Wednesday, December 31, 2008
Again with the NYRB press! Patrick McGrath, himself a worthy crafter of spooky fictions, has assembled a fine selection of Daphne Du Maurier's uncanny and uncannily good tales. A couple vacationing in Venice are visited by the apparition of their own dead daughter. A woman with failing vision has it surgically corrected, only to discover it best not to see too well after all. Our fine feathered friends run amuck and only those most prepared will weather the storm. A mountaineer loses his wife to a climb, but not at all in the typical manner.
Du Maurier's stories are quite good--I'd rank them near my favorites (M.R. James, Ramsey Campbell). The characters are charming, the plots are intriguing, the prose is of rare quality for gothic fiction. Often there is great humor and irony, and an occasional bit of sexiness thrown in for good measure. I'll seek out more.
I'd had the idea from decades-old college courses that Boethius was a Christian philosopher. Not in this slim volume! Facing execution by Theodoric, Boethius takes consolation in the Perennial Philosophy: everything is always all right. Once you see past the vale and cease dwelling on the plane of duality you have achieved all which needs achieving, because you are, like everyone else, God.
Of course Boethius merely faced execution and torture; he never faced a B'more City middle school.
I've read many of these Discoveries pocket-size books. This one is worthy as an introduction to alchemy and its study through the millenia. The illustrations are alone worth the price of the book, especially since I got it for $3 at Daedalus.
Tuesday, December 30, 2008
In the clip you get the delicious added bonus of hearing Zbigniew Brzezinski call Joe Scarborough "stunningly superficial." "I read the Times and the Post and Foreign Affairs!" Joe protests. Precisely the problem.
Saturday, December 27, 2008
A gentleman hunter stalks the dictator of an unnamed central European country, all along claiming it was a game, a bit of sport, a challenging test of mettle. He never intended to actually shoot! He's got the brute in his sights when he is captured, tortured, and left for dead following a staged accident.
Of course he doesn't die, and the rest of the book is a curious recounting of his attempts to flee and hide away in the English countryside. Gradually he comes to realize the motivation for his actions when he is confronted by a gentleman hunter as ruthless and as much a sportsman as himself.
Rogue Male is clever and well-wrought. Strange that its author is a Household but not a household name.
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
A curiously effective novel of love and lust--one of the best I've read not penned by John Hawkes. The story starts with young and dashing Robin, an English student of architecture touring the ruins of a Wright house in the American southwest. Immediately after a washroom tryst with another young man, Robin discovers his girlfriend is pregnant.
Flash forward 20 years, and we re-join Robin in a long-term relationship with an unfaithful man. Despite having met Justin cruising in London restrooms, Robin is unaware of his infidelities, even though Justin was seeing Alex at the time of their lav loving, and Justin left Alex to move into Robin's cabin in the sticks.
Justin invites his ex down to the cabin for a long weekend, mixing as motives sneering contempt, pity, and revenge. Alex meets Robin's son Danny, who is physically his father but carries his step-mum Justin's disregard for fidelity. Alex and Danny hook up and launch one of the most curious quadrangles in literary history.
I've read and admired Hollinghurst's reviews and criticism now and again, but hadn't read his fiction until now. I'll definitely re-visit him. The Spell is hilarious, disturbing, wrenching, and achingly beautiful. The novel is a strange thematic melange of John Hawkes and Michel Houllebecq.
Monday, December 22, 2008
The kids are amped up for Xmas break but for some reason they're coming to school. Thank Cthulu we only have Monday and Tuesday this week. I don't think I could make it otherwise.
Kids are pushing and throwing punches at faculty left and right. Strangely, they don't get suspended for these attacks--they should be GONE. I saw a boy try to throw a round-house at the female hall monitor today. Not outside my classroom, son. I hope he at least gets some time off.
It was 15 degrees this morning. Why couldn't we get some of that Saturday evening precip today? Just enough for a two-hour delay. Puhleeze, can we get something tomorrow? A water main break? Anything?
