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Tonight: The Spelling Beast

September 30, 2010

Tonight, I shall be competing in 826NYC’s The Spelling Beast, against celebrities including Dave Eggers, Catherine Keener, Kristin Schaal, and Ira Glass.

I was pretty flattered when 826 got in touch — someone actually wants me to spell! On the other side of the mic! It’s like I no longer have a firm grasp of my own identity!

I assembled a team of experts, and we’ve been raising cash here.

Tickets are $25. Doors at 7pm. All proceeds support youth literacy programs.

LGBT Sandwich

September 27, 2010

I took this photo in a cafe in the Delhi airport. (It was a cafe. I insist. It was not a Delhi deli).

It turns out that an LGBT sandwich contains:
Basil oil spread

I was wondering what else, if anything, to say about this, so I Google image-searched “gay sandwich.” Yep, so … don’t do that at work.

New on TheGloss: Money-Saving Tips That Don’t Involve Bread Bags or Baking Soda

September 23, 2010

I am convinced that most of what we consider sound financial values about budgeting and saving are illogical Depression-era holdovers.

At Barnes and Noble this week, I paged through a copy of Everyday Cheapskate’s Greatest Tips. Maybe I’ll learn something useful, I thought. And I did. Here is the one useful thing I learned:

“Disposable razor blades get dull quickly because the metal blades begin to oxidize from the first time they touch water. They will last almost twice as long if you can slow down that process. Rinse razors after use and store them blade head down in a small cup of cooking oil. Light canola oil works best.”

You hear that, ladies? Store your disposable razors in cooking oil. If you use an opaque cup (like one of those nice porcelain toothbrush cups that accompanies a matching soap dispenser), you might be able to do this without looking like you have early-onset Alzheimer’s and might also be keeping your bra in the crisper. More >>

Is it racist to say “Chinese fire drill”?

September 23, 2010

A few weeks ago, I was explaining this math problem to a class:

How many ways can five people sit around a five-sided table, if any seating arrangement is judged to be the same if each person has the same people on both his or her right and left?

If the question were just “How many ways can five people sit around a five-sided table?”, the answer would be 5!, or 5×4x3×2x1 = 120. But if “any seating arrangement is judged to be the same if each person has the same people on both his or her right and left,” then the 120 figure represents massive overcounting. Imagine five people named A, B, C, D, and E sitting around the table. Now imagine that everyone gets up and moves one seat to his or her left. We’ve counted that as a separate arrangement, but the problem says it isn’t. So, by how many times have we overcounted? Well, how many ways can A, B, C, D, and E do a Chinese fire drill? Five, of course. Divide 120 by 5 to get the answer, 24.

I wanted to say “Chinese fire drill” to the class, but I didn’t, because I was pretty sure that’s racist. As it turns out, the thing I actually said about everybody moving one seat to his or her left is actually better, since apparently a Chinese fire drill is somewhat less regimented than I thought. According to Wikipedia:

Popular in the United States during the 1960s, a Chinese fire drill is a gag performed by a vehicle’s occupants when stopped at a traffic light, especially when there is a need to change drivers or procure something from the trunk: Before the light changes to green, each occupant gets out, runs around the vehicle, and gets back inside (but not necessarily in his original seat). If one of the participants lags, the others may drive off without him.

This seems to imply that sometimes the participants would end up back in their original seats, rather than merely moving over one spot. In any case, why is it a “Chinese” fire drill? Also from Wikipedia, an excellent anecdote!

The term is alleged to have originated in the early 1900s, when a ship manned by British officers and a Chinese crew practiced a fire drill in the engine room. The bucket brigade drew water from the starboard side, took it to the engine room, and threw it onto the fire. A separate crew hauled the accumulated water to the main deck and heaved the water over the port side. The drill went according to plan until the orders became confused in translation. The bucket brigade began to draw the water from the starboard side, run over to the port side, and, then, throw the water overboard, bypassing the engine room completely.

While the idea of a fire drill that bypasses the fire is quite funny, it’s hardly fair to pin the problem on the Chinese. We might as well call it a “poor translation fire drill” or, obviously, a “British fire drill.”

Also from Wikipedia:

Around the time of World War I, British English’s adjective Chinese had a slang meaning of “confused, disorganized, or difficult to understand.” Other examples include:
“Chinese puzzle,” a puzzle with no or a hard-to-fathom solution
“Chinese auction,” a “penny social”
“Chinese national anthem,” an explosion
“Chinese landing,” a clumsy landing
“Chinese ace,” an inept pilot, derived from the term One Wing Low (which sounds like a Chinese name), an aeronautical technique.

Yep, so that sounds pretty racist.

Anyone want to propose a new name for the “Chinese fire drill”?

New on TheGloss: How to Remain Blissfully Unfrustrated in the Face of Other People’s Incompetence

September 17, 2010

India: Photo Roundup

September 13, 2010

A lively neighborhood in Bangalore:

What a good name for a restaurant!

