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Let’s Do Lunch.

When I was a kid I was taught that breakfast is the most important meal of the day which is why as an adult I so often skip it, or at least I did until my wife started handing me a couple of slices of microwaved turkey bacon every morning, and who am I to say no to that? Most of what I was taught as a kid has turned out to be wrong anyway, so it wouldn’t surprise me if breakfast has been overrated all this time. And consider that lunch is the meal that separates the morning from the afternoon. It’s the halfway mark, the meal before the home stretch. I’m pretty sure most meetings are scheduled in the morning so lunch can be used as a convenient excuse to prevent them from going on too long. Lunch is so important that it forms the larger part of brunch, although that may also be because “lunfast” just sounds weird, but the point is that brunch was only invented as an excuse to take an early lunch and get out of a boring meeting even earlier. Lunch is so important it’s the only meal that gets its own box, and if you grew up in the ‘70’s and ‘80’s chances are you carried a lunchbox that didn’t just hold your lunch. It also helped define who you were as a person. The kid with the Little House On The Prairie lunchbox was romantic and good-hearted, the kid with the Evel Knievel lunchbox was daring and adventurous, and the kid with The Flintstones lunchbox was secretly working on breeding saber tooth cats in his basement. I had a Close Encounters lunchbox because I was pretty much born a science fiction geek, but at least that’s not as bad as the kid who had the Emergency! lunchbox. I have no memory of the show Emergency!, a ‘70’s show about firefighters and paramedics, but I distinctly remember that a kid in my class had an Emergency! lunchbox that had a picture of a couple of firefighters rescuing kids who’d climbed onto the high girders of a skyscraper under construction, because nothing whets your appetite like civilians in terrified distress. I also thought that motif would be perfect for construction workers if they didn’t all carry those simple black lunchboxes.

Holy mackerel, it’s even worse than I remember. Source: Boris Basement

 

And our kid lunch boxes also always came with a matching plastic thermos that would be filled with soup or spaghetti or Bailey’s Irish Cream because if there’s one thing that makes a baloney sandwich on white bread with some chips and soup and a Little Debbie snack cake taste better it’s when they’re served out of a color-coordinated receptacle. Although I lost my soup privileges in third grade. From first through sixth grade the Campbell’s soup company had a money-for-schools program. Parents could take the labels off the can and mail them back to Campbell’s which would then sell them to Andy Warhol and pass a portion of the profits back to the schools, and by fifth grade my school had a wing named after my mother, but that’s another story. And then one April for some reason she bought an off-brand chicken and mushroom soup and even though that sounds like it should be good I’m pretty sure the “chicken” was made from retired circus monkeys and the broth was a watery version of the stuff you use for papier mache, and I don’t know why but I couldn’t tell my mother any of this. Instead I just tucked the thermos at the bottom of my school locker and every day said, “Great soup, I forgot to bring my thermos home.” The truth is I always knew it was there, haunting me, but “I forgot it” was a plausible excuse because I was always forgetting things, including one day when I came home without pants. And because soup doesn’t travel well in a plastic bag I didn’t have any for two months, and then at the end of school I finally confessed what I’d done and we had to turn the thermos over to the government because at that point it had become a bioweapon.

As I got older school lunch became a lot less fun, first in junior high where every class went to lunch at different times and you had to watch the door because the only way you knew lunch was over and it was time to go back to class was the teacher would come to the door and wave. And once I got separated from my class and was stuck at the back of the room where I couldn’t see the door and missed biology class. When I realized what had happened I went and explained to my teacher that I forgot and she said, “I understand. Please take your pants and go.” The first few weeks of high school were a nightmare too because I just couldn’t concentrate on eating and watching the clock and navigating through the screaming crowd, but then my friends and I figured out we could escape to a quiet place behind the gym and eat quietly and I could really enjoy my lunch which is good because it’s the most important meal of the day.

 

Everybody’s Comedian.

