Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Hunk Is Coming!

I spent the morning cleaning my office, and now I'm taking the Babies! to the Zoo... so there'll be a hunk later today or early tomorrow. Until then, enjoy this fine optical illusion, courtesy of Mighty Optical Illusions:

There's a man hidden in that photo somewhere. Can you find him?

An actual workday, broken down to its parts (And one of the parts is casino gambling.)

Like everyone else in America, my workday breaks down like this:

1% work.
1.5% waiting for someone to announce that the office is ordering pizza in.
97.5% surfing the Internet.

That is not, as you might guess, the most profitable way to run an economy. But I've had an idea -- more of a Shelbyville idea, if you will-- about how to start making a little do-re-mi... while I work.

Two words: casino games.

One more word: Online.

Another word: Ratings.

I've lost count of the words.

Here's what I'm getting at: You can play casino games online and win actual money, and you can find out which casino games are the best to play -- which have the greatest payouts, which are safest, which are most fun, and which offer the most bonuses for signing up, by going to "TX Gambling," the Best Online Casino Games rating site. They have quick- but accurate-- reviews of all the hottest sites, with links to download the stuff you'll need to play the game right away. Pro gamblers endorse this site, so you should, too.

Then you can find the games that'll let you earn enough money to BUY the office a pizza. (Call me when you do. I'll be right over.)

Friday, April 09, 2010

The first step towards oblivion, silverware-wise. (Taking Stock: My kitchen counter, 7:55 a.m. on a Friday morning.

At 7:55 a.m. this morning, I was supposed to have left for work 15 minutes ago -- I'm always supposed to have left for work 15 minutes ago, and by now I only in theory show up for work at 8 a.m. Most days it's more like 8:20. Or 8:30.

I was trying to figure out where I'd left my travel mug when I snapped this picture. The objects numbered and shown are:

1. A stack consisting of the latest Sports Illustrated, and two CDs: the Locksley album Don't Make Me Wait, and the original cast recording of A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum.

Those CDs and magazines were sitting there even though my rule is that the kitchen counter is not a storage space for... stuff. And I tried to comply with that. But the SI magazine is The Boy's; we subscribe to it for him, so as a rule I try to wait 24 hours before I take it away from him in case he actually wants to read it.

As for the CDs, here's what happened this morning. I picked them up to take upstairs and put on my dresser when I went to wake up Mr F and Mr Bunches and get them dressed. But then I went into the Babies!' room first, so I put the CDs on their dresser while I got them dressed. After getting both boys dressed, I had to take Mr F to the bathroom (we're potty-training him) but The Boy was in the upstairs bathroom, so I had to take Mr F downstairs. I can't leave the CDs in their room, so I took them with me back downstairs with Mr F. Then, being downstairs, I decided to just eat breakfast, so I put the CDs back on the counter while I ate breakfast. After cereal-and-toast, I went to shower up and then headed up to get dressed for work. On my way back through the kitchen (I shower on the lower level), I was carrying too much stuff to get the CDs, so there they sat.

2. The phone we shouldn't have but do. That's the cordless phone I picked up at Wal-Mart about 2 months ago to replace the one Mr F broke by playing with it. Every time the subject of the phone comes up, Sweetie and I discuss how it would make a ton of sense to not have a house phone, since we both have cell phones and we never really use our house phone anyway. Then we discuss how we might want to have a phone at home for The Boy, even though The Boy has his own cell phone. Then we discuss getting one of those pay-as-you-go phones for a home phone.

By then, typically, one of the Babies! has taken off his pants, and we get distracted and go deal with more immediate concerns. So we still have a phone.

3. The replacement for the replacement coffee maker. Mr F broke my old coffee pot -- he likes to play with kitchen stuff, and tried to play with the coffee pot but threw it on the floor instead, breaking it. So we had to go get a replacement for that, all as detailed here.

4. My Deep Fryer. True story: About two years ago, my Dad gave me a Christmas present, and when I unwrapped it, it was a deep fryer box. "A deep fryer!" I said. "Great!" Then I opened the box and found... a crystal bowl, suitable for dinner parties.

We don't have dinner parties. When we do have people over for dinner, our table usually features something like take-out pizza. We have zero use for a crystal bowl. I tried to hide my disappointment, but was extremely unsuccessful in doing so.

Then, I later got a deep fryer -- not from my dad, who continues to be a pretty terrible gift-giver (he gives presents he would like) but from the kids. And while I have zero use for a crystal serving bowl, I have tons of use for a deep fryer. I've made cheese curds, deep-fried giant meatballs, homemade deep-fried macaroni. I will deep-fry anything.

4a. Sweetie's can of Diet Mountain Dew. I just wanted you to know it wasn't mine.

5. The smoothie blender. Sweetie, when she retired to be a stay-at-home mom, got a variety of cooking apparatus from me because she wanted to spend more time cooking. One of those things was a Rachael Ray (TM) Food Processor, which I accidentally broke when I used it to try to process food -- I was trying to chop up meat and vegetables, and I didn't know that the food processor was a delicate soul and couldn't do that.

The blender was a part of those gifts; I got her that and a book of Smoothie recipes that featured Smoothies which could be made without yogurt, since yogurt is what keeps Sweetie from loving smoothies.

We also use the blender to make shakes.

6. The pathetic display of kitchen utensils that themselves are pathetic. In addition to the kitchen gadgets, I think it looks neat to display around the kitchen the utensils that are used, the highlight of that being something I don't have, the overhead-rack-of-pans-and-stuff.

Instead, we have a pizza board hanging on one wall, and the remnants of other such decorations: by the sink (not pictured) there were scrub brushes that Mr F has taken to play with. And on this counter was a black container of spoons and tongs and things like that, alongside a wooden block of sharp knives.

Neither the utensils nor the knives were very good; the knives have small handles and are awkward to use, while the utensils are sort of weak-plastic and make you think they're going to break if you use them. Because they were used so little, they were good decorations. But then the Babies! got tall enough to grab the knives, so now all sharp implements are kept in a way-high cupboard above the sink where, when you want a knife, you have to fumble around blindly above your head, hoping to grab the knife you need without hurting yourself and without causing all the other sharp stuff to fall down on your head.

And the remaining utensils -- a couple of spoons and spatulas -- are scattered throughout our house because Mr F plays with them.

7. My briefcase. I don't keep it there. I'd just put it there while I snapped the picture.

8. The cupboard where we keep the toaster. Here's a point that occurred to me as I reviewed the things on the counter: I display, on our kitchen counter, a deep fryer and a blender that we use sporadically at best. But every day, I put away the toaster, which gets used at least once a day, if not more. When I realized that, I thought to myself: I should put the deep fryer and blender away, and leave the toaster out. Because I like the idea of having the kitchen implements also serve a decorative purpose -- jazzing up an otherwise-empty counter -- but it makes no sense to keep doing all the work of putting away and taking out the one I really use, and leaving out the ones that aren't as popular.

