The Livingston Avenue Review Of Zines

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Blues Of The Hour

Where do you think you're goin
My conscience said to me
And I said well I don't know about that
But I know where I'd like to be
And how are you gonna get there
I said I'm gonna have to wait and see
Cause I've got no expectations
But whatever's right in front of me
And what do you plan to do about that
I said look for right things to do
And there's nothin I can think about right about now
But to put it in a song for you
(...guitar break till everyone leaves...)

Originally posted here.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Against Kitchen Cabinets ("manuscript" version)

Go into anybody's home. Look in the kitchen.
Overhead cabinets with doors on them.
You can't see inside. What's in which? You'll have to open them to find
out. But why? Are we ashamed of having dishes? Do we want to
forget that we have groceries?

OK. Suppose it's your own home.
You know what goes in which cabinets.
But you've got your hands full of groceries or dishes that you want to put
away. Oops, too bad! There's a door in the way! You'll have to put
something down first. Maybe the countertops are all covered
and you have to bend over and put stuff on the floor. Maybe you
try to fit your load onto the counter and knock something down.
Is there some reason you shouldn't be able to just put the stuff into
the cabinet in the first place?
And why should it take both hands?

Go into any restaurant. Look in the kitchen. Shelves. Lots of them.
You can see what's on which shelf and it's all right there ready to be
used. These guys are
pros. They admit they're in a kitchen and they're ready to do something
about it.

Apparently it's some esthetic thing: doors are believed to
look better than the stuff they prevent us from seeing and
reaching. Well, de gustibus non disputandum. To
me they look stupid.

There's always a slim chance that I'm missing something. I didn't know
until recently what the doors on my closets were for. They were
badly hung, and as they inevitably jammed, I'd take them off and
put them in the basement, out of the way, instead of ``fixing'' them
by putting them back in the way. I found out a couple years
later they did have a purpose. They're for keeping out cats.

So maybe I'm wrong. Maybe. But
sooner or later, deny it though you will,
you're going to hit your head on one of those
damn doors and it's really going to hurt.
Don't say I didn't tell you so.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Clerihews For Athaliah

King Hazael
Was simply vile.
He got everything he had
By murdering Ben-hadad.

The prophet Micaiah
Was a great soothsayer.
All of the others had a lying spirit.
But Ahab didn't want to hear it.

Jehu
Was a yahoo.
What he did to those priests
Shouldn't happen to beasts.

King Ahaziah
Was certainly no messiah.
He fell through a lattice, splat!
He never recovered. And that is that.

Elijah the Tishbite
Knew where the fish bite.
He was taken to heaven by a chariot of fire
Or Second Kings 2 was written by a liar.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Luke 1–5: A Sestina

Zechariah was a godly man;
Elizabeth, his wife, a worthy woman.
Gabriel, a messenger from God,
told them that she soon would bear a child,
and John, their son, would grow to baptize Jesus.
But Zechariah didn't have much faith.

Then Gabriel told Mary full of faith
that even though she'd never known a man
she'd bear the Son of God, the baby Jesus:
"The Lord is with thee, oh most blessèd woman!''
And when, in Bethlehem, she'd borne this child
the hosts of Heaven sang in praise of God.

As Jesus grew up, wise and favored of God,
at twelve years old he went to teach the faith
to teachers in the Temple, though a child.
The Devil, when he'd grown to be a man,
tried tempting him, like any man or woman,
but found he had no power over Jesus.

In Nazareth, the people said that Jesus
could never be the chosen one of God.
But Jesus said, "Elijah met a woman,
who wasn't Jewish, yet she had such faith
that God had chosen her to meet this man,
Elijah, who would resurrect her child.

You Nazarenes, who knew me as a child,
will not believe that I, your neighbor, Jesus,
might be more than an ordinary man.
And yet, I say to you, almighty God
would have you as his bride if you had faith,
but as it is, you're like a fallen woman.''

In Capernaum, Jesus healed a woman
and Simon Peter, husband of her child,
decided he'd become a man of faith,
and fish for men with John and James and Jesus.
Then Jesus showed them by the grace of God
that sins can be forgiven by a man.

Envoi
"Everyone with faith,'' said Our Lord Jesus,
"Is like a child of our Father, God,
and full of love for every woman and man.''

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Vlorbiad (1999)

Introduction
(Lines 1—40)

God (as I choose to call my higher power)
Grant me an audience for half an hour
And I will, if I can, do all the rest.
My subject is the story I know best;
I mean my own. It starts in a motel,
The night of my divorce. I felt like Hell.

Think of a pilot, learning how to fly,
Who, though he should know better, flies too high,
Then falls in the Atlantic and is drowned.
His body and the plane are never found.
There's something like our marriage in that story,
The way it shoots to misery from glory.
The similarity might not be strong,
But, as to suffering, I'm never wrong:
Divorce is brutal. Trust me when I say
I'd rather be that pilot any day.

Lisa, in a voice that tore my heart,
Had told me, "From now on, we'll live apart."
I'll keep your stuff till you've got your new place.
The First Street house is mine. I want my space."
And so, a stranger in my own home town,
I left my room to have a look around.

Across the street, a Big Red liquor store
And Waffle House. A porno shop next door.
"The restaurant then. For now, I'll do what's right.
I've got no strength for sex and drugs tonight."
The waitress, call her Ruby, perked me up.
I never saw the bottom of my cup.
A refill and a smile, and off she'd glide;
She wore her sixty years with grace and pride.

"Why look upon myself and curse my fate:
I couldn't stand to only serve and wait.
I'll bet that woman's life is harder still
Than mine, by far. And, if I only will,
I could throw all my misery away
And love my life the way it is today!"

If that was true—and I don't think it was—
I proved myself an awful fool, because
For years I didn't love my life at all.
The story starts with my decline and fall.

Friday, January 1, 2010

An Essay On Criticism (1998)

I've stuffed my Shelf with loads of learned Lumber,
Like Kant, and can't let sleeping Dogmas slumber.
"A little Learning is a dangerous Thing"?
Not so! A cat can look upon a King.
If Indy Ana Jones has not the means—
Nor Wit nor Art—to be the Pope of zines,
The best that I can do will have to serve
And others must decide what I deserve.

Mike Gunderloy, in nineteen-eighty-two,
Decided he'd begin a Zine Review.
*And even now, in nineteen-ninety-eight,
*His Factsheet 5 is still around, still great
*(Though, Some would say, collapsing from its Weight).
They usually find something nice to say,
Or don't condemn things outright, anyway.
Doug Holland's Zine World follows no such rule;
Indeed, they've been accused of being cruel.
In my opinion, Critics shouldn't shrink
From telling Readers what they really think:
Forgiveness can be less Divine than Vain;
We shouldn't err by being too Humane.
I've often Thought (but never well Expressed)
That this is so. Yet Action is the test.
And, as for That, quite frequently I find
It's easier to be a Bit too kind.
So even if I think a Zine's no good,
I'll seldom say so clearly, as I should.
I haven't got the nerve for Zine World's Style
(Although, one time, I did call Pop Smear "vile").
*The Reasons why aren't very hard to see:
*I'd like to keep on getting Zines for free
*And do as I'd have Others do to me.
Since Everyone knows Everyone (the World of Zines is small)
And Nature's major Masterpiece is being there at all,
I must confess, quite frequently I've tried
To keep from hurting anybody's Pride.
Here, in any Case, are some Reviews.
I hope you like 'em. Read The Ten Page News.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Athalia Pierces Her Nose (1997)

Athalia and her mother were on their roof being served breakfast. Though the day was not yet hot, they sat in the shade of a brightly colored canopy. The whole city of Samaria lay spread out beneath them like a map: the old market to the south, the new temple to the north, the watchmen patrolling the wall around it all.

