Nancy Pelosi

Dear Friends of the Pub Quiz,

For the first time ever, I have relinquished my newsletter duty, handing it over to a Pub Quiz regular, Allie Rubin, a PhD student in Geology who is the team captain of that perpetually contending team known as Trivia Newton John. Let’s see what she has to say.
I have been granted one of the highest honors in the land! Dr. Andy has invited me to write a Pub Quiz newsletter. President Obama called this morning with his congratulations. “Not now, Obama!” I shouted into my phone. “I am very busy writing the Pub Quiz newsletter!” He said he understood, and we made a date to get brunch next week, which we will not be Instagramming because Nancy Pelosi always gets upset when we don’t invite her. Because I am a benevolent genius, I’ve decided to give you a quick rundown of some recent current events in case they’re the subject of any questions at the Pub Quiz this week:

Donald Trump: Mr. Trump is running for President in 2016. He is doing exceptionally well in the polls given that 1) he may actually just be a latex weather balloon filled with wig scraps and 2) his proposed policies are so fascist that he has already been cast as the villain in the next Indiana Jones movie. You should vote for Donald Trump if you think Mr. Potter is the true hero of It’s a Wonderful Life, or if you have ever burned a child’s lemonade stand to the ground.

Jimmy Iovine: Apple executive Jimmy Iovine recently said that Apple Music makes it easy to find new music, especially for women, because “women find it very difficult at times… to find music.” Mr. Iovine’s comments were denounced as sexist and insulting, but I found them insightful because I am a lady, and whenever I search for things on iTunes I always end up having to pull over and ask someone for directions. Once, I tried to download Adele and I ended up purchasing an actual Dell! I can’t buy the new Drake song even though I’ve sent multiple handwritten requests to both Drake and my computer! It is very hard to “have it all”!

Basketball: Basketball is possibly still happening. (I don’t know. I’m generally not prepared for the basketball questions. Like any true indoor kid, I prefer to sit quietly and wait for the Shakespeare question.)

Thanksgiving: Thanksgiving is rapidly approaching! Here are some things for which you should give thanks this year: coffee, the fact that George Lucas is not in charge of the new Star Wars movie, the rise of industrialism that has made it possible for me to buy clothes instead of weaving them from coarse natural fibers, One Direction, sleepy puppies, and olive oil.

Now that you have been armed with these exciting and 100% accurate facts, I hope you will join us at the Pub Quiz tonight. I’ve been attending the Pub Quiz for about four years, and as a scientist and an overly competitive person (no one wants to play Monopoly with me anymore unless a real estate lawyer is present), I’ve spent a lot of time trying to analyze why trivia is something I enjoy. Why do I experience genuine frustration and rage when I can’t remember the name of a Nicki Minaj song? Isn’t the fact that there are over 300 billion stars in the Milky Way enough to make my very existence, to say nothing of the amount of time it takes me to unscramble an anagram, seem meaningless? Why did de Veres’ decision to remove the pulled pork sandwich from their menu feel like a personal betrayal, when in fact a) it decidedly was not and b) I could make my own pulled pork sandwiches at home with just a modicum of effort?

As it turns out, there is no grand spiritual reason why I go to trivia each Monday. Sometimes it’s just fun to go to a crowded restaurant and turn off your phone and drink beer surrounded by your friends and fellow Davisites. It’s fun to participate in events that foster a strong sense of community, even if it is kind of bizarrely Ayn Rand-y that the prime objective of the Pub Quiz is for one small group to triumph over the rest of said community. And it’s fun to spend precious time and money glaring at your friends for two hours in the hope of winning a used DVD copy of Spy Game, something my team has done.

I hope to see you all at the Pub Quiz tonight, where the topics will range from hummus to famous Italian traitors to overrated shellfish. Also expect questions on barley, toe socks that cut off your circulation because they shrunk in the wash, and the rule of threes. As always, the winners will receive a $50 gift card to a defunct Borders in Newark; the losers will be tied to a chair and forced to moderate the comments on an NPR article about gun control.


Thanks to Allie for filling in admirably!

Here are the actual hints for tonight’s Quiz. Expect questions on Leslie Nielsen movies, injured superheroes, lilies, a rung Bel, Roman guides, ragtime music, taxi drivers, people named York, American inventors, funny ladies, populous cities, big farms, men who have won acting’s highest honor, nuns with funny accents, people named Harry, villains, wet and windy landscapes, Baptists, leftover rockers, money for nothing, comparing a month to a moth, rich people’s sports, space travel, Halloween pelicans, getting back up, respect, the difficulty of saying “thank you,” bard adaptations, places that start with B, football records, people who need no “haircut help,” styles of styli, imaginative slogans, and Shakespeare. Find other hints via social media.

Because Davis schools and other colleges now take the entire week of Thanksgiving off, tonight I anticipate our being awash with teachers and visiting alumni from Davis High and other schools. As a result, I encourage you to join us early to claim a table. My perambulating wife Kate and I will arrive around 6 to enjoy a Dr. Andy Salad, soon to be added to the Pub Quiz menu.

Happy Thanksgiving!


Your Quizmaster


Here are three questions from last week’s quiz:


  1. Sequels. This year in 2015 we saw the release of a sequel whose May 15–17 $69M opening weekend gross set a record for a first-time director, in this case Elizabeth Banks. Name the film.


  1. Food and Drink. In South Africa, what T substance is used to give boiled white rice a golden color?


  1. Pop Culture – Music. In what decade did the band New Order release the most albums and have the most hits on the US dance charts?


P.S. Have I told you that I am working on a Pub Quiz book? I hope the E-book will come out before the holidays, and the paperback in 2016.


Dear Friends of the Pub Quiz,

As a child I found myself practicing grief in Paris, a city I have yet to visit.

