04 December 2016

The Author Tries to Positive With Moderate Success He Also Praises Two Recent Films and it Should be Noted that Rihanna is Nowhere I Just Used a Photos of her Because She's my Celebrity Crush



I wanted to write about how annoyed I get with bicyclists and people who talk on cell phones in public and how ridiculous cigarette smokers are but I decided to go into a more positive direction which means I’ll also not be talking about commuting as it’s nigh on impossible to have anything positive to say about commuting other than, “today's commute was relatively free of agonizing delays and horrible incidents.” So the gist of all this is that I have to be positive. Oh my lord that can make for some boring writing. Plus how positive can you be in the age of Trump?

Challenges. We claim to like them. I remember as a middle school teacher we were supposed to stop referring to students who were a pain in the arse as “bad kids” or “trouble makers” or even “difficult.” They were to be known as “challenging students.” Oh good a “challenge.” It will be a real “challenge” to teach this kid, hell it might be a real "challenge" to get the little bastard to stay in his seat.

But again I fear that is being negative and my purpose here is to spread sunshine, rainbows, fairy dust and moonbeams and do so in the age of Trump. Speaking of that buffoon. Could his election mark the decline of the US? Sure, some would argue that said decline started awhile back. Maybe with Watergate, or Vietnam or either of the Red Scares. But the country has remained propped up and holding its own although still dispensers of terror from the sky often in the form of drone strikes which have the nasty habit of incinerating innocent people. But at least the US stood for something. (Come to think of it, I’m not sure what it stood for, maybe, to quote the great Groucho Marx, “it stood for plenty.”)

Now we’ve got a megalomaniac bigot with conflicts of interests positively bursting from the seams whose appointing every regressive person he can find to dismantle as many progressive changes as we’ve been able to manage recently. The first Twitter Troll in Chief. The most thin skinned of all presidents, and the least prepared and maybe the one least interested in the job. My goodness a president who can make George W look bad. Seems impossible.

That leads me to another topic, people often say, nothing is impossible. Horseshit. Many things are impossible. It is impossible for me to leap over a ten story building, it is impossible to drink a gallon of battery acid without ill effect, it is impossible for a two month old baby to life an adult elephant. Here is the definition of impossible courtesy of the good folks at Merriam-Webster: Definition of impossible a : incapable of being or of occurring :  felt to be incapable of being done, attained, or fulfilled: insuperably difficult. 
 So if you say someone did the impossible you are guilty of grammatical fiction. You may, however, say that someone has done something that was previously thought to be impossible. Our we clear on this?
So that wasn’t all so positive so maybe I should change the topic. Maybe. Then again maybe I’m just not in the mood. Funny thing is that as I write this I’m enjoying about my sixth day in a row with little or no depression*. Longest streak since April. Maybe I’m cured. Yeah I doubt it too. But its good not to be slumped in a chair looking deep into nothing, seeing nothing, hearing nothing feeling only existential pain and wondering if there was ever really such a thing as happiness. Along came some new meds. So now I skip merrily down the street tossing daises in the air and singing a happy song. Oh joy.

Actually I do want to make a point about bike riders: stay off sidewalks, obey the traffic laws, and don’t intentionally ride slowly in front of cars. And another thing, keep your fucking bikes off public transportation. They take up space, bump people on the train on the platform and on the escalator.

Sorry that was another example of a lack of positivity on my part. I’ll try harder. Here we go: I saw a cute squirrel the other day. Reminded me that I grew up with a walnut tree in my backyard which was regularly visited by squirrels. Most of them were skittish and did not like to fraternize with homo sapiens. I remember a few who would approach you if you had a nut in your hand and one particularly bold furry friend who actually took a nut from my hand. I also recall a rabid squirrel. What an awful racket it made and how fearsome it seemed. Amazing that a little furry tailed creature can be so frightening -- but it was -- particularly knowing that its bite would pass along rabies. As a child I was given to believe that the cure for rabies came from a very long thick needle that caused almost as much pain as would rabies.

Movies. I’ve seen two fantastic films this year, the best I’ve seen in theaters since Birdman. The two are (drum roll) Moonlight and Manchester By the Sea. Both have received nearly unanimous critical acclaim and have won some of the early bird film awards for 2016. So in saying they are great movies I’m not exactly breaking new ground. Still this is encouraging, especially in light of the fact that I’ve seen some other very good films. I keep thinking that the movie industry is dying but they keep cranking out the odd excellent film every now and again. It doesn't always seem so because of the flood of stupid comedies and ridiculous action films and zombie films that permeate cineplexes throughout the year.

What’s so good about Moonlight and Manchester is that they don’t pander. They are not targeted to a particular demographic, they aren’t reboots of older films, on another in a series of a franchise or a cinematic version of a comic book. They do not have dazzling special effects, a big Hollywood mega star, a booming soundtrack. They are not rife with cliches or at all predictable. They are honest original films that tell human stories. That’s really all you want out of a film along with good cinematography, proper direction, editing and locations that compliment the story. (Well this part was kind of positive.)

The Holiday of Christmas Season is open us. That means many of you will go to your battle stations to help fight for or against the War on Christmas. The forces trying to “protect” Christmas are in a much superior position. They have great economic strength, millions of adherents to the holiday and traditions galore. One might even argue that there really is no war to speak of. People saying Happy Holidays in place of Merry Christmas may at times be silly and at other times appropriate, but in any case its nothing that’s going to tackle the behemoth that is Christmas. Nor will the removal of a nativity scene or the failure to put a Christmas tree in a public space nor anyone responding to Christmas with an emphatic “bah humbug!” Yes the very notion of a War on Christmas, perpetrated by right wing loonies is laughable. Deck the halls, everyone.

Notice in the above paragraph I did not write: The so-called War on Christmas. I had so-called. It is called that. Why do we need to put a so-called in front of terms? Often it is to demean the term. Why not refer to everything as so-called? The so-called Rocky Mountains, the so-called Jennifer Lawrence, the so-called open heart surgery.

So how’ve I done? Being positive is not so easy. Not when you are in a constant struggle with depression and not when Trump and his gang of conservative zealots is about to pillage the US. But one must try. Optimism never hurt anyone and indeed has helped many. Provided of course that one makes any efforts at their disposable to see that their optimism is not misplaced. Cynicism is an easy trap to fall into and does no good. It’s baby brother pessimism is hardly any better. As Oscar Wilde once said, “a cynic sees the price of everything and the value of nothing.” If we don’t have hope we are lost.

Keep a good thought, everybody.

* I wrote this bit last week. Since then my streak went to seven days then abruptly stopped and now I'm on day four of having the blues. So it goes.

30 November 2016

In Other Words -- A Look at Words and Terms that Have Changed Since my Youth



I proved here words and terms from when I was a child and their modern day counterparts. I provide them without comment. Some I believe to be improvements and others I do not (particularly those that have sanitized language). I'm sure I've missed many but I'm confident that I've got a lot of the more significant ones.

