Dan Valentine – Back to Nashville

May 20, 2010

By Dan Valentine

Back to Nashville and my first night homeless. I’ve got four hours to kill until the doors of Operation Stand Down open.

Lots of time on my hands. What to do? I pace up and down. I stomp my feet. It’s cold. I mean, COLD! My clothes are sopping wet from the sleet and the cop-escorted stroll. The wind is blowing. I watch an empty beer can chase a skittering Big Mac wrapper across the empty parking lot. A lone bird flies by in the night. The cop car cruises by, oh, so slowly ever so often. Just checking. I pace up and down. I stomp my feet. I curse under my breath. Sheeeesch! Fcccccccck! Criss’almighty! I’m chilled to the bone.

I think about my beloved bestest friend in the entire universe.

She’d been homeless!! In New York. Rode the subway nights. When I met her, in D.C., she was staying with a friend from Florida. They’d attended the University of Florida together. She had no hair! Shaved bald as a billiard ball, as they say. Punk as they get. Tough cookie! But beautiful!

In New York, she got by working “shit jobs”. Her words. One was dressing up as a clown and handing out brochures for some coming attraction. A soon-to-be circus in town. Can’t remember.

At one job, at closing, the manager, a male, said he’d give her a ride home. He drove to an isolated, abandoned strip mall, ill-lit, parked the car. Scary stuff. She took out a knife and started slashing the interior. Overhead, seats, door paneling. He fumbled his way out of the car and ran for his life. Very lucky guy! She’s a tough cookie. A patrol car finally came along and the officer gave her a ride home.

We hit it off from the beginning. I made her laugh. She made me smile.

She moved in with me. I had just bought a condominium in Alexandria, VA. One bedroom. I was working for Hatch. Over time, her hair grew. My dad would have loved her. She resembled Marilyn Monroe. Everyone thought so. Friends called her Norma Jean. In D.C., there’s a tall brick building with a huge mural of Marilyn painted on. We caught a cab once. The driver passed by it and pointed it out to her. “Look. Look. That’s you. That’s you.”

My mom met her a few years later at a Thai Restaurant. My friend ordered for us. My mom and I didn’t touch a bite. We had never had Thai food before. Now, I can’t live without it.

After meeting her, I asked my mom what she thought of her. She said, “She’s perfect!”

I said, “She’s the most beautiful woman in D.C.” And she was.

My mom agreed. “I studied her every feature,” but added, “She’s more than beautiful. She’s nice.”

And that she is. She gave me my moral compass. I didn’t have one before I met her. She opened my eyes. She gave me my love for dogs. I’m a vegetarian now (when I’m not desperately hungry). She gave me my present political and religious views. She believes if this is it–life, that is (and that could very well be!)–we have to help each other get through it.

She spends much of her time saving bugs from drowning in our pool.

We’ve seen much of the world together. After D.C., we moved to Tribeca in lower Manhattan. (The Twin Towers were only a stone’s throw away.) We’ve traveled together to Amsterdam (many times), Paris, Nice (where she sunbathed topless), Cologne, Monte Carlo.

Here in the U.S.: New Orleans, Minneapolis, Des Moines, the list goes on and on.

Once, we drove from Iowa City to Oxford, Ms., to New Orleans to Biloxi to Mobile to Tampa. In between, in the middle of the night, semi-lost and famished, we stopped at a little backwoods market, at the end of a dark swamp road in northern Florida. The place was run by two very old women. Scary-looking, a tooth or two missing. The walls were plastered with photos, magazine covers, newspaper clippings, and movie posters of Johnny Depp. We picked up a couple of sodas and sandwiches, something for the dogs (we had three then), and went to the register and one or the other said, very slowly: “Do. You. Like. Johnny. Depp?”

Both of us looked at each and we were both thinking the same thought: Gawd, are we in trouble! Wrong answer and we could end up at the bottom of the swamp. What to reply? We were thinking of the dogs. We didn’t want them to end up sandwich meat.

We told the truth. “We love Johnny Depp.” She smiled, pleased, and we went on our way.

We’ve separated from time to time, to do what one or the other has to do. She went back to school in Florida. Got her masters in philosophy. Got accepted to a top-ten university in the mid-west. Got her Ph.d. (Her thesis was picked up by a publisher and has since been translated into German.) She speaks Latin. She’s a member of Mensa. She wants to swim the English Channel. She swims daily four hours day, without stopping.

I could go on and on.

Looking back, the only truly good thing I did when I had lots of money was help her to get her degree, and then only a tiny bit.

Standing at the entrance way of Operation Stand Down, freezing, lonely as hell, scared half to death, shaking, I thought of my friend. And I wrote. Words to a tune in my head. A song.

Most or all lyrics by themselves without music read flat. But here goes anyway:

(c) 2009 by Daniel Valentine

When clouds, amassing, grumble and groan
And drench, in passing, the cobblestone–
Dripping head to toe,
And with blocks to go,
Thoughts of you as buckets fall
Warm body, heart, mind, soul, and all
With what I call

When winds, mos’ bitter, whistle and moan
And leaves and litter are tossed and blown–
Looking up to see
Birds on wire flee,
Thoughts of you as gales brawl
Warm body, heart, mind, soul, and all
With what I call

Whenever the weather is stormy,
Thoughts of you seem to warm me.