Then, as soon as I thought that, I immediately thought: No way. I'm not going to leave the toaster out on the counter. It seems wrong to do that.

I think it has to do with how functional the thing is. The more I use the gadget, the more it seems like a tool and less like a decoration. There's a relationship there, between how decorative and how useful something is... an inverse relationship. So it's okay to put up (as we do above the cupboards) a plate that Sweetie decorated when she was seven or so; that plate is functional, but we never use it, so it's highly decorative.

The toaster is used a lot -- so the inverse relationship between usefulness and decorativeness means that putting the toaster on the counter permanently, keeping it there, will destroy that balance, and will be the first step onto a slippery slope that ends with not putting anything away at all, the result inevitably being a pile of silverware on the counter.


Claudius wanted to be the first man to reach the stars... but it was murder to get there. Read Eclipse, the haunting sci-fi book from Briane Pagel. Available at and on your Kindle.

And goes beyond, really (Friday's Sunday's Poem/ Hot Actress 49)

by Raymond Carver

So early it's still almost dark out.
I'm near the window with coffee,
and the usual early morning stuff
that passes for thought.

When I see the boy and his friend
walking up the road
to deliver the newspaper.

They wear caps and sweaters,
and one boy has a bag over his shoulder.
They are so happy
they aren't saying anything, these boys.

I think if they could, they would take
each other's arm.
It's early in the morning,
and they are doing this thing together.

They come on, slowly.
The sky is taking on light,
though the moon still hangs pale over the water.

Such beauty that for a minute
death and ambition, even love,
doesn't enter into this.

Happiness. It comes on
unexpectedly. And goes beyond, really,
any early morning talk about it.


About the poem: I decided to read this poem based solely on the title. Then, I thought it's okay, maybe I'll go with it, and then I got to the last stanza, which won me over with the insertion of the word really. I'm not sure why, but the way that last sentence is written makes the poem more than just a typical poem.

About the actress: So she used a body double in Up In The Air; so what? It was, apparently, because she'd just given birth recently. There's still no denying that Vera Farmiga is a beautiful woman who doesn't appear to have had any plastic surgery, and plays good, interesting roles.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Don't mess with the Crazy Eyes. (3 Good Things From 4/8/10)

Yesterday began and end with chilling visions, as you'll see from my 3 Good Things.

1. Mr Bunches at least left his shirt on.
Mr F and Mr Bunches slept horribly the night before last, and as a result, were supertired when I got them up yesterday morning. Mr F took getting up badly, crying and complaining through the process of getting dressed and then promptly going back to bed.

Mr Bunches took it worse. He yelled and hollered through the whole process, then, when released (fully-clothed, for the moment), he stood up, and howled at me, and gave me the Crazy Eyes -- wide-eyed, all-pupil angry eyes almost like his expression in the picture here, but with more crazy
. While he stared me down, Crazy-Eye style, he very deliberately took off his pants and underwear, and stood there, half-naked, daring me to do something.

I did: I went downstairs and ate breakfast. I don't mess with the Crazy Eyes.

2. I finally got to make GIANT bubbles. All my life, I've been jealous of those kids who got the big bubble wand that made really big soap bubbles while all I ever had was tiny bubbles like a sucker. Yesterday, I picked up a new bubble set for Mr F (to celebrate his Excellence In Pottying), and it had a big bubble wand in it, so after dinner last night, we had an Excellence In Pottying Giant Bubble Celebration.

3. The movie The Collector was really good and really creepy. Almost as scary as the Crazy Eyes, that is. Sweetie got The Collector on Netflix yesterday, so we watched it after the Babies! went to be, and it was really good -- the kind of gross-out, gut-wrenching tense movie I didn't expect it to be. The worst part? The box guy. If you haven't seen it, watch it.

Then do what I do: put on something funny afterwards and watch that, or you're going to have freaky dreams.

112 Down, 10,633 to go: Another way to avoid bad dreams? Listen to the lighthearted, multiethnic, peaceful musical stylings of The George Baker Selection, "Una Paloma Blanca."

That lead singer is, I'm pretty sure, Swedish, thereby blowing every Swedish stereotype I've ever had. And I had lots of them. (I used to collect them.)

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

In the picture, Mr F is holding a rake. In the car. That's his thing, sometimes. (3 Good Things From 4/6/10)

Last night, while swimming laps, I lost count about four times and so I don't know if I swam 55 or 57 or some random number of laps. Also, when I say "laps" I mean what swimnerds call "lengths."

Here's something easier to count: my 3 Good Things from yesterday:

1. I got a raise. I'm not going to say how much, but yesterday was my annual review and it went really well and I got a raise, and in celebration, last night, I had KFC's popcorn chicken (while the rest of the family had Burger King. Don't say we don't know how to celebrate in style.)

2. My computer was de-virused (again.) For the second time in two weeks, I got that stupid virus that keeps telling me that I had to activate a security program because my passwords were at risk of being posted on eBay or something -- an annoying virus that interfered with my working at a rate of about 3 popups per minute over the last week. Have you ever tried to write a brief discussing whether or not an incorrect legal description voids a sheriff's sale in foreclosure while also being told your computer is at risk?

It's harder than you'd think.

But yesterday Steve "The Computer Guy" came and de-virused my laptop, so I'm pop-up free today.

I also learned that I'm not supposed to call him "The Computer Guy." He'd popped his head into my office when I was on the phone, and then left. So when I finished up my phone call, I went looking for him, and each person I met I'd say "Have you seen Steve?" They'd all say "Who?" and I'd say "The Computer Guy," at which point they'd nod and point me in the right direction. But one coworker said that Steve hates being called The Computer Guy. So to his face, I called him Steve.

3. I was first, but you can be next.
Go and follow "Abbie Turned Normal," a new blog by Abbie, a blog in which she's going to talk about her friends who are all (as far as I can tell) named "Allison" and are distinguished by the varying number of l's they use in their name. I've already followed her, and I was first (so take that, TS Hendrick!).

Abbie Turned Normal looks to be an entertaining blog-in-progress (which I'm hereby naming a blogress) and Abbie commented on The Best of Everything, so she's obviously smart and worth following, which I've done and you should, too.

111 Down, 10,634 to Go: If you're around my age, then the chances are that at one point or another you tied on rental roller-skates and skated around in an oval, your feathered hair flapping on your head, to this song: New York Groove, by Ace Frehley.

In my case, it was at Skateworld in Hartland, Wisconsin. They also had Space Invaders!

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Sometimes, everything is symbolic of nothing. (The Rum Punch Review of "Last Night In Twisted River"!)

It's back... I'd gotten away from my Rum Punch Reviews, but then a recent comment on one made me think, "Why did I ever stop doing those?" The answer is: no reason. So they're back.

I suppose it's my fault for putting such importance on the last line of the book Last Night In Twisted River. John Irving never told me, in specific or in general, that the last line was anything special, after all; he just said that in writing a book, he writes his last line first.

