Friday, December 13, 2013

Hammer Smashed Face

I have had some wacky adventures in my time, dear sexy readers.  Regular followers of this erstwhile blog have heard me wax poetically about sunsets at the Acropolis, New Years Eve ragers on the pristine beaches of Boracay, trekking through Burma, having philosophical conversations about the universe on the banks of The Congo River, and surviving random violent protests in assorted countries.  Now that I have moved to Cairo, I am sure such stories will continue onward and upwards (or downwards I suppose, depending on one's point of view) but the one common thread remains: random acts of madness always seem to swirl around the Rage Cage (patent pending), and usually not the good, sexual tension infused moots which often lead to pillow fights or Karaoke sessions at Russian bars, but more the types that end up with large objects hurtling towards my beautiful face.

This, then, is a story of the latter type:  the kind that almost lead to my annihilation, or at least a severe bruising to my meal ticket.  It isn't the first time I have risked the integrity of my beautiful, star crossed visage, but it was definitely the most visceral.

So, sit back, dear readers, and I will tell you the story of the (nearly) Hammer Smashed Face.  And I do not mean the song, of course.  Although it kicks ass:

But I digress.

Anyway, it all started about a month ago.  I came home after a long day of confiscating cell phones, enforcing the dress code, helping kiddos open their lockers, and explaining to parents why talking in class incessantly is, in fact, a behavioral issue and not a social convention.  I had three goals in mind upon arriving to my luxury admin apartment (now with two plates!):  sit in my recliner, watch Big Bang Theory, and order from Otlob (which is one of the greatest, and potentially health shattering, services I have encountered in my time abroad: dozens of restaurants, delivered to your door, and ordered over the internet!  The mind reels.)

I settled in when, from upstairs, a loud banging was heard.  It soon increased its fervor, reverberating through the cinder block skeleton of the building.  This was quickly joined by a dull thrumming, some drilling noises, more hammering, and then that sweet, sweet sound which is made by 5 idiots dragging a heavy piece of furniture clockwise over a hard wood floor directly overhead.

"Mmmmmm," thought I sexily, "That could be annoying.  Well, it's 6 now, maybe they'll stop soon."

Three hours later, with the rage swirling inside me, I stormed upstairs.  I banged on the door, to no response.  I could hear voices and hammering from inside, however, so pounded again.  The time the door opened a crack.  A face peered out at me and immediately started yelling in Chinese.

Of course, being the culturally sensitive world traveling type that I am, I opened the door, walked inside their apartment, and shouted "What the hell is wrong with you people?!  It's 8 at night!  Shut up!"

This did not have the desired effect.  In the apartment I saw 7 other Chinese men, all shirtless, smoking, and sitting on the floor applying hammers to a large wooden frame.  The furniture had all been moved to the walls, leaving the middle space completely empty, except for the object of their attentions, which turned out to be frames for the windows.

If they had been building this I would have been much less displeased.

Needless to say, they were not happy to see me.

Oddly enough, in a way this whole thing took me full circle because when I lived in Taiwan, in both of the apartments I had upstairs neighbors who were always whipping out tools at 10 or 11 at night and hammering/sawing away.  In fact, it got to be so ingrained in my psyche that, to this day, when I hear the sound of screws falling on the floor above my head, I can feel my blood pressure skyrocket.

So, to make an already unwieldy story mercifully shorter, we had a bit of a row and they agreed to stop in five minutes.  Of course, this five minutes was another hour or so long, but I have learned to accept the Quantimic view of time that other cultures seem to thrive on.

All was well, for about a week.  That blissful time felt like this:

Awesome, but with a hint of foreshadowing.

Then, one fateful day, I came home and they were at it again.  For the next four nights at around 7 pm it would begin: a cacophony of banging, hammering, yelling, and the sound of the damn couch sloshing back and forth across the floor like a fat man in a scooter at a My Little Pony Convention.  They took two days off, much to my relief, and then, the following Tuesday, there it was: the hammering and shaking returned, louder than ever.

After about 10 minutes of listening and grinding my teeth I headed upstairs.  This time our doorman (boab, to use the local nomenclature) followed me up- his spidey senses must have been tingling.

I kick (yes, kick, for those keeping score at home) the door, then push it open.  There were my neighbors again, shirtless, smoking cigarettes, this time surrounding what looked like a table about 15 feet long.  They actually had a circular saw up there, in addition to lots of random piles of nails and other bits and bobs.

So, needless to say, I am a bit angry at his point.

One of the men grabs my arm and tries to push me out of the apartment.  I wave him away and step further inside.  My conflict resolution skills were on full, stunning display.

"Stop.  Stop!  People live here, you assholes!  Do this during the day, you idiots!"

One man looks up from the pile, his eyes blistering with either hate or manly construction hormones.


"Every day you're doing this!  Bang bang bang!  So loud!  Every day!"

The same man grabbed a hammer and got up.

He yelled as he rushed towards me.

"Every day?!  Every day?!"

Then, without warning, he starts swinging the hammer with a mad look in his eyes.

Pretty much just like this.

Luckily, before he can make contact with my awesome face, two of his roommates grab him and the boab pulls me back, out of the doorway.  From the ground the man starts screaming and cursing in Chinese, pointing at me with the hammer.

Shaken, I walk back down the stairs.  The boab stays up top and from my apartment I hear shouting in Chinese, Arabic, and possibly Klingon.  After a few minutes he comes back down and tells me that he is very sorry, and it won't happen again.

Ten minutes later I get a call from my landlord, apologizing and also promising that it will not happen again.

After an hour there is a knock at my door and I open it to find two policemen outside.  They actually took down my statement (which surprised me because my only previous encounter with the po po here had been  breaking curfew doing airport pick up runs) and also apologized before asking for tea.  One of the cops explained the reasoning for the man's violent outburst and attempted facial maiming:

"You said they had been disturbing the building every day, but it had only been five out of the last seven days."

So, yes, the life of an expat is not always easy, dear reader.  But, never fear.  I will leave you on a good note- this is a pic taken at The Virginian, which is my new favorite bar in Cairo.  It is both dingy and magnificent at the same time, kind of like Iggy Pop during the last decade.

