Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

There is no día de gracias in Argentina, but I'm in Chicago to enjoy it. And because I referenced Les Nessman previously in this space, here is a special holiday greeting from him and his cohorts at WKRP:

Hey, it's better than Sarah Palin's greeting...

I hope everyone has a great holiday, eats their fill and enjoys their folks!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

It's Morning Again in South America

I first visited this country in August of 2002. That seems like such a very long time ago. Everyone I met wanted to talk about the 9/11 terror attacks. It had been nearly a year since those horrible events, but they still felt tangibly close, even for people over 5,000 miles away. They felt the impact, too. I remember Santiago, a 17 year old kid, showing me how he had saved the local newspaper and telling me how much the moment had affected him. I must admit I was touched by the sentiment. The notion that we're all in this together couldn't be ignored. But in the six years that have passed, that kind of sentiment has completely dissipated. It's easy to blame George Bush for this, but that's only because it's all his fault.

I spent far too much time paying attention to the election this year. This was partly due to the fact that I was willfully unemployed and rendered lame by knee surgery in January. Staying current with the daily minutiae was a great way to pass time when I wasn't doing leg-raises or jacked up on caffeine for the sake of plowing forward with the book. But also, it was the most fascinating political occurrence of my lifetime. And it went on for an entire year. So when Tuesday rolled around and the big moment finally came, it was somehow odd to find myself sitting with two friends in a Brazilian restaurant, trying to find a channel on their screen that had complete coverage. The whole thing was a bit anticlimactic for me. And when I saw reports such as this one:

...from the US, I have to admit I felt longingly absent. Outside of an extended "Wooooh!" (which totally took my roommate off guard), there was little celebration here. Whereas people all over the country took to the streets with joyful revelry.

I can't comment on what those people were thinking, but there was a hell of a lot to cheer about. We shunned George Bush. Young people finally turned out to vote. We turned our backs on campaigns of slander. We actually elected a smart person. We took another step toward healing the scars of our racist past. For me, I remain in a state of disbelief that this happened. Not that we elected a black man, but that someone ran for president with a direct, honest, mature approach to the electorate and actually won. Maybe we had to sink to such horrendous depths to actually start paying attention. Certainly it wasn't worth it. But my personal joy at this situation has very little to do with Barack Obama. It's that, against everything I've seen in my entire life, people actually did put country first. If Hillary Clinton had won the primary, we would be stuck in the same stupid mess we've always been in - fighting over nothing, and accomplishing less than that. Now, we've got a chance.

Wednesday proved even better as I finally received my stuff from customs. For six straight weeks, I slept on an air mattress and had roughly ten days worth of clothing. I had no dishes, pots, pans or silverware. I had no stereo. Since the bed arrived, I've been thinking about the exchange between Kirk Van Houten and Homer Simpson after Kirk has been kicked out by his wife:
Kirk: Singles life is great, Homer. I can do whatever I want. Today I drank a beer in the bathroom.
Homer: The one down the hall.
Kirk: Yeah! And another great thing, you get your own bed. I sleep in a racing car, do you?
Homer: I sleep in a big bed with my wife.
Kirk: Oh. Yeah.
No wife, but a big bed anyway

Life here's been good, but without a bed it never felt normal. In sum, I'm like a real person again. My back is already feeling better, and I was able to make some food and not eat it off a napkin. Perhaps most importantly, my Michigan flag was hung on the balcony during the team's first win in six weeks. If it weren't for all the red tape, we'd be bowl bound! I feel like I just arrived all over again and am ready to begin living. Also, the "lead" mover (at least the one who talked to me the most and had me sign all the papers), only had one hand. The guy was a mover, and apparently had been successful enough that he was in charge of the other eight dudes. He was as capable as any of them. Yes we can.
This pile actually grew a lot bigger, but I forgot to take a picture

Beyond the spontaneous celebrations across the US, the world also raised its voice in support. I must admit, that this video really got to me. And this one was nice to see, too. Many of you have asked me what people here think about the election. There was a lot of interest, and certainly they all preferred Obama, but Argentina on the whole is a country rather disillusioned with politics. They've had a steady string of leaders who have ranged from corrupt to self-interested. Yes, there's not a lot of space between those two. Because of my accent, the cab drivers always immediately ask me "De dónde sos?" They really want to know the country, but my new answer is "Chicago, la misma ciudad que Barack Obama." They always give me the same response - a broad, content smile. Then they ask, "That's in the West, right?" or some similar question.

The details don't really matter. What does is that, after eight years of overt obstinance, we are all in this together again. And now it's up to Obama not to squander these good feelings like Bush did. He's got his work cut out for him, to be sure. But I think a little of that hope rubbed off on the rest of the world. That's a great place to start.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Can't Stop Climbing

