Sunday, December 7, 2008


I have no idea what this guy is writing about, but it looks like he's having a pretty awesome time.

Friday, November 28, 2008


I've never actually posted a meme before, but I'm feeling whimsical and thought I'd give it a try, even though this blog's readership probably numbers less than four at the moment. But what the hey, it's all in good fun, right?

I'm also afraid that my continual lack of updates have made this blog stale, so expect a slight revamp/change of focus soon.

The Crazy-Curious Meme

Answer the following questions about the Meme poster and repost on your own journal as you wish. Tag 10 people to answer.

1. The love of my life:
2. Where you and I met:
3. Take a stab at my middle name:
4. How long you've known me:
5. The last time that we saw each other:
6. Would I ever go sky diving?
7. Your first impression of me upon meeting me/seeing me:
8. Am I funny?
9. My favorite type of music:
10. Can I sing?
11. The best feature about me:
12. What do I want to do more than anything?
13. What is one thing that you think I should do?
14. Do I have any special talents? If so, what are they?
15. Would you call me preppy, average, sporty, punk, hippie, glam, nerdy, snobby, or something else?
16. Have you ever hugged me?
17. My favorite food:
18. Have you ever had a crush on me?
19. If there was one good nickname for me, it would be:
20. Your favorite memory of me:
21. If you and I were stranded on a desert island, I would bring:
... and you would bring:
22. Do I believe in God?
23. Who is my best friend?
24. What is my favorite book?
25. Will you repost this so I can fill this out for you?

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Election Day


Trials never end, of course. Unhappiness and misfortune are bound to occur as long as people live, but there is a feeling now, that was not here before, and is not just on the surface of things, but penetrates all the way through: We've won it. It's going to get better now. You can sort of tell these things.

— Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Economic Crisis

The great thing about this recent economic crisis is that whereas before I had no money, now I have a convenient excuse to blame my troubles on when people ask me about my situation.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

In which Ian discusses his thoughts on Marriage with a twelve year-old, and is accused for the first time of being a Homosexual.

I am in the midst of a very one-sided Jenga game with S——, a twelve year-old girl I am tutoring. This is a girl who has repeatedly told me that I would make a good candidate for Beauty and the Geek. We are playing Jenga while I drill her on her times tables as a reward for her success with solving exponents and adding fractions with the same denominator.

“How old are you, anyway?” she asks, poking a block from the stack with her pencil.

“You always forget how old I am. I’m twenty three. What’s eleven times six?”

“Sixty-six. Are you married?”

“You know I’m not married.” I pull out a center block. Easy. “Besides, I’m too young to get married.”

“That’s not true! My mom was married when she was your age!” S—— shouts to her mother who is in her bedroom enjoying a much-needed break from parenting. “Mom! How old were you when you got married?!”


Her face falls. “Oh.”

I take up my point again. “Some people do get married young, but plenty of people get married when they’re older too. Eleven times twelve.”

“One thirty-two.” She yanks a block from an unstable part of the tower. “Hey, I know! You can marry my mom!”

“Uh, I don’t think so.”

S——‘s mother seems to share my sentiment, and tells her to go back to the game. S—— tries again.

“What about when you go to Japan? I bet you’ll meet a girl there you can marry.”

Everyone brings this up when they find out I’m going to Japan; as if it were a requisite of the teaching abroad experience to return home with an exotic Japanese bride in a kimono and slippers. “I don’t think that’s going to happen. Eleven times ten.”

“Yes it will!” She becomes noticeably excited. “Unless you’re....”

Her eyes suddenly become wide and she covers her mouth as if she has just heard an adult tell a lewd joke and needs to hide her understanding. She chooses her words carefully: “...unless you’re like my mom’s friends up the street!”

Her mother rushes to my rescue, and I am so taken aback that I feel the need to protest before calming down and slowly pulling out another Jenga block. I gather my thoughts.

“As I was saying, I don’t feel ready to settle down and live that kind of life. I’ve got other things I want to focus on, and a whole lot of living to do. Even if I was ready, I haven’t met the right person. And how terrible would it be to marry the wrong person?”

S—— ignores me and carelessly pushes another center block onto the table, toppling the top half of the tower with the satisfying crash that signals my time to go home. Another lesson learned.

Monday, September 15, 2008


This afternoon, at 4:55 PM EST, a woman from the Kriasho Corporation called to offer me a job teaching English in Japan.

I expect the full significance of this will sink in sometime within the next few hours. Until then, I think I'll just wander peacefully in a dreamlike daze.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

New York

I enjoyed myself least of all in New York….Go into the first drug-store, ask your way from a passer-by, and the indifference and harshness of the New Yorker cuts the old affection for the city out of your body as sharply as a surgeon’s knife. It is partly the hysterical pursuit of money, the fast buck, that chills, but it is also the disdain of the New Yorker for the guy who doesn’t know his way about, who isn’t on the inside.

