Saturday, September 29, 2007


While everyone else is outside enjoying spectacular fall weather, I'm lying in bed sick. I dreamed this afternoon that I remembered a movie starring Art Carney and Paul Newman. In this movie Paul Newman threw a little person through the air. I was watching it in my dream and I thought "This was the first movie I ever saw in a movie theater." In the movie Paul Newman was having a crisis of faith and Art Carney was some old man archetype trying to help him out.

I can't actually remember the first movie I saw in a theater. Perhaps it was Pete's Dragon? I saw movies before that at drive-ins, like Squirm, and Herbie the Love Bug.

Before I slept I watched

President Eisenhower warned us, but nobody listened. Smedley Butler warned us before Ike did. We fight so Dick Cheney can make a lot of money for himself and his cronies.


A miserable night last night. Could feel bubbles of thick goo move in tides across my lungs. At certain points my breath would wheeze like an old accordion, and I'd shift onto my stomach and I could feel a bubble pop inside my chest.

As soon as I got out of class this morning I went to the Doc's and saw the Saturday critical care stand-in. She gave me a script for a chest X-ray, a fistfull of antibiotics, and an asthma inhaler. "Your left lung sounds like it's got a touch of pneumonia," she said.

Fuckin'-A. Of course nobody is open on Saturdays to do chest X-rays, so I'm home again. I need to shake this shit ASAP. Too much work to keep up with to let a little old crippling ailment drag me down.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Development Day

Today was a Professional Development day. These are scattered haphazardly throughout the school year in order for teachers to get time to do tasks necessary to their professional growth, such as: downing a dozen tequila shots the night before; jetting off for a quick three-day weekend in the Bahamas; squeezing in an extra session with one's analyst; interviewing with private sector firms; scheduling dental appointments, etc.

My mentor Lukie flew to Iowa in order to see her boyfriend for the first time in six weeks. Most of the members of our 8th grade team called out "sick" or took a personal or vacation day. I went to the school, signed in, and returned home to work on a variety of homework assignments. I finished two take-home tests, more than 100 pages of reading for English Methods, and a bottle of red wine. Still to go this weekend: a learning styles interview; a three-page personal learning style assessment; research for a 20-minute presentation on gender bias in public education; research for a 10-minute group presentation on learning styles; an idea for a month-long unit plan; a suicide note.

I'm still sick. The sinus infection from two weeks ago has lodged in my chest. There's no time for a doctor's visit, so I'm medicating myself with ginger, cayenne pepper, honey, bee pollen, garlic, and an excellent $15 rioja. Within two weeks I'm sure I'll have walking pneumonia, but I went to the doctor when I first felt ill and they sent me home with no meds and an assurance I was fine. God bless America's health care system.

Thursday, September 27, 2007


Because I'd exiled myself from current fads and trends in music and pop culture betwixt 1980 and abount 1997, I missed Daniel Johnston. Still, I'd heard some of his songs--particulary "The Story of an Artist," which stuck with me from a documentary I'd seen on PBS quite some time ago. About halfway through this excellent documentary it dawned on me that I'd seen some of his paintings recently at the American Visionary Art Museum. As an afficionado of religious whack-job artwork, I'd been quite pleased by the three or four Johnston canvases in their last exhibition.

This is a good doc. Johnston's story is similar to Syd Barrett's and Brian Wilson's, so it's quite sad.

ed psych notes

ed psych notes III, originally uploaded by Blog-Sothoth.

I can't take my ed psych class seriously. How many times do I have to learn Piaget and Erikson and Kohlberg? I mean, I like these cats, and admire their work, but for Christ's sake I've learned the same shit before. I minored in Psychology during my first BA twenty fucking years ago, and took Ed Psych during my second BA six years ago.

I'm going bonkers sitting in these four-hour classes. I'd rather deal with the sociopaths at Booker T. all day than listen to some former Kindiegarten teacher explain development and learning styles theories in a half-assed manner.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Day 20

"I think Mr. G smilin' at me," Yasmine says.

"I smile at everybody, until they give me a reason not to," I reply.

"Can you pick up my pencil Mr. G?" Kanica asks.

"Sure," I reply. I pick it up and put it on her desk.

"You know she threw that down there just to see you bend over," Yasmine says.

Lukie laughs uncontrollably at that one.

Before class I heard a commotion in the hallway. Yasmine was trying to fight a much larger girl named Rasheria. I grabbed Yasmine around the waist and pulled her across the hall kicking and taunting the whole way. Rasheria would have pounded her into the floor.

Yesterday afternoon my Language Arts Student of the Week from two weeks ago beat the shit out of hapless Timothy, who picks fights every day and manages to get his ass kicked every time. Antonio is a full foot shorter than Timothy, and weighs at least forty pounds less, but Antonio made short work of his larger opponent, rendering him bloody and prone in seconds. Both are suspended. TJ is also suspended. Maria and Shantell were arrested and are still serving another week off.

Timothy has been soundly beaten by all the girls in class, and has now had his clock cleaned by the shortest student in 8th grade. I fully expect him next week to begin taunting seventh graders as he works his way down to somebody he can defeat in hand-to-hand combat.

There are five or six more kids in my 8:05 class who need to be suspended before we can get any learning done in there.


Tuesdays suck. I'm at Booker T. from 7:15 until 11:30 am. Then I have Ed Psych class from 1 until 5 at Notre Dame, followed by Curriculum Design from 6:00 until 9:00.

