Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The funny circus from his head

First day of school with the kids! Um... yay?

They seem like a good group. The day went pretty much exactly like last year's.

The cast:
  • A1, boy, 5. Clever, good reader, knows a few French words, has a sly mischievous look about him. Is half-Asian.
  • A2, boy, 6. Son of the ultra-involved Sikh parents. Bookish and smart. Seems affable and sweet, not at all the competitive, self-absorbed kid his parents described at the conference.
  • A3, girl, 5. Seems sharp. Loves art.
  • A4, boy, 6. The second-loudest kid in the room, but not aggressive, just playful. Mother is from South America. She says he can add fractions and subtract two-digit numbers already. So far I'm impressed with his volume.
  • B, girl, 5. Daughter of first-generation immigrants. Her mother spoke English fairly well at our meeting, but not quite fluently enough for total communication. B herself spoke perhaps three words in total today, all of them monosyllabic answers drawn very reluctantly from her by me insisting on a reply.
  • C, boy, 5. A smart fellow, perhaps has Asperger's. Talks as if someone's constantly adjusting his pitch and playback speed.
  • G, girl, 5. Youngest in the class, turned five just a few days ago. Very sweet. Excellent artist.
  • H, boy, 5. Second-youngest in the class. Absolutely goes nuts for superheroes (so we have something to talk about). Very poor motor skills, almost no letter-sound correspondence, not strong enough to close the hole punch. I may have to earn my pay with this little guy.
  • K1, girl, 5. One of two black girls in the room. Almost zero literacy skills. Has a reputation for being sassy and defiant, but this hasn't emerged yet. It may never, Ganesh willing.
  • K2, girl, 5. Big cheeks. Loves animals. Good reader.
  • M1, girl, 5. Super cute! Loves art.
  • M2, girl, 5. Don't know her ethnic heritage but she's a sort of mocha color. Also has a reputation for being sassy. Poor writing.
  • R, boy, 5. Just the sweetest, most helpful little ball of energy you ever saw. His mother has possibly terminal cancer. Is terrific at invented spelling.
  • T, girl, 5. The second black girl in the class. A terrific reader. Fell asleep in her chair at the end of the day.
  • W1, boy, 5. Nice kid, kinda loud, loves Legos. All I really know about him so far is his mother is really, really hot. Don't judge me!
  • W2, boy, 6. Kept to himself, loves to cut and glue paper creations. Very well spoken and seems to read fairly fluently.
  • Z, boy, 5. The loudest kid in the class. Ebullient and chipper and loud, but showed streaks of whiny defeatism already. Very poor writing skills.
They're a fun, happy, creative bunch, and --- here's hoping --- I don't sense any aggression in the group as I did with a couple of last year's boys. I feel like the big difference between this and my former class --- and I know it's only been one day, so I may be wrong --- are that this class has fewer kids with advanced reading and writing skills, and some with almost no phonetic awareness. Well, down the road we go, then.


After school, Ms. N, Ms. Counselor, and I put on a little skit we'd prepared at the behest of the Administration about the importance of faculty and staff donating to the school fund. We opened with me giving a few amusingly inappropriate ideas on how to stir up involvement (mostly I favored punching), then we narrated a PowerPoint with some very humorous photos, taken by the development office, that illustrated our ideas. Ms. N and I had been picked for this project because of last year's presentation on our conference, which we mistakenly made creative and engaging, so now we're the go-to people for in-house talks.

And then we all got ice cream floats! It was a cibarious celebration.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Now he's ready to walk a path that is new and he can't turn back

Second day of parent conferences. Overall I'm very sanguine about the State of Parental Affairs this year. They seem like a bright, easy-going bunch who aren't (too) fazed by my rather off-kilter manner, speech, humor, and appearance. (Yes, I kind of cultivate the image.)

The last parent to arrive (rescheduled, having forgotten about her original meeting yesterday until I called her about it) came in looking for all the world like an African tribeswoman in a dashiki, complete with tiny wide-eyed baby (recently acquired from CPS, she told us without volunteering any further information) on her voluminous hip. I asked her, as I had all the parents, where her daughter was in reading, and she replied, "I don't know." She honestly had no idea how well, or indeed if, her child could read. Later she asked me what she could do at home to help her daughter's math skills. I asked her to tell me about what level her daughter was. "I don't know," she said again. Oh dear. I said I wouldn't be able to advise her on anything until I figured out what skills her child had.

Although I didn't get the younger brother of the girl from Mr. C's class whose father is French, I did get two other kids who have fathers who can speak French and want their kids to learn. That's good, as I've always liked teaching simple French phrases to kids.

Also, I got some supplemental insurance. We already have health and dental paid, but I got a cancer policy (lots of tumors in my family) and some kind of heart attack policy which I'm not at all sure I actually need, since despite my congenital heart condition I'm at no more of a risk for heart attack than anyone else my age and level of activity. What I'm at risk for is heart failure, which is a totally different fish. Oh well. I'll probably die of a stroke now anyway.

Incredibly tired. Not used to this frenetic pace.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Walk on eggshells on my old stomping ground

First day of parent conferences.

I met half my 18 kids' parents. One boy's parents are a couple of self-described nerds (the father designs video games for a living, their dog is named after a mathematician, and their son's middle name is that of a famous scientist). Another boy's mother has possibly fatal cancer (she looked good, but obviously thin and weak, and discussed her illness with humor and openness); there's also a supportive stepfather and an absent father in his life. Most of the parents were effusive and charming and appeared happy to have me as their child's teacher.

I think there may be problems with two sets of parents: one is the Sikh family I met Friday, who are stereotypically pushy helicopter parents and whose perfectionist neuroses are being projected into their poor kid. The second is another new boy's South American-born mother, whose relentless officiousness during our brief interview made the Indian couple seem like laid-back, trusting hippie cats.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Sunday Warbooks: Why the Allies Won

A review of Why the Allies Won, by Richard Overy.

Just as the title indicates, this is a thorough examination of how WWII --- the outcome of which was decidedly uncertain before late 1943 or so --- ended the way it did. Overy is a masterful and convincing historian, who over the course of 330 pages lays out a cogent argument based on everything from economy and materiel production to the warped philosophy of the Axis powers.

It's impossible to distill the mass of fascinating information into a few paragraphs, but there are a few main points that especially ring true. The first is, of course, the industrial production of the USA and USSR, unmatched by any of the Axis powers. Overy argues that America’s capitalist society and the Soviet centralized dictatorship were each in their own way ideally suited to maximize their vast resources. In contrast, Hitler's less focused, more cutthroat dictatorship failed to make the most of Germany's limited resources. A telling example is when Hitler’s armies took Soviet oil fields, but then had no engineers to make the oil available to Germany, so it made no discernible change in their production.

Overy further argues that the Allied powers made simple, reliable, mass-produced weapons, and kept a healthy ratio of mechanics on hand. The opposite was true of the Germany industrial complex, which was fixated on ever-newer technologies, so obsolescence and difficulty of repair became issues as the war progressed. Overy concludes that even Germany's much-vaunted missile program, which was inarguably years ahead of anything the Allies had, was "a lost cause" for these reasons: impressive, yes, but not a war-winner.

The second main theme is the rapid learning curve of the allied powers, who learned from their many early defeats and focused intently on producing only what was needed to win. The Germans and Japanese, by contrast, has a very slow learning curve, and coasted on early victories, believing that their militaristic will-to-power philosophy made victory a foregone conclusion. This learning curve extended to every facet of the war --- improvements in bombing, defense, codes, and so on ensured the Allies’ early losses were not often repeated.

The final main theme that runs through the whole book, though it's not made as explicit as the others, is the mindset of the various leaders. Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin had many philosophical and strategical differences, but were able to work in lock step for the single goal of destroying Nazism utterly. Hitler had no such restraint, unable to maintain even the farce of an alliance with Stalin until the war in the west had been concluded. Stalin, for all his faults, promoted reliable men, wanted to hear the unvarnished truth about how the war was progressing, and allowed himself to be overruled when it came to important strategic decisions. Hitler, famously, removed officers who told him bad news, even if it was true, and obsessively insisted on micro-managing the war (sounds like Bush and Rumsfeld!), with a deleterious result for Germany's chances for victory.

Perhaps the most interesting example of how much Hitler's self-supposed strategic genius hurt Germany was Hitler's insistence on treating the Normandy landings lightly, thinking they were only a ruse, until it was far too late and Patton had already swept over half of France. Historical events like this always give rise to their hypothetical counterparts: what if Hitler had allowed Rommel and others to fight the war they wanted to? The modern Anglo-American mind reels at the horror.

In all, this is an inexhaustibly fascinating book, one sure to promote argument among WWII buffs for its calm, reasoned analysis and sometimes unexpected conclusions.


Sunday warbooks scoreboard:

Greco-Persian wars: 2
WWI: 2
WWII: 6 <----winning big, like the Allies in late 1945
Vietnam: 2
Iraq wars: 2
Afghanistan war: 1
General warfare: 2

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Got holes in my socks, they match the ones that I got in my feet

The other day friend of the Sutler Churlita wrote a great timely post about her memories of her first day of kindergarten. I have no memory of my own first day, even though I'm (barely) younger than Churlita is. Indeed, I have only vague memories of the entire era, and some of them may be inadvertently conflated with those of earlier or younger years, as well. I just don't know.

Around that time my teacher was called Miss Cockerell, and some kids out of a sense of not malevolent silliness called her "Miss Cockroach" behind her back. We were blissfully unaware of the ruder words her name might have conjured up in, say middle school students. I don't remember any other teacher's names until fifth grade or so. I had a small group of friends both boys and girls, as I have all my life, and didn't interact much with outside that group. I remember exactly two students' names from those times (and exactly two more from all other years until high school). For a reason that now utterly escapes me, we referred to mail delivery trucks as "cracker boxes," and called out dibs on XYZ amount of crackers ("I got a thousand crackers!") if we saw one first.

