29 January 2017

The End of a Brilliant Career -- An Alternative History



“I am always saying "Glad to've met you" to somebody I'm not at all glad I met. If you want to stay alive, you have to say that stuff, though.”  -- J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye

When I became conscious again I had my hands around the woman’s neck. I was straddling her as she lied on the floor. I noted the fear in her face that seemed mixed with amazement and confusion. I slowly released my grip  and rose. The woman half coughed and half gagged. I looked down at her with pity and disgust. Co-workers hustled me into another room.

I am an ESL teacher at a private language school in San Francisco. There I am well respected by my supervisors and fellow teachers and find popularity and appreciation among my students. I am known for my professionalism and reliability as well as for being courteous and charming.

The woman whose neck I had throttled was a representative of an accrediting agency which was making its quinquennial review of our school. A passing grade from this august body means the school remains in operation while a failing grade, well it’s best not to ponder such things.

In the weeks before the accreditors visited the entire staff of the school was working long days crossing t’s and dotting i’s making sure that the school would pass muster. Teachers bore less of a burden although we were prompted on what to say and what not to say if queried by the evaluators. We also had to provide intricate and detailed lesson plans for all of our classes for both of the days that evaluators would roam our halls. Indeed these lesson plans were supposed to cover each facet of our lesson, goals, purposes, length of time, connection to previous studies, methodologies, materials and procedure. It took us all several hours to get them just right. It was a bureaucratic mess for teachers of all stripes but particularly for one such as myself who sees teaching as an art form in which spontaneity plays an integral part. We were all dumbstruck to learn that, if asked, we were to claim that we prepared such meticulous plans for every lesson of every day. Madness. The lessons were given to the evaluators who, should they pop into our classroom, would expect to see exactly what was on the plan at precisely the prescribed time. Imagine teaching a class as if reading from a script, never deviating from a rigid formula and thus never accommodating a lesson to the needs of the class. A good class is not a straight path to be marched, but an exciting romp, with sudden twists and turns and stops and re-starts. But you’d actually have to teach to realize that.

We were also expected to have an “agenda” on our boards so that students could know exactly what to expect (as if telling them wouldn’t suffice). This is not unusual but it is silly. You may breeze through items #1 and #2 but spend a lot of time on #3 and have to drop #4. Agendas — or lesson plans — are made to be altered with specific points modified or dropped or added. Having an “agenda” listed can cause students to question why we didn’t do #3, will we ever get to 6 and what is this we're doing in lieu of #5? Still the agenda has been trendy in education for awhile so for the accreditors to assume one is not out of the ordinary. What is unusual in my experience (30 years) is to have said agenda items accompanied by “aims.” Logistically speaking, where’s the room? Now you’re taking up a lot of the white board which is space you’re likely to need when you are actually writing on it in furtherance of the lesson you’re teaching. You also like to have said board clear because it is where you project videos which are a staple of the ESL teaching experience. Now we are left with this question: why? What in god’s name would be the purpose of writing on the board the aim of a grammar exercise? Our students tend not to be low grade morons and understand that if we are doing a listening exercise it is so they can improve their listening skills. On the rare occasion when the purpose of a particular — let’s say, agenda item — is not intuitive, a competent teacher will explain the “aim.” Failing that, students will ask — as I encourage them to do — why the hell they are doing something. I, in turn, will answer. No mystery.

It was the second day of the accrediting agency’s visit. Tension had been high before their arrival and intensified while they scrutinized files, paperwork, meeting notes, budgets, calendar items and of course classroom activities. The younger teachers (that is to say everyone but me) were nervous. I was annoyed and disgusted. I don’t doubt the value of accreditors popping by, but the intensity and scrutiny of their visit was beyond the pale. The tension was palpable and it was noted by students.

On the second morning an evaluator came into my classroom. I have decades of experience with outsiders bearing clipboards in my classroom. I’ve learned not to alter what I am doing by one iota. Doing so is dishonest. If what I’m doing and the way I’m doing it is good enough for my students its too good for some pencil pusher.

This dowdy old broad with sagging wrinkles and glasses on chain sat in my room looking like a villain from a Dickens novel. Glumly she watched me, occasionally swerving her head to note the students. At the end of class she ponderously rose, straightened her ruffled dress and tried vainly to produce a smile. She looked right at me and said, “thank you,” as if I’d preformed some favor for her.  I nodded and smiled.

Minutes later I left the room to enjoy my ten minute break. There she stood waiting for me. “I wonder if I might ask you a few questions?” she asked again failing to achieve the smile she so much wanted me to see. “Certainly,” I replied sounding far more amiable than I felt.

