Friday 5: Nonstrosity

From here.

  1. What’s a good movie for October that has nothing to do with monsters or Halloween?
    The one thing October is good for is baseball’s post-season. When someone says “October,” the first thing I think is, “Yuck!” but the second thing I think is, “Ooh, the World Series.” So I’m going with The Natural and Major League.
  2. What’s a good couple of songs for October that have nothing to do with monsters or Halloween?
    Let’s go with Tonio K’s “Another Day in Limbo” and Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb,” two songs for the interminable month with no holidays!
  3. What are some reasons to love October?
    October is my least favorite month, but in the spirit of participation, I’ll name a few, besides the World Series. Pumpkin spice lattes. Pumpkin pie. Pumpkin bread. Anything pumpkin. Darker mornings, which I especially like on mornings when I walk to the office. And on behalf of my former colleagues teaching in certain schools, two weeks of fall break.
  4. Radio stations sometimes call this month Rocktober, doing special playlists or giveaways in celebration of rock music. What would be a better rhyming name for this month, and how might it be celebrated?
    I’m going with Mocktober, a month to celebrate satire. TV stations can air classic episodes of The Daily Show and Weekend Update, and the late-night talk shows (the ones who practice satire, anyway) get to move into prime time. Satire in all its forms and genres can take center stage in theaters, libraries, bookstores, and other platforms.
  5. What would be a good holiday to establish in October for those U.S. states not commemorating Columbus Day?
    Well I’ll tell you what. Since Hawaii is one of those states, and since we have more state holidays, apparently, than every other state in the union, it’s rough on us not to have a holiday between Labor Day and Veterans Day. At its worst, that’s ten weeks without a holiday, which is crazy in this state. Don’t laugh: we have the longest life-expectancy in the country, and I believe quite firmly that holidays are part of it. In a year when Labor Day falls on September 1, it’s seventy days between holidays, so let’s put a new one at the midpoint: October 6. Among notable people born on October 6 are Kevin Cronin (lead singer of REO Speedwagon), Elisabeth Shue (The Karate Kid and Leaving Las Vegas), Rebecca Lobo (basketball player), and Richard Seymour (Oakland Raider). What the heck: who doesn’t love “Roll with the Changes?” Let’s declare October 6 Kevin Cronin Day. Hey, that’s today! Too late to take a day off this year, but next year I’m doing it.

Review: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
Jack Nicholson, Louise Fletcher, Danny DeVito, Christopher Lloyd, Scatman Crothers, Will Sampson, Brad Dourif. Written by Laurence Hauben and Bo Goldman (based on the novel by Ken Kesey). Directed by Miloš Forman.

I first saw Miloš Forman’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest in eleventh grade, when my Modern American Fiction teacher taught a unit on antiheroes. I liked it rather a lot, but I’ve seen a lot of movies in the years since, and in 1986 I was unaware of this film’s status as one of the greatest of all time. Since I didn’t remember it being quite that terrific, I thought I’d see it again, interested in how my views might have changed. Also, my father recently spent a week in a hospital and I remember warning him to be cooperative lest they assign Nurse Ratched to him. He responded, “I believe I’ve already been introduced to her.” And because I couldn’t remember much about her, I thought I should give it a look.

Randle McMurphy (Jack Nicholson) is transferred from an Oregon prison, where he is serving time for statutory rape, to a mental institution, where he hopes to serve the rest of his sentence in relative ease. He has faked symptoms of mental illness, so from the moment he arrives he carries an air of being above the fray.

McMurphy quickly stirs up some trouble, pushing back against some of the administrative policy and treatment procedure. Although he says he’s there to cooperate, he butts heads with Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher), who is strict about routine and who tolerates very little nonsense from the patients, who seem to be afraid of her. McMurphy sees that the patients—many of whom are there of their own volition and can leave any time they want—are being suppressed by routine and policy, that Ratched’s rules keep them from being fully men, which many are willing to accept. He seems bent on circumventing her emasculating treatment and awakening their dormant manhood. Looking past their aberrant behaviors, McMurphy connects with his fellow patients as human beings, and this connection has a more therapeutic effect than any of Ratched’s sharing groups, curfews, or medications.

