Glass Maze Every jumbled pile of person

The Adventures of Pretends He Understands Football Man

“He’s a one-cut running back,” said Daniels, a little too loudly. “That’s what he’s paid for. Why does he keep dancing around behind the line?”

“Maybe they should send him back to the minors,” said Pretends He Understands Football Man. “Until he’s ready for the big time.”

Daniels blinked, and glanced sidelong at Peterson.

“Yeah,” he said.

Thad looked at his shoes.

Things got quiet.

Peterson cleared his throat. “So who’s in for this Sunday?”

Daniels raised his hand. “I’m going to eat your nachos and watch the Cowboys ruin your day.”

“You’re having a Superbowl party?” said Pretends He Understands Football Man.

Peterson hesitated, and then recovered, quickly. “Yeah!” he said. “Yeah. Sorry, Jeff, I would have invited you, but you never want to come to these things.”

“I’d love to, if there’s room.”

“Sure. There’s always room. We start around 4:00.”

“Great! I’ll be there.” Pretends He Understands Football Man picked up his coffee and smiled around at everyone, then went back to his office.

The rain was slapping against the windows. He sat down and looked at his phone. Don’t, he thought. But he picked it up and dialed.

Three rings, and then her voice: “Hello?”

For a moment, he couldn’t speak. She must not have looked at her caller id.

“Sheila,” he said, finally. “Don’t hang up.”

Silence. He could hear her breathing on the other end.

“I just want to talk to them. Just for a minute.”

Nothing. She was chewing on her lip now, he thought: the way she did, just the two front teeth, the crease between her eyebrows deepening.

“Or at least hear their voices. Please. Put Jason on. I won’t say anything.”

She drew in a breath, like she was getting ready to answer.

But she didn’t. The line went dead.

He held the receiver to his ear for a moment more, then put it down, gently.

After a while, he picked up the newspaper and flipped over to the sports section and sat there until evening, studying.


The Adventures of Doesn’t Curse Right Man

“Shit you, dude!” said Doesn’t Curse Right Man. “Shit you to hell!”

Terry paused, and lowered his brick. “What?”

“That’s right, you better back off, douchehole.”

Terry looked over at Anthony, then back. “What the hell are you talking about?”

“What I’m talking about is putting my foot in your dick.”

“Ass,” said Anthony. “You’re going to put your foot in his ass.”

“Asshole right I am,” said Doesn’t Curse Right Man.


The Adventures of Pretends He Can’t Remember the Last Time He Laughed Man

“I think it must have been when I was child,” said Pretends He Can’t Remember the Last Time He Laughed Man. “Certainly there was little joy in my youth, but I was able them to draw happiness from the most meager of circumstances then.” He shook his head. “No longer.”

“I thought I saw you laughing yesterday,” said Eustace. “At your desk.”

Peter nodded. “Yeah. You were watching something on your computer.”

“Spongebob,” said Derek, heavily. “He was watching Spongebob. Again.”

“No. What you saw was an empty shell of laughter. A memory bereft of its animating spirit. A corpse.”

“There were tears coming out of your eyes,” said Derek, rooting through the bowl of chips. “That was sorrow, I guess?”

“Sorrow, yes. I’m sure you’ve seen a rainbow arcing through grey stormclouds, lighting up the darkest …” He trailed off, awkwardly.

“Yeah, that’s probably not the metaphor you’re looking for.” Eustace flagged down a waiter, and pointed at the TV over the bar. “Hey, can you switch that to the Cartoon Network?”

The waiter shrugged. “Sure.”

Pretends He Can’t Remember the Last Time He Laughed Man checked his watch, surreptitiously. It should be ok, he thought. Nothing on now but Pokemon.


The Adventures of Beginning to Regret His Vow to Only Date Women Named Daphne Man

“So, your name’s Daphne?” said Beginning to Regret His Vow to Only Date Women Named Daphne Man.

“No, Deborah. For the third time, Deborah.” She checked her watch. “Look, I’ve got to …”

“Debby sounds a lot like Daphne, don’t you think?”

She frowned. “Not really.”

“Debby. Daphne.” He drew out each word, inserting spurious syllables. “I mean, I can’t tell them apart.”

“Ok.” She picked up her purse. “Well, it was nice meeting you.”

“I’ll bet your parents wanted to call you Daphne,” he said, sadly. “They just lost their nerve.” He took another drink, and then caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror behind the bar. The face looking back at him was grey, and a little weathered.

