Sunday, December 28, 2008


I love Boston's Science Museum. The Mathematica exhibit was designed by Charles and Ray Eames. This is a mobius strip.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008


I'm trying to write another essay for Smile Hon. It's for their transportation issue.

I don't currently have a car so it has forced me to depend on other modes of transportation to get around the city. A lot of the time, this dependence is on my partner, J, who has a car. But I'm afraid of driving stick shift in the city so I find myself interacting with a lot of strangers when I have to get from point A to point B. It makes for some interesting stories.

1. There are varied reactions to my habit of biking to work when it's not too cold or wet outside. It's a very pleasant, mostly safe two mile ride and I have a nice bike, thanks to a friend. All last year, one of my colleagues asked if I wanted a ride home, as if I would prefer it. My chair thinks it's "just great" that I ride my bike because I'm being environmentally conscious. I guess I am but her comment usually makes me feel like a little kid. Other co-workers think it's cute. I guess either I'm crazy or they are. Is biking something little kids or hippies do, not adults with jobs?

Anyway, when I bike to work, I take the same route every day. I'm pretty religious about it even though it sometimes drives me crazy. Since everyone is slammed up against each other in the city, the ride passes through a different social class just about every time I change gears. There are the maintenance guys across the street as I fasten my helmet, the up and comers at Hopkins, trying to get to class at Homewood or to the hospital for their rotation on the number 3. I pass by the mentally challenged guy, Eddie, always waiting at the same stop at the corner of 39th and Charles. I wave and then try to avoid getting doored while I pass by a high rise of condos built by some famous person I've never heard of and people waiting on the other side of the street to get downtown. Until I get to Guilford. Guilford is chock full of mansions. There's the dog that barks so consistently at me that I'm disappointed if he breaks up the routine. He's held by an electric fence, I gather, but he hates me so much that it feels good. The people in Guilford are always having work done on their property. Watering, weeding, mulching, roofing, painting, siding. The occupants must be so content in their little islands that the maintenance guys are the only ones I ever see outside in this neighborhood. Finally, I pass by Loyola - always the same conversation at that bus stop about wages and schedules of the cafeteria workers. And then, finally, I get to school.

2. The MTA bus situation is a total mess. With Baltimore's extensive trolly system now gone except for a single, lonely light rail line, the city was left with buses to transport its people. The bus system is still costly and time consuming as they compete for space with the other cars on the road. It is vastly underfunded and when a driver doesn't show up to work, that bus doesn't run, leaving people stranded for hours at a time.

The most interesting time is when the bus does finally arrive. Usually the passengers are in a foul mood anyway because waiting for the bus, even if it is on time, is cold and excrutiatingly boring. But when people have been waiting for over an hour, they get downright hostile when they finally get on the bus. In society it is incredibly rare that people actually see a system at fault instead of individuals. Usually we take out our frustration on the first person we see when something goes awry. But blame placement is crystal clear on a late bus. The face of the organization, the driver, just saved your ass! If you ever want to engage in a conversation about the dysfunction of the city, get on a late bus. You are guaranteed to see a lot of pissed off people ready to talk, if not mouthing off about the corruption and misplaced funding of public services. Indeed, a city that can't transport its people is headed for disaster.

The best time I ever took the bus, though, was election night, 2008. I had taken the #27 to a party on Paca and then needed to take it back but up to Hampden. It came early on the way there and 30 minutes late on the way back. Knowing that Obama could win the election, I desperately wanted to get back to the tube and see if he had won Ohio and drink some more. As I waited on Howard by another old, abandoned theater, a homeless guy slept on the bus stop bench. The rats stayed out of my way and the leaves danced with anticipation of the night's finale. When the #27 finally showed up, the bus driver was filling out some sort of report - there had been an incident but I couldn't figure out what, exactly. So we parked several times to get the paperwork done. We then had to give her directions because she didn't know the route. But no one cared because our man could win, and we finally got to the Avenue. A couple $2 Yuenglings made everything all right. The election was called about 30 minutes later to huge roars at the Hon Bar.

3. A consortium of colleges in Baltimore fronts the money for the Collegetown bus. It runs up and down Charles Street several times a day stopping at the different campuses, usually in an old yellow school bus. It's the least glamorous form of transportation I take, but it's free, so I could care less about the aethetics. I pick it up at Hopkins, near where I live, and take it north to my campus or to the mall in Towson when I need some work clothes. There are very few stops so it's faster than the MTA.

