Thursday, June 5, 2008

book quiz (part 2)

Pencils down. Check your own papers. Be honest.

1. Elie Wiesel
There's a funny story about this. One of the many inane things we have to do for curriculum is to list specific texts we use to meet certain benchmarks, so we write them in and someone somewhere types them onto an official copy. We were double-checking that official copy one day when we saw the following: "Catcher--Salinger, Mockingbird--Lee, Night Weasel--???" Evidently she was not familiar with the book. So now we in the BFHS English department call ourselves the Royal Order of the Night Weasels. And Brian does a spot-on weasel impression. It's pretty impressive.

2. c (Holes)
palindrome (PAL in drome) n.: a word or group of words that reads the same forward and backward (i.e. Stanley Yelnats)

3. The Color Purple
Great line.

4. High Fidelity, About A Boy, Fever Pitch (incidentally this last one has been done twice--once as a British movie about soccer with Colin Firth and once as an American movie about baseball with Jimmy Fallon)
Word on the street is that Johnny Depp is set to star in the next one, an adaptation of Hornby's A Long Way Down, which would be great. I also want them to do How To Be Good. Soon.

5. b (To Kill a Mockingbird and In Cold Blood)
Harper Lee and Truman Capote were buds. Check out the movie Capote if you don't believe me.

6. Bridge of Sighs
...and no I haven't read it yet. Get off my back.

7. What You Will
Significant controversy over this question. My sister-in-law, a doctor of English (don't laugh), says that this is incorrect--Henry VIII also has an alternate title (All Is True). However, my Folger copy says that this is the only one, and Stacy's buddy Stephen Greenblatt is quoted on Wikipedia (I know, I know) as saying "this is the only one of Shakespeare's plays to receive [a subtitle] (although some editors place The Merchant of Venice's alternate title, The Jew of Venice, as a subtitle)." Hmmm...

8. Death of a Salesman
This allusion comes up a lot in Seinfeld actually.

9. d (Shel Silverstein)
Smith, I can't believe they didn't ask you if you'd read The Giving Tree somewhere on an adoption application--seems like it should be a deal-breaker to me. I'm glad that you're at least familiar with it now.

10. a (V. V. Ganeshananthan)
C. C. Sabathia pitches for the Indians. J. J. Abrams wrote Armageddon. H. H. Holmes was one of America's worst serial killers. V. V. Ganeshananthan (a.k.a. Sugi) is one of Stacy's good friends from grad school, and she wrote Love Marriage, about which you can expect a blog entry once I've read the last 40 pages.

11. d (Animal Farm)
One of the great last lines that I've read.

12. The Body and Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption
You can decide for yourself if you get credit for saying Stand By Me and The Shawshank Redemption, but if you haven't seen either of those movies, you should stop reading this right now and go rent them.

13. a (Chuck Palahniuk)
Crazy book. Crazy guy.

14. Of Mice and Men
Easily the saddest book I've ever read. Also, one of the best. Five stars on my GoodReads page.

15. e. e. cummings
For an interesting take on the poem, listen to Kris Delmhorst's song, "Pretty How Town." If you can find it somewhere. I've got a copy.

16. Joseph Heller...Pianosa...Yossarian
Part 2 gave my smarty-pants wife and her smarty-pants sister trouble. It's a fictional island off the coast if Italy. I love this book.

17. b (The Catcher in the Rye)
If you thought I was going to go through an entire book quiz without mentioning Catch-22 and The Catcher in the Rye, then you're crazy.

18. Nick Carraway
And so we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past...

19. A
After reading the book, one of my students, who was a big Hester Prynne fan, suggested that the letter actually stood for "awesome."

20. Alonso Quixano
Did you say Don Quixote? I mean, I did italicize the word "real." That was a hint. I guess it's up to you whether you get credit for it. Seems cheap to me.

So how'd you do? Much worse than on the pop culture quiz, right? Well, to quote McLovin, "Read a (expletive) book for once."

Later gators.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

book quiz

Time for another quiz--this one could be trickier. Rather than pop culture, the topic this time is literature. As I tell my students when they ask me if my class is hard, It's not hard to pass, but it's hard to get an A. Good luck.

1. Name the author of the Holocaust memoir Night. (1 pt.)

2. Which of the following books features a protagonist whose name is a palindrome? (1 pt.)
a. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
b. Tuck Everlasting
c. Holes
d. A Day No Pigs Would Die

3. To find the title of this novel, fill in the blanks: Shug says to Celie, "I think it pisses God off if you walk by _____ _____ _____ in a field somewhere and don't notice it." (1 pt.)

4. Name 3 movies based on Nick Hornby novels. (1 pt. each)

5. The authors of which of the following books became good friends while growing up in Alabama? (1 pt.)
a. The Catcher in the Rye and The Great Gatsby
b. To Kill A Mockingbird and In Cold Blood
c. Empire Falls and She's Come Undone
d. The Innocents Abroad and Walden

6. Name Richard Russo's most recent novel. (1 pt.)

7. Twelfth Night is the only Shakespeare play with an alternate title. What is it? (1 pt.)

8. In an episode of Seinfeld called "The Subway," Jerry tells George not to whistle in an elevator and continues to call George "Biff" throughout the episode. To what play is he alluding? (1 pt.)

9. Who wrote The Giving Tree? (1 pt.)
a. Dr. Seuss
b. Roald Dahl
c. Beatrix Potter
d. Shel Silverstein

10. I'm currently reading a book called Love Marriage by _____. (1 pt.)
a. V. V. Ganeshananthan
b. C. C. Sabathia
c. J. J. Abrams
d. H. H. Holmes

11. The following is the last line in which novel? (1 pt.)

The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.

a. The Pigman, by Paul Zindel
b. Charlotte's Web, by E. B. White
c. Pigs in Heaven, by Barbara Kingsolver
d. Animal Farm, by George Orwell

12. Two novellas from Stephen King's collection Different Seasons were adapted for the screen. What were they? (HINT: They are two of my Top 10 Movies of All-Time.) (1 pt. each)

13. The movie Fight Club is based on the book written by _____. (1 pt.)
a. Chuck Palahniuk
b. Chuck Klosterman
c. Chuck Rosenthal
d. Chuck Klein

14. What book features characters named Crooks, Slim, Candy, Curley, and Curley's wife? (1 pt.)

15. Who wrote "anyone lived in a pretty how town"? (1 pt.)

16. Catch-22 was written by _____. It takes place on the island of _____. The protagonist's name is _____. (1 pt. each)

17. The following is the last line from which novel? (1 pt.)

Don't ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody.

a. The Old Man and the Sea, by Ernest Hemingway
b. The Catcher in the Rye, by J. D. Salinger
c. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, by James Joyce
d. The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck

18. The narrator of The Great Gatsby is _____. (1 pt.)

19. In The Scarlet Letter, what is the letter? (1 pt.)

20. "Somewhere in la Mancha, in a place whose name I do not care to remember, a gentleman lived not long ago..." What is that gentleman's real name? (1 pt.)

There you go. Twenty questions for 25 points. Answers coming tomorrow.

Later gators.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

the big 1-0-0

Wow. There are so many people I'd like to thank for making my first 100 blog entries possible. Mrs. Burke for teaching me how to type. The fine people at for giving me a forum. My students for being ridiculous and always giving me good material. I couldn't have done this without you.

So on Sunday I went to BFHS's graduation, and it was nice, but I noticed that the Class of '08 didn't have a class motto. This was disappointing. When I was in high school, we did quite a number on the concept of class stuff. We adopted three things for our class: a class flower, class colors, and a class motto. They were:

CLASS FLOWER: the dandelion
CLASS COLORS: white and off-white
CLASS MOTTO: "I like cheese, you like cheese, let's be friends."