Heavy drinker ….. Alcoholic
Bachelor …. Gay
Spinster …. Lesbian
Handicapped …. Has special Needs
Shacking up …. Partners
Living in sin ….Partners
Ladies’ man ….. Playa
Personnel …. Human Resources
Civilian casualties …. Collateral Damage
War …. Armed conflict
Send in the military …. Boots on the ground
Reassert position …. Double down
Incarcerated ….. Jailed
Junkie …. Person with a substance abuse problem
Troublemaker …. Oppositionally defiant
Bad student …. Challenging student
Campus jock …. Student athlete
Indian …. Native American
Critical …. Hater
It’s okay …. No worries
Merry Christmas …. Happy Holidays
Deaf …. Hearing impaired
Blind …. Visually impaired
Boss …. Supervisor
Nigger …. N Word
Great …. Awesome
Chinaman …. Chinese person
Oriental .... Asian
Negro .... African American
Natives …. Indigenous people
Women’s Libber …. Feminist
Illegal drugs …. Controlled substances
History class …. Social Studies
Rape …. Sexual assault
Wife beating …. Domestic violence
Suspect ….. Person of interest
Fired …. Let go
Crazy …. Dealing with emotional issues
Nervous breakdown .... Psychotic episode
Old people …. The elderly
Old folk’s home …. Eldercare facility
Venereal disease …. Sexually transmitted disease
Poor …. Economically disadvantaged
Tramp or Hobo …. Homeless
Get a lawyer …. Lawyer up
Makes no sense …. Random
Idiot .... Donald Trump

28 November 2016

Bad Things Happen to Good People



It was the shock of a lifetime. There’s no way anyone could have seen it coming. No way at all. I’ll live with that scene for the rest of my life.

I never liked Sylvie. She was my step mother and what my dad saw in her was something none of us could figure out. She was loud and never stopped talking and never listened to anyone else. Dad was a quiet person who was a good listener. The theory we developed was that, after Mom died, Dad just settled for the first woman who showed an interest in him and that was Sylvie — big mistake.

She was younger than Dad and I suppose attractive enough. Least she was slender and had a big rack. I think Dad was partial to big tits. Mom had em. I know that's a weird thing for a son to say about his mother but it's true. I’m sure Sylvie seduced Dad. She must have recognized him for a guy who was vulnerable and looking for comfort and a woman to share his life with. Mom had been the perfect wife — not to mention the best mother anyone could have —and she and Dad were totally devoted to each other. They’d been married 26 years and had had three kids. First my brother Ron, then my sister Amy and finally me, Jack. My sister and I were born two years apart and Amy was born two years after Ron.

Dad had only known Motor Mouth (that was our nickname for Sylvie) for three months before they got engaged and the engagement lasted only a month before they had a civil ceremony. It was just us three attending and her son, Gregory who had some sort of birth defect and probably a double digit IQ. Gregory worked in a tool factory doing odd jobs. He was a nice enough guy but kind of hard to talk to because — god forgive me for saying this — he was so frickin’ dumb.

I remember at the wedding and the dinner reception in Lorenzo’s, that Ron, Amy and I were just stunned. We barely uttered a word during dinner which didn’t present a problem at all because Sylvie could talk for five, six people. Once that mouth got going it didn’t stop. Dad would just sit there looking at his new wife with a perfectly contented smile, as if all her babblings were the words of Solomon. Us three siblings drank more than our fair share of wine that night and none of us were drunkards by any stretch of the imagination. Dad had a few glasses but Sylvie said she no longer indulged.

At one point I went to the bathroom to relieve myself of some of the Chardonay or whatever the fuck it was, and I thought about Mom and her last, probably horrific moments. She’d been driving home at night after visiting a friend in the hospital — Mom was always doing stuff like that, she cared for everyone. The roads were icy and I guess Mom was anxious to get home because, for probably the first time in her life, she was going over the speed limit. Big mistake. There were witnesses, they all said she fish tailed like crazy before smacking into a semi that was driving too fast through the intersection. They say she died instantly on impact. I guess that’s right but how can you be sure? We were all devastated but especially Dad. I’d never seen him shed a tear before but he sobbed and sobbed intermittently for days and weeks on would still have to choke back tears.

Dad wasn't perfect, he had his faults like anyone else. But he had fewer than most people. He was kind to everyone and had a bad word for no one. Our father was a devoted husband and father and honest in business. Everyone liked him.

It was two months before he went back to work at the plumbing business he co-owned with his best friend Bub (nee Robert) Loningan. I think it was Bub who suggested that he “get back out there” when the time was right and meet some women. At least for companionship. It was almost a year before he was willing to date and the first person he hooked up with was Sylvie. Uncle Artie had introduced him, he’d been pals with Sylvie’s first husband who’d had the sense to divorce her a few years before.

When I first met Sylvie my only thoughts were that it was great Dad was ready to date and I sure hoped he’d do better than this whack job. He never even tried. Big mistake. Amy and Ron had pretty much the same reaction to her.

Sylvie called everyone “dear” and called Dad “snookums” which made us all gag. We all had dinner at Dad’s house after they returned from their honeymoon in the Bahamas and, as was her style, Sylvie talked non stop. She didn’t ask any of us about what we were doing and what our interests were or our opinions on matters of the day. Ron was just finishing law school and Amy was about to graduate college with an English degree and I was a sophomore studying journalism. Not that Sylvie ever knew or cared. She talked mostly about what TV shows she’d watched, what movies she wanted to see (she never actually went to the cinema) celebrity gossip (a topic none of us cared a whit about) and shallow observations about current events. Sylvie also bored us with inane details about her work day as a secretary in an accounting firm. Why she thought we’d be interested in office gossip I’ll never understand. Dad just sat there smiling, indulging her, seemingly happy as a clam.

I came to realize that I didn’t really know Sylvie and perhaps no one else did either. It seemed as though her incessant yapping was a defense mechanism to keep people at bay. No one could really get to know her or ask questions, a dialogue was impossible. She must have been afraid of exposure. I almost felt sorry for her. Amy tried talking to our step mother, she really made an effort, but got nowhere. Ron couldn’t stand Sylvie and wanted as little to do with her as possible. I was somewhere in between my siblings.

They’d been married for two years when things went south. Sylvie started hitting the sauce. Dad had no tolerance for heavy drinking, in part because his own father had been a lush. A few glasses of wine, a couple of beers, even a cocktail or two were okay with Dad. He didn’t even mind someone getting tipsy. But sloppy drunk, and regularly, that was intolerable. The truth was that Sylvie was an alcoholic. She’d been in recovery for four years when she met Dad. We later realized that she was a dry drunk who’d quit cold turkey without the benefit of either rehab of AA. Big mistake.

The way Dad told me was that they’d been at a birthday party in a swanky restaurant when out of the clear blue sky Sylvie ordered a gin and tonic. Dad asked her what was what and Sylvie said that she was sure she could handle it now. Dad believed her. Big mistake. She got drunk at the party but then didn’t touch a drop for over a week. But then they went out to dinner and she ordered a cocktail then wine with dinner. She got sloshed.

Dad pleaded with her to stop, to go to an AA meeting, but Sylvie would have none of it. It wasn’t long before she was drinking everyday and talking even more, which seemed impossible given what a big mouth she was when sober. Sylvie could be a sweet, sentimental drunk but she could also get nasty. That’s what happened when Dad had us over for his birthday. Amy and Ron and Ron’s girlfriend Sabrina and I had driven over together.

