Monday, December 31, 2007

We'll tak a right gude-willie waught

Happy New Year!

I went and saw Auric's band at some downtown honkytonk! Huzzah!!

Two girls kissed me a happy new year and one of them was Sonar's gorgeous wife! Wooo!

OK, I'm drunk. Goodnight.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Blogging about blogging is merely venial

I was telling a friend of mine that I write a blog and I post every day (unless I'm on hiatus). He's never seen a word of this blog (no one I know in real life has, because I've never told them about it), and he asked why I do it. Not only that, where do I get the time?

Well, the time thing is easy enough. Writing has always come very easy to me. I've been typing literally all my life (two fingers, eyes always on the keyboard, 60 words a minute). I've also been reading and writing creatively ever since I can remember. It's not as though I ponder my posts for hours on end, stumped for synonyms, selecting the mots justes and pausing to arrange the phrasing. I just sit down and start tapping.

I never wrote rough drafts in school, unless they were required and someone was going to look at them. I always began a ten-page paper the night before it was due. And back then, I wrote them on a word processor, not a computer, so every word I typed hit paper and was permanent --- no going back. So I'm used to crafting sentences off the cuff, rapid fire. And let's face it, the end result on these pages isn't exactly Shakespeare. Or Milton. Or Twain. Or Elmore Leonard. Hell, it's not even Waiter Rant.

So I don't spend very much time on each post. Also, it does happen sometimes that time gets away from me, or I don't feel like it, and I don't get around to posting that day. Or two. When that happens, I just do the entry for the previous day(s) late, predate it, and post it as if I hadn't skipped it. And then there's the cartoon posts and other cop-out posts for when I don't have time to discuss my day, or simply don't feel like it. Like the vocabulaire posts --- open a French dictionary, pick a slightly obscure word, write a stupid sentence for it, and c'est tout, mon chou!

As for why, that's a larger question. It's not to gain readership or disseminate my ideas. Indeed, the eclectic nature of this blog's contents --- attempts at social interaction, being a loser, health, comics, French, books, television, education, my jobs, in-jokes, poetry, music, whatever grabs my fancy at the moment --- pretty much ensures I'll never have a steady group of readers.

Don't get me wrong. I am very gratified for the readers I do have (or had in the past), and I'm immensely pleased that people who comment here tend to be the kind of folks who write blogs of their own that I find impressive, witty, and entertaining. I've found several extremely well-written and fascinating blogs by following links from comments here, and for that I'm glad. But I probably would have posted just as much (and as little) in the past two-plus years if I had never received a single comment.

I write here because it's a good way to keep a personal journal, for my own instruction and as a memory vault. I've started journals before, but always stopped; Blogger has kept me going much longer than I ever have when I wasn't publishing my thoughts on the Intertubes. For whatever reason, the blog seems a more worthwhile endeavor than a private journal.

So why keep a journal? Well, various reasons, which shape the content of these pages as the impetus changes. I first started in order to keep a record of my teaching certificate classes. Well, that was the putative reason. I also used it as therapy, because back then I was pretty messed up socially, having come from a very destructive breakup. That was when I met the Maddening Angel and hung out with her constantly. I began the blog just as she and I stopped being quite so inseparable, but she still loomed huge in its early entries. (Now, I hardly ever talk to her, much less see her --- though I did have lunch with her last week.) When those conflicting feelings about MA and other stuff died down, I kept blogging about my classes. And then other things.

As for why I post every day... I don't know. Who am I, Socrates? Gnothi seauton yourself.

So, the blog keeps going as long as there's new things to record, even if sometimes, maybe even most times, the entries aren't of any interest to anyone but myself (like the quotidian duties and events of my professional day, for example). From this point, I guess I'll blog primarily about the new job and maybe my health. Given that last, I may sometimes in the near future be blogging my decline and death, Timothy Leary-style. That would be kind of cool.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Saturday Cartoons: 100 Bullets: Split Second Chance
























by Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso

Friday, December 28, 2007

Vocabulaire: soulever

soulever - to provoke, arouse, cause
La souris sourde sans souliers en sous-sol m'a soulevé un sourire.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Vocabulaire: loisible

loisible - permissible, allowed
J'étais éffaré quand j'ai vu l'écureuil qui portait des vêtements blancs après le premier lundi de Septembre. Cela n'est pas loisible !

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Gotta take the bull by the horns

I was at the Hangout with the Friar, L, my cousin, and (for a short while) that wealthy layabout who's always got young strippers hanging off his arm, Paris.

Cousin, in town from California for the week, was drooling over the college girls on display (he is, deep down, a shallow person), and concocted a method of approaching a tableful of beauties. He went up and told them he'd buy a drink for the first one to tell him the capital of Afghanistan. They appeared to confer, but when they looked it up on their Blackberries. Cousin said that was "cheating," and gave them a new question. When they didn't know that one off the top of their heads, they asked him a capital. He told them the correct answer, and said, "I think you owe me a drink!" Then he left them.

Like Maddening Angel said to me later, "What a smooth approach to the ladies, eh?" Now, he has a girlfriend back in California, and he wasn't really trying to pick them up. His ham-fisted flirting was, as he said, "just practice." But if that's his game, he sucks at it.

Meanwhile. L and Friar and I regaled ourselves for over an hour, laughing uproariously at our own bon mots as we thought up a string of bovine-related puns one might work into a conversation. The goal would be to work in as many as possible before your interlocutor (ideally, a single girl at the bar) susses out what you're doing. "Hi, I'm Chuck. I don't mean to horn in here, and I don't know what you might have heard, but are you Patty? Let's move over here. Would you like a beer? Because I could drink a whole stein, myself. I mean I am outstanding in that field. So are you from this burg, or...? Well, it behooves me to say, although I don't have a stake in this or anything, you are a cut above, baby. I mean, you're choice. I veal like you're nowhere near pasture prime. I've got a sandwich here; would you like half, or...?"

Well, it was gut-bustingly funny at 1:30 a.m.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Monday, December 24, 2007

Fragrance and passionless music woven as one

Cousin is in town for Christmas. We looked at apartments a few days back, and I was all set to move, but then had second thoughts. Or got cold feet. It didn't seem like a convenient place to have a dog (there's lots of walking area, but no enclosures, and I'd have to live on the first floor). That in addition to the recent health issues gave me pause. I don't know if I want the stress of moving and the worry about cooping up poor Dog all day once work starts up. I do want to move to a nicer place, but I think maybe I can wait and look harder for a place with a little yard, maybe a duplex. Hard to do in a nice area in my price range. I may just be making excuses and being lazy.

I saw Charlie Wilson's War with my father, aunt and cousin. I think the reviewers who scorn the film for its slapstick humor have a point; the levity does sometimes distract from, or seem inappropriate to, the solemn occasions of the scenes. However, I think the film as a whole is a success. Solid acting, a tight script (with very little of the trademark Aaron Sorkin banter), a timely and important political statement, adept direction, and a concise running time. All factors that will help ensure that the public sees and absorbs the film rather than shunning it as a bloated and heavy-handed "message" movie.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Loaded up a good thing

The originator of this meme is to be found here.

Hypotheticals: If you were any animal, what would you be?
That depends. Does the question intimate that it would like me to discuss the animal that I would be if I were an animal (like the one I resemble in physiognomy or character), or is it implying that I should choose an animal I would be if I could (based on my affinity for its habits, perhaps)? Lord, I'm didactic. If I were an animal, I would probably be something small, furry, angry, and annoying, like a ferret. If I could be an animal, I'd be a shark. Kings of their domain and explorers of the unfathomed deep, baby.

Anything Goes: What animal do you enjoy seeing most at the zoo?
I don't really ever fully enjoy seeing animals at the zoo, because my delight at seeing them is always leavened with the realization that these creatures ought rightly to be in their natural environment, uncaged and away from gawping two-legged morons telling their kids that the orangutan is a "monkey." That said, however, I get a kick out of the spider monkeys.

No-Brainers: What store is represented most in your wardrobe?
Probably the Gap. But most of my work clothes are by Cherokee --- cheap but serviceable.

