The Road in Utah

The Road in Utah

Dear Friends of the Pub Quiz,

After a long road trip, one slowly grows used to stationary life. Unlike any of our hotels, our Davis home has more than two rooms; I find myself re-acclimating to the space and the locale. At night after the boys are in bed, I have caught myself walking into a room, say my daughter Geneva’s room, and considering anew the walls of art, like a tourist, perhaps like the tourist I was when I walked the rooms of the Art Institute of Chicago a week ago today, marveling at what I beheld.

We are home, but in my dreams, the road returns to me, and I return to movement as my frame of reference. What is the speed limit? In some states, it was 80, so we set the cruise control at 84. The momentum of our travel still propels my restless imagination. When passing another car, one feels like the pilot of a spaceship rather than the driver of an overstuffed minivan. Care must be taken. But when no cars can be seen, which was often the case in Wyoming and South Dakota, the extreme speeds seem appropriate, even conservative. When the roads are that deserted, one can take a moment on that smooth ribbon of asphalt to look to the side, to consider the nearby bluffs or mountains, the landscape, seeming moonscape or, in Utah, the salt-scape. The drought seems to be creeping east, originating in California, like so many of our nation’s trends and fads. Our country is a huge panorama that must be seen to be understood, but even then, it stretches outside of and beyond our comprehension.

One needs context to understand the road, and for me, that context often comes from the books I’ve read. When I first ventured to California as a 20-year-old, driving from Boston to Santa Cruz with my freshman-year roommate, Jack Kerouac provided our context, and our inspiration. Listening to our road trip tape, with songs by Chuck Berry, Erick Clapton, and Bob Dylan, we ate up the miles, amazed, then as now, with the enormity of it all. As Kerouac says, “Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road.” We looked forward with anticipation, like pilgrims making discoveries. In the original scroll of On the Road, Kerouac writes, “The air was soft, the stars so fine, the promise of every cobbled alley so great, that I thought I was in a dream.” Perhaps we need authors to capture and represent the ineffable joys of motor-travel, so that we better understand our vast fly-over states, even as we race through them.

Written in notebook form in the 1940s, Kerouac’s plan for On the Road did not reflect the benefits nor the homogenized trials provided by Eisenhower’s interstate. Despite his love for speed, Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty could not travel as quickly as we did, driving, for example, from Mount Rushmore to Chicago in a day (more than 925 miles!). Despite his speed, Kerouac stopped often, as we could not, arriving in Wisconsin just in time to meet with professors and administrators. On some days we would drive 400 miles at a sitting, stopping only for cheap gas, the bulldog and children snoring or occupied with books in the back.

But imagine how slowly Mark Twain traveled that same expanse! In 1861, Twain moved with his brother Orion from Missouri, where young Samuel Clemens had spent years learning the craft of a Mississippi steamboat captain, to western Nevada. I just completed a version of that drive this past week, and we found it to be long and grueling in our high-speed automobile. Kate and I discussed how we would have fared making that same trip across such a desiccated landscape via covered wagon in the 1860s. Clemens first took the name “Mark Twain” while writing for the Virginia City Territorial Enterprise, using the newspaper office as his university, as Whitman and Hemingway had also done. Because of the 1859 discovery of the Comstock Lode of silver, Twain was not the only one to make his fortunes (and misfortunes) there. While the current population of Virginia City is a mere 855, in Twain’s time, it was closer to 25,000.

Eventually Twain himself left, as well, coming farther west to write for The Sacramento Union and various San Francisco newspapers. This means, of course, that his horse would have brought him along what would have later become I-80, a couple years before a Southern Pacific Railroad depot would be built in “Davisville” in 1868. I wonder what Twain was thinking while crossing Putah Creek!

Rather than tomes of adventure stories, and local color reflections, such as what Twain wrote during his time on the road, I have merely a list, composed by my wife Kate, to sum up our recent trip:

  • Number of miles driven: 5,179
  • Number of states visited: 11
  • Number of U.S. presidents viewed in stone: 4
  • Number of books read by Truman: 16
  • Number of U.S. presidents viewed in wax: 43
  • Number of Midwestern thunderstorms enjoyed: 2
  • Number of movies watched in the car: 11
  • Number of swimming pools sampled: 6
  • Number of miles between Davis, California and Beloit, Wisconsin: 2,029
  • Number of audiobooks read: 4
  • Number of Picassos studied at The Art Institute of Chicago: 23
  • Number of Amazon Prime boxes delivered to box #605 in the Beloit College student mailroom: 7
  • Number of minutes of Olympics coverage watched: 0
  • Number of daughters dropped off at college: 1

The Buddha said “It is better to travel well than to arrive.” We traveled well, as you can see. With the road continuing to haunt our dreams, I’m sure it will be a while before any of us feel that we have arrived.

Tonight, Your Quizmaster will return to the Pub Quiz. Expect questions on some of the topics raised above, and on most of the following: Questions of possibility, the prowess of Obama, parcel posts to the UK, the problems with cotton, synchronous performance hall performances, healthy tans, the Middle East, celebrity gossip, Fast Company, New Scientist, regrettable poisonings, Olympic heroes, wings of independence, the need for a marine biologist, electricity, Halle Berry and other people who are even taller than she is, Phoenicia, recycled pilgrims, defying the polls, silver online, Tonight Show hosts, unwelcome scandals, people who cajole coyotes while earning Pulitzer Prize nominations, happy rides, rail travel, the relationship between baseballs and the unhelmeted, secretaries of state, cityscapes, beasts of burden, and Shakespeare.

