Monday, February 20, 2012

Christopher McCandless Was a Total Moron

So today I was going to do a Top Five Least Badass guys ever post in contrast to my Badass post the other day. I thought of the people I’d include this morning and Christopher McCandless, along with Lars Ulrich, and Abby Hoffman were on my mind.  I changed that; however, when I watched Sean Penn’s 2007 docudrama Into the Wild today for “research.” (I guess I should be studying but it’s President’s Day so I’m chillaxing). 

After watching the movie and getting rather infuriated by McCandless’s stupidity I decided to only write a Top Number One Stupidest Least Badass person ever post and that person is Christopher McCandless.

I first learned about the sad McCandless tale long before Sean Penn made a movie about him.  When I was about 8 or so, there was a dateline or 20/20 documentary about him and I watched it.  For those of you who have not heard of McCandless’s plight, he was a spoiled kid who had everything handed to him, like most of those types, he got dissatisfied with his reality and went off to live an idealistic lifestyle without anything modern.  That’s all fine and good, but it brought about his demise in a rather tragic manner.

 He graduated from Emory and had grades good enough to go to Harvard Law.  His parents offered to buy him a new car as a reward and he yelled at them and belittled them for it.  After that, homie had dreams of going to Alaska and living in the wilderness. Instead of using his sizeable bank account to fund it, he donated all $25,000 in cash to charity.  When I first watched the 20/20 episode, I couldn’t fathom anyone having $25000 in cash and especially not that kind of money to give away.  It was the early ‘90s after all.  Then he took on a bunch of odd jobs to make the money to go to Alaska with a goal of doing absolutely nothing to contribute to society.

When he got to Alaska, he moved into a bus on the formidable Stampede Trail. He thought he was going off and doing some cool badass shit. Going against society, man. Doing what I want, fool. But he didn’t really.  That Alaskan wilderness made him its bitch. It chewed him up and spit him out for a snack. Then it killed him. He died of starvation, never making it out of the bus alive. Why? Because he was a goddamned moron.

My problem with McCandless is two-fold and goes past my dislike of him for his stupidity.  First, lots of people go out into the wilderness to follow their bliss.  It’s whatever piques your own interest, I suppose. But McCandless did it in the lamest most pitiable way ever.  Most who decide to live in seclusion in the wilderness are seasoned outdoorsmen equipped with enviable survival skills.  McCandless was 22 years old and had no skills for living in the wilderness.  Hell, even I like to go into the wilderness sometimes, but when I do I take the proper precautions and take enough provisions.  I also don’t go BY MYSELF to remote and treacherous portions of Alaska. 

Secondly, most people who live in Alaska are either 1) Eskimos who have unique genetic qualities allowing them to survive in Alaska’s harsh conditions; or 2) people who live in cities, relying on infrastructure for survival. (Interesting sidebar: My biological mom lives in Anchorage...even though she's from Phu Ket, Thailand). People weren’t meant to live in a cold bus in Alaska to make a statement.  After he lived on a bus for a while and had terrible luck hunting or fishing for food, he died of starvation weighing only 67 lbs. 67 LBS!!! Although, word on the hiking trail is that he shot himself with his hunting rifle.

The sad thing is, some people idolize him.  There have even been admirers who have perished while attempting to make a pilgrimage to his Death Bus. At the same time, he probably just had an undiagnosed mental disorder.  Had he gotten the proper treatment, he may still be alive today and not fodder for jokes.

So even though he didn’t manage to win at life or at absconding from society and doing what he wanted, he wins a whole blog post about his anti-badassery. So here's to you Mr. McCandless, you’re the Number One Least Badass Dude Ever.

McCandless in Alaska. Before he starved to death.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Top Five Most Badass Guys Ever

I like badasses. People who don’t give a f*^k and do cool stuff without pretense or expectation.  They don’t follow a formula, they usually just go with their gut and do whatever their situation requires. That’s what a badass is. I’m not putting actors on this list, like Steve McQueen, because I don’t think they’re real badasses. They just pretend to be.  The following five people are ones who I think were actually the most badass ever.

