Thursday, January 31, 2013

How I watched the Super Bowl, in years past, because I am fascinated by me and so I assume you are, too. (Nonsportsmanlike Conduct!)


Continuing my review of past Super Bowl posts...

Here's one that I originally posted on Super Bowl Sunday on the Colts/Saints year:

How will you watch the Super Bowl? Here's some ideas -- plus some oddly specific predictions for the game. 

The other day, on the Dan Patrick Show, Jets Quarterback Mark Sanchez was asked how he would rather watch the Super Bowl: In person, in New Orleans, or at home. He said "At home," and explained that his reason was that it still hurt him that he wasn't playing in it.

Then, last night I saw on the news a story about a gathering of men who've never missed seeing a Super Bowl in person. These four guys (I'm not sure if they're a group, or just four guys who happen to share the same trait in common, that trait being an ability to spend a person's college tuition on seeing a game) have made it to all Super Bowls, from Super Bowl 1966 to Super Bowl 2010, where they were treated to a dinner by the NFL. (With ticket prices for Super Bowls in recent years averaging nearly $3,000 apiece, the NFL should've done more than give these guys some prime rib and a pat on the back.)

At the end of that story, which reminded me of the Sanchez interview, one of the men was asked about his prediction for the Super Bowl's score this year, and he said Saints 35, Colts 32; that comment in turn reminded me of an offhand comment Tuesday Morning Quarterback made the other day when he discussed things being "oddly specific" in sports and sports contracts. Tuesday Morning Quarterback (whose reviews of Brett Favre and Favre's performance would benefit from reading Malcolm Gladwell's article about how our attitude about a person can indelibly shape our impressions of that person's actions; TMQ's personal dislike of Favre makes him see everything Favre does through negative-colored glasses) commented in that article not only how he had predicted, in the beginning of the season, the teams that would make the Super Bowl, but also commented on the oddly-specific numbers, or numbers he saw as oddly specific, used in sports.

To TMQ, oddly specific includes setting a kickoff time for 5:28 p.m., as opposed to 5:30 p.m., and includes setting a contract at $451,000 instead of some other number.

Those numbers are no more, or less, specific than TMQ's preferred numbers, though: TMQ seems to think that there's something less specific about 5:30 p.m. than there is about 5:28 p.m., and he finds it absurd that someone would be so specific as to make a contract worth $451,000 rather than $450,000.

TMQ, in doing so, engages in the kind of uneducated snobbery he tries to decry; he feels superior to those people he claims are absurd for being so specific -- while not understanding that there's nothing more, or less, specific about either number: $451,000 is no more specific than $450,000. Both are numbers, and both are exactspecific numbers. $450,000 is an exact, specific number, and $451,000 is, too, and, for that matter, $451,929.32 is an exact, specific number, and it's no more, or less, exact or specific: In each case, the number is carried out to the same number of significant figures, and significant figures determine how specific you're being.

5:28 p.m. is exactly as specific -- because it's measured to the same degree -- as 5:30 p.m. What TMQ means is that 5:30 p.m. feels more general, and it feels more general because that's the number we all mentally round 5:28 p.m. to. If someone says something starts at 5:28, we all decide "that's about 5:30" and round it to that. Likewise, $450,000 seems less specific -- because it requires that we remember only two actual numbers plus placeholding zeroes, so we can easily remember it and it seems more general.

But people are oddly specific -- and they like to be oddly specific. Think of a number, right now, between 1 and 100. Got your number?

Mine was 43 (mine's always 43). I can't say what your number was (but feel free to leave it in a comment, if you'd like) I bet it was not a round number: I bet you didn't pick 10, 20, 30, or a number ending in 5, either; I bet you picked something ending in a 3, or 7, or 2 -- an oddly specific number, or one that seems so, anyway (because it's no more specific than 10, or 50). Ask others to do the same: I bet they'll never pick a number ending in a zero or 5 -- and they'll refuse to pick a "round" or not-very-specific number even though they don't know why you're having them pick a number.

TMQ, though, wants to make fun of people for picking oddly-specific numbers, so we can make fun of him for doing so because in the very act of making fun of the rest of us, TMQ has revealed that he's a pseudo-intellectual who doesn't understand the things he wants to mock. Numbers are specific only to the degree of significant figures they use; and people like oddly specific numbers, as evidenced by the score predicted by the Old Man Whose Been To All The Super Bowls; asked to predict a final score, the Old Man said Saints 35, Colts 32.

Why'd he pick those numbers, instead of any other two pairs of scores? After all, there are only a few scores a football game can't end in. A game can't end up 1-0 or 1-1, and that's about it; beyond that, all scores are possible. A game could be 2-0, or 3-2, or 4-3, and so on, with some scores being less probable than others. (4-3, for example, is pretty improbable because it would be one team scoring two safeties while the other scores only a field goal. Such a game is possible, but not likely.)

According to one no-doubt reliable source (an anonymous answerer on Answerbag), these were the scores for some unknown period of time in NFL games:

20-17 210 times
17-14 162 times
27-24 152 times
13-10 142 times
24-17 121 times

From that -- another set of Statistics That Sound About Right, a website I've really got to get around to creating -- it appears that the most common score in a football game, for one team or another, is 17; one team or another scored 17 points 493 times. 17 points is generally scored by getting two touchdowns, two extra-points, and a field goal (but you could get to 17 nowadays through three field goals, a touchdown, and a two-point conversion, or five field goals and a safety.)

The next most common score is 24 -- a team scored 24 in a game 273 times in that probably-not-very-reliable table.

So the most common scores by teams, according to that most-likely-fictional answer, are 24 and 17. If you were going to predict the outcome of the game -- any football game in the NFL-- you'd be smart to pick 24-17.

Which, by the way, was the final score of the first game the Saints lost this year -- to the Cowboys. They lost 24-17 in New Orleans, ending their hopes for an unbeaten season.

(Also, the Jets scored both the most regular scores in their playoff run: they put up 24 in a win against Cincinnati, and 17 losing to the Colts.)

With those articles floating around my mind, I decided to, for today, talk about how you might want to watch the Super Bowl by reviewing my own history of Super Bowls and how I watched them -- doing so because how I watched the Super Bowl in many cases, has turned out to be more memorable than the games themselves, at least insofar as I recall the details.

I don't recall details of almost any Super Bowl I watched since I began watching them back in the late 1980s. I can recall the teams that played, in most years, but I don't recall many specific plays or features of the games (or the commercials). Instead, I remember where and how I watched them, making those Super Bowls Past part of the history of my life, a yardstick whereby I can measure how I've progressed (or not) and see myself through the prism of time... and also give you (and Mark Sanchez) some advice on how to watch the Super Bowl, or not.

And, because remembering where and how I watched the games also brings to mind certain details of the games themselves that do stick out, I'll take my oddly specific memories of some games and provide you with some oddly specific predictions for today's Saints-Colts matchup.

I'll count them down from farthest in the past to most recent, and I'm not reviewing every Super Bowl -- just the ones that stick out in my mind. And I'm using not the NFL Numeral System preferred by the NFL, but the numbering-by-year system the NFL should use, because it makes more sense. Who uses Roman Numerals? It's impossible to remember which Super Bowl was which, using Roman Numerals,  unless you count by year and then convert to Roman Numerals, and I don't want to get math involved in my football.


1. Super Bowl 1990:

Teams/Outcome:
 49ers 55, Broncos, 10.

Where I watched it:
 I watched this game sitting in the dorm room where my younger brother, Matt, lived while he attended UW-Milwaukee for about a semester before giving up on college. Matt lived in that dorm with a group of guys who had ridiculous nicknames -- names like Noodles, if I recall, and shortly thereafter left the dorms to live in an overpriced student house off campus, a house they shared with a ferret. I would have driven down to Matt's dorm from my parent's house, where I was still living in 1990, a fact I remember because I recall that in this Super Bowl, I bet against my boss, Todd, at the gas station where I was working, in Hartland. We'd bet on the game, and I got the 49ers. Our bet was that the person whose team won got $2 per point scored. What I recall about the game was that the 49ers just... kept...scoring, and I spent most of the game sitting on the uncomfortable desk chair that comes with dorm rooms, at one point making a call to my boss when the score exceeded 50 for my team.

