27 November 2023

Turkey, Movies, Basketball and Stuck in a Tunnel, My Four-Day Weekend

The Marx Brothers in Horse Feathers

My four-day weekend began with the end of my work day on Wednesday afternoon. Two hours after lunch I went to the gym for a vigorous workout. Back home my lovely wife made dinner and I graciously consented to eat it. In the evening I watched one of my favorite films of all time, Ice Storm (1997) Lee. I often watch it on Thanksgiving Eve as it is set during the Thanksgiving weekend of 1973.

I spent the first part of Turkey Day reading and watching a movie on Criterion Channel called, Safe in Hell (1931) Wellman, a very pre-code film that I much enjoyed. Then it was off to my sister-in-law’s house for dinner. In attendance were the missus, my daughters, my nephews, a niece, significant others, five children, my sister-in-law, a dog and one person who was not family who I never got to know. I had a grand time chatting with kinfolk, playing with children and petting and sneaking food to the dog. I also ate quite a bit of food as one is prone to doing on this particular occasion. I feel safe in saying a good time was had by all.

The next day I went to a women’s basketball game as Cal hosted game one of their tourney. Our heroes bested San Jose State. I then walked to Moe’s bookstore to look for a gift for younger daughter who shares her dad’s passion for reading. I found nothing suitable but enjoyed my time in one of the world’s best bookstores.

I returned home to find both daughters visiting and of course enjoyed their company. In the evening I watched my second favorite Marx Brothers film, Horse Feathers (1932) McLeod. Despite this being my umpteenth viewing it I managed several chuckles, guffaws, titters, hardy-har-hars and belly laughs.

Saturday started with me watching my favorite English football (that’s soccer to you Yanks) team (Arsenal) win on a late goal. I did my happy dance. Then it was off to the second day of the tourney. This time a Bear team depleted by injuries lost. The game was even for three quarters but the exhausted locals faded at the end. Never mind it was a good day.

At home it was movie time again. The missus and I watched Godland (2022) Pálmason on DVD. My copy had only just arrived, I’d pre-ordered it not long after watching it for the first time on the Criterion Channel.  A great film is always better the second time. This was followed by watching my favorite college football team, the University of California Golden Bears, defeat UCLA in a stunning upset, 33-7. Two great wins on telly for the day with a loss in person sandwiched in between. Fair return.

Sunday morning I spent a fair bit of time with the Sunday New York Times. Mostly I was reading it. Having poured through a majority of it, the missus and I embarked on our big adventure. We went into San Francisco to see the latest movie from the great Finnish director, Aki Kaurismäki, Fallen Leaves. The closure of virtually all of Berkeley’s theaters necessitated making the long journey. We went to the Opera Plaza Landmark cinema which is a stone’s throw from Civic Center. That meant walking from the BART station past all variety of mendicants, tramps, loonies, methheads, and paranoid schizophrenics. As a social worker, this is younger daughter’s clientele. Lucky.

The theater was tiny — no, microscopic -- with only three rows but the seats — dear god, they were comfy, you sank into them. The movie was sublime, in other words, typical  Kaurismäki. From there we dodged the hoi polloi and made our way back to the subway and what we assumed would be a pleasant and quick journey back to Berkeley. But fate intervened — as it so often does.

Just outside Oakland’s 12th Street Station the train stopped. And stayed stopped. At one point the lights went out. That terror (slight exaggeration) lasted only half a minute. But the tedium of sitting on a train in a tunnel continued. Of course my wife went about chattering with other passengers, meanwhile my mood plunged, my anxiety rose. I took an Ativan. It helped a bit. We were constantly thanked for our patience and apologized to. Never helps. Finally a “rescue” train arrived. We had to walk to the back of our train where we were told we would “cross over.” I did not like the use of this phrase as it invoked what many people refer to as dying. Nonetheless we soldiered on and literally stepped over a small plank onto another train. I gave our driver a parting fist bump.

Again we sat for awhile but eventually were on our way and arrived safely in Berkeley. We decided to treat ourselves after the trauma of being tunnel-bound by having dinner at a local eatery. From there it was home sweet home.