5) Charles Lindbergh.  I learned about how badass he was from Pawn Stars.  Before watching Pawn Stars, I thought Charles Lindbergh was just a run of the mill pilot who flew his little plane across the ocean. However, Rick Harrison on Pawn Stars said that he was only able to do what many others had tried before…but they died in the process. He was the Pilot who Lived. Charles Lindbergh said, “I don’t give a f*^k, I’m gonna fly that plane!” Even though he named his plane the “spirit of St. Louis” which sounds kind of lame, I guess he was pretty cool. Cheers to Mr. Lindbergh.

Yeah, I am pretty cool.

4) Giles Corey. So the puritans (or whoever it was who killed witches back in the day in Salem) decided to crush Giles Corey until he confessed to being a witch.  This was because they could only confiscate his sizeable property from his family if he confessed.  They put a lot of rocks on top of him and every time they told him to confess, he just looked at them and said, “more weight.”  F*&k you, witch hunters!

More f*&king weight.

3) Leonidas.  The movie 300 pretty much summed up this one.  He was one of the most badass guys around.  The Persians were coming and tried to take over Sparta.  Leonidas only had 300 men because the Powers that Be in Athens didn’t want to help him and his Spartan homies out.  Luckily, there were no whiny little bitches in Sparta.  Leonidas took his three hundred best guys to the straights of Thermopolyae and fought the Persians off with his bear hands.  Arguably, this was influential in preventing the Persian takeover of the western world.  Only Spartan women had Spartan men, though!

Get those prissy hands off me, bitch.

2) Edward Teach a.k.a Blackbeard the Pirate. I’ve been a fan of Mr. Teach since my grandparents took me to the Outer Banks when I was a child.  It was there where I bought a book about Blackbeard and I read every word of the pirate tome, fascinated by Blackbeard’s exploits. This guy just didn’t give a damn about anything except money, fornicating, and inciting fear in everyone else.  He formed pirate gangs, blockaded whatever port he wanted to, and killed and took with abandon. He put dynamite in his beard to scare people, for crying out loud.  Blackbeard was the kind of badass the rest of us can only dream about. Let’s pour some out for Edward Teach.

I do what I want.

1) Tich Quang Duc. Buddhists were being terribly persecuted by the Roman Catholic governent and no-one was doing anything about it. No one seemed to care about the atrocities enacted against the Buddhists until Tich Quang Duc lit himself on fire in protest at the intersection of Phan Đình Phùng Boulevard and Lê Văn Duyt Street in Saigon.  His story is so incredible to me that he has to be the most badass dude ever. Tich was a Buddhist monk who had so much control over his mind and body that he burned himself to death without moving a muscle in protest of the persecution his religion faced.  After the act, worldwide attention was turned to the situation in South Vietnam and the Roman Catholic government was eventually toppled. Unfortunately a lot of Tibetans are self-immolating too in protest of the Chinese government’s treatment of their country.  This is not getting a lot of media attention. We should all be grateful that we live in a society where this type of action is not needed to bring about the changes we seek. Hat’s off to Tich Quang Duc.


Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Hermit in the Bunker

Don't let my appearance fool you, I'm pretty much just a hermit in a bunker.

Yesterday my post about air raids made me want to learn more about bunkers and how prevalent they were in the United States during WWII.  Upon further research, I found out an interesting tidbit about a WWII era bunker standing in the salt marshes of Fort Fisher in my home state of North Carolina.  It was the 2nd most frequented tourist attraction in North Carolina for over 17 years --- but not because of the bunker itself, rather the man who lived in it.

He became quite popular and received more than 100,000 recorded visitors in his 17 years there. He was, in some ways, far ahead of Abby Hoffman and Timmy Leary in his radical, yet “common sense” (as he called them) beliefs.  He tuned in, turned on, and dropped out of mainstream culture way before it was cool.

