Wednesday, October 29, 2008
Taking Out the Garbage: A MicroPlay by Amy

Scene: A small party on a Wednesday night in an apartment downtown. In the apartment's large living/dining room are couches, chairs, and a dining room table covered with bowls and plates containing the dregs of the evening's small buffet supper. At one end of the table is the remains of a turkey with most of the white meat gone and most of the dark meat still intact. Every few minutes, someone comes by and cuts off a piece of meat and pops it in his or her mouth. People are talking and drinking various beverages. In the corner, surrounded by three pretty, adoring co-eds, is an 82-year-old Holocaust survivor.

Me: Nice party. Paul: Yeah. Me: I wonder what they're going to do with that turkey carcass.

Paul: Why don't you ask?

Me: Is that rude?

Paul: You want to make soup out of it, right?

I smile as if to say, you're damn right I want to make soup out of it.

The hostess walks over.

Me: Do you make soup out of your turkey carcass?

Hostess: Oh god no. I don't like soup.

Me: Really?

Hostess: Why? Would you like it? You can have it. In fact, please take it.

Me: Okay!

Hostess (calling to Host): Get Amy and Paul a bag to put the turkey in!

Paul and I look at each other and shrug. Host comes in and opens bag. I pick up the turkey carcass and drop it in the bag.

Hostess: Thank you so much for taking our garbage home!

Me: Thank you for your garbage!

Paul rolls his eyes. Pretty, adoring co-eds fawn over Holocaust survivor.


Monday, October 27, 2008
Just finished the second of three side projects. Feeling somewhat brain dead.

Am I the only one who doesn't get excited about Halloween?

Also, we've already had snow. Just the thought of it is depressing me.

Thursday, October 23, 2008
A good moment: I am setting up a video for a conference presentation. I am feeling a bit logey and a little hungry, but not just any kind of hungry. I am hungry for chocolate. My friend PM walks in, smiles, holds up the cup in her hand, and says proudly, "I've got coffee!" "Yes," I respond, "but do you have snacks?" PM smiles, reaches into her conference bag, and pulls out a fancy looking, well-wrapped large bonbon. She hands it to me. "I got it from a vendor in the exhibition hall," she tells me, "and it'll just go to my hips." My eyes widen, and I look at her as if to say, are you sure you're going to just give me this delicious-looking chocolate? Because it is unusually fancy for a vendor giveaway, more like a prize, really (my look continuing here), and I would more than understand if you wanted to save it for later and gobble it down while no one is watching. Correctly interpreting my look, PM says, "Take it. I know you're a chocolate freak." I take it. I eat it. It is an oversized chocolate-covered truffle and it is unforgiveably delicious.

I get to thinking: the world would be near perfect if every time I wanted chocolate, a friend handed me a piece like this bonbon truffle thing.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008
Mark Bittman, the How to Cook Everything guy and NY Times food writer who always reminds me of my Uncle Mitchell, cooks kasha varnishkes. Be sure to watch the video! His use of chicken fat is commendable, though I prefer to make it with the tiny bowties rather than the regular sized ones. (My grandma always used the little ones, so I guess it's what I am used to.) Bittman's schtick is very anti-haute cuisine; he prefers to simplify things in the kitchen and show you how straightforward a dish is, rather than how complicated it can be. Still, I appreciate that he isn't afraid to get all Jew-y once in a while and cook an old Friday night staple.

Monday, October 20, 2008
In a little while, I get to go pick up my shiny new laptop! I am obviously very excited. However, I made some promises to myself about projects I would undertake once I bought said laptop, since having said laptop will make said projects much easier. So now I have work to do. We'll see what happens.

Also, it has been about two weeks since I picked up a book. I told myself that I wouldn't start another book until I had suffient time to devote to reading it. Right now, with work and freelance projects and just general stuff, I don't have time to do that. It feels weird, and I sort of miss it, and I'd like to pick something off the shelf right now, but sadly, I have a stack of papers to grade. That is usually the worst kind of reading there is. Sure, I have a few students who can write, but I grade those first. Now I'm left with the more plodding stuff. Good grief. Is it time to go get the laptop yet?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008
Too frustrated to write: Apple announced new laptops almost nine hours ago, and you still can't get into their online store to look at them! I'm not about to take my money and go buy an HP or anything like that, but still. It's annoying.

Monday, October 13, 2008
It was warm out last night, so we decided to sleep with the windows open. I should mention that our bedroom windows face the street, which is usually fine, because we don't live on a major thoroughfare, and our neighborhood is usually quiet after, say, 9 in the evening. But at 2:30 this morning (AKA the middle of the freaking night), I woke up to loud talking and a barking dog right outside our window. It also seemed unusually light out there. My initial thought was to look out the window, see who it was, and then, based on the size and ruggedness of the people out there, decide if I should go outside and ask them to be quiet or just call the cops. I walked up to the window and saw that it was the cops.

Yes! The police, at 2:30 in the morning, outside my house, with lights flashing and the K9 unit mobilized! I quickly took a mental inventory:

Had I called the cops? No.

