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Man! It has been awhile. I really appreciate your looking after the place while I've been gone. Everything looks terrific. Seriously - the chrysanthemums would have been withered shadows of their former selves in my care. Even my goldfish seem perkier. I can't thank you enough.

So take a load off! Make yourself comfortable! I'll make coffee.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

tejal's hypothetical wedding

in the interest of the brevity of life, you might wish to skip over all this and plow right onto the tree-death (printable) version of the poem

I need to preface this particular piece of mental effluvium with two key bits of information about the primary players in this poem. Tejal, our protagonist, is in actual fact a sweet, funny, warm, kind person for whom I have more than a great deal of affection. By contrast, I am a jerk and a meanie (seriously - I even have the medallion to prove it).

Having said this, I should provide that essential bit of background that led me to compose the forthcoming bit of verse.

At the time, I worked in an office with Tejal and another equally wonderful woman named Wendy. Both Tejal and Wendy enjoy the odd evening out; for that matter, they don’t especially mind the even evening out either. Tejal spends a good bit of time clubbing and such, while Wendy likes nothing better than a fag and a pint with some mates at any pub with a reasonably friendly face behind the bar. I, on the other hand, much prefer the comfort of my own home, wherein I can slob around in pajama bottoms, slippers and an old sweater, bask in the loving glances of my wife and children and act like as big a goon as I wish.

Over time, as nature dictates, my propensity for dinner and television at home evolved into a reputation. I was “the guy who never went anywhere.” People stopped inviting me out because they guessed I’d say no. Which worked out fine, because they pretty much always guessed right.

Tejal in particular found this behavior incomprehensible. At work, I appeared to her to be an affable, outgoing sort of fellow. It was anathema, then, that I would sequester myself every evening and thus deny the world my congeniality. So wrong did she find this that she often questioned my motives on the matter.

One such interrogation went like this:

Tejal: So Chris, if I got married, would you come to my wedding?

Chris: It depends.

This was clearly the wrong answer. Tejal launched into a long harangue about how she couldn’t believe I wouldn’t go to her wedding after we’d been friends for so long and this was such an important day to her and so on. I stressed what I thought were a couple salient points. First, at that time, Tejal wasn’t even dating anybody, let alone engaged. Second, I didn’t say I wouldn’t go. I said, “It depends.”

For some reason, these facts did not make her feel any better. After a few more minutes spent berating me and attempting to draw Wendy over to her side of what she clearly saw as an argument, she asked a follow-up question: “What if Wendy got married? Would you go to her wedding?”

Now, I recognize that my response to this question was arguably even more ill-advised than my answer to Tejal’s first question. But those of you who have read my “Wagon Training” essay (also on this blog!) will be familiar with my honesty dysfunction. Actually, it’s more of a dishonesty dysfunction, in that I find, in moments of extreme pressure, I am incapable of lying. It is thus for this reason that I answered Tejal’s question, rather too rapidly, by saying,


In my defense, there is a VERY good reason why my answers to the questions of my friends’ hypothetical weddings were discrepant. But I don’t want to go into all that now. You’ll just have to trust me. Or else buy me a case of Leffe beer (brun, please, not blond) and I’ll email it to you.

I did explain this reason to Tejal, but it didn’t seem to make any difference. For some peculiar reason, she became fixated on the idea that I would go to Wendy’s wedding without a moment’s hesitation, but I wouldn’t go to hers (again, I pointed out I didn’t say no, only “It depends,” but you can guess how far that got me).

The rest of that work day was basically one long bout of grief-taking on my part. I felt really bad about the whole situation. Not bad enough to take back anything I’d said, you understand, because after all, I am a jerk and a meanie. But bad enough to write a bad poem in Tejal’s honor.

So here it is.

Tejal's Hypothetical Wedding


It Depends

Tejal had planned a hypothetical wedding.

Her fake registry listed things for which she'd long yearned.

She daydreamed of make-believe crystal and bedding—

All those expensive gifts she could one day return.

Tejal dreamt up invitations to her wedding:

Invisible gold leaf on silk bond for her friends.

She thought mine to me with those words I'd been dreading:

"Chris, are you coming?" I replied, "It depends."

"I can't believe you wouldn't come to my wedding."

I stressed "It depends" is not the same thing as "No."

Still, I knew where the conversation was heading.

Before long, beaten down, I told her that I'd go.

After all, it was a non-existent wedding.

Gordon Ramsay would cook for celebs and royals

Baked organic free-range chicken with multi-grain breading

And a fish course of mackerel for Omega-3 oils.

Vera Wang herself the seamstress for the wedding,

The flowers all lilies and orchids in blossom,

The groom, that Love Island bloke the media gave such a shredding—

Not bright, but very rich, and the sex would be awesome.

It wouldn't exactly be an Indian wedding,

But Tejal's fantasy mum would be happy with that.

Her dad would coach in from some dive out in Reading,

And in every picture, dad's new wife would look fat.

And as it was an hallucinatory wedding,

I showed up wet with snow in my nicest pajamas.

I didn't drive in—I arrived there by sledding

Along with Tejal's gift: life-size robot llamas.

