Smartphone Asshole, or Efficient Gatherer of Crowd-Pleasing Facts?

Up until May, I enjoyed straining my personal and business relationships by conducting all of my affairs from a flip phone. I made this choice for several reasons: I wanted to keep the Internet off my back when I was in the real world; I liked the non-stop flipping action; I was locked into the world’s shittiest phone contract; and I could use my phone to shock people, particularly fresh-off-the-boat millennials, like my English language students.

“Welcome to America.” I could say and then pause and pretend to painstakingly text someone.

Some dumplings I made before I had a smartphone.

There was nothing “addictive” about my flip phone, other than the satisfying coconut shell sound of it snapping shut, and I knew no one would ever rough me up on campus to rip it out of my hand (unless as a hate crime against flip phones).

Texting took an eternity and bred lavish errors/misunderstandings as I didn’t know where to find the exclamation points or emoticons. But that was okay, because this allowed me to always shift the blame to my flip phone if I said something socially awkward or disturbing or weird. Such as:

I hv all beef France at my house, Do you hv any buns

Whats the guys name again, Justin Beaver?

Using technlgy 2 edit human genome re: heart disease = a really gd idea

In more convoluted situations, instead of texting back, I would call, which really threw people into a tailspin.

Some people acted as if in not keeping pace with human tools, I was crimping the forward momentum style of civilization, breaking some kind of social contract that none of us ever really signed on for. Others simply objected to the musical “ding ding DING ding” tones of my texting, because it was hard to turn off the keyboard sounds. They asked, what was I doing over there, playing a game? And I said that I wished my phone had a game. And then we’d both kind of laugh. (But my laugh was more hearty.)

My coworkers enjoy listening to me text

That’s how I liked it. My texting sounded musical and magical. I was free from the shackles of instant information and overly-porous boundaries between my thoughts and other people’s need to ask me for muffin recipes while I’m having those thoughts. I could discover things for myself, and regale people about an awful restaurant I stumbled upon, instead of always looking for the top-rated “best experience.”

I basked in my ignorance of the overly-mapped, overly-analyzed world like it was the Corsican sun and announced to roomfuls of smartphone users that I was sorry I was late, but I had gotten lost, AGAIN. “This is how we do,” I told my friends, trying (and succeeding?) to sound hip.

Suffice it to say, that no one was as besotted by my flip phone, and everything it stood for (freedom, ignorance, self-reliance, contract entrapment), more than me.

My friend Paul understood because he acquired his first smartphone the same time I got mine. In the beginning, we joked about smudging our new phones (with smudge sticks that neither of us actually had) and he said how he hoped that we weren’t going to become “smartphone assholes.”

“That will NEVER happen to me,” I said.

Paul held out for a really long time, and he’s rewarding himself with a seltzer water

I ensured it wouldn’t happen to me by refusing to download the Facebook app or my gmail notifications. I vowed to never look at the GPS while driving, only before I left the house. I even considered downloading this make-your-keyboard-function-like-a-typewriter app to make typing even more difficult than it was on my flip phone (Over-The-Top is not touchscreen compatible).

I was doing pretty good at being a happy-go-lucky, smartphone dolt until mid-June when I found myself on an island in the Puget Sound without a car, trying to beat the crowds to a sheepdog show. (I think you see where this is going.)

Google Maps pulled up a walking route, the BEST, most crow-flying-est route, a good mile shorter than the second best route. The satellite view allowed me to see where exactly I should cut left on a dirt path (around a rectangular barn thingy).

It’s true, Maps threw up a few barely noticeable hazard signs that I would be crossing private property, but the signs were minuscule, and why would friendly, helpful Google lead me into peril, so I was like, “Who cares? Let’s see some mother’n sheepherding, motherf’rs!” And I followed that map exactly where it took me.

Some time later, as I was being hemmed against a fence by murderous angus cattle, after I had escaped the barking dogs, and given up on finding an open gate through the security walls of the mega-estate of  Misty Isle Farms, I decided I actually did care.

