundred questions. That's the ticket!

Once I'm as comfortable as can be with the basic functions of my camera and rudimentary composing techniques--as well as photo editing--I think I'll spend the following months over the summer visiting different places in New York for prime photo taking. I'll probably look suspiciously like a tourist, but you know what? I don't care. At least this will get me out and about more, and not cooped up in my apartment. In this sense I'm lucky the weather is just now becoming mild and beautiful out there. Something tells me I'll be spending a lot time walking through many of the local parks with my camera in hand.

Some point later, and once I've become very familiar with my T5i, I think I'll enroll in an actual photography course here in the city. I found a 9-week one geared towards the budding amateur photographer such as myself.  That's the plan anyway. Wish me luck!

And in the meantime, here are a few test photos I took with my brand new camera. These were taken in a friend's garden earlier today. I was testing out the macro settings, specifically, and figured some close-ups of pretty Spring flowers were in order:

Not bad. I'm already noticing a substantial difference between this camera and my previous Sony point-and-shoot purchased 5 years ago. These test shots have got me pumped to learn how to use this DSLR properly for more advanced capturing.

Oh, IT'S ON!!!

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

A History of Violence

When I was around 4 years old, my mom stopped a friend on the street and began to chat her up for minutes on end. This friend had a much younger son with her, around 2 years old I believe. My brother and I walked off ahead, farther down the block, and this little boy followed us. Bored, and with no one paying attention to us, my brother and I decided to turn the corner and relieve ourselves against a nearby wall.

It's a boy thing.

And we were 3 and 4 years old apiece, remember. Laughing, the little boy tried to imitate us, but he had a hard time getting his pants down. I helped him, pulling them down to his ankles for him. And then I noticed that his shoelaces were untied. I honestly don't know what came over me next, but I suddenly got it in my head that it would be a funny prank to tie them together. Afterward, I grabbed my brother's hand and urged him to race back to our mom--knowing full well that this little boy would take off after us! He did, with his trousers still down and his shoelaces tied together. Laughing, he made it only a few feet before falling over onto his stomach. Next ensued so much crying and screaming. I remember thinking I would be in trouble for that; and sure, I did receive a beating from mom later on as a result. But in that moment .... the image of that annoying little boy falling flat on his face, scraping his knees and bawling? In that moment, for the oddest of reasons, the 4 year old me found it the funniest, most satisfying sight ever. And I *knew* that I had done that.

Yesterday, as I walked home from the subway after work, I came across two toddlers straggling behind an older woman who might have been their grandmother. A boy and girl, around 3 years old each. I assumed they were either siblings or cousins. The children were slurping happily on lollipops they held in chubby, balled-up hands, while holding each other's free hands as they walked up the block. It was the cutest sight! The very picture of innocence. And I thought to myself: wow, children really are beautiful. In their faces, and in the way they so sweetly held on to each other as they walked, you could not doubt the purity of their hearts and spirits. I knew that it was this very innocence that we adults cherish so much in children. Why we feel this instinctive pang to protect and shelter them, for surely children at that age are without guile, without malice.

Or are they?

Where does this concept come from, that all children are born innocent? Is this true? Or is it a construct we adults invent because we tend to read into our young what we ourselves wish were true? But just because we want it so, does not make it so.

When does innocence end? I'm not so sure innocence ever ends. We're all innocent in some way or another. Sure, we probably become more jaded over time as life's hard realities belt us to and fro on the battered winds of lost dreams . . . but not one of us is ever truly, wholly evil. Just as no one is ever completely good. We're human beings, and humans are a bewildering, grayish mix of both forces.

