Wednesday, July 30, 2008

first Lititz Record column from SA

Somehow in spite of no posts for two weeks, I still have 40 to 50 people checking in on me every day. Thanks you guys. I've been stricken with the devilish cocktail of tonsilititis and writers block so bear with me. I need drugs for the tonsils and booze for the writing and we should be back in business. Until then, here's a Lititz Record column I wrote:

Biking Cape Town, Running South Africa

The first full week in Cape Town brought some exciting new developments to the life of Lex. I got the green light for my first paid article from a travel website about tips for traveling India. I ran my first half marathon though I'm paying for it now. But the biggest and best thing to happen to me since I left NYC, I got a bike. This trumps other notable occasions from the last year including two arrests, a deportation and moving to Africa for a girl. I really like bikes and everything is coming up Lex!

The next day, I took my new bike out for a ride. I spent five hours in the saddle exploring the waterfront, taking pictures of myself in front of a giant golden sea lion statue and biking down the Atlantic coastline. Beautiful country. Sheer, almost lunar cliffs tower over the town reminding me of the Cliffs of Insanity in the Princess Bride (wow, second PB reference this month). The morning sun lights Lion's Head Mountain on fire. On my bike down the coastal road, beds of kelp undulate in the surf to my right while green hills rose sharply on my left; studded with high priced houses which are surrounded by the high and frequently barbwire topped walls so typical in this crime ridden country.

Time for a side note on language: Since I've been here, English has shifted on me. A robot is a traffic light and a braai is a BBQ with lots of dop (booze). More importantly, the connotations of racial language become a moving target. In this column, I will frequently be using terms like black, coloured and white. They may have offensive connotations to some in Lititz but I am using these words as this culture uses them. A South African hero, Steve Biko led a powerful movement to instill pride in South African blacks and coloureds. These designations have no shame attached to them here. I apologize for any offense but I will speak from the culture that I am trying to understand.

During my bike ride, I stopped in a park looking over the beach of rock and sand where children of all colours played and yelled. A babysitter pushed the seesaw down for her young blond charge and seemed genuinely surprised at his swift descent when she let it go. What surprised me was how easily the little brat cried. My father taught me no sympathy for whining or tears produced for attention. He's the reason I'm (somewhat) tough today and it's also because of him that I cry like a little girl at animated movies. A wise teacher.

I always find my best stories while wandering on my bicycle. This time I stopped to talk an old man feeding the birds. From the first word, I knew I had a classic Brooklyn native on my hands. Just like me, he came to South Africa for a girl. I know a magazine who would love the story about this old NYC cabbie who grew up in Brooklyn during the Depression and ended up in Cape Town. It's not a magazine that will pay but it's good practice. Most importantly, I just love getting to know an old person and learning about his or her life. My plan is simple: work hard at getting and writing stories that I find interesting and hope that my passion pays off.

After that superb bike ride with a crack bang finish passing cars down the long hill back into town, I hopped into a VW microbus with some friends headed towards the Knysna marathon. It turned out to be one of the most beautiful drives I have ever taken. The gently rolling green hills reminded me of scenic Lancaster County but the gray snow capped mountains over the lush valleys belied the difference. I've also never seen this many sheep and ostriches dotting our fair farm country.

The next day vastly increased my already substantial respect for my sister Anna. A few years ago, she ran a full marathon with absolutely no training and only walked for one mile of it. Last Saturday, I ran a half marathon with no training and the last 2 miles felt like torture. I could never have kept running without being so close to the finish line. Granted, I did run in the only shoes I own, a pair of old man loafers that both sisters apparently mock me for behind my back. I had several runners comment on my utterly inappropriate footwear but I just kept referring to them as the “winged sandals of Mercury.” I set a goal of 2 hours to run the 12.6 miles because I figured I should be able run it in twice the time as the fastest person.