Tomorrow, he turned forty.


The Adventures of Wears Two Pairs of Underpants Man

Wears Two Pairs of Underpants Man strode into the examination room and stood across from Dr Patel, arms akimbo. “Let us begin!” he cried.

Dr Patel looked up from her chart. “I actually wanted you to remove all your clothes, Mr Jamison.”

“Removed, and gladly!” said Wears Two Pairs of Underpants Man.

All of them.”

“Yes. All of them. Every stitch. I have shed all vestiges of my sartorial carapace and stand before you now, naked as the day I was born.”

“Your underwear too.”

“Of course.”

“I mean, I need you to take off your underwear too.”

“Done!”

A pause. Dr Patel cleared her throat.

“I mean,” she said, “for this examination. For the examination I’m going to do right now.”

“Yes. The wonders of modern medicine!”

Dr Patel closed her eyes. This was her last appointment today. Just one more to go.

The silence grew uncomfortable.


Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs died last night. I saw the news as soon as it broke and then sat there, stunned, watching Twitter light up. All I felt at first was shock — and then, slowly, creeping in like a slow mist, sadness: deep and visceral and with me still.

I didn’t expect to feel this way. I’ve spent the past couple of years railing against Apple’s increasingly closed ecosystem and calling Jobs a dangerous utopianist. At one point I fled Apple products entirely (and then, rather quickly, came crawling back). My infatuation with the man never waned, but I sort of convinced myself that the admiration at its root had long since died on the vine.

I was wrong. It came rushing back last night, wreathed now in an unfamiliar nimbus of loss.

Which is weird. I don’t have any real connection to Jobs — except, of course, through the beautiful things he made. I remember when I first laid eyes on the Titanium Powerbook, sitting on its pedestal, sleek and compact and absolutely gorgeous. My emotional response to that piece of machinery didn’t make any sense, but the same thing happened over and over again for a decade: the iPod Nano, the iPhone 4, the Macbook Air.

That can’t be why Jobs turned out to be so important to me, though. There has to be more to it than stuff.

And it’s not his wild success, either, or his unlikely second act, or his wealth. It’s certainly not the sloganized ideals that Apple claims to represent. You can admire those things, but you can’t love them.

No, I think it’s this: Jobs embodied everything I want to be. Driven and brilliant and passionate, independent and confident and unbowed by dogma. Utterly consumed by what he believed in, and relentless in its pursuit.

He was a sort of living monument to the notion that you have to care deeply about what you do, and that there’s nothing better or more satisfying than making beautiful things. That anything done passionately, and well, is art.

Jobs was that rarest of things: a man wrapped around an idea. The man’s gone now, but he left the idea behind, and the best way to honor his memory is to live it.

Rest in peace, Steve.


Thompson on Nixon

In 1994, Hunter S Thompson wrote a sort of anti-encomium for Richard Nixon, who’d recently died. It’s bracing, brutal stuff — you feel like Thompson’s hatred is going to burn through the page — but some of it sounds sadly familiar. This, for example, on the failures of objective journalism:

Some people will say that words like scum and rotten are wrong for Objective Journalism — which is true, but they miss the point. It was the built-in blind spots of the Objective rules and dogma that allowed Nixon to slither into the White House in the first place. He looked so good on paper that you could almost vote for him sight unseen. He seemed so all-American, so much like Horatio Alger, that he was able to slip through the cracks of Objective Journalism. You had to get Subjective to see Nixon clearly, and the shock of recognition was often painful.

And this, on the slow, steady degradation of our political institutions:

He has poisoned our water forever. Nixon will be remembered as a classic case of a smart man shitting in his own nest. But he also shit in our nests, and that was the crime that history will burn on his memory like a brand. By disgracing and degrading the Presidency of the United States, by fleeing the White House like a diseased cur, Richard Nixon broke the heart of the American Dream.

I think you can argue that the eight years of the Bush/Cheney presidency — and the Delay congress — puts Nixon to shame, at least in terms of damage done. Pound for pound, those guys did more to soil our precious little plot of democracy than anyone that came before them. But it sounds like Nixon was their template.


Google to Join Facebook in the Stalking Business

Brad Horowitz, vice president of products at Google:

Google+ is Google itself. We’re extending it across all that we do — search, ads, Chrome, Android, Maps, YouTube — so that each of those services contributes to our understanding of who you are.

Our understanding of who you are.


