More Nostalgic Reading

Stephen King's recent novel Joyland is a little book with some big scenes-- it takes place in 1973, at a haunted amusement park and there is some sleuthing as well as some spookiness; think Scooby Doo meets Something Wicked This Way Comes . . . and if it wasn't for those meddling summer employees, he would have gotten away with it . . . you also learn lots of "carny" lingo (such as "wearing the fur") and the ins and outs of running a low budget amusement park: two scaly thumbs up.

Live Vicariously Through Dave!

For all of you folks that have to work in the summer, here's a quick recap of my family beach vacation in Sea Isle City:

1) for several days, hundreds and hundreds of dolphins-- several pods?-- swam southward along the shore; at one point they were so close to the beach that the lifeguards had to pull everyone from the water . . . my father insisted they were porpoises but I took my cousin's paddleboard out to get a very close look, and they were definitely dolphins;

2) the AC broke in our condo, and it took five days to fix, so we spent a lot of time on the beach;

3) the day we took a break from the beach, we went to Stone Harbor and saw Ant-Man and-- shockingly-- it was very entertaining . . . Paul Rudd is charming and the special-effects and humor are somewhere between Honey I Shrunk the Kids and Iron Man . . . and nearly as entertaining as the film was the massive leak in the roof during the movie-- a huge thunderstorm rolled in during the opening minutes and all the people on the left side of the theater got soaked and there was a flood down the center aisle which we had to wade through when we left;

4) we really enjoyed eating at Hank Sauce, the restaurant named after the super-excellent hot sauce-- the pork tacos and the fish tacos were both excellent (and the sauce is the best);

5) I did not enjoy the lack of AC and wifi at Red White & Brew Coffee Shop;

6) while I was travelling from the Outer Banks to Sea Isle City-- twelve hours or cars, trains, taxis and buses-- Catherine and the boys saw a fisherman pull in a shark and a large stingray;

7) I nearly cried while carrying my cousin's paddleboard back to their beach house . . . that thing is heavy!

Looking Through My Mechanic's Son's Eyes

One of the most important things in modern life is to know of a good car mechanic, which I do . . . but he's getting older . . . luckily, his son is taking over the business; when my wife and I dropped off the Subaru the other morning we met the heir-apparent and then when my wife picked up the car later in the day, she got to hear-- secondhand from his dad-- the son's impression of our drop-off; apparently the youngster was amused by the fact that:

1) I didn't know how to work my phone and my wife showed me that if you hit the volume button it turns the ringer on;

2) I didn't understand why my wife was hanging around, I thought she was on her way to work, but she was there to give me a ride back home;

3) I chastised my wife for nearly hitting her brother's truck when she backed out of the driveway and she pointed out that she didn't hit his car and that the two dents in the car were both my fault.

Kurt Vonnegut Holds Up

When I was in middle school and high school, my two favorite authors were Kurt Vonnegut and Stephen King-- I read everything they wrote; but a few years ago, I tried to re-read The Stand and I found it dated and kind of cheesy (though I did love King's more recent novel 11/22/63) and I read less and less fiction these days anyway-- except crime fiction about murder and drug lords and torture-- but I was screwing around with my Kindle and somehow 'borrowed" Breakfast of Champions for free, and I devoured it in the same way teenage Dave must have done . . . the book is super-meta, extremely profane (with liberal use of the N-word) and very funny; Vonnegut's ironically detached view from outer space on art, the environment, character, free will, and income inequality are as modern (post-modern?) as anything written today; here are two passages that I highlighted:

1) "I used to be a conservationist. I used to weep and wail about people shooting bald eagles with automatic shotguns from helicopters and all that, but I gave it up. There's a river in Cleveland which is so polluted that it catches fire about once a year; that used to make me sick, but I laugh about it now . . . I realized," said Trout, "that God wasn't conservationist, so for anyone else to be one was sacrilegious and  a waste of time. You ever see one of His volcanoes or tornadoes or tidal waves? Anybody ever tell you about the Ice Ages he arranges every half-million years? How about Dutch Elm disease?"

2) Because of the peculiar laws in that part of the planet, Rockefeller was allowed to own vast areas of the Earth's surface, and the petroleum and other valuable minerals under the surface , as well. He owned or controlled more of the planet than many nations. This had been his destiny since infancy. He was born into that cockamamie proprietorship.