But him saying that -- and the fact that his talking about the last line of the book was repeated over and over and over in the months since Last Night In Twisted River came out -- and the fact that I'd never heard that before about him, even though I've been a John Irving fan for about twenty years now -- made me think that the last line of this book would be really good, would be really worth getting to.

Even if it is my fault, in part, I don't think it's all my fault. If you're going to be a big-time author and you're going to go on Good Morning America or The Today Show or whatever morning show I think I saw him on talking about how you write your last line first, and make a big deal about that, then you're putting a lot of emphasis on that last line, too, making it not my fault if I build it up in my mind and spend the four months it'll take me to read your book anticipating that last line, anticipating it so much that when I read the last page of the book, when I turned the page and realized that the page I was on was, in fact, the last page and would have the last line on it, I put my hand over the last paragraph so as not to spoil the surprise...

...well, if you're going to do all that, then that level of anticipation isn'tt entirely my fault, is my point.

The last line of Last Night In Twisted River wasn't worth all that anticipation.

And neither was the book.

Put another way, the last line wasn't the only thing that kind of let me down about Irving's latest book.

I became a John Irving fan about two decades ago, in the early 1990s, when I was just getting back into college and working two jobs (at a Subway restaurant and a movie theater) to make ends meet and living in a little L-shaped studio apartment and didn't have much money. Around the corner from the theater I worked at was a used book store, and one summer day I went in there looking for a cheap book to buy, and came across The World According To Garp for seventy-five cents. I bought that and read it and loved it, and soon read through every John Irving book I could get my hands on, even Setting Free The Bears.

I would do that, in the next year or so, not just for John Irving books, but also for Anne Tyler books, and for Joseph Heller books, and for Kurt Vonnegut books, reading through every book by those authors that I could get my hands on, all in a row: One Irving or Vonnegut or Tyler book after another until I'd read everything by that author and could move on to the next author.

When you do that, when you read through an author's works all at once, you get an extra feel for that author, sometimes -- you get more of a piece of their voice, and their attitude, and maybe a little insight into that author.

For example, when I read all of Kurt Vonnegut's books straight through, I got really depressed. I remember that spring well: it was a beautiful spring in Milwaukee, and I had just taken up roller-blading, and despite having no money, really, and no free time, really, I was young and newly-in-shape and had jobs that provided me free food and free movies, so I should've overall been pretty happy. Instead, overall, I was always feeling a little down, always feeling a little sad, always feeling a little overwhelmed by humanity, and I finally gathered that it was because I ws reading so much Kurt Vonnegut, and I then had the feeling (I don't know if it's right or wrong) that Kurt Vonnegut felt that way, too, most of the time. After all, that feeling suffused his writing, so how could it not have suffused his life? Vonnegut, I figured, must have been more or less putting his philosophy or outlook onto paper, even subconsciously.

In assuming that, I didn't assume that Vonnegut had been writing about his life -- not even when I read Slaughterhouse-Five, which would seem to at least in part have been based on experiences that Vonnegut had. As a part-time writer/novelist, I don't make the assumption that everybody who's not a writer does: I don't assume that the writer is writing about himself, or people he knows.

That idea -- that writers write about what they know, that writers are always basing their writing on their lives, that writers, are, essentially, writing about themselves, is an idea that I don't believe is true, necessarily. While my characters sometimes exhibit qualities of my own, and while sometimes I base characters on real-life people (like my new character Krzyzewski, in the latest installment of Temporary Anne; he's named after [but not necessarily based on] my maybe-cousin), those characters are made-up and not wholly formed in the likeness of someone or something in my life.

That idea, though, is a major theme in Last Night In Twisted River, which focuses (mostly) on Daniel Baciagalupo, known for most of the book as Danny Angel... and I just got that, and I'll get back to in a minute (maybe) a bit of maybe-symbolism in the name Danny Angel and a character in the book... Daniel Baciagalupo is the protagonist (mostly) of the book, and he's a writer. As a writer, Daniel writes books that appear to be based on his life: He writes a book that is mostly a takeoff of his marriage. He writes a book about a relationship that he had. He writes books that are loosely... at worst... based on his life, and that are almost biographical, at best. (Or worst.)

But while writing those books, Daniel at times in the book is questioned about whether the books really were based on his actual life. His dad, Dominic, reads the books and wonders whether the books detail Daniel's actual life, but Daniel denies that they do. At one point, Daniel writes a book that he takes pains to make different than the actual events in his life, at which time the critics (as characters in the book) question Daniel about whether the book, which is actually different from his life, is based on Daniel's life.

As Daniel's career advances, in fact, in Last Night In Twisted River, each of his books becomes less like his own actual life, and more like an actual work of fiction instead of a fictionalized-autobiography; but, as that occurs, people seem to assume more and more that Daniel's books, which are becoming more like fiction, are actually more based on his real life.

Here's where it gets confusing, and a little distracting: Daniel Baciagalupo seems to be a stand-in for John Irving -- in that Daniel writes like John Irving. Specifically, Daniel writes his novels beginning with the last line and working towards the first -- the way Irving writes, as Irving frequently pointed out on the publicity tour for this book. (A book Irving wrote by first coming up with that letdown of a last line.)

That alone may not be too confusing. But then, in the latter part of Last Night In Twisted River, [SPOILER ALERT, OF SORTS, BUT IT'S A PRETTY MILD SPOILER] Daniel Baciagalupo (the character) begins writing a book that is, definitely, the book Last Night In Twisted River. I think that Daniel may actually plan to call the book he's writing (in the book) Last Night In Twisted River; but even if he doesn't plan to call it that, the last book Daniel begins to write (in the story) is very definitely the book Last Night In Twisted River... making it seem, more, that Irving intended Daniel Baciagalupo to be his stand-in, and making it seem, more, that Irving intended Last Night In Twisted River to be, at least in part, a commentary on how people assume that authors write about things that actually happened to them -- which would be, at times, a troubling thought to have about John Irving, given the subject matter of some of his books and given what happens to some of his characters.

If you're familiar with Irving's work -- if you read every book by him, in one summer or over a longer period of time, you can see why John Irving might want to make the point that a story by an author is not a story about that author's life. What is harder to see is why John Irving might make that point by having an author character write books that are very definitely based on that character's life, and then by making that author character be a stand-in for the author of the author character.

It becomes confusing, and distracting.

But I'm getting ahead of myself: I've written, as it were, the last line of this review first.

Last Night In Twisted River
is a sprawling mess of a book that is saved only by the fact that it's written by John Irving. Irving is, as I described him to Sweetie in explaining why I liked and didn't like this book, the Brett Favre of authors: he does things his own way, in a style that's hard to mimic (although I like to flatter myself by thinking that my own writing is similar to Irving's, something that I think is true and something that happened without my trying to do so). And Irving, like Brett Favre, in doing things his own way does those things so masterfully that a subpar effort from him is still better than the best of most of his competitors.

