Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Do I think Gatsby is a hero?

John Green has a great video about the first 6 chapters of The Great Gatsby. He calls for viewers to answer the question "Is Gatsby a hero?" in the comments section. Boy did I run out of space on that fast.

Long answer: Gatsby is most definitely on a quest. Nick at one point says he "found he had committed himself to the following of a grail." The Holy Grail is an interesting symbol for the American Dream, as is Daisy: the Grail is of course an object of spiritual value, (Hello! it's "Holy"), but it also holds great monetary value (at least it was believed to be all gold & jewelly until Indiana Jones’ Last Crusade came along). Similarly, Daisy can be seen as a valuable object (she's filthy rich, & every guy seems to want to possess her with the possible exception of her cousin), but there is also an intangible something about her that transcends all that. 
The knight who would seek the Grail had to be pure of heart. Nick makes this comparison because he sees something pure & innocent in Gatsby, even though that innocence might just be his incredible naivete in believing that he could ever be part of that “old money” society. I think Gatsby & Nick both saw something spiritual in that dream, the way the American Dream is so often talked about in noble terms (no matter where you come from, you can achieve greatness if you try hard enough) when on another level it’s just as Eddie Izzard described: get all the money in the world, stick it in your ears & go PHTHHHHHH!!
So the question really is: Do we agree with Nick?
I think I do. It’s really hard for me to argue with a narrator, no matter how hard I try.

Short answer: Yes. I should have said that first & saved you the TL;DR.

Counter question: Did The Catcher in the Rye make oblique references to Gatsby? (Hint: the answer is yes. Because I think so, and I’m the teacher. Nyah.)

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Greatest Song Ever?

This one has been a long time coming, at least a week or so. I thought if I sat on it awhile the mania would pass and it would come out less hyperbolic. Let's see if that worked.
This is something I experience very rarely, but it happens: a song that has always been around, in the background, in bars, at parties, maybe even department stores, I couldn't possibly estimate how many times I've heard it in almost 20 years, but it's definitely more than a dozen, and somehow in all those times I heard it, it never registered that THIS IS THE GREATEST SONG ON THE PLANET.
Okay, that may be pushing it. But it is definitely a PERFECT SONG.
Scroll down if you want to know which song I'm referring to. Otherwise, stay with me and see if you can guess.
It's a love song, and one thing that makes it a perfect love song is the music. It's ebullient, euphoric, utterly poppy, just three and a half minutes of unbridled joy.
But hey, I had heard the music for years & never realized it was the perfect love song. My theory is twofold: partly that there are other songs by the same band that sound pretty similar, and partly that I never listened to the lyrics.
Now that's just weird for me. I'm all about words. Every song that I ever loved, I loved for the words. Why oh why didn't I just listen to them?

Tell me this isn't a love poem to rival Shakespeare or E. E. Cummings:

when i see you sky as a kite
as high as i might
i can't get that high
the how you move
the way you burst the clouds
it makes me want to try

when i see you sticky as lips
as licky as trips
i can't lick that far
but when you pout
the way you shout out loud
it makes me want to start
and when i see you happy as a girl
that swims in a world of magic show
it makes me bite my fingers through
to think i could've let you go

and when i see you
take the same sweet steps
you used to take
i say i'll keep on holding you
my arms so tight
i'll never let you slip away

and when i see you kitten as a cat
yeah as smitten as that
i can't get that small
the way you fur
the how you purr
it makes me want to paw you all
and when i see you happy as a girl
that lives in a world of make-believe
it makes me pull my hair all out
to think i could've let you leave

and when i see you
take the same sweet steps
you used to take
i know i'll keep on holding you
in arms so tight
they'll never, never let you go

I know, right?

So I've been listening to it over & over & over again. I sing it when I'm riding the bike sometimes, although Poe's "Amazing" is still my favorite for that :)

Monday, August 1, 2011

37-Mile Sunday

We've had a number of days that threatened and/or delivered rain lately, so I've been going through a bit of bike withdrawal. Yesterday I definitely got my fix.
This might be the most straightforward route we've followed on one of these long rides. Rode the 5 miles to the ferry, and started out on the other side by skirting Battery Park and setting off on the Hudson River Greenway. There is still one slight detour near the beginning, but we're very used to it by now. We rode the whole thing to the top, but not nonstop; we used the bathrooms at the Pier One Cafe & had a picnic lunch in Riverside Park, then filled up our water containers at the tennis courts. Around the GWB we actually had to do some walking with the bikes because the hills there are practically vertical. If my bike could talk, it would have said, "What are you trying to do, lady? You gotta be kidding me!" (My bike has an old-school Brooklyn accent in this story for some reason.) We rode the Greenway to the top of Fort Tryon Park, where it ends just below Inwood Hill Park.
Then we rode down Dykman Street, and Paul said, "Don't you feel like the bikes have transported us back to 1978?" Dykman led us to Harlem River Drive, which was beautiful and creepy at the same time. We saw a few people here and there out barbecuing with their kids, but compared to the West side it was pretty much deserted.
The HRD bike path got weird at 155th Street, so from there we took St. Nicholas Place, and at 151 St. we got onto St. Nicholas Avenue. This was our second time riding past St. Nicholas Park; everyone there always seems to be having a great time. Took that to 120th Street and rode past gorgeous brownstones to Second Avenue.