The rest of the evening hardly deserves mention though it did entail washing towels, reading and watching a spot of TV before retiring for the evening. All told not a bad weekend. How was yours?

20 November 2023

The Good, the Bad and the Surprising, Six Recent Releases that I've Seen

Fair Play

Hey kids, guess what time it is? You’re right! It’s time for me to catch up with some of the recent releases I’ve seen. How did you know? It’s movie season (much more fun that cold and flu season) and many of the better films of the year are popping up in theaters and on streaming services. Let’s have a look at some of the new films I’ve seen lately.

Killers of the Flower Moon (Scorsese). Killers fits in perfectly with the kind of pictures that the great Martin Scorsese has been making this century. In other words it’s very good but nowhere near the quality he produced with such classics as Goodfellas, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Age of Innocence, King of Comedy and Mean Streets, all made between 1973 and 1993. Like other Scorsese films of the past twenty-five years, Killers is bloated (206 minutes) though never boring, features some fine performances and is nicely edited and beautiful to look at. I just wish he were capable of making leaner, tighter movies. Here are running times — in minutes -- for other Scorsese films of recent vintage: The Irishman 209, Silence 161, The Wolf of Wall Street 180, Shutter Island 138, The Departed 151, The Aviator 170, Gangs of New York 167. I greatly admire Shutter Island and The Aviator and like the other films but they’re all excessive. Not just in length but in what we are expected to absorb. Mind you I hardly yawned throughout Killers but there was so much there that weeks later the story does not stick with me. It’s possible to make great films that are long (The Godfather, Heaven’s Gate, Tess, Barry Lyndon) but it’s rare. I feel as though Scorsese is overdoing his films, showing us too much. Killers is another example.

Fair Play (Domont). This is one of the best relationship movies I’ve ever seen. It’s a study in the dissolution of a relationship that initially seems perfect. It’s the opposite of rom-coms where the mis-matched couple find love. The two leads, Phoebe Dynevor and especially Alden Ehrenreich are transcendent, capturing the full range of emotions that being in a love-to hate relationship entails. Fair Play is intimate film-making, at times claustrophobic. It can be uncomfortable as if we are in restaurant where a loud, awkward scene is unfolding at another table. There is so much to unpack about relationships and about the clash of work and personal lives. It’s a film that deserves to be studied and seen by a wide audience. 

Anatomy of a Fall (Triet). It’s a difficult movie to say much about without spoilers as the ending is so critical to any discussion one can have about it. Suffice to say that Anatomy takes a long time getting to its denouement but is worth the ride. As much as anything Anatomy is a courtroom drama and a character study with it’s long hard look at the wife — played brilliantly by Sandra Hüller — of a man who jumps/falls/is pushed out of high window to his death. She is bereaved, she is accused, she seems both guilty and guiltless. There is something very French about Anatomy, mostly in the way that it is studied and measured, avoiding the spectacular but making the most out of the fascinating world of details. Details of deaths and of the lives we lead.

The Holdovers
The Holdovers (Payne). Stubborn old teacher facing off against angry, precocious teen. A mixed match pair on a road trip. Two opposites fighting each other AND inner demons. You pretty much know where the story is going at every point. There’s nothing original here in terms of the situation or the lead characters. We’ve seen it all before. But have we seen it told as well? Have previous iterations of this story had such strong leads? The answer to both might well be, no. I enjoyed the hell out of The Holdovers despite it’s predictably. Alexander Payne knows how to make a thoroughly watchable film (see Nebraska, About Schmidt, Sideways, Election). Paul Giamatti is as good an actor as there is these days and Dominic Sessa in his screen debut very much holds his own opposite him. Da’Vine Joy Randolph has been turning up a lot lately  (for example on Only Murders in the Building) and is proving to be an excellent supporting player and probably due for a significant lead role. She is an excellent third wheel here. The Holdovers offers no surprises but it’s still surprisingly good.

The Killer (Fincher). A watchable film but ultimately empty calories. There’s no real substance, nothing to be learned from this story of a paid assassin. Michael Fassbinder plays a hit man with all the charm of toll both. There’s nothing interesting about him or the story. There’s some tension, there is a minor surprise, there’s an action scene — that goes on too long to be credulous — and there is much musing and philosophizing by the eternally thoughtful and ruminative killer. But it all adds about to not much of anything. I don’t honestly understand why this movie was made, especially by a talent like David Fincher. 

