The ends of the earth

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I’ve got a couple Sunday reads lined up, but I don’t feel like writing about them. I’d rather write about something more immediate: the end of the world.

What? The world’s not ending?

I don’t know if I agree. Did you think the apocalypse would come from a nuclear conflagration or an asteroid strike, something that would wipe out all life (except the roaches and ants, of course) instantaneously? Or even a pandemic resembling the one we have, except more dramatic, like Stephen King’s Captain Trips?

No, I think this is the way the world ends – not with a bang, but a whimper.

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Ed Sullivan eyes

Ed Sullivan (detail).

According to my birth certificate and my mother — who’s fond of reminding me that she was there — I was born around 4:30 in the morning.

That’s the last time I’ve even halfway desired to emerge so early. And, back then, I doubt I had much of a choice.

More than 55 years later, my eyes show the passage of time and an unwillingness to awaken before the dawn. My wife is envious of my ability to sleep — if I lack an excuse to get up on a weekend, I’ll sleep in until the cats insist I get up — which makes it all the harder when the alarm is set for, say, 5:30 a.m. My father never struggled with such a relatively early hour; he was up, showered, shaved, caffeined, and gone before the sun showed its little yellow face. Me, anything before 6 a.m. may as well be the middle of the night.

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Driving in Manhattan

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It happened again last night: I dreamed I was driving in Manhattan.

This time I was driving down Broadway, the Flatiron Building clearly visible, dead center, from somewhere in the 50s. New York, as it often does in my dreams, looked partially suburban, somewhat denuded of the endless canyons of skyscrapers it has in reality. It was free as well of much of the car traffic.

I had gotten in the far right lane and realized at the last minute that I had to cut over two lanes to continue on Broadway instead of some other unrevealed avenue; I did, with little problem, and the landscape remained suburban, with individual ranch houses with lawns on my left and, soon enough, Madison Square Park on my right.

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The new bathroom is here! The new bathroom is here!

Behind this sliding door …

Some people can’t wait to renovate their kitchen. Some people look forward to finishing the basement. Some people want to upgrade their master bathroom into something with an expansive shower stall, a whirlpool bath, and his-and-hers granite sinks.

My wife and I just wanted a powder room.

Our 1907 Pennsylvania twin had all the mod cons for its time: knob-and-tube wiring, a coal furnace in the basement, and a full, if small, bathroom that (I presume) was fully plumbed. (Though not, originally, linked to city sewage — during the building of our deck, our contractor found examples of what must have been a septic tank.) Over the years, much of it’s been updated.

But when we moved in three years ago, there was still just the one bathroom. It was upstairs, too.

We thought it would be easy enough to add another bathroom and expand the living area. We have a fairly roomy backyard and, since neither of us cares much about lawns, we figured we’d just build out back. It had been done by others around the neighborhood. But a more recent ordinance limited the amount of home expansion you could do.

Thankfully, we have a great contractor — Tom Garvey (he’s a top-notch carpenter, too) — and he’s worked closely with the city to make sure we’ve been able to maximize the land we can build on. We added a deck out back three years ago, and, over the past couple months, Tom’s enclosed part of it to make a sunroom.

And, more importantly, a half-bathroom.

Everybody’s happy. The cats are already camped out in the bay window. I have a new place to read. And, yes, there’s that second bathroom.

We won’t be reviving the septic tank, though.

Don’t tell them, but we didn’t build it for them.

What if Joe Biden could fly?

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Yesterday, Politico ran a piece on what could still happen to make 2020 the wackiest, wildest, most incredible election year in history.

As if this year hasn’t been anxiety-provoking enough already.

Politico’s possibilities: Trump drops out. Trump dumps Pence. McConnell dumps Trump. Biden gets sick. Trump struggles to drink a glass of water, stands up for the Confederate flag, and ignores (or dismisses) reports that the Russians paid the Taliban for killing U.S. troops. (Oh, wait. Those aren’t in the Politico story.)

I don’t know why they don’t get really crazy, though. Many years ago, “Saturday Night Live” had a recurring sketch called “What If?” in which a panel of somber experts gravely debated silly suggestions such as, “What if Eleanor Roosevelt could fly?”

So how about these possibilities for the remainder of 2020:

  • What if Joe Biden turns into a Transformer? I don’t know if Transformers are resistant to Covid-19, but being one would certainly allow Biden to travel from place to place with ease. However, not everyone thinks his martial arts expertise would help him beat the president.