Sylvie started railing at us the second we walked in. She claimed we hated her (true) that we were mean to her (not true) that we talked about her behind her back (partially true) and that we were a bunch of snotty showoffs (maybe Ron a little bit). Our step mother also engaged in some nasty language which we’d never heard from her before and which Dad strictly disapproved of.

Dad stood in stone silence looking completely helpless and totally embarrassed. Finally he pleaded with his wife to stop and to go sleep it off. That was Sylvie’s cue to light into him with the craziest accusations you could imagine like he was abusive and ignored and hated her. Dad was mortified. He couldn’t find any words.

Ron, Sabrina, Amy and I just stood there watching this awful witch. In a perverse way I was happy thinking that Dad would finally shed himself of this awful woman. Turns out he did but not the way any of us could have envisioned. Once she got really nasty about us, using all manner of four and twelve letter words Dad snapped. He left the room for a minute as his wife continued her barrage of of profanity. I had no idea where Dad had gone, it was unlike him to just abandon his kids. Then he came back with his shotgun. “Shut the hell up!” he screamed. That’s the first time any of us could remember hearing him scream. Sylvie looked at him with steely eyes and questioned his manhood. That was it. Dad blew her face off.

I guess we all let out a yelp. I know Amy was hysterical. Dad collapsed in a chair, buried his head in his hands and said my Mom’s name — Emma — over and over again. I guess a neighbor called the police because it was no time before they turned up banging on the door. Of course we had no choice but to let them in. When we did Dad took the shotgun and tried to blow his own head off. But the barrel was too long and he could’t reach the trigger. A cop wrestled the gun away and cuffed my father. Soon Dad was taken away. We visited him a couple of times and he acted like nothing had happened and we were just there to shoot the breeze. He also asked why “my Emma” wasn’t with us. He’d flipped.

There wasn’t going to be a trial. The plea deal was for him to go to an asylum for the rest of his days. But Dad was spared that indignity. The day he was to be transported to the nuthouse our father had a massive heart attack and died. Talk about a blessing.

We all wondered if Sylvie had driven him insane or if it started with Mom’s death or if it was in him all along. Something sure snapped that night. I shudder to think now what he might have been holding in.

It’s hard not to think of that awful night. It haunts all of us. Amy and I have gone to therapy. I don't know about Ron. It's more than he can bear to mention it.

While that night is impossible to forget, it’s also easy to remember what a great Dad he’d been. I’m just sorry his life had to end in tragedy. Bad things happen to good people.

24 November 2016

Much to be Thankful for in 2016 Despite all Outward Appearances

Being thankful in 2016 is a bit of challenge. Take for example the small matter of the election campaign which was especially rife with prevarications, slander, aspersions and cockamamy theories. Worst of all it culminated in the election of a narcissistic, racist, misogynistic nincompoop who ranks as the least qualified person ever selected to the highest office in the land. And brother, that’s saying something. There have also been an inordinate number of deaths among the ranks of our greatest contributors to culture. Muhammad Ali’s death alone makes it a bad year. So too David Bowie’s. Add to those Gary Shandling, Gene Wilder, Paul Kantner, Bob Elliott, Prince, Gordie Howe, Elie Wiesel, Michael Cimino, Edward Albee, Gwen Ifiill and Glen Frey (The Eagles). Meanwhile Henry Kissinger, Dick Cheney and Gordon Liddy are still alive. That is — as we used to say — totally bogus.

The world has also continued to suffer terrorists attacks, mass shootings and drone strikes that kill the innocent. Oh yeah, global warming caused yet another record year for heat and the polar ice caps melt. Europe has seen a rise in nationalistic racist groups and the USA has joined the fun. Bigots are coming out of the closet and since Trump was elected hate crimes are on the rise. One would think it could only get better but we have seen clear evidence that such might not be the case.

Still life offers us many joys and fulfillments. Some of us enjoy good health, friendships, a loving family, a rewarding career and sports, literature, film and other arts. Great comedians still practice their art (Trump has given them ever so much material to work with) so that laughs can mingle with the tears.

So am I thankful this year? I have an EU passport, so yes. Actually even without the option of skipping out on this country there is much for me celebrate. The aforementioned family, health, friends, career aside, I’d like to recognize some of them. All from the world of entertainment.


My Gratitude List:

John Oliver and This Week Tonight, my favorite show on television. Intelligent, revealing, thoughtful and often hilarious.

The Criterion Collection. I own and enjoy over 60 great films on DVD that they have released, always great prints with handsome artwork and insightful special features.

Twitter which serves as a collection of thoughts, commentary, humor and links. Since the election it has provided a place for many of us to comfort one another, inspire hope and encourage change.

Instagram. A constant reprieve from the sad state of the world filled with beautiful, funny and interesting photos. I’m happy to make my modest contributions as well.

The Simpsons. Simply put they are a constant. Thanks to FXX one can DVR dozens of episodes to be enjoyed at leisure.

Comedians. Stephen Colbert, Trevor Noah, Chris Rock, Dave Chappelle, Amy Schumer, Kate McKinnon, The Lonely Island boys, Roy Jones Jr., Samantha Bee, Billy Eichner (fast becoming a national treasure), George Wallace (providing yuks aplenty on Twitter), Bill Maher (when not slipping into Islamophobia), Patton Oswalt, Richard Lewis, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Mike Birbiglia, Russell Brand, Albert Brooks, Lewis Black, Jerry Seinfeld, Dana Carvey, Sarah Silverman, Ricky Gervais, Kevin Hart, Bob Newhart and once again John Oliver.

The English Premier League. For me this principally means my favorite side, The Arsenal. But I enjoy watching other matches as well. Thank god the season runs far too long. More to enjoy.


The San Francisco Giants. The gold standard of baseball franchises rich with history and recent success and for years the destination of many great players from Willie Mays to Willie McCovey to Will Clark to Madison Bumgarner to Buster Posey.

Cal athletics. Win or lose the University of California Golden Bears field teams comprised of intelligent, honorable and hard working student athletes. At Cal the student part definitely comes first.

Bookstores, movie theaters and record stores. I’m very happy to spend so much time and money patronizing your businesses.

I am grateful to Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Sylvia Plath, John Dos Passos, Anne Sexton, Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Thomas Wolfe, Ken Kesey, William Blake and Charles Dickens to name but a few writers who no longer roam this earth.

I am grateful to Ingmar Bergman, Cary Grant, Federico Fellini, Monica Vitti, Groucho Marx, John Ford, Stanley Kubrick, Orson Welles, Marlon Brando, Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, William Holden, Roberto Rossellini, Barbara Stanwyck, Jean Gabin, Preston Sturges, Alfred Hitchcock and Charlie Chaplin to name but a from film who are likewise no longer of this world.

Among the living thanks to Woody Allen, the Coen brothers, Leonardo DiCaprio, Martin Scorcese, Al Pacino, Aki Kaurismaki, Zoe Kravitz, Faye Dunaway, Jim Jarmusch, Bill Murray, Lupita Nyong'o, Daniel Day-Lewis, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Jennifer Lawrence, Denzel Washington. Winona Ryder, Michael Keaton, Robert DeNiro, Darren Aronofsky, Amy Adams, Roman Polanski, Penelope Cruz and Quentin Tarantino.

