Sunday, November 30, 2008
I enjoy an occasional memoir of mental crack-up as much as the next pseudo-intellectual. Michael Greenberg's Hurry Down Sunshine is different from most because the majority are first-person accounts of personal collapse; his is an eye-witness view of his daughter Sally's break-down as a young teen. Greenberg is good at recreating his floundering helplessness in the face of a delusional kid who thinks she is God's messenger of hope and impervious to harm. Also compelling is his portrait of a mentally ill older brother.
Worth checking out.
Saturday, November 29, 2008
Friday, November 28, 2008
As much as I liked Dreams from my Father, I think The Audacity of Hope is even better. An American politician in the mainstream talking (relatively) straight about our role in Indonesia's late-60s bloodbaths? An inspiring rhetoritician who never resorts to ad hominem attack or vacuous appeals to authority? A guy who writes about fatherhood and family values without making me want to puke?
I'm more convinced than ever that we elected the right man, and I write that even though this book proves without doubt that Barack Obama is politically and socially far more conservative than I. Still--his thoughtfulness, his pragmatism, and his powerful sense of empathy make me willing to give him the benefit of the doubt when we disagree.
And I'll say it again: the guy can write. I get pleasure just from his prose style. He's thoughtful, cautious, and can sum up thorny problems with elegance. Here's how he handles my current number-one concern:
It's not a question we ask ourselves enough, I think; as a country we seem to be suffering from an empathy deficit. We wouldn't tolerate schools that don't teach, that are chronically underfunded, understaffed, and underinspired, if we thought that the children in them were like our children.
I totally agree the problem is as basic as that, and I believe more than ever that Obama was elected to restore our sense of civic duty to one another. The Audacity of Hope contains a wonderful chapter on race, and has charming portraits of Senate elders resonate with a keen perception of character and delivered with folksy charm. Throughout Obama is self-deprecating and full of love for his country and its denizens of all stripes--racial, religious, political, etc. Only someone with a deep knowledge of our history could so easily put his own struggles and achievements and thoughts into the context of our current political landscape. Definitely worth a read, especially after 8 years laboring under a president who can barely read books, let alone write them.
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Crikey! It's like Tobe Hooper and Peter Weir got together down unda to make a horror show.
Yes, the standard cliches of the genre are here in droves, but Wolf Creek is nonetheless a merciless flick that had me clutching uncomfortably at couch cushions. The poor Mrs. was taken aback by the tricky calm opening; not since Audition has a movie so severely punished me for my gullibility. I admit to falling for the its initial premise, which lulled me into a certain series of expectations which proved dreadfully wrong. Of course it's this trickery which prevents Wolf Creek from merely being a Texas Chainsaw rip-off. Not for the faint of heart.
[nod to Steven Hart for the tip]
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
"Yeah," he asks, "but why you call my house?"
Monday, November 24, 2008
I'm not playing any more.
Last period I was blocking the door trying to prevent kids from leaving my class before dismissal and a bonehead tried to dive between my legs. He hit his skull on my right knee and got himself a nice lump on the edge of his fade. Fortunately he didn't take out my knee in the process.
I found out from Ms. J next door that the teacher I replaced left because a student pushed him and threatened him and that student only got two days' suspension. Great.
Sunday, November 23, 2008
I've had Taxi to the Dark Side for more than a month. I don't have a lot of free time right now to watch DVDs, but mostly I had it so long because I'm sick and tired of the Bush clan and the way they've wrecked my country. Re-visiting Rumsfeld and Cheney's disgusting dismantling of our laws and international human rights obligations just wasn't appealing. I almost sent the DVD back unwatched, but then I read in Harper's an article about the necessity of keeping pressure on the next administration to put these bastards on trial and I was motivated to watch the documentary.
So, as much as I'd like to forget what happened, it's my duty as a citizen to make sure nobody ever forgets. It's also my duty to pester people who say torture is ok to watch this movie about US soldiers killing an innocent Afghani taxi driver. At least 37 detainees in US custody have been murdered that we know about. How many of them were also innocent? How many of the thousands who were tortured or mistreated had nothing to do with 9-11 or fighting US soldiers?
