Saturday, January 31, 2009

I got the fever

Can't post today. Sick. Ice melting on my head. Fever of 103. Eyes hurt.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Aesop: nothing on me

We had a sing-along at school today in the auditorium. As the fourth-graders filed past my seated K class, I whispered to one of my boys, J: "Don't even think about sticking your foot out and tripping the fourth graders so they topple down the stairs like a big row of dominoes, no matter how funny that would be to see."

J put his fingers to his chin in an exaggerated thinking pose, cocked an eyebrow, and said, "Hmmmm." Then we both laughed and laughed.

Moral: I am childish.


I was informed by one of the parents today that S, a much adored and adorable blue-eyed helpful girl, has apparently taken to making comments to A, her putative BFF, to the effect that she, S, is smarter and cuter, and her daddy has a nicer car and a nicer house, and her parents have more money. I've been in the early education business for a long time now, but it's a first for me to hear a five-year-old make intentionally disparaging remarks about economic status. Espeically since the recipient of the remarks is herself another wealthy person.

Moral: future soriority queens sure start being catty early.


After boasting to my assistant this afternoon about how I never get the various ailments that go around annually, suddenly my joints ache and I have this rough chest cough. I cut a blemish on my face before sanitizing the area first, so I'm guessing I have the MRSA. Oh, how the wages of hubris are condign condemnation! Oh how pride goeth before a fall!

Moral: my immune system doesn't constitute a super power, no matter how much I want it to.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Profundity lurks where you least expect it

At work, ran into an ex-neighbor (the lady of the second item of this post), whose son now goes to Prestigius. I hadn't talked to her since I had my first audition, but she'd heard through the neighborhood and school grapevines that I'd been on the show. All agape with expectation, she asked how it went. I gave her my usual cold-water opening "I lost," then mentioned, as I've done every time I'm asked about the experience, that I was winning up right up until the end.

"Well," she mused, "aren't we all?"

That has a kind of accidental Zen wisdom to it, which surprised me a bit, since I've always thought of this particular lady as a bit of an airhead.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

I guess it's meme week or something?

No school today because of the epidermis-thin sheet of ice on the roads that was gone by 11:00 a.m. Hot on the heels of my non-meme of Monday, here's a meme that Dave just made up.

Name 5 things (about you) that are not true, but that you wouldn't mind if people thought they were.

My twist on this is I will list things that are half true.
  1. As a child actor, I once recorded an audiobook with a very young Brad Pitt.

  2. I was born and schooled in England.

  3. I won heaps of money on a fiendishly difficult national quiz show.

  4. After we got divorced, my ex-wife became the notorious lesbian ringleader of a prominent Wiccan coven that became involved in a sex orgy scandal.

  5. I was expelled from college for an altercation in which a biker got stabbed.
The less vivid truth:
  1. It was actually the totally unknown kid from deservedly obscure TV series "Benji, Zax & the Alien Prince." He was still an arrogant prick though.
  2. My father was schooled in England, not me.
  3. I lost.
  4. She became a Buddhist.
  5. I was suspended, it was a student, and no one got stabbed.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Vocabulaire: s'acharner

s'acharner - to work away, persevere
Pour survivre à mon lieu de travail, il doit s'acharner comme une abeille ; non, comme une vrai bête de somme !

Monday, January 26, 2009

Touch me, I'm sick

Damn, seven out of seventeen of my kids are out sick today. That's way more than half, maybe 75% or something. Maybe even a full twentieth! I don't know, math was never my strong suit. Say, you took math --- what time is it?

I've been stretched really thin this year. In addition to our daily routine of teaching, there's the long-term responsibilities (some of which our team shares), including:

-writing the lessons for our social studies teacher
-updating the class website
-making the school calendar
-sending home those irritating scholastic book order forms
-forming leveled reading groups
-sending home leveled readers to each child weekly
-doing running records
-assessing for the parent conferences we have four times a year
-preparing for parent observations

And in addition to that, I've been drafted into:

-doing a lesson for the K and first grade teams on teaching reading strategies
-organizing three full meetings of our book club
-doing whatever the hell it is I do on our Environmental Awareness Committee

Help! I'm not cut out for long-term planning and stuff that requires effort! I'm used to getting by on my quick wit and ability to improvise!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Sunday Warbooks: Medal of Honor

A review of Medal of Honor, by Allen Mikaelian (with some commentary here and there by Mike Wallace).

Eleven Medal of Honor recipients are profiled here, from the highly controversial woman non-combatant winner, Mary Edwards Walker, a doctor during the Civil War, to two Vietnam War heroes who were affected by their experiences in very different ways. There’s a little bit of background on the history of the medal itself, but mostly this is a book about men who showed incredible valor in the face of great danger. It’s a very affecting look at military experience — not a homogeneous thing at all, but perhaps unified by a common call for unexpected, immediate and astonishing bravery.

It's a light read, with little in the way of military history to put things in context (Wallace's bits don't make much of an impact). And perhaps that's the way it should be; this is solely the "boots on the ground" viewpoint, in which the desires of high command figure little. I've forgotten who said it, but someone who knew what he was talking about once said that men don't fight for their heads of state or for their country; they fight and die for their fellow soldiers. This is a book that makes the sentiment clear. It's especially true in the stories of the black and Nisei soldiers, whose selfless valor in the face of cruelty, persecution and suspicion by their fellow soldiers gives their tales the most emotional resonance.

There's nothing necessary about this particular book, by which I mean it gives no new insights into the nature of bravery or the minds of soldiers in war, nor is the caliber of the prose worth remarking on. But Medal of Honor earners' lives are stories that deserve to be told, and that's reason enough for Mikaelian to publish these particular ones. There's nothing in the most dramatic Hollywood war picture to compare with the real miracles these soldiers performed.


Sunday warbooks scoreboard:

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

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Unsuperficial meme

This isn't strictly a meme (since, after all, no one else is doing it), but a friend emailed me this bunch of questions, so I'm going to answer them, and in the process learn a little bit about myself. And knowing is half the battle.

Warning: over-long and self-indulgent. Even my therapist, if I had one, wouldn't want to hear all this.

