Just when I thought my kids were smart-- as they both received glowing academic reviews from their teachers at parent/teacher conferences-- I witnessed empirical evidence to the contrary . . . my wife and I took the kids pumpkin picking (in the snow!) and if you could have seen the distended, wobbly, asymmetrical pumpkins that my sons tried to persuade us to purchase, then you would certainly have doubted their intellectual capacity as well . . . in the end we had to convince them to abandon their stunted, misshapen choices and revise their pumpkin picking criteria . . . but, once we got the pumpkins home, they had more success as jack-o-lantern consultants, advising me how to carve each jack-o-lantern face, and-- you be the judge-- I think I did some kick-ass carving this year (I also added a bonus photo of the two incompetent pumpkin pickers, doing manual labor as punishment for their poor judgement).
I loved watching Steve Coogan's new road movie, The Trip, but it's tough for me to recommend it to anyone other than Steve Coogan fans; the conceit of this faux-documentary is that Coogan invites his not-so-close friend Steve Brydon-- a Welsh impressionist and actor-- on a journalism assignment in which they will review high-end dining in northern England, but Brydon is an ersatz replacement for Coogan's girlfriend, as they are having a "hiatus," and while much of the film is Coogan and Brydon improvising comedy and impressions, there is also dark undercurrent about age, success, sacrifice, and the value of family in the film . . . but much of it is self-referential Coogan nonsense (Ah-Haaaaaa!) which will only appeal to the Cooganophile . . . and so for Coogan fans I give this movie nine octaves out of ten; for Michael Caine fans I give it seven scallops out of ten; and for non-Cooganites, I give it five little men in a box out of a possible ten little men in a box.
As I sit here grading papers and listening to Grant Green, I realize that my Jeep's broken car stereo-- which has not worked for several months now-- may be having severe implications on my mood . . . every morning, on my drive to work, I am alone with my shitty thoughts, my raspy voice, my tuneless whistling, and my lame drumming on the steering wheel-- which is no way to start the day-- but then, of course, this is how people spent most of their time before the technological revolution: listening to the sounds around them, or perhaps grunting and banging to break the silence, but usually alone with their shitty thoughts . . . so it's no wonder Hobbes described the life of man as "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short" . . . he needed an iPod.
Some miracles bite you in the ass-- such as Moses parting the Red Sea or the Bills starting the season at 4 and 2 -- but others require a moment of reflection in order to appreciate their glory . . . and the miracle I am about to describe falls into the latter category (although some people, even upon reflection, did not appreciate the miraculous nature of the following events, leading them-- for my benefit-- to post a definition of the word "miracle" on the office cork-board); Sunday, at my weekly pick-up soccer game, my friend Mario returned a soccer ball that I had left behind several weeks ago-- a ball that I figured was as good as gone (I'm not very vigilant about keeping tabs on soccer balls, as I have so many floating around in my car) and then on Wednesday of the very same week-- at my weekly pick-up basketball game-- my friend Gene (who I hadn't seen since the summer) said, "Hey, I have the basketball you forgot in trunk of my car, the one you left in the summer" and I was pleased and surprised, pleased because I refused to buy a new basketball-- which makes no sense, since I didn't think I'd ever see the one I lost again . . . it was more as a punishment for being so stupid that I felt I should go without a ball-- and surprised that he'd kept the ball that long, and that he remembered to put it in his trunk for the game, just in case he saw me . . . and then it took me a day to realize the miraculous magnitude of the conjunction of these two events: that two balls-- both of which I had given up for lost-- were returned to me in the span of four days . . . certainly a minor miracle if there ever was one-- and now I am excited to see what other balls will be returned to me in the near future . . . because things like this usually happen in threes (although with balls, it might be more appropriate if they happened in twos).
