Why did I think I needed this size container for this amount of food?
This sentence is more practical than most of the drivel on this blog, as I need to present this example to my students in a few weeks, when we finally wrap up Hamlet . . . so if you don't care about Shakespeare, hippos, feigned madness, and impractical subterfuge, then I give you permission to stop reading this, but for you brave souls, you might learn something fascinating if you forge ahead; once we finish Hamlet, I am going to make the students connect a theme or character or line or allusion from the play to something modern -- a book or movie scene or song or painting that directly or indirectly reflects ideas from the play, and I just stumbled on a wonderful example: after Hamlet learns from his father's ghost that his uncle is the murderer, he decides that the best course of action is to put on an "antic disposition"-- he feigns madness-- as he believes this will allow him unusual freedoms around the castle and also that Claudius won't suspect him of any subterfuge because he's essentially opted out of the political reality inside the castle . . . and while I've always considered this an absolutely ridiculous plan (but artistically very entertaining, of course) I stumbled upon a historical example of feigned madness that turned out rather well for the perpetrator, an adventurer named Fritz Duquesne, a South African Boer soldier, who lived a wild life as a spy, saboteur, storyteller, big game hunter, and heavy-handed purveyor of bullshit and espionage . . . he was also the arch-nemesis of Frederick Russell Burnham -- although they both agreed on one thing, that America should import hippopotami to simultaneously solve the problem of the turn of the century meat shortage and the invasive water hyacinth (and I learned about all this in Jon Mooallem's fantastic article about the attempt to introduce hippo ranching to the Louisiana bayous) but, of course, we never imported hippos, and years later, Duquesne became rather unhinged, and was involved in several terroristic bombings, counter-espionage, and fraud; while he was held in city jail in New York in 1919, he lost his mind, and then the use of the lower half of his body, but the authorities were skeptical, so they stuck pins into his legs and under his toe nails, and Duquesne "never once wriggled or winced" so they transported him to Bellevue, where he sat in a wheelchair in front of a barred window and watched the birds . . . but he wasn't actually paralyzed and somehow withstood the pin torture without revealing his ruse, and day after day he sawed at the bars with two hacksaw blades he had acquired, and finally made a daring and nimble escape, leaping from rooftop to rooftop, hopping a ferry to Hoboken, and then disappearing into New Jersey . . . and he wasn't caught until 1941, when he was discovered to be at the center of the infamous Duquesne Spy Ring, and he went to jail in Kansas and served 13 years of his 18 year sentence . . . so like Hamlet, a wild and artistically satisfying life that could only end in tragedy.
One of the things I love about reading is that it offers total unadulterated freedom of choice -- though I may have several books out from the library, and several more sitting by my bedside, waiting to be read, if I hear about something that piques my interest, I drop everything and commit wanton literary infidelity; I read whatever I want, when I want, without worrying about any recourse or repercussions; in other words, I'll break off a relationship with a book at the drop of a hat; this is the opposite of marriage (or my marriage anyway, as I'm pretty sure I'm forbidden to date other women -- not that I'm going to ask -- and I certainly can't engage in this sort of adulterous freedom with TV shows, because if my wife and I are watching a show, and I watch one without her, it's tantamount to cheating on her . . . and that's why when I heard that Jon Mooallem wrote a seventy one page article about the wild and ingenious plan at the turn of the century to solve America's meat shortage by farming hippos in the Louisiana bayous, I truncated all my previous literary relationships-- including getting to page seven in a new translation of Brothers Karamazov-- and immediately bought the article as a Kindle single on Amazon-- hippo farming!-- and it's well worth reading; there's megafauna, scouts, spies, terrorism, politics, subterfuge, feigned lunacy and plenty of hippo jerky (if you want a quick summary, then check out this Wired article on the article).
When the little light comes on that indicates that your car is low on windshield washer fluid, not only do you have to purchase more windshield washer fluid, but you also have to open the hood of the car and pour the stuff into the washer fluid reservoir (which I haven't done yet -- my big bottle of blue washer fluid has been riding shotgun in my van for two weeks now).
I may not rescue old ladies from burning buildings or dig wells for the indigent, but I did bag and toss at least ten piles of poop at the dog park last week (I think people get lazy about picking up the poop when there is snow on the ground, because it's hard to walk through the deep stuff, but I can't stand seeing a brown pile of poop defacing the pure white snow . . . which is mainly yellow and gray now anyway, from exhaust and dog urine).
