Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy New Year!

Fireworks, originally uploaded by Blog-Sothoth.

West B'more

West B'more, originally uploaded by Blog-Sothoth.

A beautiful day to climb to the roof and take photos. And block off potential rat entrances.

Conrad for Dummies

I used to teach my freshmen English students an essay by William Golding called Thinking as a Hobby. In it Golding ranked humans into three categories. Grade 3 thinkers never really think. They follow the herd, they shout the herd's slogans, they absorb without processing, their appetites and whims control their actions. Grade 2 thinkers see contradictions and tear things down and critique everyone and everything without ever doing much else. Grade 1 thinkers are original and smart and seek Truth. Golding positioned himself, of course, into this final category, and included Albert Einstein as well. At the end of the piece Golding subtly indicates the tongue-in-cheek nature of his essay by describing a not-so-intellectual meeting with this other Grade 1 thinker.

Before I started discussing the essay with my classes, I'd always ask if they'd read The Lord of the Flies in high school. After the inevitable chorus of affirmatives, we'd get down to business. I went through a long period wondering why it was that my mom had read this in school, and that I'd read it in school, and that now my students had read it in school. Wasn't there anything new to teach 9th graders?

I just revisited The Lord of the Flies for the first time since 9th grade, in preparation for the Praxis II teacher test. Now I understand full-well why English teachers still use it. The themes are enormous and easy to tackle; the symbols are potent and Biblically lush; the story is violent and fun and easy to discuss. Heart of Darkness too tough for your Grade 3 brain? Try The Lord of the Flies.

The Rats in the Walls

Rats are part of city life, of course. We come home from the bar at 2:30 am and they scurry across the road. One time we were with friends and we watched one flee and jump up inside the undercarriage of Cha's car.

But now we have rats in our ceiling, between the roof and the drywall of the master bedroom. At least I presume they're rats, because squirrels aren't nocturnal, and pigeons coo. They wake me at night with their scrabbling around, those little claws scraping the sheetrock. Occasionally they'll gnaw on something and make a more significant sound. I suppose they're gnawing joists. I've heard two at one time, but of course there might be more than that. Cha sleeps through it, though she was up late enough the other evening to hear them for the first time, and she made a perfectly understandable scrunched-up face.

We've not had any mice in the house, and there's no evidence of rats in the basement or inside the living areas of the house at all, but the idea of rats inside the ceiling makes me uncomfortable. Sometimes I fall back asleep after they waken me with their mysterious to-and-fro. Then they'll quiet down and I dream about them. Last night my pillow was sliding down the bed frame and making a clicking sound. In my dream I thought this was a rat coming through the wall and into the pillow, and I awoke terrified. Of course the walls are brick with drywall over top from the roof to the cellar, so it's impossible for anything to travel inside the walls. There are, however, walls around the stairwell which would allow access to the ceilings in the first and second floors.

I can find no access point around the foundation, so these rats are coming in from the roof, or perhaps from one of the neighbor's houses. It's possible they're climbing down what used to be a chimney for an old coal-burning forced-air system. I don't see any other holes in the roof. I don't want to use poison and have dead creatures rotting inside the roof. I went through that at my parents' old farm house in Red Lion, PA. The house backed up to a hill which over the years via erosion had come to touch the eaves at the back of an addition. Through this contact snakes moved into the ceiling of the first floor; we were unaware of this, despite the occasional appearance of a five-foot black snake in the living room or kitchen, until a plumber took down part of the kitchen ceiling and found a dozen twisting serpents entwined around the pipes.

Needless to say he was off his step-ladder rather quickly.

Only then did I notice the stealthy sound of snakes slithering above the plaster ceilings. My parents had the hill dug back from the addition and the eaves sealed, and within a week the entire house stunk to high heaven as dozens of snakes decayed inside the ceilings and walls. I'd rather not have dead rats do the same here. I also don't want to take down the ceiling and trap them. So I'll have to find their route and block it off at a time when they're not inside, if possible, which means getting a pro in, and paying money for it. My experience with pest control companies--all of it commercial experience--doesn't give me confidence in their ability to solve this problem. But I don't want a colony building nests above my bedroom, with the inevitable eventual gnawed access holes through the walls, so professionials it shall be.

In the meantime, we live an HPL tale, presumably without the subterranean antediluvian shrines to Yog-Sothoth.

And--speaking of Yog-Sothoth:

And Cthulu:

Saturday, December 29, 2007

On a wing and a prayer

Terribly depressing little video from the CBC.

every trifle means so much

Another triumphant reissue from the NYRB press. Alexander Berkman, filled with the lofty ideals of philosophic anarchism, was so distressed by the events at Homestead, PA that he walked into Henry Clay Frick's office and pumped him full of lead. Frick survived, and Berkman was sent to the Western Penitentiary of Pennsylvania. His memoir ranks as the best of its kind since Dostoevsky's, and charts his growing humanity under the most dire suppression.

It was a pleasure to revisit Prison Memoirs of an Anarchist at the holiday season. And to think about how little has changed since the days of attentats faded away.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Maligayang pasko

Malagayang pasko, originally uploaded by Blog-Sothoth.

First Xmas at the new place. We got some pretty spectacular loot--thanks everyone!

Now I'm exhausted from all the eating and cleaning and what not. Time to slack!

Thursday, December 27, 2007


Cronenberg makes beautifully troubling films, and with its lush cinematography, its gorgeous performances, and its moral ambiguities, Eastern Promises ranks among his very best. Nobody is better at portraying the seamy side of life, and London's human trafficking underground proves fertile ground for Cronenberg.

Technically Eastern Promises is a masterpiece. I have not seen a film so meticulously well-lit since Sven Nyquist kicked off, and the sumptuous attention to detail rivals Scorcese's The Age of Innocence or Merchant Ivory's Remains of the Day. This is the best gangster flick since The Godfather, and the first since The Godfather which does not simply ape Coppola's approach.

If there is any justice in the world, Viggo Mortensen will carry a Best Actor Oscar home early in '08. He fully inhabits his character, and is utterly convincing as a Russian mobster. Mortensen literally lets it all hang out in a combat scene you will never forget. I think this will go down as one of the great performances of its time, and for his performance to stand out in this film says a lot, because everyone is terrific.

Watch only if you have the stomach necessary for it, however.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007


A cuppa holiday cheer from the Telegraph.

[image credit]


I had this on the CD changer already when I heard he died.


Season IV of The Wire pretty accurately recreates what I know of the Baltimore City school system: the senseless and politically motivated push for test scores above all else; the chaotic Wild West landscape the children inhabit daily; the supremely dysfunctional families they come from; the group homes; the "no snitching" mentality. I've seen all of this (and more) in my brief tenure at Booker T. Cha and I were watching an episode where Randy's foster mother suggests transferring him to Booker T. to get away from the problems at Tilghman Middle. We had a good laugh over that.

Season IV is more politically focused than the previous seasons, which frustrates some fans. I however like the back-room shenanigans as thinly veiled caricatures of (current gov and former mayor) Martin O'Malley and (former City Council Pres and current mayor) Sheila Dixon connive to fuck up each others' shit. Things simmer quietly through the first 11 episodes, and then everything boils over. Now we have to wait a full year for Season V on DVD, either that, or pay for fucking HBO. It concentrates from what I've heard on the local media, which is another fucked-up aspect of Charm City.

Favorite Baltimore in-jokes? Former Gov. Ehrlich playing a state house security guard, and former Police Chief and master of hidden bank accounts Norris playing a homicide detective of the same name. Biggest disappointments? Jimmy McNulty is under-utilized, as is Detective Griggs. But you get plenty of Bunk, which is a plus. And Omar Little whistles again.