At the airport: just say no to touts! In American English, tout is a verb, but in British (and, consequently, Indian) English, a tout is “any person who solicits business or employment in an importune manner.”

Apparently, all of the magazines are about kittens.

An article in a business magazine regarding the historic decision to introduce bathrooms on trains:

This fruit was new to me.  It’s not very practical.  All the delicious bits are around the seeds.  There’s no way to eat this other than to suck on the seeds and then spit them out.

Hotel breakfast in Goa.  I really, really love coconut chutney (it’s covering the iddly).  The green stuff is halwah.  Apparently, there are a lot of kinds of halwah.  Also involved here: sambar, of course, for the iddly; some kind of vermicelli salad, a thing that was basically cornbread, some bread, and some other kind of mashed-up thing.  It was delicious.  I love hotel breakfasts.

I wanted to swim in the pool, but hadn’t brought my swimsuit.  The hotel shop sold swimsuits, but most were much too large for me, and also of the “frock” variety: Indian women apparently swim in dress-type swimsuits with black bike shorts attached underneath.  I bought the only suit in my size.  It was powerfully cheesy, with little pink cartoon hearts.  I tried to take a picture that was more “Look at this cheesy swimsuit!” than “Look at me in a bathing suit!”

More pictures from Fort Aguada in Goa:

That’s it!  It’s nice to be back in New York where good espresso abounds.

New on TheGloss: How to Make an Extra $100 a Month, Part II

September 10, 2010

India: How I Discovered That I Hate Spas

September 8, 2010

I made an appointment at a spa.  I never go to spas.  I occasionally will get a massage when I am so tense that my neck actually hurts, but I rarely do such a thing for fun.  I figured that if I were ever in my life going to go all-out and get a day-long spa package, a resort in India in the off-season would be the time and place.  So I signed up for a five-hour package that involved a body scrub (the woman took one look at me and said my skin would be too sensitive for the “masala” scrub, so I ended up with the coconut scrub), a one-hour facial, a massage, and a manicure/pedicure.  Here’s where they keep the spa.  Isn’t it gorgeous?

Yes, so it turns out that if you rub food on me for an hour, it will make me want to punch you.  Seriously, once you get scrubbed with coconut, you just have to get in the shower and wash it all off yourself.  Hardly worth it.  Also, the coconut that gets rubbed on your back is kind of cold and gross by the time you turn over to get coconut rubbed on your front.  Disgusting.  And then the fruit facial?  THAT WOMAN PUT FRUIT IN MY TEAR DUCTS.  And it got up my nose.  It was horrible.  And as soon as I thought it was over (the fruit was off), THERE WAS ANOTHER FUCKING ROUND OF FRUIT.  My subsequent Twitter posts:

India: Jetting Off to Goa

September 7, 2010

After a few days in Bangalore, I was concerned that the omnipresent dust would ruin all my pairs of disposable contacts before my trip was through.  (Seriously, spend a day or two in Bangalore and then clean your ears with a Q-tip.  It’s dusty).

Also, the bed and breakfast I was staying in was making me profoundly peeved.  One reason I had picked it over a conventional hotel is that I was under the impression that the couple that runs the place would be around to help me figure out India-related stuff.  Various reviews have talked about how helpful they are.  I never saw them at all, though (I’d recognize them from the pictures).  Instead, the man who ostensibly runs the place does not really speak English, and will answer “yes” to nearly any question.  Questions he was not able to comprehend:

“Is the Bull Temple too far to take an autorickshaw?  Should I hire a car instead?” (Answer: “30 minutes”)

“May I have some juice, please?” (No juice forthcoming).

“If the bad smell in my room is still bad when I come back at night, can you move me to a new room?” (Answer: “Yes…”, but it was clear from his terrified expression that he had no idea what I was saying).

“Can that window in my bathroom be closed?” (Answer: “Yes,” but that was totally incorrect and he made no move to attempt to close the window, because he actually had no idea what ”Can that window in my bathroom be closed?” meant).

The power frequently went out, as did the internet connection.  The front desk guy just sort of shrugged about the internet, and told me that the guy who fixes it is far away.  Oh, and the desk chair in my room was a plastic lawn chair.

So, I took my computer from my room to an outdoor picnic table where the internet did work, went on Orbitz, and startling Googling other places I could be.  I had been in India for days and not really eaten anything delicious, so I was even considering changing my flight back to hit up Luxembourg or something (it’s nice to split a 20-hour flight into two 10-hour flights).  As it turns out, none of the European options were practical, so I turned to local flights within India.  It was getting late in the day and I realized I was missing flights as I was searching.  I had heard someone mention that Goa was nice, and when I looked it up on Orbitz, I discovered that the last daytime flight left in three hours!  I really had no idea what was in Goa, so I Googled enough to read “beaches” and “historical sites,” and bought the ticket.

I grew up on Mediterranean Navy bases (I was born in Rota, Spain, and later lived in La Maddalena, Italy), and something about Goa — which was once colonized by the Portuguese, and seemingly hasn’t updated any of its vehicles or signs since the ’80s — seemed very familiar.

