Governor Christie promises he will pay into the state pension fund if a number of his demands are met (that's how collective bargaining works now in New Jersey) and one of his prerequisites is to raise the retirement age for teachers to sixty-five . . . and while I realize that 65 might be a typical retirement age in the private sector, it is not what was promised if you dedicated your life to education-- when I started teaching, the retirement age for teachers was fifty-five: it was one of the alluring things about the career-- and although the age has been raised periodically for new hires, it hasn't changed if you were "grand-fathered in," but the new proposal states that anyone with less than 25 years teaching experience must work until they are 65 before they can receive their pension, and I understand that the Governor is trying to balance the budget, but I am not sure that he's thought about the ramifications of this proposal:
1) Though it won't be so bad for this generation of kids, the next generation of children will rarely have the joy of a new, young teacher, idealistic and fresh out of college . . . instead they will be taught by old, bitter and wilted hags and crones, eking out those last few years before retirement and the big sleep . . .
2) It will be extremely difficult for new teachers to get jobs, because the old teachers won't be able to retire . . . and teaching is a young person's job-- it requires an incredible amount of energy and endurance-- so health care and logistical costs will sky-rocket because old teachers will be taking loads of sick days and using far more health care than young teachers . . .
3) The only time students will get a new, fresh, young idealistic teacher is when their old teacher dies, and this will inevitably happen in front of students, and the psychic toll this exacts on our population-- the collective trauma our youth will share, that they all have seen a teacher fall over in the middle of class, croak out a last bit of wisdom, and then die in front of them-- will off-set any budgetary benefits from the proposal;
4) On the plus side, this makes the rest of my life very easy to figure out . . . I don't have to worry about thinking about early retirement . . . what I might do with myself, where I might want to live . . . I will be in the same spot for the next twenty-five years, doing the same job, watching my colleagues grow old and wrinkled, living in the same house in the same town . . . and enjoying a higher quality of living that the vast majority of the humans on the planet . . . and there's something comforting in that, as long as I pace myself.
I went to Costco after school last week, and it was surprisingly satisfying . . . it wasn't crowded so I didn't have my usual panic attack (if I go with my wife on the weekend, I normally have to leave and go sit in the car) and instead I got this wonderfully primal feeling, a manly feeling, as I wandered through the cavernous space of goods, grabbing thing for my family, providing for my family . . . I felt like an ancient hunter/gatherer . . . hunting and gathering and occasionally stopping to eat a sample (the samples were crucial to this good feeling as they kept my blood sugar at a reasonable level) and when I got home with large packages of salmon and sausage and fruit and granola, I felt as if I had had wandered the earth and brought back a cornucopia for my family to eat and we would live to see another day, and possibly even another generation, as long as I could continue to forage with such a high rate of efficiency and variety.
Banksy, the acclaimed and aggressively anonymous street artist, was invited to the Oscars for his debut film Exit Through The Gift Shop but the Academy Awards denied his request to show up in disguise, and so Banksy says he will not be attending, which is more in character for him since he "does not agree with the concept of award ceremonies," though he is "prepared to make an exception" for awards which he is nominated . . . and my suggestion is that instead of trying to crash the ceremony in some covertly overt way, instead Banksy should hang out with Alan Moore on Oscar night and not watch the Oscars and not watch Watchmen and not watch anything at all, but instead have a serious discussion on the gullibility and naivete of the sort of people who like to look at things, like art and movies and award ceremonies, and how instead of looking at things, these people should make things that other people like to look at, like stencils and comic books, unless these people are Thierry Guerra, who maybe shouldn't be making art at all-- because Guerra makes terribly, derivative and kitschy crap-- unless Guerra is a creation of Bansky, and then his art is doubly ironic, and therefore significant.
When I am swimming laps in the pool at the gym, I pace myself against the swimmer in the adjacent lane, and I am a decent swimmer so unless the person is excellent, I can usually keep up with them, but nothing is more annoying than struggling to catch up with a swimmer that appears to be swimming at a leisurely pace, only to find that that they are wearing fins . . . I feel like these people need to wear little flags on their goggles that protrude above the water and read "I Cheat," so that you know they are swimming faster than they normally can.
