Monday, December 22, 2008

The Dreaded Holiday Form Letter

Faithful Reader(s):

While it is not outside of the realm of possibility that I may find the time and the resources to post between now and 2009, my itinerary for the next several days is chock full. With that in mind, let me extend gracious holiday wishes to all, including salutations for the new year. Please kiss yourself (drunken and sloppily, please, for purposes of verisimilitude) at midnight on New Year's Eve, and imagine it's from me!


Friday, December 19, 2008

Ice, Snow, Volleyball

After dodging weather bullets twice this week, with storm fronts that passed through too late or too early, or that didn't pass through so much as pass by, we here in Cornopolis got an early Winter Break, as a layer of dry snow atop a layer of sleet atop a layer of ice was enough to call school for the day. It was a pleasure to go back to bed at 5:15 this morning (after feeding the dog), since Monkey and I stayed up pretty late last night to watch the Women's Volleyball Final Four. The Husker women took the #1 seeded Penn State Nittany Lions to a fifth set before bowing out of the tourney. It was a pretty amazing match, since Nebraska fell behind two sets to none to a team that hadn't lost a set all year, let alone a match. The Huskers stormed back to take sets three and four, and took a 10-8 lead in the final set. The Penn State women were just too much, in the end, however, taking seven of the last eight points to win the last set 15-11.

Unfortunately, the match before, between Stanford and Texas also went to a fifth set, with Stanford coming back after being down 2-0 to advance to a Championship rematch with the defending champions of State College. So the Husker-PSU match didn't end until 11:30. And that is way past maximum bed time on a school night!

But, it all worked out in the end. And, so, winter break is upon us, not a moment too soon. We'll be heading back east next week (weather permitting), and then we'll spend a few days resting up and turning a year older, before school ramps back up again on January 5. Between now and then will be a lot of flying, driving, visiting, toasting, consuming, football, basketball, and Holiday cheer (or maybe that's what all that previous stuff adds up to).

Monday, December 15, 2008

Update Four: Cuttin' Heads

Friday of last week, Ripken Ozark had some elective surgery. He's had some benign bumps on his body for some time, but recently, the size of one and the appearance of a cyst on puppy dog's head led the vet to surmise that some removal would be a good idea. He was pretty groggy on Friday, after four incisions, over twenty stitches, and some powerful anesthesia. But, being the good dog that he is, he has needed only a few reminders not to lick or scratch, and he takes his antibiotics (much smaller this time than the horse pills he had the last time he had stitches) like a champ (with a little cheese persuasion).

He spent his first day by himself today, and it appears that he is well on his way to recovery. His stitches come out in about eleven more days.

Wish the pup a speedy recovery!

Update Three: The Dude Abides

Last weekend's visit by the Boys of Atlanta (I was gonna call them the Baha Men, but they're from Miami) led us to the fabulous Parkway Lanes for some rolling, some oat soda, and (we thought) some burgers. Alas, the grill closed early, so we had to settle for some last minute pizza (they sure do roll up the streets early here in PoP (it was only 10pm, and the pizza joint was a-closin'!)).

Beside the unbegotten burgers, the night was a joy. Bowling is that past time that is a great deal of fun when you do it. And you say, "Hey, that was fun. We should do that more often." And then six years go by.

But, we had a good time, and Monkey snapped some pics. Time for a beard update. A sideways view, this time.

Update Two: It's Gotta Be The Shoes

Is it cruel to throw your shoes at a lame duck? Is that really fair? I suppose it is when that lame duck is responsible for the generally unfounded, ungrounded invasion, destruction, and total clusterfuckation of your country. Even if that lame duck ousted a dictator (trust me, only a by-product of the plan), it still managed to turn your homeland into a battleground. And the end is not in sight. The paper yesterday says troops may be in Iraq for "decades." Yeah, well, tell me something I don't already know. Mr. Blackmon?

Update One: The Weather

I walked out this morning to start the car knowing it was going to be in the below zeros, but, DAMN! It was painfully cold. It was burn your lungs cold. And the Civic gave me a scare, when it didn't quite fire up on the first turn of the key. Or the second. It was so cold that the steering wheel was squeaking all the way to school. That plastic composite does not like the cold.

Leaving school this evening, it was more of the same, without the hard starting. Tomorrow, a warm 14 degrees, but with snow! Woo Hoo!

Monday, December 08, 2008

Central Standard Guide to What's In for 2009 (The Second in a Multi-part Series)

Sorry to leave you hanging for so long. Monkey and I were entertaining some Southern boys for the weekend. They left for Dixie on Sunday morning, firmly convinced that there is no place like Nebraska.

Here's some more up-to-the-second style tips for the coming year.

IN: Cambodian
OUT: Thai

At least, that's what I heard.

IN: Stermps
OUT: Stamps

Well, unless you want the terrorists to destroy your mail.

IN: The Wishbone
OUT: The Spread

Because, everything runs in cycles.

IN: Cool
OUT: Nucular

Need I say more (and George say less)?

IN: College Basketball
OUT: College Football

After January 8, all thoughts turn to March.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Central Standard Guide to What's In for 2009

As a highly sought after arbiter of taste, it is my duty to keep my readership aware of the most trendy things for the new year. After all, who wants to be seen wearing last year's beard, or an outdated button-down Oxford? Who wants to visit the greasy spoon that is so declasse (I have no idea what that means)? Or listen to unpopular music from the 90s...omg!

So, I will spend the month of December irregularly updating you on what is in for the coming new year, and what is out from the old year. Let us begin.

IN: Spain

Monkey and I are in love with Tempranillo, a hot Spanish wine. Had we any money in reserve, we would be off to Seville, Barcelona, Madrid, in a heart beat, truly living the Hemingway-esque expatriate life. Alas, it is not to be. Last year's boffo trip to Italy put us out of the running for any but domestic travel (and that, mostly by auto) for the foreseeable future. But, until we are uncorking some fine Spanish wine on the shores of the Mediterranean, this is the place to WANT to be.

OUT: Italy

Mi dispiace, Italia. However, that was sooo last year.

IN: 40

It's the new 20! How many MIPs can I rack up before I turn 41?

OUT: 30s, 20s, teens, tweens, toddlers, infants, newborns

As Tony's boss tells him in Saturday Night Fever: "You don't fuck the future. The future fucks you."

Stay tuned for more....

Friday, November 28, 2008

Songs For Better or Worse (Part II)

I was slightly surprised, after reviewing my late 70s list, to see a change in the tone of the songs I chose. My question is: is that a function of a change in music, or a change in me (at seven--I doubt it)? Any ideas?


The Boys Are Back In Town--Thin Lizzy
Man, I still think them cats are crazy.

Sir Duke--Stevie Wonder
Music is a world within itself, with a language we all understand....

Kid Charlemagne--Steely Dan
Is there gas in the car?

Step Right Up--Tom Waits
It turns a sandwich into a banquet.


Police and Thieves--The Clash
Oh yeah....

(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes
And I won't get any older....

Psycho Killer--Talking Heads
Say something once, why say it again?

You Took the Words Right Out of My Mouth--Meat Loaf
It must have been while you were kissing me.


One Nation Under a Groove--Funkadelic
Dance your way out of your constrictions....

Can't Stand Losing You--The Police
You don't care, so I won't cry.

One Way or Another--Blondie
I will drive past your house....

Blue Skies--Willie Nelson
Never saw the sun shining so bright.


Refugee--Tom Petty
Right now, this ain't real to you....

Broken English--Marianne Faithfull
It's just an old war....

Flirtin' With Disaster--Molly Hatchet
Feels about the same most everyday.

I Don't Like Mondays--The Boomtown Rats
Sweet Sixteen ain't that peachy keen....

And there you have it. All in all, the only thing I have proven here is what comoprozac has already stated: I'm old.

Thanksgiving Review

We will post a two-fer today, finishing up our decade of song after a brief description of yesterday's festivities (and an updated look at "The Beard").

Monkey and I spent yesterday preparing a meal for just the two of us. However, as we have experienced Thanksgivings for multitudes, we cooked enough food for about ten of us. Our pumpkin pie was finished on Wednesday night, prior to a Mexican extravaganza with the North-side Ambassadors (where I was dubbed "El Lechero"--there's no need to explain why).

On Thursday morning, we had a short cup of coffee and then launched into the preparation of an apple pie and cranberry sauce. After the pie was finished, we walked the puppy dog, and then settled in to watch a few snaps of the first of three really uninteresting professional football games. Around two o'clock, we were in full cooking-up-a-storm-swing.

At five, when it was all over, we had mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole, corn-bread stuffing (from scratch, baby!), cranberry sauce, gravy, pork chops (no turkey), and roasted brussel sprouts. And it was all awesome.

