Monday, September 12, 2011

Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road?

Because I have siblings in three countries, including (and limited to) San Francisco, India, and the United States, sending various quizzes per email is a major hobby of mine. In a recent quiz, called the "sibling challenge," I asked my brothers and sisters to correctly identify the original sources of nine historically common responses to the timeless question: "Why did the chicken cross the road?"

Recent(-ish) surveys show that the average reader of this blog is 67% as nerdy as my siblings (who, in a freak coincidence--which, I am told, has nothing to do with being raised by our parents--share exactly the same nerdiness rating), so I won't make you identify the quotes from scratch. Instead, try to match the answers above to the sources below.


a) To turn into a fairy.

b) To prove he wasn't chicken.

c) To eat the cake.

d) To prove to the gophers he could do it.

e) To eat YOUR FACE!!! HA! HA! HA! HA!

f) Because it was there.

g) Because the grass is greener on the other side.

h) Well, I talked to the chicken, and she said she didn't intend to cross the road, but the road has thin skin and it's not her fault at all that he took what she said the way he did. As for herself, she's done talking to the road. There's no reasoning with him at all.

i) I can't find the most recent sibling challenge. What is it?


j) This one is from H. C. Andersen (1805-1875). In an early short story entitled "A Journey on Foot from Holmen's Canal to the East Point of Amager," Andersen describes a forlorn chicken's quest to find an back-alley witch who is purported to own a magical feather. When the witch produces a knife instead, the chicken transforms into a fairy and flies away, weeping for the cruelty of mankind until a rainbow forms in her tears.

k) Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867). In a separate poem, Baudelaire urged the chicken to "be drunk! so as not to be the martyred slave of time!"--an admonition which resulted in a fatal hit-and-run, the chicken lost to time under the wheel of an anonymous assassin's bicycle.

l) commonly misattributed to Maria Antonia Josepha Johanna a.k.a. Marie Antoinette (1755-1793), this quote is actually derived from Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153), who in De Amore Dei used the chicken, the road, and the cake as allegorical symbols for the soul, mortality, and the love of God, respectively.

m) Horace Greeley (1811-1872) praised the chicken for its pioneer spirit and commitment to westward expansion.

m16) Oswald C. Cobblepot (1941-????), also known for the famous folk maxim: "It could be worse: my nose could be gushing blood. RAAAR!"

n) Chauncey Gardiner (1925-1980) may have averted a recession by this famous statement of confidence: he seems to have meant that the chicken is impervious to ominous indicators of looming troubles; it will always feel a need to cross the road simply because it is there. Unfortunately, Gardiner faded from the public scene before he could be nominated as a candidate for President.

o) Cheech Marin (1946-2037), explaining away his conveniently-timed 1967 emigration to Canada.

q) Prince Cem of Osman (1459-1495). Later, while nominally under the custody of Pope Innocent VIII, Cem would confess he actually had known how the sibling challenge was supposed to work.

p) Madeleine Albright (1937-2021). Shortly after this comment, tighter trade restrictions were placed on North Korea.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

I've got another riddle for you...

This morning's riddle for Kira was as follows:

I have a thick red skull
and a mushy brown brain
and one long, thin, white leg

"I know!" said Kira after several unsuccessful guesses, "it's a gummi bear!"

"Does a gummi bear have a thick red skull?" I said.

"Yes," she said, "a red gummi bear does."

"OK," I said, "but does it have one long, thin, white leg?"

"A white one does," said Kira.

"No," I said, "a white one has two short, stumpy legs."

"Not if you eat one and stretch the other one out," said Kira.

"OK," I said, "but no gummi bear has a mushy brown brain!"

"It could be root-beer flavored," said Kira.

I sighed. I can't recall ever eating a root-beer flavored gummi bear, but they probably do exist, and there's probably even some county fair where you can order them deep-fried. "That's still three different gummi bears!" I argued instead. "A red gummi bear doesn't have a mushy brown brain or a long, white leg."

"You can squish them together in a ball," said Kira. "It's pretty easy."

So the bad news is: I was defeated in a battle of wits once again by a seven-year-old.
The good news is: next time I ask someone else that riddle, I'll bet they won't come up with the new answer, which is "a bitten-off red gummi bear head with a stretched-out white gummi bear leg attached to the bottom and a chunk of root-beer-flavored gummi bear stuffed inside."

We're quite the team, Kira and I.

Saturday, July 2, 2011


On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I don't work this term--but for some reason my daughter still wakes up. In the morning. Intellectually, of course, I understand that waking up in the morning is something normal children do, but I have a hard time thinking intellectually (or otherwise) when she first crawls into my bed and asks: "Do you want to have breakfast now? Do you want to play? We could go on a bike ride! We could do flex-exercises! We should make pancakes!"