And, I hate to break it to you, but: children are human beings, too. They're not little godlings flitting about on glowing white wings. They are born with the potential to be the humans we all are. Flawed beings with our many, many bad moments. On that day when I was 4, I had a very bad moment. A moment when my little inner masochist came out and showed his face. As an adult now, I'm horrified by my actions in that one moment of weakness and wretched bemusement. It's haunted me all these years, actually, as I strive to be a moral person in this world. But yet I have to live with the fact that in my past there is a moment in which I was a horrible person to a happy, adorable little baby who didn't know any better than to follow me around like a puppy looking for a friend. It breaks my heart now thinking about it. Why on earth would I have done such a thing? Am I just the lowest of scum for not only inflicting such pain on an innocent child once, but from gaining so much satisfaction from the act as well? I could see someone like Hitler maybe having a story like this from his childhood, but surely not me? I'm a GOOD person!

But, nope. We all have this capability in us. Perhaps I'm being more honest about it here on this blog than most people will ever be, even to themselves. The truth of the matter is: not only do we all carry the seeds within us to do both harm and good, but we were born to this dichotomy.

Seeing those two adorable children holding hands as they ate their lollipops and tried to catch up to grandma, I had to doubt this, though. Could either one of those little cherubim ever do such a horrible act as what I did not more that one year in age away from them? Perhaps not. So then, what made me do it? Who even taught me to do something so radical as to pull a malicious prank on a child more helpless and innocent than myself? Is it something taught, or something innate? Nature or nurture? The world may never know. I certainly never will.

But I wonder: is it really important to find out? Or is it better to take the generalized approach and simply accept our bad natures as being just that -- natural! As I get older, I'm beginning to realize that it's not so much about bemoaning the bad things you've done in the past, but about learning from those moments and doing better not to repeat them.

The more you accept the bad within you, but strive to rise above it and do good, the more of a complete person you will be.

I truly believe this. Don't you?

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Subway Oddities

I've written about the New York City underground rail system here before, most notably in my Subway Survival Guide series. Growing up in this city, you can't help but bear witness to a lot of strange and crazy things going on down in the deep depths below under this great city. Still, even after 38 years of it, I am still amazed by the dumbest things New Yorkers do when riding the trains. Stuff that can, and often does, drive their fellow straphangers batty!

The following are all cases I've experienced first hand recently, presented below in no particular order:

. . . . . . . . . . . . .

Someone on the platform calls out a friend's name who is standing farther down on the same platform. Several people turn at the same time to see the originator of that call, even though they can't all be named "Janet." Why do people do this? If I hear a name called out that is obviously not my own, I ignore it and keep doing what I'm doing. Hell, even when my name is called I don't immediately turn. Not if I don't recognize the voice calling my name. There *are* other Davids in this great big city of 8 million people, after all. And I'm not wasting energy on something that obviously doesn't concern me.

. . . . . . . . . . . . .

I was on the D train this morning and we pulled into this one station. As the passengers were let out and the doors started to close once more, an F train pulled in right across from us. Several passengers leaped out of their seats and rushed headlong into the closing doors, almost causing severe bodily harm to themselves. Just to catch that F train. Here's the thing: if they needed that F train so badly, why didn't they get off at the station when the doors first opened like everyone else? Here's the other thing: The D and F trains meet up at the very next station, and the station after that as well. Seeing as how the D train was just about to pull out of the present station when the F train arrived, why not just wait until the very next stop to get off and catch the F train there? Did you really need to half break your neck tackling the closing doors for a train you could catch again merely 2 minutes later? Think, people. THINK!!!!

You waste all that energy, just for this to happen.

. . . . . . . . . . . . .

Why do very large people (read: fat!) always try to squeeze in between two seated passengers when the space is obviously not wide enough for them? Do you need a seat soooo badly that you are willing to inconvenience and bodily assault other passengers just so that you can be seated? Or are you really that unaware of your bulk? Don't be delusional: you are FAT!!! You know it, your kids know it, your co-workers know it, your dog knows it -- we ALL know it! How about we try and not impose our fatness on others, m'kay? Also: exercise some restraint and STOP OVEREATING!!! And we wonder why so many fights break out on the subway.

