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June 1, 2004

June Archives

June 29, 2004

At the Mercy

The Grand Am rumbled into our lives the summer before Joel and I were married. Joel had just moved to Denver and was casting about the market for a vehicle with which to explore the mile-high environs. As it happened, Joel found a likely set of wheels in a sporty, sometimes snakey-looking, Pontiac Grand Am with a beautiful record of upkeep and 111,800 miles. Joel laid his newly-made cytotechnologist cash on the barrelhead and struck a deal at $3,800.

The Grand Am has always been a reliable ride. Never has the car not started on a cold-ish morning. Never has the car stalled in the middle of a four-lane freeway. Never has the car fussed any more than a small hesitation before heading uphill.

However, Joel and I are only somewhat reliable car owners. More often than not, oil changes are spotty and tardy. Rarely do we rotate the tires. And when something stops working (i.e., the horn, the passenger-side window, the anti-lock brake system), we simply learn to live without it rather than fix it.

In anticipation of our upcoming school expenses, we’re banking on the car’s continued reliability through the next two winters (at least). So, we thought that before crossing the wide, open prairie this summer, we’d give the Grand Am a much-deserved tune-up. I mean the works: a couple of new tires, a rotation, oil and filter changes, new spark plugs, replacement fuel filter and line, ignition upgrade, radiator flush, fresh antifreeze, new gaskets, a power steering flush, and so on. So, we did. Last week. To the tune of $688.04.

On the drive home from the shop post-tune-up (approximately twelve blocks), Joel noticed that the engine seemed to rev as he neared 30-35 MPH. The car had not revved in this way before we dropped it off for the tune-up. We tried shrugging off the unsightly revving for a week before bringing the car back to the shop yesterday.

I explained the problem to the manager, asking if perhaps something might have been damaged or forgotten in the recent tune-up. “Oh, no, ma‘am,” he assured me, “We don’t do anything with the transmission. And that description you gave sure sounds like a transmission problem.” I thought: Don’t do anything with the transmission? Surely you work near it? Around it? Beside it? Surely something goes wrong every once and a while?

I was angry at his self-assured confidence.
I wanted to slap my gloves across his face.

I refrained.

I wasn’t wearing any gloves.

So, after a day and a half of waiting, the manager called and said simply, “Yep. You’ve got a transmission problem. Do you want us to send it to the transmission shop next door?”
Me: “You don’t do transmissions?”
Manger: “Right. We don’t do transmissions.”
Me: “Okay.”
Manager: “They’re a real great family business. Will do a great job for you. Like us.”
Me: “Hmmm.”

Update: Wednesday morning

Sometimes the unexpected is oh-so pleasant.

Mike from the shop just called me at work. As it happened, the car had a minor problem that was easily fixed. The best news: No charge.

Suddenly, it’s a great Wednesday. In fact, it’s the best Wednesday ever.

Posted by Aimee at 05:43 PM


Uh-oh. What a drag. How many miles does it have now? Surely after being a car with such fabulous owners, it would want to stay with you for a few more years?!?

Posted by: Lisa at June 29, 2004 08:04 PM

Hey! You added and update! And it's the best update ever!

I love superlatives... :)

Posted by: J.D. at July 1, 2004 02:51 PM

June 24, 2004
Time Ambushed

“As soon as I die in this world, I’ll clean the bathroom.”

A macabre statement, no?

Joel and I have bantered about this bargaining language as we sink deeper and deeper into the quagmire of Nintendo GameCube’s Super Mario Sunshine. This week we have done little else, except for a lot of mopping up on the Isle Delfino. Mario's world is sweet ... Or is at the very least a distracting sedative. In playing, I have discovered that sometimes it is important to set aside the packing, the arranging, and the worrying for the lights, colors, and sounds of a Nintendo game.

[For those interested in score-keeping, I am currently beating Joel with 22 Shine tokens to his paltry 20. Does this mean I have played more? No ... Well, maybe ...]

Posted by Aimee at 07:46 PM | Comments (1) |


You two make me teary eyes. How I long to join you in the quest for Shines! After talking with the two of you, I'm willing to devote additional time to this game (which I set aside as too open-ended, too "pointless"). I just don't know when I'm going to get the time to do so. September? And I want to do Windwaker, too, of course.

