Tag Archives: indulgent geekdom



Poutine or not poutine?
That is the question.
Whether ‘tis Canada-er in the dish
To suffer the pangs and harrows
of unpototatoed beer
Or to take curds against a sea of gravy
And then potatoes, eat them. To eat, to weep—
No more; and by a weep to say we cry
The tears and thousand natural joys
That fat is heir to. ‘Tis a consommé-tion
Devoutly to be wished. To cry, to weep—
To weep, perchance to seam—aye, there’s the pub,
For in that weep of joy, what seams may burst
When we have shoveled down this aortal clog,
Must give us pause. There’s the diet
That makes insanity of so large meal:
For who would bear the chips and dips of blah,
The suppressor’s tong, the dietitians veggie sticks
The pangs of uneaten food, the line’s delay,
The impotence of whiskey, and the turns
That drunken merit of the caloric takes,
When she herself might her poutine make
With a raw potato? Who would these smoothies bear
To nom and snarf under a brew’ry light
But that the dread of something after food,
The undigested grease, from whose toilet
No diner returns, puzzles the gut,
And makes us rather bear the salad we have
Than to stuff our faces with crap we know not of.
Thus conscience does make dieters of us all
And thus the native hue of gravy-ation
Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of curd,
And enterprises of great fry and flavor
With this regard their nomness turns a fry,
And lose the name of dinner.


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How I Make the Team Win

When people ask me if I’m superstitious, I answer assuredly, “Nope!”

I played NCAA Division I soccer, and a lot of competitive soccer to get there. (And no, I’m not going to get tired of bringing that up.) Throughout my career, if I didn’t have the right shirt, the right bra, stepped on the sideline or not, whatever, I was ok; I never thought about what order I put my gear on, which shoes I tied first.

And yet, as a fan? I get so idiotic following my temporary, impulsive, newly imagined superstitions. They’re not even legit, consistent game-to-game superstitions; they’re just what occurs to me during the course of a single game. I compulsively follow whatever idea suddenly pops into my had as good luck—and those impulses must be having an effect, otherwise I would’ve learned from logic and stopped trying right?

I think I’m going to call it Helpless Fan Syndrome: You can’t be on the field, so you invent ways to be proactive.

Is anyone else so…Mormon with their superstitions? Just top-of-the-head, “It came to mind, therefore it must be God’s law”? I make fun of it, and then my brain goes all, “For the Bolts to win, you have to wear the same underwear that you wore while eating that really great sandwich you had last Wednesday, and take out your left earring, ’cause it’s an away game,” and I’m like, “OH, SHIT, DUH.” […* dutifully changes underwear, removes earring.]

While it’s obvious that my techniques are still being developed (as of the Bolts/Rays results in the last 24 hours, and the Bucs…well, pretty much all the time), here are some things I did right to cause the Rays to win Wednesday: (And it’s not at all a coincidence, then, that I did none of these things today–hence the blowout.)

  1. Drank out of the same glass I used during Monday’s win. (Unwashed. Duh.)
  2. Refused to let that glass go empty.
  3. Did not wear any of my Rays gear. (One of my longer-standing superstitions deems that wearing team gear—or even using team-branded items like cozies and whatnot—is bad luck.)
  4. Nor did I wear anything blue or yellow or green.
  5. Answered only “yes yes” and “woo” to any IMs I got in support of the Rays during the final two innings.
  6. Kept my phone plugged in throughout the ninth inning, even though it was fully charged midway through.
  7. Knocked twice on my head, wooden TV tray and wooden coffee table (in a random order) with my right hand, then on my head and coffee table (random order) with my left hand every time an announcer said something jinxy.
  8. Made this list eight items long, ‘cause eight is a good number.

When in doubt and your team is down, you can always go to the time-tested and proven “rally shot.” In the best circumstances, this involves the cheapest tequila available at the bar (see: El Toro, Pepe Lopez)*. Among many success stories, this shot’s greatest achievement? The USWNT comeback win over Brazil, during which CCB, the Deelios and I, in an unparalleled moment of patriotism, took one (apiece) for the team. And then this happened:



In a pinch, you can use whatever somehow detestable shot you have on-hand that you can suffer through without ruining your experience for the rest of the game.