Kids are nuts, man.


Anyway, tonight I went out to Hangout II with the old gang: Friar, Muffin, T-Bone, Courtney, and Auric. Oh, and Mr. Hangout came out with us too. We heard a very good local country band, the members of whom I'm passing acquaintances with. Muffin is now stomach-extendingly pregnant, despite being a very tiny woman everywhere else. She looks like an elf with a beach ball in her dress.

A passing girl said to another one as we sat and drank, "That's Auric! He's the lead singer of Auric's Band!" I turned to her and said, "No, it's not. He gets that all the time. Don't you, Fred?" But I'm not sure she was convinced by my clever artifice.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Kid, stay and snip your cord off

Today we were supposed to have playground visits, so the parents can bring the new kids and watch them interact outside, but it stormed during the night so the visits were canceled. Of course, by ten a.m. the ground was bone dry and it was as if moisture had never existed within the borders of Texas. But as I've mentioned before, the people in these here parts can get a mite panicky over inclement weather.

Anyhoo, instead I met eight or ten of my kids' parents, with no children present. They seem like a decent, nice group. I gave a brief overview of what we expect in kindergarten and our basic schedule, using a PowerPoint presentation Ms. K made for the team. My assistant sat at my laptop and clicked the mouse to change the pages whenever I pointed at the screen as if I had an old-fashioned projector remote and said "Ka-chunk!"

My wild, unpredictable way of speaking, my congenital irreverence for everything under the sun, and the simple fact that I'm a man in a traditionally female job probably made a few of the parents somewhat wary. That's to be expected. One father in particular, a Sikh --- but sans turban --- seemed a bit stiff, but it's all fine with me. I like to cultivate that initial shock by playing up the weirdness, then surprise them with smooth competence. They'll come around.

At the end of the day we had a brief tutorial on our new payroll procedures. Soon it'll all be online and we won't fill out sheets to request leave, nor will we get paper check stubs. That's the future, baby. (Checks info online) Hey! I have eighty hours of sick leave! I'ma stay home all week watchin' daytime teevee and eatin' Bugles!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The world don't care and yet it clings to me

Here's a meme I got sent.

My Life According to __________

Pick a favorite musical artist and answer all the questions as accurately and sincerely as possible using only song titles.

Artist picked: Tom Waits

Are you a male or female: Little Man
Describe yourself: Nobody
How do you feel: Young at Heart
Describe where you currently live: House Where Nobody Lives
If you could go anywhere, where would you go? San Diego Serenade
Your favorite form of transportation: Train Song
You and your best friend are...? (Lookin' For) The Heart Of Saturday Night
What's the weather like: In Shades
Favorite time of day: The Ghosts of Saturday Night
If your life was a TV show, what would it be called? Just Another Sucker On the Vine
What is life to you: Misery Is the River Of the World
Your relationship: Bad Liver And a Broken Heart
Your fear: How's It Gonna End
What is the best advice you have to give: Never Let Go
Thought for the day: I Never Talk To Strangers
How you would like to die: The Earth Died Screaming
Everything sucks because: Everything Goes To Hell
Everything's okay because: World Keeps Turning
Your soul's present condition:
The Part You Throw Away
Your motto: I'm Still Here

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

I'm going to unpack all my things before it gets too late

Work on my room goes apace. Things are finally starting to look a little more organized and neat. Actually, my room has a rather ascetic atmosphere compared to my three female K counterparts. For example, I eschew those cascade bookshelves that so many other EC rooms have, preferring typical horizontal shelves. The resulting minimalism is not necessarily a good thing, and I do feel like I'm not being quite as colorful and tactile and welcoming and cutesy as they are, but I guess I gotta be me. My classroom looks more like a third-grade room than a kindergarten one. But hell, we still have fun.

Today at lunch Admin Assistant Fen was commiserating with Counselor about their dating mishaps (both are astoundingly attractive young single women), saying "Yeah, the guy should know how to act, but you don't want to have to tell him. You want him to just know it."

I said, "I wish you could really hear yourself right now." I mean, I do understand her meaning, but it's a fantasy. No date's going to go well if you're looking for a mind reader.

She did use a funny term, though. Referring to a lot of men's tendency to text instead of manning up and calling a women they're maybe sort of interested in, she said, "They use their texticles because they don't have the balls to call." It wasn't until I actually wrote this post that I realized it was an extant term; I thought she coined it on the spot.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Drowning in the sound of my own rhapsody

Man, there is a lot to do when preparing for a new class. I would have thought it would be easier the second time around in the same room, but no. Among the things that ought to be made before Day One:

Kids' names labels for the chairs
Handwriting folders
Blank math folders for story problems
Name tags for attendance board
Name tags for the job chart
Nine blank weather charts
Writing journals
Take-home work folders
Computer use schedule
Open space use schedule

...And so forth. As I tell anyone within hearing range at work, if I didn't have my lovely and talented Assistant, I'd be lost. She's a funny, friendly, easy-going woman who used to be on the substitute team with me. Now she has this part-time job because of her young son. Over the course of the last year and a half, she got pregnant, got divorced, and is now happily remarried.

We make a great team, except that for whatever reason, the two of us together seem to be dumber than each one of us separately. It's like we both expect the other one to do the thinking. It's awesome.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Stitch on stitch and earn to urn, a presence on the lift

Well, work started. We got a free breakfast and a free lunch (I skipped the first and the second was nasty, but it's the thought that counts). Spent most of the day on a project very long overdue --- reorganizing, going through, sorting, or trashing every item on Mr. C's over-crowded shelves. The room looks like a damn midden, but at least I'll know where things are when this is all over. Hopefully.

We had Blood Borne Pathogens training courtesy of The Nurse again, and watched the same outrageously awful video as last year, starring The World's Worst Actress and three young people who represent HIV, Hep B, and Hep C. The one who represents HIV was a black jock. That's so racist.

I came home and took a three-hour nap. Um... that was overkill. I shouldn't do that.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Newbery VI

Continuing where we left off...

In 1927 the America Library Association took a break from heaping praises on less than stellar collections of legends from faraway lands, and turned to a quintessentially American story in Smoky the Cowhorse, by Will James.

This book follows the life of a range horse, from his birth, though the various occupations he's put to, and finally to being put out to pasture for retirement. James makes the horse the center of the story, and tells it as realistically as possible while making Smoky an exceptional beast. (The horse never voices an opinion, let alone talks; James tries to express silent instinct or antipathy without anthropomorphizing the animal.)

Indeed, Smoky isn't actually his name, except inasmuch as a bronco buster named Clint calls him that for a while. Most of his life he's a nameless, wild horse, free on the range, learning to stay with the herd, avoid and kill rattlesnakes, fight wolves, and so on. Annually he is corralled by cowboys and made to do range work: herding steer, which he grows to enjoy. After some misadventure, he is known by the name of Cougar as a famous cowboy-killing bucking bronco, and later still he's called Cloudy as an indifferent riding horse for greenhorn dude equestrians.

Things look bleakest for him when, older and enfeebled by a lifetime of action, he’s sold as a workhorse, regularly beaten and mistreated. Of course there’s a happy ending, but James lets it unfold with patience; nothing is neatly packaged or trite, and Smoky is far from a pet, or even so much as tame, even at the end. It’s a superior animal story, but unfortunately made a bit difficult for the modern reader by two factors.

One, James writes in a sub-literate dialect ("them horses was running," "If Smoky could only knowed, there’d been a lot of suffering which he wouldn't had to've went thru"), which may have been intentional or not, but either way it's not charming or conducive to good reading practice. And then, common words, even equine vocabulary such as "gait," are misspelled, which indicates that the ungrammatical dialect may have been the best James could do. I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, but it makes for hard reading.

Second, and far worse, there's a deep racism in the book. The two villains are Mexican. One is referred to with contempt as a "breed" (short for "half-breed," he being half-Mexican, half "other blood that’s darker") with no morals. The other is a similarly immoral, cruel man who is beaten for his cruelty by a white man in front of a laughing sheriff who stops the fight, but only because the Mexican's death would make work for him, "same as if he were a white man." It's a pity, because James is a decent storyteller, and though I don’t care for animal tales as a rule, this one drew me in. This is a book a product of its time, certainly.

Recommended for children: I'm afraid not.

Recommended for adults: It's not bad, if you can look past the ugly racial views and the cowpoke writing style. Not for everyone, at the very least.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

I've gathered myself from the bits and remains and the pieces I've pulled from all of my days

I spent my Saturday renting a truck from Home Depot (motto: "the people in our Tool Rental department are total pricks") and helping my aunt move. She was planning to move to LA where her male companion lives, but apparently he's a crazy person just like the last guy, and broke up with her via a text message because she talks to her son too much or something. Anyhoo, she's just sold her house, and she's storing a lot of her clothes in my house while she's temporarily without a place to call her own and nomadic. She also gave me Cousin's bed and night stand, which is pretty sweet. Now I have a real guest room that actually looks inviting, instead of just having a mattress on a floor.

Uh, I mean, I just got back from helping my aunt move, and boy, are my arms tired!


Conversation with guy who lives on my street as I passed by taking Dog for a walk:

Me: "Howdy." [Which after all is short for "how d'you do."]
His reply: "How are you doing?" [Much in the style, surely inadvertently, of Joey from "Friends."]
Me: "Oh, good." [Pause.] "And you?"
Him: "Fine, and yourself?"

I thought I'd let that one lie where it was and kept walking.

