It was really hard to feign excitement when the boys ran into the house and shoved a yogurt container under my nose and said:"Hey Dad, do you want to see the giant spider we caught?" and it was even harder to get into the spirit of things when the spider jumped out of the container and hid under the carpet . . . but the one positive from this incident is that I have been trying hard not to pass my arachnophobia to the boys, and it looks like I have been successful.
You know how sometimes you go on the internet for one reason (to look up how to marinate octopus before you grill it) but you end up doing something completely different (watching Brazilian ghost-prank YouTube videos) and then you totally lose your train of thought and forget why you even went on-line in the first place (I still don't know how to marinate the octopus).
Yesterday, I finished teaching Henry James' ambiguous ghost story "The Turn of the Screw" and finished reading The Looming Tower: Al -Qaeda and the Road to 9 / 11, and while both works focus on the theme of terror, they are exact opposites; "The Turn of the Screw" is purposefully obtuse, and relies on the reader's imagination to create the terror, while Lawrence Wright's account is definitive, comprehensive, and precisely detailed . . . and though you know exactly what happens at the climax, his description of 9/11 is so photo-realistic that it brings back all the terror of that day; in short, when you finish "The Turn of the Screw," you know nothing -- except that human perception is a bewildering puzzle to untangle, while at the end of The Looming Tower, you know why Osama bin Laden was able to get jihadis to die for him (and I now realize why that Arab man approached my wife and I when we were at a gas station in the vast desert between Syria, Iraq, and Jordan and said, "You like bin Laden?" and then handed me his cell phone, which had a cartoonish graphic of the World Trade Center going down, followed by a caricature of bin Laden smiling . . . creepy, especially when you are taking a service taxi, so you can't leave until the driver is done buying candied dates, though you feel your life may be threatened) and now to complete my month of terror, I am going to finish watching Zero Dark Thirty and then watch Argo, both of which I have on Blu-ray from Netflix.
I agreed to dog-sit two dogs over Memorial Day Weekend -- Norman and Sniffer -- essentially turning our house into a dog park, and though this was a bit chaotic for Catherine and me, my children thought having three dogs really increased the awesomeness of the house . . . as we increased this most-significant ratio to 6 to 1.
Lawrence Wright's dense and definitive book The Looming Tower: Al Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 is full of disturbing stuff (and I'm only halfway through) but nothing comes close to this: after an assassination attempt on Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's life, Egyptian security forces made a concerted effort to rid Egypt of radical islamists, and to obtain information about Mohammad el-Zawahiri -- one of the leaders of the al-Jihad movement -- they captured Ahmed Sharraf, the thirteen year old son of Mohammed Sharraf (a high ranking al-Jihad member) and then they drugged the boy and sodomized him, and when he awoke they showed him photographs of his homosexual activity and threatened to show this to his father, if he did not cooperate . . . which, of course, he did -- and the security force did this to several children of radical Islamists in order to turn them into "boy spies," and while I obviously don't condone this fiendish but effective method, I am curious: did the sodomizer and the photographer take turns, or was one security agent always the sodomizer and the other always the photographer?
Though I doubt many of you care, I beat Dan (the Unbeatable Dan) on Thursday night: I shot an 8 in the 9th to beat him by two -- 42 to 40 -- an unprecedented event which no one cares about except me, and needs to be noted here so that I can refer to this when I am very old, as it will probably never happen again.
One of the most disturbing things I have learned while reading Lawrence Wright's book The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9-11 is that if Osama Bin Laden heard music, he would literally plug his ears, and he declared that "music is the flute of the devil."
This idea is even better than my Second Best Idea Ever but I should warn you that it is also soccer related; one of the biggest problems with training little kids to be skilled soccer players is that at the early ages, skill isn't really rewarded -- size, speed, and the ability to kick the ball far are the most dangerous weapons a young player can have . . . but these abilities lose their effectiveness once everyone gets a bit older and stronger . . . so you have to create drills that are fun, but also slow the defense down in some way -- because when you are little, it's much easier to play defense than it is to control the ball with your feet -- and so my new brainstorm, which I am reluctant to reveal because I don't want other teams using it (but I'm also so egotistical about Dave's Brilliant Ideas that I can't stand to let one stay secret) is to do this: 1) make a decent sized grid (square) and place three players in it with a ball 2) send a fourth player into the grid carrying a soccer ball in his hands 3) the player with the ball in his hands is the "chucker" 4) in order to NOT be the chucker, the chucker has to chuck his ball and hit the ball that the other three players are dribbling and passing around 5) the chucker CANNOT touch the ball in play with his body, the only way out of being the chucker is to chuck his ball and hit the other ball 6) if you kick it out of the grid, or your pass gets hit with the ball, then you become the chucker . . . but it's kind of fun to be the chucker, because you're just running around chucking a ball at another ball, so kids don't mind it too much . . . and what this encourages is shielding, because you can protect the ball from being chucked at with your body and butt, and it encourages spreading out and controlled passing, in order to get the ball away from the chucker . . . and it eliminates the usual rugby scrum that kids create on defense because instead of charging in and kicking at the ball, the defense has to take their time and line-up and chuck the soccer ball . . . so it affords the offensive player more time to think, which is exactly what they need at a young age to develop the soccer skills that are going to be useful later on in their soccer career (and diligent readers of this blog will realize that this is the third use of the word "chucker" at Sentence of Dave, and each time I have used the word in a different way . . . how will I use it next?)
