Cuba, Pork, and Hurricanes: While We’re Waiting…


Good [insert time of day to make scripted greeting seem personal], WFNYers. It’s only Thursday in one of those “feels like” Day 9 of the work week weeks, with college football and the Labor Day weekend so tantalizingly near. But I suppose that’s better than Monday, Tuesday, or that most despicable of days: Wednesday. The Cleveland Indians are on a rampage with a cheat-code pitching staff, the Cavaliers saga drags turgidly onward minus one Kyrie Irving, and the Browns will be completely without Joe Haden for the first time since 2010, which is painful given that he was one of basically two players (the other being Joe Thomas) for whom I could muster something resembling affection since 1999.1 We’re on the cusp of the fall sports season heating up, but while we’re waiting…

As usual, I had no idea what I was going to write in this space all week. But then, like any word-person worth his weight in bullshit, a theme suddenly emerged like a majestic heron from a lake mist. Provoking the theme were the following items I consumed throughout the week.

  • Antonio Garcia Martinez — author of Chaos Monkeys, an expose of life inside the tech startup bubble —2 wrote an article for WIRED‘s August issue called “Viva El Internet: Inside Cuba’s D.I.Y. Internet Revolution.” Cuba is a time capsule still under strict Communist-ish state control — there is no access to the internet at large for nearly the entire population. The Wi-Fi is awful and what it does connect to is a meager sham-internet that is not one with the broader universe outside of the island nation within floating distance of Miami. But around this crippled dwarf internet, a cottage industry of hacks and workarounds has sprung up to — in a weird way — bring more of the internet to Cuba. These workarounds include terabytes of data being hand-delivered like drugs in external hard drives every week via what’s called el paquete semanal (“the weekly package”), and a patchwork of Ethernet cables and wireless access points to create a high-speed intranet for the island with ripoff versions of Facebook and Instagram. The most fascinating outcome? Inside this inadvertent experiment in a closed universe on an island largely isolated from the rest of the world, the people in Cyber-Cuba act just like people in Cyber-Rest of the World, complete with cyberbullying and schlocky advertising. Cubans watch House of Cards and reference Omar Little. Summarily, “if you connect twitchy, narcissistic, boredom-prone humans via digital media, no matter how makeshift the plumbing, they behave in exactly the same way.”
  • In the third episode of season 2 of Aziz Ansari’s Netflix series Master of None, 3 Dev (Ansari’s character) has to pretend to be a devout Muslim to please his parents and put on a show for visiting relatives who are less lax in their religious practice. Dev drinks alcohol and — most deplorably — eats pork in violation of Muslim tradition. Dev also exposes his younger and curious cousin to some of his more liberal tendencies, much to the chagrin of his parents — who are also a little less rigid in their beliefs than they’d like to admit.
  • All the stories emerging from Texas and elsewhere to support those stranded and suffering in the wake of Hurricane Harvey have warmed my heart a little — like a cup of hot cocoa for the spirit. On Monday, WFNY’s Michael Bode did a great job describing the situation and response in the Houston area to the hurricane and the flooding it caused. Even though tragedies occur all over the world every day both big (the refugee crisis caused by war in Syria) and small (I ran out of English muffins), tragedies both big and new like Harvey only renew my persistent survivor’s remorse. But the reactions, the donations, and the videos of people rescuing dogs and dogs rescuing people and people rescuing people — have made it all a little easier to bear and significantly less depressing.

How are these items related, and how do sports fit into it? Well, here’s one more item to tie it together.

Thursday night is effectively the start of college football season, when Ohio State plays Indiana to start the Labor Day weekend. I love college football deeply, at least as much as the microwave oven. Because I’m old enough to no longer have any firm grasp on time I haven’t had a spare moment to become excited for college football until this week — and now I’m giddy to go to the local Ohio State bar and watch the game, make some friends, and cope with one of the 5-to-10 days of the year I’m legitimately homesick. Within a two-mile radius of where I live in San Diego, nearly every university in the Big Ten has a designated gathering place for football game days, some of which I may even dare to visit when Ohio State isn’t playing. (Although I confess I don’t know if all of them have a local base. Sorry, Purdue.) Many other cities have similar transplant communities, and that’s incredibly cool. When we have homes in other galaxies, I’ll be excited to see other carbon-based organisms and football fans and Ohio State fans, if I can find them.

The point is that the more I look at different types of people —Cubans, Muslims, Texans, or even [vomits on keyboard] Penn State fans — the more I realize people are much more alike then they are different. Cubans discover the same innovation, entrepreneurial spirit, and online jackassery that the rest of the world found via the internet. Muslim kids struggle with their identities in religions foisted upon them by their parents just like many other Americans. When my sister drags me to church I keep my distance from my family for fear that I’m putting them all at risk when I burst into flames as God finally takes his well-deserved vengeance. Even the most obedient among us can appreciate the deliciousness of a barbecued pulled pork sandwich or the language-enhancing potential of the F-word, no? People of all types have responded in a variety of beautiful ways to lend a dollar or a hand in Texas. And people near and far from home seek a reprieve from real life by gathering and watching their teams in order to feel a part of something — some of us just wear different colors. These moments from this week reminded me of that.

Your Calvin and Hobbes strip of the day. I’m going to guess Calvin would not have adjusted well to a life of corporate servitude. 

And now for the random 90s song of the day. For Thursday’s R90sSotD, we have one of my favorite songs from the Foo Fighters’ best album, 1997’s The Colour and the Shape. “My Poor Brain” is almost a pre-grunge punk throwback. The video below shows the band performing “My Poor Brain” in Sydney, Australia, in 2000. While I admittedly don’t listen to all of their recent work, one has to respect the Fighters’ longevity. The band’s new album is set to release in September, but alas it is ineligible because it is not from the 90s. As a bonus, here’s the Foo Fighters cover of Gerry Rafferty’s “Baker Street” from the The Colour and the Shape reissue.

Sometimes I wish that I could change
I can’t save you from my poor brain

  1. Scott Sargent’s tribute to Joe Haden on Wednesday was most nice. Haden was also responsible for my favorite headline I’ve authored at WFNY: when Haden asked a girl to the prom for a high school student. Look at that lede! Don’t ever suggest we don’t care about our readers at WFNY. []
  2. I have not read Chaos Monkeys yet, but it’s been on my to-read list for some time. I’ll move it up now, as I really enjoyed Martinez’s Wired article. []
  3. Yes, I know the second season of Master of None was available for streaming months ago. I’m a little behind on my TV diet. I’m also three seasons behind Game of Thrones and am excited to see what happens to the Cleveland Indians in the 2016 playoffs. Sorry. []