Saturday, January 24, 2009

Quote of the Day: 7

Snow and adolescence are the only problems that disappear if you ignore them long enough.

-- Earl Wilson

Mr F and Mr Bunches and I are not going to ignore the snow today. We are going to confront it, head-on. We are going to put on shirts and sweatshirts and overalls and socks and then snowpants and then boots and then jackets and then hats and then mittens and then a pair of socks pulled over the mittens to keep the mittens on because sometimes a mitten comes off unexpectedly and a hand touches snow and that's all she wrote for that day... and we are going to then make the strenuous journey down the garden path to the backyard, where we will bravely climb into our sled and bravely sled all the way down the backyard from one edge of the yard to the other, narrowly missing hitting the Sorta Great Wall -- thanks to Daddy running alongside and stopping us just before the crash-- and then we will do it all again until we get too cold, or until Daddy has a stroke.

Except that Daddy won't be wearing the socks.

And Mr Bunches won't be sledding. He doesn't like to sled. But he will wave to us.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Ninety-Four: Part Six. Wherein a lot of things seem symbolically related to each other, maybe, but they are not.

Everyone has one year in their life that has a greater impact on them than any other year. Mine was 1994. Once a week, I'll recap that year. This is part six. Find the table of contents here.

What's should the response to chaos be? When everything in the world is new or unusual or mixed-up or confusing, how should people respond?

I'd already decided, in light of the fact that there was absolutely nothing in the world that was under my control, to quit smoking -- making that decision in the rambunctious atmosphere of Union Station. Now, I stood in my dorm room, after dark, in strange city, surrounded by strange people who pronounced the word "dragon" in strange ways, and pondered how to deal with this increased level of chaos.

Rip said the word "dragon" it with a few too many syllables, or almost-too-many syllables, stretching it out as though saying each letter in turn, pronouncing the word "d-r-a-g-o-n." It's a method of pronunciation that actually makes sense. Try it yourself. Think of word, any word. Maybe the word could be 'word.' Now, spell the word, slowly:


Now, spell it more quickly:

w o r d

The quicker you spell it, the more the word sounds like what you're spelling; or, maybe, the more what you're spelling sounds like a word. So things sound like how they're spelled, but ordinarily they're not pronounced like how they're spelled. Rip did that, though: he pronounced the word "dragon," and only that word, as though he was spelling it at medium speed. I would not run across anyone pronouncing a word like that for a long time -- not until I saw the "Lord of the Rings" movie trilogy, in fact, and had to endure hour after hour of characters pronouncing "Sauron" with the same exaggerated pronunciation that Rip had once used, years earlier, in saying dragon: d-r-a-g-o-n. In fact, when I first saw the first of those movies, and a character said "S-a-u-r-o-n," I immediately thought of Rip, and what I thought was "I wonder what Rip is doing these days, and whether he ever married Dragon?"

I assumed, even back then, that Rip would want to marry Dragon because he pronounced her name in that respectful (and elaborate) way and he talked about her a lot. I gathered that Rip was not dating Dragon, but that he wanted to date Dragon or had in the past and figured he would in the future, and I still believe that about Rip, that he wanted to date Dragon and eventually would date Dragon.

I don't know if Rip ever did date or marry Dragon because -- spoiler alert! -- I almost never spoke to Rip again after I left Washington and I never saw him again, despite promises to do so, vague plans to have a reunion or to visit each other (and Carlos, who will come up soon) and talk. Perhaps, if e-mail and Facebook and the like had existed back then, we might have kept in touch more than we did - -but probably not, because whether or not Facebook existed, I remained me and I am not a "keep in touch" kind of person. But maybe I will look Rip up on Facebook one of these days and if I do, I will ask him if he married Dragon and if I was right that he wanted to.

I myself had a girlfriend at the time, a girlfriend of sorts. We would never be very seriously in a relationship, in part because we only very rarely, as it turned out, spent time in the same city as each other. We had begun dating a year before. One of our first dates was on a Superbowl Sunday, when I brought her to my Mom's and watched the Superbowl with her and my sister and my brother Matt and Mom. That's how I know we had been going out a year by the time that I went to Washington - -measuring time by Superbowls. That's also how I know what year I went to Washington -- because of Superbowls.

