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October 24, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Oct. 24, 2014

Around the beginning of 2012, I saw in a flyer in a Durham, N.C., coffee shop. The shop was almost certainly Bean Traders, the Ninth Street establishment that has since been renamed Market Street.

That’s not important — what’s important is that the flyer was for the Durham Literacy Center, which was seeking volunteers to work as adult literacy tutors. I signed up for an orientation session, which I followed with a two-day training session with about a dozen other newbie tutors at the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics.

I was initially matched with a student who was an ex-con. He lived somewhere in northern Durham County, and his trip to the center’s adult literacy classrooms — which at the time were situated in a church auxiliary building — took an hour or more of bus travel.

At our second meeting, I gave my student five dollars. That was the last I saw of him; apparently, he got a job that prevented him from taking lessons.

Soon after that, the center matched me with another man — a Durham native, then in his late 40s, whom I’ll call T. We’ve worked together ever since March 2012, with some interruptions for holidays, travel and other things that happen.

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If only, if only, if only: A daisy chain of recent recreational mistakes

October 23, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Oct. 23, 2014

On a recent night at a no-jacket-required sports bar in Cary, N.C., during a World Tavern Poker tournament, the flop came out ace-ace-six.

I was sitting two spots to the right of the dealer. The dealer and the person between us had folded, meaning that I was the last player to act in the hand.

The flop was checked around to me. I had pocket nines, so the board had given me two pairs. That hand, of course, would be useless if one of the other players held an ace.

Did he or she? I decided to test the waters by betting 2,600 in chips.

The other players reacted: Fold, fold, fold…

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Where does the Stanford football team go from here?

October 22, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Oct.22, 2014

There’s no doubt about it: Saturday’s 26-10 loss at Arizona State was a demoralizing defeat for Stanford football. The team hadn’t lost a game by more than four points since a 53-30 blowout home loss to the Oregon Ducks on Nov. 12, 2011.

That matchup was a battle of top 10 teams — Oregon was ranked third, and Stanford, which was led by all-world quarterback Andrew Luck, was sixth. How far the Farm gridders have fallen since then. Entering the ASU game, Stanford was ranked 25th. After the loss in the desert, voters rightly dropped the Cardinal (now 4-3 overall, 2-2 in conference) out of the Top 25.

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Cardinal chronicle: ASU clobbers Stanford, 26-10, in demoralizing desert defeat

October 21, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Oct. 21, 2014

Let’s not mince words. The Stanford team’s 26-10 loss at Arizona State on Saturday night was a full-fledged disaster. Any sense of panic that Cardinal fans had after the demoralizing loss at Notre Dame is now running rampant.

There was, of course, a game sandwiched between those road losses — a 34-17 home victory over Washington State. But the pass-oriented Cougars boast one of the worst defenses in the Pac-12 conference, and everyone knew that Arizona State would pose a much stiffer test.

The game seemed to be going wrong from Stanford’s very first possession. Quarterback Kevin Hogan sandwiched two incomplete passes around a run for no gain by Remound Wright. The Cardinal punted without gaining a first down for the first of what would turn out to be four times.

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Ambushed by the past: A blog post about the glimpse of television that prompted my previous two blog posts

October 19, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Oct. 19, 2014

Sometimes, current events catch you by surprise. On Tuesday night, a part of my past popped up unexpectedly.

In between World Tavern Poker tournaments at the Big Easy, a restaurant in Cary, N.C., I sat in a high chair at the island that separates the bar area from the dining area. The Kansas City Royals were hosting Baltimore in what would turn out to be the fourth and final game of the American League Championship Series, and I wanted to keep an eye on the action.

But images on another screen, showing an old Major League Baseball event, caught my attention. The video was fuzzy, and the sound was off, and my view of the screen was obscured, but somehow, I recognized the event after seeing just a second or two of footage.

CNN was showing a documentary about the event that’s known to the world as the San Francisco earthquake. I murmured “1989 World Series” (or words to that effect) to myself. Suddenly, scattered memories of my experiences of the Loma Prieta temblor began flashing through my mind.

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The day after: Two memories of Oct. 18, 1989

October 17, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Oct. 17, 2014

I have two distinct memories — one good, one bad — of the events of Oct. 18, 1989.

That was the day after the infamous Loma Prieta temblor. Classes were canceled that day as the university — indeed, as everyone and everything in the San Francisco Bay Area — assessed the damage from the prior day’s event, which is better known to the rest of the universe as the San Francisco earthquake.

The earthquake was a profoundly startling event; one never expects stable elements such as building floors and walls, let alone the ground itself, to gyrate wildly. Relatively few people were killed in the incident, but still the disaster made me contemplate mortality.

