31 August 2016

A Friend Named Herb, Drinking, Smoking, Talking and a One Night Stand

I was over at Herb Parker’s house to watch an NFL game and have some drinks. Right after I arrived Herb emerged from the kitchen and empathically placed a fifth of whiskey on the coffee table. Then he went back to the kitchen to fetch a couple of glasses. We turned the game on and drank. There was no drinking game, none of this take a drink every time someone says such and so. We just poured and drank, poured and drank.

I was 23 and Herb a few years older. We were writers on the staff of an alternative newspaper. He was a highly intelligent man who was widely respected. Herb also had a reputation as a drunk and as someone who smoked weed like it was tobacco. I thought Herb was cool and was flattered that he took a shine to me. His invitation to join him for whiskey and football swelled me with pride. Now we were sitting there as equals swallowing glass after glass of Wild Turkey. We were also alternately chain smoking cigarettes and weed.

There was some attention paid to the game but mostly we talked about writing and women and politics and philosophy. If we’d been sober for all or most of it, it would have been a heady conversation. Herb didn’t bullshit. he had a sense of humor, yes, but there was no silliness, no games, no sarcasm in his talk. Whatever you talked about with Herb was treated seriously, even if you were stewed to the gills. Herb had assumed a quasi mentorship role with me. I was a prolific and popular reporter and he was forever giving me advice, most of it quite good. He also set an example of alcohol intake and drug use that added further fuel to my burning desire to get high.

It was a cold dreary day. Herb lived on a quiet street. There were no external sounds. All one could hear was the television and us talking. There was an eeriness to it. Like we were the only two people for miles and we were discussing the fate of mankind. Herb shared the house with his girlfriend and another chap, both of whom were out of town. I was juggling several women and feeling a commitment to none. I was a bit of a cad. You can scratch the bit of part. In any event I was unfailingly happy.

The game ended with whatever team we were rooting for having lost. It was of no great concern to us. But what was of concern was that the whiskey bottle was empty. We remedied that by drinking the few beers in the fridge. That took no time at all. There was no question but that the drinking had to continue and soon. We were two young men at the top of our game in terms of drinking. We got in Herb’s car.  He backed out of the driveway and onto the front lawn. In a second effort my companion over compensated and scraped the fence on the other side of the driveway. The third time was indeed a charm and we got the car out of the driveway though he nicked another car in the process. Herb said nothing about his mishaps and neither did I. It was none of my business. Then he hit a tree and then a lamppost. I felt some mild impatience that the initial stage of our trip was taking so long, but I was not at all concerned about us making our destination, which was, of course, a bar.

The car jerked a few times and stopped and I bounced around a bit but eventually Herb seemed to get the handle of it and the rest of our drive went off without a hitch. We entered a bar and ordered drinks. Our conversation continued although it was significantly more disjointed and incoherent. I finally thought to look around and noted that this was not a college bar but one frequented by town’s people, many of middle age. Herb did not like college bars, he liked bars for serious drinking.

Nonetheless I eventually espied two women who were about our age. They were sitting at a table accompanied only by a couple of beers. Herb reluctantly acquiesced to my suggestion that we pay these young ladies a call. We sat at their table without invitation. Up close I realized they were probably in their mid to late 30s. Like us they’d “had a few” before coming to the bar and were glad for our company. I turned on the charm as best I could given my condition.  The women were no great beauties — they were working class girls — but had clean handsome features, ample bosoms and gave off an air of practiced sexuality. These were no coy virgins.

We chatted and laughed for about 15 minutes before coming to the consensus that a good meal was in order and that we should enjoy it together. We discussed local eateries before one of the women, (I’ve never remembered her name) finally offered to cook at her place, which was just around the corner. This had been easy. I liked easy. I liked a challenge. I liked women however they came to me.

The woman’s fridge and cabinets were well stocked with all manner of booze so the drinking continued unabated while dinner was being prepared. Herb had paired off with the cook so he helped her in the kitchen while me and — I want to say Margaret — reclined on the sofa. It was only a matter of minutes before we were passionately necking and my hands had gained full access to the treasures that were beneath her clothing. It was Margaret who suggested that it would be better to make love now rather than to try on a full stomach later. I concurred. We found a spare bedroom, disrobed completely and proceeded to screw. I’d known Margaret for about an hour. There’d been no talk of mutual attraction, no flirting to speak of, no clues or hints or suggestions that we’d wind up kissing, let alone making love. It was all so matter of fact. Not even spontaneous, more like we were fulfilling a prescribed action.

We finished our coupling right about the time Herb bellowed from the kitchen that dinner was ready.

It was a huge meal though I can’t remember what it consisted of. I do recall that it was delicious and the food was copious. Upon its completion we repaired to the living room for after dinner drinks. We’d been enjoying them for about half an hour and I was anxious for another bout with Margaret when the phone rang. The other woman took the call in the kitchen. She emerged after a few minutes and announced that her and Margaret’s husbands were coming home early from their hunting trip and in the interest of our health, Herb and I should scram.

It was only then that I noticed Margaret’s wedding ring and that the decor of the house suggested a man lived there. Indeed the other woman said her son was with hubby and her daughter was over at a friend’s house. I don’t know if Margaret had children or not, I hoped I hadn’t added to her brood.

Stunned but sated Herb and I stumbled out the door and, forgetting where his car was, walked to our respective homes.

The next day I saw Herb at the newspaper office. He admitted to having a bit of hangover. So did I.

“Fun day yesterday, wasn’t it?” I asked.

“I’ve had worse,” he replied laconically.

 I went back to my desk feeling like I had life by the balls.

26 August 2016

Memories of the Short Lived Sit Com "Jesus in High School"

Recently I wrote about my experience in the short lived sit com, “Hey it’s Klaus!” Writing about it brought back a lot of memories including my brief association with another failed and controversial sitcom, “Jesus in High School.” Jesus in High School aired on ABC during the 1981-1982 television season to decidedly mixed reviews. It drew the ire of Christian groups and atheists alike.

Like, Hey it’s Klaus, Jesus is not available on DVD and is not shown on any nostalgia channels and is impossible to find on You Tube. It’s rumored that prints in pristine condition were recently found and negotiations to release them are currently progress. I could find no corroboration for this.

