Monday, November 13, 2006

At long new car.

More debt. More checks to write.

But isn't it sweet? And even though I look damn good already, I look even better driving it. Now can somebody loan me some gas money?

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Daniel Craig shows some clips of Secretary Rumsfeld having some fun at the podium. Not to be missed.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Here's a list of people who owe me $20 (nicknames are used in places):
Dewey: "There's no way the Democrats are going to take any power in this election. The American people are just a bunch of sheep."

Tso: "There's no way Blagojevich is going to get reelected. His corruption has caught up with him."

Tso: "Iraq will not be a deciding factor in this election. America still supports the war."

Rinney: "You're not going to stay sober and watch CNN all election night. That's not possible."

Karl Rove: "[The Republican polls are going to stay in power.] You've got your [electoral math], I've got the math." (said to an NPR reporter, but I bet him through absentee ballot)

George Bush: "The Democrats want to cut and run." (after taking the house, Pelosi denied any such plans, and now that she's all but certain to become House Speaker, people actually started listening to Democrats.)

Look, people, how many times do I have to say it? You think elections don't change anything? What just happened: the President ate his own words, Rummy resigned, and the Democrats aren't talking tax-tax-tax, run-run-run. They're talking higher minimum wage. They're talking redirecting oil funds. They're talking pay-as-you-go.

And did anyone see Tom DeLay's comment: "The Democrats didn't win. The Republicans lost"? Strange thing for "The Hammer" to say, a man for whom there are nothing but absolutes. When convicted, he'll be saying, "They didn't find me guilty--they failed to find me innocent." And he'll be passing on the soap while saying it, too.

I'm drunk, but this time on elation. And gin.

Friday, October 20, 2006

We had a half day today because of conferences. Normally, I head to Best Buy to waste my hard-earned money on a crappy DVD--last year it was the Special Edition of The Fly; the year before that, Evil Dead II. But I found out I'm not, after all, registered to vote, and while I support wholeheartedly American complacency and the voting gap that lies stinking like an abscessed wound over my generation, I nevertheless felt a transitory yet persistent urge to throw my lot in with the rest of the disenchanted, sick-of-swiping-politicians voters and cast my ballot for the "anybody but the rest of them" party. As much as humanly possible, anyway. So I stopped-and-went along 90 to the Blue Line and hopped a train to the Daley Center (in its resplendent Halloween glory; see image and note below), where I did Late Registration Voting.

It's a humbling process. I should probably point out that I was still attired in my suit-and-tie from conferences, and since the Maiden concert was over and done with, I'd gotten a haircut mere minutes before the meet-and-greet yesterday. So I was looking relatively dapper. As my colleagues like to point out, I clean up good. As I like to point out...well, seriously, ladies, who wants a taste?

But I could have been wearing Armani delux and still received the same treatment.

My first mistake was bringing a book. White guys wearing Ipods, dressed in ratty clothing with hair hanging down their face over a copy of Critique of Practical Reason don't draw a second glance on the Red Line. (Trust me--I know, except substitute Kant for Hustler.) But wearing a rumpled shirt under your suit and carrying a copy of Eleanor of Aquitaine, for some reason, brands you a Hillary-ite. (I'm not saying I'm not one, just that I was labeled.) Seriously, several people passed me tracts. One guy told me he hated New York. Another said he would pray for me. And this was all from reading a fucking book. Or, better still, reading a book about the most powerful woman in the twelfth century. Had I carried a copy of Dr. Phil, I probably would have been safer.

My second mistake was assuming I'd remember the address. I found the building no sweat--only a complete and utter illiterate would have trouble disembarking and walking through the wrong door. I remembered that much from a Chicago parking ticket many moons ago. But I couldn't remember what suite in the Cook County building it was, and the "Information Desks" were anything but informative. The good news: I now know where to apply for divorce. Hey, you never know.

My last mistake was missing the deadline in the first place. Like an utter cretin (but not an illiterate one, I hasten to add), I assumed I'd registered when I moved, when, more likely, I reminded myself to register, forgot the reminder, and assumed I'd done it. Doing late registration seems to be like registering for unemployment--you get a lot of judgmental, "how the hell did you end up here looks from the people behind the desk, you fill out a lot of paperwork, you wait in uncomfortable plastic chairs that somehow mold to not fit your butt, and you listen to other people (losers, unlike you, who screwed up somehow, which is why they're there, even if it's not why you yourself are) screech about long lines, paperwork and uncomfortable chairs.

One interesting wrinkle: I had to vote that day. Late registration precludes you from the Nov. 7 experience. Good thing I did my homework and knew how badly both governor candidates sucked the royal root.

An even more interesting wrinkle: no-votes are possible. You can leave ballot boxes blank. It's the only form of two-party protest I can think of.

And you even get your I voted today sticker to put on Nov. 7.

The Halloween-themed Daley Center, cribbed from Freaky, innit?

Thursday, October 19, 2006

You can rock at a Maiden concert on a school night.

Yes, indeedy, the Maidens rocked the house at the Allstate Arena Wednesday night. I whined. I puled. I howled. First about the late hour; then about the new album they were playing start to finish.

Let me tell you something: they rock.

I'm still digesting A Matter of Life and Death, but there are songs that scream "old school" to me. "These Colours Don't Run," or "The Greater Good of God." I've only listened to the songs in the car--I need to get them on my MP3, or in my living room. But I don't even know all the lyrics yet, and the only reason I know there's an anti-war theme is because of the bigass tank on the cover. My car is ok for acoustics, but the Allstate leaves much to be desired.

So there I stood, 31 years old, wearing a secondhand Hawaiian shirt and my dog-chewed concert jacket, cheering like a loon along with the appropriate lyrics from "Iron Maiden" and "Hallowed Be Thy Name." I'd never gotten to wail along to "Fear of the Dark" (it being post-1985 work of theirs), but I did not miss my chance Wednesday. They put me to shame: Dickinson has got to be past 50, yet he can still run and bellow high notes nonstop without even breaking a sweat. They had energy. They had depth. They knew how to put on a show.

When I left, my ears were ringing. My head was splitting. I needed a shower. I needed a drink. I needed to pull out all my Iron Maiden tapes and play them back to back until one a.m.

