Will's Coffee House

John Dryden, Dramatist, Critic, Poet Laureate, and my ancestor, frequented a coffee house called Will's almost daily, where he would hold forth on sundry subjects with great wit and aplomb. Same deal here, only without the wit or aplomb.

Location: Large Midwestern City, Midwestern State, United States

I am a stranger in a sane land...

Monday, January 31, 2005

A Momentary Pause

Stack of grading to wade through, so I must set aside voluntary blogging for professional obligations. In other news, today is my wife's birthday. I did have a lengthy and screamingly witty riff to share with you all on this extremely humorous subject, but alas I've been anticipated in this intention, and have been informed, in terms that leave no room for dubiety, that it's pretty much worth my manhood to go down this road. And, well, gee, folks, I'm kind of attached to those specific appendages, so...um, well, I guess there's nothing more to be said. Certainly nothing funny. Nothing at all. Nope. The word? "Mum." 'Nuff said.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Weird World, This

So after yesterday's misery (which is still lingering, natch), I woke up this morning feeling pretty much worthless and pointless and hopeless and also hungover, which didn't help, but at least allowed me to concentrate on my physical pain rather than my angst. And I crawl out of bed in the cold morning hours to shower and dress and gulp coffee and drive through drizzle--the weather is custom-tailored to my mood, thank you, Gods of Cloud and Thunder--and I turn on the news.

And I hear that there's been a train crash and derailment somewhere around Glendale. A commuter train. Headed south. Into Los Angeles. Hundred-plus injured. Several fatalities. All of which would be unpleasant but not really distressing except for the slight fact that my father takes that very train into work every day. So I'm suddenly shocked out of my self-pitying stupor into confronting the fact that I may well have just heard that my father was killed this morning.

I'll leave you to contemplate the emotional quality of the rest of my drive into work.

Long story short, I get into the departmental office, I ask to use the phone, I get a busy signal--F***!!!--then call again and get my mother, who tells me that Dad decided to drive to work today. He wasn't on the train. Huge sighs of relief. And for a moment, the importance of not getting a job this year was suddenly placed in perspective, diminished to its proper proportion of "That sucks, but there are more important things in life, and you might have lost one this morning. And you didn't."

So, that. Life checked my downward spiral a bit, and for that I'm grateful. I'm still mopey, but only mopey. And that's something, isn't it?

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Apparently, I Suck

I've been sending versions of this message to various people, and at this point, I can't be bothered to come up with anything original to convey the same information, so here it is, cut-and-pasted:

With regard to my miserable job-search experience: having heard nothing from two schools that told me that they'd be making their decisions known "within a week" of the interviews late last month, and having just received a "no" letter from a third, I think it's safe, as we reach the end of January, to conclude that my Campus Visit To Interview ratio is 0 for 4.

Which sucks.

A lot.

I'm trying hard to reconcile myself to this failure, but it's not easy. I suppose there's the need to be mature and take the long view and recognize that not getting the job is the rule rather than the exception and so forth. But, undignified as self-pity is, it's kind of difficult not to give way a bit. There's the obvious temptation to give way to arm-waving tantrums of "I don't see what I could have done any different!" and, that being so, the obvious segue to "What's the point of even trying?!" Probably unavoidable to feel that way a bit right now--I mean, I JUST opened the letter from a school I really liked--and while of course there's the old "Well, at least I got the interview" cold comfort (a lesser version of the "Well, at least I got the campus visit" cold comfort), I'm not really feeling like anything other than "someone who wasn't good enough" right now. I know, I know, the proper term is "someone they didn't feel was right," but I think that's something we tell ourselves to take the sting out of rejection.

At any rate, such is the unfortunately gloomy update.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Inaugural Thoughts

Just Two of these, really--if you read the transcript of Bush's inaugural address, and by now you probably can't go anywhere on the Net without tripping over it, two things must strike you:

One: It's really not a good speech. I tried reading it casually, then slowly, then I had to stop and go back and reread just about every paragraph, because it's so fully of mushy, empty abstractions that I can't really tell what the hell he's talking about most of time. Not a good speech at all--I can't imagine what it must have been like to listen to--the audience must not have known what to make of it.

