Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Daily Affirmation (via Washington Irving?)

I had this thought this week, one among many--most of which I spare you (like the one about unmoored epiphanies--when you feel like you've made some momentous realization about life, but you have know idea what it is or what it is about...ever had that happen to ya?)--in which I realized that I am a living example of an original American icon. I sat at my desk, completely frustrated by a couple of my young charges, and realized that I was no different than any Norman Rockwell-one-room-schoolhouse-teacher frustrated by some over-active child with a frog in his overalls. It was actually a comforting thought.

Granted, the modern world has worked its magic on the school room, altering into a subject-specific, grade-specific, high stakes, wired, "scientifically"-conducted marketplace of instruction. We have tests to prepare for, legal obligations to meet, federal-, state- and district-determined mandates to achieve. We have industrially-oriented schools, churning students through hour by hour on a bell system, churning students through year by year with a nail-bitingly scrutinized graduation rate to meet. We have funding that is determined by attendance, achievement, economics, and a host of other governmentally-concocted variables. So, a school room of the 21st Century is nothing like its early-20th Century counterpart.

However, people don't really change that much, no matter how many bells and whistles you attach to them. Much of the time, the classroom dynamic is determined by a passel of kiddos trying to get out of working and a teacher trying to convince those kiddos to get something done. There are fewer frogs involved, fewer switches involved (both improvements), and chalk boards have mostly become white boards, but in the end, some days I feel like Ichabod Crane surrounded by a bunch of wild little Dutchmen playing crack the whip.

So, why is this a good thing? Because, it makes me feel like a part of something so much larger than myself, or my school, or even my city or country. It makes feel a part of history. Even as a small part, a part that will most likely have no real space in the historical record, I feel comfort in the perpetuation of, perhaps, the greatest development of American democracy, the public school.

I will spare you the political blah, blah, blah. I hate it when schools are turned into political tools by the political tools. I just wanted to tell you that this week, I know exactly why I get out of bed to go to work every morning.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Overcommitted. Is There Another Way to Be?

Recently, I was offered the opportunity to write curriculum for an online learning company. It sounded like a good gig, and they asked me during the summer, so I agreed to contract on for a unit or two. Of course, by the time the ball really got rolling on this project, we were into the school year. Needless to say, it has been hard to find time to get the extra work done.

I am not really worried about it, yet. I have about 9% of the work done, and about eight weeks to do it. As far as my regular school work, I am staying out in front of my planning by about a week, and I have a back log of only three days on my grading (really, that is nothing). So, right now, I am managing.

However, in two weeks, it's time for mid-quarter grades, already! This means I have to make sure that I have some meaningful grades in my grade book by then. Perhaps meaningful is the wrong word. What I mean is, I need to make sure that I have assigned and graded an adequate amount of student work to show a true reflection of student achievement (or lack thereof). Really, this just means I have to assign one more writing assignment in one more class. But, that one assignment might be the tipping point.

The way I figure this, I need to create a topic and a quarter per week for the online folks, and grade at least five sections of writing assignments per week as well. This is extremely doable, and will not add any real extra time to my school work load (which is already 60-plus hours a week). It will add time to my workload, in general, as I steal hours from somewhere to work on the online stuff.

And here is where the problems begin to start, since tomorrow ushers in another season of NFL football. Will I be stealing hours in front of the TV, in order to generate contracted curriculum? Maybe. More likely, I will be in the basement, tapping away at my laptop, while the games play on the TV. Unfortunately, that means the only place for me to steal some time from somewhere is to put a moratorium on yard work. As long as the grass stays brown and the leaves don't fall, I guess that will work out.

Zoinks!

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Good Kind of Tired

After a full week, it seems like we are in full-on school mode. I am pretty beat, today, after a summer of not really pushing myself everyday, the grind of the "waking at 5 and working til 5" week caught up with me about Wednesday.

After Monday, I felt awesome. The day had gone really well, I had accomplished everything that I had planned to accomplish, I was remembering my students' names (mostly) and beginning to make and strengthen connections, I didn't turn the wrong way when I got to the bottom of the stairwell on my way out of school (like I had done every day the week before). It was a good day. Even Tuesday, while not as perfect as Monday, due to my lack of experience with freshmen (truly, the squirrels of the high school world), left me feeling pretty amped. But, by Wednesday, my tail was hanging kind of low. While walking the dogs that evening, I decided I wasn't going to make it to my regular basketball game. I was just too tired. And yesterday, I came home from work and proceeded to fall asleep on the couch for a half an hour.

So, it will take a week or two to build up my stamina again, I guess. But, still, a lot is going well. I am really on top of things as far as planning goes. I am doing a better job of being more explicit about the class objectives with my kiddos. I am leaving work knowing that I am totally prepared for the next day (whereas I am usually fairly prepared and I leave a few things to run off or create in the mornings). Granted, this is just the eighth day of school. It's easy to keep it together for a week. Check back with me in October. But, while I am physically tired, I feel more in control and more sure of myself than I ever have before as a teacher. It's sort of scary. You know, in a good way.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

It Only Took Twenty Years

When I think back on all the crap I learned in high school,
It's a wonder I can think at all.
And though my lack of education hasn't hurt me none,
I can read the writing on the wall.
--Paul Simon, "Kodachrome"

The school stuff (after just a few days) is already catching up with me. Thus my silence this past week. But, I've got my room set up, I've figured out how to get from the car to my room in a direct manner, I can find a bathroom (when I need one), the main office (and my mailbox), the commons, my department offices, the auditorium, and the media center. I haven't visited the second or third floor, but I might wander up there tomorrow. Needless to say, I am doing what I need to do to be ready for next week. Except for actually planning my classes, but anyway....

I am teaching in a new school this year. After three years at my old school, budget constraints forced them to cut my position. Lucky for me, I landed a new job in the same district. So, I have plenty of familiar things to make the transition easier to negotiate. I don't want you to think that this is going to be an easy change for me, but, the more I think on it, the more I figure that it's really not change, so much as it is the continuation of a life trend that began a long time ago.

The biggest change, at least this week, is meeting all of my new colleagues. Having taught at two other schools with faculties of over one hundred people, I know that that may take years, and I may very well retire without meeting everyone. So far, however, so good. I, at least, know my department colleagues by sight, and I could recall all of their names, if you made me. So, you know, that's good.

Another change involves the schedule. My previous school was on a block schedule. Four ninety-minute classes a day. I taught three classes each day, with one plan period, and my class rosters changed every semester. Now, I'll be on a seven period, fifty minute, schedule, with two plan periods. I will generally keep my classes for the entire school year. Actually, this change is not a problem. Prior to moving to Lincoln, I taught a schedule just like this. I won't have much trouble re-adjusting.

Within those five classes, I have two new assignments, this year, English 9 and Composition. This will provide me with countless hours of work to do, so I am grateful for that. I know I will have plenty of assistance in preparing those classes from colleagues who currently teach (and have taught) those classes. I know from experience that teaching a new class is always a bit more stressful than teaching a course you have taught before. Of course, I haven't actually had the pleasure of teaching the same course for more than three years in a row, yet, so I really don't know what it's like to be totally comfortable with a course. I think you need a few more chances to completely screw things up before you get it down pat. Then again, maybe you never get it down pat.

Overall, I am approaching this change with calm. There will be, I am sure, moments of panic, days of doubt, episodes of worry. I may even find myself slumped in a corner at the end of a Friday or two. But, that would happen no matter what. It's teaching, after all. I will continue, as always, to go with the flow.

But I find that my adult life (and I have more than enough years on this side of the divide to call it a representative sample) totally vindicates my youthful resistance to life planning (which I know I've mentioned before). After all, how can you make a five year plan when you find yourself changing things (by choice or otherwise) every three or four years?

Friday, August 06, 2010

Feeding a Passion

Occasionally, in a workshop or a meeting or reading some article somewhere, I'll come across the idea of a "passion." "What is your passion," a presenter may ask. Or a writer might espouse the beauty of her passion in the pages of the latest glossy magazine. I used to think that I didn't have a "passion." I used to think that there were plenty of things I was interested in, but nothing that I was totally crazy about. But, I have since changed my thinking. I realized that, from an early age there were many things that I could potentially point to as a passion. And, the more I thought about it, the longer the list became. I further refined my thinking, realizing that I was listing things that I was merely interested in, such as 19th century American history, rather than those things that were significant enough to my life that I might seriously regret their loss.

Interestingly, as much as I love reading and writing, they didn't make the cut. Don't get me wrong: I love literature. I love writing. But they are somehow not a part of this conversation. Obviously, those things are big parts of who I am as a teacher and as a person. They might even be passions of some sort. But, I have chosen to focus on less obvious parts of me.

I guess I have three things that I might call "passions." Each of them is a thing that I find important to my life in various degrees. Each of them is a thing that I could not do without. The first is food. I am not an amateur gourmet, but I do love to cook. I am not a gourmand, but I do love to eat. I do not have a sensitive palate, but I truly appreciate a splendid meal. I am passionate about food. I grow it. I cook it. I eat it. I appreciate and love it in all of its varieties. I love a well prepared and condimented hot dog just as much as a perfectly prepared and presented filet mignon. I will try anything, in the way of food, no matter how odd it might seem. I read Bon Apetit and Food and Wine. I regret the demise of Gourmet. I eat and talk about food with some of my friends, a lot. So, yes, food is a passion.

