It’s a little bit of everything.

“. . . its not really instruction.  That’s what most people forget.  They imagine I hurl lectures and books at kids brains and somehow the words get stuck inside.  For some — the bright ones maybe — the facts’ll attach themselves somehow, but mostly the kids will end up bruised and angry.”

I paused to take a sip of coffee, allowing the caffeine to infect my words, driving my passion forward like Ben Hur in a chariot.

“Good teachers are more akin to magicians or used car salesmen, only I’m sellin’ history and science, Napoleon and Einstein.  The trick is in the sleight of hand.  The kids know its work; how could they forget it?  But they have to want to be fooled: read Poe’s ‘Raven’ like Christopher Walken on LSD and they’ll remember the effects even if they forget who wrote it.”

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Systems Analysis

The instructions on the assignment bore into my brain like a drill. Look through Flickr. After finding three photos, derive your own tags for the photos and then compare them with others’ tags and the metadata provided by the Library of Congress.

Gah . . . every word tightens my nerves like another turn at the medieval rack. My sinews stress, my jaw clenches, I yearn to visit Florida and sip pina coladas with Michelle, my masseuse, professional model, and online guild leader. I read another sentence of instructions and feel my stomach clench.

Summarize the main points of the following articles. More PDFs which discuss adapting information retrieval tools to the digital age flash onto the screen, now rendered dull and soporific with words like “utilize,” “protocol,” and “incremental process.” I wonder how many authors collapsed writing these sentences, whether the end of each paragraph was toasted with a long draught of cooking sherry, followed by a primal scream atop a high balcony, a fleeting desire for sun-baked beaches and lengthy breezes before turning back to the laptop for another page.

Slowly I begin to type my own summary.

You see, I am a big fan of universality. Two thousand years from now Shakespeare will still remain a genius, two plus two will still add to four, and unless the moon jumps from its orbit to collide with earth, a feather and a brick if dropped will still accelerate at the same rate – minus air resistance.

Yet a mere five years from now, the tagging and metadata methodologies of today will not exist. These systems will not matter. The conventions, abbreviations, and technology that I use, memorize, and ultimately reiterate using my own words today will cease to matter then. I have a big problem with that. Mom and Katie simply tell me to act like a man and suck it up.

“These are simply the hoops everyone has to jump through in order to get that diploma, honey. I know it’s a pain, but it has to be done.”

Yeah, but once again the professor is asking me to memorize facts for the sake of a test and then jettison the material afterwards, a strategy I have tried long and hard to abandon since grade school: learn for the sake of a grade then forget everything. If I follow Mom’s advice, I will have spent nearly fifty-thousand dollars for a piece of non-recyclable paper and tabula rasa.

I suppose that even a semi-blank mind supersedes abandoning amino acid tables, Shakespearean sonnets, and those few memorized lines from Casablanca. Nonetheless, the assignment makes me cringe like the sound of an anxious cat thrown against a chalkboard. In the end, you are left irritated and slightly befuddled, questioning the sense of it all.

“Hold on,” you ask. “What purpose did hurling the cat serve?”

“It’s part of the curriculum,” they respond.

“Why not then hurl her at something softer, less irritating, like a mattress or at least mildly interesting like a flock of geese or a pool of Jello?”

“Who knows?” they respond again. “Just be sure to fill in the circles completely with a No. 2 pencil. You have five minutes remaining.”

Sigh. Well, no one said education was going to be easy.

I’m no good at being noble, but it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. Someday you’ll understand that.

— Rick

Sigh. Yeah, someday maybe I will too . . .

Guy Talk: Part 2

Ryan and I are driving south this weekend to visit his . . . uh, platonic female friend and her equally platonic girlfriends for dating evaluations. If he manages to pass, he gains the title of boyfriend and man. If not, we eat eighty dollars in gas money, snacks, and tissues. Either way, it should be an amazing trip. Sun or storm, no place on land captures the savage beauty quite like the seashore. Waves crashing and breaking against rocks, liquid thunder, the pulsating heartbeat of a vast monster, an ageless world without remorse . . .

“Hold the lengthy metaphors for a moment. Tissues? Are you suggesting that I might cry?” Ryan cries out from behind the steering wheel.

“How did you read . . .? I turned the screen away from you! And the windows were down! How do you read my story without a reflection?”

The laptop sat on my legs facing the open passenger window of Ryan’s Yukon. Currently we rolled along several hundred feet above the water overlooking a vast gray inlet, marked with waterfront housing and tiny fishing boats, which bobbed up and down like corks in the murky water. Very inspiring perspective, if not for the constant commentary.

“Side mirror reflection,” he answered. “You think that I’m going to get sob-y or something?”

“Well, Mr. Sensitive, you do drop tears from time to time,” I reminded him, not bothering to mention again the dangers of simultaneous reading and driving. My words lacked any and all strength, like the advice of a hypocrite. “Remember Rudy? Miracle? Pride and Prejudice?”

“Uh uh, no way. Pride and Prejudice was YOUR big cry, you girl.” True.

“It’s an excellent book.” This is also true.

“Except when you continue to spout about how great frickin’ Elizabeth is,” Ryan shouts.The girl would torment any man for the rest of his life.”

True again, but in my experience only mutual indifference really poisons love; while ironically aggravation often masks true affection. Darcy, I imagine, is very brave man but never an unhappy one.

“Hey look, you have your pseudo-girlfriend,” I retaliated. “Leave me to my imaginary ones.”

“Oh and Mr. Darcy. Wasn’t he dreamy? Together with Lizzie . . . ahhhh. Sheesh, frickin’ psychos are made for one another.”