It is very frustrating when you have a sudden and fantastic synaptic burst that results in a brilliant idea, and it goes unappreciated; for example, my son Alex was given an assignment for "Hundred Day"-- a day that simultaneously celebrates the number one hundred and the one-hundredth day of school-- he was instructed to attach one hundred objects to a large sheet of oak-tag in some creative manner, and we were brainstorming ideas and I came up with this one: he could use green marker to make the oak tag into a dollar bill and then glue one hundred pennies around the border or in some other pattern on the bill . . . so the project would not only fulfill the "Hundred Day" requirements, but it would also be a model of how many pennies are in a dollar: it would be creative, aesthetic, and educational on several levels, but Alex spurned my idea and instead glued a bunch of colored beans into a stupid and ugly spiral pattern, and I will never forgive him for this.
The bar was raised in numerous ways at this year's Sea Isle City Polar Plunge: 1) Due to more people on Friday night and more members of LeCompt present for the pre-plunge gig, Friday night partying was more intense and lasted far later into the night than last year-- we closed the Springfield Inn (and for the second time, I "sang" the ONE! TWO! THREE! FOUR! count out of the bridge of "Born to Run," and I thought this was a very odd coincidence, since this happened in the summer as well, but Connell said he locked eyes with LeCompt and sent him a telepathic message to shove the microphone in my face again and, unbeknowst to me, Dom was behind me pointing at my head to help Connel's telepathy . . . and I was glad that on Saturday this was not repeated for the third time, because I do not want my claim to fame to be that I am the 1-2-3-4 guy) 2) due to warmish (though very windy) weather and an ocean temperature near forty degrees, one plunge into the sea was not enough to prove your manhood . . . I was lured back in by Ed, who went in once but didn't dive under and get his hair wet, and decided he had to do the full dunk (and I didn't realize he was very drunk and I didn't want to seem less macho than him) and I was glad I did a second plunge and was feeling quite tough, but then Mose outdid everyone with a third full submersion 3) pre-plunge inebriation was at a record level perhaps because we are veterans now so we weren't nervous about the effects of very cold water on the body but mainly due to the twenty-something crew and the twenty-something at heart couple (Mel and Ed) 4) the bar was raised on plunge style . . . Catherine and Lynn plunged with polar bear hats and one of the youngsters plunged in a bat girl costume and another dressed as The Joker 5) LeCompt's guest guitarist raised the bar on insanely great guitar shredding and the Springfield raised the bar on how crowded it could get . . . the town itself was packed because of the unseasonable weather, so lots of money for Autism 6) I raised the bar on humor so high that the hung-over people Saturday morning couldn't even process the brilliance of my joke and I had to repeat it when some fresh people showed up later in the day . . . I told everyone that I went to the registration tent and that we had the wrong weekend . . . this wasn't Polar Plunge Weekend, it was Bi-Polar Plunge Weekend, and that it was really crazy out there . . . and instead of laughing and complimenting my A-list material, everyone just stared at me blankly, but the second time around a few people chuckled . . . it's hard to explain, I guess it's one of those jokes where you had to be there, and even if you were there it wasn't very funny . . . so I guess you had to be me to appreciate it.
I am reading War and Peace for the second time right now-- and that's not counting the time I read six hundred pages and and then quit, so really it's my third time reading the first half-- and it is even more absorbing and epic than ever (partly because of the new and excellent translation and partly because now I recognize all the insanely long Russian names) but according to internet theorist and "digital media scholar" Clay Shirky, this is not possible . . . because he infamously wrote in 2008: "No one reads War and Peace . . . it's too long, and not so interesting," and people have "increasingly decided that Tolstoy's sacred work isn't actually worth the time it takes to read it," and although I know that Shirky was probably grandstanding when he wrote that and isn't actually that stupid, I'm going to treat him literally and challenge him to a Tolstoy era duel . . . our weapons will be appropriate-- I will fight with a copy of War and Peace, which at 1200 pages is hefty enough to cave in the soft skull of an academic, and he can defend himself with his lap-top . . . so Clay Shirky, I will be waiting by the "smoker's gate" after school today and every day until you arrive, with my weapon in hand-- which I can also read while I wait (one of the benefits of a large book) . . . this library isn't big enough for the both of us.
