Stallion’s Tickets

Last night, we were watching the news, and they said that Wicked tickets were going on sale this morning at 7:00 AM at the Capitol Theatre Box Office in downtown Salt Lake City. I saw Wicked in the Land of Languatron early this year, so I wasn’t all that concerned for myself, but Mrs. Cornell has been dying to see it forever, and both my daughters have memorized every note of the CD. So I decided that I’d get up bright and early to get to the box office right at 7:00 AM. 

Apparently, several other people had the same idea. Lots of people, in fact. Many of them had started camping out the night before. When I got there right after seven in the morning, I started to walk to the end of the line, which extended to the end of the block. And then around the block. And then around the next block. And the next… 
It took me twenty minutes to walk to the end of the line. 
I stood there for about five minutes or so before somebody from the show came out and said that we would never get to the front of the line before 10:00 AM, when the tickets went on sale online, so we’d best just go home and take our chances on the Internet. So I did, and, of course, the server was so busy that I couldn’t get through. I called the perpetually busy phone line to no avail. 
No Wicked for Stallion, alas. 
I have no room to complain, though. For the past few weeks, the Cornells have done quite well in procuring difficult-to-get tickets. Just one week ago, one of my clients called and told me he had two extra courtside seats to the Jazz game that he couldn’t use, and would I be interested in taking them off his hands?
Ummm, yes. 
Mrs. Cornell was unable to go, so I took my oldest daughter Cleta, who was impressed that she was close enough to the Jazz bench that she could hear head coach Jerry Sloan swearing like a sailor. It’s a very different game when you get that close to the action. We were sitting right under the basket, and if I was close enough to trip the Toronto Raptors every time they went in for a layup. I didn’t need to do that, though, because the Jazz smoked ’em. And my daughter got a chance to have the Jazz Bear put a rubber glove on her head. Mrs. Cornell watched the end of the game at home and called us to ask us to flail our arms and legs when the camera got close to us. Which we did. And she could see us! My feet on ESPN! Good times. 
These tickets came just a couple of weeks or so after another work associate invited me to accompany him to Rice-Eccles Stadium to watch the University of Utah embarrass BYU in the annual “Holy War” football game, which is the hottest rivalry in the state. I didn’t know BYU was going to be so badly embarrassed, so I foolishly wore my Cougar Blues and feared for my life as the Ute Reds outnumbered me by approximately one billion to one. I took my son Corbin – again, Mrs. Cornell was unavailable – and we watched as BYU quarterback decided to start throwing flawless passes to the guys on the other team. 
It got interesting, though, when I texted my brother, because I knew he had come to the game with some bigwigs, and I wanted to see if I could bump into him. Turns out he was seated in the President’s Box, along with the Governor of Utah, the President of the University of Utah, an LDS apostle – the late Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin, who was there just a few days before he passed away- and the Second Counselor in the LDS Church First Presidency, Dieter F. Uchtdorf. We snuck in and sat in the back, and I felt compelled to take off my BYU threads for fear of offending the party I was crashing. 
It was a whole lot of fun. My brother introduced my seven-year-old son to President Uchtdorf, and they took a picture together. President Uchtdorf tried to stay neutral, but when pressed, he whispered, “It’s no accident that the pinstripes on my shirt are blue.” 
President Uchtdorf couldn’t have been more gracious or charming. 
We went back down to the plebeian seats after halftime, only to discover that sitting directly two rows ahead of us were my brother-in-law who had driven up from California along with another family friend. We decided to take them up to the President’s Box, too, only they hassled them for not having the requisite armbands that allow you to be in such stratified company. (I had no such armband, either, but I’d manage to sneak my way in earlier in the game.) As the security guards started to hassle them, I came out and explained that everything was all right, because they were with me. Since the guards had seen me fraternizing with everyone up in the box, they let it slide. 
So, karmically speaking, I can’t really complain about not getting Wicked tickets. 
And yet I complain still. (I’m not a very good person.)

Shifting Educational Standards

I’m either too busy or too lazy to write a full-on blog entry, so I’ll pass along a funny e-mail POUNDS forwarded on to me regarding shifting educational standards.

Last week I purchased a burger at Burger King for $1.58. The counter girl took my $2 and I was digging for my change when I pulled 8 cents from my pocket and gave it to her.

