Friday, April 24, 2009

Sweetie's Hunk Of The Week (Let's go with #13)

Sweetie's Hunk of the Week is A Guy You've Never Heard Of From "Smallville."

You/Sweetie Know Him As: A guy from "The Fog?" God, I don't know. Here's what happened. I asked Sweetie who the Hunk of the Week was, and she said "Tom Welling." After I stared blankly and said "Who?" she said "He's on Smallville, but I know him from 'The Fog'." After I said "Who?" again, she said "It's him or Kip Winger."

I Know Him As: "Who?" I didn't even remember his name when I got up this morning. I was going to go with Tom Wilson but then I thought to look up the Smallville cast on IMDB and found out it's Tom Welling. And he plays "Clark Kent." Not Superman. "Clark Kent."

Thing That Makes You Go Hmmmm About Him: His very existence. Is Smallville even on TV anymore? He does have a fan site, though. It was last updated in November, 2008, but it does include this juicy bit of gossip about him:

Is the second cousin of Reed Nilssen, Swedish snowboarder who received a bronze medal in the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympic Games.

I wonder how "Showbiz Tonight" missed that?

Reason I Tell Myself Sweetie Likes Him:
This guy may not actually exist, so far as I know. She's probably secretly a fan of snowboarder's cousins.

Actual Reason Sweetie Likes Him: "He's got such an innocent face."

Point I'd Like To Make About Sweetie's Actual Reason For Liking Him: This guy almost lost out to Kip Winger. Plus, I'm pretty sure he works at the McDonald's down the street. Besides which, she likes his face. What would I have to worry about? I mean, let's look at a random picture of him again:

Aw, geez.

The Rum Punch Review: "Chronicles of The Lensmen, Vol. 1" (Part 2)

Part one of this review is here.

Confused about what a "Rum Punch Review" is? Click here.

I was this close to giving up on the Lensmen book.

It'd been sitting on my nightstand, unread, since I posted the first part of its review, and I hadn't been all that thrilled about picking it up and keeping going. I had left off at the part where the entire history of everything in the universe had gotten up to Atlantis and its destruction (Not a spoiler, given that the chapter is called The Fall of Atlantis and begins with the Eddorians deciding to destroy it and the Arisians letting it be destroyed...) and the book just really hadn't caught fire in me yet.

So on Sunday, Sweetie asked if we could go over to the bookstore and pick up some new books. "Sure," I agreed, and said "I might return that Lensman book and pick up something at the store to read."

As I discussed in part 1 of the review, that's a step I hate to take, but then again, I hate to waste my time reading a book that I'm not crazy about. And I was a couple hundred pages into this one and it was really kind of boring. That's a tough thing to say about a book that details the rise and fall of two great civilizations that are destined to war against each other, with each trying to mold the universe in its image and shape evolution to help forge warriors, but, then, boring is as boring does.

We went to the bookstore, Sweetie and I, and I took Mr Bunches and Mr F, and as it turns out I didn't get anything, after all. I looked at one book that caught my eye just sitting on the shelf. It had a black cover with large white printing and was in the fiction section and the cover was very attention-grabbing, so I picked it up.

That was about a week ago, almost, and it's been a really long week, a week in which I got zillions of phone calls and had family emergencies and the library started hassling me again and stuff, so I don't remember what this attention-grabbing book was actually called. Something about lying, maybe.

What I do remember is that I read the back of the book, and it sounded interesting, so I did the third thing I usually do with books that capture my attention.

Step one is always: Examine the cover to see if the attention-grabbing qualities that made me look at it hold my attention a little longer.

Step two is read the back cover. There's usually one of three things on the back cover: either a summary of the plot, a teaser to draw me in, or, something about the author, or, blurbs from critics telling me how great the book is.

This book had nothing about the author on the back cover. It mixed one and three on that list: It had a tiny, short teaser and then some blurbs from critics.

I've wondered a long time why anything about the author is on the back cover of a book. I can't think of anything you could tell me about the author of a fiction book that would make me want to buy the book. Nothing. Maybe if it's a memoir, or nonfiction, or something, where the author's credentials or history is important. But fiction? Why would I care about the author when I'm buying a fiction book?

