Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Floating Operas and Flying Squids

Now there’s an imposing title for you.  Got your attention, didn't it?  Definitely got you over here to see what it was all about.  Sounds like a title for a book Stephen Jay Gould might have written.  Whenever a catchy title occurs to me, I can’t help but use it in some way.  This time in a blog post.  So yes, the title came first, and I had to come up with the actual body of the post after the fact.  I apologize if you find that off-putting.  But if you’ve been reading my blog up till now, you already know that none of my posts are exactly what one would  call profound.  According to my stats, I get quite a few visitors here, but very few leave comments.  I imagine a typical perusal goes something like this:  hmm, this looks interesting, let me take a closer look…hmmm….mmm…ugh…well, this is crap.
So, what’s this post all about?  Well, I recently picked up John Barth’s “The Floating Opera,” (so now we have the origin for the first part of the title)  I’ve only just started it, but am really enjoying it.  I had it in my hand yesterday, while leaving from work.  I always pay my respects to my boss, instead of just sneaking out quietly, like the rest of my workmates.  Why?  Because my boss has had a fascinating life, and tells incredible stories.  And I’ve always been a sucker for a great story.  This penchant of mine for his story-telling has gotten me into some hot water with my wife, as I have often stayed at work late, in rapt attention as he regaled me with a particularly fascinating tale.  I wish he would take my advice, and just write a book already, so I could read them at my leisure. 
As I walked into his office yesterday, he saw the book in my hands, and asked what I was reading.  Despite his erudition (you’d be hard-put to find a subject that he isn’t knowledgeable about,) he hardly ever recognizes anything I happen to be reading, since my taste runs along postmodern lit, and that is one of the few subjects he isn’t interested in.
When I showed him the book, he said, “Barth…Barth… is that the same Barth who wrote “The Sot-Weed Factor?”  I was a little surprised, but then remembered that he was a child of the 60’s, and it was published in 1960.
He went on to tell me that it was one of the funniest books he had ever read.  He and a bunch of his “hippie” friends would sit in a circle and pass the book around taking turns reading from it, and laugh their butts off (he didn’t say, but I’m sure it wasn’t the only thing being passed around.)  He said he could still quote passages from it, after all these years. 
The Floating Opera is damned funny, too.  Barth really does have a killer sense of humor, and I love his phrasing and timing, just perfect.  My wife just shook her head last night while I was reading from it, chuckling and guffawing to myself at regular intervals.
As for the second part of the title, it’s due to my being a member of Mensa.  You might be wondering what a flying squid has to do with a high-IQ “nyah nyah nyah nyah nyah I’m smarter than you are!” society—and just as an aside, I’ve only been to one actual meeting since I joined Mensa back in 1993.  One.  My wife wonders why I continue to pay my yearly dues, when I don’t bother participating.  I’ll tell you why.  Because I get this nifty little card I can put in my wallet that says I’m an official smart guy.  Whenever I’m feeling down, or my self-loathing hits a certain level, I can open my wallet, whip that laminated bad boy out, and make myself feel a little bit better:  “Well, at least I’m pretty smart, right?  I mean I wouldn’t have this card if I weren’t, right?  So, at least I got that going for me.”  
 Still, what the hell do aerial cephalopods (ooh, he really is smart!) have to do with Mensa for crying out loud?  Well, one of the other little perks about Mensa membership is an email I get each week called the MENSA Weekly Brainwave.  Mensa in all caps, because that’s the way they roll, I guess.  Weekly, because like I said, it comes once a week.  And Brainwave, I suppose because it sounds cool.  And in this email are articles culled from the internet, which they assume fellow smartie-mcfarties might find interesting.  Actually, they usually are.  One of the articles in today’s Brainwave was entitled, “Squid can fly to save energy” from nature.com.  Not a very catchy title, I must say.  "FLYING SQUIDS?  WTF?!"  would’ve been better.  Or how about, “Squids Suffering Identity Crises, Think They are Birds.”
I haven’t met many squids in my life.  I do enjoy squid sushi.  By the way, squid is called ika in Japanese.  Did I mention I can speak Japanese? (how long is he going to keep showing off how smart he is?)  I do rather like Squidward from SpongeBob Squarepants.  As a matter of fact, he’s my favorite character on the show.  Probably because he’s the smartest, and we smart guys like to hang together (okay, I've just about had it with this guy...what an asshole.)  Just like Dietrich was my favorite character on Barney Miller.  Ah, I loved that show.
I don’t know if real squid are actually intelligent or not, like Squidward.  If they are, I suppose I shouldn’t be eating them.  They probably aren’t, otherwise PETA would be up in arms (or tentacles.)  But apparently they are intelligent enough to be able to fly, so...
So that’s how I came up with the title.  I had The Floating Opera on my desk, and then I got the email from Mensa, and noticed the article about the squids.  Floating Opera.  Squid can fly.  Flying Squids.  Floating Operas and Flying Squids.  I wish the actual post was as much fun to read as the title.  But, we can’t have our ika and eat it too, can we?