That's a miserable long day.

And I'm sick again, with the middle-school spawned illness of the week, this time a stomach/chest flu. And tomorrow I get Pooch the demonic Jack Russell back for six more days because her owner is going to Martha's Vineyard for a wedding and we agreed to babysit back when our schedules seemed more reasonable.

And tomorrow I'm teaching the Class From Hell about the elements of Plot at 8:05am. I expect that to go over like a Led Balloon.

And Cha is leaving for a business trip tomorrow and I won't see her until Saturday afternoon.

But at least Ma is doing better. Cha says she was very positive and responsive today, and accepted that she needs to be hospitalized. They're pretty sure it's not dementia at this time. Tomorrow they're giving her an MRI to find or rule out other potential physical ailments.

Tonight I was at the Loyola/Notre Dame library for the first time since 1988 when I was an undgrad. Saw Faulty Landscape, which is always a good thing.


Ma was much improved last night. We played Scrabble at the hospital*, and she was aware of who was dead and who wasn't, and was able to figure out her score for the most part.

She could not find her way back to us from the restroom, however, and I'm still not convinced she understands where she is. I think she thought we were at a party as we left, because she said goodbye to the nurses at the nurse station, announcing "I'll be back tomorrow!"

Leaving was tough. Ma, after saying all day she wanted to stay in the hospital, suddenly decided she wanted to go home. The nurse rushed us out the locked door to the wing as she ushered Ma into her room. As we were leaving, however, we heard a banging. We turned around to see Ma in the narrow window on the door, smiling at us and fumbling with the door handle, trying to get out. We waved but the nurse impatiently waved us on.

They have to keep her for a couple days with very limited visiting time to complete their tests.

*Dadong won, without cheating for once.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Day 19

We completely lost control of our first period class yet again today. The two students who require one-on-one support from an adult had no help today (Emmanuell's assistant was chatting on her cell phone in the hall as he danced around the room, removed his pants, and grabbed Candace's boob), while Ryesha's one-on-one never bothered to come in at all. Ryesha started a fist-fight with Brandon and popped him a good one in the eyepiece. I had to physically restrain her.

The students threw books, paper airplanes, pencils, and sunflower seeds. Lukie put on her timer and waited. I'd used this strategy on Friday when they fell apart to no avail; she waited much longer than I would have, occasionally announcing "You're up to 8 minutes of after school time, and I guarantee you will feel every minute," or "You now owe me fifteen minutes of detention." At that point the students finally began to calm down. I walked the room writing down names of students whose parents we would call later. This was effective with a few students, but others don't care. Quite often cell phones are changed and phones disconnected anyhow. Often when you get in touch with a parent the response is: "He wears me out. I am tired of dealing with his bullshit. You call the police."

At least Friday is a Professional Development Day. Only three more days of this.


On Thursday when I saw my mother-in-law she announced some plans that were less than reasonable: she was going, at age 73, to start her own import/export business back home in the Philippines; she was going to buy a house to live in with an eventual grandchild so the grandchild could go to the same Catholic school her daughters had attended; she would buy the two houses on either side of hers. Such thoughts had become common of late, and were accompanied by a sort of manic energy as she recounted them. After these plans consumed her for a day or two, they'd be forgotten and replaced with new schemes.

Now, in retrospect, it appears that this behavior was symptomatic of a larger problem we failed to piece together. Just a few weeks ago Ma kept calling Cha daily and asking when Cha was taking her to Virginia, even after Cha had told her they weren't going. We assumed Ma was not hearing what she was told; her partial deafness may have masked some deeper cognitive and memory problems.

Yesterday Dadong called Cha and said "Mommy is sick." Cha left around eleven and went to visit as I settled in to read homework. The phone rang around 1pm and it was Cha. She said something was wrong with Ma. I drove up to Towson and was dismayed to find her barely coherent. She knew who we were, but she wasn't able to think past a sort of instant reaction to what was in front of her. She could barely walk, and listed alarmingly to the side when she did so. She was watching North by Northwest on VHS and every time she saw the screen she would point and say "What is that? That is pretty! Is that my house? Am I watching this? I've never seen this." She kept asking "What are you going to do?" We tried to get her to do laundry but she was having trouble grasping the process. There were clothes in the washer and Ma simply didn't remember the next step. "What are you going to do?" she asked Cha. "Do you want to put these somewhere? Ok, let's put them." She kept trying to go to sleep, even when we put her shoes on her feet she curled up on the couch. She said she felt dizzy. We told her "We're going to the doctor," but she couldn't understand us. She didn't remember my Thursday visit at all.

We decided to take her to the ER, but could not find Ma's purse. We asked her where her purse was and she looked in the refrigerator.

At the ER she asked if we were there to visit her mother. Throughout the day relatives who were far away or deceased would arise in her memory and she'd assume they were present or nearby. When asked for telephone numbers she'd respond with social security numbers. She would give years or birthdays when asked for her address.

They did a battery of tests--all negative--to see if she'd had a stroke or other disabling event. A chaplain at the hospital arrived to pray with Ma, and was alarmed by her session. A psychiatrist was summoned and gave Ma a brief assessment, which didn't go well. She thought it was 1976 and the president was Douglass MacArthur. She thought the hospital was a small part of Maryland (which is true), but that it had been Japan before and now it wasn't. She said she was sad because her father had just died and it was 1976 (he died in 1944). We'd been watching Ken Burns' The War and the show was somehow confused into her memories. Of course she'd been in the Philippines during the war and all day she'd struggled with past and present. "It is 1976 and everyone is going to die here. I am going to die here," she said. It was one of the most heartbreaking things I've ever seen. The second time the psychiatrist asked her who the President was, she said "That actor," but on the third try she knew it was Bush. She was able to subtract 7 from 100, but could not subtract 7 from 93.

