Friday, December 31, 2010

A Year-End Poem

2010, a year in decline.
We took it as it came to us,
warm and snuggly, hot and humid, painful, cold, tense.
Sometimes the snow piled up, and so we borrowed
a neighbor’s shovel and dug out, or tweaked
our anxiety, played dominoes by the fire.
It calmed us down and we took the pulse of our pills.

In the late winter, bright candles with a six-month wick, borrowed light. How apt!
The flickering shadows of millennial dances.
We stretch, listen to traffic syncopation and bundle the Sunday funnies;
the twine runs across our tendons and we are cellos singing for a lost cantata.

In Spring, everything is a question.
Who can deny the pleasure of a budding bush?
The unfortunate mud somehow still surprises, supercedes last year’s cloudy      watermark.
(Scrubbing the walls can only get one so far.)
Could it be best to co-exist with the mouldy little buggers? Can we even try?

In the summer, both births and deaths, equal under azure drama.
The toddler balances the gin, while the bicycle blows out the cobwebs--poor spiders.
An expert web is temporary. Especially so, in July,
when an extra ten minutes burns your palm into my forearm.
Which I didn’t need! Long-sleeves next time.

Thank god for a damp forest floor, though, reliable and mossy.
Without it, soup means nothing.
And what’s a world without soup?
Damn bleak.
But not October, the rising hunter, the bright veins.
And the squash, jester of a fallen garden.

Interstitial solstice, I’m so happy you're back.
With longer days, my path ought to be better lit.
So go on and show me chestnuts and a horse’s mandible.
Haven’t you heard? The Neanderthal’s among us, dormant,
waxing his sled, watching the same snowfall that we are.

Monday, December 13, 2010

An Open Letter To Derek Jeter

"It was not an enjoyable experience."

Derek Jeter, expressing anger that his contract talks became public and contentious before he re-signed with the Yankees.

--New York Times, Sunday, December 12, 2010

Dear Derek:

I've never liked the Yankees, but like a lot of baseball fans, I was always impressed by how you handled yourself on and off the field. We've watched you grow into one of the game's celebrated good guys; we delight in your glamorous New York lifestyle; we love that you're the anti-A-Rod--always more concerned with the team than with yourself. I think you may have lost your way a little, though, given how unhappy you apparently are about your recent contract negotiations--cutting your pay from over $22 million this year to around $16 million for the next three years--and the public way in which you were economically humbled. Reality bites, doesn't it? You didn't find it "enjoyable."

But think of how "an enjoyable experience" might be defined by most of your fellow humans. The average ones, of course; I'm asking you to think beyond the cashiers' booths of the new Yankee Stadium, which more than doubled your organization's gross ticket revenue alone to $397 million in 2009 compared to $157 million just four years prior, back when you made a little over $19.5 million. To play a game. Which must have been an "enjoyable experience."

I know, I know--those fans are coming to see You; don't You deserve your fair share of the pie? In fairness--and one would hope this is all about fairness--$16 million doesn't buy what it used to, anymore. Take your agent's commission, and Uncle Sam's share (Don't forget to include President Obama and every Republican of the current and incoming Congress on your holiday-card list, for preserving the Bush-era tax cuts for the rich), and we're down to a conservative estimate of perhaps $8 to $10 million. To play a game. I sometimes play games in my free time. Usually for enjoyment. A shocking amount people on the planet, it turns out, cannot afford that luxury.

So let's look at world wealth, and the relative comfort it affords. In 2007, for example (you may recall enjoying this year to the tune of $21.6 million), the Boston Globe reported an average income, worldwide, of $7,000. If the relative worth of this figure escapes you, I'll convert it toYankees tickets--which an average human could afford to purchase159 times in 2007, at an average cost of $44.10. This is all hypothetical, of course--we can't spend all our money on Yankees tickets--we have to feed ourselves and our families, keep ourselves sheltered from the elements. (I happen to live in a small apartment in suburban New Jersey, for example, and you have a 31,000 sq.-ft. home in Tampa. I can empathize with the hassles a home that size must present. Not an enjoyable experience, I"m sure.)

But for the sake of this exercise, let's express the average global income in 2007 as 159 Yankees tickets. (You made 489,796.) It's actually a misleading figure, given the vast disproportion of world weath distribution. You might not know this, but nearly 80% of humanity live in countries where the average income doesn't even make it up to the enjoyable experience of 159 Yankees tickets. No, the world median income was actually far lower: $1,700 in 2005, for example--far fewer Yankees tickets--and that was a boom year, well before the current financial morass that has our economy in a squeeze play.

In fact, most of the world, Derek, faces challenges that you and I can't imagine. Most of the world is poor. I find that enormously humbling, and even though my 2011 income will likely amount to less than half a percent of your baseball salary, I'll still feel rich and thankful. If the process that's elevated you to the planet's obscenely rich--while playing a game--is no longer "an enjoyable experience," then I suggest you remove your head from whatever is temporarily obscuring your vision, and have a look around.

Here's another human, about your age, whose story was picked up by a number of news agencies recently, just as yours was.

The United Nations reports that "Every day Ster Mamboza, 37, covers 19 km on a bicycle over sand and gravel roads to the well at Machaze, in the southern Mozambican province of Manica, carrying two 20-litre plastic water containers and a two-month-old baby. It’s quite a balancing act. The better part of her day--up to six hours--is spent fetching water from this well, the nearest safe source in the area. government figures show that in rural Mozambique only 30 percent have access to safe water."

