Thursday, December 11, 2003

I never thought the day would come, but I've had loyal readers e-mailing me and asking if I've been out to sea or something, what with no posts in about three weeks. Scarce occurrence, to be sure. If I didn't know better, I'd swear I'd gone out and found a life when the truth is far more depressing. I sat in front of this damned computer at 7:00, and it's already pushing 8 p.m. Just realized some of my doc. application materials were either MIA or never A in the first place (I know, I know, the acronym humor only goes so far), so I'm trying to cobble all that together right now. If I weren't such a cheap bastard, I would have paid for my new printer toner a year ago, printed out all the on-line stuff, signed it, sealed it, and would be ready to drop it in the mail on my way east tomorrow.

But I am a cheap bastard. So some of this will probably be done on the school's dime.

Went on a reading spree last night and finished Treasure Island. It's all I can do these days to stay awake past eight o'clock. I'm turning into an old fart. I was planning with a colleague today, and she remarked that Sydney Carton of Tale of Two Cities was the first romantic hero. "Not Jarvis Lorry?" I asked in mock surprise (you know, playing my straightfaced dumbass routine--it never fails to drive them crazy).

"Hell no," she responded smartly. "That's who you're going to turn into when you're middleaged. That's who you are now."

For those of you unfamiliar with the novel (you sad sacks of illiterate shit, you), this might help out:
"Pooh!" rejoined Miss Pross; "you were a bachelor in your cradle."

"Well!" observed Mr. Lorry, beamingly adjusting his little wig, "that seems probable, too."

"And you were cut out for a bachelor," pursued Miss Pross, "before you were put in your cradle."
It is a rare joy when a brief acquaintance makes such a shrewd observation. (Not that I wear wigs or anything.)

See? See? Now it's past eight, all because I had to go look that damned quote up. I can't wait until I have time to kill once again.

Thursday, October 09, 2003

Finally--a story that doesn't involve work

I was meeting Tso at the diner last night. It was late, I was tired, and I wanted to drink. In the midst of all this, one of the waitresses walks over (a mid-twenties hefty-looking girl) and asked me what my name was. I'm very blase about giving my name to women, so I told her...and slapped myself on the forehead about ten seconds later. Turns out this broad is Hacker's daughter.

Hacker was a guy (and still is, come to think of it) who lived above me in my old building. I call him Hacker because every morning, he'd go out on to the balcony to clear the snuff and crap from his lungs. The guy probably has ten months to live or something. I asked him once to give my house key to whoever was watching the cat for me that weekend, and he even managed to fuck that up. He's a retired air conditioner repairman. I guess you can figure what sort of pension these guys have if he's living his retirement large in good ole Hangover Park.

I remember he used to bitch and moan about his daughter shacking up with some loser. Well, this daughter spent about ten minutes telling me the joys of dumping the loser and moving back home with Daddy. Then she asked me how old I thought she was.

Then Tso arrived. I immediately made out like I was grateful to see him (a tough job, under any circumstances), and she eventually left. Later on, she came by and told us she remembered us always hanging out there. "Time to find a new restaurant," I muttered to him.

Five minutes after that (I was on my third beer of the evening by then, and it was probably pushing ten o'clock), our waitress comes over (our real waitress, that is, the one who was actually serving us food) and told us Hacker's daughter wanted to know if we were gay "because she thinks you're cute." Oh dear God, I think, immediately reaching for my wallet to pay the bill and get the fuck out of there. No need to worry, as it turned out--she'd already left for the evening. Probably to go back to Hacker's apartment and regale him with tales of the gay guy she had a crush on at the diner. I'm not worried about Hacker remembering who I am. I doubt the guy even knows enough to pull his pants up after taking a crap.

(Tso told me not to blog about that. Tough.)

Then, this afternoon, I managed to get out the door at 3:15. My original plan was to have a few more beers (what better way to wake yourself up?) when I noticed I was sitting on a flat tire. I spent a good thirty minutes cursing the tire, my car, the suburbs in general and anyone and everyone I could think of. Windows started to open. Babies started to cry. So I calmed myself down and set about getting the spare tire from my trunk, only to find that it was buried underneath a year and a half of old clothes, magazines, books, boxes and other assorted crap. Once I cleared all that away, I found that the tire's central nut (or whatever the hell you call it) had rusted enough to weld it to the trunk floor. I cursed some more, got my Motor Club card and got them to send over this neo-hippie looking guy over to tow me to the nearest Good Year.

It's about three miles from school to this place, and this guy managed to make the trip last thirty minutes. First he yakked on his cell phone. Then his boss called to ask him where the hell he was. Then he went back to the cell phone. All the while, he was giving me a look of contempt I am only too accustomed to from anyone remotely qualified to tinker with an automobile. Dumb bastard can't even get a spare tire on, he was probably thinking. No wonder he works in an office. I myself felt no particular urge to defend my behavior--hell, it's all too true. If Dad were to see the shape that car is in, he'd remind me of all the neglected advice he's given me over the years: Get a haircut. Get up earlier. Be responsible. Don't eat lead paint. And always make sure you've got a spare tire, a jack, and road flares. Because once you need them, you won't have time to check.

My response? "Yeah, sure, I'll do it tomorrow."

Dad, one; me, nothing.

