july 2019

This weekend I spent a good part of my Saturday at a work event. There's a church in south Atlanta that is mainly Nigerian families, and there are four people who are recent graduates of my institution who are members of the congregation. Every year for the past couple of years one of them has taken the initiative to organize a college day for her church and high school students from other nearby churches, and I've been our representative each year so far (I volunteer to do a lot of local Atlanta stuff, especially on weekends and in the evenings, because my recruiting travel schedule is relatively light compared to the counselors who have more typical travel territories).

I love the way she organizes it each year, even though each year she's done it differently. The first year it was me just taking questions from the audience (a format I love), but last year she switched it to an interview format where me and a representative from UGA each gave our perspective on different issues and challenges with the admission application process. The year the same guy from UGA was back, but instead of us being up on stage, we each sat with a group of about 10 students each and worked with them on essay questions, and then we switched and each did the other group as well.

She always ends it with a college fair where each school represented has a table, but instead of those tables being staffed by reps from admission offices, they are staffed by members of the church community who are relatively recent graduates of each school (typically they have graduated within the past 10 years, and most of them are much more recent graduates). This is a great format, because there's no incentive for those alums to give any misleading answers about their experiences. I usually hang around the table for my university just in case they need some specific data about the school, but there are four great women who are members of the church who do an amazing job talking about their time on campus.

Sunday was an Atlanta United home game, this one against Montreal. It was their first after a break from MLS play for a few weeks, and they did well, with newcomer Justin Meram scoring both goals and emerging as another potential playmaker in our offensive attack. The team was leading 1-0 at halftime, but Montreal equalized in the second half before Atlanta hit what end up the game winner with only a few minutes left in regular time.

They're really hitting their stride after a rough start, and if they keep their upward trend, not only will they make the playoffs again, they might even win the Eastern Conference. That would be huge with the way the playoff format works this year—winning your conference guarantees you a bye week the first week of the playoffs, and it also give you home field advantage until the title game as long as you keep winning.

The United have only lost one game at home so far this year, but they've been pretty wretched on the road, and since the format is single elimination this year (last year it was two game series where each team got a home game), having home field advantage will be huge for them and will probably determine whether or not they can get a shot at a second championship.

I'm taking the rest of the week off because if I don't burn some vacation this month I lose it, but it will also be nice to have a long break around the holiday. Julie and I are planning to run the Peachtree this year (it's the 50th anniversary for the race), and having a full day tomorrow to get prepared for that experience on Thursday will be a big help.

Julie and I both ran the Peachtree Road Race, an annual tradition in Atlanta (this was the 50th running) and the largest 10k race in the world. I had run it once before, in 2016, but this was Julie's first time.

It's an impressive logistical feat—60,000+ runners leaving in 25 waves starting at 7:30 in the morning and finishing a couple of hours later (there are about 5 minutes between each wave). We took the Marta closest to our house (East Lake) up to a location a few blocks away from the starting line (near Lennox Square Mall), timing it pretty well—we had time for a quick bathroom break before joining out wave, and we only about 10 minutes to wait before our wave kicked off.

I am not nearly the runner I was three years ago (and it's not like I was great then), so I certainly didn't expect to beat my time—I really just wanted to finish. I pride myself on not walking during races even if there are times when I'm slower running than I would be walking, but I hadn't run a 10k distance in a couple of years (my training schedule this year go thrown off by 1) my eye surgeries; 2) travel; and 3) an illness I picked up in Chicago that lingered for about a week), so I wasn't going to push myself on this one. I made it the first three miles without a problem, but then I slowed to a walk for a couple of minutes in preparation for the worst hill on the course, and I was never able to get back into a rhythm after that. I probably ended up walking about half of the final 3 miles of the course.

Overall it was a better day for racing than my first time—not only was it a little cooler, but it was also cloudy until right before I finished. Last time it was hot, humid, and there wasn't a cloud in the sky, and it was one of the most brutal physical experiences I have ever endured. I mean, walking part of the course certainly helped, but the lack of direct sun made this race much more pleasant.

