31 December 2016

Goodbye 2016, You Sucked

Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher, their deaths capped off a terrible year.
"Sometimes everything seems just like a dream. It's not my dream, it's somebody else's. But I have to participate in it. How do you think someone who dreams about us would feel when he wakes up. Feeling ashamed?" - - From Ingmar Bergman's Shame (1968).

"Happy New Year to all, including to my many enemies and those who have fought me and lost so badly they just don't know what to do. Love! "

The above was tweeted earlier today by the US president elect. I think it sums the “man” up rather well. He is utterly lacking in any class or grace. Never mind the fact that he brings to the highest office in the land not a shred of understanding for his position nor any empathy for the people he was “elected” to serve. His presidency — however long it may last — could prove to be the undoing of the United States. Democracy as we know it is in grave danger. Corporations will be unregulated to such an extent that they will attain unimaginable profits while the poor plunge even further into poverty. Capitalism was an interesting idea but it is clearly an out of control monster that devours everything in its path and must be under the strictest of controls.

He is liar. A cad. A cheat. A hypocrite. A narcissist. He lacks ethics, morals or values. He is an inspiration to racists everywhere. Not to mention sexists, idiots and the lowest form of life and conservative evangelicals who have perfected the art of hypocrisy to an extent that even the president elect can only aspire to.

So will begin 2017. A year that — difficult as it may be to imagine — might be worse that 2016.

So there’s that. There’s also something else troubling: the social fascism of millennials. Recently Steve Martin tweeted about the death of Carrie Fisher “When I was a young man, Carrie Fisher was the most beautiful creature I had ever seen. She turned out to be witty and bright as well.” He was lambasted for being sexist because he had the gall to point out her beauty and list it ahead of her other attributes. Martin deleted the tweet. Outrage is easy. Manufacturing outrage is easy. In today’s world with comments, opinion, sentiments and just plain old sentences flying about social media, finding some silly thing to get riled about is a particularly simple matter.

People with common sense came forward and defended Martin and raged at the raging. As one person commented: “I’m so tired of all this binary thinking and heartless self righteous anger….” Exactly. You can’t use these words. You can say anything about these or those people. These people can’t make jokes about those people. You shouldn’t say that or even think this. Increasingly we are seeing — from the left, mind you — strictures on free speech that will mute social commentary, dialogue, humor, expressions of grief and truth telling. Words and expressions are being taken away. Thin skinned self righteous millennials are particularly guilty of moral indignation and consequent hissy fits anytime someone steps over a line that none of us knew even existed. Somewhere Cotton Mather is smiling.

All is not bleak. It just feels that way. This feeling, of course, stems from horrible national and international events but is worsened by the losses of still more deaths of beloved celebrites, the aforementioned Ms. Fisher and then her mom, Debbie Reynolds are only the latest in a long line who have died these past 12 months.

But I look forward to the coming year. “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said. (We could sure use his like today.). I hope he was right. It is worth noting that the world is in many respects a safer, cleaner place than it ever has been. In more and more countries women are gaining more rights and protections as are gays, children, the elderly, the handicapped and other minorities. However, there is — as we have seen in the US — blowback with the rise of racist national groups and xenophobia, but that is inevitable. Hopefully we shall overcome. It has happened. Pessimism gains no one anything, other than an excuse to sit out the struggle. And struggle we need.

There is music, there is art, there is literature, there is film, there are still some uncorrupted sports competitions. There are parks, forests, beaches and other natural wonders. There is instant communication and air travel. There is scientific progress. There are advances in medicine. There is love. There is hope. And I don’t mean Bob.

So what's next? How about this? "Whatever happens, it's time to bury neoliberalism. We need genuine wealth + power redistribution. Only a real left can fight fascism." -- Naomi Klein

23 December 2016

A Little on Weather, a Bit About Christmas, a lot on Trump (yuck!) Then Something on Mental Illness and Finally Back to Christmas

Joulupukki, or Santa Claus to you non Finns
It’s cold, rainy and windy. Typically one adds: outside. I don’t see the point. If you are blessed with four walls and a roof and your windows are closed you should be experiencing neither rain nor wind in your domicile. Cold is another matter. This requires a heating system and proper insulation to avoid frigid weather. So as I was saying, it is cold, rainy and windy. My reaction to this is: huzzah! It’s December, it’s nearly Christmas and it is most appropriate that we have what many call “foul” or “bad” weather. I call it beautiful weather because I’m just the slightest bit odd. I guess you could scratch the “slightest bit” part. I find sunny cloudless days to be boring. Oh I don’t mind them now and again, particularly after a good hearty storm.

