Today’s Chuckle: In Defense of Mud

in Just-
spring          when the world is mud-
luscious the little
lame balloonman

whistles          far          and wee

–e.e.cummings

BAILIFF:              Order, Order in the court. His Honor Judge Michael Fairmind presiding. Today’s proceeding is Case # 04217-37B. Ms. I.M. Peevish vs. Mud. Ms. Peevish contends that on or around April 1, 2017, said Mud did willfully grab on to Ms. Peevish’s shoes and threaten to suck her into the bowels of earth and/or keep her stuck until she died. That Mud is also a scourge of the earth wreaking havoc across the continents, causing blight, mayhem, and general naughtiness.  Peevish is Suing for Damages, Pain and Suffering, Loss of Shoes, and Emotional Embarassment.

FAIRMIND:       Is the Plaintiff’s case ready, Mr. Greedie? If so, please proceed.

GREEDIE:           Thank you, Your Honor. We purport to show that Mud has caused massive problems worldwide with mudslides, mudstreams, and invisible mud pits which have caused thousands – including my client – no end of trouble.

Now, as Exhibit A shows, Mud is clearly a scourge of humanity. For example, just in 2017 alone there have been mudslides in Colombia, Sri Lanka, and Peru. Highways have been blocked, havoc has been wreaked, and mud has been spilled. And did I mention the havoc?

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Exhibit A: Mud blocks section of Highway 17

FAIRMIND:       You did.

GREEDIE:           Good, it’s very important to get that havoc in there. Anyway, I would like to call my expert witness, Professor Thin to the stand.

BAILIFF:              Calling Professor Tse N. E. Thin to the stand.

GREEDIE:           Professor Thin, you are a professor, are you not?

THIN:                   I definitely am.

GREEDIE:              And did you take these horrifying pictures of these mudslides in Colombia and Peru? And mudslides on the highway?

THIN:                   I did.

FAIRMIND:       Where did you take them, Professor Thin?

THIN:                   I took them off the Internet. Continue reading “Today’s Chuckle: In Defense of Mud”

The Acceptance Letter

Last night, I reminded my ACT prep class students that this is THE time of year. I teach an eight week course on test-taking strategies to help improve scores, mostly to high school juniors.  I took a minute to step away from studying trigonometry, punctuation errors, author’s purpose, and scientific experimental design to point out that a year from now, they will decide where they’re going to college. Their eyes widened at the thought and there was a lot of nervous laughter. These juniors are in what seems like the 20th mile of a marathon. They can’t see the end in sight yet, despite thinking about it for years and working so hard right now on grades, tests, and applications. This is what seniors in high school – and seniors in college – are doing in the next 4-6 weeks. Many have Acceptance Letters in hand and are deciding where to start the next big journey.

Acceptance letters change lives. If you went to college, you probably remember yours, “Congratulations, future Gopher/Bear/Banana Slug/Spartan! We are pleased to announce that you have been accepted into….”  Some of us also still remember the Ding letters: “…unfortunately, we receive so many applications from worthy candidates….”

Why go to college?

Even though costs have skyrocketed, the earnings potential for a college degree still far outweighs that of no degree. As of 2014, according to a Pew Research study published in the New York Times¸ the cost of not having a degree was about $500,000 over an earnings lifetime, even factoring in today’s high cost. People seeking jobs know that it is a huge barrier to a job, to a better job, to higher pay or a better title in their current job. Continue reading “The Acceptance Letter”

Gradatim Ferociter

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This past Saturday marked the 31st anniversary of the Challenger disaster, and it’s hard to resist the urge to still be depressed about it.  73 seconds after liftoff, the ship exploded, killing the seven astronauts including teacher Christa McAuliffe, who was to be the first civilian in space. Later analysis revealed the likely cause to be an O ring failure as a sealant due to unusual freezing temperatures before the launch. I’d like to think that the disaster led to new, safer ways to explore space or a determination to solve scientific problems in ways to benefit us all. But thirty years in, I’ve come to realize some of that is probably fantasy, and the reality is a mix of pessimism and pragmatism.

I remember exactly where I was: at the office on Montgomery Street in San Francisco, only six months into a job with a company I would eventually support for decades. In those “yuppy” days, we still wore suits and heels and spoke in hushed tones, as if every discussion were of utmost importance. In the middle of an intense debate over something on a spreadsheet, we noticed that everyone was suddenly going into the big conference room with the television, and on the screen was this odd blotch of smoke flowering outward. Whoever had been in the room first – to watch the launch initially – had to retell the story over and over as more people came out of their offices and cubicles to join the crowd. All you could see for several minutes was smoke blossoming further and NASA Houston mumbling something about “waiting to see,” until finally the news generated some kind of replay. Then, the announcers explained what had happened, and started replaying it over and over. We’re now used to that instant replay on a loop, but that was the first time I remember seeing it put to use. Continue reading “Gradatim Ferociter”

The End is the Beginning

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Barbara in Montana likes my endings. From the time I started writing my weekly posts, she’s told me that she finds the endings are often the best part and reads them first.

Can you imagine how much pressure that adds to the process? Now, not only do I want something equally entertaining and interesting, thought provoking but not too heavy, words to make you go hmmmmmm and ho ho ha ha, but now ALSO the ending has to be Barbara-WORTHY.

I don’t really know where the endings come from.

Writing, inspiration, requires priming the pump which is why you have to be disciplined to do it every day or in a routine.  Usually, it’s a pretty rusty pump. You have to start with a few vigorous thrusts of whatever quality, to get it going and get the brown stuff cleared out. Then, it just goes. Not all of the words will be funny or insightful but enough of it will get you started. And then you don’t really know where it “came” from.

Continue reading “The End is the Beginning”

Holiday Traditions Don’t Come Out of a Book

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My aunt Viola warbled like a cat in the rain. Uncle Casmir’s voice was raspy from fifty years of cigars. My grandmother’s voice was reedy and full of thick Polish sighs. My dad had a booming basso profundo that wasn’t exactly on key but nearer to the notes than his mother and sister. My mom was a wayward soprano but what she lacked in pitch, she made up for in enthusiasm, and she conducted us as only a former high school drama teacher turned speech professor could do.

In 1967 at Grandma Chmaj’s house, the Christmas Eve tradition was to sing Christmas carols. She had little books that were handed round with all the words, even to verses three and four which had to be sung. Everyone was allowed to pick their favorite, even us little kids. All religious carols, of course, none of your Holly Jolly or Rudolph. My mom’s pick was O Little Town, my dad’s was God Rest Ye Merry. My pick was We Three Kings. To this day, as soon as I think of it, I always hear:

We three kings of Orient arrrre…
Tried to smoke a great big cigar
It was loaded
It exploded….
God rest ye merry gentlemen…

Such was the humor of 1967. We didn’t sing the words that way — you would “get in trouble” such as that was. We sang the right words and without accompaniment. My cousins Pat and Barbara, ten years older than my brother and I, had choir-trained voices. One of them would bring an accordion and after the regular singing, they would do two special duets that sounded truly angelic, especially in contrast: The Little Drummer Boy and O Holy Night. Truthfully, O Holy Night is still a favorite because I can hear their harmony every time the song plays.

Continue reading “Holiday Traditions Don’t Come Out of a Book”