30 March 2016

You Probably Don't Have Time to Read this, You've Just Been Sooooo Busy


"To avoid being a serious man in a frivolous world." - From Memory Babe, a Biography of Jack Kerouac by Gerald Nicosia.

Let’s get a job. Maybe one that consumes large portions of days and most weeks of the year and that goes on and on for decades. Maybe it will take different forms. Maybe at one place for awhile, then another. Perhaps a wholly different career at some point. But let’s make sure that we are busy at something, some sort of profession. There will still be time outside of work. Much of that can be used for sleep, chores and eating and going from one place to the next. That’s clearly not enough. We need a hobby. It could be anything, really. Parasailing or watching TV. Camping or going to sports events. The opera or dance classes. Fill those hours. Don’t let them sit there unattended. It is important to do. To go. To be active. This is life, being occupied. No empty days or even hours or even minutes. Fill it, to the brim. Yes that’s the ticket. Overflow. You really want more to do than you have time for. You want to be able to tell people how busy you’ve been. It’s been so hectic. Children are good for this. They are perfect for riding yourself of idle hours. Career, children, hobbies. Now your set. And best of all its all so important. You can be an important person with so much to do. What’s better than that? You’re needed. People count on you. You’re not some bum sitting on the sidewalk. You’ve got a meeting in 15 minutes. Then the kids need to be picked up. Groceries. Cleaning. Checking emails. You’ve got emails that need answering. Then you’ll “grab” some sleep. You are forever “grabbing” things. Like lunch. Or coffee. Or a run. Or a snack. There’s no time to savor any of it. You just “grab” and go. You’re in a hurry. Yes this is living. To be rushing around. From here to there. From there to here. Take a minute or two say hi to a colleague or a neighbor or a former classmate. Catch up. Then move on. You’ll get together soon. You want to hear more about their recent trip. Another time, of course. Busy now. Wait, you’ve got a text message. Answer it. Then check your emails. You may have a minute to check the news. You are forever “checking” things. No time to study or even peruse. Just a quick check. You know what you wish you had? More time. Never enough. Where does the time go? Wasn’t it just yesterday? Or just last week? Or a year ago? My how they’ve grown. That building is finished so soon? Is it almost April already. Goodness time flies. So push it along by keeping busy. Be a busy little beaver. An idle mind is the devil’s workshop because if you’re not filling every minute you may conceive to do evil. Who has the time? Maybe you’re the type of person who has meetings. Lots of meetings. Some are “important” meetings. Mustn’t be late. Sitting in meetings, taking notes, contributing ideas, being bored, listening to someone prattle on. Schedule the next meeting. Then go to another. Maybe you’ve been in meetings all day. Maybe your meeting will have a special guest speaker to inform and illuminate and elucidate. There will be papers passed out. So many papers. Like the emails, they pile up. Won’t have time to get to them all for awhile. And phone calls to return. I’ll get back to you as soon as I can. I’m on another call now. Is there a good time to reach you? When can we hook up? We need to sit down and talk. I’m on my way to a meeting. Then a conference. Then a workshop. Then a symposium. Later a forum. Oh and then there’s the committee. Yes, we should “do” lunch. Nice little restaurant for lunch. Food’s pretty good (try the linguini) good salads, maybe a cocktail — or two. Comment on the food, updates of family. Vacation plans? New car! Now down to brass tacks. Always those. Time is money. Get ‘er done. Gotta be off. Shame there wasn’t more time. Not enough in the day. “Shoot” me an email. Best to the family. You are forever sending regards, best wishes, kind thoughts, good vibes, condolences and lots of luck. It gets crazy after the holidays, you say. A few months before you said that it gets crazy around the holidays. Couple of months before that you said it gets crazy just before the holidays. Before that it was getting crazy at the start of the school year. Soon you’ll be saying it gets crazy at the end of the school year. Then you’ve got summer and trips and visitors and the kids are off. Summer is always so crazy. And don’t forgot you’ve got a busy time of year at work. Maybe more than one. Combine it with one of those crazy times or fill in a gap in between. For crying out loud you have to pick up the dry cleaning. The car’s in the shop. The cable man is coming this afternoon. You’re building an addition to the back of the house and having the kitchen re-modeled and landscaping the back and you’ve got contractors and gardeners to meet with. Then there’s a carnival at one of the kid’s schools and parent conferences at the other kid’s school and a neighborhood meeting and your dental check up and figuring out Summer camps for the kids and booking flights for vacation and a gift to buy for your cousin’s wedding next month. No, it’s later this month and you need to figure out when to have those friends over for dinner. You’ve been meaning to, been promising for so long. Gotta get on that. Gotta get to things. Gotta stay on top of situations. Can’t let things slip by. Can’t forget. Got those commitments and obligations and responsibilities and work is piling up and you’d better hurry because you’ll be dead someday and then won’t be able to do any of it. None. Imagine that. Well no actually mustn’t think about it. Death, that is. No, no, no, we're filling those hours so we don’t have to contemplate the eternal void. The empty abyss. The long goodbye. The eternal rest. Nope. No time for unpleasantries. Focus on the here and now, 'cause time’s a wasting. Do it to it. You gotta go. Better hustle. Get a move on. Shove off. Take off. On to the next thing. Work is piling, so are chores. You've got so many big piles. No time to relax. No time. No.

29 March 2016

It Starts as a Post About Commuting then Runs off the Rails -- So to Speak

My total daily commute is about 2 and half hours a day — if everything runs smoothly. Of that time I spend a combined 40 minutes or so walking. First from home to the bus later from bus to streetcar, then from streetcar to work, then work to bus, then bus to subway and finally from subway home. On average I spend about 15 minutes waiting for a vehicle. Some days a lot longer. You never know.

During the part of the commute in which I’m sitting and riding I read. That’s not bad. The walking isn’t bad either. It supplements my running. The waiting is never good. Never. Especially when there are delays. The worst part is that grand total. Think of it, 12 and half hours of commuting a week. Maybe 50 hours a month. Even figuring time off you’ve got over 500 hours a year. That’s the equivalent of over ten days out of my year spent commuting. That’s a pretty conservative figure. It’s probably closer to 15.

Ya know what? It could be worse. People will tell you that. You hear it all the time. Is that all you have to complain about? You’ve got it easy! That’s nothing! There are a lot of people who will pooh pooh any complaint you can come up with. Sprained an ankle? Least your leg isn’t broken. Broke your leg? Least it’s not being amputated. Leg gonna be amputated? Least you’re not paralyzed. Paralyzed? You’re alive, aren’t you?

How big does your complaint have to be to be considered valid? How much pain do you have to suffer before everyone will be impressed and say, gee that sounds awful?

The flip side of that is good news. We’re going to Paris! Yeah I’ve been there. Whatever you’ve done the other person has done too, just as good if not better. Won the lottery. Yeah I won it too. Then there are the people who will find the negative in anything. We’re going to Paris! Kinna crowded this time of year. Then to Italy! I hear it gets hot there. Won the lottery! Your taxes are going to be something awful.

It’s hard to look someone in the eye and say: that’s great! Congratulations. Or, that’s terrible, you have my sympathies. I know what you’re thinking, plenty of people congratulate you or offer condolences. You say that because you can always find exceptions. The rents are so high in this city! We know a couple who found a cheap place. That team is awful! We saw them win a game recently. Murderers and rapists are terrible. We met one who was a pretty nice guy, remember, Mabel? Some people just don't want to be impressed one way or the other, it's like giving you some sort of power.

Okay so I got off on a tangent. I’ll do that. I’m a bit of a curmudgeon, I suppose. It’s weird because I still feel like a kid. I haven’t felt my age yet, other than a slight increase in instances of middle of the night pees. Yes, I get up to do it, wise ass. I know I look much younger than most people my age. Good genes, excellent physical health, good diet, exercise aplenty and a youthful attitude.

Don’t anyone say: knock on wood. It does absolutely no good to knock on wood and you don’t “jinx” yourself by mentioning a run of good luck. That’s all superstitious hogwash. If you want to participate in it, go ahead, just don’t expect me to play along. Same goes for you jokers who talk about astrology. Such a load of hokum I’ve never heard. Why seemingly intelligent people go on about it is beyond my scope of understanding. Some people say, “its just for fun.” Fair enough, but what the hell is fun about ascribing characteristics to a person based on their date of birth? Seems just damn dumb to me, but then again I believe in science, so call me crazy.

Ya know what is hard to nail down? What constitutes crazy and what constitutes intelligent. I guess crazy is easier. If your behavior or actions or opinions seem normal to you but frighten or disturb others then that’s a sign. If you are extremely paranoid, that may be a clue. I was going to say if you were extremely anxious but I think that’s just an indication you’re aware of how totally fucked up our world is. Of course doing harm to yourself or others can be a sign of insanity. I guess if you mug someone you’re not necessarily crazy, nor if you shoot someone while serving in the military. But I don’t want to put too fine a point on it. As for intelligence, that’s a tougher nut to crack. I mean you can be a leading mathematician and a total social misfit. I’ve known people who are very accomplished in difficult fields and don’t know the first thing about politics (the obvious joke here would be that neither do many politicians). The point is that you can be really smart in one way and an idiot in another so who’s to say your intelligent?