- Ian Fleming, Thrilling Cities

I immensely enjoyed my first day in New York. By taking the train in over the water and then walking out from the tunnels into Grand Central Station’s chandelier-lit infinity, one first encounters the city the way that people were meant to; not from behind the sooty exhaust of a dirty semi-truck. I saw a lot that first day: I got my picture taken by a doorman, watched skateboarders doing tricks on the steps of a Park Avenue office building, ate in the window of an Iranian restaurant with Shervin, walked through Central Park, and imagined myself strolling through the mishaps of a Woody Allen movie. After we’d eaten, Shervin drove me on a hair-raising trip down Broadway and through Times Square, pointing out landmarks as he honked his horn and cut off other drivers. As a city driver, Shervin saw beauty in every stoplight on the avenue changing green all at once, as if opening a path for him to drive onward into eternity. I was content admiring the buildings with my head outside the car window.

But it was only on the second day, when I emerged downtrodden from my interview with Kriasho Japan (where I made a poor impression—my concentration thrown off by a hurriedly improvised teaching presentation and several questions probing the weaknesses on my application) that I experienced Fleming’s New York. I walked through a city of people rushing to their destinations completely oblivious to everyone else, where it took the accident of an old man collapsing in the street to break people out of their stupors and actually interact with the environment around them. I saw young men in blue business shirts laughing together on their lunch breaks—for they had decent jobs and could afford to laugh when I could not. There were, of course, the tourists, but some stubborn bit of pride kept me from associating with these photo-snapping gawkers. Several times I caught myself staring up at the skyscrapers and looked back ahead with the rest of the crowd lest they think I was some sort of country bumpkin. I adapted the New Yorker’s quick stride but wandered without aim; contenting myself to my usual people-watching (highlights from the day include a crowd of theater buffs smoking outside an Irish pub, a bus full of rabbis, and more hot girls than I’d seen in months) and avoiding any actual destination. My aching feet and shattered ego could only take so much of this, and I drifted to a hill in Central Park overlooking the skyline and immersed myself in a book I’d brought. Solace at last.

At least the day ended on a good note: I highly recommend that anyone capable of seeing [Title of Show] do so immediately. I found it both creatively uplifting and hilariously funny, and it raised my spirits from the pit they’d fallen into after the interview. Shervin was right—there’s no shame in going to a Broadway show alone.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Scent, Memory

The rancid scent of marijuana drifts over to my haven on the hill, I know not from where. The smell carries memories of Ben, of social gatherings in crowded rooms, of concerts in sweat- and smoke-filled theaters where jam music plays for hours, of late nights wandering past End of the World, of friends giggling in the Leigh common room (but not of Jess's apartment; that was a forced memory that came only when I compiled this list). An unexpected flood from the past at the close of this long, blissful day.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008


I would hate to give the handful of people who actually read my random musings the impression that I've abandoned this blog, because I still plan on continuing it. It's been difficult to make weekly updates during the summer because I'm in the middle of several other projects right now; chiefly preparing for my interview to teach English in Japan. (Since I know nothing about teaching English as a second language, this takes up quite a bit of my time.) My other main focus has been a collaborative effort that I will write about fully at a later date, but let's just say it involves a lot of Larper jokes.

Until things calm down, I'll try to update more often by stealing things I've written for other outlets and pasting them in here as if they were fresh ideas. It's not that I'm short on material; I could easily write about the Island Party with Chris and Jessalyn up in Wolfeboro, my inability to light an old gas stove, how great a writer Anthony Powell is, or other entries making fun of various people I know and meet. There are simply too many projects, and not enough hours in the day. Look for more misadventures after my job at Sunapee fizzles out with the last gasps of summer, and the moment of truth is decided at my interview.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

A Few Things That Make Life Worth Living

- Woody Allen movies
- Driving on deserted eight-lane highways at 2 AM
- Chocolate chip pancakes
- Fruit smoothies
- Nabakovian alliteration
- Warm blankets
- Waterslides
- Playful cats
- Sunsets
- Good conversations
- Great concerts
- Laydown loners
- Urban exploration
- Bruce Springsteen's Born to Run album
- Clever puns
- Boat rides
- Fresh breadsticks
- Old Simpsons episodes
- Stratego games
- Anything Spinner says on Degrassi
- Wood-panelled electronics
- Wood-panelled car interiors
- Plausible Macgyver inventions
- Parenthetical clauses
- Books that move you like disaster
- The Funk
- Forgotten bank deposits
- Kevin Smith DVD commentaries
- Drive-in movies
- First kisses
- Watching moths gather around your window on a warm summer night
- Rereading Catcher in the Rye
- The thrill of a bargain

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


Monday, midday. Childish homophone posters adorn Mrs. Cicoria’s classroom walls. Colored pencils and nubs of crayon lay scattered across the floor. I’ve just come from a lower-level composition class where the students chose to write about such important historical figures as Ashton Kutcher and Britney Spears. Fifth period likes to push you. They blurt out terse, incoherent thoughts as we discuss Lord of the Flies and chatter mindlessly while others voice opinions. Time for a coloring activity instead.