“I noticed that your activity there at the end was not in your lesson.”

Oh how I wanted to reply: "Yeah and what of it?" or "Nothing gets past you, does it, grandma?" or "That lesson plan was total bullshit, created to be an approximation of what I would be doing in class because we had to turn in something." But instead I answered, "today was one of those rare instances in which I finished everything on my agenda so I threw in something I hadn't had time for yesterday."

"I see. Did any part of your lesson relate to this week's unit in the text?"

"What the fuck unit in the text are we supposed to be on and why would I care?" I thought. But artfully lied, "oh yes, the vocabulary we did at the beginning and the grammar exercises too."

"One more thing. We're meeting with your staff after school to go over our observations and would very much like it if you, as one of the senior teachers, were there."

"Sorry but I left home at 6:45 this morning and if I leave immediately after my last class won't be home until 5:45. That's 11 hours and I'm loathe to lose anymore of my day."

"But it's really just an informal talk and there'll be treats and wine and you can share your thoughts."

"I'm an hourly employee, I put in a lot of extra and unpaid hours in preparation for your visit and feel that was enough of a sacrifice on my part."

Why didn't I lie, I thought? Say I had a funeral or wedding to go to or had to pick up little Viola from her dance class. No, stupid me had to go with the truth. What had I been thinking?

"Well this is rather disappointing. I should think you'd want to hear our feedback directly an offer your own thoughts."

"I'll pass."

"Well, certainly you can't be compelled to attend but..."

It was that "but" that did it. She wasn't through. The old biddy was going to continue trying to influence me to stay and there was no way in hell I was going to. Plus she was eating up more of my break time. I snapped. I remember that. The feeling that I couldn't take anymore. Not a bit of it. Thirty years of teaching sullied by 30 years of dealing with bureaucratic nonsense dished out by people who had never taught or hadn't in so long that they'd forgotten what it was like. Thirty years of playing by the rules and stupid rules at that. Thirty years of dealing with higher ups trying to squeeze every last bit of life out of me and make me into their own image: zombies with no humor, no spirit, no freedom of thought, no compassion. No. It was too much.

When I came to I smelled sulfur, cigar smoke and damp wood. I was shaking and weak and defeated. My hands, that just moments before had a strangle hold on some poor old woman, were trembling. I had been drained of all my anger and was left an empty vessel wanting only to sleep. I don't exactly remember what happened next. I know I was docile, quiet, head bowed, mind glazed over. My next awareness was here in a holding cell waiting for my family and my attorney. I suppose I'll be held for psychiatric evaluation. I may be put away for a time. Jail time seems unlikely. My future is murky but will likely not include teaching. Just as well, time for me to try my hand at something else. Hand at something else. How ironic considering what both my hands did to that poor old bag.

I feel bad for nearly choking that woman to death. It must have upset my coworkers. They'd believed in me, thought I was amazing. My students will miss me. They enjoyed me and my lessons so much, however unscripted. But now I'm just a bum. No better than a bum.

(In reality not only did I not strangle anyone, none of the evaluators said boo to me. The rest is as it happened.)

26 January 2017

The Bad, The Terrible and the Insulting: More Controversial TV Shows from the 60s and 70s that Didn't Make the Grade



In previous posts I’ve written about a couple of short lived sitcoms from days of yore. I was a cast member in one, Hey, it's Klaus! and I was on the periphery of the other, Jesus in High School. Both were far too controversial for network TV in the 60s and 70s and might not even cut muster today. But those are not the only TV shows that came in went in that era, rejected for being tasteless or tackling taboo subjects and sometimes committing the unpardonable sin of being just plain bad.

I actually watched a few of these shows during their abbreviated runs but barely remember them, as it was so long ago and I was likely stoned at the time. For purposes of this post I have culled information about the shows from contemporary sources such as newspapers and magazines, and also through interviews I conducted with some of the people associated with the production of the shows, all of whom requested anonymity.

Sadly, or thankfully, none of these shows are available on DVD or on streaming services and there are no clips of them on You Tube. I was able to use my contacts in the TV industry to watch entire episodes of each show in secret locations. There are no extant plans to release any of them. As you may infer after reading about them, this is likely for the better.