Rustin (Wolfe). I’m surprised that many critics are muted in their praise of Rustin, rightfully praising lead actor Colman Domingo but wanting more from the film as a whole. I thought there was plenty there and it was mostly damn good. Bayard Rustin always seemed to me a peripheral figure in the civil rights movement, I knew him to have been a key organizer of 1963’s March on Washington and was also aware that he’d been considered somewhat of a liability to the movement because of his homosexuality and past affiliations with the community party. A triple threat for the likes of J Edgar Hoover and the FBI. Rustin helped fill in my understanding of the man and made me want to learn more. It also gave me much respect for this singular figure. Domingo’s bravura performance is the centerpiece of this fine film but kudos to the overall casting (Chris Rock was excellent as Roy Wilkins) and the look and feel of this fine film.

13 November 2023

Roll On You Bears, A Love Letter to Cal Football

After the game last Saturday

It is dusk on an autumn afternoon. Saturday. The light is a yellowish-brown hue. An unseasonably warm day is cooling. I am in a football stadium that rests in Strawberry Canyon in Berkeley, California. Past the east rim are hills including one called Tightwad Hill where some fans huddle to watch games for free. Behind me is the west rim of the stadium. From there one can see all the way to the Golden Gate Bridge. Anytime of day the views are spectacular, but especially as the sun descends.

The stadium has mostly emptied out, there were close to 30,000 people in it less than half an hour ago. The University of California marching band is on the field. They are playing the campus alma mater. Alistair and I have linked arms and are swaying to the campus alma mater song, our previous revelry at the final gun replaced by a mellower savoring of a long afternoon well spent. 

Later I’ll leave the stadium and follow the band as it marches down Bancroft Way. I want the joy to last, especially as this was the last home game of the season. It was also only the third home victory for my beloved Golden Bears in six tries. Three wins. Only three. It will be nine and half months before they play again. Cal football home games are precious. Victories for this perpetually woebegone team are especially so.

Despite the many, many, many heartbreaks that California football has inflicted on me, I have been a devotee since childhood. I don’t remember my first game, I was so young and went so regularly that it feels like Cal football has always been a part of me, it’s like a body part (one that causes occasional discomfort and sometimes euphoria). The first game I specifically remember going to was in 1962 when I was eight-years-old. The team was generally bad when I was a kid (some things never change) but I fell in love nonetheless. What was it about the experience of going that so enraptured me? Certainly the classic Roman Colosseum like stadium nestled in the hills (construction completed 100 years ago). Definitely the band and its jaunty spirit songs. Obviously the cheering section and its clever yells (that have sadly gone generic in recent years). Also the victory cannon booming for Cal scores and the team taking the field. Without a doubt, Oski, the Bears lovable mascot. Unquestionably the colorful blue and gold uniforms and those same colors being worn in different forms by tens of thousands of fans. The roar of the crowd. The unrepentant joy in victory. Victory. Many schools roll through their schedules facing only one or two challenges a season. But not the Bears. We savor our days of glory. Whether a trouncing of a lower division foe, an upset of higher ranked opponent or a thrilling win over our arch rivals, we veritably dance (sometimes literally) in the streets when victorious.

I have but few happy memories of my mother who was afflicted with serious mental illness in middle age. But I remember quite fondly her taking me to Cal football games including my first Big Game (the annual clash with hated Stanfurd University). She attended Cal from 1938-1942 and sat in the student section (then segregated by gender) for home football games. 

My dad took me too, of course (he also took me to pro football, pro and college basketball, baseball, track and field, boxing and ice hockey). Everyone liked the Bears in our household, except me — I loved them.

As the years went on my interest in Cal football didn’t wane one iota. Even as a rebellious teen who could be found at anti-Vietnam War demonstrations and arguing for overthrow of the government, I enjoyed the tradition-bound spectacle that was college football — especially as played by the Bears. 