Tejal processed down the aisle for her imagin'ry wedding.

Eight baby seals honked as Elton sang his rewritten "Candle."

The bridesmaids gave lapdances—chaos was spreading!

Eating my chocolate pew, I watched the ensuing scandal.

A bouncy-castle reception followed the wedding.

Tejal thought Pete Tong's bagpiping discs would never end.

Then a French matador screamed, "Mon Dieu! A beheading!"

One of my llamas had bitten the head off the reverend

(He'd grow a lollipop head before his next wedding).

And the reception concluded as the sky turned maroon.

The tables walked over to see Tejal mopedding

From the reception to Lagos for their honeymoon.

Tejal imagined my thank-you note after her wedding,

Her illusion of Love's battle and her wedded bliss won.

"Will you come to the real thing?" she asked, tears almost shedding.

"It depends," I replied. "Only if it's like this one."

Monday, January 28, 2008

the last word in film - answers

1. The Man Who Would Be the Lion King

2. The Neverending Philadelphia Story

3. Barefoot in the Jurassic Park

4. Around the World in 80 Radio Days

5. In the Line of Chariots of Fire

6. Forget an American in Paris

7. Prelude to a French Kiss

8. Attack of the Killer Fried Green Tomatoes

9. Groundhog Independence Day

10.Father of the Princess Bride

11.No Way In and Out

12.A Few Good Grumpy Old Men

13.The Truman Quiz Show

14.A View to a License to Kill

15.The Truth About Cats and Reservoir Dogs

Sunday, January 27, 2008

the last word in film

Each year, Hollywood’s editors hold the Splice World Film Festival. Of course, editors don’t finance their own films; instead, they take pieces left on editing-room floors and mix them to make new movies from previous releases. To simplify things, they only fuse movies that share the last words of their titles. You might see two men trade murders on a locomotive that is hijacked by Woody Harrelson and Wesley Snipes in Strangers on a Money Train, or Clark Gable falling in love with Claudette Colbert over a sumptuous Italian meal in It Happened One Big Night. Can you identify the Splice World films described below? (Note: the first film referred to in the description comes first in the spliced title)

(by the way, the Splice World Film Festival program can also be read in tree-death [printable] version)

1. Michael Caine and Sean Connery travel to an animated Indian jungle to help Simba, a young cub, fight his murderous uncle for control of the throne.

2. A boy buys a mysterious fantasy book about a young upper-class woman (Katherine Hepburn) romanced by her ex-husband and a writer for a society magazine.

3. Newlyweds Jane Fonda and Robert Redford take a New York City apartment and find their wacky domestic life complicated by genetically-engineered dinosaurs.

4. Phileas Fogg sets off to circumnavigate the globe, all of which looks strangely like Rockaway and Manhattan, in a film narrated by Woody Allen.

5. Clint Eastwood, an aging Secret Service man brought in to guard the President, trains for his assignment with the 1924 British Olympic running team.

6. Billy Crystal plays an NBA referee who romances Debra Winger by moving to France and taking up painting, all the while singing and dancing to Gershwin music.

7. On her wedding day, Meg Ryan’s soul enters an old man’s body; the groom, Alec Baldwin, flees, leaving the bride-to-be to get him back, with the help of an infuriating European con man, played by Kevin Kline.

8. In this cult horror film, marauding vegetables try to conquer the world, starting with the women visiting the Whistle Stop Café in Alabama.

9. Bill Murray finds himself reliving the same period of time over and over again, trapped until he helps save humanity from invading aliens.

10. Steve Martin must deal with his daughter’s imminent marriage to a two-faced, fairy-tale tyrant and enlists the aid of a pirate, a giant, and a Spanish swordsman.

11. After an affair with Sean Young, mistress of the Secretary of Defense, Kevin Costner worries about his future at the Pentagon when an actor at the Academy Awards reveals that one of his high-school teachers is gay.

12. Military lawyer Tom Cruise is sent to investigate the mysterious murder of a Marine and implicates loveable curmudgeons Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon.

13. Jim Carrey thinks he’s had a normal life until he discovers he’s been on camera since birth, as a contestant on a rigged 1950s trivia program.

14. James Bond must stop a maniac who wants to flood the Silicon Valley, while at the same time preventing a druglord from making billions of dollars on cocaine sales.

15. Janeane Garofalo and Uma Thurman star in an unusual remake of Cyrano de Bergerac, which involves not only gender reversal, but also a botched diamond heist carried out by men named after colors.

Answers will premiere tomorrow. Get your tuxes and gowns out of storage.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

zen rude-ism: the list of jerks

Pying Pyong's Sutra of the Jerks (Sutra 18)

Pying-Pyong told his dog,

“I tell you, kid, there are basically ten kinds of jerk in the world that I should never want you to meet as meeting them is something that shouldn't happen to a dog.

“First there are those jerks like you've never even met a jerk like this before in your life.

“Then there are those jerks who are so busy thinking about how swell they are they don't see what jerks they're being.

“There are anal-retentive jerks what correct your grammar and make you use coasters and like that.

“There are jerks who only want to see you so they can beg something off you like a jerk.