Julie finished a few minutes before me, but we had a designated meeting spot and found each other pretty quickly after I finished. We went over to the Atlanta Track Club private party at the Park Tavern (although private is really an exaggeration; since the best way to get a guaranteed spot for the race is to be an ATC member, my guess is that about half of the racers are members) and found a quiet spot on a hill under the shade to have post-race bananas and water.

Once we had somewhat recovered, we started the mile-plus walk to the Marta station (most of which was uphill—it's nicknamed the Marta Mile), grabbing a free popsicle from Publix on the way. Julie was glad she had done this one, but I'm not sure she'll ever do it again. I'd definitely like to, but I also want to make sure I've been able to train for it properly so it's a more fulfilling experience for me.

After we got home and recovered during the afternoon, we did our normal walk to Decatur to watch the fireworks. This time Julie's mom joined us, and we set up in the same parking lot we've been watching them from for the past few years. It was a really nice fireworks display, and this year it wasn't interrupted by a thunderstorm.

On the way back home, there was a train stopped at the crossing where we get to our part of the neighborhood, and it would have taken about 45 minutes to use an alternate route (we were about five minutes from home if there was no stopped train), so we took a chance and climbed over. A little bit risky, but we've seen those trains stopped for hours before, and this one was still sitting idle an hour later, so it was the right choice.

We went out to visit my mom on Friday, and on impulse we decided to try an Indian place for dinner. The food was really, really good—we tried three or four appetizers and three entrees (Will hasn't had much Indian, so we wanted him to have a good sampling of the flavors), but the service was pretty slow. It seemed like they were preparing for a big private function in the back—there was a steady stream of people in saris and dressy Indian clothes who would come in in groups of 3-6 and then disappear into the back.

On Sunday we had a birthday surprise for Will: I had managed to find two Atlanta United tickets contiguous with the group of season tickets that my friends and I have, and so Julie and I took him to another game (his second so far this season). We tried to keep it a surprise as long as possible—we were all dressed up in our United gear and we took the Marta to Mercedes Benz, but we told him they were doing a special fan festival and if you wore your United apparel, you had a chance to win free tickets to an upcoming game. He bought it for so, so long—even after we went into the stadium, we told him they had to open it up because it was so hot outside and so many people showed up.

After we revealed the surprise to him, we stopped by guest services and they gave him a birthday goodie bag, and we waited outside to greet the team and sign the Golden Spike. The team was late because they were watching the US Women's team, so we stood outside in the brutal heat before standing in the pouring rain for about 15 minutes. It was worth it though—Will got high fives from both Brad Guzan and Josef Martinez, and we got to sign his name in huge letters on the cap of the spike.

After we came inside the stadium to get our normal CoS chicken sandwiches from Kevin Gillespie's food stand, we were passing by the open freight elevator on the ground floor and Will, who has had a long fascination with elevators, stopped to chat up the attendant and take a picture with her. As we were saying goodbye, she motioned us inside and gave us a ride up to our floor, which was just about the most exciting thing he could have imagined—at least until halftime.

When I got the tickets, I reached out to guest services to see if they might be able to put his name on the scoreboard and wish him a happy birthday. Unfortunately they told me the scoreboard birthday wishes were reserved for parties who bought at least 20 tickets, but they did give me a nice tip: a game-specific hashtag that their social media team filtered on for posting pictures to the scoreboard. When we got there, I took a picture of the three of us and posted it to Twitter using that hashtag.

We didn't show up on the scoreboard during the pregame stuff (although our seatmates did), so I was worried they hadn't picked us up. But then at halftime, right after they did the official birthday wishes, they put our post on the scoreboard with a happy birthday message. So not only did he get a happy birthday on the scoreboard, he got his picture up there as well. He was thrilled, especially because we got a picture of it.

