Saturday, September 29, 2012

Pumpkin and the Janitor: The Story of a Flightless Victim and a Forgotten One

This morning’s Lincoln Journal Star reported an incident of adolescent hi-jinx this morning in Gretna, NE.  Apparently, a trio of young men placed an emu in the commons of the local high school ten days ago. Understandably, this caused quite a ruckus when the janitor found it the next morning.

Now, I have never encountered a six-foot emu in a school commons area. As a matter of fact, I have only encountered an emu of any size when each of us was standing on opposite sides of a fence.  And, for all I know, that emu could have been an ostrich. So, I can only imagine what the unnamed janitor did when he opened the doors of the commons and saw a bird staring him down from across the feather-and-feces-strewn room. If he were smart, he gently closed the door, walked out to his car, drove to the nearest open bar, and had a shot or two. Then, were he still using his brains, he would have called Animal Control.  I am not advocating drinking as a way to steel one’s courage or cope with one’s situation; one has to suspect that, when Animal Control receives a call about an emu in Gretna High School, the operator’s first question will be, “Have you been drinking, sir?” Why not temper the news by being able to live up to someone’s expectations, especially since the janitor’s were surely not met that morning?

However it was performed, after a bit of a struggle in which our emu (real name: “Pumpkin”) was lacerated on his neck, the bird was apprehended and is now living at a company that puts on wildlife shows for schools and parties. Most likely, Pumpkin spends his days in the pasture wondering how his once-promising life came to this: a six-foot, flightless circus clown.

For Pumpkin once lived the life of the proverbial Riley, living in Iowa, killing chickens, and most likely scaring the hell out of the kids who foisted upon him the less-than-masculine, far-from-noble name of Pumpkin.  But, as the article informs us, the Iowegians put Pumpkin on Craigslist for thirty bucks, and some Gretna boys came a-calling.  When they told the emu’s owner that they were buying it for a friend who raised emu, he took a shine to the boys and let Pumpkin go for free, which was probably good for him to do, since the boys then proceeded to drive the emu over the state line with the intention of causing mischief.  This might be considered illegal animal trafficking, and the previous owner might have been implicated.  As it stands, he appears to be out of the woods.

The boys, however, are not. They have been charged with criminal trespassing and animal cruelty. Their fate hangs in the balance.

It is too bad that these young men, thinking at first to release Pumpkin onto the football field, found the door to their school unlocked.  Would it have been less cruel to leave the bird outside?  It is also too bad that this seemingly “harmless” prank is being punished with criminal charges.  After all, there was a time when these boys would simply have become part of small town lore, like the guy who carried a goat to the top of the water tower in Columbia, Missouri, and tied it up overnight thirty or so years ago.  Is it necessary to mar the record of these three youngsters for what they have done?  Some might say yes, the kids need to learn the lesson that no creature should be treated poorly.  After all, the experience of being carted over state lines, locked up in a school overnight, and apprehended by armed officers in the morning (I am assuming) most likely caused an amount of trauma on this creature that was entirely unnecessary.  This is true.  However, I think maybe having them volunteer at an animal shelter or some sort of experiential punishment might be better, without any need of the courts or legal authorities.

And, really, what about the janitor?  He’s been traumatized—perhaps worst of all.  Not a day will pass from here forward, when he doesn’t have at least a mild flashback as he unlocks a door.  What will be in room 123?  A boa constrictor? A velociraptor? A grizzly bear?  What will lurk in the gymnasium’s darkened corners?  Sasquatch?  A zombie?  The Loch Ness monster?  What restitution does he deserve? He is truly the forgotten victim.

Finally, what about all of the people in the Lincoln area, reading this tragic story and the effect this TRIO of boys has had on man and beast alike, who finish the story on the back of the A section, and then return to the headline, which they quizzically remember as: “Emu in school lands 6 in trouble”? Once again, it looks like the media is not telling the whole story: what about the other three kiddos?