A cold cold morning invigorated us as we waited for dawn and the start of the race. I started off fast, too fast I realized later. The race went about like I expected. I spent the first third getting into the rhythm and the second third feeling great with a runner's high while admiring the magnificent views. Around every bend, I discovered more beauty as I ran through the pine forests of the Knysna National Park. For the last third, I simply hated running and kept cursing my lack of genetic enhancements and titanium body implants. Near the end, I did have fun talking to some sheep farmers. When they told me their line of work, I immediately remarked on the stupidity of sheep. They told me there's a saying in their hometown that the only thing dumber than a sheep is a sheep farmer. I laughed as they pulled ahead of me like everyone else for the last five kilometers.

I ended with a time of 1:53 and beat all my friends by a long shot. I felt pretty great about my time especially with my habits of occasional smoking and moderate to heavy drinking. At the finish line, I gingerly sat down on my rubbery legs next to a man built like a panther. He came in at the same time as me but he ran the full marathon while I had only run the half.

Cue ego evaporation.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

mule talk at dinner

I had dinner with my girlfriend, her dad and his parents. I love those old people. The grandpa likes to tell stories that I always enjoy but that tend to end abruptly. I'm never quite sure if he finished it. I really hit it off with Granny though I only met her twice.

The first time, at breakfast when I met the whole family, I sat down next to Granny. I found out later that Astrid's aunt thought to herself, "oh no, he sat down next to Granny and she is hungry." Granny gets grumpy when she is hungry but I found this out right away. Luckily, I am the same way. Until our food came, we sat together and bitched about being hungry while she told stories. She gets so excited by her stories that she starts laughing in the middle and they get hard to understand. I'm told I have the same habit.

At dinner last night, Grandpa started talking about the smart mules they had on their farm growing up. They plowed every Wednesday and those damn mules always escaped on Tuesday nights. The story, of course, ended abruptly. Granny picked up to tell about how much her father-in-law loved those mules. One time while she was pregnant with their first child, she was standing in her father-in-law's kitchen with her back to the dutch door. She heard the whistle from the local factory for the end of the day. She didn't know that every day when the whistle rang, one of the mules came to the kitchen for a slice of bread. When that mule's head appeared over her shoulder, she told me she almost jumped over the kitchen table. Then her father-in-law came into yell at her for scaring his mule. "And me with pregnant with his first grandchild" she said with an indignant laugh.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

celluoid inspiration

I saw two movies recently that inspired me to greatness.

In "All the President's Men", Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford played Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, the two reporters from the Washington Post who broke the Watergate scandal through dogged determination and a sharp reporter's nose. The movie got me all worked up about this writing thing. Will I ever break a big story like that or do something like these other greats of journalism? My biggest will probably be more along the lines of "Kitten Rescued from Tree" but at least I can dream big.

And to dream truly big, all I needed was "The Man Who Would Be King." Based on a tale by the always wonderful Kipling, two rascally former soldiers in India decide to head north and vow to become kings. Sean Connery and Michael Caine make a great team for this movie. They leave India which is good because it drove me a little crazy that their India didn't have one Indian in it. They were obviously North African. It didn't help that once they got to Kafiristan, everybody in this region of present day Pakistan spoke Hindi. Cultural details aside, a great movie about adventure, arrogance and the Masons.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Napolean's haircut or: Zee Germans

My very first activity in Cape Town: shave and a haircut. Apparently, if a girl flies you around the world to come stay with her and she has to show you to her friends, she doesn't want you to have a patchy beard that suggests facial leprosy. We found the Waterloo Barber Shop. The old German woman running the shop told me that when she took it over thirty years ago, it was too much hassle to change the name. The name also suggests the losing battle she waged against my hair. How do you screw up a buzz cut? Seriously?

She came to South Africa to learn English. After three years working here, she knew this was her home. "The people here rich and poor, are very friendly." I asked her about changes she saw in this neighborhood that had gone from rough to uber-hip in her tenure. She said that when she first started, the blacks had to be off the streets by 6PM. If not they faced a fine worth a month's wages. My first introduction to apartheid.

