Tuesday, December 29, 2009


I re-visited The Best American Short Stories: 1989 in order to round out the year. I have a half-dozen half-completed books on the end table, but didn't feel compelled to crank through them before 2010. I'll finish those before the Mayan apocalypse.

I went back to this collection after 20 years because several stories stuck with me: "White Angel," by Michael Cunningham, "Ralph, the Duck" by Frederick Busch, "Customs of the Country" by Madison Smartt Bell, "Strays" by Mark Richard, "What Men Love For" by Dale Ray Phillips, "Black-Hand Girl," by Blanche McCrary Boyd, Larry Brown's "Kubuku Rides (This is It)"...I could go on. It's very unusual for me to remember so vividly so many different stories; I read a lot, and forget completely what I read weeks ago, let alone decades back. To remember this collection 20 years later made it stand out to such a degree that I had to dig it out, even though I gave up reading the Best American stories series more than ten years ago.

Atwood's selections hold up. This is a varied collection, touching on adolescent angst, the Cold War, rednecks, Native Americans, drugs, old age, lonely women in misery...I will re-read it another 20 years down the line if I have breath in my body.

Strangely, I had in mind an entire narrative about this collection, and how it was used in a writing course taken at Loyola College in Baltimore when I was still a teenager, and as I picked up the book with its broken spine I could even picture some of the girls in that class (I think I was the only male in the Writing Seminars that year). But the dates don't match up. This book came out two years later than that course, which means I read the 1983 collection in that class, and I remember nothing from that collection. But it still shimmers brightly at the commencement of what I'd always hoped would be the career of a writer. Now that dream has faded but my appreciation of fine stories hasn't. The 1989 collection must have been from Popular Lit with Dr. Siegel at York College of Pennsylvania. If memory serves...

Friday, December 25, 2009


I like the line-up gathered here to discuss HPL's impact, as it includes some of my favorite horror dudes (John Carpenter and Ramsey Campbell and Guillermo del Toro and Pete Straub). Each shares thoughts on the Mythos and how formative HPL's peculiar vision and style were on their own creative output. Neil Gaiman makes wry witticisms about words like "eldritch" and plush Cthulu dolls, and notes that while it's easy to parody Lovecraft and ridicule his style, it's only possible to parody something which is alive and still resonant across the culture.

But too much of the doc is spent summarizing the stories; I would prefer frankly more face-time from the writers and directors and artists. Would also be nice to hear from others who borrowed heavily from HPL: Chabon and Steve King and Alan Moore and Harlan Ellison spring quickly to mind, but I guess they begged off.

A good place for beginners, but not sure fans of the pulp writer from Yuggoth need to see it.

Oh, and Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


Aw, what a tender-hearted Christmas movie! An ailing police Captain is trying to 'civilize' his corner of the Outback, but restless aborigines and a disturbed gang of Irish brothers make it difficult. After the spectacular rape/massacre of an entire family, the Captain brings in two of the three brothers, but lets one go on a mission to track down and kill the most disturbed of the Burns boys. Bleak, harrowing, and dusty, The Proposition was scripted by Nick Cave (who also did the songs) and was directed by John Hillcoat. The cast is excellent, and includes John Hurt as a bounty hunter [spoiler alert: easily his best death scene since Alien].

How did I find out about The Proposition? Because I was considering seeing Hillcoat's take on Cormac McCarthy's The Road, but wanted to learn more. I think he's up to the material...

#49 and #50

The ladies who, as children, inspired Dorothy of Oz, Alice of Wonderland, and Wendy of Neverland meet up by chance at a decadent Austrian hotel run by a libertine. Turns out these three one-time muses are rather randy, and as they continue their sexually adventuresome awakenings each tells her story. The stories are recognizable, though I must say I never imagined Captain Hook or the Straw Man or the Jabberwock in quite these scenarios.

Such a book could easily descend to purely tawdry depths and end up on a par with straight-to-DVD pornographic parody (akin to the recent titles "Not the Bradys XXX" or "Nailin' Palin'"), but Moore knows his literature and keeps things refreshingly high-brow. The production of stories, the construction of personae, and the role of sexual fantasy and repression in each is the theme, and the art work and lay-out is clever and titillating by turn. It's a serious book worth re-visiting and re-considering.

That's not to see that an imaginative soul couldn't find fap-worthy material here. I'm just saying...


Kerth Gersen is on a missin to find and kill the five Demon Princes who wrecked his home world. He's dispatched one, and is hot on the trail of another when his plan back-fires and he ends up serving time in an isolated holding-cell for kidnap victims awaiting ransom. Another gorgeously entertaining short sci-fi novel.

[thanks to EC for answering my call for graphic works which are other than doom and gloom]

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Snow Day

My second consecutive snow day, and it's dramatically improved my spirits, which were already improved from earlier this fall. Snow days in Baltimore City are exceptionally rare, after all. We don't get the snow we used to. Good to see the old El Nino pattern of weekly ice/snow events settling in!

The City schools were scheduled to remain open through tomorrow before Xmas break. I wonder if they'll just call it a day and shut down again in the morning? I actually wouldn't mind going in tomorrow. I have some stuff to grab in my room before break so I can plan up. I also wouldn't mind giving out some treats to the few kids who would bother to show up.

Struck lately by a powerful reminiscence. I'm in the kitchen at our old house in Stewartstown, PA. I can't be more than 5 or 6 years old. My mother and her friend are making hard candies. They cook up sugar and food coloring on cookie sheets, then they snip the cooling gooey into strange little twists which we roll in powdered sugar. Mother has dozens of little jars which she's decorated with ribbons and little home-made ornaments and name tags and into which the candy goes. She will distribute these to the mail man, the milk man, my teachers, my bus driver, folks at church, local merchants, etc. Mother also knits little elves, santas, and angels, into which she inserts a Leggs egg before hanging them on the tree. On Xmas day these ornaments will be opened to reveal a small fun gift. She knits our stockings. She makes ornaments out of dough and bakes them in the oven before painting them. She has long strands of cranberry and popcorn, and ornamental strips of carefully folded Teaberry gum wrappers. She is industrious, she is skilled, and she is serious about making Christmas special for her family and community.

I was born at the mid-point of the last year of the '60s. I grew up in the '70s in a small town which was really still in the '50s. We had a milk man! He brought milk in plastic bags which we would put into a small blue plastic pitcher. You cut one corner off the bag and poured it. He also brought cheese and eggs, depending on what you left on a note in the small cooler on the porch. I think the dairy was Greene's and that the milk man was part of the clan. We called him Mr. Greene at any rate. Perhaps he poisoned our poodle? Or was it the mailman?

My paternal grandparents lived up the street. Grandma baby-sat us when Mother worked. Grandma always had Mad magazine for me. I played with toys from the '50s: erector sets, old toy bricks made from real brick. I set them out all over the floor in elaborate designs which I knocked down like Dominoes. Grandma would hide a few coins around the house for my sister and I to find. We'd take these coins next door to the grocer and we could buy bubble gum cigars and candy cigarettes and litte wax bottles full of sugar water with food coloring. There was a 10 cent Coke machine out front of the store with a pull-door and a bottle hanger hanging down. If you weren't fast enough opening the door and snatching your 8-oz glass bottle the door would snap shut and you'd lose your dime. There were crates of Coke bottles next to the machine for the Coke man to pick up and re-use.

I had the run of town. I knew every nook and cranny, and every easy mark for a handfull of treats. I roamed the cemetery, I climbed under bushes and up into trees.

At school I brought a dime every day to buy milk, and got two pennies change. Life seemed simple and beautiful, but like during the '50s there was a lot of darkness beneath the surface. It didn't last.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Day #69

I've never wanted kids. I don't think I ever thought a day in my life about having a child or raising a child. But around the holidays I can catch a glimpse of that excitement parents must feel from the joy of their youngins over the holidays. Of course it's not all the kids who feel joy at this time; unfortunately it's a minority at my school. Many kids are indifferent or sad about the holidays. Some are being evicted now. Too many kids are terrifed to spend so much time at home when it's too cold to go outside and they don't have the option to just roam around the streets. They'd rather be in school than at home, and they act out in extraordinary ways to get attention as we get closer to the break.

I don't speak enough here of the good kids: Jay is the only kid in my three classes who is not African-American. He is Guatemalen and his parents don't speak much English. He is a tough, resilient mofo who takes a great deal of ribbing for being Latino. The kids razz him and tell him to take his swine flu ass back to Mexico, they trip him and knock his books down, they taunt him mercifully. But he stands his ground, he wins more and more friends over to his side with his charm and infectious smile. And he's diligent about his classwork, but has indescribably awful English spelling skills, which puts him amongst about the top-third of his classmates in that area.

Or Chandler, who is terrifically bright and who maintains a 122% average in my class because not only does she do every assignment, she also does all the extra credit I assign to kids who are failing in order to try to get them to 60% when they freak out a week before report cards come out. She gets furious if I dare call on anyone else to read out loud in class. She once hustled me out of extra Reesee's Cups on treat day, and then felt so guilty about it she wrote about it in the answer to a question about lying. The question was "tell me about a time you lied to get something. What was it? Was it worth it?" Her answer was worthy of Augustine: "One time I lied to Mr. G to get extra Reesee's Cups. I told him he forgot to give me mine and he believed me and he gave me more. Yes, it was worth it, because I have a sweet tooth."

