How My Family Pantry Taught Me the Art of the Compromise

Legions of proud chips stand at attention, ready to serve the common human.

Walk down any chip aisle in grocery store anywhere in America, and what do you see? Well, chips, first of all. But after that? Sealed bags. Puffy, perfectly pressured plastic cocoons all set to the same measure of industry sealing standard – whatever that might be. We take these bags home, tear them open, and indulge in their salty, sweet, and barbequey innards until we’ve reached our fill. But afterwards? After the ideal seal has been torn asunder? How do we reseal our remaining bounty now that its uniform containment is compromised? And what does that say about us as snackers?

I’ve ruminated about this matter – perhaps too much for my own mental comfort. But that hasn’t stopped me from making some specific observations, and thus, tangible conclusions in my twenty-some-odd years as a snacker.

I was raised with chips galore – and with that, competing household philosophies on bag resealing. For the sake of convenient chronological progression, let’s start with the least structured method.

The Half-Heart:

The Half-Heart

A staple in the average American household – well, it could probably use a staple or several as well.

This is certainly one of the more popular chip-sealing techniques – if not most effective. Practitioners of the Half-Heart will dismissively vouch for this method, however, attesting to its ease and accessibility for further chip indulgence.

While some may argue that the Half-Heart increases the rate of chip decay and exposes chips to the risk of antfestation, Half-Hearters argue (and rightfully so in their case) that their chips weren’t long for this world anyway.  Despite its positives and negatives, this method is certainly plausible for the snacker who knows in their heart and stomach “No worries. I’ll be back soon.”


The Grip of Death:

Nothing can escape the gripocalypse

The Grip of Death is as close to the original packaging seal as possible: stalwart and succinct, this rigorous method offers peace of mind that you’ll maintain the freshest and most pest-free of snack bites, despite your bag looking like an angry Muppet face. (Note: there are internal folds within the dense roll-down here).

The Compromise:

Eh, good enough. I just want chips now.

My more reasonable approach to chip bag sealage than the other two – at least in my opinion. The Compromise offers both peace of mind and relatively quick access. While it lacks the strengths of both the Half-Heart and the Grip of Death, it doesn’t suffer from their weaknesses – laziness and neurosis respectively.


What are your own chip resealing methods? Feel free to comment as I’m always ready to learn a new chip-preservation technique!



Join me on my narrative musings of my travels to, during, and from my second AP grading journey in Tampa, FL!

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I suppose the trip really started the day before, on the highway, my 2007 Suzuki Reno sputtering and squelching down to a laborsome roll. The vainful revving cried all the signs of transmission trauma, and so rather than risk trying to press on, I pulled over and did the only reasonable thing that an at best moderately mechanically-minded college writing professor who had to be 1,300 miles away in Tampa in less than 24 hours could do: I called upon our Lord and Highway Savior, Triple-A.

One could find oneself questioning one’s sanity, packed in ‘old Joe’s’ tow truck along with his tools and drive-thru soda cups.

“I don’t care. But they track me anyways,” old Joe said, about as New Yawk as they come. He was an odd yet even more oddly appropriate character for a tow-trucker. Tattooed and white-bearded, with a lean frame of someone who had clearly started doing ‘real’ work at an age that most kids today spent working at convincing mom and dad to buy them a Nintendo Switch.

“Fifty-two years as a mechanic,” as old Joe put it, hacking and rubbing his Santaesque face mane.

“So you’re retired?” I asked, bouncing along in my seat.

“Once upon a time.”

“So this is just part-time.”

“Eh, started that way,” he said. “And here we are.”

“Well, I guess it’s good to stay busy.”

Old Joe glanced at me and winked. There was a warm twinkle in his glistening blue eyes, almost as if he might really be Kris Kringle’s long lost whatever. “You got a long way to go before you retire.”

Ain’t that the truth.

The Advanced Placement grading attracts a wide range of educators: from high school teachers to college profs, poets to bloggers, and all other manner of interesting, eclectic, and creative people in-between. Perhaps what we most share in common, however, is the drive for adventure: to journey some place far from home, for a distinct goal that we can explore beyond on our own spare time.

