Issue 19 - 08/19/19

предупреждение: богохульство

  • The Most Misread Poem in the World Is Really About the Lost Sequel to "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids" 
  • Interview With a Teacher
  • 8 Ways to Subtly Lean in Order to Assert Dominance During Video Conferences
  • You've Been Putting the Wrong Gems in Your Mouth - And That's a Good Thing
  • Sleepmasks Reviewed
  • Modern Santa Mythology
  • Plug: 13 Minutes to the Moon 
  • Office Chart

The Most Misread Poem in the World Is Really About the Lost Sequel to "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids"

Pewlitzer-level contributor Mach Spraining 

A young man hikes through the woods beneath cloudy Autumn skies, plainclothed, bearing a walking stick. He comes to a place where his path diverges into two trails, branching away from each other, isolated. He pauses, perhaps weary, but moreso intrigued; each path is laid before him, strewn with leaves, roofed by bending tree canopies, and as he gazes, visions of differing potential futures appear before him: the first, swimming in the ocean, falling in love, starting a family; the second, continuing on through the woods, hitchhiking, a car pulling to a stop with a smiling face inside. As the car pulls away, the screen fades and the logo for Ford Motor Company appears.

This commercial ran in New Zealand in 2008. By car commercial standards, it's fairly normal: some pseudo-inspiring scene appealing to the eye schlocks on and ends with a clean car. Why the hiking, though? Why the strange and vaguely unsettling visions of the future? There's one other piece to this emission-tested puzzle. For the duration of the scene, a wistful voiceover recites the following:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim,

Because it was grassy and wanted wear;

Though as for that the passing there

Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

This, of course, is "The Road Not Taken" by Robert Frost. This is never announced or cited; it's expected that the audience understands this and makes the connection. Why is this a viable commercial strategy? Why would anyone expect an audience in New Zealand to be familiar with a certain poem, especially one from a different country, especially an audience for a car commercial (only idiots drive cars)? The answer, of course, is that this isn't just any old poem; it is perhaps the most ubiquitously recognized poem the world over. Except maybe in China. How am I supposed to know what those guys like?

This poem has been published in more poetry anthologies than any other, and google returns more results for "road less traveled" + "frost" than it does for "jesus" + "nascar" + "gay penguin couple attempt to hatch a rock." It's a poem that is read or at least taught about in every school and has been appropriated to make faux-deep commercials to hock dozens of crap products; its appearances span from sea to shining sea on the scale of academic to super-not academic. And of course it does: what a poignant reflection on how, in life, we must often break from the path of least resistance in order to experience all that there is to experience, and to discover what is best for ourselves, judging based on our own personal criteria and not that of society in general.

It's simple. Elegant. Beautiful. Sensual. I have it tattooed on my feet. Except - that isn't the message of the poem at all.

In 1919, three years after the poem's original publication and shortly after the Treaty of Versailles, the poem was abridged and published for the first time in the form we now know it by in Webding's Poetry Compilation Volume II: You Won't Believe These Poems 1916-1919. The editor of this dubious publication died penniless, their name soon forgotten, but their altered version of "The Road Not Taken" would take on a life of its own.

After being subjected to long years of horror during the first world war, the world sought to forget its troubles and turned instead to more hopeful and idyllic literature. As such, Frost's meditation on traversing the wilderness and emerging better for it gained swift popularity. Only it wasn't Frost's poem. Frost's real poem, the original, unabridged version, contained two additional stanzas, lines which produced a drastically different message to what the world would later cling to - a message as bewildering as it is unsettling.

Published here for the first time online is Frost's original and unadulterated work:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Beneath the bends of twisted hedge,

Under shroud of leaf and briar,

Upon which birds did make their fledge,

A box strange-colored made a pledge

Declaring as a gay towne-crier,

Visage reminiscent of a mime:

The ageless face of Rick Moranis,

Penitent of unknown crime

Espousing, scared, "Honey, This Time

I Made The Kids Fucking Enormous."

Then to the other, as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim,

Because it was grassy and wanted wear;

Though as for that the passing there

Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

What is there to say of this enigmatic text? There are the obvious questions to ask: why is a work from 1916 clearly referencing a man and a film that would not exist for 80-odd years? Is the strange box a VHS tape? How is this possible?

Today we see these flagrant anachronisms clearly for what they are, but in the early 20th Century, it's understandable that readers did not know how to interpret any of this. In certain journals of literary criticism, in rare mentions of the original poem, critics reported being made to feel uneasy and vaguely ill upon reading, though they couldn't place why. Another recorded that the night after studying the poem, she experienced bewildering dreams involving "great steel carriages in the sky, a book of faces, and a pee fetish. No, wait, that was from the night before. Please don't record that. Hey, I..."

