Happy Birthday Catherine (So Glad You're Not Barking Mad)


My lovely, charming, beautiful and-- most importantly-- sane and logical wife turns 40 today . . . and, after watching the new Errol Morris documentary Tabloid, which revisits the story of the "manacled Mormon" and his purported kidnapper and lover, Joyce McKinney, you will realize that the most important thing in a relationship is not the charming and beautiful part, but the sane and logical-- so if you want to appreciate your sane and logical significant other, then spend 90 minutes with Joyce McKinney, who was certainly beautiful and charming, and certainly had a strong and passionate love for a certain chubby Mormon missionary named Kirk Anderson, but as for the sane and logical part . . . you'll have to be the judge; I won't reveal the rest of the story, but it has more plot twists than a John le Carre novel and Erroll Morris captures plenty of documentary gold along the way: five cloned dogs out of five.

Fat Man Laughing (A Bonus Sentence For A Sad Occasion)

Comic Patrice O'Neal died today at age 41 and I will miss him . . . but at least the memory of this altercation will be preserved forever (or as long as Google continues to host this blogging absurdity).

A Perfect Fiction

Though it is satire, this Onion article is so dead-on it deserves a Pulitzer (thanks Jen for passing it along . . . it certainly captures the true spirit of the holidays).

Jake Epping = Stephen King


I finished the new Stephen King novel-- all 849 pages-- in less than a week, and while at the start I thought it was going to be about how history would be different if JFK wasn't assassinated, it turns out that I was wrong-- the book is a love story!-- that's right, I read an 849 page love story, which is certainly a testament to the narrative ability of Stephen King, and not only is it a love story, but there's a lot of dancing as well . . . and anyone who has seen me dance knows that I find dancing far scarier than a killer car or a killer dog or a killer clown that lives in the sewers . . . so all I can say to the Master of Horror is job well done, because I couldn't put it down; this is the first King novel I've read since high school . . . I can clearly remember getting a hardcover copy of It for Christmas in 1986 and then wanting to hide from my family and read instead of participating in holiday togetherness . . . and I had the same feeling this Thanksgiving, though Catherine's brother was visiting and we had numerous social engagements, I did my best to keep my head buried in King's novel-- which is very appropriate because one of the novel's themes is that "the past is obdurate" and "the past harmonizes" and I certainly felt as if I was living in my own past, where I much preferred the company of a good Stephen King novel to the company of living breathing people . . . especially relatives . . . and not only that, like in the novel, I was in a race against time, but I didn't have the luxury of a time portal, and I had to have the book back to the library in three days time . . . but enough about that-- HERE COMES A SPOILER-- I've read a few reviews and most of them are very positive (except for some British lady who writes for the Star-Ledger and totally missed the point of the book . . . she thought King should have spent more time detailing the horrors of racism and segregation) but none of the reviews mentioned what I thought was pretty obvious: Jake Epping, the narrator, will become Stephen King once his adventures in time are concluded, as they are at the end of the novel-- like King, he almost ends up an English teacher, helping kids to love literature and learn to write, but, as King says, "life can turn on a dime" and Epping is torn from the past that might have been-- and I think it's Stephen King reminiscing about his love of the fifties-- and what he might have been had his life not "turned on a dime," had he not become the grisly horror writer we all know and love . . . Jake Epping finally returns to his own time-- realizing that you can't change the past, nor can you remain there forever-- but he also returns with half a novel about a small town, a string of serial murders, and the legend of a clown in the sewers . . . which, of course, meta-harmonizes very nicely with King's past and my own, so I think this will be the last thing I ever read by King, because-- as the novel clearly illustrates-- returning to the past is dangerous and can have unforeseen consequences . . . I lucked out this time, but next time things might turn horribly wrong.

Tradition=Work

One person's tradition is another person's chore (we always string Christmas lights around every tree on the property, it's a tradition! we always bake seventeen kinds of cookies for the holidays! we always get up at three in the morning on Black Friday and shop! it's a tradition . . . my ass, it's another job).

