30 October 2016

Everett's Lonely Afternoon

This is the day of the expanding man
That shape is my shade
There where I used to stand
It seems like only yesterday
I gazed through the glass
At ramblers, wild gamblers
That's all in the past
-- From Deacon Blues by Steely Dan

Everett Longsworth stood on his back porch looking at the rain. My god, he thought, will this ever stop? But Everett had more than rain on his mind. There was Sharon, for one thing, his wife. Her behavior had become increasingly erratic and it seemed obvious that she was on the verge of a total mental breakdown. What then? Life was complicated enough without a wife needing psychiatric treatment. They'd been married 25 years and everthing had always seemed fine. Until recently.

It was getting cold on the porch, in addition to the rain, seemingly non stop these past few days, it was getting on towards Winter. Everett went into the kitchen and prepared a cup of tea. Good ole Earl Grey. Maybe an oatmeal cookie too. Finally sitting in his big lumpy chair — have to get rid of this damn thing some day — he picked up the latest copy of National Geographic off the end table. But concentrating on an article when there’s so much else on my mind? Forget it. Maybe the TV. There was a college football game on. North Carolina playing Georgia Tech. Everett had no dog in that fight, so he hunted around. Good lord there must have been close to a dozen games on at the same time. Michigan and Minnesota looked interesting. The Wolverines were only up 16-10 in the middle of the third quarter. No sooner had Everett started watching than a damn commercial came on. Screw that. He went to the Boston College/Rutgers game. Seventeen all with five minutes left. Maybe overtime. Rutgers threw an interception. Commercial. Oh the hell with it, let’s go to old reliable, TCM. Movies and no commercials. High Sierra with Humphrey Bogart, it’d been awhile since Everett had watched it. He loved Bogie movies. But he soon recognized that there were no more than ten minutes left in the film. Screw it. He turned off the TV.

Oatmeal cookie crumbs all over his shirt and pants. Some tea spilled on the end table. It fit, there was nothing to do and the rain was relentless and he’d made a mess. And where the hell was Sharon? She’d said something about “dashing” to the market for a couple of things, but that must have been, what, four hours ago, now.

Maybe a drink would do the trick. Dump the tea and pour a stiff one. Just the ticket. Nah, too early in the day for that. Everett liked his booze all right but was no lush. Drinking alone early in the day was not his thing. Maybe some music. He popped Steely Dan into the CD player. “They call Alabama the Crimson Tide, call me deacon blues.”  Sitting back listening to some tunes. Now that was what it was all about. Have to take his mind off Sharon. That woman was just all over the place. Fun and charming and even sexy one minute then mad as a wet hen the next. She’d go from nagging to sweet talk in the same sentence, it seemed. Well, it had been kind of rough since he’d lost his job. The kids were out of the house and at college and Sharon was working her tail off selling real estate. Fortunately she was a real go-getter and kept raking in the bucks. But Everett felt emasculated staying at home while his wife was being the big bread winner. Aww what the heck. He’d worked for 22 years at the plant making good money and with great benefits. Then there was the accident and Everett Longsworth had been selected to take the rap for the whole thing. Sure maybe he bore some responsibility but certainly not all of it. A bum deal is what it was. Thank god for the nice severance check. That’d helped.

Everett supposed that losing his job is what started Sharon acting so goofy. When the kids were last at home they sure seemed concerned. A shame for them. Well Donnie and Lisa were tough and doing well in school so he need’t worry about him. But Sharon, maybe he could talk her into seeing a shrink.

Steely Dan was getting on his nerves. Maybe something mellower like Cat Stevens or a little Chicago, really blast it out. Nothing seemed appealing. Try the idiot box again. Michigan had pulled away from Minnesota, now it was 32-10. 32? Must have gotten a safety. Sure enough BC and Rutgers were in OT. BC scored on an eight yard pass. This was a pretty good game. Then Rutgers fumbled and it was all over. Oregon and UCLA had just started. South Florida was crushing Troy State. TCM was now showing a Western with Joel McCrea. How bout the news? Big fire somewhere in Oklahoma and a US Senator he’d never heard of was in critical condition after a car crash and some pop star he’d never heard of had been arrested with drugs. There was a nature show about giraffes and Oregon had scored against UCLA and the Western actually looked pretty good but he wasn’t in the mood to settle into a film.

Everett turned off the TV and walked out to the back porch again. The rain was still coming down but not as hard. He thought he’d watch it for awhile. What the heck, it was as good as anything on television, better than most of what passed for entertainment. Jesus, Sharon had been gone close to five hours now. Maybe she’d had an accident. Maybe he should be worried. How bout a can of soup? No, no, no he’d been eating enough canned soup lately. He slapped together a sandwich instead. Ham and Swiss on wheat bread heavy on the mustard. Now that was good. Oregon was leading 14-0. South Florida and Troy was over, 56-13. Wow. Who knew South Florida had a good team? Then again maybe Troy is pretty bad. He didn’t follow every damn college team. Different nature show now, looked to be about lemurs. Before he sat down to watch it Everett couldn’t have told you what a lemur was. Now he could. These were in Madagascar. Everett thought that was somewhere in Africa. Or was it near Brazil? There it is on map. It was an island off the East African Coast. The things you learn. Aww hell, bread crumbs on his shirt. What a damn mess.

Finally he heard Sharon pull up. He heard her fumble with her keys then open the door. What kind of mood are we gonna get today? The anticipation of what Sharon was going to be like when she opened that door had become a regular concern “Evie, what are you doing?” Seemed okay, concerned for some reason.

“Whattaya mean what am I doing? I’m just finishing a sandwich and I’m watching the TV. Say I thought you went to the store, where’s the groceries?”

“Oh Evie, darling.” It looked like she was gonna start balling.

“What’s the matter now, Sharon? Another one of your moods?”

