Thursday, December 28, 2006

A Dubs Family Christmas

Christmas this year was quite the treat. I won't say much about Christmas eve, as I have described our family's rituals in detail already. It was quite enjoyable (roast beast, gifts, fire, etc.). Christmas day, however, was one of the more surreal holiday experiences of my life.

In St. Louis, my father has no relatives. My mother, on the other hand, has enough relatives to populate a small nation, and every holiday these relatives all converge upon some hapless sucker's home to celebrate the holiday with feasting and drinking. (Emphasis on the drinking. These people are of Polish-Irish descent, and they know how to have a good time.) Some highlights of this year's event include:

-Mistiming the turkeys on the grill, so that dinner was two hours late.
-Setting said turkeys on fire, unbeknownst to any of the partygoers, except...
-My father putting said turkey-fireballs out with his beer.
-The giant $10 jug of Carlo-Rossi.
-Filling the drinking chalice (giant glass bowl) with said Carlo-Rossi and passing it around the table, forcing people to chug whilst the others sang the Mexican Hat Dance song.
-Forcing my cousin's new boyfriend to chug twice, as he was "the new guy."
-Draining the chalice twice on my own to defend the honor of my scion of the family line.
-Celebrating another cousin's 16th birthday party with 22 candles on the cake.
-Sending other cousins out to buy a bottle of Bailey's, only to have them return instead with a bottle of Jagermeister.
-Watching the tivo'd porn in between plays of the football game with my cousin standing guard over the stairs to make sure his young children did not stumble in.
-The slightly uncomfortable period where my brother explained the plot of the porn to me, while his girlfriend helped fill in details (they apparently had seen it before).
-The very surreal experience of eating mashed potatoes, stuffing, and ham (as noted, the turkey was late).

All in all, one of our more enjoyable Christmases. We left at the appropriate time (before the music started to blast for two hours), and I managed not to get drunk, opting instead for "kinda sick" due, no doubt, to the aforementioned chugging of Carlo-Rossi.

Saturday I return to Madison, and not a moment too soon. I adore my parents and enjoy spending time with them, but my God, I need to leave this house before I murder them in their sleep. I believe my mother has brought up no less than 30 times the fact that some day I'll be able to have these fun family experiences with my own children, and I have been told by at least four of my relatives that I need to "find some nice girl and settle down somewhere."

To rectify this tension and questioning of my life choices, I've decided to have wacky Madison fun on New Year's Eve. I don't know what it is yet, but I'm open to suggestions. Whatever it is, it has to top last year's sword brandy (which won't be hard, except in terms of sheer absurdity). So Madison folk, I take it upon you to come up with hilarity and debauchery to ring in 2007. Keep me posted.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Note to Self: Never Live Like That Again

Ok, so the last few weeks have been rather hellish.

Two weeks back, I could see everything was coming to a head. I had a 15 page research paper due that I had barely worked on at all (on the research level, not even starting the writing), and I had 52 papers to grade. I had planned to write the paper by Tuesday the 12th, then take the rest of the week to grade the papers.

Instead, I discovered that I could find episodes of Scrubs available online. So, in the time between Friday the 8th and Tuesday the 12th, I managed to watch all five seasons of the show. It was pretty sad, actually. Since each episode is only 22 minutes long, I would justify to myself that I could afford to watch one more. Then, as time ran on, I would say that I would get more work done if I only got to the end of a season. Well, it kinda worked. Once I had watched every episode of every season, I did feel like I could get more work done.

Unfortunately, by that time it was Wednesday evening, and I was just getting home from a Writing Center shift. So, in the hours between 11:00pm Wednesday and 1:30pm Thursday, I managed to write a 15 page paper, complete with research. The requirements consisted of 3 giant cans of Monster energy drink, a bag of pretzel rods, a half of a leftover pizza, and a cast-iron stomach that helped me fight the urge to constantly regurgitate the junk I was putting into it. Sorry, stomach. I promise to make amends with sweet purifying alcohol over break.

Following that, I had about 30 papers left to grade by the next day (Friday). Which I did, finishing the last one between discussion sections that afternoon. Again, Monster energy drinks, pretzel rods, and lack of sleep. My mood that Friday afternoon was best described as "jittery," or more accurately described as "bat-shit insane." But then came the office holiday party and sweet sweet alcohol, and even sweeter sleep.

All in all, that week I got about 12 hours of sleep between Tuesday and Friday, with no stretch longer than three hours. I also didn't eat an actual meal for about three days in there. All because I had to watch Scrubs. Blessedly, the addiction is passed, as I am caught up and the actual show is on opposite both Grey's Anatomy and Supernatural, so I can't even tape it. C'est la vie.

So the next week passed relatively benignly. I took my journalism final (done in 22 minutes), administered and graded my own students' finals, and discovered that I can also find episodes of Battlestar Galactica online, which I have now begun to watch in earnest. It's quite awesome, and I highly recommend it.

I now am home, having driven through fog and thunderstorm (seriously, a thunderstorm in Illinois on the first day of winter. What the hell?). I discovered moments ago that I passed both of my courses with flying colors, and thus I am forever finished with taking classes. EVER. NO MORE CLASSES. If I weren't so exhausted, I'd probably do a little dance. Next semester I can actually start work on my dissertation proposal, and live the sweet life that I've only dreamed about. (If it isn't in fact sweet, don't tell me. Let me have my dream a while longer.) And since I won't likely blog anymore before Christmas, some holiday shout-outs:

Madison People: You guys rock, and you kept me sane this semester, despite my clear hatred and contempt for the things I was doing. Those of you who will be there for New Year's Eve, we must do something completely insane. And actual insane, not grad school insane. Board games and wine do not count as insane.

Specifically amongst the Madison peeps (though mention here is not a slight against you):
T.: Thanks for the CDs. Made the drive so enjoyable, though I did nearly wreck my car I was laughing so hard at "6 to 8 Black Men." (For the rest of you, this is not racist. It involves mockery of the Dutch yuletide mythology.)
Officemates: Ours is the best office ever, even if you two are so smugly further in your dissertation process than I am (yes, I'm looking at you Red Headed Stepchild).
Puncher: Sorry no dumplings before I left. But you'll be there for New Year's, right?
Captain Americanist: I'm sad I'm no longer your TA. My new instructor might actually hold me accountable for things. And he damn sure won't let me intimidate the newbies like you did.
Hillbilly and CryptoJew: Sorry I won't be there to hear the fourth lesson of Advent with you. Though I looked ahead, and I believe that it's actually "Screw this patience thing. You have to go to mass again later tonight. Cause Jesus, he's a'coming."
TGD (I dislike your old nickname and need a new one): We must begin our drinking early next year, if I am to be in prime condition in April when I visit my:

New York Friends: That's right, I'm coming out there in early April, and staying a little under a week. We must get drunk and do crazy things. I won't rest until Quantum has actually either assaulted a celebrity or been arrested for rigging an election. Or both.

McJew: Stop the pretentious song posts. I hadn't heard of one of those damn songs. And if you think you've got it bad as a teacher, well, you do. Cause Michigan sucks. (I find alcohol and Scrubs viewings will help dull the pain of grading.)

Nittany Lion: I'm not certain, but I believe my friend Quantum left me a voicemail saying he got Joe Paterno so drunk he may die. You may want to check. And come back to Madison soon. I can't seem to win at poker while you're gone.

Sergio: Loved the Scrubs-related Charlie Brown Christmas link. Call me if you're home for the holiday.

Other Northwestern Friends: Do you know how I can get NU to stop asking me for money? I can't support them and my coke habit, now can I? Go Cats!

Random other folk who read this blog: Who are you? Why are you spying on me? Are you the people I see out in the shrubs every alternate Tuesday at 7:45pm? (Except for L.A. Girl. You're cool, even if you don't like Heroes. If you get a chance, punch Brett Ratner in the balls for me.)

The person from the UK who is viewing my blog for some reason: Happy Boxing Day.

I began this month's posts admitting what a sucker I am for Christmas and all it means, in an un-ironic way. So Merry Christmas to you all, even if I forgot to mention you here by name. I wish you nothing but the best for the holiday season, and I hope the new year finds you happy and prosperous, or at least content with your poverty (i.e. an academic or a drunk).

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Quickie at the Office

Even bad cookies are good with lots of icing.

So I've got a stomach full of Monster energy drinks and bad cookies with icing. Working on 2 hours sleep. I have 11 pages of a 15 page paper, and I plan to finish before my 2:30 class. Then I have to grade 32 5-6 page essays by Friday at noon.

Will update more later.

(Oh, and on an episode of Scrubs I just saw, it actually was lupis. For all you House fans out there.)

Monday, December 04, 2006

God Bless Us, Everyone

How many versions of "A Christmas Carol" are out there, do you think? As I begin to tabulate part two of my Christmas blogging (thanks for the massive response on the first post), it occurs to me that two of my entries are variations on that theme (though oddly none of them are traditional tellings of that tale). Do you think the British find it amusing that the dominant American narrative of Christmastime is one that makes us all nostalgic for a Victorian-era London? Lousy snobbish Brits, I guess so. Wouldn't put it past 'em. So here, with a bit more ado, is my companion piece, on the truly great holiday movies and tv specials.

First, a bit of background. In my family, there are really two big moments of Yuletide cheer: the day after Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve. On the day after Thanksgiving, we chop down our Christmas tree and sing a rousing chorus of "Oh Christmas Tree" over it's fallen husk. Of course, we don't know the words (well, they don't. Being the authority on carols [see previous post] I know it in both English and German), so our version goes something like this:

Oh Christmas tree
Oh Christmas tree!
Oh Christmas tree, oh Christmas tree.
Oh Christmas tree! Oh Christmas tree!
Oh Christmas tree, oh Christmas tree!
Oh Christmas tree,
Oh Christmas tree!
Oh Christmas tree, oh Christmas tree!

Then my brother and I drag the tree back to the road, while singing the monkey guard chant from The Wizard of Oz, and the tractor comes and takes it back to the parking lot.

As to Christmas Eve, we all gather together for dinner. My father, since his two children went away to college, has rediscovered a love of and talent for cooking quite excellent meals, and so every December 24th he strives to outdo himself. Last year involved a Crown Roast (or roast beast, as I called it), roasted potatoes, squash and carrots, asparagus tips in a creamy butter sauce, followed by a key lime pie (my mother's contribution which, while not exactly Christmasy, was nonetheless excellent). Following the great feast, we kick back for drinks and watch our traditional holiday fare, which consists of three parts:

1. The somewhat serious: "A Charlie Brown Christmas". This, while funny of course, still strives to have some kind of heartfelt sentiment about it, and so we appreciate it as such (of course with a healthy dose of irony alongside it, as my brother and I together are the most irreverant pair in the world). Besides, nothing is cooler than that kid who dances by putting his arms out in front of him and walking in place, like some crazy Frankenstein's monster celebrating the birth of a God who came to save everyone but him (as he is an unnatural creation). That and Snoopy doing all the farm animal noises. Love that.