Or Earache, whose continuous patter and bizarre textual connections and whose Tourette's-like profane outbursts both aggravate and amaze. I find him so entertaining, so charming, so enthusiastic about everything. He asked me if I could drive him home yesterday and I did so just so I could hear him tell me stories for 12minutes. I drove him 12 minutes further away from my house, adding substantially to my commute, just to hear Earache tell me about the baby shower his mother was having, and who was coming, and what foods they would have, and what he hoped the baby's name would be, and how he was going to beat up anyone who messed with the baby, and did I want to come, and did I like cake with blue icing, white icing, or no icing, and he saw a video of a bird which danced like MJ, and did I ever see Forest Gump?, etc.

There are several good kids in each of my clases. Many of the annoying kids are good kids, too. And when I point out "good" kids, I don't necessarily mean that the rest are "bad." Yes, there are some "bad" kids. But most of the not-good kids are not bad, they are troublesome. Whatever, enough. Pray for a snow day!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Day #68

So last period might get a lot easier. In one fell swoop, three of the four major troublemakers in the room are gone. JV got transferred out to Mrs. T's class after his IEP meeting. T, because of his age and size, got promoted to 8th grade at an institution for kids who are two years behind schedule. The same thing happened for Pumpkinhead.

I met Pumpkinhead last year. He had health with Miss J next door to me last period last year, but he would always "dip out" and hang around my door. After a while I started letting him in just to get him out the hallway. "Gimme some gum," he would say, and then he'd kind of wander around my room, looking at me as I taught. He failed sixth grade and ended up in my language arts class this year.

Mostly I get along well with Pumpkinhead, but he's been driving me batty the last two weeks. He's known about the possibility he was moving up two grades for a while, and like a long-lost dog being returned home in a car, he kept moving to the door, putting his head out in the hall, and panting, excited about what was around the bend. This caused no end of consternation, because the Big Cheese hates kids hanging around the doors, and she has a camera trained right on my door. I'd shriek at him, he'd get gruff, I'd get in his face and he would break into a wide grin and say "I'm sorry Mr. G. Where's my gum?" He's a "straight-up clown," but I'ma miss him. Hope he does well.

T is also gone. T I won't miss at all, with his smart mouth and his threats to hit me. But I will always regard him as a failure; I set out early to get him and work with him and I failed. I don't like failing. I antagonized him and made him belligerent instead. But he was very challenging. I hope he does well too. But good riddance!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

New Tunes

We've been eagerly anticipating the release of blog bud The Contrarian's new Lovecraft-inspired CD Eldritch Musicks. Apparently the CDs are ready to ship, and just in time for the solstice awakening of the Old Ones. Ia Cthulu! Cthulu zi Kur!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Day #65

I've got my head back on straight lately at school. Instead of letting the pressure get to me I'm easing back and going with the flow, teaching when I can, ignoring the bullshit from superiors, trying to handle my business.

As a result, I can find the kids amusing again, instead of simply agonizing. For example, their propensity to add an additional "uh" syllable to the ends of words cracks me up:

"DeeDee, you have detention today. Don't talk again or I'ma call your house!"


"Are you building an ark?"

"What is you talking about?"

During 2nd period I started calling the kids their names but I added the terminal "uh" syllable: Michael-uh, Misha-uh, To The Point-uh, etc.

First period I played MJ during class work time. DeBoast got up to do an impromptu moonwalk, and it looked great for about two yards and then he fell on his can. Uproarious!

Monday, December 14, 2009

day #64

Held detention today for the entire last period class. They plucked my nerves so hard I gave the entire class detention for the entire week. Their behavior is extraordinary; even Dr. Belly, the new AP, came in and shrieked at them to no effect.

So I'll make them spend an extra half-hour with me every day until they fly right.

6.5 work days until the holiday break. I am totally stoked, dude, as the kids say when they are trying to mock me for being white. Their entire conception of "whiteness" comes from Disney channel shows and the film Half Baked.

Sunday, December 13, 2009


A busy weekend fer shure. Thursday we caught Ellen Cherry's New Years CD release party, which was great fun. There was the Ernie Fowler Trio, there was piano, there was mandolin, there were cellos, there was electric bass and organ, there was a variety of guitars, there was harmony singing, and there was even tuba surprise. And poetry readings! I like the CD a lot; several of the songs are from the Years EP, but they have been updated into swingier, more jazzy affairs with exceptional guitar and bass playing and intricate harmonizing. You should snatch them up here as holiday gifts.

Thursday evening I had insomnia and was awake all night, which made dragging my weary ass through the school day even more taxing than usual. Got home at 4:30 and took a 40-minute nap before being awakened by a phone call, and then headed down to Mick O'Shea's for set-up. The gig went very well. Many old friends dropped by and brought folks along. There was a table of former employees from the old Towson Borders, my sister brought a friend from back in the day, and a solid contingent of Seamus United came out. We hadn't played together in months so the first set was a bit stiff, but once that girl from Ireland jumped up and started dancing our energy levels jumped up and we had a blast.

Last night was Bernie's 40th birthday party out in the sticks. Again, saw many old friends I don't see often enough. And yes, we sound like old people when we talk (topics of conversation: kids today don't know how to work, injuries and aches and pains, the gummerment, etc, etc), but we can still cut a rug.

Today is a day of rest. I should, however, be cleaning the house and doing some lesson plans. But I'm so lazy!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Day #62

So I'm having a typically stressful day trying to rein in class enough to cram some soon-to-be-tested skills down their throats. We've flown through characterization, idioms and colloquialisms, tone and mood, theme, POV. I need to re-teach everything from the first quarter because their test results were not great, and I also need to teach the new stuff too, even though the reason they are failing tests is not necessarily skills mastery, but text unfamiliarity. And--is it reasonable to expect kids who read two years under grade level to learn literary analysis skills? WTF?

Whatever. I'm having this stressful day and trying to decide if I should fail the girl who became homeless and stopped doing her work, and the Big Cheese makes an announcement that there will be a fire drill @ 2:00. She makes the announcement @ 1:40. The kids on the 2nd floor go ballistic! They are running rampant in the halls, rushing to their lockers to get coats, grabbing their back packs, teachers are standing in doors trying to get them under control, and I'm thinking "What kind of idiot does that?" And then we finally get them under control and back in their classrooms @ 2:00 and then they are jumpy and unfocused and the fire alarm happens at 2:10 and then we are outside and it is frigid cold and the wind is whipping and the field where they have to stand is muddy and they are all dirty and sunk in up to their ankles and then they send us back in and there is mud all over the school and the entire last period is shot.

And then I'm having this typically stressful day and the language arts chair says "we need to have a meeting after school--a brief meeting," and I know what that means and I go to the brief meeting and it's about the test scores and re-teaching and re-grouping and re-focusing and we have to go through all the data and all the students and all the skills and see who missed what and we have to come up with a plan and we're still in school @ 4:30 when I finally just get up and leave because I'd been there since 6:45 and because of the meeting I haven't done my grading or my planning and I'm like "holy shit I'm pooped!" and now I'm going to stop.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Day #61

Sometimes kids set themselves to fight and you can tell they don't really want to, but you can't be sure. There's a ritual to City school fights, where a lot of jawing and "your mammas" ends up with two boys standing cheek-to-cheek, their heads actually tilted in, an intimate almost conjoined connection. They wait like that, like gunslingers, for someone to make the first move so the swinging can commence. Sometimes the swinging never commences, and they start clenching because neither boy wants to fight, they want the teacher to come over and get between them. This way they can say they stood their ground but they don't really have a chance to get hurt.

Two of the biggest sixth graders performed this silly dance in my room yesterday. Gregorious and Talons started jawing as soon as we walked in from lunch, and then they were standing touching cheeks together. I rushed over as much smaller kids pulled on my arms and pleaded "please don't stop this one, please let them fight, we want to see this one, please!" I got between them just as the clenching/wrestling started, and then Talons decided to throw a punch at Gregorious after I got there, like a true pussy. The weakest most frightened kids do that, throwing a sucker punch in effect when the fight is over and they can't get hit back.

As is often the case, Talons' punch missed his target and hit me in the jaw. Even though he packs a good 160 pounds, he didn't do any damage or even really hurt me, but I went ballistic. I grabbed a handful of shirt and threw him into a chair which slid across the floor. I turned and howled at Gregorious to get out and then I hauled Talon by the ear down to the AP, with Gregorious five paces behind us and following.

Of course, true to form, they were sent back to class ten minutes later.

Exactly two weeks until Xmas break. Oh, yeah. Hot diggety!

Monday, December 07, 2009

Day #59

In two weeks and two days I start 1.5 weeks off. It will be a badly needed break from being called "cracker ass muthafucka," from being pushed and jumped on by teenagers, from having to call parents every day. A break from violence, hopelessness, and despair, from seeing the results of poverty, addiction, and abuse. I am counting down the days like a prisoner in his final weeks of incarceration.

And yet over the break I will think of each of my students at least once and I will worry about them and wonder if they are having a good holiday.

Friday, December 04, 2009


When I saw "Eurydice" @ Single Carrot Theater, I thought, "Wow, that's going to be tough to top." And yet, given the streak Single Carrot is on, I knew they would out-do themselves again. I didn't expect it to happen so soon, however.