Personals: What is it about you that people find irresistible?
I know it doesn't exactly reflect here, but in real life I am an extremely witty and entertaining conversationalist. I can be acidic or hilarious with equal alacrity. People seem to enjoy that.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

None of them can stop the time

My second most admired musical hero, Joe Strummer, died on this date in 2002. He had a congenital heart defect and died suddenly at the far too youthful age of 50. I'm now taking a heart medicine that is extremely toxic, but ostensibly helpful in minute doses. The tiny window of space between 'helpful" and "fatal" in medicines like this is known as the therapeutic index. Here's hoping I don't keel over. Y'know, with the sudden death worry and all.

Anyway, one of my favorite bands in the whole world, Rancid, wrote a terrific feel-good song called "Indestructible" and its message is more apt, at least I hope it is, than ever given today's date and my recent condition. Written by Tim Armstrong and Lars Frederiksen.

And I know I'm indestructible
And I know I'm indestructible tonight
Break down, come on and tell me it's not true
It's a shakedown, come on and tell me who are you
It's so fake now, everything I see right through
I'm ashamed now to say I ever knew you
See the Great Athenians, man they're not even from Athens
And the kid from Avenue A, man he ain't even from Manhattan
And nothing is what it seems so I'll just stand here laughing
And I'm gonna keep on goin' though, I can't get distracted
And I know I'm indestructible
And I know I'm indestructible tonight
Playback, rock and roll come and save me
It's a safe bet that you will never ever betray me
And I'll give back everything that you gave me
And I know that no one can ever ever contain me
And I won't get bogged down like some American consumer
I'm dancing now to a whole different drummer
And I'll keep listening to the great Joe Strummer
'Cause through music we can live forever

...

Man, I hope I live long enough to see Dark Knight. That movie's gonna rock.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Checking on a checkmate, classing out a classmate

Last day of the first week at Prestigious. The next two weeks are vacation. I was in the same room as yesterday all day today; the teacher seemed fine with me today, if just a little controlling. Well, when I was the head teacher, I was the same way with new people, I guess. Probably a lot more arrogant and off-putting.

Anyway, because it was the last day, we watched The Polar Express and gave the kids snacks. Other than calendar, there wasn't too much learning going on today.

Things Prestigious has that The Old Job didn't, in addition to the high-tech soap dispensers and such I mentioned Monday:
* A maintenance staff that cleans up things like a movie party with snacks
* Lots of free food; in addition to the usual cookies and tea and coffee, free pizza for the teachers every Friday
* Breaks, planning time and an administration with an understanding of teachers' needs
* Money

I listened to a funny (in a pathetic sort of way) conversation at lunch about some of the parents who got enraged in previous years over the placement of a single menorah at the school, or the kids' doing any Hanukkah-related projects. One irate parent called the head and demanded to know why the school was trying to convert the kids to Judaism. Nothing like the mere mention of a menorah to bring out the latent anti-Semitism in affluent WASPS.

Overall, not a bad week at all, work-wise. I hope I really am starting to fit in and being helpful, and everyone's not just being polite and hoping I'll go away soon. I can see myself staying at Prestigious and flourishing.

Health-wise, of course, the prognosis isn't as sanguine. More's the pity.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

I try hard to hide my hurt inside

At work I filled in for a pre-K teacher who went on a field trip with another class to the museum where Anacreon works. It was fun and instructive. Prestigious has a superb environmental science area, with real live animals; the kids enjoyed that. I assisted them in a gross motor class. And I led the kids in a game about matching attributes (size, thickness, color, shape). The other teacher seemed not to care for me all that much and at one point seemed to get a bit pissed at me for apparently interrupting her. I know that some people are just bitchy and don't worry about it. I've been as solicitous and courteous as I can, and I'm not going to let one bad moment worry me when most people at the school are at least polite back.

So. Um. I left early to go to the doctor and it's not very good news. My heart's starting to deteriorate. Right now, the other side of the heart is compensating enough for the poor side's decline, but this is not something that will repair itself. Nor will medication provide anything more than a buffer. I'm looking at long-term care options here, like a defib implant, maybe a full-on heart transplant down the line if I'm (un)lucky? I'm seeing another specialist in two weeks, and then Dr. K might put me on meds for the tachycardia. He even brought up the possibility of a trip to the Mayo Clinic (he said he'd arrange me to be seen free there; and yes, he saw me for free as well today). Perhaps the least cheery thing he said all day was "Another thing we need to consider is your potential for sudden death." Hooray!

So. Yeah. This is, of course, something that in a very real sense I've been prepared for all my life. Indeed, my assumption of a shortened life span is the main impetus that shaped my life into the loseriffic state it's in now, at my advanced age. The tragedy here is that I've just now started something good, a career I can be proud of and want to continue in. I'd like to be starting to grow up and join the world of the not-poor professional at long last, instead of devolving into a full-time invalid.

Well, that's life.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Trying to read a note somebody wrote

Third day of the new job at Prestigious.

Today, the schedule was utterly empty. My team had no assignments. I met with the vice-head, and she gave me, in addition to the previously mentioned folder of goal-oriented projects, two bits of information. One, that I should walk around the school when the schedule is empty, looking for rooms that need help. (The other teachers, as I've mentioned before, weren't doing that, but she wasn't too worried about it, saying that they were taking a well-deserved rest after a couple weeks of non-stop activity before I arrived that left no time for breaks.) I now have a better idea of what the schedule will be like; the free time is an anomaly and not the norm; tomorrow looks pretty full. The second thing the vice-head told me was that they're looking for someone to put in a pre-K room for the rest of the year, and it'll be either me or my teammate SBT. That would be sweet if I got that position, but since it's only my third day at the school, I'm not terribly sanguine.

So, basically, I spent the day wandering around helping the other teachers and giving breaks. Except for the fire drill, the severe weather drill, and the faculty meeting, which was spent assembling gift baskets for the needy. I was in my friend T-Bone's daughter's room again today. When she sees me, she tells proudly to anyone listening how I'm friends with her daddy and I've been to her house, but then in the next breath she'll turn to me and say, "I don't remember you."

***

After work I went to dinner with Friar, Palfrey and their baby boy. I told Palfrey that if I get my contract renewed, I'll try tob get her hired there too.

My father's not doing very well, but neither my mother nor I can tell if this is because he's still taking something or just because he's going through a rough detox. My mother is a spectacularly ungenerous creature who doesn't seem to possess empathy, which doesn't make their interactions very functional. My father says he wants someone to look after him, and I feel guilty that I'm not doing that. I have this new job and my own life to lead, but then, I do owe my parents a vast amount (not money; morally). I can't just leave them to spin into dotage. Thus the guilt.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

En un clin d'oeil

Day two of the new job. There was a bit more activity today, but not much. I'm still trying to get accustomed to how things are done around here. Another new-ish member of my team and I had a meet and greet with all the kindergarteners. I hung out in a K room for the morning (another guy's room; this school has plenty of male teachers) and helped with the carpool (I opened the car doors and, occasionally, lifted the littler ones into their parents' enormous SUVs). And I was in a pre-K room for almost an hour, half of which was spent watching them lie on mats.

...Gee, I think that's all I did today. I was meant to meet with the vice-head, but because she was so busy we rescheduled. She did give me a packet of forms entitled "Goals for the Year" which asks new teachers to write self-assessments and keep journals and talk about goal strategies, and so seems exactly like the kind of thing I find utterly unimportant. I'll have to try to keep my cynical unenthusiasm down to undetectable levels.

After work, using my contacts in the film industry (note: I have no contacts in the film industry), I went to the critics' screening of the movie The Diving Bell and Butterfly. I was already passably familiar with the original source material, the titular autobiography of the editor of French Elle who succumbed out of the blue to a devastating stroke that left him with locked-in syndrome and dictated a book by blinking it letter by painstaking letter, since a single eye was the only part of his body he had control over afterwards. (And he died ten days after he published his story.)

The movie was meant to star Johnny Depp, but he backed out do he could get a jillion dollars to make another crappy-ass pirate movie. I'm glad he did, though I've lost what little respect I had for him as a down-to-earth actor who cares about craft. The film that exists now is in French and it is devastating. It's superbly cut, brilliantly realized, and absolutely the most harrowing and depressing thing I have ever seen on screen.