They kept Ma in the hospital last night, and are going to admit her to the psychiatric ward for more observation and tests. They fear she has some form of dementia and want to find out if it has been caused suddenly by some unknown factor, or if perhaps it has been gradually increasing over time.

Last night they fed Ma and she was laughing and joking and suddenly knew her address again. She was making fun of the hospital food. But she didn't know what day it was, what time it was, and kept asking us about relatives in Canada and where they were going to sleep. Poor Ma. None of us are prepared for this.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Haint that a shame, Part X

Our Car Hold, originally uploaded by Blog-Sothoth.

I was back in the old neighborhood Thursday night. My mother-in-law, who lives across the alley from our old place in Towson, bought a gigantic safe, and I helped her son pick it up and carry it upstairs. Ma was like a child at Christmas, and told us in Tagalog that she had a place to put all her treasures now.

The entire back yard at our old house had been dug up and cemented over. The new owners have turned it into a college rental, and added a new bedroom and bath in the basement to cram extra renters inside. They can fit three cars on the new pad, with another space in the garage. It looks like hell.

Ma took us to lunch. As we were getting into the car my brother-in-law saw a crippled mourning dove in the alley. I recognized it because for years it lived under the deck I'd built in the back yard, a deck which had been razed for the new parking pad. At one time we had quite the managerie: a bunny, a family of doves, and a chipmunk lived together under there. I approached the dove to see if he'd broken a wing or leg, but it was obvious he was quite sick. We decided not to pick him up out of fear of infection. As we drove away he flew up onto the half-opened window of my brother-in-law's car. The bird held on weakly for a moment, staring at me, and then fluttered back to the alley pavement.

After a too-big lunch of Chinese at Towson Best we took Ma home. I saw the current tenants of our old house in the backyard, and approached to see how they were doing. There were four guys who looked impossibly youthful. Could they really be eighteen? I told them I lived in the house for eleven years with my wife, and commented that the parking pad likely made life easier for them. I asked if they liked the house.

"Yes," Ryan told me. "But we just had all the locks changed for the second time. Somebody kept getting into the house."

I said we'd never had a problem like that, and asked if anything was stolen.

"No. Whoever it was just opened all the cabinets and closets and put everything on the floor. All our dishes and glasses, all our towels and clothes. It was weird."

Another of the boys, named Jerry, spoke next. "We thought the guys next door were hazing us, welcoming us to the neighborhood with a prank. But it happened once when all of us were over at their place."

I thought of old Willard Bowman, from whose estate we bought the place. He'd loved his azaleas, his irises, his roses, his daffodils and tulips. We'd carefully maintained his plants as best we could, and added more perennials over the years. I remembered all the birdhouses he'd built and hung up, and the flocks of migrating birds who'd swoop in each spring and fall to visit our yard, seeking the seed Willard had put out. All that stuff was now plowed over and buried beneath a six-inch concrete slab. I had a feeling these young college kids were going to have a confounded time getting any sleep.


I liked this. Sydney Pollock wisely approaches it by admitting he doesn't know what he's doing making a documentary, and he isn't afraid of allowing his own director's struggle to capture Gehry and Gehry's buildings two-dimensionally to appear in the film. At the same time we watch Gehry fighting to birth his often messy and hulking structures. The film is about art and creativity and celebrity, but at a more basic level it's about play and whimsy. There are many quite lovely passages and interesting conversations. I particularly enjoyed watching Gehry tour for the first time through a bank he designed in Berlin. You can see in the old man's slumped frame and sagging visage the child building model cities out of wood chips on his grandmother's rug.

Madison Ave's version of Neighborhood Watch

One of our neighbors decided a few weeks back that one way to increase neighborhood consciousness and to keep malefactors at bay would be for the Madison Ave homeowners to congregate for a wine party in front of his house every weekend. Tonight was our third consecutive Neighborhood Watch/Wine Club. It's become quite the spectacle. Chase brings
Zeus and Athena
for security, and we have allies in the 5-0 who drop by and tease us about moving along.

Tonight was Spanish wine night. My selections were a big hit. Not quite as popular as the pitcher of mojitos another neighbor mixed up, however.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Life is the Pits in Reservoir Hill

Sheik and Straps are the latest additions to the neighborhood. Get on their good side now.

Friday, September 21, 2007


I've very much enjoyed the other Cocteau films I've seen. I like his murals and his scribblings as well.

But Les Enfants Terribles, recently re-issued in a spectacular edition by Criterion, was a chore to get through. I finished it out of some misguided sense of obligation to the canon, and actually at one point was watching ten or fifteen minutes a day because I couldn't bear any more than that. What a turd. There aren't any of Cocteau's signature visual effects to liven things up either. The protagonists die. I was glad. They should have died ten minutes in, thereby sparing me suffering through an hour and forty-five minutes of wasted time.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Day 16

This makes for boring posting, but--goddam it, a day without incident! No fights in my classes, no fights between my classes, no disrespect, no sass-back, no swearing. We had a great discussion about the Jena 6 in each class, and everyone did their classwork without complaint. All of the troublesome students were mysteriously replaced by angelic replicants.

