Category Archives: Goofing

The Marks of Gen-X

In years past when we spoke of “generations,” we meant a 30ish-year period of time, but in the last few decades we’ve defined each new batch of growing kids as a new generation, something closer to an 18-year period. Boomers and Millennials have gotten most of the media attention, perhaps because their conflicts have been high enough in profile. You hardly ever hear of Gen-X, the batch born in the 60s and 70s, which may leave you wondering how to handle them should you encounter them in the wild. What can you assume about a Gen-Xer? Having lived in this generation my entire life, allow me to enlighten you.

  1. We have no corporate identity. We don’t go around defining ourselves, because we never think of ourselves. We live as we are.
  2. We are the humble generation. Meekness, selflessness, quality service, and the spirit of Christmas–that’s what you’ll get from us. We excel in avoiding pride; we’re monsters of meekness.
  3. Voted most likely to be ignored. We are the people making the trains run on time while others are extending overlong meetings with questions they wouldn’t have to ask if they had been listening earlier. We’re the ones you rely on when you go to the Caymans on vacation.
  4. We hate meetings. Maybe you don’t want to send an email because you think your ideas will eventually make sense after you throw enough words at it, but they won’t and then we’ll have to have another meeting to explain what happened at the first one. Stop the madness.
  5. We have skills. We totally have the great skills girls/guys like. We are on track to be freaking awesome, except our skills aren’t good enough yet, because we’re losers.
  6. We don’t care that you hate our cargo pants, and we think it’s silly to care that much about it. I mean, we aren’t wearing parachute pants anymore, so give it a rest. (You love the flannels though; admit it, you sly dogs.)
  7. We didn’t ask for your achievement award. We’re here to earn our stripes. When did you start remembering our names, anyway?
  8. We don’t care. That’s not true; we do care. We want to make the world a better place. We want to have strong families and good jobs. But you were asking something about a team-building exercise or was it a retirement party, so, yeah.
  9. Pet rocks were better than Tamagotchi or Farmville crops.
  10. Breakdancing is better than walking it out or chicken noodle soup (!?), and moonwalking is way better than anything you kids think you’re doing in your little clubs.
  11. Some of us are still living on a prayer, and we won’t stop believin’ all night long, even though we may ask ourselves daily whether we should stay or go to Africa for Christmas.
  12. To be honest, we are the world. We are the frickin’ children.
  13. You don’t laugh at our jokes, because they’re too sophisticated for you. We are the most ironically funny generation ever; it’s hysterical just to think about the jokes we almost told.
  14. We’re raising a new generation to be just like us in all the best ways and to avoid all of your stupid mistakes.

These are just a few of the many marks of Generation X, the most selfless, kindhearted, loyal, and noble generation alive today. We don’t need your gratitude more than anyone else, so if you recognize us in the workplace or on the street, just give us a tip of the hat or a quiet smile.

Photo by psymily/Morguefile

For Black Friday, The Raven as a Christmas Tale

The English-speaking world has a long history of knocking off EAP’s “The Raven,” the poetic gift that gives evermore. Here is a list of ten examples and this book on the poem has an excerpt of several verses from a 1856 parody called “The Parrot”:

“‘Beg your pardon, sir!’ I muttered, as I rose up, hurt and sore;
But the sailor only swore.”

The comedy troupe Studio C put together this Christmas version, which I share as a warning about what you request this year.

The Donald and the Erik

Scrupulously researched portrait of Erik the Red from Arngrimur Jonsson’s Gronlandia (ca. early 17th Century).

Sorry about the lack of a post last night. I actually posted one, and WordPress disappeared it. It vanished into the ether, like a childhood friend of Stalin. I don’t know what my sin was.

Let’s see if this one stays up.

Last night’s post wasn’t anything you’ll miss much, just a reminiscence from my childhood. Not even very dramatic. Maybe I’ll write about it again someday.

One of today’s big news stories is that President Trump, apparently, would like the US to purchase Greenland.

It ain’t gonna happen, according to the Danes. They have no need, or wish, to part with one of the very few remnants of their once-extensive empire.

And after all, people live in Greenland. I would hope they’d have a say in the matter.

Still, it’s an intriguing thought. It occurs to me that Donald Trump and Erik the Red, settler of Greenland, are kindred souls.

Both are larger-than-life characters, combative, practiced in self-promotion. The saga famously says that Erik called his country Greenland “because people would be more inclined to move there if it had a pleasant name.”

Thus he’s been called the first real estate developer.

I like to think that if Erik and Donald could meet, they’d take to one another right off. Sit down over some mead (though I understand Pres. Trump doesn’t drink) and talk deals.