Advice I can give you, and Mark Sanchez, about how to watch the game: Get plenty of seating, where ever you're going to be. The dorm room had a floor, two desk chairs, and two beds -- for a bunch of guys to watch a game. I staked out the desk chair early on so I wouldn't end up sitting on a bed next to a guy named Noodles, but either way, I was doomed to spend the game uncomfortably.

Specific detail of the game I can recall, and apply to today's game: That was the fourth Super Bowl for Joe Montana, and his first against the Denver Broncos, who came into the game with the much-heralded John Elway leading them. Joe seemed to take it personally, throwing for an estimated 53,000 yards, maybe to prove his point that he was the real great quarterback in the game. This year, everyone's talking about how great Peyton Manning is, and not commenting as much on how great Drew Brees might be by comparison. I therefore predict that: Drew Brees will take it personally, and will throw a touchdown pass of 68 yards.


2. Super Bowl 1991:
Teams/Outcome: Giants 20, Bills 19.

Where I Watched It: By this time, I'd moved out of my parents' house and into the mouse-infested apartment on 21st street in Milwaukee -- back when 21st street was still in the kind of terrible neighborhood where a serial killer could kill 17 people and not attract much attention. (That really happened, not far away from the apartment where I watched this game, and during the same period of time.)

I lived in that apartment with my friend Flan, who'd found the apartment and who'd taken the better bedroom. Flan, though, had gone to watch the game at his dad's house. I don't recall why I wasn't going anywhere to watch the game, but I didn't. I watched it at our apartment, alone, in Flan's room because he had a bean bag chair and the better TV and I assumed (correctly) that he wouldn't be coming home that night, so he wouldn't mind my using his room.

That game was before I really cared about the Buffalo Bills -- it was the start of what Cruella De Vil might call my magnificent obsession with them -- but I had them in my first-ever Super Bowl bet with my brother Matt. We'd bet $50 plus a team jersey, and I had the Bills.

I fell asleep in the third quarter of the game -- that was the start of my habit of doing that, too -- and woke up only for the final drive, where the Bills got the ball not-quite-close-enough for a final field goal attempt that went wide right, sending the Bills on to loserville for four years.

That's something funny about championships: Two teams make them, only one wins -- and the loser is often deemed to be terrible, the butt of jokes for years and years. The Bills went to four straight championships, lost all four, and are deemed synonymous with failure. Only in America, and particularly only in football, can you finish second four years running and be deemed a loser. Teams that never make the playoffs get more respect than teams that get there and lose, and America needs to do something about that. As Jerry Seinfeld noted, though, people hate silver medal winners and second place finishers: Silver medalists, he said, are awarded for being the best loser -- nobody lost ahead of them. "Congratulations," he said, "You almost won."

Advice I Can Give You and Mark Sanchez About Watching The Super Bowl Based On This Game: While Flan's bean bag was comfortable enough, and his TV nice enough, it was awkward sitting in someone's bedroom, without their knowledge, watching a game. I'd say not to do it.

Specific detail of the game I can recall, and apply to today's game:
 Not being a big Bills fan -- yet-- I wasn't terribly upset when they lost because the game at least had an exciting ending to it. (I was more upset about the $50 plus the jersey. Those jerseys are expensive.) But I do recall the kick, that being one of the more dramatic moments in Super Bowl history -- and it was destined to be so, no matter how it turned out, because people think in terms of one-play outcomes (but that's for another day.) Missed field goals are a hallmark of this year's playoffs, too, and so I will make the oddly specific prediction that The Colts' kicker will miss a field goal, wide right, from 43 yards out.

(I told you, my random number is always 43.)


3. Super Bowl 1997/1999:

Teams/Outcomes: 1997: Packers 35, Patriots 21/1999: Broncos 34, Falcons 19.

Where I Watched It: I've lumped these two together because they marked the two of the three Super Bowl parties I've ever attended or thrown. I watched the Packers-Patriots Super Bowl with a group of law students at a friend's house, with about 20 or 30 people there, including a bunch of people I didn't know. I watched the Broncos-Falcons Super Bowl at Sweetie's apartment, about a year after we started dating, with a bunch of friends we'd invited over for the occasion.

In each case, the Super Bowl was less than fun; watching a game with a group of people, whether or not they're close friends, means distractions from the game, or, to put it another way, it means not watching the game. When you get a group of people together, they talk and make comments and a part of your attention is diverted from watching the game to conversing with them (and to making sure nobody takes your seat when you get up to get more snacks)(and to making sure that nobody notices how often you get up to get snacks.)

Sporting events are strange that way: While you might get friends together for any number of let's-watch-this type of evenings, only sports are deemed "Things You Can Distract Others From Watching."  Imagine if your friends invited you over for a movie night, and throughout the movie you kept talking, about the movie and the things the movie reminded you of and your job and how tired you were going to be the next day, and other movies you'd seen. They'd throw you out.

But invite friends over for a Super Bowl, and they'll talk. And talk. And, probably, keep track of just how many snacks you're eating. The idea, I think, is that you're not supposed to watch sports, really -- it's just a mechanism to get people into the same room, the way "lettuce" is a mechanism to get "salad dressing" into my mouth.

I don't like that -- when I decide to watch a game, I want to watch it, and I mostly only talk (just a little) about the things going on in the game. Granted, a football game doesn't require the same level of attention and focus that, say, the movie Memento does, but still: I want to watch the game, not talk about your dumb job.

Another note: For the Broncos/Falcons game, I invented a pool called "Super Bowl Bingo," a Bingo game featuring squares marked with stuff that could happen during the game or commercials, things like The AFC kicks a 30+ yard field goal. I thought that'd be a fun way to bet on the game with all our friends, more fun than a "Final score" pool. I was wrong. Super Bowl Bingo was a disaster, as it meant that nobody could watch the game -- they were constantly checking their Bingo Cards: Was that a 5-yard run? To the left? Did that commercial have a green car in it? And they talked more -- distracting me from the game.

Advice I Can Give You and Mark Sanchez About Watching The Super Bowl Based On This Game:
 Don't watch it with others. And, if you do, don't worry how many Seven Layer Bars someone's eating. That's their business, not yours. Also: Make your Super Bowl bets simple.

Specific detail of the game I can recall, and apply to today's game:
 I don't recall a single moment of the Broncos/Falcons Super Bowl -- Bingo distracted me far too much. As for the Packers' Super Bowl, the game began with a first-play, or early-play, long touchdown pass for Brett Favre's Green Bay Packers. But I've already predicted one of those. That game also featured Desmond Howard running back a kickoff for a touchdown, something that's happened in other Super Bowl. There have been blocked punts in the Super Bowl, too, but never a Blocked Punt Returned For A Touchdown, so I'm going to predict this: The Saints Will Block a Colts Punt, and Return the Punt 43 yards for a touchdown.

4. Super Bowl 2007:

Teams/Outcome: Colts 29, Bears 17.

Where I Watched It: This game, I watched at our house with the then-they-really-were-babies Babies!, who'd been born just a few months before. We watched it downstairs in our family room, on the big screen TV we'd splurged and bought for the family (justifying it, back then, by noting that Sweetie really liked to watch movies and The Boy and I liked sports, so it made sense for us to spend a lot of money on a big-screen TV for those purposes. Nowadays, though, Sweetie rarely watches TV downstairs, preferring, if she's going to watch TV, to do it up in our room away from the mess and noise. The Boy, meanwhile, used his own money to buy himself a Playstation 3 and a fancy TV and watches almost everything in his room. Our big-screen TV is mostly used, these days, to watch Little Einsteins.)

What I remember most about this game is that going in, I had my annual bet with The Boy in which we both, at the start of the playoffs, pick teams we think will win -- dividing the playoff teams up evenly and betting a t-shirt on the outcome. I had both the Colts and the Bears before the Super Bowl -- so I was guaranteed a win. But Sweetie was on The Boy's team (I had Mr F and Mr Bunches and Middle), and she likes the Colts, so I let them have the Colts anyway, but they had to give me odds -- if the Bears won, I'd get a sweatshirt, not a t-shirt.

Then, Devin Hester returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown, and I celebrated and began rubbing it in: You're going to lose, I taunted The Boy, only to watch as the Bears faded away little by little, leaving me buying Sweetie and The Boy Colts' t-shirts.

Also, midway through the game, we had to go give the Babies! a bath and put them to bed, so I missed a chunk of it.