Two: What one could understand--and this was mostly at the beginning of the speech--left me stunned. Because Bush is a conservative, right? An arch-conservative? A Reaganite? A throwback? A reactionary? The reason I'm belaboring this point is that the early part of the speech was pure--I mean, pure, 100%, 24-karat, no additives or preservatives, absolute and complete and total Woodrow F***ing Wilson!!! Nothing in there as memorable as "We must make the world safe for democracy," but dammit, he flat out copied the central tenet of one of the most Republican-hated Democratic presidents of the past century--that we must exercise international interventionism in order to secure liberty abroad in order to secure our own liberty at home. That is Wilsonian to the core. And keep in mind, the Republicans of his era crucified Wilson for this ideology--they favored, as always, isolationism, and scorned the idea that the affairs of other nations were any of our damned business. And yet here we have the most Republican of Republicans embracing wholeheartedly this most historically Democratic of agendas. What the f***????

Well, of course, times have changed a bit. The Cold War ushered in an era where the rivalry between East and West ensured that we would go abroad to interfere with governments in order to guarantee that they would not go Communist--thus leading to wonderful folks like Pinochet and Marcos and Noriega. Of course, we didn't exactly support democracy therein--quite the contrary--but still, interventionism abounded and a precedent was set, and I'm sure that this form of thuggish foreign policy--one that Reagan was particularly fond of--was what Bush and his cronies are really hawking here (pun intended.) And I'm sure that the growth of multinationals and the interdependence of nations on stable governments to secure commerce had quite a bit to do with this shift. I mean, anyone who thinks that Bush & Co. really give a rat's ass about whether Iraqis can vote for their leaders is just being idealistically naive to the point of silliness. It's all to do with making sure that the Middle East is a place where the oilmen of the U.S. can do business. And of course, given that our prior justification for invading Iraq ("Saddam Hussein is going to kill us all!!!") turned out to be a crock, best to beat the drum of "It was never about us--it was about the Iraqis and how we want them to enjoy the blessings of liberty, for themselves and their posterity, and all the rest of that Schoolhouse Rock jingle!" I just find it perversely amusing that in order to make this claim, Bush had to wrap himself in the ideology of--of all people--Woodrow Wilson. Who, from whatever section of the afterlife they stuck him in (hard to say if Heaven or Hell: Great Man, Idealist, Incorruptible--but also quite the Racist as a result of his upbringing in a Virginia ravaged by Reconstruction, by parents who'd actually lived through the War itself--a fact that still gives me a pang because otherwise the guy'd be my hero) must be looking down (or up) and rolling his eyes at the ignoramus spouting his principles while ignoring the idealism that prompted them.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Still No Fulminations...Sorry

The lack of phone calls, pro or con, regarding my future employment (possibly for life, mind you) continues to wear on my mental energy and, consequently, my ability to become empassioned about the trivial or the obvious. So it's not that I'm not here, and available to post such blatherings, it's just...I find myself curiously mute on any and all subjects. Given this week's inaugural festivities, I suspect there will be plenty to be snarky about--I particularly like the fact that the administration is forcing the city of D.C., one of the most woefully underfunded districts in the country, to pony up multi-millions for the inaugural festivities, a break with decades of tradition (usually the party itself picks up the tab) that I'm sure has nothing to do with the fact that the District went overwhelmingly for Kerry and the Bush administration is singularly mean and vindictive. Pure coincidence.

On a lighter note, I've been married for eight years as of today. But really, that's mostly because I don't have the energy to cheat or get drunkenly abusive. (Which in the latter case is more than I can say for my wife. Kidding, honey! Please don't hurt me. Please. I'm sorry. Don't make me renew that restraining order. I'm tired of telling the police I ran into a doorknob and burned my face on the iron and fell down a flight of stairs--we live in a one bedroom apartment, they just don't believe that last one.) But seriously folks, she's lovely and surprisingly tolerant of my emotional neglect and interpersonal inaccessability. But then, as I always say about her: "Whatever." (I'm really going to pay for this blog entry, I hope you all realize. In fact, it may well be my last...)

