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art & entertainmentends & odd

Wake Up from the Weekend Hangover!

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I am so exhausted from this weekend. Literally hung over — without the benefit the alcohol would have provided the night before. Thanksgiving was a calm day with 13 adults (and seven children, between the ages of two and ten) over for dinner. Twenty people is actually a relatively small gathering for us; plus, the kids don’t really count. By 10pm everything was cleaned up, the extra tables and chairs were back in the basement, and the kids (my two, plus a sleepover buddy) were out cold. I can’t even claim cooking exhaustion since everyone brought a dish, allowing my husband and I to worry primarily about the set-up, the 20 lb. turkey, and the stuffing.

The rest of the long weekend was not overly involved but, for some reason, I still felt spent. So now, Sunday night, I am sitting at my computer thinking of all of the things I should be doing but can’t bring myself to do. The emails I have flagged. The facebook invites I have pending. The holiday shopping I need to do online. The new business I have to find. The list goes on! But sometimes you just have to say screw it and ignore all of those nagging things. So, instead of feeling guilty about avoiding my to-do list I gave myself permission to aimlessly surf. And it was worth it.

Check out this 3-minute trailer for The PenIsMightier that I found on Buzz Feed. It woke me up from my sleepy state and made me laugh. In case you, too, are feeling the holiday hang over, this video on the “epic struggle of straight-edge rulers and the mighty pen that brought freedom to pencils” will give you a jolt.

art & entertainmentdiatribes

Fill it to the brim

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I’m not the first one to say it, but I’m probably the first to say it here:

Hey, actors: put some water or something in those empty take-out coffee cups you’re holding, and stop winging them around like you really wouldn’t. Another tip: you can’t gulp it down that hot.

For the umpteenth time, my wife and I have been distracted by your flailing. Please, someone put a stop to this. New rule: You must have liquid in your acting-cup.



Keeping up with the Kennedys

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Dear Ruby,
After many years of saying no, our whole family is going to spend the holidays with our richer, smarter, more successful, better dressed cousins. I’ve worked myself into a state over this because I’m tired of being on the dork side of the family. I’ve been packed for weeks, I’ve got a good haircut, I have a script in my head that carefully and impressively describes my pretty decent job, but I’m still terrified that I’m going to spend the whole weekend feeling like I’m on a job interview and then screw it up anyway and go home a dork, from a herd of dorks.

We found out a couple of days ago that they have a family football game like the freaking Kennedys. The closest we come to family exercise is wrestling for the remote during commercials. Do you have any advice?

Shirttail Loser

Dear Shi-Lo,
I won’t insult your intelligence by trying to convince you to not to get stressed or to “just be yourself.” We know that’s a crock, don’t we? But, I do have a few suggestions for getting through this special occasion with your self-respect.

  1. Etiquette matters. Offer to help in the kitchen, clear the table, change a baby or a grandparent — whatever. Act like you’re “well-brought up,” even if you’re not, and it will reflect well on your family. At least they’ll add, “but she’s soooo nice,” to all the bad things they say about you.
  2. Stay sober. Ideally, stay the soberest in the room. If everyone gets drunk, then you can have a few, but otherwise stay well under your limit. By the way, this also applies to dinner with your coworkers, boyfriend’s parents, and all class reunions.
  3. Don’t get so paranoid that you don’t participate. Add your well-considered comments to the conversation, but avoid the usual inflammatory topics like religion and politics. Be sunny and upbeat and appropriate.
  4. Stick up for your family. Don’t let them divide and conquer you. Even if your side of the family has more than its share of black sheep, they’re your black sheep. You will not look better by dissing them, you will just look desperate and disloyal.
  5. Don’t cave in. Say no to the football, the singalongs, the adult game of Twister with an earnest, “I’m sorry, I’m just not up to it right now. But, thanks for asking!” Keeping your dignity without excuses is the secret voodoo trick of The Cool.

So, that’s it. Take the high road, be a good listener, act with calm confidence — and it’s just possible that one of them will crack and you’ll be supremely ready to pounce on and exploit all their hidden weaknesses. Because, this time of year, it’s all about family.