Let's say you pick up the book John Tyler: Space President for Hire, because it has a flying smelt on the cover and that caught your eye. So you turn it over to see what the book is about, and instead of a plot, you get a picture of me in a turtleneck standing on a seashore and looking pensive, and it says The author wrote this book at his office, while he was supposed to be working. He lives in Wisconsin.

Does that make it more likely you'll want to read it? If publishers want to say something about the author, put it in the book, in a foreword or afterword or midword or something. Not on the back cover.

The same with blurbs. I know why the blurbs are there. It's science, but it's junk science. here's what it's based on:

Scientifically speaking, you can make someone fall in love with someone else in two easy steps. You take two people, and do this: First, tell each person that the other one likes him or her. Second, have each person tell the other a super-embarrassing story about themselves. That's all it takes: More often than not, those two people will fall in love.

I know that works because I've done it, and the people are still married to this day, something like 17 years later.

Blurbing books works on the same theory, kind of: Telling me that someone else liked the book makes it more likely I'll like the book. That's the theory, anyway, but it fails, with me, because I don't know who those people are or what else they liked, and I secretly suspect everyone else in the world of being either (a) an uncultured bohemian idiot or (b) a snob who likes pretentious crap. So I'm not inclined to follow the advice of some total unknown person who said This book is a must-read! because that person might have said fifty-three other crummy books were a must-read, too.

Someone's reading all those Chicken Soup books and recommending them, and it's not me.

Anyway, this particular book that I picked out had maybe three sentences of plot and then some blurbs, so I couldn't tell if it was something I might like or not and I didn't want to take a chance on just buying it because the last time I bought a book without knowing much about it, that book was Infinite Jest and I'd have been better off throwing my seventeen dollars out the window. If there has ever been a worse book than Infinite Jest, I don't know what it is. Infinite Jest was worse than Mason & Dixon and The Name of the Rose combined. I suspect that the infinite jest David Foster Wallace was referring to was the joke he played on publishers getting that book in the stores, and on critics who were too cowed to admit it sucked.

I took, then, step three, which is open the book to a random point and read a few paragraphs to see what it's like. I did that with this one, and landed smack dab in the middle of a sex scene, which I of course read -- feeling awkward, a little, that I was standing in a big superbookstore with my twin boys in a stroller reading some porn -- and then decided that the writing wasn't very good, after all, so I put the book back and moved on, leaving me, after all that, with this thought:

How full of sex does a book have to be to have a reader open to a random page and hit a sex scene?

"Pretty full," said Sweetie, when I asked her that question.

I got distracted from that thought by then noticing a big display of various zombie-themed books all on the end of an aisle, and all making millions of dollars for their authors, who were probably sitting in Hawaii even then, counting their money and thinking man, whoever made zombies big again, thanks!

That display made me both hopeful that my own zombie-related story was destined for great things, and also sad that my own zombie-related story has not yet achieved those great things, and also made me wonder a little whether I should have actually just started writing John Tyler: Space President for Hire, since I found out that day, too, that the "Pride & Prejudice & Zombies" guy is going to write a book about Abe Lincoln fighting zombies, and if I'm going to be at the forefront of a cultural movement, shouldn't I get a little credit (and by "credit," I mean "royalties.")

The upshot is that I went home sans new book and didn't return The Chronicles of the Lensman Vol. 1 to the library, so that Sunday night, when I went to bed, I had the option of (a) watching "Law & Order: Which One Is This Again?" with Sweetie, or (b) reading Lensman, or (c) giving up on Lensman and starting one of the other books on my shelf.

Option (c) wasn't a real great one because I'd be starting the new book while Lensman was sitting there on my nightstand, all pathetic and unloved, and would weigh on my conscience while I tried to start a new book (or go back to Playing for Pizza). It'd be exactly like when I was a teenager and we'd go to teen bars and there'd be two girls standing there, one pretty and one not, and I'd want to ask the pretty one to dance, but what about the not-pretty one? What about her? Wouldn't she feel bad? I'd start thinking that way, then I'd think what if the pretty one turns me down in front of her friend? That'd be embarrassing? Then I'd think what if the pretty one doesn't turn me down? I'm not exactly a good dancer? So I wouldn't ask anyone to dance and I'd just listen to The Cure on the way home.