. . . . . . . . . . . . .

Look. I'm sorry I knocked you down, little kid in high school. I was riding the 4 train and we had just pulled into my home station. Yes, I saw you standing out there in the cold on the platform as my train pulled in. You who were so eager to get onboard; I didn't miss that point. So eager, that even before the doors opened to let passengers off (like yours truly), you positioned yourself right at the front of the doors, ready to dash on in as soon as they opened. Thing is, you can't simultaneously have people exiting and entering a doorway at the same time. And what your brilliant little plan did not provide for, however, was the factor of the solidly built grown man--who outweighed you by about 50 pounds--blocking your way. So when the doors opened and you immediately tried rushing onboard, I could see why you were so perturbed when that one guy (moi) leading the exodus out shoulder checked your dumb ass and sent you literally sprawling back out onto the platform. Consider this a real world refresher on bodies in motion. Your physics teacher can thank me later.

I don't think we're ever getting off this Death Star!

. . . . . . . . . . . . .

When you ride the New York City subways for even a short amount of time, one thing becomes quickly obvious: there are constant service changes being announced, like, ALL THE TIME! Not rarely, those announcements can mean the difference between you arriving safely at your desired destination, or you ending up at the ass end of Brooklyn on the bad side of a Russian mob turf war (as opposed to the good side of a Russian mob turf war). So do yourself a favor: take off the fucking headphones!!! At least once in a while, yeah? Here's a hint: when you start noticing the people around you looking suddenly pissed off for no apparent reason, or when there is an abrupt and spontaneous mass migration of passengers off of the heretofore express train you're riding ... yeah, you might want to know what that's all about. Just a hunch.

. . . . . . . . . . . . .

Why do people look for trains that they are waiting for? Does this somehow make them arrive any faster? Does a watched kettle boil slower? I guess no one can answer the latter, but as for the former: NO! Plain and simple. So what are you doing? Seems to me that worrying about something you have absolutely no control over is a recipe for a stress attack. Chill out. The train will arrive when it arrives. If it is late, and you are late as a result ... that's just the way it will be. You constantly walking to the edge of the platform and sticking your head out to peer down the tunnel will not change that. Really, it won't have any effect whatsoever! You should all be like me: I simply lean back and lose myself in my own thoughts for a while. As far as I'm concerned, my train will arrive suddenly out of the blue like a dewey-eyed unicorn ridden by a mermaid wearing a necklace of four-leaf clovers. Yes, like a pre-ordained miracle! You should try it sometime, it's amazing!

. . . . . . . . . . . . .

However, despite all of the above, I still love this city. You have to take the good with the bad, you know? Most transplants can't hack it here for long like natives can. Hell, even natives end up leaving for greener pastures eventually. But while we're all here, together we do make for a helluva interesting place to live which is unlike any other on this planet of ours. You may all be crazy, but you're my kind of crazy!

Mwah! (that's the sound of a big, ol sloppy kiss, btw)

Love or hate it, sometimes you join in the crazy.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Miss Crush 2014

This is rather late, I know. I usually post my Miss Crush winner mid-year, and not well into the next year. I guess it's because I got busy doing those Model Spotlight entries, so sue me. But, while similar in theme, I do try to keep my Miss Crushes separate from my Model Spotlights.

Plus, I was finding it hard to narrow down my choices. A year and a half ago, I crowned the lovely Eva Green as my Miss Crush 2013 winner. A decision that apparently was met with mixed enthusiasm if you read the comments section in that entry. For 2014, I had to decide between several lovely ladies on whom to garner the crown. The runners up were:

4th Place:  MILA KUNIS

3rd Place:  ZOE SALDANA


As you can see, it was a very tough decision to make indeed. But in the end, I had to go with honesty. Or maybe ... with freshness! I love all the women listed above, but they've been high on my list for several years now. Over a decade, even, when speaking about Ms. Knightley in particular. And while a part of me wanted to award last year's title on one of these actresses out of respect for the longevity of my crush on them, I just couldn't ignore this relative newcomer to the celebrity scene. And while I'm sure a lot of readers will skewer me with hate comments over this decision, she truly is who I was crushing on the most back in 2014. And still am, in fact.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

It's Been Settled - AKA: Yes, I *Do* Drink Coffee!