Others living and dead from various fields: Rick Perlstein, Jimi Hendrix, Freddie Mercury, Janis Joplin, Amy Winehouse, Neil Young, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Shaun King, Frank Rich, Olivia Nuzzi, Sopan Deb, Charles Blow, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, Barbara Lee, Elizabeth Warren, Barack Obama, Gavin Newsom, Al Franken.

Also Hunter Pence, Alexis Sanchez, Mezut Ozil, Aaron Ramsey, Neil Patrick Harris, Dan Savage, Edward Snowden, Alec Baldwin, Rosario Dawson, Chelsea Manning, Kate Comer, Bill Hicks, George Carlin, Daniel Ellsburg, Lee Dixon, Naomi Klein, Stephen Fry, Reza Aslan, Matt Taibbi, Ian McKellan, Stephen Merchant, Marvin Gaye, John Lewis, Jeremy Scahill, Neil Degrasse Tyson, Tracy Morgan, Gerard Mulligan, The Electric Light Orchestra, The Who, Bruce Springsteen, David Letterman, Dick Cavett, Cornell West, Bill Moyers, Steve Martin and Rihanna.

Lest I forget, thanks to everyone involved in Better Call Saul, Orange is the New Black, Fargo, Westworld, Brooklyn 99, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and the good folks at Turner Classic Movies.

I also want to thank, sunsets, sunrises, clouds, rain, sun, breezes, flowers, trees, grass, all bodies of water be they rivers, lakes, oceans, seas, bays, lagoons inlets, ponds, creeks or streams. Public transportation, my gym, grocery stores, Twinings Breakfast Tea, licorice, salmon, restaurants, cafes, bicyclists who don’t ride on sidewalks and obey traffic rules, sports fans who cheers without being obnoxious or cussing, theater goers who don’t talk during the presentation or loudly open large bags of food, museums, parks, forests, mountains, hills, canyons, buttes, street musicians who are actually good and should have a record contract, people who donate to charity, people who support a free press, people who smile at strangers, dogs, cats, bears, moose, dolphins and all other animals who help support our eco-system. Thanks too to my cell phone, head phones, lab top, iPod and hi def TV. Thanks electricity and wifi. Thank you doctors and nurses. Thank you fellow teachers and thank you to the medication that keep me sane…well, less crazy.

17 November 2016

Hey! Wanna Meet Some of the People I See at the Gym? Well, You're in Luck (Warning: This Post Ends on a Somber Note)


As a teacher I am respected, appreciated and even loved. I have an ongoing mutual admiration society with my students. These days my higher ups think the world of me and co-workers enjoy my senses of fun and humor. At work I am a garrulous dynamo. Similarly at family gatherings I am typically a delight and my presence adds to the occasion whatever it may be. All that being said I can be and often am a misanthrope. I am a sullen commuter with my nose buried in a book. I am the shy neighbor who barely manages a hello and avoids stopping for chats. And at the gym I keep to myself and don't use the setting to socialize. There are a few people at the gym I know and exchange how-ya-beens with, they are the exception. I go to the gym to workout and am serious and focused on doing so. I'm not interested in locker room banter. I want to get in my gym clothes and get to sweating or want to get dressed and go home. The very idea of talking during exercise is anathema to me. But I have ever been an observer. I notice other people many of whom bug the heck out of me. I have been diagnosed as being hyper vigilant as many abuse survivors are. Little things irritate me and there's not a whole lot I can do about it. What follows is some of the people I regularly observe at my local YMCA. I don't dislike a one of them, but to a person they either vex or bug the hell out of me.

The Deceased. I think this gym member is dead and no one has had the heart to tell him. He looks like a walking cadaver. This is true: Once he’d finished getting dressed for his workout and left as I went to the sauna. I was in the sauna for ten minutes and the shower for five. For the math challenged out there that totals 15 minutes. When I returned to my locker, there he was, his workout over, he was readying for a shower. He literally spends more time getting dressed then he does working out. It would be no never-mind to me except he always seems to use the locker next to mine. And forever gets in my way and I in his. The deceased “talks” but these verbalizations are in the form of half grunts half words. Whatever he says is indecipherable. His skin is veritably translucent and his movements suggest that rigor mortis has set in. I've never seen a bead of sweat on him, probably because all of his bodily fluids have long since evaporated.

The Pacer. Fortunately I rarely see the Pacer anymore, but when I do all my buttons are pushed. Part of the reason he bothers me so is that I sort of know him. His daughter was a student of mine a dozen or so years ago so we chatted at parent conferences and back to school nights and what not. When I first saw him at the gym we exchanged pleasantries. Now when we pass each other we give the quick head nod. The Pacer lifts weights. The Pacer — after every single set, mind you — paces the gym in a serpentine fashion. Seriously. This is wholly unnecessary and distracting as hell. I and many others are forever bumping into him during these circuits. If I’m on the treadmill or another apparatus I’ll see him walking by over and over again. Some people have said that this is very odd behavior indeed but they don’t see why it gets under my skin. I don’t either but it sure does. A half minute rest between sets is sufficient. What the hell this bozo is doing is beyond me.

The Gabber can't and won't shut his pie hole. If he put half as much time into exercising as he does to talking peoples’ ears off, he’d be in magnificent shape. As it is he has a protruding belly unusual for someone who logs so many hours at the gym. Last weekend I saw him buttonhole someone as I began a 30 minute run on a treadmill. When my run ended he was — you guessed it — still yakking at the person. I do mean “at” and never with. I’ve observed maybe precious few occasions in which someone got in a word edgewise. Perhaps worst of all he is a “close talker” as defined by Seinfeld. He turns his head at an angle and looks the person in the eye and prattles on no more than two feet from the poor sap's face. I’ll give him credit for one thing, he knows a lot of people. He never seems to run out of people to talk at. A few times I’ve seen him workout but I've also noted that he'll stop his workout if he notices a victim -- I mean a person to talk to.

The Popper is a fully grown man of perhaps 60 or more years. He is a distant second to the Gabber in talking, which is to say he talks one helluva lot. But he does take time out for exercise. What he is second to no one in is the thunderous sound he makes when popping his gum. Yes, an adult male popping gum. If you don’t know the Popper is there, that first pop can sound like gunshot. Even when you do know he’s present, the pops — which seem to come in 20-40 second intervals — are unnerving. I have never in all my years on this planet met or known of an adult bubble gum popper or smacker who is an intelligent human being. Imagine meeting the person who is going to perform your open heart surgery and find that he is popping gum. Or being introduced to your lawyer and as you're speaking she's smacking her gum. I am not alone in abhorring gum sounds. I realize some people chew during workouts which is fine. But popping? Gimme a break.

The Sniffer. Maybe its not his fault. Maybe he's got an allergy of some kind or asthma or a breathing problem or nasal or adenoid issue. In any case I’m certainly not alone in finding him annoying. As he runs on the treadmills he sniffs. Repeatedly. Loudly. I just want to scream at him to blow his goddamned nose, already. The fact that he doesn’t get off the machine and give his proboscis a good blow suggests that perhaps that is not a viable solution for him. I also wonder if he should be running at all given whatever is vexing his schnoz. Sniffs are another irritant to me and this bloke is a world champ at it.

