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08/01 Direct Link
Today I brought home a package of "Hi-Tech Dental Floss" from the supermarket. I already have normal dental floss at home and I don't need more.

I feel that I'm normally immune to marketing, but in this case the incongruity of "Hi-Tech Dental Floss" shut down the rational part of my brain.

The package declined to give any details on which technologies had been incorporated into the floss, revealing only the fact that it was "mint waxed." I stood bemused in the dental care aisle for a long time and then made what felt like the only choice.

08/02 Direct Link
I don't like the way my family cooks corn, so I have been deemed a traitor to the family. I offered to cook it for them, but I am currently being shunned and they pretend not to hear me.

They make corn in the microwave. It comes out soggy and gummy and it is an affront to corn and summer.

Since they won't listen to me, I'll tell you how to make corn. Once your big pot of water has come to a boil, take the pot off the heat and put the corn in, covered, for 5-10 minutes.

08/03 Direct Link
Tell me if I'm crazy, but I always get embarrassed for everyone involved in "The Longest Time" when Billy Joel gets to the line:

"now I know the woman that you are, you're wonderful so far..."

It's the 'so far' that gets me. It's like he's giving her a performance evaluation and then reminding her that she is still under evaluation, still in a trial period, that he's going to keep his eye on her and expect past performance to predict future performance in the girlfriend department, but for now she passes his inspection. It's a bad thing to say.

08/04 Direct Link
Apology styles: which is your fave?

1) The real apology, in which you acknowledge what you did, acknowledge the negative impact it had, and unconditionally ask for forgiveness.

2) The apology in which you avoid the person you have wronged for a while, then pick up as if the thing you ought to apologize for had never happened. The longer you wait, the more it seems a real apology is warranted, but you want to maintain the illusion that you've both completely forgotten about it, so you never bring it up, even though doing so would make everyone feel better.

08/05 Direct Link
While eating breakfast today I realized it doesn't make sense to refer to an individual person as an "all-star." An "all-star team" is one in which each member of the team is a star in his or her own right, so the best a single person can be is just a "star."

If we're going to be generous, a person who is an "all-star" is a member of such a team, which means that your all-star status depends on the people with whom you associate. Do you surround yourself with stars?

(It was a motivational breakfast.)

08/06 Direct Link
If I could change one thing...
(essay topic)

When my tea kettle whistles, it does so shrilly and insistently. If it were speaking, it would be saying "Jesus! FUCK! The water is BOILING, do you not HEAR what I'm telling you?! AAAAAAAAAHHHHHH!!!"

I'm looking for a sound we hear about in some old story or tale in which we're told

...the kettle whistled merrily...

which would sound something more like, "choo-choo, I am happy that the water is boiling, a wonderful hot beverage is in your future, friend."

That is what I would like to change in our world.

08/07 Direct Link
My method of resolving any conflict involving fact or opinion is to look it up online and to keep looking until I find a source that agrees with me, at which point I conclude that I am right. It usually doesn't take too long (my tip is to check discussion boards, where hastily-formed opinions are thrown around freely) but other times I find myself on page 83 of a Google search before I can vindicate myself.

The next step in my evolution to hidebound old fool is the rejection of all external authority in favor of my own infallability.

08/08 Direct Link
It's not an official part of my job, but since I'm in a semi-public-facing role, I get to act as a "help desk" guy once in a while.

The nice thing about this unofficial status is that if people are rude ("I saved a file. WHERE IS IT?") I can tell them to run along to the real help desk and save myself some aggravation. If people are nice, and if they have a specific problem, I enjoy helping them out and having a laugh about the quirks of technology. Optional work hardly feels like work at all.

08/09 Direct Link
"Got that spirit!
Ooooh yeah,
Let the BAND cheer it!
"

At this point we knew we had to shout "go, go, go-go-go!" and we did it with as much gusto as we could. The cheerleaders went on to single out other groups in the audience to shout "go," including men, ladies, grandparents, and so on, but we were always the loudest. Through a spokesperson (since the cheerleaders declined to communicate directly with band members) the cheerleaders let us know how much they appreciated the support and energy we brought to the games. Their support, in turn, protected us.

08/10 Direct Link
The school made it easy to get involved in the team in some way, either by joining the starting team or the legion of bench warmers, working on the field or in the concession stand, or playing in the marching band. The "booster squad" also visited physical violence upon those they deemed unenthusiastic enough about high school football, with the above-named groups mostly exempt from their brutality.

On paper the administration deplored bullying, but unofficially sanctioned this group, probably reasoning that their activities boosted school spirit, and anyway some young men just have murderous impulses that need an outlet.

