Sunday, January 30, 2011

Crasher alert

I liked Shoe's pictures of dinner and BobBIE's boss machine. Somebody kept crashing the party, though.

"I can haz sopaipillas?

I can haz tacos?

Play teh radio!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Civics, Geography, and Use of the Globes

One of the problems with road atlases is that you sometimes don't get a sense of the distances involved, particularly in the West.

For example, Wyoming looks like a little state, occupying as it does only one page on the typical atlas, whereas little New Jersey gets a double-page spread. I read a novel by an author from Massachusetts who had a character drive from Cody, Wyoming, down to Cheyenne and back for a little errand one afternoon. It's about a 12-hour round trip, sort of like my driving to Las Cruces to pick up some chicken for tonight's dinner. When C. J. Box visited the store several years ago, his New York publicist had him flying from Cheyenne to Denver (93 miles), then allowed him three hours to drive from Los Alamos to Phoenix (375 miles). "Daddy, who's that driving at Mach 2 with his hair on fire?" "That, son, is the mystery writer C. J. Box on his way to Arizona."

Earlier this week a couple came in soon after the store opened. They wandered around with interest, but, judging from their quizzical looks, I figured that something was amiss for them. "May I help you find something, answer a question, or make a suggestion?" I asked. The woman said, "Where's Roswell?" I said, "It's about 200 miles south of here on US 285. Just go east on New Mexico 502, turn right at Pojoaque, and follow US 285 south to Roswell. It's about a 4-hour drive."

An "oh shit" look passed across her face. They were in the wrong place. There are no aliens in Los Alamos! (Okay, maybe the guys in the Theoretical Physics Division at LANL. But you didn't hear that from me.) She exchanged a few fraught whispers with her husband, and they smiled wanly at us, hurried out to their car, and headed east.


At least once a summer a visitor asks, "So where up here did they test the atomic bomb? We'd like to get a shot of the crater." We tell them that if the Manhattan Project boys had tested the bomb here, the place would have been uninhabitable, then tell them about Trinity Site. "It's about 200 miles south of here," we tell them. "And it's open only twice a year, the first Saturday in April and the first Saturday in October." And at least once a summer, an "oh shit" look passes over the visitor's face. Then we console them by selling them a piece of Trinitite and a copy of The Green Glass Sea and sending them next door to the museum.

"It's not far from Farmington to El Paso. They're only one Life-Saver and a hairpin apart!"

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Concerto for piano and derder

Gene's plea: Don't take the heart out of toilet paper
Gene Weingarten, Washington Post, January 16, 2011

As a credentialed member of the liberal media elite, I bow to no one in my support for lunatic environmental causes. Shut down a cancer-medicine factory to save the habitat of an endangered worm? Sure, why not! But every once in a while, something comes up that makes me say: Enough is enough.

Take Kimberly-Clark's new eco-friendly "Scott Naturals" toilet paper. It's like any other toilet paper roll but without the cardboard tube at the center. When you get to the end, the paper simply slides off your spool. This product rollout (haha) was accompanied by an analogy-intensive advertising campaign pointing out, for example, that the number of cardboard tubes consumed annually "weighs more than 250 Boeing 747 airliners." But there's one thing it didn't point out.

I'm on the phone with Doug Daniels, Kimberly-Clark brand manager, and Joey Mooring, a company PR guy.

Me: Can you explain why this allegedly "improved" product is not just another insidious assault on traditional American family values?

Doug: Well, because it's the right thing to do. American consumers discard 17 billion tubes a year, and the majority of them are tossed immediately into the garbage. It's enough to fill the Empire State building twice. Laid end to end, these tubes could reach to the moon and back, twice.

Me: Noted! Are you aware of the special, cherished place that the "derder" holds as a source of wholesome family entertainment?

Doug: The what?

Me: My God.


Me: You are the brand manager for a leading American toilet-paper manufacturer and you do not know what a derder is?

Doug: No.

Joey: I do!

Me: Swell. Doug, a derder is an impromptu kazoo-like musical instrument fashioned by placing one's mouth on the end of a toilet paper tube and tunefully going "der-der-der" into it. This cheap and innocent toy has delighted children of all ethnicities and socioeconomic strata since the invention of the toilet paper roll in 1877. That is what you are throwing out as though it were garbage. That is this thing you never heard of! How old are you, Doug?

