Wednesday, December 30, 2009
Sunday, December 27, 2009
Sunday, November 22, 2009
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
Sunday, November 1, 2009
Friday, October 9, 2009
Literary Adventure: War and Peace
Leo Tolstoy began writing War and Peace, his epic story of Russian Society during the Napoleonic era, in 1863 and finished it 6 years later, in 1869. Today, many people spend as long just trying to read its table of contents.
At 1456 pages, War and Peace is far from the longest book in the world (that distinction belongs to the fully-illustrated Uncle Wally's Big Book of Dirty Jokes), but it is long AND boring, with no pictures whatsoever. The last person to supposedly read War and Peace in its entirety was in fact, Leo Tolstoy, and even that is in doubt.
Many skeptics note that War and Peace was originally written in Russian, yet now exists in an English translation. They ask where this translation could have come from unless someone read the entire book. They might just as well ask how baby sparrows learn to fly, or why balloons fall up. Such things simply are. You can shut these naysayers up real quick by asking if THEY have ever read the book, at which point they will stare down at their shoes and mumble incomprehensibly.
In 1935, as part of the New Deal, Roosevelt constructed a team composed of one-hundred and fifty unemployed novelists, poets, vaudevillians, and one actual Russian to read War and Peace. Each person was in charge of exploring approximately ten pages, and then summarizing to the rest of the group what they learned, to try to form a complete picture of the book. Here is a transcript from one of their meetings:
F. Scott Fitzgerald: Uh, well it was hard to say really, what was going on. There was a lonely boy, and he was in Russia of course . . .
Buster Keaton: (makes a funny face and falls out of his chair)
(laughter from the group)
Jilly the Ventriloquist: I actually fell asleep two pages into my section. Before that they were walking in the snow, talking about stuff. I think my dummy, Woody, read the rest though.
Woody: Who you callin' a dummy?
It was this team which wrote the historical "War and Peace with the Boring Parts cut out," which has been the basis for every subsequent book report, critical review, flip book, and computer-animated musical film adaptation.
The first 200 pages of the epic novel are widely read, but around page 220, readership drops off sharply, and comes to almost a complete halt by 643 (see graph). Despite the many attempted expeditions into the interior of War and Peace, few have pierced its deep, dark center, or glimpsed the fabled 150 blank pages said to lie near its core. Indeed, more is known about the surface of the moon than about page 1028 (if it does in fact exist) of War and Peace.
I resolved to see how far I myself could journey into the impenetrable depths of War and Peace.
Reprinted here are excerpts from my journal which I kept during the journey.
– – –
I pulled a hamstring just lifting the book off the shelf. You use different muscles lifting books than you do in everyday life, and I just wasn't ready for it. Problem numero uno. The native guides took this as a bad omen and fled. I must carry on . . . alone.
Page 10: I decided it's not cheating to skip the copyright page and table of contents. I plunge right into the beginning of chapter one.
Page 12: I am immediately immersed in a world strange and incomprehensible. My compass spins madly; my sextant turns red hot and melts into a puddle of molten brass.
I leave a trail of breadcrumbs and tie a spool of twine around my waist, should I need to find my way out again.
Page 150: Ive set up camp for the night under a dangling participle. Reading going smoothly so far. I tripped over a 16-letter word and opened a small cut on my forehead, but other than that I'm doing fine. We'll see what happens when I hit the first landmark, page 220.
Page 220: I hit 220 at first light and discovered what has discouraged so many readers before me: a sheer wall of prepositions three pages thick.
I decided to cut my losses and go back. However I turned around to find that voles (or ferrets, its hard to tell from the tracks) had eaten my bread crumbs. My twine is gone as well, and was doubtless untied in the night by mischievous faeries.
There is no turning back now. I must press on.
Page 378: I have befriended a small arctic hare and taught him to walk on a leash. I've named him Leo. He's a capital fellow! We hold long discussions about Nietzsche. I hope I'm able to bring him home to show the chaps at the whist club.
Page 379: Hunger has set in, and I had to eat Leo.