Save $$$$ with Statistics

Diligent readers may remember the risk assessment I did about the tree limb hanging precipitously over my back yard . . . when I first saw the limb, I thought: I'd better call a tree guy, because that thing is going to kill someone when it comes down . . . but then I did some back-of-the-envelope calculation and realized that I should have thought: I don't need to call a tree guy because it's highly unlikely that that thing will kill someone when it comes down and it turns out that in this instance, the math was right . . . the limb fell during our vacation and killed nothing, it didn't even harm the lawn, so a little bit of logical thinking saved me some cash (though I must admit, that I did try some crazy shit before we left for the beach . . . I attached a rope to an arrow and tried to shoot it over the limb with my son Alex's bow and I punted a variety of balls at the limb, but the arrow couldn't pull the rope all the way up and though I got some punts in the vicinity, the only result was a stuck ball, and then I duct-taped a rope to a rock and started whirling it around but thought better of it, because the branch was very very high up in the tree and I realized all I was going to do was break some windows).

The Test 5: Everyone Fails

Stacey administers a test on acronyms, abbreviations and nicknames and we all do quite poorly-- including, ironically, Stacey; so give it a shot and good luck-- you're going to need it . . . also, listen up for a new character (and if you want to hear the sad sad story of how I tried to be a hipster douchebag while completing the audio editing for this episode, head on over to Gheorghe: The Blog).

Funny? Or Not So Funny? You Be the Judge . . .

I had a wonderful student last year in Composition class who was smart and outgoing and engaged and curious and generally wonderful to be around, and she really liked my class and respected my opinion (and let me know this in no uncertain terms) so I was a bit disappointed when she didn't follow my sage advice on a certain matter, but I'll let you be the judge; at the end of every school day this girl delivered the afternoon announcements over the intercom, and I would often kid her about her style, which always started very enthusiastic, but sometimes became less so when she got bogged down in the mundane details . . . the change of location of the robotics club, etcetera, etcetera . . . and as senior year ground to a close, she realized she was going to make her last afternoon announcement of her career, and she wanted to go out with something special and I suggested that after she delivered her last bit of afternoon information, she say, "This is Michelle X signing off, it was a pleasure and I'd also like you to know that I'm a talking parrot . . . SQUAWK!" and while she found this moderately amusing, she didn't think it was as hysterically funny as I thought it was and when I told some other teachers about this idea they questioned my sanity and my sense of humor, but my high school is huge and while two thousand kids had heard her voice every afternoon, the vast majority of them had never seen her face, so I think this would have been perfect and very funny finale to her disembodied voice, but since she didn't do it, we'll never know . . . unless I luck out and teach the voice of the afternoon announcements next year, because I will start my campaign early-- in September-- and by June this person will realize just how funny the final announcement could be . . . SQUAWK!

Dave Loves Chick lit! So? What Are YOU Going to Do About It?

So what? . . . so Dave loves chick lit  . . . so he's read three Liane Moriarty novels about Australian moms . . . does that make him any less of a man? . . . does it mean he still won't kick your ass? . . . don't bet on it . . . and so what if he got a little weepy at the end of What Alice Forgot . . . you'd cry too . . . if you read more chick lit . . . loser . . . anyway, What Alice Forgot, is a time-travel story masquerading as an amnesia incident, and it is, by turns, funny, intense, moving, nostalgic, and inspirational . . . here are two passages that I liked:

1) I'd be at work, where people respected my opinions," said Nick . . . "And then I'd come home and it was like I was the village idiot . . . I'd pack the dishwasher the wrong way . . . I'd pick out the wrong clothes for the children . . . I stopped offering to help . . . it wasn't worth the criticism";

2) I knew there is nothing more patronizing to an Infertile than to hear a new mother complaining, as if that will make you feel better for not having your own baby . . . it's like telling a blind person, "Oh, sure, you get to see mountains and sunsets, but there's also rubbish dumps and pollution! Terrible!"

Shallow Thought #6

Since the advent of the smart-phone, there has been a spike in people stepping in dog-shit.

What's Better Than One Serial Killer?