Friday, August 14, 2009

When the crowd becomes your burden and you've early closed your curtains, I'll wait by the backstage door

Had dinner with Friar and Muffin and their children at the Green Margarita. I ordered what I hoped was the healthiest thing I could ask for --- bean burritos with cheese and rice --- but the beans were refried and the cheese was that glowing orange crap Tex-Mex restaurants love so well. I've been making a fairly decent effort since returning from my travels to eat healthy, so it made me mildly ill for some hours afterward. At least I didn't eat any meat dishes. Instead of taking six months off my life, this meal only reduced my life span by three months.


HWT and I decided that Kate (of "Jon and Kate Plus Eight" fame) now has a vagina so cavernous, she can only get pleasure by inserting into it something the width of a baby's cranium. Thus the loathsome cycle continues. Also: HWT and I are filthy, filthy people.


You know how wives can sue rich ex-husbands for alimony, claiming that the husband got them used to a certain standard of living that they didn't enjoy before the marriage, so the husbands thus owe their ex-wives money enough for them to continue living up to that now-established standard? Using the same logic, I wonder if I can sue Prestigius for a salary I don't work for? After all, the school is the one that's been enabling me to live this slothful, idle lifestyle --- paying me, quite literally, to do nothing --- so the school bears the burden of continuing to fund my decadent lifestyle. Let's face it, it's what I'm used to now!


Once again (see last year's whining, with Michael5000's excellent comment), work seems to have drafted me into various committees and responsibilities I'd, frankly, rather not have. The year hasn't even started yet and already I'm on the Fund Committee and the Expansion Committee, and --- perhaps most ludicrously --- in an after-work leadership course. Yes, because leading and wielding authority are what I do best. Also, am I really the best pick for helping determine how the school will grow in the future? I just got here, and I'll probably be dead before any new building starts.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The finger points to those who might've chose a path different than that which failure closed

Friar's wife celebrated a birthday this week, so I didn't see much of the man himself; he either celebrated with her or was left alone with the kids as she went out for some peace and quiet.

I went out with Hot Waitress T (who really should be called Hot Special-Ed Teacher T now) to a show where Sonar was playing. First, I picked her up where she lives downtown in a fancy high-security building and we were almost mugged because the streets down there are crawling with unemployed oppressed scam artists and street predators. Someone came close to a stabbing but I don't know if it was him or me --- you best believe I carry a blade when I go down to Devil's Elm, boy. He peeled away when a cop on a Segway rolled by obliviously. T and I went to one of her favorite spots, a trendy bar that had a lot of hipsters in it. I had artichoke pizza, which was okay. Stupid hipsters.

Yesterday I finished translating a French review for Sonar --- the third such I've done for him --- so in gratitude he put us on the list (which he probably would have done anyway, though.) It was a fun show. I saw two acquaintances: one a waitress at Hangout II who made us the infamous Swine Flu shots and ate a very late drunk dinner with us once; the other was a local music blogger with some degree of recognition in town. I don't know him very well, but he seems to think I do.

Work Monday --- no kids, but Faculty Days. Gotta get the room ready and meet the new parents. But... but I'm used to sitting around doing nothing now!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Can't you feel that sun a-shinin'?


For the first time in what to the best of my recollection is three years, I left Devil-Town and went on not one but two mini-vacations!

In the first, I went to see my good friend 神圣 in San Diego. The visit just happened to coincide with the San Diego Comic Con, so we figured we might as well go. You know, as long as I was there and all. Also, we're both total geeks. I took lots of pictures of attendees in costumes. Not of the professional booth girls --- I find that to be a particularly egregious example of pandering to fanboys --- but of regular people who took the time to make creative, fun costumes. Some of them did incredible jobs, like a Dark Knight Joker who was carrying around a pencil as a prop, a couple who were a perfect Hal Jordan and Jade, a slight girl dressed as the Joker on vacation (shorts and a Hawaiian shirt over the usual regalia), and a terrific Red Skull.

There was something for everyone, from a very attractive young lady dressed as the Silk Spectre --- hott --- to the cutest little four-year-old boy dressed as the Dark Knight Joker --- possibly inappropriate --- with his even littler sister, who tried her best to be that girl from Harry Potter. One woman dressed as Lara Croft got a bit shirty when I failed to recognize her. "I don't know anything about video games," I said, and she returned hotly that it was also a movie.

Fun fact: if you ask someone dressed as Spider-Man if you can take their picture, they instantly crouch down and make the web-shooting gesture. One hundred percent of the people dressed as Spider-Man did this.

Later, we went out for drinks with an upcoming Marvel artist who just did a stint on The Punisher, he and 神圣 being old school friends from Taiwan.

Back in the real world, 神圣 and I and his family had a blast in San Diego. Beaches, sushi, bars, his fellow doctoral students (one friend I met is doing his dissertation on French film noir, and was a fascinating person). It's a beautiful city and the weather was gorgeous. His two kids were well-behaved and adorable; it was a blast watching them at Comic Con as well. His wife gave birth to their third about seven hours after I left, maker her, as another woman remarked, "quite the trooper" for walking around at Comic Con with us the second day.

For the second vacation, I went to Portland for a week to visit Brother and Sister-In-Law, not to mention Nephews 1, 2 and 3, the last of whom is nearly three and whom I had never seen before. I also saw Deep Blue, my old high school and undergraduate friend, his wife Cyan and their now three-year-old son.

Just before I arrived, Portland had been experiencing some pretty severe heat there, but it thankfully broke and it was beautifully cool to warm. We went peach-picking and collected some of the most delicious fruit I've ever had ("the Mackinaws are in, Jerry!"), except maybe the fresh-picked plums we were given by a homeowner with a tree in her yard. We visited all the great food places: Mio sushi, Apizza Scholls, the Ben & Jerry's store, and that haven for gluttonous locavores, Burgerville.

Not too much had changed since I was last there --- my nephews are still brats, Portland still has a lot of hobos and rude bicyclists, it's a verdant paradise, and the economy is sluggish. A lot of storefronts have been remodeled and revamped, but they seem to sit empty. I was immensely cheered to see so many local businesses still going strong (except maybe in the case of Dixie Mattress --- how does that place stay open, anyway?). Portland is a walker's city, and the people enjoy supporting the community. Streets like Sandy, which require cars to drive down, don't do as well as touristy but laid-back Mom-and-Pop areas like Hawthorne or Division.

Anyway, now back in the heat of Devil-Town. Work starts Monday. I've been totally idle since the last week of May.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Do not stand at my grave and weep

(After Mary Elizabeth Frye's maudlin piece.)

Do not stand at my grave and weep,
Just go on home and get some sleep.
I can't hear your sobs and tears,
My rotting head no more has ears.
Wail as you will --- under your feet
Lies but a piece of rotting meat.
But even were this body whole,
There is no spirit, there is no soul.
You speak aloud, and cry, and moan,
But I've no more sentience than a stone.
Whatever now you say you feel
You should have said when I was real.
So leave me mold'ring under the loam,
Dry your tears and go on back home.
Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there. There is no I.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

My mind is set on overdrive

Last day of school had only mundane paperwork and logistical meetings. Vacation has begun.

Not that I'm not grateful, but now what?

I went out to Hangout II with Friar and Courtney. I was petulant and prickish all night, and probably as a consequence Courtney was being slightly bitchy, and Friar after a few drinks started to get smug and insulting as is his wont, and all in all it wasn't fun and I blew $60 on cabs to have a crappy night.

I know that wasn't my usually entertaining overview of my nights out, but it wasn't an entertaining night. I need the drugs to kick in again.

Hey, K and L are dating each other! I didn't even know they knew each other. I met K through the Maddening Angel (from whom she is now estranged) and L from the Friar/Hangout, two almost wholly discrete circles of my life. Small world. And their names are consecutive letters! It was meant to be.

Oh yeah --- and I do have ringworm. I may have gotten it from one of the kids (though I can't think who) or maybe an animal. So fucking nasty. It's a tenacious and disgusting little fungus and it takes two to four weeks to get rid of with daily treatment. And it may leave a permanent round mark. I have it on my neck. Yay! The universe loves me.

Monday, May 25, 2009

That was called love for the workers in song

Well, here I am again. I got used to the damn thing, and it's cheaper than therapy.

I had a pretty good final week of school. I didn't get many end-of-year gifts and nothing fancy, but I did get plenty of compliments, and that's all I expected. J's parents bought me lunch on the last day. L2's mother said she wanted me to move up to first grade so he could have me again next year. My secret favorite Q's father said he had initial concerns about a male K teacher, but "getting you was the best thing that could have happened to her."

Most of the week was taken up with visiting the first grade classrooms; having the kids write cards for the summer birthday kids; and doing easy final-week things like finishing "This year I learned..." in writing and "How many days are left in school if ten are crossed off our calendar?" type word problems in math. The very last day I told the kids that the most important thing I wanted them to remember all year was this:

Be nice to people who have less talent or power than you do.

I hope it stuck.


I hadn't been taking my Happy Pills for the last ten days, through a combination of laziness, sickness and the accompanying bizarre sleep schedule, and a vague interest in seeing what would happen. I think it was a bad idea, and I'm starting again. As Friar said: "If you had diabetes, you wouldn't want to go off your meds just to 'see what would happen,' would you? If you need them, you need them." I think he's right.

Most people, for example, would not have been totally depressed, as I was, on Sunday. Saturday, I'd spent a pleasant evening at Hangout II, joking and talking with good friends (Friar, K, L --- this guy) and a few people I didn't know, including a very attractive, drunk woman who hung on me and kept kissing me and pressing my hand between her legs. L flicked a lit cigarette into my face hard at my request. I drank a shot that seemed to be made of Tabasco, and possibly bacon. We went back to Friar's house (where I'd drunkenly and erroneously thought I'd left my car). Friar promptly passed out in his bed, so drunk girl and I hung out in his living room, blasting music until 4:00 a.m when we collapsed on his couch.