Howowitz’s Heroes. On the heels of the success of Hogan’s Heroes -- the CBS program about World War II Allied POWs running espionage operations under the noses of bumbling Nazis -- came this monumentally stupid idea. Horowitz's was similar to Hogan's Heroes, only in this case the saboteurs were working out of Auschwitz. Yes, a concentration camp. The premise was that Jewish prisoners from varying European countries were pulling the wool over the eyes of unsuspecting guards by sneaking out from time to time and blowing up nearby bridges and railroad stations and passing on important messages to the allies. Their leader was Saul Horowitz, late of Prague. The "Heroes"  had to perform these feats while themselves avoiding the gas chambers and maintaining their cover by not gorging on food or bathing while away from camp. The sanitization of the death camp experience released a torrent of complaints from Jewish groups (especially survivors) and most anyone with any sensitivity. The Nazis were depicted as blithering idiots and the prisoners were shown to be lovable and intelligent wise guys, It is a miracle that an episode aired before ABC pulled the plug.

Hungry for More? This was another rip off of a successful franchise. As in Gilligan’s Island, a disparate group of cruisers ran into foul weather and make for a deserted tropical isle. The twist here was that the castaways neither brought nor were were able to find any food. Inevitably they resorted to cannibalism. Audiences were not ready for a comedy in which lovable characters feasted on human flesh, especially when it was one another’s. Of course there were practical problems with the show. There were seven featured characters and another seven co-stars. After just three episodes their total number was reduced by half. Unless another boat crashed onto the island’s shore the "food supply" was not going to last for a season’s worth of television. Hungry for More? was macabre while trying be funny. There were endless puns about food and human anatomy, such as "that remark was in pretty bad taste but I bet you don't taste bad" and "I have a bone to pick with you and it's Bob's." and "hey, Linda, what's eating at ya?"

Milltown Millionaires. As the title may suggest this show was an unabashed rip off of the popular Beverly Hillbillies. Producers wrongly believed that a program with the shoes on the other feet would have the same popularity as its inspiration. They were mistaken. While the premise of the Beverly Hillbillies (itself quite dubious) was that a backwoods family that struck it rich had been prodded into moving to Beverly Hills with other nouveau riche. The Milltown Millionaires were the opposite. Here we had an obscenely rich family in Malibu that was swindled out of their last dime. They were encouraged to take the Clampetts place in the Ozarks. What could be funnier, the shows’ creators asked, than former blue bloods used to lives of ease being forced to live hard scrabble existences among white trash? As it turns out, plenty. MM did get a few laughs but the overall tenor of the show was far too depressing. Here was a once happy family now living in virtual squalor and being ridiculed by their new neighbors. The millionaires were unlikable characters who'd had their comeuppance and they were living among people who cruelly and incessantly made fun of their plight. Milltown Millionaires somehow slogged through 13 full episodes before its inevitable death.

Veterans’ Hospital. This was an interesting marriage between the irreverent but highly popular CBS series M*A*S*H (set during and in the Korean War) and more traditional hospital dramas. VH was set during the Vietnam War (which in real life was just winding down) in an unnamed major city’s Veteran’s Hospital. The principal cast was comprised of a few anti-establishment, wise-cracking doctors, some stuffy, reactionary hospital administrators, one irascible by-the-book nurse and a two sexy fun loving nurses and an amalgamation of variously goofy, philosophical, or severely depressed patients. Ultimately the show was a confusing mess mixing the horrors of badly maimed soldiers trying to cope with their bleak futures with witty barbs and slapstick humor. The non stop squabbles between doctors and administrators and among nurses bogged down the plot. An early episode centered around two new arrivals at the hospital, one who had been blinded and the other was a paraplegic. There was no squeezing comedy out of such a situation, try as they might.  VH drew the ire of veterans, the military and the medical profession and was canceled after eight episodes.

Mount Pilot. Viewers of the Andy Griffith show may remember that Mayberry was the fictional town that served as the show's base. It was a bucolic setting where family values, church socials and fishing trips ruled the day. Most of the crime was the antics of the town drunk or occasional instances of moonshining. The neighboring community was Mount Pilot. Producer Normal Lear, known for bringing controversy, topical story lines and previously taboo subjects to network sitcoms, decided American was ready for a more realistic version of the American South. After all this was the time of the Civil Rights Movement, during which time much of the south was a roiling cauldron of violence and tension. Mount Pilot was his first foray into producing. Like Andy Griffith’s show, it featured a sheriff and his deputy. But unlike the wise and mild Andy and the bumbling, ineffectual yet lovable, Barney Fife, the two cops in Mount Pilot were more reminiscent of real life Southern lawmen ala Bull Connor and Jim Clark. Mount Pilot's police were forever meeting the challenges of sit-ins, freedom rides and marches. Mount Pilot failed miserably because of two huge flaws. One: the laughs were few and far between and weak at that. The other was that the show’s two protagonists were vicious racists. Three episodes aired, all greeted by howls of protests from both end of the Civil Rights debate, before the plug was mercifully pulled.