After mile one and a half had passed, however, Tow Truck Guy clued me in on how lucky I really am:
Guy: So how long you been teaching?
Me: About six years, I guess. Hold the applause.
Guy: You ever get a high school girl to sit on your face?
Me: You must be fucking joking...(guy just looks expectantly at me) I mean, uh, sure lots of times. I just, you know, had to make sure you weren't wearing a wire.
Guy: They drug test teachers?
Me: Only when we come to pick up our paycheck.
Guy: Just curious. I never did like school much.
Me: I never could have told. (I hide my copy of NEA Today) So what's your story?
Guy: I'm living with a bitchy-ass girlfriend. I can't stand it any more and I'm getting the fuck out of there.
Me: How long you been living with her? (Note my clever vernacular form of the verb "to be")
Guy: About three years.
Me: You must have some clever plan in mind. You must be biding your time.
Guy: No, we have a ten-month-old daughter.
Me: Oh.
Guy: I got her pregnant, and we moved in together. Whaddya gonna do?
Me: Obviously move in with her, become a tow truck operator, and work on a three-year plan to move away and ditch your daughter.
I know, I know. I shouldn't be poking fun. As a matter of fact, all the times I do poke fun, I really shouldn't. If those idiots ever drop that bomb, they sure as hell won't be needing any English teachers to jump start society. They'll need guys like this guy, who can fix things, work with things, and still have enough energy to drink all night.

Still, I look at a life like that, and I have to wonder...exactly how lucky have I had it all these years, while being too stupid to even notice it?

Okay, great pep talk. Now I have to grade sonnet analyses. My first one is a deft piece of analysis that begins: "The sonnet I'm writing about was written by a poet."

Beer. I need beer.

Saturday, September 27, 2003

Harold Bloom bashes Stephen King, from Neil Gaiman's website. Fodder for thought. (You have to register to read it, but it's free)

One night at layout...

Student: Mr. L, you sound just like my dad.
Me: How's that?
Student: He and I were looking at college application materials, and I was trying to be cute, telling him he really didn't want me to leave the house and everything. And he said he wanted to be proud of me, only he'd be proud of me more if I were in another state.
Me: Ah. A sage, witty man.
Student: You do that too. You say the meanest things with a completely straight face. Like "Oh, Lisa is such a good student, as long as she's not in the room yakking on her cell phone to her stupid boyfriend and using the word "like" all the time, like the idiot she really is.
Me: Hey, I never said you were a good student.
(I was told to blog about that comment. Just following orders.)

Thursday, September 18, 2003

Did you know the Lake Street Cafe sometimes runs out of beer and doesn't bother to stock it again? Neither did I. Fucking hell.

Wednesday, September 10, 2003

I suppose I should be flattered, but I had three parents tonight mention how young I looked. I'd like to believe it was because they feel I'm aging gracefully, but somehow, the subtle frown and dubious glance at my badly-knotted tie and mimeographed handout threw them for a loop:
Parent:So you're in charge of this class? You look awfully young.
Me: I know. It's all that clean living. It's a killer.
Parent: No, really, you look like you ought to be crying for your mamma and pissing in your didies.
Me: Listen, pal, what I do on my own time is my own business.

Thursday, September 04, 2003

Best one-liner of the day

Annoying colleague: You know what your problem is?
Me: I only have one?
So I ripped it off Ocean's Eleven.

Wednesday, August 20, 2003

First Day

Well I don't know what all the fuss is about. The first day of school is usually relatively stress-free, at least, as far as the classes I've been teaching my career thus far. It's too early to tell, but meeting my classes and running through the usual shebang of rules, regs and policies went over pretty well. Half the battle was having the next six weeks more or less planned out, which puts a spring in my step like you wouldn't believe. I only made one slip--Gentle Reader can judge for herself whether it was Freudian or not:
Me: And your name is?
Student: (xxxxx). (I don't want to embarass her, if you can dig that.)
Me: Great. Now tell me something about yourself so I can remember you better.
Student: Well, I'm kinda shy...
Me: Why? Were you abused as a child or something?
The words were right out of my mouth before I realized I said them, and I felt a slow, sinking feeling in my gut. Oh shit, I think, I just blew it on the first day. Thankfully enough, the girl wasn't embarassed, the class got to see me put my foot in my mouth for the first time (whew, that's over with), and within a matter of thirty seconds, it was business as usual.

The news reporting class is pretty full, and two kids were set to drop it before I explained what it was all about. Then they were interested, and wanted to stay. Cool. A full load in there, which is nice.

And I'm going to abstain about the new prep for now. I will point out that, when I'm not a hundred percent sure about the assignments, you can guarantee some fun times are ahead for me and the class overall.

One big hurdle (I said it before, but damn it, I'll say it again) is keeping myself organized. I'm using my plan book this year. I happen to be gifted with an incredible memory for the mundane: movie lines, release dates for Led Zepplin albums, you name it, it all stays upstairs and will stay up there until I'm old and grey, unable to remember to wipe my own ass after a healthy bowel movement. No matter--I'll be able to give the nurse giving me my sponge bath a play-by-play of the Dennis Hopper/Christopher Walken scene in True Romance while she's working. Part of this memory ability has always been strong in the short term department. If I have an appointment, or something is due, odds are I usually remember it without having to write it down. But freeing up that part of my mind by writing it all down (and I mean everything, from remembering to send out a staff e-mail regarding news stories for the year to coordinating my paper load with my dentist visits) allows me to concentrate on a few other things.

I also think it's meet to point out that this is probably the least stressed I've been at the beginning of school. Whether it holds or not is another matter. Were I a religious man, I'd be praying for it round the clock. But a different, far more wiser part of me points out that half the battle is attitude, and if I remember that I'm working for a living, it makes me enjoy some semblance of a life that much better.

So what's that life tonight?