I’m interpreting this my way, of course, and perhaps someone else might see things differently, depending on his or her views of establishment and rebellion, or order and chaos, or established ways and new ways, or the government and the people. There’s a lot of room for all of that and I don’t think my takeaway is necessarily right.

And that’s what makes One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest a great film. Yes, there are stellar performances by everyone involved (it was nominated for nine Oscars and won five, including awards for Forman, Nicholson, and Fletcher). Forman definitely has something to say, but he presents his case in such a way that even if you agree with all the evidence, you might come away with a different verdict, because for all her steely-spined primness, Ratched does seem to have the patients’ interests at heart.

Why don’t these patients exercise their right to leave if they believe they’re being repressed? Maybe they’ve been misled or maybe the safety of the hospital is exactly what they need, however that safety might be provided. And in the film’s climactic moment, McMurphy orders something that would easily be defined today as rape, something we can’t just wave away, especially given his criminal history.

The film has its flaws for sure. It shoots for some big-picture stuff that it can’t quite hit, but it’s an admirable effort. Restrict it to big ideas in a smaller-picture view, and it works a lot better. Less universalism and more here’s-an-examplism is probably the better way to apply it.

I was deeply moved by this film, in a way I was not at age sixteen. The performances are amazing and the themes are provocative. And while I see Nicholson as much more than a rebel, now that I am older than the character he plays, I also see Ratched not as an old bag, but as a pretty, middle-aged, hard-working social worker, now that I’m around her age. It makes me wonder what other films, viewed by my teenaged self, need to be watched with my middle-aged eyes.


Review: Terms of Endearment

Terms of Endearment (1983)
Shirley MacLaine, Debra Winger, Jack Nicholson, John Lithgow, Jeff Daniels, Danny DeVito. Written by James L. Brooks (based on the novel by Larry McMurtry). Directed by James L. Brooks.

If you don’t know already that Terms of Endearment is a tear-jerker, I’ve just spoiled that aspect for you, but that’s all I’ll spoil. I swear. It’s all I knew about the film, aside from its status as a beloved, decorated movie based on a novel by Larry McMurtry. I almost forgot that as I laughed my way through the first half, but of course it was always kind of hanging over everything, so that the laughter felt borrowed, like collateral against what I know is coming, even though I didn’t really know what was coming.

Shirley MacLaine and Jack Nicholson are wonderful, Nicholson at his brashest and crassest, MacLaine at her most uptight and most mischievous. In the years following this film, Nicholson often played characters who were exaggerations of this persona, so it’s nice to see it at what I imagine is peak Nicholson. MacLaine, too, seems to have been given over-the-top, eccentric old-lady roles based on her character here (with the most notable exception her great work in Bernie), and it’s possible this is peak MacLaine as well. Their back-and-forth by itself is worth the rental price.

The Nicholson-MacLaine dynamic relegates Debra Winger to supporting status, even though she’s really the central actress. Her relationship with her mother seems to be the center of the film, but I had difficulty figuring Winger’s character out. It’s difficult to figure out why she does the things she does, and the story doesn’t convince us enough one way or another whether it’s because of her mother, because of her husband (Jeff Daniels), or because of a quirky, free-spirit personality. It’s really the film’s weakness, and it’s a disappointment because Winger herself is quite good.

Here’s a mini shout-out to John Lithgow, whose pathetic bank manager character is so well performed that I wanted to see a movie about him and his family.

Terms of Endearment is a good movie, totally worth seeing again and possibly again for its solid performances and the joy of Nicholson and MacLaine. Its problem is that it toys with greatness and doesn’t give enough of an effort to get there.


Friday 5: Payday!

From here.

