Friday, March 24, 2006


Ready? Good.

5. “Brown Sugar,” The Rolling Stones

Ignoring the themes of racism and prostitution, this is a fantastic song. Je Ne Sais inflation for mentioning New Orleans. Crescendo isn’t much, but Criterion 1 is covered with “I said YEAH, YEAH, YEAH, wooo!,” and the Stones obviously know their bass.

4. “Hotel Yorba”/”My Doorbell,” The White Stripes

Impossible to choose between these two -- they’re the yin/yang of car songs. What “Doorbell” lacks in Criterion 1, “Hotel Yorba” fills. (Bill Haley proved the fun of counting in a chorus: “1, 2, 3 o’clock, etc. etc.”) In turn, “Doorbell” provides ample Beat for accelerator tapping/steering-wheel pounding. Neither song has much Crescendo, but who matches The White Stripes for Je Ne Sais? Are Jack and Meg White married? Siblings? Exes? Neighbors? “Appealing mystique,” French or otherwise, accurately describes the Blanc, er, Stripes. (I took Spanish in high school. Lo siento.)

3. “Kiss,” Prince

So much fun to sing in the car, it makes me wonder whether Prince himself is a car-singer. I think no. Can you imagine Prince singing in a Porsche? Or even a Toyota? I bet he has awful road rage. And likes to stop at Waffle House. Anyway, “Kiss” exceeds the rubric on all four criteria. You know that blonde who sat parked in front of her apartment last week, screeching “Ain’t no particular sign I’m more compatible with?” Wasn’t me.

2. “Me and Bobby McGee,” Janis Joplin

True story: if it weren’t for this song, I wouldn’t have spent two years in Hughes. In the hour before my TFA interview at the Prudential in Boston, I took my Discperson to the ladies’ room and gave a lip-synched stall performance. I needed Janis for confidence. “Bobby McGee” is Je Ne Sais: “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.” Crescendo, Beat, and Nonsense Words will never menage better than in the final minute, when Janis’s Full-Tilt Boogie band goes....full-tilt? Bonus points for Kris Kristofferson as lyricist.

And the number 1 is....can you see it? Best friends head-banging in a clunker car. Saturday night in Aurora. No way. Way. Yeah, it’s cliched to pick “Bohemian Rhapsody,” Queen. But Wayne’s World sustained a sequel and a “Dancing With the Stars” fame-extension (party on, Tia Carrere) for a reason. It wasn’t just the one-liners (“Schwing!”) Queen helped in a totally righteous way. Criterion 1: Scaramouche, Scaramouche, will you do the fandango? Criterion 2: head-banging. Criterion 3: more Crescendo than bipolar disorder. And Je Ne Sais: “So you think you can stomp me and spit in my eye? / So you think you can love me and leave me to die?” Oh, baby....

That’s all. I’ve realized it’s not quite as much fun to write lists as it is to watch list shows. Somehow I left out “Lola” by the Kinks, which should have been #3 or 4. And “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” by Stevie Wonder deserves a place, too. Good thing I’m only an armchair culture-ranker. Tonight I’m watching TBS “Dinner and a Movie." If you’re hungry for a virtual tiramisu, just let me know.

Thursday, March 23, 2006


Judging from my performance on today’s Univariate I midterm, perhaps I should have minded my p’s, t’s, and z’s, instead of generating this song list in class. Nevertheless, here are my Top Ten Tunes, 10-6:

10. “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, Pt. 1,” The Flaming Lips

High score for Criterion #1 (Use of Nonsense Sounds or Syllables) and 4 (the Je Ne Sais....). Lower for #2 (Beat) and #3 (Crescendo). I first heard this song in Charlottesville, courtesy of The Troubadour. The Troubadour may or may not have been a graduate student, but he selected my graduate-students-only apartment complex for his regular outdoor acoustic concerts. I never could figure out his schedule -- 1 a.m. Friday morning guaranteed; other times/dates TBA. His repertoire was easier to memorize: just this song. No “Stairway to Heaven.” No “Layla.” Only “Her name is Yoshimi / She’s a black belt in karate....” Though he nailed the chorus, he neglected the intermittent robot sounds - which, in my opinion, are most fun to imitate on the interstate. Woo! Woo!

