Wednesday, December 28, 2011


I could make any number of points about man versus nature in this post. I could ask the most relevant question: "Why must we constantly try to improve upon nature?" You can't put a man on a gorgeous mountain ridge for five minutes without him putting a Starbucks MoonDollars there. 

I could ask the next question: "Why make the cement crane flap his wings?"

I could even ask the final question: "Is the fisherman in the process of catching a cement fish?" It's highly important. I want to know if there's a stone trout on the end of that stone fishing line. Because the thought of a fisherman locked in time, seated there long after we're all dead (except for menever having caught anything, is incredibly depressing.

I don't have much in the way of relevant Starbucks anecdotes to go with this one, so: one day I'm working, wayyy back when, in the suburbs. Usual shift. Usual people. But one of my coworkers seemed nervous.

"What's up?" I ask.

"There's this creepy guy in the corner," she whispers, "and he's been staring at us for an hour."

I look. There, buried in shadows and hoodie, is my roommate. Waiting for me to notice him. And not for the first time. I'm forced to reassure the coworker that he's not a serial killer.

I miss that store sometimes.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Clickin' and Clickin'

You ever find a destination on Street View and just...keep on clicking around? Maybe it's just my ADD, but anytime I'm bored and futzing around in Google Maps I end up checking out the Street View in just about every direction. Got into the habit while apartment hunting last year; wanted to know what the surrounding area of my future home would be like. Granted, in the end I moved to an apartment less than a mile away from my old one, but I the only one who does this? I just spent 30 minutes clicking through Baraki-Nakayama in Funabashi, trying to retrace my steps and find my old dorm. Didn't quite work out, but at least if I ever go back I'll know where the 100-yen shops are.

UPDATE: Found it! 

That's what this postcard makes me think of: Street View. Perhaps, far in the future, we'll send postcards that let you look around the area in which they were shot. And while I'm throwing out ideas here, each Future Postcard is good for one round-trip teleportation to the destination it shows! Get on that shit, science.

As for street peddlers a-peddlin', for some reason I'm reminded of the woman who showed up at my door one cold morning in Des Moines. She was selling remote control cars. Door-to-door. They transformed.

Since this was before noon on a saturday, not only did I sleepily buy a transforming car from this strange woman, I gave her a tip and benevolently sent her on her way. This sense of peaceful well-wishing lasted about as long as it took me to close the door, when I realized I wasn't dreaming. Damn thing didn't even have LEDs on it.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Testing The Waters

 ...and so far, so good. Nobody at Google's peeing in the pool, even if it did take a lot of confused clicking for me to reach the new post editor.

Today's post may feel a tad rushed. I leave for a caroling gig on Michigan Avenue in about an hour. If you see a handsome man in Dickensian clothing on the red line, give him all your money. Chances are he's me, and if he isn't, he deserves a reward for looking like me.

Christmas gigs are wonderful. Well, don't get me wrong, any gig is wonderful, but when your usual crowd is either tiny, drunk, or teetering between jubilation and belligerence, it's just delightful to have a gig with a built-in, guaranteed rapturous audience. Takes a bit of the pressure off. Plus, every one of these I've ever done, I've realized something midway through:

"My god. I'm getting paid to sing Christmas music in public. I'm getting paid to do what I constantly do anyway."

Santa gigs are still fun, but loads more intimidating. Children are picky little creatures. Shrewd, too, like goblins. Make a verbal misstep, and here comes a barrage of questions. Do something Santa didn't do last year, and you're tasked with explaining why that Santa had an English accent and you don't. And while kids sit on your lap, asking for hamsters and dogs (and in three cases, ponies), you try to assure them their dreams will come true while the parents shake their heads "NO" just out of the tykes' view.

All this going on around you, a yuletide cacophony, and if you screw up or break character, you don't just ruin the gig. You ruin Christmas.

Pay's good, though.

