The Mercatus Center very generously gave me a grant to create a curriculum for my obituary project. Now I have to go write it. In solidarity with that intention, I am going to stop writing blog posts.

Say. Did you know Henry Heimlich (he of the Maneuver) was an Army doctor behind Japanese lines in the Gobi Desert? Or that Bette Nesmith Graham – mother of the Monkee in the wool hat – invented Liquid Paper in her kitchen blender? Or that Ethel Johnson’s children learned their mother was a professional wrestler when they saw her on TV?

You’d know all this if you checked out @passed_present, where there’s an interesting obituary posted every day.

So long, folks. Be well. Or at least don’t include yourself on that feed.

You Got That, Right?

I was flipping through an art book and saw a trio of photographs that really dismayed me.

I could tell right away it was Ai Weiwei. I don’t know much about him, but enough to know he wasn’t playing around with the title: Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn

I’ll listen to whatever explanation, and I’m willing to accept there may exist a good one, but jeez. The Han Dynasty ain’t making any more.

And get this. The photographer missed it the first time, so he had to drop a second one.

Honestly? That’s better performance art, if you’re going for that kind of thing: The Guy Supposed to Photograph Me Dropping a 2,000-Year-Old Urn Totally Whiffed.


Reminds me of K Foundation Burn a Million Quid. This was by the KLF, a wacky music duo, and it happened in 1994. I remember at the time reading about it in one of the British music magazines and thinking it must be an act.

Ex-act-ly their problem!

Apparently they did indeed burn one million pounds sterling, but then had trouble convincing everybody that they had done so.

Ah art! Ah humanity!

I Was Looking for a Job and Then I Found a Job

Not long after graduation, way back when, I was talking to a friend’s dad about my job hunt, and he said, “Looking for a job is a soul destroying experience.” He said it in that way you’d say something serious but intended to be amusing, so I chuckled. I’ve since had ample opportunity to consider how unamusingly correct he was.

Some folks I know are looking for jobs, so I thought I’d share these aperçus from my last job search.


I went to get my Nice White Shirt from the cleaners, and the guy said it wasn’t ready yet. “What are you going to do?” I asked.

I guess my default snarl evoked Tony in some other situation, because the guy started talking about how he could call the supervisor etc. And I was like: Dude, don’t worry about it. I’ll just come back tomorrow.

The interview was in a few days, and the cleaners was around the corner, so it really was no big deal. I returned, got it, and indeed looked sharp.


The interview was at a high school in a neighborhood of Boston that I’m not familiar with. I walked in and was immediately and paradoxically disoriented because the interior seemed uncannily like the high school I’d attended a quarter-century before, in a different Boston neighborhood, and to which I’ve not yet returned.

I got to the room for my interview, and there were a whole bunch of people around the table, and the principal asked me which job I was applying for. I said: I don’t know.

The principal started laughing, and not in a “Why, this fellow is the very soul of wit! Let us hire him at once!” way.

(I had, you see, heard that in interviews it’s important to say “I don’t know” when you’re asked a question you don’t know the answer to. I’d applied for two open positions. I was happy to take either. In retrospect, I should have answered differently.)

The other thing I remember about the interview is that I was queried with some persistence and specificity about what I’d do if a fight broke out in my classroom. Even to someone as generally obtuse as I this seemed like a red flag.

Anyway, I didn’t get a callback.


A couple weeks later I had an interview in Cambridge, and it was such a nice day that I decided instead of switching trains I would get off and walk. Mistake.


I can’t say I found it as funny as she did, but I am grateful to the the secretary, who gave me some clear packing tape.

For some reason I didn’t get that job either.

It was…

wait for it…

… a sole destroying experience!

Hub of the Cosmos

Photo Credit: Boston Public Library, Print Department

I saw Nick Cave the other night at the Wang Theatre. He asked the audience if Boston was a worthwhile place to live. He said his son wanted to know, so he’d promised to inquire. He then handily narrowed the crowd’s responses from “best place in the world” to a considerably less inaccurate “best place in New England.”


About a quarter-century ago I saw Morrissey down the road from the Wang at the Orpheum. There are two things I remember vividly.

First was – and you must please remember, this was before it was standard for him to perform Smiths songs – the opening chords to “Paint a Vulgar Picture.” I clapped so hard the clasp to my watch came undone.

Second, in between songs, he was pacing the stage and stopped. “Is it nice to live in Boston?” he asked. The crowd responded variously. He continued pacing. Then, in full arch Morrissey mode, he stopped again. “Is it very nice?”


In his set Nick covered “Cosmic Dancer.” What is it with that song? It does it for me neither musically nor lyrically (What’s it like to be a loon / I liken it to a balloon is straight-up David St. Hubbins). But Morrissey covered it back in the day, too. Maybe they both had formative experiences watching The Pop-Rock Combo Programme or something.

