I just finished reading "The Year in Review" section of The Week magazine, and -- wow! -- Sentence of Dave did not tackle any of the big issues this year . . . in fact, I'm not sure I mentioned anything of significance that happened on the planet earth in 2012, but just because the content wasn't especially noteworthy, it doesn't mean that the style doesn't deserve recognition; so, without further ado, these just very well might be some of the best sentences I wrote last year . . . so take some time and savor them, as this is the closest you'll ever get to the brilliant and shining mind that is Dave:
1) The Best Compare/ Contrast Sentence
2) The Longest Sentence Ever Written About Chili
3) The Longest Recurring Theme (with a Big Thanks to My Wife)
4) The Best (and Simultaneously Most Disturbing) Photo Montage
5) The Best Story With the Most Irrelevant Comments
6) Grossest Title: "A Good Walk Spoiled (By My Dog's Anus)"
7) Best Title (and Worst Idea): "The Potato Apostrophe Catastrophe"
8) A Good Review of a Bad Movie
9) Dave's Best Ideas Ever
10) The Most Impressive Streak of 2012
11) My Wife Is a Superhero
12) Wildest Paddleboard Adventure
13) Dave and His Dog Nearly Die
14) The Most Emotional Sentence of the Year
15) The Least Emotional Sentence of the Year
16) The Best Book of the Year
17) The Most Inspirational Image of 2012
18) Dave is Dumb
19) And Dave is Awkward
20) But Dave Still Triumphs
My parents needed some help getting the Lionel trains to run in a circle around the tree, and so I volunteered to troubleshoot the track -- which involved crawling under some furniture, as the tree was placed in a tight space -- and this didn't turn out very festive, as I banged my head on the underside of a desk, on a very sharp point of wood; I relieved some of the pain by yelling "motherf*cker," and I felt badly about this for a moment because my parents had company over and my children were in earshot, but when I emerged from under the desk, I found that i was bleeding from an ugly gash on my head, and then I no longer felt guilty about the use pf profanity . . . it was warranted.
If you affix the word "chop" to any type of meat -- pork chop, veal chop, turkey chop -- then I don't find the dish appetizing at all (and the same goes for "shank") but if you add the word "barbecue" to the end, then whether it is pork or chicken or beef or turkey, it sounds delicious (and I'm not literally back, I am still in New Hampshire, but Sirius has gone on strike).
In a situation where there is global competition, such as the auto industry and other manufacturing, it's going to be tough to defend the unions . . . or if you do something that can be outsourced -- like graphic arts -- but if you are in an industry that relies on trained humans that can't be outsourced . . . whether it's waiting tables or stitching wounds or doing electrical work or teaching English or working at Wal-Mart, then your best hope for a living wage is an organized union . . . not that I deduced this myself, this is just something that my Master told me one time when we were out walking, but it does make a certain sort of sense (but what do I know, though my Master grants me health benefits, he doesn't even have a pension plan or a 401K set up for me).
I am very, very sorry for my poor typing yesterday -- my paws are large and clumsy and my vocabulary is rather limited, but after hours of intense practice, I have learned to accurately slap the letters on the keyboard with my neutered penis . . . Master, I hope you can find it within your pure and bountiful soul to forgive me, and when you come home, I will come to the door, greet you, and then roll unto my back, prostrate, and wiggle in obeisance to your greatness and munificence; I also miss both the sub-master (who I sometimes believe to be your master, but who is not my Master, which confuses me greatly, despite my knowledge of the transitive theory) and the two tiny-masters . . . though they are often cruel to me for no reason . . . but I stray from my point (stray . . . ha!) which is that you are a great master and that I will sit in complete deference to you when you arrive back from your vacation, though you did not take me, though you know that I love the snowy mountains . . . but you are a virtuous and wise master, and must have your reasons why you left me home, and who am I to question you, my Master, and plus, this gives me plenty of time to lick my testicles, which I know you don't want to see or hear . . . and so I will take advantage of this and get it "all out of my system" while you are gone, and then return to perfect behavior once you return.
While I am on vacation in New Hampshire, my dog Sirius has volunteered to write a sentence each day for the blog . . . he is guarding our house (with the help of my brother) and he should have plenty of quiet time to compose his thoughts; I must warn my readers, though, I am relinquishing complete control of my blog for the next few days and I can't guarantee you that the content will be as intellectually stimulating as it usually is -- on the other hand, I hope Sirius doesn't prove to be a better writer than me, as that would be very embarrassing; anyway, Sentence of Dave wishes you a Merry Christmas . . . I hope you got lots of presents, presents encased in layers of cardboard and plastic, tied together with twisty wires, wrapped in even more paper, and I hope you spend lots of quality family time disposing of all that stuff, and that you have a little bit of time after you've finally disposed of all the packaging, to actually play with your gifts (or at least assemble them and find the proper type of battery for them).