I was thoroughly entertained by the dysfunctional crew in David O'Russell's movie Silver Linings Playbook -- despite the fact that my wife was obsessing a bit on the differences between the book and the movie (and, of course, in her opinion the book is much better) -- so I had to tell her to stop making comparisons and contrasts, because she was f*@#ing up the juju of the movie for me, and I just wanted her to sit and watch and enjoy it and spend some quality time with me on the couch, eating crabby snacks and home-mades, not saying anything to disturb the good vibe that we had going . . . and eventually, she was able to settle back and relax and enjoy it, and -- of course-- everything turned out great in the end.
For the most part, my fellow colleagues in the English Department aren't terribly diverse, but we do have a lovely Jamaican woman named Audrey -- and she has the onerous task of representing "the rest of the world" in our mainly white-bread crew -- so last week, when I saw her take a knife to an orange and skillfully peel off the thick skin, leaving only a bit of white rind around the fruit, and then cut it in half and start sucking on it, I was curious and questioned her method . . . and so she patiently explained to me that "this is how the rest of the world eats an orange," and even though she told me this in a Jamaican accent, I was still skeptical: and after some internet research, I'm not sure that she speaks for the rest of the world on this . . . I think her method is how Jamaicans eat oranges and if you follow the link you will understand why Jamaicans have to do this to their oranges (which are actually green and yellow) but I don't think many other countries do this with their oranges, and the lesson here is that I'm going to be a lot warier when Audrey tells me this is how something works in the rest of the world, because I'm from America and I don't believe anything anyone tells me.
I attended the Ringling Brothers and Barnum Bailey Circus again last week (the last time I went was almost exactly three years ago) and while I am not a huge fan (I sort of agree with the PETA folks who handed my son Alex a pamphlet about elephant cruelty, and the music is downright awful, and very loud . . . and though I looked over my sentence from three years ago, I still forgot to bring earplugs) but one thing particularly intrigued me about the show this time: when all the performers came out for the opening number, I noticed that the ten unicyclists were all African-American, and this struck me as odd, because the rest of the cast was quite diverse -- and also because I imagine unicycling as a nerdy and very Caucasian past-time, but twenty minutes later I realized why they were all black . . . they were a basketball squad . . . and this offended me a little, as a case of reverse discrimination -- it seemed as if Barnum and Bailey was insinuating that only black people play basketball (or perhaps, more logically, the act auditioned as a troupe, and they happened to all be African-American) but either way, I would love to be the token white guy on that unicycle basketball team . . . on another, less racist note, the best part of the night was the meal we had in downtown Trenton, near the Sun National Bank Center, at a Guatemalan dive called Taqueria el Mariachi . . . if you are in Trenton and you love tacos, you've got to try this place: best salsa ever and delicious al pastor and verde sauce.
My seven year old son Ian, who generally plays it close to his vest, told me this unsolicited piece of information: "Ben is my closest friend" and I responded, "That's great, he's a good guy and it's nice to have a best friend," but I had assumed too much and gotten it all wrong, and so Ian corrected me: "No Dad, I don't mean he's my best friend, I mean he lives closer to me than any other friend."
I should probably point out that I am more sympathetic to my son Alex's behavior on the bus than my wife is, because I succumbed to peer pressure in a similar (but even dumber) situation: I was in sixth grade and had just gotten braces installed to correct an overbite, and I was riding the bus home, playing one of those old school handheld video games with the blipping red dashes, and I took the nine volt battery out of the game, held it up, and said, "I wonder what would happen if I touched this to my braces" and before I knew it kids were chanting for me to "do it! do it!" and so I stood up, faced the back of the bus, and stuck the battery terminals to the metal on my top and bottom teeth, completing the circuit, shocking myself profoundly, and knocking myself back into my bus seat, where -- once I came to -- I revelled in my glory . . . I did it!
Wired Magazine explains why television is better than it ever has been . . . and the Netflix original series House of Cards is certainly an example of "platinum quality" TV: the show is so good, I don't understand it (and neither does professional Entertainment Weekly summarizer Hillary Busis, who -- in her episode four recap -- doesn't mention a word of Frank Underwood's complex political stratagem hinging on the collective bargaining chip in the education reform bill, and instead concentrates on the easy, romantic stuff . . . I had to search around until I found this post, and I still don't think that Nathan Matisse understands the plot any better than I do).
I finished Henry James' ambiguously supernatural novel Turn of the Screw Sunday morning and not an hour later, while walking back from our secret salamander spot, my son Ian -- unprompted -- told me that "the boy's bathroom at school is haunted" and then he explained that while he was going to the bathroom, the door inexplicably locked of its own volition and that this "happened to another boy," and so I asked him my favorite question (Do you believe in ghosts?) and he said, "not really" and I said that I felt the same, and suggested that maybe it was the wind that locked the bathroom door, and he countered, "How could wind get inside a building?"