9. “Getting Better,” Bob Schneider

Bob bottoms out on Criterion #3, but he makes up for poor crescendo with steady bump-BA-bump-de-bump-BA-bump beat and leisure-suitworthy scat singing (plus “la la la la la la la“). For the Je Ne Sais, it’s tough to top the first two lines: “Well, I’m driving downtown in my big red Cadillac / Sipping on ice wine, mixing it with similac.” I must confess, I do not know what “similac” is. Sounds like baby formula. But Bob makes it cool.

8. “The Way,” Fastball

What happened to Fastball? They “made up their minds / and they started packing.” Now I keep getting them confused with Uncle Kracker, who had a better one-hit-wonder band name, but woefully inferior music (always a bad idea to cover a song that has been covered by, um, The Rolling Stones). Fastball scores near 1 (on a 5-point Likert scale) for criterion 1, but high marks for Beat, Crescendo (in instrumental form) and Je Ne Sais. “The children woke up, and they couldn’t find ’em / Left before the sun came up that day.” Dangerous soundtrack for my Delta days.

7. “Twist and Shout,” The Beatles

No matter your age, pace, or hearing level, The Beatles have a driving song for you. To work, on a Monday: “Across the Universe,“ “Hey Jude,“ “Blackbird.“ From work, on a Friday: “Back in the U.S.S.R,” “Mean Mr. Mustard,” “Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da.” In the meantime, shake it up, baby. This is the Crescendo standard, and Je Ne Sais edges out the Isley Brothers’ version by being just a bit rowdier. Criterion 1 and 2....pretty darn good, too. You can’t fault The Beatles -- they’re part of the national psyche. Literally. One of my IQ test manuals recognizes “yesterday” in a vocab section: it is either “the day before today” OR “a song by the Beatles.” See how smart we all are?

6. “Gin and Juice,” the Gourds

Nevermind that every time I play this song in my car, I feel like “Michael Bolton” from Office Space. I’m entitled to have “my mind on my money and my money on my mind,” right? That’s what the Gourds’ version of this Snoop Dogg tune is about: unabashed arrhythmic whiteness. Who cares about Je Ne Sais? No time for that Frenchy shiznit. If four-letter words are Nonsense Sounds, the Gourds get a solid 5. Beat and Crescendo peak in the extended instrumental at the end. “Extended instrumental” is dope right now. Just so you know.

Stay tuned for 5-1. I’ll see if I can round up last-season reality tv stars and the Snapple Lady for sporadic commentary.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Not in Random Order

Top 5 Necessities for Grad School Survival

5. Clock alarm
4. C2 Coke
3. Coffee
2. Coffee
1. Coffee (and maybe books)

I love lists. Psychologists, please discuss. Is it need for systematic order in my life? Suppressed lust for David Letterman? Whatever the cause, the prognosis isn’t good. On any given Friday night, instead of building friendships at the local student hangouts, I’ll be on my couch, holding my breath for the biggest Reason To Salute the Blue States, Celebrity Fashion No-No, Mortifying Movie Ballad (“Because You Loved Me,” anyone?). On a particularly slow Friday evening in Charlottesville, I counted each of Bravo’s "30 Reasons It Rocks To Be 30." I don’t remember all of them, but my choice for #5 or 6: with any luck, by age 30 you no longer sit alone on Friday nights watching list shows.

Once in a while, I can convince a long-distance friend to join me in this mindless diversion -- is it really “mindless” if you craft clever editorial comments to swap on IM? Last Friday, a close compadre and I saw two hours of VH-1’s “Top 100 Games Ever.” I’ll let this friend go unnamed, as she probably values her social reputation. “Drinks vs. dancing?” is a good question to start the weekend. “Hula Hoop vs. Parcheesi?” Questionable, indeed.

To my credit, the portion of my brain allotted for sequencing Child Stars All Grown Up still bows to larger intellectual pursuits. After expressing indignation that Scrabble ranks below the yo-yo, I messaged my friend: “Shouldn’t there be a rubric for these things?” You can take “Yo, teach” out of the Delta classroom, but....

