Monday, December 31, 2007

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Emergency Room Visit

Monkey woke up at about 8AM this morning. Well, more precisely, I woke her up, as I came down to check on her. She said her hands were hurting her, which we both knew, from the doctor's pre-discharge consultation, meant that her calcium level was low. This morning, however, there was the added wrinkle of muscle spasms. Her thumbs were bent in on her palms. She looked like she had a mean case of the Arthur-itis. This was not a good sign.

I convinced her to take a few Tums, hoping that maybe her level had just fallen overnight and that a couple of crunchy tabs of calcium goodness would make her hands feel better. After about an hour, it was clear that that was not going to be the case. She came upstairs to tell me that her hands hurt worse.

I called her surgeon, knowing that, on a Saturday, I was just going to listen to a recorded voice tell me to call another number. Which it did. Its first suggestion was 911. I figured that was probably too drastic. A moment later, after being told when regular office hours were, the voice told me the number to call "if you wish to speak to a doctor."

Of course, after calling the number, I strongly suspected that I was not talking to a doctor. However, the fellow I was talking to, after listening to my problem for a few minutes, asked me to hold on while he fetched a doctor. Now, it wasn't Monkey's surgeon, but, I was pretty sure he was more qualified than any person I had talked to or any recorded voice I had listened to at any point this morning.

His highly qualified opinion--low calcium level. His highly qualified suggestion--a trip to the emergency room to have Monkey's Ca level tested and, most likely, to get her a Ca infusion via IV.

After putting on our shoes and socks (Monkey stayed in her PJs), we were on our way to the hospital, again. Pulling into the ER parking area, it became clear that this was going to be a drop off procedure, since the lot was full. Monkey and her dad went into the ER while I swung around the corner to park in a patient/visitor parking garage. By the time I got back to the ER, Monkey was already in triage, getting her blood pressure checked and supplying the vital info (insurance policy number). In moments, she was off to get her test and IV. Monkey Dad and I found ourselves sitting in another waiting room. No free coffee, this time.

An hour passes as we wait. The waiting room distractor (also known as a TV) is tuned to the Spike Channel. We move from the end of some Hatfield v. McCoy-Patrick Swayze movie to a special on Ultimate Fighter Wanderlei "the Axe Murderer" Silva to Horse Power, a car show, on which the hosts install a $2000 electronic fuel injector into a 1966 Dodge Charger. I have signed another insurance form and been told that Monkey is "sleeping," but other than that, all I know is that I could easily install an EFI if I had an auto shop, a laptop, a 1966 Dodge Charger, and two thousand dollars.

At the conclusion of a second hour, after fighting with the vending machine and losing a dollar (at least we got a bag of potato skins out of it), a nurse brought us back to Monkey where she was receiving her IV.

Another hour and her IV was done, and, most importantly, she was feeling better. We go back to the surgeon on Monday to test our calcium again (it is an after-effect of disturbing the parathyroid). Until then, we are keeping our fingers crossed that Monkey doesn't wake up tomorrow morning with her fingers crossed.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Monkey Medical Update

Monkey came home from the hospital today, after a twenty-four hour stay. She is now minus one thyroid, and is slowly recovering from her surgery. She has been sleeping, mostly, so, it's not very exciting for me, but I am very happy that things have gone as smoothly as they have.

Our trip to the hospital was a positive one. All of the staff were pleasant (except the guy shoveling walkways, who yelled at me for trying to drive where he didn't think I should), and we never felt like we were waiting for long stretches of time for people to do things. They told us Monkey would be released in the morning, and at 10 o'clock, we were out the door. I expected to be there until after lunch.

Monkey now has a bandage on her throat, and some poke marks on her arms and hands from IVs and blood tests and such. Her throat is still sore from the tube they had down her throat. And, her calcium levels are a little less than the doctor would like, but she seems to be doing as well as can be expected.

We'll keep you updated as conditions warrant. Thanks for all the well wishes, thus far!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Closing Time

With less than a week before we shut the door on 2007 and welcome 2008, the sense that one should evaluate the past year is strong. If this were not true, why else would we be inundated with "Top Ten" and "Best Of" and "Year in Review" lists during this run through the calendar?

I am no different. I would love to generate a list, if only to feel that I had done my part for posterity. Summing up our short time on earth is one of the ultimate needs of humankind. Leaving a record of our experience, of our existence. I mean, doesn't everyone need to know what I think is worthy after this latest lap around the sun?

Perhaps. Perhaps not. Here's my problem, no matter what anyone thinks: after about two weeks (if I am lucky) time begins to swirl together for me. It's as if my brain pool's temporal capacity is fourteen days or so, and after that, minutes, hours, weeks, months just spill over the sides and run together on the cement floor of my horological chamber. As a result, my list of "Top Ten" political events of 2007 could include anything from Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton's presidential candidacies to the Paris Peace Accords. My "Best Sports Moments" of 2007 could include anything from Missouri football's brief moment at #1 to Earl Morral's performance in leading the Baltimore Colts to victory in Super Bowl V. My "Best Movies" of 2007 might include Michael Clayton. It might include Michael Collins. You see where I am going with this, I am sure.

So, I will spare you my confused lists of our postmodern life in 2007. There are many places to go if you so desire to read such lists. You may go here. Or here. Or here. Or here. But you can't go here.

To appease those of you who simply can't get enough of the lists, here are my Top Ten Moments of My Own Personal Life (Which You May or May Not Be Able To Read And Say, "Hey, That Happened To Me, Too.") Which May or May Not Have Happened in 2007)).

10. The bemusing time I did that one thing that everybody laughed about the next day, but I couldn't remember doing it.

9. The hilarious time somebody said that one thing, but they meant something completely different, and it wound up changing the meaning of what they meant to something gross.

8. The mildly uncomfortable time that one girl asked me that weird personal question after I'd just met her, and I didn't want to be rude, so I kind of stammered some ridiculous answer.

7. The exhilarating, scary time those guys chased us down the alley because they thought I had made some obscene gesture at them, but, really, I wasn't even aware of their existence until they started chasing us down the alley.

6. The bizarre time we got that phone call at two in the morning, and the person on the other line was looking for that guy who used to live there, but he hadn't lived there for, like, three years, and the person on the other end of the line was sort of threatening the guy who didn't live there anymore, and I couldn't do anything but laugh.

5. The delightful time I woke up on that Spring morning and the sun was shining through the window, and it was warm on my face, and, for just a moment or two, I had no sense of needing to get anything done.

4. The wonderful time I lost that really important thing and thought I would be in really big trouble, until Monkey came in with it in her hand and said, "Is this what you were looking for?"

3. The troublesome night when I wound up walking home from the bar because somebody was being really weird, and I couldn't handle it.

2. The peaceful twilight I was wandering through the park and watching the bats fly around above my head in the darkening sky.

1. You know: the one time.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Holiday Greetings

Holiday greeting from Central Standard.

I want the same things for Christmas that I always do: real leadership, smarter citizens, greater class equity, increased social awareness, better music on the radio, true brother and sisterhood, a lasting peace, and cheaper beer.


Friday, December 21, 2007

One More Day (Begins With Procrastination)

Winter Break starts at 3:03 pm (Central). Make it through one more day, and we're off until Jan. 3. Not bad. But, here I sit, when I should be preparing for work, checking the score of last night's Navy-Utah "bowl" game (Navy lost--Boo), the weather (more snow on Saturday!), and generally procrastinating. But, in about four or five more minutes, we will realize the inevitable and endeavor to persevere (and take a shorter-than-usual shower).

It will be a unique (an unique?) holiday season, this year, as Monkey and I spend our first Christmas in Lincoln. We actually have a tree, this year (only our second in the last eight years), which we got last Sunday (in the snow) from a local tree farm (super cheap and local and fresh--can't beat that). Also making this a unique Yule: Monkey's dad will be coming out on the Eve and staying for about twelve days. It will be nice to have some family around. I hope he has an enjoyable time. Or, at least, as enjoyable a time as he can have, since the reason he is coming out is because Monkey is having her thyroid removed two days after Christmas.

That is what will make this the oddest year ever. I am worried a little (it is a medical procedure involving knocking Monkey out and cutting her open a little bit--I don't really like that idea), but I am also confident that all will be well (since this is sort of routine for the doctors and all). Monkey has made me promise that I would be confidently worried, and I will maintain that promise.

I have more to say on this unique Noel, but time is trickling away, and I have to face the reality of my situation: I must get to work!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007


The past weekend saw a reprise of the weekend before that and the weekend before that: me shovelling snow. The forecast promises with 40% accuracy that I may be doing the same thing this coming weekend. At least it's only two or four inches at a time.