Monday, July 7, 2008

freak outs and poison rhinos

I went to the Iziko Museum of Cape Town with some friends. It had interesting cultural exhibits on the native people and I learned more about Xhosa, a language with many clicks that to my ear seem impossible to contain meaning. As we looked at ancient cave paintings, my friend Darren kept expressing amazement at man's insistence on art and recording. It came up many times on our wanderings that day.

We had a fun time at the giant taxidermy wing. I went in by myself. The silence and dark lighting made me nervous. I kept turning around to check if certain carnivores hadn't moved. For me the tension broke when I found the hornless rhino. It turns out that thieves had broken through the glass and stolen the rhino's horn. Most likely, it will be sold and ground down into an aphrodisiac powder. A sign on the case warned the thieves that the horn had been soaked in arsenic to preserve it. That made me laugh. Take a powder to get rigid and you end up with rigor mortis instead.

Unfortunately for Darren, his hangover increased his susceptibility to the creepiness of this frozen menagerie. His bloodshot eyes made things waver at the edge of his vision. As he got more nervous, he finally decided to take the plunge and stare down the leopard. He laughed later as he told me, "I bolted."

The score stands:
Stuffed Leopards: 1
Humans: -1 (penalty point for poisonous boner)

Sunday, July 6, 2008


I want babies so bad. Unfortunately, this will be me:


Saturday, July 5, 2008

congress in a word

via the excellent OpenCongress blog, the open source Congressional information center:

At O'Reilley News, they had a great idea: turn the Capitol Words into a tag cloud with Wordle. Capitol Words posts the most frequently used word that day in Congress such as defense, budget or iraq. Wordle is a free online program that makes a tag cloud out of any submitted text. With their powers combined, I present the most frequently used words so far in this session of the House and Senate:

Friday, July 4, 2008

Goodbye India

Expanded version of my latest column for the Lititz Record:

Hello ladies and germs. The bear has emerged from his cave and now we'll have six more weeks of winter. I feel refreshed and slightly drained from ten days with my family. You know how that can be. We had a great trip with a lot fun, insults and antics. We spent a few days in Mumbai (Bombay), a week in Goa and a week in paradise, Bali.

The first surprise of the trip: my sister Anna showed up at the airport instead of my parents wearing a kindergarten style Indian headdress with feather for the occasion. I believe that's called pulling a Columbus. We did not think she could come because of training for summer camp but the family decided to pull a fast one on Tessa and I. My parents came on a later flight and I took them to rest at a hotel near the airport. I picked out a classy joint: hot water, flush toilets, a television with two english channels. I felt a little guilty splurging their money for a room that cost fifty bucks a night but I figured they needed a nice spot to rest. My sister soon reassured me that not only had I not splurged, my entire definition of nice must have been drastically altered in the last few months. Guilty as charged.

I went into tour guide mode and led the Pelger clan around the city for a few days, dousing them with facts, figures and anecdotes. I showed them Crawford Market where Rudyard Kipling's father made the bas reliefs on the outside and inside you could buy anything you wanted: fruit, cell phone covers, knock off DVDs, pet birds, bolts of fabric and dead animals of any type, slaughtered right there for your shopping convenience. I mentioned how I would like to tour guide someday because I think I'm good at it. I don't recall anyone rushing to encourage me but Bombay's not a touristy city. There's just not much to see. I saved the best for last.

My aunt and cousin flew in with only time for a few hour outing in Bombay before we migrated south. I took them to my old neighborhood in North Bombay. They loved the visit and I was proud to show them a little bit of the real city. We walked through the entrance with the open sewer river on the right choked to sludge with trash. Kids ran up to say, “Hello Uncle.” I responded with Namaste for the Hindus and Christians or Ass Salam Walakum for the Muslims. In this small little neighborhood of twisting streets not wide enough for two men where foreigners never appear, we gathered a crowd of children fast. Well dressed, smiling and with enthusiastic grins, these children loved playing with my family and posing for photos.

