We Survived Dunkirk . . . and the Ride Home

The boys and I saw Dunkirk today and we survived-- but just barely; Christopher Nolan's film is loud, frantic, relentless and visually myriad . . . land, sea, and air-- each with its own time scale-- all of which eventually interlock in a moving but properly anticlimactic climax (this is the story of an evacuation, not a great victory, and while there are incredibly heroic individual acts and moments selfless behavior amongst the general chaos of hundreds of thousands of trapped soldiers being evacuated across the channel, from Dunkirk to England, the brilliance of this movie is that you don't get a clear look at a single Nazi, there are the Spitfires and the U-boats, and Germans occasionally shoot from afar, but this is essentially the story of heroic logistics, represented by Kenneth Branagh's stoic portrayal of Commander Bolton) and after two hours of shell shock and first-person virtual-reality warfare POV, I was fairly shook up . . . I wasn't able to properly relax until my son got the Planet Money podcast going in the car-- a brilliant story about Stephon Marbury's budget basketball shoe, the Starbury-- and I zoned out, listening, happy that I had successfully evacuated my children from Dunkirk, as we sped across the Morris Goodkind bridge on Route 1 and then--suddenly-- I was thrust back into the film, into the first person cockpit view, and something was speeding toward my face, a rock, a rock was hurtling towards my face and I ducked-- I actually ducked-- and the rock glanced off the windshield with a loud clack (chipping it) and the kids were like "What the hell!" and I noticed that the truck ahead of me had a sign on it that read "CONSTRUCTION VEHICLE  DO NOT FOLLOW" and so I pulled into the right lane and stopped following it.

The Test 94: The Blues Sisters

The ladies make me sad and mournful on this week's episode of The Test because they don't know nothin' about dem blues . . . see if you fare better: identify the bluesmen and then use the song titles and lyrics to figure out the movie that corresponds to the seven clips, also . . . beware the prophecy!

It Might Be The Shoes

Big day for our family: after attending a funeral in South Jersey, we stopped at the Jackson Outlets to buy athletic shoes for the kids and me . . . and this was the first time we ever went athletic shoe shopping with the kids . . . in the past, we've been quite frugal, and the boys wore hand-me-downs, or shoes that Cat found on sale and brought home, or-- my specialty-- used sneakers and cleats bought off Ebay and Craigslist, so this was a real test for our family and we passed-- barely . . . Cat had one rough patch, because Ian tried on seventeen pairs of basketball shoes in three stores and couldn't find a pair that didn't squeeze his toes, and I had to explain to her how important good shoes are for tennis and basketball (and I think she was annoyed at the prices, because though she has countless pairs of shoes, a disgusting amount, she's always getting them on sale, for sixteen dollars, but we pointed out to her that 120 pairs of shoes at sixteen dollars a pop is still a lot more money than three pairs at forty or fifty a pop) and everything turned out wonderful in the end, Ian found a pair of Nike Airs on the clearance rack that fit his weird feet and Alex was overjoyed with his shoes and I got a beautiful pair of green tennis shoes and some basketball shoes with arch support, which made me realize I've been playing basketball in three year old sneakers that are totally compressed and have no cushion . . . and there's no question that I deserve some nice basketball shoes, because last night we went to a party in the suburbs and they had a kidney shaped pool with a diving board and on the other end of the pool from the board was a basketball hoop and so we took turns shooting the ball while in mid-air after jumping off the diving board and I was the only one who made the shot . . . it was a weird experience because you didn't get to see the end result of your shot, you'd be underwater by the time the ball got to the hoop, so you had to rely on the other people in the pool to tell you if you were short or long with your shot (and I was surprised they didn't lie to me and tell me I missed when I made the shot, knowing how annoying I am about such mundane triumphs).

Things I Learned at the Bar Last Night

Just because you're drinking beer, doesn't mean the learnin' stops . . . here's a very incomplete, completely abridged, and family friendly list of some of the subjects we tackled and analyzed outside at Pino's last night:

1) when women wear high heels, they've got to be careful of sewer grates;

2) dogs are also afraid of sewer grates, most likely because their paws could get stuck in the holes;

3) Connell's left shoulder contains enough hair to encase my entire body;

4) if someone leaves their glasses behind, it's really funny to take pictures with the glasses being used to clean out various orifices and send those pictures to the owner of the glasses, especially if the owner is Phil;

5) Alec has an idea for a comedy sketch that involves a guy who picks up women in bars and brings them home to his wife, but the twist is that he literally picks up the women . . . with his teeth, and carries them home-- like a cat bringing home a dead mouse-- and then drops the women in front of his wife-- the way a cat drops a dead mouse in front of its master-- and the guy's wife gets really annoyed with this behavior-- just as cat owners get annoyed when their pet is constantly bringing dead mice into the house . . . Alec was very passionate about this sketch idea and he made me promise to write it down, and now I've made good on this promise and so upon my deathbed, I will receive total consciousness.

Target at Target (Awkward Dave Goes to the Store)

This is embarrassing and it's taken over a week to process, but since I'm sorting out the situation this morning, I might as well summarize what happened:

last Friday, the day before we went to Sea Isle City, Catherine sent me to the store to buy a few last minute items for our vacation . . . she sent me to the store . . . I do all of my shopping with Amazon Prime now, so even planning for this was an adventure-- I needed peanut butter, granola, spandex underwear for the kids, and a small cooler for beer and snacks-- and so I made a detailed list of these items, with notes, and I figured I would go to a grocery store and a sporting goods store, but my wife said no, I could get all these things at the local Target;