We rode Second Avenue all the way down to Houston Street! Ran into some construction along the way, so it got a little hairy, but there was very light traffic and we were able to ride in the bus lanes until the bike lanes appeared on the other side of the street. Cool moment: the Roosevelt Island tram came down right in front of us.
At East Houston we zipped over to Allen Street to get us to South Street and back to the ferry. Again, all that is old hat by now. Unfortunately, there are few worlds left for us to conquer on the island of Manhattan, at least until all the bike paths they're working on are finished.
Discovery of the day: one of Paul's pedals broke! He's noticed it sticking in the last couple of weeks, but it wasn't until we were getting on the boat to go home that he noticed it was severely bent. Hopefully he's finding new ones right now.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011


This probably doesn’t deserve a whole blog post, but I didn’t want to have to go and use in on a comment on every blog in the whole skeptic community.
Since I got embroiled in the Elevatorgate nontroversy, I have seen many commentors referred to as “trolls.” In my experience with internet trolls, they have never been people with strong feelings about a cause who simply disagree with others that have strong feelings. The trolls I’ve come across have always just wanted to be dicks to piss people off, and get well-meaning bloggers to freak out and rage against them.
To make sure I wasn’t defining it incorrectly, I checked with Their first definition is:

One who posts a deliberately provocative message to a newsgroup or message board with the intention of causing maximum disruption and argument
In other words, what I thought it was.
Now here’s the second definition:

One who purposely and deliberately (that purpose usually being self-amusement) starts an argument in a manner which attacks others on a forum without in any way listening to the arguments proposed by his or her peers. He will spark of such an argument via the use of ad hominem attacks (i.e. 'you're nothing but a fanboy' is a popular phrase) with no substance or relevence to back them up as well as straw man arguments, which he uses to simply avoid addressing the essence of the issue.
This, I assume, is what people have been trying to say. But I think it’s important to note that this definition states the purpose as “usually... self-amusement,” and that there are three more definitions listed on the site, all of which are much closer to #1 than #2.
For the sake of clarity, I humbly suggest pointing out specific logical fallacies rather than just calling people “trolls” and accusing them of “trolling.” It’s easily misinterpreted by those of us who’ve had to deal with truly awful trolls.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Yet Another Elevatorgate Post from a Pissed-off Atheist

I want to ask Rebecca Watson to please reread the link she posted as “Feminism 101” in her blog post titled “On Naming Names at the CFI Student Leadership Conference.” Then to revisit her tale of the “Elevatorgate” incident. By that definition, and by her description of the event, that man did not objectify her. He did the opposite. He treated her as a complex person, one capable of interesting conversation and coffee drinking, and one that had the option of declining his polite offer. He did not turn her into an object.
I fail to see how telling a woman you find her interesting and you'd like to have coffee with her is "sexualizing" her. Yes, even at 4am in an elevator when 10 minutes ago she said she was tired, dammit! I'm sure the internet will tell me what an anti-woman gender traitor I am.
From my point of view, I identify as feminist, by the old-fashioned definition of "the radical belief that women are human beings." There is nothing wrong with one human being propositioning another. The Elevator Guy can't know you're a paranoid until he winds up as fodder for your vlog. Maybe I shouldn't pass judgment on an incident I didn't witness, but I'm treating this as a hypothetical: What if you're at a conference in Dublin, it's 4 in the morning, a guy gets in the elevator with you and says this? Has he done something, ANYTHING, wrong? The answer is no. Absolutely not. Dawkins was right to compare it to chewing gum. He didn't trivialize it; it was trivial to start with. That's what Watson clearly doesn't “get.”
Many reactions I'm seeing online are dealing with the infighting aspect of this. There are all kinds of debates raging, but most skeptics are up for a good debate, right? Except those that aren't. When Dawkins wrote his (I'll admit it was snotty) response to PZ Meyers' sycophantic reaction to "Elevatorgate," Watson’s response to him was juvenile and irrational. "I will no longer recommend his books to others, buy them as presents, or buy them for my own library. I will not attend his lectures or recommend that others do the same. There are so many great scientists and thinkers out there that I don’t think my reading list will suffer." So those books that you were recommending for years are suddenly invalid because the author has justifiably called you out on your irrational fear of men? Note: Your reaction was not to invite Dawkins to a discussion, but to dismiss him as a "wealthy heterosexual white man." Because of those attributes, his opinion on the matter doesn't count? Well, I'm a woman. I've been importuned in a similar manner, in Dublin AND in London, at 2, if not 4, in the morning. And when I politely refused these polite offers, I was able to return to my room without incident. I didn't go online and tell men they should never do that to women. Because that would be ridiculous.
One thing coming out of all this, and I hope it continues, is that many atheists are questioning Watson’s place in the movement. I hope she has to justify her existence at these events and in this community, because a lot of careful readers out there have noted that she seems to bring very little to the table on the SGU podcast and in her blog.
I am not anti-woman. I am anti-Rebecca Watson. I am a woman, and I never gave Rebecca Watson permission to speak for me. When she says that, as someone who can't see the incident she described as objectification, I "don't get it," well, that really raises my hackles. I'm not stupider than you because I disagree. I know what it is to be objectified, and that's not it. You don't get to tell me how I'm supposed to feel about it. You don't have that privilege. You don't get to rewrite the rules of social interaction to suit your paranoia. You don't have that privilege. Richard Dawkins never said "be a good girl and keep quiet." You made that up. Your paraphrase of his comments adds things that weren't there. I paraphrase what he said as "NOTHING BAD HAPPENED TO YOU IN THAT ELEVATOR." And I agree with him completely. I'm sorry whatever mental illness you're clearly suffering from tells you otherwise. Good luck getting help, but you won't, because it's all of us who "don't get it" that have to change, right?

