Last night, I started watching “Before Midnight”—the third installment of the Before Sunrise/Sunset/Midnight trilogy—and experienced a great sense of relief upon turning it off midway through. I was feeling like I’d invited some boring, self-important types over for dinner—your typical pretentious blowhard motor mouths—and kept wondering when they’d finally leave. Only in this case, I didn’t have to wait. I could just hit the “Eject” button.
Martin Luther King had a dream, and then there are dreams of the less inspirational and more prosaic variety. I have the latter. To show you where my head’s at—and how low I aim—last night I dreamt that three young handball players from southern New Hampshire had started playing at the Cambridge Y. One of the players told me that he was flat-footed as a kid but had managed to overcome his childhood infirmity. So maybe there was a bit of inspiration in there after all—though still no threat, of course, to MLK. Nor are schoolchildren likely to get the day off to celebrate southern New Hampshire handball players (whose already thin ranks might have been depleted by three).
You never know what you’ll get when you pick up the phone. Well, usually, you do. It’s some telemarketer or someone else asking for money or one of those interminable school messages. But today I got a call from a guy in Alabama who was looking for an abandoned mine in Tennessee that he could use as a warehouse. It seems weird that he called me, and I must confess, I never received a phone call like this before. But I did write an article on a similar topic a few years ago, so the guy thought I might be a good bet. I could not exactly set him up with a stake, but I did give him the name and numbers of a dozen or so mining companies in Tennessee. Who knows? Maybe one day I’ll get some free storage out of the deal.
A friend has taken to task a local man, and recent city council candidate, for his creative use of punctuation—quotation marks, question marks, square brackets, and the like. I hope that I do not make a “run” for public office, lest this same individual will come after me—for my overly liberal use of ellipses [a notorious weak spot of mine???]; plus the intemperate use of semicolons and exclamation marks!!!!!!!!!!
I don’t actually need to apologize for the lapse referred to in the title—of which Toronto’s mayor was evidently guilty—but I did like that particular turn of phrase, so I couldn’t resist…
Some movies get no reviews and go straight to video. I’m pretty sure that “Price Check” is one of them, as I don’t recall ever seeing a review of it, and I follow these things pretty closely. Yet it’s a nice, original movie—about the little known world of grocery store chain price setting—and Parker Posey turns in a fabulous performance. It’s an Oscar worthy turn, though it will never be nominated because so few people have seen the film. But more should.
I heard from a friend today who has vowed to bicycle all winter. His nine-year-old daughter told him he was not up to it. “Steve rides his bike all year,” my friend countered. “Yeah, but he’s Steve,” the girl replied. “He does that. I don’t know if you can.” But my friend is going to give it the old college try. Fortunately (or not), global warming may be on his side.
Maybe my computer is getting old, but it is developing some undesirable features—features that in many ways resemble some of my own worst foibles: I have a hard time getting it to go to sleep, and it sometimes takes me several tries to get it done. And once it’s in a deep sleep, it is very hard to rouse. In other words, it’s becoming an increasingly quirky machine—and maybe a bit cranky too.
Yesterday, I interviewed a NASA scientist. I thought he would be annoyed by the government shutdown, but he said that he really enjoyed it. By staying home, rather than going into his NASA research center, he was getting more work done than ever. By the next day—today that is—the shutdown was over for now, and I guess his hiatus was over too.
It’s amazing to think that we may be facing the same ridiculous situation all over again in just a couple of months. And we may be forced to hear those same ridiculous windbags in Congress (i.e., Ted Cruz I am) making their same ridiculous arguments (“I don’t like Obamacare in a house. I don’t like Obamacare with a mouse..”). Which is why I chose the rather impolite heading for this missive: from shut-down to shut-up.
This just in from neuroscientists at Connecticut College: The Oreo, aka “America’s favorite cookie, is just as addictive as cocaine – at least for lab rats. And just like most humans, rats go for the middle first.” On some level, many of us knew this already. But we keep on eating Oreos–the archetypal sandwich cookie–just as Sherlock Holmes and Sigmund Freud had their own questionable habits.