I drove to Milltown, parked the car in the giant parking lot, and went into the store, a brightly lit vast cavernous space full of all kinds of new items (if you haven't been to a store in a while, I would describe it as a living version of Amazon, but all jumbled up) and the first thing I'd like to say is that I did a fantastic job shopping-- I selected an appropriate sized cooler (and there are a lot of coolers to choose from, I felt like Navin in The Jerk with his extraordinary thermos) and I found some multi-colored spandex underwear for the kids, to prevent chafing from the sand and surf, and I chose two different kinds of granola (there are a lot of different varieties of granola, each one healthier than the next, and the packaging is very enticing) and I got the right kind of peanut butter (Skippy Natural, No Need to Stir) and while I had certainly relied on my notes-- there's a lot of extraneous stuff in stores to distract you-- I had done it, mission accomplished, and now all I needed to do was check out;

I went over to the line area, which is pretty chaotic at Target, you have a number of slots to choose from and each slot has a near cashier and a far cashier, and I didn't know the etiquette, if you could just jump to a far cashier, but I did it anyway and the lady greeted me, she was middle-aged and portly and had some kind of foreign accent (Slovakian?) and she asked me if I wanted 5% off my purchase and I said "Sure" and she said all I needed was a Red Card-- which I assumed was one of those little doohickeys you keep on your keychain and they scan it with your items and you get a discount, I have one for our local grocery store-- and then I was immersed in answering a number of questions on the credit card charging screen, and they were fairly detailed questions-- the little screen wanted to know how much I earned annually and my address and my social security number-- which seemed kind of crazy, just to get a little discount card, but the cashier-lady with the accent kept distracting me, so I couldn't process how weird and detailed these questions were . . . ske kept asking me questions about my purchases, she was really interested in where I got the spandex underwear, as she wanted some for someone in her life (her husband? I don't know, I have a hard time doing two things at once, and it was traumatic enough to be in a store) and I kept telling her that I found the underwear in the boys department, and then I pointed towards the blue hanging sign that said "Boys" and she wanted to know if they had these in the men's department, and I told her I didn't know, and then I finally finished answering all the questions on the screen and fended off all her questions about the kids spandex underwear and then she she said, happily, "You've been approved!" and she informed me that I had just signed up for a brand new Target credit card and I told her that I didn't want a Target credit card, that I had just come to the store for four things, not FIVE things . . . a Target credit card was not on the list and she looked at me, perplexed, and I asked if I could cancel it and she said she didn't know how to do that, and I told her not to use this card on the purchase, that I didn't want to save the 5% and then I got on my high horse and told her she should be more clear about the fact that this Red Card was a credit card-- I was sternbut too confounded to really let her have it, although I was quite pissed off and felt I should have;

then I drove home to tell my wife the news, and I knew she wasn't going to be happy and she wasn't . . . she was like: I send you to the store for a few things and you come back with a new credit card, I don't want to worry about that!-- and then when I told this story at the beach, to my cousins and family, my mother pointed out that Target did a great job employing folks with special needs as cashiers, and I realized that this woman didn't have a Slovakian accent, she had a learning disability or a speech impediment, and she had preyed on me and probably gotten some kind of bonus because she signed up a customer for a credit card, and so though I'm annoyed that I've got to call Target in a few minutes and cancel this thing (it just came in the mail) at least I know in my heart that I helped out someone that needed a helping hand (inadvertently . . . and I did chastise her a bit) and I will never go inside a store again (except for looting, when this whole consumerist nightmare fall apart).

My SAT Scores Were Actually Quite Impressive (But There Were No Questions About Wasps)

A true sign of intelligence is learning from past mistakes . . . for example, when I was eight years old and my younger brother Marc was five, we threw rocks at a wasp nest until we struck it, causing an angry swarm of wasps to emerge-- and though my advanced years didn't make me much smarter than my younger brother, I was faster than him, and so he got stung multiple times while I suffered no stings . . . yesterday, when I was forty-seven years old, I was playing tennis with my kids (ages 12 and 13) at the fabulously soft and wonderful courts at East Brunswick High School-- the surface is some kind of padded rubberized acrylic-- and Alex yanked a cross-court backhand and it hit off the scoring tube-- the plastic contraption attached to the net pole that holds a tennis ball for keeping track of games-- and Ian was at the net, near the tube, and he suddenly ran from that spot, swatting with his racket, and when we asked him what was wrong, he claimed that a big wasp came out of a hole in the tube-- so I went over to investigate, and my kids --trusting their dad-- came to see what was up as well, and Ian was right, there was a wasp and it was just sitting there now, on the plastic tube, taunting me with it's venomous belligerence, and so I took my racket, turned it sideways, and decided I would smush the wasp, which had no place on a tennis court-- net play is hard enough-- and just as I struck at the wasp, I noticed that there were several wasps inside the hole, but it was too late-- my smushing stroke was already in motion-- and as I hit the tube, I yelled to my children "RUN!" and a swarm of twenty wasps erupted from various holes in the scoring tube, formed a swirling, buzzing cyclone around the tube, and then splintered off in search of the attackers-- my kids listened to me for once, and they outran the few wasps that flew in their direction, but most of the wasps homed in on me: the most obvious threat to the nest-- so I backpedaled, gracelessly, while simultaneously swinging my racket, and I managed to fend them off . . . by this time my kids had run five courts over, out of range of the angry insects, who then retreated back to their scoring tube/nest so they could terrorize net players on another day (FYI: they live in the tube on the farthest court from the parking lot) and when I joined my kids on the far court, opposite the nest, I told them the story of when Uncle Marc and I threw rocks at the wasp nest in the Poconos and we hit it and ran and Uncle Marc got stung and they said, "Dad, that was when you were a kid . . . you're forty-seven now, haven't you learned anything?"

The Test 93: That Girl is Poison (Ivy)

This week on The Test, Stacey presents something linear, traditional, and very important: a review of poisonous (and venomous) things that can kill you, maim you, and -- worst of all-- make you itchy and uncomfortable . . . as a bonus, Cunningham has an encounter with a mysterious man sporting thick chest hair.

