Monday, April 30, 2007

The Tunnel and Bridge Crowd

As a long-time commuter from Oakland to San Francisco, I knew that the collapse of part of the MacArthur maze meant, on this the first day after the accident, that the morning commute would be easy and the evening one a great unknown.

Thus, I Casually Car Pooled. I stood in line until a driver who wants to save time -- and four bucks -- by whizzing up the carpool lane stopped to let a couple of strangers into her car. The woman who stopped said she figured the morning commute would be easy but that when she saw all of us standing there in line (the number of drivers depleted; the number of moochers augmented) out of the kindness of her heart she decided to stop.

I call that kindness.

Going home? Casual carpooling only works in one direction because we only pay tolls and have a fast lane in one direction. I'll try Bart and bus, I guess.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

We Go to the Movies

We hardly ever go to the movies. Reasons include:

1) My dislike of grading, a dislike so strong that I deal with it by spreading it out over the entire week, thus consuming weekend hours that could be shared with one's spouse;

2) Having as one's spouse a tireless and conscientious government employee who works too many 60 hour weeks, some of those 60 hours bleeding over into weekends;

3) OS is so empathetic and susceptible. Movie violence makes her scream. Cheesy, essentially comic, movie violence makes her scream. I don't mean a happy scream. I mean expressions of actual dismay.

This cuts down on our movie-going. But yesterday -- stories having been graded; grant proposals having been polished -- off we went. Our choices were limited. Too much pain, too much violence, too much stupidity. At least in the East Bay we were left with Blades of Glory, Pan's Labyrinth and Namesake. It was my impression that Blades of Glory was probably funny but certainly stupid, Pan's Labyrinth perhaps a little dark and Namesake exotic and probably uplifting.

Namesake it was. It was exotic and uplifting enough. Comes the immigrant, struggles the immigrant (not with making a living because our immigrant earns his Ph.D. in fiber optics), agonizes the immigrants -- man and wife -- as the kids Americanize and reject and neglect their parents.

And everyone learns something but only after the immigrant dies of a heart attack in terrifyingly early middle age. (We all have our terrors, you see.)

The immigrants are Indian. The son chooses the monied blonde and then, after his dad's death, his chooses the deracinated Bengali beauty. Neither path leads to contentment and so he is left at a very satisfactory place (satisfactory to a viewer who likes movies that end with beginnings), finally on the verge of making sense of things.

Ah, but his mother will now split her time between the U.S. and India. And the last scene is of her on a rooftop in sight of what may be the Ganges playing a long stringed instrument the name of which a blogger need not know in his pell-mell rush of typing, singing what the blogger thinks is classical Indian music, both strange and beautiful, at least when heard for 45 seconds.

A formula movie but a tested formula, a formula that produces predictable and very satisfactory results.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Word Power

Got this email today.

Sperma e Arena


Like bigger pennis?

Yeah, adding an extra vowel works. Though you could go with a larger font, plus just a little flourish of Tom Wolfe.


Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Any Thoughts about Improving This?

Suggestions for emailing faculty asking for interviews

· My advice to faculty who ask me what form cooperation with student journalists should take is that they should refuse to answer your questions by email but should offer you the opportunity to talk with them face to face or by telephone.

· Therefore, my advice to you is always to begin by requesting a time when you may meet with them or telephone them. Offer to buy them coffee at Crossroads. Never behave as if you assume that an email exchange is sufficient. If that is the mode of communication they choose, so be it. But you always want to make human contact so that you can respond immediately to their responses to your questions.

· Always say something like, “Would tomorrow work or would sometime Monday or Tuesday be better?” That is, assume your source will talk with you and that all you are doing is negotiating when that conversation will occur.

· Always have questions! Don’t just say you want to talk without saying what you want to talk about. At this stage of your research, you should have a clear idea of where your story is going. That should make it possible for you in your email to pose 3-5 specific questions. For instance, you might say, “Dean X says USF students have gotten much better over the past five years. The Dean also says that teaching at USF has become much easier for faculty as a result. I’d like to talk with your for 15 minutes to get your opinion about those statements.” You will, of course, have a list of follow-up questions so that no matter what your source responds, you can move the interview forward.

· Among other things, you are trying to convince the faculty member you want to interview that you are working on a story idea that would be stimulating to discuss and that you have some fresh information that will make the conversation interesting to them.

· If they refuse to talk with you, email them back thanking them for considering your request and saying that in your story you will simply say that they “declined to comment.” Such a statement is permissible only if your faculty source understands exactly what your story is about and exactly what some of the questions you want to ask them are. Copy the email to me.