Morning darkness, loads of essays, plantar fasciitis, weariness from coaching soccer, and general ennui with the constant routine were getting me down, until I remembered what Louie Zamperini had to endure . . . and how he had to endure it without Wikipedia Click-Olympics, Tetris, or Netflix . . . and now I feel better.
kite-- a kite created to familiarize children with profanity, as building it required a fair amount of swearing and flying it was extraordinarily intense and required a steady stream of expletives; this kite didn't just rise into the sky and stay there-- this kite liked to swoop and dive, and it came with a special "Tri-Wheel" string spool which stripped off string faster than a fishing reel (and resulted in me getting an extremely painful friction burn on my finger) but we finally got it airborne and it did look really cool as it swooped and dove and Alex actually got some control of it, but he had to keep running back and pulling, then running back, then pulling, until finally he was so far away and the kite was over the patch of woods at the edge of the park and then the kite did the inevitable, it swooped in to a tree, and I will be the first to admit that I wasn't so sad that it got stuck because it was a dangerous kite that required far too much skill and effort to fly, but still, I did my best to get it out of the tree (my wife was angrier that we lost it, but she wasn't there for the entire time and didn't know the dangers inherent in this particular kite) but the string snapped, and so I left the scene-- rather pleased that the devil-kite was at the top of a very tall tree and we went over to a friend's house for drinks before a dinner outing, but then we had to stop back at home to get jackets and the kite was sitting on our front porch and we live near the park and it's a small town, but still, it was pretty odd that someone knew where to return the kite . . . and it was also a bit ironic, since I was happy that this particular kite was lost in a tree because it was a danger to my family, but it turns out my lovely neighbor saw us walking home from the park with a spool of string and no kite, so when the wind blew it out of the tree she knew just where to return it, and so I am sorry to say that we will have to fly it again.
Stacy introduced the English department to an engaging new game Friday afternoon; here's how it works: 1) everyone needs their own computer with internet access 2) everyone needs to agree on a starting point on Wikipedia-- such as "Beethoven" or "Goldie Hawn" or "lobster" or any of the other 3,772, 967 articles on the site-- and everyone playing needs to get that particular agreed upon Wikipedia page up on their screen 3) everyone needs to agree on a goal, the Wikipedia article that will end that round-- for our example we'll go from "Beethoven" to "bacon" 4) everyone should start the round at the same time, and then you may click on any hyper-link on Wikipedia in order to link your way from the "Beethoven" page to the "bacon" page . . . you may also use the "back" arrow on your browser, but that's it . . . the game is oddly compelling because you have to speculate several clicks in advance-- and once you head down a wrong path it's easy to get lost-- but it's surprising how quickly and elegantly you can get places; for instance, if you start on "Beethoven," you can click on "infectious hepatitis"-- which possibly caused Beethoven's death-- and from there you can access "The Center for Disease Control and Prevention" page and then "food borne pathogens" and then "cooking" and the "cooking" entry contains a picture and a link of some tasty looking "bacon wrapped corn" and if you've beaten everyone else to the page then voila, you have won a round of what I like to call "Wikipedia Click-Olympics."
Tina Fey's book Bossypants is exactly like an episode of 30 Rock . . . fast-paced, full of clever jokes, and over before you know it . . . the only downside to this formula is that it's tough to recall much from either an episode of 30 Rock (except Alec Baldwin's advice: "Never go with a hippie to a second location") or Fey's memoir (all I remember is that photo shoots are fun, her dad is a bad-ass, and once female comics get old, everyone considers them "batshit crazy") and though she's not quite as articulate as David Sedaris or as neurotically absurd as Woody Allen, she's certainly in their ballpark and there's nothing saccharine or forced about her humor . . . and I will also point out that in all my trips to the library-- and I'm not going to lie: I go to the library a lot-- this is the only time a librarian at the check-out desk commented about a book I was checking out (she told me the book is really great and Tinay Fey is so smart and clever and recommended the audio book because Tina Fey reads it herself): nine scars out of ten.