You Had to Be There (Not That You'd Want To)

Mark Bowden's new book Hue 1968: A Turning Point of the American War in Vietnam recounts the Tet Offensive, the capture of the ancient provincial capital city of Hue by the North Vietnamese, and the ensuing epic 24 day battle waged by the Marines and the ARVN to recapture the city . . . the book is over 500 pages and a monumental day-by-day account of the heroism, atrocities, propaganda, misinformation, strategy, blunders, civilian casualties, destruction of ancient wonders, Communist purges, political failures, and-- amidst great effort and honor-- the futility of top-down command in warfare . . . Bowden interviewed scores of people from both sides, so while he focuses on American perspectives and tells the stories of many, many Marines and reporters who were at Hue and witnessed the bloodiest battle in the war, he also recounts civilian and North Vietnamese perspectives of the tragic month; the sum total of this grueling depiction is the ultimate expression of "I support the troops but not the war," although at times it's even hard to support the troops, who often busy themselves shooting dogs and civilians, prying gold fillings from the teeth of the dead, and committing other acts that could only occur in the moral vacuum of a chaotic, street-to-street, house-to-house plodding assault, where young men watched their friends get shot in the streets, tried to retrieve the wounded, were consequently shot and on and on-- the book graphically describes the many many deaths and injuries-- the Marines were used as fodder and many are still angry about this, none of the people higher up the chain understood the amount of NVA in the Citadel, nor how well entrenched they were, or that their supply chains were intact . . . they didn't understand how well-trained the NVA soldiers were, the generals thought they could be brushed aside with little collateral damage, they didn't understand that the spider-holes, trenches, towers, turrets, snipers, and occupation of the city created a maze of interlocking fire that just devastated our troops, nor did the people calling the shots understand the North Vietnamese strategy, which was simply to hold onto the city as long as possible, cause as many casualties as possible, and-- though the NVA knew they would eventually lose the battle-- they would win the war, because the American people and media (including Walter Cronkite) would finally realize that it wasn't worth the effort . . . so while the Marines heroically took back the Citadel, the generals (Gen. Westmoreland specifically) didn't realize that the death toll, the destruction of the city and its historical wonders, and the civilian casualties would drive Lyndon Johnson to bow out of the presidential race, and completely change the strategy in Vietnam . . . while the capture of Hue did not foment a fervent Communist uprising, and-- in fact-- many of the people in Hue (an educated, upper-middle class city) tried to stay out of the war and not choose sides at all, many of these people, the ones not killed by the initial battle, were killed by the Communists in purges . . . it was horrible and ugly on both sides, the genetically engineered IR8 rice didn't do the trick, nor did the Hanoi government, and while the war would slog on for several more years, as we tried to "seek honorable peace," the lessons were obvious and while we have gotten mired in places we don't belong, we at least know now that we have to "win hearts and minds" in order to achieve any kind of lasting success in a foreign proxy war (not that we're immune to this sort of thing, despite what we learned, we still managed to concoct Abu Ghraib . . . but that's still a far cry from the treatment of the civilian "gooks" in Vietnam, there was very little thought of collateral damage by the soldiers and the generals, despite the fact that we weren't fighting a war against Vietnam, we were supposedly fighting a war for the Vietnamese people . . . what a fucking mess, read the book).

These Guys Beat Clubber Lang?

We took a midday break from the beach last week and watched Dodgeball-- my kids thought it was a laugh-riot, though I'm not sure they picked up on all the satirical homo-erotic imagery and double entendres-- then on Friday night we caught the last hour of Rocky III and they had no problem recognizing that there was something weird going on between Rocky and Apollo and it was not satirical, this weirdness first becomes apparent when the two of them run down the beach, Apollo wearing a cut-off tank top and the shortest short shorts imaginable, Rocky sleek, buff, oiled, and oddly contemplative -- he is afraid of his feelings-- the montage finally climaxes (after many compressed training sequences to inspirational music) when Rocky triumphantly beats Apollo in a footrace and the two men dance and hug and splash in the water, giggling and laughing like schoolgirls . . . I feel bad for Adrian in these scenes, she's a real third wheel, and she's got to be wondering if this is the same man who screamed her name over and over in the frenzy after he first won the title.

This Post Is Not Beethoven's Ninth Symphny

A couple weeks ago, I brought a stack of books home from the library and told my kids to choose one and start reading . . . Ian chose I Am Legend and really enjoyed it (and then we watched the movie and he was disappointed with the ending, but didn't care for my version either) and Alex started on Kurt Vonnegut's Galapagos but didn't love it and ended up reading A Prayer For Owen Meany-- which he has declared one of his favorite books ever-- and I ended up re-reading Vonnegut's Galapagos, which I will readily admit isn't one of his best, as it's a bit repetitive and probably has too many characters, not all of whom are discernible, but since I first read it-- as a high school kid back in 1986-- I've visited the Galapagos Islands and so the second time around, the book was much more vivid-- I had been to the places and seen the things he was describing and though it was published thirty years ago, the themes are oddly prescient-- there's convenient anthropomorphized AI, the fear of automation, a rapidly deteriorating environment, a fatalistic malaise about this rapidly deteriorating environment, and a general ambivalence for the big brains of humanity, which are capable of so much wonder and innovation, and also so much damage and devastation . . . but don't worry, because in the end, there is a tragically comforting thing that can be said about the demise of nearly each and every one of us, myself included: "Don't worry about it . . . he wasn't going to write Beethoven's Ninth Symphony anyway."

Dave Uses Data!