“Hey Mr. Rogers,” M—— says with her usual boldness, “you’re always so serious. I’ve never seen you laugh.”

I am confused. Nothing cheers me up more than a fit of sudden uncontrollable laughter. In my writing I enjoy treating overdramatic or everyday subjects with an unexpectedly humorous tone. I keep a blog with a secondary goal of making my readers laugh. My friends and I can crack jokes nonstop for hours, and I feel the closest to the people who will know I’m not serious when I make a potentially offensive one. Many of our oldest inside jokes still make us all laugh. I love Woody Allen and Joseph Heller. Also Dave Barry, Kingsley Amis, Kurt Vonnegut, Carl Hiassen, David Sedaris, and Mark Twain. I like mocking people instead of complaining about them. One of my favorite online activities is making fun of the Adult Gigs on Craigslist (my latest find being an ad by the world’s biggest Lord of the Rings nerd looking for a woman willing to have her vagina and the surrounding area painted to resemble the Eye of Sauron for the laughable sum of twenty-five dollars). Sam and Hannah can attest to the time we were making fun of bad porn titles and I laughed so hard I collapsed. Sex is funny. The pirate tells the hooker that it’s not only his leg that’s made of wood. Serious people are funny: I often feel uncomfortable in formal situations and am compelled to make inappropriate jokes to ease the tension in a room. So what is it about this job that brings out the worst in me?

“I guess you’ve never been around at the right time,” I say.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Man Can't Beat Natural

Jack London’s “To Build a Fire” tells the story of an arrogant young man who, despite the advice of seasoned prospectors, attempts to cross the sub-zero Arctic wilderness with only his dog for support. He is counting down the hours until he reaches his destination when he falls through the ice and into the freezing river—a death sentence in this climate unless he can build a fire to dry off. With only minutes until his hands and body succumb to frostbite, the man rushes to gather wood and is finally able to start a roaring blaze when the snow hanging in the tree above him chooses that exact moment to fall; covering his fire and sealing his fate. Panicked and with hands too numb to accomplish even the simplest of tasks, he is only dimly aware of the flames singeing his skin as he attempts to light a match with his wrists. After his last match flickers to nothing, the man flees in an insane rage toward camp but cannot run for long before he succumbs to hypothermia and collapses. The story ends as the dog cheerfully sets out toward home, ignoring its master’s frozen corpse.

I found the following synopsis of this gut-wrenching story tossed in the recycling bin of the eighth grade special ed room:

In the short storty “To Build a Fire” [A helpful teacher has added in the title] By Jack london,” A man is walking to camp. He Has to walk in sevendy five degree Below zero wether. He tries to biuld a fire to warm up But it is on segsecful. Jack london thought man can’t beat naturl.

Somehow, existential statements about the futility of mankind take on a simple fortitude when written by an eighth grader with capitalization issues.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

One of the Last Real Men

"Mr. Rogers, have you given anyone a detention today?"

"...Day ain't over yet."

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Let's Help Them Marry Young

I’d hate to be 22, and in love, these days. How could I support a bride? How could I find a place to live? How could I train for a profession—in a day where more and more training is essential?

Without financial help I couldn’t.


The case for making marriage available to hundreds of thousands of the blocked generation is not built on sentiment: it is a serious business of saving young people from frustration, of preserving the American home, of stemming the tidal waves of promiscuity, delinquency and divorce.

We surround boys and girls in their late teens and early twenties with ideals of marriage and home building. We admit that our Hal Smiths and Jean Fosters are biologically mature, that they possess growing and compelling urges toward mating and parenthood. We lure them toward marriage in our movies, our fiction, in the whole romantic gloss with which we daub youthful life. Then we snatch away this illusion with: “Don’t be a fool, Alice. It’s ridiculous to marry a boy who’s making only $30 a week!” Or, “Out of the question, Ned. You can’t marry until you’ve finished your internship!”

The result is a sexual dilemma. Psychiatrists’ offices teem with men and women suffering from guilt complexes because they indulged in premarital sex relations, and with equal numbers who are frigid or impotent because they were too long repressed.

From the files of Dr. Janet Fowler Nelson come these case histories:

Tom and Lillian were in love and wanted to marry, but couldn’t because Tom, an architect, was working out his apprenticeship at $28 a week. Faced with a wait of five years or more, Tom and Lillian realized that they had to make a decision. Either they would (1) have extra-marital relations, thus breaking the rules of society, or (2) stifle their emotional and physical drives, with the resultant frustration. They chose the first alternative.

