Excessive bass is the bane of modern music

bass boost sucks

In much the same way that too much sugar will give you diabetes and too many calories will make you fat, bass-boosted music ends up being a hollow, crappy experience that will make you deaf and piss off your neighbors. And hopefully, it will also bring you lots of fines for noise violations, fines which you will thoroughly deserve.

Manufacturers are sticking more bass into everything with speakers these days. Singers and studios are busy boosting the bass on their songs too — hey, it doesn’t matter if your song is tired and it recycles the same rhythms and loops used by every talented music creator in the past… just stick a few reverse beats in there (they freshen up the whole mess) and turn up the bass! Bass bosted songs are all over the internet, much like pigeon poop is all over rooftops and statues in busy cities. You’ll find tons of these “improved” songs and you’ll also find tons of tutorials on the subject. So in that sense, this article is going against the grain. I’m aware of it. But I’m sure I’m going to be made aware of it repeatedly by some of you.

The problem is made worse by the people listening to these cacophonies. It’s the wrong type of people, isn’t it? It’s the screw-ups, the ones who don’t amount to much in life, the ones with no regard for those around them. The idiot son of the neighbors a couple of houses away, the one who can’t hold down a job and mooches off his parents, he’s got speakers with lots of bass and he plays them loudly. The no-good neighbors who practically live off social aid and whose idea of a good time is grilling pork in the yard, getting drunk and listening to loud music, they’ve got speakers with lots of bass and they love their bass boosted songs. Any dumbass, jackass or just plain ass who buys a car nowadays and drives it with the stereo turned up and the windows down, they’ve got speakers with lots of bass and they’re sure to let you know. They want everyone to know! Heck, they’ll also stick a subwoofer in the trunk, to ensure the whole bodywork rattles with every shitty bass beat.

Even the partially deaf and elderly neighbors who just bought a new TV, they’ve got speakers with lots of bass, even though they didn’t ask for them when they bought their TV.

The problem is two-fold:

  1. Adding anything extra to the music as it was recorded and as it’s meant to be played ruins the music, the inherent goodness of the song (well, if the song is any good at all, anyway). Mind you, I’m not talking about sprinkling a little salt on the soup! Boosting the bass on a song, both in the studio and on a stereo is the equivalent of heaping shovel-fulls of salt onto the soup. Let’s face it, if all a song has going for it is the boosted bass, then it’s a crappy song.
  2. Excessive bass angers everyone around you, no matter how low the volume on your bass-bosted stereo is kept. The bass sounds travel through anything, and that’s all that your neighbors will hear.

A great speaker is supposed to reproduce sound just as it was recorded, with all of its frequencies, not just the low ones that are collectively called “bass”. A good speaker comes fairly close to it. An idiotic speaker made for dimwits will have thumping bass sounds and little else. Even if you listen to an idiotic speaker at low volume, it’ll still transmit the bass sounds through walls, disturbing everyone around you, because all they’ll hear is the thump-thump-thump noise, the beat, without any of the accompanying sounds. Even if the song is great, it’ll still sound like shit as the beats pound the neighbors’ brains, boom-boom-boom, until they get a migraine.

The situation is made worse by the compressed music of today, sold mostly as MP3 and AAC files, which cannot reproduce all of the frequencies of the sounds that were recorded in the studio. It muddles them with the compression algorithm. So the producers rely more heavily than necessary on bass and beats in order to make the songs catchier. I realize this is an oversimplification, but it is true.

I would like excessive bass to be outlawed, just as excessive noise is currently outlawed. I’m not kidding. I realize I’m going completely against the grain here, but this has become a constant nuisance and these people who go on abusing our ears and our laws are everywhere. I’d like you to begin to notice them as you walk through a city and you’ll soon realize there’s a constant cacophony of bass beats that pollutes our lives, whether we’re indoors or outdoors, whether we’re awake or trying to sleep. If it’s not the neighbors playing music or watching a movie, it’s some douche driving down the street with the music turned up in his car; even if he’s got the windows up, the bass beats travel through the body of his car, across the street, through the walls of your house and into your brain. Why do we tolerate this nonsense?

