At the start of Patricia Highsmith's fourth Tom Ripley novel (The Boy Who Followed Ripley) our asexual Gatsby of murderers has settled down comfortably in Belle Ombre, his French estate, with his native wife Heloise . . . but he soon acquires a protege-- an American runaway teen who confesses that he murdered his wealthy father-- and Ripley actually attempts to coach and counsel the boy, who not only feels guilt over the murder but is also lovelorn, but in the end Ripley isn't particularly successful-- you'll have to read the book to see why-- and while this isn't as much of a page turner as the others in the series, there is a wonderful tour of the gay bars of West Berlin, their flamboyance heightened by the looming presence of the Wall, and my favorite moment of the novel is when Ripley feigns sleep on a plane so he can pretend to stretch and trip an unruly American boy who is running amok in the aisle . . . the passenger across the way sees through Ripley's ruse and nods subtly at him in approval of the elegant method he used to exact his punishment: eight wheelchairs out of ten.
Whenever someone tells me they are going to do some home-brewing, I never say what I'm really thinking-- because I once did some home-brewing myself and I know the satisfaction of getting drunk on something you made in your own basement . . . but it is a lot of work and it smells pretty bad and you make a big mess and you're probably going to have quite a bit of sediment at the bottom of your bottle, and so what I'm really thinking is when someone tells me this is: have you been to the beer store lately?
Another excellent confused verbal permutation by my wife, said when we were discussing the funny-but-don't-get-attached-because-it-was-cancelled-after-one-season sitcom Better Off Ted . . . "She's perfect as the boss . . . what's her name? Lamborghini Del Rossi? Mercedes Del Rossi?"
We are beginning to take the brilliant cheesiness of LeCompt and his fantastic band for granted, because we've heard most of what they do-- but they usually throw in at least one new tune per set . . . this time it was David Bowie's "Five Years," a song that I love . . . but he had too much reverb on his voice and it was hard to understand the lyrics and no one in the bar knew what song he was singing, but he was certainly enjoying it, inserting his own lyrics into the mix-- he sang something about The Springfield (which my wife realized is the Jersey Shore's equivalent of The Corner Tavern . . . same color scheme) using his best Bowie voice . . . a good song to follow "Starman" and "I've Seen All Good People," and a welcome break from the six Paul McCartney songs he played to start the set.
Do not go stand-up paddleboarding after running several miles barefoot in the sand and then playing a game of beach soccer with young children . . . though I aim to be "the man of steel," it turns out that if I had a superpower, it would be "legs of gelatin."
Another ringing endorsement for Knoebels Amusement Park, and that's impressive-- considering that I hate amusement parks-- but a day at Knoebels costs a tenth of a day at Disney . . . there's no admission fee; plenty of trees; free parking; excellent, inexpensive food-- I highly recommend the pulled pork enchilada . . . not only is the meat tender and delicious, but they also give it a quick dip in the deep fryer to ensure tastiness; at Knoebels there's no claustrophobic feeling that you've got to stay and get your money's worth; they have several great wooden roller coasters; there are no people in costume . . . aside from the locals; and, finally, they have The Looper-- an ancient ride which became our children's passion: once they figured out how to spin themselves upside-down, they begged to ride it over and over . . . Ian and Nicky claim to have "looped" it sixty-four times . . . though I wonder if their counting abilities suffered due to the circumstances.