I don’t work for the government, although if I did, what I do would be classified as “extremely nonessential,” if not “quintessentially nonessential.” But I have seen signs of the government shutdown firsthand. On Tuesday–day one of the standoff–I bicycled past the USS Constitution on my way to a medical appointment and was saddened to see so few people milling about and no Duck Tour buses. Today I saw an astronomer that I know in the park across the street from my house. He was dressed in running gear in the middle of a workday, which struck me as odd. When I asked him what he was up to, he mentioned that–as a Smithsonian employee–he had been furloughed. At that moment, it dawned on me that a big project I’ve lined up, partly with the Smithsonian, must be on hold too. I’ve always been mad about this latest example of Republican lunacy but now it’s getting personal, hitting me where it counts.
Immediately after midnight on Tuesday, my birthday began. At the same time, nonessential services in the U.S. government were shut down. Once again, extreme Republicans (I’m talking about you, Tea Party Animals!) held my birthday hostage in an attempt to advance their own political agenda. And once again I am forced to say: “I hate green eggs and ham, Sam I am.”
A HISTORY IN SUM, the new book I’ve coauthored about the history of mathematics at Harvard (which is due to come out next month), has received some really enthusiastic praise from several mathematicians and physicists. But the reaction from the “man on the street”–i.e., my friends–has been somewhat more restrained. When I described the subject matter to one friend, he paused for a moment before saying: “Well, I guess somebody had to write it.” Another friend was even more perplexed by the topic to which I had devoted a couple of years of my life. “I don’t get it,” he said. “What do you mean by ‘history of mathematics’? 2 + 2 = 4, and that’s never going to change.”
There’s a guy who lives in our neighborhood who strikes me as a bit of a crank. He gets involved in a lot of local brouhahas and backs weird causes. He also speaks up a lot at city council meetings–taking some curious stances–and writes strange letters and online comments to the Cambridge paper. He yells at me, upon occasion, for going the wrong way on my bike down a half-block stretch where I like to cut corners. So you can imagine my surprise when I was watching a major motion picture, set in Boston, and saw this guy in a bar scene. He didn’t have a big role at all, but he still pulled it off well, looking the part. And he has, evidently, been an extra in a number of big movies. He may still be the crank I figured him for, but he also has an acting resume that I’d never suspected. One lesson, I suppose, is that there’s often more to people than meets the eye.
We got a note from our daughter’s middle school announcing the first meeting of the “Parent Caregiver Organization.” Oh good, I thought, after all those years of our taking care of the kids, someone is finally going to take care of us! But I was wrong. The group should, in fact, be called the “parents and caregivers organization,” my wife explained. The “parent caregivers” will come later in our lives, I suppose, and that thought–if I attended to it–would be slightly depressing, so let’s instead dwell on more jovial topics.
About 40 years ago, my Hollywood cousin spent a summer in Cambridge, working at Masse Hardware, an old-fashioned hardware store roughly between Harvard and Porter squares. That store is shutting down next month after being in business for 125 years. I sent my cousin some news articles about the store’s demise, and he wrote me a series of emails in response, going through all the stages of dealing with this sad event: denial, hostility, acceptance, and depression. I was sorry to have broken the news to him but figured it was better for him to hear it from a blood relative like me than from some random guy off the street (such as Santa Monica Boulevard).
A week or so ago I played handball with a friend who was visiting from Connecticut. He wore a T-shirt that speaks for itself, all too eloquently, as the saying goes: “It is better to have played handball and lost than to ever have played racquetball.”
Sorry, folks. It’s been a long hiatus. I was out of town for a little while. And then I experienced some technical problems while logging in. And then I just sort of forgot or, more accurately, didn’t get around to it. Last week I ran into the sister of a friend who asked about the blog, wondering why there hadn’t been anything on it of late. If she was missing it, maybe another person, somewhere, was missing it to. In the face of that pressure, how could I do anything but get back in the saddle and, in true cowboy fashion, start blogging again. Hence this humble missive…
I’m not an expert on World War II lore, but I just saw a short film clip that explained how Hitler’s demise was brought on by a “squadron” of flying squirrels. This fascinating tale appears on YouTube and, hence, has to be true. The filmmaker, in this case, is the noted blogger and author, Paul De Lancey (see link on this page), who has recently penned a fascinating treatise on Spam, which includes a top-secret recipe for the Hawaiian Spam Burger, a delicacy throughout that Pacific archipelago.