The Oiliest Little Auto Scam Ever

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A few days ago, I had to drive through the night to get from a client meeting in one distant city to an early-morning meeting in another city hundreds of miles away.  (It was a little too close for flying.)  It was about 9:00 in the evening and, because I was driving through farm country, it was pitch black, with hardly any other cars on the highway. 

I love the peaceful feeling of driving long distances alone at night, and I was listening to the Pretenders; all was right with the world.  Until the bright red “Oil Warning” light popped on. 

This is where the scam began. 

As most drivers know, the Oil Warning light is not something you ever want to see.  As I’ve always understood it, it doesn’t mean you merely need to add some oil, or change your oil; it means that due to a failure of the oil pump or a punctured oil pan, you have no oil pressure at all, and if you don’t stop the car very soon, the engine could seize up and be ruined.   In fact, the light on my dashboard didn’t just say “Warning.”   Under the icon of the Aladdin’s Lamp-shaped oil can with a single drop at its tip, there was a bold black statement that commanded me to “EXIT NOW.”

So I did, after about ten anxious minutes of searching for the next highway exit.  And found myself in a nearly deserted hamlet called Prophetstown.  The only businesses open were a convenience store and a tavern, so I pulled in to the parking lot of the store and popped the hood (although, because my car was a rental, it took me 20 solid minutes of hunting to find the hood release latch, recessed so far back under the steering wheel that I had to get on my knees to locate it in the dark.) 

Then I went into the store and borrowed a flashlight so I could locate the oil dipstick.  Naturally, the weather was near freezing.  Meanwhile, the helpful clerk behind the counter was nice enough to look up the roadside assistance number for my car rental company. 

While waiting for her to find the number I double-checked the owner’s manual to make sure I wasn’t over-reacting.  Not at all, according to the manual: It confirmed that the light didn’t mean merely that the car was low on oil, but rather that catastrophic engine damage was imminent and that the car had to be towed to a repair shop immediately.  In fact, the manual explicitly said not to attempt to drive the car under any circumstances.  I began contemplating finding a Motel Six somewhere in the area and missing my meeting the next morning, which was still hundreds of miles away.  [Read more →]

Fred's dreams


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July 6, 2008
I dream I am a guest at a rich kid’s high school party. There are many rooms and I am awkward in all of them. I don’t know what to do, so I do card tricks for my own amusement. No one is paying attention. There are various activities including a costume competition but I get involved in the snake run. There are very specific protocols. You have to have an offering for the snake and you must never give the snake anything by hand so as to avoid being bitten. I know all the rules but still I am not prepared. I try to give the snake money and I manage to not be bitten.

July 26, 2000
I dream I am at a party and retire to the auxiliary kitchen in the library. I prepare some whitefish, but I don’t want to be caught because whitefish is an embarrassing food. I wrap it in several layers of white paper and put it into a small box in the refrigerator. When I return to it the next day, I see that it has been tampered with.

February 26, 1999
I dream I am attending a party at Siegfried and Roy’s house. I am surprised at how grim and dingy it is; under lit, multi-leveled, and with wrapped candy and dried pasta strewn around the floors. I see no animals, but I am led to understand that they are wandering around someplace. A grungy guy who looks sort of like Roy tells me there was a night when some of the animals escaped to Knott’s Berry Farm and when he finally found them they were performing an acrobatic act. The dolphins were on the flying trapeze along with some of the tigers.

books & writingfamily & parenting

Desperately Seeking the Ari Gold of Literary Agents

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My writing partners and I just finished a series of children’s books. Seven, to be exact. It is a brilliant series that chronicles the week of a wonderfully charismatic little girl that just so happens to have two moms. Close your mouths people, you heard me correctly. Two moms. It’s crazy, I know. What’s crazier is the gaping hole that exists in the children’s book market when it comes to books that represent a child with same sex parents. There are a few out there. But most of them are about the fact that the parents are gay. Few are about anything else.

