Sunday, April 30, 2006

Since You're Here...

Many of you know that I do a bit of writing. I don't often post it here; I don't know why. I guess I figure this isn't the place for it. But anyway, I was working on a poem this morning that I thought was sort of funny, and I thought I'd put it out there. Comments are appreciated.
(Some edits made--4pm.)

The Teaching Life

I light my Cuban with a Franklin
and take a call from the president.
“I’m sorry, sir,” I say, “but I'm in LA on Friday.
You’ll have to reschedule the dinner.”
He’s disappointed, but he understands.

My three cars gleam in the circle drive,
the solid-gold trim shaming the sun.

I have a shoe, just like Mike.
I don’t read books, anymore—
don’t have the time.

Endorsement deals, talk shows, personal appearances—
this is what my life has become.

At parties, when I say, “I’m a teacher,”
the ladies fall at my feet.

Men and boys ask for an autograph, a picture,
something they can show their grandkids, their buddies.
“Guess who I saw downtown this weekend.”

It’s a drag, sometimes, not being able to finish a four-star meal in peace.
I don’t go out much, anymore—
don’t have the patience.

I try to give back. I make more than I need.
Last month, I sent four hundred thousand pencils to Ecuador.
You know, to help with the earthquake.
I wanted to make a difference.
After all, Ticonderoga had just signed me to a $30 million deal.
My face on every box—
isn’t that success?

Some days, when I’m in my home theatre
with Dr. Dre and Bono and Gwyneth,
I feel an emptiness, but I can’t tell where.

One of my former students stopped me on the street yesterday.
“Reda! Hey, you were the best. I loved your class.
You taught me so much.” I posed for a picture,
shook his hand when he left. I couldn’t remember his name.
As he walked away, I smiled in satisfaction—
he was wearing my shoes.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

This and $1.09 Will Buy Me a Cup of Joe

An old high school friend sent me a link to this wonderfully pointless little lyrics quiz (thanks, UK Magz). I just got home from a soggy Saturday night party/cook out with Suh-Weet and Queen of Spades, and thought I would have a little fun. Monkey always says I know the words to a lot of songs. I guess she's right. Click on the link, take the quiz, let me know how you did in the comments section. (It takes a little while--there are like a hundred song lyrics. Spelling, tense, and number count, so be careful.) I was surprised at the end at some that I missed, and I was bummed that the creator of the quiz doesn't ID the songs from which the lyrics originate (for the ones I just can't recall), but, it was still fun. My amazingly unclear score (I have nothing to compare it to): 103.5!

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Powerful Words

A word is not a crystal, transparent and unchanged, it is the skin of a living thought and may vary greatly in color and content according to the circumstances and the time in which it is used.
--Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. (1918)

I found this quote in a book on word origins that I was reading yesterday. I thought it was a great crystallization of the way I think about language. I always try to get my kids to understand how meaning can often be subjective. When we do vocabulary, they look up words and see that they have multiple definitions. When we talk about imagery, each of them has a personal vision of what the image is communicating. When we read texts from fifty, a hundred, two hundred years ago, they encounter words that don't mean today what they meant then. When we talk about the current language that they use, their slang, we talk about how fluid the usages are, how so few of the words stand the test of time, how the meanings get consumed and transformed by popular culture.

So, this quote spoke to me. And where did it come from? A Supreme Court Ruling on the 1913 Income Tax Code, in which part of the case involved the definition of the word "income." An interesting bit of trivia that demonstrates that language is always in a state of flux (or at least subjective obscurity). After all, remember Slick Willy: that depends on what your definition of "is" is.

Enjoy the words.

Oh, hey! Saw a rose breasted grosbeak in the backyard today!

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Deadliners Midnight Softball League

The first ten o'clock game in Deadliners softball history resulted in a rousing come from behind 11-10 victory! Down 10-9 in the bottom of the final inning, the sleepy Deadliners rallied for two runs, claiming victory, and saving yours truly from losing his first start. Hooray for me! I am now 2-0 in my softball pitching career. An exciting game to be sure, but the team also had its worst attendance to date, as the late start time and chilly weather conspired to keep our regular cheering section at home. Two fine, brave souls (whom I do not know) did sit through the game. I hope they were entertained. Timmy Ocean's antics on the mound were missed (I am no replacement for that), but we endeavored through the pain and won one for the Ocean! I hope he enjoyed the fruit cup that the retirement home was serving tonight.