Those are facts. So if someone from the Class of '08 reads this and decides that he or she would like to retroactively decide on a class motto, I've got some suggestions:

"I despise cool. I've never seen one frickin' person who I liked who was cool." (Roy Williams)

"Are you really so arrogant as to believe that we are alone in this universe?" (Tom Cruise, when asked if he believed in aliens)

"The loudest guy in the room is the weakest guy in the room." (Frank Lucas, American Gangster)

"Do you know how easy this is for me? Do you know how (expletive) easy this is? Do you have any (expletive) clue? It's a (expletive) joke. And I'm sorry you can't do this, I really am. I'm sorry I have to sit around and watch you fumble around and (expletive) it up." (Will Hunting, Good Will Hunting)

"Children are like TV sets. When they start acting weird, whack them across the head with a big rubber basketball shoe." (Hunter S. Thompson)

"Being a professional means doing your job on the days you don't feel like doing it." (David Halberstam)

"Never rat on your friends and always keep your mouth shut." (Jimmy Conway, Goodfellas)

"They can do whatever they want. I'll still be eating steak every night." (Philadelphia Phillies infielder Von Hayes, on fans in Philadelphia booing him)

"You think you're so special because you get to play Picture Pages up there? Well, my five year old daughter could do that and let me tell you, she's not the brightest bulb in the tanning bed. So why don't you go back to night school in Mantino and learn a real trade." (Bren to the ultrasound technician, Juno)

"This is your life and it's ending one minute at a time." (Narrator, Fight Club)

"Whether or not what we experienced was an According to Hoyle miracle is insignificant. What is significant is that I felt the touch of God. God got involved." (Jules, Pulp Fiction)

"Whenever I see a homeless guy, I always run back and give him money, because I think, 'Oh my God, what if that was Jesus?'" (Pamela Anderson)

"Beware of all enterprises which require new clothes." (Henry David Thoreau)

"'And death shall be no more,' comma, 'death, thou shalt die.' Nothing but a breath, a comma separates life from life everlasting. Very simple, really. With the original punctuation restored, Death is no longer something to act out on a stage with exclamation marks. It is a comma. A pause. In this way, the uncompromising way, one learns something from the poem, wouldn't you say? Life, death, soul, God, past, present. Not insuperable barriers. Not semi-colons. Just a comma." (E.M. Ashford, Wit)

"This is an environment of welcoming, and you should just get the hell out of here." (Michael Scott, The Office)

"I'm not too worried about it, really. I wouldn't worry about it. Don't worry about it. I'm not worried at all." (Evan, Superbad)

"Every time that I have ever tried to help a woman out, I have been incarcerated." (Jose Canseco, The Surreal Life)

"I eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich before every game. Whoever invented that was smart. That's got to be one of the best sandwiches ever." (Ben Gordon, Chicago Bulls)

"Never get less than 12 hours sleep, never play cards with a guy who has the same first name as a city, and never go near a lady with a tattoo of a dagger on her hand. Now you stick with that, and everything else is cream cheese." (Coach Finstock, Teen Wolf)

So there you go. And even if you're not looking for a class motto, you probably need a little more wisdom in your life. Glad I could help.

Later gators.

Monday, June 2, 2008

sam is better than all of these people

I listen to country music. I listen to a lot of music, but if I'm driving in the car and I get tired of sports talk radio, I listen to country. And the other day, I turned on 104.5 WSLD (which Sara calls "the salad station"), and the song "Last Dollar," by Tim McGraw, came on. I defy anyone to tell me what that song is about. Is it about his kids? His wife? His fans? His parents? It could be any or none of those. And when he breaks it down and says, "Everybody say, "Ha ha ha ha, ha ha ha ha,'" that's typically when I go back to ESPN radio. Anyway, it got me thinking about nonsense lyrics. There are a lot, and I think that sometimes artists think that a good beat or melody will overshadow their garbage lyrics. Well, I won't let it happen. I'm prepared to expose them. Here goes:

"Every Morning," by Sugar Ray. I'm stealing this one from a comedian named Rob Paravonian. Here's his riff on the song. Some problematic lyrics: 1) He wants to see if his girlfriend will let him use her "halo" (?) for a "one-night stand," 2) He says, "I left my broken heart open and you ripped it out," even though he's the one who is evidently cheating on her, and 3) There's a point when he's talking about how he wants to "do it again," and a creepy voice in the background repeats, "Shut the door baby--don't say a word." This isn't a pop song. It's the soundtrack for a horror film.

"Our Song," by Taylor Swift. I was riding shotgun with my hair undone in the front seat of his car. He had a one-hand feel on the steering wheel and another on my heart. He had a "one-hand feel" on your heart? What does that mean? Is that an expression I'm not familiar with? Or is this actually a PG-13 song?

"Bust A Move," by Young MC. I'm stealing another one--this time from Chuck Klosterman. In the song, Young says, "Your best friend Harry has a brother Larry. In five days from now he's gonna' marry. He's hopin' you can make it there if you can 'cause in the ceremony, you'll be the best man." A couple of issues here: 1) Who asks someone to be his best man five days before the wedding? And even if you argue that it's some sort of shotgun situation, 2) Why would your best friend's brother ask you to be the best man? Why didn't Larry ask Harry? And if he doesn't get along with his brother, how is he so close to his brother's best friend? Do you see what I'm talking about?

"I'd Rather Ride Around With You," by Reba McIntyre. Another confusing wedding party song. Here's the first verse:

My cousin's gettin' married at the Methodist church
That's why I stayed home from work
I'm supposed to hold the flowers
When the new bride kisses the groom
That's what I'm supposed to do
So what are we doin' with the windows rolled down
Twenty-five passionate miles from town?
I love her like a sister baby but to tell you the truth
I'd rather ride around with you

Do you understand what's going on here? The narrator had a responsibility to be the maid of honor (or at least a bridesmaid) at her cousin's wedding, and she's just out riding around with some guy. When would that ever happen? Answer: It wouldn't.

"All-American Girl," by Carrie Underwood. Speaking of shirking responsibility, this song is about a girl who falls for the "senior football star," at which point he starts "dropping passes" and "skipping practice just to spend more time with her." Now, the coach admonishes the kid and warns him that he'll "lose [his] free ride to college," so we assume that this kid is a legitimately outstanding player. I refuse to believe that any kid with that kind of ability would skip multiple football practices simply to spend time with a girl (even if she is a "sweet little beautiful, wonderful, perfect All-American girl"). Again, it just wouldn't happen.

"Stronger Woman," by Jewel. Apparently Jewel is now a country singer, but her writing chops have not matured since she used "casualty" do describe the state of being casual in her poetry book that was published in 1999. Here's the line that bugs me in this song:

I guess you could say I'm one of those girls
That's always been with one of those guys
You know the type
Like right now, he sleeps while I write

Wow. You're writing a song and he has the audacity to be asleep? What a prick. I guess that she's using this as an example of how he doesn't care about her or something, but seriously, this seems like a pretty rigid expectation--the guy's supposed to be awake every time that she's writing? That seems totally unreasonable. Let the guy rest for crying out loud.

I spend all day preaching to my kids the importance of precise, direct language, and then these people undo all of the work I've done in three and a half minutes. It's just bothersome, you know?

Later gators.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

amateurish, unimpressive poetry

This is going to be a hectic week. I make no promises about my diligence as a blogger. I will do my best.

Today, my best consists of 2 poems I wrote in college. The last English class I had to take in college was Senior Portfolio, in which we had to choose half a dozen or so things we'd written in our high school careers for a portfolio. Most of that (i.e. "'I really don't care about the white audiences': Satirization of Western Culture in Thomas King's Green Grass, Running Water") would not interest you. But I put 2 poems in there that I wrote in Creative Writing: Poetry, and they might be good for a laugh. Plus I don't have to do much thinking. So enjoy.

"For Elton John and My Mom"

Dad says a dank, dark garage is no place to spend a Friday night.
He hates Dylan and the Stones. And me.
He doesn't want to hear what we have to say.
There is so much pain in the F sharp minor chord.

He hates Dylan and the Stones. And me.
If he lays one more finger on her, so help me...for the thousandth time.
There is so much pain in the F sharp minor chord.
Is there any music in him at all?

If he lays one more finger on her, so help me...for the thousandth time.
She cries tears of bitterness and fear in the background.
Is there any music in him at all?
Brother is in a basement somewhere high, laughing at his life.

She cries tears of bitterness and fear in the background.
Sister buys a train ticket for somewhere. Anywhere. Freedom.
Brother is in a basement somewhere high, laughing at his life.
Meanwhile, I play "Tiny Dancer" in the garage till morning.

Sister buys a train ticket for somewhere. Anywhere. Freedom.
I remember being six and eating ice cream, watching the ducks swim in Mill Pond.
Meanwhile, I play "Tiny Dancer" in the garage till morning.
The pain, the hate, the rage--what a great song it would make.

I remember being six and eating ice cream, watching the ducks swim in Mill Pond.
He doesn't want to hear what we have to say.
The pain, the hate, the rage--what a great song it would make.
Dad says a dank, dark garage is no place to spend a Friday night.

"The Pen"

Here I sit,
with Morgo and Fauker and Zitty and Tom,
just a hundred feet from crafty pitchers and graceful middle-infielders,
towering fly balls and suicide squeezes,
in the bullpen.

The bullpen smells like a guy who hasn't washed his uniform in four days
chewing a thousand pieces of bubblegum.
The bullpen sounds like chatter and dirty jokes.
Hum, Kid. Ring the bell. You'll do it.
Same stuff
The bullpen tastes like day-old sunflower seeds,
salty and dry.
Occasionally a splinter of the shell gets stuck in your throat.

The bullpen feels like it looks--
a bunch of tired ballplayers with three-day beards
swimming through the humidity,
anxious when Coach points a bony finger their way.
Get up, Lefty, he'll say.
And Lefty will hop the chain link fence,
deliver a few pitches to the bullpen catcher--
Pop. Pop. POP!
Then he'll jog to the mound to the cheers of a dozen parents
who don't know his name.