It was a great afternoon in general, but a really nice birthday surprise for Will. We have a family get-together on Wednesday (his actual birthday), and we'll have a party with friends later this month, but this was a nice way to celebrate with just the three of us.

My friend Tom, who lives in Richmond, stopped in for a short visit on Monday night. He had been down in Florida, and took a slight detour on his way back to Virginia to hang out and spend the night. I used to see him more back when we lived up in Maryland and he wasn't too far away—we'd often meet in DC for an afternoon or a concert—but since we moved down to Atlanta, I've only seen him when I've been in the DC area for conferences.

We walked down to Decatur and had dinner at 246, which I wanted to go back to since having a great scallop dish a couple of months ago. We got a table on the back porch, and had it to ourselves for most of our meal, but the scallop dish was a seasonal one and wasn't on the menu any longer. They always have good food, so it was fine, but I was in love with that dish, so I hope they bring it back next spring.

We lingered over our meal and had a nice conversation before heading back around 10. He had a full day of driving ahead of him, and I needed to get to the office, so we didn't hang out too much in the morning, but it was a good (if short) visit. Hopefully I'll get to see him again in November when I'm in DC for a conference.

Will turned 9 yesterday, and to celebrate, we took him to Nakato, his favorite Japanese steakhouse. We were joined by Julie's mom, my mom, my sister, and her husband. He loved it as much as he always has—even at 9 he still gets as excited about the show (especially the fire volcano) as he did when he was 5.

We ended up sitting at a big double table with a group of friends from a nearby church, and I had a nice conversation with the couple sitting next to me (I was on the outer edge of our group and they were at the outer edge of theirs). They were members of a Presbyterian church, and it just so happens that Julie's mom is Presbyterian and is looking around at which church she might want to join, so we got their contact information in case she wants to attend theirs some Sunday.

Will got lots of presents before and after dinner, along with a cookie cake from Ali's Cookies in Emory Village. He doesn't usually ask for specific things, so he got a lot of Legos and books, all of which he loved.

Will's camp this week is drama camp, and it's a two week experience where they will perform a play at the end of the camp. We've always thought he might like doing theater—he has a big personality, isn't shy, and can be very dramatic—but he's never actually done it before. It helps that he's doing it with two of his friends, Abigail and Erica, who he has known since preschool and both of whom have done the camp before.

They're performing Mary Poppins, and they had auditions early in the week before moving into rehearsals on the third day. He didn't get a major role, but he did get a named, recognizable role that has a couple of scenes with 3-5 lines each scene: the chairman of the bank that Mr. Banks works for (his friends who have done the camp before, by comparison, did not get lines or roles with named characters).

I can't wait to see how he does—he has taken the process very seriously, memorizing all of his lines already, and although he won't let us see him practice, he's definitely been running through the dance routines in his room while blasting the soundtrack on Alexa. I don't know if he'll ever get obsessed with any activity or hobby—he's more the kind of kid who's looking for constant stimulation from new experiences—but I would love it if he engaged enough with theater to do that on a semi-regular basis.

After reading Ted Chiang's two sci fi short story collections earlier this summer, I decided to roll the dice on a couple of other collections from writers whose novels I've read and see if anyone else could come close to matching Chiang's brilliance in that genre.

I started with Charlie Jane Anders' Six Months, Three Days, Five Others, which bundles her award-winning novella Six Months, Three Days with five additional stories. I've read two of Anders' novels, All the Birds in the Sky and The City in the Middle of the Night, and while I'm still not completely sold on her as a writer, I did love the improvement between Birds and City, and I was curious to see how she'd do with a more compact form.

I like this collection better than either of the novels I've read, and I wonder if this might be the storytelling format where she would really shine if she focused on it. The stories didn't uniformly blow me away like Chiang's stories do—there's not a weak entry in either of his collections—but they were all solid, and there were a couple I loved.