Changes in Cyberspace

Frequent visitors may notice a slight change to Central Standard today. I was getting a bit eye- sore and depressed looking at the black all the time, so I thought I'd go with a Springy/Summery Blue. It's blue, right? Also changed up some things in the Dramatis Personae column and added/deleted some links. I will try to keep up to date with the "Currently Teaching" links. Today, they send you off to a couple of sites about (respectively) Lorraine Hansberry (we're reading A Raisin in the Sun in my single section) and Flannery O'Connor (we're reading "Good Country People" and "A Good Man is Hard to Find" in both of my blocks) . I love O'Connor. I mean, I love Hansberry, too, but I have always, since the day we met, loved Flannery O'Connor's stories. She writes about what seem to be awful people, and they behave most terribly, but she does it with such humor, cleverness, and love that I can't help but get all gushy about her and her stories. And, best of all, most of the kids love the stories: weird people, doing weird things--it really appeals to them.

Anyway, softball tonight. We have a ten o'clock game. Yes, ten o'clock! That, friends and neighbors, is my usual weeknight bed time, so I should be in top form. In addition, Timmy Ocean is sitting out tonight, so I have to pitch. I usually fill in for Timmy (once a season). It's nerve wracking, pitching. It shouldn't be, since all you do in softball is basically serve it up, but you still feel responsible in some way for the outcome of each at bat. I am trying to psych myself up and get rid of the nerves. I also may be trying to nap between now and then.

By the way, both of my students won their respective elections last week, so substance seemed to win out over popularity (although there is no denying that both of the kids are popular, too--after all, you can't put a dress on a bear and call it a prom date...well, maybe you could, but I'm not suggesting it...unless it's a small bear...with no teeth).
Monkey is in Houston this weekend. In a month, we'll both be in Houston for the wedding of JPB to Doctor Fiancee (soon to be Doctor Wife). Houston, when did you get so damn popular?

This is a shot from Saturday's birthday hike. Ain't she just the cutest? And ain't I just a big ol' doofus? Come on, Son, wear yer hat right!

Monday, April 24, 2006

Monkey Birthday

Monkey's birthday was Sunday, folks. Here she does her birthday dance at the top of Coyote Bluff. I hope she had a good one (both birthday and dance). She did get two pies. One apple from me, and a key lime from Aunt James.

A rousing happy hour this past Friday, with topics of conversation ranging from Mormons to foreskin reclamation procedures (don't ask), left me feeling a bit under the weather on Saturday. Nonetheless, Monkey and I headed to Rock Bridge for a short hike. We had a nice one, and returned home in plenty of time for me to fix the toilet, mow the lawn, and make potato salad and a pie. Not in that order.

Monkey and I went to dinner to celebrate her birthday, but I was still feeling poorly, so I hardly ate any of my dinner. We went to see Thank You for Smoking after. It was good, but there was a trio of pinheads sitting in front of us who forgot that they were not in their living room (which is probably in somebody's mom's basement--and these guys were at least forty). It was so bad that even I shooshed them. I rarely shoosh anyone.

Sunday, which was supposed to include birding, was scrapped. I rallied for the Sopranos (you know, I made the potato salad, after all), but hit the hay as soon as we got home.

Work today was weird. I just felt out of it all day.

I think I'm skipping basketball.

Some pics from the hike (I'm getting better with the macro function).

