An Unexpected (And Possibly Rude) Request

While I was handing cash to the gas station attendant at Raceway, he made a strange request . . . he said, "Do you have any extra?" and I was confused-- it was very early in the morning-- until I saw that he was looking into the back of my Jeep, where I still had a bag of soccer balls from the fall season, and it took me a second to realize he was asking if I could spare a ball for him, because obviously I had too many balls for one man (despite the fact that a cheap soccer ball costs one quarter the price of a tank of gas) and once I understood his request, I answered: "They're not mine, they're the school's soccer balls," and this seemed to satisfy him . . . but I think this a breach of etiquette . . . when you are paying money for something, the person you are paying shouldn't ask you for some of your stuff, right?

Watchmen Makes You Earn It

I finally finished Watchmen, the heralded graphic novel that treats super-heroes as realistically as a Henry James novel treats consciousness, and it was an engrossing read-- it requires total commitment to get through a page-- the level of detail in the frames is astounding, the shifting genres are always perfect in tone, and the plot is dense and complex . . . and if you suffer through the cold, dark, corrupt world-- including the comic book within the Watchmen universe, the tale of the Black Freighter-- then there is a reward at the end: some traditional comic book fun . . . I can't wait to see how they did it in the film version.

Kids Those Days . . .

Don't expect new book reviews any time soon, as I am re-reading War and Peace . . . super-translators Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky came out with a new translation a few years ago, and even though I'm familiar with the characters, the first scene, at Anna Pavlovna's soiree, is still brutal: full of French dialogue and explanatory footnotes, historical references, and loads of characters with long Russian names, but if you survive, then Tolstoy rewards you with something more exciting-- a night of drinking and debauchery, including a drinking challenge (Dolokhov chugs an entire bottle of rum while sitting on a ledge) and a prank . . . after the party the Dolokhov, Pierre, and Anatole tie a policeman to the back of a tame bear and toss the pair into the river, so that the policeman flails about while the bear swims . . . and that sets the bar pretty high for drunken idiocy . . . I've never done anything THAT stupid and I doubt my kids will either, so if they ever commit any drunken shenanigans, I'll take a deep breath and remember to compare it to the bear and the policeman.

The Kids Are All Right (Not The Kids Are Alright)

I had a hard time separating the title of this film from the catchy chorus of the similarly named Who song . . . but it only took a moment of viewing before my wife and I were settled into the sun-soaked world of Southern California (the light reminded me of Sideways) and a fairly traditional family drama-- despite a lesbian marriage and a sperm donor; Mark Ruffalo, Julianne Moore, and Annette Bening are such good actors that every beat works; the film is by turns, funny, awkward, dramatic, poignant, and in the end-- despite its hippie sensibility-- traditional: Annette Bening indignantly and rightfully defends her family from an "interloper" . . . nine heirloom tomatoes out of ten.

This Is the Reaction I Expect!

I received a voice-message at work on Tuesday, which is usually something bad-- and the computerized voice said that the message was "80 seconds long," which is a pretty long message, so I was expecting the worst  . . . an irate parent or an administrator reminding me of something important I had forgotten, but from the first moment of the message I knew this was going to be different; it was a woman calling to express her rapturous adulation for my editorial opposing charter schools (which had just appeared in the local paper) and it was so impassioned that it made me blush, there were times when she seemed to be at a loss for words, nearly swooning with emotion toward my "cogency," and to confirm my suspicions about the tone, I let a few other people listen to the message (I've been known, on occasion, to misinterpret the female tone of voice) and they all agreed that I was correct in my inference . . . and I can't reproduce the commentary from the other teachers here because this is a family friendly blog, but you can imagine what went on (and I should point out that the woman-- who no longer has any students in the school-- left her phone number, though she said I didn't have to call her back) and, though it made me a bit uncomfortable, I think I'd like more of these messages, so if you read something wonderful that I've written, this is the reaction I will now expect of you.