At one time the saddest film I was allowed to see, and perhaps at times the most playful, was The Red Balloon by Albert Lamorisse. It presents a boy named Pascal who, at about the age I was when I first watched the film at summer camp, finds his only friend, a magical red balloon with a mind of its own. For 34 minutes of this short Oscar-winning 1956 film the red balloon follows Pascal through the Belleville neighborhood of Paris. Seemingly the boy’s only friend, the balloon joins the boy on many adventures before encountering a willful and violent end, as happens to many of our playthings. Sensitive and heartbroken for Pascal, I practiced grief while watching that film, exploring the pity and fear that Aristotle would come to warn me about.

Paris remained for me a city of beauty and magic that was marked by loss. An American in Paris, which I saw a year or two later, explored similar themes as the Lamorisse short, but with more dancing, and with kinder children. These films, and books with Paris settings that I had devoured during those years – I’m thinking of the Babar and Madeline book series – froze Paris for me at the mid-century, as if the city’s ancient cathedrals and majestic bridges would render it immune, and perhaps haughtily superior, to the noisy technologies of later eras. As was the case with my childhood hometown of Washington DC (which was modeled on Paris), citywide caps of tall buildings in the French capital would ensure that one could see the central Eiffel Tower, the sustaining symbol of an earlier age, from many distant Paris arrondissements.

Today the City of Lights, the city of cafes and art museums, of bridges and bookshops, this European mecca of culture, is wounded and reeling. We see the city and all of Europe just as we see our friends on social media, through our tears, and through the tricoleur flag of France. I remain grateful for the lessons our oldest ally taught our country’s founders about liberty, equality, and fraternity. In the spirit of all three, let us stand in solidarité with Paris during this dark hour. With candles in our windows, let every city be a city of lights.

At times of grief, we sometimes turn to the poets, those practiced at representing emotions deep and mixed. Here is a poem by the English poet and writer Wilfrid Scawen Blunt. It is titled “A New Pilgrimage: Sonnet VI”:

Away from sorrow! Yes, indeed, away!

Who said that care behind the horseman sits?

The train to Paris, as it flies to–day,

Whirls its bold rider clear of ague fits.

Who stops for sorrows? Who for his lost wits,

His vanished gold, his loves of yesterday,

His vexed ambitions? See, the landscape flits

Bright in his face, and fleeter far than they.

Away! away! Our mother Earth is wide;

And our poor lives and loves of what avail?

All life is here; and here we sit astride

On her broad back, with Hope’s white wings for sail,

In search of fortune and that glorious goal,

Paris, the golden city of our soul.


Tonight’s Pub Quiz will feature questions about honey, comedy, bank notes, towns in Kansas, second rounds, presidents on trains, our happier cousins, Avenger rankings, cinematic typecasting, protagonists of notable books, foreign languages, transportation (five questions), unsanctioned joy rides, the ends of kings and doctors, bicycling alternatives, mononyms, California’s Central Valley, ballroom dancing, lists that end with shrubbery, wallet stalwarts, Twitter followers, musical numbers, silver and gold, sequels, South African cooking, the dance charts, iPhone sales, Scrabble scores of 21, current events and Shakespeare. There will be no questions on Charlie Sheen.

Do come join us tonight at the Irish Pub. If you come early, you and your team will be given a table where you can sit to tell stories over a refreshing beverage. Raise a toast to the people of Paris.


Your Quizmaster


Here are three questions from last week’s quiz:

  1. Internet Culture. What does the fashion hash tag #OOTD stand for?
  1. U.S. States. The home state of the longest-serving US Congressman, John Conyers, is also the Cherry Capital of the United States and home to the largest limestone quarry in the world. Above the Mason-Dixon Line, what is this state of almost 10 million people?
  1. California Counties. The northwestern-most county in California has the largest percentage of residents living in economic distress. What is this county whose name starts with the letter D? Hint: Its name is the shortened Spanish nickname for “the land of the north.”


P.S. This coming Thursday I myself will be giving a poetry reading at the John Natsoulas Gallery. My old buddy Brad Henderson will join me. He and I, and I hope you, will be celebrating the tenth anniversary of our first poetry reading in downtown Davis, held in the E Street Plaza and sponsored by the Downtown Davis Business Association. Ten years of poetry readings, and it’s finally my turn! We start at 8, and it would be fun to see you there.



Dear Friends of the Pub Quiz,

I’ve been asked to teach a short story class for the UC Davis Department of English this coming summer, and now I am filled with gleeful anticipation and planning. Pulling out my syllabus from the last time I taught the class, in 2009, I realize how much teaching has changed in the last few years. Although older faculty must negotiate the evolving distractions and electronic interruptions that accompany most of our students, most of these changes to teaching and learning are nevertheless welcome developments and opportunities.

When I first started teaching short fiction to college students in the early 1990s, student expected much from the lecture. As the most knowledgeable person in the classroom, I would focus on presenting complex and scintillating lectures, revealing like a storyteller the social, political, theoretical and historical contexts of the texts we read. I knew things that students didn’t know, in part because I had years of experience with such texts, access to a library full of secondary sources, and access to knowledgeable mentors (such as Professor Jack Hicks, who still today teaches California literature classes to lucky UC Davis students). I also counted among my peer group future award-winning professors such as Kirsten Saxton and Rebecca Bocchicchio, and they had much to share, even when we were all in our 20s.

Today the lecture as revelation of information is less foundational to a student’s education, for that student can find much of what an instructor might “know” in 30 minutes of informed web-searching (especially if taking full advantage of library databases). The instructor in this modern era of teaching still has the responsibility of presenting the lecture a cogent and challenging argument, something to be deliberated and even practiced, but also of devising and framing activities that students can engage in during class meeting time. If they are to learn something, students usually need something to do. I’ve learned over the years that even real-time assessments can provide students a learning experience.