Serendipity plays an inordinately large role in science and in invention as well—the electric light bulb serving as a possible example? (I put a question mark there because I can’t remember how the light bulb was invented though I seem to recall that an idea went off in someone’s head and that idea took the form of a light bulb.) Serendipity played a role in my latest invention too. I had placed a ripe plum in our refrigerator, and it partially froze, making for an unusual—dare I say unique???—taste sensation, even better and more natural than a popsicle, if you can believe that. I’m not sure what to call my latest invention, but I have bought out the domain name, FrozFrut, just in case. (Please do not confuse my product with a dessert item produced by the Brazilian concern, Frozfrut. It would be like comparing frozen apples to frozen oranges.)
The Boston Globe recently ran a front-page story about Martha’s Vineyard and how it has become a favorite vacation destination for President Obama and his family. The paper presented a comprehensive tally of how the president spent his time on the island during his last visit, and it didn’t sound like my kind of vacation. He spent more than 18 hours in a car–on a small island that is tailor-made for bike transport. I prefer to spend zero hours in a car, and during my last visit to the Vineyard, that’s just how many I spent inside a motor vehicle. I suppose some would argue that a car affords more privacy than, say, a bicycle or pair of rollerblades. To which I reply: I somehow manage to fend off the media and publicity hounds during my time on the Vineyard. If the president followed my lead, maybe he could learn to do the same.
Ever since I purchased Charmin Basic toilet paper there, Staples has been after me to voice my opinion in order to “help other people make important buying decisions.” I put them off a couple of times, but Staples is a big company, and they’re wearing me down with their repeated entreaties. So what can I say about the product they so desperately want my “review” of?
For me, the issue is more charged than you might expect mainly because I started off my career as a freelance writer when I was asked to write a book review of a treatise on nuclear power. (I ended up writing a review of a book about nuclear weapons instead.) The decades have rolled by, and requests for book reviews have mysteriously dwindled. Perhaps as a sign of the times, I am now being asked to write a review of a 16-roll, single-ply pack of toilet paper. To dress up that request a little bit, Charmin calls their product “Bath Tissue.” Nevertheless, I’m aware that some people might view this as the trajectory of a writer/reviewer in serious decline.
I’ve been in the Boston Globe twice in the past ten days. First, my rapier wit was on display in a letter I wrote to the editor (which the editor, in turn, had the guts to publish on July 4). In today’s paper, there’s a picture of my back and bottom as I lept from a pier into the Charles River. It’s up to the readers, I suppose, to determine which side of me makes the more compelling case.
It’s nice to find a company that really cares about you—Staples. I just got an email from the office supply company (and much, much more!), inquiring about my recent purchase. They wanted to know whether it met my needs and performed to my full and complete satisfaction. I have not yet replied to their kind entreaties, but I can say that the product in question was Charmin Basic Bath Tissue (1-ply).
I just got an email notice unlike any I’ve received before, and I’ve received plenty. Evidently someone in the Boston area is trying to unload a 13-foot-diameter, antique copper astronomical observatory dome. I personally would have trouble putting this fetching dome (with patina finish) to proper use, but it’s still fun to think about. The auction will begin soon and, from what I gather, S&H Green Stamps will not be accepted.
You know you’re getting old when _____. This sentence can, of course, be finished in any number of ways, but I’ve added a new one to the list ever since last night when our next door neighbor invited me to their dear friend visiting from New York. “Cathy,” he said, “meet the patriarch.”
I recently sent a letter to the Boston Globe, which I’m now assuming will not be printed. One of the high points of writing that letter, for me, involved trying to find a good synonym for knucklehead—something I haven’t had to do very often. To make it a bit more challenging, I decided that the word I picked could not end in “head,” like bonehead, lunkhead, fathead, meathead, etc. After considerable deliberation, and serious mental exercise on my part, I came up with numskull—an accomplishment I’m still pretty proud of. Having those two words appear in the same paragraph is quite a literary feat, and I’ll be sad if my letter never sees the light of day.