“And the jerks you just hate just by looking at them.

“And the good-looking jerks. Them I don't like so much either.

“Let's not leave out the holier-than-thou jerks.

“Or conceited jerks with heads the size of I don't even know what and what do they have such a swelled head about anyway?

“And jerks who have energy to burn and they always burn it on being jerks.

“And stupid jerks.

“But I'll tell you kid, the worst of all are the good-looking stupid jerks who tell you ‘It's “between you and me ,' not “between you and I”' and then mooch five bucks from you.”

Friday, January 25, 2008

seven themes being considered for our next office retreat

  • Three Little Words: Sarcasm, Sarcasm, Sarcasm
  • Chicken Soup for the Bowl™
  • Theme from Shaft
  • The Seven Habits of Highly Affected People
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and the Ramifications for the Photocopy Room
  • Effective Collection and Proper Distribution of Vicious, Backbiting Gossip
  • I'm a Davy, You're a Mickey: Tapping Your Inner Monkee
  • Wednesday, January 23, 2008

    meet the members of our cast

    Delilah Snart received critical acclaim for her one-woman show, That Angelina Jolie Best Git Her Meat-Hooks Offa My Man, and has recently been offered a lucrative contract for a thirteen-part US-based reality “how-to” series based on her NY Times best-selling book, Celebrity Stalking for Dummies.

    Wexley Flaptrap is actually two very small, identical actors stacked up on top of one another. Each of them is in turn played by two very small, identical actors stacked up on top of one another, and so on and so on. The smallest ones spend their days trying to have intelligent conversations with bacteria and wondering where they went wrong, career-wise.

    Jane Beef is not available right now, but your perusal of her bio is important to her. Please be patient and have credit card details handy. You can’t return to the main menu because there isn’t one, but for more options, take a good hard look at your life—what are you missing? If there’s nothing else, Jane thanks you and hopes you’ll come back to read her bio again soon.

    Gilbert Foofle is willing to march into hell for a heavenly cause, provided he has the proper footwear. In fact, he’s willing to march just about anywhere for just about anything, because he loves marching so gosh-darn much, though ironically he refuses to do it in March.

    Indira Hoboken contains mild violence and one use of bad language. She is biodegradable, but should be kept out of the reach of small children and open flames. She should always be taken with food and is bottled at the source. If your symptoms do not go away within three days of meeting Indira, you should consult your physician. She may also contain nuts.

    Seamus Femulox is currently experiencing extreme creative frustration because he has a fantastic, sure-fire idea for a megamillion-dollar blockbuster sequel to a motion picture. Unfortunately, he can’t come up with an idea for the original motion picture. He spends his time kicking his invisible pet dog, Anvil, and using his invisible pet anvil, Dog, to make shoes for his invisible pet horse, Imelda.

    Clarice Coccycks was forced to leave her teaching position for stealing Cs from her students to use in her own name. Her former boss, Harlie Onnors, first became suspicious when the middle of the school’s grading curve disappeared. She successfully smuggled her ill-gotten Cs out of the country by tattooing them to a friend’s back and flying her to the Cayman Islands. Clarice thus avoided criminal prosecution and received a snow globe with a tiny plastic palm tree inside.

    Fontina Sebastionicus has a recurring nightmare in which she drives the little car along the Monopoly board, shrinking on each railroad. When she's small enough to enter the house someone's built on Mayfair, she finds all of her family members, dressed as elk, celebrating Thanksgiving. She asks her father (played by Martin Landau) the time; he looks at his watch (really a map of Europe with Italy and Norway as the hands), and says, "It's half-past the atonement." Then she wakes up craving a turkey sandwich.

    Chris McColl is actually a Njörkvar® (IKEA UK Winter 2003 catalogue, p. 77. £159) and was assembled with only an Allen wrench. He came with several extraneous parts, including nine metal pegs, his appendix, wall mounts, an ability to play tournament-class cribbage and three birthdays. He looks best with a Sloög® coffee table (p. 85, £57) and Dgånsk® reading lamp (p. 93, £25).

    Mordecai Buttonhole is still looking for his misspent youth. He's sure he had it this morning when he picked up his keys in the front hall. It's not in the sofa cushions or the fridge, though he found his reading glasses there. If you find it, he'd love to get it back, though he’d like you to have it dry-cleaned first. He promises to spend it more wisely next time—perhaps on a model airplane or some peanut brittle.

    Steves Hinky and Ladyman are the fun-loving creators of Steve!™, the wacky game that’s a Stevey good time for the whole family! Take your Steve through the Stevey lanes of Steveland—but look out for the wicked Anti-Steves! And don’t step in a Steveless Space, or you’ll have to draw a Steve Card! Buy Steve!™ today, and make someone you know happy on Christmas — or even on Christmas Steve!

    As Gretchen Glickner experiences time backwards, her life up to this point has happened in our future. So she’d like to use this space to issue some warnings. If a man named Fadwallader asks to shampoo your carpets, under no circumstances say yes (although he should clean your gutters). Also, that thing about only eating mussels when there’s an R in the month has never been more true than in 2016. Finally, global warming turns out to be a prank cooked up by some kids in Ohio, so don’t lose any sleep over it.