My second passion is nature. General, I know, but that is because I couldn't pare this category down from the many possible sub-sets that I had to choose from: hiking, fishing, birding, nature reading, botany, entomology, etc. I have always, since I was a young boy, loved to be outdoors. I especially loved being on the water (which, as many of you know, is an ironic aspect of my personality, since I get sea sick). My first major was biology. I was going to concentrate on marine biology, at first, until I discovered entomology. Of course, then I hit the big brick wall known as organic chemistry, which derailed my scientific ambitions completely. At any rate, I still enjoy a walk in the woods. I am still fascinated by insects and fish. I still have breath-taking moments on new and old trails. I am or have been a member of National Audubon Society, World Wildlife Fund, the Nature Conservancy, the Ocean Conservancy. I am passionate about nature.

Lastly, I am passionate about music. Regular readers know that I write about music quite a bit. I see bands when I can (not as often as I used to), I buy new music I have never heard before regularly (but not as often as I used to), I read about music, and I play music. My first instrument was the drums. Once I moved from my parent's house, however, I had no place for my kit. I sold it. I haven't played since. About four years ago, I bought a guitar and taught myself how to play it. I am still not great shakes, but I can play a dozen chords or so. Recently, I began teaching myself how to play with a slide (it's not as easy as it looks).

This summer, in my quest to keep my brain fresh and my self less complacent, I bought a trumpet. I plan on taking lessons, eventually, since I don't think a trumpet is as easy to self-teach as a guitar, but I don't know when I will start. My plan was to begin this summer, but, since I am back to workshops and meetings already, summer is over. For now, I just content myself practicing the tight-lipped blowing into the mouth piece, trying to make just that one basic sound as pure as possible (again, not so easy). But, musically, I will continue to challenge myself. I don't want to get ahead of myself, but, in a couple of years, I think the violin will be next.

Monday, August 02, 2010

A Very Long Story of Personal Accomplishment (In One Installment)

Monkey and I have always been fond of a quote from Hank Aaron, one of my all-time favorite baseball players. Now, the circumstances of the conversation in which this quote was uttered escape me, but we heard of it in the midst of Barry Bonds' tainted pursuit of Aaron's all-time home run record. As Bonds crept up on Aaron's number, Monkey and I heard of Aaron responding perhaps to questions about the significance of his accomplishment with a simple and direct (and somewhat boastful) line: "The fact is, I hit 755 home runs, and nobody else did."

The perambulations of history notwithstanding, in my heart, I still recognize Hank Aaron as the paragon of home run hitters. Drug-aided or not, what Bonds did was an awesome spectacle. It was amazing and fun to watch, but Hank Aaron's accomplishment seems more real, more legitimate, and, so, I still have him atop my personal list. But, I don't want this to be about baseball (I want it to be about relativism), so, enough about Bonds.

Let's talk about accomplishment. For, in the midst of a summer in which I feel like I have, with little intention, challenged myself emotionally, I managed this week to challenge myself, with slightly more intention, physically and mentally. Forgive me, as I write of this, if I continually pause to make excuses. I will resist the urge. But, I can't seem to keep the seeping "modesty" at bay.

For, in the grand scheme, what happened this week was nothing like hitting 755 home runs when nobody else did. It's more like hitting 100 home runs. Not everybody did it, but enough did to make it not that big a deal. On the other hand, hitting 100 home runs is a pretty awesome thing.

Whatever. Enough metaphor.

We returned this weekend from a long-awaited trip to Estes Park, CO. As we usually do when we are in Colorado, we spent most days in Rocky Mountain National Park, hiking and eating pb & j sandwiches. On this particular trip, we planned to take a two-day hike to the top of Longs Peak, the highest point in the park (14,259 feet), and one of 54 "fourteeners" (14000 foot peaks) in Colorado's Rocky Mountains. The fact that this peak is one of 54 of similar height; along with the fact that it is about the sixty-first highest peak in North America; added to the point that, at 14,259, Longs is about half the size of Everest; and lashed to the approximated statistic that about 200 people summit the peak each summer week is what makes the accomplishment of reaching Longs' summit seem quotidian. However, the fact that deaths occur annually on the mountain, that certain stretches leave one's heart in one's mouth along the hike, and that just as many "climbers" turn back before reaching the peak makes a successful climb seem something of a feather in one's cap.

Whatever. Enough qualification.

On Wednesday morning, we left from the Longs Peak Trail Head, hoping to make our way to our camp site at the Boulderfield before the afternoon rains came. We had hiked this stretch of the park before. Two years ago, we had started from this point in the very early hours, in order to make it to Chasm Lake by sunrise. That magical hike ranks as one of our all-time favorites. The discovery, in the faintest of early morning light, that we were hiking through a large herd of foraging elk, is not the only reason we hold that hike up so high.

This time, it was a far more civilized 9 am as we left. One other remarkable difference included the need for Monkey and I (and our companions, The Twin City Ambassadors, as well) to carry much heavier packs than we usually did. After all, we were camping, not just hiking, so, instead of food, water, and a warm shirt, we needed to carry tents, sleeping bags, and additional important supplies.

In high school, and a few years after, a group of my friends and I were semi-regular Appalachian Trail hikers. We'd drive up to western Maryland, park the car on the side of some small road, strap on some heavily laden external frame packs, and wander off into the woods. That was a long time ago, and my body has lost the custom of walking up the side of a mountain with an extra forty pounds strapped on. Needless to say, I had a few moments of doubt toward the end of our six mile hike in, as my legs quivered with exhaustion over each elevated step.

As often happens, just as I was about to despair, our campsite came into view. A few rocky walls indicated the tent sites at the Boulderfield, which is perched on a plateau just below the approach to the Keyhole, the point at which the more harrowing part of the climb began. Monkey and I set up our tent and awaited the arrival of the other half of our party. They soon arrived, and our camp was complete. Just in time for the almost-daily afternoon storms to arrive.

And arrive they did.
During that first bout of storms, we had heavy rain, we had small hail, we had ripping wind, we had very nearby lightning strikes. Honestly, a thunderstorm on a mountain is nothing to mess with. When it happens, if you are lucky enough to have a campsite, just get in your tent, stay on the ground and ride it out. Which is what we did. Unfortunately, the high winds and hail converged to alter the configuration of the rain fly on our tent. It began to sag on one side, and water began to run down the side of the tent and in between our ground tarp and the floor of our tent. We were getting damp. And there was nothing I could do about it, as the lightning was blasting the summits of Storm Peak and Mount Lady Washington on either side of the Boulderfield. I could do nothing until the rain stopped. Which it eventually did.
After an hour or so, the storms passed, the sky cleared a bit, and we emerged from our tents. We shored up our rain fly, dried our tent floor as much as possible (not much), and heated some water for a bit of a warm dinner. We wandered about the rocks for a while, just to stretch our legs, and wondered at the beauty of the surroundings in the low evening sunlight. The passing thunderstorm had lowered the temperature considerably, and, while I wore my shorts, I donned a fleece jacket and a wool hat. After some post-dinner socializing, we snuggled back into our tents. It was 8pm, and we intended to climb a mountain at 6 the next morning.

Sleep did not come easy, as the hard ground, the damp tent, and the return of wind and rain (which the tent withstood admirably, this time), kept gnawing at my comfort level. Monkey and I dozed fitfully, and as the sun brightened the sky, we emerged, poorly treated by the night.

We donned our day packs (which contained only water and some energy bars) over our rain gear (it was a cloudy morning), and headed off to the Keyhole. One of the Ambassadors stayed at the campsite, never intending to make the summit. The three of us picked our way over large boulders, up to the craggy break in the rock. Once on the other side of the Keyhole, the view down into Glacier Gorge was spectacular. For the first time, we really got a sense of where we were (on the side of a mountain). A few pictures at this spot and we were off along the ledge that traversed the back side of the mountain. Along this section, Monkey got pretty tight. Eventually, she said she didn't want to go on. We left her to return to camp and continued.

We skirted along the side of the mountain and made it to a long climb up a scree field. This was arduous, but not too difficult. However, at the top of the scree, just as you are about to saddle the mountain and make one last upward climb, a large rock blocks your way. As far as I could tell, there were two ways to attack this rock. On the right, the way my companion went, a thin ledge leads away from the rock, switches back, and leaves you to scramble along for about ten feet before you reach a place of relative safety. I tried that, hugging close to the face of the cliff; however, I didn't feel any comfortable hand holds, and withdrew after about a minute of static contemplation (i.e., standing still, doing nothing, deciding whether to retreat or become petrified). The second way, was a straight vertical climb of only ten feet or so, with apparent places for hands and feet, which, at sea level, would seem like nothing. But, with a ten thousand foot drop at your back, you can get a little wiggy. Wiggy or not, up I went, and with nary a slip, made it to the top.

An even more intense climb awaited in the Homestretch, but, for a moment, I allowed myself to bask in the awe of the view into the rising sun from this side of the mountain. Below, Peacock Pool, our campsite, and even the flat lands beyond were awash in the sun (it was about 8:30, by now). It was beautiful, but, as I looked out, I was seized with another bout of fear. I sat on a rock and almost said to Mr. Ambassador, "That's it. I'm done." The last rock had really shaken me, and further evidence of the heights I had reached were assaulting my sense of self-preservation.