While I understand I'm not breaking any new ground here, technologically speaking, this post is a big deal for Dave, as it's the first time I have ever written and posted from my phone-- and not only that, it's the first time I'm using data, as the wifi in the beach house is down and I have 2.5 Gb to burn on my fancy new Cricket family plan (but I still recommend Ting if you're looking for something dirt cheap) and so I apologize for the lack of literary panache as I can barely read what I'm writing; anyway, I'll wrap up the happenings at Sea Isle so I can get back down to the beach:

1) my dad had to drive my mom home this morning because she came down with the flu last night;

2) Tim toppled over a chair at a packed Italian restaurant;

3) Keith and Matt made a fantastic Kahoot quiz about our families, and I was on the winning team-- Geoff has a mind like a steel trap;

4) the girls working at Steve's Grill Cheese all have similar European accents, so I asked the pale redhead at the counter where she was from and she had the audacity to make me guess . . . I tried Sweden, Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary, etc but no luck-- she's from Slovakia on a student exchange program and last summer she was in Wisconsin but she said it was too hot and humid there and prefers the Jersey shore;

5) Matt made an astounding 25 minute Sea Isle retrospective video, with lots of Go Pro footage of skimboarding, swimming, biking, and cornhole and a nostalgic and touching montage of twenty years of photos-- by the end there wasn't a dry eye in the house;

6) Marc, Ian and I played tennis in the heat and Marc hurt his knee;

7) Alex achieved his goal . . . he went surfing on his own three times, and stood up and rode three waves each time, but he's eithet going to have to gain weight or invest in a wetsuit, to prevent hypothermia.

One For When We Are Old

Everyone is still sleeping soundly this morning, after an epic beach day yesterday; here's a quick outline of the events, for posterity and to remind us when we are old how much you can do in a day when you still have the vim and vigor of youth;

1) 8 AM tennis on the clay courts; the participants were Alex, Ian, me, my brother, and our fourteen year old cousin Jack . . . my brother ran into the fence chasing a cross-court forehand and also slipped on a wet spot reaching for a deep backhand-- by the end of the match, he was coated with clay;

2) half-court basketball . . . same crew as tennis, rotating two-on-two games; as much as possible, we tried to avoid having Alex and Ian cover each other to prevent a trip to the emergency room;

3) meanwhile, Catherine did some kind of 90 minute run/work-out on the beach;

4) then the beach activity was punctuated by some sad news, our cousin-in-law Kim had to make a hasty departure after finding out that her mom passed away . . . though her mom had some health issues, she was due to come down to the beach today, so an unexpected and tragic event . . . Kim went from planning a para-sailing adventure with the ladies to racing off to her brother's place to plan arrangements (and Kim is no stranger to tragedy . . . she was married to my first cousin Bob-- who would have been the same age as me-- but he died several years ago of a heart attack)

5) after a melancholy send-off, we headed to the beach and fortified ourselves against the vagaries of life and death with some corn-hole . . . Keith and I reigned supreme for many many games in a row and retired undefeated, and Keith was pronounced the most improved player;

6) Alex took his surfboard out an unprecedented distance, to a break over a sandbar; Catherine was shitting herself, but I thought he looked great, and there were some other surfers out there to keep him company . . . he got up three times and got some serious experience paddling, setting himself up, and learning not to get sucked out into the Gulf Stream . . . the combination of basketball, tennis, corn-hole and surfing knocked him out cold, he fell asleep in a chair for an hour (he claimed he fell asleep because he was so bored watching Keith and I win at corn-hole)

6) swimming, boogie-boarding, beer, napping, cheesesteaks on the beach, etcetera (Catherine biked to get the cheesesteaks, on her way back, the bag broke and her Snapple smashed on the sidewalk, so she had to clean up all the glass);

7) Alex, Ian, and Jack skateboarded down the path to get food;

8) the tide rose higher than ever, creating a channel of water on the flat shelf of sand that usually stays dry, and this channel formed a thin river that made its way back down the beach right in front of our spot (which was carefully designed by Nick, and quite impressive-- an enormous oval with corn-hole in the center, stadium-like . . . I'm starting to warm to his strategy) so despite how tired everyone was, we all got our skimboards out and Alex, Jack, and Tim had great success skimming along the channel and then turning and heading down the slope into the waves . . . I was a little too slow and too heavy to make it all the way down, but it was still great fun to ride along this weird tidal river into a thin channel of running water and the youngsters were all doing amazing stuff, riding up the waves, spinning in circles, zooming all the way across the beach . . . quite an end to a long day;

9) I missed a few beach injuries . . . Tracy fell and broke her toe at LeCompt, Eileen bruised herself badly falling over a corn-hole target; Nick got bitten on the ankle by some sea creature and it swelled up so badly he had to go to the emergency room and get meds, and Luke had a stomach illness . . . not to mention my dad just had a pacemaker put in last Friday and probably shouldn't be going back and forth in the heat, but everyone seems to be fine now, eating and drinking away, though I'm hoping we take it a bit easier today.