Tho’ it has been a while or so
Since I saw you last,
Thoughts of you bring a smile, a glow;
And the spell you cast–
Call it whatever you will–
Warms me as if it is still July
And you are here close nearby.

When lines are down, both power and phone,
With folk and town both chilled to the bone–
Huddled by a door
Of a vacant store,
Thoughts of you–snow, sleet, or squall–
Warm body, heart, mind, soul, and all
With what I call

A little before seven in the morning, veterans began appearing. An older gent in a wheelchair. Another with a limp. Young, old, and in between. All in great need of help. A counselor with a key opened the door. We all walked inside. Coffee!

Editor’s note:  I’m running behind in getting Dan’s stuff moved from comments to posts.  I’ll catch up soon.  Read ’em where you find ’em.

Watch my presentation or I’ll shoot this dog . . .

May 20, 2010

National Lampoon once ran a cover of a nice, spotted mutt, tongue out, looking sideways at a pistol pointing at its head.  There was a sort of a caption:  “If you don’t buy this magazine, we’ll kill this dog.”

That’s one way to try to boost circulation!  I first saw the magazine on the rack in a small pharmacy in Colorado Springs, across the street from Colorado College, between rounds of the Colorado College Invitational Debate Tournament.  Being short of cash and in sore need of eye drops, I looked at the magazine but put it back on the rack.  The woman at the cash register watched me carefully.  When I got to the register, she said, “You know, they’ll do it, too!  They’re just the sort of people who will kill that poor dog!”

(I imagine that woman has led Colorado Springs’ dramatic move to the right in politics.)

The publishers got that woman’s attention, didn’t they?

Cartoon by Mark Goetz, on the failure to heed Edward Tufte

Comes an article in The Scientist, “Pimp your PowerPoint.” It’s a news story based on a book by Michael Alley.

In the middle of the 19th century blackboards were all the rage. According to Pennsylvania State University engineering communication professor Michael Alley, it was common for universities and research institutions to proudly advertise that they had the only slate writing board in a 100-mile radius. Scientific lectures became more engaging than they’d ever been.

More than 150 years later, there’s still room for improvement. “People are not anywhere close to tapping the potential that a PowerPoint presentation offers,” Alley says. “We have a tool that can do an incredible amount, and people just waste it.” Who hasn’t been lulled into a somnolent state by some well-intentioned scientist presenting his research to a captive audience by reading a seemingly endless stream of bullet points?

Any media, done well, can be wonderful.  P. Z. Myers’ paean to Prof. Snider and his color chalk artworks reminds us that even a chalkboard can be a place of art, in the eye and hands of someone who gives thought to the work and practices the skills necessary to communicate well.  Looking around my classroom today, I note that better than half the whiteboard space features paper maps held to the board with magnets (which the kids like to steal).

Sometimes a flipchart is all you have, and sometimes a flipchart is all you really need — again, with thought to the ideas to be presented and a bit of polishing of the skills.

The piece in The Scientist relates useful ideas to help somebody who wants to make a better, less sleep-inducing, communicative PowerPoint (or better, maybe, KeyNote) presentation.

Unplug, think, and write
According to Galloway, using PowerPoint to make a great presentation starts with powering down the laptops and writing out an outline on index cards or a legal pad. “People have to shut off their computer and go away as they’re writing their PowerPoint presentation,” he says.

Establish your assertion
Alley says that he starts planning each slide by writing down a single sentence stating the idea he wants the audience to take away. “You have defined what it is you need to support that statement,” he says. “That’s where it starts.” Alley adds that the sentence should only take one or two lines, should consist of only 8–14 words, and should appear in 28-point font when inserted in the final PowerPoint presentation.

Assemble the visual evidence
Let the assertion sentence for each slide guide your decision as to which visuals should accompany it. Use “explanatory images”—not decorative or descriptive images—to support each assertion, says Joanna Garner, assistant professor of psychology at Pennsylvania State University. When describing the context or methods of your research, photos and movies are ideal pieces of evidence; when presenting your results, elements like graphs, tables, or charts (appropriately highlighted to emphasize key points) will do the trick.

Read more: Pimp your PowerPoint – The Scientist – Magazine of the Life Sciences http://www.the-scientist.com/templates/trackable/display/article1.jsp?type=article&o_url=article/display/57186&id=57186#ixzz0oSXiXCT6

Two things you gotta have first:  Something to say, and a desire to say it well.


The Craft of Scientific Presentations: Critical Steps to Succeed and Critical Errors to Avoid, by Michael Alley, Springer-Verlag, Berlin, 2003. $39.95.

Presentation Zen Design: Simple Design Principles and Techniques to Enhance Your Presentations, by Garr Reynolds, New Riders Publishing, 2010. $31.49.

slide:ology, by Nancy Duarte, O’Reilly Media, Sebastopol, Calif., 2008. $34.99. (She’s got a blog, too.)

The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, by Edward Tufte, Graphics Press, Cheshire, Conn., 1983. $40.00.

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