2. The really funny: "A Garfield Christmas". This is ironic humor at its finest, as Garfield, Jon, and Odie go to Jon's parents' farm for Christmas, and Garfield learns to put aside his sarcasm to celebrate the holiday. Includes the wonderful opening song "Gimmie Gimmie Gimmie", as well as Garfield's lines "Things, stuff, boxes, greed, avarice, I love it. Now this is what Christmas is all about!", and a fair amount of hokey songs, all of which we sing along with. Granted, we've got a few drinks in us at this point, but we think we're the funniest people on earth. It's an odd mix of ironic amusement and actual nostalgia.

3. The truly absurd: "Mr. Willowby's Christmas Tree". I'm fairly certain we're the only people in the world who watch this. One year, after taping Charlie Brown, my brother came running downstairs and told me to start recording again. The result: Mr. Willowby. The story follows three mice, a father, son, and daughter, on a quest to get the perfect Christmas tree. In this endeavor, they encounter humans (guest stars Leslie Nielson, Stockard Channing, and Robert Downey Jr. as Mr. Willowby), bears, and owls, each of whom wants a Christmas tree, and takes theirs, only to find out it is too tall. Each person cuts off the top and "throws it away," only to have it recovered by the next pair, until finally it is a perfect mouse-size. And all of this is narrated by Kermit the Frog.

Now, I know what you're thinking. Yes, this sounds like the most moronic thing ever. And you're right. It is. It's absurd beyond the dreams of Beckett. There are faceless lumberjacks who bring the tree to Willowby Manor (singing "We tromp and crash through ice and snow, we're lumberjacks that's all we know. We cut and chop and saw and hack, the perfect tree we whack whack whack"). Willowby himself is quite possibly insane, saying things like ""WHERE on earth on this most Christmassy of Christmases can my arboretum arbor vitae BE?", "Oh, what a categorical impartation of absolute smartitude!", and other things that make you wonder just how high Downey was at the time. Leslie Nielson, his butler Baxter, is stuffy and stodgy, and wears at one point a wreath of candles on his head. Channing, "poor Miss Adelade," the upstairs maid, is lonely for her far off home in Sweden (home of the horrible Swedish accent that sounds vaguely Transylvanian), but finds romance with Baxter as they dance together (when she asks where he learned to dance, he replies "Madam, have you ever been to Buenos Aires?"). The bears dance. The owls sing. And the mouse father maintains steadfastly throughout that he knows exactly what he is doing (much like our own father would in times of trouble).

All in all, it's an excercise in absurdity. It makes no sense, there's no real tension, or plot for that matter. And we eat it up. We sing every song. We recite the lines along with it. And we quote it after it's done. The men of the Dubs household all go nuts, whilst our dear mater looks on askance. And I'm fairly certain my brother's girlfriend seriously considered our sanity and her relationship with my dear frere after seeing that little display.

After this comes presents and midnight mass, followed by more drinking and me generally reading by the fire whilst my parents fall asleep. I'm not one to waste a good fire, and I generally try to read something Christmasy (mayhap a bit of Dickens' old tale). So that's our Christmas Eve, used solely as an excuse to list the three main televised specials that top my list. Two others to consider are:

-"Muppet Family Christmas". The muppet gang goes to Fozzie's mother's farm, and everyone is there, including the Sesame Street Gang and the Fraggles. The Swedish chef attempts to cook Big Bird. Fozzie does vaudville with a snowman. and Miss Piggy tries to fight her way through a blizzard. It's awesome, and I suggest you see it.

-"A Claymation Christmas". If you can ever find this one, let me know. It had the California Raisins, an endless debate about what it means to "Wassail", ice skating walruses that terrorize penguins to the tune of "Angels We Have Heard on High," and the best "Carol of the Bells" ever, with one clueless bell who could never remember to ring himself. They stopped showing this one years ago, but I still remember it fondly.

As to movies, I highly recommend and watch every year:

-A Muppet Christmas Carol. Perhaps my favorite rendition of the tale, featuring Gonzo the Great as Charles Dickens (and Rizzo the Rat as his narrator sidekick, who gets off such great lines as "Hoity-toity, Mr. Godlike Smartypants" in response to Dickens' omniscience in his own tale). Michael Caine is a wonderful Scrooge, the songs are fun, and the metafictional possibilities are excellent.

-Scrooged. The second retelling of "A Christmas Carol," featuring Bill Murray as an evil tv executive. Opens with a trailer for the program "The Night the Reindeer Died," where Lee Majors seeks aid fighting terrorists from Santa Claus. And it just gets better from there. No one does evil and sardonic like Murray. And I always laugh when the Ghost of Christmas Present hits him with that toaster.

-Miracle on 34th Street (the original, not the bastardized remake). Santa Claus makes a mockery of the legal system, and we celebrate him for it. The Post Office commits a federal offense, and we love it. And Fred Mertz from "I Love Lucy" plays a savvy political advisor. How can you not adore this movie? It's a classic, and I defy you to say differently.

-Holiday Inn. Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire, and various women who dance and sing around them. You get to laugh at Bing trying to dance. And while technically it's a year-long movie, not just a Christmas one, the featured song is "White Christmas," and it opens and closes with Christmas, so we watch it at Christmas. Deal.

-Love Actually. One of my new favorite Christmas movies. It's a romantic comedy that isn't sappy or overly contrived. Just loads of fun. Bill Nighy as a crazy rock star, Hugh Grant as Prime Minister, and Alan Rickman as Alan Rickman. Oh, and Colin Firth speaking Portuguese is the single greatest moment of subtitles ever utilized in a film. This one is particularly fun because it makes explicit the link between romance and Christmastime, which most movies just hint at as they discuss the worth of man, the childlike spirit of Christmas, blah blah blah. And it's got a killer soundtrack, excellently utilized in the film (where I first discovered Norah Jones' "Turn Me On," perhaps the most sensual song ever).

-Home Alone 2. Going out on a limb here and supporting the sequal over the original. Yes, it's mostly the same jokes. But this one has Tim Curry. And it isn't quite so vulgarly stupid as the first one. At any rate, this is the one I was raised on, so I appreciate it more.

-The Bishop's Wife. Cary Grant plays an angel who teaches David Niven to appreciate life by stealing his wife. Nothing else to say about that one.

-Die Hard. Best "Ode to Joy" ever. And again, Alan Rickman.

I'm sure there are others, but this post is already too long. Also, I'm sure people are going to criticize me for not including Christmas Vacation or A Christmas Story. Well, I hate the Vacation movies as a series, so I've never seen the Christmas one. And A Christmas Story is just stupid. Plus, TBS shows it 12 times on Christmas Eve, which makes me hate it even more.

So Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and God Bless Us, everyone. Except the Jews, who killed my savior. (Just kidding, love ya McJew.)

Monday, November 27, 2006

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Thanksgiving has come and gone, and I won't say that much about it. My family was fun in that awkward and uncomfortable way that families are. My brother and his girlfriend, while not engaged per se, are talking about choosing engagement rings, and what they might name their firstborn child. This is all well and good, but it led to the inevitable hints that my mother is quite concerned that I haven't found a nice girl to settle down with and raise a family. This is particularly fun around the holidays, as every event becomes a prompt for "Just think, some day you'll be doing this with your own kids." Though this did reveal some confusion my mother seems to have about my future, as she seems to think a professorship at a small midwestern college will involve me owning land, riding a tractor, and planting crops (winter wheat, my father contributed with a wry smirk). I could have disabused her of these notions, but decided it wasn't worth the effort. Instead I fled back to my Madisonian Fortress of Solitude and sought catharsis through blogging.

Anyway, as I said, Thanksgiving is come and gone, and now I am free to revel in my own secret obsession: Christmastime. It's hard to decorate and show it outwardly when you live alone in a pit that isn't appropriate for parties, but inwardly, I'm a Christmas nut. Love it. Adore it. I completely buy in to all the sappy, sentimental drek that I am so content to mock the rest of the year. Part of it, of course, is the extreme hubris that comes when your faith has made the entire world recognize the birth of its savior as a holiday (whether or not they worship it themselves). In fact, I still take great joy that we seized the season from both Haunakkah and the pagan rituals of the Winter Solstice (take that, druids).

But mainly, it's because of Christmas Carols. Those who know me understand my deep affiliation with the musical aspects of life, and carols are the most freakish and unmanly manifestation of that inner connection. Let's face it, most Christmas carols, particularly most modern carols, are overly sentimental, full of cliches, and no self-respecting cynic would ever enjoy them. We all know that the drivel in Christmas songs is stuff and nonsense, pretty words to say or sing once or twice a year, then ignore. Yeah, that may be true. But I say humbug to that claim, all the same. Give me my carols, let me sing along, and I'll be happy for the entire month of December. (My car radio, tuned constantly to 107.3's Festival of Lights, a month of carols. I'm not ashamed.)

And, oddly enough, I enjoy many of the more "contemporary" carols. While I can appreciate the old Bing Crosby-esque era of carols, the more traditional renditions, I heard (and sang in choir) these songs so often, now I gravitate more toward less conventional fare. Of course, this does not excuse the majority of modern renditions, which are simply American Idol-ized versions of older carols, where the singer simply sings the song more slowly and with more warbling in his or her voice. But there are a lot of songs I just adore that are fairly recent. For example, that song from Polar Express, by the guy who sings songs about Jesus but the radio station pretends they aren't about Jesus so they can get prime time air play. It's a really stupid song. Full of stupid cliches about belief and heart's wishes and nonsense. And I'll listen to it every time it's on the radio.

So, to ring in the Christmas season, here's a selection of my prime Christmas playlist, including both favorites and banned songs:

Good, both traditional and more recent:

"God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen" by Barenaked Ladies. It's fun and swingy and has Sarah McLachlan in it. How can you go wrong?

"It Came Upon a Midnight Clear" by Sixpence None the Richer. Same style as "God Rest Ye," and enjoyable for the same reason. A nice revision (note the word revision, not just slowing down) of a great song.