Serenity now, indeed.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Shake 'N Bake

Since I have arrived in Cairo, dear, sweet readers, I have had various kinds of good times, both within and without- or both, I dunno, I get easily turned around whilst exploring.

It's been an interesting time to be here, for sure, what with all the unrest and so forth.  Things will be stable and reasonably approaching normalcy for a while but then periods of tension, anger, or random shouty bits pop up randomly, much like my irritating tendency towards shameless self promotion.  The moments of chaos are something I could do without, to be honest, especially having been down that road many times before (oh god cheap crowd rage plug!) but I wanted to let you all know that it isn't all bad.  In fact, it's mostly good, sometimes great, especially now that I have found a venue  that has beer, Karaoke, plates of meat, and gelato under one delicious roof.

And, as followers of the Rage Cage know, one of the best things about traveling the world, other than the tan lines, groupies, and beer induced madness, is finding those little things that make a culture unique.  I am a freshly minted babe in the Egyptian woods, so to speak, but I have been here long enough to start spotting that sort of thing.  My favorite one thus far is easily The Egyptian Handshake.

Now, I know what you're thinking.  Is that some kind of weird sexual fetish involving 80s pop music and wrist bangles?  Or is it some type of scrambled egg and chili powder combination?  To which I reply, no, you sick bastards, I mean it literally.  I love the way they shake hands.

Having lived in Asia for five years, where the "limp fish" style of greeting is in terrible vogue, I have learned to appreciate a good handshake when I come across them, and I think that, in my worldy opinion, the Egyptian method is the perfect technique.

First off, they shake hands for everything.  From the time when I leave my building in the morning, buy a coffee, get on the bus, and walk into my office, I will have already shaken hands about 20 times.  When I drop off my laundry it means a running of the handshake gauntlet with the 6 employees.  When they deliver it later on (in a group, of course) we do it all over again.

Whenever I enter someone else's office, even if it is just to pick up a piece of paper, first we shake hands, then I sit down, get the aforementioned paper, get up, we shake hands again, and I leave.

At this point in my life I am developing the most well mannered callus ever.

I have found myself sucked into that world, too: as I walk down the hallways my right hand seems to move of its own volition, seeking out new people to shake with.  Kind of like Voldemort's snake in those movies, but without the cool CGI and thirst for Muggles.

So what is the method?  What makes their version so infectious?

Well, it's a simple, yet game altering technique.  Their shaking arm comes out at a wide angle (almost like going in for a one armed bro hug) and, right before the palms connect, they back their hand up a bit and then move forward at more speed.  The outcome is a solid smacking noise followed by a quick pre-release squeeze.  It is as close as a society has come to the ideal greeting, as shown here:

Half the audience reading this are now pregnant.  The other half is on their way to buy hair removal cream and protein shakes.

Man, that smacking sound is so satisfying.  Much better than the bro hug, the shoulder slam, the arm punch, the biker shake, and the Scottish Head Butt.  I would hazard to claim it even surpasses the fist bump in terms of manly beatitude.

And on the 8th day, God brought dem knux.

So, Cairo, while things have been a bit weird lately, remember you always can fall back on the masculine satisfaction of that palm slap.  I mean, the pyramids are great and all, but c'mon bro.  Let's be bros.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Stairway to Heaven . . .

So I am back from my trip to Vienna and Salzburg, ladies and gentleman.  For anyone who asks, I can totally recommend checking them out.  It is a quick hop over from Cairo, the cities are beautiful, and they have three things going on at all times, day or night, that one should never have to live without: sausages, beer, and women in leggings.  I did not have any pictures that encompass all three of these aspects (the world's greatest triptych, if you will), but when I went to the Google machine and typed in "Sausages, Beer, and Leggings" this image came up first, so here you go:

Well, one out of three ain't bad.  Maybe that's a beer ball.

Also, the architecture was fantastic.  The Austrian people are big fans of huge buildings with lots of fiddly bits.  Most of my time in Vienna consisted of walking around an ornate, gilded building to come face to face with either a slightly more ornate, gilded building, or a huge statue of a horse.  It was like being in a Jane Austin novel, if her version of pastoral narrative included naked images of Poseidon.

Emma, you saucy minx.

Salzburg was great.  It was like Vienna but even quainter.  I found a pretzel bigger than my head, tracked down an Irish pub, and went for a tour based on some famous musical that was apparently filmed there.

Or something.

My favorite part, though, was my epic random hike (hereafter referred to as ERH).

Allow me to set the scene, dear reader:  it was a Wednesday morning, and I was up and about at around 10 am after a late night at the aforementioned Irish pub.  I left my hotel and began to wander into town when I came upon this fellow tacked up to the entrance of a dark alley:

Being a fan of random Jesus, I turned the corner and saw these delightfully creepy stairs.

I followed them up and around, passing some random religious statuary as I ascended.  Eventually I ended up here:

I now realized I was heading into the mountain behind my hotel.  Either that, or I had stumbled into a mid 90s death metal cover shoot.  There were random signs in German everywhere but since I can't read German and have the navigational ability of a turgid mob of Teapublicans in the back of a soup kitchen, I decided continuing upwards was my best bet.

And so, after a few kilometers, I arrived here:

By this point I was sweating, a bit sore in the manly calf region, and regretted having not thought ahead enough to bring water.  My tongue had that awful thing going on where it couldn't decide whether it was an intrinsic part of my sensory system, or a sock left in the sun too long.  But I pressed forward, Rocky style. Onwards and upwards!

That view almost makes me regret my self absorption.  Almost.

Finally I rounded a corner and, at the very top of the mountain, I arrived at what turned out to be an old fortress, remnants of a centuries old set of fortifications.  Upon closer inspection it also, much to my delight, turned out to be a pub.

All by itself.

At the top of the mountain.

God bless you, Salzburg.

Friday, October 11, 2013

The Hills Are Alive . . .

It's Fall Break time, ladies and gentlemen!

Not quite as sexy as Spring Break I will admit, but I'm hoping this year it will get the attention it deserves.

"Wait a minute,"  I picture you purring languidly, whilst polishing the gilding on my sedan chair.   "Break?  Didn't you just start your new job?"

Why yes I did.  A few weeks ago.