That and compensation for our work, of course.

Last year had been my first AP grading, and while it’s hard to pin down exactly what lessons I took away from that week – if any – one fact of modern life that I did confirm was that it’s far better to travel at abnormal hours than common ones.

‘Travel’ sucks. Anyone who touts how much ‘I love to travel’ on their OkCupid profile really means ‘I love to take a Xanax nap and wake up some undefinable time later in awesome places.’ Granted, we’ve come a long way from Oregon Trailing our way through droughts, and snake bites, and dysentery, but whom among us doesn’t wish an ever-easier time of it all? Shorter lines and quicker flights and more inches of legroom than your stretching limbs could ever dream of what to do with.

Well, while most of that is as near fantastical of a hope as finding ‘the one of your dreams’ by flaunting your travel exploits via online dating, there are some smaller, perhaps more practical steps one can take to make the least out of their travel. And scheduling a 6AM flight – like I did – might be the most effective of options within your control.

As such, I was able to spend a good part of the first day before our actual work began on the beach in Florida, about 40 minutes from downtown Tampa where we’d be confined for the next seven days or so grading. But not that first day of cloudy sun and fine white sand, and floating in the salty waves with deep breaths of “If this isn’t nice, what is?”

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While I may not have had as much time as I’d like for exploring, relaxing, etceteraing, I did have plenty of mental opportunities to reflect on my surroundings. For starters, Tampa feels too far south for its size – then again most Florida cities feel this way to me. But the few skyscrapers here stick out like sore glass thumbs from the flat former swamplands, drained but not entirely forgotten. You can feel the natural wet in the air, as it certainly feels you. Always wet. Always sticking. The whole scene wanting to return to muck and marsh, to suck apart the baking pavement, and stucco walls, and black-painted stormproof streetlights.

It feels like a shell here. Not a sad place, but one void of rodents and bugs and all other creatures that seem like they should be skirting, slinking, buzzing to survive. Gods know if I counted more than 7 birds within the city during my stay – to be more precise: four crows, two tiny little guys, a white gullish thing soaring overhead, and a chicken clucking about the brick side alleys of Ybor City – not surprisingly the most charming part of Tampa.

Overall it is an overtly human imprint on the land, directly reflecting the whims of the gulf coast environment even while trying to press it away. In the sun, the whole place brightens awake, caramel shingles and golden decos spanning the city. At least until the moody, moony clouds roll on in from the steamy waters to the west, fed since dawn, daily, by that same smiley oppressor, who’s really more like a plane of heat bearing down on your head rather than a single source of muggy light. But by work day’s end, that light is gone – vanished behind the very swirl it’s been stewing over the bay, from here all the way clear across to Mexico. These clouds turn Mordor-dark as the day draws on, the light breeze soon whips up like a siren of even more monstrous gale still to come. The rain strikes, fast and heavy to signal the workday’s end at 5:00pm, eager to play its part in nature’s ongoing war to reclaim this land from societal order. To dissolve all here that’s not green.

There aren’t very many green-colored buildings in Tampa. But I guess that’s true for just about every city.

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The grading factory crew!

Still, there’s plenty good with this place. From the fine fresh brews of Cigar City, to the wavily wondrous works of the Dali Museum across the bay, to icepops gone wildflavor. If only there were more time to explore all these and more – but grading is grading. Work is work. And so we labored, almost in sight of those swaying palms. [Click here for the full photo album]

There’s plenty more to say, but this seems like enough observational ranting for one post. What I will mention about the reading is in echo to my concluding sentiment following last year’s; that is, while it’s a hell of a lot of arduous work, it’s also a damn good time too.

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Will I be back in Tampa for next year’s AP grading? Good question. All I can think on that matter are the wise words of tow-truck Joe. I’m far from retired after all, and so my work future looks bright, even whenever and wherever the clouds roll in.

Thanks for taking some time to read a little about my AP grading journey. Feel free to share your own thoughts or any questions you might have about the event! Especially if you’re thinking about applying for next year!