These are important points, but unfortunately I feel more like a log in the morning than a human being. If you've never felt like a log, consider: logs are very stiff, they don't stay up long unless you nail them in place, and they're dead.

So instead of saying, "Yes! Let's make pancakes on our bikes while we play Crazy Eights!" I usually tell my daughter something like: "Uughhh...."

This works for about two seconds, but only if she needs to catch her breath. "Can I put on makeup?" she says, "Can I paint my nails? Can I paint my Barbies' nails?"

Note to the future parent: it may seem reasonable to grant such requests, but remember that most children hate to be alone, and will try to do whatever you say they can in your bed.

"Uughhh..." I say. I've explained in more lucid moments that "ugh" should always be interpreted as "no."

"Do you want to come play in my room?" she says, "Can you watch me do somersaults? Can we go check on the garden?"

This week, I came up with a good answer. "How about we do riddles instead?"

"Yeah!" she says "I love riddles!"

So I tell her one. And then fall back asleep.

I'm thinking I might add them to my voicemail and email and everything else I'm supposed to be checking and responding to. Say: "I'll do my best to get back to you--if you can tell me what has four legs in the back, two in the front, and none at all when its work is done."

Or maybe: "I saw ten pigs walk into the zoo: I looked for their tails, but I only saw two. Tell me what I saw at the beep if your call is urgent."

Or even: "When you got angry, you framed me. When you felt bad about it, you left me a jar. But when it got dark, you still locked me up--and in the middle of the night, you checked to see if I was dead--*sob*--what am I?"

Hints for those whose obsessive natures have left them wanting to solve the above riddles:
Hint #1: One and a half of the answers to the three riddles above are human-made objects.
Hint #2: For one of the riddles, the following clues also apply: "The babies leave home, but the grown-ups stay there. When they get sick, they're treated like pies. When they get very sick, they're treated like queens." This riddle is the only one for which human-made things are not a part of the correct final answer.
Hint #3: It would be super creepy if the pigs in the second riddle were literally pigs. The third riddle is tangentially connected to little pigs, but only if you really want it to be and/or if you have remarkably (har har) big eyes.
Hint #4: None of these hints are very helpful.
Hint #5: If you come to a fork in the road, take it--even if the lying twin and truth-telling twin both try to stop you. Then use the fork to eat this red herring.
Hint #6: Carefully examine the picture below:

It is not the answer. It's not even a clue, really. But it might make your mind more open to the answers. Or just more open, period.

Monday, June 13, 2011

If the government were a family, how would its budget look?

For their final exam, I assigned my Persuasive Writing students to hold a model Congress in which they'll solve our nation's budget woes. Because giant numbers are hard to keep track of, I decided to pretend to revalue the dollar such that the government's annual revenue was not a mind-boggling $2.2 trillion dollars, but rather $45,000, which happens to be the current median American income.

On this scale:

1) The federal government would be spending about $76,000/year. Oops.

2) Its debt would be $300,000.

There's something fitting about that: it's like the government is trying to buy a full professor's house on an adjunct's salary. I can relate: except that unlike the government, I live in a basement apartment.

Should we relegate the government to a basement? Should we help it find a better job? I don't know, but here are some more figures that might make the debate in D.C. over these various issues a little clearer:

3) Our government is about $2,600 family-scale dollars from a balanced budget...per month. Note to those spending $76,000/year: please let us know if you can cut $2,600/month in "waste" or by "improving efficiencies." I'm a vegetarian so I wouldn't know, but could any of you save $2,600 a month just by cutting pork?

4) Letting the Bush tax cuts expire would generate around a scale $500/month in income. This is more than twice what the average panhandler makes in a month or what a just-below-average lawyer charges for two hours. Not enough to solve the problem, but maybe worth considering.

5) Cutting the Department of Education's budget in half would save a scale $66/month: the same as not eating out twice--if you're kinda cheap and leave lousy tips. And assuming you eat out at twice a month.

6) The Iraq war would have cost about as much as getting two new cars: a Camero for him and a Mustang for her (that's a scale $61,000 or so, depending who's counting).

7) That said, liberals who focus entirely on military spending are in some serious denial. Even eliminating the entire Department of Defense (which would be insane) wouldn't solve the problem: it would only save our federal "family" $1,300/month. Deep military cuts (say, 20%) would save a scale $260/month, so you're going to have to find something other than the military to complain about.

8) Speaking of entire programs: Medicaid weighs in at a scale $600/month. That means if we refused poor and disabled people all medical treatment, we could be 23% of the way to a balanced budget!

