Thursday, December 29, 2005

You Didn't? You Did? (And Why am I Smiling?)

It seems to me that one of the useful things about ritual is the degree to which we are aware it is devoid of content.

(I have never understood what's so bad about the idea of "running on empty." Now stopping on empty -- that's different. But running on empty is a consumation devoutly to be wished. Right. Right? Unless you don't think so.)

Nothing seals our indifference to the thing ritualized more than understanding the empty motions of the ritual even as we enact it. That's why I suppose New Year's resolutions are so popular. No one makes the mistake of thinking we mean them. New Year's resolutions are a joke at the expense of a genuine belief in the possibility of change, so of course I make them. I make them ironically since my friends will understand them ironically no matter how I intend them.

Having said that and maybe I have should have led up to this in a different way, I feel like making a more or less serious resolution. I would obviously prefer not to make it at the present time, but it is the circumstance of the holiday season that causes it to arise in my thoughts so finally whateryagonna do: Wait for warm weather? I mean really no one will take me any more seriously then actually which I'm glad you mentioned not so much mentioned but looked at me, well, knowingly, so I will make the resolution now.

How did I ever get started on this? (I know what it means when you look away.)

Oh, I'm just making small talk.

That's my resolution by the way, to pay closer attention to people who make good small talk so that I can learn how to make better small talk. It's not just how I sometimes bore people that I want to learn how to remedy. It's that when I get intimidated by the failure of the small talking it makes me feel ....

Small.

I mean, when you start to agree with things you more or less don't believe in or disagree with things you more or less do believe in just because the conversation has started to veer, and you want to be one of those people who is able to move gracefully out of one conversation and into another but to feel that you will be welcome back in the original conversation later on.

Smooth, you know. Sequential.

And I mean smooth making small talk with people whose guts I hate -- one glance and I am ready to pound their heads though not you obviously. I want to be able to talk to loathsome strangers for periods of three-to-five minutes under the influence of one-to-three glasses of wine -- or vice versa -- in a spirit of hypocritical cordiality. I want to be able to listen with feigned interest and respond in ways so deftly ironic that the people who I want to get it get it and the people I don't want to get it are somewhat baffled but unaroused.

In short, I want to be able to talk about Brokeback Mountain in a way that is both crushingly ironic and wittily, even brittily, dismissive but also deeply sympathetic and evolved because it gets cold at night and look at the Greeks.

If you had just heard me say this, you would say, "That is some crappy small talk, mister."

So I guess I have my work cut out for me.

What do you think?

Really.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Woof! He Explained

The black dog has crept behind the house and fallen asleep, if I may borrow from Winston Churchill.

I mean I have been just a little depressed the last several weeks, and I am now discovering the damage was entirely self-inflicted. I had delayed grading the final exams and the final stories from my basic reporting class because the grades aren't due until January third, and I was so damn sure that these stories would be miserable, not in the essential sense of expressing the students' inherent mediocrity, for they are not that, but existentially mediocre by which I mean I was pretty certain I had failed to find the students where they were and move them forward.

My bad. My bad. Excrement does not fall far from the sphincter, as the acorn does not fall far from the tree.

But I have started grading, and the finals are pretty good, and the final stories are pretty good, too. Particularly for the final story, for what I call the big story, some of them figured out what I wanted them to do: That is, they talked to more than three people; they picked a topic that someone might give a damn about and they created knots on the reader's head by prompting, coaxing and facilitating those who serve as the story's source to explain and explain and explain again why the reader should give a damn.

And be skeptical about what the sources have to say, I said. And ask why. And please tell me who told you what unless you saw it or the whole world knows it already. And please put a sentence at or very near the top of the story that explains what the story is all about.

It's quite a lot to learn in a beginning reporting class into which most of the students have more or less wandered because when you are in college occasionally you do have to be somewhere of a more or less educational nature more's the pity.

I think I was pretty much hysterical near the end of the semester, threatening them with mad copy editors who would pretty much slash their story in half without reading it. I am, in short, teaching them to write the kind of stories that I didn't much like writing when I was a reporter and was vain enough to think that if my nut graf -- so despicable a term but widely used and therefore useful -- wasn't postponed until after the jump and if I didn't have at least one big flourish of style per one-sentence paragraph I was shortchanging my talent and my many fans.

So I dare them to be dull.

And I whisper to some of them, "For a good time, meet me later in feature writing," where thank god the gloves come off and we let the dog howl.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

And a Particular Christmas Blessing for Mrs. Santa's Sister

Three favorite Christmas movies now:

1) The Alistair Sim "A Christmas Carol" because Sim's face squirms with greed, then it squirms with fear, then it squirms with self-loathing, then it squirms with self-knowledge and then it squirms with pleasure and post-redemption shame. Grim Scrooges fail to convince post-redemption because they still seem too grim. Think George C. Scott. These stone Scrooges seem to have recovered from a case of indigestion. That don't have that sense of fluttery joy appropriate in a case of salvation from moral dessication. Sim is positively antic in his joy, a little bipolar even, the way they get when they forget their meds.

2) Jean Shepherd's "A Christmas Story," with the rasp of Darrin McGavin as the Old Man and the slightlier fruitier rasp of Jean Shepherd in the extensive voiceover. I love voiceover because I am not a person whose visual cortex is easily stimulated, and I would rather worry about what the words mean than what the pictures mean. "A Christmas Story" is word-work, a parable of probabilities. I mean when you get down to it Jesus probably isn't the Christ, and if you get a BB gun you probably won't shoot your eye out. Hmmm. That wasn't in the voiceover, so maybe my visual cortex is capable of stimulation after all.

3) But now a third favorite: "Bad Santa." What I like about Billy Bob Thornton in any role is that his physiognomy limits him to characters who are morally degenerate. Maybe they act on that degeneracy, maybe they fight ineffectually against it, maybe they have surpressed it for the moment. But they are bad people, and we better get used to it and figure out how that it figures in the plot. (The only exception to this is maybe "The Man Who Wasn't There," in which Thornton appears lobotomized, the only acting choice he had because anything more would have expressed some form of degeneracy, either active or about to pop.)

Anyway, Thornton is just wonderful as a criminal department store Santa, filthy in word and deed. (Wounded past? Sure. Who believes it? I mean, this is Billy Bob Thornton.)

Yes, he is redeemed at the very last minute because of Fat Blond Tiny Tim, who looks like an outtake from a Renaissance painting. But Thornton's redemption is expressed only in voiceover. That's rye-ut. We do not SEE the wiser and better man. We only hear him talk it up.

Because if we saw his face -- I mean, Thornton's mouth just hangs on the front of his face, as if his body is about to reject it -- we would know he was still a degenerate and Mrs. Santa's sister and Fat Blond Tiny Tim are in for it as soon as Thornton gets out of the hospital. (Shot down by the cops with a pink elephant in his outstretched hand because... But anyone who reads this blog has certainly seen the movie.)

Seeing Billy Bob Thornton's face struggling to express redemption would be a little heavy, even for a holiday movie. There's fantasy and there's fantasy.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Popcorn's Stairway to Heaven or in this case the sofa

Old Popcorn, she of the 20 winters and the 19.5 years, has been mentioned and even pictured in these dispatches before. The constraints of time reduce us to bullet points:

* ancient
* crippled
* addled
* incontinent

To which you then say Death Death Death to the old kitty, convenience trumping sentiment.

Well, to heck with you. I concede if we had a son or daughter he or she would be some kind of over-indulged crack-sodden player of Loud Music, and we would deserve our long walk through the Valley of Pain. My God what fools these parents be.

But I digress.

Point is that stretching out this old cat's life is self-indulgent and over-indulgent, but it does not reach outside our household and mar the big world. We aren't breeding a Hitler here or a George Bush either.

But I digress.

What I am getting at is that since the poor crippled old cat can't jump up on the sofa anymore -- and even though she might die any minute and I waste valuable seconds to prod her even as I write -- I have just ordered her what they call Doggy Stairs, the three-step version, which are about a foot high and may or may not help her get on the sofa. Right now she staggers around the room with a perceptible list until I pick her up and put her on the sofa. Is this not an affront to her dignity?

Well, no. Return to the bullet points. She has got about as much dignity as Gerald Ford.

But I digress.

I ordered the Doggy Stairs rather than the Kitty Stairs because there is apparently a premium for ordering what seem to be the same stairs if you order them under the rubric of Kitty Stairs. This is like dry cleaners charging more for women's clothes and so on and so on.

Also, I ordered them through a website that says they only look at the orders once a week or so -- I kid you not -- so we are in a kind of race with death here. A more loving cat owner would have ordered the Kitty Stairs, delivery guaranteed by Christmas Day.

I'm stuck here for a kicker, but my 15 minutes are up.

I suppose I could say

but I digress.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Tick Tock

I am on the clock. Ten minutes to write and then five to edit.

One of the things that has always embarrassed me about my blog is all the names I have run through, in the spirit of the garage band. It's not the music. It's the name. (Time for a joke: I have changed the name of this blog more often than Gerald Ford changes his Depends.)

This latest renaming is shall we say eponymous?

