Tacit Endorsement #5

I’m a critic by training and by nature, so with most things I encounter I am very quick to identify the most despicable bits. The Tacit Endorsement series is an attempt to buck my own trend. Here I try to identify some things I — ahem — enjoyed. This Special Double Issue covers two full weeks’ worth of stuff I didn’t hate.  

1. ModPo

I am enrolled in a MOOC. This is kind of a big deal, seeing as how I’m a college teacher of the old fashioned “face-to-face” variety and the argument could be made that MOOCs are a threat to my livelihood. At the very least that they are a threat to all the fundamental beliefs I hold about how and why I do what I do. No big deal, right? I was rather relieved when my first attempt at taking an online course proved to be a disaster. But this time is different. I’m taking Al Filreis’s Modern & Contemporary American Poetry class offered for free by the University of Pennsylvania via Coursera. And it is good. Really good. And not just because the instructor and the material are outstanding, but because the course is designed to distill the exciting essence of a small, discussion-based seminar and translate that into a format that allows tens of thousands of people to feel like they’re part of a real community of learners engaged in rich academic dialogue. And they feel this way because they are. It’s not just about transmission of information; ModPo, as it is called by its fans, prioritizes that sense of connection that MOOC detractors believe can’t be replicated online.

That I might enjoy this class, let alone learn something from it, was, at first, one of my greatest fears about trying it. But now, to the contrary, I’m finding the course to be really invigorating and I’m beginning to think differently about my own practices in teaching those students who are fortunate enough to have access to the brick-and-mortar college experience sold by my institution. Interestingly, some of the ideas about democracy and inclusion discussed in ModPo through our (yes, our — that’s how inclusive and interactive it feels) close readings of Walt Whitman would be just as relevant for the discussions about the course and its promise of open access. So meta. 

The registrar’s office at the college I work for just sent the email they send this time every semester, reminding instructors to double check the updated rosters and kick out of our rooms any students who aren’t officially enrolled. This means I cannot invite you to join the rich discussion taking place in the class I teach. I can, however, invite you to join in the discussion on ModPo. And I think that’s exactly what Walt would want me to do.  

2. What Does The Fox Say

Video: What Does the Fox Say? from Ylvis. For best results, watch daily. While no doubt this video is old news in the world of internet virality, it’s been such a comforting presence these past two weeks that I’d be remiss not to mention it here. I can’t emphasize enough how much I do not hate this video. 

3. The Bumpen Grinder at Pick Me Up Cafe

“A garlicky spread slathered on a french baguette, topped with red & green peppers, eggplant, onions, tomatoes & a melty provolone.” For best results, eat weekly. I saw Rahm at Pick Me Up once, and I’m told this is what he was having. But just so we’re perfectly clear: it is the sandwich, not the mayor, that has escaped my ire. 

4. GrubHub

I finally tried using GrubHub, the aggressively advertised app that lets you order take-out from your phone. That is, without using the phone part of your phone. I think the reason I kept putting off trying GrubHub is because I knew it would change everything. I was right. The world is new again. 

5. ShirleyTube

Six months ago, Shirley Bassey performed Goldinger at the Oscars. Thanks to the magic of YouTube, when that performance came up in casual conversation this week, I could go back and watch it. Five or six times.

What’s more, I could then go watch Shirley Bassey perform the same song in 1967. 

Do you realize YouTube is only, what, eight years old? Talk about changing everything. There are plenty of dreadful things on YouTube, but Dame Bassey is not one of them. 

6. Calories

At the end of a 23-mile training run, I was promptly rewarded with a freshly grilled veggie burger and a can of BudLight. One of the neat things about running ridiculous distances is that everything tastes amazing right at the end. Especially grapes and pretzels, but also freshly grilled veggie burgers. Here’s a surprise: a can of BudLight still tastes exactly like a can of BudLight. All the endorphins and [insert some bit of sciencey runner lore] in the world cannot fix it. 

7. Clue

Thanks in part to the circulation of Adam Vary’s BuzzFeed article  exploring the origins of the film Clue and explaining how the board-game-based movie went from flop to fan favorite, I found myself watching it again last week. What better way to recover from a BudLight, er, I mean, a 23-mile run? This film is a treasure. 