Writerly Confessional

Sometimes it’s not a bad idea to pause to take stock of what words we actually understand and those that while we might have a hazy idea about their meanings, their actual definitions are often murky guesses at best.

I often see students employing the fairly rudimentary suspects within paper, after paper, after paper, and so on. Most commonly, their are the egregious examples of there’s that can butcher a sentence, and distract you’re reader from the intended purpose of whatever message your trying to relate. Point proven.

Before continuing, I should note that in no way do I mean to disparage my students’ writing abilities. On the contrary, I’m sure I’ve made/will make plenty of my own mistakes within this post. It’s easy as a professor to sometimes lose sight of how soul-crushingly terrifying it can be to have to ask for a definition in class or be called out in a paper by a tri-circle of bloody, blotty ink around a misused term. It’s easy as a professor-person to simply self-correct in the comfort of one’s own darkness.

In this sense I suppose that this is a gift, or payback, or simply an admission of understanding about how learning and growing starts by admitting that you don’t know everything, and that such confusion is perfectly fine as long as you’re willing to continue learning.

Anyway, there are the less obvious words whose meaning and usage are perhaps much more confusing and or unclear. Words that I semi-often hear on talk radio and read in news columns that have always – more or less – eluded me in their true meaning.

Should I simply look up these definitions to save myself the embarrassment? Duh. Yet here we are.  And I think this is an interesting exercise to compare what I’ve been able to cobble together out of the context of hearing and seeing these terms over and over and over again with whatever the hell they’re really supposed to mean. Surely my versions must be hilariously off-base in comparison with the correct “answers”, right?

Well, luckily for you, below I have listed ten words that I’ve spent far too much time wondering what in the hell they actually mean: first, my own patchwork interpretation. Then, what I’ve been able to find via some minor, long-overdue research. And finally, how to console my Joeisms with reality.

Ten Words I Should Probably Look Up But Have Always Been Too Lazy To (And Their Definitions):

“Zeitgeist” –

  • My definition: A fancy/academic way of identifying a cultural trend or ideal? Often heard said by fancy/academic folk on NPR who toss around the term as if we all obviously know this one. Also derived from German slang meaning “some sort of half-ghost, half-ghoul creature”
  • Actual definition: “the general intellectual, moral, and cultural climate of an era.” –
  • Closeness: Still think it sounds like a pretty baller German ghost-ghoul too.

“Flotsam” –

  • My definition: Shit (stuff) that floats.
  • Actual definition: Law. Such part of the wreckage of a ship or its cargo as is found floating on the surface of the sea.” –
  • Closeness: Fancy term for boat shit (stuff) that floats.

“Jetsam” –

  • My definition: Shit (stuff) that floats quickly?
  • Actual definition: “[Law.] Goods discarded from a ship and washed ashore; spec. such material thrown overboard in order to lighten a vessel.” –
  • Closeness: Well, if your ship is sinking, you’d probably want to jettison your shit (stuff) quickly rather than leisurely.

“Deus ex machina” –

  • My definition: Cool steampunk phrase when a pair of robots fall in love and together rebel against their enslaving human overlords.
  • Actual definition: “A power, event, person, or thing that comes in the nick of time to solve a difficulty; providential interposition, esp. in a novel or play.” –
  • Closeness: So…no robobellion? I actually kind of already knew this one, but I still think my definition wins.

“Bae” –

  • My definition: Too many definitions to define.
  • Actual definition: Too many definitions to list. So click here for the list.
  • Closeness: All I can say with confidence is that my french fries have not, are not, and never will be bae.

“Literally” –

  • My definition: I actually know this one too, but it gets tricky here as I can literally say (oops, I mean, write) that a great many people literally don’t know what “literally” literally means.
  • Actual definition: “In a literal, exact, or actual sense; not figuratively, allegorically, etc.” –
  • Closeness: I am literally right on this one, literally according to the definition.