It was going to be reading Davies and taking some practice GRE tests. It may still be so. Or I may read the rest of that Ellison book I've had lying around. I read a couple more stories last night, and they were well worth the time. The future of America's youths can wait a few hours, after all.

Monday, August 04, 2003


Well, it's August. Damnation. Time to get my thumb out of my ass and prepare to put it back in my ear in order to block out the whining I'll undoubtedly hear in a matter of weeks: "Why are we doing this?" "This is dumb." "You stink." "I want to go home."

And that's just my colleagues. The students are even worse.

All of my vows last week to 1) do work and 2) exercise were nothing short of futile. But I'm all about making smart choices these days, so I'll most likely hit the gym tomorrow; work today and every day this week, even if only for a few hours, and make some calls to set up paper distribution schedules for next (this) semester. That way I'll have a few less headaches along the way. I've also got to write for application materials for doctoral programs; Dr. Youbet told me he'd be happy to write a letter for me (as in "I'd be happy to slam you in a quick 30-word paragraph and tell the whole world what I really think of you"). That means I've got to write the other two profs and get them to change the date on the letters they've already written. With a little foresight, and a fair amount of success on the GRE class and test, my application materials could be sent out by October...November at the latest. Plus, with applying to seven schools instead of one (a la last year), my entrance is almost assured. Almost. Now if I can just find my Idiot's Guide to Learning What You're Supposed to Already Know, I'd be in gravy.

Haven't had a solid drinking binge at home in a while, and Matt's drinking excursions are starting to inspire me (God help me). I just read Michael Cunningham's The Hours and am dying to see the movie; I've also got a couple of episodes of Twin Peaks left to watch.

Oh yeah, I'm supposed to be working. I figure a rough six-week outline for the advanced classes should be a good start. Tomorrow I'll go to the office or the library and start reviewing the Honors stuff.

I do have to keep in mind that, even though the kids are doing layout next week, it's hardly full-time employment until the 18th. Them's the words.

Wednesday, July 30, 2003

Ego food

Just got an e-mail from a former student. It poses a good head-inflater, but also an interesting pedagogical issue:
I feel privileged to have been taught by you. I know it can be tough teaching cavalier seniors when the vast majority cares for nothing but to pass out of class and move on with their lives. I admit, I slacked off considerably this year in school--though I found myself teaching myself more outside of class than I ever had before. But you managed to keep me interested regardless. . .

Many times I found myself researching "tidbits" that you would mention in class of separate works of literature, only to find many of them more interesting than you had described. Although you may not have noticed, oftentimes you would mention other works of literature that you have read, relating them to work we did in class. Well, I am an overly curious know-it-all sort of person and would teach myself anything that you mentioned that I did not already know, or at least as much as I could.
Now I'm not excatly made of stone, and this is the kind of job perk that keeps suckers like me returning to the classroom day in, day out. There are just a couple of things that have occurred to me:

1) I think I may have taught him what "cavalier" means. I only hope it wasn't in a shitty context, like "You damned seniors think you're so cavalier. Well you're really a bunch of snots. Now write out 'I will not dissapoint Mr. L. for the rest of the hour.' "

2) The aforementioned student was easily one of the brightest I've ever taught...and probably one of the best in the school. Yes, he did slack off in my class, and while I'd like to argue that I was too busy trying to get other slackers to pass the fucking course to devote enough attention to him, the truth is that his very intelligence and maturity led me to believe he knew he was slacking, and that the best lesson he could get was to suffer the consequences (in this case, an A- instead of an A, God save the Queen). Besides, calling home to complain about a kid not living up to his full potential when he's doing above average work is like wearing a Kick Me Hard sign. And if I sound like I'm ducking work, you're probably right.

3) He mentions that I managed to keep him interested. Leaving aside my sneaking suspicion that he's playing it smart and setting up future letters of recommendation (would that I had taken such an angle myself), there is a disturbing sense of pleasure in keeping a kid like that engrossed. Like I said, he's smart as hell--but the real challenge in my job is getting kids to learn whether or not they're engrossed. You can save all the "Inspire me, o conveyor of wisdom" bullshit for the teacher flicks--in real life, getting that grumbling little SOB to do something that requires brain cells and meets your standards is cause for parades and balloons, never mind whether he liked your class or not. Still, I suppose I'm beating myself up here a little--you don't have to fight battles like that with a kid like this, which leaves you open for all sorts of other methodologies. You wouldn't have known he was engrossed--he was too polite to snooze in class, unlike some of his peers, but I would have bet my pension plan, if I had one, that his eyes glazed over at least on a biweekly basis.

Still, the gesture is not overlooked. I thanked him for his feedback and gave him a few more books to read (A Clockwork Orange doesn't hold a candle to Burgess' dystopian The Wanting Seed). If I can get a kid to at least read my recommendations, never mind liking them, I consider myself a true purveyor of culture and its digestion.

These are those trees we educators see instead of the forest. And there's plenty more of them to get lost in. Maybe I ought to quit and go into investment banking. Then I could really get my pedagogy straight.

Tuesday, July 15, 2003

Too Funny Because It's Too True

Weapons of Mass Destruction Message.

Plagiarized this one from Wiggo. Couldn't resist.

Sunday, July 13, 2003

Praise be to the old man--for my 28th birthday, I got a new decorative bookshelf. Enough to put my snotty "this-is-what-I'm-reading-what-about-you-you-ignorant-wretch" attitude out for everyone to see. But the best thing is, amongst the screws, divots and felt buffers, the package came with its own bottle of glue for me to sniff. Coolness.

Also picked up the White Stripes' Elephant and some dumb Mortal Kombat game for the PS. Used to play that game while sniffing glue (or some semblance of) way back when. Brought back fond memories.