Advice I Can Give You and Mark Sanchez About Watching The Super Bowl Based On This Game: Have your Babies! bathed ahead of time, and set the game to tape. You may not think you're going to get pulled away from the TV, but what if you are? And you miss the most dramatic moment in Super Bowl history? And the next day, everyone's talking about it and you have to say What? I missed that, I guess. That always happens to me. (It happened, in fact, with the Janet Jackson halftime show -- which I watched most of before going to get more food, missing Nipplegate. I didn't even know anything had happened until after work the next day, when I heard something on the radio while driving home.)

Specific detail of the game I can recall, and apply to today's game: Devin Hester's runback, which I'm pretty sure was the first play of the game. That was the fastest score ever to start the game. I'm going to go opposite, here. The longest time passed in a Super Bowl before a score, ever, was 26 minutes, 55 seconds (The Panthers vs. the Patriots*, Super Bowl 2004). I'm going to predict that The First Score Won't Happen Until 2 minutes Into The Third Quarter.

5. Super Bowl 2008:
Teams/Outcome: Giants 17, Patriots* 14.

Where I Watched The Game: Again, I watched it in my own house, with just the family, including the Babies, who were now 1 1/2 years old. The two most memorable things about this game were that, first, I was rooting against the team I had in the bet: I'd ended up with the Patriots* as my entry, and I didn't want them to win, because they're cheaters. I'd never liked the Giants and Eli Manning very much, so I found myself in the odd role of having to root for a team I didn't like, with a quarterback I didn't like, against a team that, if they won, I'd get a t-shirt. (But they'd be 19-0 and I didn't want cheaters to get rewarded, so I rooted against them.)

The other thing I remember is that we had to be very quiet in rooting: Mr F was almost a year-and-a-half, and was becoming a bit of a nervous boy who didn't like loud noises. We didn't know that, yet, as Mr F hadn't been exposed to a great many surprises in his 16 or so months of living. He was, that night, when Eli Manning threw that great pass and David Tyree made that great catch, and we all jumped up and cheered and yelled and Mr F burst into tears and tried to go hide. After that, we all had to cheer quietly, so as great things happened, we'd whisper Yeah! or Excellent! while being very careful not to startle Mr F.

Advice I Can Give You and Mark Sanchez About Watching The Super Bowl Based On This Game: It's very hard to whisper a cheer. Practice it. Or put a movie on for the Babies! upstairs, so they can watch without getting scared. I'm surprised I didn't think of that.

Specific detail of the game I can recall, and apply to today's game:
 The David Tyree catch, of course, sticks out in my mind -- more so than the touchdown reception that put the Giants ahead for good shortly thereafter. It was an improbable, thrilling, spontaneous moment that came at a time of the game when tension was high, earning it a spot in the most-memorable-plays pantheon. How many Super Bowls can you say that about?

In all the Super Bowls I've watched, only a handful of plays stick out: Wide right. Tyree's catch. Santonio Holmes' TD last year against the Cardinals, arms outstretched, toes dragging. Favre's long pass against the Patriots, and his run down the field to celebrate. Don Beebe chasing after Leon Lett to knock the ball out of his hand just before the end zone -- a startling, admirable display of effort in a foregone game. That's about all that springs to mind. So the odds are that there will not be a memorable play in this game -- after XLIV Super Bowls, I can only remember a few great plays, making great plays a statistical improbability in the Super Bowl, but I'll go ahead and predict an oddly specific great play, anyway -- and, like I always go for 43, I'm going to go for my usual suspect here, too: The Fake Punt. I therefore predict that there will be a fake punt for a TD, and that it'll come from the Saints. In the fourth quarter. With 5:33 left on the game clock. On fourth-and-two.

(How's that for oddly specific, TMQ?)

As for where I'll be watching the game, I've applied all my lessons, and here's the plan for the game: I'm watching it at home, on our big-screen TV, with just immediate family. We've got plenty of seating:  Two couches and two chairs. We've got snacks ready to go, the kind of food that just needs to be heated up or put in a bowl and the kind of food that can be piled on a plate to reduce the number of trips to the kitchen to get more, reducing the people monitoring me. I've already set the game to tape, ready for Babies!-style distractions of any sort.

Which leads me to my final oddly-specific prediction: I predict that during the game, there will be three spills on the carpet, at least one of which will leave a stain. There will be two times that The Boy complains about me pausing the game to go take care of the Babies!, one of which pauses will be engendered by Mr F being pantless. And there will be three commercials about which Sweetie declares Terry Tate was better.

She's right: He was.




Saturday, January 26, 2013

Somehow, this particular Greek God legend never made it into the Disney cartoons. (Sundays With The Classics)

I am it seems at last getting to the part of The Odyssey where all the stuff I have been told happened in The Odyssey actually happens, more or less.

Thus far, The Odyssey has been nothing like what I expected.  The story that I knew was Ulysses traveling home from the Trojan War and fighting cyclopses and possibly the Minotaur, I don't know, but it was that: Ulysses had an adventure on the way home from the war.

The Odyssey as it exists is quite different, and thus far has mainly  been people partying and sacrificing things to the gods and then more partying, and this installment was not much different.

Odysseus, remember, was at a dinner with the Phaecians, and he'd settled down after showing off how athletic he was, at which point the Phaecians decided to wow him with some dinner theater, and they begin with Riverdance:

Into the middle area, around whom
Stood blooming youths, all skilful in the danc.
With footsteps jointly timed all smot at once
The sacred floor; Ulysses wonder-fixt 
The ceaseless play of twinkling feet admired.

And then the famed bard (?) Demodocus comes out and plays, beginning with a fascinating story about the gods Mars and Venus getting caught by the sun having an affair.

Venus
, the story says, is married to Vulcan, who apparently is an old and lame and crippled guy and really no match, looks-wise, for Mars, and Vulcan learns that Venus has been cheating on him (because the sun told him) and so he sets a trap, coming up with a hidden net that is too tough to be even broken by the Gods.  Vulcan sets the net up around his bed and then loudly says he's off on a journey to Lemnos, "the city that he favors most."

(Lemnos is Vulcan's favorite because that's where he fell when Zeus threw him when he was flung out of Olympus.  There is a lot of history I do not know about the gods, including that I didn't know that Vulcan was flung out of Olympus.  But he did all right, fathering a race of women who would go on to murder their husbands and live as Amazons, kind of.)

So as soon as Vulcan leaves for Lemnos, Mars and Venus get at it:

Mars, drowsy watch, but seeing that the fames
Artificer of heav'n had left his home,
Flew to the house of Vulcan, hot to enjoy
The Goddess with the wreath-encircled brows.
She, newly from her potent Sire return'd
The son of Saturn, sat.  Mars, ent'ring, seiz'd
Her hand, hung on it, and thus urg'd his suit.
To be, my fair, and let us love, for lo! 
Thine husband is from home, to Lemnos gone.

And as a side note: I think that apostrophe thing in poetry is cheating, because while technically speaking it might save a syllable, everyone is still saying "entering," not "entring." 

Venus and Mars get caught in the net, in flagrante delicto, a phrase that Homer doesn't use.  The phrase itself means "in blazing offense," which is to say, a glaring violation, although the phrase (according to Wikipedia) is usually used to indicate sexual indiscretion, which is why I used it here.  They get caught, and Vulcan bursts back in and demands that the Gods do something about this, namely, give him back all the dowry he paid to Jove for marrying Venus.

So the Gods get together on Olympus -- but not the Goddesses, Homer notes that they were too modest to attend -- and keep looking down on Mars and Venus and laughing, and debating whether they should do anything about it.  At first, Jove isn't going to do anything, after getting Hermes to agree that he (Hermes) would totally have sex with Venus if he could, Vulcan or no Vulcan (I am being 100% serious about this, and it would be incredible if Court worked that way) but then Neptune intercedes and says that Vulcan should let Mars go and Vulcan will make sure Mars pays him, and the moral of the story, no lie, is that the slow (Vulcan) has caught the swift (apparently, Mars?) but that is a way way better way to tell that story than some dumb tortoise-and-hare story.  Everyone should teach their kids that "the race is not always to the swift" by beginning "Let me tell you about the time Mars and Venus got trapped doing it in Vulcan's bed."

Culture!

After that, Odysseus is happy and they ask Demodocus, during yet another feast, to sing the song of the Trojan War, and the king notices that while Odysseus is listening, he's crying, too, so they stop the song and ask him "Hey,  who are you, anyway?" and I practically choked when I read that because it was only then that I realized that they've been feasting this guy and letting him sneak in and hug their queen's legs and giving him presents and commandeering 50 men to row him home and offering to let him marry their daughter the princess...