How To Deal With The Grandfather Paradox

Stephen King dismisses the "grandfather paradox" and other meta-logical nonsense (such as the craziness developed in the great but painful to untangle film Primer . . . if you want to read about time travel paradoxes, check out Chuck Klosterman's essay) because King has bigger fish to fry in new fantastic new novel 11/22/63 . . . such as what would happen to the universe if JFK had never been assassinated, and how far would a man go to prevent this event . . . so when the narrator is debating whether to become embroiled in the time travel plot, and he asks Al-- the diner owner who has access to the time portal which sends whoever walks through it back to the same sunny day in September of 1958 -- "Yeah, but what if you went back and killed your own grandfather?" Al simply stares at him, baffled, and replies, "Why the fuck would you do that?"

A Good Trade

Last Saturday morning-- like clockwork-- the cold weather worked its black magic on the driver-side door of my Jeep, and so once again-- if you want to drive-- you have to get into the car through the passenger side and then crawl across the center console to the driver's side (and, of course, Saturday morning, was the rare occasion when my wife was driving the Jeep because she had a work-shop for school and I had to cart the kids around all day to their various activities, but even though I offered the Subaru-- which has four working doors-- she gamely agreed to crawl across the console and drive the Jeep, because she didn't want me doing that nonsense all day with the kids in the car) and then-- miraculously-- ten minutes after she gamely got into the Jeep on the passenger side and crawled across the center console and drove away, she called me and yelled "Listen!" over the sound of music-- music!-- from the Jeep stereo! . . . which hadn't worked since before the summer, but I guess the cold weather taketh and the cold weather giveth, and I'll trade a driver side door for music any day of the week (and the fact of the matter is that Catherine might have actually fixed the stereo, because she took the face off the receiver and then put it back on, which I never did, and then it started working again).

An Ode to Thanksgiving

There are four major reasons why Thanksgiving is the best holiday: 1) no gift-giving 2) no compulsory decorating 3) cranberry sauce 4) football on TV during the daytime.

Lesson Two: How To Fix Stuff

My DVD drive was jammed shut at work on Monday, and so I tried to get it open by double clicking "eject" on the computer, but that didn't work, and so I used the object that first came to mind to pry the tray open-- despite the fact that there was a paper clip and a pair of scissors within reach-- but instead of these practical and dispensable items, I slid a key into the bay, and not just any key, my car ignition key-- which is rather delicate because it's nearly twenty years old-- though any of the other insignificant keys on my chain would have sufficed as a lever (not only that, I have a sturdy bottle opener on my key-chain, which would have been the perfect tool for this situation) but I chose none of these sane options, instead I chose the one object that I absolutely needed to be able to leave school that day  . . . and I got my just desserts, the key snapped in the middle, leaving me holding a worthless stub of metal, but luckily we have a spare and my mother-in-law was able to drop it off so though I felt like an idiot, I learned a valuable lesson without too much inconvenience (and for those of you who don't have a spare key . . . and you know who you are: this should be reason enough to get one).

Lesson One: How To Look Cool in Front of The Young Folks


At LA Fitness, in order to procure a basketball from the front desk, you must provide some collateral-- I usually give the girl my keys-- but on Saturday morning my keys were locked in a locker, and so all I had to provide her with was my iPod and giant headphones . . . later, when I returned the basketball, I asked her for my "Walkman and headphones" and then I had to correct myself and say, "I meant my iPod" and I excused this faux pas by explaining to her that I was from the 1980's-- which is kind of like explaining to someone that you're from Lithuania-- and so she handed me my iPod back and said, "This is definitely an iPod," the way you might speak to a senile old man, which is what I am quickly becoming.