1. What is one of your life’s goals?

I never really had life goals, strictly speaking, just far-fetched dreams and fantasies (which is probably why my life ended up in such a shambles). I probably ought to have goals, but I don't. The only thing lacking from my life right now is someone to share it with, and I'm ambivalent even about that. Of course I'd like to have been a father and a family man, like all my friends, but I also kind of like living alone and not answering to anyone for my time or inclinations. Overall, I'm pretty satisfied with where I am about 50% of the time, which is such an astounding step up from my typical outlook it's like I'm overdosing on Prozac or something.

2. What is one of your weaknesses?

A poor self-image is my main weak point. Oh, I'm pretty realistic about my strong points, and while I don't brag, I'm not in the habit of indulging in false modesty for politeness' sake either, so I realize that in some ways I come off as arrogant. I'm funny, and I'm kind, and there's no question that I'm smarter than most people. But what people don't understand is that I'm existential enough to realize that none of that means crap, that I'm unhappier than most people, and I'm less skilled at the basics of living with others than they are too. My intelligence doesn't make me better than anyone else, nor does it surmount in any way my all-too-often crippling self-doubt. In brief, I don't much like myself, so I can't conceive that anyone else would.

3. What would make you truly happy?

Given my genetics and my childhood, probably nothing, unfortunately. But I'd probably be very happy with myself if I had never gotten divorced. Intellectually I know that my most painful breakups were not my fault, but it doesn't stop me from castigating myself as less able than everyone else I know to take part in the human race.

4. What was your childhood like?

Pretty unconventional. My parents divorced when I was three. My brother and I lived with our mother and father in turns. They both moved around a lot, so I went to around eight schools from first to twelfth grade, all told. As the small, shy, bookish new kid, I was mocked and taunted mercilessly until about tenth grade, when I grew a spine, stopped caring, and started lifting weights. My father tried to instill in us a love of a lot of things, such as languages and fine art, that I now enjoy, but I was a contrary child, and the lessons often didn't take. My father swore a lot and drank a lot and took drugs. My mother doesn't really know how to show love for anyone. When the family was together at holidays, there was almost always screaming and insulting. My father would rage and insult us kids as well. With my mother, I was a sniveling, whiny little bastard, looking for the attention she didn't know how to give. But as we kids grew, our parents mellowed out and most of that is a very faded memory. Oh yes, totally healthy psyche, here.

5. What do you want in the future?

Peace between those with differences of opinion, the eradication of violent crime, and 100% employment.

6. What was your biggest failure in life so far?

Getting divorced. Or, to put it another way, marrying a woman who suddenly changed into a lunatic with a totally different personality.

7. What do you like and dislike about your life?

Didn't I just answer this ad nauseam?

8. What was or is your dream job?

When I was a kid and a teen, I wanted to be a writer or cartoonist. In adult life, I made extremely half-assed attempts at both. I was also a moderately successful child actor (not in the least famous, but known to agencies, requested by companies, and paid well). It would have been nice to be a successful adult actor as well, but there's not much hope for a goofy-looking guy like me to break Hollywood, not when I also got the depression. My current dream job is kindergarten teacher at exclusive private school. What luck!

9. What is your favorite book?

After all is said and done, I'm going to say Catcher in the Rye, not because it represents the pinnacle of the craft (I think Lolita does), but because of the impact it had on my outlook when I first read it in eighth grade. More favorites discussed here.

10. What is something out of the ordinary you've always wanted to try?

I don't really have longings for adventure. I'd like to travel more to more exotic places. I'd like to start up a charitable foundation. I'd like to eat the fugu.

11. Who do you admire?

Bill Clinton, Martin Luther King, Franklin Roosevelt, George Washington, Bob Dylan, Siddhartha Gautama, Jane Goodall, Paul Newman, the Little Rock Nine, Jackie Robinson, Michael Moore, Jimmy Stewart, Humphrey Bogart, Mother Teresa.

12. What is your biggest fear?

Dying an ignoble death. In a plane crash, for example. Or of a heart attack on the toilet. I suppose it's unlikely I'll die throwing myself in front of a bullet, though.

13. Why aren’t you pursuing your dreams?

Gee, you're getting kind of pushy, aren't you? In some ways, I am. In other ways --- see number two, above.

14. Where would you live if you could live anywhere?

Well, I really love Paris, but I'd miss my friends. Maybe Oregon? I kind of like it here where I am, for all its faults. Mostly because my friends are here, and I'm incapable of making new friends.

15. What happened on the worst day of your life?

Oh, let's not bring that up again.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Rockin in the free world

Before work we had a faculty meeting in which the Head discussed the budget. Not only is no one fired next year, we're going to get small raises. I think most everyone was impressed and gratified at that; I know I wasn't expecting a raise at all.

In these tight economic times, I seem to be one of the very lucky ones. This is cosmic balance to make up for the fact that most of the rest of my life is appalling.


Courtney, T-Bone's wife, called me on my way home from work to see if I wanted to hang out, but unfortunately I had a busy evening ahead. After work, I took my father his laundry at the rehab place, visited my mother briefly, dropped by the Green Margarita to say hi to Friar and Muffin and their respective families who were eating there, and then went with Hot Waitress T to go see Sonar play a fantastic set. (Actually, T is only a waitress of the weekends now, being also a full-time special-ed teacher, but it's a good name for her anyway.) We chatted with Sonar afterward --- no gorgeous Mrs. Sonar around, however, as she was home being pregnant and sick --- and then we sat through nearly all of the next band's set for some inexplicable reason. It was one of the worst concert experiences I've ever had.

Inspired some actual things the singer said onstage, T and I came up with a short list of Things Very Bad Bands Say From Onstage.
  • Are you guys awake out there?
  • There's lots of room up front, if anyone wants to come and mosh.
  • Are you ready to rock?
  • This is our bassist, Dragon.
  • Where'd everyone go?
  • If this strobe light doesn't get fixed, we don't play.
  • Everybody come on up with us and sing!
  • Hi, we're Staind.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

How to make a good, cheap salad

In which I'm not a nutritionist, but I act like I know what the fuck I'm talking about on my blog.