So why was it, then, that in the car, after fiddling with the radio for a while, I found myself singing lustily along to George Michaels' "Faith"?

Not exactly the capper for my first metal concert in over a decade. I swear, I have ADD for music taste.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Woke up this morning with a sore throat, throbbing head and eyes glued shut. Thanks a pantsful, Tso--you gave me your cold. Staggered into school to make sure plans are in place--normally this wouldn't be an issue, but, well, anyway, who cares about the details. When coming out of school on a day you're supposed to be out sick, if anyone sees you and you're not hobbled over in pain, with glands swollen like footballs, you're automatically playing hookey. So I gave myself a limp and made like I couldn't talk--instead, I relied on pantomime and exaggerated facial gestures to convey a simple message: Sick. Can't come in today.

"Oh, okay," one colleague said on her way in. "Next time, though, leave your damn plans in the mailbox."

More sub-par sign language ensued: Office closed. No get in.

"Then get a janitor to let you in," the colleage said, storming off in a frenzy of righteous indignation over a morning interrupted by nonsense. Down the hall, I heard her muttering to someone, "Probably hung over from sniffing glue, the idiot."

And another heaping pantsful to my colleague.

On the bright side, macaroni and cheese is good breakfast food for my condition. Hopefully it'll knock me out long enough to recuperate, after which period of time I can maybe finish a set of papers so tomorrow isn't too painful.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Karma is laughing its ass off at me.

I was picked to read the Inspiration of the Week during announcements next week. Here's a snippet of what I came up with:
"Don't think of challenges as something to be ignored. Think of them as challenges. Just that. To be challenged is to know you are alive."
I made the mistake of confiding to Tso about this upcoming speech. "I'm totally pumped," I chirped as we made our way into the city (The Best Man at Victory Gardens, totally worth $25, in case you're wondering). "It's a chance to do some of that high-quality speechwriting they're always yakking about on West Wing."

Tso grunted.

"Plus, I get to stop them from whining for a while. Losers."

Then, on my way home, my Check Engine light goes on. No problem: I can hit the mechanic Saturday morning.

Due to an evening of casual boozing, I wake prematurely, and spend forty minutes standing stupidly in my kitchen, watching a coffee pot with no water in it percolate. I've had four hours sleep, and I've got a splitting headache. No problem: I down a quart of coffee once I remember the water, and head over to the mechanic. Where they scratch their heads, stick their hands into their pockets and shrug. "Can't tell you the problem, buddy, except it'll cost about $1500 to figure it out."


No problem: I guess it's time to start car-shopping. I begin this task like I do all other major ones in my life: by calling everyone I know and whining about it.
Dad: "Stop crying. Tell VWW I'm an employee and you'll get a free coffee mug."

Brother: Nobody home. Whined into machine.

Girlfriend: Nobody home. Outgoing message sounds vaguely amused(?)

Tso: "Stop crying, you pussy. Let's go drink breakfast."

Principal: "What do I care? Get your ass in on Monday regardless. And don't call this number any more."

Dial-a-Prayer: "What did you expect after 143,000 miles? Idiot."
So after a short breakfast I'm on my way to various dealerships in Arlington Heights, Schaumburg, Palatine, anywhere I can find something driveable, reasonably priced, and something I won't get my pants pulled down over when negotiating. We managed to hit two, maybe three dealerships, only to see smoke pouring out of my hood on the way.

No problem. Just park in the Gulf Road median, pop the hood and stare in disbelief at the gaping hole in the overflow tank where a cap used to be. The mechanic forgot to put it back on.

No problem. Just hit every car parts store, Ford dealership and bum with a suspicious bulge in his pocket that might be a radiator overflow cap. All to no avail.

No problem. Just hit the mechanic on the way back (only by now it's pouring rain, and the smoke is mixing with it to form a finely-tuned paste over my windshield), watch him fumble and fume over the car for twenty minutes, then finally find the cap and screw it back on.

By now, it's six hours since I left my house. In that time frame, I've managed to eat lunch, work myself into a nervous breakdown, look at three cars, hit five car parts store, spend $8 on coolant I now don't need, and wind up right back where I started: with a wounded car and empty wallet.

And a splitting headache.

"I am this close to losing it," I grumbled on the way home, making a space between my fingers no bigger than his dick.

Tso grunted. "It's a challenge. It's how you know you're alive."

"Screw you."

To celebrate the end of this hellacious and utterly pointless day, I've drank three beers, eaten a TV dinner of chicken, mashed potatoes and peas, watched Welcome to the Dollhouse and daydreamed of firebombing every mechanic on I. Park Road from here to the Windy City. With napalm. And a Zippo lighter.

To consummate my pending bankruptcy, I will finish my six pack, flop on the couch and watch Lou Dobbs reruns, allowing the miasmic fugue of CNN to explain to me what the problem is with the world today. By the time I wake up tomorrow, I could very well be a full-fledged member of the Republican party, or xenophobic, or obsessed with rooting out terrorism in every Mexican immigrant crossing over. That way, at least I'll forget any crippling car payments that might be looming presently.

Hey, don't raise any eyebrows in my direction. It's a miracle I can even spell right now.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Grammar Wars

The counselors were pleading (perhaps in vain) with my seniors to apply often, apply early for college in the fall. Then one of them collected her evaluations. "Oh, what a relief," she breathed breathlessly, pawing through them like they were coupons, "so many positive comments! Nobody said I suck!"

Then, her eyes narrowed on one in her hand and she sucked in a lungful of air. "Wait a minute...this one says I suck!"

All the while I was sitting at my desk, my fingers laced underneath my chin, a look on my face I'm told is labelled the "near-suicide" look. Or the "I wish I was on my bicycle" look. Or maybe the "What kind of soup are they serving today?" look. I don't know. I have so many looks.

In any event, all I wanted to do was get back to the toils of secondary education (teaching ballads about how to drink ale). Enough of this crap (planning for a future more successful than mine).

So when the counselor turned on me, I was startled. "Why can't you teach them better adjectives than suck?" she demanded, not realizing that she'd teed it up for me and I wouldn't be able to resist giving it a whack.