You know, I should make an extended loan of my Metroid Prime before you leave for South Dakota. I'm not going to get to it any time soon. You guys can take it and then just mail it back when you're finished...

Posted by: J.D. at June 28, 2004 10:33 AM

June 21, 2004

The Beard

After I applied to med-school last year and wasn’t accepted, I decided to get serious this time around. I started volunteering at OHSU to get clinical experience. I worked on a few research projects and managed to get to published. And, when it came time to do interviews, I grew a beard.

This beard (or Beard, as I think of it), was the most visible element of the Joel Miron Wants to Be a Doctor storyline. After last year’s failure, I concluded that it wasn’t enough to be qualified and have desire, I needed a story that would give schools a human and emotional attachment to my candidacy, rather than just some pretty good numbers and a huge head of hair.

This was actually driven home for me after talking with a coworker of mine. Her daughter was applying for medical school and had received acceptances at top institutions all across the country. I learned (without asking) that her grades and test scores weren’t anything special, but that she brought this incredible history to the table: As a child she underwent a long, excruciating, and ultimately successful cancer treatment. As a result, her growth was stunted and she was unable to participate in sports that involve running or jumping. Making lemonade from life’s lemons, she became coxswain for a nationally successful collegiate crew team. Rather than becoming all traumatized by her years of painful surgeries and chemotherapy, she really grew to care for and identify with her caregivers to the point that she still sees some of her doctors and nurses socially.

This is a great story. It has something for everyone in it: doctors, patients, coxswains…. I heard updates on her success from her mother about every week for a year, and of course my envy grew to resemble that of some mad dictator-god who would periodically hurl himself bodily to the earth and gnash his teeth, thus explaining where crabgrass comes from. I would occasionally wail: “Why couldn’t I have miraculously survived a disfiguring disease?!” I could explore questions like this all day, maybe I should write a book, “Why Nothing Really Bad Happens To Average People.”

Or perhaps that would be tempting fate. Still, I needed to come up with something to separate myself from the pack. After much soul-searching I came upon my angle: I’m a little older than some med-students. This is when the Beard hazily started to form in my mind’s eye. What better way to say, “Yo, I’ve been around the block a little. I’ve seen things, man, things that not everyone has seen. Due to this seeing, I’m a little weathered, in a somewhat intense way, as you can see from my Beard. Like a hairy anchor, the Beard keeps me rooted in what’s real. This Beard isn’t going to lose its head in a crisis.” than a Beard?

So I grew the Beard, and it looked pretty good. I practiced fingering it in a thoughtful way. Sometimes I would lean back, look at the ceiling, and absently give my cheek a good scratch while saying, “Well, that’s an interesting point…” I actually did this quite often, as the Beard was a little itchy. After a month or so, the Beard and I felt ready to get out there and interview.

As it happened, I only got one interview. This sort of shook up my strategy, as part D of the Getting Serious About Med-School Action Plan was “Apply to more than one school, thus increasing your number of interviews and your chances of getting in.” But no matter! I had the Beard, and the interview was in South Dakota in February, a setting where a Beard could work well, especially if it got a little frosty.

We arrived and, what could be better? It was blizzarding. People were eager to discuss the weather to a couple of thin-blooded Oregonians. Whenever they did so, I would nod, absently finger the Beard, and say, “Yeah, it’s pretty cold out there. But we’re up to it.”

I scratched my cheek thoughtfully, my interview went well, we came home, and after a few weeks my hopes of other interviews dried up. It was time to part ways with the Beard. After a while, I received an acceptance letter from USD, and there was much rejoicing.

But now that we’re about to depart for the unknown shore, I have to wonder, “Should I bring back the Beard?” Will I show up only to be confronted with, “Oh, no, there must be some mistake. We accepted an older and wiser gentleman to our program. Why don’t you go and pick corn while your lovely wife becomes a nurse?” Probably not, but maybe I should bring It back anyway, to sort of let my fellow students know that I’m a good guy to go to for advice about being 23-years-old and a little lost.

Nah, I’d better save the Beard for my residency interviews. Maybe I’ll add a little white shoe polish for that touch of Sean Connery.
Posted by Joel at 01:52 PM | Comments (7) |


Just to let you know I've been keeping up on your blog and have been enjoying it immensely. I have no take on the beard, however. That's one thing I don't have to worry about for myself, thank you very much! :)

Posted by: tammy at June 21, 2004 10:43 PM

Give it time, Tammy. As we all get older, our hormones get weirder and weirder. F'rinstance, I can look forward to hairless legs in my golden years!