I sit here typing this entry, knowing that my next one (after this one) will signal me reaching a goal that I set for myself. It is important to set goals. Without them, how will we know that we have achieved anything. For many the goals are small (remember that awful Bill Murray-Richard Dreyfuss film What About Bob?--"baby steps"). For others, goals are large (see Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, or (sadly, a goal never to be realized) Dennis Kucinich--when Amy Pohler is playing you on SNL as Alfred E. Newman meets Alfalfa, you got no shot.

I have set several goals for myself this year, none of them explicitly voiced or even written down. Inside, however, I knew what I wanted to accomplish this year. I set birding goals: fifty Nebraska birds by the end of the year--nope, didn't get this one. Three hundred life birds--nope, not yet. I set school goals: survive this first year--so far, so good. Make it through first semester without physically assaulting a sophomore--I think I am going to make it. I set writing goals: finish a second novel: not even close. Finish revising last novel: did that.

My blog goal was decidedly unlarge. I wanted to post 120 times this year. That is an average of 10 posts per month, which goes about once every 3 days. I thought that was a reasonable goal. And, with my next post, it shall be realized.

Hooray for me!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Mitchell Report Implicates Jesus!

As I drove home from work this evening, a litany of names was being read on the radio. I recognized most of them as Major League baseball players. I soon found out that they had all been named in a report on the investigations of steroid use in baseball. However, sandwiched in between Jack Cust and Tim Laker, I undeniably heard one other name. I, like Captain Renault in Casablanca, was shocked!

It was a long list, containing such luminaries as Andy Petitte, Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Benito Santiago, and, yes, ladies and gentlemen, the son of God. Now, I am not surprised, nor disappointed in the baseball players, but Jesus? Come on.

In his defense, he is getting older. Maybe he's lost a step. Maybe he's not able to recover from injury as quickly as he used to when he ascended to heaven to sit at the right hand of the Lord 2000 years ago. It's hard nowadays, making a place for everybody, especially now that there are over six billion people on the planet. Of course, the godless bastards in other countries and even this God-fearing Christian nation who deny Christ, they don't need a room, but that still leaves quite a few jasper-walled rooms to be vacuumed and gold-posted beds to be turned down.

But, still, you like to see your trinity members working the cosmological action naturally. Who wants to hear that the Holy Ghost is juiced? Who wants to hear that God is popping bennies? I don't.

Honestly, I wish it was baseball season. I am so disappointed now, I am thinking of denying Christ...three times! And the only thing that will make me feel better is watching a baseball game. I hope there's one on ESPN Classic.

Tomorrow, we'll discuss the moral, ethical, and spiritual implications of Alex Rodriguez being paid $527 million over twenty years.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Random Words

Poetry is something I've always been a fan of. Maybe, dare I say it, it is one of the things that I am as close to passionate about as I get. There: I didn't really say it.

In the past, I have always incorporated a great deal of poetry into my school day. Nearly every day, we interacted with a poem. The kids and I read it, analyzed it, wrote it, spoke it, shared it. It is my favorite kind of literature to "play" with, both as a reader and a writer.

This year, I have done much less of it. For a lot of reasons that I am not about to get into. However, for the past several weeks (even if the "Currently Teaching" links don't show it) we have been working on poetry (and reading Cat's Cradle).

That, of course, gets me interacting with more poetry, and, in turn, it gets me writing more, mostly as exercises with the students, but, on my own, as well. It is inevitable: the more you immerse yourself in it, the more it pours out of you. I'm like a sponge, that way.

Anyway, today in class, we worked on "Random Word Poems." I saved all of my pages from my "Word A Day" calendar, and I dealt out one word to each of them. Their task was to write a poem that had something to do with that word. They could include the word in their poem. They could write about the word. They could write about how the word made them feel, what they thought of when they first saw the word. They could do just about whatever they wanted. Some of them were pretty good for first drafts dashed off in fifteen minutes. As always, I wrote with them. My word was "hydromancy," which is divination through the use of liquid (usually water). Or something like that. And, here is my poem:


My grandmother read the portents
in the tea leaves.
My mother told others' fortunes
with the tarot.
I use hydromancy to
divine futures.

With every flush

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Ice Planet Hoth North?

It's a snow day here in Cornopolis. A good deal of rain fell overnight, freezing upon landing. Every tree and bush, every car and trash can, every lamppost and street sign, is coated in about 5/8" of ice. It looks awfully pretty, but, I am glad I don't have to drive in it.

It appears that my CoMo companions are halfway to fulfilling Aunt James' prediction. Good for them. I am right certain that tomorrow will be biz as usual around here, but we'll see.

After last year's winter weather, which saw a long stretch of super cold, and frozen ground for weeks, I wonder if we might have to add yet another informal nom de guerre to this area that we Monkeys call home. Only time and temperature will tell.

I hope everyone out there is safe and warm. I know some of you had to go to work today. I am sorry about that. I truly am.

Monday, December 10, 2007

(a poem)

I don't often do this, but I am of a mind today.

Gertrude Stein (A Meditation On) Charles Olson

Is she the most underrated expatriate poet of the 20th century?
Is the most overrated expatriate poet of the 20th century she?
A hanger-on to the European artists of the 20th century is she?
Is 20th century from the she?
She 20th century is?
20th century.
She large/
In. Charge. In.
Barge. Barging.
In blood.
Around salons saloons.
In pantaloons.
Whitman's famous beard. Have you heard?
Was fifty-four.
Fifty-four was four with four
and forty-six.
This is a meditation on Gertrude Stein.
Who did.
Not have a beard.
This meditation is on.
Meditation is.
An exhausted use of syntax
taxed with the 20th century.
Breaks free and bows to her brother
as he walks through the door
back toward
backwards toward
Pennsylvania to Paris.
Oakland to Black Mountain.
Without experience.
Eating a subject.
Eating her.
Subject one.
Landing the land onto the land
Floating to three.
Olson comes to.
Comes to.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Who's in Charge of Scheduling Around Here?

It snowed today. A quick four inches fell, mixed with some sleet and sundry freezy precip, making the roads treacherous. However, the timing could not have been worse for those of us in the edumucation biz.

As I stopped into Panera to get a cup of coffee at 6:45, not a flake was falling, not a bead of sleet was pinging from my car's hood. It was just cold. Really cold. The forecast was for a wintry mix, but nothing was happening at first light. I got to school and settled in. There are few windows in the academic wings of my building, so I was working on last minute lesson plan notes at 8 am, completely unaware that in the hour that I had been there, it had started actively snowing. Heavily.

We got about an inch an hour until twelve. Monkey called me at school to tell me that it was bad out and that she had cancelled the rest of her day. That is saying something. Monkey is generally fearless about the weather, so, I figured if she were giving up on the day, it must have been bad.

The day was a bit of a task, as it was all we teachers could do to keep our charges' minds out of the snow and focused on their work (a hard task on a normal day). But, we managed. After four hours of snowless skies, I cleaned off the car and headed home. It was a slippery adventure, as the roads were slick and icy. Even the relatively clear ones seemed to have a skein of ice on them. But, slowly and carefully, we made it home in one piece.

Of course, when I got home, I had to shovel the walks and the driveway. The driveway is slopey. Monkey couldn't get the Penguin into the garage, and I nearly ended up on my butt several times as I cleared the way for her and the vehicle. But, mission accomplished.

So, I got all the headache of a good snow, without the payoff. I know Aunt James would be pissed about that. By the way, I see it's snowing/icing in CoMo. A snow day for my brothers and sisters on the other side of the Big Muddy?

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Jersey Midwest?

After a lull on the rodent-terror front (yes, I am placing the little guys on the Axis of Evil--it's the only American thing to do), thanks in large part to the surge in trap strength that has led to the demise of enough mice/Jihadists to make a quincunx, I was today assaulted as I walked out of my school building to head home in the near dark.

Now, don't get too excited. Nobody slugged me. Nobody pulled a weapon on me. I was not, as Uncle James likes to say, a "victim of crime." No, ladies and gents, I was assaulted olfactorily. As the musty smell of manure descended upon my nasal passages (or, perhaps, they ascended up my nasal passages, eh?). I was on the phone with Monkey at the time, and she confirmed that our town smelled like cow shit.

This is not the first time this phenomena has been noted by yours truly, but it is the first time it has been corroborated in real time. I know we are in agricultural-type territory, but one would think a town of this size wouldn't smell like a feed lot (okay, maybe that is a bit harsh, but still...).

