November 2004 Archives

how we met, part three: dan small


For the good of the permanent public record, and expose the unreliability of human memories that aren't mine, I will be presenting a series of "How We Met" tales about various prominent figures in my life. The third in this series is about Dan Small. (Read How We Met, Part One: Kristen Larson, and How We Met, Part Two: Dustin Reed)

In the spring of our freshman year, Kristen brought a tall freshman to the Tree Group during lunch. He had glasses, a shock of auburn hair cut in classic mid-90's "floppy" style, and paler skin than even I had. He told us his name was Danny, which we immediately ignored.

Our friend Dan B. had recently waged an extended battle with his parents and peers over his nickname. After twelve years of "Danny", he decided he wanted the more mature "Dan". After two years of this struggle, we'd been conditioned to expect a brusque, "My name is Dan!" if anyone were to use the childish moniker "Danny".

Dan lost his nickname immediately, even before Kristen could invent an alternative name for him, but he and I didn't bond just yet. That came later, in World Civilization. That class was taught by a balding hippie who was later immortalized in the classic Keane-Vigil detective tale, "The Bald-Headed League". He believed in long class discussions instead of lecture, writing letters to political prisoners, and spending weeks memorizing the countries of the world in lieu of opening a textbook or writing. During class time we watched "Cry Freedom", "Gandhi", "Schindler's List", and, bizarrely, "Medicine Man". Each quarter, our hippie teacher would ask us what grade we felt we deserved, and then we would write a short essay defending the award. (Note to younger Zembla readers: the answer to that question is, "An 'A'.")

The practical result of this approach to teaching was that class was usually about 90% discussion. Not discussion about world civilizations, or the rain forest, just talking amongst ourselves all day. One such day, Dan-n�e-Danny came to sit at our table. Our ostensible assignment to make "art projects addressing a South American environmental problem" had predictably devolved into the usual unregulated chatter, so it was a free day.

I had finished my project a day earlier, which would have been quite impressive if said project wasn't a musical about cattle ranching and deforestation in Argentina. I had no qualms about talking since the libretto for "The Sound of Moo-sick" was totally done. Dan's respect for the teacher, and this project specifically, had been done even longer. So, while Katie tried find a worthy closing line for her poem about wistful rain forest parrots, Dan and I began talking classic sitcoms. Our rapport was such that within five minutes, we were belting out a heartfelt duet on "Love Is All Around", the Mary Tyler Moore Show's theme song, interrupted only when the hippie teacher sat down to explain how, with a little editing, he was pretty sure "The Sound of Moo-sick" could become a very tight, powerful one-act for the Drama Department.

Dan rolled his eyes behind the teacher's back, and it was like he'd turned the world on with a smirk, taking a nothing class and suddenly making fun of a jerk. It was enough to make me want to joyfully toss my baseball cap in the air, but instead we waited for the teacher to leave and then did "The Facts of Life".

door-to-door fighting


When I was in eleventh grade, our history class studied World War Two. I wasn't quite the pinko peacenik that I am now, but when we got to the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, I definitely had some questions. Like, "What the fuck was our country doing dropping atomic bombs when the war was basically over?"

I would have been a lot more prepared for debate if I'd had some Zinn or Chalmers Johnson handy, but even our history textbook admitted that come August of 1945, the Japanese were right on the brink of surrender. When I brought it up in class, however, our teacher shook his head at my naivete. Obviously, he said, the deaths of those hundreds of thousands of Japanese civilians ultimately saved millions in the long run. Besides, he added, "If we'd invaded Japan it would have been door to door fighting."

That was his counter to any and all of my arguments.

"It says that the Japanese would have given up if they could keep the Emperor."

"Sean. Door to door fighting."

"But, Tojo even sent a message to the ambassador talking about surrendering."

"I'm not sure you heard me. Door. To Door. Fighting."

"But . . . "

"Door to door fighting!"

I was left with a mental image of an army battalion going through a neighborhood, knocking on doors like Girl Scouts. Girl Scouts with bayonets.

(Knock knock)

"Who is it?"

"It's the US Army."


"It's the United States Army. We'd like you to come out and surrender."