The elements that I didn't like in her novels—overly emotional internal monologues and convoluted slow builds to a too-quick conclusion—were missing here, likely because you don't have the space to indulge in anything extraneous in this format. Each of these would make a great basis for a Black Mirror or Twilight Zone type tv show, but the worlds they hint at could also be expanded into a larger story if she wanted to pursue them further.

If you're into sci fi and are looking for a good collection of short stories (once you've exhausted Chiang's, that is), Six Months, Three Days, Five others is a solid option. I may not revisit it as often as I intend to revisit Chiang's, but I have no doubt that I will return to it at some point.

The next collection of sci fi short stories was from Cixin Liu, author of The Three Body Problem, the first book in what became the "Remembrance of Earth's Past" trilogy (a title whose meaning only became clear in the third book in the series, Death's End). I LOVED this trilogy—it is modern hard sci fi at its best, and the concepts and ideas, as well as the thoughts put into projecting how future technological advances would affect society and culture, are packed so densely that some writers could have written 12 books and still not exhausted all the material.

The collection of his short stories is called The Wandering Earth, named after the longest story in the collection, and it covers similar ground—many of the stories in here could have easily been expanded into a novel (or a trilogy) by a writer who wanted to wring every last page out of their world building. But Liu is confident and restless enough to give these ideas their proper foundational due without needing to spend hundreds more pages expanding with relatively superfluous details—he's got other ideas to explore, and he's willing to let us fill in the empty spaces with our own lingering consideration of his pared-down narratives.

The really cool trick he pulls off here is the vague interconnectedness of a few of the stories without explicitly tying all the threads together the way a lesser writer would feel compelled to. The two most intriguing spokes from this central wheel are 1) an alternate history of Earth where dinosaurs and ants evolved into symbiotic but independent highly intelligent creatures with complex societal structures; and 2) a gritty noir detective story about a hitman who is hired to murder homeless people for exorbitant sums of money. On the surface, it's hard to imagine these being connected, but through revelations in those two stories and a couple of others, Liu hints at histories and machinations that reveal us to be clueless strangers about our own planet. It's just brilliant.

Liu is not for everyone—because he writes in his native Chinese, there is both a cultural style and a translation issue that make his writing less elegant in English than native writers, but that occasional stilted ness in the English translations adds to his charm for me. But if you like ambitious, thought-provoking sci fi that doesn't sacrifice the human and societal context for the description of complex technological and scientific concepts, you should give him a try. These short stories might be a better bet for a first time reader than The Three Body Problem, which is amazing but takes a longer investment to get to a payoff. Either way, I love everything I've read from him so far.

Last year in June, while Julie and Will were away visiting her mom (who has since moved to Atlanta), I got last-minute tickets off Craigslist to see the Connells with a neighbor. This was a band that was local to where I spent the later part of my teenage years (the Triangle area in NC), and who have remained one of my favorites despite falling a little bit short of the kind of national success that would have kept them making records as a full time job.

It was a magical show—even though there were definite technical shortcomings to the performance (mostly on the vocals), the spirit of the band and the audience took me back to those years when I was going to clubs for the first time to see bands I loved play their music live (usually using a fake ID, but just to get in the door—I wasn't at all interested in drinking then). It was great to share the experience with my neighbor, who had a similar reaction—it was one of those rare shows where it felt like the whole room was having a transcendental individual experience with the music and also recognizing the shared experience of being in a room with so many others who were on the same wavelength.

This year I was more attentive when they announced a return show to the same venue (the Variety), and I got tickets for my neighbor, Julie, and myself (I knew Julie all the way back then, and although I don't think she went to any Connells shows with me, I know she had a couple of their CDs in her personal collection). I tempered my expectations for the show, though—you don't often get repeat performances of experiences like that, even when so many of the factors are replicated.

