Friday, October 31, 2008

If You Dare Them...

Well, it happened. I finally got hit in the head by a complete stranger. I was sitting on the bus today on my way to the archive and we stopped for a red light at a street corner where the Sandinistas were rallying for their upcoming municipal elections. I sat by an open window of the bus, and looked out upon what is by now a familiar sight -- hundreds of folks waving the black-and-red flag of the FSLN, singing along to a Spanish language version of "Give Peace A Chance," and distributing bright pink flyers that informed the reader, "You will win with Alexis!"

One guy I guess was having some trouble off-loading his flyers, and as our bus began to pull away from the intersection, he walked up to my window, grabbed a hunk of about 150 of the flyers, and flung them through the open window. I guess he thought they would catch some air and sprinkle down upon the bus passengers like gently fluttering leaves in the autumn, but he was wrong. Stuck together by some heroic electoral glue, the entire stack hit me upside the head, right in the temple. Then it broke apart and scattered all over me. I must have looked like I'd been tarred and feathered in a gay bar with these flamboyantly pink pieces of paper clinging to my hair, my skin, and my clothes. Everywhere around me, other bus passengers tried not to snicker, but when I began to laugh, the proverbial dam broke and we all shared a moment. "Ha ha, they really scared you!" giggled a little girl sitting next to me. "Yes, they did," I replied. "Well," she asked, "do you mind if I keep the flyers? I'm trying to decorate my room." "They're all yours," I replied.

Happy Halloween!

Hello, my precious petunias! I hope that the scariest day of the year finds you happy, healthy, and strong. In honor of Halloween I'm going to show you a cartoon my Superdad the Grumpy Republican just sent me. Timely, I thought, given what's just around the corner on Tuesday.

So have fun trick-or-treating! Me, I'll be avoiding popular unrest here in the streets of Managua. Apparently the evangelicals are REALLY pissed off about this devil-worshipping pagan holiday. Anti-Halloween protest marches and demonstrations? Whoever heard of such a thing?

Thursday, October 30, 2008

New Frontiers in Grossing Me Out

Let me start off by saying that, when it comes to food, it takes an awful lot to really gross me out. I love food, and usually this is an uncomplicated emotion. It feeds me, gives me yummy flavor to enjoy, and because I am not hungry, I am happy. Actually, let me clarify: it's not that I love eating all food, it's more a case of being willing to eat all food. Having said that, I really do enjoy good food. Nothing makes me happier than going to a lovely restaurant, or tucking into a homemade lasagna, a delicious chocolate cake, or a beautiful bottle of wine. In the best of all worlds, I am doing all of those things simultaneously. In other places, at other times, however, I am quite content with whatever is available, which normally goes just fine. Nothing wrong with trying something new, or eating something less-than-fantastic. However, it doesn't always go so smoothly. Occasionally I have eaten things that made me lose my hair, curl into a fetal position, and cry in my sleep.

Like for example, one time I was leading a tour group of American teenagers in the Amazonian rainforest and in a house visit at a little ribereño community I was offered a local delicacy: fat white tree grubs deep fried in palm oil. Having just given the kids my speech about accepting hospitality and being polite, I couldn't very well plead off, so I picked one off of the plate and popped it into my mouth, smiling gamely as I chewed away.  They are surprisingly rubbery, but the heads crunch when you bite into it.  It was, in a word, revolting, but at least I got to wash it down with hot coca-cola. Gah.  

Or have you ever eaten sea urchin? I was at a seafood festival in Chile when somebody offered me a bowl of gelatinous lumpy baby-poop-brown stuff. What is it? I asked. Sea urchin, was the answer. Careful, it's a love-it-or-hate-it kind of thing. Well, tally ho! I thought. Who doesn't love gelatinous lumpy brown sea urchin? Me. It turns out: me. I don't like it. In fact, I almost vomited in my mouth, and for the first time in my life, I actually spat out something I was eating. Gah.

Or god, this one time in Argentina Umulu and I were on one of our EPIC BIKE RIDES that we always inadvertently stumble into. We honestly thought the whole thing wasn't going to take longer than 2 hours, but 40 miles into it, as we laboriously pedaled our creaky rented mountain bikes up and down mammoth hills, we had to face facts. We were shaky-kneed with hunger and still another 10 or 15 miles from town. Luckily, around the next corner we found a guy roasting chorizo (sausage) out of a charcoal brazier set up in the trunk of his car. Oh, yum! We thought. Not so much, it turns out. First of all, the whole thing just tasted a little bit off. Then at one point I looked down at my sausage and realized I was looking at something that was either a tooth or a substantial piece of pig hoof. That was enough for Umulu, who, having found similarly disconcerting things in her sausage, promptly chucked it. But I was hungry, so I picked out the offending items and gamely munched on. Then I bit into something strangely cartilaginous, and pulled a recognizable piece of pig snout out of my mouth. Or or maybe it was an ear? I'm still not sure which, but gah, gah, gah. That did it. It was years before I could eat sausage again.

Then of course I have your average run-of-the-mill food hatreds like any normal person. Peas, for example, particularly when canned or frozen. Ugh. And anise. Just the smell of black licorice makes me run screaming for the hills. And naturally, there have been times when I drew the line and just refused to eat something on the grounds of Are You Fucking Kidding Me. Like when my friend GNO and I were eating Vietnamese food in this dingy little restaurant in Austin. We were eating some huge bowl of soup, we'll just call it the Weird-Meat-O-Rama. I had pretty much identified most of it. Heart, liver, kidney, etc, but there was also these big cubes of gelatinous dark brown material. It kind of looked like tofu, but the wrong color. GNO called a passing waitress, held the suspicious item up on his spoon where it quivered like jello, and we asked her what it was. "Oh that?" she asked. "That's congealed pig blood." No. Way.

Yesterday at lunch time, for the first time in a long time, I extended my limited repertoire of Food I Will Not Eat Ever Again. I went to the archive's cafeteria for lunch at about 2pm, having gotten lost in the papers and forgotten the time. Almost all the food was gone, and I was offered a choice between a chicken taco with the ubiquitous Latin American cabbage salad (imagine cole slaw), or spaghetti that looked like it had boiled in water for 30 to 40 minutes, and then sat in sauce for several hours. No contest, right? Chicken taco. Oh, my god, was that a bad decision. See, "taco" here means, well... Let's just say that when they handed me my plate I had a sudden flashback to Inigo Montoya saying to Vizzini, "I do not think that means what you think it means." What they served me was a little bit of charred and dessicated chicken wrapped in a corn tortilla and then deep-fried so hard that even the tortilla burned. Then it cooled off, so they microwaved it for me. The texture was something between dry plywood, shattered glass, and wet sponge. But the worst part was this. On top of my deep-fried-spongy-crunchy-burned-chicken taco and cole slaw, they had squirted unbelievable amounts of ketchup and mayonaise. I tried.  I really, really tried, but I couldn't force it down. I fought mightily just to eat one bite, but I cannot describe how repellent that combination of taste and texture was. Chalk it up, kids. One more food Amazing Cheastypants will never ever eat again.  Gah.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

I Love This Joke, Nine.