8. So Delicious Dairy Free Minis Neapolitan Sandwiches

A frozen dessert treat weighing in at 90 calories and claimed by its makers to be the “perfect snack.” I prefer to think of them as “a perfectly reasonable breakfast.” 


9. ManMosas

A gray and rainy Sunday afternoon made the final day of this year’s Lakeview East Festival of the Arts the saddest thing ever. I don’t mean “sad” as in “kinda pathetic and lame.” I mean “sad” as in “I was holding back tears.” An endless line of stalls made of white plastic tarps filled with fancy art is all fun and games only until it starts raining. Then people get sad. And wet. Certainly no one wants to buy fancy art when they are sad and wet. This makes the people trying to sell the art extra sad. And it may make their art wet, which makes everyone sadder still. Then they start doing sad things like packing up and going home early, or covering their fancy art with plastic wrap, or just standing there being sad. Fortunately for all, the Lakeview East Festival of the Arts is very near a bar called Rocks, and on Sundays Rocks sells $5 ManMosas. What is a $5 ManMosa? Why, it’s a pint glass filled with ice, orange juice, and champagne, topped with Grand Marnier and mixed with some kind of weird masculinity issues. For five dollars. It turns art fest frowns upside down. And, omg, was that Top Chef’s Sarah Grueneberg sitting at the next table? I think that it was. Swoon. 

10. Urban Vegan Orange Chicken

I don’t want to talk about how much I ate at the VeganMania event at the Broadway Armory. Nor do I want to spoil the fun and reveal all the latest trends in witty anti-meat t-shirts and bumper stickers. But I will say this: the plate of orange chicken from Urban Vegan made me very happy indeed. I suspect I will think fondly about that orange chicken (or, “chicken”) every time I walk by a Panda Express. Which is to say, quite often. (And, what’s this? It looks likes Urban Vegan orange chicken can be summoned via GrubHub. Oh no.) The only disappointing thing about VeganMania was the lack of beer. Beer is usually (though not always) vegan, and it would have been a great complement to the orange chicken. And to the barbecued tempeh. And to the diary-free mac & cheese. 

Oh, I was also a teensy bit disappointed that, though she is a vegetarian, Dame Shirley Bassey was nowhere to be found in the lineup of featured vegetarian musical performances at the event. Maybe next year.  

11. Space Invaders

Among my favorite reads of the week was this rant on Slate about why you should never, ever type two spaces after a period. I love this because it expresses something I feel deeply. I love it because, when shared on my Facebook Wall, the article prompted the most contentious debate that space has ever hosted. In response, one Friend then shared this startlingly comprehensive rejoinder tracking the lies and myths that otherwise reputable typographers and grammarians are likely to cite when making their ultimately irrational case for the singe space. Another Friend posted this. That my friends and Friends alike should have at the ready not only strong opinions on this weighty matter, but also thoughtful resources to share in support of those opinions, made me love them all the more.   

12. Guildhall

A tasty dinner at Guildhall in The Village of Glencoe. Why Glencoe? See below. Guildhall’s space is really cool; it’s sort of airy-industrial, the kind of place that looks sturdy enough for sitting around and plotting a revolution (the steak knives look like switchblades), but charming enough to host tea with the ladies (it is Glencoe, after all). Think Martha Stewart’s potting shed. In SoHo. The Farm to Bowl Salad was lovely; the Baked Ratatouille was delicious, and just as elegantly rugged as the setting. 

13. The Old Man and the Old Moon

Speaking of elegantly rugged: The Old Man and The Old Moon by PigPen Theatre Co., at Writers Theatre in Glencoe. What a magical thing. The show strikes a remarkable balance between the sophisticated and the playful, between the delicate and the DIY. (In this respect, its vibe is not unconnected to that of Guildhall, making me very curious about the aesthetic sensibilities of Glencoe in general). Imagine Mumford & Sons tucking you in and telling you a bedtime story while improvising shadow puppets as they spin their fable out further and further. Really, really beautiful.