Sex and Violence

A quick note on two movies we saw this week. It's probably just me: I have no familiarity with the source material for either of these works.

Iron Man From a comic book. Snarky weapons engineer reacts to the discovery that his weapons might actually hurt people by making a bigger, badder weapon. But this time, only he will use the weapon.
Theater Location: Beltway Plaza
Noise Level: Fine
The Skinny: I've never liked Robert Downey, Jr, and this movie gave me no reason to start. This was a two-dimensional movie pretending to be three.

Sex and the City From a television series. Four rich New York women whine about men and shoes. The theater manager dressed up for the occasion. She was obviously excited.
Theater Location: Old Greenbelt
Noise Level: Fine, but they should turn down the music when the theater manager walks up to talk to us.
The Skinny: Racist, Sexist, Homophobic, and Vapid. Good Lord, who can care about these rich women with too much time and money? (Even when they're supposedly overwhelmed by work/kids, they have too much time on their hands!) Oh, and the clothes are ugly.

Does the Grass Have to Be Greener on the Other Side?

Since I'm being all liberal and stuff, here's a link to a fun conversation with God about Suburban living. A snippet:

GOD: The spring rains and warm weather probably make grass grow really fast. That must make the Suburbanites happy.

ST. FRANCIS: Apparently not, Lord. As soon as it grows a little, they cut it-sometimes twice a week.

Strength

I tend to start these kinds of posts by insisting that I don't want this to become a political blog. I doubt there's much chance of that happening, but I hope you aren't too offended when I offer this little confession:

I support Obama.

Ok. You're probably not terribly surprised, eh? I live in the bluest part of the bluest state in the mid-Atlantic. Here's something more surprising:

I am not convinced that one man can change the country's future.

I don't think that there is really enough power in the White House to actually do good or evil without a lot of help from all sides. Evil as the things are that George W. Bush has done in our country's name, he could not have done them without the complicity of the Congress and (let's face it) the complicity of more than half of my fellow citizens.

I think that an Obama election would not necessarily change the world on its own; however, I believe it would show that our country is ready to move on and do something new. That it will bring along with it others who are ready to change. That is where Obama's "hope" lies.

I worry about the future of my people when I see quotes like this one from Pennsylvania's governor:

I think it's very unlikely that Sen. Clinton can prevail. I think that means we're not going to field our strongest candidate

And my objection is not that he's supporting Clinton. That's no big deal. If he had said that it meant that we're not going to field our "best" candidate, I would have understood. However, if a candidate does not win her own party's primary system, how in the world can she be considered the "strongest candidate"? If Obama somehow does not win this election, I am willing to admit that he was not the "strongest candidate." I don't particularly want the strongest candidate. I want the best candidate. This concern about the strength of a candidacy is what gave us Kerry.

Paint Your Own Pottery?

I wandered up to the Walters Art Gallery in Baltimore this weekend to see the map exhibition. The exhibition was wicked cool, but so annoyingly crowded that I retreated to the other parts of the museum to get a break. This plate shows the gathering of manna, which at least is more food-related than the scenes in some of the other dishes.

It's always fun to go up to Baltimore, but this week was especially exciting because the Brunette was away and she took the car with her! So I rode the bus over to the Greenbelt Metro Station, transferred to a bus that took me up to BWI, and boarded the light rail train which took me into the city. The light rail stop was only a couple blocks from the museum. Between the stop and the museum is this scary dog:

The trip up took about 2 1/2 hours. I found the ride very relaxing, and it's awesome that in the middle there's the airport: restrooms every 100 feet! It's fun to walk through the terminal without having to be anywhere or pick anyone up. It's a bit freeing.

The trip was full of pontification. You can't put a price on some good pontification by strangers.

I've Been Tagged

Now, I'll be tracked through my annual migration as I frolic with the other taleswappers in my natural habitat.

Wow, four years of blogging without ever getting tagged, and now it's happened twice in the same month. I've never been great at the whole chain letter thing, so I'm not passing this on. (OK, so I'm not good at the whole getting enough friends to pass this kind of thing on to.)

But I will play:

1. Write the title to your memoir using 6 words:

Hah. At first I thought this meant to write a title using the words that were provided. Now, I realize I'm supposed to make up my own words.

Tales of a Bicycling Geeky Tumbleweed

2. Link to the person that tagged you:

lacochran's bloggery

3. Tag five more blogs:

I tag You, dear reader! Feel free to respond or not, as you see fit.

Sewage Only

This is the back end of a septic truck that often parks next to the McCarls' dental office. I assume the truck belongs to one of the residents; I can't see what a dentist would want with this truck. At any rate, I really like these metal flowers affixed to the sewage truck.

Kids These Days

Sorry about the profanity. A lot of people are pretty worried about the kids in our city, but I have to say I'm charmed by kids who make their graffiti safe for public consumption.

How To Blog

Not so long ago, I gave you loyal readers out there a couple suggestions on topics you could build your own blogs around. I just had another one, but there's no way I'm going to use it:

The Troll Blog. Maybe you could call it Under the Bridge or something equally billy-goats-gruff-esque. The idea of this blog is to see how much traffic you can possibly generate. It doesn't matter if the traffic is negative; in fact, I'll bet it's easier to get a lot of traffic if you have posts that stir up emotions. Maybe posts like this one:

What would your mother say if you spent a lot of time watching a sport where the players took perfectly good food -- say raw steaks and mashed potatoes -- and ran around a field mushing the food into the ground, spoiling it so nobody who needs it can eat it? She wouldn't like that, would she? So, what would she say about you watching NASCAR?

Then, just wait for the comments to pour in!

Tired of the Music Thing Yet?

Well, I've made a promise to myself that I won't switch over to the new site until I finish this stupid series. I figure that means we'll be switching over about when Hillary quits, some time after Obama's inauguration.

Just as well, I've still got a lot of Joomla to learn.

Man on the Corner (Mike Elosh)

The challenge: Set your iPod on shuffle, listen to the first song that plays, write something. The written thing can be an essay, a poem, a story, whatever. It might only be tenuously related to the song, but it has to be written in a timebox. No editing later, no polishing forever. It is what it is. (Well, okay, spellchecking is allowed.) You know that I didn't edit, because I hate, hate, hate the phrase, "thought to himself." Who else would he think to?

At any rate, I'm randomly trolling through the list of songs from a morning's commute. (There's still time to go and guess what the songs are!) The other stories so far are available at the MusicTale link.

Timebox: This item's timebox was today's bus ride home. (I jumped off the train at Deanwood and took it the long way home.)