As the title suggests the show was about the son of god attending high school. In the only season that aired he was a sophomore.  The shows creators, Lyle Bach and Randy Fielding, had hopes for a three year run and then four years of Jesus in College. It is a miracle worthy of the great redeemer himself that their project got through one season.

Christians, particularly Catholics, thought the show blasphemous as it told stories about Jesus that did not exist in the bible and worst of all played them for laughs. ABC was inundated with hate mail, angry phone calls and even bomb threats. Jewish viewers bristled at the show’s depiction of a figure that ran counter to their beliefs and atheists called for equal air time for a show about pagans.

Christ was played by heartthrob Wendell Kelly. To the dismay of many he was a tall blonde haired blue eyed young man (he was actually 22 years old). Many African Americans and theological experts pointed out that it was infinitely more likely that Jesus had dark features. The producers hoped that they’d be able to capitalize on Kelly’s popularity derived from his time with rock group, Chocolate Sunshine that had only recently broken up. Kelly had been lead guitarist and a back up vocalist but his good looks and ready smile made him a favorite among teeny boppers.

The show’s story lines all centered around the ups and downs the Prince of Peace would have had as an otherwise typical teenager in a typical high school. To be able to play the show for the most laughs and have it relatable to American audiences, the high school was oddly like your average American high school of the late 20th century. There were school dances, pep rallies, student council, cliques, nerds and bullies.

The Messiah had several friends on the show but Todd (all the other characters had, for inexplicable reasons, American first names) was his best buddy and was forever encouraging the Lord of Lords to use his powers. Todd was played by a young actor just starting out by the name of Derrick Duncan who, as if I need to tell you, is now one of Hollywood’s biggest stars and a two time Oscar winner.

My recollection of the show was that while it was unquestionably odd, it was also sidesplittingly funny. I recall one episode that took place around the time of parent teacher conferences and the big question for our main character was whether Mary would be accompanied by Joseph or the almighty himself. Of course Todd and everyone else was encouraging JC to have the Creator attend. Being omniscient, God was well aware of the situation and ultimately insisted that JC’s earthly father “rep the family.” The maker was never seen on the show but frequently heard. (He was voiced by Tony Randall.)

In another episode Jesus and his buddies were having a party and concluded that drinking some alcohol would liven things up. No one had an ID so his friends coaxed the Messiah into turning water into wine. Naturally our hero got in big trouble with his folks upon arriving at home in an advanced state of intoxication. Later in the episode his heavenly father had words with him too. But it was all done — successfully I might add — for laughs.

A two part episode concerned Jesus trying to find a date for the school dance. It may not surprise you to know that his crush was one Mary Magdalene. Todd and friends warned JC that she had “a reputation” for “fooling around.” But the Holy Redeemer was undeterred and despite warnings of committing social suicide, MM was, for a few episodes, his girlfriend.

There were running gags on the show about people saying goddamn it or Jesus Christ! And our hero saying “hey, that’s my dad you’re talking about” or “yeah, whattaya want?”

Believe it or not there was a special Christmas show replete with jokes about what a bummer it was that Christmas and The Messiah's birthday landed on the same day. The savior took the jibes good naturally and even sang Jingle Bell Rock with his friends at the school's Christmas talent show.

Amidst all the laughs there was one episode that included some drama. One of JC’s friends, Kyle, took a spill off the gym roof and died. The gang all asked Jesus if he could do anything for their pal. “Well, I guess I could raise him from the dead.” He offered. “You can do that?” his friends exclaimed simultaneously. “I did it with our cat once but I think it's the same basic idea." It took awhile but Jesus did it and there stood Kyle a little dazed but otherwise no worse for the wear. Everyone patted JC on the back and Kyle gave him a hug. Later, on his walk home, The Prince of Peace’s heavenly father read him the riot act telling him to “save that stuff for later” adding “and stop healing the lame, especially when all they’ve got is a sprained ankle.” A tearful Jesus apologized. But his pop wasn’t through “and I don’t think its fair that you use your powers to win every damn fishing competition!”

In another episode Jesus made the basketball team. Despite goading from teammates and coaches alike, he refused to influence the outcome of games by miraculous methods. When Bethlehem High beat their rivals on a last second shot from long range, the Holy Redeemer insisted that it was legit, then he winked at the camera and the closing credits rolled.

Jesus in High School might have fended off its harshest critics if it had taken Christian dogma more seriously and turned its shows into mini sermons featuring moral lessons. Some viewers bristled at the way Jesus in High School subverted biblical history. But the show’s producers were more interested in laughs and in fact the show was genuinely funny — to those who weren’t Catholic, fundamentalist or otherwise strict and serious about the Bible.

Eventually of course there were boycotts of sponsors and US Senators decrying the show and pressure from network executives. Somehow it made it through a full season but there was no question that it would not be renewed.

Most of the cast and crew went on to other TV ventures with the exceptions of the previously mentioned Duncan (who refuses questions about the show during any of his rare interviews) and two others. The star, Wendell Kelly went back to his roots in rock and roll forming the popular ‘80s band the Glam Whammers. After a series of hit albums and sold out concert tours, Kelly suddenly left the group and went back for another try at acting. All he managed was a string of supporting roles or guest appearances on TV sitcoms and dramas. In 1994 Kelly died in a botched erotic auto asphyxiation attempt. Mary Magdalene had been played by Lauren O’Hara who went on to star in the wildly popular sit com “Glenda Goes to College” for its entire ten year run. From there she segued into politics and is, of course, today a US representative from Florida and, ironically, a devout born again Christian. She has publicly lambasted Jesus in High School and apologized for her role in it. Indeed she has been about the only person to mention the show publicly in the past 30 years.

At the beginning of this post I mentioned that I had a brief association with Jesus in High School. Well if you read my piece on Hey it’s Klaus you might recall that I mentioned having a fling with the Senegalese script girl. By the time the Jesus show was on TV she was an assistant director. We’d kept in touch over the years and after she broke up with a boyfriend we got back together. I used to hang out on the Jesus set and a few times I was used as an extra. I once had a few lines when I appeared as a substitute teacher. In that episode I had to tell Jesus that “no, your disciples can’t follow you into this class if they’re not on the roll.” “But gee Mr. Terwilliger, our regular teacher let’s em come in,” the Savior replied. When everyone in the class verified it, my character relented.