"How much farther," I asked.

"About a quarter-mile."

Well, hell, I thought, I am too close now. And on we went.

The Homestretch is quite an end to the ascent. It seems pretty steep, and there are points were you feel like the only thing keeping you from certain death are your thin fingers clutching a crack in a rock and a tentative toe shoved in a crevice. I thought to myself, in alternate moments, "You idiot, what the hell are you doing up here?" and "Holy crap, this is the most awesome thing I have ever done!"

And, just as I came to the realization that the latter is what I should be telling myself, I crawled up one last rock and stood on the large, flat surface of this mountain's peak. Below spanned the world, as far as I could see. Around me a couple dozen like-minded people milled around in the stiff, cold wind. I realized I had just done something I never thought I would do.

It's not the highest mountain in the world. It's not a record-breaking accomplishment. I didn't hit 755 home runs when nobody else did. But I did something that before (and even during) I wasn't sure I could do. I doubted and overcame. And it felt rewarding and amazing, something to be proud of.

Of course, now, I had to get down.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Getting Out of the Sweltering City

In Baltimore, a little way up Harford Road, you'll find Clifton Park. It's on the east side of the road, and stretches all the way over to Belair Road. There's a public golf course, and, nearby, you'll find what used to be called Lake Clifton High School. Clifton Park, if I am not mistaken, used to be the country estate of Johns Hopkins, the man who now has his name on a prestigious university and hospital, and is a well-known patriarch of Charm City. As I understood it, Clifton Park was where the Hopkinses used to retire during the hottest of the summer months, to escape the unpleasantness of the sweltering city. I always found this odd, since Clifton Park really isn't that far away from what would have been the city limits back in Johns' day, but, when you think about it, an August day in Baltimore in the 19th century was probably pretty heinous. Not in the muggy quality (which it certainly possessed), but in the funkiness. I can only imagine that the garbage, the water, the ships, the sailors, all were pretty offensive. So, being hot and sweaty in the middle of a giant park was clearly a respite from the hot and sweaty and stenchy (What? "Stenchy" is not a word?) conditions immediately surrounding a harbor town.

So, in that great tradition (not the philanthropic one, in which I make millions and then found a university, an orphanage, a hospital, and art museum, etc., etc.) Monkey and I are off to escape the dog days on the Plains, the mid-nineties, the high dew points. Our destination is the cool and mountainous Eastern Slope. Colorado, here we come!

We hope to return with a plethora of stories to shock and amaze (or at least entertain), and a multitude of images to share. We hope the weather is better than last year, that our hikes are dryer, and that our spirit remains undaunted by any set backs. We'll communicate with you again when we return. Westward, ho!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Being What You Are

What are you? Are you more prone to identify yourself by some familial relationship (mother, father, brother, sister, aunt), or are you more likely to identify yourself by your profession (teacher, chef, truck driver, manager)? Are you the thing you practice (writer, musician, quilter), or the thing you have nearly perfected (scrap booker, reader, gardener)? Are you all of these things?

Well, of course, you are. That's probably the easiest set of related questions you might ponder today. We all identify ourselves in multiple ways. One of the earliest activities I do with my kiddos is to have them self-identify. They can find it hard, at first, to discover the words to describe themselves. Many use simple adjectives, but, more often, they use labels that correspond to sports, hobbies, and familial connections. It can sometimes be very telling how a person chooses to describe him/her self.

I had an opportunity to describe myself, this weekend. Meeting new people is always a chance to refine how you identify yourself, isn't it? (Or as James would say, "Init?") So, in meeting new people, the chance to define myself as a "musician" and a "writer" came up. In both instances, I was hesitant to do so. My first tag for myself is definitely, "teacher." It is no surprise that I define myself primarily through my work. It is either nature or nurture, but I get that from family...it goes way back. Following that would be "husband." Third might be "dog owner," since that is a pretty big part of my life right now. Maybe I throw in "baseball fan," or "coffee drinker," or "closet Libertarian," at this point, but "writer" and "musician" come way down the list, if they make it at all.

My reticence to self-identify as a writer led to a discussion of what defines a writer. After all, here I am, right now, writing. Thus, I am a writer, right? Well, yes. What is a writer? A person who writes. Do I write? Yes. So, what's the problem? Right.

Same for musician (but, if I had to only choose a label between "writer" and "musician," I am going "writer" every time...I at least feel like a competent writer...I am not a very competent musician). I play music, therefore I am a musician.

But, is there some other aspect of it that causes me this pause when I have to claim a membership in the writer's club? I suppose it is a need to have some one else lend legitimacy to what I am doing. Here I sit at a desk full of folders of my own products. But very few of those creations have been seen by anyone. A few poems sent out (years ago), some even published. A play that was given a public reading. But, most of it is here with me, and, most likely, here it will stay. Writing isn't my means of making a living, and, as I mentioned earlier, that is the primary way that I identify myself. Until I am regularly (or sufficiently) paid to write, I will not be a writer. The more I think about it, the less I like how that sounds.

In a review of Daniel Johnston's newest release, Douglas Wolk said, "There is no valid excuse for not making your art in a world where Daniel Johnston managed to do what he did." I am really taking that to heart. Surely, however, it begs the question of whether art without an audience is art, at all. Which, in a way, is the same thing as the tree falling in the forest. And, again, presupposes that others legitimize you. And I want to get away from that. So, for the sake of my own argument (and personal growth, perhaps), I am going to say that art without an audience, while denying the world an experience, is still art. David is still David when the lights go out at the Academy.

So, yes, I am a writer. I mean, in a way, this whole self-doubt thing is silly, considering that I spend 190 days a year telling kids who hate to write that they ARE writers. And I believe it, but, I wonder if I might be saying the word in a different way. Yes, they are writers, but David Mitchell, he's a WRITER. I don't know. But, if I am, I am doing them a disservice. Because Johnny Grumplepants in the third row and John Irving both do it the same way. One might be better at it. One might be more experienced. But, the act of writing is the act of writing, and when I write, I am a writer, dammit.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Like Getting Married All Over Again

I have written about three versions of what went down this weekend, when the Long Haulers came to visit. Nothing captures what really went down. So, I have decided that, rather than twist in the scrivening wind a fourth time, I will simply give you a bullet pointed version of the weekend.

--Meeting Melissa and Tom on Friday at Bread and Cup was great fun. They seemed really interesting and interested. It was easy and enjoyable to talk to them. I was actually excited about Saturday after meeting them on Friday. (Honestly, I was not super excited before then...it was more like a sort of low-level dread.)

--Saturday morning was one of those "What the %^$# did I get myself into?" mornings. The ease that I felt after Friday had dissipated in the night, and I began to feel a bit nervous again.

--Tom and Melissa had some camera issues on Saturday morning. They arrived later than expected, and while Tom set up in the living room, Monkey and Melissa walked about the house, while Melissa filmed the tour. Then, Monkey and I went out back and did some "everyday stuff," like playing ball with the mutts and reading the paper, for the sake of getting some "couple doing everyday stuff" footage. I picked a tomato. After a little while, that feeling of comfort and well-being returned and the nerves went away.

--The "interview" was great. It went kind of long (multiple hours), but it was awesome to talk with Monkey about us. Something we don't really do that much. We even learned some stuff from years ago that we didn't know about each other...how cool is that?

--The dogs were awesome. Parker bumped the cameras a couple of times, and he may have put a paw on the computer keyboard a few times (I don't think to any detrimental effect), but, for the most part, they just sacked out for the day.

--After the interview, we sat in the dining room and had a beer and just talked about stuff (Truly, even when I lecture all day (which I rarely do) I don't think I talk as much as I talked on Saturday.). Monkey suggested we all go out for dinner again. Tom and Melissa were up for it. We met at Yia Yia's for pizza.

--Dinner Saturday night was great, too.

--Overall, an experience that I didn't really expect to be great turned out to be 100 times more than that. First, it was an extreme pleasure to meet and hang out with two great people. But, even more so, it was so wonderful to spend almost a whole day just focusing on my marriage with Monkey. It occurs to me that talking about our marriage this past Saturday was, in a way, as beautiful and awesome as getting married on that Saturday almost a dozen years ago.

Thanks, Melissa and Tom for both opportunities.

Friday, July 16, 2010

A Dose of Dimness

So, hooray, they may have finally plugged the oil leak. That's great. It really is. But, I just can't get too excited over it. I think I am suffering from too much cynicism. Or maybe it's just reality. I mean, plugging up a deep sea gusher after three months and 200 million gallons is like signing a peace treaty after a mutually destructive global nuclear war. I mean, let the healing begin, sure, but things are so totally fucked, how long is it going to take?

Not to mention that this good news comes at a time when that wacky, wonderful war in Afghanistan (you know, the one that is "Obama's War") is getting more dicey by the day. And....

Look, I am not trying to bum anybody out, but I have been thinking, lately. Perhaps more than usual. Everything is hosed. Everything. There are very few things in this world that I can think of right now, beside the things that I have a direct hand in making or keeping a certain way, that work for me. The small picture stuff: my marriage, my dogs, those things are good. My house is falling apart around me, and my job is sort of undefined, right now, but I can deal with those things. But, all the big picture stuff: economic stuff, big business stuff, energy stuff, conservation stuff, political stuff...all that is just totally off the rails. And I don't know what to do about it.

