Some Things To Understand About The 1980s


Here are some things worth explaining about the 1980s, or that are getting explanation anyway.

The decade was heralded by an argument between seven-year-olds who were friends, yes. But the question was whether the year following nineteen-seventy-nine would be nineteen-eighty or whether it would be nineteen-seventy-ten. And whether the decade would have to get all the way up to nineteen-seventy-ninety-nine before it flipped over to nineteen-eighty. The party taking the nineteen-seventy-ten side was very cross at the calendar-makers for not leaving the matter up to the public to dedide.

The President had a press spokesman whose name was Larry Speakes, and it seemed like it was amusing that he had a first and last name that sounded like you were describing what your friend Larry did for his job. His middle name was ‘Melvin’, but nobody could come to an agreement about what it was to Melvin a thing, or whether ‘Larry Melvin’ was a credible name. There was similar but baffled delight when we noticed that Buzz Aldrin’s mother’s maiden name was ‘Moon’. This was very important because lists of trivia about people and their names could point out that Buzz Aldrin walked on the Moon. And while it’s possible he walked on his mother, we’re pretty sure she wasn’t a maiden when he did it. There was also a bit of a flap about how if you took Neil Armstrong’s name and discarded the ‘rmstrong’ part, and then spelled it backwards, you got ‘Alien’. This seemed like it ought to have something to do with his job, although by the 1980s, Neil Armstrong’s job was “chair of a company that made drilling rigs”. This seems highly significant.

Although we had pop culture, it was seen as really swell to make a kid version of popular. Looney Tunes as kids. The Flintstone Kids. Scooby Doo, but a puppy. The trend reached its peak with the 1989-90 Muppet Babies Kids, the exciting follow-up adventures to the animated adventures of the toddler versions of the live-action-ish Muppets. The show was a computer game, because why not? You know? Why not?

With the advent of the pizza-on-a-bagel American society finally handled the imaginary problem of not being able to get pizza anytime. But by putting pizza-related toppings on a bagel we did finish off the problem of bagels not being terrible. I think the problem is bagels had just got introduced outside the New York City metro area. I mean, there was a little stretch in the late 30s when Fred Allen was talking about them. But that was in joking about people who mistook bagels for doughnuts as part of the surprisingly existent controversy about dunking doughnuts in coffee. So explaining them as a pizza-foundation technology let people understand bagels in terms of things we had already accepted, like putting pizza on French bread. Also we could put pizza on the bottom halves of French bread. We don’t know what was done with the top halves. There’s an excellent chance someone at French Bread Pizza headquarters is going to open a forgotten cabinet door one day and get buried under forty years’ worth of abandoned French bread tops. People will call for rescue, but however many times they explain it to 9-1-1 the dispatch operator hangs up.

We had movies, back then. They were a lot like movies today, except everybody’s cars were shoddier. I mean, not that they were 80s cars, although they were, but they were more broken-down 80s cars than you’d get in a movie set in the 80s now. It was part of the legacy of 70s New Hollywood. We might have gotten rid of the muddy sound and action heroes that looked like Walter Matthau, but we were going to keep the vehicles looking downtrodden until 1989. And there was usually a subplot about smugglers who’re after some stolen heroin diamonds. Anyway, when going to the movies it was very funny to observe the theater had, like, six or even eight whole screens. For example, you could say “I’m going to the Route 18 Googolplex” to describe how amazing it was you might see any of four different films that were starting in the same 45-minute stretch of time.

The decade closed with an argument between seven-year-olds about whether the following year was nineteen-eighty-ten or not. These were different seven-year-olds from before. It would have been a bit odd otherwise. You’d think they would have remembered.

Do not dunk bagels in coffee.

Statistics Saturday: Milestones In This Current Cough


Day Event
Sunday Little nagging sensation that I’m coughing a bit more than normal and feel all achy and hot.
Monday I hear nothing after 11:18 am because of my uninterrupted coughing fit
Tuesday Temporary suspension of the tooth-brushing routine because the sudden spasms from my lungs and the toothpaste foam and the irritation in my throat lining create such a bad situation, such a bad situation.
Wednesday Boss excuses me from the planned two-hour conference call with a promise that he’d call back and catch me up and wrap up some loose ends, which he has yet to do.
Thursday Broke the key by trying to wind up the clock and I coughed at the wrong moment and do you know how many different size keys there are for mantle clocks? There’s easily more than six.
Friday Sleep is a lie, a distant faded memory never to be attained again in my life.
Saturday Oh, that’s a good bit better actually.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index dropped eight points as investors’ attention was captured by rumors the bagel place had the tomato tortellini soup today and what implications this might have for the flavored cream cheese they’re offering for bagels.