Time for a bottle of wine. Never mind what O'Reilly says--Vive la France!

Friday, June 27, 2003

Bashing bullshit laissez-faire

A while back, Tso gave me a bootleg copy of Simone. I didn't expect it to be the best movie in the world, and as a result, I put it on the bottom of my Things to Watch List (right below When Bad Stunts Happen to Jackasses and The Joy of No Sex), but there eventually came a Sunday afternoon when I had nothing going on and decided to watch it. For those ignorant of the plot, Simone deals with a movie producer's (Al Pacino) efforts to create a digital superstar. Later on in the film, people begin wising up, wondering if Simone even exists in the first place. Pacino's daughter poses such a question to her mother, who responds: "There's no proof Simone doesn't exist."

"Look at what you're saying," the daugher retorts. "Is there any proof that she does?"

I couldn't help but notice at the time that such a question mirrors the whole WMD quest currently underway in Iraq. There's no proof that there are, or ever were, weapons of mass destruction in Hussein's hands, but the position of the hawks has always been "There's no proof that there weren't, either." Stupid position, really--leaving my own war stance aside for a minute--to look for proof for a negative. Rhetorically speaking, it's a dead end. I can't prove Santa Claus doesn't exist; I can't prove that the Easter bunny isn't hiding somewhere with a basket of goodies for me next April, and I sure as shit can't prove that, to use John Proctor's words in Arthur Miller's The Crucible, there isn't "a two-headed dragon under my wife's bed." Such questions are little more than a cat chasing its tail.

But that's irrelevant. The question itself ("are there weapons?" "are there not weapons?" "should we be doing what we're doing?" "why shouldn't we be doing what we're doing?" "shouldn't all women sleep with Gregg?") reveals a bias, and, as most liberals would be only too happy to point out, everyone's got a bias.

So who do you trust?

Who do you trust to give you unbiased information when such information isn't even possible? How can you trust the media, or politicians, or the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to provide you with "just the facts, ma'am," when the facts themselves, carefully selected, arranged and ordered so as to prove a singular point, are no more reliable or incontestable than the tea leaves a psychic reads at the bottom of your mug?

Well gee golly gosh, I guess you can't.

Now such an admission might seem defeatist. Far from it, I say. Knowing that biases exist does not make any information thrown your way completely worthless. Nor does it excuse you from formulating opinions of your own (that's right, Cisco, I'm talking to you here).

See, just because presentations of the facts are skewed doesn't mean your own perception is. Never mind my own positions for the moment--I'm talking about having a position in the first place. Too many people today equate terms like "evidence" and "facts" with "proving my point" when really it's all about discovering the truth. If I were to come across something, evidence, a written piece, whatever, that would make me believe the war on Iraq was a good thing, I would probably find my opinion influenced. Maybe even changed. Because I'm not about proving myself right. I'm about discovering whatever truth I can.

From poet and educator Taylor Mali:
I'm writing the poem that will change the world,
and it's Lilly Wilson at my office door.
Lilly is writing a research paper for me
about how homosexuals shouldn't be allowed
to adopt children.
I'm writing the poem that will change the world,
and it's Like Lilly Like Wilson at my office door.

She's having trouble finding sources,
which is to say, ones that back her up.
They all argue in favor of what I thought I was against.

And it took four years of college,
three years of graduate school,
and every incidental teaching experience I have ever had
to let out only,

Well, that's a real interesting problem, Lilly.
But what do you propose to do about it?
That's what I want to know.

And the eighth-grade mind is a beautiful thing;
Like a new-born baby's face, you can often see it
change before your very eyes.

I can't believe I'm saying this, Mr. Mali,
but I think I'd like to switch sides.

And I want to tell her to do more than just believe it,
but to enjoy it!
That changing your mind is one of the best ways
of finding out whether or not you still have one.
Or even that minds are like parachutes,
that it doesn't matter what you pack
them with so long as they open
at the right time.
O God, Lilly, I want to say
you make me feel like a teacher,
and who could ask to feel more than that?
I want to say all this but manage only,
Lilly, I am like so impressed with you!

So I finally taught somebody something,
namely, how to change her mind.
And learned in the process that if I ever change the world
it's going to be one eighth grader at a time.
Shifting gears for a moment, let's assume that there's value in an average opinion. Maybe just having this opinion isn't going to move mountains, but by God, you 've got it--that's why we live in America in the first place, right? To have opinions? To learn shit to shape and mold our ideologies and the person we want to be? To help mold the country into what we perceive it to be?

To change the world one eighth grader, one high school student, one person, one ideology at a time?

Is that an idealistic way to look at things?

Not remotely. You don't agree with me? You're wrong.

What is the definition of an idealist? Someone who sees only goals and not the real world? Okay, take that definition for a moment and then look at the facts (or my own rhetorically selected snippets of the big picture, if you want to be snotty):

The 2000 election has created a serious mar in the American population's perception about the weight their own votes swing. Such a mar may well result in an even lower voter turnout next term, with many citizens voicing their trepaditions in language such as "If my vote doesn't count, why bother with it in the first place?"

The war on Iraq, arguably speaking, was carried out contrary to 30-40 percent of the nation's opinion, and pretty much anathema to the entire world's opinion (minus Tony Blair, who, in the minds of the hawks, constitutes England itself). So why protest it? If it's going to happen anyway, what's the use in speaking out against it, or voicing arguments (reasonable or otherwise) as to why it should not take place?