Athalia dripped some honey onto half a roll of bread thoughtfully, pretending to listen. Despite the effort she had been devoting to wearing her mother down, she was apprehensive. How much would it hurt? Hava had said hers didn't hurt at all. "You can feel the needle sliding through, but it's not painful.'' Lili had her doubts. Hava obviously had different notions of what was or wasn't painful since she was subject to the occasional beating. Lili herself hadn't even been spanked since she was a little girl.

"It really shouldn't matter what your playmates do, Lili. It's not for the royal family to follow fashions. The people should follow us. When I was a girl back in Sidon... ''

"Oh, but Mother! You're so pretty! Of course they all wanted to look like you! And I'm so ordinary! It's just a nose-ring! Everybody's wearing them! I am twelve years old, after all!''

"But, Lili, you're not at all ordinary. You're beautiful.''

Athalia winced as if in pain and said nothing. She was somewhat plain. Maybe her mother really couldn't see it. She had her father's stern, square lips and jawline. Her eyes were narrow like her mother's, but somehow on her face they looked sinister rather than exotic. Her nose really was her best feature. She had seen the way the boys (and lately, many of the men, too) looked at Hava. It wasn't fair. Hava was only a slave, after all.

Jezebel, taken in, thought Athalia might be about to cry. "Well, look. The priests of Jah would never let us forget it. Why beg for trouble? Your father... ''

"Everything's always priests and politics with you! Anyway, you said the people should follow us!''

"Don't interrupt. Your father has been trying for years to form an alliance with the Judeans. That's what he went to Jerusalem for. And the Jahvist priests practically run the country up there.''

And so on. She could be so tiresome. What did Lili care about Jah or Judah? Her father would get his way like he always did. Nobody ever thought about her or what she wanted. Though, to be perfectly honest about it, it wasn't exactly clear what she wanted. It wasn't as if there were any boys she even liked. Still, she certainly wanted to be attractive. Never mind why.

"Who cares what the Jahvists think? They don't run things around here!''—an appeal to her mother's vanity; Athalia knew that the priests blamed Jezebel for the growing popularity of the rival cult of Baal. And a bribe: "I'll go to temple services! Whenever you want!''

"Oh, all right... ''


So Belit, the Queen's own beautician, came to Athalia's rooms the next day. Belit herself was not at all beautiful, and her elaborately arranged hair, her heavy eye-shadow, and the face powder she wore at all hours of the day and night did nothing to make her more so. Years ago, as a little girl, Athalia had admired her figure, but now she had grown overweight. Her dress had obviously been tailored to show off her horrible huge breasts.

"So your majesty wishes to be pierced.''

"Please! Belit! Call me Lili like you always used to.''

"But your majesty is now a young woman.''

She certainly didn't feel like a young woman. She hadn't even had her first period yet. And as for sex... well, she knew about it, of course: apparently people did it just like dogs or horses. The whole thing mildly disgusted her. And then screaming for hours in agony with a baby. Baal. Which was not to say that she didn't get a mysterious thrill looking at the muscular legs of some of the soldiers in her father's bodyguard.

"Well, how do we do this?''

"Sit down over here.'' At her dressing table. Belit put a small washbasin between Lili and her small mirror of polished silver. "Have some wine.''

So it was going to hurt. Well, it was too late to back out now. She'd boasted to Hava that she would do it. There was also her mother to consider. She'd get even with Hava somehow.

Belit held the needle over the basin, poured some wine over it, and chanted some ancient prayers. "Hold this rag right here''—over her mouth—"and don't move.''

It hurt quite a lot. There was a curious sliding sensation between the two layers of skin; the actual pain was only skin deep. Athalia clenched her teeth and tried not to cry.


The pain lasted only a few seconds, and the beautiful little gold ring looked quite striking. But it was still itching three days later when her father, Ahab, the King, returned from Judah. The terms of his new treaty were announced at a state dinner that night. Athalia was engaged to be married.

Dedication (1997)

When the priests had completed the rites necessary to consecrate the new temple in Jerusalem, Queen Athalia lifted her hands and face to pray.

Oh great Lord Melkart, king of heaven! Remember my mother, Jezebel, and her great faith---how she lived and died in your service; how she built you shrines and temples and brought glory to your name throughout the land of Israel; how she destroyed the abominations of Jah, the detestable wargod. Remember the faith of her father, Ithobaal---how he served you as King and High Priest in the cities of Sidon and Tyre; how he led your people in the true faith with unfailing dedication. For the sake of these, your servants; for Jezebel, my mother; for Ithobaal, her father; though I am completely unworthy, I pray you forgive my apostasy.

In the horrible days of the Philistine raids, when three of my children were killed without mercy, I committed this grievous sin: I turned my back on the righteous way, giving myself to despair, and swore I would never again offer a sacrifice on your altar. For ten long years I kept this unholy vow---like a rudderless ship on the western sea, tossed by the wind and waves, out of the sight of land. For ten long years I hated my own life, hardening my heart, refusing to repent. I, a mortal woman, dared to presume to judge my Lord and God!

But another day came at last---the horrible day of Jehu, the traitorous scourge of Jah. My brother, your servant, King Joram, was shot through the heart with an arrow and died there in battle near Jezreel defending your Kingdom of Israel. My husband, too, King Ahaziah, was hunted down that very day by this same Jehu, the scourge of Jah, like an animal hunted for sport. And still on the very same day this very same bloodthirsty Jehu murdered my mother, your servant, Israel's most noble Queen Jezebel.

Then I knew despair. And in my despair I knew that only you could save me, great Lord Melkart, king of heaven. Then, with my spirit broken, I turned from my stubborn self-will to your righteous way and its healing power. Then at last, my soul knew peace; the peace that only you can give.

Now you have chosen your unworthy servant to rule as the Queen in the palace of Solomon. Help me to lead the people to you! When one of my people prays at this temple, and offers a sacrifice here on your altar, show them your mercy, forgive them their sinfulness, accept their offering and hear their prayer! Show us your strength and your infinite majesty! Accept our offering and hear our prayer!