The only drawback to the Collegetown bus is that there are, well, college students on it. Which would be fine if they never drank alcohol or talked. But they do both and if it's late at night - any night - they're really yapping it up. This usually makes me feel sort of embarassed and old. But sometimes there's some good material in there. Recently, three girlfriends discussed a night of casual sex. One of them, after a tryst, had shooed her suitor with the reminder that they both had an Italian class early the next day. Got him out by the skin of her teeth! Ciao, baby. I need to spend more time at the mall.

4. I rented a car to travel to North Carolina. I returned the car and was offered a ride. I needed to get to work so one of the employees drove me the two miles up Charles. We talked about the city and its (mostly poor) economy. As I was going on about unemployment rates and the service industry, he summed it up quite easily, "there's no love." He's right.

Okay, that's all I have for now.

Friday, November 07, 2008


An essay of mine (not previously on the blog) has been published in Smile Hon! You're in Baltimore, a local zine that publishes non-fiction stories about Baltimore. Come celebrate the issue's release!


I have begun an experiment: I have banned myself from Facebook. It's been a month since I last logged on. It feels great.

I created a profile on Facebook in Spring of 2007. Initially it was just to socialize with my students and faculty friends. That went well because I knew the level of interaction I wanted, I had a very clear idea of how much privacy I wanted: just about all of it. I enjoyed getting to know my students on-line and staying in touch with former students. I liked the Facebook groups feature a lot.

Then the applications came. Soon, everyone jumped ship from MySpace and hopped on board with Facebook. I was poked so much that it got old. And then Facebook was opened up to non-college affiliated people. I had even more fun getting reacquainted with old friends and reinvigorating relationships with my cousins who live in the midwest. When we moved to Baltimore, Facebook became a way to stay in touch with NC people. And then with the run up to the election, everyone was posting all of these hilarious graphics and great satire and news articles. And everyone started using Facebook email instead of regular email. Plus, I just HAD to know what everyone's status was. I would even refresh the screen. "My name is I Zimbra." "I have a Facebook problem."

In the end, I had to face the facts: Facebook was killing too much of my time. It was my gateway drug to the internet. A meta party that never stopped. I knew that if I quit doing Facebook, I'd still be on the internet and email but a lot less. I wouldn't be directed to read long news stories by Naomi Klein and blog posts by John Hodgman and opinion pieces by Maureen Dowd every single fucking day. (Who I love.) Never in my life have I participated in something that is such a COLOSSAL WASTE OF TIME as Facebook.

So, I banned myself. I knew it was a good idea because I wasn't happy when I was on Facebook anymore anyway. It was way too much stimulation for me.

Basically, nothing changed when banned myself. But here are the things that did:

1. A week later, one of my students comes to my office. She's got an incredulous look on her face: "Why did you ban yourself from Facebook???" I just laughed. She wasn't fucking kidding.
I didn't know what to say. What came out was: "I needed to get some work done."
This was not a good enough excuse for her, apparently. She reported that there had been sixteen - no - THIRTY replies to my status update about the ban. I said, "yeah right". The next week, she brought to class a print out of the comments - all six of them. I decided she trying to tempt the junkie.

2. I missed a good friend's birthday. When I wrote him the next day, I apologized and asked how he was doing, CC-ing his girlfriend, also a good friend. She wrote back, "well, if you were on Facebook, you'd know it was his birthday!" She was joking, I'm pretty sure, but it's true. Facebook has a good birthday feature but the truth is that getting that information is dependent on checking the site. Whatever, bitch! (just kidding, of course)

3. I have started to write people more, both on email and in letter form. I think Facebook gave me a false sense of being in touch with people. Now that it is gone, I've also noticed that I enjoy personal interaction more, even if it's only on email. When I want to have some human interaction, I don't log into Facebook any more. I do something else - anything else. It makes me a lot happier and I think that's really weird.

4. I feel retardedly guilty about not "confirming friendships" on Facebook. I think this is bizarre. About 5 people have tried to "friend me" in the past month. I can tell because Facebook notifies me via email when somebody tries to add me but I can't confirm without logging in. I'd been toying with the idea of getting J. to log in as me and do it but I'm pretty sure that that's cheating. So I've told the people that friended me about the ban, too. "Sorry I can't friend you back - I've banned myself!" either in person or via email doesn't go over so well, let me tell you. They react with surprise and if in person, a weird look. "Look at the addict!" Ah, maybe I am. This further cements a sort of outsider status for me. A self-proclaimed outcast. It makes me want to go all the way and only communicate by telegram for the rest of my life.