When they finally married, Lillian was oppressed with the fear that “Tom only married me because he thought he ought to,” and Tom unhappily remarked, “If she was that way with me, maybe she’d be the same with any man.”

Equally bitter is the case of conscientious Arthur and Margaret, who chose the second alternative. Margaret’s parents refused to allow her to marry until she had a college diploma and had taught school for at least a year. She and Arthur “went steady” from the time she was 19 until she was 23. Then they were married. A few years later Margaret was in Dr. Nelson’s office relating a sorrowful story of their failure to reach mature sexual adjustment. “You see,” Margaret said, “we ruled out all petting before we were married. We knew that was the only way to keep out of difficulty. I suppose it was puritanical, but anyway we prided ourselves on never showing any sign of physical affection.”

Arthur and Margaret had fallen into a familiar trap. They had reined in their impulses by labeling them evil and tawdry. “This carried over into their married life and completely blocked a happy adjustment,” Dr. Nelson explains.


Promiscuity, sociologists agree, is the greatest foe of successful marriage. But a YMCA poll among men in their early 20’s indicated not only that extramarital relations were “greatly increasing” but that 80 percent of the young men blamed financial bars against early marriage for the upward trend.

Our communities, up to their necks in delinquency, scream alarm at the number of wayward girls, young sex offenders, unmarried mothers. “Yet what is this,” asks Will C. Turnbladh, of the National Probation Association, “but an indication of the stone wall many young people are up against.”

- From “Let’s Help Them Marry Young” by Howard Whitman. Taken from The Reader’s Digest condensed version, October 1947.


Discussion Questions:

1. Whitman cites an increasing trend towards later marriage and independence among Americans in 1947, stating financial barriers to be the cause. Discuss ways this observation has changed and remained the same in the last sixty years.

2. How have society’s opinions about premarital sex and promiscuity changed since 1947? How does this change affect the author’s argument? Do Tom and Lillian’s fears still sound realistic today?

3. Have the parental arguments in Paragraph 4 become ingrained in our concept of marriage, or are they remnants of the 1940’s? Include specific examples in your response.

4. Why did Ian include such an obviously outdated article in his blog?

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Laura's House

Laura’s husband had bought countless DVD boxed sets to watch while he was in Iraq; which Laura was happy to sell to me for my own entrepreneurial purposes. She lived in a brand-new three-story house in a Londonderry subdivision within easy commuting distance of Manchester, Nashua, and all of northeastern Massachusetts; with an attached two-car garage, a shiny black lamppost, a newly paved driveway, and pale-green bushes set firmly on a bed of dry mulch.

Laura herself was engrossed in a large television when I arrived promptly at nine-thirty, and answered my knock wearing a t-shirt and baggy sweatpants with “U-Mass” written down one leg. She couldn’t have been over thirty. I introduced myself and she invited me in to show me the merchandise. The inside of the house reflected the careful yet banal neatness of the outside; and aside from a few tacky travel prints, the walls were covered with framed family photographs centering around a blonde three year-old boy. A nearby study doubled as a playroom filled with large multicolored plastic toys. All the furniture looked and smelled brand new.

She had stacked the DVDs on the kitchen table next to a pile of interior design and celebrity gossip magazines. Had I been a fan of Buffy long? Just getting into the series—my friend and I are going to watch them together. And Deadwood too, a great show; it’ll be good to start with season one instead of trolling through random reruns. How about The Shield? Oh, that one’s not for me—showed the ad to a friend from school who loves it. I always get stuck running the errands. Oh, and where did I go to school? Bennington—it’s in Vermont. Not surprised you haven’t heard of it, it’s a very small place. No cable on campus, so we get together to watch TV boxed sets all the time. Weird schedule, so I won’t go back until the beginning of March. Have a senior thesis to work on in the meantime. Back to business. Curb Your Enthusiasm; that show the Seinfeld guy did, right? My friend loves it, I’ll check with him. It has been hard missing TV during the writer’s strike, but I’m sure it’ll be over soon. Oh, and would you take twenty for the Police Academy set?

Laura kept me in that house for half an hour while she searched for that damn Police Academy boxed set (Amazon resale value $43.00). In the meantime, she showed me her hot-tub, her robotic Roomba vacuum cleaner, her compact DVD storage unit; and explained to me in excruciating detail how difficult it was to recolor the grout on her bathroom floor from brown to off-white. I wondered if she had a job of her own while her husband worked at the base, or if she ever read books. When I had seen enough, I paid her and waved goodbye, still trying to process that house and everything in it. So, I thought, this is what happens when all the popular girls grow up and settle down. I had a sudden urge to run to my car and drive off in whichever direction would get me away from there the fastest.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Upcoming Movie Sequels

Blade Runner II: Rise of the Replicants
Deckard (Jim Belushi) and Rachel (Lucy Liu) outlive their four-year lifespans in the sequel to this beloved sci-fi classic directed by Jonathon Mostow (Terminator 3, Beverly Hills Bodysnatchers). Twenty-five years after their first meeting, can the pair save the Off-World colonies from a renegade army of replicant unicorn warriors? Find out in this summer’s most automated sequel!