“Happenstance” –

  • My definition: Sounds like a fancy coincidence. I once wrote in a story about a “randomstance” which my professor at the time loved given the context. Is a “happenstance” a “coincidence” that is more likely? Like how a “randomstance” is less common? Aren’t these all just “coincidences”?
  • Actual definition: “Something that happens by chance, an event or circumstance considered to be influenced by chance; chance, luck. Also: a coincidence.” –
  • Closeness: And I requote: “Also: a coincidence” ….

“Moniker” –

  • My definition: Sounds like “monkier” when I read it. I know it’s not. But still, gotta be more entertaining than whatever the real definition is.
  • Actual definition: “A name (esp. an assumed one); a nickname, epithet.” –
  • Closeness: Wait, but what if I’m acting monkier than my brother?

“Ennui” –

  • My definition: A race of elves from the first age of the Lord of the Rings.
  • Actual definition: “The feeling of mental weariness and dissatisfaction produced by want of occupation, or by lack of interest in present surroundings or employments.” –
  • Closeness: I’m starting to feel a tad ennui from this blog post…

“Raft” –

  • My definition: I keep seeing this used in news articles. Like “a new raft of sanctions”. I always thought that a raft was haphazard little boat one drifted on, but I guess it’s now an abstractish term too?
  • Actual definition: “A number of logs, planks, etc., fastened together in the water for transportation by floating” or “A large amount; a lot of something.”
  • Closeness: So, both? Yeah, not confusing at all.

Well, we made it. And will you look at that? Still kicking/wording! I’m interested to hear if you have any other interpretations, definitions, jokes-at-my-expense, etc. based on these words/phrases – or others! Please feel free to comment with such translations below! Never stop questioning; never stop learning.

The Art of the Shower Orange

*Disclaimer: This piece may contain what some consider to be TMI, as evident from the unorthodox title, which identifies the content within to contain both a “shower” and an “orange”*

Yes, I might be crazy. But “crazy” is a relative description, and I certainly enjoy investigating life’s seemingly odder notions. Consequently, when I heard an NPR story regarding a reddit craze loosely known as “the shower orange”, I had to do some hands on peels off research myself.

To peel or not to peel…that is “a” question. #investigativeface

Having been born in America’s largest orange producing state, I grew up loving the delicious fruit in all its incarnations, be they slices, juices, or flavored sweets. As such, when I heard about the shower orange phenomenon, it was orange game on.

Basically the story goes that noming on the delicious sun orbs while basking in humid mist is the best thing since…well, that actually sounds better than any sliced bread I’ve ever had. The NPR piece explains the trend in much more adult detail – even analyzing the science behind the seeming magic.

Unfortunately, I’m as much of a scientist as I am an orangeoisseur, but I am a detailed observer, and as such, am happy to share my own insights on this juicy experiment.

First thing’s first. You probably have to at least already like oranges to get anything useful out of this experience. If not, then I wouldn’t bother. Maybe try another fruit? I’m particularly looking forward to testing grapes or some other low-latitude tropical wonder berries. But I’m getting ahead of my produce.

The next step – and I can’t stress this enough – is to choose a GOOD orange. I was fortunate enough to find that mine contained quite quality material inside. Some fruits and subsequent fruit eaters, are not always so lucky. I could see mealy innards utterly destroying one’s already uneasy expedition into the fruit-hygiene realm. I happened to use a Florida Navel. I have no idea how a Blood Orange or, say, Tangelo might fare, but I can state without reservation that you’ll just want to make sure that you’ve got a fresh, tasty batch of sweet treats, whichever fruit family you so pick from.

Lighting is important. I typically shower with dimmer illumination to simulate the aura of a sauna. Not that I’ve ever been in a sauna, but it’s along the lines of what I imagine the mood of one to resemble. Anyway, there’s an unnerving itch when one steps into a laxly lit shower ready to devour a bright hand fruit. The elements just seem askew.

Time for things to change.

As such, I sacrifice my sweat lodge vibe for the sake of science, or oranges, or…whatever, and crank up the overhead glow. Ahh, that’s more like it. Standing with steamy streams trickling down my back, I look at the miracle of nature in my hand, and for the first time think, So what the hell do I do now?