So, I guess we need to add a new alert to the scale. Just above (or below) PoP, we have to place....wait for it...PooP.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Score

Pepino , oh, you little mouse
Oh, won't you go away.
Find yourself another house to run around and play.
You scare my girl, you eat my cheese, you even drink my wine.
I try so hard to catch you, but you trick me all the time.
--Lou Monte, "Pepino, the Italian Mouse"

After a day of no mouse sightings (living or dead), but some evidence of a mouse's existence (e.g., peanut butter clearly licked from an unsprung trap by a very small, very stealthy, lightweight tongue), I woke yesterday to find an ex-mouse in the clamp of sprung steel and wood behind the stove. I was happy to see an end to our mouse problem, but a bit disturbed that I had to have a direct hand in the end of this little rodent's life. After all, he (or she) was just doing what comes naturally, right?

So, with a heavy heart, I cleared the trap. While dropping the body unceremoniously into the garbage, I spied another former mouse in the snap of a trap behind the garbage. I was very surprised. For some reason, even with ample experience with rodent infestation and removal (don't ask), I was not expecting two. And so, "the holocaust was complete." (Please refer to The Great Gatsby).

Until this morning, when I awoke to find another one behind the garbage can. I now have three little meeses on my conscience. How will I sleep at night?

Monday, November 26, 2007

Additions and Subtractions (Mickey Must Die)

Last night, after Monkey and I arrived home from our Turkey Day trip, I was cleaning the coffee pot when I noticed that the carafe was broken. Neither of us know how this happened, but, considering it was the carafe to a nineteen dollar coffee maker that we bought five years ago, it was not much of a big deal. I resolved to drink tea in the morning and stop at Panera on the way to work.

Which I did, but not before noticing that something had entered the house to replace the loss of the coffee maker.

As I stood at the counter, pouring water from the kettle into my mug in the fluorescent-lighted pre-dawn kitchen, a little brown mouse scampered out from behind the pantry shelf and along the base of the counter. When he saw me, he leaped about a foot in the air, did a 180, and hauled ass back behind the pantry shelf. For a moment, I could not believe my eyes. Until I looked behind the pantry and saw it snuggling under a stack of paper bags.

So, this evening, after school, I went directly to Target to buy a new coffee maker...and some mouse traps. Stand by for developments.

Oh, and, if seeing a mouse in my house was not strange enough for me, I noticed that Missouri is #1 in the BCS?! What is happening to my world?

Monday, November 19, 2007

Doing the Unthinkable

Back in the day, before I lived in Stinkin' Lincoln, before I lived in CoMo, before I lived in HoCo, before I got married, I lived with a friend of mine in a little house in Hamilton, a neighborhood in the northeast section of Baltimore. She owned the house, and I had moved in with her from a second floor apartment in a house not two blocks down the street. It was so close that the move took forever, since I never rented a truck or anything. I borrowed this old Ford Econoline van from my dad, that smelled like chicken blood and Big Gulps. We used to use it to make short trip deliveries for the wholesale biz, but anyway....

This little house had a few trees around it. In the fall, the leaves fell, as they are wont to do.

For most of my life up to that point (about 26 years), I had raked nary a leaf. I never saw the point in it (nor did I ever have the necessity to do it). I always figured that, well, that was where the leaves were supposed to be, right. Mama Nature didn't drop all those leaves just to give us all something to do, did she?

But, this particular year, for whatever reason (I think I was compelled by my housemate/landlord), I went out and raked leaves. And damn if she didn't take a picture of it. Lucky for us all, I do not have a copy handy, and, if I did, it would be in an old-fashioned format, one you could put in an album, with pages; one that you'd have to say, "Careful, don't get fingerprints on it." Remember those kind of pictures?

I bring this up (the raking, not the photo albums), because I spent a good deal of Saturday raking leaves, trimming bushes, and generally preparing for winter. On Sunday, I wrapped the water heater and weather stripped the doors. That, I don't mind. The leaves, however, are something I need to reconcile myself with.

There were so many, and the backyard is already patchy and thatchy enough. I had to do it. I had no choice. Still, a part of me wishes...well, I just hope I don't get all lawn obsessive like the rest of the block and start watering my lawn in the summer. Now that...that's just plain stupid.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

On This Day in History

Last year, on this date, I had reached the 20K word mark on my novel, The Fingers of Time (formerly The Trials of Vernon). Today, I am just under 10K for this year's attempt, If This Were A Movie. I am despairing, but I am not giving up. I was not the most productive writer this weekend past, but a friend of Monkey's was in town from Minnesota. I didn't write much at all. I have knocked out about 4000 words between today and yesterday, but I will really have to get cooking this weekend if I have any hope of finishing this puppy.

Just thought you might want to know what has been occupying my time (or, at least, my thoughts, since I am not actually DOING anything) lately.

I'll try to be better next time.

Friday, November 09, 2007

My Good Fortune and Borrowings

Today I find myself with a day off. Our school is hosting the state volleyball tournament (how am I supposed to say that, Osculator?), giving all of the teachers and students a three day weekend. Hoorah!

I plan on spending it cleaning the house, catching up on the "novel" (I know the Dingo doesn't believe it possible, but I do...), which I am far behind on, and, of course, because there really are no true days off for a teacher, planning and grading.

School has been an up and down proposition these past few weeks. I am still having a hell of a time with my "younger" students, but I was evealuated on Wednesday, and I think it went well. I have a follow-up on Tuesday, and we will get our feedback then, but I am positive. So, as Carl says, I got that going for me.

Other than that, I have little to report.

In response to a comment from a reader (hello, Ethan!), I would suspect that western societies are not more prone to psychological disorders. Studies may show a higher occurence of them, but that reason may have something to do with taboos in other societies against reporting or seeking help for psychological conditions. Keep in mind, I am not even an citizen-expert on this subject, but, if I remember, I will consult with Monkey (who is a professional expert) and get back to you.

As, Hodg-man likes to say in his closing: that is all.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

The End of A Very Long Western Story: Lodge of the Bear, Old Muddy, and A Palace of Corn

We spent most of our last day in western SD visiting what is known officially in the US as Devils Tower. The igneous monolith, made famous as Richard Dreyfuss' obsession in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, is actually known by many other names in the various languages of American Indians. Lakota call it Bear's Lodge Butte. Most of the Indian names have something to do with a bear. The Indian story of the butte's origins involves a bear, a flat rock, and some sisters, if I am not completely mistaken. The bear (which was some kin to the girls turned into a bear, I think), chased the girls. They fled and asked a flat rock to help them. The rock asked the girls to circle the rock several times, and, as they did, the rock rose up to the heavens, forming the butte. As it rose, the bear's claws scratched the characteristic ridges around its perimeter. The girls wound up becoming stars, or something. I don't recall what happened to the bear. At any rate, it's an awesome story (not retold very apologies).

Geologist tell several different stories, but all of them involve magma and cooling and erosion and fractals (or hexagons or something) and millions of years. That story is awesome, too, but, it's a different kind of awesome.

Whatever story you adhere to, Devils Tower is a magnificent site. It towers up out of the gentle hills of eastern Wyoming, creating a spiritual magnet for many. It has been a sacred site to American Indians (understandably) from time untold. Climbers are drawn to the tower, too. The National Park Service is caught in the middle, trying to respect American Indian spiritual beliefs, yet allowing rock climbers to scamper up and down the ridged face of the formation. Honestly, I don't know if that really is a balance, at all, but I do know that the view into the Belle Fourche Valley from the base of the Tower is a glimpse into paradise itself.

We made it back to Hill City, after taking about a hundred pictures of Devils Tower (we circled the entire thing on foot), in time to see the lighting of Mount Rushmore. My inadequate photography skills left us with little in the way of quality proof of the sight, so I'll spare you. Suffice it to say that it gets chilly in the Black Hills in October when the sun goes down, and you haven't eaten since breakfast.

The next morning we made our way back east. Traveling through southern South Dakota this time, we crossed the Missouri River at Oacoma and Chamberlain, where they have an extensive Lewis and Clark exhibit at the I90 rest stop. Needless to say, I have had my fill of L & C, after the last couple of years in Missouri, but this was impressive. They even had a full-size replica keel boat inside the rest stop. That's worth a stop (that and having to go to the bathroom, anyway).

Our last destination in SD was Mitchell. Home of the disappointing Corn Palace. We snapped a few pics, but, while admiring the artistry of the corn murals, we found ourselves underwhelmed by the little corny building next to city hall. The fact that within they were staging some extreme fight club event didn't help to increase my "Wow" meter reading.