I will now be the 15 minute man. I will do the thing the name promises.

I just checked the Polder Digitial Clock Timer. Four minutes to go until editing!

Anywho, my Lady Wife and I just celebrated our 40th. In fact, we didn't celebrate it. We *noted* it by spending a weekend in San Francisco, a journey of about 30 minutes. Afterwards, I did not so much mention as was overheard saying that we were at 4-0 and a friend decided there should be an event. Using his own personal and eccentric list of those he considered our friends -- a list from which he had eliminated all those with whom he had recently had loud and bitter fights and these were quite a few -- he got about 15 people around a big square table at a Chinese restaurant in Berkeley.

And among those 15 people were some we hadn't seen in years since, as I said, it was his own personal and eccentric list.

I liked it. There was a free meal involved, plus some gifts. But Eydie and I were...uncertain. Should being married that long be a cause for public celebration?

Ah, the chime sounds and it's time to edit. Let me make my point bald and simple. Simply being married for 40 years is not in itself a cause for acclaim. We have friends who have been through many happy divorces and are happy in their current relationship, which is merely the last of many. We know one or two long-married couples that could use some divorcing. Or so it seems to us.

Personally, I think we should keep the celebrating to ourselves, since we are the only ones with any sense of whether or not it should be a celebration.

Oh, I'm almost over the limit. Time to edit and to link to the party pictures. Which is okay for me to do. Anyone who reads this far must be at least mildly curious and the pictures themselves are...

...mildly curious.

Wordplay, my friends, wordplay, though I don't have time to look up the exact rhetorical technique.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Why Should You Not Share My Joy?

I am always modest about my successes in this papier mache rite of male passage.


And here are the banquet pictures. One or two aspects may require explanation, a quality shared with all the great coming of age myths and tales of redemption, so I'll not bother.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Vain Bastard

Of course, I know better than to open attachments from someone you don't know, but the following seems designed to hook preening profs. But it looks as if my virus protection saved me. Because I did try to unzip.

Close one.


Hello,

We have been thinking of including you in the new campus magazine in an article headed "Campus Life". Can you approve the photo and article for us before we go to printing please.

If any details are wrong then we can amend before printing on Friday the 28th of October so please get back to us as soon as possible.


Many Thanks & Best Regards,
J Chuang
Editor

*******************************************************************************
Please respond before Wednesday to ensure we have time to edit!
********************************************************************

***********

Postscript:

But the damn message resent a second time, so without trying to unzip the attachment, I replied: "Touch up photo to make me look younger," a comment that would be apt in any context, whether treacherous or sincere.

And back the answer came:


A message (from ) was received at 13 Oct 2005 18:37:56 +0000.
The following addresses had delivery problems:

Permanent Failure:
550_:_Recipient_address_rejected:_No_such_user
\
Now break my heart.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

It's Like the Golden Rule: Do Under Others in the Spirit of the Degree to Which They Are Interested in Doing You

It's a sudden brilliant insight. I have always treated gay women and straight women just the same because I have always assumed that neither group wants to have sex with me.

One exception, of course, but it's always the exception that proves the rule, in'it?

Friday, October 07, 2005

I'm Assuming the Shoemaker's Elves Have All Gotten Associate Degrees at DeVry

It's magical thinking, but it's my magical thinking and I clasp it to my bosom as one might an ugly child.

I have no doubt that our burglar alarm system has glitches designed into it; that is, every year or so something is designed to go wrong so that technicians must be summoned. In the case of our system, it's installing new batteries in the motion detector. It screws up the wireless transmitter. On the phone I joust for awhile with the inhouse tech who works for the company that both installed and monitors our system . I punch in codes, remove alarms covers, reinstall batteries. Nothing works. The poor tech IS OH SO PUZZLED. And there is nothing to do but summon the $65 an hour crew to figure it out on site.

But not today. My wife is exasperated at my delay. I'll make the appointment on Monday because the alarm gnomes deserve the chance to climb down the silver staircase in the dark of night and make the bad electrons play nice.

We are have our gods. Mine are small, highly specialized and ineffectual.

In that last particular very like yours, I wager, and I don't have to tithe.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Got a Poetry Salon Coming Up...

.... and I love the emails I write trying to stir up interest in these things. I write one of these things and I think, "Jesus is satisfied with me."

Salonistas

Harder is gearing up by winding down. He’s getting this creative tension going. His mojo is working but only to shop rules. No overtime. Pressman comes out of Esalen on Sunday tanned, fit and rested, tanned indeed over rather a greater expanse of his body than seems decent in these times, but that’s neither here nor there. Actually, it’s here. It was there, but now it’s here.

Remember: *George Bush is the most brilliant man Harriet Miers has ever known.* It’s like her brain was under permanent house arrest.

I have arranged for Mr. Dr. John Higgins to give us a quick tutorial on digital storytelling and I don’t mean using your fingers to make shadows against the wall. I have got one of my yada yada tales of domestic horror. Wieder says the gloves are coming off. What was he doing. Building a snowman? So far everyone else is keeping their hands close to their vests, and their vests are being moved from one undisclosed location to another, never sleeping in the same place for two nights in a row. I think Matt and Lyle will do the spaghetti eating scene from Lady and the Tramp if they can obtain the rights. Tis a consummation devoutly to be wished. I don’t know what Harder is going to do. Velcro poems? Not as precise but nuthin gets pinched? I don’t know: He said.

The rest of you: Tell me now or tell me later. What’s going to be up?

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Hate the Stupidity But Love the Stupids

Went out to dinner tonight with the very great Michael Tola at a hole-in-the-wall Berkeley restaurant called Olivia's, which Tola said was named after the owner's dog.

Splendid food. Just another Bay Area wonder chef who has found a hillock on which to plant his flag. And you ask why we dare the earthquakes? It turns out Tola is having an occasional din-din with a friend of ours -- she's great: a woman his own age with a bank account; the world should be standing in line -- but he has not dined with her at Olivia's because "it's too romantic."

Some things just break your heart. Like this Bush nomination of a nice Catholic girl who turned into an Evangelical Christian, which means she wants to get the news hot and direct from God but then joins a church where some preacher with a comb-over tells her what she should think.

Miss Edith and I spent our teenage years dealing with the fact that Evangelical Christianity m akes no sense and is at best an exercise in mystery: You must posit the ultimate reconciliation of bits of nonsense into a sublime hole. That sense of mystery should make one modest and oh so very hesitant to be certain, to reduce life to a set of cruel and simple rules. The creed is mysterious to the point of incoherence. And then we dare to be certain about the minutiae of human conduct.

Poor us. The Evangelicals are right. Miss Harriet checked her higher brain functions at the door, and the damage is about to begin.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

To the Sky I Said Ouch! And The Rest...

A friend whose doggy had to be put to sleep, i.e., humanely put to death, and then whose kitty had a seizure and expired and now who has to have back surgery -- outpatient, sure, but they are doing heart transplants on an outpatient basis now next please -- and the best I could say to him after saying I was sorry was that he would be in my prayers if I had any.

How do you express condolence if you have nothing in particular with which to condole?

Food? Well when it comes to the comforting power of food when it is offered to a friend in pain:

Jews do it.
Southern Baptists do it.
Even famous actors practicing eccentric fringe religions like Tom
Cruise do it.
Let's do it,
Let's meet for lunch my treat.

The rest really is silence

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Sad But Pretty Damn True

I had recently had lunch in the Mission with two outstanding USF grads whose intent from the moment they walked on campus some years ago was to join the great fraternity -- well, in one case, sorority -- of print journalists. And so they did. I think this people are going to be lifers. We talked of many things, but the point they both made was that about 90 percent of their problems at work involved dealing with incompetent supervisors.

I mean top editors. I mean bosses.

The problems weren't subtle ethical issues. The problems weren't fierce debates about content or editorial direction. The problems were matters of basic competence and honesty.

In other words, the Peter Prinicple is alive and well. You may not need to become a master of workplace politics to survive and thrive, but you must understand it if you are going to keep yourself off the horns of the bull.

Am I right or am I right?

Friday, September 16, 2005

Almost Betrayed

I've always been amused by the old convention of men being betrayed by lipstick smudges, but I see that in the 21st Century it may have new life.

Today I was almost betrayed by a chocolate smudge on my cheek. We're on a modified Atkins diet, you see. It wasn't even a very good chocolate doughnut. That's part of the older convention, too: "I didn't love her. She was a floozy."

Indeed, that was one floozy of a doughnut, with all that that implies.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Bush Takes the Over, Muttering, "I'm Getting *Something* Out of This."

I suppose I should be encouraged that my Google search for the existence of the opportunity to place an over/under bet on the number of NO dead resulted in no hits.

That was shame-facedly done. Still, there was a point there. It wasn't just a manifestation of professional callousness, the kind you are supposed to affect if you are a journalist. Though let's be honest: In this tragedy, some of the best moments came when the "objective" facade of reporters on the scene cracked and fell away and they showed the pain they felt. Their lapses would have meant nothing if their default setting had not been dispassion and distance.