When a man who was once vibrant and young and healthy and respected and loved is reduced to an eye and a brain trapped in a mass of useless flesh says he has to stop feeling sorry for himself because he still has his imagination, well... It's time to try harder to get the most out of every last little scrap of life you can.

Before it is too motherfucking late.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Glut thy sorrow on a morning rose

So, the first day at Prestigious passed by more or less uneventfully. Everyone acted pleasant and welcoming; I've never been greeted by so many people in one day, all knowing my name and asking how my first day was going.

This school has some serious money. A nice refreshment room with free tea and coffee, high-tech hot water machines, and so forth for the teachers. Hey, even the soap dispenser in the bathroom is motion activated! I had a helluva time figuring that out. It's nice to work at a place where there's a parking lot and a break room (unlike The [Old] Job). Every Pre-K class has two teachers at all times. Computers and printers in every room. Nobody is hurting for supplies of any kind.

So, I got there at 7:30, met my teammates, and... sat around. One of our team went down to a room, and the two other teachers and I sat upstairs by our team phone in case we were needed. The girls went on line to look at jewelry, got coffee, and read magazines. I got handed a ream of new employee paperwork, and I filled it out a bit of it in desultory fashion while we sat around some more.

I thought, "I'm getting paid a big-ass salary for this?" (Oh yeah, the financial director came by with a copy of my contract with an amendment: they decided they'd pay me a hundred bucks more a month than we'd previously agreed on. Sweet!) Apparently it was a slow day, but I felt guilty as hell. It got to be 10:30 before anything happened. At Brown, I'd have been working my ass off for three hours by then, for nothin'.

So, what did I do? I helped out in a kindergarten class (T-Bone's daughter's room) for a while, then had a lengthy lunch period. Then, at 1:00, I went to an interim class that had only eight students. I took the kids outside and gave breaks to all the other teachers who were outside with their classes. When we came back in, the gym teacher came to get them for half an hour, so I had another free period. The kids came back, I read them a story, I sent them out to carpool one at a time, and I left the building before 3:30.

Suck on that, teachers still toiling away in your rooms at 4:45!

Seriously, though, I know it was just an orientation type of day and I'm still learning the ropes, but I hope the days get a bit more challenging. Or, you know, filled.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

But the answers I came up with didn’t fit

It has been an absurdly long journey, but it's over and a new one begins now. Tomorrow's the first day of the new job at Prestigious. I'd written earlier that it started January 8, but they moved it up. Yes, tomorrow I will be counted among the Few, the Proud, the Faculty; and the future of my position will be based not so much on whether I'm skilled at teaching, but whether I'm likable enough to be asked to stay. I think that if there ever was a time to quote old Tom's finest work, it's now.

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.

And indeed there will be time
To wonder, “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?”
Time to turn back and descend the stair,
With a bald spot in the middle of my hair---
(They will say: “How his hair is growing thin!”)
My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,
My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin---
(They will say: “But how his arms and legs are thin!”)
Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.

For I have known them all already, known them all:---
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;
I know the voices dying with a dying fall
Beneath the music from a farther room.
So how should I presume?

And I have known the eyes already, known them all---
The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,
And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,
When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,
Then how should I begin
To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?
And how should I presume?

And I have known the arms already, known them all---
Arms that are braceleted and white and bare
(But in the lamplight, downed with light brown hair!)
It is perfume from a dress
That makes me so digress?
Arms that lie along a table, or wrap about a shawl.
And should I then presume?
And how should I begin?

Truer words were never spoke, boy.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Saturday cartoons: Hellblazer: Tainted Love


























by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon

Friday, December 14, 2007

The World News, in Pictures
















It appears that Jordan is planning an invasion of Israel by suicide camels. Israeli soldiers are advised to shoot on sight.
















South Korea is hoping the western world will embrace its newest culinary export, General Hebei's Sour Petroleum Duck.



















Jack Frost and few of his buddies got together and did unspeakable things to Lincoln. The victim's shame is captured in this harrowing image taken seconds after the assault ended.
















The late Ike Turner's reputation as a musician is rightly overshadowed by the fact that he was first and foremost a total pimp, as evidenced by this photo. "Git that camera out my face before I bitch-slap you, fool!"


















In a move met with near-unanimous approval worldwide, Albania recently rejected a proposal to superimpose the face of an aggrieved peasant onto its flag.













In India, a holy man's magical leg was cut off by thieves in a brutal attack. Here, a rival holy man mocks the unfortunate victim, showing that he has an extra leg that he's not even using and just carries over his shoulder, but he's not sharing.














In Brussels for an ostensibly political summit, leaders of Western European countries flirt and giggle shamelessly, thumbing their noses at America's Puritan ways.















Meanwhile in South Korea's parliament, men of honor and wisdom practice democracy, always tolerant of the opposition's viewpoint and right to expression.



















This poor Chinese girl was born with one leg and a foot for a head, but in a demonstration of the power of modern oriental medical skill, today she can compete in the Pan-Asian jump-roping competition just as well as any traditionally-headed athlete.



















Finally, US president George Bush and other administration leaders were outraged today to find that a little girl in Baghdad is apparently well-clothed, having a rudimentary sort of fun, and not dead yet. The White House vows to investigate.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Ammo's Catholicate

Today was my last day at The Old Job, for real and good this time. Not feeling particularly sentimental or poignant about that (though I'd be lying if I denied all sentiment). Don't want to reflect on the father out of rehab situation either.

So here's a meme that Samurai Frog did very well. I'll try to make mine half as entertaining.

1. Go to the Wikipedia home page and click random article. That is your band's name.
2. Click random article again; that is your album name.
3. Click random article 15 more times
[I'm only doing twelve; 15 seems bloated]; those are the tracks on your album.

Band name: Ammo. [Our label made us cut off the too-obvious "band" parenthetical.] I think we play no-frills punk. Not much stage patter between songs. We play the hell out of our material, maybe toss in a Ramones cover or an electrified blues, and say goodnight.

Album name: Catholicate. Apparently we have issues with organized religion.

Tracks:
1. "Richard Keane." We start political. Are we Australian? Perhaps not, but Ammo does not consider nationality to be a requirement for, or an obstacle against, concern for an issue. The world is our nation. I'm not sure what we have to say about this minor politico, but I think this song has a full-throated, sing-along chant of a chorus, a la Rancid's "Ruby Soho."
2. "David Butler (Nebraska)." Now we're picking on the first governor of Nebraska, who was impeached for misuse of funds. Are we heavy-handed? We have two songs in a row named after dead minor politicians. I think even I find us tiresome already. Look for our album in the bargain bins.
3. "Fontel Mines." A song about an American football player who, as of the album's release, has played exactly zero seasons professionally. Do we know this guy personally? What is our problem? Have we confused him with a geological mine somewhere? Why do we name all our songs after people? Are we the most pretentious and uptight band in the world? All signs point to yes. Let's say that this song is an attack on the cult of athletic celebrity in America.
4. "Red Republican Party." This more like it. Ammo is interested in the Irish question (and, as you can tell from our album title, Catholicism in general). This is a fast, sharp song very much in the style of Stiff Little Fingers' "Alternative Ulster." We decry British involvement in Ireland. When playing live, we often segue this song into a tradational Irish rebel song, like "A Nation One Again," "Rifles of the IRA," or "The One Road."
5. "Stayley Hall." I think we're from England. Perhaps our drummer wrote this song about an old building in his home town. I don't care for it, myself. There is no place in Ammo for sentimentality, I say, but the label execs said we had to have a ballad.
6. "Whitechapel Tube Station." Why do we name all our songs after people or places? We are lame. Anyway, this is an outraged, hard-driving anthem about a homeless couple who froze to death in the tube station one particularly cold London winter, and our denunciation of the all-too-fragile support system for England's underclasses.
7. "OBS." Is this a song about Outward Bound Singapore? Is it our tribute to Malaysian punk band One Buck Short? Are we referring to Organic Brain Syndrome? No one knows for sure, because we sing this one so fast and loud, no one can make out a syllable of the lyrics.
8. "Robert Dana." Here we go again with the frigging proper names. Ammo is a political band and clearly concerned with British politics and social justice first and foremost, but every now and then we like to cast an eye toward America. As a literate band whose influences include the Clash, Bob Dylan, and Tom Waits, we wrote this tribute to the Iowan poet. I wanted to call this song "Starting out for the Difficult World," after Dana's Pulitzer Prize-nominated collection, but the suits at the label wanted to dumb it down and make it clear who we were singing about.
9. "Veena Talwar Oldenburg." All right, seriously, this is getting ridiculous. At this point, it's like we're doing it to thumb our noses at people. What on earth we have to say about an unknown professor from The City University of New York, I haven't the foggiest. Will we be hearing from Ms. Oldenburg's lawyers? I sincerely hope so. Anyway, I do care about the horrible institution that is dowry murder, and Ms. Oldenberg is best known for her book on that, so I guess this song indicts that unfortunate part of Indian culture. This song will feature a sad, slow, Eastern intro with conch, lute, and flute, until it breaks into explosive punk fury.
10. "Rush Hawkins." I'm serious, we suck. What is wrong with us? Do we have mental problems? Do we truly believe that a song isn't right unless it's named after a person? Do we think that's the way to sell product? I'm not saying I'm objecting to a lightning-fast punk number, with crunchy Zep chords in the chorus, about a Union Civil War general specifically and, more largely, the horrors of all war. It's a terrific hook for a strong topic. I just think it ought to be called "Hawkins' Zouaves."
11. "Waikerie, South Australia." Our bassist, who is Australian (and who wrote "Richard Keane"), wrote and sings this tribute to the small town of his childhood. It's a pleasant throwback of a song, akin to the Clash's own nostalgic number, "Stay Free."
12. "Penselwood." The title brings to mind a Kinks-esque number about pastoral England, but this song isn't that. It's a raging epic of a song that has more in common with Iron Maiden than the Kinks, about medieval battle sites and the long shadow of old sins. Credited to Ammo as a group, because each instrument represents a different style of weapon; it's our symphony to the roots of the military-industrial complex.