This second focus on active learning transforms the instructor from “impressive” story-teller and argument-unfolder into a motivational speaker who teaches students how to take the reins themselves, to practice the leadership skills that UC Davis students are known for. As a mentor teacher at UC Davis, I’ve had the pleasure of teaching active learning to faculty at the graduate Nara Institute on Science and Technology in Nara, Japan. One of the challenges that my colleagues and I encountered in Nara was that students there are so respectful of their professors, their sensei, that they would dare not ask questions: to do show would be to show disrespect for a senior mentor. And yet questions are a foundational element of active (and thus successful) learning. For instance, I myself require that my students challenge something that I say at least once a quarter. By the end of the quarter, I sometimes must make increasingly outrageous statements in order to inspire the quieter students to fulfill their challenging quota.

I love both forms of teaching – the lecture and the hour of project-based learning – but I must admit that I learn more from the latter, with the students as co-instructors, even though the former requires me to memorize more and speak with greater practiced facility. Both approaches fill me with anticipatory delight. I think of my several conversations with Larry Vanderhoef before his first stroke: he had grand plans to teach a large (huge, really) GE science course, and he came to me for teaching tips and strategies. He also wanted to know what to expect from the millennial students in his classroom after his 25-year gap in teaching duties. UC Davis students offer so much!

Like Larry, I know that I would teach favorite classes such as “The Short Story” and “Writing in Fine Arts” even if I were fabulously wealthy, for the best rewards are not financial. Our students provide us energy, necessary in-class protestations, and reason to have faith in our future leaders, of those who will take care of us. As Henry Adams once said, “A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.” Teaching a class is like spending some time conversing with representatives of a future that some of us will not see in person. It is my favorite mode of time travel.


Tonight’s Pub Quiz will feature some questions for those veterinary students who sometimes gather in good-natured and studious hordes, laughing at the simplicity of my questions about chemistry and biology. Expect also questions about endangered companies, Hamlet’s spies, former San Francisco heroes, Wilde, living legends, the well-paid peanut gallery, inaugural awards, money-makers, the packs that sorrows travel in, baseball leadership, odd-looking family members, science fiction, prions, the alphabet that is used the most, Chopin, Portland residents, three marriages and two and a half divorces, that which is neutered, occasions to release the vino, song that have been covered by superstars, Instagram hashtags, pilots, sarcastic and underachieving subordinates, favorite spices, forbearance, sleep habits, guards with excellent aim, sorry musicians, the land of the north, cherries, ten million people, World War I, newspaper headlines, fashion choices, and Shakespeare.

Nearby teams will recognize Pub Quiz participant Catriona McPherson by her infectious laugh and by the booksmart demeanors of her teammates. She has won a big bunch of awards for her mystery fiction, something she is hesitant to talk about when she comes on my radio show. This coming Saturday night her work will be featured at Stories on Stage Davis. You should add this event to your weekend plans.

See you tonight!


Your Quizmaster


Here are three questions from last week’s quiz:


  1. Mottos and Slogans and Catch Phrases. What TV actor, playwright and activist released his own fragrance line titled “Eau My” (which also happens to be his catch phrase)?


  1. Internet Culture: Video Games. What is the most famous video game that allows players to build constructions out of textured cubes?


  1. American Cities. The city colleges in what American city include Harold Washington College and Malcolm X College?


P.S. The next Poetry Night on November 19th will feature Brad Henderson, who met his beloved at the Pub Quiz, and, well, me. Details to come.


Saudi Arabia


Dear Friends of the Pub Quiz,

Last night at office hours I met with a student who intended to squeeze every moment out of her 25-hour Sunday. Buoyed by the extra hour presented by the “fall back” in our clocks, she resolved, quixotically, to do 25 different things in her 25 hours, though she had to admit that sleep made this really difficult. When asked for evidence of her activities, she said that she was training for a half marathon (and she showed me a map of her morning run out to rural west Davis), that she has been practicing the piano – a new instrument for her – every day, and that this week she had plans to take the test for her driver’s license.

She repeatedly communicated her amazement and delight over all the freedoms that she enjoys as a 20 year-old woman in Davis. She told me with some relish that she can stay up as late as she likes, she can go wherever she wants in town, and she can make friends with any sort of person she wishes.

Back home in Saudi Arabia, she finds her natural introversion to be codified by local customs. When she returned home to Saudi Arabia last summer, she found herself quietly perturbed that one of her older brothers would have to escort her if she wanted to go to the library, the grocery store, or on a walk. Even with an escort, she has to ask her father’s permission to do such things, “and he can always say ‘no.’”

She told me that some of her friends’ parents do not let their daughters have electronic devices or access to the internet, “just as it is in your American prisons.” I reflected for a moment on my own unthinking freedoms and nodded as she told me, “I have it better than many.”

These visits home to Saudi Arabia have reminded my student that here in the United States she is like a prisoner on furlough. She beholds the grand cork oak trees on campus, the undergraduates racing around on bicycles, and the odd and sometimes shocking costumes women wear at night, even when it’s not Halloween. A student “sponsored” by a generous scholarship, she is expected to return home as soon as she graduates. She reflected out loud about her activities in Davis – two-hour runs along our greenbelts, extended laughter over coffee at Mishka’s Café, and her interactions with supportive peers and faculty – and told me that she hopes memories of these experiences will sustain her for decades into the future.

In a way, we are all on furlough. Shouldn’t we all try to fill our weekends – and our lives – as eagerly?


Tonight’s Pub Quiz will appear to scientists more than is typical. I am a film and book man, myself, but I like to appear wide-ranging and ecumenical when it comes to the variety of topics we cover on the quiz. Expect also questions about the Internet Movie Database, rivals who die too young, Italian vacations, equine studies, the question of invented horizontality, Canadian centres, middling football teams, wild things, really big creatures found in Louisiana, death in America, foreign provinces, War and Peace, surface collapses, the sixteen letters found in the answer to question 17, rock and roll without the roll, love letters, princesses, colorful targets, rocks and garbage, manifest destiny, fruits with angry sequins, the sports equinox, fame at 17, Beatles’ songs in German, Malcolm X, video games, unlikely fragrances, and Shakespeare.

