Month: November 2014

Five Thanksgiving Observations from California

Photo Credit Joseph Lapin
Photo Credit Joseph Lapin: Thanksgiving Meal

This Thanksgiving, my wife and I invited a small number of people over to our house to celebrate. It sort of served as a house-warming party, and as the night moved on, I started to kind of write my blog post of the things I was observing. So here are five Thanksgiving observations.

5: Cooking the Turkey Isn’t that Hard

Photo Credit Joseph Lapin: Turkey
Photo Credit Joseph Lapin: Turkey

Before Thanksgiving, my wife and sister-in-law didn’t want to make a turkey (probably because they knew how much hard work it would be), but my brother-in-law and I knew we couldn’t have Thanksgiving without one. It would be like having Christmas without pierogi or Passover without dipping some of that parsley in the salt water that you can’t stop eating because the Seder is long and you are SO hungry. I had a lot to learn about cooking a turkey first though. What I gathered from some advice articles is that you have to brine a turkey before you start cooking it, and I’m glad that we did, because the turkey was so moist and had this zesty flavor. I’m still eating the turkey today and it has remained tender. Here is the brine recipe we used: Turkey Brine.

Overall, cooking the turkey wasn’t that hard. The main thing you have to worry about is planning and ensuring you follow through on the schedule. When you start opening the oven and witness the turkey browning, then you feel like a Top Chef. Of course, I’m talking about this like I cooked the turkey alone. If I’m honest (which I always promise to be, even though that’s kind of a lie), my wife and sister-in-law really deserve all the accolades for why the turkey looked and tasted so good. I can’t even say I supervised. I lifted the turkey, gutted the turkey, and basted the turkey, but the rest, well, that wasn’t me. I still can say that if you want to make a turkey on Thanksgiving, don’t be scared and definitely don’t settle for a ham. Continue reading “Five Thanksgiving Observations from California”

How to Deal with Grief on Thanksgiving

Grief on Thanksgiving

For most people, the holidays are a chance to relax, surround yourself with family, and celebrate being alive, but for others, it’s a difficult time, because they’re in mourning for a family member or someone in their family currently has an illness. I’ve been a part of some tough holidays, and last year, I was reminded of one of them when I wrote down this memoir flash piece:

Dealing with Grief on Thanksgiving

I don’t have a big family. We’ve been scattered across the globe: the result of war, struggling economies, and divorce. And since my grandparents died, Thanksgiving at my home in Clinton, Massachusetts, is usually just my mother, brother and me sitting quietly around a table, scooping brown mush, white mush, and microwaved vegetables onto our plates, ignoring the palpable presence of those who are gone or never there. Back when they were more than just a memory, my grandparents always broke the quiet by sharing stories about New York City during the Great Depression—or the day they brought my mother home from the adoption agency. Now I just watch the candles burn in the center of the table, believing I can hear the wick gasping. Then I begin to hear my grandparents’ voices. I know they aren’t real, but their haunting timbre is too much to bear. So, stuffed with turkey and various shades of mush, I walk into the living room where our out-of-tune piano sits like a coffin. I play a basic chord progression, pressing down on the jagged keys. Then my brother leaves the table to sit next to me on the wooden bench that creaks like pews in church, and he pushes down on the root notes of my chords in a higher register, creating something bordering on harmony. My mother stays at the table and listens, scanning through memories. Some Thanksgivings she joins in and sings with us, other times she just listens from the dining room, smoking Marlboro Reds and waiting for the phone to ring, for a voice, for a family looking for those who are missing.

I am my Data: WSJ Reports Planes Used in Spying Program

Design By Joseph Lapin
Design By Joseph Lapin

Right now, I’m sitting at the bar in Thorn Street Brewery in North Park, San Diego, drinking an American Strong Ale. B.B. King is on the radio, and a bartender is pouring pints, and she looks like one of the characters out of a Denis Johnson short story. This place feels like it’s about to turn into a juke joint, as they’re now blaring the “Mess Around,” glasses are clinking, and people are talking loudly over the music. The bartender is now shaking her hips, trying to tease the tips out of the wallets. What I’m thinking about is turning to the bald guy in the teal polo sitting on the stool next to me and telling him about a story I read recently in the Wall Street Journal, but I think he would end up thinking I was the neighborhood mad man.

