Celebrating life stories...

Memories

 

Memorial created 01-15-2008 by
Howard Yellen
Thor David Hesla
April 1 1962 - January 14 2008

The Accumulated Writings of Thor

THE BIG LETTERS

Most years Thor treated us to what became known as "The Big Letter." This holiday extravaganza routinely edged out the Christmas production at Radio City Music Hall as the Season's top event. Alas, as Thor got busier - ok, once he got a job - the Big Letter got a little less big, and moved from paper to bytes. But who am I to complain? So I present, for your edification, the accumulated Big Letters. If you can help fill in the gaps, please send them to me.


BIG LETTER DECEMBER 2000

Well, it's a tie.

I wasn't okay with that a while ago, but I'm getting okay with it now. History will show that George W. Bush was elected with a minority of the popular vote, by about 300,000, nationally. And history will show that he was elected by a minority of the votes cast in Florida on Election Day, by at least a couple of thousand.

But life ain't always fair, and the Democrats had their chances.

As I write, it looks to me like Bush will be the president. Oh well. Like I said, the Democrats had their chances.

With that brilliant political editorial, let me now speed through the year in review:

I have honestly lost track of the last time a Big Letter went out via snail-mail - but I am as determined as I can be to knock one out the door this year.

Niece / Nephew Report

#1 About a year ago, when he was really just getting the talking thing mastered, David Alexander walked up to me as I lay prone upon the couch at Maren's house.

"I've got a penis in my diaper," he announced. I gazed at him blankly. He turned on one heel and walked away, message delivered.

#2 Maren and Olivia were talking together, also about a year ago.

"Mommy," Olivia asked, "when we die, our eyes are closed, right?"

Maren immediately intuited that this was the start of a difficult interrogation process.

"That's right," she cautiously replied.

"So," pondered Olivia, "how do we see Jesus when he comes for us?"

"Well," Maren said (thinking furiously), "Jesus can see us . . ."

"And then Jesus takes us to see God, right?" Olivia pursued.

"Right!" Maren affirmed.

"And then God takes us . . . " Olivia paused meaningfully, " . . . to see Santa Claus . . . "

(Maren snickered) . ". . . and then, we sit with God and Santa Claus, and we tell who's naughty, and who's nice . . . "

#3 There was an infestation of crickets at Maren's house last summer. Jagger the cat was absolutely no help.

The crickets hid behind the couches and the beds and the desks. Jagger did nothing. Nada. Zip.

David and I took matters into our own hands. I would hold David by the ankles, upside down, and dip him behind the furniture, where he could grab the crickets or at least flush them out into the open.

It only worked out okay.

Cell phone update:

I have now dropped my cell phone into toilets twice (once it got annihilated) and into puddles twice. (once it got annihilated)

My best cell phone saga was when I was carrying some oversized foam-core out to my car - and I was talking on my cell phone - so I popped open the trunk, put my cell phone onto the nearest handy spot, loaded up the foam-core, got into my car and drove away.

An hour later or so I noticed my phone was missing. Ransacked the office, ransacked my desk, called the phone.

Searched the car. Finally opened the trunk. The phone was squished in the space between the trunk lid and the frame of the car, right where I had put it. Amazingly, the phone worked, but the LCD was smashed.

I found out right then what a mush-brain I have turned into. With no LCD, I couldn't use the numbers that were stored in the cell phones memory. And I found out that I have 3 numbers memorized: Dad's, Maren's, and the office of the Lauren Beth Gash campaign.

Thor vs. the Nutritionists

So I decided to diet some. I go into a restaurant.
"I'll have some steamed vegetables and rice, please," I ask the waitress.
"Care for some black beans with your rice?" she asked.
" . . . why . . . sure . . . " I said.
"how about some salsa? Very healthy."
"Okay"
"Some shredded chicken?"
"Well," I said doubtfully, "I guess if it's only chicken . . ."
"How bout some grated cheese on that?"
"Cheese is always good," I said.
"Okay, so we've got beans, salsa, chicken and cheese. And some rice. You want that rice on the side, right?"
"Right!" I exclaimed.
"Want me to put some tortilla chips under that pile of beans and goo?"
"YES!" I shouted.
"Okay, So we got a plate of chicken nachos, rice and steamed vegetables on the side. Anything else?"
"That'll do it," I stammered.
"You sure I can't get you anything else?" she moistened her full, pouting lips, and tossed her hair.
"Nothing!" I ground my teeth.
She turned on her heel. Over her shoulder, almost nonchalantly, she launched one more query: "Want hollandaise sauce on those vegetables?"
"Yes!" I shouted, then collapsed onto the formica, weeping.

Now Let Us Praise Famous Airports

I spend so much time in airports I have decided to score them formally. Airports are divided by category:

Best Giant Airport: Atlanta. It's my home airport, baggage claim is very sensibly laid out, you don't need to take a shuttle bus from one terminal to another. Lots of Diet Coke, excellent Starbucks penetration. Magazine selection okay.

Best Medium Airport: Reagan/National in D.C. It's like a really sunny shopping mall. Incredibly nice. Direct subway access to D.C. Excellent magazine stores.

Best Small Airport: Des Moines. Easy parking. Manchester, N.H., gets an honorable mention.

Worst Giant Airport: Dallas. First of all, you're in Dallas. Second, you could just as easily walk from Ft. Worth to Austin as walk from one gate to the other in that hole. JFK and LAX get honorable mentions.

Worst Medium Airport: Dulles. Stupid shuttle buses. The main terminal sucks. Although the food is decent in the satellite terminals, there is absolutely nothing in the main terminal.

Worst Small Airport: Midway, in Chicago. Dunno if it really counts as small, but it's really low-rent.

Worst Airport Overall: Kansas City: the concessions are controlled by Pepsi, which means KFC. No Coke products whatsoever. It's like being in the Gulag Archipelago. Also, everything closes at about 7 p.m. The chairs are incredibly uncomfortable. Worst six hours I ever spent in an airport.

Best Airport Overall: Reagan / National - also has good rental car access, parking, view of D.C.

Worst Airport renovation: Portland. From the attack on Pearl Harbor to the surrender in Tokyo Bay, the war in the Pacific was a lot faster than the overhaul at PBX.

Best Food: Denver

Nicest Touch: Rocking chairs in Charlotte, NC.

Community Outreach: The slot machines in Las Vegas Airport

Neatest Architecture: United/O'Hare. The Greenhouse Terminal is still damned cool.

Best View: Tie: Denver/Salt Lake City -- I just love mountains.

Used to be Really Nice, but now it kinda sucks 'cause of the discount airlines: Baltimore

Most Enduring Mystery: Why do both L.A. and N.Y. have such awful airports? LAX and JFK both are awful: LaGuardia is only acceptable because of its humorous antique charm. Only Newark is even remotely decent.