"Just a second. Let me just put on a kimono."

And then there'd be a big sword fight at the door, and the Japanese guy behind the door gets shot, and McDaniels, the quiet kid from Ohio, takes a ninja star to the throat, and the captain asks why, God, why, and war is hell. And then they repeat the process at the apartment next door.

This week, nearly all the reports about the assault on Fallujah echo this same approach, only "house to house fighting" has been substituted for "door to door fighting". Ostensibly this new attack is to ensure the legitimacy of the planned democratic Iraqi elections in two months by capturing and killing all of the insurgents, which coincidentally was Karl Rove's original plan for winning the state of Ohio. The insurgent leader has reportedly escaped, probably because his house was pretty far down the block.

American troops: Do not be fooled if an insurgent insists that he needs to put on a birkah, or that he's preparing some doogh that needs his urgent attention. It may be a trick! Do not be deterred by a "No Solicitors" or "Beware of Dog" sign. Fallujah hasn't had electricity or water for quite a while, so most pets and solicitors have already expired from thirst. Above all, do not lose faith in the righteousness of your mission. It is only a coincidence that this effort began a few days after the election. It is totally not just a distraction. Democracy is a door to door effort, and we're counting on you boys.

my election night journal


7:00. Jack is having trouble switching gears to election coverage, after a month of tense October baseball. "Can Bush bring in Mariano Rivera when he gets within three states of winning? What does it mean if Kerry goes to the bullpen in the eighth?"

7:12. My vegan pumpkin pie comes out of the oven and I prepare to head to Berkeley. The tastiness of the pie is judged "too close to call" by kitchen pundits. Zogby International says that the pie is actually a tray of blueberry muffins.

7:40. The pie is knocked over for the first of what would prove to be four separate times on the journey eastward. It ends up as sort of a pumpkin pudding, in a graham cracker shell.

8:35. BART, Richmond line. Two drunken passengers are railing against Bush and the electoral college. One of them claims that if he had an Uzi, he'd assassinate the president for $100,000. The other guy says he'd do it for $200. No one is impressed, except the Secret Service agents waiting at El Cerrito Plaza.

8:45. After interrogating other passengers for five minutes about whether they voted for Kerry (and inadvertently knocking over my pie again), our $200 version of Lee Harvey admits that he didn't vote at all.

9:15. I finally arrive. Allen makes me some rice noodles. Florida has been called for Bush since I left SF, along with every other state without a coastline. Peter Jennings is unruffled, the smug Canadian bastard.

9:25. We decide that we're bored with ABC and decide to check other channels. Tyler struggles with the remote, while I advocate for CBS and Dan Rather.

"It's getting pretty late on the East Coast", I say. "This is when Dan Rather gets tired and starts explaining everything in elaborate metaphors about swamps and alligators."

Two minutes later, Rather tells Bob Schieffer, "If a frog had side pockets, he'd carry a handgun."

9:45. Proposition N, summarized on the KGO newsticker as "Withdraw Troops From Iraq", is passing overwhelmingly in San Francisco. Gavin Newsom helicopters to the Presidio in combat fatigues and declares, "Mission Accomplished!"

10:00. Nobody knows the name of the cyborg-like Fox News anchor. I'm going with "The R-1000".

10:15. Tyler receives a phone call just as ABC calls Oregon for Kerry. The seven electoral votes from Oregon narrow Bush's lead to roughly 70, thought Fox News has him ahead by 152. Triumphantly, I begin to celebrate and disrupt Tyler's phone call. "Oregon, bitches, Oregon! Seven votes! Salem what? Portland what?"

10:20. Tom Brokaw is now simply reading aloud whatever random facts are placed in front of him. "Great tradition, Ohio," he drones. He then lists the seven presidents that were born in Ohio. Allen is in the kitchen for this. When he comes out, I ask, "Did you know that seven US presidents were born in Ohio?" Tyler and I proceed to recite them all to a weirded-out Allen.

10:25. Peter Jennings goes to ABC's "terror expert", reporting from a silent office building about Al Qaeda's efforts to undermine the election. He concludes that the US has done a fine job keeping the elections safe, but cautions that, "Tomorrow, the focus shifts to the holiday season."