Thirty two, to be exact, and I'm talking about adult, silverware type spoons -- I didn't include any of the kiddie spoons with plastic handles -- so if we just acquire three more plastic cups, then we can put a metal spoon into every plastic cup in our house . . . when we lived in the Middle East, we often hiked over midden piles of ancient cities, and they were essentially giant mounds of pottery chips, but our garbage doesn't really crumble back to dirt -- it lasts forever (I still have a rubber Tribe keychain from college) so my New Year's Resolution should be to sell and recycle all this junk accumulating in my house, but that's even less exciting than my 2012 Resolution . . . so I am taking suggestions for a 2013 Resolution, and, of course, I want it to be as engaging and popular as The 2011 Taco Count.
Often, when I am sitting in my kitchen, drinking a beer and reading a book, and my children are upstairs, getting ready for bed, I wonder: how can skinny little boys who barely weigh fifty pounds make such tremendous, foundation-shaking THUNKS?
There are some topics of conversation that don't come up very often -- and my two favorites, which are related and appeal to the same sub-set of nerdom -- only surface in my life at two year intervals . . . I'm talking, of course, about "the singularity" and the geek-classic Godel, Escher, and Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid . . . and I'm not even going to attempt to explain either thing, but back in 2008, there was this incident and then in 2010 I had this shining moment, and now, in 2012, a girl brought in Godel, Escher, and Bach as her independent reading book, and when I mentioned that I had read it, she got very excited and told me that i was the first person she had met IRL (in real life) that had read the book and knew about the singularity, and then she confided in me that she had a "whole other life on-line" with folks that were keen on these concepts, and she mentioned Eliezer Yudkowsky . . . and if you like this kind of stuff, then I recommend checking out his hypotheses.
I am usually pretty lame at soliciting charitable donations from the students for our annual holiday gift drive -- especially in comparison to some of the female English teachers, who get their kids to donate mad amounts of cash, usually by bribing them with the offer of home-made cookies or brownies for the class that gives the most money -- but I can't bake, nor am I sincere and emotional enough to get kids to donate through sheer rhetoric, so this year, in the spirit of Christmas, I offered this prize: the class that donated the most money would get to pelt me with water balloons from a close distance on a cold winter day . . . and that day was yesterday, and you never saw happier children, hurling water balloons at the man that assigns them essays, and I am sure the students were pleased that the ordeal was more painful than I imagined, because the balloons weren't terribly full (to insure they didn't break during transport) and so while some broke on impact and soaked me, others bounced off my head and body, and were thrown again and again, until they finally hit a spot with enough force to burst . . . in the end, I suppose it was worth it, because I did raise more money than I usually do (but it still wasn't as much as the women . . . so just imagine how much the women would pull in if they offered to be bombarded by water balloons).
If you don't care about the Giants, but you love all things "Dave," then head over to Gheorghe: The Blog for a book review and some self-indulgent psychological assessment . . . and, if you're not careful, you just might learn something that will save your offspring from abject failure.
I was incredibly excited about the Giants/ Falcons game last weekend, because my parents were taking the boys for the afternoon, and it was a rainy day . . . so not only was I going to watch a 1 PM game in total peace, but I also wouldn't suffer the weird pangs of guilt that I always have if I sit inside and watch sports on a day when I should be outside doing sports . . . but, alas, the best laid plans: the Giants weren't in the game for a single play, and were demolished so severely (34-0) that I didn't receive one moment of pleasure from watching the game . . . but I recouped my losses by taking a nap.
You could have given me a million years, and I still wouldn't have come up with the word "limiting" as a less abrasive synonym for the word "immature" . . . but it only took a female colleague thirty seconds to massage my tone in an e-mail to an administrator, with that simple substitution . . . I guess I need one of these "smart thesauruses" implanted in my brain so that I don't extemporaneously say or write anything stupid, but then, of course, I wouldn't be Dave anymore.