You'll need:

Cherry or grape tomatoes (if you can get both the red and gold kinds, do; lycopene is nature's miracle)
Black olives (tasty!)
Raw spinach leaves (packed with life-giving carotenoids, some of the healthiest stuff on the planet, and downright palatable when not cooked)
A couple stems of broccoli (may not taste like much, but fiber-rich; should be raw or just lightly steamed)
Shredded carrots (adds color and crunch and tons of Vitamin A)
Feta cheese (for taste and protein; but make sure it's hard and crumbly, not the too-soft, spreadable kind)
Freshly cut cucumber slices (and I mean fresh; cut them yourself, dammit)
A sprinkle of chopped garlic (lows blood pressure, reduces cancer risk)
Optional protein add: a few lentils or pinto beans

NO FANCY-PANTS DRESSING. Put a dash of olive oil on there (fat helps the body absorb lycopenes and other nutrients) and toss. I find this very tasty and appealing. Putting it together is a bit more work than the typical slob like me usually does before eating, but worth it.


Wednesday, January 21, 2009

One flu over the cuckoo's nest

Ms. Annoyed, one of our K teachers, has the flu. She didn't get a flu shot. Neither did I. I feel like my natural superhuman immune system will see me through. I may have made a terrible terrible mistake.

Ms. Annoyed is being forcibly removed from K next year; she's going to teach first grade. She is, of course, annoyed at this. I don't really understand her need to constantly gripe about her lot at work; around two million Americans lost their jobs this year. Our school seems to have budgeted its payroll through to next year, barring hideous disaster, but that doesn't mean we teachers shouldn't be utterly grateful for every day of gainful employment in our chosen field.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Amusing snippets

Prestigius had a viewing of the historic inauguration for the whole school in the auditorium. The kindergarten classes went for a little while.

During Biden's swearing-in, J turned to me and whispered, "What does the Vice President do?"

I said, "If we're very lucky, nothing."


Afterward, they shared their feelings about the celebrations.

"I loved it. He talked about something and there was music." (That's about as much as I typically get from formal ceremonies, I admit.)

"It was awesome because I voted for Obama." (A common sentiment.)

"The lady singing had a very funny hat on." (She sure did!)

"I liked it when they shot the cannon."


I also read them a book about Martin Luther King's life and work that ended with the information that he got shot and killed. B, a feisty, funny little guy, excitedly raised his hand.

"Martin Luther King was shot by black people!" he blurted.

"No he wasn't," I said. "Who told you that?"

He looked crestfallen. "I was guessing?"

I think he missed the point of the book.


The school receptionist stopped by my room and we tossed a couple of friendly barbs at each other, as we do. She turned to the kids and said, "Kids, Mr. Chance is fifteen hundred years old. He was born in 200 B.C.!"

I said, "That would make me 2,208 years old."

She said in surprise, "You can figure that out so quickly?"

I gestured into the room. "Have a seat. Stay a while. I'll get your name on a chair by tomorrow."


Tonight, I was driving my mother back from visiting my father and we passed one of those big digital time and temperature displays outside banks. My mother said, "That sign says it's five of. Five of what, though?"

Me. "..."

Mother: "Oh, I guess it says 50 F. That's the temperature, I suppose."

Me: "..."

Mother: "Can that be right? It feels so warm."

Me: "You mean here in this car? With the heat on?"

Mother: "Yes."

Monday, January 19, 2009

Martin would have been above all this, but I'm no Martin

In honor of MLK and Obama, I'm listening to no music but that by black artists this week. It's my way of saying thanks to all the protestors who got beaten and set on fire in the '60s so Obama could be President today. Well, tomorrow.

Here's hoping that the spirit of MLK can live in all of us this year. And I don't mean just in terms of racial awareness, but the other thing MLK was interested in that for some odd reason the mainstream media never seems to remember, class equality in America. King dreamed of an America where no child --- white, black, red, or green --- would have to live in crippling poverty while others wallowed in luxuries.

And in that spirit, a series of less-than-fond farwells to the man who did more than anyone else in recent memory to destroy that dream, to destroy the Constitution and its freedoms, to destory our spirit of inquisitveness and entrepreneurship, to destroy the free market, to destory art in America, to destroy the middle class, to destroy our peace and prosperity, to destroy the spirit of dissent, decency, and debate. May he continue to fumble his way to iconic laughing-stock status.

Our nation's first catastrophic president.

Eight years of Madoffs.

Up in smoke.

Fantastic job! The insurgency is desperate!

Desperate enough to expand exponentially, that is!

Hey, dumb ass.

So long, dimwit.

And stay the fuck out.

I survived the Bush presidency [and all I got was...]

20 "forgotten" scandals.

Whoops, here's 20 more.

10 reasons history will hang you.

Let's not forget the cronies.

So, again, here's hoping that inauguration day proceeds with full celebration and so nasty surprises; and that the hope and hunger for justice that won Obama the election will turn this country around and make us an honorable, prosperous, peaceful nation again.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Loaded XIV

From here, inexplicably numbered 15.

Hypotheticals: If you could be an expert in any one subject, what would it be?
The Arabic language.

Anything Goes: What three words come to your mind when you hear the word 'white'?
Paper, Kipling, pure.

No-Brainers: What is your average bowling score?
I've very rarely bowled. I'm not very good at it, so if I had an average score, it would be something less than stellar.

Personals: How much money would you like to be making in ten years?
That depends on how much value money has in ten years. I'd like to be able to live as I do now, not rich by any means, but comfortable. I live simply, but I very much enjoy the ability to treat myself with CDs, DVDs, restaurants, and so on, when the mood strikes. And --- here I differ from the Republicans --- I'd like everyone to have that petty luxury. If I had to choose between me making $70,000 while my neighbor makes $30,000, or us both making $50,000, I'd obviously choose the latter. Share the happiness, build communities, even out steep disparity.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

There's so many towns I hate

In which I'm introspective, but shallow

This evening I brought my mother some pizza. Then I visited my father in the rehab place. I brought him a Walkman, some tapes, his laundry that I'd done, some candy and fruit cups, and some books. Then I sat and watched while he ate dinner. But I didn't eat because the food there is kind of bad.