Let every voice praise Melkart, king of heaven, now and forever.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Cover Copy For TPN#15 (1997)

the ten page news number fifteen we turned one year old sometime in the
last month or two we were too busy to notice
fourteen issues in a year
is pretty good for a monthly in our opinion especially when we started
out as a quarterly we do seem to be slowing down though time will tell
our beloved muse shauna also has a birthday this month shell be
mumbledymumble years old on october twentyninth
keep those cards and letters
coming the ten page news number fifteen
october nineteenninetyseven publisher owen thomas
pee oh bee nine six five one
columbus ohio four three two oh nine
you ess a editor vlorbik at delphi dot com copyright
the integral of e to the ex power is equal to eff of you sub en pubs limited
aitch tee pee pee
colon slash slash people dot delphi dot com slash vlorbik rates
sixtyfour cents a copy
five dollars for a nineissue subscription comical tip
gimme
gimme gimme gimme gimme gimme gimme gimme gimme that there white
tip
paragraph union intersection is a subset of minusplus union for all
minusplus vertical rule composed with intersection punctuation by
vlorbik it has come to my attention that certain authorities actually
support the omission of the serial comma ive always felt that people
who wrote in what is apparently the standard example red white
and blue for red white and blue were careless or illinformed
i now learn to my horror that the comma before the and in such a
series has long been abandoned by newspaper editors harper
dictionary of contemporary usage william and mary morris sure enough
the new york times manual of style and usage sez in general do not use
a comma before and in a series unless the other elements of the series
are separated by semicolons automobiles buses and trains were stalled
have you ever seen anything so stupid in your life what were these tonedeaf
barbarians thinking of listen buses and trains now try automobiles buses
and trains you can hear the comma its really there doing it their way
makes it sound like automobiles buses and trains ive always hated this
ugly mistake but it had never even occurred to me that anybody might
actually recommend it never mind require it the kings english aitch
doubleyou ampersand eff gee fowler says that the removal of the comma makes
so little difference that it is an open question amoung compositors
whether it should be used or not as if the existence of differing points
of view implies that the question is unimportant try this abortion of the
fetus makes so little difference that it is an open question among citizens
whether it should be allowed or not and anyway what the heck is a usage
manual for come on guys take a side wilson folletts modern american usage
has a nice long article four pages on the subject clearly in favor of the
correct usage of the reasons for omitting the comma only one is cogent
the saving of space in the narrow width of a newspaper column this saving
counts for more than elsewhere which is why the omission is so nearly
universal in journalism folletts also discusses a few examples, but for
my money theyre all needlessly complicated my favorite example comes from
arthur dee hlavatys zine deragoatory reference number seventynine i would
heartily recommend teresa nielsen haydens making book she can write
fascinatingly about the serial comma pointing out that its absence led
to the remarkable book dedication to my parents ayn rand and god this
example should be decisive who cares if its probably apocryphal
there are other references to serial commas in dee arr the editor works
as a temp and freelance copy editor and likes to complain of his pet
peeves with bad software and sloppy writers i just figured this was
one we had in common i cant get over it its as if i had learned of a
society whose customs required people to pick their noses in public
im grateful to misti crow and alden scott crow for bringing this
revolting state of affairs to my attention their onepage monthly
grammar cue ampersand a is available for the asking send a stamp from
pee em cee communications box one nine four eight fair oaks california
nine five six two eight tell em vlorbik sent you gimme that gimme that
gimme that gimme that gimme that there white tip blue car blue car
an autobiography part one owen thomas i finally got a learners permit
at age nineteen in thousand oaks where id been living like a hermit
on coffee pot and rum and cokes now back in school a lack of patience
for classes during my vacations had kept me out of drivers ed but
something had to give i said of course id rather do things my way
and walk or thumb or ride my bike but i cant have things as id like
this californias one big highway its best to take things as they are
id better learn to drive a car and so my then best friend bob
shaffer agreed to bring me up to speed i know a car that you could pay
for ill teach you everything you need but what about repairs dont panic
this car was owned by a mechanic its in great shape it runs just fine
it sounded like that classic line the only owner was some granny who
never drove but bob was right i got the car that very night a sixtythree
pushbutton tranny plymouth valiant not much rust it turned out worthy of
my trust i made a hundred dollar payment and owed another then id bought
it breaking up the debt this way meant i could pay with ease i thought
but then my boss at howard johnsons whose every word was arrant nonsense
said although it pains me i have got to let you go goodbye i thought
i knew his secret reason id worked there for about a year and paid vacations
cost them dear its always bellboy shafting season so even though i had
enough to make the payment it was rough gimme that there gimme that there
gimme that there white tip zineage indy ana jones i wrote to some of the
distros in last months indy unleashed ampersand am buried in zines look for
another eye you soon meanwhile here are a few ive been meaning to get
around to reviewing for a long time damn number two is sixteen halfsize
pages of grim ampersand gritty writing by six authors with unclassifiable
illustrations by four artists the longest piece ampersand
one of the best is the jay mans story what the bell means the jay man
publishes the jay man times reviewed in tee pee en number twelve but my
favorite by far is ashlys the man with the longest arms in the world in
rhymed couplets theres a nonfiction article by editor brian johnson on a
sixteenth century torture victim ampersand shortshort stories of madness
ampersand violence by anthony alba em cee mcdonald kenn pell ampersand
steve skeates its definitely not for all tastes in fact its not really
for mine but all the writing is good ampersand i enjoyed it surprisingly
well the same editor also publishes the zinereview zine funhouse reviewed
in eye you number one one dollar and an age statement brian johnson
eleven werner road greenville pee a one six one two five dash nine four
three four
damn pulling teeth from the jaws of death adults only number two one
point zero zero dollars the a journal for people who write and read
palindromes palindromist number two winter nineteennintysix political
palindromes centerfold john agee a great new palindromist cartoons
puzzles and seventytwo new original palindromes illustration by
paul tee olson but that probably wont reproduce the palindromist
number two winter nineteenninetysix is not surprisingly a journal
for people who write and read palindromes this issue has a lot of
politically themed dromes the opening single quote cum apostrophe
is in the original from the short gems taft fat ampersand not nil
clinton to more exotic offerings like rot aid al gore hero gladiator
theres a featured palindromist john connett the author of such masterpieces
as eva can i stack rods fatass dork cats in a cave ampersand a column on
books including ess wordrows forthcoming i love me volume one its
amazing what people can come up with while were on the subject

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Tudors and Teachers (1998)


“Reeling and Writhing, of course, to begin with,”the Mock Turtle relplied; “and then the different branches of Arithmetic—Ambition, Distraction, Uglification, and Derision.”

—Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland


My wife and I, prompted by a display at the public library, have recently finished viewing the BBC video series Elizabeth R and The Six Wives of Henry VIII. I wasn’t very familiar with 16th Century England, so, naturally, I got out a few reference books to help me keep track of what was going on. Readers more familiar with the period will kindly bear with me: a brief summary follows.Recall that the Protestant Reformation began in 1517 (the year of Martin Luther’s famous 95 theses). This was the end of centuries of Papal supremacy in Western Europe (or, as it was then known, Western “Christendom”). King Henry of England, obsessed with his lack of a legitimate male heir, divorced Catherine of Aragon in defiance of the Pope and married his mistress Anne Boleyn in 1533. For good measure, he got Parliament to declare him supreme head of the Church of England. Catholics denying him this authority were executed for treason. These included the prominent scholars (later saints) John Fisher and Thomas More. Henry went right on killing his enemies (wives, bishops, and so on) throughout the remaining fifteen years of his reign, meanwhile suppressing monasteries (and nationalizing their treasuries).


Henry died in 1547 and was succeeded by his son Edward; Edward died in 1553 and was succeeded by his half-sister Mary, a devout Roman Catholic. Mary reigned for five years and executed hundreds of Protestants in the religious persecutions that earned her the nickname “Bloody Mary” (her victims include Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, the scholar largely responsible for the English Book of Common Prayer). Mary died and was succeeded in 1558 by her Protestant half-sister Elizabeth, whose reign was long and glorious. Elizabeth put down the odd rebellion now and then, and executed her Catholic cousin Mary Queen of Scots, but was generally (and justly) renowned for her moderation in the sphere of religion.