I learned something about couscous the other day: I was trying to time dinner so that everything was ready exactly when my wife and kids got back from swim lessons, and so I followed the instructions on the couscous box and prepped the mixture ahead of time so that it would be ready to cook at a moment's notice . . . I mixed the flavor packet and the couscous and 1 1/4 cups of water and left that on the stove while I chopped up stuff for salad and then when I went to boil the water, I found that the couscous had absorbed soaked it all up, though the stove wasn't on, and when Catherine got home I told her what I had discovered: that you need to cook couscous right away or it absorbs all the cold water, and she said, "It says to add the couscous to boiling water," and I disagreed, but we checked the box and she was right . . . I must have read the instructions wrong, which is weird because I'm an English teacher.
The movie The Damned United, which portrays Brian Clough-- England's most celebrated, enigmatic, abrasive and outspoken soccer coach-- is probably much more fun to watch as a clueless American . . . I have heard Clough's name mentioned by my British friends, but I didn't know his story: his great and bitter rivalry with Don Revie; his ups and downs with the brains of the operation, Peter Taylor; and the saga of his coaching career . . . the film also contains excellent archival soccer footage and lots of kitsch from the late sixties and seventies: cars, uniforms, wall-paper and style: ten footballers out of a perfect eleven.
Once again, I discovered my gym bag in the closet upside-down, and I was not the one who did this-- because I never put my gym-bag away, nor do I ever zip it shut-- but my wife often throws it into the closet and if it lands upside-down, then my gym equipment falls out of the bag: my goggles and socks and deodorant, etc.-- and though I noted this with frustration for years, it finally dawned on me . . . perhaps my wife was throwing the gym bag into the closet upside-down because she hated the fact that I always left it out, unzipped, with it's bowels exposed . . . because if she was just tossing it into the closet without any passive-aggressive anger, then 50% of the time it would land right-side up and 50% of the time it would land upside-down, but the gym bag ALWAYS seemed to land upside-down and, as I said, this had been happening for years so I had a decent sample size to evaluate, so I approached my wife about this and after a moment of denial she admitted that perhaps it did end up upside-down more than probability might dictate and that perhaps she was angry about my habit of leaving it out all the time, and so I told her I would try to put it away, and she promised not to throw it into the closet upside-down and the moral is: the key to a good marriage is clear communication and a grasp of basic probability.
Each year San Jose State University sponsors the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, where entrants are challenged to write the worst beginning sentence to a novel . . . and I usually get my Creative Writing students to enter and I send a sentence of two myself, and I last week Googled myself (you've got to Google yourself every once in a while, right?) and, although I was never informed of this great honor, I found one of my entries in the Miscellaneous Dishonorable Mentions but if you don't want to read through them all-- though I recommend this because they are funny-- I have copied it here for your convenience: As always, that morning he awoke to the melodious sound of a stream of water cascading into a still pool, punctuated by several ominous silences-- and he could judge, by the length of the silences and the volume of the cascade, just how much of his three-year-old son's urine he would have to wade through to get to the sink.
Though the Seinfeld gang led pathetic and shallow lives, they could always turn to each other for camaraderie-- even at the end in their jail cell-- and Larry David's misadventures in Curb Your Enthusiasm are even more awkward and painful, but at the end of the day, Larry still has Cheryl and Jeff by his side (until Cheryl leaves him) but in Louis C.K.'s hysterically funny and sincerely sad and depressing FX comedy Louie, Louie has no one except his young daughters-- and they tend to add to his anxiety rather than assuage it-- and aside from them, there are no other recurring characters that appear in every episode . . . Louie faces his depression alone, whether it be during the opening theme when he joylessly inhales a slice of pizza; or on stage doing his stand-up, which seems to be the only happy time in his life; or on his various adventures in New York . . . and he is doing the show on the cheap, so FX has given him carte blanche to do what he wants, so the show goes from clever to bawdy to surreal, often in one twenty minute episode: ten gallons of ice cream out of ten.
My six year old son Alex expressed his skepticism over the clairvoyance of Punxsutawny Phil, and he also expressed his disdain for his first grade classmates who believed in Phil's meteorological predictions, but he told me that he didn't say anything derogatory to those classmates about their irrational beliefs . . . and I told him that was a wise decision.
