January 17, 1999

This is not the way I'd expected to inagurate my journal, but I suppose I could do worse. So, without further ado, here's that survey everybody seems to be filling out these days...

Nicknames: I've had a few, but I'd like to have a fighting chance of not giving away my identity on the day I start this journal... :-)

Hometown: Far Rockaway, NY.

Croutons or Bacon Bits: I've occasionally nibbled on croutons. I've never had bacon bits, even the utterly artificial kosher variety.

Favorite Salad Dressing: None. I don't care for salad.

Do you drink: Nope. I don't like the taste of alcohol, in any of its forms. Besides, the mere thought of a substance that lowers inhibitions and intelligence gives me the willies.

Shampoo or conditioner: Yes to the former, no to the latter.

Have you ever gone skinny dipping: Nope.

Do you make fun of people: I try not to, for the most part. There have been occasional lapses, and there will probably continue to be in the future, but I'm not proud of that.

Favorite color: Scarlet. In general, I like primary colors, especially vivid shades of primary colors, like scarlet, turquoise, and canary yellow. I dislike earth tones, especially green.

Have you ever been convicted of a crime? Nope.

One pillow or two?: Alas, one. I really ought to go out and buy a second; I think it would be worth the money. The fluffier, the better.

Pets: None. Animals scare me. Although I like cats in the abstract.

Favorite Type of Music: I have eclectic tastes. Most of the albums in my collection fall into three categories, though: (1) Musical soundtracks, (2) Novelty music, (3) Female pop vocalists. I also collect covers of "When the Saints Go Marching In."

Hobbies: The Internet, music, writing, lettering T-shirts, and other misc. I omit reading only because to call that a "hobby" would be absurd; it's an addiction, an obsession, and a way of life.

Dream Car: A Pullman, in my own private train. I love trains.

Type of Car you drive now: None.

Words or phrases you overuse: "I hear," "on the whole," "actually."

Toothpaste: No real preference, and, to be honest, my oral hygiene habits could stand some improvement.

Favorite Food: Pizza. With extra cheese.

Piercing or tattoos: None. I confess that I don't really understand why somebody would want to turn his or her body into a permanent coloring book.

On-line Crush: None.

Current boyfriend/girlfriend: None. And I'm not looking, either.

Most romantic thing that ever happened to you: Zilch.

How do you characterize yourself (a hopeless romantic or non-romantic)? Umm, is "both" an option?

Do you get along with your parents?: Yes, but not as well as they think I do.

Favorite town to chill in: New York, New York, it's a hell of a town...

Favorite Ice Cream: Carvel soft vanilla.

Favorite Drink: In transition. A month ago, I would have said Dr Pepper. For ages before that, it was Coke Classic. I've been getting into tea lately, though, partially due to Mary Anne's influence. Once you try it with milk, it's a whole new ball game...

What's your bed time?: Late. Very late. I tend to fall asleep when other people are getting up for the morning.

Adidas, Nike or Reebok: Currently, Reebok. The pair of sneakers I had before that were Champions, and I was pretty happy with those, especially considering that they lasted me about eight years.

Favorite Perfume/Cologne: None. But in an effort to be somewhat obliging, allow me to substitute Favorite Bubble Bath: Vanilla.

Favorite Song at the moment: "Hell is for Children," by Pat Benatar.

Favorite Movie(s): The Princess Bride and Mary Poppins.

Favorite TV Shows: The Muppet Show. I check out an episode every time I stop by the Museum of Television and Radio; it's my one constant on trips there.

Favorite Novel: Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott. After that, the field opens up drastically, and I'd have to start naming a list of hundreds. So I'll stop there.

Favorite Website: Mary Anne's homepage. It's the best personal website I've seen anywhere, and it has pretty much everything.

Favorite subject in school: English, hands down.

Least Favorite Subject: Geography, followed closely by History.

Favorite Alcoholic Drink: We've already established that I don't drink, right?

Favorite chick drink: We've already established that I don't drink, right? :-)

Favorite Sport to watch: The advertisements during the Super Bowl.

Most recent humiliating moment: Having my latest overdue fine at the library ($31.00, thank you) discussed by the five or six people behind me in line.

Loudest person you know: Hmmm. Nobody comes to mind. And if anybody did, I'd be too nice to say so, anyway. :-)

Craziest person or silliest you know: Probably myself, on both counts.

Favorite Holiday: I'm not sure I have one anymore. It used to be Purim, but times have changed...

What do you look for in a mate/lover: I haven't started looking.

The worst thing that has happened to you in the past couple months: Oh, discovering that the dropout rate among the students I tutor has been insanely high, going far beyond the boundaries of random chance and such. Sigh.

Say one nice thing about the person who sent this to you and be sure to send it back to them: I swiped this off the web, where it popped up in a whole bunch of journals simultaneously, so I doubt this really applies.

Tomorrow: I start this journal for real. I think.

January 18, 1999

I spent most of yesterday and today trying to get this site up and running. Searching for a webspace provider that fit my needs, setting up another free e-mail account, messing around with HTML... that sort of thing.

One further complication was that my ISP inexplicably stopped letting me log in for a few hours during the evening... but, anyway, I'm back, and have been doing all sorts of work behind the scenes, which I shall spare you the details of.

Anyway, Columbine wondered just what I meant by "I like cats in the abstract." So... let me try to explain this.

Animals frighten me. In fact, I get frightened by a whole lot of things, especially bees. I was stung on three occasions as a child, and I have no interest in going for four. By extension, I'm scared of anything that flies. By extension, I'm scared of anything that moves, including many human beings.

I have a special set of war stories involving cats, though. The family of a friend I visited regularly throughout my years in high school had a number of the furballs; seven or so at the high point. This didn't keep me from visiting regularly, but I was nervous, and I am still convinced that some of them were deliberately doing their best to freak me out.

There I'd be, waiting in the hallway, absentmindedly drumming my fingers on a dresser, when I'd look down and see a cat, muscles taut, clearly about to pounce on the target presented by my fingers. I'd usually yank my hand away just in time. Or then there was the time "the shy one" jumped on my knee under the table. I jumped up, she dug in, and, well, the wound was still visible a week later. Nobody was happier than I was when they eventually refurnished the living room and closed it off as a "cat-free zone." So I am an unlikely proponent of cats.

However, over the years, I have gradually come to accept the fact that I am, at heart, a cat person, even if I can't quite get along with them in Real Life. I like cats, and all that they stand for, in theory. Henry Beard's Poetry for Cats was the book that got me to use Amazon.Com for the first time, and I've enthusiastically recommended it to many others. If a law required all U.S. citizens to get a furry pet of some kind, I would opt for a cat.

Not a dog.

Let me make that clear, because there appears to be a bit of a dichotomy between cat lovers and dog lovers. There are exceptions, of course. The family I mentioned above had a dog also, although she usually stayed in the back yard. But it may be easiest to sum up the characteristics of cats by contrasting them with dogs.

Dogs are man's best friends. Cats have higher standards.

As a post I once saw on Usenet put it, a dog thinks "This person feeds me, buys me toys, cares for my every need... he must be God!"

A cat thinks "This person feeds me, buys me toys, cares for my every need... I must be God!"

Cats are fastidiously clean, although you don't want to know where their tongues have been. Dogs track in mud.

Cats are intelligent. They're independent, confident, at ease in their environment. I wish I had that degree of assurance. Dogs are loyal, but stupid. And utterly dependent on their masters.

Cats have a mystical, otherworldly quality about them. Dogs slobber and drink from the toilet bowl.

Wow... I haven't even officially opened this site, and I may have already alienated all the dog lovers in my potential audience. :-) Let me stress that there's nothing personal about any of this; I have friends who love their dogs, and that's fine. Ultimately, there isn't much logic behind either position; either you like 'em or you don't. And I do... so long as I don't have to actually meet up with the real thing. :-)

Actually, I have found my resolve beginning to weaken a bit in Real Life. It's probably just as well that my apartment just isn't big enough for me and a pet, or I just might be tempted to do something I'd regret.