Jerry stood on the corner and glared at his watch. His face was contorted into such an angry mask that two teenagers crossed the street just to avoid his notice. Jerry wasn't a big guy, but the kids knew better than to mess with a crazy man. Any man wearing a tuxedo and standing at a bus stop in the rain had to be missing a few marbles.

This was ironic, really, because marbles were the exact subject of Jerry's thoughts. A thirty year old man doesn't often think of marbles but these two -- a cat's eye and an aggie -- were particularly special marbles, necessary marbles, in fact.

Where is that bus? Jerry thought to himself. He shook his watch and then wondered at himself. Shaking never did anyone any good. He shook his head. Whole lotta shakin' goin' on. He laughed.

Jerry remembered his hand shaking last fall as he crouched down at the circle in the dirt. Elisa was egging him on, of course. He was sure she wasn't taking it seriously.

"You want to play marbles?" she asked incredulously.

"Yeah, it'll be just like when we were kids."

"I haven't played marbles for twenty years," she said.

He remembered. Jerry and Elisa had met in grade school. She was a tomboy, better at every sport than all the boys, especially Jerry, who was a bookworm. But he could play marbles. Of course, that didn't mean a whole lot in the playground pecking order. Even twenty years ago, marbles were nearly unknown to the elementary crowd. marbles as a game, anyway. Everybody knew that marbles made great ammunition for slingshots.

But Elisa seemed to take to the game. She was as much an outsider as Jerry, perhaps more so. Jerry thought she liked to crouch at the circle with him because it was the only thing she had a real competitor for. Jerry was self-absorbed that way.

Over time, they drifted apart. High school was unkind to them both in different ways. She went north for college. Jerry couldn't afford to go to college, so he joined the garage. He was good with hands, but he didn't fit in. The other mechanics called him Professor and mocked his interest in the environment.

Early last year, Jerry met Elisa in the co-op. She had moved to town recently on a job transfer.

"You still see everyone here," she said.

"I guess we all need groceries," he replied. He mentally kicked himself.

He saw her again the next week in line at the little movie theater.

"Think we could sit together?" she asked. They saw the movie, then sat at the New Deal Café for hours. He walked her home. And then he saw her every day for six months straight. They had an argument and made up. They talked about dogs. The sun shined and the world was a beautiful place.

"So, are we playing for keepsies?" she asked at the circle scratched in the ground. He had been waiting for this question.

"For keeps. For real..." He struggled to push the next words out. "And if I win, you'll marry me."

She stared at him while he looked down at his shoes.

"That's cheeky," she said, finally, when he said nothing more. "You always win at this game. And you've probably been practicing, too."

He didn't deny it.

"What do I get if I win?" she asked.

"You have to choose," he said.

"OK," she said. "Let's play."

"What'll you get if you win?" he asked.

"You'll have to wait and see," she said.

And they played. I'm afraid I don't know anything about playing marbles, so I can't tell you about the exciting game except to say it all came down to a single shot by Jerry. He crouched there and his hand shook.

And he muffed the shot.

Elisa jumped up and shouted. She did a little dance of joy. Jerry rose more slowly.

"I won!" she said. "Be excited for me!"

"Yay," he said. "So what do you win?"

She grabbed his waist and pulled him close. "You have to marry me," she said. And then they both did a dance of joy.

So that's why Jerry stood in a tuxedo in the rain at the bus stop just down from the church. His cell phone rang.

"Yes?"

"Where are you?" Elisa shouted at him through the speaker.

"I'm at the bus stop. I forgot the marbles."

"You forgot -- " She paused. "Jerry, I'm standing here at the altar. We don't need the stinkin' marbles."

"They're important," he said. "The stupid bus is really slow. There it is now."

"Your commitment to the green cause is admirable," Elisa said. "But you'd think it might be OK to use a car on your fricking wedding day!" The last four words were shouted.

"I think the marbles are important," he repeated.

"I don't need the marbles. I need you. Come back through the gate and let's get married. I won fair and square."

"I know," he said, and the R12 bus arrived at Jerry's feet and opened its door.

Kid Fears (Indigo Girls)

The challenge: Set your iPod on shuffle, listen to the first song that plays, write something. The written thing can be an essay, a poem, a story, whatever. It might only be tenuously related to the song, but it has to be written in a timebox. No editing later, no polishing forever. It is what it is. (Well, okay, spellchecking is allowed.)

I'm randomly trolling through the list of songs from a morning's commute. (There's still time to go and guess what the songs are!) The other stories so far are available at the MusicTale link.

Timebox: This item's timebox was today's train ride.

"Are you on fire?" It was more of an exclamation than a question, really, and it jerked Sophia out of her brooding. She looked at the street first; no broken bodies on Crescent Road. She looked up the path that winds away from the school and watched the sudden clot of children gather at one spot and nearly as quickly disperse.

The kids spun like satellites around a shouting eight-year-old on his knees. His jacket was aflame. As Sophia charged to the scene, Jason jumped up from his knees.

"No!" she shouted. "Stop, drop and roll!" The words seemed inane, but she could think of no others. Jason didn't drop and roll, but at least he didn't fan the flames by running. The other children picked up the chant.

"Stop! Drop! Roll!" they squealed.

Sophia ripped off her reflective orange vest as she ran. She tried to think of first aid procedures, but instead, she flashed back to that morning's argument with Erika.

How could I be involved with an Erika? she wondered, detached from both situations. I've always been intimidated by Erikas. All those harsh consonants. Well, one harsh consonant, any way.

She shouted a sort of kung fu shout and jumped the last few feet to embrace Jason and take him to the ground. It's exactly like I said, she thought. I'm not ready for the responsibility.

"We could try a cat first," Erika had said. Sophia rolled her eyes.

"I'm allergic to cats."

"I didn't know that."

"That's part of the point," Sophia whined. Oh, how she hated that whine. "I'm still not used to having you in the house. I'm not a sharer. We still have a lot to learn about each other."

"How about a goldfish, then?" Erika persisted. Sophia groaned.

"Goldfish die so easily."

"It's only a stepping stone," Erika said.

"Great. Goldfish as gateway drug." Sophia sighed. "Do you want to see me cry?"

"OK, then, how about a turtle? They live forever."

"Too smelly."

"A snake?"

"Too slimy."

"They're not actually slimy, you know --"

"And I don't want any spiders in the house, either."

"A monkey?" Erika suggested.

"Too angry."

"A chinchilla?"

"Too nocturnal"

"A newt?"

"Too Republican."

"A ferret?"

"What if we get a bad one?"