200

Picturing Me


So the new thing in the world of competitive pinball is not telling people the world of competitive pinball exists. That’s the old thing. It goes back to when pinball first started being competitive, which was about ten minutes after the second guy saw someone doing it. But the new thing is “Selfie Leagues”. This is a thing where they base your seeding in a tournament on your high score during some qualifying tables the weeks before the match. You prove your score by taking a selfie with the score displayed. And we know people can’t cheat because of that big, distracting thing over there.

I’m not a natural selfie-taker. I have no objection to them. It’s just I’m not much on taking pictures with people in them at all. I’m one of those people who can somehow photograph a boardwalk on the Jersey Shore at the height of summer and catch the one moment everybody’s ducked inside for a frozen custard. Or at least is looking away as if embarrassed. The height of summer is 14 feet, two inches.

I have some photographs of people. Most I took on dares. And I have a couple pictures of myself too. Most of those are from the early 2000s, when I lived in Singapore, and per request I got some pictures of myself in front of local landmarks. This was to prove to my parents that I was in Singapore and not just slow about answering their e-mails. I should probably send them some pictures sometime. But those were old-fashioned pictures of me, done with a camera tripod and a timer. Oh, I could have asked someone to take a picture of me, but that would involve me talking to a person and I went from 2003 through 2005 not doing that.

When I look over the pictures I took of myself I notice a couple things. The first is that I don’t look good. I couldn’t help that. I was quite fat at the time. That’s because, as I’ve mentioned sometimes, somewhere around age eight I realized that instead of eating a bagel I could eat two bagels. Also that instead of eating a bagel smeared with a little cream cheese, I could eat a bagel smeared with as much cream cheese as I could load up on before my parents caught me. And, now, I’m from what we regard these days as a large family; nearly all of us are over nine feet tall. (My little brother is the only one who’s not, and that’s because the rest of us kept pressing his head down while we were growing. He makes up for it in other ways, such as by punching us in the shins.) Large-family folks learn to make and eat food as fast as possible, before anyone can catch us. I’m not saying I’m an Olympian-class competitor for eating the 25-meter bagel. But I could go on to regionals and hold my head high, as long as I held my upper lip higher.

But the thing about being fat is if you’re also tall, then you don’t look fat. You just look badly proportioned, like you’re drawn by an art student who’s not quite good enough not to use references, or maybe by an elephant working on her MFA. So I have pictures of me standing beside, say, the sign at the Cavenagh Bridge as the unrealistic part of the scene. The Cavenagh Bridge is this small downtown pedestrian bridge that has an old sign warning about how it just looks like you’ve spelled the name wrong but you haven’t. (It’s named for Major General William Orfeur Cavenagh, so the committment to looking like it’s not spelled right goes back a long way.) If you visit Singapore you’re required to get a photograph of it. I was able to stretch a two-year contract into four years by “happening” to forget my camera when I went downtown that way.

Police notice: Cavenagh Bridge: The use of this bridge is prohibited to any vehicle of which the laden weight exceeds 3 cwt and to all cattle and horses. --- By order, Chief Police Officer.
Singapore’s Cavenagh Bridge, photographed by me. Me nearly wholly omitted for clarity. Elbow awkwardly poking in from the right: me. Messenger bag I’m carrying: one of maybe a dozen identical ones my father picked up free from a company he did consulting for in like 2001. For a decade after every time one wore out, usually by the strap breaking, I grabbed the next off the stack.
The ‘cwt’, or ‘hundredweight’, is an old British measure for a weight which is not a hundred pounds.

I could improve a photograph of me by having less of me in it, of course. But that gets balanced by other problems. Particularly, the less you see of me the more you see of my face. I have three expressions in this kind of picture. One is, “Is the timer ever going to go off?” The next is “My eyes look closed, as if I’m asleep”. The last is “I’m trying so hard to not look asleep that I look as if I’m watching cattle transmogrify into flying saucers right here in the middle of the hipster bar! I don’t dare blink lest I miss the good part”.

But since those days I’ve lost a good bit of weight. (I didn’t really lose it. I just tucked it all in these plastic bins I left in the cellar where nobody will see them, because they’re disgusting.) But the result is I have what pass for normal proportions. And with other people, folks who aren’t me, taking the picture I can focus on better facial expressions. If I’m just off thinking about whatever, I have the look that says “the water bill’s been uncharacteristically low the past three months. I wonder if the metering system is faulty”. If I’m really interested what’s going on, paying attention to it all, my face expresses, “the FOOLS! I shall crush them all!”