In anticipation of tomorrow evening’s list mania, tonight I present my own Top 10 with rubric. I’ve selected a topic of great personal significance -- eclipsed neither by list shows nor, apparently, by Univariate I (since I mentally generated most of my list during class today). Cue Mo Rocca - it’s....

Top 10 Tunes To Sing In the Car

I’m a long-time car singer, no shame admitting it. Started at a young age. One of my parents’ favorite road-trip albums, circa mid-1980s, was Huey Lewis and the News' Sports. I’m sure many families have coasted to Grandma’s house warbling about joy, joy, joy, joy down in their hearts or Old MacDonald. We covered “Bad Is Bad.” I especially liked the background part: “a dit dit dit dit dit dit dit doo wop.” Criterion #1 on my rubric: use of nonsense sounds or syllables. A good car sing-along unites. No lyric knowledge necessary. Or, if you’re alone on the highway, “na na na” requires only minimal brain-vocal energy, leaving room for activities such as counting license plates, checking MapQuest, and, yeah, watching the road.

My dad imparted the importance of Criterion #2: beat. Why do cars have steering wheels instead of Nintendo joysticks? The answer: James Brown’s “I Feel Good.” As long as “good times, great oldies” radio stations exist, “I Feel Good” will play approximately 1,162 times per day. And every time I hear this tune, I’ll think of my father, en route to Kroger or Blockbuster, pounding the steering wheel on the chorus: “So good! BANG BANG / So good! BANG / I got you! BANG BANG BANG BANG.” A top car song leaves your voice hoarse and your palms slightly red.

The accelerator goes with the steering wheel like Sonny & Cher, Sly & the Family Stone, Belle & Sebastian (see? I’m hip!). Pound the wheel, press the pedal, repeat. It’s not enough to rely on bass, though. A truly great car song needs Criterion #3: crescendo. In order to reach 80 mph, one must pass through 60 and 70. In an upper-echelon road song, music parallels speed. Ike & Tina understood (not that I’m resurrecting the Ike Turner Fan Club). “Proud Mary” starts “nice and easy,” but pretty soon....speed-limit violations. If you’re not burning rubber by the end of “Proud Mary,” call OnStar -- you’re too old to be on the highways.

Last Criterion: the je ne sais....Some songs just belong in the left lane. Before the sight of Tom Cruise made me dispepsic, I enjoyed that scene from Jerry Maguire where Jerry hunts for a car-sing. Neil Diamond? No. Petula Clark? Hmmmm. Wait - bingo!: “Free Falling,” Tom Petty. Any song mentioning “freedom,” “rebellion,” “cash machine, gasoline” gets a high score. Though perhaps Frank Sinatra “My Way” belongs in older-model vehicles.

Now the proper scoring requirements have been established, I must leave the Top 10 for another post. I can’t stay awake. Guess which “Grad School Survival” item I forgot this morning?

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

3.14 a la Mode

Pumpkin, cherry, pee-can, pe-cahn,
Ice cream off or ice cream on.
Key lime, apple, Derby winner
(Fake) chicken pot, served up for dinner.
Chess or chocolate, coconut
12-inch from the Pizza Hut.
Food as math? I’m set to try it -
But 3.15 equals “diet.”

Happy Pi Day. This is math I support.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Small Wonder (But Not the '80s TV Show)

I’m not going to write any more quasi-spiritual posts this month, because, as I said, I got dropped from God’s Friends and Family plan last fall. If God were speaking to me at all, He/She’d use the answering-machine voice of my Texas grandmother: “Hello? Are you there? It’s your grandmother. Well....I see you’re out again. I‘ve tried to call several times. Let us know you’re alive, if you can spare a few minutes....” Thank goodness for unconditional love and a shared affinity for “Grey’s Anatomy.” My grandmother’s, not God’s.

