30 Mar

Interview Across a Breakfast Table: For the most party…

Jenny’s latest question for me is a timely one, as it comes the morning after a friend’s birthday celebration and the week before the festivities at the Texas Library Association conference in San Antonio:

What is guaranteed to make any party better?

More so than the setting, food, drink, or even music, it comes down the partygoers themselves. Some revelers love to talk about themselves, and some love to ask questions of others. The greater the percentage of the latter, the more spontaneous and unpredictable and real the conversation will be, and the better the party.

What did I ask Jenny?

21 Mar

Interview Across a Breakfast Table: A real chore

Jenny’s question for me today is:

What is your least favorite household chore, and why?

Unclogging bathroom sinks. It’s not an everyday chore, or even an every week chore, but every so often, it has to be done. (“Not on my account,” he added, rubbing what few short hairs remained on his head.) And the typical options are:

1) Use some clog-busting chemical agent that gives off noxious fumes and does who-knows-what-else,
2) Use baking soda and vinegar, which in my experience is pretty ineffective, or
3) Take apart the drain and physically remove the gunk lining the pipes, which is highly effective but extremely nasty.

If there’s another option that doesn’t involve simply selling the house and moving away, I’d love to hear about it.

Or, actually, I can just research it myself and see that I do indeed have other options. Hmmm. Maybe I’ll need to come up with a new least-favorite chore, which will be fine by me.

What did I ask Jenny today?

19 Mar

Interview Across a Breakfast Table: (Do) Call It a Comeback

Today, Jenny asks me:

What celebrity would you like to see make a comeback?

Well, it would have to be someone in music, because that’s what I pay attention to the most. So, that narrows the field a bit.

And it would need to be someone I’d actually want to hear make new music, not just someone who hasn’t had a hit for a while. That narrows it a bit more.

So, who’s got a terrific recording history but who hasn’t been — for far too long — pushed and prompted and handled and cajoled into working on new music for the public to hear? And who do I think might still be capable of delighting audiences and saying something worth paying attention to?

This genius:

I wish.

What question do I have for Jenny today?

17 Mar

Interview Across a Breakfast Table: The area (singular) of my expertise

On our return from a long weekend, Jenny asks me:

What are you a self-proclaimed expert at?

Well, I hate to brag, but right now you are reading the blog of perhaps the world’s foremost expert on do-it-yourself supercheap microwave popcorn, the ingredients for which include 1/3 of a cup of popcorn, a paper lunch bag, and a microwave. Salt, butter, etc., are optional.

It’s not a foolproof method — quality control of paper sacks can be pretty spotty, and they sometimes lack the necessary structural integrity. As with any form of microwave popcorn there is the risk of a hideously stinky mess if you fail to pay attention and let it burn. And yes, I could cheapen things up even more if I bought my kernels in bulk at Costco instead of getting store-brand sacks one pound at a time.

But still. For quick, cheap, DIY popcorn, I’m your guy.

What question did Jenny get from me?

13 Mar

Interview Across a Breakfast Table: What frightens me?

Jenny’s question for me today is one that I could easily answer in a not-so-serious way:

What frightens you?

But my answer is as serious as can be. What frightens me, more than anything, is the amount of poverty amid such wealth in the United States.

More to the point, I’m frightened by our collective failure to recognize — or at least to act on — the fact that poverty is the primary crisis facing America’s efforts to educate its youngest citizens:

The 21st century has sharply increased the proportion of parents who are unemployed, whose jobs do not pay enough to provide basic food, shelter, clothing and health care for their children, and/or whose immigrant status limit their capacity to navigate the education system and restrict them to a shadow economy.

This devastating reality demands a set of education reforms radically different from those on which policy has fixated of late. Without a set of supports that enable all students to acquire basic literacy, problem-solving and communications skills, kindergarten teachers must tailor their instruction to an ever-broader range of academic capacities and behavioral challenges. And too many students will be doomed from a very early age to remedial education and dim prospects of life success. Until we ensure that basic, preventable medical problems do not keep large numbers of students out of class and lack of food does not prevent them from focusing, effective teaching will become further out of reach. So long as we put school nurses, social workers and counselors on the “expendable” list when budgets are tight, teachers will shoulder more non-teaching burdens, and instruction will be impeded. In the absence of systemic, consistent after-school and summer enrichment, a growing number of students will lose much of what they gain during the day and over the school year, wasting taxpayer dollars and future talent.

Not only have we not addressed these realities, we have exacerbated them.

I can’t think of anything scarier than our inability to recognize the facts for what they are, or the consequences of not fixing the situation.

What question did I ask Jenny today?

12 Mar

Interview Across a Breakfast Table: By any (well, one) other name

Jenny’s question for the day:

If you were to change your first name, what would you change it to?

Earl.

My good buddy Bubba (not his real name) has called me that for years, so I’m already used to answering to it. And I used to have an olive green bowling shirt for the team from High’s Nursery in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, that I found in a New York City vintage shop with that name already embroidered on it.

Given those precedents, how could I pick anything else?

Want to see what question Jenny got from me?