I got to see my three favorite children from Bombay. I swear, in a country of cute children, I had the very cutest outside my front door when I stayed there. Antra, the baby girl next door still remembered and reached for me in spite of the three month gap since I had last seen her. Omkar, the three year old little troublemaker who loves his uncle's mototcycle. He climbs on to it constantly and nobody worries about him. Kids start running around by themselves no later than 5. It's a safe place and I've seen that a woman will slap or hug any child if she sees they need it. People watch out for each other. I'm most happy that I got to see my little buddy, Sourab. A smart ten year old living across from me, he took me under his wing and showed me around the neighborhood when I first got there. He even became my Hindi teacher for awhile until I started using the words around my friends and they laughed at me for speaking Marathi. Sourab was teaching me his first tongue of Marathai, the language of the Mahrashtra state that contains Bombay. When this happened, I suspected I wouldn't be living in India so I used this as an excuse to stop learning Hindi although I did pick up some choice insults that came in handy later. The one thing I've learned: If you want to fight, just insult his mother.

Leaving that neighborhood made me nostalgic for the first and last time about leaving India. In my mind, I have pegged this country as a great place to visit but a lousy place to live. It will sound odd but my biggest reason to leave: I was sick of being famous. I never went to tourist areas so everywhere I went, people watched me and stopped me to talk. I’d answer the same questions over and over. Now, I'm a friendly guy but it got to be suffocating. It felt like being a B-list celebrity. Everywhere I went, I could never just be by myself. With every move I make attracting attention, I could never feel at home. I think if I could have walked unnoticed through the crowds, I would have lived there for a long time, maybe not forever but longer than seven months. That's why I liked the tiny little neighborhood in North Mumbai. By the end, I started to feel like I belonged and not like an outsider. It felt simple, warm, homey.

A week later, as I stepped up to the immigration counter to leave India, fruitlessly worried about that overstayed “Quit India” notice, nostalgia warmed me as I thought about this tiny little apartment with running water for only an hour a day but the cutest children in the city right outside my front door. I remembered lazy days playing cricket with the young guys, having chai with my neighbors, flying kites off the roof of the bathrooms, walking to those same bathrooms for my morning constitutional with a small bucket of water for cleaning up while getting yelled at by the kids for using the free toilets instead of the nicer one that cost 2 rupees (4 cents), coming home late at night and avoiding the rats to find old men singing their old songs after a Hindu festival, jumping into a lively dance party on some Muslim holiday where we all jumped up and down to bad rap and my fondest memory of all, the mornings sitting outside playing with kids and watching the old women gossip as they washed their clothes on the stone walk. It makes me happily sad even as I write it.

We spent the next week in the beach state of Goa. The hippy party mecca of the 60's, now it's a rapidly gentrifying place as the state cracks down on the noisy weirdoes to attract the well-heeled crowd who spend their money on cocktails and knickknacks instead of hashish and club entry fees. You can still find the crazy party and drug scene but it's not like the old days. If you need advice, ask Tessa. She spent a month down there with a local girlfriend and now is one hip Goa cat.

I spent the week eating. I finally killed off my tape worm so I enjoyed the sensation of eating for one again. I'm a weenie because I didn't like having a little tape worm for two months. I can't imagine carrying a baby for nine months that gets up to ten pounds. Now that's a parasite. I want a huge family but I must admit the prospect is much easier knowing that I won't have to carry all of them. I want enough to form a Harlem Globe Trotters type team that tours the country. However, that's just the cover because they will all be clandestinely trained to act as my Pelger's 11 for jewel heists. They will practice on Lititz establishments to cut their teeth. Watch out Hendricks Flower Shop. We're going to loot the place for Mother's Day. It's the least we could do for the amazing woman who helps me produce this brood.