Despite my leftward political leanings and my indifference to religion and to the notions of god, jesus and virgin births, I love the Christmas season. I’ve made much of this fact in the past. The religious over tones of the holiday don’t bother me so much because I was raised with them and now find it simple enough to ignore them. The commercialization of Christmas is something people have been complaining about since I was a child (yes Christmas started before I was born ) and furthermore those complaints date back at least as far as the late 19th century. I like the break from the usual that Christmas provides. The colors, the trees, the gift giving, the huge meals, the family gatherings, the carols and Jolly Old Saint Nick himself. Plus you’ve got some darn good Christmas-related films (not to mention a plethora of bad ones) and a few good Christmas specials on TV. Most of these are from 50 years ago.

I have many other things on my mind besides Yuletide. I was asked recently what I thought would happen under a Trump presidency. Anyone who tries to predict the next four months, let alone the next four years, is full of it (I’ll leave to your imagination what “it” is). I challenge anyone to correctly predict the next four weeks. We are in unknown territory. The United States has never had a president who in anyway resembles this unbalanced individual. The potential for serious havoc being wreaked is unmeasurable. It seems likely that Trump will violate the constitution (much as he has violated women) and suffer an impeachment. Indeed its hard to imagine this not happening. How much damage will be done in the meantime is incalculable. The president elect is a prolific liar, notoriously thin-skinned, utterly capricious, malicious, narcissistic and totally incapable of understanding the niceties of diplomacy.

Meanwhile the country may well be torn asunder. Virulent racists are crawling out from under rocks, spewing their hatred, sometimes on the internet, sometimes in speechs, sometimes through graffiti and vandalism and sometimes directly at a person of color. Trump’s election has emboldened white nationalists, nazi wannabes, the KKK and all manner of racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic and Islamaphobic nut jobs. There will come a point when shots will be fired -- literally -- people will clash in the streets and more bombs will be explode. Because Trump has assembled a cabinet chock full of million and billionaires who have no regard for anyone beneath their station (i.e. the overwhelming number of the people they serve) we can expect massive indifference and devastating funding cuts to little things like education, research, alternative energy, housing and the social safety net. The Affordable Care Act may suffer and there’s but little question that — at this extremely critical time — efforts to combat climate change will be cast aside. It’s dumbfounding and depressing that we will have a president and his cabinet who deny what the rest of the world knows and what over 90% of climate scientists says is a verifiable fact. The inmates will be running the asylum.

Will Trump trample on basic first amendments rights? He may try. Will he ever release his tax returns? On a cold day in hell. Will he ever hold a press conference? Probably one, eventually, and likely he won't like the experience and it will be nigh on impossible to get him to do another.

As I alluded to earlier, I am very far to the left of the political spectrum (something I will address on this blog in the very near future). Trump’s election and his forthcoming presidency are pushing me farther to the left. My reading of late has included a lot about Vietnam, Nixon, Watergate, and most especially the radical movements of the Sixties and Seventies including two sets of memoirs by former members of the Weather Underground. Trumpism may well lead to a huge revival of radical leftist politics. It will unquestionably further arouse the progressive populism that Bernie Sanders stirred last year. It is conceivable that, in the long run, much good could come out of Trump’s buffoonery. It may lead to a meltdown of conservative politics and do severe damage to the republican party. Meanwhile the Democrats could move further left. They may, ala Bernie, stop trying to compete with republicans for moderates and state their case from the position of a purer form of liberalism.  Republicans successfully shifted far to the right in the Eighties with much success. Since FDR was president, Democrats, at least those who have earned the presidency, have betrayed their progressive roots in order to seduce conservative Democrats and die-hard moderates. While Obama did as much as he could given congressional interference to carry out strong liberal domestic policies, his foreign policy did not differ significantly from that of his predecessors from either party. Drone strikes killing civilians and damaging US status, were carried out pell mell. The fight against terrorism has gotten nowhere fast.

But enough about depressing topics. My own personal depression has abated significantly recently with nine of the last ten days seeing yours truly perfectly happy. I bring a message of hope to fellow sufferers that there are good days in your future no matter how bad it feels now. I’ve had some dark days that suggested my permanent condition would be one of terrible melancholy. I’m not out of the proverbial woods yet but I’m enjoying what I can one day at a time. Having experience with a 12 step program makes a lot of things in life easier to cope with. I have also been coping with the diagnosis that I am bipolar. I wasn’t surprised to learn that this was the case but I was amazed and hugely disappointed that something so obvious was not previously recognized. Especially since I bear all the characteristics of someone on the bipolar spectrum. Indeed I was ultimately quite relieved by the diagnosis as it gave me a label for some of my “problems” and one that I share with a great many people.