Oldsters Say the Darndest Things. "Kids Say the Darndest Things"was a TV segment hosted by Art Linkletter in which he interviewed schoolchildren between the ages of five and ten. Over a 27-year period, Linkletter interviewed an estimated 23,000 children. The success of the show stemmed partially from Linkletter's gentle touch and bemused looks and the fact that small children can in fact quite innocently and sometimes precociously say some pretty funny things. Well, reasoned some TV execs, if the young among us can unintentionally make us laugh then why not the old? The good news was that the elderly did indeed make Americans laugh. The bad news was that elderly did indeed make America laugh and it was wholly unintentional. The shows host was an acerbic comic named Buddy Rico whose act was more suited to sleazy lounges than network television. He was an odd, and is turned out, quite poor choice to interview senior citizens. All the guests were at least octogenarians and all were evidently selected for their senility. Rico smirked and made sarcastic jibes as the aging interviewees mumbled, fumbled and uttered non sequiturs often asking to be taken home. Oldsters managed to stay afloat for ten episodes before the axe fell. Rico's big break on network television was a flop and he was soon back in dimly lit night clubs opening for third rate crooners.

15 January 2017

I Belatedly Offer My Top Ten Films of 2016



1 Manchester by the Sea (Lonergan)
2 Paterson (Jarmusch)
3 Moonlight (Jenkins)
4 The Handmaiden (Park)
5 Hell or High Water (Mackenzie)
6 Nocturnal Animals (Ford)
7 The Lobster (Lanthimos)
8 American Honey (Arnold)
9 Hunt for the Wilderpeople (Waititi)
10 Silence (Scorsese)

Honorable Mention: Elle (Verhoeven) Don’t Think Twice (Birbiglia)  Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping (Schaffer/Taccone)  Certain Women (Reichardt)  Christine (Campos  Jackie (Larrain) Hail Caesar (Coens)

Best Actor: Casey Affleck (Manchester by the Sea)  Runners Up -- Jake Gyllenhaal (Nocturnal Animals), Chris Pine (Hell or High Water) Colin Farrell (The Lobster)
Best Actress: Amy Adams (Nocturnal Animals)  Runners Up -- Natalie Portman (Jackie), Rebecca Hall, (Christine) Sally Field (My Name is Doris)
Best Supporting Actor: Michael Shannon (Nocturnal Animals) Runners Up -- Jeff Bridges (Hell or High Water), Lucas Hedges (Manchester by the Sea)
Best Supporting Actress: Viola Davis (Fences) Runners Up --  Michelle Williams (Manchester by the Sea), Naomie Harris (Moonlight)

10 January 2017

Kevin: A Great and True Friend 1950-2017

Kevin (on the right) and I celebrating a Cal football victory last September.

Shit.

Kevin died. He was among the best friends I ever had and I will miss him for the rest of my life. At this writing I am zipping back and forth through various stages of grief -- with the exception of acceptance because that is simply a long way off for me. I’ve had enough.

My best friend died in 2002 leaving two step sons and his own son, a toddler at the time. My father died six years later and though he was 92 he had been in great health until a fluke fall. Another good friend and former co worker succumbed to pancreatic cancer in 2011. He had been a hale and hearty man who played and coached sports. My brother was taken in his sleep in 2012. Though he’d had health problems his death was a shock. Now Kevin, who also had endured heart problems but who recently seemed to be perfectly fine. He died in his sleep  (just as did my brother). Several former students have also died in the past few years not to mention other relatives and acquaintances.

Life sucks.

I first saw Kevin in a drinking establishment that I was frequenting in the early 1980s. I always sat at a table either with a date, a friend or alone. Often there would be a four or five person contingent of loud, boisterous gay men congregating at the bar. They were clearly having a grand time and I couldn't help noticing their reveling and laughing. Several years later I was at a 12 step meeting when one of those gentlemen walked in. He was new and a bit nervous. Since I recognized him I had reason to strike up a conversation and assure him that he was in the right place. He appreciated me reaching out.

I didn’t see much more of him for the next few months until one faithful day. It was the morning of the annual Big Game (Cal vs. Stanford in football) and I had just boarded the train to Palo Alto. I was alone. All of the people I’d gone to football games with were still partaking copiously of alcohol so I had no one to go with. Just before the train pulled away someone asked if he could have the seat next to mine. It was Kevin. He’d not noticed it was me until I’d looked up and responded.

We chatted for the whole train ride. We had much in common, particularly our love of the University of California and its football team and our struggles to overcome addiction. We arranged to meet after the game and ride the train back to SF and the subway to Berkeley.