But I do think it is reasonable to note that initial predictions of the number of dead do trend high, as I am far from the first to say. I recall the famous SF Chronicle headline after the '89 earthquake -- 'Hundreds of Dead' or words to that effect. It's all a form of butt covering of course. The immediate desire to minimize culpability drives the low estimate. On the other end, revulsion at the apologists, plus the natural hyperbole of those plunged, perhaps for the first time in their lives, into catastrophe plus the simple fact in an odd way underestimating the scale of a disaster suggests disrespect for those who suffer -- all contribute to the issuing of predictions most dire.

In the end, I think the long-term political damage comes most probably from seeming to underestimate the death toll. All that said the over/under is 4,500. But I'm making a point. I'm not covering any bets.

Addendum: And here's Jimmy Wolcott getting all smart and stuff about the numbers game. And, goddess please forgive me, my friend Deep Iron -- for he is the deepest in irony I know and it's difficult to pin him down to what he really thinks so hard, so icy, so clever, so cynical is his heart -- is confident no more than 500 died in New Orleans. I had to take the over.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Those Wascally Chwistians

An old friend dropped a link on me to a magazine article the thrust of which is that before the hurricane New Orleans was a jewel box wrapped in a hellhole of poverty and corruption, the underclass of which survived on the scraps that fell from the table of hedonistic tourism. It was dysfunctional and hopeless, a rotten piece of fruit that may have needed a mighty wind to bring it down today but would have fallen of its own weight tomorrow. Logic and self-interest dictate the federal government should back away and let it die. (The point at which "it" devolves into "them" was carefully obscured.)

And so my little joke, which is certainly not a new one: all those Christians who are creationists on Sunday and social Darwinists the rest of the week.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Slow Down a Little and It Will Look Like a Slow-Motion Super Bowl Highlight, A Real Roman Numeral Moment

One does not rush into the fire of a new semester like the newly dead running toward the light. No, one eases in a day or two before classes start, in the case of USF with back to back speeches from The President and The Dean. They do a nice job. I come to praise Caesar, not to bury him.

Really nice, guys. Good job.

But I was able to give a couple untenured friends who were sitting nearby a useful tip or two. For instance, when you applaud at the end of the remarks hold those hands high so the speaker can see those hands hammering one another till your cuticles are oozing blood.Obvious, I know, but the youth wrongly think sincerity is enough and forget that even the honest heart must embrace the tactical side.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Long Dry Afternoon Pondering as I Clean Up My Computer Desktop

An analogy: Arguing with someone face to face, if things degenerate, is like hand-to-hand combat. Of course, it's vicious, but one is forced to acknowledge the "thereness" of the opponent. It is personal; it is "bespoke"; that is, if we are any good at it, we design the argument to the opponent.

But not everyone is good at face to face, which is why many of us bite our tongues and feel somewhat pushed around.

Blogging, however, is like dropping bombs on faceless enemies from very high altitudes. There is a sense in which our opponents are not quite real, and I think it is much easier to drop our rhetorical bombs on them. And it is easier -- indeed, it is almost an aesthetic choice -- to amp up the explosive force of our arguments to increase the kill distance as much as possible. From a distance, violence can be quite beautiful if it is large enough.

I also think sometimes we are particularly surprised, and thus grow even angrier, when our targets shoot back, spoiling the sweet afterglow of having written, marring the perfection of our satisfaction with our argument, which flowed so easily with no thought of a possible response forthcoming. Indeed, we rather imagined our opponents to be quite smashed flat. Yet here the bastards are, clawing up at us from the pit. Oh, there's a lesson here. Perhaps we should cultivate a more modest anger?

Do not take this reverie to mean I do not loathe certain corpulent distant faceless Republicans as one hates hell, all Montagues, etc.

But I don't hate Robert (Bob) Silverberg, who is just the loveliest plutocrat you could imagine. He's really more of a Libertarian than a Republican. Someday he and I will go hunting together, driving the "bad" Republicans before us with whips and clubs.

If the weather is good. If the weather is good.

And so back to my crowded desktop, where all the things I should know but don't -- carefully copied, carefully linked to -- go to die.

Recycled Humor: Very Quaint

In the course of cleaning up my computer desktop, I stumbled across this. Never did get it published. There are some *funny lines* in this.

News item: To aid in his apprehension, the US continues to distribute pictures of Osama Bin Laden altered so that he appears without a beard.

Scene: A High School auditorium somewhere in America.

First, I want to thank all of you for coming out on a school night -- and on a night Tom Selleck is making a guest appearance on Friends! (Pause for laughter.) I also want to thank the Republican National Committee, who – in response to the President’s call for a new voluntarism – has helped to put together tonight’s slide show of pictures of what Osama Bin Laden may now look like. You live in a key, swing and hotly contested Congressional District, where to my enormous surprise I have just learned a special election is taking place next week! This is just the sort of place where a fanatic terrorist might “go to ground” as our allies the British would say. So thank you again Republican National Committee for making this evening possible!

(Pause for applause.)

And, of course, thanks to the Republican candidate in your upcoming election, who has agreed to work the slide projector tonight. Thank you, Mr. Texas! Mr. C. Les Texas, everyone! (Long pause for applause.) Push the big button.

And now the first slide.

(Click)

Okay, here Bin Laden is without a beard wearing jeans and penny loafers. Those are French centime coins, not pennies, in his shoes. We have very good humintel from France, where the food is excellent.

(Click)

Bin Laden without a beard in a turtleneck sweater and an anorak from a recent Land’s End catalog. The sweater has been discontinued. The anorak is available on back order.

(Click)

Here Bin Laden is without a beard on an ocean liner wearing Groucho glasses and a shoe polish mustache, smoking a cigar and making rude comments to Margaret Dumont, who is wearing a burka.

(Click)

Here Bin Laden is without a beard wearing a burka that’s much too short. Notice his legs.

(Click)

A close-up of his legs, unshaved.

(Click)

And the same legs shaved. Very shapely, very evil legs.

(Click)

And in an evening gown with his very shapely, very evil legs covered but still wearing the penny loafers, this time with two of the new Euro coins, the signature currency of the New World Order.

(Click)

Here Bin Laden is without a beard in thong underwear delivering pizza to Bill Clinton.

(Click)

Here he is again without a beard. The guy with the beard – and the thong -- is Al Gore.

(Click)

Okay, here Bin Laden is without a beard at the beach wearing a Speedo rubbing cocoa butter on Hillary Clinton’s back. You will notice that this time she is the one wearing the thong. And in the background Al D'Amato sneaking up with a net.

(Pause for sexist laughter.)

(Click)

Okay, here Bin Laden is without a beard in a chemist’s smock giving anthrax spores to Tom Daschle so Daschle can plant them in his own office mail.

(Click)

And here Bin Laden is without a beard at the 2004 Democratic Convention publicly intoxicated while placing the name of Tom Daschle in nomination for the presidency of the United States.

(Click)

Oops. That thumb in front of the camera belongs to Jim Jeffords, who used to be a Republican.

(Click)

Okay, here’s Jeffords in front of the camera -- Bin Laden took the picture without a beard.

(Click)

And here Bin Laden is without a beard at the beach in a Speedo rubbing cocoa butter on Jim Jeffords’ back while Janet Reno makes the drinks. You will notice that they are all wearing thongs except for Tom Daschle who is in the cabana putting on a thong.

(Click)

And here Bin Laden is without a beard on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills shopping for thong underwear with California Governor Gray Davis. Hey, what happened to the lights? Could it be a blackout? You say someone flipped the switch? No, I’m sure Mr. Texas is still right there next to the slide projector – with his finger on the button! (Pause for prolonged
applause.)

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Reformulated Juvenilia

That is to say, the Rightwads say to certain folk to their left "Oh such a bad idea when Bush critics say, 'Come home from Iraq right now.'" And if we let them slice it like that I agree. But that's not the way to slice it.

I say to Bush, "Put out or get out." I say that because if, as it seems, we continue as we are, then some expensive years down the road we will end up with a tragic Iraq -- a medieval theocracy at best, a civil war riven killing ground at worst. (I say nothing of the shape we will be in having bled lives, money, international influence, international credibility.) So Bush needs to put out by which I mean he needs to understand that the price of getting Iraq into the dream state he has long described is a nice tax hike, a draft, many more boots on the ground, many more dollars poured into Iraq, every penny better targeted and better monitored.

Now it may be a majority of Americans won't want to pay that price. But we won't know that until the question is asked. And if Bush won't step up, think it through, get real and, yes, "put out" what the situation actually requires:

Second part of the sentence: Get out.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Back to Work

I have a friend who -- I guess the word is -- teases me about teaching college kids. He says it's not that much of a job, since the world is getting worse every year top to bottom, and as a member of the educational elite "you have much to answer for," he says. Whatever I'm telling them is probably crap he says of which they have enough already. But I'm talking about reworking some lectures, freshening up my approach, in short acting on the notion that my sabbatical will somehow make me a better teacher. I'll have more energy. I'll have stepped back and gotten new ideas about what I've been doing in the classroom out of plain old habit, out of inertia, out of that tendency to scramble through the day like Fran Tarkenton. (And how can anyone who remembers Fran Tarkenton have anything of relevance to say to college students?) And it is true that much of teaching is driven by the iron law of: Don't just stand there. Do something.