Over four hundred years have passed since then; the violence between Protestant and Catholic factions of the Christian Church continues (though not on so spectacular a scale). This is a great mystery; anyway, I sure don’t understand it. This much is clear: capable leaders on both sides were sacrificed along with large numbers of their followers. Officially, the issues involved concerned Christian doctrine—things like “what does the Last Supper mean?”. The real question in my interpretation usually comes down to“who has authority over whom?”.


Now let us turn our attention to “Calculus Reform”. Here again, though the surface issues concern doctrine (How useful are graphing calculators? How much writing should students do?), the underlying “real question” in my reading comes down to “who has authority?”. To my knowlege, no one has yet been beheaded or burned at the stake to settle these questions. Careers have been made and ruined in fairly large numbers, however, so our interest is not entirely, so to speak, academic. [Readers alert to contemporary academic jargon will very likely find these remarks reminicent of the deconstructivist school of ``literary criticism''---one major theme of that school being the interpretation of ``texts'' (i.e., everything) in the light of power relations. These critics apparently take their cue from Karl Marx's dictum: ``All history is the story of class struggle'', and neglect his remark: ``The philosophers have tried to understand the world. The point is to change it.''.]


My own particular ejection from the profession of college mathematics, for example, was precipitated by my public reactions to a consultant hired by the administration of my ex-college. Now, if the President of the College wants to pay some guy a hundred bucks an hour to make it rain, that’s her business. As Scott Adams says: “Consultants have credibility because they are not dumb enough to be regular employees at your company.” [The Dilbert Principle, 1996, HarperCollins New York] But the consultant knew nothing at all about my ex-job and I told him so.


Here is a story from Calculus: The Dynamics of Change (1996, the Mathematical Association of America; pages 47 and 49):


. . . an existing calculus reform project was determined to be a suitable program for adaptation at the University of Mississippi. The University invited one of its developers to visit the campus for two days to explore more extensively the feasibility of the University’s being a test site for the project. During that time, the developer had separate meetings with the Mathematics faculty, the chairs of the other science and engineeering departments, the Deputy Director of the Computing Center and members of his staff, the Associate Vice Chancellor of reasearch and a member of the Office of Development, the Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, the Dean of the College of Liberal Arts, and the Director of the University’s Writing Program. In addition, he made a presentation to the university community on his project.


After his visit, the Department’s faculty agreed that the goals and the materials provided in this project are excellent and match well with the goals and needs of the Department.


. . . As the Department continued teaching sections of the reformed course, it became apparent that students, and to a degree faculty, were having difficulty with the expectation that the text should actually be read. This led the Department to adopt a different reform text while continuing with laboratory assignments and group projects. The Department has developed its own laboratory manual and uses group projects and microcomputer laboratory assignments, but continues to struggle with the selection of a text.


My ex-college suffers from many of the same problems brought out in this passage: a percieved need for mock participation by a bloated bureaucracy in complete and willful ignorance of the actual needs of the student body, for example.


I seem to be getting carried away; sorry; I do tend to rant. Let me return to my theme.


To the extent that great historical events can be explained, there is a general agreement that one of the “reasons” the Protestant Reformation occurred when it did was the emergence of a powerful new information technology: movable type and cheap printed books. Our current reform is likewise associated to some extent with a new technology: cheap computers. Incorporating the new technology into existing institutions calls for great and rapid change; certainly an opportunity for the ambitious and possibly also for the devout. Not without risks, of course.


If I’m just bitter over a personal failure and complaining of sour grapes, well and good. I rather hope so. I will miss teaching—the only job I ever loved. I am indeed somewhat bitter. But I would act the same again; I will not study, nor will I teach, the Law of Authority: “Because I say so, that’s why.” I suspect that my case is not so exceptional and fear for my ex-profession.


When the smoke of the English Reformation cleared (briefly … but that’s another story), there was still enough talent left in the Church to produce the great religious treasure of the English Language: the “King James” Bible (James, the son of Mary Queen of Scots, succeeded Elizabeth in 1603).


Speaking of literary treasures; speaking of reform and my ex-career; speaking of “another story”: King Lear had three daughters . . .

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Saying___Meaning___Doing (1998)

The effort to see and really to represent is no idle business in face of the constant force that makes for muddlement. The great thing is indeed that the muddled state too is one of the very sharpest of the realities, that it also has color and form and character, has often in fact a broad and rich comicality.
—Henry James, Prefaces (1907-1909). What Masie Knew.

"What wrong is with people who like this talk?"
—Samuel R. Delany, Nova (1968).

As much as I've enjoyed listening to rap music and learning some of its ever-changing hip-hop slang, there are certain phrases and idioms from that subculture that just drive me crazy, you know what I'm saying? And probably the one I find most annoying is the "intransitive 'represent' ".

I had some liner notes—I think they were for America Is Dying Slowly—that quoted somebody as saying "I will represent.". Period. Unfortunately, I seem to have sold the CD; anyway I can't put my hand on it. Those among you who avoid rap—and I know you're out there—will have to take my word for it: there's a lot of folks out there representin'. That ain't representin' any particular thing. They just representin'. The best citation I have at hand is "Representing straight outta the Windy City, Tung Twista and his Infa-Red posse have their sights set on blowing up the Chicago hip-hop scene" (The Source, Number 69, June 1995). Which isn't so bad—at least he's representing from somewhere...

According to the Totally Unofficial Rap Guide website, Nas (Nasir Jones) put out a record in 1994 called "Represent!"; I only ever started noticing the vogue for the intransitive "represent" within the past year or two but I'm slow. Probably it's already going away (along with the related intransitive "recognize"—[Y'all betta reckanize.]). Good riddance.

But what's going on here, anyway? Why should this bother me so much? Well, to put it as succinctly as I know how, "I will represent" sounds really stupid. Now, I'm more than a little bit of a language snob. I could easily come up with a long list of usages that annoy me, in a wide variety of contexts—like the (paren)theses of the pos(t-mod)er(n)s, the sMashEd caSeS of (weirdly) the punks and the package designers, or the meaningless/carriage-returns of the/would-be/poets. My reaction to all of these is usually something along the lines of "yeah, right... who are you kidding"—they strike me as affectations, meant to carry a meta-message: pay extra attention to me.

Is intransitive "represent" anything like those? Not really. I guess it does sound sort of affected, but I don't see any hidden agenda about it. The first few times I heard it, I didn't quite get what it intends to signify (means to mean), but it's clear enough now, and probably should have been obvious along: like the Paul Simon song says, "We stand for the neighborhood" ("The Vampires" on Songs From The Capeman, 1998). To "represent", then, is to show pride in one's background.

There's even a sense in which, by merely saying "I will represent", the speaker is in fact marking herself as different from, say, me—some old white guy who would never dream of making that particular assertion—and thus is "representing" in this hip-hop sense.

Is there really anything more to this than just me thinking, "my English is better than yours"? I think so... after all, there are a lot of other usages, in and out of hip-hop, that are just as "incorrect", that I find amusing or interesting or barely worth noticing. I affect quite a few of 'em myself.

Even now, as I'm writing this, intransitive "represent" is starting to feel less unnatural... you can get used to just about anything. But there's something else that bothers me here—apparently I don't approve of the idea that one should represent (one's hood or city or "race" or what have you). A human should not mean, but be, to paraphrase Archibald MacLeish.