Today’s rain is refreshing, and should be interpreted as an opportunity to join friends tonight in frivolous fun. See you at 7 at de Vere’s Irish Pub!


Your Quizmaster


Here are three questions from last week’s quiz:


  1. Internet Culture. Recently Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook gave an overseas 30-minute speech in a language other than English. What was that language?


  1. Newspaper Headlines.  People this week are talking about a newly released song, “Hello,” from someone who is not named Lionel Ritchie. Name the singer-songwriter.


  1. Norwegian Slang. What U.S. state with a lower case first letter is now a slang term in Norway for “crazy” or “out of control”?


P.S. Lynn Freed, twice winner of the O. Henry Award, our nation’s highest honor presented to writers of the short story, will be reading from recent work at the John Natsoulas Gallery this coming Thursday evening. Find details at



Dear Friends of the Pub Quiz,

Late yesterday evening I stood at the end of a really long walkway watching deplaning Sacramentans reuniting with those they love. Happy to escape the cramped seating of coach class, several people took selfies to offer social proof that they had arrived at this new city (or had finally arrived home). To my left, a portly man in his 30s stood with a bouquet of 24 roses, waiting for his beloved. She came down the gangplank, smiling, holding the hand of a yawning six year-old girl with ringlets of brown hair and a frilly dress. He bent down on one knee to look her in the eye, saying, some of these flowers are for you.

Was it his daughter? His future step-daughter? I couldn’t tell, but a bunch of young women who had traveled on the same plane with the ringletted girl slowed their walks to a sluggish stroll, smiling broadly and staring unabashedly at this reunion of three. While the man handled the matching Hello Kitty backpack and rolling suitcase, the division and dissemination of roses was negotiated on the tram from the security checkpoint to the baggage claim.

As I walked with my own daughter – arriving home from a cousin’s bat mitzvah in Seattle – I considered the relative majesty of Sacramento International Airport’s Terminal B. Unless one works at 555 California Street or the Transamerica Pyramid in San Francisco, one is unlikely to spend time in a building larger than our Sacramento Airport. Like one of our posh California supermalls, the airport’s marble and cleanliness gives the building an air of regal ascendancy. And like Arden Fair Sacramento or, even more opulent, the Westfield Galleria at Roseville, our airport now offers many of the shops of a standard tony mall, and most of the food options.

But as I gathered last night with the other greeters and huggers, I was focusing on the emotional resonance of the airport. As explored by the film When Harry Met Sally, some of us assert our worth as friends or as partners by providing a ride to the airport. It’s a symbolic benchmark in a relationship. As I saw last night, some people stage reunions at the airport. Others still see beloved friends or relations for the last time at SMF, giving a last hug before sending that person off to a faraway life, and perhaps a distance of years of virtual check-ins, the absence finalized by a regretful phone call, or, more likely today, a Facebook post by proxy.

In The Last Tycoon, F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote meaningfully about the different functions that airports have for us, saying that “airports lead you way back in history like oases, like the stops on the great trade routes. The sight of air travellers strolling in ones and twos into midnight airports will draw a small crowd any night up to two. The young people look at the planes, the older ones look at the passengers with a watchful incredulity.”

As Fitzgerald suggests, we might be distracted by the novel aviation technologies – the invasive x-ray machines, the floatation seat cushions, or the impossibly complex array of dials and readouts that await the captain behind the secure door of the cockpit – or we might, if we are willing to watch carefully and silently, see the poetry that leaps from traveler to traveler, each of us embracing a moment of adventure, or wishing that we were.


Tonight’s Pub Quiz will feature no questions on airports. Instead expect to be asked about all of the topics suggested by these abstruse and enigmatic “hints”: Gutian, young talent in California, Des Moines political gossip, lanterns, heroes named Peter, partially submerged homes, presidential reigns, welcome rain, retired boxers, famous doctors who have returned from their adventures, long poems, The Tonight Show, British immigrants who take our jobs, late night television, Christians, actors who dress in scantily cute clothes, eight-letter words with but two vowels, network television, coffees, Edmund’s questionable choices, discontent, ponies, bonding, California cities, Irish culture, noisy punks, the supernatural, dads like us, languages other than English, MOOCs, happy breathing, and Shakespeare.

I hope you can join us tonight.


Your Quizmaster


Here are three questions from last week’s quiz:

  1. Books and Authors.   The widely-regarded Man Booker Prize-winning book Life of Pi was not written by a manly tern, but it was written by a man whose name is an anagram of A MANLY TERN. Name him.
  1. Film.   The new Spielberg-directed film Bridge of Spies stars a 59-year-old Oscar-winning actor whose films have grossed over $8.4 billion internationally. Name the actor.
  1. Irish Culture. What is the name of the national flag carrier airline of Ireland?



Dear Friends of the Pub Quiz,


I was scheduled to introduce Larry Vanderhoef on the evening that he passed away.

When Battle of the Books organizer Shelley Dunning and I were deciding a few months ago who would introduce whom at her wonderful October 15 fundraiser for the Hattie Weber Museum, I jumped at the chance to introduce former UC Davis Chancellor Larry Vanderhoef. I knew the other three authors (John Lescroart, Kim Stanley Robinson, and Naomi Williams) better than I knew the former Chancellor, but I chose Larry because he is one of the reasons that today I call myself a Davisite. To speak for a few minutes about the long-serving Chancellor of your favorite university requires that you speak about the university itself. During Larry’s time, the university grew in size, grew steadily in the estimation of competing sports teams and the U.S. News and World Report, and grew by millions the research and endowment dollars that poured into UC Davis coffers, giving our faculty more opportunities, and making the UC Davis experience more accessible for underrepresented students.