Worst road construction: Boston/Logan, and nothing else remotely compares.

Worst traffic on a regular basis: O'Hare, naturally.

Tallest women in baggage claim: Minneapolis/St. Paul

Best International Flavor: San Francisco

Most convenient rental cars: BWI/Reagan (tie)

Smartest $50 I ever spent in an airport: paid to enter the United Business-class lounge in Frankfurt on my way back from Kazakstan. I had a six hour lay-up. They had an open bar, so they lost money on the exchange.

Best International Airport: Frankfort. Prussian efficiency.

Worst International Airport: Charles d'Gaulle. Gallic efficiency, plus mandatory smoking around all Americans.

Best Airline to take you out of a scary airport: Lufthansa. Thank god, you're back in Europe.

Toughest airport to clear customs: Almaty/Kazakstan.

Most interesting warning: "The landing will be extremely bumpy. The runway was re-paved two years ago, but it is starting to crack again." (Kazakstan.)

Landing of no return: St. Vincent (you land heading directly into a mountain.)

Best view: Flying from Seattle south to Phoenix, you pass Mt. Rainier, Mt. St. Helen's, Mt. Hood.

Best small plane trip: Santa Fe to Denver in a prop plane.

Damn! Wasted all the Big Letter Space!: Backwards Life Chronology

Gotta write really fast: just got done helping Dad and Maren move Grandma out of 8 Lincoln Lane. Wonderful house, very emotional. Grandma is a celebrity at the retirement center. Many know her. Now she eats 3 times a day, which is good.

Lost a very tough open seat (Lauren Beth Gash, Illinois 10) 51 to 49. Close only counts in horseshoes. Worked for League of Conservation Voters during the summer, worked on Million Moms March (a little) plus Earthday and Millenium March in the Spring. Worked for Bill Bradley for President during December, January, February, March. Wonderful campaign, many great people.

Worked in Seattle at W.T.O - it was a riot! (cough, cough - love the smell of tear gas in the morning. . . .)

Spent a lot of early 1999 in Vienna doing some consulting work there - wonderful city, had a lovely time.

And What of the Future?

Shut down my apartment in Atlanta last May, moved everything into storage. I live in Maren's basement!! (at least my niece and nephew take me seriously. David Alexander tried to give me a hug last night - just ended up head-butting me. . .) I am moving into an apartment on Capitol Hill in D.C. Address and phone number will follow. I am always reachable via e-mail @ thorhesla@aol.com or by cell: 678-777-8467. I live a virtual existence. Pax Vobiscum in the New Millenium

thor

BIG P.S.

Now it's January 3. I've gotten more bitter about the re-count. I'm really disappointed in the Supreme Court - I thought their decision was just making stuff up to stop the re-count.

But more importantly:

New address: 220 3rd Street, S.E. Washington, D.C. 20003 New phone number: 202-543-3575

Moving was quite the ordeal, but also very revealing:

I own 30 baseball caps from events I have worked on: the Olympics, W.T.O., NATO Summit, etc.

I own (ed) (gave two to Goodwill) 11 white polo shirts. Also 9 black or navy polo shirts, 2 gray, 2 olive green, 2 pink (!) (Buffalo World University Games) and 2 indigo.

So, theoretically, I can wear a different polo shirt every single day for the month of February (28 shirts, 28 days.)

Some other items: I have been carrying two suits that I got in 1988 ( ! ) back when I weighed like, 180, as if these suits were pieces of the True Cross. Like, maybe if I slept in them or something I would get thin all of a sudden.

Anyone need swim goggles? I have four pair.

RJ-11 phone cord? I have (I am NOT MAKING THIS UP) 9 sets of phone cords and couplers.

I need a loveseat or some SMALL sofa. I also need a microwave.

Come on, people, pony up.

Last thing: I'm job-hunting (again.) Keep your eyes peeled.

thor


BIG LETTER DECEMBER 2002
(this includes 2001, which Thor admits he skipped. . .from the 'Ironpants' archive)

Below, please find the 2002 Big Letter. Hope you like it. thor

"Of all the things I could wish for in the last year," my sister sighed a few months ago, "I mean, big ones," she rolled her eyes meaningfully, "I wish we could go back in time and find Christmas Bear."

My niece was weeping, again. We had been reviewing photos of an earlier, happier time, when the fabric of the planet was more intact, and Mary Olivia hadn't yet lost Christmas Bear.

When the first baby is born in any family, there is always cutthroat competition among the uncles and aunts to give the first, best stuff-toy, the one that will become the lifelong favorite.

Maren had asked me, when she was pregnant, if I would give my niece/nephew to-be my beloved stuffed dog, Anna-Banana. Without even a pause to appear torn by uncle-ey devotion, I nodded, "nope." Maren was non-plussed, assuming in her always-giving way that I, like she, would have cheerfully loped off my right arm at the elbow to give a few moments entertainment to Baby X.

But lo: I've been lugging Anna-banana around for my age - minus one year ( got 'im as a first-year birthday present) for 40-odd years - and he wouldn't last six months under standard baby fire.

So no.

This left a void for Mary Olivia, which was filled (jealous competition emotion) by other adults who were more on-the-ball then I was. So Duck (who is a rabbit) (go figure) arrived, and later on: Christmas Bear. And although I have tried to make up for my missed guesses in quantity (the complete Pooh characters) and mass (Thor-dog and Thor-bear, which are both the size of Barca-loungers) nothing ever burrowed under Mary Olivia's skin the way that Duck and Christmas Bear did.

Two years later I missed again, and David Alexander picked Bubba (who is also a rabbit) rather than anything I could muster.

So I guess that is just a knock on my binkie-selection skills.

Anyway: for six happy happy years Duck, Bubba and Christmas Bear oversaw the house like the Holy Trinity, and trips were planned with intricate manifests including the ruling troika.

But, (alas) we go terribly upon the earth, and in a tragic moment, Christmas Bear (the smallest of the three (like baby Jesus!)) got dropped or shuffled or lost or neglected - - - thank god I was in South Africa or Georgia or some other safe and far-away locale, so I didn't have to witness the tears and the trauma and the weeping sleepless nights -

I would not have been much help.

Anyway, that has been one trauma of the last year or so.

BIG LETTER STATUS REPORT

Some of you have been getting The BIG LETTER for years now, and you will note that there was a big hitch last year. I only got out a BIG E-MAIL, which is a poor substitute.

I will try to physically get this one out the door.