It's the whole "society of the spectacle" thing. All too often, the symbol of a thing becomes more important than the thing itself: the American flag is granted sacred status even as the rights it ought to stand for are worn away to nothing and the cops beat us up, lock us up, and cover us up.

Maybe there's a hidden agenda after all: that of wrapping oneself in the flag. Suppose I represent Mom and apple pie. Why then, if you disagree with me, I can claim that you're against Mom and apple pie.

And yet, I guess I do it too, all the time. In my role as a teacher, for example. As the academy is taken over more and more by careerism, it seems more and more important to me that somebody should stand in front of groups of young people and, dammit, "represent" certain parts of the traditions of learning that I grew up in: literacy for its own sake and so-called "pure" mathematics (which I call simply "mathematics").

Maybe what I'm getting at is that representation isn't the whole picture. If I've spoken somewhere (as I admit I have) of wanting to turn my entire life into a work of art—by way of zines, math classes, whatever—I've been using poetic license. Hyperbole, if you will. Lying, if you must. I think I believe that there is life outside the text. But then, it's not the rappers that say any different.

In closing, then: on the other hand. I seem to be more than a little bit confused. I may know something about art, but I don't know what I like. Are we having fun yet? We?

Why I Teach Such Good Classes (2003)

Right. Here's some old paperwork, alpha-tized as usual; do please maintain the order as it circulates so everybody can find their own work. Exam 1 is a week from tomorrow; Friday the I don't know what—28th, thanks. Chapter 6 and the first part of 7; I'll be more precise by about Wednesday or so.

Okay, check it out. Apparently there's been some dissention in the ranks and somebody's gone over my head to the chair to complain about how how things're going in here. Obviously, I'd rather talk about mathematics than, whatever, classroom management—and we'll get back to that real soon—but I guess I'd better say a little bit about this business.

So. If I was to stand up here every day with a perfectly prepared lecture and write out a crystal-clear set of notes, and if you were to all copy it all out into your notebooks... then I claim that would be pretty much a waste of time: you might just as well be watching TV.

Obviously a lot of teachers do work this way: "I talk, you listen"... and there must be a few students that it works real well for. But, doggone it, if it worked for anything like a majority, then you'd mostly know this stuff already and we'd be here talking about Algebraic Number Theory or something.

The best thing I can do every day, as far as I can tell, is maybe talk about some new trick, maybe something about common mistakes in recent work, maybe look at a few questions as usual... but then, and this is where I get a chance to really do something right: ask some question that about half of you will have some pretty good idea how to begin to answer.

Now, I've tried to be that guy that dresses up nice and dots all the tees and crosses all the eyes and always has beautiful slides for the overhead and ends 30 seconds before the bell. But I gave up trying a long time ago: I am not that guy. A really good day for me—and we've had a few—is when I'm moving around the room troubleshooting and I can overhear a whole bunch of different conversations about the Problem Of The Day. Then I know I've asked the right question... and, for me, that's the most important skill I've learned over my, whatever, n years as a teacher. Try to have some faith: I might know what I'm doing.

OK. Yesterday we were looking at rational functions...

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A Program Of Rigorous Honesty (1998)

(From The Ten Page News (v.3) Number 21, July 1998)

I'm pretty self-conscious about putting pieces about my feelings into print; I'm a lot more comfortable running song lyrics or philosophy or what have you. But the response to the autobiographical articles in the last few issues has been very gratifying. One reviewer (PAQ, in Amusing Yourself to Death #12) even went so far as to ask "Can't we have Ten Pages of Owen?"!

Well, it sure isn't my intention to let the personal stuff take over the whole zine—it just wouldn't be The Ten Page News if I did. But, by golly, I sure do consider it a fascinating subject and I'm perfectly willing to go on about it at some length.

So here's something I've been thinking about as a possible topic on and off for quite a while: my alcoholism.

I've been sober six years. AA played a big part in getting me here but I seldom go to meetings these days and guess I don't really consider myself a "member" any more. I'd have to say my relationship with AA has generally been a love/hate kind of thing: fairly early on in my current bout of sobriety, for example, I covered several pages of my AA journal with a rant on "Lies of the Program", complaining bitterly about the often contradictory slogans that get parrotted around unthinkingly at the meetings and the outright anti-intellectualism that's all too common among the members. But, at the same time, I was averaging a meeting a day, an average I maintained for about nine months. I probably never would have stayed sober long without AA. In other words, I'd very likely have been locked up or dead by now. So I'm really very grateful to AA and everybody in it, warts and all.

It's hard to discuss this in public; they don't call it Alcoholics Anonymous for nothing. Program doctrine has it that "Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities". That's overstating the case somewhat—all?—but I say without hesitation that one of AA's greatest strengths has been its systematic refusal to appoint leaders or acknowledge spokespeople. I think this trait helps to account for AA's spectacular success in our culture over the past few decades; it seems to appeal to some vestigial love of democratic ideals in the soul of America. Certainly it appeals to me.

Anyway, after a certain amount of consideration, I figure it's okay. This isn't exactly the Oprah Winfrey show here, folks. Sure, this'll fall into the hands of a few people here and there who don't really know anything about me, but it feels more like talking over my life with a few dozen of my closest friends than it does like spilling any beans in the press. I'll just issue this disclaimer and get on with it: I don't speak for AA, okay? Not by a long shot.

Right. Now what? Well, without going into a lot of detail, maybe I should just mention some of my credentials: the relationships destroyed; the jobs lost; the time in jail; the piss and the puke and the blood. It took several years of paying some pretty serious dues before I ever even seriously considered not drinking. And then I was in and out of sobriety for several more years. I've had three different "first birthdays" in AA. Just take my word for it: I'm a drunk.

The obsession has never left me and I don't expect it ever will. That "day at a time" thing is real: I'm staying sober today for good and sufficient reasons, but, like the song says, I'd rather be sloppy drunk than anything I know. I just can't stand the consequences I'd have to face to do it.

Obviously, several years of active drug addiction have done quite a bit to determine my way of life today. Sometimes I feel like Terry Malloy. You know... I coulda had class... I coulda been somebody. Instead of a bum, which face it, is what I am.

I look at a guy like, say, Douglas R. Hofstadter. He lives in my home town of Bloomington Indiana, and enjoys a brilliant career in the departments of Comparative Literature, Computer Science, Psychology, and Philosophy at Indiana University. Along the way he's written two fat masterpieces in two different genres of his own creation. My soul cries: that should be me up there. I've had most of his advantages including a university upbringing, a penetrating intellect, and an unusual creative flair. OK, sure, probably not at Hofstadter's level, but certainly enough to have achieved a nice little professorship somewhere with all the privileges pertaining thereunto: a circle of admiring grad students, free trips all over the world, stuff like that. Instead of taking dives for the short end money in Palookaville.

But I guess it was worth it. I got to do exactly what I wanted to do, thousands of times. When everything went right, I could feel fantastic for hours at a time. The heavens opened and I saw visions of God.

Meanwhile, the frequent ass-kickings I endured—physical and spiritual—beat a certain amount of humility into me that I probably wouldn't have learned any other way. I'll go so far as to say I have some advantage over Professsor Hofstadter here. He goes on for four pages in Le Ton Beau... about his inability to empathize with a murderer: "Can I understand why someone would kill a person they didn't even know, simply because their leader told them to?... I just can't seem to find a pathway linking me to the murderer...". Well, I can, easily. Having lived in despair and degradation for years, I can almost say, with Terence, "Nothing human is alien to me". (Maybe Hofstadter should start with a soldier instead of an assassin: it's an easier exercise and a more practical one.)