To me, this thing is akin to a deranged hobo who throws poop at people as he wanders the streets. Bass beats may not be made of physical poop, but they’ll stink up your life and leave a mess behind. You may not need to wash them off, but even if you wanted to, you couldn’t. As the years go by, you’ll be able to see those same crappy beats as furrows on your forehead, as white hairs on the temple of your head.

Civilized cities already have very good noise regulations in place but they do not address excessive bass. In Europe, noisy cars aren’t even allowed to enter certain city centers, which I think is a wonderful thing. And yet no one directly addresses the problem of excessive bass. I don’t think the measures to be put in place should be complicated. Let’s not have to measure the decibels or the frequency of the sounds. The measure to be used should be as simple as possible. Is the sound traveling through the wall or the window of the house? Can it be heard on the street, or by the neighbors? Then it’s too loud. In the case of cars, is the sound of their stereos coming through the car’s body? Can it be heard on the street, even if the windows are up? Then it’s too loud.

Let us start to penalize excessive bass with excessive fines. The manufacturers, the studios and the people listening to music will follow suit, unless they enjoy paying hefty, wallet-burning fines.

What is civilization?

My use of the term “civilized countries” in my previous video on men’s personal hygiene sparked some confusion, so I thought I should clarify what I meant. In this video, I offer a basic definition of “civilization” and some examples to help illustrate my point. You can watch it on YouTube or below. 

Not so civilized after all

Someone once said that the mark of a good civilization is set by how they handle their poop. By and large, it’s a good rule of thumb. And yet, in this modern and somewhat sanitary world of ours, it’s so easy to be reminded of how fragile our constructs of civilization and sanitation are — all we need do is look at our bathrooms.

I was working on our toilet yesterday, attaching it to the floor, and I realized that all that stands between me and the neighbors’ poop is some height and a thin water layer that blocks the primitive smells from infesting our living spaces. In light of all we go through to isolate ourselves from other human beings, in our quest for privacy and cleanliness, with fences, walls, soundproofing, thermal insulation, fancy double-paned windows pumped with inert gases and vacuum-sealed, double-bolted doors, curtains, tinting and other things, it’s so ironic to see how close we are when it comes to our more shameful habits. Sure, we can’t hear or see our neighbors — we’ve taken care of that — but we sure can smell their poop, and in some unlucky cases, even see it erupting from our toilets onto our floors.

Staring into the open toilet pipe, not only could I smell the offal of my fellow human beings, but I could know the exact moment when they flushed their toilets, and I could hear the rush of the brown waters flowing into the communal collection pipe. When I placed the toilet on top of the pipe and sealed the ring that secured it there, the smell persisted, winding its way through the toilet’s innards and out into the bathroom. It only stopped coming up when I flushed the toilet for the first time. That thin seal of water, sitting in the low part of the P-trap loop inside the toilet, is really all that’s keeping our civilization civilized, at least when it comes to the two numbers we must all do at some point during the day.

This wasn’t the first toilet I installed, and I’m not knocking our modern plumbing system — all I’m saying is there’s surprisingly little between us and wilderness, in spite of all the constructs we’ve placed between us and it, and between each other.

Wish I could do something about those dogs

There are two problems with dogs in Romania, as I see it:

  1. There are entirely too many stray dogs
  2. Most dog owners care little about their dogs’ behavior

Let me say first that I’m a dog lover, though my recent experiences here in Romania have cooled my enthusiasm for dogs significantly. Overall, it’s been one negative experience after another, and right now, it’s gotten to the point where I will not hesitate to kick a dog who lunges at me or my wife, as has happened repeatedly.

Stray Dogs

Everywhere you look in Romania, there are stray dogs. It could be the middle of the city, or the middle of the countryside — you are guaranteed to find a stray dog. They usually converge where people are, but you’ll see them crossing open fields or walking alongside roads in the middle of nowhere, looking for scraps of food.

The look

You’d think a breed of animals that depends on people for their food supply, especially dogs, who are supposed to be “man’s best friend”, would be more grateful to people. You’d be dead wrong to assume that, and I don’t exaggerate. Sure, they’re nice when you have food and you want to give them some. They’ll line up and beg, putting on a show. Some packs of these stray dogs specialize in begging, and will stick around car stops and fast food kiosks. They do alright, because they look well-fed. Even I feed them sometimes. After all, I still love dogs, and I don’t mind sharing my food with a hungry and friendly animal.