Aside from working on these pages, I spent the evening helping a former classmate work on his resume. I don't think I actually helped much; I tightened a few phrases here and there, and added a paragraph of new material, but that was about it, while I indulged myself in the chance to talk to him for a few hours. Oh, well.

In the meantime, I have to revise my own resume already. I can't seem to find the file with my last draft around anywhere; I may have to just type the whole thing from scratch already. I should do that. I've wasted far too much time already. The new semester starts on the 28th, and I really need to have a job by then.

January 19, 1999

This is it. As of this evening, this site is officially open. Thanks to Mary Anne, Columbine, and Elaine, who, until now, were the only people who knew the URL, I think I've gotten all the bugs out of the system. So... if anybody else is reading this, welcome aboard!

Journals come in all shapes and sizes. Some provide a rundown of what their authors did on a given day. Others focus on philosophical issues, or other subjects that don't necessarily have much to do with their authors' everyday lives.

I guess this is as good a place as any to admit that I'm not sure what I'm going to be doing with this. This bothered me, at first. For some time, I resolved to figure out my aims and limits before I actually started. Yes, for a change, I was going to plan ahead. Measure twice, cut once.

After a few months of not actually deciding anything, I came to the conclusion that if I waited until I figured out what approach I was going to take, I'd never get this show on the road. So... for better or for worse, I've decided to just get out there and see where I end up.

Consider this the beta-testing stage of the journal. I expect it to settle down in time, but, for now, anything is possible.

I have NPR on in the background, and I think they just said that Dennis Rodman is retiring? Wow... just one week after Michael Jordan did the same, and already the league is compensating. Not bad.

It's time to
raise the curtain,
It's time to
light the lights;
It's time to
get things started!

Let's suppose your mom baked a big blueberry pie. Now, that pie represents the wealth of this country. Now, take that pie, and cut it in half. The top half is defense spending, the bottom half is for domestic programs, and the other half is for the national debt.

-- Rich Little, playing Ronald Reagan

Wednesday, January 20, 1999

I was listening to the State of the Union address on the radio last night. (I don't own a TV set, which has its good points and its bad points; I'll probably devote an entry to that someday.) It was interesting trying to follow the numbers. I mean, first the President said that we have to save all the budget surplus for Social Security. Then, having made his point, he gradually added Medicare, USA savings accounts, and other stuff, finally whittling down Social Security's share to 60% of the surplus. That's still a nice chunk of it, but I couldn't help but be reminded of the "Reaganomics" skit from The First Family Rides Again, a bit of which is my quote for the day.

The bit that really worried me -- rather, one of the bits that really worried me -- was point #2 on Clinton's master plan to improve public education: Requiring failing schools to turn around, or be shut down. It sounds like a hard thing to be against, until you start wondering just how to measure that. What are "failing schools," and how are they to turn around?

The intended measuring stick seems to be standardized tests. The problem with this is that tests basically are a measure of how well a given school has prepared students for the test in question, rather than necessarily measuring how well students are being prepared for life.

What I need right now is my sister's vocabulary textbook, but I can't find it anywhere. I suspect I left it back in my former room in the family home. But it was a vocabulary book for eighth graders; part of a series of books at various levels of education. And it has a page at the beginning touting its benefits, and explaining why it is the perfect choice for teaching students.

What makes it so good? Its word lists were specially chosen to include words frequently asked about on the SAT. And, if I recall correctly, it features analogy questions similar to those asked on the SAT. So, by using these books throughout elementary and high school, one will be uniquely prepared for the SAT vocabulary questions, and their studies show that this does, in fact, boost students' SAT scores.

Okay, then what?

Is something wrong with this picture, or is it just me?

The SAT may or may not be a good method of judging students' scholastic aptitude for college; we can argue about that from here to next year. But I don't think too many people would argue that it's a good method of setting a curriculum, nor that it was ever intended to be used as such.

It's to be expected, I suppose. Where there are tests, there will be people who will get hung up on test scores. Where there are such people, there will be pressure on schools to teach to the tests.

This is not to say that the solution is to abolish tests altogether. I'm just trying to point out that the situation isn't a simple one. A stress on standardized testing could actually serve to reduce the quality of education, rather than improving it.

On the other hand, if a school isn't teaching anything in the first place, teaching to the test will at least ensure that some knowledge of importance will be taught. And one might well argue that schools with truly abysmal test scores fit this.

On a local level, teaching to a test can be quite effective, in fact. One of my teachers told us that, when he was in high school, he had one history (I think it was history) teacher who gave really tough exams, covering all sorts of minutae on everything taught during that part of the year. However, the students always managed to steal a copy of the test in advance -- the guy somehow made it really, really easy to do so. So the students would copy the thing, but then they'd still have to figure out the answers. All the answers. Covering all the material taught in class. In detail.

The teacher I heard this from, being a bright sort, caught onto the strategy towards the end of the year. His history teacher had been deliberately leaking the test, not because he was incompetent, but because, while the students thought they were getting around the system, they were actually having to study and learn all of the material. He tricked them into getting an actual education.

(The ethical questions posed by this are a whole 'nother can of worms, but they're not immediately pertinent.)

This doesn't work nearly as well with standardized tests, though. On a local level, it's possible to tailor the tests to fit exactly what was covered in class, in a way compatible with the overall educational strategy. Standardized tests don't have that luxury. They have to settle for asking about areas that the test makers think are important, and that will generally be covered, to some extent, by all classes on that level. That, however, can place a disproportionate emphasis on some areas, to the detriment of others, which may be just as important.

Sigh. I'm rambling, I think. And I'd like to go on for pages and pages, but (a) who would read it? and (b) I don't really have time to. This journal stuff takes longer than I'd expected.

Of course, it would help if I weren't messing with the layout every day. Today's movement of the margin from the right to the left has been done strictly so that I could get the quote before the main text in the code, so that it'll look better for Lynx users. As Lynx is my browser of choice, it matters to me. Although I think I preferred yesterday's layout in Netscape, so the tinkering will likely continue.

Do not go gentle into that good night.

(Oh, don't I wish?)

Thursday, January 21, 1999
To Dream the Impossible Dream...

I need more sleep.

My sleeping cycle has been even crazier than usual, lately. It's 8 AM as I type this, which is about when I went to bed at times earlier this week. That's not an option today, though. I actually have a job today, filling in for a friend of a friend to make sure that everything stays kosher at a Chinese restaurant. This means that I have to be there at the ungodly hour of 11 AM.

It's just as well, I suppose. College starts in a week, and I need to ease myself into a more normal schedule, as, with grave misgivings, I signed up for one course at 11 AM, twice a week. I've never taken a class that early before; my previous record was noon, and that didn't go very well. Most of my classes have been at the far more civilized time of 6:30 PM, which is when I'm functioning best.

However, the 11 AM class -- an honors seminar in English, on "Ideology and the Power of Culture" -- is pretty much the course of my dreams, and it's not likely to be offered again while I'm there, so it looks like I'm going for it. None of my courses are set in stone yet, though; I'm still scrambling for a steady job, and if I have to rearrange my entire class schedule to get one, I'm going to do so.

Anyway, I fell asleep around 2 AM, and woke up about 6:30. Great. It's a good thing that my job doesn't actually involve doing much. Or perhaps not; I will need to stay conscious, and if I'm not active, that may be tougher to manage. I'm used to flaky sleep patterns, though, so I'll manage.

In general, I need eight hours of sleep. I can get by on six, but my body will ultimately make me catch up on the lost time. This probably wouldn't be a problem if I could go to sleep on demand, but I can't. Sleeping has never come easily for me. Over the years, I've resigned myself to going with the flow, not trying to force myself to sleep when my body isn't ready to do so -- 'cause it won't help, anyway -- and recognizing when windows of opportunity show up, and going straight to bed then.