A big part of college, of course, is finding one’s identity. And just a few weeks in, it had started to become apparent to me that my true identity was not that of the star student, able to put his nose to the books, concentrate on the text and emerge a few hours later with a strong understanding — let alone mastery — of the material.

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Journey into the past: Earthquake!!!

October 15, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Oct. 15, 2014

One of the most interesting days of my life occurred when I was a college freshman. I had no inkling of what was about to happen.

This was a long time ago, so there’s plenty I don’t remember about this day. But as I recall, I was lounging in my dorm room feeling sleepy. Dinner time was coming soon. My roommate, Robert was there.

Then the building started to vibrate.

It was 5:04 p.m. Pacific time on Tuesday, Oct. 17, 1989. Stanford University, and the rest of the San Francisco Bay Area, was about to get rocked.

Robert and I both made our way to the doorway. We stood there, trying to keep our balance, fending off the door as it swung back and forth.

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The bomb at the far end of the galaxy: Why is ‘Supernova’ so bad, and why can’t I stop liking it?

October 9, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Oct. 9, 2014

Oh, Supernova. You could have been so, so good. Instead, you were so completely awful.

Supernova, the 2000 science fiction/horror movie, is a famously bad film. Its credited director is Thomas Lee, the pseudonym chosen to replace Alan Smithee after the cover of that moniker was blown by 1997’s An Alan Smithee Film: Burn Hollywood Burn. According to the Internet Movie Database, the actual main director of Supernova was Walter Hill, the writer-director of 48 Hrs. and a producer of Aliens and several lesser science-fiction movies. IMDB also says that Supernova had uncredited directorial and/or editing contributions from cinema immortal Francis Ford Coppola (yes, the man who filmed The Godfather and Apocalypse Now!) and B-movie director Jack Sholder (The Hidden, which I actually remember as being quite good).

(Spoilers ahead.)

The movie’s setup is fairly straightforward. As ambulance vessel Nightingale patrols remote areas of deep space, its crew slowly adjusts to its newest member — pilot Nick Vanzant (James Spader), a former military man who recently finished rehabilitation for his addiction to a futuristic drug named hazen. The crew finds Vanzant to be cool and distant; he finds them to be gruff and unorthodox.

Captain A.J. Marley (Robert Forster) is working on his doctorate in anthropology, a pursuit that requires him to watch (and comment disparagingly about) violent 20th century cartoons. Benj Sotomejor (Wilson Cruz), who is either the ship’s navigator or its information technology guy — it’s never made clear — has reprogrammed and is becoming emotionally intimate with the Nightingale’s computer, Sweetie (voiced by Vanessa Marshall). Paramedics Danika Lund (Robin Tunney) and Yerzy Penalosa (Lou Diamond Phillips) are rutting like rabbits and considering whether to have a child together. (He’s gung-ho; she’s reluctant.) Dr. Kaela Evers (Angela Bassett), who had a hurtful relationship years ago with a hazen addict, seems to spend most of her time glowering and lecturing Vanzant.

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‘Church Signs Across America’ delivers just what its title promises

October 8, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Oct. 8, 2014

A number of summers ago, retirees Steve and Pam Paulson were driving around when they hit on an idea for what would become their first book: A volume of photographs of churches and their signs, which variously bear reverent and witty messages.

I picked up Church Signs Across America a few years ago on the strength of its cover photograph: A picture of the sign outside a Lutheran church that reads, “Free trip to heaven — details inside.” (This is a message from Ascension Lutheran Church, the sign from which appears on the cover and title page, although the church’s location does not seem to be stated anywhere in the book.)

This 2006 book loitered around my house for many many months, but I didn’t get around to flipping through it until I was seized by an impulse to declutter last week. I found it to be surprisingly tepid.

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Stanford setback: Golden domers crush Cardinal hopes in the Indiana rain

October 7, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Oct. 7, 2014

It’s hard to lose in more agonizing fashion than the Stanford football team did on Saturday.

The Cardinal traveled to South Bend, Ind., with a great deal at stake. If Stanford’s team was to make the inaugural college football playoffs, it would essentially need to win out its schedule. The squad also had a chance to avenge the 20-13 overtime loss that it suffered in its last trip to Notre Dame, in 2012 — a controversial affair in which Cardinal running back Stepfan Taylor appeared to score what would have been the game-tying touchdown on a play that was whistled dead by the officials.

Stanford’s 2014 edition has had a bifurcated identity. The defense is the Cardinal’s Dr. Jekyll: Entering the weekend, it led the nation in scoring defense (6.5 points per game), total defense (198 yards per game) and passing defense (74 ypg). The team had permitted just four plays of 20 yards or longer this season, second fewest in the land.

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