The Sitter is a real puzzle. Here’s what I know about him: he is a successful immigration lawyer and he’s gay. Here’s what I don’t know about him: why he comes to the gym. On only a few occasions have I ever seen him in the workout areas and I have never seen him do any form of exercise or stretching. Where I always seem to see the Sitter is either sitting (hence the name) in either the sauna or on the bench outside of it. He goes back and forth between the sauna and the bench. I’ve also observed him showering and dressing. Maybe he considers taking off and putting on clothes and the rigors of a shower to be ample exercise. One person theorized that he’s there to pick up men. No. While there are gay men at the gym the vast majority of members are straight (pure conjecture on my part). Also, if he wanted to meet someone for purposes of sex he’d be better served going to Berkeley’s gay bath house which I assume is patronized exclusively by gay men and you can engage in the act right there. As an attorney he could certainly afford it. Maybe, suggested one person, he wants to look at men. No. No straight woman or gay men is going to enjoy most of the old coots, geezers, reprobates, eczema sufferers and lard butts that go to the YMCA. There are but few Adonises such as yours truly. I don’t know what this guy’s deal is.

The Beast. I award him this moniker for the noise he emanates while running or while on the elliptical machine. Every other breath sounds as if it is emanating from a water buffalo. I’ve never heard anything resembling it. It is a bellow that comes from deep down and suggests a great amount of air is being expelled most adamantly. I can’t for the life of me understand how a human can create such a noise, least of all during strenuous exercise. The Beast is of average height and slender, he certainly does not boast a frame that one would associate with such load exhalations. He also does one helluva work out. The beast is washed in sweat at the end of his workouts.

The Hummer, it shouldn’t surprise you, hums. Not the soft humming of a favorite tune but a loud tuneless hum of compulsion. I believe the hummer has no control over his humming. I recently worked with a woman who hummed constantly, never creating a tune. She hummed during conversations she was having and between bites of food. It bugged the hell out of everyone, particularly those of us (and we were many) who didn’t like her. This Hummer had a personality that was as sour and cynical and caustic as any I’ve encountered. The humming was the ideal background music for her angry trod through life. The gym Hummer may well have quite the opposite personality. Indeed I’ve noted him in pleasant conversation on several occasions. He seems agreeable and intelligent. But that goddamned humming has got to go. It's remarkable how loud and incessant it is. I believe if used as torture it would violate the Geneva Convention.

I close by mentioning a former member of my gymnasium "family." She was a woman who looked to be in her late 30s. She was a handsome woman whose body reflected her rigorous work outs. For many months we were on the same workout schedule so I saw her a lot. We often ran on adjacent treadmills and did so at a similar pace. Once she made an observation to me about the new treadmills the Y had installed. This led to a much longer and more pleasant conversation than I typically have at the gym. I saw her twice after that. Then I saw a photo of her on a website dedicated to news about Berkeley. She had died. Age 40 in her sleep of causes that were not revealed. She left a husband and seven year old daughter. She had been a middle school history in Berkeley. I had been a middle school history teacher in Berkeley for 20 years. Her tenure began after I left the district so I didn't know of her. The news hit me like a punch in the gut. For months thereafter (she died at the end of August) I would look for her in the gym hoping that the person in the photo was merely a lookalike. But in the gym they had a memorial photo of her. I still hoped to see her. A young successful woman with a family. Tragic. 

15 November 2016

My Favorite Thanksgiving



I was getting kind of annoyed with Grandma who was chattering away oblivious to the fact that no one was listening to her. Her voice was grating as it was plus she had a tendency to repeat herself. When Grandma made an observation she liked she’d always repeat it. “That Lolita Barnes dresses like a blind man picked her outfit. That Lolita Barnes dresses like a blind man picked her outfit.”  We heard you the first time, Grandma, is what all of us thought but never said. It was different when she was younger because at least then she’d cook for us and bake cookies. Now she let Grandpa do all the cooking “it’s just too painful fer me with this arthritis,” she’d say. That would have been fine but Grandpa was no great shakes as a cook. Still they’d always hosted Thanksgiving and weren't about to stop.  Ma and my aunts would be sure to do as much of the cooking as they could, leaving Grandpa to just ruin the turkey. There was no offering to cook it for him either. “It’s my house and you're my guests and you bring enough food as it is, least you can let me do is make my own gall dern turkey!”

So this Thanksgiving Grandma’s sittin’ in her rocker rattling on about this or that — no one could be quite sure what ‘cause she went from one subject to the next in the course of one sentence — and with her voice being so loud it was darn hard thing for anyone else to talk. There was no getting a word edgewise with Grandma either because once that spigot of a mouth was opened it just flowed and flowed. Ma and my aunts were lucky because they were in the kitchen so they could indulge in honest to goodness conversation. My brother Karl and my sisters Beatrice and Lorraine and my cousins could escape for awhile and play or shoot the breeze outside  —except like this Thanksgiving when it was cold and raining. Sometimes we’d go up in the attic or into the guest room but there wasn’t much room there. Meanwhile Pa and my uncles and my oldest cousins Beth and Bennett had to sit there and stifle yawns. Beth and Bennet were too old to occupy themselves with us younger cousins.

The one saving grace for everyone but us kids was liquor. The men would sip some good Kentucky bourbon while the women sipped sherry and then once dinner was served everyone would have at the wine. Everyone made sure to bring plenty of alcohol so that they could stand grandma’s palavering and the inevitable row she and grandpa would get into. They managed one good argument a meal, usually while everyone else was trying to enjoy the food. There wasn’t a teetotaler in the family save grandma who wasted her and everyone else’s time at one point or another with one of her lectures on the evils of demon rum.

The one good thing for me and my cousins at the grandparent’s house was Nikki and Beanie their two golden retrievers. They were beautiful, happy and friendly dogs who we just loved to death. Everyone did. Except of course Grandma who merely tolerated them. She often complained that Grandpa loved and paid more attention to his dogs than he did to her. Who could blame him, we all thought.

This one Thanksgiving, when I was 12, we all got a break that no one could have anticipated. Grandma got an awful headache and went in her bedroom to lay down for a bit. Suddenly the parlor was alive with conversation with one person sharing this and another sharing that and everyone enjoying hearty laughs, warm memories and observations about events in the world. Cousin Bennet revealed that he was gonna “join up.” He meant the military, of course. Bennett reckoned that the US would soon enough be involved in the war over in Europe and meant to do his part. Uncle Hobie said he doubted we’d be fighting, “unless those Nazis start sinking our ships.” Pa thought there’d likely be war but said it was probably gonna be against the Japs. Uncle Hobie said to that, “well if it is, we’ll be fightin’ the Germans too.” Aunt Eloise heard the talk and suggested that the men find something more pleasant to discuss. Then Grandpa ambled in from the kitchen and reminded everyone that he could have fought with Teddy and the Rough Riders “if I’d a mind to.”  Uncle Gus, who’d been silent to this point just had to ask him why he didn’t have a mind to.

“Cause you’d just been born, for one thing, and your sister Eloise was just a baby. I couldn’t take a chance of leavin’ your ma a widow.”

Well at that the conversation did turn to other matters like the weather and no sooner had that talk begun then we noticed that it’d started snowing. Pa said, “I don’t recall it ever snowing on Thanksgiving. It’s snowed the day before and the day after but never the day of.” Uncle Burgess, who was my uncle by marriage to Aunt Eloise, said he believed Pa was right.

