Archive for December, 2008

Home Again

We returned today from visiting Dorothy’s parents in the frozen wasteland of western New York. Actually, it was not all that frozen, though there was a lot of snow, and it may have been even warmer up there today than it is down here in southern Connecticut. The drive was mind-numbingly long, with about three hours of the trip on the New York State Thruway. I get along very well with my in-laws, who are some of the sweetest and kindest people you could meet. Even so, it is very nice to be back home in my own house, with my fast internet connection, and Muttboy’s familiar haunts.

It was, as usual, a very bookish Christmas. Here is what I received:

Campagnolo: 75 Years of Cycling Passion. This is a great big coffee-table book, an illustrated history of Campagnolo, the bicycle component manufacturer. It has some great pictures of Tullio, the company founder, the company’s products through the years, and some of the racers who won the biggest European races with Campagnolo-equipped bicycles. It is also very up-to-date, with a final chapter about the new 11 speed group. It is a lot of fun to browse through this book.

Anathem by Neal Stephenson. This is a huge brick of a book, and I am sure you must pay extra to have it shipped. This novel is his first since the masterful Baroque Cycle trilogy (if you have not read the Baroque Cycle, stop reading this and go buy all three books right now and read them), and it is set on a distant, earth-like planet. Stephenson created a new lexicon for the book, and many of the new terms sound somewhat familiar but point in new directions as dictated by the story. I’m looking forward to tackling this beast.

The Widows of Eastwick by John Updike. I have been a follower of John Updike since the dusty paperbacks stored by my landlord in my basement apartment got me through a difficult semester of unwanted engineering courses. I know a lot of people can’t stand his dryly precise, somewhat pompous prose and supercilious distance, but I am always caught up in his stories. This novel is a sequel to The Witches of Eastwick, and it picks up the story over 30 years after the first one ended and all three of the witches are now widowed (as the title suggests) and reunite in Eastwick. I just started it tonight, and I don’t think it will take that long to read.

While we were on our trip, I read Tana French’s In the Woods. I’ll write more about it later, but I will now take the time to recommend it very highly. It is astonishingly well-written, especially considering it is a first novel (like The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, it does not display its debut status), and the storytelling is first rate. This is another to rush out and read.

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Just like the title says:


And how about one more:


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Happy Solstice

Because all dogs are pagans, Muttboy would like to wish everyone a Happy Solstice, one day early.


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The Jerk Store Never Runs Out

The Jerk Store Never Runs Out: A Christmas Play in One Act

The Setting: Early afternoon. The local Post Office.
The Players: YUPPIE WOMAN. POSTAL CLERK DUDE. HOBGOBLIN. Assorted postal customers.

The line is shorter than it was yesterday, when Hobgoblin had to mail a Christmas package to his mother in California. Instead of pushing out the doors the main reception area and into the P.O. box area, it ends at the door threshold. All three customer service windows are open, and it seems as if everyone has two or three packages to send.

HOBGOBLIN [interior monologue]: Wow, that dude’s hair looks just like Nigel Tufnel’s. Oh man! If you’re going to wear jeans without a belt and no underwear, DO NOT BEND OVER! Seriously, dude. I need about a gallon of eye bleach now. Wait, what’s this?

[He overhears a conversation at one of the customer service windows. It seems the YUPPIE WOMAN is having some sort of altercation with POSTAL CLERK DUDE. Her voice has a sharp edge to it that cuts through other conversations, although it is not especially loud.]

POSTAL CLERK DUDE: Would you like any insura–

YUPPIE WOMAN: I do not want to pay anything extra.

PCD: Would you like delivery confir–

YW: I do not want to pay anything extra.

PCD: OK, next package. This will be $39.17 guaranteed overnight, or $7.50 First Class Priority.

YW: How long will that take?

PCD: It’s a two to three day average.

YW: Can you guarantee it will arrive in three days?

PCD: No, ma’am, I’m sorry. We can’t guarantee anything but Overnight mail. It’s a two to three day average.

YW: So it will get there in three days?

PCD: Well, that’s an average. It usually takes two or three days.

YW: So you can’t tell me when it will get there?

PCD: No, ma’am, but like I said, it’s a two to three day average.

YW [her voices rises slightly]: That’s no way to run things. How about if you scheduled me to come to your house and I said it would be sometime during the next week? You couldn’t take the whole week off to wait for me to get there, now could you? That’s just not acceptable. Will it definitely be there in three days?

PCD: Two to three days is the average time. We can’t guarantee the delivery time unless you ship it overnight, for the extra fee–

YW: I do not want to pay anything extra.

PCD: OK, then. Seven-fifty. [He slaps several “Priority Mail” stickers on the package, and prints out the price stamp.]

[YW continues to rant about bad service and guarantees and how this is no way to run a business.]

[PCD takes the package back to the package chute and dumps it in.]