The Jersey Shore and Asia . . . So Many Borders, So Much Insanity

Placing your chairs, umbrellas, and ocean sporting equipment on the beach in July in New Jersey is a bit like setting up for RISK:The Game of Global Domination . . . you've really got to strategize in order to claim maximum space and secure your borders; this week we are down the beach with a group of nearly thirty folks, cousins and such, and they sleep late and rarely get to the beach before noon, so it is often up to me to claim a spot on the beach . . . my preferred strategy is to scatter shit all over the place, willy-nilly, everything facing a different direction, so it looks as if a disorganized and chaotic band of gypsies occupied the area, and perhaps seventy or eighty more people are due to show up; I'm also definitely not afraid to encroach on other encampments-- especially if it's a couple of stray unoccupied chairs-- because a small group is more willing to move, with the slightest motivation, whether it's the oncoming tide or a large and loud group of mainly hirsute Italians from central Jersey; also, I like to set up a personal umbrella and chair as close to the water as possible and as far from the main group as possible (while still maintaining a thin connection to the mainland, so not Hawaii, more like Cape Cod) and this is so that I can read in peace . . . yesterday morning, was typical: my family got out to the beach first, and I started a ragged and crazy line of chairs, zig-zagging everywhere, put the cart behind them, chucked some boogie boards and skim boards to the side, taking up lots of land and looking higgledy-piggledy and impossible to fathom, and then a few cousins showed up-- one of whom remarked on the horrible organization of the chairs-- and my family left the beach and walked to LouDogs and when we got back and I sat down in my chair, under my umbrella, things looked and felt different . . . I was hotter for one, the sand seemed drier, and the chairs were in a lovely symmetrical oval and though I was on the far edge, I wasn't as close to the water or the people in front of us as I was before . . . I assumed I was going crazy from the heat, read for a bit (Hue 1968 . . . the perfect mindset for this sort of conflict) and then I decided that something really had changed, something had been moved without my go-ahead, so I walked down to where the twenty-something year old cousins were chatting by the water and asked if anyone had moved the chairs and Nick-- the nicest guy you'll ever meet-- made the mistake of admitting he had moved several umbrellas and chairs and arranged everything into a neat and organized socially functional oval, so everyone was included in the group and everyone could see everyone else and chat and so that outside people could discern where we were sitting and put their own chairs down accordingly . . . it was all very civilized and though he had the best intentions, I reamed him out anyway, told him never to touch my chair again, explained the RISK mentality and how my umbrella outpost was designed to intimidate and amass territory, reiterated the importance of protecting and bolstering one's borders, and gave him a quick lecture on guerrilla beach apparatus fortification and entrenchment . . . and then I went back to the house and took a nap and when I returned, I had to take it all back . . . I misjudged high-tide, and the center of our zone was completely flooded out, my original position was lost to the ocean, and the spot where Nick moved my chair and umbrella was perfect, a little dry island amidst the water and wet sand, there was even a tide-pool behind the spot . . . so I complimented him for his effort and told him I was pleased that we now occupied a large swath of prime oceanfront sand, my chair and umbrella in the optimum position, and that I was especially pleased that the crew that was once in front of us, blasting "hot" country, had been washed away.

Who Do You Root For?

After my favorite morning sequence at Sea Isle: a 6 AM minimalist run on the beach-- barefoot, hat, sunglasses, shorts, spandex-- and then a swim in the ocean (I strip down to just my spandex, usually there is no one out on the beach except scattered fishermen, but this morning a woman happened to be walking by right when I stripped off my shorts, resulting in her suffering beach injuries #3 and #4 . . . her eyes will never recover from the images of me in the bright morning light, my thick hairy body stuffed in a pair of spandex) and then I take an outdoor shower . . . and while I was in the shower this morning, I felt a bump on my back . . . a greenhead fly-- apparently undaunted by my hairy spandex clad body--  had bitten me after I swam, while I was walking back up the beach to our house, and then when I got out of the outdoor shower, I noticed a furious struggle near the upper corner of the stall; another greenhead fly was trapped in a spider web and the spider was trying to dispatch it with its venomous bite, zipping over and attacking the fly, then running back up the web because the fly was a good deal bigger than the spider and this happened over and over and while I don't love spiders-- they freak me out a little bit, especially when I stare into their seventeen eyes-- in this instance I was all for the eight-legger, and I couldn't look away from this miniature yet gruesome spectacle-- I wan ted to see the conclusion and I wanted that fly to die a slow death, encased in a silk web, its juices slowly sucked from its body-- because in the hierarchy of creepy-crawlies, nothing is lower than a greenhead fly; unfortunately, this wasn't a feel-good nature documentary . . . the fly escaped, and while it was stunned, I tried to smash it with a stick so I could fling it back into the web, but I only injured it and it flew off to lick its wounds and bite some other poor soul's back.

The End of an Era?

It's that time again . . . yet another trip to Sea Isle, and yet another LeCompt show . . . but this one was a more significant than usual, as we learned that this is the last summer for the Springfield Inn-- the owners are tearing it down and redeveloping the property . . . so one of the dingiest dive bars on the Jersey shore will be no more, and who knows if LeCompt will play in Sea Isle next summer; last night's show featured the original drummer-- who is a show unto himself-- and the band played loads of Who songs to showcase his talents (they also played a fantastically rocking version of Fleetwood Mac's "Go Your Own Way") and Mike hawked some horribly ugly commemorative LeCompt/Springfield long sleeved t-shirts . . . despite my misgivings, Catherine bought one, which she is going to wear to our last LeCompt outing at the Springfield, which will happen on a Sunday in late August . . . if anyone can make it to the beach for that Sunday night show (August 20th) they are welcome to crash at our place, it should be a fun time and the last time we'll ever see LeCompt perform within the low-ceilinged confines of the oval Springfield bar, the gang wailing away a few feet from the liquor bottles, Mike's hat scraping the filthy ceiling tiles.

Beach Injury #2

If you feel the need to sneak up on me, whether to knife me in the abdomen because I owe you money or to sting my leg (presupposing you are a greenhead fly) then I suggest you do the sneaking up on my left side (because I can't swivel my head fluidly to the left, I hurt my neck while running on the beach, or during doubles tennis, or swimming in the ocean or -- most likely-- sleeping on a soft and sloping beach house mattress).

Chacos: Pros and Cons

The pros for Chacos sandals are numerous: they are simple, elegant, comfortable and nearly indestructible-- made with proprietary a lightweight rubber and polyurethane combination that is both stiff and resilient;

there is only one con . . . if you graze your wife's toe with the nearly indestructible stiff and resilient proprietary rubber and polyurethane sole of your Chaco sandal, you'll rip her toenail out, causing her great pain and suffering and you no end of grief.

Parallel Humorous Spare Tires

I watched The Jerk with the kids yesterday and it really holds up; Pig Eye Jackson the cat juggler, Navin grabbing a second dog to obscure his naked figure, the defective cans, and -- of course-- the opening . . . "I was born a poor black child" . . . these scenes all made my kids laugh just as hard as I did some thirty-odd years ago . . . and here's a fun fact that I noticed for the first time: the original house down in Mississippi has a spare tire on the roof-- for no reason that I could surmise other than it's funny-- and the larger version (bought with Navin's dad's canny stock investments) also has a spare tire on the roof, in the same spot . . . perhaps the filmmakers put it there to help convey the size and splendor of the newly improved shack.

