When Even #FML Won’t Suffice

I don’t listen to many podcasts, but the one that does make my iPod is from The Moth, which hosts regular “story slams” around the country. Basically, interesting people get up on stage and tell interesting stories. And then The Moth goes and turns their stories into podcasts.

I was listening to one of their podcasts today. It’s by a man named Ed Gavagan, who designs furniture for a living. But he tells a story — and I’ve embedded it below — that defies anything you’ve ever seen hashtagged with #FML.

It’s an amazing story. Take 15 minutes out of your day and listen to it.

A Brief Blog Maintenance Update

I’ve just installed Apture on this blog, which means that many of the links on danoshinsky.com are going to appear differently. So if you see a little rectangle next to a link, it means that you won’t be redirected to another page. Instead, a little pop up window will appear that allows you to view whatever it is I’m trying to reference — more than likely, it’s probably a Bill Raftery YouTube video or a Flickr link — without leaving the page.

The Management

Very Brief Thoughts on the Modern Literary Canon.

Tonight, in the process of cleaning out my basement, I found a stack of notebooks from previous semesters. In one notebook, I stumbled across an essay I’d written to no one in particular, in which I argue that the standards for defining the modern literary canon have changed. Mostly, it’s an essay about why my mother hates “Moby Dick,” and I don’t really feel like reprinting the entire thing here, if only because you don’t need to be my mother to understand why “Moby Dick” sucks.

But I do want to reprint something from the essay that seems especially relevant:

It has been my experience that the average American mind simply runs through a checklist before approaching any media item. When considering the potential “greatness” of a book or blog or TV show, the mind starts ticking through the items.

No sex? No violence? No danger?

No interest!

What’s weird is, three months after I wrote that essay, “Flavor of Love” went on the air. I don’t think America has looked back since.

A Brief Commentary on Why Today is Not Important, Even Though Everyone Keeps Telling Me It Is.

Two things — important things — are happening to me today. I am a very passive observer in both events.

1. I turn 22 years old.

2. I graduate from college.

I know that May 16, 2009, is supposed to be a monumentally important day in the life of Dan Oshinsky. A half dozen of my relatives are here to pinch my cheeks and remind me of how they knew me when I was twenty minutes old. My mother has brought along framed photos of me in rare childhood moments in which I was not napping or eating. My father has been basically beating me over the head with regular, all-caps emails that read “YOU’RE OLD” and “MOVES FAST, DOESN’T IT?”

Look, I get it. I’m a year older than 21. I’m graduating from college. These are big moments. And if I was a generation older, I’d probably be writing this in a diary, or maybe on a CompuServ message board. But I don’t have a diary; I just have a blog.

And moreover, I have no reason to believe that this day is important.

In terms of life’s little narrative arcs, I suppose my family has a point. But it really only means something to someone who’s seen the entire arc. Context is everything.

A birthday hasn’t felt significant to me since I was nine years old, when I realized that I was soon moving out of single digits. It felt significant then; it still does today. I liked the fourth grade; I miss kickball.

And a graduation hasn’t felt important since I was 11. The Wood Acres Elementary School graduation ceremony was a big deal. As kindergartners, we’d filed into the gymnasium for something called “The Clap Out.” All of the other classes from all of the other grades were packed into the gym, too. Someone had created an aisle through the middle of the gym, tiny orange traffic cones marking the path of least resistance, and we pressed up against those cones, looking like mini-Moonlight Grahams, wondering if we dared cross the demarcation line. We watched as Ms. Hall — the Principal — called out the name of each fifth grader, and we reached out our hands into the aisle as each fifth grader ran through it and high-fived everyone within wingspan. And we vowed that when fifth grade came around, we’d do something infinitely more cool than just running down the aisle and high-fiving the rest of the school.

So for six years, we thought about incredible feats that could be achieving while running through a gymnasium at top speed. We planned. We plotted. We schemed.

Then fifth grade came around, and Ms. Hall called my name, and I burst out of the hallway and down the aisle, doing the only thing you can do while sprinting through a crowd of 500 people: high-fiving everyone in sight. Then I went into the aisle and high-fived all of my friends. It took a week for the swelling in my right hand to go down.

That felt like a big deal then. But this? The Dan Oshinsky Story — a heartwarming tale of a suburban-bred kid who graduated thanks to some very favorable odds — isn’t coming to a theater near you.