    Leroy Woo has nearly finished the giant atomic-power laser with which he plans to threaten the polar ice caps and thus take the world hostage. He knows that Mr Bond has arrived at his island fortress to stop him, but he has dispatched his comely (if morally flexible) female associate, Miss Innuendo, to capture him. Later, over snifters of Napoleon brandy and a game of baccarat, Leroy will tell Mr Bond his plan for world conquest. Then Bond will die a slow death as Leroy laughs evilly.

    Tuesday, January 22, 2008

    wagon training

    (for those keeping score, this article originally appeared in Accents, the magazine of the American School in London, except this time I changed some names; originally, this article was published in a tree-death [printed] version - by clicking here, you can have the authentic wagon training experience)

    When I was a kid, my family had a big wood-panelled station wagon that we’d use for our annual three-day drive from Albany, New York to various parts of Florida. For us kids, our progress in life was measured by the seat we earned in the station wagon. Least desirable was sitting on “the Hump,” that section in the middle of the back seat just behind the gear box. Typically, my parents relegated my younger sister to this position and offered the positive spin that in the event of an accident, my brother and I would protect her by absorbing any side impact and resultant bodily damage. Most desirable, of course, was “the Way-Back,” that seatbelt-free zone in the back where the luggage was kept and where an especially height-deprived child could stretch out on a long trip.

    Over the eighteen years I’ve spent in education, I’ve learned that to a great degree, progress as a teacher comes from riding the Frustration Wagon. This could probably be said of any job: lawyer, welder, professional wrestler. But all of my working life has been spent in schools, so I only know the Scholastic Wagon of Frustration.

    I remember clearly when I, as a teacher, first climbed on board: sitting in my tiny apartment on Massachusetts Avenue, eating Kraft macaroni and cheese, waiting for my Dungeons & Dragons computer game (probably Eye of the Beholder from the Forgotten Realms series) to load up. The phone rang.

    “Mr. McColl? This is Mrs. Parkinson. Sean’s mother? Do you mind if we talk for a few minutes?”

    I didn’t if we did, and after some preliminary interrogative parrying we arrived at the thrust of her particular line of inquiry:

    “So Mr. McColl, what should we be doing at home for Sean as parents?”

    Yep. Twenty-one years old, first-year teacher, fresh out of college, being asked what sounded an awful lot like a parenting question. Had she wanted to know about preparing ramen noodles or defeating a small force of drow elves with your cleric injured, I could have been her guy. Sadly, I had decidedly fewer suggestions for constructive interaction between teens and their parents.

    Anyway, surely Mrs. Parkinson knew better than I did? Surely. My involuntary honesty response wanted very badly to kick in, and it was all I could do to keep from blurting out a litany of my unworthiness: that I balanced my checkbook by crossing out the number I had written in and replacing it with the one that the bank sent to me each month, that I had begun the irresponsible accumulation of credit card debt, that until only a few months ago I had been known to attend fraternity parties and that I had declined to participate in my school’s retirement program because it seemed like a waste of money that could be better spent on stereo components and book clubs.

    The situation frustrated me. My knee-jerk frustration stemmed from the fact that my mac and cheese had begun to congeal and that Colm, Fingers and the rest were waiting for me to take them into the town of Myth Drannor. But I later recognized this was just pettiness. At that point, I decided I was frustrated because nobody had ever told me I’d have to advise parents when I started teaching. But that was rubbish as well: the truth was I was frustrated by my own ignorance. I didn’t have an answer for Mrs Parkinson, simple as that.

    Now ensconced on the Hump of the Frustration Wagon, I needed to find some way to make myself more comfortable. I needed the answers for all the future Mrs Parkinsons I would encounter. But where to find them? Faced with this dilemma, I asked myself the question I always ask in times of crisis: what would Columbo do?

    Columbo regularly enters situations about which he knows nothing, and regularly has to find answers to difficult questions. His primary tool? Attention to detail.

    So I tried attending to more details. I noticed Sam’s exquisite turn of phrase in his Crucible essay, wherein he described John Proctor as being “mercenary beneath his sanctimonious veneer” (since then, I have been known to employ this phrase in conversation from time to time). I revelled in John’s marvellously succinct retelling of the critical moment in Crichton’s Andromeda Strain: “Dr. Burton’s greatest mistake came when he failed to autopsy the anticoagulated rats.” When Percy faced ridicule after being defeated by a girl in a wrestling match, I spent time picking the experience apart with him and using it as the basis for a chapel talk. And I shared with Willis’ parents the moment when he, meek and quiet as ever, walked into the Grade 4 classroom to whoops and applause after his celebrated portrayal as Shaggy from Scooby-Doo in the Lower School lampoon. I also noticed grammatical errors in compositions, inaccuracies in recounting literature, spelling mistakes, and more. And slowly, I learned about my students and about students in general, and I found myself able to intelligently talk to parents about what they might do with their children at home.

    At the time, I taught eighth-grade English, including grammar. And it must be said, I was the grammar sensei. Grammar-Wan Kenobi. MC Grammar. Grammar Moses.