"There are no bad ferrets, just bad owners."

"I don't think there are any good ferrets."

"An alpaca?"

"An alpaca? An alpaca is bigger than a dog, and we started this because I thought a dog was too big!"

"I don't think you want a pet."

"Hmm," Sophia said. "Pretty sure I already said that."

"But everybody has a pet," Erika said. "It'll make us a couple."

"We're already a couple. You've even moved in, remember?"

"If we're going to stay a couple, you have to explain why --"

"And if we're going to stay a couple, you have to listen --"

They stood staring at each other for a full minute while the implied threats hung in the air. All the usual sounds could be heard to reinforce the awkwardness: the clock ticked, the faucet dripped, someone started a lawnmower or weed whacker outside. Finally, Sophia broke the silence.

"Look, I'm not responsible. I can't be trusted with the care of another creature."

"I trust you."

"Not because you have to," Sophia said. "If you trust me, trust me on this -- at least for a little while. I can't. I lose everything..."

She had picked up her little stop sign and ridden down to her post. And now she was facing a reenactment of the Burning Man right here in the park.

She got her vest around the boy and rolled him in the dirt. When he started whining about the dirt, she knew she could stop. She put him on his feet and rotated him. There were some burn marks on the jacket, but no holes.

Jason seemed unharmed.

"I thought I'd lost you," she said and hugged him until he started squirming. Everyone is always disappearing, she thought. And now I've pushed Erika away.

She let Jason go when he started yelling. Back at the crosswalk -- her domain -- she gathered the kids around and made them wait for traffic to subside. She continued crying, quietly.

Anastasia tugged at her hand. "Miss Sophia, don't cry. It's not your fault. Jason was playing with matches."

Sophia tried to smile, but the effect was not quite right, because Anastasia continued, in a stage whisper: "Jason is a bad kid."

Sophia laughed at this, and Anastasia, no longer concerned about her tears, wanted an explanation for the laugh.

"It's time to cross the street," Sophia announced. By now, twelve children had assembled and discussion of Jason's fire fight had already dissipated. Sophia held her stop sign high and marched to the center of the road. The children crossed in -- mostly -- single file. An outbound Prius sopped on one side and an in-bound R12 bus stopped on the other. After the last child had crossed, Sophia returned to her post on the Prius side of the road. The Prius slurped away and the bus clashed gears and moved toward Roosevelt Center, revealing a woman standing on the other side of the road, holding flowers.

"Erika!" Sophia shouted. "What are you doing here?"

"May I cross?" Erika asked.

Sophia ran to the middle of the crosswalk with her sign held high. Erika met her there and they kissed.

"You haven't lost me," Erika said.

"Yes," Sophia answered. "But you must remember to look both ways when crossing the street."

CCC

Stopped by the community center to listen to a talk given by Dr. Olen Cole. It was on the topic of the African American Experience with the Civilian Conservation Corps. Since our city was founded as part of the New Deal, its museum is terribly interested in all things Rooseveltian.

It was a very interesting lecture. Dr. Cole described the conditions and pay that the CCCers were able to hang on to ($5). He was most interesting when he went off-paper and spoke off-the-cuff. It was a pretty good crowd, I think, and he was warmly received and deluged with questions. Greenbeltians are an inquisitive bunch. The last question came from an African American alumni of the CCC. He started off with, "I think I remember that five dollars..."

Wine at the Pump

It's kind of strange to live in a generally liberal state that is saddled with blue laws. For the most part, you can't buy alcohol in a grocery store in Maryland. Our local co-op grocery store seems to be an exception, but for the most part, if you want a nice wine, you have to go to a liquor store. (This is on my mind because we had a great time with the zombies at the Columbia Wine in the Woods event.)

On the other side of the river, in generally less-liberal Virginia, you can buy wine here:

There is a very nice little wine rack in this Exxon station along Route 7.

Now I know how I'm going to make it through today's Jazz class.

The Pressure is Building...

...for a tantrum of epic proportions. (The comics on this post are from Cul de Sac. I love the language in his strip.)

I pronounce this official grump week, and if you don't like it, I don't care! I'm not sure what's going to set me off, but these are the things that have been pumping up the balloon:

  • Baldness. Why is it socially acceptable to make fun of a man's hair loss? What other feature is it polite to make fun of in polite conversation?
  • Bumps. I have a doctor's appointment on Wednesday, so he can look at the bump on my head. It's probably not cancer and it's probably not going to kill me, but going bald isn't helping with the covering it up.
  • Belly. Oi. I just got a picture of myself from last week's corporate all-hands meeting. Can I look any more fat and dorky? Still, nobody makes fun of fat people to their faces...
  • Headache. I couldn't think of any more Bs. But my head hurts and Advil is not helping!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Ok. I know what you're thinking. You're thinking the same thing as this bald kid:

Demon (Daemon?) On Wheels

Speed Racer Movie remake of the television show. (Is it called a remake? A tribute? What?) An innocent race car driver fights the evils of greedy capitalist conglomerates and mourns his older brother.
Theater Location: Beltway Plaza
Noise Level: Half of the movie contained a weird sound in-fill: like there was an ocean just on the other side of the screen.
The Skinny: The actors did a really good job acting like cheap animated characters. The actual CGI cars, track and sky looked more real. The movie was incredibly badly written and boring and long, and yet I was totally totally charmed. Maybe the swirling colors hypnotized me.
Memo to Self: If you're going to put your feet up on the safety fence in the theater (which is against the rules for no obvious reason), don't wear glow in the dark shoes.

And They Call it Democracy

I was going to mention the Proclaimer's song about democracy, but it's on the list of stories to be written, so I went with Bruce Cockburn.

Our little housing cooperative held its annual meeting and elections last night in the community center gym. This really is the level at which democracy should work best. The cooperative controls real estate holdings in the area of $250 million (according to one of the candidates) and its board is responsible for many of the rules and regulations that affect our lives every day. But voting and representation in the governance of this body is limited to members, so a vote in this smaller community is going to have so much more impact on things that affect our lives directly than a typical national election.

And yet, of 1600 eligible families, only 101 had appeared by the 7:30 start of the meeting. But voting does continue through today.

The candidates pointed out an important issue: Our community is aging, both demographically and structurally. The block and brick units were built in 1937 and we're going to need to address the need for rehabilitation soon.

There's an interesting tension, too, in the review by the American Institute of Architects: in order to balance the age curve of our housing, we need to be able to expand the sizes of our units, but there's equal pressure to preserve the (at least in the core area) historic legacy of our cooperative. Equally, there's a movement to improve the efficiency of our homes and, beyond that, start greening them up.