Wednesday, January 12, 2005


Hate to do this, but let it not be said that I can't give credit where it's due. I have to cop to the fact that I think that Bush is handling the tsunami situation rather well. I especially think that the incentive to have any donations to relief funds for the disaster count towards LAST year's income tax deductions is a startlingly smart move--an genuinely shrewd means of encouraging altruism in those who might otherwise forgo that particular impulse. (Although if it's reflexively beneficial, maybe it doesn't count as altruism.) Regardless, Congress is gonna pass it, and Bush says he'll sign it, and for that I gotta give him whatever the white version of 'props' may be. I also like the appointment of Bush Sr. and Clinton as co-spokesmen for the relief efforts. Although the ads where they appear side by side might just as well have the flashing subtitle: "Admit it--you'd much, MUCH rather that either of us was president, wouldn't you?" Yes. Yes, we would. But for today, at least, I let Bush by with a nod and a smile. Tomorrow, I will resume my contempt.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Birthday Thoughts.


Thirty. F***ing. Five.

Thirty F***ing Five Years Old Today.

And I still don't have a real job. Or a real life. Or anything that seems even remotely real in any aspect of my existence. (Well, maybe my wife, but only because she hits me pretty often.) I seem to be staring out of the same eyes I was using when I was 21, 18, 12. I'm just not aware of any real change. Wasn't adulthood supposed to kick in a few years ago, and how did I miss it? Christ, I should be saving for retirement, not scrambling to make the monthly nut on my credit card. I should be bitching about having to drag my kid to softball practice, not wondering whether or not I'll ever get around to having offspring. I should be finishing my most recent novel, not dithering around on maybe considering getting back to the few scattered pages of my latest piece of prose nonsense. I should have done something by now--I should BE something by now.

But I'm not. And that--that is depressing.

On the other hand, as the folks in Sri Lanka would say, "Suck it up, you snivelling baby--we're getting our limbs cut off because tiny scratches have become infected and we lost all our antibiotics when a wall of water took out the hospital." Touche, Sri Lankans, touche.

But still:



Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Back Again

Returned from Philadelphia with my psyche largely intact. Three of the four interviews went well, I think, though the party line on these things is that "you never know." An interview can appear to go brilliantly and one never hears from those people again, and an interview can go disastrously--vulgarity, arson, gunplay--and you find yourself getting asked for a campus visit. So now all I can do is, in the words of a mentor, "twiddle my thumbs." Oh joy. Nothing like doing nothing to make one feel productive and worth-while. So, time to suck it up and concentrate on my teaching and the fact that my paycheck has become tiny again thanks to my reduced courseload (overworked and adequately paid or lots of free time and a pittance--wow, whatta choice.)

Not a lot on which to pontificate. I'm glad, really, that the U.S. is ponying up the $350 million for disaster relief following the South Asian tsunami. I'm less glad that we stumbled out of the starting gate by trying to low-ball the situation by initially pledging $35 million. At which point, one suspects, all the other nations who were pitching in gave us the look that you get when you state that you think the fact that the homeless are freezing to death is really going to be good for property values. And, seeing this, we said, "Oh! Did we say '35'? Ooops! Silly us! Dropped a digit! We never were good at math! We meant '350'!!! Ha ha ha! Is that better?" Yes, yes it is. And might I suggest that this cataclysm represents one of the best opportunities we have as a nation to do something to recover our shattered public image? That if we go in with our good old American 'can-do' efficiency and selflessness and just pitch in and make it all better and then ride out of town, Lone Ranger-like, before anyone has a chance to thank us, that that will do worlds to make us look less like the lying, brutal a--holes we appear to be in the wake of the Iraq debacle? (On that topic, briefly, let me just say--I would not want to be an Iraqi policeman. Seems like every explosion that goes off in that troubled reigion kills more of them than anyone else. And the fact that people keep signing up for that job, despite the fact that it gives you the life expectancy of a baby duck in an alligator pit, tells you just how desperate the employment situation is over there.) So let's roll up our sleeves and give 'til it hurts and generally Be The Good Guys we tell ourselves we are. Just a thought.