Indiana Jones V (working title)
Scheduled for 2012, an aging Indy must outrace an army of Cuban revolutionaries on the trail of Noah’s Ark while attempting to save his failing real estate business.

Rocky Zero
Sylvester Stallone reprises his role of Rocky Balboa as viewers remember him best: before he had his shot at the heavyweight title! Watch as Rocky bounces his rubber ball along the streets of Philadelphia, threatens deadbeat gamblers for debt money, delivers advice to neighborhood kids, and feeds his pet turtle. Will Rocky win enough to pay his rent at this Saturday’s small-time fight? Find out this summer!

Star Wars: Episodes VII, VIII & IX
Starting production in 2017 (by which time a generation of moviegoers too young to recall a time before Attack of the Clones will have reached ticket-buying age), George Lucas returns to a galaxy far, far away with these long awaited sequels. This groundbreaking trilogy is slated to be the first created with 140% CGI technology, so even the actor’s voices will be computer generated! Featuring the talents of Dana Carvey as Luke Skywalker and Paris Hilton as Princess Leia.

The Shawshank Redemption II
Tommy Lee Jones returns as a U.S. Marshall out to capture the most infamous fugitive of all time: Andy Dufresne! Set on the beaches of sunny Mexico, this heart-warming Action/Drama features both the narration talents of Morgan Freeman and a high-speed powerboat chase down the coast of Zihuatanejo.

Terminator 4: Back to the Past
After the humans finally win the war against the machines, Skynet has one last trick up its sleeve: send multiple copies of the evil T-853780580 back to kill John and Sarah Connor during the events of the first three movies! Nick Stahl and Arnold Schwarzenegger are together again for some reason with a new version of Cyberdyne’s Time Displacement machine mounted on a rocket-powered hoverbike, and must travel back in time to save humanity not once, but thrice. (By the way, this time the future can be changed—but we can’t make any promises for Terminator 5.)

The Mask II
Oh wait, this piece of shit’s already been made.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008


There’s plenty of money out there for _____________.

a) Someone who’s willing to work for it
b) Clever individuals who keep their eyes open for profitable opportunities and aren’t afraid to snatch them up when the time comes
c) People with rich families
d) People with stable salaried positions who attended college in their particular field
e) People willing to take advantage of others
f) All of the above
g) C, D, and E only

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Elizabeth Bishop, On Blogs

One of the questions I’ve been trying to answer with this blog is why so many people (myself included) feel compelled to keep blogs at all—especially ones that delve deeply into people's personal lives (see 12/2/07). It occurred to me that the answer may lie in an Elizabeth Bishop essay entitled “The U.S.A. School of Writing” that came out long before the advent of online eavesdropping. Though Bishop was better known for her poetry, her prose—especially this essay—is well worth the read.

“The U.S.A. School of Writing” opens as Bishop, a recent Vassar graduate, has just received a job at the eponymous correspondence school in New York, which is nothing more than a mail-fraud scheme to swindle aspiring authors. Bishop’s task is to respond to students’ assignments, though many of them are barely literate individuals who dream of glorious writing careers after seeing the school’s flashy advertisements in farming magazines. Bishop responds to her students under the name of her predecessor Mr. Margolies; and after reading their humble letters and awkward, confessional stories, she begins to understand what drives them to writing:

Henry James once said that he who would aspire to be a writer must inscribe on his banner the one word “Loneliness.” In the case of my students, their need was not to ward off society, but to get into it. Their problem was that on their banners “Loneliness” had been inscribed despite them, and so they aspired to be writers. Without exception the letters I received were from people suffering from terrible loneliness in all its better-known forms, and some I had never even dreamed of. Writing, especially writing to Mr. Margolies, was a way of being less alone. To be printed, and to be “famous,” would be an instant shortcut to identity, and an escape from solitude, because then other people would know one as admirers, friends, lovers, suitors, etc. (44)

James suggests that writers must separate themselves from the world they wish to portray in their work in order to be successful. Bishop’s students, however—many of whom work as sailors or ranch hands far from any sort of social activity—use writing as a way to gain entrance to a greater community where people will know their names and experiences. They choose writing over more direct ways of alleviating their loneliness because they have no close friends to relate to or confide in. This is not to say that all blog writers are friendless sheepherders, but they too want someone to share in their experiences, their successes, and their failures. It is in our very nature to reach out for human contact in this big world of ours; and now we can do so simply by updating our Facebook statuses.

