Friday Free-for-all #34: From ice cream to education

Friday Free for All

Best and worst flavor ice cream? What would make for an excellent new ice cream flavor?

Personally, my hands-down best is anything involving peanut butter and dark chocolate, with bonus points if it also incorporates any kind of fudge swirl, brownies, or both. One of the better examples of just PB&C is from Häagen-Dazs, and while it’s not dark chocolate, it’s close. Plus, the peanut butter is a nice thick ribbon swirled down the entire cup.

Ben & Jerry’s has something similar, but it’s only available in their scoop shops. Otherwise, they tend toward this weird combination of experimental and bland in their in-store peanut-butter flavors.

As for worst flavors, I could reel off facetious ideas, like a “Name our new potato chip flavor” contest, like “Ice Cream and Tootpaste,” or “Ass,” or “Middle-School Locker Room Floor,” but I’ll keep it legit — and to keep it fair, I’ll avoid Japan altogether, because they legitimately have a flavor over there called “Horse Flesh,” and it’s not the most disgusting one available.

Then again, Japan has about 10,000 flavors of Kit Kat bars available, most of them inedible. It’s a Japanese thing, since so many of them are completionists. Where do you think the Pokémon concept of “Gotta catch ‘em all” came from?

But, sticking to American flavors, my winner for worst is… pear and bleu cheese (and they can’t even spell the cheese name right) from the hipster magnet abomination of a so-called ice cream shop called Salt & Straw.

Hey… I actually like bleu cheese. On a salad. At room temperature. And pears I can… tolerate. The two together as a frozen treat? Oh hell noes.

And while there are some more disgusting flavors out there, I’m going to go with the aforementioned for the main reason that this is the only organization doing untold violence to ice cream — ice cream, Mandrake, children’s ice cream! — is the only one I could actually go buy in my area.

Not that I ever would. I bet they’re the kind of place that even fucks up vanilla, because they only have vanilla beetroot swirl, or some such shit.

What nicknames have you had throughout your life?

It’s funny because I’ve never really gone by nicknames except for a few rare exceptions. I could have gone by Jack as a child, because that was my grandfather’s nickname as well, but my parents probably avoided that because my oldest uncle on my mom’s side was already Jackie.

I really didn’t pick up any nicknames until college, and then wound up with two for two very different reasons.

Not that one of those reasons made sense.

I moved into the dorms and shared a two-bed place with a guy I actually really admired but, because of where we were in our lives at that time, we didn’t really mesh. But, for some reason early on, he decided that I looked like a Fred, so started calling me that, and it wound up being a dorm nickname. Then again, everybody in that dorm — which was three floors of men only — wound up with some kind of nickname.

Hey, it’s what eighteen-year-old dudes do.

So at home in college, at least until junior year, I was Fred. But when I got into theatre and we started doing shows, I had to come up with a nickname for one very simple reason.

It was a Catholic university, and so damn many of us were named John or Jon. Well, I was the only Jon. But the second half of my freshman year, we did a production of Brigadoon that had five of us so-named in the cast, and the second time the director said, “Jo(h)n, can you move two steps to your left?” and five people did, he decided we needed to be told apart.

He had each of us chose our preferred nickname, but did it in age order from oldest to youngest. The first four chose, in order, John, Jack, Johnny, and Jay. Guess who was fifth? And who was left with no obvious J-word variations to choose from?

I mean, logically, I could go by Jak or Jac or Jaq to match the letter difference, but that’s only different on paper.

I thought for a second, and then decided that, even though my full name Is not Jonathan, why not shorten it in reverse, and so I because Nathan, and that one stuck not only through my college theatre career, but it also became my first online chatroom handle, either as NathanX or as Nathan5095, iirc, the number part of that having been assigned by the system.

Those are pretty much it up until my days working for the Dog Whisperer, and for some reason César Millán always called me “Johnny.” Or “Jonny.” Or, even as I’ve seen it spelled by Spanish speakers, “Jhonny.”

But a skunk by any other name would smell as bad. Wherefore art I Jon? Who knows? Honestly, out of all of the nicknames I ever had, I like Nathan the best, because at least it’s distinct and not a name that was one of the top ten most common in English-speaking countries since forever and only until recently.

What futuristic thing do you wish your clothing or accessories could do?

Well, this is a simple one. Clean themselves. Hang them up at night, push a hidden button, and in the morning they are fresh and wrinkle-free and don’t have any day stank on them. And this applies to all of it — outerwear, underwear, overwear, and shoes.

What is the biggest waste of human potential?

In this one, I’m speaking mostly for America, bit it’s this: The idea that the public in general does not value education like it should — and that our entire educational system is fucked beyond belief.

Every infant, every toddler, every child, every adolescent, every teen, and every adult from voting age to Medicare recipient and beyond deserves the opportunity at any point in their life to access an absolutely free education in any subject they want to tackle.

But this takes a big overhaul in attitudes because, unfortunately, a lot of my country is biased against education and intellectualism. And why? Because the way we’ve all been schooled pretty much sucks. There has always been, to varying degrees, a prison mentality to it: “You must be here X hours per day and you must obey your teachers, and the worst thing that can happen is that you get sent to THE OFFFICE!!!!!”

Yeah, how friendly is that shit?

There’s also the problem of teaching to the test, and the inflexibility of not being able to advance the fastest learners while coaching the slowest, so we either wind up with that top two percent shooting through the courses with flying colors, the vast majority in the middle kind of muddling by, and the ones at the bottom totally frustrated and, quite often, just shutting down and giving up.

In the past, this was handled by (surreptitiously) splitting students up into groups of “Gifted,” “Average,” and “Remedial” (or whatever the designations were), and then keeping them on separate tracks, but if this doesn’t smell like some Brave New World shit to you, I don’t know what would.

See, America is not supposed to have a class system. Anyone can literally grow up to be pres…

Maybe not the best example right now. But… the thing that I see our educational system doing that is the biggest harm to education is allowing people to think, “Oh, this is hard, I could never learn it.”

It’s ridiculous, but I know how it happens from personal experience. In school, I was on that gifted track, and when it came to languages (English and Spanish), History, and other word-based things, I excelled. Math, on the other hand? No effing way. I barely made it through all the… whatever courses it was. I think I got as high as Algebra II or Geometry. I know that I never got to Trig.

And this was because early on I’d had a couple of math teachers who came in with the assumption that this subject was obvious, which drilled into my head the idea that, “Well, I guess I’m too number stupid to learn this.”

I still somehow managed to muddle through the tests and land on the right answers often enough to never get out of a semester with less than a B-, but considering that I was doing a 4.0 in everything else, it was very disconcerting.

Funny thing, though. As an adult, I got to wondering, and found some online classes that taught the subjects I’d whiffed in, and after sampling a few and seeing explanations in various ways, I found one that clicked with me and then, boom… Algebra made sense. And while I’d always had a good instinct for Geometry, I could do the stuff visually, but never understand why things worked the way they did until I got some continuing adult education, for free, online.

Of course, before we can reform the educational system, we need to change people’s attitudes about learning — it’s not some onerous task that they need to do, but rather a fun project for their self-improvement. Or maybe it’s a chicken and egg situation, and we won’t achieve the latter until we reform the former.

But the end result could be a  true University of America that would convert us into one gigantic campus that would exploit all the best of the internet, teach us how to value education, and finally kick start our sorry crapsack world back in the right direction and save humanity and the planet.

Or… not.

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