But before I go cold turkey (cold dove? cold sparrow? eh, no...), I’ll say this: lately I’m impressed by the accessibility of miracles. Obviously, New Orleans isn’t the Mecca of water-walking at the moment. I’m pretty sure if Moses wanted to part Lake Pontchartrain, he’d have to deal with the levee board. No burning bushes, either -- the humidity’s way too high. I’m thinking of small miracles. Unimportant, in the grand scheme. Fortunately, the etymology of “miracle” is not “to be knocked flat by a monumental act of faith,” or even “to be really wowed.” Apparently, “miracle” comes from the Greek “meidan,” meaning “to smile.” Smiling is easy enough.

Except when it isn’t.

I mean, don’t actors often prefer tragic to comedic roles? Happiness can be hard work. I’m looking at the January 26, 2006 issue of Rolling Stone, in which Steve Coogan (“Britain’s Larry David”) describes his TV characters. He says, “I like people who are generally aspirant but feel cheated or malcontented. You do a lot of contemptible character, and that produces a lot of comedy. What’s hard is trying to do a character who’s basically a nice guy.” Contentment is, let’s face it, kind of boring to watch. And (to me, anyway) it’s impossible as writing material. How many posts did I generate while dating Friend? How many during/after/about the break-up?

Of course, I’ll admit to being more neurotic than most. Which is why I started looking for small miracles in the first place. It’s a strategy I employed in the Delta, when malcontent peaked. (“Aw fuck, made our teacher cry, again.) Toward the end of my second school-year, I attended a few services at UCC Congregational Church in Memphis, and though I didn’t “get saved,” I resolved to quit whining for awhile.

April 18, 2004 I wrote in my journal: Today’s sermon was about the soul-killing power of ’if only.’ ’If only I were a tougher teacher with a more svelte figure and matching purse/shoes....’ I could ’if only’ my life away.

April 20 I decided to bitch and moan less and appreciate more. It worked for exactly twelve days.

April 22: Thank you, God, for this day during which I had a delicious bowl of Grape Nuts, taught a calm social studies lesson and worked with a student at my house for an hour. April 27: I am grateful for hugs from Lindsay and Seth, good grades on the _Hatchet_ test, a 4-mile run followed by “American Idol” and Morningstar chicken with rice. May 2: I’m not trying very hard to find the joy in life. May 11: I’m about to go to school, but I’m so depressed I can hardly breathe. So much for appreciation.

My record for miracle-seeking has not improved with time, and my motivation, er, spotty, at best. Today, though, minimal effort required. Hence, this final vaguely religious observation:

It happened on my walk home from the gym. Usually, I walk with a soundtrack: Diana Krall on introspective days, 50 Cent if I’m upbeat. Kris Kristofferson for Delta nostalgia, or Justin Timberlake for Honesdale (ask Mary). But today, for some reason, I wanted silence. Or not silence, but lack of constant noise. I got the birds, the lawnmowers, the omnipresent Mexican workers chipping tile. A few blocks from my apartment, I smelled grilling or wood burning. It’s a familiar scent, but not one I get to experience often, as I never grill or burn wood -- no tofu on the barbie.

These two things -- the comfortable noise and smell -- would’ve suited my desire for minor miracles. Pleasant sensory stimulants generally don’t come without strain: hours of food prep or make-up application. But as I crossed onto my street, I glanced right, and there it was. Meidan. A toddler sitting on a porch swing peering at a book, and next to him, his dad. Or it might have been his granddad. Based on certain age discrepancies within my family, I find these relationships hard to judge. In any event, the boy was reading, or sounding out words, and the father was smiling. Also drinking a Michelob Light. In the half second it took me to walk past, I remembered my porch swing -- Memphis, 1985 -- and how my dad sat next to me.

Sometimes we read. Go Dog Go was my favorite, with its treetop pooch party on the final page.

Other days, Dad brought out his guitar, and we sang “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.” You probably know the tune. Will the circle be unbroken / By and by, Lord, by and by / There’s a better home a’waitin’ / In the sky, Lord, in the sky.