This was a good show, and I'd definitely go to see them again, but it was not quite the same experience as it was last year. Part of it was that the novelty wasn't there—instead of it being 25 years since I'd seen them and heard those songs live, it was only a year. But the setlist wasn't as compelling either—last year it seemed like they took more from their early catalog, and those early records are the ones I know and love the best. This was more from their mid- to late-career albums, which plenty of people in the crowd seemed to adore (including my neighbor), but which just aren't as emotionally engaging for me.

I was supposed to go to the Atlanta United game last night, but I've been fighting something off all week and it finally caught up with me to the point where I decided not to go at the last minute. I ended up watching most of it on tv, and man, it would have been a fun one to see in person. Houston has struggled on the road all season, and when they lost one of their best players to a red card six minutes into the game, everyone watching knew it was all over but the crying.

Atlanta took advantage of being a man up by scoring two goals before the half hour mark, and they ended up with a decisive 5-0 win, including a final goal with only two minutes left in regular time. It's always fun to see the United dominate at home, but it's even more fun to be part of the crowd when you're there in person. I can only hope that they continue to get stronger as we enter the second half of the season, setting the stage not only for a return to the playoffs but also hopefully a slate of home games that could propel them to another championship.

Will finished his two weeks at drama camp today with a group performance of Mary Poppins. He had a mid-sized role, which was probably the right place for him given that 1) he's never done this before but 2) I think he might have the right personality/aptitude to be an actor if that's something he wants to explore further. He was the chairman of the bank, which had two scenes where he had lines, and he also appeared in a couple of the musical numbers and background in a couple of other scenes.

Julie and I went, of course, but we were joined by Julie's mom, my mom, my sister, and her husband, so Will had quite the cheering section. The performance was in a black box theater, and we were in the front row, so we were right on top of the actors and got a good look at Will's actions on stage. He did GREAT—for a kid who can have trouble focusing and be easily distracted, especially when there are people around he can talk to, he did an amazing job of staying in character, even when he was just doing background in a scene. He was also terrific when he had lines—he didn't stumble or slip up once, and he said his lines clearly in his character's voice.

He honestly exceeded what I thought he was capable of in his first role, and I hope he wants to continue to explore the theater. So far it looks like he does—he said he wants to do both sessions of this camp next summer. But I'd like to look for other opportunities before then, although that might be hard with his extracurricular schedule—he's planning to keep doing piano and also pick up a year-round swim team this fall.

Will's birthday was a couple of weeks ago, but Saturday was his friends party. He decided he wanted to have it at Stars and Strikes after he went to another kid's party there back in March (which is often how his party choices get made), and we ended up having a full slate of friends who came.

It started with bowling, followed by a pizza party (supplied by Stars and Strikes) and a giant chocolate chip cookie cake (provided by us from Ally's Cookies). They then played laser tag and bumper cars, before each kid was given $10 in tokens to play in the arcade (as the birthday boy, Will got $15, along with 1,000 tickets to spend on prizes).

It was a good party for Will—everyone hung out and did the same things at the same time, but they switched activities pretty frequently before the kids started to get bored. I have no idea what he'll end up wanting to do next year, but I wouldn't be surprised if he wanted to do this again.

I've had The Orchid Thief: A True Story of Beauty and Obsession by Susan Orlean on my to-read list for a long time—it's critically acclaimed in its own right, but it also served as the template/inspiration for three other books about obsessive collectors who go to illegal lengths to satisfy their greed/collecting compulsions, The Map Thief, The Feather Thief, and The Dinosaur Artist (as well as another book I have on my to-read list, The Man Who Loved Books Too Much).

The story is ostensibly about John LaRoche, a native Floridian who becomes an expert on orchids and where to find them in the swamps around his home state. He gets in legal trouble when, in an attempt to find a loophole in the law, he partners with a Native American tribe to steal hundreds of orchids from a protected nature preserve on the grounds that the tribe members are exempt from those laws (he doesn't actually remove the orchids himself, but he is working on behalf of the tribe and brings the tribe members to the orchids and instructs them on how to remove them safely).