For Ster Mamboza, "an enjoyable experience," might take place on a day where someone actually brings water to her. Just water. It might make the "enjoyable experience" of raising her child in the developing world--in which some 1.8 million kids die annually from diarrhea alone--a little more bearable.

Now, I'm not trying to make you feel bad for all of world poverty, Derek. You are no stranger to philanthropy--your charitable foundation has reportedly raised over $11 million for kids' programs in the U.S. that emphasize healthy living and staying off drugs and alcohol, which is indeed laudable. Eleven million is more money than I'll probably make in my lifetime. It's roughly 5% of your career baseball earnings ($205,430,000 million as of 2010, second only to A-Rod's $264,416,252 million). That doesn't include your 15 endorsement deals, however, which adds a reported $8.5 million to your bottom line each year, but let's just stick with baseball money, as you play the game of baseball, which most Americans would imagine is an enjoyable experience.

As a stagehand, I'll make about $50,000 this year, and to keep parity with your [baseball] example, I'll have to give away $2,500, which is my goal, after paying nearly $16,000 for rent, roughly $6500 for food, $5000 on my kid, putting another $4000 away for his education, about $2000 for transportation, $2000 to my union, and the rest to insurance, utilities, baubles and taxes. I won't be buying any Yankees tickets though. Your new stadium--built at a cost of $220 million to the City and its taxpayers--strikes me as an unabashed monument to money. I love the game, but I don't love an insatiable pursuit of profit, which is the fence for which modern baseball swings. And contributing to that is not an enjoyable experience.

So the next time you step to the plate, chasing the 3,000th hit that will make you an even more elite Yankee--or the next time you're flushing one of the 9 toilets in your home in Tampa--think about Ster Mombozo fetching water via bicycle, and how fate has consigned her to extreme hardship with the same arbitrary stroke that blessed you (and me) with talent and opportunity. And if you still can't find it all "an enjoyable experience," the classy move is to keep it to yourself.

Image: Photo: Andre Carueira/IRIN

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Bottoms up or the rest in your hair! *

Because I'm a curious Blaiser, I periodically check some stats on who's visiting my micron-sized parcel of the digisphere, and it's often a lovely source of wonder. I'm generally against App-dom, in life and letters; however, here's one I'd go for: an algorithm that traces the discrete clicks that bring a netizen to a particular destination. I'm sure several "intelligence gathering" agencies already know how to do this, and to them, I say I have absolutely no idea who broke into my place and "pointed" my browser at the giraffe porn.

But as it happens, my wack-a-doo meanderings get hits from places I would not guess: Celje, Slovenia; Mandaluyong in the Philippines; Ghaziabad, India--all in the last few months. Some of these folks are even hanging around long enough to read a few posts. (Or, the cat was walking over the keyboard while its owner was taking a chai break. Either way, I'm good with it.)

Knowing a little about my visitor demographic also appeals to my sense of hospitality. If, for example, someone from Aakirkeby, Denmark, happened to chance by on November 30--hypothetically--I wish I could have offered them some tea, or fresh herring, or whatever it is that one might snack upon, if one lives in the third-largest town on the island of Bornholm in the Baltic Sea.

Islands fascinate me. They're geographical metaphors for this finite existence we all share. (Unless you think your cosmic dust will retain a soul even after the planet is cooked by our dying sun, and our atoms eventually form a ring around Mars for a few million years or so. Of course, if Earth's no longer around to move, thusly creating a measuring stick by which humans process the idea of time, a year won't have much meaning, particularly if there's no one around to "mean" it... but I digress.)

In other words, there's only so many places you can go on an island. And with a population most recently pegged at 2,090, it's probably especially challenging for the Aakirkebian teenager to find a date for the prøm.

Anyhoo, to show my random gratitude for the random visit from Aakirkeby on November 30, I thought I'd share some interesting facts and figures about this floating vacuole of spunky Danes.

Depending on whom you believe, the island's name can be traced to the Old Norse borg bjarg, which appears to mean something like "big rock in the sea," but that doesn't do justice to Bornholm's history. Industrious BlaiserBlog readers should now insert your Babel fishes, and find the Old Norse for "big rock in the sea that was fought over by the Swedes and the Danes in Lord-of-the-Rings epic fashion for 500 years"; "big rock in the sea whose total power needs were once provided by Sweden, via one of the longest AC extension chords on the planet"; and "big rock in the sea that unfortunately had the crap bombed out of it by the Soviets at the close of the Second World War, ostensibly because the German occupiers wanted to surrender to anyone but a bunch of vodka-soaked Stalinists."

But forget Old Norse, for Bornholmians speak their own damn language (of course they do!),  Bornholmsk, which retains some grammatical features of Norweigan and Icelandic, most notably three genders: masculine, feminine, and muppetine.

And there's something about their flag that says "All Christmas, all the time!" but I just can't put my finger on it...:

I hope I get to go there one day. Who wouldn't want to visit ‘The Mediterranean in Scandinavia’, ‘Nightingale Island’, ‘Denmark’s Sunrise Island’ and ‘The Pearl of the Baltic Sea’. It would be fun. And who knows: The cosmos being what it is, there's a fair chance I'd bump into my reader--or his cat--at a Bornholmian Støp and Shøp.

Thanks for reading, and don't forget an analogy I intone to myself, at least twice a day: Wikipedia is to accuracte reference material as Joba Chamberlain is to reliable middle relief... 

* Bunden i vejret eller resten i håret, tout le monde!

Images courtesy of Al Gore, who invented the Internet...