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.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

We teach old hearts to rest

I spent my hatred everyplace
On every work, on every face
Someone gave me wishes
And I wished for an embrace
--- Leonard Cohen, "Teachers"

Today after work we had a mandatory, outdoor get-together with the new incoming families for next year. I talked with some of my kids' parents and had an okay time. It's truly nice to be appreciated, as I am by some of my room's parents. I'm miraculously lucky to be working at a job that I enjoy and am pretty great at, and to have my skills recognized. I'm grateful for all of life's victories, even if I don't always feel that the total balance comes out on the plus side of the register.

The admissions director, Max, told me that one of the incoming fathers had talked with him for half an hour that morning about the father's concern about the presence of male teachers in the kindergarten and pre-K. He was worried that we would do creepy male... things with the boys, I guess. In retelling it, Max made a few sarcastic and hilarious comments about that to me (inappropriate and unrepeatable --- educators often make incredibly crude comments about parents and kids when out of the hearing of parents). But what he said to the father in reality was that the male teachers were totally great, and if the father was worried about that already, sight unseen to boot, maybe Prestigius wasn't the place for him after all. Then Max offered the guy the number of a good counselor so he and his wife could learn to relax. (Really!) The father protested, and said he would see us at the new parent meeting.

I didn't run into him, though. Too bad --- I could have asked if he had any pictures of his kids I could have. That would have been hilarious. Okay, not really.

The three-year-old daughter of my old friend 74 and wife Zaftig were waitlisted at Prestigius, which means they aren't getting in. They called me to beg me to do anything I could to help them get in. I feel bad because I would absolutely love to help them, but what they don't seem to understand is that I have no power whatsoever and no one gives a damn what I think.

Case in point, the arrogant blond kid from this post, whose classroom visit I hosted. Recall that I wrote in the strongest possible terms on his file that he wasn't right for Prestigius. Guess whose smug face I saw cookies being shovelled into the second I stepped outside to the meet and greet tonight? Yes, that kid. They took a grand total of two into his grade this year, and he was one of them. Show how much my vote goes for.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

All this pain begins to feel like pleasure

With more tears you'd make a sea a desert
Salt my wounds and I'll keep saying thank you
--- Shakira, "Fool"

A month ago I went to see my doctor and complained of depression. He asked if I thought about suicide and I said quite a lot. He asked if I ever thought about it in detail, like the manner or method. "A couple of weeks ago I was out of town at a hotel and I looked out over the balcony every day I was there and thought about how violent the impact would be if I jumped," I said. He looked quite alarmed and asked if I'd ever been hospitalized for depression. He put me back on Prozac, which is what I'd been wanting to do for some time. It's not a panacea, and it's not perfect, but it does help. It doesn't make you happy, but it makes you... indifferent to things that otherwise would tear you up.

I feel a hella better, and as long as I eschew an abundance of self-analysis, I should be okay.

And but so anyway today after work Ms. N and I gave a PowerPoint presentation about the conference we went to. We made it funny, and it was well received. At the end I talked about how much I'd enjoyed being inspired by the conference's last keynote speakers, the teacher astronaut and the author philanthropist. After the meeting, the custodian came up to me and talked about the astronaut some more. I said, "Yeah, I really was inspired. I came away wondering if a boy in my class would be the first person on Mars or something."

He said, "A boy? Oh, you were doing so well up until then."

Now, I'd said "a boy" because I was thinking specifically of J, a tall, healthy, smart boy who is fascinated by space --- the sort of perfect kid astronaut. But he was half-kidding me for apparently playing to stereotypes. So I answered, "Oh, sorry. That wasn't very inclusive, was it? I meant to say that I came away wondering if a girl in my class would grow up to be a secretary at NASA."

He gave me a reproachful look.

I said, "Oh, was that the un-P.C. term? Apologies, again. I meant to say she could grow up to be a typist at NASA."

Man, it's a good thing I have a knack for passing myself off as an affable blunderer, or I'd probably get canned for my loudmouthery.