Deep stuff for a 5-year-old, I suppose. In my preoperational bliss (Piaget, oui), I didn’t fully grasp the significance of “unbroken circle.” It reminded me of Family Circus comics, since they were printed in a circle. Family Circus comics made me smile. Sitting with my father, swinging, singing off-key, made me happy. If, in some way, this snapshot constitutes a miracle, then I’ve been blessed from the start. And if that isn’t miraculous, well, there’s always Grape Nuts for breakfast.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Ode to Mrs. Piaget

“Mom knows best,” that’s what they say,
But not to Mrs. Piaget.
Though hours she spent in nursery rocker
Softly singing “Frere Jacques”
To Laurent, Lulu and Jacqueline.
No doubt, too, she wiped their chins,
And cleaned their bibs,
And soothed their cries.
Really, wouldn’t it be wise
To call her child psych’s “all-time great”?
Imagine how she had to wait
As Jean penned each kid’s play-by-play:

L. won’t eat the soup today.
J. lost interest in the doll,
Now is crawling down the hall.

“Jean, dear, can you take a break?
Cherie, for the children’s sake?
I’m glad Laurent rolled over twice
And Lulu’s grasping skills suffice
But coq au vin is getting cold
No, just two times -- not three -- she rolled...”

What patience shown by this grand-dame,
And yet we never see her name
On Developmental syllabi
I guess ours is not to wonder why,
But offer praise to the monsieur
Instead of writing odes to her.
Well, for the record, Wife of Jean:
I’d like to say that though you’re gone,
I’ll find you cause for celebration
Throughout my “formal operation.”

Monday, March 06, 2006

To The Italian Undergrads Who Share My Washer/Dryer


On this evening of acceptance speeches, I’d like to thank you for putting the joy back in Sunday-night laundry. Had I dirty socks enough, and stained shirts, I’d gladly while the hours at our Whirlpool, listening to your exotic banter. I don’t understand your language, but I admire your choice in wool blankets. I’m sorry I initially mistook you for Japanese. I only caught a glimpse of your dark hair through the kitchen window, and I thought I smelled sesame oil. I promise I’m not usually so ethnocentric. I also swear I only use that Veggie Tales t-shirt with the sweat stain for dusting. All my sexy v-neck tops are at the dry cleaner’s. If you ever care to borrow my Bounce sheets, you’re more than welcome. Is there an Italian version of “mi casa es su casa?” My detergents are yours. Prego.


Thursday, March 02, 2006

Damage Control

Twice during this vacation, I have almost killed my new friend Qi. Both times, she smiled graciously. Qi is not dumb. She scored near perfect 1600 on the GRE, missing only a couple of Verbal questions. English isn’t her first language. (Qi doesn’t brag, either -- she revealed her GRE score in a sunny but offhand way, as one might mention a spotless dental record. Sure, it’s an accomplishment....but don’t you know someone with the same good fortune? A cousin, maybe?)

The brushes with homicide occurred in my car, as you might expect. Most of New Orleans’ streetlights remain busted, so four-way stops have become Roulette-ish. On our Thursday-night drive back from Muses, I reached a busy intersection inches ahead (I swear!) of a tan Chevy and paused just briefly before continuing straight ahead. Had I not slammed my brakes, Andie Acura’s front bumper would be a permanent attachment on the Chevy’s left fender. Qi lurched forward. I indulged my inner Howard Stern. Katie, in the backseat, groaned softly. Katie wasn’t supposed to be with us, but moments earlier -- toward the end of the parade -- she had yakked on herself, thus demonstrating incapability of driving her own car. Good news for her, though: she must have been feeling better at the time of our near-collision; otherwise, she would’ve yakked on Qi. Perhaps Qi smiled in gratitude. Hawaiian Punch-and-rum leaves a pretty heinous stain.

Our second cheat of death was much less interesting. En route home from Winn-Dixie, at yet another intersection, I failed to see the Jeep with the right-of-way. Again, I hit the brakes. The Jeep honked. Qi may have frowned slightly, but she thanked me for the lift anyway. In addition to being smart and calm, Qi is clearly a very good person. I hope we’ll stay friends.

