Monday, January 31, 2011

Calling All Ladies and Gentlemen . . .

John Jacob Astor IV, who is
said to have put on his tuxedo during
the sinking of the Titanic, so he could
die "like a gentleman."

Read carefully -- there will be a quiz.

Today, I was in the drugstore with my little boys. At the check-out, there was a line of magazines, right at their eye level. Each magazine was graced with a picture of a beautiful woman. Most were wearing low-cut dresses, but one of the women was seductively opening her shirt, exposing most of her bra; her head was thrown back, eyes mostly closed, mouth barely open.

Recently, on the radio, I heard a song. The singer used the "f-word" but they "edited it out," so that he only said: "fffk," in the song.

On Nickelodeon, the children's channel, there is a show called "Victorious," about a bunch of kids in a performing arts high school. Victoria, the main character, sings a song called "Freak the Freak Out." Some lyrics: "What I'm gonna do now is freak the freak out."

Friday, January 28, 2011

Two Scholars (A Parable)

Once upon a time, two young men set out on life's journey. The both had the same goal: to become happy and wise. Their names were Carl and Neil.

They both enrolled in a legendary university. Both of them read every book known to man. Both of them paid careful attention in classes and they both heard every word the professors said. Carl would furiously take notes. Neil would sit quietly with fingers locked behind his head and listen, sometimes with a smile and sometimes with a grimace. From time to time Neil would speak in class, often challenging his teachers' opinions. All the while, Carl kept meticulous notes. When the class would laugh, Carl would look up, confused, and Neil would explain the joke.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Choices of Spiderpotato

Hospital waiting room. Four hours to go for us. A roomfull of people waiting and waiting.

She is one of the few in my continued view. I watch her from time to time because she is knitting one of those scarves that is all fly-away fuzzy like a crazy Muppet's hair -- like a white boa. Somehow making this entails knitting three kinds of yarn together at the same time. I watch the skeins form into a scarf at her shriveled hands and can't help thinking she is really a spider.

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Heart's Hero: Dr. John H. Gibbon

The Babe calls his shot?
Raise your hand if you have heard of Babe Ruth. Okay that's what I thought. (Yes, I can see through this thing. Spooky, eh? Look closely at the eyes of the rabbit in the header -- secret cameras.) Anyway, exactly what I expected: everyone but a few cantaloupes, a broken screen-door in Glasgow and a newborn or two in the Arctic has heard of The Babe.

Okay, now, raise your hand if you have ever heard of John H. Gibbon. Hm. Again, as I expected. Some doctors and a few med students. Oh, and I see the guy who was sitting a few chairs down from me in the waiting room at Thomas Jefferson Hospital in Philadelphia all day yesterday. (We both read -- over and over again -- about Gibbon on a big display which explained why the building was named after him.)

Friday, January 21, 2011

Curmudgeo and Progresso (A Dialogue)

Once upon a time two men, Progresso and Curmudgeo, discussed a fascinating new invention:

Progresso: [thumbs in waistcoat pockets] Behold!

Curmudgeo: What is it?

Progresso: A "water closet".

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

I Dig

There once was a gerbil, whose name I forget. He lived in a little glass cage in my bedroom when I was ten years old. In terms of scale, it pretty much equated to a home the size of a football stadium, for you or for me.

In the cage, the gerbil had food, water, a running wheel and tubes in which to climb and -- if the mood took him -- frolic. He had a companion in the cage, whose name I also forget. Covering the floor was a luxurious padding of cedar chips, two to three inches deep, as required, according to the bag, for optimal small-animal comfort and hygiene.

He was well-cared for.

Monday, January 17, 2011

What Would "What Would You Do?" Do?

You've probably heard of the show "What Would You Do?" On the show, produced by ABC, they set up scenarios and wait to see, well  . . . what people will do in morally questionable situations. When all is said and done (or not done), John Quinones steps in for an interview.