Here’s my personal side of the story. When my daughter was born, within a week I received Heather Has Two Mommies from my mother. She told me that she was surprised that at such a large bookstore (I don’t want to name names, but it rhymes with Shmarnes and Shmobles) she was only able to find the one book. I immediately felt my stomach sink. [Read more →]

that's what he said, by Frank Wilson

Change we can believe in, or not

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Lucius Cary, 2nd Viscount Falkland, was killed at age 33 at the first battle of Newbury during the English Civil War — fighting, of course, on the side of the king. Lord Falkland was well thought of by his contemporaries and was celebrated in verse by the likes of Ben Jonson, Edmund Waller, and Abraham Cowley. (Here is Cowley’s “To the Lord Falkland.”) During the parliamentary debate over whether the Anglican episcopacy should be abolished, Falkland — who opposed the measure — is said to have declared that “when it is not necessary to change, it is necessary not to change.”

Given all the talk of change these days — from change we can believe in to climate change — this seems an utterance well worth pondering. That in itself is good, because change is one of those things people are inclined to talk about — and do — rather than think about — and perhaps refrain from doing.

Lord Falkland’s remark has the effect of bringing you up short. It reminds you first of all that there are two kinds of change: the kind over which you have some control — and the other kind.  Lord Falkland was obviously referring to the former and, at first glance, his formulation seems unobjectionable. Why make a change if you don’t have to? [Read more →]

drugs & alcohol

Cancel your trip to Amsterdam

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You don’t actually need to cancel your trip to Amsterdam (if you’re one of the few that can still afford to travel); just don’t go thinking there’ll be cannabis-filled brownies at every turn. The city of Amsterdam is closing down 43 “coffee” shops that currently operate near schools with kids older than twelve — by order of the Dutch government. Have no fear though — 185 shops will remain open. Plus, now you’ll have more time for the Van Gogh Museum and the fabulous photography exhibits at Foam_Fotografiemuseum Amsterdam. This may well make the journey a little more interesting for Americans who’ll now be forced to walk a tad farther to find what they are looking for.

Hat Tip to Newser

his & hers

Stephanie West, love expert

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It was not an awesome week, man-wise.

My ex-boyfriend called me to see if we could possibly meet up for coffee. We broke up 7 months ago and when I moved out, I had forgotten some things. He wanted to return them. I thought, “This is nice. We can catch up, enough time has passed that we can be friendly with each other.” And besides that, I miss him. Not in the pining-away-for-my-lost-love kind of way, I just miss having him in my life. We loved each other intensely and had a ton of good times.  We had even talked about marriage and children in the future. But we each had a couple of  “sticking points,” if you will. And, for whatever reason, neither of us was able to give up our ground and meet each other in the middle. That didn’t erase the love, but it did make for an impossible relationship. So we broke up.  It happens.

As soon as I saw his face when he walked in the coffee shop, I knew this wasn’t going to be just a “How have you been? Here’s your mail” kind of chat. He had news and I wasn’t going to like it. My first thought was, “Oh God. He’s getting married.” I knew he had been dating someone but I didn’t think it was that serious. But it was even more serious than that. He is going to be a father. [Read more →]


Barbara and Rosie — Enough Already!

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Oh man — the drama. Rosie needs to tell the world that the women on The View don’t get along. And as girls must do… Barbara’s striking back by using her television show to hurl lessons at Rosie. Ladies — can’t you just write each other a letter? We don’t need to be a part of this little cat fight you’ve got going on. I can’t even bring myself to watch The View on a day when I am home sick and my computer is freezing up on me.

I wish you were one of the many celebrities who threatened to move to another country if Obama lost. Oh. Wait. Nevermind.

diatribesThe Emperor decrees

Give me back Thanksgiving

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Ok, enough already. 

Enough with malls putting up Christmas decorations before Halloween. 

It’s insulting enough to somehow suggest cheap tinsel horns and stars* mounted to parking poles will swing my attention away from driving past the mall enough to make me realize, “hey, I need to shop,” if I didn’t already. It’s insulting to think it’s OK for giant ornaments strung from the rafters to take precedence over and crush the meaning from my kids’ (and my own) anticipation of Halloween and Thanksgiving.

Anyone remember Thanksgiving decorations?

Halloween is kinda silly, though, so I’ll say this: Let me and my children look forward to Thanksgiving — a holiday that holds some sentimental nostalgia — without steamrollering it into a mental wasteland by making my kids think they’re getting toys any second now.