Okay, so it wouldn't be exactly like that, but I didn't want to have to go find my Cure CD, so I instead picked up Lensman and gave it one more chance.

And I am glad I did, because within about two pages, Lensman got awesome. Way awesome.

Lensman, remember, was written as a serial -- just like I do on this website! And this one! And this one! Hey! Cool! And self-promoting! -- and, as explained in such a stultifying way by the introduction, the first couple chapters of the book I'm reading were tacked on after the fact. On Sunday, I got past those tacked-on things and got to the original serials, and they are great!

The thing about writing a serial, as you learn if you ever try, is that you've got to quickly grab the reader, and then make the reader hang around for the next installment. Which means action aplenty, and cliffhangers and jaw-droppers and introductions of new characters left and right, and then some more action aplenty.

Lensman does not disappoint in that regard. The part I'm up to now is called Triplanetary, and it's set in a future-of-humanity in which humans have taken to exploring space and are friends with Martians and Venusians and have a sort of Triplanetary government (hence the title, I assume.) It's written the way Heinlein writes stuff, too -- not a lot of exposition, not a lot of background, just assuming that you're familiar with science and the history of the world, even if that science and history are all made up.

As I hit the Triplanetary part, there's a space liner that comes under attack from V2 gas, causing Conway Costigan, a member of the Triplanetary Secret Service, to rescue a beautiful woman and don a space suit, fight pirates, inform others of the attack, and ultimately, get pulled into a giant, hidden space ship that's like the size of a planet...

... George Lucas? There's some copyright lawyers on line one...

... where they meet their nemesis/attacker/pirate, who goes by the fearsome name of ... Roger.

I loved that, and here's why: On my own serial (self-promotion rules!) I have revenants who are working for a mysterious organization to block the Gates of Heaven to keep Armageddon from happening, and the leader of those revenants is named: Steve. And that was a name I came up with (along with Rachel's friend, the Revenant named Bob) long before I read about Roger the Space Pirate attacking the Triplanetary liner.

So I loved Roger because it showed that I and the writer had something in common, something that's missing from too much sci-fi and fantasy and that was far more prevalent in the serials of days past, and that's a sense of the fun, the absurd, the interesting. It's absurd, I thought, to name a revenant "Bob" and have him wear concert t-shirts, and it's equally absurd to have the leader of a giant planet of robot pirates be called "Roger," but it's fun absurd; it's don't take this too seriously, just enjoy it absurd.

Conway Costigan and his buddy and the woman in the parts I've read [KIND OF A SPOILER ALERT, BUT HOW CAN I REVIEW A STORY WITHOUT SPOILING IT A LITTLE] go through battles with Roger as he tries to use the woman to study sex, and battles with Nevians, who are like a lizard-y-fish race of aliens that intervene in the battle because they've come across the universe to try to find iron, and while all that's going on, there's also a war with intelligent fish from the deeps of the planet Nevia, and another character from the Triplanetary service who films the whole battle and begins to figure things out, and also, there's a giant mountain covered in metal and hollowed out that serves as the base for the Triplanetary service on Earth.

... Hello? NORAD? There's some copyright lawyers on the phone...

All of which happens at a breakneck pace. Each chapter is, as you'd expect from a serial, a self-contained portion of the story, and each ends on a cliffhanger. The woman is trapped by Roger. Spaceships burst on the scene melting everything in sight. Giant fish attack with exploding orbs. People eject into space and storm onto bridges and form giant Cones of Attack and more happening all the time.

The characters are about what you'd expect from this type of story: Think Flash Gordon, only more upstanding and able. Conway Costigan can fight, hide secrets, figure out alien spaceships, store molten iron in his boot (it's complicated) and figure out how to talk to Nevians. In between all that, he can fall in love with the girl and kiss her and promise to marry her and still be respectful of her when they go to sleep on the alien spaceship, and he can also figure out alien weapon systems. The other characters are even more upstanding and charming and smart, but not in an obnoxious kind of way.