Speaking of intelligent - Donald Trump. Ya didn’t see that one coming, didja? No, I’m not really going to suggest that the man has a brain in his head. The thing about him is he dominates conversations. Last week I had dinner with two blokes I used to work with and while catching up on old times Trump manages to invade the conversation. The next day I meet a friend for coffee and of course the conversation eventually gets around to Trump. I’m back at work after a week off and a co-worker and I catch up on things and inevitably Trump comes up. Hell I expect some night to be talking in my sleep and the next day the wife says I mentioned Trump. I’ll be petting a dog saying, “who’s a good boy?” and before you know it I’ll ask the pooch, “that idiot Trump sure is something, ain’t he?” I’ll be talking to myself trying to remember the million things I have to do and it’ll go like this: “I’ve got to make those photocopies, find that document, turn in that form, Trump is such a moron….” I’d like to swear off talking about him but how do I get everyone I know to follow suit? Can’t be done.

So, like I was saying, commuting….Lot of hours, and I didn’t even get to the hassles of those damn other people who are doing it at the same time. Some of them are so Trumplike — damn, did it again.

(Dedicated to my wife who has to put up with me. Poor thing.)

27 March 2016

The Apologist



“You awright, sir?”
Jack was on his hands and knees, face to the ground with an expression of desperate agony.
The little African American boy asked him again, “you awright, sir?”
Everyone else on the playground kept their distance. Many staring at Jack. Some pretending not to notice him. But no one, save the little boy, made any effort to help.
“Please. Please, forgive me,” Jack croaked.
 “Huh?” The little boy replied.
“Forgive me my sins. I’ve been awful and I want to repent.”
The child put a hand on Jack’s back and lightly patted him.
A crowd was starting to form a rim around Jack, about 20 feet from where he supplicated himself. It was an urban playground. Jack was on the asphalt where kids played four square or tether ball. There were basketball courts a few yards away and a baseball field adjacent. The playground took up most of a city block and was surrounded by small homes and low income housing. At night the playground was often a scene of drug use and drug deals. The police patrolled it regularly.
Two blocks from the playground was a main strip with car dealerships, fast food restaurants and lots of liquor stores. This portion of the city had not yet been gentrified. The city’s poorest lived here. The surrounding neighborhoods were 80% African American. The playground was in the western portion of the city about five minutes by car from the bay. The city was on the West Coast in Northern California. The climate was temperate. Today the sun seemed especially high and the day especially bright. There was no breeze. It was late March, 2016. This was the United States.

Jack was on the verge of tears. He choked them back. The little boy patted him again and said, “that’s awright.” The little boy’s name was Jerome, he was five and lived two blocks away in a tiny two bedroom house with his mother, grandmother and older brother and older sister. His older brother Darnell, age 9, had walked Jerome to the park but was now playing basketball and oblivious to the scene on the asphalt. Many others were not. They watched but no one either knew what to do or cared to do anything.

In a much louder voice than before Jack said, “please forgive me. I know I don’t deserve it but please try to find it in your hearts to forgive.” Then in a softer voice he added, “god knows I’ve been awful, terrible, all my life, all the lies and the deceptions and the cheating. Oh god, I’m sorry.” Then he began to sob.

Once again Jerome patted him.

“Get away from that crazy white man,” a woman yelled at Jerome. She was his next door neighbor. They called her Aunt Nisha although she wasn't really their aunt. She had passed through the playground on the way to the market and had stopped to see what the fuss was about. Aunt Nisha had babysat Jerome many times and along with his mother and grandmother was one of three people who played a part in his upbringing.

At the sound of Aunt Nisha’s voice Jerome ran to her, but not before a final pat on Jack’s back. He looked back as he ran and said “bye.” Aunt Nisha scolded Jerome and asked what he was doing talking to and touching “that fool white man.”

Jack’s knees were beginning to hurt so he stood up. Slowly. Two dozen people were watching him as if Jack was about to do something wonderful or horrible. Jack stood and stretched. Tears were streaming down his eyes. Jack wasn’t sure how he’d gotten here. He just knew that he wanted to repent, to change his ways. After so many years of being and doing so much wrong and hurting so many people he wanted a second chance. Jack started to walk to his car which he somehow knew was across the street. The crowd parted for him and watched him in wonder.

Jack found his beat up old Toyota, though still having no clue how he had gotten to this part of town. His keys were still in the ignition and Jack thought it a wonder that the car hadn’t been stolen. Looking back toward the playground he noticed that the crowd that had watched him had dispersed and gone on about their day. Jack yelled out the window: “I’m sorry everyone. I truly am. For everything and for anything else and for…” There Jack stopped and blew his nose into a dirty hanky that was in the passenger seat. “I’m such an awful jerk, even to myself, using a filthy rag like this to blow my nose.”

A few blocks into his ride home Jack stopped at an intersection. It was a four way stop and no cars were coming in any other direction but Jack came to a complete stop nonetheless. Then it hit him. A full blown panic attack. From the tips of his toes to the top of his head Jack felt total fear and complete abandonment from reality. It was like he was floating, unmoored from his soul from Earth from anything familiar. Jack had experienced panic attacks before but this was infinitely worse than any of its predecessors. Jack stuck his hand into the glove box and pulled out the bottle of ativan he kept there for just such emergencies. His hand shook so that Jack dropped the bottle twice before securing it firmly in his hand. Unscrewing the top was a labor and one pill dropped to the floor before he got one down his throat, dry swallowing it. Jack looked at his watch, it was 10:32 meaning it would be 11:02 before the pill kicked in. But just taking it had relaxed Jack, if only a little. He wanted to scream, he wanted to die, he wanted to drive straight to the hospital. Jack thought it better that he not drive for awhile so he pulled over. It couldn’t have been more 60 degrees out but Jack was sweating profusely. Jack gripped the steering wheel as tightly as he could, it was his base of security. Jack again thought about the fact that he couldn’t remember having gotten to the park. This started to really worry him now. Surely he was losing his mind, the panic attack was just one symptom.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m so so sorry,” Jack repeated while banging his head against the steering wheel.

“Where the hell was I last night? I didn’t drink, not a drop, where, what happened, what did I do?” These questions tormented Jack. The only thing that Jack could be certain of was the need to apologize, make amends, to repent for all the sins he’d committed for so many year. Stealing money from his brother’s coin collection. Cheating on a high school exam. Lying to girlfriends. Lying to his parents. Lying to friends. Stealing petty cash at work. Having an affair during his first marriage. Side swiping that parked car and just driving away. Skipping out on a restaurant tab. The list just went on and on and that didn’t even begin to count the rude remarks, the insults, the crude remarks to women the nonstop lies he’d told everyone. Jack was 43 years old and reckoned himself to be about as bad a human as existed. Okay, he hadn’t killed anyone or committed rape or incest or molestation but he was a grade A jerk, an asshole, a douche bag. At least as far as he could tell.

But finally Jack was feeling remorse. Finally Jack was feeling guilt. The problem was he was now overwhelmed by it.

At 11:02 Jack was feeling exhausted, shaky and monumentally depressed. But he was well enough to drive home.

He pulled into the driveway and walked to the front door. His wife Carolyn was standing in the kitchen. His sons Neal and Allen emerged from their room and leapt into his arms. Carolyn asked, “Where’ve you been? Where did you take off to so early this morning. Even the kids were asleep when you left.”

“I’m sorry, Carolyn. I’m sorry kids. I really am,” Jack replied. He then went over and gave Carolyn a kiss. “I’m so, so sorry,” he repeated.

“Goodness Jack, its not that big a deal. But where’d you go?” Carolyn asked again.

“For a ride. Just felt like it.”

“Say are you all right? You look wiped out. Are you up for taking the boys to soccer? And remember, we’ve got a date tonight. The sitter’s expecting a big payday.”

“Yeah, I’m fine. I’ll just need a nap later this afternoon.”

“Why don’t you take it now and I’ll bring the boys to soccer?”

Neal and Allen complained -- they wanted their dad to take them to soccer -- but their mother insisted. Jack dutifully flopped onto bed and had a good sleep. He dreamt of sliding down a rainbow into a clear blue pool. It was a wonderful dream and Jack awoke feeling much better.

“Sorry I couldn’t take the kids,” he said to Carolyn afterwards.

“Don’t apologize, I volunteered to take them. You have nothing to apologize for, you’ve been under a lot of stress lately. Just make sure you’re fresh for our night out, and what I’ve got planned when we get home.” With that she winked.

Jack smiled.

“Maybe,” he thought, “I should go back to my psychiatrist before I really flip out.”

25 March 2016

The Evolution of the Modern Woman -- in my Mind and in Society

Woman in a long white coat, carrying a black purse with a hat on and pearls around her neck. Her dress in dark green and ends below her knees. The small hat sits lightly on her hair which is blonde though maybe dyed. Her nails are painted fire engine red. Her lipstick is a lighter shade of red. She is wearing white gloves. The woman could be anywhere from her mid thirties to forties. The time is in  early or mid 1960s. She accompanies a man and says very little. She smokes. Women like her seemed to be everywhere when I was a child, just as they are in films from the years before and around my childhood. They can also be seen  in vintage ads.