The University of Michigan's affirmative action debacle will get a bunch of white people (not a significant percentage, I bet, but a percentage nonetheless) deciding that, if it comes between me and another qualified minority, it'll go to the minority, so I'm screwed anyway. So what's the point?

And with Rehnquist, O'Connor and Fitzgerald stepping down from the Supreme Court, only to be replaced by other conservatives (if I had to lay money down, that's what I'd envision) will result in a stronger conservative government, leading many Democrats and liberals to shake their heads and wonder what they're beating their heads against the wall for.

All of these are, more or less, seen as no-win situations through the lens of certain mindsets. Bullshit.

Bullshit bullshit bullshit.

Now why would I say that? Why would I, a pinko, peacenik, liberal subversive get the nerve to make such a statement? Are these not facts, garnered as objectively as possible? Has history not taught us that resistance in the face of an overpowering, ideologically entrenched majority rule is sometimes suicidal, usually futile?

From To Kill a Mockingbird:: "Just because we were licked two hundred years before we started fighting is no reason for us to not try now." Atticus Finch. Good night, Gregory Peck.

From The Shawshank Redemption, by Stephen King: "Andy didn't say anything [in response to someone asking him whether his letters to the prison board would do any good] except to ask what would happen if a drop of water were to fall on a cinder block for a thousand years."

And my own personal favorite, from Amelia Earhart: "Courage is the price the world exacts for peace of mind."

You see, just becuase a battle may not be won is no reason to fight it. So fight it.

I don't care if it never does any good, even though history has shown us that the right numbers in the right places with the right words can change anything. Anything.

You don't agree with me? You're still wrong. And fuck objectivity and bias.

From Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States:
Student protests against the ROTC [with regards to the Vietnam War] resulted in the canceling of thsoe programs in over forty colleges and universities. In 1966, 191,749 college students enrolled in ROTC. By 1973, the number was 72,459.
From a news dispatch in Atchison, Kansas, 1886:
"At 12:45 this morning the men on guard at the Missouri Pacific roundhouse were surprised by the appearance of 35 or 40 masked men. The guards were corralled in the oil room by a detachment of the visitors who stood guard with pistols . . . while the rest of them thoroughly disabled 12 locomotives which stood in the stalls." (This strike occurred as a result of the Texas & Pacific Railroad's attempts to quash a union for workers' rights (for an eight hour day, safe working conditions, etc.). After fiery meetings, police brutality towards strikers and even the trials of avowed anarchists (see entries on the Haymarket Square riots and the Homestead act), despite a long and bloody road, workers' rights are now ensured.)
And don't tell me today's ruling on sodomy laws in Texas had nothing to do with the Rainbow Coalition's efforts, trying to promote homosexual relationships' equality with heterosexuals'.

These are just a couple of examples off the top of my head. There are numerous others, some of which are so obvious it would be insulting to bring them up (King's nonresistance protests; the women's suffrage movement; the Native Americans' tribal attempts to circumvent the use of their land by the federal government). In all cases, however, you see a group of people working in concert to change something.

For every one of these examples, there are probably ten to twenty others that failed miserably.

That, to me, does not spell a reason to give up, sink into apathy, and not put your own hand in.

You see, I may not know a lot in this world for sure, but I do know that one way to make sure you don't get what you believe is right, or don't change anything for the better, is to do nothing.

That attitude, and my unwillingness to lie down and let those in power walk over me when I perceive them to be doing so, doesn't make me an idealist.

It makes me a fucking realist.
Note: on a less serious note, if you really want to see the risks of not making your voice heard, consider the Onion's American People Ruled Unfit to Govern. Scares me a little, I tell ya.

Tuesday, June 17, 2003

Time magazine gave a cautious evaluation of the Philly schools that have been privatized over the past nine months. The consensus seems to be...there is no consensus. Until more results and testing is in, everyone out there in the city of Brotherly Love (among them Paul Vallas...I keep forgetting he went there) is going to run with the ball until something blows up. What really pissed me off (besides the idea that corporate America can swoop in anywhere and expect to fix anything after the shit year they've just caused for so many people--not that I'm generalizing of course) is their backlash. Specifically Chancellor Beacon Academies, which is considering a lawsuit after being dismissed by Vallas because of a lack of results (dirt on them not available in web article).

Now that's just the kind of work ethic kids are already learning, thanks to peabrained parents who want to put the onus of responsibility on anyone but their kids. The whole concept of privatization makes me see red. If it were just pouring more money into the system, I could perhaps calm down, but then I remember that money doesn't even do anything unless you've got someone in the system who knows about teaching and who knows where the money could be best spent.

I'm reminded of the grader fiasco we recently had at my school. See, because we require an extraordinary amount of writing (and I'm not trying to sound arrogant--I've ran the figures of how much writing our students do by virtually everyone I know and it's miles above everyone else's experiences, both as a student and as a teacher), the district decided way back when we'd get a budget to recruit help grading all of this. When I started teaching, I was naive enough to believe I could do it the way my professors had always done it--for content alone, fuck grammar. I still combat this mentality. I mean, if a kid has had three years of teachers shoving grammar down his/her throat, and they still don't get it, I'm not going to do much good in addition. So why not take them to task for not knowing what they're supposed to know?

Anyway, somehow the budget was magically depleted. Not because of yours truly (I was loathe to send out that much stuff), but because of (allegedly) overspending by certain teachers and misuse of the system. A big brou-haha ensued during a faculty meeting, the result of which was we were going to bully the administration for more money while continuing to disagree on how it should be divied up. Whatever.