And Morgo and Fauker and Zitty and Tom
will sit.
With me.
In the bullpen.

Later gators.

Friday, May 23, 2008

teacher man mailbag 3

I was reading Bill Simmons recently, and someone pointed out to him that the phrase "mailing it in" is sort of outdated. This person's argument was that, in light of recent technological developments, actually mailing something turns out to be significantly more work than most other methods of communication. You've got to write it out, then you've got to find an envelope and a stamp. Eventually, you need to find a post office or a mailbox. "Mailing it in" is a pain in the ass. So why is it a metaphor for taking the easy way out? Simmons's suggestion was that we replace "mailing it in" with "texting it in."

I have no other ideas, so today I'm doing a mailbag. Today, I'm texting it in.

"Is an exclamation point ever good? And now I have the Reading Rainbow song in my head. Thank you very much." (claire, "teacher man dictionary")
1) It's not exactly good or bad. It's more like a "woah" or a "huh?" Like the other day when a kid wrote that sheep were the "Paris Hiltons of farm animals." It's a statement that makes you take pause, but who am I to argue? 2) Some interesting LaVar Burton trivia: His first name is actually Levardis. He was born in West Germany. He played Martin Luther King, Jr. in Ali. He has participated in the World Poker Tour. He was the strongest link in the Star Trek episode of The Weakest Link. The Oakland Athletics let him play with them during spring training while he was doing the Reading Rainbow episode Dinosaur Bob and His Adventures with the Family Lazardo. Not many other places on the web that you can learn that kind of information.

"This one is my favorite: A BIRTHDAY CARD found in San Francisco, CA: 'Happy 30th kiddo. It gets better and better! Then it gets worse. Dad.' PS - Kelly - I heart Swarley, too!! The look at Robin was awesome. But, I don't really like Stella, so I hope she's not the mother!?!?!" (stacy, "found")
First of all, I don't condone the excessive use of punctuation here, even if you are the kind of doctor that doesn't help people. Second, I thought that my newly-thirty friends would enjoy that one. Third, I haven't seen last week's HIMYM yet, so I can't comment, but I'm sure that Stella's not the mother, and the entire narrative device is starting to irritate me.

STOP: I'm sorry because I'm pausing in the middle of an entry to share what just happened in the computer lab, but this is the sort of thing that needs to be shared. I'm sitting at a computer typing my blog entry. Mr. Phillips's class is in here, ostensibly to do work. Some kid--Carl perhaps--starts scooting around the room in his chair (the kind with wheels). He's leaning back in the goofy way that 2nd-graders often do, and all of a sudden, when everything is silent, he just falls out of his chair onto the ground. Then he gets up, drags his chair back to his computer, sits down, and starts telling the kid next to him how it happened. And this kind of thing happens every single day.

Anyway, the "how I met your mother" element of How I Met Your Mother is wearing thin. I mean, those kids are still wearing the same clothes! Are we to assume that this is one long story that Danny Tanner has been telling them? It's also always been kind of troubling to me the kinds of stories he shares with his kids--that show gets pretty racy at times. Do you think there's going to be a spin-off called How My Dad Scarred Me For Life With Stories Of His Debauched Bachelorhood? Anyway, it's nitpicky stuff because I still love the show, but I just thought I'd throw it out there.

"ps: Check out" (sfoofie, "found")
I do not know who sfoofie is, but she's right. This web site is hilarious. My favorite part so far is the collection of notes people have written about co-workers/etc. stealing their Hot Pockets. An example: "To whom stole the hotpockets! They did not belong to you! By you consuming said hotpockets, you have committed a theft! This shall not be tolerated!"

"I always make my brothers mad by participating in the draft and then proceeding to do absolutely nothing for the rest of the season until one of them calls me mad b/c apparently they offered me some 'trade' weeks previously." (the ben show, "don't forget: i suck at fantasy baseball")
2 things here. 1) You're wrong. Your brothers aren't mad at you because you lose interest in the league. They are mad at you because you have a condescending attitude toward fantasy baseball. Do you know how I know? You put quotation marks around "trade." They offered me some "trade." What the hell is that? A trade is a legitimate part of fantasy baseball. Just because I suck at it doesn't mean I don't respect the sanctity of the game. I'm not sure that you do. 2) I'm excerpting Kelly's blog because I laughed out loud at her Thursday entry this week--it's a conversation between her and her husband Ryan. We begin with Kelly stealing Ryan's laptop while he's doing work:

KELLY: (mumbling) Do you mind if I just see who won?
RYAN: (interrupting) Well, Hillary took Kentucky, but I think Obama's gonna crush her in Oregon.
KELLY: (blushing) Oh...I meant on Dancing With The Stars.

"I think dressing as Dwight was the best one... that, and when he put Dwight's desk in the bathroom, and then Dwight answered the phone." (sara, "top 10 jim halpert pranks")
Okay, so I made a mistake. Virtually every comment I received regarding yesterday's post said that Jim dressing up as Dwight was the best. Then yesterday (in Advanced Comp.!), we watched "Product Recall," and you know what? You're right. I goofed. It's the best. My mistake. Won't happen again.

Enjoy your long weekend, gators.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

top 10 jim halpert pranks

My long lost buddy Claire posed 2 questions in her comments yesterday. The first, I can answer quickly: I have no Orioles on my fantasy baseball team. Why would I? The second is trickier. While she was specifically asking about Jim Halpert's most recent prank on Dwight Schrute on NBC's The Office, the essence of her question was this: What is the best prank Jim ever played on Dwight? Wow. Well, I haven't done a top 10 list in a while, so this seems like a good opportunity. Here goes nothing. To begin, those that didn't quite make the cut:

HONORABLE MENTION: Jim tells Dwight that the Ben Franklin impersonator is "the real Ben Franklin"; Jim convinces Dwight that he has a "tell" at Casino Night; Jim convinces Dwight to explain to the Benihana's waitress how to "butcher a goose"; Jim stares at Dwight's forehead; Jim and Pam convince Dwight that he has "pretendinitis"; Jim submits Dwight's resume to, Craigslist, and Google; Jim replaces Dwight's pens and pencils with crayons; Jim plants a bloody glove in Dwight's drawer; Jim convinces Dwight to deliver a Mussolini-like speech when he receives Salesman of the Year; Jim moves Dwight's desk into the men's room; Jim convinces Dwight that he (Jim) is telekinetic; Jim convinces Dwight that he (Jim) is a vampire; Jim trains Dwight to want an Altoid whenever he (Jim) starts his computer

And the final Honorable Mention choice goes to Jim forwarding Dwight's phone to his own--sorry, Claire, but there's just no way it cracks the top 10. But here are those that do--the Top 10 Jim Halpert Pranks of All-Time:

10. Jim gives Dwight Gaydar.
THE EPISODE: "Gay Witch Hunt" (Season 3)
THE PRANK: Michael inadvertently "outs" Oscar, so Michael and Dwight start wondering who else in the office might be gay. (Michael theorizes that Angela and Oscar might be having a gay affair--Jan says that's not possible--Michael says anything is possible.) Dwight calls Jim (in Stamford) because Jim once told him you could get Gaydar at Sharper Image. He claims that it's sold out, but in the final scene of the episode, Dwight gets the gadget in the mail from Jim. We can assume it's a metal detector since it goes off when it passes by Oscar's belt and, shortly thereafter, when it passes by Dwight's belt. Uh-oh.
WHY IT MAKES THE LIST: The great thing about this is that it falls right into Jim's lap and he knows exactly what to do with it. The effort he took in creating the Gaydar is impressive. Dwight's reaction when he sets it off is priceless.
MEMORABLE LINE: "Do some research. Find out if there's a way to tell just by looking at them." (Michael)

9. Jim convinces Dwight it's Friday.
THE EPISODE: "Performance Review" (Season 2)
THE PRANK: On some random Thursday, Dwight is, for whatever reason, convinced that it's Friday. So Jim goes with it. Dwight can't figure out why he went out drinking with his laser tag friends on a Thursday night, and he's furious that he missed The Apprentice.
WHY IT MAKES THE LIST: In large part because of the final scene when Dwight runs into the office, his shirt untucked and his hair mussed, finally realizing that it's a work day.
MEMORABLE LINE: "It's Thursday, but Dwight thinks it's Friday. So that's what I'm going to be doing this afternoon." (Jim)

8. Jim puts Dwight's stapler in Jell-O.
THE EPISODE: "The Pilot" (Season 1)
THE PRANK: Jim puts Dwight's stapler in Jell-O. That's about it. We're led to believe it's happened several times before.
WHY IT MAKES THE LIST: Because it's a classic. It's repeated with Andy when Jim goes to Stamford, but when you think of Jim and Dwight, you think of the stapler in Jell-O.
MEMORABLE LINE: "Dwight, I'm sorry because I've always been your biggest flan." (Jim)