Sunday morning, while playing indoor soccer, I hit a slick patch on the gym floor and my feet slid backwards and into the air, and it happened so quickly that I didn't have time to brace my fall, and so I fell on my lips, which really hurt . . . but good thing I have such juicy and luscious lips or I might have suffered a broken tooth.
In my composition class, one of the options for the classification and division essay is an assignment I stole from Bess Ward, a science professor at Princeton (I found this in a book by Natalie Angier called The Canon: A Whirligig Tour of the Basics of Science) and her idea is to take something you worry about and do a risk-assessment on it . . . for example, you eat two cans of tuna a week and you want to figure out if this is actually dangerous so you do the math-- you figure out how much mercury is in each can and you multiply this by what you eat and check the EPA web-site and see if you are consuming a dangerous amount of mercury . . . so first I ask the students to list specific things they worry about . . . and they list things such as: shark attack, tanning too much, not getting into college, dying alone, being eaten by spiders, smoking etc.-- and then I have them classify them into three categories-- Innocuous, Worth Consternation, and Red Alert!-- and then I have them switch so someone can constructively criticize their logic . . . and here I offer some statistics and mathematical strategies they can use when assessing the risk of their various worries . . . for instance, the odds of an American being killed by a shark is 1 in 264 million . . . so maybe you don't need to worry about that as much as drowning or being hit by lightning; so after the class has done this and I'm walking around inspecting lists, I notice a pair of worries that would be instructive for the class, so I ask the student if I can use her list (and this is a student who mentioned when we started this that it might bring up some serious emotions and anxieties) and she says sure (I've had this student in several classes) and so I proceed to explain to the class that the girl's fear of dying in a plane crash isn't statistically likely (over 10 million flights and no fatalities last year) but that her fear of "her college boyfriend leaving her" might be something worth worrying over because there was probably a far greater chance of a high school relationship disintegrating than the hull of a Boeing . . . and I guess my logic was so convincing that it upset her and she broke into tears and needed to take a walk to compose herself . . . but she was laughing about it by the end of class, and because of my previous track record of invented scenarios, the other students thought it was some kind of pre-arranged set-up . . . but I told them it was NOT and I will be more careful with my razor sharp logic in the future.
Last weekend, I consumed 11 volumes of Walking Dead comic books (but now I am back on track with the new translation of War and Peace) and I am completely addicted . . .the plots are inventive, surprising, and very, very dark . . . and I was pleasantly surprised as to how appealing a zombie apocalypse is to think about: it's not like the typical superhero scenarios of good versus evil-- where you contemplate what sort of hero the world needs and what sort of actions that hero needs to implement; The Walking Dead forces you to ruminate on survival scenarios, about how far you would go to continue living and to protect your wife and kids-- it reminds me of Cormac McCarthy's The Road in that sense, but the series is much more fun to read because of the pictures-- unlike Watchmen, they are easy to digest . . . sometimes my eyes would race through an entire page and then I would go back and read the text to see exactly what happened-- and each volume has a serialized pulp feel and ends with a cliffhanger or major event, without ever being especially campy or cheesy: ten lurkers out of ten.
Last Saturday, during the freezing rain storm, Alex and Ian built an elaborate fort in the living room: they covered a card table with an afghan, surrounded their make-shift tent with walls of large pillows, and made beds with camping pads and sleeping bags inside; their plan was to sleep in it Saturday night-- Alex even went so far as to bring clothing down for the next morning, so he wouldn't have to bother climbing the stairs-- and they stocked their fortress with books and flash-lights and other necessary toys so they could entertain themselves . . . I turned the downstairs bathroom light on so they could get their bearings in the dark, but it was a windy night, and twenty minutes after lights out, we heard footsteps on the stairs and Alex told us that both of them decided-- mutually-- that they would rather sleep upstairs, although neither mentioned why they retreated so rapidly and I didn't press them on it . . . perhaps they will be braver next time.