"Actually, you just used it as a verb," I replied. And cooly blew smoke off my metaphorical pistol.

The class erupted. The counselor surrendered her ground good-humoredly and exit, stage left. I turned to face my class.

"When you're all gossiping about this," I said, "and I'm pretty sure you will, put me in a cape. I think this whole thing would be much more dashing if I were caped."

Sometimes...God, sometimes I love that place.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Tale of Two Cities--the Musical at the library yesterday. Listening to it in the car. Not half bad. Envisioning a chipper, upbeat singing Madame DeFarge is a bit of a stretch, but I can only assume that will last only so long in the show. Lyrics for the songs available here.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

The First Days of School

The First Quiz

I spent three and a half days covering early British history, culled from a variet of sources, most notably the Oxford Illustrated History of Britain and Some of my slides read things like, "55 B.C. Julius Caesar invades." Parts of the textbook read, "Julius Caesar invaded Britain in 55 B.C." I said things like "remember the date 55 B.C."

Skimming the quizzes, I suspect perhaps I didn't drill them enough.

I keep forgetting the basics: Seniors + work = whining. Even with the best of them.

The good news: I'm looking forward to Round Ten tomorrow morning. As W.C. Fields said, "If at first you don't succeed...quit. No sense being a damn fool about it."

Obviously, Fields is no help to me whatsoever at the moment. Never thought I'd say that.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Drug-Sniffing Chihuahuas

I think I'm going to hurl, he's so darn cute

Yes, I'm a freak for these damn dogs. So is Layback. They're training these water-bottles-with-legs wonders to become security dogs, according to MSN.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The First Days of School

First Full Day

Not too bad, all things considered. It's always a relief when the students don't bum rush me on the first day. Good of them to wait until Labor Day.

Of course, my room are still a mess. The LCD on my ceiling is nice and everything, but at present it's purely decorative. My first classroom is still about as spacious as a broom closet, and my seventh hour classroom has been disembowled by a newly-transplanted teacher in there. However, as I cracked to a co-worker, "We'll break the 180-day mark next week. There's cause for celebration."

So you trudge home after a hard day's work, only to remember: there's work yet to do. There's lesson plans to finish (writing "Medieval introduction" on the syllabus in June was a piece of cake compared to coming up with an actual Medieval introduction for August); AV requests to put in; AV presentations to construct so the AV request isn't completely pointless. And so on.

But not tonight. At least, not all of it. I've got a book to read and a steak to cook.

I came up with a pretty good one-liner if anyone wants to steal it:
Me: Make sure you back up all your work. That's why I always have my flash drive. Everything I work on, I put on that.
Student:What if you lose it? Do we still get a zero?
Me: That's why I save it on the server here, too.
Student: What if the server here crashes?
Me: Well I also e-mail myself copies of the work too.
Student: Just for sake of argument, what happens if the e-mail doesn't work? Or there's a virus?
Me: Then God obviously hates you. No wonder I'd give you a zero.

Monday, August 07, 2006

8 Ways I Have Proved Myself an Idiot in the last Seventy-Two Hours.

What's that, you ask? Only eight? Not an even ten? Go screw yourself.

8. Thought garage door was broken until I pushed on it. Real hard. Neighbors stared and murmured to each other. Two teenaged girls giggled from across the street. I swallow and strike a masculine pose.

7. Popped my head into my new classroom today. Met resilient wall of storage boxes. Surly, overworked custodian supervisor tells me I had to put in a work order in order to move me into a room I don't want, with no filing cabinets, not enough space, no windows or ventilation and science lab-type counters along the perimeter. "Sign here, asshole. In triplicate. What are you gonna do anyway, I'm union."

6. Hauled Kim's VCR and stereo into bedroom in effort to set up after hours entertainment studio. Universal remote won't connect, so I waste ten minutes on the Web, twenty minutes on hold with Zenith, and eighteen talking to a representative of Magnavox Televisions. After giving her my model number, I'm informed my television doesn't exist. And I say, "That makes sense. Thanks."

5. Bumped into a former student at Union Station and spoke with her for about twenty minutes. As I filled her in on the goings-on at her alma mater and congratulated her on what I was sure was an outstanding internship, she continues to look puzzled, confused, and then downright petulant. Ten minutes later, as I'm walking down Adams Street, I realize she was a student from a different school, and that she was probably headed to an actual career.

4. Spent forty-five minutes checking answer keys on my Amazing Series of Vocab Tests only to discover the answers in the back of the book. Straight to the liquor cabinet--"Oh, look here! John left tequila! And it's only a year old!"

3. Got bombed at 11 a.m.on the Monday before the Monday before I go back to school. See #6.

2. Cleaned out garage, currently filled with Kim's detritus from medical school. Stacked boxes carefully on side of wall, leaving room for the car. Realized I'd stacked them over my detritus, including school files for August, my tool box and extremely fragile fishing gear. My back screams at me as I dig them all out.

1. In renewed effort to be healthy, bought several pounds of fresh vegetables: carrots, spinach, tomatoes, collard greens and kale. Made room for it in the fridge by throwing out the carrots, spinach, tomatoes, collard greens and kale I bought a month ago in an effort to be healthy.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

The idiots are filming themselves! Come see the idiots!

The world is going to hell.

Virginia Heff, in her NY Times blog Screens, profiles LonelyGirl15, a homeschooled teen who passes all the time she's stuck in her bedroom because of domineering parents, making short autobiographical/philosophical video posts (called vlogs, I guess) for the world to see. She just sparked controversy over a tiff between her and her producer/boyfriend danielbeast. Her parents won't let her go hiking. No, wait, her parents do let her go hiking. And so on.

I still remember when blogs were all the controversy: "What, now semiliterate idiots can vomit their meaningless opinions all over the Web?" "What, the vacuum of cyberspace is now filled with musings about how annoying it is when someone eats all the chocolate out of the Neopolitan ice cream?" Meaningless tripe, all of it. I should know. Just look at this page, for god's sake.

Well, I guess the joke's on me--now we don't even need to be sub-sub literate. We can post videos instead.