The Second Greatest Victory In My Life

While The Greatest Victory in my Life is the fact that I won a Cake Decorating Contest . . . because never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I'd get to say the words, "I won a Cake Decorating contest," my victory Friday night is a close second, as I took the prize money in Liz and Eric's Second Annual Scary Story Contest and the competition was stiff and spooky . . . for the complete story of the contest, and my prize-winning story, head over here . . . and don't read it alone (hopefully, as the week progresses, I will post up all the creepy tales, as they were super-excellent).

Fun and Self-Flagellation (This Kid Goes To 11)



My six year old son Ian has recently taken up a new habit-- he does it when he is being chased and needs to accelerate in order to escape being tagged or tackled: while he is running full-bore, he whacks himself in the butt-- with both hands-- in order to generate otherwise impossible speeds . . . and his logic-- which my seven year old son totally buys-- smacks of the Spinal Tap "these go to 11" scene.

Pimples: Then and Now


When I was a teenager, pimples were the bane of my existence-- high school was already socially taxing enough, without having to face the day with a pus-filled whitehead on your face-- but now I view pimples differently . . . on the rare occasion that I get one, I am pleased that my body still has enough oil to generate such a youthful excrescence . . . I think it must indicate that I'm well preserved and my body still has plenty of grease to lubricate the joints, and though this logic may be completely erroneous, I'm not going to bother to check and see if my diagnosis is credible.

Sometimes Life is Soulful and Beautiful Like a Glowing Bluebird



During season two of Bored to Death, when Jonathan gets involved in an "open relationship" with Stella and her old boyfriend, Warren-- a fat and obnoxious struggling comic-- and Warren says he needs "total darkness" to sleep or it "messes up his Circadian rhythms," the scene then quickly cuts to Jonathan's glowing blue canary nightlight, and this made me very happy and excited and I said to my wife, "It's the blue canary! From the They Might Be Giants song!" and the end of the episode confirmed this, because "Birdhouse in Your Soul" played over the credits . . . and then the next day, miraculously-- and I don't use that word lightly-- my son Alex was singing "Birdhouse in Your Soul" in the car and he told me that it was his favorite song and that he was singing it at school and his friend Gary had never heard it, and this made me very happy as well because generally Alex likes auto-tuned WPLJ dance crap . . . and then I realized that Alex had never actually heard the original recording, he had only heard me sing the song and play the song on the guitar, and this also made me very happy, both because my rendition of it was that pleasing to him, and because I could play him the super-excellent They Might Be Giants recording of the song, and so after soccer practice we listened to the song five or six time sin a row, and we all sang along-- Alex, Ian, and me-- and in twenty years, when I am able look back at this whole parenting thing, this might be one of the finest moments.

The Moon is Missing But I Can See Uranus


My son Alex's homework Monday night was to look at the moon and then both describe and sketch what he saw, but we couldn't see the moon from our house, and so we walked-- in the dark-- into the middle of a muddy field in the park to see if we could spot it there, but no luck, and we even tried again just before bed-- but still no luck-- and so I checked on the internet to make sure the moon wasn't in eclipse or orbiting Mars for a month or hiding in the giant gravity field of Uranus, but the internet informed me that in the Northern Hemisphere on November 14th the moon should have been big and gibbous, but we still couldn't find it, and so Alex had to write down that he couldn't find the moon and I am wondering if any other kids in his class were able to find the moon, or if they just cheated and pretended to find the moon, and I am also wondering: Where has the moon gone?

When Push Comes To Shove


The ostensible setting of Aravind Adiga's new novel Last Man in Tower is Mumbai, but the real setting is the ensemble cast of characters that live in Vishram Society's Tower A . . . and against this back-drop of people contemplating the most awkward and practical of subjects -- money and class in a country where both are on display constantly-- building developer Dharmen Shah squares off against retired physics teacher Yogesh "Masterji" Murthy . . . Shah has offered the residents of the building cooperative a generous buy-out so that he can knock their crumbling building down and build an elite apartment complex, and nearly everyone is happy to accept the windfall, but Murthy does not want to desert his home and the place where all his memories reside, and once he is pushed, he proves to be an immoveable object; the book is reminiscent of Midaq Alley by Naguib Mahfouz, but Adiga builds his pedestrian and generally comic conflict over real estate and money to tragically dramatic proportions-- he makes his social commentary into a page turner . . . the Indian Tom Wolfe . . . 20.2 million hammers out of a possible 20.4 million.