Well, that was fun. This album sounds pretty garish, like the work of an even more egocentric and over-reaching Alarm. I'd much rather give Samurai Frog's opus a listen.

I do note that, based on both the results, the overwhelming majority of Wikipedia's article titles are people or places. If one were trying to make an album that sounded a bit less thematic (read: ludicrous), one might consider limiting people and place titles to, say, three.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Low anxiety

Horrible horrible tachycardia last night. Bed at 11:00 p.m., but didn't sleep until after 1:00 a.m., and up and out of bed before 6:00 a.m. Heart, thoughts, blood racing. Couldn't calm down. Anxious but not for anything consciously specific.

Went in to The (Old) Job at 9:00 a.m. Worked my old haunt the preschool room until afternoon (the kids were delighted to see me, and I them), then filled in a space in the toddler room until the end of the day. I don't know the toddlers except by sight; a couple of parents looked at me a bit askance when they picked up their kids at the end of the day. But I was told by an administrator this morning that one of the fathers was asking her who I was the day before. Not out of suspicion because I was a stranger and a man in a room of toddlers, like you might expect; in fact, close to the opposite. He remarked that I seemed more attentive to and effective with the kids than their everyday teachers. That doesn't say much for the place, does it? The Old Job's still the same: mediocre staff and ineffectual administrators.

Had dinner with Epalg tonight. An oasis of pleasantry.

Father is checking himself out of rehab a week prior to anticipated. He says the doctor there endorses this idea. My mother is outraged. My father, pissed at her in return and a little acrimonious with me as well for voicing concerns at this news, is talking about staying with friends and then leaving the country. He also wants me to help him buy a car (he'd pay for it, but his credit is terrible) so he can get away. It's so nice being in the middle of this.

Here to tell you about Texas radio and the big beat

At The (Old) Job today, the baby teacher, who is a young black woman, asked me to come into her room and kill a woss.

"A what?" I asked.

"A woss. It's on the Christmas tree," she said.

This did not elucidate anything. "You want me to kill a woss?" I asked, deliberately emphasizing the last sound.

"Yes."

"It's not, perhaps, a wasp?" I pressed on, popping the p.

"No," she answered, but a little confusion showed in her eyes as they searched mine.

With that clarification out of the way, I put fruity little scrunchy booties over my shoes and went in. (They keep the floor clean in the baby room.)

On the window, where a tiny paper Christmas tree was taped up, was indeed a wasp.

"Squish it," the teacher told me.

"I will, but it might sting my bare hand. I need something to squish it with."

The other teacher in the room offered me a latex glove.

"How exactly would that help?" I asked her, kindly not adding, "you idiot."

Anyway, I squished it with a wadded up tissue and flushed it down the toilet at the teacher's request, because she was afraid of its corpse being in the trash can. "I suppose it might sting after death," I said, "but are you really going to be rummaging around with your hand down in the trash?"

"Maybe," she said.

Well, that's the story of the woss.

Slow news day, I guess.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Man, it's so loud in here

I went to Prestigious to set up my email account and web calendar, and got my ID badge that says "FACULTY" and opens all the magnetic locks on the doors. It made the job seem more close and tangible, less just an idea. It feels so real, I can feel the feeling. I got a little bit of an unwelcome vibe from just one or two people; most people were very nice. Like Friar says, you'll get that at any new job, especially from people who don't have your new status. "What makes the new guy so special that he gets an ID card?"

Vodka tonic is good for you. That's why they call it tonic.

I went to Hangout tonight. They were having a Christmas party for staff and regulars. The Friar was the DJ. He played one Ween song, and some officious frat boy fellow came up an started talking about Ween. A lot. I must admit he was very familiar with Ween's oeuvre. Unfortunately, he mentioned so many offensive song titles ("Let Me Lick Your Pussy," "Cover It with Gas and Set It on Fire," "Flies on My Dick"), the cute girl who was hanging around the stage where we sat left in disgust. And before I could compliment her on her shiny straight teeth! Thanks, Mr. Ween Knowledge Guy!

Also, a waitress sort of came on to me, then got angry when I didn't want to have my picture taken with her. She was very inebriated.

I left horribly depressed. Not because of the Ween guy or anyone in particular. Just an oppressive heavy sense of angst and failure. Everyone was grinding to Ween and "Milkshake" and "Thong Song" and laughing and whatnot, and I had to go. Normally I'm OK to watch people having fun, but not tonight. Now silent and sad and tipsy and empty and cold inside.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Time filling

What did you do last night? I sat at home alone and watched Die Hard for the third time. I'm a regular party animal, baby.

The last thing you downloaded onto your computer? Elliott Smith's album, Figure 8. it's okay. I'm not the target audience for this dreamy falsetto singing set to strings, but I don't hate it.

Have you ever licked a 9 volt battery? No. That sounds like something someone stupid would do.

Last time you swam in a pool? Far too long, I'm sorry to say. I like swimming.

What are you wearing? What are you wearing? Is this a come-on?

How many cars have you owned? Only three, which is rather low considering how incredibly old I am.

Type of music you dislike most? Electronica. Industrial. Dance. You know, that shit without any intellect or sentiment behind it.

Are you registered to vote? Yes, not that I believe any longer in the power of the vote to effect change.

Do you have cable? No, I don't have any TV reception.

What kind of computer do you use? A Hewlett-Packard, somewhat old but quite serviceable.

Ever made a prank phone call? Yes, I've made hundreds in my mischievous youth. My favorite one was when my friend and I would call up someone and ask if some made-up name was there. When they said no or that we had the wrong number, we'd scream, "Are you insulting my integrity?" and hang up. We thought this was great clever fun at nine years old.

Would you go bungee jumping or sky diving? No, I'm too chicken, I'm afraid. I wouldn't rule it out utterly and forever, but I just don't see myself doing it.

Furthest place you ever traveled? India and Nepal. I wrote a travel diary, too; maybe I'll post it up here some day. On topic, here is an Indian Abecedary I wrote on a whim once.

What's your favorite comic strip? My favorite of all time would probably be "Pogo." My favorite that's still current may be "Doonesbury," but I'm not very interested in newspaper comics.

Do you know all the words to the national anthem? No, but maybe I should.

Shower, morning or night? I prefer the night shower. It makes you warm and clean for bed, and anyway I'm too lazy to get up early enough to shower in the morning.