Special thanks to Jason, the backup quizmaster who makes my vacations and road trips possible. I hope you enjoyed your time with him during these past two Mondays. Now it is my turn!

See you tonight.


Your Quizmaster


Here are three Arthur Conan Doyle questions from a quiz I wrote in 2011:

  1.   Arthur Conan Doyle was born and died in what century or centuries. Be specific.
  1.    The British actor inside R2D2 shares a last name with the street Sherlock Holmes lived on. Name it.
  1.    What musical instrument did Sherlock Holmes play?


Tragedy and Comedy

Dear Friends of the Pub Quiz,

Today on a Chicago River water taxi I imagined a play based on current events.

Imagine a posh wedding that is attended by a panoply of familiar faces from the worlds of politics and entertainment. A prominent older couple poses for a picture with the bride and groom, making tongues wag. The groom admires the couple, frequently talking to the press about his admiration for the couple’s professional activities, once event calling the woman in the couple “a really good person and woman.”

The groom and the older couple eventually stumble upon a number of conflicts, and even though the groom had looked up to both members of the older couple, he finds reason to disparage them cruelly and publically. People who once took the groom seriously read about him fabricating increasingly outrageous claims about the older couple, and turn away from him. Others flock to the groom, enjoying the comedy and the spectacle.

At one point, the groom suggests that one member of the couple will make imprudent decisions that will affect us all, and that maybe she should be killed. Who knows what sort of misguided follower of the groom might infer from his remarks that he is ordering the mom in the couple to be shot, to keep her from making those decisions?

One thinks of the phrase allegedly spoken by Henry II about the top priest in Britain; usually the lines is “Who will rid me of this meddlesome priest?” Sometimes the line is translated or remembered as this, but a more accurate phrase from the time suggests a more nuanced relationship with Thomas of Beckett: “What miserable drones and traitors have I nourished and brought up in my household, who let their lord be treated with such shameful contempt by a low-born cleric?” Either way, four soldiers interpret King Henry’s words as a kill-order, and Beckett is killed in the very sanctuary where he preached as the Archbishop of Canterbury.

How will the play end? If in violence, how would the sarcastic groom feel after inadvertently suggesting that his rival should be assassinated, and discovering as Henry did that his idle talk leads to death? Will the woman’s followers exact revenge, such as what happens in Romeo and Juliet when Mecutio and Tybalt are killed, hardening feelings and the likelihood of violence between rivals and their followers?

Or will the groom recognize the folly of inciting violence against his former friend, and make amends for his rash and dangerous remarks? Can such remarks be “taken back,” given the quick and fiery temper of the followers of the groom? Will the play explore de-escalation, an uncomfortable status quo, or a violent tragedy?

I haven’t yet written the end of the play yet. Maybe you (and others) could help me come up with an ending. Maybe it’s not too late.


Tonight’s Pub Quiz, hosted by Jason, will feature questions on most of the following topics: Chicago, Space X, cartographers, tree bark, posh Americans. MLB, Beyoncé, foreheads, magical beginnings and gustatory endings, volcanoes, tree calamities, Hawaii, superhumans who play no soccer, lovely wives, gold medals, curses, applied theories, words that start with the letter Q, big numbers, female spirits, places to trade, complicated engines, ice and Shakespeare. Thanks to Jason for composing this quiz.

Please join us tonight. Jason enjoyed substitute-hosting to a full house last week. I’ve missed chatting in person with all of you last Monday evening. Luckily, I myself will return to Davis in time for the August 22nd de Vere’s Irish Pub Pub Quiz!


Your Quizmaster


Here are three questions from a June, 2016 Pub Quiz:


  1. Mottos and Slogans.  Who used the commercial slogan “So easy a caveman could do it”?


  1. Internet Culture. The second most-popular website in the world is the third most-popular website in the U.S., after Facebook. What is the second most-popular website in the world?


  1. Newspaper Headlines.   Today Governor Rick Scott declared a state of emergency because of oncoming tropical storm Colin. Of what state is Scott governor?



P.S. Allegra Silberstein will be the featured poet at Poetry Night Thursday. Timothy Nutter will play guitar and perhaps sing some songs. Join the fun on August 18th at 8 PM at the John Natsoulas Gallery. See you next week!


Kate amid the Harleys in Custer, South Dakota.

A photo posted by Andy Jones (@andyojones) on


Dear Friends of the Pub Quiz,

Yesterday I got to watch my wife Kate respond with facial expressions and body language to an army of bikers taking control of a small South Dakota town. As you can see, I felt compelled to take a picture. These were not the sort of bikers that take over Davis, ringing an occasional adorable bell. No, these bikers sound like Lear’s thunder. Imagine the main strip of Custer, South Dakota, resonating with the sounds of more than a thousand Harley engines, each of them growling at each other like the largest imaginable pride of lions, all of them preparing for the hunt.

The town of Custer is the oldest town in the Black Hills of South Dakota, having popped up soon after gold was discovered in the area as a result of the Custer expedition of 1874. The town is found just a few miles from the monument to Crazy Horse, the Lakota war leader who with his men was responsible for the death of the aforementioned Custer at the Battle of Little Big Horn. Custer’s last stand took place far from everything, but a lot closer to Billings than to this town of 2,000 known as Custer.