Thursday, April 20, 2006

High School Politics

Long day, people. Long day. We had an assembly for Student Government elections, with candidate speeches and such. Aunt James is in charge of all that, and she was busy. It was a good assembly. The students each made a campaign video, which was shown before each speech, and some were excellent. Most everyone went for the humorous angle, and a few of them were completely hilarious. My favorite combined the silly seriousness of Steve Colbert with the silly silliness of SCTV (complete with stuffed body dummies being plowed by a car). A brilliant piece of work, I must say. Two of the candidates (one for President, one for Vice-President) are in my classes, so I have a rooting interest, and I waxed philosophic (an internal monologue) as I watched the proceedings about the balance and appeal at the high school level of substance and popularity in the voters' choice of officers. I only remember it, in my own school experiences (I ran for VP of my sixth grade class--and lost), as a popularity contest (Well, after all, what substance is there in the sixth grade? More corn with your pizza? Longer recess? Better four-square balls?). But here, it was clear that some candidates were aiming for the popularity angle, and some were laying out some issue-based groundwork. The end result awaits.

Softball results: we split the double header, winning the first game 20-0, and losing the second 11-9. Overall, a good night.

Now, I think I need a nap.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Season Opener

Wednesday, from April through October, means softball for Central Standard. Tonight at seven, the Deadliners open their season with a double header at the Rainbow Softball Complex. We are excited about that. Even more exciting is the fact that the weather is forecasted to be excellent for this evening. Remember how last Fall season ended? Yeah, a cold driving rain that we played through (the season was in its fourth week of make-up games). The past couple of years, if I am not mistaken, the Spring season has opened with rain outs. That is not awesome! However, it looks like clear skies and pleasant temps for tonight's festivities. Timmy Ocean is scheduled (as always) to throw out the first pitch!

Results pending. Stay tuned.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Praise the Lord (and Pass the Ham)

Easter Sunday. Memories of fly-collared pinstripe suits in shades of creme. Painful, shiny Buster Brown shoes that were outgrown by next year. Filled-to-the-aisles churches. Long masses in foreign languages. Pastel eggs, chocolate bunnies with those funky hard-candy-cataract eyes, black licorice jelly beans. Plastic celophane grass in wicker baskets. Mary Sue Easter Eggs ("Get the treat that is sunny for your Easter bunny. The creamiest candy that's made. Mary Sue Easter Eggs. Mary Sue Easter Eggs. Brighten your Easter parade." Charm City brethren and sistren: you know what I'm talking about.). And Easter dinner.

I know that this is the highest of holy holies for ye ole practicing Cath-o-lics out there. After all, without Easter, you got nothin'. Just a hairy guy with a beard and a velvet tongue. That Sunday back in 33 changed following Jesus from a political statement to a faith. It's important. I get that. But, I have to tell you (keeping in mind that I am a former follower of the faith) that back in the day, Easter was all about the ham. And the keilbasa and sauerkraut. And the stuffed shells. And the Easter pie (which isn't really a pie in the sense of some fruit in a plate covered with pastry; it's more like a stromboli full of eggs and pepperoni and cheese--oh, Jesus (sorry), it's good).

No surprise, for some, I guess. I am a mangione from way back, so the meal is the deal for me. Always has been, always will be. Not being geographically close to ma familia anymore, the Monkey and I don't do anything on Easter, really. Today, Monkey travelled back from Nebraska; I went birding, graded some papers, watched a baseball game. She currently snoozes away on the sofa, Ripken is rolling around on the floor. That's Easter. But, I do miss the dinner.

The food, of course, is a draw. Always wonderful, always bountiful. It's been different, I'm sure, since we lost Tess (my grandmother), but that was in '98, and I left town soon after, so I really don't know. Everybody seems to do their own thing now. My parents are going to my brother's in-law's house. I don't know what my aunt is doing, or my cousins. It's probably nothing like it used to be.

Yet, what I really miss is the feeling. Of Spring having arrived. Of pleasant, sunny Sundays, sitting around a table set for twenty and celebrating. Maybe we officially celebrated the resurrection of the son of God, but I don't think that was ever in my heart. I was celebrating the people I loved and the great fortune I had to be a part of their lives.

I'd like to think that everybody feels that way about their family, but I know they don't. Some people don't get along with their parents or sisters or cousins. Some people don't have the opportunity to enjoy their families. Separation, life events, conflicts, the passage of time all make it different for everybody. Not everyone has the same relationships that I am lucky to have.