We took a pause, watched the Maryland Terrapins men's b-ball team put a whoopin' on the #6 Michigan State Spartans, and then dove into a double slice of pumpkin and apple pie. I must say, the pumpkin was wonderful. The apple was a bit too tart and too mushy--I won't use Rome apples again. Bad choice.

Once the pie was consumed, Monkey and I began to fade. It had been a busy day, considering it was only a meal for two, and we needed our rest, in order to tackle the mountain of leftovers we would have to face in the coming days.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Songs For Better or Worse

Recent posts and various comments have led me to this poorly thought-through idea. The 1970s often get slagged as a miserable, empty decade. In many respects, that may be true. I was there, I have some memories. However, there's plenty to keep dear about that odd period that gave us roller disco, President Ford, and the Chevy Vega.

With that in mind, I have assembled a list of relatively popular songs of the time that strike me as not only time pieces, but as timeless. I could listen to them endlessly. I have divided them by year, and provide as my only comment, a snippet of lyrics (sometimes from memory, so accuracy: be damned). We'll do through 1975 tonight. We'll finish the decade later.


Spirit in the Sky--Norman Greenbaum
When I die and they lay me to rest, I want to go to the place that's the best....

American Woman--The Guess Who
I don't need your war machines, I don't need your ghetto scenes....

War--Edwin Starr
What is it good for?

Big Yellow Taxi--Joni Mitchell
Don't it always seem to go, that you don't know what you got til it's gone....


Behind Blue Eyes--The Who
And if I smile, tell me some bad news, before I laugh and act like a fool.

Immigrant Song--Led Zeppelin
Hammer of the gods....

Maggie May--Rod Stewart
I laughed at all of your jokes. My love you didn't need to coax.

Black Magic Woman--Santana
Don't turn your back on me, baby....


Papa Was a Rollin' Stone--The Temptations
Wherever he laid his hat was his home....

Brandy (You're a Fine Girl)--Looking Glass
Brandy used to watch his eyes when he told his sailor's stories....

Out on the Weekend--Neil Young
The woman I'm thinking of, she loved me all up....

Doctor My Eyes--Jackson Browne
Just say if it's too late for me.


Goodbye, Yellow Brick Road--Elton John
I should have listened to my old man.

No More Mr. Nice Guy--Alice Cooper
My dog bit me on the leg today....

Rambling Man--Allman Brothers
I was born in the back of a Greyhound bus rolling down Highway Forty-one...

Stir It Up--Bob Marley and the Wailers
Little darlin'....

1974 (Okay, 1974 was pretty lame...I could only come up with two good ones)

Rebel Rebel--David Bowie
You've torn your dress, your face is a mess, you can't get enough, but enough ain't the test....

Radar Love--Golden Earring
Radio plays some forgotten song. Brenda Lee's coming on strong....


Mexico--James Taylor
I've never really been, but I'd sure like to go....

Wish You Were Here--Pink Floyd
We're just two lost souls swimming in a fish bowl....

Sister Golden Hair--America
I been one poor correspondent....

Born To Run--Bruce Springsteen
I wanna die with you Wendy on the streets tonight in an everlasting kiss.

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Speed of Life

It was a blisteringly fast week, last week. Friday came so quickly (as it sometimes can), that I was literally surprised by its arrival (which came on Thursday morning, I think). I was absolutely certain that I had lost a day somewhere.

This work week has the potential to seem as fast, due to its three day structure. Then again, those short weeks before a long weekend can sometimes feel like slow motion time. We shall see.

Beside a four day weekend, a holiday of conspicuous consumption, and a visit by the North Side Ambassadors (formerly known as, simply, The Ambassadors), I am looking forward this week to the return of my iPod. The old one's hard drive gave out on me, if you'll recall, and we're just now getting around to replacing it (with the new gazillion GB Classic). I am looking forward to having so much more capacity that I'll actually wonder if I should download some Barry Manilow. You know, just because I can.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Getting It Right (On The Second Try)

Recently, Nebraska has become a laughing stock across the nation, due to its less-than-perfect "Safe Haven" law. In many (almost all, I think) states of the Union, it is legal to leave a child at a hospital to be taken into the care of the state. There are usually no questions asked. In all other states, the age limit on this "safe haven" is from three days to maybe a few months. In the land of corn, they left the age limit basically undetermined. So, for the past few months, thirty or so children (all well above the age of a few months, and some near to 18) have been left on the door steps of state hospitals. One from as far away as Michigan. How's that for a well-written piece of legislation?

But, even with all the problems that the law was making for everyone involved in child welfare, the governor did not want to call a special session to get the law fixed. He said it would cost too much money. Apparently, it will cost about as much as taking care of thirty kids of various ages, since that is about the number it took for him to change his mind.

And, just the other day, they capped the age at thirty days. Which is as good as any arbitrarily settled upon age for leaving a baby behind. Well, except that it's a helluva lot better than 18 years.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Bearded Truth

As you may know, I occasionally use the approach of winter as a good excuse to stop shaving. I have grown a beard several times over the last few years (once, precariously close to my wedding day, according to Monkey, but that was for a show, not the weather; and, I shaved it (and got a haircut) before the nuptials). I usually try to keep it trimmed neatly, rarely letting it grow beyond 1/2 inch in length (except for that time before the wedding, but, again, it all worked out).

This year, I got a jump on things, choosing the Labor Day holiday as the weekend to begin my shaving moratorium (much to Monkey's dismay, really; I think she has stressful memories of that beard I had before the wedding (it was something to behold)). I also resolved to allow my beard to grow to whatever length it might reach before a) the weather warmed in Spring, b) I tired of the beard, or c) Monkey cut it off as I slept. Thus far, our plan is in full effect.

I would like, before the next several months are out, to be sporting the 19th century shovel beard look, but only time will tell if I am able to pull that off. Monkey, not being much of a history buff, is hoping for other things, like a return to those days just prior to our wedding, when I emerged from the bathroom as smooth-faced as I ever have been.

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Veteran's Day Dedication

Veteran's Day is always an important day. Recognizing the service of those in the military is a worthy endeavor, regardless of one's political ideals, regardless of one's support for any particular armed conflict, or the very concept of armed conflict, itself.

I, as you probably know, never served, nor did my brother, my father, or any of my direct family members after my two grandfathers. My paternal grandfather served as a Motor Machinist's Mate on an LST (tank landing ship--that's NOT his ship) in the Pacific during World War II. He played the harmonica, and I remember, as a boy, looking with awe upon his wooden harmonica case, into which he had carved the names of all the places he and his harpoon had traveled. I imagined him, during more peaceful moments, lying upon the deck of his ship, playing popular tunes as the South Pacific sun set on the horizon of the breeze-kissed ocean. I also remember jars of cowrie shells that he kept in mayonnaise jars in the attic. There was a certain romance to his service, in my mind, most likely birthed and developed by far too many John Wayne films. Sure, there were enemy planes intent on sinking my grandfather's ship, and cannons poised to cause destruction and death to him and his shipmates, but, to me, it was always in black and white (or, better yet, technicolor), and it was always a great adventure.

I don't think he ever thought of it that way. I know he was drafted, and that he was less than gung-ho about it. He served in the Navy, because, according to him, when the sergeant asked him which branch he wanted to serve in, my grandfather told him, "I don't care, you're the one who called me."

He never talked about it much, and he may still refuse to discuss it (I haven't tried to talk with him about it, lately), except for one time on an Atlantic Ocean beach, when my brother and I were building, instead of sand castles, our own version of Iwo Jima, including Mount Suribachi, the Japanese stronghold on which the US flag was eventually (and famously) raised. Our grandfather made a few comments about our placement of geographic features, and told us that he never saw anybody raise any flag (he's kind of cantankerous, like that--I come by it honestly, you see).

My maternal grandfather served as a Technician Fifth Grade (Corporal) in the Army during the same war. He served as a medic in Europe, but I don't know where. I never saw him much after he and my grandmother moved to Richmond, and we never talked about his service, although he seemed interested enough in that period of his life to keep a small library of books on the war that I was honored enough to inherit upon his death several years ago.

I still, after years of reading and study, after coming to an adult understanding of the awesome and awful effects that war has on the soldier (and the countryside in which it is waged), can't completely extinguish that ember of Romanticism that I had in childhood for the Second World War. But, of course, that Romanticism is the core of a greater understanding that recognizes that it was something that not only ended lives, but changed them forever. I know that both of those men, taciturn as they may be and have been, harbored images and feelings that they cared not, and perhaps dared not share.

I also recognize that I, and all of us, owe them greatly. Perhaps most of all those of us who have never served, never had to serve. I recognize, too, that the young men and women sacrificing today are owed a gratitude. I don't for a second see the struggle they are engaged in as the same sort of struggle as World War II, but, misdirected or otherwise, they are giving of themselves in a way that I never did, never have, and perhaps never will.