But my friend says oh come on you'll just do whatever you have to do to make your students like you.

Well not all of them like me I answer.

And he says that would kill you you need to have them like you.

What the hell do you mean? I say. Who needs to be liked? I don't need to have you like me you asshole you cynical hurtful puke.

Well I really didn't say that. What I said was I try to teach the children but I don't hang my heart on them.

That was good. I had to write it down. I think it's true even though anything expressed alliteratively smacks more of opportunism than of truth doesn't it?

Friday, August 12, 2005

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Viola da Gamba Was Not Vasco da Gama's Spinster Sister

The theme of last Saturday’s Patrick Finley Memorial Poetry Salon was exile, which some salonistas misadvisedly chose to embrace through the act of absence, i.e., exiling themselves from the salon. Hah on you people who did not come, for I tell you now that saloning well is the best revenge. And that is what we did.

Now to the salon itself, to the “playlist” as I believe you young people of 40 and 45 would call it.

May I say in pungent summary that it was yet another snowflake in the great salon art-storm. That is to say *it was unique.* (No, it didn’t melt, run into the gutter and turn into a kind of nasty what-do-you-mean-they-call-it-Potterville? slush. Work with me, people.) What I am saying is how often are you *privileged* to hear the music of the Spanish Jews expelled from Spain in 1492 played on instruments of the period. This is a music never written down but passed on orally, which means its performance is a kind of reconstruction, far more than regurgitation, as terrific as regurgitation can be.

Oh break your heart if you were not there to hear the Lyle York Project, aka The Sephardic Tower of Power, plucking, blowing, banging on their antique instruments with poignant plaintive passion – not to mention a beat you could shake your deracinated booty to. I must say the strength and beauty of their performance made *this* observer wish that Lyle and the Family York had NOT engaged in a one-off exercise, but that last Saturday had in fact been the first of 50 or a hundred performances, the beginning of a world tour periodically characterized by episodes in which the Yorkies (Woof!) more than once as the great ones do -- rosehipped to the gills on some righteous herb tea -- trashed, or at least seriously discommoded, a series of Motel Six continental breakfast buffets….

Isn’t it pretty to think so? Once was not nearly enough. They found their animal and set it free.

Lylathon 2000 began the salon in what Ms. York described as a form appropriate to the mode, the players just sitting on down, noodling and tuning up and then easing into performance without introduction as an abashed audience wiped the crumbs from their faces and slunk away from the buffet.

It was … satisfactory. (The music. Though I don’t mean to slight the buffet.)

Then up sprang I with a bit of nonsense about Rupert Murdoch having agreed to subsidize the evening in return for my reading the fall schedule of Bard TV, the brand-new 24/7 Shakespeare Cable Network, an exercise so witty that it took the audience’s utmost concentration to keep from bursting into wakefulness. Then Gayle Feyrer read some Mary Oliver, the patron saint of these salons. Then Robert (Bob) Wieder clicked the tumblers on the vault that holds his bulging oeuvre (but enough of the fashion side of the salon) and shared his meditation on “Carhops: The Last American Cowgirls.”

I’m serious about the vault. The piece was originally written for Penthouse as a respite between the pictures of preening strumpets.

There was a great deal of vulgar laughter of the kind I was very careful not to excite. Then Barbara Dietrich read the lyrics to a Sweet Honey in the Rock song, following which she “played” – as you and I play, by pushing the button on the CD player – the group’s actual performance. They work a capella. Just gorgeous. Then David Reinke took American sports teams to the woodshed on account of their use and misuse of team names and mascots that disrespect Native Americans. Then yours truly again thrust himself forward and read a translation by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow of Ovid’s words from exile. Then Brother Dan Harder ….

Here I must pause. Of course, BD did zipper poems concerning his days in, oh, for thematic purposes let us call self-exile in France when he was a boy-lad. And these were pretty damn dazzling zipper poems – read poem on left side of page; read poem on right side of same page; then read right straight across the page: two into one will grow making three! Fine. Great stuff. All once and future salon newcomers are advised to note in your commonplace book that on this date and this hour your first heard BD aka the Big Zipper, and:

Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
He star'd at the Pacific--and all his men
Look'd at each other with a wild surmise
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.


(And if at this point you think, “Darien? Will Farrell is good, but he’s no Dick York….” Well, horseman pass on by.)

Anyway during the salon countdown – apologies to the Kasey Kasem estate -- I mentioned the presence of the Sephardic music to BD, and he allowed as how he might as well bring his drums. And he did. He brought these whacking big what I would call conga drums, though I believe he calls them Sasquatch and Nessie. So he hits a few musical licks, with musical explanations at which the musicians nodded but which I will not repeat because even if I got them right it would be the parrot apeing or the ape parroting. This I do understand. He laid his two hands on his two drums, and each finger did something different. One beat out 4/4 and one beat out 3/4 and one beat out 9/8 and one beat out 19.99 plus tax and one beat out 3.1416 and one I think was doing Morse code and the rest pecked at the drum skins like sparrows for all I know signaling the mother ship.

My word.

Then we “broke” for cookies, cakes, cheeses, assorted treats and plenty of wine from Matt’s own cellar. (Coal cellar? Fruit cellar? Storm cellar? Certainly, I think, not his *wine* cellar.)

And at some point the second half of the salon intervened. It began with Gayle Feyrer reading the escape scene from Dumas’ – “Dumas Pear,” so called because of his distinctive shape – I say the escape scene from his “Count of Monte Cristo.” Every salon has a lesson or two, and this was one of them: Gee, a brief passage skillfully written and read, its purpose no more or less than creating narrative suspense is just so darn much fun even when you know what is going to happen. It’s a familiar story but he’s in the water sewed up in a sack with cannonballs or something tied to his legs! Please keep reading until he’s safe!

She didn’t, though. It was like Easter without a resurrection.

Ah, and now came A Moment. Robert (Bob) Wieder returned to the stage to read his lively comic account of where might now be certain late lamented persons of note had they not taken the pipe or caught the bullet. Now, this is a funny premise in the hands of a master, and RBW is a master. But he is also, uh, somewhat acidulous, kind of a /what does not destroy us makes us strong/ kind of guy. So the bit is rolling along, a real acid bath. He’s not killing, but he’s wounding but then then then he introduces the notion of what ML King, RKennedy and the big enchilada himself JFK would be doing had they not been struck down by the assassin’s hand.

It was all whores and barbecue. That Bob. He so mean.

And some laughed aloud, braced by the tonic fury of it all, and others got these little pinched-up faces and look furtively toward the nearest exit…. What it was was the entertainment acquired a real multi-level quality and that’s always the best kind, don’t you think? I mean you there you with the stars in your eyes fun never made a fool of you not until now you used to be too wise….

I believe I have wandered off the point. Which Bob did not, but took that point that spike and pounded it into our temples….

Well, I enjoyed it. But then again by that time I was pretty much drunk.

And then Jon McKenney read – oh recited more like – an original poem much I thought in the tart (yet pastoral) spirit of RB Wieder. Most delicious, fierce and wonderful. I took the liberty of asking Jon for a copy, which I shall attach at the end of this. (Your word for today is lagniappe.)

And then the Lovin’ Yorkfull came back and finished the evening. Now, I had been told earlier that at some point the music would grow quite lively indeed and that at that point we should all get up and dance like gypsies. But if there was a hand signal, I missed it and so the music ended with our bottoms glued to our seats. And so up I rose into the yawning silence, and I said Play it Again, Samantha, and dance we will. And they did, and we did.

The rest really is silence, blindness, a white space in which nothing is seen or heard. Recherche all you want. This is a point in temps that is better perdu.

P.S. Sylvia Rubin didn’t show up at the Salon (she said) because she tried to break up a street fight and was knocked to the ground, receiving cuts and a concussion. She deserves a bright gold medal and a good spanking.




IN A DIMMING GLADE

“…be thou me, impetuous one!”
Shelley, Ode to the West Wind

“…Bethou, bethou, bethou me in thy glade.”
Wallace Stevens, Notes toward a Supreme Fiction

The blank, receding seasons, and the rose,
A slimsy hand catching tatters by the toes,
The jog-trot hours in the washed-out run of days,
The mirror that reflects an empty gaze,
A solitary bed, a hollow heart,
An actor who forgot his part,
Those sodden fictions from the sky
That vanish in a blinking eye:
In this blue, gold, green glow of the glade
Where all things vanish and all visions fade,
The night descending, you conceived,
Relentlessly burgeoning, the bright rose
Under whose seal you furtively compose
Recollections of a life deceived.

You cut across your dusty bones,
Gray in gloom, in the dying light, in the dead season,
Over the brawling brook and its mucid stones,
Longing to untangle from the weeds your reason.

You had your wedding days with waxen women
Who melted in the summer sun,
Whose limbs were chilly tallow on a winter night,
Whose faces turned aslant in speckled light
Whenever in that light you turned your outside in—
Turning that mask you likened to a face—
Turning its lacquered glance into a space
Dingy and swagging over the fictive heather—
So empty, endless, free of any weather.