Source: YouTube

There were a lot of funny people on Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist. I was already familiar with some while the show introduced me to others who were so funny I couldn’t wait to tell  jokes the next day at work until my boss would have to interrupt and ask about the earnings reports, but that’s another story. One of those wonderful discoveries was Ron Lynch, whose birthday is today. And my boss was glad that repeating a Ron Lynch joke is nearly impossible, unless, of course, you’re Ron Lynch. Years later I was lucky enough to start reading Ann Koplow’s blog, and while she’s even luckier to have worked with Lynch I feel lucky to have learned more about him through her.

I’m going to use a term I’m not all that fond of, but bear with me. Normally when someone is described as a “comedians’ comedian”—or a “musicians’ musician” or, well, you can fill in the profession, especially if the profession is mason—it’s a backhanded compliment that means someone so brilliant at what they do their work is only truly appreciated by other professionals. Sometimes it’s really an insult, both to the performer who’s being subtly criticized for not being “accessible” and to regular audiences who are faulted for not getting it.

Some people might call Ron Lynch a “comedians’ comedian” because of the way he plays around, interrupts himself, and breaks down a joke—and, for that matter, because he frequently doesn’t rely on the traditional setup : punchline, but Ron Lynch is like a magician who shows you how a trick is done and still manages to dazzle you with it. Or, to put it another way, fool me once, that’s hilarious, Ron Lynch, fool me twice, you did it again, Ron Lynch, fool me three times, it could only be Ron Lynch.

Wake-Up Call.

An all-day pass on Nashville’s MTA will allow you to ride until 2AM the following day which has always made me think it’s slightly misnamed. If you buy one at 2PM you get to ride for twelve hours; if you buy one at 10PM you only get to ride for four hours, but you also get to hop on and off as many buses as you want for $3.25 so I’m not going to quibble about it.

I was contemplating all this while I sat on an early morning bus waiting for the driver to get a cup of coffee and come back. I think it was her first run of the day so I didn’t mind the wait, especially since I can’t really get the day started without a little caffeine buzz of my own, but that’s another story.

Then she came back and we started talking. We talked a bit about coffee at first; she liked hers plain with a little cream, and added, “You know, those expensive foamy things are for people who don’t like coffee. They want a milkshake.” That made me laugh and then I asked if this was her first run of the day.

“Sort of,” she said, then explained that she’d spent the night at the downtown bus depot which I didn’t realize had sleeping quarters and showers for drivers.

“I worked the end shift last night and then the first shift this morning. Between the hour drive home and the hour drive back I’d have maybe an hour to sleep at home so I just stayed over.”

I did some mental math based on the schedule. Staying over had gotten her at most three hours’ sleep which still wasn’t enough but at least was better than only one.

She went on to tell me she was working extra time to earn money to build a pool, an unusual thing to have in Tennessee, but she’d moved here from Cleveland so even January’s worst in this neck of the woods must seem balmy compared to northern Ohio.

It was just the two of us for most of the trip, but by the time I disembarked several more people had gotten on. I thanked her on my way out.

“Thanks for helping me wake up,” she said.

Next time I’ll buy the coffee.

 

Give ‘Em An Inch.

A problem some people see with graffiti is that it might encourage more, and worse, crime in an area. It’s the broken windows theory of crime—the idea that a bad environment is responsible for crime. It goes sort of like this: one broken window in an empty building will encourage people to break more windows and next thing you know you have hooliganism running amok which sounds bad in spite of the fact that “hooliganism” and “amok” are fun words to throw around, especially if you’re playing Scrabble where they’re worth a lot of points, but that’s another story.

The broken windows theory has, depending on whom you ask, been discredited. I don’t think it’s ever been completely discredited because crime is a complicated thing and it’s impossible to point to a single factor that causes or contributes to it, or to even find a specific set of factors.

 

And sometimes I think that a little graffiti can make something you wouldn’t stop to look at or think about more interesting. It can actually improve an area.

I Went To College!