What's harder for me to understand is how so many AA's seem not to have achieved this kind of empathy. How can anybody be a drunk and a Republican? I figure it comes down to a talent for forgetting; the famous "denial".

Returning to our subject. Regular readers of this zine will be aware of my interest in the Bible. I consider this another gift of AA: the program's stress on finding a "Higher Power" led me (via The Varieties of Religious Experience) to finally crack the covers of this fascinating document. I've read it through several times. It's sort of like going to meetings: the odd diamond of truth glistens in the dunghill of lies and nonsense. I recommend Bible reading very highly. It's okay to skip ruining your life with booze first.

Gaff My Wheel (2009)

Here we go again
It's another phony friend
Pretending that they're oh so glad
They've found ya
Until you can escape
It's emotional rape
You haven't got a chance
When they're all around ya
And they always seem to know
Right where to find me
And start right in
To own me or define me
I will somehow make 'em see
That that can never be
Get Away From Me With Your Lies

GAFMWYL Mister Salesman
GAFMWYL You flirt, you tease
GAFMWYL You politician
Get away from me you dread disease
Pretty please

Get away from me
With your phony sympathy
I can see what you want
In your eyes
All you want from me
Is that I should agree
That I'm the kind of guy
You should despise
But you really oughta pick
A better victim
Some sucker who won't even know
You've picked him
I will somehow make you see
That your victim can't be me
So get away from me
With your lies

Friday, August 14, 2009

The Gospel According to Matthew According to Vlorbik (1997)

These are the fathers of Joseph the Carpenter:
Abraham, Isaac, and so on. Why bother?
None of it's relevant geneologically
touching on Jesus if Joe's not his father.

"Make straight the way for a voice in the wilderness!
Here comes The Branch! He'll be King of the Jews!
I, John the Baptist, preach soteriology!
This is the end of the world! That's good news!"

Verily, verily, Jesus of Nazareth
sat on a hill and he spoke from on high,
never once mentioning parthenogenisis,
reincarnation, or how he would die.

Andrew, Bartholomew, Matthew and Thaddeaus,
James son of Zebedee, John his dear brother,
Phillip and Thomas and James son of Alphaeus,
Simon called Peter, and Simon (the other)
followed him faithfully all over Galilee
hearing his parables all through the land.
"Why won't he talk to us nonallegorically?
Sure, we can hear, but we don't understand!"

Then in the city of Holy Jerusalem
Jesus's enemy, Caiaphas, said
"How dare he speak to me authoritatively?
Infamy! Blasphemy! I want him dead!"

Treacherous wretchedness! Judas Iscariot
came to Gesthemane leading a mob;
tipped off the enemy osculatorily.
Jesus forgave him, of course; that's his job.

Jesus was sentenced by Pliate the Governor;
tortured to death as he ranted and raved.
"God has forsaken me! Lama sabachthani!"
He is still with us. Repent and be saved.

Wham-Bam (1981)

I'd just met a girl
And was glad I had met her
So I tried to treat her nice
So I could get to know her better
But that was a mistake
It was no way to get her
The villain not the hero gets the girl
The villain not the hero gets the girl

I asked my friend the ladies' man
What could be the matter
He said "treat 'em too good
And they think it's just flattery
You'd be better off
To try assault and battery
Learn this lesson good
And learn it fast
Nice guys finish last

To hell with all that
I don't give a damn
If that's where it's at
Here's where I am
If that's the way to do it
I say screw it
I don't want wham-bam
Thank you ma'am
I don't want a sham
I don't want wham-bam
Thank you ma'am

The ladies keep complaining
How they're treated by their men
But when they get a chance
To do it all over again
They'll pick some bastard
To be their lover
And pick me as just a friend
And set me up here on the shelf
Wanting them and playing
By myself

("chorus' again god knows why)

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

I Love My Beer (1982)

I woke up this morning late
Afraid to get out of my bed
I felt like a two-ton weight
Was hanging over my head
I had to work my eight
Before I could go to my bar
And I just couldn't wait
To be where my good times are
I just couldn't wait
Five o'clock was much too late
I figured what I'd do
Was stop and have just one or two
Because I love my beer
More than I love my money
I love my beer
More than I love my honey
I love my beer
More than rock-and-roll
I love my beer
More than my country or my soul

Well one or two turned into a few
And I figured what the hell
Then three or four turned
Into three or four more
And I missed my starting bell
I called in sick to work
Said I was just about ready to die
One day that trick won't work
After that, neither will I
But I figure what the hell
I guess that's just as well
I've got nothing to fear
As long as I've got my beer
And I love my beer
Much more than I love that job
I love my beer
Even more than I loved my wife
When I drink my beer
I ain't afraid of God
I love my beer
More than this miserable life

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

On Having No Clue (1998)

A lot of things that other people apparently take for granted elude me entirely.

In at least some cases, it's because of my own willfulness: for example, as I mentioned in On Having No Class, I can't stand wearing much of anything but jeans and tee shirts. I suppose if I worked at if for long enough, I'd find a way.

But I also seem to hav acquired a pretty good knack over the years for making strangers uncomfortable—even when I'm trying to be friendly. I think one reason is that I communicate my own discomfort in my body language, tone of voice, and so on. Certainly it's true that I am usually uncomfortable meeting new people. But then, so too must a lot of other people be who hide it better or something.

There are tricks one can learn, of course. No doubt I've learned quite a few of them myself... I'm not a complete pariah, after all. But the tricks I've heard about—use the other person's name a lot, touch them, ask a lot of questions—are cheap salesman's gimmicks that annoy the living bejeezus out of me when they're used on me. So I can't use them myself in good faith.

I don't want to have to put on an act. A lot of pretty ordinary social behaviors feel to me when I do them like pretending. I hate that. Obviously, we can't go around acting with perfect sincerity at all times. I guess I've sort of decided to deal with this by adopting a relatively flat affect, and this sometimes puts people off.

A related failing, and one which has given me a lot of trouble, is my tendency to emotional outbursts. I'll go on hiding my feelings for as long as I can stand it, then let go with everything I've got. No middle ground.

More generally, I don't seem to do well at any type of negotiation or confrontation. I'd rather pay full price than haggle; rather endure bad service than ask for better.

I'm running out of space. I'll try to sum up. I've paid a considerable price for my various personality quirks. I'm ridiculously well-educated (PhD, Mathematics, 1992) but can't stand looking for a "real" job and very likely couldn't hold onto one even if I could get it. Hence the three different jobs I mentioned earlier.

It's sort of a contemporary cliche that computer skills are the key to good jobs. Hah! I pick that stuff up really easily. What good does it do me if I can't pass the interview? No, the really important thing is presentation. Sincerity. When you can fake that, you've got it made.

So: there's a lot of room in my personality for improvement. Still, change is difficult at best. Even if it were easy, I'm not sure just what or how much I'd change. Maybe it seems like I've been beating myself up here... but the bottom line is, I'd rather be me than have to be anybody else.

On Having No Life (1998)

I've got three different jobs. It works out to about two and a third times full-time or so. I've had to cut back on... well... pretty much everything else. The weird thing is, I don't seem to mind. In fact, I find to my surprise that I'm even fairly happy and, if not actually content, certainly at least well-adjusted. More so than at any other point in my adult life, maybe.