Sunday, December 23, 2007


Eli and Samuel, originally uploaded by Blog-Sothoth.

Our pew finally arrived. It was salvaged from a church demolition over on Saint Paul Street. The tiles on each end were made by a well-known German tile maker in the 1850s. Of course salvage guys will tell you anything.

Eli gives Samuel a stern talking to about his revealing robes.

Blow Back

Saw Charlie Wilson's War yesterday. It's entertaining, and tells a story few Yanks know. What makes it more a film than a movie is the surprising subtlety of its criticism of covert meddling by Americans in an effort to embarrass the Soviets*. Hanks and Hoffman are very good, but Julia Roberts again is simply a mannequin pushed around the screen. Why does she have such star power?

Will its audience realize that we have of late been doing exactly the same terrible things the Soviets did to Afghanis? To quote Philip Seymour Hoffman as Gust in the film: "We'll see."

*And what's missing from the film is the fact that Carter Administration figures conspired to lure the Soviets into Afghanistan in the first place--as Zbigniew Brzezinski has acknowledged. So who's really to blame for Soviet atrocities in Afghanistan?

Saturday, December 22, 2007

The Figure, Called on the Carpet

I keep reading reviews of the new Novick volume of Henry James biography. All damn and praise Novick in equal measure, and make me want to read him. David Leavitt blasts Novick for his ambiguities and for failing to include James's friendship with Constance Fenimore Cooper, and then:

Still, this biography has its distinct virtues. Novick superbly parses James’s sometimes contradictory political views and his acquaintance with the politicians of the day. He is also very good on James’s approach-avoidance relationship to the world of the theater and on his highly ambivalent attitude toward his own Americanness. And when Novick discusses the late novels — which he clearly loves — the genius of James sometimes inhabits and energizes his prose. Describing the notoriously difficult syntax of “The Ambassadors,” he writes: “Shadows are not black but infused with color: double negatives take the place of bare assertions — each quality that is denied adds a dimension to one that is affirmed.” This is an eloquent and extremely helpful observation, as well as one worth keeping in mind when trying to bring the elusive James into focus. It’s also a comment that left me eager to reread James’s novels.

I haven't read old Henry in quite some time, and last time I did so I was unamused (The Princess Casamassima can bite me). But when I read The Ambassadors the first time it killed me. That scene where Lambert Strether sees Chad in the boat with Mme de Vionnet? Strether suffers first the realization that he was been duped and used and mislead by virtually everyone he's met in Europe, and secondly realizes that his own life is cold, bare, and devoid of passion or experience when compared to that of his young quarry. A theme which, of course, recurs a great deal in the short fiction. And a scene and a novel which rank among my very favorites.

But why read James again? I'm not getting a PhD--I'm teaching 8th grade.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Get it on

Forget Xmas and New Years and Hannukah and Kwaanza and the Solstice and whatnot. The real celebration is tomorrow.

Give the gift that keeps on giving. And it's ok to get one for yourself too while you're at it. And if you're flying solo these days--love the one you're with!

[image credit]

Thursday, December 20, 2007


A strange and hilarious little film, with a jangly Ennio Morricone soundtrack. A father and son set out to collect rent from the shabby renters of a run-down property. Along the way they are joined by a raven who happens to be a philosopher. The raven hops along the road with them and tells them a cute allegory about faith and religious factionalism. In the allegory the same two actors play medieval monks who are charged by Saint Francis with converting sparrows and hawks. Saint Francis has a vision of Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, which ties into the raven's Marxist-Leninist tirades in the main narrative.

I know this sounds heavy, dude, but it's not. Mostly the film is made up of speeded-up footage of people flying through the air and chasing each other a la Benny Hill. How can you go wrong?

The raven tries to get the father and son to see the meaning of his allegory and the true message of the Christ by drawing parallels to current Italian politics. But his message doesn't sink in, and he himself is made into an allegory of Christ via transubstantiation into food.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Day 74

Lukie fell on the dance floor last Saturday night while dancing drunkenly to Prince at a party. She jumped up and continued dancing, but apparently has a concussion. She had to leave and go to the doctor's today. I hope she's ok, because she is the only teacher on the 2nd floor team the kids respect and listen to.

After she left I taught 3rd period, and those kids ate me alive. They wouldn't pay attention to the lesson, they wouldn't respond to questions, so finally I gave them their classwork and said "Obviously you're all experts, so I don't have to show you how to do this today." I told them what to do and watched them for a few minutes as they continued talking and goofing. Then I turned, wrote "Phone Calls Home" on the board, and started writing names of kids who were talking in phonetic Arabic script. After about 30 seconds Timothy shouted "Yo that's my name bitch! Why you writin' my name!? Mr. Ahmad show me that shit." I said "Why do you think I wrote your name up there?" "Cuz I'm talkin'."

Then the class got quiet. They all wanted to know if their names were on the board. "I think you can guess if your name is on the board. If you were doing your classwork quietly, then your name is not up there. Anyone who hands in their classwork today will come off the board. Everyone whose name is still on the board at the end of class will get a phone call home."

I erased three names out of 14 students by the end of class.

Then I escorted them to lunch. Yasmine, who was in a pissy mood, started shoving another 8th grade girl at just about the point of the cafeteria where Omar gets into a knife fight in The Wire. I thought "I'm too tired for this," but then saw a cocked fist and tried to surf the sudden wave of students crashing over and through the tables to watch. I got to the fighters quickly but couldn't get them apart. They had fistfulls of each others' hair weaves and wouldn't let go, so I turned my back to them and pressed them back against the wall. A 60-gallon Rubbermaid trashcan flew through the air and bounced off my head, but I kept pushing until the girls let go of each other. Then I got between them and grabbed Yasmine's upper arms. She is not big or strong, but she is wiry. She twisted and threw a punch at her quarry which missed and hit me in the eye. Then they were fighting again. I realized I was the only adult mixing it up with about 100 kids, but then Officer Black arrived, put Yasmine on the floor and sprayed mace indiscriminantly. Many of the onlookers hungry for blood got squirted and began coughing. Yasmine had two fistfulls of fake hair, she was gagging and crying on her stomach and Officer Black was standing over her with his boot on her neck. Mr. B the new Principal arrived and started doling out two-week suspensions to kids who wouldn't sit and shut up. "This is my house," he shouted. "You are guests and I am inviting you to leave."

It took twenty minutes, but we got the cafeteria under control. Walking back to class I heard kids saying things like "Yo, there the mufucka who got bashed by a trash can!" and "Bet he glad them cans is rubber!"

The holiday break cannot come quickly enough. Jesus.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Song Remains the Same

Yeah, I saw the Youtube clips of Led Zeppelin's reunion show. Yeah, they sounded pretty good. Even Jason Bonham was good (and I'm eating crow here)--certainly not on a par with his dad pounding away with a bellyfull of vodka--but rather good nevertheless.

Of course I only watched Kashmir, and only half of that. I mean, can anyone still listen to all of Kashmir?

So after these Youtube clips I was beset by rabid Zep-heads who assured me all weekend that Led Zeppelin were going to re-form and do a massive stadium tour.

Allow me to burst your bubble with the following interview of Robert Plant, which appeared in the December 6-12 (before the reunion show) issue of Paris Match, and which was translated from the French by yours truly. (Please bear with my rushed translation--I'm no pro!). Robert not only says he won't participate, but he slams his band mates a bit to boot:

Since the group separated in 1980, Led Zeppelin have never harkened to the sirens moaning for their reformation. This week, however, the three surviving members and Jason Bonham, the son of John, gave a concert at a London event paying hommage to Ahmet Ertegun, who founded Atlantic Records. For the 23,000 tickets sold, 23 million people participated in an online lottery in hopes of obtaining the precious seats. One of these tickets sold for 84,000 Euros. We spoke with the singer Robert Plant on this occasion.

