March 2004 Archives

is it feti? - no, fetuses is fine


Last week, the Senate passed a bill which made it an extra crime to harm a fetus during commission of a violent crime. This bill was informally named after Laci Peterson, which is appropriate, since her husband probably would have thought twice about (allegedly) killing her if he knew he was (allegedly) committing two felonies.

Now, though some people might argue that this bill is a transparent attempt to weaken abortion rights, I think it's long overdue. You see, I work for a non-profit company that helps provide free legal assistance for people convicted of felonies. And day after day, we see hundreds of pregnant women committing crimes and getting sent to prison, while their unborn children get off scot free. That is absolutely unfair. Some people might just see an embryo in those cases. I see an accomplice.

Once anti-abortion gr. . . er, victims' rights advocates can finally push through legislation that gives personhood to fetuses, we can finally get some justice. I believe so passionately in this, I don't care that it makes my job harder, since the majority of unborn children have no assets or regular source of income. We'll have to figure out some kind of procedure for getting an official Declaration of Indigence from them, but I think most judges would accept a sonogram of the fetus giving a "thumbs-up". Once the thumbs develop, of course.

Crime is going to have a bite taken out of it, even if the perpetrators don't yet have teeth. We'll be able to get these kids off the streets, out of the wombs, and into the justice system where their kicks can't hurt anyone else, or their uterus. With the pesky question of fetal personhood settled we'll be able to move onto more important topics, like deciding when a district attorney can try a fetus as a juvenile, or determining the admissibility of amniocentesis testing at trial.

U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!

There is a lovely low-priced Indian restaurant near my workplace in San Francisco. It's a short walk from the office, and their chicken wraps cost about five dollars. Any establishment that can cater to my frugality and my laziness at the same time is sure to gain my patronage. Unfortunately, I have recently jeopardized my relationship with the fine people who run the place. And like most tragedies in human history, it all began with a beautiful girl and a dikka-style wrap.

Since I first began lunching at this place, the service and efficiency have picked up tremendously, at least in the area with which I am concerned, phone orders. The ordering process is brief but affable, and the food is nearly always ready in the brief time it takes me to stroll down the street to pick it up. Part of that seems to be due to new staffers, including an affable British manager who effortlessly handles lunch crowds and calls you "chap". The newest addition to the staff is a stunningly pretty register girl, whom I am assuming to be from India because of her accent. She is also extremely nice. This is where my troubles began.

Roughly two months ago, I made one of my semi-weekly calls to the restaurant. I gave the girl my name and order, and walked down to the restaurant, where I waited. And waited. The Stunningly Pretty Register Girl did not call my name, though the plastic bag behind her looked suspiciously like it might contain my dikka-style chicken wrap. Finally, I overcame my natural reticence to approach pretty girls or ask for anything from anyone, and came up to the counter.

"Is there an order for 'Sean'?" I asked. She shook her head.

"I think that might be it," I said, pointing to the wrap. She shook her head again.

"No, that is for 'SAY-on'," the SPRG informed me. Now, obviously, she was unfamiliar with the subtle nuances of Celtic names. Plenty of people from America don't realize that "S-E-A-N" is pronounced shon, after all, let alone people from India. But instead of explaining to the poor girl, I simply said, "Yeah, that's me," grabbed the bag, and walked out. That was mistake #1.

The next time I ordered, the SPRG had been promoted to phone-answering duty. I ordered, she asked my name, and I told her.

"S-H-A-W-N?" she asked.

I am always uncomfortable with people doing things for me, whether or not it's their job. Often, I reconcile this by not asking for what I want, or trying to simply tell the person what they'd like to hear. Perhaps it was a bizarre, misguided desire not to inconvenience her, or maybe I was just in a hurry, but instead of correcting the SPRG, I said, "Sure, you got it."

This is when it really began to fall apart. I continued to patronize this establishment for the next few weeks, but I didn't always talk to the SPRG. Sometimes I spelled my name correctly. Sometimes I didn't spell it at all. Usually I just went with whatever they suggested.

One day, not realizing that I was talking with the SPRG, I spelled my name "S-E-A-N". The SPRG got very quiet and asked, "Not . . . S-H-A-W-N?" Clearly, she felt like an idiot, thinking she had been screwing up my name for a month. (Upon hearing this much of the story, my colleague Monica Fitzpadrick suggested, "She should have come to America by way of Dublin, instead of by way of Illiteracy Land, where she clearly had a stopover.") When I arrived to pick up the food, just five minutes later, the SPRG was completely out of sight.