Posted by: Joel at June 22, 2004 06:58 AM

Hairless legs? What sort of aging phenomenon is that?

Posted by: Aimee at June 22, 2004 10:38 AM

Color Change? Or is my computer screwed up?

You'll notice the link to toads on my site now, no? Not so subtle hint received Joelah.

Posted by: mac at June 23, 2004 08:58 PM

Yep, we (Aimee) changed the colour. Just part of the diligent work to keep things moving and/or shaking 'round Toadsville.

Posted by: Joel at June 23, 2004 09:27 PM

Buh-bye peanut butter and banana color scheme. (J.D.'s color scheme is Radio Flyer tricycle.)

Posted by: Lisa at June 24, 2004 11:05 AM

I don't know ... I hate this blue scheme, too. Any suggestions?

More putzing with color will occur today, I'm sure.

Posted by: Aimee at June 24, 2004 11:43 AM

June 19, 2004

Old wallpaper is tenacious. It clings to walls with ferocity, especially if a couple layers of wallpaper have been sandwiched together by a thick coat of matte paint.

Yesterday, we passed the better part of our day at our friends’ new home. Kris and J.D. recently relinquished their 1970s ramblin’ ranch-style house for the pastoral delights of a charming 189_ farmhouse poised on nearly an acre of lawn and gardens. Yesterday’s mission included peeling, scraping, and tearing layers of wallpaper from the living areas of the main floor.

We have no doubt that an archeologist would have found this de-wallpapering process fascinating for a whole host of reasons, the least of which includes the revelation of early twentieth-century taste in decor. In fact, each layer reminded us of a strata of soil being stripped away from some ancient village site marking twenty-year leaps back in time. Here are huge purple flowers, perhaps from the seventies. Lying fallow beneath them is a nourishing compost of more delicate blue petals, supported by a surprising mesh of vaguely asian plaid. With each leap backward the colors become more faded, until the final layer of white flowers that bear the faintest trace of gold etching. And then, mysteriously, a ghostly zeroth layer that revealed itself only as color that had seeped into the wall itself.

For Aimee, the process was cathartic, the simple act of taking a scraper in hand and ruining something was delicious.

It may seem cheesy to say it, but we feel lucky to be able to take part in the creation of the Roth-Gates’ new home. Their Canby home was such a happy spot for us, and to be able to know them, however briefly, in what is The Last House enables us to mark them in our minds. These people live Here. Not only are we funneling some of ourselves into their memory (both metaphysically and sweatily), but we’re ensuring yearly visitor’s rights ... Forever.

With a sense of accomplishment deviously bound up in destruction, we will return to Kris and J.D.’s again today. Joel, for all his muscular strength, has been assigned to the lifting, pushing, and pulling team. As for Aimee, she’ll aim straight for the parlor wall that she started yesterday afternoon.
Posted by Us at 09:22 AM | Comments (0) |

June 14, 2004
Rose Fest

Our car had a flat tire. This was a good thing because when it came time to do something Saturday afternoon, instead of saying “Do you want to go downtown and see the Rose Festival? Ah! But, where would we park?!” Aimee peeked around the kitchen corner at Joel and said, “Do you want to go for a bike ride?” And, we were off ...

Rose Festival time: that annual Portland party of parades, queens, floats, bands, and a naval fleet. Typically, we forgo the Rose Festival and all its crowds. It’s not that we’re agoraphobic or enochlophobic, but we’d just prefer not to bother. We like to stay in the shady comforts of our backyard garden with PBR and smart remarks. But, in the course of our bike ride, we found ourselves crossing the Hawthorne Bridge into the thick of the Rose Festival. The Festival - riverside park with Dragonboat races, a carnival, odd craft booths and corporate tents.

The Dragonboats are a weird feature, they seem like an incredibly un-hydrodynamic vehicle that requires a huge amount of effort just to wallow along. It’s kind of like watching a Lead Sled race, but in the water. Why are these boats in Portland? Apparently it has something to do with the fact that our sister city is Kaohsiung, Taiwan. And to celebrate that siblinghood, dozens of companies and groups city-wide sponsor teams of regular folk to paddle for all they’re worth.

