Tuesday, December 23, 2003

Annotation of some Horse Manure

This is a forward I received via email, with a few of my own edits.


Subject: Breakfast at McDonalds

This is a good story, please read it all the way through. (After the
story there are some very interesting facts!) (a)

I am a mother of three (ages 14,12,3) and have recently completed my
college degree. The last class I had to take was Sociology. (b) The teacher
was absolutely inspiring with the qualities that I wish every human being
had been graced with. (c) Her last project of the term was called "Smile."

The class was asked to go out and smile at three people and document their
reactions. (d) I am a very friendly person and always smile at everyone and say
hello anyway, so, I thought this would be a piece of cake, literally. (e)

Soon after we were assigned the project, my husband, youngest son, and I
went out to McDonald's one crisp March morning. It was just our way of
sharing special playtime with our son. (f) We were standing in line, waiting
to be served, when all of a sudden everyone around us began to back away,
and then even my husband did.

I did not move an inch ... an overwhelming feeling of panic (g) welled up
inside of me as I turned to see why they had moved. As I turned around I
smelled a horrible "dirty body" smell, and there standing behind me were
two poor homeless men. As I looked down at the short gentleman, close to
me, he was "smiling". (h) His beautiful sky blue eyes (i) were full of God's Light (j)
as he searched for acceptance.

He said, "Good day" as he counted the few coins he had the second man
fumbled with his hands as he stood behind his friend. (k) I realized the
second man was mentally challenged and the blue-eyed gentleman was his
salvation.

I held my tears as I stood there with them. The young lady at the
counter asked him what they wanted. (l) He said, "Coffee is all Miss"
because that was all they could afford. (If they wanted to sit in the
restaurant and warm up, they had to buy something. He just wanted
to be warm.) (m)

Then I really felt it -- the compulsion was so great (n) I almost reached out
and embraced the little man with the blue eyes. That is when I noticed
all eyes in the place watched my every action. I smiled and asked the
young lady behind the counter to give me two more breakfast meals on a
separate tray. (o) I then walked around the corner to the table that the men
had chosen as a resting spot. I put the tray on the table and laid my hand
on the blue-eyed gentleman's cold hand. He looked up at me, with tears in
his eyes, and said, "Thank you."

I leaned over, began to pat his hand and said, "I did not do this for you.
God is here working through me to give you hope." (p) I started to cry as I
walked away to join my husband and son. (q) When I sat down my husband
smiled at me and said, "That is why God gave you to me, Honey. To give
me hope." (r) We held hands for a moment and at that time we knew that only
because of the Grace that we had been given were we able to give. (s)

That day showed me the pure Light of God's sweet love. (t) I returned to
college, on the last day with this story in hand. I turned in "my project" (u)
and the instructor read it. (v) Then she looked up at me and said, "Can I
share this?" I slowly nodded as she got the attention of the class.

She began to read and that is when I knew (w) that we, as human beings and
being part of God, share this need to heal people and to be healed.
In my own way I had touched the people at McDonald's, my husband, son,
instructor, and every soul that shared the classroom to the last college
student. (x)

I graduated with one of the biggest lessons I would ever learn:
UNCONDITIONAL ACCEPTANCE. (y)
Much love and compassion is sent to each and every person who may
read this and learn how to LOVE PEOPLE AND USE THINGS --
NOT LOVE THINGS AND USE PEOPLE. (z)




If you think this story has touched you in any way, please send this on. (aa)

There is an Angel sent to watch over you. In order for her to work, (bb) you
must pass this on to the people you want watched over.

An Angel wrote: (cc) Many people will walk in and out of your life, but only
true friends will leave footprints in your heart. (dd) To handle yourself,
use your head. To handle others, use your heart. God gives every bird its
food, but He does not throw it into its nest. (ee)


