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10th August 2014

9:14am: My First Trilingual Day!
Woohoo! Yesterday was the first time I had conversations in three different languages! Of course I talk to a lot of people in English everyday, but yesterday I picked up a Spanish speaking lady and we had a short conversation in Spanish. My Spanish is getting pretty good. I can actually get past the "hi, how are you" phase and actually get into a little bit of substance, even though I'm still not fluent, but it's getting there. Then I had some French speaking gentlemen and I was actually able to pick out a few words and phrases in French. And I did practice saying, "hi, how are you?" to them in French. I'm still struggling with French but I'm finally starting to be able to pick out words and phrases now.

So woohoo! I'm celebrating my first trilingual day! And now that I'm super motivated, I'm going to go do some French lessons on Rosetta stone. So au revoir, adios, goodbye.

5th August 2014

10:03am: Learn to Speak it First
I used Pimsleur to learn Spanish and I'm using Rosetta Stone to learn French. Both Pimsleur and my training at Language Corps Asia, emphasized learning to speak the language first, then learn to read and write. But Rosetta Stone suggests that you learn listening, speaking, reading, and writing all at the same time. So I gave it a try. It was easy at first but as the courses progressed I found my scores going down and I wasn't retaining what I had learned when I tried to recall it later in the day. So fortunately there are settings with the RS course. You can set up your profile to concentrate on all four areas of language learning at once, listening, speaking, reading, and writing, or you can chose to concentrate on just listening and speaking. So I created a second profile where I'm only concentrating on listening and speaking and my scores are going back up and I'm also starting to use the language in my head as I go about the course of my day. I think of certain phrases in English and then I try to figure out what they'd be in French. And I also then try to translate it into Spanish as well. I'm amazed that learning French is not fucking with my learning of Spanish. In fact, because both of them are Latin based languages, I think it's actually helping, they have so many words in common with each other, as well as with English, that I can definitely see which words come from Latin.

So the moral of this story is: When you learned your first language you didn't learn to read and write, you learned to listen and speak. So why try to put it all together at once when learning a second, or third language? I am becoming more and more adamant about this: learn to speak it first, then learn to read and write; it's so much easier that way.

But what do I know?

14th June 2014

12:27pm: Two Weeks with Rosetta Stone French
It's been two full weeks now with the Rosetta Stone and although I still say I like Pimsleur a little better I think RS is growing on me. One of the few advantages that I would say RS has is I get to hear the language more. With the P method they will ask you "how do you say this" or "how do you say that" in the new language, but they will usually say this in English, so you don't get the chance to hear the language as often. Every once in a while they will give you directions in the new language and when I was working with the course I thought that by the end of it they would be speaking to me mostly in Spanish. But that didn't happen, even after the completion of all 4 levels most of the instructions were in English. This is probably why I have trouble understanding native Spanish speakers when I get them in the cab or have the chance to speak with them in other settings. My vocabulary has gotten large enough that I can express most of my thoughts in Spanish, but very often when I hear the language being spoken to me I still have a hard time understanding it. And I think this is because that the one thing the Pimsleur course didn't do enough of is to let me hear more of the spoken language.

RS, on the other hand will show you images and ask me in French what these people are doing. Or they will say something in French and show me a bunch of pictures and I'm supposed to click on the picture that goes along with what they just said in French. So I think one of the few advantages of RS is being able to HEAR the language more often. But I still prefer Pimsleur because by not providing me with images, by making me create my own images in my mind I think I remembered more. After two weeks with RS, when I drill myself when I'm not engaged in the course I seem to not be able to remember as much, my vocabulary and knowledge of how to USE the language don't seem to be growing as fast as with Pimsleur, but it is gradually increasing. For some reason using the Pimsleur method made my mind want to start creating it's own sentences in Spanish and so far I've had very little of that from studying French with RS. Could this possibly be because I think French is a much more difficult language to learn? Maybe, but I still think there's something about the Pimsleur method that encourages the mind to start putting the language to use for the user's advantage.

But the RS method is growing on me. I think the perfect language course would be a combination of the two. In my layman's opinion.

11th June 2014

10:31am: It's All About Listening and Repeating
I'm finding French way more difficult than Spanish. I think it's all the silent letters and the back of the throat pronunciations. Spanish is spoken using the front of your mouth, but French uses more of the back of the throat. English, having so many similarities to both languages, kind of uses the whole mouth more. And I still think I like the Pimsleur approach better than the Rosetta Stone, but it's not even been two weeks yet with Rosetta Stone, so even though I say I still like Pimsleur better I'm trying to keep an open mind. Here's what it is: I have become a staunch believer that the initial way a person should learn a new language is the same way he or she learned their fist one, by listening and repeating. You learned to speak before you learned to read or write. The first objective is to COMMUNICATE. Once you have that down you can incorporate the reading and writing part. Pimsleur focuses almost solely on listening and repeating. They do have a few reading exercises, but 95% of it is listening and repeating. Rosetta Stone on the other hand tries to incorporate it all at the same time, which I think is a mistake. The most useful thing in learning a new language, in my humble opinion (and this comes from my experience in trying to learn three other foreign languages, Spanish, Khmer, and French), is by repeating the words over and over and over again. In dance, which is just another language albeit a non-verbal one, you develop muscle memory, your get so used to going through the steps that you don't even have to think about it. Well that's the same thing that happens when you practice a new language, at first a few words start to happen with little or no thought, and then you start putting phrases together, and before you know it you can carry on an entire conversation. A simple conversation but a conversation nonetheless. Even when I was taught how to teach languages at Language Corps the teachers there expressed that the most important thing, the most beneficial thing for the students was to get as much SPEAKING time as possible. It was all about learning to communicate first. Then the reading and writing.
10:07am: Two Languages at the Same Time
At first I didn't think it made sense to start working on learning French when I still have such a long way to go with my Spanish. Actually I'm getting much better at Spanish, and although I'm not fluent yet, I can carry on simple conversations with Spanish speakers in my cab. They can at least tell me where to go and I think it makes them feel better that they know I understand what they're telling me. I also tell them, in Spanish of course, that I teach Latinos how to speak English a couple nights a week at Opportunidades Nola, and that helps them get more comfortable as well. But since Rosetta Stone offered such a good price on their language courses I couldn't resist buying it. And instead of making me more confused, instead of messing up my Spanish, like I thought it would, I think it's actually helping me understand my Spanish even better! The more I learn French the more I can see the similarities to Spanish and I realize that those connections come from the Latin base they both share. So, in some bizzare way I think learning two Latin based languages at the same time is actually beneficial to the learning experience, not detrimental to it.

I never would have thought it would work this way.

6th June 2014

11:01am: It's Down to Two Choices
Events here have forced me into making a decision.

My room mate will be moving back to New Mexico early next year. So that means if I haven't left here by then I will be leaving too. I have my choices narrowed down to two: Seattle or Cambodia. And even if I go back to Cambodia, when I do come back to the States it WILL be Seattle. Why those two places?

Well, I'm saving money right now and it occurred to me that I could live on ten thousand dollars for six months or more in Cambodia and I should have way more than that saved if I wait until Carolyn leaves in Feb or March. That means I could go to Cambodia and not have to worry about getting a job right away. Which means I could chill for a while, for a few months even, slow down my pace and try to decide what I want to do with the rest of my life. And this sounds really, really weird to me: the first time I asked myself what I would do if I had a few months on my hands and I didn't have to worry about finding a job for a while, one of the first things that popped into my head was, "Well I'd like to write about this, and I'd like to write about that."

Now where did that come from? All of my life I've had people berate me for not writing more. They say I have a natural talent and I've been wasting it. Yeah well, I never really liked the act of writing before. I would write mostly when I felt I had something to say, something I just had to get off my chest. It always felt good to have written something, but the act of sitting down at a keyboard and writing, yuck, that was the last thing I wanted to do. But suddenly that is all changing. When I picture myself in Cambodia, with enough of a financial cushion that I don't have to worry about working for a while, I can see myself sitting next to the pool, writing on my laptop. Just writing about so many things that I want to write about now, but just don't have the time because I'm so caught up in the rat race, or life in the United States. It's crazy the way we push ourselves here and I just don't want to do it anymore. I turn 50 in Feb and I want to start spending my time the way I want to spend it, not pursuing the elusive "American Dream".

So if I don't leave here until late winter, or early spring, I might have enough money saved up that I could live on for an entire year in Cambodia. But of course at some point I would find a job teaching or maybe even start a business, which is a hell of a lot easier to do over there than it is here. I know that after a decompression period I would get bored and I'd have to find something to do. So most likely I would teach. Maybe I could even start my own blog about my experiences teaching English in Cambodia.

And even if I decide to go overseas again, when I do come back I want to head to Seattle. Why Seattle? Well, I have friends there, I've worked there before, and Seattle is probably the most progressive city in this country. They just legalized marijuana and voted in a $15 an hour minimum wage. What's not to like about that? They even have a kick ass football team.

So at some point I will live in Seattle. It could be as early as next spring, but then again I might leave the country, but when I do decide to come back to the States that is where I want to be.

And this time I think I will stick to one of those two plans. I actually gave this a lot of thought before I wrote about it and posted it publicly.

26th May 2014

10:02pm: Quad-lingual?
Okay, so Rosetta Stone was offering a Memorial day special on levels 1-5 of their language courses for only $275. I'm doing very well with Spanish. I teach English to Latinos two nights a week and I learn a lot of Spanish from my students. Now my students can no longer talk in front of my back without me knowing what they're saying. Oh sure, I might not understand every word they're saying, but I now know enough to know what the conversation is about; they can no longer talk in front of my back. I didn't really want to start another foreign language until I have Spanish down a lot better. But this offer was too good to refuse. And a friend of mine just married a woman who is from France and, of course, is a native French speaker. So he wants to be able to communicate with his in-laws when he's in France, so he's going to split the cost with me. The software can be downloaded to two computers, so it's perfect for us. So if I start learning French I will be on my way to becoming quad-lingual. English, of course, being my first language. Then I'm becoming petty damn proficient in Spanish. I know enough Khmer to order food and ask for directions, and now I'll be studying French. If I become fluent in them all I guess I'll be quad-lingual.

It was always my plan to learn French, but only after I learned Spanish very well first. I know I'm in Louisiana, home of the French quarter and Cajun country, and all that, but the truth is there is a lot more Spanish being spoken around here than French. I have multiple Spanish speaking tv and radio channels to help me keep learning, and in the cab I'm constantly picking up Spanish speakers, whom I can now have full conversations in Spanish with in my cab. So the Spanish stimulation around here is fantastico, but the French....not so much. But now that my friend wants to learn French and his wife can help us, I think I will be able to learn French almost as well as I've been learning Spanish.

I can now see that, instead of waiting until I am more fluent in Spanish before I learn to speak French, I should just jump right in and try to learn French, even as I am still acquiring an education in Spanish. It's very much like dancing: there are a lot of different styles of dance, each is its own non-verbal language, but the more of them you learn the more you realize that they're not all that different from each other and that somehow they're all interconnected anyway. And maybe, just maybe, they're all a part of a larger, non verbal, international communication system. I don't know if that makes sense or not, but let me put it this way: the more I learn about different styles (languages) of dance, the more I realize it's all just part of a larger, dancing language. And maybe that means that all spoken languages are just a part of a larger, universal language.

But then again I could be totally, fucking, wrong.

5th February 2014

8:40am: What's the difference between a clique and a group of friends?
And how do you know if you're in a clique?