Two serial killers, obviously-- The Dollmaker and The Follower-- and though Michael Connelly's third Hieronymous "Harry" Bosch novel was written back in 1994, The Concrete Blonde still feels relevant today because of the lurking theme under the double menace of the killers: unauthorized use of force by authority; Bosch shot The Dollmaker in the line of duty four years before the novel begins, and story opens with him being sued by the Dollmaker's widow for being a vigilante-- he shot the purported killer while he was naked and reaching for something under his pillow, which turned out to be a toupee, not a gun, and while there was a preponderance of evidence linking the suspect to the case; the plaintiff's attorney, Honey Chandler, brings up Rodney King and the noted corruption and civil rights abuses in the L.A.P.D. and meanwhile, the killings continue, making everyone-- including Bosch-- wonder if he got the wrong guy; while the book eventually veers away from this heavy stuff into more procedural law and the usual hot pursuit, with the requisite twists and turns (and plenty of pornography and violence) this is no lightweight beach read . . . so far it is my favorite of all the Connelly novels, and so I'd like to thank Joyce Carol Oates again for recommending him (you can say "you're welcome" in the comments, Joyce).


Another fantastic Outer Banks Fishing Trip on the books . . . thanks again to Whit and the Martha Wood and everyone else involved; here are a few things that happened and some notes for OBFT XXIII:

1) Paci wore an Apple watch and used Uber to get us a ride back from Tortuga's . . . I don't know if those two things are related;

2) Jerry and T.J. shoved Dave in the back of Jerry's coupe, but then humored him by allowing him to quiz them for The Test;

3) everyone agreed that The Border Station is far better pit-stop than Southland;

4) best water ever . . . and this year Whitney lost his sunglasses in it;

5) Bruce did NOT have a new joke, but we reminisced over some old jokes;

6) we wished we had a spreadsheet of what happened on each trip so we could reminisce more accurately;

7) we did not get eaten by a shark, but Squirrel did fall down the stairs, reminding us that it's far more likely and dangerous to get hurt on the stairs than it is to lose a limb to a great white;

and some notes for next year . . .

8) next year I will DRIVE . . . I had to get from Kill Devil Hills to Sea Isle City on Sunday and it took me twelve hours . . . rode with Coby and Joe and Paci to Norfolk Airport, then to Richmond, then with Joe to DC-- where I learned a lot of cool stuff about his job-- then I caught a train from DC to Philly, then a cab to the bus station-- which was chaotic and reminded me of Syrian transport hubs-- then a Greyhound Casino Bus to Atlantic City, where Catherine had to fight through traffic to pick me up . . . and I missed every possible convenient time for every train and bus . . . and my guitar had quite an adventure and the case probably needs to be sterilized;

9) we need to bring a hammer to pound some of the protruding deck nails;

10) we need to get Whit a gift . . . new corn-hole bags;

11) the walk home on the beach from Tortuga's was excellent, but would have been even better if we had spandex and bathing suits so that we could jump in the water occasionally and then continue walking (without chafing) so we need to pack them and change in the restroom before we leave, which will make for a hysterical scene . . . especially if we all go in together;

12) we need to order entrees as appetizers at Tortuga's so everyone can have a bite of Coco Loco Chicken and the Bajan Burger;

13) Whitney can make up for poor performance on the corn-hole court if he dishes out songs from his iPod for the "movie soundtrack game," and while Marls is quite good, it would be nice if in the future Whitney plays something from "Ghostbusters";

14) if some older fraternity brothers are going to swing by, they need to do it earlier, when everyone is more coherent (preferably at 11:30 at Tortuga's, the last moment of clarity of the day for most);

15) while we were swimming in the best water ever, a few of us did our impressions of getting attacked by a shark-- this was awesome and needs to be an official OBFT event, I think if we promote it on social media, we could pull a decent crowd.

Shallow Thought #5 (Toga! Toga! Toga!)

In ancient Greece, every party was a toga party . . . and I know this is weak, even as a shallow thought, but I'm still recovering from OBFT XXII.