"O Holy Night" by N'Sync. Yes, everyone and their mother has covered this song. But I choose this arrangement because 1. It isn't American Idol-ized, unlike practically every other version out there. 2. It's got kickass harmonies in it, including a killer tenor track. 3. My college a cappella group sang it when we used to carol in the sorority quads. Gotta love it.

"Where Are You, Christmas?" by Faith Hill, from How the Grinch Stole Christmas. This is one of those songs I realize is bunk, overly sentimental clap trap. I don't care. I love it. I'm not too proud to admit it.

"New York Christmas" by Matchbox 20. This song is only ok, but it got me through some tough times. My first Christmas out of college, I was working at RadioShack. My second week there, I spent 8 hours at a time locked in an empty store, tearing things down, as the store had just changed locations. It was my job to take the old store apart and throw it away, all alone. It was just me, a mess, and a radio, and this song was one of the few Christmas carols they would play that was different enough for me to appreciate.

"All I Want for Christmas is You" by Mariah Carey. First off, this song is just fun. I defy you to say otherwise. Second, it has cultural value for the awesome role it played in Love Actually (see my next post, on top Christmas movies, for further elucidation).

"Carol of the Bells". We did a killer arrangement of this song in college, where we transitioned from the end of it into the beginning of an a cappella version of "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch." Really was quite badass.

"All Alone on Christmas". Not sure who the original artist is, but it's used quite effectively in the Home Alone movies and, again, Love Actually. It's kinda sad but with a driving beat nonetheless, and makes my list because it is unique and fun.

"The Christmas Song" by Nat King Cole. Only version of this song I'll listen to (well, except for a brief fascination with the New Kids on the Block version as a youth). A traditional song for the traditionalists out there.

"Happy Christmas (War is Over)" by John Lennon. I never heard this song until I was a senior in college, and loved it. It's different from practically every other carol out there, so props for that. And damn, the man was a Beatle.

"Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas". I love almost any version of this song. It's fairly indicative of my preference for the slower, sentimental carol. Which, again, doesn't give me many points in the manly department, but screw it.

"I'll Be Home For Christmas". See the previous entry. Also, very resonant during the year of RadioShack, when I thought I wouldn't make it home for the holiday. Had to threaten to quit the store entirely before they let me off for the holidays.

There's a lot more I could add to this list, but I'll spare you. Feel free to comment with your own selections, and I'll see if they make the playlist.


"O Holy Night". Practically every other version. Seriously, singing it more slowly and soulfully is not an improvement.

"Simply Having a Wonderful Christmas Time". I hate this song. God, how I hate this song.

"Little Drummer Boy". Worst. Song. Ever. Pa rum pa pum pum. Smack you upside the head with your lousy drum. Biznitch.

"Santa Baby". No, it isn't cute. It's annoying. Deal.

Can't think of others at the moment, but they're out there.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

No child has ever meddled with the Republican Party and Lived to Tell About It

"Your liberal conscience may force you to vote democratic, but deep down you long for a cold-hearted Republican to lower taxes, brutalize criminals, and rule you like a king!" - Sideshow Bob

So today was election day in Madison (unlike the rest of the country, or so I seem to imply). As a member of an extremely liberal profession living in an extremely liberal city, it's sometimes very awkward or downright off-putting to be a Republican, as people make all sorts of assumptions about your personal views, your choices on key issues, and your frequent deals with Satan. Plus, when I tell my parents that I'm voting against the Grande Olde Partie on some key issues, they of course blame my choices upon some kind of "liberal infection" that I get from living in Madison, where *gasp* Communists roam the streets handing out newspapers, where no one likes the president, and where we'd all ride the country into an immoral hell-hole if we had our way (not that my parents care predominantly about the moral issues, for while they are both stalwart Papists, they are far more concerned with their economic focus on my father's continued employment within the aerospace industry, a place that does particularly well under Republican rule for some reason). So basically, I often get mocked by all sides, to the point where sometimes I just dream of turning all of Wisconsin into a nature preserve where my friends and I can hunt the most dangerous game of all, Man.

Like I said, I'm a republican that way.

But way back at the get-go, I swore this blog would not be about politics, so it won't be. I just don't have that much else to say about other things with any kind of coherence, so here's a lot of random stuff since I haven't posted in a while:

First, as to the story T. mentions in the previous comments, here's the short version. We were having our monthly Writing Center training meeting, discussing a scenario where someone had written a paper against reparations for slavery, which was for some reason abhorrent to the instructor. Already, I'm on bad footing here, as I myself am against reparations by that concept (Republican, remember?). But then the conversation devolves, as I could have told you it would long before, into a moral quandry of academic b.s. where we discuss what role we have in changing this person's paper and mind, to transform them from a redneck racist to a kind, all-loving liberal, just like us. There were several of us, however, who felt that to change the paper would be a disservice to our profession, as we always strive to make people's writing better, not writing their papers for them or telling them what to think. So I raised the issue by claiming that we wouldn't even consider changing the paper that drastically if it weren't a "hot button" topic like race. And, in my brilliant inventiveness that has already earned me multiple degrees, the best example I could come up with was: "What if, for instance, they were writing a paper on....the testing of 12-14 year the field of....umm....Molecular Biology?" Or some nonsense like that. Sadly, my own ire at the exploitation of our early teen scientists in the laboratories of the mad did not accurately convey itself to the rest of the group, who immediately continued their academic circle jerk, wasting my time when I could have been drinking. Or plotting raids on mad scientists. Or both. Luckily, that night led to about seven hours of drinking and drunken Halo.

I'll admit, that phrase doesn't look very funny now. But it did make the entire room laugh, thus cementing my position as Department Jester.

Second, I just found out yesterday that my father's aunt died. I didn't even know he had an aunt. Which brings to mind just how little I know about my father's extended family, which is apparently scattered throughout the country. Which leads me to question what horrible accidents of genetics have been passed on to me and kept hidden away thus far. For all I know, I may end up with superpowers. Or a predisposition to insanity. Or both, leading to wacky adventures and my continued persecution of the cast of That 70's Show.

Other points:

-See The Prestige. It's awesome beyond the dreams of Nazis.
-See Bourbon Samurai's carnivale of shows. And note that his theatre company seems to have simply transplanted the Northwestern class of '04 to New York and let them run mad with power. And people wonder why they refer to it as the Northwestern Mafia.
-Pray for me this weekend, as I travel to Michigan to join friends in their annual drunkfest. If I die, remember me as a peacemaker, and not as an agitator for the destruction of Uruguay.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Believe It or Not

Believe it or not, I'm walking on air.
Never thought I could feel so free-ee-ee!
Flying away on a wing and a prayer!
Who could it be?
Believe it or not, it's just me!

Just saw a YouTube clip of the opening to Greatest American Hero, and felt like sharing with all of you. Awesomely catchy tune. (And yes, we've all seen the Seinfeld usage, no need to invoke it.)

So I survived yesterday, which was momentous. I had a midterm Tuesday morning, so naturally Monday night I had a Writing Center shift, studied for two hours, watched Studio 60, studied for an hour more, slept for 4.5 hours, studied more, went to WC Training (more on that to come), then took the midterm, went to class, then worked another WC shift until 8:00. All in all, a long and painful day, where I discovered that Red Bull does in fact give you wings, but tastes like ass and upsets your stomach. Though still not as bad as the time I pounded the ginormous can of Monster energy drink and jittered the rest of the day.

The midterm was easy, because I had studied. It was all multiple choice, based on rote memorization, and no real thought was necessary. As someone who survives by being able to write well about things I really don't remember or understand, I was personally affronted by a multiple choice exam for a 500 level course. But then, I also finished in 25 minutes. Still, I think that in a class on modern communication, where the first lecture emphasized the fact that changes in technology are good because it means people don't have to memorize as much, is extremely hypocritical for making people memorize a lot. Had I failed, I planned elaborately to throw the midterm down in front of the professor, spit at his feet, and accuse him of this very hypocrisy. Luckily, that didn't happen.

At WC training that morning, we discussed problems of racism and racial inequality in the classroom and in conferences. And, for the majority of the time, I just kept hearing Homer Simpson saying "I'm a white male, ages 18-45. Everyone cares what I think, no matter how stupid." He then pulls out a can that reads "Nuts 'n' Gum: Together at last!" I'm just happy I didn't laugh out loud, and get branded a horrible racist by my peers.

So my question for you all: what should I go as for Halloween? I'm pondering going as my alter ego from NBC Nightly News. Thoughts? Or other suggestions? It needs to be something cheap and easy, just like me.

Oh, and go Cards! Though I do look forward to Quantum attempting to burn St. Louis to the ground. But then, aren't we still slotted to burn down Minnetonka, MN, before anyplace else? Or have we abandoned that idea?

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

This is NBC Nightly News...

My students took their midterms today. On one of them, under "Instructor", she wrote "Brian Jennings." Now, as insulted as I am that she couldn't remember my name (and it isn't a hard name to remember), I'm more amused that she remembered it was the last name of a newscaster, and just confused Brian Williams and Peter Jennings (or at least, that's what I like to think happened).

Unrelated, on Veronica Mars last night, they set up an entire intricate plot of theft and betrayal, including a villain named Larry, just so the wronged football player could storm in at the episode's end and say "Where's the playbook? Where's the playbook, Larry? You're entering a world of pain!" Any show that goes to such intricate lengths to toss in a Lebowski reference is clearly awesome.

Monday, October 09, 2006

God Bless America

Once again, dear readers, I come to you after Studio 60, when I just don't feel like doing any homework anymore. This show has been catching some heat on some of the blogs I link to, and I can understand the criticism (mostly that people just don't seem to care about the drama of putting on the show itself). I respectfully disagree, part of which comes out of my own experience in theatre throughout high school and college, where the ability to get the show out there when it needs doing was always paramount.

Besides, tonight was just laugh out loud funny. The Baseball-Strindberg dual metaphor scene alone made the entire show. Not to mention the constant pitcher bashing, the scene with the exotic dancer and the boot, and the hookers, pimps, crips/bloods, and army men dragged in for the late night audience. Comic gold. And did I mention the Strindberg? Or the tripartite breaking window gag?

Anyway, an update on my time at the Writing Center. This past week I've come across some trying times, as for the first time I've had to deal with the people who, God bless em, just couldn't write their way out of a paper bag (with a very sharp and pointy pen, and a very thin bag). With these poor souls, we only normally get half an hour, and the paper is due the next day, so it's hard to say "You've got this all wrong, rewrite it," or "You clearly have no idea how to do a close reading," or "I'd fail this if I were your TA." I'm still not quite sure how to help these poor bastards, other than offering some basic things they can work on (This is what a thesis is. This is what you don't have.) and praying their TA is merciful. And, since these are English papers more often than not, I know who their TA is, and I know if I were grading it myself in their position, I wouldn't be all that merciful. Not with a first paper. But then, I'm cruel and sadistic that way.