I had dinner at the Green Margarita with Friar and his family (I have taken quite a liking to their little two-year-old, and I'm apparently his favorite person not related to him), plus Muffin and her husband and son. The restaurant's a nasty greasepit and if you're not drinking you really feel the cheese slide down, but I went for the company. Palfrey and I like to swap teacher stories. She told me that a first-grade girl at her school told her in an offhand manner that she was having (with a roll of the eyes) "boy problems."

I took little Monk Jr. to the video games and held down the gas while he steered a racing game. He's not a very good driver; we kept crashing.

Muffin's car had a flat tire. Her husband stayed in the restaurant parking lot to change it, so I took her and the kid back to her parents' house, where they've been staying since she moved back to Devil-Town. It brought back a few vague memories of nearly twenty years ago, when she and I were in high school or just out of college and all our friends would hang out at that house. And I'd break stuff. Yeah, I was kind of wild back then. Anyway, it's weird being old. She's married with a toddler, nearly forty years old now, and I met her when she was seventeen years old. In a way, I can't quite grasp that fact. To me, we still seem the same people, but obviously I'm deluded.

Friar was going to hang out with rock star Auric and texted me to join them, but I didn't. I wasn't sure why. I mean, on the one hand, it would be smoky and crowded and loud, and I've been exhausted all week; but on the other, it would be fun to laugh and drink with two of my oldest and dearest friends. And but so I didn't really consider it, just stayed in and sat around.

And then I read on Churlita's blog, "All my friends are going out tonight, and I'd love to join them, but this weekend is about doing some inner work." And I can't say what she means by that, but it seems to explain myself to me enough so that I quit worrying about it.

Friday, January 16, 2009

By the power of Numbskull

There were no classes today; Prestigius had a visitng day, where incoming applicants came into classroom and interacted with the teachers. Mrs. G, my assistant, and I were all in my room with ten boys. I had them sit and do a sort of lethargic version of my classroom's calendar routine, and then we put them to work on three pretty fun, easy activities. After that, I read a story and we gave them a related sentence to complete and illustrate.

Then, Mrs. G and I had to rate the kids.

Never have a felt such power! Such raw, undiluted power coursing through my veins! All the dreams, hopes, expectations, and carefully crafted application form essays of these kids' parents were in my shaky, vindictive, unpracticed hands! Ha ha ha! Mwah-hah-hah-hah-

Ahem. Anyhoo, it was fun seeing how some of the kids reacted in our kind of classroom setting. Some were very self-assured, most were polite and respectful, none were terribly shy or withdrawn, and a couple were hopped up on some kind of kindergarten goofballs or something. We ended up giving three kids a unanimous yes, two a most emphatic no, and we agreed to put down a split vote (one of us yes, the other recommending the waitlist) on the others.

It is kind of humbling to do this sort of thing, and it's certainly an exercise in empathy. After you've read the parents' lengthy and and meticulously detailed paragraphs about their children and why they'd make a good fit here at Prestigius, it's not quite as easy to check "no" on their folders, and write damning comments about their behavior. Or at least, it's not easy to do in a cavalier fashion. But we did it anyway.

On the whole, the visiting kids were, naturally, rather wilder than my own class. In an attempt to get some of them to settle down before story time, I used the time-honored "praise the good one" strategy, saying "I really like how Amahl over there is sitting quietly." One of the rejectees immediately blurted, "But I'm not!" and jumped up and down.

Good luck at whatever school you'll end up going to, kid.

Near the end of the two-hour visit, another kid asked, apropos of nothing, "Is this St. Luke's Academy?"

No, but maybe they'll take you!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

You can't hide these pryin' eyes

So the theme this month in K is folktales, and the kids are hearing all sorts of versions of various stories, from the traditional to the twisted (like Lane Smith's Stinky Cheese Man version of the Gingerbread Man). The other day, we baked a real gingerbread man in the school oven, but he "got away" (my assistant pulled him out of the oven while we were working in class, and left a trail of crumbs along the kitchen floor). Later, she took a photo of him, printed it on card stock, and cut it out.

Then I sent the cutout home with all my kids in a sealed envelope addressed to the parents. I included instructions to place the cutout around their houses doing funny things and to take photos and email them to me, so it would look like the runaway gingerbread man had been at everyone's house, interacting with their belongings. Yes, it's sort of messing with the kids' minds, but they were astonished at the runaway gingerbread man and really get a kick out of the whole project.

I've got back a few cool photos, but today I got an email from the mother of D (the "artistic, clever boy" of this post) saying that D had opened and resealed the envelope on the way home from school, so he already knew the whole thing was a sham.

I'm outraged. What kind of a cynical little six-year-old sneak would open a taped-up envelope addressed to his parents and then reseal it? Doesn't he trust us adults? Does he think we're all engaged in elaborate subterfuges that he must uncover?

I've going to read him the USPS Privacy Policy when we get back to class on Tuesday. That'll learn him.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Kids say the nastiest things

The other day, I assigned a journal page for literacy. I had the kids finish the phrase "In winter, I like to..."

I went over to little five-year-old girl Z and read what she wrote: "In winter I like to have hot cockcock."

I smiled and said that was very good, but what two letters make that first sound in chocolate? And isn't there an L in there somewhere?

It ended up as chocklock.


That's funny, but a boy in another K class wrote on his paper, "I LIK PENIS." And that was intentional. (He meant like, not lick, which was a source of debate among us teachers afterwards.) Give me my sweet, naive kids any day; those other teachers have a bunch of six-year-old hooligans.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The wrong eyes to go searching behind

A while back, I was walking in a parking lot when a twitchy, wild-eyed vagrant lady approached me and started giving me her spiel about being a Katrina victim and so on when all of a sudden she stopped cold, looked deep into my face, and said:

"Ohhhh, my, you have the most beautiful eyes... If I were ten years younger..."

Then she asked me for bus fare.


Today, I went to visit my father at the physical therapy center. A large, semi-literate, foul-mouthed woman who's in for drug addiction sat at his table. He told me later that she'd said to him that I was the "sexiest man she'd ever seen."

Cue Simpsons-esque disgusted shudder.