They always seem to be with a man. Sometimes they are a wife, at other times a girlfriend or a mistress. They are polite though often sullen. They favor martinis and steaks. There is never anything distinguishing or interesting about them. They are usually above average height and slender. When I was a child these women never seemed to be mothers or to have careers or to come from anywhere. In fact their sole function seemed to be as attachments to men. You never knew what they were thinking or if indeed they ever thought anything. Their contributions to conversations were minimal and banal. They would, however, speak freely to other women of long acquaintance though it might as well have been in another language to boys and men and it was of no consequence to us.

A lot of these women you only ever saw once. Maybe because they had broken up with the man they were with or you never saw the man again or maybe they’d taken a new persona as a doughty married woman, maybe with a child in tow. Sometimes they slipped comfortably into their role as a wife and looked much the same.

To me as a boy they were utterly unappealing. Those few who were still about after I became interested in the fairer sex had no more sensuality to me than a barbie doll — and much the same personality.

These women were products of their time. It was an era when, in mixed company, women took on a subsidiary role. Women were supposed to be seen and not heard and they were supposed to look good for the benefit of their husbands. At family gatherings and among close friends women could literally and figuratively let their hair down and many chose to do so. Although the genders were often segregated after meals or even before, it was also likely, particularly at parties and celebrations, for men and women to intermingle.

My mother fit this description to a degree. Unlike most women about she had not only a college education but an advanced degree. Still, she “knew her place.” While my father’s education ended before high school, she deferred to his opinion on most matters. It was what women did. Fortunately he was a very intelligent man, self taught and knowledgable and sensitive to women. Many, many other women were not so lucky. Of course in a lot of relationships the public display of the obedient woman was merely for show and at home the woman was more vocal, perhaps an equal partner and perhaps even “wearing the pants in the family.”

As feminism became more and more a fact of life women started being more part of the scene than the scenery. I think this has relieved enormous pressure off of men — not to mention women. Forced gender roles ultimately hurt both parties as they require each person to conform to what society expects rather than what is natural. Women have taken off the gloves (literally and figuratively) and many have gotten out of uncomfortable high heels and other accoutrements. Better still women are not just part of the conversation but initiating it.

Sadly there are segments of our culture which still keep women in a secondary role. These are often in “traditional” or “family values” communities which in most cases are slaves to religious dogma. These are people who are generally intolerant of homosexuality and only barely repress their inherit racism. There is a false sense of comfort in clinging to the old ways. It is less complicated and helps maintain a long standing — if, in truth, tenuous — structure. In reality accepting gender equality and people with different sexual preferences and identities, is freeing. To not be bound by prejudice and repressive norms is infinitely more natural to the human spirit.

I close now with a story from my youth. One day my father took me along on a visit to some friends. I did not know the people well, if at all, and don’t remember who they were. I was about ten years old. There were no other children there and really nothing for me to do. I sat quietly and bored while the adults prattled on. There was a woman there, similar to the type mentioned at the beginning of this writing who took it upon herself to come talk to me. This was unusual in my experience as unfamiliar adult women didn’t chat with a small boys other than a greeting or perhaps offering a beverage. She knelt next to me and asked me questions. I was reticent at first but she was so nice I couldn’t help but respond. Ultimately she got out of me the fact that I wanted to someday be a famous writer. She was most impressed with my ambition and doubtless found me to be a cute little kid as most adults did. I remember feeling validated by her merely based on her having spoken to me. But more than that she was interested and encouraging. This made me feel proud and happy. She subsequently returned to her seat and told my father — in front of everyone — how impressed she was with me and my unusual desire — for a ten year old — to be, of all things, a writer. My father was always proud of me and particularly so on this occasion and let all who were present know it. I smiled shyly but inside I was positively beaming.

The memory has stuck me with many decades on. Not just because I had been made to feel so good but because of the manner in which this woman had shattered a stereotype. She’d broken away from her “man” and of all things chatted with a boy and more than that publicly praised him. I realized then there was more to people than met the eye.

23 March 2016

The Pain and the Recovery


Lay down your weary tune, lay down
Lay down the song you strum
And rest yourself 'neath the strength of strings
No voice can hope to hum

Struck by the sounds before the sun
I knew the night had gone
The morning breeze like a bugle blew
Against the drum of dawn

From Lay Down Your Weary Tune by Bob Dylan

Sorrowful but not broken. Feeling the pain as it commands. The calling of wind not subtle. But the anguish from previous nights. Has faded softly swaying with the trees. And here I sit. Befuddled. Lost in the empty evening. I don't know where she is and it is awful.

She is not my wife. Just my everything. But is has not been good these days. With me struggling emotionally and not providing physical love or emotional presence. I do not anger. Just twitch at the recriminations. Her name is Annie and we have been together for five years. Intwined in love. Devouring each other's passion. Melting into eternity together. But the soft space between us that allowed us to rest comfortably has given way to the hard truth of my illness. My desperate pain as I struggle with a deep dark sorrow invading me, expelling all joys and forcing me to contemplate void eternal. My impotence is all encompassing. Sex impossible. Tenderness forced. Playfulness a chore. I can offer Annie nothing.

So this Saturday night as the wind and rain and dark mingle outside my window and as I sit in the dark lazily brooding, Annie is touching another man. She may be brushing a hand accidentally. She may be pressing her lips against his mouth. She may be in sexual ecstasy. It is 11:20 PM.

I think about subjecting myself to analysis. Unveiling my life to a stranger. I think of alternative methods for healing emotional wounds. I think of medications and exercise and yoga and meditation and religion and alcohol and psychedelics and solitude and traveling and suicide. And none of it sounds like anything more than the wind. Not even jumping from the Golden Gate Bridge has any appeal. It seems too theatrical for such a mundane existence. Annie is exhausted by my indifference to this suffering, my acceptance that this is how I am now. She needs life and energy and fun and affection. But she won't leave me. Not yet, anyway. I suspect that is coming. For now she is too loyal.

But. Annie announced a few weeks ago that she would see other men until I got better or at least made an effort to. At first it was an idle threat but as I did or said nothing in response, Annie has followed through with her vow. She's gone to lunch with someone named Erik, and to a museum and a movie. But this is their first date at night. Annie left at 6:30. Alluring attire and smelling like a rose garden in early Spring. She sang happily while getting ready to go. I slumped deeper into my chair. Annie kissed me goodbye and said, "don't wait up for me." I thought she laughed as she said it. Sometimes I'm not sure of what I hear anymore. I'm sure of few things other than my misery. This hell I live in.

There is a rustling outside the window. Perhaps a stray dog or a raccoon. I think that it is happier than I am. There are thick bushes in front and to one side of the house. I've thought of trimming them but that would require far more effort than I feel capable of. Now it is 12:28 and I hope Annie will come home soon. I hope that I feel better soon. I hope that our lives can go back to the way they were. But I see no way that this will ever happen. All I see is the bleak night outside and the bleak night within me.

Annie deserves better. Much better. But I...I wish it were me who could give it to her. Within all the pain it is still evident that I love her beyond measure. I want her here beside me, right now. I want to hold her and love her and take care of her and make a life with her. Yet she is out with someone named Erik. I imagine a tall handsome, athletic fellow, perhaps with a beard. He must surely be warm and gentle yet tough and strong. He must be a man through and through. Doubtless a sensitive, passionate lover, expert at satisfying women. This Erik chap must surely be this very minute giving my dear Annie the kind of sexual pleasure I've become incapable of. Will she compare him to me? Will she fall in love with him? Have I already lost her forever? Is she just biding her time with me until someone takes her away? These thoughts intensify my misery. I can no longer muster so much as a sigh.

I manage to doze still sitting in my chair. I awake and it is 2:13. Annie is still not home. Finally I get up to pee. I stop in the kitchen for some sad, stale crackers and a glass of tap water. I return to the chair and wonder if I should go to bed. Annie had said that she and Erik were going to a play then a late dinner. I'm sure he invited her to his place. I'm sure they're there now. They met in a photography class at the community college. This is their fourth time together -- that I know of.

When I first met Annie I was a graduate student and she a junior. We fell instantly in love and it was less than a year before we moved in together. We'd always been perfectly happy. Past tense. Annie finished her degree and has since been working at an ecology center. I've been teaching English part time at a private school. I also collect royalties from my first novel and receive money from a trust fund. I am successful, physically fit and have a beautiful, intelligent girlfriend. But of course I am miserable. And I don't know why. I don't know why I am beset by such awful depression.

At 3:01 I hear a car door close and then Annie walking up the steps. She breezes in not noticing me sitting in the dark. After using the toilet she goes into our bedroom. The light is on for less than a minute. I assume Annie's gotten into bed and will soon be fast asleep. How has she not noticed my absence from our bed? She must be drunk.