I attended games as a high schooler, as a college student, as a young working man, as lost soul given to drinking and using drugs copiously. I went through all manner of changes, re-inventions and internal revolts, but the Bears were a constant. Perhaps even acting as a steadying influence. I attended games with rowdy drunken companions, with girlfriends, with relatives, with serious fans and those out on a lark. I missed a few seasons when I lived elsewhere and when I say I missed seasons I don’t merely mean that I wasn’t able to attend games, it was the one thing about the Bay Area that I yearned for. After all, Cal football and its fan base were family and who doesn’t miss a loving family?

There were a few seasons in which Cal did well: the mid and late seventies, a few years in the early nineties and most of this century’s first decade. These were magical times, surreal. To see the Bears excelling on the football field was like watching that wonderful dream you had last night actually happening. It was like the most beautiful girl at the party dancing with you. It was like winning the grand prize at the raffle. It was like an out of body experience. But even at their best the Bears never quite reached the top of the mountain. The Rose Bowl was always the dream. In ’75 they tied for the conference title but the failure of one rival to beat another on the season’s last weekend cost us a trip to Pasadena. The Bears were great in ’91 but Washington was a touchdown better when we met. That season was marred by a face plant in the Big Game. In 2004 the Bears were great again but U$C was a touchdown better. That season was marred by an ugly loss in our consolation prize appearance in the Holiday Bowl. We again tied for the conference title in ’06. A player tripping over a yard marker cost us the brass ring. So very Cal.

Since then the Bears haven’t even come close. They had a few more good seasons to close out the decade but have been mostly bad — occasionally rising to mediocrity — in the years since.

The losses hurt less than they used to. One gets used to it and then despairs at having gotten used to it. The regularity of the defeats makes one nearly immune to an individual loss but the weight of the accumulation is a heavy cross to bear. But then there are the wins. They make it all worthwhile. The reward for the suffering. Those games that make me think: I am privileged to have been here, there's no other place in the world I'd rather have been. The wins are a better high than I ever experienced drinking and using.

Throughout it all the Bears have suffered some terrible thumpings, though mostly on the road. At home their thing is more the inexplicable heartbreaking loss, one in which the fates conspire against us in the form of costly turnovers or ridiculous referring decisions or bonehead plays or stupid coaching decisions. Twice this season the Bears have — as the cliche goes — snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. Auburn and U$C should have been well-beaten, but missed field goals and a team wide case of fumbilitis, respectively, cost us. Saturday looked for awhile to be another crushing loss. The Bears had gone up by 18 insurmountable points with nine minutes to go. But no lead is safe for the Bears — never has been. Our heroes had to hold on by the skin of their incisors to clinch victory with an interception on the game’s last play. No one was upset that it had gotten so close (it’s kind of our thing). But everyone was relieved then jubilant that the day had been won.

I don’t know how many seasons I have left but I do know that I’ll be there for all of them and I won’t be missing any home games. Cal football is coursing through my blood. It is part of who I am. My own eternal zeitgeist. 

You may have gathered by now that it’s more than just the football. It is the whole experience. It is the days and hours leading up to each game. It is the days and hours following each game. It is all the time spent in contemplation of the team’s prospects and ruminating over their latest performance. It is a feeling in my bones. It is my heart. I hardly watch any other football at all. I’m much more of a soccer guy. When I go to Memorial Stadium it’s not to see a football game, it’s to see Cal play football. It is the atmosphere.

Loyalty is love practiced.

I cannot close without mentioning the people who have been part of the journey. Of course my parents, so many elementary school and junior high school and high school friends. College chums. Girlfriends. My wife. Friends I drank with and friends who I’ve stayed sober with. Special shoutout to my late friend Kevin who I watched decades of Cal football with. When he died I was left suddenly alone at Memorial Stadium. Then a new friendship was forged with Alistair. Like Kevin and others before him, he gets it (poor sap). But also a shoutout to all those people I’ve attended games with that I’ve never met but with whose voices I’ve joined in exhorting on our Bears. Our efforts have not always borne fruit, but we wouldn’t change the experience for anything. 

Go Bears!!!