Here’s Morrissey and David Bowie duetting on the d–n thing.

Bells Chime

It’s been a week since masks became optional at our school, and I want to record my impressions before things go back to normal – right? – and we forget all this.

First, it felt improper to walk into school without a mask. The best approximation I can think of would be walking in barefoot.

Second, I am mildly thunderstruck at how different some kids look. A few I didn’t recognize. It is really something, how much of a face the mask covers.

Third – and I say this as someone who thinks you should get vaccinated and wear masks when doctors tell you to – it is delightful not to have to wear a mask. Masks are an almighty pain in the ESL class. It’s hard to hear the kids, and the clear plastic screen on the mask I wore – so that they could see my mouth – was a biodome for my breath. If you think your breath isn’t bad, go wear one of those daily and then we’ll talk. At ten paces.

Lastly, I remember, back when masking was initially being discussed, thinking: Listen. I’ve been teaching for two decades. I am here to tell you that if you think you’re going to get middle schoolers to wear masks every day, then… (etc & etc). I was totally wrong. They did great.



“Where Do You Get Your Ideas?”

I was watching a documentary on Kurt Vonnegut the other night. There’s a scene where they take him back to his high school, to the plaque with alumni killed in World War Two.

He identifies those he knew, recounting and laughing about how they died. Laughing, obviously, in a “so it goes” way, but still.

Then again, if you had his gig in the Deuce, you can laugh at whatever you want.


Yesterday I was in the Tufts library and came across Rod Serling: His Life, Work, and Imagination. When Serling got back from the Philippines, where he’d fought as a paratrooper, he enrolled in college. He gave his English professor a “barely fictionalized” thirty-eight page story. The biography summarizes a passage about his friend Melvin Levy:

When the sound of airplane motors came closer, Corporal Levy rediscovered his sense of humor. “‘Scorecards!’ he screamed. ‘Can’t tell a Piper Club from a P-40 without a scorecard… Chow call boys… ham and eggs by airmail!'” The planes circle the clearing, dropping crates of supplies, lifesaving gifts from the heavens: “‘Make it kosher, even if yuh have to drop a Rabbi.'” The heavy crates smash into the wet earth, so close to the men that they run to take cover. Levy, however, does not move. In mid-joke, one of these supply crates crashes down atop his head, killing him instantly. Serling helped to bury his body.


My Funny Valentine

I go for a walk every day during 5th period, when my students are at lunch. I walk along the Mystic River for a bit, then turn back and return to school across the fields.

I started this habit last year and now can’t do without. It’s especially important on the first three days of the week, when my teaching schedule is heavier. In fact, I have come to suspect that the maintenance of my sanity depends on these midday walks.

There was light snowfall throughout yesterday and this morning, and I was enjoying walking through the accumulation, at least until I felt a crunch and my leg went up to the knee in ice water.

In retrospect, I obviously should have taken a step back. Instead, I kept staggering forward, hoping to get out. By the time I realized the expanse of the enormous frozen puddle, it didn’t matter whether I retreated or continued. When I emerged, my boots, and most of my pants, were soaked. The cold was absolutely shocking.

I stood there and thought: well, this is ridiculous. I have to teach in 17 minutes.

Now, I do keep an extra tie in my classroom. But not socks, shoes, or trousers.

So I ran – literally ran – to the parking lot, got in my car, drove home (NB at the speed limit – it helps that I live nearby), changed, and was back at my classroom in time to teach 6th period.

I’ll pause while you order me one of those “Teaching Is My Superpower” t-shirts.

Speaking of which, today I received the best Valentine ever:



I like saltines a lot. I don’t keep them in the house because I’d go through sleeves in a sitting.

I like Coca-Cola, too. I hardly ever drink it, in deference to my teeth and sublime physique, but whenever I do I think it’s tasty stuff.


Years ago I heard an interview on public radio about disgust. The interviewee made the point that what we find disgusting is not always that far from what we find pleasurable. For example, she said, if you were sitting on the subway and the stranger next to you licked your face, it would be repulsive. But if it were your lover by candlelight, then… you know what, you can go to some other site for that.


Back to saltines and Coca-Cola. As I said, I really like them. If you told me I had to eat a week of meals of naught but both, I’d be pretty much fine with it.

And then the other day the Science teacher did this ingenious lesson. The aim was to illustrate the process of the digestive system. She had students crumble saltines and put them in a beaker with Coca-Cola. This mixture was then put through a several filters to illustrate the removal of liquid from the stomach and intestines. By the time students squeezed the mixture through the pantyhose with the hole (the, ahem, terminus), it looked like the contents of a diaper.

My powers of reason were no match for what I beheld. I really did feel slightly ill. Had you, at that moment, offered me a saltine or a sip of Coke, I would have refused either unless you also offered cash or harm.

Ah pleasure! Ah disgust!