I have mentioned that I can't really understand why fans of the graphic novel Watchmen despise Zach Snyder's movie version . . . I think it's a good rendition of that universe, and after seeing Snyder's previous movie, 300, which is an adaptation of the eponymous Frank Miller graphic novel about the Battle of Thermopylae, I find the film Watchmen even more impressive . . . because 300 is one of the cheesiest movies ever made (despite some cool battle gore and monstrous humanoid warriors) but I guess some people will never be happy with the film version of anything, such as the counter-cultural icon Alan Moore himself, who wrote Watchmen; Moore claims he has never watched any of the Hollywood film adaptations of his creations . . . this includes V for Vendetta and From Hell and Constantine and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, but I am calling bullshit on this . . . I think he has seen them and he's not admitting it . . . a man of his intellectual stature and creative powers would be overcome with curiosity about how his art withstood the transformation into film, and despite his hatred for Hollywood blockbusters and all the vapidness they represent, he must have seen a bit of at least one of these films . . . at least a trailer or a YouTube clip or something . . . so Alan Moore, confess, you were curious and you checked out one or more of these movies . . . it's okay, your fans will forgive you.
I was suffering the embarrassment of an "invalid magnetic strip" at the grocery store-- for both my ATM card and my credit card-- and the cashier suggested I encase the card in a plastic bag and then slide it through the machine, and this trick worked . . . though when I asked why, she had no answer for me (better to ask this guy) and so the irony is that although I brought my own reusable cloth bags in order to save the environment (even though they may kill me because of the high lead content) it was a good thing that they had those environmentally awful plastic bags, or I wouldn't have been able to pay.
While walking to a friend's house I thought of a brilliant way to parody the hit Cee Lo Green song "F*ck You" . . . instead of the profane chorus, I would sing Frak You and make the lyrics all about Battlestar Galactica, and so I started composing lyrics as I walked-- "I see you flying round space with the girl I love and I'm like Frak You!" . . . and if you were a Cylon, you'd still be my one, I'd keep you on the ship . . ." -- but when I got to my friend's house, I quickly checked YouTube to make sure no one had thought of this idea, and someone had; the parody isn't great, but it's funny enough and it has muppets at Comic-Con, and to be honest, I was sort of relieved that the parody existed already, because it saved me a great deal of time and effort that I would have spent on something pretty absurd (although considering the song I did recently produce, it's not like I spent my time on something better).
I usually stop listening when someone begins describing a dream, as descriptions of dreams are usually incoherent, fragmented and torturous-- unless, of course, the dream is mine-- so please bear with me, I promise it will be worth it: last week I had two vivid dreams: one where someone rudely stole my swimming lane at the gym and the other where I was rescuing drowning children in a flood at a playground . . . and both dreams had something in common besides water . . . in both, after the event happened, I went to the computer and started composing a sentence about the dream, but I was still dreaming this, so I was composing the sentence in a dream state, thinking what a great sentence it would be for the blog, when the event wasn't actually real, and both times, when I awoke, for a moment I thought I had a good idea for a sentence, but then I realized that it was only a dream . . . and though the dreams did provide fodder for this particular meta-sentence, they also may be telling me that I need to quit writing this blog and take up a more mindless hobby.
When I am about to complain about things that really aren't serious enough to warrant complaint-- such as this ridiculously ugly winter-- certain stories prevent me from unnecessarily bitching, stories of people that have coped with far, far worse situations than I could ever imagine; inspirational tales of overcoming pain and anguish and hardship and suffering and loss . . . such as the story of Dieter Dengler's escape from a Laotian internment camp (retold by Werner Herzog in the movie Rescue Dawn) and the story of the American quadriplegic rugby team (documented in the film Murderball . . . if my students complain about an assignment, I put this movie in for a few minutes and then ask them if they actually have anything to complain about) and the story of Michael Oher (told by Michael Lewis in his book The Blind Side) and the story of Johan Otter and his daughter, Jenna, who survived a brutal attack by a grizzly bear and, though both were severely injured, they cheerfully tell the tale, glad they survived . . . and now I will add the Unbroken, the story of Louie Zamperini to this list; Zamperini was a wild Italian-American youth who channeled his frenetic energy into running, and who could have become the fastest miler in the world (and run a sub-four minute mile before Roger Bannister) if he didn't have to go to war and fight the Japanese . . . and his epic war story of ocean survival, torture, internment camp starvation and misery, and post-traumatic stress seems to be beyond what a human could actually endure . . . Laura Hillenbrand's book makes you root for the fire-bombing of Tokyo and the atomic bomb, for anything to end the torture that the POW's suffered at the hands of the Japanese (disturbing statistic: 1% of American POW's died in Nazi and Italian internment camps . . . 37% of American POW's died in Japanese camps) and Hillenbrand's writing is extensively researched and full of sensational details, yet she manages to give the narrative a novelistic feel-- you are with Louie every step of the way, during his bombing missions over the Pacific, when he and his raft-mates contemplate resorting to "the custom of the sea," his daily battles with The Bird, and his mental and spiritual battles with loss of dignity: ten shark livers out of a possible ten.