Day 4, or maybe 4,000:
Page 654: I'm lost inside what can only be described as the Literary Bermuda Triangle: a paragraph ten pages long. Without any paragraph breaks, I've lost my sense of direction. I find it increasingly difficult to keep my eye on the folios, and I fear I may be reading in circles.
Page 653: Yes, I'm reading in circles.
Page 654: Hey great, I'm finally back here again.
Page who cares, I'm going to die: I should've asked Debbie to dance, and now I'll never get the chance. I've wasted my life.
Page ???: Legs . . . weary. Vision . . . growing dim. The sea of words is rising higher around me. I surrender to their cold embrace and sink. Darkness washes over me . . .
Page 664: I awake on the shore of page 664. Behind me, stretching unbroken to the horizon, lays the mammoth paragraph which nearly claimed my life. But how did I get here?
In the midst of the sea of words a large sea tortoise floats, waving his flipper at me. He must have towed me to safety! I salute the brave terrapin and set off with new resolve, knowing that providence has handed me a mandate.
Page 725: New words, never before seen by man, scurry amongst the underbrush all around me. I try to catalog as many as I can: bulbouslyish-like, portitudity, gwibberrrrrr, fnoob. Though I'm unable to ascertain their meanings, I can tell you that a fnoob will snatch a ham sandwich right out of your hand if you don't keep your eye on it, and that a gwibberrrrrr is good pan seared with butter and saffron on a bed of baby spinach.
Page unknown: I made a grave error today. I took a nap without laying down a bookmark. When I awoke, I had lost my place. It took me the rest of the day to find it again, after re-reading plenty of pages that weren't interesting the first time around.
Page 800: I am now deeper than any man has read before. The air is very thin here, and I find myself tiring easily.
Page 890: Living so deep within the book, words here have evolved very differently from those at the surface. Many of them are translucent and have luminescent organs, eerily similar to the deep-sea aliens in James Cameron's blockbuster, The Abyss. This merely buttresses my theory that James Cameron is the mouthpiece for the creator of the universe.
Page 925: Something is approaching on the horizon. It's outline is dim, is it a mirage? No! It's an International House of Pancakes with an attached War and Peace giftstore!
The prices at the gift store are outrageous; this is what happens without the healthy competition of a free market. I had to pay $20 for a War and Peace t-shirt. I just had to get it though, because it's really funny. It says on it, "Warren Peace? Never heard of him." If I live through this, I'll kick myself if I haven't gotten a souvenir.
Page 1000: It is no myth. I am standing on the threshold of the fabled 150 blank pages written of in War and Peace lore. Tolstoy peered deep into himself, and envisioned a wasteland so absolute, so empty, that it could not be expressed by words. Either that or I've finally gone blind from peering at the tiny font this book is written in.
Page 1075: Smack in the middle of the wasteland, I find a lone word: PERSPICACITY.
Page 1150: At the edge of the wasteland I come upon three doors. I somehow know that I can only choose one, and how well I choose will decide the outcome of my journey.
I pick the middle door.
Inside is a dusty mirror. Inside the mirror, my mirror-self. He is grotesque. He has little bony-girl legs with gawky doorknob knees and a scrawny chicken neck. His knuckles are hairy. His teeth are gappy. There is a mad, feverish gleam in his pornographer's eyes.
He looks just like me.
He lunges out of the mirror and wraps his filthy fingers around my neck. Though he barely has the strength of a fourth grader, I'm unable to fight him off. I have only one recourse.
I pull my mental self back into my physical body. I come to in my high backed Windsor chair, covered in cobwebs, the mammoth book open and glowing in my lap. A strong wind--a vortex--tears at my smoking jacket, threatening to suck me back into the pages. My pipe is sucked out of my mouth and disappears into the book.
With every last bit of my strength, I close the book and hurl it into the fireplace. This accomplishes little, since the fireplace is never lit (Im allergic to smoke). I quickly take the book outside with a pair of tongs and burn it on my hibachi, where it explodes in a noxious tower of blue flame which all my neighbors complain about the next day.
What did I learn from my journey? Did I learn anything about myself? Did I learn anything about the tragic comedy known as the human race? No. All I learned is that War and Peace is a dog from hell, and that bitch will finish you if you don't finish it first.