The sun set as we passed south down US77, through the Winnebago and Omaha Indian Reservations, through the towns of Oakland (the award-winning Swedish capital of Nebraska), Wahoo, Fremont, and Ceresco, and, finally pulled into the drive of our house. A cursory unpacking, and we were off to bed, looking forward to Saturday and Sunday, so we could rest up from our relaxing 2000 mile drive around the wilds of the old Wild West.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

A Very Long Western Story, Part Four: The Wind and the Badlands

One of the drawbacks of being in a place that gets a lot of summer tourism during the month of October is that some places that may be recommended or interesting wind up being closed or on an off-season, short schedule. If you'll recall, Monkey's and my last visit to Maine during early June (off-season, there), found us having difficulties finding recommended places for lunch due to the fact that it was 2pm and most of the places closed at 1pm because it wasn't "summah, yet."

The same fate befell us here in South Dakota (where I was surprised that many of the locals have what I once thought was just a Minnesota accent--it's apparently more of an Upper Midwest "o." I guess, if I would have paid more attention during Fargo, in which Frances McDormand used the same accent to great effect (in NORTH Dakota)....). We arrived at Wind Cave at about 3:25. The last cave tour went out at 3, so we didn't actually get to tour the cave, which is like a labyrinth down there (we saw a map)! We did get to walk around to the back of the visitor's center and see the natural mouth of the cave, through which Alvin McDonald passed thousands of times as he explored and mapped the extensive cave throughout his life. He must have been a pretty small guy.

And that about did it for the exploring on Tuesday.

On Wednesday, we proceeded east to Interior, SD, where we then headed northwesterly into Badlands National Park. It was a vision beyond words, really. The closest, I imagine, that I will ever get to being on a different planet, without ever leaving my own, the badlands are simply an awesome, unique place. And every step changed the perspective. I surely would not have wanted to pass through this place in an earlier time, without water or shelter, or the means to pass through relatively quickly. I imagine that many folks died passing through the badlands, or at the least suffered immensely. But, looking upon them now, in the settled, soft 21st century, where we visit dreadful natural places as destinations to snap a few pics and head back to the motel, they are beautiful.

The badlands were a haul, and, adding to the trip a visit to the ridiculous Wall Drug (you gotta see it to understand), and a stop in Rapid City for some grub, that was the day on Wednesday. Thursday would take us from Badlands to worse, as we headed west, into Wyoming (The Equality State?) to witness the startlement known as Devils Tower.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Here We Go Again

We interrupt "A Very Long Western Story" to bring you this important message: it's on again!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

A Very Long Western Story, Part Three: An American Garden of Eden

Here on this mountain top
I got some wild, wild life
I got some news to tell you
About some wild, wild life.
--Talking Heads, "Wild, Wild Life"

The Black Hills of South Dakota take their name from the Lakota Sioux who considered the area sacred. Paha sapa they are called in Lakota. They are an interesting formation, a sort of oval range, alone in the plains, surrounded by a valley playfully called the racetrack and containing several peaks in excess of 6000 feet. It is no wonder that many American Indians considered this area to be some sort of ground zero for creation. It is like a ragged, jagged Garden of Eden that Monkey and I were set to explore.

An early Monday night (after a meal of pork and sauerkraut at the Horse Creek Inn), led to an early morning at the table of our hosts at Emerald Pines. Mrs. Pines cooked up a scrumptious breakfast of french toast and bacon, with plenty of hot coffee, and some scones on the side. Monkey and I were well fed as we headed out to gaze upon the grandeur of Mount Rushmore.

I was prepared for a tacky 1960s-style North-by-Northwest version of Mount Rushmore. Something along the lines of a Graceland for George Washington, a gift shop full of shot glasses and rubber tomahawks, and coin operated telescopes. I did not get what I expected (except for the coin-op scopes).

Mount Rushmore is a pretty amazing sight. No doubt, even had the gift shop been full of plastic, glow-in-the-dark models of the heads, even had the cafeteria been doling out Mount Rushmore versions of Klondike ice cream bars, the monument itself would be spectacular. It was made more spectacular by a gorgeous day: clear, slightly windy, a bit of a chill in the air (some who came from the lowlands were in shirt sleeves). It was made even more spectacular by the off-season crowd.

Not many people were around on this fine late October Tuesday. It was great. We took a guided walk around the monument and trail around the grounds, and got to spend twice as much time with our Parks Service guide than we would have been able to in the summer. It was an awesome sight, and the interpretive center and museum were fascinating. I won't go into some sort of Modern Marvels shpeil about the wonders of the work that Gutzon Borglum and his crew did, but I will say that it is a story worth investigating. I would like to take this opportunity, however, to alert anyone thinking about taking a trip to Mount Rushmore in the off-season: use the restroom at the welcome center before you walk the trail around the park.

Another warning that is worth disseminating: be wary of belligerent burros while driving through Custer State Park, our second destination of the day. Near Wind Cave National Park, Custer is a large state-owned piece of land that is home to "wildlife-at-large," like so much of this area of the western US. We were amazed to see a herd of bison watering at a hole just a few hundred yards from the park's borders. After gazing in wonder at these magnificent, seemingly docile beast (yet we were warned by signs that they are "dangerous"), we motored on, only to be waylayed by a herd of wild burro astride the park road. We stared at them, and they stared at us. We inched The Penguin forward, they held their ground. We sat stalemated for a good fifteen minutes before these belligerent burros decided to let us through.

Beauty was everywhere on the other side of the asses. Not only in animal form, but the few deciduous trees still in leaf were blazing in color. against the backdrop of the grass and pines, they stood out, little accents to this western American Garden of Eden.

Monday, October 29, 2007

A Very Long Western Story, Part Two: Black Hills Fever Dreams

When I was a child, I had a fever.
My hands felt just like two balloons.
Now, I've got that feeling once again.
I can't explain, you would not understand.
This is not how I am.
--Pink Floyd, "Comfortably Numb"

When I was a small boy, I had some disease. My mother once told me it was Scarlet Fever, but I was under the impression that that was fatal, so let's say it was something else. At any rate, I remember very little about the time except these amazing fever-induced (I'm assuming) hallucinations or visual interpretations of images from the television.

During my convalescence, it seems, according to my memory, that I watched a great deal of TV. I remember a cartoon about a girl choking on a chicken bone. That was vivid and very blue--it had a Shel Silverstein meets Maurice Sendak kind of feel. When my grandmother was pretty sick, she used to like when I read Where the Wild Things Are to her. Ironically, it always reminded me of that dreamy childhood sickness feeling. Strange, but I just thought about that. Anyway, I also remember an episode of Soul Train in which every one had very large heads and they were levitating. Then again, that could have simply been the hair- and shoe-styles of the day making them look like that. I still to this day, when I have a fever, feel as if my own body has grown immense, and that, while I know if I look at my feet they will be right there, five and a half feet or so away from my eyes, they feel like they are a hundred feet away. It's a weird feeling, let me tell you. One other thing I remember is an image, from what I cannot recall, in which a metal, robot-like, pterodactyl-looking thing with orange wings fell burning from the sky. It writhed and roared on the oily street as reddish flames engulfed it. I was horrified.

The farthest one might be able to get from the oily street, writhing, burning pterodactyl or not, might be a long stretch of the plains of southwestern South Dakota. It was a veritable sea of rolling brownish hills, resplendent in its dry grassiness, as it crested and receded under the wide blue sky. This was the predominant view as Monkey and I drove through Wind Cave National Park, where visitors can find Wind Cave (which I'll tell you about next time). In addition to Wind Cave, the park is home to a host of free-ranging (at large, they like to call them) prairie ruminants. We literally stopped the car in the middle of the road at the first sight of pronghorn antelope, not 300 yards from the road. We also saw, on a forty-five minute trek up US 385, through the park, bison, elk, coyote, and prairie dogs.

Yes, prairie dogs, as far as the eye could see, acres and acres of prairie dog town. Time would show that these towns were merely villages, compared to some, but that is (like Wind Cave) another story for another time. However, at this particular point in time, it was a thrill to see these little sentries of the plains up close. Monkey and I had seen prairie dogs (not dogs at all really, but, I think you know that) on our treks back and forth to Oregon. Once, in Wyoming, a little scamp ran out in front of Monkey and nearly wrecked her. Boy, that was fun!

Passing out of the park, however, did not end our views of nature, nor our startlements (as the Tiresias-blind railway handcar driver says in O Brother Where Art Thou?). With so much land and so few people, there are a great number more deer and elk and such running loose up in SD. The side of the road is like a waiting area for wild undulates, looking to collide with a speeding vehicle. Lucky for us, we never met with one of these suicide mammals, but we kept a nervous, watchful eye while in the area.

As we approached our destination, Hill City, SD, our nervous, watchful eye gazed upon the unfinished (perhaps never-to-be finished) startlement known as the Crazy Horse Monument. Really just a face and an arm pushing forward out of a mountain side, the monument seems to rise up above everything nearby. From a business standpoint, that doesn't seem very wise (especially when you're charging ten bucks a pop and your sculpture isn't done yet), but for the roadway gawkers (hello!) it is a boon, let me tell you. We had plans on visiting the monument proper on Tuesday, so we just snapped a few polaroids at seventy miles per and kept on rolling. After all, we had been rolling for about eight hours at this point, and the driving was getting a might tiresome. Little did I know that by the time we were done with the trip we would have covered two thousand miles over five days, but, that's another other story for another other day.

