I went snowshoeing for the first time in my life last week, while we were on vacation in Vermont, and I must say that the experience of snowshoeing is exactly as I imagined it . . . it was no easier or harder than I imagined, and I sank into the snow the exact amount I have always imagined I would sink into the snow while wearing snowshoes, it was exactly as exciting as I imagined (not very, compared to snowboarding, but very practical and relaxing) and so while I recommend snowshoeing -- it's exactly as fun as you imagine it to be -- you don't actually have to get out into the snow and do it, you can just think about doing it and it's pretty much the same experience (besides the cardiovascular benefits, of course).
The Vermont Country Store in Weston is over-priced and full of kitsch, but these minor faults are overshadowed by the vast array of free samples: dips and chips and salsa; local cheeses and pepperoni; fudge and cookies . . . if you're trashy enough, you could skip paying for lunch next door at the Bryant House (the associated restaurant) and just graze your way through the enormous store, which is actually several connected old buildings; the candy section fills one of these structures, and it is a joy to behold, several hundred square feet of every kind of chocolate, sweet, and confection possible -- arranged in a maze of jars and bins and cases . . . and from this horn of sugary plenty -- to avoid gluttony -- we decided to each choose a small scoop of ONE item -- Ian filled his bag with candy blackberries and raspberries; Alex chose candy Lego bricks, Catherine got dark chocolate covered cranberries, and I had a hankering for black licorice -- but there was a LOT of black licorice to choose from: ropes and strands, dog shaped licorice, swirls, rounds, twizzlers, etc. -- I finally decided on some smallish rhombus shaped pieces with the word "ZOUT" stamped on each piece . . . I assumed this was the brand of the candy, but when we got into the car and sampled our treats, I nearly had to spit mine out -- it was incredibly salty . . . and I soon learned, after doing a bit of research, that zout means "salty" in Danish, and I had purchased the infamous Dutch double-salted licorice, which might not be a candy at all, and instead some sort of folkloric remedy for sore throats . . . some folks on the Internet mentioned eating it as a "rite of passage," and all this is fine and good -- you might know that I am a fan of the circus peanut, and not because of the taste of course (circus peanuts taste horrible, like disintegrating Styrofoam) but simply because they exist at all and people continue to buy them and someone must be eating them . . . but I do believe there should be some sort of warning on this Danish double salted stuff, because now I have a bag of them, and the only way to unload them is to foist them off on unsuspecting people who don't speak Dutch.
I am about to pour a triumphant local Vermont beer: we survived four days of family snowboarding without mishap (though my children nearly died several times sledding in the yard of our rented "cabin," which is actually nicer than our real house) and while most of the time when I am on vacation, by the end of the week I am getting that "this place is real nice but I'm looking forward to going home" feeling, I am NOT getting that feeling this time -- and that is probably because we lucked out with the weather . . . could be the nicest week of spring weather in the history of Southern Vermont.
While I recognize the irony of someone like myself judging lunatics who write lots of words on the internet, I still can't help offering my two cents: last Spring Break we ate an amazing little taco joint in New Paltz called Mexicali Blue, and while the Yelp reviews are generally quite positive, there are also some fascinating narratives sprinkled in the mix, about mischarges for guacamole and enduring loud music -- long competent narratives with loads of details . . . in fact, if they weren't written on a restaurant-review web-site, these people might pass for educated and normal . . . and we spent this Spring Break in Southern Vermont and when I drove through Ludlow, on my way to get some new bindings for my snowboard, I saw a little shack called Taco's Taco's (that's how it is spelled on the sign) and I love tacos, so I checked the Yelp reviews and while I will definitely never visit this restaurant, I am glad I visited the reviews, because while they are bad, they are also wonderfully written, informative, entertaining, and quite funny . . . especially "Tasteless Tacos, Bogus Burritos, and Nasty Nachos," written by David K from Fort Lee, New Jersey, who describes his "first taste of nachos at Rye Playland Ice Skating Rink" and says that they were "totally better" than the nachos at Taco's Taco's . . . he also calls their Spanish Rice "one word: disgraceful" and claims that the rice is not only an insult to Spanish people, but to all people "of Hispanic descent."