Small proviso: Normally in the "I Love This Joke" series, I just write in dumb jokes that tickle my funny bone, but today I'm telling a true story that is just as good, if not better, than the best jokes I've ever heard. So here you go.

I was out with Monica and la Mamita de la casa tonight for some coffee talk and cappuccino, and conversation turned to embarrassing and/or hilarious translation gaffes people have experienced in the process of learning new languages. Naturally, I had much to contribute. We chuckled about the time I meant to tell a woman her husband was a gentleman, and instead, accidentally, informed her that her husband was hung like a horse. Caballo, caballero, they sound so similar! We sniggered delightedly about how I thought that all the cars in Santiago de Chile had converted to Catholicism because I misread the word "catalítico" (catalytic converter) on bumper stickers and thought it said "católico" (Catholic). We chortled merrily about how I thought the word for concierge was "consergio" (con-ser-hee-yo) instead of conserge (con-ser-hay) because the conserges at my apartment building and my work place were both named Sergio, and people always said "dejalo con Sergio" (leave it with Sergio). Con Sergio. Consergio. Get it? Har har. I know, these stories never translate well unless my audience also speaks both languages. So basically I told several of the stories I'm most proud of -- that is, the ones in which the most people laughed at my ignorance and stupidity, and got some pretty decent-sized laughs, which I've come to expect over the years, as on top of being glamorous, gorgeous, and unspeakably brave, I am a wickedly good story teller. But then, just as I was patting myself on the back and congratulating myself for telling the funniest stories in the whole world, Monica piped up with her own little linguistic gaffe, and left me clean in the dust. Seriously, I laughed so hard I peed myself. Just a little bit, but I did it. I peed myself. So here's the story:

One time Monica was at some conference in Switzerland. Some sort of international conference, and she was staying in a house full of international people, among whom was an American guy, a very serious type, evangelical Christian, constantly talking about God and living a righteous life, and stopping to pray all the time for whatever little thing happened. Somebody sneezed, he prayed. Somebody sinned, he prayed. Somebody said something off-color, he prayed. So one morning they were at breakfast, and Monica wanted the peanut butter, which was on the other side of Very Serious Praying Dude, and Very Serious Praying Dude was, you guessed it, praying. And praying and praying. Monica speaks English, but she doesn't use it very often, and sometimes, well, sometimes you just get words that rhyme mixed up. So she's sitting there waiting for him to finish praying and praying and praying, and she's getting a little frustrated. Finally he looks up, and Monica seizes her opportunity. "Excuse me!" she called out down the table. "But could you please pass me the penis butter?"

Monday, October 27, 2008

In Which Amazing Cheastypants Bravely Battles Scary Hairy Creatures in the Shower

I, Amazing Cheastypants, am one heck of a brave lady. When faced with frightening situations, I toss my abundant curls with reckless abandon and sally forth in a courageous manner. Face to face with evil horrible hairy monsters, I laugh outrageously in the face of danger and wave a glittering weapon about my head in the manner of Joan of Arc, summoning her troops to battle. I know not fear, have never encountered timidity, and disregard personal safety in my determination to vanquish horrific and terrifying evil creatures. I am Amazing Cheastypants, and none shall defeat me! Cue triumphal trumpet-and-drum music! Bring me my glamorous charger, that fine steed of noble lineage who carries me valiantly into battle, his long and bountiful mane waving gaily in the propitious breeze. Good fortune be with me! Ta-daaaaa!

Thus it was this morning in the shower, when shampooing the Amazing Cheastypants Hair, I happened to open my eyes and see the biggest, grizzliest, hairiest, nastiest spider in the world climbing toward me on the shower curtain. At first, I admit it, I panicked. I screamed, I hopped from one foot to the other, I jumped out of the shower and dripped suds all over the floor, wringing my hands, and shrieked, "oh-my-god-oh-my-god-oh-my-god" at the top of my lungs. This is an artistic re-creation of how I felt:

This, however, was neither appropriate behavior for a superhero such as myself, nor was it particularly productive, being that now the spider was OUT OF SIGHT and might at any moment come flying through the air in the manner of Spiderman and LAND ON ME. And since I was naked, who knew where it might land? Maybe ON MY BOOBIES! Maybe ON MY BARE FEET! (I have an unnatural fear of gross things touching my bare feet.) ACK. Must calm down, must calm down. So I gathered my wits about me, and beat the shower curtain so Spider-Enemy would go into hiding. Sufficiently convinced that I couldn't find him, I got back in the shower and finished rinsing my hair (quickly! quickly!), got out, dried off, went to get dressed, and then prepared myself to do battle with the Horrible Evil Icky Hairy Spider-Enemy. I had my weapons with me: digital camera, colander, and cutting board. I was ready, and Spider-Enemy was no match for my formidable superpowers. In short order, I had corralled the pesky nemesis, and emerged triumphant from the donnybrook.

Of course, being the benevolent and magnanimous superhero that I am, I did not send the Spider-Enemy to the stake, but instead let him go free in a green and verdant pasture, with a strict warning not to bother me again.

Only the future will tell if Spider-Enemy will comply, but I left with the impression that he was properly chastened and apologetic, and I remain hopeful for a lasting peace. My work here is done, and I will now depart in a flurry of glamour and gorgeous amazingness. Don't be concerned if the air where I once stood glitters and shimmers for some time after my departure; it was always thus.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Happy Birthday, Superdad!

Happy birthday, my Superdad.

About a week ago I decided that the letter I would write to you today would be about the number one thing I love about you. Only, I've been doing some thinking, and I think you should know that I'm having difficulty deciding what exactly is the number one thing I love the most about you. Being a renaissance man, a renowned genius, a devilishly funny guy, and quite adorable, I hope you can understand that the choice is a little bit difficult. First of all, where do I start? Do I start with childhood memories of Sunday morning special times, and how much I treasured the moments when I was the only kid clamoring to hold your hand? Or how much I loved "helping" you in the garden, or raking leaves, or getting you to read me a story?

Nah, too cheesy. Plus, it doesn't let me build to anything, you know?

