Monday, December 24, 2007

Holiday Cheer

This is an old piece, actually, when I was living in my apartment and having trouble with my neighbors. I tweaked it a bit--it could still sort of apply today. Poetry, it ain't. But it beats holiday reruns.Kaiser Soze? Or the man who sneaks into your houses every year?
'Twas the night before Christmas, and all through my flat
No food to be found (just as well--getting fat).
The presents were wrapped up next to the fire,
Held together with newspaper and some cheap baling wire.
The woman was slaving over a hot, smoking stove
While I reclined comfortably, wriggling my toes.
I was about to apologize again for my gift
(She felt a new mop was sort of short shrift),
When all of a sudden the floor vibrated and thrummed--
I sprang from my chair, wondering if Saint Nick had come!
"I'll see what that noise is, dearest of dears,"
I shouted to Kim, who only shrugged and sneered.
Down the steps I bounded, taking two at a time:
Could it be Santy-Claus? That old pal of mine?
Alas, twas my neighbor, already caroling
With Hendrix on the stereo, and two cases of brandy.
"Hey butt-face, do you mind? This's a silent night!"
I intoned reasonably, which he took as a slight.
"Pal," he jeered, "you're a mere teacher of youths.
"You're an overpaid drudge, so now just face the truth.
"You're a joke in this building, a stain on our minds.
"Your breakfast a six-pack! Your dinner my wine!
"Tomorrow the rest of us schlep off to work,
"While you're watching cartoons, you Hawaiian-shirt jerk."
Then he flipped me off, and tossed me a coin.
He mooned me two times; and then grabbed his groin!
And I last heard him snarl (after yelling, "Get bent!"),
"Go read a book or something. Leave Christmas Eve to real men."

Monday, November 12, 2007

Note from Sandburgh today:

The face you make at dawn
Enough to clench my cheeks together thrice
Why not get laid more oft?

Great. Just great.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

So: it's no secret I've taken a few "blue flu" days in my career. My most memorable one was when I had to study for the GRE, which I did from 5 a.m. until about noon. Then I drank the rest of the day away and still made it into school the following morning.

My least memorable "blue flu" was spent at the library rereading The Blackboard Jungle. I was settling into an apartment that felt strange and unusual.

Tomorrow I'm out of the building. But not because of "blue flu" (although I plan to spend plenty of time grading yea papers). Because I have to take care of a sick cat.

It's a family member's cat who just went through surgery. And I have to make sure it doesn' know...die on me. While the owners are out of town and don't want to be worried sick. Because they're taking care of something else. So...what a guy I am. I could save my "emergency days" for the real emergencies of the world: two-for-one beer night at the local bar, or Wet T-shirt Competition for Women Under 80 at the dive down the road. Nope, I spend my emergency day following a cat around an apartment and grading essays. Meanwhile, while I'm gone, my freshman will be immersed in the pathos of Lean on Me without a guiding hand to tell them of the subtleties of the mis en scene, and my sophomores will be talking about medieval Scottish heroes in short, choppy sentences. Don't even get me started on my study hall.

"But, masters, remember that I am an / ass; though it be not written down." Much Ado About Nothing. And don't you forget it.

Oh shit, I just wrote it down.

Speaking of Shakespeare, I've got tickets for Saturday night's performance of Cymbeline, which I have not read, and my date is busy. So is my girlfriend (ha ha). Form an orderly queue, theater-goers.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

The Principal

I'm the Principal, man!James Belushi, looking slightly less fat than he does today, is a boozey, divorced teacher who gets into a fight with his ex-wife's lawyer in a bar and then, mysteriously, is out on his ass as principal of a gang-infested, rundown school nobody seems to want to fix. He strides the halls not like Morgan Freeman in Lean on Me, or like Edward James Olmos in Stand and Deliver. He's scared, but he still strides the halls, storms classes, forcibly tutors kids to read and do their homework, cajoles his teachers. The only problem is, every time he gets somewhere, someone else, at the hands of rogue drug-dealer ex-student Victor, winds up beaten up, raped, or, eventually, murdered.

The movie doesn't try to be anything else but an eighties flick, complete with cornball musical interludes. Add to that a principal who mixes chocolate powdered milk with Coke and beer, rides a motorcycle in his school's ratty neighborhoods, and gets a recently turned-around kid to high five him "down low/too slow" and you've got all the makings of an hour and fifty minute music video which is not so much an homage to teachers, or education, but to a down-to-earth tough guy doing what needs to be done to establish a status quo. Great stuff. Louis Gosset, Jr., is great, too--he spends equal time cajoling and berating Belushi for his dumb-ass bravery. The film won't create any new teachers, but it probably did pave the way for movies like The Substitute. We apparently don't have enough tough guy movies. We need Tough Guys Who Read movies, too.

Bonus: Check out a young Esai Morales as a student in this turkey. "Man, do you know where you are? You're at Brandel. Ain't you heard what they said about this place? Garbage never leaves the dump." Thank God good actors eventually do.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Yesterday: born one nephew of yours truly. James Patrick (name censored), 12 pounds and some-odd ounces; twenty-some inches long. (Height, I mean.) All are healthy. I have yet to smoke my cigar.