I was, by the time I went to Washington, a Buffalo Bills fan, a team I came to like entirely by happenstance. I had never paid much attention to football as a kid. I was unathletic and bookish and quiet; kids who are overweight and wear glasses and have lazy eye and who like to read comic books rarely spend a lot of time playing sports, although I suppose it could be argued which leads to the other -- whether it is the bookishness and glasses and pudginess (later to be actual fat, and later still to be very lean) that leads to the lack of interest in sports, or whether it is the lack of interest in sports that leads to the love of reading and obesity.

Somewhere around the late 1980s, I got more interested in football, as a result of the Green Bay Packers' doing slightly better. Football is hard to escape in Wisconsin. The Green Bay Packers are prominent parts of life in Wisconsin and eventually, football and the Packers seep into your blood even if you don't want them to do so or don't care one way or the other whether you want them to do so or not. Before the late 1980s, my involvement in and memories of football were very limited. I remember playing football, a lot, with friends at school or with my brothers and my dad in my backyard. We had neighborhood-wide games sometimes in the park, games with rules like "all-time quarterback" and limiting the number of "blitzes," and requiring people to yell "blitz" when they did blitz -- blitzing being rushing before you counted the proper number of bananas.

Counting bananas was how we allowed the quarterback time to throw, and the games were almost always all-passing games. We were doing the sandlot run-and-shoot, the spread offense, decades before those things would catch on in the higher levels of sports. Because of that, and because nobody wanted to be a blocker, the person rushing the quarterback had to count, and to not just count 1-2-3-4 but count by bananas, or Mississippis, or one-thousands:

one one thousand two one thousand three one thousand...

and it was a prized skill to be able to slur those words together and have them be intelligible but fast. A person who could count one banana two banana by saying onebnntwobnn and still have everyone on the field agree that he was saying banana even though it was compressed, was a person to be feared and respected.

Despite playing lots of football, though, I only started to like it when I was 18 or 19, and even then did not follow it anywhere near as closely as I do now. My interest in football arose around the time that I started making bets on the Superbowl -- betting against my brother Matt, or people at work. Never betting much, but betting, anyway, and finding a reason to watch the game because of that bet.

In 1991, my brother Matt and I began what would be a long-running (7 or 8 years) series of bets on the Superbowl, picking teams and betting $50 plus a team jersey. That was a considerable amount of money, seeing as how I worked, in that year, for almost no money. In 1991, I had moved out of my parent's house and was living in Milwaukee and if I earned $4000 that year I would be surprised. I worked for part of the year at a gas station before quitting, then worked nowhere until one day in June when I had no money. None. (That would be one of two times in my adult life that I had absolutely no money to draw on, not a single penny to do or buy anything with. While frightening and discouraging it was not as frightening and discouraging as the second time that I would find myself with no money whatsover, the second time that happened being only four months after I got married.)

I rectified the no-money situation in 1991 by going to work at a Subway restaurant where I earned about $2.35 per hour, so the Superbowl bet represented almost a week's worth of pay for me. Add in the jersey, and it was likely to be two weeks' pay.

I bring this all up to explain why I was a Buffalo Bills' fan, something which may seem extraneous right now but my being a Buffalo Bills' fan would result in a memorable evening in Washington, so it will become pertinent eventually. Plus, I always feel the need to justify the fact that I am a fan of the Buffalo Bills even though I live in Wisconsin and have never lived in Buffalo -- have only been to Buffalo once, on my honeymoon, in fact.

People, upon hearing that I am a Bills fan, generally all say the same thing: Oh, are you from Buffalo? To which I say no, and they appear confused and ask why I like the Bills, and I explain it to them (as I will here, in a moment.) I find that kind of confusing, the idea that I'm supposed to like only the football team from my state. Why should I feel greater loyalty to the Packers than to any other football team? I don't live in Green Bay, and I probably spent more of my life living closer to the Chicago Bears' stadium than to the Packers'. But because I'm from Wisconsin, people think that I must always, and only, be a fan of the Green Bay Packers. I do like the Packers and root for them and follow them, but not only them, and people question that and find it odd.

Sports are entertainment but they're a weird form of entertainment. Only in sports does geographic proximity demand loyalty or presume loyalty. Oh, you're from San Francisco? You must like the 49ers. Or you like the Celtics? Are you from Boston? Nobody assumes that I must like Harrison Ford's acting simply because he's from Wisconsin. If you say that you enjoyed John Grisham's books, would you expect the next question to be Are you from Mississippi?