Two Things That Are Good To Know

We returned home from Disney on Saturday to find that something was wrong with our furnace (or to be precise, I should say our boiler . . . because a furnace heats air, but we have forced hot-water radiator heat in our house) and then we found out that PSE&G couldn't come until Monday and the PSE&G guy on the phone candidly and kindly admitted that if it was the pump-- which is what was acting strange-- then it wasn't covered anyway, and he said, "We'll fix it, but we're not cheap" and so we had to call our friend Rob the plumber and he was over with his buddy Keith that evening-- Saturday night-- and after hours of fiddling, they replaced the pump and fixed our ancient boiler (Rob called it "the Joe Paterno of boilers") and we had heat again . . . and they explained to me something about a "thermocouple" but I was so tired and kind of sick and I took NyQuil before I went to bed and when Catherine got home from her cousin's house and asked me what they had fixed, I couldn't string together anything coherent and I still don't know exactly what a "thermocouple" does and so I am thinking that the two most important things to know are not grand or theoretical or complex . . . they are the names of a good mechanic and a good plumber.

The Two Scariest Rides at Disney (If You Are Claustrophobic)


I went on all the rides at Disney last week, and this is a big deal for me, as even a merry-go-round can give me motion sickness, but I survived Space Mountain and Expedition Everest and Thunder Mountain and Splash Mountain and Mission Space and Test Track and Dinosaur and The Tower of Terror-- I didn't vomit or cry once-- and I'm glad I got to see my six year old son Ian and my wife ride these things . . . it made me proud how brave and unfazed they are . . .  and I'm glad my son Alex takes after me: he admitted he closed his eyes on The Tower of Terror, just like his dad . . . but if you want to do something really scary then spend some time in the "holding pens" for Turtle Talk with Crush and It's Tough to Be A Bug . . . small spaces, low-ceilings, screaming children and worried parents . . . only you, my readers, know just how close I was to freaking out.

Krystina's Best Idea Ever

Once in a while, regular people come up with fantastic ideas-- ideas as brilliant and world-changing as Einstein's Theory of Special Relativity-- and I'd like to recount one of those times, and this particular moment is even more significant because the creator, a colleague of mine, is not known for her sense of humor (although I always find her funny) and her students generally consider her a "tough cookie," but her idea is as fantastically comedic as Abbott and Costello's "Who's On First" routine . . . and I'm not going to go into exactly how this idea was developed-- because it's one of those "you had to be there" conversations, and people were being denigrated and that's not the point of this post . . . the point of this post is to give you some thing funny that you can do to your friends-- and so the first thing you need is a friend who loves to be the expert . . . to give out information . . . to be a know-it-all, and the second thing you need is a straight face, because you are going to need to ask this person for some advice, advice in a category in which they deem themselves expert, and the third thing you are going to need is a pen and paper, because you are going to take notes on what your friend the expert says . . . or you are actually going to pretend to take notes on what your friend says, but actually you're going to write "F%$ You" on your sheet of note paper; and so once they're done explaining what restaurants you should eat at when you visit Trieste, or what funk bands are worth your time, or how you should discipline your Weimeratter, then you are going to say, "Did I get everything?" and you are going to say it sweetly, cordially, and with gratitude, and then you get to show your friend your note sheet and your friend is going to realize that you weren't listening to them at all-- and that instead you were writing "F(*& YOU" in really interesting hand-writing (with lots of underlining)-- and then you get to laugh and laugh and laugh . . . and it's not only funny to do it to an unassuming victim, it's actually fun to do to someone who knows what you're going to do . . . after Krystina shared her brilliant idea, I asked my friend Eric how to put tile down in a kitchen, and he knew full well I was going to write "F%$ You" on my notepad, but he still gamely  described how to pull up linoleum and deal with asbestos, and we both still laughed and laughed when I asked him to check my notes and make sure I had gotten all his instructions.