I’d love to see some of the old episodes but imagine they wont be making an appearance anytime soon, if at all. It’s a shame really, I mean the concept alone was brilliant. Maybe something like Netflix or Amazon or HBO will take a chance on a reboot. Here’s hoping.

24 August 2016

Free Essay Questions and Writing Prompts for Teachers -- You're Welcome

Dear fellow teacher: Have you ever been writing a test but you just can't come up with that last essay question? Or have you used all of your writing prompts and need something new? Believe me, I've been there. That's why I'm so proud and happy to offer you some proven questions that can serve as essay questions or writing prompts. These are some of the best that I've used in my 30 years of teaching. The great thing about most of these is that they can be used at multiple levels, from middle school through graduate programs. They also can be applied to virtually any subject. English courses particularly can benefit from these questions but so too can other disciplines such as history, science, philosophy, psychology, ESL, sociology and more. Best of all I'm offering these free of charge. If you'd like, drop me a line after you've used one and let me know how well it went. No, thank you.

What is a life goal you most want to achieve?

What do you think the world will be like in ten years?

Hey, how’s it going?

What’s your deal?

Just exactly where do you get off?

Are you fucking serious?

Did you hear that noise? What the hell is that?

Seen any good movies lately?

Is that a new shirt?

Working hard or hardly working?

Have ya got a second?

Whattaya been up to?

Will ya look at that?

Any plans for the weekend?

Can I see that for a second?

What are you supposed to be?

Wait, what did he say?

Are they real?

Where you been keeping yourself?

What kind of nut are you?

Is that supposed to be funny?

Are you going to eat the rest of that?

How ya getting home?

Can I offer you anything?

What are you lookin' at?

Have you consulted a taxidermist?

Do you use a stool softener?

Is that your natural hair color?

What the hell are you talking about?

Have a nice trip last fall?

Would you like more brussel sprouts?

What the....?

What can I do ya for?


23 August 2016

Observer at a Funeral

There I am all decked out and peaceful. They got me looking pretty good. The black suit really flattered me. I’ve attended funerals for my grandparents, my dad, uncles, aunts, in-laws and even a few friends. The nice thing was that I could always go home. I was still alive and, as sad as I felt for the deceased, there was that little part of me that was happy -- happy that it wasn’t me. Well this time it is me. Me dead. Deceased. No more. The bucket's been kicked and I never even got around to making a bucket list.

Poor Evelyn, a widow at 45. We’d nearly divorced a few years ago but worked things out. It was a pretty good marriage. Now she’s got to raise Connor and Jenna alone. Oh well, they’re both in high school so they’re nearly grown. They’ll go off to college soon enough and Evelyn will be all alone in that big house. I imagine she’ll look for someone else. Only natural. She’ll do all right though, the insurance money will keep her going and the house is paid for. Nope, no financial worries.

Really though I’m too young to be dead. Stupid brain aneurysm. Hell, Chuck had one of those and lived, but mine had to rupture right away and with me out on a hike. What shitty luck. Was a year away from making it to half a century. Now it’s all over. All the family, all the studying, all the friends, all the work all gone now. What was it for? Maybe now I’ll get some answers and this’ll all make sense. Doubt it though. How can you make sense of a life cut short, if not in its prime at least with a helluva lot of gas left in the tank? I was good for another 13 years or so of work. I could have, hell should have, seen my kids graduate college and start careers and families of their own. Now I’ll never see any grandchildren I might have had. And Evelyn and I were going to go to the Bahamas next Winter. Was really looking forward to it.

But somehow I’m not so sad. I just am. No real emotions to speak of. And say, where the hell exactly am I? I’m looking down at the funeral but from where? And I’ve got no body or form or substance. Yet I’m not at all bothered about it. Things feel like they’re supposed to be this way. I wonder what comes next? Is there an afterlife I’m headed for? Am I going to see my family and friends who died before me? Don’t feel in any rush for anything right now. No control but no worries. I just am.

Nice turnout for the funeral. Jesus Christ there’s Lance Godard. He was my army buddy. Haven’t seen that son of a gun in 20 years. Nice that he could make it. All the relatives are there of course. Including Mom. Poor thing outlived a child. This has gotta be hard on her. My sister Kathleen looks distraught. Well, it's natural, we've always been close.

Most of the people from the office are there, all the ones I worked closely with. Except for Howard. That son of a bitch. Hell, I wouldn’t have gone to his funeral. Burns me up that he has the satisfaction of out living me. He’s a nasty cuss. Aww will you look at that, that cute young secretary Geena is there. Heck she’s only been at the firm a month. All the men were hot for Geena, including me. And she’s half my age. But it was innocent enough. I never thought of cheating on Evelyn. Couldn’t have done it. Not even when we were having trouble. I’m just not made that way. Or wasn’t, more accurately. Yeah I sure sowed my wild oats. By golly before me and Evelyn settled down I played the field and then some. I wonder if Connor will be the same way. I don’t think the boy has been on a date yet, and him 16. I wonder if he’s queer? Well if he is it doesn’t matter to me. Certainly not from where I am now. He looks sharp today and he also looks like he's in a state of shock. Jenna just keeps ballin', my little princess.

Geez I wonder if I’ll be able to keep up with the NFL season? Probably not, but who knows?  Hell if you’d told me week ago I was gonna die I’d have been damned pissed about missing football but come to think of it I really don’t care. Everything feels all right, like it should be.

Darn it, Evelyn looks pretty miserable, poor girl. Must be a shock. I know it would have knocked me cold if she’d been the one to die. She’ll be all right though. That Evelyn is a tough ole gal. If anyone can take it and be okay, she can. It’ll be rough on the kids but they’ve got so much going for them and such bright futures that it’s no use worrying. Not that I can worry. I can sure think things and even have an awareness of emotions and how they used to feel but I really just kinna feel here right now. Present but not. And I’m so damn calm.

Jupiter, my old dog. I hadn’t thought of him in years. I was only 11 when he died. What made me think of him? Say I never had my life pass before my eyes, at least not that I can remember. It all happened so fast and I was gone. I had a few seconds of fear but no sense that I was dying until it had already happened.