Which leads me to my next point. Tomorrow should be fun, as we are discussing ESL (English Second Language) students in our training. For said training, we had to watch a video, the opening of which discussed the different styles of writing found across the globe. Naturally, when they repeatedly told us how they differed from American expectations, my response was "Because they're stupid. What moron would write a paper that way? Lousy country." Followed closely by "That's all well and good. But if you're in America, you'll write like an American, or fail my course." Followed by chanting of "USA! USA! USA!" I'm culturally sensitive that way. At any rate, it should make training fun tomorrow, provided I don't actually say these things out loud, and get fired faster than you can say "hegemony." Which was ironic, considering one of the books they showed during this video was a copy of Edward Said's Culture and Imperialism. (English joke.)

In closing, to all my friends out there, please update your blogs. McJew, you've been in Manhattan for the better part of two months now. I want to hear the further exploits. And Brownsox, you may have written something recently (recently for you, at least), but it's freakin insane. Have you ever considered a heavy drug regiment?

Oh, and the Tigers are in the playoffs. My world doesn't make sense anymore. But go Cardinals!

Monday, October 02, 2006

We're not old. We're not!

So my post-Studio 60 blog is getting to be a habit. Tonight was fun, but not as good as last week. Matt and Danny definitely make the show worthwhile, though, and their banter is awesomely good. Also appreciated were jokes about Moliere.

The title of this post comes from the shock I had today. Whilst observing in the Writing Center (where I now work, earning a fat paycheck that may actually raise me out of the poverty level this year), a student casually commented that she remembered exactly where she was on 9/11. She was at school, dutifully attending classes. In the eighth grade.

I, of course, was lazily whiling away a morning in Atlanta, preparing to begin my senior year of college. I now feel very old, in a way that I haven't felt old before. Guess I'll have to drink a lot this weekend to counter that feeling. Cause when you're hung over, you don't feel anything but hung over.

This weekend, watched Groundhog Day (on sale at Target for $7, made me nostalgic for winter and angry at the 80 degree weather we had today) and saw Little Miss Sunshine (very good, even though the English grad students were the only ones laughing at the Proust jokes, which made me feel like an intellectual snob (which I love)). I also found that one of the great joys of being a book reader is going back and rereading books you haven't touched in forever. I tend to use whatever's at hand as a bookmark. I normally find bits of paper, straw wrappers, napkins, hunks of cardboard, actual bookmarks (I'm always more shocked by these than anything else, though I still don't know where my Saruman bookmark it), etc. This past weekend, I found an old Far Side comic, from around 2000. Brought me great joy, for some indescribable reason.

Other than that, I'm spending the week besieged by students, who all feel the need to meet with me and discuss their papers, due this Friday. I think I frightened them last week. Excellent. But not quite so excellent, they all need to meet outside my office hours, so I'm pretty much cancelling everything else I have going. But if it means I have to read a few less crappy thesis statements, I'll be content. Or even more pained, as they still write bad papers even after meeting with me several times.

But then, who really knows how the mind of the undergraduate works? Not me, that's for sure. I guess I'm just too old.

Monday, September 25, 2006

This is not Nam, this is English. There are rules!

Near the Blockbuster I go to, there's a new store, or a store with a new sign, or a sign I've never noticed before. The store/restaurant is simply called "Fish and Chicken," and it has two of those little cloth men on air vents in front of it (so they look like they're waving). Next to the bright red neon sign are several other blobs of neon, which may just be decorations, or may be symbols of some vaguely Asiatic origin. I'm not sure. But I am tempted to go get some chicken. But not fish. I'm not that crazy.

Anyway, I'm sick, and I have a headache, and I have an outline due tomorrow for a paper I have no clear idea about, so naturally I'm here blogging. Once I finish blogging, I plan to sleep. I plan to dose myself liberally with Nyquil, and hope that when I awake, my cold will be gone, as will my headache, and I will magically have a clear view of my paper. What can I say? I'm an optimist.

If said idea does not come through, I don't really care that much. The entire Vietnam War was a morass, why should my paper on said war be any different? This is excuse #3 I have to offer the professor. #1 is I'm sick, cut me some slack. #2 is I'm not a history grad student, and I have no idea how to write a history grad student paper. And then there's #4, which is I'm almost a dissertator and I just don't give a damn about your paper, as it's only for my minor, which is very small in the grand scheme of things. So back off.

I've noted I'm becoming increasingly hostile to the world of academia, or at least that part of it that thinks I still need to take classes. This is especially apparent in my other minor course, where I have dreams (during the lectures) of telling off the professor, critiquing his absolute failure to understand any basic pedagogical skills, lecturing skills, public speaking skills, or even any concept of what it means to study or teach history. In these fantasies, I then take over teaching the lecture just to prove I could do it better, even without any prior knowledge of the subject, and I do, to thunderous applause. Then I look up, realize only five minutes have passed, and he's still reading names off a sheet and telling us who they are. (I kid you not. It's like a study sheet for an exam, but that's the entire lecture, apart from him showing us pointless slides and rambling incoherently about common historical knowledge like the Boston Tea Party.) Then I die a little inside, because I know this will make the rest of my Tuesday or Thursday all the more crippling to me. Ask my office mates. I am positively hateful when I come out of that class.

Studio 60 was much better tonight. I really recommend it now. Echoes of Sports Night, which was always prime tv (or at least it was when I caught it in reruns on Comedy Central at 1:00 am).

Ok, that's all for me. If I'm not heard from after tomorrow, it's because my professor has killed me. And he could, too. This man traveled with guerrillas in Laos. He's on the CIA's angry list. He could probably kill me with a pen. And he gives a mean lecture (which I rarely appreciate, seeing as how I'm in such a bad mood from my earlier lecture).

In closing, some words of wisdom I heard on the radio tonight, as I took back my rental of Inside Man (which is excellent, watch it):

Do you believe in life after love?
I can feel something inside me saying, "I really don't think I'm strong enough."

Hah. Now it's stuck in your head, too. Feel my pain.

Monday, September 18, 2006

And so it begins

With the advent of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, I enter the new season of unheralded television addiction. This season marks the first time ever I will watch at least one show regularly for more than two nights a week. Whether that makes me somewhat of a problem or more like the majority of Americans, I can't say. I do know it makes me a man who doesn't care at all about his academics yet, and probably won't until at least another month has passed, or I have failed out. Either way, I blame prelims, as I can no longer read anything for more than a half hour without getting horribly irritated.

So anyway, my breakdown:

Monday: Studio 60. I missed out on Sports Night. I missed out on The West Wing. I've caught both of them in reruns, and loved the few episodes I've seen. I'm not missing out on this Sorkin project. Besides, Matthew Perry was always the best of the Friends, Steven Weber was the high point of Wings (though Tony Shaloub was cool), and that little dude from West Wing is pretty awesome too. The pilot was entertaining, but not mind-blowing. We'll see.

Tuesday: Veronica Mars. Bless you, CW, for bringing this show to network tv.

Wednesday: Lost. No surprise there. And Abrams is coming back to write and direct again.

Thursday: My problem day. Smallville and Supernatural on the CW, vs. Grey's Anatomy on ABC. Well, that's why God invented the VCR. Though it is odd that all the shows I watch because they're kind of good rather than really good are on Thursdays. (I know some of my readers may disagree about Grey's, but it gets repetitive with its use of voiceovers and pop music, which can distract.)

Friday: Drinking and partying. No room for tv.

Saturday: See Friday.

Sunday: I get up every week at 7:00 and do a little dance because Charmed is no longer on the air. Seriously, worst. show. ever.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Dubs and the Goblet of Fire

Yes. I know. It's been a while. Freakin' Bourbon Samurai posted something more recently than me. I apologize.

This post's title has little to do with Harry Potter, and nothing to do with a particular tale of drunken escapades and insanity (a story I feel I tell far too often anyway). Rather, as the new school year starts, I realized that I am starting my fourth year here in Madison. That's as long as I was at Northwestern. As long as high school. More pertinently, that's akin to three defeats of Voldemort or his cronies, not to mention countless quidditch matches and hijinks. And what have I done in those three years? What can I look back upon, now that I'm entering my Goblet of Fire year?

Well, I passed prelims for one. Suck it, He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.

My Madison friends know, so this info is largely for my NU readers. I am now preparing to start my dissertation, my own version of the Triwizard Tournament, which lasts for several years and rewards me not with any large monetary reward (certainly not enough to start a Weasley brother joke shop), but with the honorific "doctor" before my name. But that's all in good time.

Since prelims ended, we've been partying and preparing for year four. I went on a fishing trip with the fam (driving through, amusingly, Bourbon, Missouri, home of the Bourbon Family Fun Center and the Bourbon RV Dealership), mocked Fangirl when she lost her wedding ring (proving, as I claimed, that God does not support alternative lifestyle choices such as hers), and began teaching literature yet again, praise be to Allah. I am currently taking two lecture courses to complete my minor, one of which seems to rock and one which seems to not, and I imagine soon I shall gather my forces for a foray into the world of prolonged academic research that will result in the grail of grails, the Dissertation Proposal.

So that's me for now. More forthcoming, I promise, with frequent updates.

Finally, a report on this year's crop of students:

Of the 52 I surveyed today, 28 claim that Batman would beat Samuel L. Jackson in a fight, whilst 21 claim Mr. Jackson could best the Caped Crusader, and three remained undecided. Most cite the Dark Knight's gadgets as his trump card, not to mention an ability to fly that I was heretofore unaware of. Although some feel that Batman's emotional instability is a weakness Jackson can exploit to his advantage. Or that, had Jackson the same resources as Bruce Wayne, he'd be a formidable opponent. Here are some choice comments:

"Samuel L. Jackson, of course. He'll kill you just as soon as look at you."
"Jackson, because in the later Batman movies he had nipples on his suit."
"They would both kill each other."
"Neither. They would join forces to fight Godzilla and Mothra."
"Samuel L. Jackson would because Batman is mortal, unlike Jackson."
"Did you SEE Snakes on a Plane?"
"Batman, but not the Val Kilmer or George Clooney version."
"Batman; Samuel L. Jackson is only a man. Batman is only a man as well but he has a childhood experience involving bats that drives him to win."
"Batman because he was trained in the orient to kick ass plus he's got a sweet utility belt."
"Hopefully Sam can kill George Clooney Batman."
"The people watching this fight are the real winners here."