Woke this morning to the burglar alarm in our house. Freaked the shit out of us. We're in the bedroom on the third floor waiting for the alarm company to call, wondering what to do. The cops came and checked us out--apparently the strong winds this morning set off a lot of alarms around town. Then I got to school and 5-0 was crawling all over. Some fiends broke in and jacked all the cash out the soda and snack machines. The kids in my homeroom were like "Stupid fuckin' n*****s took the quarters and left the snacks. They could sell that shit too!" Then Mr. R the crotchety old cuss from the down the hall pulled me aside and said the exact same thing.
They got into the Main Office but didn't molest anything. They even left the computers alone. Courteous thieves.
Saturday, December 20, 2008
My seventh graders had heard about the boy killed at The Book. I told them that the boy's cousin was a former student of mine, and asked them to make him cards to cheer him up at the holidays. Some of the rougher kids said things like "Fuck that n*****. We don't know him. He might have had it coming." Others took to it in the spirit of the holidays and channeled their own experience of loss.
I find out more about my kids through this form of expression than I ever would through a zillion writing assignments. So many have lost mothers, uncles, fathers, cousins, and brothers to the the streets--to these kids dying a natural death from old age is shocking and unusual.
Thursday, December 18, 2008
Has anybody actually read the guy's books? He's not particularly Left himself, for goodness' sake. He never was. And yes, many of his picks are more conservative than he is, but I don't mind a President who surrounds himself with opposing viewpoints. We've had 8 years of total alignment of opinion in the White House: shit don't work!
But hiring Rick Warren to do the invocation at Obama's inaugural is a bit too much even for a jaded old cynic like me to bear. The only thing Warren invokes for me is retching; he can couch his bigoted hate speech in New Age tenderness--it's still bigoted hate speech.
Cha's been pressing me to go to DC for the Inauguration, and I've been saying no because I didn't want to take off work in order to get stuck somewhere between B'More and DC in a crush of traffic and miss it anyway. Even after B'more City Schools decided to close that day, I was still reluctant, but was thinking perhaps we should give it a shot.
Now I'm definitely not attending.
You know what to do HERE.
Kids say the darnedest things:
"Mr. G--is it true the guys who work at Dominoes bust off in the pizzas?"
"I'm serious. They keep packing me I'm a go home, smoke a blunt, and come back in this joint raging. I ain't playing no more."
"Them bitch ass Ravens is triflin'. Dallas gonna shit purple next Monday."
"I'm sick of that Obama. He ain't done shit but talk since he President."
"Why we gotta listen to that white people music?" (I was playing N.W.A.)
"You writin' my name on the board for being late? Bitch, I bet when you be late you ain't writin' your own name up in that shit."
"I can't tuck in my uniform shirt. It makes my midsection feel strange."
"Why we gotta read so much in Language Arts class?"
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
Lost my temper today last period. The 7th graders were driving me nuts! Simultaneously I had:
- a youngin' crack open a blue magic marker and start drawing on the table with it
- a child crawling on the floor under my desk
- a child drawing gang logos on my chalkboard
- a youngin' throwing books across the room
- a child sitting at my computer without permission
- a youngin' running around the room and pulling stuff off my shelves
- a child banging on the side of my desk with her boot
I started yelling. And then somebody tore a huge chunk out of a brand new billboard I had just put up at lunch time. And then a boy threw a girl to the floor so hard it made a sickening sound. And then another girl kicked my LCD projector plug, pulling it out of the wall. The red "bulb exploded" light went on and I lost it.*
I dropped a "G-D" on my classroom. This, of course, is a major no-no. The kids froze in the midst of their various atrocities and said "Ooooohhhhh! He said a bad word!" I mean, yeah, the kids use "fuck" as a preposition, a verb (both trans. and intrans.), a noun, an adverb, and an adjective. They eat "G-D" for breakfast, and "shit" and "bitch" ain't nothing to them either.
But for a teacher to say "goddam" in front of a class of middle schoolers is the equivalent of a police officer discharging his weapon. Reports will be filed. I will get a Performance Improvement Processing document. And I should. I let the little monsters get under my skin today with their shenanigans.