I am happy today and I look forward to enjoying tomorrow when I will be with daughters, wife, nieces, nephews, their spouses and their children and my sister-in-law for a traditional Finnish Christmas Eve celebration. Damn it I like Christmas and don’t care who knows it. Trump on the other hand….

17 December 2016

A Most Fateful Walk

Bill Allen, 38, of Wicketsborough Connecticut went out to get a loaf of bread one night last year. It was a little after 8:00 on a cold autumn night. Three days later he was in a Turkish prison being raped by Bahar Aslan, a suspected murderer. It seems that Bill Allen, photography store owner and notary public, bore a striking resemblance to a Russian spy, one Yuri Ivanovich.

In the aftermath of his abduction no one back in Wicketsborough, nor anywhere else in the US, had the foggiest notion where Bill Allen was. His wife of 15 years, Debra Allen and his daughter Lisa (9) and son Buster (nee Robert) (6) were, unsurprisingly worried. So too was the family dog, Chester, (4) who could sense unhappiness within the family circle. The Allen’s cat, Rusty seemed to be carrying on as usual.

A month prior, Bill Allen had been in New York city to check out some new photography accessories being previewed at an exhibition. At some point while strolling through Manhattan, Bill was spotted by a Turkish agent who was in New York tailing a Saudi operative. The agent notified his superiors who sent a man to do what used to be called in movies, a tail job. Allen’s resemblance to Yuri Ivanovich was unmistakable, right down to their short blonde hair parted on the left. It also was a fact that Ivanovich, very much wanted by the Turks as well as other nations, had not been seen in two years. Apprehending the Russian spy would be quite a coup as he was the bearer of many secrets that the Turks dearly wanted.

What no one then knew was that Yuri Ivanovich was no longer of this Earth having drowned while fishing in Australia and subsequently being feasted upon by a seawater crocodile. What remained of him could hardly be used to certify identification, especially given the amount of time said remains had been in the water.

That fateful night two Turkish agents had lured Bill Allen toward their van under the pretext of asking for directions. Bill was a notoriously trusting fellow who had no reason to suspect that anything was amiss. He took things at face value. Sadly for this trusting fellow, the agents very neatly and quickly rendered Mr. Allen unconscious and tied him up in the back of the van. By the time the man who resembled a Russian spy regained consciousness, he was somewhere over the Atlantic. Needless to say Allen had no clue what was happening to him and was terrified.

None of the Turks spoke to their captive, not even to answer any of his questions. Their silence continued after the airplane arrived and he was driven to the prison. As a tactic of many agencies when having captured a foreign spy; Allen was left to wonder at his fate even as he was thrown into a prison cell alongside the aforementioned Mr. Aslan.

One might wonder if the Turks were at all suspicious of the fact that their captive was not speaking a word of Russian and that his English was fluent and without an accent. However the late Mr. Ivanovich was known to be fluent in several languages betraying nary an accent in any of them.

It was five days before Bill Allen was brought out for interrogation. By this time he had cried, screamed, wailed and nearly gone insane contemplating the horrific and unknowable events that had visited him. He was ordered to sit in a chair at a table facing two Turkish men in suits. The room was absolutely sterile, windowless, clean and stark. A bright overheard light shone on the middle of the table. A uniformed guard stood by the door.

Mr. Allen was addressed as Yuri Ivanovich by one of the men across from him and spoken to in Russian. The confused and terrified Mr. Allen cried that he didn’t understand them and demanded to know what was happening. He then sobbed. One of the two men then spoke English to the prisoner saying that they would “play this portion of the game” his way. He then asked Mr. Allen, “what have you to tell us?”

Bill Allen, owner of a photography store and notary public, wailed that he didn’t even know where he was or why he was here. “Very good Yuri Ivanovich, we’ll just have to allow you more time in your cell to decide that you will talk to us and tell us everything we want to know.”

The men started to get up. Bill Allen, in a loud, desperate, pleading voice cried, “wait! what did you call me? You’ve got the wrong guy. I'm not even Russian!”

“Surely,” one of the men said, “you can do better than that. Why don’t you quit this charade and save us all precious time by talking to us.”

“I’ll talk! I’ll talk!” insisted Mr. Allen.