She stood there, holding the nickel and 3 pennies, while looking at the screen on her register. I sensed her discomfort and tried to tell her to just give me two quarters, but she hailed her manager for help.

While he tried to explain the transaction to her she cried.

Why do I tell you this? Please read more about the “history of teaching math.”

Teaching Math in 1950:

A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is 4/5 of the price. What is his profit?

Teaching Math in 1960:

A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is 4/5 of the price, or $80. What is his profit?

Teaching Math in 1970:

A logger exchanges a set “L” of lumber for a set “M” of money. The cardinality of set “M” is 100. Each element is worth one dollar. Make 100 dots representing the elements of the set “M.” The set “C,” the cost of production, contains 20 fewer points than does set “M.” Represent the set “C” as a subset of “M.” Answer this question: What is the cardinality of the set “P” of profits?

Teaching Math in 1980:

A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is $80 and his profit is $20. Your assignment: underline the number 20.

Teaching Math in 1990:

By cutting down beautiful forest trees, the logger makes $20. What do you think of this way of making a living? Topic for class participation after answering the question: How did the forest birds and squirrels feel as the logger cut down the trees? (There are no wrong answers.)

Teaching Math in 2000:

A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is $120. How does Arthur Anderson determine that his profit margin is $60?

Teaching Math in 2005:

El hachero vende un camion carga por $100. La cuesta de production es ……………..

Lincoln, Conservatism, and Daniel H. Wells

I hereby withdraw my contention that Abraham Lincoln was a great conservative.

POUNDS makes too many good points for me to be able to defend that contention, although I will say that I don’t think Lincoln fits today’s definition of liberal, either. The guy was an aggressive militarist whose suspension of habeas corpus for U.S. citizens in time of war would probably not get high marks from the folks at the Daily Kos. In addition, he was a deeply religious man, and in his second inaugural he cited God’s justice as one of the primary reasons for freeing the slaves, which would, again, get the secular Left up in arms.

I guess my affection for Lincoln-as-conservative stems from the beauty of the Gettysburg Address, which gave the nation an ideological framework to make sense of a gruesome and bloody war. With that short speech, Lincoln reminded America of its founding documents, citing a nation “conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal,” and a government “of the people, by the people, for the people.” This was, as they say in conservative circles now, a “return to first principles,” which strikes me as a very conservative thing.

Yet were these considered conservative tenets at the time? Probably not.

I think what this discussion highlights is just how difficult it is to view events in early American history through a 21st century partisan prism. For instance, Lincoln was a protectionist. Today, the Left is more protectionist than the Right, but that wasn’t always the case – it was Utah senator Reed Smoot, a Republican and a right-winger, whose Smoot/Hartley tariff extended the Great Depression. Pat Buchanan – who is loathsome to me – thinks protectionism should be the hallmark of modern conservatism.

So which is it? Is protectionism conservative or liberal?

In addition, even the most ardent Leftists before Lincoln were advocating a state the size of which would be seen as ridiculously minimalist today. Hamilton wanted a national treasury, but would he have gone along with Social Security? Do you define a person’s political ideology by their position or their destination? That is, Hamilton wanted the country to move Left, but if you took his positions and plopped them unchanged into 2008, he’d be right at home with the hard right. So how do you make the label?

In America, at least, I think modern liberalism was born with FDR, and modern conservatism was born with Barry Goldwater. Which means even Winston Churchill doesn’t really fit the definition of a “great conservative,” because he was functioning under a set of circumstances where current ideological distinctions don’t really apply. And the idea of a strong military being uniquely conservative probably didn’t really come into being until the Vietnam War. A lot of the partisan distinctions we rely on today are fairly recent developments, and they’ve shifted significantly even in my own lifetime. Is George W. Bush a conservative? His brand of “compassionate conservatism” involves an expansion of federal power in ways that would have made Goldwater lose his lunch.

What this has illustrated to me is that conservatism, as a cohesive modern political movement, peaked with Reagan, stumbled to Gingrich, and is now intellectually moribund. It’s very hard to define someone as a great conservative when it’s no longer possible to define what conservatism is. Making that definition is the challenge that the Republican Party faces in its well-earned years in the Obama wilderness. I hope it’s up to the task, although current signs are not encouraging.

