‘The Bible — is there a lot of parts to that?’: Overheard in my study hall

MonkeyMoonMachine:

This post is updated with quotes from the rest of the semester in my study hall.

Originally posted on MonkeyMoonMachine:

What follows below are things actually said by the high school students in my 9th hour study hall this semester. While some of these things may have been said mainly to get attention and/or laughs from other students, this is authentic dialogue of real (if inauthentic) human teenagers:

Dramatis Personae:

Teacher: Mr. Hagemann (me, the recorder of these bon mots)

Senior boys: ND, QF, PC.

Sophomore boys: JH, EC, CF (who mostly sleeps)

Freshman boy: DE

Dialogue

10 March 2014: JH said in a low, quasi-whisper: “ND is printing!” “It’s true,” quipped ND.

10: “I was just a little off,” said JH, after he said there were 4 seconds left before the bell when there were fewer than that.

11: JH said “Kobe, Kobe, Kobe” as he passed my calculator between his legs, then dropped it. [“Kobe” was presumably a reference to the basketball player.]

11: JH: “Oh…

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Osage orange decays

MonkeyMoonMachine:

Here is an update of a photo sequence first posted last December.

Originally posted on MonkeyMoonMachine:

On November 10th, I set an Osage orange fruit on the corner of my deck.

Nov. 10, 2013

Nov. 10, 2013

I cut it to see inside the softball-sized fruit.

November 10, 2013

November 10, 2013

Time passed.

November 16

November 16

November 23

November 23

The fruit got frosted.

November 29

November 29

December 7

December 7

December 14

December 14

The fruit got iced.

December 21

December 21

The fruit got snowed on.

December 24

December 24

And the snow melted.

December 28

December 28

UPDATED: The freezing and thawing of the fruit continued through this long, cold, snowy winter in Northern Illinois.

January 6, 2014

January 6, 2014

The fruit continued to change shape, and the cracks in the larger half deepened.

January 7

January 7

January 11

January 11

Apparently, there were also pooping birds:

January 19

January 19

January 25

January 25

January 27

January 27

To the north east of my deck, construction of a neighboring house continued, slowly, through the winter.

February 2

February 2

This photo was taken during a falling of fluffy snowflakes.

February 8

February 8

February 15

February 15

February 22 February…

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Distilling experience into text: The writer as interpreter of reality

“The cat’s just upside down, enjoyin’ the world.”

My wife said aloud this description of our pet cat yesterday morning, and I wrote it down. I don’t think she meant for me to write it down, but I also don’t think she’d be surprised that I did — I’ve been quoting her for years.

I quote my wife, my mom, my in-laws, my friends, my colleagues, and especially I like to quote strangers who say things — things that strike me as funny, strange, or wonderful — that I hear in public (I’m not into espionage; I just record on paper the things that come to my ears.).

I’ve published several of these quotes at this blog, under the category “Transcribed from life.” I post these quoted statements because (I think this is why) they are themselves interesting and/or funny, but I do think part of what makes them interesting and/or funny is that they REALLY WERE said. Were these things dialogues that I had imagined and fabricated (fictioned, if you will), they wouldn’t be as interesting and/or funny, and frankly, wouldn’t be as valuable.

A poem or a fiction is valuable in itself for how clever, insightful, or touching, etc., it is. (If the work is by a famous author, the monetary value, and even maybe the aesthetic value, is increased.) But any text that is claimed to be nonfiction is also valuable because it really happened.

Of course, what “it really happened” means is itself an idea that needs to be considered. Whenever I write on paper something I just heard, I am aware that there are several issues at play already: Did I hear the words accurately? Is my memory (in which I hold the words before writing them down) accurate? What was the context? Was the speaker being sarcastic or otherwise nonverbally asserting meaning that would affect the literal meaning?

I will admit that every time I write down a quote, I am interpreting an experience I had. I am writing down what I think I heard, what I understood it to mean, and how I remembered it. Now, I am being as honest as I can be, but that doesn’t mean I’m a perfect transcriber.

The perfect way to transcribe from life might be to have a recording device on my person at all times, recording all the audio and visual which comes within range of my sense perception (like Google Glass, perhaps. One person who tried this experiment had these results.).