Friday, February 22, 2008

The Girl from Smith

Anna was a Smith graduate who had double-majored in Psychology and Economics before moving to Boston and deciding to become a nurse instead. She worked part time in the Sleep Research Lab and, on the day of our one conversation, was being paid to sit and talk with me during the second five hours of my Constant Routine. We discussed Northampton and the surrounding area schools; she recounted the time she had seen Kurt Vonnegut sit on a bench marked WET PAINT; and I couldn’t resist making the usual Smith jokes when I found out she was straight. Recalling Cameron’s experience at Mt. Holyoke, I asked Anna if she had liked her school.

“It was refreshing not to be around immature guys all the time,” she said after some thought. “I found the all-female environment to be much more sophisticated.”

Feeling compelled to defend my gender; I replied that not all guys behaved immaturely, and at Bennington there had been little distinction of any kind between the sexes.

“I don’t know about that,” she said. “Men behave ridiculously a good deal of the time—it’s the excess of testosterone. For instance, I used to live below these two frat guys from Bowdoin—total rich kids. Their parents had bought them a TV that took up an entire wall and other things no twenty-three year-old could afford. Every night they would get hammered and make so much noise that we could barely sleep.”

I suddenly felt glad Bowdoin had rejected me. “But that’s not necessarily a guy thing,” I argued, “anyone could be obnoxious and spoiled like that.”

“Consider this then,” Anna said, on the defensive now. “One day we came home to find their brand-new car had been horrendously smashed. I had forgotten about it until a week later, when my roommate overheard one of them at a bar bragging about how they and a bunch of other guys had gotten piss-drunk, stripped naked in the middle of winter, and spun donuts in an icy parking lot. Of course, they crashed into a streetlight and totaled the car.”

“But I’m a guy, and I would never do anything that stupid. I also never get naked around other men. There are any number of guys who would have your same reaction at hearing that. Gender has nothing to do with it; some individuals are just prone to reckless, moronic, childish behavior.”

“But you couldn’t picture a girl doing anything that dangerous or homoerotic, could you? Don’t you think there’s something in the male makeup that enables such stupidity?”

I wasn’t sure.

“Here’s another one,” she continued. “My brother and some friends took a trip to Japan, and one night they all got ridiculously drunk off sake and Asian beer. He said they drank all night and ended up wandering around the city daring each other to do stupid things.” She lowered her voice, as if the Techs outside might be listening. “It reached a peak when one of them dared another to stick a bottle of Tabasco sauce up his ass, and then do a headstand! And the guy did it!”

I was so taken aback by the idea of someone willingly sticking such a thing up their ass and not even getting paid for it that I was speechless. Anna sat back, triumphant; and I finally admitted that yes, maybe there was something that drove certain individual guys—I was very clear on this—to commit moronic acts that girls would never dream of.

But of course—it occurred to me later—girls can be crazy in a very different, non-homoerotic drunken-antics way, as we all know. I could have brought up any number of malicious examples from high school or college to prove that point. But such individual actions should never coerce us into stereotyping people of either gender—it leads to far too many misunderstandings.

Anna and I laid the matter to rest and moved on to relationships instead.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Desensitization of Circadian Responses to Light

A lot of people have asked me about the sleep study; perhaps because they wanted to know whether it was an experience comparable to Turkish imprisonment or a genuinely good way to make some money. That I emerged from the study coherently sane seemed to reassure them.

I spent fourteen days sequestered within Suite 5 of the 9B Circadian Rhythm Research Lab as part of a series of ongoing research studies through Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. The room was larger than I expected—maybe twenty feet by twenty feet—and included a dresser, an electric hospital bed, a large desk, a scale, two video cameras, two testing computers, a closet, a bathroom with the usual furnishings, and a massive tangle of cords and outlets that sprang from the wall behind the bed. To secure the sense of timelessness, the suite had no windows, and clocks were prohibited. The ceiling was composed entirely of florescent lights that maintained the necessary brightness or dimness levels for the study, and the exit door opened out to a foyer that led back into the research lab.

Aside from the amount of light in the room—which alternated between several days of bright and several of dim—every wake period (to use 9B terminology) was exactly the same. My wake period began when the lights went on and I took a test asking me to rate my alertness level and then add as many two-digit numbers as I could within a certain time (not a fun way to start the day). This test was repeated at slightly longer intervals until I was finally allowed out of bed, my IV and head electrodes unplugged from the wall, and given breakfast. All of my meals were large, repetitious, and came labeled with bright-green stickers labeled MUST FINISH, which I would tear off. After breakfast, a Tech used acetone to remove the electrodes glued to my scalp and wrapped my IV bandage in rubber so I could shower and enjoy some blissful privacy. The real testing—a monotonous series of computer programs that scaled my cognitive abilities, mood, and reaction time—began after lunch, and consumed much of my wake period. For a challenge, I attempted to achieve my own best time for the Visual Alertness Test (normal human reaction time is between 250-350 milliseconds):