I highly recommend Tyler Cowen's e-pamphlet The Great Stagnation: How America Ate All the Low-Hanging Fruit of Modern History, Got Sick, and Will (Eventually) Feel Better . . . it is a quick read with a powerful thesis: we are not as rich as we think we are . . . and the stuff that made us feel rich in the first place, the low hanging fruit we grabbed and ate, is pretty much a thing of the past -- there is no more free and cheap land, the major strides in public education happened last century (at the beginning of the 20th century, very few people went to school or university -- intelligent or not --and Cowen argues that we have reached an age of diminishing returns in education . . . now everybody goes to school) and there haven't been many life changing scientific breakthroughs recently -- aside from the internet, which is a special case, because though it eases the shock of the stagnation, it is mainly free, and wonderful for those folks who are "intellectually curious, those who wish to manage large networks of loose acquaintances, and those who wish to absorb lots of information at phenomenally fast rates," and so though we still have our Constitution and relatively cheap fossil fuels, they are only two of the five . . . and in areas of great gain, such as financial innovation, these innovations do NOT translate into gains for the American people (and might translate into losses) as "recent and current innovation is more geared toward private goods rather than public goods," unlike the innovations of the 20th century: refrigeration, transportation, sanitation, mass communication, electricity . . . I agree with this, though the internet is super-neat, it pales in comparison to an indoor toilet, and I will still pay my plumber more to fix my pipes than I will pay for an internet connection.
Last week, my wife texted me the following message "U need to pick up the boys from your parents' house on the way home; I took out meat meat for tacos for dinner" and I told her I would pick up the kids and then I chastised her for not using a transition between two very different ideas -- thus creating an abrupt non sequitur of a message -- and I sent this message despite receiving advice NOT to send it from the women in the English office . . . because I thought it was humorous, but my wife thought it was "kind of annoying" and so I suppose that transitions are unnecessary in texts and I won't bring it up again (and of course, my wife used a period, not a semi-colon, in her text but I don't want to ruin the integrity of Sentence of Dave and so I made that slight adjustment . . . I apologize to all parties for being "kind of annoying").
Just before I go to sleep on a cold, dry winter night, I strip off my black fleece sweatshirt so I won't get hot once I am under the covers, and the last thing I see before I close my eyes is a pyrotechnical festival of static electricity, caused by the fleece rubbing against my head, made all the brighter because I am inside a tunnel of black fabric . . . and if you haven't experienced this, I suggest you try: it's inexpensive, safe, and a suitably dreamy image before you settle into a cold and comfortable night's sleep (and this is in direct contrast to what happens before bed on a hot, humid summer night . . . I peel a sweaty t-shirt off my hairy torso . . . and instead of receiving a visual treat, I am punished with an odorous olfactory slap in the face).
This smart and spot-on post about amateur art by my friend Rob made me realize that the reason I have never actually tried to paint a picture -- though I love the idea of slapping some colors on a canvas -- is because I secretly think I would be an awesome and amazing painter, and I know the only way to ruin this pleasant fantasy is to actually try painting . . . there are several other things in this very particular category of "stuff I am purposefully avoiding so that I don't find out that I'm not as good I would imagine I would be" that I can share with you: for instance, I just know I would be a natural at curling -- so I'm never going to visit Bemidji, Minnesota and try my hand at the sport . . . I'm also positive that I would be an excellent actor, and the best way for me to preserve this opinion is to never try out for a play . . . and I am as certain as certain can be that if I took the time to buy some new clothes and actually put some effort into dressing myself, that I would be the most fashionable guy around . . . and as long as I continue to wear fleece pants out in public, I'll never have to worry about this theory being refuted . . . so what are you avoiding on purpose so that you don't have to face the sad reality that you aren't a natural at it?
Though I most definitely saw the film, if you were to ask me "Do you remember Remember the Titans?" I would have to say no . . . but I do remember Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Total Recall, and Memento quite well (and Dark City is an odd, in-between case).
My friend Stacy and I each both teach Philosophy this year, and we were talking about Aristotle's Golden Mean . . . Aristotle says for every virtue there is a deficiency and an excess (so for the virtue of courage, the deficiency would be fear and the excess would be recklessness) and he says that it is admirable, but very difficult, to find the "golden mean" of each virtue -- the exact right amount of each thing you should be; we challenge our students to choose a virtue and apply this philosophy, and we usually do one ourselves: I decided that I needed to work on the virtue of "patience" -- and I definitely have a deficiency of patience . . . I lack patience when I drive, when I walk the dog and he won't poop, when I walk through the hallways at school, when I am eating, when I go to live music shows, when I go out to dinner, at the theater, when I am ready to leave a party, when I am tying my kids' shoes etc. etc. and Stacy was nice enough to offer to print out a question sheet for this assignment that she had saved from the previous year . . . and as the paper slid from the offic printer, and she tried to hand it to me, I grabbed it out of her hand, and read it . . . and it said "Please return ASAP" and nothing else, and before I could turn my filter on, I asked my friend Stacy this question: "What kind of asshole are you?" and then I realized that this was simply the flip side of a piece of recycled paper, and that the question sheet was on the other side -- but by this time it was too late . . . luckily Stacy has a great sense of humor, and she thought my horribly rude response was very funny, and not only that, she hopes that I do NOT succeed in improving my patience because she gets great enjoyment from my inappropriate spontaneous and ridiculous behavior, and -- of course -- the irony was not lost on either of us that if I can't be patient even while I am designing a lesson about my own patience, then I am probably not going to imrpove it anywhere else in my life either.