9) Since Americans buy 10.2 billion cases of soda per year, a soda tax of 25 cents a can would generate a scale $105/month: almost enough to fund the entire Department of Education.

10) Eliminating the Social Security Wage Base (which is a rule that you don't have to pay any social security taxes on income over $106,800/yr) would raise a scale $200/month: as much as a 15% cut in military spending.

So: assuming most of my math is right, you know have a clearer idea of the situation the federal government is in. I'm sorry if it depresses you: depending on your perspective, you can blame FDR for making a big government, Ronald Reagan for his failed experiment in raising revenue by lowering taxes, or George W. Bush for turning a projected budget surplus into an epically blown opportunity.

And then, when you're done being depressed, you can pat yourself on the back for being more financially responsible for the government. Although, to be fair, you aren't helping record numbers of people afford college, bailing out screwed-up private financial institutions, dealing regularly with maniacal tyrants overseas, and making sure people with bad credit ratings don't have to bleed to death on the streets if they get hurt.

So while it is important to help the government fix some things financially, maybe we should cut those "worthless" politicians and bureaucrats a little slack.

Pictured above: the author of this post doesn't let the budget
get him down. Republicans and Democrats come and go:
forget about them all and dance!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Query Letter

I recently finished the first draft of my book and am ready to start the hard part: the Query Letter. A Query Letter is a mythical beast with four wings on either side of its face and cattails coming out of its back, but if you don't have one, you're allowed to substitute words.

As an illustration of the above point, I have included (below) my first Query Letter draft.

Dear Sir/Madam to Whom It Concerns:

Once upon a time, there was a blender. And an author, who put things in that blender. The blender was a metaphor. It wasn’t actually real. But the author put many things in it anyway, because that’s what the great authors have been doing since great authors first existed (about the 6th century BC). The things the author put in the blender were the Bible and a lot of blood that came out of someone’s eyes. That someone was named Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalin. Also Faiz Ahmed Faiz. And some other Urdu-speaking guys.
When the blender finished writing, it was beautiful. The author started bleeding out of his own eyes, because he was in love. But not with a woman. With his work, like Ghalib was. And that love was like lightning that incinerated his soul.
He smeared the ash of his soul on the outside glass of the blender (which was no longer a metaphor) and I copied it into my book. My book is 74,765 words. They were much smaller on the blender, so I’m not sure I copied them all right. But that’s what editors are for.
If you find me an editor, I will give you a share of the money. Which I WILL earn. I swear! Because it’s so (heart-breakingly) beautiful, people who read it will weep and hand their credit cards to whoever asks for them because that’s how lost they’ll be in the madness of love.


[name withheld for privacy reasons]

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Caged Bird Tweets

I had planned to post the highlights of my experiment with Twitteration. Unfortunately, there are no highlights yet. Maybe these can hold you over until when:

12 Feb
Baby reaches toward me like Adam in Michelangelo's painting--only it's my eyeball, not my finger, that he's almost got...

14 Feb
Nicole says Valentine's Day was designed for six-year-old girls: lots of pink, cute little notes, and free candy. Also, no angst.

15 Feb
Just folded a sheet that's had the spit-up washed out twice today. Ponce de Leon, we have found the fabled fountain of youth.

18 Feb
Someday, my young friend, you too may tell your wife, "You always look so sexy when the kids are asleep."

19 Feb
I am so religious: every day, I listen to my infant son recite the entire book of Lamentations. Still wish he would just sleep, though.

22 Feb
The internet puts the whole world at the same distance. The only things we have to fear are horseshoes and hand grenades.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Becoming a Twit

I am currently working on a book so poetic that I am only averaging a little over five hundred words per day even though I am almost always working whenever my baby isn't crying so loudly I can no longer think.

You would think that I would put out more than 515 words on average in that three-hour work window, but don't be fooled: dredging great writing out of my soul is fairly time-consuming, because my soul is pretty far away.

All of which is to say: I didn't blog in January, and may not blog again "for realsies" until April.

Honestly, I thought that would be good enough, but having watched the news out of Tunisia and Egypt (not to mention Algeria), I'm getting a bit nervous that if I don't keep active in some way, I may be ousted from my own blog by popular protests.

That's why I decided yesterday to become a real Twit.

I joined Twitter in June of 2009 so I could win free tickets to a play, but almost immediately forgot my password and didn't tweet again until yesterday, when I suddenly remembered that my Twitter password was "Twitter." Armed with that password, I have since tweeted twice, hoping that a tweet a day keeps the protests at bay.

You can follow me on Twitter if you know how to do such things (no help here--I'm still only following the people in charge of that long-ago contest...) OR you can check this blog every week or so and I'll update a post with selected tweets.
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