PS: The upshot of all this stupidity is it helped me find lots of cool bloggers. Here are some fun links on the subject, mostly from my side ("Team Elevator Guy")
  • The Justicar, who is pretty hilarious (imho)
  • Miranda Celeste, who I'm now following
  • Stef McGraw, who RW treated unprofessionally (imho)
  • ERV, awesome science nerd
  • Amy Alkon, great title on this post
  • and I'll include one more Team Rebecca post, The Blag Hag, who I have lost a lot of respect for in all this (note that I'm not urging a boycott of everything she's ever written. That would be childish.)

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Bloomsday 2011

Every year I have to work on Bloomsday, and every year I complain about it. It used to seem to fall on the last day of classes every year, so I would spend the day telling the 3 kids per class who showed up about my trips to Dublin, showing them my book & pictures & basically just jabbering on like an imbecile about it. After work, I'm always looking for a way to celebrate. Twice I went to the local reading, but I didn't really enjoy it. Once I went to the reading at Symphony Space, & that was pretty awesome, but it's pricey & ends really late for a school night. I'd like to go to the Rosenbach Museum in Philly one of these years, but like most places, they tend to do stuff during the day, when I'm WORKING. And this year was one of those when the 16th fell during Regents week, when I am actually needed.
Well not really. The English exam was not until Friday, so all I had to do on Thursday was proctor. In the 15 years I've been at NDHS, not only have I never gone sick during Regents Week, but I've always been willing to proctor late exams. It's not rare for me to be stuck there until 6:30 some nights, especially back in those 2-day ELA Regents days. This time I was so determined to celebrate Bday that I told the school in advance it was the one day I could NOT stay late! They put me down as 2nd proctor of a morning exam in an ELL room, finishing at 2:25pm.
I remembered hearing that Ulysses Folk House near the ferry did a reading every year, so I told Paul I planned to ride my bike there after work. He decided he would ride into Brooklyn to visit Jim Hanley. It was all working out.
Just as I'm showing up for my proctoring assignment, Paul starts trying to call me. I get a text from him that says "Don't panic, but I got hit by a car. I'm fine but the bike is fucked up." I call around to find someone to cover me long enough for me to call & talk to him, but now he's not answering the phone. Once I finally got through to him the bike was fixed already (the guy who had run him over going 3 mph was kind enough to drive him to a bike shop & buy him a new front rim), & he assured me he was fine & was at Jim's. I was tempted to use the excuse to sign out early, but I did the good girl thing & went back to proctoring the exam.
Raced home, got my stuff together, & rode to the ferry. Just missed the 4:00 boat, so I got a cheesy hot dog from the place by the ferry & hung out long enough to eat that. Walking onto the boat I heard 2 guys talking about how to fix the brakes on the one guy's bike; they said they needed an allen wrench, so I lent them mine. They spent the whole ferry ride making one working brake out of the two broken ones the guy had on his bike. They thanked me for the loan of the tool & seemed impressed on how uber-prepared I was (I also have a patch kit, pump & spare tube. Ya never know).
Got off the ferry at 5pm. That is a hell of a time to go riding around the financial district. The bar has a big courtyard that's actually a street cut off from traffic & full of tables, all of which were filled. I locked up my bike on the scaffolding in the courtyard & made a couple of circuits around the whole building & courtyard. It seems their Bloomsday stuff had been going on all day; the readings were apparently done, but I got in at the very end of the "complimentary pint of Guinness hour." So that was a win! But it was very uncomfortable, and while there were a few groups of people that had books with them, most were lawyers, financial types, & just plain frat boys who were somehow already drunk off their asses. I managed to read over a few pages of "Oxen of the Sun" before I decided to try my luck elsewhere.
It was turning out to be a really nice day weatherwise, & I really liked the idea of drinking outside. It's one of my favorite things to do, & one reason why I love Paris so much. I thought it would be great to ride up to the outdoor cafe on the Hudson Greenway & have a drink there, but it was after 6, and Paul & I had planned to get the 9pm boat home together. I figured I was better off finding someplace in the Village where I could sit, read, eat & drink. Corner Bistro came to mind right away.
The ride there was fabulous. As I found a sign outside to lock my bike to, I noticed an orange bike locked up across the street. Paul's bike is orange, & every time we see an orange bike he kind of sings "orange bike," so of course I heard that in my head. As soon as I parked my bike this guy came over & started asking me about it, assuming it was a custom bike, which it's not. He turned out to be the owner of the orange bike, & as soon as I said, "My husband has an orange bike," he ended the conversation & left. Go figure.
I went into the Corner Bistro & headed straight for the Ladies' Room. When I came out, saw the line for a table stretching halfway to the door, & every spot at the bar was full. So I decided to walk a bit & find a place to eat.
I ended up at Fiddlesticks, where I had gone only once about 10 years ago when Ellen dragged a bunch of us to a fireman auction. I went in & asked if I could sit outside, & the nicest waitress on the planet earth told me to sit anywhere I liked. I ordered a Guinness as soon as she brought me the menu, & opened the book onto the tiny table, which had a plant on it along with the bread, water carafe & glass, salt, pepper, and a ridiculous ketchup dispenser in the shape of a tomato. I ordered the sliders as an appetizer (the NWOTPE said, "The name 'sliders' is kind of misleading; you only get one," but I said "That's perfect" because I really had no business getting an appetizer AND entree on top of the second Guinness) and a goat cheese fritter salad (eating cheese as an homage to Bloom, natch). While I was reading & eating, someone brought out lanterns for all the tables. I was glad for the tealight, but the table was just getting ridiculously crowded. I kept using my phone as a bookmark, since checking Twitter for the various Ulysses-themed tweets was almost a full-time job that day, made all the more challenging by my dwindling battery life (I think it was down to 32% when I got home). There was one guy I kept seeing walking back & forth in front of the place, & as soon as I started thinking "What's this guy's problem?" I realized he was probably a manager there. Duh. There was a table of 4 young people behind me; one of them was a real smarmy trust-fund-kid-type who was irritating the hell out of me because he was LOUD. He was talking about how cool he had been when he went to Paris & bargained for paintings near "Sacre-Core" by offering good American money instead of Euros (see what I mean?) & I couldn't see his companions, but the thought that they were buying into his shit was really annoying me. Somebody needed to punch that kid in the mouth. That's all I'm saying.
I read a few more pages of "Oxen" & wrapped up my stay there. The Nicest Waitress on the Planet Earth brought the check, ran my card, & took the little check-holder-thingy back & we both thanked each other profusely. I made sure I had the card in my wallet & the wallet in my bag, & decided to hit the ladies' room before heading back to my bike.