Yesterday, after returning from shopping early in the morning, I told my 13-year-old daughter of something great that happened at the store. They were collecting all the Star Market/Shaws cards & ripping them up. You didn’t need them anymore to collect the discounts. I considered that a “great” occurrence because I had been holding cards for Stars/Shaw, CVS, Walgreens, and Rite-Aid, and frankly my keychain was getting a bit overextended. I thought that if Star Market could get rid of those cards, maybe the others would follow suit. The whole thing is a big waste of time and, frankly, I’m fed up with it. Which is why I was elated by the brave step that Star Market has taken. My daughter, of course, didn’t get it. She just laughed as if I were crazy. (And maybe I am, but not because of this. This truly is “great,” and I mean that in the truest sense of the word, great.)
I lead a pretty staid existence. I rarely leave the house and when I do, it’s usually to play handball, which is a very cleancut sport. So you can imagine my surprise–and to some extent excitement–when Google informed me that someone in Romania used my password to break into my Google account for reasons unknown. I’ve since changed my password, although I have no idea how they/he/she? got the last one. Still, for a boring guy like me, that’s pretty much the high point of my week.
When it comes down to it, I guess I just hate losing things. On Sunday, I came back from my gym and discovered that I’d lost my Speedo bathing suit. Those skimpy things cost a lot in my book, around 30 bucks, and I can’t let that slide too easily. Except that I left the gym around closing time (6pm) and probably couldn’t get back in. Plus it was very hot, over 90 degrees, and I didn’t feel like biking back there (almost 2 miles) right away. But an hour later, when things had cooled down a bit, I decided to give it a try, as I remembered that my flipflops had fallen out of my swimming bag, which made me wonder whether the swimsuit might have slipped out too.
When I got to the approximate area of the flipflop flop, I was disappointed to see no Speedo lying on the sidewalk. I walked downstairs to the gym, knowing it was closed, but hoping I might see something on the floor. An employee was still there, working out on his own. He could see me but I couldn’t communicate with him through the thick panes of glass. So I went upstairs to a coffee shop to try to write a note to the guy. All they had was a tiny slip of paper used for receipts, which I didn’t think was big enough to do the trick. So I went to the sporting goods store nearby and got a full sheet of paper, borrowing a pen from them too. I wrote a note explaining that I’d lost something. Fortunately, the guy was still there working out, so I held the note up to the pane of glass. He saw it and kindly met me at the entrance to the gym.
I told him I was looking for my black Speedo. He said he saw a bathing suit near the showers but didn’t think it was black. But I was welcome to look anyway. I thanked him and headed to the showers. Sure enough a Speedo was hanging up on the rack. And sure enough, it was no longer black—having faded to a dirty, pale gray. It was more worn than I’d realized. It wasn’t black anymore, and it wasn’t worth no 30 bucks either. But it was mine, so I took it back home with me, satisfied to have achieved some closure in at least one area of my life.
I innocently claimed to have picked up several PhDs in mathematics at Harvard. Somehow this claim was blown out of proportion and has come back to haunt me, even though I am, in fact, truly blameless in this case. Here’s what happened: I was doing some research for a book in the Harvard math (Birkhoff) library, where I looked through many PhD dissertations. I had to pick them up, move them here or there, and eventually replace them to their proper locations in the stacks. Someone heard about this and reported that I had boasted about “picking up several Harvard PhDs.” You can see how that might have happened, but it was clearly a big misunderstanding. And for the record: I do not have several Harvard PhDs, as I personally believe that would be excessive.
I’ve been playing volleyball with a few guys for more than 30 years, which places us well into our 50s—and some a bit beyond that. Last year, an MIT graduate student—let’s call him Peter—joined our group, and he’s been a great addition. He’s a nice guy, an excellent athlete, and a skilled player to boot. Earlier today, my wife and 13-year-old daughter wandered by during the game with our dog, as we were playing at a nice park along the river, and it happened to be beautiful outside. Later, my wife shared something that my daughter asked her: “Why would Peter want to play volleyball with people daddy’s age?”