But this doesn’t solve the problem of recording and interpreting particular moments from my life. First, there are the technical problems that such a recording device would have: battery life, recording capacity, breakdowns, etc. Even if these weren’t problems, there’d be the issue of watching and editing each day’s recordings, skipping vast amounts of video just to get to the few seconds that already caught my interest (of course, by viewing such video, I might find additional interesting quotes).

Then there’s the deepest issue yet: What was actually said, and what was actually meant? Technology can’t solve this one. What if, for example, a car honk blocked out a couple words of someone’s speech? That can’t be fixed. And still there’s the problem of interpreting meaning: What, exactly, was she referring to when she said “it”?

So, really, what I’m recording when I write down what I hear people say is my interpretation of what they said — and maybe that’s OK.  And maybe this is why some people don’t like to have their words recorded: what’s being recorded is not their words directly, but someone else’s experience of those words. For example, as I began to write something a friend had recently said to her husband, she asked me, “What are we quoting there?”(But my quoting others’ speech also draws attention to that speech; for every person who’s been wary of me quoting them, several seem pleased that I would find their statement worth quoting.)

And my real point here, in calling this post “distilling experience,” is that my interpretation of others’ words includes my direct reporting of their words, and it also includes the context I give those words, and any comment I might make about them, as to why I found them interesting or funny. For example, from yesterday’s post, I have taken this quote:

One man said, referring to his pregnant wife, “We got another one to fire out August 9th,” as if a child were an intercontinental ballistic missile.

So I provide the context (“referring to his pregnant wife”), and my simile (“as if a child were an intercontinental ballistic missile”) draws attention to the comic (to me) use of the words “fire out” to describe childbirth. I don’t remember anyone laughing when the man said his statement, but the statement appealed to my sense of humor, and so when I wrote this up and published it, I got to explain why the quote amused me. This quote might now amuse readers who would not have been amused had they been there to hear the statement originally made.

My thought, then, is that by taking notes on what I hear people say, daily conversations take on a textual, entertaining quality for me, and then I get to publish these quotes with my interpretations. In other words, a direct audio-and-video recording of these statements might not be as interesting or as entertaining as these statements are once they’ve gone through my mind.

In other words, real life — real things really happening — is fascinating, but maybe not until it’s gone through the mind of someone who can find his/her experiences fascinating. Maybe this is why the particular sensibility/mindset and the particular voice of a writer matter so much to our enjoyment of a particular text. It’s reminding me of advice I got back in college, when an older student said to choose a college class for the professor who teaches it: a bad professor can make a great subject boring, but a good professor can make anything interesting.

P.S.: I’m not sure I explained why I like the word “distilling” to explain the process of describing one’s experiences into words. I’m not sure just now that I do have a good explanation, except to say that, of course, I cannot share directly what I experience. But maybe it IS worthwhile for me to distill — limit down — into words, into the most useful words, what exactly I have experienced. And to remark that, though words are themselves limited and problematic, they allow us to share interior (mental) experiences in a way that other technologies still cannot accomplish.

Byronfest 2014: A small town parties down

A creepy carnival frog watched the fest over the police building.

A creepy carnival frog watched the fest over the police building.

“What is Byronfest known for?” asked the lead singer of the band The Stevee Nix during the band’s opening-night set.

“Brilliant stage banter,” I snarked to a fellow volunteer standing next to me.

“I wanna taste every booth here tonight,” continued the lead singer, then “Relax; go to it,” he Frankie Goes to Hollywooded. The band then covered “Jump Around” and one, and only one, middle-aged white dude did just that.

Byronfest is the community party for Byron, Illinois, a town about 100 miles west of Chicago. This year’s events started on Friday, July 11, and the festival included live bands, beer tents, carnival rides, a children’s play area, a bean-bag tournament, and “Taste of Byronfest.” I served as a volunteer this year, assigned to keep track of inventory for the beer and soda concessions. This task required me to attend for much of the festival’s duration, but also allowed for some time to just walk around and watch and listen.

The creepy frog, closer.

The creepy frog, closer.

Barely out of earshot from The Stevee Nix band, a magician on a stage that had folded out of the side of a truck pattered, “What’s that smoke? Oh, no! Oh, no! This went REALLY bad,” as he produced what looked like a burned shoe. He then grabbed a “first aid box” to fix the shoe, inside of which box was another box, a purple one, from which the magician offered the boy on his stage three replacement shoes. Then he pulled out the fluorescent green show that matched the boy’s other shoe. Audience members applauded. “Were you worried about your shoe at all? … So was I,” said magician.

