Friday, May 30, 2008


A terrible story, and I'm amazed it doesn't happen more often. Ask me over drinks sometime about flying into Tegucigalpa.

One Week Away

My ear drums are ringing satisfactorily from our loud rehearsal last evening. We've got two more full set-list runs scheduled this weekend before we take the revAMPed Move Like Seamus live next Friday at Mick O'Shea's.

Be there @ 9:30.

[photo by Danielle-Marie Tompkins]


"bird-brained" should no longer be pejorative

Thursday, May 29, 2008


I'd read Ancient Images long ago and thought it would be nice to revisit before Campbell's new one is released this side of the pond in July. Campbell's got two gears in his novels: the re-awakening of some hoary pagan magic, or the descent of some paranoid loser into obsessive stalking and murder. Ancient Images is of the former category, and it holds up well. A TV film critic and researcher discovers a copy of a suppressed Karloff and Lugosi horror film and dies mysteriously just as he's about to screen it. The film is stolen, and his friend takes time off from work to trace any information she can about the movie. What many thought was fiction turns out to be all too real, bwa hahah ah ha.

Campbell is an aquired taste. He's more about atmosphere than action, and his obtuse style can frustrate. But I've always liked his style, and the way he puts the fear into atmosphere.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Hard Times at Douglass High

I keep thinking about adding HBO to our DirectTV subscription. They've got a documentary coming up about Frederick Douglass High in B'more--where most of my kids from this year will end up next year (at least those who pass and who don't drop out).

Unfortunately I'm a teacher off for the summer, so I can't afford HBO until next August. By then I'm hoping Hard Times at Douglass High will be on DVD.

Only 9 instructional days to go

We're reading a novel called Bang! with the 8th graders. Lukie got the book through a grant which donated sufficient copies for us to give each student their own. She's been itching to get it into the classroom all year, but until we finished the mandated City pacing guide that wasn't possible. The kids love the book, which is about guns and city violence and youth. Many are reading ahead and asking questions about the moral ramifications of choices people make.

I don't know why we have to read stuff like The Giver, which the kids hated and to which they could not relate. I mean, I'm all for using a variety of books to teach literary analysis skills--but our kids are 8th graders who read at a fifth grade level. They need materials that engage them, books that will interest them in reading. I don't think, frankly, that we should teach literary analysis skills (characterization, theme, plot) until the kids can freakin' read at grade level. We're doing them a dis-service by asking them to analyze characterization in a book like The Giver when they can barely read it.

But anyhow, today we're watching an episode of The Simpsons in class, called "The Cartridge Family."* The kids know a lot about guns and gun violence obviously, but they don't know much about guns as a controversial political issue. I want them to know about the NRA and gun control legislation, etc, and this seems a good place to start. I may show them Bowling for Columbine in whole or in part later (though the logical fallacies are irksome Moore's movie is good for starting dialogue and debate). I also want to talk about how kids get killed in the cities all the time, but when a school shooting happens in the 'burbs we have national news coverage for weeks, and the implications of this.

A funny story I never mentioned here: Nat came to class with a huge bandage wrapped around his left wrist.

Me: What happened to your hand?

Nat: The police beat me up.

Me: Really? What happened?

Nat: They said I stole something.

Me: They beat you up for stealing something?

Nat: Nah. They was chasing me for stealing a scooter. But I didn't steal it, someone gave it to me.

Lukie: Did the person who gave you the scooter steal it?

Nat: Yeah. I cut my hand on a gate.

Me: A gate?

Nat: Yeah, one of those metal things around a yard with the spikes on top.

Me: A fence.

Nat: Yeah. I tried to jump it and the spike went through my hand.

Me: And the police beat you up?

Nat: Nah. They actually helped get my hand off the fence.

*The kids like Family Guy better.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Container gardening

Container gardening, originally uploaded by Blog-Sothoth.

My goal is to put flower boxes in nine of the 13 front windows on our house. Some of them are rather hard to get to, however.

Saturday, May 24, 2008


I enjoyed some aspects of the book, including the manner in which 'surveillance' is handled. I'd have thought, given the title, that Raban's book would have focused on state snooping into the lives of private citizens. Most of the government intrusion occurs in the background, however, with subtle hints of growing police oppression and intrusion into everday life. This is refreshingly "real," and reflects our current descent into soft fascism. The book shows how regular citizens increasingly watch each other and use technology (Google) and subterfuge to check each other out. We all are guilty of surveillance. Of course many of Raban's characters are liars and cheats, and since everybody is guilty constant surveillance is what people deserve. Or something.