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Risk Rules

1. Australia is the key to victory.
2. Madagascar is the Australia of Africa.
3. Japan is the Madagascar of Asia.
4. Quebec is the Japan of North America.
5. One soldier in Egypt is Duane "The Rock" Johnson as the Scorpion King.
6. Two or more soldiers in Egypt include Michael Clarke Duncan and the Gigolo.
7. One soldier in Alberta is Wolverine. Best at what he does when his back's against the wall.
8. Two or more soldiers in Alberta is Alpha Flight, there to support Wolvie.
9. Quebec houses the Prince of Canada, Wayne Gretzky.
10. However, he often has a body double stand in for him, and thus becomes the floating monarch, capable of popping up in any country.
11. When conquering Western United States, you are always doing it to go sleep with Catherine Zeta Jones.
12. Ukraine is weak.
13. Never get involved in a land war in Asia.

(These rules brought to you by many games of Risk at NU, and offered up in honor of Brownsox, who is going to Madagascar apparently.)

Friday, August 18, 2006

What the....?

Ok, my new "Stupidest Thing I've Seen on a Car."

First, I didn't think there could be anything stupider than an SUV Limo.

Then, I thought that could only be beaten by that stupid car that looks like the front end of a car with a rectangle for a back. I forget the name, but it looks like a freakin cube attached to the back of the car, in perhaps the most un-aerodynamic and unstylish design ever.

Today, however, I saw something that beat them both: spinning hubcaps.

Why on God's green Earth did some moron feel the need to keep his (and I'm almost positive this is a guy's invention, cause women generally aren't that stupid about their cars [except as drivers]) hubcaps spinning, even when the car is at rest? I mean, that's the sort of extra drain I would want to be putting on my batteries, considering how expensive gas is these days and how cars are already causing energy problems in America. And furthermore, it's patently unsafe! One of the first things my sainted father (who learned to drive on the mean streets of the Chicago ghettos) taught me behind the wheel was that you can always tell when some moron is about to ignore your right of way or run a stop sign by checking to see if his hubcaps are turning, or starting to turn. They're infinitely easier to spy than the wheels themselves, much more distinctive due to the usual markings, logos, or spokes on them (which are easily distinguished at rest or in motion), and just one quick way to keep yourself from getting killed by all the moron drivers out there.

Well, now the morons have come up with a way to counter that. You go, morons.

I imagine that eventually this will help in some evolutionary, Darwinian "Survival of the Fittest" process involving drivers, and the truly savvy of us will have to adapt. Unless we're so distracted by the constantly spinning hubcaps that we're all hypnotized, and run off the road.

I swear, sometimes I just want to mount a bazooka on my hood.

(Nothing else new to report. Prelims on Monday, studying hard, no wacky adventures.)

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Tales from the Archives: Glory Days

This past Sunday, to commemmorate the Lady in Black's departure from Madison, she, The Puncher, and myself went to White Castle and 7-11. From Madison, that's a two hour drive each way, but with satellite radio and a little ingenuity, it can be a grand trip. Sadly, my companions did not appreciate the glory of Whitey's in the way I do (I believe the word each used was "vile"), but a quick trip to the nearby 7-11 for slurpees helped rectify things. Technically we got lost, but we were always headed in the correct direction, and serendipitously found the 7-11 without incident. Just goes to show, never trust directions from

Anyway, in honor of that trip, I offer this far more amusing tale of an earlier White Castle run, in the glory days of my youth. (Not that this trip wasn't amusing, but it was a more "you had to be there" amusing.)

The time: December of 1998, a few days after Christmas.
The place: St. Louis, South Side.
Dubs, a young Northwestern freshman, back home for the holidays.
Kolya: Dubs' friend from high school, a fellow scholar of the Russian language and a thespian. See "zany" in the OED for further description.
Dr. H: Another friend from high school, a fellow thespian. Generally the straight man of the group, relatively speaking.
Nurseman: Ditto on the high school thing, cohort in many zany activities, including the yearly trips to Cuba (Missouri, not the island).
Preacher: Ditto, ditto. A rather religious fellow, despite the conflict of Catholic doctrine with his own alternative lifestyle choice. Generally abused (good-naturedly) by the above.
Some girl, a friend of Preacher, who I never saw again.

So it was about three days after Christmas, and it being St. Louis, there wasn't a lot to do. Our hero communicated with Kolya in an attempt to spark some post-holiday hijinks, and was told to meet at Kolya's house, where events were being set in motion. Sadly, this would not turn out to be the case, as this group couldn't come up with anything interesting to do, as there were no more good movies to see (this was the winter of Titanic). So Preacher offers up the option of going to a coffee shop down in the Loop (alternative side of town, a small district that tries to be the Madison of the city). And since we, at that moment, had no other ideas, we agreed. We split into the following cars: Kolya, myself, and Nurseman in the lead car, Preacher, Dr. H, and the random girl in the following. Keep this order in mind, lest nothing that follows seem strange or miraculous.

Now, as soon as we closed the door to our car, Nurseman rather vehemently states "I don't want to go to no f***ing coffee shop. I want to go someplace fun!" I naturally concurred, as I don't drink coffee and, at the time, didn't habitually frequent coffee shops at all, looking upon them as bourgeoise wannabe hippie (I believe the technical term is BoBo, or Bohemian Bourgeoise), so I offered up the workingman's alternative of White Castle. (Please understand that we are all upper middle class white men, all college students, who went together to an elite college prep high school, so there really was no actual class struggle being enacted here.) Well, since this was before the age of cell phones, we couldn't communicate our desire to our chums, so we decided to lead them to Whitey's eventually. Our "eventually," of course, began with a circuitous route through Forest Park, the uber-large park smack in the middle of St. Louis (our version of Central Park). The park really wasn't on the way to either WC or the Loop, but we were young and full of energy, and our parents still paid for our gas, so we went with it.

We led them on a merry chase through the park, and lost them at the circle in the middle of the park, which we proceeded to go around and around and around, a la European Vacation. I believe they broke off after the fifth rotation, while we continued on for a good six or seven more times around. We were now separated in a large, dark city park, so natuarlly we drove around looking for our compatriots. We got lost and nearly ran into the remodling of the Art Museum, while apparently our friends nearly got carjacked by a strange man who started following their vehicle on foot. We met back up after about 20-25 minutes, exchanged our brief stories, and promised to lead them straight on to the Loop, which we did.

Well, kinda. I believe the route we took was generally straight, although we did nearly frighten them to death by turning left from the far right lane, across their nose, determined to maintain our lead position. I believe we were trying to force them into following us to Whitey's by not turning, but when they didn't take the bait, we cut them off to prove our dominance. We arrived at the Loop, but since this is St. Louis, all the coffee shops were closed, except Starbucks, which we (sadly) went to, thus negating the entire point of going to the Loop in the first place. Practically crowing our superiority, Nurseman and I put in another bid for Castles, and they grudgingly acquiesced.

The particular White Castle we were headed for was back entirely the way we had come, right near Kolya's house, so it was a bit of a drive. During that portion of the trip, we concluded that Dr. H needed to be in our car, not theirs, so at a stop sign Nurseman and I jumped out of our car, mobbed Preacher's, and started slamming on the windshield to get the Dr. to join us. Naturally, he was confused by our antics, but determined to stay loyal to his (far lamer) car. As we were in a semi-dangerous part of town at this point, and two very conspicuously white gentlemen, we returned to our car and continued our trek. Along the way, I believe we did two Chinese fire drills, much to the consternation of our followers. After that, we proceeded to ride the "fun lane," which is what Kolya calls riding in the far right lane of a major thoroughfare at about 70 mph (speed limit 35). Since it's a heavily traveled road, the right lane, adjacent to the curb, is full of bumps, dips, and other bits of uneven road, so we bounce and jounce and generally destroy the shocks of his car. Again, our followers were less than amused.

We arrived at White Castle and demolished our respective portions of sliders, fries, and chicken rings. Gloriously sated by our descent into carnivorality, we decided then to go back the way we had come, to the Anheisur-Busch Brewery, to look at their Christmas Light display. As we were leaving, we saw two cop cars pull into the drive-thru, which led to Nurseman's now mythic statement "I didn't know pigs ate Castles! I thought they only ate doughnuts!" We, of course, burst out laughing, until we realized that our windows were down, and the aforementioned pigs were looking right at us. Oops. We quickly exited before they received their food, and proceeded to the Brewery to partake in some holiday cheer.

Exiting the display, our trailing car decided to take the lead and repay us for our own earlier behavior. Only they didn't have a roundabout drive to circle, so they found the next best thing: Busch Stadium. It's one big circle smack dab in the middle of downtown, and we circled it three or four times before they realized they couldn't shake us. We somehow forced our way back into the lead position, and, since it was late by this point, headed back South, to drop off Dr. H and the girl. Heading down I-55, we decided to finally pull the gloves off and really mess with the trailing car. So Kolya starts motoring, blasting down the highway at around 95 mph, leaving Preacher in our wake. We got fairly far ahead, pulled off the highway, did an inverse U-turn (on a fairly heavily-trafficked street), waited a few minutes, and got back on the highway, hoping to catch up with the other (now leading) car. This we did, right at the interchange onto highway 270, which is a left turn on ramp that calls for a roughly 45 mph speed and which we took at about 70, passing our friends on the inside and waving to them frantically (nearly scaring them off the road, or so we were told later).

We followed them back to the girl's house, where they tried to lead us on a chase through the maze-like subdivision. Unbeknownst to them, however, was that this bit of suburbia was well-knownst to me, as my aunt and uncle once lived there, and we visited often to use their community pool. So we foreswore their childish game and left them, heading back to Dr. H's house. Beating them by a good 5-10 minutes, we parked the car out of sight, ran back and hid behind the house (no fence, God bless it). I took one side, Kolya took the other, while Nurseman waited until their car arrived and utilized his stealthiness to circle behind their car. They sat in the car talking for a moment, and on signal, we three dashed madly from our respective hiding places, screaming and slamming our hands onto their windows, frightening them nearly to death.

That pretty much concluded our trip. Kolya took me back to my car, at his house, which was the last bit of irony, considering Dr. H's house was about 5 minutes away from my own. But like I said, we didn't pay for the gas, so we didn't care. That is, without a doubt, the most epic White Castle night I've ever been a part of, and hopefully helps to explain my deep love and nostalgia for the place. (And Kolya, Nurseman, Preacher, or Dr. H, if any of you are reading this and wish to add, please feel free. I'm sure I've forgotten something.)