Monday, August 13, 2007

The First Days of School, 2007

Institute Day

The novelty of being back wore off within minutes. This alarmed me. So did the candy-ass expressions on the admins' faces as I roamed the halls of the opposite building. Normally I go between them, but since [Note: story deleted due to extreme boringness--Editor], I'll be full-time with the lower classmen.

One hour into the day and I'd managed to move several stacks of boxes across the room several times, reluctant to open them.

Two hours into the day and I'd typed up more documents and brooded in the cafeteria, surrounded by faces I didn't know and bereft of better company for the moment.

Three hours in was the first school meeting. The principal reamed us out about test scores, settled down to assure us he knew we were great, then exploded once again about "If you're so damned great, why do our scores stink?" He then lapsed into jocularity and urged all older people to go in for their colonoscopy. So it's not enough the school is up our ass...

Twenty minutes after that meeting, I wanted to go home. But then it was time for the next meeting, where my department previewed what would come up in the next meeting. The only contribution I made was to deliver a (false) phone number for colonoscopies.

An hour after that, the district meeting. Mr. Roma sat in fron of me, and didn't even acknowledge me; then he got garrulous with the guy on the other side of me. The asshole. He just made the list. Again.

The administration gave a speech, imploring us to take NCLB seriously even as we recognize its absurdity; the union reps reminded us that, even though we were "doing our all," we should still "try to do our all." Whatever that means. A tech guy got up to tell us about a meeting teaching us how to work the new phone system. "It should only last a half hour or so," he promised. "Unless it takes longer."

Then the rest of administration got up there and told us that the best way for kids and adults to succeed was to be part of a community. That means, apparently, endless tests, curriculum alignments and meetings upon meetings, but it can also include cookouts and activities (fed into by extracurriculars usually pooh-poohed in favor of study halls, but that couldn't possibly matter less). "We know what you guys are capable of," we were told, "so get on out there and get it done."

Yay team, I thought to myself in the back. Now is my phone line working yet?

As it turned out, no. That was another hour pissed away later.

Look at my attitude. Can you believe this?

Since I'm treading unfamiliar ground that's nonetheless familiar, since the old has now become the new and since everywhere I turn there's something else I have to redefine because [Note: this portion deleted due to extreme whininess--Editor], I'm in for a temperament overhaul. If I don't get one soon, there's going to be trouble.

The next two days usually take care of that. Usually. It's this time of year I remember everything that can and has gone wrong, and imagine a variety of things that could go wrong. Pointless, I admit, but then again, so are standardized tests, and they're sure not going anywhere. Once I actually attend to the hands-on business of teaching (and contrary to popular opinion, that is not always the priority in American education), that part of my psyche starts to settle down.

Anway, if you need me at school, don't call my work number. I think the outgoing message I recorded has a hex in it.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Thank god Kim's nephew stayed over last night. Playing the Cool Uncle helps take my mind off the upcoming school year.

Cool uncles let the kid play video games until his brain turns to mush.

Cool uncles also allow them to play on playground equipment recklessly, and unsupervised.

I got this down.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Behold: my first home made martini. Courtesy of my brother's birthday gift.

Couldn't find a toothpick

I didn't bother to take pictures of the second, third or fourth. After the fifth onwards, I wouldn't have been able to hold the camera steady anyway.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Almost there. Eyelids heavy, blood thick and sluggish enough to make me even more stupid than normal. Sleep can't be more than a few hours away.

Today is the woman's birthday. She wanted a kayak. No, she wanted two kayaks. And nothing is good enough for my baby. So I told her, yes, you may go out and purchase kayaks using your own money and driving your own car, and if you need any help, you may call anyone you want, as long as it's not me.

Here she is, presumably buying her kayaks. I don't see them, though. Maybe she got ripped off.

go buy a boat
OK, bad idea. Not drunk, but it sounds like a good idea. Can't get drunk, though. Supposed to go out tomorrow night. After work. Right, forgot about work. This is good beer, though. Got it from Lake Geneva. Quality hops and malt, not like that domestic crap all the drones around me drink. But not me, though. Nothing but the finest for my lifestyle. Dammit, just spilled my spare Coors.

Just decided to teach nephew to box, which means I have to learn how to box within about, what, two years? That ought to be enough time. Kid could be training by three, beat the crap out of anyone he wants before he can even ditch the kid seat in the car. Sweet.

Guilty confession: last month, when I was supposed to be working on a homework assignment, I wrote a chapter of a novel. It's about an intergalactic smuggler who trafficks in people for a while, then gets mixed up in a revolution on a world on the outskirts of the galaxy. Go read it. It's gonna suck.

Seriously, I really can't sleep. This is dumb. I'm tired. I haven't slept in my own bed for a week. Slept like a rock on J&R's couch, but can't sleep in my own bed. What would a psychologist say?
Me: I spent a week away from home and slept fine on a couch, in a motel, in an easy chair. Now that I'm in my bed, and comfortably home, I can't sleep. What's my problem?
Doctor: You have insomnia. That's $500, please.
Just discovered the Instant Viewing option on Netflix, by the way. A lot of crap, but good crap. The kind of crap they used to have in the VHS shelves at Hollywood Video. Tried watching Imprint. Booring. Tried to watch The Candidate. Froze up. Tried to watch Episode I of Voltron. Freakin' awesome.

OK, I'm seriously about to whack myself over the head with a mallet with the words "Vacation is almost over, so get it in gear" burned onto it.