So I felt awful about the whole situation. I avoided the place for a couple of days, but a week later, I decided to patch things up. I called in, ready to confess, apologize, beg forgiveness, maybe even give her flowers. Instead, a guy answered the phone. I was disappointed, but I still wanted a dikka-style wrap. So I ordered quickly, and headed down to the place.

The place was almost entirely devoid of customers when I arrived, as it was late in the afternoon. There was a guy behind the counter, with one to-go order in a small bag. Clearly, it was my dikka wrap. I walked up, and he asked, "Name?"

Me: Sean. I think that one is mine.

Him: This is for John.

Me: No. I'm Sean.

Him: (pause) This says John.

Me: (hesitating for only a moment, and then grabbing the bag) OK, whatever.

("This is not how you make friends," Monica adds.)

So I haven't gone back, and I'm not sure if I ever can again, unless I arrive with flowers, candy, maybe even jewelry, and a name tag. The storybook ending would involve an apology speech, many tears, laughter, a marriage proposal, two musical numbers, and a lot of naan, but realistically, I will probably just go to the Chinese restaurant on Second Street a lot more. There, when you order, the woman behind the counter just gives you a poker chip.

vegas, baby, vegas

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(This travelogue dates back from the fall of 2001 and originally appeared in e-mail form)

Last week, I went to Las Vegas for the first time. My roommate Aaron was already in Vegas for a day trading seminar, and he invited me to come out to gamble with him and exploit his luxurious lodgings at the Golden Nugget hotel and casino. So I booked a flight on Aloha Airlines and flew out Wednesday night.

It doesn't take long for the Vegas experience to begin, since the slot machines are right there in the terminal. During my time in Vegas, I also encountered slot machines in hotel lobbies, convenience stores, and one memorable occasion, next to a urinal. Any kind of vice is encouraged and enabled, as long as it's at least vaguely regulated. Smoking is allowed and prevalent in casinos, which are located next to topless bars, which sit across from restaurants offering enormous portions of fried meat at discount rates. Drinks are free in the casinos and pornography is handed out outside of them. If only you could sniff glue at the tables, the degenerate experience would be complete.

I wasn't having any of that, however. Armed with Lawrence Revere's How To Play Blackjack As A Business, I was going to clean up in the casinos. And according to Mr. Revere's rules, you don't drink while you play blackjack. You follow a strict set of decision procedures, and, if you're being ambitious, count cards to the best of your ability. I was primed to make back the cost of my trip, and more.

Unfortunately, for the first two days of the trip, I found myself Playing Blackjack As An E-Business instead. That is, I made large profits right off the bat, my confidence soared. Riding the blackjack boom, I put more money into my gambling, only to have the bottom fall out in an incredible 45-minute losing streak that wiped out my capital gains and left me with just $40. I trudged back upstairs feeling like the CEO of Yahoo, circa April, 2001.

The next day was my last in Vegas, and I woke with the foul taste of defeat and cheap whiskey in my mouth. Taped to the door of the hotel room next door was a note that read, in its entirety, "Thanx 4 the worst birthday ever. It's over." I wandered downstairs, and headed out to the famous Las Vegas Strip with Aaron's girlfriend, Kristina. In the elevator, we were treated to the strains of Paula Abdul's "Blowing Kisses in the Wind," which continued playing as we stepped out into the lobby. And then continued playing as we stepped outside onto the street. Yes, the Golden Nugget had gone through great trouble and expense to see that we could hear some of the worst music in human history, uninterrupted, all the way from the 32nd floor out to our cab. (This moment was equaled only by a blackjack dealer singing along to Air Supply's "All Out Of Love" at the tables earlier in the week.)

Caesar's Palace exhibited more of the same. Intricate architecture, elaborately costumed faux-Romans, all there to convince people to pull slot machine levers, or shop in the Caesar's Palace mall. As Kristina put it, "Vegas is really beautiful and ornate, as well as completely trashy and sad."

That got me thinking: Las Vegas is the municipal embodiment of America. Kristina's quote could apply to our country just as well as it could to Vegas. Almost everyone you encounter is middle-aged and overweight - again, just like America. America is the home of capitalism, and every single thing you see in Vegas is designed to pry money from your wallet. America has ripped off its culture from countless other nations, just as I have ripped off this Vegas-as-America metaphor from countless other, much more talented writers.