"And didn't you just go to Dubai last weekend?"

That also happened, my dear.  There were penguins, classy dinners in the Marina, and $15 beers.

"And you have a holiday already?"



And guess what?

"What?"  You sigh, as the sweat gathers so quaintly across the front of your custom made Inebriation cravat.

I'm going to Vienna!

You son of a bitch.

Wait, wait, let me explain.

There is no time.  Let me summarize.

Great movie.

Anyways, Eid will soon be upon us, dear, frothy inhabitants of The Rage Cage.  What is Eid, you ask?  Well, some sort of religious festival/holiday/feast day.  This particular one is called Eid al-Adha which means "The Festival of the Sacrifice" and apparently involves copious amounts of real time animal butchering, cooking, and eating.  Not being a religious sort except when it involves worshiping at the alter of my own crestfallen abs, I do not know much about it, but as of a few days ago I was planning to stay around in Cairo and see what it was like on the ground, as it were.

Most of my co workers have been urging me to leave mainly because, due to the amount of animals killed in the streets for the festival, ankle deep rivers of blood are supposedly not unheard of.  Why anyone who is familiar with my musical background would think this would dissuade me, however, is anyone's guess.  I also thought it would have been a good time to finally live my dream of recreating the album cover from Billy Joel's best record.

 Uptown Girl for life.

But following one protest and neighborhood RPG attack too many, I decided discretion might be the better part of valor. Many kind folks suggested flying into Vienna.  Direct flight, cheap tickets, nice castles, and all that.  People talked about some sort of musical that was filmed there, and apparently they have opera and the Danube and foliage or whatever, but what really sold me was one picture.

I Googled "awesome things to do in Vienna", and this photo came up:

See y'all in a week!  

Monday, September 30, 2013

Navelgazing, Part the First . . .

So here we are again, dear reader(s).  I am starting my third week of wielding the iron fist of justice that is a middle school assistant principalship and so far, while there have been a few tears and some minor bumps and bruises, all is going very well.  The school is wonderful- everyone is very positive and I have a lady who makes me coffee in the mornings.  I have my own office, complete with a chair, and I feel like I have been able to make some positive contributions to the school community as a whole, so I am happy.  Also I am finding that I'm becoming more and more into wearing tie clips- I even caught myself mulling over the purchase of a few extra ones the other day.  Quite a leap forward for a man who learned how to tie a tie this past summer in between episodes of Teletubbies whilst watching my niece make eldritch burbling sounds at me.

But enough about my life, of course.  What's the big news?  Well, in a few days I am off to Dubai for an education conference (hard knocks life, for sure), but, more importantly, after 17 years the new Carcass album is out.

Kick ass!

It's called Surgical Steel.


There has been much rejoicing and giggly head banging here at the Rage Cage.

I cannot express how much my first meeting with the musical stylings of the "other lads from Liverpool" changed the course of my musical direction.  Their initial mix of crazy grindcore mixed with death metal, dueling vocalists, and weird ass guitar solos drew me in, and with song titles like "Lavaging Expectorate of Lysergide Composition" what's not to love?  

Little known Lippart fact, for all the Polish groupies out there:  the first cd I ever purchased was their third album, awesomely titled Necroticism- Descanting the Insalubrious.  Here is a taste. Enjoy!

Okay, for all of you that are still here- I loved that record.  Still do.  Then they took a turn that changed my life again- they became much more melodic, with delicious twin lead guitars, simplified song structures, great grooves, and slightly more normal lyrics.  When I first encountered their fourth album, Heartwork, I was blown away.  I hadn't heard anything like it at the time.  I can still picture that day: sitting in Marine Park rocking my Walkman (remember those?) and playing it, over and over again.  To this day those first few seconds of the title track get my blood pumping.  I also have a vivid memory of staying up late on a Saturday night to catch their debut video on MTV (remember that?) It's still as good as ever:

How do you top that?  I wouldn't know, sweet, patient, hopefully leather clad readers, because I've never topped anything, but they switched gears, AGAIN, when their (until now) last album came out.  Swansong was a revelation to me.  Between this and Wolverine Blues (Entombed was kick ass), these guys were doing exactly what I was trying to do with various people but wasn't good enough to pull off:  they were taking the emotional rawness, the sheer brutal energy, of death metal,  and slotting it right on top of a foundation of basic, timeless rock and roll.  In the process they wrote a song (Keep on Rotting in the Free World)  that, to this day, is an easy top ten of all time for me, right above Father and Son (Cat Stevens was also kick ass!) 

Don't believe me?  I challenge anyone to listen to this track and not immediately want to go out and buy a drum set, leather pants, hair extensions, and a mirrored codpiece with knobbly bits on it.

It felt like validation to me, because I had been wanting to do something like it for a few years at that point, but also a wake up call, because it showed me how far I still had to go. 

And that was it, for 17 years.  That album came out when I was 19.  It was done before I moved to Santa Fe and went to college, before teaching, before traveling the world, and before having all those crazy adventures that draw like seven or eight people to read this column every other month or so.  

Every once in a while I would try to get a musical project off the ground, usually involving chunky rock riffs with an aggressive growly voice, but it never went anywhere.  The closest I managed to come, after lots of attempts at getting groups together and coming up with imaginary groupie nicknames and band logos, was the recordings I did in Myanmar (oh God cheap plug!).  Check out a sample here:

I pale shadow, I admit.  And now, they've done it again.  17 years, about 4 years longer than any of my current charges have been walking upon this pale blue dot (Sagan sneak attack!)  and they are back, with an album that again just blows my mind.  

With bits from all of their albums mashed together, it's like they have come full circle, from grind to death to metal to rock and back again.  I can totally empathize because after switching my career this past year, I have been spending emo-riffic amount of time thinking of my own strange journey to get where I am.  I am sincerely glad they have had this chance to step back and revisit the past again.  To have a chance to examine where you came from with unsullied eyes is a rare one, and not to be missed.  I can tell from the opening track that these guys have thought long and hard about where they came from, where they are, and where they are going.  

And where would that be, you ask?  Well, ladies and gentleman, I leave you with a brand new Carcass song, the first in 17 long, wonderful, crazy, beautiful, chaps filled years.  Here it is, a new track off of the brand new album: Noncompliance to ASTFM F899-12 Standard (goddamn I missed you guys).

