Cute Coincidence On Today’s Puzzle Page

The syndicated New York Times crossword today is from July 4 (hence the theme, if you see it), but what really struck me was this odd bit of synchronicity: what are the odds that the crossword and one of the cartoons next to it would both use the word “sauté?”


My mistake at 37 across is because the clue “Country singer Tillis” initially made me think of 90s star Pam, she of “Maybe It Was Memphis.” But this made the answers going through it wrong, so I had to look it up. Turns out her father, Mel, was also a country singer. So I learned something today!

The $1 Study Bible

I’d been looking around for study Bibles to supplement my scripture study when I was at Alexander Library on Wednesday and saw The NIV Archaeological Study Bible on the shelves.  It looked really good–tons of color maps and articles–but I didn’t check it out at the time.

I kept thinking about it, though, and on Friday I was near Aliante and stopped at their library, hoping they had the same one there. As soon as I walked in, I faced their racks of used books for sale.  The first one that jumped out at me was The NIV Archaeological Study Bible.

It was in perfect condition and was on sale for one dollar.  The cover price was $49.99.

I took the hint and bought it.

Serendipity Strikes

I’ve been in the mood for some foreign film lately, so I decided that today I would watch a couple.  I picked the Vietnamese film, The Vertical Ray of the Sun (2000), and the American-made but French-language film, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007).

Strangely, both movies featured the same American rock song: 1969’s “Pale Blue Eyes,” by the Velvet Underground.

What are the odds of that?  That two non-English movies would use the same old American song in their soundtrack?  That I would pick both of those movies to watch?  That I would watch both of those movies on the same day?  That I would be familiar with the song and recognize it in both films?

And yet, here we are.

Below is the opening scene of Vertical Ray.  YouTube doesn’t have a clip for the Diving Bell scene–that one was just instrumental anyway.  Then here it is with lyrics.





Serendipitous Relevance and American Lit

I like to show how the books we study in school have left a lasting legacy to contemporary society.  If nothing else, when students complain how boring and outdated the books are, I can either try to elicit some open mindedness by showing them that P. Diddy consciously imitates The Great Gatsby, or I can at least argue that their recalcitrance is in opposition to the popular culture with which they’re enthralled. 

This year has been an especially good one for that.  I started the year off with The Scarlet Letter, just as a teen comedy loosely based on it, Easy A, hit theaters.  When we read Moby Dick, I was able to show them the recent Blackberry ad about the novel (many students told me that the ad made much more sense afterwards!).  We finished Huckleberry Finn last month and now, as we review the semester, there’s a national controversy brewing about a new, censored version of the text. 

Near the end of this year, when I try to wrestle some Faulkner into my students, I’ll be able to tell them that Hollywood hunk James Franco is directing a new film of Faulkner’s novel, As I Lay Dying

Now if only I could find a more recent reference for Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea than a second season episode of The Simpsons

Someone Wants Me To Read This Book

Two weeks ago, I browsed through the Sunday paper, which included an article reviewing Pat Conroy’s new book, My Reading Life.  It sounded good, so I put it on hold at the library.  I picked it up yesterday and read the first few chapters last night while my last class took their final exam. 

Conroy’s book is very good so far, partly because he writes so enthusiastically about his favorites, including Anthony Powell’s 12-volume series A Dance to the Music of Time.  It sounds like a beautiful glorification of British culture. 

That impressed me enough, but earlier today I checked in with my favorite literary blog, A Commonplace Blog, which I hadn’t looked at for a while.  The second entry down?  A note about A Dance to the Music of Time, the first volume of which is currently available free from the University of Chicago. 

In all my years of reading, I’d never even heard of these books until yesterday.  Now, I come across two references in less than 24 hours. 

OK, Universe, I get it.  I got the first volume.  We’ll see what all the fuss is about.