It seems clear that something happened in 1916 that we do not, and perhaps should not, understand. You know: poetry. Perhaps it will mean different things to each of us personally: to you, it may be a sign that time travel will one day be achieved; to me, it indicates that God is real but in a bad way. 

Interview With a Teacher

Pretarian-level contributor Jacob Howard,

Prophet-level contributor Matt Spradling

My friend Jake recently graduated from college and will begin work as a full time educator this month. Everybody is immensely proud of him, including me, it goes without saying, but at the same time, I feel as though I don't fully understand it; why would anyone willingly return to the place that gave so many of us some of the worst times in our lives? Why would anyone choose to subject themselves indefinitely to cafeteria lunches? Why would anyone enter like Hercules into the underworld the roiling mists of AXE body spray? What figurative Megera could be worth such a reckless sacrifice?

I joke about the more obvious pitfalls of life in a middle school, but this truly is a serious matter. The American education system being a point of contention in terms of funding and organization is not a new topic, and I won't throw around some big numbers to make it look like I did even a little research. We all know funding is lacking. We all know salaries aren't proportional in magnitude to the role teachers serve in society. We've all had teachers who have touched our lives and been an enormous influence, and as motivated as someone like myself might be to get out of school running and never looking back, it feels like a disservice to many people I know and care about to not keep them in our thoughts as we choose what policies to vote for and where to allocate financial donations.

All this is to say, I thought it would be a great idea to provide a platform for someone who is obviously far more invested in and informed about these topics than I am. Jake kindly agreed to meet over a drink and let me interview him about the local school system and education as a whole.

Matt: So have you had to shoot anyone yet?

Jake: Not yet!

8 Ways to Subtly Lean in Order to Assert Dominance During Video Conferences

Penitent-level contributor Matt Spradling,

Sacrement-level contributor Alex Speed

Do you work? Do you work in an office? Do you work in an office with video calls? Of course you do, you're a Competent Adult and not seven cats in an ill-fitting coat. But even if you were, it's okay, because 1. This is a place for secrets and 2. Even cats need to learn the art of subtlety.

Let's get right into it, because you're Not A Cat and you have things to do and sharpen and lick.

  1. Leaning very slightly to the left and putting your left arm on the armrest - Good for beginners; simple and reliable. This allows you to not be rigid and centered like a robot while still maintaining control of...the chair, I guess. One time I did this in an interview and there was no noticeable effect because the interviewer had eyes of steel but when I got the job offer I knew the reason why.

  2. Leaning very slightly to the right and putting your right arm on the armrest - doing this first has roughly the same effect as to the left but with slightly diminished effect. Doing this after you've already done it to the left, though, shows that your personality highlights include immense flexibility, adaptability, variability, and unpredictability. Don't back-track again too quickly though or it could be interpreted as a dance, which would be far too high-risk-high-reward even by Newsletter standards.

  3. Reclining very slightly - Now we're getting into exceptionally bold territory. This one is high risk/high reward, because if it goes right, you develop an air of maintaining a presence in the meeting while simultaneously being quite above it; if the chair is at all faulty or loose, however, you will become stuck leaning too far back and it will be too awkward to readjust so you will permanently look like you're having a very slow heart attack. Upside: sometimes you need a natural excuse to not speak/leave/play dead.

  4. Leaning very slightly forward - this is a good option when you want to look invested but really you're merely suffering extreme gastrointestinal pain and feel as though admitting it would show far too much vulnerability. One could potentially build upon this even more and allow for pained facial expressions and whinceing noises that outwardly say "I care about this so much and have much higher standards than the rest of you," but actually mean "I ate way too much indian food for lunch because I'm a big dumb idiot."

  5. Starting the meeting with the video option turned off - Obvious power play. Is again a risky move because it invites all sorts of questions: Is this person actually there? Are they too busy to show their face? Why do I have my video turned on so they can see my grainey face like a chump while they get to hide behind the comfort of a black screen displaying only their name? Then you hit play and you're leaning forward staring directly into the camera catching them right in the middle of their crisis. They might just start crying. Hey why are you being mean?

  6. Turning the webcam upside down - this is for the jokesters. Imagine being balls-deep in your workday, groggy as hell, and you show up for your 2 PM call with your boss only to find the entire world is flipped upside down? Pretty cool. They would just give up on the spot. If their boss said she was cutting their pay in half and asked them if they liked that, they would say yes, not because they like it but because it offers the straightest shortest path out of the Carrollian nightmare forest of a social situation they've unwittingly been led into. Hey why are you being mean?