But I'm from Wisconsin, and in the sports world that chains me to the Packers and requires an explanation of why I like the Buffalo Bills so much that on my honeymoon I detoured to go see their stadium. This that explanation:

The first year we made our Superbowl bet, Matt and I, was the Superbowl in which the Giants played the Buffalo Bills. Matt took the Giants, so I took the Bills, about whom I knew nothing. I watched that Superbowl by myself, sitting in my roommate's chair in our apartment watching it on his TV because that was better than the group TV in the living room.

The Bills lost, of course, but it was a close game and an exciting one. The next year, Matt and I decided to bet again, and I took the Bills again - - saying that this year they'd have to win. They didn't.

They made it to the Superbowl the next year, though, the game that I watched with my then-new-girlfriend, and before that game, Matt and I bet again and he said "You almost have to take the Bills now, they're kind of your team," and he was right, and so I did, and so I gave Matt another $50 and a Dallas Cowboys' jersey.

Nearly twelve months later, I was still kind of dating that girl, and I was not far away from betting on the Bills for a fourth time, neither of which I was thinking about that night as I unpacked the rest of my things and tried to avoid thinking about what I'd do the next day if I didn't have an internship. The coordinator had left and I had no internship and did not know what to say to anyone about that, and that was all people were talking about at the time --who are you working for? -- and I didn't feel much like talking about anything, not Laurie or football or D-r-a-g-o-n or anything.

Luckily for me, I suppose, I didn't have to talk much about that, because Rip was very good at talking. He held forth on a variety of subjects, going on and on, as others settled in and we introduced ourselves and met Carlos, who would become part of our Gang of Three there in Washington, and I was able to spend most of my time trying to figure out how, beyond quitting smoking, I would somehow gain control of everything that was going on around me.

I didn't hit on it right away; I didn't hit on what I would do in addition to quitting smoking to regain control until later that night, when I called Laurie to tell her I'd arrived and settled in and was okay. She wasn't much interested in what was going on around me or what I was doing or the details of the trip, as I recall. She had never struck me as very interested in any of the things that I was interested in, and I think we had stayed together for that first year in part out of inertia and in part out of the fact that, if there was no real reason for us to be dating, there was also no real reason for us to not be dating, either: we didn't fight, or even argue, much. We didn't interfere with each other's lives, we didn't have diametrically opposing viewpoints. We just co-existed.

That and we were almost never in the same city together. We'd dated five months before she went home for the summer -- to Green Bay, from Milwaukee-- during which we were dating, I suppose, and then she came back in September to Milwaukee and then a few months later I went to Washington.

There wasn't really any need to break up before I went to Washington, and not any great need to break up when I was there, either, and we never talked about whether we were broken up or not during those times when we were separated. I didn't consider us to be broken up, but I didn't really spend much time thinking about the fact that we were dating, either.

Still, I did call her that first night to tell her I was there and I was okay, trying to distract myself from the fact that I was not okay -- I was feeling helpless and was not sure what would happen next, which is not a comfortable feeling, especially since I'd last felt that way on the day when I'd had no money and had to figure out what to do with my life, not in the grand-scheme-of-things kind of way, but in the I'm-going-to-be-very-hungry-soon kind of way, and since that day I'd tried very hard to not have that feeling that life was getting out of my control, that I didn't know what would happen next. Despite working so hard to get to that point, a point I had reached, I'd then gotten bored and thrown it all out and created all kinds of upheaval, and now here I was, twenty-four hours into that upheaval and not liking it very much.

I wanted to say that to Laurie, who I suppose would have been the person I could say it to, her being my girlfriend and all, but I didn't say it and I don't think she would have been interested in it. Instead, I told her my trip was good and asked how she was and she told me she was fat.

She wasn't. I said so.

"I am," she said. "I need to lose 10 pounds."

I then debated with her about that, pointing out that she was not fat and that in any event losing only 10 pounds would not make a difference. She said it would and I said "Nobody looks different after losing only ten pounds." She insisted she would.

So I said "I'll prove it. I'll lose 10 pounds and you'll see. I won't look any different."

Just like that, I had a second thing to exert control. I weighed 172 the day I left for Washington (I'd weighed myself on the bathroom scale I'd bought when the year before I'd decided to get in shape and did just that, losing 108 pounds.) I told Laurie I'd drop down to 162 and prove to her that I was right and she was wrong and ten pounds would not make any difference in one's appearance.