These are perhaps the most impressive accomplishments of Larry Vanderhoef, though none of them is the most important to me. When I think of Larry Vanderhoef, I admire the man the most for these four qualities:

  • Larry’s commitment to the arts. Who would expect that a biochemist from Perham, Minnesota, population about 1,500 when Larry was born there, would be responsible for the grandest center for the performing arts this side of the Kennedy Center in my former home of Washington DC? I would love to see more of our campus scientists follow Larry’s lead and pledge themselves to the arts that feed our souls.
  • Larry’s commitment to students. As a Chancellor, Larry was visible, accessible, and present for UC Davis students. A constant attendee to sporting events, a silent and affirming presence at the Undergraduate Research Conference, and a tireless proponent of student scholarships, Larry considered students in every decision he made. One of my star students from 2003 was nominated for a number of undergraduate scholarships and awards, and thus got to attend a number of award ceremonies with the Chancellor. For years thereafter Larry would ask me about Melissa, and I would always have an update to share that would make him smile.
  • Larry’s humanity. I attended the Chancellor’s fall retreat a week after the events of September 11th, 2001, and at that event and thereafter I heard Larry speak often about his empathy for the students who, like all of us, were trying to make sense of the new challenges we were facing as a nation. More personally, the summer after he stepped down from his position as Chancellor, Larry attended all the talks I gave at the Summer Institute on Teaching and Technology, and during the lunch break asked me curious and sympathetic questions about Jukie, my son with special needs.
  • Larry’s humility. I had many conversations with Larry Vanderhoef, but my favorite Larry memory involved no words spoken by either one of us. A number of years ago Larry biked over to the Voorhies Hall courtyard to stand in the back of a crowd that was hearing celebratory talks about the 20 year anniversary of the lauded University Writing Program journal Writing on the Edge. Larry laughed when we laughed, applauded when we applauded, and then, just before we broke for refreshments, mounted his bike to head off to the next event in his busy schedule. Larry supported the writing program faculty by listening and by admiring the success of his campus colleagues, but without ever needing to take his turn behind the microphone, or even to be noticed that he was there.

What a fine man. I agree with Joseph Campbell, who said, “A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself.” I am grateful to have known Larry Vanderhoef, and I stand with all UC Davis affiliates who will remember him as we long benefit from his extraordinary gifts.

Tonight’s Pub Quiz will feature questions about patience, Andy Garcia and others of his ilk, animals in elevators, the cod diet, a household of daughters, that which pleases, loser jackets, people named Lucy, electromagnetics, the Spirit of rapid diminishment, important cities, modern-day zombie infestations, Oscar-winners, books you have heard of by authors you haven’t, contemporary politics, Alabama, BCS, foolish feuds, Juliet hailing Romeo, music facts pulled from the New York Times, Italian words and phrases, that which surrounds, American heroes killed by American authorities, conductors, coaches, people named after favorite professional wrestlers, cars in Connecticut, Californians, beverages, animal species, and Shakespeare.

I hope you can join us this evening for some raucous fun. An even better microphone has been ordered and tested to ensure that we can celebrate trivia without restrictions.

Your Quizmaster


Here are three questions from last week’s quiz:


  1. Mottos and Slogans.   What Republican candidate for U.S. President has been using the political slogan “Heal. Inspire. Revive.”?


  1. Internet Culture. What popular tower defense video game has both a V and a Z in its title?


  1. Batman. Bob Kane first called one of Batman’s vehicles the Batmobile in the first year of what decade?


P.S. There will be a special guest at Kate’s table tonight. Her brother Andy is visiting from Chicago. Feel free to stop by to welcome him to Davis!




Dear Friends of the Pub Quiz,


Thanks to the History Channel, we now have another reason to watch the films Escape from Alcatraz and Dark Passage once again. A recent re-examination of the history of Alcatraz suggests once again that three men escaped the island.


According to the website (and iphone app) Alcatraz History, John and Clarence Anglin and Frank Lee Morris are the only names left unaccounted for after all these years. Clint Eastwood played Morris in the film Escape from Alcatraz, so it was through his eyes that we got to explore the challenges of digging tunnels with spoons and creating fake dummy heads from prison wall cement.


At the 50th anniversary of their “escape,” sisters of John and Clarence Anglin asserted that they must have escaped, say, to Brazil, for why else would the U.S. Marshalls and the History Channel still be looking for them?


Meanwhile, Bogart’s escape from San Quentin in the beginning of Dark Passage is intriguing for a couple reasons. One, it takes place not far from here on Marin County and San Francisco streets that we may have driven ourselves. Secondly, Bogart’s face is not shown in the beginning of the film, with many scenes shot from his point of view. There is a plastic surgery twist that I think you will enjoy.


As a poet, and as someone who has taken and taught film theory classes, I read such movies metaphorically. What prisons do each of us live in, and how do we escape them? William Blake asserted in his poem “London” that we establish needless limitations in our own minds:


In every cry of every Man,

In every Infants cry of fear,

In every voice: in every ban,

The mind-forg’d manacles I hear.


T.S. Eliot spoke of a similar mental prison in The Waste Land:


We think of the key, each in his prison

Thinking of the key, each confirms a prison.


While Thoreau argues that our desperation imprisons us:


“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation. From the desperate city you go into the desperate country, and have to console yourself with the bravery of minks and muskrats. A stereotyped but unconscious despair is concealed even under what are called the games and amusements of mankind. There is no play in them, for this comes after work. But it is a characteristic of wisdom not to do desperate things.”


He argues in that same section of Walden that “Most men, even in this comparatively free country, through mere ignorance and mistake, are so occupied with the factitious cares and superfluously coarse labors of life that its finer fruits cannot be plucked by them.”


So I hope you that tonight you will break free from the prison of television, or of thoughtless and glassy-eyed surfing, and instead join your friends and me as we pick from life’s finer fruits.