She spends time with LaRoche and paints a detailed portrait of him, but really, he's a very small part of the book, especially because he drifts away from the orchids by the end of the book after his legal run-ins and after parting ways with the tribe that was backing him. Orlean introduces us to so many other characters in that world, especially the legal growers and collectors she meets at orchid shows, along with members of the tribe that were affiliated with LaRoche and were part of his scam.

What this book is really, though, is a love letter to Florida, something I didn't know was even possible (I was born there but I'd be okay if I never, ever went back there). She spends as much time describing the flora and the fauna and bringing us to understand how this terroir created the colorful characters she encountered, how the same seeds in a different soil would have borne completely different fruit. The writing is engaging  and the descriptions are well-wrought, and the book is a real pleasure to read, deserving every bit of the praise it has accumulated over the years. Of all the books about obsessive collectors I've read so far, this one is tied with The Feather Thief for the most compelling, even though it's over two decades old now and The Feather Thief has a much more compelling heist at the center of its narrative.

Julie and I have finally made it to season 5 of Game of Thrones, and while I'm happy to be revisiting some of the most compelling episodes of the series (seasons 4 and 5 have the right blend of character development and holy shit moments, and are also—not coincidentally—the last seasons that had the books as a guiding hand), I'm already dreading having to revisit the seasons that come next, which have more than their fair share of holy shit moments but which are sorely lacking in the logical character development realm.

Julie's enjoying it though, and I'm interested to see if rewatching seasons 6-8 after having some time to let the final story arc conclusions marinate for a few months makes them any better than they are in my memory (I haven't rewatched any of them since they first aired). I'm hoping I'll be able to appreciate them all at least a little bit, more, especially the messy, confusing final season, but I'm not holding my breath.

There was another Atlanta United home game on Sunday, this time against DC United, and once again the Five Stripes added three points to their season total. It was a tough game though—DC was definitely playing for a 0-0 draw and a single point, and it looked like they might get there. But in the 89th minute of regular play, just-subbed-in Pity Martinez headed the ball in for a goal, followed a few minutes later in extra time by a second goal from leading scorer Josef Martinez.

Pity was a star in his native Argentina who was brought in to replace fan favorite Miguel Almiron (who was sold to the Premiere League's Newcastle team in the offseason), but he has not had an easy start in the MLS. He has looked physically intimidated a lot of the time, and he has a tendency to give up on plays instead of gutting it out and fighting for the ball. And coming into this game, he had been pulled from the starting lineup for a disagreement with the coach.

Hopefully this goal was the start of a turnaround for him—as we make a push to the postseason (we're virtually guaranteed to be in the postseason, but finishing high in the standings is incredibly important given the new playoff format), we need him to be the complimentary striker that he was brought in to be. But the team as a whole is playing well, and several young players have made big strides this year, so I'm feeling good that we'll at least make a serious push to defend our title.

After The Orchid Thief, I stayed in the nonfiction world with Provenance: How a Con Man and a Forger Rewrote the History of Modern Art by husband and wife writing team of Aly Sujo and Laney Salisbury. It tells the story of John Drewe, a con man with a mysterious background who enlists an initially-unwitting failed artist named John Myatt to produce works in the style of famous artists that Drewe then passes off to collectors as genuine originals.

In addition to his natural gifts in reading people and telling them stories they can believe to get them to go along with his scams, Drewe's unique gift is altering the archives of great museums and collections to give credence to his claims that the fake paintings are the genuine article. Given the sloppiness of Myatt's fakes (using house paint instead of oils, using modern canvases instead of repurposed canvases from the appropriate time period, etc.), the scam would have been uncovered long before the art world caught onto them (and it might have never gotten going at all) if not for the also fake but very convincing supporting documentation that Drewe was able to provide to the auctioneers and galleries which helped Drewe and Myatt get Myatt's fakes into the hands of wealthy collectors.