Source: Aminoapps.com

Earlier this week someone asked me, “What did you major in?” I had just dropped one of the esoteric facts I’ve spent my entire life collecting and I expected it to, as usual, lie on the floor a minute or two before scuttling up my leg, over my midsection to my neck, and finally back into my ear, a metaphor that should make me a lot more uncomfortable, but which I’m actually enjoying so much I plan to use it every chance I get, which won’t ever happen again. Anyway it was kind of weird to have someone close to my age ask, “What did you major in that you know Ptah was the Egyptian god of sculpture?” Almost as weird as having an Egyptian deity come up in a work-related training session, although I work in a library so I have esoteric facts crawling into my eyes and out of  my mouth all the time. The funny thing is I majored in English and didn’t learn anything about Egyptian deities in any of the assigned reading, but the weird thing is I haven’t been asked what I majored in since, well, since I graduated. For students in the United States it’s a pretty common question, the tertiary education equivalent of “What’s your sign?” although it’s not usually a pickup line. It’s shorthand for, “What kind of person are you, what are you interested in, what are your hopes and dreams?” or in some cases it’s “What are your parents’ hopes and dreams that they’re paying for you to fulfill while you’d rather be taking improv classes?” It was a question I heard a lot when I was in college. With other students it was a nice icebreaker to start conversations, or to stop them. “I’m majoring in English. Oh, you’re majoring in accounting?” would be followed by a long, uncomfortable silence. From adults it was sometimes an expression of interest and sometimes when I told them I was majoring in English it led to expressions of befuddlement—“What are you going to do with that?” to cheap jokes about my future career in burger-flipping. Sometimes I turned it around on them. “Oh, you majored in psychology? How’s that helping you in your job as assistant office manager at a small midstate office supply company?” This strategy didn’t always work out so well, of course. “Oh, you majored in communications engineering and business and now you’re manager of a radio station?” And then I’d nod thoughtfully and say, “Well done,” but that’s another story.

In other countries, of course, higher education is structured very differently. In the United States we have some trade schools and also universities and colleges. Universities take a more unified view of education while colleges take little scraps of data, slap glue on them, and stick them to your brain, and if you’ve studied you should know that data are plural, the singular is datum, first isolated in 1986 when scientists put a Trivial Pursuit card under a microscope, and that Brent Spiner and Jonathan Luke Ke Huy Quan are Data. The “major” is a specific field of study that can range from architecture to zoology, both of which are very popular with people who don’t know what they want to do so pick either the first or last thing listed in the school catalog. In Britain, on the other hand, they have two universities, Oxford and Cambridge, where students spend four years reading before they venture out into the world to either become coal miners or write novels about coal miners, and in Canada young people who’ve finished the secondary phase of their education build a chrysalis out of cheese and Tim Horton’s coffee cups and spend four years pupating before they emerge fully-fledged ski shop owners. In Australia education is a lifelong process of just trying to stay alive in a place where everything is out to kill you, and don’t get me started on higher education in other parts of the world because I know absolutely nothing about it.

So anyway it kind of threw me to be asked by another adult, “What did you major in?” after all these years and then later in the conversation I mentioned They Might Be Giants, and she asked, “Is that a musical group?” And now it was my turn to ask, “Are you sure you went to college?”

Smith’s Forge.

Source: Goodreads

If coming out is easier now than it used to be–and for some people I understand it is, although it can still be a difficult experience–it’s because of people like Bob Smith. He was the first openly gay comic to appear on The Tonight Show and get his own HBO special, making his debut in 1994, nine years before the Supreme Court’s Lawrence v. Texas decision would sweep away the remaining anti-sodomy laws that existed solely to punish gay men.
He was more than just a standup comedian. Bob Smith was a prolific, and funny, author, of both novels and personal essays. His 1997 book Openly Bob, has witty wisdom on every page:

I know on a rational level I shouldn’t feel responsible for the behavior of every gay man, but having been raised Roman Catholic, I’m capable of producing guilt from nothing.
The opponents of sex education believe that if we keep our teenagers ignorant about a topic then they won’t become interested; a theory that has proven itself by the lack of interest shown by teenagers in other subjects missing from the curriculum, such as playing loud music, eating French fries, and the use of pimple creams.
At twenty-three I still lived at home and had reached the age when that admission is not a statement of address but of arrested development.
Being a personal assistant is the most thankless job since food tasting for the pharaohs…It’s tragic that people in both careers think the job is going to be a stepping-stone and end up discovering it can be a tombstone.
Coffee in the morning is my religion. We true believers drink two cups to lead us not into temptation to go back to bed.
Anthropologists have propagated a theory that over millions of years the size of our brains expanded as our ancestors began to use tools. Isn’t it more probable that our mental capacity developed to avoid using tools? It takes more ingenuity to get out of doing something than to do it. Call it the Tom Sawyer Theory of Evolution.
Supermarkets are on the cutting edge of social change. Anyone can buy family-size packages, whether your family is nuclear, dysfunctional, or chosen. At the cash register, all relationships are treated with the same respect. Your right to purchase a family valu-pack of paper towels is never disputed–your family is always valid even if your coupons aren’t.