Open it, duh. Yet for me this isn’t so simple. I practice a very stringent and strange yet consistent and effective orange slicing process. Basically I cut the damn thing into eight equal pieces and then trim off the inner pith. This system quickly results in slightly smaller but more devourable slices of juicy goodness.

No knife here now though. However good this might turn out, I am suddenly reminding myself of my just-now created no-shower-knife policy. Instead I dig my thumb into the tiny polar circle apparently known as the “pedicel” according to Google.

The casualties of shower orange.

Right away the fresh scent blooms within my humid cubicle – a foreign yet strangely welcome fruity fragrance. Though as soon as I become fully immersed within this luxurious aroma, a new challenge arises: what the f do I do with the rinds??

Fortunately my shower has a flat-bottom rack that apparently doubles just fine for orange waste storage. But I could see this being quite an issue if one doesn’t have a convenient surface placed out of water’s reach upon which to store their discarded produce. The last thing you’d want are rinds in your drain. Perhaps a plastic bag will suffice as well, but like most great battles, do take notes of what terrain you have to work with here, kids.

And so the bits of peel pile up until I have about half the mantle exposed. Mind you, this is quite unlike my normal utilitarian process of equal slicing. I am on new grounds, in more figurative ways than one. Still, I’ve come too far, and this orange looks too damn tasty. I bite into my first ever shower fruit.

And another bite…and another…

Yes, I think. Yes, this works.

Try not to get carried away kids… With great shower oranges come great shower orange responsibilities…

*Side note: I also enjoy a good shower beer, and or coffee from time to time, but that’s a whole other thing for another rant*

Interestingly, this turns out to be the most I’ve ever gotten out of an orange. Figuratively and literally. Maybe it’s the enjoyment of such contrastingly cold nourishment within my balmy, micro-steamworld. Or maybe the fact that I am left with no wasted collateral inner pith – the most efficient orange I’ve ever consumed. Just peels stacked and ready to be discarded. Any wayward extra juice? No muss no fuss!

Maybe it’s an amalgamation of all these factors. But whatever the case, I find the whole experience to be – and apologies in advance – quite “appeeling”.

Important lessons learned:

  1. Make sure you pick a GOOD quality orange;
  2. Atmosphere is important; turn up the lights to make it an orange party;
  3. Disposal is key – figure this out before ye enter;

Have suggestions/experiences with other shower fruits? I’m (sorta) (kinda?) interested in maybe (probably not really) what you have to say in the comments below!

Traveling (to class) Tales

RhetComp @ Stony Brook

Join our Writing and Rhetoric Program’s faculty in our flash non-fiction narratives about the most daunting challenges we’ve overcome to make it to class – a creative collaboration featuring Carolyn Sofia, MaryAnn Duffy, and Joseph Labriola.

“Commitment” – by Carolyn Sofia

Tmanwithpaperrunningwenty-five years ago I was sitting in the gardens at the Gran Hotel del Paraguay, a colonial, 19th-century hotel on the outskirts of Asuncion. Holding my soon-to-be, infant daughter, her dark curls resting on my shoulder, I whispered over and over, “Mbaé’chepa?” – Hello, how are you? – the only Guarani phrase I knew. A doctoral student at Stony Brook and a freeway flyer teaching composition at three different colleges on Long Island, I couldn’t afford to stay four months in Paraguay like other adoptive parents did. Instead, I visited for a week a few times to deal with court paperwork and to acquaint myself with the little doll who…

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Pokémon No?

“Braaaiiiinnnsssss…er, I mean: Buuuulbaaaasaurrrr…”

They’re among us: listing through the park, bursting into restaurants and stores in search of virtual sustenance. Yes, the zombie apocalypse is finally here – and although it’s not exactly the scene that AMC’s the Walking Dead might’ve pumped us up to anticipate, there are still some stark similarities (and differences) between the undead we know and love from T.V., and whatever-in-the-heck is happening throughout cities, towns, and neighborhoods across the world.

The pandemic I speak of is, of course, the Pokénomenon known as Pokémon Go. For those who either must’ve literally had their heads buried in the sand the past week, or who still aren’t entirely sure what a Pokémon is, has a really great breakdown on the whole matter, covering everything from the technical aspects to the actual game-play.