Best movie you've seen in the past month? I haven't seen anything lately that really stood out as an all-time great, but Hot Fuzz and The Fifth Element were both pretty entertaining.

Favorite pizza toppings? Mushroom and black olive. Bacon or beef, but only if it's high quality real meat, not that plastic red shit the chains use.

Chips or popcorn? I like popcorn, especially kettle corn or white cheddar, but I'm a big fan of Terra exotic chips.

What cell phone provider do you have? I had Cingular, but it got eaten up by At&T. AT&T is once more a giant. It has also eaten up the DSL provider I use. I'm old enough to remember when the government decreed that AT&T was an unfair monopoly and forced it to break up. That kind of market regulation, which is capitalist at heart and good for the country, is gone. This government is the lapdog of the super-rich.

Have you ever smoked peanut shells? No, but maybe I should. That sounds --- wait, what?

Have you ever been in a beauty pageant? No, that would be perverse. For one thing, I don't think I'm attractive. Second, I have no interest in competitions of any kind at all. Third, competitions based on physical appearance are shallow at best and oppressive at worst.

Orange juice or apple? In general I prefer orange juice, but only not from concentrate. However, fresh-pressed apple juice is the best.

Who were the last people you sat at lunch with? The first grade teachers at Brown Elementary, a few weeks go. Lord, I'm sociable.

Favorite chocolate bar? I used to really like Heath bars. Nowadays I don't eat too much chocolate but when I do it's almost always one of the Endangered Species bars.

Who is your longest friend and how long? Who's my longest friend? I don't really know my friends that well, you know? Get it? 'Cause it seems like this question is asking about penises?? Ahem. Anyhow, that would probably be Deep Blue, whom I've known for twenty-one years. Holy Xif, I'm old.

Last time you ate a homegrown tomato? Far too long, unfortunately.

Have you ever won a trophy? I don't think so, and I don't care to.

Favorite arcade game? I've never been into video or arcade games like some of my friends, but I spent my share of hours playing Tetris and Street Fighter.

Ever ordered from an infomercial? No, those are for suckers.

Sprite or 7-Up? I don't have a dog in this fight.

Have you ever had to wear a uniform to school/work? In high school, we had to wear white button-down shirts, gray pants, and black or brown shoes. For gym we had uniforms in the school colors. I believe that once a week we had to wear a jacket and tie. In the job that's coming up, I'll have to wear slacks and a button-down, but it's pretty informal.

Last thing you bought at a drug store? I have no idea.

Ever thrown up in public? I don't think so. I was outside, but no one was watching.

Would you prefer being a millionaire or finding true love? I'd prefer to find true love.

Do you believe in love at first sight? Yes, but I think those involved have to work on it after that.

Spongebob or Jimmy Neutron? I'm only aware of those things from working with young kids for so many years. I couldn't possibly care less about either one of them.

What is your dog's name? All of my pets have been named after ancient dieties. My current dog is named for a Norse goddess.

Did you have long hair as a young kid? Not as a young kid, but as a teenager and into my early twenties.

What message is on your voice mail? Something simple like "Please leave a message, thanks."

Where would you like to go right now? I'd like to go to Paris.

What do you think about most? My death and how soon it will occur.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Saturday Cartoons: Astonishing X-Men: Dangerous
























By Joss Whedon and John Cassaday

Friday, December 07, 2007

Loaded like the Velvet Underground

As always, idea is originally by the big-eyed girl and found here.

Hypotheticals: If you could choose to own any car, and money was no object, what would you choose?
Probably the same as I'm driving now, a Toyota Rav-4. I'd get a newer one, though, with a nicer interior. But I really have no interest at all in expensive or flashy car models, or the apparent prestige that comes with owning or driving certain makes.

Anything Goes: What do you consider the ultimate vacation?
Six months in Paris with someone who would appreciate it as much as I do, and no obligations to anyone else.

No-Brainers:What character on television do you identify with the most?
First off, I don't watch enough TV to answer this question with a solid knowledge base. That said, however, I feel like there don't exist characters on television that I could identify with. The characters on TV that are meant to be "losers" and "outcasts" really only exist to come out of their shell and find themselves loved. No one wants to be bored by a show about an actual nebbish. Look at Landry on Friday Night Lights; he got asked out by the gorgeous Tyra in the final episode. Oh, wait --- how about Landry's even less popular friend, who got beaten up by the Hispanic football player and was never seen again? That could be me.

Personals: How many inches would you increase your height by?
I don't know, five? Sure, five. Why not.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

And now we have the airing of the grievances

My mother and I had a family therapy session with my father in rehab today. I suppose I should write at length here about how messed up both of my parents are: how my mother is shrill and vicious and lacks empathy and is incapable of taking care of herself and is slowly destroying her body and her property; and about how my father is a slave to his addictions and is too weak to face life's vicissitudes with a clear mind. And, of course, about how messed up I, in turn am: how I feel anxious about both of my parents, about whether they'll be taken care of in their dotage and how I ought to help them more but I really need to live my own life, and be happy without getting involved in their negativity.

But I won't.

***

I've been working afternoons at the Old Job. It's okay. I have nothing to say about that, either.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Like a soap opera

A while back --- oh, about thirteen years gone now --- I was suspended from the college I would eventually go on to graduate from for committing an act of assault with a deadly weapon. I was escorted off campus by security, and forbidden to return until they decided my fate. (Okay, I'll tell you: within a few days, I was given a hearing of my peers. They decided I shouldn't be allowed on campus except to go to classes, I'd never live on campus ever again, plus my final status would be decided by a mandatory psychiatric evaluation. But I digress.) With nowhere to go --- and in the days before cell phones --- I showed up unannounced at the door of the vast multi-roomed house where my best friend lived with about seven other students. He allowed me to sleep on the couch of the living room, which I'm not sure went over very well with the other occupants of the house, as they almost certainly weren't consulted. Anyway. That very night, as I sat in his room wondering whatever would become of me, my best friend went to go have a one-night stand with the woman who would, about three years later, become my lawfully wedded wife. I later heard that he actually did not consummate this one-night stand, as he couldn't, in his words to her, "get it up." On the way back to the house where I now slept fitfully, in the early morning, my best friend got into an accident with a special ed school bus full of excitable kids, who freaked out.

Sometimes my life seems weird to me. Also, I have no idea why I wrote this post. Just not wanting to talk about the things happening right now, I guess.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

More watching, movie style

I finished watching the first season of Ricky Gervais' other series, Extras. Only six shows, but each one a delicate masterpiece of comic timing. The show isn't quite as brilliant as The Office (perhaps because there's far less poignancy leavening the humor in Extras), but well worth watching. Gervais, again, is superb in his expressions and physicality (despite Patrick Stewart's remark at the end of the season about his "fat, expressionless face"). Can't wait to watch the second season, and David Bowie's song.

I'm still doing the Best Picture Project I talked about here. Because I moved some films around, I'm only just now getting around to Gigi. I'm watching it in French, which makes it a bit better, but not by much. With this and An American In Paris, I think it's safe to say that Hollywood is not capable of making a film about French romance that is not terrible.

I saw Shadow Of a Doubt for the second time recently. I'm a big Hitchcock fan, but sometimes I think the old fellow is given a bit too much leeway, critically speaking. Shadow is deeply flawed, and if it were made by anyone else, it would probably be classed at best as one of those middling noir pictures the studios cranked out in the '50s. A needless romance subplot with a fish-faced cipher of a character; misplaced drama (gotta hurry! To the library! Before it closes!!); bizarre logic (oh, we'll let the murderer leave town, so as not to hurt anyone's feelings); and character stupidity (I guess I'll get on the train with the murderer now). Still, it is Hitchcock, so there are some dramatic shots, and Joseph Cotten is decidedly creepy.

Hot Fuzz, by the makers of the terrific Shaun Of the Dead. This time around they're spoofing the action hero genre. It's a bit long, especially the drawn-out gun battle at the end. Call me the wrong audience for this movie, but I liked it a lot better when they were dealing out the dry English wit and subtle banter. A fun flick with a good heart.

I Like Killing Flies, an interesting, funny, and kind of touching documentary about the quirky owner-chef of a popular diner in a bohemian neighborhood of New York City. The movie trails him and his family as he frets about moving from his decades-old spot to a new, bigger location.

