While teaching is a fulfilling and generally entertaining job, there are scary moments of repetition that remind me of Matthew Broderick in Election -- at the start of the movie, there is a time-lapse montage of him running round and round the school track, and then he monotonously reviews the executive, the legislative, and the judicial branches of our government . . . year after year, class after class; I had one of these moments last Friday, as I walked down the math hallway: I heard two teachers repeat the exact same phrase, in perfect chronological juxtaposition, and their words certainly reflected today's theme: "all real numbers are represented, from negative infinity to infinity" . . . I could almost hear the word "infinity" echoing down the hallway, forever (and while teaching English is a bit more dynamic than math, there are certain jokes and phrases that I use year after year after year, because they work . . . but the price of practicality may be my conscious soul).
While I am driving, I see a lot of folks running alongside major roads -- roads with heavy traffic and no sidewalks -- and usually these roads are adjacent to suburban developments: neighborhoods riddled with winding, low volume 25 mph. streets that would be perfectly safe and pleasant to jog on, and I always wonder why people choose to run on the highway instead of the alternative . . . and so if you are one of these people who run on the shoulder of a busy road, instead of opting for something more serene, can you please explain why?
Last weekend, I walked into New Brunswick with my wife and kids to get some dinner, and we stopped at the Wells Fargo ATM, and my son asked me, "Why is there a headphone jack on the money machine?" which was a feature I never noticed -- but he was right -- there was a 1/8 inch headphone jack next to the little screen, and so I told him the first thing that came into my head: "Well, Alex, maybe if someone is hard of hearing, if they can't hear that well, then they could plug in earphones and hear better" and then continued getting my money, but when I looked up, I saw my wife saw staring at me, with that sad look in her eyes that said: How could I be married to such an idiot? and she said to my son: "Alex, the earphone jack is for people that are blind . . . . people who are deaf can READ the screen, but people who are blind need to HEAR the instructions."
In the first days of school, I make a point to learn the names of my high school students and I also try to learn a thing or two about them -- if they play a sport or musical instrument, like to read a certain genre of literature, belong to a particular club or like a certain kind of music -- this comes in handy as a mnemonic to remember their names and faces, and it's also useful when I create hypothetical writing examples, as I tend to use the students and their likes and dislikes . . . but I also end up expressing a lot of my own opinions about their activities and passions, and this year some of my students are volleyball players and swimmers, and though it's not even the end of September, I think I've really given them a hard time about their avocations . . . I've told the volleyball players in my senior English class -- two very sweet, tall athletic girls -- that "volleyball is Fascist" and I don't want to interlock my arms and rotate on command and stand in the same spot and move like a robot, and that volleyball "stifles the creative spirit" and that if I had time I would write a long essay about how much more expressive and athletic and wonderful soccer is than volleyball, and then I told my swimmers that they might be clinically insane to wake up that early just to splash around in a damp room and that "there is no joy in any sport without a ball" and I'm not sure if the students think this ranting and raving is part of the curriculum or what, but I'm going to try my best to have an open mind about what my students spend their time doing (unless it's participating in musical theater, because nothing is more fun than satirizing musical theater while teaching class).
Some things are more awesome and miraculous than others -- and while this may not be quite as awesome and miraculous as my perfect punt, I think it might be slightly more awesome and miraculous than my ability to update my computer software and pickle peppers simultaneously; for the past two weeks, the JV ball bag has been missing its drawstring, with predictable results . . . balls rolling around on the floor of the bus, balls getting loose in the back of my van, and players having trouble carrying the bag to and from the field without losing a few balls . . . and so I mentioned this to the varsity coach while we were riding home from South River, and he produced the missing drawstring from his bag and, against all odds, I managed to thread that entire drawstring through the mesh channel around the edge of the bag -- no mean feat -- while the bus lurched down Route 18 in rush hour traffic, finishing the task moments before we arrived back in Highland Park, and while I received no high-fives or rousing cheers for my accomplishment, in the end, I know that I made as great a contribution to the Highland Park soccer program as anyone on that bus.