So today is one of those days that really only means something if you’re looking at the big narrative arcs. That’s why my mother will be crying today, though, to be fair, my mother would probably cry if I told her that I had a buy-one-get-one-free coupon at Waffle House.

And here’s the thing about narrative arcs: sometimes you’re not sure where they’re leading. Sometimes, you’re not even sure where they’re starting.

Sometimes, you just don’t know that much at all.


H/T to Carbon NYC for the photo at top.

A Few Thoughts on Osmosis.

I was having a conversation with a friend last night that, for reasons I do not entirely understand, devolved into an explanation of osmosis. This tends to happen to me. I’m sitting around, discussing Icelandic hedge funds and John Wall and Mario Kart, and suddenly I’m talking about sophomore year biology. It’s worth noting: I was not good at sophomore year biology 1..

So I struggled to explain how and why things move from cell to cell, because explaining the functions of multicellular organizations isn’t necessarily within my area of expertise. Then I tried a different tack: I used the lowest common denominator.

“Osmosis is basically Bluetooth technology,” I told my friend. This seemed to please both of us tremendously, especially since I didn’t have to continue talking about cells, and he didn’t have to pretend to listen. And the concept behind my explanation wasn’t that far off. Osmosis is a way of transporting molecules between cells. Bluetooth is a way of transporting data between wireless devices. Once you get past the big words that define osmosis — semipermeable membrane, solvents, etc — you’re left with the realization that Bluetooth also allows the movement of things from from cell (phone) to cell.

But now, I’m struck by a simple question: Where do we cross the line between explanation and oversimplification?

Or: If we’re in the business of oversimplifying things, does anyone actually benefit?

Or, maybe: if the only possible analogy in a situation is tech-related, have we do we become too reliant on technology?


1. This was partially due to a small group of freshman girls in my class who were, semi-affectionately, referred to as “The Fannos,” but that’s a story for another time. >back to article

H/T on the photo at top via this site.

The Ballad of Johnny Wholestaff

If you are like most frequent readers of the blog — by which I mean to say, hi, Dad — then you remember when I ran photos from a Mizzou-Texas Tech baseball game a few weeks ago. Those photos became the root of a story about Mizzou pitching coach Tony Vitello. I’ve named it, somewhat unusually, the Ballad of Johnny Wholestaff.

It’s available via this link for your viewing and listening pleasure.

And for the curious: Audacity, Photoshop, and Flash were used in the making of this project.

My Mother and Her Puta Grande

The family

**I told this story live at Ignite NewsFoo in December 2011. You can watch it here.**

Right now, if you don’t mind, I’d like to tell you a story about my mother.

Eleven months ago, I was returning home. I’d spent six months studying abroad in a very pleasant beachside town in Spain. I was well-tanned and full of doner kebabs. My town was just a week away from celebrating its annual bullfights-and-sangria-and-fireworks festival, and the Spanish national team was in the semifinals of the European Championships. I very much did not want to leave.

But it is out of this — just before the crescendo — that I found myself leaving. I boarded a plane in the heart of the country and landed nine hours later in Atlanta, where the heat index was topping three figures. Baggage claim at customs was slightly less packed than a Mumbai rail station. The customs agents were surly, as their baggage sorter had just broken, which left thousands of bags piled up at the gates, looking surprisingly like the Agro Crag on Nickelodeon’s “Guts.” Atlanta, I should note, is really not the kind of place that America should be using to greet our foreign guests.

But soon enough, I found myself leaving Atlanta and heading home to Washington, D.C., where temperatures were cooling into the high 90s, where the humidity just sort of wicks away from your body until you’re left stewing like a game hen in a crock pot. I was flying into Dulles Airport; my family was meeting me there.

It is here that I must remind you that this is a story about my mother.

She had decided earlier in the day that she would make a sign with which to greet me at baggage claim. At the time, this seemed like a good idea 1..

She went to my younger sister, Ellen, and my brother, Sam. Both speak Spanish. She asked them to do a bit of light translation for her 2.. “I want the sign to say, ‘Welcome home, my big boy,'” she said. Ellen and Sam told her that they could help her with that. My mother, so overwhelmed by the return of her eldest, most prodigious son, neglected to realize that her two youngest children have a sense of humor more twisted than a licorice rope.