When Brett Favre has a bad game, he's still one of the best quarterbacks around. And a bad John Irving book is still better than most other books. By that standard, Last Night In Twisted River is an okay book -- but it's not a good John Irving book. We expect more of John Irving, and rightfully so.
Irving should be trying harder. My English teacher in 12th grade said I wasn't working up to my full potential. That's the remark he put on my report card -- even though I had an A in an advanced-placement class. As a high school senior, I was earning an A in a college-level course, and my teacher said I wasn't working up to my potential. When I asked him what he meant by that, given that I had an A, he said "I see you not even trying and still getting an A; you should be trying."

John Irving, without apparently trying, can write Last Night In Twisted River. But he should be trying. And if he was trying, Last Night wouldn't be as disappointing as it is.

Disappointing, for an Irving novel, that is. Still better than most of the other stuff I'll read on my Kindle this year (I'll be reading on my Kindle while chortling over the fact that the Anna Quindlens of the world are dead wrong, and books are actually dead.)(And chortling, too, over the fact that the Stephen Kings of the world wrongly claim that selling books for a reasonably-priced $9.99 will impoverish authors.)(It won't. It might make them less wealthy, but that's not a bad thing, Stephen King.)

(I read Last Night in Twisted River, though, as a book, since it was given me as a present at the same time that my Kindle was, and I wasn't about to download the book when it was sitting right there next to my Kindle waiting to be read in hard-copy form.)

[SPOILERS ABOUND FROM HERE ON OUT.] In Last Night In Twisted River, Daniel Baciagalupo accidentally kills his dad's lover, thinking she's a bear. That happens about two chapters into the book, and from then on, the book loosely follows Daniel and his father's migrations around the country as they avoid being tracked down by Carl, who was also the lover's boyfriend, and who is a mean person and a drunk. The book follows mostly Daniel, while also peering in on his father, Dominic, for about 40% of the time, and stops in on Daniel and his dad during the Vietnam war and during Daniel's marriage and when the two of them are living in Toronto, and it spends some time with Daniel's son Joe, and features visits from Ketchum the logger, who's a great character, one of those characters about whom I think This guy should get his own book.

The story spans about 50 or 60 years, which is a lot of time to cram into a book, even a book as heart-gratifyingly big and thick as Last Night In Twisted River. When I first began reading Last Night, in fact, I was glad to see it was so thick in part because all I ever hear from writers and publishers and agents these days is It's got to be shorter; I'm busy trying to whittle my latest novel down from 133,000 words to under 100,000 in part because I was advised to do that.

As I've been doing that -- revising my novel downwards (the novel in question is Up So Down, and you can read the entire, so-far-unrevised version for free by clicking here), I've been both resenting it, and liking it. I resent it because I liked the book the way I wrote it the first time, and don't want to cut passages and cut characters (I lifted out an entire character in the revised version.) But I liked revising it because I think the story is a little tighter this way: It might be a better read if I cut out a lot of the extraneous stuff -- cutting out what Elmore Leonard might call "the parts that people skip."

"The parts that people skip," the extraneous stuff, is part of what makes Irving such a great writer, though. It wasn't necessary for him to write the whole Pension Grillparzer story into one book. It wasn't necessary for him to throw in the stuff about the Undertoad. That stuff, those extra details, the fantastic and the mundane, are what make Irving Irving. It wouldn't be a John Irving novel if you didn't get a lot of exposition about the Green Bay Packers in books that otherwise deal only tangentially with the Green Bay Packers.

There's a lot of stuff that people skip in Last Night, but, for a change, for Irving, that's part of the problem. When I first began reading it, I reveled in the details about logging and cooking and Italian life in Boston in the 1950s and cooking in Iowa and more... but as it went on, the stuff that people skip began making the book less good, and feel more cramped. As Irving piles on detail after detail and biographical sketch after biographical sketch and character traits, the book becomes more crowded and bigger... but that takes away from the story that's being told, and results in a lot of things happening offscreen, as it were: Major events in the characters' lives are at times relayed almost second-hand and in a cursory fashion, as though Irving realized that he had to discuss them but didn't have the time to do so properly.

Things get worse when some of the details, the stuff that people skip, become even more distracting, as when in the early part of the book and then in the later part of the book, Irving throws in political commentary, sometimes commenting in his omniscient, questioning third-person narrator's voice and sometimes commenting through characters.

I'm not critiquing the politics of the political commentary -- for the most part, I agree with the politics expressed. I'm critiquing there being political commentary at all; it's jarring, and it's entirely out of place compared to the rest of the book. Most of the book is a thoughtful, almost dreamlike, recitation of Daniel's life and the relationships between fathers and sons and people who are fathers without sons (like Ketchum)... and then from time to time, political commentary comes barging through the narrative wall, like a giant Kool-Aid pitcher. The impression I got is that Irving was writing this book over time, and that at points during the writing, political events were happening and rather than blogging or privately grousing about those events, Irving simply had his characters mouth off about them... and then didn't edit that back out.

That jarring off-key tone isn't the only problem with shoving in the political commentary -- the excess verbiage used pushes the narrative further off the mainstage and takes up space in the book that could be devoted to telling a story the reader actually cares about. Instead, Daniel's story unfolds in snippets, here and there, feeling not so much like a narrative or novel as it does a series of excerpts from a novel, excerpts maybe reprinted in a magazine in between political columns and artistic criticism. The thread of the storyline gets lost and picked up and lost and picked up, and the result is an anecdotal retelling of Daniel's life, with some anecdotes lasting several chapters and some taking only a page or so.

The effect becomes like a better, more literary, version of Forrest Gump: Daniel Baciagalupo travels through the second-half of the 20th century getting more and more immersed in the world... and then pulling back from it. From his isolated youth in Twisted River and Boston to his burgeoning political awareness to his final retreat from political awareness (and the world), the feeling is kind of like Forrest had chosen to type his story rather than tell it to people at a bus stop: flashes of a life that don't so much flesh out a character as fill out a storyboard.

Coming on the heels of the brilliant story Until I Find You -- which used the same snippet-like revelation of a life to much better effect -- Last Night In Twisted River is especially disappointing.

The way the book is written, chock-full of details and thoughts and critiques that maybe shouldn't be there, has a different, distracting effect, too, one I touched on before: It makes the reader constantly wonder whether some part or other of the book is not only autobiographical -- that being a natural result of how Irving shaped the Daniel character -- but also how much of the book is symbolic.

And, if any of it is, just what those symbols mean.

I'm on the record as saying that most symbolism is bunk. That doesn't mean that authors don't occasionally use symbolism -- just that most of what people think is symbolic is actually more the application of the "My Aunt's Dog Theorem."

My skepticism aside, symbolism exists as a literary technique, and the fact that it exists can be confusing if something in a book starts to seem like it should be symbolic ... of something or other... and the longer I read Last Night In Twisted River the more it seemed to me like everything was symbolic... of everything. Only the symbolism wasn't clear, so that ultimately there were all these symbols that then didn't seem to symbolize anything.