Shortly after we were told not to overspend the budget, the district gave everyone in the building a school CD holder. For our CDs. I imagine the retail went for somewhere around ten bucks apiece, but I'll be kind and say seven. Multiply that by, say, three hundred teachers and that's $2,100. Or one grader.

I never scored very well in Monopoly, but come on!

Wednesday, June 11, 2003

Back in Illinois now, thank God. One more day in the Big Apple probably would have fried my brain but good. All it took was about twenty minutes of Midwestern air circulating in my lungs to dope me up and bring me off that natural high of city living, steady alcohol and sensory excess. Better than a healthy shot of Valium, as far as I'm concerned.

It was funny to watch the old high school/college patterns develop (though in all honesty, a weekend full of them probably took ten years off my life). We would wake up eleven, twelve, one in the afternoon, and Matt would hang over the edge of his bed, staring at me lying on an inflatable mattress on the floor. "God, you look like shit" was his standard morning greeting, to which I would mumble something vaguely comprehensible. After showering (and how in hell he does it in a bathroom no bigger than my hall closet is beyond me) and dragging a razor over my face, it was over to the corner restaurant, where I had the best lox and eggs I've ever had.

"No more alcohol for a while," one of us would promise the other. "My liver is ready to jump out of my stomach and start kicking me in the ass." There would be no fuss over that particular point; we would arrange for something cultural (a museum, city tour or whatever)...and then by three o'clock we were back in the bar drinking. Hell, isn't that what they invented Bloody Marys for? When Wiggo hooked up with us (and believe me, an alcohol-amateur he is not), his amazement registered through every layer of my booze-soaked brain. Would that I could put such an accomplishment on my curriculum vita.

So I get home and find that I still have no food in the fridge, my bills still aren't paid and I still don't have all the paperwork in for that camp trip for the kiddies in July. So I had to put in about thirty minutes at the office today, after which it was straight to this month's Premiere magazine (the Top Ten Best Sex Scenes of All Time), a couple hours of NYPD Blue (in the city pan-and-scans I can now pick out three buildings besides the Empire State and Chrystler buildings that I can recognize) and a DVD (Tell Me Something--kickass review to be published). My brother's bachelor party is coming up in a few weeks; Wiggo will be back in town in two weeks. I should be thinking about curriculum and what not right now, but I figured I'd take a good week off of anything like that before straining my brain cells. Besides, after a weekend like this one, I'd probably get in more trouble trying to put lessons together than not.

Anyway, I'm thinking of looking into NYU and what it has in the way of a rhetoric program. It probably won't happen (I have no idea what their requirements are, but I know damn well how much their TAs make, and while you can live like a king on such a salary in DeKalb, similar ambitions in the City That Never Sleeps, Stops Drinking or Throwing Lustrious Entertainment Your Way fall significantly short of reality), but I can't help thinking that if other people can make it work, maybe I could qualify.

Qualify as "other people," that is. Ever notice how everything that ever looked the best or the worst to you always happens to someone else? There's my answer.

Monday, June 09, 2003

After several hours of arguing and three or four Bloody Marys, I managed to cough up another $95 to stay here another day. And if I'm drunk enough tomorrow, I may extend it another twenty four hours as well. Damn it, I'm on vacation. Time I acted like it.

Salome was phenomenal. Of course, most of the play was taken up by Pacino sitting in an armchair delivering diatribes against his wife and stepdaughter that make his rants in Glengarry Glen Ross look like an exercise in marital restraint. But it was great nonetheless. (John, if you're reading this, yes, Marissa Tomei gets topless. I couldn't get a picture for you. Sorry.)

I even saw Guy Pierce in the auditorium (this was in the Barrymore) talking on a cell phone. I would have talked to the guy, but he must have spotted a drunken fanatic fan a mile away, because he walked off the minute we made eye contact. Does that make me a psycho fan because I'm all excited about making eye contact with Pierce? It even made Pacino and Tomei's performances anticlimactic.

Anyway, we've found our old patterns quite easily. We're up in the morning hung over and billious, swearing not to drink to excess for another day...and then reneging on that promise by noon or one p.m. the same afternoon. Amidst all the drinking, though, I did manage to take in a fair amount of what the city has to offer:
The Brooklyn Bridge
The Met
The Empire State Building
Rockefeller Center
Fifth Avenue
Saint Patricks Cathedral
The New York Public Library (great bar behind it!)
Bryant Park
The Village
Times Square
Grand Central Station (another great bar, but the bartender thought I was gay and gave me a bunch of male strip club addresses, damn it)
Columbia University
Tonight, it's Little Italy with Wiggo and Toola. Then more alcohol. If I make that flight tomorrow, it'll be a miracle.

Oh, and I even got the time wrong for the return flight. Surprised, you should not be.

Saturday, June 07, 2003

Three hours until Salome. About to break out my new suit--I'll probably spill vodka all over it. God, the drinking continutes nonstop. We got in around 4 a.m. yesterday, slept for almost eight hours, woke up dishevelled and gravel-throated...then went to the Met (Metropolitan Museum of Art, for the unlettered) and hit a bar on the way back. Two Black and Tans later and I feel like I've been taking vitamins and exercising for a year.

I picked up two books at the museum which, combined, make up a sort of halfassed rhetoric primer. One is a more or less illustrated history of writing; the other more of the same on philosophy. I haven't forgotten about getting those GRE scores up yet...I've just put it on hold to drink more.
In New York now, drunk, barhopping, listening to Carmen in Matt's shoebox of a New York apartment. They tell me this is what I work all year to afford--a lousy weekend in New York for the sole pleasure of listening to operas, going to Broadway plays and drinking in overcrowded, trendy, yuppified bars. Oh man, am I on vacation or what?