Next time: Another White Castle incident, involving Skinny and his compatriot, the jug of gin, and our attempt to barter one of our female friends for said jug of gin.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Awesome and Not Awesome

Awesome: Two nights in a row of drinking.
Not Awesome: The decision to eat Taco Bell for dinner and get pizza at 2am on Thursday.

Awesome: Veronica Mars. I highly recommend it.
Not Awesome: The Robert Duncan selection on my prelims list. He may or may not be a good poet. I can't tell, because all his famous poetry is not on my list. (Unless every anthology and website is wrong. Hillbilly, feel free to correct my ignorance if you wish.)

Awesome: Tomorrow's White Castle/Slurpee run. Two hours there, two hours back. No prisoners, no mercy.
Not Awesome: White Castle conquers all unawesomeness. No entry here.

Look for a full chronicle of our tale in the near future. And if we don't come back, avenge our deaths.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Chapter MCMLXVI: In Which Our Hero Crosses a Meaningless Milestone and Ruminates on His Profession

Everybody have fun tonight.

Everybody Wang Chung tonight.

Today I crossed off the one hundreth entry on my prelims reading list. Granted, there are one hundred and fifty entries on there, thus making one hundred only two thirds of the list. Also granted that of that one hundred, only twenty five are poetry (out of fifty two). Still, that one hundred feels pretty good to me. Hence the Wang Chunging. And my little 100 Dance, which was quite amusing, if constricted by all the books on my floor. Now, to further celebrate, I'm going to "read" one of the entries that I've already read in the past. As far as novels go, the only ones I have left are ones I've read before or ones I don't plan to read at all (I don't care how good it is, I'm not reading Meatless Days, a collection of short stories about living in Pakistan.) So perhaps I'll celebrate in the quiet madness of The Crying of Lot 49. Or just go nuts and skim through Storyteller, which I've taught multiple times. Do I know how to have a good time, or what?

Yesterday, before the giddiness and the dancing, I read Wallace Stegner's Crossing to Safety, an elegantly simple novel about friendship in 20th century America. This book is not very complicated, but is very heartfelt and touching, and I count it one of the gems I've discovered that I hadn't imagined before. The novel is particularly interesting as the main characters are either academics or the wives of academics, and they all teach at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the late 1930s. So they go to parties on Van Hise (where the head of our graduate program lives now), they rent a boat from the Union and nearly drown in Lake Mendota (that's what they get for not having Fangirl as their sailing instructor), and they travel up and down State Street, among other things. I am pleased to note that many things have not changed in academia since the '30s. They still drink a ton (although I was disconcerted by the repeated instances of the wives getting hammered whilst pregnant), they still complain about grading papers, and they still worry about getting jobs and tenure (I guess the Depression is comparable to today's glut of the market). And, as an historical side note, the English Department offices used to be in Bascom Hall, apparently, before Helen C. White (our current home) was built.

Part of me enjoyed this reading because of the familiar references and literary discussions, in a kind of academic masturbatory way. Part of me also did not need to start feeling fear of being an academic failure, as one of the characters is, right before I take prelims. It was just close enough to home to really add to the nerves. Of course, he became a rich and successful novelist, but I don't really see that in the cards for me. But then, I guess that means I won't have a polio-stricken wife, either, which kind of balances the scales. Still, it was an enjoyable read, straightforward and honest, and well-written. Rather different from most of the other things I've read thus far.

Ok, back to the paper grindstone. Good luck to all my fellow readers out there, and to my boys and girls from elsewhere, raise a glass for me when you get a chance. I'll do the same for you tomorrow when I'm out drinking. Except for Hubris and Batkodez. You know why. (And Ford Madox Ford isn't on my list, so nyah nyah.)

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Sweet Jesus! The Books Are Finally Talking Back!

"The reader! You, dogged, uninsultable, print-oriented bastard, it's you I'm addressing, who else, from inside this monstrous fiction. You've read me this far, then? Even this far? For what discreditable motive? How is it you don't go to a movie, watch TV, stare at a wall, play tennis with a friend, make amorous advances to the person who comes to your mind when I speak of amorous advances? Can nothing surfeit, saturate you, turn you off? Where's your shame?"

Clearly Barth had never heard of prelims, which conquers all desire and shame. And sanity, for that matter, which makes Lost in the Funhouse a delightful read.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Stepping Up to Do My Part

After having read a lot of Adrienne Rich today, I have decided that I'm not doing my part to oppress women. Sure, I may make the occasional joke or snide comment, but am I really doing all I can to keep women in their place, oppressed by the rightful patriarchy of America? Do I do my best to make marriage an oppressive institution that can only be rectified by the widespread acceptance of lesbianism? We all love lesbians, right?

Now, I know what you're thinking. Yes, it sounds horrible at first, to consider throwing away the decades of progress we've had since Rich was writing her poetry and her essays. Yes, sexism was a problem and remains one to this day, leading to unfair working conditions, salary disparities, sexual harassment, etc. Don't get me wrong, I'm anti- all that.

But at the same time, look at the benefits. Men got to feel superior and dictate what was good and what was bad. The notion of the Old Boy's Club was in full swing, and created a community in which men could share ideas and speak a language they all understood. As any theorist can tell you, community-creation is a good thing. Furthermore, oppression gave rise to Rich's own writings, and her quest for female community apart from patriarchy. It allowed for passionate and vitriolic prose and poetry, which sparked people to new levels of consciousness. It allowed for the contemplation of an alternative language, of a questioning of the basic tenets of our society. Through the pain of oppression, her work gained meaning and power. Is it so wrong to want to empower people like that again?

The greatest advances in American thought have always come in the face of great adversity. Therefore, I feel it is my duty to help create that adversity by reasserting my rights as a member of the American patriarchy. Those of you interested in more information, please contact me via my secretary, if she isn't too busy laughing at my inappropriate jokes or fetching things from low cabinets around the office.

(Also, reading Sinclair Lewis' Main Street, which for some reason I'm envisioning as a zany Jane Fonda Barefoot in the Park-esque farce, despite the fact that I know her spirit will be crushed in the end. But then, maybe that just shows my own views of what's funny regarding women, as stated above.)

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Urge to Kill Rising...Rising

The house next to our building has taken it upon themselves to throw a day-long barbecue, complete with live music.

I wish to murder them.

(Oh, and Cane is vile drek, made only viler by the Phish-like music coming from across the driveway.)

Thursday, July 06, 2006

I Found My Thrill...

A voicemail I received last night:

Brownsox: Dubs, it's Brownsox, what's up? I miss you buddy. And man, we are... we are dying here, because...there are blueberries in my beer! Listen, here's Quantum, he'll tell you the same thing. Quantum!

Quantum: There are blueberries in mah beer!

Brownsox: Do you see what I mean? This is what we have to work with Dubs! Come out to the East Coast so you can help us! Because we need your assistance. We love you, Dubs baby.

Quantum (from background): They're in mah beer!

Brownsox: They're in his beer! Say it again.

Quantum: They're in mah beer!

Brownsox: They're in his beer. Help us, Dubs, help us. We love you. Buh-bye.

I..... I don't really know what else I can say about this. I just wish you could hear how earnestly sad they are, and slightly befuddled.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Chapter CLXXI: In Which Our Hero's Orderly Life is Disrupted

This weekend, for once, I did not have to go to my friends. They came to me.

A friend of ours from college, hailing from the tiny picturesque hamlet of Lake Mills, WI, was getting married. As this village (Pop. around 4500) is only about 30 minutes from Madison (20 the way I drive, as I found out when we rushed to the wedding), my friends Bluesman and Memi were both staying with me rather than pay for hotels. I eagerly anticipated this, as I have a long history of crashing with friends, and felt delighted that I could reciprocate for some of my oldest NU gang.

Memi was coming in Saturday night for the bachelorette party, and the wedding was on Monday afternoon. This was all the information I had at the start of Friday morning, though I knew Bluesman was coming to the wedding itself, and I offered him my place to crash, which he accepted. I had been cleaning my apartment periodically throughout the week, whenever I took a break from reading, and planned to do glorious battle with the months of dust and debris in my living room on Saturday morning. I did not expect to survive, but the apartment would be clean for those who came after me, at least. I anticipated finishing Paterson on Friday eve, and getting a small amount of reading done on Saturday, then writing off Sunday and Monday. Seeing as how these are my "Old People Friends" from Northwestern, however, it couldn't be quite that simple.

On Friday afternoon, shortly before my eye appointment, Bluesman calls and lets me know he's on his way up, and would like to pass the night in my home. This provoked a frantic burst of cleaning, the total abandonment of Paterson, and the fortuitous cancellation of my study session with Nittany Lion, which all culminated in a clean living room, kitchen, and bathroom, an epic feat that shall be sung for ages to come, given the state of disarray I started with.

Saturday we two spent the morning downtown breaking our fast, and killing time until Memi's plane arrived (delayed, of course, courtesy of the good people at Northwest Airlines). We deposited her at the bachelorette party, and dined with Nittany and Red Headed Stepchild at a local beer-dispensary establishment named after a grandiose canine. (Side note: the bachelorette party spent the evening at Brocach [sp?], then returned to Lake Mills to celebrate further. I must wonder about the sanity of women who find the Faux-Irish Pub on the square to be the height of Madisonian Haute Culture.) We tried, later, to watch fireworks, which were thwarted by rain.

Sunday came and went, and for some reason still beyond me I drove 45 minutes to go to a drive-in movie showing of Superman Returns. The experience itself is worthwhile, but it isn't quite how I anticipated viewing the Man of Steel's return to the silver screen. And, because of these plans, I missed the rescheduled fireworks. Sadness. But it was fun nonetheless.

Monday, the wedding itself. Made the drive to Lake Mills in about 19 minutes, because my houseguests are chronically slow (sorry guys, but it's true). And Memi, if you're reading this, no noise about me being the last one ready. You'd be the last one ready as well if your houseguests were in your bathroom for an hour and a half, leaving you roughly seven minutes before your scheduled departure time. And it's my blog. So nyah nyah nyah.

The wedding was quite nice, if a tad short for my Catholic standards (25 minutes altogether). Readings from Whitman and e.e. cummings, showing the excellent taste of our friend the bride, who teaches high school English in Minnesota. Though I did have trouble keeping a straight face throughout, as during the vows I kept hearing Homer Simpson's wedding vows. In Rev. Lovejoy's monotone, "Do you take this man, in richness or in poorness, (poorness is underlined), in impotence and potence, in calm tranquility or blasting along the alkali flats in a jet-propelled, rocket powered... and it goes on like this!" Between that and flashbacks to various scenes from Wedding Crashers, I nearly lost it several times throughout. I tried to turn my stifled guffaws into some kind of faux manly sensitivity at the beauty of marriage, but I don't think anyone noticed.