"But you didn't finish the book," I can hear some of you smarty-pants in the back row saying.
I'm sorry, but that is the end of this week's adventure
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
Monday, September 21, 2009
Sunday, September 20, 2009
Friday, September 18, 2009
Sunday, September 13, 2009
Saturday, September 12, 2009
Saturday, September 5, 2009
Tuesday, September 1, 2009
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
Sunday, August 2, 2009
Maybe you’ve had this experience before: You’re driving to Minnesota to buy a futon because you and your girlfriend broke up but still have to share the same apartment for the next six months, and she refuses to sleep in the same bed with you after what you did. You want to get a bite to eat, but you’re driving through some provincial burg that doesn’t have a McDonald’s or any other fast food that you recognize. It’s dark and raining. You haven’t eaten anything since post pre-dinner (also known as lunch 4, or early evening snack 2), almost two hours ago. You can feel your blood sugar dropping—the steering wheel swerves in your suddenly weak fingers, your eyes can’t focus; the road doubles and trebles through your rain streaked windshield. Is this how you’ll die? For a futon? The old gypsy’s warning suddenly makes sense. Then, a neon sign swims out of the darkness: Hamburgers. Uncle Jonnie’s Hamburgers.
The inside of the hamburger joint is like a hall of mirrors. The employee isn’t wearing a uniform, the decor is strange and unique, and the atmosphere is unsettlingly one-of-a-kind. You look at the menu, which might as well be written in Arabic. You ask if they have chicken Mcnuggets—they have chicken fingers. You ask if you can get a number two—they don’t understand. You ask if they have Big Macs—they have Uncle J’s Double Love Burger with Rattlesnake Sauce. You ask to speak to the manager, and instead of rolling his eyes at you, the cashier says “I’m Uncle Jonnie. What can I do for you?” You curl up into a ball and repeat over and over “I’m lovin’ it, I’m lovin’ it, I’m lovin’ it . . .” but the teleportation spell doesn’t work.
If the unknown is the only thing you fear more than being thin, then you probably don’t care that chain restaurants contribute to the homogenization of American culture, the steady decline of hourly wages, the rising obesity epidemic, and whatever other crazy shit Upton Sinclair says from beyond the grave. But whether you like chain restaurants or not, you still eat at them, because if you’re not at home and need to eat, you basically have no other choice except for windfall apples and lichen.
Although the defining characteristics of chain restaurants—a group of separate restaurants rendered identical by an coldly calculating, controlling hive mind like the Borg—are identical for both fast food and casual dining, consumer perception of the two groups diverges drastically.
Fast food at its worst is viewed as a necessary evil, at its best a guilty pleasure—a mercenary industry we grudgingly support in the interest of convenience and economy. The categories on the fast food side of the chart reflect consumers' contempt: here’s the mexican place, here’s the place my friend got food poisoning, here’s the place I eat when I only have a dollar, here’s the place I only eat at because I don’t want to get off the turnpike.
Casual dining, on the other hand, occupies a more personal position in our lives, almost like family. While fast food is a necessity, like taking a shit or mowing the lawn, casual dining is a luxury, albeit a small one, like taking a bubble bath or masturbating at work. Casual dining is there for all the most important parts of lives, reflected in the three major categories: work, play, and love. You just got a promotion? Time for Margaritas at Chili’s. The bar just closed and you want waffles? Time for a triple stack at IHOP. You need to trick someone into thinking you’re interesting and attractive? It’s time for the Melting Pot.
Like a lover, casual dining often lies, but always for our own good; they’re white lies, intended to lift us from the dreariness of everyday reality. “Oh my god, look, we’re in the old west!” or “I’m your server and although we’ve never met, I’m super happy to see you! Here’s a song I wrote about it!” Unlike a lover, casual dining will never say the hurtful lies that are sometimes spat in the heat of an argument. “I never really loved you,” “I’ve had better,” or “Your charts are stupid, especially the one about salad dressing (see page xx).”