I can hear the chorus of folks out there saying, "Live a purposeful life. Make the right choices." I see that as being more and more impossible every day. I feel like every time I think I have a handle on some kind of small act, it is co-opted, or I figure out it isn't the good choice I thought it was. And, anyway, it shouldn't be that hard to live a life that doesn't support criminality, amorality, unethical behavior, or the hi-jacking of the planet's genetic code. I can't take it.

In French class, one year in high school, we listened to a French song called "Si j'etais presidente (If I were president)" I don't remember any of the lyrics (except the title line from the chorus), but the gist of it was that this singer would make the country and the world into his ideal if he had the power. We had to write our own version. Since it was in French, and I was an average student of the language, at best, I am certain that Ms. Butcher doesn't have my lyrics in a portfolio of excellent student work somewhere in her files marked "Baltimore Polytechnic Institute (1980s)." But, I know I didn't take the assignment that seriously, anyway. I just wanted to make sure I used at least 70% of my vocabulary words correctly, therefore ensuring a grade of C. What I would really do...well, that didn't really enter into it.

I wonder what our current leader would write (in English), if he were posed with this assignment? I think we had some idea that some change was coming. Well, some change has come, most notably in the form of a new Health Care Bill, soon to be making its way into reality. But, it is and will continue to be molded, watered down, and hacked away at by pharmaceutical companies (especially the two with revenues in excess of $60 billion) and insurance lobbyists and other special interest groups until it doesn't do anything but waste money, time, and people. What else?

I guess that might be another reason why I feel so defeated, right now. I guess I was expecting more from BO. Instead, I just see a smarter version of the same dumb shit: poor response to a Gulf disaster and floundering policies in the middle east. I know that he is not single-handedly responsible for these things, but he has to take the heat as much as his predecessor. It just makes me wonder: are we so far down the road that we can't get turned around and onto a better track?

But, what would I do, si j'etais presidente? I guess it doesn't matter. It's never going to happen. And, even if it did, any efforts I made to create my vision would be thwarted by everyone who has even a tiny bit of power, money, and influence. They'd want to keep that power, that money, that influence. Who wouldn't? But, aaaargh, the world as it is is so ridiculously messed up. In so many ways. What can we do? What can I do? You know, besides move to Canada, eh?

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Stuck Between Stations

In the dull morning light at the edge of town, Holly lifted the blinds and sighed. Out the window, the rain had doused the street trash and left it running in the gutter. Her face held the reflected gloom in the wrinkled corners of her eyes and the crags that traced her jowls from mouth's edge to chin. She hacked. She coughed. She got up out of the bed.

She'd had a rough time of it the last couple of years: hospital trips, living in a tent down by the river, being born again (and lost, again), reeling in the years. It seemed like every time she had her cob-webby head above water, bobbing in sight of dry land, some eddy or rip tide would suck her down and drag her back out to sea.

The soundtrack of her life had been little stories of hoodrats and soccer punks, drug dealers, massive nights, and a multitude of casualties. Power chords, key board riffs, and some Kerouac-cum-Randy Newman-sounding dude chattering away and snapping his fingers like a four year-old on speed. It was no kind of soundtrack for a forty year-old. Hell, it was no kind of life, either.

But, lately, something was missing. The spastic energy of her life to this point was bearable, even enjoyable (dim and dangerous, yes, but hella fun), but for the last year or so, something was akilter. Some kind of yin was missing from her yang. Some sort of ipso was no longer a part of her facto. Some manner of tic was not accompanying her toc. The shape was there. The word was there. The sound was there. But it had a different tenor, a new tone, a subtly altered hue.

Last night, that band had played, The Hold Steady. Sounded good. Rocked and rolled in all the right places. Payed its dues with sweat. But where was that other guy, this time? The buttoned-up, mustachioed fellow in the flat cap and suit vest, swigging red wine right from the bottle and zipping his digits over the keyboard like he'd been born behind a Hammond organ? Sure, they had a keyboard player, now relegated to the back of the stage and playing riffs he never invented, but that front-man energy was missing from the stage. That energy that acted as a balance to the lead singer's pogo-stick energy--a balance to the talky-singer's white tennis shoes, his ephemeral, and strangely uncoordinated, stadium rock pose--was not there. The music, it all sounded right. But the vibe, the vibe was off.

It's funny how that happens. You take something away, and you think you can replace it. Hell, for the most part, you do replace it. But something is forever changed. Something you can't even imagine becomes something else (and you might not even notice it IS something else). Like that time, down by the banks of the Mississippi River, when she woke up bathed in a hot soft light....

Monday, July 05, 2010

Thank You, China, For Your Explosive Technology


I never grew up with the fireworks tradition. Yes, we'd have a Fourth of July cook out every year. We'd swim and eat hot dogs and potato salad. Sometimes, we'd go to a parade. Sometimes, we'd make our way to Fullerton for some professional displays of glowing metal and gun powder flares. A couple of years, someone would even procure some bottle rockets or fire crackers and light a few off in the backyard. Where Monkey and I come from, however, fireworks are verboten. There are no stands, no tents, no sales. You buy sparklers at the grocery store, if you want, but you are not buying, or legally lighting anything else, in the Old Line State. As a result, July 4 is a holiday that troubles me. Certain aspects of it, at least. I expect, here in the corn belt, where they celebrate America's independence with an orgy of flaring paper tubes and exploding sticks, that someone will either be seriously injured, or that someone will set a car or house on fire. Don't mistake me, I am all for celebrating our nation's independence from the "bad king" (as a friend of ours' four year-old once put it), but I had a few moments of fear and loathing last night, once the rain stopped and the sun went down.

It has been mentioned here before that our oldest dog, Ripken, is a bit on the skittish side when it comes to noise. A rattle of pots in the cupboard will send him bolting for the living room, head down and tail between his legs. It makes it easy to distract him if he ever does anything wrong. All I have to do is raise my voice, and he immediately stops doing anything. This is only a problem when I am correcting Parker, the puppy, since Ripken is then the one who immediately goes into "submissive" mode. If only Parker were as quick to get the message, but he'll learn.

As a result of this skittishness, Ripken hates hates hates the 4th of July. For him, it's three days of scary noises which cause him to hold all bodily functions until the coast is clear. It can't be healthy. He's been this way since as long as Monkey and I remember, and neither of us can think of what might have caused this personality trait in our handsome old boy.

Yesterday, the actual Fourth, was of course, expected to be the pinnacle of bangs and booms, of high pitched rocket whine and foundation-shaking shell bursts. We held out hope, however, that it wouldn't be too bad. The previous two days had been acceptable, as far as the volume and density of explosives-related noise in the general vicinity. On top of that, it was raining heavily from the early AM hours, and the forecast was for unrelenting rain and storms all day. Surely, that would put a damper on the fireworks, we thought. Ripken would be able to spend a wet, but anxiety-free holiday for once.

Unfortunately, around four in the afternoon, the rain broke, and by seven PM, the sun was out. Like roaches in the dark, the pyros filled the streets almost the minute the last raindrop fell. As a result, our after-dinner walk was curtailed, as nearly every corner in our little neighborhood was stationed by an army of children and adults with that wild red-eyed look they get when shit is blowing up.

Truth be told, Money and I had an invitation to a party, so we snuck out for a few hours. We left the stereo playing for Ripken (he spends the loudest parts of the fourth in our relatively sound-proof basement), and could tell by Parker's behavior to this point that his time in the crate would have no detrimental effect upon him...he is, to this point, fearless to a point of stupidity.

At the party, as the sun began to set, boxes and bags, crates and truck beds full of fireworks appeared. In the cul de sac on which our party was being held, a seeming free-for-all of children and "supervising" adults were firing off every kind of air- and ground-based entertainment explosive that could be bought, smuggled, or finagled from the various tents and stands around town. Who was I to complain? Part of the tradition of the holiday is the lighting off of fireworks, and IT IS LEGAL in our town to shoot fireworks on July 3 and 4, until midnight. If it's legal, then okay.

But, honestly, it's still annoying. Especially when Monkey and I arrived home at 9:30 to find our entire street engulfed in gun smoke, and populated with cars and people there to watch the fireworks at the country club down the street and to explode the rest of their soon-to-be-illegal stash. The video above is from the street right outside the Monkey House. It doesn't capture the scene as it truly was. The sounds in the background, while difficult to hear throughout the video, were constant and everywhere. The pall of smoke, visible in the streetlight's glow, was more prevalent, in truth.

The funny thing that dawned on me this morning: all of this mayhem (welcome to the war zone, it seemed) is legal (albeit for two days) just outside my front door, but I have to keep my chickens fifty feet away from your house? My chickens are not going to explode and set your roof on fire, are they?

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Hey, Woody and Buzz, Come Fix My Roof!

Don't let the rain come down
My roof's got a hole in it and I might drown.
--Serendipity Singers, "Don't Let the Rain Come Down"

Sometimes, a forty-one year old man can fool himself into thinking he is still a kid. It doesn't last for long, but there are those moments: the first day of vacation, an unexpected bout of inclement weather that keeps him from work, an exceptional ice cream cone on a hot day. These moments are quite valued, even by the most cynical and serious among us. Even a dour old coot like Ebeneezer Scrooge had a little bit of the child hidden deep within his Grinchy heart (an oddly mixed, seasonally inappropriate analogy, but, like a petulant six year old, I don't care).