Reception: Open bar + Ketel One = Happy Brian. Plus, the bride and groom are avid swing dancers, so the music was an eclectic mix of pop favorites and swing tunes. Though no power ballads. Seriously, what kind of wedding is it if there's no Journey or Bryan Adams? But the dancing overall was fun, as I like to dance quite a bit at these things, particularly after a few vodka tonics. And we did prove that "I Want it That Way" can unite a reception into a display of buffoonery unparalleled. Also, the Chicken Dance is apparently on the cusp of fame in India. Who knew?

As of today, my houseguests are gone, and my life is once again back on its orderly track. Read me some Sun Also Rises and Rez Sisters this eve, and looking to get back into the swing of things. Hemingway in particular is good after weddings, largely because his hatred of women really fights those sappy romance feelings one tends to get in the wake of events such as this. Papa H., combined with a strict moratorium on romantic comedies and love songs for at least a week, helps deny those destructive musings that make me feel actual feelings, instead of the cool self-deprecating comedic irony I coast through life on.

To close, three great moments of the long weekend:
1. Methodists as pixies, complete with pixie dust, or in street parlance, "meth." How we got there is unimportant. The point is we got there, and Memi was laughing for at least four straight minutes.

2. Mashed Potato Martini Bar. Quite exciting.

3. My in-depth analysis of Beowulf for the other guests at our table, in which I used my Master's Degree to prove that the poem is actually about the mutually destructive combat between Beowulf and a Zamboni Machine. Article forthcoming.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

A New Low

Ok, I've put up with a lot this summer with this reading list. I've dealt with:

-A bunch of Modernist poets who all seem to claim the same things and work in the same way, but who all seem to disagree with each other. As far as I can tell, the impetus to "make it new" involves writing incomprehensible drek that only a few people can understand, and even then only if you're a walking annotation. Still don't see why they disagree so much. (Though it was refreshing to see William Carlos Williams openly ripping into Pound and Eliot, as opposed to the passive-agressive junk most of the others indulged in.)

-Every minority in America feeling entitled to write fiction about a character trapped between two worlds. Yes, your plight is tragic, all you Hispanics, Jews, African-Americans, Native Americans, Eastern European Immigrants, etc. But for the love of God, have some consciousness of the works around you, and find a new trope to use for your pain.

-Three entries of Toni Morrison. Yes, she's good. But she doesn't deserve three novels on my list. Pick one or two, folks, and go with it.

-Eudora Welty. 'Nuff said.

But today was a new low. Today, I read The Magician of Lublin, by Isaac "Look at Me, I'm Jewish" Singer. Now, I may seem to bash the Hebrews a bit much in this blog, but I don't actively dislike their art. Henry Roth, quite cool. Saul Bellow, I'm growing to like. Bernard Malamund's The Assistant was refreshingly good. But Mr. Singer has no place on this list of mine. His text, The Magician, is not an American text. Yes, he was an American immigrant. But the text is about Poland. About Polish people in the 1800s. There are no Americans in it. No American themes. Very little mention of America at all, except as a far off place. And it was written in Yiddish, and translated to English by other people. I'm willing to put up with novels in Europe, because the ones on the list largely deal with American exiles or tourists. And I can put up with novels written by immigrants, dealing with American themes (Pale Fire, written by Nabokov, is perhaps my new favorite on the list). But there's no justification for The Magician of Freakin Lublin in any way, shape, or form. And it's not even a good novel. So I'm lodging a protest. Let it be noted. And then I'm finishing the book, because one of my committee members has written an article on it, so it'll most likely be on the test.

But on the plus side, it's still better than Nightwood.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

This may be one of my lucid periods

Who knew Ezra Pound was such a funny guy?

On America: "We get from every village the most ruthless and the most energetic. The merely discontented stop in England."

"As every living writer either has written, or is writng, on sex, sex, sex, till there is no end of x's..."

After complaining about and critiquing flawed architecture in New York, we get this simple paragraph: "I found it impossible to make a younger member of the architect's firm understand any of this.... But he will die, and Allah the all merciful will send us another generation." (I just love the image of an irate Pound pedantically yelling at some secretary that he doesn't like the building this guy didn't even design.)

On "literary" magazines in the early 1900s:

"It is well known that in the year of grace 1870 Jehovah appeared to Messrs Harper and Co. and to the editors of 'The Century', 'The Atlantic', and certain others, and spake thus: 'The style of 1870 is the final and divine revelation. Keep things always just as they are now'. And they, being earnest, God-fearing men, did abide by the words of the Almighty, and great credit and honour accrued unto them, for had they not divine warrant! And if you do not believe me, open a number of 'Harpers' for 1888 and one for 1908. And I defy you to find any difference, save on the page where the date is."

It's shocking how much I'm liking Pound. While I'll admit I haven't started the Cantos yet, his early poetry is quite stirring, and his essays are really amusing. Who knows, maybe it'll keep through the rest?

Or I may go insane trying to figure the rest of it out. Stay tuned.

(In other news, I took five hours off on Monday to read the new Star Wars novel. It was truly glorious.)

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Deja view?

Haven't posted in a while, not much new to say. The reading continues, though I am quickly coming to the realization that I will eventually run out of novels and plays to read, and will have to read some more poetry. This week, Ezra Pound and The Cantos, plus various other poems. Looking through them last night, Nittany Lion and I discovered sections in Chinese, and sections with Egyptian Hieroglyphics. Should be fun.

Today was a bit startling for me. I finished All the King's Men, beat Knights of the Old Republic again (I believe this is the sixth time, now. I have a problem.), and went to the library to get more books. I then proceeded to read Paula Vogel's The Baltimore Waltz, a delightful short play (50 pages, bless it) about fantasy and dying of AIDS.

The odd thing is, apparently I've seen this play before. As soon as I started it, I knew how it would end. I knew the things that were happening as they happened. And I could hear specific lines in my head, as if I'd heard them spoken before. Now, I have no memory of ever seeing this play or reading it, or listening to it on tape for that matter. But I did see quite a bit of pretentious student theatre in college. It's one of the downfalls of living in an arts dorm and hanging out with a bunch of theatre majors. And quite often, we'd go see these plays after having a few drinks, which might explain why I don't remember it. Or, conversely, I may have read parts of it aloud in a class that I can't remember. Or heard people using parts of it as audition pieces. Or for acting finals. I just don't know.

I've mentioned before the problems I have with my memory, and this particular occasion is slightly unsettling for me. It helped a lot with my retention and comprehension of the play this time around, so I'm not complaining, but I would like to know how I know this piece. So if any of my NU friends have any recollection of seeing this play with me, or taking a class with me where we discussed this play, or anything like that, feel free to chime in.

Recent Lessons of Prelim Summer:
-Black people didn't have the best places to live in urban areas in the 1900s.
-A play about lesbians is always amusing.
-Gertrude Stein is incomprehensible. And ugly.
-There's just something amusing about Freud and Jung riding together in the Coney Island Tunnel of Love.
-Starting a movie just to pass the time while you eat lunch is a bad idea, because you'll watch the entire movie rather than go back to work.
-Unlike many of my peers, reading for prelims has not affected my eyesight in the slightest. Because I have super eyes.
-When you're reading a book that you've already written on, and the professor you wrote the paper for is the head of the committee grading you, the fun part is remembering which parts of your paper he liked and which he didn't, so you can shamelessly reuse them later.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Reading Week Two: Electric Boogaloo

Well, I survived the birthday drinking, and am now officially 26 (as opposed to biologically, which doesn't count). Highlight was definitely when the director of the English graduate program bought me a glass of bourbon, which knocked me over the edge after all the other drinks I'd had. (Apparently, claiming you want to stay with beer so you can last longer is really an invitation for people to buy you shots and hard drinks.) Again, if you put it in front of me, I drink it quickly. As usual, memories fade after that last glass, causing me to lament my faulty genes and horrible memory. (Note: It isn't just drink. I have a horrible memory for my own past events. I don't really remember any of my childhood before seventh grade, excepting occasional flashes and moments. And yet I can remember intricate plot points of the novels I read. Does that seem right?)

Friday's festivities made Saturday's hell, as did my reading load. We're doing modernist drama this week in my study group, which means O'Neill, Williams, and Miller. If you ever want to feel great about being alive and the potential this world has to offer, stay as far away from these men as possible. If you want justification for suicide, however, start reading them all, one after another. On a Saturday. While hung over. In oppressive humidity. On little sleep.

Now don't get me wrong. These gentlemen are fine dramatists. I love Williams (still prefer Streetcar to Glass Menagerie), and Miller's fine as well. O'Neill, though, goes above and beyond. I'd read Long Day's Journey before, but just now for the first time read The Iceman Cometh, which for reasons I can't begin to articulate struck me more powerfully than anything else I've read so far. It's profound, shocking, and deeply moving. (Maybe more so since I too am accustomed to hanging around with a bunch of drunks, talking about the past. I believe it's all theatre majors do.) I can see why people say Long Day's Journey is the better play, as it is more concise and has a purity about it, but Iceman just hit me on a gut level, so I had to stop reading after I finished it.

(And yet Nittany Lion argues that Miller is the better playwright. Thoughts from the readership?)

I now have hung on my door the complete prelims list, all 13 pages of it, next to each other. Each time I finish an entry, I cross it off in red. Its ghostly white presence haunts my room, and is the first thing my eye is drawn to every morning when I awaken, and one of the last things I see before I sleep. This may reflect a severe unbalance in my mind, or a need to torment myself. I personally see it as akin to the photos that Rocky puts up before a fight, only to tear them down right before the bout. By removing them, the Italian Stallion sees no longer his enemies, but himself. Of course, he's looking in a mirror, not a wooden door, but I enjoy my metaphor. And I hope the tape doesn't hurt the door or the paint. Either way, I plan to dance and sing along to "Eye of the Tiger" just before the test.

