David Tenenbaum can say one thing for sure about his friend Soy Seng: He doesn't smell bad. Not at all.
"We have sat side by side more or less once a week for at least 10 years, and I have never smelled any body odor on this man at all," says Tenenbaum, a local writer who has tutored Seng in English since he moved to the Madison area from Cambodia. "I've sat as close to him as an airline passenger."
Seng, 47, is the founder of and head monk at the Cambodian Buddhist Society of Wisconsin, located in Fitchburg. He leads religious ceremonies and counsels the temple's roughly 100 families in times of grief. He became a U.S. citizen earlier this year.
On Oct. 30, Seng left for Cambodia to help with building a new school for the Hmong. Tenenbaum was with him that very afternoon. They hugged goodbye. No smell.
Seng, wearing his customary brown-orange robe, took an American Airlines flight from Madison to St. Louis, without incident. But after boarding his connecting flight to Los Angeles, he was ordered off.
"When I asked what happened, why I cannot go with this plane," recalls Seng in an interview from Cambodia, "the worker said somebody complained of the smell of me." Seng doesn't get it: "I don't know what smelled." He was not allowed to take this flight.
American Airlines, says Seng, put him up at a hotel in St. Louis, giving him a $10 voucher for dinner and $5 for breakfast. The next day, he was allowed to fly to Los Angeles. But by then, he'd missed his scheduled flight to Cambodia on EVA Air. He spent a day and a night at the Los Angeles airport before catching another flight.
"Why did somebody take me from the plane?" wonders Seng, who has made previous air trips to Cambodia and elsewhere. "What happened, I don't understand."
Afterward, Seng sent American Airlines a letter asking "why I was delayed." He has not gotten a response. Sarith Ou, the treasurer of the local Cambodian Buddhist Society, shares Seng's consternation: "When I heard what happened, I was surprised. I don't know why."
Repeated attempts by Isthmus to get information on the matter from American Airlines were unsuccessful. Martha Pantin, a Miami-based American Airlines' spokeswoman, scoped out the inquiry and promised, "Somebody will call you." No one did.
Tenenbaum suspects the complaint was prompted by "bigotry," not odor. He calls American Airlines' conduct in bumping Seng from the flight "shameful," as is its failure to respond to inquiries about the incident. "It's outrageous - a slap in the face to Soy and by extension the hundreds of Cambodians who are members of his temple."
Seng is a bit more forgiving. Asked if he'll fly American Airlines again, he laughs and says, "Yes." But he still would like an explanation.
Memorial Union to public: Keep out!
The UW-Madison police officers who knocked Madison activist Ben Masel to the ground and pepper-sprayed him in the face for collecting signatures on his nomination papers for U.S. Senate at the Memorial Union in June 2006 may end up costing the public in more ways than one.
First, there is the likely monetary cost to taxpayers from the inevitable lawsuit, filed several months ago by Masel and tag-team attorney Jeff Scott Olson, who have a track record of success with such actions.
But also, the UW's defense against the lawsuit may be undercutting the public's ability to attend Union events.
Olson, in a court filing, documents decades of notices affirming that members of the general public are welcome at Union events. This includes a MySpace posting from the Wisconsin Union Directorate's music committee, which states, "All events are free and open to the public unless otherwise specified." And in mid-2006, the UW placed an ad in a national publication urging visitors to come to Union Terrace to "just chill" and enjoy events like live music.
But now the UW is insisting that the Terrace is usually closed to the public. (This claim is also central to a trespassing citation against Masel; he has pleaded not guilty and asked for a trial.) A statement recently added to the Union's website declares, "Unless otherwise noted, WUD Music Committee events are intended for UW-Madison students, faculty, staff and Union members and guests."
Masel argues that this represents a change: "In light of this case, they're barring everybody who's not a Union member and trying to claim that was always the policy."
But Mark Guthier, director of the Memorial Union, says it always was.
"The Union is a membership organization," he explains, although outsiders are not usually asked to provide proof of membership and can get up to three guest passes each year. He says any claim that events are open to the public unless otherwise noted was made in error.
Still shopping for that certain someone this holiday season? Some suggestions:
Gift certificates to Sundance Cinemas, the terrific new venue that plays superb films to often nearly empty houses, no doubt because it's a tad pricey for us Madison folk. Available in $10 and $25 denominations from the (oh how pretentious!) Concierge Desk.
Local treasure Ken Lonnquist's wonderful new CD, Hamelin, about the Pied Piper story, featuring a huge cast of local musicians and singers. Buy it and other Lonnquist classics from www.kenland.com.
A copy of the Someone's in the Kitchen, the 2008 calendar from the Dane Country Cultural Affairs Commission, featuring work by a dozen local artists. Just $7.50 from the Dane County exec's office in the City-County Building.
And, of course, everyone's favorite stocking stuffer: Cry Rape: The True Story of One Woman's Harrowing Quest for Justice, by the guy who writes Isthmus' popular "Watchdog" column. From your favorite bookstore or CryRapeBook.com.
Well, almost heaven
Fox Noise bloviator Bill O'Reilly, on why the large conifer in the state Capitol has been called a "holiday tree" since 1985: "Madison is a secular progressive heaven." Funny how the Madison phone book has, between "Christmas trees" and "Cigars, cigarettes and tobacco," 418 listings for "Churches."