Mr Swift

Dave Eggers, in a lovely tribute to his high school English teacher, Mr Criche, remembers getting back a paper with a short note on it that basically changed his life. It said: “Sure hope you become a writer.”

Over the next 10 years, I thought often about Mr. Criche’s six words. Whenever I felt discouraged, and this was often, it was those six words that came back to me and gave me strength. When a few instructors in college gently and not-so-gently tried to tell me I had no talent, I held Mr. Criche’s words before me like a shield.

I had a couple of really amazing teachers in high school too, and they made that four-year slough of despond not just bearable but occasionally even fun — and, in retrospect, kind of inspiring. I’m thinking about Mrs Page, whose AP English class injected Faulkner into my life; Mr Hood, who didn’t teach history so much as perform it, bring it bodily into that cheerless antiseptic classroom; Mr Lewis, a part-time actor who injected thespian flare into everything he did.

And most of all Mr Swift, who taught creative writing and ran the literary magazine and is, second only to my dad, a lot of the reason I’m still writing today.

Sadly, I don’t have a whole lot of specific memories of my time with Mr Swift — my brain is sort of an anti-sponge that way. But I do remember his bemused half-smile, and the way he delivered criticism — gently, in a way calculated to instruct rather than sting — and, most of all, his careful treatment of the overheated, “experimental” love story I submitted to the literary magazine in my junior year.

It was called Ladyfair, and it was garbage, bad enough to remain reliably mortifying a quarter century later. I remember handing it in to him, and waiting for his reaction — and not getting one. He just let it pass: without praise, thank god, but also without the scorn it so richly deserved. I can only guess at his motives, but I really think he was being careful not to bury my enthusiasm under the loam of it’s early mistakes. He thought there might be better things coming, and was wise (and kind) enough to nurture the good and ignore the awful.

We’re all clay when we’re young, and even people who aren’t responsible for molding us can screw us up pretty easily. When someone like Mr Swift, this guy who we weren’t related to, who we couldn’t really do anything for, who wasn’t contractually required to do anything more than yammer at us for 45 minutes every day and grade our papers and then move on to the next batch of disaffected wastrels — when people like that don’t just not fuck you up, but actually bend over backwards to help you become better than you otherwise would have been — I mean, I don’t believe in miracles, but I think that’s kind of miraculous.

It’s sad that we live in era that’s turning steadily against its teachers. Many states are mandating lockstop curricula geared less toward educating (much less inspiring) than they are toward getting you through standardized tests. Eggars, again:

I don’t remember Mr. Criche teaching us how to take standardized tests, but when we took them, we did well. I don’t remember Mr. Criche gearing his lesson plans toward any state-regulated curricula, but we did pretty well on any and every scale. Why? Because he made us curious. He was curious, so we were curious. He was hungry for learning, so we were hungry, too. He made us want to impress him with the contents of our brains. He taught us how to think and why.

Teachers are getting laid off1 in staggering numbers these days, and the ones who aren’t are enduring assaults on their already meager salaries and benefits. This is, in a word, insane. Even if the profession wasn’t filled with people who routinely go over and above the call of duty, it would still be one kazillion times more useful to society than the smug billionares who sit atop the income pyramid, busily trading and grifting and greasing palms and adding nothing to anyone’s lives except their own.

But education is filled with those kind of people. Matt Damon made this point, forcefully, at the SOS Teachers March in July:

A teacher wants to teach. I mean, why else would you take a shitty salary, and really long hours, and do that job, unless you really loved to do it?

Look, there’s no need to scour the world for weeping statues or messiah-shaped coffee stains or sane Tea Party candidates: there’s a miracle happening every day in every school in every state in the country. We take that for granted — I certainly did — but it’s a gift that we appear to be busily destroying.


  1. As Krugman says: “The brunt of state budget cuts in public spending is falling on education. Somehow, laying off hundreds of thousands of schoolteachers doesn’t seem like a good way to win the future.” 


Gibson Talks About Stuff

BoingBoing just put up a fantastic, pithy, wide-ranging interview with William Gibson. It’s well worth a read. Here he is on the various armageddon scenarios lurking on our horizon:

What do you worry about? I’m talking about loose nukes, global warming, economic meltdown, creeping fascism.

All of the above, and anything else in that general ballpark. As one does. Sometimes I remember that I evidently assumed that Ronald Reagan was probably about as weird as it was going to get; that that all seemed a bit over the top, a grave if semi-comic but blessedly temporary anomaly. That’s scary.


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