Carousel of Torture


Although I highly recommend The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World-- for the maps and the descriptions of rides, attractions, food, and traffic patterns in the parks-- I also think the writers are completely insane, for one very good reason . . . give me a moment to explain: my parents offered to wait in the twenty minute line for The Haunted Mansion with my kids, giving my wife and I a few precious minutes of free time (our plan was to meet them back in Tomorrowland at the Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor, which would give Catherine and I time to grab a beer while we waited-- little did we know that The Magic Kingdom is a dry land after all) and since there was no beer to drink, we went on the PeopleMover and nearly fell asleep, and then, in our somnolent state, we ambled into an "audioanimatronic theater production" called "Walt Disney's Carousel of Progress," which begins with a scene in a kitchen in the early 1900's where a mustachioed man talks about the technology of the day, and then the theater rotates to another kitchen-- a few decades later-- and the same man talks about the technology, and there's some stuff going on in the wings, some youngsters with a desire to do their hair in beehives and dance, and a girl trying to lose weight with some kind of belt contraption, and then the ride went a bit haywire, and the mustachioed man-- who had the look of a third-rate porn star-- kept singing the same song over and over and someone made an announcement that we would soon be moving along and that the 26 and 1/2 minute show would take a bit longer . . . 26 and a half minutes? . . . and finally, we moved through a few more decades of "Progress" and then there was a hip, video-game playing grandma who actually said, "We smoked'em!" and then there was some special effects when the voice activated stove misheard Grandma's score and turned the oven to 550 degrees (what video game scores in the hundreds?) and smoke spewed from around the oven door, and then finally-- finally!-- the Carousel of Progress (which my usually sunny and optimistic wife named "The Carousel of Torture") let us back into the sunlight, yet the Unofficial Guide people-- who are generally accurate in their descriptions-- call the mustachioed porn star narrator "easy to identify with" and they say the attraction is a "great favorite among repeat visitors" and they include it on all their touring plans . . . and so I have two questions: What were they smoking when they went on this thing? and How does Disney put this ride next to Space Mountain?

Why? Why? Serendipitous Student Connections #4 . . . Discreet/ Discrete/ Lord of the Rings / Salad


A student asked me how to spell "discreet" and I asked her, "Which one?" and she gave me a confused look, and so I explained that "discreet" means subtle and prudent, but "discrete" means individually distinct, and she said, "They're nearly opposites! Why are they doing this to us?" and though she was vague with her angst, I understood her sentiment completely-- as students must perceive the English language specifically and education in general as a byzantine labyrinth with rules made up by some abstract and obtuse They that enjoys derivatives and vectors, homophones and homonyms, paradoxes and contradictions, gerunds and participles, the tiniest of minutia and the grandest of theories . . . and minutes later the same student, on a pedagogical roll, created a lovely and perspicacious analogy on what it's like to read Lord of the Rings (a certain English teacher demands this of students who would like a college recommendation from him) and I found her critique of Tolkien quite accurate: "Reading Lord of the Rings is like eating a big salad at a restaurant, you never get to the end of it."