  1. From whom did you receive your first real paycheck?
    Aiea Public Library. As soon as I turned 15 I looked for work, and a few weeks after I applied to work at any library on my side of the island, I got the call from Aiea. I was called for an interview; I got the job. I made $3.35 per hour, working about fourteen hours a week. It was a good job. I felt rich.
  2. Among board games involving the exchange of money, which have you enjoyed most?
    I guess Life, although one could make a weak case for Puerto Rico counting as a game involving the exchange of money. It’s just not the exchange of money from one player to the next. There is a banker role, so of course if Puerto Rico counts, then it’s Puerto Rico by a mile.
  3. PayDay is the name of a candy bar consisting of salted peanuts rolled in caramel surrounding a firm, nougat-like center. How does it sound to you if you haven’t tried it, and how do you like it if you have? Is there a similar candy bar you like better?
    I had my first PayDay bar from the Trading Post at Camp Pupukea, and when you’re mostly eating camp food all week (which I love; don’t read me wrong), a nice, sugary, store-bought candy bar is heaven, and I do love me a PayDay bar, even though I generally don’t love caramel. I’m against the way so many candy bars taste the same: they’re all just variants on a theme, like items on a Taco Bell menu. But a candy bar without chocolate? That’s calling my name.
  4. When did you last do something nice for yourself just because it was pay day?
    I think a month ago I bought several books I’d been waiting on. Some of them to review for the side gig. Also a couple of baseball books. I’ll share details when I’ve finished reading them.
  5. What person with the surname Day are you most familiar with?
    It surprises me that nobody who’s already answered this question has said Daniel Day-Lewis. After him, the highest profiles have to go to Doris Day and Morris Day, but neither of them can really compare to a multiple-Oscar-winning actor, I don’t think. I’m also familiar with Pat Day, from the days of my youth when I did my best to be an avid follower of thoroughbed racing.
  6. Who’s your favorite member of the Partridge Family?
    It’s no contest. Laurie Partridge. She was so pretty in that show. And I liked her (usually) being more level-headed and mature than her brothers. She often had a kind of interested observer persona, something I think she got from her mom. Laurie was a terrible lip-syncer but that slight overbite and no bangs? Totally made up for it. Too cute for school. That’s the saying, right?

Friday 5 for September 22: I Don’t Get It Either

From here.

  1. Twitch is an enormously popular livestreaming platform mostly for watching people play video games. It has more than 1.5 million broadcasters and more than one million visitors per month, and Amazon acquired it for nearly a billion dollars in 2014. Which of your computer activities would you livestream if there were a way to make some money doing it?
    I think it would be funny to broadcast myself editing my iTunes data. Making sure the tunes have the right titles and are punctuated correctly; classifying everything by a genre that makes the most sense and is the most useful to me; finding album cover art that’s a good size and replicates with some fidelity what the original cover looks like. Checking if tracks scrobble correctly on Last.FM. That kind of thing.
  2. EDM (electronic dance music) is usually performed by DJs on stage in front of audiences, playing tracks they’ve mixed, right off their laptops. If you were a push-button DJ playing your tunes in a club, what would be your opening and closing songs, assuming everyone’s there because they’re into whatever sounds you’re into?
    For an opener you need something familiar and bouncy, so I think something like Jimmy Eat World’s “The Middle” would work, or for an older crowd REO Speedwagon’s “Roll with the Changes.” When I saw Fastball at the end of May, the crowd really responded well to “The Way.” For a closer, maybe Motley Crue’s “Home Sweet Home” or The White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army.” I don’t get how these EDM DJs make the boatloads of money they do just for standing on a stage and plugging in their iTunes.
  3. What’s a good Adele song, and why is Adele so popular?
    I can’t think of one, although I did hear a musicologist’s breakdown of “Someone Like You” (is that what it’s called?) on NPR, and he said that little voice-break she does on the “…SOMEONE LIKE YOUUUUUUUUuuUUUU” lyric (it’s a slight quaver in the middle of “you”) has a technical name, and it’s that single element right there that makes everyone cry when they hear it, as mocked good-naturedly in an SNL sketch. Now when I hear people cover it, I listen for that quaver (I wish I knew what the term was) because I can’t decide if I want to hear it in cover performances or not. Oh, and this podcast I listen to plays parody songs with lyrics relevant to something that happened in a recent show, and after Jordan Spieth won one of the major PGA tourneys a couple of years ago, someone sent in a song called “Balding Jordan Spieth” to the tune of “Rolling in the Deep” and it was utterly hilarious. So now when I hear “Rolling in the Deep” I have to sing “Balding Jordan Spieth” and it cracks me up. Did I answer the question?
  4. The Walking Dead?
    To be fair, I’ve never watched it. So is it fair to say I don’t get its popularity when I haven’t myself seen a single minute? I just don’t find zombie stuff interesting anymore, and wonder why everyone else still does.
  5. Every generation seems to arrive at a “They don’t write ’em like that anymore” attitude. Why does it seem like most middle-aged people lose interest in new music?
    I’ve been trying to figure this out for ages. We all heard old people say this when we were young, and didn’t many of us swear that we would never be like that? I so often hear people around my age say that nothing being recorded nowadays is any good, and I know for certain this just isn’t true. There’s so muich music out there, and nowadays there’s very little keeping us from hearing what we seek. How can people just say that nothing’s being produced now that’s as good as whatever they listened to in their youth? It’s insanity, and I admit I judge people who feel this way. Maybe EDM doesn’t turn you on (it doesn’t turn me on), but that’s not all there is out there. Whatever you’re into, isn’t there someone out there making it? There has to be.