Wednesday, February 22, 2012


I have been on a mad tear (strange idiom, that) lately to watch nothing but horror films.  What sparked this is going to see “The Woman in Black” last Friday.  My wife and daughter wanted to see “Journey to Discovery Island,” or whatever it’s called, you know, the new Rock film, um…excuse me, Dwayne Johnson.  As I had no interest in it, I figured I’d see something else.  The only other two movies playing at that time were the latest Underworld flick, and WiB.  I was very tempted to see the Underworld movie, as I have had a major crush on Kate Beckinsale ever since I saw the first one.  Watching her wheeling around dealing death in that tight, black leather outfit, damn, I must say that does something to me.  But as I hadn’t seen a scary movie since my wife and I watched “The Ring,” back before our daughter was born, about eight or so years ago, I figured it was time for another one.  Plus, one of my employees said he saw it, and had trouble going to sleep that night.
The Ring, by the way, scared the bejeezus out of both of us, especially my wife.  To this day, all I need to do is simulate the girl crawling along the ground, and I can expect a rather vicious punch in return.
As a kid, I was especially sensitive to scary movies.  The combination of having a very active imagination, and being able to lose myself in a film (same for a book, as I would often forget I was reading and became sucked into the narrative—that is, if the writer had done his part) didn’t bode well if the movie were at all frightening.  This resulted in my aversion to horror films, as a rule. 
What turned this around was a particular math teacher I had in high school, Mrs. Culberson.  She loved watching scary movies, and said instead of getting scared, she found them extremely funny.  I asked her how in the world could anyone find something that scary, funny?  She said she thought it was amusing, all the things the director, actors, etc… did to try and scare you.  “You realize, they’re just make-believe, right?” she asked.  Well, of course I knew they weren’t real, but that didn’t mean that such things couldn’t happen.  But still, she gave me a new perspective , and they didn’t bother me as much after that.
Now that I’m a full-growed man, I ain’t skeered a nuttin.  Okay, well, like I said, The Ring scared the crap out of me; although it really shouldn’t have, because I don’t have the background structure anymore that would support that.  As I might’ve mentioned in a previous post, I lost my faith sometime after going to college, and am now pretty much an atheist.  I do have my moments of weakness, mind you, when I will slip into an agnostic, mode, but for the most part, I'm godless.  So, I believe when you die, you die.  You cease to exist.  There is no spirit world, ghosts do not and cannot exist.  And you sure as hell can’t drag your undead ass through a 32” Magnavox.  

But maybe, just maybe, there’s enough belief left over from my Catholic brainwashing (you know, it’s almost impossible to erase all of that programming, cause hell, they get you when you’re young, and it’s practically hardwired into you) to leave the door open just a crack, just enough to allow a really well-made horror film to scare the tuna salad out of me.
But that movie wasn’t The Woman in Black.  It had no effect on me whatsoever.  I had even worked myself up beforehand into a veritable tizzy, thinking it would.  So now I’m wondering if I am finally, completely immune to the effects of even a really well-made horror film.  I just checked out The Ring from the library again, to see how it will affect me this time, so we’ll see.  Of course, I’m on my own, as my wife adamantly refused to watch it again.  She’s not even sure she wants the DVD in the house. 
My daughter, in her innocent way, said, “I’ll watch it with you, daddy!”  Bless her heart.  Yeah, not gonna let that happen, though.  That could almost be grounds for child abuse.
So, I’m wondering, does anyone have any recommendations they could send my way?  What was the scariest movie you ever watched?

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Decisions, Decisions

I recently finished reading David Foster Wallace’s first novel, “The Broom of the System.”  Great book.  But then I found myself in a quandary as to what I should read next.  This happens almost every time I finish a book.  Although I have declared this to be the year of reading all of DFW’s works, I didn’t feel quite ready yet for Infinite Jest, which has been sitting in my library for quite some time now, taunting me, double-dog daring me to crack it open, then snickering as I slink out of my office, defeated once again.  Besides, like I told it, I wanted to read his works in chronological order, and I didn’t as yet have a copy of “The Girl with Curious Hair."  So there, IJ!! 

But, so, what to read? 
I had several motivating factors to consider.  One is the need to start whittling down the size of my library.  Concentrating it into what I consider a core collection.  I have quite a few books I own which I consider “one and done.”  Once I read them, into the box destined for taking to Half Price Books to sell.  But I keep making it harder to make any headway in this endeavor by continuing to buy more books!  It’s a sickness, I know. 
In addition, there are some books I want to read that have other books as prerequisites.  So, knowing that, by picking one of these books, I've just committed myself to two or more!  I don't know why this bothers me, but it does.  Take for example, Gilbert Sorrentino’s “Mulligan Stew.”  I very much want to read it, but don’t feel comfortable doing so before reading Flann O’Brien’s “At Swim-Two-Birds,” which Mulligan Stew is based on.  I had tried reading At Swim-Two-Birds a while back, but for some reason, ended up putting it down.  I can’t recall why, as I was enjoying it. More than likely because there's so much Irish mythology in there, of which I am woefully ignorant, so I probably figured I needed to bone up on that before tackling it.
But anyhow, as I was saying, I was having a hard time deciding on my next book.  I stood in my office, perusing my overloaded, sagging, imitation oak, Ikea bookcases, picking up one book, only to put it back in favor of another.  This went on for quite a while, and was starting to drive me a little crazy.  
I finally, don’t ask me how, decided on Annie Proulx’s “The Shipping News.”  Which was good and bad.   

Bad because I just bought the darn thing a few days ago at my library’s book store.  All of the other unread books that I've had for years must’ve been really pissed off, seeing this newcomer which barely made it on the shelves, get picked before them.  I could almost hear the shouts of protestation.
Good because I’m having a tremendously fun time reading it, as it’s a wonderfully well-written book (although I hear the movie they made from it stinks—too bad.) I had no idea what to expect of it, as I hadn’t read much about it, except that it garnered her a Pulitzer Prize in 1994 and an National Book Award in 1993 (Gaddis got an NB in 94 for “A Frolic of His Own”—just thought I’d throw that in there (and no, I haven’t read that yet, either…I know, I know...))
I’ve tried making my reading decisions easier by coming up with a reading plan, but it never works.  I’ve found that I really enjoy coming up with reading plans, but when it comes time to actually following them, ...well, I never do.
So, how do you decide on what to read next?  I would love to hear!