In his new book, Jared Diamond explains that the human subjects studied in the vast majority of psychology experiments are WEIRD, and that may be skewing the results -- and you are probably WEIRD too . . . Western, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic . . . and if you are WEIRD, then you might learn a lot from The World Until Yesterday, and I highly recommend it: nine mongongo nuts out of ten.
Every year, it seems that I have one annoying class . . . it's usually a large class in the middle of the day, just before lunch, when the kids are fully awake, but also have low blood sugar -- and every year, when I am expressing my annoyance to this annoying class, one of the students kindly asks me if I am having a bad day . . . because these students aren't annoying individually, they are annoying as a horde of thirty boxed-in teenagers . . . and so they can't believe that they would ever be annoying; and every year, I have to explain to this annoying class that if I am in a bad mood, and expressing this to them, it is not from some outside influence -- because I am a consummate professional -- and the reason I am in a bad mood is a direct result of their annoying behavior. . . and this always shocks them a bit, and makes them laugh: I think it is human nature to think that if someone is in a bad mood, it's certainly not my fault, there must be some other reason, some reason outside of me, because why would anyone ever be angry at me?
I am not a big fan of live events -- a shortcoming of mine -- and this is because I'm not a terribly flexible person and I don't like the lack of control a live event entails . . . so last weekend was quite a test for me; Friday night, I saw Louie CK at the State Theater, and despite having to wait until the 10 PM show, which is far past my bedtime (unless I'm throwing darts in a bar) it was well worth it -- Louie killed and he did entirely new material and performed for ninety minutes . . . a long set, but he pulled it off (though it was a bit dry and hot in the theater, not this hot, but still, it made me sort of parched, and I couldn't pause the show so I could get a drink, another reason I don't love live performances) and then on Saturday night, Whitney and his step-brother picked me up and drove me up to Chatham, where we were meeting a bunch of guys and then going to Montclair to the Old 97's/ Drive-By Truckers show . . . but when I got in the car and asked Whitney what I owed him for the ticket, he said, "I don't have a ticket for you" and after some heated discussion and a review of texts sent (he texted "I'll check on tickets" and I misinterpreted this as "I am getting tickets") I realized that I didn't have a ticket for the show, which made me very nervous, as I don't like live performances to begin with, and I especially don't like them when I'm unsure of some component (I'm still angry about trying to scalp INXS tickets at the Spectrum 1987, and instead buying expired '76ers tickets) but luckily the show wasn't sold out, and I was able to get in . . . but then I had the opposite problem . . . there was no leaving: both bands were great, though I was more partial to the Drive-By Truckers . . . but the show was FOUR HOURS LONG . . . which is really testing my attention span, and another reason I'm not a huge fan of going to a live performance (and these night-time live performances were bracketed by two daytime travel soccer games, one of which I coached . . . in the snow . . . and I didn't plan very well for this live-weather event and my young son nearly froze, as my wife was getting her hair done and so I dressed him for the weather, but I dressed him the way I would dress, and I am a 190 pound hairy man, and he is a fifty pound hairless seven year old).
You may have completed a triathlon or done a "tough mudder,"perhaps you've knocked in a hole-in-one or climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro . . . and while these are all impressive athletic feats, they pale in comparison to what I did late Saturday night (actually early Sunday morning) after a long evening of beer drinking with the boys -- Zman was nice enough to let us crash at his house after the Old 97's/Drive-By Truckers show, but Zman was not nice enough to adult-proof his house . . . and I thank him for this (and his 1 1/2 year old son . . . if Cole were a girl this never would have happened) and so while I was carrying an open jar of Grey Poupon mustard to the living room -- for use on some pepperoni and cheese -- I stepped into the box-bed of a Tonka dump truck, and when the truck rolled forward, with my foot on the bed, this propelled both my feet into the air, so that my body was three feet aloft and horizontal to the ground -- and it was in this moment, parallel to the hardwood floor, that I thought to myself: "the mustard! I can't spill the mustard!" because I didn't want to get Zman in trouble with Zwoman, because his insensitive fraternity brother stained the couch with mustard . . . and so instead of breaking my fall with my hands, I took one for the team, fell flat on my side (with a resounding thump which brought everyone running) and I spilled not one drop of mustard . . . nor did I suffer any lasting injury, and though I don't remember this, Zman reports that in my stunned state, I said to him: "I just did the most athletic thing anyone has ever done."