I'm not particularly talking about Heff's primary subject. Lonelygirl knows enough about lighting and editing to avoid visual incoherence, and although there's only so much depth you can squeeze out of a lazy eye, it does function as a metaphor quite nicely.

But then I made the mistake of looking at some of the responses she got, ranging from the rambling to the snooty to the downright nasty. Look out, web talent scouts. Got your hands full here. Yowza.

Web videos sound great until you start wading through them. It's enough to make me long for the days of scrolls and quill pens. If all this is the stuff replacing books and films that require a few neurons firing, I don't want to be around when they put together 3-D filming techniques. Watching some frat bozo drink beer through a watering can from all possible angles of his living room would just be too depressing.

And the comments. Need I get into the comments? They outweigh the posts by pages, and the videos by hours. And who cares anyway?

For example, Rupert Brooke was born on this day, in 1887. If his "The Solider" had had a comment function when first published? "Hey, uh, Rupe, if that's your real name, I just want to say, like, your poem sucks? Um, I liked the extended metaphor of the soil as homeland and everything, but like, you could have said something about American involvement. We totally saved your asses. Wilson for Winners in '16!"

In my own effort to contribute to the Web's detritus, let me pose what the volume of empty-headedness of 75% of youtube's content says about the direction of our media culture? That it's easier and easier to find your own voice because of the ease of access to all these nifty tools? Or that it's going to be harder for anyone to be heard fighting against the cacophony of crap cluttering up the bandwidth anymore?

The world is, like, so going to hell.

Well, maybe I'll be proven wrong. I doubt it--I rarely am. But maybe video publishing will unearth a new generation of thought-provoking, challenging media for the world to consume. Of course it will, because I am so getting a vid camera! With an appropriately shaded nook in my classroom and enough interesting lesson plans, I could...get myself fired.

Just realized, folks--before I noticed, I'd spent forty minutes looking at a bunch of posts about a teen girl on camera. All because of a NY Times article. Which won't do me any good. Thanks to our beloved president and the Patriot Act, right now my ISP is on record at having drooled over adolescent video blogs. Send me cigarettes when they send me to the Pen.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Free Josh Wolf!!!

This is the first time the government has gone after a blogger's sources officially. Obviously, they'll be after me next.

And a federal appeals court just ruled that the government can look at journalists' phone records. This creates an alarming precedent, unless, of course, we can trust the government to use this precedent to go after genuine threats to security, rather than the muckraking that has unearthed so many bureaucratic ills. Obviously, they'll be going after Janice Effington, of 1034 S. Halsted, Apartment 2D. (She knows why.)

Saturday, July 29, 2006

JACKSON, MI--Stand-alone condos are da bomb. My aunt and uncle took me on a driving tour of several of the structures--imagine having a house with three bedrooms, a cellar, glass panels on the garage door, ample garage and parking space and a lush green lawn...without having to do any lawnmowing, exterior maintenance, interior maintenance, painting, repairs or anything else encompassing work beyond a minimal screwdriver-twist. There's the stand-alone condo. No wall-to-wall neighbors. No shared common property. Your own mailbox at the driveway end.

The catch? About half a million, give or take.

Off to Jackson's hosting of Midsummer Night's Dream.

Monday, July 10, 2006

I think the Man of Steel would approve. cartoons. Not for those with a right-wing frame of mind.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Another freaking Styx concert.

You'd think an hour north to pick Tso's worthless butt up, another hour and a half north to Milwaukee's Summerfest, twenty minutes finding an ATM, another ten minutes parking the car and twenty minutes walking just to hit a wall of sweaty suburbanites making a mass exodus to soak up plastic bottles of domestic beer and buy ridiculously overpriced legs of meat to gnaw on would be something I'd be just as apt to do as seeing how many of my fingernails I could yank out before passing out.

But then, when Styx is in the bargain, that's a different thing altogether.

Crowd: insane. Sound: okay, except we couldn't get close enough to hear it the way it's mean to be heard. Lineup: the same songs for the most part. They still rock, except when the hell did JY Young start singing "Crystal Ball"? And no guest performance this time? I'm insulted.

No, Styx, unlike much of life, does not dissapoint. But the crowd often does.

I saw more fourteen-year-olds chainsmoking and texting each other from ten feet away than I would care to count. It made me sick, and I said so. Tso tried to remind me that both annoying/stupid habits were habits I either had for years, or still have today, but what the hell does he know? He works in a paper company, for God's sake. I'm surprised it hasn't blown away yet.

I saw plenty of potbellied middle-aged men with their overly-painted-in-makeup wives and halfwitted tagalong neighbors cluttering up space in the concert hall that could more advantageously been taken up with...I don't kegs? Strippers? Empty space for me to stretch my legs out in?

One group spent ten minutes interrupting a significant chunk of "Angry Young Man" and "The Grand Illusion" with an animated conversation about the Milwaukee Brewers. They all had those ridiculous Chicagoland mustaches that Chris Farley, et al made famous back in the nineties in those Saturday Night Live concerts. I wondered if I were overreacting when I contemplated ripping the mustaches off them and feeding them to their wives (who apparently only knew the chorus to each and every Styx song, judging by volume, enthusiasm and slurred vocal performances). I quickly decided, nope, no overreacting here.

And when the band broke into their encore performance of "Renegade," I was pulling a Frank Costanza, yanking on Tso's sleeve and pointing towards the exit. "Come on!" I bawled while Tommy Shaw was droning on about a great audience and the beer capital of the world. "We can still beat traffic!"

Well, Shaw will forgive me. Such disrespect in front of the masters will anger any ardent disciples.

So: that's Styx and the Cult in one calendar year. Sweet. Somebody tell the Black Keys or Big Head Todd to make an appearance before August, and I'll be content.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

What kind of friend (who shall remain nameless) meets you at a bar (which shall remain unstated), lets you buy a round of beers (the brands of which shall be omitted), and then lets you drink one after he notices a film of soap in the head?

An ijit friend, that's what.

An interesting forty-eight hours, friends and neighbors. Any water I swallowed went south immediately. Big bubbles of what I can only assume were soap bubbles swelled up in my gut and intestines; I must have made the walls shake on at least three occasions trying to get rid of them. And in case you're wondering, five running steps to the bathroom to take care of all of this business was only a barely tolerable distance.

