25 June 2017

Words Speak Louder than Actions -- The Sad Fate of Watkins, Middle School Math Teacher



Watkins was turned out on his ear. They did everything short of executing the poor bastard. Nearly 20 years a teacher in good standing then one remark, one slip of the tongue and his career goes down the drain. How do you measure one short comment against all the young lives he’s positively impacted and his incalculable contributions to the school in general?

Poor Watkins had maintained a spotless record, making no enemies among colleagues, staff or administrators. Then that damn little bastard Tyree Robinson pissed him off. It was particularly strange because Watkins had a reputation for a really long fuse. Tyree had tested the patience of many a teacher including yours truly. I’d visualized choking the little shit myself. But no one would have predicted that if anyone snapped it’d be Watkins.

Of course there were mitigating factors at play. It was a day in which nothing was going right for Watkins. He spilled coffee in the morning, splattering a few papers he’d been grading. Then there was a testy phone call with an irrational parent at lunchtime. I heard that Watkins handled it as well as one could. Plus there was the general shitty attitude of kids that day as they practically fell over one another to be obnoxious. It was a cool, slate gray and very windy day. Lunchtime sports had been cancelled and a fight had been stopped before it could get started depriving students of a highly anticipated spectacle.

Watkins had started that post lunch class with what he knew would be a real boffo lesson plan. But as often happens among middle schoolers, the damn kids got in the way. They were so boisterous and uncooperative that Watkins had no choice but to shut it down and make them work silently out of their textbooks. So by the time Tyree went into his act, Watkins’ nerves were frayed.

Maybe it was the accumulated frustrations from 19 years of dealing with adolescents. Here’s a man who was famed for his patience, understanding and tolerance. He would make himself available to students at lunchtime and after school, happy to go over the minutest detail over and over again until the student understood. And he didn’t care how much a student acted out in his classroom, Watkins gave the same measure of his devotion to the troublemaker as he did the apple polisher. Maybe the damn was bound to break. Maybe there was a limit to what one man can do. He’d endured the slings and arrows of the vilest student and carried on. Watkins never asked the administration to mete out harsh punishment to students in his charge. Indeed he often begged for leniency. He hated for students to get suspended. And he never uttered a bad word about a student, let alone to a student. Maybe no one can go on like that forever. Maybe everyone has a breaking point. Perhaps on that fateful day Watkins simply reached his.

I heard the ruckus that led to Watkins’ outburst. It was a bit rowdy in his classroom but nothing to be alarmed about. I was on my prep period grading papers and didn’t give it a second thought. Then I heard what turned out to have been the reaction to Watkins’ infamous comment. First a sudden dead silence, then there were howls. There was outrage. There was indignation. This was not an ordinary noise to emanate from a classroom. Middle school teachers learn to respond to the unusual. I got up and peaked in Watkins’ room. He stood there looking at the students with total defeat playing across his pallid face. As Watkins later said he knew instantly that his comment had crossed the line and there was no taking it back and no apology that would redeem him. He stood there stock still being bombarded by angry reposts. It was as if he had just stepped into an elevator shaft and was resigned to his fate.

Meanwhile stupid Tyree Robinson was a martyr. A true hero to classmates because he was the one to whom Watkins’ words had been directed. Tyree was eating up the attention just as he did any attention that came his way. Tyree was an attention whore and a loud mouth who did not have a selfless bone his body. To think that these young people were putting him on a pedestal while getting ready to tear down a great teacher like Watkins was unbearable.

“Could you get, Mr. Durango?” Watkins asked me feebly. Durango was a vice principal. He’d need to come in to calm the situation, sort things out and take statements.

While we waited I stood physically and emotionally at Watkins’ side as if he were a prisoner facing execution. Students, of both genders, all colors, and all abilities, stared at Watkins. Some in anger, some in shock, some seemed bewildered, curious, almost as if they were mystified by how a grown man could transform before their eyes. I made it a point to keep them quiet and was particularly keen on keeping Tyree from uttering a word. I knew he was reveling in the triumph of getting a teacher to crack.

When Mr. Durango came in half the students tried at once to tell the story of Watkin’s utterance. But no one could silence a room faster than our vice principal. Once he’d done so and subsequently gotten the gist of the story, he asked Watkins to go to his office and wait there. I returned to my own room as Durango heard the students out noting the consistency of their stories. He then had them write statements and remained in the room until the dismissal bell..