PM: What pushed you to reform Led Zeppelin?
This is not a reformation! The widow of Ahmet Ertegun called me to ask if we would pay hommage to her husband. I have no interest in reforming Led Zeppelin, but I could not refuse her. And, for a long time, Jason has dreamed of playing in place of his father. This is a means of pleasing him, but also a way to end this history once and for all.

PM: Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones have already said they are ready to do a tour...
So great for them! I don't envy them. Jimmy and John have not had a real career since the end of the group. Me, I am very happy with my life, I've evolved musically, this gives me pleasure. I am not at all nostalgiac about this epoch. Do a long tour? What interest is there in that? Only a unique moment creates an event. I have no need for money.

PM: How did the rehearsals go?
Led Zeppelin is always a formidable machine. We started in June, in secret, to see if it would work. At the beginning, we could only play for 20 minutes. But Jason is so convincing that it became clear to us to give a concert. He's a stunning boy, he knows the career of the group better than us, and has prepared himself for this concert for 20 years!

PM: Rumor has it that your voice doesn't permit you to hit the high notes.
It's true, because I was warming up! Who can sing opera without training? For now, I cannot sing Immigrant Song which forces me to push my voice. But from this point on until the show, I will be ready.

PM: You took advantage of this reunion to do a duo album with Alison Krauss. Opportunism?
Absolutely not! I started with her at the turn of the year. This is a project which has taken me by the heart for several years. We have finally found the time to record an album. Frankly, this excites me much more than playing the old rock star who shouts "Mamma, mamma, mamma" in front of thousands of people.

How can Plant claim that the composer of that beautiful Death Wish III soundtrack has had no career since Led Zep disbanded?

Monday, December 17, 2007

Day 72

The kids were simply rotten today. Last week they got their high school applications, and this pushed many hopeful kids off the cliff into complete despair. In Baltimore City, there are some really excellent high schools with high academic standards, but the kids need a certain GPA and decent scores on their high school entrance exams in order to apply. Otherwise, they have a shot at some decent schools with no entrance critera, or a slim chance to get selected by a one of the good City-wide schools in a lottery. Out of all the terrible things I've seen at Booker T. this year, the worst was watching 13-year-olds realize that they had no chance to get into a good school. Many of them had test-scores in the lowest tenth percentile nationally on their Terra Nova tests. Some of these kids are quite smart, but have simply not taken their schooling seriously. Watching the most outspoken, care-free kids become instantaneously crestfallen was not easy. Having their options limited to such a degree at age 13 is a grim reality for these kids, whose options were already rather scant. Some kids protested that their scores weren't correct. We had the guidance counselor in the room to show them how their scores were calculated and to keep telling them: "I told you how important your grades were for last year and this year. I told you to take things seriously. I told you this would happen and you rolled your eyes at me."

Most of these kids will end up at their zoned high school, which means more of the same: a chaotic and dangerous environment, burned-out cynical faculty, terrible administrators, sadistic school police, disinterested parents, crumbling communities, no gym/music/art or after-school programs, misdirected, stolen, or absent resources etc, etc. And it's quite likely more than half of them will drop out.

There's some good news. We finally have a principal in the building. He's a preacher and he's been a VP in the school system for years. Many faculty members think a strong, no-nonsense African-American male will automatically turn the school around; it will be hard for anyone, but I'm hopeful, particularly since we've had no principal at all since January of last year. A strong principal can have a big impact; other wretched City schools have recovered once they got a good administrator in the building. We met Dr. B. today and he was dressed to the nines in a well-tailored suit. He patted his belly and said "You can see I like to eat. I can see by looking around that some of you all like to eat too. Well, to eat we have to work. And to work we have to work together, because a school is like a ship, and if this ship sinks it will be hard for us to eat. I need you to do your jobs." Etc.

Three hours later I was still breaking up fights in the hallway, chasing Montrise out of the smokers' lounge in the dark stairwell, and taking away the tests of students who were talking or text-messaging answers to each other.

GEI Party

GEI Party 1, originally uploaded by Blog-Sothoth.

On Friday we hosted a gathering for my fellow Balto City teaching interns. These are some of the poor saps who've run the gamut woth me this fall, teaching half-time and taking a shit-load of graduate ed classes during the evenings, afternoons, and weekends.

We drank a lot, ate a lot, and kvetched. After one more week we get a nice long holiday break. Then, it's back to the grind with intense Winterim courses in January. In March we take over duties from our teacher mentors in the City while finishing up our certification and Masters' of Ed.

These folks are the best thing about the GEI program. Many of them are out-of-staters who wanted to help Baltimore City kids. There are North Carolinians, Michiganers, and West Virginians cutting their teeth in East and West Baltimore middle schools. God bless 'em.

End of two eras

For six years or so we've been making monthly treks to Mick O'Shea's in order to see friends play music. Over the years there have been personel changes but Move Like Seamus has kept on. Founding member Thundergod played his last gig with the band on Saturday, and he will be sorely missed. But he will still be playing music, which is cool with us.

Long-time member Ellen Cherry also played her last chords with the band on Saturday. She's off to concentrate on her own thing, leaving us to wonder: who will sing "Jolene" for Seamus now, dammit?

With a new CD and big CD release parties scheduled next month, we'll forgive her. And look forward to the big B'more party January 19th.

We'll also look forward to the new incarnation of Move Like Seamus. What does Earthdragon have up his sleeve?

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Wire

We just watched episode 7 of Season 4. So far the re-creation of City schools is reasonably accurate (though kids carry sunflower seeds, not pistachios). There's a prison knife-fight in the episode, filmed in the stairwell outside our school cafeteria and inside the cafeteria, which cracks me up. That stairwell is like a prison, with a ridiculous wrought iron cage the kids swing from as they run down the steps. It makes me happy to see Omar Little walking where I work every day.

Also, the kid who copied his math homework from a girl and copied her name at the top too is in my homeroom and first period class. He's a smart-ass. I took his test away and gave him a zero for talking just last week. I didn't know he was in the show.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

No Tell

No Tell, originally uploaded by Blog-Sothoth.

I took this after watching Lafayette Gilchrist and the New Volcanoes at Joe Squared across North Ave. Yeah, it's blurry. I had a lot of bloody marys.

For fans of The Wire: Omar Little pays a visit to Brother Mouzone during season two at this very hotel.

Top Ten

WTMD radio is asking for listeners to submit their Top Ten Albums of All Time lists for an inevitable New Year's countdown. Because I actually have a bit of leisure time for once, I filled out their little form.

My choices aren't actually my favorite current Top Ten Albums. I took "All-Time" to mean the albums that were the most important, the albums that somehow perfectly meshed into their time of discovery as a sort of soundtrack to life, albums that eventually led me other interesting places. Perhaps a couple on my All Time list rarely get played anymore.

So, whatever--here they are, in no particular order. They'd change if I did this again next week.

Honorable Mention:

The image is destructible, but few can do without it

I've read several of her husband's books and thought I should pick up one of Isha's. R.A. did astronomical and geometric studies of the temple complex at Karnak and sought to recreate the hermetic philosophy of the Egyptians encoded in stone millennia ago. His works are either the most damnable crock-a-doodle-doo ever cranked out by a nut-job, or they're the most significant disregarded discovery of modern times. I enjoy them either way.

