Cocking A Snook Too!

Independent, Irreverent Unschoolers – or at least one – Take On the Universe

An Excerpt from My Three-Volume Memoir May 15, 2009

Filed under: College Stuff,Criticism of the Stupid,Funnies — Meredith @ 5:50 pm

I believe it was John Adams who said, “The older I find myself growing, the greater I notice a fundamental flaw in human beings: namely, that I hate them.”

Actually, it wasn’t Adams who said that, it was me, just now, quoting an excerpt from my upcoming three-volume memoir, “Why the Girl Who Sits in Front of Me Deserves to be Executed via Guillotine, and Other Things I Learned at a Four-Year State University.”

I started here on Monday, in the six-week summer session, and it’s been pretty nice so far – Gothic brick architecture, reasonable food court offerings, interesting professors, blah blah blah.

Two things have happened quicker than I anticipated, however: my growing acclimation to campus geography, and my growing hatred of the girl who sits in front of me in my lit class.

Now, full disclosure: I am an English major, dyed in the wool. I’m probably getting my Master’s in Library Science, but even if I don’t it doesn’t matter, because I was actually born a librarian. I just can’t help it. And after lo my many years in community college, the trenches of English education, I’m pretty ready for students who want to be in English classes. I’ve studied beside and tutored students who don’t, and it ain’t no garden of daisies.

So this girl who sits in front of me – this puffy, jiggly, collagened, pea-brained harpy – is obviously of the latter category. On Wednesday in class, in an event that I will recount with bile to my grandchildren, the young man sitting to her left leaned over and asked her opinion of the day’s readings, which are supposed to be read the night before class so that they can be discussed.

“Oh,” she said, with a laugh which I’m sure she thought was bell-like and charming, “I didn’t read them.”

“Do you want to look at them real fast?” he asked, offering her the textbook.

“Oh, no, thank you,” she said politely, again with the laugh, “this isn’t my major.”

What. The. Frak.

So that means – what? That you don’t have to TRY in classes that don’t pertain specifically to your program of study? What the hell are you, a sports management major? Not all classes are inherently interesting, say, Financial Management of Libraries (yeah, looking forward to that one). But sometimes you have to take them, and the mere fact that you find them uninteresting does not make it OK to not do your homework.

What is up with this attitude? Why are you in a 3300 level class that you don’t even care about?

Come to think about it, why are you even in college?

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Wait, we’ve had this controversy before April 30, 2009

Filed under: Criticism of the Stupid,Funnies,News to Ponder,Random Drivel — Meredith @ 1:42 pm

I was just listening to MSNBC out of corner of my ear, and I heard that there is some sort of Barbie controversy brewing. Apparently, people are upset that Barbie suddenly has tattoos.

To which I responded:

“Wait, this has happened already. What the hell?”

My mom: “No it hasn’t.”

Me (increasingly insistent): “Yes, it has. In 1999. Butterfly Tattoo Barbie.”

My mom: “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

Me: “I have one. You got it for me. I took it to the beach for my ninth birthday.”

My mom: “I’m sure I wouldn’t have gotten you that.”

Me: “Yes you did. You clipped an article out of the paper for me about the controversy after you bought the doll and told me to save it because the doll would be valuable someday.”

My mom: ” Nah.”

As evidence, I procured my Butterfly Art Barbie (I have since learned that this is the official name) from the naked

Jess the Butterfly Art Barbie today

Jess the Butterfly Art Barbie, who turns 11 this year

shoebox orgy in my closet where she currently resides with her other Mattel brethren and politely thrust her and her butterfly belly tat in my mother’s face.

“Are you sure it wasn’t a gift?”

Yes. I really really wanted one. Everybody did.”

My parents bought me the Butterfly Art Barbie, which, may I point out, was sold with temporary tattoos, so that you can “have fun decorating Barbie and you with cool washable decorations!” We snapped one up right after they were released in 1998, before a panicky Mattel pulled them off shelves faster than you can say “lead-lined toys from China.”

Oh, how short the memory of the 24-hour news channels!

I named the Barbie Jess (I named all my Barbies – if I’d called them all Barbie it would have been too confusing for them) and took her with me to the beach on my ninth birthday. I wanted to emulate her, sure. I thought she was great, with her plastic feet and alluring beach-hobo lifestyle. And yet I am devoid of tattoos? How is this possible?

The truth of the matter is that Jess the Butterfly Art Barbie did not make me want a tattoo, she made me desperately want crinkly hair, a style which is

a) hard for my hair to achieve, and

b) looks awful on me.

But I kept trying for years.