Most of the characters are simply drawn caricatures created simply to get their political views in the text: the paranoid liberal conspiracy theorist, the freedom-loving right-wing academic who hates Islam, the lefty who tolerates the erosion of civil liberties for security, etc. There is some fine writing, and an alarming passage or two, but I was most dis-satisfied by the novel's peculiar ending.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

woke me up this morning

woke me up this morning, originally uploaded by Blog-Sothoth.

It's disconcerting to be wakened by loud noises outside your bedroom window when said window is 50 feet in the air.

Day 171

I'm not a huge guy, but I'm in pretty good shape. I weigh 190 pounds. I'm pretty tough, and can be scary when I need to. But it never ceases to amaze me how I can yell, threaten, cajole, beg, plead, and glare at kids who are misbehaving and yet they ignore me. Or even worse, they sometimes taunt me or call me a "cracker ass muthafucka."

And then Lukie will say, quietly and calmly and with no emotion on her face at all: "I will ruin your life if you don't stop that," and everyone in the class freezes.

Project this summer: develop teacher tones.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Ministry of Silly Hats

Ministry of Silly Hats, originally uploaded by Blog-Sothoth.

Cha had a party last Saturday for some of the artists she works with in the public school system, and they brought some of their youngins over.

Then Cha brought out the silly hat box.


Man, I am loving this spring. Lots of rain, cool days, and wind. I know many think it's a drag, but I work in a building with no AC. I'll take this weather until the second week of June.

Barely half of my students are coming to school on any given day. They don't come if it rains, they don't come if it's sunny, they are done with 8th grade--except for those who will be back in 8th grade next year. I am done with this year also. Can't get up much enthusiasm any more. Lukie writes the lessons, I deliver 'em. Rinse and repeat.

Not doing much here of late--I apologize. But coming down the pike are my thoughts on: about 8 books, the 2nd season of BSG, and my first year as a Balto City teacher.

Right now, however, I'm off to meet Silenus for Resurrection Ales at the Brewer's Art. He's back in town from NYC, clerking in the judicial system down here. I'm going to give him some names to watch out for.

Monday, May 19, 2008


Move Like Seamus has a new line-up and a new set-list and we are playing our first gig at Mick O'Shea's June 6th. Originally we were scheduled to play the 6th and 7th, but a mysterious double-booking happened and we are only playing Friday that weekend. You need to be there. For $3 you get 3 hours of bash-your-mouth rockin' Celtic tunes, rock anthem covers, and originals. If you can't make the June show mark your calendars for July 11th and/or July 12th.

I for one am terribly excited--having been a fan of the band for many a moon I now find myself on the other side of the music stands. I must say these cats can play.

[Photo by Danielle-Marie Tompkins]

8 days a week

One of my favorite students--the kid who always asked about my clothes, who often tried to twist my nipple, who said funny charming things--has been kicked out of school for dealing drugs on the premises. I've seen him dealing in the halls before, and have seen the cops in the building see him dealing in the halls and ignore him doing so.

But last week there were students getting high in a classroom and that apparently crossed a line regarded as beyond the pale even at Booker T. So W. MC is out the building and will be home-schooled by his father, who cares not a lick about his son joining a gang and assisting at beat-downs and dealing drugs to other middle-schoolers.

15 instructional days left.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Tweety takes charge

I have trashed Chris Matthews here in the past. He's one of the reasons I can't watch political "coverage" any more. But he actually goes after a wingnut here, criticizing his lack of historical knowledge and at one point shouting "this is pathetic"! He compares the guest's vacuity to that of White House spokesperson Dana Perino, who didn't know anything about the Cuban Missile Crisis. He almost acts like a journalist.


These are the kind of stories that are so well-wrought I find myself a couple days later wondering if the characters are OK: How is Amit doing? I hope Rahul pulls through. I love the little details Lahiri packs in, details careless readers might miss, details which resonate. I often read carelessly these days, but Lahiri slows me down, makes me pay attention. I love her sinuous sentences, and found myself starting a long story at 11:30pm, thinking, "I'll get 10 pages in before sleep," only to still be up at 1 more than 100 pages later. Her writing makes me de-Lahiri-iously happy.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Day 169

Haven't kept up with the school day postings of late. In fact, haven't really been doing much here at the 'blog for a few weeks. Too busy winding down from the accelerated Master's, etc.

