Arma Virumque Cano

 

It is my twentieth year of teaching, and I shall share my accumulated wisdom with you now.

First, popping into colleagues’ classrooms and telling them to hold off on starting their lessons because there will be a fire drill momentarily is an indisputably hilarious April Fools’ joke.

Second … well. This one is so important it shall be told in parable. Rise up, gather round.

Once there was a teacher who, at day’s end, had students put their chairs on their desks. But they did this so noisily – indeed, some even took delight in slamming chairs down – that it sounded like Kursk 2. 

Increasingly distressed, he finally bade them leave the chairs floored, that he alone might raise them.

He did this for weeks and months. And then one day he checked out his biceps and was all: whoa.

Now every morning he takes down the chairs, and every afternoon he puts them up. He does this with one arm, alternating, curling them as they were weights. His physique ever approaches that of Adonis.

 

How Bizarre

 

      • Paul McCartney wrote “Lovely Rita” after getting a parking ticket
      • The Bee-Gees got the beat for “Jive Talkin'” from the sound of driving on a causeway
      • After being refused entry to Studio 54, Nile Rogers and Bernard Edwards wrote “Le Freak”

Let me stop here and ask: do any of the above excessively tax your capacity to identify cause and effect? OK, the “Le Freak” one makes more sense if you know its working title, but still … am I going too fast for anybody?

I thought not. Weeks after reading this, though, from Brett Anderson’s Coal Black Mornings, I’m still scratching my head:

[Bernard Butler, Suede guitarist] once told me that, bizarrely, he was inspired by the rhythm of Cher’s “The Shoop Shoop Song” after hearing it on the radio and came up with the thrilling, primitive, pounding groove of what was to become “Metal Mickey.”

 

 

***

I read a few rock bios this summer, including Red: My Uncensored Life in Rock by Sammy Hagar. I was not expecting this:

I’ve always been a bit of a mathematician. I started reading and it tripped me out that if you add numbers up, you always come down to one number. You can take, say, 137. 7+3 is 10, plus 1, that’s 11 and that’s 2.

He goes on for a bit, too. He lost me completely with his riff on how 9s disappear. I had no trouble, however, connecting how a speeding ticket inspired him to write “I Can’t Drive 55.”

 

PS did you know that, after leaving Van Halen, David Lee Roth trained and then worked as an EMT? No joke.

 

Western Civilization

 

Masha Gessen: We moved to Boston, not the smiliest city in this country.

Tyler Cowen: Quite the contrary.

 

Summer brought me to Michigan, Illinois, Colorado, and Washington state, and I was once again reminded how much more pleasant people are when they’re not in the Northeast.

I was chatting [see? Even he’s nicer – ed.] with the lady at the counter of the estimable Kilgore Books in Denver when she asked me what Massachusetts was like. I said I supposed it was fine, but that I was wearied by the winters and by – how shall I put this – the sense that, generally speaking, residents of the Commonwealth are not overly preoccupied with excluding discourtesy from daily interaction.

A few days beforehand I’d been in Chicago, at (the estimable) Myopic Books. I’d asked where the Music section was, and was directed there by the clerk. A few minutes later she came over because she just wanted to make sure I knew the section started on another bookshelf. Afterwards I walked up the road to a brewpub and ordered a pilsner. The bartender said they were out, so I asked for an IPA instead. When I was paying the check, she told me that she’d been mistaken – they’d actually had pilsner – and she insisted I not pay for my beer.

Now, I’m not saying either would never have occurred in Boston. But neither is it unimaginable that in Boston such interactions would proceed to threats of injury.

It was in Port Orchard, Washington, however, that I had my most curious exchange.

I’d gone out there to put the old man next to his brother. It was my first big trip solo with the girls, and my packing job persistently revealed omissions. So I found myself in a 7-Eleven buying hair elastics. And the cashier asked:

Continue reading “Western Civilization”

LOL

 

My grandfather carved the beef and then a servant handed him a dish of potatoes baked in their skins. There are few things better to eat than a potato in its skin, with plenty of butter, but apparently my grandfather did not think so. He rose in his chair at the head of the table and took the potatoes out of the dish one by one and threw one at each picture on the walls.

The Summing Up, W. Somerset Maugham

 

***

[German Foreign Minister] Maas and the ambassador appeared to make small talk at the Bild event, but even that went awry. That same evening, [US Ambassador] Grenell said that, of all people, Maas was a fan of Kid Rock … Maas had never even heard of Kid Rock.