7. Jim fills Dwight's handset with nickels.
THE EPISODE: "Conflict Resolution" (Season 2)
THE PRANK: When Michael is trying to resolve years' worth of conflicts between Jim and Dwight, Jim explains that he would add a couple of nickels to Dwight's handset every day until he got used to the weight, at which point he removed all of the nickels and, we assume, Dwight clocked himself with the new, seemingly-light receiver.
WHY IT MAKES THE LIST: While we don't actually see it happen, the image of Dwight taking a telephone receiver to the side of the head is very funny. And I think everyone now wants to try it and see if it would work. I do anyway.
MEMORABLE LINE: "That is not true. Redact it. Redact it!" (Dwight)

6. Jim (with help from Pam) sends Dwight classified letters from the CIA.
THE EPISODE: "A Benihana Christmas" (Season 3)
THE PRANK: It starts with Pam sending Dwight the letters, then she hands it off to Jim, who notifies Dwight that the CIA needs him at their Langley headquarters for training and an ice cream social with the other agents. Dwight waits for the helicopter on the roof until he gets a text message telling him to abort because the mission has been compromised.
WHY IT MAKES THE LIST: Excellent commitment to the prank from both Jim and Pam. Outstanding example of teamwork. And the finishing touch--convincing Dwight to "destroy" his phone by throwing it off the building--is spectacular.
MEMORABLE LINE: "Last year my boss, Michael Scott, took a day off because he said he had pneumonia, but really he was leaving early to go to magic camp." (Jim reading Dwight's secrets)

5. Jim does nothing with Dwight's wallet.
THE EPISODE: "Office Olympics" (Season 2)
THE PRANK: Jim finds Dwight's wallet in the parking lot and brings it to Pam because he can't decide what to do with it. After going through a variety of possibilities, they decide to return it to him untouched. Dwight, however, is suspicious and immediately cancels all of his credit cards.
WHY IT MAKES THE LIST: The brilliant simplicity. Like the classic Seinfeld episode in which Jerry's girlfriend just tells him that she put "something" of his in the toilet, Jim lets Dwight's imagination do the work for him.
MEMORABLE LINE: "I don't know. I don't know. I don't know what the best play is. Do we tear everything up, or do we buy a horse on the Internet? I mean, I don't know what to do." (Jim)

4. Jim dresses as Dwight.
THE EPISODE: "Product Recall" (Season 3)
THE PRANK: Jim sees a pair of glasses like the ones Dwight wears at the drugstore for $4. He buys a short-sleeved shirt and tie that look like something Dwight would wear for $7, and he wears them to work. "Bears. Beets. Battlestar Galactica."
WHY IT MAKES THE LIST: Maybe the best laugh-out-loud prank of all-time.
MEMORABLE LINE: "Identity theft is not a joke, Jim! Millions of families suffer every year!" (Dwight)

3. Jim sends faxes from Future Dwight.
THE EPISODE: "Branch Closing" (Season 3)
THE PRANK: When Jim heads to Stamford, he steals some of Dwight's stationery and sends Dwight faxes. From himself. From the future.
WHY IT MAKES THE LIST: Because Dwight sprints across the room and knocks Stanley's coffee cup out of his hand before he can drink it. That was awesome.
MEMORABLE LINE: "Dwight: At 8 AM today, someone poisons the coffee. Do NOT drink the coffee. More instructions will follow. Cordially, Future Dwight." (Jim's fax to Dwight)

2. Jim forms an alliance with Dwight.
THE EPISODE: "The Alliance" (Season 1)
THE PRANK: Talk of downsizing makes Dwight nervous, so he approaches Jim to form an alliance. Jim agrees. In the prank's climax, Jim and Pam convince Dwight to hide in a box in the warehouse in hopes of overhearing a secret conversation.
WHY IT MAKES THE LIST: The prank concludes when Dwight emerges from the box as Roy watches, confused. Excellent pay-off.
MEMORABLE LINE: "Can I trust Jim? I don't know. Do I have a choice? No. I think, I don't. Will I trust Jim? Yes. Should I trust Jim? You tell me." (Dwight)

1. Jim puts Dwight's stuff in the vending machine.
THE EPISODE: "Booze Cruise" (Season 2)
THE PRANK: Jim is friendly with the vending machine guy, so when he comes to stock the machine, Jim convinces him to put some of Dwight's stuff--a pencil cup, a stapler, Dwight's wallet, etc.--in place of the typical fare.
WHY IT MAKES THE LIST: It makes the list because it's awesome, but it's #1 because it concludes with Jim and Pam handing him a bag of nickels with which to buy back his stuff. It keeps the prank from being mean-spirited without taking any of the edge off. Brilliant.
MEMORABLE LINE: "What do I want, what do I want? Ooh. Pencil cup." (Pam)

So there you have it. Discussion?

Later gators.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

don't forget: i suck at fantasy baseball

Most fantasy baseball experts agree that you can't really tell what you've got as a fantasy baseball owner until 6 weeks into the season. Well, we are now just over 6 weeks into the season, and I still don't know what I've got because I don't know anything about fantasy baseball. However, I thought it would be a good time to give you a run-down on my team and my season so far. So without further ado, a look at the papelboners:

TEAM NAME: the papelboners
It was a lucky break that I was able to snag Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon in the 7th round because I'd had this team name in mind for quite some time. As an added plus, JP's got 13 saves and a 2.45 ERA on the season. I'd have taken him anyway.

THE LEAGUE: Get Off the Shed!!!
An obvious reference to the Will Ferrel SNL sketch in which he seems to be a mild-mannered suburbanite grilling hot dogs for a neighborhood barbecue, then flips out because his kids keep climbing on the shed. Good times.

There are 8 teams composed of college buddies--mostly baseball players. For one day, I was in first (because I have a bunch of Red Sox and they played before anyone else). It was the greatest day of my life. I will not get higher than 5th.

BEST PLAYER: Kevin Youkilis, Boston Red Sox
Ironically, the guy who's performed the best for me is one that I didn't even draft--I picked him up off the waiver wire a week into the season. Regardless, he's hitting .328 with 9 HR's and 34 RBI's. That's solid.

WORST PLAYER: Nick Swisher, Chicago White Sox
He may get better, but right now he's hitting .208. Doesn't matter--I picked him up in a trade with Luke Hagel and I mostly just wanted Cliff Lee, the stud pitcher for Cleveland that nobody can hit.

BEST DRAFT PICK: Magglio Ordonez, Detroit Tigers
This isn't the same as my best player, not only because I didn't draft Youkilis, but because we're talking about value for the round in which he was drafted. For example, my top pick should be really good (we'll talk about that in a minute), but I got Ordonez in the 6th round--that means over 40 players had already been drafted--and he's hitting .312 with 7 HR's and 24 RBI's. Second place goes to my 10th-round pick, Yankees closer Mariano Rivera.

WORST DRAFT PICK: Jose Reyes, New York Mets
My #1 pick--the 2nd pick overall--is hitting .270. He has a lot of stolen bases--12--but he's average in everything else. He's not horrible, but I could have had anyone except A-Rod, and there are a lot of players playing much better than JR.

BEST MESSAGE BOARD COMMENT INVOLVING ME: "Baker is the gift that keeps on giving," Chuck Saponara
My buddy Chuck said this because I kept dropping guys that, evidently, I should have kept. How am I supposed to know? I don't even watch baseball.

PREDICTIONS FOR THE REST OF THE SEASON: 1) I'll finish second-to-last. 2) I will make a trade that will make everyone in my league furious because they think I'm throwing the season when I'm really just underinformed. 3) I'll forget that I have a team in that league around mid-August. 4) Next year, I'll do all of these things again. (Maybe I'll finish in dead last, though.)

So there you have it. I love fantasy baseball.

Later gators.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008


It has been well-documented in this very blog that students have a remarkable capacity to act like jackasses, and there is perhaps no place where this is more apparent than the library. For reasons that remain unclear to me, students are allowed to sign in to the library during study halls, regardless of whether they actually need to be in the library. As a result, a lot of loud, obnoxious kids gather at the center tables every hour to see how much they can talk without getting in serious trouble. It's a very academic environment. In an effort to combat the noise (and general idiocy), the librarians have put together a collection of "Selections for the Terminally Bored" on one of the shelves. The other day, I finished grading papers while my Advanced Comp. kids were in the library computer lab, so I strolled over to check it out, thinking I'd spend the last 15 minutes of class reading The Far Side or looking for Waldo. But I found something else.