It was while I was planning an escape route over the fence and cow-whispering for my life, and thinking about all of the tall, ginger-haired people who were going to beat me to the sheepdog show and set up their lawn chairs right in front of me if I survived – it was then that I thought: “I AM a smartphone asshole.”

But when I had backed away without incident from the cattle, the panic subsided, and it was not shame I felt, but chilling, successive waves of great and unspeakable power. I had never gotten lost with such technological élan before.

A picture I took on my smartphone

I filed this away and reverted to temperate and responsible smartphone use until last week when it happened again. I was talking with some friends about the draconian atmosphere of working at Disney World, as relayed by my cousin, a former intern at the Animal Kingdom. But I couldn’t remember any of the rules.

This made me feel dull and distraught, so I texted my cousin. By the time she responded, I had ignored half the conversation bumbling around on my phone (at Disney you can only point with two fingers or your whole hand, not one finger. At Disney you are not allowed to tell anyone that anything at Disney is “not real”).

“I’m a smartphone asshole,” I thought later. But then I wondered: Was I a “smartphone asshole” or “an efficient gatherer of crowd-pleasing facts?”

I’m still not sure. It seems like the more knowledge my smartphone feeds me, the less I actually understand of myself and the world around me. The wider the spray of information, the less anything gels. It seems like while my smartphone has saved me from some scrapes, it has air-dropped me right in the thick of others. Which brings me back to that classic quote from Tristram Shandy:

“Intricate are the troubles which the pursuit of this bewitching phantom KNOWLEDGE will bring upon thee.”

And what about Paul? Had he escaped being made into a total d-bag by his smartphone? He is a professional contemplative after all.

“I really enjoy the convenience it offers,” is all he said.

l thought that would be a good campaign slogan for the Smartphone Asshole Resistance movement. We Are Enjoying the Convenience It Offers. Or maybe just: Enjoy the Convenience. Or: Try to Enjoy the Convenience a Little Bit.  

If you have tricks to guard against enjoying the convenience too much, please let me know.


Hello, Again

Dear Friends of Spartan Holiday:

SH fizzled out and died a couple of years ago, and for good reason. Somewhere between the death grip of grad school and a painful breakup, I let it drift away. I didn’t feel funny or wise, and the world went limp and gray. Like this, except without all the gold braid:

Saint Munditia

So I stepped aside. I stopped writing and started teaching. I taught the past progressive and obsessed over the shit-show present perfect. I chugged coffee and cried every day on my bike ride home. I read essays about hunting with falcons, and problems in Pakistani education, and turbo engines versus fuel-injected engines. I read books about Saudi culture and taught English via Bruno Mars. My students made me laugh, but the world was threatened by hate. I felt lonely and old.

I got angry and screamed in my car because it’s the only place you can scream in public. I shivered by a revolving dessert case at the Hotel Congress in Tucson. I ran up volcanoes and down beaches and through snow. I studied Vygotsky. I wrote my comps. I graduated. I shouted gangsta rap at birds on the shores of the Puget Sound. I was cornered by angus cattle. I read the Tao of Physics. I cried at sheepdog shows. I cried at nice people in the English countryside baking drizzle cakes together. I cried at airplanes coming and going over Albuquerque. I cried like I was getting paid to do it (but I wasn’t, according to my income statements).

Somewhere I started seeing my own failings as a door out, to a place that is home, a place we all leave at some point, and wander away from for decades. I saw fear and imagined superiority as the root of all earthly shittiness and distance between people, and realized the thing that was deeply “wrong” with me was also deeply wrong with most everyone of a certain age and culture, and we can choose something else.

Then one day, I was up at dawn, to see the sun rise over the Atlantic and the world was a different planet. The masses were playing Pokemon Go, and falling into acid pools, and punching the air to get stronger. Children with lisps were running around holding toy snakes and trying desperately to hiss. Buck-toothed seals were floating on their backs in estuaries  (not in this ocean, in other ones). Somewhere gullible people were buying helenite rings “forged” from the molten ash of Mount St. Helens, and men in offices at Boeing were slamming their fists on desks ordering higher monthly production of planes.