Almost didn't make it--almost missed the flight. I have two things to thank for making my flight on time--one is a lack of traffic on 290; the other is dumb luck.

Three vodka tonics; half a bottle of Merlot; one Bud Light and a glass of French wine. Not a bad resume for the first Friday night of my summer break.

Wednesday, May 14, 2003

On a survey we're giving to graduating students of LP, one question was: "If they made a movie about our school, who would you get to play your favorite teacher?"

Setting aside such trivialities as "Barney the Dinosaur," "a pile of shit" and "there are no good teechers here they suck," here's what's lined up in the casting agency for yours truly:

Topher Grace. Skinny, shaggy-haired, yet still appealing to the ladies. Okay, I can live with that.

Woody, from Toy Story. Hmm. This one requires some thought. Yeah, I'm a rough-riding cowboy, but there's still something a little too flighty about the guy. Maybe if I kept the hat on, it would work...don't forget, though, I get to land Bo Peep in the end.

Jim Carey. Apparently I have a knack for doing impressions of people the kids don't know (like when I ripped off Matt's father's "skin in the game" schtick and said it was my uncle). Okay, that works. As long as I don't have to light any farts.

Vin Diesel. Works for me. Note the rippling muscles, the firm jaw, the utter lack of comprehension of a quality movie script...oh wait, would this have anything to do with the fact that the student who recommended me is trying to suck his way up to a B in my class? Nah.

Arnold Schwarzenegger. Ditto Vin Diesel.

There were others, but I can't remember them. Those are the top runners. No wonder I have such a healthy self-esteem.

Interesting conversation with a colleage today. We were arguing over bathroom duties next year. See, because I go between two different campuses, I've been exempt from such circumstances as having to stand outside a bathroom door watching for smokers, drinkers, screwers and anyone else who might violate the school code in some weird and uncompromising position. (The kids are even worse.)
Colleague: Look Gregg, I just wanted you to know, I think it's about time you did a bathroom duty. I mean, I know it's not in your contract and you don't get paid for it or anything, but we've got a hole in the schedule we need to fill.
Me: Well you can't get me to do it. Because it's not in my contract, I'm not obligated to do a thing. Especially if it's to free up time for you so you can go to that mediator conference. Sorry, pal, but you're out of luck.
Okay, that's what I should have said. What came out went something like:
Colleague: It's time you did bathroom duty. We've got a hole in the schedule to fill.
Me: (mumbling) Sure. Whatever works for the better of the school.
Then again, if I'd had any guts:
Colleague: You need to do bathroom duty. It's going in your contract.
Me: Fuck off. (walk away)
But instead, I think I'll go to the truth:
Colleague: You've escaped the terrors of bathroom duty for long enough. Now you pay the price. I told you you couldn't steal my quizzes without some kind of payback.
Me: Oooh, bathroom duty. I am like so scared.
This whole exchange will seem a lot more entertaining if you remember that 1) it actually happened (mitigating circumstances and verbosity changed to protect anonymity) and 2) all scenarios ran through my head so fast, I didn't know which one I'd actually said.
Colleague: Why do you spend so much time with your head cocked to the side like you're thinking something you're too chickenshit to say out loud?
Me: Ooh, I am like so scared.
Colleague: Huh? Of what?
Me: Aren't we talking about bathroom duty.
Colleague: No, now we're talking about what a chickenshit you are.
Me: Oh. Well. Uh, could you ask me again if I'll take bathroom duty?

Monday, April 21, 2003


If I see one more picture of a chubby-cheeked Iraqi child kissing a U.S. soldier, I'll start projectile vomiting.

If I have to grade one more response paper that begins "This book sucks," I'm going to break out a bottle of Elmer's Glue.

If I have to hear one more person quote Savage Nation when defending overseas political strategy, I'll shoot myself in the face.

And if I have to go one more ride without a car CD player, I'll most likely commit hari kari. That's right--I finally cashed in the lousy $250 or so and bought myself a new car stereo. Funny--the stereo is worth more than the car with me in it. But at least now I can blare The Cult on my ten-minute ride to work in the mornings (afternoons take a bit longer).

Testing on Wednesday and Thursday, which means I only have to teach one class. Awesome. Hopefully I'll use the time to catch up on grading and planning, but most likely they'll find something better for me to do. Like wax the floors. They could use it, after all.

Thursday, April 10, 2003

War is what upsets the public in wartime, not pop song lyrics , from The Scotsman, via Matt. Good take.
Finished Why Do People Hate America, and I only wish I had a photographic memory. I'll have to look it over for the key points. I won't say the whole thing was gold, but it was up there, especially about the cowboy attitude Americans tend to project into world affairs.

Speaking of the war...

Tribune critic Steve Johnson reminds us (in today's article) that just because the television broadcasts images of Hussein toppling over does not mean the war is won (it ain't exactly the Berlin wall, after all--there are plenty other statues to be torn down). Of course I'm jubilant that the Iraqi dictator is off and running, most likely in northern Iraq. Who wouldn't be? Just because you're anti-war doesn't mean you don't like to see a torturer and murderer of innocents get his come-uppance (if in fact he's gotten it--it's a little too early to tell).

But there are repercussions that are going to follow. Various intelligence sources have already commented that this war has been a prime breeding ground for further Al Queda recruitment of more terrorists, and since terrorism against the U.S. is what gets your average Joe Average jumping up in his seat, we could be in for some trouble there. Besides, despite American media portraying a grinning, victory-saluting Iraqi population hailing our troops, there is still instability. The BBC reports further fighting and looting in Baghdad, not twenty-four hours of the American occupation.