I've only seen it a few times but, for instance, last Friday, they got actors to portray construction workers who were saying inappropriate things to a pretty girl (also an actress) in front of a New York City lunch truck. Bystanders reacted in various ways, from ignoring the whole thing to offering to do some Picasso-inspired renovations on the construction workers' faces.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Dear Albrecht: III

Albrecht Soothspitz (b.1327)
Well, Albrecht is back with his latest advice column. The weeks after Christmas were a little busy for him. After getting a Wii under the tree, he has become addicted to Super Mario Brothers. Unfortunately, when he first played, horror forced him to drop the Wii remote and run out the door, screaming in fear of what he called "evil gadget wizardry." It took us three days to find him cowering under the pews in a church a few towns away. Fortunately, he got over his apprehension. Now he responds to emails in-between levels. Slow-going, in so many ways. Nevertheless, installment three:

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Forced Fun

Brueghel: "Peasant Dance"
I hate wedding receptions. There. I've said it. I loathe them. I'd rather scrape my cheek against a stucco wall and submerge my head in salt water than go to a wedding reception.

I know. I'm a stick-in-the-mud. Blah, blah, blah. I've heard it before. I'm a stuffed shirt because I don't want to do the chicken dance. I'm a curmudgeon because I don't want to join a conga-line and follow a half-witted dj around the room as he bleats through his cheap PA system about how much fun we are all having. I'm a prude because I don't want to reach up a strange woman's dress to put a garter on her thigh as a room full of orangutans yells "Woooooooo!"

Monday, January 10, 2011


Thomas Eakins. "The Baby At Play"
The other day, my mother mentioned the first thing I ever said. It was a question: "Whossat?" This was, of course, the closest I could get to "Who's that?"

According to all the stories, I said it every single time I saw someone enter the room, pass the window or drive by in the street. This went on for quite some time. It occurred to me that my first "word" pretty summed up what I would be all about for the rest of my life. It foretold who I was going to be: someone who is preoccupied with figuring out who the people around me are, really -- what makes them do the things they do and feel the things they feel; what moves them; what scares them; what deludes them; what drives them to walk, act, think and dream in certain particular ways.

Friday, January 7, 2011

The Quest (A Parable)

Once, there was a baby. The baby chuckled and smiled and waved his hands in excitement in a high-chair in the light of a sunny window. Daddy placed a bowl of Cheerios on the tray. Excited, the baby waved his hands and reached for the treats. He knocked the bowl from the tray and the circles flew into the light, then danced down joyfully onto the floor. Daddy replaced the bowl. Baby looked at Daddy and then at the bowl. Baby snickered and waved his hand again. The Cheerios fell. Baby saw that it was good. Daddy put a new bowl on the table. Baby raised his hand . . .

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

NewSouth Books Censors Mark Twain

The world is full of short-sighted morons. You know that, right? Especially when it comes racial issues in literature. I was once evaluated, by a student in one of my college classes, as a racist. Why? I taught The Sun Also Rises, in which the narrator uses the "n" word; therefore, I was a racist for having chosen the book. Yeah -- slightly flawed logic.

A teacher I worked with informed me, today, that a librarian that he worked with in a school whose demographics were 100% African-American refused to have any book in the school library that contained the "n" word. While I get the sentiment, one wonders where that leaves, say, Richard Wright.

Monday, January 3, 2011

The Problem with Tradition

Today, a video game got me thinking about tradition.

My wife bought me "Aragorn's Quest" for Christmas, so I have been playing that for the past few days. My little son -- six -- got interested. Now he's playing it.

He got interested, similarly, in "The Hobbit" video game that I played about a year ago. Today, he started asking me about The Lord of the Rings on which, of course, the "Aragorn's Quest" game is based. Before he played "The Hobbit," we had read the book together, so I had no problem. But we haven't ventured into The Lord of the Rings, yet, so I started having that English teacher feeling -- that "you-should-read-the-book-first" feeling. I felt guilty. After all, the traditional way is to read the book first. Right? Not necessarily. I had to remind myself of this.