So, I guess I'm feeling a bit melancholy this high Sunday. I miss my kin. I am no longer in the fold, in more ways than one.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

What I Want to be When I Grow Up

I spent this morning blistering through the news of the past three days from the perspective of the New York Times and the local "paper." Rummy: say your prayers, the Generalissimos are coming to get you! Sudan and Chad: stop it! Play nice. Iran: I'm sorry, but you just aren't scaring us. If nuclear destruction weren't such an awesome and fearful prospect, we might be laughing at you. Actually, check that, we are laughing...well, at least I am. China: buy some of our stuff, too! I mean, it's only fair, don't you think? Immigrants: go home! No, wait, stay here. No, never mind, go home. Well, unless you've already been here long enough to get married, raise a family, and start an Internet-based business. Then, you can stay. If you pay all of your back taxes, take a test (and pass), and promise to support (fill in political party of choice) for the rest of your red, white, and blue days! No, scratch that. Forget it, go home (But could you slaughter a few chickens and clean my house before you leave? Thanks, here's three dollars.).

What I was most intrigued by is the Style section of the Times. While looking at the latest fashions from Milan, New York, Paris, London, and Montauk (Long Island), I realized that I too could be a fashion designer. It seems pretty simple, and involves only the following steps:
1. Obtain scraps of material (easily obtained from the dumpster behind JoAnn's Fabrics).
2. Obtain rail-thin females and androgynous others to use as models (again easily obtained, though not at JoAnn's).
3. Obtain several road-killed, fur-bearing mammals from various streets and avenues.
4. Use the fabric to make the rail-thin females and androgynous others look like total jackasses (and place the road kill upon their heads or shoulders)!

Seriously, is there anything more useless on this earth than a fashion designer? Or perhaps that is an estimation that neglects to take into account the artistic endeavors of the designer? The artist's need and innate (or learned) ability to create, to translate the vision into the reality? The commentary, the political nature of each action that each individual undertakes? The statement made by the newest designers about the state of the human condition using animal, vegetable, and synthetic matters? Nope! I'm afraid fashion designer=useless.

I could go on, but I need to take some clothes out of the dryer.

Oh, by the way, sometimes it hails here (and I'm really good at catching it (in the living room!)).

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Infinite Monkey Theorem

You've heard of the theory (or mathematical example or whatever) that if a monkey (or maybe an infinite number of monkeys) sat at a type writer (or typewriters) and randomly typed for an infinite amount of time, eventually it/they would produce the collected works of William Shakespeare? Well, it's a theory. Or rather it is used to demonstrate the principles of randomness and infinity. I don't think they pay much attention to such things in Kansas, but, hey, I am not in Kansas.

At any rate, with it being National Poetry Month, the website of The Acadmey of American Poets sends out a poem each day this month. Yesterday's poem was by Nicholas Johnson. It's called "One of the Monkeys". I thought it was an excellent poem, and I share it with you.

One of the Monkeys

I'm one of the monkeys they've got typing
in a room full of monkeys. It's a play
Shakespeare wrote back in the old days
they want us to write again. So we're writing
a play we never read. They keep inviting
strangers to watch us and the strangers say:
"They wrote 'to be or nutti to be'!" They stay
too long if we write something exciting
but the bananas flow like wine. We know
it's a crazy, morbid, ranting play, a stew
full of murder, love, but with a noble feel.
Shocked, I see hack monkeys come and monkeys go.
One keeper killed my father. What should I do?
I'm watching him. My teeth are as sharp as steel.

Hope you like.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

The Week That Was (With Congratulations)

You're gonna need an ocean
of calamine lotion.
You'll be scratchin' like a hound
the minute you start to mess around with
Poison Ivy.
--The Coasters, "Poison Ivy"

Back to the grind this week. It was a long one for me, for some reason. I felt like I was dragging all week long, but I made it to another weekend. Hooray for small successes. Seven more times and the school year is over. That is a pleasant and worrisome fact. Pleasant because the year will be over; worrisome because I have a lot to do in those seven weeks.