Of course this means tomorrow will be hellish.

A word from our sponsors...

The kids at Booker T. are starting to say "that Mr. G, he don't play!"

One of the reasons I'm able to pull apart fighting teenagers with such ease is the Perfect Pushup system, which is a rare impulse fitness buy that actually worked. I used to avoid pushups because I'd get a carpal tunnel strain with my hands flat on the floor. These little grips, which rotate as you move up and down, really eliminate painful impact problems and help focus the workout on your shoulders, lats, pecs, and triceps. Definitely a plus for urban middle school educators who don't have time to spend hours at the gym. I do three sets of thirty right now, four days a week, alternating days with a standard bicep workout, and will probably be doing three sets of fifty by the end of the year.

I also recommend Barefoot Science. I have flat feet and was a runner for twenty years. Last year because my arches had collapsed so badly I began having ligament and tendon problems on the top of my feet and in my ankles. Because my feet weren't set naturally there was an incredible stress on all those cords which bind my muscles and bones together. Out of desperation I bought the Barefoot Science Therapeutic inserts, and within two months I had increased my arches to a point I hadn't seen since I was a teen. I can stand barefoot now without pain for the first time in my adult life, and have begun running again after an 18-month layoff due to injuries. If you work on your feet all day as I do, and suffer painful aching arches or flat feet, I would recommend this system. I tried all the other temporary orthotics, which wear out after a few weeks and cost $15 a pop. This system actually works your feet and makes them restructure themselves. If it can work my barking dogs back into shape, it can help you.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Philosophize disgrace

Tomorrow is the start of the Jena 6 trial. There is a uniform exemption at Booker T. tomorrow so the students and faculty can wear black in a show of support.

I don't approve of young men ganging up and beating somebody unconscious, even if they have reasonable justification due to provocation. But the Jena case is proof positive that Jim Crow double standards still exist.

Wikipedia has some interesting info about William Zantzinger and Hattie Carroll.

Day 15

My first day teaching an entire class period. I took over first and third from Lukie, who assisted and observed. First period went reasonably well, but without Lukie and the special educator I would have been swamped by classroom management issues. There are three significant behavior problems in the room: Emmanuell, who can't stay in his seat or on task for two minutes despite having a one-on-one assistant; Montrise, who suffers the same ailment; and Jery, who is a tough young gangsta who tells you to fuck off if you ask him to comply with classroom expectations. I spent much of period one asking Emmanuell and Montrise to sit down and being told by Jery to fuck off.

The other 18 students were fine, and did their work as instructed.

Then, during class change, I heard screaming outside the door. I looked out to see Shantell, who nearly beat up Timothy last week, frontin' with a much bigger young lady named Marie. "You disrespectin' me and disrespectin' my man then you best throw down your fucking bookbag and let's go!" Seconds later I saw Lukie and Mr. Cole in a swarm of tangled bodies. Lukie said "Pull down the lever and call for security Mr. G," then she screamed it, and then Mr. Cole screamed it too. I called security and went out into the hall and started separating bodies in a mass beat-down. We got to a point of relative calm and still security had not arrived, so I called them again just as the shitstorm commenced its swarming anew. Timothy lunged at Tamelik. Other teachers were struggling to separate other combatants. I was sorely tempted to start throwing blows myself, most intensely when Jery ran by and I thought I could hit him a good anonymous blow to the throat. Instead I grabbed Timothy around the chest and pulled him across the hall kicking and screaming "you lucky muthafucka that Mr. G here or you be hurtin'!" Emmanuell and Montrise and Jery were running rampant grabbing ass, Mary was again in the hall face-to-face with Shantell, and Officer Wheeling finally arrived. The presence of a police officer usually gets students back into their rooms, but at this point Shantell was in danger of losing face and she attacked Marie full-on with wild punches. None of them landed, and Marie used her 100 lb advantage and much longer arms to push Shantell hard to the deck, where she sprawled in a clattering mess of silver hair beads. Shantell was obviously humiliated but got up for more when Officer Wheeling placed her under arrest and cuffed her. Lukie was dismayed that the teachers were able to keep the kids from actually landing blows, but the police seemed content to stand aside until punches landed and then to react. Shouldn't the intent be to prevent a fight?

Shantell is one of our best students. Now she will miss two weeks of school and have an arrest record.

Ten minutes later we had a fire drill. Once again, not much teaching happened at school during the first two periods. Third period, however, went smashingly. I wrote several notes home about the charming behavior of my students, and thanked them verbally for their cooperation. During third period Jery's mother brought him back upstairs to apologize for telling me to fuck off.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Day 14

First period starts out on the wrong foot and goes downhill from there. Even the good students are disrepectful of the adults and their peers. During the class change I break up a fight between Shaquille and Maurice. Then Brandon and Courtney get into it. While I'm breaking that up Timothy punches Brandon in the kidney. Then I am breaking up Brandon and Timothy when Maurice punches Timothy. Then I am breaking up Timothy and Maurice.

The universally adored student role model R. Woodside III jumps on Tamelik's neck and starts punching him. I am appalled, and express my displeasure in no uncertain terms.

"You know my worst nightmare, gentlemen?" I ask when the dust settles. "It's getting a job here next year full-time and seeing all of you back for eighth grade language arts because you're not doing your work and no high school wants you because of this kind of behavior."