Visual Alertness Test High Scores

                             1.              139              IAN
                             2.              142              IAN
                             3.              145              IMR
                             4.              155              IAN
                             5.              157              IMR
                             6.              160              IAN
                             7.              162              IAN
                             8.              163              IAN
                             9.              163              SEX
                             10.            165               IAN

The testing alarm rang out at frustratingly frequent intervals, dividing the time between lunch and dinner into smaller periods that I used to write letters, keep up with my journal, read, watch movies on the bright days (9B offered an above-average selection of DVDs and videos, many of which had been stolen. Thankfully, Take the Money and Run and Casablanca had not), solve Sodokus, or listen to music. Every wake period, my project leader Melanie would also pay me a visit to deliver e-mails from friends, make sure that I was still in good spirits, and talk about Blade Runner or Degrassi (Melanie grew up watching the original series with German subtitles, which made for a good bonding experience). Then came dinner, and time for a Tech to attach electrodes to my scalp and face so they could record my eye movements and brain activity while I slept. More testing and a snack preceded bedtime, when another Tech would shut off the computers and plug my electrodes into the wall before the lights went out.

The only change came my two Constant Routines when I had to remain awake in bed hooked up to electrodes for a period not to exceed forty hours. Computer testing continued, and my meals were replaced by frequent snacks consisting of one quarter of a sandwich, some apple juice, and water. A Tech stayed in the room with me, and time passed quickly as long as we could keep a conversation going. (I got to know many of the Techs during Constant Routines, and shared deep, meaningful insights with people I will probably never see again.) The experience turned hellish during Light Exposure, when the lights shone at full brightness and I was forced to stare at a sinister looking eyeball taped to the wall for an egregiously long period of time. More conversation and a copy of Angela’s Ashes on tape (abridged, but read by the author) helped keep me awake when drowsiness set in, though by the end I was nodding off during tests, barely able to keep my eyes open. Just when I couldn’t take it anymore, the room plunged into a cool dimness as refreshing as an air-conditioned basement on a hot day. The remaining time was easier, and I read or played Othello with the Techs until the moment finally came for sleep.

Aside from the Light Exposure, the entire study was pleasantly mellow, and not the isolated confinement colored with introverted activities that I had anticipated. The Techs drifted in and out of the room constantly and provided good company every wake period, for they seemed to appreciate my friendliness as relief from their own monotonous routines. All of them were in my age group; some were Northeastern undergrads working co-ops (like an FWT, but for a whole semester), some were former co-ops working part-time, some were in graduate school, some were studying abroad from Britain, and others just needed money. They were interested in lab research; nursing; becoming MDs; never becoming MDs; working with animals; going to law school; producing music; and in one case, completing a Ph.D. in Circadian Rhythm Research. 9B seemed a place where young people came to work at the crossroads of their lives.

Would I go back for another study, perhaps to try thirty-eight days, or sixty? Possibly. There were low points, sure (Light Exposure, the first two wake periods adjusting to a new routine, the occasional pang of awful loneliness, and of course the, er, temperature sensor), but these did not bother me most days. Instead, I wallowed in a state of scientifically controlled timelessness where the outside world had no meaning; far away from barking dogs, student loans, Facebook updates, car repairs, snowy driveways, and ex-girlfriends—dreaming of all the money I was making. It was valuable time away; to relax, think, and try something new, but seeing the daylight again was as refreshing as waking up after a good night’s sleep.

Sunday, January 13, 2008


Recently I reread Murphy, Samuel Beckett’s first published novel and probably his most approachable one. Though I heartily recommend it to anyone looking for a funny and poignant read, Beckett’s prose—overflowing with tangents, classical references, geographical locations, and oblique descriptions of everyday occurrences—is not for the faint of heart. This is why I love it.

The novel tells the story of Murphy, whose favorite pastime is tying himself to his rocking chair naked so as to avoid the outside world and retreat into the comforts of his own mind. Contrary to this life’s ambition is his love for Celia, a former prostitute who seeks a life of traditional domestic happiness for them both, which means that Murphy must go out into the big world and get a job or she will have to go back to hers. Murphy is morbidly opposed to steady employment, but guided by the astrological predictions of the swami Suk (“Famous throughout Civilised World and Irish Free State” [32]), agrees to look for work rather than have Celia leave him. A happenstance meeting with Ticklepenny the drunken bard lands him a position as a male nurse at the Magdalen Mental Mercyseat hospital for the deranged, where Murphy admires the isolation of the more severe patients. Separated from Celia, he alienates Ticklepenny and retreats to his room to once again seek solace within his own mind. The novel’s climax comes when Murphy plays one of the patients in chess (Beckett lists their game in descriptive notation with commentary) and is unable to reach an endgame, realizing that he has become disconnected from his loved ones through his own isolation.