Perhaps some of these candidates will be up to the task of wrestling with these and other issues:

Truth be told, the meeting itself is rather boring. One of the candidates was very funny, but other than that, these are normal citizens without a lot of public speaking experience. That's great because it means they're awfully real, but it makes things a little slow. Thank goodness one of the zombies was there to show off her origami skillz.

Oh, and we got free plants.

New York City (They Might Be Giants)

The challenge: Set your iPod on shuffle, listen to the first song that plays, write something. The written thing can be an essay, a poem, a story, whatever. It might only be tenuously related to the song, but it has to be written in a timebox. No editing later, no polishing forever. It is what it is. (Well, okay, spellchecking is allowed.)

I'm randomly trolling through the list of songs from a morning's commute. (There's still time to go and guess what the songs are!) The other stories so far are available at the MusicTale link.

Timebox: This item's timebox was today's bus and train ride. Oddly, the entire trip was quicker than usual this morning.

Darryl wheeled his blue suitcase to the curb outside the apartment complex. It had small wheels that didn't perform so well in the grassy bits, but it would work fine for the train station and on the streets of New York City. Darryl's impression was that there is no grass in New York City except in Central Park.

The trip to the bus stop took forever because Darryl cradled the birdhouse on top of the suitcase. He had painted it himself. He figured it would be a great gift. Who wouldn't love a hand-painted avian dwelling?

Darryl stopped. Do they have birds in New York City? He tried hard to remember his trip, but no matter how much he squinched up his face, he could remember no birds. He looked down at the birdhouse. It was gaily colored with orange and white stripes and little pink flamingos. How sad if it had no use. He closed his eyes and willed himself to think of it as art. Maybe she would like it anyway.

At the bus stop, he looked down the street, but no bus was on the horizon yet. He pulled the letter from his shirt pocket and carefully unfolded it. He didn't have to read it -- he had memorized every word -- but he liked to caress the curves of her Ss.

In the letter, Suzie invited Darryl to come to New York City and stay. The snow had gotten to her -- and the loneliness -- and she waxed poetic about their short time together in the Spring, when they had met while Darryl was on a class trip.

The idea had thrilled and appalled him at the same time. He was surely in love with her. That's what that burbling in his chest meant, right? But he had been raised rather conservatively. One doesn't go gallivanting around the world for a woman on a whim.

Of course one does, he thought. Now, I realize that.

I think.

He unzipped the top of his suitcase and peered in. Was he taking the right stuff? He hadn't travelled but that once and then his grandmother had packed for him. His grandmother had gone, now. He had packed all the things that reminded him of New York. He had a t-shirt with the I heart NY logo. It didn't fit any more. He had a visor with Staten Island printed on it. He also had a heavy paper weight in the shape of the Empire State Building.

"Where Dylan lived," Suzie had told him. She was holding his hand (or was he holding hers?) and it confused him and made him happy.

"The poet or the singer?" he asked. She just giggled and skipped off. He followed like a puppy dog.

Perhaps the souvenirs were not the right thing to pack. No doubt, New York City had enough little replicas of the Empire State Building and shiny thimbles with Ed Koch's face on them. Darryl's heart fluttered for a new reason. If his packing wasn't perfect, he couldn't go. This was an important step. Everything had to be just right.

He had already packed and repacked so many times that he had lost count. This trip had been delayed so many times due to this or that imperfection. He quivered with indecision. Should he turn back again?

Then he noticed the bus. The sight lines along Cherrywood Lane are pretty long, so the bus was two stops away when he noticed it, but the time for decision had come. This was his chance for love; would he blow it if he made a mistake? Would he lose it if he delayed any further?

Darryl reached down and took the handle of the suitcase, which now seemed weighted down with uselessness and imperfection. When he stood straight, the bus was there and opening its doors. Darryl took a deep breath, carefully balanced the birdhouse, and mounted the steps. He was on his way. He was proud of himself and felt the pride rush through him like a cold breeze.

He nodded at the other passengers, who ignored him. The bus would drop them off at Greenbelt station, but he was taking the R12 all the way to New Carrollton, where the Amtrak station was. He put the suitcase between his knees and held the birdhouse steady atop it with his finger. He resisted the urge to pull out the letter -- in truth it was starting to deteriorate, the edges were rough and some of the writing had faded. Instead, he fiddled with the birdhouse, turning it around and admiring his own work on the flamingos and clouds.

He stopped turning the birdhouse and gasped. One of the flamingos was missing a leg. How had he missed that? Darryl tried to remember how to tell the bus to stop.

I Don't Get It

This guy points to an interesting chart in a Pew poll. It implies that if you send a Democrat or an independent voter off to university, he or she will be more likely to believe that "global warming is happening because of human activity." However, if you educate a Republican, he or she will be less likely to believe that humans have anything to do with global climate change.

Also interesting is that the poll suggests that over the last year, Americans have become less certain that there is solid evidence for global climate change. This, at least, I can explain: poor siting of poll takers, increased sunspot activity, and natural variation almost certainly not caused by humans.

On the other hand, blacks and whites believe in anthropogenic global warming at exactly the same rate.

They'll Need a Crane (They Might Be Giants)

The challenge: Set your iPod on shuffle, listen to the first song that plays, write something. The written thing can be an essay, a poem, a story, whatever. It might only be tenuously related to the song, but it has to be written in a timebox. No editing later, no polishing forever. It is what it is. (Well, okay, spellchecking is allowed.)

I'm randomly trolling through the list of songs from a morning's commute. (There's still time to go and guess what the songs are!) The other stories so far are available at the MusicTale link.

Timebox: This item's timebox was lunchtime. Some of these are going to be a lot worse than others.

Karl rolled his eyes when the bus made its next stop. This was the stop where the Woman with the Amazing Bag of Bags boarded the bus. Karl knew her name was Mabel, and she had other distinguishing characteristics -- like her knee-length braided gray hair, her always-colorful nurse's scrubs, and the faint smell of weed -- but Karl generally thought of her as The Bag Lady.

Mabel climbed to the toll box and shifted her giant bag for easier access. It was a printed bag and made from some tightly woven material. It resembled in size and texture one of those carpet bags from the US post-bellum era. Mabel dug in the bag until she located and extracted a slightly smaller purse. This one was a jet black leather bag embossed with neon-green geckos. The clasp on the gecko bag gave Mabel a little trouble, but she snapped it open eventually and rummaged around inside of it while leaning on the pole next to the door. Whenever her hand disappeared into a bag, her tongue appeared between her teeth and darted left and right in sync with her arm's movement. Mabel retracted her tongue and smiled, then pulled out a large wallet. The wallet was beaded in rainbow stripes and bound together with a leather strip. She undid the tie with her teeth and her left hand, then plunged the fingers of her left hand into the wallet. She jiggled them around a bit and they came to the surface with a very small change purse. It was blue with yellow stars.