Even though I've been warned not to, I judged this coffee table-type book by its cover, making note of the bright colors and quotes, such as "A great book" (David Letterman) and "It will break your heart" (David Sedaris). The book was called Found. I don't want to overexaggerate here, but I think it's the most brilliant thing I've ever held in my hands. Here's the story:

The author (editor?), Davy Rothbart, tells a story about one night when he was visiting a friend. He left to find a note under his windshield wiper that read, "Mario, I f***ing hate you. You said you had to work then whys your car HERE at HER place?? You're a f***ing LIAR. I hate you I f***ing hate you. Amber. PS Page me later." Point of clarification: Davy is not Mario. Amber had made a mistake. But it got Davy to thinking about all of the random notes/letters/pictures/etc. that you come across on the street/left on computer lab printers/in school hallways/etc. So he decided to collect them and put them into a book. Sounds simple enough, right? Well, the book that we have in our library is the second collection, based mostly on things that avid readers of his magazine (here's the web site) sent in. Again, there's basically no context for any of this stuff, but I think that adds to the allure. Here are some examples (disregard grammatical/spelling/etc. errors--everything here is word for word, letter for letter):

A WILL found in Chicago, IL: "I, Al Burian, being of reasonably sound mind and body, do hereby deliver my last will and testament, on this morning of November 3, 2001. Should I die under circumstances other than the total collapse of civilization, i.e., if it's at all possible to arrange a funeral, I would like it to happen in the following manner: I'd prefer to be cremated, then have my remains laid into the earth in a ceremony where 'Another one bites the dust' by Queen plays over a public address system. That should put people in a jovial mood and hopefully a good party will follow. Signed, Al Burian."

A NOTE found in Las Cruces, NM: "Love you Dad. Get job. Just joking."

A FATHER'S DAY CARD found in Delton, WI: "Happy Fathers day to you, even though you told me I couldn't cook and the pie I made sucked."

A NOTE found in Ann Arbor, MI: "Here is a Free Ticket to the Thursday, Jan 22nd performance of EMU's gritty drama, In the Blood. We hope you can attend and enjoy the show! Sincerely, Billy, Angela, Dave, Misty, and Chris...and Jesus."

A LETTER found in Gainesville, FL: "Dear Mrs. Dionne, I am so, so sorry about your husband. I want you to know that it was not my fault. I left Dragon's Tongue. Nick Trenkle and Dom Walbridge did most of what was done. Andy is a great photographer. I saw you at the trial, and I wanted so terribly much to say something to you. To tell you how sorry I was. How sorry I am. I am so, so sorry. Sincerely, Mike Mcafee."

A NOTE found on the door of a store in Sebago, ME: "Today is my grandmothers 100 birthday AND There is a raccoon in my bathroom. Will open at 3 p.m. Thanks."

A LETTER found in Chicago, IL: "Mike, I have lost the will to write, act, compose, create. Have a nice day. Mitch."

A TO-DO LIST found in Los Angeles, CA: "1) Pray to God for guidance. 2) Find local cat for blood sacrifice...3) Kick dog for recent barking...7) Untie the neighbors. 8) Talk it over with them...9) Thaw out chicken in freezer. 10) Call Manny for recipe--chicken pot pie??"

A BIRTHDAY CARD found in San Francisco, CA: "Happy 30th kiddo. It gets better and better! Then it gets worse. Dad."

A NOTE found beneath the covers of a motel bed in Latham, NY: "If this is still here, they didn't make the bed after I slept in it. Yuck."

A HOMEWORK ASSIGNMENT found in Sacramento, CA (NOTE: We don't know the questions--only the answers): "1) I would name my twins Mickey and Miney. 2) Hell no, I mean if your gonna control the U.S. armed forces then you have to be born and raised here in the U.S. 3) The book would be about the ghettos of the world and the title would be 'The ghettos of the world.' 4) Set my arms on fire using rubbing alcohol or spitting flames using rubbing alcohol. 5) Nothing at all. 6) I love you God, Jesus saved me."

That's just the tip of the iceberg. Some of it's funny (a collection of fan mail to Adam Sandler), some of it's sad (a couple of suicide notes), and some of it's terrifying ("There are two children buried under a home located in Long Beach!"). But it's gripping from beginning to end. I'm asking for the first one for the next holiday for which it's acceptable for me to ask for gifts. Possibly Memorial Day.

Later gators.

Friday, May 16, 2008

joe mooney (part 5)


I don’t know if Joe Mooney chose me to replace his dead twin brother because we shared a name or if there was some other reason. We were roughly the same age. I had brothers, one of whom was around pretty often. I kept enough of a distance from my neighbor that reality was never going to get in the way of his fantasy. There were plenty of possible reasons for it, but that’s definitely what happened.

Joe Mooney kept the journal that Josh and I found in that desk drawer meticulously. He began writing in the fall of 1989, and he wrote a one-page entry--no more, no less--every Saturday until the night before he broke into my house. The book was thick, made thicker with the dozens of newspaper articles he had neatly clipped, folded, and inserted between pages here and there. The clipping between March 30th and April 6th of 1991 was an obituary:

Paul Mooney, 24, of Mayville, IL, died in his home on Sunday, March 31, 1991. He was preceded in death by his father, Joseph. He is survived by his mother, Paula; his brother, Joseph, Jr.; and his wife, Carrie (Millis). There will be a visitation from 5 to 8 p.m. on Thursday, April 4, at the Lockwood Funeral Home and Crematory in Mayville. There will be no funeral services.

His April 6th entry makes no mention of his brother. But the following week, this is what he wrote:

APRIL 13TH, 1991
I miss Paul. He hasn’t visited in over a week. I know he’s not busy--I saw him sitting on the porch drinking a beer not two hours ago. I even bought a case of Sierra Nevada for him when he comes over. I know it’s his favorite. I think he’s still mad at me for telling him to leave Carrie. I don’t care. He is too good for her. She’s mean to him. And she keeps him away all the time. Anyway, I hope he forgives me soon. Maybe I should just go over there and apologize. He would forgive me and we could watch a ballgame or something. Maybe we could walk down to Cobb’s and shoot pool. Anything. I just miss my brother…

Over the next eight years, every entry that mentions Paul is a reference to me. There is a newspaper picture of me at a church function and a clipping of an article in which I was mentioned because I worked on Mary Derringer’s staff when she ran for mayor. My name is neatly highlighted in yellow.

As I said, Joe Mooney's last entry is dated the night before he broke into my house to prepare a ham, and it makes no mention of me or his plan. Maybe that's not the kind of thing you plan. I don't know. And I couldn't tell you where he is right now. A good guess might be Florida. Possibly South America. I always imagine places with pineapples.

I REMEMBER THE SPRING OF 1991. It wasn’t ice cold, and it wasn’t even snow cold. In fact, it was unseasonably warm. I remember that I spent a lot of nights sitting on my porch listening to baseball that spring. I was almost a year out of college, proud of myself for landing a job with a salary that afforded me the opportunity to own my own home when most of my classmates were still living in their parents’ basements. I was alone and I was happy. Joe Mooney was just alone.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

joe mooney (part 4)

THE FRONT OF THE POSTCARD FEATURED THE SUN SETTING ON A GENERIC CITY SKYLINE. The back said, “Paul, I’ve missed you. Check the top left desk drawer. Key’s in the planter. Joe.”

I stared at those words for three days, curious and scared. The police had brought Joe Mooney in that Easter night two months earlier, but they released him when I chose not to press charges. Then he ran away.

I approached my neighbors more in the two weeks that followed than I had in the first four years I’d lived on Beckman Avenue combined. Someone had to know something about Joe Mooney, I thought, but it seemed that I was wrong. All I got was a string of useless adjectives: quiet, nice, polite, etc. I decided that I needed to check out Joe Mooney’s top left desk drawer, and if I was going to do that, I needed daylight and company, so Josh came over on Saturday morning and we headed for the blue A-frame down the street.

The key was poorly hidden in a green planter on the front porch. We stepped inside half-expecting to find a bloody altar in the living room, or at least a strange odor wafting up from the basement, but at first glance, there was nothing worth noting. It wouldn’t have been impossible for one to imagine that Joe Mooney had simply stepped out for the morning, perhaps to get breakfast at Al’s. It wouldn’t have been impossible to imagine that Joe Mooney would be sitting there in his bathrobe drinking a cup of coffee, a thought that made me uneasy for a moment.

“Pineapple mirror,” Josh said.


“The mirror. It’s a big pineapple.”

“Right. Let’s just find the desk.”

We checked out the living room, the kitchen, the dining room, and the den. Unremarkable. The place was mildly cluttered, but certainly not dirty. No bizarre hobbies or interests were discernible from the cursory glance we gave to his rooms. Quiet, nice, polite, I thought. Sounds about right.

