A great moment on Madmen: ad-man Duck Phillips is meeting an ad-woman Peggy Olsen in a hotel for a "nooner," and Duck is watching TV while he waits for Peggy at their trysting place and he sees a news flash that President Kennedy has been shot and injured, but he knows his Peggy is just about to show up, and there's no way he's going to let a little thing like this ruin the romantic moment, and so he unplugs the television, and when she walks in moments later she is none the wiser, and then once they are post-coital, smoking cigarettes in bed, he says, "Do you mind if I turn on the TV . . . there's this news story that's bothering me," and then they learn that J.F.K has been killed . . . and I certainly can't blame Duck-- you can't let a national tragedy get in the way of copulation.
Last Saturday Terry, Stacey, Mike and I attended the educational version of Woodstock-- the NJEA rally in Trenton-- and we are assuming that everyone and their brother will claim that they were there, but we were there and Stacey has the pictures to prove it; we took the train because we didn't want to be beholden to the NJEA bus schedule (and so we could drink-- we were hungry but elected to get beers instead of food for the train ride-- we assumed all the teachers on the train would be partying, but we were wrong, in fact, to our knowledge, we were the only teachers at the event to smuggle in alcohol-- beer for the train, and wine and Sprite in water bottles-- we were in Trenton, after all) and the event was packed . . . estimates range from 30,000 to 35,000 teachers, cops and firemen . . . and very well organized, plenty of Port-a-Johns and tons of great food . . . gyros and sausage and peppers and crab cakes and grilled burgers and dogs, which makes my culinary decision even more ridiculous, I was waiting in line to get a chicken gyro, which looked delicious, and I saw a lonely stand that was advertising "Pork Roll Sandwiches" and in a sudden burst of Jersey pride, I said, "This is New Jersey-- I'm getting pork roll" and I regretted it for the rest of the day, but maybe not so much as Terry regretted his conversation with some cab drivers: "Hey, are you guys African? No? Oh, Haitian . . . well you're better off here than there," and when asked to explain himself, he claimed he wanted to "talk some World Cup" with them, but then got thrown off when they said they were from Haiti: what do you say to someone when they say thay are from Haiti?
Once again I got mixed up in assessing people's mental age (a concept my friend Whitney invented, where you assign someone an abstract age, which they usually remain for the bulk of their life . . . he says he will always be 19, partying and trying to drink under-age, like it's getting away with something, and I will always be 90, seen it all, crotchety, going to bed early, don't really care how I dress or what people think of me) and first I was doing it in class, because it is great to do for characters in fiction, but of course the students wanted me to assess them, so I would assign them arbitrary ages (two silly girls: I say: "You're three," and "You're four," one asks, "Can I be five?" and I say "Sure," and the other says, "Then I want to be five too, if she gets to be five!" and I say, "No, you really are three") and some of them get upset ("Do I have to be twelve?" "Yes you do," "I want to be twenty one!" "That's just what a twelve year old would say") and I got borderline insulting, calling Liz a bit "snotty" and Laura "passive aggressive" and then assigning them random ages, such as 24, 114, 55, 62, 13, but the funny thing is, everyone listens to you very intently when you do this, because you are talking exclusively about them, and we love it when someone talks about us exclusively, even if the opinions are unfounded and stupid.
You may have tried some of the awareness tests that are available on-line, and hopefully, like me, you failed them miserably-- that's what FUN about them-- but I had my wife do a few of them (and I have read more books than my wife, so you'd think I would be smarter than her) but she kept passing the tests, which is no fun at all . . . she'd start watching and then she'd yell out the fun thing they reveal at the end of the test that normal people have to replay the video to see . . . and she guesses the end of movies too.