Yesterday, Monkey and I went to see Toy Story 3 (2d). It was a wonderful, sentimental, exciting story, as you might expect. Disney's involvement notwithstanding, I enjoyed the film, and was even, perhaps, a bit touched by the picture's more maudlin moments. Afterward, we walked a few blocks to a favorite ice cream shop (where Monkey is apparently a Facebook celebrity (or nuisance...I couldn't exactly tell)), and spent an exquisite ten minutes sitting on a bench in the Haymarket, eating Peanut Butter Marshmallow and Pumpkin Praline sugar cones. The day was rather pleasant temperature-wise, which made the sitting outside all the more enjoyable, and, even on break, the sense of decadence brought about by a movie and an ice cream cone enjoyed on a Tuesday afternoon is undeniable and awesome.

But, days like today conspire to remind one that thirteen was a long time ago, and real life is always just around the corner to smack him into adulthood. During a recent spat of late Spring/early Summer rain, it was made clear that our roof has lost its integrity. There are three obvious spots (all on the first floor) where water has gotten into the house. Two of those three spots are brownish water spots, which, given much more opportunity (i.e., more rain) might develop into actual into-the-living-room drippers. The problem of pooled water above our heads notwithstanding, I am glad that these spots did not actively leak into our house. It saved us some pandemonium. However, there is a spot on the kitchen that left a bit of splish-splash on the floor. And, I am grateful for that. It convinced Monkey and I that we shouldn't wait any longer. We contacted a roofer for an estimate today. (Yeah, I know, we waited a bit longer...well....)

This is when the adult world really sucks, of course. A roof is going to cost a lot of money. And Monkey and I were just congratulating ourselves on the fact that we had been doing such a good job of setting aside money to put in the savings account every month. This isn't exactly why we were socking cash away, but I am glad we have it when we need it.

Now, to protest the ensuing five figure price tag that I am anticipating, I am going to go eat a Popsicle and submerge my feet in a kiddy pool. Anybody wanna come over?

***Grammar Note:
The word "popsicle" is capitalized. It is a brand name of a kind of ice pop. In the same way that Band-Aid and Kleenex are brand names that have been adopted as the general name of the product that they refer to, so Popsicle. I did not know that.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Our First Ride


I took another lengthy ride last week, from our house, out east about 45 blocks, then north for several miles, then further east on the out of town extension of the trail that I had ridden earlier in the week when I was finding my way to my new school. I rode back home on the same trail I rode back on earlier in the week, too. The round trip was about twenty-six miles, I think, as I basically did a loop around town, with a little out and back spur through the eastern country side. But that was not the best ride I took last week.

My favorite ride of the week (and maybe forever), was a forty minute pedal through the neighborhood with Monkey. She just bought her first bike, and this was our first ride together. Not only was she on her first bike, but she was basically on her first bike ride! She just learned how to ride last summer, and is now confident enough to have bought a bike and to take it out for a spin. A courageous act, for sure.

But, it was so much fun to just tool around, with no particular place to go, with my favorite riding companion in the whole world. Hooray, Monkey!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

A Bike Commute Quandary


Monday, after the morning gully washer had passed, after some R and R with the dogs, after soccer, lunch, and other trivial pursuits, I decided to pedal my wait out to my new work environment to see what the best way to bike there might be. Perusals of maps determined that it was possible to get from here to there using commuter trails, rather than on road routes, but the situation on the ground is always a little different than it is on the map, ain't it?

My new place of business is in the opposite diagonal corner of town, and at least twice as far. That alone will be a change that I am not looking forward to. In CoMO, my commute was ten minutes (on a bike). I was literally, around the corner from work. My last position here in Lincoln was about twenty-five minutes. I knew that I was looking at at least forty-five minutes of ride time, but I needed to know what kind of ride it was going to be.

In order to stay on trails, I had to ride away from my destination in order to pick up the trail that would take me the way I wanted to go. As far as I can figure it, there really isn't an equally safe, more direct way to go, so I am spending the extra time to ensure my own well-being. This trail, however, basically becomes a wide sidewalk just before it passes a major thoroughfare, leaving me to wait for the crosswalk. This is the same as waiting for a light, so no problem there, but I don't like riding on the sidewalk. That's not a trail, in my opinion, but I understand the dual-use idea makes all trails walks of some sort. I guess I just need to get over it.

Once over the major thoroughfare, the "trail" winds its way along a newly developed (and still being constructed) road with a trail beside it. At this point, the first trail connects to the second trail that takes me in an easterly direction (before that I was headed north-west), however, on the ground, the trails are not marked at all. There are the occasional arrows on the ground, but at this point on this ride, those arrows were few and far between. By the time I came (for the second time) to another major thoroughfare (one I would be crossing in the opposite direction from the one I had already crossed it earlier), I didn't know if I was on the trail, or just riding on a random sidewalk.

I looked to the south and realized I had been on a random sidewalk. There, a giant yellow sign with a bike on it indicated the trail crossing. Ironically, from a safety standpoint, there is no light at the trail crossing, but there is one at the random sidewalk...hmmmmm. I crossed at the trail and continued on my way.

My detours not withstanding, this was a nice trail. Wide, clearly marked, and lacking much in the way of hills. There were quite a few road crossings, but most of the roads were residential and not busy. I made my way east, until I came to another weird intersection and found myself crossing 66th Street. I was looking for 63rd. I must have missed it.

I rode up 66th, looking for a place to backtrack, and when I did, I easily found 63rd. My powers of subtraction are impeccable...up to three digits. I also noticed an apartment complex I had already pedaled through and marked that as a short cut back to my trail, since, now, I was leaving the trail and heading straight out 63rd.

I had to cross a few busy streets along this last leg, but nothing too hairy. A few hills on this little street were tough, especially in the heat of the day, but I managed. Once I arrived at my school, I had been traveling (not counting for back tracks, detours, water breaks, etc.) for exactly one hour. That's a long haul to make every day.

The ride back was quicker by about eight minutes, since I had a better idea of where I was going, but a fifty-two minute commute is one I don't know if I can make everyday. I don't know, yet. But, right now, I am leaning toward biking twice a week. Of course, I really enjoy biking to work, so I may just go all in. But a one hour ride, for me to be mentally ready for school everyday at first bell, means I have strive to be in the saddle at 5:45 every morning (which realistically means 6). That's awfully early, my friends.

--bike image taken from Biking Buck

Monday, June 21, 2010

Consolation Prize

What a weekend of camaraderie, sportsmanship (poor and otherwise), local travel, and frustration we had here at Central Standard. Our foray into the world of competitive rec league basketball left us with a realization that we really aren't as quick as we used to be, our Monkey is a good sport, and I play ball with a swell bunch of guys.

Saturday's first game, against a team of sub-21 year olds, was competitive for the first half, but young legs outlasted old (and no one was pantsed), and the wiser of the two teams lost by double digits. My legs and back held up, but our predicament was most likely summed up by one of our guards, who said to the opposing guard (and it was true), "I played against your dad in high school." It was disheartening, as well, when Monkey (a spectator at all three Saturday games) pointed out that any member of our team was old enough to have fathered any member of their team. Ick.

For game two, at 11:30, we had to drive to another high school gym. We played five games over the weekend, at three different venues. Fortunately, all of Saturday's games were nearby the Monkey House. The team we played for game two was not as young as our first opponents. They had at least a few players in their mid-20s. But, they were also faster and taller. Two players on this team were nearly a foot taller than any of our oldsters. Put those two things together, and you get a beat down. We lost by about thirty in the second game. We didn't even score until about ten minutes had elapsed. It was not pretty.

With what could be construed as mercy, we were not scheduled to play another game until 5:30. We were able to take a break, eat some lunch, help some friends move some furniture, and get some new socks, before heading back to play the first game of the 3rd place games. We had gone 0-2 in our pool, so we were seeded third in our pool and were slated to play a 3 seed from another pool. This was by far the most exciting game we played, not because of the competitiveness of the two teams, but because the team we played was full of whiners, cry babies, poor sports, and total dicks.

It began after a few minutes, with the old guys holding a slight lead. The opposition started arguing with each other. Then they began complaining to the refs that we were pushing them too much under the basket. They protested every call. They protested every non-call. They never shut up. We had them rattled, for sure.

One player in particular, in UCLA shorts and wearing some kind of new-fangled do rag, was particularly violent in his play. He first elbowed one of our best shooters, drawing blood and swelling his cheek. Our injured shooter was out of the game, and was unable to play the rest of the weekend. UCLA's next foul was on a three-point shot. As our old man released the ball, UCLA gave him a shot to the ribs. Our player took offense to that and flipped off the kid. I am not condoning such behavior, but such actions just shows the uncalled-for nature of this foul. Maybe the elbow was an accident, but a shot to the ribs on a jumper is not accident. The angry youth followed that up by tackling an old guy after losing a rebound. Our bench called for an ejection or a flagrant foul. Their bench continued to woof, and they were assessed a technical foul. While our player shot his fouls, the other team stood at mid-court and yelled at him. Good sports, huh?