That was November 1989, I had one daughter at the time and another arrived 13 months later. My wife and children met Kevin a few times and he always, always, always asked about them. He clearly shared my pride in my offspring.

For 27 years I saw Kevin regularly at Cal football games, men’s basketball and women’s basketball games (in the off season we regularly met for coffee and 2-3 hour conversations). For the last 12 years we sat together at women’s games, spending as much time yakking as we did watching the games. Besides sports and addiction issues we chatted about music, TV, movies, travels, politics and family. Every year Kevin would go back to his native Hawaii to visit family. He spoke lovingly about the islands and his trips as well as his three siblings. I briefly met his youngest sister but felt as if I knew his family quite well. When his oldest sister called me last night with the news about Kevin, she told me how often they had heard about me. I was deeply touched to know that Kevin spoke of me to his family.

Last Friday night the Cal women hosted their first home game in three weeks. I was looking forward to the game and seeing Kevin and catching up. He wasn’t there. This was odd as he usually arrived very early and save me a seat. He’d always email or text me if he was going to miss a game. I emailed Kevin that night and kept checking for responses through Sunday morning. None came. This was a particular concern because Kevin was always quick to reply to emails, especially now that he was retired. I went to Sunday’s game hoping he’d be there with an explanation for missing the game and not responding. He wasn’t. I texted him. I was worried. This was so unlike him.

Last night my cell phone rang. Caller ID indicated that it was Kevin calling and for a second or two I was relieved and happy as I answered the phone. It was not him. His sister had found his cellphone, seen my text and was calling with the news I’d feared since Friday night.

Kevin could talk and talk and talk. He generally dominated our conversations. But he was interesting and always asked me questions and listened. Plus he was family. Those occasions he got on my nerves (which were few and far between) I let it go. Kevin was too much fun to hang out with to let a little thing interfere. And they were always little. Kevin and I never exchanged angry words and I was never upset with him.

I’ll miss our running jokes. I’ll miss our email exchanges (I would always sign off with a Go Bears! But he always out did me with a GO BEARS!!!). I’ll miss comparing the era we grew up in with today. I’ll miss sharing observations about Cal players and coaches. I’ll miss our poking innocent fun at strangers from afar. I’ll miss our frank discussions on alcoholism and sharing stories about our abuse and how we managed to survive. I’ll miss his rigorous honesty and his perspective and his compassion and his righteous indignation about some of the idiots in political power. He hated Donald Trump with a passion and not living through his presidency is the only blessing I can imagine about Kevin’s premature departure. I'll miss his reliability, his story telling, our sharing of reminisces and his warmth, kindness, dignity and hatred of Stanfurd.

I sometimes shared my writings with him and he always responded with compliments. Not everyone I know does that. I was most touched after sending him blog posts about our recent trip to New York. Twice he told me that my writing of that trip was so vivid he felt like he was there.

Kevin lived by himself and was celibate the entire time I knew him. But I never for a second felt that he was lonely. He knew how to enjoy the world and fill his life with pleasure. He was manager of the apartment he lived in and was always doing service for AA. Kevin’s heart problems started last Spring and in partial response he took Tai Chi, Hula and a dance class. He was also — in his own words — a chatty Kathy and knew people most everywhere he went. This was a richer man than most millionaires can ever expect to be.

As I mourn the loss of another person who was close to me, I take great comfort and even joy in having had the pleasure of spending so much time with him. While I struggle with grief and the void his departure creates in my life, I know that in the heavens there is a star shining ever brighter now -- for he is within it.

GO BEARS!!!

08 January 2017

It's a Lucky Life, Even in Death


We shall find peace. We shall hear angels, we shall see the sky sparkling with diamonds. -- Anton Chekhov

I’d never had any real trouble in my life. No legal problems, health issues, accidents or fights. My life was all pretty tame. Sure I’d had anxiety and a little depression once, I was fired from a job during college, I broke an arm in high school. But nothing serious. Not even a traffic ticket, or a stay in the hospital or more than a few months of meds. I’d had steady employment too and earned enough to buy a house and, with my Edna, raise a family — three kids. Like everybody else I’d read about terrible things happening to other people like being run over by a drunk driver, or being in a plane crash or being wrongfully accused of a crime. All that stuff seemed so far away as if I was watching a TV show. Didn’t apply to me at all. Not part of my life experience. None of my family or friends had experienced anything particularly out of the ordinary. Yeah sure a cousin died in an industrial accident and a friend got cancer and a few other people I knew suffered various minor mishaps, but it was all run of the mill stuff and never touched my immediate family.