Saturday, September 22, 2012

A Rose by Any Other Name

"Chiara," according to everyone's favorite fact checking site, Wikipedia, is an Italian word meaning "clear."  There are several people with this word as a first or last name, and "Chiara" even forms a morpheme of the Italian surname Chiaramonte, a noble Sicilian family who claim descent from Charlemagne.

I tell you all this because a pair of encounters with said word in this morning's Lincoln Journal Star sent me a-searching for some information on this word.  The two usages, both as proper nouns, referred to apparently different things, and, I was certain, different ideas, and, being the curious life-long learner that I am (and having the power of the Interwebs at my fingertips), I did a little researching.

First, my initial encounters.  Ironically, perhaps, both of my encounters with the word occurred in the "fluff" section of the paper, "The (402)."  I believe I have mentioned this section before, so I will spare you my rail on that particular section's ridiculous name.  However, in the "At a Glance" feature, on page F2, where some events are listed and written about briefly, a headline reads: "Walk to conquer Chiara is at Holmes Lake Park."  The article explains that a fundraiser walk will be held "in an effort to bring awareness and funds to Chiara malformation."

The article further states that Chiara is "a neurological condition in which the brain descends out of the  skull and puts pressure on the spine." Really?  That actually happens to people? Their brains fall out of their skulls.  Why?  How?  It sounds like an awful condition.  Of course, it is, I thought to myself. Why else would they need to raise funds or awareness? Nobody would be interested in a Stubbed Toe 5K, would they?  Who would pay $25 to race in a Pretty Bad Stomach Flu Fun Run?  We only tie up our Mizunos for big causes, like cancer, muscular dystrophy, or chiara, to name just a few.

As I turned the page, I found on F4 a review of a recent chamber music performance: "Chiara members open Sheldon Friends season."  I have heard of this Chiara Quartet, two men and two women, who are well-known in the chamber music circles.  They have made many appearances here in the Lincoln area, always to great acclaim.  But this review, published so close to and on the same day as the fundraiser walk, stoked my inquisitiveness.  I needed to make sure that these chamber players weren't being highly insensitive, naming themselves after a neurological condition suffered by "about 300,000 people in the United States."

And, so, I was led to the Wikipedia, where I find listings for celebrities named Chiara, saints and singers, physicists and attorneys. I find the names of churches and a "religious complex" (don't you mean a "church?").  And, I find links to the aforementioned "Chiaramonte" and a pair of words that are homophones of "chiara," itself.  What I don't find is any mention of any neurological condition.  I had to search the Google a bit more to find any discussion of dropped brain syndrome (an alternate, totally rad, name I have given to the condition, myself), but I did find some information about the condition that affects more people in the US than live in Barbados.

(Interestingly, the website Researching Virtual Initiatives in Education, on their page "All Countries by Population," divides countries using "'scientific' nomenclature." For instance, a country with at least 1000 million people is a "kilostate;" a country with at least 0.3 million but less than 1 million is a "tridecistate" (also known as a minicountry); a country with less than 0.01 million people, a picocountry, is a "millistate." There are also "centistates" and "hectostates," orthocountries, nanocountries, and gigacountries.  Another bit of information learned on this random research project.)

But, back to "chiara."  I learned a lot in the several minutes I spent researching this little mystery, but I was left with a few questions. First, I wondered where the quartet came upon their name?  Is it a tribute to a person, or a place (most likely a church)?  I also wondered if they were even aware of their close association with a leaking skull?  But, more importantly, I wondered how, if the Chiara fundraising initiative was sophisticated enough to organize multiple events such as this weekend's 5K walk, they were unable to draft as valuable a PR tool as a Wikipedia page? Because, when you think about it, not everybody is going to be as dogged a researcher as I have been today.  If people don't get their wiki-fix on the first search, right at the top, they'll go right back to looking for topless pictures of Ryan (Hey, girl) Gosling.  And, if you're trying to drum up support for a disease or a condition, you have to do one of two things: make sure a lot of people suffer from it (i.e., cancer) or that a lot of people know about it (i.e., muscular dystrophy).

Finally, if I were in a string quartet, and I found out it was named after a neurological condition that can lead to deafness, dizziness, double vision, eye pain, headaches, and spasticity (I did not make this word up), I might just change my name to Cancer.