Casual dining may lie, but it’s a warm quilt of deceit, knitted to make us feel better and take all our money. Oh, wait, I forgot about that—chain restaurants are only nice to you because they want your money. So I suppose the whole “lover” metaphor doesn’t work. I guess chain restaurants are really more like a hooker. Regardless though, they’re not a hooker that will make you drive to Minnesota to buy a futon. (See how I tied this whole essay together at the end? It’s just like Finnegan’s Wake! But less readable!)
Friday, July 17, 2009
Lord Metal and his Axe-Slingers of Death
A Quiet Party in Hell for Two
The Drums of the Anti-christ
Spies of Saruman
George Harrison's Brain Pudding
The Miracle and the Sleeper: A Black Metal Tribute to the Music of Dream Theater
Rapelings from Planet X
Curb Stomp Tango
Belt of Souls
At the Summit of Mt. Sorrow
Rings of the Succubus
Wednesday, July 8, 2009
100 MINOR DISAPPOINTMENTS
1. Fortune cookie empty
1. Fortune cookie empty
2. Antique worthless
3. Season finale inscrutable
4. Hot tub tepid
5. Spouse aging
6. Long story pointless
7. Mall Santa slightly Asian
8. Caricature looks nothing like you
9. Potato chips baked
10. Savages not noble
11. Picnic rained out
12. Summer camp friends drift apart in the Fall
13. Au pair not attractive; not even French
14. Vacation too short
15. Revenge hollow
16. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
17. Mentor lecherous
18. Sasquatch sighting faked
19. Outfit that looked great in the store looks not so great at home
20. Cookies eaten by roommate
21. Grandparents racist
22. Amish village touristy
23. Organic food unhealthy
24. Pancakes too filling
25. Company outing business-like
26. Triscuits unsalted
27. Twist ending predictable
28. Crossword puzzle difficult
29. Magic eye picture not working
30. Comedian tragic
31. Birthday ignored
32. Presents crappy
33. Holiday stressful
34. Prayer unanswered
35. Nature buggy
36. Ebay bid outbid
37. Innocence slowly eroded
38. Sex anticlimactic
39. Star Wars prequels
40. Party not wild
41. “Best years of your life” okay
42. Nostalgia unwarranted
43. Foreign film hard to follow
44. New haircut funky—not in a good way
45. Swimsuit unflattering
46. Master’s degree useless
47. Foreplay cursory
48. New sweater not complimented
49. Blog ignored
50. Friend request denied
51. Toast burnt
52. Poem unintentionally hilarious
53. Daughter plain
54. Altoids not as intense as their marketing claims
55. Hero rude
56. Bin Laden uncaptured
57. Cat unaffectionate
58. Baby ugly
59. Sermon soporific
60. Imported cheese smelly
61. Portion too small
62. Fancy cigar like sucking on a bundle of burning leaves
63. Really cute heels uncomfortable
64. Leftover french fries inedible
65. Beach crowded
66. Film you loved when you were a kid not so good anymore
67. Three day weekend wasted
68. Role model sexist
69. Boxing match civilized
70. Chicken salad sandwich dry
71. Dog disobedient
72. Puppy to sleepy to play
73. No room for dessert
74. Youth fleeting
75. Second place
76. Psychiatrist preoccupied
77. Old person not full of wisdom
78. Art unappreciated
79. Retirement boring
80. Christmas not white
81. Circus ratty
82. Fortune-teller vague
83. Exercise regiment effects gradual
84. Solar eclipse unimpressive
85. Vending machine out of order
86. Soda flat
87. Expensive wine tastes like regular wine
88. Buffet selection limited
89. New cubicle same as old cubicle
90. Sequel not as good as original
91. Awesome dream just a dream
92. Son not good enough to play major league ball
93. Pen pal dorky
94. Lap dance perfunctory
95. High five left hangin’
96. Scrabble triple word score word disputed
97. Inspirational quote uninspiring
98. Monkeyhouse closed for cleaning
99. Limerick not bawdy
100. Disappointment list depressing
Sunday, June 28, 2009
Another essay for Everything Explained Through Flowcharts. I'm not really happy with this one yet. Not sure why not though. You'll have to imagine the graphics for the sidebars that are noted inside the brackets.