· Faculty are busy, and sometimes they do not have time for even a five-minute “walk and talk” conversation. However, speaking for myself, I usually do have the time – if I clearly understand the reason for the request and if the request is made in a respectful manner. If you behave in a professional manner with a clear notion of what specific information or insight you hope to gain from the interview, you need not feel apologetic or that you are abusing the student-faculty relationship. You owe us your courtesy and your patience and, I like to think, your gratitude. You are not automatically “entitled” to our attention on your demand, at your convenience. However, I think we owe you a reasonable fraction of our time even if we do not have you as a student in one of our classes.

Monday, April 23, 2007

I'll Just Steal This

From The Hill.

Celebs giving the money love:

Hillary Clinton: Candice Bergen, Christie Brinkley, Chevy Chase, Hugh Hefner, Christine Lahti, Barry Manilow, Marla Maples, Rosie O’Donnell, Jerry Springer, Barbra Streisand

Barack Obama: Jennifer Aniston, Jackson Browne, Morgan Freeman, Tom Hanks, Dennis Haysbert, Tobey Maguire, Barry Manilow, Branford Marsalis, Eddie Murphy, Ed Norton, Ben Stiller, Gene Wilder

Chris Dodd: Edie Brickell, Michael Douglas, Steve Martin, Lorne Michaels, Paul Newman, Elisabeth Shue, Paul Simon, Joanne Woodward

John Edwards: Larry David, Seth Green, Don Henley

Bill Richardson: Michael Douglas, Rosie O’Donnell, Rob Reiner

Rudy Giuliani: Kelsey Grammer, John O’Hurley, Adam Sandler, Ben Stein

Sunday, April 22, 2007

The Bunny-Wunnies are Back

Late last night while my wife searched old census records online to unearth the fear and wonder of her Dehmel ancestors, a week after the draft I entered into rosters for the Patrick Finley Memorial Fantasy Baseball League.

Bunny-Wunnies are off to a slow start, but my teams always begin at the trot since I never draft players who begin the season hot. I will start with Six Bunny-Wunnies and increase their number as the season moves along and reinforcements are required.

I have a history of this.

The league is fun. I'm good at it. I've won more money and had more top finishes than anyone in the league's 24 year history. But then again I'm the only person who has been in the league for all of its 24 years and who thus has had multiple whacks at the pinata.

The regulars grow older. I begin to wonder if the league will carry on after those of us who really care about it are gone.

Those would be me and .... Well, maybe someone else. It's hard to know for whom among the regulars this is an activity worth preserving. I have declared myself Beloved Commissioner for Life. It's hard to tell if anyone cares enough to mount a rebellion.

I'm pretty ruthless, so probably not.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Scenes from the Draft

I neglected to take a picture of the absinthe, but the aged grappa was nice.

Solidarity with an embattled regime.

Our Fantasy Baseball Draft

Four of the guys in our draft are in the wine business. We had a Bandol -- whatever that means -- and a Chateau Neuf du Pape.

I know what that means.

One of the league members brought a small bottle of absinthe -- the real stuff, he said; from Europe -- and I had a taste of "the Green Fairy." It was pretty good. I don't know if it's worth madness and death.

More about the draft as I recover.

The menu for the two meals we shared with our esteemed host, Brother Peter Moore, will soon be available here.

It's a good league. It's not all about the baseball.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Get a Life, Jack. Lives Aren't Funny. That's the Point.

I pull this up by the roots from Romanesko and plant it here.

David Sedaris and his supporters "want to erect a penumbra that shields humorists from criticism when they blend fiction into their nonfiction but still insist on calling it nonfiction," says Jack Shafer. "If writing fiction is the license Sedaris and other nonfiction humorists need to get at 'larger truths,' why limit this exemption to humorists? Let reporters covering city hall, war, and business to embellish and exaggerate so they can capture 'larger truths,' too."

I respond why don't more people use their ties as a belt substitute? Answer is that we understand the convention and easily navigate the shoals of its existence, our pants firmly in place, though just where that place lies is generational.

I applaud all those who spend time pointing out that that which is presented as comic nonfiction is merely an expression of personal truth and any point-by-point correspondence to physical reality is coincidental. But the point of such research is that most readers already knew. We welcome the newcomers to the clubhouse and teach them the not-so-secret handshake.

Editor's note: Brother Robertson does not, in fact, have a clubhouse. His wife won't let him.

Publisher's Note: Brother Robertson's wife has not, in fact, denied him the right to have a clubhouse. He has never asked her for permission to have a clubhouse. If he had, of course, she probably would have denied him the right, but that's another story.

Brother Robertson's wife's note: The implication that Brother Robertson's wife is some kind of ball-busting bitch is inaccurate. The next time he asks permission to do anything will be the first time.