I bought several items in Harvard Square, including a ginormous (sp???, as I’ve never used that word before) pack of toilet paper (24 double rolls, which, they say, is equivalent to 48 regular rolls. You do the math!). I unlocked my bike and packed some items in my saddlebags, leaving the toilet paper—which could not fit in my saddlebags—on the side. I rode home and realized I’d forgotten the toilet paper. I quickly biked back to Harvard Square and found the toilet paper just where I left it—in the park near Grendel’s. I went home a second time, with my toilet paper supplies replenished and my faith in humanity restored.
The battery ran down on our kitchen clock, and our run-down clock finally stopped running. A piece had broken off on back, making it impossible to set the time. so I needed to wait until it was exactly 12:37–the time the clock was stuck at–in order to replace the battery. But I kept forgetting, and for many days in a row, it was always 12:37 in our kitchen. Last night at 12:35, I remembered. I got the new battery installed just in time, and our old, beat-up clock, to which we’ve grown accustomed, is back in business.
Somebody in our neighborhood likes to steal hubcaps. We’ve been missing one for almost two years. Yesterday I saw a Toyota hubcap lying on the side of the road along Memorial Drive. It looked like the right size, so I took it home, thinking that we’d finally have four hubcaps again. Only I discovered that the other three hubcaps had been stolen in the meantime, which meant that having this one was hardly worth anything. Just like the old saying: One step forward and three steps back.
I’ve been riding a bicycle a long time and, as they say, if you fall off you should get back on that horse. Only that’s not what I meant to say. I meant to say that in all that time of riding my bike, I have been hit by cars on several occasions (five that I can remember off the top of my head though none I can remember off the bottom), but never once have I hit a pedestrian. I have been known to ride fast but I am careful with pedestrians.
These days bicyclists are getting killed left and right by cars on the streets of Boston, but I can barely remember the last time a pedestrian was killed by a bike. Yet there is unnaturally strong antipathy towards cyclists in some quarters. A few vocal individuals just love yelling at cyclists, and they’re good at it. Take today, for instance. I was riding slowly on the wide sidewalk near the Cambridge library, going six feet onto the grass to give a mother pushing a stroller extra room. A woman biking toward me on the opposite end of the walk passed a middle-aged woman (maybe not that much older than me), who yelled at her for riding on the sidewalk. Then she turned to me, who was going about two miles an hour and gave her at least four feet of clearance. “You’re a menace, too!” she said. “You’re endangering me!”
I think she was being overly dramatic–no doubt to make some point or another–and I was happy when I got out of earshot. Still I didn’t really mind the upbraiding. And for the sake of biodiversity, I hope that endangerered species–representing the grouchy old bike-hater—actually survives.
I enjoy number puzzles — Sudoku, KenKen, and Numbrix — the latter appearing courtesy of my favorite magazine, PARADE (“I like it cause it’s real”). I’ve always solved the Numbrix, but last week I ran into problems. I messed up twice on my own and then enlisted my 11-year-old daughter’s help. We messed up two times as well, and I almost gave up but decided that would be setting a bad example for my kid. The next time–my 5th try overall–we cracked the case. My daughter mounted the puzzle on a piece of paper, labeling it “The Hardest Numbrix Ever” and noting the date on which we solved it. That’s now hanging up on my wall–a reminder that I should never give up. Or that at least I should try not to give up in front of my impressionable younger daughter.
I was reading the local paper last week, late one night before going to bed, when I came across a column written by my 13-year-old daughter. She had no idea that her essay was going to be published, nor did I. And I happen to be a columnist for that same paper, so that stumbling across a column from my own daughter caught me off guard. I guess I have to prepare myself for the fact that the younger generation will be taking over soon and perhaps sooner in my case than expected.