Monday, September 17, 2012

I Can't Sit Idly By While Things Like This Go On

In honor of last Thursday’s discovery of a new species of monkey in central Africa, Paste magazine ran a “List of the Day” on “The 15 Best Monkeys in Pop Culture.” I consider myself a bit of an expert on monkeys of a certain kind, so I found myself highly interested in this particular list. Needless to say, perhaps, being a difficult-to-please critic of all things primate, I was not impressed.  Even given Paste’s disclaimer that they were “using the term ‘monkey’ loosely—and frankly, incorrectly,” this mishmash of gorillas, apes, chimps, cartoons, video games, and Clint Eastwood is practically unforgivable.

The list starts out strongly enough, with Chim Chim of Speed Racer fame, claiming the number fifteen spot.  But, almost instantaneously, the critical reader asks, “What is the criteria, here?”  Is this merely a non-ranked list of “monkeys” that the author can remember (or remember hearing about)? Or was there some sort of criteria-referenced ranking done by the boys and girls at the office?  It is perplexing—perhaps even disturbing—to consider the apparent lack of obvious criteria as we move through this list.

To wit, number fourteen is the bone-throwing pre-hominid of 2001: A Space Odyssey.  Over Chim Chim?  Really?  I mean, if we are assessing the occupants of this list on their dramatic impact or symbolic significance, then, yes, Moon-Watcher beats Chim Chim, hauntingly-human-like-hands down.  However, if that were the criteria, Arthur C. Clarke’s cheeky little hairball would be much higher than fourteen. (Not to mention that Chim Chim would have to break the top ten…not really.)

Grape Ape occupies the thirteenth slot.  I can live with that, if it wasn’t so high.  Thirteen?  I don't get it.  It seems kind of arbitrary, really. Here, for me, is our number fifteen. Our big purple pal, who used cars for roller skates and tagged along with his friend Beagly Beagly, didn’t have a ton of staying power, social import, or symbolic significance.  One might even ask what Grapey is even doing on this list, but there he is.  And, as large as he is, there he will stay.

As we make our way into the top ten, however, my problems really begin, for there sits the finest secret agent chimp the world has ever seen.  Lancelot Link was the star of probably the most affecting and entertaining show that television will ever create.  A concoction of voiced-over chimpanzees acting out ridiculous espionage-based buffoonery and loosely connected musical numbers, Lancelot Link, Secret Chimp was a watershed event in my development—not that that is part of the criteria…at least I don’t think it is.  It certainly had, not simply for me, but for the world at large, a significant cultural impact. For that reason alone, Lancelot Link should occupy one of the top spots on this list.

Then, let’s look at number nine.  It is that video primate who made a mark on the eighties that was even deeper than the mark Lancey left on the seventies: Donkey Kong.  Who but this barrel rolling, girlfriend stealing, ladder-climbing villain, who made millions one quarter at a time, has been a more socially significant simian?  Who among us did not spent an inordinate amount of our young life in front of a video game at the corner pizza joint trying to get past that one level?  Or, for the younger among you, who has not spent time racing with that powerful DK spin off character, Mario. The effect of the Donkey Kong franchise is still being felt today, thirty years later.  What could be more significant than that? But, again, does significance have anything to do with this?  I suppose not.

After all, as we move deeper into the top ten, we find Clyde, the completely irrelevant orangutan of Every Which Way But Loose. I don’t get this one at all. Rumor has it that, since Clint’s chair monologue, Clyde has shunned his old pal.  That may be the best career move the old ape has ever made.    

Finally, I have two further concerns with this list.  First, and perhaps most troubling, Curious George is number five.  That’s right: NUMBER FIVE! WTF? He was a good little monkey and always very curious; he is an icon who has entertained generations of children.  And he gets beat out by the cast of Planet of the Apes? I mean: are you freaking kidding me?