Those windows of opportunity only last about 30 minutes, maybe 60, so that's important. After then, I catch a second wind, and while I'm still tired, I can't actually sleep for another couple of hours. A phone call coming in just when I've gone to bed can wreck my entire night.

On the bright side, my insomnia's gotten more managable over the years, partially because I'm more used to it -- and, indeed, have adjusted the rest of my life around it -- and partially because, well, it just has. The worst point was in high school, when a typical night involved Yours Truly tossing and turning in bed for six hours. And then had all sorts of problems because I was never in school on time. Not fun.

Yesterday's entry on schools and testing kind of spun out of control, didn't it? Well, I did say I was in beta-testing just now. I think the problem was that I had too much to say, and I ended up trying to cover everything... so I ended up not really covering anything.

I'm not going to take it on again today. I'm sure the subject will come up again down the line, and I'll try to do it better at that point. I have to leave myself something to fill the next few years of this, after all.

I'd promised myself that I wasn't going to discuss the workings of this journal again this week, but I have a decision to make, and I figure I ought to throw it out to you.

Up until now, I've been keeping all of the individual entries on my site as separate files. In addition, I've had one larger file containing all of the entries from this month. (That file looks a bit weird right now, with all the slight changes in format every day, but today's layout will probably hold me for a bit. And, as of February, I don't expect to change my overall design in mid-month again.) What I had planned to do might best be described as Mary Anne's method, with a twist of Kymm: I was going to keep the most recent five entries up as separate files, and let the month-at-a-time files handle the older ones.

This, it seemed to me, would be the ideal solution for all involved. Regular readers would be able to get to the latest entries without having to wait for the entire month to load. More occasional readers, or those catching up on the whole thing from the beginning, would be able to read through all the older entries without having to navigate through a whole stack of little files. And my file space would be neater, because I wouldn't have scores of little files cluttering up my one directory.

Those last three words matter. Internet Trash provides a pretty good service, but, alas, they don't allow subdirectories. If they did, I wouldn't mind keeping all of the individual entries around, packing each month into its own little area. But I'm not happy about having a site based on so many files in one directory. It may not make any real difference, but it still bothers me.

Anyway, I was all set to go that route, but then I heard from my first-ever correspondant, who said that she preferred having separate files for all of the entries. Not only does she prefer reading them that way, but she pointed out that entries would be pretty hard to link to otherwise.

Linking is the one thing I hadn't considered. And it's something I should consider, I think, because linking is one of the nice things about the Web; the way connections are formed all over the place, bringing all sorts of sites together. One thing is certain; I have to modify my monthly files to provide labels for each individual entry, in a consistent format. That will be put in place later on tonight. But beyond that... I'm not sure, now.

According to my original plan, tomorrow would be the day I take down my first entry's individual file, leaving only the copy in the monthly one. If anybody has any particular thoughts on this, I'd love to hear them. Thanks.

Blessed be the True Judge.

Friday, January 22, 1999

I got to sleep at a normal hour last night (well, 2 AM, which, for me, qualifies). Proceeded to sleep right through my alarm clock, or possibly to turn the alarms off and go right back to sleep; I can't say for sure. Woke up about 2:15, and realized I wasn't going to have time to write a proper entry here before sundown. I logged on, checked my e-mail, logged off, started typing, then got a phone call.

From my father.

My father hates using the phone.

That fact in itself told me pretty much everything I needed to know.

My grandmother passed away a few minutes ago. My mother's mother, that is.

I still have the option of going back home for the weekend, but I think I'd rather stay by myself in the apartment. For the moment. But I think I'll be heading back on Saturday night, and I have a funeral to attend on Sunday, and I'll probably be spending more time with relatives (like my mother) over the next week, so if entries are a bit sporadic, you'll know why.

I saw her, I should point out, only three times since September. I should've visited more often. I am however glad that I did at least see her for a few minutes in the hospital on Wednesday. And that she saw me. And at least seemed to be amused by the poem I read her.


Love thy neighbor as thyself, but choose your neighborhood.
--Louise Beal

Saturday, January 23, 1999

Technically, it's Sunday, but I haven't gone to sleep yet, so I'm willing to stretch the point a bit. I'm currently back in the family home in Far Rockaway, having reclaimed my former room from the younger brother who took it over. Said younger brother has a computer that would be better than mine in every way, except that he's running Windoze 95 on it, which, I figure, drags it down to roughly the efficiency of a VIC-20. Well, okay, an XT.

I should perhaps clarify a few things. My apartment is over in Kew Gardens Hills, which is perhaps a half hour from Far Rockaway by car, assuming that you're not trying to get there during rush hour. By bus, which is what I used to take, before I got the apartment, it's about an hour and a quarter. Both are in Queens, in New York City; KGH is right in the center of it, while FR is right at the edge separating Queens from Nassau County.

Now, as for the family situation... I tend to take this next bit for granted, which no doubt explains why I didn't put it on my bio page. But, anyway, I'm the oldest of fifteen kids.

To answer the inevitable next few questions: I'm 25; there are eight boys and seven girls; no, there aren't any twins; I think the youngest is one year old; no, I don't remember all their ages; yes, I do remember all their names, although I do sometimes have trouble remembering which name goes with which face, in the younger half of the family.

How do we handle meals? I'm a bit out of touch with the youngest members of the family. The older ones learn to fend for themselves pretty quickly. We all know how to cook anything we'd be interested in eating, a skill I took for granted until I went to Israel for the first time, after high school, and discovered that most of the people in my dorm had trouble figuring out how to boil water.

Okay, fine, boiling water wasn't really a problem, but I don't think most of them could fry an egg. This still amazes me.

The only time the entire family gathers together for meals is Shabbos; specifically, Friday night, and Saturday afternoons. I think all of us, past a certain age, have been responsible for these meals at one point or another. Basic stuff, really; chicken (add onion powder, garlic powder, and paprika, and throw it in the oven), cholent (a stew, left to cook all night. Every family has a different recipe; ours includes meat, potatoes, sometimes barley, and, once again, onion and garlic powder), and occasionally soup, a more recent development that I've only served, not cooked. Most of the rest of the stuff is store-bought, although we do have to heat up the kugel and cook the gefilte fish.

As I said, I'm the oldest. The next two in line (a brother and a sister, respectively), have both gotten married and moved out -- the former lives near Jerusalem, the latter in Brooklyn. After that comes another brother, who currently attends school in New Jersey, and the rest of the mishpacha lives at home.

The brother who lives in Israel returned last week, along with his wife, and our aunt, once it became clear that my grandmother really wasn't doing very well. He was by his in-laws in Boston yesterday and today, but is back here now. So I got to speak to him for a few minutes, and am rather looking forward to being able to do so again over the next couple of days. Nice to have a silver lining, I guess.

My brother's computer has a high-resolution monitor. I can now see how utterly distracting my usual background image looks using such a monitor, and Internet Explorer. Not to mention how small the quote looks, and how hard it is to make out the semi-colons, with fonts on "Medium." Bleah. I may switch to just using solid background colors, with perhaps a small image or two to spruce things up. Sigh. It looks so much nicer on my system...

Speaking of design, I'm keeping the individual entries. The question is now whether I'll keep the month-at-a-glance entries also. Personally, I prefer using those, but I'm not sure it's worth the trouble of maintaining two separate systems. Besides, yesterday's entry looks all wrong in cheerful yellow, and there's no way I know that would allow me to switch background images in mid-page. We'll see.

I've decided to wait until tomorrow before writing anything more about my grandmother. I want my thoughts to be a bit more settled before I put them out there for everybody else.

For the want of a nail, the shoe was lost.

For the want of a shoe, the horse was lost.

For the want of a horse, the rider was lost.

For the want of a rider, the battle was lost.

For the want of a battle, the war was lost.

For the want of a war, the kingdom was lost.