“Everett, you don’t have a stitch of clothing on.” Everett looked down and sure enough he was naked as a jaybird. Huh, how’d that happen? He didn’t remember undressing.

“Well it’s okay, Sharon I’m just home watching TV.”

“You were in the den watching TV?

“No, right here.”

“But there’s no TV in this room.” Sharon sounded totally freaked.

“Son of a gun you’re right.” Everett was a bit confused.

“Go put on some clothes, I’m going to take the clothes in off the line. I'd asked you to do it.”

“Gee Sharon, I’m afraid they’re gonna be all wet.”

“Why, did you turn the sprinklers on, I told you - ”

“No Shar it’s been raining like heck all day.”

“No, no Evie it hasn’t. The sun’s been out all day. It rained yesterday.”

“It did?”

“Everett will you believe me now, you’ve got go back to seeing Dr. Birmingham.”

“Why would I see a veterinarian?”

“Oh god, Ev, Dr. Birmingham is your psychiatrist. Did you take your medications this morning?” Then what was the vet's name? McKluskey or Lao or was it Figgis? Must be Figgis because he remembered the name rhymed with haggis.

The meds? Hmmm. “I don’t know. I guess I forgot, maybe.”

 Jeez I sure did.

“You forgot to take your meds?"

"No I forgot I had any to take. But I’m worried about you Sharon you’re just acting kind of hysterical and weird again. Just let me alone. I want to watch some football. Oregon is playing Steely Dan.”

Sharon choked back tears and went upstairs to make a phone call.

Everett turned the TV on. Joel McCrea was in at quarterback for Boston College and for the love of god now it was raining in the house. Poor Sharon, he thought, in one of her moods again.

27 October 2016

The Eyes Have it -- My Trip to the Optometrist a Post with Puns

Last Sunday I went to an appointment at UC Optometry on the University of California campus. I’m an old hand at going there. The wife works for the university and I have health coverage through her and it’s just about the best deal going.

The missus came with me to the appointment because it was going to end with me selecting a new pair of specs and I’m not allowed to buy anything I wear without the permission of a daughter or spouse. Given that I’ve bought some ridiculous articles of mis-matched, ill-fitting, wrong-sized clothing over the years, I have no objection to this policy.

I was greeted in the waiting room by a 3rd year intern named Lily who would perform my exam. Without fail my exams have been done by Asian Americans, usually female. I offer this as a fact without comment. They are always unfailingly nice and quite competent and I never hesitate at putting my peepers in their care. Lily may have been the best I’ve (I started to write “best I’ve had” but that sounds sexual, then I thought of “best I’ve been with” which also had a connotation, next I considered “best to be checked out by” and that was hardly better, just hang on a second and I’ll think of way to get myself out of this mess……) been examined by. (Even that could be taken the wrong way but only by someone with a dirty mind.)

Lily constantly complimented me for my cooperativeness and the overall health of my eyes. When I told her I’d been up late studying for my eye exam she laughed like she’d never heard that one before. I don’t know, maybe she hadn’t. What she had was a natural talent for her work. Gentle and clear with her instructions. This is important. I am partial to my baby blues, I've seen some beautiful sights such as my aforementioned life partner. So I like to know that they're in good hands -- uh, so to speak.

During eye exams I like reading the lines, gives me a sense of accomplishment when I get the letters right and if I'm wrong, well there's no shame in that. The "which is clearer, one or two?" business used to feel like too much pressure, as if I risked giving the wrong answer. I tend not to worry about it anymore. I've learned to trust my initial reaction.

At some point in these examinations the consulting doctor comes in to make sure the patient is getting her or his money’s worth and any diagnosis the student has made is spot on. Invariably the doctor is jovial but business-like old fellow in his late 50s with either a bit of pot belly or without much hair. Did I say invariably? The doc who walked in was no crusty old man. First of all she was a she. Secondly she was young. Also she was a looker (I guess that’s an optometry pun too). Actually if you had told me she was a senior at the university and head of her sorority I wouldn’t have blinked (again with the puns).

Of course I’m blissfully happily married so a pretty woman can’t turn my head, well not very far anyway. But I really liked the fact that a preconception was shot all to hell. Like the time I walked by two Cal basketball players who were discussing calculus. Or the time I heard some nerdy sounding teenager in the gym eagerly discussing Harry Potter only for the speaker to reveal himself to be a tall, muscular African American with long dreads. I like such surprises. So many people are too damned predictable.

The doctor confirmed Lily’s observation that I had a “freckle” on my eye that was of no immediate concern especially as it had been noted before and hadn’t grown since. If it ever does expand it will require closer scrutiny. Both the doctor and Lily failed to note how beautiful my eyes are. This is mildly disappointing as I've enjoyed compliments about these orbs my whole life. Maybe that's a no no in the optometry racket.

Of course I had gook put in my eyes so that my pupils would dilate. There’s nothing pleasant about someone dropping liquid into your eyes but Lily handled it with aplomb. I predict that the lass will someday be an excellent optometrist. Someday soon. Of course I’m partial to people in the medical profession who describe me as “a good patient.” My dentist recently did which surprised me given how squirmy I can be. But she pointed out that I never complain and have a good sense of humor. No psychiatrist has called me a good patient — yet. They've all thought I’m nuts (psychiatric pun).

Finally it was time for my lovely wife and another charming intern, Ben, (Ben spoke highly of Lily so maybe they're a couple, if so it's a good match, mazel tov) to help me select new glasses. I don’t have a face that is well suited for glasses, nor for wearing hats and the combination of the two is a disaster. Nonetheless I need glasses for distances and I was determined, as always, to make the best of it and find a pair that wouldn’t totally ruin my boyish good looks.

This was accomplished in 20 minutes or so and all that was left was paying the bill and getting our of Dodge.