I've been observing a certain clique of dancers for a while now and it occurred to me not long ago that probably none of them realizes, or even thinks, that they're in a clique. To them they're just hanging out with their friends, there's no clique. Then it also occurred to me that cliques seem to be invisible when you're in one, but when you're not they're very obvious and they do exist. You recognize a clique when you're snubbed by them, when you try to break into one, try to become "part of the group" only to find yourself constantly being pushed away. And I don't know if the fact that they don't even realize they're pushing you away (really, I'm convinced that most of them don't even know that some of the things they do to people actually hurts) makes it better or worse. Not that I myself have tried very hard to engage in this certain clique. I mean I did for a while, but I'm not the type of person to keep banging my head against a brick wall. I don't really want to force myself into situations where I haven't been made to feel welcome. I'm usually happy doing my own thing. That's why very often you will see me sitting at the bar with a drink, only dancing occasionally, while other people dance almost every song.

I like to sit back and watch from an outsider's vantage point. Yes, I watch the dancing, I want to see what moves people are doing on the dance floor, but what's even more interesting to observe are the social interactions that are at play. I see some people who are way more diligent in trying to get into the clique than I was, when that seemed important to me, or even get the attention of the people in the clique. There's one dude in particular who I think thinks he's in the clique, who probably feels like he's included in the group, thinks he's friends with them all, but when you study the body language from afar it has the appearance that he's merely being tolerated by the clique and not really a part of it. And it's sad to think that you can't really tell this person what you observe because he would be insulted and he would deny that what you have observed is true. He needs to feel accepted so bad that his world would be crushed if I were to tell him what I'm observing from afar. And of course I'm no fucking psychologist so I could be dead wrong and I'd be sticking my nose into shit that's really not my business. But my guess is that I'm at least partially right about what's going on here. The patterns are so obvious.

Body language, to me, is a very interesting thing to study. I've read a few books on the subject now and I'm starting to be able to tell if the guy talking to the girl across the bar is doing well with her, or if he's striking out. I'm learning to see the signs of if someone is really interested in what I'm saying, or if they're just being polite and looking for an easy way to get off the hook. I've even learned how to adjust my body language if I want someone to come over and talk to me, or if I just want to be left alone. I actually tried this at the bar at dba one night when the band was on break. I was sitting in a way where my body was kind of closed up, hands close to body, slightly hunched over the bar, and I noticed a female friend from the dance community. I could tell that she was thinking about coming over to talk to me but for some reason wasn't quite sure if it would be okay. I'm sure she wasn't reading my body language on a conscious level, but the way I was sitting was not very inviting of company. So I switched my position. First I turned my torso towards her, I uncrossed my arms and spread them out over the empty chair next to me and I uncrossed my legs. Almost immediately she came right over, sat down next to me and started up a conversation. Most of us read body language on an instinctive level, but it gets really fascinating when you learn it on a conscious level too. You can even alter your own moods if you know how to adjust your body appropriately. I've actually done it.

So of course, when I make observations like this of other people and their little cliques, in all fairness I have to turn the spotlight back on myself. Could I, like them, be in a clique and not even know it? Well, sort of, maybe a little bit. Our little clique, if indeed it is one, is also made up of a few people I know from dancing. But we're very loose nit. We don't hang out a lot and I don't really think there are other people who want to be a part of our group that we are unconsciously pushing away. So I don't know if this really is a clique or not, or if we're just a group of friends who like to hang out and do our own thing.

So I ask you once again: What is a clique in the first place and how do you know if you're in one? Are YOU in one? If you are, are you aware of it?

14th January 2014

9:41am: Peace on Earth Through the Back Door
The fact that the human race is basically fucked has brought me into a more peaceful place lately. That sounds kind of funny, doesn't it? Allow me to explain.

I think it's abundantly clear to anyone who looks around and sees what's going on that human beings are using up the world's resources faster than the world can reproduce them. We're also destroying our environment to the point where it looks like we'll soon make the planet unlivable for our species and many other species as well. Maybe the cockroaches will out survive us.

So how does that bring me to an area of peace and calm, you ask? Well, you see, I think we're already fucked, so fighting to try to save it is futile. Sure, I don't shop at Walmart, I try to buy items that are more environmentally friendly, I try to do all of the things that we should have been doing to save ourselves, but in the long run I still think we're fucked.

I don't boycott Walmart because I think I can put them out of business, or even force them to change their business practices. I don't want to lower my carbon footprint or switch to environmentally friendly because I think it can save the planet. Or I should say save the human race, because the planet will still be here and I think even a few human beings will still be around after the calamity hits, but our numbers will be culled tremendously. No, it's already too late for that. I do these things for one reason and one reason only: because I want to stop contributing to the problem, even though I know that in many ways I still do many things that add to the problem I would like to reduce those as much as possible. And before I felt that we're all fucked anyway I used to look down on people who do shop at Walmart and who wouldn't buy environmentally safer products. I would try to change them, try to convert them to my cause. But the species is fucked anyway, so how much more harm can they really do? I mean even if we cut our carbon emissions by 90% tomorrow the effects of what we've already done are still not going to go away. We've created a disaster that's going to kick our butts no matter what we do. It's not a matter of if, it's a matter of when.

So, in almost a sick and kind of perverted way this has finally allowed me to come to a kind of live and let live mentality. Maybe if there were still time left to avert this calamity I might be a lot different. I might be out there agitating and educating. But it's too late for that. I've done my harm, millions, no billions of others have done theirs and now it's just too late. So I will act in a manner that if we all could have started doing this 30 or 40 years ago might have made a huge difference, but I know it's too late. So even when I see people making unwise choices that contribute to the problem I can't look down on them. Hell, my very livelihood is tied to fossil fuels; I drive over 100 miles a day just around town taking people where they want to go. So even if I make other choices that are more environmentally friendly I'm still a hypocrite myself because I burn oil day in and day out. I can't point my finger at anyone.

I know it's kind of a morose way to come to these conclusions, to finally be able to find some peace in my life, but I'm really starting to settle into it now. When I can finally admit that we're all fucked anyway what others do is really of no concern to me and I'm just as bad as everyone else.

So party on people. Do what you want to do before it's too late. A calamity is going to hit the human race sooner or later. I don't know if it will happen tomorrow or if my time will be up before it does. But I do believe that if I manage to live out my time before the calamity hits that I'll just come in under the wire. I feel for people who have kids and grand kids, because I think their generations will be the ones to have to live through this Armageddon that their ancestors helped to create and it won't be pretty.

So I'm going to try to live my life in peace. I want to stop contributing to the problem as much as I can, but that's just my personal choice. And if you don't want to do the same, that's okay too, because basically, in the end we're all fucked anyway. So you do your thing and I'll do mine and no hard feelings toward anyone, okay.

Peace on earth, goodwill toward men. It's a strange way to get there, but I think I finally have.

15th December 2013

1:24pm: Goddamn it I'm addicted to crack!
How did this happen? This isn't supposed to happen to me, it just ain't.

About a week ago I received a cab order at 7839 St. Charles. That's the address of Vincent's Restaurant, my favorite Italian restaurant in New Orleans. So even though it was after dark it seemed like a safe call. So I as I'm pulling up I see this black guy flagging me down just a little down the street from the restaurant and he's all by his self. Now this set off at least three alarms in my head. One, he's not coming out of the place where the call was placed. Two he's coming from a restaurant, supposedly. I didn't actually see him come from the restaurant. And he's by his self. Most of the time you don't pick up just one person from a restaurant, usually people don't go to fancy restaurants by themselves. And third, and this really sucks to say this, and you're probably going to think I'm a racist for saying it but, he was young and black. If it's a racist statement to say that the majority of trouble that cab drivers get, the number of robberies, the number of murders, comes at the hands of young black men in the age range from 15 to 30, then I guess you'd have to call me a racist. But to me this is just a numbers thing, it's merely a statistic. But in my line of work I'd be placing myself in danger if I weren't aware of these statistics. So yes, a young black man, by his self, not actually coming out of the address that the call was received from will send off alarm bells in my head. I've been doing this job over 20 years and I've honed my survival instincts to the point where I can tell pretty quick when something just isn't right. And in this case it just didn't seem right. I shouldn't even have picked him up. Normally I would just drive on by when I get that feeling in my gut. I don't know why but this time I picked him up. That could have ended up costing me my life, or at least all the money I had on me.

So he gets in the car and I ask him where he's going. "Downtown," he says.

"Where downtown," I asked.

He says," Canal and Lopez.""

"Oh you mean the India House."

The India house is a hostel that we pick up a lot of people from.

"No," he tells me, "just on the corner of Canal and Lopez."

Okay, that's alarm number four. When someone can't give me a specific address, or changes their destination from one spot to another, that sets off alarms in my head. This guy hadn't been in my cab for even two minutes and already he set off four alarms. But at that point I had him in the cab and was going to have to deal with him gently.

I detected a Latino accent, so I asked him where he's from. He said he's from Miami. Then he asked me where I'm from and I told him, in Spanish, that I'm from Michigan. He picked up on the Spanish right away and asked me if I speak Spanish. I told him that I'm learning how to speak it and that I also teach Latinos how to speak English here in New Orleans. In fact, since it was Wednesday night, I would be teaching English in less than an hour. Then things proceeded to get even more strange.

He told me that he was born in Holland. I asked him if he meant Holland Michigan, because we were just talking about Michigan. He told me no, Holland as in the Netherlands. Then he told me, and this is still in Spanish, that he has been to Poland, Spain, France, Russia, Portugal, Brazil and that he speaks many of these languages. I thought this seemed highly unlikely for someone who was so young, but stranger things have happened, so I didn't completely rule out the idea that he could actually be telling me the truth. So I asked him, once again in Spanish, why he's traveled to all of these countries. Work, he tells me. So I ask him what he does. He gets quiet for a minute. So I figure he doesn't want to tell me, so I moved on to another topic.

A short time after this he asked me how old I am. I told him I'm 48. He said that's how old his dad is, then he asked me how old I thought he was. We were at a stoplight at that point, so I turned the light on and turned around to face him. Now, this really wasn't so that I could try to guess his age. This was more of a way for me to eyeball him a little better in order to get a description of him if I ended getting robbed and lived to tell about it. Also this would let him know that I now know what he looks like, that I could better identify him to the police, and pick him out of a line up, if it came to that. So I guessed that he looked to be around 25. He told me he was 23. Not too far off.

So then he started talking about his job again. Once again I asked him what he does. He got real quiet for a minute and then he said, "I'm and agent."

"An agent," I asked, "what kind of an agent?"

"A government agent," he relied.

"What government, our government?"

"Si Senor," he says, "the government of Los Estados Unidos. Homeland security, NSA man."

Okaaaayy. That was alarm bell number five. I find it very doubtful that a 23 year old man lived in all those countries, speaks all those languages and is an agent of the government. At that point I was really spooked, I was sure this guy was up to no good at all. So what do you think he did then? He proceeded to set off alarm bell number six. He started asking me about all of the cameras in the cab. I told him that I don't like them and that they were forced on us. Then he asked me if our conversation was being recorded, I told him that it probably was. We do have an audio recording device in the cab, but I have disabled mine. I really hate the idea of even my conversations being recorded, but of course I didn't tell him this. So now he had set off six alarms in my head and I was starting to get pretty nervous. At this point I'm starting to wonder what I'm going to do if he tried to pull a gun on me. Do I prepare for it and try to intercept it, knock it out of his hand as he's bringing it above the seat? Or do I just sit there and take it, give him my money, and hope he doesn't decide to kill me? I wasn't sure what to do, but I did find it surprising that I wasn't really that scared. I've been in situations like this before where I was just about to poop in my pants, but this time wasn't like that. Maybe I'm getting braver, maybe I don't mind the thought of dying as much as I used to, or maybe I'm just so jaded now that even shit like this doesn't really scare me anymore. I can't say I was scared, but I sure as hell was alarmed.