It sucks to be a villain. How would you feel if every time one of your plans failed (that soufflé you burnt, that lop-sided sweater you knitted, or that child of yours who turned gay) everybody clapped? You’d be feel rotten, that’s how you’d feel. And you’d swear vengeance! [See Figure 1: Parting Oaths] Now, also consider the fact that supervillain schemes almost always fail. [See Figure 2: Supervillain Scheme Success Rate], and it’s easy to understand why villains are always scowling from the balcony of their mountain fortress.
(sidebar) FIGURE 1:
- You have not seen the last of (your name)!
- You will rue the day you crossed (your name)!
- Vengeance shall be mine!
- My memory is as long as my reach.
- I’ll try harder next time!
- Every dog has his day!
(sidebar) FIGURE 2:
Supervillain Scheme Success Rate
Scheme succeeds: 5%
Scheme thwarted: 80%
Scheme succeeds, but only for a moment, then is thwarted: 15%
I know I shouldn’t feel any sympathy for supervillains; that, if they had their way, I’d be toiling in the methane mines of Titan, or be just another pile of bones beneath their throne of skulls. Although I can’t empathize with the black-hearted motivations behind their schemes, I still, unfortunately have more in common with supervillains than I do with superheroes. (Although I have little in common with either, because super isn’t an adjective that describes me well.) [see Figure 3: Things Super About Me] Rarely have I swooped in, saved the day, and been carried off on the shoulders of a cheering crowd. However, there have been many, many times when the poorly constructed plans that I dreamed about for months collapsed into shambles. (See Failures chart, page xx.) I can remember clearly the rickety skateboard half-pipe I built in the backyard that broke a friend’s leg, the useless philosophy degree I got in college, the awful band I formed in junior high. (We were called Leaky Stigmata. We only ever played one show, in the back room of a pizza shop, before a heated argument about “selling out” tore the band apart.) [See Figure 4 for Leaky Stigmata logo.] The only time I’ve come close to saving the day was when we went camping and I was the only one who remember to bring the ingredients to make s’mores.
(Sidebar) FIGURE 3:
How I’m super
- Super crabby in the morning
- Super hairy in unusual places
- Super stumbly after drinking lots of wine
- Super self-deprecating
- Super shy around strangers
Scheming is a distinctly villainous activity. Heroes certainly don’t scheme, they just wait around for the villains to do something, then stop it. Villains spend months, perhaps years, planning complex schemes—building lasers, breeding super-smart apes, searching catacombs for magical stones—and then, just when they’ve almost succeeded, just when their scheme is almost finally accomplished, a red light will begin blinking on the console of the superhero’s crime fighting computer. The hero will put down their newspaper, say something corny, and then fly over and punch the villain into submission. “Nice try, Dr. X! Maybe next time you should build a bigger robot.” Then the hero will go on vacation, perhaps to a tropical island somewhere, and walk down the beach kicking over sand castles.
Supervillains are kind of asking for it though, since their schemes are always absurdly complicated. Why shrink the hero and make him battle a scorpion when you could just shoot him in the face? Or, if he’s already shrunk, why not just squish him? Ruling the world or destroying one's nemesis isn’t enough for a supervillain, he also has to accomplish it in a grandiose way. Often it seems that schemes are chosen more for their dramatic effect than their chance of success or degree of efficacy. [See Figure 4: Schemes With Impressive Visuals.]
(sidebar) FIGURE 3: Schemes With Impressive Visuals
- Floating battle zeppelin
- Barely controllable monstrosity
- Giant insect army
- Your face carved on the moon
This flair for the theatrical is the supervillain’s Achilles heel, but it’s also what separates him from run-of-the-mill hoodlums in the first place. The common thug’s brilliant scheme to rob the bank by walking in and pulling out a gun—although effective—is not on this chart. Yes, most supervillain schemes are guaranteed to fail, but at least they will fail spectacularly, grandly—a flaming comet streaking through the night sky (and hopefully striking something important).