Going in for an eye exam and then selecting new blinkers generally fits into the category of a chore. Yet I had a splendid time. I like being around competent, happy people who derive pleasure from serving me. They inspire me, in turn, to be as charming and agreeable as possible. Given how cranky I often am, this is a mean feat. Throw into that the selection of something that will be adorning my face and the entire outing can be surprisingly enjoyable.

From there my darling wife and I ran a few more errands on my behalf including the purchase of noise canceling head phones (I’m loving them) and four pairs of socks. Argyle.

We returned to our humble abode where I watched a movie and she made dinner. That wife of mine is aces.

Postscript. Today I did the on line survey UC Optometry sent regarding my visit. I gladly gave them raves. But they replied by asking if I'd share some of my nice comments on Yelp. Kinna pushing it, I thought.

21 October 2016

Epic Journey of the False Dichotomy

Take my hand, I'll take your hand baby
Together we might get away
This much madness is too much sorrow
It's impossible to make it today
-- From Down by the River by Neil Young

And I was awake and outraged and wanted to go back and never ever not anytime no how way have to deal with another day. Full stop. Sleep now and maybe forever. This was too much s-h-i-t and I was not having it and there on the floor was the whole reason. Okay maybe not whole but an empty bottle of Johnnie Walker Black scotch accompanied by an empty bottle of  pills of what kind I do not remember was more than enough stuff tough clue blue not new for me or you. And there was a roach clip two feet from face and I was on the floor and the record player had Hendrix on or no wait that was the inside of my head or both or neither. Maybe Hendrix was here with me but he’d just died and I’d cried and oh my’ed my way to the funereal circumstances and there had been a riot yesterday and tear gas and cops and billy clubs and Jimmy’d gotten busted and Ellen was where the hell and was someone in bed or any other bed in the house I at least knew that it was my house. Mouse. A copy of On The Road splayed on the floor and Nixon standing on my coffee table talking about bombing North Vietnam into submission. That asshole. End the war, bring the boys home stop killing babies.

Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-in was on somewhere. No that was definitely my head and what the fuck day or month or even year was it as if it mattered. Hubert HH can suck a tail pipe. Wanna hear Joplin go to the beach wanna teach. I’m not a student anymore maybe I’ll get up shower clean clothes the whole bit or maybe not maybe start all over again. Higher and higher and higher. Listen to the doors. Shit, Joplin and Morrison dead too. Bullshit to death which I suppose repose toes is waiting for me and my crumpled ass. Dash. ////////

*? Who am I again. Curtis Norton Perrimen, just please don’t call me Curt, nobody does. I’m a…well know, what the hell am I? Writer? Fighter? I had a wild night last night in the night outta sight. We were — my friends and I — at the protests against the war. That I remember. So I turn the TV on and sit in a chair and wait, wait for my brain to settle into the day. Get the hang of consciousness which I have had little experience with and lookie there on the TV it’s old Sam Ervin questioning a witness because its the televised Watergate hearings and and AND and that fucking means that the protest where I got tear gassed was not yesterday but three years ago. Oh my my my oh me. Did I time travel? Lesse I know of this Watergate and the election of ’72 so I guess I live now oh/// Shitsky whiskey.

So why — tell me why — am I in this cab? Going where? With a nice looking woman who is talking non stop and I look in the corner of my living room and was that my brain over there and is it melting? Not in the cab. At home. Nixon is doing this to me and there he is on TV assuring us all that he is not a crook. I have on a corduroy jacket and nothing else. Not a stitch. The dog is talking to me with a Canadian accent. Conclusion: must do less drugs.

At my desk full clothed and just waking up. Sober but hungover. Down from drugs but groggy. Awake. It is 19….70? 73? 78? I stand up and walk into the kitchen and check out the calendar that I got from the bank. Thank youuuuuuuuuuu bank.  If the calendar is right this is October 1973. Back to the desk. Sit down. Go through drawers and wallet. Apparently I’m a newspaper reporter and I live in Berkeley and I’m 26 years old and it looks like I have a girlfriend and there she is walking towards me. No she’s not. Yes, she is indeed walking toward me. She emerged from a room which I’m going to guess in the bedroom. Wait, I think I know her name…..Rachael Bradley. “God Curtis when the fuck are you going to get it together?” Ya know she doesn’t seem very friendly, maybe she’s just pissed at me.

“Aren’t you going to say anything?” Now I’m just staring at her. Oh fuck say something Curtis you bum, you idiot, you malcontent, you derelict, you ape fucker. “Rachael. Hi. I’m fine.”

“No, no you’re not fine, Curtis, you’re totally fucked up. You barely know who I am and what day it is.”

Jesus Christ, how did she know all that? Is she in my fucking brain? Woe. “Breakfast!” I pronounced. Rachael frowned. Stared at me disapprovingly and shook her head. “Yeah sure, I’ll scramble some goddamned eggs. Maybe a meal will get you set straight.”

I’m trying a smile but it feels like my face is twisted and I must look like a mentally retarded jack-o-lantern. Rachael lightly touches my shoulder as she walks by me and into the kitchen. “Toast and potatoes too?” She asks. “Yup,” I reply.