Keynes vs Friedman . . . with Madrick as Referee

Jeff Madrick's book Seven Bad Ideas: How Mainstream Economists Have Damaged America and the World pits Keynesian economics-- the idea that markets can be extremely erratic and inefficient, especially in times of recession and/or economic chaos, and so active and aggressive financial policy decisions are essential and important-- against the ideas of Milton Friedman (and what those ideas have evolved into . . . a moralistic narrow-minded worship of the beauty and unerring accuracy of the Invisible Hand, free markets, and EMT) and while Madrick keeps it fairly intellectual-- this is not an easy read and certainly not a polemic, it's a point-by-point academic debunking and dismissal of much of what mainstream economists pass for fact (if you want something in this vein that is a little more entertaining, I recommend the writing of Ha Joon Chang) and while you might get bogged down in the chapters about Say's Law and the mathematics of inflation, it's still easy enough to read between the lines and realize how much economic conservatives-- and this includes Bill Clinton-- have fucked things up, by thinking that the abstract elegance of the Invisible Hand means that the axiom (mentioned once by Adam Smith) is the absolute be-all-end all in economics, some universal truth like the Golden Rule (and we all know that Golden Rule has a loophole-- which is analogous to economics because it deals with irrationality-- you should do unto others as you would have done unto you . . . unless you love a good knife fight . . . if you love a good knife fight and wake up each morning hoping, praying to get into a knife fight, for no reason at all other than you love violence and blood and honing your boot knife and so-- since you love knife fighting-- you do this unto others that you meet, assuming they would love a good knife fight as well, most people would say that's a flaw in the Golden Rule and you're totally irrational . . . it's the same with economics: it would be lovely if markets and people within them were totally rational and all wanted the same thing and had the same information and motivation, but that's not how it works, people move in herds, they panic, they operate without perfect information, in markets that aren't large enough to be statistically accurate, etcetera, etcetera) and the important thing to remember is that economics is NOT math and it has a moral component . . . it has a real effect on people's lives and there are no commandments from on high-- even if they're from the IMF-- that are universally right . . . you'll need to read the book to get the fine points but near the end Madrick summarizes things:

"Economies of scale, the growth of trade, the availability of natural resources, educational attainment, the quality of financial institutions, military spending, the rise of wages, the establishment of unions, welfare programs, the optimism of a people, varieties of attitudes toward materialism, the sense of community, marriage and families, the broadening of freedom-- these are major factors contributing to growth and it is hard to separate one from another . . . there are no adequate universal theories of growth because the nature of growth on a country-by-country basis and over time is too individual and involves too many factors . .  this does not stop economists from insisting on a scientific-like one-note explanation of growth"

and so those who propose orthodox supply-side EMT free market economics in the face of every problem-- whether it be a moral, philosophical, sociological, or psychological-- are "profoundly responsible" for what has happened to the American economy and need to realize that these simplistic models are only hypothetical, and have very little empirical factuality . . . this is a must read for politicians and free market advocates, and if our leaders and legislators could be a little more open-minded and creative about economic policy and reform (this can happen, even in the face of lobbyists . . . New Jersey just completely reformed it's corrupt bail system) and realize that markets occasionally work but they are not some universal truth inscribed on a tablet, they are just another economic game with rules and regulations and consequences and incentives, and just like any game, the rules can be massaged and adjusted and outright changed to allow fairer play and better results for all participants and other outcomes . . . football did it with the forward pass (and then pass interference and quarterback protection rules etc. and look at all the scoring) and basketball introduced the three-pointer so that little guys like Stephen Curry could profit as well as big men . . . economics can adapt the same mentality, if people can get beyond this universal acceptance of orthodoxy . . . it ain't religion, it's money.

Kids and Sports . . . Highs, Lows and Digressive In-Betweens

This was supposed to be yesterday's sentence but after coaching soccer in extreme heat and humidity last night, my brain melted out of my head . . . so here it is, better late than never: my younger son Ian and I have been playing a lot of tennis lately-- all spring and summer-- and to make sure I taught him everything correctly, we watched a lot of YouTube videos on proper technique; this helped both of our games, and we've been improving in lockstep, hitting and serving better and better-- and my older son Alex comes out and plays occasionally, and he's quite good but just didn't practice enough to keep up with Ian (who was has been near obsessed with it) and both boys and their friend have been attending tennis camp this week, it's run by Ed Ransom, a trainer of some repute around here, and he took one look at Ian and moved him into the highest group and when my wife picked up the kids he asked her who Ian's private instructor was and said he was really talented and my wife told him that Ian's private instructor was his dad (Dad of the Year! this is a high point in the story . . . I was so proud that I had taught Ian to play tennis correctly) and for the next few days, Ian was the talk of the camp-- I was getting texts from other parents about how Ed had talked to them about this young phenom and it turned out to be Ian-- when I took my turn picking up the kids on Wednesday, Ed told me that Ian really had a talent and it needed to be "cultivated" and I told him we played all the time-- I was cultivating the hell out of it-- but he was also a soccer star and a pretty good basketball player and Ed frowned and said that Ian was going to have to choose and that he couldn't play everything or his talent would be "diluted" and I scoffed at this because I'm a big proponent of playing different sports in different seasons-- you make new friends, develop new skills, and don't burn out-- and so we went home and the kids rested, it was insanely hot, and then we headed to the high school gym (no A/C) for our summer basketball league, I help coach with my friend John-- a great basketball player-- and both boys play; tonight was supposed to be just seventh and eighth graders playing, but the other team had two ninth graders, so we matched them with two of ours, which made for a wide variety of body types on the court . . . Ian is heading into seventh grade and weighs 80 pounds and he stepped in front of a pass and grabbed it from a two hundred pound ninth grader-- a giant flabby kid who could play hoops but hadn't grown into his body yet-- and the kid toppled over on Ian, landing on Ian's ankle and knee and Ian's leg bent backwards and I thought something was broken (this happened to another one of our players in the winter and he was in a cast for a couple of months) and Ian was crying and clutching his leg and I had to carry him off the court to the bench and while nothing was broken, he had hyperextended his knee and couldn't walk and I had to carry him to the car after the game and now I had a stomachache and Ed Ransom's words were ringing in my ears-- this was crazy to try to play every sport . . . maybe Ian needed to focus, though he just turned twelve and hadn't hit puberty yet-- and maybe coaching soccer and basketball, and also trying to train tennis was making me crazy as well . . . but the boys finished watching Unbreakable and then went to bed and some of David Dunn must have rubbed off on Ian, because he woke up the next morning and though his knee was a little sore, he was fine, a rubber band, and he went off to tennis camp with barely a limp, which got me a little choked up, because sports stories where the scrappy little underdog prevails always do (I was crying like a baby the other day at the end of the Netflix series GLOW, if you haven't seen it, it's a wonderful show . . . empowering and athletic and funny and moving-- the total opposite of The Handmaid's Tale, which is just brutal) and I'm not sure what the future will bring, maybe some private lessons for Ian-- but he definitely wants to pursue some serious tennis instruction . . . or maybe I'll just keep watching videos and cultivate him . . . and we also have my brother as a resource-- he played tennis in college and he's still quite good . . . he hit with Ian last Sunday and he was really impressed, and though he only mentioned it once, I think he was impressed with the improvement in my game as well . . . so this is a double underdog story, because while I was a serviceable tennis player, I'm not an expert, but I think I can figure it out . . . anyway, I'm hoping to get Alex out with Ian a lot more, we've got courts right by our house and if the two of them start really playing together, they could end up like Serena and Venus, and I'm also still hoping that they can prove Ed Ransom wrong, and excel at several sports because while tennis is awesome, it's a lonely game, and doesn't compare to the fun and drama of soccer, basketball, and professional wrestling.