Possible first lines for each class on the first day this year:

--"This is going to hurt you more than it hurts me."
--"If you listen quietly, you can hear my stomach trying to eat itself."
--"Get ready to ditch your hopes and dreams now, kids. It'll make June much less painful."

Got an e-mail from an old journalism student. She got a job. Awesome! I helped make that happen. As a hotel desk clerk. Oh. Well, you probably made that happen, didn't you? Screw you.
Can't sleep. Have to go to school tomorrow and do syllabi and assignments for next week. Teaching next week. Ugh. Not ready. Wouldn't be ready if another month off. How to fineangle my way through it? Journal? SSR? Reminds me: need to stop by Office Max tomorrow and get materials. Thinking about a red gradebook this year. Obviously, I'm a professional. Need to sleep. But can't sleep. Mind racing like a...race car. Yeah, that's what it's racing like. I'm obviously the creative one in the family. Speaking of family--going to be an uncle in a week or two. Sweet. Can teach the kid baseball, football, soccer, hockey...wait, his father will probably take care of all that. OK, so what does that leave me? Teach him how to read, how to write...hell with that, dad and mom can take care of that too. So what then? Teach him how to beat a bar tab when he's old enough? Tell him embarrasing stories about the family? Tell him there's a monster under his bed that will eat him if he reveals his uncle was the one who told him about it? Oh yeah, if I get behind this wheel, it's a train wreck. Will stick to teaching kid stuff what my uncles taught me, once I remember what it was, its impact was so deep it's not readily apparent. Man, I want to sleep. Maybe a beer would help.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

JACKSON, MI--So I'm about 400 pages into Gone With the Wind, and if anyone had ever told me I'd be this hooked on a Southern Romance/epic, I'd have laughed. It's tough to get past the way Mitchell describes the blacks (with all the "capering" and "gleaming teeth smiling in pleasure" I just about want to retch), but overall I can't put it down. Every time my aunt and uncle come into a room, I'm reading this damned book. Last night, for dinner, they fed me meatloaf made with sawdust, to see if I'd notice, and all I said was, "Can you believe Rhett ran off to join the army? What a turd."

Of course, while not reading or socializing, I'm doing work for the upcoming school year. And, as always, my mind keeps pushing it away, like a kid pushing away a plate of vegetables. So as I read this book, it occurs to me, What would the same story be like if told from the blacks' perspective? I could do what John Gardner did to Beowulf with his novel, Grendel. I could win the Pulitzer! I could be famous! Let me get right on it.

Scratch that. Already done: The Wind Done Gone was published in 2001. Back to work I go.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Somebody needs to give Bill O'Reilly a reading assignment.

From Kirk Russell's The Conservative Mind: From Burke to Elliot:
Any informed conservative is reluctant to condense profound and intricate intellectual systems to a few pretentious phrases; he prefers to leave that technique to the enthusiasm of radicals. Conservatism is not a fixed and immutable body of dogma, and conservatives inherit from Burke a talent for re-expressing their convictions to fit the time.
See that, Bill? Talking Points that spoon feeds us a few phrases (ego-inflated rather than pretentious, I suppose) are for spaghetti-kneed liberals. Oh, the irony is delicious.

Oh wait, Bill, I know what you'd say. You'd remind me that the following sentence in the passage I've truncated reads:
As a working premise, nevertheless, one can observe here that the essence of social conservatism is preservation of the ancient moral traditions of humanity. Conservatives respect the wisdom of their ancestors (this phrase was Strafford’s, and Hooker’s, before Burke illuminated it); they are dubious of wholesale alteration.
So, does that fit into Scalia's "original intent" framework? Doesn't that pretty well kibosh the revisions made to Article I, Section II of the Constitution? Or the 13th, 19th and 21st Amendments, right? Aren't those alterations that could be classified as "wholesale"?

I'm obviously not directly addressing Bill here. But if I were, Bill and I might agree on Russell's final point:
[Conservatives] think society is a spiritual reality, possessing an eternal life but a delicate constitution: it cannot be scrapped and recast as if it were a machine.
So...there you go. Just like we can't pack everything up in Iraq in a suitcase and Fed Ex it over here, so we can't fine-tune our laws and liberties to fit a particular agenda...any agenda.

(Note--this whole post exploded over a segment I can't find online, which makes me feel somewhat ridiculous, and a homework assignment about conservatism, which I have abbreviated here. Indulge me.)

Saturday, July 07, 2007

This phone takes crappy pics. Or is it that his image doesn't show up on film?
Some freeloader is eating all my food and babbling about concerts and suburban festivals. Get him the hell out of here.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

We would have made the Styx concert at Summerfest if we'd left on time. Or earlier. Or if Tso hadn't pissed away the afternoon "working late" (i.e. boozing it up at a company picnic). But that didn't happen. So, no Styx at Summerfest this year.

Foreigner--eh. They were on stage about forty-five minutes. Ten minutes longer than they needed for all their greatest hits.

That left Def Leppard. Who rocked.

They were on stage for about an hour and change. Only one song post 1989 (thankfully, no "Let's Get Rocked). Below: Def Leppard rocking it with "Foolin'."

Below, Def Leppard rocking with "Animal."

If those pictures were at all legible, trust me, you'd be impressed. As it is, I have to admit, they look more like a light wave vomiting.