But may God protect you from meeting a pack of stray dogs at night, or when they’re hungry, because they’ll tear you to pieces. They’re dangerous even during the daytime, sleeping in the sun, curled up next to buildings or on the sidewalk. Those same sleepy dogs can turn vicious and attack at any second.

The dangerous thing about stray dogs is their pack behavior. They’re not disciplined and they are dumb animals. When one begins to bark at you, they’ll all join in. When one of them lunges at you, they’ll all start lunging at you. When of them bites and draws blood, the others become enraged and will all start biting you. As the taste of blood enters their mouths, they’ll soon begin to bite you in order to get pieces of meat. You will no longer be seen as a human being, someone to be feared and respected, but as food — a hunk of meat to be eaten.

I’ve seen stray dogs lunge at street cleaners working nearby. I’ve seen them lunge at elderly people. I’ve heard of them killing adults and children or leaving them scarred for life. A relative of ours from Constanta was jogging on the beach one morning, and was attacked by a pack of dogs who chased him for over a kilometer. He literally ran for his life while they lunged at him one after the other, biting, scratching, digging their teeth deep into his body. He fought them off and barely escaped alive. Now he’s scarred for life on his arms, legs and face, from something that could have been avoided if the city of Constanta did its job in cleaning the city of strays.

I was running one evening in a village in the province of Dobrogea, and a stray dog lunged at me, barking and snarling viciously, ready to bite. I stood my ground, ready to fight, and he retreated. If there had been more of them around, they wouldn’t have retreated, and I might have ended up in the hospital. I have not been able to do any regular running during my stay in Romania. You can’t do it in the city, and you can’t do it in the countryside. When you run, it’s basically an open invitation for stray dogs to attack you. To be able to do any sort of outdoor sport, I’ve had to find remote places away from people, but even there, I have to watch out for sheep dogs, who will attack you on sight if they see you running. It’s insane. This brings me to the second part of this article, where I talk about dog owners and their dogs’ behavior. Before I do that, let me mention one more incident.

I don’t know if folks in the US have had the chance to witness dogs running alongside cars, or behind them lately. The US does a good job of taking strays off the streets. In classic cartoons, this is sometimes depicted as dogs running to latch onto the bumpers of the cars. That’s inaccurate. Dogs will run alongside the cars, barking at them, and some might even try to lunge at the tires, in order to bite them, clearly with sad consequences. When you see stray dogs with bad scars on their faces, you can assume they probably succeeded in latching onto a moving tire.

When you’ve got so many strays, you can get anywhere from only one or up to ten or more running after your car, and accidents will happen. Before I spent any significant time driving in Romania, I couldn’t understand why, and thought the drivers were just being vicious and ran them over on purpose. That’s not the case. I, too, ran over a stray dog recently. It couldn’t be helped. It was raining, so the road was somewhat slippery. This particular dog came out from the side of the road and started running alongside the car in front of me, on the driver’s side, then decided to switch sides and darted right in front of me. I slammed on the brakes and swerved left, but couldn’t avoid him and ran over his hind legs. Needless to say, that was not a good day, and I’d still rather not think of it — but that’s what will happen when the stray population isn’t controlled.

Domesticated dogs

Few dog owners in Romania care enough for their dogs to teach them how to behave properly. Of the majority, there are two classes: those who do little more for their dogs but provide them with a dog house and food, and those who pamper them for the very purpose of showing them off on the street.

This latter class of people is more rare now, but used to be quite common during Romania’s communist regime. They’d have these big, ferocious dogs, such as German shepherds, dobermans, or bulldogs, and they’d walk them in public with a muzzle, smiling secretly (or openly) every time their dog growled at someone and that person shied away.