My incredible punt last week has propelled me to new levels of confidence and motivation, and so on Saturday I tackled two rather involved tasks at the same time . . . and it wasn't until after I completed both tasks that I recognized the post-modern absurdity of doing these two very different things simultaneously: down in my little music studio, I finally got around to updating my operating system from Vista to Windows 7, and then, of course, I also had to update all the drivers and recording software -- this took hours and required constant monitoring -- and while I was doing this, I was also pickling a bunch of peppers from Catherine's garden -- so I was boiling vinegar and doing lots of chopping . . . and my hands hurt from the hot pepper oil, and there were clouds of vinegary steam floating through the kitchen, prompting my children to hold their noses, but I got the job done -- I pickled a dozen jars of peppers, and each jar has some onion, garlic, dill, and ginger in it as well, so I think they are going to be very delicious (but, according to pickling experts, for peppers to reach the zenith of their pickled flavor, you should wait three to six months before you open the jar, which seems a bit extreme) and so I spent five hours on Saturday racing back and forth between the kitchen and a computer monitor, one task as ancient and primitive as they come -- preserving food -- and the other strange and digital . . . and I think I might have succeeded at both (although I won't know for sure until I eat some of the peppers and don't contract botulism).
For those of you that visit here solely because you relish Dave's awkwardness, failures, pedantry, and bombast, you might want to stop reading today's post right now . . . because today's post is a tale of success, timing, and perfection; last Thursday, I was running my son's travel team practice at the high school turf field, and there was a lot going on: my other son had practice on the far side of the field, and some high school kids were playing a game of touch football in the middle of the field -- which would have been fine, except that every time they punted the ball it came flying end-over-end into our scrimmage by the goal, and after the third time this happened, I had one of my players bring me the ball -- and then --in the typically grouchy and hyperbolic fashion that I adopt after several hours of coaching-- I yelled to them: "You need to stop punting, because you're not good at it, and you're going to kill one of my players!" and then I held the ball out with both hands, tilted slightly downward and to the left, and launched a picturesque high-arcing fifty yard punt, on a perfect spiral, into the arms of the farthest kid (and I know it was a fifty yard, punt because I was at the goal line and he was at the fifty) and though I was probably a bit over-the-top and obnoxious in my tone with them, because of the beauty of my punt, they apologized profusely (and later on, I gave them a quick lesson on how to punt a spiral).
I'm pretty sure my friend and colleague Kevin is losing his mind; he forced me to watch the Miley Cyrus video for her song "Wrecking Ball," which he claimed is "a great pop song" and, apparently, he finds the video titillating as well . . . but I didn't find it sexy at all, it her attitude seems awkward and feigned -- and those white undies are matronly -- and, more importantly, I couldn't remember the melody of the tune two hours later (or any of the lyrics except "wrecking ball") and it's not like I'm immune to pop ear-worms, as I had that Kelly Clarkson song "Stronger" song stuck in my head for days.
Before the words left my mouth, I knew I was crossing into shallow and pedantic territory . . . but I said it anyway; my colleague Stacey was describing the house she is attempting to purchase, and she mentioned that when it rains, water runs toward the house and collects near the foundation; as an experienced homeowner, I was required to say the obvious -- which is annoying enough -- but then I went beyond the pale . . . I told her: "Stacey, you know that water is the ultimate enemy of any house, but -- ironically -- humans need it to survive."
No matter how many times I say it to myself (Shut the hose off when you leave! Make sure to shut the hose off! Don't leave the water on! Walk past the hose, so you'll remember to shut it off!) when I turn the hose on and leave it at the base of my newly planted arbor vitae, I never remember to shut the water off . . . my wife caught me Tuesday night, and I felt like I got away with one, because she said, "Please don't tell me it's been on since six this morning?" and I could honestly say "No" because I turned it on after soccer practice (a mere four hours) but she doesn't know the half of it (or maybe she does).
My children asked me to officiate a race in which they ran across the yard (and back) while simultaneously hula-hooping -- but when I announced that Alex was the winner, my son Ian cited Alex for an infraction of the rules (what rules?) and said that Alex's victory "didn't count."