"The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas" is a science-fiction short story by written in 1973 by Ursula Le Guin, and if you've never read it, you certainly should -- it's one of the most memorable sci-fi stories ever written -- but it is not a lot of fun; it is a philosophical allegory about a perfect city, Omelas, and the heavy cost of having such a society . . . because Omelas can only continue its existence if a single child is keep in squalor, ignored and isolated in a dark cell . . . and everyone in the city knows of the existence of this child, and knows that Omelas can only exist if the child is kept in this desolate state; most citizens of Omelas can live with the mathematics of this hedonistic calculus, but there are those that can't . . . those that "walk away from Omelas" because they cannot bear to live with this utilitarian bargain; so I made my students write about this and come up with examples of people who "walk away from Omelas," and though they came up with some decent examples (the Amish, Thoreau, people who join the Peace Corp) they couldn't compete with my examples -- I think I would do very well if I took my own English course! -- and so here they are: 1) becoming a vegetarian . . . most of us know that some animal was kept in a tiny cell, just like the child in the story, so that meat can appear on our plates, and we are willing to live with the system because meat is cheap and plentiful, but there are those that opt out for ethical reasons and stop participating in meat consumption 2) the genteel Southern plantation . . . women in fancy dresses, men smoking pipes and discussing issues of the Enlightenment, while the slaves worked the fields out back . . . some freed their slaves, but even great men like Thomas Jefferson couldn't walk away from that peculiar Omelas 3) the hippie I was talking to in Vermont at Thanksgiving, who lives off the grid in a solar powered house with a propane powered refrigerator, he spent six months at luthier school building his own guitar . . . and when I asked him if he liked to snowboard, he made me feel really bad about my lifestyle, because he said, "No, me and my girlfriend like to sled," and then he went on to describe all the sledding they do by their house, which is on a Class IV road, and I felt very bad about myself, since I require large corporations to tear apart a mountain, build giant trails, funiculars, bars, restaurants, snow-making equipment, and all sorts of other infrastructure before I can go and have some fun in the snow.
The average American male's self-reported weight has increased from 180 pounds in 1990 to 196 pounds in 2012 . . . and I am wondering if I am the only person they used to complete this study . . . because that is a fairly accurate appraisal of my weight in 1990 and my weight in 2012 (I am usually a few pounds under 196, but after the holidays that's about right).
So far, the new Dave Eggers book A Hologram for the King reminds me of a modernized version of The Castle, by Frank Kafka; Alan just can't seem to make contact with Karim al-Ahmad, his liaison to the Saudi King, and so he and his young companions sit listlessly in the presentation tent, wondering if they will ever get to make their business pitch . . . just as K. -- the land surveyor -- spends the entire length of the Kafka novel fruitlessly trying to gain access to the eponymous castle . . . in the end, he never gets to meet with his contact authority, Klamm, and instead has strange adventures in the village, on the outskirts . . . and while it is hard to recommend the absurd Kafka novels The Castle and The Trial because (spoiler alert!) the protagonists never gain any satisfaction, closure, or knowledge about their predicaments, I will give the Eggers novel a tentative thumbs up -- though I am only half-way through and have no idea if there will be a similarly frustrating finish -- but my thumb is up because Alan has a penchant for telling cheesy long-winded jokes, so though you feel as if you are waiting eternally in an infinite sea of sand for something to happen, at least there are a few punch-lines along the way.
According to Paul Tough's new book How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character, the most important thing that kids learn in school is not knowledge, but how to improve character traits such as resilience, the ability to delay gratification, and diligence . . . and so the most important lesson I've taught my students is probably not one related to essay writing . . . my best guess is that the most valuable thing they will take away from my class is a policy I instituted last year, a protocol on how to approach me after being absent from my class; you may not come up to me before class and ask, "What did I miss?" because I won't remember, and even worse, you can't say, "Did I miss anything?"because then I'll make you read this wonderfully sarcastic poem . . . so what you must do is provide one piece of information about the lesson you missed, which you must acquire from a classmate, so that you can make a statement like this: "Dearest teacher, I know we read an essay about bee-keeping yesterday, and I heard that we had a quiz, so I was wondering what I should do to make this up?" and though I know the process is complete baloney, and that I am forcing the student to pretend they care about something they don't care about, I think this is an important skill to have: the ability to pretend you that care, and I am always surprised at how adept they are at it, how quickly they adapted to my demand . . . in fact, sometimes they are so convincing with their facts and queries that they actually fool me, and I truly believe that they care about what they missed.
Though I am completely unqualified to say anything regarding physics, this hasn't deterred me at all; I have now written two pieces about the elusive Higgs Boson: the first was when I scored an exclusive interview with this rare and rather profane particle, and the second is a feature article in my friend's new magazine, which is called Lifewild Quarterly and which is billed as a "science, wildlife, and nature publication designed, written, and illustrated by folks who have no business talking about it in any professional quality"; I'll bet my high school physics teacher would be very proud of my endeavors . . . if I actually took physics in high school, which I didn't (paradoxically making me even better qualified to write for Lifewild than most of the other contributors).