As a result of this visit, my son Truman and I became curious about Custer the man, so in addition to doing some reading, we studied a wax likeness (or near-likeness) of the young war hero from the third day cavalry battles of the Battle of Gettysburg at the National Presidential Wax Museum. Situated across the street from the Roosevelt Inn in Keystone, from which I write these words, the museum is comprehensive and well-intentioned, but the artistry does not compare well to Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum in London where Kate and I spent time together in the 1980s. All the presidents in the National Presidential Wax Museum looked a bit off, resembling impersonators of the presidents in question, such that we definitely needed the nameplates to see who was supposed to be who.

Meanwhile, back to that photo of Kate and the Harley Davidson enthusiasts. The picture reveals the traffic cones along Mount Rushmore Road, marking off the additional parking that Custer municipal official arranged as part of the ongoing yearly Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. Behind her one sees two of the mounted Rally participants, one of them actually wearing a helmet (an option most disregard in South Dakota). Above the bikers one sees the street sign directing traffic towards both Crazy Horse and Mt Rushmore, where we had spent much of the morning, surrounded by biker tourists. Meanwhile, amid the thunderous roar of the Harleys, Kate has a slight smile on her face, the wind whipping her red hair to the side. Amid the din, amid the wind, and so far from home, and with that wry smile on her face, one can only guess what she might be thinking.


Tonight’s Pub Quiz was edited (and softened a bit) by me, but written by my regular guest-Quizmaster Jason. Jason has prepared questions on many of the following topics, or perhaps “impersonations” of the following topics, so as not to give too much away: NASA, memorable drinking buddies, Greek towns and cities, scalawags, transitions, people named Joyce, Oscar-winning ladies, inspirations for thin-skinned and practically anarchic Trump’s fictional wall, math questions with large answers, river banks, “vulgar” music with no swearing in it, Harry Potter (because you all seem to love Harry Potter), remaining stuck, people who are never confused for George Wallace, music potpourris, whiskey, daggers, bidding cogwheels farewell, questionable identifiers, long coastlines, the importance of bananas, Egypt, a U.S. president whose wax likeness I misrecognized today, teams with cool names, big universities that you have heard of, a command to cease, the impossibility of remembering the names of toys, X-ray fluorescence spectrometry, and Shakespeare. There will be no George Custer questions on tonight’s Quiz. I am saving those.

When it comes to welcoming and encouraging Jason as Quizmaster this evening, I will use the words from Jeb’s last stand: “Please clap.” And remember, although I don’t return until the 22nd, the de Vere’s Irish Pub Pub Quiz abides.


Your Quizmaster


Here are three questions from last week’s quiz:

  1. Mottos and Slogans.    The CEO of one company has repeated in interviews that he wishes “to accelerate the advent of sustainable transport.” Founded in 2003, for what company is this phrase the de facto slogan?
  1. Internet Culture. The iPhone and the Amazon Kindle were released the same year as the last Harry Potter book. Name this year that also saw Barry Bonds (asterisk!) break the home run record.
  1. Newspaper Headlines.   President Obama said in a speech last Wednesday night that his administration has “cut veterans’ homelessness almost in half.” According to NPR yesterday, which U.S. city has the largest number of homeless veterans?

Green Saturn


Dear Friends of the Pub Quiz,

According to the title of my favorite car, Kate and I bought a forest-green four-door Saturn SL2 20 years ago next month, a mere four years after we got married. I know this because last week I gave the car to a friend and former student, and now I am feeling nostalgic, especially for the front passenger seat.

Six of my favorite writers have spent time in that seat, and three of those writers I will never see again.

  • My wife Kate is my favorite of all authors, and one whom I see every day. Just this morning she published her most recent blog entry on how much the family will miss my daughter Geneva, now that we are driving her off to college in Wisconsin. As you can read in “The Dividing of Our Grief,” Geneva’s brother Truman will miss her most of all. Speaking of our kids, Kate also co-authored the book Where’s Jukie?, now in an expanded edition.
  • Joe Mills is a poet and essayist who spent significant time in the Saturn when we first bought it. A constant chess buddy, hiking buddy, and occasional wine-drinking buddy, Joe moved with his wife Danielle to North Carolina to become a professor and dean at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts. Joe holds the Susan Burress Wall Distinguished Professorship in the Humanities, and has published six collections of poetry with Press 53.
  • Another Joe, Joe Wenderoth, prefers not to ride a bike around Davis. In fact, Joe chooses to disregard any number of social conventions. Just as Donald Trump prefers unpredictability when it comes to his foreign policy, Wenderoth prefers a different sort of shock and awe at cocktail parties. Perhaps these are some of the qualities that make him one of my favorite California poets.
  • Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott once rode in my Saturn. He seemed neither impressed with me nor my car when he was visiting campus about 14 years ago, but the world has been impressed with him. An author of more than 60 books, Sir Derek, KCSL OBE OCC, has had even more books written about him.
  • The late New Jersey poet laureate and Beat Generation icon Amiri Baraka did most of the talking during our ride from SFO to Davis when he visited California 11 years ago. His generosity of spirit filled the car with energy and expectation. When the Saturn was stolen a couple years later, the thieves took a number of “valuables,” but left behind an autographed copy of Baraka’s book Transbluency: Selected Poems, which I have next to me as I write.
  • The final writer is my dad, Davey Marlin-Jones, who for the last 14 years has been the most missed writer of them all, at least to me. In addition to his early books and plays, my dad wrote and performed thousands of televised movie reviews in the 1970s and 80s. That car seat was the last piece of furniture we owned where he sat and talked with me about his reminiscences and plans, as he was always so full of love and ideas. I thought of him when the car pulled out of our driveway for the first time, empty except for its new owner, and all my memories.