Anyway, people need to calm down. If your child is looking to Barbie as her primary role model, maybe you should let

Observe Butterfly Art Barbie's huge honkin' butterfly tattoo

Observe Butterfly Art Barbie's huge honkin' butterfly tattoo

her read, or watch television, or leave the house. In a world in which Michelle Obama is the First Lady, Sandra Day O’Connor is appearing on talk shows, and Tina Fey exists, are girls today hard up for flesh-and-blood role models? Oh, and how about you? The kid’s mom?

Also, why are we suddenly more concerned about young girls in this country getting tattoos than about young girls in this country becoming anorexic? I think we need to worry a little more about Barbie’s impact on body image than Barbie’s impact on images on the body.

 

I Watched PBS Alot as a Kid March 19, 2009

Filed under: Funnies,Random Drivel — Meredith @ 5:58 pm

Hello, it is I, Rick Steves, your next best thing to a plane ticket. Actually, I’m even better, because your plane ticket cannot speak to you in a comforting midwestern  accent, nor can it wear huge 80s aviator glasses and plaid shirts.

Welcome! To Best of Travels in Europe: FRANCE. Please indulge in this montage of French monuments set to 80s pop.

Well, hello, again, it is still me, Rick Steves. Do not fear, I am not the sort of man who would abandon you in a foreign country, and certainly not on a subway.

I am in a CAFE, a sort of French resturant where one can order caff-ay ole-ay and bag-ettes. It is often a fun activity to sit in a cafe and be stared at by disgruntled French people.

Oh! I did not mean to confuse you with all those French words all at once. Perhaps I had better explain. I will be using lots of French phrases in this videocassette. But since you are probably too unintelligent to speak French, I will pronounce the words incorrectly in both French AND English, utilizing a special vernacular of my own devising, known only as “Frangalis.”

This sullen, excessively bearded man is my companion, Francois. He will accompany me in restaurant scenes throughout the videocassette. Francois does not respond to any of my questions in French, English, or Frangalis, so I can only assume that he is a feral man-bear.

Another thing that can be a fun activity is riding LE METRO. It is the most advanced subway system in the world – you feed your tickets through a machine that can COUNT them! Fancy that!

Sometimes, as a way to earn money, starving children will dance or sing or play instruments or rap or rob people on LE METRO. If you bring a camera crew along, the other passengers will clap and pretend to tip them. And that’s the magic and hospitality of the French people.

But we certainly can’t spend the whole day underground! We’d miss one of my other favorite activities – standing on rooftops and scanning the skyline for attractions I will never actually visit.

Look, there’s NOTRE DAME! We will not visit NOTRE DAME, for it is overrated and often crowded. And when YOU are an experienced international traveler such as I, Rick Steves, you, too, will come to consider everything overrated and abhor virtually all human contact.

I think instead we should go to Napoleon’s tomb and attempt to look somber.

Well, that was fun! But we are off to even more exciting locales. Here we are in France’s largest department store. It is so large that there is a restaurant in it, and one of my favorite things to do here in FRANCE is sit in the department store restaurant and knock back a few cold ones.

Something I like to do when I come to FRANCE is rent an apartment and buy groceries and do my own laundry and interact will REAL French people. I LOVE Parisians! They are so jolly – sometimes they will pretend that they do not speak English until more than halfway through a conversation! Then they laugh gaily, for this is a delightful game in FRANCE.

Did you know that I, Rick Steves, support marjuana legalization? I’ll bet that you did not! I bet you now think that I smoke the stuff myself. Well, you would be WRONG.

 

Sarah Palin: The Disney Movie October 3, 2008

Filed under: Criticism of the Stupid,Funnies,Politics — Meredith @ 12:33 pm

Too hilarious. Also depressing. But also hilarious. But depressing….ahhh I can’t take it anymore!

 

There is nothing sexier than a baritone September 30, 2008

Filed under: Funnies,Musical Theatre — Meredith @ 5:31 pm
Ezio Pinza and Mary Martin in the original Broadway production of "South Pacific"
Pinza and Martin in “South Pacific”

I’m sitting here listening to the Original Cast Recording (OCR) of South Pacific, and though my mind is occupied with its usual questions (why is “You Have To Be Carefully Taught” so senselessly jaunty?) I can’t concentrate on them, really, because I’m listening to Ezio Pinza belt out “This Nearly Was Mine“.

Oh, dear god. That I’d forgotten that voice…It’s like a hot bubble bath and a velvet pillow and being kissed on the ear, all at once.