One last story, tangentially related to the above proceedings:

My great-great grandfather was a man by the name of Daniel H. Wells, a tall, gangly lawyer in Illinois at the same time Lincoln practiced. Wells later joined the Mormon church and moved to Utah, but it was in Illinois that Lincoln and Wells crossed paths, and Daniel H. Wells declared that Abraham Lincoln was a dead man.

“I promised myself,” Wells said to the future president, “that if I ever met a man uglier than I was, that I would shoot him on sight.”

To which Lincoln reportedly replied, “Then shoot me now! Because if I’m uglier than you, I don’t want to live.”

This story was recounted to me by my uncle after my cousin noted how much I looked like Daniel H. Wells.

Three Great Conservatives: Making My List

POUNDS, in yesterday’s comments, noticed that I had limited the definition of conservatism to primarily economic factors. He’s right; I consciously limited it to economics, not because that’s the sum total of conservatism, but rather because it was the easiest way to set a working definition.

My point was that naming great conservatives is easier to do when you broaden the definition of conservatism to include more than just “resistance to change.”

But in the case of social conservatism, “resistance to change” becomes part of the discussion, and I didn’t want to get sidetracked. And “foreign policy” conservatism calls to mind a very large, very muscular government a la the military, so that complicates things even further. By today’s standards, FDR and Truman were clearly “foreign policy” conservatives. But the Right has no claim on them. And where does that put LBJ who was both Mr. Great Society – wildly liberal – and Mr. Vietnam – not so liberal?

But POUNDS has made some wise stipulations, to which I agree. To be on the list, a great conservative had to have had a) a profound and lasting impact on society and b) have generated that impact as a result of their political philosophy, i.e. conservatism.

POUNDS suggests, then, that religious icons should be excluded, and I’m cool with that. Questions like “how would Jesus vote?” tell you a lot more about the person answering than it does about Jesus. Pat Robertson will tell you God is a Republican; Cornel West will tell you God is a Communist. You sort it out.

POUNDS also wants to exclude the founders from the discussion, but I think that’s a little trickier. Certainly all of them would be termed “social conservatives” by today’s standards, but I think Hamiltonians would be considered economic leftists, although Jefferson had profound leftist sympathies too, particularly for the French. I’d say Washington and Adams were men of the Right, but once you start going back that far, shifting societal mores get in the way. Even Lincoln, the first Republican president, would be seen as very much a racist if he were magically transported to the 21st Century. Although, racism aside, I think a strong case can be made that he was a conservative, although many credit his unwillingness to allow secession as the beginning of the bloated federal government we have today. So it’s all a bit nebulous.

It gets easier if you stick to the 20th and 21st Centuries, where you can measure a person against a world that isn’t so foreign to us. POUNDS put Churchill on his list, and he’s an easy call. He was essentially the savior of Western civilization in World War II.

But does that mean FDR and Truman should be on there, too? FDR is the father of modern economic liberalism, but he was quite the hawk militarily. And Truman is the only person who has ever dropped an atomic bomb on a population center. You think the lefty peaceniks were OK with that?

How do you classify Soviet resistors like Lech Walesa or Vaclav Havel? The Left’s sympathies were with the Soviets, and these guys fought the USSR tooth and nail. But are they really, on the whole, conservatives?

If POUNDS is unwilling to recognize the greatness of a Reagan or a Thatcher, then how about John Paul II? Too religious? Maybe. But he was also a fierce political opponent of the Soviet Union, and he, as much as anyone else, was instrumental in the Soviet Union’s collapse.

If you look among U.S. presidents in the 20th Century, you see a lot of mediocre ones in both parties, and very few who could be considered “conservative.” Calvin Coolidge? Yeah, probably a conservative, but hardly great. Teddy Roosevelt? Republican, yes, and Beavis McCain’s hero, but hardly a conservative. (And, I don’t think, nearly as great as his hype would have you believe.)

See, it’s not an easy list to make, but not because conservatism is incompatible with greatness. It’s because it’s very difficult to fashion a definition of conservatism that anyone fits perfectly. I’m as big a Reaganite as anyone, but I have to concede that Ronnie was the guy who raised self-employment taxes by over 200%, which hits me squarely in the pocketbook.