Of course, we rolled into Hill City at about four o'clock, an hour ahead of schedule, because we missed the damned Carhenge. We couldn't check into our lodgings, so we decided to wander about the town for a few minutes. It's a small town, with a population of about 700; we figured it wouldn't take long to see what was to be seen. After a brief pause for the cause at the local Exxon, we came upon a sight that filled me with wonder and awe. A true startlement, inducing dizziness, fainting spells, and pseudo-fevers in the author. For there, perched upon the Black Hills Dinosaur Museum, wingless, and no longer aflame, was a thirty-four year old vision from my past.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

A Very Long Western Story, Part One: Approaching The Land of Rocky Raccoon

Somewhere in the black mountain hills of Dakota
There lived a young boy named Rocky Raccoon
--The Beatles, "Rocky Raccoon"

You may have wondered where I've been, since it's been over a week since my last post. Or, you may not even be concerned, since it is not unprecedented that I take a long lay off now and again, for sometimes good and sometimes not so good reasons. Be you the former or the latter, I will tell you that Monkey and I have been a-roaming the western section of South Dakota and the eastern section of Wyoming (and a little bit of western Nebraska, too), these past five days.

We set out before daybreak on Monday morning, finding ourselves a hundred miles to the west before the sun made its way into the eastern sky. Our first destination of the day was to be Chimney Rock National Monument, near Bayard, Nebraska. It is billed as the most famous landmark on the Oregon, California, and Mormon Pioneer Trails. Many early westerers marked the site as the beginning of the west. Others knew it as the "Elk's Penis." Still others knew it as "that place a couple days east of Scott's Bluff." At any rate, it is an important enough site to be represented on Nebraska's state quarter, making it somewhat as famous as New Jersey's side of the Delaware River, West Virginia's New River Gorge, Connecticut's Charter Oak, New Hampshire's late Old Man of the Mountain, California's Yosemite Valley, Missouri's Gateway Arch, Oregon's Crater Lake, and Wisconsin's Block o' Cheese. Using the same logic, Chimney Rock is thus as well known as the entire states of Pennsylvania, Georgia, Massachusetts, South Carolina, New York, Ohio, Louisiana, Indiana, Alabama, Michigan, Texas, Minnesota, and Idaho, all of whom put the outline of their state on their quarter. But, I digress.

As with most good road trips, a destination or two arises in the moment--a magical spot one is drawn to without premeditation, without even knowing the spot existed before driving upon it (or the sign post or bill board advertising it). Monkey and I were passing through Ogallala, Nebraska, when I spied a sign post for "Boot Hill." I just had to stop. As a child, I had as much of a love for the romantic idea of the west as any American boy of a certain age. For a long time, the only books I read were western adventures by the likes of Louis L'Amour (a decidedly un-western nom de plume) or biographies of western heroes. As a young child of the seventies, I was a kinder, gentler consumer of the western myth: I had a certain empathy for the American Indian. I understood (as much as any nine-year-old can) the unattractive aspects of the western legacy. However, I still feel that innocent, gullible, romantic joy, sometimes, when I think of the legends of the west. And, as a former devotee of such legends, I knew Boot Hill meant wild western history (some of which actually might be based on some semblance of facts).

Boot Hill, of course, is the name of many cemeteries in the west. Some are more famous than others. I didn't know that Ogallala had one, but I was excited to find it. So, on a chilly Monday morning, I maneuvered The Penguin through a residential area of tiny Ogallala, Nebraska, climbed a set of forty or so stone stairs, and there, on a hill in the west, I gazed upon the empty, but marked graves of some of the former residents of Ogallala, all presided over by a larger-than life (of course) bronze cowboy, meditatively, one leg hooked over his saddle horn, gazing off to the horizon. It was awesome (in an unabashedly nine-year-old-boy-enamored-with-cowboys way). But, we could not tarry for long....

We arrived at Chimney Rock in the early afternoon, and spent about a half an hour at the State Historical Society's Visitor Center. It was okay...not great. We did learn about the "Elk's Penis" there, so it wasn't a total waste. Alas, there are no trails, and no way to approach the site except upon the road that leads to the little visitor's center. I'm not sure if the monument is on private land, but I am relatively certain that it is surrounded by private land. So, no getting near it.

Rumors of wagon ruts from the Conestoga wagons of yore were not confirmed. I was bummed. I really wanted to see some wagon ruts.

We proceeded north, looking to find Carhenge. Unfortunately, due to one of the following, we were unable to find it:
a) the sun was in our eyes
b) a train was blocking our view
c) absolute, temporary blindness
d) it just wasn't meant to be.

At any rate, after we realized that we had totally missed it somehow, we drove on with tears in our eyes, saddened by missing Carhenge, but excited by the prospect of South Dakota, just a hundred miles or so, ahead.

Friday, October 19, 2007

What You've Heard? It's All True.

Love it or hate it, I have to admit, there truly is no place like Nebraska.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Bird Of Paradise Flies Up My Nose

Lest it be said that only the darkness is allowed to pervade Central Standard, allow me to relate to you that I have had a pretty good week, so far. We're talking Cornopolis-style, lads and lassies. I have felt pretty on my game at school. As well, I have given myself a good talking to and decided to permit myself to be imperfect. This will, if past experience is any indicator, only last a week or two, and then I'll be right back to kicking myself for the littlest things, but, hey, I gotta be me.

In addition, I got an email from NaNoWriMo , reminding me that it is time to sign up. In 12 days, it'll be writing time, again! Woo hoo! I don't know if I can pull it off this year. Of course, I didn't know if I could do it last year, and I did, but this year, with all of the changes.... Already, I am making excuses. Boo! However, I did not complete Script Frenzy this June due to the move, so a precedent has been set (and an unfinished film script needs more attention).

And, to top it off, I nailed a trey from the top of the arc at basketball Wednesday, so, you know, I've got that going for me. Along with the fact that, after tomorrow's half-day of finals, I have a week off, and Monkey and I are going to South Dakota! We plan on seeing the half-finished Crazy Horse, the giant president's heads, the Badlands, the Black Hills...lots o' clash of cultures history. I am pretty psyched.

Now, if we could just get the football team up here back on track, life in Nebraska might start looking up.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Ninety-nine Posts For The Year

Ninety-nine posts for the year on this blog.
Ninety-nine posts for the year.
Click on one.
Read it for fun.
Ninety-nine posts for the year on this blog.
--sung to the tune of "99 Bottles of Beer"

After a really depressed weekend, in which I hated this town, my job, the weather, everything, today was pretty good. I spent a few days in PoP, but things are looking mostly Nader, this evening. At the very least, I never felt like throttling any of my kids. I still get the feeling from some of them that they are merely tolerating me, that I am some kind of underclass peon, and they subtly make sure that I know it. It's weird. A different vibe, that maybe I am putting on others rather than picking up from them. I don't know. I came across this quote from the 1949 film version of The Red Pony that really put some of my blues in perspective: "It's not where you are that makes you a stranger, it's why you think you're a stranger."

I'm still a stranger at my new school, but I truly sense that it might be because of how I feel about it. I still feel like it's a temporary thing, that next year, I'll be back where I should be. But I won't. I need to convince myself of that. I need to convince myself that I belong in this place, because a) I do, and b) I have to. I am awfully tired of coming home hating my job and my own ability as a teacher, and I know the only person who has any ability to affect change in my life is me. Knowing and doing, of course, are two different things.

That's enough of that.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

The Next Worst Hard Time

I am currently reading Timothy Egan's The Worst Hard Time, the story of the folks on the High Plains who didn't leave during the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. It's like a non-fiction companion piece to John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath. I had heard of this book last year. During a trip to the Hyve, I heard Egan on some public radio show. He was discussing his book and the film (which he also discusses in the book) The Plow that Broke the Plains. The film sounds fascinating--a 1930s documentary of how the farming practices of the 1920s contributed to the Dust Bowl conditions. I really want to see this film (it has something to do with that other lives stuff I was talking about in my last post, but, I digress...).

As luck would have it, The Worst Hard Time was selected as the Lincoln One Read Book last month, so the public library featured it prominently during my last foray for publicly borrowed Johnny Cash CDs (I found one). Perhaps it would have been more fitting if I had been looking for Merle Haggard CDs, but, that is not the case, and, in this instant, I have decided not to exercise my right of artistic license. Johnny Cash was whom I was searching for when I found The Worst Hard Time. So, having previously been interested, I picked the book up.