--- Robert Heiter (ff)
--- rheiter@earthlink.net


(a) This is not a good story. This is garbage. And I defy you to find any facts at the end of this. Exactly what definition of fact are we using here? I mean, sure, I suppose you can argue that each person has tehir own idea of good, and this story might be aesthetically pleasing to somebody out there. But let’s not play fast and loose with the definition of “fact,” please. thank you.
(b) Which reminds me of my halcyon days when I got my college degree. It was very annoying always having to take classes called English. It got very confusing when I’d have multiple classes called English in one quarter.
(c) And this applies to the story how?
(d) What the hell kind of class is this? They’re obviously not doing anything scientific. Smile at three people and document the reactions?!? Is Kavin Spacey teaching the class and angling to sleep with Helent Hunt? What educational value would come from this?
(e) [sic]
(f) I hate to get all I-hate-fast-food-woo-woo-I’m-a-vegetarian, but am I wrong in thinking that taking your kid to friggin McDonald’s is a pretty piss-poor way to share special playtime?
(g) Maybe this is just me, but when I go into overwhelming panic, I run or start throwing punches or, at the very least, swear up a storm and try to hide behind something. The author shows remarkable poise in the face of overwhelming panic.
(h) “Smiling?” Is he not really smiling?
(i) Once again, while panicking, I tend not to notice the color of people’s beautiful eyes.
(j) Which makes me wonder if he should be wearing some sort of restrictive eyewear, maybe like Cyclops of the X-Men. I mean, if you go around shooting out God’s Light you could really hurt someone, or blind them at least.
(k) This only makes sense as two sentences. Maybe this is the overwhelming panic finally seeping in.
(l) Righhhhhht. There’s a long line at McDonald’s, everyone wants their food so that they can get on with special playtime, and a couple of homeless guys walk in. In horror, everyone abandons their place in line so that the homeless guys can walk up to the counter. And management is cool with this. Sure.
(m) Just in case you’re too stupid to figure this out. Note, by the way, that the narrator neglects to invite the two special people into her warm minivan or take them home to her warm house at the end of the tale.
(n) Look at all the Sociology she’s learning!
(o) (the line apparently not having re-formed after the homeless disruption)
(p) God seems to be half-assing it these days. Why not have someone give the guys a bag of money? Maybe have them be cast as the wacky homeless duo in a new Adam Sandler movie and make tons of money?
(q) And there goes your special playtime.
(r) This family tends to speak in awfully formal English.
(s) Huh?
(t) Going out on a limb here, the narrator may have been into God’s Sweet Love before this happened.
(u) (the quotes apparently indicating that she thinks her so-called project is as valid as I do)
(v) Where is this school?!? Your final paper is graded the second you hand it in? Shit, I was in the wrong program. Although one does wonder what everyone was doing while the teacher sat up there and read everyone’s paper.
(w) The narrator is also very prone to sudden infusions of knowledge.
(x) We’ve established that this is a strange, strange school that she’s going to, but I have to assume that there were at least one or two guys in the back who were too stoned to have been particularly touched.
(y) (As long as you don’t have to invite those horrid people into your home or anything)
(z) I am having a great deal of trouble learning to use things. At this point, all I can do is look at them.
(aa) Tell you what, I'll even post it on my blog..
(bb) These Angels work under some pretty strange rules. Suppose I want an angel to look over a friend without net access. Sure, I guess I could print this out and mail it to them, but would they be covered while the mail was in transit?
(cc) Do angels maintain copyright on things they write, or does it automatically go into the public domain? And where do angels do their writing? Do they do it at work when they’re supposed to be writing access reports like the rest of us?
(dd) WHAT ARE THESE TRUE FRIENDS DOING, WALKING ON YOUR HEART?!?
(ee) Once again, God is half-assing it.
(ff) But at the start, the narrator said she was a woman. Are there many women named Robert? Or is this family more interesting than we're originally led to believe?

Monday, December 22, 2003

The 2003 Reading List

I don't know if this says anything good about me or not, but in the past few years I've taken to keeping track of the books I read, with the vague goal of reading at least 50 every year (of which 25 have to be new and not re-reads). I crossed the finish line last night, and since it looks unlikely that I'll finish another book by the end of the year (one is easy but really long; the other is short but very technical), here's the list of what I read last year, with commentary when appropriate:

1. The Proud Highway, Hunter S. Thompson
First volume of the collected letters of HST. This is a pretty amazing read- it's a sort of accidental autobiography as you watch him go from being a total nobody to a major figure of American letters; it's also fascinating to watch his prose style improve as he goes.

This book is the main reason I've finally gotten off of my ass and started pursuing journalism with something resembling effort.

2. Ring of Fire- The Johnny Cash Reader
Collection of articles spanning the big man's career.

3. Ultimate Spider-Man Volume 1, Brian Michael Bendis (Graphic Novel)
4. Ultimate Spider-Man Volume 4, Brian Michael Bendis (Graphic Novel)
Early in the year, I was offered the chance to review Ultimate Spidey for X-World; I was pretty sick of the books I was covering right then, so I took it, even though I'd never been much of a spider-fan. I power-read these two anthologies to catch up on continuity, and it was a pretty fun read. Although Bendis can ran into trouble when he's writing non-teen characters, he's absolutely in his element when he's doing this book. Go to X-World for lots more material on this…

5. The Fellowship of the Ring, J. R. R. Tolkein
6. The Two Towers, Tolkein
7. Return of the King, Tolkein
I go back to Lord of the Rings every few years, and get something different out of it each time.