Our boss discovered a treasure trove of old photos in the English office; they were from 1999 and they were comprehensive in content: shots of us teaching, drinking at the bar, participating in the charity fashion show, an amazing tableau of the entire department in grungy teenage clothes at the smoker's gate, some photos of me fishing and smoking a cigar, etc. etc. -- and Stacey took a look at the 1999 version of Dave, skinny with a full head of hair -- and she said, "Things might have been different if I was around Dave back then" and our boss said, "Are you hitting on Dave?" and Stacey said, "No, I'm hitting on Past Dave," and I'm not sure whether to consider this a temporally contingent compliment or a barely veiled insult about Present Dave, but whatever it is, it doesn't make me all that happy about what the passage of time has done to the concept of Dave (of course, Past Dave had other problems, which we won't go into, but -- nostalgically speaking -- it's fun to envision Present Dave's brain under Past Dave's full head of hair).
When my wife and I taught in Syria, we occasionally found it easier to claim we hailed from Canada, rather than the United States, especially once George W. Bush invaded Iraq . . . though I occasionally tried to be patriotic and explain U.S. policy, sometimes it was just more convenient to avoid the controversy generated by mentioning America . . . and, of course, mentioning Canada was always safe, because Canada doesn't symbolize anything except back-bacon, tuques, Pamela Anderson, poutine, John Candy, and Celine Dion -- none of which is hated enough to incite violence, and the best thing about saying I was from Canada, was that I could follow this lie with the following technically true (but specious) piece of information: "Yes . . . I grew up just outside of New Brunswick."
My kids love to play twenty questions, despite the fact that they are rather poor at it, and whenever we play -- especially if they are doing an awful job at narrowing down the topic . . . does it live in the water? no . . . is it a shark? no! . . . is it an eel? NO!!! then one of them will laugh and ask "Is it a bunny?" -- and this refers to the time when we showed up way too early to our pool, and had to kill time until it opened, and so we played the same round of twenty questions (or Two Million Questions, as they re-named it) for nearly two hours, even though the animal I was thinking of hopped across our path moments before the game started; my children truly relish the memory of this marathon of stupidity, and it makes me wonder if they'll ever get accepted to college (and if they do, they are certainly going to join a fraternity).
I coached my first Highland Park J.V. soccer game of the season last Wednesday, and it was unseasonably hot and humid and, unfortunately, we only had two subs -- and I didn't my subs wearing themselves out running balls up and down the sideline, but it is the home team's responsibility to provide ball runners -- so I got my children out of school a little early, dragged them to the game and impressed them into service (and they did have some help from a couple of friends, so it wasn't totally cruel) and while my son Alex and his buddy Alex did a fantastic job, despite the heat, Ian and his friend Ben were atrocious -- they kept playing soccer with the game ball, getting so hot and tired that they couldn't retrieve any of the balls that were kicked out of bounds, but it was hard for me to complain since I wasn't paying them and the heat index was 170 degrees . . . and then, coincidentally (miraculously!) when I met up with the varsity coach the next day (the fields are split) I found out that he forced his two daughters to do the same thing -- despite the fact that they told him they "just wanted to stay inside and do their homework" he made them run the balls for the varsity game, which was on the turf, where the heat index was 197 degrees.
While the themes of this blog are often tangential and desultory, there is one thing that I always get right: the difference between "loath" and "loathe," and Justin Fox does as well, making excellent use of the verb "loath" in his book The Myth of the Rational Market: a history of risk, reward, and delusion on Wall Street; he is describing Charles Dow's famous and absurdly obvious stock strategy -- buy during upward movement (bull markets) and sell during downward ones (bear markets)-- but Fox explains that "Dow himself was loath to declare when that direction had changed" . . . "aye, there's the rub."
No sport is more abstract than soccer, and at the high school level there seems to be a preponderance of English teachers coaching it (at least in my neck of the woods and the movie Dead Poet's Society) so you end up with comments like the one my friend and colleague Terry recently gave to The Star Ledger, in trying to explain how his team could completely dominate play, but only score two goals . . . Terry said: "They say it is easier to destroy than create" and while this statement pushes the limits of absurd profundity and bombast in the name of athletics, at least he restrained himself and didn't drop allusions to Shiva and Brahma in the rest of his game analysis.