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Goodbye, Mr. Pizza Slice

Today is indeed a sad day, dear readers.  One for the record books, especially those dark Gothic kinds.  No, I am not talking about the recent chaos in my newly adopted land, or the awful mess that is Syria and the requisite vapid Facebook posts where people who've never been there or done much of anything give their opinion on whether Syrians are "worth saving".  This is something a bit more personal than all of that. Much much closer to my greasy, greasy Jersey Style heart:

I just found out that Mr. Pizza Slice is retiring.

Well, you may ask, you inquisitive bastards, who is Mr. Pizza Slice?  Why should I care?

Fair enough.

To the first question, Mr. Pizza Slice is the restaurant in Red Bank, NJ (been there for 44 years!) that has been a social hub for generations of greasy Jersey boys and girls- especially with those killer bangs.

On the Boardwalk, you would be a queen.

 It's a place where you could have a slice of pizza, an awesome Italian Hot Dog, and circle fries, for like $10.  It had an arcade machine in the back corner- usually Pac Man, but later on replaced by Joust, Gauntlet (and the little heralded side scrolling version, Quartet) and, for one brilliant, fleeting moment Joust 2 (!).  The food was great, reasonably priced, and every time you walked in there was Mr. Pizza Slice himself, ready with his usual Jersey gruffness.  "Hey.  You eating, or what?" became such a powerful greeting that when he wasn't at the counter one was a bit lost, cast adrift on a sea of expected terseness.

You magnificent bastard.

So, good stuff all around.  But more than that, for me.  Much more in fact.  He might never have known it (the topic never came up between us anyway), and he might not recognize me if I walked up to him now, but this was a man who had a profound effect on me as a wayward youth and also encapsulates why Jersey was such a good place to grow up.  

As a sit here on the beautiful beaches of Dahab (it's okay to be jealous, I will not be offended), it is hard not to reflect upon where I was, how I got here, and what random twists and turns happened along the way that have molded me into this reasonably tan, slightly saggy person you see before you.  Mr. Pizza Slice was definitely one of those twists.

Cast your mind back, dear reader, about 26 years ago.  

Those weird leggings with stirrups at the bottom were coming into style, Reagan was president, and The Highwayman was on TV.

Oh God yes.  A thousand times yes.

I was in 3rd grade then, which is usually a time of exploration, discovery, and learning how to make funny noises with various body parts.  For me, however, it was a time where I was anxious and afraid more often then not; where I would spend my school days wondering what kind of scenario I would come home to, and dealing with teasing/comments about my eyes (as posted here!  Oh God, self pity plug!).  Life then was not very stable, or kind, or even very consistent, for young Lippart.  I was dealing with the crippling self esteem issues that follow in the wake of addiction, and also being one of the few white kids at a school where my ethnic group was not exactly tolerated by many of the teachers or the students.   In short, most people treated me like crap, or, even worse, ignored me, and so I learned to think of myself that way.  Not unusual at all, of course- nothing about my story is any different than the stories most of us have growing up, or see on Oprah, or read about in the middle of Readers' Digest, but as a kid I felt that all that bad stuff was uniquely MINE.  That no one else (even my own three brothers, which shows how kids think) suffered like I did, and therefore I was a man alone, unique in the grand expanse of time.

This shortsightedness, of course, made me feel worse.  Like I was being picked on by destiny, abandoned by fate, and whatever else kids say these days after watching Twilight.

Special snowflake, my ass.

But in the midst of that nonsense, there are always people who are The Helpers (to quote Mr. Rodgers). The ones who offer what kindness they can and reach out to people.  The ones who made an impact on people's lives not by grand, Drew Barrymore-esque gestures, but by being human, and allowing you to be human 
right alongside them.  As a veteran educator (where's my monocle!), I have seen how powerful it can be to just be there for someone, be present in their lives, even if you don't have awesome theme music.  

Mr. Pizza Slice was one of those types.

I used to go up there to have pizza when I was young, back when people under 18 were allowed to leave the house, and he would always greet me with his customary phrase, hand me a slice of pizza and some circle fries, give me shit about ruining his pizza by adding too much pepper, and then ask if I wanted change for the arcade game.  Once in a while, he would ask about my family, how was school, all that kind of stuff.

Nothing too earth shattering, for sure, but he was THERE.  And sometimes, he was more than that.

I'll never forget one time, in the beginning of Grade 4, when my mother dropped me off and then went to the nearby bar.  I whiled away the time with my usual slice of pizza and Pac Man knowing, in my young, small brained way, what was going on next door, but not able to stop it or hide from it.  Even though I tried to be super casual, there was a finite amount of stuff I could do to occupy my time.  After an hour, my initial dollar and pizza long gone, Mr. Pizza Slice came over to the corner where I sat and gave me another plate.  

"On the house.  I made extra anyway."

I finished the slice, eating slowly, and afterwards, when more time had passed, he brought me a soda and a plate of circle fries.  

""Here.  I should make you clean my windows."

He  never asked me to leave, and never asked what I was doing there for so long.  Soon after that my mother came to get me (we had walked downtown together) and, in that way of his, he told her I'd been sitting there a long time.  Then he nodded down at me and said, "but it's okay.  He doesn't take up too much space.  Quiet little guy."

After that, whenever I came in, he gave me free circle fries and asked about my mother.

We moved away from Red Bank a few months later but eventually came back, because all roads lead to Jersey.  Now I was 14 and I had just discovered the life changing sounds of Death Metal, so I filled with both anger and a terrible taste for leather spikes and earrings.  

I walked into Mr. Pizza Slice and he recognized me right away.  Asked how my mother was.  I wasn't living with her at the time but probably said something reasonably smarmy because, you know, 14.  I started counting out some money when he put up his hand.

"You know what?  I got to put some pizza boxes together.  You do it for me, I'll give you a free pizza.  You still owe me from last time anyway."

So I went to the corner and constructed 50 empty pizza boxes.  This took me probably about 30 minutes or so and when I was finished he gave me a whole pizza, with circle fries, plus some to take home.  For the next couple years every once in a while I would walk by and he would lean out the window and tell me I needed to make some boxes for him.