Once again, Marshall Curry has documented a fantastic story, covering all the angles in an even-handed and comprehensive manner in under ninety minutes . . . his first documentary, Street Fight, is a masterpiece of editing, and his new one-- If A Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front--is equally as compelling; it tells the tale of a group of eco-terrorists in Oregon that target the forestry industry with a campaign of arson, and how Daniel McGowan-- who was once a member of the group, but since moved on-- is haunted by his radical past . . . and Curry gets access to members of ELF, other radicals, forestry workers, informants, prosecutors, the sheriff, law enforcement agents, and McGowan and his family . . . so the film is full of ambiguity, contradictory logical positions, and documentary gold . . . and Curry, wisely, never shows his hand but instead lets the viewer decide what to make of the ethics of the case: ten old growth redwoods out of a possible ten (and could that be Bansky standing on the redwood stump in the picture?)
My neighbor called me the other day because her baby daughter had an engorged deer tick stuck to her head, and she wanted my help in removing it . . . and so I briskly walked to her house, ready to offer my aid; after some sizing up of the tick we decided that she should hold Natalya's head still, and I should try to pluck the little black tick from amidst her wispy blonde locks with a pair of tweezers . . . but babies move their heads a lot, and they don't appreciate someone holding their head still, so the odds of tick removal did not look good, but I decided to take a shot at it anyway, and-- on my first attempt-- with a deft and skillful pinch, I snagged the tick and removed nary a hair from baby Natalya's head . . . and the fact that the "tick" actually turned out to be a tick-shaped piece of dried food should have no bearing on the assessment of my heroism.
My wife and I were walking up the stairs, to put the kids to bed, when we heard a civilized discussion emanating from the bathroom-- and this stopped us in our tracks because we've never heard our kids having a civilized discussion anywhere, let alone the bathroom (which is usually a place of mayhem, chaos, and poorly aimed urine); Alex asked Ian "which character in the movie he liked the best" and Ian said he liked the eleven year old with glasses and Alex informed him that he was "the main character" and then Alex said he liked "the old guy who kept giving the kids clues" and Ian politely asked Alex why he liked him . . . and Catherine and I exchanged a tacit glance, both of us impressed by our cultured and refined children . . . and then the two of them walked out of the bathroom and Ian was still wearing jeans and a t-shirt but Alex was butt-naked, and when we saw him, my wife and I laughed at the incongruity of the dialogue and the nudity and Alex also realized how funny the tableau looked and so he started running around-- bare-assed-- shrieking and yelling like a savage, and Ian (though still fully clothed) followed suit.
My son Ian wants in on the Taco Count-- and though I realize this is no way to encourage healthy eating habits, I can't proscribe him from the fun without being a total hypocrite-- and so I am keeping track of his taco consumption (which is impressive, he's now eating four tacos at a sitting-- two hard shell and two soft shell-- the same amount that my wife eats) but I am going to prorate his Count for both his weight (which is 1/4 of mine) and the time (three months instead of twelve) and so for each taco that he eats in the next three months, I will multiply it by four to compensate for his small size and then multiply again by four so that it is equivalent to a year of taco eating . . . so each taco he eats will count as sixteen 2011 Tacos . . . and he's already eaten eight tacos in October . . . so that's 128 pro-rated tacos for his annual count.
Yesterday, in a cascade of self-referential meta-madness, I explained that it is very difficult to consciously create an adage in the style of Yogi Berra, and then I quoted a colleague who-- in a heated description-- inadvertently coined such a phrase (If you saw her, you'd know what she looks like!) but then--accidentally-- I penned my own Yogi Berraism, when I said that "Yogi Berra would be smiling in his grave" if he heard Katie's wonderful maxim . . . because not only is Yogi Berra is not dead (he's 86) but skulls are always smiling, so the metaphor doesn't really make sense . . . and I am hoping that this post doesn't kill Berra, because I've had a history of killing celebrities with my attention (the first song I ever sang in front of a class was "Delia's Gone" by Johnny Cash, and he died the next day-- which made my students extraordinarily happy-- and in college, I started reading Brighton Rock, by Graham Greene, and he was dead within hours, so I've definitely got some kind of voodoo magic . . . or a more logical explanation is that I am a prodigal consumer of arts and literature, and so over the course of my life it would be more odd if no one died that I was perusing at the the time).
