Monday, November 20, 2006

Oh, Euclid. Euclid.

Over the weekend, my mother and I decided that at last we would tackle the gargantuan, Herculean, Sisyphean task of cleaning the store room. Other people have attics, but our house is a ranch, and even if it were taller it would not be old enough to have an attic. My parents had it built roughly 25 years ago. I remember once, after reading one of those Bernie-in-the-Besseldorf-Hotel books (bodies were always turning up there – never stay at the Besseldorf), being grateful that no one lived there before us, no one could have died there without our knowing it, no one could have been buried in the dirt floor of the basement in 1892. Not only because the basement floor is cement, but because the basement floor was poured in 1980 and is covered in an enormous orange rug that would be really annoying to roll back in order to bury a body. So: no ghosts likely to roam the . . . one . . . hallway. However, the freezer? In the store room? Easily big enough to hide a body in. And practical. Thus creative children such as myself can find terror where no reason for it could possibly exist. Good for me! A-plus-plus.

Aside from the body-sized freezer, the store room contains the hot water heater and the enormous stand my father built to grow seedlings inside, which is so old I have no memory of it in use. It now functions as an inconveniently bulky shelf, along with three or four other sets of inconvenient shelves that contain the following: eleven billion dusty cardboard boxes. Winter clothes. Summer clothes. Shoeboxes of negatives. Old letters. Biology textbooks. Sundry photographic equipment. Twenty-five cookie tins. A fake Christmas tree (boxed). A picture of Pushkin, my mother’s guinea pig. A paper machĂ© stegasaurus. Eight baskets. Three shelves of Christmas decorations. A plate from Russia. Stickers from Denmark. Two sewing machines, clearly a dueling set. Two slide projectors and two screens, perhaps for the same purpose. Enough scrap fabric to clothe the Von Trapp children twice. One large Pound Puppy. A longhouse (small-scale). Twinkle lights galore. And thirteen bags and two days’ worth of garbage.

There was also a box of games that were too boring to be played but in such perfect condition that they couldn’t be thrown away. It was an impasse, and that was how my parents and I found ourselves sitting in the basement with a little delight called

It’s hard to tell, but that says O! Euclid. It is an amusing and scholarly card game for ages 9-99. On the side it says

O! Euclid, the geometry fun game, provides the following instructions

with which you can also build an ultra cold atom collider if you are of a mind to.

My mother, who is a tutor in math among other things, knew every question, which was good because I mainly abstained except to occasionally say, “Oh yeah? Can be divided by its diagonals to form six equilateral triangles, eh? Prove it!” I have, in the past, been accused of Not Liking Math, which is not true, and in fact, I liked geometry best. I even liked geometry proofs. And adding picas in base-twelve always brightens a dull workday. But I am the Harold Skimpole of math. What could I possibly understand about the world of numbers, being but an English major?

Just enough, it turns out, to have some profound doubts about the geometry fun game.

Is it possible that the educated professionals who made up a game that requires the players to have the formula for calculating the area of a trapezoid readily at hand are the same people who came up with the following questions?

There is no such thing as a loperbola. That is ridiculous. Why would one introduce the idea of a “high-perbola” having a “low-perbola” counterpart? While you’re at it, why don’t you give the kids a list of misspelled vocabulary words, too, just to, you know, warn them of possible pitfalls. Or, er, push them in ahahahahahaha!

Again. No such thing as a left triangle. This seems deliberately confusing, and since the copyright is 1988, I can only conclude that these so-called teachers are actually Russian infiltrators who, in their desperation, have resorted to planting false information in children’s games so as to poison the mathemetical consciousnesses of future American cosmonauts with such foolish concepts as a “left triangle” and a “loperbola.”

[Blogger hates me. The answer to the last question is: "Betsy Ross used this method to form five-pointed stars for our flag." I guess those 9- to 99-year-olds are ALL American.]