The two men retook their seats. “Let us start by you telling us who was responsible for the killing of our man in Athens and why he was killed.”

Bill Allen was dumbstruck. He did not possess a great intellect. Yes he’d managed good enough grades in school, but he merely learned what was required and possessed no intellectual curiosity. He was a simple man of simple tastes who, besides spending time with his family, enjoyed nothing so much as watching TV with his wife. But it was now clear to him that he was mistaken for a spy, probably a Russian one, as he correctly believed that that was the language they’d spoken to him in.

“Do you think I’m a Russian spy? Is that what you think? You’ve made a mistake, a terrible mistake. My name is William Allen, I own a photo shop in Wicketsborough. That’s my hometown, you see. You can ask anyone there about me. I have a wife and children and they must be desperately worried. Oh please, take me to the American embassy and we can straighten this whole thing out. I’ve just got —- ”

“That’s enough, Mr. Ivanovich,” said one of the men as he raised a hand. It seems you’ve chosen not to cooperate. I must say you are a splendid actor. I could well imagine you fooling many people.” Then the man nodded at the guard.

“But I’m not acting. I really am who I say. I can’t even speak Russian.” But the guard pulled Bill Allen out of his chair and led the sobbing man back to his cell and into the loving arms of his cellmate.

Three days later Bill Allen was brought into the same room and seated in the same chair across from the same people with the same guard at the door. Questions were asked and innocence was pleaded. Allen grew nearly hysterical and the two men calmly watched. Then one stood and slapped the prisoner across the face. Then hit him in the chest. Then spat in his face. Then slapped him again and yet again Then punched him in the stomach.

“You see, Yuri Ivanovich, we can talk calmly or we can be rough. In fact, if we talk calmly you will soon have your own room and be served very nice meals. So what do you say? Will you cooperate?

Bill Allen’s face was crimson and there were flecks of blood on it and his shoulders. His chest ached and it had taken awhile to breath normally after the punch to his stomach. He had never been struck before and had never even played a contact sport. The poor man was sobbing uncontrollably, large strings of snot were streaming out of his nose. It was then that two men began to consult with one another, speaking quietly in Turkish. They expressed doubts that this was really Yuri Ivanovich. For one thing, said the man who had struck him, he is so soft, hardly like a Russian agent. Yes, said the other, and this sobbing like a woman does not seem to be acting, it’s too good. Plus, they both agreed, no Russian agent, particularly not one as notoriously tough as Yuri Ivanovich would sob at all, let alone so loudly.

Mr. Bill Allen was placed in a room with a small, but comfortable bed with clean sheets. There was even a window that looked out onto a field. The photography store owner had not seen the outdoors since going out for the loaf of bread. He was also given clean clothes and allowed a shower.

There he stayed for three more days, receiving decent meals and fresh water to drink. Bill Allen was far from happy but in his misery he was suffering less. He was left to wonder why the change, as welcome as it was, and what to expect next.

Meanwhile the Turkish agents conducted a rigorous investigation (or more precisely had fellow agents in the US do it) into the background of William Allen of Wicketsborough, Connecticut. It took three days to receive a report saying that the man was just who he claimed to be. As for Yuri Ivanovich, there was no trace of him and more importably for Bill Allen, no record of him ever being in Connecticut. Indeed there were reports that he’d last been seen in Australia.

Now it had to be decided what was to be done with Bill Allen. Turning him over to the American embassy was out of the question, it would be far too embarrassing and injurious to US-Turkish relations. There was talk of merely shooting him and burying his remains where they’d never be found but that was dismissed on humanitarian grounds. Finally it was decided to put Mr. Allen right back to where they had taken him. Just leave him on the street where he had been abducted. He could thus re-unite with his family and surely no one, at least not in an official capacity, would believe his story — if he could manage to tell it.

So it was that Mr. Bill Allen was heavily sedated and flown back to the United States. By the time he was in the van — the same one he’d rode to out of Wicketsbourough in, Allen was awake, if groggy. He was alone in the back left to his thoughts having no clue where he was going.

Allen was dropped off on the same street where he’d been picked up at virtually the same spot at the same time of night. Even his loaf of bread was replaced. He wore the same clothes he’d had on that night, nearly two weeks ago. The driver of the van and his companion drove off as soon as they had deposited Bill Allen.