When the game was over, we had taken their best shot (literally) and had won. It was a bittersweet victory. It was good to win, but I, personally, hated playing them. After the game, all but two of their players refused to come out and shake our hands. Two of our players got into a shouting match with their bench. I tried to drag our players away, but they wanted to beef, so I got out of their way. Nothing came of it, thank goodness, but I felt a bit embarrassed by our players, as they descended to the opposing team's immaturity. After all, we were the more mature team. I wanted us to act like it. Alas, all's well that ends well, eh?

Sunday, we found out that we would play two games. One game at 10:30, and then another at 11:30 if we won. The 11:30 game would be for the Bracket Three gold medal. Our first game started much later than 10:30, due to the pace of the two games played before ours. The trouble with that was that we had a 12:15 game scheduled with the other over-35 team to decide the medal for that bracket.

After a flurry of emails from our team organizers, the CSG powers that be decided to let us play out our original bracket. Of course, if we won our first game, we were going to stay and play our 11:30 game and forfeit the other, but we were worried that a late start would leave us unable to make a 12:15 game if we lost. Our focus, however was on the matter at hand. We had a game to play some time soon.

Once we got under way, we could tell that we were going to be able to run with our morning opponents. That had a mix of older and younger players (some of their guys could have qualified for our team, I think), but they had one whippersnapper who was quick and could shoot. We played a zone defense to eliminate his ability to cut to the basket, and we hit a few shots ourselves (even I hit a three). The game came down to free throws. We missed ours and they made theirs. As our last desperate three sailed past the rim, the buzzer sounded and we had lost 45-43. It was noon. We were at least twenty minutes away from the gym where we were supposed to play our amis ancien. The organizer at the site came over and told us that the other team and the refs would wait for us. We gathered up our stuff and hit the road, driving (basically) from one end of town to the other.

This final game was the most enjoyable game we played. The pace was more to our liking (i.e., slower), the opponents were adequate sportsmen (we were slapping each others' hands as we walked back and forth to the locker room at half time; we congratulated the opposition on good play), and we all took the game seriously, but not too seriously. In the end, after our old guys held the lead for the first thirty minutes, their old guys made a run that we couldn't answer. We got as close a three points with a minute to play, but we came up short at the end.

And, so, after going 1-4 over the weekend, we walked away with a silver medal. Not bad to have something to show for an exciting, at times frustrating, but, overall, excellent weekend of basketball. ATR's stat line for the weekend: points: 5; shots: 7; shots made: 2; shooting %: .287; 3pt shots: 3; three point shots made: 1; 3pt %: .333. Don't worry, I am not quitting my day job.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Age and Treachery

I play basketball a couple nights a week with some guys in a tiny gym that is part of a local church. It is not a full size court, by any means. As a matter of fact, it is most likely smaller than the small court I used to play ball on down in the bowels of the Columbia Daily Tribune complex. The guys I play with are as misfit as the court on which we play. We have an age range from late teens to early fifties. We have a skill range from non-athlete to former prep star. What is similar amongst us all, is that no one gets too worked up about the games we play, and everybody plays fair (within the bounds of a pick up basketball game...there are some ways to circumnavigate the rules that are as time honored as peach baskets and the movie Hoosiers).

This weekend, a group of the over-35 guys are playing in the Cornhusker State Games. We run our first game at 8:30 in the morning. Yes, EIGHT THIRTY IN THE FREAKING MORNING. However, that's no worse than when we used to play softball games that used to start at 10:30 PM. Remember that?

Yesterday, our "coach" (the guy who registered the team (who is in Florida this weekend, and most likely won't even play in a game with us)) sent out an email telling us that we were mixed in with the over-19 age bracket. Why? Because they only had two over-35 teams sign up. So, as a result, instead of playing some old-timers league games with some equally slow guys who used to wear parachute pants, we now are expected to run (regulation-sized courts, mind you) with caterpillar-lipped boys who think Vanilla Ice is something you use to "ice your bros."

Are we bugged by this misrepresentation of our expected competition by the Cornhusker State Games? Well, I am. However, as you know, I will not back down from a challenge. As a matter of fact, I make them up for myself, sometimes. (Wait til I tell you what I bought today....) So, tomorrow morning, I am going to arrive at the Lincoln High gymnasium, with a backpack full of IcyHot, and the will to show some bad-ass kid who's been buying his own cigarettes for six months, that we old guys might not be at our physical peak, but that our years have honed our "skills" to a razor's edge, and that we might know a little Harlem Globetrotters trick or two (Is pantsing a foul?). The old saw: "Age and treachery will over come youth and enthusiasm" may never be truer than tomorrow. On the other hand, there is also the adage that says: "If you can't catch them on the fast break, you might as well pack it in." I'm expecting NOT to be packing it in.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Sitting Still

In 2006, Monkey and I spent part of June in Maine. In 2007, Monkey and I spent part of June moving from CoMO to Lincoln. In 2008, Monkey and I spent part of Jun in Italy. Last year, Monkey and I spent part of June in OCMD. This year, we aren't going anywhere.

For the most, we are staying put this month due to our new puppy. We will be heading to Colorado at the end of July, but, right now, we think he's a little too young to be left in the care of someone else (especially if he'd be around strange dogs). This is, after all, his formative period, and we wanted to be here to form him, of course.

It's fine by me to be keeping close to home. I find plenty on the old homestead to keep me busy, including reading (of which I have done too little, so far). Add to that that World Cup eating up anywhere from an hour to six of any given day, I am perfectly content to be here.

In a way, however, I am traveling. After three years teaching at my school, my position was cut due to budget tightening. As a result, I spent several weeks this past semester interviewing with other schools in the district who, due to transfers, resignations, retirements, etc., had openings. Lucky for me, a high school position was available, and I was offered it. So, I am moving to a new school next year. I am still in the LPS district, so I keep all of my seniority and such, but I still had to pack everything up and store it here until I can get into my new location.

It is frustrating to lose a position for such arbitrary reasons, but I feel fortunate that I didn't get laid off and left to fend for a new job in a completely new district. That would have really been tough. I am, to some extent, looking forward to the excitement of a new school and new classes.

Yet, staying in one job for a while wouldn't have been bad, either. That seems to be something I haven't done for a long time. And, now that I think about it, the last time I was in the same job for a long time (ten plus years), I kind of grew to hate it.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Out of Retirement

I have always been a Brett Favre fan. He's always been an exciting football player, he seems to do a lot of good work for charity, he seems to be a decent husband and father. He just doesn't know when to quit. Apparently, I don't either.

In the two months plus that I have been un-CS, I have felt something has been missing in my life. And, darn it, a lot has happened in those two months that I could have been writing about. For awhile there, I just felt like I had no voice, no direction. Now, I feel like I need to get back to keeping track of even the most inane things that happen in my life.

I hope to keep from making a "will he or won't he" spectacle of my life every few months. That's not what I am about, and most likely, nobody will really pay that much attention to li'l ol' me. But, I think I need to keep this going.

You are welcome to come along, if you wish.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Central Standard Time Winds Down

This is it. The last post at Central Standard. It's time to retire this little bastard journal of my life, times, and mind.

But, I am not done with blogging. I am just shifting gears, and focusing my recording on a new development in my life (and Monkey's, too). In a few weeks, we will be bringing home a new puppy. He is already named: Parker. So, I have decided, in the tradition of many others before me, to keep a record of the growth and training of our soon-to-be newest addition.

That blog will be found here. Hope to see you there!

Monday, March 01, 2010

The One

Every year at True/False, Monkey and I immerse ourselves in the doc film world. Ten to twelve movies each festival give us plenty to think about afterward. Each year we try to determine which films we liked most and least. Sometimes we disagree. This year, we are in total agreement.

Of course, to say one film was the "best" is perhaps incorrect, or, at best, imprecise. Each of the films was excellent in its own way, and, paradoxically, the one film we both ranked as our favorite is probably the one we'd be least likely to want to see again.

Restrepo was the most moving, intense, awful, amazing film we saw. It deals with a unit in a most dangerous front line position in Afghanistan. As a piece of journalism, it follows a long tradition of front line reporting, but it is told by the soldiers, and effectively interspersed with interviews done several weeks or months after the soldiers had finished their deployments. This gives the film a sense of immediacy and thoughtfulness, as the men who experience what you are witnessing then reflect back upon it. It is haunting and heartbreaking. It is an awesome piece of film, and terrible in its beauty. I recommend it to everyone, not because you need to be entertained by this film, but because you need to be enlightened by it.

Friday, February 26, 2010

True/False Before the Madness

Monkey and I met Uncle Joe for sushi last night. It was awesome. Not only was hanging with the biggest dog lover in Missouri (if not the world) a great joy, but the sushi at Osaka was top notch. It made all of the rushing around yesterday in order to get out of town by 4pm worth it. Once again, comoprozac and RAD are being kind enough to put us up for the weekend.

It's pretty busy around (The District). T/F volunteers are ubiquitous, and there seems to be an anticipatory buzz in the air. Also in the air is a bit of warmth that I have not experienced since before December. It is nice to be in a place that doesn't have six inches of snow and ice on the ground, a place where the sun actually seems to warm the air.