Basically, I want to tell this guy next to me and the old woman drinking a beer in front of me like it’s a hot tea about the brand new American spy program. I want to tell them all about how “the Justice Department is scooping up data from thousands of mobile phones through devices deployed on airplanes that mimic cellphone towers,” as reported by the WSJ. I want to tell them that this program has been instituted secretly since 2007, and it’s really freaking brilliant and scary and wrong and right all at the same time. I want to say this as I hear stiletto heels clomping along the hardwood floors and the bartender now complains how she is so hungover from her birthday last night.

Here’s what happens: the Cessna aircraft “mimic cell towers … and trick cellphones into reporting” their data in hopes of tracking down terrorists or drug dealers. The technology is so impressive that it’s reported to be able to pinpoint targets “under investigation by the government,” and it sweeps thousands of phones at the same time in order to nail down the targets exact location, even within a massive skyscraper, while pushing aside ‘innocent bystanders and “letting go” of their data.

Of course, the Justice Department is neither confirming or denying the report, but they are defending the action by the U.S. Marshals Service, as reported by several sources, and it’s in line with a much larger stance that our government has taken on data: Whatever works for the greater good and security of our country is within the Constitution and, yes, The Dark Knight.

But how many people were shocked by this news? I mean, Kim Kardashian broke the Internet, and it wasn’t the news of another American spy program. Now, relax, I’m not trying to get on a high horse here and discuss why it’s important that we pay attention to the news over celebrities showing their gorgeous and stunning booties (We only have one life [unless you’re a buddhist], and if you want to spend it cramming your brain with celebrities asses and their petty relationships, then I support you; I watch plenty of ESPN), but what really just shocks me is that we still don’t care that our data is being harvested like Monsanto corn and that we still don’t see this massive data collection as an invasion of privacy.

I actually argued this in a Salon article I wrote after I heard that our government admitted to the existence of Area 51, and I’m still trying to make this point today. (People shredded my article on the comment boards.) As a country, we’re so used to our authorities lying to us, spying on us, fucking with us, playing with us, tricking us, mind-fucking us, that we eventually stopped being shocked, we stopped being scared, we stopped caring.

The truth is planes collecting our data on a massive scale with approval from an actual court system that is relatively secret isn’t thought of as shocking anymore. Think about it: we’ve since this well before Will Smith starred in I, Robot. Remember Enemy of the State? This isn’t even the only movie that shows how invaded our civil liberties are in terms of data collection. There are countless.

Our pop culture and news have reported on data invasion more times than Kevin Bacon has appeared in films. I feel somewhat bad for the WSJ. They broke a gigantic story, but it’s already old. It’s almost a footnote in the battle for civil liberties in the digital age. I mean, this is what the ACLU said in the WSJ article:

Maybe it’s worth violating privacy of hundreds of people to catch a suspect, but is it worth thousands or tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of peoples’ privacy?

So yes, I get it. I’m not an idiot. Advancing technology can have a gigantic impact on the protection of our country. Yes, it’s important to use these new techniques to capture dangerous criminals in order to safeguard our communities, our people, our children, our infrastructure, the very bedrock of the American people. It’s important that I can have the freedom and the safety to sit in this bar and criticize my government while B.B. King just seduces Lucille with so much charm and sex that it feels the sound is about to melt the walls. (Yeah, I’m going overboard with my metaphors, but that’s my right as an American [lol!].) I’m not trying to take the stance that data can’t be used to help fight crime, but I am against the idea that collecting my data isn’t an invasion of privacy.

When the U.S. Marshals fly over “most of the U.S. population” collecting the remnants of my cellphone, I take that personally. I read that as they’re literally snatching pieces of my unconscious and conscious thoughts. What I surf on my phone, my location, my texts, my browsing history are really intensely personal parts of my existence. It’s like when someone drives your car and rifles through your music collection or the police walk into your home and check your browsing history or that Spotify is sharing with the world what you’re currently listening to without fully being cognizant of this information.