Even more impressive--some stroke was passing out free tickets to Tesla's July 13 show at the Rave. For free! Like he was worried they wouldn't be able to pack the place. Puh-leeze.

I called Kim immediately after procuring said tickets:
Me: Hey, baby! Guess what I got for free just now?
Kim: Tesla tickets.
Me: (beat) Yeah, that's right! How'd you--
Kim: They suck. They're probably worried they won't be able to pack the place.
Me: Uh, want to...
Kim: Hell no. I'm going to stay home and clip my nails.
Loser. Doesn't know what she's missing.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

The sight awaiting our return home last night after a couple of martinis. Photo courtesy of my brand-spankin' new phone. Mess courtesy of weak-ass shelves and tank veterinary books.

Monday, June 25, 2007

I have returned.

"Enjoy yourself, bitches. It's a celebration."

--Dave Chapelle

Sunday, June 10, 2007

This blog will be calling in sick for a week or so. Save my place at the watering hole and don't tell my boss where I am.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

OK, OK, I'll admit it...I checked into the Paris Hilton thing.

I saw the "Breaking News" icon on Google during my routine search for young women in prison and heard about Friday's whole "she's in prison!" "she's out of prison!" "no, wait, she's back in prison!" tragedy. Then I found the online petition to let her go (signed by a multitude of fans who make up in love what they lack in grammar and logic). Then I found her myspace page, with another petition signed by well-wishers and "haters" alike. Then I found the Paris Hilton Prison Diary. It's not the Onion, but it's not bad when laughing at another's plight.

Even the New York Times covered the debacle. But they also brought up the Libby trial and what is, in my mind, the greatest judicial billet doux this millenium has seen thus far:
Also on Friday, the judge who sentenced I. Lewis Libby Jr. to prison this week issued an order dripping with sarcasm after receiving a supporting brief from a dozen prominent legal scholars, including Alan M. Dershowitz of Harvard and Robert H. Bork, the former Supreme Court nominee.

The judge, Reggie B. Walton of Federal District Court in Washington, said he would be pleased to see similar efforts for defendants less famous than Mr. Libby, the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney.

"The court trusts," Judge Walton wrote, in a footnote longer than the order itself, that the brief for Mr. Libby "is a reflection of these eminent academics’ willingness in the future to step up to the plate and provide like assistance in cases involving any of the numerous litigants, both in this court and throughout the courts of our nation, who lack the financial means to fully and properly articulate the merits of their legal positions."

"The court," he added, "will certainly not hesitate to call for such assistance from these luminaries."

--NY Times.
Oh no he didn't! Well, it might not be Atticus Finch, but he still just made my Heroes List.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Things I didn't know about Nixon until finishing Ambrose's third volume of his biography:
--Nixon sold his New York townhouse in 1981 to the Syrian ambassador's office of the United Nations. A company involved with this arm of the UN was involved in selling uniforms to Romania, and uniforms and helicopters to Sadaam Hussein. Nixon may or may not have profited on these sales; as of 1991, Ambrose couldn't be sure.
--Nixon gave two speeches as per his resignation: one was on August 8, 1974, where he formally announced his resignation (without admitting any specific wrongdoing on his part), and one on August 9, to his family and staff, where he made his famous "deepest, darkest valley" comment. Apparently, his family and not a little of his staff was pissed that he'd arranged for the entire thing to be broadcast; in the speech itself, Nixon claimed the whole thing was not set up in advance.
--Oliver Stone must have used Ambrose's work more extensively than I thought. Of course, I suppose he could have gotten some of the dialogue directly from the tapes themselves ("Like the Germans...shoot[ing] down one villager until the rest talk" (sic)..."I really think that's what we're going to have to do..."), but other lines are from Ambrose's own observations: "Eight words back in 1972: 'I covered up. It was wrong. I'm sorry.'" Stone takes Ambrose's sentence and changes it to "I was wrong" and then delivers the line to Haldemann (played by James Woods).
--Gerald Ford pardoned Nixon more out of concern for his own administration and political future than out of worries about tearing the nation apart. I guess I should have figured that out on my own.
--Nixon spent time in W.C. Fields' former Bel Air home at a party. I think it might have been the same house Fields fell down a flight of stairs without spilling any of his drink (as per Carlotta Montijo's autobiography, admittedly problematic).
There's other stuff, but it escapes me at the moment. Volume three sticks in my head better than the others, probably because the last 100 pages covers 17 years and as a result can't be as in-depth; probably because this was the volume I was waiting for all along, with all the Watergage dirt and the resignation itself.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

From Cisco: Texas kids protest not being able to walk graduation due to failing state tests.

A perfectly fair and reasonable complaint. Until you take a look at the picture:

Note to Texan adolescents: You're not exactly helping the team out here!

Friday, May 25, 2007

SKOOL--It's funny--the last day of school, and I can't concentrate on any work in
front of me. That's hardly unusual. What's unusual is *why* I can't concentrate.

The kids are feeding me energy. This is not a "good" kind of energy, i.e. something that makes you knock down the walls you've come across, climb the metaphorical mountain, fight the good fight. This is the kind of energy that causes me to see how many times I can spin around in my chair. The kind of energy that causes me to lead a class of 07 graduates in a rousing chorus of Kum By Ya. And especially the kind of energy that makes me bounce my rubber ball off opposite walls in one throw.