Did anyone on the street seem like the kind of criminal that would warrant a middle-of-the-night police visit? No.

Was I in trouble? No.

Think! Really, was I in trouble? Really, no.

Was Paul in trouble? Not that I could think of.

Then why were cops outside of my house in the middle of the night?

I decided to find out. I got dressed, walked downstairs, turned on the porch light, and went outside. I walked up to the police car. The motor was running, a dog in the back seat was barking at me, but I couldn't see a cop inside. I didn't want to press my face up against the window, because I thought that might be illegal. I turned around, and then I saw another police car a few houses down. Two cop cars! This was serious. I started walking toward that car, and the headlights flashed quickly; I took this as an acknowledgement of my presence. (Like, I can see you.) It felt like it took forever to walk half a block, but again, it was the middle of the night and I was more than a little tired. As I was walking, I realized that my hands were in my pockets, and I then thought that I should probably not conceal my hands while walking toward a police car in the middle of the night, so I took them out and just sort of held them in front of my neck to show that they were empty. I felt really dumb doing this, too, like I had maybe watched too many bad movies, but I did it, because I didn't want the cop to think I had a weapon or stolen goods or anything in my pockets. I still feel stupid about it, but he didn't pull his gun on me, so I guess it wasn't a bad choice.

When I finally got to the car, the cop rolled down the window and asked if he could help me. He said it like there was absolutely nothing unusual about two police cars, two dogs, and a lot of loud chatter in a normally quiet neighborhood at 2:30 in the morning. I politely (very politely) asked what was going on, and he told me that someone had ripped off the all-night Walgreen's around the corner, and that they were looking for the person who did it. Then I heard a noise and noticed two cops and a dog walking through the backyards of everyone on our side of the street. I said (again, politely) that I was just wondering, because it was really loud and they woke me up, and it was just strange that police cars were on our street in the middle of the night. He mumbled a quick apology and suggested I go back inside. I did.

They left about an hour later, and I don't think they got anyone, because I didn't hear the expected struggle or handcuff click or anything that might suggest apprehending a criminal. I know this because I didn't go right back to sleep. In fact, I was up until about 4:30 in the morning. Very uncool.

Thursday, October 9, 2008


"An insult to taxpayers" doesn't even begin to describe it. I know I said that I'd try to stop being a jerk, but I'm suspending that temporarily to say that I hope these AIG assholes get their fucking genitals torn off and fed back to them.

I'm done for tonight.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008
Here we are once again at Yom Kippur, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar (but not at all the most fun and exciting day, and certainly not the day with the best food), and I am again faced with my Yom Kippur dilemma. Once again, I have to work on Yom Kippur, and once again, I am feeling conflicted about it. On the one hand, I should be able to have the day off without feeling guilty, since it is my holiday and since employers are not allowed to discriminate based on religion. But on the other hand, I'm not really part of any temple in town, so if I had the day off, I would not go to services, but would instead sit around the house and treat it like a day off. That would make me feel guilty indeed. And forget for a minute (or for the duration of this post) that feeling guilty is what being Jewish is all about, because that's not what we're after here.

So I will go to work tomorrow. But there is the issue of fasting. You're supposed to fast on Yom Kippur. In fact, you're supposed to refrain from eating or drinking to the point that you shouldn't even let water pass your lips or even touch your body at all, since you are meant to focus solely on repenting, and food and drink (and showering and brushing your teeth) might get in the way. Obviously, I won't go into work with stanky morning breath and without a shower, no matter how many more minutes of sleep time doing so would buy me. I also can't go all day without eating or drinking, since I'll be at work. While my job is not physically demanding the way certain manual labor jobs are, I do have to be alert and physically stable, and I should have good hygiene. So I have come up with what I believe to be a good Yom Kippur compromise. This has taken me several years, much soul searching, and a lot of internal back-and-forth, but I think I've got it.

I will go to work, since staying home is too guilt-inducing. (See explanation above.) I will not, however, treat it like a normal day, since that too is guilt-inducing. (I am Jewish, after all, and as a Jew, I try to minimize my own internal guilt. You may notice other Jews doing likewise. Minimizing internal guilt, that is.) I will shower and clean myself up as I normally do, but I will not eat breakfast or lunch. I will, however, stay hydrated and alert enough to function at work by drinking tea (with minimal amounts of sugar) at breakfast time and lunch time. Because I have to teach tomorrow night, going without food until the sun is absolutely, positively set is out of the question, because by that time, I'll have to be in class and will therefore have to wait until around nine to eat, and by then I'll be cranky and woozy and liable to not be a very good teacher. So I will eat a meal just before my evening class to re-energize myself. I will also, during my down time tomorrow, think about being a better person for the next year, doing the right thing, and being a little bit less of a jerk (which, I think, we all are, a little bit of a jerk, that is, no matter how hard we try not to be, and therefore I think we can all improve and try to be a little bit less of a jerk in the coming year, whenever your year may start). I will also not make comments to students, peers, or my boss about how it's a holiday and I could technically not be at work, and how it's not my fault that we live in a society/community based on the Christian calendar, and how would they like it if they were scheduled to work on December 25th and had to ask for Christmas off?