Saturday, January 01, 2005

We Are NOT A Christian Nation

As we leave the old year in which the civil rights of gays became an issue used to whip up a portion of the voting populace more easily motivated by hatred than by idealism, in which we re-elected a President based largely on his repeated insistence on his religious beliefs (beliefs which seem to have produced not a shred of charity, mercy, or goodwill in his public policies, but never mind), and in which, most recently, we heard ad nauseum that the forces of secular villainy had placed Christmas in their crosshairs (funny, all the 30-year-old animated specials still seemed to make it on air--particularly odd, given the, you know, "Jew-run media"), it seems the right time to point out a fact that nobody really recalls whenever these idiotic, straw-men dust-ups occur--despite the shrill insistence of the religious right, America is not, has never been, and will never be "a Christian nation."

This statement may seem either incredibly obvious or incredibly naive to my readers--in either case, an unpromising subject for fulmination. But bear with me, please; I promise to try to put a new, or at least entertaining spin on this subject.

First of all--and here's something I've never really heard anyone else say--we can't be a Christian nation because (wait for it...) There's no such thing as a Christian. "But...but...that's not true! I mean, I know Christians! I am a Christian! I just sat through midnight mass with hundreds of 'em!" No, you didn't. You sat through midnight mass with hundreds of Roman Catholics. Not "Christians." No such thing. There are Baptists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Pentecostalists, Lutherans, Seventh Day Adventists, Unitarians, Methodists, Greek/Russian Orthodox--shall I continue? My point is, that while these people all consider themselves "Christian," none of them are, in fact, "Christians." Why? Because "Christians" denotes a category of people unified in their belief in the divinity of Jesus and--and--AND in the way in which this divinity is to be acknowledged. Because if you're "Christian," you believe that Christ must be worshipped, and worshipped correctly. And that means that while you may well be "Christian," you are not a "Christian." You are whatever sect or denomination you follow. A Catholic. A Baptist. A Presbyterian. Not "a Christian." A nation of Christian religions we may be--and, read the polls, we are--but we're not "Christians." Because Baptists and Presbyterians are specifically and often fanatically opposed to the Catholic vision of Christ--and vice versa. Because Boston Brahmin Presbyterians and Pentecostal Fundamentalists have about as much in common as apples and clockwork oranges. Because suppose, just suppose, that all those lunatics on whatever network it is that Pat Robertson occupies with his lunatic, anti-Semetic conspiracy theories, and Falwell bloats his way across the airwaves denouncing "the pagans"--you know, I've lived in Southern California my whole life, the center of La-La Leftist Spiritualist Insanity, and I don't think I've ever actually met a real, honest to god pagan in my life--I don't know why Jerry's so upset about this particular voting bloc, is all I'm saying--if these people got their way, and America declared Christianity its official religion--what then? Which sect? You gonna tell the Italians of Brooklyn and Irish of Chicago that their Roman Catholicism is no longer welcome, because you've gotta be Baptist or nothing? You gonna tell the entire state of Utah to shape up because Joseph Smith is now officially a heretic? You make Christianity the state religion, and you've gotta make one version of Christianity the state religion. You gonna tell every member of the country who isn't, say, Methodist that their religion is no longer acceptable? Because that's what it means to make ours a "Christian" nation. There is no "Christian" religion. There are a bunch of religions who claim to be, but I for one am not going to step up and make the call as to the winner of that contest.

So, when the ACLU goes in and does what it can to keep some group of Baptists from erecting a creche on city property, roll your eyes if you will, but keep in mind that if Baptism gets state sanction, you non-Baptists are in a whoooooole lotta trouble...