Perhaps part of the reason cars are so over-priced at the dealer is because the dealers know that people come in expecting to negotiate and won't feel good unless they cut a significant amount off the sticker . . . and while I am not usually one for haggling (I was notoriously bad at it when I lived in the Middle East . . . I always seemed to end up purchasing two items instead of one) I was determined to get a good price on a minivan-- so I did my homework, made my phone-calles, visited dealerships and went through all that "let me go talk to my manager" negotiating, and then, after I got them down, I walked out-- because you've got to walk out . . . I told them I was a teacher with plenty of free time, and that this was my "summer project," to shop for a minivan, and that I was in "no hurry" . . . and by this time I had gotten the 21,995 dollar sticker price down to 17,000 -- but without the Toyota certified used car warranty-- but then I made some calls to far-flung Toyota dealerships and found a van with only 26,000 miles on it and got them down to 16,500 with the certification . . . and I found this too good to be true for a 2008 van . . . and it was, the information on the web page didn't match the CarFax, and so I called them, and they realized it was a typo . . . but before they changed the web page, I called the local Toyota dealership, made them pull up the page with the typo, told them the deal that Autoland Toyota offered me, and had them match it . . . and then I raced over there and bought the van before they realized that I had used a specious advertisement . . . but they were quite happy for my business, so I'm wondering if I could have got them even lower . . . but it doesn't matter, I got them low enough that I felt heroically macho in my haggling-- that I felt like I got one over on them and got a good deal, and that's all that matters, right?
Last week, while I was biking with my dog, a woman in jogging attire, with a poorly behaved poodle, yelled to me, "You know, that's the worst thing you can do for your dog!" and so I circled my bike several times and politely listened to her explanation--she said she had a veterinarian friend who claims running along with a bike is bad for a dog's hips and that dogs need to stop frequently when they run and then she finished her lecture by challenging me to "look it up!" and I assured her that I would . . . though I know my dog and he loves biking with me and never has any trouble keeping up, but I humored her and "looked it up!" and there is nothing on the internet about how biking with a dog is bad for your dog (there are considerations, of course . . . your dog should be medium sized, you should avoid pavement when you can, and you should make sure your dog enjoys biking and can keep up . . . which my dog does easily because he can run . . . he begs me to take him out every morning) but this is all besides the point, the real issue here is why some people believe they can just yell out their opinions to a passerby . . . I know how I should have reacted to this woman-- whose poodle was going bananas, yanking her around and rearing up, while my dog obediently followed my tightly circling bike as I listened to her lambaste me . . . after she said, "That's the worst thing that you can do for your dog," then I should have said to her,"The worst thing? If you think that's the worst thing you can do to a dog, then I have two words for you . . ." and then I should have said, "Michael Vick" or "bear-baiting" or "Vietnamese restaurant" but, of course, this "jerk store" theorizing is what the French call "the wit of the staircase," of which I have plenty, but in real time, I am a witless coward.
Now that I own a minivan, packing for the beach is an episode in gluttony, nothing is too big or useless to bring . . . it's like eating without a care in the world about what you're consuming, as your belly is so cavernous that you'll never feel engorged and your body so huge that you could never get fat.
I mentioned Noodle Gourmet-- the hole-in-the-wall Hong Kong style noodle joint on Easton Avenue in New Brunswick that I often frequent for lunch with my father, brother, and children-- to a Taiwanese acquaintance, and she gave it high marks, and said that I should order the den dien dong shing and I said, "What?" and she said, "the dong ding dienty den den shin" and after several repetitions of this farcical dialogue (my friend Connell tried the reverse approach-- he told her, "Describe me to the people that work there, so that when I go in, they'll know to give it to me") she finally wrote the name of the dish in Chinese on a scrap of paper, which I put in my wallet . . . and the next day, I met my father and brother for lunch there, and my brother was ahead of me in line and he pulled out a little scrap of paper with some Chinese characters on it-- he wanted to order mini-rice cakes with seafood and that dish is not on the English menu, so he got a Chinese co-worker to write down the order, and after he presented his little piece of paper, and then I stepped forward and presented mine, which was for a noodle dish slathered in minced pork and hot peppers-- totally delicious-- and while this may not rank among the most profound miraculous coincidences in my life-- it was pretty funny, and both dishes were astonishingly delicious . . . and Noodle Gourmet could avoid such silliness if they simply translated all these secret dishes in English.
