Friday 5: Nor Any Drop to Drink

From here.

  1. What’s a memory you have of a nearby stream?
    When I was in high school, a friend and I went down the stairs (which are no longer there) from School Street to the spot where Nuuanu Stream crosses beneath it, at the bottom of Queen Liliuokalani Park.  We hiked upstream to where it passes through my high-school alma mater.  It took a lot longer than either of us expected, and it was fun and fascinating, but there were parts where there were no hikable banks, so we had to get right in the stream, which was gross.
  2. What’s a good film scene or song lyric involving a river?
    My second-favorite film of all time is The African Queen with Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn.  I like the scene where Bogey gets drunk and yells a few unkind things in Katharine’s direction before falling asleep.  When he wakes up hung over, the first thing he sees is Hepburn pouring his whiskey, one bottle at a time, into the river.  There is a trail of empty, floating bottles bobbing in water in the boat’s wake.
  3. What fond memory do you have of a lake?
    I spent a summer with R and her father on a lake in northern New York, where he owns a cabin.  It was a terrific lake, with an island in the middle, about a mile across at its longest point, and it had a homeowners’ agreement that forbade motor vehicles on the water.  So, no jetskis or motor boats.  You wanted to get on the water (or across it to get to the mini mart), you had to row or paddle.  It was wonderful.
  4. What’s the most fascinating sea creature?
    I’ve been fascinated by the bioluminescent fish of the very deep ocean.  The hatchetfish has been a favorite since I first saw photos of it in second grade.
  5. What’s something that caused you to cry tears of laughter?
    This isn’t going to make much sense, I’m afraid, but sometimes the most intense laughter does emerge from unexplained, illogical places.  When I was a senior in high school, our class took a trip to the island of Hawaii (where I would, a few years later, transfer colleges and finally graduate), and we made an unplanned stop at a small convenience store.  While we waited in our van (I don’t remember what for), someone said “Stanley da Boss,” reading the words on an old man’s hat.  The old man was sitting on a bench in front of the store, alone and perfectly at ease.  Someone else said, “I wonder if that’s a hat he got for himself, or if someone got it for him.”  Someone else said, “I wonder if that’s Stanley.”  There were giggles as we tried to imagine the scenario that led to a guy having a hat like this, and each time someone asked a question about it, the laughter got a little louder.  Finally, we were all laughing so hard we were in tears, ten high-school seniors who’d known each other for six years or more (it’s a K-12 school), having an unexpected laugh together about a stupid thing just a few weeks before graduation.

Ten Favorite Writers

I was asked recently by someone at work who my ten favorite writers are. I can very quickly give someone a top five, but a top ten is a lot more challenging. I’m going to attempt it here.

  1. Madeleine L’Engle
    Especially A Wrinkle in TimeMany Waters, and The Moon by Night.
  2. John Steinbeck
    Especially Sweet ThursdayCannery RowOf Mice and Men, and the greatest novel of all time, The Grapes of Wrath.
  3. Lloyd Alexander
    There’s no especially.  I’ve only read five novels by him and they’re all amazing.
  4. Lynne Rae Perkins
    I haven’t read a lot of her work, but I’m super fond of what I’ve read.  She is the writer putting out the work I most wish were mine.
  5. Larry McMurtry
    I’ve only read one of his books in the past fifteen years or so (Books), but I went through a phase in the early 90s where I read almost everything I could get my hands on.  Since then, he’s extended his Lonesome Dove series and I haven’t caught up.  That might be a good summer project.
  6. Cynthia Kadohata
    The first Japanese American to win the Newbery Medal.  Two of her books are amazing: Kira Kira and Weedflower.
  7. Katherine Paterson
    Two Newberys.  Jacob Have I Loved is the best written.  Bridge to Terabithia is slightly more affecting.
  8. Ellen Conford
    Except for The Alfred G. Graebner Memorial High School Handbook of Rules and Regulations, none of her books is likely to make my top 100, but her character development and voice are what I’ve modeled myself after as a writer ever since I was in eighth grade (or so).  I am appalled at how few of her titles are available in e-book format.  I would buy them all.
  9. Cynthia Voigt
    Dicey’s Song is second in her Tillerman series and it (deservedly) won the Newbery, but Homecoming, the first book, is just as good, and A Solitary Blue, the third or fourth book is her best work of all, only it’s really best if it’s read in its correct place in the sequence.  Great storytelling and really, really, really good prose.
  10. Toni Morrison
    She’s probably the best writer on this list, but I’ve only read a small number of her books, each of which blew me away with the writer’s voice.  Beloved is a masterpiece, but Bluest Eye and Song of Solomon are also pretty dang good.

