» Given how many people disappear every day, it's a total dart board to figure out which ones will get valuable national coverage on television. When Audrey Seiler vanished from the University of Wisconsin this week, her picture was all over CNN. Seiler was found quickly, but now it seems she went missing out of her own choice. Police are vague about details, but it looks less like an abduction and more like a breakdown episode, a far too common occurance among students and people in their 20s. When Penn State student Cindy Song vanished two-and-a-half years ago, there was little or no national coverage and she remains missing.
Here in New York, a similar case happened a few weeks ago with the disappearance of Bard College student Melissa Kennedy. When Melissa's family members hadn't heard from her in a few days, they called police and launched a search, papering her subway route with missing person fliers. Local media covered the story. Melissa reappeared about two weeks later, and it turned out she had run away with a truck driver on her way to school and not told anyone, apparently by her own choice.
When someone vanishes, there are so many possible story lines that it's impossible to predict what might happen next. The police and the news media must guess the best way to approach each of these mysteries, and they sometimes guess wrong.
» Schools do a good job of teaching us book smarts, like American history, algebra, and grammar. But what of street smarts, the stuff we really need to know to get by? ... How to get along with your boss.... Which drinks to order in which situation.... How to tell if someone's gay.... When not to laugh at an inappropriate joke.... How to start or end a relationship.... How to tip.
Obviously, some of this stuff can only be learned through life experience. But when I consider how much time I wasted learning calculus (I've forgotten all of it) or art history (all gone) there must have been some better use of my time. Here are three critical skills that should be taught in every American high school:
» An examination of work by Pulitzer Prize-winning D103.com journalist Daryl Lang has revealed dozens of fabrications, inaccuracies, and instances of plagiarism. Lang was widely respected for his fantastic tales of daring-do, his sparkling personality, and his dashing good looks. No one who worked with him suspected he was, in fact, living a lie.
For instance, Lang reported last year that he traveled to Pittsburgh, when in fact he stayed in his Brooklyn apartment and just wrote about it based on pictures he saw on the Internet. In 2002, Lang claimed he attended an autoharp festival in Perry County, Pennsylvania, though no witness has been able to confirm he was actually there. When questioned by a panel of journalists investigating his work, Lang produced what he claimed was a cassette tape of the autoharp festival. But when confronted, Lang admitted that it was really just a recording of the Counting Crows' version of "Big Yellow Taxi." Lang then broke down, saying "You can't prove anything!"
Lang's deceptions apparently knew no bounds. Lang described numerous movies he claimed he'd seen, when in fact he was just quoting from reviews he read in the newspaper. Lang claimed he was "really into 'The Sopranos'" when in fact he has never actually seen the show. And a story in which Lang claimed he killed a dozen terrorists with his bare hands, all while working as an undercover double agent disguised as a mild-mannered lighthouse keeper, has never been independently verified.
Lang declined to be interviewed, but released a statement saying he was "deeply sorry" and blamed his career flameout on "intense competitive pressure, mental illness, drugs, alcohol, racism, religious discrimination, and censorship." The D103.com editors, embarrassed to explain how incorrect information could have appeared on the Internet, promptly fired Lang and resigned in disgrace.
» I decided that it's time I learned how to use Flash, the web animation program.
Step 1: Upgrade my computer to Mac OS X 10.3. I stopped at Tekserve on my way home and dropped $140 for the upgrade. Once I got it home, it took about an hour to install, but it worked flawlessly and it added a bunch of cool toys to my computer, including much slicker web browser and e-mail programs.
Step 2: Get the Macromedia Flash demo. That's the hard part it's a 98 MB download. It was late and I had to do laundry. I lugged my computer to the laundromat with the desperate hope that there'd be a WiFi network within range. Incredibly, there were three networks set up on that corner of 5th Ave. I hooked up to one of them and spent the entire dry cycle downloading this monster program. I had to sit on a park bench outside since I couldn't get a strong enough signal inside, plus it was crowded. While I waited for the download, I IMed Renée and chatted up a bike messenger who was hanging out in the laundromat to use the pay phone.
Step 3: Unstuff and install Flash. Much harder than it should have been, but I got it done.
Step 4: Learn how to use this confounding program. To do tonight. I think I've almost got it.
» Yesterday I carried my bike down the stairs for the first time this year and rode into Manhattan. Jessica had invited me to an comedy show starring her roommate, Kelly (and the rest of Kelly's improv class). The air was beautifully clear as I pedaled over the Brooklyn Bridge in the warmth of the afternoon. I remembered how good it feels to do this ride, passing all the other shinny happy people on the bridge, watching the temperature flash on the big Watchtower billboard (13°C / 56°F), seeing the vast city unfold beneath me. I arrived at the theater at the same time Jess did and locked my bike. The show was good, and obviously took a bit of bravery on the part of students in the class. When I left to ride back home, it was already cold. I put on my fleece and rode down the windy West Side Trail. By the time I was back in my neighborhood, my legs were jelly and I was overwhelmed with hunger. I stopped at a pizza place and gobbled down two slices and a 20-ounce Pepsi. (I can't wait until the iTunes bottlecap promotion is over and I can go back to drinking Coke.) I'm looking forward to sustained warm weather and getting myself back in shape for biking.
» No one answered our request Friday to help Dave find the mysterious Ariel. Oh well, thanks for playing.
» I went with my friends Britta and Suzanne to a play last night called "Matt and Ben." The play, which has been running for some time, tells the story of young Matt Damon and Ben Affleck as they're living as roommates in Boston and working on the screenplay for "Good Will Hunting." The premise of the story is that the script was a gift from God, which miraculously fell from the sky into their living room. Obviously, it's totally made-up and the real Matt and Ben have nothing to do with it. Adding to the strangeness, Matt and Ben are each played by women (Jennifer R. Morris and Quincy Tyler Bernstine, respectively). All good fun.