...and they'd never even asked his name.

They even, at this feast, gave him a chest full of gold.  All that and they never knew who he was?

Seriously, how is that even possible?  Even for narrative purposes?  Weren't audiences in Homer's day stopping and doing spit-takes? "They didn't know his name? Come on, Homer.  What is this, Three's Company?"

Odysseus 'fesses up that he is Odysseus, and I would have been, if I were the King, a bit suspicious.  "Hey, so you're this total stranger that's been missing for twenty years, and who it happens we just sang about?  Weird how that worked out.  Huh.  Let me just check with my seers over here. No, no, you stay sitting there... GUARDS!" but the king and his elders buy this guy's story, luckily for Odysseus, and they ask him to tell him all about how he got here, and so he began telling them, starting with he went to war and then on the way home he started another war, slaughtering a bunch of people for the heck of it.

That's where I left off.  But it seems like I'm going to get most of The Odyssey as I thought I knew it, only it's all done in a flashback.  As long as it's not 900 pages of feasts interspersed with 10 pages of "Here's some actual adventures" I can live with that, but this new segment is not promising: having just spent most of an entire book telling about the Riverdance feast, Homer brushes over this other war in about two pages. 

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

283 words about "The Possession"

Here is the one main thing that sticks in my mind about the movie "The Possession."

Email does not work that way.

That doesn't say much for a horror movie, that the most memorable and most stupid thing about the movie, and doesn't say much about the writers' ability to manipulate a plot.

In The Possession, Kyra Sedgwick complains to her ex, the dad of the possessed (?) girl, that she's "getting his email" and so he does something on the computer to delete something and says it's fixed, but later in the movie, Kyra hands him a printout and hollers at him because he's considering moving and says she's still getting his emails.

You know, because she's got his old computers.  And apparently email just keeps going to whatever computer you once had.  It's probably those tiny electronic mailmen, never getting the hint no matter how many tiny electronic "We've moved!" postcards you send out.



That was the dumbest part in a movie full of hundreds of dumb moments and one sort-of-creepy image. It was dumber than the dog door that exists for no reason and which apparently a box-captured ghost can get through unless it was really a raccoon. It was dumber than a guy thinking he could do an exorcism based on two hours of Google research, and it was even dumber than the fact that the mystical prayer which recaptures the monster is simply saying its name over and over.  BUT REALLY LOUDLY because that's how religion works.


All of that= not as dumb as the email thing.  Even now, four days later, I still want to shake someone by the shoulders and say "Email does not work that way.

********************************************************************************

In Random Number Of Words, I review something using a randomly-generated number of words.  So, what it sounds like.  Here are other reviews like this.


Signtronix knows a lot about signs. That might be why they chose that name.

Here's a riddle for you: What was started in 1959 but has 1,500 years of excellence?

The company Signtronix, of course.  (You probably guessed a penguin who publishes a newspaper, you weirdo.)

Signtronix is a sign company, but not just any old sign company.  They've made over 500,000 signs for businesses since their founding in 1959.  Their leaders combine 1,500 years of experience in the sign-making industry, and they bring all that expertise to bear on making the best possible sign for your business or building.

A sign brands you.  A sign serves as your logo, your marker on the world, and advertisement.  You've got to have the right one and you've got to have a good one, and Signtronix seems like the place to get both.  They know their stuff: they've got information on their site that helps demonstrate why you need a sign, and the right one.  Own a fast-food business? As much as 80% of it might be brought in by your sign (or lost because you don't have a good one.)  And that's just for starters.

Whatever your business, whatever type of sign you need (and you DO need one), I'd check out Signtronix.  And I'm not just saying that; since we moved into our new office, I've been looking for a sign that we can put out, because our building can be seen from a highway and I want the entire world to drive by our building and know my name.  Assuming that I can get my partners to agree it should be my name.  Or maybe I just order the sign and play dumb when it gets put up...

 

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Nobody on the U.S. Supreme Court likes Kelly Clarkson's singing.



I particularly like how upset Chief Justice John Roberts appears.

This is not likely to endear me to Mike Birbiglia. (Celebrity Tweets)

I sat ...down ... at my desk to eat lunch (corn dog, slice of pizza, and banana which was rotten and I threw it away) and read my Twitter feed to see this tweet from Jimmy Kimmel,





And maybe it's just me but I instantly took issue with it, in part because comedians on Twitter often seem to be trying to hard to come up with something funny to say, rendering it unfunny, and in part because it's not true, also rendering it unfunny.

So I replied:



BECAUSE I am right.

Consider this sentence:

"When he heard the shot ring out in the middle of the night, Tony was so startled he sat."

What's the implication of that?  Was Tony walking around? Standing? Or lying down?

"When he heard the shot ring out in the middle of the night, Tony was so startled he sat in bed."

Again: what was Tony doing just prior to that shot?

"When he heard the shot ring out in the middle of the night, Tony was so startled he sat down in his bed."

MUCH MORE CLEAR.

So we need to say sat up or sat down because you can do both.

400+ people acted on that Tweet in one way or another, including Mike Birbiglia retweeting it, and not one of them had ever, it seems, sat up in bed.  WELL HOW DO THEY GET OUT OF BED, I'd like to know.  Do they roll out in the morning? Does a crane lift them bodily up to a vertical position?


You can't spell S-U-P-E-R-B-O-W-L without... the odor of the locker room? (Nonsportsmanlike Conduct!)

We're coming up to the only good thing that happens between January 1 and March 1: The Super Bowl.  Every year, more or less... well, some years... I don' t know, I'm not an accountant... periodically I have posted Super Bowl previews and thoughts about the Super Bowl.  For the next couple of days leading up to the big game, I'll be reposting those here, leading up to my annual Super Bowl post AND the 2012 Nonsportsman Of The Year!  Which I know is late but don't you think you have to wait until 2012 ENDS before deciding who embodied its highest nonsportsman related honor?

This was (I think) a 2009 post:
***************************************************************************************



It's Super Bowl week, the most magical week of the year for football fans -- that week when sports people get to all go to some wonderful, warm, place like...



...Indianapolis?



...and spend the week playing games and talking to famous people and otherwise just proving that they have awesome jobs and that our society really is selfish for not providing at least a base line of benefits and protections because look at how much money we throw at Super Bowl week, but then claim we're too broke to keep kids from starving to death or to repair bridges.



Super Bowl Week:  7 Days Of Hype About 11 Minutes Of Action, And It All Begins With My Motivational Speech For You.






I sit here on this extra-cold Sunday morning wondering what the loud thump! was on our roof last night -- a loud thump! that, it seemed to me, came about 11:15 p.m. a time which also, it seemed to me, was the exact time that the loud thump! came on Thursday night, which can only mean one thing:



Pterodactyls.



That's the kind of crazy-sounding-but-spot-on-thinking that almost-consecutive, possibly-at-the-same-time loud thump! noises on your roof at night leads to:  it's probably pterodactyls, landing on the roof, drawn by the smell of cookie crumbs and pizza crusts you threw outside onto the porch for the birds and squirrels to eat.



When else would you realize, with utter clarity, that science -- excuse me, "science"-- was wrong, and that pterodactyls still exist, and that they're landing on your roof, the loud thump being caused by the fact that they have only short legs and are more gliders than fliers, so their landing would be clumsy?  Of course it would!  Of course it would thump! like that!  When else would you realize the truth about pterodactyls but at night, when everything's quiet and you've just been reading your electronic copy of The New Yorker, the article about the guy who wants to freeze himself when he dies, and has already frozen his mother and his two wives, in hopes that science someday would wake them up?


It's that absence of everything else -- the absence of television, of 3-year-olds running pantless around the room, of 17-year-olds insisting that going out every school night won't affect their grades even though it clearly has -- that leads to the kind of clarity of thought which lets one know about the pterodactyls.

Absence of information can be as important as access to information (I'm pretty good with a catch-phrase, right?).  These days, in the miasma that is our information, it's necessary sometimes to unplug and turn off and just sit.


And think.


And in the sitting, and the thinking, one can put together some actual bits of information that can help one catch on to some hidden truths, things that nobody else has been willing to say, or think, or talk about.


You know, like the pterodactyls.