Kids Love Earwax and Vomit

Our friends went to Disney last week and they brought the boys back some Bertie Bott's Jelly Beans from HoneyDukes Candy Store; some of the beans are tasty: watermelon, blueberry, and lemon . . . some are bizarre: grass, black pepper-- which is actually kind of satisfying-- and dirt (which left a lingering dusty flavor at the top of my mouth) . . . and some are thoroughly disgusting: earwax, vomit, sausage, rotten egg, and soap . . . and the kids kept selecting the gross ones, so they could scream about how repulsive they tasted and then spit them into the garbage.

Impatience and Convenience Go Hand in Hand

 Whoever invented the mechanism that allows you to remove the coffee-pot while the coffee is still brewing-- so that you can have a cup before the process is even finished-- was a brilliant, impatient man.

Bad Hair Night

Thursday night, minutes before I had to drive my kids to indoor soccer, I noticed some stray and unseemly gray hairs poking from the right side of my head, and I decided that I would trim them with my beard trimmer, but-- perhaps because I was in a rush-- I slipped . . . and cut a dent into my hair just above my right ear, and in my attempts to "even things out," I made the situation much, much worse, but then I felt obligated to make it equally as "even" on the other side of my head, so that at least my new style would be symmetrically bad . . . and in the end, I essentially gave myself a mullet (and a poor one, at that) and though I frantically tried to erase this by trimming randomly around the back of my head, I couldn't fix things and I had to take the kids to soccer and Catherine was at a meeting about charter schools, so I went to soccer looking like a lunatic, which the other parents found highly entertaining, and then when I got home, I was slated to go out for beers, and so I asked my wife if she would fix my hair first but she said, "No way, I'm exhausted, I'll do it tomorrow," and then she laughed at my misfortune and took a picture of the back of my head . . . but I was happy enough to be getting out on the town and so I said, "Who cares what I look like, it's not like I'm going out to pick-up girls," and she said, "Not that you could," and then, luckily (or unluckily for my students, who would have really enjoyed getting a look at my sorry head) we had a delayed opening due to snow and Catherine used a number 1 to shave away my remaining hair and make things look decent again.


My wife was extremely pleased with the Jets after last week's victory, but not because she is a fan . . . her pleasure came from from the spectacle of enormous grown men running around the field with their arms out, pretending to be jet-planes.

Will Success Go To My Head?

My editorial on charter schools was published in both the local paper (The Sentinel) and the regional paper (The Home News/Tribune) and some students told me their parents read it and agreed with my views . . . so the question is: will my successful foray into local activism go to my head? will I become a serious participant in local educational reform? will I start attending PTO and Board of Education meetings? will I continue to write editorials in an attempt to influence legislation? will I continue to fight the good fight? . . . or will I go back to recording psychedelic music with annoying monologues and make videos for them with stop-motion dry erase animation? . . . I would bet on the latter.

Am I A Narcissist?

I always assumed I was a narcissist (exhibit A: this blog) but perhaps I am wrong; Jennifer Senior's article "The Benjamin Button Election" defines a narcissist as someone "impatient, vainglorious, easily insulted, and aggrieved: they'd never dream of making sacrifices on anyone else's behalf, unless it simultaneously advanced an agenda of their own" and I don't really think that describes me at all-- I am certainly not easily insulted and aggrieved, and I sacrifice plenty for my kids . . . but to make sure of this, I took an Online Narcissism Test and I scored a 13 out of 40, which is actually below the average score for an American (15) . . . but I wonder: does taking time to take an Online Narcissism Test automatically make you a narcissist?

Some Aid For Governor Christie

I've been very critical of Governor Christie's treatment of teachers, so in the spirit of fair play, I'll give him some ammunition to wield in his next attack on us: teachers are paid in salary and benefits, but we are also paid in moral superiority and no one accounts for how much this is worth monetarily when they are computing school budgets . . . I know when I'm done teaching a lesson about Shakespeare's Henry IV pt. 1-- one of great works of Western Civilization-- that I feel pretty damn superior; my self-esteem is riding high, my body is full of all kinds of positive hormones, and I feel as though I'm contributing something fantastic to the world . . . and that's worth a lot of money . . . of course, I don't feel as morally superior as one of those doctors without borders or someone who volunteers to work with the homeless or a scientist who has just cured leprosy . . . but I certainly feel morally superior to a gun runner arming a genocide or a guy who tranches synthetic CDO's or an elephant poacher.