But that's about it. The world has continued to turn. Facebook is one weird animal. I visited with an old friend from high school recently and we talked about it for about an hour. It really is a good thing, I think, because friendships are a type of social history. They help to contextualize yourself, as long as the interaction is genuine (which it is in my opinion). But it is the only time that I have started to really wonder if on-line interaction can be substitutive for me. And then one of the comments from my student's print out made me think I was not the only one. Christina P. had written, "noooooooooo, one defects and the whole system crumbles." And I wonder if there is some truth to that. By virtue of Facebook's great success of getting just about everyone on board, it requires that its members invest in its reality for it to be sustained. This could be a semi-powerful form of social control. The social incentives to stay interacting and updating on Facebook sure are something. By not confirming those new friendships, it tapped an old feeling in me that I hadn't experienced in a while. How dare I ignore someone who wants to be friends with me? I've known how that feels since junior high. But I think that in a larger sense, all of this friendmaking does sort of up the ante. In order to Facebook to be sustained, we have to keep logging in, reading those status updates, and consuming their fucking ads. It's all a little too crazy for me right now. Now that I'm safe on my Facebook-free island, I breathe a nice big sigh of relief.

Saturday, August 23, 2008


Here are the things that are particularly different from Chapel Hill:
Baltimore has...
1. more smokers
2. more swearing
3. more labor union members
4. garbage and rats
5. more running red lights
6. less people dressing up
7. a lot more cash only places
8. beer in weird places (not at the grocery store but in the Rite Aid on Howard St? Plus the unforgettable cash and carry + bar combo. I'm still a little confused by that.)
9. little to no basketball (yay!)
10. lacrosse, baseball, and crazed Ravens fans
11. the obvious ones: more drug dealing, Catholics, prostitution, seafood, murders, empty houses, cops, public drunkenness, neighborhood identity, larceny.
13. real diners where they don't want you to linger. I love you, Pete's Grill.
14. those wire basket thingies on wheels - freaking awesome
15. alleys!
16. the Maryland state flag is very common
17. heavy metal and Q92!
18. plexiglass at the counter
19. art students! from MICA - yay
21. smearcase, Natty Boh, Utz, crabcakes (with mustard and crackers), Bergers cookies, and pit beef.

Thursday, August 14, 2008


we lower the bar so you don't have to
We lower the bar so you don't have to!

Listen, I know the Examiner is supposed to be this paper you glimpse at while on public transportation and nothing else. And it may be better than not reading anything at all...

The question remains as to whether the feeling of accomplishment should override the availability of information.

Monday, July 07, 2008


In case you had any remaining doubts, I watch television. I enjoy most of the obvious shows and hate all of the bad ones. I do not pay for cable so at least I can pretend to dislike TV and do quite often. But in reality, that is a bit of a lie. I crave the quick fix that it supplies. In the summer, I watch more TV than usual because I don’t have as many responsibilities, I get a little bored, and I like the alternative reality that it provides. Unfortunately, the idea of watching any TV show at all is, like most things that are not my dissertation, quite moronic.

My confession is that unless I’m watching something humorous, I like to pretend that I’m learning something important from TV. I think this is because it cushions the blow of time wasting. In this way, sociology can be a little like crack for me. When I blow off some of its basics (like having a “methodology” or “theoretical framework”) analysis is much faster and easier. Plus, instead of feeling lazy and sedentary, I feel like an intellectual giant, alone but authoritative right in my own living room. Who needs publications when you can spout off during the commercial breaks? One show that satisfies my fix is “Intervention”, a reality show on A & E which I watch consistently. It has become my friend.

Each episode of Intervention is an hour long portrayal of a person addicted to a substance or lifestyle (like gambling). Unlike other reality TV shows where the manifest or latent goal is to win fame (American Idol, Real World, Survivor), Intervention offers no big chance to move on to the final round. If you’re on Intervention, this is the end game. The protagonist has hit rock bottom and they are controlled by their drug of choice. We see them shoot up, throw up, and fuck up - repeatedly. True to its name, the protagonist faces a family meeting towards the end of the show where they are offered 90 days of rehab that the family could not otherwise afford. There’s a reason why the show airs on Monday nights: it’s not for fun. And for this reason, it is all the more conducive to analysis.