Looking back, it was obvious he didn't need the boxes made.  It was a super easy task and it wasn't like he was selling 50 pies at a time or anything.  Plus, he had his sons there to help.  He would just end up with huge piles of empty pizza boxes everywhere (he had other kids doing the same thing from time to time). What he did, though, was listen.  As I was folding the boxes, he would talk to me about school ("don't do anything stupid"), about girls ("don't do anything stupid") about my family ("yeah, sometimes adults do things that are stupid") and about what I wanted to do with my life ("Dreams are never stupid").

Then, the job done, we would share a pizza, have some soda, and he would look at his watch, nod and tell me to get the heck out of there.

He is a wonderful man.

May your retirement be as kick ass as your retirement video, sir.  You'll be missed.  By all of us.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Walk Like an Egyptian

I know, I know, where have I been?  Why haven't I called?  Faxed?   Email?  Hydraulic Telegraph?

Oh, and Matt says hey.

Well, to set everyone's minds at ease, I am still alive.  A little dusty, a bit tan, but alive nonetheless.

I have had a killer summer- spent a while in Mallorca, then an awesome week in Scotland, which could be summed up quite nicely with two sexy photos:

Oh, and also, we stumbled upon The Fringe Festival while we were there, which was pretty awesome.  Scotland has far more going for it then Haggis and Headbutts, ladies and gentleman.

I started my new job as an assistant principal (read about the lengths I went to for the gig here!  Egyptian cheap plug!) and have been pondering, in between meetings, what would or would not be appropriate for me to talk about on my blog, now that I am, in some way, shape, or form, a boss.  In fact, even being called that by people has been an adjustment in and of itself.  It is an interesting transition, for sure, and one I am still coming to grips with.  The best so far is when I meet people, and we get to talking, and they find out I am an AP.  So far I have gotten one of two reactions.  Either the awkward double take, followed by an apology for the double take, or, even better, "Oh, fuck you.  No you're not.  You?  No.  You?"

Good times.

Those of you who have been following the news whilst inside The Rage Cage know that shortly after I arrived here Egypt started going down a rather dark path involving violence, death, anger, and even a day officially called "The Day of Rage" which I thought was, while mostly tragic, still a bit funny to me personally.

Now this isn't, and never will be, the kind of blog where I wax all political and give my opinions on Important World Events and stuff.  Mostly because there are much more thoughtful places to read opinions on what's happening everywhere and who is trying to marginalize who.  Most of those types of things are written by people who get to be on TV or at least have a post spread around on Facebook status pages in between shots of carved watermelons and finger wagging directed at Miley Cyrus.

Also, given my new position of authority, I do not think it'd be very appropriate for me to voice an opinion or take a side on what's happening.  I have, however, been down this road before, many times, and there is one constant that always gets to me.  Regardless of one's political beliefs, let's all find some perspective: children have been injured and killed in this conflict.  No one should ever be in favor of, or cheering on actions, that lead to that kind of outcome.  Having been an educator for twelve years now (goddamn I'm old), I can say that there is not a three year old alive who has an opinion on the separation of church and state, or has a desperate need for one person to rule a country over another one.  So, when, as part of your political or religious beliefs, you are either advocating the death of children or putting a child in harm's way because of your own ideals, I think you've officially lost the plot.  I had the same, sick to my stomach feeling seeing 5 year old's at protests out here as when I would see babies wearing "Romney 2012" T Shirts.  Kids should be allowed to be kids, whenever and wherever possible, for as long as they can.

So, how about adults have their arguments, fight their wars, argue about whose God is more well endowed, decide whose freedoms are more important, which Batman actor has nailed the role (Keaton FTW!) and let kids alone to poke things and look for bugs?

Even as a toddler, Suzie Lou knew in her heart of hearts that America needed a more lax regulatory policy.

Okay, rant over.  I have placed my opinionizing monocle back in it's drawer.

What was that?  How's Cairo?

Oh, thanks for asking, dear sweet reader.  Yes, I've missed you too.

So far I haven't had a chance to see much of anything, due to my new job and the political situation here. One of my duties has been going to the airport to meet new teachers.  This, combined with a (recently modified) 7pm curfew, has meant that my nights have been a blur of driving through checkpoints, showing papers, being searched and/or questioned (usually very politely), and explaining to new teachers that those guns will probably not be pointed anywhere in their immediate vicinity.

Good stories have come from these trips.  I saw a donkey walking around alone at 2 am along a stretch of highway that was completely empty.  I had a soldier, upon finding out I was American, ask if I liked rap music.  I got to be on the bus when two children witnessed their first (hopefully) gang style beatdown about thirty feet away from us.

So, all in all, good times.  But, as one can imagine, it definitely cut into my socializing.

I will say this about Cairo, though.  I am writing this at 930 in the morning, and once I finish I'm going to get 2 Egg Macmuffins (with hash browns of course), a box fan, a case of beer, and a water cooler delivered to my house.

So, that's pretty sweet.

Luckily the late night airport runs are all in the past now.  The new teachers are here, we've been on the job for a week, and the students come in on Sunday for-

Oh, wait, that's right.  We have been delayed to September 15th.

Unexpected time off, due to the uncertain situation out here.

Hmmm . . .

You know what?  I think it might be time for a good, old fashioned Egyptian Road Trip!

To be continued . . .

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Here, There, and Back Again Again (Part 2- Electric Waterloo)

So arriving in Waterloo was, in a Hallmarkian way, a sort of homecoming for me.  Totally a full circle type of moment.  It was practically identical to that scene in The Sandlot when the kid who looked like Skeletor hit the home run.

I still have nightmares.

Very few people know this but I was actually in Waterloo seven years ago.  That was the town that changed my life forever.  The town that set me on the path towards global jet setting, beach drinking, a lazziez faire attitude towards pants, and a keen interest in generator maintenance.

Seven years ago, in Waterloo, I signed a contract for my first international teaching job.  That night I went out with a bunch of folks and ended up on the wrong side of 2 am singing  karaoke at a Serbian Heavy Metal bar with two local women who had taken me under their wing because they thought my briefcase was hot.  A few months later I was off to Myanmar, home of awesome fried rice dishes and decidedly less awesome policies regarding free speech.