08/11 Direct Link
That afternoon, Riggsey's "go-go-go" had been quiet and flat. Riggsey was second trombone and a decent guy. I knew he was going through a tough time at home.

During a time-out, I whispered to him out of the corner of my mouth, "Riggsey, you've got that spirit, right?"

"Of course I do," he hissed, annoyed at the accusation.

"You know I'm not the one who's going to rat you out, but people are definitely going to notice and you can put our whole section in danger..."

"I know," he said, "I'm sorry. I'll do better next time."

08/12 Direct Link
The booster squad had been emboldened after a string of incidents for which there had been no repercussions. They had stuffed the entire debate team into a locker, then some of them had vandalized the school's honor roll display, claiming that it distracted from the team's accomplishments. Finally, they had actually stoned the valedictorian after they caught him smoking pot under the bleachers.

The administration asked why the students didn't do anything to put a stop to it, but we were too fractured into cliques to unite against them, and the teachers were as afraid of them as we were.

08/13 Direct Link
It was with all this in mind that I had admonished Riggsey. In this atmosphere, the best thing was to avoid drawing attention to yourself and learn to make a show of enthusiasm.

I nudged him as the director approached our section.

"What do you say? Are we going to turn the tide of this game?"

Riggsey clenched his fists and squinted his eyes, letting out an ear-shattering "WHOOOOOOOOO!"

"That's the SPIRIT," said the director, pumping his fist as he walked away.

Riggsey slumped and stared at his feet; I could see how much that display had cost him.

08/14 Direct Link
My brain is a piece of shit.

I thought that maybe knowledge was power, so I read about the brain's "reward system" and dopamine and opioids and so on. I have a pretty good layman's idea now of how this system can encourage behaviors that are not in my best interest.

Still, here I am, having eaten one Tofurky Pocket, my brain is telling me that I should really eat the other one, and have a beer while I wait for it to heat up. I want to resist, but I'm not sure whether or not I will be successful.

08/15 Direct Link
I talked to Zoe last night on a popular video-chatting platform, and saw her for the first time in five years. Her son was there too, and he kept running to the camera to see who his mother was talking to, then running away without saying anything.

Zoe kept commenting on how I hadn't changed. "I would still recognize you if I saw you on the street!" she said, as if a few years would have made either of us unrecognizable.

Her son eventually settled in, and he and I showed each other our animal impressions. His were better.

08/16 Direct Link
After Zoe's son had gone to bed I told her that he was lucky to have her, and she said "No, I'm lucky to have him, actually, he's amazing."

On hearing this, I felt a really powerful sort of sympathetic or vicarious joy, because I knew she was happy, and her son (who I had only just met and discovered that I love terribly) was happy. Zoe and I used to stay up late and wonder out loud what the future would hold and whether we would end up figuring anything out, and things turned out OK in the end.

08/17 Direct Link
I went back to Albany today for Gary's retirement party. Gary and I were co-workers for five years, and while our personal relationship could be strained at times, I always respected him on a professional level.

There were seven people there in total, people I used to spend all day with, who had come to feel a bit like my second family, and it was so nice to be back in their company again for one more lunch.

We sat in the restaurant for three hours, talking about Gary's good old days, and I was sad to say goodbye.

08/18 Direct Link
I used to write a lot about Gary when I was working with him, and some of it may have been a bit unfair. I say this now, when I'm in a sort of Gary-glow in which my respect for him has reached its peak. I plan to begin what will become a series of

REFLECTIONS OF GARY

Gary's voice is loud, so loud, and he loves to hear the sound of it. It is necessary that Gary's voice make up 90% of the soundtrack of any gathering he attends. What a loud son a bitch you are, Gary.

08/19 Direct Link
Someone said something demonstrably wrong regarding a topic I care about deeply. I might have argued and brought facts and graphs into the discussion, but I didn't. People don't like to be corrected, and people don't like to be lectured on the depths of their ignorance. I can remember every time I've been embarrassed in public as clearly as if it happened yesterday, and I don't want to make anyone feel that way.

Instead of getting my righteous anger out, I had to swallow it, and now it has turned sour in my stomach and I don't feel very good.

08/20 Direct Link
The idea that you're "too old" to do certain things creeps up on you gradually. I have begun to notice it in myself more and more, and have concluded it is unhelpful. More than likely it is an attempt to get out of doing something new because I am afraid.

There are very few things I cannot physically start doing due to age. Parkour is the only one that comes to mind. The next time I decide I am too old to do something, I am determined to do it. If I don't, I will really become that much older.

08/21 Direct Link
Someone I know has a friend named "Big Bobby."

I hear this name and I am immediately tired. I imagine he has a "larger-than-life" personality, and he likes to talk and laugh and really live. I imagine him slapping my back with his huge hand, and he thinks he's being a gentle giant, but it really hurts a lot.