I am starting sort of in medias res (sic) (that is Latin for "in the middle of things")

(Note to Dr. Hesla:
Dad, this will (undoubtedly) fill you with fatherly pride. My life (as you know) is filled with staggering accomplishments, but I am far too modest to brag about them. However: in writing this year's Big Letter, I realized I would have to start, "in the middle of things," so naturally I wanted to use the Latin expression. I typed in my best guess for 'in medias res' and then wrote "sic?" but, I thought, hey, why not use the Internet. After 5 minutes of Google, I located the attached site, and guess what? I spelled "in medias res" EXACTLY RIGHT, just guessing. Screw all those people who say I'm stupid behind my back.. Do they know this?
"Mei capilli sunt flagrantes." (My hair is on fire.)
or
"Meum cerebrum nocet." (My brain hurts.))

Happy 2003 Everyone:

Since I missed a year, I sort of have to do two years in a row:

2001

I have nothing profound or interesting for this year.

I managed a Congressional in Los Angeles, and went to South Africa for a month, doing logistics at the United Nations Conference Against Racism. I was at the Durban International Airport, preparing to de-camp the Southern Hemisphere, on September 11. Consequently, my stay was extended several melancholy days, which I spent in the Johannesburg Airport Holiday Inn.

Following September 11, I got back to DC by flying from Johannesburg to JFK on the Plane-From-Hell (remember, all flights from South Africa were canceled for 5 days, so every seat was taken - the flight lasted approximately 8 days, or 20 hours or something like that. Thank God I paid another passenger $100 to let me sit on the aisle.)

We got into JFK and it was like a ghost town. SpookyQuiet. We figured there was no percentage in trying to fly into D.C., so we switched to a rental van, then drove from NYC to DC over the Verranzano-Narrows Bridge, which afforded a spectacular view of lower Manhattan . . . and the ghostly cloud which still hung over Ground Zero.

October and November were quiet. Everyone was nervously sitting around in DC waiting for the next anthrax attack. I stayed in bars as much as possible, reasoning that if recreational drinking tapered off, "the terrorists would have ALREADY won."

My barhopping team and I christened ourselves the Freedom Fighters -- We prowled around Washington D.C. accosting tourists and demanding, "Ubi est caupona bona?" (Where is a good Tavern?)

To do my part, I worked as a production assistant at the United We Stand concert at RFK.
I drove Kevin Spacey in a golf cart. He asked me the capacity of RFK. I told him. He told me it was great to be there for America.
I dropped him off at his limo.
As he got out, I said, "I loved 'LA Confidential.' You were spectacular."
He nodded. "Well, thank you," he said. "Thank you very much."

RANDOM

My nephew David Alexander called me occasionally during the Autumn of 2001. Our conversations were non-specific:
"Are you coming for dinner?"
"Am I invited for Dinner?"
(overheard: "Mom, can Uncle Thor come over for dinner?" M-"Sure")
"Mom says you can come for dinner."
"When?"
PAUSE
"'Boy Meets World' is on."
"Right now?"
"Yes."
"What about Football?"
reproachfully "You always watch football. . . "
This is all part of my master plan for retirement. I hope to insure that Olivia and David are raised believing that I have a legal and moral status which empowers me to demand unfettered meals and cable access.

Mary Olivia and David Alexander Update

Mary Olivia and David Alexander (my niece and nephew) are both doing very well. Olivia is 7 and David is 5 - which puts the clicking of the calendar in perspective, doesn't it?

Anyway: Dr. Kissinger called and asked that Olivia be detailed to his staff for the 9/11 cover-up, I mean commission. She is enjoying it, and does a hilarious Kissinger impression:
"Vell, Olifia, vat do you zay zat ve begin some sec-ret bombing of America's real enemies, like zat Spanish judge who vants to try me as a var kriminal?"

(editor's note: I wrote this prior to Dr. Kissinger's resignation from the commission, but it really really happened, so I'm leaving it in.)

David Alexander just crushed his jury presentation for admission to Julliard, and in fact played so well that he was invited to serve as a judge next week at the 75th Annual Chopin Competition (the so-called "battle of the baby grands".)

They are practical, also. They just changed the timing belt on Lumpy.

FAREWELL, MY LOVELY! - CARS UPDATE

The Alfa Romeo has gone to a better place. After I moved to DC in the spring of 2000, I just couldn't figure out a rational way to bring it up here. So, I took the tough decision, and parked it in Dad's driveway for about a year.

After repeated attempts to sell her, Dad eventually gave her to the Salvation Army.

LUCKILY:

My friend Trish Enwright gave me her Acura when she got a new Blazer. The Acura is a veteran of much close-quarters combat here in D.C. So, she had dents. I call her Lumpy.

I say "her" but I am not completely sure of Lumpy's gender. The Alfa Romeo was always female - because she was like a supermodel or a cheerleader - good looking, but an awful lot of trouble. And uncomfortable.

Lumpy isn't the eye-candy that the Alfa was, but THE AIR-CONDITIONING WORKS!

Convertibles are hugely over-rated about 8 months out of the year.

Lumpy has a sun-roof, too.

Anyway, sometimes I call Lumpy "him." Sometimes "her." Those of you who have seen Lumpy can weigh in. Lumpy, BTW, is jet-black, with a cherry red driver's side mirror - sure I could have opted for a black mirror, but red was more stylish, yes? What's that? You say I bought it used, at a junkyard, and took the first available?

2002

In January, business picked up quite a bit. I began to consult for a candidate in Maine, then got a client in West Virginia.

On April 1, 2002, I turned 40. I celebrated by working. I was in West Virginia, and the primary was coming up, so I stayed in Charleston. On April 1, I drove a van filled with yardsigns from Charleston to Martinsburg. In Martinsburg, I watched Maryland win the NCAA Basketball Championship on cable in a sportsbar.

There was potential to be depressed: I was 40, all by myself, no family . . . but then I remembered: hey, I do this because I believe in elections and democracy and campaigns and the forum of ideas. And, of course, because campaigns affords me all kinds of goof-off time (no need to be romantic about it.)

We won that primary 51% to 49%, BTW.

FITNESS REPORT

My Grandmother Alma's 101th birthday is coming up in January. About a week ago she cut my Dad's Sunday night phone call short so that she could go watch the Vikings play the Packers on ESPN Sunday night football. Assuming that I live that long, I have another 60 years to go, which prompts me to resolve to do more sit-ups.

I am jogging quite faithfully right now, but it does no good. I run from my apartment, which is 5 blocks east of the Capitol, to the Lincoln Memorial and back. I walk up Capitol Hill to the Capitol Deli, walk in, and order a 32 oz Diet Coke. And some toast wheat bread. With a scrambled egg. And some cheese. And some bacon.

So okay: I jog five miles and finish it off with a bacon, cheese and egg sandwich. You don't like my training program? Tough. To those of you who are critical, I can only sneer, "Tua toga suspina est." (Your toga is backwards.)