And I called more than 14 parents after school today. From ONE CLASS.
*Fortunately the bulb was ok--them bitches is $200 each! Oh, and the girl thrown to the floor was also ok.
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
Of the many defects here at Blog-Sothoth, perhaps the most egregious is a continuous focus on the negative in my school posts. I suppose it's because chaos and violence make for easy story-telling, and I can play the martyr for a good cause and stoke my ego.
But my job, believe it or not, can be fun. I'm starting to have fun at the March, the way I sometimes had fun at the Book before I got shipped over East Side.
Today for instance I was having some management problems with my first two classes, and I finally said "Y'all are getting on my nerves. I'ma play some loud country music." There on my iTunes was Doc Watson, and I cranked it up through my speakers and started to hambone in front of the class. The kids were lying on the floor pretending to choke and puke and saying "Oh, please Mr. G, turn it off!" writhing like two dozen Linda Blairs. I said "I'ma turn it off if you get quiet and pay attention." It worked! They got loud again and I put on Emmylou Harris to howls of dismay. Then when they got quiet I played Lil Wayne for them. One big girl named Shynia said "you can play that country music. I think it's funny. Lil Wayne sucks."
Then last period I was showing the kids some pictures from a Move Like Seamus gig to kill time. They thought that was a riot. The kids regularly say peculiar and brilliant things--it's a perk of my job--but today I showed a picture of myself playing a solo and a young boy from the 'hood asked in all seriousness: "Are you as good as Dave Mustaine?" shattering a half-dozen stereotypes and preconceptions in one breath.
Monday, December 15, 2008
I've raved about NYRB re-issues before, and I'll do so again.
The Fountain Overflows is a delightful novel. It's got the thematic heft of Henry James, but is stylistically more in line with Dickens or Austen. I laughed a lot and stopped often to admire West's wit and evocative prose. Though a novel for adults, this is the best recreation of childhood I've read in quite some time. The main characters are surly, mean-spirited little girls who are brilliant and penniless and vividly imagined. I love the parents and the peculiar plot line, with its multiple climaxes and resolutions. And there's a great haunting, perhaps the best poltergeist scene in any novel I've encountered. I wish I had time to write more,* and time to re-read it right away--it's that good. And I found it at Daedalus in Towson for $3.98!
*I want to write a paper about West and Henry James.** I have to find her book on The Master now.
**That'll be the day!
Sunday, December 14, 2008
One of the least exciting games I saw, however, featured a young behemoth named Rodney Rogers, who decimated the Owls one Sunday with his Wake Forest co-horts. As a Terps fan, I always liked the ACC, so didn't mind their dismantling of the home team that day. I think Rogers scored 35 points and sat out much of the 2nd half.
So I read with great sadness what happened to Rodney Rogers recently in today's Times. I may not follow sports any more, but this is a tragic story with a wholly undeserving victim.
Saw them open for Aimee Mann. Quite pleasant pop infused with psychedlia. Every song is about love or kissing or whatever. They're on the iPhones commercials.
Good stuff. The French first lady is much much more than just a pretty face (et beaucoup plus que seulement les jolies fesses aussi!).
Anyone who's ever worked at Borders may cringe understandably at the thought of Putumayo discs--but these collections are quite good.
Quite peculiar electronica merged with traditional Asian music. At times meditative, at other cacaphonous.
If you love Einstein on the Beach, hell yeah! Otherwise, run away! I fall into the former category.
Another clever melange of pop and psychedela. Doubt this will last more than a couple years in the collection, but interesting and engaging.
Not all tracks on this LP are great--but five truly are. Songs in the tradition of late-60's/early '70s Bowie, with a guitarist quite good at aping Mick Ronson. And Shinghai? That is, hands down, the greatest voice in rock history. I mean, she's got a special something. When she masters those pipes I expect spectacular things. And she can play bass and guitar like a mofu too.
Buy this on iTunes. It's great. Move over, Ryan Adams.
My students like this too.