I am afraid we will always have war. We will always have the need to sacrifice our brothers and sisters for causes just and questionable. And, struggle though we may against the leaders who make this fact a truth, desire though we might to see an end to conflict, hatred, violence of all kinds, the fact still remains that those who serve deserve our thanks.

A hundred and forty three years ago, perhaps our greatest president, at the consecration of a military cemetery in a small town in Pennsylvania, said it best:

We are met on a great battle-field of [...] war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that [our] nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

And though the Union was saved, and though, four more score years later totalitarianism and genocide were defeated (albeit temporarily), and though our nation still stands, we should dedicate ourselves to its preservation as best we can, for this nation is still a work in progress. We are making strides, some large and some small, but we still have a long way to go.

Thank you, Cpl. Horace Seavey Batey, Mo. MM Emil Thomas Reda, and all veterans.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Weekend News from the Plains

We had our first snow of the season on Friday. Mere flurries, but the accompanying temperatures were cold, cold, cold. The wind didn't help much, either. Monkey and I stayed in and watched some DVRed TV. House, I think. And something else I can't remember. I must say, I'm getting a bit tired of this show. (House, I mean.) It's awfully predictable, and the main character has evolved from an intriguing curmudgeon to a full-fledged dick. So much for dynamic characters!

Saturday was nasty cold, too. So cold that a couple hundred students neglected to attend the Husker game versus Kansas at 1:30. Game time temps were in the low 30s, but, the last time I checked, this was Nebraska, where everybody is so proud of their rabid attachment to the scarlet and cream. And their staying home because it's too cold? Please. I find this to be an indication that maybe the vaunted Husker mystique is becoming a myth...after only four years of mediocrity. I have to think that people in Columbia are more dedicated. Even when that team stunk outright, when a win against the then-hapless Jayhawks was cause for tearing down the goal posts and carting them through the streets of town to Harpo's, the students packed their sections. At least until halftime. I hope this isn't a trend here in Huskerland, because once they lose their football rep, well, they ain't got much else.

Anyway, I raked some leaves (I compost them, by the way), we ran some errands, and we spent the afternoon reading by the fire. How pleasant is that. We went out for dinner and a movie Saturday night. Some BBQ and Appaloosa. I had a beer for the first time in two weeks--it was lovely, if only a Boulevard (limited selections). And, while the movie was not bad, the most intriguing thing about it, to me, was Viggo Mortenson's tonsorial choices--very period.

Today, I am hacking up a lung after playing basketball for the first time since the recent unpleasantness. I am taking it as a sign of recovery. What shall the rest of the evening hold...? Well, the possibilities are nearly endless, aren't they?

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The Prologue to the New America?

Just to let you know, I am feeling markedly better today. Still a little bit of the crud hanging on, but today was much more manageable. Could it have been a lightness of spirit brought on by the return of a Democrat to the White House? Probably not. If it were John Kerry, I wouldn't have had that hop in my step this morning. Could it have been the pleasure of knowing the outcome of a presidential election on the same day as the election itself? Probably not. I would have gone to bed at the same time regardless of the status of the Electoral College. Could it have been the truly historic result of yesterday's highly participated-in election? Well, now there is a possibility.

I have watched a few elections covered in my time. Even as a young lad, I enjoyed the coverage of the Reagan-Carter square off of 1980, the Reagan-Mondale debacle of 1984, the Bush-Dukakis ugliness of 1988. I became even more involved and invested in the Clinton miracle of 1992 (although I was a Tsongas guy in my first official election). And on it goes. I've felt the highs and the lows. I have watched awesome debates and seen mud thrown. I have seen the political process at its best and its worst. I've been overwhelmed at my candidates' losses. I have been overjoyed at my candidates' victories. But I have never felt the way I felt last night.

I am sure that hundreds of people have confessed similar things in columns and blogs around the nation and the Internets, and most of them have probably done a greater job than I ever could. That does not stop me from saying that when that result was announced last night, I felt like people must have felt when victory was declared in Europe in World War II, when people watched Neil Armstrong walk on the moon (I was only five months old), when any great triumph of human struggle and perseverance has been reached.

No matter where you may lie on the political spectrum, one would have to be as unenlightened as a bag of rocks not to feel and appreciate the historic importance of last night's result. Will it be a true point of departure for our nation? Will our historic shame become somehow an openly dealt with issue that can be solved? Is this mere event enough to allow us to really get past it? I don't know. It, in itself, is significant. I wonder how it will change the face of America's racial dialogue. I am eager to find out.

But, after the euphoria of seeing the true promise of our nation manifest before my very eyes, reality began to sink in. Barack Obama has a tough job ahead of him, and, because of his historically significant achievement, he will be held to the highest standard from Day One. It is only with a small amount of hyperbole that I use the term savior to refer to many people's attitude toward President-elect Obama. People's attitudes at home and abroad.

We at home will expect him to save us. From the economy. From our health care system. From our own mistakes at home and abroad. From our own history. And the world will expect him to save America, in the hope that it restore its luster as a beacon of freedom, opportunity, and liberty:

"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me.
I lift my lamp beside the golden door."

But, can a man (or woman) perform such a feat? Well, in all honesty, he (or she) can. But, this particular man must be a man of some integrity, a man of boundless energy and heart, a man of wisdom and good counsel. A man like...well...Abraham Lincoln (in my opinion).

Is Barack Obama that man? I am grateful that we will have the opportunity to find out.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Sick Days and Fall Breaks: Westward Ho!

Well, let's just say that my comment to Boring Election on last Monday, that I was at 85% was a gross overestimation on my part. Tuesday morning, which was a cold, cold 25 degrees in Lincoln, saw me hacking and snuffling and feeling pretty heinous. I even flirted with the idea of staying home, but, I pushed on.

Over all, it was wonderful to see old friends. I just wish I were well enough to really enjoy myself. I was exhausted and congested and just no fun for the entire week. I drank no beer, I took a couple of weak walks (no real hikes), I barely drank a cup of decent coffee. Mostly, the week was a wash.

And, now, here it is Tuesday, and I still feel the remnants of whatever I had/have. Weak, sore, coughing, congested in the morning. Well enough to get my ass to work and teach the churlen, but dragging by the time I get home. While I never confirmed that I had a fever of any sort, I gotta think it was the flu. And, while I can remember at least one year when I had it worse than this (remember that year, Monkey?), I don't know if I have ever felt it hanging around for this long.

Thinking well thoughts...

Election Day!

I know it is 5pm CST, but, to all those last minute perusers of the Internets: Go VOTE!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Starting Late

It is getting to be that time of the year, my friends, as November 1 ushers in National Novel Writing Month. I will be giving it my best again this year, after not quite making the grade last year. Unfortunately, we won't return from Oregon until Sunday, which will put me two days behind (unless I do things the old fashioned way out west, which I might). We are still in the planning stages here, but hoping to have a clearer view by the weekend.

I hope to post as I go.

I am still fighting with the crud that invaded me on Friday (or before). I went up to school this morning, but I am still feeling kind of tired and dizzy. A trip this week could be a bad idea, but what else am I going to do? I'm sure I'll be fine.

If I don't communicate with y'all again, have a great week!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Letting My Guard Down

Friday signalled the end of first term, leaving me with just a few piles of exams to grade and grades to enter before a week of school-less bliss. However, as is often the case when a high-stress job hits a lull, I immediately came down with a nasty chest cold.

A dizzy spell while I was still at school Friday afternoon alerted me to the fact that I might be feeling poorly. Plans for Friday night were scrapped, as I came home earlier than I wanted to (with papers left to grade) and went directly to bed.

I woke up Saturday morning with a chest full of crud (and a Barry White-esque voice--very sexy). Needless to say, I did little but read, lay about on the sofa, and eat a gallon of soup. This morning, I was feeling better, but decided that one more day of rest would be a good idea, so I sent Monkey off to Omaha by herself. I did finish my grading this morning, but, mostly, today was just a reprise of yesterday, with some vacuuming thrown in.

I'll have to go up to school tomorrow to do some last-minute things. Then, it's off to Oregon for a few days on Tuesday. The weather doesn't look too promising, but it rarely does for that part of the country. I am looking forward to feeling well and enjoying the Pacific Northwest.

I'll try to post tomorrow, but that should be it until November.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Roon Arledge, Are You Responsible For This?

So, I waded my way through my Monday, and I find myself, having just returned home from my BS tenure class, in a conundrum. To wit, I didn't watch much football this weekend, due to grading and other commitments (all enjoyable). I would really like to sit down and enjoy Monday Night Football. However, some dumbass at the league office has scheduled Denver vs. New England (I don't know if it's in Denver or Foxboro).

This game for me has no appeal whatsoever. I loathe both of these teams. Usually, on a Monday night, when I don't know who to root for, I at least know who to root against. Tonight, I don't even know who to root against.

