I attended the Ringling Brothers and Barnum Bailey Circus again last week (the last time I went was almost exactly three years ago) and while I am not a huge fan (I sort of agree with the PETA folks who handed my son Alex a pamphlet about elephant cruelty, and the music is downright awful, and very loud . . . and though I looked over my sentence from three years ago, I still forgot to bring earplugs) but one thing particularly intrigued me about the show this time: when all the performers came out for the opening number, I noticed that the ten unicyclists were all African-American, and this struck me as odd, because the rest of the cast was quite diverse -- and also because I imagine unicycling as a nerdy and very Caucasian past-time, but twenty minutes later I realized why they were all black . . . they were a basketball squad . . . and this offended me a little, as a case of reverse discrimination -- it seemed as if Barnum and Bailey was insinuating that only black people play basketball (or perhaps, more logically, the act auditioned as a troupe, and they happened to all be African-American) but either way, I would love to be the token white guy on that unicycle basketball team . . . on another, less racist note, the best part of the night was the meal we had in downtown Trenton, near the Sun National Bank Center, at a Guatemalan dive called Taqueria el Mariachi . . . if you are in Trenton and you love tacos, you've got to try this place: best salsa ever and delicious al pastor and verde sauce.
My seven year old son Ian, who generally plays it close to his vest, told me this unsolicited piece of information: "Ben is my closest friend" and I responded, "That's great, he's a good guy and it's nice to have a best friend," but I had assumed too much and gotten it all wrong, and so Ian corrected me: "No Dad, I don't mean he's my best friend, I mean he lives closer to me than any other friend."
I should probably point out that I am more sympathetic to my son Alex's behavior on the bus than my wife is, because I succumbed to peer pressure in a similar (but even dumber) situation: I was in sixth grade and had just gotten braces installed on my little white teeth, and I was riding the bus home, playing one of those old school handheld video games with the blipping red dashes, and I took the nine volt battery out of the game, held it up, and said, "I wonder what would happen if I touched this to my braces" and before I knew it kids were chanting for me to "do it! do it!" and so I stood up, faced the back of the bus, and stuck the battery terminals to the metal on my top and bottom teeth, completing the circuit, shocking myself profoundly, and knocking myself back into my bus seat, where -- once I came to -- I revelled in my glory . . . I had done it!
Wired Magazine explains why television is better than it ever has been . . . and the Netflix original series House of Cards is certainly an example of "platinum quality" TV: the show is so good, I don't understand it (and neither does professional Entertainment Weekly summarizer Hillary Busis, who -- in her episode four recap -- doesn't mention a word of Frank Underwood's complex political stratagem hinging on the collective bargaining chip in the education reform bill, and instead concentrates on the easy, romantic stuff . . . I had to search around until I found this post, and I still don't think that Nathan Matisse understands the plot any better than I do).
I finished Henry James' ambiguously supernatural novel Turn of the Screw Sunday morning and not an hour later, while walking back from our secret salamander spot, my son Ian -- unprompted -- told me that "the boy's bathroom at school is haunted" and then he explained that while he was going to the bathroom, the door inexplicably locked of its own volition and that this "happened to another boy," and so I asked him my favorite question (Do you believe in ghosts?) and he said, "not really" and I said that I felt the same, and suggested that maybe it was the wind that locked the bathroom door, and he countered, "How could wind get inside a building?"
In class right now, we are studying the ethical implications of some classic psychological experiments . . . Milgram, Asch, and Stanford prison -- and the main lesson from these is that humans can be quite obedient -- whether to a group or an authority figure or social pressure-- once we are put into a "state of agency" . . . and so it was hard to totally blame my son (though he suffered some consequences) for what happened on the bus ride home from his class trip on Friday: he had picked up a bottle cap, as boys are wont to do, and brought it in the bus, and some girl had the bright idea that he should throw it out the window and the other students started chanting "Do it! Do it!" and so he did it.