I stand. I stretch my arms. I yawn. I close my eyes. I open them and I’m seeing a tear gas canister flying over my head and I start to run like hell just as everyone around me is because the cops are charging us. My face is burning, I’m coughing and goddamned if it isn’t 1970 and who the hell is Rachael? I stop for a second to snap a picture. I think I’ve gotten a good shot of another canister in flight. I stumble across the creek that runs through the Cal campus and help someone who has fallen get back up and there’s a dog with a Canadian accent speaking this time in French and I’m back in a cab in midtown Manhattan and am convinced the military is doing mind experiments on me for some of the exposes I wrote on abuses…

Why am I falling out of tree? Why is it 1963? Why am I home from school?  Because Kennedy was assassinated and gobbledygook the burned out fissures in the broken hearted Korean girl I love with the magic penny from Perlstein’s Jewelry Store on Kannis Street. But there are those eggs Rachael is making but I’ve got to pee first and in the bathroom I look in the mirror and damned if I don’t see my own reflection looking a little care worn but a handsome enough bugger if I do say so my ****asterisk*** and wait’ll dad gets home and takes off his belt and gives me what for for what for I don’t know. Crow. Go.
Hut-Sut Rawlson on the rillerah and a brawla, brawla sooit,
Hut-Sut Rawlson on the rillerah and a brawla sooit.
Hut-Sut Rawlson on the rillerah and a brawla, brawla sooit,
Hut-Sut Rawlson on the rillerah and a brawla sooit.

Why was I in a cab I Manhattan with mid woman town talking and the the the the the the noises off. Nope. That's not it. I sit. Talking dogs indeed.

Dad came home and cried because the president had been killed so no belt to my ass today I guess and there was my mother looking perplexed and there was another tear gas canister and Sam Ervin and John Dean and Alexander Butterfield -- Erlichman/Haldeman -- liars liars pants on fire and Nixon on a telephone wire. Great theater. Napalm. Screw Kissinger and those drugs oh my oh my I gotta someday try to cry.

“Hey Rachael!” I holler but she’s not around just people running from the tear gas and cops in pursuit and the dog speaking Canadian — what-ever-that-means. Plus I’m in cab now I mean again in Manhattan and the driver is Pakistani.

Breakfast. Rachael sips her coffee and looks at me and I feel pretty good.

17 October 2016

My Time at Willard Middle School Recalled on the Occasion of its 100th Birthday

Willlard's 1917 Graduating Class.
Yesterday I attended the 100th anniversary celebration for Willard Middle School in Berkeley where I labored happily for over two decades. At the event I was interviewed for an oral history project and the last question was about what moment I’ll never forget from my time at the school. Moment. One. There are hundreds, maybe thousands. But most of them cannot be seen in isolation as a single event. I mentioned, for example, my long friendship with a co-worker, an extraordinary person who was technically a school safety officer but in reality was so much more to the students and staff of the school. He was born Richard Brown but was always known as Grizz and he officially became Saad Muhammad after becoming a Muslim. I have yet to recover from his premature death in 2002. I worked with many extraordinary people at Willard, Grizz just happens to top the list.

I mentioned coaching three championship soccer teams two of which went unbeaten (one was also untied) but I could have included every team I coached and all the softball teams I coached as well. They were all special.  "Play hard, have fun," was my motto. I still miss coaching and the opportunity to build a team with common goals that worked as a single unit.

I mentioned memorable students like Andy Samberg who I would never have forgotten even if he hadn’t go on to have his own TV show and to appear in films. I could have mentioned dozens, many dozens, of other students like Sofia who I always remember whenever I watch the Simpsons and see Lisa Simpson. Sofia as a young teen was just like Lisa: smarter than adults, more knowledgable, involved in everything and yet possessed of a seemingly innate understanding of everything in pop culture. There were other classroom stars, at least one who is now a lawyer, two doctors, a professor, two engineers and I'm just getting started with the ones I know of.

There were a lot of other students who were not shining stars in the classroom. A lot of them who struggled and came from difficult home lives. But they showed up at school and despite not being intellectually blessed, worked their asses off and got passing grades and did even better in high school and beyond. Teachers love the kids who persevere through difficulties. There were also students who I remember for their problems with behavioral issues. These kids were often royal pains in the ass and some of them remained so and never changed and today are in prison, dead or heading toward one of these fates. But a lot of them were just being 13 year olds and couldn’t sit still or shut up or follow directions or they were constitutionally defiant, rude and mischievous. But many of those young men and women grew up fast in high school and it was (and still is) always a delight to see them as mature young people succeeding in life.

There were funny moments, scary moments, moments that pushed every possible button, countless frustrating moments and challenging moments and aha moments when someone or several people or even a whole class finally understood. It was the agony and ecstasy and thankfully there was a lot more of the latter.

There were moments of inspiration and desperation, calculation and stupefaction. There were insights and fist fights. There was never ever boredom (outside, of course, some of our staff or department meetings). There were colleagues. Many of whom were great educators who served as daily reminders to others such as myself to show up everyday and give the students the 100% effort they deserved. Colleagues shared and lent a helping hand and offered a shoulder to cry on and cajoled and argued and contradicted and laughed like hell. God we had a lot of laughs. They were needed. Teaching middle school kids -- pressures from parents and administrators notwithstanding -- could be, and usually was, mentally and emotionally taxing. Fortunately the staff at Willard knew how to party and they knew how to keep one another loose and they sure as hell knew how to have a good chuckle. It was a brotherhood and sisterhood. I can only guess how many fellow teachers I worked with (over 100) and there’s only one — thus less than one percent — who I think ill of (and brother, she deserves it).

The support staff was part of the family and was never looked on as anything other than our equals. Never mind their possible lack of education or the menial nature of their duties. They were fellow travelers. Administrators were another matter. They were vested with a lot of power and a few used it badly (one in particular) but no one ever doubted that their intentions were good.

I was always enormously proud to be part of the Willard staff. As today I’m proud to have served the school. I went through some rocky times for much of my tenure. I was coping with the ongoing and rare condition of acute panic disorder with consequent anxiety and occasional depression and worst of all with the side effects from various medications that were tried. The side effects caused all manner of problems including some bad moments, a few of which make me wince to this day. I never used my condition as excuse. Nor in fact ever mentioned it. It was a difficult enough situation for me to understand without sharing it with co-workers.  By my last two years the proper meds, sans side effects, were finally keeping me stable but that’s precisely when my beloved and seemingly indestructible father began to die followed immediately by my mother-in-law's passing.