Who’s this minister they got talking about me? I don’t even know the bastard. He’s probably saying some rote stuff that’s standard at funerals. What’s the point? I wonder if anyone else will speak? No sooner asked then answered, there’s Todd. He was the best friend a guy could have. Really. I can’t hear a goddamned word anyone is saying but I’ll bet dollars to donuts that whatever Todd is saying is going over well. He’s gotta way with words and is just the type of guy to keep his cool in this kind of situation. There’s my boss Old Man Rawlings saying a few words. That’s darn nice of him. He could be a pain in the keister but he was a square dealing guy and a good boss. Well look at that, Kathleen is going to talk. Geez I wish I could hear what she was saying.

Looks like that’s it. Sure was nice. I’m glad I got to see it. Wonder what else I’ll get to see? What’s this? I’m going somewhere, what the heck is this all about? Can’t wait to see.

21 August 2016

The Author Reveals that he Feels Great Today then there is a Longer Bit about Young People and Sociopaths

Come on and dance, come on and dance
Let's make some romance
You know the night is fallin' and the music's callin'
And we've got to get down to Swingtown
We've been workin' so hard
We've been workin' so hard
Come on baby, come on baby, let's dance
- -From Swingtown by The Steve Miller Band

I ran ten miles this morning and now I feel terrific. Endorphins, ya know.
Here’s what they said on Web MD: “Endorphins also trigger a positive feeling in the body, similar to that of morphine. For example, the feeling that follows a run or workout is often described as ‘euphoric.’ That feeling, known as a ‘runner's high,’ can be accompanied by a positive and energizing outlook on life.”

So I’ve got a reprieve from depression for a few hours. It’s like I’m on vacation but I know it will end soon. Enjoy it while you can. It’s hard to remember how good life can feel when you’re in the midst of the blues. There seems no way out of the misery, hopelessness and despair. Sadness is the new normal. But now I feel alert, energized and positive. I want to watch ten movies and listen to ten albums and read ten books and write two novels three poems and 45 blog posts. I want to jump off the Golden Gate Bride and fly over the ocean, soar among the clouds. Pick daises and kiss Rihanna and make love to my wife and dance the tango and teach three classes and solve 67 problems — all at once. 

I’m fairly glowing with joy and this is so much better than what booze or dogs did to me because, far from being addictive or unhealthy, the run is a positive boon to the body, mind and soul. I feel great. Don’t you? Doesn’t everybody?

As the character of Arthur said in the movie of the same name, "isn't fun the best thing to have?" Yes it is. Good work, good fun, good family, lots of love and culture and health. Boffo stuff.

Below you’ll find something I wrote over the preceding two days, not bad given how psychologically miserable I was at the time.

There was a teenage girl on the bus one morning, probably middle school, she was stretched out taking two seats. Bus was half full so it was no biggie.  The two seats in question were at the front of the bus, the section set aside for the old, pregnant, disabled. It’s cool to sit in those seats as long as none of the folks they’re intended for need em.

It wasn’t long before we came to a busy stop where a few people get off and hordes get on. Among those getting on were old geezers of either gender, some with canes, some barely ambulatory. The girl didn’t move. You could say that she sat there like she owned the damn bus. Finally a Chinese woman, who looked to be an octogenarian, indicated to the miss that she’d like one of the two seats. Reluctantly, slowly the princess sat up straight thus freeing a seat. All was well in the world.

The old woman only rode for two stops before getting off. In her stead many more came on, the bus was packed. But as the woman left, our teenaged friend resumed her supine position occupying two seats. As the bus drove off, there she sat while people who have walked this planet since before World War II, were standing. Finally one woman had enough and angrily indicated that there was a particularly old man in need of a seat. Again with great pains and as if being put upon, the teen yielded a seat. The fossil sat. All was well again.

This latest old timer only rode a short distance before exiting and predictably our young friend stretched out. A third time someone had to request that she yield a seat or two, in this case the elderly woman was practically pleading.  A few stops later the bus disgorged a large percentage of its passengers including the pleading woman so once again the brat stretched out as she remained until I got off. The nerve of some people.

I used to teach middle school and it shouldn’t surprise you to know that this young “lady” reminded me of some of my previous charges. One of those young people who will do whatever they can get away either oblivious to how their actions impact others or simply not giving a rat’s ass. It was a sad chore to compel young people to be polite, considerate and in compliance with rules, laws and accepted norms. Many in our society do what’s right only because of the cost of doing what’s wrong and if they think they can get away with it, then all bets are off.

As a middle school teacher I was not only responsible for providing an education in history,  but in behavior management. It was a sad state of affairs that so many of my charges were blind to, if not contemptuous of, conventions of good behavior. Profanity was spewed; people were tripped, punched and had flying objects directed toward them; unnecessary interruptions were constant; those suffering a misfortunate were mocked; litter was scattered; rules were flaunted; personal insults and homophobic remarks were regularly employed; and tempers were lost control of at inopportune times.

Fun fact: I liked almost all of those kids. Many of them quickly grew out of their belligerent phase. Some didn’t and are in jail now or are terminal victims of violence. I feel for those kids. I guarantee you that while they were in public schools teachers, counselors, safety officers, administrators and others tried to effect the big turnaround. That’s how it goes, you do as much as you can.

Earlier I said that I liked “almost all of those kids.” There were a few and I mean like about five, who were sociopaths and totally unlikable. You could not believe a word they said. Whatever came out of their mouths was calculated and said for effect. They had not a sincere bone in their bodies. They felt no remorse for misdeeds. Their loyalty and love was extended to those who they could benefit from. They had absolutely no concern for anyone else’s feelings beyond how those feelings might impact them.

They were, I believe, born sociopaths and came from well-to-do, middle class and poor families alike. Some, of course, went on the become criminals. But others were good enough students and developed skills, if not talents, that would keep them within the boundaries of the law, if not the boundaries of morality. A sociopath can insinuate his or herself into society and have a marriage and even children. It’s hard to imagine a sociopath being a good mate or parent. It's easy to imagine one seeking and gaining public office.

But I probably had bout 2,000 students so the sociopaths in my classes totaled less than half a per cent. Much more common were the whippersnappers, the rascals, the brats, the ne'er-do-wells, the enfant terrible, the slackers, the class clowns, the mischief-makers, the scoundrels, the scamps, miscreants, the rowdies and the goofballs. Those kids I liked. Oh and they were vastly outnumbered by the sweetie pies. So there's that.