The writing, too, takes on its own style -- E.E. Smith had a large vocabulary or an easy-to-use thesaurus, or both, and the writing helps move the story forward in a breathlessly narrated kind of way, with lots of adjectives and minimal explanation and delays to talk about the science behind things only when it's necessary to do that. But even that is done in an interesting kind of way.

I'm about nearly 1/2 way through it now, and I look forward to reading a new chapter each night. That's the pace I've set for myself, because otherwise I'd probably stay up reading it all night, and I don't want to be exhausted all week, and also because it is a serial, and so it's best read that way: There's very little in life that's more fun than falling to sleep picturing Conway Costigan, his beautiful fiancee, and his sturdy assistant standing on the edge of a nearly-broken lifeboat they stole, looking over the vast expanse of an oceanic world as the purple sun sets, while a tentacle with dozens of mouths on it creeps towards them, wondering what'll happen next... and knowing it'll be good.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

It's only a matter of time until they learn to talk and form a great civilization based on holding things together (The Great Ranking of Problems!)

I keep all my paperclips in a little, weird coffee cup on my desk. I've got both big and small paperclips in there. I never touch the coffee cup, or the paper clips, unless I need a paperclip, in which case I pick up just one. Just one at a time.

Yet, despite all those elaborate precautions, every paperclip in that cup is somehow linked to every other paperclip in that cup, sometimes two or three or four combined in one, so that when I want to clip papers together, I've got to go through this elaborate unwinding process to try to get a clip.

And I have identified the cause of this problem. Since it's physically impossible for inanimate objects to link themselves together, I have concluded that it is now scientifically proven that (a) paperclips are sentient, and (b) they do not want to be separated. Which now makes me feel guilty that I have, all my life, been separating paperclip families, breaking up paperclip homes, tormenting paperclip moms and dads and kids, and otherwise being a horrible person to paperclips.

I will add this to the Great Ranking Of Problems at:

413: Guilt Over Meanness To Sentient Paperclips

The picture shown here is the World's Record Longest Paperclip chain, according to this site.

Prior entries:

99: Spousal PB&J Incompatibility.

173: Preshoveling & reshoveling snow.
502: Having to wait forever, seemingly, for Italian food to cool down.
. . .
721: Printer not holding a lot of paper at once.
2,624: Unidentifiable Mystery Song Stuck In Head.
5,000: Lopsided Nail Clipping.
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

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Question of the Day: 56

"What we don't understand is how come his kids have an XBox?"
-- Kid at the McDonald's Playland.

I took Mr F and Mr Bunches to play at the McDonald's playland near us, a trip that was the result of two factors: 1. Mr Bunches had put his shoes on, and having put his shoes on, he then felt that we should go somewhere, and 2., When I decided to go somewhere, it was raining, and there's not many places to go when it's raining: it's pretty much McDonald's or the library, and I didn't want to push my luck at the library.

(The lack of places to go and play with your kids when it's raining or cold led to my having an idea that was simply brilliant, this past winter: An indoor playground-- get a big store and put padding and swingsets and ball pits and slides and stuff, all indoors, and then charge parents for memberships. In the summer, the indoor playground would be open when it rained and when it was nice, we'd take field trips. Like a daycare, only parents have to stay with their kids.)

(It's genius, I know.)

So I took Mr F and Mr Bunches to the playland, where I drank a soda and supervised them playing with the two other kids there, one of whom was a six-year-old boy who chatted up a storm while we were there. In the space of fifteen minutes, this boy asked how tall I was (then volunteered that his dad was 6'6"), told me he liked my cell phone, asked why Mr Bunches was wearing pajamas, explained the dynamics of climbing up a slide, discussed the Hamburgler with me and a dream the kid had once about the Hamburgler, talked about his mom and his sister, and then volunteered the information that he had an uncle that had no job.

I said "That's very sad."

He said: "Uh huh. He's got no money."

I said "That's sad for him."

The kid then asked the question of the day -- saying ""What we don't understand is how come his kids have an XBox?" I shrugged and said I didn't know.