I suspect Erik could have been talked out of Greenland, for a sweet enough offer.

Dispatch from the Barren North

Actual photo of my front yard. Photo, public domain.

OK, the picture above isn’t really from my place. But it expresses my personal truth.

I actually took a picture of my front yard for you, but then I thought, “Why give my enemies another clue about where to find me?”

In fact, the big snowstorm wasn’t that big. Six inches or so of heavy, wet snow. But on top of all the rest, it amounts to a lot of meringue.

I’d decided not to worry about ice dams this year – those little walls of ice that build up over the gutters, which freeze at night and often force ice up under your shingles – because my attic isn’t heated. But I talked to my neighbor the other day, and he pointed to the actual, existing ice dams on my house. He suggested I might want to do something about them. I should have gone to work with my roof rake that day, but I had a bad cold, and wanted to postpone it.

This morning I still had the cold, but decided I’d better get on it. My efforts proved ineffectual – the whole, thick layer of snow on top of my roof is hard as a glacier now, and I was only able to rake off the layer that fell over the weekend.

But I had further advice from my neighbor. “Those salt pucks work,” he said.

Salt pucks are pieces of salt you can toss onto your roof. They melt in place, and reduce the pressure overall (I guess).

I set out in search of salt pucks this morning. I thought, “I’ll bet everybody’s sold out.”

I was correct. (For a change.) But the local hardware store says they’re getting some tomorrow.

I tossed some sidewalk salt on the roof, and am hoping for the best.

Today was a nice day to be out and about, though. The temperature was still below freezing, but the sun is strong at last – like the mighty eagles at the climax of The Lord of the Rings – and thawing is going on wherever it shines.

Tomorrow will be warm, and the day after will be cold again.

It is not the end. But it is the beginning of the end.

A peg-legged legend

Long John Silver

It be our fashion to honor “Talk Like a Pirate Day” here at Brandywine Books, and I’d be a Dutchman if I failed in my bounden duties in that regard. So here’s a tale for ye, mateys, from a book called The Pirates, by Douglas Botting, published in 1978 by Time-Life Books:

The lead-up: In August 1720, an East Indiaman called the Cassandra (an ill-fated name if ever I heard one) was set upon by two pirate vessels commanded by Edward England and John Taylor, off the island of Johanna near Madagascar. The Cassandra’s skipper was James Macrae. Macrae ran his ship aground to escape the attackers, and after ten days in hiding returned to try to negotiate with the freebooters. The pirates were divided in their opinions as to whether to kill the captain or to spare him on account of his bravery.

At a critical moment a fierce-looking, heavily whiskered pirate seaman, with a wooden leg and a belt stuffed with pistols, stomped up the deck swearing like a parrot; taking Macrae by the hand he swore that he knew the captain, he had sailed with him once, and was very glad to see him. “Shew me the man that offers to hurt Captain Macrae,” he roared, “and I’ll stand to him, for an honester fellow I never sailed with.” This unnamed member of Taylor’s crew was to gain immortality many years later as the inspiration for Treasure Island’s Long John Silver.

The pirates allowed Macrae to go free….

Captain Macrae’s savior, however, was not the sole inspiration for “Barbecue” Silver (who used a crutch, not a wooden leg). Author Robert Louis Stevenson told the poet and editor William Ernest Henley, author of “Invictus” (who had one leg), that he was the original.

I’d Rather Ye Saw on the Ship Knees Than Mine.

September 19 is Talk like a Pirate Day, so here’s a selection of dialogue from Walter Scott’s The Pirate.

“The lads,” he said, “all knew Cleveland, and could trust his seamanship, as well as his courage; besides, he never let the grog get quite uppermost, and was always in proper trim, either to sail the ship, or to fight the ship, whereby she was never without some one to keep her course when he was on board. — And as for the noble Captain Goffe,” continued the mediator, “he is as stout a heart as ever broke biscuit, and that I will uphold him; but then, when he has his grog aboard — I speak to his face — he is so d—d funny with his cranks and his jests, that there is no living with him. You all remember how nigh he had run the ship on that cursed Horse of Copinsha, as they call it, just by way of frolic; and then you know how he fired off his pistol under the table, when we were at the great council, and shot Jack Jenkins in the knee, and cost the poor devil his leg, with his pleasantry.”1

“Jack Jenkins was not a chip the worse,” said the carpenter; “I took the leg off with my saw as well as any loblolly-boy in the land could have done — heated my broad axe, and seared the stump — ay, by — ! and made a jury-leg that he shambles about with as well as ever he did — for Jack could never cut a feather.”2

“You are a clever fellow, carpenter,” replied the boatswain, ” a d—d clever fellow! but I had rather you tried your saw and red-hot axe upon the ship’s knee-timbers than on mine, sink me!