I suppose, in the grand scheme of problems to have, this is no problem at all. So, I will watch the game, being completely neutral. It'll be a negative kind of neutral, in which I root equally against both of the teams. I will not cheer their successes, but I will equally enjoy their mishaps. That's not very nice, is it?

You know what else isn't nice? Having no choice but to root for the freaking Phillies in the World Series.

I believe my next post will have nothing to do with sports. But, I could be wrong.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Just Hanging On

It appears that the past few weeks have left me only with a few spare moments to blog. This past week, I thought I would have more time, but it didn't work out that way. Even this weekend, which was a productive and mildly entertaining one, left little time for other pursuits. And so, before I retire for the night, to rest up for the last week of term one (which will lead us into Fall break, and a visit to the Beaver State), I thought I would check in and leave you with a few weekend thoughts.

I didn't really like seeing Sarah Palin on SNL this weekend. It was amusing, but, gosh darnit, there is something about that woman that I just don't like. I also felt like she was smirking her way through the whole thing. It was clear, though, that she has been a professional news broadcaster (but, of course, not a member of the left-wing media elite).

I would so love to see football players use their arms to tackle ball carriers. In both the collegiate and the professional ranks, it seems that defenders only wish to launch themselves on a trajectory in order to "blow up" the ball carrier, rather than wrap the player's legs or body up with their arms. This sometimes results in spectacularly violent collisions, sending the ball carrier abruptly to the turf, and occasionally dislodging the ball. More often, it results in the defensive player glancing off of, or missing entirely, their target, who then scampers for several additional yards. It drives me crazy, even when I am watching a game I have no rooting interest in.

Any show that combines an experimental jazz/rock band (a la Aloha), a semi-traditional country/roots rock band (a la Bare Jr.), and a blue grass band, complete with washtub bass, is bound to be bizarre.

My iPod is dead. After 14 months, it's just out of warranty. I feel cheated, but I also feel no recourse but to take the 10% discount on a new one.

Okay, it's well past my bed time, folks. I hope to post before next weekend. Keep your fingers crossed!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Weekend Update (Part Three): Attempts at Civility, Gone Awry

Abandoning my musical progression, which, after the point at which I stopped yesterday is hardly as interesting as the formative years, I turn my focus to a short column in today's paper. It appears as if the two candidates for president have turned more strongly toward attempts at being honorable opponents (not that they had gotten as deeply into the mud-slinging as previous years' candidates). Obama continues to remind voters of McCain's military service and his harrowing experiences as a POW in Vietnam, which he should. Say what you want about McCain, he sacrificed quite a bit in those years, and, according to the stories told of his time as an unwilling guest of the North Vietnamese, acted impeccably as an officer and a human being. Obama is correct in reminding all that the campaign is, and always should be, about issues, substance, and ideas.

McCain tried to take the high road in Davenport, Iowa, recently, also. After reading recent reports of crowds at his rallies calling Obama a "traitor" and threatening him and his former associates with bodily harm, I was appalled. McCain, who has, as far as I know, never actively engaged in calling Obama names, or making spurious remarks about his religion, race, or personality, has never really censured his supporters for their remarks or outburst, seemed to take offense at a comment made at his Hawkeye State rally yesterday.

When a woman ignorantly referred to Obama as "an Arab" (how can people still believe this?), McCain took the microphone from the woman and "contradicted" her, calling Obama a "fine, family man, citizen." On one hand, one might say, "Well done, John. Fight your own supporters' disinformation." On the other hand(the hand I am viewing this from (does a hand view? well, no, but you get my drift), one must say, "Hold on there, McCain. Did you just say, in effect, that the OPPOSITE of an Arab is a fine, family man?" Are the two mutually exclusive? Does the world contain a dichotomy: fine, family men on one side and Arabs on the other (thereby making Arabs incapable of being fine, family men)?

This is the kind of black and white thinking, the kind of unspoken attitude of people that leads us down a path of hatred, ignorance, and violence that we, as a nation, seem to be at odds with all of the time. Our history is a sine wave of ignorance and enlightenment, with different groups being the focus of our attention in different eras. From Native Americans to African Americans, from Irish and Italian immigrants to Chinese and Vietnamese immigrants to Mexican immigrants, from Germans to Arabs, our mentality seems always to swing back to dark attitudes of "the other," no matter how seemingly enlightened we become of groups we once despised.

Sadly, this leads me to the conclusion that we never really do make any social progress as a nation. Certainly, groups make strides, slowly gaining legal and social acceptance, but, in the hearts of the people, there lies this clear need to find an enemy, a scapegoat, a villain that can be hated, hunted, and hoisted. And, even more sadly perhaps, even our attempts to appear unbiased sometimes reveal this deep-seated attitude.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Weekend Update (Part Two): Musical Evolution

Stop me if you think that you've heard this one before....

But I got to thinking about music the other day, wondering what it is that attracts people to some music more than other kinds of music. I started looking back in my own experiences to see if I could lay a pattern on things. I couldn't, but the meanderings of my musical attractions is kind of interestingly scatter-shot.

My earliest years, of course, were influenced by two people: my dad and my grandmother. My dad, as long as I can remember I guy who always had a number of irons in a number of fires (motorcycle building and racing, real estate, catering, entertainment representation, etc.), used to be a sort of local agent for some musicians during my formative years. Most of these bands were cover bands, nobody ever made more than a demo tape, as far as I knew, but their eight-tracks were always lying around. And, of course, there was plenty of vinyl in my house, mostly of the popular variety--Beatles, Stones, Sonny and Cher, Black Sabbath, Rod Stewart, etc. So, I listened to a good deal of that.

I also spent a lot of time with my grandparents, during the summers and on the weekends. They only lived a mile or so from my parents house, and everybody eventually wound up there anyway, my parents, my aunt and uncle, my great aunts and uncles--everybody. My grandmother, being from a previous generation, always had her radio tuned to the local "old music" station. So, I got a heavy dose of the pre-rock and roll years of popular music--Frank Sinatrta, Perry Como, Bing Crosby, Sarah Vaughan, Nat "King" Cole, Tommy Dorsey, Glenn Miller, the Andrews Sisters, The Inkspots, and on and on. It made for an interesting mix tape, and I loved it all.

The first album I ever picked out for myself, was a Wings album, At the Speed of Sound. Not a great album in the eyes of posterity, but, I liked it. Paul and Linda McCartney with Denny Laine, Jimmy McCulloch--Sir Paul still had some awesome melody-writing abilities, as witnessed by "Silly Love Songs," "and "Let Em In." I also wore out the grooves on Wings' live triple-album, Wings Over America. The opening 11-minute medley of "Venus and Mars/Rock Show/Jet" was candy to my seven-year old ears. And side three's "Picasso's Last Words" resonated in some unclear way to my burgeoning sense of poetry.

Any sense of poetry that may have been developing was certainly not a factor in my next-recalled musical obsession: Pat Benatar. There, I said it. It's out there. To this point, very few people knew this about me (and, considering the number of people who will read this, that won't change), but, I am not afraid of this truth anymore. It probably started in about 1983, and by the time it had run its course, I owned every album she and her band released from 1980's In the Heat of the Night to 1988's Wide Awake in Dreamland.

There are several reasons I can see for my (still) enjoyment of the Queen of Rock: 1) I was 14, and she was hot; 2) her songs (or rather Neil Giraldo's songs) RAWK (in an eighties sort of way); 3) the woman can flat out sing; 4) Myron Grombacher is one of the BEST drummers ever; 5) her "Wuthering Heights" kicks Kate Bush's ass and her "I Need a Lover" kicks John Mellencamp's ass. By the time I was 19, however, I had tired of Pat and had moved on to my next BIG musical obsession.

In 1986, I first heard REM on the radio. I fell in love to "Fall on Me," and I dove into my passion for this Athens-based band of art school cast offs and record store clerks. The southern jangle of the music and the mumbled pretentiousness of the lyrics where a 180 degree shift from Chrysalis-slick AOR music, and it made me see and feel how music could be serious and important. I don't know if that makes any sense, but let me try to explain. I was growing up...and so was my music. I guess that sums it up a bit better.

Truth be told, the shift wasn't immediate. In that sort of transition time between 1985 and maybe 1988, I doused myself in classic rock, and discovered a real connection to Jethro Tull. So, in a way, my progression kind of went like this Seven the Hard Way to Thick as a Brick to Document. Is that odd?

That brings me to the college years. As good a place as any to call a time out.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Weekend Update (Part One): Disappointing Debates

I have been ruminating on some posts lately, but haven't found the time to write them. I will try to work them into my weekend plans, starting now.

The debates this past Tuesday left me feeling underwhelmed. The format was bizarre, the candidates ignored their own negotiated rules, and, well, Tom Brokaw just drives me crazy. More than anything, however, the longer I watched, the more I saw a candidate I have placed so much hope in behaving more like just another politico.