I have had some amazing times over the years.  I have lived in Myanmar, Taiwan, and Congo, and have been lucky enough to travel to, and drink beer in, dozens of places in between.  I have met some wonderful people, some less than wonderful people, and the kind of people who make you wish you could take a hot shower forever just to forget.  I have seen the kind of sunsets that Dr. Seuss would write a poem about, probably involving "Ponderfree Gatt, the daytime bat, or something almost, but not quite, like that".

Okay, the last one might have been a bit of a stretch.

It was in Waterloo that it all started for me.  At the time I was burned out from teaching in the Santa Fe public school district, felt like I was slipping into a terrible rut involving many unpleasant people, things, and home furnishings, and worried that the rest of my life would be like the first twenty minutes of Mr. Holland's Opus, but without the heartwarming bits.

What started off at Waterloo changed all that, for me.  Going overseas has made me a better person (I hope), has shown me the beauty and wonder inherent in the world, and has allowed me to try like 45 different kinds of mosquito repellent.

So it was with a nostalgic fervor that I rolled up into Waterloo eight days ago for their annual Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame Induction Weekend.  It's a great few days for wrestling fans with live wrestling, an entire day of fanfest activities, and culminating in the HOF induction ceremony and dinner.  What's funny is, seven years ago, I had no idea that the HOF was located in Waterloo and it wasn't until I was literally on my way to the airport to leave that someone told me.  If I had the lung capacity I would have done one of those action movie styled "Nooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!" screams at the heavens, but instead I let it fester inside of me for years until I found this chance to let it burst forth into a weekend of madness, knife edged chops, and far too many cans of Miller Light.

So anyway, as most weeks tend to end, I found myself Friday night in a hotel room of one of the stars of the show, singing "The Time of My Life" with two other people as a woman tried to bargain her way into being able to wear the championship belt by flashing everybody.

Wait, how did that happen?  Okay, lemme back up.

Thursday I was sitting at the hotel bar in Waterloo, which is normally a wretched hive of villainy and all of that, when a large , loud, happy man came up and said he was buying a drink for everyone at the bar.  Upon hearing this I knew he had to be a wrestler, because that has been the only time a large man has bought a round of drinks for strangers in front of me.  I introduced myself, we got to talking, and I told him where I was from.  The where, of course, being Congo.

His reaction was priceless, and anyone who hangs out with wrestlers knows where this is going.  He put his arm around me and yelled out:  "Congo?!  Fucking Congo?  Holy shit!  Congo?"  He then turned to the group of men and women he had left in the corner.  "Hey, guys!  Come over and meet this motherfucker!  He flew in from the fuckin' Congo to be here man!"

I was quickly surrounded by a dozen people who all wanted to meet me, shake my hand and, most importantly, buy me a drink.  One rather large man with interesting tattoos came up and said "For the rest of the night, Congo, you don't pay for shit."

So not only did I get free drinks, I got a sweet wrestling nickname which carried me through the whole weekend.  The night was a wonderful blur as drinks came and went.  They ended up taking me with them bar crawling and we hopped around.  Waterloo only has like five bars so it didn't take too long to hit the high spots.  At each location I was introduced to the locals as "Congo- he don't pay for shit" and I never did.  In one funny moment we went to a club that had a cover charge, of like 4 dollars or so, and the same big dude from before walked up to the bouncer and said "I'm covering everybody, and don't let Congo pay."

Other wrestling people would join us and we were carried forth like a frothy, drunken, suplexing wave.  I think the highlight for me was when I was sitting next to one of the female wrestlers who joined up with us later.  After seeing four separate people come up, shake my hand, and ask if I needed a drink she leaned forward and said, "who the FUCK are you?".  Trying to summon up my best Brad Pitt I replied "Nobody.  Just some guy here for a good time."  If I had sunglasses I would have removed them to reveal another pair of sunglasses underneath.

This happened all night, with the side effect of the locals figuring I was an important wrestler type, so I had a few make out offers which I rejected, and many offers to buy drinks which I happily acquiesced too.  This all ended at 5 am with the scene mentioned towards the top.

The next day was more of the same.  Between the constant "Hey, Congo!"s and eating at Subway at the same time as Edge, I was having a great time.  I felt loved, sweaty, and filled with testosterone.  It was like getting married in the summer on the set of Roadhouse.

So, thank you, Waterloo.  The first time I was there you showed me the pleasures of Serbian Heavy Metal Karaoke and led me down the path that I walk now, and will walk right on into Cairo on a few weeks.  This time, you set me up to be loved, paid for, and sung to, all by large groups of large men and attractive and somewhat attractive women.  So, kind of like the first time I was there, actually.  Well done, you bastard.

I hope you enjoyed story time, sweet readers.  I am off for Mallorca in a few days and will have some great times in the sun and sand.  I will post some photos if I can manage to keep the topless women out of the frame, but you all know how the Spaniards are . . .

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Here, There, and Back Again Again (Part I)

  It has been so long, dear readers.  By now, I might not even remember what most of you look like, beyond the tawdriest of generalities: the Latvians covered in track suits and off colored gold chains, the legions of Polish rage-a-holics running helter skelter through the streets of . . . um . . . Warsaw, I guess, the Brazilians lying half naked on the beach, abs glistening in the sun while casting forbidden looks at forbidden people during forbidden times, and those loyal fans from Rhode Island doing . . . well, I'm sure whatever it is, it's pretty sweet.

  My summer is winding down and it has truly been one for the books.  For the first time in almost four years I actually had my summer totally free because I finished my Admin courses last year and was able to indulge myself a little.  Being the first open Summer in a while and the last before I dip my cute little toes into the large, forbidding pool that is administration with a capital A, I thought I would work on things that would probably be called a "bucket list" if that movie hadn't come out and I could pretend I invented the term.

  So what did I do with my time, you ask?  Well, curious readers, I ate lots of great food and rode on far too many planes.  I flew from Congo to Vancouver, then journeyed onwards to Santa Fe, drove to Las Vegas for a weekend, followed that up by flying into New Jersey, out to lovely Waterloo, Iowa (more on that later), back to Jersey and now, in one week, I will once again be drinking beers on the sun drenched shores of Mallorca.  After that, I go to Scotland for a week where I will hopefully have a head butt free time before finally landing in Cairo to start my new gig.