06 November 2023

I Said What? Revisiting My Yearly Top Ten Lists

Vicky Cristiana Barcelona, My First #1 On the Blog

I was looking at one of my yearly top ten films lists over the weekend and couldn’t understand how I’d rank one film so high and another so low. Tastes change quickly. We see a movie a second time and appreciate it a lot more noticing not just the what of the story but the way the story was told. Also some movies don’t hold up to a second viewing, having an initial appeal but not much substance. This is particularly true of rom coms and action pictures. You didn’t even need to re-watch a film to re-assess it. How it sits with you in the coming weeks and months — or how it totally recedes from memory — influences your opinion. In this exercise I’ll be reviewing all the top ten lists I’ve published on ye olde blog since the first for 2008 releases.


1. Vicky Christina Barcelona (Allen)

2. Milk (Van Sant)

3. The Visitor (McCarthy) 

4. I’ve Loved You For So Long (Claudel)

5. In Bruges (McDonagh)

6. A Secret (Miller)

7. Frost/Nixon (Howard)

8. Rachel Getting Married (Demme)

9. The Last Mistress (Breillat)

10. Synechode, New York (Kaufman)

Nailed the first one. I don’t see anything here to change. I don’t think that I’ve seen any from the second half of this list a second time. I don’t remember a thing about The Last Mistress so goodness knows where I’d rank it after a second viewing.


1. Inglourious Basterds

2. A Serious Man

3. The Messenger

4. Precious

5. The Hurt Locker

6. Broken Embraces

7. Me and Orson Welles

8. A Single Man

9. Sugar

10. Damned United

Definitely got the first two right. I’m a little surprised that I didn’t  have A Single Man and Damned United higher.


1. Winter's Bone

2. Black Swan

3. The White Ribbon

4. True Grit

5. Vincere

6. The American

7. The Ghost Writer

8. Shutter Island

9. A Prophet

10. The Town

Not a great year for movies was it? That said the list looks fine except I’ve come to really like Shutter Island and it would top a revised list.


1. Melancholia

2. Of Gods and Men

3. The Artist

4. Midnight in Paris

5. Shame

6. Hugo

7. Le Havre

8. The Tree of Life

9. Beginners

10. Young Adult

Wow, Midnight in Paris has become one of my favorite films of all time and would easily top a revised list and Le Havre is another top 100 film and would be second. Melancholia would be a solid third and Of Gods and Men a very worthy number four.  I really had Hugo ahead of Le Havre? I had The Artist ahead of Midnight in Paris? Unbelievable.


1. L'enfant d'en haut (Meier)

2. Django Unchained (Tarantino)

3. Moonrise Kingdom (W. Anderson)

4. Gianni e le donne (DiGregorio)

5. Bernie (Linklater)

6. The Master (P. Anderson)

7. Lincoln (Spielberg)

8. Holy Motors (Carax)

9. Noordzee, Texas (Defurne)

10. Seven Psychopaths (McDonagh)

Another down year. Moonrise Kingdom would top a revised version of this last and The Master would be second. The rest seems fine. I didn’t see Silver Linings Playbook until much later. It would have topped the list if I’d seen it in time.


1. Inside Llewyn Davis (Coens)

2. Her (Jonze)

3. Nebraska (Payne)

4. Blue Jasmine (Allen)

5. Frances Ha (Baumbach)

6. Reality (Garrone)

7. 12 a Slave (McQueen)

8. Kill Your Darlings (Krokidas)

9. Blue is the Warmest Color (Kechiche)

10. La Grande Belleza (Sorrentino)

I already revised this one. Six months after I posted it I, in an unprecedented Streams of Unconsciousness move, I posted an altered versions in which I put Llewyn Davis first and dropped the original list topper, Nebraska to third. Llyewyn Davis went on to be named my film of the decade. In a re-revised list I’d move Blue Jasmine to second and Blue is the Warmest Color to fifth.


1. Birdman

2. Under the Skin

3. Boyhood

4. Venus in Fur

5. The Skeleton Twins

6. Top Five

7. Gone Girl

8. Whiplash

9. The Grand Budapest Hotel

10. Foxcatcher

Looks good to me.