There are obvious psychological conclusions to be drawn during Intervention. Father and/or mother figures disappear, people are sexually and emotionally abused, and bad coping strategies are learned left and right. But sociology is where it’s at with me, so I pay attention to job histories, birth order, experiences with discrimination or institutional racism, educational attainment, and with women especially: marital status. All predict income and employment status which says a lot about one’s feelings of control. Low income predicts external locus of control which is the idea that fate, not personal action is what really makes the world go round. Higher income people tend to have internal locus of control. They assume that it is their hard work, not their family legacy or racial privilege, for example, that has brought them success. I would also imagine that external locus of control correlates with substance abuse but I don’t know for sure. The causality could go either way.

At any rate, I like to put Intervention on a pedestal because it may help others to understand the structural conditions under which people become addicts (as opposed to emotional weakness or biological reasons), but it mirrors every other reality TV show out there. Even though it is shot in cinema verite style and thus appears to be an intellectual endeavor, the producers of the show are not saints. Intervention has commercial value, otherwise it would not be on cable TV. The show offers a prize at the end, rehab, and the counseling centers get free advertising in exchange. It’s hard to argue that this is a bad thing but the reality is that addicts have consented to be on the show because their ability to make good decisions has been greatly compromised. They are told that they are the subject of a documentary on addiction and never the title of the show. This, in and of itself, is not criminal per se, but that would not get approved by any institutional review board. There are even moments of dramatic suspense built in, just like the reveal on Love Connection or American Idol. Will the addict agree to go to rehab? And: will they stop using as a result?

Maybe I need an intervention. Hardly anything can be explained in a 60 minute time slot so I get to feel like an intellectual detective, trying to put the pieces of the story together. Besides, addiction is personally foreign to me so I become entranced by my lack of understanding. In combination, these two elements create a situation in which I endlessly analyze because there is only biased, insufficient data. In my little game, it doesn’t matter if I draw valid conclusions, only that I have any analysis at all. I realize now that this is all a bit silly. Perhaps if we change our scope and move past the individual episodes to see the show as a whole, we can see its place in society.

What seems closer to the truth is that if the show really wanted to help addicts, it would donate its profits to rehabilitative services or lobby for changes in drug law. Intervention allows A & E to sell ads for lots of cars, Flomax, and toilet paper. But only one organization that provides rehabilitation services can apparently afford to buy a single 15 second ad on the nights that Intervention airs in two back to back episodes.

The only thing we really learn from Intervention is that being on TV is now the new low of hitting rock bottom. The show may make its consumers feel important, as if we are an extended family intervening on their behalf. We should be critical of this position because it is a lazy way of feeling something about others. Instead of focusing on ourselves and fostering our own relationships, we sit on our couches and veg out with voyeurism. On the other hand, Intervention is informative because it shows that people very similar to us can spiral out of control. The reality is that we have a substance abuse problem in America. I think we use TV, meth and money to escape the depression of underemployment in the new knowledge economy - the system in which independent thoughts are a commodity and those without them are supposed to be losers. We have devalued all other forms of work. Physical labor and carework, the very tasks for which humans are best suited, are the hardest hit.

In the end, I'm glad that Intervention exists. While the subject of some exploitation, substance abusers are getting help that they would not otherwise. But we really need a different type of intervention all together.

Friday, May 16, 2008


Turn up the volume!

Easterns is a car dealership in the Baltimore area. They just won't quit with the commercials. I think this pretty much summarizes everything that's good about this town.

Monday, April 21, 2008


Late breaking news: we identified the song that our ice cream truck plays. It is Turkey in the Straw. Whew, what a relief that is.

The second piece of news is that the other night I wished, very hard, that all of the rats in the city would be replaced by blue crabs. Little, skittering blue crabs. J mentioned that this is a little far fetched, given that the crabs would have no where to hide. Do they cluster together for warmth? They certainly cannot dig holes like rats do. I agreed. But think of the possibilities. Grabbing a free dinner would only mean going as far as one's backyard and tackling some crabs, throwing them in a pot of boiling water, and tossing some Old Bay on those suckers. The rat problem would be solved within a matter of weeks. I am disgusted by our rats but, in a way, I wish I wasn't. They are pretty huge and are probably not hard to catch. Even the cats avoid them. They're pretty furry though - they would be brutal to try. In Louisiana, they tried to deal with their nutria problem by advertising them as good eatin'. Dispelling stigma is pretty darn hard though when it comes to ratties. In a city with a lot of hungry people, I'm sure someone is getting past that.

The last thing I'll say, which isn't really a newsy item at all, is that if you didn't know that the MTA buses take pennies, well, now you do.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008


I got a new digital point and shoot from some friends of mine (thanks L & K!). I'm mostly testing it out here. This one has sound and is kind of PG.

The Charm City Roller Girls put out a mean calendar. I'm trying to figure out my take on the resurgence of the roller derby... What do you think of all that?