I guess I haven't lost all of my idealism. I decided in the primary season to back Obama over Clinton because I thought that, while Senator Clinton is qualified, dogged, and liberal enough, she didn't have that sense of revolutionary spirit that had attached itself to Obama. He is less experienced in the ways of Washington, but that seems like a good thing. Senator Clinton had so much baggage that would fester, in my mind, so much more animosity with conservatives in Congress, that I wondered if she'd have a hope of getting anything accomplished as president. Moreover, Senator Obama seemed to have the right things to say, the right spirit to lead this country in the right direction--he possessed the right tone of commitment to bettering people's lives.

I still believe this to be true, but, on Tuesday, I felt like Senator Obama had fallen into a kind of trap, either one set by McCain's camp, or one dictated to him by his own advisers, that led him to simply spar with his opponent in a finger-pointing, business as usual sort of way. I know that that is a nasty reality in politics, the need to attack and defend, but, I was hoping to see something loftier, something more honorable.

Don't get me wrong, I still feel that Obama is the right man for the time. It would take a revelation of ponderous import for me to even entertain voting for McCain and his "Youbetcha" running mate, but I still want Obama to be my Kennedy-type ideal. I want to envision Camelot in the White House. I want a leader who is less about rhetoric or action for the sake of action (and benefits for the few) and more about substance and action for the sake of positive results for the many. Clearly, judging by the little substance that was delivered on Tuesday, Obama/Biden is head and shoulders above McCain/Palin. I guess I'd just like to see it more clearly.

As always, that's just, like, you know, my opinion, man.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Tiny News

The bills are paid for the month.

We bought a paper shredder.

I dropped off a dozen pairs of pants and a shirt to the Goodwill on Saturday.

The tomato plants have been pulled after an acceptable late harvest.

I am waiting on three beet plants, then the garden is done for the season.

My iPod is not working properly, and restoring it has not helped. Next stop: the Omaha Apple store.

Jolie Holland has a new album out.

Term One ends in two and a half weeks!

My newspaper keeps arriving late, and, this morning, we received a copy of Financial Times. We don't subscribe to Financial Times.

Sometimes, I wish my tiny news were more exciting.

Friday, October 03, 2008

That Centrally Significant Month

October is an important month here at Central Standard. Yesterday marks a third year here at this home-spun little blog of mine.

I recently spent some time talking to a few blogospherians, and they were making suggestions that might increase my blog's "visibility" or readership. I might focus on one topic, such as books or teaching, writing, biking, whatever. But, of course, I am not going to do that. I guess I am not interested in increasing my profile. I am just interested in having a forum to tap out a few random thoughts about every three days, so that a few close friends and relatives can check in on me occasionally. What more could I want?

Another work week has come to an end. It almost always comes as a surprise to me when I make it through one. I don't know why. I know that I have been complaining up a storm about work, but things are seeming to improve, little by little. And today, I got one of those emails from an old student that reminds you of the value of the job, so that is definitely a positive. All in all a good day.

No travelling this weekend. Monkey and I will stay home and get some chores done, root for the Tigers to defeat the home team Huskers on Saturday, and I just might get in a little basketball on Sunday (which would be the first time in about two months, I'd bet). Looking forward to that.

The debate last night was fascinating, I think. I am particularly biased, but I think Biden clearly won. I have heard people say that Palin did "what she needed to do," which was not come off as quite as much of a jackass as she has appeared. I guess she did that (although there were a few moments when I thought she was ridiculous (winking at her dad; correcting Biden's "drill, drill, drill" comment; evoking the Black Sox scandal of 1919 and the ghost of Ronald Reagan when she tandemed "Say it ain't so, Joe," with "There you go again;" and attributing the "City on a Hill" comment to Ronald Reagan instead of John Winthrop (see "A Model of Christian Charity"))), but is that even close to being a good thing? My, Republicans MUST be desperate.

Looking forward to the next presidential square off...aren't you?

By the way, a shout out to a few CoMoians (particularly Boring Election) whom I did not get the opportunity to see last weekend: catch you at T/F (if you're not too crazy busy!).

Monday, September 29, 2008

Some Post-game Thoughts

Final score: Steelers 23-Ravens 20 in overtime.

Penalties always hurt.

Some Halftime Thoughts

I don't usually blog much about sports directly. The occasional baseball post around playoff time (that one's coming soon, I reckon); the once-in-a-while comment on college football or basketball. Not much. But, since I am in the midst of watching the Ravens play the dreaded Steelers on Monday Night Football, I thought I would toss out a few observations here at halftime.

1. After ten years of rotating quarterbacks, it might just be that this team has found a suitable field leader. After two and a half games, it is far too early to tell if Flacco is an All-Pro calibre QB, but it doesn't take much to see that he is better than Kyle Boller, Stoney Case, Chris Redman, and even an aging (not in-his-prime) Steve McNair. A strong arm, and a (so far) lack of mistakes--Baltimore hasn't seen that since...well, maybe John Unitas (apologies to Bert Jones, of course).

2. Willis McGahee is not long for this team. Too many injuries. Is McLain a decent replacement? So far.

3. The defense is playing better than I may have seen since 2006. Even with a decimated secondary, they still look good. Of course, Big Ben hasn't had time to test the D backs much...

The second half is under way. Back to the game!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

A Dispatch From Parent-Teacher Night

Here I sit during a lull in the flow of parents to my little card table in the gym. The first hour is over. It’s actually about twenty past five, which is nearly halfway through the night. I have seen eighteen parents—actually, that is not true. It’s more like twenty plus, but the first and at least one other parent/parents neglected to sign in. Of those who did sign in (18), they are equally divided among my three classes.

About two minutes ago, a DECA student (I have no idea what DECA stands for) brought each of the teacher’s a Ziploc baggie with two cookies in it. That was nice, but who can eat when you’re this tense. Yes, tense. Even after twenty positive interactions, I still dread the next one. Not because it might be bad, which it might be, but because it is an interaction…with a stranger…I hate those.

However, here I sit, proud of myself for being “strong”(just after I wrote that word, a parent with a name very similar to that word came to visit me at my little card table in the gym—if you will it, Dude, it is no dream). I was going to make a self-deprecating comment about strength being something a bit more impressive than talking to strangers, especially when there are about 120 other people at their own little card tables in the gym doing the same thing. However, my inner monologue all day, all afternoon, and even now is: “Flee! Flee! Flee!” But, I am not doing that. It is some kind of strength, just not a kind one might be commended for.

In addition to being given cookies (oh, by the way, in the midst of this sentence, a second wave of parents descended—I’m now up to 31, and it’s 6:20), they fed us pizza and pork BBQ for supper. It was not sitting well an hour ago, but it is currently behaving itself.

So, to sum up the festivities so far, I have had about 33 conferences, all of them positive, and my anxiety is waning. However, I remember last year’s “Grandma Assault,” when a student and her mother and grandmother read me up and down about how I was conducting my class, and basically blaming my seating arrangements for the student’s poor performance (after which I switched her seating arrangement, and she did just as poorly—somehow, it seemed to me, the fact that she didn’t hand in her compositions had a greater effect on her grade than where she placed her buttocks). That happened in the closing moments of that term’s conferences. I surely hope that does not happen again. We had another visit a moment ago (up to 34). It’s now 6:36. Twenty four minutes and then I can let go of this “waiting for the other shoe to drop” feeling in my gut.

One more visitor—35. Now it’s 6:41 (they ask us to keep our conferences to 3-5 minutes). The fellow conferencing with the teacher to my right looks like a former business associate of my father’s, right down to the bad toupee and the dyed moustache. That guy (and this guy) reminds me of my high school college algebra teacher. He was not a toupee wearing guy. I have to give him that. But, his Irish red-brown hair and his orange moustache that dangled under his bulbous whiskey-sotted nose, matched with a slight speech impediment, always put me in mind of a defrocked priest. We used to write limericks about his “shining bald pate.” Maybe it was his name, which was about as Irish Catholic as you can get. I never liked him. He was also the JV baseball coach. He and the varsity baseball coach, another bulbous-nosed, moustached fellow (who reminded of a defrocked priest for other, creepier reasons), made my life a roller coaster of struggle and disappointment, in math and on the diamond. They invited me to try out for baseball each year after my freshman year…and they eventually cut me every year. Cruel? Maybe. Maybe they hoped I had improved over each summer…let’s give them the benefit of the doubt, eh?

Why am I writing about this? I guess, since this is autobiographical, in the moment, automatic-type writing, anything is fair game. This is back story, another snapshot in the photo album of my life.

Another visitor—36. It is now 6:55, and the gym is still the site of quite a few parents waiting to conference. I sure hope they make an announcement soon, so that people know that we need to go promptly at 7:00. I got here at 6:30 this morning. That’s a 12 ½ hour day. I get paid for 7 ½, and I’ll never get compensated for that extra five hours.