Murphy’s withdrawal becomes more understandable when one considers Beckett’s portrait of the world outside; what Murphy’s former teacher Neary (his name an anagram) calls the “big blooming buzzing confusion” (4) where the characters have no one to depend on and personal desires for money and sex drive humanity beyond compassion. Such greed makes Beckett’s world so cut-throat that it borders on the ridiculous. When one of her tenants slits his throat, Murphy’s landlady Miss Carriage (say it quickly!) concerns herself solely with how to obtain assistance without paying a doctor’s fee. Celia cannot disguise the swagger in her hips and is pursued by amorously-disposed lechers on every street corner. As for our eponymous protagonist; simpleminded chandlers ruthlessly mock him when he finally applies for his first job, Miss Carriage refuses to help him obtain extra funds from his generous uncle, and he even hears a cuckoo clock relentlessly crying Quid pro quo! as it strikes the hour. Murphy’s rocking chair, on the other hand, is his dependable haven from the outside, for it is “guaranteed not to crack, warp, shrink, corrode, or creak at night,” as Beckett notes on the first page.

Likewise, the novel’s subplot concerns Neary and another former pupil named Wylie, both of whom desire the carnal affections of the corpulent Miss Counihan, whom Murphy has abandoned in Dublin. To fulfill his sexual obsessions, Neary vows to find proof of Murphy’s infidelity, but Wylie double-crosses him and steals Miss Counihan, threatening to reveal Neary’s whereabouts to his bigamous second wife in London. This is before Miss Counihan double-crosses Wylie and the three turn against one another in their search for the missing Murphy. (If it all sounds confusing, that’s because it is.) Employed to that end is Cooper, Neary’s loyal manservant, whom Beckett introduces in one of my favorite passages:

Cooper’s only visible humane characteristic was a morbid craving for alcoholic depressant. So long as he could be kept off the bottle he was an invaluable servant. He was a low-sized, clean-shaven, grey-faced, one-eyed man, triorchous and a non-smoker. He had a curious hunted walk, like that of a destitute diabetic in a strange city. He never sat down and never took off his hat. (54)

Vocabulary Word for the Day: triorchous (trī-'ör-kis), adj, having three testicles.

(When we were reading Murphy for The Irish Novel, someone asked why Cooper can finally sit down and remove his hat when Murphy is found at the end of the book. “As near as I can tell,” Annabel said, “Cooper parodies the character on a quest in the King Arthur sense. As when a knight cannot marry until he has accomplished his brave deed, Cooper cannot sit down until his query is found.”)

The other characters constantly bully and browbeat Cooper into carrying out their wishes to further demonstrate the cruelties of the big world where other human beings are used only as means to an end. Miss Counihan even treats him as an animal by carrying on amorous displays and changing clothes in front of him, as if he were a being without sexual desire. It is no wonder then, that in such a world without compassion Murphy and Celia’s love stands alone as something special, until her push for him to join the big world forces the two apart.

All told, I find Murphy a complicated but absolutely enjoyable novel whose cartoonish portrayal of the world is not without parallel in our own. If anyone is looking to read something different, I suggest picking this one up.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Missile Command

Two days before Christmas, Andy brought over the old Missile Command arcade machine that used to sit in his basement before he moved out and his mother rented the room to a tenant. We moved it downstairs with some difficulty, where we discovered that the screen displayed only gray lines vaguely resembling gameplay. Andy, Mike and Jon all examined it but couldn’t find any obvious problems, so it’s likely that storing the game out in the cold must have caused some real damage to the circuitry. The machine’s innards (circa 1980) are surprisingly scarce, and even if I could understand the circuit board patterns, processors of any kind still baffle me. Schematics for a Missile Command machine look like this:

The wiring charts and instruction manual came in a bag with the following warning; the Atari Corporation no doubt aware that invoking arcade owners’ wallets would be more effective than invoking their patrons well-being:


Read the manual before location set-up. Not doing so may cause reduced profit.

Who knows if we can ever get the thing to work. Buying a new gameboard is expensive and probably impractical. Installing a computer and monitor with an emulator inside the cabinet remains a possibility, but is a huge project in itself. Until then, the game makes a good conversation piece.

Friday, January 4, 2008

A Visit to the Doctor, in Preparation for the Sleep Study

“Once, about four years ago. I was at work first thing in the morning, and I’d been standing up for some time. When I finally sat down, my mind started wandering and the next thing I remember was a sensation like waking up from a dream. Someone was shaking me and thought that I’d had a seizure, but when I went to the emergency room they said that I had just lost consciousness from a lack of blood flow to the brain, brought on by weariness. It never happened again.”
“Maybe two or three per week, on average.”
“Uh, not for a little while, no.”
“…all right.”