A couple minutes before 7 p.m., the guy who trained me in my volunteer position last year told me that I should “start finding your replacement now” and he laughed.

At the second stage, the Festival Stage, the Prime Time Live Band is singing “and I ran, I ran so far away.” I actually started writing this line in my notes before he sang it, but by the time I had put the closing quotation marks on it, he had sung it.

I smelled something like ginger coming from one of the festival-goers near me.

We’re the Prime Time Live Band, announced the lead singer, who continued, “Does anybody know that? Prime Time Live Band!”

A creepy-bee ride.

A creepy-bee ride.

A female singer starts into that “Big Black Horse and a Cherry Tree” song, and when she sings, “You’re not the one for me,” I snark (only to my notes this time), “the feeling’s mutual.”

Two married, retired high school teachers are talking to the current high school teacher who is supervising the local high school’s Key Club’s pop sales. The retired male teacher wears a baseball hat with “MR. PORK CHOP” and red pig outline-shapes on it.

About 7:12 p.m., I saw two of my own former students (from a neighboring town), 16-year-olds S. and M., and I told them to stay away from the beer. Then S. asked me to bring her some. What did I JUST say, I said. Then I said I’d stop yelling at them since we’re not in school. S. told me that she asked M. to stand in front of the portable toilet S. was using so no one would tip it over.

7:14 p.m.: The sun came out from cloudy sky, the first sunlight of the Byronfest, now 2 and a quarter hours old. The Prime Time Live Band sang “tonight’s gonna be a good, good night.”

Over the walkie-talkie radio I got to carry (which radio-privilege is half the reason I volunteered, I told someone), I heard a voice ask what beers were available at one of the festival’s two beer tents. The same beer that’s at the other tent, I said. Hearing no response, I figured that that answer was satisfactory.

Later on, I saw and spoke to the teacher I had for 11th grade trig. 23 years ago, which teacher didn’t seem to remember me, but as a teacher myself of fewer years than that, I didn’t expect him to.

Byronfest-ers.

Byronfest-ers.

The Stevee Nicks lead singer asserted a claim that he himself was “bringing sexy back.” At the other stage, “Where do we go?” Axl’d the singer of Prime Time Live Band.

“You’re gonna die laughing,” said a woman to a ticket booth operator. A woman next to the speaking woman had a tramp stamp vining out of her shorts.

8:46 p.m. Moments ago, I saw a little girl carrying a little-girl-sized stuffed prize.

I also saw a young woman who had a tattoo running vertically down her entire spine. Later, I saw that it was a tattoo of all words, a sentence that began between her scapula and ended near her coccyx. I didn’t get close enough to read this sentence. Another young woman had a short paragraph of three lines or so tattooed above where an anatomist would find her kidney.

A voice, from festival headquarters, on my radio asked, “Do you need tickets?” A male voice answered, “We need a vacuum cleaner. Over.”

Servers at one of the beer tents. The "Mike & Joe" band is in the background, on stage.

Servers at one of the beer tents. The “Mike & Joe” band is in the background, on stage.

Passing by me was a young man wearing a shirt with the words “American Menace” in a gothic font.

To avoid confusion with Bud Light.

To avoid confusion with Bud Light.

By about 4 hours into Byronfest, I’d seen both Jessica, a teller at the drive-thru window at the Byron branch of my local bank, and Jenna, a drive-thru teller at the Stillman Valley branch of the same bank, 4 miles east.

9:25 p.m. A new band, AudioDrive, claimed to be “hot-blooded” and challenged the audience to “check it and see.”

A 50-ish woman with two crutches and a cigarette, glides (easily enough) past our seating spot on Walnut Street. My wife starts to put a melody to “Two Crutches and a Cigarette.”

My wife, a local business owner, tells me, “I’m sponsoring something — I just don’t know what.”

Detail of one of the spinny rides.

Detail of one of the spinny rides.

AudioDriver covers a Poison song.

At the other stage, a band called “Mike & Joe” cover “Semi-Charmed Kind of Life” and then “Mr. Jones.”