I’m not sure what Qi’s definition of “a very good person” is. Almost every time we’re together, she tells me, “You’re so good!” Yesterday, she said it twice: once when I checked out an Anne Tyler book from the library; once while we were running around the track at Tulane’s gym. Her use of “good” may have referred to my literary selection or my exercise habit -- but, let’s face it, Anne Tyler is not Chekhov, and the track isn’t the Olympics. And besides, Qi was running, too.

In fact, I did many “not good” things in February. I won’t list them, lest you think I’m proud of them -- or lest you, like Qi, have any lingering illusions about my good-ness.

I will admit I haven’t gone to church since September. Felt especially guilty about this yesterday, as it was Ash Wednesday, and Ash Wednesday is my favorite holiday, next to Thanksgiving.

I know, it’s puzzling. If I decide to create a profile in the next few days, I’ll selectively omit my affinity for Ash Wednesday, as I might gloss over those DSM-IV diagnoses and the hari kari knives in my closet (just kidding). SWF, blonde, average build, likes: long walks on the beach; candlelit dinners; deep conversations; holidays commemorating death and loss; Italian food; swing dancing. Interested?

No doubt Jesus is scratching His head. Historically, He has likely noted that I don’t handle loss particularly well. I’m not even talking about death -- that’s a whole different plane. This morning I lost Internet connectivity for two hours, and I almost clawed a hole in my modem. Each time I lose my cell phone -- more times than a person my age should -- I teeter dangerously close to nervous breakdown.

Then, there’s the “saying goodbye” sort of loss: goodbye Honesdale; goodbye Murfreesboro; goodbye New Orleans; goodbye Charlottesville. My friend Joelle, who does not often read this blog, sent me a housewarming email shortly after I (re)arrived in NOLA: “I can just imagine you happily bouncing from place to place, bringing grace and cheer wherever you land.” Given a limited amount of information, I suppose our friends will always give us the benefit of the doubt. God bless them.

So, it’s not that I have a loss fetish. On the contrary, I’m big on togetherness. At Thanksgiving, my family (usually) comes together to eat tofurkey, watch Macy’s, and avoid political discussion. No stocking stuffers to organize or blinky lights to untangle -- just you/me/us and a variety of pies.

On Ash Wednesday, I get the same feeling. The “part of something bigger” feeling. I guess the “bigger” thing is death and sin and mistakes....all that “inappropriate dinner conversation” stuff. But it’s also the jumping-off point for forgiveness, which is the upside of screw-ups. I tend to forget I’m forgiven -- and that’s good, because otherwise I’d drink a lot more.

After Qi and I got back from the gym yesterday, I ate a salad, looked at “American Idol,” and tried to appreciate God’s forgiveness. I couldn’t. I know I couldn‘t, because I had trouble sleeping, and it seems to me that the peace of forgiveness should work at least as well as Tylenol PM. As a back-up for sedatives, I listened to three James Taylor songs (“Fire and Rain,” “Sweet Baby James,” “You’ve Got a Friend”). Didn’t work. It’s tough enough to accept Qi’s unflinching good humor. God’s? Forget it.

Finally, I turned to Anne Lamott. Traveling Mercies goes everywhere with me - Charlottesville, Tennessee, Louisiana. W. and I have a private Anne Lamott fan club -- we even tracked down her IM moniker. “Anne Lamott is online!” I announce on cell phone, when I hear the happy little creak of an open e-door. We’re not stalkers. Truly. We just feel reassured by “Annie’s” faith. At least I do. Seattle Times calls her “sidesplittingly funny, patiently wise, and alternately cranky and kind.” The New Yorker says she’s “cause for celebration.” I have to borrow these book-jacket acclamations, because I don’t have any words for her. She’s great.

In Traveling Mercies, Anne Lamott describes ashes as “contradictory”: “They’re impossible to let go of entirely. They stick to things, to your fingers, to your sweater...It’s frustrating if you are hoping to have a happy ending, or at least a little closure, a movie moment where you toss them into the air and they flutter and disperse. They don’t. They cling, they haunt. They get in your eyes, in your clothes.”

I’m waiting for the “movie moment” when I can reconcile togetherness/loss and morph into a very, very, exceptionally good person. In the meantime, I am grateful for my friends and -- amen -- my brake pads.