"Illuminoctem" is an exhilarating home-run. It's a myth re-cast as a short story re-done as a play and re-imagined by the Carrots as a wordless sequence of dance and movement vignettes, and it is AWESOME. It's like Einstein on the Beach meets The Enigma of Kasper Hauser mixed with Duck Amuck. I was totally blown away, and left thinking "I need to see that again."

By turns disturbing, erotic, and beautifully moving, "Illuminoctem" is another triumph. If you haven't seen a show at Single Carrot yet, then you are missing out. This play is a collaboration with many other local artists, including a crew of very clever choreographers, with a fantastic score and amazing light design.

Even the Sun gushed about it. Don't miss!

Day 59

Today Rash was itchin' for a confrontation. I called his house for the gillionth time, hoping to catch his mama and ruin his weekend. Instead his gramma answered, and she said "Mr. G, I want you to take Rash for a walk. Do you hear what I'm saying? He don't have a man in his life, and he needs a man to take him for a walk. You take him where you think you need to: the bathroom, the hallway, or out behind the school. You do what he needs being done. Or, even better, you embarrass him in front of the class. You understand what I'm tellin' you, Mr. G.? You hear what I am saying?"

"Why yes I do. I hear what you are saying. You are requesting that I get physical with your grandson. Do I have your permission?"

"Oh, sweet Jesus. You not only have my permission, you have my request. I want you to be firm with him."

Rash was standing next to me, and I had my phone tilted out so he could hear what Granny was saying. His eyes got bigger and bigger as the phone call progressed. Before I hung up I started rolling up my shirt sleeves. My 6th graders this year have only seen me in dress shirts or sweaters: they haven't seen my arms. They started saying "Damn!" and "Dag!" I pushed my sleeves all the way up as I hung up the phone. Then I picked Rash up and used him as an eraser on the front board. Then I folded him up and rolled him around on the floor a while, and then I opened my supply cabinet and put him inside and locked the door. He calmed down noticeably.

Then T said "you try that on me and I'll hit you." I went after him and he ran out in the hall. I took off my glasses and said "hit me. I want you to hit me." The classroom emptied behind me. "Your class is off the chain," T said, backpedalling, "you need to get them back in the room." "Hit me," I said. "I want you to hit me, because then I can defend myself." I kept moving toward him and my class was following me, eager and abuzz with excitement. Other kids started moving to other classroom doors and looking out.

"You ain't got my mom's permission!" he squealed as I applied the Pinch of Death to his trapezius, and he fell to the floor. I drug him back in my class by his shoes and picked him up and put him in his chair. T is more than twice as big as Rash, but I was making a point and would not be deterred. T has failed twice and uses his size to bully his classmates. "You big and tough, aintcha? You go hard," I said. "A 13-year-old bullying 11-year-olds. Well, you ain't such a much. I wish I was 13 again so I could teach you the lesson you deserve. STAY IN YOUR SEAT AND SHUT YOUR MOUTH."

The other kids in class were clapping and laughing and I asked who was next and then taught my lesson.

Do I enjoy this stuff? Hardly. After being sick for the third time in two weeks, I was frankly winded after rubbing Rash on the board. But it got my point across.

Thank God for the weekend. I am wiped!


Yeah, I'm officially on a Jack Vance kick now. The Star King is hard-boiled sci-fi compared to the more lyrical and mythic Dying Earth series. But the universe is gorgeously imagined, the characters--particularly the villains--are deliciously heinous, and the action is a quite satisfying revenge plot. I can't wait to consume the rest of the series, and recommend again Jack Vance to fans of Ballard, Calvino, Borges, etc...

A couple months back I didn't think I would get to 50 books this year; I feel more confident now. Last year I made 60, and the year before I hit the 100 mark. Slacking in my old age!

Wednesday, December 02, 2009


I'm drawn to restless souls, to spiritual seekers, to those unsatisfied with every theory, every approach, every explanation. As far as such types go, Joan Halifax has quite the resume: she's a student of Thich Nhat Hahn, she's been an apprenticed shaman in a variety of Mexican and southwestern tribes, she's done retreats and pilgrimages world-wide, she's studied the Dogon and lived amongst them, she's slogged the Himalayas, and she was even married to Stanislov Grof, the pioneer of LSD therapy. A roshi and PhD and shaman all in one: doesn't get more restless than that!

Mostly the book is a collection of stories about her travels, about her meetings with tribal elders, about their warnings and prophecies. I found it a quality addition to the bookcase of similar meandering tomes. She advocates a return to old ways of coexisting with nature, a re-awakening of our deep ecological awareness that we do not live outside of Nature, but that we are part of Nature. And yet she says airplanes and garbage and pollution are part of our world and part of us, we just need to be more sensible and aware of the harm we cause, and we should try to limit or mitigate it; she references the Japanese regret of the pain of human suffering, which recognizes the aesthetic beauty of our sadness: mono no aware. Right now I'm fighting my second sickness in two weeks, this one more daunting than the first, and I'm trying to find the beauty in it.

Guest Blogging

Casey over at The Contrarian has always been kind to Blog-Sothoth, and he recently asked for my favorite albums of the Oughts. I found this assignment particularly difficult, because I don't often listen to what's current. I mean, I'm just discovering the Pixies, Perotin, and Funkadelic!

But whatever. I heard a lot of good albums in the past ten years by The Shins, The Decembrists, Belle and Sebastian, The Flaming Lips, Outkast, Sonic Youth, Ryan Adams, Scott Miller, Toubab Crew, the Ting-Tings, Aimee Mann, etc, etc. But many of these albums were spent after a year or so, and I don't need to hear them again.

Here, however, are the five I haven't exhausted yet. [Were I to add a sixth it would be either Boxer or Heart Like a Lion. Or maybe Spooked--man, I'm terrible at keeping lists concise!]

And speaking of Casey, his new LP Eldritch Musicks is due soon. I've got both Northern Lights and Soft Rock in heavy iTunes rotation, so I'm rather excited to hear his Lovecraft-inspired song cycle. Will it top the Fungi from Yuggoth!?

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Day #56

Arson event #3 today, before school even started. It was 7:15, and a handful of kids were in the building, most of them in the cafeteria eating their free Title I breakfast. I was rushing around doing errands, trying to find a copier that worked, etc. I bumped into two 7th graders who are always in the hallway when they aren't supposed to be. I directed them to move along to where they belonged and headed downstairs to the office. I came back three minutes later and my room door was popped and there was smoke in the hall. Then there was an announcement to clear the building.

It appears the two jackasses set fire to a bulletin board. They were on camera when I confronted them, then they were off camera when the fire was set, then they were seen on a different camera fleeing down the hall away from the fire after it started. Their story? "Mr. G was chasing us, that's why we ran." Didn't wash, because I'm on camera on the first floor while they were running upstairs.

My room was popped because some of my students at breakfast saw the fire. One ran to get me and another ran to get the fire extinguisher. By the time an adult knew what was happening, the kids had already alerted the main office, found an adult, and put out the flames! I was quite proud of them.

So the day began with everybody standing outside in the cold for 45 minutes as the fire fighters did their SOP. Figures this morning would be the first truly cold school day of the year.

Monday, November 30, 2009


Four attractive Yankee stereotypes vacationing in Mexico have squandered their time south of the border lounging at the pool and sitting on the beach. They've ignored the local Mayan ruins, until the last day of their trip, when a seedy German they meet by chance mentions a newly discovered dig his brother is working. The German suggests a change of scenery might be fruitful. They can accompany him to see the temple, he says, instead of being wallflowers at the resort. A couple are reluctant, but one of their buds talks them into going. Our heroes decide to branch out and turn over a new leaf. Unfortunately, they can't see the forest for the trees.

They arrive at the ruins and find a magnificent temple covered in weeds. Unfortunately the Yanks are all saps, and end up irking the local tribes people. This stumps them. They think it's because one of them snapped unauthorized photos, but they are barking up the wrong tree. Following a close brush with death, they climb to the top where they are stranded. By the time they get to the root of the matter, it might be too late to stem the re-awakening evil which blooms around them. They find out that being marooned in the jungle plants discord amongst their small bunch, and they reap what they sowed.

Some of the gore in The Ruins was quite a-pollen, but the acting was pretty de-vine for a B horror flick. I must admit that though The Ruins follows a pretty standard formula, it grew on me in unexpected ways.

Saturday, November 28, 2009


Van Veen falls in love with his cousin Ada, who also happens to be his sister. The first hundred pages of the book explain the backstory of how this came to be; the rest detail Van's erotic awakening and his 90-year on-and-off again affair with Ada. Because it's Nabokov, the prose is lush and every page is chock full of literary allusions, scientic minutiae about butterflies and flora, philosophical disquisitions, and salacious dalliances. There are puns galore (Froid for Freud) in four or five languages; I got many but likely missed most, possessing nowhere near the requisite credentials to keep up with old Vlad, despite the inclusion of the greatest tongue-in-cheek endnote section since Gibbon. I spent four months reading Ada, or Ardor, and regret it not a bit, but I ain't smart enough to enjoy this cat to his fullest.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

thankful for dreams

This morning, shortly before waking, I dreamt a long convoluted narrative. I only recall the end. I was standing by a window, looking out over a precipice at a vague landscape. A short and very dark Indian woman (Indian as in India, not as in Native American) approached. She was beautiful; I could have written a salacious Song of Solomon right there. She told me she was the Christ, and that she had assumed her current guise in order to seduce me to faith in her. We entered into a brief but complex series of theological exchanges. To sum up: I did not doubt that, were she actually the Christ, she would have both motive and ability to assume whatever guise she felt necessary to affect my conversion and to save a lost soul. I also agreed that assuming the guise of a beautiful Indian woman was likely to tempt me. But I doubted seriously that the Christ would assume a seductive guise and then tell me his (her?) plan. Further: Would the Christ deceive to save a soul?