His lifestyle drew attention from all around the world.  After his family died of typhoid fever, then his wife cruelly left him, he simply left society and chose to live alone in the wilderness. People were intrigued by him, so they turned a hermit into a tourist attraction. I think he was like an animal at the zoo, but many think he was a sagacious teacher. The situation sort of reminds me of Forrest Gump where he attracts a large group of followers while he’s running across the country.  The people follow him hoping he’ll lead them to something, but got dismayed when they realized he didn’t even know where he was going. 

Since he had so many guests, I suppose Mr. Harrill wasn’t really a hermit, but more what I’d like to call a “homebody.”  Only he was a homebody with a message. So I guess I’m a lot like him, except I like to think I’m not a total whack job when he clearly was one.

I’m a pretty social person, but I like the stability and security of being in my home. I guess you’d call me a homebody.  Therefore I like to have house parties and have people over instead of going out too much, but I do go out a lot.  In an ideal world, I’d live at home and then get dressed up at night and entertain guests.  This summer I had an amazing apartment on the Upper West Side in Manhattan, and my favorite thing to do was entertain guests at home and on my rooftop.  Of course, the building had lots of rules about how many people could go on the rooftop at one time, so a lot of time was spent avoiding the doormen.  When I am older, I’m going to have a great big house, preferably close to lots of friends, and I’ll just have a party or social gathering every single night.  That would make me such a happy woman.  

I just hope my surroundings are a little more luxurious than a WWII era bunker in the North Carolina marshlands. It’s sad though, because he was probably killed by a group of rednecks or pranksters.  His body was found buried in sand and covered in wounds, but the official coroner’s report says he died of a heart attack.  No one ever investigated as to whether or not it was murder. 

This is a prelude to a series of pieces I’m going to do on other interesting people in North Carolina. Did you know there is an island of really mean inbred people on the coast called “Crusoe Island?” Rumor has it they put outsiders who wander onto their island in a snake pit.

If you're interested here's a film about the Fort Fisher Hermit. It's actually pretty interesting.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Top Five Worst Diseases. Ever.

I hope I never get any of these. Here's why.

When I was a little kid, I had a sadistic little mind.  Therefore I jumped at the opportunity to check out a book at the public library about the five worst pandemics ever to infect mankind.  This did not serve me as well as I would have thought. Since then, I’ve been pretty paranoid about strange infectious diseases and have always thanked my lucky stars I didn’t have this disease or that one.  I’m not talking about the strange things people are born with, but the diseases that we could catch!  Here is a top five list of the diseases I hope I never get (and you should to).  Let’s all be thankful we don’t have them.

Person dressed up like a bird. Probably with a pocket full of posies, too.

5) Whatever caused the Black Death.   Did you know there is currently a lot of research that postulates the black death wasn’t actually caused by the bubonic plague but a different disease. According to some new mathematical modeling techniques, it appears that the bubonic plague, while present in Europe at the time of the black death, was not nearly prevalent enough to have caused it.  However, did you know that in northern Europe there is a subset of the population that is immune to the HIV? It’s because of mutations caused in their genes passed down the generations since the black death!  One thing is for certain though, whether or not it was bubonic plague that caused the black death, I hope I never ever catch what it was.

Yeah, it's not somewhere you want to go.

4) Leprosy. Ever since I read about leprosy  (now called Hansen’s disease) and getting sent off to leper colonies (Hansen’s Disease Communities) I’ve been uber grateful I do not have leprosy.  Watching Kingdom of Heaven didn’t help this phobia either because after seeing King Baldwin of Jerusalem’s face after he died from leprosy scarred me for life.  I still remember having an argument with my cousin when I was about 10 that God didn’t really give people leprosy to punish them because it was spread through the air (I learned this from my book). She maintained that God indeed gave leprosy to people to punish them because it was in the Bible and if I was bad, I'd get it too... She also believed God planted dinosaur fossils to test the true believer. Needless to say, I got my distrust of authority attitude at a young age.  I’ll expand on this one on a later day, though.

