I stood in the kitchen staring slackjawed at the softly-glowing light in the refrigerator. As I pondered this light and the events of the last few days floated in my head, the sad truth finally occurred to me: my life had devolved to the point where I could not even muster the life skills to construct a proper tuna salad sandwich. My mind had become completely vacant of anything useful, instead cluttering itself with little pieces of data; data that I didn't need.
Take the Skinheads Bowling
There was a time in my life where I would listen to top 40 radio incessantly. My addiction to the format mostly came about due to Peter Gabriel during his brief period of strong mainstream commercial success with songs like Sledgehammer and Big Time. Listening to it now, it seems that the late 1980s was a period of the music industry throwing shit at the wall and seeing what would stick, but it was all so new to me that it didn't really impact me too much.
When I got older, I started digging through my parents' record collection and discovered the classics; groups like The Beatles, The Byrds, The Mamas and the Papas, Jefferson Airplane, The Rolling Stones, and so forth. I spent an entire summer between seventh and eighth grades sitting in the attic of my parents' house reading comic books and old issues of Rolling Stone magazine and listening to records on their old turntable. I thought the cover of Rubber Soul was the most amazing thing I had ever seen.
After that, I stopped listening to the radio for a while (because when I'd listen, I'd find myself wishing I was listening to Revolver or something) until the day a friend of mine came to school with a dubbed cassette tape of The Smashing Pumpkins' Gish. At that point, no one (at least that I knew) had ever even heard of Nirvana or Pearl Jam or Alice in Chains... this was a completely new experience. Best of all, she gave her copy of Gish to me, guessing that I'd like it. I took it home and listened... and it was like a new world was opening up. Billy Corgan wasn't singing to me about bullshit... he was singing about something real, man! It was like some sort of epiphany.
Thus began my alternative/indie rock phase. I went to the only decent record shop within fifty miles and asked for anything, anything like The Smashing Pumpkins. I went home with copies of Doolittle, Bleach, and the just-released Nevermind under my arm. It wasn't long before I owned all of the albums by the Pixies, Nirvana, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, and so on, but the band that really nailed things for me was Pearl Jam. The entire album Ten pulled me in hook, line, and sinker.
What's the point? It's now halfway through the first decade of the 21st century, mainstream radio has sucked for the better part of the last ten years, and Vitalogy still pierces straight into my heart like an icy cold knife.
Come On Eileen
I had sex with my lovely wife Sarah this afternoon. She was napping on the bed, her breathing regular; I sat beside her, reading The National Review. We started spontaneously getting The National Review a few months ago after I placed a terribly botched order with the boy scout who came to our door selling magazines in order to get his merit badge in annoyance. We had a brief conversation when he came to the door; I tried desperately to get him to provide some commentary on Joyce, but he kept asking me to buy a magazine so that he and his cronys could attend some sort of camp. I can see it now: a bunch of young boys enjoying marshmallows roasted over an open flame, smiling and laughing at each other's jokes, while I received issues of The Source and/or Nickelodeon: the Magazine.
I marked some random space on the Official Boy Scout Magazine Order Form and gave the kid a check, and the end result is now I have to sit here finding out the latest right-wing conspiracy mongering from the mewling mouth of Bill Kristol. Face it, guys; I can no longer take you seriously as a political commentator if you appear on Fox News more than twice weekly. I am completely baffled as to how right-wing writers seem to randomly make sense, then completely dissolve into some sort of blathering mess. Take Sean Hannity, for instance; once about every hundred pages or so in Let Freedom Ring, he would have this amazingly lucid thought; unfortunately, it would be surrounded by ninety nine pages of incoherent tripe.
Anyway, the acerbic wit of Mort Kondracke and the proximity to Sarah laying in a prone position on the bed led to the spontaneous appearance of an erection. Now, what to do about this thing? It seemed to be getting in the way of reading the magazine. Should I use it as a temporary bookmark and wait until I'm about to lose my place? Of course, the optimal solution is to lean over and ask Sarah if she has a suggestion and, with any luck, awaken her gently in the type of mood that would be conducive to thrusting, gasps of pleasure, heaving breasts, noises from the zoo, and the like. I whispered a suggestion in her ear, and she rolled over and mumbled something like walrus narble fletch.