Okay, so right about now I'm sure you're probably thinking, "what about the crack, man? At the beginning of this long ass post you said you're addicted to crack. What the hell does any of this have to do with crack?"

I know, I'm long winded. But if you just hang on for a minute I will get to it. I promise.

So, now this guy has me spooked. I'm keeping a close eye on him and at this point I think he knows it. So, I think in order to ease the tension he changes the subject.

"Do you like to read?" He asks me.

"Of course I do," I say, "I read all the time. What about you?"

"Yeah," he says, "I always have a book with me."

"Well then, you're one of a very few people who actually read these days," I told him.

So about then we were coming up on the corner where he said he wanted to go. I pointed out that we were at Canal and Lopez. So he points down Lopez St and said that's where hes' going, the India house. But didn't he say he WASN'T going to the India House? Alarm bell number seven. I tell him that Lopez is a one way street and that I can't turn right on Lopez, so I would have to go around the block. So as were going around the block he tells me that he has to level with me, that he doesn't have any money. And as I was just listening to this he pulls out this Kindle E-reader and tells me that he can give it to me instead of the fare, if I would accept it. And then he proceeds to tell me that I already told him that I like to read. So he asks me if I would accept it in lieu of the fare. I told him that I really didn't have any other choice, did I?

So we pulled up to the India House and as he gets out I tell him in Spanish that I was pleased to meet him. He said the same and walked off.

I'm almost sure that when he got in the cab he was going to rob me. But then maybe with all of the cameras and maybe even the fact that I speak some of his native language and that he seemed to genuinely kind of like me, he decided against it. So, I'm almost sure I dodged a bullet, quite literally, there.

Now we come to the crack part.

You know, the thought of buying a Kindle had actually crossed my mind a few times, but it wasn't anything that I would have gone out and bought on my own. I mean, I have books, I have Kindle on my laptop as well as my cell phone, I don't really need another device that connects to the internet. But just a couple of days before this whole incident happened I went into a restaurant for lunch and I saw a man reading on a Kindle, or Nook, or one of the various reading devices out there. I saw how much bigger it is than my cell phone and thought how nice it would be to be able to read my e-books in a larger text. But I still would have never went out and spent the money on an e-reader. I just wouldn't. I don't really need one.

So, I had just avoided getting robbed and/or killed and found myself with this Kindle device. I knew for sure that he had probably stolen it, or found it somewhere. I even wondered if maybe my last passenger had dropped it in the cab and this dude found it when he got in. Or maybe he was really an under cover, secret agent, Kindle crack dealer?

So when I got home I started playing around with the device. It was still wrapped in plastic and had the box it shipped in. There's no doubt this thing was brand new. So I registered it to my kindle account and downloaded some books. Mostly classics, cause they're free and I really like reading the classics. I took it to work with me. It was much better than reading on my small little cell phone and it kind of revitalized my interest in reading. I downloaded "Great Expectations" by Dickens and read it in a little over a day. It's one of the few Dickens novels that I hadn't read yet. I saw that Khalid Houseni, the author of "The Kite Runner" has a new book out and that it's available on Kindle. I planned on downloading it as soon as I finished "A Tale of Two Cities." Yeah, I'm in a Dickens kind of mood lately.

So I was getting hooked on this Kindle thing. I even went out to Best Buy and bought a nice leather cover for it, which opens like a real book, which gives it the weight and feel of a real book. This is great, I was hooked. Are you kidding me? All of these titles at my fingertips, and I don't even have to go to a bookstore to get all of them? Holy shit, Batman! This is like digital crack, I think I'm hooked!

Oh, I'm sorry. When I said I was addicted to crack, did you think I meant like... crack cocaine? Like real crack? Like freebasing, man? Did you really think I had succumbed to that?

But hold on a minute here. Even though I know it sounds like this story is over, there's still a little bit more.

So I was going to download the new book by Khalid Houseni. I tried to do it, but the Kindle told me that my device was not registered. But how can that be? I registered it the first night I got it. Surely this was a mistake. But every time I tried to log into my account I got an "Internal Error" message. So I went to the Amazon web site and found an 800 number. I called them and told the lady what was going on. She took my information and asked me if I could wait for a minute while she did some research. Of course I told her I would.

So in a few minutes she comes back on the line and and asks me for the serial number of the device. Oh shit, I knew right away where this was going. I told her I don't know how to find the serial number and she told me what controls to press on the Kindle to find it. So I found it and read the serial number to her. And, just as I suspected was going to happen, she told me that that Kindle has been reported lost or stolen. She asked me where I got it and I told her that a guy in my cab didn't have the money to pay his fare so he gave it to me in lieu of the fare and I also told her that it was still in the box and wrapped in plastic.

So she told me I basically have two choices: I can hang on to it and read the books that I've already downloaded onto it, but that I wouldn't be able to download any new materials or I could call the police, file a police report ect ect ect. I told her look, if I could somehow get the device back to its rightful owner without bringing in the police I would be more than happy to do that, but I don't really like dealing with the police. I told her that I understand that she can't give me the owner's information, but that if she had a way of contacting him or her that she could give them my phone number and we could work out a way for me to get it back to them. She said that she didn't have access to their personal info either. So I just told her to keep me on record and if the owner makes anymore inquiries that she could give him my number.

So anyway, I got addicted to this digital crack device. I even went out and spent forty bucks on a cool little book cover. I NEVER would have done this, I NEVER would have gotten addicted to this material, digital crack, if I hadn't gotten my first fix for free! So I found myself in a dilemma: do I eat the $40 bucks I spent on the cover and keep a useless Kindle and a useless cover, or do I go out and invest another $120 on the same Kindle device I've become addicted to?

I tried to rationalize it. I tried to think of ways, excuses, for why I now feel that I "need" this device. I did come up with a few excuses, and a couple of them do seem like pretty good reasons for why I might actually need this digital, electronic crack:

"Well, I do plan on leaving the country again," I tried to reason with myself. " I do plan on traveling a lot and real books are very heavy and cumbersome.Think of how many books I can store on this one simple device. And also e-books don't use paper, so no trees have to be sacrificed for my reading pleasure." Yeah they seemed like pretty good excuses, but to tell you the truth they really are only excuses. Like I said, I have Kindle on my laptop, I have Kindle on my cell phone and even though I have to strain a little to read on my phone, I can still read on my phone. I don't really "NEED" a Kindle. But I've been bitten by the bug, I drank the Kool Aide, I'M ADDICTED TO THE CRACK! Goddamn it, I'm addicted to the crack. How did this happen? I never would have wanted a Kindle if some fool hadn't offered me my first fix for free. No, this is not a need. It's a foolish selfish want. I like the way it felt in my hand. I like the way it felt more like reading a REAL BOOK. I miss all the content I can download in seconds. Goddamn it, I'm addicted to crack.

So I went on Amazon yesterday and ordered a new Kindle Paper White. It should arrive in the mail by Thursday or Friday.

Goddamn it, I'm addicted to crack!

11th December 2013

10:27am: Would You Like Low Wages and Environmental Destruction with Your Cheeseburger Today?
"But I don't want to have to consider politics every time I make a purchase," said a friend of mine the other day as we were having coffee.

Well, that's fine. I guess you don't have to, if you don't want to. But the fact remains that, especially in this society, most of the purchases you make ARE political. If you just wander about, spending your money nonchalantly every time you see a bargain, not considering what the people you're giving your money to are doing with your money, if you don't consider their political leanings and how active they are in the political arena, it's like going into a voting booth and just pulling levers. You don't know what you're voting for, but hey, "this guy's name is in pretty red, instead of the traditional black and white, I think I'll vote for him."

Or, even worse, let's say you know who the good candidate is: the one who will stop global warming, the one who will reign in the banks, the one who will try to create better paying jobs and address the issue of inequality, but his lever is way up there at the top of the booth. You might have to strain yourself a bit to reach up and pull his lever, so out of convenience you vote for the guy with the lever at eye level. This is equivalent to shopping at Walmart, or eating at McDonald's merely because it's convenient. You know these companies suck. You know they pay their employees shit, you know they pollute the environment, but you give them your vote anyway, because it's convenient.

Let's face it, we live in a fascist, materialistic, money driven society. Right now I would say that money is more important than voting. Elections can be rigged. They can, and do, pass laws that make it harder for one party's supporters to vote. They can manipulate the electoral college ect ect ect. But, at least so far, they haven't passed any laws that tell you you have to buy so much of this or that corporation's products. But oh wait, what about car insurance? And now health insurance? But let's leave those aside. We're still pretty much free to spend our dollars anywhere and any how we want. And the most important thing, the TRUE RELIGION in this country is THE BOTTOM LINE. Profit is the almighty motivator. Profit is everything. So when you shop at a place like Walmart, or eat at a place like McDonalds you are voting for those corporations and their policies; you enable them to keep paying their employees substandard shit wages and you enable them to keep on polluting the environment. You know who they are, you know what they are and what they represent, but you shop there anyway because it's right in front of your face. It's easier to pull that lever that's at eye level, instead of reaching up to that higher lever that represents more of what you'd really like to see.

I'm not saint in this manner either. A lot of my choices are made out of convenience or necessity. I don't really want to have to drive all the way across town to get something that's organic, or environmentally friendly, when I can get something similar right across the street from my house. Most of the time I will go out of my way to get something I can feel better about, but sometimes I do fall into the convenience trap. I too hate to have to consider politics every time I make a purchase. So when I need something and it's easy I will occasionally support convenience for convenience sake. So sometimes I too pull the lever for a candidate that I know is repulsive, because that might be the only choice or because the other choice is too inconvenient at that particular time. I do understand that it's difficult, and sometimes almost impossible, to always make the purchases that I consider to be the right political choice. But when I do "vote"for something I find objectionable, out of necessity or convenience I feel bad about it and I look and hope for better choices to be presented to me in more convenient ways. At least I understand that at least for that moment I'm not making the wisest choice and I know this because I try to keep myself educated. At least in this way I'm aware of the destruction I'm contributing to by buying something from a company I do not like and I can change course as soon as a viable option is presented to me. I try to keep my eyes and ears open. I know that the market does reflect our wishes. So when the right choice is presented to me in a more convenient place, right next to the other company's products that I don't want to support, I sure as hell make a point to buy the products of those companies that I feel are more in line with my political views. I can also ask my local stores to start carrying the products I'd prefer to buy. Store owners will listen, if enough people are asking for something and they think they can make a buck from it. Remember that bottom line; it's king in this society.

So yeah, you can think you're purchases are not political, if you want to. But if you do, and you don't know what those companies are doing with your money, it's the same thing as going into a voting booth and just blindly pulling levers, or only pulling the ones that are conveniently placed at eye level. Most people wouldn't cast a blind vote in a voting booth, but they will turn a blind eye to the abuses of companies like Walmart or McDonald's merely out of convenience. So, at least in my eyes, if you deliberately keep yourself ignorant of what the corporations you give your money to are doing with it, it's the same thing as going into a voting booth and will nilly pulling levers. In fact it's worse. How often do you actually vote in a voting booth? But you do vote, many times a day, with your dollars. And I guarantee you that corporations, who buy politicians, are paying more attention to how you vote with your dollars than how you vote in the voting booth.