An Elegant Grocery Analogy

My wife called the new H-mart on Route 27 in Edison, "Wegmans for Koreans," which is Donald Draper-like in its poetic brevity . . . and I recommend taking a stroll through the store: it's full of weird sea-food (much of it alive!) and exotic packaged food, unusual produce, rows and rows of dumplings, employees giving out free samples, stacks of strange condiments and Asian conviviality.

David Mamet and I Share A Moment

Once you wade through the nautical terms (including the most awkward word in the English language: fo'c'sle . . . and a rope splicing term that will make you blush) then Patrick O'Brian's novel Master and Commander is less about sailing a brig in the Napoleonic Wars-- although there is plenty about sailing-- and more about how Commander Jack Aubrey navigates his great authority over men, while still being under the authority of his ranking officers; it is the first book in a series of twenty-one and I will certainly read more of them, though they are, as David Mamet calls them in a Times article, "Humble Genre Novels," but he argues that they will last longer than any of "today's putative literary gems," and then Mamet decides he will write a fan letter to O'Brian, thanking him for the great series, only to read in the newspaper that O'Brian has just died . . . and this reminds me of when I "discovered" Mitch Hedberg on a comedy DVD from Netflix, thought he was brilliantly funny, and went on-line to check if he was coming to The Stress Factory any time soon, only to find he had just died.

Some Predictions

My clairvoyance is well documented, so pay close attention to my Predictions for 2011: jeans will get even tighter, the accordion will NOT make a comeback,  the debate over how much a corporate entity can tranche a synthetic collateral debt obligation will bore people, Americans will forget about soccer until the next world cup, Leonardo DiCaprio will not make a screwball comedy, many people will go on diets, and I will eat more tacos.

Charter Schools and Vouchers: The Math Doesn't Add Up

Once again, I have written an argument against charter schools and vouchers, but this might appeal to more conservative minds, as it deals with the financial consequences of Governor Christie's legislation; please read it, get involved, sign the petition, write letters to the newspaper and your political representatives, and I promise to return to my usual stupidity.

Born on the Fourth of July

Last weekend I watched Born on the Fourth of July-- and though I'm usually not an Oliver Stone fan, except for Platoon-- this film really moved me, and while I was watching I was unaware that it is based on a true story, and so at the end, when Ron Kovic speaks at the the 1976 Democratic National Convention, I thought it got a bit far-fetched, but apparently truth is stranger than fiction; thi film should be shown in high schools throughout the South, to discourage sincere, honorable, well-intentioned youth from joining the service and being used as fodder for the lunatics that start wars . . . Ron Kovic's naive patriotic attitude and gradual transformation to an informed activist reminds me of the more recent tale of NFL safety turned Army Ranger, Pat Tillmon . . . aside from the fact, as my friend Terry pointed out, that Tillman didn't have to deal with his knowledge about the war, because he was killed, not crippled.

Erich Pratt Reminds Us of Our God-given Rights

Erich Pratt, the director of communications for Gun Owners of America, recently made an interesting claim: "These politicians need to remember that these rights aren't given to us by them; they come from God; they are God-given rights; they can't be infringed or limited in any way-- what are they going to do: limit it two or three rounds?-- having lots of ammunition is critical, especially if the police are not around and you need to be able to defend yourself against mobs," and I'm wondering what other rights God has given us that I've overlooked and not exploited to the fullest . . . certainly He has given us the right to urinate on a tree when there is no bathroom nearby, and I think He has given us the right to eat a slice of pizza from the pie while you are driving aforementioned pizza pie home from the pizzeria, but I wonder if He has given us the right to go without underwear while walking to get bagels before 8 AM . . . I will have to contact Erich Pratt and find out.