Will you believe your wisdom, or your own eyes
Looking into the bleary skies
At fat clouds stuffed with glittering gray,
The substance of your godhood for the day?

How do you find those phrases that lie
Under the wisdom of that smoky sky?
When you sit and listen in the changing light
Upon some temperamental height—
And you’re breathing in the yellow broom
Brilliant in the afternoon,
And hear the idle phrase
Of all the days
You lost in dreaming glory—
And tried to get them back in rime and story
In a room full of shadows and shelves—
(The dream-room of our altered, errant selves
Where all the creatures gather, mutter, gape)
Crammed with books of every shape,
Each shape the shape of the life contained within
While each life straining slowly out
Flutters in the heat that snuffs it out.

This book the bottle, Sybil hanging by her heels within;
That book, an angel by a whisker on his chin;
And there an ark of soggy beasts
Bleating for the insubstantial feasts
Where God, relenting, sets his creatures free
To frolic in their new-found deviltry.

And here’s a book of quipping cats,
And there a book of buggy bats
Eating out two tons of bearded gnats;
And then a book of garbled gardens
With stony saints remitting sins
And crumbled kings conferring pardons,
And aging goddesses with crenulated chins.

And now a book about the noble rot that sweetens sour fruits—
About the blight that makes them bitter—and the roots
That blandish empty bellies—
And all about the sweetmeats, cakes and jellies.
So what green sauce is this, and what the red?
How shall the mother of our food be fed?
A lavish lot, these books that handsomely array
Ten thousand banquets brought upon one tray.

And finally, golden in the grubby room,
A book that told of its own author’s doom
Averred the bioluminescence of the soul,
Mythic and unquenchable and whole;
A civil purpose hiding in his hat—
Snagged in crabbed weather on the way
To a wrangle of reason—he blew to bits
All the brabblers and the scantling wits,
And living to a great old age he died
So sweetly that his golden book belied
The horrors that the living lump decried.

Your book’s your world, and there the glade grows glum—
Your bright breath bleeds into the frosty night
While the night wind sulks in the moon-white willows—
And is your book not like the leaves
Hissing in the watery breeze,
Its phrases falling like a dying pun,
To shift and shuffle in tomorrow’s rising sun?

7-26-05

Bad Apple Spoils It For the Rest of Us. Make That, Dumb Apple

This from Romanesko:

Woman drops j-class after learning about Gee's "hot" remark
Boston Magazine
You'll recall that former Boston Herald sportswriter Michael Gee lost his parttime teaching job at Boston University after posting on his blog that one student in his class of six was so "incredibly hot" that "it was all I could do to remember the other five students." That student, Natalie Zfat, has dropped the class. "As a student, I think you're entitled to feel safe and comfortable knowing that your professor is a professional, not a pervert," she says.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Is That a Motion To Move the Previous Question in Your Pocket, or Are You Just Glad to See Me?

Those among my readers to whom this blog is meat, drink, their after-dinner mint will have noticed below and to the left a new link to a new blog. The blog is the USF Journalism Forum, a renaming -- to facilitate a discussion of the future of journalism at my university -- of the blog originally created in honor of my cat Oliver. (Which is neither here nor there but which explains the URL which contains the phrase oliversmojo. Just clearing the underbrush, Keep going.)

We may be at a turning point. I will not vex you with the details, but we may be ready to take yet another giant step toward creating a journalism major in the department of Media Studies. Or we may not. I can promise you that we will talk, we'll reflect, we'll simmer, we'll pronounce and inveigle and finally we'll vote. And then we will go down the road happy boys and girls together.

I'm talking about the full-time faculty. It's a sight to see us going down the road happy boys and girls together after a full and frank discussion.

It's politics. It's academic politics, which can be, uh, zesty. When you are first in the academic game, academic politics is like your first discovery of sex: in the halls, in the offices, in the closets, under the table over coffee, anywhere and anytime, you just can't get enough of horse trading, trial balloon floating, vote pairing, argument parsing, doomsday scenario-ing and general global positioning. You just can't get enough.

And as you grow older, yes, it's still like sex, a powerful force, even a necessary force, but no longer quite so all-consuming. And then at the end -- your scrawl grown shaky on the wipeboard, the crumbs trailing down your belly's ample swell -- well, I have to admit my god this just is too good to give up.

I will give up my academic politics when they pry my Roberts Rules of Order out of my cold dead hand.

Is there a second?

Thursday, July 28, 2005

The Terror Software: Spelling Things Out in Words of One Syllable

I don't know whether to call my small band of readers the DarWinos -- you find DC(AD) intoxicating -- or the CatAtonics -- you're already bored stiff so a little more lumpen pissing and moaning ain't going to make no difference one way or the other.

But what you do already share I'm guessing is a taste for Juan Cole's Informed Comment. But but maybe maybe you missed his post today on how the "software" of terrorist thinking gets installed on the young and impressionable.

I like this post. It is accessible. (You mean you can climb into it without hitting your head or cutting across a field and climbing through barbed wire? Oh grow
up.)

Here it is.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Nekkid, No. Utterly Confused and Unprepared, Yes.

Smart readers -- and anyone who lingers here is smart ex officio -- have already figured out that my "gauche" posts about how teachers get fired and what for reflect something going on way down below the ocean of my subconscious.

As Shakespeare would have written, "Methinks, duh! Lay on, McFreud, and damned be he who first says, 'I think your 50 minutes are up.' "

But my anxiety is general, not specific to the possibility I'm about to go all sexist about my students in class, in blog, in the halls or on the green playing fields of USF. It's a lot simpler and a lot less interesting. Next month on or about the 21st, I will return to teaching as my lovely sabbatical comes to an end. That is to say, I haven't uttered a word of vertical wisdom -- I lurk behind the lectern and, suddenly, I stride about -- in 14 months.

Maybe I've forgot how?

Many things comprise the teacher's art, including careful preparation, Maoist self-criticism, long hours reading some very dreary student prose (and some very dreary expert prose, too) and long moments of carefully considering how one modulates criticism so that it fits the kid and her/his particular set of skill, idealism, resentment and inertia. But somewhere at the heart of the game is a taste for and an enthusiasm for performance.

Teaching is a one-man show. That's what I think. The pyrotechnics may reside in the provocative argument, the sly joke, the bow tie artfully askew. Everybody's got a trick or two the point of which is surprising the classroom and throwing it off balance. I'm not saying every teacher in every classroom has to throw open the window and shout, "Help! Help! I'm surrounded by idiots!" when your students slip a little too deep into that Soviet state of mind best summed up by, "We pretend to learn while they pretend to teach."

But teachers

Are

On

Stage.

And college teachers IMHO (In My Haughty Opinion) have a special responsibility because, dammit, our students are so tame, lovely and quiet that you simply don't have to work that hard to survive. Discipline is not a problem. Disruptive kids are not a problem. Filthy in the classroom and gunfire in the halls aren't a problem.

You need to shake your little wisdom-maker for the boys and girls. That's what I'm saying. Wondering if I'm still crazy (enough) after all these years still worries me, particularly after all these years.

This is the time of year I have nightmares about teaching. Simple stuff but terrifying. In my dreams, I realize I'm late for class and can't find the classroom; I know what I'm suppose to be teaching but I can't find my notes and my mind goes blank. There's a lot of self-regard in such self-laceration, of course of course. Oh pity the drama king. If the classroom is a battlefield, at USF it's Grenada. I bow before those teachers for whom every day is a Normandy landing. I remember when my wife was teaching junior high school and I was in graduate school. The night before her first day of school she could never sleep. We would take long after-midnight walks as she gathered her courage. My dear brave girl. I rant about teaching as entertainment. In her school the hallways were the running of the bulls in Pamplona and the classroom was Siegfried and Roy on one of those nights the audience was wearing meat cologne.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

You Have to Read Down Down Down to Get the Why Why Why

The "gauche post" fracas continues. A female member of the string has spoken, and it appears that what we like to think is a non journo/educo is sending her sinister emails. This is why I don't like the "internet conversation" sometimes.

On Jul 25, 2005, at 9:00 PM, JT wrote:

This from my new e-mail friend...

Let me guess. A b i g girl are we? 200-225 lbs.? Angry, oh so angry.
And righteous, Vindictive too. Lucky to have a job and scrambling to
keep it.

Stand down Prunella. Take it easy. Things will work out. You don't
need to push so hard.

:-} And have a nice day.


Back to me. Ouch. Doesn't that have an eerie "I'm down in my parents' basement rewriting the conclusion of Silence of the Lambs" tone? Genuinely creepy, the mastery of which is a skill. How much I would like to come to JT's aid -- which apparently she does not need -- with a shutdown comeback to the Midnight Creeper. Unfortunately, I have learned that I will never be able to push some people's buttons with the cruel precision that they can press mine.

But I would like to. I guess it's a guy thing compounded by being a word thing.

Monday, July 25, 2005

If I Tell My Wife One of My Students Reminds Me of Her, She Knows What I Mean

Here is one of the uses of blogging: I pass on stuff read elsewhere to my webfeed faithful. (Darwin's Cat, a proud RSS site since July 2005.)