An easy way to hear my wife use profanity is to spill some granola on the counter, and then instead of cleaning it up, simply sweep it off the counter and onto the floor where "the dog will get it" but the dog gets scared when my wife uses profanity, so this created a infinite loop of me calling the dog over to lick up the granola, my wife yelling at me for my slovenly habits, the dog skulking away because he thought he was in trouble, the granola mess still being on the floor, and so -- once again -- I call the dog over to eat the granola, my wife yells at me for my slovenly habits, the dog skulks away because he thinks he is in trouble, the mess still on the floor . . . and so finally I swept it up, and I won't do that again (in front of my wife).
Americans can't sleep as it is, yet we spring the clocks ahead so we stay up later, consuming more fuel and stuff, and get alarmed even more than usual by our alarms -- and then there's the children, of course, who we claim to care about -- but we send them to school at an ungodly hour to begin with (a school district in Minnesota that switched to a later schedule found many positive benefits, including a boost of over 200 points in the tope students average S.A.T. scores) and then we screw them even further and wonder why they can't pay attention, and then, to top it all off, we put the Superbowl on late at night on a Sunday . . . why, Chronos, why?
Due to a serendipitous confluence of influences -- including the annual "spring ahead" of Daylight Saving Time, the fact that I'm a few hundred pages Neal Stephenson's epochal science fiction novel Anathem, the coincidence that Stacy and I just showed the most realistic time travel movie ever made (Primer) in philosophy class (it's also the most difficult time travel movie ever made -- it's fun to team teach something that neither teacher understands . . . and then we have the students read Chuck Klosterman's time travel essay, where he confesses that he didn't understand the movie either) -- anyway, due to this convergence of time-themed stuff, my mind has been preoccupied with all things chronological . . . and so when I asked my class on Monday "How is today an example of time travel?" they instantly got the answer: that we had all travelled into the future an hour because of Daylight Saving Time . . . and in some more rational parallel universe, where they don't practice such absurd manipulation of the clock -- we were all still sleeping in our warm beds or perhaps just waking up and sipping coffee, instead of sitting in class, bleary eyed, wishing we had time machines so that we could go back in time and sleep more . . . and I'm probably going to keep obsessing on this theme, and my wife won't let me talk about it any more at home -- the blog is my only outlet -- so I apologize, but there is probably going to be a fortnight's worth of time posts.
Jared Diamond, in his new book The World Until Yesterday, claims that among New Guinean hunter gatherers, the Andaman Islanders, and the Piraha Indians of Brazil, children of nine or ten years old often leave their families to journey to other villages and live with foster parents, cousins, or other various allo-parents -- these children are autonomous, entrepreneurial and adventurous . . . meanwhile, my kids can barely tie their own shoes.
When carpooling children to a birthday party, always offer to do the drop-off -- it's much smoother than pick-up, when things can run late, and you have to deal with goody bags and social niceties (I learned this the easy way last weekend, when we got a text from our friend Ruth, who was picking up Ian -- the party was supposed to end at 7:30, but we got a text from her at ten of eight that said: "things are running late here" and I thought to myself: sucks to be her . . . trapped in a room full of eight year olds hopped up on sugar, while the wife and I are starting an episode of Game of Thrones).
Monday morning, I had to use the light from my cell phone -- which prominently displays the time -- to locate my dog's poop so that I could pick it up . . . and, of course, two mornings previous, at the same time, I was able to accurately locate my dog's poop without the aforementioned device . . . Cronus, Greek Titan of Heaven, strike down the mortals who have profaned your domain!
Basketball season has come to an end, and soccer has begun -- despite the snow -- but you wouldn't know it in my house . . . for the past two weeks, my boys have spent every moment of their free time shooting mini-basketballs at a nerf hoop on the closet door; they really should have been doing this all season, as they are a couple of chuckers (but they can both handle the ball and play defense, so I can't complain) but, oddly, during basketball season all they wanted to do was toss around the football (and since Ian's soccer game was cancelled on Saturday account of snow, we went out and played tennis).