Do you see what happens, Larry?

3) Polio.  Some people with polio ended up living in an iron lung.  That would be a very boring life. Possibly worse than living in a bubble or having locked in syndrome.  You’re also always dependent on people and electricity to survive. I try to never be dependent on anyone else, so being in an iron lung wouldn't match my personality. Not in the slightest.  See the case of this poor woman who died when the electricity at her house failed, and the backup generator didn’t work either.  Her family also was too slow to use the hand pump for the iron lung so she died.  Read more here.

This monkey might give you ebola.

2) Ebola.  You basically hemmorhage all of your organs and tissues that are supposed to be solid and in your body out of your orifices.  I hope I never get this.  Interesting tidbit: Some researchers believe the black death may have been caused by a similar disease to Ebola. Read The Hot Zone for a great book about Ebola!


1) Zombie Apocalypse disease.  Let’s all hope we don’t get bitten and catch the Zombie infection when the ZA happens. I'm pretty sure I'd survive, though.  I have a killer ZA survival plan...And we all know it’s going to happen.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Ukelele Song

So I’m back in Charlottesville waiting for school to start.  The town makes me sort of lame at life, so instead of blogging about something interesting yesterday I laid on the couch and watched Downton Abbey on netflix.  It’s my new favorite tv show.   However, today I decided to get up and learn a song on my ukelele.  It’s Elvis’s Can’t Help Falling in Love. Hopefully you like it.  My strumming is not that great, but I’ve only been playing the uke for a day or so.  Enjoy!! 

Friday, January 20, 2012

Achtung, Achtung! These pigs gon' eat you.

The other night while walking back to my friend’s apartment in NYC, we began talking about our study abroad experiences and travelling.  Somehow the conversation made it’s way to my semester in Berlin, and my friends requested I post this today. 

My study abroad semester was really just travelling around Europe and having a grand ole time.  However, when I wasn’t frolicking around and singing songs from the Sound of Music all across Europe, I lived with a nice older German couple in a northwest suburb of Berlin.   My study abroad program placed us each with host families instead of forcing us to live in the student housing at the Humboldt built before Mr. Gorbechav tore down his wall.

My house was very nice and my host family even gave me my own apartment with cable tv (the only English channel was MTV and they only played Viva La Bam and the Girls Next Door).  They also gave me a bicycle! I rode that bike everyday to the train station and back through the nice little suburb.  However, there was one opening to the Brandenburg forest I had to pass each night.  Since I lived so far away and was pretty social with my classmates, I never got home when it was light out. I should also note the bike was much too large for me, so I had to jump on it, pedal to my destination and jump off. I couldn't just stop and start as needed.

So one night happy little Eileene is riding her bike through the northern Berlin suburb, humming about the alps, when a bunch of creatures started emerging from the Brandenburg forest.  One, then two, then before I knew it a huge group of creatures walked out of the forest and into the street in front of me. 

At first I thought they were wolves, but then I noticed there were probably not any wolves as big as these things to be found.  They were as large as a car, brown, snorting, and…started running towards me.  Luckily I’m a fast biker, so I took off in the other direction as fast as I could go, biking an extra two miles around the neighborhood to get to my house. I pretty much threw my bike on the porch and ran into the house, sort of like kids did on Are You Afraid of the Dark when they had  just barely made it home before being snatched up by a monster.

If I believed in mythical creatures, I’d have insisted  they were bigfoot and his kids running around.  But I didn’t, so I burst into my host family’s house blabbering in German about these big monsters that popped out of the forest and chased me home.  I barely made it alive, I was sure of it.  My host dad looked all grave and then got really excited telling me about these “wildschweine” that lived in the area and sometimes came out at night. They were both loved and feared by Germans.

So when retelling this story the other night,  my friends demanded I find out the background behind why the wildschweine evoked such fear.  They believed me about the size and ferocity of them, but not that I should have actually feared for my life.  So I started researching the wildschweine on the train ride back to Charlottesville from New York.  While I didn’t find any smoking gun accounts of wild boars eating children and puppies, I did find some pretty interesting information about them and why they’re so prevalent.