And all for the want of a threepenny nail!

-- Mother Goose

Sunday, January 24, 1999

My grandmother had been described by doctors as a "walking miracle" months before she passed away. She had had a number of serious medical problems in the past, most of which were probably related to her lifelong smoking habit. ("Habit." It sounds so innocent. It's only a habit... Lemme tell ya, when you're informed that you had better quit smoking, or you're gonna die, and you find yourself unable to quit, it's more than just a habit. But I digress.) A couple of months ago, her doctor was unable to find her pulse. Her arteries were messed up, ditto for her heart, she had trouble walking... fact is, we're lucky to have had her for the past dozen years.

What set the final stage into motion was apparently a sore throat. Which somehow ended up causing congestion. Which sent her to the hospital. Where they vaccuumed her out, and took care of a few other things, and had a machine doing 3% of her breathing. She was due to leave on the Monday before last.

Then she had a bit more trouble, and had to stay a bit longer. Then she got pneumonia. She hit her penultimate low point on Tuesday night (the 12th). The doctors said that if she lasted 24 hours, it'd be a miracle. My grandmother was a fighter. She was on the upswing by the following afternoon, although she was still much worse off than she'd been a couple of days earlier.

From the time that my grandmother entered the hospital until the end, one of her relatives was always there with her. (Excluding the occasional few minutes when they were shooed out of the room while doctors or nurses did their stuff.) Her husband, children, and grandchildren were present around the clock, not to mention visits by a great-grandchild or two.

Of my grandmother's three children, two were at hand, in Queens. The third, my aunt, lives in Israel. On Tuesday night my mother and my cousin (said aunt's daughter) decided that it was time to call her and tell her to come over ASAP. My sister-in-law was also called; she and my brother came on the same flight.

My grandmother was very happy to see her eldest daughter. She also seemed happy to see my brother, his wife, and all of the other misc. relatives who stopped by during the following week or so. She couldn't actually speak, being on a respirator, but she was communicating, and smiling, and sometimes even laughing, and was definitely on the upswing. She was fighting, and winning. She was getting over the pneumonia.

She had been up pretty much all night and day this past Wednesday, and had been working hard; after a bit in which most of her breathing was being done by machine, they had its assistance down to 35%, if I understand that correctly. (I'm a bit sketchy on the exact details.) She developed a low fever, after having been fever-free for two days, but was expected to get past that.

This is the point where I finally stopped by. I'd had a bad cold during the preceding week, and had been advised to stay away, as there was no point in possibly giving it to her. And I wasn't really feeling up to it, and, frankly, I didn't really want to go, being uncomfortable around hospitals. But by Wednesday, I was feeling fine, and I went, along with a brother and a sister.

I am so glad I did so. She didn't look too good, obviously. She had a tube in her mouth, and stuff stuck in her all over the place, although this was apparently much better than all the apparatus she'd had in her earlier.

She was, I'm told, not responding as well as she had earlier in the week, but she did see me. I read her a poem I'd written about my relationship with my younger sister, which she seemed to like bits of, although I couldn't swear to that.

She fell asleep shortly after that, and I have the impression that she slept the entire next day and change, until the end. During this time, another illness hit her, and this time around, she was no longer up to the challenge. It seems that she and a patient in the next bed both came down with the same thing at the same time; goodness knows who spread it to whom, and it doesn't really matter.

Late Friday afternoon, with all of her children singing to her around her bed, my grandmother left her medical problems behind forever. She was in her early seventies, I think. And I can't see the screen as I type this.

On the plus side, I'd hardly seen her in the past few years, and never really knew her. On the minus side, dammit, I'd hardly seen her in the past few years, and never really knew her. And now I never will, except secondhand.

My apartment is only about a half hour from my grandparents' -- strike that, my grandfather's -- house, by foot. I'd always planned to visit them every now and then. Since moving here in mid-September, I never got around to it. I almost did once, but then it started raining, so I cancelled. The one time I did see them of my own volition, I hitched a ride with them to my parent's home, on Thanksgiving. After which, I retreated to what had been my room, from which I was still clearing out my stuff. Who knew that would be the last time I'd hear her speak?

Goodbye, Bubby. I'm going to miss you. And I hope to do you proud someday.

One should fight like the devil the temptation to think well of editors. They are all, without exception -- at least some of the time -- incompetent or crazy.
--John Gardner

Monday, January 25, 1999
Criteria, Columns, and Characters

So. College starts on Thursday. That is also the deadline for the semester's first issue of the college newspaper, where I edit two sections and write a weekly column. I've got work to do. I have guidelines to write, not to mention a column, and I'm thinking of writing an article or two for the News section, 'cause we don't seem to have anybody else to do it just now. But we'll see. So far, I'm just avoiding doing anything, including this entry, which I'm finally getting to a bit late. But I refuse to miss a day this early into it.

My domains are the Op/Ed section, and the Literary section. The latter has only had poetry so far, although I'm open to short stories if any come in worth printing. Either way, I have standards. Subjective standards, to be sure -- the criteria for publication are that a given piece has to have literary merit, and fit the tone of the section; the latter is defined as "Whatever Shmuel thinks fits the tone of the section, 'cause it's his baby" -- but I figure that's better than just accepting everything that comes in.

I seem to be an exception in that regard. But I'd rather print a small handful of good poems than a large number of mediocre ones. The latter scares away the good poets, and leaves nothing but mediocrity. My hope is that the former will encourage the submission of more good poetry.

One advantage of subjective criteria is that it makes it possible for one to reject lots of submissions without having to claim that said submission were "bad," whatever that means. It makes it easier on the poets. Not to mention easier on me.

The problem with my column in the Op/Ed section is that Clinton got impeached during Winter Break, so I couldn't write anything about it. I could go on for pages and pages and pages on my feelings on the matter, but I missed that main window of opportunity.

I'd cover some of it this week, but too much has been going on with the City University of New York, and I figure that my primary responsibility is to cover the local stuff. Mayor Giuliani's crusade to end Open Admissions and privatize "remedial" education has continued, and if I don't write about it, who will? As opposed to the national stuff, which you can hardly escape.

I'll probably write more about that as the week goes on, and I get my facts together. Maybe I'll even post the final product, although I'd want to wait until after the paper hits the stands. We'll see.

I'm in the middle of a few books, as usual. It occurs to me that I've been running into the similar problems with some of them lately. Very often, if not in most cases, I relate to books by relating to particular characters. I care about them, and I want to know what happens to them. This is not the only way I deal with books, but it's an important one.

I'm about a quarter of the way through The House of the Spirits, by Isabel Allende. Allende's been recommended by Mary Anne and Mouthorgan lately, so I figured I'd give her a try.

I liked the beginning of it. But it wasn't long before I was introduced to the narrator of the story. The book alternates between third-person and first-person sections, you see, and it quickly becomes clear that the narrator of the third-person sections is the guy whose perspective we get in the first-person sections. I don't yet see what's gained by this, especially as Allende seems to slip up at times, having the narrator know things he couldn't possibly be aware of... but that may be a premature judgement, and that's not the real problem here.

The problem is that I hate the narrator. Loathe him. Simply put, he's pond scum. "No one's going to convince me that I wasn't a good patron... in general there's nothing I regret" he says, just before he describes how he raped and impregnated just about every adolescent girl in the village he controlled. There have been a couple of moments where I wanted to reach into the book and throttle him, or, barring that, just hurl the book across the room. (I didn't. I never do. I just closed it for a bit, while I yelled at it.)

This is the narrator, you understand. This is somebody we're supposed to be rooting for.

On the other hand, Clara is a delight. And she's just married him at the point I'm at, so perhaps things will pick up.

A not entirely dissimilar situation prevails with Possession, by A.S. Byatt, which I'm about a third of the way through. I loved her Still Life and Babel Tower, so I had some hopes for this book, which won the Booker Prize in 1990. But my respect for the protagonist is shattered on page 11, and I've had trouble getting past that.