In a few hours, we will be meeting up with some old friends for a beverage, before making our way to Monkey's favorite Indian restaurant. After that, we have the opening night film, and another after that. Then, it's really on!

I am looking forward to it.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Downfall of Falling Down

I haven't watched much of the Winter Olympics this time around. I've sen a curling match here and there, and Monkey and I did watch most of the ice dancing, but I don't think I have sat down and watched a whole evening's worth of programming on NBC since the opening ceremony. I did get the opportunity to watch some ski jumping a few days back, and I have watched just a few minutes of half pipe. And those two things together got me to thinking.

When I was just cutting my teeth on the Winter Olympics, the Lake Placid games of 1980, I remember watching some ski jumpers and thinking they were pretty cool. In 1984, at Sarajevo, I was even more enthralled. I could have watched those daredevils slide down that giant ramp and fly off into the ski to make a perfect knee down landing for hours. And I did.

But, as the Eighties moved into the Nineties, the sport of snow boarding began to pick up steam. It's popularity bloomed through the last part of the twentieth century until, today, it (and other extreme sports) seems to be surpassing many traditional winter games in popularity. And, nowadays, when I watch a long-haired kid rocket up off of the side of a cliff and do a multiple rotation multiple flip, it fills me with amazement. So much so that now, watching ski jumping seems staid. I find myself wishing that those Austrian snow birds would not only soar a hundred and forty meters, but do a half gainer on top of that.

Sadly, the thrill is gone for me and ski jumping. We will most likely part ways. Now, I hope those crazy kids don't find a way to ruin the biatholon.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Ratcheting Up the Nerd Factor

I know you all think I am the epitome of cool. The general consensus is that I am as trendy as they come, as hip as hip can be, as cool as the inside of Prince Pucklers in August. But, really, I am not.

Case in point: I love doing crossword puzzles. Honestly, give me a whole day with nothing to do and a stack o' crosswords and I am a happy man. I will ignore food, sleep, and bodily functions if I get into the right crossword mind frame. Nothing makes me happier than ripping through an NYT Friday puzzle. I don't always succeed, but I enjoy the challenge. (And, I can finish more than half of them.) Clearly, I am no championship caliber crossworder, but I am pretty good at filling them in.

Lately, however, I may have taken it to another level. Not only am I filling in at least one crossword a day (sometimes more, if I can find the time), but I have taken to reading Rex Parker's Crossword Blog (after I finish a puzzle).

So, as you can see, I am the opposite of cool. I am a total nerd. But, maybe you already knew that?

It doesn't matter. I'm cool with it.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Magic Begins Again

Alright, I'll admit it, I am a sucker. Today is an excellent day on my annual calendar, as Spring Training begins for my old hometown ball team, the Baltimore Orioles. Another sign that spring is soon to arrive has been reached, as the tradition of Spring Training leads into the anticipation of Opening Day, a sign, itself, of summer's impending arrival. I am sure I am not the only person who finds some joy and solace in this annual occurrence, yet I still feel like a sucker.

I feel like a sucker because Mark McGwire is now a coach with the St. Louis Cardinals. I feel like a sucker because guys who won fewer games than they lost last year were awarded with multi-million dollar contracts. I feel like a sucker because the Orioles will most likely finish this season just as far out of the running as they have in each of the last dozen years. I feel like a sucker because I know I care far more about those 25 strangers than they ever will or can about this one.

But, you know what? I don't mind feeling like a sucker in this case, because, maybe it's not a sucker that I feel like. It's more like a kid. I feel like a kid, who wants to oil up his glove and toss the ball around, a kid who wants to watch the big guys take on the best ball players in the world, a kid who thinks, "Maybe this will be the year."

And that's okay.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Where The %^$# Did That Come From?

Weirdness here in the Plains, yesterday. About 9am or so, we started getting some snow. A few hours later, the snow shower was over, and we had about two inches or less on the ground. And then, the wind really kicked up, blowing in gusts of 40 mph or more. The Interstate was closed due to white out conditions, and multi-car wrecks of up to thirty cars occurred on highways all over the state. Last I heard, over the last twenty-four hours, a least a half dozen people were killed or seriously injured in accidents, or mishaps immediately following accidents. One poor soul was struck by a vehicle while walking away from his own rollover accident. Total mayhem.

It's really a bizarre occurrence, an unexpected pocket of blizzard-like weather after a small amount of snow fall. But it is a grim reminder to respect the weather. Not that we need any more reminders, after hurricanes, tsunamis, tornadoes, etc., but sometimes, we don't take this kind of weather seriously. Most of us probably think that being really affected by a blizzard (beside running out of milk and bread and toilet paper) is soooo 19th century. But it's not.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

So Real and So True

When we pass each other in the halls, sometimes we teachers, as most folks do, ask each other how its going. You know, a time honored way of acknowledging each others' being as we move through the atmosphere. Sometimes, we might respond, "Living the dream!" Of course, we are being facetious, to some extent, right? Is this the dream? Is this the life we imagined for ourselves? I guess it depends.

As a young child, if you asked me my dream, I suppose it would most likely have involved being a pirate captain. Nowadays, except for a relatively small and remote part of the globe, just off of the eastern coast of Africa, piracy is a pretty dead career choice. Okay, in any time period and any place, piracy was a pretty dead career choice. Literally. But, let us continue.

As a youngster, my idea of piracy was Captain Hook, and Treasure Island. A Romantic version of pirates, with sailing ships and cannon balls, grape shot and crow's nests, and navigating by dead reckoning and the starry night sky--with a few sword fights thrown in. That most definitely is a "ship on the horizon" dream in every way. The dreamer is never going to get there.

As I grew older, my late teens, my dreams shifted from pirates to science. But, still, I remained at sea; my dream became a career in marine biology. Okay, wait--that's wrong. My actual dream involved living on a South Pacific island (preferably one that hadn't been nuked, but I wouldn't be too picky), eating fish and crab everyday and playing guitar around a beach campfire every night. I'd live in a modest little wooden shack. I'd drink water from a stream. I'd have a dog. I never imagined other people there. Go figure, a recluse's dream. And, most certainly, another "horizon" dream. More possible than piracy, perhaps, but still pretty impractical. The marine biology thing was probably just a fall back.

But, as most of you know, any dream of the sea was an impossibility for me, due to my inability to keep myself from getting ill once I leave solid ground. Boy, is that just an ironic tragedy? Or, maybe, just more of life's absurdity. (Cue the circus music and enter Pere Ubu.)

But how did I get from there to here? How does anybody? Follow point A to point B and repeat...and here I am. Does it have anything to do with dreams? Only insomuch (which could be all) as de la Barca posited. Life is the dream. Or a dream among many possible dreams. Which gets me to thinking about the multiverse. So, I am going to stop now.

Sweet dreams.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Reading Sign

Woke this morning to new snowfall. Nothing like recent big storms in other parts of our nation, but still another in a long stretch of frozen water torture. On the drive home this morning, the temperature was reported as seven degrees. Old Man Winter and Mother Nature have certainly teamed up to put the screws to a large portion of the land since December. Folks around these parts (as I have told you before) are desperately looking for a change in the weather.

Well, it's not coming any time soon. Those are the facts. The calendar says we have to make it through February and March (the whole thing, around here). That's a long row to hoe, yo. But, there is hope.

As I listened to the monotonous forecast of windchill advisory and chance of snow and ten below and all that Cold Miser-type crap, I looked up into the pale blue of the dimming Nebraska sky. There, in three separate squadrons, flew chevrons of Canada geese, heading in a roughly northwesterly direction. A first sign that a change is gonna come. It will just be a long time coming.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

When Will Buddy Holly Be Coming On?

While the East Coast got hammered with Biblical amounts of snow this weekend (which apparently most denizens of the region seemed to enjoy, according to an unscientific anecdotal study), we here in CS land got anything ranging from four inches of really wet snow to "janky" gray slush (sorry BE). Emotions here are ranging from angry disappointment to angry weariness. We here in Cornopolis have really had enough.

But, even as more fluffy white evil falls from the gray Nebraska skies, we look forward to paying little attention to the out of doors this evening, and enjoying a rousing (non-denominational) American football contest. The contest will also include a halftime performance by half of a legendary (read really kinda old) rock group who probably have never even seen a game of American Football. Yes, The Who will be performing at halftime.

Now, I don't mind that a band whose musical relevance passed into legend thirty years ago is performing on network television. That is almost to be expected in Prime Time. And, really, such performances are often quite enjoyable. Look at Bruce Springsteen's performance last year (admittedly, the Boss is arguably more currently relevant than The Who)--that was a good one. Was it last year? I can't remember. Any way, my point is--and this is a point I have made before--that, as I see it, this isn't just an irrelevant dinosaur from eons past. It's not even the dinosaur they are claiming it is.

I might go so far as to claim that this particular band of hard rocking Brits ended with the death of their ferociously insane imp of a drummer, Keith Moon, in 1978. But, I will give them a bit of wiggle room, since even they realized (after four years and two albums with Kenny Jones) that they were no longer that which they had been before. So, let's give them the last four years of their primary incarnation and say they ended when they say they ended.