Think about it the next time you go shopping.

5th November 2013

10:06am: Just Teach 'em How to Listen and Speak
I don't want to overstep my bounds. I don't want to say anything, and I won't. It's not really driving me crazy, I'm calm, I'm cool, in fact it's a very good learning experience. So I'm just going to shut up and observe.

As most of you know by now, I've been teaching, or more properly helping to teach, English to Latinos a couple nights a week. I've been observing the teaching techniques and I have to say I think there is a better way. But I can't say anything. I'm so new at this, I don't have any degrees and most of them do. I'm fresh, I'm and upstart, what the hell could I possibly know that they don't already?

I think I had the good fortune to run across the latest methods of teaching languages twice in a row right from the start. In their ads, the Pimsleur people said that the traditional way of teaching languages not only doesn't work very well, but actually inhibits the learning of a new language. It was their contention, and now after having completed all four levels of their courses I have bought into it too, that people learn languages best by listening and repeating. They said that everyone knows that children pick up languages faster and better than most adults. And the popular belief as to why that is, is usually because children one: learn differently and two: don't have that a lot of other information already cluttering up their minds. Well, the Pimsleur people think that is wrong. They say that adults are capable of learning a language as well as children and that in fact adults actually have some advantages that children don't have. They (the Pimsleaur people) say that most children don't learn a new language by sitting down and reading a book; they learn by listening and repeating. They don't sit down and study verb conjugations, they learn by trial and error. And that's how the Pimsleur courses teach their languages. Now don't get me wrong, their are some reading lessons that do go along with the course, but it only makes up about ten percent of the whole. Most of it is listen and repeat, listen and repeat. It seems that lately people have constantly been telling me that I'm good at languages, that I pick them up quickly. Well, maybe that's true, but then again maybe it's the method I'm using to learn a new language.

Then, when I went to Cambodia and I was in my first day of class that would train me to be a teacher. I heard almost the very same thing the Pimsleur people were telling me from my teacher there; that teaching from a book, that teaching grammar first is not the best way to teach a new language. I mean, this was the exact same thing Pimsleur says. Our first day of class was all about how the brain processes languages. We learned that children who are being taught more than one language from birth don't distinguish right from the start that they're learning two different languages. Their brains haven't learned to compartmentalize the differences, so they will combine the two languages and use the words that are easiest to them. I think Rick taught us that this is called learning by assimilation. Adults don't do that. They do learn differently, but that doesn't mean they're at a disadvantage. An adult has already had a lot of time to learn to read body language, facial expression, and tone of voice, all of which can be very helpful when learning a new language. You don't believe me? Try talking to someone in Spanish face to face and then try talking to them in Spanish over the phone. You will quickly see that it's a lot harder to speak to someone in a new language over the phone than it is when you can see them in person. That's because when in person you are communicating on many other levels other than just verbally. So there are some advantages adults have that children don't. We were shown a new method of teaching languages, one that, at least in my opinion and apparently many experts' opinions as well, works better than the old book method. We were actually told that when a question on grammar comes up, as it inevitably will, to answer it the best we could and then move on as fast as we can. Our first and foremost goal was to get them communicating. If they then wanted to become a writer, or professor in English then yes, they would have to learn all of our silly little grammar rules. And I'm sure you all know, probably better than me, how silly the rules can get. Like, how do you explain to someone that the word "painting" can be, and often is, used as a noun? Well, half of our course at Language Corps was a refresher of all the grammar rules we need to know, and believe me all of our heads were hurting when we finished THAT portion of the class. But we were actually told NOT to dwell on this shit. We want people to learn how to speak, how to communicate, how to converse in English. We used a lot of short cuts and boy do they work! This new method of teaching a new language says that it's been discovered that the human mind is already wired for understanding languages. This is what distinguishes us from most other animals. They say that after we hear a language for a while our minds will automatically pick out what sounds right. I believe it too. My grammar, for the most part, has always been pretty good, even before I knew the actual rules. I've always just had an ear for what sounds right. So a lot of this stuff doesn't actually need to be taught, unless one is going to become a writer or teacher.

Right off the bat my first two experiences in both learning a new language, as well as teaching a new language, used these new methods. I thought the breakthrough was universal, that surely everyone teaching second and third languages was using these new techniques, right? Well, not exactly. Where I'm teaching right now they're using the old methods. It's a lot of book learning. A lot of teaching tenses and all that happy shit. This is the way I was first taught how to speak Spanish way back in high school. It was BORING and I forgot 99% of the stuff I learned and even after two years of high school Spanish I was NEVER able to hold a conversation in Spanish. You would think that after that long I'd be able to at least get through a basic conversation, right? I do know that I was kind of a fuck up student, but even the A students didn't really have a conversational grasp on the language.

With the CD courses I was able to actually have simple conversations in Spanish after the first month. People were telling me that I was doing so well, spoke with very little American accent. Okay, maybe I do have an innate ability, but I also think the instruction, the methods were good. The CDs were fun, they challenged my mind, and they actually had me speaking in sentences, not conjugating the verb tener ten different ways that I would soon forget when it was presented in that format. No, the CDs NEVER taught conjugation. One day they would teach the word "gusta," to like, or pleasure. They would have you work with it, play with it, form your own sentences with it. And then they would DROP IT. The next few lessons would have very little to do with "gusta". It would be thrown in but only occasionally. Then, somewhere down the line they would introduce "gustaria", which means "would like". "Me gustaria tener los tacos por favor". I would like to have the tacos please. So now you've actually learned a conjugation in a kind of sneaky, round about way without ever being told that this was conjugation. But the really really cool thing was this: Later on, when I was watching Spanish tv I heard a woman say, "me encantaria". Ah ha, motherfucker! Since I already know that gusta means to like and gustaria means would like, and I also know that encantar means to love, or a slightly stronger word than to like, surely that must mean encantaria means would love! See that? I learned to conjugate all by my lonesome! I didn't need to sit down and read it and practice it from a book. No, no, no! My mind made that connection all by itself and I know that what I've discovered on my own is going to stick in my brain a lot better than what I read in a book. Now I can plug that ending into a lot of words, preguntaria therefore must mean "would ask", and presto, by learning this one simple ending I've just learned a whole shit load of new words in a way that I know I won't soon forget.

Isn't this the way all new languages should be taught?

But it ain't. Like I said, I'm new at this, I don't have any degrees and I haven't been teaching a fraction as long as some of the people I work with have. I mean, we all admit that the point isn't to turn them into English scholars, the point is to get them speaking English so that they can get jobs, function in our society, and eventually become US citizens. So why the heck are we teaching all of this book stuff? Why are we teaching them stuff that most of them will never need to know? I'm going to just keep my mouth shut, play by their rules and teach the way they want me to teach. But I'm also filing this all away for one day when I do have more experience and my credentials are better. I think there is a better way to teach this stuff, Pimsleur and Language Corps taught me that. Right now I think this is a lesson for me of what doesn't work, or what doesn't work very well. I still think it will come in handy in the long run but for more of a what not to do than a what to do.

27th October 2013

9:55am: Collecting Opportunities
One of the people I told this to said, "it sounds like fate, or that it's meant to happen." If I believed in fate or that all things are "meant" to happen I might have agreed with her.

I picked up a man probably in his 30s at Tulane University on Friday. As I was taking him downtown I asked him where he lives. He told me that he's originally from upstate New York, but that he now lives in Ecuador. Great, that meant I had an opportunity to speak Spanish with him. "Entonces tu hablas Español, verdad?"(Then you speak Spanish, true?) I said. He answered me back in Spanish and we were on our way to having a decent conversation in Spanish. I'm getting better at it now and can finally get past the beginning of a conversation, past the greetings and small talk. I'm now able to actually say a few things that are a little more than just surface stuff. So I tell him, in Spanish, that I've been thinking about going to either Argentina or Chile to teach English, unless my friend comes up with a good business plan that will put me back in South East Asia. So then he tells me, and this is all while we're still speaking in Spanish, that he founded a school in Ecuador that teaches English to the local people. Then we switched to English, because this was starting to get important and I don't think either one of us wanted to take the chance that we'd be misunderstood. He told me that if I decide not to go back to Southeast Asia that he would love to have me come to Ecuador and teach there. He even said that he would consider our conversation in Spanish my interview for the job and the position is already mine if I want it. They would want me to teach mostly in English but he said they also want someone who can speak Spanish as well. I told him that my Spanish was not really all that good, but he assured me that I'm doing fine, that he was amazed I can speak it as well as I do after only one year of learning, and that once I become immersed in a Spanish speaking culture he's sure it won't take me long to become fluent. He said that he could see that I have a good foundation already and from there it could be a very short time until I'm speaking like a native.

I asked him to tell me about Ecuador. I know it's at the equator, hence the name, but he said the city he's in (I forgot the name of it, damn!) is at about 8,500ft above sea level. That means that even though it is on the equator the temperatures won't be stiflingly hot. He said the average temps range from 60 to 85 degrees f. He said the people are very nice, very welcoming, and want very much want to learn English. He also said the cost of living is very reasonable and that the average pay for an English teacher is about $15 an hour. And you can live nicely on that there. So he gave me his card with his phone number and email address on it and I WILL be contacting him again soon. You can count on that.

So, Ecuador sounds like a nice place. I'd love to go. But you know me, Fickle Joe. My mind changes as often as the wind and six months is still a long time away. I did tell him that if I decide to take a position with him that it would be in the spring, which is their fall, but he said they don't really have spring and fall, just rainy and not rainy.

So at this point I guess you could say that I don't have much of a plan. I can't really tell you for sure what I'm going to do, but here's what I can tell you for sure:

1)I do want to get back out of the country for a while.
2)I want to keep my teaching skills fresh and learn to become a better teacher.
3)I want to have at least ten grand as a cushion before I go anywhere and I now have a decent start on that goal. I think I can be out of here probably by May.

Those three things are settled in my mind. Other than that I want to keep on collecting opportunities. I want to see how many things I can find to chose from and then make the decision that seems the best and most rewarding for me.

A little later in the day I was driving another woman in my cab and she asked me if I do anything besides drive a cab. I told her that I teach English to Latinos twice a week and that I just got back from Cambodia this summer, where I was also teaching English. Then I told her about the guy from Ecuador that I met just earlier that day and that's when she told me that this opportunity sounds like fate, that it's meant to be, that this is God's way of communicating to me. Yeah, well, I don't really believe in all that. I just happen to have a job where I come in contact with all kinds of people, in a place where all kinds of people come to visit, or do business. And you know it's kind of like when you buy a car: you don't notice how many people have that kind of car until you buy one yourself. Then all of a sudden it seems like almost everyone has one, but really you're just noticing more of them because your mind is more focused in that direction. Or here's another way of saying it, and this is about as spiritual as I'm willing to get: it's like you put out a certain energy and all of a sudden things that are drawn to that energy start gravitating your way. Yep, that sounds a little goofy to me, a little airy fairy, so I'll stop right there.