In the fraction of a second while I'm thinking this, my friend explains he doesn't know where he got his nickname, because he's just a normal guy, and I realize there's a reason I don't have that many friends.

08/22 Direct Link
There's a big tree that comes right up against my kitchen window, so that when I try to look outside I can't see anything other than the leaves of the tree.

Right now it's 7:30 in the morning, I'm having breakfast, and there are three crows perched in the tree, talking to each other. One crow says "CAW CAW CAW" and then the other crows reply "CAW CAW CAW."

Sometimes when you overhear people speaking in a different language you can get an idea of the general nature of the conversation, but with these crows I have no idea.

08/23 Direct Link
Susan is playing some technical exercises on the piano. Ascending and descending in every key. They jump around the keyboard here and there seemingly at random, which means they lack the smooth and (somewhat) comforting musicality of major and minor scales.

I'm revealing myself as a dilettante by focusing on the way the exercises sound. Only people who are really serious about music play these things. The rest of us are happy to blunder through difficult passages because we're just doing it for fun. People don't hear Susan play pages and pages of these exercises, and they call her 'talented'.

08/24 Direct Link
There was a teaching assistant in a college class who looked exactly like me without glasses. I spent much of the class staring at him, and he at me. It was unsettling for us both.

I never had any reason to talk to him, but even if I had I never would have mentioned the fact that we were practically twins. What's the social protocol for doing that? I needed a protocol. He probably did, too.

I would have liked to know some things about his life, though. I would like to know how much your appearance dictates your destiny.

08/25 Direct Link
I was really hungry when I got home from work today, but I was so tired I didn't even have the energy to get up and eat a cracker. I just lay on my stomach and hoped that eventually I would get hungry enough to make something happen.

It is in states like this that people decide to start buying lottery tickets or formulate get-rich-quick schemes. As your blood sugar drops you judgment becomes worse and there is also the danger of falling into a funk. Be careful.

(conclusion: I had a salad and everything was reasonably fine.)

08/26 Direct Link
When people call you a 'schmuck' they generally don't do it to your face, so if you asked me whether anyone has ever called me a schmuck, the only honest answer I can give is "not that I know of."

I have heard people call other people schmucks, though, and in those cases it went like this:

A person (in every case it was this same guy, now that I think of it) walked through the room saying "hi" to everyone, and after he left someone said "that schmuck," and, adding to the discussion, someone else would just say "schmuck!"
08/27 Direct Link
If you're anything like me, when you buy cereal you buy the off-brand stuff. I don't notice the difference in flavor in my barely conscious morning state.

You may also like me have a pathological need to study the back of your cereal box intensely, and you may have noticed the difference in quality between the backs of the off-brand cereal boxes and the name-brand ones.

The back of the Nutty Nuggets box just has pictures of endangered animals with no explanatory text, and the back of Crispy Hexagons has the somewhat defensive "Exercise: Why Should I?"

08/28 Direct Link
The copy writers of the off-brand cereal boxes must admire the big players in the field.

"Did you see Ramirez' 'Crazy Maze' on the back of the Cap'n Crunch box?" one can be heard to ask. "How does he do it?"

"Stevens," says his partner, "get your head out of the clouds and help me with this endangered animals piece. I have the photos, but I don't know how to find facts about them. Does this look OK to you as it is?"

"Wow, look at all those animals! I think it looks amazing; let's call it a day."

08/29 Direct Link
I am familiar with how thin the walls in my apartment are. I know that if my neighbor coughs politely when we are both in our kitchens it sounds as if he is standing next to me.

Visitors do not have this knowledge, so they can be forgiven for coming in and saying SURE IS HOT IN HERE, GOSH, WOWEE.

I try to set the tone by almost-whispering have a seat, would you like some water? but in general nobody picks up on the cue and I have to be the jerk who makes the 'keep it down' gesture.

08/30 Direct Link
I don't think it's unseemly for me to make conjectures about her personal life. Making guesses about people you don't really know on a personal level can be interesting and revealing.

I think she must be impatient with the maturity level of men her own age and she's drawn to older guys. (I am older than she is [revealing!], but the guys I picture her going for have money.) I know that she makes a comfortable living on her own, I just think she's the sort of person who gets along better with people a decade older than she is.

08/31 Direct Link
Someone left a Personal Poem on my desk. The poet: anonymous. On the envelope it said that the poem was based on an impression of me that may or may not be correct, but it included the fact that my own impression of myself is not necessarily the correct one. Who am I to judge, it asked. We leave that to the future, it said.

The choice to open the envelope and read the poem were mine, and the emotions it evoked were also mine. Whether they were good or bad is hard to say, because the poem was nonsense.