Teachers Are Famous

It still never fails to impress me just how often I see kids from school out in “the real world,” or how often our lives intersect.  Just in the last two months:

  • A girl I had in a class two years ago passed me in the hall at school recently and told me that she had just found out that I go to church in the same ward as her sister.  Small world!
  • My mom, who is working with the census, met a young woman at a training meeting who, after she learned my mom’s last name, told her that she’d had an English teacher with that name.  When she learned that it was my mom she was talking to, she got so excited she had to call a friend to tell her that she had just met Mr. Huston’s mom.
  • In January, I got an email from a woman who said she’d had me for a class at Las Vegas High School eight years ago.  She said that I probably wouldn’t remember her, but she and her husband had been looking at UNLV’s web site to find someone to help her husband with his graduate school application, and she had seen my name and emailed me.  I responded that I did remember her: she had given me a graduation announcement.  I think I still have it. 
  • Last week my wife went by a drive thru to pick us up a snack for date night after taking the babysitter home.  When she handed her debit card to the cashier, he looked at it and said, “Huston?  Like Mr. Huston, the English teacher?”  When she told him that I’m her husband, he lit up and started talking about my class. 

And that’s all in the last two months.  Things like this happen to teachers all the time.  I’ve run into students and former students at stores, the library, restaurants, an ice skating rink, the mall, events at my kids’ schools, and once at a musical on the Strip.  Two years ago a pair of kids from one of my classes noticed me in a huge picture of extended family from a reunion that was hanging in their uncle’s house–apparently we’re related. 

I live twenty minutes away from the school where I now work–well outside our attendance zone–but last month as I walked out the front door to my car, a voice came from a group of boys across the street, playing basketball as these friends often do, saying, “Mr. Huston?”  A young man I’d had in a class a couple of years ago just happened to be friends with the boy across the street, and was over to shoot hoops when I’d walked out. 

Being a teacher seems to encourage serendipity.

Fortuitous Serendipity

Lately I’ve been thinking about Frank Herbert’s Dune.  I can’t believe I still haven’t read the ultimate science fiction masterpiece.  Last week I checked it out of the library but, overwhelmed that I’ve bitten off more than I could chew with what I’ve currently got open and bookmarked, took it back with a heavy heart this afternoon.  As I dropped off the book, I casually perused the used book cart nearby, seeing…an old paperback printing of Dune, in perfect condition and on sale for 25¢.  Recognizing the cosmos speaking to me when I hear it, I scrounged up the quarter and put Dune that much higher on my to-do list.

Life is good.

Serendipity In Action!

I find that life is sweeter when we actively court simple joys by looking out for them and then appreciating them with the honor of being recorded.  Two recent instances of sublime, blissful, fortuitous coincidences:

1.  A woman in Las Vegas moves temporarily to Australia.  She has her mail forwarded to a friend here.  One item is a magazine for mothers called Cookie.  The woman apparently doesn’t need her magazines kept, and the friend has no use for it.  The friend happens to work at my school, and figured my wife might like it.  She gives me the current issue for her. 

I flip through it a bit before putting it in my bag, and randomly open to a page with a few book reviews in the margins.  One review is a little blurb about a new book sequel called The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey.  It sounds interesting. 

I check the website for my favorite library, and find that they have the original on the shelf.  The Mysterious Benedict Society is about a gifted child who passes a weird test and goes undercover to spy on a bizarre, elite school.  I put it on hold and pick it up soon.  I start the first few pages, but then my daughter picks it up and starts to devour it. 

I pick it up on April 23, 2008, and notice that the stamp inside the cover shows that the library recieved it on April 24, 2007–exactly one year before my daughter started reading it.

She finished it in three days and I hope to continue it soon.  She loved it and wants to read the new sequel.  I’m anxious to read it also. 

And all because a woman moved to Australia.  :)

2.  Every Spring and Summer the Rainbow library in Las Vegas sponsors a series of jazz concerts.  For the last few years, I’ve offered extra credit to students in my classes if they come out to one of these great shows.  (I figure one of the best things I do as a teacher is to get a dozen or two teenagers to go to a library on a Saturday night and listen to jazz!)

This last Saturday was a fantastic show by students and faculty from CSN.  I was out there with my two youngest kids.  Several students came by to say “Howdy.”  Others walked by and didn’t seem to recognize me. 

One student came out with his dad and as they were looking for me, the dad noticed a guy on stage playing a horn solo.  It was his godfather, whom he hadn’t seen in ten years.  They stuck around and after the show went over to have a reunion. 

Families are brought back together because an English teacher has a habit of going to jazz concerts.