The other day at work, I saw two kindergarten girls, not in my class, in the hall who said they were going to "date" me. When I asked them what that meant, they collapsed into giggles.

You just wait twenty-five years, girls. You'll wonder what you were ever thinking.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Trail Mix revisited

How to make great, nutritious trail mix

1/2 part almonds
1/2 part macadamias (expensive but worth it)
1 part peanuts (I know I dissed them in this post, but those little bastards have protein, fiber, and the kind of fat that may decrease heart attacks).
1 part dried soy nuts
1 part pepitas or American pumpkin seeds (low in calories, high in magnesium and iron)
2 parts cranberries (a must; flavored varieties add different kinds of zest)
1 part dried pineapple
1 part raisins (these less-than-tasty little bastards are rich in iron)

No chocolate-covered anything. No "yogurt"-covered anything. No carob, you sissy!

EAT UP FOR PEP. NOW YOU ARE SO HEALTHY YOU CAN OUTRUN A HORSE IN YOUR SOCKS. But why is the horse wearing your socks? I don't know; what am I, Answer Guy?

Sunday, January 11, 2009

I'm gonna read all the Newbery winners

Hello and welcome to a new 90-part series I like to call "I'm gonna read all the Newbery winners."

Part One: 1922's winner, Hendrik Willem van Loon's magnum opus The Story Of Mankind.

And what a hefty fellow this book is! Published in 1921 and updated every decade or so until the mid-80s, this world history for the younger set clocks in at a generous 590 close-typed pages.

Van Loon starts at the very beginning, with a mention of how very brief Mankind's time on Earth has been compared to other previous inhabitants' reigns, and then moves right into our early ape-like ancestors, the development of tools and writing, Egypt, the Sumerians, Greece, and so on. He's got a breezy, warm style, writing as if he's talking to an interested (and advanced) young scholar, and it's mostly engaging. Every once in a while, though, van Loon gets caught up in tangents and relative clauses, and we get a nightmare sentence like this:
In central Europe, in Bohemia, the devoted disciples of Johanness Huss, the friend and follower of John Wycliffe, the English reformer, were avenging with a terrible warfare the death of their beloved leader who had been burned at the stake by order of that same Council of Constance, which had promised him a safe-conduct if he would come to Switzerland and explain his doctrines to the Pope, the Emperor, twenty-three cardinals, thirty-three archbishops and bishops, one hundred and fifty abbots and more than a hundred princes and dukes who had gathered together to reform their church.
This single sentence is found in the second paragraph of a chapter ostensibly about Thomas à Kempis and "The Age of Expression;" neither Huss, Wycliffe, nor even the Council of Constance had been mentioned before. It's all a bit much for the educated adult, let alone a child trying to learn a little history.

Some of it is interesting (the brief chapter on the life of Jesus is handled beautifully), but the sheer depth of it all starts to take its toll. And it gets worse. Van Loon died in 1944, so the chapters on post-war Europe, Vietnam, the space race, and the Cold War are written by other scholars, who lack van Loon's affable (if sometimes meandering) narrative style. The last dozen or so pages are particularly redolent of the dry textbook.

I got through it, but I didn't feel as if I'd learned all that much at the end. I know adults these days give way too little credit for how much kids can and want to learn, but this tome isn't suitable for even a very intelligent fourth-grader to use as a learning tool.

Recommended for kids: No.

Recommended for adults: No.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Gonna dive into a dive I've dove into before

I was listening to a radio interview with Lu Jiamin, the author of the controversial Chinese novel Wolf Totem. Criticizing the majority Han people as sheeplike and weak, he said, "The Han want only a full belly and a peaceful life, and do not demand freedom or representation."

I got news for you, Lu old buddy. The American people want only something really dumb on television, a full belly, and cheap oil, and you can shove all the fascism you want down their throats. We're no different.


My father's back in the physical therapy/rehab center he was in for three weeks earlier this year. Hopefully, he can eat, get rest, be properly medicated, build up some muscle, come home, and stay off the monkey tranquilizers. He asked my mother if she was going to meet him for lunch tomorrow, and she said probably not --- "don't they have lunch at some ungodly hour like noon?" My mother isn't an "early bird."


The T-Bones, Friar and I went to some dive honky-tonk way out northeast, where we heard a local country band made up of other acts on Friar's label. We played shuffleboard and I drank a lot of vodka. Between sets, Friar and I turned on the jukebox and he played that ubiquitous Beyonce song about putting a ring on the single ladies' fingers and I played Green Day's "Armatage Shanks." I'm sure the rednecks gave us dirty looks, but I was too liquored up by then to give a shit.

Friday, January 09, 2009

My batteries are fading, too

Today I called the custodian and asked for some batteries for our automatic paper towel dispenser. He said okay, and never showed. Later in the day he saw me, stopped, and said, "Oh yeah, I never brought you those batteries, did I?"

I said no, but that was okay. He said, "I'm getting old. I got them out and set them aside for you, and then just forgot all about them. Oh, I know why it was. The fire alarm went off after that, and I forgot." (We'd had a fire drill in the morning.)

I said that it was understandable to be distracted by the fire alarm. "Not really," he said. "I was the one who set it off."


That reminds me, before the break I got a new chapter book to read to the kids. I showed them the cover, which depicted the main character standing in a snow-covered tiny village, bending over and shaking hands with tiny people with pointy ears. I showed them all this, and noted the title, Stanley's Christmas Adventure. "Now," I said, "based on all this, where do you suppose the story takes place?"

D, an artistic, clever boy, raised his hand excitedly. "Santa Fe!" he shouted.

He's got the right idea, I suppose, but his train of thought seems to have jumped the track and pulled into the wrong station there.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Loaded XIII

From this blog, as always.

Hypotheticals: If you were to give yourself a creative title for your personal business cards, what would it say?
Gnat herder.

Anything Goes: What do you consider the most noble field of medicine?
Despite the mocking it gets on "Scrubs," surgery.

No-Brainers: What is the biggest advantage of being small?
The advantages aren't many, but they do exist. Not bumping your head on chandeliers. Being lighter and quicker than most. Not being cramped in theater or airplane seats. Being able to stand directly under the shower head.