The woman laughed and smiled. She was quite sexy. I knew then who she really was, and opened the window and leapt out, despite all temptation.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


I gave up on this franchise long ago, in a galaxy far, far away. Oh, wait--I'm mixing the franchises I gave up on long ago! Your experience might be similar to mine, or perhaps not. I liked the original TV show when I was a kid(tho the lamentably awful "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea" was my favorite show), and even watched the animated series when I was a tiny tot, and saw the first five movies in the theaters because there was nothing better to do after 20 bong hits. I think one of the films was at least barely watchable, and that was only because two of the greatest hams of the small screen attemped to outdo each other. I'm speaking of course of Ricardo and William in The Wrath of Khan. I saw a few episodes of Next Generation, and thought it a yawn fest which took itself far too seriously.

I don't think I even thought of Star Trek in a decade, outside of a few nostalgiac bursts now and again skimming through YouTube clips. I recall seeing a chunk of one of the Next Generation movies on an intercontinental flight. It was a turgid bore with a time warp which brought Kirk and that bald dude together, and I couldn't bear it for more than twenty minutes.

I had a lot to overcome, therefore, before I could see this latest installment. After seeing Star Trek V: The Return of Insipidness, I vowed to never lend another dime to the franchise. But I thought this one was cute. Yes, the time-warp plot twist is back with a vengeance, but the in-jokes and the nostalgia were blended nicely with a backstory just different enough to give fresh teeth to a tired old saw. Turn off your brain and enjoy.


A recommendation from John,who suggested Groo following my plea for a graphic novel of substance which was not all angst and gloom.

Yes, there's ultra-violence and not-so-subtle politcal and media criticism in Groo, but it's all balanced by chuckles and Sergio Aragones--who did marginal doodles for Mad Magazine back in the day--knows how to ink a pleasurable comic. The central character is a Conan-type wanderer who lives by his sharp swords and dull wits. I needed a book like this to help me finish off a couple weighty tomes, which I'll get to later this week.

Ellen Cherry also suggested a graphic novel fit for what ails me: I'll have to track down Lost Girls soon....

Day #55

Slept a solid 7.5 hours last night and felt pretty good this morning. A bit congested, a bit hoarse, a bit stiff and achy--no big deal. Went to work, felt pretty good. But it was just clown college today. The kids are all fired up because there's a field trip to the Science Center tomorrow and then Thanksgiving Break. They're already pretty unmanageable on a good day; when they are fired up, you just have to strap in and do your best.

I was a bit fuzzy-headed because of the cold, and wasn't as attentive as usual. I was catching a lot of bad actors who were throwing things back at the initiator; my timing was like Joe Flacco's on Sunday, just off enough to fuck up the day. Kids complained it was too hot in the room, so I turned on my fan and all the papers blew off my desk. Then later I moved the fan to another spot to avoid a repeat performance and started printing some question sheets. The printer of course was in line with the new fan position and all my question sheets blew out onto the floor.

Mr. E next door to me was quivering and quaking this morning and saying "I can't believe he's back in this school." "Who?" I asked. Apparently some gigantic ignoramus who got put out last year before I was transferred in is a student at the March again. He threw a molotov cocktail into Mr. E's room last year, fashioned out of a Mountain Dew bottle and M-60s. And then went after Mr. E. Mr. E is a large man who bench presses 300 pounds. I will leave it to you to imagine an 8th grader big enough to challenge him. I met him today. As I was walking through the cafeteria door he burst through it from the other side. I slid down the wall like Wile E. Coyote after a boulder splat. Then he burst into my room last period and said "I own this school!" I chased him out, but once I started thinking instead of reacting I was quaking on the inside. I haven't had anyone that big in my class room since I taught Derrick Battie at Temple U. in 1993. I can't believe that guy is a middle-schooler. He could stand at Mount Rushmore and look Abe in the eye. Abe would blink, too.

Six Faces was good today, but about fifteen minutes from the end of class she turned color. When her meds wear off she gets pink and flushed and I saw it and I tried to grab her but it was too late. Kicking, punching, pulling hair, jumping on the desk and shaking her ass, freak-dancing much smaller boys. I had to restrain her and carry her out into the hallway where she started swinging a sharpened pencil around. Then in Mr. E's room I heard a commotion and I looked over to see Clarice Starling throw a text book at He Has his Father's Eyes. He Has His Father's Eyes jumped up and charged her but Clarice nimbly stepped back and kicked him square in the balls. Mr. E and I both sucked in a sympathetic gulp of air. He was down for a good 8 minutes on the floor, rolling back and forth. Clarice got sent to the office but fifteen minutes later was sent back to class to get her belongings before going home on suspension. When she entered the room He Has His Father's Eyes charged her again and got another boot in the groin. Mr. E said "It's like the dog with the shock collar. It takes a couple times before he stops."

Monday, November 23, 2009

Day #54

Been very lucky this year to have only had minor sniffles a couple times and a very brief bout with conjunctivitis last Thursday. Nothing, so far, like last year's September-to-March sinus infection/sore throat, or the previous year's teachers' bronchitis. But this morning I felt like shit, and then by noon I wished I felt as good as I did in the morning. Ugh. Just an ass-dragging cold with super-thick phlegm and achy joints. Hope it stops there. I told the kids: "I'd like to have a couple of chill days this week. I'm sick, I'm not in the mood for bullcrap, and I'd appreciate it if you were nice. I have a test here that I will distribute if you get on my nerves. Otherwise we're going to read some chapters out of "Secrets in the Shadows" and I'll let you do extra credit questions if you want." The kids seemed to take pity on me. I only had a couple rowdy break-outs all day. I took the test paper over to my scanner/copier and immediately they got right.

Found out today that one of my students is homeless. Social services is trying to find her housing but she's been moving from place to place and none of us had any idea. Have already had several families evicted this year, but fortunately they've found new digs quickly. Very scary right now. A lot of previously comfortable folks are struggling, so I can barely imagine what's happening at the marginal end of the class spectrum. Makes Thanksgiving that much more poignant.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Day #53

Six Faces was off the chain today, but she is always off the chain. Typically she starts beating people or kicking them in the hall before I get her to class. Sample atrocities: stabbing a boy in the perenium with a pencil, bashing somebody with a dictionary in the face, kicking random boys in the nards, trying to kick and bite me. Her mom and aunt have been to school so often that they have invited me out for drinks.

Because Six Faces is medicated for a variety of emotional and psychological disorders, she cannot be punished if her behavior is a result of her disorders. Which means we can't put her out of school, or out of class. She can in effect run rampant in the classroom and I can't do a damn thing about it; I'm legally constrained from denying her access to my classroom, and she has already topped the max number of suspension days she can have. I send her to the office for kicking someone in the teeth and she gets sent right back to class.

Fortunately her mother comes in when I call. Poor soul works late shift as a nurse and then has to wake her weary ass up and come chew out her daughter at school. Sometimes she takes Six Faces home, which is ideal, because the parent can do so even though we can't send her home. But if she doesn't take her out of the building Six Faces is up to her old tricks as soon as mom rolls out the door.

So Six Faces is nuts. Everyone knows it. She ran out into the hallway and came back in and said another student who'd taken the bathroom pass was naked and locked in the bathroom. I thought she was telling one of her whoppers and continued administering a test, but then discovered that Squirrelly was gone longer than expected on his bathroom pass. Sure enough, he was butt nekkid in the boy's room and the door was locked. An 8th grader had stripped him and locked him in there as a prank. I had to go downstairs on planning time to look through videotapes of the hall cameras and try and find the thug responsible. Just when you think you've seen it all...

So Six Faces' mom and aunt and the administrator and some of her teachers met and we're going to move her to the self-contained emotionally disturbed class after her next IEP meeting. We have very good ED staff and she'll benefit from a smaller setting and teachers who are trained in physical restraint techniques. Am I pleased to send kids over there? Hell no. But she's a danger to self and others, and on top of her violence she's very sexually forward and I worry about older boys taking advantage.

As for Squirrelly, we have to make sure he wasn't assaulted by the 8th grade boy who stole his clothes.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Day #52

The temptation to use sick time is enormous. I am depleted, and today when the 2nd period kids started drifting beyond the rowdy end of the spectrum and into teabagger at a town hall meeting territory I didn't blow up to rein that shit in. I simply sat in my chair and pulled out the newspaper and put my feet up on the table next to my laptop.

I use this technique VERY rarely, because it only works if you bust it out once per precessional cycle. But it is dynamite. It freaks the kids out. They think you have given up on them completely, and they start to panic. You get the worst actors in class begging and pleading with you to teach them. They apologize, they gnash their teeth, some kids start crying. I keep my head in the paper. I don't respond to anyone. It can be difficult to maintain a stony visage when kids are tugging on your shirt and howling. But finally the kids self-organize. Everyone gets in their seats. They shush each other. They take out paper. They wait.