15 August 2016

If You Are Suffering From Depression You Are Not Alone And Can Get Better

“If you know someone who’s depressed, please resolve never to ask them why. Depression isn’t a straightforward response to a bad situation; depression just is, like the weather.
Try to understand the blackness, lethargy, hopelessness, and loneliness they’re going through. Be there for them when they come through the other side. It’s hard to be a friend to someone who’s depressed, but it is one of the kindest, noblest, and best things you will ever do.”
-- Stephen Fry

My movements are slower. My thoughts are bleak. Nothing about the future, present or past seems positive. I look down and to my right a lot. I’m not seeing anything and I’m not thinking anything. I’m horribly sad. I can eat and I can sleep and I can work and I can watch movies or TV. Usually these things keep the depression at bay. But when I wake up or work is over or the show ends I’m back there. Living the nightmare of slow, ponderous, numb thoughts of sorrow.

I’m able to write this but the process is slow. I’ll type a few words, stop and feel the pain again. I can imagine not being able to continue. I’ve sat with the remote control in my lap unable to turn the TV on. I just spent several seconds looking at the cursor, mesmerized by nothing. The dull ache of depression enveloping me. I ran nine miles yesterday and the post run endorphins kept the misery away for several hours. I had a reprieve, a vacation from the suffering. But I knew it was waiting, silently waiting, to come back and assume control of my consciousness.

I’ve looked at the Golden Gate Bridge and thought, yeah, I could jump from there. That’s possible. That would end the pain. But my wife loves me through all of this and I love her. My children love me through all of this and I love them. My physical health is excellent. There is a lot to look forward to if I can ever get out of this. So I have to say no to suicide. It’s too final, there’s no coming back from that leap into the ocean. Anyway I’d probably regret my decision half way down.

The doctor upped my meds last week. It takes time. I’ve got to be patient. I’ve got to continue to swallow pills, including those I take to keep the panic attacks at bay. I have a two-a-day steady diet of medications. Yippee. I don’t like having to take pills. It feels like defeat. It feels unnatural. It feels wrong. But if I didn’t take them this would all be worse.

It’s hard to talk to people about this so generally I don’t. Of course people who’ve gone through it understand and know what to say and what not to say and what to ask and what not to ask. Some people who’ve not suffered depression don’t assume to know “what you’re going through” and are sympathetic, even encouraging. That’s nice. But a lot of people make it worse — if you tell them about it. Some don’t believe depression is real. Some don’t believe a person should take medications for it. Others assume that you’re dealing with psychological problems. The notion that your body chemistry is out of whack doesn’t seem real to them, or they think that surely you’re dealing with some issues. Yes, I’m dealing with depression, that’s the issue. It struck at a time in my life when everything is fantastic and I’ve nothing to be depressed about. Oh sure I’m dealing with existential angst and am becoming increasingly aware that my time on this planet if finite, but those thoughts don’t depress me in and of themselves. I’ve accepted that reality.

One thing that helps is hearing from or reading about other people who have suffered depression and made it out. If I can make it out of this I’ll sure share that. Right now I can share what I’m going through. If you’re reading this and you’re experiencing this type of pain, know that you’re not alone and know that you’ve got to keep going and to keep trying to get better and that you can’t ever give in to it completely. You mustn’t do anything that is irreversible.

I wrote some suggestions for people going through depression a few months back, I’d encourage you to check that out.

I’ve been writing about this a lot. Someone asked me if I was afraid of who might see it as this blog  is viewable to one and all. No, I’m afraid of who might not see it.

It helps a little to write about it but it helps a lot to put it out there with no shame or guilt or reservations. I’ve nothing to feel ashamed of anymore than a person going through a physical ailment does. I did nothing to bring this on and I’m actively trying to end it. Yet I do not feel like I am a victim. The cloak of victimhood is often used to abdicate any responsibility. I am not responsible for the depression but I bear a responsibility to myself to be treated and cured. I’ve got enough pain right now that I don’t need to add playing the role of the victim. People suffering from depression need not be pitied. For god’s sakes it’s not a death sentence. A kind word, a smile, a hug and validation of our story is what we need.

We also need to know that others are out there and we are not alone in our misery and we can see it  through no matter how dark our minds are now.  I feel pretty damn miserable right now and I feel like it will never end. But it will.

13 August 2016

This Post Concerns a Ridiculous Comment that was Submitted to this Blog and the Minor Digressions Don't Come Until the End

There was a comment submitted for a post on my blog. I have to approve a comment before it is published. This was an extraordinary event inasmuch as I get so few comments owing to the fact that most people have the sense not to read my babblings (which raises the question of what brings you here. Slumming?).  The comment was for a post about D-Day that I put up over seven years ago, titled “June 6, 1944, Has it Been 65 Years Already?” It is here linked.

The comment was left by someone going by the name of “Unknown.” An unusual name to be sure. I present the comment here verbatim: “Zionist jews sponsored World Wars.” (I was disturbed by his or her failure to capitalize Jews.)

I assume by world wars Mr. or Ms. Unknown is referring to WWI and WWII. It does not take a genius to realize this comment is total nonsense. Both world wars were unsponsored events. If you want to hold a concert, air a television program or conduct a motor race you are going to need a sponsor. Sponsors are the lifeblood of TV. But I’ll be darned if I can name a single business, individual or corporation that sponsored these wars — or any others for that matter. Usually the governments involved in such conflicts foot the bill. In fact I can’t think of an instance in recent times in which anyone outside the government has chipped in to buy grenades, rifles, helmets or even K-rations. It’s not a bad idea though. Imagine if, for example, Kellog’s had been a sponsor of the second world war, or “The D-Day invasion brought to you by Coca Cola.” Companies would get massive publicity and be forever in the history books. Countries would win too as they’d save money for such expenses as education, infrastructure and health care.

But getting back to Unknown’s specific point, if there had been a sponsor of the second world war it most certainly would not have been Jews. They probably would have been aware from the get go that the war was not going to be kind to them -- though I’m sure they never imagined how unkind. Then again they may have wanted to sponsor the Allies efforts to win the war and liberate Europe from the virulently anti-Semitic Nazis. Somehow I don’t think that’s what Unknown had in mind.