I'm surprised how much I like the Ting-Tings. My students, strangely enough, also like them a lot.
An honest well-produced country album, reminiscent of 70's Emmylou Harriss but sung in softer, clearer voice. My students DON'T like this.
Friday, December 12, 2008
We're waiting for word from Herr Lortz. Will there be drums this evening? Drums in the Deep? We cannot hold...
Thursday, December 11, 2008
I thought this would be ugly. Sashay is about 80 pounds, an adorable little Bernadette Peters look-alike with pouty lips and twinkly dimples. La Manche is about 160 pounds of packed muscle with a layer of chub on top. She's a bruiser. I worried that Sashay was about to get wrecked, but before I got over there Sashay had squared her shoulders and set her pelvis like an old-timey photo of a gentleman boxer (minus the handlebar moustache). She socked La Manche 8 or 9 solid blows to the face before La Manche even got her feet set. Each blow thunked home, La Manche's glasses went flying, there was blood from her eye, her forehead, her mouth and her nose when I got there. I stepped in just as La Manche's George Foreman scud missile punch came crashing down on my skull. I wrenched them apart with my shoulders and Sashay neatly bopped La Manche over my shoulder with three more exquisitely precise blows to the face.
I thought La Manche would tear her apart! Dag. Of course, to be fair, I prevented La Manche from connecting her blow (which hurt like fuck). I grabbed her around the waste as McGillicutty pulled Sashay out the room. La Manche was heaving me around the room like a bull, picking up chairs, thrashing around like a mastadon in a tar pit. I'm not huge, but I'm a pretty solid 195 pounds. She was hauling me around the room huffing and puffing and bleeding. I couldn't talk her down so I allowed her to pull me over to the speaker so I could call for assistance. Hall monitors came and hauled her off.
I hope Sashay don't hang around after school. If La Manche gets her down things will be ugly.
Half day with the students tomorrow for parent-teacher conferences. No parents will show, so I will have many unimpeded hours in the afternoon for grading and planning and room decorating. Woo-hoo. I am such a loser--I really enjoy decorating my bulletin boards.
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
ROUND 2: I found a 7th grader bloodied on the floor and holding his head. I had to disperse a crowd of kids who were kicking him and teasing him about his shoes and calling him "pussy," etc. Then I got him up and took him to the office. I found out who stomped him and filed a report and was walking back to class when
ROUND 3: One of the boys who stomped the 7th grader got in my face and said "You ratted me out" and I got right back in his face and said "My job is to rat you out." Of course the administrator on the 3rd floor is a lazy piece of shit so he was still roaming the halls all day after stomping somebody's head. When I got back to my room
ROUND 4: Sargeant Slaughter was in the hall. There were 6 kids around him. Five were egging another on: "Go on, man. Punch him in the face! He won't do nothing with all us here." So the kid punched Slaughter in the face, twice. I started running over as another couple of kids got in licks. Slaughter was bloody but he didn't say anything or fight back. I took him to the third floor administrator and she asked what happened. When I told her she called Slaughter a "chicken" and sent him back in the hallway, where the same boys were waiting. Then, in third period
ROUND 5: a bunch of screaming commenced in the 3rd-floor cafeteria and two of my girls ran out but I got the rest of my class bottled up before they could leave. I heard shouting, banging, and then a mass a kids poured out the cafeteria and they were screaming "gun! gun!" All I could do was lock and shut my door and file AWOL reports for the girls who got out. I heard there was a gigantic melee but reports of a gun were never verified. Ms. Jones burst into the room, hand on hip, one finger flailing: "Mr. G--some young B just came up in here and pushed me. Oh, no. They gonna take me out in cuffs. I filed a report and the girl is still here in the building. It's just like the boy who pushed the man you replaced. He never even got time off--they just called his parents or something. They gonna take me out in cuffs because I am gonna hit anybody who puts their hands on me with a desk or a chair. I ain't playing with these kids." And as I walked my third period class down to their lunch
ROUND 6: several boys started throwing punches and there was chaos. I felt like I was in a Borges story about an endless middle school with infinite corridors that eventually all lead to the same place due to the curvature of space/time. That terminal same place is nowhere good.