The carnival has most of your usual small-time amusement park rides: The Mixer, The Octopus, The Screamin’ Eagle. The grand Poobah is the giant rubber-band catapult thingy that hurls two shrieking riders 300 feet into the air, and allows them to bounce up and down until they come to rest, while videotaping their grinning/grimacing faces.

We weren’t allowed to stop at any craft booths or food stands because Joel quickly became fussy in the crowds.

Joel was also fairly fussy at the Purina Cat Chow Pavilion, but Aimee managed a quick look around its attractions. Included were some kind of inspirational video on Loving Your Cats Even Though They’d Like Nothing Better Than To Poop In Your Shoes and Maybe Eat Your Face, a cat personality quiz (determines whether or not your cat is a Diva or a Go-Go), a whole trailer full of drowsy cats up for adoption (Joel: “I can watch cats sleep in my own neighborhood.”), and, best of all, Free Samples of Purina Cat Chow (Guaranteed to give your cat the upchucks!) and a very nice cat brush (Aimee: “This is better than the brush we use on our own heads!”).

But what of the naval fleet that makes a summerfest so festy? Each year a portion of the Pacific fleet makes its way up the Columbia to dock in Portland during the festival. Sailors are hosted at the homes of Portland civilians, and occasionally an exchange is made: a sailor gets a home-cooked meal and Portlanders get to hitch a ride with a destroyer down to San Diego. Due to our overseas entanglements, this year’s fleet was largely Canadian, complete with swabbies grillin’ off the back of the vessel and a generally mellow (if flak-jacketed) vibe. The few American ships were secured with scores of armed guards, metal detectors, and small heavily-gunned assault craft. As usual, the presence of many heavily-armed guys seemed to make things less safe.

Still, the bike ride was pleasant.

As an odd punctuation to this display of warmaking potential, on Sunday Aimee’s informal yardwork was interrupted by three Blackhawk helicopters screaming directly over our house in tight formation. Not once, not twice, but three times these ‘copters racketed by. We listened carefully for explosions while we weeded, and debated ascending the roof for a better view of downtown.

Posted by Aimee at at June 14, 2004 09:18 PM | Comments (2) |


Last night my sleep was interrupted at least twice by helicopters roaring by, seemingly a few dozen feet above our roof. What the hey?
It calls to mind the conspiracy-theory legend of the Black Helicopters, frequently spotted by the paranoid and purportedly harbingers of a coming United Nations-sponsored coup.

Posted by: Joel at June 15, 2004 08:09 AM

I was on a dragon boat team one year...and lead sled is a very good descriptive term.

Posted by: Denise at June 17, 2004 02:32 PM

Monday, Bloody Monday

This morning, when I stumbled into the kitchen to pack my lunch, an open drawer was rattling. Without looking in it, I knew exactly what it was: a trapped mouse. Peering down into the drawer, I saw that the trap we had laid on the kitchen counter had caught its tail, otherwise it was unhurt. A mouse caught in a drawer may well be the perfect cat toy, but Aimee had apparently put Nine out in the night. I grabbed the trap and carried the dangling mouse outside and killed it with a brick. It is indeed Monday morning.

Last Saturday night, Aimee and I were embroiled in a close game of Trivial Pursuit. In general we’re pretty evenly matched with most of the categories, but I tend to win more often because she’s helpless at the sports questions. She’s developed a strategy to deal with this, with every question about a hockey team she guesses the Montreal Canadiens, every hockey player is Wayne Gretzky. I think every golfer is Arnold Palmer or Jack Nicklaus, and every baseball player is Babe Ruth. With the editions we play, these are the best guesses, but they’re no match for actually knowing a little about sports.

If we played by the standard rules, I could cruelly just ask her sports trivia for the Final Question. Our house rule, however, is that when you have all the wedges and you get to the middle space, you’re asked all six questions from a card, and to win you need to get four right.

With her first try at the Final Question, she quickly missed the first two. Brimming with confidence I asked her the sports question: “What player has caught the most touchdown passes in the Superbowl?” After agonizing for a few seconds she replied, “Jerry Rice?” and won the game.

How we have grown together! When we first knew each other, not only would Aimee not have known the answer, she would have been irritated by the question. “Who cares?” would have been her withering reply. Now I call her up and excitedly relate that Kurt Warner, a quarterback that we each think the other likes, has been traded to the Giants.