Seems like a bit of a cheat, if you ask me.

  • What if Donald Trump became a rhinoceros? That tie would sure look funny, but the effect on national politics would be the same. Expect a lot of broken crockery in the White House, and the horn dyed a funny shade of orange-blond.
  • What if the Washington Monument attacks the Empire State Building? The Empire State has the size and that antenna, but let’s not discount 555 feet of solid marble, granite and gneiss. Also, can you imagine the destruction on Fifth Avenue? Zach Snyder would have an orgasm.

What I learned from going through my old college transcripts


I recently requested my undergraduate transcripts. I hadn’t seen them since I graduated in 1986, nor had I thought about them much. (After all, the diploma is on the wall.)

So seeing them brought back a whole host of memories — or, in some cases, empty spaces. Herewith some thoughts as I dig into my wanderings on the bucolic quad of Emory University:

Math 111 (Calculus I). I got a D in this class, taken the first semester of my freshman year — the only D and worst grade I got at Emory. (Hell, the rest of college I had only two C’s.) I took it because a) it was a logical step after Advanced Math in high school; b) it was part of a list of requirements (though I could have substituted something else). The professor, who had obviously dyed hair, had just returned from some time off and had no idea how to teach freshmen. I, in turn, had no idea how to calculate a derivative. Can I drop this course now?

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Perhaps the saddest passage I’ve read in awhile

$6000 Sex Dolls Turn Fantasy To Reality, Almost
Image from Getty via the Huffington Post.

From “600 Miles in a Coffin-Shaped Bus, Campaigning Against Death Itself”, excerpted from “To Be a Machine,” in last Sunday’s New York Times Magazine.

Author Mark O’Connell is talking to Roen Horn, who’s accompanying transhumanist Zoltan Istvan on a trip across the country. Horn is 28 and hasn’t lived much — he’s the son of a devout Calvinist, though he’s become an atheist — yet he decides he likes the idea of living forever. “I want to have fun forever,” he says.

This is though he currently lives like, in O’Connell’s words, “a medieval monk.” No problem, Horn tells O’Connell, he’ll indulge later.

This leads to the following exchange:

“You know one really cool thing about being alive in the future?” he asked.

“What’s that?”

“Sexbots. … It’s something I’m very much looking forward to.”

He had a particular way of smiling that was half evasion and half challenge. Out of context, you might be tempted to describe it as smug, but the effect was somehow deeply endearing.

“The problem I have with sexbots,” I said, “is why wouldn’t you just have sex with an actual person? I mean, all things being equal.”

He said: “Are you kidding me? A real girl could cheat on you, sleep around. You could get an S.T.D. You could maybe even die.”

“Is that potentially a bit alarmist?”

“No way, man. It happens literally all the time. See, a personal sexbot would never cheat on you, and it would be just like a real girl.”

He said nothing for a time and drank at leisure from his glass of water. He consumed some further forkfuls of salad. He gazed out the window at the parking lot full of trucks, the Interstate beyond, the ever-present vultures hanging in the air.

I said, “Do you mind me asking if you’ve had bad experiences with people cheating on you?”

“I have so far abstained from sex,” he said. “I have never had a girlfriend.”

“You’re saving yourself for the sexbots?”

He nodded slowly, shrewdly raising his eyebrows. You bet he was saving himself for the sexbots.

“Fair enough,” I said, raising my hands in capitulation. “I hope you live that long.”

He said, “I’m pretty sure I will.”

Roen, I wish you well, but you might try a few human beings first — women, men, whatever works for you. They’re not all that bad.



Odds and ends: Baseball, awards, ‘Face’

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A few things that have crossed my brain …

  • Three cheers for Jeff Bagwell, Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez and Tim “Rock” Raines for making the Baseball Hall of Fame yesterday. All three are deserved Hall of Famers, and I was particularly pleased to see Raines — much overlooked, even in his heyday, because of the truly amazing Rickey Henderson — finally get the necessary 75% of ballots. The guy could always steal a base, but unlike folks like Vince Coleman, he could also hit, hit for (some) power and play solid defense. The big problem for Raines was that he mainly played for the Montreal Expos, where he was never going to get any notice. Hell, I’d forgotten that he had some late-career years with the Yankees and actually picked up a World Series ring.

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