    Once a year, I’d give a test on the parts of speech. One section of the test involved students reading sentences and deciding the function of the italicized nouns or pronouns. One sentence I was particularly fond of using was,

    “I will write you soon.”

    No doubt you recognized this as the one example in English usage of the employment of an indirect object (you) without a corresponding direct object (a letter, implied). Well, despite my extraordinary teaching skills and unmatched Rasputin-like charisma, each year a head-achingly large number of my students would raise their hands to ask,

    “Mr. McColl, is there a word missing from Question 17?”

    Not only would someone ask this during the test, but minutes later someone else (a slower worker) would ask it again. And then third and fourth students would ask it further along. The more discrete students would walk tentatively up to my desk to ask me in whispers.

    Eventually, I had enough. One year, I rewrote the test to include this line in the directions:

    And no, there is not a word missing from Question 17.

    Yes, in bold.

    Administering the test to my third-period English students, I had them all focus intently upon me before looking at their tests, and I ordered them, deeply, deliberately and ominously, “DO NOT BEGIN THE TEST UNTIL YOU HAVE READ ALL THE DIRECTIONS.” I made them recite this instruction back to me.

    Nevertheless, about twenty minutes in, Mike Van Buskirk raised his hand. “Mike,” I said, “did you read the directions?”

    “Yes,” he answered hurriedly. “In number--”

    “Mike,” I said, “I don’t think you’ve read the directions.”

    “Yeah, I did. But in number--”

    “Mike, I want you to read the directions again. Right now. Every word. Beginning to end. And if you still have a question, I will answer it.”

    And I watched Mike put his head down and begin scanning the instructions. When he reached my instruction about Number 17, I saw a convulsive shiver rattle his body from head to foot. Following this, he began to giggle - not a happy giggle, but rather the giggle of a man who has just crept up to the edge of hysteria and is wondering whether he should jump in.

    This incident set me to thinking: did Mike’s manic response really mean he had learned a lesson about following directions, or did I simply solidify his belief in the paranormal? I hadn’t become a teacher for the cosmetic responses of students on tests or their temporary performances in class presentations: I wanted to know that my teaching had fundamentally changed my students. I wanted to know that my teaching had affected who they were and how they viewed the world. And I felt in my bones that if I could work out a way to know these things, I’d successfully climb into the Window Seat of the Frustration Wagon.

    Eighteen months passed before I had my shot. Working in an all-boys school, I had grown accustomed to the testosterone-fuelled resistance I faced on any occasion during which I asked the boys to explore their “softer” emotions or their “feminine sides.” They merely tolerated our discussions of masculine love and friendship in Becket. No one signed up for my after-school knitting activity.

    And so it was one spring that I found myself attempting to subvert their very traditional readings of Lord of the Flies. Homecoming Day had arrived, and all of my students understood the necessity of humoring their teachers as they awaited the day’s main event: the annual lacrosse grudge match against our greatest rivals.

    Golding entitled Chapter Four of his novel, “Painted Faces and Long Hair.” Seeking to provoke my students, I asked them why they thought he might have done so.

    Their bored response: “It’s when the kids paint their faces to look like savages, and they’ve been on the island for a while so their hair is getting really long.”

    Yes, but why focus on those two details? Why not call the chapter, “Dirty, Smelly and Running Around in Their Underwear,” all of which are other descriptive details that arise in the chapter?

    Their answers were safe and predictable and discussed the characters’ primitive behaviour, the symbolism of color in the book, and so on. I asked them what sort of people, typically, have long hair and paint their faces. After several minutes of blank stares and leading questions, someone tentatively whispered, “Girls?”

    My next suggestion, that Golding wants to show that only when isolated from the conventional role-playing of society can boys truly explore all aspects of their identity – even and perhaps especially their feminine side – met with derisive laughter and aggressive disbelief. Undaunted in my quest to build my fortress of literary interpretation, I pointed out other examples of male-female roles played out on the island. I saw their defenses crumbling: they couldn’t argue with the evidence.

    But they could distance themselves from it: “Anyway, Mr McColl, this is a stupid story. This wouldn’t really happen.”

    How could they say that? They couldn’t know how they’d behave if they were left on an island away from adults.

    Now came the challenge: “So you’re saying you think if we were left on an island for a couple months, we’d take off our clothes, paint our faces, roast a pig over a fire and dance around it chanting, ‘KILL THE PIG. SPILL ITS BLOOD’?”

    Well, when you put it that way, I suppose I couldn’t say that exactly, no…

    Later that afternoon, I tidied up my classroom as the bell rang for the end of the school day. My classroom windows looked down onto the school courtyard, and I could see mobs of fanatic boys spilling into the open space. It was a beautiful warm sunny day, and the high-school boys coordinated the local fan base. Many of the students, already overheated from minutes of screaming and running around, stood shirtlessly about, awaiting their turn at the stations where older boys would apply blue and white face paint. Other upperclassmen enlisted the help of younger boys in the construction of a bonfire inside a stone wall specially created for the purpose. Atop the pyre a bear (mascot of the rival team) was placed.