September 2002

I went to visit a friend in New York. He was living in Battery Park City. I took the train up from DC to Penn Station, then cabbed down to a restaurant on Park Avenue filled with the beautiful people. I tried to fit in. Didn't work. I have legs that are thicker than the beautiful people's waists.

I met up with my friends, we had drinks and dinner. When we left to go downtown, the cab cut over to the West Side and we took the West Side Highway south.

We crossed south over Chambers Street, then Murray Street. Just before we crossed Vesey Street, an improbable light became visible around the corners of the building. Stadium lighting surrounded a fence, which ran eight city blocks, and wrapped around on the north and south sides. The clean white light illuminated the buildings on the east and south sides, many of which are still swathed in tape, scaffolding, construction wrap.

The cab rolled up to a stop light. Sadness rolled out of the light and across the West Side Highway, into the tires of the cab, and up and into my shoes. We sat in the cab, looking at the fence, and the stadium lights, burning hot in the cool September night, and I thought, "Of all the things I could wish for in the last year, I wish I could go back in time and find Christmas Bear."

The light turned green, the cab rolled forward -- another year came and went, and the stadium lights receded behind us into the dark and gray of the city.

Pax Vobiscum for 2003
We've never needed it more.

Cur etiam hic es? Crapulam terribilem habeo! Curious? Thorhesla@aol.com or click to: http://www.geocities.com/SiliconValley/7069/latinless.html


BIG LETTER DECEMBER 2005
Thanks to EB Nesbitt, here's the 2005 Big Letter. It's really big.

Hi Everyone:

What a lousy correspondent I am.

Just wanted to get that off my chest.

With modern technology (see: e-mail) it should be easy for me to keep all of you posted on my coming and goings, also to stay current with you, liven up the Big Letter with digital photos, video even, sing songs, tell tales, joke jokes, the whole she-bang.

Nothing, though. Nada. Zip, zilch.

Did I even send the Big Letter in 2004?

Fiddle-foo. I can’t remember.

I drafted it.

Okay, anyway:

* * * * *

I am still in Kosovo. I have been here 2 1/2 years, since April 15, 2003. Hard to believe. I drank several pints on Guinness at the Kukri (now the Phoenix) in beautiful downtown Pristina, on October 15, 2005, in honor of my double-semi anniversary.

What do I do? Work-wise, I am paid by USAID to assist in the privatisation of the formerly socially-owned enterprises of the semi-communist Yugoslav system. Why is this still in process, 16 years after the Berlin Wall fell? Okay – Yugoslavia dissolved also in 1990-91 BUT Kosovo remained part of Serbia (as it still technically is) and Slobodan Milosevic didn’t get around to privatising the SOEs because he was busy slaughtering Muslims, first in Bosnia and later in Kosovo. This state of affairs persisted until 1995 in Bosnia, when a very quick dose of NATO bombing after the massacre of Srebernica persuaded Milosevic (and the JAG, the regular Yugo army) that it was better to cede Bosnia – a deal which was consumated at the Dayton accords . . . Kosovo, however, lingered as a quasi-part of Serbia (following the fall of the Berlin Wall, Milosevic had declared martial law and sent JAG troops in to occupy the restive province) until 1999, when NATO once again administered a remedial dose of JDAM-penicillin, following which the UN occupied the province. From 1999 until 2001 the international community re-built houses and got the power (more or less) back on, and then from 2001 until 2005 everyone debated whether the UN – not a sovereign power – could engage in privatisation. (I am not making that up.) Finally, in 2005 – two years after I got here to start things up – everyone agreed and low and behold we are now privatising at a thumping good rate.

That’s work.

For fun I date a very cute librarian in Miami who is studying for her Ph.D (or is it masters?) in Education, or Economic Development, or something else that starts with an “e.”

Stephanie (for that is her name) is also a single mom and therefore gets up at 4:00 am, performs some Thai Chi and karate, makes coffee, and studies regressional analysis theory and application until 7:00, when she starts her day by rousing Young Colin, packing him off to school, then going to the Gulliver Academy.

Roughly every three months she flies to Europe and we get together in nice hotels in London or Madrid or something.

We talk too, mostly her explaining an economist named Amayat Sin and me pretending to understand what “sustainable development through a feminist paradigm” means, at least until I can distract her with sushi or a pretzel or something like that.

Whilst in Kosovo (I am working with British English, and a surprisingly large number of official UN documents include the word “whilst” but they also apply a variety of “colours” to their “tonnes” whilst making their way to the “centre” of the city. I’ll bet none of you know what “cadastral” means, either, or “tranche.”)

Anyway, whilst in Kosovo my life is a wretched exercise in heartbreaking tedium. I play Ultimate twice a week, on Sunday evenings and Wednesdays. I generally meet colleagues for drinky-poos at the Kukri after going to the UN gym (where I faithfully audit the areobics class) on Mondays and Tuesdays. Thursday there is either a party or movie night, and Fridays in the summer we leave in the late afternoon and drive to the beach in Greece, or in the winter go skiing either in Serbia (Kaoponik) or else stay in town and ski at Brezovitsa, handily located 1 and 1/2 hours south of here, so it’s a day-trip.

Life is hell.

DO NOT READ THIS PART IF YOU ARE AFRAID OF LUTHERAN COMPULSION

In order to prepare for my three-week vacation in the US, I have a number of tasks, which must be accomplished.

Over the year, I have a tendency to let a lot of paper accumulate in my flat – newspapers, magazines, work papers, etc. So I finally whirled into action and (oh perjurable shame) threw out three monster garbage bags of just . . . bleech. Old Action Memos. Old ECONOMISTS.

Ah, but is there any satisfaction like the hot satisfaction of a “TO – DO” list well-executed?

TO DO BEFORE I GO TO THE US

1) ECONOMIST ad (have raised the issue with the team)
2) finish X-mas letter – Tuesday after work (ironic self-reference – this actually makes it INTO THE BIG LETTER ITSELF)
3) Christmas note to Rima – bonus, skin stuff – Wednesday ( EKREM )
4) pay KEK bill – FIX mis-payed bill
5) pack – don’t forget presents – begin Tuesday night
6) clean desk – put away CDs
7) check my Sprint account, make sure it is paid up so I can use my phone
8) check with satellite guy on upgrading system

WAITING ON OTHERS

1) final report on London submitted to the Pillar (e-mail written)
2) expense report on London (Josh must sign)

KEEP CHASING

1) Open Letter from Ruecker and Dugolli (e-mail sent) (have drafted another version, keep chasing)
2) reserve the UNMIK building for the Bid days in January (DONE)
3) send final note around about Bansko (final for December)
4) remind Lina about my umbrella
5) dentist appointment in US

DONE:

1) pay water bill
2) pay the garbage bill
3) gave dress shirts to Ekrem
4) clothes to the guy at UNMIK(e-mail written)
5) pay Ilir (RENT)
6) hair cut
7) clean out AOL account – Done
8) pay EU Pillar IV phone bills
9) finalize ticket
10) check my bank balance
11) pick up shirts from cleaners – Tuesday at 4:00
12) pick up clothes that needed to be mended – Tuesday at 4:00
13) move books and satellite box to my flat
14) stereo to Ekrem
15) e-mail about getting Rhedon to put all the final ads on the shared drive (DONE)
16) e-mail Deanna about ski bibs

LUTHERAN COMPULSION SECTION OVER

LIFE’S LITTLE IRONIES, PART 1

1) My grandmother Alma, when I was in my 20s and early 30s with no prospective bride in sight, very much wanted me to marry a Norwegian-American librarian at St. Olaf College.