It didn't take long for my raw virility (read: pestering annoyance) to wake her up, though, and my raw manliness (read: biggest erection since her last period) combined with her delicate feminine sensibilities (read: ability to act like a porn starlet in the bedroom) led to an amazing tryst. I fondled her breasts for a while, drawn to them like bees to honey, and when I bent down to ramp up her anticipation with my tongue, I couldn't help but think of the taste of fresh albacore tuna.
One Night In Bangkok
Local chess tournaments are basically social meetings of people with one of a handful of genetic mutations. Everyone there seems to be some sort of borderline genius; I'll see people laying on the floor reading Nabokov or Joyce, a handful of people in the corner discussing how current legislation demonstrates the lies of Fred Barnes, and yet others arguing vehemently about a situation at least six moves away from the one set up in front of them.
It reminds me of a grown-up version of the TAG classes I had as a child. Basically, TAG was where they sent grade school children who asked too many questions that the teachers couldn't answer. We'd go there for an hour or two each day, probably to give the teacher a break from kids like me who would ask about long term ramifications of Reaganomics when the teacher was informing the class that Ronald Reagan was the current president of the United States.
TAG was the best class I ever had. All the teacher did was this: she put half of our names into a hat once a week, and then the other half would each draw a single name out of it in order to pair us up. We'd then spend about fifteen minutes picking a book off of a list that she gave us, and the next day she'd bring in two copies of that book, one for each of us. The rest of the week would be spent in discussions with the other person about the book and our only assignment was to make it through the book, and if we couldn't, at least finish as much as possible. She spent her time alternately reading or walking around stirring the pot on each of our discussions.
So, I participated in the local chess tournament, deciding to play until I lost (most local chess tournaments are done with a Swiss style pairing system, which allows all players to play several matches if they'd like). My first opponent was the fellow I had seen reading Nabokov earlier; we talked about Lolita a bit during the match. Our conversation was cut short, however; we shook hands after just nine moves. Clearly, I have the mental capacity of a stalk of celery.
Pac Man Fever
I have this savant-like ability at playing Ms. Pac Man. Whenever I spot an arcade machine, I have this tremendous desire to run to the machine and set the high score on it, with bonus self-congratulation if I manage to double up the previous high score. It didn't take much time for Sarah to realize that this was a great technique for distracting me at key moments; my birthday was coming up recently, so we visited a local bookstore where I wandered about and went ooohh and aahhh at various tomes. After this, we wandered three shops down to a restaurant that had a Ms. Pac Man machine in it; she gave me a couple quarters and then went back to buy me a birthday gift. The sad part is that I usually don't realize this until much later.
Recently, though, I've begun to resist Pac Man Fever enough to realize I'm being distracted (sometimes, anyway), so she has to be a bit more clever. We'll go into a place with a Ms. Pac Man machine and now, rather than pointing it out to me, she'll wait until I notice it and get sucked in myself, then she'll say she "has to go to the bathroom." This is truly devious scheming on her part, taking advantage of my sickness in order to keep secrets from me.
Luckily, she has a lot of sense in picking out gifts for me; she actually pays a lot of attention to what I'm interested in and thinking about at any given moment, and even nicer, I often get a gift certificate to a bookstore, which is by far the quickest material way to my heart.
One of her weaknesses is french fries smothered with various toppings, and so I've begun to exploit this in return. However, one thing she absolutely cannot stand is mayonnaise on her french fries; I, on the other hand, quite like this delectable mixture. I'll often try to extract information from her by offering her french fries in exchange for the information; if this fails, I know how to make her crack anyway: I'll walk over to the refrigerator, open the door, and pull out a big jar of mayonnaise.