Well how about I start with how much I admire your renaissancey-ness. Superdad, you amaze me. First of all, you are wildly intelligent, and just so capable of doing anything. What other man could fly around the globe on business one day, give a speech to the World Bank the next, design vital components of the International Space Station in his spare time, and on the weekend go out in a silly outfit to tend the bees? (I'm joking about one of those things: guess which, Internet!)

And really, I shouldn't forget to mention your winning way with a turkey. Killer, Dad. Nobody stuffs a bird like you. God, I wish I were going to be home for Thanksgiving. (sniff, sniff)

But then again, perhaps what I love most about you is your sense of humor and appreciation for the ridiculous. You are hilarious. Of course, I've already written about that here, and also here, so perhaps I shouldn't take up too much more time belaboring the point today. Except for to tell you that if you somehow get your hands on the Hair-Loom Platter again and give it to me at Christmas, I'm going to make sure you never get in your car again without first checking the back seat thoroughly. Think Nancy Kerrigan. Diamonds, damn it, I want diamonds!

I think, after much deliberation, it comes down to two things that I love the most about you, Dad, but I can't decide, so I'm enlisting the internet to help me out here. So, Internet, what do I love more about Superdad? Is it, A) how much my Superdad loves his kids? Cause he loves us an awful lot. He lets us know it, too. I am thirty years old and my Dad still gives me the best hugs I've ever had (um, he's tied with Captain Mommypants, that is), and I never feel better, or more at peace, than when I'm walking through the woods, holding Superdad's hand.

Or, is it B) the fact that my father, in all seriousness, gets up every morning, looks at himself in the mirror, and says, "You are a handsome devil."

Aw, to hell with it. Why choose? Superdad, I love you, and I miss you so much. I hope your 592nd birthday is the best you've ever had.

All my love,
Amazing Cheastypants.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Oh, Just Hit Me Already, OK?

Today a street lady chased me down the street with a big rock and almost bashed my head in. Really? Did I just type that? Did that actually happen? Yes. I was just walking down the sidewalk on my way to the radio station where I had an interview scheduled, and I saw this lady sitting with her back to the wall. Clearly homeless, clearly a little crazy. As I walked past her, she looked right at me with this sort of odd look, and then picked up a rock about the size of a cantaloupe melon. She got up and started walking after me, bearing down on me from behind. I was watching her out of the corner of my eye, but when she started getting too close, I turned and looked at her in the face. And she started running at me with the rock poised up high, so I started running away from her, and then she threw the rock at me. At my head! Luckily, she missed, but OH MY GOD. For real?

The weirdest part of the whole thing was how quiet it all was. I mean, she never said anything, didn't even grunt or squeal when she threw the rock. And I never said anything, nor did I make any noise, even when the rock whizzed past me and crashed to the sidewalk in front of me. I just kept running. About 50 feet further on I stopped and looked back, only to see that she was walking calmly away from me back to her little spot on the sidewalk. So on I went, just wondering what the fuck had just happened.

I mean seriously, Managua. If you want to rob me or hit me, let's just get it over with already, ok? The señora of the house I live in got robbed at gunpoint right in front of our house last month, on Monday of this week some guy got shot and killed just 20 feet from our front door. Today after crazy rock throwing lady, a guy came running across the street in my direction. He wasn't aiming for me, or doing anything bad, he was just dodging traffic and moving kind of fast, but I almost jumped out of my skin. Let me be absolutely clear: I DO NOT want to get robbed or shot or brained by a crazy lady. But there's such an air of inevitability to it, to the statistical probability that it will happen, and I'm SO SICK of just waiting for it to happen. Gah.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Let The Sunshine In

Oh, things are definitely looking up. Nicaragua suffered through 24 consecutive days of torrential downpours, but it appears to be easing up, finally. Not only has it not rained so much in the past three days, the sun has actually been shining for multiple hours a day. It's dizzyingly wonderful; yesterday I almost OD'ed on Vitamin D. So what does one do with a sunny day in Nicaragua? Well naturally, one goes out to enjoy it. Thus it was that this last Sunday, a day of epically gorgeous sunshine, Monica, our new roommate Peludo, and I took off in the car for a spontaneous journey of exploration and fun. Where did we go, you ask? Where didn't we go. We did a tour of the Pueblos Blancos in a little rented Suzuki with a motor approximately as powerful as a blender. We visited Niquinohomo, the birthplace of General Augusto Sandino.

It's a small town with a cute colonial church and friendly people. There used to be a museum with artifacts from the revolutionary hero's life, but then Daniel Ortega's wife took them all (she's his great-granddaughter) and now they live in the President's house. At least that's what the nice guys on the street said. Kind of a bummer, really. But whatever, onward we went, on a whirlwind tour of the surrounding towns. It was really a lovely day. It seemed like every person in Nicaragua was out in their yards or out in the street, soaking up the sunshine. And oh my god, the clothing! For a month, nobody's been able to dry their clothes, but on Sunday it looked like every person had every single article of clothing they owned outside on laundry lines, on fences, hanging from trees, laid out on rooftops. It looked like Buddhist monks had decorated the countryside with prayer flags. We didn't stop for long in anywhere in particular, we just sort of stopped and checked out the town squares, took pictures, wandered about, but finally we ended up in Catarina, where there is a substantial tourist installation and a beautiful overlook of the Laguna de Apoyo, that gorgeous lake I went to my first week in Nicaragua and loved so much.

Here we stopped for a little shopping (ooh, the delicious fruit stands!).

And I fell head over heels in love with lychee fruit, which I'd never actually seen live and in living color before. Oh my goodness it's delicious. And fun to eat!

We had lunch in a sunlit mountaintop restaurant overlooking the Laguna de Apoyo, and listened to meandering musicians as they serenaded nearby tables with Nicaraguan folk songs.

Then we took off for Masaya, where we picked up our friend Alta the Dutch girl, and decided, "Hey. Why don't we go to Granada for the afternoon?" So we did. And good lord, why haven't I come here before. Granada is an old colonial city like León, but it's received a substantial face-lift over the past decade or two. The buildings have been painted in bright, bold colors, and the whole city is sort of duded up for tourists. And I know I should be a good world-traveler and despise all touristy locations, but God help me, the sun was shining, the colors were gorgeous, and I was drinking one of these:

That's a macuá, the national fruity rum drink of Nicaragua. It's luuuurvely. So luuuuurvely. I luuuuurve it. How could I not be thoroughly charmed?

And so it was. We sat in the lovely bar of a beautiful old colonial building and drank rum, and then wandered about in the late afternoon sunlight.