"Shit," Brandon says. "Every year they tell us we gonna fail, and we never fail, even if we fuck around all day." And he proceeds to wander the halls for the next three classes.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Oh, snap!

How did I miss this event tonight? Exactly three blocks from my house? Ralph Nader, Helen Thomas, and John Waters? That's an unbelievable Triumvirate.

Day 13, Part II

Lukie warned me today about rumors that were buzzing amongst the eighth graders, and cautioned me to expect such talk.

"They imagine us engaged in the most salacious behavior in Room 218 during planning period," she said. "And last I heard, I'm carrying your baby."

"That's alright," I replied. "I'm flattered. Especially given the rumors circulating last week, involving Mr. Coleman and I trysting in the teacher's lounge."

I thought back to last Wednesday when Montrice and Emmanual popped in during planning period. "You her boyfriend?" Montrice had asked slyly. "Whatchoo doing in here all day?"

"Montrice I'm married to someone else, and Miss Lukie has a boyfriend!" I said.

"Shoot, that ain't stopped my daddy."

Masters of Disaster

Three years ago, Naomi Klein penned an excellent article for Harper's about neocon economic fantasies and their horrid results in Baghdad.

Now she's updated the same material to include collapsing US infrastructure and Katrina, not to mention other disasters around the globe. "Disaster Capitalism: The New Economy of Catastrophe" is an illuminating glimpse into the future. I read it in a tub full of hot water, and considered opening my veins at the finish. Couldn't do it, however, because there were several other excellent articles in this month's Harper's that I had to finish. Not all of them are quite as depressing.

If you've not seen Children of Men, and intend to, make sure to watch the hour-long documentary of intellectuals chatting about the film and its likely potential accuracy, included in the Special Features on the DVD. Naomi Klein muses about some of the ideas which appear in these articles.

Day 13

Many of the students were hungover and hostile this morning. It was difficult to get them on task, and then one of the APs came in and yelled at the first period for their behavior last Friday in Science class. She gave the entire class detention and that went over not at all well.

Third period went smashingly. Half the kids were absent because of non-compliance with vaccinations or suspension. Or, as in the case of TJ, both. Lukie and I met with TJ's mother this morning. She was not pleased to learn of his behavior last week. We'll see if anything changes. During third period total chaos erupted down the hall in another room, and the chaos spread quickly to the hallway. Lukie and the special educator and a social worker in our room had to run over and help calm things down. I got to teach about finding the main idea and supporting details in a text for fifteen minutes, as all hell broke loose on the north end of the second floor. Officer Wheeler was spraying mace at one point. But while I was teaching my kids were focused and on point. Then I read them an article about earthquakes. Natural disasters are always a hit in middle school.

Saturday, September 15, 2007


It's hard to imagine a more appropriate subject for a Werner Herzog film than Dieter Dengler. When Dengler was a small child he watched Allied fighters strafe and bomb his village in Germany; he was so fascinated by the the action that he developed a powerful obsession with becoming a pilot. This obsession led, many years later, to his arrival in the US with only pennies on his person, where he joined the Air Force and peeled potatoes for years before earning a college degree and becoming a Navy flyer in Vietnam.

Shot down over Laos, Dengler endured horrid treatment, escaped, and then was subjected to atrocities by the Viet Cong. Herzog narrates occasionally, but lets the more energetic Dengler tell his own story (of course there is a section of monologue scripted by Herzog for his subject to recite--there always is in a Herzog documentary of this sort. It becomes a game to see if you can spot it). Herzog takes Dengler back to the jungle locales where Dengler suffered terribly, and has him bound and marched around again while recounting his tale. Herzog narrates that Dengler later described that time as the happiest of his life.

Herzog loves the obsessed dreamer, the individual driven to extremes. Dengler fits the bill perfectly. How does he maintain his manic glee in life, living as he does with dreadful memories? What drove him to survive his ordeals? Footage of Dengler describing his capture to journalists in the '60s show a smiling and humorous man, surprised and overjoyed to be alive. How does that happen?

Excellent stuff, with Tuvan throatsinging for soundtrack. The NYRB panned Herzog's recent narrative version of Dengler's story, with Christian Bale as Dengler. I'll see it anyhow.

Friday, September 14, 2007


In order to increase my street cred in the City Schools, I've been reading the Bluford Series. They're rather fun, and feature stuck-up know-it-alls who have to get real living in a tough urban environment. There are drive-bys, drug dealers, thugs, and all the trappings of City life, but none of the violence is garish, and the themes are often redemptive.

I've not yet gotten to The Bully or The Gun, which are most popular with the boys. I'm reading them in sequence because the stories build on each other in a progression. The earlier books are a bit soap-opera-ish, with romantic subplots. The girls of course are drawn to these.

I have to create a month-long lesson plan for my MA Practicum course, and I'm considering using the Bluford series and The Wire. At the same time I'd like to do a unit on Poe, given that the Poe house and Poe grave are within blocks of the school. But Poe is tough for kids who read at a 3rd or 4th grade level.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Lost Tribes of Israel

I'd not read Chabon before. He's wonderful. A great gift for figurative language, a sublime knack for easygoing parody, a grand confidence in his craft without pretention. This alternate history is a more easygoing version of Roth's magnificent The Plot Against America.