I've been dipping into an email conversation among journalism educators about the novice adjunct fired for blogging that one of his students was "hot" but/and -- I'm not sure which -- really smart. (Scroll down. Read. Whatever.) Now this from that conversation, from one Gerald Grow who teaches journalism at Florida A&M, and who always has something interesting to say.

I've made my effort to identify underlying issues in this thread that has
drawn such vigorous responses. But apparently my idea -- that teachers need training to acculturate them to the profession, especially adjuncts and returning journalists -- found few takers. So I ask those of you who have taken an interest in the "Incredibly Gauche" thread: What are the underlying issues here? What should we take away from this discussion that is larger than the debated points about the specific individual who was fired?


What larger issues need to be discussed still?

Again, I could be wrong, but I sense that there are issues and experiences
beneath this discussion that could be very much worth considering. It is rare that a specific incident evokes so much discussion unless something else is at stake.


Good question. I will continue to interface with this conversation and bring back the news. My only contribution to the discussion is that from the practical point of view you have to fire the guy because if you don't the possibility of a lawsuit is very much alive. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But for an adjunct I don't thiiiiiiiink so.

Addendum: And perhaps this is the last nail in the coffin lid beneath which this series of posts will now rest. Again, from the email thread:


One of the issues for me in this discussion has to do with the
headline that the Chronicle used: "Incredibly Gauche." That, to me,
treats what happened in a rather dismissive manner, reminiscent of the
"boys will be boys" philosophy. This is further underscored by the
fact that the Chronicle, along with another article that was
referenced on this list, merely said that Mr. Gee had called the
student "hot." It did not cite the verbatim language - that she had
"sloe eyes" and a "bitchin bod" - nor did it include his statement
that because of this student's "hotness" he found it hard to pay
attention to the other students.


This is an important point. If Mr. Gee had simply said the student was
"hot," I could reasonably see how he could be reprimanded but not
fired. However, because he used incredibly lewd terms to describe her
- "sloe eyes and a bitchin bod," and because she distracted him from
the other students, it raises the level of his indiscretion to one
that is unacceptable in an academic environment. Neither the Chronicle
nor the other publication printed these facts, leaving the reader with
the impression that, once again, political correctness had run amok
and some guy was fired because he called some chick "hot."



Where the addenda never stop. Finally finally really finally from our last speaker:

It is the context in which he made these comments that troubles me. If
he had gone to a senior colleague and said, "boy, I'm having a hard time
teaching adults. I've got this one student..... What do you advise in
this situation?" The language would be obnoxious, but I'd not fire
someone for it. Here, however, it feels more like bragging? bar talk?
locker room talk? and at that point, I'd say he shouldn't be talking
like that about his students and counsel him differently; reprimand,
fire on second offense. The publishing aspect makes it different. It
takes bragging to an extreme. It makes it possible for it to get back
to his students, and it can't be dismissed away as bar talk. He's lost
all credibilty with those students. How could he continue to teach that
class? If he can't do the work because he's easily distracted, or
because he's completely lost credibility, then why would a department
keep him?

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Once More unto the Britches, Dear Friends

This from journet, an email-based discussion group in which I lurk but seldom speak. Apparently, some of the list's male members -- none of them, I'd guess, attorneys -- thought the guy shouldn't have been fired.

Objectification is inane, anti-intellectual, and juvenile whether
directed toward a man or a woman. Age and power differentials enter
into all of this, but perhaps framing it as a more personal
illustration would help. For example, if the male professor in
question were referred to by a higher ranking woman administrator and
assured that he was "hot" rather than qualified, would he be flattered?


Actually, I'm not entirely certain I want to know the answer....

Maybe we should just agree that we are all "hot" in our own way, and
shut up about it in the classroom....

Which Comes First: The Joke or the Excuse for the Making off the Joke?

In this case the excuse, though it might more properly be called an opportunity.

Tomorrow -- or as soon as we eat up all the fruit in the house -- we start the South Beach diet. Sabbatical has been a wonderful time, and my wisdom has swelled in volume, as the oceans of the world are swelling as the polar icecaps thaw which, if I understand Bush correctly, was prophesied in Revelations, so kwitcherbellyachin'.

I digress.

My wisdom has swelled, and my waistline, too, since I've spent most of the last year in sweat pants and baggy shorts. For what is an old and familiar leather belt with a fixed number of holes but an early warning system in the flab wars? But now I must cram myself into my fusty musty pedagogical wardrobe. So I say to Mr. Anonymous (I know who you are) who snarked away at my most recent post:

I assure you that when it comes to my return to university teaching the only pants I am interested in getting into are my own.

(Pause.)

I believe that this is the moment someone utters an appreciate groan, is it not?

Saturday, July 23, 2005

We Are All Ghosts in the Machine

I just pulled this off the Chronicle: Wired Campus Blog:

Administrators at Boston University have fired a part-time professor for making rather forward comments about one of his students on an online message board. Earlier this month, Michael Gee, formerly a columnist for the Boston Herald, posted to SportsJournalists.com about his first day as a college professor. In doing so, he referred to one student as "incredibly hot" -- a comment that he described, after the university dismissed him, as "pathetic, juvenile, and boorish."

If Mr. Gee's students had happened to come across the comments, they couldn't have taken long to figure out who the smoldering student was: Only six people are enrolled in the class. (Associated Press)

This is something I would never do. Hot? Students who are hot? Somebody's hot I say open the window. I am a teacher. Gender doesn't register on my pedagogical radar. Indeed, I am not perfectly certain whether my students have a fleshly existence or are pure spirit robed in shining light.

All I know for certain is they are very very quiet.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

My Wife Was Surprised at the, Uh, *Duration*

My sister and her husband visited us for a week, and it seemed like a week -- no more, no less. We were glad to see them come and glad to see them go. Better than that it does not get, my friend, unless you are besotted with family, a condition out of which comes clan war and vendetta.

We are the working model. Countries should get along so well.

Events took place. Things transpired. I got a parking ticket for not turning in my wheels on what the San Francisco police claimed was a three percent incline. Oh it wasn't. But every other car on that mildest of declivities had its wheels turned in. It should be reflexive, should it not? I deserved the ticket and am glad to be a lesson to the young people.

We had some nice meals, we saw some sights, we drank some wine.

Oh oh we saw a couple having sex on the beach. Now there's a story on which my sister and her husband will eat out -- Red Lobster, Olive Garden, Denny's, perhaps a Sizzler on surf 'n turf night -- up and down the state of Tennessee. We drove up the coast to Mendocino last Sunday, and the coast was foggy so we were not able to provide the vistas of sun-dappled sea we had been promising. Just below Mendocino enough of the fog had burned off to give a tolerable view, so I turned off onto one of the minor overlooks. The sands were far far below. My sister, my brother-in-law and my wife, all three possessing a refined and noble attitude toward nature, fastened their attention on the high sky and the tumbling sea. But I leaned over the edge just for that little frisson of risk and saw two white dots back near where the sand joined the bluff, two small white dots juxtaposed as if ....

Nay, Madam, not seems but is.

Got the binoculars and confirmed, as a coast watcher or birder might do. And there they were, cooperating away. Now there is a lesson in this. There is always a lesson in nature, and this was certainly natural, encompassed in those 360 degrees of which human life is comprised. The lesson is that what interests me most now and interested me most at the time is/was that my reaction to the thing engaged me more than the thing itself. I've seen pornos -- not many; no need to talk of addiction and prepare to intervene. I've seen enough soft core "adult" movies on the rowdier cable channels. There were no lessons to be learned from what was transpiring on the beach. Lesson was in how we reacted. First, laughter since a multitude of things is veiled by laughter. Then, slight embarrassment because curiosity quickly shades into voyeurism, and voyeurism is essentially solitary and forlorn. Then, speculation. We wanted context. We were not content to take the thing at face value as a spontaneous overflow of emotion (I'm channeling Wordsworth here) to be recollected someday in tranquility. (Like in Titanic. You remember the way the basic plot was framed.)

I mean, there was a stately quality to this performance, a choreographed quality. Were these folk exhibitionists? Was it, in fact, a porno shoot? Was there a camera person lurking near the cliff face out of sight? Speculating and intellectualizing, we watched for a while longer. Put up the sign: anthropologists at work.

And then my wife said with utter seriousness -- I know her irony; this was not it -- she said I think that man has a physical problem. And I said what? And she said he has been going on for such a very long time, which can't be natural can it?

At which point I herded everyone into the car saying if we lingered any longer we would get to the bed and breakfast too late for the five o'clock wine and cheese.

Speed, it seemed, was suddenly of the essence.

Addendum: That reminds me. Here's part of a poem by Henry Reed, of WW2 vintage, dealing with a similar experience. It's one of five related poems dealing, it would seem, with his military training.

Reed, Henry. "Judging Distances." New Statesman and Nation 25, no. 628 (6 March 1943): 155.