Today Lukie got banged in the eyepiece by a sixth grader while trying to break up a fight. She's fine, but aggravated. Normally Lukie wouldn't press charges on a child for such an attack, especially given that the girl was trying to punch around Lukie to hit her opponent, but because of the state of things at Booker T. she's going to write up every detail and go ahead and press charges. We have to get everything down on paper every day and make sure the City knows exactly what's happening in these schools.

Last week when I left on Thursday a 7th grader was attacking a uniformed police officer out front. The officer got knocked on her back before a colleague started spraying mace and there was a crowd of middle schoolers hacking and crying.

Students from a different school were beating two of our students with a four by four board outside. The board had a baseball bat handle lathed into its end for easy gripping. Usually these fights break up after the intervention of adults, but this one kept going. The kids with the board attempted to follow their quarry into the building.

Gang activity, mob fights, and unruly disrespectful behavior still reign at Booker T. The principal has taken to standing in the hall with a bullhorn at the end of the day, but I never see him when kids are actually in the building.

The things I've seen this year!

They offered me a job for next year, but too late. I already signed my contract to head a few blocks east and teach over by MICA in a much calmer middle school. I will miss my time at Booker T. I will never forget it.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


According to this film, if Elizabeth I hadn't gone ages without an orgasm, Spain would have easily conquered England as expected. Because she's got a big wood on for Clive Owen which goes unreciprocated, however, the Virgin Queen sends forth a howling wind from her empty womb to punish the invaders.

Needless to say, I didn't like it much, though Elizabeth: The Golden Age has its moments, and some wicked cool costumes.

Monday, May 12, 2008

cha and ma

cha and ma, originally uploaded by Blog-Sothoth.

mommys day

mommys day, originally uploaded by Blog-Sothoth.

Saturday, May 10, 2008


Does for the Oughts what Fitzgerald did for the '20s.* Gessen has forged a memorable little book, and those things most bewildering to me about our age are here preserved for future generations to grapple anew, hung as in amber. Novel factory Joyce Carol Oates penned the review which sold the book to me.

*I don't make this comparison lightly.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Busy, busy

Argh. I'm teaching a lesson plan at the high school Monday. I always tell my kids to keep all their options open for as long as possible, so I'm going to practice what I preach. I have to write a lesson for a ninth-grade English class and teach it. The students and the school administrators will all rate my performance. I haven't the slightest idea what I'm going to do. Maybe analyzing theme in short poems--something that makes sense when I only have 90 minutes to work with.

Then I have to rush down to Booker T. Monday and do my classes there, and thence to the job fair Monday eve, where I might interview for more jobs, or perhaps simply sign a contract and get it all over with.

In five weeks I have two months off. Gotta maintain 'til then.

Biting Satire

The link, depending on your place of work, might not be cool to click while on the clock.

Ok--is this some kind of joke? The film looks so bad it may be worth seeing, joining the ranks of classic terribly awful horror films like Basket Case and Audition.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Decisions, decisions

So events are conspiring against me. The innovation high school called and left a message asking me back for Phase II of their interview process, but this would happen next Monday. By Tuesday if I have not signed a contract I could lose any other offers to other applicants and if I fail in Phase II or III of the high school interview process I might end up placed inside a school where nobody in his or her right mind would set foot.*

There's also a rumor going 'round that the City is changing their minds about letting us re-pay our Notre Dame tuition by working in any public City school for three years, and that we will be required to do three years in a middle school as originally planned. In other words, I could take a high school position and be forced to leave it for a middle school job, or if I refused to leave the high school I would have to pay the City back my Notre Dame tuition.

Plus, some goofball at the school headquarters found out I was offered a job and wrote myself and the principal an email announcing my acceptance of the position, even though I haven't yet decided to accept it. Now the principal thinks I'm definitely coming to her school, and if I don't she has to start interviewing again and I will be making enemies in the system.

Man, I do not want to settle for any old position, especially if I turn out to be as good at this as I think I might be. But perhaps I should just take the 7th grade gig.