Joel: Guess who the Giants picked up? Your boyfriend, Kurt Warner!
Aimee: He’s not my boyfriend! You’re the one who loves Kurt Warner.
Joel: Oh, right, I forgot. You love Tiki Barber.
Aimee: Well, yes. That’s true. Hey! Our boyfriends are on the same team!
Joel: Oh, what wild days lie before us!

But what have I learned to enjoy from Aimee? Not driving the car comes to mind. And watching old movies… Hmm, I’m drawing a blank. Maybe Aim’ll be able to supply some more.
Posted by Joel at 10:19 AM | Comments (1) |


Oh, Joel, don't be a blatherskite - you know you have learned to enjoy many wonderful things from Aimee.

Posted by: Denise at June 14, 2004 03:28 PM

June 09, 2004
Mousing Tales

The city mouse lives in a house;
The garden mouse lives in a bower;
He’s friendly with the frogs and toads,
And sees the pretty plants in flower.

The city mouse eats bread and cheese;
The garden mouse eats what he can;
We will not grudge him seeds and stocks,
Poor little timid furry man

Christina Rossetti (1830-1894)

Poor little timid furry man, indeed, Christina. For we have seen him. Recently.

Last night, at 3:44 AM, Joel and I were awakened by a clattering and mewling Death-cry. Joel clicked on the lamp, and I remember leaping up, peering through my bed-head, rat’s nest of hair, blinking away the bright light, only to observe our cat, Nine, darting into the bedroom, hot on the tail of a mouse. Afraid to move, for fear of involvement, I observed the horror from beneath the covers. One running for life, one running for the hunt, Nine and her rodent prey dashed about the room at break-neck speed, until the two escaped off down the hall. We sat in stunned silence, until Joel emitted a sigh, bravely donned a pair of clean whit(ish) socks as armor, and clambered off toward the battle-fray. Unable to dodge my curiosity, I ventured out of bed and followed my husband’s shadow to the skirmish site. Alas, by my arrival a small, gray mouse had met his Waterloo in the jaws of Nine’s feline ferocity.

In honor of that mouse’s great life and dramatic death (despite the bell that Nine wears), thoughts from Aesop’s Fables ...


LONG ago, the mice had a general council to consider what measures they could take to outwit their common enemy, the Cat. Some said this, and some said that; but at last a young mouse got up and said he had a proposal to make, which he thought would meet the case. “You will all agree,” said he, “that our chief danger consists in the sly and treacherous manner in which the enemy approaches us. Now, if we could receive some signal of her approach, we could easily escape from her. I venture, therefore, to propose that a small bell be procured, and attached by a ribbon round the neck of the Cat. By this means we should always know when she was about, and could easily retire while she was in the neighborhood.”

This proposal met with general applause, until an old mouse got up and said: “That is all very well, but who is to bell the Cat?” The mice looked at one another and nobody spoke. Then the old mouse said: “It is easy to propose impossible remedies.”

I’ve spent the better part of this afternoon baking a peach and cherry pie for supper, and had just now ventured into the kitchen to check on the pie’s progress ... I entered the kitchen and, to my dismay, saw standing on the stove, like an eager sentinel of the watch, a MOUSE.

Tonight, the bell comes off - Give ’em hell, Nine!
Posted by Aimee at 08:27 PM | Comments (4) |


Toto considers Nine a bosom friend (though they've never actually met).

Posted by: J.D. Roth at June 9, 2004 09:12 PM

Ah, the cats we keep to remind us of the wilds of nature also serve to keep those wilds at bay. I have to admit, mice sound worse than ants.

Posted by: Kris at June 9, 2004 09:20 PM

I actually had that same thought today (that mice are worse than ants), as I put out a new batch of Terro ... Ugh, Infestation: natural, comical, and terrible.

Posted by: Aimee at June 9, 2004 09:34 PM

Of course, before this entry Nine caught two mice in two days. Since then, zero.
This does not mean, however, that the mice have moved on to less catty pastures. Last night we had gone to bed when I realized that I didn't have my trusty glass of water. I stumbled into the kitchen without turning on the lights and, as I was filling up my glass at the sink, a mouse scampered along the counter behind the faucet.
A few more drops of adrenaline and I would have leapt onto a stool and shrieked "Eek! A mouse!"