Somewhere Between The Matrix and Inception I Learn How To Communicate With Women

Twelve years ago, my future wife and I went to the movies to see The Matrix, and during the film my future wife expressed her confusion with the plot, and so I whispered a long-winded explanation to her: beginning with Plato's cave, mentioning Tron and Lawnmower Man, citing William Gibson, and finally explaining how this ancient theme of living in a world of created shadows was being used by the Wachowski brothers . . . and I don't think this explanation helped her enjoy the film and, looking back, I'm sure she thought I was an annoying wind-bag, but she still married me, and--get this-- I have IMPROVED myself; last weekend we started watching Inception and because I had the flu, my wife had been minding the boys all day, so she was exhausted, and after about an hour of watching, she started falling asleep and she called the movie "stupid" and "full of itself," and I had been paying very close attention and I could have explained exactly what was happening, but instead of attempting a long-winded explanation,  I AGREED with her, because she was right-- the film is full of itself, and she just wanted some validation of her emotions-- and the next day, while our kids were at the movies with my parents-- she let me explain the plot to her and we sat down and watched the rest of the movie together and had a great discussion about it afterward . . . and so, slowly  but surely, I am learning how to communicate with women.

My Very Own Original Thoughts on Inception (I Think)

There is nothing new I can say about the plot of Inception that isn't said here or here, but I do have a few tangentially related points that I'm pretty sure originate from my own consciousness . . . although I can't be completely sure . . .

1) In both of his 2010 films, Leonardo DiCaprio plays a role where he is married to an insane woman who detaches herself emotionally from her children . . . I think his agent should recommend a romantic comedy with Jennifer Aniston, not only to lighten things up a bit but also to prevent him from being type-cast as a guy who's always married to a deranged child neglecting filicidal woman;

2) Like Memento, Nolan's other mind-bending film, Inception is a far better idea than movie-- it's more fun to reflect on it than it is to actually watch it . . . and for pacing and action in this genre, I prefer The Matrix, and for shared dreams, I prefer Dark City;

3) None of the aforementioned movies is as good as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and the reason is this: if you are going to be trapped in someone's mind, it's far more entertaining to dash about with Kate Winslet and Jim Carrey than to knock around with Leonardo DiCaprio and his somber crew.

Bonus: I Write Something Serious . . . Blechh.

I spent yesterday venting my anger towards our Governor by writing this editorial about charter schools-- I'm sending it to our congressmen and the Home News, but I suppose it's just as easy to post it on the internet and see who stumbles on it; tomorrow I will return to my usual stupidity (and there is a petition to sign with the letter, if you want to get involved).

My Public Service For The Month

From time to time, I like to ask my students general knowledge questions, both to get an idea of what they know and to make them more "culturally literate," and so last week I asked them to estimate the population of the United States and while a few students were fairly accurate (and some had heard the census results on the news) the range of guesses was rather astounding; it went from 600,00 to 300 billion, and there was even a teacher who guessed way over the top (9 billion) . . . and so in a self-less and truly philanthropic effort to promote number sense-- an effort that should warrant some sort of award or at least coupons for free meals in the Prytaneum-- I have filched the graphics from Greg Mankiw's Blog-- he's an economics professor at Harvard-- and they illustrate, in terms of 100$ bills, what a million dollars, a billion dollars and a trillion dollars (note the little dude on the left to get the scale) look like; you can read his whole post on this here.

The Professor and the Madman Lives Up to Its Subtitle

The subtitle of Simon Winchester's book The Professor and the Madman is "A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary," and it comes through brilliantly on all accounts; there is a mysterious murder in the "louche and notoriously crime-ridden" London neighborhood of Lambeth Marsh; there is a detailed account of American military surgeon Dr. Minor, who-- despite his paranoid fantasies of Irishmen and pygmies living beneath his floorboards, depraved folk waiting until dark to come out and commit lewd and indecent acts on him-- manages to be the most significant contributor to the OED; and, as any book that is about making the OED should, it has some really hard vocabulary words, here are a few that I had to look up: louche, tocsin, breveted, and (warning! spoiler!) autopeotomy.