    Moments later I watched as they ignited the fire, cheered the burning bear and danced, half-naked and repeating, “KILL THE BEARS! KILL THE BEARS!”

    I gaped, desperate to use the moment somehow but ultimately powerless.

    Just then, from a distant door on the far side of the courtyard, Joe, one of my students, emerged. He already had his face painted half blue, half white. He carried a lacrosse stick. Seeing me in my open window, he smiled and waved, and I waved back. Joe then blitzed forward to join the frenzied mob.

    And then he stopped. And he looked at the frenzied mob, as though with new eyes.

    And then he looked at me. And then at the mob again.

    Eventually, sheepishly, he wandered over to join the rest of the boys, but it was clear that his heart was no longer in it.

    There it was: something I’d taught in class had affected the behavior of a student and his outlook on the world. I felt that this warranted my moving into a Window Seat.

    The trouble was, I immediately found myself facing the next level of professional frustration: fine, my teaching affected Joe one afternoon. But did it really become a part of him? Would it last?

    In other words, the Window Seat wasn’t good enough. I had my eye on the Way-Back.

    I spent another four years desperately trying to climb over that back seat. I taught different grades and different subjects in different schools to different students. I used progressive assessment strategies; I trialed new cooperative learning techniques; I experimented with variable grading practices. I paid all kinds of attention to all kinds of things.

    Bupkus. Window Seat City.

    Eventually, I left the classroom to try riding the Administrative Wagon of Frustration for a while. I spent idle moments running through the names of colleagues who had probably found their way into the Way-Back of Teaching; I even met a few who I imagined rode in the coveted position of Shotgun. Always I wanted to corner them and demand to know their secrets. But, as Columbo teaches us, no one can give us the answers to the questions of our own lives. We must find our own answers in our own way.

    A few days ago I bumped into a student I’d taught in Grade 7 who was heading into his final semester of college. We decided to go out for a beer to catch up. Our conversation veered wildly: Alfred Hitchcock, Plato’s Symposium, the Simpsons, the American School in London, getting a job, the other students in my Grade 7 homeroom.

    “I remember when you told us about yourself on the first day,” Francis said. “You said you had a tendency to go off on tangents.”

    How very matter-of-fact of me.

    “Yeah. None of us knew what a tangent was. So you drew a picture on the board of a circle with a line coming out of it at the edge.” His finger traced the diagram on the pub table. “That’s still how I remember what a tangent is whenever it comes up in a math class or a conversation or whatever.”

    You’d think it would have been anti-climactic to find myself in the Way-Back after I’d stopped teaching. But you’d be wrong. In fact, even now I’m trying to work out a way to call Shotgun.

    Monday, January 21, 2008

    my bad blues poem

    My Baby Done Packed Up and Left and Took All Them Bandages

    I got me a nasty paper cut on my fanger
    And I cain't find me a decent Band-Aid.

    Yeah, I got a real nasty paper cut on my fanger
    And I cain't find me a decent Band-Aid.

    No, nowhere. Cain't find one, baby.

    Now the blood is getting' all over ever-thang,
    Includin' this here blues poem I done made.

    (actually, I didn't get blood on the blogged version of this - I really made the mess on the tree-death [printable] version; click here to see!)

    Sunday, January 20, 2008

    zen rude-ism: some basic principles and terminology

    The Four Great Truths
    1. Life is suffering.
    2. Suffering comes from other people.
    3. There is no path out of the suffering.
    4. Often, the best way to end a meal is with a nice piece of melon.

    The Three Great Obstacles to the Elevation of Being (Moan 4)

    1. You can never find really good, ripe fruit in season
    2. Stupid questions
    3. Brainless jerks
    The Wise One stresses that these obstacles will not necessarily occur in this order.

    The Master Reveals the Three Great Obstacles to His Pupils (Kondo 15)

    The Master taught that what one does in one's previous existence has a great effect on one's current existence.

    “What is it with you two?” he asked. “What, did I throw babies into piranha-infested waters in a past life or something? I must have been some kind of psychotic dog-kicker to deserve the two of you.”

    “But Master,” said one pupil. “Surely any suffering we cause you will only elevate you to a higher plane of existence.”

    “Look, Yoga Boy. Nobody gets ahead in this life or any other. And you want to know why? Three reasons: first, you almost never find decent fruit in season no matter what you do; and two, brainless jerks like you guys.”

    “But Master,” said the second pupil. “What is the third obstacle to the Elevation of Being? Didn't you tell us there were three things that get in the way?”

    “Stupid questions,” said the Master.

    “They were the only ones I could think of,” said the second pupil quietly. The Master slapped his own forehead in disbelief. The first pupil leaned over to whisper in the ear of the second. “Oh.” said the second pupil.

    The Example of the Obstacles (Kondo 19)

    The Master sat enjoying the afternoon sun with a bowl of sliced apples. His pupil came to him in a state of cloudy bewilderment.

    “Master,” he said, “Something troubles me.”

    The Master rolled his eyes and said, “Now there's a news bulletin.”

    “If Enlightenment means understanding that everyone in the world is a complete bastard, then why should brainless jerks keep us from Elevating our Being? Wouldn't meeting them and understanding their place Enlighten and Elevate us?”

