Dahl’s Tiger


Years ago I had to read an assigned novel with 5th graders. The book – which I refuse to name, but will allow was written by a famous children’s author – began excellently. On the very first page, two children find a tiger in a cage.

Pause to imagine what Roald Dahl would have done with the next hundred pages.


Well, here’s what the unnamed author did with the next hundred pages: the two kids dwell on personal problems while the tiger remains caged. The tiger is finally set free (p. 102) only to be shot dead three pages later. The book takes eleven more pages to expire.

I bet if I told Roald Dahl “Hey, I’ve got an idea for a story! Two kids find a caged tiger, but the caged tiger will just be a metaphor for their feelings!” he’d tell me to walk to an open field and stand still while he fetched his Hawker Hurricane.


He recently turned one hundred. Eat a piece of cake, skaal your Bestemama, and please, for Boy’s sake:

If you say in the first chapter that there is a tiger in a cage, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must be set free. If it’s not going to be freed, it shouldn’t be there.



Rock of Ages


I saw a kid in the hallway wearing a t-shirt with a c. 1983 Def Leppard graphic. I got such a kick out of this I told her I love the band (not exactly true, but also considerably distant from untrue).

It later occurred to me that her wearing a Def Leppard t-shirt would be the equivalent of me, as a kid, wearing a Bill Haley and the Comets t-shirt.


I mentioned the above encounter to Missionjmk, who has forgotten more than I will ever learn about music. He shared with me a splendid anecdote – StoryCorps Hall of Fame-worthy, if you ask me – about U2’s singer and bassist hitchhiking in America. They were picked up by a young man blasting his car stereo.

Rise up, gather round for Bono’s account:

It sounded like the end of the world, it sounded like Godzilla was stomping right alongside the car. There was the most incredible bass drum and snare sound I’d ever heard… I looked at Adam, and Adam looked at me. We had never heard anything so loud. It was Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar On Me” and it sounded about twice as loud as “Where the Streets Have No Name.” We took note! I think we both made a mental note that next time we had better go after a more sonic experience on our records.

(From U2: A Diary, by Matt McGhee)

Bono shouldn’t be too hard on himself, at least about that. “Where the Streets Have No Name” forever dwells – along with Def Leppard’s “Photograph” – on Intro Olympus.


PS it’s also pretty much how I enter the classroom:

Clear Cut


It is not so easy to run again when you have been ejected from office by a clear majority of voters (he lost to Mr. Hollande by more than three percentage points).

It’s statements like the above that make me think I don’t understand democracy, or math.

I mean, yes, I can calculate that fifty-one is greater than forty-eight without creating two piles of pebbles. But to my mind you should be able to assemble ten people and demonstrate a clear majority without having to fetch a saw.


Although, to be fair, in American presidential elections “landslide” is often used for what might be better described a “clear majority.” (I’m talking popular vote, not the Electoral College, which I still don’t understand.)

I am, of course, with Sir Winston on democracy, but I can see this guy’s point too:

In the hazy heat Tata Ndu paused to take off his hat, turn it carefully in his hands, then replace it on the high dome of his forehead. No one breathed. “White men tell us: Vote, bantu! They tell us: You do not all have to agree, ce n’est pas nécessaire! If two men vote yes and one says no, the matter is finished. À bu, even a child can see how that will end. It takes three stones in the fire to hold up the pot. Take one away, leave the other two, and what? The pot will spill into the fire.”

– The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver

Real Estate


Johnny Marr’s displeasure with a certain philosophical declaration* got me thinking about another one you hear a lot these days: “The reality is…”

This makes me either want to ask which simulacrum of life I’ve hitherto inhabited, or gratefully embrace its utterer for having dispensed the red pill.


Mostly, alas, I find it creeping into my speech.

I was confronted with reality the other day when I read a word I’d forgotten.

Upon first encountering realia, years ago in a teacher textbook, I thought: C’mon. That’s not a real word. Because, if you know anything about Education, you’ll concede it’s not always kind to the English language. The most I’d have been willing to concede is that it’s a word, but in the way “Schweppervescence” is a word.