  Wait, lemme catch my breath.

  So, what was the impetus behind much of these travels?

  Simple- much like last year, when I rocked Wacken harder than a really hard thing, this year my summer involved loud music, pyro, and tight pants.  Also lots and lots of shirtless men and scantily clad women (and, sadly enough, men).

  That's right, kids- I'm talking about wrestling.  In addition to hopping all over our great northern continent, I managed to sneak in some wrestling shows.

  First, I drove to Vegas with some old, good, only reasonably greasy friends to catch a taping of TNA Wrestling from the Orleans Arena.  As middle school ish as the name sounds, they are the number two wrestling company in the world and put on a great live show.  The owner, Dixie Carter, endeared herself to me (and to all geography fans) forever when, upon finding out I came out from the Congo, immediately said, "Congo?  Which one?"  Which means she knows more about the countries of the world than 90% of Americans, myself included.

Good seats.

I had a fantastic time there, and in Vegas in general.  I gambled exactly 5 dollars, spread out over three days of nickle slots, drank cheap Vegas beer (hoppy, with a taste of sin) had the biggest lunch of all time at a place called Chicken and Waffles, went to the Pinball Hall of Fame, and got to see Hulk Hogan do his thing again.

 Did we eat lunch, or did lunch eat us?

Bliss.  And neon.  Mostly bliss.

  Now, anyone who knows me knows that Hulk Hogan has always been a big part of my life growing up (if not read here- oh God summer plugging!) and, while people get older and a bit slower on the draw, some things don't change.  One of which is that intangible glow, that positive energy, that need to stand up and exult to the heavens, that Hogan brings to live events (sort of like when the first bars of "Pour Some Sugar On Me" kick off at a low end strip club), and it was awesome seeing it one more time.

Spiritual shirt tearing abounded.

   Then, to Jersey, where I got a chance to meet my niece for the first time.  She immediately tried to eat my face.  I have spent the better part of two weeks trying to get her to perfect her "thumb to the eye" maneuver, and I think we are seeing some progress on that front.  I have already started to work on "crazy uncle from overseas" routine, so we'll see if that has any legs.

Yeah, the thumb goes there . . . no one ever expects that move.

   Then what did I do?  Flew to Iowa.

  Wait, Iowa, you ask?  What does Iowa have except for Slipknot and Bruce Springsteen songs that might be about Iowa if you mumble them enough?  Why was I in the scenic town of Waterloo?  Who was in that hot tub with me?  What cool nickname did I get?

  Suffice to say, when I went to Iowa, that's when things went from being awesome to being awesome enough to warrant their own blog post.  Oh God, what a tease am I.

This was the only image that came up when Googling the word "tease" that didn't involve naked women.

Tune in Thursday for part 2, dear segmented readers, where I will tell you all about what happens when an innocent young man from the Congo attends an indy wrestling show.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Greasy Kid Story, Part the Third

Oh my god!!!  My new book is out!  Buy it here for a measly 99 cents on Kindle.  Or $8.50 if you are a tactile kind of person.

Okay, cheap plug over.  Back to the regularly scheduled rage.

(Removes sunglasses and puts on other, sexier sunglasses.)

Well, it's finally drawing to a close, dear reader.  My two year sojourn in the heart of darkness is coming to an end.  Hopefully not an ignoble one, but I guess we'll have to play it by ear.  It's been a great time, with the kind of adventures, wacky stories, and interesting people that make being an overseas man of mystery totally worth it.  I have already said my goodbyes and given my toasts, so what else is there?    What has been left unsaid?

I have one more story to tell, rageaholics.

One last song to sing.

I mean, not literally, because I am a karaoke machine after all, but bear with my ponderous thunder for a  moment.  It'll be worth it.  I think.

So, I was invited to share in the warm domestic embrace of the Grimsrud family on Friday of last week.  I was sitting in my classroom after school, rubbing my belly and thinking up puns to go with the name Victor, when I got a text from Johan that told me to come up and have a beer at their house.  I ran out of my chair once I read the word "beer" of course, so was halfway there when I got to the part where he said he would meet me up at the domicile in a few minutes.

I pressed on and arrived in time for Lulu to come home and greet me on the porch.  She looked at me, hesitancy writ large across her furrowed, tiny brow.

"Why are YOU here?"

"Your dad is gonna me-"

"-Come play in my room!"  

And with a shrill cackle and this weird jig type move she's been rocking lately, we were off.  

I had been in Lulu's room before, with strange results, so was wondering what odd things we would be doing.  It turned out, this time, to be relatively uneventful, at first:  she tipped out her blocks, started building a tower, and told me to help her stack her toy cars on top.  Then she showed me how the big car breast feeds the other cars (which was like watching the world's most Freudian monster truck rally) before moving on to telling me the names of all of her tiny stuffed animal doodads.

All of this, of course, was in the span of about 47 seconds.

I get another text from Johan, informing me that Eli is waiting in line to buy cotton candy (at this point I assumed they had left Congo entirely and were somewhere in Western Manhattan), and that he would be up in a bit.  He told me to grab a beer while I waited.

I told Lulu I would be right back.

She said to make sure I came back to her room, as opposed to wandering into the laundry machine or something.

A few seconds later I had returned with a delicious chilled Tembo in my hand.

We played for a few more minutes before she noticed the bottle.

She pointed.

"Where did you get that?"

She sounded either worried or dizzy.  At that age it's hard to tell.

Before I could answer she reached out her still extended finger and touched the label.

"That's Papa's juice!"


For those who didn't want to read all of that, here is the same story, in pictorial form:

Lulu, did you drink Papa's juice?

Where am I?

Still greasy.

And that is my final Congo tale, dear reader.  I leave the country on Tuesday, so will not be able to get back in touch with you all for a bit.  Do not fear, however, for I have much planned this summer: I am going to Vancouver, New Mexico, Las Vegas to watch an Impact Wrestling TV Taping, New Jersey, Iowa (to have dinner with Ric Flair, no biggie), Mallorca (because who could stay away from this?), and Scotland before finally starting my new gig in Cairo.  So, presumably, I'll have at least one or two good stories to tell throughout the summer.