Burning Down The House
I have this obsession with Sarah's breasts. She's on the upper end of a b-cup, and thus I consider them to be just about the perfect size; they fit perfectly into my hands. One of my biggest pleasures in a day is watching Sarah undress for bed; I'll usually already be laying down, and I'll watch her remove her top, then undo her bra. I don't think she even realizes how much I enjoy this. I'll usually do this while feigning subtlety; I'll glance at her over the top of my copy of The New Yorker or pretend to be curled up and mostly asleep. In my mind, I turn it into some sort of private peep show that only I get the opportunity to watch. I also have something of a foot fetish as well. I keep this fairly hidden from her, but she did find it kind of odd that I wanted to wash her feet once as part of foreplay.
My opportunities for gazing at her, though, usually ends with those glimpses at her breasts in the evening. She dresses really conservatively, which I suppose isn't too surprising since she's a teacher. That in itself brings about a nice long string of thoughts along the sex-with-teacher line.
When I was in high school, I had a magnificent crush on one of the teachers, but I never had her for any of my classes. She was a very strong-willed, independent woman, and I only became aware of her because she was the faculty sponsor for my class. She wore these amazing cat's-eye glasses and basically did not put up with any shit from the decent number of punks, pompous athletes, and stoners in my high school class. For the better part of two years, I actually held on to some sort of fantasy about having some sort of tryst with her, and I tried desperately hard to make this happen without pushing too much. Unfortunately for my hopes of hot teacher-student passion, she left the district after my junior year. I recently told Sarah about this, and she seemed basically in shock that I could get so hot for such a "foul woman" (at least in Sarah's eyes).
Is this a compliment? She says I have as many layers as a rancid onion.
I often go to the local gymnasium for pickup basketball games on Saturday afternoons. The usual group that plays there are African-American, and I'm almost always the only Caucasian who shows up then for basketball. Add to this my inability to jump at all, my ability to somehow be in the right place at the right time on a very regular basis, and my penchant for green shirts and my nickname is obvious: those guys only know me as Larry Bird.
Larry Bird was a terrible athlete. If you don't believe this, go back and watch some of the Boston Celtics games during their 1980s heyday. He was slow going up and down the court and he couldn't jump to save his life. The one thing Larry Bird had in abundance, and the thing that made him great, was a sense of where the game was going to flow. His sense of anticipation of direction of the play was fantastic; his eyeball for angles was incredible. It was this aspect of Bird's game that made his matchups with Magic's Lakers so exciting during the 1980s; you had Bird's unparalleled sense of the game coupled with Magic's all-around skill level. When the two would meet, something great was going to happen.
As usual, I get dominated most of the time while we play, but I actually have a great deal of value to the team; when the rebound goes long, I'm there; when the other team's defense collapses, I'm standing out at the three point line, wide open; when the other team is about to collect a loose ball, I pop up just in time to tip it away. The other men understand the game well enough to see what I'm doing, and thus notwithstanding the fact that I have the athletic ability of Mike Ditka, I'm usually a hotly desired pick when I come into the gym.
My only real problem is that I tend to way overdo it, practically killing myself on the court. When I get into the locker room, I sit there for a minute, completely exhausted. Finally I get up and take a shower, and when the water hits my body, I get sick. I stand in the shower, retching my guts out, and the floor is covered with something the color and consistency of relish.
Nathan's Famous hot dog eating contest is held every July 4 at Coney Island in New York, and in recent years has been broadcast on ESPN. I actually watched the contest this year on a whim, and my reaction towards the fact that the winner, Takeru Kobayashi of Japan, managed to consume 53 1/2 hot dogs (with buns, no less) in twelve minutes is a mix of revulsion and respect. Part of what was fascinating about the contest was that Kobayashi was a small fellow; even more amazing was that the third place entrant, Sonya Thomas, weighed only 105 pounds and managed to consume 36 hot dogs.