When we left, I told his mom that he was a nice boy and had been very helpful. I wanted to say to her, though, "You need to be careful what you say about his uncle around him."

(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher & Higher (From The Cheesecake Truck To The End Of The Line, 3)

Just before I got married to Sweetie, I made a mixtape to take on our honeymoon road trip to New York. The other day, I found that tape and decided to tell the story of our honeymoon through the songs on that tape. This is part 2. Click here for the table of contents.

3. (Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher & Higher.

I opted, ultimately, to head back the way we'd come -- the way we'd been driving for about an hour. Sweetie noticed immediately. We pulled out of the rest stop and I turned left, back the way we'd come, and she said:

"Isn't this the way we came?"

I said, "Yeah," and then admitted what had happened -- that we'd missed a turn, somewhere or other, and that we were in the middle of Illinois (as near as I could figure) and that we now had to head back that way to get us out of the middle of Illinois and into the middle of Indiana.

Sweetie handled it with good cheer:

"Are we lost?" she asked.

I assured her we weren't lost, we were just off course, which was a totally different thing, and we went back to driving through the monotonous grasslands of central Illinois, listening still to the tape and occasionally talking.

I learned, early on in my relationship to Sweetie, that she never fully relaxes -- not when she appears to be relaxed, not when she's sleeping, even, and certainly not ever in a car. Sweetie may appear relaxed in a car, but she's not. She's tense and observing every minute detail of every point of the trip, from how fast I'm going to each and every car that exists in a 300-mile radius to how the car is positioned in the road to the noises the car makes to the tilt of my head.

That's a tough thing for Sweetie to have to labor with, since I'm more or less the exact opposite: I'm never more relaxed than when I'm driving. Put me behind the wheel of a car and I settle in and go on autopilot, doing two or three or four or fifteen things at the same time as I'm driving. Each morning, I commute to work and during my commute I'm not only scanning through songs on my iPod, but I'm eating my Pocket Breakfast and keeping an eye on my coffee, which is sometimes not in a travel mug and so needs to be balanced precariously on my lap or held in the same hand as my Pocket Breakfast, because the other hand needs to be free to work the iPod, and to shift gears, as I drive a stick shift. While that's going on, I'm trying to remember what it is I have to do that day, think up ideas for writing, and also come up with creative ways to be annoyed by everyone around me.

I also have difficulty talking to someone that I can't see. Living in the modern era, you'd think that would not be a problem, but it is. I hate talking to someone I can't see. (That's one of the ten billion reasons I hate telephones.) Talking to someone I can't see has always posed a problem for me, and has posed a problem in such contexts as, say, canoeing.

When I was younger, we'd take an annual family trip to go canoeing on the Crystal River in northern Wisconsin, piloting flimsy and easily-tippable fiberglass canoes down what might be the shallowest river in Wisconsin. I usually got paired up with my brother Matt on these trips, and I always made him sit in front because (a) I was heavier (a lot) and it made the canoe look stupid to have the back end pointing up in the air, and (b) I couldn't imagine spending two or three hours talking with someone I couldn't see. I would have had to spend the entire time turning around in the seat to talk to him and we'd crash or tip even more.

So when I drive a car, and talk, I turn my head to look at the person I'm talking to, a lot. This doesn't pose a problem for me, and it's not the cause of any of the six or seven relatively-serious car accidents I've had in my life -- none of which were my fault-- but it does pose, for some reason, a problem for the people I'm riding in a car with, especially Sweetie, who spends a lot of time telling me "Look at the road, not at me," and even more time tensing up, gasping, grabbing for the Jesus Handle, and trying not to yell.

I'd like to tell Sweetie "Look, I once ate spaghetti while driving through rush hour traffic in Milwaukee, in a stick-shift car, so don't worry about me," but I don't think she'd find that comforting.

As we drove through Illinois, and then Indiana, I noticed that Sweetie was tense, a lot, and that she was nervous, a lot. I tried to re-focus her and help her calm down, but the only thing that would help her calm down was, really, me not being me, and that was unlikely to happen.