“White people on the move,” I said to my wife, of people trying to get around us from their seated positions. “Scariest words in the English language,” she answered.

I see two people from our Byron neighborhood standing next to two of my uncle’s friends who live in Stillman Valley, about 4 miles (or less, to their house) away. “Our worlds are colliding!” I said to my wife. “It’s a pretty small world, Stillman to Byron,” my wife said.

10:18 p.m. From the festival stage, AudioDrive plays a song I haven’t heard in years, “Wait,” by White Lion. I hadn’t missed it.

SATURDAY, 11:27 a.m. The work crew volunteers seem to be sweeping out puddles from this morning’s rain. “Here’s a broom. There’s a puddle. Make it wider,” I imagine were their instructions.

The festival stage area outside of one beer tent, early Saturday morning.

The festival stage area outside of one beer tent, early Saturday morning.

My contact at one of the beer tents tells me he’s sold beer twice to the same two women by 11:37 a.m.

I told my wife about a guy I saw Friday night who, on finding the portable toilet near his beer tent to be occupied, went behind the portable toilet for a minute. Did he really pee on the pile of firewood I had noticed back there?

Walking past the bags tournament, I saw one guy holding his head, experiencing the agony of defeat at the bags tourney.

What I learned from the pavement hear the kids' area at Byronfest: Emmy likes, or hates, Tom.

What I learned from the pavement hear the kids’ area at Byronfest: Emmy likes, or hates, Tom.

Byronfest Manager Sarah told one of the work crew to “scoot” around a fence gate. I decided “scoot” is a terrific supervisory verb.

Getting breakfast at our usual diner, our waitress, who graduated from the Byron high school herself a few years ago, said Byronfest is like a high school reunion for her — not necessarily a good thing, she implied.

Said one person at the Festival Stage’s beer tent, to a newly arriving volunteer: “You gotta drink your mistakes.”

At the Gateway Club, where there is free food served to Byronfest sponsors, an adult woman said of a little girl’s Tootsie Pop that “it’s just got [some] frog on it,” referring to some fuzz from a stuffed frog.

One man said, referring to his pregnant wife, “We got another one to fire out August 9th,” as if a child were an intercontinental ballistic missile.

Volunteering is hard work.

Volunteering is hard work.

9:10 p.m. I heard the second version today, one by each of two bands, of “Take me down to the little white church.”

A girl of about 13 years said to a younger kid, “I been to a festival a few times in my life.”

My wife had seemed to be enjoying selling raffle tickets for a local charity, I told her. “I could SEEM like I’m enjoying a lot of things,” she said.

Before the rain Saturday night.

Before the rain Saturday night.

At 9:10 p.m., we were seeing lightning over the festival grounds. The band that had started about 9:00 quit playing about 9:20. I took shelter inside a garage at the city building, and others came in, too. At 9:26, a dude suggested “wet t-shirt contest” and he laughed. A seemingly drunk guy told me, while slurring and lisping, that he had come into the garage “to make some decisions.”

By 9:35, my wife had brought me into the city building and upstairs, away from the storm. “The rain has now hit,” I heard someone say. Out the window, I saw flags on the “Power Slide” carnival ride flapping hard. A lady answering the headquarters’ radio left when her shift ended at 10, saying, “It’s been a slice, guys.” Byronfest was scheduled to continue til midnight, but had been weather-canceled by 10 p.m.

SUNDAY at Byronfest, no admission buttons are required. “How are we gonna keep out the riffraff?” I asked my wife. “We aren’t,” she said.

Local color.

Local color.

One Key Club soda-seller to another, focused on people they saw behind me as they ignored me handing them my payment, “I don’t know if they’re still dating so don’t say that.”

I sat under one of the food-eating tents to calculate my beer inventories. I heard a boy talking to his peers as they were walking past the tent say something, and then a woman said, “What number did you assign me?” The boy answered, “Second — you’re my second mom.”

Also under the tent Sunday afternoon, a man walked in with a girl of 4 or 5 years who had a Spiderman-design painted face and said to a woman, “You should see the large mouth [bass] she caught. She caught the same fish, like, 9 times!” The girl had apparently been catching mechanical/toy fish at the kids’ area pool.