1. Carol  (Haynes)

2. The Revenant  (Inarritu)

3. Tangerine  (Baker)

4. The Martian  (Scott)

5. Room  (Abrahamson)

6. Spotlight  (McCarthy)

7. Clouds of Sils Maria  (Assayas)

8. Star Wars: The Force Awaken  (Abrams)

9. Love & Mercy  (Pohlad)

10. Dope  (Famuyiwa)

Another week year. The only revision I’d make would be to move The Clouds of Sils Maria to second.


1 Manchester by the Sea (Lonergan)

2 Paterson (Jarmusch)

3 Moonlight (Jenkins)

4 The Handmaiden (Park)

5 Hell or High Water (Mackenzie)

6 Nocturnal Animals (Ford)

7 The Lobster (Lanthimos)

8 American Honey (Arnold)

9 Hunt for the Wilderpeople (Waititi)

10 Silence (Scorsese)

I got this one spot on too.


1. Personal Shopper (Assayas)

2. Phantom Thread (Anderson)

3. Call Me Be Your Name (Guadagnino)

4. The Florida Project (Baker) 

5. The Disaster Artist (Franco)

6. Wonder Wheel (Allen)

7. Columbus (Kogonada)

8. I, Tonya (Gillespie)

9. The Other Side of Hope (Kaurismaki)

10 . Get Out (Peele)

I’d move The Other Side of Hope to second (what it’s doing way back there at 9th is beyond me) and Wonder Wheel to fourth.


1. First Reformed (Schrader)

2. Roma (Cuaron)

3. Burning Chang-dong Lee)

4. Shoplifters (Koreeda)

5. You Were Never Really Here (Ramsay)

6. The Favourite (Lannthimos)

7. Blackkklansman (Lee)

8. A Star is Born (Cooper)

9. Blindspotting (Estrada)

10. Wildlife (Dano)

I don’t know what Wildlife is doing back at number ten, fourth or fifth seem more like it. Other than that it’s fine.


1. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (Tarantino)

2. Waves (Shults)

3. Parasite (Joon Ho)

4. Little Women (Gerwig)

5. The Irishman (Scorsese) 

6.  Jojo Rabbit (Waititi)

7. Uncut Gems (Safdies)

8. Queen and Slim (Matsoukas)

9. Joker (Phillips)

10. Transit (Petzold)

Again I’ve got a film in the tenth spot (Transit) that deserves to be in the middle and I’d slide The Irishman back a few spaces. Otherwise, good job by me.


1. Promising Young Woman (Fennell)

2. Never Rarely Sometimes Always (Hittman)

3. Mank (Fincher)

4. Nomadland (Zhao)

5. Sound of Metal (Marder)

6. The Assistant (Green)

7. Palm Springs (Barbakow)

8. I'm Thinking of Ending Things (Kaufman)

9. Judas and the Black Messiah (S. King)

10. One Night in Miami (R.King)

Shortly after publishing this much delayed list (thanks for nothing, pandemic) I saw Another Round and if I’d a mind too would have revised the list right then and there and put it at number one. The list is otherwise fine except Palm Springs should be a few spots higher.


1. Drive My Car (Hamaguchi)

2. The Power of the Dog (Campion)

3. Licorice Pizza (P.T. Anderson)

4. The Tragedy of MacBeth (Coen)

5. Red Rocket (Baker)

6. tick, tick...Boom! (Miranda)

7. The Lost Daughter (Gyllenhaal)

8. The Hand of God (Sorrentino)

9. Belfast (Branagh)

10. Spencer (Larrain)

I hit this one out of the ballpark. Drive My Car is in my top 100. The only other films I've watched again are tick, tick and Licorice Pizza. I'd move the latter into second.


  1. Aftersun (Wells)
  2. Babylon (Chazelle)
  3. Eo (Skolimowksi)
  4. Decision to Leave (Chan-wook)
  5. Tar (Field)
  6. The Banshees of Inisherin (McDonagh)
  7. Rifkin’s Festival (Allen)
  8. Petite Maman (Sciamma)
  9. Emily the Criminal (Ford)
  10. All Quiet on the Western Front (Berger)

Other than moving Rifkin’s Festival and Emily the Criminal up a few places and dropping Babylon a couple of spots, I’m happy with this.