Sullivan's Travels and The Great McGinty. I think Preston Sturges is over-rated in general. McGinty isn't anything too special, but Sullivan's is in a sense daring for the points it tries to make, and in many ways ahead of its time. It certainly stuck in the minds of a certain pair of movie-making brothers called the Coens.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Who not to fight

Everyone says it's not a good idea to get into a fight with someone bigger than yourself. But as someone who's gotten into scraps with bigger men, and is well acquainted with the fine art of intimidation, I'd like to address that notion. It's a decent rule of thumb, in general, but it doesn't tell the whole story. For example, two of my best friends are over six feet tall (and thus quite a bit taller than me), and one is almost 300 pounds, and I could kick both their asses, possibly both at once. Well, maybe not now that I'm old, but way back in my feisty, weight-lifting prime. Anyway, they're big, but weaklings. The point is, "bigger" doesn't always ensure "winner." The real three factors to consider are: stronger, faster, and smarter. By smarter, I don't mean book smart, I mean street smart. Someone who is quick on their feet, can adapt to new situations, and can strategize.

With those three factors in mind, here is what you might expect when you face someone who is:

Stronger, faster, smarter. Compared to you, this person is Superman. This person will beat you like a drum, if you push him (or her, let's face it) far enough. More than likely, this person will refuse to fight you. If you are stupid, you think this person is weak or a coward. Actually, this person is afraid they might kill you if things come to blows. You are lucky this person thinks you're not worth the time it takes to crush you. Do not fight this person, stupid.

Stronger, faster, dumber. This person is the Hulk. You can out-think this person, but he will probably still beat you up. Sorry, Egghead. You can't win fairly, but you might be able to use your wits to either engineer a face-saving draw, or a hasty retreat. Unless you can maneuver like Leonidas or Batman or something, only fight this person if you know where the exits are.

Stronger, slower, smarter. This person is the Kingpin. If you're a hell of a lot faster, you may be able to avoid his bone-crushing blows. However, since this person is craftier than you, he will probably change the rules on you and beat you with his diamond-studded cane before you can see it coming. Don't fight this person.

Weaker, faster, smarter. This person is Bruce Lee. He may not be six feet tall and a 200 pound 'roid case, but his fists of fury are blurs before your sluggish, soon-to-be-bloody face. He also knows many, many, many more moves than you do. He will beat your ass. Do not fight this person unless you're so strong that one punch will floor him. Even then, you'll probably still lose.

Stronger, slower, dumber. This person is Proinsias Cassidy. He can mash you with his mighty fists, but if you don't get intimidated, you can take him. This person relies far too much on his strength and, presumably, size. He can't conceive that someone less muscular than himself can beat him. That's why you'll win. Just keep changing strategy on him and remember your footwork. So fight this person if you must, but don't let him close the distance.

Weaker, slower, smarter. This person is Lex Luthor. You can beat him up, obviously, but watch out you're not bringing your fists to a gunfight. This person knows what you're up to and may cheat. Go ahead and fight this person, but be careful. You should probably cheat too.

Weaker, faster, dumber. This person is Impulse. This person will try to catch you off-guard with a quick rush. And if he had any more tricks up his sleeve, he might do it, too. But since he's dumb, he probably won't. The interesting thing about dumb people is that they don't know they're dumb; they don't examine their own lives or those of others. So you meet a lot of guys who think they're talented just because they've never bothered to find out what talent really is. People who think they know "martial arts" because they've watched a lot of movies and learned a couple of Japanese terms. These people are assholes. Go ahead and fight this guy.

Weaker, slower, dumber. This person is Jimmy Olsen. Why do you want to pick on this poor schlub, anyway? Is it his misplaced arrogance? Is it the loud bow tie? Just leave him alone, you big bully. Anyway, you never know --- his best friend just might be Superman.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Whatever time you get is luck

I went to visit my father in the rehab place. It was a little weird, a little bit of a prison vibe. I brought him his slippers (they take laced shoes and belts) and two cartons of cigarettes, which the tech had to inspect before handing them back. The visiting area was small, with just a few tables. There's one enclosed outdoor atrium where they can smoke. Lighters are verboten, however; instead there's a little device attached to the wall where you insert the cigarette and push a little button, kind of like an old-style car lighter except enclosed. A nicotine-fit glory hole, if you will.

They had my father drugged with something, so while he was compos mentis, he lacked a lot of fine motor skills and he seemed extremely tired. He didn't look in great shape physically, but the nurses said a doctor was coming in later that day. We talked for a while to a not too old black woman in a wheelchair who said she got shot at the age of 32 and had been on crack every since. It was her sixteenth day at the center and she was pretty coherent. She said she was tired of being high and broke and she was going to be clean from now on. She told me she was keeping an eye out for my dad, giving him cigarettes and making him eat. When a crack addict in a wheelchair tells you that you're too skinny, it's time you took a good hard long look at yourself.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Huis Clos

My father's AA buddy Bug, a loquacious little old ex-Merchant Marine with lots of stories about Dallas in the '30s and '50s, came to my parents' house. I went over too, and after about an hour of delaying tactics, we managed to take him back over to the rehab center. There, we waited around for about three hours total, as a counselor, a doctor, and some other employee all gave my father the once-over and asked him questions. Bug and I accompanied my father over to the ward, which looked pretty fucking grim, frankly. A TV blaring a football game, desultory addicts at the end of their ropes wandering around, bare hard floors, locked doors, and underpaid attendants. They took his bag, we said our goodbyes and left him to be "skin-searched." I hope he stays, but damn if I wouldn't blame him for walking out again.

At midnight, I went to have a couple of drinks and see Blade Runner with Epalg. I think the movie's rather boring, but it was a nice diversion from some of my many worries.

Friday, November 30, 2007

The clock runs down and stops

I went back to Brown Elementary this afternoon, possibly for the final time. Ms. L had warned me ahead of time that the kids had planned a "surprise" party for me. I went in the room, and all the kids spelled out "Thank you Mr. Chance" on paper. They presented me with writing they did on what they appreciated about me, with pictures, all bound together in a nice book with pictures. I was really touched. There were cookies and juice boxes. Lots of the kids hastened to outdo each other in quickly cutting out crowns and gifts wrapped in red ribbon and giving it to me. One girl asked me what my favorite color was and then presented me with a blue crayon carefully wrapped and labeled. So adorable. I did a Mad Libs with them, which they found very amusing.

After the kids all went home, Ms. L gave me a card that the first grade team gave me. Inside was twenty dollars! They'd taken up a collection to present me with a little gift to reward me for all my hard paid work, Ms. L said. Isn't that thoughtful? I gave them thank you cards I'd prepared. (I'd brought a huge batch cookies the day before.)

Then I went to the doctor, only to remember at the very last minute that my appointment had actually been for the day before and I'd totally missed it. Oh well.

My father checked into a really nice rehab center while I was gone. Then he walked out a few hours later and took a taxi to a bookstore, where I had to pick him up and take him home and stick around. He spent the rest of the day utterly incoherent on morphine or whatever depressant he's on. He kept talking about the Polish infantry being in the bathroom. My life would be very pleasant right now without this stress.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Is it safe?

This morning I went to Brown to watch a spelling bee. Given my interest in the topic, I was eager to see what it was like. All the fourth, fifth and sixth graders were in the gym, watching the spellers seated in a semicircle on stage. I believe all the participants were in either fifth or sixth grade. There were twenty children, only four of them boys. It was charming to see some of their little tics and tricks, like tracing the spelling with a finger on their sleeves while reciting. The spellers didn't seem especially nervous or anxious, although afterwards I saw one girl crying and being consoled by her mother.

Some of the correctly spelled words by these brave eleven- and twelve-year-olds were: argument, cinema, newfangled, pleasant, patient, tattle, unsociable, vinegar, leisure, walrus, and tardiness. Those words have got nothing on the national list in terms of difficulty, but, you'll agree, a challenge to most kids.

Some of the incorrect spellings were: solami, hikory, infurno, sarcasim, noseyest, bungalo, looner, drousy, apetite, abbsents, orthandocs, flanel, chedder, and soilders.

The winning word was associate, which the losing finalist spelled, bizarrely, as "aseoiate."