Tonight’s Pub Quiz will feature questions about vitamin intake, love and smoke, championships, comma rules, lessons to be learned from an Olive, American heroes, people happy to be stuck on an island, historical drinks, what it means to be western, the decades of favorite epics, notable lesbians, baseball, bedding and such, words that start with V, ancient Greeks, the advantages of iron, prime numbers (an actual math question), recognizable widths, cars that are more expensive than my departed Saturn, poets that are worth rereading out loud, the relative price of happiness, returning investigators, the U.S. Constitution which I keep in my breast pocket, quiet protests, Elwood’s inspiration, bonds, the letter X, the TV show Empire, choosing your own adventure, petunias, scientific discoveries, the needs of veterans, Harry Potter, sustainability, and Shakespeare.


Your Quizmaster


Here are three questions from last year’s (2015) quiz:


  1. Four for Four.  Which of the following, if any, are names of actual fish? Common fangtooth, Jamaican goathead, obese dragonfish, Splashing tetra.
  1. American Cities. There are two words and six letters in the name of the American city that lost the most people between July 2013 to July 2014, at 1.02%. Name this 19th-largest city in the U.S.
  1. Food and Drink. What M word fills in the blank from this sentence? “The key to the formation of a good BLANK is the formation of stiff peaks by denaturing the protein ovalbumin (a protein in the egg whites) via mechanical shear.”  


P.S. Poetry Night Thursday features Chris Erickson at the John Natsoulas Gallery.


Robot, ready to help

Dear Friends of the Pub Quiz,

My most attentive new friend is less than a foot tall. She sits on a table in my dining room, waiting for her name to be called. When I summon her, she gladly shares with me the news, the weather, and helpful facts that I used to create this evening’s Pub Quiz.

Mostly, though, she functions as the sort of jukebox that Bill Gates imagined in his book The Road Ahead. This is how he described his newly-completed home in this 1995 book:

“I’m thinking about of this because I’ve recently built a new house. My house is a house for the future. It is pretty. But most of all, it is comfortable. It’s where my family and I live.

My house is made of wood, glass and stone. It is also made out of software.

If you come to visit, you’ll probably be surprised when you come in. Someone will give you an electronic pin to wear. This pin tells the house who and where you are. The house uses this information to give you what you need. When it’s dark outside, the pin turns on the lights nearest you, and then turns them off as you walk away from them. Music moves with you too. If the house knows your favorite music, it plays it. The music seems to be everywhere, but in fact other people in the house hear different music or no music. If you get a telephone call, only the nearest telephone rings.”

In some ways, Gates’ predictions of the future seem quaint. For instance, who ever uses telephones for talking anymore?

Anyway, my new little friend is an Amazon Echo, created by a Microsoft competitor. Answering to the name “Alexa,” my Echo plays music of the genres and performers that occur to me as I write the pub quiz. This morning, for example, I was listening to rap music performed by one of answers to a question on tonight’s quiz. But then when the children came downstairs, I asked Alexa to switch over to some Ravi Shankar music, which is what I am enjoying now.

In many ways, choosing music for Alexa to play for us is a bit like writing a Pub Quiz. For me, I often want to rely on my favorite topics and question categories, but sometimes I have to read outside my typical news and information sources to find questions about topics I prefer to know nothing about. Similarly, when you have a computer waiting to play you any possible genre or performer of music, sometimes it pays to do some research. This is one reason why KDVS is such an important resource, for the DJs there – all of them live humans actually in the studio – choose music according to their areas of expertise, and thus provide all of us new discoveries, 24 hours a day. Even my new friend Alexa can’t do that, for she is limited by the knowledge and imagination of the person making the requests.

I request that you join us at the Pub Quiz tonight, no matter who is speaking at the Democratic National Convention tonight. Remember this: you can’t Tivo the de Vere’s Irish Pub Pub Quiz.

Tonight’s Pub Quiz will feature questions on the following topics: automobile manufacturers, secret religious practices, biology, RBIs, declarations of independents, Romanians, six-syllable words, dudes named Abraham, big data, Robert De Niro hurting people’s feelings, assassinations in the modern era, iconic comedy masters, South America, relative GDP, parliaments, both haste and calmness, funny ways to talk about the color blue, the drums, female nerds, distilled beverages, the practices of tangling and untangling, baseball and football, attractive diffraction, cranes, coastal cities (2), The Huffington Post, Microsoft, lifestyle companies, and Shakespeare.


See you tonight!

Your Quizmaster


Here are three questions from the vault:

  1. The northernmost High school American football team is found in what Alaskan city of about four thousand that is also the northernmost city in the United States of America? Hint: The city’s name starts with the letter B. Barrow, Alaska,
  1. The most common English word that begins and ends with the letter Y has nine letters total. What is that word? Yesterday
  1. Robin Williams played Teddy Roosevelt in the Night at the Museum What 20th century US President did he play in the film Lee Daniels’ The Butler? Dwight D. Eisenhower


P.S. The next Poetry Night features work by onetime substitute Quizmaster Chris Erickson. He’s also an essayist, a poet, a novelist, and a performance artist. Join us for that on August 4th.