Later in the evening, Aaron rejoined us, and we returned to the casinos. I abandoned Revere's instructions, and purchased a 52-ounce plastic football full of daiquiri goodness. Thanks to a run of luck and the ineptitude of blackjack dealer/ recovering cocaine addict "KT," we all swiftly turned a tidy gambling profit, though I was almost too drunk to gather my chips by the end of the daiquiri football. It was comforting to know that, though I was carded at every single table I tried to play cards at, no one cared if I drank myself unconscious, gambled away my life savings, or even got married. We were, however, ushered outside by a floor manager for taking pictures inside the casino, a situation exacerbated by our then photographing that same floor manager on our way out.

I flew back home on Aloha Airlines a few hours later, exhausted, intoxicated, and up about $100 on the weekend. As we waited on the runway for clearance, my head was buzzing with questions. Why do casinos advertise a 98% return on their slot machines, as if that's a good thing? Is there something going on with those Siegfried and Roy guys? And was it really a good idea to purchase plane tickets on an airline whose name translates to "Goodbye" Airlines? But mostly, I wondered about the people in the hotel room next door. Was there a chance that the magic of Vegas could restore their bad-birthday-wounded love?

Just then, the plane began rolling down the runway, Vegas began to disappear, and I thought to myself, "I wouldn't bet on it."

goateequest 2004: the first ten days


The Facial Hair of Emotional Recovery continues to grow in, with its attendant Itching of Well-Being and Scruffiness of Eventual Acceptance. Last Sunday night, the seven-day anniversary of the FHOER, many family members complimented the facial hair, though I suspect it was because they hadn't seen me in a while. You can't criticize too severely your prodigal nephew, or his pathetic attempt at a beard, when you have no idea whether it represents a whim or a conscious lifestyle choice.

My father Dennis expressed approval, but then laughed when he heard I hadn't shaved in a week. "It's been seven days?" he guffawed, incredulous, and my hairless cheeks burned with embarrassment. Dennis displayed the arrogance that comes from having successfully maintained a full, hippie beard for over a decade, and then a mustache for ten years more. He was polite enough not to explicitly mention my lack of testosterone, expressing only the wishful belief that the "patchiness" would eventually fill in.

"Patchiness" is a kind word for the goatee, which mostly looks like my chin has somehow been magnetized, and then dipped into a bowl of iron filings. It is fuller on the right side than the left, which could indicate a parietal lobe injury, or a rare case of beard-based dyslexia. Most likely, it's due to my own sloppiness. I never know exactly what shape the goatee is supposed to have, or where to stop shaving. Like Reepicheep in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, I am curious to find the edge, but I know not where it is. Perhaps Aslan could help, but you know he'd just tell me to grow out the whole thing, along with my hair. Also, he'd roar at me about going to church, and I just don't need that from the magical Jesus-lions in my life right now, OK?

More goatee here

Many wonder what's next, not just for Zembla the Blog, but for Me the Person. Zembla will continue to feature the content you know and love, like "How We Met", "Socially Antagonistic Behavior From My Youth", "Dialogue-Based Piece About Historical/Literary Figure", and "Petty Rant." Your favorite characters are still here, including Young Sean, Sean's dad, and Henry Kissinger, along with new faces like Henry Clay (the Great Compromiser) and Sean's Former Girlfriend, who will sometimes appear in entries, since we are still friends.

For Me the Person, it is a time of upheaval. I am rudderless, adrift without the guidance and support I've come to take for granted in the past few months. There is no one to let me know if my hair is styled fashionably, or grossly caked with texture cream. I can't tell by myself. I am the only one who decides if and when to go to bed at night, if and when to wake up in the morning. Even if I were motivated and chipper, rather than sad and depressed, there would be no real need to dress up, to cook nutritious food, to shower regularly, because I'm not trying for anyone's approval.

It is in this spirit that I announce my plans for regrowth, and not just the emotional kind. Since Sunday afternoon, I have been growing a goatee, or, as I prefer to call it, Facial Hair Of Emotional Recovery (FHOER for short). Three days later, there are at least twelve individual hairs adorning my chin. I am well under way.