Heyyyy, wait a minute. I know this handwriting. Jess is back! Between the texas jaunt and a recent void in email communication, I wondered if she'd either vanished on the Silk Road to live in banditry or disappeared upon reentering the country due to subversive attempts to visit Blogger.
"Shut up," Jess? That implies I disagree with your assessment of the Forbidden Kitty. I like to think he's one of a long line of Forbidden Kitties, licking themselves throughout history. Sauntering in and out of the palace at will back when doing so meant death by a hail of arrows (even if you looked like Jet Li).

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Winter In My Hand

It's the craziest thing. A while back, circa yesterday, two thousand and gosh darn eleven, Blogger had rich text formatting. I'm pretty sure they had it at the beginning of this fudging entry. Now I have to pretend I remember HTML, and pretend I ever learned> css. Not sure what exactly is going on, but screw it. Let's talk about snowball fights.

As a kid, Calvin was my hero. Not for most of the brattiness (though as the fifth of five boys, I was pretty bratty). Not for the pet tiger (though I STILL want a tiger). Possibly for the vocabulary, though lately in my day-to-day the words "dude," "awesome," and "like" often usurp verbosity.

But definitely for the snowballs. Calvin was a malicious little bastard when it came to snowballs. Whether slinging them at his man-eating tiger or at the fearsome Susie Derkins (with her mean right hook), he always attacked without hesitation or mercy. Me? Any opening shot I fired at my older brothers would result in my own personal snowmageddon. I held more fragile alliances than WWI-era Europe and they were all as useless when anyone decided it'd be funny to hit Jimmy with a snowball. I'm pretty sure Johnny was supposed to be on my side the day he hit the side of my head at point blank range and gave me one of these.

So when I look at the pair of tip jars at my coffee shop, one labeled SLEDDING and the other SNOWBALL FIGHTS, guess which one I pick?

Here we have picturesque and not at all terrifying Mt. Hua, where surely both of the aforementioned activities are common. I don't have much experience with high mountain cliffs, but I have traversed some narrow trails while skiing in Utah, and I'm sure the level of wintry fun is similar.

I don't think you can really consider not breaking your neck a failure in any context, Lisa. Unless you were hoping to be rebuilt as some kind of cyborg.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Nihao, Pardner

Ah, good old Shenzhen, China! Though it started as a poor village, its establishment as a Special Economic Zone in the 1970s created a flourishing city populated (as of 2010) by over 10 million people. Many foreign companies base operations in Shenzhen, and it's one of China's busiest container ports! If the name sounds familiar to Western readers, perhaps it's because the Apple-contracted manufacturer FoxConn bases its factories there--

...what's that?

I'm sorry. Uh, on further inspection, this postcard is from Shenzhen's sister city. Houston.

Houston...China. Right! Um...back in 1836, some very confused settlers sailed out of the Gulf of Mexico, only to somehow, against all odds, shipwreck in the Guangdong province of China and found a city--

It''s real Houston, isn't it? Actual Houston. Why do I have a postcard from Houston?

Oh!...OH! This explains the mysterious new narrator in those last few cards! Jessie went AWOL! To Texas! From...China. For a job interview. And then she pretty much immediately flew back. Which, wow, I wouldn't trade my worst five freshman year hangovers for the jetlag she's gonna go through. Jetlag, hell, we're talking jetwhiplash.

I have no particular memories of Houston, but I do vividly remember visiting San Antonio as a child. Our hotel room porch overlooked the River Walk from several stories up, and I thought I'd never seen such an exciting view.

Until my brother started throwing down ice cubes at the tour boats, showing me how much more exciting the view could be. I joined in with glasses of water, and finally it was the two of us, flinging high-velocity ice shards harmless little ice cubes at the people below. In our defense, they were so far away, they couldn't really be people. I'm pretty sure we laughed when one of us--I propose my brother, though my memory remains fuzzy--struck a bald man on the head.

We stopped laughing when the knocking came.

My brother stood poker-faced as the hotel employees demanded information. Wish we'd had time to work out our cover story more, because even as he insisted we hadn't thrown anything off anywhere, I blurted out: "We didn't mean to hit him!" as though that would explain everything.