Bewildered, dazed, confused and terribly anxious, the poor man walked on wobbly legs the two and half blocks to his home. When he walked through the front door his wife Debra screamed — half in delight and half in shock. Lisa and Buster, who had been staring numbly at the TV set, leapt to their feet, crying “daddy, daddy, daddy” over and over again. Chester barked and jumped wagging his tail furiously. Rusty looked up from his perch atop the sofa, licked a paw, then resumed his slumber.

Amidst all the weeping and hugging and kissing, Mrs. Allen finally asked her husband what had happened and where had he been. Bill Allen veritably staggered to his easy chair and plopped down. He looked up lovingly at his wife, smiled at his kids and said, “you’d never believe me, not in a million years.” On the walk home Mr. Allen had wondered what he could possibly say to anyone about his disappearance. The real story would seem bizarre and beyond belief. His only recourse was a lie. One he was still trying to concoct as he sat down.

“For heaven’s sake, Bill, tell me!” his wife demanded.

Mr. Allen paused a moment then said, “I don’t know, I guess I fell or something and got amnesia because I can’t remember a thing. The last thing I remember is paying for the bread. The next thing I knew I was staggering down the street with a blinding headache, knowing that some time had passed since I left for the store."

"I wonder where you could have been? People were looking all over for you. Your disappearance was on the local TV news and in the papers. Anyway we're just so glad you're home.

"I'm confounded by all of this too. So tell me, how long have I been away?”

“Almost two weeks, Bill, 12 whole days.”

“Well, I’ll be darned,” Bill Allen replied.

11 December 2016

A Bout of Insomnia Evokes Memories of Hangovers

“I drink too much. The last time I gave a urine sample it had an olive in it.” - Rodney Dangerfield

Hey, guess what I got to struggle with last night? My worst ever case of insomnia. Woke up at 12 something, 1 something, 2 something, 3 something and when I work up at 4 something there was no getting back to dreamland. I had both tossed and turned to no avail and so finally got up and spent an hour on the computer. I tried at last to sleep on the sofa and did so quite fitfully for 90 minutes before giving up on that too. So guess how I feel now? If you said like warmed over ostrich vomit you are correct.

The day after a bad night of sleep recalls the many hangovers I used to suffer. In fact one day a few months ago I woke up after not sleeping well adding to this I was severely depressed, had an upset stomach and a headache. If my wallet had been empty and I’d only recalled parts of the previous night it would have been exactly like a hangover.

When I was drinking, hangovers were just part of the deal like being sore after a good workout. Sometimes there’d be a point in the evening at which I realized that if I continued imbibing I’d be in for that morning after feeling. Usually I said, “aw screw it” and carried on nonplussed.

The typical hangover consisted of a blinding headache, achy bones, weakness, queasiness, guilt, anxiety, regret and a dash or two of depression. Hangovers varied according to what you drank.  I found beer hangovers to be the most tolerable unless the evening’s grog had consisted of heavy malts. Those could produce some dozzies. Wine hangovers were the ones most likely to cause nausea. Hard alcohol made for the worst headaches. Mixing drinks could also be lethal. The worst though was the Irish Coffee hangover. Whiskey, sugar and coffee are a brutal combination plus the concoction kept you up longer thus allowing you to drink more. Irish coffee hangovers made suicide seem an inviting option.

Hangovers could be blunted in two ways: drink plenty of water before going to bed, take two Tylenol before retiring. The problem is that you’re often too sloshed to think of it. As for hangover cures I found the best thing to do was to sleep as late as possible. After rising a shower would be in order and then, if at all possible, a hearty breakfast. But no matter these, the only real cure was a hair of the dog. A beer or two would take the edge off and if you could stop at a buzz you were usually good for the day. The risk, of course, was going beyond a few and starting in another evening of bacchanalia.

Another addition to hangover woes was cocaine, the more you’d partaken the worse the morning after. The cocaine itself could cause a nasty hangover and the copious amounts of liquor that the coke kept you awake to partake in furthered the damage. You may wake up next to a stranger. I did twice. In one instance I had no idea what her name was and we clearly been "intimate" the night before. Upon waking up she left and I never so her again nor did I discover her name. I remain particularly ashamed of that night/morning. I also woke up a few times to find vomit not far away. In one cases it had splashed upon a new book I'd just purchased that featured stills from all of Humphrey Bogart's films.

Drunks are perfectly happy to discuss and compare hangovers. The imagination runs wild in describing the hangover. One regular description was that a hole had been bored into the brain and sand had been poured in. There was also the claim that jackhammers were busy at work inside one’s head. Of course some swore off alcohol for a few days, a week or even longer when in the throes of a nasty one. You could tell a drunkard by the fact that the drinking would recommence well short of the goal. Often that very day. A real sot wouldn’t bother with promises and just get on with the drinking.