Anyway, if I make a list, I think I can defend this one:

1) Abraham Lincoln
2) Winston Churchill
3) The John Paul II/Margaret Thatcher/Ronald Reagan trifecta. (Pick one.)

Let’s see what POUNDS does with that sucker.

Can You Name Three Great Conservatives?

POUNDS and law geek have been battling it out in the last thread, and I invite all those interested in a bright argument to review those exchanges. POUNDS, I should have you know that I’ve promised law geek that I will appoint him Chief Justice of the Supreme Court just as soon as I’m elected president, so please keep that in mind.

Watching those two battle it out reminded me of an argument that POUNDS used to have with any and all comers about the greatness, or lack thereof, of political conservatives.

Put simply, according to POUNDS, there aren’t any, because conservatives fight change, while liberals embrace it. The people who are remembered as great leaders are those who shook up the establishment, he would say. You can’t do that if you’re protecting the status quo.

Because of that, he insisted, it was impossible to name three great conservatives. He’d give you one freebie – Benjamin Disraeli – and then insist that it was impossible to round out the list. I tried, though – I put Ronald Reagan on my list, and then I threw in Dwight Eisenhower. POUNDS rightfully found Dwight Eisenhower to be pretty thin gruel as far as great conservatives go, although I didn’t want to admit that, at the time, I had no idea who Benjamin Disraeli was. (The first and only Jewish Prime Minister of Great Britain. Wikipedia article here.)

Anyway, this greatly disturbed me at the time, but as I’ve mulled it over lo these many years, I’ve come to realize that POUNDS was, intentionally or not, running an intellectual bait and switch.

The first definition of “conservative” from is as follows:

Conservative: adjective:
1. disposed to preserve existing conditions, institutions, etc., or to restore traditional ones, and to limit change.

Using that definition, then POUNDS is absolutely right. But notice that this definition doesn’t contain any real political ideology. If your traditions and institutions are solidly Leftist, then you can be termed a “conservative” if you act to preserve them. Thus, when Mikhail Gorbachev’s reforms were undermined by a botched military coup in 1991, the media labeled those behind the coup as “hardline conservatives” in the Soviet Government. Same with Tiananmen Square in ’89 – it was supposedly “conservative elements” in the Chinese government that used tanks to mow down the pro-democracy demonstrators.

Looking at these examples, unless you questioned the underlying definition of the word “conservative,” you’d think Leonid Brezhnev and Ronald Reagan were essentially the same person.

And let’s take another look at Reagan, shall we? By this first definition, can he truly be termed a “conservative?” One who wants to “preserve existing conditions” and “limit change?” The guy came in and radically altered how Washington did business, both domestically and overseas. They didn’t call it the “Reagan Revolution” for nothing. Newt Gingrich in 1994 overthrew 40 years of Democratic leadership in the House of Representatives and turned the status quo on its head entirely. How is that “limiting change?”

The fact is that the word “conservative” also has another definition in the political arena, one that reflects a worldview of limited government and skepticism of statist solutions. It has nothing to do with “resistance to change.” It has everything to do with faith in the private sector, not the government, to produce the kind of solutions that will be of most benefit to society. If the US continues to move toward European-style socialism, then you’re going to see a growing number of political conservatives screaming for change with ever-increasing volume.

If they were alive today, how many of the founders would be registered Democrats? You think Washington and Adams and Jefferson would be thrilled with the metastasization of the state? And even by POUNDS’ initial definition, Lincoln could still be termed a great conservative – true, he took the radical step of freeing the slaves, but he did so largely to achieve the goal of holding the union intact. To “conserve” the union, if you will.

Sadly, too many Republicans have abandoned second-definition conservative ideology at the altar of first-definition conservative intransigence – preservation of power over principle, of status quo over small government. It’s time the Republican party got revolutionary again. THAT would be a change I could believe in.

Proposition 8: The Musical

Oh, my stars and garters. We hatemongers get quite a lampooning with this one! Get ready to chortle, ’cause it’s time for Proposition 8: The Musical!

What always amazes me with things like this is just how mindless they are. Do they really believe this is how religious people think and behave? The answer is yes. They do. Which demonstrates that they’ve made zero effort to understand the opposing point of view, which reflects either laziness or stupidity. Or malice.