In my "Year as a Week" metaphor, we have entered Thursday -- Spring Break is around the corner and then there's just the sloppy slog through the last two months of the year -- Friday! -- and the weekend is here (summer vacation) . . . but in my "Career as a Week" metaphor, I'm only in the middle of Wednesday: I've got to work as long as I've already worked before I can even consider retirement, and that's only if the pension system remains self-sustaining -- if it collapses, then I'm probably still in early Tuesday in my "Career as a Week" and I will never reach the weekend (retirement) and instead will simply work until I keel over and die in front of a class full of teenagers (who will most likely have the internet implanted in their brains, so they can text each other telepathically, while I am trying to teach them Hamlet).
I am being technologically taunted into getting a smarter phone; when my friends send a barrage of group texts, my phone only gets "receipts" of the messages, but can't retrieve them -- and this is worse than not receiving the messages at all, because the receipts alert me to the fact that everyone is making plans and making jokes about the plans, but (unless I annoy people for a summary) I'm not privy to the actual information.
If I were able to get one message across to the people of America, it would be: the left lane is for passing.
To make up for yesterday's ultra-nerdy post, today I present you with something visceral and easy to understand -- a sea monster! -- the creature pictured above was caught two years ago in the Raritan River, the same river which flows a few hundred yards behind my house -- and the horrific beast is called a "sea lamprey"; they are apparently fairly common in the murky waters of New Jersey's least scenic river and while my children think this photo is the bee's knees, I'm not sure if it's a selling point for the location of my house -- I will have to ask my realtor.
Here's one for all the dorks out there: I was reading Jared Diamond's new book The World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies? . . . and not only that, but I was reading it on my new Kindle -- and so I made an electronic bookmark when I ran across this passage: "a traditional tactic without parallel in modern state warfare is the treacherous feast: documented among the Yanomamo and in New Guinea: inviting neighbors to a feast, then surprising and killing them after they have laid down their weapons and focused attention on eating and drinking" because it reminded me of the infamous Red Wedding in George R.R. Martin's third book in the Song of Ice and Fire series . . . and my internet research revealed that Martin's Red Wedding (not to be confused with Billy Idol's White Wedding) was inspired by an actual historical event -- the Black Dinner , a treacherous feast in Scotland in the year 1440 . . . indeed!
Note to self: after the kids stay up far past their bedtime on Saturday night and need a two hour nap before their basketball game on Sunday, do NOT feed them cake (and only cake) for lunch to "wake them up"-- Ian played defense with one hand in his pocket, and Alex -- after we won the game -- got in a kid's face from the other team and taunted him (Alex does claim that the kid made fun of him for his dimunitive stature at school, but it was still very embarrassing for me, as I am his father and the coach of the team and thus feel a twofold responsibility for his behavior).
I am a fan of FM radio -- despite the fact that I end up hearing a lot of sitar music (WRSU) and pleas from Alec Baldwin for money (NPR) and dissonant noise-jazz (WPRB) and classical flute (WQXR) and (even worse) Jethro Tull style flute (Q104.3) -- because once in a while you hear something so wonderful and unpredictable that it makes your day; Saturday morning on the way to the gym, I was listening to Newark's jazz station (WBGO) and I heard this tremendous couplet, in a song by Bobby Rush called "What's Good for the Goose" . . . in which a woman makes a calm ultimatum to her cheating husband: "Eye for eye, tit for tat/ if you give away your dog, I'll give away my cat."
I thought the line of the year (from one of my high school students) occurred when I was teaching an excerpt from The Blind Side, by Michael Lewis, and we were reenacting the play when Lawrence Taylor cracked Joe Theisman's femur in half -- we had a football and a number of students set-up to execute the infamous flea-flicker, and I asked the class which way the running back should go and a fashionable little senior girl yelled, "Backwards!" and when I questioned her as to why the running back should run backwards, she said, with total sincerity: "He's the running back . . . running back" and we laughed about that for a few days, but I think I've got a line to top it; I was doing a bit of improv slapstick while teaching Hamlet, and during the portion when Hamlet instructs the players not to laugh at their own jokes, I spilled some water on myself -- and kept a straight face when the class laughed -- and then I misplaced my water bottle too near the edge of the desk, so that it spilled all over the floor . . . and then the students realized that I was doing this on purpose, to mirror the words in the play, and another student realized that there was a puddle on the carpet in another section of the room -- because I had done the same thing third period -- and one concerned student, yelled -- before thinking it through: "But now you spilled all your water . . . how are you going to do it last period?" and I got to explain to this eighteen year old honors English student that we have running water in our school -- in both fountains and faucets, and so there was plenty more of it to spill on the floor.
Tuesday after school, while I was walking the dog, I blair-witched myself in the small patch of woods between Donaldson Park and the Donald Goodkind Bridge . . . but after twenty minutes of walking in circles, I was able to extricate myself (and my dog) before Rustin Parr slaughtered us in his shack.