*Of course the school I'm currently at tops this list of least popular placements. If I ended up there again next year via lottery it would just be another year of the same

Wednesday, May 07, 2008


Oscar Wao? Oscar WOW. A Dominican sci-fi geek and his cursed family who live in Paterson New Jersey are the focus of this wonderful novel, which also provides a mini-lesson in the history of a tortured island nation and its sordid dictator Trujillo. Junot Diaz writes an engaging snappy slang, and peppers his book with more geeky pop cultural references than a full season of Futurama. Funny, tragic, hip, and deserving of its Pulitzer.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

dog daze

dog daze, originally uploaded by Blog-Sothoth.

my neighbor's dog likes this recent weather

Monday, May 05, 2008

God help me

Booker T. Washington Middle, originally uploaded by Blog-Sothoth.

So I had an interview at Booker T. today. It went very well. We discussed a return to the arts-integration focus Booker T. had before its calamitous fall the last five years into wretched and abysmal decay.

If they offer me a job I might take it, despite better offers at much safer schools. What the fuck is wrong with me? This is the school where attacks on staff are leading the charge in violence-prone B'more. The school where I've had weapons in the classroom, where I've seen kids kicked in the head, where I've been called a "cracker ass muthafucka" by students on numerous occasions. Where just today I had a girl screaming "stop grabbing my tit muthafucka" as a boy wrestled her to the ground and I had to pick him up by the ears to get his filthy paws off her.

I am so torn. Booker T. is the school that needs me most, my desire to teach high schoolers aside.

Oh, God. Maybe they will make this decision easy by not offering me the job.

What have we here?

Looks like the return of Move Like Seamus to Mick O'Shea's Irish Pub is imminent. A new line-up and new setlist await.

Too bad their new rhythm guitarist is so unphotogenic.

Sunday, May 04, 2008


Yeah, I think I liked it. I have some reservations however:
  • the use of the narrative "we," which is intended to show the degree of absorption inside corporate culture of each individual into a hive identitiy, is gimicky and quickly tiresome
  • the story is episodic and seems stitched together and the amusing anecdotes are often not that funny and not that suprising to anyone who has actually had a job in a corporation
  • ditto for the caricatures of people who work in corporations
  • I can't talk about the po-mo trick unleashed near the end, because it's a spoiler. It's not wholly unbearable here, but said trick is like the "it was all a dream ending": done to death!

So I didn't like it until the "shift," about which I shan't speak in case you are reading or going to read it, and then I must admit I became interested in the book as a novel instead of just as a gimmicky farce about corporate behavior. Do I think this should have been nominated for the National Book Award? Hell, no. But I liked it well enough to finish it.

Friday, May 02, 2008


Oooh, I think I bombed my interview today. In some instances I gave vague, meandering answers to questions I should have nailed. I did ok on some stuff, but were I the one interviewing me today, I'd not hire myself.

The other candidates up for the job were long-time high school City English teachers. Gulp.

There are 2 things I bring to the table which might be of value at this particular school: college teaching experience and business management experience. This is an "innovation" school with an emphasis on career and college track students. I think I can help kids develop practical writing and reading skills necessary for their lives as functioning citizens. I think I can do this while sharing my passion for art, music and literature, which is also important, given the arts integration focus at this school.

Whether I communicated any of this well or even adequately today is up in the air. We'll see. They said the chosen candidate would face two more obstacles: teaching a lesson plan in front of students from the school who would evaluate it with the administrators present, and then a third interview. Gulp, gulp.

I do have a couple aces up my sleeve:
  • male teachers are in high demand, and I am the only male seeking the position
  • my wife works closely with this school and they all know her and respect her, and I have met the administrators before socially
  • my mentor teacher knows one of the administrators who interviewed me

If I don't make the cut, I take the other offer and settle for 7th grade. No biggie.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

a breath of fresh air

Leesha forwarded this vid, and it's pretty cool. I want a compressed air car now!

High Fi

I iTuned this last week--think I first read about it over at B12Partners--and it's awesome. There's a great track featuring Cab Calloway, who grew up near by, who was best friends with my 85-year-old neighbor's brother (they have the photos to prove it), and who went to Booker T.

And speaking of Seth's blog. I'm reluctant to go there any more. He and Steven Hart always cost me money with their quality recommendations. Hart recently plugged Junot Diaz, which I'm currently loving.