Sounds fun. Was fun. So why the depression? If you have to ask, you'll never understand. Sometimes I have a hard time distinguishing fantasy from reality. Or rather, fantasy from the probable.

I'm not sure I should blog about such personal stuff. It makes me introspective. I feel like it helps me sort my thoughts into a semblance of rationality, but you know, I think when I instead pass over the personal in silence, that helps me not be so jittery about the past. Which is probably more helpful.

Oh yeah --- and I should have done my assessments last week. Like, finished Tuesday. It's no surprise to people who read this that I'm a procrastinatin' fool. So it'll be a late night. Oh well, nothing new.

Also, I may have ringworm. Awesome!

Monday, May 18, 2009


The last week, a very busy work schedule, some ill-advised late nights, and a bout of nasty throat flu all conspired to put blog posts on the back burner. Come to think of it they were never on the front burner. Let's say they got taken off the back burner and put into a Tupperware tub and set in the refrigerator to keep for maybe later.

It was just about time for a break anyway. I may start posting again once the old batteries are recharged. After all, I have Newbery winners to review.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Newbery V

The 1926 Newbery Medal winner was Shen Of the Sea: Chinese Stories For Children, by Arthur Bowie Chrisman. It is a collection of humorous folk tales from China, written in a light, mostly tongue-in-cheek style that seems to mimic the inflections and honorifics of the Chinese language.

The title story describes a monarch who tricks and captures the shen, or demons, of the sea, who wish to flood his domain. Other entries are explanation tales, reminiscent of the Just-So stories: how chopsticks came to be (the king invented them after being attacked by his irascible queen with the silverware) how fine porecelain came to be (it was a collection of mud pies fired hard by dragon breath), or how tea came to be (a witch enchanted Chah's herbs so they'd help him stay awake, after he saved her from a black dragon, or oo long; cha is Chinese for tea). A couple are love stories between men and spirits, and a few are like the European folk tales of silly people who do things literally, but in the end their silliness is their salvation.

It's fun reading, but there's nothing spectacular about the prose, nor particularly memorable about the tales, so I do hope this wasn't actually the finest children's book of its year. As with the previous year's winner, Tales From Silver Lands, perhaps the committee thought multiculturalism trumped non-spectacular writing.

Recommended for children: sure.

Recommended for adults: not really, unless they're Sinophiles.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

I'm so old...

...My high school class recently celebrated its twentieth reunion.

...I have fond memories of the game Adventure, which I played and mastered when I was 13 years old. I remember every experience the article describes: being robbed by the bat, being zoomed through the game by the bat while in a dragon, visiting the Easter Egg room, everything. For all the realism and detail and epic backstories of massive multi-player games today, this simple, doofy-looking game where a box grabs an arrow to kill a seahorse remains tops in my mind.

...I had a Texas Instruments computer that used the computer language BASIC (10 Print "HI THERE" 20 Goto 10) and recorded such coded text programs on audio cassette tape.

...I remember arcades in every mall, the only way the common feller could play video games. They cost a quarter, no more. Arcades barely exist any more.

...I was nine, ten, and eleven when Advanced Dungeons & Dragons was developed, and it changed how I played games with my friends. In short, my geekiness was complete.

...I had a word processor in college --- not a PC, but a real word processor, basically an electric typewriter. It stored a whopping one line of text in its memory before printing. I got extremely adept at extemporaneous eloquence in my research papers.

...For most of my childhood, if you wanted to watch a movie, you had to see it in a theater. Cable became widely available when I was eleven or so, but again, you had to watch what HBO chose to air (usually the same blockbuster movies over and over). Then VHS and Betamax slowly took hold, and despite TV stations and movie studios' bemoaning that it would be death of the industry (they can fast-forward over the commercials! And why will anyone ever go to the theater again?), it became possible to watch a wide variety of things pretty much on demand (by which I mean you had to drive to the rental store first). True "on demand" viewing is just now becoming a literal reality --- which is very cool.

...When I was a kid, after the last late-night talk show, the national anthem would play and then you'd get a test pattern. Dead TV air. Doesn't exist any more.

...My home had rotary phones (museum relics today!) until quite late into middle school. My mother got a wireless phone eventually, and it was the size of a brick and had an antenna like a steel pipe.

...I remember answering machines that recorded with cassettes. Yeah, if someone was out, you didn't talk to them. You left a message on their answering machine, if they had one. If you got lost driving, you didn't twitter your friends, call the location, or upload Google street view to your iPhone. You stopped and asked for directions.

...The Internet did not exist until my second year of college, or thereabouts. It was a primitive system of electronic bulletin boards where idiots argued with other idiots about religion and politics and culture. There was no IMDb to settle movie bets, no Wikipedia to vandalize. If you wanted to look up a fact, you had to get a book from the library (or make it up, but without fooling anyone else with your lies). If you wanted the lyrics to a song, and they weren't printed in the cassette or album sleve, you had to listen repeatedly and type fast. I'm a member of the last generation to understand fully just how massively influential the Internet has been, a total paradigm shift in culture; the youth don't know what it was like, and the older don't know what it's like now.

...I saw Star Wars in its first theater run. (There was no other way to see it!)

...I was eleven when Michael Jackson caused a small stir with his then-risqué song "Billie Jean" came out. I was thirteen when Madonna shocked the prudes with "Like a Virgin." Oh, how innocent we all were then! Rap was just barely beginning to make itself felt among the whiteys.

...I was seventeen years old when REM's Green came out, in 1988. I was 23 when Green Day's first major label album, Dookie, came out. I associate them with college life and post-college stagnation, respectively.

...I remember Carter's election, the Iran hostage crisis, the Challenger explosion, the fall of the Berlin Wall, Reagan getting shot, and other things that a college student today regards as the history of a generation ago. I even have vague memories of long lines at gas stations (the 1973-74 oil embargo) and Nixon's resignation (I was three).

I'm old.

I know this kind of post is old hat and boring, especially for the younger people, but trust me --- when you get to be my age, you'll see the appeal of looking back. Which is not to say that I ever want to stop looking forward, too. Bring on the 3-D video phones, teleportation, bionic arms, AI robot servants in every home, and Google brain implants! In fact, where are they? They're late.

Friday, May 08, 2009

I heard telephones, opera house, favorite melodies

After work, I went over to D's rather palatial house for the second of my auction obligations. G was there as well for a sleepover. G was excited and talky, while D reverted back to his quieter, shy self, perhaps unsettled by his teacher's presence in his home. I brought them both books and cookies. I read the books, talked to D's mother for a bit and then left. It was fun.

Then, I went with the Friar to some sort of Fried Food Festival where Auric's band was playing. We got there late and mostly just hung around the backstage area, under the suspicious eye of Quickdraw McGraw the grizzled old security guy, until Drummer's Wife came by and fetched Auric (set over, utterly soaked with sweat) to give us the OK to come in. We talked for a bit from the side of the stage (as thousands of people waiting for the next artists to take the stage watched us), then made our way to the dressing room. Friar and I would make terrible bodyguards, it turns out, as Auric was accosted by four different over-enthused fans on the short walk over. We did, however, play the rude bad guys who had to pull him away as he smiled and posed for pictures.

Then we all went to Hangout II, where we met up with the incredibly inebriated Mr. Hangout, Tall, the slightly annoying barfly AL, and a few other acquaintances not close to me. (At the end of the night, as we walked to the car, Auric said to us, "I think AL has some kind of radar that lets him know which bar I'm in whenever I'm in town so he can show up five minutes after me and never leave my side.")

There was a David Bowie cover band playing. They were all right. Good musicians technically, but I didn't care for the vocals. Their name was rather bland. I think we can all agree that a very good name for a Bowie cover band is The Rock'n'Roll Suicides.

Speaking of naming things, we also had a long discussion about the gayest name ever for a gay bar. Many rather graphic suggestions were thrown out, but most rejected as being open to hetero scat or sodomy. For example, Cock 'n' the Ass (with colorful neon logo of a rooster and a donkey, natch) could conceivably be a bar at which you can find women into anal sex. ("Hey, where are all the ladies tonight?!") I think in the end we went with "The Horny Homo."

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Out of the mouths of babes

I still think fondly of some of the kids at the old Job at La Poubelle School, especially the toddler CF (this kid, of the original Kids Say... post).

I liked CF a lot. He didn't like candy or any kind of sweet food like ice cream. But he would enthusiastically chomp down on these huge honking pickles his mom would pack him for lunch. I was surprised the first time I saw that, and said to him, "Is that really a pickle? I didn't know kids your age liked pickles." CF stopped crunching for a second and said, "Pickle good." I got a big kick out of that.

His mom dressed him in button-down shirts and sharp dress shoes, and so he looked like a little man, with a mischievous grin and his little snub nose. He would often enter the toddler room with a sudden rush, sliding to a stop with arms outspread, sort of like Kramer on "Seinfeld" but with more élan and less kinetic slapstick. Then he'd give his big smile and bellow, "Hello, girls!" (A real junior ladies' man it seemed, but occasionally he'd change it to, "Hello, boys!" He wasn't picky.)

Anyway, one day I was changing his diaper (I've changed more diapers in my time than most young mothers), and he reached down, fingered his penis, and said to me, "What dis?"

I said, playing it straight and clinical, "Well, CF, that's your penis."

He considered that just a second, his eyes flashing, then said reverentially, "Penis good!"