In Her-Bak, a young boy from the farming caste becomes an initiate of the temple peristyle and finally is granted access to the Inner Sanctum at Karnak. As expected, R.A.'s theories about the Symbolique and Egyptians' methods of communication and mentation feature prominently. Some of his more oblique arguments benefit from her fictionalization--the Schwallers as a team apparently believed in differentiation of teaching styles for a variety of learners.

But is it a good novel? No. I'd only recommend it to fellow members of the lunatic fringe, who see with the heart as much as with the eye.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007


Silenus recommended this. Part David Lynch, part La Jetee, part Pigs in Space. Easily the best musical I've seen since Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Strange, surprising, and damnably silly.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007


Oh, God. Kwa'li and Klezma invited us out for dinner for his birthday. We were happy to go, and pleased at the chance to try out the Brazilian meat house known as Fogo de Chao.

Let's just say that gout sufferers belong nowhere near this place. I don't eat red meat, but I still likely ate myself into an attack. Holy shit. This is the Horn and Horn Smorgasborg for rich muthafuckas.

Lasciate ogni speranza voi ch'entrate

I thought that we'd get a nice break today. The students were taking a City-wide unit assessment, so teaching duties would be at a minimum.

First period went fine. P. More, gang-banger and terribly difficult to handle, was back after nearly three months. She'd been put on long-term suspension and then never returned after her term was up. She took her test quietly.

During third period a student told me he was going to commit suicide. He was on the floor in the hallway and I was trying to coax him into class. He burst into tears. I got him to calm down and got him into the classroom at least. Then the principal came on the announcements and ordered us to evacuate the building. We did this in as disorderly and dangerous a fashion as possible, with kids running rampant, stopping at their lockers, and tripping and pushing each other down the stairs. Apparently somebody had lit up one of the girls' bathrooms on the first floor with rolled up paper balls and a lighter. Smoke billowed down the hall, eliciting excited whoops and cheers from our young charges. Two ladder trucks rolled up, making hundreds of uncontrollable teens even more frenzied. The fire, alas, was extinguished quickly. Rumor has it the last remaining toilet seat in the girl's room was burned. Timothy got in a fight on the way back to class.

I saw a student who'd been taken out of my class and put in GT. I asked how he was doing, he gave me an elaborate hand-shake and said "I ran into some bad fellas and they was smokin' some shit called 'Haze.' I think some of that deadly second-hand got up in here 'cuz I feel a little sleepy. They was blowing smoke rings shaped like pitbulls and shit." Shaq and Will were also obviously high.

We went back in the school. After class I went to the office to tell the principal that a student had threatened suicide. I couldn't find her, and I was just coming out the secure office door and into the lobby when P. More burst in. She took off her black skull cap and threw it across the counter. "Call my muthafuckin' mother! Call my muthafuckin' mutha!" I pulled the door shut behind me and said "Hey, we'll call, what happened?" She bumped me and said "Just call her bitches. Fuck this fucking place." She was crying and barely coherent. She jumped up on the counter and tried to climb over into the main office, but Lukie and Miss R. the secretary restrained her. "Don't touch me bitches," P. said. Miss R. took her out in the hall by the arm and two police officers and the hall monitor had to take over when P. had a complete meltdown and started throwing kicks and punches. I got several students back into the office lobby and out of her way, the police jumped her shit and put her in cuffs. She was kicking and screaming and trying to bite them. As they walked past I heard a sickening thud and P. slumped forward and started sobbing. The school social worker said "Did you see that? That cop punched her in the eye. She was already restrained."

"I didn't see it," I said. "But I heard it." The social worker looked at me with anger. I knew right away that she thought I was afraid to speak up, but honestly I didn't see it. I was behind the cops when I heard the sound and couldn't see what they were doing--I saw their backs and P.'s legs dragging behind them. The social worker started asking other adults if anyone had seen the cop punch a child in restraints. All of them said "I didn't see it," even the ones who'd obviously seen it. A student stepped forward. "I saw them bitches bang her in the eye."

So I was off to the social worker's office, and thence to the guidance counselor's office, to report my suicide threat student and to make a statement about not seeing but hearing police brutality. When I got back to class Lukie said Timothy had pushed her and that another student had stepped in and pulled Timothy away. That's intolerable. In fact most of what happened today is intolerable.

Saturday, December 08, 2007


One watches with alarm Klaus Kinski's portrayal of Franz Woyzeck. At several points of the film I found myself certain that Kinski was a dangerously sick man. How much "acting" was he really doing?

Herzog films it like a stage play, with a completely stationary camera and limited cutting. The actors therefore have to play to the camera a bit as they move, the way one moves consciously with a live audience to ensure the face is presented to as many spectators as possible, etc. This approach works well, and recalls early silent film and the exagerated physicality of characters' (actors') emotings (back of the hand to the forward swoon, clutching the sides of the face in fear, darting eyes of the scheming villain).

Herzog's film is entirely without music, so after watching it you can listen to Alban Berg.

Few directors can pull of a film that is at once deeply disturbing and funny. Herzog often does so, and at times with Kinski's assistance.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Hands Down

Undisputedly the greatest headline I've ever read that wasn't in The Weekly World News.

Day 67

Today I taught first and third periods. The kids were, for the most part, little darlings. Lukie observed and took notes. She said "You really had them in line today. They were excellent!"

My response? "I didn't do a damn thing differently from last Wednesday when they handed me my own ass on a platter. It's completely at their whim." Every morning the principal announces over the loudspeaker: "We're about to receive our little darlings. Remember--it's not their school, it's ours." What a laugh. We all know who's boss.

Their behavior was excellent but their classwork wasn't. We finished reading "The Diary of Anne Frank" and the students had to answer several questions. One question was: "Anne mentions that Jews are not the only people who have 'suffered.' List another race that has suffered." Lukie and I thought this was a softball question, one that would generate good discussion--um, no. I had to assist one-on-one nearly every student. "The answer isn't in the book, I don't know!" After helping a dozen African American students who--with leading questions--still couldn't think of an answer, I went from incredulous to downright angry. How could 25 underpriviliged African American students NOT think of an answer to this question?

I hoped the third period class would fare better--but again was disappointed. I spent three minutes asking one student leading questions, and finally said "Can you think of any group or race who has faced oppression because of their skin color?" Something clicked at last and he said "Oh yeah! Indians!" Not the obvious answer, but a good one.

Timothy has been in a foul mood for days, and has kept his head down on his desk for Language Arts class all week. Today he was apparently listening to my mounting frustration as I walked around the room trying to help kids answer this question, because he finally said "It's black people! Black people you dumb ass mu-fuckers! Jesus! Haven't you ever heard of slavery!?" Then he put his head back down on the desk as his classmates started scribbling, exclaiming "Oh yeah!" and "Of course!" and "Duh!"

Thursday, December 06, 2007

"testing ground for the streets"

Ed Burns on The Wire's fourth season.

Compare to this story, sent along by Conniption this afternoon.

Oh, yeah

According to the handy package tracker at Amazon, The Wire season 4 should arrive this evening.

I might talk a good game about my high-fallutin' motives for becoming a Baltimore City school teacher--but the real reason was so I could judge the accuracy of this season's portrayal of the B'more City School system.

At least one of my current students is in the show, and it was filmed in part at our school. The Mrs. and I will likely watch more than a few episodes this weekend.

Day 66

Two hour delay, originally uploaded by Blog-Sothoth.

The school opened two hours late today, but staff still had to report on time. It was nice to have a couple hours to shoot the shit and get some homework done.

Less than half the students showed up anyhow. Those that did were relatively docile.