The wind and rain have stopped. There is no sound. Nothing. It's like Annie never came home. I stare into the darkness. Then I cry. At last. Nothing for months and now I convulse with sobbing. My body shakes and the tears flow and my chest hurts from it and I can't even pinpoint a single source, a spark for this weeping. It goes on and on and snot drops to the floor and all over my shirt and I'm wet with tears and I feel terrible and marvelous at the same time. A release. A wonderful release of misery reminding me that it's there but that some of it is oozing out of me.

It stops. I stagger to the bathroom and blow and blow and blow my nose until it is dry and it hurts then I wash my face and stare into the mirror wondering who I'm looking at and what has become of me and why I deserve this pain and what made me at long last express it through tears. Was it Annie? This feeling now after the weeping is better. Much.

I brush my teeth and have an eternal debate about whether I should sleep next to Annie or on the sofa. Either way would be making a statement. Expressing either shame and anger or understanding and acceptance. It's silly not to get into my own bed and so I do.

Of course Annie is fast asleep. I smell the alcohol from her breath and pores. It is strong and sickly. She is naked. Annie always sleeps with a cotton nightgown so her nudity suggests she was too tired or too wasted or both to find and put her nightgown on. Even in the darkness her beauty seems especially radiant. As my eyes get used to the bedroom's darkness I stare at her. I'm sure that she has made love to Erik. I can sense it. I'm repulsed and aroused by the thought. Actual arousal. I haven't felt it in weeks. The sobbing has opened up my libido. As I finally lay down Annie turns in my direction and her body is pressed against mine. I am overwhelmed with desire for her, my body aches with sexual desire, pent up for so long. I cannot control myself. It starts with rubbing her back, her buttocks, her breasts, it evolves into kissing her. Annie wakes, says nothing but dreamily looks into my eyes and kisses me back. We make love. It is transcendent, mystical, a deep and profound physical, soulful experience the likes of which I couldn't have dreamed possible.

Wordlessly Annie goes back to sleep. I lay next to her in a veritable stupor of spent ecstasy. When at least sleep comes it swallows me whole and I doze soundly.

It is almost noon when I rise. Annie is sitting on the sofa drinking coffee and reading the newspaper. She looks up at me and smiles. "That was quite a performance you gave last night," she says. I blush and can think of nothing to say. "Was beginning to think you didn't have it in you anymore." After a pause. "But you sure do." She gets up and kisses me.

After a shower and breakfast I finally feel ready to talk. The depression is gone. Annie admits to having "gotten pretty well toasted" the night before and having had sex with Erik. "It was  good, but you are fantastic." My feelings are complicated enough. But I'm feeling too good to do anything but to accept the bottom line. She had sex with another man and it was good. But I was better. And she is here with me now as she has been. "Do you feel betrayed? Are you angry? Tell me what you're feeling." I tell Annie that I am "back among the living" as my "performance" revealed and that maybe her dalliance had been the shock my system needed. "In that case," she says, "Old Erik was just a one night stand."

I feel a broad grin fill my face. I look into Annie's eyes. "Will you marry me?" I ask.

21 March 2016

The Pros From Dover - or - What I've Been Up to of Late

Some of my friends and I hanging out.
Some people have told me that they keep up with my doings by checking my blog every now and again. I imagine this is not an ideal way to now what’s up with yours truly as quite often I write reminiscences or about films or my views on pterodactyl hunting. Be that as it may, as a service to those of you who want to know “waz up?” with me, I provide this laundry list of my recent doings. If you want to know more check recent police and intel reports.

Two weeks ago I continued my top secret work as an agent for a foreign country (you seriously don’t think I can tell you which one, do you?). I snuck into the pentagon and took photos of highly sensitive documents. Later I did the same over at the CIA. Was caught in the act at one point so had to liquidate a security guard — my condolences to the Clank family of Virginia Beach.

I recently dined with the Baron and Baroness Von Hapsburg at their lovely chalet in the Strudel Mountains. The Baron had recently defended his wife’s honor (which is more than she's ever done) in a duel with a Romanian Count and was none the worse for wear.

Last week I looked up the word "sonorous" in the dictionary and spent a few days inserting it into conversations. My friends found this to be somewhat sonorous on my part, while co-workers found me sonorous for doing it. Family members responded sonorously.

My bagpipe lessons have continued with great success. My teacher, Mr. McGillicuddy says that within a few decades I'll be able to graduate from rank beginner. No guarantees.

Discovered that the capacity to forgive and the willingness to do so is the greatest power we hold as humans.

Whirled and whirring and finding folly in loving lashes of pure perfection made me more happily heroic. Sorta.

Ran afoul of the law. Nothing serious, mind you. Suffice to say that that's the last time I carry explosives with me. The officers were pretty good about the whole thing although my bazooka has been confiscated. Thank goodness I'd left my grenade launcher at home.

Created a bridge of understanding between people of divergent backgrounds with dissimilar life experiences and world views. Ate a muffin.

Vacationed in the Congo staying at my cousin Mugabe Hourula's house. Wrestled a gorilla. Then stopped off in Haifa to see my cousin Chaim Hourula, sat seder.

Watched some re-runs of The Newlywed Game and thereby gained insight into the origins of the solar system. Witnessed the big bang during an hallucination which was precipitated by viewing too many car commercials.

Learned to speak fluent Iroquois. Carried on a long but one sided conversation with a deaf mute who turned out to be Apache. Sometimes I've got no luck.

Translated the Merriam-Webster dictionary into pig latin with the help of my friend Vaughn Castleback who, it turns out, is deceased. He fooled me.

Babysat some Victoria Secrets models. We had a pillow fight and ate fennel.

Continued to dig for buried treasure, have thus far been only to find some priceless relics which I'm selling on eBay.

Danced by the light of the silvery moon. This was my first such experience having mistakenly danced by the light of the slivery moon in the past.

Investigated selling ad space in my dreams. May be on to something.

Hit the campaign trail on behalf of my old friend, Peabody McGrew. After several speeches was informed that he is not seeking any public office and is in fact serving a long prison sentence. Ate a crepe.

Road the rails from New York to San Francisco. Met many colorful characters. Formed a hoboes union, led a miner's strike, made mulligan stew, slept with the farmer's daughter, baled hay, swam in the Mississippi, made moonshine, danced a jig.

Made a lasting impact and an strong impression on the impacted and impressionable. Took a nap.

Remained extremely humble. Boasted about it.

Retained my position at the firm despite a shocking lack of effort or initiative. Proving again it pays to know where the bodies are buried -- literally in this case.

Wrote a rather silly blog post about my recent doings. Am thus far undecided about whether I should post it. Will consult with my imaginary friend, Olaf.

Olaf said, "go for it."




19 March 2016

A Brief History of Mine

A photo I took of my heart at rest.

You're walking meadows in my mind
Making waves across my time
Oh no, oh no.
I get a strange magic
Oh, what a strange magic
Oh, it's a strange magic
- From 'Strange Magic' by Electric Light Orchestra

I lived through my own death during my tragic youthful romanticism. Plying my love wherever it would go wearing a corduroy jacket with a smiling notebook in one large outside pocket and a pint bottle of whiskey in an inside pocket and daring dreams of literal insanity in my pants pockets. I was you once, wow.

This all derived from the battered childhood mind of loose cannon existence being torn between athletic fields and psychedelic experiments and a flailing family and baseball cards of silly desperation while playing hearts in the back room and trying to read Bertrand Russell. But come through I did with kisses from Linda and then broken heart oh what a feeling to see the love you had for someone being turned into the soft pain of the love unrequited the rending of your soul. Linda the first to devastate me with that ugly all encompassing pain.

Sometimes never and always occasionally I looked forlornly for an answer but finding it forgot the question. Tattered remains of happy parties an angel perched on my tongue but lost among the cocaine’s saliva and the persistent battering of too much but never enough liquor twisting my brain into forgetting.

Happiness.

Those were the days of curiosity and wonder. That is when — early twenties — I was invincible in my belief in the inevitability of everything I did and anything I could or would try. The appeal of my cutseyness and the perfect orgasms of handsome bodies thrashing desperately for totality.

I was a reporter. A writer. A god to myself and you could never imagine the assuredness with which I bum rushed life. Sublimating the titanic insecurity that lurked always beneath. Because Chico. Because Richard. Because talent. Because pain and love and intoxication and long tanned female legs and glory and reward and recognition. There I was and that was me and I flew soaring with clouds. Not the metaphorical kind. I did indeed reach the stratosphere. Imitable me.

Sexy.

Flirting. Rejected. Accepted.

See me now. Scribbling notes. In a class. Interviewing. At home. In a bar. Lascivious. Too much tequila one night. The next just right. Too much gin then. Never say when.

Chico was a party down town and I was made for it. I played some soccer, took some classes, chased some girls, drank some booze and then some more. I wrote and wrote and reported for the school paper and then helped found the News & Review, an independent local paper and I wrote some more and met women and drugs and made friends and got angry and got happy and swam in the creek when it was hot.

I cheated and lied but only when I talked and then only to gain an advantage or get laid or score drugs or money for drugs or booze or rent. But people liked my cute little blonde head.

Life.