Thursday morning I woke up sore but satisfied, as the night before -- at our weekly Over-30 basketball pick-up game, I had one of the best shooting nights of my rather ugly basketball career . . . both my outside shot and my hook shot were on, which is a rare occurrence, and pretty much everything I chucked up went in; my team won five games in a row and got to stay on the court for ninety minutes straight, and so by the end of the night I was not only happy with my athletic prowess but also totally exhausted, and it was with these wonderful memories in my mind, that I went walking the dog on Thursday morning, and when I neared the dog park, I had to climb over a large pile of snow, and though I could clearly see that there was ice on the pavement below, I figured I could keep my balance when I touched down on it -- because I was a great athlete-- but I did not keep my balance-- not even close-- in fact, both my legs shot into the air (similar to this incident, except more spastic) and I landed squarely on my upper back, and then my head snapped back and hit the ice, and I saw stars and lost my wind, and made some weird yelling noises because I couldn't breathe and because it hurt so fucking much, and Sirius licked my face a couple times to make sure I was alive, and I'm hoping that this incident doesn't screw up my outside shot, but I have a feeling that it will . . . or at least I can blame this incident if my shot returns to normal next week (and there is a fairly happy ending to this story: though I felt shaky all day Thursday and my back and neck hurt, I made it out to the pub, and stayed rather late, and while this might not have been great for my liver, when I woke up Friday morning, after four hours of sleep, my back felt fine . . . and my students -- who thought I was going to be feeling it far worse the second day -- were impressed by my resilience; in fact, I may have boldly claimed to one class that I was "unbreakable" and asked a student to throw a chair at me . . . but luckily, this student did not comply with my request).
Though I knew it was a bad idea, I tried to pick up and bag my dog's poop with my gloves on, because it was so cold and snowy, and -- of course -- I got poop all over my gloves . . . but, resourceful soul that I am, I used some snow to clean my gloves off . . . the very same snow which drove me to attempt to pick up and bag a pile of dog poop with heavy winter gloves on, an impossible task . . . and now my gloves appear to be clean.
In 1979, President Jimmy Carter was attacked by a swamp rabbit (and the administration could neither confirm nor deny if this rabbit was in any way related to the "killer rabbit" in the 1975 film Monty Python and the Holy Grail).
Though I didn't plan it, I ended up simultaneously reading Futebol: The Brazilian Way of Life, by Alex Bellos, and Play Their Hearts Out: A Coach, His Star Recruit, and the Youth Basketball Machine by George Dohrmann . . . and while there is no question that Brazil is crazy about soccer and America is crazy about basketball, the craziness exhibits itself in very different ways: Brazilians are superstitious, zealous, and obsessively festive about their national pastime (soccer fan clubs also participate in wildly gala and choreographed carnival events, where tattooed soccer hooligans organize thousands of costumed participants in synchronized marching and dancing) and creative to a fault with their gameplay, as illustrated by their incorporation of religion into the sport, their use of bizarre nicknames and their attempt at an "autoball" league in the 1970's . . . meanwhile, the story George Dohrmann tells of elite youth basketball players and their sleazy, despicable, but wildly successful coach Joe Keller paints a portrait of greed, consumption, high hopes, wild aspirations, hard work, hype, enormous success, great pressure, and epic failure . . . all in the milieu of middle school . . . the story is by turns compelling and infuriating, but the book is a must read, especially if you coach kids, and once you're finished, you can check Dohrmann's blog to see where the players from the book are now.
For the second time this season, I had to coach our rec basketball team alone-- normally I am the assistant coach, but the head coach couldn't make it-- and the goal I set for myself was simple: I wanted to call at least one time-out (the last game that I coached solo I forgot about the existence of time-outs-- probably because of all the years coaching soccer-- and so I did all my strategizing during in-bounds passes and free-throws) and so, though we were well ahead and I had already pointed this our to several players, I still called one time out in the first half, to point out that the other team was running a 2-3 zone, and that our ball-handler should penetrate through the middle, and then either shoot or pass it out to the sides . . . and I've decided that I've got no desire to be Bobby Knight and I will be happy when spring soccer season rolls around and I can go back to chatting with the players on my bench while we watch things happen on the soccer field that are so far away and chaotic that's there's really no reason to yell anything, as no one is going to hear you nor are they going to be able to react in time to adjust to what you say.