Then I went back to the room where I decided I'd read for a while, then go to sleep and the next day would see some sights.

Question of the Day: 37:

How did you know that you and your spouse were truly soulmates meant to be together forever?

For a change, I'm going to answer one of these questions. For me and Sweetie (Sweetie and I? Well, both of us) there's lots of ways I know that, but the most recent is this:

I knew the word "Blueniverse" would mak
e her laugh.

I was reading a comic yesterday at Buttersafe, and it had that word in it, and I remembered it all day so that last night I could go home and while Mr Bunches and Mr F were taking their bath and we were talking/trying to keep them from d
rowning each other, I recounted the comic to her and I was right: she didn't laugh at all, until I said the word "blueniverse."

The comic:

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Quote of the Day: 6.

Love thy neighbor -- but don't pull down your hedge.

Benjamin Franklin.

And also don't walk out to get your paper at the same time as he walks out to get his paper, because if you do that, like I did this morning, you're going to have to wave and say "hi" at 6:05 a.m. wearing your Buffalo Bills' pajamas, and no good can come of that. One day, you're pajama-helloing, and the next thing you know, you've got a new friend who's going to take up all your time chatting with you every time you try to leave to go on a Baby Workout, and you're going to have to move.

I know what I'm talking about, too. The last place we lived, our neighbor Frank decided that he could come by every time he saw me in the backyard reading the paper -- sitting and chatting with me so that I couldn't actually read the paper, and ultimately forcing me to read the paper inside and not use the backyard at all.

Team Dad:

That's not why I was late for work, though: (The Great Ranking Of Problems, New Addition!)

This morning, while doing "Mr Bunches-Ups," which are like sit-ups only Mr Bunches sits on my chest and spills some of his milk each time I go back down, I noticed that I had a bit of a hangnail. So when I went upstairs to get dressed, I tried to clip it off, but couldn't quite get it. I tried to file it off, but that just scratched my finger. I tried to bite it off, and I figure I loosened it because then I was able to go back to Plan A and clip it off, only I clipped off a little too much and now I've got a lopsided-looking fingernail and the skin that ordinarily is protected there is exposed to the elements...

I will rank this at:

5,000: Lopsided Nail Clipping.

Prior entries:

173: Preshoveling & reshoveling snow.
721: Printer not holding a lot of paper at once.
7,399: Potato(E?)s?
. . .
15,451: Almost napping.
14,452: Worrying that there's too much peanut brittle leftover to eat before it goes bad.
22,372: Having hair which isn't quite a definable color.
22,373: Having too many songs on an iPod

Five Pages publishes a novel as I write it: Five pages at a time, each week day. Right now:

Up So Floating Many Bells Down:
Sarah's fiance has drowned, and while she struggles to convince the world, and herself, that he was killed, her brother Dylan up and moves to Las Vegas to pursue a career as a photographer.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Question of the Day: 36

If a ball is thrown straight up from ground level into the air at 10 m/s, how long will it be until the ball hits the ground, assuming gravity's acceleration to be 9.8 m/s(squared)?

Everyone else has
to confront this question today because I had to confront that question last night when helping Middle study for her Trigonometry & Statistics exam. After about 45 minutes, we came up with this equation, where "t" is the time until the ball hits:

-10t = -4.9t(squared)

Which we then couldn't solve for t because I couldn't figure out how to dequadratic-ize that or whatever the term is -- forcing Middle to say that she was going to the review session before her final exam today, and
forcing me to acknowledge that the older kids have now progressed beyond the point where I can be of much direct help in their homework.

But I can still indirectly help, and I did that -- by making some extra coffee for today so that Middle could get a cup of coffee bright and early and go talk to her teacher. I have, therefore, officially progressed from "father who helps with homework" to "beverage service."

In other mental degeneration news, I mentioned a while back on The Best of Everything that I had subcontracted out my memory to Google, something I did because looking things up on my computer has become easier than actually remembering them.

The extent to which I've opted not to remember or even try to remember things hit me today when I needed to locate a file number for a case I'm on. I opted to do a "Google desktop" search of my computer to locate that file number -- because doing that was easier than looking at the file itself.

The file itself was sitting just out of arm's reach on my desk.

I will remember that moment, someday, when I am reduced to a blog of protoplasm electronically linked to Google.