We meandered down to the waterfront of Lake Nicaragua. We laughed and took pictures, and wished we'd brought our bathing suits with us.

And as the sun set over Granada, we headed back to the car a little sunburned, a little sleepy, and a lot happy. God, a sunny day is just the best thing in the whole world.

Like A Phoenix From the Ashes

In the history of this big old world there have been some amazing men. Some were powerful men who built empires and designed governments that stood for centuries, some men inspired people around them to great acts of heroism, and others were poets and artists who created breathless works of beauty. But of princes and paupers, of war lords and peacemakers, of scholars and saints, there have been none greater than my dear, wonderful, beautiful Mr. Poopie. Winston Churchill, Julius Caesar, Leo Africanus, Simón Bolivar, Mahatma Ghandi, stand aside. It was great while it lasted, boys, but only one man told me how to resuscitate my tragically defunct iPod, and that man was Mr. Poopie. Don't worry, you'll get your own curtain call, but for now, let us celebrate the man who single-handedly revived my flagging investigational prospects, guaranteeing me a future filled with oral history interviews recorded on that nifty little white box of magic. Oh, Mr. Poopie, I love you so.

He told me in the comments the other day not to fret, that my iPod "just needed to be rebooted." What the hell is that anyway. Reboot? How do you "boot" in the first place? I only know the word as a verb from my overly enthusiastic indulgence in a delightful substance called "alcohol." Back in college if I drank too much of this "alcohol," I would become ill and "boot" all over the place. Actually, now that I think on it, I may or may not have "booted" much more recently than college from drinking too much alcohol, but that's a discussion for another day.

This word, "boot," however, strikes me as an apt analogy. Maybe my iPod drank too much "alcohol" from my laptop, and it "booted." And then it needed a little break, as do I whenever I "boot." So maybe it took a nap, had a shower, drank a beer, you know, just to take the edge off, and then magically it could "reboot?" I'm thinking this is a nice metaphor. How Mr. Poopie knew all this I'll never know, but I am so glad he did. Turns out that after taking a few days off, when I pushed this magic button (I'm going to call that button "hair of the dog" from now on) for several consecutive seconds, my iPod CAME BACK TO LIFE. It was spooky, (I mean, didn't I just watch this thing die a tragic and horrible death just recently?), but it was wonderful. Welcome back, little white box of magic. I'm so glad you're still with me.

So now I find myself in a rather awkward situation. I believe that in a fit of mixed parts joy and skepticism I promised Mr. Poopie, and this is a quote, "if you're right, i'll kiss you a million times squared." How many kisses is that? I have only a tenuous grasp on the finer points of mathematical equations, but I believe it's somewhere around one trajillion gabillion, which is quite a lot of kissing for a man I've never met. Mr. Poopie, as I'm currently out of the country, would you mind very much if I took a rain check? Or how about some virtual kisses? I hate to leave a debt unpaid, but as we're only acquainted via the intrawebs, the logistics of debt execution are mind-boggling to say the least.

P.S. If you (or any other readers) have any idea why my iTunes keeps spontaneously turning itself on, I am now accepting solutions. I turn it off, and a few minutes later, boing! It's on again. So I turn it off again and within minutes, boing! On again. It's like that awful song from Chumbawumba from back in the late 90s. Honestly, I shouldn't complain. Between the horrid torrential downpours (and resultant humidity) and now an infestation of teensy flying ants that have taken up residence in my keyboard, I am lucky the stupi--, er, wonderful machine turns on at all.

Monday, October 20, 2008

In Celebration of Small and Beautiful Things

It's been a long time since I read a newspaper article that actually made me hopeful for the future, but this one did. I recommend it heartily. You know, I spend my time immersed in documents and personal histories of a time in Central America when senseless violence, political repression, banditry, rape, and massacre were commonplace in many countries. I am not familiar with the intimate details of the violence in Colombia nowadays due to drug-trafficking, international politics, poverty, and local brigandage, though I understand it is some improved over years past. Either way, I thank God for people like Luis Soriano and his Biblioburro, for continuing to make the world a better, bigger, brighter place in spite of programmatic attempts to squash the human spirit. The Rubén Darío poem at the end is a particularly nice touch.

Read the article here:

Friday, October 17, 2008

RIP, iPod.

Boo. Hiss. Weep, sob. Today I plugged in my iPod to charge up and all of the sudden my computer started screaming at me, "ALERT, ALERT! DANGEROUS ALIEN BODY ATTACHED TO COMPUTER. MUST KILL NOW! ALERT, ALERT!" Of course, it didn't really say that, but that was the general idea of all the alarming windows that started popping up.

So I unplugged my iPod and picked it up. It was BURNING HOT. Like so hot I almost dropped it. I pushed all the buttons you're supposed to push, turned it upside down, tapped it tentatively like I do to my TV when it doesn't pick up channels I want, and finally had to realize that it was dead. Very dead. Unarguably dead.


This is a bummer in a number of ways, not least of which is that my iPod is the recording device I use to record my oral history interviews. What to do, what to do.

Well, I guess the little guy was 5 years old, which is a damn century in Apple years, so I guess I had it coming. My birthday is December 8th, in case anybody was wondering, hehe.

No, seriously. December 8th.

I'm sorry, what? I couldn't hear you... Oh! An economic crisis, you say? Well, then.

Nevermind. I'll go buy a tape recorder.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Feeling the Luuurrrrrve.

Ok, all right, yee haw. It has not stopped raining for the past 48 hours, and I don't mean pretty glittery rain like in misty glades or mossy woods where elves and leprechauns frolic. I mean rain like diluvian rains. Epic rains. Biblical rains. More than once I've thought that maybe I should look up how much a cubit is anyway, just in case I get a sudden message about building an ark, and two by two, and so on.

A week ago, this would have depressed me greatly, but then, just about everything depressed me about a week ago. But not now, no sirree! Now, I am happy. "Rain? What rain?" I bluster jovially as I splash through town in my soaked jeans and swollen sneakers. "Umbrella? Doesn't work, har har! Nope, rusted shut after the unfortunate episode of frothy exploding yogurt in my bag." Do I care? No. I am just dandy, thanks. Want to know why?

I am feeling the luuuurrrrve. That's right, the luuuurrrrve. That's two degrees higher than love, that's how great luuuurrrrve is. Somebody gives you a hug? That's love. Somebody gives you a hug AND A NECK RUB? That's luuuurrrrve. Somebody wants to be your best friend forever? That's love. Somebody wants to be your dead dog? (**See comments from yesterday's post.) Well, we know what that is. That's luuuurrrrve.

Not only did I get a TON of hugs after my cry for help a few days ago (and thank you so much to all who sent me virtual love!), but you are NOT going to believe what's happened lately.