This list would certainly look different on any other day.  I may revisit periodically to see what changes.  And really, only number 1, 2, and 3 are certain.

Friday 5: Gimme One Reason

From here.

  1. What makes you unreasonably irritated?
    I do a lot of walking, and I listen to a lot of podcasts during these walks.  Listening to podcasts isn’t like listening to music, where if you kind of zone out for a minute it’s not a big deal.  Zoning out during a podcast means missing a minute of the narrative, or missing an important detail.  So I get unreasonably irritated at noisy vehicles that drown out what I’m trying to listen to.  Like buses, motorcycles, and big trucks.  I think noise is kind of reasonable to get irritated by, but I really, really get annoyed.
  2. What are you unreasonably particular about?
    I don’t know if this is unreasonable, but I don’t like the way too many cashiers handle money.  When I pay cash for something, my bills are flattened out nicely, all bills facing the same direction, in order from smallest to largest denominations from top to bottom.  Money in the till should always face the same way (something I learned from a mom who managed restaurants and from a boss in my first retail job when I was in college) so it’s easier to notice anomolies.  I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect to receive change this way, but far too often, I get crinkly bills facing every which way.
  3. What’s something that’s unreasonably complicated?
    Why do credit cards come with that ridiculous paperwork with super-tiny script?  And why is whatever’s written on that paperwork impossible to understand?  I don’t get it.
  4. What are the best reasons for working in your field?
    I’m still claiming two fields, teaching and writing.  The best reasons for teaching are connecting with young people and helping them discover truth and beauty.  The best reasons for writing are connecting people to some kind of understanding and developing a deeper appreciation for the beauty of language.
  5. What are some good reasons for the most recent silly purchase you made?
    My most recent silly purchase was probably a remastered vinyl LP of an album I already own on CD, Wide-Eyed Wonder by the Choir (1989).  The band raised advanced funding for its new album via PledgeMusic, and the LP is one of the things you could purchase, with new packaging and on super-nice vinyl.  I don’t own a turntable, but I will again some day, so there’s one reason.  It’s one of my favorite albums of all time, so that’s another.  And these lyrics are another:

    Happy fool reasons have I
    Happy fool notions have you
    I say the sky is as blue as the ocean
    You say you know it’s true
    So tie your shoelaces to my shoelaces
    I’ll tie a rope to a tree
    We’ll see how the wind whips happy fool faces
    Come, blow away with me.


Friday 5: Food Me Once, Food Me Twice

From here.