I should be paying the district today for the privilege of being a teacher on the last day of school. It's just like being a kid, as long as you forget that you were ever responsible for anyone's education.

Friday, May 18, 2007

I must have this. What's $150, anyway?

Thursday, May 17, 2007

I hate Mr. Roma

I'm having another professional crisis. And I blame one Rick Roma of the history department.

It's perhaps an inopportune time for plaudits, as President Bush uses the ruler of No Child Left Behind to whap the collective knuckles of my school district, but for once, the president isn't the reason for my reticence to accept praise. This time, it's a colleague.

Rick Roma. He sucks.

He's single, late-thirties to early forties, constantly gushed over by students and faculty alike. We're of a similar build and height, we both wear glasses, and we have a lot of students in common. They leave his class able to cite differences between European and American law without even cracking open a book. They send him cards from college. And you know what he says in return? "I'm just doing my job."

The nerve of that bastard.

Anyway, the last night of layout had my seniors in tears. Normally they're in tears because of an extendd run of late nights, bad food and even worse company. This time, they were crying because they didn't want to go. And they told me so. "I don't want to graduate--this is so much fun." "You've changed my life. You really have." "Thank you so much for everything."

Well, I'm not one to accept compliments. I thanked them, sure, but in the back of my mind, I was thinking, "Roma probably gets more compliments for doing the lit mag. If I were Roma, I'd be getting seniors dedicating their first novels to me by now."

Then my state-award-winning editor gifts me with a wind gun. I don't know what the real name for this marvelous contraption is, but in layman's terms, it's basically a gun that compresses and shoots pressurized air with all the precision of a sawed off shotgun. I've used them before--if you're good, you can blow someone's hat off their head from fifty yards away. Me, I can ruffle a phone book while sitting at my desk.

Okay, so it's a touching gift, but Roma would have gotten a perpetual wind machine. And a solar-powered gyro-thingee to work it automatically, made by a student whom he taught physics in his spare time. The jerk. I hate his guts.

This is the self-deprecation that runs through my mind when students and faculty are trying to congratulate me. After everything was over and I was done negating the compliments, I schlepped off to the banquet.

I won't go into the banquet in detail. Suffice to say, certain students perform at a considerably high level, and they ask teachers to attend this honorary banquet with their parents to show their gratitute. They pick a teacher who "had significant influence on them." I was chosen by a kid in my afternoon literature class. Bright kid, pretty quiet but friendly, good sense of humor, good writer (a self-confessed "synonym junkie," he makes a sesquipedalian look like positively economical). I started to swell up a little when his parents told me his accounts of my class (no need to go into it all here, but rest assured, I come off as a god)...and then I saw Roma two tables over. Three or four students had invited him, that's how popular he is. The jerk. What a jerk.

No matter. I was being honored. I got my picture taken, got a nifty certificate, shook a lot of hands and did some home-fried politicking with the parents and faculty. On my way out, I stopped in front of a mirror to straighten myself out, and there was Roma, right beside me, combing that luxurious mane of hair and flaunting his utter lack of fear of a receding hairline.

"Have a good night," he said to me. "Congratulations."

Can you believe the condescending attitude? What a jerk. He can go to hell. Good thing for him I was on my way out anyway.

So, Roma, if you're reading this (and I know you are, you smug bastard), I'm warning you. Stop fucking with my triumphs. Eat your humble pie and stay away from my business. Or I'll corral the several knuckle-draggers that aren't failing my classes and tell them to go to work on that big ugly head of yours.

I'll see you at the scholarship banquet tomorrow. Stay out of my way.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

JibJab's "What We Call the News". My views on cable news 24-hour stations not having enough news to fill 24 hours a day are on record. Good to see them annotated.

Monday, April 02, 2007

More exercises today. Plus, along with waiting at the pharmacy for the back pills, I'd guess I've spent more time working on my physique in the last three days than I have the last three years. It's beginning to show, too. All I have to do is straighten myself out and let the sound of the cracking of my vertabrae lull me to relaxation.

I like having pills, though. I doubt I'll use them, but now I can growl at my students: "I'm either going to kill you or myself. Where the hell are my pills?" and actually mean it. (I used to growl, "Where the hell is my flask," but stories started getting around, so enough of that.)

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Karl Rove raps at the Correspondents' Dinner. The Times says this cockiness is in spite of the recent brou-ha-ha over Libby's conviction.

I say this is yet more evidence that white people shouldn't be allowed anywhere near a microphone when hip hop is playing, especially not while wearing tuxedoes and sporting glasses and a bald spot.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Step One to Back Problem Recovery: Admit you have a problem.

Step Two: Do something about the problem.

Step One, as it turns out, was a piece of cake. The doctor made me walk on my toes, lie on my back and do a couple of knee bends. He then recommended me for physical therapy.

It took me a few weeks to actually get in there because of late nights with the newspaper, grading essays, global warming, insurance runarounds...oh hell, mostly it was dread. Dread over what I knew would happen.

I got right in there around 6:45 and was sitting on the examination table shortly afterwards. The therapist did some stress tests, then asked me to stand.

That's it. Just stand, like I would normally stand.

Her eyes rolled like marbles. Apparently, my posture sucks: I've adopted the Al Bundy life-has-defeated-me slouch for so long, it's putting pressure on my upper back. I'm supposed to square my shoulders and tighten my abdomen to improve my posture while standing. She said this is the intended way the body is to stand. To me, it feels like I'm imitating George Reeve in Superman.