My wife and I finally finished Season 4 of Breaking Bad, and the parting shot of the poisonous Lily of the Valley plant in Walt's yard has finally convinced me that Bryan Cranston's no longer playing a cancer-ridden, drug dealing version of the snide and mild-mannered dad from Malcolm in the middle . . . he's a bad dude, perhaps morally worse than Nancy Botwin of Weeds . . . but I'm still rooting for him, perhaps because he started out as a high school teacher and he gives me inspiration on how I might be able to escape the clutches of the bell schedule.
Ask someone if they are an above-average driver and they will almost definitely say yes-- and that's why it's difficult to ride shotgun, as you can't watch someone else drive without criticizing them-- and the same is true for web-searching; it's really hard to watch someone Google for information because they're not typing in the terms that you would type into the search bar, and they're not clicking on the sites you would click on, and they're not scrolling to and reading the stuff you would scroll to and read . . . my wife got so fed up with watching me search for a dog-boarding place that she went in the other room, got the lap-top, sat down next to me, and beat me to the information we were looking for.
A few weeks ago, I picked up the new Geoff Dyer book at my local library-- and because I really like Dyer's writing, I wasn't disconcerted by the fact that the book claimed to be about unlocking the mysteries of a Russian science-fiction film called Stalker, which I had never seen-- nor even heard of-- because I assumed that Dyer would simply be using the film as a springboard for his trademark digressions (as he did in his "biography" of D.H. Lawrence-- Out of Sheer Rage-- which you can find in the BIO section of the library, but the book never actually becomes a biography of Lawrence, and instead is a treatise on procrastination) but this recent book, which is called Zona: A Book About A Film About A Journey To A Room, is actually about what it is billed as being about, the film Stalker, directed by the renowned Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky . . . so I took the book back to the library and spoke to a friend of mine, a film buff, and he told me I had to watch Stalker before I read the book, but that it wasn't going to be easy . . . and he was right, it wasn't an easy viewing, and this may be because I am certainly no film buff . . . I came to movies rather late in life and I have a limited attention span . . . and so it took me days to watch Stalker, which is nearly three hours and famous for its interminably long shots where relatively little happens-- and while I am glad I watched it, as it is compelling, ambiguous, profound, and beautifully filmed story-- and the journey of Stalker, Writer, and Professor is both archetypal and unforgettable-- especially the last scene-- while I admit all this is true, I think I came to this film too late in my life to really appreciate it, and Dyer explains this phenomena in the book: he explains that he saw Stalker when he was twenty-four and in a phase when he was doing a lot of LSD, and he became obsessed with the film, in a way that doesn't happen once you hit thirty or forty . . . he explains the sad fact that you probably won't see the film you consider to be the "greatest" after the age of thirty, and definitely not after the age of forty-- your ability to have your perceptions altered, your ability to respond to art with maximum focus and obsession, this declines with age . . . and so I am stuck with the films of the '90's as my benchmark movies: Goodfellas and The Big Lebowski and Fargo and Reservoir Dogs and the documentaries of Erroll Morris . . . not that a few films from my early thirties haven't snuck into my pantheon . . . Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Adaptation . . . but most of my films are light-weights compared to the greats-- fast-paced post-modern fun, as opposed to profound aesthetic journeys, and there is probably not much I can do about it . . . and funny thing, I actually reading about Stalker more than I enjoyed watching it . . . so I am guessing I will never become a cinephile.
My mother-in-law passed away last night after a long battle with cancer-- and while it was very sad, she went on her own terms, peacefully, at home (she lives with us) and surrounded by family . . . and I can honestly say that our relationship defied the typical, as I got along quite well with her for the past nineteen years: she lived with us for seven of those years and took care of our children for much of that time, she was a vital woman and I have no regrets about electing to have my mother-in-law live in the same house as me . . . and as my mother-in-law was gradually losing consciousness, I was buying a used car-- more on my fantastic negotiating skills in a future sentence-- because my weather-beaten and ancient 1993 Jeep Cherokee was also near the end of its time . . . but the "Deathbox" managed one final ride down Route 130, to the Toyota dealership, where it immediately ceased working-- I couldn't get it started so the sales lady could take it for a test drive, and it took a team of people to jump start it and move it out of the main lot-- they gave me 100$ of pity money for the "trade-in," perhaps in deference to the many years of excellent service this car provided me (and all the material it has provided for this blog) . . . and so, in one of life's profound, mysterious, and miraculous coincidences, two outstanding nineteen year relationships ended on the same day yesterday, and my life will be very different from here on out.