Take the main character's name, Danny Angel. Born Daniel Baciagalupo, Daniel takes a pen-name when he becomes a writer, in part to keep the cop from tracking him down and killing him and his dad. (The cop's motivation to do that is never clearly explained. The cop was sleeping with the killed woman, too, but didn't love her; in fact, the cop probably hated the woman. When she's killed, Daniel and his dad set it up to make the cop think he killed her, probably while drunk. Later, the cop discovers that he didn't kill her while drunk, and then spends the rest of his life looking for Daniel and his dad -- doing so very halfheartedly -- to kill them for killing her.)

Daniel, as Danny Angel, lives only part of his life as Danny Angel. He's an angel, I realized today, only part of the time, which doesn't mean much until you read the book and realize that there's a character in it who is (mostly) called "Lady Sky," and that Lady Sky tells Daniel's son, Joe, that she is an angel only part of the time. Lady Sky drops -- literally-- into Daniel and Joe's life one day and then says she's an angel only part of the time, and things like that make it seem as though Lady Sky, or Danny's name, or both, are symbolic... but it's not clear whether they are, and if so, what they symbolize.

Then there are other possible-symbols: Daniel's name, it is explained early on, is a distortion of Kiss of the Wolf; "Baciagalupo" is Italian for Kiss of the Wolf, almost. Later in the book, Kiss Of The Wolf will take on a more literal meaning, and will also become the name of a restaurant and, possibly, a porn film. Leaving me to wonder: is that symbolic? And if so, of what?

There are even more overtly symbolic moments than those, symbolic moments that are unanchored and left as floating symbols of anything or nothing. Daniel, in one of the archival snippets Irving relates, wakes up repeatedly saying inuksuk, an Eskimo (or Indian) word describing stone monuments or statues around the area where Daniel lives. One such statue stands on the dock where Daniel stays sometimes, and one of Daniel's housecleaners pays some obeisance to it.

The inuksuk is introduced, and dwelt on, and elaborated on, and becomes a focal point for Danny's thinking... and then drops away without any explanation, raising again the question of whether it was meant to be symbolic of something -- is the inuksuk, in its mysterious sentinel-eque life, meant to be a sort of stone-age version of Ketchum, maybe? or something else in the book? Is it Daniel's father watching over him, even while Dominic is alive? In the book, after all, the statue is described as kind of a sentinel, but it's on an island where there is a tree that is ultimately (I'm pretty sure) revealed to itself be a symbol of Daniel's father.

Or is all that nonsense, and the inuksuk means nothing and was just something Irving found interesting?

That's the kind of distracting question that the seems-like-it's-meant-to-be-symbolic writing poses over and over.

A worse transgression for me was the casual way Irving slips in a reference to 9/11. I can see that 9/11 is going to be shorthand, now and in the future, for "terrible tragedy," the way "Nazi" is political shorthand for "things I don't like." We should impose a Godwin's law, right now, on film and literary and other media references to 9/11, period. We should say that if your book or film or painting is not about 9/11, it cannot reference 9/11, period.

Irving breaks the 9/11 Godwin's law by having his characters do stuff on 9/11, as 9/11 is happening -- which wouldn't be bad, I suppose, since the character's lives in the book span from 1950 to 2005, so 9/11 happened to them, but Irving makes it bad by having 9/11 happen on a day that's chock full of other symbolic events -- events I can't describe because it would spoil too much. You'll have to take my word for it (until you read the book, if you do), that the events the characters are living through on 9/11 are also very deep and tragic, and are apparently made more so by the fact that they're happening on 9/11.

The idea of using 9/11 is apparently to underscore the tragedy the characters are feeling by pointing out that there are also other very tragic things going on, making it worse. (Referencing 9/11, in that sense, is lazy: Here's a comparison to what this character is feeling, it seems to say. This event in this character's life is similar to watching buildings full of people collapse.) And if a writer of Irving's caliber can't do it, then there is no way that anyone can include a reference to 9/11 that will not be clumsy and mishandled. So we need to stop that, before it becomes a thing.

The inclusion of the 9/11 attacks is, weirdly, possibly the least symbolic moment in the books: the whole reference falls flat, possibly because in the book the attacks are watched, and related, by a minor character, "Six Pack Pam," (who, although minor, plays a key role in the book). By relating the 9/11 events through a character we hardly know, the whole chapter seems to take an odd left turn into yet another distraction, this time the re-introduction of a character that had almost faded away, coupled with the introduction of a very emotionally charged moment that ultimately has not a single thing to do with the book. 9/11, in the book, has in the end no more impact on the book than if Six Pack Pam had, on that day, watched The Ellen Show instead of TV coverage of 9/11.

"Six Pack Pam" is herself a fairly interesting character - -more interesting than Daniel, or Daniel's son, Joe. Joe, Daniel's son, is reminiscent of Egg from The Hotel New Hampshire. He never seems to be a fully-formed character, and it is hard to care about Joe, period. He's kind of boring and never really there.

Daniel is only partly better; we know more about Daniel, but Daniel himself is kind of boring, too. The most interesting things about Daniel, it turns out, are the people he meets. His father, his dutch-uncle-of-sorts Ketchum, his deceased mother, his father's Italian girlfriend, Daniel's first wife, the Asian writer Daniel sleeps with (and the Asian nurse his father sleeps with), Lady Sky, Tireless the cleaning lady, the oriental restaraunteurs, the student with the dangerous dogs, even the homeless guy behind the restaurant: each of them is a fascinating, or potentially-fascinating, character and each is only momentarily on the stage, flitting in and out while Daniel more or less just exists as a life for them to flit in and out of, and to think about things.

Maybe that was Irving's point, if he had a point. I don't think novels need to have a point -- but Last Night In Twisted River seems to strive mightily to make a point, to symbolize something, to say something. It works extremely hard, as a book, to do more than tell a story. It is brimming with ideas and characters and thoughts and arguments and stories-within-stories, so much so that a reader gets the feeling that there must be more than ... just this.

Consider: Daniel is a writer who writes barely-fictionalized versions of his life while complaining that people think he writes barely-fictionalized versions of his life. Daniel, for a while, dates a student of his who he suspects is writing a barely-fictionalized version of her life, only to find out [SPOILER ALERT!] that her book really is fiction... as is the version of herself that she presented to Daniel.

What is one to make of that? It's a theme that's repeated throughout the book, but it's just one of the many themes that Irving picks up and drops off and picks up again, layering on what seems like it should be a meaning, but then dropping it so quickly that the meaning becomes impossible to discern.

That, too, becomes distracting, and that's the ultimate feeling I got of this book. If you've ever tried to read something while waiting for a bus that's about to arrive, you already know the feeling you'll get reading Last Night In Twisted River: when reading while waiting for a bus, you'll read a paragraph, look up, and then check your watch and look up again and then read another paragraph. The effect will disjoint you and does not lend itself to reading anything more substantive than Entertainment Weekly.