I have praised the laconic anti-wit of Yogi Berra, and I even tried to invent my own Yogi Berra-esque adage-- and I learned that it's not the kind of thing you can consciously create-- but once in a while someone says something so perfectly true and paradoxical, that you know Yogi is smiling in his grave . . . and so when my colleague Katie attempted to describe an extremely inappropriately dressed high school girl, she got so worked up about the sleaziness of the student's outfit that she passionately told us: "If you saw her, you'd know what she looks like!"
I swam at lunch on Monday-- we had a workshop, so no students all day-- and on the way back to school I stopped to pick up lunch, and though I was pressed for time, I decided to forgo the robotic convenience of ordering a sandwich at WaWa, and instead I patronized a local place in Milltown; I had to wait in line, and it took a long time for them to complete my order, and I was ravenous because of my swim and the several hours we spent poring over the National Core Standards, so--naturally-- when I got in my car, I tore open my "Grand Canyon," a turkey sub loaded with roasted peppers and marinated mushrooms, and took a bite to appease my hunger, but then I made one of the most civilized and refined decisions in my young life . . . I decided not to shovel the sandwich into my mouth as I drove because I didn't want to get oil all over my shirt (there were some cute grade school teachers at the workshop) and because I wanted to sit in the sun and actually enjoy the final minutes of lunch . . . so difficult as it was, I re-wrapped the sandwich and started driving-- and, of course, I got behind an old lady and hit every light, and by the time I got to the school I was drooling like one of Pavlov's dogs-- but I was still extremely proud of myself; I felt mature; I was able to delay my gratification and enjoy my food . . . this is a big step for me and let me offer an example as to why: a number of years ago, after a long car ride to Nags Head, when Whitney and I stopped at Petrozza's Italian Provisions for a rare authentic Italian sub south of the Mason Dixon line-- which we planned to eat on his deck while looking at the Atlantic Ocean-- instead, in a wonderful instance of simultaneous unplanned gluttony-- we both finished our gigantic sandwiches before we even reached the car . . . and-- as Whitney recalls-- we had a pretty good parking spot.
One of the exciting recurring features here at Sentence of Dave is called: "Dave Defines Science Fiction," and though I'd be hard-pressed to top my original definition, this new one adds a wrinkle . . . so without further fanfare, here it is: fantasy is how things never were, and science fiction is how things will never be (and this highly entertaining and much discussed topic is recurring because I'm reading a good science-fiction novel by Richard K. Morgan that corresponds to my original definition . . . though I could care less about the protagonist, Takeshi Kovacs, I love exploring the world he inhabits; the book is called Altered Carbon and the London Times blurb is accurate: "This seamless marriage of hardcore cyberpunk and hard-boiled detective tale is an astonishing first novel").
I learned about BitCoin in a pathetically analogue way (a hard copy of the October New Yorker's "Money Issue") and though I'm not sure I completely understand the concept, I am still fascinated by the story and will attempt to give the short, short version here: in 2009, Satoshi Nakamoto created a sophisticated, cryptographically secure code that created a new currency called BitCoin, and these coins could be "mined" by entering a computer lottery that rewards speedy computing power-- and at the start it was relatively easy to "mine" Bit Coins because few people were attempting to crack the code, but now it requires an extraordinary amount of computing power to "mine" a BitCoin because so many computers are competing . . . and-- though they have no physical presence or financial backing-- BitCoins have an actual market value (a little over four dollars a coin) and they can be traded for real currency and products and kept safe in "wallets" and Nakamoto's code ensures that no digital BitCoin can be spent more than once (and all transactions are public, though the "wallets" can be owned by anonymous users) and Satoshi seems to be a cipher himself, no one has ever uncovered who he really is-- but his code has so far proved to be impenetrable . . . if it could be compromised then the coins would lose all value . . . and he could also be considered criminal, if the new currency competes with the American dollar, and then his action could be considered treasonous, and there is the question of who needs an anonymous digital untraceable type of cash . . . possibly people involved in sketchy activities, but don't go by this rambling summary, do your own research and get back to me on what you've learned on this most marvelous invention of the digital age (and I'm not sure the guy who wrote the New Yorker article actually understand what BitCoin "mining" is either-- according to Wikipedia, BitCoin mining actually helps to cryptographically ensure that no individual BitCoin gets double spent, so a "miner" uses processing power to attempt to create unique "blocks" which keep BitCoins safe from hackers and the miner is rewarded by the network with a set amount of BitCoins if your computer can create one of these cryptographic blocks).