A few years ago Bob Smith had to have another sort of coming out when he revealed he had ALS. The disease affected his mouth first, dulling his tongue but not the wit that drove it. Born December 24th, 1958, he came out both as a gay man and a comedian in the 1980’s, a great time to be one of those things but not the other. And yet he was always proud, a founding member of the group Funny Gay Males. He was strong too, up until the end. He wrote final book, Treehab: Tales From My Natural Wild Life, on an iPad with only one hand.
Singlehandedly he made the world a better place.
Hail and farewell Bob Smith.

 

Routing The Routine.

Snow completely disrupts routines, at least here in the South where even a prediction of snow throws everyone into a panic and causes them to rush to the store to buy eggs, bread, milk, and toilet paper. There’s even a running conspiracy theory that the stores are in cahoots with the local meteorologists and will sometimes throw out a false warning when they’re overstocked on those items which would explain the occasional July forecast, but that’s another story.
I understand that other parts of the country are better equipped to deal with snow and Yankees and other aliens have asked me so many times, “Why does snow cause so much trouble around here?” that I’ve developed a standard answer. I say, it doesn’t happen often enough and when snow starts falling there are still some people who run out into the street screaming, “What is this stuff? It looks like chicken feathers but it’s cold!” Nashville has ice trucks and snow plows, although not very many, and one year they couldn’t get out because the door of the garage where they kept froze shut. There was no backup plan because it never occurred to anyone that such a thing might happen. I told a bus driver who’d moved here from Michigan that and she laughed so hard I was afraid she’d go off the road, but I’m pretty sure Michigan does have snow in July.
I know I’m making it sound worse than it is. Most winters Nashvillians will see snow at least once or twice, and on rare occasions the Aurora Borealis can be seen, a faint smudge of neon on the horizon. The snow just never lasts long enough for anyone to get used to it, which may be why I’ve never ridden a bus that was on a snow route. Or maybe I have and I didn’t know it because the snow route for my regular bus isn’t that different from its regular route. And yet the other day when I was waiting for the bus this came zipping up:

At first I hesitated to get on, but the door opened and the driver motioned to a seat. I don’t know what circumstances led to a shortbus being sent out to pick up regular riders, but it was a nice break in the routine.

Being There.

Some friends and I were walking through Gorky Park, the actual park, not the 1983 film, although it is interesting to me that one of my favorite comedians, Alexei Sayle, has a small role in the film. He gets shot in the head and because the special effects technicians got a little overzealous when they shot the shooting he was left temporarily deaf. While he was sitting around the set recovering Lee Marvin sat down and talked to him for about half an hour and all Sayle, who was understandably starstruck, could do was smile and nod politely.

My friends and I had just been to a Marc Chagall exhibit at a Moscow museum which, at the time, was a pretty big deal. This was 1991, the Soviet Union had collapsed less than a week earlier, and Chagall’s paintings were being shown in his native Russia for the first time since he left in 1923. It was striking to me that even though Chagall himself wouldn’t live to see it his paintings had outlasted the Soviet Union. And even though I really loved the Chagall  paintings I’d seen in books this was the first time I’d ever seen his pictures in person. No matter how good a reproduction may be it can never capture the feeling of being in front of an original painting, seeing its size, the brushstrokes, and the colors unfiltered.

Because it was snowing and because we were in a park we decided to build a snowman, although we didn’t pretend he was Parson Brown, but if we had and he’d asked, “Are you married?” we would have said, “Holy crap, it’s a talking snowman!” but that’s another story. Since we didn’t have coal or carrots we used kopecks for the eyes and nose and mouth. Some Russian kids gave us weird looks. As we walked away I looked back and saw them examining the snowman. I figured they’d take the kopecks but they didn’t touch it.