All I can say is that I plan to venture abroad again. That this time I hope to be more successful with it, and until I leave I'm not closing any doors. As our politicians like to so often say: All options are on the table. But of course I'm not saying that in the context of blowing someone up. I merely say that in the context of: I'm collecting opportunities. Who knows what will pop up and where I'll go next? But to me that's kind of the fun part about it. I'm free, I have no ties to this place anymore, there's nothing holding me back (except myself sometimes) so let me hear all proposals! I'm putting my energy out into the Universe... ahem, whatever.

13th October 2013

11:52am: Options Options Options, Everywhere I Look. But at least I'm not Bored
I only log onto Live Journal once or twice a month now. When I do I feel kind of bad that I don't spend more time here. I spend too much time on Facebook. The writing here is so much better and a lot more personal. I really like that. Every time I do this I promise myself that I'm going to start spending more time on LJ again, but then I end up getting swept away by the immediacy of Facebook. Overall I don't like Facebook. It never seems to show me the same thing twice. Very often when I refresh the page I'll scroll down my news feed and posts that were there a minute ago are no longer there. Also, sometimes I'll see posts that people made days ago pop back up at the top of my news feed. I don't like this. I like consistency. I like to know that when I refresh the page I'll see new things that have been recently posted, but I'll also see the exact same thing I just saw a minute or two ago. So, anyway, enough about that. I just thought it might be time for one of those chatty, update kind of posts on LJ. I know I haven't been here very often lately and not all of my friends here are friends on FB.

So if you're interested here's what's been going on with Joe lately:Collapse )

So anyway, I know this is kind of an abrupt ending to a long post but that's what I've been up to. I know it's all over the place and most of it sounds kind of convoluted, but that's the way my life has become lately. But at least I'm not bored.

20th September 2013

11:13am: Somthing I Just Don't Understand
I know I've kind of had a verbal diarrhea today but I promise this will be the last post of the day and then I'm going to go to work. And right now this is only going out over Live Journal, not Facebook, because my friends here are more serious, more intellectual, and tend to actually like to write.

People frequently tell me that I'm a good writer, that I have a gift, that I should utilize it more. But I don't get it. I don't think I'm a good writer. I simply write the thoughts that I hear in my head, it's that simple. I use this as a way to rant and vent, but I don't consider it art, or even a talent. But frequently people will tell me that they're "blown away" by my writing. I don't get it.

I say the very same things I write about in personal conversations, the very same things. But when I say them out loud, when I convey them to other people in person I'm told that I'm angry, cynical, disturbed, and even sometimes that I'm "just too negative to be around." But what will very often happen is that the people who I seem to be "too much" for in person will tell me that what I write is brilliant. I don't get it. I write many of the same things I say. I say them so often that I become like a broken record, maybe that's why I can write them so well, I've practiced them verbally, so writing them is like falling off a log.

But I still don't get it. If I express these thoughts out loud I'm negative and come across too strong, but if I put then down on paper, well virtual paper anyway, I'm brilliant, I'm a genius, and I should do more with my "talent."

Can anyone please explain this to me?
10:32am: Those Sodomites at the Bank
War is peace. Slavery is freedom. Work will set you free. And oh yes, "reward" means you will surely be punished. What am I talking about? Well, you have to read another post that's longer than two sentences and doesn't have any footage of cats doing silly things.

Once upon a time I opened a totally free checking account from Hibernia National Bank. Then Hibernia was bought out by Capital One, but they had the decency to not fuck with my "free" account....at least until last year that is.

At that time I was informed by a nice, friendly letter I received in the mail that my totally free checking account was going to be converted to a "rewards" account. And what, pray tell, exactly is a "rewards" account, you ask? Well, it's a new idea those sodomites at the bank have concocted. You see, if I don't have a direct deposit of at least $250.00 at least once a month, or keep a daily balance of at least $300.00 in my checking account they will punish me for it. They will charge me $8.95 a month if my checking account balance falls below $300 for even a second. I'm so glad, I'm so happy, I'm simply thrilled and overjoyed that those sodomites at the bank (yes I love typing that phrase, sodomites at the bank) had the decency, the charity to convert my account from a totally free account to the ever so benevolent "rewards" account that actually punishes me for not keeping enough money in their greedy, sodomite pockets.

So, you see, war is peace, slavery is freedom, work will set you free, and "rewards" means that you will surely be punished.

Lately I've been able to keep enough money in my checking account so as to not receive my "reward" which is actually a nine dollar penalty. But it wasn't always so. Before they converted my account I used to have a lot of money problems. I was always robbing Peter to pay Paul. I kited a lot of checks and I paid a lot of overdraft fees. And I think most of us know how overdraft fees create a snowball effect, causing more checks to bounce, which causes more overdraft fees, ect, ect, ect. In 2011 I think I dished out about $1,500 in overdraft fees. That's a fuck load of money....at least to me. But you know what? That wasn't enough for those, here it comes, you guessed it, SODOMITES AT THE BANK. No, it wasn't enough for those greedy sodomite assholes (hey another new phrase, sodomite assholes, two words that were meant to go together dontya think?). $1,500 in overdraft fees in one year wasn't enough for them, they had to go and figure out a way to get another $8.95 a month from me, which of course will most likely cause me to be overdrawn, which will then earn me another overdraft penalty...ur...um... I mean "reward". And they know that they're doing this to people who not only have trouble keeping $300 of their money tied up all the time, but who are also frequently overdrawn. These are poor people struggling to make ends meet, so let's fuck em harder, let's rub their faces even deeper into the mud when we see they're down and struggling.

I hate banks. I hate that you have to have a bank account just to function in this society anymore.

Well, I haven't had to kite checks in a long time. My account usually has about $800 or $900 in it. But apparently one day back in June (yes that's right, back in June and it took them until yesterday, which happens to be in SEPTEMBER to issue me my "reward" of them taking $8.95 out of my account) my account went below $300 to $290.00 and then a deposit came in the next day putting the balance back over $300. So, in other words, if my account goes below $300 at any time, for even ONE SECOND, they will penalize me...oh yeah I keep on forgetting to use this new terminology... they will "reward" me by giving me a fee of $8.95.

So you see, war is peace, slavery is freedom, work will set you free, and "reward" means you will surely be punished.

Come on, can't they see that many of us see straight through their corporate, sodomite, double speak? Can't they see that this is just one of the reasons why Americans are so cynical and hate banks? Can't they see that it's shit like this that maybe causes people to go postal?

OH MY GOD! Wait a minute here people. I finally get it. Of course it's a "rewards" account. Sure it is. No really, it is. But here's where I was fucked up, here's where I made my mistake, it's a reward FOR THEM, you know, the sodomites at the bank, not a reward for me. I'm glad my mind has been set clear on that one, because for a minute there I thought I was living in a George Orwell novel!
9:18am: I Don't Have A Good Title for this Post, Maybe Ramblin' Joe?
I'm so glad we have the fake news to put the so called real news into perspective. As I'm sitting here catching up on Daily Show episodes that my roommate has recorded, John Stewart is giving a list of details about all the warning signs that should have caused that shooter on Monday to one, not only not be allowed to buy a gun, and two never should have been allowed to set foot in that navy yard. He had previous shooting incidents and even incidents where he was hearing voices. He sought help for his mental condition. Yet he was allowed to purchase weapons and allowed on to get into the navy yard. As I was watching this I couldn't help thinking that just last week my car was backed into by someone not paying enough attention as he was entering the street from a private parking lot. He was found to be in the wrong, he got the ticket, but I have to take a drug test to prove I'm innocent of any wrong doing.

Where are our priorities in this fucked up country? I'm totally convinced that this nation is collectively insane. A couple of days ago a friend of mine linked to something on FB that she thought people should be in an uproar about. I can't even remember what it was but I do remember thinking at the time that yes we should be in an uproar about that. The very fact that I can't even remember what it was that she was saying we should be in an uproar about helps buttress the next statement that I'm going to make: there's so much that goes on in this country these days that we should be in an uproar about that it's really hard to get yourself into an uproar anymore. Let's face it we live in a bizzaro world where the meaning of words are turned on their heads, where crazy people obtain access to guns and not only do people not do anything about it but they will adamantly fight for his right to get them, meanwhile we have people rotting in jail for decades on mandatory minimum sentences for selling pot. There are cameras everywhere, wherever we go now we being watched and filmed. And if you're in an area where there might not be any cameras everyone has a camera on his or her cell phone. Everywhere you go someone is watching you. It's like we read 1984 and instead of being scared to death, which I think was the purpose of the book, we're treating it like a playbook. We have companies that knowingly poison our food and not only do we not do anything about it we give them licenses and patents making sure that no one can compete with them. When we go into grocery stores and we see an "organic" label we still have to be careful before we buy it because some years ago the definition of organic was downgraded so that these poison sellers can label their poison as something that's good for you. We pollute the planet to the point where the glaciers and polar ice caps are melting, we know that this imperils our very existence but we have a party of idiots screaming "drill baby drill". We have bankers who brought the world economy to the brink of collapse and not only did they not go to jail, not only did they not lose their jobs, but the motherfuckers still got their bonuses. And we put someone in jail for 55 years for selling pot! Everywhere you look you're bombarded by deceit and lies. No one knows who they can trust anymore. Everyone knows the American Dream, if there ever was such a thing, has long been dead an buried. It's no wonder that when I came back into this country from overseas that I noticed everyone seems so uptight, impatient, and bitter. We have a lot to be uptight, impatient and bitter about. But what do you do about it? The whole system is fucked up from top to bottom. You can't point at just one thing, or even a couple of things and say, "if we could just fix this everything will be a lot better." That's the reason why it was so hard to pinpoint what the message of Occupy Wall Street was. There's so much that's fucked up, there's so much to be in an uproar about that it seems too daunting to really do anything about it.

I used to be very political. I used to get all worked up about things that upset me. And yeah, I know, you're probably reading this post (if you're someone who actually reads anything that's longer than 48 characters anymore) and thinking to yourself, "whaddaya mean used to Bubba?) I used to be the type of person that when something upset me I'd be out there in the streets trying to do something about it. But you know what? That only made me more of an upset, grumpy, ornery person. Nowadays I'd rather go to a yoga class than to a union meeting of taxi drivers. I know that when I'm done with yoga I'll end up feeling calm and relaxed. But if I go to a union meeting I'm only going to be more worked up, more upset, and yes, more frustrated because taxi drivers are the little guys and City Hall is Goliath. Okay, that might have worked out for King David, but in most cases the guys with the sling shots get their asses kicked by the giant who has tanks, planes, and the Supremem Court on its side. These days I just don't want to get worked up over things that I know will most likely be losing battles. And yeah I do understand that if everyone had this kind of feeling, if little people never stood up to bullies that many of the accomplishments that have been made over the years would never have been made.

So I'm not into going to protests and getting all politically active these days. I've been in too many losing battles. I've had my ass kicked too many times and where did it get me? Most of my life I've had an angry disposition. Most people think I'm upset all the time, which used to be true. Yes I'm still upset these days too, but maybe not as much as before. When I came back from Cambodia I was able to find an area of Zen for a while. I was able to let all of this crazy shit I see happening in our country slide off my back, not piss me off. But I've been back for a while now and the anger has found its way back. But at leas now I know a few tricks, I know a few things that will calm me down and ease the tension and anger. I'm not a true believer in anything. I do yoga but I don't think everyone should. I don't think it will save the world if everyone will do it. But I do know that somehow it makes me feel peaceful and at ease. I know people who use that feeling to make it almost a religion somehow, but I do it only because I know it's good for my body and I think the breathing, the ability to better regulate my oxygen flow causes me to feel calm and peaceful inside. That's it. It's good for me. Would it be good for you? I don't know and I'm not going to try to recruit you. I know that teaching people how to speak English makes me feel good. I know that learning other languages makes me feel like I'm actually engaging my mind, forcing it to keep on learning new and different things. I know that leaving my cell phone at home and getting out on the levy and walking by the lake, free from television and all other distractions, makes me feel good and at peace with myself too. I know that most of these activities are beneficial only to me, except of course the teaching. But I am finding that when I can do something that will help someone better his or her life, on an individual basis, not on a mass level, that makes me feel good too. Like I'm actually contributing something, like I'm actually giving something back.