So now I'm supposed to do a series of exercises every day that aren't even exercises. Ab tightening, back-stretching and other routines designed to improve flexibility and loosen/strengthen my ligaments. They aren't particularly grueling, but they take about a half hour to do. Yes, I've been doing them and everything, and I've been hating every minute of it. It's not so much the effort. It's the fact that, were someone in shape to watch me, they'd fall over laughing.

If my brother were to scoff, that would be one thing. But when a mid-twenties physical therapist with a potbelly of her own watches my leg tremble while doing a leglift and has to put a hand over her mouth to keep from laughing, you know you've hit some kind of bottom. Bottom, here I be.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Confessions of an (un)aspiring novelist; Cholera in a time of (love?)

All week long, all I could think about was spring break, and now that I'm here, unlike other years where it's felt like charging headfirst into your favorite bar, surrounded by friends and dollar-a-pint prices, this time it's more like getting into a hot bath after a day working out in cold weather. Muscles relax. Blood pressure decreases. I wound up canceling my plans (yes, I'm the only person alive who has to call in sick for a party), watched TV for an hour (of all things, Scrubs episodes I already have on DVD), read for two hours and was asleep at nine a.m. Up this morning at 4:30, finished the book, made coffee and stared out the window impatiently, waiting for the newspaper. My old man, I do take after.

I do have a checklist, of sorts, for the next eight days. Projects and papers to grade, lesson plans to prepare, etc. But there are a few books to read as well. In a fit of ill-advised ambition, I offered my sophomores extra credit to read and review James Loewen's Lies My Teacher Told Me over break, then realized I'd have to read it myself. No matter. I'm a fan of revisionist history. Every time Rush Limbaugh or Anne Coulter sounds off about "liberals who want America to fail," I have to wince and shrug embarrasingly. No, I want to tell them, it's not about wanting your country to fail. It's about wanting the people who "run" your country to fail. When a president goes to war because God told him to, when an administration congratulates itself on a "reasonable proposal" by offering members up for testimony without oath, and when think-tanks doing precious little thinking give shitty advice on Capitol Hill, I find myself waiting for the fifth act, when hubris is punished and, if the righteous don't prevail, at least they get to say, "I told you so." I've been able to say such words to several people lately, but have gotten no joy out of it. Maybe when and if Patrick Fitzgerald goes after President Bush, I'll be able to crow a little.

But I digress. Before I can tackle Loewen and how my history textbooks got it all wrong, I had to finish Jane Smiley's Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Novel. I stumbled across the book in a article reviewing books about how to read, and I picked it up more or less on a whim. I've read two Smiley novels, and neither made much of an impression on me. However, I've come to realize this had less to do with her writing style than it did with my attention span--I read both of them in grad school, on off-hours not spent studying or grading undergraduate themes, and just seeing her name and recognizing her cadence brings back some of those memories. Smiley's meditation on the novel and the novelist is a tad circular since she constantly brings up the same novels as examples, and she is fond of pointing out that (maybe) novelists are good at their craft because of their inability to engage successfully within their own social circle. But I could listen to her go on about the particulars of novels for twice as long as she does in the book. I like how she points out that most, if not all novels are destined for some level of failure, whether through the passage of history or the disparity of today's multimedia audience, and I respect how she willingly offers herself up for sacrifice by walking us through the composition and editing of her novel Good Faith (which I have not read).

What's probably the most alluring part of the book, though, is the last two-thirds, where she offers encouragement to would-be novelists by reminding them to write to please themselves rather than get rich and famous, and where she offers her own two cents on one hundred novels she read over a two- or three-year period. I've only glanced at a few of her reviews, and I plan on only skimming the rest, but I have to admit, I'm a sucker for reading about reading. Nick Hornby does it in The Polysyllabic Spree and Housekeeping vs. the Dirt; Jonathan Franzen bemoans both his own and the public's lapses in novel-reading in How to Be Alone, and while I have yet to finish it, Alberto Manguel's A History of Reading is no less intriguing for its social commentary about why we read and why we read what we read than it is for its insights into the psychology and even sexuality of reading (did you know your eyes are skipping all over this page even as you follow the words? or is that because you found some porn somewhere and are getting distracted? come on, share the wealth, asshole).

Gulity confession: I used to want to be a novelist. Sometimes, in spare moments, I still do. I've started maybe a dozen novels in my lifetime. Some fought for existence heroically, uttering strangled last words melodramatically on a death bed. Some came into existence, chuckled contemptuously at the lot that had been cast at them, and died without a murmur. The example that sticks in my head most vividly: in the summer of 1998, while working for a mosquito management company, I spent days trudging through forest preserves and suburban back yards spraying larvae and thinking up third-rate horror stories. One tried to become a book about a vampire who tries to give up blood drinking by switching to substitutes, only to have his possessive witch of a mother trick him into backsliding with a girl he's trying to start an affair with. I was smoking fairly heavily at the time and unsure of the teaching credentials that I was shopping around the state, and figured, way way in the back of my mind, that this could be a means to avoid the drudgery of work, of an alarm clock and a briefcase filled with essays on Why My Parents Don't Understand Me. What's always precluded me from pursuing a career in writing has been twofold: I find myself questioning why I want to do it in the first place, and I wrestle with the guilt that comes with struggling valiantly over something so middling while working in a profession that, by necessity, demands creativity, innovation and dedication. Elmore Leonard wrote some of his first work by hiding it in a desk drawer while at his office job. Geoffrey Chaucer was a civil servant his entire life; The Canterbury Tales were more of a hobby. Were I to do likewise, my students would be watching a lot more movies, and I wouldn't be able to sleep at night. Every time I sat down to write something halfway decent, Jack Roeser would leap up in my head, chuckling over how well-paid I was and how many kids would never learn to write coherently because of a middle-of-the-road drama about an alcoholic ex-priest visiting his home town.