I'm working my way through Modern Times: The World from the Twenties to the Nineties, by conservative British historian Paul Johnson (who lost his footing on the moral high ground when Gloria Stewart, the writer with whom he had an eleven year affair, revealed that he enjoyed erotic spankings) and despite the fact that I don't agree with some of his political stances, he is a vivid and entertaining writer . . . if only my history textbooks from high school had prose like this: "The syphilis of anti-Semitism, which was moving towards its tertiary phase in the Weimar epoch, was not the only weakness of the German body politic; the German state was huge creature with a small and limited brain."
So my boss asked me if I knew what "febrile" meant and I said, "feverish" and he said,"no, it means weak" and then a colleague agreed-- she said, "yeah, like feeble" and I took their word for it, although my one skill in life is that I can define nearly any word-- if I say a definition it's usually correct, and if I don't know the word then I know I don't know the word, but this was a clear example of Solomon Asch's experiments in social pressure-- all it took was two people agreeing to make me question my brain, but luckily, I had to look up the word "exiguous"-- which means diminutive-- and I remembered about "febrile" and so I looked it up and then I got to say the best three words in the English language: I WAS RIGHT!
We took the kids to Ringling Brothers and Barnum Bailey Circus last week, and here are some things to remember: 1) the music is really LOUD, and in the genre of New Age Yanni, and so you should bring ear-plugs 2) you can fit seven racing motorcycles in a steel ball 3) they have updated the clowns so that they are not sad, weird, and spooky 4) go to the pre-show where you get to walk out on the floor and get close to the jugglers, men on stilts, elephants, and hat throwers 5) circus chicks are really hot and when you get bored during the trampoline act you can fantasize about running away with the circus and fornicating with all the super fit and sexy circus chicks, because the guys in the circus are kind of goofy, so you can convince yourself without too much work, that you actually might have a shot with these incredibly flexible, athletic, and lovely women from far flung portions of the globe, even though they would laugh at you because you can't even do two flips on the trapeze.
I bought a kid's electric guitar for Ian at a garage sale, and put two coated strings on it-- my theory being, when you teach kids chess you just use a couple pieces at a time, and when you teach kids soccer, you start small sided-- so I would start slow with the guitar, and I put a strap on it and gave him a guitar stand so that it is his guitar, up in his room, and I showed him how to alternate pick and told him if he practiced for a month, I would get him a little amplifier (which is a terrible idea, considering he's going to be five in a month and still doesn't know how to tell time, so he'll be waking us up at 5:15 with it) and he put it on and practiced several times, which was impressive, and then we put them to bed and watched an episode of Madmen and when we went upstairs, Catherine called me into his room-- he was sleeping with his guitar.
Last Saturday after my work-out at the gym I went to pick up my kids from the play area, and the girl-- a new girl-- said that my kids "earned a dollar" and she really wanted me to take this dollar and split it between Alex and Ian but I refused, of course, but she insisted that they deserved it for some game they were playing and I just wanted to get out of there so I said fine, I'd make change in the car, but as we were walking across the parking lot Alex told me the whole story: he was drawing on the computer and Ian was pestering him so much that he punched him in the eye and they got into some kind of hysterical fight and she essentially paid them to be good, so I made them march back in and tell the lady that they didn't deserve the dollar and give it back, which they did, while crying hysterically . . . it makes me wonder just what the fuck is going on with my kids when I can't see them.
So at my work-place it has become something of an honor to appear in a Sentence of Dave, when someone says or does something interesting or unusual, occasionally they turn to me and say, "That should be in a sentence," and I always say, "Yes it should!" because what they don't realize it that when you write a sentence every single day, you are often short on material . . . so when Stacey said to Audrey, "You're still using that pen?" and she said, "Yes, it won't dry up-- I told my class it was like the miracle of Hanukkah, you know, when the oil that was only supposed to light the flame in the menorah for one night lit the temple for eight nights . . ." and then she turned to me and said, "Now that should be in a sentence," and now it is.
At work the other day Stacey was not looking so good and I said, "hey, you don't look so good" and she said, "yeah, I feel terrible, I'm sick" and then-- before my filter kicked in-- I said, "Well don't get me sick!" but then I apologized and told her that was rude and said I hoped she felt better soon.