The other class of dog owners — by and large the overwhelming majority — is quite content to tie up their dogs in the yard, next to a dog house, and to feed and (maybe) clean up after them, but do little else for them, like teach them when to bark and when not to bark. The end result of their treatment (or lack of it) is that you have these frustrated dogs who are tied up behind wooden fences where they can’t see what’s going on outside, but can hear and smell a ton of foreign scents, and who are going nuts, barking at everything, all the time. For all intents and purposes, they’re not really domesticated, because they’re not potty trained, house trained, or taught how to respond to signals and when to be silent. They might as well be strays, because they’re just as dumb as the strays. They cannot communicate. They only bark and snarl, and collectively, they create this cacophony of barks and yelps and snarls that can’t be ignored and drives me crazy.

I’m told I’m supposed to get used to it. I cannot. I can only bear it, and that only for short amounts of time. After that, I get pounding headaches, and the only thing I want to do (and imagine doing) is to squash those idiotic, furry, barking noise boxes. If you’re reading this and you’re shocked, I tell you, you cannot understand it unless you get to spend a few weeks in Romania and are treated to incessant barking at all hours of the day and night, from all directions. You try sleeping when every damn dog in the neighborhood has joined in the barking started by the neighbor’s idiotic mutt. You try concentrating on your work when some moronic, flea-bitten fartbrain a couple of houses away chooses to mark the passing of every 10 seconds with a bark. You try going on about your business, accompanied by that sort of a noise parade, and you let me know how it feels after a couple of weeks (or months) of it.

The other issue I encounter is that of violent behavior in dogs that are supposed to be domesticated. I guess this sort of ties in with what I said a few paragraphs above, but this sort of violence isn’t necessarily encouraged by the dog owners. It results more from a lack of care. I’ve seen it on two occasions.

While in Predeal — a popular mountain resort — I hiked to one of the peaks nearby, a place miles away from civilization, called Clabucetul Taurului. The only settlement nearby was a tourist cabin set in the valley between two peaks, about a mile away, called Cabana Garbova. As I stood there on the peak, taking in the beauty of the place, a stray dog wandered up the slope of this peak, and greeted me in a friendly fashion. I warmed up to him quickly. After all, I still love dogs, in spite of my recent experiences. This dog was nice and clean, which isn’t something you see often in stray dogs. It’s likely that he belonged or had recently belonged to a farmer down in the valley, and he liked to wander around all day long. I took several photos of him while up on the peak. Here’s one of them.

Friendly company

When I headed down the mountain to re-join my wife, who was waiting for me near Cabana Garbova, he followed me. As we all approached the cabin, it became evident to us that we had a problem. The dogs at the cabin, a pack of about 8 big monsters accustomed to fighting wolves and bears, sniffed him and started barking wildly. We tried to shoo him away, to make him go back up the mountain, but he didn’t want to leave us. Then the dogs down below started running toward us. We started getting really worried. Here were some seriously large dogs who gave all the signs of intending to do us harm. I started yelling down at the cabin, hoping its owner would come out and call them back. No such thing. Our companion stray got really worried, and stood close to me, behind my legs. He was hoping the other dogs would see he was with me and wouldn’t attack.

I called out to them, telling them to stop, but they kept coming. I could see their teeth, bared, ready to bite. They ran and lunged right at me. I braced for the impact. They brushed right by and latched onto the stray. The poor thing was mauled, right there, in front of me, and I was helpless to stop them. I had nothing but my camera in hand, so I took photos. I may at some point publish them, but right now it’s really hard for me to even look at them, because I got attached to that stray. He did nothing to us, even helped us by hanging around as we walked through wild territory where we could have been attacked by wild animals, and yet these vicious dogs were trying to tear him apart. He was, after all, one of them — not a wolf, not a bear, not a fox — not a danger to anyone.

My wife found a stick and started hitting them, trying to make them let go of the dog. They wouldn’t, but growled at her and started dragging him away, wanting to kill him and likely eat him. I woke up from my shock, grabbed the stick from my wife, and started hitting the ground next to them, yelling loudly. Finally, they let go. By this time, some people down in the valley below came out and started calling them back. They spread apart and left us alone. The poor dog was still alive, but badly hurt. He was bleeding in several places. Thankfully, there were no open wounds. His thick fur protected him. He followed us down to the cabin and laid down by the door. Others nearby kept the dogs away. I was livid with anger. I went inside and asked to speak to the owner, who was in the kitchen, not outside tending to his vicious dogs. I asked him why he hadn’t done something to stop them. Did he think it was okay to let them kill an innocent dog? He called me stupid to my face and told me he couldn’t care less about someone else’s dog. I couldn’t believe it! What if the dogs had attacked us, I asked. He didn’t answer that question. I wanted to punch him right in the face, but chose to walk away.

