Thursday, February 22, 2007

(untitled 136)

It's Lent again, and unlike last year, I'm not making any sort of lexical vow. (You'll find two commas in that last sentence; two more than I wrote during the whole season of Lent last year.) This year, I've decided to give up something substantial - an actual vice. I'm abstaining from listening to my music until Easter, and I think it's going to be really good for me. I've worried for a long time that I'm unable to focus on anything that actually matters in life, and this seems like the perfect time to start.

The last two days haven't been without problems, though. I've had various songs stuck in my head, which makes me feel more than a little guilty. The Shins are a frequent visitor to my mind, as well as Radiohead and Andrew Bird. I do my best to kick them out when they come, but it's really, really difficult. I knew the first few days would be the hardest. The strangest thing, though, came when I woke up from my second nap at work today. (You know life is good when you have a job that allows you to take two naps.) As I opened my bleary eyes and stood up to return to work, I heard a tune playing in my mind. Almost instinctively, I tried to brush it away so I could remain true to my Lenten vow, but before I did, I realized that I didn't recognize the song. I let it play a little longer, trying to figure out what it was. It turned out to be a song that I'm pretty sure doesn't actually exist. It had some driving, feedback-heavy guitars holding down the bass line, with a warbling male voice mumbling the melody. It sounds like something that could have been out of a Radiohead song, but the overall feel was different enough that I was sure it wasn't them. Maybe I'm writing new music in my head.

Anyhow, it's going to be an exciting 47 days. I'm looking forward to it.

Monday, February 19, 2007

(untitled 135)

(written from McCarran Airport in Las Vegas on Friday, February 16.)

I knew something was wrong as soon as I landed.

The entry into Las Vegas was pleasant enough. Every once in a while, my mind goes into stream-of-consciousness mode; thoughts and ideas came rushing into my head as we soared over the Vegas cityscape. It was all I could do to jot some of them down above my Daily Universe crossword. There were just too many of them.

The city looked like a giant Light Bright set, all laid out in perfect geometrical patterns. Even at only 7.00, the sun had already gone down, creating a stark contrast between the light and the darkness. It was almost as though the city was made of a million candles floating in a sea of darkness, adrift, yet staying in flawless formation. The Shins - whose concert I would have been at had I not been en route to your wedding, fine print - softly sang "Kissing the Lipless" in my ears over the insistent roar of the jet engines.

I wouldn't have had it any other way. It was beautiful, perfect and beautiful, and it fit in with the ridiculously good mood I'd been in for the past few days. (Anyone who knows me can guess why I've been so happy; those who know me well understand how long it's been since I've been happy at all.) I had a big grin on my face as I stepped off my plane and into the ironically yet aptly named McCarran Aiport.

It took seconds for my mood to turn on its head.

Welcoming me to Las Vegas was a gaudy, skin-deep and loud woman demanding that I look into getting a free souvenir T-shirt from her tawdry kiosk. Being a savvy traveler, I know better than to even approach people like this, but something about her commanded my attention. Her insistent demeanor and callous indifference to my fellow traveler who asked her for directions stood in sharp relief to the serene view I'd just had of the city. Everything here is loud. Everything here is superficial. I hate this city, and if I didn't know that I had to fly through it on my way back home, I'd swear right now that I'd never set foot in it again. (note, 2/18/07: I got to fly home through Phoenix, saints be praised.)

I walked past row after row of eager and seductive slot machines, their screens prostituting themselves, their brightly colored wheels spinning and creating a nauseating blur. Gambling has always struck me as a hopeless and bleak exercise. I've seen too many people lose their humanity to slot machines, sitting and pulling the lever until they become soulless automatons feeing in dollar after dollar. Seeing so many slot machines seemed to tug at my own soul, filling me with a misery that I've become all too familiar with over the last year.

I thought I'd left all of that behind. So help me, Las Vegas, if you steal my hard-earned happiness, I will never forgive you for it.

I sat down to eat something during my two-hour layover, still feeling ugly inside. I shook ketchup packets back and forth, driving their contents to the bottom and catching a fleeting image of myself doing the same thing the night before, sitting in a Taco Bell, safe, secure, and loved with Genuine Draft, krebscout, and Yellow. My heart hurt just a little bit more. I would have given anything for any of those three to have been there with me right then (and probably in that order, too, with my apologies to Yellow). I tried to think of someone I could call. Anyone. As I went through my list of phone numbers, though, I realized that anyone I would have wanted to call was either travelling somewhere or was famous for having her phone permanently set to "off."