Smart and Tasty Mollusk Creates Ethical Dilemma

I didn't finish Sy Montgomery's book The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness . . . it was well-written and fascinating, but too much octopus and not enough consciousness; I will think twice before ordering this brainy cephalopod at the Greek restaurant near my house, though they make it just right; these creatures are smart, playful, spirited, and clever . . . and they can recognize people and treat them very differently, depending how comfortable they are and how much they "like" them (the only rationalization for eating them is that they don't live very long-- three years or so-- but I'm not sure if that's a logical reason, because dogs don't live all that long and we don't eat them when they turn nine).

Shallow Thoughts #4

Polo would be more like soccer if the horses were autonomous and didn't have people riding on top of them, directing them where to go.

Shallow Thoughts #3

Soccer would be more like horse-racing if all the players had little monkeys perched on their necks and the monkeys whipped the players in order to make them run faster.

The Test: Episode 4 . . . Take It and Get All Sweaty!

This is my favorite episode of The Test so far; Cunningham, Stacye and I revisit "number sense" and things get fairly absurd . . . there's yelling and judgement and perspiration and anxiety . . . and it's all generated by seven simple questions; so give this one your best shot and see if it makes you as "sweaty and nervous" as it does Stacey.

Shallow Thoughts #2

Sometimes I eat so much at lunch that I feel like I won't be able to eat dinner, but when dinner finally rolls around, I'm hungry again.

Shallow Thoughts

If you find an old snorkel at the beach, you can use it as a backscratcher (even if its pink).

Hey Jazz Dogs! It's The War and Peace of Dope War Books!

Once again, while my family was enjoying the sun and sand, I read about drug wars and torture: The Cartel is part two of Don Winslow's magnum opus on the Mexican drug trade; when I reviewed The Power of the Dog (part one), I described Winslow's writing as "Ellroy-esque," and now, on the back cover, Ellroy himself pays Winslow the highest of compliments . . . he calls the novel "The War and Peace of dope-war books" and then he goes on to say, "it's got the jazz dog feel of a shot of pure meth!" and while that quotation is certainly Ellroy-esque . . . and I'm not sure what a "jazz dog" is, I highly recommend this book (though you should read Power of the Dog first) and while I admit that it's an undertaking, it is worth it-- there's plenty of action and there's even a map, so that finally --after reading five or six books about the Mexican drug wars-- I am starting to understand the how the cartography and the politics fit together . . . and at least it's a real map of actual Mexican states, not a fictional map, like at the start of Lord of the Rings . . . so that when reality mirrors fiction and the real person after whom Adan Barrerra is modeled: "El Chapo" Guzman, escapes once again, you know where he is headed to hide-out (Sinaloa) and while I am always suspect of fiction that requires a map, Game of Thrones has made me change my tune on this rule of thumb, and I am always grateful when non-fiction includes a map because I am spatially challenged.

The Test Outro: We Had a Good Time (Until We Didn't)

Though my inspiration for this song was Sam Quinones' book Dreamland, which details America's opiate epidemic, the lyrics worked for the outro song of our podcast The Test . . . anyway, here it is, unmarred by vociferous debate.

The Test . . . Episode 3!

We tighten things up on Episode Three of The Test . . . the introduction is shorter, the theme song is clearer, and we cut to the chase faster; Young Cunningham creates and administers a quiz about the two things for which she feels a profound love: TV and technology . . . i.e. phones and shows, and Stacey and I flail a bit with our answers-- and on the one question I actually know, I make the mistake of letting Stacey answer first . . . and she knows too . . . very annoying . . . I  also claim that I am "crushing it" at one point, but that's patently false . . . anyway, give it a listen, pass it on to your friends, don't be afraid to play (and fail) at home, and be on the look-out for Episode 4, in which Stacey gets all anxious and sweaty.

L'esprit de la voie des genoux?