Well, in a sense, it did. It explained that we were responsible for the angry, bleeding passenger of a tour boat, and the employees in turn explained we were lucky to stay in their hotel.

Sometimes I remember the moment of impact: no sound, not even visible blood, just a distant bald man grabbing at his head in shock. I feel bad. Then I remember my brother and I couldn't have any soda for the rest of that week-long trip, or buy any souvenirs, and I ask you: who got off worse?

Bridging Gaps

My scanner did everything it could to ruin the front of this postcard. I apologize for the devils in the machine; clearly I should set that thing up with a curved roof. I like this wall, though! Looks good for warding off everything from ghosts to hordes of enemies. And just damned impressive in general. Ezio and Altair would need a week to climb that thing.
Here we have the city wall of Pingyao, a former banking center which looks, in many places, just like it did 2 centuries ago.

I even like to picture the bridge Lisa mentions as one of those swaying, unsteady rope dealies you'd see Indiana Jones struggling to cross. Doesn't seem accurate, but hey, it's not in the picture, so I'll just feel free to assume!

We're Driving Too Slow

High-falutin' family friendly sophisticate I am, I usually avoid employing overt profanity on this blog. Words are tools, you see, and bringing out the old four-letter gang's like conducting surgery with a hacksaw. That said, I checked my mail for the first time in 1.5 weeks today, and uh, quoting Jon Stewart:

Holy fuckballs.

I've got a whole mess of entries in the wings, postcards all scanned and ready, and then this...this treasure trove arrives? It's time to step up my game, ladies and gentlemen. If this blog were a movie, nervous scientists would be removing their glasses and the President would send us all to DefCon 1.

But nobody makes movies out of blogs, right? We can't be that out of ideas--

Anyway, the nice thing is, blogging's getting easier. I'm not sure when it happened, but somewhere in the last three years writing a paragraph became as fun and productive as slip-n-sliding on sandpaper, and it's good to feel...well, good while I write again.

So, what've we got today?

Pagoda! A lovely example of Chinese architecture, though apparently not the one located just outside of Fenyang. Lisa, just leveling with you here, but if you blacked out the "Ying County" part on the postcard, I'm pretty sure we'd all believe it was the Fenyang pagoda. But you're too honest for that. And I am ashamed I suggested it.

Also, ooh, liquor factory! I'm sure there're some lovely views of fermenting huangjiu, but I'm glad you went with the pagoda. :)

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Hot Deals, Cool Savings!

Remember that Geico commercial from a while back? Before the Cavemen, but post-gecko? Geico's web site was the bee's knees, a place you could get instant quotes and price comparisons and all kinds of neat stuff, and all you had to do was sign up.

The commercial riffed on it; some reporter guy asks the Geico Gecko (referred to henceforth as Geicko) "isn't it a little difficult to go to to get a quote?"

And Geicko responds: "Saying you have to go to is like saying, 'ello there, if you just...stand up, you can save loads of money. What's so hard about that? No thanks, you say. I'm so rich, I think I'll keep my seat."

Point being, people often ignore simple things they can do to save a bit of scratch. I'm not sure why I had to quote a years-old insurance commercial to make that point, but bear with me, I'm on cold medication.

The mysterious and not at all famous coffee company I work for offers a grand way to save bucks in the long run: the registered card. You buy one of their little gift card dealies, load it up with some money, register the numbers on the back at their website, and after a few transactions you get bonuses: free refills on coffee and tea. Free flavors, free specialty milks like soy or breve, free drinks every fifteen purchases.

All this for transactions you were going to make every day anyway. And yet, people endlessly try to get around the registered card requirement for these benefits, which, mind you, we're supposed to push.

"I'm only getting one pump of syrup. The Starbucks MoonDollars down the road doesn't charge me for it!"

"I just want a splash more tea on top."

"I want to talk to your manager, and I want one of those free drink coupons!"