Test Your Chronological Acumen

This YouTube clip (thanks Adam) contains fairly ancient Super 8mm footage of the high school where I work . . . and the question is this: using only hairstyles, cars, and clothing . . . what year was it shot?

Roger Ebert Screws Up (And I Catch Him!)

My wife and I watched another art documentary (and this one, though very well done, isn't as gripping as Exit Through The Gift Shop . . . Catherine feel asleep for a portion) but The Art of the Steal certainly documents a complex story in a fairly comprehensive-- albeit one-sided-- way; Albert C. Barnes amassed an incredible collection of post-impressionistic art (valued at 25 billion) and created a trust and and what seemed to be an iron-clad will with the purpose of keeping these paintings in the art school he created in Merion, Pa-- outside the hands of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the art establishment that he despised-- and the film documents the political machinations that will finally lead to the art being moved to a new building in downtown Philadelphia . . . from the perspective of the Barnes Foundation it is a sad story, but here is a alternate view to the one the documentary presents . . . and though the film is pretty complex, I was able to make it through the entire thing, unlike Roger Ebert, who either fell asleep or didn't finish watching: he claims in his review that the paintings are now in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, although they are never going to end up there . . . and as of this moment they are still in Merion and you can make an appointment and visit them so while I usually think Ebert is right on about movies, he botched this one (but I'll give him a break since he's certainly had his troubles for the last four years and it's impressive that he's still churning out the reviews).

True Grit

Though I wanted to see True Grit, the plan was to see The Fighter: I think the ladies wanted to watch Mark Wahlberg with his shirt off, but The Fighter was sold out, so we had to settle for True Grit, and Jeff Bridges did not take his shirt off, which was probably a good thing, because he appeared to be pasty and fat under his dirty long-johns, but he was an excellent Rooster Cogburn and Hailee Steinfeld played his vengeful fourteen year old sidekick Mattie Ross pitch perfectly and Matt Damon (who also did not take his shirt off, but did pull back his vest to reveal his Texas Ranger badge) was surprisingly droll as LaBouef and Barry Pepper (who reverse eponymously played Lucky Ned Pepper) and the rest of the bad guys looked as snaggle-toothed and depraved as they should have; the movie is faithful to plot, language, drama, and dry humor of the Portis novel and the images of the aged Mattie Ross are unforgettable . . . ten corn dodgers out of ten (my only complaint is that Mattie never said, "Men will live like billy goats if they are let alone," which is my favorite line from the book).

Super Sad True Love Story Is Not A Love Story

Gary Shteyngart's new novel, Super Sad True Love Story, presents itself as such, but, like the great film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, it is actually not a love story at all, it is science fiction (if you use my definition) and though the romance between Lenny Abramov (another Russian Jew, but nearly as cool as Misha Vainberg) and Eunice Park fuels the plot, it also fuels Shteyngart's satirical view of the near future; Lenny is embarrassed that he is nearly forty and growing old, that he still likes books and has trouble with the credit rankings and "F*ckability" scores that everyone is receiving on their "äppäräti,"that he occasionally enjoys alcohol and carbs, and that he can't live up to his boss Joshie's dream of eternal youth, while Eunice-- the youngster-- has trouble "verballing" with Lennie and her parents and her sister, can't imagine a place for herself in a rapidly failing America, can't decipher an actual text-- she majored in Images at school and is effectively textually illiterate, though she can read to mine data-- and loves to shop at "AssLuxury," though she doesn't wear translucent "Onionskin" jeans . . . I give it eight credit poles out of ten.

Beans, Beans, They're Good For Your Heart . . .