The real problem with hangovers was the guilt, shame and regret at what you did remember and the horror associated with large chunks of the evening that you had no memory of. God knows what you had done. Sometimes you can strain your brain and recall an image or person or a snippet of conversation. The worst was when the whole evening was a blank. You may well have insulted someone, flirted with the wrong woman, made a fool of yourself in front of the right woman or just made an ass of yourself in front of everyone. Sometimes you’d see a fellow reveler the next day and hear something to the effect of, “boy were you a mess last night” Or, “do you even remember last night?” Sometimes it wasn't so bad as in, “you were hilarious last night.” I once had a woman tell me what a good dancer I’d been and how funny I was. I neither recalled dancing nor making jests.

One day I woke up with no memory at all of the previous night. Total blank. Later that day I went to meet the people I’d been with that night at our favorite watering hole. They weren’t there. I asked around and someone told me that they’d gone to another bar. Funny, nobody told me. When I entered they turned their backs to me and pretended I wasn’t there. A collective cold shoulder. Freezing cold. I had a love/hate relationship with the most prominent member of our group and I’m sure that while in my cups I’d brought up every grievance I’d ever had with her. I slunk off, chastened, never to see “the gang” again. No matter, I moved out of the town shortly thereafter.  Some years later I heard that the aforementioned woman had died of cancer while still in her early forties. I regret to this day that I didn’t make amends with her.

When you have a serious pain somewhere your body is telling you that something is wrong. Similarly if you are ill there is cause that sometimes requires investigation. With that in mind a hangover is certainly an internal memo to your brain and body that what took place the previous evening did damage and is to be avoided in the future. A heavy drinker is not interested in that missive.

One of the great joys of sobriety is the complete and total absence of hangovers. Other ailments come along but they do not visit us out of our stupidity and there is no shame, no empty wallet and no gaps in the memory.

If you partake every now and again but rarely get tipsy and do not suffer hangovers, I congratulate you. Mind you I don’t understand this ability at all. Even today when I see or hear of someone having “a couple of drinks” and truly no more, I’m dumbfounded. How is it possible? Sure there were a few occasions when I stopped after one or two but they were the exception.

Now the exception is when I wake up not feeling well. Life can get better — provided you get enough sleep.

04 December 2016

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

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

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

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

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

That leads me to another topic, people often say, nothing is impossible. Horseshit. Many things are impossible. It is impossible for me to leap over a ten story building, it is impossible to drink a gallon of battery acid without ill effect, it is impossible for a two month old baby to lift an adult elephant. Here is the definition of impossible courtesy of the good folks at Merriam-Webster: Definition of impossible a : incapable of being or of occurring :  felt to be incapable of being done, attained, or fulfilled: insuperably difficult. 

So if you say someone did the impossible you are guilty of grammatical fiction. You may, however, say that someone has done something that was previously thought to be impossible. Are we clear on this?

So that wasn’t all so positive so maybe I should change the topic. Maybe. Then again maybe I’m just not in the mood. Funny thing is that as I write this I’m enjoying about my sixth day in a row with little or no depression*. Longest streak since April. Maybe I’m cured. Yeah I doubt it too. But its good not to be slumped in a chair looking deep into nothing, seeing nothing, hearing nothing feeling only existential pain and wondering if there was ever really such a thing as happiness. Along came some new meds. So now I skip merrily down the street tossing daises in the air and singing a happy song. Oh joy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep a good thought, everybody.

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

30 November 2016

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

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

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

28 November 2016

Bad Things Happen to Good People

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

24 November 2016

Much to be Thankful for in 2016 Despite all Outward Appearances

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

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

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

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

My Gratitude List:

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

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

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

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

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

Comedians. Seth Myers, Trevor Noah, Chris Rock, Dave Chappelle, Amy Schumer, Kate McKinnon, The Lonely Island boys, Roy Wood Jr., Billy Eichner (fast becoming a national treasure), George Wallace (providing yuks aplenty on Twitter), Richard Lewis, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Mike Birbiglia, Russell Brand, Albert Brooks, Lewis Black, Jerry Seinfeld, Dana Carvey, Sarah Silverman, Ricky Gervais, Kevin Hart, Bob Newhart and once again John Oliver.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

17 November 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

15 November 2016

My Favorite Thanksgiving

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

12 November 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

05 November 2016

Part Two of Teachers You Might Recognize

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

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

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

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

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

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