The most egregious example was this one woman I served waaaay back in the day. She was a regular's regular, in multiple times a day every day, and despite the fact we all knew her name and how to make her favorite drink, not only did she never tip, she never even treated us like people. And she always...



tried to get a free refill on her drink. Without a registered card, refills cost 55 cents. Big money for a suburban housewife, no? Oh, if only we'd told her she could register her card and waive that cost! Ah yeah, wait, we did. Over and over. Every day. Like water off a duck's back, this advice went in one ear and out the other.

Finally I laid it out for her, after hearing her complaints for the hundred thousandth millionth trillionth time: "Look, I'm not giving you a free refill, because it's not our policy. You know exactly what you need to do to get one. I'll even help you do it."

"You should give it to me anyway!"

"I can't do that."

"Can't or won't?"

Both, I desperately wanted to say. "Can't," I said. "Miss, we have a policy in place for this. It's not my decision, I just have to do what the people upstairs tell me."

"Yeah," she replied, snatching up her drink and slapping down fifty-five little ones in one janky, angry motion, "that's what the Nazis said."

And she was right.

That's what the Nazis did, isn't it? Overcharged the Jews?

Or is it possible that they did something far, far worse, something so awful that it forever altered and affected an entire race of people? And that invoking their name for something as petty as a fifty-five cent refill (demanded five hours after the original purchase) might make whoever invoked it...a horrible person? Particularly since geographically she was pretty close to the highest concentration of holocaust survivors in America?

I guess we'll never know.*

Moving past that ugliness, we have a lovely screenwall!

I wish we had more of this in Chicago. I don't mean murals, because between the graffiti, the community projects, and the modern art, we're lousy with murals. I mean DRAGONS!!!

Everything could use more dragons. I think I just got an idea for the city's newest art piece. It's gonna breathe fire.

I miss bilingual conversation. My Japanese was never amazing, but between my garbled Nihongo and my conversational partner's struggling Eigo, we could usually meet someplace in the middle. It served well enough when we talked about our mutual dislike of Bush, when I needed to find swag for certain kinds of anime (coughRoninWarriorsJessiecough), or when I needed to buy the absolute best kind of beer.

Nothing against Jess' handwriting, which cheers me up every time I get it in the mail, but I do love how Lisa's English seems influenced by her Chinese. Lots of lovely lines. I wish I could go without redacting my last name; the Y looks really cool in it.

*Nah, we do know. Forget you, lady.

Friday, December 9, 2011

You think you can see crazy.

Thing is, crazy's not always invisibles crawling all over you. Crazy's the edge that eccentric guy has on the markets; crazy's that weird little quirk hobbling your otherwise brilliant physics professor.

Crazy's come a long way since the Victorian sanitarium.

And yet, hovered over by a creature whose demeanor flutters between charming host and sociopath, I think I, for the first time in a long time, can just see crazy. Six foot three of it, leaning in close to my face, breaking promises and implying, always just barely implying, threats.

I came here because Starbucks MoonDollars wouldn't transfer me to the city. I found a cafe: new, independent and hiring, and I thought getting away my old place in the corporate toolbox would be rewarding. I wasn't prepared for the Crazy.

Crazy is running a crepes operation, with crepes in its goddamn name, when you can only make two crapes at a time, at roughly four minutes per crepe.
Crazy is reading negative Yelp reviews every single morning, sometimes twice a day, and still missing the point of them entirely.
Crazy is firing your training coordinator and your manager, then being angry your staff seems shoddily trained.
Crazy is seeing that your kitchen has consistency problems and firing the head of your kitchen, thinking you can run it all yourself.

But the craziest of crazy is, when Yelp complains about slow service, choosing to--rather than buying more crepe griddles or perhaps hiring more support staff--place yourself in the midst of your cooking line and micromanage the living hell out of your employees for six to nine hours at a time.

When your shift, a self-admitted night person, requests to open with the bakers at 4 AM just so he can avoid you for 5 hours, perhaps you've crossed a line.

When your customers complain on yelp--ahh, yelp again--about the "manager" yelling at and criticizing employees in front of customers kindly, perhaps you would like to avoid looking crazy. Perhaps leaning in well past the point of appropriateness, well past the point where spittle flying from your mouth is merely felt and not tasted by your underlings might be a wise idea.