It's been a slow read to start with. That could be because I have not been reading it except for when I am abed. Bleary-eyed and thinking about how much sleep you can get before the alarm goes off at 5am is no way to enjoy a book. But, I am enjoying some of the stories. I sometimes wonder: how entertaining can three hundred pages about flying dirt be? At such times, I remind myself that it is really about the human drama of determination in the face of economic and natural forces.

Underneath it all, however--underlying the stories of the farmers beaten down by the depressed price of wheat, the mortgagees getting foreclosed on, the citizens beating on the closed door of their empty, penniless bank, the desperate and stubborn fighting the drought, locust, and swirling sediment--is the story (reiterated from The Plow that Broke the Plains) of humanity's disregard for the natural world and the consequences of humankind's actions. It is a story we need to hear today more than ever; however, those that need to listen the most, have their ears closed the hardest.

As the ice caps shrink and walruses come ashore far south of the receding ice flow, as oceans rise and temperatures soar, as drought takes hold of larger areas of the planet, and forests are decimated at record pace, as species become extinct before we even discover them, we must make it clear to those that doubt that our actions are surely responsible for these occurrences. It is not a natural trend. It is not something that will soon reverse itself. It is the vision of our future, and it is not pretty.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

The Enemy Lends His Support (And Suffers Some Existential Angst)

I sat down here at the old keyboard, perfectly intent on ranting about how ridiculous George Steinbrenner is for even contemplating the firing of Joe Torre. Don't get me wrong, as a life-long Yankee hater, it would be a good thing for me. Torre is an excellent manager, and the Yanks would be hard pressed to find an equal replacement. However, the mere fact that an owner is public threatening to fire a manager who has won four Championships and been to the playoffs twelve times in the past twelve years is simply disgusting to me. That's the short version of what I wanted to say.

When I logged on to Blogger, I found a link to Post Secret, which I have visited before. I meandered over there (as we all have a tendency to do when we are faced with the universe-like infiniteness of the internets), and got a bit lost. I got to thinking of all the little dramas that are being lived in the world right now. All the deviousness and joy. All the betrayal and communion. I began to think of the timbre of other lives, and then I began to think of the lives that I might have lived. That ever happened to you?

I guess that's why I love reading and writing so much. I can experience and create so many different realities to live in for a little bit of time. Escapist? You bet your ass. Have you read the newspaper lately? Milk has doubled in price since 2004, and highly qualified supervisors are losing their jobs because some spoiled rich dude can't buy himself some esteem.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Miscellaneous Comment-Inspired Haiku (For La Fashionista)

On H.P. Lovecraft:
I know the name, not the work.
Scary? Whatever.

Predicting the score.
But shouldn't I remember:
At home, forty one?

stevecarter *dot* com:
Creepy old album covers,
Scrawny naked men.

Poor, poor whistle pig,
Like Ol' Punxatawney Phil,
Gets the shaft, again!

Fairview fifth grader:
"Today--CoMo holiday;
Chicken nuggets! Yum!"

Anon AMV
B run-on sentences! And
six-syllable name!

Friday, October 05, 2007

All Apologies

What else could I write?
I don't have the right.
What else should I be?
All apologies.
--Nirvana, "All Apologies"

After a pretty low week, Friday struggled to make a full recovery, when the very same student who had sent me into a Wednesday tailspin came into my room (a different room than he and I have class in and two blocks before our class) and apologized to me for what he had said. I told him I was very impressed with him for doing such a thing. Completely unprompted. That is pretty impressive for a sophomore. Isn't it?

From there, the workaday quality of this muggy Friday was almost like the best day ever. Compared to Wednesday, I have already had two "Best Days Ever."

Anyway, not much else to report, except that a) John Hodgman was brilliant on The Daily Show last night (if you missed it, check it out at Comedy Central (click on Mentally Ill Money)), and b) most folks here in Big Red country are on pins and needles over Saturday night's upcoming Mizzou-Huskers game. Let this transplanted transplant go on record as prognosticating: MU 52-Huskers 49. Go. Fight. Win. Tigers.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Beer Cheese Soup

Thanks to all of you for the kind words during my period of slithering through the benthic slime of depression and self-doubt. They helped (note to Comoprozac: reminders are always useful, even when we are already logically aware of a thing, yet we emotional feel completely differently). My colleagues were also spectacular yesterday and today. Of course, the best way to get over the sweep of my emotional (-x,-y) parabola (plot that, y'all!) was to head to the scene of the crime and grab the bull by the horns (bang-bang cliches, there). Which is just what I did. I am feeling much better after today's class. I think we may have worked some things out in that class, but, one day is no evidence. I must still be diligent.

I am in a district book group (we get priofessional development credit for being in it) that focuses on literature of the non-dominant culture. We meet once a month and discuss a particular book. This month, we read Flight, Sherman Alexie's new novel. Many of you may know of my enjoyment of Native American literature. I am a big fan of Louise Erdrich and James Welch. I love Alexie's short stories. This book was pretty good, and a very easy read. It's a bit on the side of magic realism, and the main charcter is an adolescent mixed race boy in foster care. It is violent and funny and kind of heart-warming. I'm not a big fan of the ending, but it is an entertaining diversion.

As part of the food committee for this week's group meeting, I made beer cheese soup. It was pretty good. And not too hard to make: potatoes, celery, carrots, bacon, chicken stock, beer, and cheese; paprika, white pepper, and some smoked salt. To borrow a line from Raising Arizona: "Just like makin' popcorn."

Try it, you'll like it. Something else you might like: check out the link to Cool Dry Place. I had no idea the old homestead was getting such national attention over a monkey. It's a good thing I know where my Monkey is.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Feeling Totally Nadir

A miserable day today. I tried not to let it be, but I couldn't ignore it. I had to keep a sophomore student after school today for throwing something across the room. When he said he would leave instead of staying after school, I suggested that that would be a bad choice.

"Why?" he asked.

"Because I would have to refer you to the office, then."

He then proceeded to tell me that I was the worst teacher he'd ever had. It was a mini diatribe, too, not just a tossed off phrase.

And that was the end of my day. Literally (it was the end of the day) and figuratively (it kind of sucked).

There is more to the story, but the point is that that just messed me up. I am already struggling with my sophomores, and this little episode didn't fill me with any more confidence.

To top it off, after I decompressed and processed with my mentor, I came home to find that the dog had puked on the carpet in the office. Can it get any better?

I shouldn't let the quality of my day be determined by the capricious whims of fifteen year olds. And yet, I do.


Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Happy Anniversary to Central Standard

There is a city by the sea,
a gentle company--
I don't suppose you want to?
The Decemberists, "Los Angeles, I'm Yours"

This lyric has no connection to this entry, except that it is playing right now as I type. Of course, by the time you click on the "What I'm Listening To (Right Now)" link, I will be listening to something different. But, that is what is rolling in the brain case right now.

When I started this endeavor in October of 2005, I anticipated it being a sort of note board for me to keep those I know and love posted. In this fluid world, fewer and fewer people stay put; many of you can understand that many people are left behind in the wake of all that moving around. I hoped to keep in some form of contact with them through this.

For the most part, I think that initial idea has come to fruition. Central Standard has become more than that, however. In many ways, it is a journal and a solace. In addition to "what we did today" type entries, there are more than a few diatribes and digressions. There may even be a jeremiad or two. There are silly shout outs to friends and family, chronicles of doggy mishaps, and half-assed reviews of books, movies, music, etc.

Most importantly, as I rocket through my days trying to help others improve their writing, it gives me an opportunity to make myself sit down and write. It's usually not much, and, as most informal, extemporaneous writing is, it's usually not great, but it does give me a chance to work the writing muscles.

As we recognize two years of blogging, I want to thank you who visit regularly. It helps me miss you all a bit less, knowing that somehow we can commune here for a few often silly moments, in the vast electronic arena known as the Internets.

And now, just for shits and giggles (as the Rev. Wayne Coomers likes to say), my top ten posts of the last two years (in no particular order).

The Fat Puppy Dog
This was big news...poor puppy dog.

Promises Made
Writing from the perspective of the new sofa.

And On The Eighth Day, They Shoved Their Heads Up Their Asses
Any time you can bash Kansas....

The Dream List
Just weird.

My Dog Don't Know From Tornado Warnings
True story...really.

Temporary Anachronism
I reveal my shortcomings in the eyes of my family.

At Rest
Lots o' pics!

School Lunch
Gotta have a post about chicken nuggets.

School Days on Ice Planet Hoth
I really ran with this Ice Planet Hoth thing this past winter.