First, I went to a coffee shop yesterday and ordered a capuchino cappuchino capucchino (HOW THE FUCK DO YOU SPELL CAPPUCHINO?) cause I wanted to be fancy and treat myself for reading FOUR MONTHS of newspapers in one day. Well. That capuccino (argh! misspelled again!) came with a gorgeous white heart in the middle of the golden frothy foam on top. A heart! That's love! I was delighted, and sipped carefully so that by the time I finished the "frothy coffee beverage" the cute little foam heart WAS STILL THERE ON THE BOTTOM OF MY MUG!!! That's luuuurrrrve. Of course I didn't have my camera, but whatever. It's a luuuurrrrvely memory.

Then today I went to catch the bus to the archive, and as I stood there in a puddle waiting for the 114 to show up, guess what. It was my favorite 114, THE LOVE BUS. Well, that's what I call it, cause it's painted red and white and has hearts all over, and on the inside the driver stenciled all these messages like, "You might leave me, but you'll never forget me," "Love machine," and "If you say no you'll always wonder what you missed." Also, ""Come to me, mamita and let me love you all night long." And of course, he plays love songs all the time on his tape player. I luuuurrrrve the Love Bus. I'd ridden it back in September a few times, but I hadn't seen it in weeks! I did have my camera with me, but a Managua city bus isn't the sort of place you want to whip out a digital camera, so another beautiful memory from today.

And last, here's a little humiliating personal goal that I finally realized today, after something like 17 or 18 years of waiting. Back in middle school I was a geeky little girl, and going to school was a daily exercise in misery and embarrassment. As a result, I hated waking up in the morning. Except this one day. This one day, my clock radio rang at 7:01, just like it always did, and my FAVORITE SONG IN THE WORLD was playing. Cher. "If I Could Turn Back Time." Oh. My. God. I luuuurrrrved that song. I secretly dreamed of having a hot body and fantastic hair and wearing a scandalously skimpy outfit and singing while thousands of HOT SAILORS cheered me on. Actually, I still do. One day, when I miraculously sprout 7 inches and grow a pair of enormous bosoms. It'll happen. Anyway, I'm getting distracted. The personal goal I meant to tell you about was much more modest. You see, when that song started playing that morning back in what, 1989, 1990? I leapt out of bed so happy, and was in the greatest mood all day, and in my mind it was because of that song, right? So my personal goal was to wake up to that song again, but it couldn't be planned, see? It had to be a spontaneous miracle to count. Well, in all these years of waiting, not once. Not once! But this morning? This morning I got up, turned on my iTunes in my room on random (just like always), and GUESS WHAT.

Oh, it was a very good day, very good indeed.

Feel the luuuurrrve.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Goodbye, Buddy

Dear Buddy,

You big furry yellow mutt. I remember the day that Mom first brought you home, a fuzzy homeless puppy somebody had dropped on the steps of her colleague's church. That colleague, knowing a soft touch when she saw one, brought you over to Mom, pleading that she just couldn't take a puppy, and maybe Mom could find a home for you with one of her parishioners? Ha. Mom took one look at your cute brown eyes and adorable fluffy blonde pantaloons, and was a total goner. Not that she admitted as much, of course. "Oh, no," she protested, "of course we can't keep him. This is just a temporary arrangement until I find a better home for him." Fat chance, lady. Dad almost exploded when he came home to find our brood of dogs suddenly expanded. "But six is such a nice round number!" trilled Captain Mommypants perkily.

And of course, you fit right in. You got along with the whole pack, but you and our maniac poodle Zoe quickly became fast friends, romping around the land together like a couple of quasi-homicidal lunatics, practically killing each other in the process. Sometimes people would get nervous watching, but eventually you'd break apart, grinning madly, and trot calmly back to drink water and rest in the shade right next to each other. Oh, man, I loved to watch you two play; it was just pure doggy fun. And I loved to take you on walks in the woods, because for all your energy and exuberance, you were pretty happy to just trot around with me and maybe sit for a spell next to the creek, hoping to catch sight of the beavers. I like how you would sit down right by my side and just lean up against me until I put my arm around you. You, my furry friend, were great fun, but I also appreciated your dignity. While you loved being petted and hugged, you never danced around, panting and jumping and circling wildly. You were patient. Insistent, but patient. "Pet me," you'd command us. "I love you and protect you from dangers in the night. Grant me the belly scratching I am due." I was powerless to resist.

Buddy, you were the greatest. A wonderful guard dog, always happy to see me when I came home, always such a good snuggle-bunny, always with those stylish golden pantaloons swishing around behind your gaily wagging tail. I will miss you, but I hope that wherever you are, you frolic madly in green fields with a friend as dear as Zoe, and that there is somebody there who will put her arm around you as you sit together on the front porch. For what it's worth, I will always remember you at your cuddly best.


Amazing Cheastypants.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Six-Week Blues

All right, I admit it. I'm homesick. I'm six weeks in and most of the shiny newness has worn off; now I just keep thinking about how much I would enjoy some nice fall weather - five minutes without sweating! - a quinoa salad, my favorite yoga class, and a good old fashioned hug. Is it the no hugging that makes me the most blue? It's hard to go this long without any cuddles from friends and family.

But it'll be okay, I'm getting over it. At least I've been through this before, and last week when I couldn't let go of my grumpies, I took a look at the calendar and thought, "Oh, of course. This is just the six-week blues." Well, that and all the rain, which is just horrific at this point. My shoes are growing mold. But the forecast is for sunnier weather starting soon, and the day when my good friend the Fifi Poodle arrives grows closer, so I'll be a little blue for a few days more, and then I'll bounce out of it. I've found a better pool that's cheaper, closer, and longer, so I'm swimming every morning now, and that's helping a lot to cheer me up, make me feel more normal. I had a nice, relaxing weekend here in Managua, hanging out with a couple of friends. We went to the pool, went dancing. On Sunday I went to a coffee shop to drink cappuchino and work on transcribing my hand-written notes into spreadsheets. NOT fun, but it gave me a nice productive feeling, which is almost as good as fun. So I was feeling better, but then Monday morning I got an email saying that my parents had to put one of our dogs to sleep. Buddy, our chow-golden retriever mutt, probably one of my favorite dogs in the world. Oh, sigh. I still feel really weepy at the thought, and that's after a good long crying jag yesterday morning.

So send me some virtual hugs, people. I need a little pick-me-up.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Excuse Me, But I Think I'm Overdue a Rant.