Here’s what I found in a news article written just a year after my program ended: Clemens von Saldern just erected an electric fence on the site of the Berlin Wall. The organic food distributor isn't rebuilding the Iron Curtain -- he's trying to stop wild boar from tearing up his garden.”

Well, according to my host dad, gardens weren’t the only things the wild boar tore up.  Supposedly they’d been known to kill animals and… children. Since I’m not that much larger than most children, I took that to mean they might try to kill me too.  However, there were some super secret Pig Aversion Tactics (PAT) to thwart them. 

My host dad, a former German judge named Klaus, was insistent that I learn a few lessons in protecting myself from the wildschweine should I encounter them again.  Step 1) jump on top of car and make a lot of noise until pig left or until someone (hopefully an adult larger than myself) would hear me and come to my aid.  If there was no car upon which to leap, I should move on to the next step. Step 2) Pull jacket or outerwear up over head, extend arms, and stand on tiptoes making loud noise until pig left.  This was supposed to make me appear larger than the wildschweine and they would be scared of me and run.  This sounded easy enough, and it was!

  The next time the wild boars came out, not only did I jump off my bike and onto a car, I combined step 2 in an advanced PAT and pulled my coat over my head and started hollering at them.  Well, I’m some sort of PAT genius because it worked and they ran the other way.   I never feared the wildschweine again, but I still like to tell the story of me thwarting them like I’m some sort of badass.

Upon further reading today, I learned that the wild boar are so prevalent in Germany because of Nazi Hermann Goerring (Hitler’s number 2 man). He loved the wild boar so much he enacted a hunting edict known as the “Reich Hunting Law” that required hunters to feed wild game enough food to get them through the winter if they intended to hunt and kill them.  That law is still in effect and some hunters feed the wildschweine way too much so unless they’re shot, they pretty much live and breed without hindrance.  Had I known that, I’d have taken up boar hunting as a hobby. My host parents probably would have frowned upon that because they were vegetarians.  They also almost starved me to death with their vegetarian food, but that post is for another day.

Here's a pic of me, and a wildschweine.  I photoshopped it to give you the full effect (you have to click on it and it will get bigger).

Me, scared in Europe (left); wildschweine being ferocious (right).

Thursday, January 19, 2012

I want to ride my bicycle. I want to ride my bike.

Sadly my trip to New York City has come to a close. This also means my daily spinning at Soul Cycle has also ended.  Today I rode with the coolest Soul Cycle instructor ever (and my favorite), Lori A. Her classes are awesome and I highly recommend anyone who wants to have the most fun and intense cycling class ever should sign up for one if you’re in the City.  It’s far more intense and challenging than any other spinning or indoor cycling class in New York.

We dance on the bike, we lift weights, we bike in sync; but most of all the instructors encourage riders to be inspired and we remember that what is weighing heavily on us right now probably will not seem so bad tomorrow.  The following may sound whimsical, but it's true. Each class is filled with positive motivation and encouragement to be the best we can be and give the most we can give on the bike at the moment and forget our worries.  Today, Lori encouraged us to pick something to ride for that wasn’t about ourselves and had nothing to do with us and to give a little more effort on the bike for that cause.  It was good to be reminded that there are more important things in the world than what we feel that is pressuring us at the moment.  That’s why I love Soul Cycle; I always leave feeling awesome. 

Every time I visit New York, I make sure to sign up for indoor cycling there on the Upper West Side.  In the four days spent in the city, I have taken seven Soul Cycle classes…I can’t wait to move to the city for good and go everyday! My friend from college encouraged me to start cycling this summer at Soul Cycle and I’m certainly glad I took her advice because I’m now hooked.  Since I began cycling this summer, my fitness level has improved immensely and so has my energy level. 

Here is a picture of Lori and me after class.  She’s awesome.