So I've reached this conclusion: I can't save the world. I can't make a huge impact that will effect everyone's lives, and I don't even want to because if I go down that path I sacrifice my own happiness and well being by fighting giants that I know will kick my ass ninety nine times out of a hundred. So the only thing I can do is try to first make myself happy and at peace and then help the people who are immediately around me. I can't stop global warming, or even the shit the taxi bureau is shoving down my throat, but I can teach a few Latinos how to speak English. I can help them on their paths to citizenship. By teaching them English I hope I can teach them how to not be exploited. I can try to cut my own carbon footprint, but I'm not going to go out and preach to other people about it. If someone else wants to fight those battles fine, I salute you, I applaud you. We need people like you on the front lines, willing to stick your necks out, but that ain't me. I've seen where that leads me and I don't like the outcome. Here's a deal, you work on the macro and I'll work on the micro and maybe somehow we'll end up making a difference after all.

Sorry if this post was all over the place. It wasn't well thought out, I just felt the need to ramble and vent a little.

19th September 2013

9:58am: It's Sink or Swim Time
Last night I was pushed into the deep end of the pool and told to swim. For a year now I've been wallowing in the shallow end of the pool, in the comfort and safety of my Pimsleur Spanish courses on CD. But last night I got a rude awakening. The new semester at Opportunidades Nola finally began last night. Right now I'm only a TA. I've been put into the level one class. That means that my students don't speak a lick of English. So they have a teacher who conducts the class mostly in Spanish, which means I too, as the TA, have to speak a lot in Spanish. No more safety nets, no more wallowing in the shallow end of the pool. No, this is like speaking Spanish in real life, this is like being pushed into the deep end and being told to sink or swim. At first I was scared but at the end of the night I left feeling pretty positive. The CDs gave me enough of a foundation that I could understand more than half of what was being said. And I know that I could have actually understood a lot more of the Spanish if they would have spoken more slowly. Podria ustedes habla mas despacio por favor?

Some of them couldn't even read and write in Spanish, so most of the night was spent teaching them basic grammar in Spanish. And it was interesting for me to listen to the teacher teach the English class while speaking mostly Spanish. It was like an inverted lesson for me. Really, it was just like being in an elementary Spanish class and I could follow along with most of it. It's kind of weird how she was giving an English class while speaking mostly in Spanish but it was like my mind was inverting it, transforming it into a Spanish class for me. Translation is translation, right? When she was telling them that the English word for sustantivos is nouns, my mind is simply reading it backwards, telling me that the Spanish word for nouns is sustantivos. I almost feel like I'm getting Spanish classes and not having to pay for it. But oh, that's right, yeah I am helping teach English too.

I just finished my last Pimsleur CD earlier this week. That's is, I've completed level four. There are no more levels. I wish there were more, I don't want them to be done. I'll probably go back and redo the third and forth levels just to keep in practice and to get them down a little better. I've been a little worried that I wouldn't have enough opportunities to speak the language and keep on practicing. But what was I thinking? I'm a teacher at a school that teaches to Latinos, not only am I going to have ample opportunity to speak the language but I will almost be forced into learning it just because of where I'm working. Sometimes I can be so blind.

12th September 2013

12:12pm: A Recent Trip to New Mexico
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At the top of Sandia Peak, New Mexico. I took the tramcar up and hiked back down the La Luz trail to the car. A ten mile hike but very well worth it. At the top it's like a Canadian forest and you're in the desert by the time you get back to the bottom of the tram.

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There's the tram. I took the first trip up at 9am and walked back down.

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Albuquerque from 10,000 ft.

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Me and my friend Gareth at the Rio Grande Gorge, up near Taos.
10:00am: But Really, What Can You Do?
I was the victim, yet I have to prove my innocence. WTF?

Two days ago I was in a minor car accident. Long story short: A man in a large truck backed into my cab as he was pulling out of a private parking lot to enter the street, which is where I was discharging a passenger. After waiting for over five hours, yes you heard right five hours, for the police to finally show up the man in the truck was given a ticket, because when you are entering the street from private property you must make sure you do so in a safe and orderly manor.

But anyway. The cab company always has its insurance man (road man) come out and take information and photos at the scene. He can usually tell who is at fault and if both parties want to avoid tickets and having to wait a long time for the police (in this instance it was five hours, no shit), one party can admit fault and then it's left up to the insurance companies to file their claims and such. The road man told me that I was not at fault and that's the way the cops would read it too. But then, and this is what this post is all about, this is what really pisses me off, he hands me some paperwork and tells me I have to fill this out and take a drug test. What?

That's right, ANOTHER new rule for cab drivers in New Orleans is that if we're involved in an accident, whether we're at fault or not, we have to take a drug test. I'm sorry, but this is just bullshit. I was the one who was wronged here. The cops came out and found the other guy to be in the wrong, but yet I have to take a drug test, I have to prove MY innocence. This is just fucked up. And, yes that's right, I have to pay for said drug test. How the hell can this happen? I might be able to understand it if I were found to be in the wrong. But you mean to tell me that I can be backed into by someone who's not paying attention, I am the victim, but I have to take a drug test to prove that I don't use drugs? What about the other dude? You know, the one who was actually at fault here, does he have to take a pee pee test too? No, of course not, he's not a cab driver.

And what happens, let's say, if I do take a drug test and the test shows that SOMETIME in the past 30 days I might have smoked some marijuana? I'm not saying this is the case, mind you, I'm just setting up a hypothetical, of course. Does that mean that because I MIGHT have used pot in the last 30 days that the dude who hit me, who the cops found to be in the wrong, is no longer in the wrong? Does that mean that his insurance company no longer has to pay for the damage that their client inflicted on MY vehicle? And even more ominous, what does that mean happens to my taxi permit? Does it get revoked, or suspended? Do I get off with a "warning" and probation, where I might have to submit to pissing in a cup for the next few years or so? Which of course I would also have to pay for?

I think this is totally unfair and reprehensible. In part I think this is about money. The piss test companies make money. The probation system makes money, and the piss test companies make more money, if I take said test and fail. But in the process of all this money exchanging hands, perfectly innocent lives are being besmirched and/or ruined. Why do we allow shit like this to happen in this country? This is supposed to be AMERICA. You know, land of the free, home of the brave, innocent until proven guilty, and all that other happy shit we spout off constantly but never really live up to.

So, what I'm going to do is put this thing off as long as I can. At first I'm going to "forget" to take the drug test and then if I'm pushed even further I might just decide to call foul. This clearly isn't right. Does anyone out there know of any good lawyers who might want to take this on if I decide to stand up on principle? Does anyone really care that this is a slow march to giving up all of our freedoms? Should I fight this or should I just hold my nose, comply with their bullshit, and then save up my money (assuming I still have a job after all of this) and get the hell out of this country?

What are the chances anyone will even read this post all the way to the end? What's the new acronym for long posts now? TLDR? As in Too Long Didn't Read? And what are the chances that anyone will really care? It's just another cab driver getting shit on, it ain't me, who cares. But then of course there's always that other thing to consider, you know, the one that starts out like: First they came for the Jews, but I wasn't a Jew. And then they came for the..... I think you all know the rest.

6th September 2013

10:35am: Sometimes I Just Need to Have it Hammered into My Head or The Grass is Always Greener...
Being back in New Orleans is just confirming all the reasons I left in the first place. When things started going sour in Cambodia I longed to be back here in my old life again. I told myself that I could go back to the little cozy cage I had constructed for myself and just be happy with the life that was mine. But for me, things in New Orleans aren't looking so good. Mostly because of all the things I ranted about in the post about what's been happening to the cab industry in New Orleans. Now I hear they're even talking about making us wear uniforms to work. That is a humiliation that I just can not, will not, endure. Cab driving is a dangerous job. I've been robbed twice and even had my throat cut once. But the reason I've kept on doing it is because, up until now, it has afforded me with a lot of personal freedom. I make my own hours, other than a moderate dress code no one tells me how to dress. I can wear my hair long. If I need to take a day off, I take a day off. I don't have to tell anyone that I'm taking time off. In short, all the cab company cares is that I pay my fees every weak, actually go get the calls I take on the radio, and treat the passengers with at least moderate amount of decency. And on top of all that I actually take home a decent amount of money, well, until I had to start paying $200 a week more in dues than I was paying at this time last year.

So for me the problem is mostly the taxi business. Other peoples' experiences in Nola may vary. In my post the other day I was very sarcastic about Mitch Landrieu showing me the tough love I need to get out of the taxi business, but actually, in a round about way, I'm kind of glad this is happening. I now know I can't stay in this job, I can't stay in this city, and I really don't even want to stay in this country.

The more I think about it, I think my problem in Cambodia was mostly financial. With all the other stresses I was going through with trying to start a new career in a new country the last thing I needed was financial stress on top of that. But I do remember that, for the most part, things were pretty peaceful over there. Yeah I was stressed, but I handled it in a much different way than I handle stress here in this country. I was more tranquil and more peaceful over there. When I first came back I was able to hang on to a lot of that, but lately I feel the anger creeping back in. It's hard not to be angry here. One of the first things I noticed upon returning to The States is how angry, frustrated, and upset most Americans seem to be. For a while I was able to fight it off, to not let the angry around me penetrate into myself. One night there was a taxi union meeting that some of the other drivers wanted me to go to, but it conflicted with my yoga class. I could have skipped yoga for one night to attend a union meeting but when I asked myself which would be better for me: attending a union meeting where I was sure to get worked up into a frenzy over all the things the administration is doing to the taxi drivers, or a nice, calm, relaxing yoga class that would be good not only for my body but for my psyche as well? Well, I know it was very selfish of me but I chose the yoga class.

But I don't regret having made the decision to come back to The States. My mom needed me for a while and I was starting to feel the impact of culture shock. I was starting to miss the U.S. So I came back and I see that you can't go home again. I wasn't gone long enough for things to have changed very much here, but over that short period of time I changed a lot. I miss the work I was doing with the orphans. They were great kids and wanted to learn so much. I even think that if I could go back to teaching those kids again I might even consider going back to Cambodia. But one thing I do know for sure is that I want to get out of here again, and stay gone a lot longer this time. I have been able to slash my living expenses tremendously from when I was here before, so my goal is to try to save up about ten thousand dollars. I've checked on the price of housing and food, as well as what they pay in wages, in Argentina and Chile. It seems to be very similar to things in Cambodia. I know that in Cambodia I could probably live on ten thousand for six to eight months, even without a job. But of course I wouldn't go that long without trying to find work. But what having a cushion of that amount would do would be to almost completely remove the financial stress. Knowing some of the things that I now know I could take my time in finding a job that I might like. I wouldn't have the pressure to find a job as quick as possible just to survive. That was the biggest mistake I made the first time.