Due to the nature of Watkins’ remark he was suspended — with pay — pending further investigation. Really there was nothing more to investigate. Watkins did not deny what he said and the remark he admitted to jibed with the student’s claims. A cursory look into Watkins’ background would be fruitless because he had maintained a spotless record. The parent outrage however was another matter and it quickly spread to become community outrage which of course got the attention of the school board which of course made the matter infinitely more serious. Watkins wouldn’t be able to get by on the technicality that, other than for one moment, he’d been an exemplary teacher. The odds also were, at least in my opinion, that he would continue to be an outstanding teacher for the next ten or 15 or however many years he plied his trade.

The matter was taken out of the hands of our principal and would be decided the school board under the advisement of the district superintendent for human resources. Watkins’ suspension was extended indefinitely. Meanwhile his class was taken over by a sub who had no control over the students and whose lessons were straight out of the textbook and thus dull and uninspired.

Watkins was divorced and lived alone, seeing his children on weekends. I visited a week after the infamous “incident.” He’d aged ten years. He sat slumped in an easy chair in front of the TV which was blaring some stupid game show.

“I never got the chance to apologize, to say I was wrong and that those words don’t in any way shape or form represent who I am or what I believe.  I just don’t know what happened, it came out….it all happened so fast and I’ve felt nothing but terrible ever since.”

It was hard listening to Watkins, just as it was difficult to look at him and see him crushed. All I could do was give him assurances about how we were all behind him and that it would blow over and everything would be all right.

But it didn’t blow over and everything wasn’t all right. The school board found cause to dismiss Watkins post haste, his salary and benefits honored until the end of the school year. The union mounted a defense of Watkins but it was too little too late and it was uninspired. The union could have acted sooner and with more vigor but were timid in face of the exact words Watkins said.

So that was that.

Faculty was mostly supportive of Watkins although a few of the African American teachers were not in great sympathy with him. Still no one reckoned that he deserved to be ousted. We invited him to the big party teachers have on the evening of the last day of the school year. It’s traditionally a big bash with a barbecue and lots of booze. Watkins didn’t show.

Two weeks later some joggers watched as a man drove his car into the bay. It was deep enough at that spot that the car was completely submerged. Watkins body was found in the driver’s seat of the car. Pinned to his shirt was an envelope in a ziplock baggy. Inside the envelope was a note that simply said: “all I did was call him fucking ni--er. NOT FAIR!”

The darn guy couldn’t even spell the word out.

18 June 2017

HEY REMEMBER ME?! I'm Finally Back With a Blog Post After Overcoming a Horrible Case of Writer's Block


That's Rihanna, she's mentioned below.

Some people say that writer’s block doesn’t exist. Some people also say that global warming doesn’t exist. In conclusion: some people are idiots.

I’ve had a case of writer’s block -- okay forget block it’s more like that monolith from 2001 -- and it has been sucking all of my writing ability into a black hole. I thus been rendered  incapable of stringing together more words than it takes to write an email. Mind you, I’ve written some nice emails, a few have displayed the wit and grace that have personified my writing lo these many years, while others have been most informative and still others have included a lone pithy remark and a link to a hilarious video.

What causes writer’s block? Fuck if I know. I don’t get it often and it usually just drops by for a few days, maybe a week. This has been a particularly virulent case aggravated by various factors. The most notable of which is some pretty bad ass depression. I’ve written enough about said depression lately so suffice to say that this has been the darker, deeper, more numbing variety. (As of this writing I am enjoying a depression free day as I did for four consecutive days recently.) I’ve also been wrestling with various nettlesome, though not serious, physical ailments, most notably a rash. Add to this coming to terms with the pending death of another good friend (that will make two this year) and it's little wonder that my fingers have not been dancing about the keyboard at their usual pace.

So it seems that I’m over the dreaded block (monolith) and boy don’t it feel good. Not being able to write is like not being able to speak coherently or to be sexually impotent or to have lost memory. Writing is my past, present, and future and it keeps them all alive just as a well rounded human needs. I do not suggest that I am particularly well rounded though if someone else does I’ll not issue a denial.

One of the problems with writer’s block is that there is no topic that seems worth scribbling about. Of course when you’re in the zone you hardly need a topic, a kernel of an idea, an image, a quote, an event will suffice. When free of the dreaded block I can write about your dog's fleas. Anyway I've got other topics of more importance and interest than fleas to write about...If I can just think of one....

Let's see there was another white cop who got away with killing another African American in cold blood. It's not just about cops, its really about the system and the institutionalized racism. We can't continue to accept this.

The jury in the Bill Cosby rape case couldn't reach a verdict because in this country an African American can get "justice" if he is rich and famous (see Simpson, OJ).

There were a couple of more mass shootings this week and the NRA still has a sizable number of congressmen by the balls so no gun laws will change and there won't even be much, if any meaningful dialogue on the subject.