Catherine made some delicious yellow lentils with sauteed onions and butter in the crock-pot a few days ago, and I took the remainder to work with me yesterday, but because of my lack of Tupperawareness, I packed far more than a single portion into my container, and I also had a sandwich (baked chicken and hummus, which is delicious, but hummus is also made from a legume . . . this will be significant later) so I decided to eat the lentils during my snack-time (around 9:15 AM) and I held up the medium sized Tupperware container-- which was filled to the brim with lentils-- and said to the new teacher, "There's no way I can eat this many lentils this early," but every spoonful was so smooth and buttery and delicious, and so fifteen minutes later the lentils were gone; I felt as if I had swallowed a medium sized tortoise, shell and all, but I had to go teach Henry IV, and I guess I didn't realize that lentils are in the bean family and have the same digestive effect, and it probably didn't help that later in the day I threw the chicken and hummus sandwich on top of this mound of beans, but luckily it wasn't bitterly cold outside and I was able to open my classroom windows, so no students suffered the consequences of my gluttony and I have learned a valuable lesson.

I Finally Impress My Son

This blog is usually about my social failures, awkward moments, and general nerdiness but-- although I know it's not as entertaining-- I would like to write about a moment of triumph, so please bear with me; we took our children to the H20 Waterpark in the Poconos over the break and one of the attractions is the Komodo Dragon, which is defined as "an indoor Flowrider for Riding Waves"; it's a plastic hill with water jetting across its surface and you can boogie board or surf on it while the people in line watch you wipe-out . . . the surfing is especially non-intuitive and difficult and of all the people we watched, no one was able to remain on the board (except the employee running the thing) and after my son Alex rode on the boogie board, I tried my hand at the surfboard and I was able to remain on it for quite a while-- perhaps because of years of skim boarding and snow boarding, although everything worked opposite as far as turning and balance-- and my generally grouchy six year old son, who is rarely moved by anything his parents know or do, said, "I was impressed Dad, you were the only one who didn't fall."

Do Me A Favor

I wouldn't mind if two particular possessions of mine were stolen: 1) my snowboard . . . which I got at a Burton factory sale for fifty dollars eight years ago; the board features now defunct strap-less bindings and I hate them because I never know if I'm completely locked in and sometimes I find out that I'm not locked in while I am hurtling headlong down an icy mountain 2) my 1993 Jeep Cherokee Sport, which features no A/C, no cup-holder, self-hiding seat belt buckles, a driver side door that does not open when the temperature drops below freezing, a ripe smell, several colonies of spiders, no driver side sun visor, a burned out differential which creates a lack of Quadra-Trac four wheel drive, and a foam ceiling that is peeling away in strips.

Here's Something Fun To Do If You Live In The Northeast

Go onto the Great Wolf Lodge Reservations page and check the price per night for the Lodge in the Poconos (489 dollars a night) and then check the same days for the Lodge in Traverse City (189 dollars a night) and then tell your kids that you are moving the family to Michigan.

Imagine This Sentence In The Voice of Steven Wright

I enjoyed Prefontaine, but it's been fourteen years . . . when are they going to make Fontaine?

Unresolutions for 2011

I am proud to say that I successfully complied with my 2010 Resolution--  not once did I create an ersatz Yogi Berra quotation in 2010 . . . so I have kicked that habit; for 2011, I am going to pay homage to the great Geoff Dyer (who wrote the ultimate un-book, Out of Sheer Rage, which is ostensibly a biography of D.H. Lawrence, but actually a treatise on procrastination and motivation; he never actually writes the biography-- although it is found in the BIO section of the library) and instead of resolving to do things this year, I am resolving to not do things, and Geoff Dyer put this better than me in this passage-- you should read the whole thing-- but if you're lazy, he essentially boils it down to this aphorism: Not being interested in the theatre provides me with more happiness than all the things I am interested in put together . . . and so here is my list of things that I resolve to remain "not interested in" for the year of 2011:

1) The theater (expensive, time-consuming, and it's for old people);

2) Golf (ditto);

3) The NHL;

4) Reality TV (even Jersey Shore);

5) The phrases "It is what it is," and "You know what I mean";

6) Tron nostalgia;

7) Going to PTO meetings (thanks Catherine!);

8) Baking;

9) Organizing the crawl space (thanks Catherine!);

10) Oprah's Book Club.
A New Sentence Every Day, Hand Crafted from the Finest Corinthian Leather.