I get up. I speak very quietly. I say "I'm close to giving up on you. When I start giving you papers to fill out every day instead of trying to teach you, you'll know that I've done all I can and I'm not going to bother wasting my time anymore. This class is very close." I look around, making eye contact with everyone. And then I teach the rest of my lesson.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


Author Herrigel practices until he gets shooting pains in his hands and arms, but takes forever to get the point. Finally he's on target and takes a bow. Ends with a twang, not a whimper.

My favorite line: "Be like the bamboo leaf covered in snow. It slowly bends, then bends some more, until suddenly the snow falls away."

Day #51

Nothing really new to report. Parents barging into my room to threaten students with ass-kickings. One Mom on Monday: "Any you muthafuckas fuck with my chile I'ma fuck you up, you hear me?" This after I spent 10 minutes jawing about the inappropriateness of violence. Kids started talking smack to the woman: "My cousin gonna beat you uglier than you is," "My sister know how to fight, I know where you live bitch!" until her boyfriend came to my door then I had to start pushing adults out the door and trying to defuse a confrontation.

Note to main office: stop giving parents visitor's passes and just letting them roam the building unless you know what their business is!

Two of my favorite students failed my class. When I gave them their report cards they started crying. Both are boys. "I thought you liked me," they said. "Well, I do. But you still have to do your work." Both of them stopped doing most of their assignments weeks ago, and my protestations fell on deaf ears. I think they really thought I would let them slide!

Got my bike back from Baltimore Bicycle Works. Nice to take work to an IWW shop.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Day #50

Stopped today to help a colleague: he was out in the hall holding a young man who was trying to get back in the room to bang somebody. I stepped around Mr. A and just stood in his door as a kind of back-up to keep kids from coming out or getting in. Just as I situated myself the seventh grader being restrained burst free and came at me swinging. He didn't hurt me or anything, but I was surprised at how quickly and ferociously he attacked. Dr. Belly, the new AP, happened to be there. "You assault my teacher, you go to jail!" he bellowed, hauling the boy away kicking and screaming in a headlock.

In a crummy mood outside of work: plumbing problems in the master bath at home have caused a hidden leak somewhere which has damaged the 2nd-floor ceiling. There's also a roof leak and the roofing contractor who guaranteed their work for 10 years no longer exists, and then yesterday the deadbolt on the basement door broke: not a good thing in Baltimore to have a sketchy lock. All of these repairs are likely to be expensive, and my car is acting wonky too. After last weekend's nor'easter it's even more fitting to say: "When it rains, it pours..."

Monday, November 16, 2009

Day #49

A pretty chill day today. Many students out sick, or out "sick" because of the nice warm weather. Also, several pains-in-the-ass currently on suspension. so we could get some teaching and reading done in all three classes.

That's what's up.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Day #47

Every quarter during the school year the City sends out what they call a Benchmark assessment. This is designed to check how the students current skills match up with the City's timeline of skills mastery as laid out in the curriculum written at North Ave headquarters. These tests are used superficially to rate student progress; their true intention is of course to rate how well teachers and schools are doing.

There are major problems with these tests. Often they don't align properly with the pre-announced skills. The most recent one had fact and opinion questions, but fact and opinion was not one of the skills we were told would be on the test. That's ok, because I had a couple days to look over the test ahead of time to prepare the kids.

More difficult is the fact that the texts in the assessments are often wholly unrelated to the experience of City kids. The most recent Benchmark had long, detailed texts about The Nazca Lines, dining options on space missions, and sail boats and tides. I took some extra time before the test to show pictures and videos I made of the Nazca lines before the test to prep the kids, but it wasn't enough.

My kids don't know jack about sail boats and tides. They have no idea what a tide is. They live in the ghetto, and they rarely get outside a 5 or 6 block radius. In fact, most have NEVER been out of their neighborhood. Most have never been in a swimming pool. They don't see tides or boats, and the associated jargon is mystifying to them. They don't know anything about Peru or Indians and ancient civilizations either. They see these texts and their brains shut down because every sentence has a word like "mast" or "dock" or "pier" or "archaeologist" or "plateau" and there's insufficient context for them to figure out the meanings. Imagine an entire story about a child piloting a sail boat when the wind dies and she gets swept out to sea by the tide and has to be rescued, and the title is "Tidal Tale" and the question associated with the text asks them about how appropriate the title is and the kids haven't a clue what a tide is, let alone what "tacking" is, or what the fuck a "buoy" is. Even if they have mastered main idea they are at a disadvantage.

The City has decided to use all social studies and science texts on the language arts assessments to prepare the kids because those subjects will be tested starting next year in addition to math and science and reading. But City kids have substantial gaps in general knowledge not shared by their yacht-club peers in Annapolis--it doesn't seem fair that they get the same test. I remember the first big annual NCLB assessment I gave at the Book had texts about archery, farming, and ski resorts. No wonder the kids in Harford County scored highest and the City kids scored lowest. Why don't they include texts about splitting and distributing a package? Or about junkies? I mean, I don't want my kids spoon-fed only stuff they know: I want them to have broader horizons. But we can't make up all this ground this quickly. And the tests are making them feel stupid and inferior, and they are not. When they feel stupid and inferior they get hopeless and they act a donkey and their frustration and rage boils over. Then I get desperate and frustrated and eventually start to phone it in. NOT!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Serial for Breakfast

I know Steven Hart can blog, I know he can do journalism, and he wrote a damn fine non-fiction book a couple years back.

Now he's posting his novel, We All Fall Down, one chapter at a time. I'm already hooked, and you will be too!

Day #46

After a hellish first and second period today, we had our field trip to the Walters Museum. The kids were very difficult to manage at the beginning of the trip but once we got on the buses and to the museum things went well. We broke them up into groups of nine and I ended up with one current student, two 7th graders I taught last year, and some kids who often come to my room asking if they can be in my class but whom I've never actually taught.

For the first time in a while I got some joy out of kids. We toured the museum with a groovy docent who was a 50-something hottie and former English teacher. She was a bit too Romper-Roomy, but did a good job keeping their attention and moving quickly through Rome, Greece, Egypt, and Sumeria. I was quite impressed by the recitation of the Set/Osiris/Isis/Horus story by one of the kids I don't teach, and I was amused when one of the students responded "Baltimore" when the docent asked "which ancient country do you think conquered Greece?"

The tour finished with a half-hour art project in the studio. The kids got to create their own mythic creature with an attribute, and the museum had an excellent teacher and a great supply of art and craft materials. I got a moment to name-drop Cha and of course the Walters staff know my lovely and busy wife, whose name "ring out" in Arts Education circles state-wide.

At the end of the trip we congregated in the lobby at Charles Street and the kids went haywire. A couple of female students and a Japanese guy from MICA got caught in the swarm but seemed to really enjoy the bustle and smack-talk. One of them started sketching furiously and some of my homeroom kids were yelling "stay still Mr. G!" and apparently she was sketching me as I stood on the steps glowering and calling out names and she was letting them watch her do the drawing. A couple appalled security guards tried to bottle up the kids and quiet them down, but that ain't gonna happen. I remembered the day several police officers were to give a presentation at the Book and we had to cancel it because the police couldn't get the 8th graders to shut up and after 35 minutes they just left the auditorium. That's how City kids roll.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


I don't know much about Colm Toibin. I know he writes exceptional articles for the NYRB now and again. I also know he wrote one of my very favorite novels about one of my very favorite novelists. The Master was worthy of its subject, and after finishing it I decided to check out more Toibin.

But strangely, I didn't until his newest came out. Brooklyn is not so challenging nor so sophisticated as The Master, but it is an exceptional and beautiful little book. Toibin writes Eilis Lacey in a manner of which the Master would approve. She's as light in some ways as Daisy Miller, but has Isabel Archer profundity after moving from Ireland to Brooklyn. She's also got some issues with pride and prejudice, but makes up for them with sense and sensibility. Eilis finds out that small-town Irish gossip has world-wide repurcussions: even in the 1950's, it was a small, small world. I'll read this one again some day, and must again commit to reading more Toibin. Anyone who writes women this real has it going on.

Day #45

The kids are just jerks. I mean, not all of them, but most. And sure, many of them have damn good reasons to be jerks. Junky parents, dead parents, jailed parents, abusive parents, gang-banger parents. I know all this, but it doesn't make it any easier to deal with.

I tried really hard to relax last weekend after a brutal week. I thought I got myself back into a quiet frame of mind, and that I was going to let things slide off my back and get back into positive momentum.

But the kids are so hostile, so whiny, so confrontational, so insulting, and so rude--and perpetually so--that it saps any desire I have to be compassionate and I find myself yelling and acting like a lunatic.

There's a sixth grade field trip to the Walters Art Museum tomorrow, and a very nice young woman from the Museum came to give a little talk about Greek mythology to the kids ahead of time. The kids were jerks to her. Last period the school counselor gave a presentation on graduation requirements and the kids were so rude and disrespectful that she closed up shop and left a half-hour early, leaving me in the lurch with a bunch of rowdies and no plan as to how to kill the time. I killed the time by letting them have it, both barrels. My main man Cherry Bomb said "y'll made Mr. G upset. Y'all need to be ashamed." And then the rudeness commenced anew.