Holy hell, I said. Spartan Holiday is back, and there will be no soap boxes here. Just an ode to life, humankind, and the exultant weirdness of the worlds we live in. Cultural oddities, outsider insights, illegal research, interviews, one-offs, and listicles that skim the cream of existence in Albuquerque-America-World. Flower essences, pop culture, ethnomusicology, mayonnaise, children’s melt-downs– everything is fair game.

And so, be kind to each other and yourselves. Leave the world, but come back.

“Money on the wood makes the game go good. Money out of sight causes fights,” said Thomas Merton or someone.

Thanks to all of you who have forged on.

Stuff You Missed & Bosque Thru-Hikers Guide, Part I

pond Was there ever a greater mockery of summer than “summer school?” No, there wasn’t.

We have summer school to blame for this very delinquent post on the Rio Grande Bosque. And for most other current reckless behavior in my life (like backing into my driveway wall as I was leaving my house for… summer school.)

But that’s okay, because now instead of a practical, timely, must-see guide to the bosque, I have a nostalgic, too-late-now, retrospective guide to the bosque. mulberry My guide will allow you to lament all of those things you didn’t see in the bosque this spring and yearn to see them next year (while also suspecting that this is an impossible dream, and vaguely wanting to die).

One night in the Jemez, my friend Molly spun us a campfire yarn of a famous thru hiker known as “Insane Dwayne” who lives in a canoe in the Everglades surviving on turtles and alligators (when he is not hiking thru things).

This set in motion a false-nostalgic train of thought that began with: Freedom of Choice(!), veered to Freedom to Ingest Turtles, and ended with: Could I (me??) live in the bosque? (I say false-nostalgic because I have never myself lived in a canoe, but I also somehow feel like I have.) Could I live in the bosque?

No, as everyone who knows how much I hate mysteriously rustling grass can tell you, I could not. But I could hike thru it. That is an attainable goal. The Paseo del Bosque is only 16 miles. I could hike through it this fall and probably survive if I am well equipped and well versed in bosque flora.

This could be a decent place to sleep

For this reason, I am compiling a season-specific bosque reference guide, which I am archiving here on Spartan Holiday. My purpose is twofold: to make you feel false-nostalgic pangs about the majesties of spring that you missed (yet somehow feel like you didn’t), and to ensure my own survival in any season.

Bosque Thru-Hikers Guide: Late Spring

1) Mulberries

mulberry2 The sweetest, most identifiable berry, and nostalgic crayon color. Has there ever been a berry so stacked, luscious, and fiendishly scrappy as the mulberries in the bosque this damp spring? Now they’re past season.

Always be careful who you tell about the locations of mulberry trees in the bosque. Do not tell bored teenagers or Amish people (who in my experience can clean a tree in three minutes) or little girls with buckets.

2) Yerba Mansa

photo credit to Dara Saville

You might still catch the lovely, and deliquescent yerba mansa, but if you pick it, God help you.

This is an endangered flower slated for certain death, but for an entire movement called the Yerba Mansa Project devoted to resuscitating the potent herb in the bosque.

How would you have recognized it if you had seen it? “In the light of the setting sun the white petal-like sepals of Yerba Mansa radiate an iridescent glow that reflects an otherworldly palate of colors,” writes my friend, herbal sorceress, and project founder, Dara Saville.

Oh there is nothing I wouldn’t do for this flower whose roots are (according to Dara) “anti-inflammatory, broadly anti-microbial, astringent, anti-catarrhal, and tonifying to the mucous membranes!”

3) Ravenna Grass

a.k.a elephant grass

Invasive Ravenna grass clusters in grotesque tussocks mostly near the zoo where it escaped from the Africa exhibit, in a way, way more boring version of Jurassic Park. Ravenna grass is locked in a zero sum death match with yerba mansa, which makes it a mortal enemy of the Yerba Mansa Project.

You can still see it; it will never die because it is invasive. Unless we all take it upon ourselves (during sanctioned workdays) to dig them up.