Tonight they light the Monument in Mount Vernon--always a good time. Fireworks, free cookies and cider at the Walters, and the Peabody concert are on our agenda.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Day 65

Today, during a simple walk to the Men's Faculty restroom and back, I:
  • stopped Rasheer from bashing a 7th grade boy in the head with a chair
  • stepped between a faculty member and an 8th grader as they started shoving each other
  • was hit by a flying muffin in the back
  • was hit in the side of the head by what I believe to be a white marble or possibly bracelet bead
  • was asked by an out-of-breath school police officer if I'd seen a girl in a white hat brandishing a large knife
  • broke up a fight between TJ and three 7th graders
  • saw a girl in a white hat with a knife running down the stairs

Topping everything off, we had no heat in our classroom today. It was 40 degrees. The principal yelled at us because we were allowing students to wear hoodies and jackets over their uniform shirts. "You gotta be consistent with the rules!" she screamed. Not when there's no fucking heat we don't!

The holiday break can't come soon enough. Today I finished with grad class number 6, and Saturday will mark the end of grad class number 7. 21 credits in 3 months. Whew.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Day 64

While not working on their comprehension guide for "The Diary of Anne Frank," Will and Maurice wave me over. Thinking they want help with one of the questions, I ask what they need.

"You hittin' that yet?" Will asks, pointing at Lukie. "Tell the truth now. We all knows you hittin' it." Every time Lukie wears slacks instead of a skirt the young men get a bit distracted and start asking me this. The last time Lukie wore slacks E. Muffin told me his tummy felt funny when he looked at her.

I've been through this with the kids a dozen times and it never sinks in. I tell them that no, Lukie and I are not having an affair, and I explain further that Lukie has a handsome young boyfriend and doesn't need to chase after ugly old men, while I have a lovely wife and I have no intention of screwing that up.

"I'd hit that if I was you," Maurice says.

Will points at Miss P the special educator. "You hittin' her instead? I bet you hittin' both of 'em. I'd hit both of 'em. They both got back."

Then Maurice tells me I should change my hairstyle. "Them ladies be on you if you had a fade."

During class Mr. C has a major fist-fight break out in his room. The gayest kid in 8the grade calls Mr. C "faggy ass," and Chanell, who was suspended for fighting earlier this year, jumps in and says "You the gayest muthafucka in school and you gonna call Mr. C gay?" The two of them start throwing punches at each others' heads. They fall on top of and then behind Mr. C's desk. Lukie runs over to help break it up. I hear later that Chanell handled her business. Both of them get jacked up for two days.

In third period Benard calls me over to help him with his comprehension guide. The question asks how Peter and Anne's relationship has changed since they first moved into the Secret Annex. Benard is confused by it. I ask some questions to get him thinking about Act II, Scene I, and the talk Peter and Anne have. "Oh, I get it. They started by fighting a lot, but now they like you and Miss Lukie!"

Monday, December 03, 2007

Day 64

Dru Hill is one of least favorite students. He's rude, he's childish, he's spoiled. He isn't without intelligence or charm but acts like an ass 99% of the time. For homework the kids had to answer a question about "The Diary of Anne Frank" and Dru wrote: "Fucking Nazis are Jew bastard pussies." He thought that was funny. Lukie called his mom and while she was telling her about his behavior Dru walked up to her desk and threw a condom on it. "Tell her about that, too, bitch!" he shouted. Then he started dancing at the front of the classroom. We bounced him from the class and sent him to the office.

Later he jumped on my back in the hallway and wrapped his arms around my chest and arms in some hare-brained attempt to drop me. I shrugged him off and he went down hard on his stomach; I didn't intend to do it but when someone jumps on my back and I have no warning I react instinctively.

"Dag, Dru," TJ said. "Mr. G dropped you on your nut."

Monkey Business

Having taught college kids for seven years, I don't find the results of this study the least bit surprising. I know some chimps and apes have learned vocabularies of several hundred words. That's in excess of the vocabularies of many Towson University freshmen.

Friday, November 30, 2007

ratty wharf

ratty wharf, originally uploaded by Blog-Sothoth.

A lovely day to avoid homework and stroll around the water in Fell's Point.

Dark satanic sugar mills

Dark satanic sugar mills, originally uploaded by Blog-Sothoth.

In belated honor of Blake's birthday, the dark satanic Domino's Sugar mills at the Inner Harbor.

Day 62

My hair was getting bushy, so I shaved it off. Just like last time, this amused the kids or disgusted them. Nat Turner, who told me I looked like a toad last time, said "You a skillet. You look like the old frying pan." Yasmine said "I don't like you like that." Yasmine herself is bald as a billiard ball. She wears a short wig on top and a long fake pony tail in back. I know she's bald because she was in a fight last week with a 7th grade boy who ended up running down the hall with Yasmine's hair pieces. Half the kids at Booker T.--including most of the girls--have shaved heads, and yet I get a hard time for it. Perhaps I'll buy some fake hair too.

I attended my first IEP meeting. Candi is a wonderful and quiet young girl who rarely gets to first period on time. We had an administrator, two teachers, a social worker, and a special educator in the room. Candi is so shy she wouldn't speak on her own behalf. Occasionally she nodded or shook her head. Her parents are supposed to be included in the process, but her mother is hospitalized. Terrifically obese, Candi's mom is about four months into her ninth pregnancy, and has breathing and mobility problems. Lukie and I met her earlier in the school year when we were trying to get Candi to show up to school on time, and it was obvious that the woman was incapable of raising the kids she already had.

The subject of lateness came up as we discussed educational interventions to help Candi. Candi only spoke once during the entire meeting, in response to "Why are you late every morning?" She said she had to take her baby brothers to school before coming to Booker T. While her mother is in the hospital this 13-year-old is taking care of six younger siblings. Alone. I thought about making her do a fourth draft of her memoir essay last week because she didn't have enough detail, and felt like a heel. She wrote about trying to keep her older brother out of prison by teaching him to do the right thing. He had two strikes already. She's got all this stuff on her plate, and it's amazing we get any homework out of her. I certainly couldn't have handled such a workload at that age. I couldn't do it now.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

A quarter millennium of cleansed perceptions

3 Quarks Daily informs us that today is William Blake's 250th birthday. I was scarred for life by a doctorate-level class on Blake and Shelly and New Historicist Criticism while earning that first MA nearly 15 years ago. I'll skip Los and those pesky Emanations and in place of some verse about Jerusalem on England's shore I'll post an image. Have a happy, Bill.

like a lead balloon

The Contrarian keeps posting about Led Zep. And making me laugh.

I adored Led Zep. I wore their LPs out. To this day, when I hear a Led Zep track, I still hear the pops and scratches from those old LPs in my memory. As much as I loved them and for as long as that love lasted in my blasted mis-spent youth, I can't generate an iota of excitement over the idea of a reunion show. Mostly because I wore that shit out. But also because I saw Jimmy Page on tour with Jason Bonham on drums in like 1986 or '87 at the now demolished Cap Center near DC, and that ranks as one of the worst musical experiences of my entire life. It was worse than one of the musical variety shows they have at amusement parks with painfully earnest Lawrence Welk singing of hit song medlies by pudgy guys and gals in what appear to be fast food restaurant uniforms. With styrofoam hats on. The only other concert for which I paid money that was nearly as awful as Jimmy Page live was Eric Clapton at the Cap Center in the late 80s. He played "I Shot the Sheriff" for like two hours, with that standard yawn-inducing solo he always plays for 1 hour and 53 minutes. And then Phil Collins did "In the Air Tonight" and it was mercifully over.