The good news: the delirium and dehydration allowed me to enjoy two straight hours of Not Another Teen Movie. Or maybe that's the bad news, who the hell knows?

What a way to celebrate the Fourth, I tell ya.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Daily Show clips, courtesy of Lisa Rein's radar. Might very well come in handy some day, when you're bored in study hall and want to make it look like you're working.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

The last parent phone call of the year.

Little Jimmy was all set to graduate. All he had to do was pass my class. Not the easiest thing in the world to do, in all honesty, but not the most difficult, either. Doing he work and paying some semblance of attention tends to help. Little Jimmy, it should be pointed out, was none too hot at either of these habits.

So I made another one of my Award-Winning Parent Phone Calls. The Award-Winning Parent Phone Calls have a rhetorical structure to them that would make Cicero himself blush in pride. First I fineangle my way into their good graces, then call attention to the kid's poor performance (often glossing over the months beforehand that I didn't call by underscoring the numerous progress reports the school mails home and the wonderful facility for our online gradebook resources).

After that, I serve attention to any upcoming assignments, volley a suggestion that close monitoring on their part and contact on both our parts is bound to be successful, and smash my best wishes upon them for a happy rest of the day. Your serve now. Match. Back to the clubhouse for martinis, so to speak. (Man, I miss tennis.)

At the end of the year, however, it gets a bit harried. Usually, I have parents calling me about their kid's failing grade, which puts me not so much in the defensive as in the responsive, fielding serves like "What are his chances of passing," "How did his grade get so low?" and "Just what have you been doing in that classroom all year anyway?" with "It depends on the final exam", "He's been making all the wrong priorities" and "Hell, I don't know."

But when parents don't call, it makes me take the initiative. Which I don't like. It cuts into my doing-anything-but-calling-parents time.

Anyway, Little Jimmy failed to complete some required makeup work in time, and I realized that, despite numerous pleadings and parent contacts, not to mention guidance counselor visits, Little Jimmy wasn't going to pass my class. My class, I must point out, is a requisite for a diploma.

Little Jimmy's ex-cop dad picked up on the seventh ring. "My kid's not home right now, dipshit."

"Well, actually it was you I wanted to talk to, Mr. Jimmy."

"Start talking then, asswipe. Just don't expect any more money for your referendum. You should see my friggin' tax bill."

"No no, that ship has sailed. It's about your son. Have you spoken to him today?"

"What's it to you, dickbreath?"

"Well, I still haven't received his makeup work, and so he won't receive a passing grade. I'm afraid that means his graduation situation is untenable."

"The kid took an Elective," Mr. Jimmy said, belching. Thank God phones are only auditory. "He's an English credit ahead, so he doesn't need your class."

"Oh." I tried to digest this. "So all those other times we talked..."

"Nah, I want him to learn as much as he can. Doesn't sound like he did, though. I know I never got into all that fag poetry stuff you've been doing."

"Yes." I felt like gnawing through the line and spewing Wilfred Owen at him until he cried uncle. Who's the fag now, beeitch? "Well. I did notice his eyes were pretty red. And that he said something about a late-night party last night, where booze was served. Would he have attended a party like that?"

"Oh, it's possible."

"Still, it's probably not worth looking into," I replied. "I'm sure he was a model of teenaged virtue."

"Hey, listen dickhead," Mr. Jimmy interrupted. "I'll decide what's worth looking into."

That'll teach him.

Except it's my own fault. Going in those past few weeks to report his status, and I never even thought to check on whether or not he needed the class. That's like going to the dentist's, letting him yank your tooth, then grinning through a novacaine haze and saying, "Just a cleaning, right, Doc?"

That reminds me. I have a dentist appointment next week. I hate the dentist.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Eh...make that an hour.
I just got a blister opening a bottle of champagne. It's official--I'm out of shape.

OK, no booze for a month.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Four hours sleep last night, most likely due to paranoia over missing my cab ride this morning. I brought my alter-ego Dillinger to teach my morning classes, where he spent the better part of three hours glowering at the kids writing in-class responses, softly stroking his pencil-thin mustache.

"What are we learning from this?" one of my scholars spoke up.

"How to stay on my good side," Dillinger responded, helping himself to the erstwhile student's water bottle. "And a guarantee to live until graduation."

"Are you going to grade these papers?"

"What do you think?" he snapped back.

Afternoon classes weren't much better, so I cadged a ride to the mechanics. Paul Towers, local math teacher extraordinaire, favored my ears with a litany against his ex-wife the entire twelve miles to the station. Dillinger didn't bother to feign polite interest, moodily staring out the window and affecting a distasted air.

"I tell you, being married for ten years, you forget what it's like to be single," he was telling me. "I only got two girlfriends, though. Guess I'm slowing down."

The arrogant little prick. If he only knew. My social calendar is bursting apart at the seams. If I can get the Spice Channel free again tonight, I might stay up past eight-thirty.

The good news: the car is running again. Like new, if you ignore the wear and tear on everything but the glove compartment.

The even-better-than-good-news: the whole deal only cost me $50. A walk in the park. Dillinger celebrated by drinking a bottle of wine he found where I usually keep the drain cleaner. Hopefully I have not mixed the two inadvertently; right now I'm sacked out on a sofa that for some reason won't stop spinning around, watching a West Wing rerun that, for some reason, doesn't have any picture. Either that or I'm losing oxygen to the brain.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

This one you won't believe.

Yes, the suburbs are fraught with peril.

Twenty-four hours, more or less, without my car. This time it's the exhaust. Simple, inexpensive problem to fix, but it's Sunday and nobody's around to order the necessary parts from, or so my mechanic, he of the insipid smile and guilty conscience after screwing up my car a month ago, tells me. I press the keys in his hands, mumble that I'll get it tomorrow when it's (better fucking be) fixed, and accept his offer for a ride home.

Geeking on the web didn't cheer me up. Watching the second-to-last episode of West Wing didn't cheer me up. The knowledge that my sophomore papers were finished helped a little, but not when I remembered the stack of senior papers I'd have to get through this week. Plus, without a car in the suburbs, you're more or less neutered.