So what I did, see, was leave it all behind. Took off. Gone. To another city. Another job. Then another city and many other jobs. Then back to Chico. Then back home and many more jobs always missing what I had done what I had become and who I was and not bothering to think why I left all that happy perfection and why was working in a bank or a gift shop or department store or a sandwich counter or an accounting firm or a law firm or a textbook store and this failure to wonder anymore made me and was caused by drink. Drank. Drunk.

Oh and then panic. Terrifying horrific soul shattering mortifying crippling panic and its wee little brother anxiety that wrenched my nerves and made me realize that hell existed but not in the bowels of the earth but in the bowels of my brain. Only more drink protected me.

Then hey, why not, let’s try teaching. I decided that in a bar my wrist weary from hoisting frosty mugs of hops to my orifice. Glazed eyes and numbed brain and obnoxious laugh and a life altering decision. Three years later I was a teacher. Holy cats. I was also married and soon to be a father. Holy cow. And then I stopped the drinking and using forever — so far. Holy porcupine. Here I am, been teaching for 30 years, almost. Is this what I was supposed to do? How did I get here? How am I near retirement? How am I not the famous and fabulous and fantastic writer I was headed to be? Why am I?

The numbness of so many years of anti depressants and soft jazz and vapid television and insulating my psyche with trite trivia while passing on the gaseous sense of domesticity.

I would

We go not where we intend unless by extraordinary design or luck or pluck or wisdom. I was a vessel for my own tears and hyper depression and screaming panic. I let it revolve around and down and up until I couldn’t do anything but those simple tasks in front of me while my creativity vacationed. Lazy bastards. Listen to the soft wind caress your inner ear and miss the expositions without.

Undaunted.

I go on and force the love and desire and mental drive to be and think and ponder and bury the anger in deep sands of time so that the focus can be on the rich possibility of poetry prose and colliding music. Singing and being and providing and all the pain has got to be channeled now.

My premature death is over now. I carry on with the vision of word warrior. Beautiful symphonic friendships and the wife of eternal bliss and why wait at the door. Knocking it down. Pushing in. Blasting. This stops on the evermore and I rush to the pacing rhythm of life’s soul. Who am I to be me anyway? I am just the pocket of resistance that limits the bloating of resentment. The prepositions of variance. The key to oneness and everything to everyone. Who could I ever be to me other than the self created from the miasma of yesterdays. Pleasing to the eyes.

I limped sorrowfully where today I dance naked with the angelic visions of what I’ll really be: the me I always was meant for. Not the carbon copy. The original. The authentic. The true self. Beloved. I kiss for the future. Mmmmm.

18 March 2016

Students: You Can't Teach With 'Em, You Can't Teach Without 'Em-- A Look Back



More memories from my middle school teaching days. Some of these have previously appeared on this blog.

Once a student insisted that Abraham Lincoln had owned slaves. I told her that Lincoln did not own slaves and in fact was famous for his disdain for that peculiar institution and is credited with helping topple it. She retorted that her grandmother told her that Lincoln had owned slaves. I gathered from the manner in which she communicated this fact that there was no dissuading her from this spurious notion.

On a test once I had an essay question about slavery as we had been studying the topic for some time. An African American student answered this question by writing that her ancestors had not been slaves but princes and princesses in Africa. From what I knew about her and from her last name I was reasonably certain that, despite her protestations to the contrary, the sad truth was that she was the descendant of slaves. I further questioned her assertion that any of her fore bearers were of royal blood. Oh I didn’t doubt the possibility, however slim, I merely questioned that she could no such a thing with any degree of certainty. Besides I hoped that she would be a strong supporter of democratic republics and would take no special pride in being of royal lineage. Yeah, maybe she was a monarchist.

Once a student wrote on a quiz that Pearl Harbor was the woman who dropped the atom bomb on Japan. Knowing the student as I did I’m certain this was not meant as a joke.

Another student identified Adolph Hitler as a man who helped the Jews. After a fashion I suppose, but its a bit of a stretch.

On an essay question about life in West Africa during the 1700s,  part of a student's answer included: "life would have been hard because and you wouldn't have cable TV." Truth.

Once I was surprised that no one in a class new who James Naismith was. I said, “he invented what David does after school everyday.” (David being a student in that class.) A young woman named Maura, who went on to Yale replied, “James Naismith invented masturbation?” This evoked one of the greatest laughs I’ve ever enjoyed.

I had a more embarrassed laugh once during the impeachment trial of Bill Clinton. A female student made the contention that the president’s woes were the fault of his wife. In her view Hilary should have been providing the particular sexual service that Monica Lewinsky had willingly given. She then asked me— to prove her point — “Mr. Hourula, don’t your wife be giving you head regularly.” Yes, I should have been outraged but I buried my face, turned away and did all I could to stifle uproarious laughter.

I once had a student ask me for the time. The clock was directly behind me high up on the wall. He was facing the clock, however in order for him to see the time, he’d have had to look up. I challenge anyone to find a better example of laziness.

After the school year ending graduation ceremonies I overheard a student ask if there were pictures of the just completed event in the yearbook that she held in her hand. Surreal? Insane? Bizarre!

As a joke I once told students that Abraham Lincoln’s email address was ALinc@Stovepipe.com. Later in the period I noticed that a student had written it in their notes.

A student named Rochanda came late to class one day with a note from her mother that read: “Please excuse Rochanda for being late she had a painful bowl movement.” Of course passing a bowl is always painful.

I was often struck by the number of students (male, of course) who insisted that had they served in battle no harm would have come to them. It was impossible to convince them that luck often played a major part in whether one survived a war. Many further claimed that if a slave they would have killed the master and promptly headed North. I countered by pointing out the hazards involved in taking such a course but they could not be dissuaded. It’s akin to the unshakable belief that they would someday be a professional football or basketball player. Some who insisted that this would happen hadn’t even made the middle school team. (Full disclosure: at the same age I was convinced that I would be a professional soccer player and a famous writer and perhaps an actor.)

I often had students write about Dr. King's famous quote that includes the following: "The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it...." One student wrote that she agreed with what Dr. King said about violence relative to war but that on the other hand, "sometimes people need to get they ass kicked." Not sure Dr. King would have agreed.




16 March 2016

When I was a Kid -- A Compilation of Facts About Life 50 Years Ago



Women used to wear gloves, thin white ones usually. They also wore hats. Men dressed up more often and wore ties with tie clips and cufflinks. No one wore bicycle helmets and seat belts weren’t mandatory. If you were in the front seat and the car stopped suddenly your father or mother’s arm would suddenly appear in front of your belly. Cars had AM radios and most people had a transistor radio too. Disc jockeys were well known in the area and often made appearances at special events. I recall Russ “The Moose” Syracuse, “The Emperor” Gene Nelson, Jim Lange (who also hosted The Dating Game) among others.

TV sets got five channels when I was a kid. The three major networks, PBS and one local station. In our case it was Channel 2 which offered kid’s programming in the morning and late afternoon. In the early afternoon there was the Dialing for Dollars Movies. During commercial breaks they’d call a random number and if someone answered they’d win some dough.

Like most people we had a record player. I also had a portable one but that was just for .45s. I’d often spend most of my one dollar allowance on a single.

There were usually three televised college football games a week and all of them were on Saturday. There were two NFL games shown and games were only on Sunday. Hardly any local major league baseball games were on TV which made the Saturday game of the week a big deal. There was no 24 all sports networks and no internet to watch sports on. Thus ABC’s Wide World of Sports felt like must see TV. The NFL draft wasn’t televised, nor was the NBA draft, nor the Heisman Trophy presentation. You’d get about three minutes of sports highlights on the local news shows.

Absent cable, computers and recording devices, a lot more people watched the same TV shows at the same time. If you missed a show you had to wait for Summer re-runs to catch it again. There were movies on TV but they were punctuated by commercials and in some cases edited for television.

Packs of baseball cards were a nickel as were most kinds of candy bars. Sometimes my mother would send me to the corner store for a half gallon of milk. She’d give me 50 cents and I could keep the change. Of course most of our milk was delivered to our doorstep. Milkmen were as ubiquitous as mailmen and garbage collectors. They wore all white outfits.

We had a malt shop down the street called, Johnny’s. It specialized in burgers and shakes and malts and had a jukebox. We went to Peterson’s drug store which was owned not by a corporation but one guy, old man Peterson. In addition to getting your prescription filled you could get a malt there too.

There were a lot of locally owned small businesses and chains like McDonald’s hadn’t encroached yet. There was no Taco Bell, Walgreen’s or CVS or Old Navy or Gap. There was a huge department store called Hink’s that seemingly sold anything you could think of including sporting goods, men’s women’s and children’s clothes, books, perfumes, kitchenware, toys and shoes. It’s where I saw Santa Claus every December.

I walked to school everyday, as did my friends. No one worried about getting kidnapped or molested. The biggest fear was the schoolyard bullies of which there were only a few and they were pretty tame ones at that.

People said Merry Christmas and we even had  Christmas Trees in our classrooms. African Americans were negroes or colored, racists used harsher words. Asians were lumped together as Orientals, although in some cases a Chinese man would be a Chinaman, I don’t remember any offense meant by it.