Personals: What person have you always wondered whether or not they liked you?
Nearly every single interesting woman I meet who wants to spend time with me.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Joss Whedon is my master now

In which I totally Nerd Out so you may as well skip it, seriously

Title in reference to a T-shirt I've seen advertised on the internet, and not sincere.

Indeed, until fairly recently, I was not 100% sure if his name was "Josh Whedon" or "Joss Wheaton" or what. I have watched perhaps a grand total of ten minutes of his show Buffy the Vampire Slayer (not interested). I have never watched Firefly or Serenity (one's a show and one's a movie; I don't know which is which). But I have now finally finished reading all four trade paperbacks of his comic, Astonishing X-Men. And I think a good case can be made that it's one of the best superhero narratives ever.

I know, I know. Joss Whedon is so uncool because he has those goofy teen shows that girls like, and the X-Men are so, so uncool because kids liked them way too much back in the '80s and '90s and they represent all that's excessive and juvenile about comics. So we grown-ups who read good comics like Watchmen and books by dark, serious writers like Warren Ellis and Garth Ennis can't possibly enjoy this.

But I do read those things, and I read Shakespeare and Herodotus too, and I enjoyed the hell out of this series. No, it's not on a level with Watchmen, which is so damn good that intelligent Normals can pick it up and be enthralled, or even The Dark Knight. But Joss Whedon's Astonishing X-Men is, in my view, a rock-solid superhero tale, packed with references for long-time fans, bits of humor, snappy dialogue, a zigzagging plot that keeps the reader off-balance throughout, a rock-solid sense of pacing and foreshadowing, a steady hand at the continuity helm, and plenty of old-fashioned push-it-to-the-limit superheroics.

In the desultory, assured way the team faces and overcomes the unknown, saves the world, and honors an unspoken code of heroism, it reminds me of the best parts of Grant Morrison's previous run on New X-Men, whichI found mostly lacking. Yes. I am comparing Joss Whedon's take on these characters favorably to Grant Morrison's.

I don't want to quote bits of the books, because I'd end up quoting about a hundred little quips and rejoinders. But so many scenes and plotlines stand out in my memory:
  • Kitty's speech when she finds Colossus alive.
  • The catty interplay, that develops into a very grudging respect, between Kitty and Emma Frost.
  • Wolverine being mentally reverted back to 19th-century fop James Howlett, fleeing an enraged Beast and his own claws, and referring with chaste shock at Emma's lack of clothing ("I could clearly see the silhouette of her undercurve").
  • Scott and Emma bickering like a married couple while working seamlessly as a team in an aerial dogfight.
  • The particularly nasty, sly way the villain Danger suddenly asserts herself (there's something somehow more cruel in goading a vulnerable person into suicide than in murdering him outright).
  • The usually disparaged Cyclops being a leader, heroic, and, when he wants to be, unstoppable.
  • The masterful way Whedon tricks the reader again and then again, when Emma betrays the team --- or does she? Yes. And no. And yes again. But not really.
  • The X-Men fighting a giant monster while conducting inner monologues about their private lives and worries, until we get to Wolverine, whose only thoughts are: "I really like beer."
  • The Fantastic Four's terrific cameo.
  • And, in the finest example of the kind of selfless heroism that I read these kinds of comics for, Colossus willing to revert to his human form and be burned alive, rather than stay metal and so short-circuit the core that holds a brutal warworld together, which would kill its genocidal inhabitants (who want him dead). And it's done with no angsty Chris Claremont-esque speeches, but offhand, no explanation necessary.
I just think that Whedon gets it; he really gets that the X-Men are about defending an ungrateful, hateful public, but also about total loyalty when the chips are down. You know... heroism. Making life worthwhile instead of giving in to despair when things are bleak. And yes, he tosses in perhaps a bit too much of the snappy TV dialogue, but I'd rather that than the soulless angst of some more "mature" comics writers these days.

So, yeah, I like this comic a lot. As Kitty says:

"Everything is so fragile. There's so much conflict, so much pain. You keep waiting for the dust to settle and then you realize this is it; the dust is your life going on. If happy comes along --- that weird, unbearable delight that's actually happy --- I think you have to grab it while you can. You take what you can get, 'cause it's there, and then... gone."

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

I lose but I don't bet

A rough sketch of the day. Warning: boring.

Up, reluctantly, at 6:00 a.m., to the sound of my alarm and my own sadly middle-aged groans. I've been going to bed at 11:00 p.m., which isn't early enough for health. Last night I was reading Red Harvest, the Continental Op novel by Dashiell Hammet, and the Op stays up all night drinking gin and then goes out and gets into fistfights with unsavory characters a head taller than he is, and he's forty years old. I'm 37 and not the Continental Op. I'd rather be in bed.

At school at 7:00 a.m. I eat some instant oatmeal and a clementine I brought. I read that getting in a grain or oat breakfast every morning helps your platelet count, which can reduce the risk of morning heart attacks. So I'm making a decent effort not to skip breakfast anymore, no matter how early I get up or how late I am.

I'm here early for Book Club. Yay? The Vice Head runs the discussion, and it was an interesting session. Remember how back in September I got volunteered by the head to lead a discussion? My chapter's next. Oh, good. I have no idea what I'm going to say.

Also, I have been roped into giving a lesson on teaching reading to my fellow K and First Grade teachers. Hey, I can't give any lessons to no teachers! I don't know nuthin' about nuthin'! As T-Bone said, "You're instructing the teachers now? It sounds like you've got them snowed pretty good."

School begins, and I start leading morning activities (calendar and counting) with the class. Give my assistant a bunch of projects: putting together take-home reading folders, making journals, taking back my library books, etc. Give the kids a couple of assignments (writing lower-case Qs and illustrating a poem featuring Q-words). I'm flying by the seat of my pants here.

I also read the kids two versions of a fable so we can learn compare and contrast. When will the administration notice that I'm a fraud and haven't taught the kids anything all year, and carry me out screaming?

The kids write a few sentences about what they did over winter break and illustrate them. This will be made into a class book. I feel like I probably should be doing more in-class, informal assessments. The take-home readers will start soon, and I'm not entirely sure what level everyone is. Oh well, it's only the 78th day of school; surely there's still time to get to know the kids.