It is into this that I arrived at Dulles Airport. Over my shoulder, I had two bags. One was a guitar case that bulged in the middle and looked unusually like a Kirstie Alley “before” photo in a Weight Watchers commercial. The other was an LL Bean backpack that was only being held together with scotch tape and safety pins. In my rush to pack, I had attempted to load nearly 4,000 lbs. of souvenirs into four bags. My two checked bags had tipped the scales at 48 and 46.5 lbs., respectively, just under the 50 lb. airline-mandated limit. The remaining 3,905.5 lbs. had been stuffed into my carry-ons and maneuvered into overhead bins for my flights.

I mention this because, ordinarily, I am a fairly spry individual. And on this day, it would have been nice to have felt youthful legs beneath me. Instead, I was essentially anchored to the ground by my luggage.

This was an unfortunate break. Leaving the terminal, I saw the unmistakable figure of four Oshinskys. Behind them, a small crowd had seemed to gather around my mother. I mistook this for coincidence; unbeknownst to me 3., it was not.

The crowd was waiting to find out for whom this woman was holding her sign.

Minutes earlier, an Aeromexico flight from Mexico City had landed at Dulles Airport. One by one, the crowd had passed through baggage claim and seen my mother — a white, Jewish, non-Spanish speaker — proudly clutching a white sign with thick black lettering.

On its front, it read: “Hola, Dan, mí puta grande.”

Which, even if you’d spent your entire vacation inside a tequila slammer at Señor Frogs, you could accurately translate as “Hello, Dan, my big bitch.”

And so the entire adult male population of Mexico City — or something close to it — had collected their luggage and then moved toward my mother, waiting for her puta grande to appear.

It is into this that I appeared, some 3,905.5 lbs. of luggage dragging me down the hallway. I remember looking down the hall and seeing my mother, bouncing up and down, holding her sign. I remember getting close enough to read the words. I remember processing the words in my head, six months of Spanish still very fresh in my mind. I remember taking off, my legs breaking free from the ground, looking not unlike the Beast breaking his chains in “The Sandlot.” I remember my mother moving at top speed, setting what must’ve been a world record in the 60-meter dash, the sign still waving above her head. I remember her catching up to me at about baggage claim #7. I remember looking back; Ellen and Sam were laughing. The entire adult male population of Mexico City was laughing.

I remember looking up, into my mother’s eyes. She was crying.

“Do you like the sign?” she asked.

I smiled back. She wouldn’t know why until later. We’d wait until we were onto the highway, the TrailBlazer cruising along at 70 miles per hour, before we’d teach her her first four words in Spanish. We knew she wouldn’t throw Ellen and Sam out the window at 70 miles per hour.

I looked back up at my mother. Her eyes were fogging up. I smiled back and told her the only thing she wanted to hear.

“Yes, yes I do,” I said.


1.) N.B.: The phrase at “at the time” can not and will not ever be followed by a clause of a positive nature. No one has ever used the phrase to introduce a pleasant memory. I have tried to find a way to do such a thing; I have failed. It is, at this point, my linguistic holy grail. >back to article

2.My mother, who does not fully understand the Internet, had never before heard of Google Translation. >back to article

3. “Unbeknownst to me” is the second most ominous phrase in the English language, only behind “at the time.” >back to article

That photo at top, from left to right: Sam, me, and my mother.

Yet Another Valid Reason to Dislike Yanni.

We’re about two hours from the drop of the puck tonight in Pittsburgh for game four of the Caps-Penguins second round playoff series, and some 26 hours from the drop of the puck in Washington tomorrow night for game five. It’s a less than ideal situation, playing these back-to-back games; and like the majority of bad things in life, it’s all Yanni’s fault.

I do not like Yanni — or John Tesh, or Kenny G, or any combination of the three. I do not like his ripped-from-a-frieze-at-the-Acropolis haircut. I do not like the even-Sgt.-Andy-Sipowicz-kept-it-cleaner mustache. I not like his let’s-remix-Bach-for-the-ride-between-the-34th-and-47th-floor style of music. I do not like the way he makes me abuse the hyphenated phrase.

But today, I have a new reason to dislike Yanni. Per the AP:

PITTSBURGH — Yanni is forcing the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins to play two playoff games in as many nights, and Capitals owner Ted Leonsis doesn’t like it.