But lastly, a few words of warning for wielding the power of the rally shot:

  1. Never take a rally shot when your team is up or tied. (That means it’s rallying for the other team.)
  2. Be very, very careful taking a second rally shot—you never know if the first one is still working, and you may counteract it and/or die.
  3. And speaking of: Never take a rally shot after midnight. I dunno if it’s bad luck, but I’m pretty sure it’s just straight-up a bad idea.


*Holy god with those websites. Now I see where they get their power…

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The Year in Books

“It is a lovely oddity of human nature that a person is more inclined to interrupt two people in conversation than one person alone with a book.”–Rules of Civility

I didn’t want to do another retrospective of the Year of the Blah (which I’m celebrating/eulogizing/hoping to incinerate with a trip to San Diego in a couple days). So instead I give you a rundown of the books I’ve read since establishing the Banana Bunker by the Beach Fortress of Solitude out here. (Subject to editing if I realize I’ve forgotten anything.)

In estimated chronological order of reading:

El Sicario: A real life former enforcer for a Mexican drug cartel tells the story of his career, complete with details from the writer about how careful the guy was in setting up meetings and disguising his identity now that he’s out of the game.

These sicko subculture obsessions of mine, I’m learning, aren’t best served in book form. A good longform binge is great; I enjoy the books, too, but chapter after chapter, day after day, they don’t deliver the same kind of binge-worthy satisfaction. It reminds me of one random family dinner when I was…who knows…10? And I declared that I could eat 20 servings of Ma’s spaghetti carbonara. I barely got through three, my sisters gleefully challenging me to keep my promise. It wasn’t that it stopped tasting good; I just got full.

The Art of Fielding: A sheltered and wimpy but graceful devotee of a legendary shortstop earns a spot on the baseball team for a small liberal arts college in Wisconsin.

When three fellow editors and our publisher simultaneously enthused about this book, it became one of the rare occasions when I went into a novel with faith and high expectations. (Yes, usually I dread that I’m getting into something horrible.) Beautiful, poetic descriptions of athletic things; personal drama that doesn’t involve saving the world or triumphing over aliens or any other try-too-hard melodramatic bullshit.

This is Where I Leave You: A middle-age guy catches his wife cheating and then goes home to sit shiva for his father, reexamining family relationships in the process.

Loaner from Ma. Aside from a far-too-graphic (-for-no-good-reason) early scene, I enjoyed it, for the most part. It’s not particularly profound, but it’s funny and heartfelt in parts. Still, it’s not much of a base to build off of, and it falls apart a bit in the last quarter. (This is, I’m finding, a common issue.)

Tenth of December: Short stories.

Quite simply, the most impressively varied collection of depressing stories in the history of words.

Damn Few: Memoir of a Navy Seal.

Fantastic look into the Navy Seal subculture. The author is very smart and well read and well spoken, so it’s a fun, balanced, charismatic description of crazy-extreme physical tasks, not to mention the ethical issues involved in war and the military.

Water for Elephants: An old man in a nursing home recounts his days as a young man working for a traveling circus.

A great example of why I begin reading novels with such resigned caution. I went into this, for some strange reason, expecting something thoughtful and literary, and it really didn’t deliver—especially not in its mass-napalming of a denouement. (Also, did I miss the explanation of the narrator’s fit about the geezer claiming he carried water for elephants? It’s such a total hissy, not to mention it’s the name of the damn book, that I thought, “Ooh, there’s going to be a story behind this!” And then, it becomes one of a dozen or so would-be teasers that never amount to anything.)

Wherever I Wind Up: Knuckleballer R.A. Dickey’s memoir involving his Southern upbringing and journeyman career.

Meh. It’s fine. I can’t believe I spent the entire book expecting it to climax with a no-hitter. (Spoiler alert: It doesn’t.)

Rules of Civility: A year in the life of a young woman making friends and finding her way in 1930s Manhattan.