Continue reading I’d Rather Ye Saw on the Ship Knees Than Mine.

Me and my monocle

George Arliss with monocle
Actor George Arliss with a monocle. Credit: George Grantham Bain Collection, Library of Congress

Lent is a time for confessing sins, and I must confess I have committed a social sin. I bought a monocle. And I use it.

It’s been a long time since the monocle enjoyed any kind of welcome in our culture. It was done in, I suppose, by the combination of snooty intellectuals and movie Nazis. I recently saw a photo of some leader of the alt-Right (I don’t remember his name and don’t care) who’d had himself photographed in dramatic black and white, with a monocle in his eye. Semiotically (that’s a fancy word for the symbolic meanings of everyday stuff. I know this because I’m the kind of guy who wears a monocle) the monocle is a red flag waved at egalitarian society. I can’t actually think of any beloved character, in the real world or any fictional one, who wears a monocle. Except for Lord Peter Wimsey. And he wore it so criminals would think him a fool and underestimate him.

The trouble is, I find my monocle extremely convenient and useful. It comes with a lanyard, which means I don’t have to worry about losing it. I only need vision correction (for reading) in one eye. So the monocle is just what the doctor ordered (Almost literally. When my eye doctor told me, during my last visit, that I might try wearing reading glasses with one lens removed, I asked him about monocles and he laughed. Then I checked to see if I could buy one on Amazon, and behold, they sell them there. It was the work of but a moment for me to get one all my own).

I do have the grace to be discreet about it, though. I don’t walk around wearing it all the time. I pull it out when I need to read small print, and put it away when it’s no longer needed.

Also, I work at an institution of higher learning. I consider it a solemn duty of the staff at any school to try to be as eccentric as possible, in order to create stories and legends to be recalled at class reunions. This is one of the foundations of institutional loyalty. Eccentricity at the universities made England the world’s greatest empire at one time.

I’ll let you know when I acquire a valet to complement my eyewear.

‘Walkin’ in my Winter Underwear’

Why is this the best time of year? Because when I’m reading a long book, as I am now, I can share wonderful musical moments like this in lieu of a review. It’s a precious memory from my childhood, from a kid’s show called “Lunch With Casey,” broadcast in the Twin Cities in the 1960s. I’ve shared it before, but I’m doing it again because I know how much it means to you.

It’s also worth doing well

I have very few fond memories of the time – decades ago – when I used to watch the 60 Minutes TV program. But one of them is (I think, it might possibly have been a different show) a segment on the Portsmouth Sinfonia, “the worst orchestra in the world.” Atlas Obscura has an article about it:

The original Sinfonia consisted of 13 members, mostly students who had little to no musical experience. The “scratch” orchestra was meant as a one-off joke, part of a larger collection of silly acts. And they didn’t win the contest. Still, their playful irreverence hit a nerve. Spurred on by an outpouring of enthusiasm for their initial performance, the Sinfonia continued to play, growing in size over the next several years. Their policy was that anyone, of any skill level, could join, with the exception being that skilled musicians could not join and simply play poorly on purpose. Another rule was that all members had to show up for practice.

For a while they attracted large crowds, and they even cut a couple albums. People (like me) were charmed by the blatant effrontery of the thing. It was a sort of an embodiment of Chesterton’s maxim, in his essay on amateurism, that “anything worth doing is worth doing badly.”

The concept is fun, but it seems to me there’s a serious side too. The pleasures of bad music, like other pleasures of the flesh, are fleeting. In the end, quality counts. There’s a difference between enthusiasm and virtuosity, and virtuosity has staying power. It’s worth preserving.

Which brings me to this link, from Legal Insurrection, about protests at very liberal Reed College, Portland, Oregon. A number of students are angry that the school’s Humanities 110 course, a core course in the freshman curriculum, concentrates on western civilization.

I’m gonna go ahead and say it. Western civilization is the best civilization the world has ever seen. The very anger of the course’s opponents is a symptom of their cognitive dissonance, a refusal to accept the evidence of history, science, and their own senses.

Talk like Charlton Heston

It be “Talk Like a Pirate Day,” ye lubbers, and this here be a stub from what’s to my mind the most squared away and Bristol fashion version of Treasure Island ever filmed, the 1990 TV version starring Charlton Heston as Long John Silver, and a young Christian Bale as Jack Hawkins.

You can’t say fairer than that; ye has me affy-davy on it.