I know what a lot of you are thinking—that the inclusion of salad dressing in this book is a crude and transparent attempt to appeal to readers’ baser instincts; another shameful example of the commercialization of salad dressing, an exploitation that pervades our culture like the strangling tendrils of a fleshy vine (your words, not mine).
Nothing could be further from the truth. The discussion of salad dressing here is meant to educate, not scintillate. Like yourselves I am shocked at the ubiquity of salad dressing in the mainstream media. I believe there is nothing inherently wrong with salad dressing—when used properly. Good dressing—used judiciously, applied prudently—is the glue that holds a salad together. But the wonton portrayal of salad dressing in the mainstream media is anything but healthy or prudent.
Let me describe a commercial I saw on TV the other day: Fade in on a black marble kitchen counter. A techno beat pulses tribally in the background. The camera zooms in close on a chilled salad bowl. The bowl is filled with fresh, plump produce, beaded with moisture, partying on a bed of lettuce: hothouse tomatoes lounge near the bowl’s lip; twin sprigs of frisee frolic between French-slivered carrot sticks; a firm, quartered cucumber dances with a cluster of cauliflower. A husky woman’s voiceover says “What’s sexier than undressing?”
(Sensitive readers please stop reading here and proceed to the Legumes chart, page xx.)
In slow motion, a massive bottle lowers into frame above the bowl and douses the salad in thick, creamy, homestyle Ranch dressing. The veggies squeal in delight. Close-up, quick cuts of the tomatoes, the carrot sticks, a giggling gaggle of baby spinach, laughing and splashing in the gooey cream, smearing it all over each others’ bodies. [FIGURE 1: Illustration]
The woman’s voice breaks in again “. . . Dressing.”
And then I threw up in my popcorn bowl.
If you think this kind of filth is only on Cinemax you are wrong. I saw this commercial at 3pm on a Tuesday in the middle of Boy Meets World. Oh the irony of that title! Because this is exactly how so many of our young people (boys) are learning about the salad dressing around them (meeting the world, so to speak). [See figure 2 for full metaphor equation.]
(footnote) FIGURE 2
Boy = Young People
Meets = Learn About = +
World = Salad dressing
Young People + Salad Dressing – Education = Teenage Wasteland
Teenage Wasteland = awesome song/parental nightmare
The crucial variable that separates healthy salad dressing users from dressing abusers is education, and that knowledge is exactly what the Salad Dressing chart can facilitate.
“But I don’t want my kids to know about dressing!” you whine in a wimpy voice.
Don’t begrudge your children their natural salad dressing curiosity. Remember that once, not long ago, you too were young and hungry. We can all remember nights when we parked under a burnt out streetlamp and greedily gobbled a take-out salad in the front seat of our hatchback. Or that electric summer night when we plowed through an entire bottle of rich poppy seed dressing, Thunder Road blaring in the background.
Heck, you might even find your own salads revitalized by one of the dressings on this chart. Maybe you’ve been nibbling greens for twenty years and need a little something to spice things up. How about a French flair spritzer? Or some Garlic Lover’s Sour Cream Caesar with cracked peppercorns? You’re never too old to try something new, and you might be surprised by the zest and flavor some of the new dressings offer. You’ll be shocked to discover that many dressings considered outre twenty years ago are now commonplace. Just look at the proliferation of hot bacon and Asian dressings in your grocery store’s condiment aisle.
The bottom line is, whether you like it or not, your kids are going to learn about salad dressing—that’s not up to you. But what is up to you is how your kids learn about dressing. Do you want them to learn about it by being eyeball groped by a slick TV commercial with Gwen Stefani dressed as a carrot? Or by having an uncomfortable, borderline creepy conversation with you on the edge of their bunkbead? [See figure 3: Best places to talk to your children about salad dressing.]
(footnote) FIGURE 3:
- Ice cream parlor
- Around a campfire, woven seamlessly into a ghost story
- The Natural History Museum’s Salad Dressing Exhibit
- Their wedding night
- Fishing trip/rowboat
- In the backyard, tossing the old pigskin around
- The midst of a three-legged race
The choice is yours.