But my luck ran out. Fact is I always knew I was a lucky guy. Meeting Edna, for example. That’s a story right there, but suffice to say it was a series of fortunate circumstances that led to our meeting and what became a gloriously happy marriage. Also the good health and absence of injury can be ascribed at least in part to luck. No illusions about it, dame fortune had smiled on me since the day I was born and until the day I died.

I was on my commute home. It was a Friday and I was looking forward to my weekend and relaxing and spending time with the kids. It was going to be one of those rare weekends with no plans, no obligations. Completely free for me to set my own agenda. Usually there’s a recital, or soccer game or dinner party or a big chore on the schedule. Not this weekend though. What could be better?

I was sitting on the subway train  reading the evening paper. There was a story about a hiker who’d gotten lost and survived for six days in the mountains before being rescued. One of the many “glad it wasn’t me” kind of items that I’d been reading all my life. At one stop I noticed this big burly guy getting on the subway car at the same time this even taller, bulkier fella was getting off. They bumped smack into each other. They started to exchange angry words when --  whattaya know --  they recognized one another. And they were not friends. Not at all. In fact it just so happened that they were real bad enemies. One cussed at the other and the other cussed right back. The bigger fella threw a punch and tagged the other guy on the shoulder. So the guy that was hit pulled out a knife. This was happening just a few feet in front of me. If I’d wanted to see this confrontation, I had the best seats in the house. In fact, it was like watching live theater up close only it wasn’t a play but a dangerous situation. So like I said the one guy who had been getting on pulled the knife. Well the other fella backed up a couple of steps and what does he do but pulls out a gun. The knife carrier immediately lunges at the gun wielder trying to stab him. The other fella moves back to avoid the blade and then fires his gun. But he’s off balance and the bullet whizzes past his enemy and hits me right in the abdomen. So ended my string of luck.

What had happened between those two after that is a mystery to me. I bled like crazy and was in considerable pain until I passed out. For reasons unclear to me it took forever for me to be attended to and transported to a hospital. By the time I got to the emergency room I was done for. I died on the gurney just as the attending doctor was sorting out my situation. It was a permanent end to my mortal luck.

So now I’m an angel. Not since I was a little kid and watching “It’s a Wonderful Life” did I believe there was any such thing as an angel. That was basically all just bible stuff as far as I was concerned. I always thought that the main messages of the bible were just great but that the stories themselves, like of Jonah and the whale or Lazarus being brought back from the dead, were just that, stories, stories meant to teach a moral or shine light on theological point. Now I don’t know because here I am an angel and so anything is possible.

Backtracking a bit, what happened was when I died my soul lifted out of my body and I saw a bright light. Just like you hear people talk about when they come back from being clinically dead. Before I headed for the light I looked down and saw my earthly body on the gurney and the doctor and two nurses looking at me. It was weird all right, but I wasn’t the least bit frightened or sad. Somehow the thought of Edna and the kids having to mourn and then make do without me didn’t make me tear up or anything. I was overwhelmed with a sense of happiness and wholeness and acceptance. It sounds insensitive and self indulgent that I should be oblivious to my family's suffering but it wasn't. Trust me on this, some day you'll see.

The next part is kind of hazy. I clearly remember seeing my dad (who died four years ago, my mother is still hanging in there) my grandparents and various other deceased relatives and friends. It all seemed quite happy although at no time did I have a sense of exactly where I was and what was happening. And no, we weren’t all on clouds. To tell you the truth I don’t know where we were. Physically I felt at the same time like I was in perfect health and like I had no physical feeling at all. There was certainly no pain, or hunger or thirst and the closest thing to emotion was satisfaction and the sense of acceptance I mentioned before. I had no thoughts of the future and the past was my Earthly life and I felt like I could look at all 47 years all at once and see everything that had ever happened to me like it was a three dimensional movie.

Time was not a thing at all. It just didn’t exist and no I can’t explain it other than to say that the whole concept of seconds, minutes, hours, days, years etc. was totally gone. That absence felt just great.

So like I said I saw a bunch of people who had pre deceased me and we had happy communications (even my Uncle Ron who I’d never gotten along with) and without saying a single word. Talking, per se, didn’t exist, ideas and concepts were exchanged with what I guess you'd call mental telepathy.

One of the messages I got was not from anyone I’d known. My sense was that it came from some higher authority. Not God, but an entity of some importance who sort of told you what’s what. I was quickly given to understand that I was to serve as an angel and that I would know what to do when I got there. Next thing I know after receiving that communique I’m on the job and what an interesting one it is. The first thing about it is something you’d never guess. Sure I’m looking after a few people on Earth, and no they can’t see me or hear me, but the really odd part is that I’m not serving in the time period I left or even a future one. No sir, I’m back in the 18th century. On top of that I’m in France. City of Caen in the Normandy section, close to where the D-Day landings were.