The Family Fang: A Meta-Book For Meta-People


This book, like the Steve Coogan movie The Trip, probably requires two ratings; Kevin Wilson's new novel, The Family Fang, is not about vampires, but it's far scarier, because-- in a sense-- it's about all parents and what they do to their kids out of love . . . Caleb and Camille Fang are performance artists, and they perform their "pieces" without any rehearsal, in the real world, in order to "subvert normality' and create chaos . . . which is not all that unusual today, in the Age of YouTube, so Wilson wisely sets the stunts in the 1980's to avoid commentary on the present, and instead makes the book about Caleb and Camille's children, Buster and Annie . . . referred to as Child A and Child B; Camille and Caleb use Child A and Child B as props in their wild, unconventional, and unpredictable art . . . so not only is the book a satire on parenting-- with the children in an Artistic Operant Conditioning Chamber-- and Caleb and Camille the Skinnerian experimenters-- but the book also becomes commentary on art itself, and how parents consider their children the greatest work of art, and how artists will always have to compromise their art once they have children-- though Caleb and Camille try to refute their mentor, who told them to remain childless, as "Kids kill art," but the straw that breaks the camel's back is when Caleb and Camille secretly engineer an accident that forces Buster, the stage manager of the high school drama company, to play Romeo to his sister's Juliet . . .  Buster refuses but his father persuades him, saying: "Think of the subtext, a play about forbidden love will now have the added layer of incest," and the show is stopped by the principal in the second act when Buster finally plants a kiss on his sister; the kids detach themselves from their parents once they learn the truth about this incident, but when Buster is shot by a potato gun and Annie's acting career hits the skids, they return home and unwittingly fall into their parent's final piece . . . and the book has a dramatic pay-off worthy of a regular novel, despite it's meta themes-- it turns into something of a mystery, but more in the vein of this show-- to conclude, it's a perfectly written book, but if you don't care about art or meta-art, then I'll give the book seven topless scenes out of ten . . . if you do care about art and meta-art, then this book is a perfect ten rest-stop abductions out of a possible eleven.

Can You Even Buy Pants in Florida?


I didn't bring any pants on our trip to Orlando-- just shorts-- despite the fact that I had space in my bag, because I thought we were headed to the tropics . . . but I was wrong, we were headed to the sub-tropics (still, I'm far more knowledgeable than my son Ian . . . when the plane touched down in Orlando he said, "So now we're in Canada?") and I have learned in the past few days that sometimes it gets kind of chilly in the sub-tropics, but it's worth being chilly to see the satisfaction on my wife's face . . . because I briefly tried to persuade her to not bring any pants, but-- wisely-- she ignored my advice, and brought plenty of pants (and she's gotten good use of them) and nothing makes a person happier than being able to say "I told you so," especially if it's about something trivial, like pants, and not something awful and awkward, like, "I told you not to have sex with your first cousin, and now look at that kid!"

The Best Ride of the Day at Disney's Hollywood Studios


Though I rode The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, I couldn't tell you if it's the best ride in the park (because after we saw the view of Disney Studios from the 13th floor, and then started free-falling and being winched back up-- repeatedly-- I curled into a ball and closed my eyes . . . although I do recollect that my butt levitated off the seat each free fall . . . my intelligent son Alex had the same reaction as me, but my wife and younger son Ian were unfazed, which leads me to think there is something wrong with their brains and inner ears) and although I was very impressed with the 3-D effects of Toy Story Mania, Star Tours, and Jim Henson's Muppet Vision and the real effects of the Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular, they don't win the prize for best ride either (and neither does the ride out to Orlando International Airport to pick up my parents: because there are two, count them, two tolls on the tiny connector road called the Beachline Expressway) and so the prize for the best ride on that Sunday was the fourth quarter of the Giants/ New England game-- we caught it after the ride to the airport; four lead changes in the final fourteen minutes and a Giants victory with a one yard pass from Eli Manning to Jake Ballard with 15 seconds remaining to play . . . snapping a twenty game win streak at home for the Patriots . . . once again, though I tried to get out, the Giants have sucked me back in.

Serendipitous Student Connection #3 (Poison/ Needle/ Mick Jagger Knitting)