LESSONS OF THE WAR II.
JUDGING DISTANCES

Not only how far away, but the way that you say it
Is very important. Perhaps you may never get
The knack of judging a distance, but at least you know
How to report on a landscape: the central sector,
The right of the arc and that, which we had last Tuesday,

And at least you know
That maps are of time, not place, so far as the army
Happens to be concerned—the reason being,
Is one which need not delay us.
Again, you know
There are three kinds of tree, three only, the fir and the poplar,
And those which have bushy tops to; and lastly

That things only seem to be things.
A barn is not called a barn, to put it more plainly,
Or a field in the distance, where sheep may be safely grazing.
You must never be over-sure.
You must say, when reporting:
At five o'clock in the central sector is a dozen
Of what appear to be animals; whatever you do,

Don't call the bleeders sheep.
I am sure that's quite clear; and suppose, for the sake of example,
The one at the end, asleep, endeavors to tell us
What he sees over there to the west, and how far away,
After first having come to attention.
There to the west,
Of the fields of summer the sun and the shadows bestow

Vestments of purple and gold.
The white dwellings are like a mirage in the heat,
And under the swaying elms a man and a woman
Lie gently together.
Which is, perhaps, only to say
That there is a row of houses to the left of the arc,
And that under some poplars a pair of what appear to be humans

Appear to be loving.
Well that, for an answer, is what we rightly call
Moderately satisfactory only, the reason being,
Is that two things have been omitted, and those are very important.
The human beings, now: in what direction are they,
And how far away, would you say?
And do not forget

There may be dead ground in between.
There may be dead ground in between; and I may not have got
The knack of judging a distance; I will only venture
A guess that perhaps between me and the apparent lovers,
(Who, incidentally, appear by now to have finished,)
At seven o'clock from the houses, is roughly a distance

Of about one year and a half.

Just below the rock at the lower right is a blue blanket on which yadda yadda yadda. And then they changed positions and yadda yadda yadda yadda. Yadda. Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Credit Card Monte

Perhaps, I shall simply present the facts and skip, for once, the kicker.

The facts: Last fall my wife and I took my mother-in-law to Scandinavia for a month. We did not have the cash in hand to pay for the trip. Alternatives included: putting it on a credit card and paying it off at high interest; getting a personal loan at moderate interest; getting a home equity loan at what would have been pretty good interest, around six percent with a nice tax deduction.

But I got a letter offering a pre-approved no-fee credit card, one of its benefits being a cash advance that would accrue no interest until June of this year. That seemed unduly generous, but I called and checked and a nice young man -- a kind of East Coast young man with a certain amount of pizzazz -- assured me all I had to pay was a one-time transfer fee of $60.

I signed up and asked for the maximum advance: $13,200. The bills began to arrive. The bank charged no interest. First month we paid a thousand. Next month and the next we paid the minimum. In December another offer arrived for a pre-approved no-fee credit card offering a cash advance with no transfer fee and no interest charged until June 2006. It was clear we weren't going to get the first card paid off in time. (By the way, it goes without saying we weren't using the card we got in August. We were using our regular credit card and paying off the monthly balance as we always do.)

Last December I applied for the card with the cash advance on which no interest would be charged until June 2006. I got a cash advance of $11,500 and paid off the balance on what I will call the August 2004 card -- and no fee for the advance.

There was, however, a slight catch. Hidden in the small print was the requirement that I use the new card at least once or, after six months, interest would be charged on the December 2004 cash advance. Of course, during month three of the new card I made my monthly charge one day late. (Yes, interest was charged on these required purchases, but the total amount was so small it was only a few dollars.)

I checked with the December 2005 credit card. A rather tart young lady confirmed that this month interest would begin to accrue on my cash advance.

Woe woe.

But the more credit cards I collected, the more pre-approved no-fee credit cards I was offered, many of them offering CASH ADVANCES ON WHICH NO INTEREST WOULD BE CHARGED UNTIL *NEXT* SUMMER.

Yes, last month at the last minute I applied for yet another credit card and for no charge got a cash advance of $7,000 sent directly to the December 2005 credit card, paying it off.

No interest will be charged on that cash advance until June 2006. Six hundred a month will pay it off in time. We should be able to handle that. A nice young lady called -- no East Coast pizzazz at all; rather embarrassed at calling -- and offered me disability insurance on the cash advance for a mere 69 cents per hundred dollars of credit card debt. If I get sick and can't pay, I don't have to!

For less than $50 a month.

I feel fine. I said no.

No comment, please, step back and let Mr. Robertson through....

Hah. Of course, I'll comment! If you give people a credit holiday, it would seem the crack actuaries and statisticians at the top of the credit card game have calculated that most of us will simply run up additional credit card debts until -- no matter how fast we skip from card to card and offer to offer -- finally on some card some day we will have to start paying interest, probably quite a lot. That has to be their calculation

I guess. Otherwise, Santa has given up on chimneys and is going the mail box route, instead.

Oh yeah.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Steal This Blog (Oooops. My Paradigm is Showing)

Big Pat Daugherty and I caught a Giants game at La Nouvelle Candlestick yesterday. We did not actually catch it. It came at us in the way a soiled Depends might come at you when you are downwind of a hurricane tragedy, some oldster up-ended and then bare-ended in Force Three winds. The game came at us, and we let it pass, the Giants clowning it up just enough to lose.

Of course, speaking of up-ended oldsters, Big Pat Daugherty and I are somewhat hobbled by time, ourselves somewhat constrained in gait, somewhat entangled by the tangles in our DNA. Of course, the young girls can see what fine men we were once, but they are tourists in our ruins and pinch our cheeks and tell us milk toast isn't on the menu but All We Have to Do is Ask.

Oh we remember when All We Had to Do Was Ask, oh yeah, I mean All We Had to Do was Ask.

But we have forgotten the question.

Anyway after the game we stopped for beer -- which our prostates which if externalized would resemble W.C. Fields nose bade us surrender almost immediately. We stopped for beer and talked about our novels in progress, and we agreed -- we agreed -- that even in the unlikely event that our novels were published, praised and robustly successful, that is, if in short in the shadow of our dotage we suddenly became a bit of a name with a bit of a bank account....

My god it's too late it wouldn't matter. We have our simple lives. We have our complicated women. Small to moderate fame and fortune would change nothing. We would go on as we have, being too close to the end to point our nose in a new direction. And huge fame and fortune would only confuse us and make us play the fool since that capacity is a thing that only increases with age more's the pity more's the wisdom.

I thought to myself: here's a little plot for a story. Someone like me at my age being given the opportunity to inhabit the last years in the life of a famous writer, you know, a jump a transference into the middle of someone else's life, keeping one's own sense of self, too, being given the ability to be two in one. Oh we've seen this little story before, of course. You become someone else and discover it's not so wonderful after all. Suddenly you're trapped in the life of the genius and learn he is filled with despair that he can't do what he once did. He remembers being really good but has forgotten how to do it. Or perhaps he still can do it but is dying and doesn't have time to do it. The variations are endless. The lesson always has to be the same: The grass isn't greener. I had a Wonderful Life, didn't I Clarence. How do I get back to Kansas?

It would be just too subversive, wouldn't it, if you jumped into the skin of someone supposedly better wiser smarter happier and discovered they were in fact better wiser smarter happier. And you got to stay in their skin and reaped every benefit of being Not You at last there's your happy ending. That would be avant garde, wouldn't it?

Avant garde. Nobody uses that expression any more, do they?

So having run through this little mind game, rolling seven when eight was the point, I open my New Yorker today and read that the late Roald Dahl -- taken from us at 74; only a baby -- in his writing cottage kept:

on a side table, a jar containing gristly bits of his own spine, which had been removed during an operation on his lower back. Next to the jar was a waxy-looking knob that turned out to be Dahl’s hip bone, along with a titanium replacement.

Me and Big Pat: I'm okay he's okay. We still right now at this point in time only show our gristly bits to those we love.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Slowly You Learn

Just let me say now that I understand the gospel of the RSS feed -- which means what I write will be "pushed" to those interested in reading it, sparing them the disappointment of coming to this blog and finding the cupboard bare -- the pressure is off. The blog is now like junk mail. You get it, you glance at it, you discard it.

But junk mail is better than no mail at all.

What do I mean the pressure is off, practically speaking? I mean I don't have to be long, fine or deep. I can be short, glib and shallow. I don't have to produces tomes. I can write postcards.

So: I read a review of a movie called "Murderball," which describes rugby played, the review said, by"quadriplegics." I have been knowing that paraplegics have lost the use of their legs and quadriplegics have lost the use of their arms and legs. Therefore (I'm thinking) who is responsible for this damn sloppy language? A quadriplegic can't play violent wheelchair games.

I google. I find the quadrugby.com website -- it took a while. And I discover that there are degrees in quadriplegia:

Players must have a combination of upper and lower extremity impairment to be considered as eligible to participate. Most of the players have sustained cervical level spinal injuries and have some type of quadriplegia as a result. Players are given a classification number from one of seven classifications ranging from 0.5 - 3.5. The 0.5 player has the greatest impairment and is comparable to a C5 quadriplegic. Of those eligible to participate, the 3.5 player has the least impairment and is similar to a C7-8 incomplete quadriplegic. Both male and females are encouraged to play, and because of the classification process gender advantages don't exist.