Man, he really knew what was what. I just wish I could see how these kids turn out as adolescents and adults.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Vocabulaire: un imprimé

un imprimé - a booklet, a printed form
On dit à tous les candidats: pour procurer un emploi, il faut que vous remplissiez cet imprimé.
I'm filling out a lot of imprimés myself now for work.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Amusing and bemusing conversations

With three-year-old B, brother of A2, who visits my class nearly every morning:

Me: "Hello, B. What's going on today?"

B: "Sunday."

Me: "No, it's not Sunday. It's Tuesday."

B: "Ha ha! That sounds like the number two!"

Me: "Well, it is the second day of the school week. But what I meant was not what day is it, but what is happening today?"

B: "Windy."

Me: "Windy?"

B: "Windy all day."

Me: "Perhaps so, B. But, more specifically, what people mean when they say 'what's going on?' is what's happening with you in particular."

B: [Pause, then holding up pinky, ring, and middle fingers] "Three."

Me: "Three, eh?"

B: "Three all day."

Me: "Well, it was nice talking to you. Sorry you can't stay."


With my mother and aunt:

Me: "I was over reading a book at a kid's house the other day."

Aunt: "Is that a typical event, or a one-off?"

Mother: [Completely flabbergasted] "One off? What does that mean? One off what?"

Aunt: "It's an expression meaning one time."

Mother: "Why not say that, then? Why not say 'Are you doing that just the once?' What is this off business? You're not Jazzy Jeff and the French Prince! What are you talking that rap slang?"

Aunt: [Laughing too hard to talk]

Me: "Yes, Aunt, why are you talking ebonics?"

Mother: [Totally baffled] "Bonics? What are bonics? What are you talking about now?"

Me: "That's the language the French Prince speaks."

Monday, May 04, 2009

No one ever tells me so what am I to know

Today I went over to Z's house. I brought a cookie and two books that I gave to her. Her parents paid $100 at this year's auction for this exciting privilege. I stayed for about 40 minutes. Z seemed happy enough, but I hope her parents thought it was worth it. I'm not really the kind to play up the cutesy factor for the kindergarteners, unlike some of my other team members. For example, there's a Prestigius robe we can wear so it looks like we're all "ready for bed" when we come to read the story and have cookies and milk and all that. I thought, nah, fuck the robe. Like I say, I hope Z's parents didn't wonder "was that it?" after I left. I would have.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Sunday Warbooks: Tales Of the South Pacific

A review of Tales Of the South Pacific, by James Michener.

A collection of tales not so much of war itself but of the ordinary men who waged war, and how the war (and the South Pacific) changed them. This book, written in 1947, won the Pulitzer Prize, and deservedly so. It's utterly readable and timeless. Indeed, Michener's narrator evokes prescient shades of Catch-22's 1961 absurdist hero Yossarian in the opening piece. Unable to express what he did in the war, he tells a gruff, glory-loving major about what island life was like:
"Why, hell!" the major snorted. "Seems all he did was sit on his ass and wait!"

"That's exactly it!" I cried, happy to find at least someone who knew what I was talking about.
Easily more than the sum of its parts, this collection of stories is an eye-opening account of life in wartime: not the horrors of war (though there's a bit of that), but the waiting, the selfless heroism, the bottled-up passion, the thankless endless toil, the vast logistics of a campaign, the suddenness of death and loss and love.

Why did it take me until I was 38 years old to read this book? The omission of this work from the typical academic canon is utterly incomprehensible to me; it’s everything that the more boring and less complete in scope All Quiet On the Western Front is said to be, and more.

Michener is far more than a captivating storyteller, collector of colorful characters, painter of vivid natural imagery, and chronicler of the orchestrations of world warfare. Each of the "tales" comprising his carefully-constructed epic narrative is thematically and stylistically related to the other smaller narratives and at the same time artistically whole in itself. While he does have poetic phrases at his command, what he can say without saying it --- a subtly omitted word or a hint --- is breathtaking.

Michener impresses with his vast understanding of the scope of a military operation, as in the chapter “Alligator” (the codename for a fictitious invasion) --- the planning, the estimated casualties, the number of hospital beds needed, the men needed to build landing strips and docks and housing, the men needed simply to replace pencils and paper for plans, and on and on --- and then he finishes with a few brief, poignant lines of a man who wrote to a plain woman ("who would never be married in a hundred years anyway") a proposal:
"You was very sweet to me and I want to tell you if I…"

But he didn't. Some don't.
But, Michener says, that last letter plus the one from the chaplain was almost as good as being married.

That talent of Michener’s, the ability to juggle the big picture with the little human details, the forgotten grunts, the KIA and the faceless laborers, just blows me away. With every paragraph he weaves a new story of heroism, or efficiency, or defiance, or laziness, or lust, or bravery, or shame, and every character is all too human and believable. It makes the climax of the book, the landing at the island of Kuralei, all the more moving, as his narrator surveys the littered beaches and mourns the dead.

This book is quite simply a brilliant masterpiece that should be read by every student of American history; it may be fiction, but it shows more plainly why this was known as the "Greatest Generation," without hagiography or needless embellishment. They did what they were asked to do, and worked and complained and loved and died, and they weren't saints or the ultimate soldiers. They were Americans, is all.


Sunday warbooks scoreboard:

Greco-Persian wars: 2
WWI: 2
Vietnam: 2
Iraq wars: 2
Afghanistan war: 1
General warfare: 2

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Loaded XVIII

Hypotheticals: If you created a new flavor of ice cream, what would it be?
I'm pretty sure all the possible variations of ice cream have already been invented. How about I just stir crushed Heath bars in some mint Häagen-Dazs and call it a day.

Anything Goes: What celebrity makes you glad you are not a celebrity?
Lindsay Lohan.

No-Brainers: Besides a cat or dog, what animal would you want as a house pet?
I've had ferrets before and love them, though they are stinky and tend to be destructive. If had a vast acreage and my choice, I'd have some baboons as guard animals. Who wouldn't want to walk a baboon on a leash?

Personals: Which of the following do you feel yields the greatest benefits - extraordinary wealth, strong friendships, true love, or a loyal, loving family?
True love. Sadly.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Say yes to a real life ambition

The first graders in Ms. N's class are doing a unit on Australia. I do a pretty decent Australian accent (as long as the Australian is a drunk and very excited Steve Irwin), so Ms. N invited me to her class to read a book on koalas and talk to the kids about the local fauna, all in character. I thought it went all right, though as with everything in my life the event suffered from poor to no planning. For example, Ms. N asked me, as if I were a real visitor the kids didn't know, my name. I stared in blank panic for a couple of seconds before blurting, "Uh... Cassowary Brisbane?" Smooth!

Ms. N was looking even lovelier than usual, if that's possible, in a short-sleeved pink dress. She has said to me, jokingly, on a few occasions since our conference in Arizona that she's "going through withdrawal" from not hanging around me and feels "deprived" without me making jokes constantly. This cannot mean anything more significant than she enjoyed my company as a coworker, and it would be very bad for my health to become fruitlessly enamored of yet another gorgeous woman who happens to like talking to me occasionally.

In reality, women like her just don't settle for guys with my... features. She's a literate, funny, Ivy League-educated goddess, while I am a witty curmudgeon who looks like a hobbit with Down syndrome. (In the past, people have said I resemble Tobey Maguire, but now that I think about it, he looks like a hobbit with Down syndrome too.) It's ridiculous of me to even be writing about this. In fact, I have to go.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

In the foul furrow that you dig

So we here in Texas are all gonna die from the swine flu, or as the conservative racist folk have it, the illegal alien flu. We who work in a school are on our toes --- Fort Worth has closed its entire district in what may or may not be a bit of early and unnecessary panic --- and we're keeping the kids washing their hands every time they sneeze or wipe their noses.

Today L was passing out our snack, pretzel sticks. As he walked around, I saw him take one out, lick it, and put it back in the bag. "What on earth are you doing?" I squawked in horror. He shrugged. "I forgot I licked that one," he said. I dumped all the pretzels in the trash, then as an afterthought tossed the bag in too.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Does anybody really know...

Doing a lot of assessment this week. Of course, Prestigius doesn't administer Satan's test, the TAKS, but we do have benchmarks and goals we need the kids to meet. By now, with less than twenty school days left in the year (how the hell did that happen?) the kindergarteners are expected to:
  • identify all major money and its value
  • count by twos and fives to at least fifty
  • create and extend three-part patterns
  • read simple phonetic words in isolation
  • recognize several sight words
  • do addition and subtraction sentences with and without models
  • identify the main idea of a story, its characters, and setting
  • come up with rhyming words and opposites
  • write all the lowercase letters without a model
  • tell the time in hours and half hours
  • understand one-half, one-third, and one-fourth
  • recognize the place values of three-digit numbers
  • and so forth and so on...
Most of my kids are reading at exceptionally high levels, so I've been spending most of my time finding out how much they've picked up in math. I was surprised to find that a lot of them, although they could tell the time easily, didn't know which was the hour hand or the minute hand. How do they know what time it is, then? I guess that shows they don't really understand how the clock works, they've just memorized the positions.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Vocabulaire: maugréer

maugréer - to grumble, complain
La tarlouze était toujours s'occuper à maugréer contre son sort.
I was a bit of a self-pitying whinger yesterday.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Where danger is double and pleasures are few

Well, today was an abysmal kick in the neck.

I was told by Miss Busty that some people were "offended" and complaining about something I did, or rather, a habit I have in the classroom. The whole thing is so irksome and inane, I can't even write about it. Basically, I'm offended back at them for sticking their noses where they don't belong, I think anyone who's "offended" by what I was doing is pathetic and needs mental help, and I'm mildly resentful at Busty for refusing to tell me who's got their fucking panties in a bunch over nothing. (What, now she doesn't stoop to gossip? What a laugh.)