Posted by: Joel at June 11, 2004 10:26 AM

June 08, 2004

Joe College

I’ve just finished my final and possibly most successful college class. It’s been nine years, but I think I’ve finally figured out this whole college thing: In order to do well, one really ought to study and attend classes regularly.

Oh, I know what you’re thinking, “But Joel! Shouldn’t you be putting this kind of advice between the covers of a best-selling book?” Well, I guess I just think that my Super Unified Formula For Academic Self-Success, or SUFFASS, is just too important for our nation’s well-being to sell.

The first step, attending class, is fairly obvious. That is, unless you happen to be enrolled at a state school, in which case the class’ location may well be both secret and subject to change. And also, as my last class occasionally was, behind a locked door and in the dark.

The second step, studying, can be more complex. I’m anxiously looking forward to my first year of medical school, and so I read a lot of internet forums that deal with people in my situation. Many of them are pretty nervous about the workload and the idea of failing, so they try and learn other people’s “study secrets” or even “magic techniques”. Unfortunately, most of the responders take their questions seriously and try to give honest advice: “Study in total isolation, away from all distractions. Anything entertaining is your enemy and must be removed.” Rather than what I would be tempted to say: “Make tea from your textbooks.”
(Although one wonderful second year student tackled the usual and understandable “Will I freak out in the cadaver lab and run screaming from the room?" with the following: “There was a girl in my lab team who turned pale green and had to leave 4 times during our first dissection. But by the end of the second week she was pushing me out of the way to cut it up herself because I ‘wasn’t doing it right’. So she really got over her fear and it was great because she then did everything herself and I would sleep in if I came to lab at all.
Of course, all this ended when our cadaver became a zombie and ate her.”)

A lot of newish and excitingish research has been done on learning styles, and you can take many different personality tests to determine whether you are an oral, visual, tactile, or nasal learner. (Learning by eating, in this era of fat-consciousness, is discouraged by the American Heart Association.) I dated an elementary education major, so I wound up taking a lot of these tests myself. While some of them are pretty intricate, a lot of them might have been written by the people who publish the sex tests in Cosmo or YM. That is to say, they’re easily decipherable. For instance, the “Learning Styles Questionnaire” has the following question:
I prefer to get new information in
a) pictures, diagrams, graphs, or maps.
b) written directions or verbal information.
If you answer “a”, you would do well to look at pictures, diagrams, graphs or maps when you are studying, and if you answer “b” you should cast aside your hopes and dreams and enroll in law school.

No, sorry, my point is is that that kind of test determines how you should be studying by taking the radical step of asking you how you like to study. For a great many students, I would suggest that the real issue is how do I get off my butt and start studying rather than “with books, audiotapes, or by acting out the Krebs Cycle with my friends?”

I shouldn’t make fun, because by doing so I’m probably masking my own deep anxieties about flunking out. After all, one of the chief values that is used to rate medschools is their admittance:graduation ratio. If someone drops out, they get a big black mark on their US News and World Report report card and, consequently, a huge whack out of their endowments, enrollment, and grant awards. So the schools in turn punish the students by a) crafting the admissions process to screen out anyone who might possibly change their mind about their career or pretty much anything at all. And b) barring anyone who flunked or dropped out of medschool from ever getting in again.
So the stakes are high, and the tuition is higher.

But as I said, I’ve figured out this whole college thing, and the same ought to apply for medschool, right? Actually, early indications are that the SUFFASS method may not be transferable from college to medschool. There are a surprising number of medstudents proclaiming (granted, on the internet) that, for many subjects, going to class cuts into valuable studying time. A common comment goes along the lines of “Why go to class and listen to somebody drone through a Powerpoint presentation when the important stuff is all in the textbook?”

This kind of statement is very sad, especially when I pull out the sheet that details how many dollars in debt we’re taking on in order for me to listen to people drone through Powerpoint presentations. Even more when I consider how many Powerpoint presentations I could get by taking a pay raise and getting into management.

My guess is that this “going to class is a waste of time” phenomenon stems from the fact that most doctors enter the academic world because they like research, publishing papers, and spending lots of time with lab rats, rather than for their lightning personalities in the classroom.