"Bells are Ringing" with Gia Battista and Ian Hopps

Dear Friends of the Pub Quiz,

One of my favorite scenes from Bells are Ringing, now playing Thursdays through Sundays with Cyrano de Bergerac at the Veterans Memorial Theatre here in Davis, is the song “Drop That Name.” In it, the play’s comedic heroine Ella finds herself at a high-society party where everyone but her is chatting casually about their interactions with the hoi polloi of 1950s Hollywood. The verses of the song are made up almost entirely by the names of (then) recognizable stars of industry, politics, stage and screen:

Barney Baruch and King Farouk, Alistair Cooke and Debbie and Eddie)

(Lucille Ball and Lauren Bacall, Hedy Lamarr, Roz Russel and Freddie)

(Carol Reed and Sammy Snead and Deborah Kerr)

(Anna May Wong) …………And Ron Ton Tong!

Now it is my turn to drop some names. Gia Battista does a marvelous job as Ella. With her 30+ productions and her recent graduate training in opera, UC Davis alumna Battista, the co-artistic director of the Davis Shakespeare Ensemble, is uniquely suited to thrive in this demanding role that was made famous by Oscar-winner Judy Holliday. The laughter and standing ovation suggest that Battista delights audiences.

Opposite Battista is Ian Hopps, a versatile song and dance man who has impressed Davisites with his voice acting at Stories on Stage Davis at the Pence Gallery, and on E Street and elsewhere as an occasional busking accordionist. Longtime Davis resident and Actors Equity actor Matt Edwards carries Cyrano de Bergerac with his poetic calisthenics and impassioned swordplay. Other standouts in this production include fan favorites Kristi Webb and Pablo Lopez, both with important roles in Cyrano, and ensemble roles in Bells.

I can’t decide which play I loved more. With its live orchestrated music and comedy, Bells is so much fun. I was also impressed with the sets, including a subway scene that made me feel like I was underground on the A line heading south towards Greenwich Village. Also, my family friend Jean Stapleton played the role of Sue Summers in the original Broadway production of Bells are Ringing, and in the 1960 film, so I enjoyed imagining her playing that role that helped to launch her career (long before she became Edith Bunker).

As much as I loved Bells are Ringing, however, the poetry, longing, romance, and adventure in Cyrano moved me even more deeply. As a grandiloquent hero, Cyrano inspires any dorky poet, such as myself, who hopes to use his words to woo the most beautiful woman in town. Directed by Rob Salas, both productions are highly recommended, and you have but two weekends left to see both shows before the final showing on July 31.

Late on the first night I saw Cyrano, I found much of the cast at de Vere’s Irish Pub (where I had parked my bike), so I got to tell them in person how much I enjoyed their work on stage. In the audience at Bells I saw a favorite Davis Parent Nursery School teacher who had taught my two older children, a respected Yolo Superior Court judge who was once named “the father of downtown Davis,” and the President of Team Davis, who noticed (to my delight) that I was taking my disabled son to the theatre. The next day I discussed our experiences of both productions with members of Davis Sunrise Rotary.

You may know the names of some of these people to whom I have alluded, or you may not. When you attend these plays, you will encounter different friends from the ones I met with during intermission. Either way, you may find as I did that these chance encounters represent one of the best benefits of living in our quirky and bikeable city. I admire such people not only because of our friendship and because of their commitments to improving and sustaining our city of Davis. I also admire them because of their commitment to the arts, a crucial element of any thriving community.

We are so lucky to have the Davis Shakespeare Ensemble in our town, sparking the conversations and the imaginations of our residents. Whether you go for the gripping plots, the hilarious comedy, and inspiring poetry, or the invitation to turn off your smartphone for a couple hours, I hope you will catch the final showings of these Davis Shakespeare Ensemble productions, and join me in doubling down on your own investments in the arts. After that next Davis production, you might use the same words that Cyrano uses for Roxanne: “You blessed my life!”

Tonight’s Pub Quiz will feature questions on some of the topics raised above, and on all of the following: emo tracks, baseball records, international airports, publishing disappointments, members of the Bush family, inconvenient manslaughter convictions, the lure of trumpets, unwelcome topiaries, hot reactions, Disney films, the EU, expensive shopping options, William Shatner, ancient times, airline users, old ladies, Rolling Stone, the city of Davis, Herbie Hancock, African countries, second languages, county puzzles, governors, hacking, beloved cars, and Shakespeare.

Thursday is Poetry Night in Davis. Melissa Goodrum, a poet and actress who is also a National Endowment for the Arts scholar, is visiting from Brooklyn. Her grandfather was the jazz pioneer Charlie Dixon, a banjoist who played with Fletcher Henderson, Louis Armstrong, and others, so she will have some stories to tell. Much of the poetry Thursday night will be political, and Goodrum will be joined on stage by local musician Timothy Nutter and Brooklyn artist Erin Grey. Find details at the website Poetry in Davis.


I hope you can join us tonight for some neo-theatrical entertainment.


Your Quizmaster


P.S. Here are three questions from the vault:


  1. Looking at its governor and congressional delegation, what is the bluest, that is, most Democratic, state that does not border an ocean?


  1. What D word means “to cut into cubes”?


  1. The Ukrainian city of Pripyat was abandoned almost years ago because of what C word?



P.S. Regretfully, tonight’s Pub Quiz will not include questions about John Glenn, who turns 95 years old today.

Rev. Ben McBride

Rev. Ben McBride


Dear Friends of the Pub Quiz,

This summer I have been missing my son Jukie’s regular bus driver, a man named John who greeted Jukie every day with a smile and a handshake and the right amount of firmness and guidance to help my teenager with autism make the right decisions on the bus every day. We rarely heard stories of behavioral challenges when John was at the wheel.