Afterwards, I caught just a little bit of a fourth-grade class. I saw some six-minute fluency at work first. I'm not a big fan of this strategy, as it seems to me to strongly impress upon the kids the need for speed when reading, which is not helpful. I'm an extremely fast reader, but even I wish I'd slow down a bit and remember things once in a while. I walked around the room and heard a lot of fast-talking reading: "batsareflyingmammalsthatuseecholocation," all rapid-fire and without any attention whatever to prosody. Indeed, supposedly after they'd read this piece on bats, not for the first time, the teacher asked whether bats have ears, and most of the class said no. They also, on an unrelated note, had a lot of trouble figuring out how many years ago 1984 was. Anyway, the kids started working on making lists of facts from their reading when I left.

I went to a meeting with Mr. Gung Ho, the principal, at his request. He heaped some more praise on me and asked me what kind of school I wanted to teach at, and what grade I thought I'd be best at. He told me to give him a call when the district job fair started, and he would personally help me with the first qualifying test and then introduce me to other principals at schools that he thought I'd fit in at. I was pleased and honored; he certainly didn't have to extend such a courtesy. I told him I enjoyed his managerial style as well.

After that I went to the dentist. Apparently, a piece of my tooth didn't fall off, as I reported yesterday. I will spare you the gruesome details, but suffice it to say that I really ought to get my teeth cleaned more often. My teeth look and feel much more different now (I can actually feel the contours and see the gaps!). I got bad gums; hours later, my spit's still pink with blood. There; not quite as disgusting as Samurai Frog's recent health updates, but it'll do.

My father's in search of a rehab center. His AA buddies are trying to help him out. He is way too old for the kind of wringer he's going to go through. We shall see what develops.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The tooth is out there

I was scheduled to observe at Ms. Negativity's second grade class this morning, but I called to cancel because a piece of my tooth fell off. (More on that tomorrow.)

So I went in to Brown around noon. The principal was in the office when I came in, and we had a brief chat. He said I had qualities that can't be taught, like a good rapport with kids, and that it seemed that I'd be good teaching any grade level. He knows about the five-month contract with Prestigious, but said he wanted to keep me in his district and introduce me to other principals. The praise was embarrassing but, obviously, quite appreciated. (More on that tomorrow, too, I guess.)

I sat in on a fifth grade pullout reading group and a sixth grade pullout reading group led by Mr. Big Fellow. I wasn't with the sixth graders long. Then I stopped by a regular sixth grade class just long enough to tell a girl that the USSR is the same as the Soviet Union.

The fifth graders were reading a book on birds. Mr. BF led them through a cognitive content list (unfamiliar words, predictions as to meaning, and then actual meaning), a graphic organizer, cause and effect scenarios (just like the first graders!), and text description vocabulary (non-fiction, expository, factual).

Most of them were reasonably amenable to instruction, but a couple were truly surly, nearly to the point of rudeness, which only cemented my conviction that I will never, ever teach fifth or sixth grade.

Sample dialogue, verbatim as far as I can attest:
Mr. BF asks, "How does the main character's teacher help her with her photography?"
Surly kid, looking away, frowning: "I don't know, photos."
Mr. BF rephrases the question and gives a few redirecting prompts: "So how does he help her?"
Surly kid: "I guess he helps."
Mr. BF: "That's what I said. But how does he do it?"
Surly kid: "I don't know, photography, or pictures, whatever."

Don't worry, kid, soon the most challenging question people will be asking you is whether you want to man the fryer or the register.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Lots of screaming today

Had an even more leisurely start this morning; I didn't get to Brown until 11:30 a.m.

The first class I observed was a kindergarten ESL class. There were two Asians, two Hispanics, and, in a striking aberration, one blonde girl from Denmark. I enjoyed being there; they traced letters with their fingers, wrote on dry-erase boards, and read phonics readers. They were so cheerful and ready to learn. Indeed, you could have fooled me --- most of them were reading just as well as a lot of the first graders.

Then I went to a special ed room, euphemistically and sort of confusingly called the "Preschool Program for Children with Disabilities, Kindergarten." There were three teachers there and six kids. The head teacher read a long and rather complex rhyming book, went over the letter of the week (L), played a song about lollipops on the CD player, and read "Jack Be Nimble" six times (once for every child's name in place of "Jack"). Then there was another song about spelling, and then the kids jumped around a bit to a sorta rockin' song about jumping, and then took turns "reading" from a very short phonics reader. A couple of the kids left to go to mainstream kindergarten. After that, it was math time. The kids did patterns with manipulatives and continued their peers' patterns. The highest level kids were fairly adept at making ABAB patterns. One kid refused to work and sat screaming and crying in time out for about fifteen minutes. (He quickly did some work when he saw that everyone else got to play with a little Thomas train set.)

Another child there is so severely disabled that she's pretty much an infant, throwing things placed in front of her, tearing any available paper, and unable to speak. Instead, she screams. She's physically disabled as well: stunted, constantly twitching, and needing a walker. Her presence in what would otherwise be an only moderately low-level special-needs program is a good example of window dressing. I suppose good intentions are meant, but that room doesn't have the resources to meet that kid's needs (she perforce spends a lot of time just sitting in a chair, everything around her out of reach), and the other kids' learning goes slower because of her presence. And that's in what I consider a terrific room, with cheerful and energetic teachers. Inclusion: pretending everyone is equal, whether it helps or not.

The Lady kindergarten teacher from yesterday confirmed every bad feeling I had about her condescension. I saw her outside at the end of the day, thanked her for her time the day before, and said, referring to specific bit of correction, that I hoped I hadn't overstepped any bounds when I helped the kids out with their writing. "Oh, don't worry," she said. "That's just something you have to be told. You'll get it!" Gee, thanks. I smiled and waved, and then got in my turnip truck and went back to Hicksville Farm.

***

Went to my parents' house, did a very little cleaning, and heated up some soup for my dad, who's now going through withdrawal. He's apparently going back to AA/NA meetings now. Unless he's actually secretly meeting his pusher.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Week 12: Of our elaborate plans, the end

Observation week!

I slept until nearly 9:00, like a self-satisfied somnolent sybarite. I ate a leisurely breakfast and then tooled up to Brown Elementary to sit in on a couple of classes.

The first one was Some Guy's kindergarten class. He read a poem, then asked the kids to identify certain words' onset and rime. he then read a longer story, and stopped occasionally to ask questions on and ask for predictions about vocabulary, motives, and plot. It seemed the same as the first few weeks of first grade, but with a little less emphasis on print. For example, he played a song about the week's letter, n, instead of showing a big book with a printed poem. I liked the way he would ask a question and scan the room with his eyes, letting the whole class think about it, and then he'd call on a kid at random to answer. He also promised that if they identified all the words that started with n in a given picture, he'd do a silly dance, and he delivered. I liked the whimsy --- it reminded me of me in preschool. I did think he let the kids make too many noises, and get into each others' faces, while he was teaching. That didn't remind me of me.

After lunch, I went to Some Lady's kindergarten class. First, she introduced them to writing journals, showing them where to write the date, and then giving them a mock sentence to copy with a fill-in-the-blank ending of their choosing. Her kids seemed even more adept than Ms. L's first graders at writing, being familiar with the use of the period and being able to identify verbs as action words, for example. Her kids also demonstrated better listening skills and more subdued behavior in general. The second half of the afternoon was taken up with math. She had the kids think of and perform body-language patterns (stomp, clap, clap, snap, etc.), showed them patterns with classroom items (pencil, pencil, scissors), played a catchy song about patterns, and then gave the kids a pattern worksheet. The kids were also asked to, and could, label the patterns (as ABAB, ABBABB, etc.). I liked the results she got, but I got a vague sort of sense of superiority vibe from her. I may be overly touchy, just because I know I'm a good teacher and have more experience than others might expect, and it rankles me to be given advice when it's obviously delivered as if from a wiser mentor and not a colleague. (I need to learn to swallow that kind of thing, quick, 'cause I bet I get it at Prestigious.) Also, Lady did pretty much come right out and ask me to praise her teaching effectiveness compared to Guy's --- "Do you see a difference between the two classes?" she inquired coyly. I mean, I did, and Lady ought to be applauded for her skills, but I guess there was just something about her that struck me as smug.