Alison Bechdel's autobiographical graphic memoir Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic is by far the best existentialist illustrated Joycean tour-de-force bildungsroman about the coming of age of a artistic lesbian living in a Victorian home perfectly and obsessively restored by a closeted gay dad/ mortician who may or may not have committed suicide by stepping in front of an eighteen wheeler (truckicide?) setting off a recursive labyrinth of a narrative that ends where it begins like the Ouroboros . . . in fact, if I were a coming of age lesbian, I would be so intimidated by the artistry of this thing, that I would take up some other art form, like abstract steel sculpture or origami, instead of trying to compete with the brilliance of Bechdel's insight, allusions, and aesthetics.
I can't put my finger on exactly what it is about the documentary Catfish, but the story seems too neat, too contrived, and too perfectly captured -- every important moment is caught on film, everyone in the story bestows "documentary gold" into the hands of the filmmakers, and Vince's metaphor about the catfish keeping the cod nimble may be a parallel for Angela "schooling" the city boys . . . schooling them in a sad manner, but deceiving them for enough time to make them confused and embarrassed . . . but it may also work in the way that the film fools us . . . in the end, it doesn't matter if it's real or fake, or some odd combination of both (which is probably the truth of the matter . . . I think the creators knew there was something rotten in Ishpeming at the start, when they were "opening" the box that contained first painting) because the film isn't brilliant or all that moving, and it doesn't raise profound aesthetic questions, like its kissing cousin, My Kid Could Paint That, but I still think it's worth watching Catfish: though Nev is immature and annoying, his chest hair is something to behold.
Sometimes, when I am in an existential mood, I wonder: Am I a chucker or a shooter? but this is one of those intractable philosophical conundrums, because no one possesses the exact percentage when a shooter turns into a chucker, and -- as the old saying goes -- every chucker has his day . . . and then, however briefly, he imagines himself a shooter, until The Law of Averages exacts statistical revenge and The Scales of Justice are balanced once again.
I certainly have no problem blaming things on my kids that are actually my own fault, but there are times when it's much more logical to throw your wife under the bus; last week, I had to take my mini-van to the dealer to get a key transmitter -- and it's already humiliating enough for me to deal with mechanics, because while I teach kids how to write poetry, mechanics get to use powerful pneumatic tools and have extremely manly work-clothes -- but to add insult to injury, when the guy in the overalls asked for my registration and insurance card so he could take down the VIN and some other information, I couldn't find either . . . I searched the glove compartment, the cup-holders, the ashtray, and the floor . . . but no luck, and I finally told him, "My wife drives this car and I don't know what she did with everything," but that's not true, I drive the mini-van, but I had no idea where any of that stuff actually was, and (after I called my wife) what I didn't realize is that there is a second glove little glove compartment above the big glove compartment, and that's where we keep that stuff . . . and the bright side is: at least this ignorance didn't occur when I was being pulled over by a cop for a moving violation.
The Yellow Birds, a novel written by Iraqi War veteran Kevin Powers, has a scene reminiscent of Catch-22: as I raced to the finish of the story, I couldn't help but think of when Yossarian shows up in formation butt-naked to receive his medal because Snowden has bled all over his uniform . . . and Powers' novel also has a Snowden-like scene of graphic gore and violence at its heart, but while Yossarian moves through a mock-epic collection of eccentric soldiers, insane officers, and colorful whores in a picaresque and often hysterically funny manner, Powers' narrator John Bartle reminds me more of a detached and lost Hemingway character, who has become unhinged by war and can no longer relate to anyone who hasn't been there . . . Catch-22 is a lot more fun, but the last eighty pages of The Yellow Birds is powerful, vivid, and memorable . . . it makes the slog through the earlier chapters well worth it.