So I took a walk.

My walks used to be infamous. Always alone. Always late at night. Always with no money in the pocket (in high school, this was so I wouldn't buy another acne-inducing candy bar; in college, it was so I wouldn't cave and buy cigarettes; nowadays, it's simply because I don't have any). And always talking aloud. I have a hunch I've saved myself thousands of dollars in analyst billing by arguing with myself about whatever was bugging me at a given moment.

I'm at my best when I'm proactive and honest, but it's a struggle getting there sometimes. You have to heel your mind, get it doing what you want it to do, like a well-trained dog. That takes some kind of zen activity. Buddhists can meditate. Spider-Man can web-swing; I have to settle for sidewalks along well-manicured lawns with white people playing frisbee with each other. At least when darkness falls, I can be assured nobody's lipreading some of my more disturbing embezzlement confessions.

So I took the boulevard east, turned north, made two more turns on streets named for presidents, and found myself hopelessly lost. Good, said my dangerous, rebellious, home-after-suppertime self, my John Dillinger type, if you will, a little lost is exactly what you need right now. Make you forget all the piddly shit wearing you down. "But I need to get to sleep on time so I don't oversleep and miss my cab for work tomorrow," I whined in response. Call in then, damn it, my dark self sneered, pointing at several windows nearby where, at the ripe hour of 8:35 p.m., people were gathered around dining room tables, playing cards, discussing mundane matters with an animation and vivacity President Bartlett's cabinet would envy. Worst case scenario, you'll actually feel tired tomorrow morning for a reason.

It's probably a mistake to go around in circles too late at night in my particular neighborhood. Cops do cruise around. They do notice you, especially when your voice rises and you start gesticulating. The fact that I am white, and that my pants had no (noticeable) holes in them helped, but only a little. Sooner or later, I got "pulled over."

"Where you going?" one of the town's finest asked, shining a light right in my face.

Dunno. Where's the nearest brothel?

"Back home," I said nonchalantly. "It's this way, right?"

Bad codicil. A guy who doesn't know the way back to his house is clearly suspicious. Cop #2 asked for my ID, and when I said I left it at home, he didn't seem surprised.

"How old are you?" #1 asked me.

What the hell does that have to do with anything? I muttered, pitching a cigarette in his general direction. "I'm thirty, officer," I piped up agreeably. "Why? Are you looking for someone? Did someone pull some heinous crime somewhere and I fit the description? Because I swear it wasn't me."

I've had experience, you know. I'm getting good at this sort of thing.

I couldn't tell if I or Dillinger should be doing the talking. We both seemed to be cocking it up quite admirably.

"No," #1 replied bemusedly. "But technically, you have to stay out of the park after dark." He pointed, and then I saw the black asphalt path leading past the volleyball courts and swing sets that make up our neighborhood park. Nix that notion. My hellraising has been cut short by the Pigs in Power.

I assured them that I would then go around, rather than cut through the lawn, where I could undoubtedly sell drugs to imaginary children. They both nodded, as if to say "Yeah, whatever" (I guess guys wearing Curious George t-shirts aren't seen as too much of a threat) and wandered off. I resumed walking, feeling harassed and oppressed by The Man, finally able to join legions of the Harassed and Oppressed.

Throw some dirt at them, Dillinger suggested.

I settled for petting a passing dog.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

"Darling, you know you done me wrong"

CHAMPAIGN/URBANA--Hey, baby, what's shaking? I know you're all upset about last night, but I'm here to settle everything down. By the time I'm done talking, your nerves will be tingling, your stomach will be settled and you'll open the damn door and let me in. I'm getting cold out here, sweet thang, and I don't want to have to kick your damnn window in just to use the can.

But none of that matters, baby. Because I'm here to smooth everything over.

See, first of all, I didn't know your friend Jenny was going to come over. And it's not like you couldn't see her hitting all over me, showing me the top of her blouse and offering me sips from her can of Malt Liquor. Oh sure, she tried to play it all smooth and everything, but I could totally see through her facade of friendliness to the raging sex machine she kept chained up in the basement of her psyche. It was all I could do to keep her from jumping on top of me, seriously. The fact that I was looking down her dress was purely incidental.

And then the party. Baby, I didn't invite Roger, Fred and Chris over just to give myself a good time. Seriously, you said you felt like entertaining, and so I called them up to do some entertaining. I honestly didn't know they were going to bring over the clown midget, the circus seal and twelve pounds of melons, but baby, it's not like they're not professionals. They're fully accredited. And you did leave the vegetable oil out on the counter. Clearly that was an open invitation to them, which, obviously, was misconstrued.

Finally, there's the little matter of Gwendolyn. Darling, you know you're my world, and I'd never so much as look at another woman. When you walked in the bedroom last night, what you thought you saw and what was actually happening were two totally different things. See, Gwendolyn thought she had one of those rare tumors that develops on the inside of the thigh, and she was completely terrified about it. Naturally, being the only person in her immediate proximity, I volunteered to check it out for her. I'm no doctor, but I can assure you and her that there's definitely no tumor in her inside thigh. Or the inside of her other thigh. Or the outside of her legs, or northwards along the small of her back or her stomach, or along her shoulderblades. Completely benign territory, as far as I could see. And since you and Gwen are so tight, I'd think you'd be relieved to hear such good news, instead of getting in my face about where my tongue has been and all the lighted candles and all. Baby, I was saving you electricity, and the only thing you can say in return is dripping with recriminations and suspicion? That's cold.

My Love, you and I have a future together. That's why I've planned a night you'll never forget. While you're cooking dinner--and make it that lasagna I like so much, will you?--I'll be out picking up a bottle of wine. Actually, I'll probably have to stop at Gwen's house on the way, since she accidentally left with my wallet. But that will only take thirty, forty minutes tops, after which I'll be back at your place to massage your feet, listen to your pointless stories about work and maybe, you know, sex you up and what not.