In Last Night In Twisted River, that disjointing, distracting effect comes entirely from within the book, and makes it actually tiring to read. Beautifully written, full of classic Irving monologues and great characters we've come to expect from him, Last Night ultimately is, perhaps, too full of baubles, with each bit of story or quirk of character saying Look over here! Now here! Now here! and leaving the reader exhausted and unsure what's happening. It's like the literary equivalent of being a field trip helper on a third-grade visit to the zoo.

Each book I've read from Irving has had more and more of those details, and has been more sprawling, and has been more laden with meaning and literary trickery and a surfeit of potential, mostly realized. In Last Night In Twisted River, he might have hit his tipping point. If books give an insight into the mind or personality of the author -- and I think they do -- then Irving is, by now, an easily distracted man whose mind dwells on the symbolism of everyday things without being able to discern what that symbolism might be.

If that's what he's like, he's a guy I'd probably very much enjoy talking with from time to time. I enjoy reading his writing, after all: each sentence is like a carefully-crafted piece, forming a mosaic that's wonderful to look at and comprehend. If he's like that in person, he'd be a great (if distracted) conversationalist, but only for a short while.

Still, well-crafted sentences and interesting thoughts don't add up to the greatest book in the world. Last Night In Twisted River is, as I said, better than a lot of other things I've read, and will be better than many things I read in the future. But it's not Irving's best.

Maybe, in the end, I hoped for too much. Maybe the fault is mine. Maybe, like the anticipation I had for the the last sentence in the book, an anticipation was raised by the hype about that long-awaited last sentence, maybe all of Irving's prior books led me to hope for too much from this one.

Whatever the reason, though, I'm glad this is only the latest book that I've read by Irving. If it was the first book I'd read by him, I might never have picked up a second. But because it's the latest -- and hopefully not the last -- book he's written, I'll give his next one another chance, and I'll hope that in the future, a new Irving novel drops, almost inexplicably, out of the ether, to land, almost literally, in my lap and give me a chance to take the things that immediately preceded it, and not forget them, but put them in perspective while still looking ahead to the good things that are yet to come.

Jellybeans aren't supposed to look like amoebas. (3 Good Things From 4/5/10)

I feel out of it today, like I didn't sleep last night. Or, as I told Sweetie, "I think I dreamed all night that I was awake." Here's 3 Good Things to perk me up...

1. Sixpeat! (that word is copyright me.) When Butler's final shot clanked off the rim last night and Duke won... a victory I saw by waking up in time after dozing off about 5 minutes into the second half... I was the winner in my annual NCAA Tournament bet with The Boy -- winning for the sixth consecutive time. I've never lost my NCAA bet with The Boy, in six years of betting a t-shirt on the outcome. One of these days, I'm going to wear all six shirts at once.

2. The judge was running later than me. I had a court hearing yesterday and got a slightly-late start, and then got tied up in traffic, resulting in my arriving at 10:55 a.m. for a 10:45 a.m. hearing... but the judge was behind, too, so nobody would have been any the wiser that I was late, if I hadn't called from the road to talk to his clerk and say why I was late.

But we won, anyway.

3. I only had to eat one of the suspect jellybeans. Mr Bunches likes to play with the jellybeans, and carry them around, and then feed them to people. Last night, he brought me a red jellybean that barely qualified as a jellybean: it was droopy and blurred around the edges and shaped more like an amoeba, and it was (when he put it in my mouth), warm. But I ate it, because I'm a good daddy and a sucker. (Sweetie, later, only pretended to eat her no-longer-a-jellybean, which puts me ahead of her in parenting.)

110 down, 10,635 to go: I first knew this song as the song that WALL-E likes to listen to, and then I knew it as the song that I liked to sing the first line of to Mr Bunches (and then call him Barnaby for a while), and now, I know it as song 110 from my iPod, Put On Your Sunday Clothes from the Hello, Dolly Soundtrack.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Nothing against you, John Irving. (3 Good Things From the 4/2-4/4 Weekend.)

The hardest part of coming back from Easter weekend? Trying to figure out a way to count "Easter candy" as "breakfast." While I work on that, here's my 3 Good Things from the weekend.

1. I've got the time, thanks to Sweetie:
One of my Easter presents from Sweetie was that she got my watch fixed up, something I'd been meaning to do since about January, but had never gotten around to it. Then, yesterday, mixed in with the bag of candy and the addition to the Piano Tuning Fund (my ongoing request for presents is that Sweetie put money into a fund to save up to tune our piano), was my watch, with the battery replaced and set to the correct time.

I feel whole again.

2. Mr. F: Shopaholic: Saturday morning, at the very beginning of a whirlwind of a day, I took Mr F and Mr Bunches shopping for Sweetie's Easter present. We stopped first at the $1-stuff-bins at Target, where I told Mr F he could get one thing. He immediately tried to scoop up about 8 little "light-up" caterpillars, and a foam axe, and a large rubber bug, and what appeared to be a random stick.

After talking him down from that, we stopped later in the toy section so Mr Bunches could get a new Hot Wheel. Mr F then saw a display of toy pet-shop animals (I'm not sure, so don't ask...) and tried to scoop up those, too, grabbing six different boxes of various toy-pet related goods. We ended up putting those in the cart to mollify him -- but I then slowly took them back out of the cart as we made our way through the store, so, Target on the West Side of Madison, I'm sorry that there are toys scattered throughout your store.

(While I'm on the subject, Woodman's Groceries in Madison, I'm sorry that Mr F spilt cheese puffs in two separate aisles of your store Saturday.)

Later, in Target, Mr F would try to grab three bags of snacks, and then two "Hello Kitty" nail polishes.

3. I finally found out what the last line of the book Last Night In Twisted River is even though the world tried to keep me from doing so. I've been reading Last Night In Twisted River since I got it for Christmas, and I've been dying to find out what the last line is since I heard that John Irving writes the last line of his books first. I got close last Thursday, when I had only 30 pages left. Then, Friday night, I read another 5 before getting too sleepy. Saturday morning, I brought the book with me and read it in the car while I waited to pick up Sweetie from her salon appointment, but I had fifteen pages left when she finished up.

Saturday afternoon, on the way home from Sweetie's parents, the Babies! fell asleep in the car. We got to our house about 30 minutes after they fell asleep, so I told Sweetie I didn't want to move them from the car and wake them up; instead, I took out Twisted River and figured "I'll read this in the car while they nap," and I began to do that -- read my book sitting in my car in the driveway while the Babies! slept -- only they woke up right away.

Then I went jogging, took them to the park, did the grocery shopping for Sweetie, gave the Babies! a bath and put them to bed and then put away the groceries, and figured I'd finish the book for sure after that. But at about 9:30, I grabbed a milk carton to put away and dropped it on the floor, causing it to explode all over the kitchen, so I had to mop the floor and clean the walls and take the curtains down to the laundry and wipe off the ceiling, so that finally, at 10 p.m. Saturday night, I sat down and read through the final fifteen pages.