Tonight’s Pub Quiz will feature questions on doctors with borders, aggressive plants, Shakespeare movies, sporting villains, the dreams that we have the courage to pursue, contracts, book battles, novels by women, scientific notebooks, cornfields, little furry creatures that almost kill franchises, growth leaders, walking dumplings, the guy who gets the girl, famous characters invented by Irishmen, poor little angels, freedoms of choice, days of the week, long Wigs, Boston University faculty, urban neurotics, 8th passengers, breath jells, South America, shot deputies, retail warehouses, banalities, the undead, famous mansions, the studies of Professor Plum, people born in the 1970s, extra hints on the website, riveters, Grammy-winners, famous shoes, Batman, Dark Passages (the actual movie), mermaids, and Shakespeare.


The First Annual Battle of the Books takes place this Thursday, and four of the authors represented are frequent (or constant) Pub Quiz attendees. Maybe I will see you Thursday night at 6 at St James Hall. Even though it’s Thursday, there will be no Poetry Night that night. Join us instead for the BOTB fundraiser for the Hattie Weber Museum.


See you soon!


Your Quizmaster


Here are five questions from last week’s quiz:


  1. Mottos and Slogans.   What sort of breakfast cereal, if you can call it that, purports to be “magically delicious”?


  1. Internet Culture. Presented just last week, the twelfth major release of OS X was named after a large two-word rock formation that begins with the letter E. Name it.


  1. Newspaper Headlines.  South Carolina is being battered by a series of serious storms, and parts of the capital are still being evacuated. What is the capital of South Carolina?


  1. Four for Four.    Which two of the following species of oak are native to California? Cork Oak, Engelmann Oak, Scarlet Oak, Valley Oak.


  1. Find the Commonality. What word that refers to a robot and an operating system is also the name of a Green Day song and a 1982 science fiction film starring Klaus Kinski?



P.S. I have been assured that the mic will be working this evening.



Dear Friends of the Pub Quiz,

Sir Winston Churchill purportedly said, “Success is the ability to move from one failure to another without loss of enthusiasm.” I say “purportedly,” because although the quotation is widely attributed to Churchill, scholars can’t find the phrase anywhere in the estimated eight to ten million words found in his speeches, books, and newspaper pieces. Like President Obama, and, say, Hillary Clinton, writing for Churchill was his primary source of income (though I am sure that all three did well on the lecture circuit).

As someone who has taught writing at UC Davis for 25 years (as of this month), I myself haven’t figured out how to make living from what I publish. The Sacramento Bee has paid me for a few pieces, and I once earned $250 for a long essay on Allen Ginsberg and the Beat Generation for the journal Art, Ltd. I don’t know that I ever broke even on my first book of poetry, Split Stock, and my most recent book, Where’s Jukie?, represents part of my charity work: all profits from books sales are donated to medical research.

Nevertheless, as Churchill didn’t say, I push on from one “failure” after another with no loss of enthusiasm, in part because of all the people I get to meet at book events, and because of all the literary and theatrical performances I get to enjoy resulting from my work as a writer. More specifically, I get to participate in seven literary events over the coming two weeks, all of which are worth recounting here:


October 9th – Sandra McPherson reads at the Wardrobe, 206 E Street, beginning at 7 PM. Expect refreshments.

Sandra McPherson, professor emerita and founder of Swan Scythe Press, will be reading new poetry at The Wardrobe, across the street from de Vere’s Irish Pub. I would consider this an event not to be missed. In addition to authoring about 20 books, McPherson’s honors and awards include three National Endowment for the Arts fellowships, a Guggenheim fellowship, two Ingram Merrill grants, an Award in Literature from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and letters, and a nomination for the National Book Award. She could be called the most decorated poet in Davis.


October 10th – Dr. Andy Jones and Kate Duren Perform from Where’s Jukie? at Stories on Stage, Davis, at the Pence Gallery, 212 D Street starting at 7:30. $5 cover.

Kate and I will PERFORM poems and essays from our book Where’s Jukie? on Saturday. Also, Capital Public Radio personality Devin Yamanaka will read an excerpt from Brenda Nakamoto’s memoir, Peach Farmer’s Daughter. Cookies and wine will be available, as will an expanded edition of our latest book (which I pick up on Thursday). One almost never gets to see Kate at the microphone – that’s what I am most excited about.


October 15th – Battle of the Books at St. James Memorial Center, 1275 B St., starting at 6 PM. $10 cover. A fundraiser benefiting the Hattie Weber Museum. Note that there will be no Poetry Night on this evening.

Top Davis Authors will be present, speaking about their books and having fun in a quiz show format, hosted by beloved Davis Enterprise columnist Bob Dunning. Which books? The Fall by New York Times bestselling author John Lescroart; Aurora by acclaimed science fiction author Kim Stanley Robinson; Indelibly Davis by UC Davis Chancellor Emeritus Larry Vanderhoef; Landfalls by first-time author Naomi Williams; and the aforementioned Where’s Jukie? by Andy Jones and Kate Duren. I hope to have Naomi’s book finished by the 15th, and I’ve already read two and a half of the others.


October 16th — The Jack Kerouac Poetry Prize Revelation Ceremony and Reading at the John Natsoulas Gallery, 521 1st Street. 8 PM

Like the Oscars, but for Poetry. Cash prizes will be given out, and the runners-up and winning poets will read their selected works before a jazz trio. A night of poetic adventure and fun, and a kick-off of the 2015 Jazz Beat Festival. I will be hosting this free event.


October 17th – Beat Poet and San Francisco Legend Michael McClure Reads in Davis. John Natsoulas Gallery, 521 1st Street. 7 PM

The evening finale of the Jazz Beat Festival is a performance by the canonical Beat poet, playwright, and lyricist, Michael McClure. At the age of 22, Michael McClure gave his first poetry reading at the legendary Six Gallery event in San Francisco, where Allen Ginsberg first read Howl. He has been called the role model for Jim Morrison, and for a generation of literary radicals and rebels.


Thanks to organizers such as Heather Caswell, Shelley Dunning, and John Natsoulas, in October Davis rivals San Francisco with its literary prowess. I hope to see you at some of these events. If you attend them all, I will buy you a drink at the October 19th Pub Quiz. If you attend none of them, one day you may wrestle with regret.