  7. Back straight as a wooden board but head cocked about 25 degrees to the side - this says "I'm a little bit psychologically distressed but I'm so professional that I'm committed to powering through regardless. Please make a Me-shaped pathway to the exit the moment the bare minimum amount of business has been completed." You get out quick and are considered a hero for it.

  8. Normally but flexing really hard - the honeymoon phase is over. Your new job is no longer scary but also no longer exciting. You know exactly what you'll be getting every day, and it's just okay. You haven't seen your parents in a year. Your pet spends more time alone than not. You see workplace friends fired for startling little reason and realize that someday, that could be you too. You realize that your paycheck is your company's monthly subscription fee to your services, and they could cancel at any moment. Your clothes don't fit the way they used to and you no longer know what to answer when people ask what you do for fun. Did you ever? You've found a therapist using your new benefits but you don't know if you're cut out for it; you spend sessions worrying more about them than yourself, and find yourself saying things just to fill time; you hope they're happy but they seem so tired. Your birthday is coming up. What are you doing for it? Probably nothing in particular. But you have slightly more money than you used to, so you can pay vet bills and fix car windows without sweating too much. You're exercising again, even though it's so hot outside it breaks your spirit. There's a new milkshake flavor at that one place. You're not sure that your childhood self would like the person you've become. Your body barely functions most days. But you can read. Some people can't read. 

You've Been Putting the Wrong Gems In Your Mouth - And That's a Good Thing

Paranorovirus-level contributor Matt Spradling

We've absolutely all heard about how putting gems in your mouth grants various restorative properties. 

In Modern America, before we learn how to ride a bike we learn about how Topaz will make our fingers stronger; before we learn to multiply in math class, we learn that Diamond multiplies the intensity of pilate sessions; before we learn the satisfaction of a hard day's work, we learn that Rubies open more doors than money ever could.

This is all True. But is it Good?

Yes. But is it right?

In today's culture of Political Correctness Run Amok And Then Inverted And Forced To Consume Its Own Twin In Utero In Order To Absorb Its Powers And Survive Until Birth On The Oilfields Of West Texas, a righteously indignant minority of brave voices has served as faithful sirens guiding us through the fogs of Youth and Benighted Post-Youth: the Betty Remington International Gem Hoarding And Monopolizing Yearly Outing Unless Nobody Goes, or BRIGHAMYOUNG (no relation). 

BRIGHAMYOUNG endeavors to free us from having hands that are bound together to our other hands using manacles that have gems on them but they're the wrong gems. 

We say, "Hey, what's up, I'm Merrick, and I don't know what sex is, but I sure know that Amethyst will serve as a bezoar in toxin-ingestion emergencies," and they say, "Fuck you, idiot, Amethyst is for tax-evasion purposes only." 

We say "Oh hey, I'm Winfrey, and I actually know everything there is to know in the world of mainstream gems, I just wish there was more," and they say, "Fuck you, Winfrey, I bet you didn't know that grinding up whatever that green one is and spreading it over your body will make all your acne fucking explode."

These are exactly and also precisely the brave and intelligent voices We need right now precisely and also exactly because they're not intelligent. They're actually pretty dumb and vulgar and only dumb people are vulgar. 

But they are brave, and we need bravery right now. We need bravery right now to tell your boss, "Hey, I don't know how to drive a lawnmower, so I guess I'll use scissors." We need bravery right now to tell your crush, "Hey, I don't know how ice cream is made, but I know how it ends up."

So keep using the wrong gems for the wrong things, and keep getting told about it by the likes of BRIGHAMYOUNG and their equivalents corresponding to other examples of things. 

Keep being a patriot. 

Sleepmasks Reviewed

Pomodoro-level contributor Matt Spradling 

A while ago I got a cat. I've never talked about it before, but the rumors are true.

I'm also an extremely light sleeper, so living in the city for ~6 years has more or less rendered me a pale husk of the hopeful boy I once was. In my first apartment I couldn't sleep because my neighbors listened to Bob Marly really loudly a lot and someone somewhere really loved mowing. In my second place I couldn't sleep because it was next to the intramural fields and referee whistles wouldn't let me sleep until noon like a hero. And in my third and fourth apartments which were actually the same place as the first, I couldn't sleep because there was a children's home or daycare or something half a block away and one child who I thought of as Terrence for some reason had a game he loved to play called scream and he liked to play this from 9:00 AM until 1:00 PM and would scream if someone tried to stop him.

I started buying earplugs circa Terrence and they helped at first, but then either my ears began to reject them or Terrence evolved to circumvent them, his screams sentient energies struggling to penetrate my dreams as though inspired by antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

My current apartment, though, is pretty good: can block out light; no psychotic neighbors; that one dog learned to chill, etc.