Thrift Store Haul

I stopped at the Moiliili Community Center’s thrift store a couple of Saturdays ago to look for some steals. I don’t hit the thrift shops as much as I once did, since I’m in a decluttering phase right now, but good deals on CDs I am always on the lookout for. Also a working Pentax K-1000 or Olympus OM-1 to replace my old gear, both cameras of which I somehow busted the light meters on. And good vintage video game stuff if I can get a good price. That’s not as easy nowadays as it once was.

Nothing in electronics or photography, but I picked up a cookbook (about which I may write later), one of those fundraising cookbooks where people affiliated with an organization contribute some favorite family recipe, and sales of the collection raise funds for the organization.

Four good scores in CDs, though. Each of these for a buck, and each in excellent condition, including CD inserts.

U2. All That You Can’t Leave Behind (2000, Island). I’m very familiar with this album, of course, but I didn’t have any of the songs, so a buck, less than the price of one digital track, for the whole album is a steal, especially with the CD and insert in such great shape. This was the first of my purchases to be imported into my iTunes, and I gave it a good two or three listens immediately. It’s such a beautiful album. Although I think The Joshua Tree will always be their masterpiece, the band is at its utter best on this album. And the end of “Walk On” is still among my top five U2 moments ever. That would be a good post in the near future. Spoiler: number one is Bono climbing the scaffolding at the US festival during the extended interlude on “New Years Day.” Or was it “Sunday Bloody Sunday?”

The Pogues. Peace and Love (1989, Island). One of the best things about a one-dollar price on CDs is that you can take flyers on bands you’re vaguely familiar with but have never really paid much attention to. Of course I know who the Pogues are and of course I have friends who are rabid fans, but the band has only been in my peripheral awareness for ever and ever. I totally dig the whole Irish folk-punk sound, of course, and have admired the Mighty Mighty Bosstones and the Dropkick Murphys for quite a while. Not to mention Hothouse Flowers, the Waterboys (actually Scottish, I know), and Celtic metal bands like Cruachan and Skyclad. I even suspect most of them either influenced or were influenced by the Pogues. The Pogues just never fell into my earbuds or into my lap until a few weekends ago, so here was my chance. And it’s quite good! My research tells me they got a little bit away from their traditional sound and moved more into a contemporary punkish rock sound with this album, but it’s got a great sound and I do recommend it. One dollar was a steal.

Exodus. Force of Habit (1992, Capitol). As you know, I love me some early thrash. Exodus was among the pioneers of the form, contemporaries of Metallica, Anthrax, Megadeth, and Slayer (the “big four” of thrash). In fact, Kirk Hammett was the founder of Exodus, although he never recorded with them before Metallica recruited him to be their first lead guitarist. So Exodus has always been the sorta sidenote in thrash history, probably nobody’s favorite but liked well enough. I have the first album, Bonded by Blood, but wasn’t going out of my way to get the rest unless, as it did a couple of weekends ago, the occasional CD fell into my lap for a good price. Force of Habit is everyone’s (including guitarist Gary Holt’s) least favorite Exodus album, but you know? It’s actually pretty good. It’s a leeeeetle slower than the work the band is famous for, and it has a couple of strangely conceived covers (the Rolling Stones “Bitch” and Elvis Costello’s “Pump it Up”), but it has some tasty thrash drumming by John Tempesta, some snarly vocals by Steve “Zetro” Souza, and great riffing by Holt. And of course, always that lovely, fat, bottom end. It feel optimistic but sinister at the same time, like a lot of good thrash. I can’t tell you how pleased I am that I got this for a buck; it’s actually much better than Bonded by Blood. And now I really wanna see Exodus in concert.