And the result? It wasn't so great a last line.

109 Down, 10,636 to go:
"You're Pretty Good Looking (For A Girl)" by The White Stripes. I'm sort of on a White Stripes kick right now, and this is the song that I listened to last week on the way home just before The Boy got me with his April Fool's Day joke, when he claimed that he'd been suspended at school for 3 days for "accidentally" swearing, and only said it was a joke when I was about 0.3 seconds away from grounding him for the rest of his life and his kids' lives.

So, it's a pretty good song, I mean, if you want to be in the kind of a mood where you'll hesitate just long enough to avoid making a total fool of yourself when pranked.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Take my coach... please. (Nonsportsmanlike Conduct!)

Why aren't sports more fun?

Or, more to the point, why aren't the people who make their living playing games more fun?

I understand why some occupations may not want to seem too lighthearted. Patch Adams aside, I probably wouldn't want my doctor being too funny, at least not all the time. I don't want to be getting ready for surgery and hear my doctor cracking knock-knock jokes. (I actually don't ever want to hear anyone, really, tell a knock-knock joke, especially not around little kids, because little kids don't get the point of a knock-knock joke, and they'll just start making up dumb ones. They understand the structure of a knock-knock joke, but not the method, and so you'll sit through a bunch of dumb "jokes" if you dare to tell a knock-knock joke to a kid.)

As an aside, did you know that Shakespeare is generally credited with telling the first knock-knock joke? Or, rather, the first modern knock-knock joke. Here's an actual example of that first "modern" knock-knock joke, from Act 2, Scene 3 of Macbeth:

Knocking within Knock, knock, knock! Who's there, i' the name of Beelzebub? Here's a farmer, that hanged himself on the expectation of plenty: come in time; have napkins enow about you; here you'll sweat for't.

Hilarious! And also, that proves the point I made about so-called "classic" literature here.

The use of the word "modern" in the website that credited Shakespeare with inventing the "modern" knock-knock joke makes you, or at least me, wonder, was there an old-fashioned version of the knock-knock joke? One that Shakespeare modern-ed up?

It turns out there was, and I've found it, located in The Lost Books Of The Canterbury Tales, my upcoming book reimagining the "Canterbury Tales" as re-enacted by the current stars of Disney television shows. While that book doesn't actually exist... yet -- I'm sure someone will publish it next week-- what does exist is this version of the original, first-ever knock-knock joke:


Whof roameth the country and perchanceth to knof /
on the forport auf me cottage?

'Tis no-one other than myfelf, the young midwife residing in the farm
2 larks up the lane, bearing an egg for thee!

That one had the audiences laughing throughout the middle ages, but eggs were funnier back then.

Other occupations, too, can suffer when you try to inject a little humor into them. I once had a jury complain that I had told too many jokes during a trial. The trial lasted 3 days, and during that entire 3 days, I told one joke: After my opponent had written a bunch of numbers on a chalkboard during his argument to support their damage claims, I was erasing it before beginning my own closing argument, and I said to the jury, as I did so "I bet you didn't know there was a math portion to this trial."

That was it -- but 3 of the jurors later said they felt I was a little too lighthearted. (They ruled in our favor, so I didn't hold it against them.)

There are, then, occupations that rarely, if ever, should be the subject of levity or lightheartedness, but even those occupations can bear a little humor injected into them. NASA, for example: there's little room for error or joking when you're busy launching things that have to crash into other things, as NASA primarily does these days, but NASA finds the time for a little humor now and then, like when they named the Venus probe VOIR, or "voyeur," because it was going to spy on the Goddess Of Love...

... on second thought, maybe I'll go re-read that Canterbury Tale knock-knock joke again.

So all professions... except one... occasionally try their hand at a little levity. The sole exception is the one human occupation that would seem suited for hijinks: sports.

Is it because they play games for a living that people involved in professional sports generally carry themselves with a seriousness that would be overdone if Bono were to have invented a cure for cancer and been charged with personally explaining it to God? Again and again when I check into what's going on, sports-wise, I'm confronted with the fact that almost nobody in the world of professional, or amateur, athletes, has anything even remotely resembling a sense of humor.

The latest example of this is a man who, family legend has it, is my second- or third- cousin, or some relation to me: Coach K of the Duke Blue Devils. (Of course, my mom also claimed that we were descended from Davy Crockett, and I'm pretty sure he was a fictional character, so take that possible-relationship with a grain of salt.)

Mike Krzyzewski -- who spells his name the same way my grandfather did before my grandfather changed his name to avoid harassment by drill sergeants in World War II (ah, the Army, where collegiality is important and people must rely on each other like brothers, provided that the brothers can make harassing ethnic comments about each other!) -- yesterday had a hissy-fit over this:

A photo that, honestly, I think is kind of funny -- slur on my family (?) honor (?!) though it might be.

Cousin/Coach K didn't think it was funny: he thought, first, that it was harmful to his grandkids, who may or may not have seen the paper, since less than 30,000 were printed and they're all in the Indianapolis area, where I'm not sure any of Coach K's grandkids (who would be, what, my fourth cousins?) live. Coach K also thought it was juvenile -- that is, once he got done being flabbergasted that a paper could print such a picture of His Eminence:

"First thing I thought, 'That can't be...How could a newspaper do that? That's like somebody doodled. Actually, I thought I looked better. But it was kind of juvenile. Not kind of. Just juvenile. And my seven grandkids didn't enjoy looking at it. 'It's not Poppy.'... It is what it is. It's very juvenile."

It's juvenile, that's what it is -- way, way, way more juvenile than bouncing balls on a playground for a living. That is, you know, grown-up. Playing a game for a living -- or making your living off of unpaid kids playing a game for you, as Coach K does -- that's not juvenile. Drawing squiggles on the face of His Eminence is.

Among the things that apparently irked Coach K was that he was shown with devil horns in that picture.

To make sure you've got this straight, Coach K's team is the blue devils. He doesn't mind coaching a team whose mascot has horns, and is literally a devil. But he does mind if you draw blue devil horns on his picture -- when you should be bowing before that picture because Duke works hard and wins games. (So: "Depictions of what many people believe to be the incarnation of evil" = OK with Coach K; "doodling"= beyond the pale.)

Which they do; I'm sure the Duke players work hard and they win lots of games. But that's not the point; the point is that a lot of people dislike Duke. (I don't. I picked them in my bet with The Boy to win the NCAA Tournament, and I rooted for them last night against WVU.) Colin Cowherd made the exact same point earlier this week on his ESPN show, when he said that people hate Duke, and the Phillies and Yankees and USC, because they win.

Did Coach K take Cowherd to task for saying people hated Duke? If so, I missed the stories: Coach K appeared to let it slide that Colin Cowherd said people hated Duke... maybe because Cowherd didn't poke fun at His Eminence the way the Indy paper did?

Nah -- that wouldn't have anything to do with it, would it?