  1. What do you like on your frozen yogurt?
    Depends on the flavor, of course, but generally I don’t like things that harden in the cold, so no bits of candy.  I make exceptions for the occasional Heath Bar smithereens (because one should always make exceptions for Heath Bars).  Usually, though, I prefer almond slivers (especially in pistachio fro-yo), graham-cracker crumbles, granola, blueberries, or strawberries.  I’ll slather on some condensed milk sometimes or even cheesecake pieces, but I seldom add more than two toppings.
  2. How do you feel about hot breakfast cereals?
    I’ve had oatmeal for breakfast almost every day for the past year.  I don’t know if that’s contributing to the drop in weight, but I don’t think it can be hurting.  I’ve found that the key for me is to eat a lot of it — a whole dry cup, with a tablespoon or so of natural peanut butter swirled in, and a sprinkle of brown sugar and cinnamon.  That tides me over until lunch, so I almost never snack between breakfast and lunch anymore.  But my recently discovered fondness for oatmeal has me super curious about other hot cereals for breakfast.  Grits?  Cream of wheat?  I already eat lots of rice (it’s in the blood) and quinoa, but what might I do differently with them if I think of them as breakfast cereal?
  3. What did you last put brown sugar in or on?
    Oatmeal.  I didn’t have it for breakfast today (or the past few days because I’m sick and I’ve been having just one meal a day), but last Friday for sure.
  4. What’s a food item you willingly overpay for?
    Cheese.  The cheap stuff is fine, and in times when I’ve been underemployed or have had other reasons to cut costs, I’ll prefer it to no cheese at all, but it’s near the top of the list on things I’ll spend money on right up to the point of being ridiculous.  This often means that I’ll cut down on costs by buying good cheese in larger amounts, but whatever.  I’ll finish it eventually, so why not?
  5. What did you last add vinegar to?
    As I have written many times before, I am a vinegar fiend, so I add it to stuff almost on a daily basis.  Last night I made a chicken-pumpkin soup and added some coconut vinegar to that.  The night before, I made tuna sandwiches and added some rice vinegar to the tuna.  I was out of red wine vinegar, and that’s my usual go-to for tuna.


Friday 5: Picture This

From here.

  1. What’s your favorite monster movie?
    I really like The Toxic Avenger but I’m not sure it counts, and now that I think about it, I like Tremors better anyway.  I saw that with Penny when it was in a second-run theater in Kailua.  We were in college (I think) and decided to see a movie neither of us had heard of nor knew anything about.  And it was great!  Super entertaining and funny.
  2. What’s your favorite social issues movie?
    This is probably recency bias.  I really, really, really like Spotlight, which I saw on DVD last month and watched at least four times before I forced myself to pop it out and send it back.  The acting is so great, and it’s super well-edited and nicely written.  And yeah, I have a soft spot for good newspaper movies.  I even liked The Paper, which only newspaper people like.
  3. What’s a movie you dislike in a genre you love?
    I love a light, enjoyable romantic comedy, and I like ensemble pictures, but Valentine’s Day is one of the worst films I’ve seen in the past ten years.  And it’s loaded with good actors, actors I usually really like.  Even Julia Roberts and Jennifer Garner.  But geez, it’s boring and horribly written, and I don’t like to speak ill of the recently dead, but it’s terribly directed by Garry Marshall.
  4. What’s a movie you like in a genre you dislike?
    I don’t care for straight horror pictures.  Is Poltergeist a horror film?  Wikipedia says it is, so I’m going with that.  I really like it.  And slasher pics (a subgenre of horror movies) don’t usually do it for me either, but I do like Evil Dead 2, which I think is extremely creative.  Written and directed by Sam Raimi, of course.
  5. What’s a movie everyone else has seen but you have not seen?
    I wasn’t the least bit interested in Avatar when it was in theaters, and very little has been said about it that ever made me interested in it later.  Oh, except that Zoe Saldana is in it, but if I want to see her in a weird skin tone, there’s Guardians of the Galaxy for that.

My Ten Favorite Baseball Books of All Time

I made this list about a year and a half ago, and I’ve read a couple of new baseball books since, so this list may need a revision soon.  But here’s what it looked like then.  In no order (for a change):

  • THE BRONX ZOO by Sparky Lyle and Peter Golenbock (1979)

    Golenbock worked on the autobiographies of four members of the 1978-1979 Yankees. They are all excellent, but this is the best of the lot.
  • BALLS by Graig Nettles and Peter Golenbock (1984)

    Sparky Lyle’s account of the craziness on those Yankees teams is full of angst and drama, but Graig Nettles tells a calmer story, with less drama and more baseball.
  • THE UMPIRE STRIKES BACK by Ron Luciano and David Fisher (1982)

    This should be required reading for any fan of the game. Understanding the challenges of umpiring opens up new dimensions of appreciation for the sport, and Ron Luciano’s outrageous stories give one a little bit of sympathy for the men in blue. Followed by three sequels, one of which is pretty good.