    The Master picked up a piece of an apple. “You're a number three with a number two, you know that?” He bit into the apple, made a face and tossed it to the ground. “Fabulous,” he said, “a complete set.”

    The Way of the Wise-Ass

    Most Rude-ist Masters would acknowledge that there is great value to be found in following the Way of the Wise-Ass. At the same time, all Masters would also caution against the Pitfalls awaiting those who choose this Path to the Rude Awakening. For, while the tools of the Wise-Ass can be of great benefit to the Rude-ist student, the Allure of the Wise-Ass can often be so great as to force one from the Rude Path. The Way of the Wise-Ass is only the Way, not the Destination.

    Also, nobody likes a Wise-Ass.

    The Pitfall of Bad Mood-ism

    Arguably the most dangerous of all the Pitfalls, Bad Mood-ism is the belief that one has been Rudely Awakened when in fact one is just in a Bad Mood.

    This occurs when the Wise-Ass has become distracted by the cleverness of his own Wise-Assery. In taking himself too seriously, he believes that his Bad Mood, taken on from those around him, has become his Rude Awakening.

    It is this Pitfall that the True Master witnesses when he says, "Get over yourself, Wise-Ass."

    Stepping Stones on the Path to the Rude Awakening

    The unawakened man thinks, “They're all bastards.”

    The student on the Path asks, “Is it me, or are they all bastards?”

    The Awakened man understands, “No, it's them. They're all bastards.”

    (from Sutra 5)

    Zen Rude-ism: The Principle of Wanting to Stay Asleep (Chin's Ninth Moan)

    The Awakened One has achieved his status by embracing the One Reality that there is no Awakening, just a world full of bastards, jerks, and wise-asses.

    --attributed to Chin the Kibbitzer, in response to the Second Sutra of Pying-Pyong's Dog

    Saturday, January 19, 2008

    delusional notebook 1

    Horror movie idea
    : Ice Creamatorium. What if Ben and Jerry were big Sweeney Todd fans...

    Idea for biopic: the tragic story of Mary-and-Ashley Kate, Siamese twins joined at the middle name. Their desperate existence became a worldwide cause, with even F Murray Abraham stepping up to donate his first name. Unfortunately, it turned out his first name was Finortnort, and the twins' bodies rejected the transplant. Continued concern led Madonna, Beck, Bono and other one-named celebrities to organize "Mono-Name-o-Mania," a benefit concert and fund- and awareness-raiser. This ultimately caused the break-up of U2, because Bono and The Edge had a huge fight over whether or not "the" should be counted as a word. Bono called The Edge a "clinging, attention-craving poser who understands the suffering of mononamia about as much as those people who drive their disable uncles' cars because they've got disabled stickers on them and can park better." The media just ate up the squabble, and the girls were forgotten in the frenzy. They now spend their days haunting second-hand clothing stores looking for sweaters with unusual monograms.

    Write note to Lucasfilm: Ribo Flavin should be introduced as a character in the next Star Wars film. He'd probably be a bounty hunter, like Boba Fett.

    Idea for documentary on pharmaceutical industry: Viagra-vation.

    Finally write the story of that time you went to that concert in Wales, leapt onstage and stole the space out of the Lostprophets' name. Talk with remarkable candor of your confused pride and shame all the years you kept it on your dresser in that ugly ceramic box with the butterfly on it. Lay bare for readers your fear of showing the space to anyone, your certainty that even your closest friends wouldn't believe you, since it's a space and it's invisible. Describe your painful comeuppance when you tried to sell it on eBay only to find hundreds of other people already there trying to sell counterfeit Lostprophets spaces. Expose how this led you to join the police force's Counterfeit Name Space division where you successfully infiltrated and ultimately dismantled a world-wide bootleg space organization that made millions selling copies of the spaces taken out of the GlaxoSmithKline company.

    Write joke for the punchline "Two aardvarks and an icepick!"

    Corporate whistleblower film idea: Narvin Gone, Vice President for Hiding Things from the Government at the Fortune 100 company SoullessGreedBags (SGB), accidentally uncovers evidence of something wrong in the corporation. Due to the company's convoluted bureaucracy, their incomprehensible paper trails devoid of any oversight, and some lax government regulations, Gone discovers that in their last corporate takeover, SGB purchased itself. Before long, he realizes that this may not have been a mistake - someone way way high up planned this and now wants to get Gone. The only person who can save him now is a woman who is way too good looking for him.

    Horror film idea: The Asthmatic Undead 1: Vlad the Inhaler.

    Write script for thriller about postal serial killer who spindles his victims before mutilating them. Research what spindling is. Consider having victims folded first, then spindled, then mutilated.

    Idea for romantic film of manners: the last guy in the world named Emmet meets and falls in love with the last girl in the world named Hortense. But because they are so embarrassed by their first names, they can't stop using their last names, calling each other Mr. Lickipants and Miss Pittstink. Sadly, they thus remain an emotional arm's length from one another at all times and their love goes unrequited. Which is a real shame, since they're both totally hot looking and live in the same nudist colony.