Tonight’s Pub Quiz will feature questions on various and sundry politicians, including questions on where they live and congregate. Expect also questions about good cops and bad cops, successful sequels, tender affections, biodiversity, Saturday Night Live, breezy homonyms, monumental authors, Michael Dukakis, mighty oaks, rock formations, consumable acids, words that start with E, the luck of the Irish, South America, math facts, success stories born in 1934, Canadians, Emily Blunt, 89 and 93, Arab countries, Martian contests, front runners, approaches to appealing to activists, U.S. states, former job titles, “successful” marriages, blind heroes, the state of a family, leftists and progressives, metaphysics, rich ladies, gradual development, Green Day, fashion design, and Shakespeare. I haven’t even written the anagram question yet, for I am teaching a Writing in Fine Arts class on Monday mornings. First things first.

Congratulations to the Moops who won last week’s quiz with a score of 28 points out of 30. See you tonight.


Your Quizmaster


Here are five questions from last week’s quiz:

  1. Mottos and Slogans. TV commercials for what brand of antacids asked us how we spelled relief?       Regrettably, my knowledge of this fact leaves less room for other more worthy facts. I’m sure you know this feeling.
  1. Internet Culture. The nickname of Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, CA also starts with the letter G. What is that nickname?
  1. Newspaper Headlines.  What three main American cities did Pope Francis visit last week? I wonder if Francis will be canonized in my lifetime.
  1. Four for Four. Which of the following H cities, if any, are found in Northern California? Hawthorne, Healdsburg, Hercules, Hesperia. Of these, I’ve only visited Healdsburg.
  1. Presidential Candidates. Of the shrinking number of Republicans running for U.S. President, which one is a 57 year-old former U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania? Both he and I hope you won’t have to Google this one (but for different reasons).



Dear Friends of the Pub Quiz,

How lucky are we to have independent bookstores in our city of Davis! When I first moved to Davis in 1990, I reveled in my visits to the half-dozen or so independent bookstores we had to choose from. As I biked from store to store 25 years ago, I was reminded of why I had previously chosen to study in Boston, London, and Berkeley: the intellectual stimulation of bookstores!

Back then I was also a bit of a book hoarder. As a graduate student, I displayed a superfluity of stocked bookshelves in every home where I lived, and many more books boxed away in the garage or closets. Having recently read about “The Private Book Collections of 10 Famous Readers,” I feel that tinge of desire to start collecting all over again, especially when I discover that Charles Darwin owned intriguing titles such as The Physiology or Mechanism of Blushing by Thomas Henry Burgess and The American Beaver and his Works by Lewis H. Morgan. Imagine the illustrations!

Eventually the floorboards of our various homes creaked with the weight of all that learning, the commodification of the world’s ideas. And then came Jukie, our son who as a toddler had the same attitude towards books as the Emperor Aurelian had towards the now lost library at Alexandria. The most precious books, many of them signed, were boxed up, and gradually I gave the rest away to my undergraduates and friends, as well as to the Davis Branch of the Yolo Public Library and the Sacramento Poetry Center. My wife Kate reminded me that if I ever wanted a book in the future, I could just buy it.

My favorite place to purchase books in Davis is The Avid Reader, the bookstore on 617 2nd Street that stocks so many fresh titles, hosts a number of readings and talks by local and traveling authors, and co-sponsors so many literary events in town. Although I have seen literati speak in bookstores in all the aforementioned cities, as well as DC and New York, by now I have seen the most live book events at our own Avid Reader.

One upcoming event that the Avid Reader is cosponsoring has been organized by Shelley Dunning, and the beneficiaries include all of us who read local authors, and especially the Hattie Webber Museum. To quote a recent article in the Davis Enterprise about the October 15th “Battle of the Books,” the books to have been read will include the following: “’The Fall’ by New York Times bestselling author John Lescroart; ‘Aurora’ by acclaimed science fiction author Kim Stanley Robinson; ‘Indelibly Davis’ by UC Davis Chancellor Emeritus Larry Vanderhoef; ‘Landfalls’ by first-time author Naomi Williams; and ‘Where’s Jukie?’ by popular husband-and-wife authors Andy Jones and Kate Duren.” Of these books, I have read and enjoyed The Fall and am now reading and loving Landfalls. Both are highly recommended.

Landfalls author Naomi Williams is a regular substitute on the Pub Quiz team The Mavens, while John Lescroart has attended a number of pub quizzes with his friend Glenn and their wives. Kate Duren attends every week, and of course I follow her wherever she goes. Bob Dunning will be MCing this Battle of the Books event, with all the authors present, and a number of “softball” questions to be asked about the books and authors, and about the city of Davis. You should visit to register your intent to participate in this event. The entrance fee is a mere $10, and I think all of us who participate plan to consume more than $10 worth of food and drink at the event. Local businesses such as The Davis Store and The Avid Reader will be donating prizes, and all the money raised will support the Hattie Webber Museum.

Speaking of which, I hear that Avid Reader owner Alzada Knickerbocker and a team of book-lovers and bookstore employees will be attending tonight’s Pub Quiz. As one can discover at Davis Wiki, in 2006 “Alzada Knickerbocker was named state Small-Business Champion of the Year by the National Federation of Independent Business,” so she sticks up for all us who would prefer to shop locally in stores by local business owners. She also runs a number of contests and outreach events to encourage a broader knowledge and understanding of the U.S. Constitution. Schoolchildren across the United States are pleased that our constitution is the shortest of just about any country’s in the world. Nevertheless, much can be learned from its momentous words, originally penned on parchment.