The This American Life podcast "Good Guys" is a mixed bag, but the last story (Act 4) takes a turn into strange territory -- an anonymous soldier sent producer Sarah Koenig a number of recordings he made while on a tour of duty in Afghanistan, and he describes a group of men who joined the army not for love and country and patriotism, but instead to be able to experience the thrill of killing another human being . . . and while on some level this is disturbing, on another it makes me wonder if humans are just becoming more specialized, the way the finches did on the Galapagos Islands: now you can make your way in this world as a political pundit, a math nerd, an architect, a musician, a professional athlete, and as a killer . . . you can exploit your artistry, anger, rhetorical powers, mathematical skills, good looks, ruthlessness, business sense, good will towards all humans, or any number of oddball human traits to earn money and gain fame and favor, so it makes sense that the killing niche will find its experts as well, and they aren't necessarily going to be doing it for the "right" reasons . . . in fact, if they are doing it for the "wrong" reasons, then they might be better at it (but also immoral) just like these guys were really good at making money . . . and if the niche exists, just as it would in an evolutionary matrix, something is going to move into it and exploit it, and you really can't blame people or animals or weeds or finches or whatever, if they do.
Normally, the dads in my town go to the pub on Thursday night, and the locals and regulars tolerate us well enough, but Wednesday night, with another snow storm looming, Alec and I tried to drum up an early emergency pub night . . . but though we couldn't convince the regular Thursday night crowd of dads to attend, we went anyway; on the way we speculated that there might be a Wednesday night crowd of dads . . . guys we barely knew -- a bizarro version of our crowd -- with perhaps one friend of ours in common who had been moonlighting without telling us about the other parallel, bizarro pub group, but this was not the case; the pub was filled with regulars and locals (and this is the kind of place the opens at 7 AM . . . the kind of place where the regulars do a pot luck every Sunday for football, a real version of Cheers, with a softball team, a dart board, and an owner who grew up in town, owns the building, works the bar, runs back into the "kitchen" to make a burger or a cheesesteak or a fish sandwich . . . a real version of Sam Malone, only fatter . . . but he did play college baseball) and things seemed a little wilder and louder on Wednesday night, there was some dancing in the area that is congested with dads on Thursday night, and the regulars kept telling Alec and I "it's the wrong night!" and "it's Wednesday night!" like we got confused and came on the wrong day and so I'm thinking that when we get ten or fifteen dads in the place on Thursday, we really change the vibe and so it's good to mix it up once in a while.
I'm not sure which is more outlandish, Sharknado or the second season of Homeland, but what I do know is that I need to temper the emotional roller coaster of Friday Night Lights with a dose of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, because sporting drama gets me choked up and teary eyed (unlike Valentine's Day . . . I was tasked with getting my wife a pair of slippers, and while I finally accomplished this, I had to go to several stores, as slippers are a hot item this winter; the guy at Target said, "sorry man, we're all sold out, we sold eight hundred pairs in three days" but I figured I could make that particular trip count for something-- as I hate going into stores-- so I went from the slipper department to the card department and picked out the perfect card with the perfect sentiment, since I certainly can't express myself (as evidenced by the poor and rambling structure of this sentence) but when the guy rang it up, I found, to my surprise, that the card I chose cost $7.50, which seemed absurd, so I didn't buy it, and had to go to another store . . . and it's not like I saved very much, I think I paid $4.95 for that card, but it was a matter of principle . . . I'm not paying more than $4.95 for a card).
Amazon recently produced an editor's list of 100 Books to Read in a Lifetime and while I'm not making any accusation, this does sound suspiciously close to my list of 105 Books to Read Before You Die (Which Will Be Sooner Than You Think) and I did some in-depth analysis and I've decided that my list is much better than Amazon's list-- and this isn't only because I just read a rather critical article about Amazon's megalomaniacal economy destroying practices in a New Yorker article called "Cheap Words"-- it's also because I've read 67 of the books on the Amazon list-- which comes out to 67% of the list . . . 67/100 as a fraction, and while there are a few common titles between their list and mine (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas; Guns, Germs, and Steel; The Corrections; and The Golden Compass) and a few common authors-- Orwell, Marquez, McCarthy, Chandler, and Sedaris-- there is one irreconcilable difference between the Amazon editors and me, and this difference speaks volumes . . . the Amazon editors think you need to read Dune before you die, and I don't.