However, as these things often do--an extinct rockasaur is a hard animal to keep down--the Who kept at it, appearing sporadically throughout the nineties and the early years of the twenty-first century, almost like the "dying" old man over John Cleese's shoulder in THE HOLY GRAIL: "I'm not dead yet." But, really, they were. Cudgel to the head, please. Thank you.

The cudgel to the head? The death of bassist John Entwistle. We all figure, that's it for them, then. Right? You lose a drummer, no big deal. SPINAL TAP made it clear that the drummer is a place holder, a human metronome. A dime a dozen. (Facetiousness alert! Sarcasm meters should be detecting massive levels of snarkiness.) But, if you lose a whole rhythm section, you are done, ain't ya?

Ummm, apparently not. I guess we can call this the Lynard Skynard paradox. I am still trying to come up with the exact phrasing for this particular popular music theory, but you get the notion, eh?

See, CBS is advertising that The Who will be performing at halftime. But, really, it's Pete and Roger and a couple of other musicians. And that ain't the rockasaur that they are claiming it to be. However, having a zombie rockasaur impostor perform on CBS' halftime show fits right in with the most controversial advertisement. After all, The Who have a right to life, just like little baby Jesus (the 21st century version): Tim Tebow.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Fingers Too Cold to Type Too Much

I will spare you an extended homage to the groundhog. It has been done before, and I don't want to be too predictable. Today, after all, is merely the spectacular end of a long and difficult year for whistle pigs everywhere, a year in which they are mostly disregarded, or hunted and killed, with no real in between. On this day, they are paid tense attention to, with many celebrating, and some berating them. But, on this one day, all their feelings of inadequacy or peril are put away, and they are free to remind us that winter will end, regardless of how much ice or snow we may have endured (or will have to endure).

And that, my friends, is all I have to say about that.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Shiny Things (That Aren't Glitter)

There's this whole big to do here in Cornopolis over Miss Nebraska (a newscaster on one of the local channels), and her experiences out in Las Vegas, where she is participating in the Miss Universe pageant. The front page of the local rag has a teaser of the story in the "insignificant news" section (which is cleverly (and annoyingly) titled "The (402) 411" (as in, the information for the zip code) so hip, so cool, so trendy (I have so lost track of my parentheses)). I will just call it "The 165, 222," since that is the product of 402 x 411. It makes the same amount of sense, doesn't it?

What was I talking about? Oh, the beauty pageant, right. So, there in the 165, 222 is a little article (right under the profile of the engineer who hooked his snow blower up to a motorized wheelchair to make a robot snow blower) about this (predictably) blond young lady having a time in Sin City. A picture shows her and another (genetically cloned) contestant (Miss Massachusetts), sharing a dessert of some sort with the manager of a local franchise anchor restaurant. Miss Nebraska wears a (predictably) red dress. Miss Mass wears a (not-so-predictably-as-it-used-to-be-but-still) blue dress. They both wear sashes and tiaras.

What's wrong with this picture, you ask? Well, at first glance, nothing, I guess. A couple of pretty girls and a handsome guy posing for a publicity still. Representatives of various states of the union sharing and smiling together. Opponents in a contest showing good manners and conducting themselves with respect for themselves and others. What's my problem?

It's those goddamn tiaras! I can't stand it! These are grown women, not six year-olds. They are not "Little Princesses." Yes, I have a sick (as in ill) little piece of my heart that finds all of these sorts of spectacles ridiculous and undermining to women's status as equals in our (still) patriarchal world. And the organizers of these contests can do whatever they want to make it look less like a "let's give the pretty airhead some attention" event. But, as long as the women involved dress like children at a tea party, I am just going to have to be annoyed.

Friday, January 29, 2010

What the Hell?

Yeah, so, January is just clipping along, right? And I am posting, like, every other day, keeping tabs on the ramblings and perambulations of myself, you know? And then, WHAM! Everything just stops. No posts. No nothing. What the hell, man?

It's the same old story, all this stuff that needs to get done. All these other distractions. The other interactivities. But, we can't just let January fizz out like a neglected two-liter of Coke in your grandmother's basement. So, here's some post-y goodness to break the silence.

Except that, I got nothing. It's Friday evening. The State of the Union is old news. JD Salinger is old news. Howard Zinn is old news. Groundhog Day is not until Monday. I can't think of any new news. But, that's the way it is sometimes. Even when you have nothing to say, it doesn't hurt to shout into the abyss every now and again, just so everybody else can be reminded that they are not alone.

I am here! I am here!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Post-a-licious January Continues!

Yet another post, making January the busiest month of the year, so far!

Today was somehow an awesome day. The portended freezing rain never materialized, due to the lack of freezing temps (funny how that happens). As a result, I didn't have to scrape my windows for the first time in at least four weeks (except for those days when I didn't have to scrape my window because I didn't have to go anywhere...to be honest, I have had quite a few of those the last several weeks).

You would think that I might be in a grumpy sort of mood, since the anticipated freezing rain might have led to an inclement weather day, had it happened. You would be wrong. Oh, sure, a little voice in my head (one of the gremlins?) was hoping, as I turned off the alarm, that when I checked the school website the red banner would indicate that we could go back to bed. But that was a little voice, barely perceptible, really.

After all, today was the start of third term. Why wouldn't I be eager to start a new schedule, with new classes? Why wouldn't I be eager to meet all my new charges? Well, I kind of was...but you know how I feel about meeting new people, so my attitude was a little tempered that way. At any rate, tempered attitude, or not, I was pretty excited to get a new start going. And I really didn't want to start this term immediately up against the same eight ball we'd ended the last one on. We've had enough weather-related closings.

Already, we are extending two weeks worth of school days in February an additional 36 minutes to make up for one last day. Is that the stupidest thing I have ever heard? Well, it's not the stupidest, but...it doesn't matter. We have a legal obligation to be holding on to our kiddos for a requisite number of days. Even if those days are elapsed one minute at a time, legally, we are covered. But, we're not lawyers, you say? We're teachers? Right, but I don't think one teacher had a hand in making that decision, but...that's right...I digress.

So, without turning this into a blow by blow recount of my day, things just went really well. It's still early, so take this with a grain of salt, but my kiddos seem pretty cool. A few handfuls, as always, but they seem pretty solid. Of course, we shall see, right? It has only been one day. But, it was a good day. Maybe the best I have had in a while. That's nothing to take lightly.

Oh, whatever shall tomorrow bring?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Mathematics of Gremlins: A - A = 0; A - (-A) = 2A (where A = What the Hell Did I Do Today?)

Mr. Horrible? Mr. Horrible?
There's a phone call for Mr. Horrible.
--
They Might Be Giants, "Someone Keeps Moving My Chair"

Did you ever have one of those days when you worked for ten hours or so, and, when you looked around at the end of the day, you seemed to have accomplished not one thing? That was my day. We start our second semester on Wednesday, so today was a workday. I had one section of finals left to grade, which I didn't even look at until I got home this evening (I just finished them), and I had planning to do for the upcoming term. But, honestly, the most obviously productive thing I did today was make coffee, and that was done by 7:45!

I guess I just chalk today up to one of those bizarre time warps, where things happen at a pace that seems normal to the person inside the time warp, but where things are actually happening at a much slower pace. However, if that were the case, and I were moving that slowly, I imagine that I would be really tired, right now. It's hard to move directly and slowly for an extended period of time (and I am talking about eight hours of almost perpetual movement (at least of the arms)). But, I am not tired...at least not overtired.

So, what is it? What happened today? Perhaps, as often happens on these "work days," a troupe of gremlins imperceptibly undid everything that I had done almost immediately after I had done it, today. That would leave me with a sense of doing something, but having nothing to show for it. Hmmmm...that MUST be it.

Unless you have any suggestions.

***Twilight Zone still from The Stygian Port

Monday, January 18, 2010

Walking the Dog

It is one of the little joys in life, walking the dog on a Monday at noon. It's one of those things one doesn't get to do often (admittedly I get to do it more often than most, especially in the summer months, but I digress). So, as Ripken and I trotted through the fog-beshrouded neighborhood, tenuously picking our way through icy patches and climbing the vestiges of snow mountains left by plows and shovels, we both had a jauntiness in our stride, the click of heels and toe nails making a rhythmic celebration on the cement and frozen melt.

And just like that, it's a good day, again.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Only Eight More Weeks to Go!

Winter is really wearing on me, right now. After a three week period in December/January that dumped a couple of feet of snow and some bone-chilling temps, things have been dry (but gray), and warmer (like 35). So, that leaves us with slushy roads, monstrous potholes, and massive piles of dirty snow. It's not pretty, anymore.

I know that winter happens every year, and that each time I welcome the season. I like a little winter in my year. This one is just grinding me down a bit more than some others have. It's not just the cold--I've done the cold before, and I think I held it together. It's not just the snow--I've done that, too, with no obvious effect on my psyche. The combination of it all, this time around, just seems to be getting to me.

Is it that I am getting grumpier in my middle age? Is it that other world wide events are influencing my state of mind? Sure, but, each day, when I look out the window, I want to see change. All I see is dirty ice.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Hooray! Now I Have Time To (Insert Cynically-Mentioned World Destroying Behavior Here)

You read it here. I'm just happy to know that the end of the world is still on schedule. How messed up would that be, if it showed up late (or early).

Side note to La Fashionista: You keep David Hasselhoff out of my living room. I don't care what time it is.