8. Rush Limbaugh Is a Big, Fat Idiot, Al Franken
I am very glad that this book exists. I don't actually think that Franken's all that funny (he has moments, but he also labors for long stretches), but it was nice seeing someone stand up to Limbaugh.

9. Watchmen, Alan Moore (Graphic Novel)
They don't get much better than this. I did pick up on a couple of very small plot holes this time through, but this is still one of the crowning achievements of the comic book as a literary art.

10. Kingdom of Fear, Hunter S. Thompson
HST's on the short list of writers whom I'll rush out and buy in hardcover. I knew this wouldn't be on the level of his best work (and it wasn't), but it was still a fun, quick read. Like going for a quick drive around the block with your favorite uncle or something.

11. A People's History of the United States, Howard Zinn
Hmm. Zinn goes overboard occasionally, and he's simultaneously a lot more idealistic and pessimistic than I am, but I think he's right more often than he's wrong.

12. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, HST
Yes, I was on a pretty severe Thompson bender at the start of this year.

13. Drop City, T. C. Boyle
I've loved some of Boyle's stuff hated others. Looking back, I think Drop City may be his best work. Among other things, it gives you nice warts-and-all insights on environmentalism and the 60s.

14. A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again, David Foster Walllace
When Wallace is on, he's awfully good. And he's on pretty much all the way through here. Hilarious and intelligent commentary on tennis, vacations, the Midwest, television, David Lynch, and more.

15. Mother Night, Kurt Vonnegut
16. Jailbird, Vonnegut
I used to think that Vonnegut was a pretty shallow writer with awful prose and a bad tendancy to lean on potty jokes (the felt-tip picture of a rectum in Breakfast of Champions?) As I've gotten older, though, I've completely flipped- now I think he's a very wise, very funny man who knows how to get maximum effect out of minimum prose. Mother Night is a tiny book, but it has some profound things to say. And yes, it's funny.

17. Essential X-Men #1, Chris Claremont (Graphic novel)
This collects the material that makes up the first heyday of the X-Men. Claremont's work of this period (he has since come back a couple of times, and seems to be hellbent on pissing away his legacy by churning out some really awful stuff) makes up the body of 'canonical' X-Men continuity. The vast majority of the things that made it into the movies and the cartoons are cribbed from this era, and it took twenty years and Grant Morrison for the book to get back to this level of interest.

18. The Fountainhead, Ayn Rand
Rand is grotesquely wrong about a lot of things, and has the extremely irritating habit of making her villains into ideological strawmen, but it's still stirring to read the lone-genius-against-the-world stories.

19. Portnoy's Complaint, Philip Roth
This has long been on the list of books I meant to read someday. Well, now I've done it, and I have to say that I don't really understand why Roth is so revered. Oh well.

20. Fantastic Four: Imaginauts, Mark Waid (graphic novel)
It was an impulse buy, and it ended up paying off (except that I'm now hooked on Waid's FF work, and have added yet another comic to the purchase list). Waid doesn't really write this as a superhero story; for him, it's science fiction with a dash of celebrity-culture satire.

21. Pattern Recognition, William Gibson
As with Roth, I've always meant to check Gibson out. And now that I have, I can't say that I'm all that impressed. This was mainly an exercise in name-checking hot brands. Whee. It read like Douglas Coupland on one of his bad days (I suppose it's more accurate to say that Coupland in a slump reads like Gibson, but whatever).

22. Another Roadside Attraction, Tom Robbins
Robbins used to be the king of the heap for me; my love has waned a little bit, but he's still a fun read (as long as you avoid Still Life with Woodpecker).

23. Twentieth Century Eightball, Dan Clowes (graphic novel)
Of all the writers on the planet, Clowes seems to be the closest to my worldview and sense of humor.

24. Villa Incognito, Tom Robbins
Proof that Robbins is losing his mojo as he ages. This book isn't a train wreck, but it resembles a truncated imitation of a Robbins novel. Sharp drop-off from Fierce Invalids.

25. Essential Fantastic Four Volume 1, Stan Lee, Jack Kirby (graphic novel)
Pretty interesting, especially if you know the history of how this stuff changed the comics landscape in the 60s, but to be honest I'd rather read Waid's present-day stuff. I know, heretical.

26. Poker Nation, (can't remember author)
Book itself was so-so. But it planted the seed that led to my current poker craze.