I did not have high expectations for this, and I was more than pleasantly surprised. Should give Ma due credit for recommending this one, too—halfway through, I was fervently recommending it to other people. It’s smart and reserved in its writing, while at the same time witty and biting. Alas, while it’s not a complete shark-jumper, the ending doesn’t amount to much. (This isn’t the worst example of a disappointing ending, but seriously with people thinking their novels need to climax with insane character twists and fist-fights and spontaneous lesbianism.)

A favorite quote: “As a quick aside, let me observe that in moments of high emotion, if the next thing you’re going to say makes you feel better, then it’s probably the wrong thing to say. This is one of the finer maxims that I’ve discovered in life. And you can have it, since it’s been of no use to me.”

The Shipping News: A sad-sack New York widower rediscovers his magical, mythical family roots in a small town in Newfoundland.

Well, first of all, it’s like the eighth time I’ve read it, and it’s not much of a stretch to call it my favorite book. It’s beautiful, word-to-word and sentence-to-sentence, and then the story itself is…not quite magical realism, but lovely and stylized. One of those stories that takes place “now” but is also elevated and otherworldly. Almost a parable.

The Academy: Game On: Monica Seles’ first foray into the world of YA fiction, about a girl’s first semester or so at an academy for elite athletes.

I had to read it for work. (Seles trained at the local IMG Academy as a child.) It’s harmless, for the most part, but also bound to kill brain cells.

Gone Girl: Alternating narrators—a husband being investigated for the potential murder of his missing wife, and the wife’s diary entries from throughout their relationship. (There’s a wrinkle in that structure halfway through, but I won’t spoil it.)

It’s not going to enhance your worldview or anything—it’s plot-driven, but the plot is solid and detailed. Most notably, the descriptions of (most of) the characters’ emotional responses and motivations are interesting and insightful. I’ve called it “a really, really well-written Lifetime movie.”

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Strange Soundtrack

[Yes, apparently I’m on an S-alliterative title kick. No, I’m not going to change it.]

Wanna change your perspective on a weird, annoying, unproductive Monday morning? Take a long walk over the bridge in the beautiful, 68-degree weather—nothing but clear blue skies, a light breeze…and the Beetlejuice main title music playing in a loop on your iPod.

Seriously, that assigned a whole new outlook on the day. Looking at the world through Burton-colored glasses. I have a feeling the smile I wore would best be described as “disconcerting.” At least, I hope so.

I haven’t had a good soundtrack moment like that in a while, where the music makes you feel like you’re strutting along as the main character in your own movie. And Beetlejuice. I mean, this is not your typical action hero story or dramatic feature. This is exciting and weird: the dark, bouncing tuba and the swirling strings and clarinet, and the manic, suddenly storming trumpets. Danny Elfman’s music is a major part of the Tim Burton signature style: dark, wry and melodramatic, as well as self-deprecating, funny and sweet.

Much like myself.

…or so I enjoyed thinking as I marched over the bridge, tight-lipped smirk, inflating the world’s standard, suburban abnormalities into charming, grotesque cartoonishness: the blubbery runner; the old man on the recumbent tricycle; the gaggle of sinewy gargoyles pushing jogging strollers.

Like the movie’s weird dirt-moving machine clawing at the lawn as the Deetzes begin their renovations, or when the swirling dust from the guys sanding the wall turns into an eerie fog when Lydia first climbs the stairs to the attic.


All the office stuff turns, too, from everyday plod to quirky and creepy. The IT issues and medical revelations aren’t the standard and boring things that happen every day in every office everywhere; they’re indicators of darker, weirder things at work. Everything is funhouse mirrored.

A coworker just ordered a singing telegram for her husband. I desperately want it to involve a Harry Belafonte song.

I like things that shade your outlook like that—assign you a perspective instead of looking at the world from every possible angle with no rhyme or reason or restriction (which, by the way, is my brain’s favorite pastime). I tend to go all John Nash trying to solve the world like a math equation—like in A Beautiful Mind, when he’s looking at newspapers and documents trying to string together different clues, but they’re really just schitzophrenic impulses that have no larger meaning. It’s nice to let something else take charge, to quell that impulse to try to fit pieces together endlessly and simplify the world into a single, recognizable shade:

This is what the world looks like. This is my movie.