I’m going with malice. (You know. Hate!)

If they can, why can’t I? They’ve tarred any opposition to dismantling traditional marriage with the black brush of “hate,” and so they’ve ended all discussion. These crazy religious nuts don’t need to be understood; they just need to be vilified. You want to listen to what that stupid preacher boob John C. Reilly is playing has to say? Really? It’s just hate. He’s a hater! Don’t bother to argue with him – just shut him down!

But they still need us to vote with them, so they bring out Neal Patrick Harris to appeal to our sense of greed. Gay marriage will make me money?! Why didn’t I think of that! Because, see, everyone knows that Republicans are all frothing-at-the-mouth hater zealots who vote with their pocketbooks. So let your greed conquer your hate, haters!

It’d be funny if it weren’t so condescendingly stupid.

Hate is mindless. Hate ignores facts to feed angry feelings. Isn’t that EXACTLY what these people are doing? Aren’t they vilifying a huge chunk of our society by assuming the absolute worst about them? As I watched this, I kept thinking how much I like Jack Black. I like Neal Patrick Harris – he was so great in Dr. Horrible. I really like that black guy who plays Daryl on The Office. Not so fond of the girl who plays Elliot on Scrubs, but her part wasn’t very big – if you blinked, you missed her.

I now know that all these people hate me.

The guy at the piano who wrote this got a Mormon fired from his job for supporting Proposition 8. Why isn’t he a hater? I didn’t vote for Prop. 8, but I would have if I’d lived in California. I didn’t donate to Prop. 8, but I could have. I’m certainly supportive of those who did.

So all of these people want me fired, too.

Here’s the thing. I don’t want any of these guys fired. (Except Rosie O’Donnell. But her show tanked, so I’m cool with that.) I certainly don’t want any of them raped or imprisoned or lynched or sold into slavery. If they find love whenever and with whomever, I’m way cool with that. I just think there’s tremendous societal value in preserving traditional marriage. I think there are reasoned, intelligent arguments that make that case that don’t have anything to do with Jack Black in a Jesus outfit eating shellfish.

But nobody on that side wants to have a discussion that doesn’t involve malice. I’m just a cartoon to them. They want to hate me instead.

That’s their right, and there’s nothing I can do to stop them. But what they’re doing is far more hateful than the people they’re attacking, and it’s time people of good will stood up and said so.


So I have a million things to do. I have a job assignment due on Friday, and several big projects in the pipeline.

But I spent all day today trying to finish my book. And that is a very, very good thing.

When I started this blog, it was supposed to be a tool to keep my novel writing on track. I was going to write two thousand words a day – a thousand blogging, and a thousand in the novel. At that pace, I’d have the thing done in just a few months.

I started this blog last September. The book isn’t done. You do the math.

Writing a book is much harder than writing a blog entry. It’s not just the classic writer’s block where you can’t think of anything to write. Actually, that’s not really what writer’s block is for me. Instead of thinking of nothing, I end up thinking of a bunch of stuff and running with it, only to discover I hate it when I get down the road a ways. Sometimes, it’s thinking of something entirely new to write that’s pretty good, so you have to go back and fix what you’ve already written to reflect the new direction. I began this book with a rough outline – I knew what I wanted as the beginning, middle, and end – but connecting the dots has taken me all over the map.

I’ve probably written at least 50,000 words that are unusable given the novel’s current shape. That’s not wasted work, necessarily, as it helped to flesh out my thinking, but it gets frustrating when you write yourself into a dead end. I’ve no got just under 95,000 words that I’m OK with, although I’m sure there are lingering pieces of old ideas in there that I need to scrub out.

I just want to be DONE.

So I wrote all day. Even when I didn’t feel like writing. Even when I wanted to get up and go get a hamburger or something. I just kept writing, and I knew where I wanted it to go, and I got there. I’m now on the last chapter, which has been solidly in my brain since I began. The end is in sight. I can pass this whole stupid project like a kidney stone and move on to things that will make me money.

Having an unfinished book handging over your head like a sword of Damocles can be really, really taxing. I started the first version of this book in the early ’90s. I finished the crappy first version on Christmas Eve ten years ago. I don’t consider this a second draft; only about 5% of that first book has made its way into this one. But I’ve wanted to rewrite that early book for the past ten years, and it’s only now that the end is in sight.