Unknown, if you’re reading this perhaps you wouldn’t mind providing some evidence for your claims. I’m sure you have some reason to suggest Jewish sponsorship. I wonder though, could you also explain why Hitler and other Nazis averred that Jews were responsible for Germany losing World War I? It was a pretty bold claim and one that was never substantiated in the slightest. It does seem odd that the very people who sponsored the war would then turn around and sabotage one side's efforts. But I’m open-minded and welcome your thoughts on the matter.

I must add at this juncture that I think our anonymous friend is guilty of spreading booshwah. One clue that a person is blowing out of their anal passage is their failure to have a scintilla of fact, truth, evidence or data. If you’re going to make an assertion about history that runs counter to conventional wisdom you are obliged to state your case. (If, Mr. or Ms. Unknown, you’re feeling litigious after I call you a racist, stupid, pea-brained, idiot — which I just did — please contact my attorney Ms. Rapunzel Adams of the law firm, Adams, Quincy and Wagstaff.)

But seriously, as a particularly block headed presidential candidate is proving beyond doubt, a deficit of facts does not impede some people of presenting as gospel “something” they “heard.” Everyone has an opinion these days (which they’ve a right to) but too many people present said opinion as fact (which they’ve also got a legal right to do but a moral one not to do).

Opinions are plentiful but such niceties as truth, fact, investigation, evidence and genuine scholarship are rarely utilized and often poo pooed. The case of climate change as part of the national discourse in the US is a prime example. You have on one said a wealth of scientific research and on the other side a lot of poppycock. It staggers the imagination that a significant number of our elected representatives in Washington D.C. are on the side of poppycock. Humans! Am I right ladies and gentlemen?

Love, acceptance, forgiveness and tolerance are difficult. To hate, discriminate, and scapegoat are easy, especially for the ignorant. Trying to understand complex issues often takes an open mind and willingness to hear out conflicting sides. One most also deal in nuance and subtleties. It further requires rationality. Bit of a steep price for some.

I close now with this: today on my way to the gym I saw a morbidly obese man drinking a 24 ounce bottle of coke. I then espied another overweight man smoking a cigarette. I’ve had a difficult time sympathizing with those who complain about fat shaming. I know losing weight is difficult and a lot of people have glandular problems, but when I see — excuse my language — fat people eating large ice creams or sitting down for a fast food meal, I think the shame is all theirs. Do we enjoy seeing alcoholics drinking in public? No. But we do appreciate them when they try to stay sober. 

09 August 2016

When you were young and on your own How did it feel to be alone?

A young man is so strong, so mad, so certain, and so lost. He has everything and he is able to use nothing. - - Thomas Wolfe

Walking through the park near the creek on a warm Summer day the breeze is light and comfortable and I am lost inside myself. Thoughts forming and exploding and thinking of getting a beer or maybe just wallowing in self pity because another romance failed. It was never going to work out anyway, I mean she was troubled and intellectually incurious and I put too much pressure on her from the beginning because I was needy. Like a lot of 21 year olds are, you know. Especially ones with fucked up childhoods and hundreds of unresolved mommy issues. She moved back with her boyfriend. Better for her and for me but still I hated that I was alone again and that I’d have to look, prowl, cruise. Rejection and pain were just too constant and so I walked down to the creek and looked at the goddamned water and felt raptured into melancholy and I contemplated how tragic and romantic a figure I was. If only some cute chick was looking at me now she’d see how lonely I was but also how cool and handsome -- and she’d want me. But there was no one around except a family having a picnic and a couple of teenage boys throwing rocks into trees.

I felt a million miles from when I was a teenager. What an idiot that virgin kid was who collected baseball cards and watched Hogan’s Heroes and didn’t know enough to get high. I was hopeless then, now I’m just — I thought this then, ya know — a victim, a victim of the capricious nature of females who always seemed to latch onto me until someone else came along or came back or the ones who wanted to stay with me forever were not the right ones, too clingy, besides I was looking for perfection. I’d mess it up. I knew it, I’d mess it up. The tragic figure. I’d probably be dead in a few years then people would miss me. Now I just looked at the fucking creek.

I was hungry. I needed a cigarette and a beer first or during or right after. Shit, thinking all this stuff through was a pain when I needed nicotine, alcohol and food. I was doing some deep thinking. All about me and who I was because I was into some deep shit. I was no ordinary dude, I was clearly special. A talent of the first degree bound for all kinds of glory and renown and there’d be money too. But that was coming later. Right now I needed to head over to the liquor store or maybe the Taco Bell first. But the hell with this stupid creek and the whole damn park and feeling bummed because another chick had split on me and man I had felt like the greatest man alive when I was with her. She was so foxy and other dudes would stare at her when we were together and think that I must really have it together to be with her and they were surely jealous.

So I got a taco and a burrito and gulped them down. Over to the liquor store for a couple of beers and a pack of smokes. Back to the park to explore what was going on in my brain. Easier with a full stomach and would soon be ideal what with a buzz going. As for later, there had to be a party somewhere in the evening and if not there were the bars and I’d meet someone pretty and the whole process would begin again but this time man I’d be the one ending it or it would go on forever.

Meanwhile I was a tragic, lonely — and here’s the real key — misunderstood figure. No one, I mean no one understood me. I was too deep for that. Maybe, maybe I’d end up with a chick who was so perfect that she’d understand, but even then not wholly and completely and totally because that was impossible, I was just way too complicated for that. There was a lot going on with me and I was special baby.

Drank the first beer real fast. Lit a cigarette and inhaled deeply. I was hooked on tobacco, which had been the plan. Yup, since I was 15 I’d been determined to be addicted to cigarettes. That would be cool and part of who I would be and was and am and all that shit.

I started to sip the second beer and think about my strategy for the evening. See what my roommates were doing, maybe call a friend. Somebody would be up for going out, doing something, finding some tail. Hell yes. Then it came, this deep sorrow all up in me, this sadness like you wouldn’t believe. It made me just want to cry. Goddamn it was awful. It was about maybe that chick or how life fucks with you or my childhood or the time I had a bad acid trip but it hurt.