I can already anticipate the protests:

Goatees look miserable.

Yes, they do. Still, I feel miserable, so it wouldn't be a dishonest look.

Can you even grow a goatee, Sean?

I plan to find out. I have no doubt that I can grow an impressive patch of hair on the very bottom of my chin. The mustache and the parts that run down either side of the mouth, maybe not so much.

Why shave at all? Why not grow the biggest and best beard you can, if you're growing one at all?

First, I would like it to be very clear that I am not becoming slothful, or neglecting my cleaning and grooming habits. My cheeks will be clean-shaven, as will my neck. The Facial Hair Of Emotional Recovery will be a defined zone of beard and healing, not a patchy, haphazard scruff. OK, it might still be patchy, but the FHOER will be clearly an intentional choice, no matter how horribly misguided a choice it is.

Don't put conditioner on the FHOER. It will make your chin break out.

Duly noted.

Come on, goatees are the worst thing ever! I'd rather see a sweaty, hairy armpit than some lame frat boy beard!

I've also given up shaving my armpits.

The Quest for Regrowth and Recovery (QFRAR) has already begun. Check this space for updates on the FHOER, the QFRAR, and the REVULSION of polite society. The noble goat inspired the words for "tragedy" as well as for "shitty chin beard". Clearly, that is no coincidence.

play it again, zem


It's been too long.

It gets progressively harder to come back, as you watch the days, weeks, soon months between posts piling up, at the same time realizing that just seven posts ago is an apology for an earlier extended absence. Zembla has been weblog in name only. It has been a skeleton, a ghost, something to pick through for jokes and ironic commentary on '90s hip-hop. If Zembla were a real place, it would probably sell hard candy out of enormous bins by now. And I would have to pay royalties to the Nabokov family to avoid a big(ger) lawsuit.

I tried to break through writer's block, I really did. Please to note this post from January 11, which never made it past "draft" status.

Winter can do terrible things to a man.

Increasingly, I was away from my computer at night. I couldn't write multiple drafts of public transportation-based song parodies during leisurely days - I had to work. I used to say that people got less funny when they got into relationships. I attributed it to the absence of misery. In a stable, nurturing relationship, there would be less need to settle the score with angry mock-newsflashes, less reason for elaborate efforts to be funny simply for attention.

Observe my sporadic posting habits of the previous six months, while in a stable and supportive relationship. Maybe I didn't feel as much of a need to show off. Maybe I was able to simply bore my girlfriend with trivial minutiae about my workday, my eating habits, and assorted opinions regarding politics, fast food, and Marvin "Young MC" Young. She was able to fall upon workplace stories like they were cuteness grenades, shielding innocent people of the Web from adorability shrapnel.

While I was drafting various incarnations of the Zembla Returns post, I was going to suggest the notion that my earlier belief about relationships being Comedy Poison was perhaps unfounded - Zembla was Returning, after all. Now, this post will be premiering one day past the breakup of this relationship, so maybe my thesis is still intact. It might make a good dissertation idea for Clown Graduate School, at least.

Here's what really made me step back and take a look stock of my weblog. I was on BART last week, headed to the Near East, as I have been so many times in these past months. There was an inebriated man, possibly crazy, arguing with another passenger in an animated fashion.

"No more instant messages!" he shouted, whipping his right arm out in an arc, as if to symbolically wipe instant messages off all of our screens. "No, what they're doing instead is blogs!"

I winced, remembering my own abandoned blog, its virtual feet bound, left to die in the metaphorical cyber-mountains, cast aside like so many unwanted instant messages. The man must have sensed something in my reaction, because he wheeled around and looked at me intently.

"What's that mean?" he asked. "You know, 'blog'".

I felt ashamed. "It's short for 'weblog'", I stammered. "Like, an online journal."

He smiled in recognition.

"More accurately", I said, "It's like a pie crust website - easily made, easily broken."

"Then, why blog?" he asked.

"We - Some people do it because they have something to say. Some do it to stay updated with their friends. And some people do it because, well, because it's been too long, and the little Post-It notes with ideas on them are piling up, and Kristen read through all the archives, and I should really tell the story about the Indian restaurant even if it's better with the accent, and what the hell else am I doing that's so godamn great?"


"But mostly, it's that some people are just sick and tired of instant messages."

More to come...

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This page is an archive of entries from March 2004 listed from newest to oldest.

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