Sure, it'll be a relief when the semester ends next week and I only have to worry about my overnight job and teaching the algebra class at the community college (they're on quarters). There'll be time to get caught up on sleeping and reading and stuff. And the zines, of course.

Ah yes, the zines. I really love doing 'em. It's probably fair to say that making zines is one of the main reasons I find myself so pleased with day-to-day life—always after the time spent with my beloved wife and cats, obviously, but right up there with (the fun parts of) being a math teacher.

But it has to be said: The Ten Page News is most of my social life (and e-mail is much of the rest). I have two main categories of friends: (1) old pals I hardly ever see any more if at all (most of the ones I'm at all in touch with get the zine); and (2) friends I've never actually met—fellow publishers that I know only by correspondence and zine trades. It just seems like there must be something pathological about this: most of my socializing is conducted sitting silently in a room by myself.

I miss hanging out. Probably nearly everybody finds that they're doing quite a bit less of it as they get older. Schedules start filling up and you end up having to go to fairly elaborate lengths just to set up times and places to get together and catch up on each other's lives. Most of us also seem to do a hell of a lot of moving around from city to city, which certainly doesn't help. Add to that in my case that after spending most of my life in Bloomington, a real walking-around-running-into-all-kinds-of-people kind of place if ever there was one, life in just about any other city will feel more isolated.

Mostly, though, it appears to me that other people in more or less similar circumstances generally seem to overcome these obstacles and have regular face-to-face interactions with their friends. Probably I'm doing something wrong: in fact, it seems pretty safe to say that I'm lacking in some pretty basic social skills. But that's another story.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

On Having No Talent (1997)

For several months about fifteen years ago, I used to sing in public regularly. A bar not far from my apartment in Indianapolis had "open stage" nights four times a week, and I performed in most of them. My act was me and my guitar; about half a dozen songs by me, plus covers. Folk rock novelty stuff, I suppose you could say... I've never been real good at identifying musical genres.

One comment I got pretty often was "it's different"—which of course, generally means, "it's terrible, but I don't want to hurt your feelings". Fair enough, too; my flaws as a performer were (and still are) glaring. The worst two, unfortunately, are my singing and guitar playing. My stage presence leaves something to be desired, too.

For all that, I'd have good nights sometimes. The crowd would pay attention and show signs of liking what they heard, whereupon I'd start feeling great—this was what I lived for—and it set up some sort of feedback; the crowd would have more fun because I was so obviously enjoying myself, and so on. Anyway, I came to believe I had it in me to be a pretty good entertainer, even though I certainly wasn't much of a musician.

I played few auditions for actual paying gigs but didn't land the jobs. Two went particularly well. For the first one, there was just a committee of about four or five people. They seemed to get a kick out of my stuff and I thought I had a pretty good shot. Nope. At the second one, I had one of the best nights of my life. There was a good crowd and I made a big hit. I vaguely knew somebody from one of the other acts and she was openly envious and sure I'd be invited to come back. But no.

I talked to the guy who booked the shows several weeks later and he told me why he hadn't hired me: bad musicianship. He offered to play me the tape. Well, no thanks... I already know what a bad singer and guitarist I am... but doggone it, the crowd was for me, and that seemed like it should have been the point.

Well, OK. I had moved back to Bloomington and started school again in the meantime and gotten a girlfriend besides. So I had a lot less spare time and anyway, there were no regular open mike nights around here. I started playing a lot less and quit writing new songs. Most of whatever skill I had faded very quickly. It was to be eight more years before I hit another peak as a singer.

I've always felt sort of guilty for not sticking with it. Most of the time, I'm able to live up to the motto: "If at first you don't succeed, try again, then quit; there's no use being a damn fool about it." But in this particular instance, again and again, I find myself feeling envious of singers and songwriters whose work I admire and have this feeling that I should be doing something like that and that I quit much too soon.

The nearest I ever got to a paying gig was playing for beers in the bar car on a cross-country train trip. I got plenty drunk for nothing over the course of several hours and everybody seemed to be having a good time. I'm also proud to be able to say that there was a time when I could stand in a park in the middle of the night singing and people would stop to listen; I consider this one of my greatest accomplishments in life. There's nothing like it and I miss it a lot.

I try not to blame the people who didn't hire me on those auditions. They were probably even right and I wasn't ready for the pros. You need a heck of a lot of persistence in show business and cast-iron ego that laughs at rejection. I have to admit that I never developed these for the same reason I've never kept up a habit of practicing several hours a day except for a few periods of a few months: it just wasn't that important to me.

On Having No Class (1997)

For just over a year, I recently had no class quite literally: I spent a summer, fall semester, spring semester, and summer with no teaching duties. It took some getting used to, since I'd been teaching more or less nonstop for eleven years—seven years in graduate school and four as an assistant professor.

The story of how I came to be unemployed hinges at least partly on having "had no class" in the more figurative sense. My immediate superior, and presumably the entire administration up to the president of the college, perceived me as unprofessional. And they had reasons.

First of all, my appearance. Somewhere along the line, I'd stopped wearing the business casual campus uniform and returned to jeans and tees. I just couldn't bring myself to continue spending a lot of time and money making myself uncomfortable. There was one other full-time faculty member who dressed like a normal person but she had tenure and could get away with it. I'm pleased to report that during my four years at the college, ties became somewhat less common; I think I had something to do with that.

I even let my hair grow. I've always hated having to go to a barber; just like wearing expensive clothes, it seems like throwing away time and money. Since it only needs to be done once in a while, it's much easier to put up with. But on the other hand, when my hair's grown out, I always know how it's going to look and it doesn't stick out anywhere and make me feel silly.

Now, I know very well that it's possible to succeed in academics with hair: look at John Gardner, Raymond Smullyan, Stephen Pinker, or David Chalmers, for example. But it's certainly true that my chir mentioned it to me disapprovingly. Obviously it made her uncomfortable.

Beyond my violation of the unwritten dress code, though, and presumably much more serious, were my violations of the unwritten code of professional conduct: for example, my call-me-Owen laid-back├ędness with students or my willingess to question some of the straight-from-the-Dilbert-Zone stupid management tricks indulged in by our administrators (in the most respectful possible way, of course).

For the first year or so, I tried to pass. I really did. I guess I made it, too: I got a better merit raise that year (as a percent of my tiny-for-the-profession salary) than most of the rest of the faculty. The irony of this is that my classes went fairly badly that year since I was just figuring out what was what, and that right around the time I hit my stride and really started doing a good job, I was fired.

So here again (see On Having No Talent last ish), I found myself prevented from doing something I wanted to do, and did fairly well, for reasons that I considered to be beside the point at best. For rekindling the lost curiosity of long-term math phobes where a lifetime of I'm-the-teacher-so-do-it-my-way authority figures had conspicuously failed—no matter how well dressed—I got essentially no credit; in fact, rather less than that. By the same token, my wide learning (to say I was among the best-read faculty members may be boasting; it isn't empty boasting) and my (more or less universally acknowledged) talent in writing seems to have counted for very little if they counted in my favor at all. According to my own standards, I had become a good math-and-humanities professor and was becoming a better one, but since I insisted on carrying myself like a prole, I was ejected from the profession like some foreign substance.

In a word, my version of my brief career at my ex-college is something like this: they wanted a salesman and hired a teacher by mistake.