I put everything I had into teaching because anything less would be a disservice to the students and my colleagues. But it came time for me to go in late Summer 2008. When I finally resigned it was like the weight of the world had been lifted from my shoulders. The relief was one of the greatest feelings of my life and the eight years since have been the happiest of my life. As much as I loved working at Willard it had begin eating away at me. I needed to leave.  I have a new teaching career now in the relatively tame world of ESL where I get to teach students from all over the world. After 20 years of middle school, teaching intelligent, motivated and unfailingly polite young adults is a breeze and I like a good breeze.

I do sometimes wonder what it would have been like at Willard if…but it was like that and yet I contributed to making Willard the special school it was and am happy for my time there and the richness and meaning it has contributed to my life. Leaving there earlier than I'd planned was far outweighed by having been there in the first place.

Seeing colleagues from my days at Willard yesterday warmed my heart. It brought back many moments. More than that it brought back our shared experiences and the joy and dedication we gave to our school and its students. I was part of that. I was a public school teacher. I helped make a difference. I worked at an extraordinary school. That’s a goddamned good feeling.

16 October 2016

The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round

Photo by author.
For the past 15 months I’ve been taking a commuter bus from Berkeley into San Francisco. I walk the four minutes from my house and invariably see a sullen young African American woman with a coffee in her hand. I’ve discerned from overheard conversations that she is a teacher. One day last year an older white woman stopped and talked to her. It was evident that the two hadn’t seen one another in awhile and they had some sort of past relationship, perhaps as co-workers. Initially the younger woman seemed pleased to chat with this woman. But as she stopped there everyday on her way to where she caught a ride share van, it became increasingly obvious that the young woman had less and less to say and their “conversations” were becoming increasingly awkward. They’d often stand in silence. I got the impression that the older woman was lonely, lives alone and is a bit of an eccentric.

Sometimes there’s another young woman waiting for the bus. She’s short and blonde and looks like she could be Paul Dano’s sister. Usually a young, lean man emerges from a nearby apartment just before the bus pulls up. Every now and again someone else gets on with us.

Almost without exception I pass the unabomber as I board the bus. There’s the gent in maybe his forties who, until recently, had a beard and who always has the hood of his sweatshirt pulled down. He’s hunched in his seat. Until shaving he looked like a mad genius who had sabotage on his mind. The beardless face, however, makes him look fairly tame.

The commuter bus has two rows of two seats stretching to the back where there are about seven seats. My stop is the second one so I always get a window seat. This is a mixed blessing. The question is always going to be who will sit next to me. Getting on a few stops later would allow one to shop around a bit. Of course if you get on later your choices are limited and you may even have to stand. By the rules of bus riding you don't sit next to a stranger if there's a window seat open.

Sometimes no one sits next to me, which is of course just dandy. I’ve noted before on this blog that men sit down differently than women. Most women veritably glide into the seat, cozying in as soft as you please. Men drop themselves as if from a great height and more than once I’ve been startled by the aftershocks of a man flying into the seat, often grazing me in the process. Most say excuse me or sorry. Needless to say I prefer a woman sitting next to me. If she is young and pretty, all the better. It’s not that I look at her, other than when she sits and when we leave, but the notion that an attractive female is sitting next to me is nice. I’ve had one young Asian-American woman sit next to me a few times and she always smiles and says good morning as she sits down. No one else ever does that. She’s always welcome. There’s one very large woman who gets on the bus and she always has a large  purse and a couple of bags. I always feel claustrophobic when her or any other rotund commuter sits next to me.

I have an arch enemy who’s often on the bus although I’ve been spared his presence this past week. He’s a large effeminate man who is always the first to board at his stop. He invariably has a New York Times in one hand and a large plastic Starbucks cup in the other. He’s only a danger if a certain short squat woman of his acquaintance sits next to him. Because if she does he talks, and talks and then talks some more. Fair enough there’s no rule about keeping mum on the bus, others chat too Indeed this fellow has a rather pleasant voice, rich and sonorous. The irritation stems from his speaking so loudly and so incessantly. I recall once when he and his listening board sat directly behind me. He asked the woman about her recent trip. She muttered for a few seconds and that was the last of it from her. He quickly cut her off and didn’t stop talking until we arrived at the bus terminal. I almost never need to plug in the ear phones on the morning bus, unless the mouth that roars is in my vicinity, in which I get the iPod out immediately.

Of course the second I take my sit I reach into my backpack and pull out a book and commence reading. I don’t stop until the bus arrives at the station. I do however pause at times because in going over the Bay Bridge one is afforded a number of striking views. Just the bay itself can be mesmerizing, but as one gets to the SF side of the bridge there is the skyline of San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz and sometimes several boats or even a ship to gaze upon.

There are at least a dozen people who I recognize as regulars on the bus ride. Most are about as nondescript to me as I must be to the them. The ones I notice I tend to do so either because they regularly sit near me, are attractive, or board when I do. There’s a young gay man who has sat next to me several times. He’s small so I never mind his presence. After getting off the bus we walk in the same direction and he usually is in front of me which is odd because I am a notoriously fast walker, this guy has a motor in his engine. And it shows. I have never seen a man’s ass sway back and forth like his does (not that I do a lot of looking). It is a fact of nature that many a woman has a rear end that bounces as they walk. Men tend to like this. I’ve speculated that it is a natural occurrence in nature which is meant to attract men to women. Anyway this chap’s rear end swaying is far more pronounced than any I’ve seen in a female. Ever. It’s damned unnatural. I would imagine that other gay men might find it attractive. Then again they might also find it a little too much.