Well, SOMETHING is making that noise!



See where I was leading with that intro?  The pterodactyls, and the things like them, are the reason I don't like to sit and think.  Nothing good comes of sitting and thinking.  If God had wanted us to sit and think, he would never have created a world in which cars can be equipped with features to let you read your email. While driving.  That way, I could get those funny jokes on the way to work!  What could go wrong with that?




I couldn't help it.  It was LOLCATZ!



But, today is NonSuperBowl Sunday, the cruelest day of the year for fans of football, because there's no football today, and really no football next week, and after that, there's no football for months and months and months, so if it wasn't for Brett Favre retiring and then not every few minutes, we'd have nothing to do but talk to our families and maybe go up on the roof and see if there's some pterodactyl tracks there.  On NonSuperbowl Sunday, the Sunday before Super Bowl Sunday, there's nothing to do because there's no football.


That lack of football is worse on NonSuperbowl Sunday than on out-of-season Sundays because right now, football fans are in football mode.  Our bodies, our minds, our radio stations, are set to football.  We're used to having games on Sundays, and games on Mondays, and even games on Thursdays and Saturdays now, and so when this Sunday rolls around with its no football none of the time, it's jarring -- but we can't let go of football, because there's always the Super Bowl next week, so we have to keep in football shape, as it were.






As what were?


Keeping in football shape today is tough to do because in the week between Championship Sunday and NonSuperBowl Sunday, the sports news drifts a little, talking occasionally about other sports, something I find annoying when it happens during the football season.  Don't you know there's football to talk about? I sometimes ask my radio, in the voice I usually reserve for the kinds of drivers who edge out into the road a little too far before deciding not to make the turn.  Why are you talking about basketball?  I demand to know, and then go to put on my iPod, only to find that I've left my iPod home, along with my lunch and cell phone, because I had to carry around Mr Bunches all morning, since he was sad and needed me to cheer him up.  (Needed me to cheer him up, specifically, by carrying him nonstop, including carrying him while I tried to put on my pants.)


The lack of football talk bugs me even more when there's only one game of actual football left.  It seems all the more urgent to talk about football now, to savor it while we still have it.  Basketball, baseball, NASCAR... all those fake, boring sports will still be around when football ends.  But football is only around for another week.


And yet, the best the media could do this week is briefly talk about Kurt Warner's retiring, mention in passing that the NFL is suing about the dumbest team phrase (yet), The Saints' Who Dat, and then move on to something about Gilbert Arenas.  Whose name always sounds to me like it's a place to play basketball. Or, more accurately, several places to play basketball.  And the media doesn't even try to do that little bit today, NonSuperBowl Sunday.


Which means it's up to me, again, to do things right, to get the hype going, and to gear me, and you, and everyone else who reads this (nobody else reads this; I'm surprised you're reading it, and got this far.  Were you expecting more cheerleader pictures?  Fine, here's one:





Happy now?  I know Sweetie isn't.  Sweetie takes it personally when I post pictures of cheerleaders, even though she shouldn't, because Sweetie is the only cheerleader for me.


When she gets upset about the cheerleaders, I defuse Sweetie by posting pictures like this:





Posting things like that puts Sweetie in a bind because Sweetie wants to complain about the cheerleaders, but she also wants to see Mark Sanchez recreating a scene from Baywatch, even though she will later say I don't even know who Mark Sanchez is.


I'm left to get the hype going because on NonSuperBowl Sunday, the rest of the media is gathering its breath and waiting for Super Bowl Week to begin; they're all sleeping in and leaving people like you and me high and dry and worrying about pterodactyls, or whatever it is you worry about when left with too much time and quiet on your hands.  (See that brown spot on your tongue?  It's probably the first sign of a deadly disease.  Better go look that up.)


I'm going to get the hype going by focusing on me, and you, and what we need to get up for the game, which is an inspirational multimedia presentation featuring some guys and some music and a slogan and stuff.


I was, myself, inspired to create this Inspirational Moment by Saints' Coach Sean Payton's own inspirational moment last week, the one he gave the Saints before their game against the Vikings to pump them up for the game and, you know, really convince them to win.


I'm not sure why football players need motivational speeches and presentations.  As I've said before, they should already be really, really motivated because, remember, this is their job.  That and all we ever hear from football players is how they're in this to get to the Super Bowl, to get a ring, to win championships.


I mean, we know that's a lie -- none of the players are in it for anything other than money.  That's why we all do our jobs:  money.  It's nice to get awards and win things, but we wouldn't be getting up and going to work because they gave us an award every now and then.  We'd just go get the award, take some of the free coffee and maybe a few of those cookies the receptionist brought in, and then head back home.  We probably wouldn't even take off our pajamas.


But since football players pretend that they're motivated by more than just money -- money they don't get paid (really) anymore once the playoffs start -- shouldn't they also pretend that they don't need to get motivated to play a game?  Shouldn't they pretend that they're already motivated to win the second-to-last game of the season, the game that, if they win, they're in the Superbowl (a/k/a, "the reason they play?")


All valid questions, to which I'll add another one:  If they do need motivation, why are they motivated by the smell of a locker room?


See, Saints' coach Sean Payton, to motivate his team, put together a multimedia presentation in which he showed clips of various athletes winning, or at least doing things, and also he played the Aerosmith song Dream On, and then, at the end of it, to (presumably) great flourish, he turned on the lights and there stood:


Ronnie Lott.


(Former all-pro defensive back/four time Superbowl winner/apparent motivational speaker Ronnie Lott, that is.)


And the first thing Ronnie Lott said, standing there in what I assume was the Saints' locker room?


"I smell greatness."


At which point, Sean Payton handed out t-shirts (I told you this was a multimedia presentation) with Smell Greatness on them.


I was going to put a picture of a dirty locker room, then a messy locker room, then a messy laundry room, then, finally, a pile of socks, but apparently there is nothing you can google on the internet that doesn't lead to porn scenarios, so instead, you get this picture:







Presumably, there were no arrows pointing towards the armpits of those shirts, but that would have been hilarious if there had been, and Payton missed a golden opportunity there.


All of that -- Aerosmith's song, the slide show, the not-quite-ironic t-shirts, Ronnie Lott, Motivational Speaker, and the scent of 53 large men -- added up to quite a motivational package for the Saints, as they barely eked out a victory in the NFC Championship Game (and by "eked out" I mean "were handed a victory by five turnovers and a boneheaded penalty.")


Imagine, though, the results if the Saints hadn't been motivated by the smell of greatness/the smell of Ronnie Lott.  Imagine if Sean Payton had left it up to the players to motivate themselves, by, say, telling them "Look, it's your job, all right, so just go do it and do it well, and you'll make some money."  Would the Saints have been motivated enough by that to not lose a game that the Vikings desperately didn't want to win?


I think not.

Reading that Sports Illustrated article about the Saints' motivational speech yesterday taught me the importance of motivational speeches -- motivational multimedia presentations -- because with Ronnie Lott, Motivational Speaker, telling the Saints that the odor in their locker room was greatness, the Saints never would have made it as far as Super Bowl week (when, I assume, Payton will largely stick with what works, and will hand out Taste Greatness! t-shirts soaked in the flavor of greatness.  The taste of greatness can best be described as "a little like lemonade-flavored Powerade, only uncarbonated.")


Thus inspired by just the recounting of the multimedia presentation, I have undertaken today to outline my own motivational multimedia presentation elements, elements that you, the fan and my reader(s?) are free to assemble on your own into your own motivational multimedia presentation to get you, the fan/my reader(s?) pumped up for your part in Super Bowl week -- the part where you have to listen to even more stories about even more players and endure even more predictions about even more things that could happen.


This is the week we wait for and dread all year:  the week when the entire world seems to be about football (because football is coming to an end again), the week when the football present- and past-greats come out of the woodwork/rodeo trailer they've been hiding in to talk football and think football and smell football/greatness, and to make critical comments about Tim Tebow, and do all of those things that we love so much during the football season, only more so.


It's a demanding week for a fan.  There's so many shows, articles, blogs, pictures, and reporters that we may not be able to keep up with it.  But this is what we're here for, right?


(That's the part where you say: Right!)

(And I say "What's that?  This is what we're HERE FOR, right?")


(And you say "Right!" again, only louder.)


(And then I say "Why are you yelling at your computer?")


