adrian is rad



Filed under: — adrian @ 2:57 pm

Sitting on the bench, you’re waiting you turn. Your leg bounces up and down. You’re anxious, but that’s probably normal.

It’s nearly time. The instructor comes and helps fit your harness. The straps dig into your legs. But that’s probably also normal.

You walk out to the runway along the bumpy tar taxiway. The plane’s tiny. Single propeller with one seat inside, for the pilot. Everyone else gets inside, sitting on the floor. Two tandem pairs, including you and your instructor, plus a camera man. He’s there for the other person; you’re not paying for that shit. The plane lurches down the runway. It’s not going nearly fast enough to take off, you think, but it does, with a few meters to spare.

Ten minutes later, you’re still making wide spirals slowly upward. Now you’re nervous. The roll door is right there; the ground is way down there. You see Table Mountain and Robben Island. In the other direction, the coast stretches out; Langebaan and Paternosta are not far. It’s beautiful, today and always, you imagine. Breathtaking.

Five minutes left: you get briefed again on the procedure. Two minutes left and you’re clipped in. Sudden the door’s open. The camera man’s out. The first tandem is out. Your tandem slides to the door. The wind is so strong on your legs; your whole body is at an angle. Legs back, hands on harness, head back. And, remember, relax and smile, he said. You are calm now.

And then. And then. It’s nothing. But it’s not nothing. The air past your ears is loud. The ground shakes and climbs up toward you, ever more rapidly. And there’s the feeling in your chest, like your heart is huge, could pump a hundred times more blood if necessary. Maybe a thousand.

You turn around like a lazy susan. Your vision shakes. Trying to concentrate so you can see Table Mountain, the bay, the coast. You move your arms around to feel how the air hits them differently. You yell but the wind is the only one to hear it today.

The jerk upward and you’re vertical once more. (The straps cut into your legs quite hard now.) It’s so slow; it’s so quiet; it’s so still. You know how they’d describe it here: gently gently. Gently gently, you descend. Things become larger but you can hardly think. The landing is smooth. Your legs are unsteady as you stand.

But what are your legs supporting anyway? Just your stomach, chest and arms. Your head’s still in that bright blue sky.


falling leaves

Filed under: — adrian @ 12:56 pm

I have a problem. Well, technically it’s my plants’ problems. They’re dying. Dropping leaves rapidly; they’re dying.

How am I going to care for children if I can’t care for plants? Am I going to call my family friend who knows about such things and ask her, “Diana, my children are dropping leaves rapidly! What do I do?” And will she say “Maybe you’re overwatering them.” And will l say, “But aren’t these the ones you said could take as much water as I could give them?” And what if she says “That’s true. Maybe you need to give them more water. Or maybe they need more sunlight, but not too much. Are you feeding them?”

“You have to feed children?!”


best of journalism 2009

Filed under: — adrian @ 2:24 pm

I’ve been really enjoying going through and reading a number of the pieces on this list of best of journalism 2009. Possibly my favorite is the Michael Lewis piece on the financial collapse of Iceland.



Filed under: — adrian @ 1:39 pm

My pony is trotting off into a field of bulls. He is not supposed to. He is supposed to be going down the steep hill. Vincent is yelling instructions.

His name is Power; I like to think of him as POWER. We’ve been walking along a flat dirt path now for a few miles. It’s been easy; surprisingly easy if you consider this is the first time I can remember riding a horse. I’m starting to think I’m good at this. Perhaps I’m preternaturally gifted at riding horses.

But I’m not. It’s just been easy. Vincent, our Besotho guide, arrives at the top of a steep hill, with a path covered with smooth, round rocks, and starts heading down without a hitch. POWER does not head down as easily. “Pull hard to the right! Hiy! Hiy!” I do what Vincent says. After walking through the bulls we’re back at the top of the hill. This time POWER starts the descent.

It’s very steep and POWER loses his footing on the loose rocks but finds it again quickly; this happens many times. I’m jarred. I’m jarred again. My heart’s racing and my knuckles are white on the reins. I’m starting to think we’ve made a big mistake. Is it too late to turn back?