I am my data, and when I was born as an American, I didn’t sign a freaking terms of service that allowed the government to invade my privacy. I take offense to my government collecting my data with planes and fake cell phone towers without my permission, without my knowledge. Perhaps I would be all right with this type of security if I was given the options and the collection of my data was guaranteed to be private, but I don’t trust my government yet. I believe that whatever technology the media reports on the Justice Department will already be 1,ooo steps behind what  technology their currently using to “protect” our lives and invade them at the same time.

Wow, someone in the bar behind me just yelled, “you’re a fucking sniper.” Well, that’s it. I’m signing out from North Park, San Diego. Remember, your comments are always appreciated — especially if you disagree with me.

Seeing Signs in San Diego, California

I’m beginning a new chapter in my journey, and my setting has changed; my wife and I are now living in San Diego, California. When I was a kid living in Massachusetts, there were two places that I always dreamed about living: San Diego and anywhere in Florida. I’ve now accomplished both. It’s funny how the paths to what we want are circuitous, but there are signs along the way that make you understand you’re heading in the right direction. I’ll explain.

Design by Joseph Lapin
Design by Joseph Lapin

When I look at San Diego and compare it to Los Angeles, the cities are so different. Right now, I have my window open in my office, and the dead desert air is blowing into my window, and I don’t hear any sirens, no sounds of traffic, only an unsettling stillness. In the morning, I drive to work, and I’m not stuck in the tin-can confusion of morning rush hour. And the pace of life here is so much slower. In the morning, I drive to a neighborhood coffee shop and order a coffee. I’m in line with only about two other people, and I’m a bit impatient because I want to get to work, when I realize the owner and the barista are talking to the customers. They don’t give a shit if I’m in a rush. They want to talk to their customer and see how they’re doing. Continue reading “Seeing Signs in San Diego, California”

Moving from One City to Another: LA to San Diego

Right now, I’m sitting in the office at the close of the day, typing this blog post, because I don’t have Internet in my new place yet. (I’m in that weird limbo period of moving when nothing is really set up yet except for the bed I sleep in.) Currently, I’m looking out a window that is overlooking downtown Ocean Beach, San Diego, and I can smell patchouli seeping into my window from the hostel down the street. Once the wind blows that away, I can smell the ocean, which is almost 500 feet away. Soon I will drive to my new apartment. Everything, right now, is new to me, and even the slamming of a glass door and the sounds of guitar music on the street below are a part of a new experience.

Design By Joseph Lapin. But not the photo.
Design By Joseph Lapin. But not the photo.

What I’m trying to say is that moving is strange. One moment I live in one city and know a bunch of people, then I move to another city and know others. Moving is an art that I’ve learned to master. Since I was 17-years old, I’ve lived in Detroit, Europe (for a small amount of time), Miami, Central Florida, Los Angeles, Long Beach, Huntington Beach, Massachusetts, and every time I move, I learn something new about myself and the skill of packing up. Here are some of the things that I have learned while moving.

What is Lost is Often Found

I lose things. It’s one of my biggest flaws. When I was in college, I used to leave my cell phone in restaurants and airports, and they wold never be found again, and sometimes I get lost driving home because I’m too deep in thought or enjoying a piece of music. Now hold on, I’m not saying I’m a loser; I’m just saying that I’ve misplaced some things over the years. If you’ve read Elizabeth’s Bishop’s famous poem “One Art,” then you know “the art of losing isn’t hard to master,” and it’s something that most people do all their lives. Obviously, losing people and pets will never be easy, but as long as I know that my home isn’t permanent, then I’m not worried about losing, because whenever I move, I’ll find the object I was looking for and say, “So that’s where you’ve been this whole time.” I can’t even begin to tell you about all the Mac power chords and books that I’ve found once I started moving boxes around. I’ve come to understand that most possessions, well, they’ll turn up one way or the other. Continue reading “Moving from One City to Another: LA to San Diego”