Something to Look Forward To

The right to free speech contains its inverse-- inside of itself-- and so it will eventually collapse, like a black hole, sucking in everything good and just and logical, destroying that information and spewing it out the other end, scrambled and worthless.

The Test 92: Letters of Recommendation?

This week on The Test, Cunningham winds us up and lets us go . . . see if you can keep up; as a bonus, Dave hashes out some immigration policy, Cunningham begins with a bang, and Stacey suggest something filthy.

Nerds Unite!

I drove down the block this morning to toss the cardboard into the recycling bin, and a number of folks-- mainly Asian-- were sitting on the corner, phones in hand, staring up the giant hill, and so after I tossed my cardboard over the fence into the bin (the gate is never open) I asked them if something exciting was about to happen; I assumed someone was going to longboard down the giant hill and do a trick, as I had seen skaters doing this from time to time, but an Asian girl said, "Yes, but on our phones" and she explained that a rare Pokemon had shown up in this location, but it was going to take a large number of people to "take it down" and as she told me this another person drove up and got out of his car, and then I took off, so I don't know if they got enough people or not, but if you see a random group of nerds, waiting around anxiously, they're probably not waiting for a partial eclipse or birdwatching, they are most likely assembling in reality to defeat something virtual.

The Victorian Age: Unbuttoned and Muddy

On nearly every page of The Essex Serpent, a dense and lengthy novel by Sarah Perry, ideas clash-- but in the civilized manner of the late-Victorian age, in fact, much of the weightiest discourse takes place by letter; science and faith; myth and reality; love and friendship; the monstrous and the absurd; city life and country living; politics and society; feminism and the male hegemony; poverty and wealth; sickness and vitality; medicine and quackery; etcetera, etcetera . . . and all this juxtaposition is couched in the language of the time period, so it's not exactly a beach read, but the prose is beautiful and gothic, and picks up in pace later in the story . . . many of the events are based on real happenings of the the time, and Perry lays her sources bare at the end; this book will change your view of the 1880s (if you had one) as it paints a picture of a world just on the edge of modernity, one boot in the 20th century and the other pulling out of the sucking mud of antiquity.

I Drink Your Milkshake!

If the world were a fairer place, when you beat someone younger than you at tennis (or in a fistfight or armwrestling or any other one-on-one physical challenge) then you would swap ages with them . . . you'd suck up all their youthful energies and become instantly younger and they would assume the burden of your years and become instantly older (and we're talking about consenting adults here-- no chucking an infant out on the court and whacking balls at them).

Ham-handed Dilemma (in Honor of Alec)

Is it wrong to pretend to be friends with someone solely because he smokes (and distributes) his own bacon?

It's Summer! Make Your Kids Watch Movies!

My kids and I don't watch much TV during the school year, but now that it's summer, we are making up for lost time-- and I'm very lucky to have two excellent (and captive) movie watchers . . . one of the great joys of fatherhood is forcing my kids to watch films that I want to see; and the rule is, if you don't want to watch what dad has chosen, then go read a fucking book . . . here's a few of the things we've watched lately:

1) Song of the Sea . . . 2D and proud of it, a little slow, but visually stunning;

2) American Werewolf in London . . . best pub scene ever at The Slaughtered Lamb, a lot of awkward seventies nudity, and if they had just listened and stayed off the moors . . . a great movie and streams for free on Amazon Prime;

3) Caddyshack . . . still holds up and my kids loved it as both a comedy and a sports movie-- the dialogue is a lot weirder than you remember, especially Chevy Chase's seventies mystical guru bullshit . . . Bill Murray is often incomprehensible, and may have been drunk/stoned during production;

4) Goodfellas . . . this is one of my favorites and the kids really appreciated the dialogue and the lesson . . . Alex said in school they told him not to do drugs, but he though a better approach would have been to simply show the last twenty minutes of Goodfellas, the deathly pale Ray Liotta having paranoid freak-outs while being chased by helicopters, and the class would have gotten it more clearly;

5) The Shawshank Redemption . . . Ian sat silently during the entire film and then at the end turned to me, astonished, and said, "That was a great movie!"