Until next time, here's a list of things I've learned this week:

Family is pain.
Friends are just those that help sustain your own lies.
Women are liars and whores, or mentally unbalanced.
Destructive forces win out.
I become too invested in plays with idiots. (I have had repeated fantasies about traveling back in time to the Salem Witch Trials and just shooting the judges with a Glock. Thank you, Mr. Miller.)
If you have dreams, they will be crushed and you will be crushed with/by them.
The South is a funny place.
Except when it destroys you.
Southern Catholics are particularly conflicted.
Holden Caulfield is more annoying now than when you're a teenager yourself.
Saul Bellow is longwinded and full of himself.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Pigs on the Move

Prelims (n., pl.):

1. A series of essay tests taken, over the span of two days, covering 150 works of literature and criticism.
2. A rite of initiation that allows the graduate student to finally begin working on his or her disseration.
3. The locus of pain, rage, anger, and hatred for all things academic in a graduate student's life. The stealer of souls, killer of free time, and death of innocence.

There. For my non-Madison friends, that's what I'm doing this summer. The test is at the end of August (21-22, or 22-23, sometime in there). I have 150 plays, novels, books of poetry, and critical articles to read before then. All of us grad students have to do that, so if you feel sorry for me, feel sorry for my friends as well. And if you don't, well screw you. I'd like to see you do it. Except those of my elders who already have done it. You are the shining stars that give us hope.

By my calculations, if I want to finish the entire list, I have to read 1.67 entries per day. Today was Rabbit, Run (1 entry) and the Mamet (Glengarry Glen Ross and American Buffalo, two plays, one entry). Luckily, I've seen both of these plays before (the movie of GGR and Bourbon and Teach's AB), so the topics are familiar. But these are all very depressing works about the crushing nature of modern life, so my day has been kinda bleak. Later tonight, I plan to read some Capote and contemplate causes of murder in In Cold Blood. I have yet to start reading any actual poetry, as I am terrified of it. Seriously terrified.

Apart from prelims reading, it's been a fun few weeks, so a quick update. Back in StL, had fun with the folks, had a truly phenomenal steak dinner, tried to go to a Cardinals' game, failed, and toured the A-B Brewery instead, leading to pre-noon drinking of free beer. Good times. And who knew Busch made a stout?

Saw Wicked on Tuesday for my birthday. Red-Headed Stepchild and I drove to Chicago to see it, with fairly decent seats. Sadly, the elderly ladies next to me felt the need to discuss everything as it happened, including the priceless revelation that the one with the green skin was, in fact, the Wicked Witch of the West. They didn't realize this until after she had been onstage for about ten minutes, despite the cover of the program clearly showing her and the fact that everyone knows this already, as it is the entire concept of the play that she is different because she is green. But God bless them, it's elderly people like that who go to the theatre simply to buy seats closer to the center of the audience than my own, preventing me from fully appreciating the sets in ways they never could. But a wiser man than myself once said that there's a special Hell for child molesters and people who talk at the theatre. I can only pray he's correct.

On the drive back, due to an offhand comment of Red's, I am now contemplating a one-man play entitled Pigs on the Move. So far, it involves pigs attempting to better themselves, and a farmer's constant upbraiding of his no-account son for letting the pigs get further in life than him (the son). Look for pre-production come the fall.

And finally, I'll be a TA for Captain Americanist's lecture this fall, which is awesome.

Look for updates containing words of wisdom from my reading throughout the summer, as I can't imagine much else will be going on here. So far I've learned this:

-People in the '20s drank more, made more money, and generally got laid a lot more than I do.
-Jews are not entertaining (Sorry McJew, but read Awake and Sing! and you'll see my point).
-When white people write about sex, it's smut (Updike). When Native Americans do it, it's amusing cultural difference (Erdrich).
-The working world stinks, but if you curse a lot and hate women, it'll at least amuse others.
-19 page one acts are the greatest gift you can give a prelim student.
-Vietnam was, in fact, not a fun place to be.
-Education is the reducto absurdum of all human experience. And no battle is ever won. They are not even fought. The field only reveals to man his own folly and despair, and victory is an illusion of philosophers and fools. (Now that's an enheartening lesson to start the summer with.)

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

In which I defy augury

Longer post later this week. Just taking the moment to point out that, as of midnight, I am now 26. Back at Northwestern, we never planned to live past 25, seeing the obscene amounts we drank and the horrible Midwestern fried foods we ate (we seriously feared scurvy at one point). So this birthday is a milestone, in that I am the first of our drunken cadre to defy Death (at least this particular Death, as Quantum already surpassed his private death date, and my hat off to him).

Seeing Wicked in Chicago with Red-Headed Stepchild, then massive bar-hopping on Friday. Good times ahead, despite the reading load.

And if you're in Madison and reading this, and I haven't already invited you, you're invited to drinks this Friday night. Talk to me for details.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

The getting of knowledge should be tangible. It should be...smelly.

There are times I loathe the internet. This is one of them (ironic, since I'm using it to complain).

In my research, I much prefer to actually read a text than find it online and read a computer screen. It's just me. I like the tactile presence and the ability to underline and jot notes in the margins. But, as I grade papers, I realize most of my students strongly disagree. They find online, read, quote, use, whatever, all without leaving their dorms. And I hate it. Because apparently this means that they don't have to cite page numbers when they quote, because there are no page numbers online. This is the type of thinking that leads to bad papers, irate teachers, and consequently, lower grades. And by irate I mean fuming, throwing things across the room, stopping grading so I can blog about it.

Rant over. Please continue on to read my previous post, which is much longer and far more interesting.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Baby Don't You Wanna Go...

I've recently reread The Count of Monte Cristo, and I've come to the conclusion that our lives are not so dissimilar. We both underwent extremely harsh educations in stone prisons. And we both plan to use our knowledge to revenge ourselves upon the world (except he punished the guilty, while I plan to punish future students). In other words, it's been finals week here, and I had to write a long, ill-prepared paper and take a laughably easy final (maybe not easy, but laughable in the amount of work I put into it). So now summer is here, and escaping the Ivory Tower is, in its way, not unlike Edmond Dantes' escape from the Chateau d'If.

This is my long way of saying I haven't posted because I've been busy. So this post will be mostly highlights of the past few weeks, including tales of the sublimity of sleep, editing at the mechanics, and many instances of the truly bizarre.

First, the wonderful. I passed my Spanish for Reading Knowledge Test with an Advanced Proficiency. (For those of you not in the know, we at Madison need two foreign languages for the PhD. This test officially counts as my second, and I got a higher proficiency than I needed.) Of course, this is odd as I believe my translation included the fact that Hemingway led an elite band of guerillas into the heart of Paris during WWII. But who am I to question the wisdom of our teacher? Or of Papa H, for that matter? Further proof that he could so take Henry James.

That same morning, I saw two homeless men get kicked out of McDonald's for rolling joints on the counter. The management took offense to this, and apparently it wasn't the first time, as the manager told them he'd warned them about that before. Still, it was testament to the egalitarianism of the homeless, as the one had no weed, while the other was willing to share his excess. Truly, the meek shall inherit the Earth.

That evening commenced our grad student conference, which continued all weekend. It went well, though it occupied the majority of my time. Our keynote was fun, and I actually managed to pay for her expenses, something I was fearful of (I am treasurer of our little group, for my out of town folk).

That Friday, following the conference reception (wine and keg, small bits of food), we took the keg off to our friend Sarah's place (you may think this isn't a nickname, but oh, you'd be wrong. And it's even a nickname with layers). I, sadly, was staying somewhat sober, as I had my car with me. That night was perhaps the most surreal party I've been to in a long time. I had dropped folk off, went to get dinner, and returned. Upon arriving, I found my cohorts shooting at each other with a toy bow and arrow (yet with metal-tipped arrows). Sarah, when told I had gotten my own dinner as opposed to ordering pizza with them, seemed to believe I had ordered my own pizza, and asked for money to pay the guy when he got there. Repeated explanations did not help, but led to the following:

Me: I didn't order pizza.
Sarah: So how much money do you owe?
Me: None. I got McDonald's.
Sarah: Did you pay for it already?
Me: They generally don't let you leave without paying there.

We eventually got that settled, but the hilarity continued. Now this next section involves several folk I can't come up with good nicknames for, as I don't really know some of them that well (or well enough to know personal quirks and habits to mock). I'll just list several things, as any attempt to impose linerarity will be antithetical to the tone of the evening. In the course of the night, these things happened:

-The Norwegian shot Winter with the arrow, who shot her back in the neck, at point blank range (child's toy, no harm done, though the Norwegian would not shut up about it, as she was drunk, along with everyone else).
-The Norwegian, Winter, and UnionMan all played leapfrog, until the Norwegian's necklace broke and scattered in the grass, except for a few pieces, one of which UnionMan ate in front of her mockingly.
-The Norwegian and Winter tried to drunkdial me while I was standing right next to them, but they didn't know the last four digits of my number, so they called four random people before getting the sequence right.
-I broke the bow and arrow, as the string slipped off and it fell to the concrete, which was apparently too much stress (but it survived all the drunks pulling on it just fine). I then gave it back to the child, while Fangirl tried to explain how some carpenter's glue would fix it right up. My suggestion of duct tape was summarily ignored.
-Winter kicked UnionMan in the face. Because he asked her to.
-I got monster hiccups (again, while sober), which continued for almost half an hour and which I used to punctuate important points in the conversation.
-I believe we terrified some poor guy from Dartmouth, friend to Fangirl and her partner, who was visiting.
-I heard numerous repetitions about just how "carnivalesque" the party was, all of them from the Dissertator.

I can't remember much else, just the general surreal atmosphere of the night. If anyone recollects other choice moments, feel free to comment.

After the conference, things settled down. I wrote a 17 page paper in about three days, and edited it the morning it was due while I was at the mechanic getting my car fixed. Then I slept a lot. This weekend, having finished the only hard thing I had to do and thus nearly ending my semester, I decided to read Monte Cristo, a 1500 page epic, thus proving I am truly a nerd. Between that and replaying KOTOR 2, I've managed to waste the better part of a week. But I did study for my history final for a whole hour and a half (I had to read about the Carter and Reagan years for one of the essay questions). And I managed to sleep in till 11:30 today, only leaving the apartment to get dinner.

Now, I have to grade 12 portfolios tomorrow, as I am going to Chicago on Friday. I'm going in to see the Freshman 15 show (my old a cappella group), and to hang with Bluesman on Friday, brunch with Memi on Saturday, and then drive to the old homestead on Saturday to spend Mother's Day with the folks and recuperate for a week in St. Louis. I'm going in early, taking the Norwegian to O'Hare, thus freeing up the day for some fun Chicago stuff (Liquor Barn, Herm's, etc.). If I come back with a bottle of Napoleon Brandy shaped like Napoleon, all the better.

Next post, I explain to my out of town friends exactly what the term "prelims" means, and how exactly I'll spend my summer vacation. Start praying now.