27. Clumsy (can't remember author) (graphic novel)
Pretty impressive self-published graphic novel about a doomed relationship. The art is intentionally primitive, but the emotional punch is heavy.

28. The Stand, Stephen King
I thought it might be fun to re-read some King (worshipped him in 8th grade; no use for him since) and see how he held up. His prose stinks, his worldview is pretty restricted, and some of his dialogue is laughable, but his ideas are big and the guy knows how to tell a story. He's more good than bad.

29. Weirdos from Another Planet, Bill Waterston
The world could use more Calvin and Hobbes.

30. Summer Blonde, Adrian Tomine (graphic novel)
I really liked Tomine's story in the Best American Nonrequired Reading 2002, so I snapped up this anthology. It's pretty good, but not overwhelming. He suffers a little in that his style looks enough like Clowes's to invite comparison, and you have to be pretty fucking good to come out on top when compared to Clowes.

31. Generation of Swine, Hunter Thompson
Collection of Thompson's work during the 80s. Not his best stuff, although it's pretty interesting to read his take on Iran-Contra as that starts to go down.

32. Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72, Thompson.
And this, by contrast, probably is his best work. If you have any interest in politics or the English language, go read this book. It's worth the effort. And the 2004 campaign appears to have some odd parallels.

33. The God Particle, Leon Lederman
A user-friendly, fun romp though particle physics. If you like science, you should enjoy this one.

34. The Botany of Desire, Michael Pollin
A turgid, sentimental romp through plant biology. If you like science, give this piece of crap a wide berth.

35. Napalm and Silly Putty, George Carlin
Pretty funny, but Carlin is a little better live. Delivery counts for a lot.

36. Superman: Red Son, Mark Millar (graphic novel)
Verrrrry clever miniseries that redoes the Superman mythos with Big Blue growing up in the Ukraine and becoming a Soviet superhero. I've got an idea for an essay based on this book that would examine Superman and the American national self-image; it's just a matter of finding a mag that'll take it.

37. Being There, (can't remember author)
Loved the movie. Loved the ideas of the book, but thought they lent themselves more to cinema.

38. Quimby the Mouse, Chris Ware (graphic novel)
Every bit as weird and engaging as Jimmy Corrigan.

39. Something Under the Bed Is Drooling, Waterston

40. Foundation, Isaac Asimov
41. Foundation and Empire, Asimov.
Ideas: fascinating. Prose: not.

42. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, (can't remember author)
Told from the first-person point of view of an autistic child, it's a stunt that you expect to fail, but it doesn't. Very funny and well-done.

43. Love Me, Garrison Keillor
I hate Keillor's cornball we-midwesterners-are-a-bunch-of-silly-hicks routine, but I used to love his advice column for Salon.com. So I picked up his book about an advice columnist, and it turned out to be pretty good. That still doesn't excuse him for all of his Prairie Home Companion nonsense, though.

44. The Sparrow, Mary Doria Russell
45. Children of God, Mary Doria Russell
Reviewed here at BBF a while ago. If I were a better man, I'd link to it, but this list is already taking far more effort than I expected to. I suck.

But the books don't.

46. Songs of the Doomed, HST
My guess is that I will not read nearly as much Thompson next year.

47. Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace
Hoo boy. I love IJ, but I can certainly see why some people would hate it with much passion. This was actually my second pass through- the first time, I was just concentrating on finishing. This time, I was able to clear up a bunch of questions that I had from the first read. This is one funny, frustrating book.

48. Milk It, Jim DeRogatis
Collection of DeRogatis' rock crit from the 90s… it functions as a sort of history of alternative rock. That much rock criticism could be a brain-killer, but DeRogatis is a pretty good writer, so it works. He is a little Chicago-and-Seattle-o-centric, which means that more attention is paid to crap like Urge Overkill and Smashing Pumpkins than is really necessary.

49. Reefer Madness, Eric Schlosser
I really liked Fast Food Nation; this one is pretty obviously an attempt to cash in on the latter's success. It's really just three separate articles smashed together into one book, on the theory that they all involve the "underground economy" in America. There's not a lot of cohesion between the three, or even that much analysis within them about this underground economy. Each article would be fine on its own if you were reading a magazine, but it's a little tough to wade through the whole thing.

50. Don't Know Much About History, Kenneth Davis
A light, single-volume overview of the history of the US. Not a whole lot of meat, but it's good for the broad outlines.

All right, then. I feel like I should also point out that I pissed away a good month trying to wade through Gravity's Rainbow before the giant talking adenoid wore down my resolve. Maybe I'll whip that sumbitch in 2004.