Jukie can’t introduce himself with words, so I always appreciate it when friends greet Jukie by name. Saturday I encountered the boss of a good friend – she approached us in sunglasses and was greeting both Jukie and me before I realized who this friendly Davis citizen was who knew Jukie so well. Yesterday I walked into a deli in Crockett and again heard Jukie greeted by name by the California poet Connie Post. These kindnesses matter to a kid, and to his parents.

Kate and I similarly appreciate it when a parent calls us at home to discuss cake and ice cream ingredients for a friend’s surprise birthday party. Most of our friends know that our daughter Geneva carries an Epinephrine Auto-Injector because of her deadly peanut allergy. A parent’s or neighbor’s kindnesses remind us that we live in a community of people who care.

Parents and their children depend heavily upon such public servants. Last week I read about a cafeteria supervisor who memorized the names, and the food allergies, of the 500 children at the Montessori school where he worked. As the parent of children who benefit directly from the conscientious care of such school staff members, I can tell you that my anxiety is lessened by the work of John the bus driver, or, over at Davis Senior High School, the entire village of staff members and teachers who supported by daughter all the way to graduation last month.

As of this week, 500 children in St. Paul, Minnesota won’t benefit from that sort of care, for last week the cafeteria supervisor in question, Philando Castile, was killed at a traffic stop in the suburb of Falcon Heights, evidently while complying with officer’s directions. Still wearing his seat belt, Castile was shot four times with his girlfriend’s four-year-old daughter strapped into a car-seat directly behind him.

Feeling desolated by the violence in St. Paul, Baton Rouge, and Dallas, and feeling somewhat removed from the sites of our nation’s conflict and protest, yesterday my son and I ventured to a Sunday service in the First Congregational Church of Oakland. The experience provided us the solace and inspiration that we needed.

In a rousing sermon, community activist and visiting Reverend Ben McBride spoke to the congregation about the importance of “crossing the street” between African-American communities and law enforcement communities. Providing context, he spoke of the history of policies and duplicitous bargains that Americans have embraced, each of them serving to denigrate the ancestors or members of our citizenry. McBride challenged our nation’s leaders’ choices to commit genocide against native people, to kidnap and enslave generations of Africans, to subjugate immigrants and women and LGBTQIA folks, as if any of these actions could be somehow excusable or reconcilable steps towards becoming a great nation. Too many of us and our ancestors have been treated like rungs on a ladder.

Learning from these conflicts, McBride argues, neither African Americans feeling besieged and threatened when they step out of their homes or into their cars, nor police officers who fear for their safety with so many unregulated firearms on our streets, should belittle the humanity of members of the other group in order to gain additional security. With lessons from our nation’s history in mind, McBride says, we should recognize that violence and threats of violence never make us feel more secure.

Our civil rights leaders can inspire us to make better choices. A year before Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, the civil rights leader told Harry Belafonte “We have fought hard and long for integration, as I believe we should have, and I know that we will win. But I’ve come to believe we’re integrating into a burning house.” According to Belafonte, King said, “I’m afraid that even as we integrate, we are walking into a place that does not understand that this nation needs to be deeply concerned with the plight of the poor and disenfranchised. Until we commit ourselves to ensuring that the underclass is given justice and opportunity, we will continue to perpetuate the anger and violence that tears at the soul of this nation.”

When asked what could be done, King responded, “Become the firemen. Let us not stand by and let the house burn.” Keeping King’s analogy in mind, perhaps all of us might consider how we could help to carry the water buckets or turn on the hose. I have been reading the news of this past week with distress and sympathy, as well as with admiration for those who peacefully protest. Like many, I would wish that the love we feel for the ideals of our country could be made more manifest. To do that, we must endeavor to press for goodwill and justice in all our interactions. As Cornel West says, “Justice is what love looks like in public.”


Tonight’s Pub Quiz will feature questions on one or more of the issues raised above, as well as on prose adaptations, the eating habits of millennials, people who may take charge, the Peter Pan syndrome, words that start with Q, ambitious garden projects, the extra calories needed to lose weight, that which matters, titles with five vowels, British actors, unforgiveable, colorful names, faddishness, Sarah Winnemucca, the San Francisco Bay, long-standing icons, people born with the name Elizabeth, nearby rivals, dance moves, popular birds, young shoots, excellence at reproducing, the last guy in a human centipede, the never-ending British invasion, convenient disappearances, and Shakespeare.

Speaking of Shakespeare, I saw the Davis Shakespeare Ensemble’s Cyrano de Bergerac Friday night, and highly recommend it. The play addresses the importance of literature, poetry, and self-expression during a time of conflict. The play runs in repertory (much the same cast) with the musical comedy Bells are Ringing.

I hope you can join us tonight after a Monday night off. We will celebrate some time away from TV news, from which I’m sure we will all benefit.


Your Quizmaster


Here are some unexpected questions for you to reflect upon until 7:


  1. Sandwiched between two dynamic statesmen, Warren G. Harding and Herbert Hoover, our 30th President of the United States was formerly a Republican Lawyer born on the 4th of July, 1872. Who was he?


  1. What is the highest grossing Will Smith film of all time?


  1. Philip Glass has composed music for “This American Life,” a radio show hosted by whom?


P.S. Poetry Night on July 21 will feature Melissa Goodrum.