See, a key plot point in the book is that Roland discovers two unfinished letters by Randolph Henry Ash tucked into a long-neglected book, which have been gathering dust in a library vault, and, instead of reporting the find, as integrity would demand, he swipes them, and keeps them to himself.

This might not be unforgivable if it bothered him. If he felt unaccountably compelled to do so, but was uncomfortable with the idea, or was scared of the consequences, I might be able to forgive him. But, instead, on page 11, we find him walking out of the library with his ill-gotten goods, passing "notices about mutilation of volumes, about theft, with which he quite failed to associate himself." How can one relate to somebody like that? And, worse, this is a romance. For a romance to work, we must like the principals, and want them to get together, or all is lost.

Byatt's writing is still wonderful, but I don't care about the principals at all. (Although the two poets the principals are studying seem likeable enough. So there's still the story within the story to look forward to.)

I'm being dull and pedantic, I think. I'm tempted to junk this entire entry, but it's probably better than nothing. I'll try to do better tomorrow.

The best time for you to hold your tongue is the time you feel you must say something or bust.
--Josh Billings

Tuesday, January 26, 1999
What Are You, Chopped Liver?

I'm hitting Online Journalist Crisis #1: Dealing with people you know in Real Life.

This is coming much earlier than I'd anticipated. I figured I'd spend until the start of February just getting my bearings, and then I'd gradually start easing into my personal life. This would enable me to see just how far I was comfortable going, at which point I could draw my line in the sand and live within it happily ever after. At least in theory.

Needless to say, I did not expect my grandmother to die in the first week of the thing, leading me to write an embarrassingly personal (and not all that well-written) piece shortly thereafter. I did keep it vague on the details involving anybody else -- which was intentional -- but it still went pretty far, too fast.

I then, for whatever reason -- I've given up trying to understand the way my mind works sometimes [1] -- printed out a copy of the January 24th entry for myself, nicely reformatted to fit on a page in three columns, with no direct evidence that this was anything but a page from my personal, private diary. And, yes, I suppose I knew that I was going to show it to somebody else, and that it would be utterly stupid to do so.

I did, of course. My aunt. Who proceeded to show it to my grandfather and my uncle, and, well, I think the entire family tree is going to get their hands on the thing before long.

Sigh. This was not what I'd had in mind when I wrote the thing. I would have done things rather differently if I'd thought anybody in the family was going to see it, if I'd written it at all, which I wouldn't have. I certainly would have yanked out the last few paragraphs, at the least, opting instead for an oratorical flourish focusing on my grandmother, rather than focusing on my own feelings, which are none of their business, really.

My own fault on that count; if I didn't want anybody to see it, I shouldn't have showed it to anybody in the family in the first place. But therein lies the problem, and it's one I didn't anticipate at all: I always show off my writings. I carry 'em around with me,[2] I force them on virtual strangers, I stand by attentively watching people's reactions as they read through the pages. How did I expect to write pages of material every day and not want to show it off?

Well. There's some precedent there. I have written things that members of my family don't know about. There is, for instance, what is probably the best essay I've ever written, "Effing the Ineffable," which is a sociolinguistic look at a certain particular four-letter word. It won a few prizes in my college's annual writing contest. My family knows that I won, but doesn't know why. Similarly, a couple of my columns in the college paper have gotten just a bit racier than I'd be comfortable showing around at home.

The difference, of course, is that in those cases, I had other people to show 'em to. Enough people on campus are interested in my stuff that I have no real need to pass it on to anybody dangerous. And even there, I've had a bit of trouble holding back. A couple of my siblings do know what subject matter I've written on, although they haven't seen the actual essays. Stupid? Perhaps.

I'm a writer. I need to communicate. Even when it's not a good idea to do so.

Meanwhile, back at the journal, my avowed game plan is not to let anybody I know in Real Life know about this. I've already made two exceptions, but one's out of state, and the other just graduated, so I'm not going to see them much, if at all, anytime soon. But the temptation to pass the URL to everyone in sight is there. I'm having to actively resist it. 'Cause otherwise, I'm gonna have to tear down most of I've written so far, including this, and start from scratch with an utterly different focus, and I don't want to do that, because it defeats my purposes in starting this thing in the first place.

I'd thought the danger was outside discovery. Ha. We have met the enemy, and he is us.

But I'm getting off the main point, I think. As I said, I showed the entry in question to my aunt. The reason I showed it to her was that I mentioned that the reality of the situation had finally hit me on Sunday night, when I wrote about the thing. She was interested in seeing what I'd written, even though I insisted that it wasn't worth seeing, but... well, I did have a copy, so if she really wanted... well, I couldn't resist the urge to go ahead and show it to her. My uncle read bits of it over her shoulder, and pointed out that one detail I had in there was something they deliberately weren't mentioning to non-family members. She then showed it to my grandfather, who got a bit upset about the fact that there was one other detail there that was, in fact, false; it was a complete mistake on my part.

Throughout all of this, I was protesting that this was just a page from my diary, and that I'd never meant for anybody to see the thing in the first place.

Ponder that statement for a bit.

While you ponder that, I'll mention in passing that I've patched up the entry in question to remove the two details alluded to above.

Now. Honesty is important to me. And here I am insisting that this was something I hadn't intended to show anybody. And it was true, after a fashion. It rung true to me. Well, sort of.

Certainly, at this point, I think I have about six readers; maybe ten, if I'm lucky, but I doubt that. There are a few people I've roped in personally, and Mary Anne and Elaine both mentioned me in their journals. That, and a link from my name on the Mouthorgan discussion boards, is about it. Okay, Elaine's endorsement was such that I'll never be able to live up to it, but, still. I've only been here a few days. So it doesn't really feel like I have much of an audience. Aside from a few particular people, and they're the ones I'd probably be pestering now via private e-mail anyway; I've sort of been looking at these entries as filling that purpose. Private e-mail isn't, like, publication.

Still, how can I say that I didn't mean for anybody to see it? What are you, chopped liver?

Perhaps. Online journals are a peculiar thing. I certainly wouldn't say that I've "published" anything I'm typing here. Nothing on this site is in finished form. At best, these are jottings of thoughts I've had, which may make it to the first draft stage someday. But it's no more than raw material. So, in that sense, I can honestly say that I didn't intend for anybody to see anything here as a finished work.

None of you, I trust, are holding this to the same standards you'd hold published material. All of you, I trust, understand that everything here is completely subjective, and that I'm going to be withholding important details at times. Most of the traditional standards for writings simply don't apply here; it's a different medium. I'd describe it as a hybrid between an e-mail to the readers, and the readers sneaking a peek at my diary. Either way, it's not the same as a "real" essay, which is what my relatives meant when they wanted to know if I intended to publish the thing. I don't think they would -- or could -- mind if I shared it with a few friends, which, in my mind, is what this little project amounts to.

That might not be the case if readership of this site takes off, though. Hmmm.

Thankfully, nobody asked why -- if I was writing this as an entry in my personal journal -- it was clearly written for an audience that didn't know any of the participants. I didn't name anybody, I explained a relationship or two along the way... it was pretty clearly not a normal diary entry.

But then, they've never seen my diary. I guess they're taking me at my word, and assuming that either I felt a need to recapitulate the whole story from the top, or that I'm constantly practicing my writing in general, and that that was a part of that. As all of that is true, in fact, I guess it had enough verisimlitude to get by.


Oh, journal, journal... what am I going to do with you?