We don’t turn back. My momentarily terror lessens to the point where even the steep parts seem quite normal. It’s beautiful out here. The roof of Africa, they call it; the lush green mountains with red dirt strips are gorgeous. It’s very sparse out here, very rural.

I think a lot about my gradfather’s journey through these parts seventy four years before. I can’t imagine him doing this alone, with even fewer resources and even less development. He must have been an strong man.

I don’t remember much of him; he died while I was still young and half a world away. He helped me make a tiny table and chair out of wood once with the kid’s tool set that I’d just gotten. He must have been patient as well as strong.

POWER’s stumbles-and-refooting become common place. I wonder if Grandpa’s horse stumbled, too.


story week redux

Filed under: — adrian @ 2:32 am

Well, that was fun. I’m not quite sure why I decided to do it but I think it turned out alright. I didn’t have any of the stories planned before the day I wrote them and I enjoyed having the pressure to write something.

It sort of makes me want to do a 365 days of stories project. I’m not sure I have that many stories.


story week, part 7/ final

Filed under: — adrian @ 6:17 am

I’m going to tell you a story every day for the week.

I lived in a crazy communal house in college. On any given day, you might find people programming a laser-light show in one of the rooms (via the internet), disassembling a ’70s motorcycle, debating whether one can be truly selfless, building custom made Nixie clocks—”Don’t touch the back. It has enough voltage to kill someone”—or making plaster molds and subsequently casting wax copies of their genitalia.

The house was in the Back Bay, in one of those coveted brownstones and had been the home to MIT kids since the ’50s, which grandfathered in some lovely things like an open center stairwell. This feature lead to drops. A drop must be loudly announced with the name of what you were dropping; one would yell “laundry drop!” and drop his bag of laundry down four floors. It was a lot more than carrying it down.

While laundry was the most common drop, pennies, large rubber balls, bouncers (our name for Rubbermade polycarbonate mugs that did indeed bounce when dropped), printers and any number of other things were dropped.

The center stairwell was also a brilliant communication method. “Andy! Someone’s at the door for you!” for instance. One day I left my room on the fourth floor with the purpose of throwing away cottage cheese that for some reason came with chunks of pineapple in it and tasted simply wretched. Jesse was at the bottom of the stairs yelling: “Ian! Phone for you! Iaaaan!! Phooooone for youuuu!” Ian lived on the fifth floor which, was built after the rest of the house and was cut off from the main stairwell. Ian was not going to hear Jesse.

I saw my chance. “Jesse, I’ll get Ian if you try to catch my cottage cheese drop.” I’d save him walking up four flights of stairs, so it seemed fair. There was a slight pause. “Okay.” “You realize if you don’t catch it right, it’ll explode all over you.” “Yeah.” I wondered if the person on the phone was hearing all of this.

With gusto previously unparalleled in a drop announcement, I yelled, “Cottage cheese drop!” and let it go. The container accelerated down four stories at a rate that could be approximated as 9.8m/s^2 if you ignored the effects of drag. In retrospect, Jesse never had a chance. Jerry Rice couldn’t have made this catch. There was an explosion and cottage cheese was everywhere.

I ran up to the fifth floor. I’m not sure Ian could even understand what I was saying through my laughter or, if he did, I’m sure he had no idea what was so funny about there being a phone call for him.

[Epilogue: Yes, I helped clean up the cottage cheese.]


story week, part 6

Filed under: — adrian @ 11:33 am

I’m going to tell you a story every day for the week.

JW is a solid dude. He’s the sort of guy who, if you asked him to take time off work to show around a Malawian guy you barely know around New York, would probably say yes. He’s also the sort of guy who could be the first person to inform me of my receding hairline and I wouldn’t take it as an insult or an effort to embarrass me; he would simply be informing me of a fact.

JW is also the sort of guy that might have traveled to Bermuda on the spur of the moment a few years back and returned with some Bermudan black rum. And though I was of legal age, I may have never have been even remotely tipsy.