I am still searching unsuccessfully for a light read . . . one of my students gave me a copy of John Green's Looking for Alaska, and I'm a sucker for books about private school, especially if they contain pranks, but even though this book is set at a private school and even though there are pranks, and even though it is an easy read, and even though John Green is entertaining and convinced me to watch the light and fun delirium tremens film Harvey, this book is NOT light at all, but if you are looking for a quick, gripping and rather depressing read, then this book is for you.
My boys and their friend were building a snow fort in the icy slush last week, and they were obviously preparing for an apocalyptic snowball fight, but I warned them that the snow was not good for that, as it was hard and icy and if anyone got hit in the face with an ice-ball they were going to get hurt and cry, and then-- content that I had done my job as a parent-- I went in the house to relax, but thirty minutes later the front door flew open and my son Ian stormed in crying and screaming because Alex hit him in the eye with an ice-ball, and so I yelled at him for not heeding my warning (though I probably should have yelled at Alex, but Ian was closer) and he yelled back at "You're not supposed to yell at little kids when they get hurt!" and so now I am wondering if it's okay to yell at little kids when they get hurt if you warned them that the thing they were doing was going to result in them getting hurt.
Last November, after a beautiful hike in Vermont, my wife said to the boys, with complete sincerity: "Thanks, I had a really great day with you guys" but my son younger son Ian didn't pick up the tone, and turned to his brother and said, "I think we're in trouble."
After finishing George Packer's extremely depressing book The Unwinding, I decided to read something lighter, and so I turned to a book a student recommended called The Lizard King: The True Crimes and Passions of the World's Greatest Reptile Smugglers . . . and while I couldn't put the book down, as I wanted to find out if Special Agent Chip Bepler of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife could finally take down Mike Van Nostrand, the brash and blatant kingpin of American reptile smuggling, this book is definitely not light reading: Bryan Christy tells a tale of drugs, crime, corruption boa constrictors full of cocaine melting in a van, environmental devastation, obsessive herpetologists, crooked zookeepers, and a completely overwhelmed Miami division of Fish and Wildlife, with just three agents to cover South Florida, the Keys, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands . . . three agents to "investigate every illegal plant or animal that came through the port of Miami, by plane or by boat . . . three agents to police the waterways against manatee abusers . . . three agents to wade into the marshes before dawn to await duck poachers . . . three agents to watch over the Florida panther, three to stop Mexican restaurants from serving up sea turtle eggs, three to force beachside hotels to dim their lights so that the sea turtles that did hatch could follow the reflected light of the moon to the Atlantic Ocean instead of finding death in the artificial illumination of a well-lit parking lot" and not only that, the book ends with a funeral, but I won't spoil it since Sunswept Entertainment is making a movie based on the story (and it seems they've turned Chip Bepler into a woman).
George Packer's book The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America is a gripping and intimate account of what has happened financially and politically in America over the past forty years, told through the eyes of a diverse group of people -- ruined entrepreneurs and liberal activists, Newt Gingrich and Jay Z, Wall Street Occupiers and white trash, Washington insiders and visionary technophiles -- and while most of the book subscribes to the titular metaphor: unless you are one of the lucky ones, the ones that stand with the political and financial establishment, unless you are someone who goes with the political "flow" then you are fine, but the rest of America is unraveling; I warn you, the book is painful to read and it will cause you to feel ire and depression and indignation and outright anger . . . but there's nothing much you can do, you are either in or you are out, and if you are in, then there's no incentive to change things that are bringing you money and power, and if you are out, then you don't have any power to speak of, and you can't muster the energy and the force to fight the lobbies and the banks and Washington politics and Wall Street and globalization and corruption and corporate union-busting . . . but at least along the way, there are a few tangential metaphors that are more fun the the overarching general unwinding of our society; Dean Price, a tobacco farmer's son who is trying to create sustainable agriculture and biofuel in the South, imagines the American factory farm poultry, those chickens so pumped full of chemicals that they are too big to walk on their own "served up and eaten by customers who would grow obese and eventually be seen in Walmart riding electric carts, because they were too heavy to walk the aisles of a Supercenter, just like the hormone fed chickens" and Packer explains how they brought judges out of retirement to go about the work of "clearing Florida's of half a million foreclosure cases. as earlier generations had cleared the mangrove swamps that made way for Tampa, and, finally, Peter Thiel -- founder of PayPal and and really rich dude -- uses a metaphor to show the general decline in attitude towards technology: he says that in the 1970's, best of the year sci-fi anthologies were full of stories where "me and my friend the robot walked on the moon" while now the trend in sci-fi is dystopian and fragmented (and The Hunger Games is the perfect analogy for what has happened . . . young folks, who will do everything their parents did, will not have access to the same economy and nation that privileged previous generations, and so they will be fighting each other to the death for the scraps) and Thiel calls this a "tech-slowdown" and he points out that most technological advances that have occurred recently have been in the imaginary binary world of 1s and 0s inside computers, not in the physical world; to summarize, this is an amazing depressing mess of a book without solutions, as it should be, but there are occasional bright spots: the Occupy Wall Street Movement and the perseverance of Dean Price in the face of a politically close-minded and corrupt world.