So, I don't know much for sure. I can be pretty fickle sometimes. But I do know that I'd like to give living abroad at least one more shot. When I've used the falling off your bike analogy to my friends most of them seem to think it actually makes sense that I try this again. Not to mix analogies here but, I broke out of my cage for a while and was scared back into it. But how could I expect that the first time I set foot in another country (except for Canada) that everything would work out? Like a caged animal that is being given its first taste of freedom it might be a little scared. It might tuck its tail between its legs and head straight back to captivity. And wouldn't that be kind of natural? But what if you leave that door open? What if you give that animal a chance to check things out slowly, with the option of returning to its safe place if it gets scared? I think the chances are that it might venture out again and it might even discover that it kind of likes being exposed to new environments.

So, the new plan is: Save up ten thousand dollars (which I calculate should take about six months) and then hit the road again; either Argentina, Chile, or possibly even back to Cambodia. Of course this is subject to change on a whim, but for now that's the new plan.

5th September 2013

10:26am: Estoy Aprendiendo mas y mas todos los dias!
Yo desfruto mucho aprendiendo hablar Español. En verdad, desfuto aprendiendo otros idiomas tambien, todos idiomas. Y creo que los aprendo muy rapido. Debo tener un talento para esto. Mis amigos que hablan Español diga me que estoy aprediendo muy muy rapido. Ellos no pueden creer que yo solo estado hablando el idoma por uno año. Aprendiendo otros idiomas es muy divertido, y quero aprendir tantos como pueda.

Tengan un buen dia mis amigos.

Why write in Spanish, you ask?
Because I can!

Y tambien por que necesito la practica.

4th September 2013

10:58am: I Guess What I Needed was some Tough Love
No one really cares about their freedoms anymore. Even I'm kind of apathetic about it when they're taken away. But I do have to say thank you Mitch Landrieu, the illustrious mayor of New Orleans. He's bound and determined to finally get me out of the cab business once and for all. Do these two sentences sound a little incongruous? Don't worry I will connect them. All you have to do is read another one of my longer than usual posts.

I was sitting at a cab stand yesterday, waiting for a call, when I heard the dispatcher read a memo from City Hall over the air. The memo was telling all the cab drivers that bumper stickers are no longer allowed on our cabs, as per some city ordinance. Yep that's right and part of the actual wording of the memo was that, "anything that expresses yourself" is no longer allowed to be displayed on or in our cabs. Yes those were the exact words. Now wait a minute. Many of us drivers own our own cabs. I used to own mine until they passed so many stupid new regulations that it is now almost impossible for small owners, like myself, to own cabs. So how in the hell can they get away with telling us that we can no longer express ourselves? I wondered why in the hell they were doing this. What would make them pass or enforce such a stupid law? A law that I think is a flagrant violation of the Constitution of the Untied States. And then it hit me.

For a few months now there has been a taxi union forming. I was approached by it and joined. I don't want to be too vocal about it, but I figured I'd do my part by at least supporting it financially. In my younger days I would have wanted to fight. I'd have been in there trying to organize, trying to fight off all the crap that they've been throwing our way ever since this asshole mayor took office. And I actually voted for this bastard. I have to say I've never regretted a vote I've cast more than the one I cast for him. But a lot of the fight has gone out of me lately. Much of that is deliberate. Many of you who've known me for a while know that I've been trying to tone done on my anger. You know that I've been trying to become a more peaceful and tranquil person. It was a lot easier in Cambodia and it much of that did carry over for a while upon returning home. But slowly but surely, if I'm not careful, I feel my old cynicism creeping back in.

When I heard about the union I didn't want to jump out on a limb. I didn't want to make myself visible, and I just don't really feel like getting myself all worked up into a political frenzy, especially when I can see how much of an underdog cab drivers are and that here in the south unions have never really been very effective. I just don't want to get all worked up over a cause that I see is already doomed to fail. Yeah, I know, some optimist I make, huh?

One of the first things this taxi union did was to print up a bunch of...wait... oh no...oh my fucking God...BUMPER STICKERS!!!! So that's it! That's why these bastards either just passed this ordinance or just decided to start enforcing it. It's because they don't want this union to succeed. They don't want their power to be challenged. And what makes me even madder is when I think of the money our cab company donated to Mitch Fucking Landrieu's campaign, and yes, I even think of the fucking BUMPER STICKERS we put on our cabs urging people to "Vote for Mitch". Now this fucking bastard has the balls to tell us that we can no longer "express ourselves either on the inside or outside of our cabs! I'd like to take that piece of shit to the top of City Hall and throw his miserable fucking ass off!

It's bad enough that he passed laws that cabs can't be older than seven years old, thus making it almost financially impossible for someone like me to own my own cab. It's bad enough that he passed other laws that say we must carry credit card machines, but that we have to use the Verifone system for credit cards. Can you imagine if they were to tell a private businesses, which last time I checked we actually are, that not only do they have to accept credit cards but they have to use the company that the mayor tells them to use? Can you just imagine the outcry? City Hall also regulates the taxi rates. Can you imagine what would happen if they started to tell restaurants how much they can charge for a meal, how much bars could charge for a drink, hotels for a room? There would be blood in the streets, heads would fucking roll!! But those cab drivers, well, they're sub human anyway, we can do whatever we want to them and no one will really care. And that is why every hotel and restaurant can jack up their prices during events like Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest, but taxis, no we have to charge the same year in and year out. Once again, I digress.

Just after the dispatcher read the memo, I had to chirp in one of my cynical quips about how I guess that means that cab drivers are no longer allowed freedom of speech. Then she told me that, well yes, we actually do have freedom of speech, but only when we're not in our cabs!!!! Oh my God! I want to fucking scream. I want to slam my fist into someone's face. So much for my attempts at being calm, reasonable, and peaceful. How can one be peaceful in the light of something like this. And you know what? I'm pretty fucking sure that if you woke Thomas Jefferson up from the dead and you asked him about that freedom of speech thing, I'm pretty sure he'd say that that applies EVERYWHERE in this country. Not just in free speech zones that are conveniently located in places where no one will ever hear you practicing your freedom of speech, no, I'm pretty sure that the founding fathers meant that this whole country would be one big, open FREE SPEECH ZONE! Goddamn it.

In my opinion, and I really think it's more than just an opinion, not only is this a violation of freedom of speech it's also a violation of freedom to assemble. They are clearly trying to limit this taxi union's ability to organize by enforcing this bullshit. But will anything be done about it? No, I don't think so. Even I'm too tired, too apathetic to want to stick my neck out there to fight it. So, we're just a bunch of cab drivers. No one really cares. But who's next? Teachers? Yep, that's already been started. Who else? When and where does it stop once you decide to limit one group of peoples' freedom?

Well, you know, I've always wanted to get out of cab driving anyway. I can't believe I was actually out of it but allowed myself to fall right back into it. But I want to send out a big thank you to our honorable mayor, Mayor Mitch Landrieu. I know he's really looking out for me. You see, he knows that I'm an underachiever. He knows that I should have gone to college and gotten a degree, just like all the smart grownups were telling me I should do when I was younger. He knows that I'm way to intelligent for cab driving, but he's the only one who cares enough to do something about it. He's the only one who has the balls to apply the tough love I so clearly need. He's the only one, up to now, who's going so far out of his way to show how much he really cares about me. Yes, friends, that's right, my buddy, my benefactor, my beloved mayor Mitch Landrieu cares so much about me that he's doing everything in his power to make driving a taxi so unpalatable that I feel compelled, I feel forced to change my fucking life. Yep, I know I have better things in me. I should still be teaching orphans in Cambodia how to speak English. I should be helping them get an education, not wasting my fucking life in a taxi cab!

So, once again, I'd just like to say thank you so much to Mitch Landrieu, he's the only one who has ever cared enough to show me the tough love that I need. He's the only one who's cared enough to send me shrieking and screaming away from cab driving and making sure that I'll never want to do something so clearly wasteful and harmful to my life.

26th August 2013

9:42am: The Next Step in Learning Spanish
I'm almost finished with all of my Spanish CDs. I'm using the Pimsleur method and I think it's a very good program; I highly recommend it for anyone who wants to learn a foreign language. But what will I do when it's done? I can still watch Spanish TV and listen to Spanish radio. I can even talk a little bit with my Latino students, but they're in my class to learn English, not to help me learn to speak Spanish. A big part of learning a new language is to actually speak it. Actual speaking time is very important. I was taught this in the Language corps class. We were shown how when taking a class in a foreign language the ratio of teacher speaking to student speaking is very important. Even if you have a 50-50 split between teacher and students you still have to divide that 50 percent of student speaking time by the number of students in the class. If you have 20 or more students you can see that the time they get to actually speak the language is very small.

So, I think I know what I'm going to do. There's this Honduran bar/restaurant in Kener that advertises on Spanish radio. I went there one day for lunch about a month or two before I left for Cambodia. When I walked in the door I kind of got a chilly welcome, but when I started ordering food in Spanish they warmed up to me very quickly. Funny that, eh? Show an effort to learn someone else's language and all of a sudden the walls start coming down. Anyway, there was an older man tending bar. By his look of authority and the way the rest of the staff treated him I got the impression that he was the proprietor of the establishment and the rest of the staff were probably family members. So, some night after work, I might go back out there, take a seat at the bar, and tell the gentleman (caballero) in Spanish that I'm learning to speak Spanish and if he doesn't mind I'd like to sit there and drink his booze and converse with him in Spanish.

Now this might sound like an easy thing to do, but do you know how scary it really is? I can understand quite a bit of Spanish already, but on my CDs it's spoken slowly and clearly. It's still very hard to understand it when hearing a native speaker roll it off their tongue. I have to keep on asking them to repeat and if they could please speak more slowly (podria usted habla mas despacio, por favor?). It's going to be awkward and cumbersome but it's something that has to be done. Spanish speaking people aren't going to be as clear and concise as the speakers on my tapes. I have to get out there and listen to real Spanish. I hope the gentleman won't mind helping tutor me if I'm paying him to drink his booze. Oh! Here's another idea that just popped into my head: Maybe I can ask one of my students from class if they would like to come out for a drink after class. I could take them to this place and tell them that now they are the teacher and we could converse in Spanish with the guy who owns the bar. Maybe having it known that I'm actually helping Latinos learn to speak English will give me some brownie points with him.

The more I think about it the more I like this idea. I have a vocabulary now I need to get out there and start learning how to use it in real life situations.

24th August 2013

11:18am: I Fell Down and Went Boom
Okay, maybe its time to break the silence. Has anyone been wondering what's been up since I stopped posting? I know at least one person is. After all this time someone finally took the time to ask me how things are going. Thanks Luke, I really appreciate that.

Anyway, here's the short version, and then for those of you who aren't attention deficit challenged a longer version will follow: I hated my job in Cambodia, I was rapidly running out of money, and then my mom got sick. So I came back to the US. I'm back in New Orleans. I'm still teaching. Right now I teach part time. I'm working with Latinos who want to learn to speak English. I'm also learning a lot of Spanish from them and I'm thinking about hitting the road again in a few months, maybe to Argentina.

That's the short story. Those of you who have a short attention span can stop reading here and go back to watching cute cat videos, but if you want a more detailed description of what happened I invite you to read on.