I was really congratulating myself on how I had timed everything; I figured I had time to do the scenic route along Battery Park City to get back. For a moment I was afraid I would leave The Book in the bathroom, but I didn't. I walked back to my bike, unlocked it, & got back on the road. Rode down Washington St. to Christopher, got back on the Hudson Greenway, stopped at a light like the nerd that I am, & took the opportunity to check the time. Reached in the pocket of my backpack for my phone, and IT WAS GONE. MY PHONE WAS NOT THERE. I pulled everything out of that pocket & put it back. I felt the book bag that I keep The Book in, remembering how I had kept the phone in there while I was reading. I looked in the main part of my pack, although I knew I would never put my phone in there. Full panic creeped up on me & pounced.
Had I left it at the restaurant? In the bathroom? On the outdoor table, where any passerby could have picked it up? Could it have fallen in the gutter outside Corner Bistro when I took out my keys to unlock my bike?
I was freaking out. By this time I was pedalling like a madman back up toward Corner Bistro, taking one way streets the wrong way, riding on the sidewalk on the cobbled streets, just plain not giving a shit. Wondering what the hell I was going to do if the phone was gone. At one point the bike lane was blocked by cops & three bike riders were stopped behind it; I jumped off & walked my bike around on the sidewalk & kept on going. Had someone stolen it out of my backpack somehow? WTF had happened to it? Got to Corner Bistro, looked in the gutter, wheeled my bike in & asked the bartender if anyone had turned in a phone. He said, "not tonight." I wheeled out & rode to Fiddlesticks, FREAKING THE FUCK OUT. Got there & saw that manager guy right away. Told him I might have left my phone there, probably in the bathroom. He said to ask Rory at the bar, & said he would mind my bike. Opened the door & walked right into the NICEST WAITRESS ON THE PLANET EARTH, who before I could say anything smiled & said, "You left your phone; I tried to catch you..." I can't describe the relief that flowed all over me right then, as Rory came from behind the bar with my phone in his hand.
It was 8:50 pm. I texted Paul: "Late sorry - you're gonna kill me when u hear why." I managed to get to the Greenway & travel a bit before he called me back, worried. I just came out with it; "I left my phone at the restaurant." He said, "Did you get it back?" I said, "Yeah, I'm talking to you on it."
As we waited for the boat, I was really kicking myself. The NWOTPE had said this happens all the time. "Not to me," is what I told her. Paul said the important thing was that I got it back, although my text had worried him; he felt I should have just told him what happened. Especially given the way his day went, and the fact that his last text to me before that had said "Watch out for cars!"
I guess I should mention the 11ysses experiment. It was pretty interesting. This dude arranged for volunteers each to turn an 8-page section of Ulysses into a series of 4-6 tweets that he labelled "Bloomsday Bursts" and tweeted in Dublin time over the course of the day under the user name @11ysses. He also started @11ysses2 for commentary on how it went. At the same time, @UlyssesSeen was tweeting brief mentions of events (in fact, he started doing this a few days in advance, tweeting the backstory). It was kind of cool the way his tweets illuminated ours, but it got confusing since his tweets were in Eastern Standard Time. Most people who had decided to read @11ysses because they had never read U seemed really disappointed that they couldn't understand any of it, but fans of the book seemed to love it. The dude who started the whole thing was kind enough to email us each a certificate & a pdf of the whole twitter version, which he asked us not to distribute for fear of legal repercussions. I also got a fuckton of new twitter followers. I picked a few to follow back, but let's face it, I've got enough to read as it is!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011