I plan to write President Obama shortly after his swearing in to ask that he vigorously investigate violations of human rights and US law by the previous administration. I know this is unlikely to happen, but until the Generals and policy makers--not merely the troops involved--are held accountable for their roles in these atrocities, I won't feel like I have my country back.
Watch the interview with the film-maker's father* in particular. He was a military interrogator during WWII and the Korean conflict, and his disgust with Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld is palpable. "I always had the idea that we were on the side of the good guys," he says. "Now I've lost all faith in the American government."
*Included as a special feature on the DVD
I liked Weekend much more, but I thoroughly enjoyed Goddard's Pierrot le Fou. Nobody does serious silly as well as Goddard, and here he announces not the Age of Aquarius but the Civilization of the Ass. I laughed mine off.
I thought this was ok. I prefer Buster Keaton.
Saturday, November 22, 2008
Last period I took my 7th graders to an assembly. The AP was handing out awards for perfect attendance, honor roll, and most improved academics. It took a half-hour to get the kids in their seats and somewhat attentive. Miss B. was reading names and the kids announced were not happy to receive awards--all of them groaned audibly or looked terrified or both. It is not cool to achieve good things, and I'm not sure parading these youngsters in front of their classmates is such a good idea. Kids in the audience were audibly threatening the winners, and I'm not talking name-calling ("nerds" or "dorks"); I'm talking threats of serious violence.
Miss B. had students threatening her during the proceedings, until the Big Cheese came in and gave two boys long-term suspension. "You threaten my teachers," she bellowed, "and you are gone. 45 days!" She made a long speech about how many vacancies there are at B'more alternative schools. "You play with me," she said, "and you'll be on your way out the door. I might end up with 10 students in the building, but they'll be the best damn students in the world. We have excellent teachers here. You keep disrespecting them and you will be gone." She told the teachers to give her the names of perpetually troublesome kids every day. "They'll be gone."
Then she told the kids about homelessness and gangs and drugs and the fates of some of the "popular" kids in her high school. "A lot of them suckas is dead," she said. "They let kids manipulate them into fighting and acting cool. They are DEAD." Students who dared speak or slouch while she was speaking got ear-twists, butt-kicks, head-slaps. She kept 25 7th graders until 4:30 for daring to speak while she was speaking.
She will have to back up her words. That was the problem with the Big Cheese at my old school: all talk.
This morning between 1:20 and 1:30 am I received three prank calls on my home phone. Somebody mimicking a nasal white-man voice and saying "Sorry, buddy" over and over. I *69-ed the number and put it into Google and the first page that popped up gave me the latitude and longitude of the address to which the phone was registered. The address was a couple blocks south of North Ave on the East Side, only a five-minute walk from my school. I'm going to post the number on my board Monday morning in big block letters. The first kid who says "why you putting my number out?" is MINE.
Friday, November 21, 2008
Thursday, November 20, 2008
Earlier today I called my mortgage company. Over a month ago I'd requested they remove the escrow from our account; Baltimore City is notoriously incompetent when it comes to their tax bills, and they've overcharged us by $4,500 each of the last two years. These bills go to our mortgager who pays them immediately, and then after protracted arguments with various bureaucrats I get a refund which I send back to my mortgager and deposit into escrow. Our mortgager increased our monthly payment by $500 last year because of this nonsense, and I decided the hassle wasn't worth it. I'll pay that shit out of pocket. Like all good mortgage companies, mine said I had to pay a fee to close escrow, and I sent the check along with a letter as directed. They cashed the check and have yet to remove the escrow from our account.
So today I called them to get it fixed, and I had to endure the worst hold music ever devised. Baltimore City, ironically, has the same dreck playing through their headquarters phones. It's music designed to make sure you will never call for any reason ever again. Imagine Jon Anderson making a sequel to Relayer, but because he can't get the other decrepit former members of Yes to leave their astonishingly successful solo careers,* he has to hire Dario Argento and the Goblins and Vangelis to fill in the soundscape. It's that bad. In fact, the insipid piping of blind, mindless Azag-Thoth is pleasurable by comparison. Given a choice between hearing this hold music for another 20 minutes or listening to no music for the rest of my life but the braying of Jim Nabors,** I'd be sorely tempted to take the latter.