Key Lime, a Natural History (Without Salt)
Simply perfect.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Going Back

I'm going home despite
that Thomas Wolfe was right
--Josh Joplin, "Who's Afraid of Thomas Wolfe?

Just got home from a visit back to CoMo. A big thank you to Comoprozac and R for their hospitality.

Had a great time. Friday night, after our arrival, we spent a few hours bending elbows and ears at Booche's and Mojo's. Saturday night, Monkey and I attended the Oktoberfestivities for which we had traveled. We are indebted to our hosts that evening, as the food and beer were copious, the fire was smoky and warm, and the ommpah music was oompah-licious (until a certain someone decided she had had enough and "puuled the plug").

It was great to see everyone we got to see, and apologies go out to everyone we didn't get to see.

The journey home was uneventful, save for the gully washer that forced us to pull over on I-29 due to a lack of visibility.

I will need some time to reflect on the trip. It is an odd experience, returning to a place you have left after living there for a long period of time. This is the second time I have done it, and the first time is not helping me deal with this time. At least, I don't think it is...maybe I am wrong.

At any rate, expect one of two things in the future (or possibly both): a reflection on here and there, and/or a reflection on two years of blogging (an anniversary I reach on Tuesday). Until then: that's all I got.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Most Underrated Performer of His Generation?

Considering the decade or so from the mid-60s to the mid-70s, perhaps one performer should stand as an icon of the era. Sadly, that icon is little discussed (and perhaps little respected). Johnny Rivers, who had a string of hits that include: "Baby I Need Your Lovin'," "Blue Suede Shoes," "Curious Mind," "Help Me Rhonda," "Look to Your Soul," "Maybelline," "Memphis," "Midnight Special," "Mountain of Love," "Poor Side of Town", "Rockin' Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu," "Sea Cruise," "Secret Agent Man," "Seventh Son," "Slow Dancin'," "Summer Rain," "Tracks of My Tears," and "Where Have All The Flowers Gone," was a recording giant for a time. Today, he is all but forgotten in the annals of popular music.

Perhaps, some might say, that is because he had the innate ability to make every one of his songs sound like a cut-rate cover of some other song, but I would disagree. Rivers' "White Boy Blues" sort of style is sometimes a bit less than genuine, but for me, it works. The Michael Bolton of his time, some would argue. I might not disagree. But, you have to admire an original. And Johnny Rivers was a true original.

And, taken at face value, the lyrics to "Summer Rain" make for an eerily fitting coda to the era.

Check him out next summer at a state fair near you. He's probably opening for Joan Jett.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

The Company My Dad and Grandfather Worked For Used To Spell "Quality" With a "W"

Sometimes I wonder what makes a thing popular.

Let's assume that the majority of the world equates popular with good. Keep in mind that I am not stipulating that popular equals good. I am not implying that that which is popular is good. If put to it, I would probably prefer to lump everything popular into the category of "not good," knowing full well that in doing so, some things will be erroneous labeled "not good" (e.g., Earth, Wind and Fire: once popular, always good; Superman: really popular, mind-numbingly good). Granted, that last parenthetical might lead to a etymological discussion of "good," but, after this statement, I am going to skip right over that.

Alright, so, things that are good can be made popular, but not all things that are popular are good. do they become popular? Why like something that is not good? And here, I am beginning to see that this argument will go nowhere without a discussion of what it means to be good. Fine. Let's go there.

I, of course, am not talking about "Superman" good. This good is not the sense of "obedient, moral, virtuous." However, the sense I am talking about might have something to do with virtue. I am talking about "good" in the sense of competence, skill, cleverness, validity, genuineness. Yes, good has myriad meanings: unspoiled, pleasant, proper, large, favorable. But, in the sense of, music, movies, books, individuals, products, TV, what have you, let's go with a general sense of quality, shall we?

Yes, yes, before I even begin, I hear the contrarians out there quashing my argument: good is relative, you say. Of course, it is. But, what is not? Quality is an individual determination, right? But, each individual has to exercise his/her right to judge the quality of something for that argument to be valid. I am proposing that very few folks do that.

I'll begin by admitting I don't always do it. I have indulged in things because it was the thing to do, rather than individually assessing anything to decide whether I really liked it or wanted to do it. A bad evening of laser tag circa 1983 comes to mind, among other episodes. We all swallow the line every now and then. But, it seems, and this is not an earth-shattering revelation, at all, that the mass of humanity just takes what they are given without thinking about it.

Whatever is on TV. Whatever is on the radio. Whatever the hot song is. I would extrapolate this out to books, but we already know that a minority of the population reads anything (is my job becoming obsolete?). That being said, I am sure that the majority of that minority buys whatever everybody else is reading.

Ah, I love this train of thought writing. Here is an example of the power of the mass popularity monster: twenty five percent of the US population claims to have read a book last year. That is about 75 million people. Let's assume we have that many "readers" in the US. Harry Potter's latest adventure unleashed itself on the US to the tune of about 5 million copies on the first day. Let's assume the less motivated bought an additional 3 million more (okay?). That's about ten percent of the "readers" buying a book that was media-fied into this thing that EVERYONE was buying. Now, how many people went and bought that book because of the media buzz, and how many bought it because they find the Rowling series to be "good"? Yes, the overwhelming majority of the purchasers of that book would call it good. But is it?
An interesting thing I am discovering as I investigate the phenomenon of popularity, is that it doesn't take much to make something popular. I mean, okay, just about one Bible has been sold for every living breathing person on Earth--that's pretty popular. But, Britney Spears, who at one time was supposedly hotter than Mercury (now she's more like toxic), has sold four million records, according to some, possibly unreliable, figures. That's practically nobody, really. It's not even half the population of Manhattan. Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon has sold about 40 million copies, alone. But still, that still leaves about 260 million people who don't have it. And even if half of them are really old or really young, that's still 130 million for the "not purchased" side, against the 40 on the "purchased" side.

I'm sure that someone with a much bigger brain than me could explain the nuances of these sales figures, but, in the long run, popularity is perception. Quality is perception, too. And, at this point, you can perceive that what you have just read is neither popular, nor quality!

You can blame this entire entry on Geggy Tah (who was once popular...for about ten 1996):

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Good News for People Who Love No News

Not much seems to be going on here of late. Monkey and I are in that school year pattern in which we only really see each other for grocery shopping on the weekend. A later school day is causing me to get home later than I used to, and I still maintain my early rising pattern. Add to that a school culture that has encouraged me to really ratchet up the parent contact that I engage in, and I am averaging eleven hour days at school. That doesn't include the grading and planning that I do at home. It is the same as it ever was.

No big plans this weekend, either. A football game versus Ball State on Saturday.

Speaking of football: I know I have moved to a place where people are rabid about the Huskers, but this week has been quite interesting on the heels of the USC debacle last Saturday. Some folks are really upset. I can't even explain it. It's just really not what I am used to. Perhaps those of you who have spent time in Columbus or South Bend can relate in some way, but being from a basketball state and living in Columbia was not even a small taste of the emotion folks put into football around here. Really remarkable, maybe even a little pathetic.

Well, that is that, and this is this.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Kids in America

We're the kids in America.
We're the kids in America.
Everybody lives for the music-go-round.
--Kim Wilde, "Kids in America"

Sometimes I think that Sal Paradise was right
Boys and girls in America
Have such a sad time together.
--The Hold Steady, "Stuck Between Stations"

Perhaps, in some way, while The Hold Steady were alluding to Jack Kerouac on their latest album, they were also, subconsciously or not, giving a nod to 1981 hit-mistress Kim Wilde. But, that is not what I come here to tell you about.

I have been transitioning my classes, during passing time, with a little music. Partner Teacher used to play music during passing time, and a few others used to sling the tunes at my old salt mine, and I thought I would carry on the tradition. It makes me a bit unique here at the new salt mine. I don't hear anybody else doing it.

I have been trying to play diverse stuff. So far, I think I have managed to do that. I haven't been playing much of my personal faves, yet. I thought I'd work up to that. I wanted to start them off with more "traditional" or even familiar stuff, first. For some of them, it may not be familiar at all; it may be the first time they heard some of these folks. This week it gets a little different.