In the review, one player said he was a 3.0: one good hand and one "shitty" hand. As in most things, it's a matter of degree. We all live on a continuum. Indeed, we live several. Our lives are an intersection of an infinite number of skills, limits, passions and disinclinations, each of which (if we think about it) can be expressed as some number carried out three decimal places on a scale of one to a billion.

Oh sure it's true, and it's obvious blah blah (you say). I been knowing that (you say). Don't waste my time with the obvious.

Well, recall the conclusion of Flannery O'Connor's "A Good Man is Hard to Find," where the mass murderer's minion (say that three times fast) says the old lady was a pretty nice old lady, and the mass murderer says (I'm paraphrasing) "All she needed was someone to kill her every day."

Hey a day without Flannery O'Connor is a day without sunshine and periods of intermittent cloud cover.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Epilogue: A Tribute from the Heart by Way of the Funny Bone

Gee, whiz, Michael!

May 13: Star Trek ends
May 19: Star Wars ends
May 30: Darwin's Cat ends

What am I supposed to do with myself from now on???

So writes Reverend Kathy, to which I can only reply (cue Richard Burton):

Each evening, from December to December,
Before you drift to sleep upon your cot,
Think back on all the tales that you remember
Of Camelot.

Ask ev'ry person if he's heard the story,
And tell it strong and clear if he has not,
That once there was a fleeting wisp of glory
Called Camelot.

(Chorus boys) Camelot! Camelot!

Don't let it be forgot
That once there was a spot
For one brief shining moment that was known
As Camelot dba Darwin's Cat.

Monday, May 30, 2005

That Was the Year That Was, or The Year of Living Bloggily

Today is the day of days. This blog is exactly one year old, 365 days, 259 posts, 149,000 words, 7,817 visits. I began this blog in an effort to approximate what it would be like to be a newspaper columnist, which was of course a vain atttempt and a vanity to think it possible since this space in cyberworld is not a newspaper. You can't exactly learn what it's like being a fish by running around the front yard waving your arms in a fin-like way and dreaming of the ocean, though you can try glub glub.

Good job! Enuf, however, is enuf.

A Corpse Flower By Any Other Name Would Smell as Foul

Here's a rare flower for you, currently opening in San Francisco. It's huge; it stinks; now you see it and soon you don't. The lady wife and I went to the San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers yesterday, but the the plant was still in previews, as it were. We didn't see the flower or savor its odor. But thanks to the miracle of digitial photography, you are there.

In San Francisco, throngs -- well, they do what throngs do; they throng -- to see the fabulous corpse plant, whose flowerings are separated by years and which smells like rotting flesh. Posted by Hello

Here's a closer better look. Posted by Hello

Alas, it's not open yet. Posted by Hello

Saturday, May 28, 2005

How Tart It Is (And Away We Go)

By the way, I've started rereading Voltaire's Candide. I'd forgotten how bracing its cynicism is, how disrespectful of absolutes and of grief over their absence. I love the "hot" political bloggers who (rhetorically speaking) hack off Bush's legs and watch him dissolve in flames. And I certainly think that "we" are closer to an accurate view of the world -- a view that will at least retard the dissolution of people and systems -- than "they" are.

But it is refreshing to step back and, like Voltaire's Candide on the last page, listen to:

Martin -- "We must work without arguing. That's the only way to make life bearable"

And then say, like Candide (to Pangloss praising the chain of events that brought them to this moment in this "best of all possible worlds") -- "That's true enough, but we must go work in the garden."

Midnight Addendum: Hmmmm. The mood has passed. I've ordered a 'Hillary in 2008' poster. For did not Voltaire also say:

So long as the people do not care to exercise their freedom, those who wish to tyrannize will do so; for tyrants are active and ardent, and will devote themselves in the name of any number of gods, religious and otherwise, to put shackles upon sleeping men.

A little gardening, a little agitating and then a nice piece cake: It's called multitasking.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Sometimes a Picture is Better Than a Thousand Words, Sometimes Not. But It's Always Easier Than a Thousand Words.


"Ebony and Ivory..." Anyway, what makes this picture significant in the context of catlife at 875 Paloma is that for thirteen-and-a-half years Popcorn has been pounding on Oliver as if he were the bottom of a fresh bottle of ketchup. But now that she's old and sick -- 19; diabetic -- she suddenly thrusts her antique booty against him. And look at that expression on his face! It's like Ratzinger getting scraped by Paris Hilton: a terrifying and unintelligible event but interesting, too. Posted by Hello

Thursday, May 26, 2005


Welcome to our home, liberal to moderate friend. (Libertarians are allowed to wait outside and press their damp noses against the window. In cold weather we bring them out a warm beverage.) Posted by Hello

It will not be difficult to find our house. Posted by Hello

The Republican Mind Worm Attacks Our Humble Home


One party has identified its base. The other is wasting its nickel. But what gave them the idea my wife is even remotely neofascist? Hmmm. When we are in bed tonight, I'd better stare at her until she's asleep just to make sure. Damn you, Karl Rove. Posted by Hello

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Cops, Me, Fat People in General Beware Beware

My wife took her yearly CPR class today -- according to the teacher the more times you take the class the more likely someone will find salvation at your hands -- and she has been sharing tidbits with me all evening, most of which are unsettling given the number of ways you can die, either by weird accident or simply in the routine course of things.

But this was my favorite. The two most common ways to choke yourself to death are: 1) eating beer and meat while watching football, you testosterone-sodden glutton; 2) taking a big bite of donut and a big swig of coffee. The coffee makes the big bite of donut swell in the throat.

Sip and nibble, my friend, sip and nibble.

Don't you find it poignant to the point of metaphor that when we photograph these two kitties together if we manipulate the image so that one can be seen more clearly that manipulation very nearly obliterates the other? On the other hand, maybe it's all just a subliminal Photoshop ad. Posted by Hello

My dear old friends. You remember how much we loved our goddamn cats and how indifferent we were to your phony claims that you were allergic? Some things haven't changed. Posted by Hello

Hello, Memory My Old Friend. Good to Talk with You Again

Oh damn. Next month I will be 61 and so I'm thinking about the things I said I would do during my days of 60 that I have not done.

I've done the blog. Good. I have not done the novel, which is not necessarily bad since I have a weakness for happy endings and where's the truth much less the art in that?

But most vexing I have not redeemed my pledge to reestablish contact with those old old friends from college days, grad school days and down South working days, all the friends all those times before we moved here more than 25 years ago. Haven't done it.

It's hardest getting back to those friends from the time when I was a good Christian boy because I have "fallen away" so far since those days. It's not as if I have become an Episcopalian or even a Unitarian. If anyone pressed me on the question -- and no one has so this comment is the expository equivalent of gratuitous nudity -- I would have to say I'm a generic agnostic and a Christian atheist. Yah, my old Christian friends would sure like hearing that. That will rekindle old feelings.

I was such a good boy. Let sleeping memories lie.

As for my post-Christian friends, it seems to me that there are three ideal shared elements when it comes to maintaining sporadic touch, and those are: new mates/ex-mates; children; jobs. These three categories enable correspondents to celebrate and bemoan simultaneously. No one likes a Christmas letter, since Christmas letters tend to be triumphal marches. But a nice email or phone conversation in which the participants deftly mix the good and the bad is very pleasant. It's like a tennis match in which the point is prolongation. A soft shot (my A student) gets a soft response (my gifted musician). A hard shot (my ex who disputes visitation rights) gets a matching hard shot (my ex who won't get a job). It's a nice dance, the point of which is that life is a compound of sad and glad, and that's something we still have in common even if shared experiences have grown dim or have been forgotten altogether.

But what if: same wife, no kids, a job whose pleasures and pains are subtle to the point of evanescence. That's me. Oh it's easy enough to reestablish contact -- once. But where do you go from there? (Face to face is easier. Just get drunk and remember the dead.)

Now this blog -- which is one long Christmas letter, kind of -- might be a way of maintaining touch with some old friends, and I've tried to use the blog for that a time or two. What those attempts have underlined is how much impersonality there is in a blog, how much I haven't exactly been honest about, if only through omission. This friend knows about that trouble at work, but that friend never did. She has heard all about that difficult moment in the marriage in the Eighties, but I gave him the impression my wife and I never had a sharp word. Even knowing only a little about the real You, blog-reading friends know just how thick the mask is and how much it disguises and misrepresents.

So my dear old friends. More digital photos of cats and vacations, more forwarded jokes, more comic birthday cards from the Hallmark collection -- that's just about enough, don't you think? I love you to death, but my body has completely reconstituted itself four times since those margaritas at Lenox Square. Who are we? Who were we? But let's keep in touch. Really.

Oh. If you get a Pulitzer, please just let it lie. We have plenty of mutual friends who will call to rub it in. But if your wife shoots you in the leg, hey, I'm here for you.

Monday, May 23, 2005

I Know These are Lilliputian, But Click and They Grow


If your season tickets at SBC are in the third deck -- where there is no seat license and its attendant fee -- this is what you see. Posted by Hello