We'll never know, because I worked for a crazy person.

"People on Yelp are saying they don't like how I yell at you," he said one day.

We, as a group, chuckled nervously. My crepe rollers and baristas looked with hope towards me, as though I could offer some kind of explanation, respite, or perhaps physical protection. But I had bills to pay, so I just chuckled some more. Then his eyes were nanometers from my own, and I could smell the weird spilling past his lips. You can't cover up weird, which has a smell all its own. My co-shift was a girl who chugged peppermint extract like water and believed floride to be a government plot and she was intensely sane compared to our beloved owner who now breathed angry bull breaths directly into my eyes, nose, and mouth.

"So you need to smile while I talk to you. Otherwise they'll think I'm yelling at you. And I'm not yelling at you." He gave me a look that said I can kill you, I can grind you up and serve you in our crepes and no one will ever believe you, just talk back peon, just talk back and smiled. "Am I? Am I yelling at you?"

We agreed he certainly wasn't yelling at us. Then he smiled in a manner which showed all his teeth, nodded, and strolled out to his luxury SUV.

Crazy people aren't supposed to have luxury cars.

Who is this mysterious new source of handwriting?! Who could it BE?! Perhaps China's gloriously superior economy has invented ghostwriters for travel postcards. Well it's over, then, eh? Finally those Capitalist pigs will pay for their crimes, eh?...what's that? The Cold War's over and Austin Powers references are so 1999? Well, never mind, then.

Last thought: suddenly the handwriting is far neater. Prettier, even. I wonder if that has something to do with writing kanji. I hope we find out!

But seriously if any of you know the name of this crepe restaurant I'm talking about, don't go there, the owner is probably a future batman villain.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Fireworks and Pigeons

Recently, my roommate burst into my room. His eyes held the haunted look of a man who'd seen something terrible: war. Death. The Prequels. He leaned against my desk, limbs and voice shaking, and asked:

"Jim, do you know if pigeons migrate for the winter?"

"Um," I said.

"Look it up." Not a request, not even a command, but a statement of something I needed to do. If there's a multiverse, and every choice leads to infinite other possible outcomes across that multiverse, I would still have googled pigeons in all of them.

No, we discovered. Pigeons do not migrate. In fact, their homing abilities are extraordinary. Will wasn't thrilled to learn this.

See, our apartment had a pigeon problem in the summer. We have exterior porches, and there's one additional porch outside of the laundry room. Since that isn't exactly a happening place for humans, pigeons moved right in and, as pigeons do, started poopin' up the place.

Cue entry of landlord with powerwasher. The powerwasher left grooves in the wood. I was at work that day, but I'm told the resultant guano mist drifted over to a neighbor's building while she sunned herself on her deck. Awkward.

Results of that: fewer pigeons. But two decided to stay. And when Will strolled upstairs to do laundry many nights hence, he got a faceful of pissed-off pigeon. Or possibly frightened pigeon. Confused, even? Pigeons aren't the most expressive creatures. Anyway, we've had pigeons for a while now, and it's always a lovely game of Am I Going To Fly At Your Face any time you head upstairs to do laundry.

But funny thing: since our apartment has a no-pets policy (except, ironically, for birds), and since pigeons sometimes look like they're kissing, Will grew attached to the little cooing buckets of pestilence. He suggested that we'd be kicking out a couple just trying to make their way in the world. Despite my desperate, yearning need for some kind of pet around this eerily silent living space, I asked if he'd feel the same way about a homeless couple living up there.

So: we've tried one fake owl. That didn't work. We tried three owls, two of which moved their heads and hooted. Today, just one day into that phase, Will texted me to let me know we have "three owls and three pigeons who just don't give a shit." It's a little different, though: before, they roosted on the windowsill, above our heads, and you could walk by without disturbing them. Now there's an owl on that windowsill, and those flying rats strut about your feet, so every step you ask yourself: do I feel lucky?

Maybe we should try fireworks? I'd make the drive to Tennessee Alabama myself. Something tells me the firecrackers in this postcard might be...slightly overkill, but then again, there's no kill quite like it. If I had a few plasma grenades, I'd aim to get a sticky.