The French say l'esprit de l'escalier-- which translates as "the wit of the staircase" and refers to when you think of the perfect retort after the argument has ended, when you are on your way up the stairs-- and sometimes this is a good thing . . . that you don't think of the most pointed, cutting thing to say (e.g. George Costanza: Well, I had sex with your wife!) because the perfect retort, while satisfying, can also make some waves . . . so, when I was about to swim a few laps in the unoccupied heated outdoor pool up at the Cape, and the old coot and his octogenarian wife chastised me for unhooking the floating safety rope that divides the deep end from the shallow end because-- get this-- the pool inspector might walk in at any time and there were children around (none in the pool environs, but they did have a point, there were children in the vicinity, just not at the pool) I didn't say anything witty or even clever, I simply said, "sorry" and placed the line on the concrete and swam my laps (unimpeded) and tried to ignore the old bat's last line, delivered from her chaise lounge: "that's what they all say" and as I swam off my anger (while thinking of all kinds of perfect retorts about the sadness of their existence and how ironic it was that they were so cautious now that they had so little time left and how swimming laps might be a way to prolong their miserable lives) and by the time I surfaced for air, my dad had mollified them and we put the safety rope back in place and I left, saved from an altercation by "the wit of the lap lane."

This Is How I Roll (and Spill)

If you spill a bunch of coffee on your shirt on the way to the gym, even if you're a minute from your house, you don't turn the car around, you just carry on (or at least that's how I do it)

Welcome to Welcome to Nightvale

Reputable people kept telling me to listen to the podcast Welcome to Night Vale, but I kept thinking: do I really need to start following the news cycle of a fictional town? when I have enough trouble keeping straight what's happening on the actual Earth? why would I need more news? fictitious news? it's hard enough to find time to listen to Planet Money and Dan Carlin and Radiolab and Freakonomics . . . but I now that I've listened to the show, I realize these thoughts were idiotic; Welcome to Night Vale is fantastic and spooky and visceral and poetically hysterical, like Stephen King meets NPR meets Jack Handy, set in a haunted desert version of Winesburg, Ohio . . . with a little bit of the Parks & Rec Pawnee vs. Eagleton rivalry -- except that it's The Night Vale Scorpions vs. The Desert Bluffs Cacti . . . and my kids love the show as much as me, so fuck the real news cycle, especially when the headlines are simply to fill the space: "No Evidence of Shooting at Washington Navy Yard Despite Lockdown" . . . we're following indescribable shapes and hooded figures and the perfect hair of Carlos the scientist.

Spring Cleaning = Explosive Diarrhea

The Great Island Trail, which is just west of Wellfleet, leads to one of the most scenic spots on Cape Cod . . . high dunes divide Wellfleet Harbor from Cape Cod Bay, and once you cross over, especially if it is low tide, the barren beaches and tide pools extend for miles-- all the way to Jeremy Point-- and while we were wading south towards the point, Alex and Ian netted various sea life (and put them in a bucket and pitted them against each other . . . the hermit crabs fought each other over a shell and the shrimp acted as the audience on their "channel" of violence, as they called the bucket) and we met a lovely older couple who were digging large clams and we got to talking and the old lady said to me, "do you like sushi?" and I said "sure" and she then opened one of these fist-sized quahogs, which were much too big to slurp down raw (they were to be used for clam strips and chowder) and cleaned it out and gave me "the eye," which is the muscle that the clams uses to hold its shell together-- it was shaped like a scallop and tasted something like a scallop, delicious and salty and fresh, and then she said something about how this always gives her a "spring cleaning," but I didn't understand the euphemism, and then she offered me another one, which I ate, and then she said, "I don't eat them out here because they give you a spring cleaning and it's too far from the house if I have to go" and I realized that when she said "spring cleaning" she actually meant "explosive diarrhea" and this made me a little nervous because we were quite far from civilization and we certainly didn't pack any toilet paper, but my stomach held up just fine (and I even managed to lug four big rocks back to the car, for my rock wall).

There's No Emoticon For This One . . .

After my father sent his burrito back for the second time (because it wasn't hot enough) and asked for more sour cream, even though we already had two little bowls of it, I looked at the waitress and tried to convey this with my glance: I'm sorry you're going through this hassle and thank you for humoring my dad and even though I seem to be a part of this family, I might be adopted or something, so don't hold it against me . . . and look -- my son is eating tamales with mole sauce! so we know what's good! and I tried to explain to my dad that you can only make a burrito so hot because you've got to wrap all the fillings in a tortilla, but I don't think he heard me and he's really not familiar with Mexican food . . . and all this makes me wonder if I'm going to get like that when I get old, confused and befuddled by the unfamiliar-- because, truth be told-- I'm not adopted, and if that's where I'm headed, then please just laugh at my absurd senior citizen requests and repetitions, instead of spitting in my food . . . muchas gracias and she seemed to understand me, to completely comprehend all the nuances of my glance, which makes me wonder if she has this experience often (which would make sense, considering she works at an authentic Mexican place in a non-Spanish speaking location).