Twelve Girls Band. Eastern Energy (2004, Platia Entertainment). I’m least familiar with this band, who has performed in Honolulu to the delight of everyone I know who went to the show. Twelve young Chinese women playing traditional Chinese instruments, in a mostly folk-contemporary style. It’s got to be at least interesting, at least worth a buck to give it a spin, right? I haven’t gotten to it yet, so I can’t say. I’ll probably spin it sometime this week. It’s taken me this long, nearly three weeks, just to get to the Exodus album, which I’m spinning right now for the second time. This CD, in terrific shape, comes with a concert DVD as well, so although I can’t comment on the music just yet, I’m greatly looking forward to the exploration, as soon as it comes up in my queue of my too-much-media-to-consume stack. There’s a cover of Coldplay’s “Clocks” here, which could be interesting, and a cover of Enya’s “Only Time,” which seems like a natural choice.

There’s actually a thrift store on campus where I work, but it’s as far away from my office as it could possibly get and still be on campus. I walk by it all the time when I do post-work evening walks. It’s only open four hours in the middle of the day, three days a week or something like that. So it’s been tough to get to, although I may make another effort at the end of September.

Friday 5: What Ails Ya

From here.

  1. How do you treat a bad case of the Mondays?
    Try to keep it as positive as possible. The surest way to be unhappy is to think about your own problems, and Monday is a big problem sometimes. I don’t mean to paint myself as a Mary Poppins or whatever (I’ve never seen Mary Poppins so I don’t know if that’s a good reference), but at work, when I’m the most miserable, I look around for some way to make other people’s day better. It works, I tellya.
  2. How do you fight off a case of the blahs?
    This one’s a lot more difficult, because the blahs tend to draw me inward, away from others, and that’s often a good way to feel even more blah, or to get involved in self-indulgent behavior that I later regret. I’m lookin’ at you, twenty Chicken McNuggets for only five bucks. So I don’t really have one go-to solution here. Sometimes crossword puzzles work. Sometimes reading, but usually only if I take my reading to a cafe, or somewhere where I’m surrounded by strangers. There are a few lovely ladies I can text who will engage me in SMS conversation, and that often helps, but if nobody gets right back to me, it can get blaher.
  3. How do you deal with a bad hair day?
    I typically wear my long hair tied back in a ponytail. I know. It’s ridiculous. I know how ridiculous it looks. I need to keep it professional, and that’s the best I can do without cutting it, so there I am. A bad hair day usually means it doesn’t like to stay tied back, or it looks frizzy or fluffy instead of nicely tied back. My treatment is usually to just get it a little wet so it stays where I need it, then keep doing that every couple of hours.
  4. What’s your strategy for FOMO?
    My best move is to picture myself some time down the road, say a week or so. Looking back to this upcoming moment, will I really regret not being there? It usually works. My favorite musician of all time, Bruce Cockburn, finally released a box set this week, forty-seven years after his first album, to mark his twenty-fifth studio album, also released this week. The box set with the new album is about $95 and I just can’t spend it. Well, I can spend it, but I’m sure I’ll be miserable for a long time if I do. My finger was on the mouse button for a loooooong time, but then I imagined myself a month later, without the box set (of which there are only 130 or so made), I realized I’d be okay. So I didn’t click. It’s okay. It’ll be okay.
  5. How prone are you to Instagram envy?
    I don’t do envy very well. It’s difficult for me to work up any real envy. If it’s cool food photos, I just file the info away for later, when I might have an opportunity to go to the new places. If it’s some event, I think about how many people must be there and it makes me shudder. Seldom does envy really enter the picture for me.

Friday 5: Consumption

From here.