Recess! My assistant takes them outside. Thank all that's holy! Get out, you hellions! Some peace and quiet. I spend this time writing a recommendation for R, a shy and very polite boy whose mother wants him to go to one of Our Esteemed Competitors. Recalling the Vice Head's earlier instructions to limit our praise so we can keep the little darlings the massive annual tuition cashmoney payoff they represent, I write a few rather restrained lines. This kid deserves a gushing rec, but I know what side of the butter my bread is on.

I also prepare a social studies lesson for the part-time kindergarten social studies teacher.

Lunch! The school provides a baked potato and salad for the teachers because it's someone's birthday. Like all my fellow K teachers, I go and grab a plate but do not give any of the three celebrants so much as a card. In my defense, I didn't know this lunch was coming, but it's still kind of being a dick. Nolo contendere.

The kids go to gym today. I spend this time going over the kids' work, taking down some art, tidying up the room, checking my school email, and filling out my rejected conference proposal sheet with actual facts.

When they come back after an all-too-brief half an hour, we have show and tell, and I read them another book.

They have another recess. I take them out this time. Then we go back in and do some math games, both on paper and on the computer.

I leave school very quickly after carpool is over. I go home, take Dog for a brisk jaunt around the block (I'd like to go much longer, but it's kind of cold, I'm very tired, and I'm on a schedule).

Back in the car, drive down to the hospital, visit Father. He seems a bit better, and is at least eating some. He's so very old and feeble and run-down now, and seems very dependent. He used to be a strong, active, strong-willed man. He was given a few weeks to live back in '90 when diagnosed with inoperable cancer, and beat it by basically walking a dozen miles every day to chemo and back. Now, he's not just a shadow of his former self, but actually sharply different in personality than his former self. He never used to be so self-pitying; he always used to be the one who took care of others, but now like a child wants his sandwich cut into four pieces for him. So I did; I don't mind. But I do hope he gets back some of his old spirit.

I go back home and pretty much veg out like a lump the rest of the day.

Monday, January 05, 2009

If it's information you want, you can get it from the police

I was at a friendly lunch that the Head threw for the teachers a while back. Now, I've mentioned before that the Prestigius faculty boasts an inordinate number of model-beautiful women, and I'm not exaggerating. But there's one teacher in particular who I think stands out. Slightly tall but not stork-like, blond hair, huge bust, thin waist, swaying hips, great legs, large eyes, sexy mouth, the works. Actually, her type of looks are not what attract me (my head tends to be turned by dark-haired, elfin types), but I'd be willing to bet that 95 out of 100 men would pick her out as the most beautiful woman at Prestigius. If I were casting a movie about Helen of Troy, I'd put her in the title role. So anyway.

A lot of teachers bring their spouses or boyfriends, and Ms. Helen comes in with her boyfriend... and I'm bemused. The guy is average height, sort of doughy, balding, and generally homely. He's not flashy. He does not move with the grace of a dancer or the quiet power of an athlete.

Sure, he's probably rich or something, but I decided that this man was put on earth to be the living embodiment of hope to all single, unattractive guys. Good for you, Homely Fellow dating the most gorgeous woman at Prestigius! You are a hero to us all!


I think I lost points with the Vice Head when I turned in a proposal (reimbursement sheet) for an upcoming conference without any information about how much it costs or what it's about, and under "In what way do you anticipate this activity will benefit Prestigius," I wrote "Ongoing education = more skilled teachers = school bragging rights."

Maybe I should take more things more seriously.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Sunday Warbooks: The Battle of Salamis

Cringe, helots! Warbooks are back and this time it's personal. Well, not really. It's pretty much still totally dictated by finance and hegemony.

A review of The Battle of Salamis, by Barry Strauss.

This is an enjoyably readable, impressively detailed account of the sea battle that took place in 480 BC between the quasi-united Greeks --- officially under a Spartan commander but heavily influenced by the Athenian strategist Themistocles --- and the tremendously more numerous army of the Persian god-king, Xerxes.

For his account, Strauss closely follows Herodotus and other sources, accepting them as reliable for the most part (and there's fair reason to take the ancients at their word), but sweetening the tale with hundreds of details, born of modern scholarship, about the geography of the battle site, the prevailing winds, manners of dress, class structure, the physical requirements of rowing a trireme, and so forth. This book is a masterwork of erudition, yet written with a very pleasing and dramatic style that emphasizes the daring stratagems of Themistocles (for example, his false treachery to the Persians, when he sent his slave Sicinnus to say the Greeks were fleeing and that Xerxes should strike immediately, while in reality the Greeks were waiting for the Persians) and the therefore remarkable nature of the Greek victory.

The subtitle of the book is "The Naval Encounter That Saved Greece – And Western Civilization," which is a bit of hyperbole, because in my view had the Greeks lost at Salamis they simply would have girded up and won a victory elsewhere. But Strauss seems to accept this hypothetical point; he means something different. To Strauss, while Salamis didn’t necessarily ensure classical civilization, which probably would have happened anyway, it did create a new kind of imperial democracy. Athens gained mastery of the sea and in short time her allies in the Delian League were closer akin to satellite states than allies.

Near the end of the book, Strauss given an account of this imperial Athens which seems to echo into the America of this decade. "At home, Athens stood for freedom and equality. Abroad, Athens did not hesitate to use any means necessary in order to enforce the authority of the league that it led. After making a heroic stand against Xerxes in the name of freedom, Athens had discovered that in order to maintain its freedom, it would have to make difficult compromises ahead."

Ah yes. Compromises in the name of liberty.


Books down for the count:

Greco-Persian wars: 2
WWI: 2
Vietnam: 2
Iraq wars: 2

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Like a cat in a bag waiting to drown

emotional 180 from yesterday, sorry

I went over to my parents' house yesterday and brought them a bucket of Church's fried chicken. I can't stand fast food fried chicken, but my mother loves the stuff. All I had was a small serving of mashed potatoes. I really haven't been eating meat at all lately. But I digress.