I never spoke a lick of French when I was alive but darned if I can't understand every word anyone says. And if there’s someone speaking a language other than French or English, I get every word of that too.

I’m mainly responsible for these two brothers and their sister. One of the boys is in his early twenties and his siblings are in their late teens. They still live with their parents and a baby brother but I don’t oversee the rest of the family. The parents run a shop and its a pretty big one and they need their older children to help out. The oldest is supposed to take over the shop. The other lad in my charge is hoping to move to Paris soon, he wants to be a writer. Seems the girl is destined to marry but she's the sharpest of the lot in my estimation, always has her nose in a book and keeps a detailed diary. If ya ask me she could be a pretty fair writer herself.

As to my specific duties, well that’s pretty hard to explain. Now there are certain things I can protect them from and others I can’t. For example I see a tree is about to fall on one of them as they’re walking I can influence them to stop and think about something so that the tree hits the ground before they're under it. Or if one falls off a horse and is about to break their neck, I can twist them mid air so that they get nothing worse than a bruise. Things like that. I don’t, however, have complete power. Some things will happen and I’ve no control over them try as I might. I figure that those things are God’s call.

But I get to do more than bail them out of jams. I listen to their prayers (believe me it helps, I just can’t tell ya how) or give em a nudge when they’re thinking of doing something. For instance it could be something they should do and I can influence them to do it, or it could be the opposite and I can deter them. These things are my call. I’m surprised at the autonomy I have as an angel. Except of course God, or whoever, can override me. Sometimes I’m trying to help them but they do the wrong thing anyway. I don’t question why. That’s not my role.

I’m also there to listen to their musings and I have access to their inner thoughts. You’d think it was kind of weird but it’s just part of what I do. Now you may be wondering how it is I can oversee three people who are not usually at the same place at the same time. The thing is I can be with all of them simultaneously no matter where each one is located. Sounds weird but that’s just the nature of my current existence. I don’t question it or wonder about it.

The rest of the family has an angel too. I can’t see let alone interact with the angel but I can feel her or his presence. I also know that not everyone has an angel. I’m guessing Hitler didn’t and serial killers don’t but it’s not the kind of thing I can be sure of.

I like my, for lack of a better word, “life.” I feel lucky to be guardians of such nice, smart and attractive people. I also know — and don’t ask me how — that I’ll have other such assignments and that I’ll always feel contentment and best of all I’ll see Edna and the kids at some point.

It’s kind of a strange thing. Here I am dead and I feel just as lucky as I did when I was alive. Actually, even more so.

05 January 2017

The Author Has Fun With Words and Includes a Photo of Rihanna Although She is Nowhere Mentioned



Sometimes I can’t identify with myself. At other times I can’t identify myself. And there are other times when my identity is subsumed by my personality. I see issues regarding my personality to be highly personal. So much so that I don’t share them with myself.

I’m not altogether sure why myself is one word. It seems that there is me and what is mine, as in my. There is the self and indeed many selves. So when I refer to the self that is mine I think it should be my self.

On a number of occasions people have said to me: "speak for yourself. " Oddly, in none of those instances have I just said: "speaking on behalf of the group...." Therefore it should be evident that I  have been speaking “for myself.”

People sometimes say, “speaking of witch,” but then they don’t say anything about a witch. What the heck?

I’m perplexed about people saying: in other words….But then they use the same kind of words from the same exact language.

In court, witnesses are asked to say what happened “in your own words." If a person has her or his own words, how can we expect to understand them? It’s better to use words in common usage. So obviously they are not going to use their "own words."

Sometimes people write: what I’m trying to say…..Why not just “say” it?  It’s as if the person wrote: “here is a sentence explaining my meaning.” Silly.

I know I’ve mentioned this before but it’s worth repeating: when people say or write, “don’t get me wrong” I always decide that I will indeed “get them wrong.” Nobody tells me how to “get” a person or what they say. I reserve the right to be all wrong.

Some people “I self identify as….” one way or the other. My question is why not just say “I identify as….” We assume the self part.

Is it okay to like words that are negatives? For example I like the word egregious. It’s a word that means conspicuously bad. But I like the word. Is that weird? I also like mellifluous which is a positive word meaning to have a smooth, rich flow. So I like all kinds of words. Like perpendicular. According to Merriam-Webster, it means: “standing at right angles to the plane of the horizon:  exactly upright.” Nice sounding word. Here’s another word I like, obsequious. Of course this refers to giving fawning attentiveness. A lot of people would use kiss ass instead but I like obsequious better.