Now that the innocent students are failing geometry, thanks to Russia, we’re going to come at them from another angle (no pun intended) and make them feel stupid about geography and history as well -- but unjustifiably, because the Pentagon is not called the Regular Pentagon. I expect it is more often described as “irregular” if anything. And the fact that you can make a pentagon by tying a knot in a strip of paper (which I’d like to see, Betsy) is one of the most useless facts a person could possibly know. How many would-be astronauts went mad before the age of twelve trying to tie a pentagon in a strip of paper? This must have put off the development of a space station for at least ten years.

Communists 1 NASA 0

Clipped? Is that a technical term?

And no, I’m not sure you can just paint an octagon red and put it up as a stop sign. The Department of Transportation is very strict about regulating road signs. Children should not be encouraged to put up their own.

Here I begin to suspect not a nefarious misinformation campaign, but simple sloppiness.

A line that goes around? Goes around what? The mulberry bush? And since when do circles have holes in the middle? They have a point in the middle. A point is not a hole. A point is defined by coordinates. A hole is a denomination used to measure donut parts.

This is how Wikipedia, not even the paragon (not a shape) of collected human knowledge, defines a circle: “A two-dimensional geometric figure consisting of the set of all those points in a plane that are equally distant from another point.”

Let’s revisit the definition on this flashcard once more, just for comparison: “A Circle is a line that goes around and has a hole in the middle.”

The conspiracy theory falls apart here. Let’s face it, Soviet spies are just smarter than this.

THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A BOLA. Though if there were, it would explain why the two symmetrical bolas are called a “pair o’ bolas.”

Hey, my father thought it was funny.

No longer able to support a proper conspiracy theory, I’m faced with only one other explanation. The geometry fun game is not supposed to be called, “O! Euclid.” It’s supposed to be “Oh, Euclid.”

Needless to say, we kept it.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

And then the sun set, the sky cleared, and the stars came out.

Oops, how could this possibly have gotten in here.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

I (More or Less) Voted Today

Simon likes to vote. Simon votes whenever given the opportunity. Except that one time when Simon didn't know anything about the school budget and didn't really want to vote on it, but Simon's father dragged Simon to the high school anyway after Simon's mother told Simon how Simon probably would want to vote.

Simon votes at every opportunity whether Simon feels like it or not.

Thus, the well-trained Simon arrived at the town polling center at 8:25 this morning to do what Americans almost by definition do: vote on stuff. In this instance, unlike the school budget scenario, Simon was well-informed and of a very strong mind. Simon marched into the polling station (otherwise known as the #6 Rotary Community Center or something else quaint), arms akimbo, and said, "I am Simon!"

And they said, "Who?"


"You're not in the book. Have you moved recently?"

"I am Simon! I am here to vote!"

"Are you registered?"

At this point, Simon surprised herself by turning from Giddy Voter to Election Official's Worst Nightmare. "Pardon? You do not have 'Simon' in your book? How can you not have 'Simon' in your book? My permanent address has been the same for almost a quarter of a century. I have voted here since I turned eighteen. I have never voted anywhere else. I am an American citizen AND I WILL VOTE!"

"If you'd like to step over here and fill out an affidavit . . ."

"A what?"

"Fill out this ballot, put the ballot inside the envelope, fill out the envelope, and we'll take it to the board of elections. And they'll verify it."

"They'll verify . . . that I live where I live. Where I have always lived. Where, to the best of the Board of Election's knowledge, I have never not lived?"


"And then what? When will this be counted? Is it like an absentee ballot? They only count it if they need it? What if someone accidentally EATS IT on the way to the Board of Elections and THAT'S the one they NEEDED?"

"If you'd like to go to the Board of Elections and get a court order to use the machine, you can do that."

"That won't be necessary, thank you. I have to go to work. I am a hard-working American and I am late for work, where I work hard. For the British. But that is beside the point. Give me my stupid affidavit."

And so I voted. And then I went to work, where I did not work but harrassed the Board of Elections by phone.