Just imagine for a second how much more traumatic this whole experience would have been if that had been my dog, not a stray. If it were your dog, and you were standing there helpless, fearing for your life, watching it being mauled to death by a pack of large mountain dogs, how would you have reacted? It’s likely that a smaller dog would have died right away. Thank goodness our stray was hardier and more resistant. Still, only the adrenaline kept him on his feet long enough to walk down to the cabin. When we came out, he was lying by the door, in pain. He didn’t, or couldn’t get up. I bought some meat and bread and put them in front of him. He started eating, slowly, afraid for his life, flinching every time he saw the cabin dogs in the distance.

We had to leave, and he wasn’t going anywhere, so we left him. I only hope the cabin owner had some heart left in him, and didn’t let his dogs finish him off. I think I saw his wife chiding him in the kitchen as we were leaving. Perhaps she knocked some sense into him, because he sure needed it.

The other incident I wanted to mention happened as I was walking through the hills outside a village near Bacau, in the province of Moldova. I was taking photos, and I had my tripod with me. It was a viciously cold day, and a snowstorm was brewing in the air above. The calendar might have said it was March, but no one had told Jack Frost. Billy, a lovable mutt belonging to family of ours, accompanied me.

Billy

Suddenly, he became wary of his surroundings and started sniffing the air with a worried look. He kept looking at me, then at something in front of us. I could see nothing. I only heard the distant bleating of sheep. Billy hung around for a couple more minutes, signaling that we should return, then, seeing I had no intention of doing so, turned around and headed back home by himself. I laughed and wondered why he did it, but kept walking my way. I soon discovered the source of his fear. It was the vicious sheep dogs who were guarding the flock of sheep in the distance. As soon as they saw me (I was downwind, so they couldn’t sniff me), they charged right at me, three of them. I was ready. I had my tripod, which is nice and thick and just the right size for bashing in the head of a violent dog. I raised it above my head and waited for the first lunge. It didn’t come. They stopped a few feet away and kept snarling and barking. I advanced toward them. They retreated. The shepherd finally came in sight, saw what was going on, and called them off. They obeyed and left me alone.

I walked off, finished the route I wanted to do that day, and started to walk back home. The flock of sheep were still around. I tried to keep a safe distance and avoid another encounter, but this time they sniffed me and came at me again. I raised my tripod again, ready to put out their lights, and again they retreated, leaving about 10-15 feet between me and them. But they were still barking like crazy. I called over the shepherd and had a talk with him. I told him I’d have no qualms about quieting his dogs if he couldn’t control them. He disagreed, and said they wouldn’t attack if I stood still. I didn’t test his theory, because it might have proven painful and hazardous to my health. I went home instead and warmed up by a nice fire.

So you see, Billy wasn’t the coward I thought he was. He knew what he was doing when he hightailed it out of that area. The scar you see on his muzzle in the photo above is apparently the reminder of a fight with sheep dogs — that’s what our relatives told us.

What’s to be done about those dogs?

The way I see it, two things need to happen in Romania when it comes to dogs. For one thing, the stray population needs to be controlled. To this point, city governments, working with NGOs and veterinary offices, conduct neutering campaigns every once in a while, but it’s not working.

Perhaps euthanasia of unwanted strays is a solution. I know it sounds cruel, but stray dogs are a real danger, and they need to be off the streets. They need to be put up in shelters, where if they’re not adopted within a certain time period, they’re euthanised. Why condemn unwanted strays to a life on the streets, in bitter cold or fierce heat, with little or no food, to the risk of accidents that maim them and leave them in pain for life, when they could rest in peace? If we were to judge the situation coolly, we would realize it’s not feasible to take care of all the strays. Perhaps if the money and the interest were there, we could feed them and neuter them all, but neither the money nor the interest is there. We can’t find adoptive families for all of them, either. Why not put them to rest? At least they won’t suffer anymore.