My eight year old son Ian, who we regard as slightly shifty, woke up the other morning with chocolate on his face . . . but he didn't have any chocolate for dessert the night before, and so the only explanation is that he has a hidden cache of chocolate in his room, and that he ate some of it after he went to bed -- but I searched his room thoroughly and couldn't find anything (though we have found secret troves of candy in his room before, and so I had probably cause to conduct this search) and Ian insists that he didn't have any secret chocolate before bed . . . though he did bring up the possibility that he may have ate some chocolate while sleep-walking, and while I don't believe this for one bit, Ian is a tough nut to crack, and I don't feel like breaking out the water-board, and so we're just going to chalk this one up to poor detective work on our part and concede that we will never know the truth.
If you feel the need to listen to music that evokes a nonexistent 1970's police show in which the heroes adeptly navigate the mean streets of their decaying city, and often have to cross the thin blue line in order to administer justice in a chaotic and amoral world, and then face repercussions from an oppressive and byzantine bureaucracy, a politically minded and data driven chief, and an apathetic force, then listen to The Crusaders album Free As the Wind . . . it's absolutely fantastic: play it straight through, and I promise you'll have a car chase (and more!) in your brain.
To The Guy in the Lexus Driving in Front of Me with Ten Inches of Snow on His Roof and Back Windshield:
Last Thursday in the English office, I rejected the tastiness of Chantal's kale and banana smoothie because the consistency was too milky, and this led to the inevitable discussion about milk related things, and the fact that I have never drank a glass of milk, not even a glass of chocolate milk, nor have I ever had a milkshake (Kevin thought this was absolutely impossible and wanted me to provide witnesses to verify this patently absurd statement) and when I claimed that I wouldn't even try Nitro Milk Stout beer because -- though I know it contains no milk-- it has the word "milk" in the title and thus makes me think of milky things, Kevin became determined to penetrate my defenses, and he succeeded . . . he thought of the one thing with "milk" in it that I do love: Neutral Milk Hotel.
I am embarrassed to admit that I love gummy candy . . . gummy bears, gummy worms, gummy coke bottles . . . you name it, but I rarely indulge in these festive, colorful treats because I feel absolutely absurd eating them; no adult man can maintain any sort of dignity while sucking on a gummy peach ring, and I think there are other men that feel the same way-- other closeted-gummy-men-- and so there must be a market for macho gummy treats: gummy chewing tobacco, gummy seeds, gummy pork rinds, etc.
I am certainly not a physicist in any sense of the word -- my "eureka" moments are usually very abstract -- but last week, while I was coaching a youth basketball game, I figured out how something works in the physical world; my thought process began during a game when our team was slaughtering the opposition, we were really racking up the points, and what surprised me was how often the shots were falling into the basket -- we always seemed to be getting the roll -- but upon further observation, I found that this was often the case . . . little kids make a fair amount of the shots they put up, if they hit the rim . . . and this is my best explanation as to why this is so: when an adult shoots a basketball, the arc of the ball usually rises far above the height of the basket, and then the ball plummets down towards the rim-- it's like the ball is being dropped from five feet above the basket-- and so if it hits wrong, it's got quite a bit of momentum, so it's going to "brick" and bounce wildly from the hoop, but a little kid shot typically just clears the rim . . . the point where the ball is at an actual standstill -- the apex-- is just above the basket, and so it hits the rim with very little impetus and has a much better chance of remaining on the rim, and possibly rolling in.
Nothing makes me happier than the fact that my kids are now proficient at ping-pong . . . cracking a cold beer and knocking that ball back and forth is as mindless and stress-free as parenting gets.