I shudder to think what he could have done to the history of art if 1) he had not taken such big risks and continued to try to sell fakes in the style of ever more famous artists even as his stories were unraveling and 2) he had been paired with a better forger (like Ken Perenyi, a famous American forger who was meticulous in using period-appropriate canvases, brushes, and paints and who was able to sell dozens of fakes in the style of famous artists even without any provenance behind them).

What's really scary: such a pair might actually exist and are as yet undetected: even with the less-than-stellar quality of Myatt's approach to creating fakes, this scam went on for years and his works were authenticated by experts at globally respected galleries, auction houses, and museums (like the Tate). Even though this book is a fantastically told, engaging narrative, it asks some very deep questions about what gives something meaning and value in the art world, with the cynical answer that, among those who have invested the most in that world, the idea that a work is someone famous means more than the actual quality of the work.

Yesterday afternoon we took a trip out to Serenbe for a family event with the Atlanta alumni chapter of our college alma mater. It was a performance of a locally-written Pocahontas play at the small outdoor stage, which was rustic even by rustic standards.

We started with a picnic with the other families before the show, and even though it was hot, the group found a shady spot underneath a big tree. The real problem was the ants: they came in droves out of nowhere, instantly appearing whenever you put down your food for a second. But it was great aside from that—we caught up with some alums we'd met before and got to know a few new folks, all while Will ran around playing with the other kids.

The play itself was...not great. It was very much made for an very young audience, as there was no real plot or character development—it was all exposition meant to explain the history of the English settlers and their relationship with Pocahontas' tribe. Will seemed to like it though, and afterward he was really excited to go get autographs from the cast (including the woman who played Pocahontas, who was Native American and who also wrote the play).

I don't know if I would go back to that particular stage again—the benches were not on level ground, so you were constantly feeling like you were falling forward out of your seat—but I think there's another outdoor stage in Serenbe where they put on more elaborate productions that I'd be willing to give a try.

It's the last week of summer break before Will starts fourth grade, and this week he's doing "mommy camp", where Julie takes off the whole week and does something fun with him every day. Monday it was a trip to Stone Mountain, and today was a trip to the Botanical Gardens (where they were joined by Julie's mom).

I'm hoping to join them for the next couple of days—a trip to the aquarium tomorrow and Six Flags on Thursday—before they finish the week with a visit to my mom for lunch and a movie. Will always has a lot of fun this week, and it's a great way to ease him back into the school routine after a summer of camps and no homework.

My friends and I did our third trivia night last night, and again, six of us were able to make it from a list of about a dozen people who are on the invite list. Everyone there had been to one of the previous trivia nights, but it was different than either of the previous two groups.

On our first outing, we won third place, and on our second we won a bottle of wine for having the best team name. This time we came in third again, but we came tantalizingly close to winning first before getting too clever for our own good and blowing the final bonus questions. We were actually in the lead going into the final bonus round, but it was a big one: one question with six answers (everyone in MLB history who hit more than 650 homeruns), with each correct answer giving you five points and each wrong answer subtracting five points (you only had to answer as many as you wanted—if you only answered four, you weren't penalized for not having answers for the other two).

They announced the totals for all the teams before starting that round, and we realized all we had to do was get 20 points (answer four correctly and none incorrectly) to win, and that was our (in retrospect stupid) gameplan. Our fatal flaw was that one of our four—Mark McGwire—was wrong, and we didn't put down an additional two even though we knew them (Alex Rodriguez and Albert Pujols). Even if we had included McGwire, if we had also included two other correct answers, we still would have ended up with the 20 points we needed to win. But with the wrong answer, we only gained an additional 10 points and ended up in third again, only a couple of points shy of second.

It was a great night though—I love hanging out with anyone in the group, and the element of friendly competition is a fun occasional addition to our get-togethers. With school coming up and travel season starting soon, it might be awhile before we can do this again, but when we do, we've got another $15 gift certificate to put towards appetizers for the table.

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