Then along comes Smiley with words of encouragement, arguing that a finished first draft of a bad novel is in itself a success, that only through looking at the trees at first can one eventually see a forest. "Just write," she seems to be telling me. "The worst that can happen is you won't finish it, and that's already happened, what, a dozen times?"

Well, don't sit by the phone, Reading Public. "Write a novel" is on my list of Things to Do Before I Die, and I'll most likely get to it before long, but I'm still in the process of deconditioning my must-publish attitude towards the whole thing. I'm also having way too much fun reading novels, not to mention histories, biographies, essay collections and, yes, even the occasional student essay.

Among the pile: Maugham's The Painted Veil. I picked up a copy at Target on an impulse (and before anyone gives me any static about that, let me just point out that there hasn't been an independent bookseller in my neck of the woods in years, and that I regularly frequent the Chicago bookstores, not to mention independent sellers on line) and read it over the space of a week. I like Maugham. I don't know why, but I do. Of Human Bondage is a book I'd love to teach, although I have no idea how I'd go about doing it. Maugham has symbols, foreshadowing, style and substance, but it's all just so there. Things just happen. I think it was Jane Smiley herself who wrote the foreword to the Bantam edition, in which she points out that the progression seems more an afterthought, as if it's an excuse to watch the protagonist struggle with his passions, his lack of money and his ostracism. My cup of tea. The interior conflict has always been something that, when executed well, I can eat for breakfast.

The Painted Veil is different, though. Kitty Fane is caught in an affair with a big-talking diplomat, and in a fit of passive agressive punishment, her husband Walter, a doctor, takes her with him to treat cholera victims in an epidemic sweeping through rural Japan. Kitty is superficial, but changes when exposed to true suffering, true love, and the example of the Catholic church as it treats cholera patients, and she learns to see her husband through her new eyes. The ending could have been melodramatic, but Maugham does a better job wrapping up Kitty's journey of self-awareness than he does Philip's in Of Human Bondgage--she's lost too much and made too many mistakes to have a happy ending, but she can at least step in a new direction, and it's from there that I derived the most enjoyment.

Unfortunately, the one factoid that kept running through my head while reading was Maugham's homosexuality. Critics, I believe, keep returning to that as an explanation for his treatment of women: they're either complete and utter bitches, like Mildred Rogers, or confused yet immoral roundheels, like Kitty (and is it any accident that she's named after a slang term for either a prostitute or a vagina? I doubt it). So I was preconditioned to be skeptical of her portrayal, and I think I bought into it. Leafing through the pages once again, I still can't see deep pathos on her part, just a matter-of-fact account of her second thoughts and self-ruminations, almost as if she's going through the motions of having a soul.

But then, pathos in fiction has never been my strong suit. Like Eleanor of Acquitaine, I am not moved to tears, but I should at least be able to recognize when I should be so moved. It's something to work on, I guess. How else could I write my own deathbed scene, many years from now? "As the life left his eyes and his head slumped on the pillow, she felt as if she were floating over him, untethered, free yet precariously so, like a balloon drifting into the atmosphere, at risk of popping because of the inverted atmosphere." Sure, that will do the job just fine. God, I could have gotten a paper graded in the time it took to write that. Damn you, Roeser, you win this round.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

NYC-49th and 6th-TROPIC zone bar is a lounge-type place with pounding yet manageable disco music, plenty of space, and waitresses in string bikinis. Journey's End turned out to be an outstanding play chronicling the pathos of the Great War. But it didn't have any waitresses with string bikinis. So I think it's only fair to turn my attention back to the excellent service I'm receiving.

I like this blackberry. This could be a problem.
NYC-88th and 1st Ave--Blogging from Matt's Blackberry. He tells me it's a work-related device, which means it's not to be used frivolously. So hopefully, this is costing his shit company money, and I'm getting the bastard in trouble.

46 degrees. Off to Battery Park. Then Broadway, then the bars. As the Black Keys sing, You just got to be.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Stuff I've been reading

I'm supposed to be working. But instead, I have just three words to contribute:

Jane Eyre rocks.

I love the girl. I don't know why. I don't know how this novel managed to get under my skin for the last five years or so, but I've been moving around from place to place with a swiped copy I picked up when I was teaching an ACT prep class in grad school. Meleena had mentioned it casually in conversation a few times, and since I couldn't take the idea of her knowing the book and me not, I tried reading it. Over and over again.