I heard about an opening at a Title I school back over West Side, near the Book. This school is well-run and meets AYP annually and they have few disciplinary problems because kids are lined up waiting to get in and parents make sure to do what they need to do to keep their kids in the building. I have an in with the principal over there because she interviewed me before and hired me (before losing the position due to enrollment cuts and casting me adrift to land back at the Book before getting transferred to the March).

I thought about taking my weary ass out the March and back over West. I surely did. But can I in good conscience abandon kids, even if they're jerks? No. Not quite yet, anyway.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Day #44

The formal observation went well today. The Big Cheese watched me teach my tone and mood lesson, the kids were on task and engaged and nearly everyone participated. We used dry-erase boards and markers, I did art integration, I used technology, I used music. The kids answered their questions and achieved mastery and handed in their work for assessment.

And she reamed me out about my lesson plan book. I had a two-week gap in plans because I didn't have any toner and I didn't print them those weeks. I had to order toner and pay for it myself because none of the printers in the building work, and the copiers don't work, so I bought my own copier/scanner/printer for my classroom. I told her this and she said "you could hand write them" and I said "I could also chisel them in stone, but I prefer not to waste my time. If you need all my lessons I have them here" and I gave her a zip drive and she said "this is unacceptable. You need them in the book," and I said "I understand that. Most of them are there, and I told you why the rest were missing. I will print them when I can." So she's going to write me up. But I don't care, I care about my lesson, not the silly rules about binders full of paper we're supposed to maintain in an electronic age. These dinosaurs can retire and take their stupid rules with them.

Thanksgiving break cannot come quickly enough! This Wednesday I'm out the building for half a day taking the sixth graders who are relatively sane on a field trip to the Walters Art Museum. woot!

Saturday, November 07, 2009


I really adored The Handmaid's Tale, and I thought Negotiating With the Dead was an excellent book about writers and writing. But I despised Cat's Eye, and was indifferent to Oryx and Crake. After slogging trough her latest, I might be done with Margaret Atwood.

After the Flood is, like its predecessor, just ok, and though it was often quite interesting I can barely gin up the enthusiasm to blurb about it here. I think the book works best when Atwood is being silly--a religious cult of Greenies who venerate Euell Gibbons as a saint?--and the only-slightly exaggerrated tendencies of crass consumerism in her book are its best points: fast-food chains which use roadkill and human murder victims in their burgers, third-world style oases of wealth surrounded by restless masses of cut-throat humanity, the privatization of everything for profit, including the military. But the structure of the book is too complex for its simple plot. Had she simply started at point A and gone to point Z, Atwood could have written a troubling book about an all-too-believable future pandemic. But by twisting the narrative up into multiperspective flash-backs and flash-forwards, Atwood attempts to make arty what needs a more straightforward treatment. Think of Cormac McCarthy's The Road as a more stream-lined and effective model.

If you're a devout fan of apocalyptic fiction, or if you're nuts for pandemics and Island of Dr. Moreau genetic manipulation tales, you might want to add After the Flood to your stack. Otherwise, save some time and rent Children of Men and watch the extras on the DVD instead.

Friday, November 06, 2009


I'm very pleased to finally see John Huston's The Dead. Nothing gave me greater pleasure when I was doing the college prof thing than to teach Joyce's story and cover the board in musings, to delve into that rich symbolic vein, to read aloud those last delicious pages to doe-eyed co-eds. And this short film does tremendous justice to a classic short story.

I'm not a huge fan of Anjelica Huston, but even she is up to snuff here. I love the epiphany scene when she is standing centered before a stained glass window, head up, listening to a tenor upstairs, an inscrutable sadness on her face. Gabriel at that moment realizes that his wife contains previously undreamt-of depths. After having his patriotism called into question, after some serious self-doubts before his speech, after his story about the glue man's mill-horse and its symbolic journey round a monument to King Billy, Gabriel experiences the richness of life and its frailty all at once. And we get to watch.

I'ma buy this one.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Day #43

Some days I wish I'd a stood in bed.

2nd period I have the door locked and I'm teaching away when there's a loud crack and two of the biggest and burliest sixth graders storm in. One of them kicked my door so hard the bolt broke. I look up to see Gregorious and Henry VIII scowling and heading toward To The Point.

To The Point is the third biggest sixth grader. His fists are as big as my head. He's not the worst behaved student I've taught, but he's inching toward the top ten. He's mouthy, defiant, rude, perpetually rabble-rousing. I don't know what he said about Gregorious and Henry VIII's moms, but they were out for blood.

I got there in time. I wrapped up Gregorious with a twisted arm and hooked Henry around the neck, and wrestled them to and out my door. I put one against the wall, dropped the other to the floor and stood on him. I couldn't get to my call box to ask for help because I was busy keeping them from tearing To The Point a new corn hole, so I tried waving at the hall camera to get somebody's attention. Meanwhile, To The Point was jawing and talking smack from the room while I'm trying to keep him from getting beat down. I was sorely tempted to let them loose to bang the shit out of him, but held my ground and got my cell phone out to call the office. It rang ten times and no one answered, and Henry got out from under my foot and Gregorious twisted out and suddenly I was in a fight myself standing in my own class room door fending off blows as kids were trying to get through me and at each other. At this point Ms. T next door got on her horn and called up the school police, who took their jolly time getting there. When they arrived I had once again wrapped up the assailants and half-carried, half-drug them out into the hall again.

All three boys ended up going to the office. I wrote them up for assault, inciting a disturbance, verbal threats, attacking a faculty member, fighting, profanity, using a preposition at the end of a sentence, and not 15 minutes later these boys were out of the office and outside my door again asking if they could borrow a pencil. WTF? How can they let them in the hallway again after such behavior? Did they not see what happened on the camera? Jesus.

At the end of the day I had to drive a girl down North Ave because a gang was waiting to stomp her at the bus stop.

Somewhere in between all this shit I taught direct and indirect objects. My job is a trip.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Day #41

One of the skills heavily tested on standardized No Child Left Untested tests is making inferences based on information in a text. A lot of the kids don't get it. They either "guess" something already written in a text, or they make outlandish claims they can't back up. Some kids, when you explain that they have to "guess what the author isn't telling you by combining prior knowledge to information in the text," will tell you that's "the stupidest f@cking thing I ever done heard."

They got it yesterday. I made 5 new class room rules and posted them on the LCD projector:

1) No one can touch Mr. G's laptop any more
2) No students are allowed near Mr. G's desk
3) No student may write on the chalkboard at any time
4) Unless you have detention or tutoring, no students are allowed in Mr. G's classroom after 2:35
5) From now on, you only get 5 passes per month in Mr. G's class

I made the warm-up question "Make an inference for each new rule: why did Mr. G create it? What happened to cause him to make each rule?"

The kids were excellent, and came up with lists of reasons. Examples for rule #1: 'somebody gave you a virus," "somebody broke your laptop," "kids be playing too much and arguing over it," "kids look at stuff they ain't suppose to," etc. Not a bad job! The real reasons were: somebody dumped hand lotion on my keyboard, someone else changed my PowerPoint, somebody scratched my screen, and somebody broke my PC speakers by kicking them.

For #2 some kids didn't make inferences at all. They snitched! "Because Richie stole them stickers out your drawer," or "cuz T took yor stapler and hung up a dirty word," or "Billie Jean stoled your markers."

I think the kids knew I was upset yesterday that, one fourth of the way into the school year, we still have to work on behavior management about 1/3rd of the time instead of simply learning. They were thoughtful and dilligent and respectful yesterday. Excepting one girl who kept writing "I wish Mr. G would die die die die die die die die" all period. Last week she called me "the bestest teacher ever." WW3 is a bit whacky.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Day #40

It's frustrating when you spend two months teaching skills and the students completely bomb the Unit Test because they don't get the material. But when they bomb the test because they don't give a shit, it's worse.

For the past two days I've given all 3 of my classes a test for which we prepared a great deal. It's worth 25% of their grade for the first report card. It's stressful. But most of the kids were on point last week, following detailed reviews and note-taking sessions. They simply weren't focused for the exam. I watched them not read the passages and just circle whatever answer. I listened to them complain that they didn't want to do it, that they didn't "feel like it," that they didn't care.

Less than 10% of my kids passed the test. Most of them failed badly, and not because of ability, but because they don't didn't care to be bothered.

It's my job to make them care, and now I'm beating myself up over what I need to do differently. Last year I started paying the kids who passed, and test scores went up dramatically. I might do that again. $5 to everyone with a sixty or higher? Or $2 for a 60, $3 for a 70, $4 for an 80, and $5 for a 90? I dunno. They just don't see the value of a test unless you attach money.

Several of my A+ kids finished what should have been a 2-hour, 2-day test in 5 minutes. After I gave it back to them insisting they double-check their answers, they said "no, I'm done." Today they were asking why their grades fell from 96% to 72% just before the report card. "Because you didn't care about this test," I told them. "I asked you to work on it seriously and you didn't bother to even read the texts, you just answered the questions." They're trying to say they didn't know how important it was, after a solid week of review and practice.