If they’re so effective, Malls, then just leave them up year-round. I suppose there has been some psychological study that says it’s effective. But I bet they haven’t figured out what happens if you just beat people over the head with it. I’d love it if everyone got jaded and went back to bed instead of waiting in lines at 4:30 in the morning to buy this year’s Kick Me Elmo.

I know, you say, “But you don’t have to shop at the mall. It’s free speech.”** And I don’t, and it is. 

But we do go to the mall. It’s still in very poor taste.

Appoint me King. I’ll fix it.

*Yeah, there’s Channukah too. But let’s face it: we don’t get overrun with giant dreidels. Not as much, anyway.

**Maybe you don’t say this. Someone does, though. 



What’s depressing me today: galaxies colliding

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Last night I watched The Universe, a series on the History Channel. The episode was about the impending collision between our own galaxy, the Milky Way, and our nearest neighbor galaxy, Andromeda. You read that right — our galaxy is going to collide with another galaxy. Do you have any idea the kind of damage we’re talking about? Your homeowner’s insurance is not going to cover this. I don’t care what your deductible is. 

And it isn’t a controversial subject, with good arguments on both sides, like whether or not we landed on the moon. No, the galaxies are on a collision course and will, without a doubt, slam into each other with a force you haven’t seen since ever. NASA implies that there’s hope for Earth, claiming that the “space between stars is so vast that when galaxies collide, the stars in them usually do not collide.” But it isn’t like scientists have ever observed anything like this up close. And the scientists on the show described all sorts of ways that we could get crushed by stellar matter or irradiated or boiled or sucked into the super black hole at the center of each galaxy. One thing is for sure — our galaxy is going to be eaten by a bigger one. I don’t know what the Milky Way thinks about this, but it can’t be good for us.

So, yeah, it’s got me depressed. I mean, what’s the point of getting out of bed in the morning? It’s all going to be vaporized anyway when the galaxies collide. “Scott, take it easy,” you say, “the galaxies aren’t going to collide for another three billion years. You’ll be long dead, dead for about three billion years already. And it’s likely that humans will have long since been killed off, extinct from some super virus or planet-killer comet or nuclear armageddon or environmental disaster. Three billion years from now, there’ll be no one left on Earth to care about the galaxies colliding.”

It’s nice of you to say. I appreciate your trying to cheer me up. Still, I can’t help but think that humans might survive those viruses and nukes and still be around three billion years from now, with Andromeda getting ready to have its way with our dear, sweet Milky Way. Sure, you and I won’t be around to worry about it, but what about our children? Okay, their children? Maybe my math is off by a few years, but certainly someone’s children will have to deal with this. And do you want to be remembered as the generation that passed the buck on preventing the galaxy-collision to future generations? I don’t.

“Scott, don’t worry,” you say, “three billion years is a long time. Future generations will have really, really good technology. Everything will be in Hi-Def. They’ll just jump on star cruisers and get the hell out of the galaxy before the collision.” Maybe they will. But only if we start working on it right now. It’s true that three billion years is a long time, but transporting the human species out of the galaxy and locating a suitable replacement planet in a different galaxy ain’t like dusting crops, boy. And, as we all know, every year seems to go by faster and faster. Those last billion years will feel like only a hundred million. The time to act is now.

Sadly, I doubt we can turn to our government for action. After all, what did the Bush administration do about the impending collision of not one, but two galaxies? In eight years, precisely nothing. And has Obama even mentioned the path Andromeda is on and his plan to stop it? Not once. There is no plan. Every day the galaxies draw closer and no one in power seems to care at all. They won’t even return my phone calls. It’s enough to make me want to go to bed and wait for the inevitable.


Your 1st Annual Traditional Holiday Crap-Out

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Today’s money-saving tip: Crap out on a holiday.

Go nuclear. Pick a holiday that is kind of exhausting, yet not too heavily sentimental, and limit it to your household. Maybe Thanksgiving, maybe Hanukkah, maybe a birthday, just pick one and rein that mofo in.

People will squawk. Maybe the first year, someone will have to volunteer to come down with something contagious. Then, the next year you can say, “We had a very special X day last year when it was just the X of us at home. We’ve decided to make it a tradition for our household.”