But there's more to The Yiddish Policemen's Union than meets the eye. I think this is a very serious book, a barbed condemnation of two military superpowers, but will reserve further comment until the book discussion on Saturday. If I survive the crud long enough to participate, that is.

Mencken the Prophet

The larger the mob, the harder the test. In small areas, before small electorates, a first-rate man occasionally fights his way through, carrying even the mob with him by force of his personality. But when the field is nationwide, and the fight must be waged chiefly at second and third hand, and the force of personality cannot so readily make itself felt, then all the odds are on the man who is, intrinsically, the most devious and mediocre — the man who can most easily adeptly disperse the notion that his mind is a virtual vacuum.

The Presidency tends, year by year, to go to such men. As democracy is perfected, the office represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. We move toward a lofty ideal. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart's desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.

H.L. Mencken in the Baltimore Evening Sun
July 26, 1920

[with a nod to the Dazzling Urbanite, to whom I owe a debt of gratitude for introducing me to HLM--can it really be 14 years ago?]

Hand Solo

Some teachers will try anything to get students' attention.

Day 12

First class: I'm standing by the classroom door. Lukie is starting a lesson about summarization. A 15-year-old in a grey hoody with his jeans around his knees pulls open the door and tries to get in the classroom. I bar his passage--I don't recognize him, he's out of uniform. He says "muthafucka I'm Emmanuel's brutha." Two male students in the class salute this interloper, who tries to push past me but I'm not moving. Emmanuel looks terrified. Grey Hoody moves along, banging on lockers and cursing and looking at me with eyes dull and emotionless as old nickels.

Apparently there was a gang fight between middle schoolers yesterday evening. Often adult gangmembers or older teen gangmembers will try to get into the school to harrass or beat kids who are in rival gangs, or who are in no gang at all and have somehow offended the powers that be.

In middle school I worried about zits and uncontrollable erections; I don't think my life was ever threatened.

Class two: a six-foot two behavioral problem named T.J. wanders the class saying "suck my ass" over and over. He yells out the window, he calls Lukie a bitch, he tells me he'll sue me if I touch him. I'm tempted to discreetly push him down the darkened stairwell where nobody goes. The kids think there are ghosts down there. T.J. asks to go the bathroom, disappears for twenty minutes, and returns to get an office referral. Turns out he was already suspended yesterday but nobody told us. Not surprising considering that the Administrators are all "acting" in their positions; all the qualified APs and Ps have quit or been transferred and nobody in their right mind would take on our school in its current state of chaos.

Happy Birthday Henry

The Sage of Baltimore, memorialized at Enoch Pratt as H.I. instead of H.L. on this tiny placard outside his collection. If I'm not mistaken the volumes form his personal library, once housed in his home on Washington Square (now closed by the City Life Museums), are now inside.

Locked out of the Mencken Room

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Mural on Saratoga near Park

Mural on Saratoga near Park, originally uploaded by Blog-Sothoth.

charm city

charm city, originally uploaded by Blog-Sothoth.

Oh Say Can You See

Key Memorial, originally uploaded by Blog-Sothoth.

Summer in the city

Sometimes when I get very sick I get a feverish restless feeling. Like a Dostoevsky character I have to dash around doing things to disperse negative energies. What better way to burn off excess steam than to roam the City taking pictures on a beauteous September day? I should be doing homework, but, no. Enoch Pratt Library
Francis Scott Key Memorial--in the background just to the right of the spire is a corner of my school
Booker T. turret--our room is the second floor windows
Booker T. facade

Day 11

All of the students were immediately sent to large assemblies this morning. Because of staff shortages and unexpected departures and assorted resource troubles the City Schools headquarters decided to enact bewilderingly complex schedule changes two weeks into the school year.

8th graders gathered in the cafeteria. Lukie and I watched in horror as all of our class role models and student of the week nominees were moved into the first-floor eighth-grade sections. In exchange we got loaded down with poor performers, severely emotionally disturbed youths, and Code 504 behavioral problems. Our average class size went from 18 to 34. We have 24 desks and chairs and 25 books and workbooks. From 9am until 10am we had students sitting on the radiator and on the floor. All of the work the students have done so far is now counting as extra credit, because we have to start the year over with a blank slate. We have students from different sections now mixed in with current students--there's no other way to fairly get them on the same page.

What the fuck is wrong with the City Schools? We've got a huge achievement gap with suburban and county schools already and they make bone-head moves like this? A lot of careful cultivation of student/teacher relationships has been totally wrecked, the students are thrown into an entire new schedule just as they started to adjust, and there are now different and more threatening bullies all over the place. We have to start over again. New folders, new contact information, new classroom and homeroom arrangements. New gradebooks and rosters. And the first No Child Left Behind mandated assessments are scheduled for Friday. We're never going to get the required content back on pace.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007


Aw, the little darlings at Booker T. teamed up to give me a present: a sinus/respiratory infection from Hell! Such sweethearts.

I'd been warned about 'the middle school crud.' Shit is no joke. I feel like I've eaten mescalin, without the aesthetic and philosophical revelations. My arms are really long and my torso is made out of rasping gears and tin shards. My head is a balloon barely tethered to Terra. Occassionally these confused and disparate parts are compelled to work together to hack up green shag carpet into a waste basket. I'm tired but incapable of sleep. To sleep one must breathe.