There’s a young African American man who rides the bus who also walks a short way in my direction. He’s a handsome man, always wearing a nice suit. Except. The pant legs are far too long. Indeed the pants are too big. They don’t fit snugly. Worse, the cuffs of his pants are frayed surely from constant contact with the heels of his shoes. He must be single because a significant other would have pointed out the problem by now. You’d think someone at work would have a word with him.

From my bus ride in I used to walk to Market street and catch the F trolley. I finally figured out a better bet was a nine minute walk to catch the 30 at Howard a few blocks below Market. Unlike the F with the 30 you never risk an unreasonable wait and where I board there’s always a seat. Plus it drops me a half block from work. Of course nothing is perfect. The 30 can be damned crowded usually with a combination of elderly Chinese people (we pass through Chinatown) and high school students going to Galileo High, most of them are of Chinese extraction to. Even when you’ve got a seat a crowded bus is a bit uncomfortable and sometimes getting off the bus can only be accomplished with a machete.

I love my work. The people I teach and the people I work with are a delight. The commute though, that can be a trip (pun fully intended).

12 October 2016

Kyra Talks to God

When one door closes God opens a window. That’s what at least three people told Kyra when she lost her waitressing job at McGurdy's. Lost, hell, I was fucking fired, she thought. It had been a good job too at a high end restaurant that catered to big spenders. Thus the tips were generous and Kyra was making enough money — along with her student loans — to carry a full load at NYU. Now what?

She was 23 and solely dependent on herself. Mom had died when she was 13 and her father was in prison for money laundering, his career in accounting replaced by a stretch in Attica. Yeah he’d graduated to the big time when he smacked a guard with a pipe. Kyra’s dad had always been a gentle, if large and imposing, man. But after cooking the books for mobsters and getting heavily into cocaine — crack no less — it had all gone down hill. He was nothing to Kyra anymore.

One door was closed because she had supposedly gotten “mouthy” with a customer, a regular at that, Mrs. Clovis. The old bat had had too many cocktails before even arriving at the restaurant and had gone from insulting her dinner companions to making wise cracks about Kyra’s body. “You look like  a regular slut, dear, with boobs like that and a come-fuck-me figure. And that face, no you don’t have trouble drawing the boys, cute ones I bet too.” Everyone else at the table was in their cups so let the old battle-axe have at Kyra. She stood it as long as she could in stoic silence, but when Mrs. Clovis grabbed Kyra’s breast and said “lemme just see if these headlights are real,” Kyra’d had enough.

“Keep your disgusting hands off me, bitch,” she’d said. Not even very loud. But the old witch had heard it and that was enough. Mrs. Clovis had pull and she used with the head waiter  kicking up a fuss about how she’d take her business elsewhere if “this little tootsie” wasn’t fired. Kyra was shocked when management took the old boozehound’s side.

Now what?

Could anyone guarantee a window would open? Money was tight as it was what with having her own studio apartment in Manhattan. If Kyra couldn’t find a job quickly she’d likely be looking for a new apartment soon, one she’d likely have to share. The prospects were dim. Just a few weeks before Kyra thought that she wouldn’t need her apartment because she’d be moving in with her boyfriend, Lance. That fucker. “My old girl friend has moved back to New York and we’ve started seeing each other and long story short we’re getting back together.” He said it all so matter of factly too like it was no big deal just one of those things. Like the past six months were no biggie. What an a-hole. “Better to find out before you’d gotten too involved,” friends said. Well guess what, they'd been pretty goddamned involved.

This is not the shit I should be worried about right now, Kyra thought as she rode the subway home. Forgetting men for awhile was a must, she'd  have to concentrate on finding another job. Though she couldn’t imagine it would pay as well as McGurdy’s. That job had been a lucky break because her friend Greta had worked there and had clued Kyra in just before she left. Greta had also sold the owner on Kyra.

Money was going to start running out and soon. It had been over two weeks since she got canned and the only types of jobs she’d had a chance at were shit minimum wage jobs at fast food places. Kyra had no skills to speak of. The only work she’d done besides waitressing was as a Summer camp counselor. She’d hardly even done any babysitting. Her current studies at NYU in Interdisciplinary Theater Arts were not going to be of much help until she graduated. If then.

Emerging from the subway station Kyra did her usual subtle look around. It was after dark and she’d been in New York long enough to know that you had to always be aware of your surroundings but that you should never appear to be lost, scared or confused. The nights were getting colder, Kyra thought, it would sure help to get a fucking job before it got really cold.

Kyra’s apartment was very small — cozy is the way she thought of it — but it had everything she needed, all the fixtures were modern and it never got too hot or too cold. She sat at the edge of her bed and removed her shoes. Kyra'd just gotten them off when a loud voice boomed: “Kyra!” In response she sprang to her feet and tried to figure out where the voice came from. She'd never heard her neighbors before (another plus for the apartment) and anyway the voice sounded like it was in the room. The voice repeated her name but in a much softer voice.

“Who is this? Where are you?” Kyra was far more scared than curious.

“It’s God, Kyra. Do you want to talk?”

What the hell is going on, she wondered. Kyra looked in her bathroom, the kitchen and then back into her small living room/bedroom. She checked her closet. She opened the front door. Nothing.

“Who is this? Where are you?”

“It's God and I’m everywhere.”

I must be dreaming, she thought.

“No, you’re not dreaming,” the voice said.

Kyra fainted.

Five minutes later she came to and slumped in a chair wondering if it had all been a dream or if she was going insane.

“You’re fine, Kyra. Now let’s talk.”

“Okay, seriously now, who are you and what do you want?”

“I told you, this is God talking, I’d like to see if I can help. I do this from time to time.”

Gradually Kyra was accepting the fact that God really was talking to her. “Why me? I’m an atheist.”

“I don’t suspect you will be anymore,” the voice said with a soft chuckle.

“Why…me?” Kyra asked meekly.

“Why not you!” the voice boomed.