So I listen to this for 20 minutes before a dude comes on and says "We lost your letter but cashed your check. Send another letter." Yeah, lost my letter, I thought. Right now it's probably policy to lose the first such letter so you can keep as much money in your coffers as long as you can.
And right then I realized it: I'm scared. I hadn't really thought about it, but watching even so mindless a morning crapfest as Morning Joe can really freak you out. There is no good financial news. Tonight Cha is in New York for some Fitzgerald-esque bash at the Waldorf Astoria. Typically I'd enjoy a bachelor night with some delivery from Joe Squared or The Charles Diner. But tonight I chose a box of organic mac and cheese instead. Why spend money?
I cancelled our escrow not because of the inconvenience of sending in refunds, but because I'm thinking of hoarding and I want all my money where I can get to it fast.
*I saw Steve Howe busking for Monopoly game pieces at the Greenmount McD's last year.
**God, I saw commercials for that shit EVERY DAY for the first 17 years of my life! "Please, release me, let me go...."
I had Fate making a travel brochure for Baltimore next to my computer today. Zambia was fussing at her over and over and Fate was fussing back. I called them both on it several times. Fate was cutting newspaper images from The Sun with sharp scissors. I moved Zambia away to another table and thought things would quiet down, until I tried to assist Next Stop Willoughby with her math homework. Suddenly Zambia was all up in Fate's grill, pushing her in the chair next to my desk. A mob formed around them, all girls hostile to Fate. Fate is very volatile, and Fate had very sharp scissors.
As a City school teacher, I know to always know where my scissors are. I got there just as Fate stood up and brandished the scissors at Zambia's face. I got my hands on her hand and I got my fingers around the blades and I got a level-headed young man not as enthusiastic for blood as his classmates to escort Zambia out while I talked Fate down. It took me about 45 seconds to get her to release the scissors. I was practically crushing the bones in her fingers, making sure that hand had no opportunity to move.
As soon as I had the scissors I called the office and got 5-0 to escort both young ladies to the office. Zambia's parents came in a matter of minutes and I told them what was up (Zambia kept trying to alter the story, but her moms wasn't hearing none of it). Fate last I heard was suspended, but Zambia started it. I can't tolerate anyone brandishing scissors in my room but when surrounded by a bunch of hostile girls who are ready to start a beat-down, wouldn't most people do the same? I dunno.
What a fucking job.
*So far, however, their attempts to fight are rather more like the County school "fights" I remember from junior high. Kids talking a lot but unwilling to punch first. SO UNLIKE the Book where you punch first and think later.
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
Behavior was OK for the most part but I had to really lay down the law with my last class again. Yesterday Duracell threw a pen at another student and hit me in the eye. I jumped all over him and then a general magic marker fight started in class. I made the whole class write me letters of apology today, and then made them write me a persuasive essay telling me why I should continue to let them make creative projects instead of doing reading comprehension packets every day. Then I had them make me posters about bad things that can happen when classroom rules are violated.
I turn unfortunate events into language arts teaching activities. Weee!
Then I had to keep some kids for detention, and then others stayed to help re-do my bulletin boards. All they really did was make a giant mess which I cleaned up at 5:30before dragging my weary ass home. 6:30 am in the building and 5:30 heading home--ugh.
Now I'm too pooped to go to rehearsal tonight, which sucks. I like rehearsal, and we have a big gig Saturday--our first with drums since July. Our rehearsal last Friday was pretty spectacular, however, so I have every confidence we'll be on point. We have another full-band rehearsal Friday.
Cold, windy, and mostly sunny, with a 100% chance of ROCK.
Herr Lortz rejoins us to lay some thunder down on Saturday at Mick O'Shea's. 9:30 start time, $3 cover. Best deal in B'more.
Also: Dec. 5th, Seamus Trio show. Don't miss it.
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
And don't worry--totally safe for work, except for the word "porn."
"I get about 20 minutes of teaching done each class*," was my response. He laughed.