10:40. Tim Russert is sharing the anchor desk with Brokaw on NBC. He has a teleprompter which he's using to calculate electoral vote scenarios. We don't see the initial explanation when we flip to NBC, just Russert's childish handwriting and elementary school-level artithmetic filling the screen. Tyler speculates that Ms. Thompson's second grade class is weighing in with their electoral prediction. I wonder if John Madden sees this amateurish teleprompter usage and shoots his televsion.

10:55. CBS refuses to call Ohio, even after every other network has done so. Dan Rather reminds us that CBS is broadcasting from "Accuracy Central", which may or may not be located between the crick and the fishin' hole.

11:05. A conversation with Allen:

ALLEN: Scotch?
SEAN: Yes.
SEAN: Yes.
ALLEN: Water?
BROKAW: At this point, it would take a miracle for John Kerry to come back.

11:11. Who will be the scapegoat when Kerry loses? The Las Vegas odds:

Gay Marriage - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 5:2
Terry McAuliffe - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 3:1
Michael Moore - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 6:1
The Curse of the Bambino - - - - - - - - - 9:1
Ralph Nader (for old times' sake)- - - - 20:1
"Lambert Field" - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 25:1
Howard Dean's yell - - - - - - - - - - - - - 75:1
John Kerry himself - - - - - - - - - - - - 100:1
George Lakoff - - - - - - - - - - - - - 1,000: 1

11:25. I wish we could see some proposition-specific victory parties. Specifically, the supporters of Oakland's initiative to make enforcement of marijuana laws the lowest priority of the police. I like to think that Too Short spent the day calling likely voters and reminding them to go to the polls. Berkeley's "Grow as much pot as you want and nobody can say shit" initiative appears to be losing a close race.

I'd also like to see prosecutors whooping it up and high-fiving each other about the DNA database for felons. Or a bunch of somber tribal casino owners playing blackjack dejectedly. Or, a live shot of some anti-66 activists getting together and beating prisoners with billy clubs and lengths of rubber tubing, because you know they're totally doing that.

11:45. Tim Russert is showing far more wear than any other TV talking head. His hair is messed up, his eyes look bloodshot, and he appears to have grown quite a bit of stubble in the last hour. In contrast, Brian Williams looks like he's just had a facial, a massage, and sex with Tim Russert's wife.

12:05. I have decided that the entire state of Ohio is worthless. Fuck Chad Johnson, William Howard Taft, Alex P. Keaton, Drew Carey, Lake Erie, Chief Wahoo, Jeff Garcia, Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, and especially Pete Rose.

12:30. I'm drinking more scotch. No one is paying attention to the coverage any more. Someone begins a discussion of exotic places to have sex at Berkeley's vegetarian co-op. When the conversation turns into a debate over hot tub sex, and I hear the phrase "vaginal bacteria", it's clearly time to go.

1:00. Relocation to Albany. We fearfully eat tacos and lose more hope with each bite. Possibly, this is due to grease and not despair.

1:30. Aaron is drunk, and passionately stumping for the election of Josiah Bartlett. Matt socks him. He then switches to his alternate stump speech, "Libertarians are fags". Matt socks him again.

2:05. Fox News presents "a conservative and a liberal" to talk about the status of the election. The conservative begins by talking about the negative media coverage of President Bush. They go to the liberal, and he begins discussing why Kerry and Edwards need to concede as soon as possible, in order to heal America.

Aaron and I begin arguing about which guy is in fact the liberal. It was especially unclear after they both agreed that Kerry was embarrassing himself and America.

2:15. Wolf Blitzer is a machine. He's still up, methodically running down the county-by-county voting possibilities in New Mexico. For whatever reason, Larry King is also still up, though he doesn't appear to have moved nor spoken in at least half an hour. Finally, a producer escorts Larry off the set as he mutters, "See you in four years."

Please enjoy Campaign-Trail Quotes From George W. Bush, If He Were Running for President in 1848, running today and forevermore as part of the Lists section of the McSweeney's online magazine. Read, laugh, tell your friends, and send money.

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This page is an archive of entries from November 2004 listed from newest to oldest.

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