Mabel peered into the coin purse as if she had never looked inside before. She was delighted with what she saw. Using her thumb and forefinger, she extracted a little package of clear cellophane. She carefully unwound its edges and produced a single, shiny quarter. She dropped the quarter in the toll box and placed the empty plastic into her carpet bag. Then she popped another cellophane bag out of the coin purse, unwrapped it and dropped the quarter into the toll box. She repeated this until she had paid the full fare, then she put the coin purse into the wallet, the wallet into the gecko bag, and the gecko bag into the carpet bag.

Karl found himself humming "The Hole in the Bottom of the Sea" as Mabel trundled back to the middle of the bus and flopped down next to another nurse, who had been waiting patiently for her arrival.

"Mabel! You made it!" Yolanda shouted. "How are your neighbors?"

"They've been at it again!" Mabel shouted back. All this shouting was a daily routine. It was how Karl knew the names of Mabel and Yolanda, not to mention the names of all of Mabel's neighbors. "I tell you, the walls in these frame houses are waaaaaaay too thin for people to be carrying on like that!"

"What happened this time?" Yolanda wanted to know.

"Oh, Goodness," Mabel shouted. "What hasn't happened? Did I tell you about the crane?"

"The crane? You mean like a wrecking ball?"

"Oh, no, like a bird!"

"A bird?"

"Like a blue heron, only white! You know how the two of them're always fighting? Well, it got pretty bad over the weekend. She said something about paying the bills, and he took it as if she thought he wasn't making enough money and told her they'd have more money if she didn't drink like a fish."

"My! Your walls are thin!

"Well, it's easy to hear them when they shout so much!" Mabel shouted. "I tell you it almost makes it so I'm not disappointed that my stories aren't on over the weekend. Anyway, they went back and forth about the drinking and the money and I'll be honest -- it was getting a little dull until he compared her to his friend's wife."

"He didn't!" Yolanda shouted, appalled.

"He did! He said also she was more bitter than his dad and he was having regrets."

"What did she do?"

"She stomped outside and started ripping up the geraniums. And those were such nice geraniums, too. I often complimented her on her geraniums. Actually, I always just liked saying geraniums. Isn't it a nice word?"

"Come on, now, what happened next?"

"Well," Mabel went on, "He left the house in a huff. He just said something about wishes and presents and stormed off."

"Did he come back?"

"Yes, he did, much later. And do you know what he had with him?"

"What?" Yolanda shouted. A crane, Karl thought to himself.

"A crane!"

"No!"

"Yes!"

"What would he want a crane for?"

"It was a present. He brought this big old bird into the house and let it go. You should have heard the scream she made!" Mabel immitated the scream for the edification of the morning commuters.

"Oh, Lordy."

"Yes. And it went flapping all around and squawking. You'd have thought he let loose a hundred geese or something. I heard the two of them running up and down the stairs and from room to room for twenty minutes."

"What were they doing?"

"Chasing the crane, I expect," Mabel replied thoughtfully. "It wasn't like I was staring in their windows, you know. People need their privacy."

"Of course they do!" shouted Yolanda.

"I heard pictures fall off the walls, and furniture was definitely overturned. And there were feathers everywhere!"

"How do you know about the feathers?"

"Oh." Mabel paused. "Well, after a while, the noise was too much. I could hear her wailing and whoopin. So I went over to try to calm things down. When she opened the door, she was crying."

"Poor thing."

"Oh, but she was also smiling. It was the weirdest thing. I asked her what was wrong and if I could help."

"What did she say? What did she say?"

"She said she was fine, but maybe I could help her laugh at her husband. I mean, well, I never! Can you imagine that? She led me up the stairs to the bathroom, where he was standing in the tub and waving a plunger like a madman."

"In the bathtub?"

"That's right and holding the shower curtain like a shield. And standing on top of the comode was the biggest, baddest bird I've ever seen, and boy was it mad. It was hissing like a cat and trying to extend its wings, but it couldn't get them all the way up because the walls were too close. I'll tell you what, even if he did have a plunger, he looked pretty cowed. The crane had him cornered."

"Wow."

"I offered to call the authorities. She thanked me, but declined the help."

"Why?"

"I told her they could get him out of there safely and whatnot, but she just said she didn't want him hurt."

"Her husband or the bird?"

"You know, I never thought to ask!" And Yolanda and Mabel cackled like school children.

Is it Just Me...

Or is this crossing signal in Rosslyn giving everyone the finger?

Tubby Has a Sleep-Over!

It's Grendel! Grendel came by to visit this weekend. (Grendel's Mom came by, too.) It was his and Tubby's first introduction and, for two male cats, I think they did pretty well. A little hissing and a little crying, but by Sunday they were able to hang out in the same room. Pretty cool.

No Tagbacks

I've been tagged. I don't think I've ever been tagged before. I'm not going to bother anyone else with a tag, so go ahead and consider yourself tagged, if you like.

Squuby sez:

So. Rules:
1) Pick up the nearest book.
2) Open to page 123.
3) Find the fifth sentence.
4) Post the next three sentences.
5) Tag three people, and acknowledge who tagged you.

Like I said, I ain't tagging nobody.

Interestingly, I'm working from home today. On a workday, I'd be picking up John Irving's Son of the Circus, because it's the book I'm toting around. Here in the house, I happen to be sitting between the kids and poetry shelves, so here's what you get (I assume I'm supposed to post sentences six, seven and eight, but since it's poetry and there are only three periods, I'll go with lines six, seven and eight):

Followed, skipping gaily,
Red-haired Ruth, my brother Rob,
And little crippled Bailey.

That was boring. Let me pick the next book:

"A doorbell," she said.
"It rings a buzzer down below. If I pushed it three times, you'd see some action."

Man, not nearly so interesting as Squuby's lines. Maybe I should sit on the other side of the house. That sounds a lot more pretentious than it is. We live in a little co-operative, so there aren't really that many books between here and the other side of the house.

Last Week's Movie

Priceless French with subtitles. Love story for high-priced gold diggers
Location: Old Greenbelt
Noise Level: Appropriate
The Skinny: For heart, it's Amelie -> The Valet -> Priceless. If you haven't seen Amelie or The Valet, they should be your priority.