And this evening I have another one of those accelerated teacher-training grad courses to attend. I think it's Curriculum and Instruction in Secondary Ed, where I'll be spending four hours each Tuesday until the Rapture. Given the total absence of apparent usefulness in those previously taken 20-odd credits of education courses, I eagerly anticipate this one. Perhaps the professor will assign a personal belief statement? Or a reflection? Those who can, do; those who can't, teach; those who can't even teach teach teachers about teaching.

I consoled myself with a couple episodes of Rome Season 2 this afternoon. So good to see Titus Pullo killing people again.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Oops I did it again

General Petraeus spoke substantially about Britney Spears' comeback at the VMA's during his testimony today, necessitating non-stop major cable news network coverage of the worst dancing seen since Gene Gene the Dancing Machine hung up his Keds.

"I wrote this report myself, without help from the President," Petraeus said without irony. "Britney Spears' comeback has been a military success by all measures. She has, since her deployment, single-handedly curbed violence in Al-Anbar Province. While it is true that Britney has some political work to do, she has gained considerable ground in convincing Sunni radicals to cease supporting Al-Qaeda in Iraq."

When asked by Senator Susan Collins whether Britney was fat, corrupt, and phoning it in while aspiring to "Anna Nicole Smithdom," Petraeus responded that he would prefer to have six months to a year in order to observe Britney's progress before making any further determination.

"We can't withdraw Britney from Iraq without careful consideration of the likely consequences. Every move we make at this time sends a signal to our foes. Precipitous withdrawal of Britney Spears sends a message to Bin Laden and his ilk that we are ready to cut and run in the War on Terror."

RIP Alex

A sad day for bird nerds.

Day 10

Miserably hot and muggy in the school today. Lukie and I sweated completely through our clothes just minutes into homeroom. The poor children sweltered in their green uniform tops and khakis, and four box fans moved stagnant wet air through the room, which felt like a reptile terrarium.

Lukie had me read a story to the students. I also was more active on the academic side, distributing, proctoring, and grading a quiz. A tough gang chick with Black Widow Fam tattooed on her arm told me after my reading: "You sound like tha weathaman."

Tomorrow we are off school for Election Day as it's primary day for mayoral and city council candidates.

Here is an article about a project Cha worked on. The artist who helped the students owns Shino the pitbull, a dog I had the pleasure of not being eaten by earlier this year.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Day 9

Friday I broke up my first hallway fistfight. Ms. R the science teacher was ineffectually asking two seventh graders to cease pummeling each other, which they were doing vigorously with heads down. I was walking back from the Boys' Room to our classroom and decided to establish myself as a no-nonsense hall monitor on top of my teacher intern duties. I stepped between the boys, took a few weak blows on the belly and back, and said in my most authoritative voice "I know you are only playing but this behavior is unacceptable!" The chunky young man who'd just punched me in the stomach looked up in terror. Because their heads were down the boys hadn't noticed an adult between them. Fortunately I do many daily crunches as part of my workout routine, and over my firm muscular stomach is also a comfy padding of fat--the result of four or five (or six) alcoholic beverages consumed each evening, also part of my workout routine. A young fist in the stomach and/or love handles hurts not a bit. The kids stopped slinging awkward blows and scurried into line for their next class.

Some students at Booker T. are much larger than I. Were I to come across two behemoths duking it out, would I be so eager to step between them? The time will come when I'll find out.

Friday after school was happy hour at Dougherty's Pub. A nice place actually--I'd never been. The 20-something hipster teachers downed beers and tequila shots. I kept pace until Cha arrived, and we hung out for an hour and hit the road. I'll have many opportunities to drink with this crowd in the coming year. They're heavily into karaoke and duckpin bowling.


Had our first Saturday morning English Practicum class today. Knew some folks from other classes in August, and saw a tall blond young man I thought I recognized. "Excuse me," I said. "Did you go to Towson University?"

"I did," he replied, extending his hand. "And you are the professor who inspired me to teach English."

And here I thought I never got through to anyone! Justin wrote thoughtful essays, often overwrought and a bit scattered, but more interesting than the typical ENGL102 fare. Now he's a veteran high school English teacher in Baltimore County, earning his Master's in Ed.

A very beautiful young woman from Tennessee introduced herself and we went to get coffee during break. She graduated from Sewanee, and speaks with a marvelously precise southern diction. I'd forgotten, being out of academia for a couple years, how many really hot English majors there are.

Friday, September 07, 2007


Somewhere around the middle of Season 2 Carnivale lost its way. The production values fell off a few notches, the charm of the characters wore thin, and even the performances themselves became tired and artless. What began as an intricate alchemical imagining of Armaggedon in the American Dust Bowl became Stephen King's The Stand: Uncut and Uncensored.

Even though it fell off a few notches in the final episodes of its final season, Carnivale is still superior television. Despite the corny ending.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

I have some problems with ANSWER and their shady Stalinism (they're the kind of folk who would write a leftist critique of The Lives of Others because of its unfair portrayal of the former East German Republic, which was of course a paradise of progressive domestic policy), but clearly the DC Police are again failing to uphold the Bill of Rights, or even to acknowledge its existence:

Amendment I

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

I've been videotaped, truncheoned, and gassed by these bastards myself. Fuck them.

One thing ANSWER does very well is get a war protest going. There's another on Sept. 15 in DC. I have a scheduling conflict that day, alas. But I've had my fill of marches for the time being. I'll wait for war with Iran to start pouring my blood on stuff and getting arrested.