2) Here in Kosovo, one of my closest friends is Tove Wulff Nielsen (I am not making that name up) from Tromso, Norway. (She is a cop. And a prosecuting attorney. And a judge. And she’s over 6 feet tall !!)

3) In the United States, I date Steffie – who is a . . . librarian.

4) If Grandma had only lived a little longer (beyond 101) I could have walked in with Tove and Steffie and said, “Look Grandma! one of each!!!”

MY BEST OF 2005 LISTS

Screw the New York Times.

Here’s my best of . . . lists:

BOOKS

1) The Earth is Flat by Tom Friedman
2) The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell (came out a few years ago but I read it this year – whazzat ? you say it doesn’t count ? GET BENT – this is my letter, not yours.)
3) Blink by Malcolm Gladwell
4) The Sling and the Stone by Thomas Hammes (you say a book on 4th Generation Warfare bores you to tears ? well laaa-deeee-daaaaaa. . . . .)
5) The Next Attack by a couple of guys from the NSC back in Clinton days. Depressing reading.

(hmmmm, looks a little wonk-ie, yes ?)

MOVIES (wonkiness, begone !!!)
I don’t get much opportunity to see first-run movies . . . because we DON’T f#$%king get them in Prishtina.

However:

1) Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire – not only the best movie in the series, but a really good movie which stands on it’s own merit. It should get nominated for something. (Saw this in London the day before a big conference I was managing.)

2) Star Wars III – not revolutionary, but well-made. Also, the only other movie I saw in a nice theater in Europe. Saw this in Thessalonika (at a Greek multi-plex.)

Honorable mention: I liked “House of Flying Daggers” and “Hero” but I guess I just like wire-work martial arts flicks. (Saw both of these at the UNMIK theater here in Prishtina.)

I liked “Kill Bill Part 2”  (the wonkiness continues).

I liked “The Blade of Zorro” mostly because I saw it with several cool friends (Sven, Tove, Sonja and Justin) in a theater in Istanbul.

Hmm, just re-read list. Don’t weep for me, Eleanor Ringold (only Maren and Betty will get this.) It’s not my fault. I have no time for art-house stuff.

MUSIC

I have been listening to Coldplay - X + Y, incessantly since I picked it up. I have also gotten really hooked on Faithless, since I saw them in Skopia a few months ago.

I really liked Nelly Furtado’s SECRET WORLD.

I am listening to more jazz in the office, although I did just pick up Rage Against the Machine just to crank “Renegades of Funk” occasionally.

THEATER

I saw “Guys and Dolls” starring Ewen McGregor, in London, with Stephanie. (note to Maren – Stephanie suggested it and I IMMEDIATELY said yes. After all these years you have beaten me into submission.)

Other than that: no theater for me.

Wait, I take that back. I saw Blue Man Group and Spamalot in New York with Stephanie. Both were excellent.

I have seen Blue Man Group before but I like any performance theater with drumming and paint and banging on PVC piping. Just my cup of tea.

MILESTONES

I was sitting on an airplane a while ago, having re-packed my book for landing, so I had nothing to do.
I took out my passport and I started counting entry stamps in it.
I got the passport September 26, 2006.
It now has a little over 200 entry stamps – meaning I’ve been over 200 borders since then. Over an 8 year period, that’s a border every two weeks, I think.

BACK TO LISTS

Forgot a category:

CITIES

I have been keeping score of airports (as some of you may know) for some time now; I am starting to score more cities.

This was a very good year for new cities for me.

1) Copenhagen. Beautiful. expensive. Lots of hot women. Many grown-ups ride bicycles. Nice seafront.

2) London. (I have been before, but I spent a lot of time this year.)
Expensive. Dangerous – cars drive on the wrong side of the road.
Easy to figure out, due to the widespread use of English.
Although the hotel and restaurant staff are almost exclusively from Slovakia, they are all dead-fluent and extremely friendly.
Beer is now served cold. Quite easy to get a good hamburger with almost no effort.

3) Athens. Absolute proof that it is possible to build a city with no theory of road signage. Possibly the most difficult city to drive in I have ever been in. The Acropolis makes you feel all funny, like you have seen it all before, starting in 2nd grade. The Archeological Museum gives you the gratifying feeling of seeing stuff you read about in high school, like the death mask of Agamemmnon.

I got food poisoning one night.
The hotels are definitely 2-star.
Good Greek food (ironically.)

4) Istanbul. 4 Stars. Would have been higher but it was raining the entire time I was there. The merchants are like caricatures of Turkish merchants. They give you the sort of hard sell + plus haggling that you might regard as an offensive stereotype if you were to see it in a movie.

Ten-to-twelve year old children sidle up to you and inform you that they can give you remarkable prices on Persian rugs, plus free tea, step right in here if you please, sir?
The Hagia Sophia is for sure one of the neatest buildings I have ever been in.

Taking a boat ride on the Bosporus is neat. What kind of idiot would try to swim that? (Byron? or Troilus?) Can’t remember.

5) Amsterdam. A beautiful city stuffed with British yobs. The red-light district is excessive even for my exceptionally degenerate tastes. I would outlaw the hookers in the storefront windows but keep the legal hash. I enjoyed “The Black Watch.”
Too much of a que for the Van Gogh museum, I couldn’t be bothered.

6) Brussels. Fabulous. Gorgeous city, excellent beer, cars are on the correct side of the road, everyone speaks English, great chocolate, good hotels at good prices.

7) Riga. In Latvia. 5 Stars, absolutely hands-down one of the greatest cities I have ever been to. If you go to no other small Baltic capitol this year, go to Riga.
It’s still cheap, people there like America because we hung tough for them all through the 20th century, and it is stuffed full of the most beautiful women I’ve ever seen. Not that I look at these sorts of things. It’s a babe festival. They haven’t switched to the Euro yet, and you absolutely cash in on the exchange rate. Stay in the old city. Go in the summer. The nights are only about 3 hours long, due to midnight sun effect. Perfect weather. Makes you dance until 3 am quite easily. The sun is up by 5.