Frederick Exley's fictional memoir A Fan's Notes is The Catcher in the Rye for sporting types . . . Exley is a grown-up Holden Caulfield, and that's not very pretty-- he's alienated, can't "run with the herd," and the only thing that gives his life meaning is drinking and New York Giants football-- especially Frank Gifford-- and though he moves in and out of asylums, fights, womanizes, and generally despises himself and his fellow man, spending alternate periods of frantic energy and stupefying malaise, in the end-- like Holden-- at the end of this wild journey, he ends up missing all the fringe dwelling characters with which he shared booze and adventures . . . I don't recommend this book for women, especially since they will get an even worse view of men than they already have, but if you are a sportsmen who likes to drink, and you're concerned with your age and the mark you've made on the world, then I think this is hard to read without thinking: there by the grace of God go I.
There is a feeling of triumph for a father when he brings his children back from a camping trip, alive and uninjured (but, ironically, despite the fact that we braved campfires, sleeping together in a tent, Alex adjusting to his tooth-spacer . . . he ate lots of ice cream . . . repeated rides on the Looper at Knoebels, bug collecting on a giant mosquito ridden hill, a treacherous hike across a monstrously huge and sun baked spider infested boulder field, an escaped fugitive, and slippery paths along a waterfall, despite the fact that we survived all this and more without injury . . . once we got home and went to the pool, within fifteen minutes, Alex got stung on the stomach by a bee).
The Lolailo Sangria label provides some concise and definitive instructions on when to use their "refreshing wine product with natural fruit flavors," their recommendation is that it "is a perfect beverage for relaxing with friends, family, and all social get-togethers," and while I appreciate their advice, I would also like to use their product when I sit in a dark room, sullen and alone, and play jazz chords on my guitar . . . but I guess I'll have to buy a different bottle of wine for that occasion.
If everyone that plays on the artificial turf field brings home as many black little rubber pellets in their shoes as I bring home, then how are there any black little rubber pellets left on the field?
While I can bring to mind the countenance of any member of The Beatles or The Who or The Rolling Stones or Led Zeppelin, when a friend challenged me to produce the face of Roger Waters or David Gilmour in my mind's eye, I couldn't do it, despite the fact that I think Pink Floyd is the best band of the bunch.
My wife and I are lucky that our children are fantastic sleepers, rarely waking up in the night-- and though this occasionally results in a wet bed, it's worth it because we never lose any sleep-- but Thursday night both our children had nightmares: Ian dreamed that our dog Sirius had an evil twin, that attacked him, and Alex dreamed about being hypnotized by tiny bugs . . . and, unfortunately for Alex, he had his nightmare after Ian, and so when he came to crawl into our bed and escape the tiny mesmeric bugs, he found his little brother there, and had to retreat back to his room and battle them.
Before this year's graduation ceremony, while I was milling around with the other educators, I posed this Final Jeopardy! question and then we got on the subject of the capital of Canada . . . and apparently, nobody knows the capital of Canada-- teachers, administrators, students . . . they were all stumped; I also asked this at a July 4th get together and my favorite answer was: "What? Canada has no capital!"