Here’s something fun. I’m going to put those four words I like into one sentence. Watch.

Gunther had made an egregious mistake by placing the items perpendicular, but his obsequious employee, speaking in a mellifluous voice, praised Gunther for his ingenuity.

Not bad, eh?

There are many more words I like for their definitions, such as sensual, sumptuous and gorgeous. Oh, I just remembered, I really like the word cacophonous. Many of the words I like are longer ones — like sesquipedalian, which, interestingly enough, describes itself. It’s the use of long words. Words like, oh say, sesquipedalian. Similarly you have grandiloquent which is pompous or extravagant language. So it too is a word that describes itself.

Some words are overused like “awesome” which used to mean an expression of awe or inspiring awe (actually it still means both those things). Awesome is used for anything and everything now. First it was for things like “it was an awesome party” or “we had an awesome time.” Now — goodness me, it’s a catch all. You can tell a waiter your order and get the following reply, “awesome.” Come on! The fact that I’m having a Caesar Salad is not in any way shape or form something that should engender or inspire awe. It’s just a freaking salad.

I’ve always loved words but in my current incarnation as an ESL teacher they are of great professional importance. I have to explain words and idioms and how they are used and not used. For example a student might say, “so we must do this homework for tomorrow?” I’ll point out that while their sentence is just fine and dandy (actually I never say fine and dandy while teaching) people don’t use "must" like that anymore. Instead people say: “so we have to do this homework for tomorrow?” Must is still used as in “I must have left the folder on my desk.” But virtually no one says that they “must go to an appointment.” I make a distinction between what you can say and what people actually do say.

For some reason students coming from all over the world want to use the word moment as in, “in this moment I am planning a trip.” I have to give them the news that, while still very much in use, moment is not utilized in such a way. Instead people say, “right now” or “currently.”

Excuse the digression (digression is another word I like) but why is it called “Facebook”? It’s not a book and there’s much more than faces on it. They never explained that in the movie, The Social Network. I have a limited knowledge of Facebook as I shy away from it. I'm not even signed up for it. I think Twitter, Instagram, and two blogs are sufficient. How much more of me could anyone take?

Back to words....

If “it goes without saying” then logically you shouldn’t say it. Even better (or worse) is when someone says, “unless I’m mistaken.” You can use that for pretty much anything. “Unless I’m mistaken two plus two equals four.” Or. “Unless I’m mistaken, rabbits weigh up to 390 tons.” Then there's "unless I miss my guess." People don't say that much anymore and I think it's just as well.

Often when I part from a person I'll say: “have a good one.” Other people do it too. But we never specify what “one” represents. Maybe I'll start saying, "having two good ones," just for shits and giggles. That's an odd combination, shits AND giggles. The first is disgusting and the second fun. Why are they together? Someone else can look that up, I''m not that interested.

When someone I know enters a room I’m prone to saying, “there she is.” Unless it’s a male in which case I say, “there he is.” I make no apology for this and don’t even know why I brought it up.

Next time someone says to you: “don’t do anything I wouldn’t do” I believe it behooves you to say, “well then I’ll need a list of all the things you don’t do so I’ll know to avoid them.” Or. “What if something you wouldn’t do is something I do regularly with no ill effect and that I in fact enjoy?”  Just saying.

I like “just saying” and “so it goes" and most of all, “asking for a friend.”

If you are very very very old like I am (I have distant memories of running away from dinosaurs) you may remember that peole used to say “skip it.” Not any more. Now it’s “forget about it." Also no one is bashful anymore, a person is “shy.” Also you never work for an “outfit” anymore. But you do wear an outfit. Sometimes people say "I'll pass." I prefer it when people say “no thank you." "I'll pass" does not sound polite. Because it isn't. Speaking of which, “my bad” is not nearly as polite as “I’m sorry, its my fault.” At best "my bad" acknowledges responsibility for a mistake but in no way does it signify any regret.

Relationship language is a bit weird. For example: “I’m seeing someone.” Really? I see lots of people. In line with that is, “they’re not seeing other people.” Sounds kind of silly. Also silly sounding is, “they’re serious.” Really? No laughs? No fun? It’s all very “serious.” Finally there is “I’ve met someone.” Hey, I’ve met a lot of people, what’s the big deal?

This has been a blast. Out of sight. Really cool. Awesome. Terriff. Neat. Boss. Super. Far out. Boffo The best. Sick. Bodacious. Incredible. Dynamite. Swell. Primo. Groovy.

Well for me it has been. I'm speaking for myself.