8) Kiev. Still sort of communist. Even relatively normal women act like runway models. Hard to believe it’s been pounded flat roughly 4 times in the 20th century. Important feature: an enormous statue (think Statue of Liberty sized) of Mother Russia holding back the Nazis. Great stuff if you like Gigando-stuff, which I do. The cab drivers will rip you off, given the opportunity.

(Just realized I left out Madrid, Toledo and Vienna – but running out of time!!) (Just realized I left out Zagreb, which might quite possibly be number 2 or 3 on my favorites list. Really, really beautiful. Like Vienna but less crowded.)

NOTABLE NEW AIRPORTS

I am starting to like Gatwick in London. Smaller than Heathrow, but honestly I think it has better amenities. Great bookstore Smithfields?) Practically everything is in English.

Airline/Airport I am starting to dislike: Austrian airlines/ Vienna airport – a strange combination of tolerating smoking throughout the airport, plus a generally low-rent feel on the airplane. More crying children than should be encouraged. Perhaps a tariff of some sort.

ME WORLD TRAVELER !!! ME NO STUPID !!!

I managed a big delegation from Kosovo to a mining conference in London in November. The conference ended on Wednesday night, so I took Thursday and Friday off and went to visit my friend Gilles in Amsterdam.
From the time I left the hotel in London on Thursday morning, the following happened:
1) I didn’t get the travel time for the Chunnel train, and missed the train by 10 minutes – so had to wait two hours.
2) Bought a chunnel ticket, went shopping in Waterloo station, lost the ticket in less than 10 minutes (that’s pretty rare for me) had to go back, have the ticket canceled.
3) Got to Brussels, switched to a regular commuter train instead of the nice Aventure or whatever train. Took 5 hours to get to amsterdam instead of 3, surrounded by the hoi-poloi.
4) Got to Amsterdam, checked my bags at the train station, met Gilles for a concert. All hotels booked solid (due to a pot-growing convention (I am not making this up))
5) Luggage locked up overnight at train station, had to sleep on Gilles couch (actually quite comfortable.)
6) Got up the next day, breakfast, retrieved luggage, finally found a hotel. Checked in, showered. Went to meet a friend for lunch in POURING RAIN, got bad directions from hotel, got lost, wandered Amsterdam SOAKING WET for 1/2 hour.
7) The next day, the hotel was booked solid. Had to go back to Brussels – had to re-book ticket, first train canceled. YYYYUUUUCCCCKKKKK. Finally got to Brussels, which was damned nice thank god.

Re-Branding 2006 In 2006

I am going to try some re-branding. I am going to buy an i-Pod, because I now must lug around 20 kilos worth of CDs around, and who needs that hassle anymore?

To make it work better, I am going to get an Apple and see if the hype is worth it.

I am contemplating laser eye surgery, but not for a while – it would make skiing much easier not to have to hassle with glasses, goggles, etc.

I am also pondering giving snow-boarding a try, rather than skiing.

More Accomplishment on the Lutheran Organization Front:

1) got my umbrella back
2) figured out I can get rid of the ski bibs
3) gave the stereo to Ekrem

Yeeeesssssss, indddeeeeedddd, pppprrrreeecccciiiiooouuusssss, it all comes together. . . .

Things I want for Christmas

A viable path out of Iraq for everyone involved.

Peace in the Balkans. Amazingly, this may happen.

Wrapping Up

I think I am at the end.
Oh, wait, the plea for meals and companionship !!! Almost forgot.

I will be in the US from Friday, December 16, until Monday, January 9. I will be in Miami for a few days, in Friday Harbor (Washington state) for a few days, in Atlanta from Dec. 27 until Jan. 1 or so, and then in DC from Jan 2 until Jan 7 or so.
You know the drill: call me or e-mail and tell me you want to buy me food.

PPS

Now it’s December 29, and I am finally sending this thing out. So far, the holidays have been most excellent, with stops in Miami, Friday Harbor Washington, and Atlanta. Off to DC soon.

Got the i-pod. Got the Powerbook. Send me cool suggestions and hints, please.

Ciao for now. . . .

PPPS One more book for the list: The Assassin’s Gate, by George Packer. Makes you think, which I hate, but some of you may enjoy.

Happy New Year !!!

thor


BIG LETTER – HALLOWEEN EDITION - OCTOBER 2007
Trick or Treat from Kabul

Hi friends:

Many of you – okay, only Martin Hamburger – have been complaining bitterly about the recent absence of a real old-fashioned brick-and-mortar Big Letter.

I was lazily thinking about what it would take to do one of those (update address book, stamps, labels, uck it’s a hassle….) when Fate Intervened, and I was offered a job in Kabul, which I accepted, in order to avoid having to lick all those envelopes.

So: I am in Kabul.

I could spend some time covering the last year (I left Kosovo in late November to great sadness and good feeling, came back to the US, spent December with the family, January cleaning my flat, February skiing and writing a screenplay (that took until March to finish) traveled around in April and May, went to Europe in July, spent August writing a novel) but why would I bore you with that?

Let me skip straight to Kabul.

I have been here six days, so I can now give you completely accurate answers on every aspect of the insurgency, the society, it’s history, and what will happen in the future.
NOT.

But I CAN give you a few snapshots.

1) Afghanistan is ssooo far away from anything. I mean, far. Afghanistan is the hole in the middle of the doughnut which is the “Stans.” (Pakistan, Kazahstan, Kyrgystan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan. . . the life you’re leaving, leads you to the "Stans…”)

(Factoid: ‘stan’ means ‘place of’ in some ancient language like Persian or Arabic, so Kazahkstan means ‘place of Kazahks’)

2) Kabul is 5,900 feet (1,800 meters) above sea level, or 640 feet higher than Denver, the Big Whoop ‘Mile High City’, which clocks a lame 5280 feet. (plus we have land-mines – more on that later)

3) If it weren’t for the pollution and the dust, and the threat of death by suicide-bomber, I.E.D., rocket, or land-mine . . . if it weren’t for those considerably negatives, Kabul could be a city of Astonishing Beauty.

You may think I am kidding, but it’s quite true: Kabul sits in a bowl in the Hindu Kush (‘Killer of Hindus’) mountain range. The views are quite spectacular.

4) The weather has been excellent the last week. Brilliant sunshine, mild days, cool nights. One long-time ex-pat here has told me that the weather is quite nice for eight or nine months a year. The snowy/muddy season starts in December, and lasts a while. It is quite hot for a few weeks in the summer. We shall see.