Still, I’m going to give SUFFASS a chance. I’ve learned to enjoy going to class. I’ve become one of those people who nod along in agreement as the prof lectures. I stay after to ask follow-up questions. This behavior is probably loathsome to some of my classmates, I know it irritated me when I was 19, disaffected, and full of a sense of entitlement. I’m older now, and I know a few things about myself: I’m more afraid of failure than success. I can be ambitious and still be a decent person. I learn best nasally.
Posted by Joel at 02:28 PM | Comments (1) |


thanks for the heads-up joel...

i just enrolled at PSU as a freshman, some 15 years after flunking out of college the first time. i'm gonna try that whole go to class thing and also the bit about studying! i'm pretty sure they'll be helpful.

first class monday a.m. better go pick out my clothes. ;P

Posted by: mart at June 16, 2004 10:42 PM

June 06, 2004
The Boy Who Lived, or How Robert Hardy Is a Fine, Fine Actor

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban delights and astounds. It reveals what the previous two films were: limp, literal retellings, the delight of the books filtered through Hollywood’s Vanilla Machine. But there is no need for us to give a complete review to add our voices to the chorus of glowing opinions. Suffice to say, we enjoyed this film both because it restored our appreciation of the Harry Potter franchise and because, standing alone outside of all the hype, it simply is a good movie.

We’re here to talk about a specific facet of The Prisoner of Azkaban jewel; a small thing that leapt out to startle us into cries of “Oo! Oo! Looky!” As in The Sorcerer’s Stone and The Chamber of Secrets, this third installation abounds with a parade of familiar British character actors, including Fiona Shaw, Maggie Smith, Michael Gambon, Lee Ingleby, and Alan Rickman. The audience meets a new addition to this formidable cast as Harry ascends the stair in the Leaky Cauldron, called to face the music by the Minister of Magic, Cornelius Fudge. Our hero, Harry, finds himself in a large suite, looking apprehensively at the back of man in a dark suit. This man’s voice rings out, pouring over Harry with a flood of light and careless bombast. The words are thrown effortlessly at the camera, leaving the audience with a pleasant sense of meaning without having heard each individual word. We didn’t immediately recognize the voice, but when Fudge whirls around and beams at Harry, we clutched each other convulsively and yelped. In a stroke of casting genius, the role of Cornelius Fudge, Minister of Magic, head bureaucrat for a magical United Kingdom, has been created by Robert Hardy.

Robert Hardy is an actor we know chiefly from his roles in the Emma Thompson Sense and Sensibility and, best of all, his portrayal of the veterinarian Siegfried Farnon in All Creatures Great and Small. Like many British character actors, Mr. Hardy appears in countless television series and movies filmed in England and on the continent, but is a relative unknown in American cinema. A man of many talents, Mr. Hardy’s expertise of medieval weaponry lead to Longbow: A Social and Military History, first published in 1976.

In the infancy of our marriage we began a tradition of reading the Harry Potter series aloud in bed, sometimes till quite late as we waited anxiously to discover how Harry would manage his travails. As chief reader, Joel gives different voices to each character, striving to orally differentiate distinct personalities. This is easy to do with characters such as McGonagall and Hagrid, but when you get down to minor but important people like Lee Jordan or Lavender Brown, Joel starts to run out of voices.

A fairly major character that Joel has struggled to nail, sometimes indulging in a lisp, sometimes swerving wildly out into the terrain of Ben Kenobi, is Cornelius Fudge. Is it possible that Joel’s uncertainly of voice stems from our uncertainty about Fudge’s character? Is Fudge good or evil? Is he desperately trying to keep a fragile society from crumbling, or is he a deluded Chamberlain-figure, appeasing evil to keep it from being recognized; a child pulling the blankets over its head. In the most recent novel, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Fudge’s actions became almost sinister, raising the possibility that he could even be a co-conspirator with He Who Must Not Be Named’s Death Eaters.

It is with great relief as a narrator, then, that Joel finds himself able to lay this ambiguity at the feet of Mr. Hardy. As previously described, his voice and manner are like a burbling fountain that periodically effuses with enthusiasm and then, just as suddenly subsides to a deadly slow and emphatic trickle. His face beams forth with the sunniest affection, and then suddenly one detects a faith glint of steel in the eye. A glint that, as you watch it, becomes a glittery diamond and then subsides to a look of hollow stone. He is the perfect actor for this role, and, for us, the great signifier for all that the filmmakers got right in the Prisoner of Azkaban. The director, Alfonso Cuaron, signed on for this edition alone, so as high as our spirits have been raised, there’s no assurance that the next two books (difficult to film with their rambling obesity) will make good movies. For us, though, there will be a lasting legacy. Like a struggling actor in the hands of a self-assured director, Joel has been given a new voice for his toolkit. And Aimee will no longer have to sit up in the night and ask, “Who said that?”