It’s all about getting over the hump. It gets much easier after the first shock. People survive. If they still want to have some sort of connection with you, tell them to drop something by the house. Don’t be home. At Easter, maybe a basket for the kids. At New Year’s Day, aspirin and tomato juice for you.

It is doable. People do it all the time. If you lived in Europe, you’d do it. If you had intermittant outbreaks of ebola, you’d do it. You don’t have to do it every holiday, but it can also work for baby showers and weddings.

Take back your day. Spend it baking, reading, wrapping, rapping — whatever. Save a buck. And have a happy.


The Triborough Bridge Does Not Need a New Name

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I understand renaming stadiums — for both the financial benefit to the company and the venue. More luxury boxes, new bathrooms, better facilities for the disabled, a retractable dome, an advertising reach in the millions (or billions), and a whole slew of other things. I don’t understand the need to rename a bridge in honor of a former New York senator and United States attorney general who, yes, sadly, was assassinated. If his family wanted to raise money to pay for the costs associated with the change I wouldn’t have as much of a problem with this; the man did serve our state and country. But I can’t understand why New Yorkers should have 4 million of their taxpayer dollars used toward this ridiculousness.

Yes… you read that correctly. It will cost $4 million to replace road signs so that The Triborough Bridge, which connects Queens, Manhattan, and the Bronx, can be called The Robert F. Kennedy Bridge. Even in good economic times this would be a stupid thing to do. And, as if to make it feel less absurd, the spokesman for the New York State Department of Transportation said he understands we are in tough economic times and he won’t put bids out to complete the transformation until 2011. In 2011 I still won’t want to spend $4 million dollars on this project. Just call the bridge what it is… The Tri – Borough!

I can think of lots of things the state can spend this money on. Is my ranting unwarranted? Does this make sense to you?

diatribesends & odd

Things My Roommates Must Think or Believe to Be True

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“I wonder who made this mess with the same kind of food I just cooked.”

“This is probably mine.”  

“My room is where dishes go.”   

“It is the future and ice trays refill themselves.”   

“Our TV has a sensor on it that knows when you leave the room.”

“Dishes are transported from the sink to the dishwasher through a magical process no one can fully understand.”

“Everyone likes dance music.”

“I wonder where these paper towels always come from.”

“I don’t know why people buy laundry detergent when they can just use the bottles that grow out of the laundry machine for free.”

“When you brush crumbs onto the ground they disappear.”

“If I take only one beer from you every day, when it comes down to it, it’s really like I’m not taking any.”

“We live in such a good neighborhood that we don’t need to lock our doors.”

“Why does the trash always disappear on Monday?”  

Fred's dreams


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October 31, 2008
I dream Gail and I go to what looks on the outside like a suburban multiplex. Once we go inside we see that it’s a very old building with quaint architecture and we can’t find the box office. We follow flights of stairs going down, down, down, and we wind up in a quaint, modular movie theater in which you can’t see the screen. There are vending machines with caramel dipped marshmallows wrapped in wax paper for 49 cents. I go into the men’s room, but the urinals are too high for me. There are low tables where people play cards. I perform card tricks in the men’s room, but a man from the theater board of directors eyes me suspiciously.

August 30, 2008
I dream I go to a hard-boiled crime movie with my dad, but the plot turns in a way I’m afraid might upset him. The protagonist is gay and getting progressively more womanly and strange throughout the movie. At one point he is making out with a man who has metal studs on his face and a large segment of the audience gets up to leave. One guy is so appalled that he faints, and his friends pick him up and lay him across the chairs. I am a little annoyed with this movie, too, and I can tell my dad would like to get the hell out of there.

August 3, 1998
I dream the coming attractions of a new fantasy film produced by Jerry Bruckheimer. An enchanted gorilla captures Edward Asner and puts him into a mammoth glass of water. The gorilla clamps his hand over the top of the glass so Asner can’t come up for air. Asner struggles until he realizes that he can breathe under water, and he is filled with insight.

art & entertainmentcreative writing

Tennessee’s Tragic Muse

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Here in Chicago, the Steppenwolf Theatre Company is currently mounting a well-reviewed “Young Adult’s Production” of The Glass Menagerie, which raises the question, “what production of The Glass Menagerie is not for young adults?” 