I look forward to the day when I can run on city streets or on a beach in Romania and not have to worry about being mauled by strays. I’m sure a lot of other people look forward to simply being able to walk the streets without being mauled by strays.

The second thing is that dog owners need to start being more responsible about their dogs. At the very least, they need to teach them when to bark and when to keep quiet. That’ll go a long way toward cutting down on unnecessary noise and headaches. As I write this, some mutt a few houses away is barking like a nutcase at something of no consequence. He’s been driving me up the walls for the past few days. I honestly think the dog’s owner ought to be fined for his lack of concern and for the noise pollution. That should be another measure implemented soon by local governments.

Photos from Antietam Battlefield

Last weekend, on a fiercely hot Sunday, my wife and I visited the Antietam Battlefield, located near Sharpsburg, MD. It’s quite easy to get to it from DC. You take 270-N to 70-W, then keep going on 70-W until you see the signs for Antietam. Once off the highway, you’ve got another 8 miles or so till you get there. You can’t miss it. There’s a big National Park Service sign by the side of the road. All in all, it’s about a 1 hour and 30 minute drive, give or take 15 minutes, and the history lesson is priceless.

Antietam is “the bloodiest one day battle in American History”, according to the official NPS website. In 12 hours of “savage combat”, over 23,000 soldiers were killed, wounded or missing. Six generals were killed during this battle. The human price of this battle was driven home by a photographer: Alexander Gardner. His haunting photographs of the dead at Antietam were said to have brought them “to our doorsteps” by the New York Times. And it’s true. It’s one thing to sing of battles won and of bravery on the battlefield, and it’s quite another to stare at the dead in front of you and see the horrible price of that thing you call victory.

What always strikes me when I look at war is how senseless it all is. Even when I’m far removed from it, by a century and more, I can’t help shivers from running down my spine when I think the ground I stand on is the same ground where countless men lost their lives.

Why? How many more people need to die horribly until humanity as a whole realizes war is bad? Forget humanity as a whole, how about the United States alone? When will we get it? Ever? At the first sign of trouble somewhere (preferably in the Middle East), we’re more than happy to send our soldiers in there to die for some trumped up cause, and to spend trillions of dollars and bankrupt our economy as well. At least the Civil War had a good reason. The country needed to be kept together, and slavery abolished. Still, in spite of those good reasons, far too many people died during that dark time in American history: around 360,000 lost their lives, and countless more were injured or maimed for life.

I’m going to show you how Antietam looks today. But I want you to have a look at the way it was back then, too, especially through Gardner’s eyes. Never mind the fact that the dead bodies may have been arranged in a photo or two. Death is still death, and it’s still just as grim and nasty regardless of the pose.

First, the Library of Congress has a LOT of scanned negatives from the Civil War — an amazing resource. Here is their collection of Civil War photographs. That’s where I got the few photos shown below (taken by Alexander Gardner). Most of the photos are in the public domain, which means they can be used freely, although it would be nice to give the LoC credit for their work in scanning, archiving and curating the photographs. It’s also worth looking at the October 1862 issue of Harper’s Weekly, which features illustrations and reports by eyewitnesses to the battle.

This is Abraham Lincoln at Antietam, after the battle ended.

Abraham Lincoln with two generals at Antietam

Assorted photos of dead soldiers, in the aftermath of the battle.

Gardner’s notable photographs from the battlefield are listed in an album on the NPS website. Have a look at them, and even download them, should you want to have your own archive.

What does it look like today?

Dunker Church is the spot where truce was called at the end of the battle. If you’re interested, there’s a nice historical summary available.

The church is visible in this photo taken by Gardner as well.

The approximate spot where those soldiers died is now the site for a war monument. I hope you won’t find me irreverent, but I find war monuments woefully inadequate at paying back the men that gave their lives in battle. They’re pretty much useless at teaching people lessons against war as well, since they usually depict some victory symbol, or men charging, or some other idiotic thing like that.

What is that supposed to mean?! Tens of thousands of men died here, and we have an eagle on a column? Whoopee…

You know the expression “war on the doorstep”? Well, the people who had farms at Antietam got to know it full well during that battle.