Well, it's reminded me that these people are not in any way my friends, to be trusted or opened up to; they're co-workers, and as such should be kept at a respectful, professional arm's length. Friends are understanding; co-workers --- especially women --- are backbiting and quick to gossip. And yes, this is partly gender-based: I was told that I'm not entirely accepted because this was a woman's field and it's "still strange" to see men in early childhood. Yay, 2009 and equality! And what really got me is how this appalling bias is totally okay, yet if it were a bunch of, say, surgeons or CEOs hassling a woman because she wasn't in her "traditional field," that would be obviously wrong to all but the most clueless chauvinist.

And just think, the other day I was idly wondering if I should talk to my doctor about getting off the Prozac; everything was going so swimmingly and I was so cheerful that I thought I had my head on straight. Now I'm pissed off and thinking all over again about how much my life sucks and there's no need to live it. Yes, it's irrational. That's why I take medication for it. But that's how it is. Pass the vodka and the bullets and write me a refill, doc.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Vocabulaire: la gueule de bois

la gueule de bois - a hangover
Le seul moyen d'éviter la geuele de bois est d'engloutir cinq citrons après chaque verre d'alcool. Trop peu de gens ont la patience de mettre en pratique cette méthode infaillible.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Sitting back trying to recapture a little of the glory

Tonight was my 20th high school reunion.

I'm old.

I didn't go, of course. All the people I care to converse with from that era are already in contact with me, and have been for the past two decades.

(One of the Prestigius parents, who happens to be an '89 graduate of Alma Mater as well, saw me at work a few days ago and asked if I was going to the reunion. "No," I said. He nodded. "Prior commitment?" he asked. "No," I said.)

After the reunion festivities had concluded, I met up with T-Bone and Courtney, 74, Friar, and Auric and his sister at Hangout. We took a couple of taxis to Hangout II --- a place also owned by Mr. Hangout, a much more pleasant and adult bar with seats, tables, and board games, and few to zero frat boys --- and whiled away the wee hours reminiscing and asking each other Trivial Pursuit questions.

We're old and geeks.

Then, it just wouldn't be Good Old Nostalgic Times Like the Old Days if we didn't go have a 3:00 a.m. meal at Denny's. So we did, and I had another Sodium 'n' Cholesterol Slam. In retrospect, I question the prudence of this decision. Late-night Denny's in Devil-Town was just a wild and wonderful as ever. It's where white high school kids, cowboys, tough dudes decked out like pimps, Mexican guys in gang colors, and large black ladies in very tiny, tight dresses all come together to enjoy artery-clogging fare under sickly fluorescents.

Most of the evening is a pleasant blur. I recall defending the Hold Steady as one of the best American bands of all time and deriding Journey. Auric said that if the Hold Steady were in the running, his band ought to be as well. I think maybe it's really the Beach Boys, or maybe the Band. Or R.E.M. or the Ramones or Rancid. Also, when we got back to the Original Hangout and were turned away due to it being well past closing time, Friar insisted on setting everyone straight about how we were allowed in there whenever we wanted and making the bouncer apologize to us. Good times.

Friday, April 24, 2009

It's never touched a frying pan

Even though it was Free Pizza Friday today, Assistant and I ordered a colorful array of sushi rolls for lunch from a place down the street. It's taken me a bit to get over the very idea of eating sushi here in Devil-Town, but you gotta make do with what you have. This city may not boast the high quality freshness of Portland or New York, but there's a few halfway decent spots that must suffice.

As we ate our expensive fishy goodness, some of the parent volunteers stood in the hallway, apparently sniggering at us for eating our fancy foreign fare while good old American pizza from a good old American chain restaurant was available for free to all. Well, they can cram it with walnuts.

After lunch, I held a lottery among the kids to hand out all our decorative plastic grass and the two extra chopsticks sets we always get. (This latter may be a comment by the restaurant on how much we order at a time; if the charge is being a big old piggie, nolo contendere, I'm afraid.)

One of the girl remarked how strong I was, as she tried in vain to snap apart her wooden chopsticks as I had done.

Later on the gym teacher, a large and powerful lady, scooped me up in a big bear hug and spun we around the room as I might have done a child. It was humiliating and oddly exhilarating.

After work I ate a big rare mushroom-swiss burger and a bunch of cheese fries at Cheesefries with Friar and T-Bone and their respective wives and children. It was basically a trough of sodium, starch, and LDL cholesterol, so it didn't do my heart any favors. Still, I rarely eat like that, and it's a good thing too or I'd be dead by now. Yes, big old piggie, that's me.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

I'm a dream walker, or maybe just a dream stumbler

Two coworkers and one child independently told me today that they I made an appearance in their dreams the previous night.

Ms. Tall, a pre-K teacher, dreamed that she and I had bit parts in a Broadway revival of "Shrek: the Musical." We didn't sing and only had brief speaking lines. Apparently in the dream we were discussing how the show didn't seem to be working. Oh, and Regis Philbin played the title ogre --- a role, I'm sure you'll agree, he was born to play. Still, I feel slighted, as I'm bursting with thespian talent. Why didn't I have more lines?

Assistant G also dreamed about me. She has previously dreamed that I was yelling and screaming at her over some slight (behavior not exactly second nature to me --- if I want to degrade someone I just mock them with snide, cutting remarks and abstruse vocabulary). This time around, though, I was a doctor, balding with a comb over, she said, and I was giving her bad news. How utterly creepy.

Finally, young B told me that he dreamed that I was with him at a hockey game and the puck hit me in the leg and I fell down on the ice.

Say, these range from kinda disappointing to utterly loathsome. I wonder if it portends something foul.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

You were always changing your shape, now you're not an eel anymore

Today we had our weekly faculty meeting. We had a speaker invited by the Head, a retired ex-employee. She talked to us about fostering our creative thinking. She had tiny feet and frizzy hair and talked in a stream of consciousness run-on and no one understand a word she was saying. Miss Busty turned to me and whispered, "Is she on coke?"

She had us line up in alphebetic order and form groups and then we had to discuss "out of the box" thinking. For one exercise she gave us a list of unrelated words and we had to put them together for an advertisement for an imaginary product. I was enlisted to be our group's spokesman, so I went up and shouted some nightmare ad copy I made up off the top of my head in an Australian accent.

Another exercise was for our group to discuss "what we'd like to tackle in the near future." I said I wanted to tackle Fen, our fetching young administrative assistant.

I think my sanity is questioned more with every day longer I stay at Prestigius.

On the other hand, the Head and the Vice-Head left halfway through Ms. Frizzy's presentation, so I suppose that while I may have been the most explicitly obvious in not taking it seriously, I wasn't the only one.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Just a fine and fancy ramble

So, my class went to the zoo today. It was very hot. And tiring.

If there's a better method to corral sixteen kindergarteners than bellowing constantly, I'm not aware of it.

The following brief anecdote reveals everything that escorting kids this age to the zoo is all about:

We get to the monkey area, and there's a long row of cages with various kinds of simians, leaping and cavorting about their trees, swinging from a branch here, grabbing cage bars with their tails over there, engaging in dizzying aerial gymnastics in all directions.

And just at the moment we draw near, one kid calls out in a voice of wonder and excitement, "Oh, wow! Look! A doodlebug!!"

And sixteen kids cluster around a small patch of dirt just under the cages, jostling one another as they crane their necks to get a better look.

Later, I asked everyone what their favorite part of the zoo was. Mostly, it was petting the rabbit at the children's area. One girl liked the fact that a chimp at the zoo shared her name. And a couple of others thought the merry-go-round ride was the best.

No one mentioned seeing any animals. Kindergarteners are very tactile creatures.

Monday, April 20, 2009

It's just my job five days a week

Today we had Kite Visits, which is when the kindergarten classes take these big kites they colored and flies them out in the field with their parents. It was good fun. I rescued no less than three kites from trees. Some of the parents were duly impressed. I acted like I knew some big secret about how to untangle kites, but really I only had one crucial strategy: pull the string hard and hope it doesn't break.

Tomorrow we're going to the zoo. Man, I wouldn't trade being an elementary teacher for anything. I feel sorry for suckers in cubes.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Newbery IV

In 1925, the book that snagged the Newbery was Tales From Silver Lands, by one Charles J. Finger.

A collection of mostly unrelated stories from South American countries. Based on his narration, Finger presumably traveled all over the continent collecting these stories and tales, unless he's just making up everything out of whole cloth.

That's about it, really. There are explanatory stories ("A Tale of Three Tails," which explains how the rat and deer and rabbit got their tails), fairy tales of recognizable structure and climax ("The Hungry Old Witch," "The Wonderful Mirror"), trickster tales ("El Enano," about a fox who tricks the titular greedy monster into leaving a village) and hero tales ("The Hero Twins” and "The Four Hundred," which tell of how some heroic lads killed three giants).

While the stories are pleasant enough and Finger's authorial voice is kindly and inviting, I didn’t think there was anything remarkable in their characters, plot, or the execution of the telling. Fairy tales can be timeless and enthralling, but there's nothing suspenseful or dramatic about them. And their simplicity isn't a huge draw for me. Hey, the little orphan kid met a magic lady who tells him how to defeat the evil witch! And she's right, because people who seem to be good always are, and bad people are vicious crones or ugly giants! And heaven forfend the hero actually figure out anything on his own. Let the oracle tell him exactly what steps to take.

If I'm in the mood for such things, I'd rather read Kipling or Grimm, who did the same things better. Of all the stories, only the last – "The Cat and Dream Man" – stands out, remarkable for its surreal nature (a destructive, monstrous cat dreams of a fox-faced man who grants wishes in an ironically cruel manner) and the unusual use of a particular magic item (an axe which splits everything it hits into two replicas of the original). For the most part, though, this is pretty ordinary stuff; perhaps in 1926 the then-atypical provenance of the stories made them stand out enough to snag the award.