Monday consisted of shepherding nearly comatose students through the return from Spring Break. I have never seen my students so inactive. The combination of back to school and the switch to Daylight Saving Time (congratulations, Indiana; welcome to the club) left them unable to function. It improved as the day went on, but the early periods were brutal. Later that evening, I whacked my knee against Sports Editor's knee playing basketball. I think I got the brunt of the collision, since my knee is still swollen. Then, Monkey and I settled in to watch a crummy National Championship, which culminated in UCLA calling mercy at halftime and both teams agreeing to play a second half exhibition that had no bearing on the outcome of the game. Florida won, by the way. (A reserved congratulations to them).

Tuesday was exciting simply for the fact that Boring Election exercised her rights as a citizen of the state of Missouri and of the United States of America. Congratulations, Boring Election! As well, Monkey was presented with the Distinguished Dissertation Award from the MU Grad School. The ceremony was lame, but congratulations, Monkey! You are a superstar. In addition (as if that weren't enough), the Terps women's basketball team rallied from a ten point halftime deficit to defeat arch-nemesis Duke in overtime for the Women's NCAA Championship. Congratulations, Terps! Fear the Turtle!

Wednesday? Don't remember much.

Thursday was about the same as Wednesday, except with a lot of bagel deliveries. Monkey wants her money, people! You know who I'm talking to. Beyond that, the puppy got his stitches taken out. He was pretty good about it. The vet got eight of his fourteen stitches out right in the office with a bit of help from Monkey before Ripken got too skittish and she had to take him "into the back." I don't know what they did with him back there, but they got the stitches out. Congratulations, Ripken Ozark!

Friday was about the same as two weeks ago. School. Booche's. Fall asleep on the sofa while Alton Brown scrambled eggs. Aunt James entertained us with her cabaret routine of "Poison Ivy" (which are also the only two words she knows in the whole damn song), in sympathetic honor of Boring Election's scientifically-interesting early-season case of the plant-induced rash. Monkey tried to suggest remedies, such as ice, cold water, sticking the affected area in the freezer (only really works for limbs or head), and steroid cream. I am expecting Boring Election to challenge Barry Bonds for the Major League home run lead this season. We were also treated to the all-night presence of Capt. "Darts" Morgan, a rare, but becoming-more-common experience. Word on the street is he's sprung himself for all Friday nights in the future. Congratulations, Captain!

And now...wonderful, glorious weekend.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Three Creeks Revisited

Monkey and I went back to Three Creeks Conservation Area, yesterday. If you recall, we hiked there in November or December of last year and really enjoyed it. The weather yesterday was great, so we decided to go back and enjoy a morning on the trails.

It was a good hike, the recent rain had only dampened the trail a bit in places, so the mud was managable, and Monkey did a spectacular job of orienteering our way through the occassionally maze-like trails. Some highlights included several (at least four) challenging (if you didn't want to get your feet wet) stream crossings, some first of the year wildflowers (shot out of focus--still trying to master all the bells and whistles on the camera), and a previously discovered cave.

I'm pretty sure the flowers are Virginia cowslip (Mertensia virginicus), but anyone with more expertise at identifying out-of-focus photos of wildflowers than I is welcome to tell me otherwise.

The cave was pretty wide (the entrance is probably fifty feet wide and twenty-five feet high), but not very deep (as least as far back as we could fit--it seemed to go back quite a ways, but you'd have to be a mouse or a Lilliputian to navigate the deeper passages). It also appeared to be a favored hangout for some local folks, complete with fire ring and stone squatting stools, but at least they seem to keep it clean. Not a beer can in sight.

Near the end of the loop we hiked, there were some old farm implements rusting away in the grass (they may still get used as far as I know--they're not in such bad shape). This would have been a really cool picture, but I didn't see Monkey in the distance as I snapped it, so I cropped her out. It's still kind of neat, but not as neat. Another hard learned photography lesson for me.

We had a nice morning, and made it home in plenty of time to get the supplies for a Sopranos party meatloaf and beer for some Final Four watching with Suh-weet and Queen of Spades. Complete with between-game Jenga (not enough time for Scrabble). What a stack! Suh-weet claims that we "approached Jenga immortality." I guess any kind of immortality is acceptable, but I was always hoping for more. Then again, we only "approached" it, we never attained it; so, how disappointing is that?

By the way, the basketball games kind of sucked.