– “German-U.S. Ties Are Breaking Down,” Spiegel Online, August 21, 2019

 

***

Standing apart, Major Jaussi said to me, “The mortar is a dangerous weapon if they don’t know where they shoot. They shoot over the troops. If you are in the troop under the fire, you must trust them. We do such exercises, and they have to work.”

“Before they shoot, what do they do to make it safe?” I asked.

Captain Rumpf said, “They go to church.”

La Place de la Concorde Suisse, John McPhee

 

Greetings

 

There’s also a much-loved tradition of using our landing lights to greet fellow pilots in the world’s most remote skies, where we might cruise for hours without seeing another aircraft. Then, perhaps from 40 miles away or more, we spot the strobe lights of an aircraft approaching at a different altitude. I reach up and flash our landing lights and the other aircraft’s pilots do the same – one of the small, silent courtesies exchanged by pilots who will never know each other, high above the sleeping world.

– “View from the Cockpit,” Mark Vanhoenacker, Financial Times, April 10, 2019

 

I find this among the loveliest of images. It also reminds me of an early morning this past winter.

I’d taken the dog out for a walk, and there was quite a bit of snow on the ground. We were walking down the bike path, all alone. After a while I saw a solitary figure in the distance. As I approached, he began to wildly wave his arms. Gentle Reader, I confess the uncharity of my reaction: just my luck, I thought, to encounter the local lunatic.

Turns out he was trying to warn me that a snowplow was advancing behind me. I stepped to the side and the driver rolled down his window. I figured he was going to say something pithy about having flouted Darwinism; instead he showed me pictures of his dogs.

Well, folks, I’m going to take a break. Be well. Flash your landing lights and I will too.

 

Clipperton

 

I got this globe at a yard sale. Whenever I see students looking at it, I ask if they’re lost.

The other day I noticed France has an island off the coast of Mexico. This was news to me, so I looked it up.

It used to be called – ooh la la – Île de la Passion, but then somehow got named after an English pirate. Its history of human habitation is distinctly unhappy, and has evidently inspired novels. Porcine habitation fared little better; verily, The Ornithologist could be a Tarantino short (“He’s back. And this time, he’s gonna totally pig out”).

Personally, I think Clipperton would have made a good Serge Gainsbourg song.

 

 

Shamrocks and Shenanigans

 

The twins have become enamored of making slime. The other day Twin 2 looked up from hers and said: “Did the elf die yet?”

Now, the thing about Twin 2 is, she gets furious if she has to repeat herself more than once. It’s not the Achillean rage of when she was two, but it’s definitely no joke. And sure enough, my attempts to clarify met with her displeasure. I even tried patting my gut and asking if she meant “diet” – not that this would have shed much light – but it’s important to her to perceive engagement.

Finally I realized she meant not an elf but a leprechaun. At her preschool, for Saint Patrick’s Day, the kids would arrive to find chairs upside down, glitter on the floor, etc, for he had visited the night before. Twin 2 had been complaining that whatever color she’d make the slime, it would gradually fade to white overnight. So, you see, she was wondering if the leprechaun had dyed it.

 

***

This in turn reminded me of a classroom visitor about a decade ago, around the time of the previous post. An admissions officer from a college in Scotland came to talk to my 6th graders. (She’d made her pitch at the Lycée Français, where I had a friend working, and graciously agreed to swing by our school in the afternoon.)

So she began her presentation, which was a slide show dispelling myths that Scotland was all haggis and kilts and etc. The problem was, the students didn’t know much about Scotland in the first place. Finally a kid asked if “the little green guy” was from there. After ascertaining that he meant the leprechaun, she gamely flipped her script and used the slideshow to teach Scotland 101: “So, the bagpipe is one of our traditional instruments…” It was gracefully done.

 

***

Less graceful was my interaction with Twin 2 in the supermarket a couple of weeks ago. She’d asked when I’d make chicken salad again. In retrospect, obviously I should have used active listening skills to buy time (“Ah, so you have a question. And what you’re wondering is…”). Instead, I replied that I had never made chicken salad, and never would make chicken salad, because chicken salad is disgusting.

This set her off, and she became so insistent I’d made it many times that she wound up in tears. Finally I figured out she meant salad with chicken in it (one of my gourmet specialties is chicken tenders on lettuce). I tried to explain to her the difference, unsuccessfully. As far as Twin 2’s concerned, her father doesn’t know chicken salad from chicken shawarma.