So this is my compromise. If you are observing the holiday tomorrow, I wish you a peaceful one and a good evening of bagels and lox once it's dark out. And regardless of your religious observances, let me just say that I truly mean the part about being a little bit less of a jerk, and if I was a jerk to you this past year (to any degree), I apologize and hope you will forgive my jerkiness. I am working on it. I will be working on it.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008
We had a really good, relaxing, chilly time up in Petoskey; it was nice enough for walking around, and we ate well. Nothing unusual: just a lot of water gazing and walking in sand (with boots on) and remarking how cool/cute the downtown area is. One thing that really struck me is how insistently the city of Petoskey claims Ernest Hemingway as one of its own. Hemingway's family owned a cottage near Petoskey while he was growing up (and his experiences there would be the basis for most of his Nick Adams stories), and he lived in Petoskey as a young man for a little while, but it's not like he set up house there for good or anything like that. He was still years away from making the mojito famous, and I'm pretty sure there are no six-toed cats in Northern Michigan. Still, the city loves Ernie, and there are reminders all over town: the local history museum had a small Hemingway exhibit, the two (two!) independent bookshops in town had sections right in the front devoted to his work and works written about him, and even the local bar and grill, which was mostly ordinary, proclaimed on the front of the menu that Hem himself used to go there often for a pint or two and had his picture hanging over the bar. Surprisingly, the house in Petoskey that Hemingway lived in (or, more accurately, rented a room in) was unmarked and looked like any other student-ish residence. It didn't even look like it had been painted recently. So go figure.

Friday, October 3, 2008
We are heading up north to Petoskey for the weekend. I hope it's not too cold.

Thursday, October 2, 2008
The chill is coming into the air, and my hands feel like blocks of ice just typing this, but I had to write about this awesome documentary I just saw called The King of Kong. It's not about King Kong, as the title might imply, but rather about Donkey Kong, as the title might also imply. Specifically, it's about two guys battling for the high score in Donkey Kong, which lets just say is about ten times higher than I've ever scored in any video game, including Tetris, which, I must say, I am quite good at.

The topic of Donkey Kong interested me because while I've never been great at video games, I did often enjoy arcade-style games as a child and could usually get through at least one or two boards before losing all my lives and walking away. But Donkey Kong was just impossibly hard. I remember once my grandfather took me to an arcade once when I was in Florida and gave me five bucks. I blew it all on Donkey Kong and couldn't get past the fourth platform on the first board. I felt sad about not doing well and wasting five bucks, but he bought me an ice cream cone and one for himself and didn't seem too concerned about the whole matter.

Anyway, about the movie: a few things really struck me. First is that all of the stereotypes about video game addicts being skinny nerds who have an annoying aura of false superiority fueled by crippling insecurity is, more or less, true. Or it's at least true by what's in the movie. The challenger to the Donkey Kong community is a guy who had been laid off. He needed something to keep his mind occupied to keep himself from going nuts (and to keep himself from driving his wife nuts), so he set out to break the Donkey Kong record. He seemed like a genuinely good person, and not at all nerdy or dorky or annoying. He wasn't one of them (them = the aforementioned nerds), but was instead just a normal guy from Washington state who gave himself a goal. A strange, difficult goal. I don't think he knew what he was in for.

Because then there were the gamers. Oh, the gamers. The reigning Donkey Kong champion also had a wife, but I think he was the only hardcore gamer who actually had a woman in his life. As in, ever. Most of these guys still looked like they were in the seventh grade chess club. Which, you know, was fine in seventh grade. Anyway, the reigning champ was a complete asshole who wanted nothing to do with this nice-guy challenger, despite the fact that said challenger traveled over 1000 miles on more than one occasion to play "live" in front of a crowd and challenge the champ. And the champ, despite his being married and all, was still this raging nerd with an overinflated ego that was based solely on his ability to play a video game. And he had a mullet. A mullet! Watching the documentary unfold, you couldn't help but root for the nice-guy challenger and hope that the champ would soon be the victim of something very horrible. And, the champ had his little group of disciples, one of whom was truly an asshole who hated the nice-guy challenger, probably because the challenger's success now meant that no one would be paying attention to him (the disciple).

Meanwhile, there's all this drama going on, and you get all caught up in rooting for the nice-guy and hoping the challenger drowns in a pool of his own vomit, and then you stop and realize that you are getting all worked up over the outcome of an arcade game. And not just any arcade game, but an arcade game that no one outside of this asshole-nerd community really cares about anymore. And in that way, The King of Kong is brilliant. The filmmakers captured what I had hoped to capture with a documentary I made about people who collect and obsess over Fiestaware: that what's ordinary for most people is truly a dominant way of life for select others. This documentary transcends its topic and really gets to some core human issues: being a good person, being honorable, and doing the right thing. Highly, highly recommended.

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