But, to make matters worse, Marcel, Ross’ capuchin monkey from Friends, holds the number two slot.  All I can say is….  All I can say is…. I don’t know what to say.  This over-sexed little squirrel is ranked higher than Curious George?  I’m sorry, what? When was the last time anybody went to FAO Schwartz and paid an exorbitant amount for an over sized stuffed Marcel? The answer is never! 

Yet, this misguided, undefined list is out there, proudly displayed.  And, occupying the top spot, high above the mean streets of New York City, 1939, is the king of the beasts, the eighth wonder of the world, King Kong.  Disclaimer or not, couldn’t the number one spot at least be occupied by an actual monkey?  I give up.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Respectfully Submitted

I recently had a discussion with a colleague that touched on, of all things, politics.  I try to avoid talking about politics with most folks.  It makes me tired. It rarely leads to anything productive, I find, and, in the end, it usually leaves both parties frustrated, at best, and resentful, at worst.

This particular conversation was between two people that, on the surface, probably have similar views on the issues.  Each of us might be identified as liberal in outlook; however, I am probably the less liberal of the two.  And, the topic seemed relatively innocuous, the question being whether I was going to watch the President accept the Democratic nomination that evening.  I said I was not (although, in the end, I did), and I added that I was tiring of the election (which really was only just that evening about to officially get under way).  I lamented (which isn’t the same as complaining), that I was frustrated by the lack of real political discourse, and that I was troubled by the way everyone (candidates, PACs, voters) makes the candidate they are not for seem to be not only wrong on the issues, but something akin to the Antichrist.

It’s disheartening to watch and listen to this happen.  It makes me sad to hear some sheriff in Texas tell people that if the President is re-elected there will be a civil war, or to hear Newt Gingrich call him a “pretender.” On the other hand, I feel like Democrats do the same thing to Romney and Ryan, making them seem evil due to their economic policy ideas and their adherence to cutting social programs.

I am not trying to defend either side. I am not arguing that no one involved in this election is hypocritical or even wrong-headed. Nor am I suggesting that anyone simply give up and not pay attention to the issues and the candidates’ stances on those issues.  The thing I am bothered by is the same thing a lot of people are bothered by, I am sure, and that is the tone of the debate. We seem to have descended into a constant cycle of character assassination, and the real points of debate are completely ignored.

(Then, again, have we descended?  Have things really changed?  Or has it always been this way, but the ubiquitous media, our blogs and Twitters and news channels, have simply put it on display all day everyday?  More likely the latter.)

It just seems to me that everybody involved in this (and, really, in America, that includes everyone over the age of eighteen) is so angry and desperate to be heard that we reach for the easiest hook to hang our hat on.  And instead of discussing the merits of a person's stance, we argue the merits of the person.  A candidate is not hypocritical, but, rather, he is a hypocrite.  It is a subtle, but important difference.  A candidate is not employing extremely liberal solutions to a problem, but, rather, the man is a Socialist. A candidate is not making decisions based on self-serving end results, but, rather, he is an asshole.  It changes the game.

I get it: we want someone that we like; we want someone we can trust. We want someone who seems to think and feel and respond to problems and issues like we do.  And we want that passionately. But, don’t we do ourselves and everyone else a disservice when, in our zeal to get our candidate elected, we almost automatically cast the other side as thoughtless, clueless, senseless, heartless, and fundamentally evil?  Because, you know, what happens when your candidate doesn’t get elected?  You have to live with someone (or several someone’s) whom you find to be the embodiment of Old Scratch.  No wonder we’re so screwed up.

Maybe I am miles off base with this.  My judgment is just as clouded as the next person’s, I am sure.  I do see the issues that concern me, and I do my best to find a candidate that addresses those issues in a way that most closely hews to my own philosophy. However, I, too, can recall more than one instance where the candidate I voted for did not win, and, as a result, I was angry, depressed, and despairing for the future. It is a terrible feeling. Do we have to continue setting up a huge portion of the voting populace for this kind of post-election psychological malady? (Who hasn't heard someone say in the last twelve years, "If So and so is elected, I am moving to Canada/Bolivia/Iceland/Mars"?)