“Nothin’ wrong with Thanksgiving day snow!” barked Grandpa. He was assured that no one said there was and we were just making an observation. Grandpa had turned into a cantankerous old man, although at times he could still be playful or gentle or tell a good story. I always thought that Grandpa’s orneriness stemmed from having had to listen to Grandma’s ceaseless yammering for -- at this point -- 42 years.

After a bit more talk about the weather the blessed announcement came from the kitchen that everything was ready and we could all tie on our feedbags. Aunt Eloise went to see if Grandma’s headache had stopped pounding enough where she could eat. She came back and reported that Grandma had been dozing but was awake now and feeling fine. I for one, greeted this news with mixed emotions. No, I’m lying. As much of an annoyance as Grandma was I loved her and so did everyone else. Sure she was kin but more than that when it came right down to it she was a gentle, loving soul who loved everyone of us without conditions. When Uncle Hobie got arrested for assault and battery she stood by him and wouldn’t brook a word against him. Boy did she holler with joy when the charges were dropped.

We were by no means a religious family but for Thanksgiving dinner my Great Aunt Elvira insisted on saying grace. In my opinion she went on far too long with all the things she gave thanks for and all the things we hoped God would bless and all the protection and good fortune she asked for. The word “amen” at the end of her soliloquy was one of the most beautiful sounds I’d ever heard because it signaled we could all tear into the big bird and the multitude of side dishes that comprised our feast. We rampaged through the food with the happy knowledge that once we’d stuffed ourselves there was all manner of pie yet to come topped with ice cream or whipped cream.

Somehow Grandpa had managed to cook the bird to perfection, there being a first time for everything. The mashed potatoes and stuffing and gravy and even the beets and string beans were all delicious. I’d learned from cousin Lloyd, who was 16, that if you ate slowly you could both enjoy it more and ultimately eat more. I tried my best but everything was so good that I went at my plate like a hungry wolf.

Meals were one time that Grandma kept her yap shut. She was intent on her eating and never said anything other than to please pass something or such and such is really good and boy howdy she didn’t realize how hungry she’d been. And miracle of miracles we were spared the usual squabble between the grandparents. Another first.

After the turkey was just a carcass and there was no more than a dollop of anything else left, we all sat in stupor for awhile. Cigarettes and pipes were produced and the room filled with smoke. After dinner brandies were served — strictly to the grown-ups, of course — and we all took turns raving about the meal and saying how full we were. Us kids then cleared the plates and before you knew it our stomachs were put to another test by the profusion of pies before us. There was pecan, apple, boysenberry, pumpkin and banana cream. I must have sampled all of them.

After desert the adults went back to their brandy and cigarettes and pipes as we all collapsed in the parlor. It was dark outside by this time and the snow hadn’t let up. I loved the snow. Outside it was fun to play in and inside it was chance to appreciate being cozy and warm and part of a loving family. I crawled up on the sofa and squeezed in between Pa and Ma. I sat there thinking what a magical place the world was with such a cornucopia of foods and the Christmas season coming and the snow outside and sledding and skiing and picture shows and friends and family. Most of all family. I loved every one of them, even my gabby old grandma. To be surrounded by family and so much love made the world seem safe and comfortable and forever warm and bright. I never imagined that it could ever be any different. But it was.

Eleven days later came the attack on Pearl Harbor. Cousin Bennett and later cousin Lloyd went off to war. Bennett was killed at Anzio and Lloyd’s left leg was blown off at Omaha Beach. Uncle Hobie died in car accident two months after that Thanksgiving dinner and Ma and Pa did the unthinkable two years later and got divorced. Grandma died in ’43 and Grandpa followed her to heaven a year later. Uncle Burgess and Aunt Dot moved to California for war work and never came back.

Thanksgiving 1945 was nice enough, I suppose. Great Aunt Elvira had moved into my grandparent’s house and she had those of us who were left over. I was 16 and more interested in girls than family, by this time I’d been going steady with Nancy Pike for two months and I was angry about having to turn down her invitation to have dinner with her family. The worst thing was that Ma brought her new beau some jackass named Ralph who owned a department store. What he had in money was cancelled out with what he didn’t have for a personality. Pa stayed away what with Ralph being there so it was doubly bad.

I sat at dinner thinking about how each Thanksgiving since the one in 1941 had gotten progressively worse. I couldn’t wait to go off to college and not bother with family gatherings again. I wished we could have frozen time and stayed in that 1941 Thanksgiving. But I’ve since learned that you’ve got to move on and that’s what I’ve done.

Now I have my own family with a wife and three children and we’re about to have a big Thanksgiving dinner at the home of my mother and father-in-law. A new cycle of Thanksgivings are in progress, this time I’m one of the adults, but I still have a child’s love for family and special occasions. I know that Thanksgiving will never be like it was when I was a kid, but it some ways that gives the day a richer meaning, having seen an experienced it through a child’s eyes and now with my progeny. Everything’s different and everything changes and all you can do is enjoy what you’ve got today. That’s what I do, anyway.

12 November 2016

You've Met Some of the Teachers, Now Meet Some of the School's Staff


In my previous two posts -- which you can easily find preceding this one -- I provided profiles of teachers that might seem familiar to you. That familiarity may stem from your own school days, or from your child's or perhaps from working at a public school yourself. I complete this series with a look at some of the school's staff.

The indispensable school secretary arrived an hour and a half before classes start and left two hours after the last one ended. Since state funds for educations started dissipating, clerical staff had been getting laid off one by one. Thus she did several jobs. She took phone calls for administrators, handled attendance, received school guests, handled the substitutes, typed agendas and sent reminders and sorted the mail and occasionally ministered injured students. She had yet to complain about all the work, she in fact thrived on it and did everything effortlessly with grace never losing her cool. No one could recall ever seeing her take a bathroom break or eating lunch. The indispensable school secretary always looked immaculate. She drove a luxury car that her husband, a building contractor bought for their 20th wedding anniversary. They have three children and administers great love and strict discipline in equal doses. She is African American and stresses to her children the importance of an education and staying away from bad influences. The indispensable school secretary revels in her leisure hours variously relaxing in front of the TV or being the life of a party. She also is a regular at her church, always with her kids, if not her husband, in tow. The indispensable school secretary loves baked ham.

The churlish custodian was not happy with his lot in life. His halcyon days were as a high schooler when he made all conference in basketball two years in a row and as a senior led the school to a league championship. But he’d screwed up in the classroom and no four year university would or could take him. So he went to a JC to achieve eligibility and polish his game. Problem was that he couldn’t abide time in the classroom and was kicked off the team for bad grades. He wandered for awhile, lost, committed a few strong arm robberies and was ultimately arrested, the convicted. After prison the churlish custodian moved from job to job before finally settling in as a high school custodian. The pay was better than he’d ever had and there was no demanding boss forever on his back. But he was not happy. This is not how he envisioned his life being but couldn't imagine a way out. Still he was a dutiful employee and respectful of the school faculty and staff. He was nice to everyone and they were nice to him. He spent his off hours watching sports, mostly basketball. He walked or bussed to his apartment which he shared with his girlfriend who herself was an unhappy waitress. The churlish custodian likes shrimp gumbo.