This is what we're here for, but like professional football players who make in one year what I'll make in 10, if I'm lucky, we may need a little more motivation to do what's expected of us, and without further ado (thank God!) I'm going to give you the tools you need to put together, this week, your own multimedia presentation that will serve to inspire you, to urge you on, to make you just a tiny little bit better, and, of course, to put a positive spin on that peculiar odor that you thought was stale graham crackers, but which is actually... greatness.


Here's what you'll need:


First, an inspirational song.  Sean Payton chose Dream On by Aerosmith.  I'm not sure that was the best message, because while that song does talk about how you've got to lose to know how to win, it also includes this refrain:

Sing with me, sing for the year Sing for the laugh, sing for the tears Sing with me, if it's just for today Maybe tomorrow, the good lord will take you away, yeah


Which is kind of a grim philosophy, and also makes me think "If tomorrow the good Lord is going to take me away, I might not spend tonight playing football, but would probably rather spend some time with my family, or at least make amends for some of the things I've done, things that I'm certainly not going to detail in this blog, at least until the statute of limitations runs out."


The song you pick should be personal to you, a song that motivates you, but it should also have a broader appeal and should focus on your particular role in this week, that role being "a person who watches TV, and probably also eats snacks."  (That's my role, at least.)  And while everyone can choose their own song, you can also feel free to use one of the ones I'm considering.  Here's the songs I'm thinking I might use:


After Hours, by We Are Scientists:







That song has the benefit of having a really good, driving beat, and the right kind of challenging tone:  This door is always open/no one has the guts to shut us out.  And, to make it perfect for fans, it's really about drinking:  I guess there's always hope that/someplace will be serving after hours.  So time means nothing when it comes to finding a place to go on drinking, is the message We Are Scientists is sending.



God Monkey Robot, by The Apparitions.  "Monkeys make everybody happy," Sweetie once proclaimed, but monkeys, in the form of an allegorical song about human evolution followed by God wiping everything out in Armageddon, can also inspire people like you and me to new heights of fandom:







It's got that line:  And the man and the monkey their minds went blank/they were both watching reruns the rating were great, which lets you know your role in the teledrama that will be hyped this week.  You're going to watch.  (Plus, one of my favorite things to do in Super Bowl week is watch those NFL replays of all the prior Super Bowls, watch and feel nostalgic about the times in the past when I watched those Super Bowls, live.  How often does one get to watch a documentary about history, when the history is history that one watched unfold live?  Not very often.)(So the point is, that the man and the monkey watching reruns is me.)



and, of course, Common People by William Shatner.







Because it's about common people and how great they are.  Common people like you, and me.  Not those high-falutin' rich folk like Saints' Coach Sean Payton, who, after winning the NFC Championship, celebrated via a quiet little dinner featuring family... and Jimmy Buffett.


After you have your song, you'll also need a collection of images to put to that song.  This is where most of you are going to screw up:  You're going to choose sports images, because the Super Bowl is a sport, but remember, this is for you, not for the Saints or the Colts.  You're not trying to inspire them; that's for their coaches to do via phrases like Smell Greatness.  (We'll get to your phrase in a moment.)


You're trying to inspire you, so you've got to choose images of the things that will motivate you to get ready for the Super Bowl and your role in it.  Things like the snacks you'll eat:





Where you'll sit for the big game:




The commercials you'll watch:







And, of course, the cheerleaders:





Simmer down, Sweetie.  I haven't forgotten you:







With images like that, you'll be more than motivated for the week ahead, and the game.  You'll be motivat-est.


(Note to NFL:  You may be ready to sue people over the Dumbest Team Nickname Yet, but back down on me, because Motivat-est is TM Thinking The Lions, 2010.)


Step three of your Motivational Multimedia Presentation is the Inspirational Person who will come in and tell you how great your life will be if you (a) listen to him or her and (b) do what he or she has already done.  The Saints had Ronnie Lott, who was an excellent choice based on his ability to repurpose smells for his own motivational motives.


You'll need someone that suits you equally well, for your purposes, remember.  The Saints wanted someone who's been to the big game to tell them how great it is to get to the big game.  You, of course, have already watched many Super Bowls, so you may think Well, jeez, I know what it's like to watch a Super Bowl, and you'll be tempted to pass on the Inspirational Figure entirely.


That's a mistake -- a big one.  You don't know what it's like to watch this Super Bowl, and you probably have never really given thought to how to watch any particular Super Bowl best, have you?  I didn't think so.  You've never analyzed when the best commercials are, who the best announcers are, how much actual football action takes place in any given football game (eleven minutes or so.)  You don't know nothin' about no football.


Or something like that.



So get yourself someone who does.  Someone who knows how to really watch stuff.  Someone like this guy:







That's Suresh Joachim, and if you want to watch TV, you want to know Suresh.  This year, Suresh annihilated the record for most consecutive hours watching TV.  It had been only about 50 hours in a row.  But Suresh sat and stared at the tube for 69 hours and 48 minutes.



You know what I want to know?  What made him break? He'd already been there for 69 hours, 48 minutes, so family, bathroom breaks, boredom, a real job... all that stuff had already been put to the side, ignored, in service of record-breaking TV watching.   So what finally made him throw in the towel, stand up, and turn off the TV?  What was it, Suresh?


Was it Jenna Elfman?  Because that'd do it for me.


Suresh also holds the record for longest time balancing on one foot -- 76 hours and 40 minutes.  Which means he was able to stand on one foot longer than he was able to watch ABC television. (He also holds the record for bowling -- 100 hours straight.)


(But you know what that means?  The time is ripe for someone to set the record for longest time standing on one foot watching bowling on TV.  Ready... set...go.)


Another possible spokesperson?  WALL-E.  He really liked TV, too:







Now, you've got Suresh and WALL-E speaking to you (and your family.)  You've got your song (if you invite WALL-E, I'd go with God Monkey Robot), you've got your inspirational images to set that all to:







So the last thing you need is your slogan.  Like the Saints' Smell Greatness, only not stupid.


Ideally, your slogan is short enough to fit on a t-shirt or a hat to hand out to you and your family.  (It could also be printed on the tiny purple baseball bats you hand out to your defense, to give them the entirely wrong idea about what it is you're looking for when they play.  Gregg Williams, keep in mind:  defensive players tackle people.  They don't hit them with bats.  You who uses baseball bats to make a point?  Mobsters.  When you hand out bats to your defense, this is the message you're sending:






Which may be what you wanted to send, but don't advertise it, okay?


Your slogan to inspire you for Super Bowl Week and the Super Bowl should follow the time-honored tradition of including a verb and an adjective, ideally both of them inspiring.


If you can't think of any inspirational words, you could always do what one enterprising but still somewhat saddening person did, and ask Yahoo Answers.   That person wanted to jump-start a novella and needed some words of inspiration to get going on it -- not the most promising start for a writer, but everyone begins somewhere, and I bet that if Yahoo Answers had been around when F. Scott Fitzgerald got started, he'd have asked for some help getting going on The Great Gatsby (which is the only book Lauren Conrad could remember the name of when she was interviewed recently about her own writing, and so she said she'd read it over and over, even though the odds are that Lauren Conrad can't read.)(The odds are, also, that Lauren Conrad never read The Great Gatsby since she said "It's a fun story.")







That inspiration-seeking writer got these words of encouragement from a spell-check needing helper:   "umm ya theres alot sori i dont feel lyk putting all of them."  So I don't recommend taking that route for your own inspirational phrase.  Instead, just do what I do:


When I want something I say to sound important or majestic or awe-inspiring, I just translate it into Latin.  Everything sounds great in Latin:


quisnam ate totus funyuns (Who ate all the funyuns?)


Cheerleaders sceptrum (Cheerleaders rule!)


Dulcis , vos teneo vos reputo Vestigium Consecro est fervens  (Sweetie, you know you think Mark Sanchez is hot)


I think, in fact, that est fervens would be an ideal slogan.  So I'm going to go with that.  But feel free to create your own slogan, if you want.


So there you go.  That's how I'll be spending the rest of the day, this NonSuperBowl Sunday of no sports and nothing to do.  Later on today, I'm going to go downstairs, dim the lights, put on my slide show of inspirational images:





(It's safe-- Sweetie NEVER reads this far in the sports post), start the inspirational music:







Have my speaker begin, and by the time he's done motivating me (Making me Motivat-est)(TM Thinking The Lions 2010), I won't even need the Est fervens t-shirts, which is good because Sweetie would probably have them printed with this on it:



Sunday, January 20, 2013

Ever to confess you're bored means you have no inner resources... (What's That Song About?)