"Sheeee-it, son. Don't overexert yourself. That's better than most. I must say you've got your homeroom somewhat under control."
I laughed at this.
I'm the only teacher on the entire 3rd floor who has a pencil sharpener in his room. Cha bought it for me from Staples, and it is "tight" as the kids would say. Of course I have a steady stream of faculty and students from other classes now coming into my room during instruction time in order to sharpen their pencils. The teacher next door to me is red-hot, and whenever she comes in I have a hard time keeping my first period boys under control. They fall apart like the wolf in a Tex Avery cartoon. What a mess. I'ma buy Miss J. her own damn sharpener.
My 3rd class was so disruptive three days in a row that I broke out the guilt trip, and laid it down heavy. "How many kids in the City have a former college professor to teach them? How many? You told me on your surveys last week that you hated when teachers didn't teach you anything. I can't teach you if you won't let me." They did their work quietly. They let me read them "The Monkey's Paw" without interruption. They engaged in meaningful talk about the story afterward. I won't get my hopes up until we get through Chekov's "The Bet" later this week...(and no, I won't show them any clips from The Simpsons as a reward for good behavior. I would NEVER show a DVD to my class, "fair use" or no. We are only permitted to show approved vids available via Discovery Channel in the classroom. Anyone who gets the impression I would ever show The Simpsons to my class is misunderstanding the parodic intent of my posts. Take that, copyright trolls).
*We have 90 minute classes.
Monday, November 17, 2008
I found out that Gwynn Falls is not actually who she said she was. Instead of being a 7th grader in my last-period class, it turns out she's an 8th grader masquerading under the name of a student who transferred to a different school but whose name still appears on my roster. I had to do some detective work when she strolled into my homeroom to flirt with one of the boys and he called her Tawana. Then her story crumpled. I had her jacked up and taken out by the school police today. They were saying "Your PO gonna love this one, Tawana" as they hauled her out kicking.
One headache down, 68 to go.
I'm waiting for a Geek Squad dude to show up--he's going to try and figure out my first problem with Vista in a year using it: suddenly I've a conflict with HP printers, and of course all four printers I use are HPs. I found some fixes online but they involve detailed registry fixes of a sort I'd rather pay an expert to do. A strange error started popping up and then during a major print job for work I had to change cartriges--after that all my printers un-installed and now a "spooler" error prevents them from working or communicating with my laptop. I'm a teacher, man--I need to print EVERY DAY. I hope he can figure it out.
Friday, November 14, 2008
City school teachers are an odd lot. Many are passionate and committed to student achievement, but they don't know how to meet productively. The meetings quickly derail because instead of taking turns sharing insights or ideas, everyone starts yelling. The loudest yeller gets the floor, and so the volume quickly becomes ridiculous. Everyone yells over top everyone else. I don't thrive in such environments--it reminds me of childhood when there was always yelling and fighting and I shrink into myself. Don't get me wrong--the yelling isn't hostile, it's the modus operandi. I wish the facilitator had stepped up and put a stop to it for the sake of my eardrums and mood, but instead she participated in the yelling.
Got to go back to the Book today. Lukie called because someone sent me a package--donated books from New Jersey! A big thanks to Sharkycharming's friend for the juvie titles. Karmic re-distribution, following the theft of my Bluford titles this week.
Thursday, November 13, 2008
Last period Duracell and Gwynn Falls decided to start throwing my Bluford books at each other--the ones that are left, that is, after somebody stole 47 paperbacks yesterday. As one of my four Breonnas put it today: "Them's some thievin' muthafuckas." Thank goodness they're only $1 each. I ordered five more full sets, and plan to collect a $1 from each kid who wants to borrow them from now on. Dollar returned on receipt of the book, or they can exchange for a new title.
Tomorrow is Professional Development Day. We have to work, but there are no kids. I asked if, instead of being tortured at the PD center, I could work in my classroom, and I was granted permission to do so by the Big Cheese. I am going to get so much work done. Can't wait!
Drinking tonight. And going to see some music at El Rancho Grande.
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
1) Never take it personally.
2) Never take it home with you.
3) You can't reach all the kids.