A Good Book To Read in Winter (in Norway)

Jo Nesbo's Norwegian thriller The Son starts dark and gets darker . . . you travel with an incarcerated, nearly broken, drug addicted, oddly mystical son bent on finding out the truth about his father and avenging his death, and not only does the son escape from prison, but he also escapes the clutches of heroin addiction; he travels through a maze of byzantine corruption that I gave up trying to comprehend, and I had to skim the last hundred pages, to find out what happens . . . the book definitely had me in its grip for a while, but then I lost patience, probably because of the good weather; I think if I read it in the dead of winter, in Norway, then I would have hung in until the end, but the good weather makes it tough to focus-- everyone is at the pool and there is beer to drink-- this is why I always teach Hamlet in January . . . you can only do ghost stories when it gets dark at 5 PM.

1967: Year of Contrast

A fact thanks to Dan Carlin's podcast Common Sense: the Summer of Love was also The Long Hot Summer of 1967 . . . so if you were hanging out in San Francisco at the time, you were probably doing drugs and participating in an orgy, but if you happened to be in Newark New Jersey, you were probably looting and rioting.

Droning About Drones

Don't worry, this isn't going to become a niche blog about RC quadcopters, but I would like to report that just after my son Alex's drone broke beyond repair, my younger son Ian received his drone from Amazon, the Hubsan X4-- a highly rated little gadget-- and it flew properly exactly one time before he broke a propellor . . . and once he attached the replacement propellor (included) the drone lost its balance, and now, within moments of take-off, it immediately flips and crashes (could be the trim) and my friend Alec broke it down for me this way: "you can either buy ten 50 dollar drones or one 400 dollar drone, it's your choice" and obviously we are on the fifty dollar route, but there is one other road you can take, and it's awful: you can buy a $1500 RC helicopter, learn to do incredible tricks with it, and then decapitate yourself in front of your friends . . . I thought this was an urban legend, but apparently it really happened; while headline is bordering on comical . . . Toy Helicopter Slices Off Top of Man's Head . . . the result is real and I'm not going to lie: I showed the article to my children in an attempt to discourage them from pursuing this whole RC drone/copter thing and then I ended the lesson on the frustrations and dangers of drones with one of my many brilliant aphorisms . . .  "go outside and play ball . . . a ball always works."

A Drone Miracle

My son Alex was determined to fix his broken quadcopter drone, so he ordered a tiny two dollar motor from China, waited a month for it to arrive, then unscrewed a million tiny screws to get the drone body apart, replaced the broken motor-- with some help from his father-- and finally, had a complete meltdown when he attempted to get it airborne and found out that in order for it to fly, two of the drone propellers have to spin clockwise and two of them have to spin counterclockwise-- but, because of the way he hooked up the wires, he had three motors spinning clockwise . . . which pushed one side of the drone back into the ground, but-- I'll give him credit-- he opened the thing up again and switched the wires (which I thought might work) and it reversed the direction of the propeller and the drone lifted off for a moment, and then the battery died and then the wire connected to the battery ripped out and we tried to unsuccessfully fix that and then I told him to go outside and play with a ball because I couldn't take anymore . . . but then mom found the spare battery ( a minor miracle) and Alex charged it and hooked it up and -- miraculously-- it worked . . . and he got two days of enjoyment out of it before he crashed it and broke another motor, and now he has decided to give up on drones (a miracle in itself).

Podcast of Dave! And Stacey! And Cunningham!

For a full description, head over to Gheorghe: The Blog, or-- if you're brave-- just dive in and listen; but Stacey, Young Cunningham and I have recorded a podcast: it's called The Test and the theme is epistemology . . . and we've got background music and questions and debate and a theme song and an audio montage (which is probably far too long and self-indulgent) and you can play at home, but you can't study; we are planning on having guests in the future, so if you want to be on the show, tell us.

A New Sentence Every Day, Hand Crafted from the Finest Corinthian Leather.