Doug: Uh, 36.

Joey: I'm older.

Me: See, there's the problem. It's generational. The derder is an endangered species. Like Yiddish, or good penmanship, we have been slowly losing it to cultural indifference. The very concept of "fun" has become commercialized; its no longer a spontaneous product of individual ingenuity, but a commodity to be purchased in the form of, say, "apps." My 20something friend Caitlin knew what a derder was but not how it got its name. That is because when she was growing up, her mom used it not as a musical instrument, but as a humane yet effective way to discipline the family dog, Gretel. Such is the enduring, versatile magic of the derder. Would Kimberly-Clark prefer that dogs be punished with ball-peen hammers?


Joey: Okay, I'm going to jump in here. The launch of this product is a great opportunity to reduce waste.

Me: So, can we agree that your company advocates abusing animals and is philosophically opposed to nurturing imagination in little children?

Joey: It's good for society and good for the environment.

Me: Boy, you guys know how to stay on message!

Joey: At end of the day, from a sustainability standpoint, taking steps to reduce our carbon footprint is the right thing to do.

So that was that. I didn't budge them an inch. I think they may not have understood that I was a serious journalist, making a serious point. Or, possibly, they may just be too focused on, you know, the bottom line, such as moving Scott's market position in toilet paper from number two to number one.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Sunset, moonrise, and alpenglow

Back in the summer of 1980, P and I went to Oregon to visit his brother and sister-in-law. We took several day trips with them, including a drive to one of the state's rocky beaches in the south. We stayed for the sunset there, and scores of other folks sat on the rocks or stood on the shore watching as the sun set. The only sound was that of the waters of the Pacific. And as "the last lights off the black West went," the people dispersed in utter silence.

Another time P and I were driving back on US 64 from Cimarron after an evening of high-school basketball. The moon was rising over the plains, and the conditions that night made the moon appear red. We pulled over to watch. As we stood on the side of the road, other cars pulled over, and the occupants got out to watch. No one spoke or exclaimed.

The afternoon of New Year's Day, Michele and I took our cameras to the Anderson Overlook. It had snowed on the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, and alpenglow was the draw for us. As we stood taking photographs, about six other carloads of folks stopped, and they took pictures too, or just stood looking at the spectacular view.

Here are some of my images. Click to enlarge.

I really like this one.

I cherish these times when I and people I love and perfect strangers stand together in silence to appreciate the beauty around us.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Street fund and books, 2010

Here's my annual summary of my street fund of the money I found and the list of books I read in 2010.

Street fund total $25.01
101 pennies
10 nickels
40 dimes
14 quarters
6 $1 bills
1 $10 bill
1 diez centavos coin from Mexico, which I will put at Dad's grave

In 2010 I read 129 books. I began the year with Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar and ended with James Barrie's Peter Pan. Peter Pan creeped me out of existence, and Pan is a mean-spirited, narcissistic little snot. I think that, to protect young readers, we need to keep Peter Pan, The Wizard of Oz, and Alice's Adventures in Wonderland out of the hands of us adults, who are more easily traumatized than kids.

Some of the cool books I read in 2010 include these.
  • Let the Great World Spin, Colum McCann. I loved the beautiful structure and language in this novel.
  • Confederates in the Attic, Tony Horwitz. Horwitz revisits the Civil War in the unvanquished South (although I kept saying to myself, "You lost. Get over it.")
  • The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, Jacqueline Kelly. This is a very funny coming-of-age story in which Calpurnia struggles against gender roles in 1899.
  • Skippy Dies, Paul Murray. Skippy dies five pages into the book, and the rest of the story is told in flashback. Among the topics the kids are concerned with are time travel, M-theory, bungee jumping, and the true meaning of Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken."
  • Room, Emma Donaghue. This is my favorite book of the year. It knocked my socks off. Izzy, you should read it!
  • It Was the War of the Trenches, Jacques Tardi. I love the graphic genre. This account of daily life in the trenches in World War I is very affecting.