Despite all this progress I’m not good at being photographed. Which all ties back to my original point which was … wait, let me check. Pinball? … This was about pinball? I … huh. Well, that’s what it says up there, isn’t it? Weird. I’m going to have to think about this and come back next week with an update.

Yet The Important Question Goes Unanswered


So here’s the lead paragraph in a bit of science news on Reuters:

In an ancient streambed on Kenya’s Rusinga Island, scientists have unearthed fossils of a wildebeest-like creature named Rusingoryx that boasted a weird nasal structure more befitting of a dinosaur than a mammal.

I’ll save you the click. None of the article says how they know the Rusingoryx boasted this. For that matter, it doesn’t even say who the Rusingoryx boasted to. The animal’s from about 55,000 to 75,000 years ago, so I suppose there might have been someone around to hear it. But how did we hear about their hearing about it? Writing hasn’t been around all that long, and 55,000 years is a long time to spend gossipping about some wildebeast-like creature from Kenya.

But maybe it really made a name for itself. Imagine if Rusingoryx turned everything into a chance to boast about its nasal structures. “Yes, it’s nicely warm for February. Warm spells are important when you have my kind of nasal structure, one more befitting of a dinosaur than a mammal.” “A new Portlandia episode? That feels extra-good when, like me, you have a nasal structure more befitting of a dinosaur than a mammal.” “Oh yes, I’d love to try the tomato basil cream cheese on my toasted everything bagel. I really appreciate novel combinations of tastes, what with my nasal structure being more befitting of a dinosaur than a mammal.” Yes, I could imagine someone acting like that becoming a creature you talk about for 55,000 years after all.

Shocking Results Of College Basketball Game


The local news reports that all of the ten people arrested in East Lansing yesterday, in a raucous disturbance with only a tiny fire that broke out after Michigan State won their way into the Final Four, were MSU students. I’m relieved. When I heard there were arrests made I feared it might include state legislators, leaders of industry such as whoever runs that mysterious electron-associated business, or maybe the jovial guy who was playing Santa Claus at the tree farm where we got our Christmas tree and who was very interested in the complex of extensions cords used to rig up the coffee machine and the space heater. (He explained how Santa was pretty knowledgeable about electrical systems.)

The report also mentioned that besides setting, it looked to me, like maybe one jacket on fire, the mob got to throwing “bottles and bagels”. This surprised me, because while mid-Michigan hasn’t got the greatest variety of bagels it’s got some fairly decent ones. Plus, what’s with throwing what amounts to wads of bread around? Yeah, they’re bagels, but we don’t get the really serious bagels, the ones protected by a crust of pumpernickel-diamond alloy inside a chewy core, around here. If they’re trying to break stuff, why throw bread? But if they’re not trying to break stuff, then do they really need to be arrested for what a top-notch lawyer would say is just aggressive feeding of squirrels? These are all questions I feel I cannot answer.

Why I Shouldn’t Be Left In The Kitchen


So I picked up a box of paczki from the Quality Dairy convenience store. I’d had to pop in for cash anyway and they had so many boxes of so many doughnuts that it felt like a mercy to buy some. Plus I was thinking of my father, who can’t appreciate them considering the state he’s in (South Carolina). On the box’s side is a paragraph of information titled The Paczki Tradition, provided I guess in the charming belief that Americans might require some coaxing into eating doughnuts that are slightly thicker than usual.

The paragraph, by one Herbert A Holinko, “Recipient of the Cavalier’s Cross, Poland’s highest civilian award”, explains that they’re made of the finest ingredients and covered with several types of sugar or glaze, and was traditionally made “to use up the ingredients in our households” before the Lenten fasts. I hope he means using up doughnut ingredients. If we tried to use up all the ingredients in our pantry ahead of Lent we’d be making paczki bulging with rice, dry spaghetti, six different bottles of vinegar each with about a quarter-inch of liquid we assume to be vinegar in them, packets of mee goreng-flavored ramen noodles, and a bin of those Boston Baked Beans candies that we only tried for the first time like a month ago and it turns out they’re pretty great. I cannot say what kind of pastry this bundle of ingredients would produce but I imagine anyone eating it would fall back on the oft-used “Frankensteinian” adjective before fleeing our house, never to return.

Holinko also explains “Our German neighbors to the west call them Berliners and our Austrian friends to the south celebrate with the Krapfen”. This is, I believe, the kindest thing any high-ranking Polish person has said about Germans or Austrians since 1683, when Jan Sobieski said, “You know, I like these coffee shops Vienna’s got all of a sudden, and this bagel thing seems like a good idea if we just added some salt or garlic or maybe chocolate chips and blueberries to it. Anyway, good start, maybe needs just a little work or cinnamon jalapeno cream cheese”.