It is now 6:57. It looks like I am going to make it. I want to detail every last ounce of this conference, so I will write it out until 7. To my left, one of my colleagues is still in conference. It is 6:59. To my right, my colleague is putting away his laptop and getting ready to roll. It is 7:00. Wait for it.


Over the intercom: “Good evening ladies and gentlemen. This concludes parent-teacher conferences….”

As I am packing up my papers to go, a parent introduces herself to me. I have already talked to her husband, but she has a question about her son. I don’t add her to my total, since her husband has signed in already. I answer her questions as helpfully as I can, secretly wishing I could say, “Hey, I know these five minutes don’t seem like much to you, but I’m about spent. Can you email me about this tomorrow?”

It is 7:06. I climb the stairs out of the gym. I climb the stairs to the second floor. I grab my bag, eat one of my cookies, and head for the parking lot. It is 7:11.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

I Don't Even Have Time to Be Doing This, Really

A good friend of mine, whom I have had more than a few mind-blowingly intense and mind-blowingly absurd dialogues, one of which, which took place around a back yard fire somewhere in Minnesota, made its way into a novel that could see the light of day any moment now, used to refer to those busy times at work as being "in the weeds." Well, last week's Devil-may-care attitude has left me in a state somewhat more drastic than that. I feel like referring to it as being "mangled near-roadkill, recently flung by the force of a brutal collision into the weeds growing in a cold, swampy culvert." It feels as pleasant as it sounds.

But, really, this state of work being that I find myself in is not the result of this weekend's road trip wedding festivities alone. It's been brewing for a few weeks. This is by far the hardest year I have had (to this point). Last year was tough, as regular readers will recall, but, I don't think I have worked harder at this job than I am working right now, and my Master's program required me to take 33 graduate credit hours over one academic year and two summers WHILE I was teaching full time. That was hard, but this feels harder. Maybe I am just misremembering how hard the past may have been, but, I don't think so.

I have several theories as to why things are as they are, but I shall not bother with them here. However, one of the factors may be the fact that the district puts so many outside requirements on us. I have a three hour class on Monday nights, I had a two hour workshop last Wednesday, department meeting today, Parent-Teacher meetings tomorrow night. When am I supposed to grade and such? Ah, sorry, I am trying not to complain too much, here.

No matter the density of the "weeds" I may find myself in, Monkey and I still plan on heading south this weekend to visit the old stomping grounds. After all, all work and no play....

Thursday, September 18, 2008

A Pragmatist Prepares to Leave

Monkey and I will be heading due south tomorrow, returning to the scene of the Horse v. Dog Debacle of 2006. My Favorite Berry is getting hitched at the family farm, and we have been invited for the shindig.

It has been a long and grueling week. I feel like I have been behind the eight ball since Monday, and, no matter how hard I worked, I couldn't get out of its shadow. I was at work until 6pm today getting things together for my sub tomorrow, and I feel like I will most likely start Monday feeling about the same way as I ended today. But, being a skilled compartmentalizer, I am going to stick those worries in a box and not open them until Sunday night.

For now, I am going to roll up my Sunday-go-to-meetings in my saddle bag, get a good night's rest, stick my toothbrush in my pocket at first light, and head on down the trail to Indian Territory.

Let the Devil take Monday. I'll deal with it when I get there.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

A Shock to the System

Reading the other day of the suicide of 46 year old writer David Foster Wallace took me aback. I've never read any of his novels (although Infinite Jest has been on my mental list for about eight years, now), but I remember being enamored with his essay "Consider the Lobster" when I read it in Gourmet in 2004. It was such a remarkably entertaining piece of writing. In 2005, I found his cover article in The Atlantic, "Host," about political talk radio. The article used footnotes in a visual way that was completely innovative. I began to realize that not only was this guy a good writer, but he was perhaps a writer of the best footnotes I had ever read. His short stories (the few I have read) are the same way, innovative in perspective, and containing some unexpected nuance that makes a reader appreciate not simply the joy of story, but the craft of writing.

And then, I read his book on the history of infinity, Everything and More. And I knew this was a brilliant human being. I had to put him on the side of the table with the other people smarter than me (more and more, this side of the table is growing...ah, for the ignorant cocksurety of youth!). And now, we'll get no more brilliance.

It is a tragedy when someone takes their life. It is a tragedy when a writer whom people admire departs this world. It is a tragedy of the highest order when someone so talented and so bright chooses to leave the rest of us behind.

Rest in peace, Mr. Wallace.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Family's Unowned Boy

It's just a house burning, but it's not haunted.
It was your heart hurting, but not for too long, kid.
--Okkervil River, "Our Life is Not a Movie Or Maybe"

Watching Will Sheff on stage is mesmerizing and sometimes heart-stopping. He careens about onstage during a song's more energetic moments, crouching, kicking, spinning, ricocheting from one side of the stage to the other, curling around his battered acoustic like it is the most important and vulnerable part of himself. Then comes the inevitable moment when he stumbles, his ankles enshrouded by the serpentine cables that he has been carousing amongst, or he lunges for the mic stand to steady himself, only to discover that his hoped-for support is precariously balanced on the apron of the stage. For a slow-motion second, Sheff teeters--it's unclear whether he will stay vertical or not--only to right himself and resume his frantic pin balling. Sheff and Okkervil River always give it their all. This is the heart-stopping.

The mesmerizing comes when this thirty-two year-old man turns a certain way into the spot-light, his eyes closed, his mouth agape, his pale skin glistening with sweat, and his moppy reddish hair tousled around his face, and he looks like the most sincere child you've ever seen. He energetically strums his capoed guitar, and I can't remember if I am watching a performer who collaborates with several bands and has his name attached to recordings (and writings), or if I am standing against the wall of the old RagTag, watching a band of sixteen year-olds on Academy of Rock night. When he steps to the mic and sings, the lyrics make it clear--sometimes. Is he a skilled, mature writer, penning thematically-linked poems set to music about life, loss, love, and longing, or is he a student, addicted to purple prose? Much more often than not, Sheff is the former, but, I couldn't stop thinking last night: he's a boy...he's a man.

A typically robust set last night. Starting with The Stage Names' "A Girl in Port," the bespectacled Sheff and his band mates (including a pair of new additions to this tour (I think)), made their way through songs old and new, leaning heavily on the "mid tempo, mid-volume" side of the catalogue. Several times, the band lowered the volume, only to make it clear to me, in the swell of conversation that filled the crowded Slowdown, that maybe a lot of folks came to see the opening band, Omaha favorites Neva Denova.

The band plowed through the din, and seemed to focus on the attention and adulation they received from those patrons surrounding the stage (that was me down there--house right, behind the two big guys wearing the pork pie hats). Okkervil River has been to Omaha countless times, and it seems that Sheff remembers every one. ("Who saw us at the Junction," he asked. "Who saw us at California Taco? We've been here a million fucking times.") Moreover, it looked like the band was having a great time up there. They always do, but, last night, they seemed particular ebullient.

After shedding his standard black suit jacket (at least, it's become standard, the last couple shows I've seen), his glasses, his tie, and after running through an hour-plus set, and a first encore, the band returned for a second encore. Sheff stood at the mic, now stripped down to a hand-made t-shirt, and launched into the crowd's clear favorite of the night, the second-best American song about killing someone ever written, Don't Fall in Love With Everyone You See's "Westfall." And, as a bizarre trio of kids crowded in front of me and gyrated against each other in the most inappropriate display of enthusiasm I may have ever seen, I watched that mannish-boy up in the lights (and his mates) leave it all out on the stage...again.

Friday, September 12, 2008

I Don't Want A President I Can Relate To

Perhaps the biggest attribute that supporters of the Popular Right side of the presidential spectrum of candidates (of which there are at least a couple dozen) cite in their attraction to the VP nominee is that they can relate to her. She's someone like them. Well, that's just great. One of the oft-spouted comments of support that people cite in support of the current chief executive is that he is someone they can relate to. People seem to love it when their candidate/leader is "just like them" (or at least, their chosen one appears to be). And, of course, the same folks criticize the opposition for not being someone they can relate to, for being an "elitist." As if having the ability to deliver an adequate speech in Standard English makes one an "elitist." What has happened to this country?

How many of our first thirty presidents were folks that people could relate to? Well, judging from history, maybe two, Andrew Jackson and Abraham Lincoln. Jackson, the first "populist" president (in name only), oversaw the brief period in US history when we were debt-free. He also signed the Indian Removal Act and the Treaty of New Echota, which resulted in the deaths of 4000 Cherokee Indians on the Trail of Tears. Lincoln, arguably the greatest US President, wasn't really a "regular guy," even if he chopped a few logs in Kentucky. Regular guys don't have the fortitude of Abe Lincoln, the eloquence, the astute understanding of what historical moments require. Lincoln was clearly extraordinary.