When I mentioned that I might start wearing sleeveless t-shirts (because I'm always hot) my wife said that she would not be seen with me if I chose to wear such apparel in public-- unless I was playing basketball-- but I see plenty of people wearing sleeveless shirts who aren't actually playing hoops (though they might be on their way to play basketball . . . who can be sure?) and I don't see the problem . . . as long as you're not at a high end restaurant.
Saturday, we went for ice cream after Alex's soccer game, and while we were waiting for the lady to scoop the cones, Alex, who is seven years old, scraped a sprinkle off the counter-- out of a streak congealed ice cream that had been sitting in the unseasonably hot sun-- and nonchalantly popped said sprinkle into his mouth, as if he was sampling a bar snack . . . and I chastised him for his decision, but I am wondering if that's just typical behavior for a hungry second grade boy.
I've read a few books on the current economic crisis and watched the documentary Inside Job, and while these works explained the complexities of the collapse and certainly assigned some blame, none of them channeled the powerless frustration and anger that I have towards both our government and big business . . . but Matt Taibbi addresses this in his book Griftopia: Bubble Machines, Vampire Squids, and the Long Con That is Breaking America, which began as a Rolling Stone article; he points fingers, calls people "morons" and "assholes" and far worse, and refers to Goldman Sachs as "a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money" . . . he skewers Alan Greenspan and Hank Paulson and Lawrence Summers and Obama and Reagan and Clinton and both Bush presidents and everyone else involved in making decisions about our economy . . . and the result is frightening and comprehensive condemnation of our economic system, portraying it as an unregulated, backroom dealing casino that rewards the super-wealthy at the expense of the taxpayers, and, sadly, there seems to be no simple solution . . . there's nothing we can do, no party we can vote for, because the result will be the same . . . and while we debate red and blue state issues-- while half the nation rails about "overweening government power" and the other half protests against "corporate excess"-- the real problem is that our system is a combination of both these problems, and the media is never going to extensively cover complicated and boring issues like the repeal of the Glass-Steagall act and the loosening of the Commodity Exchange Act and the actual ramifications of ObamaCare, and so instead we debate about abortion and health-care and tax cuts-- we argue about if gas prices have increased because of demand from China or because we need to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge-- while the real business of America is done between the mega-banks and the government and the usual suspects, behind a green curtain that shields them from the democratic process that is more show than substance.
My son Alex told me that at school last week, he had to write a safety rule on a star shaped piece of paper, and that the teacher then put all the stars on the wall . . . he also said that most kids copied rules from the movie that inspired this lesson . . . Captain Buckle, a police officer, reminded the students to "always go places with a buddy" and "look both ways when you cross the street"-- but Alex was proud that he thought of an original rule-- a rule Captain Buckle did not mention . . . a rule his father taught him . . . and so his star on the wall reminds people of something very important: "no metal in the microwave."
Here is something fun and annoying to do to your friends: explain that you are about to tell a joke, but that the joke also doubles as test of their intelligence-- this will make them anxious to get the joke, but chances are that they won't-- and then say, "A termite walks into a bar and asks, 'Where's the bartender?'"