Geoffrey Canada's memoir and call to action Fist Stick Knife Gun is a vivid and intelligent account of life on the streets in the South Bronx by an African American man who grew up there in the '50 and '60s and then, after attending Bowdoin and Harvard, went back to try to curb the violence; much of the book is anecdotal, he explains the rules of the streets, and there is some game theory as well ... Canada explains that when he was a kid, you had to fight, but because of the absence of guns, there were some natural checks on violence -- once the pecking order was established, you knew who you could fight and who you couldn't fight . . . who was too big or too tough, who had friends that would come after you or a badass big brother . . . but the influx of guns changed all that, as "kids with guns see no limits on their power" and often only experience the limits of firearms when they are dying . . . when Canada was a kid, you only pulled a weapon on kids from outside of the neighborhood . . . and it was serious business to brandish a knife, a broken bottle, or a car antennae, but the culture Canada is trying to change now, with his Harlem Children's Zone program, is one where "America is not number one or even in the top fifteen when it comes, to reading, math, and English . . . we're number one in locking up children" and the streets aren't safer, as a result of this, because we're also number one in possessing guns -- and, Canada points out, the gun industry realized in the 1980's that they could expand the handgun market "beyond white males" by making weapons with names that young people find "enticing, like Viper, and to appeal to their belief that bigger was better" and while this book was eye-opening and frightening, it was a far cry from my suburban youth, almost like a description of a different planet, so I am going to write my memoir of the mean cul-de-sacs of North Brunswick in the 1970s, but I can't come up with a properly dramatic title like Fist Stick Knife Gun . . . all I've got so far is Fish Sticks Nikes Gum.
At first glance, Adelle Waldman's novel The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. seems as if it's going to tread over some very common meta-ground -- a novel about writers and writing -- but it's actually closer to a modern version of Pride and Prejudice . . . told from the male point-of-view, with a dash of the HBO comedy Girls, and I couldn't put it down . . . from the first pages, when Nate runs into a girl he dated briefly, until a prophylactic malfunction led to an awkward decision, where Nate "had done everything that could have been expected of him . . . even though he had less money than she did, he paid for the abortion," right through all the literary references -- including some authors I've heard of but never read . . . Lermontov, Italo Svevo, and Thomas Bernhard" and then Nate's painful narcissism, detachment, and superficiality with other girls; Adelle Waldman nails the male mind, and walks the tightrope between satire and empathy . . . good fun for boys and girls alike.
Another Labor Day, another ugly scrum at the family pool for the greased watermelon -- except this year the old folks played against the youngsters, and we trounced them three to nil . . . though they were leaner, better looking, better swimmers, and had more hair, we had an unbeatable strategy which took years and years to prepare . . . we out-massed them: our superior weight made us an unstoppable flailing juggernaut, and our high body-fat to muscle ratio made us far more buoyant than our young opponents . . . and the way things are going, I think we're just going to get better and better.
Sorry to get metaphysical, but in the last few weeks, I've lost my new hat, my bike pump, and my classic iPod . . . and it makes sense that my iPod disappeared into the same wormhole as the other items, because -- as everyone knows -- mysterious events happen in threes . . . BUT . . . when my wife went into the shed to get some gardening gloves, she found the bike pump -- exactly where I was looking for it (and I really looked) so the pump wasn't missing at all . . . which makes me feel like Dr. P. in Oliver Sacks classic book of case studies, The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat, and maybe my wife will find my hat and my iPod, but I don't think so, so then there has to be a third thing missing, and I think that missing something was once located in my brain.