Recommended for children: Sure, reading fairy tales and folk stories from all over the world is a terrific foundation for kids.

Recommended for adults: Not so much, unless you're a folktale obsessive.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Loaded XVII

Hypotheticals: If you wanted to test the limits, how many slices of pizza could you consume?
Depends on how big the pieces were. A typical delivery-chain's idea of a large, maybe? I know I could polish off a medium easy, so I think I could handle a large if I wanted to pull a Cool Hand Luke, pizza style.

Anything Goes: What natural disaster would you be most frightened of?
Tornadoes. I may be gradually getting over my worry about windstorms and tornadoes (contemplating suicide can make you indifferent to natural disasters), but they've always been my bugbear. The very idea of other disasters doesn't bother me like tornadoes do. In fact, a small earthquake is kind of fun.

No-Brainers: What is your favorite soft drink?
Dublin Dr Pepper, made in Texas with real cane sugar. Or Coke, hecho en Mexico with real cane sugar. Or sometimes I like Virgil's Cream Soda. Oh, Hansen's natural sodas are pretty refreshing in a way other sodas aren't.

Personals: What one person would you trust with your most personal possession?
I don't think I have personal possessions in the sense that they have sentimental value. Nor could I even begin to gauge the "trustworthiness" of my friends in that sense. Pretty much any family member or close friend can watch my stuff while I'm on vacation. Is that what this means? I don't know.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Idle musing

Tonight after work the school hosted International Night, where kids and their parents had booth showing off the food and customs of various countries. It was pretty fun, if chaotic. The French booth had very good brie on crackers and unaccountably delicious tiny eclairs. Amongst the crowds I found two lost children (one in my class, one from last year) and returned them to their grandparents. I did this despite the fact that I was wearing a faded, slightly wrinkled T-shirt and a very wrinkled short-sleeved button down.


Sure, my father may have pissed away a full scholarship to Oxford and a bright future, two high-prestige jobs, his robust health, his once-unimpeachable mind, his marriage, and his relationship with his adult children for a life-destroying total obsession with every intoxicant known to man. But that's his only indulgence! Everyone's allowed one vice. I mean, I never saw him gambling. Or, say, counterfeiting currency.


Why is it, when you're eating at a restaurant, these people --- total strangers --- are always coming over and breezily introducing themselves and asking if you're doing okay, or checking to see if you're still hungry? No matter how deeply you may be engrossed in conversation with your dinner party, or enjoying your meal --- it's always some Smiling Joe popping up and asking if you have room for dessert! Well, that's none of your fucking business, mister! Do I go over to where you eat and bother you about "refills" or "taking those plates out of your way"?

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Through many dangers, toils, and snares

There's a girl in our pre-K program who is tall, smart, and will turn six over the summer. This means that she'll be seven at the end of her kindergarten year. That isn't so amazingly unusual (I have one like that), but it is too bad because she doesn't need to be held back. The reason she's still in pre-K is because she has a twin brother who was recommended for a second year of the program and her parents didn't want to split them up.

I saw her drawing and writing, and it's clear she's already able to handle what would have been her kindergarten year. Clearly, at this rate she's just going to continue to shine and leave her brother in the dust. Since it's obvious that we can't improve the little fellow's mind, in order to narrow the gap I think we need to embark on a serious regimen of tearing down the girl's self-esteem.

The teachers should be pointing out how her work sets her apart from the others, how her age gives her an unfair advantage, how her young peers resent her successes. This won't reduce her intelligence, of course, but it should block any further advances in achievement. Then the brother won't have to worry about being compared to his much more able sister, and soon they'll both be coasting along at a nice level of acceptable mediocrity.

Just a modest proposal.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Parents just don't understand

Today I got an email from V's mother. Apparently, V had come home saying she'd added a penis and vagina to her human body project during health class. Her mother wanted to know what, if anything, she'd distorted in the retelling. (Also, she made up some crap about V acting up during the observation, which the two administrators with her at the time saw no sign of.) I asked Ms. Blah, the K teacher who runs the Health lessons, and she said they'd added a kidney and a bladder to their anatomy posters.

Well, really. Is V's mother an imbecile as well as an attention junkie? Does she really think that we're going to take it upon ourselves to tell five-year-olds about the penis and vagina, much less have them attach paper models of same onto an anatomy project? I mean, what the hey, am I right? (Words fail me.) It's as if the moment a person has kids, the previously dormant Stupid Gene kicks in and they suddenly lose all rationality. (No offense, Churlita.)

Also, one father said he wished the school would let him come watch me at work when I didn't know he was there. The Vice-Head told him that would be unethical, and assured him that what the parents see is what happens daily; if that weren't the case, the students themselves would loudly point out the discrepancies in their routine during observation times (of which they are unaware).

So gee, how nice that some kid's parent thinks I need to be watched on the sly, and that it would be totally okay to watch people at work without them knowing it. Makes you proud to be an educator and an American.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Kissing to be clever

As soon as I entered the school this morning, one of the early drop-off kids, a fourth grader named Zeke, asked me: "Mr. Chance, do you know what 'make out' means? Because Mr. Max says he doesn't know."

I said, "Of course I know. It means like if something is far away or if it's in a fog, if you can just barely see it, you can make it out, like, 'Can you make out what that sign says from here?' That's what it means."

I walked away as he stared at me in puzzlement. I later learned that before I'd got there, he'd asked both Mr. Max and Ms. LN what 'make out' means, and they both professed not to know. Ms. LN said, "What does it mean to you, Zeke?"

"Oh, you know," this fourth-grader had replied, "it's when you're with your girlfriend and you're under the covers and you start kissing and maybe doing other things..."

Wait. What. Excuse me? When I was nine, we didn't have girlfriends we kissed or did "other things" with. I've said it before and I'll say it again: the kids are sure playing at being grown up real early these days.

Later that same day, Zeke was questioned by his teachers and the Head for writing anti-Semitic graffiti on his classroom bathroom's wall. He did it. They know he did it. But he denied all, the little vandal. Also, this particular vandal is Jewish himself. Huh. Mixed-up sort of fellow.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Thews that lie and cumber sunlit pallets never thrive

At work, had the second observation. It seemed to go fine, though I was a bit less ebullient than usual in the classroom. After work, I pretty much collapsed as soon as I got home. I set my alarm for an hour nap at 4:00 p.m. but didn't wake up until 6 p.m. I must have been drop-dead exhausted. I didn't take Dog for a walk, which is very rare.

Instead, I went to H&R Block, where for $60 a nice lady did my taxes. Apparently I get $700 back. How lucky! I was yawning all throughout the session, and the tax lady said, "Almost done, and then you can go to bed." I said, "I'm yawning because I just woke up from a two-hour nap after work." She made a shocked face and said in a sort of half-joking, half-complaining tone, "I have to rush between two jobs and don't get home until bedtime, and you have time to take long naps after work? And you still get money back on your taxes?"

I could be snide here, but it is true that mine is a charmed life in several ways. I'm a white male American; I'm financially stable if not rich; I have a good standard of living; I survived 38 years through a typically fatal birth defect, a shitty childhood, hurricanes and earthquakes, cross-country trips, flights on rickety Indian airplanes, and mind-warping depression. And here I am, doing kind of okay.

I'm waiting for the shoe to drop.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Sunday Warbooks: This Man's Army

A review of This Man’s Army: A Soldier’s Story From the Front Lines Of the War On Terrorism, by Andrew Exum.

The author, a gung-ho sort of all-American boy, went through ROTC at Penn State, then through Ranger School. After 9/11, he was deployed with the 10th Mountain Division into Afghanistan, where his men patrolled the Shah-i-Kot Valley and ferreted out al-Quaeda dug in there (a mission dubbed Operation Anaconda).

This brief memoir is perhaps a little light on the military side (9/11 does not occur until page 70, Exum's platoon leaves Kuwait and lands in Bagram on page 120, and he's back home by page 200). However, the strength of this book is not in its descriptions of combat. Instead, it's a book that, perhaps more than most "country boy goes to war" stories, reveals not so much what it's like to be in war as what it's like to be transformed by war.

Exum, a deep, educated, and introspective writer, muses thoughtfully on the dedication to serve; his need to deliberately put God out of his mind while on patrol and his disdain for those who try to graft war and Christianity; what it means to kill in combat; and the bonds between soldiers formed by combat. The book is an excellent testament to how, even when war doesn't destroy or maim a man, it leaves indelible marks on him. "After the shooting stops, how does the soldier settle back into society and modern civilization?" he asks at the end of the book, and then says, "I'm still looking for the answer."

This book is out of print, which is a shame, because out of the massive glut of Iraq and Afghan memoirs, this one stands out as a much-needed philosophical take on war in modern society.


Sunday warbooks scoreboard:

Greco-Persian wars: 2
WWI: 2
Vietnam: 2
Iraq wars: 2
Afghanistan war: 1
General warfare: 2

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Don't give a damn about my reputation

I started watching the complete "Freaks and Geeks" on DVD about a month ago, and just finished the last disc. At first, I didn't think much of the series; it got off to an unremarkable start, and as I'm a 38-year-old man (albeit an incredibly immature one), I found it hard to care much about these high school kids' problems. But as the story progressed, and the scripts got sharper, and the characters came into focus, I got drawn into each emotionally complex mini-drama gradually revealed behind the sullen or arrogant exteriors.

At first, I'd smugly told myself that I hadn't been like that as a teenager, that I honestly didn't give a damn what anybody thought, unlike everyone else who just acted like it --- but then it all started to come back to me. The fear of saying what you really mean, the fear of standing out inadvertently, the fear of reaching out to someone: these are all real and timeless.