Play God (Chagall Guevara)

The challenge: Set your iPod on shuffle, listen to the song, write something. The written thing can be an essay, a poem, a story, whatever. It might only be tenuously related to the song, but it has to be written in a timebox. No editing later, no polishing forever. It is what it is. (Well, okay, I checked some spelling.)

I'm randomly trolling through the list of songs from a morning's commute. (There's still time to go and guess what the songs are!) The other stories so far are available at the MusicTale link.

Timebox: This item's timebox was this morning's commute, which was stretched a little because of problems on the Orange line, but that's the risk I take...Pen down on the bus from Greenbelt, pen up when the train arrived in Rosslyn.

Attention to detail. Karl chanted it to himself as he re-knotted his tie. It was Karl's morning mantra, not so much a request as a reminder. If Karl had had a crest, Attention to Detail would be the motto.

Later in the day, it would become his repetitive command to his people. For Karl, the words were a symbol of what gave him power -- the power to control his environment and keep the world from crumbling down.

Karl noticed things. A flake from his cereal rested on his moustache. He carefully removed it and washed it down the sink -- were he to have simply brushed it away, as you or I might have done, the flake could have gone anywhere. Karl would not take that chance.

Karl noticed that the plants upon the living room window sill showed a bit of a droop. This was easily remedied, for Karl had scheduled five minutes into his morning routine for such miscellaneous activities as caring for plants and verifying the weather report.

The weather was moist but not an overwhelming deluge. As he locked the door of his small row house, Karl cradled his furled umbrella under his arm. The umbrella was a kind of totem, too. Karl knew that his remembering to tote the thing along would hold the rain at bay. In truth, his magic worked the other way -- possession of the umbrella would not necessarily prevent the downpour, but leaving it behind would certainly provoke the skies to let loose.

The rain had washed away the pollen and left the world a little clearer. If Karl had not already possessed the most upright posture in all of Old Greenbelt, he'd have certainly stood a little straighter that morning. The lifting of the pollen and the humidity was a rising tide that lifted all boats. Perhaps Karl had a bit more spring in his step as he reviewed the parade of tulips. The flowers had gone, of course, and Karl had carefully tied each plant into a neat haystack.

Karl's tulips were arranged in the straightest possible row, but Karl was not satisfied with what was possible. He knew what should be, and the squirrels messed with his details. Karl was no fan of the squirrels, who, in turn, were no fans of straight lines. Every year, he rearranged the bulbs, and every year, the squirrels undid his world.

Karl poked at the tulips with his umbrella and decided that none had migrated over night. A detailed pass of the eye over the yard told him that all was as it should be, so he muttered his daily ineffective curse for the squirrels and cake walked down to the street corner.

The next 15 minute window was Karl's scheduled daily agony, which he suffered with full honor and as much stoicism as he could muster. He hoped that the world appreciated his input into the problem of global climate change. Karl failed to see the irony exposed when his environmental support in riding the bus was juxtaposed with his chosen profession, because he enjoyed the sacrificial martyrdom.

The bus posed a challenge on two fronts. This first bit was completely due to the clock. the bus did not conform to Karl's concept of timeliness. Its arrival at Karl's bus stop could vary by as much as twelve minutes, which variation drove Karl wild. Whether the bus was early or late mattered not. The detail that was the best measure of Karl's mood was the arrival's deviation from the stated scheduled arrival. On this day, the bus was a full eight minutes late, so Karl was fit to be tied. He was so disgruntled that he failed to take pleasure in the use of his Smartrip card. The card was such a clean and tidy improvement on the messiness of paper money and exact change that it nearly always gave Karl a little frisson of joy to hear it beep the toll box.

Today, however, the beep was drowned out by Karl's disgusted greeting to the driver -- "You are eight and a half minutes late." The driver ignored Karl. Karl had been on his route for some time and the driver knew that Karl was not interested in hearing about traffic signals or accidents. He also knew that Karl would follow his outburst with silence, which was at least preferable to the noisy brats who had continued to get noisier over the years. The driver longed for a route without a school.

The driver's emotions were always a detail Karl missed. Karl noticed that the bus was only half full, which pleased him. It meant he could spend his ride alone in the kingdom of his own seat. Sharing a bus seat with another rider meant a constant battle to protect the territory of your own half. Karl knew that every inch was precious space and one must be vigilant in its defense or the masses of humanity would slop over the borders and squeeze you into the window.

Karl's seat sovereignty pleased him and he was able to put the schedule slip behind him. He would not forget it, oh no, but he could at least take satisfaction in his own ability to schedule in disruption.

Karl sat straight in his seat; he always sat straight, and he considered the day's remaining schedule. He could devote only part of his attention to this, of course, because every stop of the bus brought about the threat of a territory battle in his seat. But for the most part Karl was able to prepare his speeches for the day ahead of their events. He would need five prepared lectures, two admonishments ready for deployment, and a pocketful of ad-hoc punishments and redirections for his people, who were always forgetting to pay enough attention.

Karl knew what an enemy distraction could be. Distraction, no matter what other people might tell you, is the number one killer of Americans today -- in any number of ways, every day humans are distracted from taking care of the small health issues that will turn into fatal illness, distracted from holding their fellow man to account for pollution and wars that will eventually kill them and their families, distracted from observing any number of unexpected objects and fates hurtling at you from random directions.

Karl's power -- his motto -- was small, perhaps, but it could hold the world at bay and provide a little cone of safety. Karl saw his calling and he lived it: control through attention to detail.

This meditation and review of the day relaxed Karl, which was always necessary when he was in a situation -- as on a bus -- wherein he did not have control. And the relaxation exercise was important for his people, though they did not know it. As they went through their days aided by bells, they considered Karl with fear and trembling.

The R12 bus glided along Ridge Road in the misty rain, and the driver's ed teacher chanted his mantra.

We Need a Better Question

When somebody stops by my little corner of the blog-o-sphere, I like to go see what they write about. Over at locochran's, there's lots of interesting stuff. This one post about the standard dinner party question, "What do you do?" got me to thinking.

Am I the only one who thinks that's kind of a rude question? It implies that every one of us should be a willing cog in the grinding machinery of commerce. Sure, you can choose to answer the question how you like -- talk about your hobbies, discuss the charities you support, pick up the kid you're raising and slap the questioner about the face with it -- but the underlying subtext is: if you're not directly contributing to the GDP, you're not valuable.

That is so messed up.