  1. What is your paper towel consumption like?
    I try to be pretty conservative with them, but I always have used a lot. However, I get those half-sheet-perforated rolls from Costco, which means I pay less for them and use less when I can. For some things, I’ll even tear a half-sheet in half. And on the occasion when I use a paper towel to dry a bowl or mug or something, I dry the paper towel and use it later for the same purpose once or twice more. I do use them for a few things I suspect many people don’t. I use them when I prep food in place of a cutting board most of the time, and I put a few beneath my rice cooker when I’m making rice or quinoa, since I have one of those cookers that doesn’t have a lockdown lid. And it’s a small little rice cooker, so it gets a bit splashy.
  2. What condiment do you use most often?
    Undoubtedly soy sauce, what most people around here call shoyu. Like most of my Hawaii compatriots, I put it on (and in) most savory dishes, although I’m making a few lifestyle changes and decreasing my sodium intake may have to be part of that. It’s really the one change I don’t want to make, though. so I’d like to see how things go.
  3. What is your sticky note consumption like?
    I’m well stocked but I only use maybe one every other day under normal circumstances. In the middle of big projects I’ll use more. I ran out of my favorite, most productive Post-its a few weeks ago: 2-inch by 3-inch melon-colored stickies. They served me really well. So far I’ve only seen them as part of a three-color pack on Amazon. Not the way I’d like to purchase them.
  4. What’s your coin jar setup?
    My coin jars used to be my rainy day fund, but now they’re my end-of-pay-period feed-myself strategy. I’ve never liked carrying change, especially as a bus-riding commuter and pedestrian, so I have a jar at home (actually a plastic, quart-sized Baskin-Robbins container) and one on my desk at work (actually a paper coffee cup until I find something I like better) and I empty my pockets into them upon arriving at either place. I’ve had to drain them both in the week before payday each of my last three pay periods. It’s been a rough month and a half.
  5. What’s something you’ve purchased recently that was lower in price than usual?
    I recently stepped into a Jack in the Box to get a chocolate shake while I waited for a bus. The cashier recognized me from years of my patronage at a JitB near the school where I used to teach and she gave me a 10% discount. That wasn’t much of a savings but it was a really nice gesture. She didn’t even tell me she gave me the discount but I noticed the price I paid was lower than the price on the menu, and then she explained what she’d done.

Review: Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

Everything I Never Told You
By Celeste Ng (Penguin Press, 2014)

“Lydia is dead.” These are the first three words in Celeste Ng’s Everything I Never Told You, so I am not spoiling anything by quoting them here. Sixteen-year-old Lydia Lee is an overachieving girl who hopes to be a doctor. She’s won science fair prizes, taken courses at the community college, and hung the periodic table of the elements on her wall. She appears to be the center of her family, a favorite of both parents Marilyn and James, a co-conspirator of sorts with her twelfth-grade brother Nath, and worshipped by ten-year-old sister Hannah.

We know before Lydia’s parents know that she is dead, and now our task, along with her family, is to figure out why. And there’s a lot of evidence to sift through. She is one of only two Asian students in her 1970s Ohio high school. She’s been hanging around with a senior boy known to spend time with many girls in the back seat of his VW Beetle. Her father, mother, and siblings are each carrying secrets that could explain Lydia’s death, but this is a family that leaves uncomfortable things in the past and never speaks of them again.

This not speaking to each other is poisonous. Ng writes in the third-person omniscient point of view to get us deep into each character’s tragedies, first picking at scars but then tearing them open and pushing us inside to get a look around. It’s a tough read. James has issues about being a Chinese American in parts of the country where he’s the only one. This means Marilyn, the Caucasian wife he met at Harvard, has issues of her own, some of them reaching back to before she met James. Their children suffer the trickle-down consequences of their parents’ issues, then add their complications, until our hearts break for each separately, then for each relationship in this wonderful but damaged family.

Ng’s writing is reason enough to read this. Her prose is smart but not overly literary, as novels in this upmarket fiction genre tend to be. She lays the symbolic visuals on a bit heavily, but she’s careful not to broadcast them too loudly, so that as the complexities of each character’s alienation unfold, we feel a kind of horror at the results while caring deeply for the people, perhaps granting some clemency for their bad decisions.