Which we will. Because if there’s one thing we can say about humanity, it’s that we are geniuses at coming together to safeguard the integrity of our ecosystems, especially on hot weekend mornings when we could be eating waffles instead (at least I think that’s what people say).

4) Wild Irises

lastirises Louis, Carry, and I were walking by the clear ditch in late May when Carry noticed this electrifying patch of wild yellow irises. I didn’t know that irises grew near riverbanks. I picture them mostly as the hobby flowers of shrill-voiced English ladies, so I was suspicious and cynical, at first.

But when Louis screamed, “Lemon curd and buttercream!” It put me at ease. Oh, Louis. Never will I have a more resplendent day in the Bosque than that day with Louis (and his mom) and his encyclopedic knowledge of native plants.

5) Bike-In Coffee

bic The Bike-In Coffee food truck, parked on Old Town Farm property (just southwards and eastwards of I-40), is a thru-hikers dream. It will be open until October but never dreamier than in the month of May.

It’s called Bike-In Coffee because, really, it’s for bikers and hikers, not lazy people driving their cars and bounding like spaniels up to the counter. But if you’re smart, you’ll park two miles away and then hike in, loudly announce how hot it is, and how far you walked, so as not to be associated with those people who parked much closer. bic2 After a taxing day of eating only mulberries, you can relax a spell and order an iced coffee and giant slab of recycled chocolate cake (so-named from left-over coffee and spent grains procured from Ponderosa Brewing Co). Or this blue cornmeal cake with farm cherries (which is probably already off the menu).

I think no cake will ever taste as good as this cake in the company of my lone self, pining over memories of my old friends Carry and Louis, who had walked with me there mere days before. bic7 Okay, let’s get real for a second, at this point of my thru-hike, I will probably be tempted to flame out and hide from my sponsors in one of the horse stables with a plateful of cookie scones.

Wasted soup makes thru-hikers mad
Wasted soup makes thru-hikers mad

I want to tell my future self: “No. Keep Going. Those horses don’t like you. And there is so much more to see,” as future installments of this guide will make abundantly clear.

City life is hard–what with its density, urbanity, and impossible Chihuahuas. Sometimes a person just wants to throw off the shackles of civilization/summer school and go AWOL in the Rio Grande Bosque for a couple of weeks. I understand. And so, we shall return in the fall to see what you missed late summer.

Shocking Announcement & Let’s Go to the Bosque!

Did you really think Spartan Holiday was dead? Haaa haa. Oh my god, no.

It’s like your parents telling you that your childhood kitten, Mr. Mitten Face, is dead, when they really just released it into the woods as part of the Cat Re-wilding Movement. But then after time passes, there’s your cat, all grown up, rippling with muscle, ridiculous survival skills, and a faux-hawk.

button eyes copy

That is Spartan Holiday.

Because also, Mr. Mitten Face really wants to tell you about some awesome recent discoveries. Rrroww rroow rrow, he says. That means “Follow me to the bosque” in cat language.

A bosque pond in fall

The bosque is the verdant, watery, cottonwoody, apache-plumey spine of our city (Albuquerque). Right now the Rio Grande is enjoying a brief stint as a full-blooded river due to the freakish amount of spring rainfall. Also! – The mulberries are ripe.

Lately I have been forcing all of my friends to go on long hike-walks in which we often get lost but..have amazing adventures in the bosque! As I am running out of friends to invite, since word is getting around about my bosque death marches, I am inviting you, my faithful readers.

Here’s what it looks like!

canal thingy by the river
canal thingy by the river

Prepare yourself for a whole mini-series on bosque lore: Where did that invasive elephant grass come from? Where can I fortify myself for continued death mar…I mean riverine frolicks, with cold pressed coffee and scookies (a cookie-scone hybrid)? Where can I actually get in the river without awkward consequences?

I know the answers to all of these questions and more!

And I shall tell you soonish.




Fare-thee-well Spartan Holidayers

Yes, I know. What? Could it be? Yes. No, it can’t! But it is.