You know, the SO HAPPY on this postcard does somewhat melt the cavern of ice Starbucks MoonDollars constructs around my heart on a daily basis. But I have to point one thing out.

Any dragon kite over 7 meters long damn sure better not look that happy, because any dragon kite that size damn sure better ward off evil spirits or bad luck or something. I'm not being smarmy, neither! I'm the man who missed prom thanks to appendicitis and who missed callbacks thanks to clumsicitis. I hypothesize that if I carried a kite at those times--a kite somewhere between Jack Bauer and Kohaku--I would've been fine and dandy.

Granted, it is 3 AM, so this hypothesis could be flawed.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Going Meta

Dozing this morning, I dreamt about being a barista. Earlier tonight, I did a read-through for a webseries about baristas. Then just now, I came home to work on a blog post about being a barista.

It's not who I am beneath the apron, but what I do that defines me.

Here we have the Indian elephant in its natural habitat. That is, scrutinizing nalgene bottles and begrudgingly toting around sets of tourists.

"But Jim," you ask, "aren't you jealous?"
"Why would I be?" I respond. "After all, I was riding elephants all the way back in 2004. Sure, that elephant consisted mainly of stone, and the Japanese people all stared at me, and after I climbed up I had trouble getting down. But if we're talking chronological order in terms of riding elephants, I. WIN.

oh god I want to ride a real elephant.

That "days until elephants" counter grew so schizophrenic over the last few postcards that I'd stopped paying attention to the number.

But now the number's 0! And I'm gonna sit here and not be jealous. I'm gonna not be jealous of you so hard.

fffffffuuuuuuuuuu so jealous

Thursday, November 24, 2011


Let's talk about gratitude.

It's easy to be grateful for some things. The kind of things we all say when we're at a non-traditional mass (or something) and the priest (or youth minister or pagan brotherhood leader or something) asks us to say aloud what we're thankful for. Family. The blessings god(s?) gives us. Central heat and air conditioning.

And yes, those things are great. Especially family, especially my family (and, not to diminish the importance of the aforementioned, especially central heat). But this week, I'm thankful for something I rarely acknowledge, something most of these blog posts seem to diametrically oppose:


I have not had the hardest life. I'm not even in the top ten, the top fifty, the top hundred. In the American Idol of hard lives I'm getting voted out after the first challenge (did that metaphor make sense? I've never watched American Idol). It's rather easy to forget that, because in my first-world, pampered, soft jelly marshmallow-like state the slightest adversity can seem like gorram perdition.

Slaving away for people who--if you cross them--might just try to get you fired ain't the greatest gig. But a gig is a gig is a gig is a gig, and I wouldn't trade away the friends I've made or the people I've met or the amazing drinks I can wow even regional managers with for all the bao in China.

I've served horrible people and fished shit out of toilets, all for around ten an hour with benefits. In this same city a few decades back my grandfather built railroad tracks for pennies, then spent the pennies on night school. In this city right now, people scrape by on less than nothing while jackasses argue about tipping them. Others beg for cash outside our coffeeshops and then have the incredible, respectable decency to give us tips once they can afford a cup of our coffee.

There's always someone worse off. Unfortunately, complaining is fun and reasonably entertaining, so I often lose sight of that. This Thanksgiving weekend I'm grateful for the perspective my job and my experiences occasionally give me, and I pray I keep hold of it next time I surrender to anger. Or fear. Because fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate...leads to suffering.

Oh look! Postcards!
Here we are somewhere between Hayao Miyazaki and Middle-Earth, which the postcard informs me is Chemre Gompa just east of Karu, a monastery built--or, as I like to imagine, CARVED OUT OF THE ROCKS THEMSELVES--by Lama Stag Tsang Ras Pa.
High-altitude exposure to the elements (or as I like to call it, A CONSTANT BATTLE WITH SOLAR RAYS) saps prayer flags of their color the longer they've been there and the closer they're placed to the top.