Next stop on the trip: paradise. Beauty everywhere. Landscapes of lush jungles and green rice paddies stretching off to the giant breakers of the ocean. The intensely religious Balinese people obviously value aesthetics because I have never seen such attention to beauty everywhere I look. Every family has a temple in their house and the wealthier the family, the larger and more intricate their temple of wood and stone carvings featuring dragons and deities. I especially enjoyed the stone demons guarding every bridge. Small towns had art galleries and artisan workshops obviously geared towards tourists but nonetheless, they produced impressive and beautiful merchandise. I know I used the word beauty a lot in this paragraph but it simply astounded me at every turn. Understandably, a place like this also produces the loveliest girls I have ever seen gathered in one country. nreal.

We spent the week in Bali doing a lot more exploring. We saw a temple of Shiva filled with devotees coming to visit and newly married couples taking the mandatory tour of holy spots following their wedding. Dad and I enjoyed the wonderful in the church of St. Xavier. In an odd coincidence, I had just read a short history of St. Xavier’s life in Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. We read the section together and laughed that the only time I will probably ever read about St. Xavier, I show up at his church the following day.

I snorkeled for the first time in the clear waters off Bali with our guide Puta. He told us to call him Puta Tattoo to prevent confusion with the many other Putas. According to him, in Indonesia, your name depends on your birth order. There’s only three different names you can give to a firstborn son. For each new child, you have only a small pool of names to choose. As you can imagine, this leads to a lot of confusion and nicknames galore.

As for the snorkeling, an amazing experience for seeing an array of brightly colored fish and coral. Simply indescribable. Unfortunately, now I have a problem. I started snorkeling in arguably the best spot in the world. It's like losing your virginity to a porn star or having your first whoopee pie at Green Dragon, the cool farmers market in Lancaster. It’s all downhill from there. On that note, I just received my press pass from the renowned Lititz Record. My editor, Steve Seeber told me that if this doesn't get me laid, nothing will. He claims that when he goes to Green Dragon with it, he gets all the whoopee pies he can eat. That's power!

We went to the touristy town of Ubud to see a woman from my Dad’s high school class who has lived there for the last twenty years after marrying a Balinese man. They have a great house away from the town in the middle of rice paddies. I'm glad they live away from the town because Dad said about Ubud, “If this is traveling, I wouldn't travel.” Filled with tourists, men offering taxi service at every turn and overpriced though still lovely clothing and native wares. It could be the tourist street of any city in this hemisphere. I mean, there's a freaking Polo store there. I want to walk in and ask the people, why did you come to Indonesia if you're going to the same store that's all over the world. Arghhh. I know I'm harsh but whatever, I'm young and annoyingly idealistic. After this vacation, I think my family might just simplify that to annoying. Anyway, when I travel now, I dislike showing up somewhere for a few days and then moving on. I want to get to know a place by living with and around the native people. When I find a place where I never see a tourist, Lex is happy.

stereotypes make everything easier

At the opening plenary session of the WSSD in Johannesburg,
delegations were asked : "Would you please give your honest opinion about
solutions to the food shortage in the rest of the world?"

1. The subsequent debate was a complete FIASCO and ended in deadlock.
2. The Africans did not know what "food" meant.
3. The Western Europeans did not know what "shortage" meant.
4. The Eastern Europeans did not know what "opinion" meant.
5. Delegates from the Middle East did not know what "solution" meant.
6. The South Americans did not know what "please" meant.
7. The Asians did not know what "honest" meant.
8. And the United States did not know what "the rest of the world" meant.

From my new friend: Kerry Mauchline

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Childhood Games Re-imagined By A Shark

From Fake Interviews With Real Celebrities:

Go Fish

This is a fun game for two delicious children. First, they go for a dip in a vat of butter, then, they roll around in breadcrumbs, as if they were fish preparing to be cooked. Then, they get into a big frying pan made by a clever Shark. Like me. I’m in Mensa.

Chutes and Ladders

Each child is placed at the top of a chute. Then the delicious children slide down the chutes into my mouth.


I eat a boy named Tag.

Emily Ku on her trip

just got home from china. every chinese girl under the age of 6 is cuter than puppies and butterflies and bunny rabbits combined. i am now despairing because i passed my prime 18 years ago.