I’m reminded of my minor middle-school obsession with “Seven Brides For Seven Brothers,” which was on the classic movie channel what seemed like every other day. It was really a stupid movie, on many levels, not least because of the rampant and pervasive sexism. I remember my mom begging me to change the channel when she heard the opening notes of “Bless Your Beautiful Hide.”

Her argument was:
It was heinous that
a) Howard Keel was roaming the streets looking for a wife simply because she would be a useful farming asset, and,
b) He had reduced the act to such a transactional level that he was equating this theoretical woman with livestock.

My argument was as follows:
Shut up, Howard Keel is singing.

Howard Keel. Fine lookin' man, but nowhere near as good looking as he sounded.

Howard Keel. Fine lookin' man.

It didn’t matter what. In that movie he sang about raping, pillaging, kidnapping, about how annoying his wife was, and I don’t know what else. But I hung on his every word as he wove a magical web of beautiful misogyny, and I wanted nothing more than to fall into it and iron his shirts forever, as long as he would keep singing. I also caught the beginning of “Show Boat” on the classic movie channel a month or two ago, and fell under Howard’s spell as he sang “Make Believe.” Only there was this ninny of a soprano who insisted on turning it into a duet. All I wanted to hear was my Howard, and she had to be all, “Listen to how high and shrieky I am! You could totally sing this part better than me, but I’m here with Howard and you’re not, let me continue to drown him out, LALALALALALALA……”

I don’t understand why Broadway is fixated on tenors – they have been for quite awhile now. Baritones in modern musicals have been mostly regulated to villainy (see The Scarlet Pimpernel; Les Miserables; The Color Purple; Jesus Christ Superstar; Little Shop of Horrors; Seussical! The Musical; 1776; and Sweet Smell of Success, just to name a few). But after listening to Howard and Ezio for awhile, those leading tenors start to sound pretty whiny and boring.

Colm Wlikinson: not sexy

Tenors in musical theatre were traditionally allotted “supporting actor” roles – young men who were written to be passionate, rash, and headstrong, they always fell head-over heels in love during the course of the show, and it usually ended badly.

Let’s look at The King and I, another Rodgers and Hammerstein musical. In the movie, Yul Brynner, an actor of extreme command and gravitas, plays the eponymous king. The king is a man of great pride, hard-won intelligence, and, not surprisingly, overblown confidence. His word is law, and he possesses an incredible magnetism, one that draws the educated, sensible, very British Miss Anna to him in a way she can neither explain nor define.

And then there is the tenor role, a young man who foolishly falls in love with Yul Brynner’s next wife. This tenor has only one duet to his name, and it’s nice, and everything, but Yul Brynner has all these crazy good songs sung not only by but about him. Yul Brynner, of course, has the tenor whipped near to death for his insolence. This is his right as a baritone leading man.

How did this happen? When did tenors begin brandishing foils and hopping about and shrieking at baritones in their silly voices (as though a baritone would ever be intimidated by such a thing)? When did the tenor usurp the baritone’s role as a mature, complex, deeply thoughtful leading man?

Let us take Colm Wilkinson as an example. Great Irish tenor, and internationally acclaimed. I grew up watching him in the 10th Anniversary “Dream Cast” concert DVD of Les Miserables. Honestly, the man is the only Jean Valjean as far as I’m concerned. But, pray, let us consider this picture of Colm performing in Canada not long ago.

He is an old man with an accoustic guitar. In Canada. It’s as though, for reasons known only to him, your grandpa decided to dress in all black and initiate a campfire sing-along.

For contrast, let’s look at Phillip Quast, who played Javert opposite Colm in the Les Mis dream cast. Javert, in typical modern musical style, is the menacing obsessive cop/stalker/revenge driven villain of the piece. This man sings a suicide song like none you’ve ever heard, musing about why Colm did not kill him when he had the chance (perhaps because Colm is a tenor? Tenors are not capable of killing anyone). Check out the video, you’ll even see Colm at the beginning. Quast is the sexy one.

He is driven, he is highly motivated, he is a man with a plan. Not for one second in the show does he waver in his duty – it would be beneath most police inspectors to pursue a petty thief and chain-gang escapee over twenty years and at least five cities, but dammit, Jean Valjean got away on his watch, and Javert will violate anyone’s jurisdiction to get him back. This is clearly above and beyond the call of duty, and, I think, deserving of a gritty Scorsese movie adaptation.

Colm, on the other hand, is sort of floating along being a reborn Christian and nice to everybody, adopting orphans, running towns and factories, saving people from the barricades, turning himself in to save an innocent man, etc.