Years ago, a colleague of mine that I refuse to name began a speech with "Mark Twain once said..." and continued with the most pithy, saccharine aphorism you can imagine. Obviously I knew Twain was incapable of such drivel, and I was quick to blame the internet. is replete with stories of quotes that get misattributed, and I've known students who were misinformed about even which bands recorded certain songs. Grumble grumble grumble. It bugs me because the internet is supposed to make us better informed, not worse. At least that's my hope.
By now I guess everyone knows about what happened with the not-MLK & not-Mark-Twain quotes that made the rounds after the death of Osama bin Laden. If not, there's a good synopsis of what happened here. I was skeptical of the MLK quote the first time I saw it, which was in Penn Jillette's tweet (in fact, the one thing that made me think it was legit was my trust in Penn Jillette's skepticism!). I followed the ensuing events with fascination, even using the hashtag #iwitnessedthebirthofameme.
I still have to work, though. My AP English Lit students had an essay exam on Monday, and the question I gave them was taken from the 2004 AP Lit exam. Here's the prompt they had to write on:
Critic Roland Barthes has said, "Literature is the question minus the answer." Choose a novel or play and, considering Barthes' observation, write an essay in which you analyze a central question the work raises and the extent to which it offers any answers. Explain how the author's treatment of this question affects your understanding of the work as a whole. Avoid mere plot summary.
Just out of curiosity, I did a Google search on the quotation, hoping to find out which Barthes essay contained the quote. Almost all of the returns fell into one of two categories: (a) AP English essays responding to the prompt, and (b) quotation sites. Then I found this, and it kind of blew my mind.
It doesn't take a Facebook or Twitter user to take a quote out of context & mangle its meaning, shoehorning your own meaning into it. THE FREAKIN' COLLEGE BOARD DOES IT ON THEIR TESTS (tests which cost our nation's high school students 86 bucks a pop, I might add).
Draw your own conclusions about all this. I'm just watching the show.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Biggest Ride Yet

What you need to know:
This is not one continual ride. We had a few stops:
  • on Allen St., for a phone call (good news)
  • directly under the Manhattan Bridge (Bklyn side) for another call (bad news that cancelled out the earlier good news)
  • on Tillary St., to digest the bad news & give up on Bklyn
  • Starbucks, Astor Place (snack break)
  • Various & sundry terrifying spots in New Jersey, checking the Google Maps
Otherwise, it was nonstop. We left home at about 1pm, and got back at 10:15. Then we had dinner!
Here's the breakdown (in miles):
  • 4.73 to ferry
  • 2.85 to EMS
  • 2.43 to bklyn
  • 3.15 to starbucks astor pl
  • 12.55 up & over GWB
  • 7.94 to Park Ave in Hoboken
  • 2.88 lost in Hoboken
  • 2.35 lost again
  • 4.68 thru Jersey City
  • 3.57 to Bayonne Br
  • 2.12 to home
Total = 49.25 miles. All my worry about the 5 Boro is out the window.
P.S. I had noticed all through Jersey that my bike rack was being noisy. Paul just noticed one of the bolts is missing from it. Oops!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Conquering Staten Island

Today's ride was kind of magical, and by that I mean that the first real raindrops started falling just when we reached home. Rain was our biggest worry all day long & it held off until we were done. Hooray!I've been getting a little worried about the 5 Boro Bike Tour next week. This is my first full season cycling, & although I've been training (I made it to the gym around 1-2x a week all winter, riding a stationary bike), whenever we've gotten back from a long ride it seems like it turns out to have been around 23 miles or something. And some of those rides have wiped me out. The 5 Boro being 42 miles... I've been worried.
I feel much better about it after today.
We set out along our normal route to the mall, then rode the sidewalks along Richmond Avenue (well... wouldn't you? I certainly don't think I can ride 42 miles next week if I'm literally dead.) and wound our way to Woodrow Road, which we followed to its end. From there to Bloomingdale, to Sharrots, to Target! Our plan was to pick up a few necessaries there, but this being Reverse-Zombie-Jesus Day, it was closed. (Credit where due: my buddy @augiemania points out that Jesus is a Reverse Zombie, because he wants YOU to eat HIS flesh.) A bit more sidewalk riding (shh! don't tell anyone) got us to Page Avenue, where we managed to avoid lawbreaking by riding through strip mall parking lots. As we rode over the highway on the overpass, I flipped the bird to all the cars backed up for miles & miles in suffocating traffic (shh! don't tell anyone! they didn't see me). We rode on to Hylan Boulevard, which we stayed on until the alleged bike lanes ended at Barclay Avenue.
Ah, the Hylan Blvd bike lanes. Where to start? They are pretty much invisible for most of the ride, here because the paint has faded away, there because of all the mud, gravel, garbage and debris completely covering it. For a few blocks there the street had been paved, but they didn't bother to go all the way to the edge of the street, resulting in split-level bike lanes (see pic below).

I got kind of nostalgic riding past Wolfe's Pond Park. From there we wound our way all the way to Oakwood, down to Mill Road and up New Dorp Lane to Starbucks, where we took a much-deserved snack break. I loved seeing the school completely deserted! I should mention that it was killa hot when we left the house, and we were both totally underdressed for the weather we encountered in Tottenville-to-New Dorp & beyond. I had brought a scarf along, and that definitely helped a lot, but Paul was defenseless. At Starbucks, I did a check-in on GetGlue that I was thinking about the sun, and then it actually came out! GetGlue is amazing!! I'm an idiot!!
We hit the road again. We had planned ahead of time to take Fr. Capodanno Blvd. instead of the bikeway along the beach, because (a) we've done the beach and (b) it's always colder near the water. Somebody needs to tell Google that the motherfuckers took away the bike lanes on Fr. Capodanno & made them bus lanes. We rode them anyway (shh! don't tell anybody), and I was glad to find out the bike lanes on Lily Pond Avenue are still there. There was an ambulance parked in the bike lane right where it started, and Paul said, "You can tell it's a bike lane because someone's blocking it." Funny 'cuz it's true.
Our plan was to take Bay Street to Beach and wind our way uphill to the start of Forest Avenue, but we passed by Beach (we both forgot it doesn't quite intersect with Bay Street). Instead we went up Victory Boulevard, which, as you can imagine, sucked. We actually walked up the top part of the hill, and stopped outside the JCC for a breather. It was pretty grey and foggy by that point, but you could still see the Manhattan/Brooklyn skyline from there, and that was pretty cool. Then Paul felt a drop of rain and we boogied outta there.
Again, the rain was kind enough to hold off until we were AT OUR HOUSE. Came home and used the Distance Measurement tool to plot our course, and found out we rode 35.35 miles. Huzzah! The beauty part is, I still didn't feel COMPLETELY exhausted. Believe me, I was happy to have a shower, a glass of wine, and a nice meal (thanks Paul) and settle in, but if I had had to, I could've kept going. I can't even believe it's almost 11pm; it feels much earlier to me. Bring on the 5 Boro!
Here's the mini version of Staten Island we drew with our bikes today:

PS. To whoever spit out pink gum on Decker Avenue this fine Easter morning: I'm probably more efficient with my foot stuck to the pedal, so... um, thanks?

Monday, April 4, 2011

Killer S.I. Ride

Yes, I waited too long to do this & probably won't remember all the details. Blame the iPad - I tried to write this on it but it only lets me type in the title & tag fields. #applepissesmeoffsobad
Any ol' hoo, I flipped my weekend by getting my work done on Saturday & riding on Sunday. Our first order of business was to try out the bike paths we recently discovered going through Latourette Park. First we rode to the far end of it on the street, out past Costco on the corner of Richmond Avenue & Forest Hill Road. We rode it all the way to Rockland Ave., then doubled back to the fork to follow it down to St. Andrews Church in Richmondtown. It's interesting in that it goes from fairly thick woods (for Staten Island) to golf course & back again, & we saw a duck & what Paul said was a beaver (I only heard it, but it scared the shit out of me) right off the bat. But hands down, its overwhelming characteristic is that it's made of very fine gravel over dirt. Compared with a paved road, it's like the difference between running on sand vs. grass. It was probably worse for Paul since his tires are much thinner & less grippy than mine. We had to pedal DOWNHILL. It was EXHAUSTING. But it was pretty early on, and between the gravel & the hills we were really feeling proud of ourselves, and ready to conquer more of the Island.
We chose not to ride down the foot of Snake Hill (duh - I'm afraid to DRIVE there), but walked our bikes through Historic Richmondtown to Clarke Ave. From there, we rode to North Railroad, where Paul checked to GPS to get his bearings & never noticed that right at his feet was a dead cat curled up in a box. I'm really glad he didn't have to see it. It seemed like it was in a comfortable position when it died, at least.
So we rode the railroad pretty much the whole way, stopped at Lee's so I could use the bathroom, & pressed on to Old Town Road. Somewhere around there we were riding up a hill that Paul didn't have the necessary momentum to get over (I had raced past him to build it up). He said, "Give me 5 minutes?" though of course it didn't take that long: he coasted back down to the base & rode back up while I hummed "Gonna Fly Now" in my head.
About two blocks from there, we had to stop. I mean both of us. My legs were on fire. We sat by a tree on West Fingerboard Road near Tacoma Street. Then we took that to Steuben, to Hylan Blvd., to Edgewater, and rode along the water.
Windy! Chilly! And my legs were still EXHAUSTED! I got up the incline at the end of Front Street & wanted to pat myself on the back, but instead yelled "Fuck!" as I realized I still had to get over the Hannah St. Bridge.
We made it as far as the Esplanade across the Terrace from St. Peter's Girls, and then we had to take another break. We sat there for 10 - 15 minutes before we finally rode home.
Now for the goocher. Paul estimates the total length of our ride: 23 miles. TWENTY-THREE. That makes it the shortest ride we've taken in weeks; we usually do at least 26. I guess the gravel & hills just fucked us. But since the 5-Borough is 46 miles... I'm slightly concerned.
Speaking of, we got our info packets w/ vests & helmet stickers in the mail today. Gotta get my training on, I guess.

Sunday, March 20, 2011


Paul said something the other day that struck me as very true & worth talking about.
We were listening to a Radiolab podcast. It was really fascinating, dealing with aspects of brain science, language, and how homing pigeons work. People were telling these amazing stories. Of course we had the tv on, or as Paul calls it, "Glass Mother," because he needs that stimulus even though half the time he's looking at the netbook instead. Obviously he had the sound off so we could listen to the podcast. The show on was "Million Dollar Listing," a reality show about spoiled rich kids who sell real estate in California.
Paul's observation: we're looking at this show that's described as "reality" because it depicts real people doing their real jobs. But the show is scripted, and situations are manipulated to tell a story. Now the podcast we're listening to, which is infinitely more interesting, is also produced and manipulated, but it consists of people telling stories that are fascinating, and seems to show us that actual reality is more interesting than the fabricated reality we get on these shows. "I'm sure," he said, "there are aspects of selling real estate that are fascinating. But we're never going to get that from a show like this."
And that's the point, though I'm not sure how to make it. There's something about the phoniness of reality tv that makes it unpalatable. Why is the internet able to provide more stimulating content? I assume it has to do with pandering to the lowest common denominator, or the old saw that no one ever went broke underestimating the public. But with literally over 1,000 television channels, surely someone somewhere can figure out a way to give us worthwhile content. Right?
In a related point, shows like "Intervention" drive me crazy because they contrive these arguments between real addicts and their real families, arguments which probably actually happened in their real lives, recreated for the cameras. But I think I would prefer to see them acted out by professional actors, because these people can never sell me on the idea that the fight is really happening. They don't have the acting chops. But I guess they work cheaper.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Another Saturday, Another Ride