There were more theaters but none were multiplexes. Saturday afternoon matinees were 50 cents at the UC Theater and 35 cents at the Oaks. You always got a double feature and a cartoon or two and a short, usually in the form of a travelogue. People walked in during the middle of a movie and stayed to watch the beginning. One of the most oft uttered phrases in theaters was: “this is where we came in.”

Kids organized their own baseball, basketball and football games. There was Little League and other activities put together by adults but they were low pressure and affordable.

I grew up on Grove Street which is now Martin Luther King Jr. Way. I went to Garfield Junior High which is now King Middle School. Columbus school is now Rosa Parks and Lincoln is now Malcolm X.

Downtown Berkeley was clean and the site of many vibrant businesses. There was the hustle and bustle of people going to work or shopping. No one slept or urinated on the streets. Downtown felt safe, even at night.

Growing up I had no idea that there men who liked to have sex with other men or women who liked sex with women. The first time I saw two men holding hands I felt like I’d seen a dog talk.

Of course there was no 24 news networks and no internet. A lot of people watched the evening news from one of the major networks. We were mostly a CBS/Walter Cronkite family. There was also local news. We got an evening and morning newspaper, this was not uncommon. Anecdotally I’d say people were as politically well informed then as now. I remember a lot of political rancor but people had respect for politicians and politicians had respect for the people. There is no question but that some very bad leaders did some very bad things in those days, but at least they were well spoken often quite articulate men who did not stoop to demagoguery.

Telephones did not leave the house and did not have cameras on them. They were rotary phones. Dialing took what would seem an eternity today. There were no answering machines, no call waiting. My grandmother even had a party line which meant she shared her phone line with someone else and if they were on a call when she needed the phone she’d have to wait. If you wanted to make a long distance call you had to connect with a long distance operator who would need to connect to your party and it took long enough that you’d actually hang up and wait for the operator to call you back and say that you’re call had been put through.

Busses made change, there was no subway system. Bikes weren’t as prolific and were mostly ridden by children. Bicyclists respected the rules of the road more and didn’t ride on the sidewalk.

Every house had ashtrays and I can’t recall anyone forbidding smoking in their house. People smoked everywhere. Busses, theaters, sports events, restaurants, offices. Not just cigarettes either, cigars and pipes too.

Sports events were affordable. There were no big screens for replays in stadiums or arenas but there also wasn’t a constant barrage of piped in music and ads. The fare sold at games was simple stuff, hot dogs, soda, beer and peanuts.

You saw more stray dogs walking the streets and people didn't pick up their dogs poop which meant your were much more likely to step in it. Children also traveled the streets without adult supervision.

There were more salesmen knocking on doors and you never felt like it was scam. People also opened their door when someone knocked or rang the bell. There was no speculating as to who it could be.

If you took a photograph and wanted to see it you had to wait. First you needed to finish the roll of film in your camera, then you needed to bring it to someplace that developed photos. A few days later you'd pick them up. Later instamatic cameras came along and you could instantly have a photo but if you wanted to share it with someone else in another state or country you had to stick it in the mail. This required an envelope that you would address and need to put a stamp on and bring to the mailbox. Depending on where the recipient lived it would be a few days to a week or more before they saw it.

Computers were not in homes. Many people had typewriters though, they came without spell check.
There were no ATMs. If you wanted cash it meant a trip to the bank. People wrote checks for a lot of things. Credit cards were for gas and department stores. Change was worth hanging on to because you could actually buy things with a few coins. I remember when comic books went from a dime to 12 cents.  A lot of adult men had change forever jingling in their pockets.

We had a black and white TV until my senior year of high school. We weren't unusual in this respect. I don't remember anyone having a remote control although they did exist. If you wanted to change the channel or the volume you got up and walked over to the set. There was no direct reference to sex on TV, at least not explicitly, and there was no scatological humor or references to bodily functions. Movies were just beginning to break free of censorship restrictions. There was no profanity in songs.

Men only wore sandals on hot days. Recently it was pouring rain and I saw men wearing sandals.

A few weekends ago I saw a small child riding a trike. Following her was an adult, likely her father. He was pushing along on a scooter and wearing a helmet. There's no way you'd have seen a man on a scooter when I was a kid.

Gas stations had attendants who pumped your gas and washed your windows and offered to check your oil. Many were referred to as service stations and many also fixed cars.

Life when I was a kid was a lot better. Life when I was a kid was a lot worse. Life when I was a kid was a lot different in some ways and similar in others. Of course when I was a kid I looked at the world through the eyes of a child. Today I view the world though the eyes of an adult. Perspective is everything.

10 March 2016

I Use Two Unpleasant Situations to Write a Blog Post in the Belief that if Life Gives You Lemon You Should Make Lemon Meringue Pie



A living breathing walking talking douchebag got on the bus and sat next to me yesterday morning. This is a commuter bus that takes fine upstanding citizens like myself from Berkeley across the bay to San Francisco.

He was a man (and I use the term loosely) of medium height, nondescript from head to toe save a bigger than average proboscis. This creature wore a suit befitting a man of business. On his lap was a briefcase that looked like it was pricey. Because he was not morbidly obese and gave off no foul odor I was indifferent when he sat beside me. But he quickly came to be — in my eyes — vermin. Particularly bad vermin. Vermin that had spoiled in the sun. Vermin that was an outcast among normal self respecting vermin. This poor excuse for a member of the human race began to talk in an above average volume into his cellphone. It was a business call.

At the time I was happily reading a book, as is my wont to do during my commute. My reverie was not merely disturbed, but shattered. Fortunately I never travel on public transportation without my iPod. The music it provides is generally used for defensive purposes. It allows me to block out gum chewers, sounds from other peoples' ear buds, foul mouthed jerks, loud conversations and idiots on cell phones. This piece of walking excrement was so loud that I had to turn Paul McCartney and Wings almost to full volume to avoid hearing his blathering. His conversation went on for the entire bus ride, unless it was more than one conversation.

Imagine the level of self importance and the shocking disregard for other human beings it requires to sit in a confined area and babble on into a cell phone. Entitled, arrogant  assholes can do it without batting an eye because wherever they go they, and whoever can benefit them, are the only people who exist. Or at least the only ones who matter. The rest of us are mere scenery.

Most of the people on my morning bus across the bay are perfectly nice people and I am happy for anyone of them to sit next to me (I get on the bus fairly early in its route so there are only a few people on board. It is proper etiquette to take a seat by the window and accept whoever plunks themselves down next to you. The seats are in twos except for the last row where there is about six). As an adult heterosexual male I always prefer an attractive young woman to sit next to me. My wife is aware of this preference and has no trouble with it. It’s not, of course, that I am going to say anything or god forbid do anything or even look at them for a second longer than is polite. It’s just nicer to have a Victoria Secret model sitting next to you then an NFL defensive lineman and I shouldn’t have to explain that.

Aside from that preference I don’t much care who I get. The exception of course is for plus sized individuals. I’m not fat shaming by saying this, it is merely a matter of comfort. A big body next to you as you're sitting against the window gives a claustrophobic feeling.

It is actually quite remarkable how well people follow unwritten rules on public transportation, particularly people who are commuting. I remember once getting on a San Francisco bus (MUNI) from downtown to work (as I do every workday) and there was one seat available. A young woman and I were coming towards it from opposite directions. She sped up to take it. I was dumbstruck. No one does that. Usually one person is closer to the seat and the other just yields or if one person is younger, spier or less pregnant, they defer. This woman was half my age and I was closer to the seat. The incident was memorable because you so rarely see someone being such an obvious lout.

People are generally pretty good about queuing properly and not fighting over seats. Mostly commuters stick to themselves and avoid annoying, engaging with or confronting one another. There is a woman who sometimes gets on my subway car on the way home who is a glaring exception. On four different occasions that I've witnessed she has got on the train barking angrily at someone for some sort of slight committed whilst boarding the train. The first time I suspected the other party might be at fault, probably because he responded to her with vulgar language. But the fact that this happens to her so often clearly suggests she's got some issues. The next two people she lit into ignored her but the most recent repeatedly told her to shut up and in such an authoritative voice that she did. Again this woman is an exception as was the sub human form who sat next to me yesterday.

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There’s a teacher where I work who makes much of the fact that he hasn’t seen a new movie in 20 years (he’s also mentioned two films that he has seen and hated that were made well within the last 20 years, so there’s that). He’s quite obviously proud of his abstention from recent films because who doesn't like to cut off their nose to spite their face?

Obviously he’s trying to make a point (besides that he’s an idiot). He wants the world to know (or at least anyone who’ll bother to listen to him) that the making of good films ceased a few decades ago. Hogwash.

While I think the ‘70s were the best decade for American films, the ‘60s the best in many foreign countries and that the ‘30s also produced an inordinate number of excellent movies, there’s been some damn good stuff released since 2000 — albeit surrounding by tons and tons of garbage. Just as some examples you have the work of the Coen Brothers, Wes Anderson, Woody Allen, Darren Aronofsky, Alejandaro Inarritu, Michael Haneke and Aki Kurismaki. I could go on.