Diane Ravitch's book The Death and Life of the Great American School System asserts two ideas, and supports them with comprehensive detail: 1) a market system is fine if you want to create consumers, but it does not work for public schools-- as they are one of the last places where community, democracy, and local citizens can have an influence-- and 2) using testing as a measure of accountability for teachers and schools is illogical (she cites Campbell's law-- "the more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor") because it is essentially putting the cart before the horse; Ravitch speaks from a position of great perspective, she worked in the administrations of George Bush Sr., Clinton, and George W. and she is one of the most credible educational historians in America; book is something of a reflection on how she fell for some of these fads before she fully analyzed the evidence, and her change of heart is in notable opposition to President Obama's continuation of Bush's war on our education system . . . a must read if you have kids: ten charter schools out of a possible ten.
I thought I was going for a relaxing bike ride on the towpath, and in some respects it was-- I saw lots of wildlife: a muskrat, a scarlet tanager, several goldfinches, a heron, and some turtles-- but also had a run in with several Canadian geese, their chicks have just hatched and their nests are right on the side of the path, so the adults-- in order to protect their young-- would block the path when I approached, and so I had to whip stones at them and shove my bike at them and hit them with sticks in order to get them out of the way . . . I saw one jogger do an about face and head back the way she came, her pleasant run truncated by an ornery bird.
David Shenk's new book The Genius in All of Us: Why Everything You've Been Told About Genetics, Talent, and IQ Is Wrong gives an overview of the newest research on nature, nurture and talent-- he is covering some of the same ground as Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers and Daniel Coyle in The Talent Code-- but he has new examples and goes more in depth about genetics, which is far more plastic than what was once though (even Lamarckian at times . . . the section on epigenetics is really interesting) and in the end the lesson is this: if you want to do something, don't worry about if you have an innate talent for it, just start practicing, but make sure you practice, often, obsessively, and under the best tutelage you can . . . and if this happens, you don't have to worry too much about genes . . . if you want to read more, especially on the sporting aspects of the book, head to here to my post at Gheorghe: The Blog.
So if you're a fan of this blog, you know that I invented the word "entertaintment" a few weeks ago, although I simply coined the word, I didn't actually use it-- but my dream came true, while we were talking about "sexting" and how it's not for guys, especially with the kind of angle you'd get on a cell phone held down low and Stacy blurted out my new word . . . she said, "That's entertaintment!" and I was so pleased.
Alex and Ian invented a game called "Hear the Car" and it is a great example of the power of your senses: one player closes their eyes and the other one chucks the Matchbox car as far as he can (they were playing on the playground) and then the player opens his eyes and runs and finds the car . . . and you can do it every time, even if it doesn't hit metal, even if it just rustles in the grass-- our ears are remarkable (I played a few rounds.)
The Worldly Philosophers, by Robert Heilbroner, is in a class of its own; it is a history of economic thought from medieval times through Keynes and Schumpeter and it includes all the greats-- Adam Smith , Thomas Malthus, John Stuart Mill and the Utopians (which is a great name for a band) David Ricardo, Thorstein Veblen, Karl Marx and crew-- and Heilbroner has done all the reading, so for each man, he presents you with an overview, a few entertaining and telling anecdotes, some pithy quotations, and a logical summary of their theory and how accurate it was . . . and his conclusion is that all these men were prescient and discovered something new about the economic workings of their own world and were able to predict into the near future, but as times and technology changed, their theories fell by the wayside (David Ricardo and globalization) and Heilbroner wonders if it will ever be possible to make such predictions again, as he sees the world now as a combination of economics and politics that is well near impossible to unravel.