Footnote 1:
    I am lying. I haven't given up on anything of the sort. More on that in a moment. Return

Footnote 2:

    Along with everything else, excepting the proverbial kitchen sink. Mary Poppins's bag has nothing on my knapsack. Return

Any subject can be made interesting, and therefore any subject can be made boring.
--Hilaire Belloc

Wednesday, January 27, 1999

College starts tomorrow. Later today, actually; I'm behind schedule again, and it's technically Thursday as I write this. I'm not ready for this yet. I still don't have a job (although a couple of potential employers are supposed to be calling me back, so there's hope... but at least one of them might hinge on me switching my course schedule around, and if he doesn't get hold of me pronto, I'm not going to be able to do so in time). I still haven't revised any of my essays for the upcoming annual writing contest. I still haven't written the winter issue of a camp newsletter I write, which really should have been done a couple of weeks ago. It's 1 AM, and I have my first class at 11 AM, and what am I doing? I'm writing a journal entry, that's what I'm doing.

Sorry; I just needed to get that out of my system.

So I went back to the college paper today. We finally have some new blood. We were severely understaffed all last semester, so this is a Good Thing. On the other hand, that means a bunch of editors are learning the joys of PageMaker for the first time.

I use Microsoft Publisher, myself. In fact, my first act this semester was to take the old Op/Ed template from PageMaker, and recreate it in Publisher. This, on the surface, is rather out of character; as a rule, I despise Microsoft, and will use almost any excuse to (a) put them down, and (b) avoid using their products.

Here's the thing: I agree, wholeheartedly, that PageMaker is a much more powerful piece of software than Publisher. Publisher is easier to use, sure, but it's nowhere near as versatile as PageMaker is, provided that you know what you're doing.

But that's the problem. Nobody in the office really knows how to use PageMaker.

Oh, sure, they have the basics. Passed down from editor to editor, they know how to make text boxes, and put pictures in, and put captions on, and how to correct some of the screw-ups that invariably happen when trying to do any of the above. But that's about it. They don't know the first thing about any of the advanced features that make PageMaker what it is. I doubt more than two others in the office even know what "leading" and "kerning" are, and I seem to be the only one who's thought of modifying the body text style to avoid having to use one particular kludge for tabs that everybody else uses.

So... if they're only going to be using the basics anyway, why not use Publisher? 'Cause Publisher does a marvelous job on the basics, even if it is a Microsoft product. Okay, true to form, it wasn't until the third release (Publisher 97) that it started working properly. Publisher 2, in particular, had a nasty tendency to trash files at the drop of a hat. But Publisher 97 and 98 are stable, and really, really easy to use. There isn't a thing currently being done at the college paper that can't be done as well on Publisher, with half the effort.

Furthermore, because the basics are so easy with Publisher, it's possible to move on to more fun, advanced features that none of my fellow editors will ever get around to doing with PageMaker, 'cause it's hard enough for them to get the hang of the basics. You can switch the number of columns, add cool borders, rotate text to any angle, and do all sorts of other neat stuff, with about two clicks of the mouse.

I've tried converting some of the other editors, but haven't yet had any luck. Their loss.

The only decent argument I've heard for using PageMaker is that it's good experience for the eventual acquisition of jobs in publishing. The only catch is that, in that case, we ought to be using Macs instead of PCs, and Quark, instead of PageMaker. But since virtually all of us have PCs at home, that didn't stand a chance. A pity, really. You can't beat a Mac for graphic design.

On Monday, the New York Times had an article on Brill's Content, which basically stated that the magazine is realizing that it started out taking itself too seriously, with too many long, boring, densely-written articles that there's just no audience for, and that it's starting to come around and publish lighter, reader-friendly stuff. The tone of the article implied that the magazine still had a way to go in that regard.

This is the second such article I've seen; the first, in Salon Magazine, made the same claim; that the magazine had no sense of humor, and needed to lighten up.

Please, no.

I am a subcriber to Brill's Content. In fact, Brill's Content is the only magazine I subscribe to; the other magazines I'm interested in can be found at my local library. (Aside from Games, which I haven't seen anywhere in awhile. I hope they haven't gone under again.) And I've been watching it go downhill in recent months, and I guess now I know why.

I don't want the magazine to get fluffier. I loved the minute-by-minute analysis of how the Lewinsky thing played on all the networks. The "legalistic writing heavy with drowsy detail and profiles that run on so long that even the articles' subjects themselves have said they could not wade through them," as the Times would have it, are exactly the sort of thing I crave.

Instead, what have they started filling the magazine with? Well, there's "Stuff We Like," two pages of fluff featuring books, magazines, and websites that Content staff members like. This I need? And, in the latest issue, there's a six-page profile of Will Shortz, the editor of the New York Times crossword puzzle. It was a good article, but what is it doing in Content?

If this trend continues, I'm not going to be renewing my subscription, that's for sure. I want hard data. I want probing analysis of media activity. I want full details of every scrap of evidence on the paper trails, and if that means boring, dense prose, so be it. I have other sources for fluff.

Darn it, who wants a friendly watchdog?

Brillian Disclosure: Shmuel works for a college newspaper that has never been mentioned in Brill's Content. It is possible that he feels bitter about that, although it's not likely. He solved today's New York Times crossword (edited by Will Shortz) during supper, earlier tonight. We should also note that he met Deborah Gibson at a CD signing, and she was in The Manhattan Project (as an uncredited extra) with John Lithgow, who was in Footloose with Kevin Bacon. That must fit in somewhere.

Incidentally, I'm sorry about giving away so much of the plot of Allende's The House of the Spirits. I'll make sure to give you plenty of warning next time I do anything like that. (And thanks for pointing out the problem, Mary Anne!)

Oh, I almost forgot! It seems that InternetTrash is going to be switching ISPs, and installing their own dedicated lines. This will supposedly improve their service, but it also means that it's going to be down for a couple of days in the near future. So if you can't access this site anytime soon, that's probably it. I'll be here when they get back.

Come to think of it, maybe this is a good argument for a notify list. So... if any of you want to be informed when I put up new entries (or when the site gets back up, if it goes down), let me know, and I'll send out updates. Can't hurt, I guess.

For that matter, somebody wrote in asking about my essay on the "f-word." If any of you want to see it, let me know. I'd be interested in getting more feedback on it, as I'm hoping to get it published, but that's not an absolute requirement.

Anyway, that's it for tonight. I'd best be off so I'll have a chance of making it through tomorrow. Two classes, followed by writing my column and putting at least one section together. (The poetry will probably wait until next week.) Oughta be fun.

Education is a progressive discovery of our ignorance.
-- Will Durant

Thursday, January 28, 1999
The First Day of School

Surprisingly enough, I did get up in time to go to school.

My alarm was set for 9:25. After hitting the snooze button a few times, I finally leaned over, and hit the power switch on my computer, snagging the keyboard and bringing it back with me as I collapsed back down again. My system booted up, and I hit the eight keystrokes required for me to dial into my internet account. I then blearily began looking through my e-mail, gaining consciousness as I went along.

This is how I get up in the morning.

A little while after that, I put some water up to boil, as I got dressed, read some more mail, said my morning prayers, and generally got ready to face the day. I made one cup of Bigelow Lemon Lift for breakfast (I didn't have time for the corn flakes), and a Thermos of Celestial Seasonings Sleepytime for the day in general. (Despite the name, it's fine for daytime consumption.)

Which leads naturally enough into the following digression. Last Thursday, I finally went back to the discount store near me with the great tea selection. I walked out with three boxes: Stash Chai Spice, Twinings Ceylon Breakfast, and a Bigelow Sampler Pack, with six flavors.

Mary Anne is right. Stash Chai Spice rules. Utterly. I've decided to save it for when I really want a lift, or, alternately, for when I'm in a really great mood. It's too good to drink on a regular basis. I'm now trying to hook the rest of my family on it, and it's working. One of my brothers asked me to pick up a box for him.

What's in it? "Blended black teas, ginger, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, clove, and natural flavors of cinnamon, clove, cardamom." And, having the box here for transcription purposes, I'm inhaling the scent, and feeling very tempted to go for a cup. But I shall resist.