Anyway, conclusions of the camera test:
1. The camera works. It is fancy!
2. Three minute movies! That's 6 times as long as my previous camera allowed.
3. There is audio!
4. I can't figure out how to make the camera zoom but who cares.
5. Low light conditions make the camera really grainy but whatever.
6. It is much better than my last camera. I'm psyched.

Sunday, March 23, 2008


Wicker: Ruining a thrift store near you. I thought we'd have a wicker free week at the thrifts in anticipation of Easter but, wow, I was wrong. At least the thrift down the street from me has the right idea: corral it in its own little wicker prison. It doesn't deserve to mix with the rest of the merchandise! Then, when it's cold, you can save on the store's heat bill by just throwing a match in there. I swear, it's like a plague upon an otherwise perfectly decent junk fest at the thrift. Wicker: the junk that kills.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008


In my lifetime, a variety of dating shows have presented themselves. “The Dating Game” emphasized the comically random aspects of picking a date and encouraged bizarre, seductive, and creative answers from the 3 bachelors or bachelorettes behind the curtain. “The Newlywed Game”, hosted by Bob Eubanks, made getting to know your spouse a fun, or not so fun opportunity to win a new refrigerator. “Love Connection” got more personal, aiming to match a single gal or guy with three possible people based on their preferences towards physical characteristics, hobbies, and personality. Following a short interview, the audience was shown video excerpts of the three potential dates (of which the contestant had screened in their entirety). The audience was then asked to vote on which date they believe was the right match for the bachelor(ette). If the bachelor’s choice ended up matching the audience’s choice after the quality of the date was revealed, the show would pay for an additional date between the two. If you actually liked the person you dated even though the audience disapproved, you were still left with your new found love, perhaps a not-so-terrible consolation prize.

Since reality television has bombarded the dating landscape with its “Blind Date”, “Elimidate”, “Flavor of Love”, and many others (with often slutty consequences), the emphasis placed on authenticity and the quality of the match has overshadowed the competitive frontier that Americans crave. Finding a true, authentic love based on a match of individuals has replaced the ancient tradition of just going out with whatever Schmoe came your way just to kill time. As viewers of the reality television shit fest, we’ve been manipulated into thinking that finding true love is not just a project, it’s an entire era of our adult lives which may have to be revisited over and over because it’s “so hard to find a match.” Bullshit! What happened to going out for the sake of getting out of the house? Whatever happened to the strategizing of weighing Matt over Pete and hedging one’s bet over who would put out? What happened to the obvious manipulation of the contestants? Enter "Hell Date".

“Hell Date” is a show on BET. It starts with one unsuspecting dater telling the viewers who his/her ideal mate is. This individual thinks that he/she is on a standard reality dating show, such as "Blind Date", where both daters have gone on a TV show to look for love. However, in this case the second dater is actually an actor or actress portraying an annoying character they’ve made up. Sometimes friends of the unsuspecting dater are included in the show, relaying information about what would really get the dater’s goat.

Each 30 minute episode features two “Hell Date”’s in three stages of ever increasing annoying behavior from the confederate. Picture a Stanley Milgram experiment but in date land and you’ve just about got it. The actors have different levels of expertise but generally they just keep cranking up whatever annoying behavior they’ve chosen as the date progresses. If the dater hasn’t realized they’ve been had by the end, they are notified, get this, by a little person dressed in a devil suit holding a plastic pitch fork. Frankly, this is the best part of the show for me and I collapse in a fit of giggles every time I see it.

“Hell Date” is a prankster’s fantasy. But is it a dating show? Absolutely. Just because the show will never produce an authentic date (or an intended one anyway – the Hell Date crew seem pretty attractive to me) doesn’t mean that it has nothing to do with dating. The audience – this time the dater’s friends and family – get to recommend what would work best and the producers stage a date. The interaction between the dater and the confederate is a spontaneous production, just with different intentions from each party. It’s even possible that the dater gains something from the experience after they’ve wiped the egg from their face. And isn’t dating a series of trial and error experiences anyway? Why shouldn’t “Hell Date” help the single people of America in their own small way to learn about their limits? Meanwhile, I’ll still giggle with delight at their misfortune.

Don’t get me wrong, dating sucks. It sucks big time. “Hell Date” is another way that we are endorsing a type of torture on these poor souls. But, on the other hand, Hell Date is an awesome show because it doesn’t take the quest for authenticity seriously. It reminds us that life is one big joke. And this time the cherry on top is a red devil.