Saturday, May 29, 2010


John Whitehead Parsons, had he not existed, would need to be invented. A restless tinkerer, a master explosives chemist, a pioneer of rocketry, a devotee of literature and classical music, a fencer--the guy was into everything. His crazy intuitive inventiveness was a key component in the early successes of a rag-tag band of academics and inventors and engineers at Cal Tech who went on to win military contracts and found the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the Aerojet corporation.

But Parsons was no mere rocket scientist. He was devoted to the magical arts as well, and ran a chapter of Aleister Crowley's OTO in Pasadena in a grand manse where orgies and Gnostic masses and meetings of fledgling sci-fi groups took place. Parsons met and influenced many writers, including Ray Bradbury, Bob Heinlein, L. Sprague de Camp, and L. Ron Hubbard. He and Hubbard had a contentious relationship and perhaps a magical battle or two before Hubbard stole Parson's lover, most of his fortune, and many of his occult ideas. Hubbard of course went on to found Scientology. In his spare time Parsons manufactures narcotics, absinthe, and fireworks, he writes epic occult poetry, reads The Golden Bough while penning his own prophecy about the coming of the goddess Babalon, and attends meetings of ultra-progressive left-wing organizations.

Pendle's book is up to the task of telling Parson's story, and switches back and forth between Parson's dual obsessions without difficulty. At times the narrative is a bit choppy--for example, we follow Parson's life into his mid-20s only to be told that Parsons had gotten married along the way and then we have to flashback and catch up on his romantic entanglement with Helen--but these are minor glitches in a great read about a far-out dude.

[shout-out to Casey for the rec]

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Day -14

So the interviews, second interviews, third interviews, and presentation lessons continue hot-n-heavy. I taught juniors a theme lesson yesterday during my planning time; I had to pack up my gear, rush over and set up, and then teach for 35 minutes, pack up, and rush back and teach last period. The juniors were cool, they were smart and engaged, and they were very kind to let me interrupt their lesson on compound complex sentences in order to teach them something they'd already learned earlier this year. The lesson was videotaped and there will be a panel discussion with the school administration after they watch and discuss the video.

I've been receiving calls and emails from an expanding charter school too. I read up on the institution, and it sounds really awesome: arts integration, project-based education using the expedtionary learning model, they are exempt from City standardized tests, their kids go out into the community and do interviews and research, and they go to the MD Historical Society for primary sources on projects. But they want a Social Studies teacher with Language Arts chops to teach "Humanities." I am the exact opposite of that, a Language Arts teacher with History chops--and I made clear I thought during an hour-long phone interview that I my learning curve would be too steep for their needs, and I thanked the principal for talking to me, and apologetically withdrew my name from consideration. But then she emailed me and said "I want to come see you teach tomorrow. I just hired a teacher who interviewed you before at Mount Royal two years ago and she said you are aces." And then she left a long phone message for me last night asking me to call out sick from my job Friday and spend the day with her kids watching the teacher planning time and the students working. And then after observing me today they gave me a letter asking me once again to come spend the day at their school, so I think I might do that.

Still no firm job offers, though I have heard that I'm likely to get offered positions at the East side diverse middle school and the alternative middle/high school in Hampden. Now I have a lot to think about. The middle/high school is a dream gig, and is right up the street, but this charter school--though it sounds like a butt load of work--might be even better, and the principal is practically stalking me. Arrgh. I wish the process was over!

Today at school? Fights, herds of students terrorizing the halls, pulling down cameras off the walls, throwing furniture, breaking computers, cussing out and attacking staff. What a mess. These kids are wild enough; now that they know the school is being re-organized next year they are wilding out in new and more inventive ways.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Day -15

Oh, my God, I am SO TIRED. I wanted to work out after school today, but I was too tired. Yesterday I wanted to work out after school, but I was too busy. I've been getting hit with observations and demonstration lessons and second interviews and first interviews and now I have a goddam third interview via conference call scheduled and I'm running to other schools during planning time to teach and rushing home to plan lessons for principals from other schools to see and the AC in our building is not working and the kids are haywire and now the central air in the house is not working the AC unit roars to life but the fan and blower in the basement don't and I'm just wiped out because I woke up at 4am after going to sleep at midnight three nights in a row and summer can't come quickly enough.

Sunday, May 23, 2010


I think this is the fourth Iranian film I've seen over the past couple years, and for the fourth time I was really impressed. Children of Heaven is about as basic as story-telling and movie-making gets, but it is pure and charming and I actually watched it twice.

Ali is running errands for his mother when he accidentally loses his sister's just-repaired shoes. His family is desperately poor, and Ali and his sister both know the consequences of Father finding out. They conspire to share Ali's sneakers until they can find her shoes. A tear-jerker along the lines of Zhang Ymou's Not One Less.