The dog Coco, who spent much of Byronfest tied near a beer truck. "Coco's had the best three days of her life," said Coco's human.

The dog Coco, who spent much of Byronfest tied near a beer truck. “Coco’s had the best three days of her life,” said Coco’s human.

Link: Actress Leighton Meester on Curley’s wife

Meester plays the character of Curley’s wife in a current Broadway production of “Of Mice and Men.” In a piece at HuffPost titled “I’m Not a Tart: The Feminist Subtext of Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men,” she writes of her character:

A few months ago, I read a piece by Daisy Eagan, a Tony Award-winning actress who was aiming to condemn a misogynistic comment on my character in a New York Times review. The review stated that my version of the character was intentionally lacking in the vamp department so as to dissuade the viewer from thinking that “she was asking for it,” — “it” being her death. Of course, I agreed with Ms. Eagan’s opinion in that no woman ever asks for violence or rape, and that ignorance was most likely what brought the Times writer to his conclusion.

However, during our four-month run, I’ve had ups and downs with this notion, in my own feelings of insecurity, and in studying the words of Steinbeck; not just the play itself, but in a letter that was passed on to me by our director at the beginning of our run, written by Steinbeck to Claire Luce, the actress who originated the role on stage. In the letter, Steinbeck sheds light on what is behind this character without a name, writing that, “She was told over and over that she must remain a virgin because that was the only way she could get a husband … She only had that one thing to sell and she knew it.” He goes on, “She is a nice, kind girl and not a floozy. No man has ever considered her as anything except a girl to try to make … As to her actual sex life — she has had none except with Curley and there has probably been no consummation there since Curley would not consider her gratification and would probably be suspicious if she had any.” I can barely read the letter now without tearing up at the thought of this imaginary woman, what she stands for, and what she loses. It’s only become clear to me during my time with Curley’s wife exactly how subversive Steinbeck’s work is, and how he must have intended it.

If this woman is purely a victim, why is she so hated? And if she is truly harmless, why is she so threatening? Without question, it was a commentary on the social climate at the time, which still surprisingly applies today. But if sexism is one of the featured themes, why not say it? Crooks, a character who is forced to live in the barn and away from the other men, says that it’s “because I’m black. They play cards in there but I can’t play cus I’m black.” As clear as day, the color of his skin is the reason for segregation. A modern audience cringes and immediately identifies. Such an explanation is never given as to why Curley’s wife is shunned.

From an outside perspective, one might see her desperate attempts to make a connection to these men as innocent: “There ain’t no women. I can’t walk to town … I tell you I just want to talk to somebody.” Yet somehow, invariably, a large portion of the audience seems to agree with George. They want her to leave so she doesn’t cause any trouble. I understand, because watching Chris O’Dowd, Jim Norton and James Franco make their plans for a utopian ranch, I want them to have that dream, too. But why is Curley’s wife’s presence so disturbing? And why does the audience agree? It’s the subconscious and inflammatory nature of Steinbeck’s writing that makes the viewer join in on the bashing of this woman, punish her existence, snicker at her mishaps. The genius and relevancy behind Steinbeck’s mission in writing this piece is that, to this day, it forces you to see yourself, to expose the depth of your own intolerance, prejudice, cruelty, and naiveté.

NIMBY bunnies: Chicago dumps rabbits on rurals

A Chicago Tribune article last Sunday about the 10th anniversary of Millennium Park contained this tidbit:

Unexpected invaders: The park’s 5-acre Lurie Garden has had some unwelcome visitors: rabbits who ate bark on some of the garden’s trees, killing them. [Edward Uhlir, executive director of the Millennium Park Foundation, the nonprofit organization that helps manage the 24.5-acre public space] thinks the rabbits crossed into the park on the snaking, Gehry-designed BP Bridge.

Last year, Uhlir said, trappers hired by the park caught 60 rabbits in the garden and later let them go at a “certified release site” about 100 miles west of Chicago. Then a fox appeared in the garden. This year, only three rabbits have been removed from the garden. “We think the fox was having dinner,” Uhlir said.

Hey, I live about 100 miles west of Chicago! Is it city officials’ fault that my green beans have just been denuded!?

Link: Weird Al’s ‘Word Crimes’

The parodist panders to English teachers (successfully, in my case):

P.S.: Another take on “Blurred Lines” here.