The melancholic principal did not particularly care for children, least of all the ones who were students at his school. Indeed, he considered them the worst part of his job. The next worse thing was parents. Third was faculty. Actually the school board and district administrators made his life hell but he dare not think of them as anything but benevolent overlords in whose service he was happy to be. Though he wasn’t. The melancholic principal was soft, pudgy and as white as oatmeal. He always wore a suit. He had two that were two small and two that were too big along the one that fit perfectly. His nails were always neatly trimmed as was his hair. He was immaculate and smelled of a powerful men’s cologne. He was not a particularly good principal except that he’d mastered the fine art of delegating work to others. In the same vein he knew how to shift responsibility and blame to underlings. The buck didn’t stop with him, his office was its transfer station. No one, it seemed, had strong feelings about the principal. Some teachers recognized him for the sad forlorn figure that he was. The melancholic principal drove an expensive sports car to his condo which he shared with a cat, Brutus.  His only passions were classical music, mystery books and movies and his many nieces and nephews who he fawned over. There had only been fleeting and forced romances in his life for he was asexual. The melancholic principal likes minestrone.

The tough but loquacious school safety officer variably spent his work time idly chatting with co-workers, breaking up fights and shooing unwelcome campus visitors and removing disruptive students from classrooms. His job could be stressful and borderline dangerous or like Sunday in the park. It was usually both throughout the course of a typical day. He was a very tall very strong African American with very long dreadlocks and he was developing a paunch, though not a very big one.  He’d served in the marines after high school then was a police officer until badly injuring his knee. The tough but loquacious school safety officer didn’t take crap from anyone, be it a thug, a student, an angry parent or an administrator. His aim was to keep the campus safe and do it his way and no one better mess with him. But he also loved nothing more than laughter filled bull sessions with fellow safety officers, students or friendly staff and teachers. He had an endless supply of stories to tell, from his school days, the marines, his short-lived police career or incidents at school. Anyone who took the time to know the tough but loquacious safety officer liked him. He drove a brand new truck. He lived in a small house -- with a big yard ideal for the many barbecues he hosted -- with his wife and two children.  He liked his job because he knew he was doing an important service and for the down time it afforded him to swap lies over the back fence, so to speak. The tough but loquacious student safety officer loves steak.

The astringent vice principal was the embodiment of the term “no nonsense.” He was dry and humorless and to all appearances a wretchedly unhappy man. He patrolled the school like an embittered MP, marching through the halls and parading through the courtyard, and stomping through PE facilities, and strutting through the cafeteria and patrolling the outer rim of the campus. Yet he always also seemed to be in his office too, reading the proverbial riot act to errant students or barking at parents on the phone or processing work orders or signing suspension forms or meeting with a teacher or other staff member. The astringent vice principal was built like a linebacker and was about as subtle. He’d spent several years as a classroom teacher (science) but had yearned to be free of the confines of a classroom and longed for the higher pay of an administrative position. He had no grand vision of education nor any notions any interest in pedagogy, he was dedicated solely to the tasks in front of them and doing them right. Every employee at the school respected him and none liked him. Students hated and feared him. He was conservative, dour and prone to controlled but frightening lividity, usually directed at students. Some parents complained about him but to no avail. The astringent vice principal was divorced, occasionally seeing his two sons, one in college the other in high school. He lived alone in a luxury apartment. It would have surprised many at the school to know that he had quite a few friends and would have surprised them even further to know that for female companionship he paid for high end prostitutes. The astringent vice principal loves spaghetti.

05 November 2016

Part Two of Teachers You Might Recognize


As the title suggests this is the second part of my look at public school teachers. It is my guess you will recognize some or a little bit about one or more of them.

The cynical yet perspicacious history teacher felt like there was nothing new under the sun. In 25 years of teaching he’d seen every kind of kid you could imagine, dealt with every manner of parent and suffered through a seemingly endless parade of administrators. Worst he’d had to hear about every new teaching methodology and behavior modification program that had come down the pike. None of them impressed or interested him any more. He gave a geography quiz at the beginning of the school year and he could tell based on that who his A students were going to be and who is F students were going to be. Very little he did was going to change the courses of student lives once they entered his classroom. The cynical yet perspicacious history teacher was nonetheless an excellent teacher who gave spell binding lectures that could interest even the most disaffected student. He was highly regarded by colleagues and had served several terms as union rep and always kept abreast of union matters. He lived with his second wife and a step son, his teenaged daughter visited on weekends. He read history books compulsively and was fanatical in keeping up with current events. He preferred jazz and documentaries. The cynical yet perspicacious history teacher loves pizza.

The flamboyant drama teacher was gay and didn’t care who knew it. He even referenced his sexuality to students but only in relation to an already introduced topic or discussion. He’d been out of the closet since he was 13 and spent much of his young life on the battle lines fighting for acceptance of and equal rights for the LGBT community. This was complicated for him by the fact that he was African American. He had a been there done that feeling about activism now and his primary focuses were on his job and the adopted daughter he was raising with his husband. The latter was a prominent attorney and their house was a veritable mansion in the chic part of town. The flamboyant drama teacher was loved by most of his students because he gave everything to the class and cared so deeply for his students. Plus he had a knack for drawing out the best in his students and the plays they put on were so good that it wasn’t just members of the school community who attended them. Over the years a few students had slung homophobic taunts at him but never a second time. His responses were quick and direct and he brought to bear the full force of the school’s disciplinary policy on them. Many students had come out to him and even straight students trusted him implicitly. The flamboyant drama teacher loves Korean barbecue.

The perpetually befuddled math teacher was in his second year of teaching and seemed unlikely to earn tenure. He was an earnest young man who loved math and cared about his students and employed everything he’d ever learned at an in-service, workshop, conference, staff development or observation. Yet he got little response from his students, excepting those who were disruptive and there were many of them. It was likely his dour demeanor and plain unmodulated voice that put students to sleep -- literally in some cases. The perpetually befuddled math teacher was not what one would call a people person. He was uncomfortable talking both to groups and individuals and it showed. He never seemed to understand what was going on in this new world of teaching. His student’s and their lack of interest were perplexing, he did not understand the jokes or banter among other teachers and failed to comprehend the jargon and acronyms that were so much a part of a public school system. He sensed that this was not the career for him and that he might as well go into academia as so many had advised him to. His fiancĂ© was in med school and they shared a small house that she had inherited from grandparents. The perpetually befuddled math teacher loves grilled cheese sandwiches.

The officious computer science teacher sported a crew cut and sartorial style that was of a fashion in the 1950s. There were many jokes about him being a time traveler from the Eisenhower years. He was as stern and conservative as his haircut. He gave students icy stares from the first day onwards and laid down computer lab rules in a manner more befitting a drill sergeant. The classroom was always immaculate because anyone who left so much as a crumb or paper clip on a desk or floor felt his wrath. The officious computer science teacher seemed not to derive an iota of pleasure out of his profession. It was rare for him to crack a smile except when he told one of his corny jokes to classes as he did every Friday as his one concession to the notion of giving students a reward. It would have surprised one and all to know that he did like his job. It satisfied his need for order and discipline. The officious computer science teacher was undisputed lord and master of his computer lab, this was a source of great satisfaction to him. His mien away from school couldn’t have been any different. With his wife and three children he was loose and carefree and indulged everyone’s whims and loved nothing more than horseplay with his boys and hugging and playfully teasing his daughter. Indeed he was a bit of goofball. The officious computer science teacher loves bratwurst.