June 01, 2004
Six Hundred Cubic Feet

JD and Kris’ moving frenzy is catching. After visiting them this weekend, we couldn’t keep ourselves from doing a little packing, a little painting, and a little trashing. The Bar of Worthiness keeps being lowered on our stuff: “How long has it been since I wore this t-shirt? Is it really an attractive t-shirt? Does it even provide adequate shelter from the elements?” and another smiling figment from days of yore finds its way to the Goodwill.

Actually, we got a lot of these things from the Goodwill in the first place, leading Aimee to comment about one book, “I wish the Goodwill had some sort of exchange program, where you could take a book and then trade it in for a different book when you were done.”
“Sort of like a library?” I asked.
She looked at me with narrowed eyes, “No, with this system, if you liked the book you could keep it.”

But keeping things is not in our blood at the moment. Every new purchase is something we have to haul. Every new meal is additional mass that has to fit in the truck’s cab along with Aimee, Don Wurzberger (who has generously volunteered to fly out and help us move and, I hasten to add, is quite slim) and, if things don’t go well with the animal carrier, an irate Nine.

Aimee, ever the planner, decided we ought to reserve our moving truck early to lock in the rental rate, so I whipped out the measuring tape and set about measuring our worldly possessions.

Not including a lovely desk we’re inheriting from JD and Kris, it came out to 546 cubic feet. I figured I’d probably missed a few things, so I rounded it up to six hundred cubic feet. All that we own in the world, not counting a car and a desk, if arranged in a cube, would measure eight and a half feet per side. A smallish jail cell, a biggish shed. Give us an elephant and you’ve doubled our holdings. Which makes it seem small, but if you pushed it all into a sphere instead, it’d make a soccer ball for a 58 foot-tall player, and when you think about a 58 foot-tall Pele juggling a ball made up of two purple couches, a ping-pong table, and a few hundred books, you have to think to yourself, “Wow, a 58-foot tall Brazilian sure would come in handy with our upcoming move.” Or maybe that’s just me.
Lots of people these days talk about bucking the consumerist trend, trying not to amass stuff. There’s a whole magazine about this movement, Real Simple.

Nine, family pet. 0.1 cubic feet.

Which is a fine and good thing, we’ve got a lot of people on this earth, and most of them probably don’t have six hundred cubic feet of stuff, so small is good. But, on the other hand, it is a sobering thing to step back and say, “All we have is this.” In this pile of goods and sundries are all the presents Aimee and I have ever given each other. And a lot of the books we’ve read together, and the tools we’ve used to cook all those meals, most of which we’ve enjoyed.
As we slowly pull up anchor and prepare to make way, I suddenly feel like I want more ballast, more permanence, more of a heap! A Howard Hughes-Pharaoh Khufu-esque heap of stuff, or Francis Johnson’s Ball of twine that would make me feel stuck to this earth.


I do not remember who won the contest of 'who has moved the most in their lifetime’ but I think Rich and I are close. Although I am sure that you did a great job measuring your stuff, I suggesting getting a slightly bigger truck. If they have a 700 or even 800 cubic feet, go for it. This way you can have a lower, more rectangular pile of stuff and fewer things will get crushed in the truck.

After living in our first large space after many small apartments, I am amazed by the amount of stuff that we have already filled the space with. I wish we had a smaller cube of stuff.

Posted by: Tiffany at June 3, 2004 08:22 AM

I absolutely agree, Tiffany. As well as we pack it, our stuff isn't actually going to make a cube. There'll be bits sticking out, and when you put things in boxes, there's always a little air in there.... So we're getting a truck that contains 850 cubic feet. The next size down was 650, the next size up is like 1650, and when you rent it you get your own catheter-urinal, a ten-pound bag of beef jerkey, and a huge belt buckle inscribed in turquoise with the name "Earl".

Posted by: Joel at June 3, 2004 08:32 AM

Oh, man! I've always wanted to see the world's largest ball of twine. (Really)

When are you packing the aforementioned truck? Tell us so that we can save the time for you.

Posted by: Lisa at June 3, 2004 08:48 AM