At the end of the contest, Kobayashi lifted his shirt to reveal his stomach, and he looked pregnant, with his navel protruding a bit. Having spent the last half hour watching a hot dog eating contest, Sarah and I actually spent some time contemplating Kobayashi's navel. How is this sort of stretching possible in a human stomach? It seems reasonable that obese men would have a very hard time competing because the layer of fat surrounding their stomach would not stretch much; however, people with weak abdominal muscles and not much fat could likely stretch their abdomen quite a lot. This naturally evolved into a discussion about gender: Sarah claimed that women were actually very well equipped for hot dog eating contests and used the success of Sonya Thomas as evidence; she even went so far as to predict a female winner in the next few years. I could not go idly by and let Sarah state such delirious nonsense; if a man is good at anything, it is sitting there like a stump and wolfing down disturbing amounts of food. "Prove it," she said, and it was on.
The next morning came and it was time to get ready for the Central Iowa Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest. We purchased about forty kosher hot dogs (Hebrew National: We Answer To A Higher Authority) largely because the ingredients seems slightly less frightening if a rabbi has prayed to Yahweh over them. We had a friend help us with serving and it was on: which one of us could eat the most hot dogs in twelve minutes, buns and all. I attempted to use Kobayashi's method of ripping them in half and dipping them in water and I quickly jumped off to a huge 8-4 lead in the first four minutes. At this point, I made an error; I started to taunt Sarah. Few things get her going more than taunting her, and after this she seemed to slip into some sort of zone. Down the hatch went number five ... six ... seven. I started cramming hot dog and bun into my mouth to keep ahead of her. Eight ... nine ... ten. With about a minute left to go, we were both in misery and had both consumed eleven dogs. I sat there in a daze, staring off into space, trying not to regurgitate (which is an automatic DQ). With about fifteen seconds left, Sarah took four bites off of her twelfth dog; before I realized she was pulling ahead, time expired, and Sarah had earned yet another victory over me. Taunting ensued, as well as a month's worth of garbage responsibilities as my penalty for the loss. I guess one has to take such things with a grain of salt.
Rock Me Amadeus
I am a huge fan of the films of the Coen brothers, and I own all of them on DVD. I'm particularly partial to their early 1990s work, including Barton Fink, Miller's Crossing, and The Hudsucker Proxy, but it is O Brother. Where Art Thou? that stands on top of their films as the work of true geniuses; from the incorporation of elements of Homer's Odyssey to the huge selection of fleshed-out characters, this movie really is a gem.
Sarah and I often like to make a dessert, then enjoy it while watching a movie. We have a central rotation of both movies and desserts that we mix and match: pick a dessert, pick a movie, and enjoy yourself. The sublime chemicals of panna cotta or crème brûlée flowing over your tongue while a master filmmaker builds a story in front of your eyes is the key to many romantic evenings spent with my wife.
After a while, we've come to determine that certain desserts go with certain movies quite well, and we've developed an internal system of classifying movies based on the type of dessert that matches with them. There's a chocolate section, a panna cotta section, a pie section, and so forth.
We had the hardest time figuring out, though, what kind of dessert went well with O Brother. Where Art Thou? Chocolate fit too well with more romantic and emotional films, and it was too light in tone for something heavy like crème brûlée. We puzzled over this for a long time, but thankfully our failed culinary tests were met with an enjoyable movie to watch.
One night, I came home to find Sarah sitting there with a giant grin on her face; she excitedly announced she had figured out what kind of movie O Brother was: a shortbread with fresh strawberries on top. And just like that, it all made sense. She told me that she'd made two small shortbreads, one for each of us, and we went out in the kitchen to take a look at them.
Our cat sat there looking at us, her whiskers still full of the remaining crumbs of shortbread.
She Blinded Me With Science
I find that going to the grocery store is often a great experience. Sarah and I shop at a Fareway, which somehow feels like it's stuck in a time warp linked back to the 1950s. As a second bonus, we usually shop there late at night just before it closes, meaning that there is basically no one else in there but us. As a third bonus, two of my closest friends from college, Craig and John, both work there in various capacities.