My students have been on a roll lately-- I've been teaching for nearly twenty years, and I thought I had heard it all-- but apparently I haven't. . . for example, I was doing a lesson on metaphors and cliches in my Creative Writing class the other day, and I always begin the lesson by asking the students to crumple some of their old assignments into paper balls and then I play Poison's "Every Rose Has Its Thorn" and I instruct them to pelt me with paper every time they hear a cliche (and there are at least twenty . . . count them!) and they thoroughly enjoy whipping paper at me, and from a pedagogical standpoint, they are learning to respond with disgust to poor writing . . . oddly, I never get beaned all that much, because the nerdy kids sit up front, and they can rarely throw well, and the kids who can actually throw always sit in the back of the room, and it's hard to propel a paper ball that far; after this madness, I then play a well written song with a flower metaphor, the song that is the exact opposite of "Every Rose Has Its Thorn," because it uses one metaphor to develop the tone, and specific details to evoke the metaphor . . . the song is The Rolling Stones "Dead Flowers," of course, and as I play it I ask comprehension questions, such as: "So what's the problem with this relationship?" and the kids figure out that the narrator and his "ragged company" don't really fit into the circle of society to which his girlfriend belongs-- her world of "silk upholstered chairs" and "Kentucky Derby days"-- and when I ask what it means to seek solace in a "basement room/ with a needle and a spoon/ and another girl to take my pain away," the kids usually know that the needle and the spoon are drug paraphernalia . . . but last week when I asked about this, a very sweet girl said in her kind and innocent voice, "Is he doing some sewing to forget about her?" and I got this great image of Mick Jagger knitting away with his grandmother in order to get over his unrequited love.

Serendipitous Student Connections #2 (Prank/ Revenge/ Merchant of Venice)

If you're a regular reader, then you are probably acquainted with my new recurring feature (Serendipitous Student Connections) but don't worry if you missed the first episode-- the premise is simple-- sometimes a kid says something in class that is so unexpected that it changes the entire course of the lesson . . . and this doesn't happen that often, because once you've been teaching a number of years, you can predict what most of the responses will be, but once in a while there is the example that surprises you and makes you see the literature in a different light; for instance, in my Shakespeare class, we recently finished 12th Night and are now in the midst of Merchant of Venice, and both these plays have themes of revenge in them (Malvolio's last line in 12th Night is: "I'll be revenged on the whole pack of you!" which is an odd-- but deserved-- note on which to end a comedy, and Merchant of Venice revolves around Shylock and his desire for a pound of flesh from his anti-Semite rival Antonio) and Shakespeare is smart enough not to choose sides and instead hold a mirror up to the dark side of human nature and the very real and rational desire for vengeance . . . and so when one of my students walked into class and said his life was starting to resemble Merchant of Venice, I knew that his example was going to be good-- this student is a soccer player and he played a prank on one of his soccer buddies: he had all this player's friends text the player a simple "Congratulations" message and then he created a very persuasive but completely fake web page that named his friend the MVP of the Middlesex County Soccer Tournament-- and his victim, like Malvolio, was a rule-following honorable soul who had played well enough to be deserving of such a title-- and because of this, the victim fell for the article hook, line, and sinker . . . and at this point my student realized that he had to tell the truth to his friend, before he started telling everyone about his "award," which was fictitiously created and digitally distributed on a fabricated web page . . . but when he told his buddy about the prank, he attempted to set the rules of revenge-- he knew his friend would have to seek revenge but he wanted to control exactly how his friend would punish him-- and this is exactly what happens in Merchant of Venice-- but of course it is difficult to dictate vengeance and emotions in contractual terms-- and so my student, who is much smaller than his victim, persuaded his victim that though he absolutely deserved revenge for this emotionally humiliating prank, that the revenge couldn't be physical (because the victim could easily beat up the perpetrator, he's a much larger kid) and had to be in the same genre as his prank-- emotional-- but I explained to him that in the milieu of vengeance, the rules are always broken . . . Osama bin Laden wanted to liberate Muslim holy sites and get revenge for American influence in Saudi Arabia so he blew up civilians in an office tower . . . and then the United States invaded and decimated two entire countries to exact our revenge against bin Laden . . . Whitney and I threw some apples at a door in our fraternity house and it started a cycle of revenge that ended in a friend nailing a dead raccoon to someone's door . . . and so the cycle of revenge is never predictable and never reasonable, and-- as Shakespeare illustrates-- sometimes it takes a woman to put an end to the silliness, because women never hold a grudge . . . right?