All right, Nicaragua. Let's talk straight. Quite frankly, I'm at my wits' end with you and your LOUSY STINKING CUSTOMER SERVICE. Today I had to go to the bank to change a bill of 500 cordoba (approx $25) for smaller change so I could eat lunch, because the archive's cafeteria couldn't make change from a bill that big. I mean, how long should that take, right? Ok, well it was lunch time, and of course there was a little rush then, but seriously? I got there at the front end, and I was only third in line. Was there any reason that I had to wait 45 minutes? No, no, don't even try to answer me, I want none of your excuses. I think this disappointment was only exacerbated by the fact that you looked like such a big clean fancy bank from the outside. And indeed, getting in the bank was something akin to the process of gaining entrance to Fort Knox or a U.S. Embassy. With such a rigorous vetting process, walk-through metal detectors, armed guards, and such aggressive air conditioning in the entrance room, I felt my hopes rising, slowly but surely. Which was dumb, and I know that, but sometimes a girl can't help but hope that just maybe things will seem somewhat normal. You know, cause the way things happen in U.S. is "normal." Duh.

See, this is what really made me crazy. It's not like there was only one teller. Oh, no, there were, in fact, five or six tellers. One behind a sign that said "Retired People," one that said, "Checks only," one behind a sign that said "Bank Employees Only," and one behind a sign that said, "Fuck You, I'm Just Here to Drive You Crazy." So I stood there in the un-air-conditioned mosquito zone that passed for a lobby, at the front end of a line of about 40 people, staring at all you tellers just sitting there with NOTHING TO DO, and growing steadily more frustrated as the grandpa standing at the ONE WORKING TELLER WINDOW asked the teller dude to recount his FIVE MILLION cordobas about sixty times. And then he stood there and counted them himself. Twice. And then, just as he was almost done, he paused to tell an anecdote about his grandchildren which I'm sure was amusing but ARE YOU KIDDING ME. And then, whoops! he lost count and had to start all over again. And all this time, I'm staring at the 4 or 5 idle tellers who are doing ABSOLUTELY nothing except LITERALLY shooting spitballs at each other, and staring at the line of clients, and leaning across their cubicle dividers to tell each other funny stories, and one girl was FILING HER FUCKING NAILS. Seriously. What is this, a movie? I half-expected Mr. Bean to pop out of a corner at any moment, at which point I could take a deep breath, laugh to myself, and think, "Ah, I get it. This is all just to get a laugh." You want to know how bad this was? Even the Nicas in line with me were getting antsy, and that really takes some doing, as nightmarish customer service is completely normal around here.

OH! AND THE OTHER THING. Could we please just talk for a minute about the THREE ARMED GUARDS sitting on the couches in the bank like they're hanging out in their living room, all slouched down, whistling at the pretty girls that walk in, and talking about soccer, and BOUNCING THE BUTTS OF THEIR ASSAULT RIFLES ON THE GROUND ON ACCOUNT OF HOW FREAKING BORED THEY WERE? Has nobody in this country ANY idea about gun safety? Seriously, every day single day, I am repeatedly stunned by the cavalier treatment of murder weapons. Dude, do not PLAY with your gun. Do not swing it around, or hang it casually over your shoulder as if it were a purse with the barrel pointing DOWN. That shit is LOADED. I am standing NEAR YOU. I COULD DIE. So could you, but given your rank stupidity, you'd kind of deserve it. ARGH!

*breathing deeply, breathing deeply.*

Oh, my. I feel a lot better now, getting that off my chest. Thank you for listening; now back to your regularly scheduled Cheastypants.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Happy Birthday, Captain Mommypants!

Dear Mom,

Today is your birthday (HOORRAAAAAAAYYYY!!!! I love you, I love you, I love you!), and while I promised not to divulge your age over the internet, it turns out I can't help myself. Today, the 9th of October, marks the 357th year of your birth. I'm so proud. I love you more than I can possibly express, which normally is just a turn of phrase, but here, I actually mean it. Would you believe that I, your perpetually verbal oldest daughter, would be at a loss for words? Believe it. I want so badly for this letter to be absolutely perfect, that for the first time in my 30 years on this planet, I've been facing down a terrific case of writer's block while trying to explain to absolute perfection why, exactly, I love you so much. Honestly, I've done about 6 or 7 drafts of this letter, all of which have ended up in the trash can. I tried funny, but sounded too cavalier, I tried serious, and sounded corny. I tried sentimental, and considered suicide by papercut when I read the results. And it's not for a lack of reasons, or a dearth of conviction; rather, I think it stems from an overabundance of both. So I've given up talking about the multitude of ways that I love you. Instead I'm going to tell you about a time when you and I had one of the most important conversations of my life.

So, my Captain Mommypants, remember back when I was a hellraiser? Hey, why are you laughing. I was too a hellraiser! Granted, I was 5, and it didn't last too long, but I was. I was a serious hellraiser. I don't know if you remember this far back, being as old as you are now, but back in my first year of school, I was a terminally bored kindergartener. You'd already taught me to read at home, and here we were learning about Mr. M and Mrs. Q? Come on, teacher lady, are you serious? So I agitated the other students to ignore the super-boring reading lesson, and instead to hold hands and sing "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" repeatedly. See, told you I was a hellraiser. I was such a hellraiser that I ignored the teacher through not one, not two, but THREE warnings to cease and desist, and I ended up with my name on the board, which was pretty much the worst thing that had ever happened to me. It's hard to imagine now how humiliating it was to have my name up on the board all day, just announcing to the world, to anybody who happened to wander in, like for example the school nurse who stopped by, that I was a BAD GIRL. I have very few memories as clear as this one instance of abject dejection and sheer panic at what you would say when I told you what had happened.

I've never talked with you about this memory, now that I think of it, which is sort of surprising, because the things I said and the things you said and did in response have stayed with me all my life, and have had a tremendous influence on me as I became the person I am today. That afternoon I could hardly breathe for being so nervous about seeing you and talking to you and telling you what I'd done. I was terrified that you would be angry with me, and that I just couldn't bear. So when you asked me what had happened at school that day, I began to sob, and I made up the most amazingly stupid whopper of a lie I've ever heard of. Only to a 5 year old would this sort of logic begin to make sense. You see, I explained, there are two girls in my kindergarten named Cheasty. And really, I hiccuped, it was the other Cheasty that was singing "Row, Row, Row, Your Boat," but the teacher got confused and instead she put my name up on the board, not the other Cheasty's. I mean, honestly. Why you didn't subtract 50 points from my IQ right at that moment, I'll never know, but that's not the point of this story.