Jason Bonham as a drummer is at about the level of Tommy Lee, whose greatest claim to fame (as a drummer*) was sitting in a drum kit that rose into the air and spun upside down. At the Cap Center show Jason played his drums by remote control from the front of the stage. The lights were down and there was some kind of loud thumping sound that resembled good drumming--the crowd became interested, and the lights came up and Jason Bonham was standing at the front of the stage, pointing at his drums with his sticks. That was the only interesting thing that happened on the drums during the whole concert, and Jason Bonham had nothing to do with it.

The only other interesting thing to happen that evening was Jimmy Page falling off his stool drunk while trying to remember "Kashmir." He was playing it with a bow, and dropped the bow, tried to pick it up, and fell off the stool. In those crazy bell bottoms.

Page can't play live. He's abysmal. Plant should stick to singing countrified duets with far better singers. John Paul Jones should keep doing whatever he's not doing now that he's not playing bass or groovy blues keyboards. I fully expect the mighty Bonzo Bonham to continue doing what he's doing; that's as it should be.

*his true claim to faim is unveiled in that video. You know the one.

Day 61

No sleep last night. Felt strange, wired, tense. Finally gave up around 4am and simply got out of bed. Read half the current NYRB sitting bleary-eyed in the chilly kitchen with a cup of coffee, and likely absorbed a third of what I read. Did the same with Harper's.

School was miserable today. Strangely I didn't feel tired, but the kids have been abominable all week, and I was front-and-center teaching first and third periods today. I had to drop a ten-pound teacher's edition text from over my head to get their attention at 8:06. I simply could not get control of the class. They were shouting, pushing, laughing, wrestling, throwing things. I had Lukie and two special educators in the room and we could not reign them in. When the text hit the floor it made a loud crack that drew them all up. "Thank you," I said in the sudden silence. For the first time all eyes were on me. We were able to move on with The Diary of Anne Frank, but I lost control again before the end of class.

Third period was worse. I couldn't get them to sit and shut up for the first ten minutes, and depleted my entire bag of tricks trying to do so. Finally I took the same abused teacher's edition and slammed it flat on the chalkboard with as much force as I thought was possible without breaking the slate. That got their attention. It also got the attention of the principal and the school police officer, who rushed over and opened the door. "What was that?" the Principal asked. I gave them the "I don't know" shoulder shrug and left it at that. The kids behaved for about ten minutes before completely falling apart again.

Some days it's just like that. The last time I ran these classes solo the kids were darlings. I guess the novelty of having the new guy take over from time-to-time is wearing off. Now they want to test me and see what I'll tolerate. It's hard working from somebody else's lesson plans. Were I completely in charge I'd have a quiz for them to do, and as soon as they got out of line I'd make them close their books and do it while I sat at the front of the room and called their houses. All in good time.

I could have it worse. They respect me more than the math or science teachers, or the social studies substitute they threw books and staplers at yesterday. She was hit in the face by a thrown cell phone, but came back today anyway.

The school year is one-third done. Whew.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007


No Country for Old Men is the darkest, most violent Coen Bros film since Blood Simple, and it surpasses the earlier film on both counts by a fair piece. I saw it last Wednesday night and have mulled it over a great deal since.

The script sticks remarkably well to the book, and what changes were made were mostly sensible given the time constraints of a Hollywood film. The cast are all bar none excellent in their roles. There are moments of great beauty and delicious suspense.

And yet I was curiously dis-satisfied after. Perhaps reading the book literally the day before was a mistake? Maybe I should wait a while and see it again before passing judgment, but I'm not sure at this point that I care to see it again*. Is No Country for Old Men a new Deliverance? A corn-pone Goodfellas? I'm conflicted. There's a bit of monologue spoken at one of his victims by Anton Chigurh in the book, and a key confession by the Sheriff that were expunged from the script. I think they need re-insertion for the film to work a bit better.

Or--don't read the danged novel and enjoy the ride.

*I would, however, care to see Blood Simple again.

[image credit]

Monday, November 26, 2007

None seen, none heard, none spoken

Wednesday, November 21, 2007


Baltimore Landmarks, originally uploaded by Blog-Sothoth.

Something called the Schmap Guide is going to use a couple of my Flickr photos in their upcoming Baltimore update. This is the most exciting thing to happen to my Flickr account since that cave ecosystem scientist used several of my photos from the Yucatan on his website.

Someday I'll have time again to walk around with the camera and take more pictures. Hopefully not blurry ones.

Day 56

The day before Thanksgiving. The students read their memoir essays in front of class today. Lots of "bangin'" fist-fights, lots of "the time I got locked up for stealing cars," lots of "my boyfriend and me was fussin'."

Some essays were rather excellent. One young lady wrote about testifying at the trial of her father's female killer. Another described the death of her baby cousin from SIDS. One young man described going to jail for sexual misconduct after having sex with his girlfriend in the girl's locker room. In sixth grade.

We had a good time celebrating the students' writing. Even the nasty fist-fight which broke out in the hall couldn't get us down.

The accounting is scrupulous. The shape is drawn.

I would like to see the film version, so ordered the book and read it in a day. No Country for Old Men is fairly typical Cormac McCarthy. The setting is more contemporary than usual, and the vernacular less Scriptural, but the violence and the prime movers of plot are familiar, as are the themes. The novel lacks a white-hatted hero; those who come closest to this ideal are dispatched gruesomely. One is left wondering if the brutal killer Chigurh has a point when he explains his own morality, his method of living: "I have no enemies. I don't permit such a thing." When contrasted with the "good" characters in the novel, Chigurh comes across as pure and focused and certainly the least troubled by conscience.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Henry the VIIIth I am I am

So last Friday my right big toe started hurting like it was all banged up and twisted. I couldn't move the joint at all and anytime the toe touched anything (including sheets or pillows) I felt a sharp, nigh unbearable pain. At school I was hobbling around like a club-foot trying to chase teenage boys. Saturday the pain got worse, and I started wondering what the hell I did. I had no memory of smashing or twisting or straining my toe, and could not account for this peculiar recurring injury. The same pain had happened for a day or two about three months back.

Then it hit me. Doc H at my last physical had said my uric acid levels were elevated, so I figure I'm suffering one of the many family curses passed down through my maternal blood line: gout.

Shit is no joke. Toe pain is one of my least favorite sensations, and this shit is throbbing constantly, and has been for four days. I haven't had a sip of booze since Friday because beer and red-wine are the worst for gout, and I have drunk ten glasses or more of water a day hoping to flush my system but the shit still gnaws away. Today I woke up and my left foot was starting to hurt also. Nothing helps: ice, hot soaks with salt, Tiger Balm, Ben Gay, Formula 451, crack, crystal meth, smack, mescalin.

I don't even eat rich foods or a lot of meat--I've inherited my elevated uric acid levels, thank you very much DNA. Tiny needle-shaped crystals form in your joints. AND, as an added bonus, there's the likelihood of kidney stones and eventual crippling recurrences. Great.

Why couldn't I get an attack of gout AFTER Thanksgiving? I can't get through the holidays without booze.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Listing badly

Surprisingly, B'more wasn't in the top ten on the most recent list of America's Most Dangerous Cities.

We did make this list, however. Doesn't bode well for the newly rehabbed properties on my block.

Day 55

Breakfast in Amsterdam, originally uploaded by Blog-Sothoth.

This morning I saw two of our first period kids in the hall during class. I tried to coax them into the room, but they weren't interested. Ten minutes later I could smell weed coming up from the stairwell. Montrise was telling a story about throwing chicken in the air. Seagulls would fly down to get the chicken and he would shoot them with an air rifle. He mimicked the noise they made, and how they flopped over in mid-air. He stopped his story and shouted "Dag, where the smokers at?"