The first four rooms were without desks, but our fifth stop was what appeared to be Joe Mooney’s bedroom, and in the far right corner there sat a cheap-looking desk--the kind you buy at Target and assemble yourself. It was bare except for a few old National Geographics stacked neatly in one corner. It featured a thin middle drawer and two bigger drawers on either side. I wanted a second to prepare myself, but before I could take my obligatory deep breath, Josh had pulled out Joe Mooney’s top left desk drawer.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

joe mooney (part 3)

I HAD TO PARK MY COROLLA ON MY FRONT LAWN when we returned home that night because my brothers’ cars were in the driveway, and my brothers were heading out. I glanced at Joe Mooney’s house as I climbed out of the driver’s side door. It was dark.

“Call me Tuesday if it warms up,” Josh said as he started his truck. Josh and I were the brothers that stayed in Sheffield, and we played golf on Tuesday nights all summer. We were hoping to get out that week, but it was ice cold out that Easter, and Josh was skeptical of the weathermen who told him that temperatures would reach the low 50’s in a scant 48 hours. I told him I’d call him and he backed out, leaving me with the house to myself for the first time in three days.

I walked to the mailbox, knowing that it would be empty, buying time and giving myself an opportunity to continue to scope out the house that I was now sure belonged to Joe Mooney. I stood on the sidewalk for maybe a minute, my hands drawn back into my coat sleeves, my breath foggy in the cold, before I decided that it was Easter, and what the hell? I walked to his front door and knocked. No answer. I knocked again. No answer. I rang the bell and waited for another minute before deciding that I had done my neighborly duty. Ninety seconds later, I opened my own front door, entirely unprepared for a tuxedoed Joe Mooney to tell me that the ham was “almost ready.”

“I ALMOST GAVE UP ON YOU,” Joe Mooney said as he slipped a plaid oven mitt onto his chubby paw.

Every light in my house was off, but there were four candles ablaze on the dining room table. The candles didn’t look familiar, but the white tablecloth was one I kept in the linen closet for special occasions. The table was set with two plates, two wine glasses, two sets of my good silverware, and two burgundy cloth napkins. A large bowl of salad--the kind that comes in a bag--sat to one side, and another smaller bowl with half a dozen baked potatoes sat to the other. A bottle of Charles Shaw wine--“Two Buck Chuck” we used to call it--had been opened and looked about half-empty. Joe Mooney’s tuxedo--a standard black and white with a cumberbund rather than a vest--looked a little snug.

“Remember this?” he asked.

“Remember what?”

“The tux. I noticed you noticing it. It’s the one I wore to your wedding.”

“Joe, what’s going on?” He hadn’t introduced himself, but by this time there could be no doubt that it was indeed Joe Mooney standing in my kitchen.

“I brought wine,” he said. “Pour yourself a glass.”



“What’s going on?”

Joe Mooney paused for a moment as he pulled a glazed Virginia ham garnished with pineapples out of my oven.

“Is something going on?” he said.

“How did you get into my house?”

“I used your spare key.”

“What spare key?”

“The one you gave me in case of an emergency." I'm sure that I looked puzzled. Joe Mooney took note. "Oh, I know this isn’t an emergency, but I thought it would be a nice surprise,” he explained.

“I’ve never given you a spare key to my house.”

Joe laughed nervously, awkwardly. “Who’s the crazy one now?” he said. “You gave me that key years ago.”

“Joe, I’ve never spoken to you before today. I wasn’t even sure who you were when you called me this morning.”

Joe Mooney looked hurt, like a child whose father has just told him he’s too tired to play ball. He reached for a knife, which made me nervous, but as he began to carve the ham, he smiled.

“I can never tell when you’re being serious, Paul. You had me going there for a minute.”

“Joe, I’d like you to go.”

“I hope those potatoes aren’t overcooked,” he said. “You said you’d be home around seven.”

“Joe,” I said more harshly than before.

“But I don’t think you can overcook potatoes. I’m pretty sure I read that somewhere.”

“Joe!” I shouted.

“Don’t yell at me!” he shouted back. I was still standing in the hallway in my winter coat, and I took a small step toward the front door. Joe Mooney’s bottom lip trembled, and he closed his eyes tightly as he spoke. “First, I invite you over for lunch and you back out at the last minute. Then you invite me over for dinner, and I make this beautiful meal, and you don’t even want to enjoy it. Well, you know what Paul? I think you’re being an asshole.”

He was probably right, at least partly. I was being a little bit of an asshole--he clearly needed something, and I was trying to blow him off--but I was nervous, possibly terrified.

“Joe,” I said. “I appreciate what you’ve done here, I really do. But this isn’t the best time for me. Would it be possible for me to take a rain check?”

I didn’t believe that Joe Mooney was a violent man, but it was a relief to see him set the carving knife down on the counter anyway. He stepped back and stared blankly at his hands as he wiped them with a dishtowel. He chuckled in a way that didn’t make me feel better.

“Sure,” he said. “Rain check. You got it.” Then Joe Mooney set down the dishtowel and walked toward me. He stopped, and without making eye contact, he hugged me. It was an awkward hug, and I did not reciprocate. Then he walked to the door, opened it, and turned to face me. He stood for a moment, opened his mouth as though he were going to say something important, then smiled and shook his head. “See you, Paul.”

I locked the door as soon as it was shut, then I sat in the dark and watched Joe Mooney through my front window for ten minutes. Clad only in his tuxedo, he stood in my front yard staring into the ice cold night sky. Finally, I called the police.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

joe mooney (part 2)

MY BROTHERS WERE IN TOWN OVER EASTER WEEKEND OF 1997, and we had spent Saturday night howling at the moon. I was sleeping hard, my head at the foot of the bed and my feet up top, when Josh flipped on the light in my bedroom at 5 a.m.

“Phone,” he said. I strained to lift my head, my eyes still closed tightly.


“Phone. Some guy. Mooney? Moody? I don’t know.”

He dropped the phone on the pillow next to my head and went back to his place on the couch I’d taken from our grandparents’ house after our grandma had died the previous fall.

“Yeah? Hello?” I said.

“Hey, Paul. It’s Joe.”

“I’m sorry?”

“Joe Mooney. From down the street.”

“Oh sure,” I said, but I had no idea who I was speaking to. “What can I do for you Joe?”

“Happy Easter!”

“Thank you.”

“I’m thinking of throwing something together for lunch. You busy?”


“Of course today!” he said loudly, reminding me of the four--possibly seven--shots of Jagermeister I had downed the night before.

“I can’t today. My brothers are in town. We’re going to see my mom.”

“Mom, huh? Where’s she at again?”

“Elderhaven. Over in Cranston.”

“Right, right,” he said. He paused for a couple of long seconds. “Well, I’m afraid I won’t be able to make it today. Like I said, I’ve got people coming over. Tell her I said hi.”

“Yeah, okay,” I said, still trying to make sense of these last couple of sentences, but he hung up before the words came out.

“RUTH HENDERSON IS A WHORE AND THAT’S ALL I’VE GOT TO SAY,” said my mother when Josh, Scott, David, and I were settled into her cramped apartment.

“Mom, you can’t say that,” said Scott.

“You don’t believe me?”

“That’s not the point. It’s just that you can’t go around calling Mrs. Henderson a whore.”

Miss Henderson!” my mother said. “It’s miss, and don’t you forget it. She doesn’t want anyone thinking she’s off the market. And don’t you tell me what is and is not the point. I’ll tell you what the point is. The point is that Ruth Henderson is a damn whore. David, do you remember that little tart you brought home the summer after you graduated?”


“Well, even she would have been embarrassed to see the way Ruth Henderson flounces and struts around this place.”

My mother had been at Elderhaven for about six months, and she wasn’t happy. The people were nice, but my mother was a caretaker--the one who made pancakes for breakfast when your friends spent the night or woke up at dawn to make sure the shirts that you and your brothers wanted to wear were properly ironed. What she didn’t like about Elderhaven was that she was now the one being taken care of.

Over the next few hours, we talked, played cards, and went for a walk, but I couldn’t shake the thought of Joe Mooney’s early morning phone call. I still didn’t know which neighbor I had spoken to, but I had a picture in my head of the overweight guy in the blue A-frame because he was single and reclusive, and I figured that those things had to be true of a guy to whom it wouldn't occur that most people would already have plans for Easter. I wondered if anyone would accept his invitation. Maybe everyone would. How did I know? Maybe Joe Mooney was a celebrity on Beckman Avenue, and I just didn’t know it. He seemed nice enough.

Monday, May 12, 2008

joe mooney (part 1)

THERE IS A KIND OF COLD THAT EXISTS IN THE MIDWEST. I don’t believe that it exists elsewhere. That’s not to say it doesn’t get cold elsewhere--I know that it does. But I am from Wisconsin, and if you are also from Wisconsin, then you will know precisely what I am talking about. The rest of you have probably visited Door County, or you’ve been to a party in Madison, or you have a cousin in Fond du Lac, so you won’t know it precisely, but you’ll be able to imagine it.