Tuesday, December 09, 2008
Monday, December 08, 2008
I went down to the kitchen to get my coffee. I have the machine set up each night before a workday so the coffee is ready for me when I arrive. I took the coffee and was thinking "I have to set it up for tomorrow" which I do every day in the morning and for some reason I poured the hot fresh coffee in the pot down the sink, then filled the pot with water and set up tomorrow's coffee. Then I turned to retrieve my coffee cup and realized what I'd just done.
Let's just say that set the tone for the whole day, and it set me back a good ten minutes in the AM.
"The kids are crazy on Mondays," long-time City teachers told me when I was a rookie (or when I was even more of a rookie, I guess I should say). "They been home and home ain't no good. It takes them until Wednesday to cool off. Then they gots to start worrying about being home again so they ramp up the craziness until it peaks on Fridays."
The kids were crazy today. But I've never really noticed a difference between days of the week. The differentiations in craziness are more of kind than degree. Monday is a more liberated lunacy, a wilding-out day--it is named for the moon, after all.
Even worse? We had our monthly staff meeting today. These teeter typically on the precipice of wholly unnecessary, but today's lunged straight off into that abyss. And instead of the usual hour it was 90 minutes long. 40 minutes of it was devoted to the Secret Santa program.
Sunday, December 07, 2008
I'd not read Baldwin's novels, despite having them in a nice Lib of Amer edition for some time. I taught his short story "Sonny's Blues" many times in short story classes at TU, and also chunks of a memoir from the Norton Anthology--a chapter about living in Switzerland if I remember correctly? I'll not deny myself the pleasure any more.
Go Tell it on the Mountain unfurls in sizzling prose the story of three generations in one African American family, moving forward from slavery and into the mid-20th century. I can't say much more about Gabriel, John, Florence, and Elizabeth without spoiling the effect of the novel, which reveals in chapters narrated by different family members the entire story of sin, redemption, fall from grace, forgiveness, vengeance, hypocrisy, redemption anew--a gorgeous and terrifying description of cyclical doom in the white man's world, where buildings, streets, customs, dignity, and even God do not belong to the characters.
Friday, December 05, 2008
I had kids dancing to the Ting Tings in my last period class. I had kids laughing out loud over my silly insomnia-induced antics. I had kids doing their work because we were giddy and laughing and listening to music.
I suffer no illusions. Monday will suck. But I make more allies slowly and surely.
Tonight--I get to play guitar and sing a bit with my bandmates. Looking forward to a fun time.
Thursday, December 04, 2008
Every first Thursday in December there is a nifty fireworks show at the original Washington Monument. It was warmer than usual and a bit rainy but hoards of people showed and waited patiently for Mayor Dixon to arrive so we could countdown and enjoy the pyrotechnics. A good time was had by all.
My job is crazy. I mean looney tunes. I wish everybody in America could come to my school tomorrow and just hang out with me for 20 minutes. How long would everybody in America last in that building? If everybody in America really knew what it was like the problem would get fixed tomorrow. This shit is unConstitutional. Nobody should have to go to school under these circumstances, and I include faculty under the umbrella "nobody." Nobody in the world should ever have to send their kids into a public school system this fucked up, and we mandate it by law that parents do just that.
Just listening to the stories kids tell each other makes me want to curl up and hide somewhere. K-show was telling her peeps this story today: "We was playing over the summer and these boys came down looking for Duracell's cuzzins. He like 'dag, I'm serious, yo, who lookin' for my cuzzins' and this boy pops him in the eye, and Duracell picks up a piece of fence like a pipe and smacks him the in face. They all stomp this boy until his friend comes and starts shooting and everybody runs home but the boy died 'cause they beat him too much. Now everybody like 'Hey Duracell you got your first body!' and Duracell like 'naw, I ain't kilt that n*****, that boy trying to save him shot him by accident. Shoulda kilt the bastad tho, muthafucka tryin' to knock me out.'" And K-show and her girls are all laughing about the story because it's so funny.