I suspect the real stray dogs around Chemre are far less adorable than the ones on this postcard, but I wasn't there, so perhaps Jess and Lisa waded up to this mountain Monastery through hordes of puppy mountaineers. You know what? I'm thankful for that image. Puppy mountain climbers. Puppies wearing hardhats and toting little pickaxes. Maybe one of them is actually puppy Indiana Jones.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Some people.

We're not asking for much, you understand. We--I, specifically--don't expect a lengthy treatsie on the human condition each morning. I don't expect deep, empathic concern over how I'm doing at 7:15AM on a grey saturday. I really don't, nor do I want it, because every time a customer gets too talkative during a rush, the rest of the line wants to murder me for indulging him.

But I'm asking for acknowledgement, man. We--baristas, specifically--are required to check in with you as you come in (assuming we get the chance) and again as you come up to order. Some of us consider this duty a chore. I consider it basic courtesy. Sometimes I'm the first human being a customer interacts with during his day. And I want to make it a good experience, and so I say:

"Hey! How ya doing?"
"What's up, how's your day treating you?"
"Nice weather, huh?"

These aren't mere niceties. They're an invitation to communicate, an effort to check and see how you're feeling. When you walk into my coffee shop, I want to see where you're at emotionally, and make sure you walk out at an equal or higher emotional state. It gives me job satisfaction and personal gratification.

So when some people just...don't acknowledge me (us! this is not an exclusive experience!) at all, just...bark their hurts more than it should! Picture yourself in a waiting room across from a stranger. You're both stuck there, yeah? Nowhere else to go. May as well make the best of it. So you cross that awkward social barrier and ask the stranger:

"Hey, how ya doin'?"

And the stranger responds, monotone, not even looking at you:

"My appointment is in fifteen minutes."

And then they keep waiting for their appointment. That's a dick move, right? Common courtesy indicates they should at least look at you, respond with an awkward "fine," then go back to struggling through Angry Birds. This courtesy doesn't exist in coffeeshops. Sometimes we feel like smiling robots, It's a Small World automatons who simply sing while swiping credit cards. And anyone who's reading this who doesn't return that simple courtesy when ordering--take heed. Who knows, something terrible could happen. Perhaps a disgruntled barista could give you your change all in ones.

but hey, look, another postcard!
I've written articles about naan before, gotta love the food writing pedigree, but I'd never actually visualized naan cooking. And have any of you ever tried naan? This stuff is the greatest appetizer there is, or the greatest side dish, or hell, the greatest meal centerpiece. Give me a plate of bismati rice and garlic naan and watch me live the dream until the plate is empty.

At which point I just order some more.

Friday, November 11, 2011


Did you know yaks are often said to have the strongest odor of any domesticated animal? And that this is due primarily to their dense coats and the urine/fecal matter which can get trapped inside? Did you know that yak butter tea is--in addition to being a highly caloric beverage well suited to mountainous or nomadic living--an excellent way to prevent chapped lips?

Sorry, wiki overload there. Did you know that when the rut (or "mating season," if you're not into that whole brevity thing) begins, male yaks engage in threat displays and sparring? Man, I wanna see some yaks fighting! These yaks, they're just kinda rollin' along, man. Which is still awesome, mind you--

Apparently whenever Jess attempts to photograph these magnificent beasts, something--be it the click of a shutter or the flash of a...flash--drives them to a frenzy. Her camera is the Rage virus. Her viewfinder is the Fear Gas from Batman.

She seems perturbed by this. Dismayed, even. I'd take it a different way: with one push of a button, I can turn tame yaks into killing machines. Cities will fall.

The Wee Monklets

One tuesday night at work (a very gras mardi, if you get me), I met a friendly man in stylish clothes: designer jeans, nice shoes, and one of those sport coats that looks beat up, but really costs hundreds. One thing out of place: around his neck was a necklace of phalluses. Giant plastic pink penises. Flesh-colored monoliths rising from sizable sets of balls. Wrapped around each of these turgid towers was a stylized, bare-breasted woman. We made pleasant conversation as I prepped his drinks. Finally, at the handoff, I couldn't resist:

"On your way to mardi gras?"