Then cat. Cat loud. Cat always loud. Cat scream in face at night. Lock cat out. Cat bang door at night while scream. Wear earplugs that block out passing jets. Cat louder than passing jets. Cat is passing jet. Cat is jet but stay.

Enter stage right: cheap sleepmasks via amazon. This a strange and inscrutable industry: several dozen models populate the search results, all vaguely reflective of one another and with similar maker names. For various reasons that will become clear, my sleepmask experience turned out to be less of a one-and-done purchase and more of a sampler like a rotating platter of delectable little chinese sleepmask finger sandwiches.

Here are my reviews.

JosEche Sleep Mask-01

  • Revelatory but only in the honeymoon phase
  • Necessarily goes over nose and eyes but does not have cutouts for these; presses eyes in a way that is very strange but my eye doctor said is not harmful although she seemed very confused
  • Speakers make sleeping on side of head extremely painful
  • Velcro strap stopped working after about a month
  • Either the dye used to color the face black or the dark magic contained within in lieu of battery power soon began to leak onto whatever fabric surface it was left on, permanently staining pillows, sheets, and mattress
  • Drowns out cat and is therefore technically a success
  • 3 stars


  • Has cutouts for both eyes and nose
  • Speakers make sleeping on side of head extremely painful
  • When tied back naturally, headband/speakers fall about a full 1.5 inches above ears, which is not ideal for hearing things
  • Drowns out cat and is therefore technically a success, however I am becoming uncomfortable with the reality that someone could literally break in and come into my room and I might not hear a thing
  • 3 stars


  • Sort of resembles the facemask for a jet pilot's helmet, which is approximately the level of intensity I like to take into sleep
  • Drowns out cat and is therefore technically a success. I no longer completely sleep, instead thrashing quietly in the darkness while coming to terms with the fact that I could be killed at any moment and can't do a thing to stop it
  • 3 stars

Wellerly V4.1

  • Drowns out cat and is therefore technically a success. I am become one with the darkness and the blazing silence. Language has lost meaning. I do not remember color. My exiled spirit wanders disembodied through the corridors, seeking asylum and preying on the lost. I sleep, but I do not rest.
  • Kind of looks like there's a really bad pair of boxer briefs on your face
  • 3 stars

Modern Santa Mythology

Monty & Associates-level contributor Louisa Diaz

So this weekend, Jordan and I went biking with his dad and a bunch of his dad's friends (it was a brutally hot suffer fest and Jordan got too hot and threw up and then we lost the group, but that is neither here nor there)

Jordan's dad's best friend is this 78 year old man, who has long white hair and is the fastest mountain biker ever, and he splits time between austin and tempe AZ

and at the end of the ride, he gets a call on speaker phone from his son who lives on his property in tempe, and the son goes "so dad, I went into your house and I think someone broke in"

"They ate all this frozen sushi and left a mess in the kitchen and stole your new road bike ($8,000 bike), but left all the other bikes" (probably $30,000 worth of bikes)

and everyone is like Wtf who would do that

so they call the police and make a case, but determine that it's probably someone they know,

and we're driving back, and he goes "oh my god, oh my god I know who it was"

and without saying anything he calls someone and says "hey my house got broken into last night and someone ate my frozen sushi and stole my road you think it was her"

and apparently, this guy's crazy ex-girlfriend broke off her ankle monitor, broke into his house, ate the sushi and stole the road bike to go on the lam

AZ is nuts

I used the oddest bathroom I've ever seen in AZ


Amidst the hubbub about the anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon-landing recently, I came across this podcast. It's a quick 10-odd hour long series that presents the historical background around the event, the inner workings of NASA, profiles many of those who worked on the missions, etc. The through-line of it is basically training you to be able to listen to the intense radio communications taking place during the 13-minute long descent of the landing module to the surface of the moon - several different loops of different conversations happening all at once, including communications with the Eagle - and be able to parse and understand the context of all the controlled chaos. I'm a space geek but I learned a ton. It also made me cry at like 8:00 in the morning, an hour at which I rarely feel anything other than confused hunger and dire existential dread. Do recommend. It's also British, which is always nice. 

Office Chart

The Mountain Goats - Spent Gladiator 2

The Mountain Goats - See America Right

Bob Dylan - A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall (Rolling Thunder Revue)

Bob Dylan - Yazoo Street Scandal

The National - Afraid Of Everyone

The National - Sea of Love

The Decemberists - Grace Cathedral Hill

The Decemberists - I Was Meant For the Stage

The Shins - Black Wave

The Shins - A Comet Appears


Thanks for the birthday wishes, couldn't hear them while moshing to Eli the Barrow Boy