Baby, you haven't lived until you've experienced the thrill of kowtowing to me when you know you've been wrong. And you've been wrong, baby. So wrong. Now let me inside and get your ass back in the kitchen. I can hear the pasta sticking to the pan.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Texan Indian Nuptuals:

Spent the weekend more or less bombed. Ajay's wedding was a blast, but I still have no idea what half the memorabila I walked away with the ceremony is for. Normal Indian weddings, I'm told are upwards of four hours long. This one was about an hour and change; after that, a ceremony with three open bars and no lines. I kept looking around for Saint Peter.

The night before, I made my famed toast--not reveling in it quite as much as I did at my brother's wedding, but enough to make a few references to the good old days of high school and Ajay's singleminded pursuit of top grades and good references. "Now there was a guy who never had his priorities straight," I said breezily. "Always work work work, never really taking the time to enjoy being a teenager..."

The room full of doctors, lawyers, bankers and vice presidents nodded sagely, taking in my rumpled suit and bloodshot eyes. Yes, they seemed to indicate, he's absolutely right. Success is overrated.

I blathered on a bit more about what kind of relationship I thought the two of them would have together, working purely on hearsay and a first impression, given the fact that I'd only met the blushing bride some two hours earlier, and then only for about five minutes. I concluded with best wishes, got moderate applause and a bear hug from Ajay. The following morning, I would charge a modest bar bill to his hotel room and congratulate myself on being a good friend.

Before the wedding, though, I hit Dealey Plaza. Always wanted to see the site. I've mapped out my voyage in the image below:

Saturday, March 18, 2006

It turns out that the Cult sound excellent when they give themselves a five or six-year break between tours. It turns out Ian Astbury sounds great when he dumps the Doors and gets back to his roots. They sounded like they'd had a vacation, and come out of it super-charged and ready to sound like it was 1984 all over again.

It even turns out they even mixed up the usual set with some tunes I've never heard live before, like "Brother Wolf and Sister Moon" with a cello as bass. I even think Astbury lost most of his gut, though my learned colleagues differ with me on this matter.

It also turns out, however, that the Vic didn't exactly impress the hell out of the Cult. I think they cut their show short, probably because the audience was more like a coffee bar crowd than a bunch of rock fans. Basically, they cut our nuts off, metaphorically speaking.

See, it wasn't our fault. The show was sold out, and we were pressed up against the back like freshmen at the junior prom. In front of me was this house of a guy who was great at swaying and dipping in his air guitar solos but not so great at staying the hell out of my way. Boy, I thought to myself, you're damn lucky you're not about three hundred pounds lighter, or I'd give you such an ass kicking. That, combined with some broad yelling in my ear over "She Sells Sanctuary," I couldn't make a damnn thing out that the band said between takes.

Fortunately, the Cult was engaging in a live CD buyout. See, they tape the show, at a pretty high quality, as it turns out, and $25 will get you a two-disc set of the show. Lest you think they're recycling old shows, the recording is complete with every riff, solo and yell from the stage, that is, unless they're telling Saint Louis how much they love the Windy City.

So on the way home, we played the CD and found out exactly what Astbury was sounding off about on stage. He compared us to a Barnes and Noble poetry reading. He warned us not to make him "get Bon Jovi on your asses." He was unimpressed with the yelling and cheering.

And if I hadn't had some washed up midlife crisis brick house getting his bald spot between me and the show, I might have been able to do something to make them stay on stage longer than a lousy hour and a half.

Actually, I probably wouldn't have bothered. But you never know.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Political Graveyard, a mishmash of trivia and factoids about politicians. Did you know there were 17 politicians who were former slaves? And six who were in space? Fucking hell.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

The problem: You're broke, but you want the bar experience. Substandard food, reprobates for company, a cold bottle in the hand.

The situation: Ten beers in the fridge and a barely-functional boom box.

The solution: Wuss rock marathon in the kitchen.

The result: Splitting hangover Sunday morning after drinking until 4:30 a.m. Tso passed out in the next room until noon. No energy to grade. No motivation to read the paper. No strength to do anything but stare at the television and reminisce about listening to Steel Dragon on a tape deck.

Outstanding. Nothing I want to make a habit of, but there's one for the memoirs, by far.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

My curtain call

Acting on a Sunday is tough. For one thing, there's work that needs to be done. For another, I don't like being in a public school on a Sunday. It's supposed to be either a day of rest, a day of catchup, or, in my case, a day of resting-while-you're-supposed-to-be-catching-up, all complete with a healthy dose of light reading, Sunday newspapers and Bloody Marys.

Instead, I shuffled through my lines, delivered in a deathless monotone to a three-quarters-full auditorium. No euphoric rush at the end of the evening since the lesson plans I was supposed to do were buried in a rush to meet my cue of "I wish an Army guy would come and tell us what to do."

Of course, tomorrow morning, I'm going to wake up realizing that, after the final bell rings, I have nowhere else to go and nothing else to do but schoolwork.

Enough. 'Twas a nice career while I had it, but I think I'm going to hang up my musical career for another decade or so.

Today's newspaper ire: students bribed to go to school. It had to happen. Teachers get pay raises in certain districts when standardized test scores go up (can you say grade inflation?); administrators write themselves checks against inflated budgets. Now, little Jimmy has a car or a Nintendo to work for instead of an education.

I need to become a politician and protest this kind of thing.

Friday, February 03, 2006

My Big Opening

Been fighting a cold for days now, and wouldn't you know it, I woke up Thursday morning with my head swimming and unable to speak.

Oh no. No, no no. I did not forego sleep and lesson planning all week just to crap out now. About thirty hours to go before the show, and I needed my finely-tuned baritone in tiptop shape. So I called in sick (it probably would have gone smoother if they'd been able to make out a word I was croaking on the sub hotline), hit the couch and slammed lemon teas like they were Harvey Wallbangers. By noon, I was asleep. By three, I was rasping, rather than croaking. By five, I was nervous about expending energy grading, so I watched more TV and rested.

By Friday morning, I felt more or less functional. But by the end of the day, I was back to square one.

I went to talk to the Director about four hours before showtime, croaked out "Once more into the breach, dear friends," and waited expectantly.

She looked at me nonplused. "So what. Go get your uniform on and quit whining."