What is it about bike riding that is so goddamn liberating?
Today we set off from home, rode down to Richmond Terrace, down along Front Street, over to Fort Wadsworth, & attacked this crazy hill right under the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge. From there we caught the bike path that goes along the boardwalk through South Beach, continues through Miller Field, & rode up New Dorp Lane to Mill Road so I could look for a backpack I want at KMart (they didn't have it, but I had a hot dog & Paul had a pretzel, & that allowed us to sit down for a few minutes & plan our next move).
We went back down Mill Rd. & rode up Guyon Ave past Hylan Boulevard. We wanted to try to get home by getting to Richmond Avenue, though we knew parts of that were going to be terrifying. We figured whatever wasn't bikable we would just walk through or try to find routes around. On Guyon Avenue we had a bit of a tiff, since Paul was annoyed every time I told him I didn't know where a certain street led (he has this idea that I've memorized every inch of the "South Shore," even though I keep arguing that where I grew up is NOT the "South Shore." grrrr....). Anyway, the bottom line is, he didn't feel comfortable on Hylan Blvd., & I didn't feel comfortable on Amboy Road. So what we wound up doing is just grabbing whatever side streets seemed to go towards Richmond Avenue, and turning to another when each one ran out. We wound up taking Winchester Avenue up to Amboy Road, and from there we walked the bikes across Amboy, up Richmond Ave. to Eltingville Blvd., and over Genessee to Ridgewood Avenue. For some crazy reason he didn't really remember later, Paul decided we should go up Sweetbrook Road, but I'm glad he did, because we saw the creek that runs along there, complete with ducks, and the little wooden bridges connecting the road to people's backyards. It's so insane to think that there are these pockets of nature amid all the traffic & ugliness of Staten Island. Anyhoo, that brought us out to Richmond Avenue, where we alternated walking our bikes on the sidewalk with finding back streets to ride on until we had to get back out onto Richmond Avenue.
We walked across Arthur Kill Road, and that's where we did our most egregious lawbreaking: we rode on the sidewalk for a few blocks. This got me thinking: how hard would it be to make that sidewalk a shared bike path? It would make perfect sense: no one walks on it; the only people we saw were also on bikes. It would only require a few signs! And take it from someone who's ridden the length of Broadway in Manhattan, not to mention East Houston street: that stretch of Richmond Avenue is far too dangerous to ride. The car culture on Staten Island has gotten out of control, & we have to start warming up to alternative modes of transportation. (Side note: I couldn't resist calling out "Fuck you, gas station!" when we passed the Hess on Bay Street. $3.83/gal!)
Rant over. Just before Forest Hill Road we noticed, at the entrance into whatever swampy wilderness is there, a sign that there was a bike path! Since it was obviously a path through this creepy park & not something that would take us closer to home, I asked Paul if he thought it was too late for us to explore it. We decided to ride it for a little bit, but then we turned around to keep heading home. We are definitely going to check it out on another day. (I hear you, Robert Frost.)
I checked the other KMart for my bag (they also didn't have it, even though the website says it's available at both stores), got cash at the Citibank, then we took the back way to Barnes & Noble. From there we walked across Richmond Avenue, where a rooster (that's right: a fucking ROOSTER; I shit you not) was trying to cross the road (insert your own punchline) & freaking out all the cars at the intersection of Travis Avenue & Draper Place. We made our way to Arlene Street, where there are bike lanes, and turned down to Richmond Avenue again. At this point, we were on familiar ground, since we both ride Arlene St. to & from the gym.
At Deppe Street, we paused to call in an order to Brother's Pizza, which we rode to next. The guys there were very nice about making sure our dinner fit in my bike basket. It was a short ride home from there.
So we definitely rode over 20 miles today, but the most amazing part of it was being able to explore so much & know we would have the power to get home. It's just so liberating. It's entertainment, exercise, & transportation all at the same time. I wouldn't want to do the same ride the same way every day, but the point is, I don't have to. Having a lighter bike, having trained to strengthen my riding muscles, it's incredible how much more I'm able to do than I was a year ago. And on a single speed bike, no less!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Lemonade, Anyone?

My shrink told a story today about how he lost his keys (it was as riveting as it sounds). He said he was so worried about finding them that he was joyful when he did, & embraced that joy. I said, if it were me, I would have preferred not to have lost my keys in the first place. But still, nerdy student that I am, I took in the lesson, and found the silver lining in my cloud of pissed-offedness today.

Our seniors have to write a research paper on Hamlet every year. Our means of preventing plagiarism is to do the research for the kids; we give them a choice of a few articles to use for the "research," & I have tried to take them through the process step-by-step. I naively booked computer room sessions during class time to help with this, but by the time the ancient machines in there booted up, I had to tell the kids to start shutting down.

Whenever I give an out-of-class writing assignment, I get plagiarists. It never fucking fails. Even though I catch a few every year, & you would think there would be ample word-of-mouth on this, some hotshot always thinks they can get away with it. And they're not even smart about it. Drives me crazy.

Mind you, this assignment was due over two weeks ago & I'm only just now getting around to marking them. I'm aware that this is a total rationalization, but the very real plagiarism fear is one of the causes of my procrastination. I just don't want to deal with it.

So I haven't even marked 10 papers when I come across this year's Darwin Award: a lovely girl who has been sucking up to me all term. She tends to be absent at least once or twice a week, and - shocker - missed all of those computer lab sessions. She also complained regularly that she didn't have a computer at home.