Anyway, back to the narrative. Just slightly late (I was busy getting the tea ready), off I sped to college. Walking just a bit more quickly than usual, I made it there in about fifteen minutes, I think, at about 10:59. The clock on campus chimed the hour as I went up the path to Razran Hall, where my 11:00 class was to take place.

I walked up the three flights of stairs, and went directly to room 353, where I found... wait. This isn't my instructor. This isn't my class. This is an Essay Writing class; I'm in the Honors Seminar. They switched the rooms on me.

Had I been thinking clearly at this point, I would have checked the door to see if there was a "change of address" sign on it, which is the usual procedure. But I was frazzled. It was early in the morning. I had just walked all the way from my apartment. I was disoriented.

So I glanced through the other classrooms on that floor, and didn't see my instructor in any of them. So I went downstairs to a pay phone, from which I called the English Department. Surely they'd know where the class was located.

"The English Department is closed," said the recording. "Our hours are from 9 to 5, Monday through Thursday, and..." hey, wait. What's going on?

So I tried the main switchboard, which transfered me back to the English Department, which got me the recording again. Joy.

So I ran across the campus to the English Department. Fortunately, its building wasn't far off. Ran inside, and up two flights of stairs, where one of the secretaries informed me that the class had indeed been switched to room... room... umm, actually, I forget the number now, but it was on the first floor, and I've had another class there in the past, so I know where it is. I pointed out to the secretary that the phone system claimed they were closed. She replied that they'd had to shut off the phones, because it was too hectic for them as it was. Oh. Anyway, I went to the new room, and, sure enough, that was my class!

It is a small class. There are eight students. Most of them are seniors; I think I and a friend are the only juniors in it. Plus one older student who's auditing the course.

Some courses hit the ground running, leaving you slightly breathless, but revved up and ready to go for the rest of the semester. Others spend the first day going over the syllabus. I prefer the former approach, and the best courses I've been in have gone that way. This instructor used the latter approach. I'm trying not to hold that against him. It's only a style difference.

I am looking forward to this course. As I think I mentioned the other day, it's on "Ideology and the Power of Culture." We're going to spend the first half of the semester looking into the history and development of "ideology" and "culture," looking at some of the works that developed and defined those terms. In the second half, we're going to use that to look at three contemporary issues: Disney, hate speech, and pornography. For the last of those, we're going to be focusing on feminist debates over pornography, including anti-porn feminists, anti-anti-porn feminists, and pro-porn feminists.

This course was simply made for me. I'm a cultural critic at heart (among other things). I'm fascinated by popular culture, and the ways people relate to it. I'm also a crusader for First Amendment issues, which is very much involved in the questions around hate speech and porn -- when, if ever, does something stop being "only words," and actually inflict harm? And I've long been interested -- and occasionally infuriated -- by various feminist views on pornography; the latter was probably the course's biggest draw, for me. I couldn't pass it up, even at 11 AM.

We're going to be splitting up into three groups, each of which will tackle one of those three areas (Disney, hate speech, porn), lead the discussions on it, and collaborate on a report on it. Naturally, I want to cover the porn, although I could live with either of the others if I really had to. But I'd much rather not.

I think my odds are good. When we all introduced ourselves, I discovered that the vast majority of the class is taking the course either because they're about to graduate, and this is the only Honors Seminar being offered this semester, or because they have no experience in the stuff being covered, and they thought it would be a fun change of pace from the usual subjects, like Jane Austen, James Joyce, or whatever. Only one or two others were already familiar with -- and particularly interested in -- the subject matter.

This class ought to be good. I'm looking forward to future sessions.

From there to the student paper, where I typed in a column written by a professor who's been writing for us for a few years now.
We have one 486, and four Pentiums. The 486 is quite obsolete, and one year ago, it's what we wrote and typeset the entire paper on. A couple of weeks into the Spring 1998 semester, we finally got the Pentiums. They have proceeded to be a blessing and a curse ever since.

They crash often. Right now, two out of four systems are functional. (And one of those needs to have a whole bunch of programs and drivers reinstalled.) At the time that I went over, both of those systems were in use. I turned on the 486, and typed in the column in Notepad. In HTML. Experience has shown it to be the simplest way of using that system; word processors simply take too long on it to be worth the bother. Later on, I brought the file over to the other system, imported the text, and voila!

After looking over an article in another section (once a Copy Editor, always a Copy Editor...) I rushed to the cafeteria, got a warm slice of pizza, gobbled it down, and zoomed over to my 2:00 class: 2D Design.

As you might have inferred from the title, this is a studio art course. I was somewhat concerned about it, because I've never taken an art course before, I'm not at all visually oriented, and I didn't know anything about the course, other than its title.

I was reassured to find out that there were only a handful of art majors in the class, and that most of us had never taken an art class before. So I'm in good company, and the course is designed to work with people like me.

It's a four-hour class, ordinarily, but the instructor let us out at 3:00, after telling us a bit about the class, handing out the syllabus, and giving us our first homework assignment. Oh, and after the commercial from the guy who sells art supplies down the hall, and the distribution of his price list.

I ain't done with the day yet, but this entry is long enough. And as I'll explain at the start of the next entry, I've got a slight problem with my current update schedule when it comes to the weekends. So the rest of my day will follow shortly, in Friday's entry. Stay tuned...

Yea, I say unto you that remedial courses are the tools of the Devil. And by these signs shall ye know him: By the number "95," as in "English 95." By the number "3," as in "Math 3." And by the letter "F," as in "failing grade." Indeed, I say, the time for repentance is at hand!

Friday, January 29, 1999
Sabbath Scheduling, and Sizable Sarcasm

Weekends are going to make it tough for me to maintain my journal-writing streak.

See, for religious reasons, I can't do a whole lot of things from sundown Friday until nightfall Saturday. Including using a computer. Which means that any particular set time for writing this thing would have to go by the wayside then. The only way I can keep writing entries every day without cheating outrageously would be by writing Friday's entry in the morning, and Saturday's entry at night. And with sundown being early these days, the former is going to be a bit of a challenge.

As it happens, I'm writing this entry not very long after I finished Thursday's entry. I figure I'll zip through it, go to sleep, glance over it again in the morning, and then upload it, before catching the bus to Far Rockaway, where, it seems, pretty much the entire family is going to be.

As it happens, this time around, I have stuff to catch up on, so this is fine. Whether I'll keep doing this in the future, or whether I'll switch to just having one entry covering Friday and Saturday in the future, remains to be seen. There's what to be said for that approach.

Anyway, after art class, I went back for another slice of pizza...

See, here's the thing. I'd had a feeling that I was spending less money over winter break, but I wasn't certain. There's no question now, though. I'd forgotten how much I spend on food in college. A couple slices of pizza, a can or two of Coca-Cola... these things add up.

(I've heard tell that Coke machines are reasonably priced in other parts of the country. At my college, we're talking 90 cents for a 12-ounce can.)

The Thermos of tea is a good start, I think, but it's not enough. I'm going to have to start bringing in sandwiches, I think. Especially now that the kosher pizza on campus has gone back to being little more than edible.

...after which I went to the computer lab and checked my e-mail (of course), followed by a return trek to the college paper.

I proceeded to lay out my section. The column mentioned in yesterday's entry was just over a quarter page. The staff box took up half of that page, and I wrote a little letter from the editor to fill in the last bit.

Page two of my section had a quarter-page letter to the editor. Leaving me with 75% of a page to fill. After a minor skirmish over the possibility of getting a quarter-page ad to fill some of that, I decided to just write a really long column this week.

My column usually runs somewhere between a quarter-page and a half-page, in 10-point type, on a standard tabloid-size newspaper page. My longest ever was a full-page rant, which I doubt too many people read. Too daunting. This one would be my second-longest.

As of 6 PM, I still wasn't sure exactly what I was going to write about.

By 8:45, I'd finished the thing, using all of the available space. (I threw in two pull-quotes, partially to take up space, but mostly to give the page a bit more visual interest.) It rambles a bit, especially towards the end, where I explicitly grant that I'm just trying to fill the last bit of space, and my tone was a tad inconsistent... but it's not bad, otherwise.