And so it may have happened that we may have mixed that rum with ginger beer to make dark and stormies. And I may have gotten drunk for the first time as we sat in the hallway outside JW’s room and laughed and chatted, stumbling down the hall to the bathroom at necessary intervals and marveling at slushy feeling I was getting in my head.



story week, part 5

Filed under: — adrian @ 12:29 pm

I’m going to tell you a story every day for the week.

Early childhood is a bit like a dream. You know things happen but why or how or when are not always clear.

I don’t remember why my dad was at school with me. It might have been evening; it may not. It was at Chadds Ford so I was probably 6 or 7.

But dad was at school with me and we were watching a video on safety along with a number of other people. I don’t know why we were watching a video on safety. A policeman may have been presenting it.

The video was extolling the virtues of wearing a seat belt. “Most accidents happen near the home because people don’t think they need to wear their seat belt on short trips around their home.”

Dad leaned over: “That’s doesn’t make sense. Not wearing a seat belt has no connection to whether an accident happens or not. Do you see that?”

I thought. I furrowed my brow and squinted. “Yeah.”

And thus I was introduced to logic. That’s what I remember.


story week, part 4

Filed under: — adrian @ 10:33 am

I’m going to tell you a story every day for the week.

Near the end of my time living in Taiwan, I decided to go to Kinmen (formerly transliterated as Quemoy), a Republic of China (Taiwan) island 2km off of mainland China for a weekend. It’s a fascinating place that’s had a lot go on in the last century: isolationist Fujianese culture followed by briefly adopting British-Asian colonial styles and then sustaining shelling by both the Japanese and Maoist Chinese.

It leads to some shocking scenes: traditional Fujianese villages with miles of bomb shelter tunnels underneath. Or sorghum fields, waiting to be harvested for traditional brews, with rusty anti-parachute spikes every 10m. Such images are endless.

The English proficiency was very low and I had mastered only a few dozen words and phrases of Chinese including such useful phrases as “This is a pair of chopsticks” and “This is my business card” so communication, or lack thereof, was a major issue. I didn’t hear any English on my flight. I was picked up at the airport by someone that couldn’t speak English; I was taken to a scooter shop where I rented a scooter from people who didn’t speak English. Only when I got to the guest house did I hear any English and then it was quite broken.

I was in over my head. I was an island.

At one point I tried going to the local-style noodle shop. Well, I succeeded at getting there. And I succeeded at standing awkwardly in the entrance for a while. I even succeeded at pointing at a bowl of noodles with pork and indicating I wanted that dish.

When the proprietor said something as she carried a bowl past me, I thought she meant it was mine so I followed her to the table where a young man and an older woman were already sitting–it’s not entirely unusual to sit with people you don’t know–and started to sit down. Then the young man’s friend returned to the table and sat in that chair and started eating the dish I thought was meant for me.

Seeing my confusion, the young man got up and grabbed me a chair. “Xie xie” (Thank you). A dish of various meats and tofu arrived. “We,” he said motioning in a circle, “together.” “Oh. Xie xie” and I tried a few pieces. My noodles arrived and I started eating them. (They were delicious, incidentally). He pushed some sauce toward me. “Spicy.”

Finished with their meals, the young man and his friend got up and paid the proprietor, who gave me a funny look. He came back over to the table. “You no pay.” The spicy sauce must have started to get to me because my eyes welled up a bit. “Xie xie.”

No man is an island, it turns out.


story week, part 3

Filed under: — adrian @ 1:02 pm

I’m going to tell you a story every day for the week.

How I came to talking to the agitated man on the other end of the phone at 2am starts three years earlier in a fourth floor rock club in Pittsburgh that–no joke–had a chain-link fence around the bar.

That bar was Club Laga where Andy’s dad had dropped us to go see Bonnie Prince Billy. I hadn’t heard of the band or the frontman Will Oldham, besides Andy’s warbly voiced impersonation of his song “I am a Cinematographer”, which he mostly used to poke fun at my own uncertain singing. But I watched the band, backlit with moody blue light, and enjoyed the show.