The entire second floor reeked of primo green. I opened the stairwell and it was like the car in Up in Smoke. This is the dark stairwell where adults don't go. The handrails are down on the steps and the floor is sticky like an adult theater after Paul Reubens drops by. As soon as I opened the door there was a rush of students out the downstairs exit. I didn't see who they were, but within minutes Keyan and Will were lying on the floor outside of class laughing their asses off. Then Will tried to scale the ornate Victorian molding on one of the arches in the hall. "I'm a rockclimber, muthafucka!" he shouted. Keyan's eyes were red as prison jumpsuits. Mr. C lured them into math class with a bag of Cheetos from his goody locker.

During planning period one of the language arts intervention teachers came into class as Lukie and I were grading papers. "It smells like chronic up in here," she said. "It was us," I replied. "Yeah, we had to take the edge off," Lukie said.

The intervention teacher said "Are you serious? You need to tell me next time. My source dried up a couple weeks back."

As I was grading papers I read a suspiciously excellent one. As soon as I got home I Googled one line I remembered--the entire essay was from Bud, Not Buddy.

Out of the Auden airy

"Propaganda is the use of magic by those who no longer believe in it against those who still do."

W.H. Auden, De Droit et de Gauche

Found in this month's Harper's

Sunday, November 18, 2007


Chuckles hooked me up with Levon Helms's latest. I'm digging Dirt Farmer a great deal. Levon's voice is raspy as the wind through a dried-up corn field in October, but he's still got strength in his pipes and certainly has loads of character. Throat cancer can't slow him down. Love the sound on his drumkit too.

Devil in the overabundant details

Dear Erik Larson:

Read Steven Hart's book. Learn how to write a work of non-fiction with concision and humor. Learn how to keep yourself under 400 pages, and how not to fool around with novelistic cliches.

This book had a lot of promise, but it simply sputters along for more than two-thirds of its tedious length.

You don't need to create a two-page aside ievery time you wish to name-drop a famous person who went to the Chicago World's Fair. MANY famous people went--BFD. Stick to your subject. Or, even better, pick a subject, instead of trying to write about fifteen or twenty of them.

Thank you.


I rendered myself incoherent and tried to watch these films. La Jetee intrigued, but I passed out halfway through and didn't have the energy to go back. A sci-fi film done in black and white still shots with voice-over. Didn't make enough of an impression to warrant starting again.

Sans Soleil, however, is something else. Kind of like Godfrey Reggio's stuff, but sewn together with an interesting epistolary form; the female narrator reads aloud letters sent from her male friend, who may or may not be the filmmaker, or an extraterrestrial visitor, or a Lacanian, or some combination of the three. The subtitles in English can't unfortunately be shut off, and the translation of the subtitles is often dramatically different from the voice-over. I tried turning the French voice-over on, but was still distracted by the English subtitles. And yet the film is quite good and I was deeply interested by almost all of it.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Day 54

I've seen some crazy shit at Booker T., but never expected to see Hassan's bare ass in the hallway.

Hassan is about six-foot-three in height, and likely weighs 300 pounds. He's not only the largest student in the building, he's the largest human being. He may, in fact, be one of the largest mammals in the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem.

I have seen Hassan walking calmly down the hall with six of his classmates on his back. I have seen him in a fit of pique reduce a row of lockers to rubble. Hassan is a good-natured kid, and often helps teachers get rowdy classmates under control. But he is severely emotionally disturbed, and has blown a fuse from time-to-time. I often wonder what would happen if Hassan snapped.

Why did I see his bare ass? Because of Will. Will is the school's number-one ladies' man. He's always asking about my shirts: where I bought them, how much they cost, do I have to iron them, etc. "You get that at L.L. Bean?" he'll ask, or "Yo, that shit tight. You buy that at Banana Republic?" Yesterday he saw me wearing a jacket: "My man working the blazer today. Where you get that?" I told him the Target sale rack and he said "naw, naw, my man better than that." I wasn't lying. This morning Will told me I had to stop walking around teacher-style with my hands on my hips. "You gots to stop that. You needs a swagger."

Will said he was going to drop Hassan like a rock. "I can do it. Nobody else here can do it, but I'm gonna drop that muthafucka." Sure enough, as I was trying to keep my third period kids in line on our way to the cafeteria I saw Hassan stroll by. The floor shook, the lights blinked. Sixth graders fled in terror. Just as he was turning his bulk to the side to fit through a door, Will flew through the air and landed on Hassan's back near the shoulders. Hassan toppled like a cut giant sequoia, and both boys went down hard on the deck. Because everyone at Booker T. wears their pants baggy as a circus clown's, Hassan's insane big top drawers came all the way down and he was lying on the hallway floor with his bare ass in the air. Forget keeping kids in line at that point. There was mass hilarity. Will, who'd ridden the great beast to its doom, had fallen hard on his own family jewels. It took them both a while to get up.

"I told you I could do it, Mr. G." Will gasped, clutching his wounded self. And then, reverting immediately to form: "Where you get them pants?"

Wednesday, November 14, 2007


Hitchens, in one of his few remaining tolerable roles (that of lit. critic), on the passing of Norman Mailer:

His masterpiece, at least in my opinion, is Harlot's Ghost (1991), a historic fictionalizing of the national-security state that came very near to realizing the Balzacian ambition that he had conceived for it. What a shame that it was so dismally received by the critics and that he never delivered the second volume of it that he had promised. Instead, he frittered away a good part of the last two decades in half-baked essays and fictions on liberation theology—of all sorry things—and callow stuff on George Bush as the macho man gone wrong.

I think Mailer penned enough trash to have busied an army of mutant paper-eating goats for millennia, but I, too, loved Harlot's Ghost, and lament its lack of a sequel.

Elementary, my dear Rhodes

Dion Fortune fictionalizes the experiences that led her into an occult career. "Dr. Tavener" is based on the guy she met working as a psychoanalyst who first interested her in psychism and secret fraternities. Fortune herself is Taverner's apprentice Rhodes. The tales are quaint, sort of Conan Doyle meets Arthur Machen or M.R. James. I enjoyed some more than others, but liked them all well enough. The formula is simple--Taverner is a sort of early 20th century House, M.D. Nobody else can cure the cases he's confronted with; Taverner puts himself into a trance state, reads the Akhasic Records, and discerns the karmic imbalance and how to fix it.

I had strange dreams while reading them. In one, Julio kept giving me light bulbs, which I either lost or dropped. Then he tried to sneak me into a meeting in a Masonic hall on the top floor of a bank. I suppose this means that Julio is an Adept and that I am ready for initiation, but I am not yet consciously aware of that fact. I always wondered why he was boiling lead in crucibles fifteen years ago.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007


Instead of completing the enormous unit plan assignment due tonight in Curricular Methods class, I'm watching post-apocalyptic French cinema. The Time of the Wolf is a strange entry in the post-apocalyptic genre; it's subtle, quiet, and beautifully shot. Imagine Day of the Dead without zombies, or Children of Men with rampant pregnancies, or On the Beach without "Waltzing Matilda," or Lord of the Flies without the conch, or The Road without roving bands of cannibals.

Of course post-apocalyptic books and films don't need monsters to be tense and troubling. Humans can be rather wretched to each other under the best of circumstances, and when the thin veneer of law and order vanishes, they can be downright despicable. Especially in France.

The Time of the Wolf is almost too subtle for its own good. Without a powerfully redemptive scene for a particularly loathesome character, it might have failed. But I give it a thumbs up. Isabelle Huppert stars, after all, in her least sexy role since The Piano Teacher, which was also directed by Michael Haneke.