If we look at the other presidents, the twenty-eight "elitists" between Washington and Coolidge, as well as the two after Coolidge, Hoover and Roosevelt, we find several presidents who were remarkable individuals and the right men for the right time. George Washington, James Monroe, Thomas Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt (don't even try that "regular guy" stuff with Teddy--it doesn't wash), and FDR. All of these men would be considered "elitist" today (except maybe Teddy). But, that is just what a president ought to be.

When I lay my head on my pillow at night, I want to rest easy knowing that my country is being lead by the best and brightest possible person. I don't want a president I would feel comfortable having a beer with. I don't want a president I would invite over for a backyard bar-b-q. I don't want a president (or vice-president) I could go skeet shooting with. I don't want a president I make fun of when he/she talks. I don't want to see someone who reminds me of me when I watch the State of the Union address. I don't want a president I can relate to.

I want a president intelligent and empathic enough to relate to me. I want a president smarter than I. I want a president stronger than I. I want a president more astute, communicative, and virtuous than I. I want a president I can be proud of. I want an elitist.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Preaching to the Converted

If I held you up to fire I would see a reddish frame
Of rust around your soul's transparency
And you, you with your beauty
And I with my spleen
I'll hitchhike to your bonfire
In my suit of gasoline.
--Centro-Matic, "The Fugitives Have Won"

It's been a long time since the Monkey and I have ventured out on a school night to catch a show. It's been a longer time since we've trooped farther than fifteen minutes to see such a show. But, last night was an opportunity not to be missed. Unfortunately, only about fifty other people seemed to agree with me, and most of them had a far shorter distance to travel than Monkey or I.

The show, Centro-Matic with The Broken West, was a bargain. Eight-fifty. That was a pleasant surprise. We got to Slowdown at about a quarter after nine, and when we walked in, we were met with a pair of other surprises.

First, the floor of the hall was shut off by a large partition, just like it was when I'd been there for the Jens Lekman show a few months back. The difference this time was that no one was doing a sound check behind the panels. Tonight, as we passed through the doors, Centro-Matic's alter ego, South San Gabriel was in the midst of a laid back set of their own music. I knew they have toured this way, opening up with some SSG tunes before the opening act, but, I didn't expect them to be starting at 9pm. Judging by the length of their set, we probably only missed about half of a song. They played a pair of tunes from The Carlton Chronicles and several more that I did not recognize, all from the comfort of their chairs.

Second, there were about forty people in the bar. That was it. It was like being in somebody's basement. In that way, it was kind of cool, but, I was surprised at the low turn out, Wednesday night, or not.

After SSG, a trio, Mal Madrigal took the tiny corner stage for a half dozen classical/European influenced folk-y tunes (yawn). They were followed by The Broken West, a band that impressed me, and put me in mind of several other bands.

I have this bad habit, sometimes, of talking about bands through the medium of other bands. I always say a certain music sounds like this, or reminds me of that. It's a useful and legitimate manner of description, and it gives me a frame of reference, but, in the end, it is a thoroughly unoriginal way to describe a band. But, guess what? I kept at it last night.

The Broken West made me miss Lloyd Cole and the Commotions. They made me think of The Alarm. They have strong pop sensibilities, and I liked it. As a matter of fact, I like it much more live, as, like a wine connoisseur, I sniffed their riffs and melodies and scented strains of Arcade Fire with hints of White Rabbits, then I have ever liked any of their recordings. Go figure.

Lastly, just after Wednesday became Thursday, Will Johnson and the boys took the stage. I leaned over to Monkey in our booth (yes, it was that uncrowded (maybe 70 by the time it was headliner time) that Monkey and I got one of four booths) and remarked how each of the four bands had hardly any commonalities in style. SSG is low-key, pedal steel and electric acoustic, kind of atmospheric. Mal Madrigal, well, that was sort of a curious Joan Baez meets Django Rheinhardt kind of thing (maybe?), The Broken West we've covered. And Centro-Matic is different from, but in the finest tradition of anything ever to grace the pages of No Depression.

But, as is my wont, I digress. C-M played a solid hour set, spanning most of their recordings. Johnson's sometimes obscure, often realistic, and occasionally disgusted lyrics seemed to be well-received by the crowd. Of course, this is no surprise, since this is the band they came to see, I imagine. Highlights included "Infernoesque Grande," "Calling Thermatico," "Supercar," and "Argonne Limit Co." The band were on top of their game (they traded instruments back and forth a few times), polite (Will referred to all in attendance as "good friends"), and the sound was awesome in the shrunken space. I just wonder how the climate might have been improved by a greater turn out, some uninitiated, who may have been turned on to the stark images and melodious anger of one of the finest songwriters working today.

We stumbled out into the dawn, as the band unplugged amps and wound cables, and, after a few brushes with nodding off arrived home at about 2:30 am. Right about now, I am running on fumes after a hair over three hours of sleep last night, so...good night, all!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Stuck in the Middle

Wednesday. Hump Day. The day of the week that signals the sparkle on the calendar's horizon of a new and glorious weekend. Friday afternoon is in sight, with its promise of rest, relaxation, and the ever-present household chores. It's a day of hope; it's a day of promise. For Monkey and I, it signals a first mile post in a marathon week of events.

Tonight, we are heading to Omaha to see Centro-Matic and Broken West. Expect a full report. I am expecting Will Johnson and Co. to put on an awesome show.

Friday brings a momentous occasion, as Monkey and I celebrate our tenth anniversary! Big plans have yet to be finalized, but, we won't be traveling to KC this year. Something more "in the vicinity," we think. I already know what I am getting her, I just don't know how to deliver it.

Saturday, Will Scheff and Okkervil River come to town, touting their brand-spanking new album (released yesterday), The Stand-Ins. The review in the Times mentioned that the tracks had been recorded at the same time as OR's last album, The Stage Names. And, they gave it a good nod. Okkervil River has never disappointed, from The Blue Note to The Waiting Room. I expect the same from them at Slowdown.

And, yes, expect a full report on Sunday.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Sports Conspiracy Theories

According to ESPN, Patriots (I hatriot the Patriots) quarterback Tom Brady will undergo season-ending surgery after a low tackle by Kansas City's Bernard Pollard tore Brady's knee ligaments in the early going of Sunday's game in Foxboro. This is bad news for Patriots (I hatriot the Patriots) fans. But, hope is still alive.

Before I continue, a disclaimer: if you haven't figured it out yet, I am NOT a fan of the New England Patriots. I have loathed them since Steve Grogan retired. After that, they provoked my further ire when they changed their uniforms from the AFL beauty of red, white, and blue to the current (and inexplicable) blue, red, SILVER, and white. What is that, some nod to Paul Revere (he was a silversmith)? At the same time, they ditched the straightforward, totally bad-ass Pat Patriot logo on the side of their white helmets for the "modern," streaking colonial head on the sparkly SILVER (again!) helmet. Unbelievable.

Granted, having never lived anywhere near New England, I was never a huge fan of the Pats, but, after they defiled what I thought was one of the more classic uniforms of the former AFL, my attitude turned to one of outright loathing. And then, along came Tom Brady.

A great quarterback? No doubt, but his pretty boy looks, his reincarnation-of-Broadway-Joe-Namath lifestyle, his willy-nilly impregnation of super models, and his employment by the Patriots all add up to my negative attitude toward him.

That being said, I wish him no ill will. I am sorry to see any athlete get injured. Well, except Albert Belle, but that's a story for a different time. However, I don't think we have to worry a whit, or shed one tear for Golden Tom or his SILVER (I still don't get it) Patriots. For Bill "Snidely Whiplash" Belichick clearly has an ace up his sleeve.

His announcement that Brady is done for the year rings untrue to me. After all, this guy is known to put his whole team in the "Questionable" column of the required weekly injury report. Add to that some potential cheating here and there, and I smell a conspiracy.

At halftime of this Sunday's game, with the Brett Favre-led J-E-T-S JETSJETSJETS! (and we won't even begin to address that circus) up on the SILVER (why?) Patriots 17-3, Brady will jog onto the field and eventually lead his team to a rousing victory with a last second forty-yard pass to Randy Moss. The media will go wild! Front-runners everywhere will rejoice at the return of the cover-model quarterback! And Belichick and the rest of his loathsome SILVER (I'm shrugging over here)-clad minions will snigger in their locker room, as they show the world once again that they are calling the shots.

Mark my words, man. It's gonna happen.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Science is Fun!