Learning from my mistakes on my last really long column, this one is broken into six smaller chunks, five of which make up a larger whole, and the last of which was explicitly tacked on to fill the rest of the space. The sections are separated by horizontal rules -- I'm learning something from writing this journal -- and, on the whole, it looks easier to read than the intimidating wall of text I wrote that other time.

The text itself is more fun, also. I went in for extreme sarcasm, starting by railing against a "parasite" who dared to come to the college needed remedial work in mathematics... who then went on to get a Marshall Scholarship, with which he's going to be doing his graduate work in math. How long, I asked, are we going to allow people like that to run rampant through the system? Clearly, the mayor is right, and remedial courses need to be eliminated.

It got loopier from there. The governor now wants to limit state financial aid to those taking at least 15 credits a semester. Now, I'm in a commuter school -- there are no dorms -- in which most students have to work at least some of the time. I've never taken 15 credits, myself. But what I wrote was: "It's high time. You are also no doubt aware of the scandalously low four-year graduation rate among CUNY students. Why, some students have the unmitigated gall to try to hold down jobs while they attend college. Don't they realize that education is more important than such lesser concerns as rent and food? ...and tuition, but let's not get technical about that. The point is that it's impossible to get a proper education if one takes less than 15 credits a semester, and it's about time our policies reflected that."

I cut the facetiousness towards the end, pointing out that I was obviously being sarcastic, and poking a few more holes in the various arguments made by the forces currently arrayed against open admissions at the City University of New York.

On the down side, I've found two errors in the column since pasting the page up and going home, but one is a really minor typo (I wrote "why" instead of "while," but the intended meaning is pretty obvious), and I'll correct the other in next week's column.

On the whole, I am happy.

Especially since one of the other staffers lent me The Rolling Stone Women in Rock Collection, which he thought I'd be interested in. He was right on the mark. This is a 3-CD set, featuring one track from each of 48 different artists, from Big Mama Thornton to Shawn Colvin. I was reading through the track listing, and just grinning broadly. I'm listening to it as I type this, in fact; "Feed the Tree" by Belly is on right now. Good collection. Too bad I already have a mile-long list of CDs I want to get when I win the lottery. (It might help if I played the lottery, but why get technical?)

This entry was started really late Thursday night, and edited and expanded late Friday morning. See you again late Saturday night, most likely.

Richard Bachman died in 1985. His widow, Claudia Inez Eschelman, discovered the manuscript of The Regulators, along with some other writings, in the attic of the Bachman residence in New Hampshire. Both Thinner and The Bachman Books are available in paperback, the latter with a new introduction by Stephen King.
--from the bookflap of The Regulators.

Saturday, January 30, 1999

Shabbos was nice; the entire family was home simultaneously for the first time since Passover. A couple of siblings wanted to know if I'd brought any Stash Chai with me. I feel a bit like a drug pusher.

I'd meant to bring Allende's book with me, but I accidentally left it behind. So I ended up reading Bag of Bones, by Stephen King instead. I'm about halfway through, and mostly liking it so far.

I've been occasionally amusing myself by imagining the annontations in a future Norton Critical Edition of the book. For instance, the footnote following "It's like a John Grisham novel, isn't it?" might be "John Grisham (1955- ), lawyer and novelist. Works like The Client, popular in the 1990s, featured a lawyer working against overwhelming odds on behalf of an otherwise defenseless client."

This, of course, is not the best summary of Grisham's work, I agree, but it would suffice for the context it'd be establishing on page 170 of King's book. And what do you expect from a Norton Critical Edition, anyway?

Then again, it is a bit more satisfying to imagine this footnote instead: "John Grisham (1955- ), lawyer and novelist. Popular for much of the 1990's for such works as The Firm and The Pelican Brief, many of which were made into movies. His biggest strength was in writing compelling page-turners. In later years, he abandoned this in place of polemics on his pet causes, which caused him to fade into obscurity by the turn of the century."

I shouldn't be so harsh. Grisham may have learned his lesson after the utter fiasco that was The Street Lawyer. We shall see in a couple of months, when his next work is due out. Either way, it's a safe bet that there'll never be a Norton Critical Edition of his stuff.

(Nor of King? I wouldn't be so certain. Very few arguments against Stephen King eventually being included in The Canon wouldn't apply equally to Charles Dickens. I don't think all of his works will make it in, but I would be surprised if none of them did.)

That King sets the novel in the here and now, and mentions Grisham, Ludlum, and others, is interesting in itself. Even more interesting, in a way, is that he doesn't say a word about himself. Being a novel about a writer, with establishing details about bestselling authors of the time... well, anybody else writing the thing would have mentioned "Stephen King" somewhere along the line.

This makes sense, of course. Including any reference to himself would probably have been too distracting for most readers, and might have looked rather pretentious. Still, I can't help but wish he'd gone for it anyway. I love it when writers blur the line between fiction and reality. Metafiction is right up my alley.

The only recent novelist I can think of offhand who has done just what I advocated in the last paragraph would be Olivia Goldsmith, which is just one of the reasons why I love Olivia Goldsmith. Half the fun in her books is finding all of the references she sneaks in to previous books she's written. The Bestseller, my favorite, even mentions the movie version of The First Wives' Club, and Olivia herself... while Brenda Cushman, a character in said book and movie, makes a cameo appearance. How can the character, movie, and author all exist in the same universe? Well, why not?!

As an aside: I've been listening to that Women in Rock compilation I mentioned the other day, and have been trying to pin down a feeling I have about one of the tracks. Janis Joplin's "Me and Bobby McGee" sounds very, very familiar... but not exactly. I have a strong feeling that I've previously heard either (a) a cover, (b) a parody, (c) an alternate take, or (d) a commercial based on the song in question. But I can't seem to figure out just where I'd heard it -- or any of the above variants -- before.

For some reason, the all-in-one-month file doesn't work on my version of Netscape anymore. I think it's just too much stuff in tables for my system to handle. I give up. As of February, I'll be sticking exclusively with the individual entry system.

As for the background image... it looks fine on my system, and absolutely wonderful at the college paper. It looks fairly bad on my brother's computer, and downright awful on the system I tried in the college computer lab. I haven't pinned down the cause of the differences yet, and will probably switch to a solid background color, come February 1st.

Some people think little girls should be seen but not heard, but I say, O Bondage, Up Yours!
-- X-Ray Spex

Sunday, January 31, 1999
Magoo and McGee

I finally placed it.

A bit over a year ago, the Music Editor at the college paper gave me two CDs to review: The Best of Twisted Tunes, Vol. 1 & 2, by Bob Rivers.

I was optimistic, at first. This came from the creator of Twisted Christmas, which I tend to put into heavy rotation each December. But they are bad. If this is the "best" of Twisted Tunes, I shudder to think what the merely average offerings are like.

Essentially, these CDs are a collection of the sort of song parodies that are a mainstay of morning-zoo type radio shows. When about that day's news, they're entertaining. It's fun to hear a song parody whipped up on the spot, and one doesn't hold them to a particularly high standard.

Putting them on a CD is another story altogether.

A few tracks aren't bad. Too many of them are. There is an inordinate stress on corpulence and defecation as prime sources of humor. Much of it isn't very funny. In short, I panned them.

To finally get to the point, one of the better tracks, on Volume 2, is "Mr. Magoo." Which, as it turns out, is a parody of Janis Joplin's "Me and Bobby McGee." I can now rest easy.

My surprise favorite from Women in Rock is turning out to be a track called "O Bondage, Up Yours!" from a short-lived British group called X-Ray Spex. I haven't figured out most of the lyrics yet, but how can one hear that title without smiling, I ask you?

(Okay, it's not really my absolute favorite, but it's a fun little track that I'd never ever heard of before. And I'm glad I've heard it now.)