Friday, October 30, 2009


Hallucinogens, hallucinations of demonic cartoon cats, alcoholism, the early glory days and gradual cheapening of American animated cartoons and films, suicide (murder?), sexual improprieties, psychoanalysis--it's all here on The Boulevard of Broken Dreams.

I need a cheerful graphic novel. Anyone know a quality graphic novel which isn't so bleak? I mean, I'm a fan of bleak, and revel in bleakness, but is there a joyous one out there? Just for a change?

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Day #40

Aww, the school year isn't official until the first arson attempt, so now I feel fully engaged. Today three 7th graders lit a bathroom on the first floor. The alarm system malfunctioned, so a rather breathless announcement came over the speakers at 11:23: "YOU NEED TO EVACUATE THE BUILDING! GET OUT! TEACHERS GET YOUR KIDS OUT. Please proceed in an orderly and calm fashion."

Uh, yeah, right.

Outside the field was muddy from our recent series of deluges. Kids made a game of kicking muddy footprints onto each others' uniforms. I got slopped myself, but who cares? I had fun standing outside and watching the kids act like kids for a while.

Today I told them the old ghost stories from our old house and I had them analyze plot as we went. I even mixed in pictures I stole from Google images with real pictures of the house and had a scary slide show. The kids ate that shit up! I heard them telling each other the story all day, and telling kids who weren't in my class the story. Maybe every day should be Halloween?

Of course when we had time left over I let the kids tell their own scary stories. Men with knives, uncles getting shot and killed, junkies in the bushes, rapists on the block. Somehow my ghost story grew less and less scary.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


Sam Raimi's return to horror is out on disc just in time for Halloween. I missed it in theaters and was not disappointed a bit by Drag Me To Hell when I watched it last night. It's classic Raimi, meaning it's like a 1940s Looney Tunes cartoon featuring Daffy Duck driving Elmer Fudd batty, except that in Raimi's take, Daffy Duck is a soul-devouring goat-shaped demon from hell, and Elmer Fudd is a willowy blond who works in a bank.

Said blond gets herself in trouble because of an even greater soul-destroyer: capitalism. She's desperate for a promotion at the bank, and she is running neck and neck with another staffer who's an unctuous bootlick. When an aged Gypsy in danger of losing her house requests a third extension on her loan, our heroine's instinct is to pity her and say yes, but the boss reminds her that tough decision-making is a requisite skill of assistant managers. So she gives the old one-eyed bat the heave-ho. In return, she receives a curse. For three days a demon will torment her, and after the third day it will take her to hell. She has limited time to alter her fate.

The film is more hilarious than scary, but many of the gags are gross. There is more goo than a Nickelodeon cruise, and Raimi has digitized goo at his command now: no more fire-hose jello aimed at Bruce Campbell. Oh, and the old Gypsy drives a certain yellow sedan which fans may recognize...

Tuesday, October 27, 2009


When I was an undergrad for the first time, way back when, I fell in love with the show Thirtysomething. I thought it was a breath of fresh air, well-acted, well-written, clever and occasionally challenging. It was nice to have a drama without cops, lawyers, doctors, or PIs, a show which featured angst and despair and self-doubt and gay characters and amoral characters and yucky divorces and hateful kids. And I was an English major, and most English majors were girls, and all the English major girls loved Thirtysomething, and if I could talk to them about Thirtysomething then I had an "in" beyond the late phase novels of Henry James and Shirley Jackson's novels.*

It used to be a challenge to watch Thirtysomething. I was commuting to college and living at my parents' place. They always had another show to watch when it was on, so for a while I taped it on the VCR while they watched whatever, but then they had two shows to watch while it was on, so I had to buy my own ghetto-ass hand-me-down VCR to record it in my room while they watched one show and recorded another. This was back in the days of expensive VCRs, too. But I saw most of the original run up to the fourth and final season, even though sometimes I watched bad, grainy reception on cheap ass long-play VCR tapes.

Re-visiting Thirtysomething in my early 40s was a lot of fun. The episodes fall generally into two main categories: those involving Hope and her angst and insecurities, and those involving her husband Michael and his insecurities and doubts. Typically if Hope is having a rough time Michael will step up and point out how ridiculous she is being. When Michael is having a rough time Hope will reciprocate. Neither, apparently, is capable of healing his- or herself, despite the fact that their problems are almost precisely mirror images: doubts about decisions, competencies, direction, aspirations, etc. Hope and Michael are the anchor family of the series: he runs a blossoming ad agency with his partner Elliot, and she stays at home to take care of their infant. She is a pinched-face lapsed Protestant, he is a gregarious and creative Jew. They own a run-down but spectacular old house which they slowly repair. All the other cast-members are friends or family members or both. Hope and Michael are the center of the Thirtysomething universe.

The strength of the show remains the cast, which is remarkably good. Timothy Busfield, Michael Olin, Peter Horton, and Melanie Mayron are particularly inspired choices: Mel Harris, who plays Hope, is a bit too wooden, and in scenes calling for powerful emotion she tends to fall flat. I feel the same way about Patricia Wettig at times, but she steps up to the plate during Nancy and Elliot's divorce with some quality performances. But for the most part everyone is believable, the ensemble cast actually seems like a group of old friends, and I always had a big crush on Melissa.

Several episodes are excellent. Those dealing with Elliot and Nancy's divorce are powerful and hard to endure. A few are egregiously bad: dated, painfully un-funny, and insipid (and some moments in the good episodes are just WTF? bad). But all-in-all I enjoyed seeing the show again. I will borrow season 2 from Netflix, no doubt.

*How many dates did Henry James' late phase novels or Shirley Jackson's books get me? Zero--though a couple men tried to pick me up after we discussed The Wings of the Dove. How many dates did I get after talking about Thirtysomething? A few.

Day #38

Typically a dreary, rainy, chilly fall day means many kids stay home, and those who do show to school are grumpy and sleepy and malleable.

Not today. Everybody came to school, and brought their dopplegangers to boot. I had kids coming out my ears, and driving me nuts with their energetic frenetic antics and whining. Couldn't get much teaching done, was constantly struggling with discipline. That's ok. Friday and Monday were really great days, a bad one brings me back down to earth and puts me en garde again.

Last period I had a little bit of a breather because a lot of those kids got suspended for fighting or went home sick before the end of the day. There is a lot of nasty flu going around, kids coming in fine in the morning and leaving with 100+ fevers, kids sitting in their chairs reading and keeling over out of the blue, kids sneezing and holding out handsfulls of milky snot. I love it when they sneeze or cough right on me! No H1N1 yet, to my knowledge, but gross and troubling nonetheless.

The faculty are battle-hardened, shell-shocked, and tired already. They are moaning because we have 5 full 5-day weeks concurrent between the last PD day and Thanksgiving break. Many are using their sick time. Not me. I'm saving that shit for the spring. I have like 6 weeks in the bank because I rarely dip into the till. Maybe next year I'll call out sick the last two months of my City obligation...psych naw!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Day #37

Had to do some screeching and a bit of nails-on-the-blackboard, but for the most part today was rather chill. Several guardians and parents were in the building today. My persistant phone-calling has bled over to other faculty members and now the parents are just coming in the building, tired of us bugging them electronically. I spoke to no less than four parents today,and it made me very happy to see them.

Today Claws' grandfather paid him a surprise visit. Claws just happened to be stabbing a classmate with a pencil when Granddad walked in. Claws is a big sixth-grader, and I know now from whom he gets his size. Granddad is a big muthafucka, pushing 70 but still burly and fit and he crushed my medium-sized hand in his big paw and introduced himself with old school Charm city civility. I liked him immediately with his Cab Calloway complexion, mustache, and hairdo, not to mention his pleasant demeanor. As I informed him of Claws' various atrocities in second period, Granddad leaned over and put his face inches from his grandson's. "You know I don't play," he said.

And Claws--no lie--pissed himself. Right there in the hallway outside my room. I had to send him to the office to get a change of uniform. This is a young man I've worked with a lot, and whom I've watched go from diligent and respectful to clownish, asinine, and rude. A young man in danger of thugdom. His granddad scared him silly.

Granddad gave me his cell number. "Instead of calling his Mom or Dad like you been doing, call ME. He lives with ME. They don't give a shit about him. I do. I don't play. Claws knows I'ma turn him inside out if I hear from you."

Saturday, October 24, 2009


Again Jack Vance writes an imaginative tale worthy of Calvino's Cosmicomics. Rhialto the Marvelous is another rip-roaring flexion of imaginative muscle, and the intergalactic and interdimensional adventures of its eponymous hero are a hoot. We follow him on a quest through time, the courts, and out to the boundaries of Nothing and Nowhere, but Rhialto is no Cugel, and I found this last installment of the Dying Earth books the least of them. Of course the least of a fine batch of wines is also a fine wine, and therefore the book is a worthy entertainment.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Thursday, October 22, 2009


IC Systems: phone number 1-651-204-1347

They've been calling my house for over a year asking for George Chase. There is not now, nor has there ever been, a George Chase at my address. Any dimwit with Google or a phone book could find that out in 20 seconds, but the shitheads at IC Systems can't get anything right, apparently.

Several times now I have told these schmucks "there is no George Chase at this address-stop calling this number" and yet they continue to call here multiple times a day. They leave robo-call messages, they call with live humans, they harrass and annoy.

And they always say "Your number has been listed as bad. It will come out of our cycler tonight and you will get no more calls" when you call back to complain about the continued harrassment.