    Jay Johnstone isn’t in anyone’s hall of fame, but his stories of the clubhouse and dugout are fun and humanizing, especially if you remember the Dodgers of the early 80s with any fondness. Hilarious accounts of dugout pranks make this supremely re-readable. Followed by a few sequels of declining entertainment value.
  • GOOD ENOUGH TO DREAM by Roger Kahn (1985)

    Roger Kahn’s story of how he, a lifelong baseball writer, purchased a double-A minor league team. The baseball parts are great; the rest is even better. This is perhaps the sweetest baseball book I’ve read.

    Michael Lewis’s explanations of the economics of baseball, as told through the team who found a way to compete against the high-rollers. A great book made into a pretty good movie, and Lewis can explain anything to anyone better than most teachers I know.

    An amazing, wonderfully geeky breakdown of a baseball game, pitch-by-pitch, with narrative backstory and forestory by one of fantasy baseball’s Founding Fathers. A book only for the hardest core.

    The baseball book that ushered in a new era in sports writing, BALL FOUR broke the sanctity of the clubhouse and served as confessional for an aging knuckleballer clinging to a fading career.

    Catchers tell the best baseball stories, and Bob Uecker tells them better than anyone (see also: books by Joe Garagiola and Tim McCarver). And yes, there’s a chapter on the Lite Beer commercials. This book belongs in the FRONT ROOOOOOW of your library.

    It’s like MONEYBALL plus. Jonah Keri isn’t nearly the writer Michael Lewis is, but with less story and more nuts-and-bolts, his version of the new baseball gives a better picture of what teams today are doing with the math.

Friday 5: Count All the Bees in the Hive

  1. Which of the Winnie-the-Pooh characters do you most relate to?
    One of my friends in high school used to call me Eeyore (I called her Roo).  Eeyore is my spirit animal.  The coffee mug I drink from at work is an Eeyore mug I bought for myself when I was working as a college newspaper advisor.  I left it wrapped, in the Disney bag I brought it home in, and planned to begin using it once I was hired permanently.  Well, that never happened (a story I’ll tell some day soon), so it stayed wrapped until I was official at my current job about two months ago.  It’s a good mug.  There’s a quote on the inside of the cup that says, “Open them wide / Let in the glow / For surprises await / just beyond your window.”
  2. Which of the Winnie-the-Pooh characters has qualities you’d find most attractive in a romantic partner?
    I’m going with Kanga.  She seems most teacher-like among the denizens of the 100-Acre Wood.  She’s kind of hot, in a cartoon kangaroo-ish kind of way.
  3. In what way have you “wandered much further” today than you should?
    Just putting on my work clothes, sitting at a desk, and working at a computer all day definitely qualifies.  However, I spent some of my break time sending text messages to friends, and when I got off, I went for a walk around the university area and then met Penny, with whom I went to a movie.  I think that after-work stuff (and the texting) qualifies as finding my way back to the Wood, at least for a bit.
  4. Of Winnie-the-Pooh stories you can remember (from the books, Disney cartoons, or other sources), which is your favorite?
    This one’s easy.  Piglet gives Eeyore a balloon for his birthday, but he falls on it on the way to give it to him, because he’s in a rush to get to Eeyore before Pooh gets there.  The balloon pops, and at first it seems like a miserable gift until Pooh shows up with an empty honey pot (because he ate the honey that was meant to be Eeyore’s gift).  Eeyore is last seen happily putting the balloon into the honey pot and taking it out again.  Second-favorite: Eeyore floating down the stream, discovered by Pooh and Piglet as they’re playing Pooh-Sticks.  “How did you come to be floating down the stream on your back?” ask Piglet and Pooh.  “I was bounced in,” says Eeyore.  That darn Tigger is ruining things for Eeyore all the time and doesn’t even know it!   I know a few Tiggers.
  5. Which quote from the Winnie-the-Pooh stories would be good for the epigraph in the book about your life?
    Also very easy.  The closing few lines in The House at Pooh Corner:

    And so as winter changes into spring, which changes into summer, there are things which go on forever unchanging. Such as the way a certain boy cares for a certain bear. And we will know, for as long as we care to remember that somewhere in that enchanted place on top the forest, a boy and his bear will always be playing.