It was a little over a year ago that I wrote about that now infamous Great Coffee Experiment of mine here on the blog, and I thought I'd give you all a little bit of an update on that front.

So, just to refresh your memory, I left that experiment not too enamored with the idea of drinking coffee. I gave it the ol' college try, you see, but it just didn't appear as if my body was responding to caffeine in the same way it seemed to affect most people. For me, an "average" cup o' joe did nothing more than make me even more sleepy than before. I suspected it was the warmth of the drink which brought about this contrary effect. Either that, or my body processed caffeine so well that it flushed it right out of my system before I could even begin to feel its power. There are tests I can take to determine the latter, if I cared enough to get them done (I don't).

Turns out the key word here is average, though. See, your regular cup of drip-brewed, watered-down American coffee doesn't do much for me. But give me something stronger and preferably espresso-based, and apparently that makes all the difference in the world!

Because of its ubiquity here in the greater NYC area, as well as its general good standards across the board, I decided to stick with Starbucks as my go-to java establishment of choice in order to continue this experiment. Plus, I liked that they offered a LOT of choices. If I were going to narrow down my preferences, I would need a varied menu of beverages from which to determine. My darling Cin disagrees, though. She thinks I've become a "Starbucks snob," in her words. See, she swears by Dunkin' Donuts' coffee. Which, if you've read my coffee experiment post, you would know I hate with a deep-seated passion!

This American does NOT!

So, despite Cin's adorable protestations to the contrary, I remained steadfast in my loyalty to that Seattle-based company. I started out with a cappuccino from them, but that was too weak for me. I then tried a latte. Better, but too bland. So I had vanilla added to it. Oh man -- so much better! It quickly became my favorite drink. And by adding an extra shot of espresso to the mix, it made it plenty strong and potent enough for even my body to sit up and take notice. I was surprised to find out, in fact, that my productivity in the office actually did pick up a few paces. Extraordinary!

But just to be sure, I next tried straight up espresso. First a single shot (called a "solo" in SB's lingo) served in a tiny little cup, then a double (or, "doppio"). I felt like a little old Italian man sipping on my tiny little dollhouse cup. It was good, but just not enough beverage for my buck. So I tried a macchiato next. This one seemed a bit stronger than a latte, even though it pretty much is a latte made in reverse. At least, this is the way a macchiato is made at Starbucks. I'm sure there are differences if one actually went to Italy.

A Starbucks latte.

Still, at the end of the day I decided to stick with my vanilla latte with extra shots added for strength. It was strong, it was flavorful, and it actually kept me awake and energized throughout the morning. Wow, imagine that?

Now, I don't drink this every day, mind you. Not even every other day. I only hit up Starbucks maybe twice a week, if that. Especially now that we're in full blown winter mode here in the city, I find that a nice tall vanilla latte really hits the spot when it is freezing outside. Sometimes I even go all out and splurge on SB's 16-ounce size option, called a "grande." That's when I'm feeling especially indulgent.

And this is how it's gone for the past year or so. That is, until last week when my good friend and author, Cindy Pon (different Cin, no relation), recommended something different. A beverage she herself orders from Starbucks on the regular. Behold, the Americano:

Add a little more steamed milk for that "misto" effect!