Concussion awareness has grown by leaps and bounds over the last several years . . . in order to coach youth soccer, I must complete a concussion training course and the NFL just settled with former head trauma victims for 765 million dollars . . . but I would like to point out that I was way ahead of the curve on this theme, as I sustained a number of interesting concussions when I was young, and even used one concussion incident as the subject of my college essay (this is probably not surprising to readers who often frequent this blog, as my sentences are often rambling and incoherent, but please bear with me, as Roger Goodell is not allocating any of that money to me, because of our feud) and what makes my concussions so wonderfully cool and ironic is that though I played several years of high school football, I did not sustain any concussions then, instead I knocked myself out in much more creative ways befitting the literary titan that I am: when I was very little, I had a habit of riding my tricycle under the flower boxes on my grandparent's wrap around porch and then standing up . . . my parents would find my little body splayed unconscious on the red-stained deck; in elementary school, on TWO separate occasions, I was running down the hall and the gym teacher, Mr. Weinstein, opened the heavy wood door and I collided with it -- both times I woke in the nurses office . . . Mr. Weinstein awarded me the nickname "Lumpy" for these incidents; in high school, at the state golf tournament, I wore shorts when I wasn't supposed to, and had to race back to the bus and change into a pair of my friend John's XL yellow sweatpants -- which I felt warranted a super-heroic leap out of the bus, but I misjudged the jump and nailed my head on the metal rail that the folding door runs along and knocked myself out cold-- and despite the concussion, I played eighteen lousy holes of golf in blood-soaked clothing . . . but despite my poor play, the upside was that I got a lot of press in the local paper for my courage and idiocy; and then when I was in college at a party in Connecticut, I dove into a deep section of river with the intention of then riding a cooler down the falls, but the deep section of river was actually a huge black rock submerged six inches beneath the water, and if it wasn't for the same friend that lent me the yellow sweatpants, I probably would have drowned, but he fished me out of the water, unconscious, bloody, and limp, with a chipped incisor . . . but miracle of miracles, as far as I know, none of these head injuries has impaired my cognition in the least.
Please excuse the zeugma for such a serious matter -- but I can't imagine someone would case my house and then steal one trivial item (unless this is an elaborate practical joke, designed to drive me insane ) and the only other explanation that makes any kind of sense is that there is a wormhole in my shed -- but has anyone seen my bike pump?
I'm not sure if I would have made it through David Mitchell's novel Cloud Atlas if it wasn't for the articulate plot summaries at EditorialEyes Book Blog . . . the book consists of six nested stories, and the main character in each story has some connection to the next narrative -- and the chronology runs from an 1850's Melvillean journal to a post-apocalyptic tale set in the far future; the stories themselves would be inventive enough on their own, but the fragmented chain structure and the inventive language in each tale makes the book both masterful and possibly mastubatory . . . it is challenging reading, but with the help of the internet, I had no trouble connecting the dots . . . and this has been the theme of my summer -- I finished Infinite Jest, but I certainly had some very necessary help from the web, and I am watching Breaking Bad in real time and I needed some information from the digital superhighway to explain what happened at the end of episode 11 (Confessions) . . . and while I have never claimed to be the most astute reader or viewer, I am wondering if this is a sea change in how we read and watch . . . I don't remember having to seek to much aid when I read things in high school, college and through my twenties, and I certainly never had to ask anyone for help in explaining Melrose Place (although I did purchase and use a guide when I read Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow) but perhaps now the mark of a profound and complex piece of art is that you need to seek other sources and perspectives to understand it . . . and just so there is no misunderstanding, I want to assure you that Sentence of Dave will never help you in that regard, in fact, you'll leave here more bewildered than when you entered.
Our family is dog-sitting for a dog that does not respond to his name -- and nothing is more embarrassing than the "master" trying to grab an evasive dog at the dog park; I felt like King Claudius in the Kenneth Branagh production of Hamlet, when he awkwardly attempts to grab the mad and strait-jacketed Ophelia -- while still maintaining his kingly demeanor -- and she eludes him (2:54 in the clip above) -- the only consolation is that my dog, sensing an opportunity to show off his good behavior, because a model pet, loyal and attentive, in order to show me that he cannot and will not be replaced by an interloper.
A new study by researchers from the University of Michigan shows that frequent use of Facebook leads to feelings of "envy, sadness, loneliness, and anger" and the researchers are confident that use of Facebook is causing these negative emotions, rather than the other way around . . . and the reason why this is true may be because people post an "idealized version of their lives on Facebook," and so when people visit the site it makes them feel lonely and left and out: Facebook makes them feel as if their lives can't compare to what they see on the screen . . . BUT if you visit Sentence of Dave, you feel great about your life, because you're certainly more logical, more confident, less anxious and less awkward than Dave (and you can probably write a more coherent sentence than him, as well, so make the healthy choice and stay away from Facebook . . . unless you're using it to link to Sentence of Dave).
This is a game my friend Rob from Vermont claims he invented and occasionally plays: he orders take-out from a new Chinese restaurant without consulting the menu, simply by selecting several random numbers . . . so the food is a surprise (and while the Russian Roulette analogy might not be apt for most of us, it is for Rob because he's allergic to shrimp).