For all its mystery and allure, Charlotte Bronte had to have written the most boring opening to a novel in the history of Good English Novels. Exhibit A:
There was no possibility of taking a walk that day. We had been wandering, indeed, in the leafless shrubbery an hour in the morning; but since dinner (Mrs. Reed, when there was no company, dined early) the cold winter wind had brought with it clouds so sombre, and a rain so penetrating, that further out-door exercise was now out of the question.
Here, my brow usually furrowed and my attention started to wander. I would remember that I had a copy of a Richard Stark novel waiting to be read. I would wonder if The Merchant of Venice didn't bear rereading. I would remember Elle McPherson had a role in Zifferli's film version of the novel, and maybe I could get away with just reading that. No no, I would think, shaking it off. This is good literature. This is what your students hear all the time--it won't kill you to put yourself in their shoes. Read, damn you. Read!
I was glad of it: I never liked long walks, especially on chilly afternoons: dreadful to me was the coming home in the raw twilight, with nipped fingers and toes, and a heart saddened by the chidings of Bessie, the nurse, and humbled by the consciousness of my physical inferiority to Eliza, John, and Georgiana Reed.

That was as far as I got until 2003. At that point, I made it about a third through. I only finished the damned thing, start to completion, about a week ago. How can you not like it? Insanity, abused children, forbidden romance, exile, sacrifice, redemption? All lost because I couldn't get past that walk. I'm loathe to discuss it at length--is it possible that an itinerant web-surfer will latch onto this post, become immediately inspired and search out a copy for him/herself?

No way. Because I had to go and put that boring first page up. Try this on for size:
"Wicked and cruel boy!" I said. "You are like a murderer -- you are like a slave-driver -- you are like the Roman emperors!"

...[George, her abusive cousin] ran headlong at me: I felt him grasp my hair and my shoulder: he had closed with a desperate thing. I really saw in him a tyrant, a murderer. I felt a drop or two of blood from my head trickle down my neck, and was sensible of somewhat pungent suffering: these sensations for the time predominated over fear, and I received him in frantic sort. I don't very well know what I did with my hands, but he called me "Rat! Rat!" and bellowed out aloud.
Now that'swhat I'm talking about. Kick the fat kid's butt, Jane!

If that doesn't do it, I don't know what will.
Enough is enough. I went to the doctor. I asked him about my back.

I felt like a kid going through the whole ordeal. Yes, it was an ordeal. I had to call my personnel office, find out how to use my insurance (since I've never used it before), find a doctor in the area covered by my plan, Mapquest the location, drive out there, fill out forms, wait in a waiting room littered with kiddie toys and Teen People Magazine (did you know Justin Timberlake was a Mouseketeer? You did? Wanker) and then sit around in a room for another ten minutes only to have my pulse and BP taken, and walk on my tiptoes for the good doctor, when he finally deigned to show up.

He's sending me to get x-rayed. Then I start physical therapy. Yippee. The last time I went through it was when my brother mercilessly crushed my leg with a schoolbus. That time, it was arduous, but doable. I was fifteen. I was an athlete. I could do anything.

Now I'm 31. I have a back problem. And I have papers to grade.

The long road to recovery is bound to have a few bumps in it. But I didn't know there wouldn't be a rest stop for the next hundred miles.

(That's a crappy analogy. I need a better one.)

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Dumb Internet links for a Saturday morning when I should be working:

Fair Education Foundation: According to today's Times, Representative Chisum of Texas argued that evolution is a Rabbinical text-inspired theory, and therefore should not be taught in school. He must have missed the news about Einstein and relativity.

Challenge Blasphemy: Youtube has had a series of videos challenging God's existence, in essence preaching to a largely stupor-addled and torpid crowd. In response, a police officer in Virginia responds in kind, in essence preaching to a largely self-righteous and placid in the face of logic crowd. Boooring.

Ratpure Alert: The police officer mentioned above is "sounding the alert that Jesus Christ is coming soon." Reminds me of a bumper sticker my neighbor had: "If the Rapture is coming, somebody grab my steering wheel!" (No rapture, but he did have to move when he couldn't pay his rent.)

The Half Hour News Hour: Described as a "Daily Show for Conservatives," which means they've already lost the battle. They have to borrow from the enemy. Reviews have universally panned the show, and Variety points out, rightfully, that the left-leaning media bashes whoever's in the White House, left or right.

Dudeism: Via Tso (who else?). Tso, get back to work.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Being called to the principal's office is an odd experience for a grown man. It's even more odd for me.

He's got a nice office, my pal, the principal. Much nicer than mine (if I had one). Deep plush chairs, floor to ceiling bookshelves--it's nice to see what the referendum managed to pay for. He'd sent me an e-mail that morning, and I'd purposely shown up late so he'd be ready, but he got held up in a meeting, so I killed time rolling a pen down the side of his desk and seeing how close I could get it to the edge before swiping it off. When he finally came in, I was caught in the act of retrieving it from under his desk. If it's odd to be called into the principal's office at the age of 31, it's probably even odder to walk into the office and see one of your teachers rooting around where your smelly size-12s spend a few hours of the day.

When we got settled, I got the scoop: A group of parents showed up at the board meeting ready to register a "concern" about the "lack of writing taking place in [my] classroom." The principal and the curriculum director steered [them] away, and settled the group down. I got all hot under the collar, the principal let me settle down, then assured me they were behind me a hundred percent.

Trouble is, it wasn't a group of parents. It was one parent.

A parent I get along with just fine.

A parent concerned about the lack of supplementary grading assistance and the decreased writing assignments overall. Concerns we aired once upon a time.

I think I got played.