“Is there something so special about me?”

“There is something special about all my creations.”

“I’ve gotta be honest, I’m not sure how I feel about this.” Later Kyra would be struck by how quickly and unquestioningly she'd accepted that she was talking to the almighty.

“Well I should think you’d be glad to talk to your creator.”

“I still don’t get why you’re not talking to a pious person, a believer.”

“Oh those people I tend to talk to through mental telepathy. For someone such as yourself I kind of need to show up.”

“Uh cool, I guess. I was like picked at random?”

“There is no random, Kyra, except in the sense that all is random.”

“Oh don’t get all metaphysical on me. And hey, why can’t I see you?”

“See me? See God? Sorry but that’s for the after life only. I can take a form if it’s really important to you.”

“Yeah cause talking to a disembodied voice is a little weird.”

Instantaneously there was a rabbit on Kyra’s floor.

“Seriously? A rabbit?”

The voice coming from the rabbit said, “what’s wrong with a rabbit?”

“Come on, to symbolize the all mighty? A rabbit?”

“Would a dog or a lion or whale really be any better? Is this worth quibbling over?”

“Point taken. Okay so what are we supposed to talk about”

“Well isn’t it rather obvious? You’re in a bit of a jam what with losing your job, through no fault of your own, I might add.”

“Hey first I gotta ask you, is all that stuff in the bible true?”

“The bible? That’s about 90% fiction. I can’t believe people take that seriously. And in my name, no less. Really chaps my hide.”

“Not even the Jesus stuff?”

“That’s about all that has any fact in it, but even there there’s a lot of exaggeration. Water into wine, as if. But let’s get back to the matter at hand.”

“Which is?

“Why your current situation, of course.”

“Okay so can you just hook me up with another job?”

“I don’t really do that sort of thing.”

“Wait, what? You don’t get people jobs, or heal sick people or….”

“No, and I don’t help one team beat another in sports.”

“Then what exactly do you do?”

“First of all I created this, the whole shebang.”

“And now you just sit back and watch the shit storm you’ve created?”

“I’ve had a lot more success with what I’ve done in other universes. But humans have done some pretty good things. I’ve been particularly impressed with your medical and technological advances. Some of the arts are really magnificent. Then again a lot of what passes for entertainment is pretty pathetic.”

“So you don’t have any effect on what happens here?”

“In a sense no.”

“Is that because you already know what’s going to happen?”

“No, there’s no such thing as predestination. You determine your own fates.”

“All right if you’re not going to do anything for me, why are you here?”

“To listen. Maybe give a little feedback.”

“Let me see if I understand correctly. I’m supposed to tell you what’s going on with me even though you already know and then you might give me some feedback. Excuse me if I’m not overwhelmed.”

“Maybe if I wasn’t in the form of a rabbit.”

“Can you take a human form?”

“No problem.”

And with that God as a rabbit transformed instantly into God the human. Specifically a professionally dressed woman who looked to be in her mid 30s. She had classic figure, high cheek bones and beautiful brown eyes. God as a woman was about 5’6” and wore only a hint of make up.

“You’re a woman!”

“I thought this would make you more comfortable,” God replied in a voice that befitted “her” appearance.

“Generally speaking what gender are you?”

“All of them. And trust me there are a lot, much more than the two main ones you mostly ascribe to on this planet.”

“All right, well this is weird. I’m not sure what I’m supposed to be doing.”

“Just talk about your situation. Lay out what’s happened, what your options are and how you’re feeling.”

“And you’ll….”

“I’ll see if I can help you come to some understanding maybe even some decisions about how you can better respond to your circumstance.”

"And why exactly are you doing this? Not that I'm ungrateful."

"Kyra, dear, I've gotten nothing but time on my hands, every now and again I like to interact with one of my creations."

So Kyra talked and talked and talked. She didn’t just relate the past few weeks but much of her life, particularly regarding her parents and her now defunct relationship with Lance. At times she cried, but quickly composed herself and continued. God listened intently occasionally offering observations and asking questions to illicit more information or help steer Kyra in certain directions.

After five hours Kyra stopped talking. She felt there was nothing more to say and she was emotionally spent. God pressed the young woman with one last question. “So Kyra, what are you going to do? Have you decided anything?”

“I’m going into therapy, I’ve got a lot to work out. And I’m not going to get discouraged by this job search. I’ll get something good soon and if — God forbid, I mean, you forbid — I don’t,  I’ll just suck it up and find a cheaper place. Mostly I’m going to stop worrying and just do it.”

“Good,” said God with a smile. “I should leave you to get ready for bed, it’s late.”

“Am I forbidden from telling anyone about your visit?”

“No, no, feel free just remember how people are going to regard you if you say you talked to God who took the form of a rabbit and then a woman.”

“I see your point.”

“Some people talk about my visits. But the kind of folks I tend to like to talk to aren't believed because they're not in a religious crowd.”

“I really got a lot out of this. Thanks.”

“You’re welcome,” God said. And vanished.

Four days later Kyra got a call from the restaurant that had fired her. Mrs. Clovis had gone into AA and as one of its steps she had been making amends including going to the restaurant and telling the owner about how rude she’d been to the young waitress and asking if she could be given her job back. Kyra went back to work the next day. She couldn't decide if God had played a role in either Mrs. Clovis' getting sober or a position being open at McGurdy's,

Kyra went into therapy and found it was pretty much like talking to God, only for shorter periods of time. Life suddenly felt manageable and even fun. Kyra neither began praying nor going to church but she did get in the habit of sometimes looking up at the sky and mouthing the words, “thank you.”

As for the future Kyra hoped that she could someday live out in the country so that she could have a rabbit.

04 October 2016

I Offer Still More Advice to Teachers Here in Part 3

This is the third part of  my "advice for teachers" series. I hadn't planned a second let alone a third so who knows, there may yet be a fourth. Here is a link to part one. And here is a link to part two. I hope they help.