(and unofficial rule #4--don't lose your sense of humor)
I broke or forgot all three (four) of these yesterday, and had a miserable stress-filled 24 hours. I had to do a lot of breath-watching last night in order to get back to the basic truth: I cause most of my own suffering.
When I finally got my shit together I decided to have a glass of wine, and the cork was rotted out and it was my last bottle, so I never got to the wine. I had a good long chuckle over that and felt much better.
So, yesterday--I'll never speak of it again. But today was better. I was back on the horse, banging shit on the walls, rolling right up in young thuggish grills and saying "you got a problem?", calling houses, using my timer, bustin' out rhymes from Biggie's Ready to Die. I will do what I have to do to get respect. I am getting respect from about 60% of the kids now. I won't get them all, but if I can teach some I'll be happy.
I wish you all could meet Gwynn Falls, my most nuttiest 7th grader. She is way too grown for her grade, and is always talking about swallowing sperm and anal sex. I have actual children in my class--we're talking Peanuts characters with braids and beads in their hair--who have to listen to stories about butt-fucking because when I tell Gwynn to stop she flips me off; when I call her parents they say "call the police"; and when I call the police they say "if she ain't hurtin' no one, don't call us." I can't just put her out the class either. So I'm stuck--I can't compete with the ass-fucking stories. Business letter format just don't compare. In fact, if I had a choice as a seventh grader I would have rather heard about butt-fucking--in fact, if I had a choice between a business letter format conference and butt-fucking story conference as a professional development this coming Friday, I'd go to the latter, no contest. I can't compete.
But Gwynn started doing a table-dance strip tease today in last period. The police came for that. She'll be back tomorrow I'm sure.
Monday, November 10, 2008
So I'm working on it, and I've been in this situation before. I feel like I'm close to getting a handle on the March. I've gotten some quality work out of the last-period seventh grade class after they ran roughshod over me my first day, and some of them are hanging out with me after school to clean up and they're giving me drawings to hang on my wall.
Duracell is a kid in that last class. He's about 6'1" and 175 pounds of lean muscle. He likes to throw punches at me which barely miss to see if I'll flinch (I'm used to this from the Book). He also hides behind doors and when I open them he jumps up and says 'Boo!' really loud. I don't flinch, because I'm perpetually hyperaware in the building, looking out for airborne desks and chairs headed toward my face. Children throwing punches and jumping at me I can handle.
Today I turned my back and Duracell had little Crouton by the foot and threw him up in the air for a double back-flip (it was elegantly done but very dangerous). I gave Duracell a sound dressing-down, and then ten minutes later he was clenching Android around the neck. I saw this at the Book too this year--a new tradition called "putting somebody to sleep." It actually originated at the Book with a transfer from the East Side. Now I see it regularly. I had to pry Duracell's arms off Android who was red-eyed and blue-faced by the time I got him freed. Kids are choking people until they go out, for fun.
This shit scares me. One of these youngins is going to pull a 187 when they think they're playing. They just don't give a fuck. Students stand around laughing while it goes on, too.
Saturday, November 08, 2008
Steven Hart has been unaccountably kind to this blog for some time, and now he's granted me Bloggy Knighthood by conferring the Superior Scribbler Award.
To avoid accruing electronic chain-letter curses, I nominate in turn five superior blogs:
Seth at B12Partners Solipsism--he's turned me on to many fine films and books and CDs over the years.
Casey and crew at The Contrarian, where the topics range from spirituality and politics to music regulation lobbying and beyond!
Emily at Car Parts, Bottles, and Cutlery--she averages about a billion comments a day, and with good reason.
Steven Hart's Opinion Mill already got the nod, but his less politically focused StevenHartSite is also an excellent daily stop: a fave regular feature is his Blue Monday series.
And finally a shout-out to a blog newby who's handling his business in more ways than one: John at Sound in Motion.
Friday, November 07, 2008
So far, however, the kids are just rowdy. They talk, they punch each other in the nards for fun, they get out of their seats and do stupid stuff. But about 80% of the goofballs get their work done too. And some of the work is rather good.