Who is most to blame for Lydia’s death? It’s not an easy question to answer, but weighing the considerations is one of the novel’s rewarding experiences, not in the way that a good whodunnit is rewarding because we solve the tricky mystery ahead of the protagonist, but in the way a good story is when it gives us characters we like and sympathize with, and enough rationale to enable our judgments. It’s excellent book group fodder for this reason.

A challenging read because of the content, but satisfying because excellently conceived characters.

Four stars of five.

Friday 5: Sandwich or Nah?

From here.

  1. Why is or isn’t a hot dog a sandwich?
    First, a quick definition which is more like a starting point. A sandwich is something to eat between slices of bread, however those slices came into existence. An open-faced sandwich is a sandwich, but this is what I mean by a starting point: you can modify this definition by modifying the nomenclature.

    Now, if you have some egg salad in a bowl, it’s just egg salad. It becomes a sandwich when you put it between slices of bread. Egg salad by itself: egg salad. Egg salad between slices of bread: egg salad sandwich. Hot dog in a bun: hot dog. Hot dog outside a bun? Still a hot dog. The addition of bread does nothing to change its name, so it’s not a sandwich, but I am totally fine with people thinking it is.

    Because I make my own bread, I often slice hot dogs lengthwise and lay them flat on some bread and make a sandich this way. It’s a hot dog sandwich. If you go to the ballpark and ask for a hot dog and they hand you one of my hot dog sandwiches, you have the grounds for riot incitement.

  2. Why is or isn’t a hamburger a sandwich?
    Sort of the same reason a hot dog isn’t a sandwich. Take the patty out of a hamburger and you still have a hamburger. So not really a sandwich, although I admit that when I order a Big Mac at McD’s and don’t want the combo, I say, “May I have a Big Mac, just the sandwich?” This is because a hamburger really is a sandwich, but it has become its own thing, elevating it into a new category although it still has the sandwichness of a sandwich.
  3. Why is or isn’t a wrap a sandwich?
    It’s not a sandwich because it doesn’t have bread. A tortilla is not bread. It is a breadlike thing, but you can make tortillas with flour, fat, and water. You can’t make bread with those ingredients, no matter that one such creation is sometimes called “unleavened bread.” Unleavened bread is essentially a cracker, not bread.
  4. Why are or aren’t Oreos and ice cream sandwiches sandwiches?
    They are called sandwich cookies and ice cream sandwiches, but that’s a metaphorical use of the term sandwich, as when we say we were sitting on the couch, sandwiched between Julia Roberts and Anna Kendrick. We’re not a sandwich even if we’re “sandwiched,” because that’s a metaphor. An Oreo is a cookie, not a sandwich. An ice cream sandwich is an ice cream dessert, not a sandwich.
  5. Why does or doesn’t listening to an audio book count as reading the book?
    From a practical, general standpoint, it’s the same thing, especially if reading is about content. But from a developmental, experiential standpoint, it’s not the same thing at all. Running 26.6 miles is a marathon. Riding in a car 26.6 miles covers the same ground but is not. You can say you traveled the same route and saw the same stuff, but you didn’t run a marathon. If you listen to an audio book and want to say you “read” it, that’s fine with me if we’re just chatting about the content. However, it’s not reading any more than sitting in a bus for 26.6 miles is running.

    As an educator, I care deeply about this, especially since I worked for ten years with students who had dyslexia and other language-based learning differences. If I assign a novel and all I care about is that the students know the content, an audio book is fine. Heck, CliffsNotes are fine. But that’s seldom the case. I want students to experience the book the way the marathon runner experiences the 26.6. Especially if the students are in school, where everything is about development. Reading Johnny Tremain in eighth grade makes you a better reader of Of Mice and Men in ninth grade, which makes you a better reader of To Kill a Mockingbird in tenth grade, which makes you a better reader of Pride and Prejudice in twelfth grade. If you don’t do any of the assigned reading in any of those earlier years, you will not read Pride and Prejudice as well when you’re a senior, and you’ll wonder why you can’t get your SAT verbal scores up in the four months you have before the college application deadline. It’s because you kept riding the bus for those 26.6 mile trips.