HOB [Interior monologue]: Good job, Yuppie Woman. I hope you didn’t have anything fragile in there, because it’s not going to make it.

PCD: OK, this next package, do you want–

YW: I do not want to pay anything extra.

PCD: OK, that’s $18.75 over–

YW: I do not want to pay anything extra.

PCD: –night, and $4.50 Priority, with two to three day delivery.

YW: Can you guarantee it will be there in three days?

PCD [He is clearly restraining an unfriendly smile.]: The two to three days is average, ma’am.

[The dialogue continues as above, with YW and PCD discussing the relative merits of guaranteed delivery versus a two to three day average. Finally they finish the transaction as YW hands over her credit card.]

PCD: Credit or debit?

YW: Credit. [She takes the slip.] Where do I sign?

PCD: Right there at the bottom.

YW: At the bottom? Where? I don’t see–

PCD: Actually ma’am, it doesn’t matter. They don’t care, just as long as there’s a signature. Sign it wherever you want. [He ties heroically to suppress a sigh.]

YW: Your pen doesn’t work! [PCD silently hands her a new pen. She signs and hands the slip back.]

PCD: Thank you. Have a wonderful day. [There seems to be the slightly sarcastic emphasis on “wonderful.”]

[It is now HOB’s turn. He walks to the window and catches PCD’s eye and smiles widely. They share a “what a jerk” look. They quickly complete HOB’s transaction.]

PCD: Thank you, and have a great day. [He emphasizes “great.”]

HOB: Thanks–you too. [They catch each others’ eyes again and suppress a laugh.]

[HOB walks to the door, shaking his head and smiling broadly. As he crosses the street, he is nearly hit by a speeding SUV, and he has to leap backwards to avoid the water and slush sprayed up by its tires. He notices YW driving. This makes him laugh even harder.]

HOB [waving at the departing SUV]: Merry Christmas!

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My grading, that is. I had a huge load of papers, as I usually do, made even bigger by the take-home final exams from my American lit classes. I started the grading process last week, I think, but when I really try to think about last week and the grading I did, I see this fog shrouding everything. What, exactly, did I do last week? I must have done some grading or I wouldn’t be finished by now.

I do know this: there were a lot of papers. I spent all weekend reading papers and finals. Over the course of Saturday and Sunday, I finished reading 45 papers with an average length of 1000 words each and the same number of finals with an average length of 600 words. That adds up to a short novel. Even though I don’t put many comments on the last papers, I still take the time to say something on each one. It is very, very difficult to keep coming up with new ways to say “You have some interesting ideas in this paper, but you do not develop your points with enough specific details.” I should make a macro that says this so I can hit one key to print out my criticism (I grade on the computer, thus saving paper).

Grading is very stressful for me. I worry about grading too harshly. I worry about being too lenient. When a student fails the class (I had three failures this semester), I always feel a little sad about it. But it is over until the first week of May, when I get to do it all over again.

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Sportsman of the Year

Tonight my cycling club had its annual end of the year/beginning of the new season meeting, where we recap the past year and talk about plans for the new year.  The team manager, who is also the bike shop owner, always has a Powerpoint slideshow with highlights from the past season, such as our Ironmom’s performance at Kona or the growth of the club membership.  It’s a good way to wrap up the year, and it highlights the strengths of our group pretty effectively, even if it does go on a bit longer than is strictly necessary.

Greg also always gives out a couple of awards, one for Most Improved Athlete, and one for Sportsman of the Year.  I was completely shocked when he announced that I had won Sportsman of the Year.  He said that I always showed great sportsmanship, worked hard as a team member, and effectively rallied the team to work together.  Upgrading to a Cat 3 helped, too.

As I’ve mentioned a number of times in past posts, I was never much of an athlete as a child.  I did not do well at team sports, and the football-mad culture of my redneck hometown did not really have a place for me.  Add to that my utter lack of coordination, and I was always ready to fail at sports.  I did like riding my bike, though, and that joy has stayed with me.

It was a good year for my cycling, even though I broke a rib and a bike in one crash and broke another bike when I got hit by a car.  I accomplished both of the goals I set for myself at the beginning of the season: win the summer series and upgrade to Cat 3.  After winning this completely unexpected award, I feel like I’ve found a very comfortable spot in the peloton, a place of respect.  It’s fun.  It’s good to be a sportsman.

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For the past several days, I’ve felt very tired and achy, with chills hitting me every hour or so.  Then I had a fever that spiked somewhere around 101 degrees.  My knees hurt.  My back hurts.  My head really hurts.  I went to the doctor today and she diagnosed me with Lyme disease.  It’s not terribly surprising, really, considering how much time I spend in the woods around here.  Muttboy has had Lyme twice this year alone, so I am very much overdue for my own bout with the ticks.

It is not a lot of fun, and it is a particularly bad time of year to get sick, what with hundreds of papers to grade and a semester to wrap up.  If I can just make it through the next two weeks or so, I’ll be fine.

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