The Indy paper -- the Indianapolis Star -- has since apologized to Coach K. It was not immediately clear to me what they were apologizing for, since the article was about how people dislike Duke, and that's certainly true; have we now gotten to the point where the media is going to apologize for reporting news people don't like?

Then, in reading the actual apology, I got even more confused. The Star first apologized for the image:

The image was out of line. It ridiculed one of the best and most respected coaches in college basketball. Had we used the Blue Devil mascot, it may have been a different story, but using the coach's image was indefensible.

It was? It was indefensible to mark up a college basketball coach in a way that fans might, to make a point? Why can that not be defended? It might be decried as Perez-Hiltonesque, but is it really beyond defense for a newspaper to doodle on a photo of Coach K?

The paper then muddies up the water more:

It represented only one aspect of the story while ignoring the other -- the incredible success of Duke basketball.

Well, wasn't that the point of the story? The paper wasn't running a story about Duke's basketball in general; in that kind of story, a well-balanced discussion of the pros and cons of Duke-ball might be warranted. But that wasn't the story they ran. They ran a story about people disliking Duke ... which made the point about their success, at best, tangential to the story.

The mixed-apologies highlight what really bugged Coach K: it was his depiction and the fact that the story didn't pay enough obeisance to him that made him demand an apology. (Well, that and the fact that his grandkids hypothetically might have been confused because "It's not Poppy." It's all about protecting children. Coach K's grandchildren in particular.)

What bugs me about that -- aside from the negative light it casts on my family (C'mon, Coach -- you're hurting my reputation with your spoilsport attitude!) -- is that it demonstrates not just the hubris that comes with being a moderately successful camp counselor -- that's what a college basketball coach is, after all: he's a camp counselor for an elite group of young adults -- but also demonstrates that sports have no sense of humor.

It's next to impossible to laugh in and about sports -- Bill Simmons' painful diatribes about the Patriots notwithstanding -- without getting someone or something mad at you.

The problem exists in sports: The NFL cracks down on celebrations and jokes: Why can't Chad Ochocinco wear a sombrero on the sideline and pretend to slip a dollar to a ref to rule his way on a replay? It's okay to do a Lambeau Leap, but not okay to wear a sombrero? Aren't both a little celebration of the fun it is to be a grown man playing a kids' game and getting paid millions to do it?

The NFL, though, thinks otherwise: It'll let you play if you hang a dog until it dies, it'll let you go on the field if you run a man down while drinking and driving, but it'll fine you if you pretend to hand an official a dollar.

Keep in mind that the NFL will fine you if you pretend that you're going to cheat, as Chad Ochocinco did, but if you actually cheat, you'll get off with just a slap on the wrist: Bill Belicheat was fined $500,000 for cheating his way through a bunch of Super Bowls, while OchoCinco was fined (among other things) $20,000 for the dollar bill joke and $5,000 for once wearing an orange chin strap. (And $30,000 for the sombrero joke.)

So the NFL doesn't care if you think the Super Bowl is rigged -- but you'd better not laugh during a game (or wear an orange chin strap), because this is serious business.

The NFL, remember, cracked down on other kinds of celebrations that migh have been fun, too, and has long been called the "No fun league," a play on their acronym that I'm sure they'll fine me for mentioning.

Instead of humor in sports -- instead of Favre singing "Pants on the ground" and Mark Sanchez eating a hot dog on the sidelines during a game (Sanchez apologized for being hungry), we get celebrations (?) of solemnity and anger: Bill Belicheat is lionized, despite his videotaping, because he's serious, he's all business. You almost never see a coach smile on the sidelines during a game -- even though they've got a life that involves telling people how to play a game, and then getting the best seat in the house for every game their team plays.

God forbid owners have any fun, either: The Titans' owner got excited, and had a little fun, when his team beat My Buffalo Bills this past year, flipping the "double bird" at Bills' fans. My reaction: chill out, old man: Your team is still terrible. The league's reaction? Fine him a quarter-million bucks. (The owner, Bud Adams, apologized, too.)("Flipping the bird," a boisterious reaction some people have in the spirit of the moment, always generates a fine and apology in the NFL, as Jets' Coach Rex Ryan can tell you.)

True, not everything someone says in the world of sports is funny -- Bruce Pearl's joking about rural Tennesseeans wearing Klan robes is an example of a not funny joke that deserves to not be heard. (I don't place much stock in apologies -- maybe Bruce could, instead of apologizing, fund a scholarship or two for rural Tennesseans to attend his school?) And Tony Kornheiser appears to have set out to corner the market in jokes-that-are-beyond-bad taste: He made a stupid reference to spanish-speaking people being servants on Monday Night Football, and then urged drivers to run over bicyclists in the road. (Tony apologized to Lance Armstrong for that one, Lance Armstrong apparently being the designated representative for all bikers in the world... even though he only rides on roads that have been closed to traffic.)

Still, even Tony shouldn't have had to apologize for his (stupid but true) joke about Hannah Storm, when he said:

"She looks like she has sausage casing wrapping around her upper body ... I know she's very good, and I'm not supposed to be critical of ESPN people, so I won't ... but Hannah Storm ... come on now! Stop! What are you doing? ... She's what I would call a Holden Caulfield fantasy at this point."

It was that comment -- not the racist or threatening remarks, that got Kornheiser suspended (briefly.)

One of the outfits that prompted that joke is this one:

Hannah's on the left, wearing an outfit that would get her kicked out of Catholic school, or kicked into a Britney Spears video.

Other sports-related jokes, jokes which may or may not be funny to you, don't require an apology. Fox Sports apologized for a cartoon skit which made fun of Jessica Simpson's weight issues. I don't recall any other media outlet apologizing for reporting on that "controversy." (I thought she looked fine, although the pants were ugly.) But sports reporters were forced to apologize... because there's no humor in sports.

That's why you can't mimic Pete Sampras' walk or claim he's a lousy tipper, Andre Agassi -- because sports aren't about fun. (Agassi apologized, naturally.)

Off the field, we still let sports have a little fun, provided it's the right kind of fun. Brett Favre can making fun of his indecisiveness, if Sears pays him to do it. Peyton Manning, who on the field appears to be under Skynet's control, has a comfortable jocularity in ads that make fun of him, too, as a kind of clueless, amiable guy. And privately, sports can poke fun at themselves if they don't let you watch it:

But if you make fun of sports, instead of sports making fun of themselves, you'll be shunned. That's why nobody liked it when Pete Rose wrote his apology on a baseball, and why nobody liked it even more... or less?... when they put an asterisk on Barry Bond's record-breaking (but not record-setting) baseball.

And, Indianapolis Star, you probably should have guessed that if writing on baseballs was forbidden, drawing on Coach K's portrait would be forbidden-er. And we all should have known that Coach K would not have seen the humor in a doodled-up version of himself, because when there's nothing fun-and-games about the mentality of men and women who make their living in the world of fun-and-games.