I recently interviewed a physicist who is suffering from poor health. We spoke for an hour. Afterwards he said something I rarely hear from an interview subject: “This has been a great conversation. I can’t believe how much ground we covered!” His statement was particularly ironic given that a few minutes after our phone call ended I discovered that my notes of that conversation had completely vanished, as if they had vaporized. I searched throughout my computer and could find no trace of them. I then sat down for the better part of an hour, trying to reconstruct the entire interview. I was able to salvage some of it–and maybe most of it, possibly about two thirds–feeling bad about the technical glitch but feeling relieved that I could pull up three single-spaced pages of notes from memory, a memory that I sometimes worry is faltering.
I wrote an article about a research paper that had to be vetted by the paper’s author. You never know what kind of response you’ll get. Some people send back a few corrections–typos or something more substantive–and don’t give you any indication as to what they think about your piece. But the author I spoke with today (via email) really laid it on thick, telling me that the article I’d sent contained, in his words, “the most lucid exposition of my ideas that I have ever seen… I would not change a word.” Those are the kind of words that can go to a writer’s head. Too bad the editors that I work with don’t abide by that same dictum: “Do not change a word!”
One of the best things about growing up–or I should say about your kids growing up–is that you get to see better movies, not that I don’t consider the SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS MOVIE to be totally awesome. Last night, we watched REAR WINDOW. I don’t know if my daughters liked it as much as I did (for the 10th time), but at least they got through it without complaining. A couple of months ago, I watched the AFRICAN QUEEN with my younger girl, who admitted that it was “pretty good.”
Out of the vast number of books published each year, only a tiny percent of them will sell enough copies to earn the author royalties. I’ve written quite a few books and never got a single royalty check before–that is until last week. The check was a paltry sum–just $119.95–but maybe it’s the first of many, with bigger things to come. Or maybe it’s just a one-shot deal, and that’s all she wrote. Either way, and for better or worse, I can no longer say that none of my books have earned any royalties.
My brother’s klezmer band in Santa Barbara got a good write-up in the local paper. But something about the article threw me: The picture of the band revealed that my brother, whom I haven’t seen since last August, is now sporting a beard. This is a big deal. My brother and I are both in our 50s and, to the best of my knowledge, we have never had beards. Nor has my father so long as I’ve been around. Which is why it seems like a big deal to me—something that perhaps I should have been consulted about. Of course, in a way it’s none of my business. But if I took that attitude, I’d probably never write anything in this blog. My brother said that he might shave it off. If he follows through with that pledge, I will try to be the bigger man here—the man I’ve always been told I was supposed to be—and forget about the whole incident.
I am coming across all kinds of connections with the Boston Marathon bombers, who lived in Cambridge as I do. Both brothers graduated from the local high school that my daughter is going to next year. The younger boy went to the grade school that both my daughters attended and one is currently at. Their father fixed cars in a parking lot that is located less than a half block from the school; we passed him there countless times. Both brothers worked out for a short while at my gym, the Cambridge Y. We also went to the same 7-11 in Central Square. I go there mainly to buy milk (a gallon of 1% for the bargain price of $2.99); they went there to rob the place. After that, the similarities seem to end.
For the past three or so years, I’ve been working on a math history book. All the work on it was mostly finished early this year, but there has been a slow dribble of proofreading stuff over the last couple of months. In the latest go-round, I had to proofread the index. And in the most recent exchange between the production editor and me, I made the executive decision to state things as: Arithmetic, modular, 152, as opposed to: Arithmetic, see Modular Arithmetic, 152. (It should be obvious to all but the most casual reader as to why I insisted on the former over the latter.)
My suggestion was adopted, and the production editor informed me that this would likely be our last communication regarding the book. The manuscript was headed to publication. And I can sleep well knowing that the issue of arithmetic, modular, or rather, Modular arithmetic, has been successful dispatched.