Godard's Le Weekend is still my favorite post-apocalyptic French film. The Hermes handbag scene kills me every time.

Day 51

Lukie and I were discussing just this morning how nice it had been that there were no recent fights. Ooops.

Third period. We're talking about "Character-Changing Events." The kids are brainstorming ideas for a memoir assignment. We're having a good time in class, joking, teasing, and trying to outdo each others' stories. There are some good ideas for memoirs. Suddenly I hear the undeniable sound of a building fight in the hall--a chorus of shouting, an eager encouraging cheering. I see TR jump out of his seat and before I can get to the door he's out in the hall. I peep out behind him and see a ring of kids with a lot of bustling in its midst. I pull the door shut and call for the police. Lukie sees the look I give her. She darts over, opens the door and slips into the hall. I pull the door shut again, and have 22 students pushing on me to let them out in the hall. I keep both hands on the knob, pulling it toward me. The kids are pulling at my arms, trying to get by. Some of them are pleading "Please Mr. G, let us see."

TR comes back and I open the door to let him in. "They ain't fightin' no more anyhow," he says. Everyone is returning to their seats. I look out to see Lukie with her arms around Rasheer, and another big 8th grade girl backing toward me. Rasheer is a moose. She's about 180 pounds of packed muscle, and is severely emotionally disturbed. If her one-on-one assistant is in school, she's a charming child, and quite bright. But her assistant is a lazy piece of shit who shows up about 50% of the time, and is not present today. As I'm looking I see Lukie lose her grip on Rasheer, who charges like a bull with her head down. Her quarry grabs Rasheer by the hair extensions. Beads fly everywhere. Then the punching starts. This is no traditional girl-fight. This is a beat-down.

I've been told not to intervene in fights now until I get "crisis intervention training," so I put my arms on either side of the doorway with my back to the hall and determine that none of my kids are getting out of class. Again I've got 22 kids pushing on me, this time without benefit of a closed door. My fingernails are scraping along the painted cement blocks but I don't budge. Rasheer is landing heavy blows just behind me. One of the combatants scratches me, drawing blood down my left arm near the elbow. I turn my head away from the fight and look over my right shoulder at the cheering mob of students who've spilled out of the other classrooms. There are administrators, teachers, and finally a police officer in the mix. I see Tony Wheelie fly through the air over his classmates' heads and land with a thud. Hammerhead is on the floor getting pummeled by three other guys. I note that Lukie also has bloodied elbows; she is trying to grapple Rasheer behind me while avoiding the flying fists. Mr. C. has a death grip on some kid's arm, Mr. H. is employing the Marine Corps choke hold on another. I start taking blows in my back from Rasheer. She punches like George Foreman--no accuracy, but a lot of force.

Officer Black sprays mace. Rasheer freaks out. "I need my one-on-one!" she shrieks. As she reaches for her phone Black grabs her around the neck and slams her to the floor. Both girls are bloody. The plastic cuffs come out.

And then it's over. The new long-term sub for Miss R is appalled. "It only took ten seconds to escalate from two kids to fifty." She is shaking. Her suit jacket is torn. I shrug. Blood is dripping down my arm onto the floor. "That's all it usually takes. Just be glad there were no knives."

Funny how this was all new to me three months ago. Now it's just another day.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Day 50

The kids are nuts. Nat was wearing pink sunglasses, a purple hoody, and a cap that said "Wasted." He was dancing in the hall. TJ was humping a black crate we use to hold classwork folders. The crate sits on top of the radiator, and TJ was moaning and slapping it on the sides. "That crate all right," he said. "I showed it who's boss." Shakeera laughed at this, and Moneesha called TJ a clown. TJ said "Shut up Diana Ross." Montrice managed to put paper airplanes made out of 1X1 colored Post-Its in the ceiling. We got very little teaching done in first period.

We had an assembly for eighth grade today during second period. The Baltimore City Police planned to do a gang awareness presentation. It took 43 minutes to get the assembled students quiet. As soon as they shut up the police officer said "I can't show you the presentation because you wasted all the time I had with your foolishness." After that it was chaos for another fifteen minutes until we cleared the hall.

During third period some of the kids in the back of the class were laughing and I could not see what was causing the commotion. I finally got to the back of the room and realized that Lukie's new laptop was on screensaver mode, and she had pictures of the teacher karaoke night from a few weeks back cycling on its 17 inch HD screen. The kids had seen Mr. C chugging a beer, Lukie and Miss Soule hugging each other and singing, a close-up shot of Miss T.'s ass, a picture of all of us dancing with beers in our fists.

We're not going to hear the end of that any time soon.

See you in ten years

I had a reasonably good time at the 20th class reunion. It's amazing how many people look like they're fifty years old already.

Some guy kept talking to me about how much I helped him in school, about working with him at the supermarket, and about my '78 Chrysler Cordoba. I had no idea who he was, even after reading his name tag.

Drinking one Coors Light is drinking too many Coors Lights, and I drank seven or eight of them before switching to Cabernet Sauvignon and then buying a Guiness at the after party. Oooh, I had a rough Sunday morning.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Now a Lt. Colonel

W/Lt. Colonel Schmidt, originally uploaded by Blog-Sothoth.

Two tours in Afghanistan, and four in Iraq. Hates Rummy and Cheney and Wolfie, but still thinks W. did the right thing taking out Saddam, despite poor management and planning.

A reasonable turnout

A reasonable turnout, originally uploaded by Blog-Sothoth.

And yes, the DJ played "Free Bird."

The Old Crew

The Old Crew, originally uploaded by Blog-Sothoth.

And suddenly they're all grown up.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Friday, November 09, 2007


Tomorrow is my 20th high school reunion. Can't generate much enthusiasm for the whole affair. There are some people I would like to see, but most of them I see already. The others are likely not to come to the event at all.

I guess I'm curious--who's bald, who's gray, who's dead? I know somewhere between 15 and 20% of my classmates have succumbed to drugs or related illnesses. Pretty surprising for a rural high school. There were a lot of future coke and junk users in my class apparently.

I don't feel like someone going to his 20th high school reunion. I still feel like I'm in my late 20s, somehow. Guess I should wake up and smell the whiff of steady decay. Hopefully the DJ is good, and the wine.

Thursday, November 08, 2007


A tale to bring tears to the most jaded eye.

[found at The Opinion Mill]

Day 49

Montrise. He's yammering away during class. I try to shush him about a billion times, but that never works. Finally I sit next to him.

"Montrise, you promised me that once the second quarter started you would be a new man," I said.

"I know," he told me. "But y'all turned on the heat and now it make my chest hurt."

He turns to Nat and Rasheer. "Yo I took that toy and I hit my baby sister in her eye wid it."

"Montrise," I say, "You banged your sister in the eye piece with a toy? That's cold-hearted. You a straight-up G."

Now everyone calls Montrice "Straight-up G." Even Nat, who actually is a Straight-up G. Montrise is more like a cartoon squirrel.

TR and Billy fought round two today. TR got the better of Billy this time, so Billy bit TR on the arm and then stabbed TR in the forehead with a pair of scissors, drawing blood with both wounds. This violence was sufficient to have both students cuffed by the police and taken out of Science class, but for some reason neither was arrested nor even put out of school today. I think it's because they've already been suspended too many times. Once you achieve the suspension limit we have to keep you in school because otherwise you're not learning. Of course now these kids have even less reason to behave in school. We can't put them out, we can't detain them after school, we can't physically restrain or beat them, we can't fail them. So TR was back in class for Language Arts with a bandaged forearm and head, and Billy sat next to him at the same table.