Senate republicans are crafting a new health care bill behind close doors, it's all very hush hush although other republicans support the bill despite not having seen it. It will doubtless favor the huge pharmaceutical companies and insurance conglomerates with nice fat tax breaks for the already wealthy. Meanwhile screwing millions out of their health care. These are a people without compassion, without a soul who are available to the highest bidder.

We still have an idiot for a president who's favorite subject seems to be himself. He is a liar and a cheat and a sloppy businessman and this is all empirically verifiable. As is his obstruction of justice and his fuck buddy relationship to any Russian who can help get or maintain power or cash. Especially Boss Putin.

A "man" (alex jones) who claims that the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in which 28 people died many of them small children, did not take place, is being given air time on NBC tonight. How is this different than putting on a guest who claims an alien abduction or that Elvis lives or that the moon landing was faked? I'll tell you how it's different, it's worse. Any of those three would have more credibility and do far far less to unnecessarily hurt any feeling sthan this rabid dog in human skin.

See? There's ever so much to write about and for the sake of balance I'll close with some pleasant topics.

Rihanna.

Season five of Orange is the New Black, seasons three of Better Call Saul and Fargo. Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, the Late Show with Stephen Colbert, The Simpsons.

The resistance is strong and the pushback to Trump's reign of error is effective and predictive of great change in the days to come.

It's Gay Pride month and celebrations are taking place all over the world.

Strawberries are delicious. So are bagels and smoked salmon. So are the smoothies I concoct after I run. So too my wife's cooking.

The wife is retiring in two weeks and can devote more time to separating Rihanna and I. We're going to Europe in July (the missus and I, no Rihanna).

It's Father's Day and I had a great dad and I have two beautiful daughters who I am enormously proud of.

And the writer's block has been chiseled down to nothing.



03 June 2017

Fragments -- Fighting Depression and Winning Despite the Defeats



"Hey, Ray, I never went down, man! You never got me down, Ray! You hear me, you never got me down." -- Jake LaMotta to Ray Robinson in Raging Bull.

Fragments.

It’s been over a week since I was able to write more than a few paragraphs. In the same time period I’ve been unable to so much as start to practice my Finnish. I’ve meanwhile managed to read only a little. Meditation has proven impossible. Such is the power of the depression that currently occupies my mind, my body, my soul. I am a listless, lethargic lump only able to carry out everyday chores and work. Even sleep is difficult, unless it is day time in which I’m prone to lengthy naps. My body is full of chemicals, those that are supposed to combat depression, those that are supposed to aid sleep and those that successfully stave of panic attack. I’m too numb to feel panic.

Depression has been a constant in my life for 14 months now taking occasional breaks, the longest of which was for two weeks. Depression is the type of thing that makes you feel bad and makes you feel bad for feeling bad. Depression about depression. I write about my depression a lot. It helps to do so. It is also easy to write about because it is so clear and obvious. There is no ambiguity to it. A clear and present danger.

The depression has been given added fuel by the death of one of my closest friends and the fact that a second close friend is in hospice. That’s two major presences in my life that will be forever silent. I feel a little bit more alone. Also I had a horrible reaction to one anti depressant that gave me vicious rash all over my body. It was replaced by a second anti depressant to which my body reacted with the exact same kind of rash.

Yet I can say in all honestly that I’m happy. My life is a treasure trove of gifts and joys. Wife. Children. Nieces and nephews. Grand nieces and nephews. Friends. Co workers. Job. Physical health. The ongoing presence of books, music and films in my life. Travel plans. Exercise. All range from excellent to sublime. Much to celebrate and appreciate. Without these things perhaps I’d be on the verge of suicide. Perhaps not. I don’t know.

I don’t know is a constant theme of mine these days. This lack of surety in all things. This inability to affirm all but the most basic and obvious truths and realities. It is an overwhelming feeling of weakness. At least I know for sure that I suffer from depression.

But I don’t feel sorry for myself. I’m just depressed. I happen to be dealing with an emotional malady rather than a physical one and it does not prevent me for performing necessary tasks like going to work. I also am confident that it will pass. To feel any other way — as admittedly I sometimes do while in the midst of a particularly bad bout of depression — would destroy me. Without hope there is nothing. And I want something.

As I’ve been struggling to write this the depression has had a firm grip on me, a veritable strange hold. But I feel victorious because for the first time in days I’ve managed to write over 500 words. I’ve further managed to address IT. The pain cannot win if I can point to it, identify it, name it, call it out and spit in its face. Obviously I’m down, but not out. Depression deals some pretty powerful blows that can fell me for a time. But I always get up. I've got that and nothing can take it away from me.