Summerland

by Michael Chabon. It’s been a while since I had to stay up past my bedtime to finish a book. Summerland was a nice breath of fresh air though my brain, a good way to welcome in the spring. Chabon’s first children’s novel doesn’t quite have the breadth of Kavalier and Clay, but it has inventiveness to spare. I didn’t find it as delightful as Haroun and the Sea of Stories, but it was fun, witty, and pulled me along for the ride.

Unlike Neil Gaiman, who’s Ragnarok-inspired American Gods delighted me with its innovative moderization of ancient pantheons, Chabon conflates the Native American Coyote with Loki, conjures up a mournful She-Sasquatch, and adds a healthy dose of English folk magic as well. A good original fantasy is beholden to no particular mythos, and Chabon picks and chooses his cultural references with gleeful abandon. Part of the joy for me as an adult reader was picking out these folkloric references.

The only downside in my opinion was that the whole book was about baseball. Everyone (giants, werefoxes, and Coyote himself) plays baseball, and I’m just not a baseball fan. Perhaps it’s an even stronger endorsement of the book that I liked it despite its obsession with our national game.

I’m now re-motivated to look at some of my old plays, including A Head For Ganesh to see if I can whittle down the lumpiness therein. There’s a world of difference between a novel and a play, but they both try to tell a story, and in this case, both in a magical way.

advice via ms. randall

Before I rant, a little background. Before becoming my 6th grade homeroom teacher (go team Supernova!) at Urbana Middle School (neé Urbana Junior High), Ms. Randall was an elementary school teacher. While driving out of the teacher’s parking lot in her minivan one afternoon, she hit a child who was careening down the sidewalk in a bicycle. The child was not wearing a helmet and died from the impact. All of this had a profound impact on Ms. Randall — as an educator of children this was about the worst thing that could happen. And so Ms. Randall became a helmet evangelist. It wasn’t that she claimed the child was at fault for not wearing a helmet, but she tried to impress on her audiences that the world is a dangerous place for bicyclists and that we should always wear helmets to mitigate serious injuries. And not soft-shell helmets either, but hard shell helmets that passed stringent crash-test requirements.

Of course, we all thought she was a bit of a nutter, not because she thought helmets were a good idea, but because she was so evangelical about it, and for several other quirks which some of use attributed to the shock of the accident. I suppose that her message must have sunk in though, because I am filled with an irrational rage at Berkeley bikers who don’t wear helmets. Much of this has to do with these bikers’ complete and utter disregard for traffic rules such as right-of-way, one-way streets, stop signs, and yes, even traffic lights. There is a definite positive correlation between lack-of-helmet and this kamikaze approach to city roadways. Perhaps the helmet keeps their brains from sloshing around too much so they can remember traffic laws.

As an aside, let me mention what these confusing traffic laws are: bikes are like any other vehicle. They must stop at stop signs, yield the right of way, and not go the wrong way down one-way streets. I regularly see bikes cruise through busy 4-way stops without even pausing or acknowledging the cars in the cross-direction, dodging though red-lights if there is no oncoming traffic, and cruising the wrong way down one-way streets, occupying an entire lane no less.

The bikes act as if they own this town, and it’s time to stop. I often bike to school, but there’s a line that has to be drawn between making a statement and being stupid. You don’t convince people to start riding their bikes more by acting like arrogant suicidal assholes. If you don’t know how to downshift when you come to an intersection, learn. If you get too tired from stopping and starting, get stronger. And for god’s sake, wear a fucking helmet before some motorist splatters your brains across the asphalt.

Thank you, Ms. Randall.