This is the point of the story. As I looked up at you through my tears, I saw on your face that you knew I was lying, and that you were disappointed in me. Not for the misbehaving part, but for making up such a wildly outlandish story to get myself out of trouble. You sat down on that little bench by the kitchen, and took my hand and asked me if I was telling you the truth. Once again, I lied, swearing that it was the truth, that it wasn't me. What you did next I have remembered all my life. Knowing I'd misbehaved, and worse, knowing I'd lied to you about it, you chose to believe me. I still have no idea how you knew what to do. Me, I probably would've given the kid a good scolding, or drop-kicked her to left field, but somehow you knew that yelling at me would've sent me into a catatonic state. So instead you picked me up and cuddled me on your lap. You wiped my eyes, kissed my forehead, and told me that you loved me. And I sat there, feeling a little stunned and a lot guilty. You knew I was lying through my teeth, and you loved me anyway?

That was probably the most formative moment of my life, you know that? Sitting there on your lap, I realized for the first time the tremendous responsibility and obligation that unconditional love and trust entails. Over the years I have remembered this story many times as I've struggled to be a good person and to make good choices in my life, with greater and lesser degrees of success. You've always asked me (all of us children, actually) to do my best in everything, and assured me that whatever my best was, it was good enough. Through the years your unswerving belief in my goodness, your faith that I will not do bad things, and your unconditional love for me even when I fall short of the glory have been constant reminders that, having been given this precious gift of love and trust, I had best work hard to deserve it.

Thanks, Mom, and happy birthday. I love you so much.

Your biggest fan and number one daughter,

Amazing Cheastypants
P.S. I'm sending you the most beautiful flower I could find. I'm sorry I'm not there to hug you in person, but it was wonderful to hear your voice on the phone this morning. Enjoy your birthday, and know that I'm hugging you fiercely from afar.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Amazing Cheastypants Does Mighty Battle With Archnemesis

MANAGUA, NICARAGUA - After a prolonged cease-fire, hailed by many international observers as an unparalleled success, outright war was once again declared today between the Amazing Cheastypants and her long-time archnemesis, General Oblivion. There remains widespread confusion about who, precisely, began hostile action, as both sides lay the blame squarely at the feet of the opposition. The UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon expressed disappointment at the renewed hostilities, and indicated his intentions to work closely with both parties to once again reach a peace settlement.

"I am gravely disappointed in General Oblivion's unheralded and unnecessary attack today," declared Amazing Cheastypants from her headquarters here in Managua. "Believing our peace to be a lasting one, I invited my former nemesis in good faith to a potluck lunch with me today at the archive. His contribution, however, was a drinkable yogurt long past its due date. Imagine my surprise when he shook it strongly, put it in my bag, and began laughing like a madman when it exploded all over everything, soaking my papers, my wallet, my umbrella, even my notebook in a pungent and frothy yogurt bath. Needless to say, I am outraged, and will do all in my power to bring General Oblivion to an ignominious defeat." General Oblivion renewed attacks later that afternoon when he attempted to make Amazing Cheastypants eat a rancid pasta salad. "Yes, he tried to defeat me again this afternoon," conceded Amazing Cheastypants, though witnesses indicated that she immediately "spat it out and roundly cursed the evil Oblivion."

General Oblivion refused to be interviewed for this report, though his spokesman did snicker unbecomingly and mutter, "She started it," under his breath when asked about the attack. Sources close to the General have intimated to this reporter Oblivion's intention to continue catching Amazing Cheastypants off guard and attacking without mercy. Amazing Cheastypants, for her part, has put out a general call for support from her allies, and intends to ward off all future attacks by General Oblivion through a combination of canny allocation of defensive resources, and heightened vigilance at traditional weak spots around the perimeter.

Monday, October 6, 2008

The Old Man Is Snoring

Oh, my God, will it please please PLEASE stop raining? Please? It's raining so hard today that I haven't even tried to leave the house yet. Instead, I've finished my article for the U.S. Catholic Historian (look for it this winter at a really obscure specialty bookseller near you!) and sent it off to the editor. I uploaded, organized, and edited about 150 pictures I've taken of public health education pamphlets, which are really awesome, and frequently hilarious. You want to see the best illustration I've seen so far?

This is from a pamphlet on workplace health and safety, and this is an illustration of what can happen to a pregnant woman who works around exposed toxic chemicals. While I in no way minimize the dangers involved, this drawing is pretty funny (click to enlarge, as the expression on the doctor's face is truly priceless):

Aside from all this work, which I truly do enjoy, I've spent many minutes staring out the open door at the rain, feeling homesick. I don't often feel this way, as between skype and the marvels of the internet, I feel pretty connected. But today I wish I were home. I'm grumpy. I want my own bed, and my grocery store, and my car, and my friends, and my sister, and my swimming pool, and a bottle of good wine, and my clothes. There are decided advantages to traveling light, but right now I feel like if I have to put on that stupid dress or that goddamn skirt or that freaking tshirt one more time I'm going to scream. And no, I'm not going shopping here. I hate clothes shopping. I only go shopping with my brother The Fairy King, or my sisters Umulu and Crasey cause they know what I should buy, and even then I say no 50 percent of the time. Oh, cripes, I'm such a whiner. Like my life sucks or something? Get over it, Cheastypants.

I think I feel kind of blue right now because I had such a weird weekend. Alta and I went off to San Juan del Sur, which is supposed to be this cool little beach town on the Pacific Coast. It's a bit of a long drive, which I knew heading out, but I failed to consider that 3 or 4 hours in car is not the same thing at all as 3 or 4 hours on a public bus on bad roads in Nicaragua, as public buses in Nicaragua are old American school buses with bad shocks and a tenuous grasp on the concept of automotive integrity. Nonetheless, I was optimistic as we set out in the sunshine from Managua. We drove promptly into a rainstorm of somewhat epic proportions, and it continued to scatter showers for the rest of the weekend. Again, I shouldn't bitch. Saturday was really fun, in spite of the inclement weather. We got a nice room with a private bath and a covered balcony at a small hotel for only $10 a night, and met two guys from Norway who were an absolute blast to hang out with. We walked along the beach, ate good food, and drank what in retrospect was probably inappropriately copious amounts of rum until the wee hours of the morning. God, those guys were fun, and holy shit were we drunk. I'm fairly certain that we watched part of the Cubs/Dodgers game, where I dutifully rooted for the Cubs, one of my professor's favorite teams. I'm also vaguely aware of doing a really bad job of explaining why baseball was a sport to a bar full of European tourists determined to prove me wrong. I may have erred when I listed as one of it's finer features the fact that you can eat a hotdog and play outfield at the same time. The Norwegians promptly began impersonating obnoxious LA Dogders fans, a task they performed with admirable skill, even to the point of throwing rum and coke in each others' faces, high-fiving each other with alarming frequency, screaming "GO DODGERS!!!!" very very loudly, and, at one point, coming very close to starting a bar brawl over an incident in which a crushed plastic cup was thrown, for no apparent reason, at a guy about to sink the 8 ball at a near-by pool game. Luckily, it all ended up with high-fives, manly hugs, and cries of "Go, Dodgers!" Normally, I would be horrified by such behavior, but for some reason all I could do was laugh hysterically like this was the funniest shit I had ever seen. And you know what? It kind of was. I'm not proud, but it was fun.