He smiled that little smile I usually save for people who ask for free coffee.

"It's a religious symbol, actually."

I sputtered apologies, but he simply nodded and strolled away, looking like the most stylish mothereffer to ever rock a sacred penis necklace in a neighborhood coffee shop. Point of this story is, religion is a fascinating thing. What looks strange to one person is the height of sanctity to another.
So while I could snark about these monks' sweet hats, or imply that those dhungkar conch shells(? google is unclear) are full of booze, I can only imagine how it'd feel to watch the rite in action.

Because I'm in Chicago.

Okay, no, seriously. Back when I was an occasional world traveler I got to check out a Buddhist ceremony at a Japanese temple at, oh, 4:30 in the morning. And despite the fact I'm nominally Catholic and mostly too fond of pornography and swearing to be actually religious, I could sense how sacred the experience was. The devotion of the monks. Their dedication as they chanted. The collected awe of a group of college students who'd, moments earlier, bitched about removing their shoes in chilly fall weather. Of all the postcards I've gotten so far, I think I'm most jealous of this one.

Especially because of the WEE MONKLETS! Experiencing a lengthy sacred ritual on a freaking mountain: awesome. Watching young monks have as much fun as they can while still sort of adhering to the tenets of that lengthy sacred ritual on a freaking mountain: AWESOMAZING.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Wait, how did I miss this one? Also AAAAA BEDBUGS AAAAA

Okay, so: I'm terrified of bedbugs. And since I'm a pampered suburb kid at heart, every time I move to a new apartment I'm terrified the bedbugs are waiting for me. If I ever wake up itchy, if I ever see any kind of insect scuttling across any floor: the bedbugs are here, the bedbugs have always been here, we must burn everything, BURN EVERYTHI--

Uh. Yeah. I really don't like bedbugs. News features and radio docs don't help either.

But no worries, there's no bedbugs here! Just a lovely postcard I'm posting out-of-order!

This is Hemis Gompa, one of the largest monasteries in Ladakh. It's also a UNESCO World Heritage site, and some records (cough, wikipedia, cough) say it's been there since the 11th century. Give the wiki a read!
Speaking of reading, let's look at the other side of the postcard, shall we? I'm sure it'll be lovely and not contain anything horrifying


Okay, breathe, Jim. There are no bedbugs even drawn on the postcard. Just--just breathe, it's not visceral in any way, you can handle this


Monday, October 31, 2011

Stairs! Professor Xavier's Only Weakness!*

An exquisite view of Indian architecture from the top of the Lamayuru Gompa in Ladakh. Of course, given that these pictures are taken at roughly 11,500 friggin' feet, I can't be arsed to go up there myself. My legs are tired enough after a double shift, and all that is is running around on rubber mats and serving coffee to college students.

Also, I at first took "sponge bath" as a sign of luxurious accommodations, but now imagine it to be a necessity due to lack of running water. I'll find out if I'm right after a bit of wikipedia.

*I haven't followed the X-Books in a while. Is Prof. X walking now? Again?

Monday, October 3, 2011

Dancin' Like Never Before

Got this postcard from sunny, picturesque Ladakh, India. These dancers represent the victory of good over evil.

That's what the monks told everyone, anyway. I suspect they just realized, way way long ago, that dancing around in costumes is fun as all hell.

You know, Jess, I had to close and then open my cafe recently, and my sleep schedule was about the same as yours. I didn't even get a "days until elephants" counter.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Greeted by Camels

Today, an elderly man threw cookies at me and told me to go to hell because I wouldn't give him free hot water. Then I came home and found this.

Camels! They store water in their backs, right? Live in deserts. Spit a lot. Some of our customers spit a lot too.

And what's on the back?

Now, first I read this as "giant desserty thing," and knew I had to go to India someday. But then I realized there was only one S. Giant deserty thing. Hot, notably light on water. But camels!!!!

Don't worry, sad little geologist. Last I checked, the rocks aren't going anywhere.