Wipe away your bitter tears, dear readers; Spartan Holiday has come to a close. This post is the grand finale–a starry burst of fireworks in chrysanthemums and whirly twirlies and crackly sparkle dust.


It’s tempting to blog about how pointless and overrated fireworks are. But I shan’t because–and this is the point–this blog could go on forever. There is always something more to blog about, you see–polar bear swims in the Rio Grande, or some weird thing that happened the other night, like people Christmas caroling while reading lyrics off their smart phones.

And that is the crux of the problem. For I have other, different things to write and I mustn’t be tempted by low hanging fruit.

But I did love my little blog, humble and inglorious as it was. It was a solace in some tough times and a good platform for seeing the world anew.

So for my final blog, I think a little retrospective is in order. What do I think was my most attractive post? My most ill-advised? My most under-appreciated? Let us see.

The Best (and Worst) of Spartan Holiday

Best Photo Essay: Shokunin. Spartan Holiday allowed me to explore my new quasi-hobby of photography. I admit that some of my efforts sucked, like the pictures on Persian Sins and Problems In My Neighborhood, which was otherwise one of my favorite posts.

IMG_2260Most Under-Appreciated: Demon Summer: A Work in Progress. Why did no one seem to read this throw-back gothic thriller I wrote only on rainy days? Maybe it was too scary, is all I can figure.


Most Useful: I Can’t Remember What to Do in Cacti Situations.

2013-05-29 15.48.56

Most Self-Indulgent: Yeah, I named a bunch of dogs.


Most Depressing: No Country for Old Men or Anyone Actually:


Most Depressing Runner Up: Why Can’t I Stop Killing Whales?


Most Ill-Advised: Wow, lots of competition in this category. Why I ever thought the modern public would enjoy my rants about Cretaceous-era atmospheric composition or WWII Japanese balloon bombs is a tragic mystery indeed. But the only blog I ever “unpublished” and issued an apology for was the one in which I claimed that the Spartan Holiday offices were in the direct path of a forest fire, causing several overly credulous people to become anxious for my safety. I have republished it here:


Most Clarifying:  First runner up was my dream death post in which I forced myself to imagine the ideal way to die. But the winner is Help, My House is on Fake-Fire! Notice I wrote “fake fire” here so as not to cause any more alarm after the Valles Caldera incident. This blog was clarifying because I was forced to really cull out, once and for all, my most cherished material possessions.


Hottest Post: Eventually I wised up to the fact that the public wants the hot and novel, not one-act plays on the Civil War. Hence the First Annual Spartan Holiday Fall Fashion Issue, The Albuquerque Hawt List and Giving Thanks Where Thanks Is Due.

The excruciatingly long A Virtual Visit to Elmwood Park Zoo, in which I exploited my blood relation to Jonathan Groff, was my third most-read blog of all time. But the winner in this category goes to I May Have Found a Replacement for Magnus Carlsen which just raged with hotness and ranked fourth in overall popularity.


Most Soon-to-be Irrelevant As of This Posting: My 2014 Happy New Year(s) post. I’m pretty proud of these cards I made, being as inept at photo editing as I am.


And finally, My Most Statistically Popular PostDogs I Named. Yes, the very same as My Most Self-Indulgent post.

schopenhauer01_with_poodle450x700pxMy WordPress stats say “Dogs I Named” has accumulated 985 views, which I find really odd, until I stop to consider that dog and cat related content still command a massive share of the Internet.

The take-home message seems to be: Look how all of our world-displacing, cutting-edge technology just serves to reflect our most basic animal selves. The Internet is mostly a platform for sex, social grappling, information hunting, and odes to our inter-species companions.

In Conclusion

Life is a beautiful, absurd, miraculous mess, is it not?

I am grateful to be here. I hope you are too.

Thanks, faithful readers. I shall miss you.


The Story-Lives of Great Composers

Do you know what’s evil? And by evil I mean tempting like evil but without the collateral damage to the human spirit?

Book sales where hardcovers are selling for 33 cents a pop. Because I’m on a pauper budget and these are pauper prices. So, I feel like economic law demands that I walk away with  precipitous stacks of books, some of which I only like for the campy pictures, or grandma-y smell.