Well, who am I to tell anybody else how to run their college? They clearly know what they want; I'm clearly not it; what's the problem? Why should I blame the world? The world isn't going to change on that account.

Ah, but the question for me is: to what extent is it the world's fault? I mean, OK, I'm willing to take my share of the blame: I'm stubborn and opinionated and lacking in tact and so forth and so on. For me to go on resenting the evil little no-talent bureaucrats that wrecked my life for no very good reason may be mere self-indulgence. I guess I'm somewhat inclined to self-pity, but I do realize that it's a vice. I don't want you to feel sorry for me just because I got shafted.

What I do want is for you to be ticked off because a whole lot of other people got shafted right along with me. I'll end up having hundreds, maybe thousands, fewer students over the course of my lifetime than I planned. A sizable number of students that I didn't have will go to become teachers; I could have helped them be better ones; their students will suffer in their turn. I'd like to be able to convince you to be angry on their account. But angry at who (or at "whom", for those who believe there is such a word) or what?

Is it really entirely because I wouldn't take the world as it is? And not at all because the world wouldn't take me as I am? What a responsibility The things I have to do to keep my soul intact. Geez.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

For John Henry (2008)

Once upon a time there was a robot
And once upon a time there was a guy
And the guy could never tolerate the robot
And of course the robot didn't even try
So the robot and the guy they had a fight
And from then on they've been at it day and night
And as far as I can see it's the same for you and me
We'll all be fighting robots by and by (my oh my)
We'll all be fighting robots till we die

Once upon time there was a woman
And once upon a time there was a man
Standing in the middle of a garden
From then on we've just done the best we can
I guess they call it God's Master Plan
But he never had to listen to that snake
There are mistakes I somehow always seem to make
But if I can't have a Spring without the Fall
I'm still not sure I'm down with that at all

Once upon a time there was a prophet
And once upon a time there was a land
And the King could never tolerate the prophet
And the people wouldn't try to understand
And the prophets and the kings can't get along
Because whoever questions power must be wrong
And the people won't give up their sports and feasts
They just settle down and listen to the priests

Once upon a time the corporations
Were made to do the bidding of the State
But now we're like the so-called third-world nations
And have to eat the leavings from their plate
And the robot and the guy are doing battle
Because the robot's trying to fit him for a saddle
I guess they call it God's Master Plan
But I'm still not sure I wanna understand
A man has to stand up like a man
Because a man has to stand up like man
Humanity was meant to be free
Or maybe all I know about is me

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Blue Car, Blue Car (1998)

I finally got a learner's permit
at age nineteen in Thousand Oaks,
where I'd been living like a hermit
on coffee, pot, and rum-and-cokes.
Now, back in school, a lack of patience
for classes during my vacations
had kept me out of Driver's Ed.
But something had to give. I said,
"Of course I'd rather do things my way,
and walk, or thumb, or ride my bike.
But I can't have things as I'd like.
This California's one big highway!
It's best to take things as they are.
I'd better learn to drive a car."

And so my then-best-friend, Bob Shaffer,
agreed to bring me up to speed.
"I know a car that you could pay for.
I'll teach you everything you need."
"But what about repairs?" "Don't panic!
This car was owned by a mechanic!
It's in great shape! It runs just fine!
It sounded like that classic line:
"The only owner was some granny
who never drove", but Bob was right.
I got the car that very night:
a sixty-three, push-button tranny,
Plymouth Valiant, not much rust.
It turned out worthy of my trust.

I made a hundred dollar payment
and owed another; then I'd bought
it. Breaking up the debt this way meant
I could pay with ease--I thought.
But then my boss at Howard Johnson's--
whose every word was arrant nonsense--
said "Although it pains me, I
have got to let you go. Goodbye."
(I thought I knew his secret reason:
I'd worked there for about a year,
and paid vacations cost them dear.
It's always bellboy-shafting season.)
So even though I had enough
to make the payment, it was rough.

And so at last I started learning
how to drive. At least, I tried!
My second night, as I was turning
(way too fast and far too wid,
which should have been a minor error),
I saw a car and froze in terror,
making it a big mistake.
At last, too late, I hit the brake.
I'd caused a little fender-bender.
The other guy, whose car I'd hit
was more than fair, I must admit.
A small amount of legal tender
satisfied him--not too bad!
I called and got it from my dad.

The testing had me really worried
and, in fact, I failed it. Twice.
But then I got a guy who hurried
once around the block. How nice!
To earn the necessary rating
depended less on skill than waiting.
(I might have known from back in school
that grades are like that as a rule.)
I drove my Valiant to Laguna
to show my dad the famous dent.
He thought his money quite well spent;
he only wished I'd done it sooner.
He always hoped I'd leave the stage
of wayward youth and come of age.

But that's another, longer, story
and not the one I came to tell.
I'm sticking to the task before me.
I think you'll find it's just as well.
Enough to say that now that twenty
years have passed, I've grown up plenty--
but still today, without a doubt,
I need a lot of bailing out.
Returning to my car: it never
once broke down, though there was once
I thought it had but like a dunce
I hadn't checked the gas tank. Clever!
They'll never make a fool-proof tool
as long as there's a perfect fool.

Once I had the driving habit
I gave the car up as a loss.
I had a chance--and chose to grab it--
to move to Vegas with my boss.
It didn't take a lot of thinking;
we'd sleep till noon, and then start drinking,
and work as little as we could
at cleaning carpets. Life was good.
But I was broke, as was my pattern,
and owed my landlord two months rent.
He got the car and off I went.
From then until I bought my Saturn--
that is, till fifteen years had passed--
that Valiant was my first and last.

At thirty-five, I got a fairly
well-paid job. But I lived far
enough away that I could barely
get around without a car.
I've never liked to deal with dealing--
a root canal is more appealing--
and so, I chose the one brand name
that cheated everyone the same
and wouldn't make me drive a bargain
to drive a new car off their lot:
in short, a Saturn. Still, I got
a song-and-dance and empty jargon
about the warranty. Till Hell
completely freezes over, dealers sell.

I had a girlfriend, Betsy Baxter,
in Bloomington (my old home town).
I e-mailed, phoned (but never faxed) her,
and every weekend, drove around
five hundred miles in any weather
so we could have some fun together.
I married her, she finished school,
and then I learned I'd been a fool
for thinking that our love was thriving.
We hadn't lived together long
when she decided we'd been wrong.
As long as it was mostly driving
back and forth from state to state
our marriage really worked out great.

Of course my car was bought on credit:
the price tag was eleven grand.
In sixty months, I'd finally get it
free and clear—or so I planned.
My enemies contrived to spoil it;
my whole career went down the toilet
(it might have lasted longer, but
I wouldn't keep my big mouth shut).
I lived six months on unemployment
and credit cards whose interest rates
would ruin even William Gates.
Then, after all the fun enjoyment—
no job in sight—the bills came due.
So I went bankrupt. Wouldn't you?

My two divorces, uncontested,
had, legally, been not too bad.
For this, though, common sense suggested
the banks would go for all I had.
My wife, the former Shauna Kearney,
referred me to a good attorney
who looked at my accounts with me
and, taking out a hefty fee,
said, "Well, this car's worth too much money.
Depreciation's cut the cost,
but not enough. And so, you've lost
because you've saved. It's funny
but that's the way things sometimes are.
You'll keep the rest; they'll get the car."