Just remember, the next time a politician makes the case for war, this is really what he or she means. Those are going to be your sons and daughters.

Historical photographs courtesy of the Library of Congress. Photographer: Alexander Gardner. The recent photographs are naturally, my own.

Migratory state of being

Every single day, I go around with a little pain in my heart. It’s the sort of pain that only certain people can understand. These people are called immigrants.

Sometime this month, a familiar date will pass, and I’ll know that I’ve been in the States for 17 years. I’ve been a naturalized citizen for a number of those years. Born and raised in Romania, I came here when I was almost 15. I’ve lived the better part of my life in this country, and yet I still do not feel entirely at home. The States feels familiar, but not familial; it feels like I belong, but I don’t entirely fit in; it feels like home, but I don’t feel at home.

I envy Americans born here, I really do. In some ways, they’re better off than me. They feel something, every day, which I cannot feel; they may not realize it, and they may not even appreciate it, but they feel at home. It’s a priceless sort of feeling, and you don’t understand its true value unless you’re away from home.

It’s a painful way to live. I look around me, at those fortunate enough to have been born here, and they haven’t got my problem. They are at home no matter what part of this great big country they happen to live in — especially those that have been born, raised, and now work in the same cities or regions. They benefit from familiarity with customs, habits, lifestyles, places, people, language, traditions — all those things that make home feel like home. If they’ve moved to another part of the country, no matter how different they think it is, it’s still the USA, and it’s still the same country. Some things still apply, and the overall feeling of home is there.

Although I live in the DC area now, and have done so for the last 4 years, I spent most of my years here in the States in Florida. Still, it doesn’t feel like home. Sure, I know the streets and the neighborhoods. I know the cities and the beaches. When I walk or drive down a certain street, memories from my life there evoke certain emotions that make it familiar. The best word to describe that kind of a feeling is comfortable. When I step into my parents’ home down there, I get the closest feeling of home I can get here in the States. It’s relaxing and peaceful, that’s true. But it’s still not home. And I think my parents understand what I mean, since all three of us came to the States as a family back in 1991.

It would be logical to assume that Romania would feel more like home, since it’s where I was born and raised. You’d only be partly correct. Yes, when I go back there, I feel more at home than here. The strings of my heart vibrate at the same frequency as my birthplace. When I’m there, the air is sweeter, the food tastes better, interactions with people are more meaningful, every sensation is accentuated by the vibrancy of my home land. Sleep is more restful, and life takes on a new, familial rhythm. I feel a peace that I cannot feel here. Yet I do not feel at peace.

There’s the awful rub. In the words of Charles Laughton from the movie “It Started With Eve” (1941), “I’ve been tampered with!” I’ve spent so much time in the States that I’ve grown accustomed to the way of living over here. Not the comfort and abundance of products, though that’s part of it, but the way of life, of doing business, of approaching situations. I no longer fit in, in Romania, and I still do not completely fit in over here, after 17 whole years.

I can function just about anywhere, but am at home nowhere. I’ve got a mongrel heart, a split state of being, and it’s a sad, painful way to go through life, at least for me. A piece of me exists in each country, and I’m forever torn between the two.

It must be even worse for Ligia. She’s only been here for 4 years. She spent her entire life in the same region of the country, in a very close-knit family, among friends and relatives, and the only reason she left all of that was to be with me. It’s probably safe to describe the way she feels every day as home sick. At least she’s lived enough in one country to know which one feels more like home. Although the more time she spends here, the more she’ll bond with this country, till she’ll be just like me, a mongrel spirit.

I think of the pilgrims that came to the new continent from Europe, hundreds of years ago. I wonder how they must have felt, knowing that the likelihood of ever going back to their home lands was next to nothing, and having to face the rough conditions that awaited them in untamed territories. Perhaps the tough lives they led, and the blood, sweat and tears they put into eking out an existence bonded them more to their new homes. Or maybe they sat down on quiet evenings and silently bore pangs of sorrow over the distance that separated them from their birthplaces and ancestral homes.

Then I envy their children, who didn’t (and don’t) have to worry about any of those things. And I yearn for the normalcy and peace which I don’t think I’ll ever reach.