Pokémon characters can pop up almost anywhere!

Pokémon characters can pop up almost anywhere! At least while staring through your phone….

Essentially, Pokémon Go is an app/game. Your phone uses GPS to paint a cartoony grid of the land around you: streets, shops, terrain, etcetera – pretty normal stuff that you might see via any other app as you try to navigate your way around the real world. The magic comes in when you track down and find Pokémon at any given location. A Pokémon (short for ‘pocket monster’) is a make believe creature with its own skills, attributes, etcetera that you can catch in the wild and then trade or battle with other players.

They’re not actually there, of course. They simply appear as a picture on your phone screen – though this is where the line between reality and imaginary begins to get both interesting and murky.

Gods, this an old person thing to say, but I remember when I was a boy, playing the original Game Boy Pokémon games in the late 1990s. Times were simpler then. There were two versions: red and blue, each containing slight variations in game-play and available Pokémon in order to get parents to buy their children the same game twice over. Pretty brilliant. The type of marketing savvy that has helped sustain Nintendo for the past 50 years as a titan of the video game industry despite their mammoth corporate rivals: SONY and Microsoft.

Pokémon Go is merely the next step in the continuing timeline of innovative gaming. But here we enter new, obscure territory where interactive gaming is being projected onto the real world, actually motivating people to get up and move around. And so what does this all mean? What’s the next step after this?

I like to think that the late, great Kurt Vonnegut would’ve had an essay or several to say something about the fact that I can now be minding my own business in a bar or a restaurant and somebody might at any moment rush up to me, their phone raised to capture a creature perched on my shoulder that seems so very real to its hunter, even if I might be oblivious to the entirety of the event.

The truth of the matter is that I’m not sure what to make of the most quickly successful app in tech history. I’m not sure where this is all headed or why.

What I do know is what I see, walking through the park on a balmy July evening. There’s hundreds of them. Phones raised, heads drooped. Mostly kids. 13-20somethings. The park’s usually empty after dark, certainly by midnight, but not tonight. Maybe not ever again.

Maybe that’s good?

What I see is people. Some alone. Some in pairs. Groups of four, or five, or six, or seven. People sitting in lawn chairs and on towels. Walking with backpacks. People holding hands. Black people, white people, Latino people. Not fighting. Not drinking or smoking or defacing public property.

I hear people laughing.

I seem out of place. Taking my seat on an empty chair. Neither judging nor asking. Just observing.

They hardly seem to notice me as they drift around, the occasional glance more a curious wonder of a Pokéless anomaly among them, before turning back to their own world.

They don’t seem to notice the moon, clear and cornbread crisp through the humid air. They don’t seem to notice the dots of light surrounding it, like Mars. I can tell this is Mars because I have an app. The ‘Sky Map’ app. It’s free, just like Pokémon Go. It’s a miracle of modern science: a chart of the sky and heavens that our ancestors – from cavemen to our own parents – could have only dreamt, if they’d been crazy enough to. A delusion in the mind of dreamers, here now in my hand.

Hmm...looks almost Pokéballish from a celestial point of view. What wonders are awaiting inside...

Hmm…looks almost Pokéballish from a celestial point of view. What wonders are awaiting inside…

They don’t seem to notice Mars. A whole other planet. A whole other planet ranging above our heads. The great rust giant. The God of war. Perhaps there’s no Pokémon up there – yet.

They don’t seem to be talking about the troubles of our own planet. Of jihads and droughts and chaos and coups. They talk about teams. Team Valor. Team Mystic. They meet others who talk about the same. They high-five and cheer, or boo and jeer. Perhaps training them for their future. Team red. Team blue. The lines are drawn in the sand as the tide burps and belches ever nearer.

Yet their thoughts are still turned downward, onto their screens. Onto Poliwhirls rather than poly-Gods in the skies above. Who knows what the future will bring. Inside their game. Inside our game. Who knows what good can come of their play.

Who knows what we can accomplish with the power in our hands. When we talk. When we play and work together.

Let’s hope we find out.