Researchers have recently mapped 99 percent of the approximately 10,000 types of microbes that populate our bodies . . . 100 trillion bacteria, weighing six pounds, and while this isn't as sexy as discovering the Higgs-Boson in the Large Hadron Collider, it probably has more siginificance to our everyday lives: our unique microbiome assists in the digestion of food, trains our immune system, and protects us from harmful bacteria . . . and bacterial imbalances have been shown to cause obesity, mood disorders, and obesity . . . bacteria can even cause specific behaviors in mice and rats-- toxoplasmosis gondii is spread from cats to mice and rats, and makes rats and mice less afraid of cats, so that they are easier prey . . . and I love this because it's something else to blame, if you get sick or have about of toxic flatulence or simply act whacky, then it might not be you causing this . . . it might be your bacteria (and soon enough, we will have a legal clause for this . . . instead of the "insanity defense," we will have the "bacterial defense").
I just finished the third novel in Patricia Highsmith's Tom Ripley series . . . Ripley's Game is more of the same as far as the talented Tom Ripley is concerned-- he handles murder with as much aplomb as anyone in the literary canon-- but Highsmith introduces another character, a man corrupted by Tom Ripley's games-- his situation reminds me of Jonathan Pryce's role in Glengarry Glen Ross (and, coincidentally, the character's name is Jonathan) and so you get the interesting juxtaposition of a man well-versed in the art of murder and a man still wet behind the ears in the ins and outs of homicide . . . and then throw in his French Catholic wife and you've got another excellent novel: nine garrotes out of ten.
At the end of a day at the pool, not only do I not want to have to tell my kids to take a shower, but once I get them in there, doing what they're supposed to be doing, then I also don't want to have to go back into the locker room, fifteen minutes later, and tell them to stop wasting water and get the hell out of there.
Catherine and I made another soccer pilgrimage to The Madrid and Lisbon Bar and Restaurant, and we learned a few things that I'd like to note for the future: 1) Portuguese folks will root for Spain when they play Italy . . . so I guess the Iberian Peninsula hangs together against outsiders 2) the bartender has incredibly distracting cleavage, so you have to stay focused on the game or you might miss a goal 3) the sangria, the clams casino and the garlic shrimp are amazing . . . the calamari not so much-- perhaps that's something you should only order in an Italian place 4) if Spain wins, then apparently drunk driving laws are suspended in Newark for the day . . . despite the insane heat, everybody was out in the streets, honking their horns and waving their red and yellow flags (although we did see a few dejected Italy fans here and there).
I wouldn't want to be a soccer announcer because there is a lot of space to fill . . . check out The Simpsons take on this in the above clip . . . but maybe the announcers should allow a few moments of silence, instead of saying vapid things like this-- and remember, Spain was coming off far less rest than Portugal-- and so, "Spain's fatigue may or may not have an effect on the outcome of this game."
So if you find yourself at the Plumbing Supply Store (because Home Depot doesn't carry any parts for one piece toilets) and you ask for a gasket and flapper for an American Standard toilet and the old man behind the counter asks, "Which one?" and you say, "Aren't they all the same . . . I mean, they're called American Standard," then you are setting the old man up for some excellent plumbing humor, as I found out when he said, "That's what they call themselves, but they don't mean it . . . did you bring the broken parts?" and I had to admit-- sheepishly-- that I did not, and the actual plumbers behind me in line were all laughing now at my naivete in trusting a brand name . . . but the old guy did come through in the clutch, with the right part, and now we have a working toilet again, but it has cost me my plumbing innocence and my faith in advertising.
All week, I had the nagging feeling that I was missing something-- but I couldn't put my finger on what it was-- and then Thursday morning when I went to the track, to do some intervals, I noticed a pair of blue Crocs near the soccer net and I realized what it was I had been missing, the lacuna in my life, for days and days-- my blue Crocs!-- I had worn them to soccer Sunday morning, changed into my cleats, and then left them there . . . and they were still there, unharmed-- four days later! a miracle!-- so maybe everything does happen for a reason, and the reason I went running Thursday morning was so I could be reunited with my hideously ugly blue Crocs and now the universe is back in order (aside from all that stuff in the middle East).