Sacramento Trees

Sacramento Trees

Dear Friends of the Pub Quiz,

After lunch on the day of our Pub Quiz, I’m still trying to figure out what to write about.

Saturday I presented a talk at the University of the Pacific Writers Conference, co-presenting with my friend the Davis novelist and professor Scott Evans. In addition to presenting with Scott, one of my favorite parts of the conference this year was the opportunity to have lunch with the novelist and professor Sandra Hunter, and Gabrielle Myers, a writer, teacher and chef with whom I have taken creative writing classes at UC Davis. I loved hearing about Sandra and Gabby’s writing projects, and participating in each of their workshops about writing.

Another conference presenter was KCRA on-air reporter Mike Luery, talking about his book Baseball Between Us. The next day, Mike was being roughed up by reporters at the state capitol building, where American Nazis and sometimes masked counter-demonstrators were battling, with handheld and thrown weapons, near the front steps of Sacramento’s grandest building. Footage showed people pushing mike around and down as he was trying to conduct interviews and report the conflicts. The protester who stole his iPhone later returned it.

I was considering writing as essay about the extent to which the Trump for President campaign was fomenting and excusing this sort of political violence in Sacramento, but I much prefer the positive way that my wife Kate represented my former home: “Seeing so many disturbing images coming out of Sacramento yesterday, I know that those photos and videos do not represent the beautiful city in which Andy and I lived when I moved to California 25 years ago. Affectionately called Sactown, or more often just plain Sac, Sacramento is one of the most integrated communities in the U.S., with its diverse cultures blending together smoothly into a beautiful cultural mosaic. Sac is known for its festivals and its rivers and of course its gorgeous urban forest.”

All of this happened yesterday as I was hiking with my sons through the wilds of Fairfax, California, starting early before the heat got too bad. You know who else takes early hikes from Deer Park up to Five Corners on a Sunday morning? Bird by Bird author Anne Lamott, whom I last saw give a talk in Berkeley in 1990. Best known for her novels and her writing about the writing process, she is also eloquent on religious topics, such as when she says, ““You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.” As you would expect, Lamott kindly greeted my boys and me, and then the four of us, separately, returned to beholding the equally kind canopy of relief created by the trees (and the nuts) around us.

Tonight’s Pub Quiz will feature questions about the following topics: The Bonfire of the Vanities, a kind of fighting, Super conflicts, the U.S. Supreme Court, ancient templates, Canada, Google’s plans for all of us, preparing a face to meet the faces that you meet, people who change their minds, Milton Berle, Ireland, American chivalry, living life, hat tricks, astronomical units, people named Morgan, Star Wars, the likeness of leaves, endangered species, a wife’s favorite lager, basketball, American painters, Jamaica, not quite outshooting Jordan, dudes named Kevin, southern greats, busy streets, Nigeria, countries named after cities, loudness, rebuilding lives, Pakistan, the easiness of being green, working class heroes, and Shakespeare.

I hope you can join us tonight. The air conditioning will be powerful.


Your Quizmaster


Here are some questions from a June Pub Quiz:


  1. Film.   Alexander Gould voiced the title character in the highest-grossing animated film, and second highest grossing film, of 2003. Name the film.  


  1. Countries of the World.  Located in the Horn of Africa, what country shares a border with Eritrea to the north and northeast, Djibouti and Somalia to the east, Sudan and South Sudan to the west, and Kenya to the south?


  1. Books and Authors.   What are the five letters in the last name of the author of Tuesdays with Morrie?


  1. Shakespeare.   Created early in the 17th century, what is the name of the Shakespeare character who accompanies her husband when he is deployed to Cyprus in the service of the Republic of Venice?


P.S. Instead of the Pub Quiz, I will be reading a poem to thousands at Community Park next Monday, the 4th of July. Perhaps I will see you there? More likely, you might see me.



Dear Friends of the Pub Quiz,

When you don’t have a dad anymore, you turn to your children on Father’s Day, welcoming time with them, their sweet cards, presents, and attention, as recompense for the heartfelt loss, the inability to make the longed-for phone-call. This year for the Hallmark holiday Kate and the kids took me on a spontaneous adventure, just as I prefer, to a new destination. In Chico for the first time, we hiked the Yahi Trail in huge Bidwell Park. The creek and the later wine were cold, the pizza was delicious, and we made it through the day with nary a nosebleed or a complaint. It’s rare to have a day when everything goes just right, a day free of even little disasters. I hope you also enjoyed such a day this past weekend.

On Saturday I got to see last week’s Pub Quiz newsletter reappear, transformed, in the Sacramento Bee, accompanied by an Orlando remembrance and vigil picture taken by Kate. As you may know, I occasionally send the Bee, and more often, The Enterprise, my short essays and reflections. I have found that at the Bee, the opinion editors most appreciate essays that offer reflections on my family and my life as a dad, as was the case last week when I attempted answers to my son’s questions about the massacre of innocents in Orlando. When I send the Bee fascinating and cogent opinion pieces on political characters or departed musical heroes, the editors thank me, but pass. They have access to actual authorities on those topics to whom they can turn for such analysis.

Speaking of turns and transitions, although I was trained as a reader of poetry, this summer I am turning to prose as I finish preparations for a class that I will teach for the UC Davis English Department on The Short Story. I last taught the class in 2009, introducing the Twitter Method as a means to encourage discussion outside of class. Reviewing and then reviving an old syllabus, I realize how much both teaching and I have changed in the ensuing seven years since I last taught this class, as is the case with anyone over seven years.