And it’s fucking weird.

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A Man, A Plan…

Here’s another selection from the longform.org archives, this time about a “master palindromist.” I started to think the guy was nerdily admirable right up to the point where I realized he was a horse’s ass. (Note to remember for myself: Being self-aware does not magically transform ego into charm.)

So, being a palindrome myself (RemmahAnanab?), I had an early introduction to the form. Little J and I used to spend spare minutes in 10th-grade history class making palindromes on the blackboard: “Traffic if fart.” “Mary bred a derby ram.” Start with a friend’s name or a random word; spell it backwards next to itself and see how it might be broken down and what words and their reverses can be added to make a sentence.

Or, more often, a “sentence.”

The article’s Master Palindromist—a self-imposed title—produced, in fact, some amazing, word-reversing wizardry; his palindromes can be a hundred words and more, perfectly reversible. The thing is, because of the concrete, mathematic-like confines of the palindrome form, he’s gotta be a goddamn contortionist with punctuation, syntax… spelling. He takes some liberties with the language. And, like, coherence. The Greenward Palindrome mentioned at the beginning of the article has more explanative annotations than a page from Ulyssesand it’s a lot less lyrical. [Although the shorter “No Gas in Age?” deserves credit for being more coherent.]

That’s why I was proud enough of “Mary bred a derby ram” to remember it all these years. It’s a fairly natural sentence—a very common subject/verb/object structure, and a concept (breeding racing sheep instead of horses) that’s not too much of a stretch, in an Ogden Nash kind of way—and oh, hey: It’s the same backwards as forwards.

When you try to make a palindrome make sense with 50 words instead of five, it’s a lot harder. And I have to wonder if it’s worth it to be a master of something that winds up being so esoteric that you then have to explain it to people. Does it really count as an accomplishment?

One of the less-talked-about reasons that Shakespeare was great—a Master Iambic Pentameterist—was his ability to write naturally within the confines of the meter. Professional actors know that often all you have to do with Shakespeare is say the lines according to the meter—“da DA da DA da DA da DA da DA”—and you’re most of the way to a reading that makes sense: “But soft, what light through yonder window breaks?” Shakespeare could’ve flubbed the meter and put the emphases on the wrong syllables—god knows many of his contemporaries did, and pop music does it all the time—but it wouldn’t have been as impressive, or even as moving. It wouldn’t have worked as well.

Meter is more forgiving than palindromes, of course, which are like mathematical equations: either they work or they don’t. But I wish that this palindromist fella would try smaller numbers and more music. And also, stop being such a jackwagon. Then maybe I’d call him master.

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NFL: The Movie

And now, for your substanceless Friday posting…
With the recent NFL official foofaraw, I kept seeing this picture of Broncos’ head coach John Fox:

…and it put me in mind of actor David Morse (Tritter from House, among many other things):

That similarity reminded me of Steelers’ coach Mike Tomlin, whose resemblance to Omar Epps is so uncanny that you only have to google one of them to get side-by-side composites of them both:

Then I started getting quizzed for more casting suggestions. So, based on prompts and a conversation-imposed 10-second time limit, these are the NFL casting decisions I made. And yes, this is how I spend my time.

(OK, full disclosure, the first question was, “Who the fuck is going to play Andy Reid?” To which I responded immediately, “Wilford Brimley.” But that wasn’t a serious effort. Heh.)

Seahawks Pete Carroll?

Pfft, that’s easy: Richard Gere.

The Bucs’ Greg Schiano was kind of a tough one.

But I went with FNL‘s own boyish Luke Cafferty–aka Matt Lauria (maybe a younger version of Schiano).

The Harbaugh brothers of San Fran and Baltimore? (Well, let’s just go with Jim.)

That let me stick with the FNL theme by picking Joe McCoy, the evil and smirky D.W. Moffett.