First, you stand in your living room and you can see the cold. It makes everything look clearer, like the drive home from the eye doctor on the day you got contact lenses. But it’s a little scary. It presses its nose against the bay window and watches you wrap your scarf around your neck with mittened hands. As you step outside, it finds any uncovered skin. It crawls through the space between your mitten and your coat sleeve. It clings to the hairs in your nose when you breathe it in. It bites your ear. I do not associate this kind of cold with snow, but rather with ice. Snow cold is softer. Ice cold is harsh. Snow cold pushes you around. Ice cold slaps you in the face. And while this kind of cold is most prevalent during the winter months, it sometimes continues on into March, and occasionally into April. Sometimes this kind of cold sticks around for Easter, and on Easters when the ice cold comes to visit, I think of Joe Mooney.

Joe Mooney was a fat man who didn’t seem to mind, and he lived three doors down from me in a blue A-frame. I was in his house only once, but the house itself was pleasant enough. There were empty beer bottles here and there--he was a bachelor after all--but it was mostly well-kept. The only thing that really stood out to me was the pineapples. They were all over the wallpaper, and I think there were pineapple-shaped soaps in the bathroom. On the kitchen counter was a pineapple cookie jar filled with Double Stuf Oreos. Other than the pineapples, Joe Mooney’s house was unremarkable.

Unremarkable. The word is a fitting descriptor not only of Joe Mooney’s house but of the man himself. He was the kind of neighbor that is easy to ignore, a quality I appreciated. I moved into my brick ranch on Beckman Avenue in the spring of 1993. Four years later, I was deeply familiar with the habits and eccentricities of my neighbors, but the same could hardly be said of my acquaintances with the people themselves. I knew that the fellow in 444 mowed his lawn at 7 a.m. every Sunday, but I couldn’t have told you his name. I knew that the kids across the street were named Emma and Jason--as in, “Jason, leave Emma alone!”--but for all I knew, they could have been anywhere from five to fourteen. I knew that Elaine, the single mother on the corner, had a butterfly tattoo on her lower back, but to this day I couldn’t tell you why she’s single. I was an observer on Beckman Avenue, and I preferred it that way--still do. I am a loner by nature and by choice. I am active in my church, friendly with my co-workers, and close with all three of my brothers, but on my own time, I am happiest frying a steak and washing it down with a Sierra Nevada while I sit on the porch listening to the Brewers. I suppose that I too am unremarkable.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

stay tuned

I know I didn't write anything yesterday. I began writing another short short story, but it wouldn't stay that way, and the next thing I knew, I had 3,000 words. And it's getting bigger. So next week I'm going to tell the story of "Joe Mooney" in 5 installments--one each day. Stay tuned...

Thursday, May 8, 2008

teacher man dictionary

So I'm sitting here with an enormous stack of papers on my desk--roughly 2/3 of which are graded--and I know that when I pass them back, students are going to ask me to decode my comments. For example, "What does 'meh' mean?" Or "Why did you write 'B.S.' on my paper?" And I bet that when you were in school, you had these same questions but were too afraid to ask. So as a public service, I give you the teacher man dictionary:

This is a question mark. If you've written something so incomprehensible that I'm not even sure what my question is, I write a question mark. If you see this, you have made an error so significant that I'm not even sure what you were trying to do in the first place.

This is an exclamation point. It means that you've said something truly crazy. If you mention the possibility that students could chew turkey bones instead of gum during class, you get a !. If you compare Of Mice and Men to Pimp My Ride, you get a !. And if you don't think that these things have actually happened, you're clearly not a teacher.

If students ask, I tell them that this is an abbreviation for "Be Specific" because they're making vague assertions and need to tighten them up. That's a lie. It means their paper is bullshit.

I'm not sure I understand
Similar to the ?, but I'm trying to be kind. You're probably not a very good writer, and I feel that the question mark would confuse you. Still, you've said something incomprehensible. And you know it's pretty serious because it was even more incomprehensible than all the other stuff I was reading, and that's saying something.

It's like an OK. It just means that you've technically done what you were supposed to, but it didn't exactly knock me out of my seat. Meh. For example, if your concluding sentence says something like "And that is why Big Foot High School should start school 45 minutes later," then you get a "meh."

Omit needless words!
This comes from The Elements of Style, by Strunk & White. It's Rule #13, and it's the one my students violate most often. "The ground was covered in frozen precipitation." You mean snow? "He directed his vision toward her." You mean he looked at her? (For more on this topic, read "The Battle for Precision," by George Saunders.)

Obviously, I want everyone to proofread, which begs the question, Why only make note of it on certain papers? Well, I expect juniors and seniors in high school to make occasional comma errors or misuse semicolons once in a while. I do not expect them to forget to capitalize people's names or write "teh" when they mean "the" in a formal essay. When they do this enough, I explode and write "proofread!" Then I draw a line where I got fed up and quit editing for grammar errors. Sometimes I curse.

Reading Rainbow
I encourage my students to begin their papers with an attention-getter, and several of them fall back to this kind of predictable garbage: "Have you ever wondered what it was like to live in New York City during the 1920's? In The Great Gatsby, the characters do exactly that." And when I read that, I write "Reading Rainbow."

What is the purpose of this paragraph?
This is a bad one. You have "developed" an entire paragraph, and it's not clear to me why it's there. It serves no purpose. You clearly heard me say "5-paragraph essay" and realized that you only had 4. So you wrote 6-8 sentences of "be specific" and called it a day. Shame on you.

You're capable of better
I'm angry at you. You're not taking this assignment or this class seriously. You're a slacker. Get your act together.

So there you have it. I certainly hope that that was helpful for you.

Wait. I can do better...

I hope that was helpful for you.


I hope that was helpful.
Hope that was helpful.
Hope that helps.

There we go.

Later gators.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

pop culture quiz (part 2)

Prepare yourselves to be educated.

1. B
"These pretzels are making me thirsty!" Check it out. Still makes me laugh every time.

2. Bill Murray--Carl Spackler--Caddyshack
The conclusion of arguably the greatest speech in movie history. Here it is.

3. Screws
Look closely at that statement: "Screws fall out all the time. The world's an imperfect place." That's the bottom line of almost every argument you've ever had.

4. D
Sonny got shot at the tollbooth. Fredo broke Michael's heart. There was no Anthony.

5. 1st prize is a Cadillac El Dorado, 2nd prize is a set of steak knives, 3rd prize is you're fired
If you didn't know the answer to this question, you need to see this movie (or at least this scene) three times before we talk again. I'm being serious.

6. Zen
How often do you think Craig Kilborn tells people that he was doing the moment of Zen thing way before Jon Stewart? Do you think that Kilborn has a Jon Stewart voodoo doll? I bet he does.

7. Matt LeBlanc--Joey Tribbiani--Friends
Did you know they spell Tribbiani this way? I always assumed one "b" until I saw it. Also Phoebe's last name is Buffay, not Buffet. And Ross and Monica's last name is Geller, not Gellar.

8. C
Interesting sidenote: Did you know that a guy once won $250,000 on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? on a question about Office Space? That seems unfair.

9. "I am serious...and don't call me Shirley."
When I revise my Top 50 Movies list, this is one that will be on it.

10. Darryl
If you didn't know that Larry shows up at the hotel with his brother Darryl and his other brother Darryl, then you clearly didn't grow up in my house.

11. Neil Patrick Harris--Barney Stinson--How I Met Your Mother
I don't feel like this show has a big enough audience. It should join Picket Fences and Ed and Sports Night as one of the best shows that more people ought to watch. If I haven't convinced you yet, just get the first season from your local library and make a list of all the ways that NPH's character is exactly like Joe Baker.

12. B
Inconceivable! And since I have nothing else to say here, my second-favorite quote from this movie: "I do not envy the headache you will have in the morning. In the meantime, rest well and dream of large women."

13. You do not talk about Fight Club.
The second rule of Fight Club is you DO NOT talk about Fight Club!

14. C
Mel didn't direct Airplane!, but he did Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein, which were capital-G Great, and Robin Hood: Men in Tights, which was capital-O Okay.

15. B
If anyone knows why he intentionally mispronounces Chianti here, I would love to hear an explanation. That's always bothered me.

16. A
He's not Groundskeeper Willie. He IS Apu, Carl, and Chief Wiggum, along with Moe, Comic Book Guy, Lou, Dr. Nick, Snake, Kirk Van Houten, Captain McAllister, Bumblebee Man, Superintendent Chalmers, Professor Frink, Cletus, Dredrick Tatum, and Chase.

17. C
I really did know this one when they asked. I did NOT know the 8 before this one. And I disliked this guy because he used his phone-a-friend on this question to call his dad and tell him that he didn't actually need any help, he just wanted to tell him he was about to win a million dollars. That's smug.