I don’t mean this at all facetiously, because there is no more poetic and poignant play in the American canon, and its status as an American literary classic is very much merited.  

But when I saw a production some years ago at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, it struck me that, as gloomy as the play’s portrait of the repressed and crippled Laura Wingfield might be, it represents a kind of wish-fulfillment on the part of Tennessee Williams, a determinedly brave and poetically false obscuring and softening of a much darker reality that might have been difficult for 13-year-olds to absorb or accept.  [Read more →]


Inconsiderate Parker — Consider This Fair Warning

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How many times have you gone into a parking lot and been annoyed by a car taking up two spots? Seriously, it makes my blood boil… and I am a relatively calm person. But if I am in a hurry (which is basically all the time) or I have a car load of kids or I just don’t feel like walking an extra two rows, I do consider (but have never done it) running my key along the side of the precious vehicle in my potential spot. Is it really that difficult to get between two lines?

I know some people don’t park that way intentionally — but completely unforgivable are those obvious offenders who feel they deserve to take up two spots in order to safeguard their car from potential disaster.

I’ve found my solution to those inconsiderate when parking their cars. I Park Like An Idiot bumper stickers. Genius!

I have the guts to order them… just not sure I would have the guts to slap one on a car. Would you?

Hat Tip to Entertainment Buzz on CafeMom.

books & writingthat's what he said, by Frank Wilson

My new column — quotations, essays and following a train of thought wherever it leads

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Michel de Montaigne invented the essay, and could well be the only person to have ever written one. Plenty of things called essays have been written, of course, and many — Lamb’s, Hazlitt’s, Emerson’s — are justly celebrated. But none are exactly like the ones Montaigne wrote.

In a way, they are just the opposite. Montaigne invented the name, too. It comes from the French word essayer, meaning to try or attempt. You could say that to write an essay about something means just to take a stab at it. Montaigne’s began as brief commentaries on favorite classical quotations, but soon expanded into wide-ranging meditations — the quotations became simply a means of triggering a train of thought, which Montaigne would then follow wherever it led.

This is what makes his essays different from those others, most of which have served as vehicles either for exposition or style or both. To be sure, Montaigne’s writing is stylish enough. He invented the plain style, clear and casual as the best talk. But for him style wasn’t an end itself; like a window, it was meant to be looked through, not at.

Montaigne also doesn’t seem to have arrived at any conclusion before he began to write. The point of his writing wasn’t to advance a position, but to record a process of thought. This is writing as an act, first and foremost, of self-examination, not self-expression (though it is that as well, of course). I have long thought a great opportunity has been missed in the failure to explore the essay as a method rather than a form.

But what about journals and diaries? Aren’t they examples of writing as a method of self-examination? Usually, though some, like Gide’s, are pretty clearly private performances meant for public consumption. The difference, however, between what a diarist does and what Montaigne did lies in the indirectness of his method: Montaigne explores himself strictly in relation to his chosen topic — such as one of those classical quotations. This enables him to get to know himself, not by recounting and pondering his quotidian round, but by seeing how his mind works.

Which brings me to the point of this column, in which I plan to try my hand at Montaigne’s opening gambit by riffing on a quotation every week. [Read more →]


Fly Guy

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I confess. I’m a fly-killer who’s having second thoughts.
Living in a green area with a spacious backyard, flies somehow find their way into my residence on a frequent basis. They seem to enter on my end of the place as opposed to my roommate’s, so it’s up to me to deal with them… and I do so harshly, generally swatting them into the Great Beyond with one of several legal pads I have lying around.
I don’t think I’m in the minority when it comes to flies invading an indoor space, but I’m starting to have second thoughts. I just wish the ones in my surrounding area would take a hint and notice that a good number of their friends have not returned home to the crew. Over the last year, I’ve done a lot of damage. It feels like at least one fly somehow gets into this place every two days on average. It’s just instinct, and we’re not talking about honeybees that are vital for the survival of our ecosystem… but maybe I should just start opening the hallway door and let them out into nature again?
Of course, then they could come back in and keep being a nuisance.
I guess I’m becoming more pro-life when it comes to the flies… I’m having a hard time though.


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