“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!

Bonne Digestion

My friend Steve came to visit last weekend. He’s been living in the Congo for years and speaks French really well. Me… comme ci, comme ça. So when, after Sunday’s lunch, he broke into song, I wasn’t sure I’d heard properly, for as best I could tell it went:

I have eaten well / I have drunk well / I have well stretched stomach skin / Thank you, little Jesus

He said it’s a song kids sing after a meal, a kind of melodic after-grace.

Later I looked it up and encountered this version, courtesy of France’s National Audiovisual Institute. It is something.

Top Jimmy

1968: the assassinations of MLK and RFK, riots, the My Lai Massacre, the Tet Offensive, famine in Biafra, the invasion of Czechoslovakia, the founding of the Khmer Rouge, four submarines mysteriously lost with all hands…

And then, on Christmas Eve, William Anders snapped this photo.

As a telegram to his crewmate put it: “Thank you Apollo 8. You saved 1968.”



I went through a phase in my youth where I read lots of books about the Vietnam War. I remember thinking: how did people let things get this bad? And now… well, here we are.



On Christmas Day I awoke and prepared to tell my children to be quiet and wait to open presents. For the James Webb Space Telescope was due to launch at 7:15am. And then I didn’t notice the reminder on my phone and missed liftoff by ten minutes.

Which was fine. Frankly, I avoided torment by not witnessing the launch. I have become uncommonly attached to, and commensurately anxious for, the JWST, which is a marvel. That thing is going to figure out the universe.

Just getting to the launchpad was a feat. Here’s an excerpt from a 2018 article:

In another error, the wrong solvent was used in cleaning thrusters. And the wrong kind of wiring led to excessive voltage. Those three errors — the screws, the solvent, the wiring — set the project back 1½ years and about $600 million, the review board concluded.

And if you think I can finally relax because it’s en route, think again. It has to unfold and set itself up, a process in which there are 344 “single points of failure.” I.e. if even one of them doesn’t work, the whole thing becomes space junk. Here’s an unsoothingly titled video from NASA.


Godspeed, James Webb Space Telescope. Save 2022.

One Hundred One Score and One

This year is resolved to not go quietly; nor shall I thusly see it out. I’m going to make some Charles Mingus Eggnog. If delivery would cause no more than (my) moderate inconvenience, let me know and I’ll bring a cup of cheer. Pending any being left.

Either way, I leave you with the wisdom that has sustained me through Pandemic Year 2. It comes from that august speaker of truth, Lodge 49′s Ernie Fontaine: “Embrace the zugzwang, baby!”

Sunshine Supermen

A few days ago an RAF fighter plane crashed after takeoff from an aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean. It may have been because of a lens cap. The pilot is safe, but, if they do payroll deductions, his checking account is not. F-35s ain’t cheap.


There’s a BBC series from 1981 called Fighter Pilot. It begins with 31 candidates for the Royal Air Force. The pool gets quickly narrowed down, and the show tracks six of them onward. One succeeds. It’s like a combo of 7 Up and Squid Game.



I loved the show, not least for its exemplary Britishness. E.g. during a class on dogfighting tactics, the instructor warns of “getting into an embarrassing situation.” There’s a banquet scene where recruits are taught silverware. Right in the first 45 seconds the narrator talks of how, on a “business trip,” the jet will be armed with what the pilots call “a bucket of instant sunshine.”


Reminds me of those jokers over at Russia’s Strategic Rocket Force. Their motto is: After us – silence.

Будем здоровы!


When I get home from school I empty my pockets of the day’s accumulation: notes, paper clips, pens, etc. Sometimes I think about an interview I read with the drummer of the Rolling Stones. It was a questionnaire-type thing, a mix of serious and silly questions. One was “What do you have in your pockets?”  He replied he kept nothing in his pockets, so as not to break the line of his suit.

So long, Charlie. You are the coolest Stone.


Your crackers, licorice, and shelved Hennessy are now safe, Gentle Reader, but at woeful cost: Shock G is no more.

This had some, uh, resonance:

“The Humpty Dance” invited an audience of awkward youth into hip-hop with its embrace of misfits and outcasts. “Stop whatcha doin’ / ’Cause I’m about to ruin / The image and the style that ya used to,” Shock G rapped with lighthearted bravado. “I’m crazy / Allow me to amaze thee / They say I’m ugly but it just don’t faze me.”



Oh, snap!

Upon hearing the dismal news, I played “Just a Friend” for Twins 1 & 2. They thought it hilarious, and still occasionally interrupt the procession of Ed Sheeran and Olivia Rodrigo for it.

Good night, sweet clown prince. It is ever spring when we hear you.