In completing the assignment I found that there were far less changes than I’d anticipated. Initial readings of a film are generally correct but with huge exceptions. More often, I noted, I like good films more a second time, sometimes a helluva lot more.

03 November 2023

Onwards and Upwards By Returning to the Scene of Past Crimes, My Changing Employment Status

I’m leaving my current teaching position in one month and returning to the school I taught at in San Francisco for seven and half years.

I’ve been at this school in Berkeley since June 2019 excepting during the pandemic when I was at no school. I’m leaving largely because the school is falling apart at the seams. Efforts are being made to keep the school afloat but they may be too little too late. Enrollment has been ridiculously low since the pandemic and the school has suffered from an absentee director who is finally being replaced.

About that….I very much liked the school director. He was a most amiable chap with whom I shared a love for a particular football (soccer to you Yanks) team in London. We could and did discourse often about footie and a variety of other topics ranging from films to TV to literature to travel to other sports to the political scene. We also talked shop as people who work at the same establishment are want to do.

Before the pandemic there was an academic director at the school but she left for greener pastures. We then had a teacher who worked part time on administrative tasks but with enrollment so low the powers that be deemed that position (part time though it was) an unnecessary expense. We were thus left with the school director as the sole administrator on site. That worked for a bit but when the director’s wife returned to her job from maternity leave, he started staying home with their baby. Initially a few times a week, then every frickin’ day. We teachers were left holding the bag and trying to hold the school together. This was not in our pay grade.

The school director was in the school during business hours three times in September. Four times in October although once for only 20 minutes or so and with baby in tow. This was not sustainable. But it wasn’t even the worst of it. Said school director was slow to respond to emails, phone calls and text messages, that is if he responded at all. This was vexing for us teachers and more importantly for students. Six weeks into a new term (they’re 12 weeks long) he still hadn’t ordered books for one class. Repairs went unrepaired. Simple tasks were not getting done including those things that merely required a phone call or email by said director.

Morale plummeted. One teacher (there were only four us) left for another school. Two other teachers (me included) gave notice. A regular sub quit. Resentments festered. 

Us teachers would — understandably — bitch constantly about Herr Director. But we all agreed that no one wanted to “rat him out.” This we said repeatedly (the director was such a nice chap, a friend to us all). This was a mistake. We were enabling him. Finally the most veteran of the teachers returned from a vacation to see that things had totally deteriorated in his absence. He made the call. I followed up with an email. 

We stopped asking for things from the school director and recommended students do the same. All complaints, issues, requests and questions went to the school’s general manager in Toronto. He responded immediately. He also hired a new school director who will start the week after next.

It’s too late for me. I’m set for my return (commute included) to the SF school. I’m not sure that the place I’m leaving can continue very long especially as their reputation has been crippled by the absentee director.

I no longer consider the now outgoing director a friend. I, like the other teachers, feel that I was taken advantage of. Abused. What he did (or more to the point) didn’t do, was unconscionable. He made endless promises about forthcoming changes. He lied about what he’d done or was going to do. I think he’s in total denial about the mess he made and the manner in which he screwed over teachers, students and the school. Sadly, I can no longer consider him a friend. As recently as last Saturday he sent me a friendly text not related to work. I ignored it. I don’t think he’s an honorable man. I wish him well and hope that he faces what he did and learns from this experience. 

My last day at the school will be December 4, the end of the current term. I’ll have a month off before I return to EF in San Francisco. One reason I decided to go back (besides the obvious fact that I wanted to keep teaching a class) was that the school has moved from near Fisherman’s Wharf to a location walking distance from BART, thus my commute will be infinitely more manageable.

There are only two people left at the school who were there when I left on the first of March 2019. One is the academic director (he was assistant AD when I left) so knowing who’s in charge and having a relationship will be nice. People I can trust. The school is thriving.

The last couple of months have not been easy but I’ve gone through much more trying work situations (I was a middle school teacher of 20 years so you can well imagine). It’s been disillusioning and I’ve lost a friend but I found a good alternative and the rest of life is peachy. So it’s all good.