Recent discoveries have shed new light on the origins of “humans” who settled the Americas. A skeleton believed to be more than 13,000 years old was found, along with three others, in an underwater cave off the western coast of Mexico. The discovery is sending archaeologists back to the drawing board, trying to develop a new theory of how the North and South American continents were settled. Now-rickety theories once included the belief that humans from northern Asia crossed a temporary land bridge across the Bering Sea. However, the age and location of these remains, the shape of the ancient skull, and the presence of fish-like appendages on the skeletons now lead scientists to believe that the Americas were populated by creatures similar to that found in the Black Lagoon, who crossed under the sea on a long, arduous journey that began somewhere near what is now Java. The aquatic humanoids island hopped their way across the South Pacific, eventually landing near Cancun, where they immediately began work on a resort hotel.

In related news, fossils of Siberian wooly mammoths have been found to possess strong genetic links to North American wooly mammoths. Wooly mammoth scientists now suggest that the mammoths originated in North America and crossed over to Siberia via the aforementioned land bridge. Such evidence clearly supports the new theory that the Americas was not populated by humans who crossed over the land bridge, since, I imagine, they would have been trampled by the herds of, well, mammoth wooly mammoths coming the other way. Or, were they not trampled, they most surely would have been gored by the mammoths' extremely long tusks. Most importantly, however, this new discovery demonstrates population dynamics in action, since, about 3,000 years after the arrival of the carnivorous, resort-building aquatic humanoids in the Americas, wooly mammoths began evacuating the North American continent in droves.

It is obvious to this amateur scientist that the mammoths were driven off the continent by one of two factors. Either the aquatic humanoids pursued the mammoths for meat to the point where the creatures had no choice but to leave, or the resorts that the humanoids were building began to encroach on the mammoths' natural habitat, and they were forced to seek out new wind-whipped, snow-covered, blizzard-ravaged lands.

One other ancient question that these new discoveries answer: what happened to the land bridge? Most likely, the sheer weight of all those mammoths caused the land bridge to slowly sink into the cold Bering Sea, probably taking thousands of mammoths with them, but leaving huge deposits of petroleum that the Republicans would love to drill, baby, drill.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Miley Cyrus, You Put A Helmet On, Right Now!

Okay, people, I am no Tim Gunn. I have no real sense of what others should or should not be wearing, although I do really like what seems to be his mantra, "Make it work." These are truly words for all of us to live by. However, I don't know about his recent appraisal of Katie Holmes (sad, sad story) or Miley Cyrus.

One thing I do know: one should always try to be as safe as possible when riding a bike. Monkey will tell you that I don't always practice that "safety first" mantra when driving a car. I've been known to clock a few miles with no bandolier to keep my melon off the windshield--stupid me! But, with a few unavoidable exceptions, since I was old enough to know better, I've biked exclusively helmeted. Too many cars and drivers who think they are better drivers than they are make for the always present possibility of having your body thrown from your bike and your cabasa making high-speed contact with the asphalt. No thank you.

So, while I find it admirable that Miley and the Cyrus clan seem to enjoy a pedal around the sunny streets of whatever entertainment paradise they live in, I think she ought to set a better example by wearing a helmet.

I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "What the hell has happened to ol' ATR? What's with this obsession with Miley Cyrus?" Well, calm down. It's no obsession. It's just a coincidence that two unrelated news items made it into my Google reader on the same day. Or, at least, I read them on the same day.

But, enough with Hannah Montana. The NY Times says James and Kirk and Lars (and Robert) are coming back from the artistically dead to kick all of our asses...80s style.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Labor: Today, Yesterday, Tomorrow

Labor Day traditionally marked the last day of summer break for our nation's younguns. Many folks claim that the duration of summer break originated due to the need for children to be at home to work on the family farm. This may just be a rural myth. But, myth or no, it seems that the start of school is creeping inexorably into the month of August in many districts. On this Labor Day, I find myself enjoying a three-day weekend after a week and a half of classes (and two and a half weeks of contract days).

So, what has our first full week wrought? Well, for starters, I think I have some good classes. Academically, they seem average or below, but, behaviorally, they seem to be on the ball. I can work with that. I wonder, however, about the strengths that my students possess. I have a range of kids, like always, from those who struggle to put two sentences together, to those who, by virtue of the class they registered for, are capable of (or willing to try) thinking in an analytically and critically advanced manner. So far, the sentence-level challenged are performing up to their previously-demonstrated abilities. The "advanced" students, on the other hand, aren't showing me a whole lot.

In other districts, I have had the pleasure to work with the same range of students. I know that some of the more academically challenged kids are doing the best they can, and that some of them may make great strides this term, given the right combination of challenge and support. But, I am concerned that maybe my more advanced students aren't as advanced as I wish them to be (or--more troubling--aren't as advanced as they think they are). After all, they should be preparing for AP classes in their future, but, except for one or two of them (so far), I don't see that happening. But, that being the case, and, in a similar vein to any student, given the right combination of challenge and support, they may make great strides this term. Perhaps some of the kids at that other school where I used to teach just spoiled me.

Whatever the case may be, I hope to grow this year, as I hope for every year, into a better teacher, a better colleague, and a better person. And, with the right combination of challenge and support, I may make great strides!

Monday, August 25, 2008

Two Kinds of Friends

Several recent events have put me in a pensive mood, lately. Or, perhaps I should say a more pensive than usual mood, since I think I am just pensive by nature. At any rate, much of my pensiveness is focused on relationships. Primarily friendships. What makes them? What makes a good friendship? And, why can't I spell friendship? (Thank you spell check.)

It seems that the last couple of months have really brought some highs and lows in the annals of me and friends. Now, I don't want to give you the impression that I am spending time on the phone engaged in some sort of I-don't-believe-he-would-do-that-how-can-I-still-be-his-friend kind of drama. It's really more of the looking back on friends I have had and friends I have in a time of change and, well, just contemplating.

Now, it seems, I have a lot of friends in a lot of places. Who doesn't? But, it wasn't long ago, I thought I would always have the same group of friends who all lived within ten miles of each other. In hindsight, that was a silly notion. And, had my life turned out that way, I most likely would have been the worse off for it.

I was not an Army brat as a child. My parents were not in a witness protection program (if such a thing even exists). My mom or dad never worked in an industry that forced them to relocate often. We stayed put. From my birth until I was thirty, Baltimore was my home. Pulling up stakes in 1999 seemed like the hardest thing I would ever have to do. I was leaving my family. I was leaving my friends. Some of these friends I had known for decades, some I had known for a few years. They all seemed like the best friends I might ever have.

Leaving family was hard, but, I knew I would always maintain my contact with them. I knew I would always come back to see them. Maybe I wouldn't be able to get back as often as I wanted, but, I'd still see them. The friends were another matter.

We all swore we'd keep in touch. We'd write. We'd phone. We'd email. For a while, we did. But, after some time had passed, after they had grown used to me being somewhere else and had busied themselves with their ongoing lives, after I had settled in to CoMo and began to grow a brand new social life, the communication trickled, trickled, and died. I still occasionally keep in contact with a person or two from back in Mobtown, but, for the most part, it's a surprise when I hear from anyone (or when they hear from me). This may seem like a story behind which some Eastern European strings should be playing, minor and slow, but, it's not. This is simply a function of life.

In Missouri, one close friend moved on, leaving a large hole in my life (and Monkey's). However, we stayed in close touch. We see each other regularly (but not often). We are, indeed, still close friends. Even after more years than I care to mention, our friendship seems to have survived a physical separation. Other friends moved on. Some I still connect with (some right here on the ol' Central Standard), while others are simply moving in other spheres, I guess. As my time in Missouri drew to a close, as people left me behind, or I prepared to move on myself, the situation seemed to repeat itself. After a year away, the number of people I stay in regular contact with is small, but, it encompasses the closest of my friends from that most central of central Missouri towns.

And, now, here in Cornopolis, the situation repeats itself, as close friends we have had the chance to meet and quickly grow to love are heading off to greater opportunity. It is a sad, sad feeling, losing friends, but, really, I realize, it is not a loss.

As this school year began, I was introduced to an essay by Jane Howard called, "Families," which appeared several years ago in The Atlantic Monthly. In her essay, Howard uses some terminology from a tribe in Cameroon which identifies two kinds of friends, friends of the road and friends of the heart. Friends of the road are people that you are with by chance: classmates and other people who are somehow in a social group in which you circulate. They are people you like, but, you come to be with them mostly through convenience. On the other hand, friends of the heart are those whom you choose to be in contact with. Those formerly friends of the road who are no longer convenient, yet still draw you to them (and you draw them, too). Reading this essay was definitely a case of the right text at the right time.

I have had many friends of the road, and I am grateful for them and the time we've spent together, but I truly treasure those friends of the heart who have come into my life and stuck there, even when far out of sight, and without the parting, as painful as it is, they don't get to make the jump from the road to the heart. So, I guess I am comforted by the revelation that good friends gone are somehow better friends. The inability to spend more time with them might make one unhappy, but the quality of the relationship grows if the connection is strong enough to transcend distance.

Thanks for listening, friends.