I know this is hard to measure statistically, but I think there has been a marked increase in people who take the wrong exit, realize this moments too late, stop on the exit ramp, and then go in reverse-- against traffic-- in an insane attempt to rectify their mistake, when they could simply drive a few hundred yards down the road and do a U-turn.
In the '50's we worried about Communism and in the '60's we worried about Civil Rights and in the '70's it was the environment and in the '80's we worried about nuclear war (remember The Day After?) and in the '90's it was AIDS and in 2000 it was terrorism; these were all serious issues, but I hope in the coming decade we will choose something more entertaining to worry about . . . such as angry poltergeists or giant ants from the center of the earth or Ice 9 because, as George Lang says in Mamet's The Spanish Prisoner: "Worry is like interest paid in advance on a debt that never comes due."
You may be aware of my super-potent rhetorical powers, and I have been forced to use them once again; this time I have unleashed a rhetorical tornado upon Roger Goodell, the commissioner of the NFL, in an attempt to get him to move the Super Bowl to Saturday (and also to make it a home game for the team with the best record) and you can read my extremely persuasive missive over at Gheorghe: The Blog-- and I guarantee you will be moved to my opinion on the matter.
graphic novel Watchmen, and I assumed that my wife would need my help with the plot-- because she didn't read the graphic novel-- but, oddly, she was able to follow the film without my insight, which leads me to believe that Zach Snyder did a good job for the lay person, and I also think he did a good job for people familiar with the graphic novel-- but don't say this to Watchmen fanatics . . . for some reason they hate the movie, but I can't figure out why-- as in my humble opinion, the movie looks like a comic book and feels like the world of the Watchmen and Malin Akerman, the chick who plays Laurie Jupiter, is about as super-heroic looking as it gets (she's a hotter version of Linda Carter) and Dr. Manhattan, glowing radioactively and sporting a swinging blue tally-wacker, blends naturally into the scenes, which are more like sequences of loosely connected tableaux, but they do the trick and get across the plot . . . and though I was disappointed that the ending varied from the graphic novel, the movie ending is probably more elegant and requires less explanation and back-story, and so, in retrospect, after my initial disappointment of not getting to see a giant octopoid faux-alien transported into downtown Manhattan, I agree that the new ending makes more sense . . . and I give the movie nine blood covered smiley faces out of a possible ten.
I had to return a pair of jeans to Kohls on Saturday (I am less fat than my wife thought . . . a 36'' waist is too big) and and this errand made me remember why I generally dress like a hobo: buying a piece of clothing is insanely difficult . . . I wanted to exchange the jeans for a similar pair a size smaller, but they didn't have any that were exactly the same in the smaller size and because the price was different, I had to go to customer service, and she suggested I try the "kiosk" and order on-line-- but this was too difficult as you had to enter your address, credit, and shipping information by selecting letters with a key-pad (and I had already been three places to find some indoor soccer shoes, so I was shopped out) and so I finally elected to get store credit and try my luck on the racks, and I soon found myself lost in piles of 569's and 505's and 520's and 560's . . . and each number had different variations in style-- Loose Fit, Relaxed Fit, Slim Fit, Comfort Fit, Relaxed Straight Fit, Flamboyant Fit-- and also variations in color: distressed, faded, black, blue, blue with weird gold thread . . . which leads to billions of permutations of jeans . . . I tried on ONE of these billions of permutations and got fed up and left the store . . . and so now I see just how difficult it is to have style (unless you're rich and pay a stylist to pick out clothes for you, like Ralph does for Howard Stern) and although I will never have the patience to have style and I will continue to dress like a hobo rather than repeat shopping experiences like this . . . I now truly appreciate what it takes to dress well.