An "Americano" in Starbucks' terms is espresso coffee like the Italians enjoy, but with a lot of hot water strained through it in the American drip-brewed fashion. So in other words, it's espresso with a whole lot more hot water added to it. You would think this would taste awful, but it's actually not bad. And that espresso kick is still quite strong. Stronger than regular American coffee, at least. Cindy actually recommend that I order it "misto," which is to say with steamed milk added. An Americano Misto is basically a fuller-bodied latte -- just less milky, and more of that special caffeine kick. And it's just about perfect. Add a couple of pumps of vanilla syrup for yours truly, and it really is perfection!

This. This is my preferred drink all of a sudden. I just love it!

What's yours?

Friday, January 9, 2015

You Probably Never Saw This Coming . . .

Yes, I have a confession: I like watching Friends.

I could just end on that statement right there, drop the mic and walk off the stage. But I guess I can spare a few more words to explain. Ha!--A few? *ahem* Anyway ...

So, you see, recently Netflix decided to put all 10 seasons of the hit NBC show, Friends, up for streaming. And it's weird because I never actually liked the show at first. Nor did I have any friends who liked it, either. It was never really targeted for my demographic, appealing instead to the naive, vanilla-white college students where I went to school and whom all thought that they would move to the big city after graduation and live like these characters do. Only, I came from that big city -- and it looked nothing liked the one depicted on the show!

Friends is about six 20-somethings living in New York ('though filmed on a back lot in L.A., naturally), who stumble through every-day and often comedic encounters as they filter through life's ups and downs, break-ups, promotions, firings, relationships, etc. You know: the basic sitcom formula, but with very adult themes considering that the show was not centered around a core family in the traditional sense, but rather the familial bond made between friends living far from home in a large metropolis.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

The Bimillennial Man's Top 10 Posts of 2014

So it's that time of year again . . . the start of a new year, that is! Historically, with my mother's passing on this date 29 years ago, New Year's Day has never been a time for celebration on my part. There have been years where I've tried to go out and have fun, sure, but usually this is a somber time for me in which I hole up at home and play things very down key.

And yet, the New Year is always a time of hope and renewal. I'm not immune to the changeover, and can honestly say that I'm very much looking forward to a brand new year. 2014 was not really the best of years, but it was not the worst. And it was definitely a step up from the previous three years before it, which were terrificly shitty years in my life. Probably the worst ever!

But with 2015 upon us, I thought I would continue with this little tradition at The Bimillennial Man of reflecting on the blog posts of the previous year. I started this tradition last year, as some of you may recall, in which I listed the Top 10 most successful posts of 2013. And by "successful," I mean the threads which had received the most views. So let us see how 2014 faired, shall we?

To set the scene, I just want to briefly mention that 2014 saw a huge explosion of new visitors and traffic to the site. I don't have the exact numbers on hand, but by my estimation this site had FOUR TIMES as many visitors as the previous year, despite the fact that I only published half as many posts in 2014 as compared to 2013. It's true I didn't have much to say this past year, apparently, but I'm happy that this hasn't stopped the site from becoming even more popular and very searchable on Google---which is still the number one search engine being used to find this blog. Thanks a bunch, Google!!!

So then here is my list, in chronological order, of popular posts for the year, followed by tally numbers of total unique visitors to each post as of this date:

My Top 10 Threads of 2014

1.  State of the Batista Union.   (114 views)

2.  Top 10 Crushes From Hollywood's Golden Age.   (356 views)

3.  Game of Thrones: Season 4 Anticipation Begins . . . NOW!   (154 views)

4.  Living Single.   (1,370 views)

5.  What Girls Don't Know We Know They Know.   (205 views)

6.  Dream Come True -- I'm An Actor Born!!!   (140 views)

7.  This Kid Is A'iight!   (134 views)

8.  Dear Dad: A Letter To My Father.   (149 views)

9.  Model Spotlight: "Nazneen Contractor".   (234 views)

10. My Quick(ish) iPhone 6-Plus Impression.   (167 views)

Click on any link above if you're curious to see why a particular post proved to be as popular as it was. Hint: the ones with lots of pics are usually the most viewed. Hmmm, I wonder why?

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