Brother Robertson: My wife is correct. She is an angel.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Divorced His Wife, Married His Nurse....? Nope. Wasn't Willing to Pay the Price

Last year a friend had a seizure that resulted in the discovery of a benign brain tumor -- and emergency surgery. He woke up paralyzed on his right side and unable to speak.

He worked through it. Now he's back. He described the ordeal in a piece that ran in the New York Times Sunday Magazine to which I will not link because it's behind the Times subscription wall.

Why tantalize?

I am ashamed to say I didn't talk with him during his recovery. It was not clear to me from second-hand reports that he was recovering, and I was not sure how I would manage the conversation if he clearly was still in difficulty. He is 3,000 miles away, and there was nothing practical we could do to help as far as I could figure out. I'd left some phone messages with his family, but no one had responded.

Anyway now that I know he's okay, I wrote to praise his article and -- as one does almost reflexively with writers -- said at least he'd get a book out of it.

He said no he wouldn't. He said his agent told him that he had not had that bad a time, and that the difficult-recovery-from-brain-surgery niche is "very competitive."

He said it was a comfort to know that his illness and recovery were nothing special, at least in the eyes of the publishing industry.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Man Week

I have two things to do during the next six days:

Cosset my darling USF students.

Prepare for my annual fantasy baseball draft.

On the left hand side of this blog I have added a blidget panel that allows Friends of the Blog to follow those activities. Won't be much going on here for the next six days.


Over there at the USF Journalism Blog, a former student who now works as a copy editor posted this:

Q: What does a copy editor do when she's not feeling well?

A: Calls inn [sic].

Given the high standards of taste over there, I could not respond with the only copy editing joke I know:

You've heard about the copy editor who gets upset every time she misses a period.

I'm sure there are others, many based on AP style.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Thank the Goddess It's Friday

A very bad week for keeping the old horse trough full so that weary wanderers through the blogosophere can stop and drink and rest a spell.

Such a busy week. Meetings at the U, student conferences at the U, a make-up USF student senate because some students a) missed the assignment last week; b) blew the assignment when yours truly went just a little bit publicly nuts when the student senate closed the meeting and tossed the audience because some senators were afraid they were about to say some things that might hurt somebody's feelings.

So some of my students channeled my indignation and wrote editorials instead of news stories.

Also, I am doing some final tweaking of the novel before sending it off to some lucky agent who is about to get, as Shakespeare said, an "honor" he or she "dreams not of."

One interesting thing about writing fiction. At a certain point the story does take over. I have a point in the novel where three friends of the narrator are upbraiding him for doing something that seems homophobic. I'm reworking that scene and suddenly one of the trio says, "You think you can tell who is gay and who isn't? One of us is gay!"

I did not know that, much less which of them was gay. I don't which one. Perhaps, none of them is, and they are just evolved in their social attitudes. I don't think they all are.

I created these characters, and *I don't know.*

But this statement rippled through the rewrite of the novel from first to last and changed the novel. I could have another character ask these guys what the truth is, I suppose. But I don't know what they would answer.

Interesting, huh? Fun for sure.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Monday, April 02, 2007

What Wonderful Wonderful News

Isn't it terrific that my friend Pat Daugherty's computer is on the edge of extinction and that he has spent the past week under the long shadow of the "blue screen of death," extracting his "life's work" from the computer one fragment at a time.

Had he been run over by a truck that would have been slightly less terrific -- though still terrific -- because I spent the last week anguishing over Pat's silence concerning my novel, the first copy of which (and I mean literally a copy; a printout) I delivered into his hands ten days ago.

What I required of him was simple: Say he liked it. It took me 30 years to finish the damn thing, and I have no intention of recasting it, rethinking it, discarding it and starting anew.

Ninety percent approval and 10 percent truth. That's the recipe.

Forty-eight hours past the Blessed Arrival, Pat called me to say he liked it and that he was confident that, as a reader, he was in good hands.

Then a week of silence.

I told my wife that probably Pat was probably experiencing stomach-turning distaste and was in agony, faced with the dilemma of liking the writer and hating the written.

My wife said oh come on. The universe doesn't twist on your spindle. Stuff comes up.

I emailed Pat and learned: Stuff has come up.

I have no doubt I can handle the truth, as I can handle cat excrement and hot candle wax. It's just that I don't want to handle it.

A cynic would say:

You become such a coward you'll grab at any lousy excuse to get out of killing your pipe dreams. And yet, as I've told you over and over, it's exactly those damned tomorrow dreams which keep you from making peace with yourself

-- Hickey in The Iceman Cometh, Act 3

That's Hickey, the wife killer and the buzz killer. He's just being mean. I feel very very peaceful.