I got to a little bit of work on a bagel yesterday when I realized we’d forgot to take any out of the freezer and wanted to have one as breakfast. Rather than give up on the bagel idea, maybe having the ramen instead, maybe carving a hole out of the center of a potato and smearing enough cream cheese on it that nobody would care about the difference instead. Since I had already gone plainly mad — it was a salt bagel, not a plain, anyway — I tried defrosting it in the microwave.

The microwave has got a defrost setting, I assume, somewhere in that collection of neglected buttons showing pictures of potatoes and popcorn and pizza and whatever other foods whose name starts with the letter ‘P’ they could think of. So I tried setting it for sixty seconds on fifty percent power and the microwave went to work on a sixty-minute cooking cycle and that is not me comically exaggerating, that is me somehow failing to press ‘6 0 Power 5 Start’. And here I need to point out that while it is technically true that I hold a doctorate in mathematics from a very well-regarded university, microwave oven button use constitutes only a very small section of one course in Functional Analysis and it’s not like you remember everything you get to in a course like that.

So I got that straightened out and the bagel down to defrosting for two minutes, at the end of which … it was piping hot and soft and, when I sliced it open, warm and flaky, with little clouds of steam rising and I’m not certain but I believe that an angel rose up from its center and gently brushed my cheek. I have known harder croissants, not to mention firmer clouds of water vapor, and I’ve been feeling guilty ever since that I committed some gross offense against the laws of bagel-preparing. I wouldn’t have had this problem with ramen; there’s very little need to defrost that, most of the time.

The Shape Of Things (I’m A Thing)


I don’t want to brag, which is an opening that puts me at a disadvantage when I honestly don’t want to brag, because everyone knows what it means. Normally you only start a sentence “I don’t want to brag” because you feel like ending it with “but I am the youngest person to have won both a Nobel and a Pulitzer Prize in tweeting, and I only turned down the MacArthur Grant because I knew an adorably needy kid who’d be better able to use the money. Also, last month I put a video up on YouTube that’s attracted over two dozen comments that are relevant and that make you kind of glad there’s such a thing as human beings.” That’s so much bragging it’s not even a single sentence anymore.

The thing is that I’ve got a body that’s in pretty good shape, considering. I don’t mean that I’m in great shape: on my best-shape-day of my entire life I’m going to be measurably worse off than soccer star Pelé will on the worst day of his life, for example, but soccer star Pelé is a pretty high standard of fitness. Even his name outranks the fitness of my name. I imagine you could probably set a pretty substantial dead weight across that capital P and that l without compressing either letter. Yeah, that ‘N’ in my name looks like it should be load-bearing, but I bet if you tried you’d find all its structural integrity has been eaten away by my having kept too many old videotapes of Cartoon Network stored underneath it for like a decade after I even had a VCR anymore.

Still, my body is in pretty good shape considering that by rights it ought to be much worse off. The most serious complaint I can make about it is that I look awkward when I’m standing still or moving. I don’t blame you for thinking I’m just exaggerating my general social awkwardness, but please consider that the funniest thing I can ever do, based on how my love irresistibly laughs, is be the subject of a series of rapidly taken photographs of me standing still or doing a thing. We have a photo collage of me drinking an extra-medium size malted milk that we keep in a special box in the laundry room, as reserve against the most depressing days, like when the plumbing can only be repaired by tearing out the fireplace and gathering two dozen woodland creatures to be publicly mocked, or downbeat stuff like that.

But, for example, I’m not fat anymore, which is doing pretty well because I used to figure, say, I like poppyseed bagels, so for breakfast, I should have two poppyseed bagels so that I’m warmed up for the second, and I should finish it off with an onion bagel, and then maybe also eat a wedge of cheese the size of a guinea pig. I had good reasons for this: I wouldn’t be so cruel as to eat a guinea pig that was made of guinea pig. By rights, I should have reached the diameter of a minor planet, but I never did, and I’ve lost most of the weight by now thanks to what is technically abuse of the coat- and baggage-checking rooms at the renovated music hall downtown. (Don’t tell them. The lost-and-found notices they put up about it are great reading.)

And then there’s aches and pains. Again, I can’t boast about reaching an extreme age, but I am old enough it would be normal to suffer some pains after strenuous effort or after sitting still or lying down or standing up, and I’ve been fortunate enough to be spared that. I don’t have any serious pains, now that I made the executive decision to tell my doctor that the pain in my chest isn’t actually a pain but more a kind of friendly reminder about not twisting so very much.

To what do I attribute my remarkably good physical shape? Is it anything that I can share with people who hope to come away like I do without much to complain about? I have no idea, but if you’d like to suggest anything that might’ve been a cause I’ll accept nominations in care of this department.