I have to listen to this and continue teaching class. I'ma start taking Maker's Mark to work in my Thermos.
JJ was back in school after 2.5 weeks of suspension. True to form, he started busting on my clothes, my hair style, my shoes. I said "I'm a going to call your Uncle again" and he said "I don't care." I said "JJ you failing my class. You have a 2.3 percent!" and he said "Bitch, I don't care. I failed all my classes last year and the year before and they passed me. I'ma fail your fuckin' class too and they gonna pass me again. Shit if I need to do work."
My job is crazy.
Wednesday, December 03, 2008
The Move Like Seamus String Trio will perform classic Celtic folk songs and eclectic rock covers from across the decades. And perhaps one Dean Martin hit.
The guitarist will require caffeine infusions to get through the gig: after waking at 5:30 and working until 4:30, he will help set up gear at 7:30, play until 1:30, and break down gear until about 2:30. The glamorous life of pub musicians!
So after seeing no violence my first three weeks at the March, I'm suddenly seeing it all the time. And the gangs of punks running the halls are no longer simply goofing off. They are vandalizing, terrorizing, and victimizing. They stole a girl's shoes today and threw them through a ceiling panel, which crashed into dust outside my room. They tore heavy metal blinds out the stairwell windows and ran with them clanking down the hall. One of them burst into my room, kicked over my trash and took off.
Feels like old times all of a sudden. I feel almost like I'm at home back at the Book. Rumor has it we even had a teacher beating, but it's on the down-low and I can't get details. Snitches get stitches.
Tuesday, December 02, 2008
I know, I know--you're thinking "a killer crocodile movie? Yawn! I seen that shit with what's-her-face Fonda. Boring." There are a zillion movies with a killer (orca/shark/bear/dog/snake). But genre flicks can be fun in the right hands, and Mr. Mclean's down-under approach features some nifty surprises. I laughed a lot and even felt tension in spots, which is pretty good for a jaded old horror fan. Cha was creeped out too.
The best flick of its kind since Anaconda.*
*Am I being facetious? Fuck if I know.
Hadn't seen Duracell for more than a week, and I was starting to get that sick City teacher's half-hope/half-dread: the hope that his sorry disruptive and sketchy ass was gone for good, the dread that something terrible had happened to him. But he was back today, and he gave me one of those complicated handshakes with a variety of grips and a warm back-slap.
"Where you been at Duracell? I missed you." He laughed and looked away.
"He locked up!" Armour All said. "He got busted on the Avenue running a package."
"Whyn'tcha call me Duracell? I'd a bailed you."
"Really Mr. G? You nice."
"Psych!" I said.
He proceeded to do the usual nothing in terms of classwork. He did throw two books, he tore down a poster, he drew on the wall in marker, and he wrestled Miss Thang to the floor and told her to engage in a lewd activity in class. Typical day today.
My first two classes were good. I threw out the B'more curriculum and the assigned texts. I bought multiple copies of the Bluford series, and I'm teaching out of these from now on. They're like Melrose Place set in an urban high school, and the kids dig them enough to repeatedly steal my copies, so I figure maybe they'll be engaged if I teach literary analysis skills using these instead of Chekov and Poe and all that other shit they think is boring. Today went swimmingly--we'll see if I can sustain the interest over an entire 140 page novel.
Monday, December 01, 2008
The Coal Man told me afterwards: "Mr. G, when they's about to fight here, don't get between 'em. Let 'em bang each other and call they houses."
"Why?" I asked. "You want to see them fight?"
"No. But you might get hurt. I seen it happen here when teachers get hurt."
About 30 minutes later Sherry Baby knocked John Singer Sargent upside his face with a dusty chalk eraser for calling her a "b." He threw a stapler at her, I grabbed him by the arms and took him out into the hall.
Gradually I'm losing my reluctance to intervene physically at the new school. Back at the Book I did it all the time because I knew the kids. I'm starting to know the new ones now.