5) Dubai is everything you have heard it was. Imagine Las Vegas, but without casinos or alcohol. Then add in some alcohol. Dubai is completely man-made. All the streets are planned. It is totally in the desert, so if there is green, it’s irrigated. Seen from the air, it looks disturbingly like ‘Cloud City’ from “The Empire Strikes Back.” Lots of trippy futuristic sky-scrapers.

6) From Dubai, you fly over the Persian Gulf and the Straits of Hormuz. You can see both sides of the Straits – through which about 40% of the world’s oil must flow – with little difficulty. Then you hit Iran.

7) What does Iran look like from the air? Sand sand sand sand sand sand sand sand. Then you hit some mountains.

8) The airport in Kabul is like any other Third-World airport, except for the BlackHawk helicopters. It is pretty safe because no cars are allowed on airport property, which makes for some difficult pick-ups, I imagine.

9) It is said that the AK-47 is the most widely manufactured weapon in history. At some point, there must have been a mass re-call, and all the AK-47s made between 1970 and 1990 were shipped en masse to Kabul.

10) Traffic. If the people who run NASCAR ever want to see real, high-test driving, they should come here. You must have faith. And seatbelts. Since we are in SUVs with big cow-catcher fenders on the front, we win most of these implied negotiations. Inshallah.

11) Why make it easy when you can make it hard? Afghanistan – like India, Newfoundland and Labrador, Venezuela, and the Australian Central Western Time Zone (serving 200 people in an area the size of Belgium) is an offset time-zone, meaning we are ½ hour ahead or behind the other time zones around us. Why? Because it is harder.

12) Why make it easy when you can make it hard, Part 2? Afghanistan – which according to Wikipedia ranks 186th in the world in wealth, a scant six places ahead of Comoros (admit it, you’ve never heard of Comoros, have you?) has a six-day work week. We start our labors on Saturday, and carry on until Thursday. Friday we rest. Saturday, back at it.

13) The people. The people of Afghanistan are very nice. Of course, I work mostly with people who speak English, have college degrees, etc. Every now and then you get a glimpse of the desperately, desperately poor – I saw a man moving down the street who was, literally, wearing only rags yesterday.

You will occasionally see people (men) who clearly would do you harm if they had the chance. Every now and then you catch a stare which speaks violence and mayhem in a very clear way. To cheer yourself up, you remember that you have two nice young men with some of the aforementioned AK-47s who are quite prepared to return the favor, if it comes down to that.

14) You are forcibly reminded how good and inspirational Americans can be. Our staff has a wonderful relationship with the Afghan staff. I think on the whole, we inter-act with them in much better ways than some other people do. This is difficult to describe until you see it in action, but it is simply the case that many societies are much more class-conscious and elitist than Americans are. Americans tend to blend really naturally with all types of people. The Afghans – like the Albanians – like the Americans quite a bit, and tend to describe us as friendly and unpretentious.

15) You are forcibly reminded how dense Americans can be. It’s quite jarring, on occasion, to see people – soldiers, consultants, aid advisors – who haven’t got a clue what’s up in the history of the region.

16) You’re always, always, always, reminded how great a blessing it is to come from a land which has never known – since 1865 – serious war. It’s really difficult to calculate how damaging all-out war can be on a society. 32 out of the 34 provinces of Afghanistan contain unexploded ordinance, either mines or cluster-bombs or rockets. I have read – but I cannot vouch for this – that 3 Afghans a day are killed by UXO. And that’s just one example.

17) You’re reminded how nice it is to be on the side with the cars, radios, airplanes, money. Comparing the “War on Terror” to World War II is ludicrous.

18) Back to Comoros: it is a group of islands in the Indian Ocean, off the coast of Africa, just north of Madigascar. The main activity is coups.

19) Late breaking news. Mushareff just declared martial law in Pakistan. The weather has turned cold. Looks like it will be a long winter.

20) That’s about it. I will try to keep you posted.

Ciao,

thor


THE DWARF

I suppose if you live long enough, and in enough places, eventually everything pretty much happens to you.

But if you had approached me in January, 2003, and said, "Thor, in April you will be strangled by a dwarf in Pristina, Kosovo," I would have viewed you skeptically.

But it really happened the other day, and now I must tell you how.

I am currently residing at the Hotel Baci, a very new facility with many of the perks of home, and a few of the charming twists which Pristina confers, like the perennial smell of diesel fumes, from the generator which provides us with light and power for half the day and night when KEK, our hated national utility, does not.

But Bearing Point, my employer, will only give me a one-month stay there, so yesterday, about 11:00 a.m., I was out looking at apartments, accompanied by Bujar, my trusty native guide, and Nezrit, a professional apartment hunter for UNMIK.

After having emerged from the last of three, we were standing on a street corner, chatting amiably about the strengths and weaknesses of each of the apartments, when a sinister and menacing figure approached us.

Actually, not all that sinister and menacing: more like persistent and annoying. A cursory glance led me to the rapid impression that he was:
a) Romany
b) shorter than average
c) slightly hunchbacked
d) blessed with huge hands an inordinately large forehead --

but who am I to say he was a gypsy Mongoloid dwarf? I'm not a doctor, for God's sake!

He showed a striking grasp of English, thrusting one mitt the size of a baseball glove into the center of our comradely circle, and curtly snapping,

"Gif Me Money."

Bujar and Nezrit gently demurred with him in fluid and polysyllabic Albanian, upon which he grew enraged and shouted, "Gif Me Money!" upon which I elected to withdraw to the other side of the street.

Unfortunately, just as I was about to disengage myself from this charming vignette, Beppo the Dwarf (remember that episode of "Frasier?") lunged between Nezrit and Bujar and seized the lapels of my jet-black Nino Cerutti blazer.

"Gif Me Money," he screamed.

"I say, old man," I sputtered out, in my best Braxton-Migglesworth Eton/Oxford affected accent, "unhand me at once!"

Bujar and Nezrit proceeded to apply a flurry of K.L.A. love-slaps, at which point Beppo significantly upped the ante by yanking me forward, and hissing,

"Gif Me Money, Or I KILL You."

Hmmmm, thinks I to myself. Time to void the old sphincter? No, I decided, that just wouldn't be cricket!

Besides, it's 11:00 am. in the morning, a crowd is now starting to pay attention, and Bujar and Nezrit are sufficiently mobilized, what could go wrong. . . and that's when my tie fell through my jacket and straight into Beppo's malevolent oven-mitts.

Quick as a wink, the little fucker latched on like a moray eel, and proceeded to lift both feet off the ground like I was the Great Bell of Notre Dame and he was some nasty little Romanian Quasimodo. Of course, I was wearing a pretty nice tie, of Italian silk or something like that, and at that moment I realized why ties like that are so popular for bondage: they're damned strong. Beppo 's mouth was now next to my ear, I was almost doubled over, my tie (as ties will do, if tied appropriately) was cinching it's way up to my larynx, and Beppo was hissing, over and over again,

"Gif me Money or I will KILL you."