“That one song was really good”. Andy knew what I meant. “It’s ‘I See a Darkness’ and Johnny Cash recorded a cover of it.”

Three years later and I, like many other indie rockers–oh fine, I’ll say it, hipsters–had ‘discovered’ Johnny Cash, so when American IV came out, I was playing it on my new radio show.

I played “Personal Jesus”; the phone rang. The caller seemed agitated, almost irate. “Why are you playing Johnny Cash?!”

I wanted to defend my selection but suddenly I wasn’t sure. “Um, I dunno, because I like it,” I mumbled. “Because he’s good I guess?”

“Damn right he’s good! He’s fucking great!”


story week, part 2

Filed under: — adrian @ 11:12 am

I’m going to tell you a story every day for the week.

I was in the men’s room on the second floor building 14N, the music floor of the arts building, and I was crying. You might imagine the day I learned how to cry again would have been filled with all-out bawling or hours of tears. Or that fourteen dry-eyed years would come to an end because some catastrophic event. You might be wrong.

I don’t remember when I stopped crying, but as a youngster I cried easily. I’m not sure why; I don’t think I was particularly insecure or sad. In fact, I remember being happy and care-free, but something minor would happen and my eyes would well up and I’m be sniffling and wiping my nose on my sleeve like kids are wont to do.

I don’t remember when I realized I’d forgotten how to cry. I thought I just didn’t have a reason to cry, perhaps. I do remember wanting to cry, curled up in a ball on my floor after my first girlfriend broke up with me and waiting for the tears to come. I waited for hours. They didn’t come.

But I do remember when I learned how to cry again. It was February. It was bitterly cold in Boston. I was halfway through my freshman year and to say things weren’t going my way is an understatement. Going from being a top student at a regular Joe high school to MIT could be the archetype of going from being a big fish in a small pond to a small fish in a big pond.

And so my sense of identity started to erode. The Adrian Bischoff of my mind was a good student, the best student; I was doing okay in my classes. He was a good Christian; I spent my days doubting and questioning. He was a good friend; I had no grasp of how to help my friends cope with a recent suicide of a person close to many of them.

And he was a good musician, which brings us to the second floor of 14N. There was a spot open in the orchestra for fourth trumpet on the Mahler and I wanted it. The Italian director had me audition in his office and, though it didn’t go horribly, he picked apart my intonation and my phrasing. When he was finished, I speed walked to the bathroom and as I walked through the door, I put my forehead against the cold window and my shoulders shuddered and my eyes wet my cheeks.


story week, part 1

Filed under: — adrian @ 12:09 pm

I’m going to tell you a story every day for the week.

During the summer of 2002, I had an internship in Stuttgart with Behr GmbH. It was part of the MIT-Germany program. My time there had many classic fish-out-of-water times; this is not one of those.

I stayed in a hotel for the summer, in an Apartment Zimmer. Basically it was a normal, non-suite hotel room except when you opened one of the cupboards there was a tiny kitchen inside. Kitchens in third world rondavels are more equipped than this. Needless to say it didn’t have laundry facilities and the hotel’s were far too expensive for a student budget.

One Friday I rushed off to a laundromat (ein Wäscherei) to get some laundry in while I had the use of the Opel Astra from work for the weekend. I didn’t have much time, though, another person from the program was arriving by train at 7:30 for a weekend adventure, and you know those German trains are on time.

I walked in. “I möchte meine Kleidung waschen.” Ja ja said the old German couple who ran the place. I sat and waited for my clothes to be washed. As the wash cycle continued I got more and more agitated; it was getting closer and closer to 7:30pm and I didn’t want to be late. I announced that I didn’t need them to be dried after all, I’d take them wet. I paid and as soon as they finished in the washer, I gathered the still wet clothes and practically ran out to my car.

From behind me I heard “Hallo! Hallo!” (Hello! Excuse me!) It was the old man who ran the place. He was run-waddling down the street waving a pair of my wet briefs wildly in the air. Red-faced I thanked him and rushed off.

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