Daniel H. Pink's book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us certainly explains this blog and Gheorghe and Greasetruck; it summarizes the counter-intuitive evidence that we are not motivated by greater extrinsic rewards (these kinds of rewards are addictive, counter-productive, and are essentially a dead end) but instead we are driven by the intrinsic value of what we are doing . . . and he cites numerous examples of how people will work harder on something they choose over something they are paid to do . . . it's easy enough to see this through the passion people have for their hobbies-- runners don't consider running "work," people do crossword puzzles for fun, and I don't consider writing this blog a job (it took me a year to realize the pun on "sentence of dave") so then the book tackles the tougher problem of how to make work and school more like an avocation than a vocation: Steve Martin, in Mamet's The Spanish Prisoner says, "It's fine when your hobbies get in the way of work, but when they get in the way of each other, that's a problem."
Once in a while I get focused and read an entire book in one day, but it's got to be an easy read with a nice font and some pictures, and Nancy G. Heller's slender book Why a Painting is Like a Pizza: A Guide to Understanding and Enjoying Modern Art fit the bill-- it sheds some light on Mondrian and those ridiculous white canvasses and weird installations and Damien Hirst's shark in formaldehyde (The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living) and though I don't buy everything she says, it's a nice tour through post-modernism: one urinal out of a possible fish.
Paranormal Activity is very Blair Witch and I will say this: it is scary-- it even made me a have a nightmare, but as a movie it's kind of repetitive and the characters are even more illogical than most archetypal horror movie characters (who are already highly illogical: I heard something growling upstairs, let's go check it out, without any sort of weapon, holding this camera . . .) and ends it ends predictably and rather lamely (unlike the The Blair Witch Project, which has one of the best endings in cinema history) so if you're in the mood to sit tensely, it's fine, but it's not going to leave you with much to think about: the Ouija boards out of five (I used Ouija Boards because I wanted to see if I could spell "Ouija" correctly and I did!)
Someone brought in a bunch of cheesecake on Friday, and I didn't want to each a bunch of cheesecake and Stacy didn't want to eat a bunch of cheesecake . . . so Stacy gave me twenty dollars to hold, and if she ate any cheesecake, then I wouldn't return it, and I gave her twenty dollars and the deal was the same, but then we thought we'd better involve an unbiased third party . . . so we gave the money to Liz to hold in escrow, and it worked like a charm-- neither of us caved-- and it appears to be a brilliant strategy for eating healthy . . . unless, of course, you do break down and eat a slice of cheesecake, because then you're not going to pay twenty dollars for one slice, so to cut your losses you'll probably go berserk and eat five slices of cheesecake so that they only cost you four dollars per slice.
I could never imagine that people would be so rabid about something as mundane as sinus irrigation, but when I was suffering some sinus problems last week, I had a wide variety of people-- teachers, students, old, young, male female-- recommend the Neti Pot, which is a little magical lamp that you fill with water mixed with a packet of salt and other magical stuff, and then you insert the bulb of the lamp into your nostril, lean over the sink, and pour . . . and like magic, water pours out your other nostril, after circulating through your brain and cleaning out your synapses-- and it worked, it actually worked!
A good day skim-boarding at the beach for young and old on Saturday: Alex had his first real success, he's now strong enough to chuck the board and brave enough to jump on it with both feet-- he was "in the zone" for over an hour until the tide got to low-- and my recently rehabilitated knee (the knee cap popped out of the groove while playing soccer) held up as well, and a high school kid with a much cooler skim-board than me and a wet-suit gave me some pointers and told me I needed a much larger board (he did not add "because you are fat" . . . he was very polite).
I'm slightly embarrassed that this was the movie that I had the "Netflix team" working their damnedest on so that I could receive it in a timely manner . . . perhaps if it was an obscure Jean-Luc Godard film I wouldn't feel so bad . . . but I am trying to develop an appreciation of our neighbors to the North, so I need access to the great works of Canadian culture:
Trailer Park Boys: Countdown to Liquor Day was not available from your local shipping center; fortunately, it was available from a shipping center in another part of the country; it's on its way and should arrive within 3 to 5 days; you'll notice we also sent the next available DVD from your Queue to enjoy while Trailer Park Boys: Countdown to Liquor Day makes its way to you--
The Netflix Team."