“GIVE ME A JOE PHILBIN.” (Yeah, I had to look him up, too: Dolphins.)

Now we’re moving on to Breaking Bad: Mike, aka Jonathan Banks.

Mike Shanahan?

Aaaand, I kind of hate myself for this, but… (It must be the Irishness.)

At this point, it was suggested that Sheen would have to be Roger Goodell…

But I gotta say, I’m starting to think of this as a quirky, epic, Coen Brothers/P.T. Anderson kind of film. And therefore, the only choice for Goodell is…

Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Perfect. Now all we need is a script…

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I Love This Book

“English’s Germanic relatives are like assorted varieties of deer–antelopes, springboks, kudu and so on–antlered, fleet-footed, big-brown-eyed variations on a theme. English is some dolphin swooping around underwater, all but hairless, echolocating and holding its breath. Dolphins are mammals like deer: they give birth to live young and are warm-blooded. But clearly the dolphin has strayed from the basic mammalian game plan to an extent that no deer has.”

I’m rereading John McWhorter’s Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue. Pa bought it for me a year or so ago–a random pickup at Barnes & Noble. (He does this from time to time, like when you see a new product in the supermarket and think, “Oh, I think she’ll like that.” He also scored big with 1066.) I loved it so much that I turned around and bought him a copy for his birthday this year. Then I bought it for my kindle, because the hard copy is packed away somewhere.

I had it last night at O’Leary’s, and half hoped someone would come up and ask what I was reading so I could go all super-nerd on them. (But alas, the only person who approached me was Drunky McSmokesalot at the counter, who approved of my Beam. I should think so; he smelled like it was his preferred aftershave.)

Essentially, the book looks at how the English language developed over the last, say, 1,500 years. McWhorter’s first premise is to explore the language from syntax and grammar instead of etymology. In other words, he’s not focusing on how the William the Conqueror and his French buddies gave us French-derived food words like beef and pork, while the poor Anglo-Saxon farmers who were supplying the fancy food were dealing with Germanic-derived words like cow and pig. Instead, he’s looking at the changes and influences in how sentences are formed, how words work together and conjugate, and why we have little oddities like “the meaningless ‘do’.” (“I go to the store.”/”I do not go to the store.”)

McWhorter’s a linguist, so the book is chock full of examples from hundreds of languages from all around the world. (In most other languages, for example,  it’s “I no go to the store.”)  And it’s really cool to see how English compares, and how different languages take different routes to expressing the same universal concepts. And it’s cool to become so aware of the language we use.

Shut up, it is cool.

But yeah, the material could still be dry, even for someone as cool as I am. (One man’s dryness is another man’s…moisture?) So what makes it is that McWhorter is actually, sincerely offended by certain presumptions in his field, and he takes a madman’s glee in breaking them apart and proving that he’s right instead. He likes colorful analogies and has a wonderfully odd, occasionally dark sense of humor that surfaces out of nowhere in the middle of impassioned arguments about suffixes and pronouns. He doesn’t have an academic’s reverence for it. He’s conversational. He’s weird.

“Show me a person who has said that learning Russian was no problem after they mastered the basics–after the basics, you just keep wondering how anybody could speak the language without blacking out.”

Or, one of my favorites:

“So: imagine if now and then you fall into moods where you enjoy taking a knife and stabbing pillows open. Suppose you run out of pillows but you still have that nagging urge, and then you see a laundry bag bulging full of clothes. A thought balloon pops up over your head: Maybe I’ll cut the bag open!

Stabbing pillows. And even just now I’m using bland examples about going to the store. (Although McWhorter can get a little too cute at times, and I hate hate hate the frequency with which he uses multiple exclamation points!!!!)

Well, anyway. I’d love to go into his arguments about Celtic influences on sentence structure, or the absolute absurdity of all those grammar rules we learned in elementary school (including…the ones to which I adhere religiously at my job–and still he gets me on his side), but I’m having trouble believing that I’m entertaining anyone but myself right now, sooooo I’ll just go back to sitting quietly with my Beam and my book, at the picnic table by the water.

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