6) Saving Private Ryan . . . this one struck a chord with Ian as well, making him want to watch another war movie, and we realized you can stream this film on Amazon . . .

7) Apocalypse Now . . . I was really impressed that my kids dug this movie, it's long and trippy and slow at times-- although punctuated with some of the greatest scenes of violence and horror ever filmed-- I hadn't watched it in a long time and forgot how astounding it is-- you couldn't make a movie like that today: slightly plotless, surreal and psychedelic, chock full of stars, and tragically abject at the end . . . the boys were riveted, even during the interminably long and weird Kurtz portion . . . warning though, animals ARE harmed during the production of this movie, especially a water buffalo . . .

8) 30 Rock . . . we all love this show and it's a great thing to watch right after you finish Apocalypse Now, in order to wind down and not have nightmares;

9) Raising Arizona . . . kids loved this one as well, especially the fight between John Goodman and Nicholas Cage in the trailer home, and Randall "Tex" Cobb as Leonard Smalls;

10) Poltergeist . . . fairly scary, especially the clown, and very important for kids to see, so they understand jokes about building houses on top of ancient Indian burial grounds.


In the spirit of Independence Day, I cut the cord on our cable and home phone; we now only have Verizon FIOS internet-- they're sending us a prepaid shipping box so we can mail back the set-top cable receiver, so no more weird fees to "rent" that stupid thing (no taxation without representation!) and they are also sending us a new router . . . at first the lady on the phone wanted to charge me 84.99 a month for internet, but once I mentioned the opposing deal from Optimum, she "noticed" that if I signed up for two years, it would be 44.99 a month--- and that's it, no fees or anything-- I think I now need to get a digital antennae for local stations (apparently there are more than you think) and I'm a little hazy about the rest-- I'm still a Verizon customer, so I can login to ESPN3 and other channels-- and in place of the home-phone, I used Google Voice and got a Google Phone Number . . . yesterday I actually called my son and the computer in the kitchen "rang" and he answered the call . . . and he was able to reciprocate and call my cell from the computer with Google Voice . . . to celebrate the new digital revolution, we watched Apocalypse Now last night, it's streaming for free on Amazon if you have Prime.

The Test 91: Looking Through the Looking Glass (Menagerie)

Another brilliant and creative quiz from Stacey on this week's episode of The Test, but this time-- as I've always suspected-- she didn't think of the idea herself . . . you'll understand once you navigate the steep and thorny path through seven ethical dilemmas-- with an added layer of mental gymnastics-- plus, as a bonus, listen all the way until the end to hear us laugh and laugh at Cunningham's anguish.

Trump and Scott Pruitt Want to Contaminate Our Precious Bodily Fluids

If you're worried about the state of our nation, forget about the tweets and the faux-Time magazine covers and the Russia investigation and the posturing with North Korea . . . the Trump administration is dismantling the Waters of United States Rule, which extended the EPA's authority to regulate large bodies of water, such as the Chesapeake Bay and the waterways, streams, and wetlands that flow into these bodies of water . . . this is also called The Stream Protection Rule, and it fleshes out the laws that prevent mining companies from doing "material damage" to the waterways and streams, and it took many, many years to enact . . . fifteen, in fact; Scott Pruitt-- Trump's pro-coal nutjob EPA administrator-- just signed a proposal to rescind the rule, and return the power in these pollution issues back to the states, which makes no logical sense, because waterways do not observe state borders (nor can water be gerrymandered) and if you're upstream-- whether you're a farmer or a miner or work in some other industry-- then you can pollute away, and let the state downstream worry about it . . . and if we've learned anything from Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove, the best way to start World War III is to taint our fresh pure water, which we need to replenish our precious bodily fluids, so that we can engage in the physical act of love without a loss of essence.

Parallel Gluttony with a Dash of Surrealism

Friday, I got home from my four hour workshop on how to teach the Rutgers Composition class, ate some lunch and crawled into bed for a nap-- I was all tuckered out from Thursday night . . . we took a tour of the Cypress Brewery-- which involved much sampling of the wares-- then went to the pub (I dropped a dart on my foot and, unfortunately, I was wearing sandals, there was some blood) and then ate a bacon cheeseburger and some fries at White Rose . . . an epic evening for middle-aged men-- meanwhile, as I slept through the afternoon, my kids and their friend Tibby were out on the town, determined to spend their allowance; they walked all the way to White Rose for lunch-- which is quite a haul, especially in the heat-- and on the way they found a wallet in the street, and they looked inside and ascertained the address of the owner from her ID . . . she lived on the North Side, by the Middle School, and she also happened to be a little person (dwarf also seems to be okay when describing someone very short, but the "midget" is politically incorrect) and they decided they should return the wallet to the little lady, but first they would follow a rule of thumb very close to my heart: Eat first, then do a good deed . . . so they ate their burgers, then walked across town and delivered the wallet back to the little lady, who Ian described as very kind and thankful, but slightly witch-like, with a boil on her nose and some green cupcake batter on the side of her face . . . and she was so pleased with the return of her wallet that she gave the boys a twenty dollar reward, and they applied another commonly used heuristic to that situation: Found Money? Spend That Cheddar! and so the three of them went straight to Baskin Robbins and spent twenty dollars on ice cream (they ordered elaborate sundaes that sounded more like bowls of candy with a dollop of ice cream tossed in for good measure) and then, to finish the adventure, they went to the comic book store . . . so a gluttonous twenty-four hour cycle for all the males in my household, but while I needed a nap to recover, Alex and Ian said they had no ill effects from throwing a shit-ton of ice cream and candy on top of a greasy burger and fries . . . the joys of youth.
A New Sentence Every Day, Hand Crafted from the Finest Corinthian Leather.