Five Pages publishes a novel as I write it: Five pages at a time, each week day. Right now:

Up So Floating Many Bells Down:
Sarah's fiance has drowned, and while she struggles to convince the world, and herself, that he was killed, her brother Dylan up and moves to Las Vegas to pursue a career as a photographer.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Quote of the Day, 5:

To be loved, you have to be nice to people every day. But to be hated you don’t have to do squat.

-- Homer Simpson.

I have a collection of Homer Simpson quotes that I've made over the years; it's available at all times on my computer. With all the copycats, in the past, of that All I Need To Know... book which was supposed to teach us all how behaving like a kindergartner would lead to success in life (it hasn't worked for me, yet), I can't believe that nobody ever released an All I Need To Know I Learned From Homer Simpson book or calendar.

And it's too bad that trend died out, too. For a while there, we could gauge what was popular or good or trendy by looking to see who we were learning all we need to know from. Without that, how are we supposed to know who is popular, good, trendy, or important? I think the fading into obscurity of the All I need to know line is directly responsible for the decline of civilization as the public becomes unsure who to follow.

Not all E's are extraneous... (The Great Ranking Of Problems, New Addition)

Today's new problem: Ever since Dan Quayle famously misspelt "potato" as "potatoe" I have been unsure if having more than one potato or tomato should be expressed as I have many potatos or I have many potatoes. This has gone on for decades now, for far longer than it should.

On a related point, I had for a long time a note on my desk that said when to use "principal" and when to use "principle," a note that was necessary because before that my only reference point for when to use either was something from the Ramona books in which Ramona Quimby's principal told her she could remember it by saying The principal is your pal.

I will rank this at...

7,399: Potato(E?)s?

Prior entries:

173: Preshoveling & reshoveling snow.
721: Printer not holding a lot of paper at once.

15,451: Almost napping.
14,452: Worrying that there's too much peanut brittle leftover to eat before it goes bad.

22,372: Having hair which isn't quite a definable color.
22,373: Having too many songs on an iPod

Monday, January 19, 2009

Question of the Day: 35

I'm doing this at home just prior to having Middle practice her science class presentation for me, and I told Middle that I had to put the "Question of the Day" up and she said my "question of the day" should be this:

How famous do you have to be to be assassinated rather than murdered?

Which is a good, if disturbing question. Not as good as my original question, which was going to be "Is it gross if I reach into the ice bin inside the refrigerator at work and pull an ice cube out with my bare hand, accidentally touching other ice cubes that someone else will, unsuspectingly, get some day in the future?"

Mine is disturbing, too, but in a totally different way.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Quote of the Day, 4:

Maybe this is an answer to my question of the day the other day:

A good many young writers make the mistake of enclosing a stamped, self-addressed envelope, big enough for the manuscript to come back in. This is too much of a temptation to the editor.
-- Ring Lardner.

So maybe I should just be enclosing an envelope big enough for the royalty check?

I'm pretty sure I read or was supposed to read some Ring Lardner in my "Humor in American Literature Class" in college, but the only thing I remember reading in that class are the "Guys & Dolls" stories, and also stuff by Robert Benchley.

No, not Jaws. Robert Benchley wrote hilariously dry essays to which Dave Barry owes a great deal of credit.

Five Pages is coming soon. Check back often to find out what that means!

It's especially sad that he remembers it happened at four o'clock: Sunday's Poem Number 2

The Afternoon Sun
by C. P. Cavafy Translated by Aliki Barnstone

This room, how well I know it.
Now they rent it and the one next door
as commercial offices. The whole house became
offices for agents and merchants and companies.

Ah. this room, how familiar.

The couch was near the door, here;
in front, a Turkish rug;
near the couch, two yellow vases on a shelf.
On the right, no, across from it, was an armoire with a mirror.
In the middle, the table where he wrote
and three wicker chairs.
Next to the window was the bed
where we made love so many times.

These sad things must still be somewhere.

Next to the window was the bed;
the afternoon sun spread across halfway.

...One afternoon at four o'clock, we separated,
just for a week....Alas,
that week became forever.

To bring this together in a weird way, I'm reading Joe Hill's 20th Century Ghosts; the first story is about an editor of a horror anthology who laments that there's a dearth of great horror writing, and who likes one story in particular because of the way it focuses not on horror but on the mundane details of life between the horror. From that anecdote, and this poem, it can be seen that while the devil may be in the details, the magic is, too.

Also, it wasn't until reading it for the second time that I realized the speaker is a woman.

Other Poems:

"Blur," by Andrew Hudgins