Here's the artist list so far:

Week One (all classical, a little Friday jazz):
Medeski, Martin, and Wood

Week Two (Jazz and Blues):
Sarah Vaughn
Dinah Washington
Ella Fitzgerald
Bessie Smith
Alberta Hunter

Week Three (Folk and Country):
Lyle Lovett
Bruce Springsteen
Waylon Jennings
Pete Seeger

Week Four (Soul and R&B):
Al Green
Earth Wind and Fire
Otis Redding
Michael Jackson

This Week (Alternatives?):
The Ramones
Meat Puppets
Mazzy Starr
Will Johnson
The Beatles

I'm thinking of accompanying the music with a little hand out on each artist, or maybe linking a warm-up writing to the songs, but, mostly, I just like to play a little music. If they like it, if they get interested in any of it, that's great, but mostly, I just do it because I like it.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Waiting for Herb

Actually, Herb has nothing to do with this post. I don't know a Herb (I know OF a Herb, but we ain't so tight any more). I just like this Pogues album title. Not the best album--I mean, as with my early comment about REM post-Bill Berry, how can this REALLY be a Pogues album without Shane McGowan? Yes, that is the correct answer: it can't, but, nevertheless a good title.

The Okkervil River show was excellent. They were better than I have ever seen them. The show started out with some seriously bad sound problems, but once they were fixed, the show just flowed along (on the river of golden dreams?). It didn't appear as if the band members were ever happy with the mix in their monitors, but the sound out to the PA was eventually balanced. Will was all over the stage and really playing with the crowd. The mix of old and new material was good. The venue was large enough that we never felt sardine-packed, but intimate enough that one is never too far away from things. Monkey and I planted ourselves about ten feet from the stage, so we never were too far awy (except when Monkey went to sit at the bar near the end of the show). We managed to keep the giants from standing in front of us, as they always seem to do, so that was good. Damien Jurado was okay, but he really didn't seem very into it. I am not very familiar with his stuff. I liked all but one of his songs, but he really just didn't do much for me. Overall, Monkey and I rated this show highly.

The USC-Nebraska football game on the other hand, we rated not so highly. It was a rout, after the first five minutes of the second quarter. Final score: 49-31. The Huskers tacked on two TDs during garbage time. USC is really good. Nebraska is not as bad as they appeared (I don't think). But, for most of this game, it looked like men against boys out there. Obviously, I have not seen LSU or Oklahoma live, but right now, I am putting my money on another USC national title run. They are REALLY fast on both sides of the ball.

A little basketball playing today, a little football watching (Ravens up on the Jets, last I checked). A good weekend overall.

PS--A shout out to the Rev. Wayne Coomers, whose old blog, Rock Therapy, is now being updated. Check it out!

Friday, September 14, 2007

Stuff To Do

This is going to be an awesome weekend, if you like music and college football. Monkey and I will be heading to Omaha to check out Okkervil River and Damien Jurado at The Waiting Room. That should be pretty awesome. (By the way Comoprozac--I was at that Arcade Fire show at Mojo's back in the day.)

Tomorrow night, Monkey and I will be attending the USC-Nebraska football game. College Game Day will be here in Lincoln to whip all the already insane fans into a lather, and, with a 7pm Central start time, the tailgaters should be just near violence/spewing/passing out stage. I look forward to a less-than-competitive football game, made entertaining by first half hi-jinx in the stands. (Oh, Comoprozac, did I mention I saw Arcade Fire at Mojo's?) This, with Notre Dame-Michigan vying for winless status, could be the finest college football weekend I have ever experienced. [Sarcasm meter calibration check: reading=HIGH.]

Sunday could only be used for such things as buying vacuum cleaners and coffee grinders, both of which gave up the ghost this week. It would be nice if I could get paid some time soon, but I guess I'll just have to wait until next month (which reminds me of the time I saw Arcade Fire at Mojo's that one time)....

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Track Eleven

Carry each his burden
We are young despite the years
We are concerned
We are hope despite the times
--REM, "These Days"

I am slowly going through the Monkey House Nebraska CD collection, sucking a good deal of it onto the medium-infinite capacity of my new iPod. Tonight, I got to the Rs. And there, leading off the Rs, almost propping up my entire CD collection, is an incomplete history of my favorite band ever: REM.

I was making it through without getting too caught up in the Reverend Howard Finster whirligig of memory and melancholy that music can often send me into, until I caught the opening notes of "Feeling Gravity's Pull." And, well, I guess I felt it. The pull of the past. The recall of a place or a scent that is triggered by a sound. Again, I go back to those formative high school years. That's when music really started playing a big role in my life.

For me, the soundtrack to those years is all over the map, and, perhaps, none too hip. REM, of course, Life's Rich Pageant. Also, Hendrix--"Crosstown Traffic" being a particular track of note. Jethro Tull, too--Thick as a Brick, Stand Up, War Child, in particular. Throw in Cure (Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me), Violent Femmes, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and the Pretenders, and you've got quite a few of the big guns that filled my shoe box of cassette tapes.

But, REM has always occupied the highest station in my pantheon of musical dieties. Sadly, as the dieties of most primitive civilizations are reduced to quaint figures over time, so goes REM. I stuck with them all the way through Reveal, but it stopped there. I should have cut my ties when drummer Bill Berry cut his. After all, a band that loses such an integral part as a drummer really ceases to be that band anymore. It becomes something else. Like Van Halen with Sammy Hagar--it just wasn't Van Halen, anymore, no matter what Eddie and his drummer brother whose name nobody knows says.

Anyway, I started this out, thinking I would trace the development of College Radio in the eighties, in order to prove that REM was a watershed band, like The Beatles, The Sex Pistols and The Ramones, Sonic Youth and Nirvana, The Blues Brothers (just kidding), but, I got side tracked, and now, I just want to go eat.

This blog of note certainly does more justice to the nuances of my favorite band than I have the energy or interest to give them. If you are interested, just head up the stairs and to the landing.

Friday, September 07, 2007

You're in High School Again--No Recess!

Young lovers in town share each others dreams
While they're riding around while the stereo screams
Then they go to the Dairy Queen and they share ice cream
Young lovers in town share each others dreams
--The Bottle Rockets, "Young Lovers in Town"

There is something amazingly wonderful about being a teacher of high school aged kiddos. I know I have spent a good deal of space now and again carping about something or other that makes my job troublesome. It's true that teaching, be it high school, middle school (God bless you all), elementary school, university, whatever, is a tough job. It wears you out, sometimes. But, it must have some reward, or else we who do it would not do it for the sometimes embarrassingly small amount of money that we get paid. And one of those rewards is the joy of spending time with young people who are mostly innocent, mostly trying to comprehend their world on some adult level, and who are beginning to realize that the childhood hour glass is running low. They are (as we all once were, I guess) swirling masses of emotion, confusion, inquisition. They are sleepy, spastic, goofy, deathly serious, curious, and disinterested. All of them. And they are all these things simultaneously. It really is kind of beautiful.

I was sent into this line of thought by my first block today. This afternoon was the big rivalry football game, and the kids were giving me the low-down (newbie that I am) on the rivalry. I kind of laughed. I explained that, while I did not know the deal with their rivalry, I did have some experience with the concept. After all, every school has a rival, does it not? But what made me laugh was that my current school has only been in existence for six years. For the juniors in my first block, that didn't really matter. They have attended the school since they were freshman. They were ten when the building was completed. It has consisted relatively forever for them. I told them about the rivalry at my high school in Baltimore. My freshman year was the 100th year of my school's existence. The rivalry between Baltimore Polytechnic Institute (my alma mater) and Baltimore City College, is now in its 118th year. It was a REALLY big deal. One of the oldest rivalries in the country. They used to play the game on Thanksgiving Day in old Memorial Stadium. I didn't make light of my students rivalry, at all. That would have been wrong. But I did make it clear that I was down with rivalries.

This discussion was followed by a discussion I had with a colleague about pep rallies, one of which we had at school today. We were talking about the difference between pep rallies no and pep rallies back in the day. We never had pep rallies where I used to teach. We had big ones at BPI. My colleague speculated, due to the lack of student enthusiam for pep rallies in the past five years or so, that the concept of the pep rally is dead. this got me thinking about those old high school days a bit more. But, it's no wonder that I am looking back to those days more often here of late.

This month, my graduating class is celebrating our 20th reunion. I will not be attending, but I have been thinking about that phase of my life. It was a pretty good time. I had some great times with some great people. None of them are a part of my life, anymore (except my brother and a blogger friend). It wasn't the best time in my life, and I thank fate for that. It is a sad life, I imagine, if the high point comes at 17. However, it was a wonderful time of trying to figuring things out--relationships, time management, social interaction, financial responsibility, safe driving, testing boundaries. I did a number of really stupid, almost death-defying things in those four years (and a few years after them). I am lucky, considering the lack of wisdom involved in my decision making process, that I made it through some of them unharmed or un-arrested. But, I wouldn't alter the course of those years. Not much anyway.

To bring this home, I get reminded of the thrill and the angst, the love and the fear, the awesome and the awful of those years everyday. Some days I am too wrapped up in doing my job to allow myself to get lost in nostalgic thoughts, but today I was visited by the memory express. I enjoyed the brief ride.