I am notoriously bad at the lyrics for songs. So bad that I actually thought there was a reference to Ramen noodles in the song "Pour Some Sugar On Me" by Def Leppard (and so stubborn that you can't convince me that there's not.)


 I said: Can't.

It's all a conspiracy.

That badness at lyrics stems from a couple of things.  First, I think I'm not all that good at hearing, which seems weird because doctors tell me that my hearing is fine but I swear it's not because I can barely hear anything but second, and probably more importantly, I'm not very good at listening, and so most of the time I'm not really paying much attention to what I'm listening to, except for when I really really listen, and then, usually, I am left in a state of wonderment:

Is that really what they say?  I think to myself, and then:

I wonder if anyone noticed that all these years I've been singing it about Ramen noodles.

(The answer to  that latter is "Doubtful, in that I rarely sing in public anymore.")(Rarely.)

Anyway, one day I was listening to John Allyn Smith Sails, by Okkervil River (subject of one of my most successful tweets ever, in which I said that if you know who Okkervil River is you are not cool enough to know who Okkervil River is.  That was retweeted, like, five times, matching the height of fame I had the day Mike Birbiglia retweeted me and I picked up a bunch of followers.  Then I made fun of a joke Mike Birbiglia told on Twitter, and he stopped retweeting me, forever, even the time I entered his contest about what movie Jesus would see that weekend.)*

Here is John Allyn Smith Sails:



and as I listened to that one day, I realized that the song (A) included snippets from Sloop John B, by the Beach Boys and (B) that was one of the reasons that I'd downloaded the song in the first place, so I really should have remembered that but I didn't and (C) who downloads a song solely because it includes snippets from an earlier song?  Me. That's who.  You may disagree with my methods.  You may even call them madness.  Where was I going with that? Not sure.

Here are two little-known (Probably?) facts about Sloop John B:

1.  I can play the song on the guitar.  It's a fun song but if you only know how to play rhythm guitar, i.e., strumming chords, it gets kind of repetitious by the end of the song, and

2.  Sloop John B featured prominently in the Spellsinger book The Day Of The Dissonance,



by Alan Dean Foster.  I read all of his Spellsinger books and loved them, and lately I've been thinking I should go back and re-read them out of nostalgia.  That might be a thing I do this year: re-read some old books I read once.  I've already started doing that, a bit, re-reading American Gods,  not out of nostalgia but because I heard Neil Gaiman is releasing a new book this spring that might be kind of a sequel to American Gods, which was a masterpiece.

In Dissonance, the Spellsinger has to create a boat so he can travel somewhere else, and he sings Sloop John B, creating a yacht, and then he makes someone else the captain of the boat, making him the first mate and instantly making himself drunk, because the first mate, he got drunk.

I don't remember anything else from that book, but I do remember that part which goes to show you the power of a song, I suppose, is where I was going with that.

Listening to John Allyn Smith Sails, I was reminded of that book and that line and then I got to wondering:  Who is John Allyn Smith and why would he be relating his story to the Sloop John B.

So I search engined it.

And man am I glad I did.

Most of this comes from Wikipedia, and all of it deserves more reading.

"John Allyn Smith,, Jr." was the original, birth name, of the poet John Berryman, whose dad killed himself when Berryman was little.  His mom then remarried to a man also named John, and Allyn Smith changed his last name to Berryman.  Got all that?  So John Allyn Smith, Jr., was named after his father, and then took his stepfather's name.

Berryman made a career out of teaching and writing poetry, beginning with his first book, The Dispossessed, which was criticized for being too much like W.B. Yeats.  Poets, it seems, get criticized in the most obscure ways.

After The Dispossessed, Berryman wrote a book titled Homage to Mistress Bradstreet in which in the title poem he (as himself) has a conversation and interacts with Anne Bradstreet. 

Here's a snippet from that poem, which you can read here:

thy eyes look to me mild. Out of maize & air   
your body’s made, and moves. I summon, see,
from the centuries it.
I think you won’t stay. How do we   
linger, diminished, in our lovers’ air,   
implausibly visible, to whom, a year,   
years, over interims; or not;
to a long stranger; or not; shimmer & disappear.
Anne Bradstreet, I didn't know until I looked into this song, was "America's First Poet," and was the first woman to have a book published in America.   Berryman's poem about her reminds me of Ulysses: lots of references to things I barely or don't know about at all, and a hard-to-follow syntax.  I didn't read it all.

Bradstreet wrote simpler poems, like this one:

By Night when Others Soundly Slept 

By night when others soundly slept 
And hath at once both ease and Rest, 
My waking eyes were open kept 
And so to lie I found it best. 

I sought him whom my Soul did Love, 
With tears I sought him earnestly. 
He bow'd his ear down from Above. 
In vain I did not seek or cry. 

My hungry Soul he fill'd with Good; 
He in his Bottle put my tears, 
My smarting wounds washt in his blood,
And banisht thence my Doubts and fears. 


What to my Saviour shall I give 
Who freely hath done this for me? 
I'll serve him here whilst I shall live 
And Love him to Eternity. 

 I have never thought of praying for my own insomnia.

I wasn't able to find out why Berryman was so fascinated, if he was, by Bradstreet.  Most of the websites that talk about him concern themselves with the effect of his dad's suicide.The Poetry Foundation says Berryman's father shot himself outside Berryman's window when the boy was 12, which helps explain (maybe) the extreme traumatic effect that action had on Berryman.

Should it matter that a poet's work comes from an area of heartbreak, or despair?  Should the fact that Berryman's works may have been inspired by his father's death -- or were at least affected and shaped by them-- matter?  It seems like it should.  It seems like if you write an entire book of poems about your father's death, or inspired by your father's death, then  it matters more if your father's death was real.  Or, put another way, poems about death somehow seem more inspiring if they are about actual death.  A series of poems from me about a father's death might not seem as dramatic if you know my father is alive, and well, and had a lengthy conversation with me yesterday about the merits of the McDonald's breakfasts.  (We both approve.)

(On a similar note I can't seem to shake, does that help explain why Manti Te'O might fake a girlfriend and her dramatic death, to tap into that feeling that any accomplishment is more so if it is inspired by a death?  Malcolm Gladwell and Chuck Klosterman have a very good epistolary article on Grantland that discusses why death and sickness and sports seem to go hand-in-hand and questions why we readily accept a sports figure making decisions that seem heartless outside of sports.  We seem to eat up the idea that a touchdown is more than a touchdown if it is done, say, a week after one's dad died than some other time.  So a poem written about a real dad really dying seems like it should count for more than one written about a fake dad fake dying.)

Berryman's work about his dad's suicide seems to have mostly worked out through his "Dream Songs," lyrical poems with odd rhyme schemes that are all narratively related -- remember, I learned this all this morning and may not have the gist of it yet -- and all told from the perspective of "Henry," the main character.

Dream Song 14

By John Berryman
Life, friends, is boring. We must not say so.   
After all, the sky flashes, the great sea yearns,   
we ourselves flash and yearn,
and moreover my mother told me as a boy   
(repeatingly) ‘Ever to confess you’re bored   
means you have no

Inner Resources.’ I conclude now I have no   
inner resources, because I am heavy bored.
Peoples bore me,
literature bores me, especially great literature,   
Henry bores me, with his plights & gripes   
as bad as achilles,

who loves people and valiant art, which bores me.   
And the tranquil hills, & gin, look like a drag   
and somehow a dog
has taken itself & its tail considerably away
into mountains or sea or sky, leaving            
behind: me, wag.
Henry, and the Dream Songs, got Berryman acclaim that is hard to picture nowadays for a poet: he was in Life magazine and invited to dinner with Lyndon Johnson.  (Berryman declined as he was in Ireland.)  Henry was seen as an alter ego for Berryman, who acknowledged the resemblance but denied it was true in this memorable line:

"Henry does resemble me, and I resemble Henry; but on the other hand I am not Henry. You know, I pay income tax; Henry pays no income tax. And bats come over and they stall in my hair — and fuck them, I'm not Henry; Henry doesn't have any bats."


Dream Song 29

By John Berryman
There sat down, once, a thing on Henry’s heart   
só heavy, if he had a hundred years
& more, & weeping, sleepless, in all them time   
Henry could not make good.
Starts again always in Henry’s ears
the little cough somewhere, an odour, a chime.