There hasn't been a fight in the building since I've been there. At the Book we had five or six fights every day just in sixth grade--and that was way down from last year. Part of this is due to the Big Cheese at the March. Unlike the Big Cheese at the Book, she is in the halls regularly, she knows the kids' names, she puts her head in classrooms at random. Good stuff. I saw her big ass frame roll up on a young punk who called her a b today--she is not an athletic woman but she had him in a crazy grip and marched him elegantly down the hall in a flash. I asked her about it later. "I have a brown belt in Tae Kwon Do" she said. "I don't play up in here."
Some of the kids are starting to drop by my room after school and ask me stuff. "Why you got Malcolm X on the wall?" or "You like Biggie?" They don't want anybody seeing them talk to me yet, but I'm making inroads. Slowly.
Thursday, November 06, 2008
Walking through the hall today a portly African American gentleman said "hey, I know you!" and I asked "do you know me from Booker T?" and he said "No, G--from Borders." His name is Rodney and I remembered him after he told me but I didn't recognize him at all. It has been more than a decade, after all. Smalltimore!
I used the laptop and LCD projector in all three classes. The tech guy came by and said "don't use those in class. They will destroy your stuff, or steal it, or destroy it trying to steal it." Apparently the entire computer lab on the 3rd floor was destroyed by vandals who couldn't figure out the locks on the machines, and decided to take revenge on the equipment. That's how I got my rowdy 7th grade class--they were supposed to have computer lab last period, but since there's no lab any more, they have me for "Reading," right after they have "Language Arts." Not good. I'm planning to turn the class into something else, like a special projects or business management class for little ones. Whatever I can do to keep them engaged and not hitting each other with my staplers and hole punches.
At any rate I saw kids looking in the window at my gear. There are smashed windows on other classes, and broken door locks--I'm a keep my laptop on me when i move, and my LCD locked in a cabinet. Of course if some of these youngins want my stuff they're just gonna wait for me in the parking lot.
Wednesday, November 05, 2008
Third period? Not bad. Another 8th grade class--some lunatics, but workable. About half the kids seemed interested--several asked if they could help me set up the room. The jerks in this class are at least amusing. Particularly the ones who said "You see in the paper what we do to white teachers here? We put one in the hospital last year."
My last-period class? Oh, goodness. 7th graders. Complete chaos. Vandalized my windows, my blinds, my walls, started pulling my stuff out of crates and hitting each other with it. I had no luck at all with them. Called me: cracker, redneck, McCain, mofo, bitch--everything. It's hard to discipline kids when you don't know their names. Something I will rectify by Friday.*
I need parent phone numbers badly.
*unless I quit first.
Tuesday, November 04, 2008
For the first time i had to wait in line at Beth Am. Fortunately there were more volunteers manning the station this go-round, and things went smoothly. I was in line for about 90 minutes, and was glad to have the Times with me.
People in line were hopeful and laughing, instead of angry and scared. I feel something big is happening.
Monday, November 03, 2008
The Mrs. is heading tonight to an Obama rally in Virginia. It's only 1.5 hours away, but anyone who's made that commute knows how quickly 1.5 hours between and around B'more and DC can turn into 3.5 hours. I thought about going but have decided to hunker down and chill out instead. Same goes for tomorrow. She wants to head out to a big election night party; I'd rather at this point sit and watch here at home, with maybe a couple wine-swilling effete coastal liberals to share the resulting joy or dismay.
Up early tomorrow for the polls at Beth Am synagogue a block over and a block up. Somehow I have to start lesson planning for my new job on Election Day--as soon as I find out what that job is, and what grade I'm teaching, etc.
Saturday, November 01, 2008
A friend-of-a-friend in bloggy land left a comment recommending this book ages ago. She recommended it on the strength of its sex scenes, and so of course I read it with those primarily in mind, as my appetites for literature and my appetites for the pervy run closely linked neural pathways.
I never read Smiley, and never particularly intended doing so. Ten Days in the Hills is way too long and meanders often, but the characters are interesting and only occasionally serve as preachy ideological stereotypes. I think it's a worthy portrait of a fucked-up society dying out. It kind of reminded me of an extended Donald Fagan song without the smooth production values.
Oh, and the sex scenes are ok.