Let's start with my teaching job in Cambodia. Do y'all remember seeing the pics of my orphanage kids I was teaching? Yeah, well those kids were great. I loved teaching them. But unfortunately teaching orphans doesn't pay any money and I had to go get a "real" job. I found a job teaching 6-12 year olds at an international school in Phnom Penh. I was coming in just as one of their school terms (semester) was ending. When I got there they were taking exams. Half of the kids failed their exams. Okay, I don't have a lot of experience at teaching but the minute I saw the questions on the exams I knew most of the kids were not going to be ready for the questions on these tests. So how could this administration think the kids were going to pass these exams? I have no idea. As I presumed, half of the kids failed. There were a lot of kids who were being taught at levels that were way above their heads. But their parents pay a lot of money to send their kids to this prestigious school and they don't want to hear that their sons and daughters are failing. So we were tasked to retesting the until they passed. By speaking very slowly, sounding out words phonetically, and sometimes even giving an answer or two outright, I was able to get most of the kids who failed to a half ass passing grade. But there were a few who clearly needed to be dropped not just one but possibly two or three grade levels.

I had one kid who would put his name on the top of his exam paper and sit through the whole test and do nothing. Then he would turn in a blank paper, other than his heading. I was told by the administration to keep testing and keep testing him until I could get him to pass. This kid was so far behind that even when I actually gave out a few free answers to the other students who were also retesting he didn't even realize that I was giving free answers, he didn't even know enough to just write down what I was saying. I didn't like the idea of giving away a coupe of the answers but it seemed to have a motivational effect on the other students who really wanted to get a passing grade and the little I gave them didn't really make too much of a difference anyway. So I tested this kid at least three times and he never passed. But the principal wouldn't let me give up. The last day I was there he had me trying to get this kid to pass his exam at 3:30 in the afternoon in the teachers' office. All of our classes were done by 2:30. None of us taught a class after that, but we were required (as salaried employees, not being paid by the hour) to stay at school until 4:30. They told us this was so that we could "waive" goodbye to the students as they left but what it really was for was so that as the parents came to pick up their kids the school could say "look, we have American teachers". Yes it was a dog and pony show. Having white skin in Cambodia is definitely an advantage. If you're white, and especially American, they treat you like a rock star. But anyway, I didn't mind staying the extra two hours at school, even though I didn't teach any classes after 2:30. This gave me time to grade papers and lesson plan for the next day. It meant that I could get all of my work done at school and not have a bunch of shit I had to bring home. But I digress.

So there I was, in the teachers' office with this kid who didn't even really know his ABCs. Oh sure, he could sing the ABC song, but he could not tell me what sounds those letters were supposed to make. We had other teachers who were trying to coax him, to bribe him, even belittle an humiliate him into doing the work on his test. When the started with the humiliation I had enough. I asked the principal if we could go out in the hall and talk. We went out to the hall and I told him that this kid was so far behind that no matter how many times I tested him he was not going to pass this test. He needed to be moved down at least one, maybe even two or three grade levels. This kid needed to start from scratch and it wasn't fair to the other students to keep this kid on their level.

Well I think the principal understood what I was saying. I even think he agreed completely with me. But he was fucked by his position. Part of his job was to keep the money coming in to the school. So he told me that if we were to tell the parents of this child that their son was failing his classes and had to be pushed back a few grades they would lose face, big time. And he didn't say this but I also knew that he knew that if the parents pulled their kid from this school they could always find another school who would gladly take their money and give their kid passing grades, even if he wasn't passing. I tried to ask him if this wasn't just putting off the loss of face until later, and making it worse than it had do be when this supposed "graduate" of this school didn't even know his alphabet. And, by the way, wouldn't that cause the school to lose face? Yeah, yeah, like I said, I knew the guy agreed with me but I could clearly see that his hands were tied, "either keep the money coming in or your ass is on the chopping block." There really was little he could do. And now I can hear those of you reading this who also happen to be teachers saying, "I could have told you this was going to happen, welcome to the wonderful world of teaching." And you're right, it sucks. I guess this is an ageless struggle teachers who work at private schools have to face all the time. Hey, maybe that's another good reason to have good public schools, huh?

So after our little talk in the hallway, the principal agreed to stop at least stop torturing this kid, trying to get him to pass a test that he would never be able to pass. So my next task was to help prepare report cards for the term that had just ended. Out of curiosity I peeked at the grades of the kid I was just trying to get to pass his exam. What do you think I found? Somehow, miraculously this kid was an A and B student, imagine that! Hmmm, it seems last semester he knew his alphabet really well and could keep up with the rest of the class. So either this kid has a case of extreme amnesia or....no....don't say it...it couldn't happen....not in Cambodia....SOMEONE BEEFED UP THIS KID'S GRADES!!!! Goddamn it, this isn't what I signed on for. I have no problem giving extra help, I don't even have a problem with cheating a little bit if it will encourage the kids to try harder by making them think I'm on their side, which actually I am. But I don't like the idea of out and out, flagrant lying. I'm not in favor of giving A and B grades to students who are clearly way above their heads. Oh how I missed my orphanage kids.

My orphanage kids didn't have wealthy parents who paid big money to send them to a fancy school, who could bully principals and teachers into passing their little brats weather they deserved it or not. No, my orphans didn't have anyone backing them up. They know that the only chance they have to better themselves is to get an education and try like hell to be better than the competition. If I could have made a living teaching the orphans there's a good chance I'd still be there right now.

But that night when I got home from work I received a call telling me that my mom was sick and was in the hospital. I guess I was starting to look for exits at this point. I didn't like my job. I found myself feeling isolated after the training ended and all of my classmates moved on to other places. I was in a strange country with no one to speak English with. When I was still in the training phase and I had comrades who I could speak to and explore with living in a foreign country was great, it was strange and exciting, it was exotic. But once they all went their own ways and there I was not even being able to go into a coffee shop or a bar and strike up a conversation I was starting to get extremely lonely. And on top of all of that $750 was siphoned out of my bank account, which wasn't supposed to happen and which was replaced once I got back to the States and could make phone calls without having to deal with all of the overseas bullshit. So I was miserable and down to my last $250. When that call came telling me my mother was sick it almost seemed like fate. Only I don't believe in fate, so I used it as my final excuse to come back home. I went to Michigan for a short bit and then came back here to New Orleans.

So for a while I've been kind of embarrassed that things fell apart so quickly. For a while I was kicking myself in the ass for not having given it a better try. But then I thought, "you know what? I don't really have that much to be ashamed of. I actually went and did it, which is a hell of a lot more than most people would do. I actually did something. I gave it a try and even though it didn't work out the first time I actually got off my ass and gave it a shot." So now that I've had some time to think I know that this is a lot like learning to ride a bike. This was my first experience outside of the US, except for Canada which I don't really count. This was my first experience trying to live in another culture. And, like when you're trying to learn how to ride a bike, you don't give up the first time you fall down and go boom. No you pick yourself up, you dust yourself off, you asses what you did wrong, as well as what you might have done right, and you get back on that fucking bike and you ride it again and again and again, until you can ride it effortlessly. So that's what I'm in the process of doing now. I'm regrouping.

I'm in a living situation now that facilitates saving a lot more money. I'm still teaching. I teach one night a week at Opportunidades Nola, which is a non profit organization that helps Latinos learn to speak English. We even help some of them on their path to citizenship. It's just volunteer work, I don't actually get paid for it but I'm continuing to improve my teaching skills and boy am I learning more about Spanish. Once again, teaching where no salary is involved is very refreshing. The Latinos I'm working with actually want to learn, they want to better their selves and they really really want to become citizens. It pisses me off that we make it so hard for them. The people I know, the people I'm teaching would be a great benefit to this country. Why can't those dumb fuck Republicans see that? And once again, teaching people who actually want to learn is one of the greatest joys I've ever had, while teaching kids who don't really want to learn and having to pass them anyway is one of the greater humiliations I've had to endure.

This whole Spanish thing is really starting to click. My students and other native Spanish speakers tell me my progress is amazing. The Cambodians told me the same thing with my learning to speak Khmer, so I'm not just bragging when I say I really do have an aptitude for languages. So, I've been thinking: Since I'm doing so well with Spanish, if I stay in the US for another six or eight months not only can I save up a lot more money than I took with me to Cambodia, but I can also improve my Spanish a lot. That way, if I decide to go to a Spanish speaking country I'll be way better off as I already know quite a bit of Spanish. I think I could probably go into a bar or a coffee shop in central or south America and actually strike up a conversation. Sure, it would be a deep, philosophical conversation, but I do think I could communicate with words rather than playing the charade kind of games I had to play when trying to communicate with the locals in Cambodia.

So I contacted my counselor from Language Corp and I basically told he the story I just related to you here. I asked her if my freaking out and bolting so soon would hurt my chances of teaching somewhere else. I was relieved to learn that what happened to me is not that uncommon at all, especially for people who have never had the experience of being abroad before. She said that many of them do exactly what I did but when they get home they start to think that maybe they should give it another try. And then they go back out and many of them actually make it and love what they're doing. I ask myself all the what if's: what if that money hadn't been siphoned out of my account, what if I had a more enjoyable job? I know that jobs in Cambodia are plentiful. The first week I put myself on the market I got hired for two positions. One was only part time so I took the job at the school I just wrote about. If my money hadn't been so low I could have quit that job and found another one. But the problem is that they only pay once an month and it's after you've taught for a month. So my money situation didn't really allow for me to go another month without money coming in. So I bolted. But now I see the mistakes I made. Now I realize that it probably would have been better for me to start off going to a Spanish speaking country. I would be able to communicate better in a Spanish speaking country and it would have been a Western culture which I'm more used to .

It really bugs me to say that I felt so out of place there, like a fish out of water. My friend Scott sent me a link to an article written by an American who's been living out of the country for a while. Upon reentering the US he realized that America is fucked up in a lot of way. He likened us to an alcoholic family member; you love them very much, but because of their addiction and their actions you don't want to spend that much time with them. I agree completely and it's one of the reasons I wanted to leave this country. But here's where I made my mistake: I thought that everyone else around me was like a fucked up alcoholic relative that I didn't want to be around. It never occurred to me that even as much as I don't want to be I too am an alcoholic. I'm addicted to fossil fuels, I like having modern conveniences, I actually like the American lifestyle even though I know it's fucked up and unsustainable. Yes people, I too am an American junky. And you know what? It's very hard to kick these habits cold turkey. Yes, there have been those who've done it, but for most people overcoming an addiction is a gradual process. It was much much more difficult than I ever thought it would be to just go completely cold turkey, leave the country entirely and live in another culture. But at least I'm a little different than the typical American who goes around shouting "America is the Greatest country on Earth!" even though he's never been outside of the country, so he wouldn't really know. No, I know we're fucked up. I know we're all going to have to make changes if this species really wants to survive on this planer. But now I also know that I can't just do it all at once. I can't just completely cut myself off from the culture I've become addicted to. No, I need a patch, or methodone treatment, or something to bring me off it slowly. Maybe my Spanish courses and learning from Latinos who learn English from me is like a nicotine patch I can wear until I'm ready to try the cold turkey thing again.

Language Corps says they need English teachers in Argentina and Chile really really badly and they hire native speakers over more experienced teachers. Also, with the seasons being opposite ours in the Southern Hemisphere they begin hiring in March and April. My counselor says I could easily go to Buenos Aires. I think that sounds intriguing.

So, friends, that's my story. I tried to ride my bike and fell down and went boom. But I'll have you know that I'm picking myself up, dusting myself off and I'm probably going to venture out again in the spring, which will actually be fall in Argentina or Chile.

Just in case some of you have been wondering what's happened to me. Thanks to Luke for asking how I've been doing. I think this made me decide to open the flood gates and start writing again.
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