Lest it seem that I'm over-reacting, let me relate something that happened back on the in- service day. I didn't mention it, but it stuck with me. A teacher from another school came up to the table where Ms. L, Ms. W, Ms. S, and I were sitting and started chatting with Ms. W, whom she knew from somewhere else. Ms. W did the introductions, noting that I was a student teacher and making a little crack about it. Which was totally fine with me, as, like I've noted, our team is irreverent and jokes around a lot. A few minutes later I made a little crack back at her, whereupon the teacher from the other school said sharply to me, "Uh, you're just a student teacher, so shut up. Know your place."

I kid you not. My team did stick up for me, in a kind of muted, non-boat-rocking of way. Anyhow, I said nothing, because I need to learn to let some stuff go. I have no intention of being spineless as a rule, but as practice for being the new (and slightly unwanted by some) guy, I ignored this particular power-tripper.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

What I'm watching

People who have read this blog for a while know I don't have television reception at my house, and I'm not a big fan of TV in general. But --- aside from the occasional "Jeopardy!" at my parents' house --- I have been known to enjoy a show now and then in DVD form.

Getting through the last few episodes of "Entourage," season three. The quality has declined some, as a lot of bloggers noted, but I'm still enjoying it. Maybe the real nadir comes in season four; I'm not there yet. Am I alone in my love for Jeremy Piven? I think I'm the only one in America who remembers his TV series "Cupid." Man, I loved that show.

There are very few things in the world that I care about less than football and the ups and downs of teenage relationships, but I am utterly hooked on "Friday Night Lights." I am mainlining the series thanks to Netflix's "Instant Watching" ability. I haven't been this interested in a network series since I first discovered "NYPD Blue" back in oh my lord in heaven nearly fifteen years ago now. I'm not saying it's as good as "NYPD Blue" was in its prime, but it's a very well-crafted show. The acting on "FNL" is astounding, and the combination of terrific direction and cinematography (a sort of quasi-documentary style, and the characters talking over each other in breaks and unfinished thoughts that match natural speech rhythms) makes the drama terribly raw and human.

I also watched a short-lived animated series called "Mission Hill." It's about a cartoonist attempting to live a bohemian lifestyle in a neighborhood akin to Greenwich Village with his roommates, but who also has to act as surrogate parent to his younger brother, who's still in high school. I thought it had just the right blend of quirkiness and poignancy.

And a couple of months back, I polished off the first season of HBO's "Rome," which I watched the second and final season of at my parents' house last year or whenever the hell it was. A fantastic show, meticulously detailed in both the big historical picture and the personal details of the characters. And the ending was supremely satisfying, unlike that very disappointing finale of "Deadwood," which was from its mother channel's schedule untimely ripp'd.

Speaking of HBO, in a couple of weeks the fourth season of the Greatest Drama Ever Made, "The Wire," will be released! It'll be like Christmas in December! Oh wait.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Balancing a diamond on a blade of grass

I woke up early, unfortunately, to pick up Aunt at the airport. She's a high school counselor and had the whole week off; she vacationed in New Orleans. At the airport, I saw a Dangerous Young Black Man (tm) coming off her flight wearing jeans around his mid-thighs. He had to waddle around like a baby in a full diaper. Another Dangerous Young Black Man (tm) wore a hat with the price tag falling down in front of his face. I don't understand these newfangled fashions the young are wearing today, consarn it.

Friar picked me up and we drove around for a couple of hours looking at apartments. I'm thinking of celebrating the new job by getting a new nice apartment in January. I found a pretty good one, but I'm just in the considering stage for now.

Talked with my dad about his self-medicating. He told me a lot of things he's been doing, but I honestly can't tell what's true. I do think he's run out of opiates, as he's on that vindictive, bitter phase informed by junkie thinking. Oh, I know all the phases of the jonesing addict all too well.

Maddening Angel called me, but I didn't go out because I wanted to hang out with my parents and keep an eye out on the situation.

Friday, November 23, 2007

It's no secret that the stars are falling from the sky

I went out to dinner at Green Margarita with the Friar, Palfrey, Flax (who teaches law school in California and was last seen in these pages around May of 2006), and his wife. It was fun, although I always feel like a fifth wheel at these couple things. I'm a single chump.

After the Margarita, we went to the theater bar (where Epalg and I go). I was recognized by the waitress and she asked if I wanted my usual drink. Palfrey was surprised; I don't exactly have a reputation as a barfly.

Kilometres Deboutish lives

Let's hear it for the original inhabitants.

Kid, have you rehabilitated yourself? With four part harmony and feeling.

Have you heard about Le Jour de Merci Donnant?

I got the sun in the morning and the moon at night, and other bits of wisdom.

Give thanks the Bill Burroughs way.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Loaded IV

From the original idea.

Hypotheticals: If Satan lived on Earth, what would his friends and enemies know him by?
"Mister Vice-President."

Anything Goes: What should every man and woman be able to try once in their life?
True love.

No-Brainers: What was your favorite year of school? Why?
I've been to a lot more schools than most people, so I'm going to forget higher education and just refer to high school. Senior year. I was reasonably well-liked by the people that mattered, had bizarrely made the high honors list, got into a good college, and I didn't give a crap what anyone thought.

Personals: What protest march might somebody spot you at?
I've never actually gone to a protest march, mostly out of apathy but also due to the conviction that marching and shouting isn't going to do any good for anybody. I've gone on an AIDS LifeWalk, though.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

All over bar the shouting

Well, that's it for Student Teaching, except for next week's series of observations (a less rigorous schedule, to say the least). It was an unusual day to begin with: the entire school participated in a "race" around the field for twelve minutes. They collected feathers each time they completed a circuit, and later the entire school, class by class, attached the feathers to a giant wooden turkey. Of course, it wasn't really a race; apparently years back they used to give ribbons to kids who ran the farthest, but they don't do that anymore. Nowadays, the entire world is the Special Olympics, and no one ever wins or loses. Some schools never even give failing grades.

***

A boy who is in the first grade for the second time this year told me, apropos of nothing, "I hate my life." When I asked him why, he said it was because his sister made him dress as a girl when he was one or two. He may be making the whole thing up (he's definitely a casual teller of tall tales), but any seven-year-old who says he hates his life definitely needs to see the counselor. So I'd better tell the counselor about it on Monday, I just realize.

***

I gave the kids treat bags with decorated pencils, stickers, candy, and a personalized note for each one. Mostly, it was easy to say something nice about them, either one of my trademark humorous bits of hyperbole ("You're the smartest kid in Smart City! Your name ought to be Genius Q. Brainiac!") or a genuine note of appreciation for one of their virtues. Some were harder. For Perezoso, I praised his artistic ability (he really is good at drawing, and loves comics). For Drooly, I noted her interest in all things zoological. Sassy was a tough one: neither sweet-natured, nor smart (or even passably clever), nor helpful in class. I finally put, rather lamely, "You're a good sister!"

Monday, November 19, 2007

Intolerable

More drug nonsense at my mother's house. Father trying to work his computer when it's off, then not being able to find the power button. Falling asleep at a chair. Cooked spaghetti in the coffee maker and coffee grounds dumped down the sink. More spaghetti in the $75 electric water heater I bought him (so he wouldn't burn out any more pans trying to boil water for tea). Coffee urn lid in the sugar bowl. It's funny, in a sick sort of way. At these time I despise him for how selfish he's being.

Dinner with Epalg took my mind off horrible situation for an all-too-brief hour. Epalg looks like Veronica Lake and is a terrific, witty conversationalist.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Wasn't the best of paths, you could attest to that, but I'm keeping on

Since Aunt will be out of town on Real Thanksgiving (she'll be in New Orleans, which I'm not sure is a great idea), she asked me and my parents to come have traditional Thanksgiving dinner at her house today. We had the works: smoked turkey, cranberry sauce, punkin pie, beans with almonds, stuffing and so on. It was a cibarious celebration.

I drove my parents up to Triviabar after that, where I stayed for a couple of rounds and we met Potato. Didn't stay long, though; it lasts nearly four hours due to the emcee's aggravatingly adagio reading and scoring style. I went home, back to my beloved Internet.