18. Ray Liotta--Henry Hill--Goodfellas
Sara asked what this was from, and I told her, and she said, "Oh. That's dumb."

19. B
Tricky one here. Dan Akroyd is well known for his Point-Counterpoint segments with Jane Curtin, which were part of Weekend Update. However, he never actually hosted it. Incidentally, Norm Macdonald was the only one of these that was any good.

20. C
This was hard, I know. But this is such a great movie. If you're going to read my blog, you're expected to know everything about it.

How'd you do? Anywhere under 18 and I think you need to go rearrange your Netflix queue.

Later gators.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

pop culture quiz

They have these Pop Culture Quizzes in Entertainment Weekly (see "top 10 (not) guilty pleasures") every so often, and I enjoy them. However, I rarely know any of the answers because the people at EW find things interesting/relevant/important/etc. that I do not. So I'm making one of my own. Keep your eyes on your own papers. Good luck.

1. In one episode of Seinfeld, Kramer has a small part in a Woody Allen movie. What is his only line? (1 pt.)
a. That's what you think, lady.
b. These pretzels are making me thirsty.
c. I'll have the chowder.
d. Yes.

2. Name the actor who speaks the following line, the character that he is playing, and the movie in which the line is spoken. (1 pt. each)

"So I got that goin' for me, which is nice."

3. Fill in the blank in the following line from The Breakfast Club. (1 pt.)

"_____ fall out all the time. The world's an imperfect place."

4. Which of the following is not one of Don Corleone's sons in The Godfather? (1 pt.)
a. Fredo
b. Sonny
c. Michael
d. Anthony

5. In Glengarry Glen Ross, what are the prizes for 1st place, 2nd place, and 3rd place in the sales contest, according to Blake? (1 pt. each)

6. Fill in the blank in the following line from The Daily Show. (1 pt.)

"Here it is, your moment of _____."

7. Name the television actor who regularly speaks the following line, the character that he plays, and the television show in which the line is spoken. (1 pt. each)

"How you doin'?"

8. Which Office Space character speaks the following line: "I'm gonna' have to ask you to go ahead and come in on Sunday too." (1 pt.)
a. Peter
b. Samir
c. Lumbergh
d. Joanna

9. In the movie Airplane!, what is the proper response to the following line: "Surely you can't be serious." (1 pt.)

10. Fill in the blank in the following line from Newhart. (1 pt.)

"I'm Larry. This is my brother Darryl, and this is my other brother _____."

11. Name the television actor who regularly speaks the following line, the character that he plays, and the television show in which the line is spoken. (1 pt. each)

"Suit up!"

12. In The Princess Bride, what word is Inigo Montoya talking about when he tells Vizzini, "I do not think it means what you think it means"? (1 pt.)
a. vengeance
b. inconceivable
c. surrender
d. love

13. What is the first rule of Fight Club? (1 pt.)

14. Which of the following movies did Mel Brooks not direct? (1 pt.)
a. Blazing Saddles
b. Young Frankenstein
c. Airplane!
d. Robin Hood: Men In Tights

15. According to Hannibal Lecter, whose liver did he eat with "some fava beans and a nice Chianti"? (1 pt.)
a. his mailman
b. a census taker
c. his attorney
d. his father

16. For which of the following Simpsons characters does Hank Azaria not provide the voice? (1 pt.)
a. Groundskeeper Willie
b. Apu
c. Chief Wiggum
d. Carl

17. In 1999, John Carpenter became the first person to win $1,000,000 on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? because he knew that which U.S. President appeared on an episode of Laugh In? (1 pt.)
a. Jimmy Carter
b. Gerald Ford
c. Richard Nixon
d. Ronald Reagan

18. Name the actor who speaks the following line, the character that he is playing, and the movie in which the line is spoken. (1 pt. each)

"As far back as I could remember, I've always wanted to be a gangster."

19. Which of the following has not been a regular host of Weekend Update on Saturday Night Live? (1 pt.)
a. Dennis Miller
b. Dan Akroyd
c. Norm Macdonald
d. Colin Quinn

20. What number was assigned to the juror played by Henry Fonda in the original movie version of 12 Angry Men? (1 pt.)
a. 1
b. 4
c. 8
d. 12

That's 25 points possible. Answers tomorrow.

Later gators.

Thursday, May 1, 2008


Did you shiver when you read the title of this blog? If you did, then you must be a high school teacher. Here's what the word means to me: Roughly once a month, I have to leave my classes to a sub so that I can go sit with an assortment of JK-12 English teachers in the Big Foot Area Schools Association office and spend a day doing about 1/10th of what I could accomplish if left to my own devices. It's not that I think all the work that we do there is meaningless--some, but not all--as much as it is that I don't think that the work is done efficiently. Twice this year, Nicole and I have had the opportunity to work on our own for a curriculum day, and we've accomplished infinitely more than we did on all of the full group days combined.

In the interests of irony, I thought I'd take you through the "highlights" of the dullest day of my month:

We talked a lot about reading inventories (that is, ways of measuring how well a kid can read). If you didn't know the difference between your DIBELS (pronounced dibbles) and your Jerry John's, you were lost.

I know that these kids are in kindergarten, but the assessment checklist for promotion to 1st grade cracked me up. Here are some of the questions: Where is the front of the book? Where is the back of the book? And the end of the page, where do you go? Point to the title. Point to a picture. Point to a word. Didn't we have to count to 100 in kindergarten? I don't remember being asked to "point to a word."

So, we're supposed to choose a benchmark for reading, writing, and oral language that we're going to collect data on next year. We did this months ago, and I'd forgotten about it until yesterday. Our reading and writing benchmarks were legit, but here's the oral language benchmark we're tracking: "Observes the appropriate etiquette when expressing thanks and receiving praise." So we're going to focus on teaching kids to say thank you and you're welcome. And you might think that that somehow indicates that we're not taking it seriously, but the fact that that's one of the options in the first place suggests to me that this is not a document that is meant to be taken seriously.

Speaking of the benchmarks, this was a good example of the colossal waste of time that is the curriculum day. We went through these things grade level by grade level, and the first couple took forever, so Nicole and I did nothing--I'm being 100% literal when I say "nothing"--for the first 90 minutes of the meeting. We listened to elementary school teachers talk about how they would collect data. Remember my 3:1 Theory of Meetings? There are 3 wasted minutes for every 1 minute of actual work that gets done at most meetings? You can quadruple that first number when you're at curriculum.

Kathy Karcher and Toni Bethke presented some information from a conference they attended. FACT: J. David Cooper suggests that struggling readers should have 90 minutes of reading instruction every day plus a possible 30-40 minutes of supplemental instruction. FACT: Unless they're identified as having a reading disability, our kids get 90 minutes of "reading instruction" (i.e. an English class) a day for 9 weeks. To quote Kevin Bacon, "These are the facts, and they are indisputable."

We also got a hand-out of "Captivating Choices: High-Interest Books for Reluctant Readers." Some great tiles: George Washington, Spymaster; Rats! The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly; Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich; Seadogs: An Epic Ocean Operetta; Stanford Wong Flunks Big-Time; and maybe my favorite, The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish. The only one on the list I've read: King Dork, by Frank Portman. You should all read King Dork, by Frank Portman.

We got Novak's for lunch, which is nice, but a) they brought the food to us, so we didn't get to walk down and eat there, which is always nice, and b) since we were in the BFASA offices, there was no ketchup for my burger. It was still okay, but if I'm going to eat something that's not good for me, I want to feel like at least I'm enjoying the experience. But when you're wolfing down a 1/2-lb. cheeseburger and it doesn't even taste that good, it compounds your guilt.

We read some really good promotion essays by 8th-graders. I have juniors who can't write that well. I'm being serious.

We heard the story of a date that an anonymous member of the committee had with some guy who took her out for dinner, then to a karaoke bar where he got up in front and sang "Folsom Prison Blues." Now, as you all know, "Folsom Prison Blues" is my second-favorite song. However, I cannot support the idea of doing karaoke on a first date. Especially if it's just you and your date. I could maybe--maybe--understand if you were out with a group of your friends. But I know this to be absolutely true: People who go out alone and do karaoke are the saddest people in the world. People who do it on first dates are next in line.

The day ended around 2:30, when we had to share where we felt that progress was being made, a question that always strikes me as funny in that particular context. I believe I said that I was looking forward to making more strides with the new English 11 curriculum, my subtle way of suggesting that I would rather be in the classroom.

And really, that's the bottom line. People always ask if I like teaching, and I always say, "From 7:25-5:00 every day, I love it. I am always going to be a teacher because I love teaching. But there's a lot to being a teacher that isn't teaching, and I could do without it." So there you have it. Thank you for reading my blog. (The correct response to that statement should have been: You're welcome. Did you get it? If not, there's room in Advanced Comp.)

Later gators.