Although I will be making some additions, many of the assigned stories will remain the same. Having studied certain favorites so many times with my students, I recognize their features and qualities, and remember well who I was the last time I spent time turning their pages, re-entering those settings, and examining their conflicted characters. Like cousins I last saw at our last big family reunion (grandma’s 90th birthday!) in 1990, these stories welcome me and I them. I remain comfortable in their company, and stand before this gathering of real and fictional people ready to tell my own stories about what we have gained and whom we have lost in the ensuing decades.

Tonight expect questions on fathers in recognition of Father’s Day. Expect also questions on temperance, Stanford University projects, The Talking Heads, professional boxing, law school assignments, peppers, mercy, what’s in vogue, books about time, Barbara Walters, organic chemistry, announced pregnancies, Asian cities, the safety of Molly, prodigious novelists, running mates (so to speak), architecture, ancient Greek heroes, sent headways, trans-continental authors, boys who are named after their fathers, big cities with unoriginal names, optimism, Connecticuters, field metabolism, sweat, factories, esters, immediate British crunching, familiar composers, commodores, and Shakespeare.

Tonight’s anagram contains a word that one almost never pluralizes: HEADWAYS. Are you curious to know the rest? You and your team will have to join us tonight to find out the second short word, and perhaps even the answer, found in tonight’s anagram. See you at 7!

Your Quizmaster


To mix things up, here are five questions from a pub quiz that I hosted a couple years ago:


  1. Mottos and Slogans.   What motto on the crest of what famous boarding school is “Draco dormiens nunquam titillandus” which of course translates as “Never tickle a sleeping dragon”? I wasn’t even going to translate the Latin, but someone suggested that the first question of the Pub Quiz shouldn’t require conjugating.


  1. Actors and Actresses. What English-born Australian actor’s second, third, and fourth highest-grossing films were Clash of the Titans, Terminator Salvation, and Wrath of the Titans, which he later apologized for making? Somehow I missed all three of these movies.


  1. Pop Culture – Music. What 33 year-old American singer-songwriter and actor has a hit this week with the song “Not a Bad Thing”? Some critics disagree.


  1. Sports.   According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, basketball and WHAT cause the most sports-related eye injuries? Hint: Boxing and MMA matches only endanger two people at a time.


  1. Science: Flora.   Oak woodlands, pine woodlands, and, in California, walnut woodlands can all be described with what six-syllable adjective that begins with the letter M?   I learned the answer to this question from Elaine Fingerett in the Davis Arboretum.


P.S. I hope you will click on the link to my Sacramento Bee story, for today the newspaper business is all about the clicks. Thanks!

Candles at the vigil


Dear Friends of the Pub Quiz,

Yesterday I read a version of this new poem at a Vigil for the Shooting Victims in Orlando.


Fourteen Times


Do you remember when iconic men fell from our sight?

Lone gunmen snuffed out our hopes,

Silenced our heroes,

Darkened our days, extended our nights.

We all felt those gunshots,

Heard their echoes

Resound in our public squares,

In our Mississippi driveways,

In our Manhattan ballrooms,

And in our marble city halls,

Now monuments to those we have lost.


The gunshot echoes becoming the soundtrack of an era of loss.


The decades pass, and the loss,

No longer merely symbolic, has now been socialized.

It has spread to elementary schools,

High schools, and universities.

It has spread to movie theaters,

To churches, to offices, to nightclubs.

The gunshot echoes have become staccato:

A desolate tune.


Fourteen times our consoler in chief,

his face pained, his hair ashen,

has addressed the nation.

Fourteen times.


The child asks if anyone important has died,

And the mother explains that everyone is important,

Even if none of them this time is famous.

We are made important by our bravery;

We are made important by our willingness to stand up

And to stand out;

We are made important by the joy we give

And the joy we receive;

We are made important by our solidarity,

By our resolve, and our community.


Unwilling to forget those whom we do not know, but whom we love,

Today we open our arms and take heed of our hearts,

Stretched and enlarged by mournful, practiced sympathy.


I would love not to have to write any more such poems as Poet Laureate of Davis.


Tonight’s Pub Quiz will feature questions on almost none of the topics raised above. Instead, expect questions on angry birds and odd birds, weddings, mirrors, the U.N., superheroes, successful mixes, tablets, fish, Macklemore, Nigel Smith, Canadians who worked in America, Steinbeck, delicacies that were finally exported to Europe in the 1930s, Clinton vs. Trump, mutual claims, Ireland, rockets, HBCUs, composers, Hawaii, schemes that go awry on stage, Dracula, definitely The Beatles, across the pond, modern conservatism, people with unique names, coloring, German luxuries, poll numbers, sardonic masks, democracy, and Shakespeare.

I hope you can join us this evening. We need to reaffirm our spirit of community and laughter at a time like this.


Your Quizmaster


Here are three questions from last week’s quiz:


  1. Mottos and Slogans.  Who used the commercial slogan “So easy a caveman could do it”?


  1. Internet Culture. The second most-popular website in the world is the third most-popular website in the U.S., after Facebook. What is the second most-popular website in the world?


  1. Newspaper Headlines.   Today Governor Rick Scott declared a state of emergency because of oncoming tropical storm Colin. Of what state is Scott governor?


P.S. This coming Thursday night is Poetry Night, and we are featuring multi-award-winning science fiction author Kim Stanley Robinson. He’s one of the biggest names in town, and this coming Thursday night at 8 at the Natsoulas Gallery, you can find out why.