The problem, of course, is that this is just the subtext of the question. The person asking is almost never overtly ruled by this world-view. To him or her, it's just a polite way of making conversation and trying to connect. And the problem is further exacerbated by the fact that we don't really have a good replacement question handy, right? The second question I always get is, "Do you have any kids?" That one drives me nuts, too. What if you ask that question of someone who can't have kids? Why does everybody have to have kids? Do I have to raise goats in order to make you happy?

So, are we forced down the road of talking about our favorite TV shows (we don't have a TV), the Super Bowl (I hate football), and politics (oh, gosh, we know better than to talk about that!)?

This probably explains why I am an introvert.

So, do you think there's a better question to ask that can be used in a generic situation to start conversation and try to make connections? The best I could come up with were:

  • What do you think about?
  • Don't you think these parties are a dreadful bore, full of boring people talking about boring things?

Soundtrack for a Commute

A meme and a self-challenge.

This is a bit like the one I saw over at The Greenbelt, except that it's bound not by a count of songs but by a series of events.

My commute varies wildly depending on customer (usually) and mood (sometimes). This morning's commute included a walk to the post office to make sure I got that card in the mail before my mother sent out the flying monkeys. Since they've moved the post office out of our little old town, this was a bit of a walk, but it aligned well with my new goal of walking more and farther during the week. I walked down to the post office, caught the bus near there, and then rode the train into Rosslyn. Along the way, I put my iPod on shuffle and recorded the first bits of songs that played.

So now you have not just the scenery of my commute, but also its soundtrack. Can you guess the songs and artists? (Post in the comments and I'll update the entry.) There's a lot of obscure stuff in there. I haven't been to church since we left Scotland, but there's a bit of Christian punk. There's a local folk musician. On the other hand, there's also some more popular folk and rock, and a few of these include the titles in the first line. There's an angry Scottish song. The vast majority are more than ten years old. I'm surprised by the artist repetition and by the artists that were left out. Pierce Pettis, Jude Cole, James Taylor, and ilyAIMY take up space on my iPod but never popped up.

This is the kind of thing that works better if you have more than three visitors, so I'm also going to challenge myself with it. Washington Cube reminded me recently about the spontaneous writing group. I'm going to spontaneously write about each of these songs. Each song will get a lunch break or a commute ride during which I'll write a story or an essay inspired by the song and whatever I get out I'll post here. The writing time is bounded by the event and will be mostly unedited as I type it in. We'll see how that goes, eh?

Walking

  1. It's a beautiful prison we're living in
    Come take my hand
    It's a beautiful castle we've built on the beautiful sand
  2. Kid Fears -- Indigo Girls
    Pain from pearls -hey little girl
    How much have you grown?
  3. And you still play God
    How'd you get so good?
  4. Actions Speak Louder -- by Bruce Cockburn
    (Instrumental!) :)
  5. They'll Need a Crane -- They Might Be Giants
    Love sees Love's happiness
    But Happiness can't see that Love is sad
  6. New York City -- They Might Be Giants
    You called last night on the telephone
    And I was glad to hear from you 'cause I was all alone
  7. Pray for the foothills
    Home to the drone of
    Power lines and rock doves
Bus
  1. She never should have rented this apartment
    In the mortal city
    The cold comes through
    Every crack she put her hand up to
  2. Oh, my momma told me
    'Cause she said she learned the hard way
  3. I'm getting tired of walking up every floor
    I'm getting tired of waking up any more
Train
  1. Get a load of that guy
    With the do rag on
    And that cowboy jive
    Man that cat is gone
  2. Everybody drinks the water from the murky pool
    Surely as you think you're well
    You know your belly aches
  3. People say it doesn't exist
    No one would like to admit
    That there is a city underground
  4. She came down from Cincinnati
    It took her three days on the train
  5. It's all breaking down
    Crushed into the ground
    But I will love you forever
  6. I know you're right
    I see it in your fierce eyes
    Me, I never thought straight
    Since the day I had my first doubt
  7. There's a man on the corner
    Taking down names
    He been down for a dollar
    He been sleeping in the rain
  8. First time I saw you, I knew it
    I knew that I would be nowhere without you
Walk
  1. Do I have to put the law on you baby
    For all the wicked things you do
  2. Twilight star burns cold blue
    It burns cold blue in my eyes
    A thousand light years from the hot blue of a thousand other dying skies
    Let's keep on walking
    Past the brick walls spray-painted with skulls of blue
    Watching moving moonlit silhouettes
    Past the playground with the padlock and chain on the gate

Zombie Chihuahua

Hazel, the zombie chihuahua, visited us this weekend. As always, she was well-behaved. She desperately wanted to sleep in the bed with us, but she just can't quite jump high enough to make the bed. There's nothing weirder than opening your eyes to see some little dog head flying into and out of view at the edge of the bed. We took mercy on her and helped her up, where she surprised me by settling right down to sleep.

Hazel and the cat (Tubby), who is twice her size, slept peacefully through the night. If she is any indicator of the breed, chihuahuas are not terribly aware of their surroundings. Or perhaps she was just very good at ignoring the huge orange thing stalking her throughout the day. I suspect that Tubby thought she looked like a particularly tasty guinea pig, perhaps a little on the spicy side. He'd do the crouching tiger thing, and wiggle his fat bum, but she'd just wander off before he could convince himself to pounce. At this point, he'd immediately begin licking something, a leg or his belly, you know, to show that he wasn't really trying to catch that twitchy thing.

Tubby would also jump up on the table, make as if to dive bomb Hazel, and then act non-chalant when discovered.

Librarything Meme

Stolen from a bunch of people who stole it from other people. Most recently from the wee zombie. I love my LibraryThing catalog.

These are the top 106 books most often marked as "unread" by LibraryThing's users. Bold the ones you've read. Italicize the ones you started, but did not complete.

Wow, eight are associated with book tales right here on this blog thingy.

  • Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell: Book Tale!
  • Anna Karenina
  • Crime and Punishment
  • Catch-22: Not as funny as I had hoped.
  • One Hundred Years of Solitude
  • Wuthering Heights: Does audio book count?
  • The Silmarillion: Started, but not finished. I prefer whole narratives or short stories to pieces of art
  • Life of Pi : a novel: Book Tale!
  • The Name of the Rose: I loved this book. I seem to love and hate alternate books of Eco's
  • Don Quixote: Gosh, that's a long book. I don't remember it well; I was in high school.
  • Moby Dick: Started, but not finished.
  • Ulysses: I know the Brunette has read this one.
  • Madame Bovary
  • The Odyssey: I know I have. Really.
  • Pride and Prejudice: Surprising this is on here. Her books are an easy read.
  • Jane Eyre: Book Tale! This was not exactly the same as Fforde's The Eyre Affair :)
  • The Tale of Two Cities: I need to re-read this one.
  • The Brothers Karamazov: Ah, the value of book groups. Haven't been in a book group for a while...
  • Guns, Germs, and Steel: the fates of human societies
  • War and Peace
  • Vanity Fair
  • The Time Traveler’s Wife: Book Tale!
  • The Iliad: I went to university in Troy.
  • Emma: Saw the movie, too.
  • The Blind Assassin: Just bought this at a yard sale this weekend.
  • The Kite Runner: I thought this one was over-hyped. Sorry.
  • Mrs. Dalloway
  • Great Expectations: Read this in high school in serial form (as it was originally published), which was a lot of fun.
  • American Gods: How can you own this book and not read it? I'm a Gaiman freak.
  • A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
  • Atlas Shrugged
  • Reading Lolita in Tehran : a memoir in books
  • Memoirs of a Geisha: Another book club selection.
  • Middlesex
  • Quicksilver: Started, but couldn't finish, which is a shame. Stephenson wrote my favorite book: Diamond Age. I released this in Book Crossings.
  • Wicked : the life and times of the wicked witch of the West
  • The Canterbury Tales: I have read some of the tales, but not all.
  • The Historian : a novel: Huh. This is the first one I hadn't heard of.
  • A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
  • Love in the Time of Cholera
  • Brave New World: High school, not much memory
  • The Fountainhead
  • Foucault’s Pendulum: Another nice Eco.
  • Middlemarch
  • Frankenstein: Lots of times.
  • The Count of Monte Cristo: In high school, I went through a Three Musketeers phase and when I ran out of those, I read this.
  • Dracula
  • A Clockwork Orange: Not the subway in Glasgow. Creepy.
  • Anansi Boys: This is probably the best introduction to Gaiman you could find. It's funny and fantastical. And there's a Book Tale!
  • The Once and Future King: I tried to get through it. I did.
  • The Grapes of Wrath: I used to dig Steinbeck's sparseness. It's nice to read a Dickens and then a Steinbeck.
  • The Poisonwood Bible : a novel: A book club selection.
  • 1984: Don't want to say anything about this one, in case the government is listening.
  • Angels & Demons: Another one I haven't heard of.
  • The Inferno
  • The Satanic Verses
  • Sense and Sensibility
  • The Picture of Dorian Gray: Pretty short
  • Mansfield Park
  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest: This was in our basket o' books when I was growing up: our coffee tale was a wicker basked and it was filled with paperbacks.
  • To the Lighthouse: Never heard of it
  • Tess of the D'Urbervilles
  • Oliver Twist
  • Gulliver's Travels
  • Les MisĂ©rables
  • The Corrections: Book Tale!
  • The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay: A good introduction to Chabon, unless you like SF. If you like SF, go with the policeman's union book.
  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time: Book Tale!
  • Dune
  • The Prince
  • The Sound and the Fury
  • Angela’s Ashes : a memoir: Another book on tape.
  • The God of Small Things
  • A People's History of the United States : 1492-present
  • Cryptonomicon
  • Neverwhere: Another great Gaiman book. A Book Tale!
  • A Confederacy of Dunces
  • A Short History of Nearly Everything
  • Dubliners
  • The Unbearable Lightness of Being
  • Beloved: The book was a lot easier to read than the movie was to watch. I suppose my brain toned down the grossness as it read.
  • Slaughterhouse-five: Definitely recommended.
  • The Scarlet Letter: There's something about this book that brings up a memory of taste, but I can't quite put a finger on what the taste is or figure out why the book would do that to me.
  • Eats, Shoots & Leaves
  • The Mists of Avalon
  • Oryx and Crake : a novel
  • Collapse : how societies choose to fail or succeed
  • Cloud Atlas: I don't recognize this one.
  • The Confusion: or this one
  • Lolita: This was a lot cooler when I was 16 than it was when I was 35.
  • Persuasion
  • Northanger Abbey
  • The Catcher in the Rye: OK, I read it, but that's not why I'm obsessed with Jodi Foster. Really.
  • On the Road: Another book I just bought at a yard sale this weekend.
  • The Hunchback of Notre Dame: And I didn't even have to count the Disney Golden Book!
  • Freakonomics : a rogue economist explores the hidden side of everything
  • Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance : an inquiry into values: I read parts of this for a class at university.
  • The Aeneid
  • Watership Down: And I never cried, I tell you. Not once. Actually, I didn't read this until I was an adult, and I found it kinda preachy.
  • Gravity’s Rainbow
  • The Hobbit: I don't think there's a book I've read more often. Mom used to read this to us.
  • In Cold Blood : a true account of a multiple murder and its consequences
  • White Teeth
  • Treasure Island
  • David Copperfield
  • The Three Musketeers

My Favorite Podcasts

Well, I'm in a navel-gazing kinda mood, so I thought I'd let you know my favorite podcasts (this week, anyway).

This American Movie

Went to an interesting event last night.

One of my favorite podcasts is This American Life, which provides a full copy of the popular NPR show to my iPod every week. It's an audio only podcast, of course (since it's the radio show, not the cable show), and there's something fascinating about these hour-long sets of mini-documentaries and essays. The host, Ira Glass, does a great job of tying the strands together and creating a sort of salon environment for the listener.

There is also a television show (which we haven't seen because we don't have a television), and to kick off the second season, they held an event in New York where Ira Glass played DJ, mixing commentary and show bits in front of a live audience. We didn't go up to NYC, but the thing was simulcast to movie theaters around the country. We joined the crowd in Columbia, MD. And it was definitely a crowd; I haven't been in a full theater in a while, and there were only a few seats open last night.

I wasn't sure how I was going to feel about watching a live show on a movie screen, but it turns out it kinda worked. Perhaps the darkness kept the intimacy that the radio show provides? It was fun sitting with a bunch of fellow fans. As always, I learned a lot:

  • There are so many people in the country that think so differently from the way I do. The segment on the Iraqi wandering the South was disheartening.
  • Robert Krulwich is dang funny.
  • There are horseback riders in North Philadelphia.
  • Some people shouldn't work with children.

On that last point, there was a segment about middle school kids going to comedy camp. Wow. These kids are all saying things like, "I wasn't popular; I didn't have a lot of friends; so I decided to try being funny." The person running the camp didn't like their jokes -- "Nobody likes a kid telling adult jokes," she said. She went on to explain that, "It's better to be liked than funny."

A new motto for me?