    It brings tears to my eye just copying and pasting it here.


Friday 5: Something’s Astir

From here.

  1. What did you last use a spatula for?
    About three weeks ago, I indulged myself with one of my favorite horrible-for-me breakfasts: canned corned beef hash, eggs, and (brown) rice.  I used the spatula first to scrape all the good stuff out of the pan, and then to loosen three sunny-side-up eggs before flipping them with a pan-flip and making them over-easy.  I’m getting pretty good at the flip.
  2. What did you last use your can opener for?
    I opened a can of corn last weekend when I was still recovering from being sick.  I had no appetite for anything, but knew I had to cram some food into me.
  3. What did you last pick up with a pair of tongs?
    I like tongs for when I’m boiling noodles.  They’re best for just snagging one noodle for a quick taste.  Then I use them for tossing the noodles in whatever I’m saucing them with.  So about a week and a half ago.
  4. What did you last use a ladle for?
    I use my ladle a lot.  I’m single and cook for myself, and I’m one of those guys who’ll make a huge pot of something and then eat it for a week or more.  Last weekend, I made a bunch of chili for taking to work for lunch.  Every two nights, I make two days’ worth of brown rice (three fourths of a dry cup), split it into two Ziploc storage containers, and then ladle some chili over it (one and a quarter ladles full).  That’s lunch for the next two days.
  5. What did you last stir with a wooden spoon?
    Ever since I had to toss my favorite wooden spoon out a few years ago, I don’t use this utensil nearly as often as I used to.  I’m still trying to find one that’s the right length, depth, texture, and color for my style.  I picked up an olive wood spoon a couple of years ago at Williams and Sonoma, and it had a lot of potential, but then I put it down somewhere and don’t know where it is.  One day, I’m going to uncover it and maybe that will be my new MVP in the kitchen.  ‘Til then, it’s probably tongs for most of my usual cooking.


Live-Commenting the Oscars

Man.  I want to be 50% as confident about myself doing ANYthing as Justin Timberlake is doing anything on a stage.

I was going to say that everyone in Hollywood is gorgeous, but what I think what I really want to say is that if we could all spend that much money on hair, makeup, and clothes, we would all be gorgeous.  I’m seriously rethinking my clothing budget nowadays.

Kimmel knows how to play a big space.  It’s the thing Letterman never adjusted to in his ill-fated hosting gig.

The standing ovation for Meryl Streep is a nice, diplomatic way to stick a middle finger D.C-ward.  Well done.

Mahershala Ali.  Nice speech, but all I can think is that I want to be able someday to rock an all-black tuxedo.  I do not look good in all black.

That Rolex commercial was great.

Auli`i Cravalho nailed her song.  I have thoughts about Moana and its soundtrack, but I’m saving them for my eventual review.  She’s a little heartbreaker too, isn’t she?

“The difficulty of opposing without hatred.”  Mark Rylance.  Nice.  I didn’t know Fences was an August Wilson play.  I wasn’t interested in it but now I am.  And nice speech by Viola Davis.

Charlize Theron cites Shirley MacLaine in The Apartment as an inspiration.  I get it.  I have mixed feelings about that film, but she’s quite terrific in it.  MacLaine has been horribly misused over the past twenty years or so.  Then she did that great Bernie with Jack Black and forced me to send an apology in her direction, because that woman can still do it if you don’t give her stupid cliched old-actress roles.

I would change teams for Dev Patel.  That guy is hotness.

Sting’s performance was nice enough, but he just stood there and played a classical guitar while singing.  He didn’t have to get hit in the head by a flag and still hit some soulful notes.  Advantage still Cravalho’s.

Zootopia wins for best animated feature.  I question the validity of an award that doesn’t have Finding Dory as a finalist.

In the nominees for best production design (one of my favorite awards) I was struck by the clip for Passengers, which I don’t think I ever heard of.  I read the Netflix summary and wow.

