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.