Although even Rumsfeld is cautioning us that it's not over, the television and front-page pictures are saying otherwise. Keep your ear to the ground.

Friday, March 21, 2003

And lest I forget...

Happy war, everyone.

Friday, March 14, 2003

True story

It's pt conferences and I'm tired. I've been there for fourteen hours or so and I've sat through numerous meetings with parents whose kid(s) is/are doing fine. They could get a conference with a rock and witness more productivity. And I had the usual run of "My kid is getting a B+ and what are you going to do about it, rookie?" speeches thrown at me as well. Fun and games, all of it.

Then, two parents come in unannounced. Immediately my guard goes up:
Mom: Are you Mr. L?
Me: Yes, hold the applause.
Mom: You teach writing?
Me: In my spare time. But I've always wanted to be a Solid Gold dancer.
Dad: You have our daughter in your class.
Me: Oh God, I'm sorry about that. I tried to reach her, really I did. It's just that I've been under a lot of pressure and I haven't been sleeping too well. If you want your tax dollars refunded back to you, I'll understand, but I'll see what I can do to salvage the rest of the semester and teach her something.
Mom: Actually she loves your class.
Dad: She says it's too short.
Mom: She says she learned how to write.
Dad: She says you taught her.
Mom, Dad: Thank you.
Deep, meaningful pause...
Me: I'll try harder. Really, I will. You think she'd like to SSR?
I'll start taking scholarships in my name any day now. Wait and see...

Thursday, February 27, 2003

One more amusing anecdote:

I'm charging up and down the class, ranting and railing about Marxism, feminism, psychosocialism and Freudianism in English literature, one eye on a couple of giggling girls in the back and the other on my watch, counting down the hours until I can escape to the teacher's lounge and drink a glass of fa Chrissake orange juice. "Ladies, quit horsing around back there," I say in my best Authoritative Teacher voice (which usually comes out sounding like a bad case of the hemmehroids). "This is not a playground, and the proletariat/bourgeoise struggle is a serious thing."

They stopped giggling. I went on with my "lesson." "So in this novel, we've got a bad guy, right? And he knows he's bad, right? Right?"

"Are you going to the party tonight?" someone whispered to someone else.

Here I stepped up on a desk, figuring if I couldn't teach, at least I could command attention. "You've got to look above your surroundings, that's what the Marxists were all about. They didn't see their futures as only lasting until the next paycheck. They planned ahead. And they were conscious of their surroundings. Like you all have to be, damn it."

"Hey, should you be swearing so much?" someone asked.

"Be conscious of your surroundings," I snapped. "Pay attention. There's a lot to observe in life, and most of it starts with you and your life. Got it?"

The two girls started giggling again. "Ladies, one more time--quit goofing around. Or you'll be cleaning blackboard erasers until June 5, I kid you not."

I cast them The Look (if you've ever been caught horsing around by a veteran, you know it; if you've ever seen a guy trying to stare down a bully unsuccessfully, you've seen mine) and beat the clock at thirty seconds before the bell ranting about Oedipal complexes in Romantic poetry. "Does everybody have all that? Men want to sleep with their..."

"Mothers," the class intoned dutifully.

"Okay, then, that's it for the day. Have a good weekend." I hopped down and beamed out at all of them, radiant in my scholastic wisdom and savoir faire.

On their way out, the two giggling girls passed me a note. "What's this?" I asked belligerently. "More of your damned tomfoolery? You're lucky paddles are outlawed in public classrooms these days."

One of the girls simply unfolded the note, pointed, and stalked out the room. The other one followed suit.

On the note:Check your zipper.

Tuesday, February 25, 2003

Somebody call Satan--Hell must have frozen over.

Kim got a blog.

That's right--a blog.

And she's already got her share of reviews:

From the New York Times: "Finally, a blog that addresses the fundamentals of political, socio-demographic and cute, cuddly kittens has found its way to the World Wide Web. I look forward to the next post with bated breath."

From Time Magazine: "This solitary voice of a pro-animal rights crusader and anti-consumer weaves its way among the tangled web of movie reviews, dilapidated memoirs and otherwise cumbersome rants of the sub-literate. Like her stinking boyfriend."

From Cat Fancy: "Lots of cat and dog pics. About f***ing time."

Sunday, February 09, 2003

The cat's wake last night was a complete success. I'm sure he's looking down on us fondly right now, thinking how much he misses us. Barring that, he's probably waiting for someone to change his litterbox again.

As for me, another broken up week--I've got a conference to go to Tuesday, which should alter my routine nicely. I've been a vegetable all weekend, and not by choice either. My brain is squeezing thoughts through it one at a time, painfully and quite slowly. It took me over three hours to do one lousy stack of essay exams, and just the memory of that grueling endeavor is keeping me away from the remaining stack. I did do some planning for tomorrow, though--I looked up a bunch of alchemists mentioned at the beginning of Frankenstein to try and get some philosophical background into the class discussion. But most likely it won't work worth a shit.

Layout starts Wednesday, too, and the assistant advisor isn't back from surgery yet. That should be a good issue to tackle: "Listen, Ms. B., I know they just removed your lower spleen, but I need someone to proofread Page One. So quit lying around, slacker. Earn your $8.50 an hour, or whatever we're getting for all this."

At least there's a three-day weekend next week. That's good.

And a four-day weekend (of sorts) the week after that. That's even better.

Also, barring some unforeseen event, I should hear from U of I by then, which means I'll know whether or not to drown myself in alcohol out of self-pity or arrogant victory. I guess it all comes out the same in the end either way.