My father was obviously utterly off his head on some opiate again, muttering nonsense and pacing around in bewilderment. At 72, he's a bit old for these kinds of shenanigans. Lately I've been openly contemptuous of him, which I'm not proud of, but there it is. I've been dealing with his drug addiction for 38 years, and I'm sick of it and I'm sick of him being so whiny and self-centered. My mother, in contrast, has been showing great compassion. And that's totally Bizarro world, because my mother is far from empathetic as a rule. She thinks my father's not long for this world, so she's being a bit more tolerant than usual.

She asked me to walk him over to the little house because he was so shaky on his feet.

I refused.

I'm just not going to enable him in any way ever again. If he needs help because of something out of his control, great. I will do all I can to help. But he's stumbling and goofy because he's just snorted some fucking horse tranquilizers due to his inability to face life sober? Sorry. If he falls and breaks his arm, well then, maybe he won't be able to get high as easily. If he falls and breaks his head, maybe it'll knock some sense into him. If he gets in his car and wrecks it, no more car. And so on. It may sound vindictive and vicious, but it's the only way a drug addict's loved ones can keep their sanity. He is on his own.

And so of course this morning I was woken up at 8:00 by two of his AA buddies who'd noticed him stumbling around the street, taken him over to the nearby fire station to be looked at, and seen him off to the hospital in an ambulance.

I went to see him. They gave him at EKG and two CT scans, and they're going to keep him overnight. He still has pneumonia and a low-grade infection, and his blood pressure was totally crashed at 80/50. Mentally, he was still pretty goofy from the tranks; he must have taken more this morning.

The emergency ward was a bit of a shithole --- a bloody towel on the floor of his room (from where the nurses had, I'd assumed, dabbed off a wound he had caused by a fall), wrappers and straws on the floor, the doctor utterly unhelpful and barely present. He had to ask for water; it wouldn't have occurred to the staff. When I went to the nurses' station to say my dad needed to pee, they handed me a urine flask and turned away. Isn't helping patients with bodily functions more of their job? But I did it.

I stayed around for four or five hours, but there wasn't much more I could do for him, and I wasn't getting any good information, so I left.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Twenty-five of the funniest things in the universe

in which we all need a chuckle from time to time

In no order except that in which they came to me. The isolation of any single moment or line of a creation is almost certainly an endorsement of the entire endeavor. Good times all.

Read it like a quiz! How many references can you catch? Click for answers and possibly more laffs!

1. The clown that no one laughs at, they all just wish he'd die.
2. How is babby formed
3. Thanks, Bridesmaid. Like the beard! It gives me something to hang on to!
4. Jew eat yet?
5. Look at me now! I'm wearing a cardboard belt!
6. Hooray for punch!
7. You can call us Aaron Burr from the way we're droppin' Hamiltons!
8. It's all, ching chong wing wong
9. Fuck everything, we're doing five blades
10. Hey, where the white women at?
11. So one of those Egg Council creeps got to you too, huh?
12. What's the Spanish word for straitjacket?
13. "These are O.R. scrubs." "O, R. they?"
14. Not that there's anything wrong with that.
15. You look like a woman who appreciates the finer things in life. Come over here and feel my velour bedspread.
16. What just happened there?
17. Expunge the poet Burns from your mind.
18. We need a name that's witty at first, but that seems less funny each time you hear it.
19. Always treat your kite like you treat your woman... Get inside her five times a day and send her to heaven and back!
20. Nix, baby, this palooka's kayoed!
21. Don’t you feel like an idiot growling all of your lines? You sound like you're gargling Michael Keaton's balls.
22. Major Major never sees anyone in his office while he's in his office.
23. Why should I change? He's the one who sucks.
24. Did you see the new Poof?
25. I'm not "camera friendly;" I don't "wear clothes that fit me." I'm not a "heartbreaker." I haven't "had sex with a woman;" I don't know "how that works."

Thursday, January 01, 2009

I'm back, yet again

Hello! Chance here, blogging like it's 2009!

So, yeah, I'm the guy who sucks, plus I got the depression. I think I've mentioned that a time or two before. So I've got myself a little plan, and I'll work through it on and off in the pages of this blog.

I've never been a complainer about external forces, and tend to be serene in the face of mundane setbacks; I know I'm tremendously lucky in many ways, and am happy to work through the various minor unforeseen complications of life. But my problem is internal: I am seriously down on myself. Therefore, with the aid of various resolutions and affirmations, I'm going to make a genuine effort to change my state of mind. I'm going to be positive about things (see optimistic new "skittles and beer" banner), open up, and say those goofy life-affirming mantras until they make me better.And if that doesn't take ... well, I don't want to be melodramatic, but I'm going to put a time frame on this.

So I've got a year or less to see if I can bluff my way into the game with the rather meager hand life's dealt me, or I fold. It'll be a fun journey.


Last week was a good start. Lots of fun, with the Friar DJing at the Hangout, and all the usual requests from frat boys whose idea of classic rock is Ted Nugent and Bon Jovi, or sorority girls who want to hear "anything by Britney," while Friar's playing Outkast, Ween, The National, and Elvis Costello. But we really did honor the requests where we could (except for Ted fucking Nugent --- holy crap, he sucks), making for another interestingly eclectic evening. Auric stopped by, and he and Friar and I drank and sang along to the playlist from on stage like fools.

Um, big rock show with Auric's band. Went with the Friar, of course, T-Bone and Courtney, Anacreon, Muffin's husband, etc. I asked and took Hot Waitress T as my "friend date." Or possibly real date; I'm not too good at figuring out whether I'm on a date when I hang out with all these attractive single women. In retrospect, I guess it typically is a date, until I do nothing to further things along, at which point it's not a date anymore. Oh, well.

Uh, Muffin moved back to Devil-Town from New York. Her little son is very cute. He looks a lot like Muffin's brother, Anacreon. Perhaps I'll start seeing more of her, but I doubt it. All my friends are married with kids, and they have similar schedules, and have playdates for their kids, and so forth, and I'm sort of the odd man out. So there's that.

Got unexpected Happy New Year's calls from typically recluse Deep Blue (out taking his toddler for a walk) and from 神圣, back from China (and whose wife is expecting their third child this year). It's good to stay connected, and not let relationships wither.

I guess maybe that's it? Peace out bitches.