I recently pointed out that one of the wonderful things about being married is the verbal shorthand you have for memories -- a short and simple phrase can evoke an entire scene -- but I should also point out that I have known my friend Whitney even longer than I have been married to my wife, and Whitney's memory is nearly as prodigious an an elephant's . . . but, unlike the relatively unbiased elephant, Whitney seems to remember the things you'd most like to forget . . . so he recently reminded me of another "bringing stuff back to the table episode". . . my wife was in India with some of her lady-friends, and I met up with John, Whitney, and Mose in Amsterdam; we were catching up in a cozy tavern, sitting at a little wood table in the corner, and it was my turn to buy a round; I walked up to the bar, purchased four pints of beer, turned and saw my friends deep in conversation, and decided I didn't need any help carrying the four pints -- so I nestled them into a square, put my hands on each side of the square, applied a bit of pressure, and lifted . . . and (miraculously!) the square of four pint glasses, held together firmly, and so I proceeded across the barroom floor in this manner, happy with my independence and my aptitude, until I got several feet from the table; at this point, John, Mose, and Whitney simultaneously looked at me, and their combined facial expressions conveyed so much anxiety and disbelief, such a unified and abject lack of faith in my endeavor, that I doubted myself and slightly adjusted the pressure I was placing on the four pint glasses -- despite the fact that I had applied the perfect amount of pressure for ninety percent of the walk -- and with this slight increase in pressure, the pint glasses shattered (and so did my ego, but not my ability to create zeugma) and then I had to endure much humiliation and ridicule, despite the fact that it was their facial expressions that caused the entire mess, and then, just when I had forgotten the entire incident, I had to relive it not once, but twice: when Whitney brought it up in the comments, and when I took the time to describe it here.
One sophomore said to another, "You're like a shrimp . . . you're a shellfish" and this was such a strange phrase that I couldn't ignore it, and so I asked the sophomore why he said it, but the reason he gave for making this odd simile was far less interesting than the phrase itself . . . so I won't ruin it and tell you his explanation.
A few weeks ago, we converted our spare change into an Amazon Gift Card, and this has led to some impulse purchases . . . the latest is a Cajon Box Drum, which is a large wooden box that doubles as a stool, and you whack it in various spots to get various tones; my family invented the Cajon Box Drum Game, in which several family members play the drum in succession and a person in another room -- who cannot see the drum and the player -- tries to guess who is beating on it . . . oddly, this was easy to do in my family; my wife didn't have much rhythm, my son Alex hits it a bit randomly, Catherine said it sounded like I was "thinking about it too much," and Ian -- the little bastard -- is a natural.
On our way up to Vermont this Thanksgiving, we stopped to eat at Roy Rogers, and my wife said, "Remember what happened at Roy Rogers?" and this was all she had to say, and my mind travelled twenty years into the past . . . when we were returning from a Williamsburg road trip and stopped at The Maryland House to eat; it was very crowded, so Catherine snagged a booth while I put all the fixin's on our burgers at the Fixin's Bar, and then -- while I was carrying a tray of fully fixed food across the wide open brown tiled space between the Fixin's Bar and the booth Catherine had snagged, I had what is affectionately known as a "wardrobe malfunction" . . . I was wearing a pair of shorts that I had stolen from the most notorious clothing thief in our fraternity, so I was quite proud that I had righteously filched these shorts from him and beat him at his own game, but he was thicker than me, so the shorts were loose around the waist, and they didn't have a button, so I was using a safety pin to keep them cinched . . . and the safety pin snapped . . . and the shorts fell to my knees . . . and I couldn't bend down to pull them up, because I was carrying a tray of fully fixed food . . . and at this juncture, I should point out that I didn't bring a whole lot of laundry on the road trip, and I had run out of underwear, so I was "going commando" under the shorts . . . so once they fell to my knees I was, as the English say, doing the full monty (or, as the Japanese say, "sporting wang") but luckily, the only people who saw this were my wife and a fat old black woman -- and both of them immediately burst out laughing as they watched my shuffle as fast as I could to the booth, where I put the tray down and pulled my shorts up; I learned a valuable lesson that day: if you're not going to wear underwear, make sure your shorts fit correctly and have a sturdy fastener . . . and one of the wonderful things about marriage is that it only takes a couple of words to evoke a moment like this, once you've been with someone for twenty years you have a kind of verbal shorthand to access all of these most excellent and humiliating events.
When I mentioned that my dog Sirius requires two bags for his morning walk, my friend Stacey -- who is taller than me, but has a much smaller dog -- one-upped me and claimed that her dog Norman fills THREE bags on his evening walk . . . and while I'm not sure if this "one-upping" or "one-downing," I loved the conversation, because instead of "humblebragging" -- an act that I detest -- we were actually bragging, which is something I love (even if the topic is the amount of fecal matter our pets produce).
There are two types of people: 1) people rooting for a conclusive Bigfoot encounter . . . and if you are one of these types of people, then the Provo Canyon Incident is as believable as they come 2) people who believe Ram Bomjon (the Buddha Boy) was able to meditate for months in a tree without food or water . . . and I am sorry, but you can't have both, as to ask for both these supernatural miracles to be true would be extraordinarily greedy, so you have to choose; as for me, I am rooting hard for Team Sasquatch.