Leaving the airport in a super old-school white van-taxi:

Tropical greenery!  India is a large country, and judging it by Bangalore is sort of like judging America by Detroit.  As far as I’m concerned, I’ve visited the Detroit and then the Hawaii of India.

At the Fort Aguada beach resort I was greeted by a beautiful woman who put a shell necklace around my neck, and then brought me some juice on a tray.  For real?  It was the off-season (gray, rainy), so I got upgraded to a cottage, but by cottage, I mean a five-star hotel room with a fancy glass-encased shower and air conditioning pre-set to frigid and jazz playing on the sound system and a mini-bar full of vodka and Toblerone bars and a front yard with an actual hammock strung between two actual palm trees.  I would recommend this exact place for your honeymoon, should you have one.  ($118 a night last-minute on Orbitz!)  In my room:

This was the view from outside my cottage:

That big round thing is the fort built by the Portuguese.  Apparently, as a vestige of colonization, some Indians in Goa have green eyes.  Here’s a view from the main hotel:

And from the beach:

I love when rocks are really mossy, like characters on Sesame Street.

You can get all up on that fort thing!  At this point, I wished I had a six-year-old son so I could point out to him that this is where you shoot guns from!  I mean, I’m against both gender stereotypes and violence, but you’re kidding yourself if you don’t think that little boys totally lose their shit over stuff like that.

Inside the big round part!

In the big round part, two young local guys asked “Photo?”  I dutifully took a phone from one of them and snapped a picture of them together.  But that wasn’t what they wanted: they wanted to be photographed with me.  I laughed and stood around while each one took a photo of the other one with me.  They didn’t try to put their arms around me or anything.  It was cool.  I said goodbye and walked on, when another group of young guys got really excited, ran off to get a camera, and came back wanting more photos.  I was finding it sort of hilarious, and again, no one was acting creepy or trying to touch me (and there were lifeguards around), so I stood for six or eight more pictures.  I finally asked one of the guys “Why?” and he smiled and said “Different nationality.”

India: The Bangalore Palace

September 5, 2010

When I hired an autorickshaw driver to take me to the Hare Krishna temple, he was really excited that I looked exactly like a pale-skinned meal ticket! He was kind of an asshole.

I let him talk me into the can’t-miss parliament, where I let him talk me into paying some guy to take these photos.

The driver really liked this one, which he imitated by crossing his ankles like this:

Here are some people outside the parliament:

Then we went to the Bangalore Palace, also known as the venue of historic Iron Maiden and Megadeath concerts. Here is a row of tuk-tuks outside the palace:

Inside, the driver arranged for a tour guide (there was clearly a system of kickbacks in place), and soon thereafter took my picture with several stools made from elephant feet. I wanted to make a sad face (it was sad!), but I thought the tour guide would find it rude. So I tried to make a neutral face.

The tour guide did a lot of pointing to black and white photos on the wall and saying things like “King father!” and “King grandfather!” The king’s father killed this bison.

Here is the current “king of Bangalore,” as portrayed on a mural near the palace.

He has no ruling power, of course. Just a couple of cool houses. The better one’s in Mysore, so he rents this one out for heavy metal concerts.

Here’s me in the palace garden:

My driver said I was “plain” and then rather unconvincingly said, “It’s nice. Nice face.” I got this in the Middle East in 2007 — a vendor I had struck up a conversation with interrupted me with the question that had clearly been bothering him for some minutes: “Why are you so simple?!” He didn’t mean mentally; he meant that I wasn’t covered in jewelry, makeup, bright and sparkly clothing, etc. I said, “This is what it looks like when women have jobs.” (This was in Bahrain, and obviously women with jobs dress in a wide variety of fashions, but that was just what came out. I do not look like a living doll because I have things to do, thankyouverymuch. No offense to employed women who are also very sparkly).

Things my driver tried to sell me on during our trip: professional photos from his buddies outside the parliament hall (sold), a trip to the Bangalore palace (sold), rugs and handicrafts (no), a trip to the botanical gardens (no), getting out of the car to take photos in front of the wall keeping us out of the cricket fields (no), a trip to the pharmacy for a special pill that would solve my runny nose (no), more sightseeing tomorrow (no). Oh, and when I said I was done and just wanted to go back to my hotel because I was tired: a trip to a massage place (no).

New on TheGloss: How to Make an Extra $100 a Month

September 2, 2010

I once considered writing a book entitled “How to Make $30,000 a Year and Sleep as Late as You Want.” Small, quantified claims are so much more credible than “Make a Million Dollars While You Sleep!”, “The Ten- Minute Workweek,” “7-Minute Abs,” etc.

(Now, I’m thinking about “How to Make Six Figures While Loitering in Foreign Coffee Shops.”)

So, while it would certainly be fun to make an extra $10,000 per month, that’s pretty difficult to do, even with a sex tape. But $100 a month? Here are some ideas. More >>