Nor was it possible, really, to simply switch places. I don't do all those things when I'm driving simply because I'm insane; I do all those things when I'm driving because driving is boring. I only do them when driving is boring me. When I'd drive in New York City later on our honeymoon, when I drove in Los Angeles on our family vacation, when I drove through the mountains that lead to Hoover Dam, mountains that are cut through by roads that have precarious drop-offs of hundreds, if not thousands, of feet, I did not play with my iPod, talk to people, turn my head, or eat spaghetti. I drove.

The doing-all-those-other-things aspect of my driving (and turning to talk to people) is centered on that boredom brought on by driving. I didn't have to concentrate on driving through Illinois and Indiana and then Ohio because -- this cannot be pointed out enough -- those states are boring to drive through. They're just grassland and a few trees and houses that look like every other house everywhere.

But that boredom, and the need to do something other than simply sit in a car and stare out the window, and the need to do something other than just sit and talk, is also why I couldn't simply switch places with Sweetie and have her drive. In addition to being functionally incapable of holding a conversation with someone I can't see, I also get bored just sitting and talking. (That's reason number two of the ten billion reasons I hate the phone. I have to just sit and talk to someone I can't see. If you get me on the phone, know this: the odds are I will be doing something else while we talk. I will be surfing the internet, or chopping carrots, or giving the twins a bath, or raking leaves. The earpiece for cellphones has made it possible for me to talk to someone on the phone for at least a brief time, as has the speaker phone.)

So if we switched, as we did once or twice that day (and occasionally again throughout the trip), I was worse. I'd be fidgeting and looking at stuff and talking to Sweetie and playing with the tape player and grabbing stuff out of the backseat and in general going completely nuts. The only times in my life I've ever been able to sit still on a car ride are when I'm left alone to read something (I love reading in cars and on planes and trains) and the time I'd had my wisdom teeth out and then found out I had to give the eulogy for my grandpa three days later, so I didn't take any of the painkillers until we got back into the car after the funeral, at which point I took them and more or less zoned out for the hour-long ride home.

Reading on my honeymoon didn't seem a good option to me. "Here, Sweetie, you drive while I quietly read to myself" was not the most romantic of ways to celebrate getting married, I figured.

So mostly, I drove, and mostly I drove Sweetie nuts as we proceed across the vast Plains of Boredom that most people call Illinois and Indiana and Ohio. We made it to Ohio late in the afternoon, having barely paused through Indiana.

Ohio manages to out-boring even Illinois and Indiana, combined. It does that by having people travel on toll roads that go through nowhere (most of Ohio = nowhere) and by limiting access to those toll roads. You pay by the mile to drive through Ohio, which hardly seems fair; the state of Ohio should pay you to drive through it. But you pay based on how far you've driven: when you get on the toll road, you take a ticket. When you get off, the ticket is run through and you pay based on how far you went. We entered Ohio and took a ticket almost immediately, and for most of Ohio thereafter, we were on a highway that cut through immense expanses of boring terrain, two or three lanes in each direction, filled with identical-looking cars and with no discernible scenery in sight of anything. Just mile after mile of grass, and some small trees, and occasionally a glimpse of houses in the distance. Driving through Ohio is like driving through a post-apocalyptic world in which only a few people have survived, only the "Apocalypse" was not nuclear war or a comet hitting the world or elephant-like aliens storming in, but instead, the "Apocalypse" was the showering down on humanity a rain of tedium.

The only break in the Ohio turnpikes, really, came in the form of rest areas every 10 or 20 miles or so. These rest areas were not excitingly perched on bridges across the road, like the ones in Illinois. They were, instead, set off to the side of the road, and you got into them by pulling onto a little frontage road, like a pit area at a race track. Each rest area was identical to the previous rest area: a gas station, a souvenir shop, and a "Big Boy" style restaurant. They might actually have been Big Boy restaurants, for all I know now, but it doesn't matter if they were or were not -- if they were not actually Big Boy restaurants, they were some other restaurant that had moved into the Big Boy location and not changed anything about the restaurant, at all.

The thrill -- if it can be called that -- of that kind of rest stop wears off almost instantaneously upon seeing it, and they only got more boring as the day went on, although that may have just been the residual boredom of Ohio taking residence in our souls.