And there is another thing he has in mind   
like a grave Sienese face a thousand years
would fail to blur the still profiled reproach of. Ghastly,   
with open eyes, he attends, blind.
All the bells say: too late. This is not for tears;   
thinking.

But never did Henry, as he thought he did,
end anyone and hacks her body up
and hide the pieces, where they may be found.
He knows: he went over everyone, & nobody’s missing.   
Often he reckons, in the dawn, them up.
Nobody is ever missing.

That escalated quickly.  That last stanza is haunting, isn't it?  Often he reckons, in the dawn, them up.  Nobody is ever missing.  I read as many as I could find online and I may go buy the book.

(Incidentally, if you look for John Berryman on the Kindle you'll come across a sci-fi writer by the name of John Berryman, who is apparently no relation.  But I downloaded a couple of his books as they appear there for free.)

So back to the song, which is what this is about.  Why does John Allyn Smith sail?  And is it meant to be about Berryman,  or his suicided-dad, John Allyn Smith, the original?  Seemingly not.  In an interview with NPR, the band said that the song was inspired by a visit to the bridge where the poet Berryman committed suicide himself in suicide by jumping off, in 1972; Berryman had an alcohol problem and had been married and divorced several times and had undergone a religious conversion in which he began to see God as directly involved in people's lives -- which, if you are depressed, might be hard to take.  Imagine feeling that God takes a personal hand in your life... and you are sad anyway.  What kinds of further depression would it inspire to think that God wants you, personally and directly, wants you to be sad?

"I wanted to give that character, that's my imaginative re-creation of John Berryman to the best of my ability, have the chance to explain his actions," [Okkervil River's lead singer] says. "And write a song about that that's not only not condemning, but that looks at death as a kind of mystical thing, something that's special. Which is not necessarily how I feel, but I just wanted to do that. It felt frightening to me, and so for that reason I was drawn to it."
Here, the lyrics to the song:

By the second verse, dear friends
My head will burst, my life will end
So I'd like to start this one off by saying
"Live and love"

I was young and at home in bed

And I was hanging on the words some poem said in '31
I was impressionable, I was upsettable

I tried to make my breathing stop

Or my heartbeat slow
So when my mom and John came in I would be cold

From a bridge on Washington Avenue

The year of 1972, broke my bones and skull
And it was memorable

It was half a second in, I was halfway down

Do you think I wanted to turn back around and teach a class
Where you kiss the ass that I've exposed to you?

And at the funeral, the university

Cried at three poems they'd present
In place of a broken me

I was breaking in a case of suds at the Brass Rail

A fall-down drunk with his tongue torn out
And his balls removed

And I knew that my last lines were gone

While, stupidly, I lingered on
Oh, but wise men know when it's time to go
And so I should, too

And so I fly into the brightest winter sun

Of this frozen town, I'm stripped down to move on
My friends, I'm gone

Well, I hear my father fall

And I hear my mother call
And I hear the others all whispering, "Come home"
I'm sorry to go
I loved you all so
But this is the worst trip I've ever been on

So hoist up the John B. sail

See how the mainsail sets
I'm full in my heart and my head
And I want to go home
With a book in my hand
In the way I had planned
Well, this is the worst trip I've ever been on

Hoist up the John B. sail

See how the mainsail sets
I'm full in my heart and my head
And I want to go home
With a book in each hand
In the way I had planned
Well, I feel so broke up, I want to go home

You may, as I did, wonder why the reference to Sloop John B by the Beach Boys in there.  Turns out that Sloop John B was itself based on a folk song collected by Carl Sandburg in a book.  The poem was The John B. Sails:

Come on the sloop John B.
My grandfather and me,
Round Nassau town we did roam;
Drinking all night, ve got in a fight,
Ve feel so break-up, ve vant to go home.
(Chorus)
So h'ist up the John B. sails,
See how the mainsail set,
Send for the captain—shore, let us go home,
Let me go home, let me go home,
I feel so break-up, I vant to go home.
That song, itself, is of questionable validity; Wikipedia says that it might have been entirely made up, a not-real folk song that appeared as supposedly-real folk song in a novel, Pieces of Eight, published in 1917.  (You can get that book here for free if you're so inclined; it seems to be kind of a Treasure Island-y book.)

(Sandburg said the song was both a real folk song, and practically an anthem in Nassau, and that there was a real John B.)

As an imagining of what John Berryman might have been thinking when he threw himself off that bridge -- hearkening back to when a young John Allyn Smith, Jr., would try to slow his breathing and make himself die before his mom and stepdad found him -- the song is haunting, a dirge-like introspection on what it might have felt like to be purged, at the end, of all the creativity inspired by one's demons, and be left with only those demons.

Maybe it's that act of creation, the ability to put into words the awful, and wonderful, and terrifying and elating emotions we feel, that helps people like Berryman stave off the horrors of existence that people with his afflictions feel; maybe for all his life he carried with him those awful feelings -- the worst trip he's ever been on -- but he was able to keep them at bay by ascribing them to Henry,  and other alter egos, and then, at the end, maybe he really did have nothing left to fight them with.  Maybe, his words all gone, used up in achieving him success and stability for years, his inner torments ironically creating his outer success, maybe when that was all gone and he couldn't fight anymore, maybe then he hoisted the John B sails, and flung himself off that bridge, and thought about how his own, longer, fall mirrored that of his own father's falling to the ground when he was young, and maybe he was both sad to see the life he'd left behind go, and happy that it was over.

I never really thought about this song before today, and now I can't get that image out of my mind:  Poor John Berryman,  twisting as he falls to look behind him at the bridge he has just jumped off of, thinking that he knows it's time to go because he's used up his last lines, his tongue is gone, both happy and sad, and leaving, as his last words, "Live, and love."

And here is one last poem with some haunting lines in it, written by Berryman in 1950:

The Ball Poem

What is the boy now, who has lost his ball,
What, what is he to do? I saw it go
Merrily bouncing, down the street, and then
Merrily over--there it is in the water!
No use to say 'O there are other balls':
An ultimate shaking grief fixes the boy
As he stands rigid, trembling, staring down
All his young days into the harbour where
His ball went. I would not intrude on him,
A dime, another ball, is worthless. Now
He senses first responsibility
In a world of possessions. People will take balls,
Balls will be lost always, little boy,
And no one buys a ball back. Money is external.
He is learning, well behind his desperate eyes,
The epistemology of loss, how to stand up
Knowing what every man must one day know
And most know many days, how to stand up
And gradually light returns to the street
A whistle blows, the ball is out of sight,
Soon part of me will explore the deep and dark
Floor of the harbour . . I am everywhere,
I suffer and move, my mind and my heart move
With all that move me, under the water
Or whistling, I am not a little boy.



That is a dark note to end on, and I don't want to be sad all day, so here is the footnote to that Mike Birbiglia thing:

*That is a true story except for the part about I don't know, really, if Mike Birbiglia is deliberately ignoring me.  The rest is true.  This is the sequence of events:

I wrote about how I liked the 140 character limit on Twitter because it forced me to be concise; the joke was that the tweet cut off before it was finished.  (I know.  It's hilarious.  Works on a lot of levels.)

Mike Birbiglia retweeted that.  This was pre-Sleepwalk With Me Mike Birbiglia but he was still famous-ish.

Later on, Mike Birbiglia made a joke about The Shins (remember them? No, nobody else does, either, the Shins haven't been famous since Natalie Portman got paid to hype them [probably] in Garden State:


NOTE: I am not sure that's the clip I was looking for.  I got bored watching it.

Anyway, Mike Birbiglia made a joke about The Shins, for God's sake, and I tweeted back to him something like "2004 loved that joke," which was itself conceptual, in that I was using an old joke to make fun of a joke I said was an old joke... try to keep up with the layers of comedy here... and then I never heard from Mike Birbiglia again, and he didn't even respond the time I found a picture of shampoo at the health club that reminded me of a joke of his, and he didn't respond when, at Christmas, he had a contest of sorts to see what movie Jesus would go see that weekend and I tweeted "Les Mis,but only because his girlfriend is making him."  And there was a typo, which I then tried to make up for and I made a joke about getting the home game, etc., and he never even responded.

The point of this is that Mike Birbiglia really likes The Shins, and he can really hold a grudge. [Probably.].