About a week ago, all of these things meshed together at the same time. Not only was the store entirely empty, but both Craig and John happened to be in the store. Sarah knew very well that the entire visit would be like recess with a bunch of kindergarteners, so she decided to do most of the actual shopping while I horsed around. It began quickly; within a minute of being at the store, a large sack of marshmallows came flying at us from the next aisle over. She just rolled her eyes and told me to go on and play with my friends.
While Sarah shopped, we did such amusing things as use the Windows 2000 messager to send bizarre messages to Alicia, who was running the check out counter, and also walking around finding inexplicable things to put into Sarah's shopping cart (diapers, Depends undergarments, twelve issues of Vibe, and so forth).
When Alicia locked the front door at ten, the goofiness really got going. We decided to hatch a plan to scare the wits out of Sarah. We gathered a number of items together, and then suddenly one could hear the very loud sound of something glass smashing. I let out a yelp, then a few seconds later Craig got on the store intercom and went, "Oh... Jesus... Alicia, we need some medical help here on aisle eleven... Jesus, man, get some towels..."
When Sarah comes flying around the corner in her shopping cart, all she finds is Craig and I standing there as John is bowling down two liter Coke bottles with a head of lettuce.
We Built This City
My sister-in-law is having a hard time figuring out what exactly she wants to do with her life. She went to college, majoring in social work, and now she's volunteering at a farm where mentally handicapped people work; she's also thinking of going to seminary and becoming a Lutheran pastor. We understand each other well; I've known her for almost ten years now, and she and I share this deep level of sarcasm about each other to the point that outsiders think that there's animosity there, where there really isn't.
She came for a visit a couple of weeks ago and proceeded to camp out on the couch for an afternoon. VH1 was airing a program listing the "Top 40 Worst Pop Songs of All Time" or something to that effect. Upon seeing the title, I turned to her and said that the only song that could possibly top this list was We Built This City by Starship; no other song can even come close to the cheesiness of that song on every level.
Whenever I make such grand pronouncements with very little fact to hold them up, she always calls me on it, and this was no exception. She immediately launched into a mini-tirade about how I was full of it and started to list various other low points in the history of popular music: Don Johnson, Eddie Murphy, Bruce Willis, The Macarena, and so forth.
I coerced her into a friendly wager, the type of thing that we usually do, but this time I upped the stakes. I offered her the bet that I would take care of washing and folding two loads of her laundry if I was wrong, and that she would clean every dirty stitch of my laundry if I was right. I figured I should have a bit extra on my side of the bet, since I was picking one song against the entire history of pop music, and so the bet was on. The next hour and a half involved a lot of taunting involving dirty socks and my laughter at her when all of the music she mentioned showed up on the list before the "coveted" number one slot.
A hush came over the room when they got ready to announce the top song, and when the big-haired just-a-bit-on-the-old-side face of Grace Slick appeared on the television, her face turned as red as a tomato.
I made myself a tuna salad sandwich. It was good.
Discussion Topics on How To Make A Tuna Salad Sandwich
Teachers: feel free to distribute this as a test to your students, and when you receive the responses, make pompous comments about how the student doesn't understand the "real" meaning of the work on all papers except for those turned in by students who blindly suck up to you.
1. The author's repeated referral to neoconservative political commentators implies several things about his sexual nature. Discuss.
2. The breasts of the author's wife serve as a metaphor for many things. List these and discuss.
3. The author uses literary works as a tool to manipulate others in various ways. What methods does he use, and why?
4. The author often tries to find connections between his modern life and the popular culture of his youth. Discuss this feature as a broader statement on the social classes in the United States.
5. The theme of this piece involves self-discovery through linking of previous events. Discuss this trend in modern literary writing.
6. The author puts on airs of being a pretentious ass because he finds this amusing. Discuss.
7. Did you learn how to make a tuna salad sandwich?