We filled the time singing along with the tape, which by that point we'd practically memorized. We had two numbers that we sang as duets -- "Summer Nights," and the song "If I Had A Million Dollars" by Barenaked Ladies -- and each time they came on, we'd sing along, each doing our parts.

We also changed the tape now and then, and talked about the kind of things people talk about 7 or 8 or 9 hours into a road trip (mostly: Keep your eyes on the road followed by I am followed by no, you're not) and crept towards the first day's goal: The Econo-Lodge in Cleveland, Ohio.

Those words, as I say them, strike fear into my heart, although it wasn't always that way. When I'd booked the hotels for our trip, I'd had one main concern in mind: cost. We were struggling on the money I made as a self-employed lawyer (i.e., none) and Sweetie's salary as a legal secretary, and so I tried to cut costs where I could to allow us the maximum amount of spending money for the trip.

One of the cost-cutting measures I undertook was to book us into Econo-Lodges for the whole trip. I'd done that based on my Dad's recommendation. Dad had come to stay in Madison when I graduated law school. I don't know why he did that, given that he lived only an hour away, but he did, and he'd stayed at the Econo-Lodge in Madison. I'd picked him up there and he'd shown me the room and the room was nice, the hotel was nice, and it was cheap. (As you'd expect, from a name that includes 50% of the word "economical" in it.)

So when the time came to pick our hotels for this trip, I'd relied on that, called Econo-Lodge's nationwide booking number, and booked us into Econo-Lodges in Cleveland, Buffalo, and Jersey City... the latter being because the Econo-Lodge booking person assured me that the Jersey City Econo-Lodge in New Jersey was just a short distance from Manhattan (or, as I called it, then, "Downtown New York City.")

We got to Cleveland late on the first day of the road trip, and Cleveland is a fairly large city to navigate through. I'd hoped that we might have time, that first day, to visit the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame, something that I know is located in Cleveland and something that everytime I've had to go near Cleveland in my life (which is a surprising number of times) I've hoped to see... and something that I've never seen.

Because we were arriving so late -- it was after 10 p.m. -- we had no shot of seeing the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Any disappointment I had about that was soon replaced by two emotions: First, love, because this was my honeymoon, after all, so it didn't matter what we did, so long as I was with Sweetie. And second, fear.

That second one came in because as we progressed through Cleveland and tried to find the Econo-Lodge, we got into worse and worse neighborhoods.

There are easy ways to tell, when you're in a strange city, whether you're in a good or bad neighborhood. The key factors to look for are not just bars in the windows, but "Jesus Missions," pawn shops, and liquor stores. The more densely concentrated those businesses are, the worse the neighborhood you're in.

And before anyone gets upset over that characterization, let me just say this: Pawn shops and "Jesus Missions," -- those rescue missions that help the homeless and desperate -- don't show up in wealthy parts of the community. There's a host of reasons for that, but the fact remains that they show up in the rougher parts of the city, and the rougher the neighborhood, the more that neighborhood will have liquor stores, Jesus Missions, and pawn shops.

By the time we found our hotel, we were running about three liquor stores, one Jesus mission, and one pawnshop per block. The only reason there weren't more of them is that the buildings in between the missions, pawnshops, and liquor stores were burnt out or rubble or boarded up.

We got to the Econo-Lodge and pulled into the parking lot -- it was, I believe, across the street from a combined Jesus Mission/pawnshop/liquor store -- and sat there for a second outside the "lobby." Behind us, a guy muttered to himself and shook his head and pushed a shopping cart across the cracked, broken pavement we'd parked on. There were no lights on in any of the rooms we could see surrounding the parking lot . The door to the office was metal.

"Well, we're here!" I said, trying to sound cheery.

Let's invent a new letter! (The Found Alphabet, D)

Saturday morning, to give Sweetie a break from the Babies and some peace and quiet, I took them with me to pay my remaining $5.00 fine at the library (thus ensuring my victory and ending the feud), then to the park. For most of the morning, Mr F amused himself by going down the "tornado slide" over and over (about 20, by my count) and by trying to avoid the little girl who thought he was cute -- she was 3, and had come over and tried to hug him, causing him to grimace and go hide behind the swings.)