The weird part of the weekend was the next day, when I woke up at 5am (that would be three hours of sleep, thank you very much) having been savaged in the night by steroidal mosquitos and various other carnivorous insects. We went and got breakfast, nursed our hangovers for a little while, tried not to scratch our multitude of itchy bites and then decided that damn it, rainy day or not, we were going to swim in the ocean. Only I think with all the rain lately, that water, which is in a small bay, must have been pretty contaminated because I had a full-body rash within 5 minutes of getting in the water. I've always had sensitive skin, which usually I view as something of a curse, but at times like that, I'm kind of glad for it. I view it as an early warning sign that if I don't avoid whatever it is that is giving me the rash (in this case I'm certain it was bubonic plague), I might end up in front of a doctor who looks like the one in that illustration I just showed you. So yes, my sensitive skin is a blessing. I mean, aside from the early warning of potentially harmful substances, is there anything more attractive in this world than a girl in a bikini with a violent outbreak of red hives all over her body? I think not. I, my friends, am a mankiller. They flock to my side from miles around, unable to resist the allure of my rash-covered beauty.

So, in sum, weird. Of all the places I've been to in Nicaragua, the "hip beach town" was my least favorite, crawling with tourists and ex-pat American middle-aged men with 17 year old Nicaraguan girlfriends. The people there aren't terribly friendly (and who can blame them, with all the tourists), the bus ride home was long long LONG, over terrible roads, I felt like I'd just laid down in a pile of fire ants and let them bite me all over. By the time I got home all I wanted in this whole wide world was a cool dry sunny autumn day, a bathtub full of lovely warm water, and a big soft bed with crisp white sheets. And Benadryl, which luckily, I have in my little med kit, which I'd conveniently left at home. Every other trip I've taken here, I've felt a little regretful to be back in Managua, but yesterday, for once, I felt a little relieved.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Captain Mommypants Smokes The Crack Pipe

Happy very late on a Friday night, my precious petunias! I'm late, it's tired, and I'm off in the morning for a weekend of fun and exploration, but before I go, I thought I'd leave you with this slightly disturbing email that I recently received from my mother. From my mother who is clearly smoking crack.

My dear little lovelies,
It was suggested that our VP hopeful Palin has such a way with names (Track, Trig, Bristol, Willow and Piper) that she have the opportunity to rename all the people of the land! According to the palin name generator, I may now be referred to as: Filter Skate. Dad, when you need to list his name for whatever official record, may be referred to as Sack Panther. Cheasty, you are now dubbed Moose Roadster. Umulu, yours may be the best: Mustache Warthog. The Fairy King has been replaced by Roller Texas. Crasey, you my dear one, are to be known as Lean Pipe. Your little brother Bug - Knife Pile.
Enjoy the debate between Biden and she who is not to be named.
Love, hugs and kisses,
Filter Skate Mommy

Umulu promptly responded that she prefers to be known as "Stache." All I can say is that the very idea of calling my father "Sack Panther" gives me the willies, and if anybody starts calling me "Moose," Filter Skate is gonna die. It is becoming increasingly clear that I come from a deeply disturbed genetic line.

P.S. You know I'm kidding, right? I think my mother is hilarious, and I keep giggling about Knife Pile, Roller Texas, et. al.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Nicaragua: Where Bad Pop Songs Go To Die

Dear Nicaragua,

I love you, I really really do. I mean, you know. Insofar as it is possible to love a country that can't really love you back. But for what it's worth, I enjoy spending time with you, I plan on encouraging other people I meet in life to come down and visit you, and while I wouldn't mind if you had slightly fewer mosquitos and a more reliable, less risky form of public transit, for the most part I think you are just dandy, especially the parts of you that are volcanoes, beaches, lakes, and friendly people. Therefore, I want you to know that what I'm about to say to you comes from love, and I hope you can accept in in the spirit of constructive criticism.

So this is what I want to say to you: What in the sweet name of all that is holy are you doing with your radio stations? Why, when there are literally millions and millions of really good songs out there in the world, many of them from this very country, would you choose to play Phil Collins' "Another Day in Paradise" approximately 67 times a day? I hate that song, as does every self-respecting citizen of the world, and if I have to listen to it one more time on the bus or in a taxi, or blaring from my neighbor's yard, I might become homicidal. I really think you ought to reconsider your musical choices.

Nicaragua, I want you also to talk to the librarians at the historical archive for me, ok? Could you just sort of tap them on the shoulder, whisper in their ear, or something? Just let them know, in very kind terms, that it's extraordinarily hard to read official reports of any stripe without falling asleep. Having pop radio on in the background doesn't help, especially when I have to work that extra little bit harder to read it in Spanish, only to have "I wanna beeeee just as close as... the Hoooolllllly Ghost is... I wanna lay you dooowwwwwn in a bed of roses," running through my mind. I mean, it's a library, right? Aren't libraries, of all places, supposed to be just a little bit quieter than, say, a local street fair?

I mean, there I sit, reading things like "En el año 1980, planeamos a brindar servicios de salud a los pueblos más lejanos de Nicaragua," but what I'm really thinking (humming), is, "Just call me angel... of the morning, angel..." Can you understand the difficulties this causes me? In my doctoral thesis I cannot write that in 1985, Minister of Health Lea Guido resigned her position, at which point the government appointed to the same position a woman named "Cracklin' rose, you're a store-bought woman, but you make me sing like a guitar hummin'." And it might raise eyebrows if I were to report that in 1987 the government recognized the excellent work of the new Minister of Health in the areas of maternal-infant health by proclaiming, "Once... twice... three times a laaaaaddyyyyyyyy." I recognize that the librarians are quite bored, and in between polishing their nails, applying scented lotion to their arms, checking their reflection in the mirror 30 times, and walking around on impossibly high heels in various lurid colors, they need a little distraction from the mundane nature of their work. I really really do understand. But couldn't they play good music? Just once in a while?

Please, Nicaragua. Help me out here.

Yours respectfully,