Keep them in the room. Some teachers I’ve worked with will not let tardy students or ones who’ve not done their homework enter the classroom until they have written sentences or completed the assignment. This is antithetical to what classroom teaching is all about. Classroom time is precious. If a student has missed ten minutes of instruction, the last thing you want to do is make them miss more. If a student has failed to do a class assignment they can make it up outside of class and if they don’t their punishment is twofold: one, they get a lower grade; two, they forfeited a learning opportunity. But in keeping students out of your classroom you are diminishing the importance of your lesson. What you are offering in the classroom is irreplaceable. A student should only be removed from the room if they are disruptive to the learning environment or physically ill.

Tell them why. Teachers often fashion innovative lessons that challenge and inform students. These lessons employ various modalities reaching a variety of learners. They are great lessons. But often students don’t understand the point of the lesson. They will wonder at the purpose but are reticent to ask. Go ahead and tell them. In fact, sell them on the idea. If you can’t explain the value of an assignment it’s likely because it has none. But if it is good for students, tell them how. They will more eagerly plunge into it. Also, students who are mystified as to the importance of a lesson are more likely to complain directly to your supervisor. Justify the assignment to yourself, then to them. Nothing should be done just because it’s fun.

Easy on the handouts. Don’t drown students in paper. For one thing it's bad for the environment and for another it can be a lazy way to teach. It’s easy to pile on worksheets and reading to "give yourself a break." Don't take breaks during class time. Circulate while they’re working to see how students are doing and make yourself available for questions. My teaching philosophy is — whenever possible — offer a variety of teaching methods within one class. I like to — again, when possible — give students a mix of interactive, writing, listening, reading etc. Students don’t mind an occasional handout, many even like them, but most students get bored with a torrent of them. Also, explain the benefits of your handouts.

Video is okay — in moderation. I have heard too many aging educators (usually ones who are no longer teaching) complain about the use of videos. Several say that “students can watch TV at home.” Yes, well for that matter they can read and write at home too. However if you are showing them part of a movie or TV show or any other type of video, presumably it is something that they would not choose to watch at home and even if they did they would be doing so without the benefit of your introducing the relevance of it and clarifying and explaining and giving an assignment around it. But by not using video at all you are eliminating an important instructional tool. Of course many teachers overuse video. It’s like some parents do with their children, they plunk them down in front of the boob tube so that they don’t have to deal with them for awhile. Don’t do this as a teacher. There’s has got to be a demonstrable value to whatever you are showing. Use video as needed and be sure that they understand the educational purpose of it.

Rewards & Punishment should be used sparingly if at all. What rewards should students get? Isn’t learning something reward enough? If not isn’t a good grade a nice reward? If they need any thing beyond that I have to assume you’re teaching 2-8 year olds. No one any older should require a reward to do something that benefits them. That being said, rewards are proven to be better at motivating students than punishments, at least among those under 18. Punishments are a necessary evil among the younger set. You have to maintain class discipline and rules need to be followed strictly. Punishments should be sparing and, as has also been established, not draconian. As with the criminal justice system (admittedly a flawed model) first time offenders should be treated lightly and repeat offenders should suffer the full extent of the law, so to speak. Also in most cases punishment can be accompanied by something even more important, counseling. Explain why being late is bad and explore how they can avoid future instances of tardiness. Explain why talking out of turn is disruptive and offer ways to avoid it. Be strict but show a human side. And for crying out loud don’t get impressed with how “tough” you are. If you want to feel good about yourself, let that self satisfaction derive from your ability to instruct and inspire, not because you lay down the law.

Check for understanding. Students don’t always tell you when they don’t understand, especially if they think “everyone else” does. It may only be two or three students who are confused but that’s two or three too many. Circulate, ask questions, check in and do so especially with students who have had trouble in the past. It’s not enough to just ask for questions, you’ve got to be proactive in making sure students are “getting it.”

Better to over explain than under explain. The biggest problems I’ve had with lessons has resulted from a failure to adequately explain them. Students are confused and often so confused that they don’t even know what questions to ask. To avoid this, make sure that your assignment can be fairly easily explained. If not, it may be too complex. Prepare your explanation. You know what you want them to do but don’t assume they’ll understand. In many cases you can provide both verbal and written instructions and the latter can be projected via an overhead to save paper.  I’ve had students complain that they already get it and I needn’t go on. That’s a good sign. It's much better to give too much than too little.

Show your school some respect. Don’t undermine your school by bitching to students about it, especially not about staff or other teachers. Students want to feel good about their school and they won’t if you kvetch about it.

Test results sometimes reflect you. If you give a test and a few students fail while most do well, you have to assume those few students did not study or did not understand. Work with them. But if a lot of students have trouble with a test, it’s on you. Clearly you either made it too difficult or did not prepare them well enough. I’ve heard teachers rail about how dim their students are. That kind of attitude will get you nowhere as a teacher and is a disservice to students. Also if there’s a particular part of the test that a lot of students struggled with be sure to review that and keep it in mind the next time you give that test.

Routine is good but so is the new and unexpected. Students are comforted by having certain routines in class. You start every class with a a particular warm up or activity, you always do something at the end of class or every Wednesday you do this or every Friday you do that. I have a number of routines that I practice in every single class and students come to expect and enjoy them. It feels good, it feels stable. But you’ve also got to occasionally do something radically different. Students get bored with the same old thing every class, so don't be afraid to shake it up. Within all that routine having a surprise is welcomed. Balance in everything is key.

Don’t just dismiss class. Wish them a great rest of the day or a fun weekend or a pleasant evening. Make it sound sincere because it should be sincere. Start and end classes with positive energy. You want students to feel good when they enter class and when they leave it.