I’ve encountered a few people on the internet with film blogs whose devotion to older films leads them to exclude watching recent ones. Do whatever you want. I've talked to people who wont watch older films or silents or foreign movies or musicals or westerns or ones without a strong female character or ones with excessive profanity or ones with violence or ones with supposed political agendas or ones with podiatrists. You know what kind of movies I don’t watch? Bad ones. Or at least those I think will be bad. You know what kind of movies I do watch? Good ones. Or at least those I think will be good. I’m funny that way.


09 March 2016

Seriously, You Want to be a Teacher, A Veteran Offers Advice Part 2

Regular readers of this blog (both of us) will remember a post from last month in which I dispensed free advice (well worth the asking price) for those either contemplating a career in teaching or having just started one. It was called: So You Want to be a Teacher (what are ya, nuts or something'?) an Old Veteran Offers Advice. Not long after posting it I started to think of more sage advice which I am here offering in part two. I hope it helps.

Establish relationships. In many teaching settings you’re going to want to get to know your charges. If you have students for an entire school year this will not be problem. You’re going to get to know some of them all too well. There is very likely to be a handful who consume an inordinate amount of time at the exclusion of others. You’re going to be familiar with the troublemakers and F students as you struggle to help them do the “complete 180” that is the goal you'll have for so many students. You will also get to know the apple polishing A students who hang around to ask questions or chat. These are generally wonderful young people who are — if nothing else — destined for long term academic success. But that leaves the great masses in the middle. Those students whose names you forget two weeks after the school year end. Assuming you have a student for more than a couple of weeks it is good to get to know a little about her or him. Teaching is about establishing relationships, knowing what a person's strengths and weaknesses are and if they have specific needs. You also need to know whether a given student responds better to a kick in the pants or a pat on the back (these are euphemisms, please be careful about physical contact with students). Also students appreciate it if you can connect with them in ways unrelated to the classroom dynamic as in, "that was a great game last night, wasn't it?" or "how are you doing with the violin?" You needn't, and indeed shouldn't, become pals with your students, but the more familiar you are with them the better you'll be able to help them.

Guess what, you get to grade papers and exams. Deal with it. Some teachers loathe grading with a passion. Some love it. Most of us are in between. It's definitely much harder to love when you've got a stack of 100 essays in front of you. Here are some tips: remember when you assign papers that you'll have to grade them so timing is critical. Don't have papers due two days before you have to turn in semester grades. Also be careful about when you promise to return papers. Tests I would get back the next day, but term papers I'd give myself a week. Don't read every word. The longer you teach, the faster you'll become at grading. Its okay to find shortcuts provided they don't cheat the student out of some valuable feedback. A lot of grading is skimming. It helps to have a rubric (it also helps the student know what is expected). Try not to procrastinate when it comes to grading. You don't need the image of that stack of papers hovering over you, it can create stress. Just get it out of the way.

I've known teachers who had squeaky voices or were physically unimposing or were painfully shy but were effective teachers because they spoke with authority. You need to sound like you know what you're talking about, mean what you say and require respect. It helps to have the right voice for it but its not an absolute. What you say and how you say it is more important than your timbre. For some people it's natural. If it isn't for you, you'll have to work on it. Loud is good but not essential. If you are confident you'll sound fine.

I had the unpleasant experience of working for some real loony tune bosses. One of the principals I served under was a congenital liar and a total nincompoop. I also worked for several other administrators who would have been better suited to cleaning out septic tanks than working in schools. But that was no excuse for my veritable pathological disgust with all administrators. I suffered a form of oppositional defiance more typically seen in my students. The truth is that in retrospect some of my bosses weren’t all bad. Indeed my current bosses are peaches and unfailingly good at their jobs. Anyhoo, don’t be the kind of dick I was. You're likely to work for a few buffoons, don’t let it get to you. Try to establish a good relationship with your supervisor no matter what. For one thing it can be the key to earning tenure. For another these are the people who write letters of recommendations. Or don’t. But also it’s the right thing to do. For your students. Getting you panties in a bunch because of your relationship with higher ups can (though it should’t) effect your teaching. Always always always try to make nice with everyone at the school including the top brass. This does not preclude you from disagreeing with them or advocating for yourself. But for crying out loud pick your battles. Also you’re more likely to win a point if you're already in solid with them.

Different strokes for different classes. Just because you’ve got two or more classes of the exact same subject does not mean that you should present the same lesson the same way to all or both. Ideally you can, but as should be obvious, we don’t live in a perfect world. Classes take on different personalities and have different needs. Some are stronger academically, some are more sociable, some are quiet, some are full of the dull and lifeless and some are full of whirling dervishes. Some understand one concept but not the other. Pay attention to the different needs of each class. You may need to slow down or speed up for a class. It can be a pain in the ass when two or more classes aren’t on the same page but that’s the way it goes, my friend. You’ll have to keep a few notes so that you don’t repeat something with a class or skip something with another. If they're kids they hate it when you screw up like that.

Speaking of mistakes, you’ll make some right in front of the class. You have two choices depending on the nature of the mistake. You can gloss it over or you can make a full confession. If you do the latter don’t go into a prolonged apology and for god’s sakes don’t make excuses. No one cares that your daughter’s piano recital ran long and the cat threw up on your briefcase and you sprained an ankle playing canasta. Try this one, “oops, sorry, this is the wrong paper. Here’s the write one.” Then move on. If you have a typo on a test or misspell a word on the board you can always play it off as intentional. “I was hoping someone would catch that. Now what’s the correct way to spell dog? Good, Aaron, thanks. Just testing you.” Sometimes you just want to avoid looking like an idiot (which has been a lifetime pursuit of mine). You will also be asked questions that you don’t know the answer to. If the question is obviously obscure enough, you can confess to not knowing and either tell students you’ll find out for them or ask them to find out for extra credit. But if it’s something that should be in your wheelhouse you’ll risk looking less than competent with a “dunno.” In this case you want to praise the question and say that as part of their homework they should look that up and you’ll discuss it tomorrow.

If you’re teaching people under the age of 18 you may well have to serve a variety of roles in your position as a classroom teacher. These could include but are not limited to counselor, cop, judge and social worker. Get used to it. You'll have varying degrees of success at each. Some of us are better at meting out discipline and others of us are more comfortable lending an ear to a troubled youngster. Most of this you learn on the fly, there's a lot of trial and error in teaching. There's a lot of trial and error in teaching. There's a lot of trial and error in teaching. Yes, I meant to write it three times because it's so damn true. But returning to my main point you will wear many hats and that they don't all fit is of no consequence. You've got to slap wrists, lend ears, make wise judgements and offer succor and counsel. Comes with the territory.

When writing summary comments on a student paper or giving them oral feedback I always employed PCP. Praise, criticism praise. Okay not always, sometimes I’d get a paper that was brilliant and all I could do was offer hosannahs for it. Other times I’d get something that was plagiarized and it was all I could do not to call the FBI. But typically it's wise to start off with something positive so the student will be better able to take your negative feedback which should be cushioned in the middle and followed by more kind words. Closing with something positive leaves them more likely to feel good about themselves. You want that. Your goal is never to eviscerate a student’s ego. You want them to learn from your comments while neither resenting you nor wanting to perform hari kari.

Know your topic and methodology. You need to know both your subject matter and teaching methodology. It's silly to argue which is more important though it depends on what and where you're teaching. A second grade teacher needs to know methodology a lot more than they need to be an authority on biology or history and for a university professor it's quite the opposite. There's no sense in trying to teach something you know little or nothing about. I've seen plenty of people try it and the results are never good. A US History teacher who doesn't have a rough timeline of the country's history in his or her head and doesn't know Manifest Destiny from the Gilded Age is at a huge disadvantage. Oh you can fake it for awhile, schools and school districts will hand you all manner of curriculum to use including a text books, CD-Roms and worksheets galore but they should all supplement what you already know about your subject. On the other hand you can be the world's leading authority on English literature but that won't count for anything in a high school English class if you don't know how to teach 16 year olds. This is why a good credential program is crucial and why it is even more crucial that you attend workshops, seminars, professional developments and department meetings. You need not only to have learned the basics but you need to be abreast of the latest basics. Teaching is not just imparting knowledge, but doing it in a way that will reach your audience and inspire them to think and to learn more.

Do your paperwork. Dot your i’s and cross your t’s. There can be one helluva lot of bullsh*t forms to fill out and bureaucratic nonsense to do as a teacher but it comes with the territory so make it a priority to get it done. When you leave that form laying on your desk for two weeks you’re likely putting someone else out. Often its a secretary and no one in their right mind should ever do anything to tick off a secretary. Better to spit in the bosses’ face than to piss off a secretary. That paperwork is not going away and its usually simple stuff and sometimes its even important so get used to doing it yesterday.

Don’t be an ass in meetings and don’t duck them. I went through a phase in which I thought I was above going to meetings. When I did go I often acted superior to the process and just made wisecracks. It was arrogant and unattractive and unproductive and alienating. As a teacher you’re part of a team. You spend enough damned time alone with students. Its important to share space with your colleagues. It’s also important that you are part of the process and stay informed about what’s going on. You need those people you work with and they need you. Show up and pay attention and contribute in meaningful ways. It won’t kill you and people will respect and appreciate you. Also when you are a team player people appreciate your witticisms a lot more.