I'm not gonna lie. It's been a good week, and I'm having good feelings. After fourteen long months, much physical pain, and countless hours of rehab, I finally got back on the horse and played some Ultimate thanks to a Halloween tournament here in BA. It was such a thrill to get back out there and run. Of course, since all of my possessions remain stuck in customs, I had to play without cleats. That may not have been the best idea with a reconstructed knee, but at least I had my brace. I had a pretty scary feeling wipeout early on due to the lack of traction, but either the knee is fully functional or the brace did its job, because I popped right up and kept running. I felt more surprised at that then the fall. So I gotta give both Dr. Palutsis and Mary at Athletico two big thumbs up. And one for me, too. I’ve worked pretty hard in my own right. My throws were a bit rusty, but generally in the vicinity of their targets and flutter-free. My team went 2-0 before I called it a night, not wanting to overdo it on the first day. Of course, all the Frisbee folks were friendly as hell. Even though half were Americans (four from Chicago), nearly everyone spoke Spanish all day. I remain more convinced than ever that it's the greatest game on the planet. I can't wait to get out there next week, hopefully with cleats, dammit!
Good people, as always

On that point, word came through today that I am to receive my held-up belongings this Wednesday. I was all set to write that I have really gone from patience to pissed. Not having my stuff is affecting so many things. No bed is killing my back and my sleep. No clothes is killing my urge to get dressed in the morning. No stereo is killing my groove, and no running shoes is killing my endurance. There are so many little things that are affected by the absence of my stuff. One of the biggest is that Josh and I have to split time on the internet. We can't both use it at the same time and have to pass a cord back and forth, taking turns all the way. This has been a serious stress on the home front. We spend all our time in the smallest room in the apartment, eating, working, socializing, always in front of our laptops. Especially when you consider the close quarters, we’re getting along really well. If the reports are to be believed, my things arrive on Wednesday. I’m inclined to believe them this time, though. Maybe.

I put up a post over at Fighting The Youth about the election. Check it out here. But a gabber like me can’t be limited to just one political espousal this week. Like all of you, I have a ton on my mind. Being unemployed for half of 2008 led to my spending far too much time on this election, but I couldn’t help it. It was far too compelling

I think back to a restless night four years ago. Come Tuesday I had, perhaps naively, gotten my hopes up about Kerry actually winning. When the election returns were limping in, all the networks refused to call Ohio. With the TV flickering away into the night, I was lying in bed, knowing in the back of my mind that Bush would be declared the winner, but unable to fall asleep and unable to turn off the television. I eventually bothered to change the channel to an infomercial for a big ladder. And I still couldn't sleep at all. Occasionally, feeble hopes led me to bounce back to the election coverage only to learn that there was no change. It was a miserable feeling, but not because I thought we were that much more screwed. I knew Bush had already done his worst and that maybe if we had another four years with him, people would pay enough attention that they'd figure out who the real Bushy was (the slightest sliver of a silver lining). It was more that my country was so embarrassingly stupid as to vote for this buffoon and his band of criminals again. I was equal parts sad for us and really angry at us. For me, the indelible image of election night, 2004 is a big ladder. I hate that ladder.

The Porteños here keep telling me that I must be happy because they’re watching the news and the election is in the bag. I’m terrified of deluding myself again. I don’t want to let myself believe. As a statistician, I have great faith in the idea of polls, but I don’t know the guys running ‘em, and you never know what the Diebold factor will be this year. I was told I’d get all my stuff from customs two weeks ago, too.

But there’s that Hope thing.

I referenced this once before, but last year I saw the best that American partisanship has to offer. Good-natured ribbing, joking, and prejudice. College football games, particularly rivalries are damn important. I wouldn’t be writing a book about them if they weren’t. But obviously this election is at a totally different level. This is literally life and death, peace and war, prosperity and poverty. And even the most vociferous of college football nut has at his foundation a respect for the camaraderie of those who share his passion. When it comes to America, we haven’t seen that in my lifetime. Honestly, I’m 33 years old, and I still remember a kid being chased around the playground the day after the 1984 election because he publicly admitted he was a Mondale guy. We were nine. I kept my trap shut for fear of similar treatment. My parents raised me to care about this stuff, and I always have. But I’ve never seen a candidate like Barack Obama.

If he is elected tomorrow, it will be with a different kind of mandate. He has ridden a crest of populism that I’ve never witnessed in America. People didn’t fall under his spell because he’s a slick talker, or because he’s cool, or because he’s a black man. He pinned the success of his campaign on the faith of the American people to believe that we can do better. That we can win with honesty and integrity, even though that’s never worked before. If it couldn't work, then he wouldn’t work. But America was ready for it. And now he knows he must deliver. Of all the moments in this election splayed across the Youtubes, the one that keeps coming back to me was when Obama addressed his staff in Chicago after he finally vanquished Hillary Clinton. He put it to them simply: “We have to win.” Had he lost to another Democrat, maybe they would have gone on and helped with all those issues the people gathered in that office cared about. But lose now, and education, the environment, the war in Iraq, the war on terror, health care reform and everything else would have to wait another four years. That’s quite a statement, and I believe he believed it.

More than anything else, it’s that different mandate that gives me faith in the man. He knows what’s at stake beyond the issues. If he breaks the trust of the American people via corruption, ignorance, or incompetence, our nation will never get over it. Maybe this is all just feeling. And maybe I’m being naïve again. But if America feels it too, after a long march into one of the darkest pits in our history, then that’s the first step in the right direction. I know where we can get a good ladder if we need a boost.

And if for some reason things don’t go our way, I can always just cook this up for dinner in Buenos Aires every night for the rest of my life:
Yes. That says Barfy. And it's for people. To Eat.

You know what, fuck it. GOBAMA. GO AMERICA! Come on, people. We need this one this time. WE CANNOT LOSE!

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