And then the series just ends! It got canceled without so much as a wrap-up finale! The big story arcs --- Nick and Linday's quasi-romance; Daniel's slow and painful discovery of his abilities through layers of self-loathing; Sam's reluctant acceptance of himself as he is --- all come to nothing. And that final scene, where Lindsay secretly ditches her academic camp to go follow the Dead in a hippie van with Kim and some goofy hippies...

Curse you, Judd Apatow, for drawing me into your world of adolescent pathos and then cutting off the story flow abruptly! I need closure, dammit!

Seriously, in all this mania for remakes, can't someone go ahead and redo this show? They can duplicate the first season verbatim, like Van Sant did with Psycho, and then go ahead and make an original second season. Is that so much to ask?

Friday, April 10, 2009

Vocabulaire: un cagnard

un cagnard - a lazy person, a person on the margins of society
Le vieux cagnard s'est endormi sur le lieu de travail après une brève prestation. Comme je l'admire !

Thursday, April 09, 2009

That ice is slowly melting

Today school was closed because of Passover. Hurray for Jewish holidays I don't observe!

I got up early and drove my car to the repair place. It had been running perfectly 90% of the time, but a couple of times it stalled while in park and the "check engine" light went on. So apparently it's the crankshaft sensor or the fluxometer or the dilithium chronometer crystals or something, and it costs $650. I've got a pretty honest mechanic, so I'm reasonably sure I'm not being ripped off, but that's quite a chunk of change. Oh well, it's better than having to buy a whole new car. And at least I have a car. And a job. And a house.

For my day off I mostly just lay outside on my deckchair, reading or possibly dozing slightly under the sun. It was a comfortably warm 80 degrees, with the heat ameliorated by a refreshing slight cool breeze. Texas may be one of the states that's most actively trying to kill its inhabitants with the weather (though it probably lags behind Florida and California in that department), but when that balmy spring weather settles in, and the new generation of mosquitoes hasn't been born yet, it really can be an all-too-brief brief paradise.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

I wish I could break the spy glass, set it free

Today I was playing math tic-tac-toe with R, the class' only seven-year-old. He picked a square with the problem: "the age of both players added together." He asked how old I was, and I told him to guess. He thought for a bit, then said, "Ninety?"

Some of the kids nearby watching started giggling. "Ninety?!" I sputtered. "Do you think I'm an old grandfather with wrinkles and white hair?"

"No," R said, and thought some more. "Ninety-two?"

But then, this is the same boy who earlier volunteered that sixteen plus five was twelve. After I'd pointed out that he was adding so should get a higher number than he started with, he reconsidered and guessed, "Eleven?" So I don't think I should worry about being elderly. However, I do have to worry about R's numeracy.


Today was the second parent observation, an event I was first treated to back in October. (The parents watch the kids at work from another room behind one-way glass.) This time it was a much less stressful affair --- I just went about the usual daily routine, and everything went very smoothly. I didn't do any special planning. Nor did I wear a non-wrinkly shirt. I am what I am, dagnabit.


I talked with our admissions director Max about 74's daughter the other day, and today he said she was offered a spot. I actually had nothing to do with the process --- again, I have no power whatsoever --- but it looks like I did, so I can pretend to be the Big Man with 74 and Zaftig. "Yep, I got your daughter to the top of the list. Just used a little of the ol' influence with the boys upstairs. 'Tweren't no big thing. ...'Course, now you owe me."

Also, I've been revising Palfrey's resume and cover letter for her, as she's hoping to get a job with private schools. And what halfway-decent teacher wouldn't? The public schools here are appallingly managed and basically a joke.

So now I'm the employment expert with the good job connections or something. The chronically unemployed loser twentysomething me --- indeed, the underemployed, underpaid, uninsured loser thirtysomething me --- would never have seen this day coming. Life sure has its zigs and zags, don't it?

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Celebrate some emptiness between you and me

Rumpled up and left behind
Out of sight and out of mind
I sank into the floor's decor
--- Gerald Collier, "Rumpled Up"

Long-term readers with extremely good memories for the minutiae of other people's lives will need but the gentlest of reminders that in the summer and fall of 2007, I fretted over how my interview at Prestigius didn't go so well because I failed to win over the teachers.

Today Miss Busty told me that one of the main points of discussion among several of the teachers after my first interview was that my shirt wasn't ironed. She herself hadn't wanted me on her team, she confessed, because I'd looked so disheveled.

It's nice to know that we all have our priorities straight here in the business of Molding Young Minds.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Secret thinker sometimes listening aloud

Now your smile is spreading thin
Seems you're trying not to lose
Since I'm not supposed to grin
All you've got to do is win
--- David Bowie, "Win"

Guess what I got in the mail today? A photo of me with that puffed-up jackass, Alex Trebek. Big deal! Where's my thousand-dollar loser prize, Trebek? Or I'll settle for some of that Penis Mightier you're always talking about.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Newbery winners III

In 1924, a book called The Dark Frigate, by Charles Boardman Hawes, won the third Newbery Medal. This week, a mere 85 years later, I read that book. And like the Ancient Mariner, I must tell my tale.

This is a pirate story set in the days just before the English Civil Wars. Philip Marsham is the son of a sailor, estranged from his wealthy grandparents and apparently living by his wits. Times are hard for a poor young man, and he sets off to sea with an unsavory character he meets on the road. Marsham makes a fine boswain, but his ship is overtaken by pirates. The kind-hearted lad is forced to sail with them for a while, then escapes only to be captured and tried with the crew

The plot is very simple, but there's more to the book than the bare-boned precis above would indicate. The book is a series of encounters in Marsham's life, and its strength lies in characterization and dialogue rather than complex twists and turns of plot.

It’s an interesting book for the historical detail (down to the quite recondite speech and arcane vocabulary) and for Hawes’ unwillingness to be trite or shallow: some characters loom large and then fade away, as in life, and the villain of the piece is given his due as a brave and clever man, true to his own principles even if he is a violent, bloody thief.

But there’s something to be said for getting drama out of heroism vs. treachery, and I felt as if Marsham was merely an observer to the tale, and not its protagonist; in that sense it compares unfavorably to the somewhat similar Kidnapped or Black Arrow, both by Robert Louis Stevenson, who knew how to craft a truly gripping adventure story.

Recommended for children: It's a decent tale, but I can’t imagine most adults, let alone children, of today reading this book with much understanding: the language is really very obscure, and some of the action bafflingly subtle.

Recommended for adults: See above. I've deliberately cultivated a very extensive vocabulary all my life; also, I was practically raised on archaic Britishisms and sea lingo thanks to my English father and British Navy uncles, and I found the speech hard to fathom at times.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Loaded 16

Hypotheticals: If you could dis-invent one thing, what would it be?

Organized religion.

Anything Goes: What makes you want to vomit?

Oh, lots of things. The dentist sticking those gross folded cardboard bits in between my teeth prior to an x-ray; brushing my teeth too long so it fills up with foam; several vile smells and textures... the usual. One time Jaded, who is utterly insane, showed me a photo of her poop for some demented reason of her own, and the ol' gag reflex kicked in nicely there.

No-Brainers: What is your favorite kind of doughnut?

Glazed doughnut holes.

Personals: Who do you wish gave you more attention?

Women who were interested in me.

Friday, April 03, 2009

There's a blaze of light in every word

I'm good at Love, I'm good at Hate
It's in-between I freeze
Been working out but it’s too late
It's been too late for years
But you look good, you really do
They love you on the street
If you were here I'd kneel for you
A thousand kisses deep.
--- Leonard Cohen, "A Thousand Kisses Deep"

I went in to talk to Max about 74's daughter's chances of getting into Prestigius. I did what I could, which wasn't much, but at least I can say I tried. For lunch my assistant and I ordered from a sandwich shop. I tried their much-vaunted five-dollar peanut-butter and grape jelly sandwich. Goddam! I don't know if it's worth five dollars, but it's pretty fuckin' good.

But who cares? The Friar and I went to see mister LEONARD FREAKING COHEN in concert tonight! On tour for the first time in fifteen years and $150 a ticket. Worth it. Seriously, one of the top five concerts of my experience. And I've seen the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan (several times) and Paul Simon and Arlo Guthrie and Tom Waits (have I talked about that show? It was one of the worst shows of all time) and Steve Wynn and Rancid and the Hold Steady (and you know how much I loves me some Hold Steady) and David Bowie and Devo and Jonathan Richman and Guns and F'ing Roses and even that ridiculous soft-rock band America.

But now, now my concert-going life is complete if I never see another show, for I have seen The Golden Voice live. He wore a fedora and he skipped onstage like a man twenty years younger than his actual seventy-four and he knelt on stage and he flirted with his backup singers with canned patter that he never changes from night to night and he even did a sort of decrepit Chuck Berry duckwalk, and he made those songs a religious fucking experience is what he did. "Hallelujah." "Tower of Song." "A Thousand Kisses Deep." "Chelsea Hotel." Every one alone was worth the price of admission.

Oh, and two people around us told us to stop talking during the show. What? I know he's a literate singer-songwriter, but this a concert, not a prayer function. Take your overly-reverent slack-jawed silence back home and sit in rapt mute wonder in front of your CD player, fella. One guy was nice about it, one told us "if you want to keep up the fuckin' narration, go in the fuckin' hall." Ha ha! What a dork! We ignored him. Hey, man, you're harshing my Buddhist vibe.

Afterwards we met 74 and Courtney at the Hangout. It was fun talking to them --- 74 is almost never allowed out by Zaftig --- but a band on the bar stage was making the most horrible noise I've ever heard anyone make who had the intention to impress rather than repel, and I had to run away and go home, rocked gently to sleep by the comforting arms of Morpheus and vodka.