Gulped the rest of my beer and boom! it was gone. I was me again and ready to do. No more sitting and brooding, time to make it happen. Fuck this park. I crossed the street and headed towards home feeling damn good -- I mean really fucking A good. Had it whipped, man. Why should I have spent all that time moping by the fucking creek when I could have been doing. Feelings, man. Those would kill you. No need. Just deal with the happiness, the rest was bullshit. Yeah I was contradicting myself but that was just all part of my complexity that was so damn appealing to everyone. Well anyone with a brain.

I walked the beautiful tree lined streets of Chico, past white picket fences and perfect lawns and houses that all seemed to sport fresh coats of paint. It was the middle of the Seventies and things were looking cool every which way. The economy was okay, Nixon had resigned, Vietnam was over and Blacks had civil rights and music was good, movies were good, TV was good and everything was just getting better in the country. Sure there was still shit going on but we had a strong and active press that was exposing the worst of it just like with Watergate. I still thought that United States basically kind of sucked but it was at least a place where you could change things and the art and culture were advancing. Hell, I had money in my pocket and I didn’t work, just went to school in a bucolic setting where there were parties all the damn time and lots of young people and places to go swimming. And it was only a few hours from the Bay Area and home. Life was good, man.

I shared a nice house with two other dudes and they were cool and we made dinners together and would go out together to parities and to movies and to the bars and man I loved, loved, loved being 21 and not having to use a fake ID. What more could you want? And tonight was just going to be another opportunity and I was going to make the most of it and if nothing else, if absolutely nothing else, I was going to have FUN. Get drunk, laugh with friends, dance meet some chicks. Maybe get laid. Why not?

Our house had a big yard perfect for when we hosted keggers and also perfect for tossing the ball around or just sittin’ with a beer and relaxing. The house itself was functional. Nothing special but we had bedrooms, kitchen, bathroom and it was clean and sturdy and not too far from anything. That’s all you needed. Got home and roommates were out but there was beer in the fridge and it was my brand bought by me so I could have at it. I called Ed and he was home and we arranged to meet at Madison Bear Garden at 7:30. Cool. I blasted some David Bowie and my head bopped and my mind whirled and when the record ended I fell straight to sleep on the sofa for one glorious hour. Woke up when roomies came home, Rocky and Dennis with some other dudes. More beers and they had news of a party. Perfect. Would meet Ed then head to the party.

Was 5:30 so got into Dennis’ truck and we picked up burgers. Brought them home and mindlessly chowed down. Finally time to wander up to the Bear. Ed already there and a couple of beers ahead of me. I caught up quick and we took off for the party. It was boomin’ music, kegs of beer as in plural and lots of people about half of them chicks.

I whirled and twirled on the dance floor. My mind was a blur of everything all mixed up and coalescing into one thought: let’s have some fucking fun! By god I did. I sure did. So much that I couldn’t remember it when I woke up the next morning. That was all right. There’d be hangover stories to swap. Staggered out of bed and Dennis was up sipping instant coffee, he said let’s go to the upper park and swim today. Shit yes. Breakfast, then packed the truck with beer and food and on we went.

Sat there in the cab of the truck laughing and drinking and for just a moment I thought about how I felt the day before looking at the goddamned creek and how I had been sad about it for some reason as if it had been important and that maybe I needed to reflect on things more and plan and try to understand. Rapidly came the next thought: to hell with it. Then I took a big swig.

07 August 2016

04 August 2016

A Little of Vice Principals the Show a lot of Vice Principals the "People"

I have started watching an HBO show called Vice Principals created by and starring Danny McBride, a rising star in TV and film comedy. He plays one of the eponymous characters along with Walton Goggins whose performance in Quentin Tarantino’s last two films I enjoyed. They both aspire to replace the school's principal after his sudden departure. But much to their mutual chagrin a hotshot African American woman is brought in for the job. The two bitter rivals conspire to dispose of her. Hilarity does in fact ensue. The greatness of Vice Principals comes from it taking truths about the high school experience and stretching and stretching and stretching them until they break into myriad delightfully funny pieces. There is no restraint in the show. Actions and words scenarios are taken to the extreme and beyond. It’s a risky way to present a story, but by gum it works. Broad comedy with an edge. Anyway the show got me thinking about some of the vice principals I encountered in my 25 years as a public school teacher. Said thinking has metastasized into the writing you will find below.

“And steeled and wakened by the challenge of her tone — that challenge which one meets so often in people who have let their whole life go to hell, and lacking stamina for life’s larger consequences insist on it for trivialities.” -- From Of Time and River by Thomas Wolfe

You’ve got to wonder why someone wants to be a vice principal. It’s a bloody thankless job. The hours are brutal and a lot of the duties are unpleasant. Maybe some people consider it a path to being a principal but I worked with a lot of vice principals and I can only think of one who later became a principal. And it’s not like being a principal is so grand.

One of my first memories of a vice principal was a guy named Mr. Posey who was about as tough as his name implies. I’d given him a referral on a kid who called me a “motherfucker” in front of the whole class. Ole Posey moseyed over to me during a class and pointing to the referral he said “he denies saying this.” Really? I must be mistaken then. I could have sworn he called me a “motherfucker” but maybe he said brother trucker. Gee I feel awful about the misunderstanding. Maybe you can ask the 24 students who were in the classroom at the time what the lad said. Here’s another thought: you can believe the adult.

Mr. Posey had a very short tenure as a veep before being shuffled to some other administrative position where he doubtless made a hefty salary pushing papers around and attending meetings.

Vice principals are sticklers. Teachers can bend rules but VPs have to toe the line. They have to know the ed code chapter and verse. There are laws they need to know and they have to be able to recite school policy by heart in their sleep on Christmas morning. They have to know where everything is and who everyone is and what everyone does. That is, if they’re good at their job. There was a vice principal we had named Mrs. Wagner who didn’t seem to know diddly and didn’t seem to care. She didn’t even know the damned bell schedule and had to get directions to a specific teacher’s room. Mrs. Wagner made it a point to avoid unpleasant duties. If a kid who wasn’t under her purview misbehaved she didn’t want to know. Wags was good at inspiring quotes, shibboleths, maxims, and getting hoity toity. I don’t know for the life of me why she was a vice principal. She was an intelligent, well spoken woman who could have done any number of more worthwhile jobs quite well. Instead she let the school crumble around her.