Well, apparently she got one, because she handed in a paper - late, mind you - entirely cobbled of cut-and-pasted student essays & book notes available online. She didn't even make it all one uniform font. She didn't even make any attempt to disguise her method by, say, using a thesaurus or something. I was so furious I went about highlighting each copied section in a different color, writing in the URLs of all the links I found to her sources, etc. Then I got angry at all the time I wasted doing that, feeling lousy about something that was bound to happen anyway, seething with righteous anger & making mental notes about all the things I wanted to say to this girl when I have to sit down with her & her guidance counselor & possibly parent(s).

So how did the key story help me deal with this? It helped me realize that before that irritating situation stopped me in my tracks, I had read at least half a dozen original student papers. Only one or two were actually good, but even the ones that weren't so well-written responded appropriately; I had asked the students to form their own ideas about what they'd read, and they came through. As much as I was glad for them that they rose to that occasion, I'll admit my pleasure was mostly derived from the gratification of feeling that I had actually taught them something: that they had a good journey through a book, with my help.

Before I ever saw the plagiarist's paper, I had written this to post:
One of my students wrote a not-very-good paper on Hamlet, but I found this last part adorable. Is that condescending of me? Here it is:
"Hamlet is an interesting character to me. He's quiet, just like me. He's mysterious, just like me. He's also smart. He's crazy, like literary [sic]. He pretended to be crazy in the book but I think he is crazy thru out. He killed people, always thinking to kill himself, and acting crazy around everyone. But throughout all that, I still admire him and his courage to avenge his father's death. He reminds me of Simba from the Lion King.
"I would recommend this to everyone who is interested in Shakespeare and his writing. It is a good book and it will keep you interested if you know what they are saying."

So... yeah. Silver lining and all that. Yin & yang. It is what it is. It helps to remind myself that the ones who make me feel like I'm wasting my time are not the only ones there.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

I gotta weigh in on this Huck Finn fiasco

Not that I have time to be doing this, but come on! I'm not even really weighing in; all I want to do is highlight some of the more insightful bits of the backlash. How anyone can think for a second this is a good idea is a profound mystery to me.
Let's start with this editorial from the Washington Post. I actually agree that she overdoes it with the analogies, but I do think it's clever as well as necessary. Somebody has to be pointing this stuff out. I also read through many of the comments, most of which are intelligent; only one is idiotic enough to say that this new version should exist. The best comment I saw was from someone called gilbertbp:

"Another point: Twain HATED slavery. A major point of the book (despite Twain's preface that anyone trying to find a moral in it would be shot) was that Jim, although an uneducated slave, is noble, even heroic. And Huck, even though he's been taught that blacks are inferior, that it is fitting and proper to hold them as slaves, recognizes Jim's nobility, his heroism, his essential humanity. He also recognizes that the proper white society that is trying to educate him at the beginning of the book, is dishonest and corrupt. And having learned those lessons, at the end of the book, he leaves civilization for "the Territory."

Expunging "the 'n' word" from "Huckleberry Finn" dilutes the power of the book. It's a pity Twain is not alive today (he died 100 years ago this year) to confront his critics, because he'd find just the right way to vivisect these idiots with his pen. They'd wish they'd never HEARD of "Huckleberry Finn," because the whole country would be convulsed with laughter as he subjected these stupendous asses to the ridicule they so richly deserve."

One commenter mentioned that she is a writer and English teacher who uses Huck Finn in class. She included a link to her blog post about it. In my opinion, her analogy is the best of all:

"And honestly, if they do this, where do the revisionists stop in their desire to Disney-fy history? Will The Diary of Anne Frank end with a passage saying that the Germans took all the Jews to a farm upstate somewhere so they could run around and have more space...?"

She ends up over-explaining that comparison (she is a teacher, duh), but it cracked me up anyway.

Neil Gaiman tweeted this today: "It's public domain, so you can make Huck a Klingon if you want, but it's not Mark Twain's book." I don't follow @neilhimself, but I found that tweet because I do follow @realjohngreen:
"Inspired by @, I turned a paragraph of Huckleberry Finn into a tale of Klingon oppression: "

FOLLOW THAT LINK, PEOPLE! It goes to John Green's Reddit post of said paragraph, in which the dreaded "N-word" is replaced with "Klingon." What makes it especially worthwhile is Green's own comments:

"The astonishing thing is that even when you turn it into a tale of Klingon oppression, it is IMMEDIATELY CLEAR to ANYONE who can read that Twain is ridiculing a deformed moral conscience that believes the government has the right to take away people's freedom, and further ridiculing the idea that a drunk belligerent white man is more qualified to vote than a black man.

I mean, my eleven-month-old son craps his pants at least twice a day, and even he has the critical reading capacity to understand what Huck Finn is about."

And on and on and on. Everything I want to say is being said, which I guess should make me hopeful. To those who apparently have said this new edition is good because it will allow teachers to expose students to a great novel, I say, "IT'S NOT THE NOVEL! THAT'S NOT HOW THE NOVEL IS WRITTEN!" (I should point out that words like "Injun" and "half-breed" have also been supposedly expunged from this edition). My hope is that the backlash will be so overwhelming that teachers will resurrect the original version and expose their students to THAT.

I hate to post a Mark Twain quote from the internet when I don't know the source offhand; I fear I may be spreading mis-information, since I know from direct experience that people have attributed quotations to Mark Twain that there's no way he ever said. But I believe he was capable of this one:

“Censorship is telling a man he can’t have a steak just because a baby can’t chew it.”

I'm out.