I just want it OUT. On paper. I don’t care how much it sucks. Actually, yes, I do, but if I can at least get a draft done, I can fix it. Getting it on paper for the first time is like passing a kidney stone. I just want to be RELEASED. I want to be able to urinate peacefully again, metaphorically speaking.

Anyway, there it is. I should have skipped this blog entry if I really wanted to finish, but heaven help me, I just can’t do that, either.

Driver’s Ed

POUNDS’ questions from my last entry got me reminiscing about my many academic sins, and I now regret accusing my Driver’s Ed teacher of being a lush. True, he had that reputation, so I ran with it in the previous post, but I have no proof that such was the case. All I know was that the dude was practically comatose throughout class, and nobody learned a damn thing from him. Although I took it upon myself to occasionally liven things up. The only time I actually got the teacher’s attention was when I started going “vroom vroom” and then proceeded to drive my desk around the room.

He kicked me out of class that day. SOOOO worth it.

Driver’s Ed brought out the worst in me. The family discussed this over Thanksgiving, too, and my mother decided that I got along great with teachers I respected and then went out of my way to make life a living hell for the rest of them. There is some truth in that statement, although it ignores the fact that at one time or another, every one of those teachers I loathed ended up subbing in Driver’s Ed.

My brother recalled the time that Coach Moriarty filled in for McLeish. I didn’t know Coach Moriarty, he being one of those athletic types, but I knew instantly that I didn’t like him. So, during the course of the class period, I decided to insert a capped pen into my left ear.

I was sitting in the very back of the room. I said nothing. I was just sitting there, a placid smile pasted on my face, with a pen in my ear.

It didn’t take long to get a reaction.

“Hey, you!” Moriarty said after a minute or two, pointing directly at me.

I feigned surprise, even looking over my shoulder to see if perhaps he was addressing someone else.

“Yeah, you!” he said, angrier this time. “Take that pen out of your ear!”

“What?” I answered, perhaps a little too loudly.

“I said take that stupid pen out of your ear!”

“What?” I said again, almost shouting. “I can’t hear you. I have a pen in my ear.”

That got some nervous laughter from the rest of the class, who were a lot more scared of this twerp than I was. Still, it was enough to show that I had succeeded in undermining this little tyrant’s authority. This displeased him mightily, and you could actually see the veins in his neck begin to throb. Through clenched teeth, he asked me my name, and I gave it to him pleasantly. (The calmer I was, the madder he got. )

So he tried to up the stakes a little bit.

“What would your father say if he knew you were sitting in my class with a pen in your ear?” he demanded to know.

“Gosh, I’m not sure,” I said with wide-eyed innocence. “You’ll have to ask him, I suppose.”

“I’ll do that!”

The moment was gone after that. The rest of the class passed without incident. Although I seem to recall that I spent the remainder of the period with my head on my desk buried underneath my notebook binder, which I’d made into a little fort in the hopes of bugging him even further. But that got me nothing. I’d used up my best material with the pen-in-the-ear gambit.

My brother, who actually WAS a high school athlete, bumped into Moriarty after that, and the esteemed coach asked “What is with your brother?! That guy is out to lunch!” He then told my brother that he’d tried to call my father, but he couldn’t get him because he was out to lunch. “Not like your brother, though – he was literally out to lunch.” Because, you know, Dad was eating lunch. Unlike me, who was just nuts. Not literally nuts, like walnuts or cashews, but figuratively speaking.

Was there a point to this? Other than Driver’s Ed sucks?

State Science Fair Fraud

So I didn’t post my novel this weekend. I’m actually ambivalent about continuing to post it, as many folks are not interested, and those that are ought to be reading it all the way through, because this disjointed posting is leaving people more confused than they should be. So I’m going to focus on finishing a draft and giving copies to those who might be willing to read the sucker from start to finish. Is this a good idea, dear readers? Let me know.

Had a very fun Thanksgiving, and despite the presence of a multitude of people from all over the political spectrum, no blood was shed. No arguments ensued. And, coincidentally, my mother-in-law had laryngitis. Make of that what you will.

In the absence of political fireworks, my brother and I swapped Lee Shagin stories, which were pleasant, but they led to a number of Calabasas reminiscences that paint me in a less than favorable light.