At least chunks of the Patriot Act have been ruled out. Not that a court ruling has much sway with the current crew of misfit yahoos staffing the Executive Branch.

[Image stolen from Nevada Thunder]

Day 8

I got to score some reading diagnostics today. The outlook for our morning language arts classes is not so hot. The vast majority of our eighth graders are reading at a fourth grade level. Some are reading at fifth. ONE student out of 35 is reading at grade level. You go, Keisha!

Of course the tests exhibit cultural bias. The students are reading passages about ski trips, robotics, and white-ass beyotches like Emma Lazarus and Amelia Earhart. If we had some less triflin' texts about more engaging figures like Tupac or Beyonce or Ray Lewis, students' interest levels, and therefore their comprehension and recall, would perhaps rise substantially.

I saw a sample of the MSA test from last year. The texts the seventh graders read were about archery and farm life. No wonder Harford County muthafuckas scored 85% on that shit. Noboby in the McCulluh Street Projects is taking archery. Nobody in SoWeBo has ever been on a goddam farm. I'd like to see those Harford County students tested on passages dealing with spider caps, dimebags, and 5-0 terminology.

Maurice, Timothy, and Antonio think they are slick. They spelled out "Bitch" using ASL behind Lukie's back. I gave them props for knowing some ASL, but had to remind them about our language and respect expectations. I wonder what they spelled behind my back afterwards?

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Day 7

We had reading diagnostic tests today. Even though the class is eighth grade, Lukie had fifth, sixth, and seventh grade tests ready in case the students had a hard time with eighth grade level materials.

By the second period Lukie had run downstairs to copy the third and fourth grade tests. And some of these were turned in completely blank.

Another neighborhood teen was shot and killed over the weekend. Kids are still wearing memorial T-shirts from the funeral Friday.

Our Special Ed teacher was transferred with no notice to another school mid-week last week. We have some children in our classes who are required by law to have a special education teacher with them at all times, and who have nobody now. One of these kids can barely read or write his name, and I try to keep him occupied by giving him paper to draw on, and books about Phineas Gage from which he can copy skull pictures. Carey can't read these books, but I told him what happened to Phineas and he said "Dag, that's tight. His skull all messed up!" Carey is a really sweet kid but some of the thugs in class know his degree of naivite, and they try to exploit him to do their dirty work. I have to keep my eye on him until we get a new special educator. Carey draws me pictures of scary thug snowmen with guns and pointy hats.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Day 6

Timothy has a miserable surly attitude. He demands letters home and certificates highlighting his good behavior if he stays on task for a few moments, but inevitably wreaks havoc during class and ends up with a note home about behavioral problems. Today as the students were lining up to go to Math Timothy decided to push Shanalle. Shanalle is a good student, a quiet child, and as soon as Timothy pushed her she threw down her bags and said "In the hall, muthafucka!"

Lukie got between them somehow and was talking to Timothy about his decision-making as I tried to get 15 excitable teens back in line. They'd gathered around eagerly to witness Timothy get his ass pummelled by a girl, which is apparently not uncommon: "Mr. G," the students told me, "Timothy got the shit kicked out of him by five girls last year. Ain't been right since, can't talk or think straight. One of them hit him with a brick."

Lots of fights today. Some of the young men are beginning to test each others' limits, and the results are often explosive. The school police officers were busy.

We proctored a writing diagnostic test. Some of the samples were rather pathetic--this is no judgment of the students, who have been poorly served by what should be the premiere educational system in the world based on available money badly prioritized--but I've frankly seen worse (albeit more grammatically correct) writing from college freshmen. One quiet giant of a kid wrote an essay about being president some day that was a stroke of genius. He had portraits of JFK and Tupac in the oval office, with fried chicken and forties on ice available 24/7. He changed the Presidential Seal to read "Thug Life 4evah." All of it was written in a delightful tongue-in-cheek style. We need a creative writing class just for Anthony.


I dreamt last night that I wrote an essay dripping with irony that was disguised as a Bush speech. In this Swiftian speech the Decider apologized profusely for all his wrongs and engaged in an uncharacteristc degree of metacognitive self-awareness.

In my dream Karl Rove stole the essay before publication and Bush read it on TV on a Tuesday night. His approval ratings soared and I woke disgusted.

Welcome back

After a hiatus in excess of two years, The Dazzling Urbanite has begun blogging again from his new headquarters in Atlanta. His takes on the Michael Vick and Larry Craig scandals are as wonderful as expected.


We were so busy with the wedding and associated events that we had no time to explore Charleston, which is a shame, because there were a lot of interesting parks and monuments within walking distance of the condo. We did get to stroll the big market downtown, which was packed with three types of people out in the swampy heat: tourists, sailors, and people trying to have sex with sailors. It rained much of the weekend anyhow. We didn't see the sun until it was setting on Sunday evening, and we left early Monday morning.

We ate ridiculous amounts of food. I know Maryland gets a lot of crab from SC because the Chesapeake Bay has nigh been raided dry, but I was unaware that ALL of the seafood in SC is tastier and fresher than it is back home.

The drive took about nine hours down and eight and a half hours back, making it a bit shorter a haul than Toronto from Baltimore by car. Once we got out of the DC/Raleigh Virginia corridor, traffic was no problem.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Good Lord

Why studying President Bush's responses at press conferences is not good prep for beauty contest question-and-answer segments. Looks like South Carolina needs teachers as much as Baltimore City does.

[Link courtesy Seth]