Ultimately, what we probably need to keep in mind is that, regardless of who wins this next presidential election, that man is going to be our leader.  He will be the President of the United States of America. Regardless of how we might feel about that person’s political philosophy, he will deserve some modicum of respect.

And, maybe that is what I feel is lacking, not just in politics, but in our society, today: a general lack of respect for each other.  This could lead me off on a tangent that might stretch for another thousand words, or so, so I will spare you that jeremiad.  After all, just thinking it makes me a little depressed, since it paints me, in my own mind, as some wrinkly old geezer, pants up around my arm pits, grumbling about “kids these days,” and “back in my day.” I’ll spare you the story of walking to school in a snowstorm or eating all my dinner whether I liked it or not.  I respect you all too much to subject you to that.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Okay, Then

Again, it's been a long time. How is it that so much water passes under the bridge?  No matter.  It's passed.  It's gone. Eyes front.

A lot has changed since last I was here.  First, it appears that Blogger has been sucked up by the Google monster.  It took me several minutes just to figure out how to get into my blog.  It might look the same on the outside, but it is much changed in the innards.  I'll figure it out.  I suppose most of the changes have been for the better (although, I suspect that more bugs and surveillance-type widgets are floating around in there, now, keeping track of me and you and everyone we know).

A friend of mine, the new author of the new blog Charlie and His Human, emailed me recently asking to link to my blogs.  I said yes, but I warned him that it had been a long time since last I posted.  And, just like a year ago, when outside voices plucked my writerly heart strings and stirred me to resurrect Central Standard, I was moved to consider this neglected aspect of my former habitry. (I am fully aware that "writerly" and "habitry" are not actual words, but I like how they sound, so I am keeping them.  After all, if the writer can not coin a word, who can?)

So, here I am again.  I might give you a summarized version of the last year, but, like I said earlier: eyes front.  Let me tell you about what I like to call my new philosophy for the new school year.  I call it the "Okay" philosophy.  What it basically entails is a concerted effort to limit my carping, complaining, and other unhealthy behaviors.  I have never been much of a negative person.  I don't complain much, but I do it enough that I am aware that it is a drain on my energy and my attitude.

It started over the summer when I read a tweet (Yes, I am a Twitter-er.  Follow me (I hate even typing that.) @Reda_AT.) from a fellow teacher that read something to the effect of: complaining at work steals from time you could be dedicating to your kids.  To a mildly cynical person such as myself, my first reaction was: shut up.  But, the more I though about it, the more sense it made to me.  After all, why am I in this business of teaching anyway?  The money? No. The short hours? Ha I'm in it because it makes me feel good to know that I am trying my best to make the world a better place by trying my best to teach kids to be better communicators, thinkers, citizens, and human beings. It's important work, and I should dedicate as much of my self as I can to doing that job to the best of my ability (my predilection for making up words like "habitry" notwithstanding).

With that in mind, I have decided that where work is concerned, when I am asked to do something by administrators, department heads, etc., my reaction will be "okay."  And, then, I will do it to the best of my ability.  When asked how things are going, my response will be "okay." And I will try to develop that response with something positive that has happened on that day.  Now, I understand that not everything we are asked to do by administrators and others has a direct positive effect on students, but the genesis of the idea that they are trying to put in place most likely came from that "what's best for kids" place.  And I know that just saying I'm okay doesn't have a direct effect on my students.  However, if I can maintain an attitude of positivity, how might that affect my classes?  And, more importantly, how much better might be the quality of all of my work, if it is being accomplished by a content, positive person?  I have to think that the effect of that might be pretty powerful.

And, of course, I know that I can't be something I am not.  I will not be some sort of Pollyanna, happy doofus, walking around with rainbows coming out of every orifice. I have never been that kind of person.  As a matter of fact, ironically, that sort of person kind of makes me ill.  I will have a bad day or two, and I will let slip a negative word to someone, somewhere at work.  I am sure I already have.  But, I have, thus far, been able to keep this sort of positive, peaceful attitude going for three weeks, already.  As a result, I am still tired, still working ten hours a day, still behind with grading and planning.  But, this year more than any other, that's okay.