    Friday, January 18, 2008

    two frogs: my nephew Ian's totally kick-butt poem with my less kick-butt footnotes

    Two[1] frogs[2]

    In[3] a[4] fan[5].[6]

    Oh[7] no[8]![9]

    The[10] end[11]

    by Ian, aged 6

    If you prefer the tree-death (printable) version, please send that copy to Ian when you finish so his little sister can draw on the back of it.

    [1] Note the subtle brilliance here: in a single word the author encapsulates all the dichotomies of our modern age.

    [2] Of course, the reference to Aristophanes' classic satire is obvious even to the most feeble-minded congenital idiot. What is perhaps less obvious - and thus more compelling and effective – is the religious import of the choice of amphibian. Clearly an allusion to the biblical plague, this would at first blush appear to be a nod to the religious right; however, the author's post-modern self-referential style is too blatant to ignore—it is the religious right themselves who live in danger of incurring God's wrath, as Australia did in 1935 with the arrival of the cane toad.

    This word also belies the troubled relationship the US has with France.

    [3] Again, in a brilliantly economical use of language, the author reflects upon Indiana (IN) and its 11 electoral votes, hotly contested in the 2004 presidential election. The capital I implies the nation's capital, and the idea that the INcumbent presidential candidate did INdeed find himself voted back INto office. The reference draws on the concept of all the fashionable (i.e., "in") political constructs engaged to ensure his re-election.

    [4] The choice of the indefinite article, as opposed to the far more limiting "the," allows the reader to embrace the experience of the poem. The fan is the fan of everyman, just as Rilke's panther is every prisoner.

    [5] One can only marvel at the author's chosen device here, as it both speaks to the dangers of our present obsession with technology, at the same time that it harkens to a bygone age of manual cooling systems (the folding fan of the Japanese, for example). The fan is international (found in ancient Egypt, the Fiji Islands, and the hand of Oscar Wilde's Lady Windermere) and timeless, further lending the poem its "everyman" quality (see footnote 4, above). The fact that the fan in the author's poem takes on a violent persona can be interpreted as a metaphor for US gun control policy, the prevalence of media violence, the war in Iraq, and domestic abuse.

    More significantly, in keeping with the poem's religious undercurrent, the fan would be the device used by the inhabitants of the Bible Belt to remain cool – thus underscoring their hubris. In believing they are the ones who shall remain cool (i.e., free from the flames of eternal damnation), they are like the eponymous frogs of the poem, doomed by the very thing they hope will save them.

    Finally, the "cool" provided by the fan reinforces the author's use of what's "in" (see footnote 3, above).

    [6] With a simple mark of punctuation, the author drives home his point, and reminds us that everyman must face the ramifications of his own period in history. The author is to be congratulated on his understatement here, as a lesser author would undoubtedly have employed an exclamation point (except the surrealists, who would simply obfuscate matters with a question mark); such a punctuatory decision would have undercut the gravity of the poem and broadcast the fate of the poem's protagonists, which fate, in the poem's present state, remains a delicious mystery.

    [7] Here too, a clever use of a seemingly innocuous interjection brings up yet another 2004 electoral college scrapping-ground: Ohio (OH), where the 20 electoral votes went to Bush, who had a margin of victory of less than 2%.

    [8] Without question the author chooses this word to reflect his political bias, which can be forgiven in a work of such importance. He decries the results in both Ohio and Indiana, and indeed in the 2004 election itself. Moreover, he cleverly introduces the concept of globalization, whose forces greatly influenced the outcome of the election. The consecutive letters N and O naturally make one think of other internationally-traded companies, such as ABC, KLM, OP, and VW.

    [9] In contrast to the previous line (see footnote 6), given the emotional import of the implied fate of the frogs, one cannot help but see, with the author's confident guidance, that the exclamation point is entirely justified – indeed, one should even say required – here. The author is to be congratulated on his bravery and audacity in his selection of punctuation.

    [10] Though critics will no doubt see the use of the definite article as contradictory to and even undermining of the poem's essential themes, the author clearly made his word choice with a great deal of forethought. If it is true that the situation outlined applies equally to frog and reader alike, then we must also share a common fate. We are, after all, one planet, whether united in our shared space or in our globalistic commercial viewpoint. One can therefore see no alternative to the definite article in this instance.

    [11] Having come so far and infused the reader's mind with his myriad images, viewpoints, and popular and historical references, the author draws his work to a close with a phrase comforting in its familiarity and simplicity. But is it simple? In employing the phrase, the author connects his piece to countless thousands, nay millions, which have gone before, all concluding with the same word. The reader is every reader, the poem is every written work throughout history.

    Here, finally, we find an author who provides something for everyone, as his "end" can be lowbrow bathroom humor for the unsophisticated, or a connection to "The End" by the Doors and "The End of the World" by REM for the more musically minded, or an allusion to John Barth's seminal American novel The End of the Road for those of a literary bent, and much, much more.

    I myself cannot also help but smile at the author's knowing wink here, equating himself, as he does, in a self-effacing way, with Burt Reynolds, star and director of the 1978 flop The End. He does himself a grand disservice here, and one might accuse him of false modesty, but whatever the truth, his effort charms.