I hope you will also join us tonight. Expect questions on the following topics: animal lovers, people who say “Bravo,” lunchbox favorites, impudence, associated with The Great Gatsby, trials, furry animals who are never spotted in tea stores, Germany, conservative and progressive rock, fiction, candidates for U.S. president, hailing Romeo, cities in California, the nicknames of buildings, relief, book collecting, competition for Cleopatra, questionable sports, dinosaurs, bookstores, whiskey, actors who are also dancers, castles, Greek philosophers, first words, founding fathers, numbers that are divisible by 9, parchment, menu items, and Shakespeare.

In addition to our friends from The Avid Reader, we will be joined tonight by one of the all-star teams of yesteryear, The Penetrators, named thus because of their penetrating stares and their minds. Will you score better than the Penetrators? Bring your team by tonight to find out.


Your Quizmaster


Here are five questions from last week’s quiz:


  1. Internet Culture. As of 2014, which of the following top-ranked colleges has the most alumni working for Apple, Inc.? Harvard, Princeton, Yale, UC Davis.


  1. Film. The new Whitey Bulger biopic titled Black Mass takes place primarily in what U.S. State?


  1. Pop Culture – Music. In 2003 Rolling Stone named what 71 year-old Canadian singer-songwriter and painter the 72nd greatest guitarist of all time, the highest-ranked woman on the list?


  1. Four for Four.    Which two of the following are among the top three banana exporters in the world? China, Costa Rica, Ecuador, India.


  1. Sports.   Among the general population of the United States, the most popular competitive sport (and fifth most popular recreational sport) is a pastime of more than 43 million people. Name the sport.



P.S. This coming Thursday the musician, poet and fiction writer Christian Kiefer will be joined at Poetry Night by San Francisco novelist Janis Cooke Newman. You should Google them both and then plan to join us Thursday at 8 at the Natsoulas Gallery.


Forest on an Autumn Day

Dear Friends of the Pub Quiz,

What an exciting time of change we are experiencing. The new and returning UC Davis students have arrived, Davis Enterprise columnist Bob Dunning is heading to the east coast to cover the current Pope’s first ever visit to the United States, and this Wednesday is the Autumn Equinox.

Some people face Autumn with regret for the lost summer. The musician Nick Cave once said, “If you look around, complacency is the great disease of your autumn years, and I work hard to prevent that.” Similarly, the poet Robert Browning once said that, “Autumn wins you best by this its mute appeal to sympathy for its decay.”

I myself prefer the attitude of the Paul Laurence Dunbar, who at Pub Quiz we recently discovered authored “Sympathy,” the poem that begins with these recognizable lines:


I know what the caged bird feels, alas!

When the sun is bright on the upland slopes;

When the wind stirs soft through the springing grass,

And the river flows like a stream of glass;

When the first bird sings and the first bud opes,

And the faint perfume from its chalice steals—

I know what the caged bird feels!


I favor the far less well-known Dunbar poem celebrates the Autumn of temperate Davis rather than, say, the mountainous and rainy Lake District of northwest England, a poem titled “Merry Autumn.” Here it is, in its entirety:


Merry Autumn by Paul Laurence Dunbar


It’s all a farce, — these tales they tell

About the breezes sighing,

And moans astir o’er field and dell,

Because the year is dying.

Such principles are most absurd, —

I care not who first taught ’em;

There’s nothing known to beast or bird

To make a solemn autumn.

In solemn times, when grief holds sway

With countenance distressing,

You’ll note the more of black and gray

Will then be used in dressing.

Now purple tints are all around;

The sky is blue and mellow;

And e’en the grasses turn the ground

From modest green to yellow.

The seed burrs all with laughter crack

On featherweed and jimson;

And leaves that should be dressed in black

Are all decked out in crimson.

A butterfly goes winging by;

A singing bird comes after;

And Nature, all from earth to sky,

Is bubbling o’er with laughter.

The ripples wimple on the rills,

Like sparkling little lasses;

The sunlight runs along the hills,

And laughs among the grasses.

The earth is just so full of fun

It really can’t contain it;

And streams of mirth so freely run

The heavens seem to rain it.

Don’t talk to me of solemn days

In autumn’s time of splendor,

Because the sun shows fewer rays,

And these grow slant and slender.

Why, it’s the climax of the year,—

The highest time of living!—

Till naturally its bursting cheer

Just melts into thanksgiving.


It will be a while before our days melt into thanksgiving. Today students moving into the dorms will do a different sort of melting. Perhaps they will join us tonight as we all cool off with a refreshing beverage and the company of good friends at the Pub Quiz. See you then.

And were you expecting hints for tonight’s quiz? Tonight on the Pub Quiz expect questions about female standouts, criminal masterminds, China and Costa Rica, alliterative names, representing war, UC Davis competing with the Ivies, hairs, Donald Trump, Canadians in show business, competitive sports, the three layers, horses, the Aggies, winners and losers, Ernest Hemingway, reservoirs, 1970 studies on Rhesus monkeys, memories of Austria, lovely places, notable visitors, kingpins, democratic push-back, men and women (five questions), biographies, insoles made of wheat, Marvel comics, record-breakers, the arts and such, space travel, science, and Shakespeare.


Your Quizmaster


Here are five questions from last week’s quiz:


  1. Mottos and Slogans.   “Must-see TV” referred to shows on what TV network?


  1. Internet Culture. What company has the largest market share in the streaming media box industry, accounting for 34% of all streaming devices sold in the United States in 2014?


  1. Gargoyles. Grotesque beasts perched on the sides of old buildings should technically only be called gargoyles if they perform what function?


  1. Glenn Close. Oscar nominated actress Glenn Close plays Nova Prime in what 2014 film?


  1. Great Americans. Who was born in 1786 in Tennessee and died March 6, 1836 in San Antonio, Texas?


P.S. Happy birthday today to Bobby Nord, the New Hampshire musician and philosopher who inspires autumnal merriment wherever he goes.


P.P.S. If you attend the 50% off sale at Logos Books on 2nd Street today, consider purchasing something fancy that could be given away as swag at a future pub quiz. At some point swag-winners will tire of going home with my Bruce Willis DVDs.