Diligent readers of Sentence of Dave know that I believe that Neal Stephenson is one of the greatest writers of our time -- he combines the best qualities of Thomas Pynchon and William Gibson -- and so it is with much regret that I report that I am quitting his gigantic philosophical novel Anathem . . . perhaps this is a case of what Thoreau said: "It is not all books that are as dull as their readers," as I have certainly become more dull of wit in the past year, because my life has become extraordinarily busy, but whatever the reason, I have been stuck in the forty percent zone on my Kindle for weeks (and I even took out the analog version from the library to see if that was the problem) but it looks like I'm never going to finish this incredibly speculative and meta-physical novel, and so I started something more concrete-- The Looming Tower-- and I was able to read forty pages before I fell asleep (a great contrast to Anathem . . . I couldn't get through two pages before nodding off) and Lawrence Wright's book on the origins of Al-Qaeda and 9/11 is well written and full of great research, including this quotation from essayist E.B. White, who was trying to get a grip on the dawn of the nuclear age . . . before we learned to stop worrying and love the bomb: "In the mind of whatever perverted dreamer might loose the lightning, New York must hold a steady, irresistible charm."
Cool technology: lidar (it's like radar . . . with lasers!) and it is being used to discover load of archaeological sites in the dense, impenetrable jungles of Mosquitia . . . scary technology: algorithmic high-frequency trading . . . it's like investing . . . with lasers!
I know this isn't the best trait -- as a coach or an athlete -- and it has probably been handed down to me from my father . . . but whenever my team has away game in a town that appears to be much richer than my hometown, I ineluctably feel extra-motivated to give them a beatdown, and so as we entered lovely Basking Ridge, and drove past the rolling hills of Basking Ridge Country Club, I said to my son Ian, "We've got to kick these rich kids' butts today" and then -- as punishment for my classism -- when we got out of the car and Ian took a look at the opposing team, he said, loudly, in front of several Basking Ridge parents: "they don't look like rich kids" and I had to explain to him that we shouldn't say things like that (even though I did) but still, I am happy to report that we did indeed kick their butts, a great victory of a lower-upper middle class town over an upper-upper middle class town.
While not nearly as epic as this booger story, this is a cautionary tale for students and teachers alike: I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that every educator has lost a student's assignment at some point . . . whether it was misplaced or tossed aside by another student during peer-editing or fell under the desk or got picked up by another teacher . . . so I always give kids the benefit of the doubt when they tell me that they handed something in; this scenario was playing out last Wednesday, and so I did the first thing I always do, which is check the pile of papers -- because sometimes I forget to grade one, or a student mistakenly staples another kid's paper to his own . . . and we found the girl's paper in the pile, but it was connected to another student's (graded) paper not by a staple, but by a booger -- or I'm 75% sure it was a booger, I didn't any testing to determine exactly what it was, but it sure looked like a booger, and we don't use rubber cement in high school.
The first two seasons of AMC's The Killing focus on two Seattle homicide detectives trying to solve the murder of a high school student -- Rosie Larsen -- and the writers kept me guessing until the last moments of the last episode of the second season . . . I think the ending of the case rivals that of the best final TV episode ever made (The Shield) . . . the solution is both surprising and perfectly logical; Mireille Enos plays Sarah Linden perfectly . . . she's a homely, unmedicated and possibly more neurotic (but in a realistic way) Seattle version of Clare Danes in Homeland . . . and though the show is dark, rainy, and bleak, unlike Danes, Linden has someone she can rely on, her partner -- Stephen Holder (Joel Kinnaman) -- and they bring the buddy genre to new levels of weird awkwardness (and since I'm making absurd analogies, I will also say that at times Holder and Linden look and act like the bizarro world Moulder and Scully).
We commanded our children to make my grandmother a hand-made card for her 91st birthday, and in less than a minute my nine year old son Alex came up with this corny Hallmark-style stanza:
No matter how old,
no matter how young,
I will always be
your great grandson.
No matter how old,
no matter how young,
I will always be
your great grandson.
There is a bird in my yard that says "cheeseburger! cheeseburger! cheeseburger!" and it only took me three minutes to learn that it is a Carolina Wren (and not a black-capped Chickadee) though both these birds say "cheeseburger," but the Carolina Wren says it much faster and clearer . . . but why I am I wasting my time using langauge to explain this . . . watch the Youtube video!
My seven year old son Ian is the king of the "redo," which is short for "do-over," which is short for "I love to cheat."