Tonight they said it AGAIN and then I received a further two calls tonight. "Are you George Chase? Do you know George Chase?" NO, I DO NOT KNOW GEORGE CHASE.

I am documenting every call I get from them online from here on out.

Day #35

2nd period, with three of the prime evil machinators out for suspension, was still off the chain today. 5 more of them got suspended today for the following atrocities: fighting (two girls), taking rocks out of the science teacher's fish tank and throwing them in a girl's eye, and stabbing each other with pencils. There are 19 students enrolled in that class, 8 of them were suspended the last two days.

They needed to be suspended weeks ago. The Big Cheese has been moratoriumizing suspensions to keep her numbers clean, but now she has no choice. Some of these 6th graders are a mess, and their parents don't care about their behavior in school, so they need to understand that their kids' behavior will not be tolerated. Suspension might wake some of them up, but likely not. The kids will get suspended a few times and then they'll let them stay in class anyway to avoid infringing their Constitutional right to prevent any teaching or learning from happening.

Last period I blew my top so bad that the AP and the Language Arts chair came running. I was reaming out those kids so gloriously that my two bosses stood at the door smiling broadly. "The Beast out the cage now," they said. "We knew you had it in you."

The kids were grumbly. "Godfrey all strict now," they complained. "You made me what I am," I retorted.

Of course it's all an act. I don't "lose" my temper anymore--it's too scary. I pretend to lose my temper when I need to, however.

Meanwhile, the kids' vernacular and directness is wearing off on me. I keep getting phone calls from collection agencies for a George Chase. There is no George Chase at my address, and I keep calling these people and telling them to take my number off their lists. Today there was another robo-call message. I called him and politely said "I keep getting robo-calls from you about George Chase. I've called you before and told you there is no George Chase at this address. Take my number out of your system."

"How I know you ain't George Chase?" The man asked me.

"How I know you ain't George Chase, bitch?" I said. "How about when my attorney calls your ass next time I hear a goddam robo-message from your piece of shit company on my machine? Then you'll know who ain't George Chase" and I hung up.

SuperFly TNT. I don't have an attorney. Never have!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Day #34

Today was in many ways an exact replica of Monday and Tuesday--horrible, wretched, stressful, painful, miserable, taxing, trying, exhausting...

And yet today was a good day because I dealt with it and went along for the ride and did my best and stopped moaning about the crap which happens all the time that I just need to accept.

And during lunch today my 2nd period class got in so much trouble that the Big Cheese has decided to split them up. Woo-hoo! We're having a meeting to decide who goes where, and some of the kids are likely to be moved to other schools for continual unacceptable behavior beyond the pale. I can teach a class with Cthulu, but you throw in Nyarlathotep, Azag-Thoth, and Pazuzu? Nobody can teach that class.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Day #33

Sometimes the bad economy prevents me from doing something rash, like resigning immediately.

What a day! My second period class was completely off the chain again. Kids were jumping on desks and chairs, running around the room, punching each other--It took 23 minutes to get them seated. I wrote on the board "23 minutes of detention." Then, because it's a split class, I had to line them up and take them to lunch for a half-hour. An Assistant Principal and I had to line them up and walk them back and forth three times until they got quiet enough to enter the cafeteria. Then, once we got back to my class, they were bananas again, throwing things, knocking over furniture, pulling out drawers and dumping them. It took 28 minutes to get them situated. I wrote "51 minutes detention" on the board and then they blew up again for another 12 minutes. I said "ok, now you get a test worth 1000 points" and I gave them a pop quiz. They freaked out and got all serious and did their quiz and then I told them I would see them after school. They would pay, I said, for wasting my time.

Last period there was a major commotion in the hall and an AP was screaming for me. I had to rush out of my room and go assist the AP who was struggling with two boys who were fighting. Then I went back to my room and the last period class was tearing things up so I blew my top and reined them back in. Then when I was standing in the doorway preparing for dismissal some wise-asses thought they'd bum rush me out the door and I found myself heaving against five boys and I lost my cool and I flung them back so hard a couple ended up on the ground. Then a girl in the hallway started accusing Ear Ache of going through her locker--a rumor I thought we'd dispelled earlier in the day--and next thing I knew she was punching him in the eye. By the time I got there he was bloody and crying. Poor kid is one of the few sixth grade boys who refuses to hit girls, and he ended up getting stitches for his nobility. He didn't touch anyone's things, either. But other kids were trying to get him beat up and found an easy means to their ends by spreading false rumors.

So I went to Mr.E's room after dismissal to get my 2nd period class for their detention and the AP told me to hold them there instead of in my room because she wanted to talk to them, and Mr. E wanted some of them for detention too. Then Mr. E and the AP left for a meeting and I had to hold those goofballs alone and they started throwing chairs and spraying hand sanitizing foam everywhere. What a mess. And then a parent of a boy who was fighting came up in the school and she's cussing him out and he's saying "I don't care what your crack whore ass say. Get away from me," and she's cussing and barely coherent, and then the police had to intervene because the boy is threatening to beat his own mother up, and then the Language Arts chair gets on the horn and yells at me because I'm late for our after-school team meeting and I'm like "I'm holding detention" and she's like "let the children go and get to your meeting."

And during the meeting I'm reading the papers I made the detainees write and one says "my step father tried to sleep in my bed and when I wouldn't let him he beat me" and it never stops.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Day #32

Because of professional development days, the students were out Thursday and Friday last week, giving them a four-day weekend. A four-day weekend during which they were cooped up inside because of a nor'easter which pelted Baltimore with miserable continuous rain and bitter-cold chilly winds from Wednesday until Sunday afternoon.

When the kids got to school today they vented their frustrations. What a fucking zoo! Sometimes you just have to strap in and enjoy the ride...

Sunday, October 18, 2009


I felt a powerful connection to this graphic memoir. The artwork--with its dense imagery borrowing from alchemical texts, medieval battle scenes, Eastern manuscripts, and Incan and Mayan symbology--was right up my alley. The story of a brother who is present but also absent because of illness I found moving too. And David B.'s painful realizations about his own inner struggle with his brother's illness and how this struggle affected his relationships into adulthood is quite profound. Perhaps the best work of its kind I've encountered, though I admit to being a novice in the genre. I liked it better than Persepolis, and even more than Jimmy Corrigan.

Thanks to Faulty Landscape and Houman for the recommendation.

Saturday, October 17, 2009


Flash back 14 years. I'm the Mystery/Thriller bookseller at Borders in Towson. A big guy walks in, sporting a faded Hawaiian shirt and shorts. Has a cheesy mustache, a beer gut, and a shaved head. Seems intense, makes instant eye contact. Introduces himself as "James Ellroy." Asks if he can sign his books.

I pull them. His new one is selling, I say. I ask him about American Tabloid. We fall into a lengthy banter about JFK conspiracy theories. We talk up DeLillo's Libra. I decide to read American Tabloid, and get a first edition inscribed: "This book rages!" with a doodle of a dog saying "woof!" The signature is two curved lines not connected.

I read American Tabloid 14 years ago and really dug on it, but only now got around to The Cold Six Thousand, its sequel. The sequel runs from Dallas in '63 up to the Ambassador in '68. We meet the conspirators behind the assassinations, the contractors who work for the Agency, for Howard Hughes, for the mafia. We meet the right-wing hate activists, the FBI agent provacateurs, the lawyers, the dope fiends. Some characters are real, some are fictional. The story is as correct a portrayal as how things really work as I've read, even if the details aren't true, they are "true."

I must admit that Ellroy's prose irks me sometimes. The clipped three-word sentences annoy, particularly when he strings them together with a common subject: "Pete watched Ward. Pete braced Wayne. Pete geezed geeks," etc. But often the prose clicks and sizzles, and the immense cast of characters moving behind and between the major timeline events of the sixties is a great deal of fun. Everyone connives, everyone betrays, everyone skims. Ellroy rules.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Day #31

Told the kids today: don't get on my nerves. I'm not giving out any verbal warnings. You bug me, you break the rules and procedures, I am pulling my phone out and calling your house.

I didn't have to call anyone first period. Second period I made three calls in the first 20 minutes. Mommy #3 answered. Mommy #3 said "Can I speak to her?" Mommy #3 did lots of audible screaming over my phone. Chastened child facing a four-day weekend inside with no TV or video games helped get the message across. No more problems that period. Last period, two calls in ten minutes, then absolute calm.

The problem with this kind of schtick is you have to use it sparingly. You use it too much, and parents block your number. But it is effective sometimes when you are trying to create a persona, which is what new teachers spend much of their time doing, if my experience is any indication. I watch long-timers transform every day from cheery, bubbly, gleefully silly people into scowling pumped up ram-rod straight goons and banshees. Then, immediately following detention, their faces, postures, and moods completely revert. Everyone with any cred has a "game face." I've been wearing one all week, with some success. My biggest problem is the kids are keen and they know I'm really a big push-over at heart.

Tomorrow and Friday: PD days. Thursday is full of meetings, and if you look at Dore's etchings for the Divine Comedy, you'll find several terrifyingly exact representations of Baltimore City Schools professional development meetings. Friday, however, is unmarred by scheduled events. I'm counting on some room time to get my filing done, some planning done, and the re-situating of my expanded classroom library needs to be finished ASAP.