"Excuse me, I am an American citizen and I had to vote on an affidavit. What are you people doing down there, making paper airplanes out of registration documents?"

The woman I spoke with refused to believe that this was the worst thing that had ever happened to anyone on voting day. She consulted her computer, or some deer droppings, it is always hard to tell over the phone, and she informed me that the Board of Elections had sent something to my house in August, but it was returned to them as undeliverable.

Because a piece of mail went astray, they assumed I had moved.

This, evidently, is enough to get a person removed from the Voting Book Thing, which is enough to make it so you can't vote except for on a ballot that will never be counted.

"Were you on vacation in August? Away from home?" said the deer-dropping investigator.

Because when you're not standing at your mailbox waiting for the mailman to physically put your mail in your hands, he just dumps it straight in the garbage. There's a huge garbage can in the back of those trucks. That's not mail back there, that's garbage. Un-de-liverable garbage.

After I call the post office tomorrow to find out whether they're, you know, delivering mail or just receiving and shredding it, I'll be calling back the Board of Elections, and I will do that over and over again until my eloquent castigation of their staggeringly inaccurate operation makes them break down. I am Simon! When Simon doesn't get to vote, others must be made to cry.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

More Updates

Now I remember the REALLY IMPORTANT UPDATE that completely slipped my mind the last time I posted. The coyotes in the gravel pit. They are back. I remembered it on Halloween when I took the HMS Genius outside after dinner. She was sniffing around trying to figure out what other dog had been walking all over her territory like Winnie-the-Pooh following his own tracks around a spinney of larch trees . . .

(Real-time update: Learnt new word today. spinney. n. a small wood with undergrowth. 1926 MILNE W-t-P There was a small spinney of larch trees just here, and it seemed as if the two Woozles, if that is what they were, had been going round this spinney; so round this spinney went Pooh and Piglet after them.)

. . . so the dog was grappling with the existential question of who you are if you can't identify yourself by smell, and I was listening to the trick-or-treaters making a commotion in the streets. It was a warmish night and they were out in droves, all the small children. The small children decorated like pretty little petit-fours. Small, short-legged, bite-sized children. But our coyotes must be a kinder, gentler breed of bloodthirsty death-hounds, because as far as I know, nobody was eaten. ALAS. As an update this had enormous potential but due to our coyote population being a bunch of pansies, I'm afraid it comes to nothing.

But I do have another Halloween story full of intrigue, mystery, disguise, thrills, spills, close calls, swift escapes, death-defying feats, fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, and heart-healthy whole grain cereal! One morning many months ago I opened the kitchen cupboard and found this peculiar specimen masquerading as a box of Cheerios.

I was afraid to open it in case armed croutons leapt out and burnt down Troy, but I quickly discovered that so thorough was the disguise that it contained nothing more than a freakishly large bag of Cheerios.

What we have here is the first documented case of either (1) a sting operation set up by a wholesale-sized crouton box to infiltrate the General Mills mafia and expose its heinous crimes, or (2) a Halloween party held in, given by, and attended by foods residing in and around a kitchen cupboard. Since croutons are famously inept and therefore much more likely to get the date of Halloween wrong than to be secret agents, I find that option two explains why this oddity showed up as long ago as last February, and yet did not bring about any arrests.

The substance of this update, in case it is not clear, is that the crouton box has at last managed to wear its costume on the correct date, and that must give it a pleasant feeling of vindication.

My next update concerns the amazing discovery I made on my birthday. It is called Ribbon Pie. It is easy and quick to assemble, given that you have just had a birthday and have a new pie plate and fresh ribbons at hand. VoilĂ :

The paper flower is of course a garnish, as we all know paper is not edible.

Lastly, I must report that my mum has pulled up her mums and now the prettiest thing in the garden is sage, as seen here.

On a related and obvious note, it snowed.

I am no longer sure what season it is and will save that update for later.