While Wagner avoided situations Mrs. Davis welcomed them. This was a woman born to be a vice principal. She was a certified workaholic who was the first to arrive at the school everyday and the last to leave. She was everywhere all at once and did everything and would back a teacher even if he’d shot a student and the smoking gun was still in his hand. She was not a perfect person. She would lie to students. One came and complained to her about me and Mrs. Davis went off on the kid about how much I liked the child and how I’d spoken up for her any number of times. Completely false. I think she was guilty of entrapment a couple of times but was too slick to be caught. We had one veep who tried to entrap a kid and was caught. It was a career ending move. Mrs. Davis was tough with kids but she assiduously avoided confrontation with adults. (She punched down.) If she saw a teacher abuse the copy machine she would say nothing to the teacher but would then make an announcement at the next staff meeting about proper copy machine use. So 35 people would hear a message that should have gone directly to one. I was never convinced that Davis liked students. In fact most vice principals give off the vibe that they barely tolerate them. I suppose some of it has to do with how many negative interactions they have with students, but more to the point, if they really liked students they would have remained in the classroom.

But what compels someone to go from the classroom to administration? I reckon that some people might actually go into teaching as a prelude to becoming an administrator. It’s hard to conceive such a mind. Maybe they want to work “with kids” or in a school environment but don’t want to have to scrape by on a teacher’s salary. If pay is the issue why go into education at all? One of the benefits of being a teacher is that the workday is not too long — at least the part of it that one is required to be at the job site — and there are plenty of days off. Administrators lose both those perks. Is that worth the pay?

Administrators and vice principals in particular are bureaucrats. They are the middle men and women. Just following orders, don’t blame them, any decision they make is predicated by what will please higher ups. Thinking for oneself may be a boon to a teacher but it is a detriment to vice principals. They spend a lot of time dealing with paperwork. With the advent of computers not so much with paper as with excel sheets, emails and the like. The number of emails any administrator gets is staggering.

I worked for one vice principal who in many ways epitomized the position as he was a born bureaucrat with the imagination of a tsetse fly. But he wasn't cut out for all the work. This chump would constantly complain about how much work he had to do. You come into his office with a referral and he’d point to the stack of papers in front of him and grumble about how long it would take him to get through it all. Who does that? Who complains to the people below them about their workload? How the hell were we supposed to respond? I never knew what the hell to say to the joker though I thought a lot of things like: maybe you’re not very good at your job, or maybe you’re just pathetically slow. He eventually left for a similar position at the adult school where he wouldn’t have one fiftieth of the issues to deal with. I also recall having an evaluation meeting with him and he spent half the time talking about what a great guy Ulysses Grant was. Some people….

We had one doozy of vice principal who — and this is true — actually was afraid of some students. In a middle school! He would hide from them. Other than that he was a total incompetent, so there’s that. He lasted one year and then returned to the classroom I think in a school full of Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm types.

Another vice principal was — and this is true and I can’t believe I’m typing these words — lazy. Lazy as all get out. She took every sick day she could find. Your typical vice principal is a whirling dervish of activity, Ms. Dean was like a snake sunning on a rock. Here’s something else that is also true: on duty she would carry around the novel she was reading. I swear to god. I personally never saw her reading but it was one helluva bad look. Ms. Dean observed my class once. A student came into the class from lunch after an incident and was angry and fussing at people and it was all I could do to settle the kid down as he was making a mess of the start of class. Plus he was making me look bad in front of an administrator. When I met with Dean for the evaluation report she said not one word positive or negative about the situation. Nothing. But she did claim to have seen a student taking a sip of orange juice and recommended I call the parent about this gross violation. (Imagine how many calls a teacher would have to make a day if they contacted parents about matters as small as that.) There’s one thing that Ms. Dean said that sticks in my mind because she seemed to say at least once every staff meeting. “It’s a liability issue.” She knew her laws, codes and rules and like a good administrator (which she was not) was careful about keeping all activities, actions and pronouncements within the letter of the law. But her effect on the school was to frustrate the other vice principal --  a prince of a fellow -- to skedaddle to another school.

I liked a few of the veeps I worked with and respected some of them as well. The one I liked and respected the most -- a Ms. Bennett -- was ushered out of our school within a year. She landed safely at the high school where she served admirably and to universal praise for many years until retirement. Why the quick exit from our school? Interesting story. Ms. B made the mistake of calling a teacher out for certain offenses that everyone knew damn well she was guilty of. The problem was that said teacher was living with our school’s principal. Such a relationship was considered a no-no. One life partner should not have supervisory role over their mate.  But they "got away with it" because they were lesbians and not officially out. Their relationship was known by everybody in the district but they couldn’t be called on it if they were in the closet. So because Ms. B had the temerity to try and censure a guilty teacher, the principal arranged a transfer. And in case you’re wondering what the teacher’s offense was try this on for size:  being drunk on the job. Yeah, seriously.

After leaving my permanent position and working on a TESL certificate, I subbed throughout the Oakland School District. This experience was akin to taking up residence in No Man’s Land during World War I. Only noisier and with more vulgar language. There I saw the same type of VPs. Harried, on edge, petty, blustery, supercilious, pedantic, banal and often of barely average intelligence. I close with an anecdote about one of them. I was subbing a 6th grade class at the nicest of Oakland’s middle schools. The class in my charge was a group of sweethearts, a rarity within Oakland’s borders. As the tardy bell rang a few young men scrambled into the classroom variously arriving late or just in the nick of time. A vice principal happened to be passing the room and noticed the commotion of the boys entrance. Really the incident didn’t even qualify as shenanigans, horseplay or even hijinks. But the VP was not amused. So what she did was she came into the room and started to speechify. Yes she did. It started innocently enough with a reminder about the importance of being on time and proper comportment. But it did not stop there. She then proceeded into a lengthy dissertation on the value of an education and even discussed the current economic state. I’m guessing she spoke for five or more minutes but to me it felt like 15 and to the students it must have felt an eternity. Bless them, the young uns hung in there with her and pretended to listen. Frankly a lot of what she said went soaring over the heads. But I’ve no doubt that the vice principal felt she was providing pearls of wisdom to these young folk who would thus be inspired to achieve great things in life. Ahh, delusions.

Faithfully dedicated to my daughters in hopes they never become vice principals.