Per usual, I was wrong again. Realia is even Latin and all.

Now I’m kind of taken with the word. It has a nice Brasilia-esque ring to it, evoking a domain of the authentic.



*I still think it is what it is, but he’s Johnny Rootin’-Tootin’ Marr and I’ll shine his shoes whether they are or aren’t.


Rent Jar

Last week, due to a poorly constructed funnel, I produced a minor avalanche of peppercorns.


Such events are so routine in La Comédie Pete I wouldn’t normally record this, except that, hours later, I was surprised to read the following non-restrictive clause in the obituary of the UK’s richest landowner:

Its long-term lessees later included the Connaught Hotel and the American Embassy, which paid a peppercorn annually.

Personally, I could have done with a bit of explanation. I guess the Gray Lady agrees with General Yeager.

(Pssst, crib off this.)

Unhappy Birthday


One guy was a quarterback for the Cleveland Browns. The other was the singer for R.E.M.

What do they have in common?

Who knows. Bipedalism and probably lots of other stuff. And this too: I am occasionally asked whether I’m related to either.

I am related to both Brian Sipe and Michael Stipe, as far as I know, only by the brotherhood of man.

But something else connects them, at least in my mind: boredom.

Granted, I’m not much of a sports fan, but I regard football as one of the more tedious phenomena to which one may bear witness. And I’ve never forgiven R.E.M. – once my favorite band – for managing to bore me as much as football does.*


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Time (Clock of the Heart)

1. Life’s Span

Chuck Klosterman noted his grandmother was born before the Wright Brothers made history, and died after it got boring to go to the moon.


His conversation with Marc Maron, and some other stuff, has got me thinking about time.

For example, I just watched the trailer for the movie Dunkirk, out next summer.

I once worked in an office in which an older gentleman (my third favorite Belgian, in fact) would sometimes stop by. One day we were chatting – presumably about something unrelated to work – when he told me he’d been at the Dunkirk evacuation.


This seemed extraordinary. I know, actuarially speaking, it’s entirely possible to encounter someone who’s been at a major WWII event, but still: in my head “Dunkirk” is like “Gettysburg.”*


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Reasons to be Cheerful

Author’s note: with all the general ghastliness of late, I thought it worth leavening the proceedings. Grasp your sides in advance.

Part I

My friend has been encouraging me to read this book for years. Having finally picked it up, I sent him this text:


Hilarious, right?

OK, fine, I’m ripping off a Twilight Zone punchline. But, as the saying goes: Talent borrows, Pete steals.

“O! Pete!” you cry. “Share more celestial wit, that we might not be obliged to thieve it!”

Alright. This next one’s pretty good. And anyone can do it, regardless of talent or genius.

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Paid the Cost


I was recently charged one (1) dollar to borrow a DVD from a library. I’m not talking late fine, either: I’m talking cash to walk out the door with it.

O tempora! O mores!

I considered offering to paint over the “Public” on their sign outside; then I figured they might propose I instead erect a sign stating “Public” doesn’t mean “Pete’s personal means of dodging a Netflix subscription,” so I demurred.*


All this reminded me of a Planet Money podcast on why some veterans hold a grudge against the Red Cross. Seriously.

Surprised, I’d asked my daughters’ grandfather – whose wealthy uncle once paid for his trip to Southeast Asia – if it were true.

“Yeah!” he replied, “because of the donuts!”

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New York City Cops


I lived in New York City for six years, three of them in Manhattan, not too far from the Police Academy. You’d see cadets wait at nearby intersections for the walk signal. Apparently they have to do that. I remember thinking if anything in that town could be considered authentically bizarre behavior, it’d be waiting dutifully to cross the street.


I also remember, with great fondness, 3X80 and 3X81. These were the medallion numbers* of the two undercover taxis often parked outside the academy. Every time I’d see a taxi – which, in Manhattan, is like saying “every time I’d see a hat” – I’d look to see if it was either of them. But it never was.

Until the very night before I moved out!

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