Sexy

Philip Quast: Sexy

No offense to Victor Hugo or Colm Wilkinson, but doesn’t this guy seem a little….vanilla? He would not be fun to hang out with. He’d probably just read the bible aloud, or something (“What does the Book of Job mean to you?”). Javert, though – you know he never goes home. He’s at the jail, filing his 20-year-felon-pursuit paperwork; or actively chasing Valjean; or drowning his sorrows in a local tavern with a glass of good wine, staring blankly at the wall, telling hair-curling stories to ragged seadogs and debilitating anyone who gets out of line with one punch. He’s mysterious, and badass enough to operate outside the law to serve justice. If you had a thing with Javert, you know you’d be one of many, but, oh, it’d be worth it, even when he said “I see the law being violated over there, gotta go,” ran off, and never called again.

For an odd construction in both modern and traditional baritone paradigms, look no farther than Rodgers’ and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! Both the male lead and the creepy villan are baritones. Leading man Gordon McRae (who looks like Robert Mitchum) did a phenomenal job. He also did a great job in Carousel, a charming little show about domestic violence, tackling the classic baritone marathon “Soliloquy,” which was also sung beautifully by John Raitt and Samuel Ramey for Broadway, and Frank Sinatra for fun.

Rolfe, the gangly, mailman/nazi

Rolfe, the gangly, mailman/nazi

And what of The Sound of Music’s Captain Von Trapp and his dulcet “Edelwiss“? You know who was a tenor in The Sound of Music? Rolfe. The gangly mailman/nazi.

That makes it pretty simple, yes? Baritone or nazi? I’m going to have to go with the baritone.

Let’s bring back the days when baritones were the touchstones of musicals. Let’s write new music for them so we don’t have to keep revisiting Rodgers and Hammerstein clunkers to get our sexy baritone fix. Rodgers and Hammerstein are not the apex of musical theatre, their shows were depressing and predictable, and, as near as I can tell, a sort of “gateway” musical theatre that sucks in people who don’t know how cool Sondheim is yet.

No matter how much I love listening to “Soliloquy,” I can only sit through “Carousel” so many times.

 

Couple Things August 12, 2008

Filed under: Calvin,Criticism of the Stupid,Funnies,Politics — Meredith @ 9:05 pm

In any relationship, it’s important to spend time together doing things you both enjoy – “Couple Things,” if you will.

Calvin and I like to paint Warhammer figurines, watch The West Wing, and yell at people on the internet.

Warhammer, for the uninitiated, is an addictive and expensive hobby which involves the acquisition and painting of small plastic and metal creatures which are totally awesome. These creatures are then assembled into armies of different point values which can square off against each other in accordance with very complicated rules which I do not understand at all (I just like the painting part).

This is the first guy I painted - a Wood Elf riding a War Hawk

This is the first guy I painted - a Wood Elf riding a War Hawk

The story of how I began painting “mens” as Calvin calls them, is a stereotypical one: Boy becomes mildly obsessed with something, girl, noting that boy is increasingly absorbed by said thing, begins to participate, if only to interact with him more. So now at least half of our date nights are spent sitting very happily on the floor, giving color to increasingly detailed models. The whole thing is incredibly geeky.

I will sprinkle pictures of some dudes Calvin and I painted throughout the post. They took lots of manhours, but it’s some fantastic work, well worth it.

While we paint, we like to watch the West Wing, for simple, easy-to-understand reasons:

1) It is the best show ever

2) We really, really wish that President Bartlett were the real president

3) It is the best show ever

The show follows the staff of a fictitious White House during a thoughtful, intelligent, democratic administration which, in a cruel twist of irony, mirrors the chronology of Dubya’s. Aaron Sorkin’s dialogue is without peer, witty and sparkling, and the material dealt with is more intelligent than in any other show, before or since. (more…)

 

Head-Cleaning Day Again January 24, 2008

Filed under: Calvin,College Stuff,Funnies,Random Drivel — Meredith @ 11:36 pm

The only thoughts I think these days are half-formed fragments of days, randomly retained moments, flashing images that, when pieced all together, look like a turn-of-the-century movie made by a crazy man perpetually high on opium and determined that his film make no sense, even to him.

I thought I’d share this delightful feeling with all of you in the form of another head-cleaning day, mini-stories that struck me as interesting but go nowhere; trunk songs taken out, aired, and thrown into a highly inappropriate revue.

It may not be a well-thought-out blog, but it’s better than no blog at all.

Math
It seems rather cruel to me to make people in a basic math class discern and type the last 4 digits of their student ID number into computer before you’ll even pretend to teach them anything.