NOW I was really thinking about soiling myself, but at that moment Beppo made a fatal mistake, which was he re-positioned his left hand on my tie ever so slightly, giving Nezrit, who was obviously an accomplished street-grappler, the opening to apply the long-cherished LAPD combination wristlock/chokehold on the Beppster.

We proceeded to pummel our way free of Beppo, who loped off to sulk his way into some alley, and we retreated post-haste to the safety of Nezrit's car.

I sat in the back, and fought to loosen my tie.

And that's when it hit me: I had been dwarf-strangled, in Kosovo.

How many people can add that to their resume ?

Ciao all!

thor


THOR SONGS

From Michelle Gaston: We all know how much fun Thor liked to poke at the places he was and the people he knew, and many times this came in the form of a song. I came across a folder of lyrics to "Thor's Songs" yesterday when going through looking for photos and such. I still remember sitting in Pjata in Prishtina with Sonja and Thor drinking vodka and mineral water and hammering out the lyrics of "Tove the Tall Norwegian" (to be sung to the tune of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer) for Tove's going away party. We laughed till we cried. So many good memories, I'm still having a hard time accepting that this is real. My heartfelt condolences to his family. We loved Thor very much.

Deck the Halls - with the Norwegian National Anthem
( Thor's note: don't stress, I will teach you how to pronounce the first sentence )

Ja, vi elsker dettet landet
tra la la la la, la la la la

we love herring, we love flounder
tra la la la la, la la la la

We're Norwegians, we love seafood,
tra la la la la, la la la la

Give us some and then we'll be good !!!
tra la la la la, la la la la

Old Prishtina
( sung to the tune of Beethoven's Ode to Joy )

We live here in Old Prishtina,
in the heart of Kosovo,
If you ask, will we leave shortly?
we just smile and answer, "Jo -"

Donor funding keeps us happy,
as we speed down south to Greece,
We hit Benchmarks every Quarter,
As the KFOR keeps the peace,

At the Kukri, we swill Guinness,
Thai massage keeps our hearts pure,
EU audits sure are painful,
but, by stalling, we endure,

All the locals long for status,
"sure," we smile every day,
But our Euros, add up fast here,
so we plan to stay, and stay. . .

Tove the Tall Norwegian
(to be sung to the tune of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer)

You know Groggy and Squeaky and Trixie and Grumpy,
Horny and Gropey and Kinky and Sven,
But do you recall, the most famous Ulti Player of allllllll…..

Tove the Tall Norwegian
Had a Pair of Shiny Boots (DOMINATRIX!!)

And when you Saw her Blond Hair
You would Say she Died her Roots (LIKE MY GRANDMA!!)

All of the Ulti Players
They were jealous of Her Mane (LIKE A LION - GRRR)

They all liked her Hair Lashing
But they couldn't Take the Pain (OUCH!!)

Then one Groggy Bansko Trip
Santa Came to Say...

Tove with your Hair So Long,
Won't you Whip my Elves Along (OH MY?!)

Then all the Ulti Players
Downed a Jaeger Shot or 3 (SKOLL!!)

Tove the Tall Norwegian
You'll Always be our Fantasy!!

Howard: This was written by Thor for Tom, Betty's husband. We can only recall 2 verses!

The Ballad of the JAG Lawyers
(sung to the tune of The Ballad of The Green Beret) Flying lawyers, from the sky

Fighting men, who litigate or die.
Nine hundred men, took the bar with me.
Only one can make - the J - A - G.

Put a briefcase in my son's hands
Make him part of the litigating band...
Nine hundred men, took the bar with me.
Only one can make - the J - A - G.


Thor's Letter to Niece & Nephew: Bed of Fear; Gym of 'D'ooh!!!'

Dear David and Olivia:

At your age - really, at anyone's age - the best thing in the world is to collect more proof that grown-ups - preferably your relatives - are functional morons, at least compared to your own brilliant selves.

With that ruthless thought in mind, I hoped you would both enjoy the following two graphic illustrations that you may both - alas - someday be stricken with the dreaded "D'ooh!!!' disorder which plagues Hesla men.

"Gym of 'D'ooh!!!"

I belong to a very nice gym here in Kabul. It is part of a very fancy hotel called the Hotel Serena. It has several nice features, including a beautiful swimming pool and a nice sauna.

The first time I went there, I went swimming. When I got out of the pool, I went to the sauna, and then I took a shower. I took my swimming trunks off in the shower. Then I dried myself off, walked to my locker, dressed, and went home.

Note that I did NOT mention anything about "taking my swimming trunks out of the shower and putting them in my gym bag," because I didn't. I left them hanging in the shower. I figured this out when I got home. And I said to myself, "D'ooh!"

The next time I went, I asked if anyone had found them. No one had.

The time after that, I asked again, and to my great pleasure, the adorable Philippine woman who runs the gym immediately went around the corner, and brought them out, nicely folded.

I was so HAPPY ! I had my bathing suit back.

So I went into the locker room, put on my gym clothes, and worked out. Then I changed out of my gym clothes, and put on my bathing suit. I was so HAPPY!

I went to the pool, and I swam my laps. I went to the sauna. I took off my bathing suit to dry it in the sauna. I wrung it out. I was so HAPPY ! I had my bathing suit back.

I wrapped it up in a towel, to dry it more.

I left the sauna. I went to take a shower. After the shower, I got a nice dry towel.

I threw my old towel into a basket to be washed.

Do you notice anything ?

Did you notice that I never wrote, "I took my bathing suit out of the towel I had wrapped it up in…."

Because I did not.

On the same day I got my swimsuit back from the lost-and-found, I threw it into the laundry basket.

I went back to my locker. I got changed.

I realized I had thrown my swimsuit into the laundry basket, wrapped in the towel.

I went back to the laundry basket.

It had been emptied.

I found a gym guy. We went to the laundry room.

We did not find it in the laundry room.

Goodbye, bathing suit.

Lost, Gollum. Lost.

"Gym of D'ooh!!!!" Now all the gym staff smiles nicely at me all the time. They think I am retarded.

* * * * *

Bed of Fear

When I first arrived in Kabul, I was very tired, because of jet lag. I lay down on my bed. It was really hard. But it was okay.

I slept and slept.

After a few days, I was pretty sore from the bed.

It hurt!

One day at breakfast, someone said, "You know, my bed doesn't have a mattress. It's just a box spring."

I laughed and laughed. They were so stupid!

Then, I went to my room. I looked at my bed. No mattress. I had been sleeping on a box

 

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