Tell the truth. I don't mean avoid lying (which should be self evident). I mean don't bullsh*t students, don't manipulate facts for an agenda and don't avoid unpleasant truths. As a middle school history teacher I was aware that some of my colleagues used history to propagandize students. You shouldn't have to sell students on the fact that slavery was bad. If you do you're not telling it very well. You're also not there to promote cultures, religions, viewpoints or political agendas. You may introduce all manner of topics but let students decide for themselves. Teach them how to think not what to think. Also don't be afraid of facts, don't sugarcoat, don't deflect. Students respect honesty and forthrightness. Be begrudging in giving your own opinion to people under 18, you're too likely to influence students. Remember the class is about them, not you.


05 March 2016

Father and Son, Illusions and Delusions


if all else fails write

That’s the way Kidrick looked at it and writing had gotten him out of a lot of jams. Mental ones. His name was Royston Kidrick and he suffered from frequent bouts of depression. The gloom would set in and surround him like a thick and heavy fog. There was nowhere to go and nothing to do when it took hold. Except to write.

By the age of 43 Kidrick had written six novels and several dozen short stories. He hadn’t had a word published. None.

On March 22, 1993 Kidrick was sitting at his typewriter trying to squeeze out some words. It was like trying to have a bowel movement when seriously constipated. Just as painful too and just as frustrating. Maybe he’d taken too much xanax. Kirdrick wasn’t sure how many he’d popped, keeping track of stuff wasn’t really his thing.

Time to pace. To walk to the picture window and back to his desk and repeat. Repeat. Bee bop the mind up and down and all around and no words were willing to come and he was feeling worse with each passing second like life was utterly and completely horrible. Where? Where was the answer? Or the end? Maybe it would come to an end and that was the answer. Who could say anymore. Kirdick had endured decades of frustration trying to find meaning. Psychedelics hadn’t helped. Neither had yoga nor meditation nor religion nor psychiatry. Especially not the shrinks. Just a whole lot of mental masturbation. Speaking of which maybe a wank now would help. Shit. Do it staring out the big window let the neighbors have a gander.

The wife — Rula from India, lovely woman, tall, well-educated, lusted after by everyone, only 31 probably married him for his dough and oh by the way he had a lot (inherited) — she was away for a week visiting parents in New York city. How shitty. Missed her. Maybe a swim, backyard pool. Maybe a wank in the pool. Maybe call the escort service, maybe call a friend, maybe go on a bender. Maybe crack open a book — better to try to write one but those words were not coming anytime soon so far as Mr. Royston Kidrick of  Framingham Massachusetts could figure.

And not going back to the catholic fucking church and Royston (Roy Roy to Mom and Pop and big brother Allie) did not know where that thought came from he was after all raised Methodist and had only tried catholicsm for a couple of months but boy did it do a number on him. Wife was Hindu but he hadn’t tried that shit nor Judaism. Buddhism yes. Royston Kidrick’s fallback was to atheism. What he was between experimental religions or beliefs. Maybe Mormon. That cracked him up. Felt good to laugh. Could call up Buddy Dayness. Great friend and hilarious guy. They could crack open a good bottle of scotch and laugh about all the shit the world was forever dealing in large shovel fulls. Why not?

Buddy didn’t pick up. No message. Why bother. Why.

Oh damn did that depression -- come on now. Deep wave roiling through his body. Bubble bubble lots of trouble and oh the pain of it deep in his intestines and his brain and his heart and ow, ow, ow. Yikes. Roy Roy actually quivered with the ugly pain. Maybe just jump through that picture window. Thought of suicide a lot lot lot lot lot lot. But not not not not going to do it ever never ever never. Just couldn’t do it. Not an option my friend.

How about that scotch? Hated drinking alone. Save it. Buddy might call back. Didn’t leave a message. Called again. Left one this time. Sat down big frown out of town tried to write something out of sight not this night. But it was day. Still light out not night out. Out.

Deep long sigh the pain settling in deeper. Slowing down now. Sitting at the typewriter. Eked out a few words, not so much as a sentence, barely even a thought. Wow that’s bad. Bad. Sad. Please call back, Buddy. He was staring at the phone. Deep in. Pain seep(ing) in.

if all else fails write

But what when the writing fails? Oh shit the tears coming now the utter complete and total anguish. All that money was bullshit. Did Royston Kidrick no good at all, didn’t help a bit. Soft somber tears. No buying his way out of this depression it was soaking him. Drenched in the awful pain.

Distractions. Wash the dishes. Done. Pay a bill over the phone. Done. Fold the laundry. Done. Check the mail. Letter from Brown  and Deekins Publishing Company. Great. Another rejection, no doubt. This will make, what 93? Wow, he would make a 100 soon. Tore open the letter. Dr. Mr. Kidrick, We received your novel, “Faith and Clarity” and believe that with minor modifications including fleshing out a few characters, it is something we would like to publish. Please…

For the first time in his life Royston Kidrick fainted.

Royston thought it was hours later that he came to but it was actually only four minutes. The letter was still in his right hand, clutched tightly. This was a new one on Royston, an acceptance letter. He hadn’t gotten one since high school when he was accepted at Northeastern University. The feeling was overwhelming and utterly unfamiliar. But it was a feeling in direct opposition to the depression that was still a major force within him. Euphoria and misery were side by side within him.
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Hardy said it. "Dude, the dope that black people smoke smells totally different than the bud we smoke. It's so funky."

His friend Langston agreed. "I know it's like it smells dirty. Why is that though? Don't we all buy from like the same people?"

Carson said, "it's not like there's weed that's just sold to blacks and then some that's just sold to whites."

"But Carson, don't you notice it, man?" Hardy asked.

"Yeah, actually I do," he replied.

"Have either of you smoked with a black dude?" Langston asked.

Neither had. The three stood silently for awhile contemplating the mystery. Finally Carson went to the fridge and pulled out a six-pack. He handed his two friends a Budweiser and took one for himself.

They were in Hardy's house, down in the carpeted basement that was sort of a playroom but mostly, since Hardy and his sister Eileen had entered their late teens, a place to hang out with friends. Eileen was at college now attending UC Santa Cruz and Hardy was a senior in high school. Langston and Carson were classmates of his at Berkeley High. Hardy's mother, Rula was a professor at Cal and his dad was a successful author but also a man who'd been in and out of mental hospitals for 20 years. Next year Hardy would be going to college back East in Massachusetts, where he'd been born, at Tufts University.

"I don't wanna just sit here getting a buzz and talking shit, let's do something." Hardy insisted. It was a Friday night. There were usually parties somewhere but none of the boys knew of on this night.

"We can drive up to the hills and drop acid," Carson suggested. But the other two insisted it was too late in the day to be taking LSD, what with a lacrosse game the next day and all.

It looked like a dull night. Hardy was glad he wouldn't have to go it alone. He hated dull nights at home alone. His parents were out of town for the evening, down in LA where his mother was presenting a paper at some seminar.

"Hey Hardy, I tell ya I been reading one of your dad's books? The latest one?" Langston wanted to know.

"Man, don't tell me that. It's weird knowing someone my age, especially a friend is reading one of my dad's books."

"But it's really cool. He's got a lot of sex in his novels and -- "

"Damn, man what'd I just say? I don't wanna know this kind of shit."

"Hey calm down, Hardy," Carson advised.

"Yeah, okay, sorry dude. But I just don't talk about it, okay?"

Langston nodded his agreement.

Royston Kidrick was the author of five published novels and two short story collections. He'd won numerous awards and his books had all been best sellers. One was being made into a film with big name actors and a prominent director attached. But none of Kidrick's success had abated the demons that tormented him. Hardy was mortified by his dad's emotional instability, the frequent hospitalizations and all the medication he had to take. His mom tried to convince Hardy to be proud of all his father had accomplished despite his struggles but Hardy just couldn't see it that way. His sister was totally different. She loved her father unabashedly and doted over him and sang his praises to everyone she met, just as her mother did. Hardy didn't hate his dad, hell he loved him. But he couldn't get past the shame of being the son of someone with mental problems, nor could he get over the fear that he would be so afflicted someday too.

The three friends finished the six pack and they smoked a couple of joints but never left the Hardy's house that night. They all slept in the basement swapping stories until the wee hours before finally being overcome by sleep.

That Saturday their high school lacrosse team took a shellacking from a nearby private school. The trio took it in stride and had pizza together after the game. Hardy went home. His parents had returned a few hours before. When he entered the house Hardy found his father on the floor mewling and wailing and flopping around. His mother had just called for an ambulance. Hardy waited for the ambulance to come. He watched as his father was taken by stretcher into the back of the ambulance and his mother got in with him. Hardy went upstairs to his room, flopped on the bed and sobbed. He was alone and miserable.

It was an hour later that Eileen called. Hardy sobbed into the phone what had happened. His sister assured him that it would be okay. Hardy looked out the window into the dark March night. Rain began to fall. "Fuck it," he decided. "I'm not going to let myself be miserable anymore." Hardy Kidrick blew his nose, went downstairs and made a sandwich and waited for his mom to come home. He anticipated good news.