Don’t get me wrong. By and large, I was a good student, and an honest one. Cheating wasn’t my thing, except in Driver’s Ed, where the teacher was too drunk to know or care that everyone had a photocopy of the answers to every test in advance. It was passed out by one of the teacher’s aides right before class started, and no one batted an eye. If you can cheat in full daylight on a meaningless test because your teacher’s sloshed, I don’t think that’s a black mark against your honor.

No, it is my Senior Science Fair project that still haunts my dreams.

See, my teacher on this occasion was the estimable Larry Walker, who would have been on the 1980 Olympic walking team if we hadn’t boycotted that year. Now, I know what you’re thinking – there’s an Olympic walking team?! Apparently, yes, – or at least there was. Or maybe Mr. Walker just confused his last name with his athletic prowess.

When he wasn’t walking, Mr. Walker taught AP Chemistry, which I took for part of my junior year before dropping out at mid-term as a result of my own scientific ineptness. I felt bad about letting Mr. Walker down, though – he’s a good guy, if slightly goofy – so the next year, I enrolled in Mr. Walker’s regular Chemistry class and sailed through the easier coursework. There were a number of differences between regular and AP Chemistry. Most of them centered on academic rigor – the regular course had less of it, which I liked. But those in regular Chemistry were also required to participate in a high school science fair. That was not a good thing.

I was supposed to pick a project and prove some scientific principle, and having absolutely no inspiration as to how to proceed, I turned to Mr. Walker for guidance. He came up with a suggestion that was both goofy and easy, so, naturally, I ran with it.

Mr. Walker proposed that I go to a boating dock and gather up a bunch of mussels encrusted along both sides. Then I would separate the meat from the shells and weigh them, measuring the meat against the weight of the shells. The goal was to determine if those mussels directly facing the waves developed larger shells as a result of their exposure to the tide, as opposed to those mussels who were more safely positioned away from the waves on the rear of the docks.

How hard could that be?

A few Saturdays later, I drove up to Oxnard and broke into a private dock filled with expensive-looking sea vessels, not realizing that I probably shouldn’t have been there in the first place. I scraped off a bunch of mussels and filled half of a black plastic trash bag with them, and then I drove home , insufferably proud of myself, despite the growing stench of rotting crustaceans in the back seat.

I’m not sure when the realization hit me that I had done nothing to separate the front-of-dock mussels from the rear-of-dock ones. Although I do remember getting home and dumping the mussels into a big, stinky pile in the center of our garage and realizing that there was no way in hell that I was going to learn anything of any value except how to make a garage smell like dead fish.

Not only didn’t I know which mussels were which, I also had no means of measuring them. We had this tiny little scale that measured in ounces, but it was nowhere near precise enough to give any semblance of accuracy. Even if I were to go back and get two bags of mussels instead of one, I wouldn’t have been able to get any reliable data without much nicer equipment.

So I made it all up.

Yes, you heard me. I falsified all my data. I measured a mussel or two and tried to guess at what a reasonable weight range and ratio would be, and then I – surprise! – “discovered “ that mussels facing the waves were “significantly” bulkier than their more sheltered counterparts.

I felt really lousy about it, so I mocked up a presentation that was lackluster at best. I taped a couple of mussel shells to some colored poster board and wrote up my finding s with a magic marker. It was the ugliest mock-up entered in the science fair, and I hoped it would get me just enough credit to squeak by and then the whole thing would just go away.

Naturally, Mr. Walker selected my project as one of three entries to go on to the state science fair.

I was aghast. I couldn’t refuse the chance to send the thing along, so I conveniently lost the entry forms. That bugged Mr. Walker, but I figured that someone at the state level would surely recognize me for the fraud that I was. (Although knowing what I know now, I’m betting the state would have been even more clueless than Mr. Walker, who was actually a good teacher, not a bureaucrat.)

I tell this story in the spirit of full disclosure, confessing my deepest, darkest sins in the hopes of absolution. But I also do so knowing that the statute of limitations has passed, and it’s probably too late to revoke my high school diploma. I also occasionally wonder if my findings were false-but-accurate. Do mussels that face the waves have bigger shells?

I could probably Google it, but what’s the point?