The idealistic English teacher knew she couldn’t “save” every child but would never stop trying. She had a passion for the written word and went to extremes in trying to infect her charges with that same love. She believed that through writing and literature and education in general any young person could become a critical thinker and positive member of society. She was of above average height, usually wore jeans and a colorful top and had long brown hair and wore glasses. She was without debate a fetching woman. Male colleagues speculated endlessly about her. Was she married? Did she have a boyfriend? Was she a lesbian? Was she promiscuous? What would she be like in bed? Did she ever loosen up? Around colleagues the idealistic English teacher was practically lugubrious, certainly impenetrable. Besides literature she was a dedicated leftist and injected into her lessons treatises on injustices to Native Americans, the plight of Haitians and the horrors of fracking. That these often distracted from proscribed lessons was much spoken of among students and especially parents and administrators but she was otherwise such an exemplary teacher that she was more often showered with encomiums. She had enjoyed several relationships with men but they never lasted owing largely to her mercurial nature. She was a woman of many moods and in domestic settings they were all on full display; she was thus estranged from her parents. She lived in a one bedroom apartment above a bookstore with an exquisite view of the city. She loved to go out dancing, which she did most Friday nights with friends. The idealistic English teacher loves crab salads.

02 November 2016

Herein I Introduce Five Teachers, You May Recognize One or More


“Teachers, let me tell you, are born deceivers of the lowest sort, since what they want from life is impossible -- time-freed existential youth forever. it commits them to terrible deceptions and departures from the truth”. - From The Sportswriter by Richard Ford

The female English teacher wears long loose blouses and long colorful scarves and has tousled hair. She sports spectacles and often these hang around her neck on a chain. You’ll hear her talk lovingly of some students that all other teachers hate because she managed to get some personal, touching writing out of them. She is forever busy and preoccupied yet always way behind in her grading. She drives a mid sized car to her modest home. Her husband seems world beaten and bemused yet somehow a happy loving spouse and their children are precocious. She’s a below average cook and barely adequate at keeping house. Outside of her classroom (and sometimes within) she talks way too much. No colleagues hate or even dislike the female English teacher although some are easily annoyed by her. The teacher is too busy to read much anymore but knows a little bit about virtually every acclaimed writer and every highly regarded novel. There’s always one popular writer she extolls and another she reviles. The female English teacher eats huge salads.

The first year male history teacher is self important and immovable in his opinions. He holds other teachers in low regard, particularly the veterans, save one who he considers a mentor. Colleagues are put off by his brusqueness although male teachers envy his cute girlfriend who has short dark hair  and a perfect figure. The first year male history teacher has strong, politically oriented views on historical people, events and epochs as well as events of the day and these opinions often seep into his lessons. He is a passionate teacher and believes that he can teach anyone and is on the verge of saving the world. He is proud of his innovative lessons and overuses them. Students either love him or hate him and a few have crushes on him. Some students love to talk to him so they hang around in his classroom after school to chat. He drives a small older model car that is idiosyncratic. He has a small apartment that is a mess but proudly boasts no TV.  The first year male history teachers loves Chinese food which he eats with chopsticks.

The aging science teacher has developed a paunch and lost the majority of his hair. He laughs loudly at his own jokes although no one else does, particularly not his students who find him aggravating. He used to give too much homework but now he doesn’t give enough because he's well tired of grading. Parents complain about him but he’s got tenure and has never done anything egregious so he’ll hang on until retirement. The aging science teacher relies on the textbook and the same teaching methods he employed when his career began 35 years prior. His grading is wildly inconsistent, although he tends to give good grades to students on the honor roll whether they merit them or not. The aging science teacher knows his stuff as far as it goes in the classroom but beyond that he knows very little about science. People are forever asking him questions about a rock they found or what planet is what or about the digestive system and he unfailingly manages to fake a plausible answer. Around colleagues he is a hail-fellow-well-met. Most don’t have a lot of respect for him but most like him well enough. He drives a new over-sized car. At his lovely suburban home he spends most of his time in an easy chair watching whatever sports event is on. His wife brings him meals where he sits. The aging science teacher likes pork chops.

The female PE teacher is a lesbian. Everyone recognizes her sexual orientation save a few dim-witted students. She realizes that being a lesbian PE teacher fits a stereotype but she doesn’t give a damn. There is much that she does not give a damn about. She seems to draw no pleasure out of her job but is fiercely dedicated to it. The female PE teacher is a stickler for details and discipline and students toe the line with her because failing to do so will result in consequences. None of her disciplinary threats are idle and she rarely passes problem students on to administrators. Her lessons are meticulously planned and she always receives glowing evaluations. For the most part students hate her. She knows this and doesn't give a damn. Most of the hatred stems from her unyielding discipline and her total humorlessness. Somehow she takes the fun out of playing games. The female PE teacher has cordial relations with all her colleagues but is close to no one except the closeted female administrator and the gay drama teacher. She drives a new mid-sized car and lives with her partner in a fixer upper. Her partner is a successful gardener and they both work together to keep an immaculate house. She never goes to staff parties. The female PE teacher likes cinnamon bagels.

The 40ish math teacher already has some gray in his hair. He is an everyman loved or at least liked by co-workers and neighbors, respected by administrators and appreciated by students. He realizes that many students hate math so he works tirelessly to make it as palatable as possible and even sometimes fun. Most students like him a lot except those who can’t countenance doing homework or studying for tests and thus receive failing grades. They blame their teacher although they harbor no real ill will towards him. The 40ish math teacher usually wears a white dress shirt and often a tie that he invariably loosens by mid morning. He is whirling dervish of activity during class, writing an example on the board, dashing over to help a student with a question, checking on another student, trying to coax another into making an effort.  He drives a mid priced foreign car to his very middle class home which is in a very middle class neighborhood. He has a wife with a slightly hire paying job and two children that he loves unconditionally. He attends church services but rarely invokes God or theology while talking with anyone. He bikes on weekends and occasionally goes backpacking. The 40ish math teacher loves broiled salmon.

The young male Spanish teacher is half Scotch Irish and half Russian Jew but he identifies only with Latinos. He has even adopted a Spanish first name. He lived in various parts of Central and South American for over a year, backpacking and hitch hiking his way from Mexico to the south of Chile. He is fluent in Spanish though with a thick accent. Of course, the young male Spanish teacher has a girlfriend from Mexico — he wouldn’t have it any other way. He is a passionate teacher though often over zealous and intolerant of students who aren’t in love with the Spanish language. He favors his Mexican American and African American students and is a total Anglophobe. The young male Spanish teacher bicycles everywhere though he does have a car that he uses for shopping and trips to the beach. Co workers find him a bit over the top but indulge him because he is a dedicated and effective teacher. The young male Spanish teacher is indulgent of his colleagues but believes he’s got the jump on all of them because of his travel experiences and his keen understanding of Central and South American cultures. He lives in a small cottage behind a big house with his girlfriend and a cat called Fidel. The young male Spanish teachers loves empanadas.