On the metro going back to the hotel we sat across from a boy who might have been seven or eight.

“Would you like a piece of candy?” one of my friends asked. He gave her a blank look. She held out a lollipop from her candy stash. He took it and politely muttered “Спасибо.” He then took out a red plastic pencil case and put the lollipop in it, keeping his head down. The rest of the trip he kept moving around the lollipop and his pencils, a smile pushing out at the corners of his mouth.

Every once in a while I think about that kid and how he must be grown now, and I wonder if any memory of us has melted away, like the lollipop and the snowman, or if he remembers that, if he feels lucky to have been there.

Keep It On Ice.

While it’s a myth that no two snowflakes are alike snowflakes still come in a dazzling array of forms.

Ice is just ice. It’s solid water. It’s not going out of its way to be special.

 

If you fall in snow it gently cushions you.

If you fall on ice it will do as much as it can to break every one of your bones.

 

Snow floats and gently coats the world as it falls.

Ice just falls. It sticks, seeps into nooks and crannies, and pushes everything aside. Ice lets you know it’s arrived.

 

Most snowflakes form around dust particles.

Ice doesn’t need help from anyone.

 

A typical snowflake has roughly 180 billion molecules of water.

Ice consumes all. It has no limits. Do not mock ice.

 

Snow forms drifts that you can see.

Ice forms invisible patches. Ice doesn’t need to be seen and wants you to know that.

 

Lie down in snow and move your arms and legs out from your body. You’ll form a snow angel.

Lie down on ice. It will make you cold. Ice is going to do its own thing and doesn’t care what you want.

 

Snow is ideal for skiing, snowboarding, and sledding.

Ice is ideal for skating and hockey. Blades and bloodshed are how ice rolls.

The largest recorded snowfall in the United States in a twenty-four hour period was in April 1921 in Silver Lake, Colorado. It snowed 75.8 inches.

Ice is a really big fan of Ethel Merman.

 

Light snow is often called “powder”.

Ice doesn’t need any silly nicknames except in drinks consumed by grim men in dark bars, and even then it’s only known as “the rocks”.

 

All snowflakes are six-sided.

Ice only has one side: ice.

 

Snow is a good insulator and can be used to build shelters.

Ice wants you to die.

 

Some people have chionophobia which means “fear of snow”.

Everyone fears ice. Ice wants it that way and ice gets what it wants.

 

There are records of snowflakes as big as fifteen inches.

Ice will cover a whole lake if it wants to. You got a problem with that? Ice wants you to come out here and jump up and down and say that.

 

Snowball fights are a fun way to enjoy the winter outdoors with your friends.

Ice ball fights are how wars get started.

 

Snow only forms under very special atmospheric conditions.

Ice is just cold. If you need this explained to you again ice will cut you.

 

Winter snowfall provides more than three-fourths of the water that supports the climate of western North America.

Ice has been implicated in international money laundering.

 

Large accumulations of snow on mountains can result in avalanches.

Ice is directly responsible for avalanches. It taunts the snow into just giving up.

 

Scientists have found layers of snow at the polar regions that go back thousands of years.

Ice advises you to just keep moving and don’t ask what happened here unless you want to end up like Sonny Corleone.

 

Frosty The Snowman is a magical character brought to life by children and forced to leave town after an altercation with the police.

Ice runs this town. You cross ice and ice will put you in a woodchipper.

 

When snow melts it turns into fluffy kittens.

When ice melts it makes everything around it cold. Ice wants you to know that you will pay.

It’s Always Brillig Somewhere.

So my wife gave me a literary tea collection because, well, I’m a bit of a reader, and by “bit of a reader” I mean I always have at least five or six books stacked up on my bedside table and a long list of books I wish I could get to, but that’s another story. Anyway I noticed a theme running through the collection.

This one might make me go blind.

This one might make me go bald.

This one might make me go bearded.

This one I can only drink when it’s brillig.

You may have noticed something else they all have in common, something which reminds me of Henry Ford’s statement, “You can have it in any color you like as long as it’s black.” He was referring, of course, to the Model Tea.

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