I’ve known a few older members of the Cambridge YMCA who’ve been unable to work out due to injuries, from time to time, but still come to hang out, maybe chat with some friends in the locker room, and take a shower. I’ve always found that a bit puzzling until yesterday when I did the same thing. I’m recovering from minor surgery and am not supposed to work out. But I felt restless, like doing something, so I told my wife and kids that I was going to walk over to the Y to take a shower. “Why don’t you just take a shower here?” my daughter asked, not getting it at all. But I finally got it: These other guys were in the habit of going to the gym and weren’t going to let the fact that they couldn’t exercise keep them from their routine. Yesterday, I followed in their footsteps–feeling a bit sheepish about it, admittedly–but glad that I went, nevertheless.
I don’t want to make light of the Boston Marathon bombing–the loss of lives and limbs and general devastation that that caused was truly horrific. What I did want to mention, however, pertains to Friday, when the whole city of Cambridge and Boston plus adjoining towns imposed a lockdown while law enforcement officials conducted a manhunt for the bombing suspects. Ordinarily being stuck inside all day would drive me crazy. But I’d had a medical procedure the day before whereby I was specifically ordered to take it easy, doing as little physical exertion as possible. I also had a big feature article on cosmology that was overdue and that I’d had a hard time finishing off. Having a whole day, where the authorities urged us to stay inside and when I had little else to do (other than watch the Twilight Saga with my kids and their friends), I actually finished a draft of the article that I’d been working on for nearly a month. By the end of the day, the bombing suspects had been stopped–one killed in a gunfight, the other arrested. And I managed to accomplish a little something too, though it was of no interest to anyone else in the world, except perhaps for my editor who was kind enough to give me a bit of leeway on the deadline.
I’ve made my way into some improbable places in cyberspace before (including the Annals of Improbable Research), but never—so far as I know—onto salon.com, which is pretty high up in the online world. That, however, has just changed as a humorous entry on the aforementioned website—authored by Danny (aka Dan Daniel) Bloom, which is just out today—discusses my recent column in the Cambridge Chronicle, “Conversation with a lapsed catholic.” I won’t say that my story has gone “viral” yet, but it has gone “bacterial,” in the sense that it is growing slowly and inexorably and is seemingly resistant to modern medicine or to common sense.
As for how it feels to be on top of the internet food chain—my latest 15 seconds of fame—I’ll get back to you on that, once I come down from my digital high. And while you’re at it, pinch me, please, because if I’m dreaming I won’t feel a thing.
My “Conversation with a Lapsed Catholic,” which was published in the Cambridge Chronicle a week or so ago, has struck a chord in some quarters. Daniel Ford, the subject of that interview and author of The Lapsed Catholic Catechism, had grown up a good Catholic boy but was warned that he would lose his faith if he attended Harvard—a prophecy that came true. Another Harvard graduate, whom I ran into at the Cambridge Y, told me that he enjoyed the column and that he, too, had a similar experience. When he was a boy, my gym-mate explained, a neighbor, who was kind of like an aunt to his family, also warned him that Harvard would destroy his good family values. And when, true to form, this guy disavowed his religious upbringing and started embracing leftist politics, the good auntie said: “I wish I’d strangled him in the cradle when I had the chance.”
Meanwhile, a columnist for a Jewish publication (one of whom or which is based in San Diego, I think) absolutely loved my Chronicle column. He said that Ford’s quote–that you can’t really quit Judaism because it’s “like a family tradition”–was destined to become “A NEW CLASSIC JEWISH JOKE.” And since I’m the one who wrote the column, I’m going to take credit for that modern-day classic. Call me a late bloomer but Borscht Belt here I come!
On the way to our soccer game this morning, at around 8:15 a.m., we stopped in at an old-fashioned donut shop in Belmont called Linda’s that has a loyal following–the kind of place that is disappearing all too often amidst a flood of Dunkin’ Donuts and other franchises. It was my first time in this establishment, which seemed to be crowded with regular patrons, many of them oldtimers. A veteran customer standing in front of us in line tried to show us the ropes. After I ordered a donut “with that crunchy stuff on top,” he commented that he’d never heard that before. It was a butternut donut, he said, emphatically. My daughter was up next and she, too, ordered a bit tentatively, saying something like: “I’ll have a, uh, uh, a chocolate donut?”
The guy turned to her and said: “Say it like you mean it!” And next time, no doubt, she will–say it, or mean it, or both.