“Dude, Darcy is the flippin’ man! One of the world great romantic leads in Brit Lit. And Lizzie . . . well, you start bad mouthin’ Lizzie again and I’ll kill you.”

Ironically enough, these remarks typifies the type of conversations that usually erupt when Ryan and I talk. On occasion we have been known to argue over the effect of Huxley’s Soma, the motivation of Bradbury’s firemen, and why Batman is vastly superior to Superman (he still cannot accept this unassailable fact).

“I don’t even know why you like her in the first place,” Ryan asserted. “Jane’s the hotty. Right or left, here?”

“Left and then straight for about twenty miles,” I answered. The roads here now dappled with light rain, ‘cat-spit’ my old professor termed it, reminds me of the river or inlet we passed over moments before: dark, silent, and impervious.

“Jane’s sweet but silent,” I continued. “It’s like marrying a frickin’ mannequin . . .”

“Kim Cattrall was hot in that movie.”

“Agreed but again all smiles. No laughter. No wit. No soul.”

“Again with the wit?!” Ryan sighed. “If my future sister-in-law talks like a Shakespearean player, our family dinners will be very quiet and sparse. No one but you will be able to understand her.”

“You confuse wit with learning Russian,” I responded.

“Well, as long as she likes you and the family, we’ll have no problem, ok?”

“I would not favor her otherwise.”

“Oh and cute. If I cannot understand her, she may as well be easy on the eyes, as I stare dumbfounded . . . hey you hungry?”

The answer was an unequivocal “Yes” and so we drove through KFC for some chicken wraps and sandwiches. We parked, and Ryan dove into his chicken sandwich, slurped down a chocolate shake, and now finished he began rubbing his index fingers across his nipples. This frankly disturbed me in ways I cannot possibly describe and I choked back nausea.

“What by the power of Greyskull are you doing?”

“Summer is coming soon,” Ryan responded still rubbing his chest. “I want to wear a tight Speedo shirt to the beach, but I don’t want saggy flaccid nipples. If I rub them now and then, they get a little perky . . . and well, that shows through the shirt.”

I tossed the remainder of my wrap in the bag, and closed my eyes before telling Ryan to drive. Within a few minutes the engine roars to life, but for some moments we remain parked. Even over the roar of the engine, I heard the rubbing whoosh of his fingers against his shirt. I choked back my wrap and try in vain to fall asleep.

An hour later of fitful disturbing nipply-dreams, I woke to the riffs of AC/DC and Ryan’s warbled singing. As soon as I rubbed my eyes, he began banging out beats on the dashboard.

“It’s a long way to the top if you’re gonna Rock N’ ROoool . . .” Boom badaba boom. Boom badaba boom.

“Are we done touching ourselves?”

“Huh? Oh yeah,” he shouted over the radio. “All done for now. I do this once a day, by vacation time my nipples will be ready for all the world to see.”

“Please, your words are wrecking havoc on my imagination. I dreamt of exploring Egyptian tombs with Jessica Alba . . .”

“So, that doesn’t sound too bad,” Ryan said turning down the radio as the song faded.

“All the pyramids had nippled apexes, and your face was carved into  the sphinx. Its paws were folded across its chest doing . . . God knows what.”

Ryan apparently found this quite amusing. “So what?” he laughed, “I’d thought you’d be used to weird stuff like that. With all the Japanese porn you watch.”

“Anime,” I corrected him. “It’s called anime.”

EXPLANATION: Years ago, right out of college, my interest in sci-fi and fantasy stories led me to Japanese animation or anime, movies like Metropolis and Akira which through complex characterization and bewildering imagery seemed to treat animation as a means to tell an epic tale and not just a child’s diversion. My interest grew in the medium, and so the following Christmas, I received several volumes of manga or Japanese comics, specifically romantic comedies like Love Hina, which although not vulgar sometimes lacked the . . . er, modesty of American comics. My vehement explanations about character, story, and art had about as much effect as discussing the literary content of Playboy articles.

“Whatever, you and your animated girls. Your imaginary girlfriends. That’s weird man.”

“Not all of my loves have been animated,” I responded. “Besides Miss Elizabeth Bennet, back in college, I had the biggest crush on Clarisse McClennen and Cecelia Jupe.”

“From Farenheit 451?”

“And Dickens’ Hard Times . . .”

“You need to put down the books and get yourself a girl, dude.”

Sigh. “I need a girl.” The words seemed to sink into me: an answer without a solution. The way Ryan said it you would think I could simply walk into Walmart and find the love of my life sitting upon a shelf next to indoor fans and lighting fixtures. Marked down, too! Yet in Ryan himself I found solace.

“The way I figure it, though,” I said. “If you can find a girl who accepts your nip . . . nipple . . . gosh I cannot even say it. Your oddities. There must be someone who understands mine, right?”

“The world is a large place, man! There’s sure to be another cartoon freak like you somewhere in this morass of insanity, delusions, and phobias, right?”

“Well said,” I answered enthusiastically. “Although I suspect that the real motive behind that little speech was just so you could say . . .”

“Morass? Yup. Mom never quite got over that vocab word.”

“I’m feeling more hopeful by the minute,” I said as we neared the college. The waters of the inlet licked at the beach, bordering the school. The far off shores seemed like islands in the fog, remote and foreign toppled with evergreens and flowering trees full in bloom. A small dock hugged several small sailboats, where students readied ships to sail off into gray abyss.

“. . . long way to the top, if you wanna Rock N ROOLLLLL.” Boom badaba Boom!