Okay, everyone’s talking about Gary from Chicago (or whatever his name is) in this great stunt they pull on patrons of a homes-of-the-stars tour, but the real star is Yulerie (or however she spells it), that cutie who can’t seem to let go of Meryl Streep.  Very sweet.

I love Leslie Mann.  Also, John Cho looks great up there with her.

Ah, a segment of Mean Tweets.  Pretty funny!

Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling presenting together.  Nice.

John Legend always has such great skin tone.

Oh my gosh.  Jennifer Aniston.

Here’s the in memoriam.  I hate to admit that I get as moved by this segment as everyone else does.  Why can’t we all just live forever?

Oh, that’s nice.  Kenneth Lonergan wins the Oscar for best original screenplay and gets it presented by his producer Matt Damon.

I love that Casey Affleck won this best actor award.  He’s great in everything.

I’ll comment more on the best picture snafu later, but thank goodness for that La La Land producer who took the lead, Oscar still in hand, to call the Moonlight producers down to the stage, insisting that this was not a joke and that they had won.  Someone needed to take control, and he did it with such grace and alacrity it forced everyone through a super-awkward situation to things back on track.

I have to say.  I’ve been watching these broadcasts my whole life, and I can’t remember one as entertaining as this.  Good TV.

Friday 5: Hold On to the Knight

In honor of the defeat of Gary Kasparov by IBM’s Deep Blue in a game of chess on February 10, 1996.

  1. When and how did you learn to play chess?
    I received a board when I was in second grade, and my dad taught me the basic rules.  In addition to the regular game pieces, this set came with cardboard squares on which the pieces were drawn, captions reminding you of the pieces’ names, and little arrows to tell you how the pieces were allowed to move.  They were training pieces, and you put them on the board instead of the real pieces until you didn’t need them anymore.  I was fascinated, but that was before I learned how much I suck at chess.
  2. How is your chess game?
    Yeah, I pretty much suck.  I kind of do respectably against people who can play but have never studied, and I can throw around words like “fork” and “skewer” and even employ the tactics sometimes, or at least accidentally make it look like I’m employing them.  But I don’t think far enough in advance, so anyone who looks three moves ahead can put lickings on me.
  3. When did you last find yourself in a stalemate?
    Grace’s birthday is a couple of weeks after mine.  When the village idiots texted me to ask when I wanted to get together for mine, I said I wanted to celebrate mine after we celebrated Grace’s.  See, I didn’t want to find myself in a conversation about politics or the media, and I know Reid can’t help himself.  I thought I might be okay by some time in February, and Grace’s birthday is near the end of January.  I thought we could do my birthday in February, after Grace’s birthday at the end of the month, without my having to admit the real reason for my request.  But the idiots interpreted my request to mean I’d prefer to have Grace’s birthday THAT WEEKEND and mine after that, which wasn’t nearly enough of a delay.  So I got what I asked for but not what I wanted.  But then Penny had to call it off because she was ill.  So we’re doing Grace’s birthday this weekend and mine sometime after.  Stalemate at first, but then kind of a win for me.
  4. A gambit is a chess opening in which a player sacrifices a piece in hopes of gaining an advantageous position.  What was one of your recent, real-world gambits?
    My life is pretty non-competitive, so it’s tough to think of something, but without getting into details I’m probably not at liberty to share, my landlord had a plumbing issue in the upstairs part of the house (I rent the bottom, a separate living space).  There was some dripping through my ceiling, so it looked like it might be pretty bad.  When I got him to come over and take a look at the situation, I admited a certain uncomfortable truth to him, making myself about as vulnerable as I’ve ever been in our relationship of 18 years or so.  I didn’t do this for any kind of upper hand, but I did think that making myself vulnerable this way would make it more likely that there would be some kind of merciful resolution to a super awkward situation.  He surprised me by admitting a similar uncomfortable truth, and I think we’re communicating better now, and on better terms, than we ever have.
  5. Which piece on the chessboard is most like you, and why?
    I think my mind is a knight, able to take weird turns and to leap over over players, but the rest of me is a pawn, slow and steady, sometimes saving the game near the end, but more often being taken out of the game so others can have their fun.