"But it hurts to talk," I grumbled. "I need to sound tough, not terminal."

"Then we'll mike you."

This didn't exactly sit well with me. Being microphoned would mean I'd have to engage in some crazy game of musical chairs with a microphone with as many as four other people. All for the express purpose of making my asthmatic wheeze audible to the cheap seats as I rumble, "Hey everyone, get down the road and get to work." Somehow, it didn't seem worth it.

The director shifted her clipboard and looked around the theater, where about a zillion things were going wrong. "Figure something out, will you? Because it's almost curtain call, and I'm damned if I'm going to recast you just so you can slink back home and watch the forty straight hours of South Park you taped while you were at work."

Dammit. She's psychic.

Fortunately, a special ed teacher kept me plied with cough drops while another one added DayQuil to my can of mushroom soup. It didn't fill my head with any extra energy, and it didn't improve my acting skills any, but somehow, when I wasn't whispering hoarsely off stage, I was bellowing on.

It worked out pretty well, I must say. I might have a future as Second Fiddle in Two-Bit productions. Though my stage time was minimal, I managed to insert some character into my entrances, exits, and barked orders. Afterwards, I got some quick side reviews from some colleagues, students and former students:
"Man, what a stick up your ass when you march. Is that that back problem you've been yapping about?"

"Were you supposed to have your fly unzipped up there?"

"Hey, we tried to cue you the line you forgot, but you ignored us. Just for the record, you don't pronounce 'eschelon' like an Arabian curse."

"Who did you play again? Daisy Mae?"
I jest, of course. It was fun. In retrospect, I'd probably do it again, even though I have to haul my ass out there again on Sunday afternoon and whip through it all over again. That's if my voice at least retains its present quality. I went straight home after the reception and downed another pot of tea in an effort to heal myself, which is why I'm not currently out getting blitzed with my co-stars.

Anyway, one down, one to go. Hold the applause.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

My first day in costume

I have no idea how I continue to draw breath. Eight hours teaching, two hours scurrying around the suburbs looking for a cheap pair of overalls, half an hour standing in line behind an irate soccer mom who came to return a coffee maker, half an hour standing around, three or four hours of straight rehearsal (which entails a lot of standing around for myself) and flubbing my lines, and now, instead of popping off to sleep, I'm here to bore the Internet community with the trite details of a High School Play Production.

Be that as it may, I did get in costume today. My Captain costume.

It's imposing, with gold medals and a shirt so starched you could play pool on it. It's also made of wool and itches like hell. My legs look like a Chernobyl survivor's, but the respect the uniform commands is not to be underestimated.

No matter. I still flubbed my lines. Partly because other people flubbed theirs. Acting in a high school musical, I'm starting to think, is a lot like running a concession stand: it's a fuck of a lot harder than it looks. I never thought it was easy, truth be known, but now, while waiting for my cue ("Hey everyone! Let's go to Washington and let 'em know what we knows!"), I'm apt to zone out, wonder if I should be grading papers, wonder if I should have assigned papers in the first place, wonder if I'd be missed before I made it ten steps out the door...only to realize that my new cue had come and gone ("Hey everyone! Let's get to Washington and tell the President where he can send his bombs from now on!"). It's amazing how often a cue line turns to "Oh, shit" when the stakes are high.

Anyway, I didn't come here to tell you all that.

If Tso is correct, the Cult is back together. And while Tso's politics leave a lot to be desired in the way of...oh, what's the word I'm looking for...reality...he's rarely wrong about concerts.

The Cult. Back. This March.

Life suddenly has meaning again. Screw the play. My new line is, "Gentlemen, peace is a dirty word."

Thursday, January 26, 2006

What's my motivation? Getting off this hot stage and into a cool bottle of vodka:

hurriedly scratched out longhand, to be transcribed later. at the time, this felt like something worth taking down. now, I'm wondering why the hell I didn't just stay in bed an extra fifteen minutes.
The past several practices have been a piece of cake compared to what we've been doing this week. For starters, we're not allowed to use our scripts any more. Secondly, we have to walk while delivering our lines. And finally, the kids, who have known their lines since the New Year began and are probably wondering why in hell they agreed to work with a bunch of surly old farts like us in the first place, are now pushing and prodding us gently, reminding the slackers (not me), distracted (sometimes me) and raging incompetents (definitely me) that Opening Night in this case does not refer to the next baseball season.

So I've done some tripping over my own feet, listening to my heart race as I deliver my lines in a deathless monotone that would make Ben Stein proud. We got out of there at 8 one night, 8:30 the next, 9:30 the following. If we stay true to course, we won't even have to leave the theater in order to arrive when the show premieres.

The kicker: some of these guys and gals are eating their parts for breakfast. They are fantastic. If the character is elderly, a twenty-something sophomore teacher can make herself sound like her nickname has been Granny for the past twenty years. If the character is hillbilly, our resident art teacher can make himself look like he ought to be playing a moonshine jug in a backwoods band. Other hillbillies make James Dickey's ensemble look like the frigging Smurfs.

And then there's me. Pivoting and marching on stage and off for a grand total of five seconds apiece.

TAKE 1: "Gentlemen, I'd like to debrief you right down the road."
TAKE 2: "Gentlemen gentlesladies, your briefs are right down the road."
TAKE 3: "Gentlemen, the road to briefing is less traveled by, and that has made all the difference."
TAKE 4: "Gentlemen, the road to debriefing is within all of you. Now get our there or I'll shoot your asses."

I mean, seriously, when you wait around to deliver one line (though I am not complaining--it satisfactorally cuts down on the amount of singing and dancing I'll wind up having to do for this bad boy--I convinced the director I couldn't do the Stomper number because it would throw out my back), that one line takes on the magnitude of the 127 lines another character has to deliver. There's no diffusion. No saturation.

No way to go unnoticed if you screw it up.

TAKE 21: "Gentlemen, what's the deal with debriefing? I mean, when you demystify someone, you're taking away the mystery, right? And when you deform, your form is not good. So if you want the brief, let's de the de, am I right?" (insert Seinfeld theme here)

I know, I know. Don't worry. I haven't quit my day job. It's my day job that got me in this frigging mess in the first place.