Though I pride myself on my large vocabulary, I've had my troubles recently . . . and now I'm faced with writing the most difficult sentence in my career, and it is about learning the clinical term for something that afflicts me, but I really do not want to write this sentence, for reasons I will soon explain-- and I suffer this solely for you, my diligent readers; last Wednesday in the English Office, my colleague Rachel said a string of words that sounded nothing like English: "He had a vasovagal response . . . it's a syncope," and so I asked her to explain and during her explanation, I started feeling lightheaded and my fingers started tingling and I got a strange sensation in my chest and I felt very nervous . . . almost as if I was going to pass out . . . and that's when I learned the truth: I often suffer from vasovagal responses, especially when people are talking about blood and fainting, which is a common trigger for the response . . . not that I mind actually seeing blood-- but I have trouble thinking about it (probably due to my gigantic imaginative brain) and so even as I write this sentence in the school library, I feel as though I might plant my face into the keyboard, but I soldier on anyway, dizzy but validated, because my response has a definition and and so I am not a freak.
The boys and I took a trip to Sandy Hook last Thursday, and despite the rain, poison ivy and mosquitoes, we had a good time, especially out on North Beach; Ian's highlight was the dead terrapin he found in a foamy and debris filled tide pool-- he poked it with a stick and when the head bobbed to the surface, we noticed that the eyes had been eaten out of the skull-- and this grisly image must have stuck with him because on the car ride home he said, "I'm proud that I found that turtle, but I'm not proud that it was dead and had no eyes."
When trying to improve at a sport, it's best to focus on one skill at a time: in the heat of competition it's near impossible to remember anything, let alone two separate things . . . and so I gave my son Alex one thing to improve during his soccer game on Sunday, and I think the "one thing at a time method" worked, as he played well and assisted in his team's only goal . . . what skill did I ask him to work on? . . . just before he ran onto the field, I told him to try to avoid prolonged holding and "adjustment" of his genitals during the course of play-- as this not only made him lose focus on the ball, but was also inappropriate in mixed company-- and while he wasn't perfect in this endeavor, he was certainly more successful than in the previous game, and that's all you can ask of a seven year old boy.
Last week during first period, one of my students announced that she had successfully passed her Road Test and was now the proud owner of a New Jersey Probationary Driver's License, and another girl turned to her and said, "Did you get somebody to bite it?" and I found this statement odd and said so, and she explained that it's good luck to get someone to bite your new driving license . . . but none of the other kids had heard of this tradition, nor had the students in the class next door . . . but I did find this reference to what must be a rather obscure practice, which may stem from biting a gold coin to tell if it's real (and the resultant Olympic tradition of biting your gold medal).
I love the television show Community and I love claymation . . . but I hate the claymation episode of Community.
Lately, I've been obsessed with the TV show Community . . . it's a sitcom satirizing traditional TV Tropes (and if you haven't been to the TV Tropes web-site, block out a few hours and check it out) and creator and writer Dan Harmon, in an interview in Wired magazine, explains his method of organizing beats, scenes, episodes, and entire seasons of the show; he calls his graphic organizer an "embryo" and he ensures that the elements are present at every step before he moves on . . . and so last week, while I was teaching narrative writing in my composition class, preparing kids to write their college essays, I told a number of stories (not that I don't tell stories the rest of the year) and I found that my stories subscribed to Harmon's organizer, as did the narrative models we used from the text (Orwell's "Shooting an Elephant" and "Salvation" by Langston Hughes and "Me Talk Pretty One Day" by David Sedaris) and so here is Harmon's embryo, in case you want to try it out:
- 1. A character is in a zone of comfort
- 2. But they want something
- 3. They enter an unfamiliar situation
- 4. Adapt to it
- 5. Get what they wanted
- 6. Pay a heavy price for it
- 7. Then return to their familiar situation
- 8. Having changed
and while all stories don't conform to this pattern-- especially once you get modern and post-modern and characters never adapt (Kafka) or fail to get what they want (Hemingway) or do not pay a heavy price (Nicholson Baker) or remain static during the course of the story (Camus)-- I think that the most satisfying stories-- whether your talking Into The Wild or Moby Dick-- usually do follow this archetype.
My parents have a pinball machine in their basement, and my Dad was impressed that my son Ian could use the flippers independently-- apparently even some adults have trouble with this skill-- but Ian mastered this when he was three . . . and he seems to have some weird control over both sides of his body-- he kicks lefty and throws righty-- and he's always had the ability to raise one eyebrow, and in a far more natural manner than Mr. Spock.