Mr Bunches, meanwhile, focused his attention on trying to climb up the ultra-slippery tunnel slide, forcing me to lie on my back in it and serve as a foot-hold -- putting my hands down and having him brace himself on those while he climbed and climbed, hair rising in the static-electricity-filled atmosphere.

When he tired of that, he began playing a game where he'd go across a metal bridge and then jump into my arms.

The jungle gym that served as the base camp for all the slide and jumping and metal bridge had a kind of tic-tac-toe game on it with a bunch of letters and things associated with those letters, including the "D" that makes up the fourth letter of the Found Alphabet.

I couldn't figure out the entire pattern, though -- "E" and "I" were on there twice, and I'm pretty sure there was no "Q" or "Z." Then there were blanks, too, maybe for kids to make up their own letters of the alphabet?

Then, after I thought of that, I thought: maybe we do need a new letter of the alphabet. So I spent the next half-hour catching Mr Bunches as he jumped, keeping an eye on Mr F, and trying to figure out what the new letter would be, and what it would look like.

Then Mr F tried to run to the river, so I had to stop, and as a result, the world does not have its new alphabet letter.


Letter "C" here.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

"Imaginary blogs with real poets in them." (Sunday's Poem 13)

by Marianne Moore

I, too, dislike it: there are things that are important beyond
all this fiddle.
Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it, one
discovers in
it after all, a place for the genuine.
Hands that can grasp, eyes
that can dilate, hair that can rise
if it must, these things are important not because a

high-sounding interpretation can be put upon them but because
they are
useful. When they become so derivative as to become
the same thing may be said for all of us, that we
do not admire what
we cannot understand: the bat
holding on upside down or in quest of something to

eat, elephants pushing, a wild horse taking a roll, a tireless
wolf under
a tree, the immovable critic twitching his skin like a horse
that feels a flea, the base-
ball fan, the statistician--
nor is it valid
to discriminate against "business documents and

school-books"; all these phenomena are important. One must make
a distinction
however: when dragged into prominence by half poets, the
result is not poetry,
nor till the poets among us can be
"literalists of
the imagination"--above
insolence and triviality and can present

for inspection, "imaginary gardens with real toads in them,"
shall we have
it. In the meantime, if you demand on the one hand,
the raw material of poetry in
all its rawness and
that which is on the other hand
genuine, you are interested in poetry.


I went looking for poems about baseball-- because of the Cubs thing, below, and instead, I found this poem. And I read it through to find out why it was listed under "Sports poems." Having read it, I don't think it's a sports poem at all -- does mentioning ' the baseball fan' make it a sports poem?

But, more to the point, I'm not sure, as I re-read it again, that I like the poet or the sentiment. "we do not admire what we cannot understand"? I'm not sure THAT's true. I don't understand how someone figured out how to build a computer, or launch a rocket to the moon, or take x-rays, but I admire all of those accomplishments. I admire the bee for flying even though it's not supposed to be
able to do so.

Then, the poet gets snobby at the end, placing demands on what
is or isn't poetry.

Also, I wondered about that quote:
"imaginary gardens with real toads in them." So I googled it, and it appears that Marianne Moore came up with that line. She was quoting herself. So why the quotes? Now, reading it, I imagine Marianne Moore doing air quotes as she spoke to William Carlos Williams or something.

I am, like Moore, a poetry snob. But I think I'm a cut above her because (a) I don't presume to tell people what poetry has to be about -- I just tell people what good poetry isn't, and (b) I don't use unnecessary quotes.

That is, I don't "use" "unnecessary" "quotes."


It's too late to read my essay "The Best Poem" online -- but you can still read it in book form by getting "Do Pizza Samples Really Exist?", a collection of essays on pop culture, entertainment, and things that really matter -- like why movie monsters need saber teeth to be cool. And, of course, "The Best Poet," my thoughts on what makes a poem good -- and what makes The Best Poem the Best. Click here to buy it for the low low price of whatever it's selling for right now!