That is how I have come to possess a certain young adult page-turner (in the sense that the pages turn if you have the will to move them) called Story-Lives of Great Composers by Katherine Little Bakeless.

I don’t know what drew me in first–the portraits of mustachioed men with long, symphonic-hair, the bombastic “GREAT COMPOSERS” stamped in maroon capitals across the cover, or the fact that the author’s name includes two sad words: “little” and “bakeless.” Whatever it was, I slammed down my 33 cents and have since been working my way through vignettes about the (western) musical geniuses of the last couple of centuries.

Here is an excerpt from the chapter on Sergei Rachmaninoff:


“Sergei, who was an unusually bright and cheerful boy, was his grandmother’s favorite. How she spoiled him! No matter how mischievous he was, she was delighted with him….Piano was so easy for him that he shirked his practising…he played without worrying. What he liked to do was all together different and surprising. He went to the skating-rink as often as he could. He became a very fine skater, an even better skater than he was a piano player.”


“When he did something wrong and needed punishment, he was put under the piano. This wounded him deeply, for the other children were only put into a corner!”

I also learned that Sergei’s older sister Helena could bend a silver coin “with the fingers of one hand.” And that in 1917 during the Russian Revolution, he and his family had to cross the Russian border into Sweden by sleigh “while a blizzard raged.”

While I find all of these facts useful for boring the person beside me at my next Rachmaninoff concert, my problem is that the book is babyish–written for young adultish children as it were.

What I was really hoping for was DRAMA. The lost loves, depression, fury, grief and page-long accounts of Rachy’s sleigh escape from Russia, and that time Tolstoy told him his music sucked, and all of those other things that rattled his life to such a pounding tonal storm that it came out as this Prelude Op 32, No 1 in C.


But I think I’ll keep reading. It looks like there’s a semi-interesting passage in the next chapter about Richard Strauss in which we learn that he was “above middle height, with fair complexion, sandy hair and very pale blue eyes.”

Apparently he had “a very high, prominent forehead,” but THEN, “the sandy hair grew white and the high forehead became even higher as the white hair receded.”

I hadn’t known that about Strauss.

You’re Doing It Wrong

I might have said that one thing, but I didn't say that other thing


1538-“A man can not have his cake and eate his cake!” the Duke of Norfolk screams in a letter to Thomas Cromwell.

1773-“A great empire, like a great cake, is most easily diminished at the edges,” Benjamin Franklin writes ominously three years before the Revolutionary War.

1789– “The people can go eff themselves,” says Marie Antoinette while eating a huge piece of cake.

1864-“Johnnycakes are awful and not really cakes,” several people admit on their deathbeds during the Civil War.

1900– “What am i even fighting for??!!!” A British man cries and slams his fist into a sponge cake during the Boer War.

1945– “I was just following orders!” claims a Nazi army cook when asked why he doubled the amount of butter in a cake.

1995– “You can’t eat your cake and have it too,” writes the anonymous Unabomber leading to the arrest of Ted Kaczynski.

And now 2014, there are shockwaves in the world of cake cutting news. Last week NPR ran a story featuring Alex Bellos resurrecting the cake cutting methods of a deceased British mathematician named Sir Francis Galton.


Galton, you see, was Charles Darwin’s first cousin and “one of the fathers of modern statistics.” So the man knew how to cut a cake.

In 1906 he wrote a letter to Nature magazine explaining why cutting cake into wedges is total shite.


Basically, unless you eat the entire cake in one sitting the edge pieces swiftly dry out due to the loss of the icing sealant where the cake interior has been exposed.


Instead, Galton implored dessert eaters to cut long slices the entire diameter of the cake from the center and then slide the two sides of the cake back together and bind them together (Bellos suggests rubber bands). Then the next day, you quarter the cake, cut your slice from the middle, and ram it back together again. You basically keep doing that till the cake is gone.


It stays moist that way.

So how does it feel to be told you’re cutting your cake all wrong and always have been?

Is science right again?