You're Getting Warmer



Some farcical conversation with my son Alex about what the Ark of the Covenant contains in the movie Raiders of the Lost Ark: Alex: It wasn't God in there. Who's the guy who lives under the ground?  The evil guy? Dad: Satan?  Alex: No . . . Dad: Beelzebub? Alex: No . . . Dad: Mephistopheles? Alex: No . . . Dad: The Lord of the Flies? Alex: No . . . Dad: Lucifer? Alex: No . . . Dad: Hades? Alex: No . . . Dad: Pluto? Alex: Yeah . . . him. Maybe it was him in that box.

A Good Way To Spend All Hallow's Eve


After several hours of trick-or-treating in the cold with my kids, I retired to my bed to read Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez's graphic novel Locke and Key, and I can think of no better way to conclude a spooky holiday than this: the story is gripping, the art is mesmerizing, and Sam will inhabit your dreams . . . I wish I could have read it to my kids, but it's way too disturbing and violent: nine abandoned wells out of ten.

Serendipitous Student Connection #1 (Moth/ Snow/ Wife)


Sometimes a student says something so incisive that it completely changes the direction of a class discussion, and even the tone of an entire lesson; for instance, this week I taught Virginia Woolf's posthumously published suicide-note of an essay, "The Death of the Moth," and when we read the description of the moth's futile fluttering from one corner of the window to the next-- because it was trapped between the pane and the screen-- I asked the class who had done this before: shut a bug inside a window between the glass and the screen, and several kids raised their hands and admitted to this cowardly act, and we agreed that sometimes it is quicker, easier, and more convenient to isolate and ignore the problem of the bug instead of taking initiative and actually swatting, squishing, or removing it . . . but then one girl looked me squarely in the eye and said, "Why don't you just kill the bug? Why leave it in the window for later?" and I told her that is exactly what my wife would say in this instance, and that there were two kinds of people-- those that kill the bug immediately, and those who shut it in the window so it can suffer a slow death and be dealt with later . . . and then I told the class what happened on the weekend . . . we had an unusual October snowstorm and my wife instructed me to shovel the snow and then she got all dressed up in a tight dress and sexy boots and headed off to a baby shower and I took the kids sledding and when I got home, I was tired and wanted to watch the Giants game, and the sun was out, so instead of shoveling the driveway and the porch, I decided to let the sun melt the snow-- the same way you might let the sun dehydrate and fry the bug trapped in the window pane-- but the sun failed me, failed me miserably, and my lovely wife arrived home in her sexy boots to the same amount of snow that was there when she left and instead of reminding me to shovel it, she went ahead and shoveled the driveway and porch in her tight dress and sexy boots, and I think she did this so she could shovel even more guilt on me when she found me half-asleep on the couch, watching the football game .  . because she's the kind of person who kills the bug-- she doesn't leave it trapped in the window for later-- but the real question here is: Why do women get all decked out for a baby shower?

Non-stalgia

If you haven't seen Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom in a while, you've probably forgotten just how annoying Kate Capshaw is-- she can't hold a candle to Karen Allen-- and she's even more annoying than that little punk Short Round.

I Uncover the Roots of My Ennui (And Use Other Annoying Words)


I know how obnoxious it is to complain, and I also know how obnoxious it is to use the word ennui (it's almost as obnoxious as using the word jejune, but not quite as obnoxious as using the word myriad . . . and then, of course, there is the word plethora . . . don't even get me started on that one) but last week in the English office, I had an epiphany (also a very annoying word) and realized why the fall is such a difficult time for me at work . . . it is because I can still remember the idylls of summer . . . the free time, the leisurely reading, the travel, the lack of a schedule, the swimming, the ocean . . . I'll stop before I cry . . . but once winter settles in, the memories of summer fade and I embrace the bleakness because I can't recall any other way to live.
A New Sentence Every Day, Hand Crafted from the Finest Corinthian Leather.