In class right now, we are studying the ethical implications of some classic psychological experiments . . . Milgram, Asch, and Stanford prison -- and the main lesson from these is that humans can be quite obedient -- whether to a group or an authority figure or social pressure-- once we are put into a "state of agency" . . . and so it was hard to totally blame my son (though he suffered some consequences) for what happened on the bus ride home from his class trip on Friday: he had picked up a bottle cap, as boys are wont to do, and brought it in the bus, and some girl had the bright idea that he should throw it out the window and the other students started chanting "Do it! Do it!" and so he did it.
Diligent readers of Sentence of Dave know that I believe that Neal Stephenson is one of the greatest writers of our time -- he combines the best qualities of Thomas Pynchon and William Gibson -- and so it is with much regret that I report that I am quitting his gigantic philosophical novel Anathem . . . perhaps this is a case of what Thoreau said: "It is not all books that are as dull as their readers," as I have certainly become more dull of wit in the past year, because my life has become extraordinarily busy, but whatever the reason, I have been stuck in the forty percent zone on my Kindle for weeks (and I even took out the analog version from the library to see if that was the problem) but it looks like I'm never going to finish this incredibly speculative and meta-physical novel, and so I started something more concrete-- The Looming Tower-- and I was able to read forty pages before I fell asleep (a great contrast to Anathem . . . I couldn't get through two pages before nodding off) and Lawrence Wright's book on the origins of Al-Qaeda and 9/11 is well written and full of great research, including this quotation from essayist E.B. White, who was trying to get a grip on the dawn of the nuclear age . . . before we learned to stop worrying and love the bomb: "In the mind of whatever perverted dreamer might loose the lightning, New York must hold a steady, irresistible charm."
Cool technology: lidar (it's like radar . . . with lasers!) and it is being used to discover load of archaeological sites in the dense, impenetrable jungles of Mosquitia . . . scary technology: algorithmic high-frequency trading . . . it's like investing . . . with lasers!
I know this isn't the best trait -- as a coach or an athlete -- and it has probably been handed down to me from my father . . . but whenever my team has away game in a town that appears to be much richer than my hometown, I ineluctably feel extra-motivated to give them a beatdown, and so as we entered lovely Basking Ridge, and drove past the rolling hills of Basking Ridge Country Club, I said to my son Ian, "We've got to kick these rich kids' butts today" and then -- as punishment for my classism -- when we got out of the car and Ian took a look at the opposing team, he said, loudly, in front of several Basking Ridge parents: "they don't look like rich kids" and I had to explain to him that we shouldn't say things like that (even though I did) but still, I am happy to report that we did indeed kick their butts, a great victory of a lower-upper middle class town over an upper-upper middle class town.
While not nearly as epic as this booger story, this is a cautionary tale for students and teachers alike: I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that every educator has lost a student's assignment at some point . . . whether it was misplaced or tossed aside by another student during peer-editing or fell under the desk or got picked up by another teacher . . . so I always give kids the benefit of the doubt when they tell me that they handed something in; this scenario was playing out last Wednesday, and so I did the first thing I always do, which is check the pile of papers -- because sometimes I forget to grade one, or a student mistakenly staples another kid's paper to his own . . . and we found the girl's paper in the pile, but it was connected to another student's (graded) paper not by a staple, but by a booger -- or I'm 75% sure it was a booger, I didn't any testing to determine exactly what it was, but it sure looked like a booger, and we don't use rubber cement in high school.
The first two seasons of AMC's The Killing focus on two Seattle homicide detectives trying to solve the murder of a high school student -- Rosie Larsen -- and the writers kept me guessing until the last moments of the last episode of the second season . . . I think the ending of the case rivals that of the best final TV episode ever made (The Shield) . . . the solution is both surprising and perfectly logical; Mireille Enos plays Sarah Linden perfectly . . . she's a homely, unmedicated and possibly more neurotic (but in a realistic way) Seattle version of Clare Danes in Homeland . . . and though the show is dark, rainy, and bleak, unlike Danes, Linden has someone she can rely on, her partner -- Stephen Holder (Joel Kinnaman) -- and they bring the buddy genre to new levels of weird awkwardness (and since I'm making absurd analogies, I will also say that at times Holder and Linden look and act like the bizarro world Moulder and Scully).
We commanded our children to make my grandmother a hand-made card for her 91st birthday, and in less than a minute my nine year old son Alex came up with this corny Hallmark-style stanza:
No matter how old,
no matter how young,
I will always be
your great grandson.
No matter how old,
no matter how young,
I will always be
your great grandson.
There is a bird in my yard that says "cheeseburger! cheeseburger! cheeseburger!" and it only took me three minutes to learn that it is a Carolina Wren (and not a black-capped Chickadee) though both these birds say "cheeseburger," but the Carolina Wren says it much faster and clearer . . . but why I am I wasting my time using langauge to explain this . . . watch the Youtube video!
My seven year old son Ian is the king of the "redo," which is short for "do-over," which is short for "I love to cheat."