See you in a few weeks, or whenever I get a chance to leach off of someone's computer!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Words of Wisdom and Whatnot.

I know, dear readers, that last time we met up in the Rage Cage I promised you a story.  And man, it was gonna be a good one.  So heartwarming, so emotionally charged, so filled with commas, that surely you would have turned into a gigantic, frothing mass of sugar and hugs, like a diabetic Care Bear.

It was a story about me and Lulu, the intrepid toddler whose adventures have been recounted here many a time, and with whom I have shared quite a few bonding moments over the past two years.  Here is a picture of us watching The Last Unicorn together.

This is the part in the movie where Lulu realized that if your hair is long enough, you don't have to wear clothes.  Whether she is freaked out or intrigued I can't be sure.

But I sold you all out, and contributed the story to the always wonderful Mama Congo blog instead.  They had promised to pay me in beer and baked peanuts, so I could not refuse.  But fear not, you can read my incredible guest column here (it’s like a two way cheap plug, hahaha!).  You should check it out.

Speaking of cheap plugs, my new book Endtyme: The Apocalypse and Me, is now available on Kindle for the super low price of 99 cents!  Huzzah!  Now, all of you cheap bastards should run out, buy it by clicking here, and leave a scathing (or purringly sexy) review on Amazon.  Every reviewer gets one free beer.  Oh, and feel free to send either hate mail or appreciative missives to let me know what you thought of the book.

Okay, now on to business.  I have two weeks left here in Congo and, as my teaching career winds down and starts to morph into a more administrative role,  I have been in one of those sexy, Big Lebowski flavored reflective modes.  Over the course of the last twelve years I have taught in four different countries, multiple subjects and grade levels, with varying degrees of sweat stains and pant tears.  I feel like, at some point, my experiences had to leave some sort of impression on my sordid mind.  What better way to move on than to share my delicious wisdom you,  my seven devoted Rage followers, those intrepid few who walk that rager’s edge (hee hee).

So, without further ado, here are my two tips for being an effective teacher.  Why only two?  Well, I mean c'mon- I'm pretty lazy.  With two you could write one on the knuckles of each fist like the "love/hate" biker guys.  Also, there are a million websites that specialize in tips, tricks, and inspirational verbiage of all kinds.  If you want to be motivated, go watch Dead Poet's Society.  Or Welcome Back Cotter.  The stuff I have written focuses more on survival and keeping your sanity relatively intact.  They come from the hard lessons I have learned along this labyrinthine journey we call education.    Feel free to steal them, tattoo them on your back Memento style, or use them as talking points at a staff meeting and promptly blame me when you're suspended.

1)  Maintain a "teacher face".
                We are all human beings, for sure.  We all have our own moments of doubt, anger, sadness, weird bubbling sounds, and turgid nacho consumption.  In a class room, though, we are the symbol of stability and safety for the sweaty little people in our charge.  The kids need to see that we are not at all crazy because they need to feel comfortable in the class with us.   Most of them go through enough madness at home.  Sometimes their only comfort is knowing that Mrs. Smith will be there with a smile, or Mr. Johnson won’t try to attack them with the aft end of a three hole punch.  Part of being a teacher is modeling, and a big part of modeling is showing that things are okay, or will soon be okay.  Even if it’s not entirely true.   On a daily basis our job is not to save the world.  It is to provide a safe haven, a place where a kid can run to, turn around, face the demons playing psycho tag with his will to live and lunch money and say, "I'm on base, you Lovecraftian bastards!"  
                Whatever madness you are going through, you need to check that at the door.  A mentor once told me something, back in my first year as a fresh faced young teacher wanna be: at times teaching is like playing a character.  So try, as best you can, to stay in that character.  These kids, especially the middle school ones, are emotional wrecks at least half the time, so we need to give them space to get away from that.  If you have an urge to put your head on the desk and cry, or rip off your clothes and run around quoting Abe Vigoda's lines from Look Whose Talking, that’s fine, but wait till you get home.  Or at least to your car.

2)  Laugh at yourself.
                Oh, for the love of God, have a sense of humor.  Teaching is, at heart, a pretty ridiculous job.  By that I mean that something absurd happens to you on a daily (sometimes hourly) basis.  By way of illustration: in the course of a week a number of years ago I broke up two fights, was vomited on, had a student take a condom out of her cleavage and hand it to me, saw a parent making out with her daughter’s boyfriend at a bar, and spent 45 minutes cleaning my own blood off a few desks.  And this was while teaching middle school.  So, yes, it's true: teaching is super rewarding, life changing, Hallmarkian in scope, but it is also a job where your dignity gets taken outside and curb stomped on a fairly regular basis.  In light of this, you need to be able to step back and laugh at it all.  Especially at yourself.  The people who view themselves as some type of Deweyian avatar of educational justice, above reproach, tend to be ones who don’t last very long in the educational system.  Or if they do, they leave hundreds of frustrated teachers, parents, and students in their wake.  They teach, not for the students, but because it is affirming some idea of greatness they have created inside themselves.  Kids pick up on that.  The hardest thing for a lot of people to do is laugh at themselves and the situation around them, but to me that is the most important lesson to learn if you want to effectively reach people. 

                 Don’t believe me?  Look at the Dhali Lama, that enlightened son of a bitch.  Here is a guy who, whenever he opens his mouth, says something that blows my mind.  He is a spiritual powerhouse.   Hanging out with him is probably the emotional equivalent of living inside the script of Rocky 1.  And yet, he is also one of the most self-deprecating famous people I know.  He is always making jokes about what he doesn't know, doesn't understand, or is not very good at.  That is because he’s a teacher.  Perfection isn't inspiring, it’s alienating.

So there is my advice for any aspiring teachers out there.   Never let it be said that we don’t try to help the world with our Rage.  Any other teachers feel free to add your thoughts in the comments.  Each comment will get a free Teacher Appreciation Beer, which totally beats the usual plastic gewgaws one finds in their mailboxes during that week, usually with a picture of an apple or an owl on them and some weird educational quote.

 Awww, a cute little eraser . . . wait, is that supposed to be ironic, or?