More Math
And when I say “pretend to teach,” I mean it, although I’m not sure how much they’re even pretending any more. The whole class is conducted through computers, and the “teacher” is there merely to check your homework, which she does merely to make sure you aren’t cheating (we’ve been informed that if we are so much as seen holding an electronic device while class is in session, she will assume it is a calculator and throw us out). “Show your work, show your work! Squawk!” (this last bit is where she turns into a giant primordial bird of some sort and eats us all).

I’ve been behind on homework assignments two or three times now, and every single time it’s been because she forgot to tell me what, specifically, I was supposed to do. At least she has the grace to look mildly chagrined when I come in and it isn’t done and I’m obviously blissfully unaware it’s due.

I know I am a words person and not a numbers person because when the computer explains that Juan was stacking sweaters by color in the stock room, I wonder several things:

  • I wonder where Juan works.
  • I wonder why he isn’t out front, attending to customers. Is he not allowed? Did he once bite someone or tell a woman she looked fat in her jeans, or what?
  • Why is he stacking the sweaters by color? Why sweaters? Why by color and not size? Is he gay? What’s going on here?
  • I wonder why Juan is so interested in using the associative properties of multiplication to count the stacks of sweaters. Presumably they’ve already been inventoried.
  • I do not wonder what great truth Juan uncovered about the associative properties of multiplication after all his stacking and color coding, because they didn’t bother to make me connect to Juan or care about him as a person. I do not identify with his strife.

Oh, I could write a whole literary review on these travesties they call “math questions.” Don’t even get me started on Lindsay, who works in a sporting goods store and apparently has nothing better to think about than how many tennis balls she’s sold today and how many of them were green and how many of them were yellow.

A Woman Outside a Cigarette Shop
There’s a cigarette store next to the Chinese restaurant where I eat on Thursdays, and today I noticed a pregnant woman standing in front of the store, peering into the windows. As I walked by, she glowered at me, as though it were my fault she has an extremely high probability of birth defects.

Your Brain
There’s a part of your brain where all your short-term memory is stored, and apparently mine is damaged, because I don’t remember any of the names of the parts of the brain that we learned about in psychology today.

Heath Ledger

He has died, and as such I will have to accept the fact that, no, he is never going to come to his senses and marry me.

Wife Swap
Last night at Calvin’s house, I watched “Wife Swap” one of our Wednesday night timewasters. One of the families in question was a freewheeling brood of magicians who devoted almost all their time to their beloved craft (their son was the youngest professionally ranked magician in the world) and the other a family with two OCD parents who made the kids do something like five hours of chores a day and never played with them or let them go outside alone.

I’m now beginning to wonder if I may have hallucinated the whole thing.

Calvin’s Second-Oldest Sister

She can write. I mean, really, seriously, write, in a way that makes me jealous. Granted, she’s something like ten years older than me, so she’s got that advantage. And she’s actually been through our local University’s kick-ass creative writing program, as opposed to me, pining for it and mooning over its course requirements webpage. (You have to take 3 semester hours each in British Literature Pre-1800 and British Literature Post-1800. Have to? Really? That doesn’t sound like a ‘have to’. You won’t let me take it instead of math?)

Be that as it may, she’s one of those writers you run into every so often and just go, “Well, damn.” One of those people who make a voice wake up in the back of your head as you read, a voice which says, “Now, this is good writing.” This is a person who just wrote a self-reflective note on facebook that sounded like it should have been in some sort of collection of essays somewhere, or at the very least published as a ‘my view’ column in Newsweek. And she wasn’t even trying. I want to be that good. My English Guru (the man who taught my first-ever college English class and who seems to think I’m amazing, and as such is my sort-of-mentor) once wrote a line about Kerouac’s On The Road that really spoke to me, something about how the book reads like an improvised jazz solo, blurted out in fevered brilliance and relatively free of subsequent editing (for the record, I added the part about the fevered brilliance).

If writing is improvisational jazz, I’m that kid in Drumline who could play anything just from hearing it once and write genius drum solos but who still had a lot to learn about pesky things like rhythm and notes and teamwork. And Calvin’s sister is Satchmo.

A Poem
I’ve actually had my English Guru on the brain today – I ran into him in a hallway in the English building, and we had a nice brief chat, and then I got on the bus and saw someone who looked like him – but who I realized pretty quickly was more or less a homeless person. And I was compelled to write a poem about it.

I Thought I Saw You on the Bus Today

I thought I saw you on the bus today

Well, it was sort of you

You

A little sad

You

A little homeless

You

A little schizophrenic

You

But shaggy

You

But careworn

You

But not in a sweatervest and checkers

You

In a knit cap pulled low over your brow

Which was not thoughtful

But furrowed over your eyes

No longer kind

But empty.