Three events in eight days at Mellon Arena required the NHL to schedule the Capitals and Penguins to play Game 4 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series in Pittsburgh on Friday night and Game 5 at the Verizon Center in Washington on Saturday….

The teams are playing every other day during the series except for the back-to-back games. Normally, the teams would have played Friday in Pittsburgh, Sunday in Washington and Tuesday [if necessary] in Pittsburgh, but the concert conflict ruled out Tuesday.

Instead, Game 6 would be played Monday night in Pittsburgh, the third game between the teams in four days.

A WWE wrestling event this past Tuesday and a Dane Cook show on Thursday in Pittsburgh also factored into the NHL schedule.

But any Caps fan worth his imitation Peter Bondra jersey remembers the 2000 Caps-Pens playoff series. Let me fire up Lexis Nexis and take you to the Apr. 11, 2000, edition of The Washington Times. “First-round schedule leaves many Caps fans angry,” the headline reads.

To say Washington Capitals fans were upset yesterday with the team’s first-round playoff schedule would be putting it mildly. Irate might not even do it justice….

A series of scheduling conflicts at Mellon Arena, home of the Penguins, forced a change from the traditional NHL playoffs that gives the higher-seeded team home ice for Games 1, 2, 5 and 7.

Instead, the Caps will have home ice for Games 1, 4, 5 and 7. A Washington loss in Game 1 would give the lower seeded Penguins a decided advantage with the next two games in Pittsburgh…

The NHL originally wanted to have Games 3 and 4 in Pittsburgh on April 16 and 18. But Mellon Arena is booked with the World Wrestling Federation on April 16 and the Burn the Floor dance show on April 18-19.

And so the cycle repeats. In 2000, WWF and a tango spectacular called “Burn the Floor” took home ice away from the Caps due to a Mellon Arena scheduling snafu. In 2009, WWF — since renamed WWE — plus Yanni and Dane Cook have forced an unorthodox back-to-back schedule.

Interestingly, the Caps chose to give essentially give up home ice in 2000, saying “this was the best thing we came up with and still not have to play back-to-back games.” In 2009, they kept home ice, but they’re forced to play back-to-back.

The 2000 Caps lost their first game of the series in a remarkable 7-0 loss. They lost games two and three in Pittsburgh. They eventually lost the series, 4-1.

One more thing worth noting. Caps owner Ted Leonsis — who was also the owner during the 2000 season — wrote on his blog recently:

It is a shame that both teams will have to play back to back games later in the series because the Pittsburgh building – against NHL rules – booked a series of concerts and forced the league to alter the playoff schedule. This is bad for the league, both fan bases and for the players.

But then there’s this quote from the 2000 incident:

“It would be irresponsible of me to sit back in November and block everything between early April and June for hockey,” said Hank Abate, general manager of the Mellon Arena. “I set aside some dates for the Pens, but it’s completely impossible for me to know back in the fall which specific dates were good. What usually happens is that we book the building and the NHL works around us.”

Apparently, not much has changed.

That Look.

We have two new puppies here at our house in Columbia. This, I must say, is a good thing. As college students — and more specifically, as college men — we’ve discovered that puppies are the ultimate icebreaker. You do not need to be charming or funny or even well-groomed when you have two four-month-old beagles waiting for you at home. My advice, immediately, to any college male, would be to invest in puppies.

And looking at the above image — that’s Levon in the bottom right, and Andre above him — it’s not too hard to figure out why.

One more image of the boys in mid-nap is over at my Flickr page.

Builder of Dallas Cowboys’ Practice Facility Also Constructed Mizzou Indoor Tennis Courts

Last weekend, the Dallas Cowboys’ practice facility collapsed during a storm in which winds reached nearly 70 mph. The facility was built by Allentown, Pa.-based Summit Structures LLC in 2003.

But records obtained by the Associated Press yesterday indicate that the company has built at least three other facilities that have collapsed during severe weather storms.

According to their website, Summit has built dozens of sporting facilities around the world, including in Columbia, Mo. Summit completed work on the University of Missouri’s indoor tennis facility in 2002, according Missouri’s official athletic website.

Of the building, the Mizzou athletic website says: “The unique facility is a metal frame and fabric structure. It will have the flexibility of indoor and outdoor play as it will have adjustable sides that will allow the facility to be opened in warm weather, and enclosed and heated during winter months.”

H/T to MUTigers.com for the photo of the tennis facility.