It's just as well. It would have been an embarassing phone call, and writing all this down is cathartic, anyway.

So here I sit at gate B-10 in McCarran Airport, waiting for forty more minutes to go by so I can leave this awful place. I never want to come back. I'm just going to sit here and write, sheltered by my protective iPod bubble that shields me from the outside world. I've listened to My Bloody Valentine's "Sometimes" so many times tonight I've lost count. "Sometimes" is my song for when I feel alone in the midst of a throng of people; for when I want to feel lost, cast off in a black sea, and having seen that black sea covered by a million candles as I gently descended into this city, I should have expected it.

(note from 2/18/07: I realize this sounds really, really dark. I promise I had a good time. I'll temper this with my next post, honest.)

Thursday, February 15, 2007

(untitled 134)

From an actual essay that I graded today:

Social Security Act
Also known as the Old Age Pension act, the social security sets part of your money aside so you can eventually use it when your old. [Optimistic.] will be using this pretty soon because he is way old, like twenty-four or something. Not to mention he wears a suit and tie, which makes him age faster.
For the record, I've never actually worn a suit to class, though I make a point of nearly always wearing a tie. I like wearing a tie.

Monday, February 12, 2007

(untitled 133)

You're all familiar with Ben Stein's role in Ferris Bueller's Day Off? For those of you who aren't, he plays a high school economics teacher who delivers a famously boring lecture about the Great Depression, particularly about the Hawley-Smoot Tariff Act of 1930.

I gave that same lecture today, since we've moved up to the 1930s in my U.S. history class. It took all of my self-restraint not to deliver it in a Ben Stein voice; even if I had, though, I doubt many (if any) of my students would have caught the reference, all of them having been born after 1990.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

(untitled 132)

I did something really nerdy at work today, but I'm really proud of it. I created an all-star basketball team composed entirely of dead presidents. What's more, I even assigned them positions. (I considered assigning them numbers based on their number of vetoes, but Jackson had over 400, so I gave up on that idea.)

Here they are.


C Johnson, L
PG Lincoln, A
SG Jackson, A
PF Polk, J
SF Washington, G


G Ford, G
G Grant, U

C Jefferson, T
Roosevelt, T
F Coolidge, C

Coach Roosevelt, F

Saturday, February 03, 2007

(untitled 131)

I have a few vignettes that wouldn't merit a blog post of their own, but they're interesting and on my mind enough that I want to share them with you. Thus, you get four of them in one go. Enjoy, dear readers.

1. Today at school, a kid in my student government class was writing random words and drawings on my whiteboard. I made sure he erased everything before he left for his next class, though. When I stood up to teach my next class of the day (which was actually two periods after student government, since I'm in a team teaching environment), I saw that he'd left one word on the board, tucked away behind the podium in tiny letters. There it was, waiting for me to discover it.


2. I was listening to Radiohead's "Karma Police" yesterday while at work, and I was wondering how many times I had heard it over the course of the last decade. Five hundred seemed like a good round number to me, so I decided that this time would be the 500th time. You'd think something like that would have been terribly significant to me, but it turned out that it was a fairly typical (albeit representative) experience for me. I was alone, walking through the lightly falling snow and looking at the last rays of sunlight desperately glimmering over the intersection of 900 N and Campus Drive. Most of my experiences with Radiohead have been like that. The music never gets old.

3. A girl in one of my classes turned in her WWI essay, which I was reading and grading during our current issues class. I forget what the sentence that she wrote was, but I do remember that she included a smiley face at the end of it. I never thought I'd see the day when emoticons became standard punctuation. Given the grade I gave her for it, I doubt I will, though.

4. I had the most terrifying night vision of my whole life last night. I dreamed that my younger brother was possessed. (It's funny how in dreams you rarely have information given to you explicitly. I never heard the words "your brother is possessed," but I knew. Somehow, I just knew.) He had the redeye look that people often get in pictures where the flash doesn't go off quite right. My dad and I were driving him somewhere, presumably to have him exorcised, when I looked at him in the rear view mirror. He was just gazing out the window with a deadened, haunted look on his face. I looked into his shiny red eyes and felt absolutely terrified. He was gone, and there wasn't any way to get him back. Even after I woke up, I was really worried that he was lost and gone to us.

It still scares me to think about it.