If you've never seen an Iranian film, this might be a good place to start. A Taste of Cherry is my favorite so far, however.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Day -18

So second period we're getting ready for the weekly vocabulary/grammar quiz when I get a whiff of something strange. It reminds me of my many DC protests: IMF, World Bank, G7, Bush Inaugural I, and several Iraq War protests. I jump up, because I have at least 5 kids in the room with asthma and what I'm smelling is pepper spray.

I get to the door just as kids start hacking and wheezing. In the hall are six sixth graders on the floor, clutching at their throats and eyes and gasping. I think "there are serious asthma cases in my homeroom" and they are just down the hall in the math class. I call the office and immediately the principal evacuates the 2nd floor. Shortly thereafter, we evcuate the building.

Some chuckleheads discharged pepper spray cannisters and ran down the hall with them. In a building with no windows and a high percentage of asthma sufferers, this is a potentially lethal thing to do. We were out of doors for more than hour waiting on the fire department to bring in fans to blow out the chemicals.

So much for the vocabulary/grammar quiz in period two. They got to play a game of pick-up football using a shoe for a ball instead.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Day -19

Oh the anarchy! My first period class (and homeroom) were so chaotic we didn't finish our lesson today. That's the first time this group has been so off the chain, and I held their sorry derrieres for 45 minutes after school. Tomorrow we start class with 45 minutes of detention, and they'll have 90 minutes of class time to earn off. Otherwise, they will sit with me after school again and listen to Steve Earle and Merle Haggard at top volume. Or maybe Patsy Cline.

After 35 minutes of shouting, phone calls home, and banging on things failed to stop the cacaphony, I wrote on a PowerPoint slide that I was giving them detention and then I stood at the front of the room. Five students joined me there in solidarity, scowling with their arms crossed. "Can we learn today?" one asked. I replied "Unfortunately, no. We'll try again tomorrow."

Direct objects, indirect objects, and adverbs are likely the cause. Kids who don't get it often act out. A lot of kids weren't getting it. So we'll try again.
Second period a nutcase jumped on my neck from behind. I didn't see him coming and he hit me so hard I had to walk away and take a few minutes to re-coup because I was about to thrash him. I called his mom, wrote up "assault on faculty" papers, and his mom rolled up in the building with her belt in her hand. She made a big production of swinging it too. We had a meeting with the administrators and his mom and the student. The AP said "are you filing charges?" and I said "no, but next time he raises any ruckus in my room, I'm going straight to the police officers and having him escorted from the building." The AP said "Mom, take care of your business," and shut the door discreetly behind himself as we all exited.

I don't believe in beatings. But I've counseled, cajoled, grouped, moved classes, and done a billion things for this child, and his behavior continues to deteriorate. He is a threat to himself and others, and is out of control. His mother is at her wit's end as well. He is heading toward criminality. I don't believe in beatings, but last resorts are last resorts. I left it up to mom to handle her business.

Monday I'm being observed by the principal who wants to hire me for a middle school gig even further over East. Wednesday I'm being observed by a high school which is less than a quarter mile from my house--I could bike through Dru Hill Park to work--but their position is only "tentatively" available. I'm happy with either slot, but would prefer the closer school; I regard that place as a dream job. I like the other a lot, too, however, and I have a feeling I'll end up teaching a very diverse 8th grade Language Arts next year.

One never knows, however. All is open. I'd like to know where I'm heading, and to close the book on 2009/2010 ASAP.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Day -20

So I had an interview last night at an East Side elementary/middle school which is unusually integrated and diverse for a City school. There is a huge Latino population, and a good portion of Asians and Caucasians as well. I felt like I was on a different planet driving up to the school and seeing several races all congregated in playful excited end-of-the-day groups. During the interview the Big Cheese asked me to describe a challenging student I'd encountered. I could not restrain myself, and instead described a panoply.

They offered me a slot to teach 8th graders next year, but said they wanted to observe me next Monday at the March before making it official. I also have a second interview and "student interaction" at a high school in which I'm really interested.

Hopefully these developments are a sign of a change in luck. i've been on a bad streak for weeks, including the strange and recurring breaking off the G-string on my Taylor during last weekend's gig.

Now, off to rehearsal.


Move Like Seamus is playing Mick O'Shea's Friday. There are only a couple gigs left before Kristen takes her cello and flies off to Zona for graduate school. Come on out while you can!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Day -22

Right in the middle of second period my PowerPoint lesson crapped out. The screen turned blue and scrolled some "data recovery dump" warning before everything shut down. Upon reboot the screen read "no hard drive detected" and I heard only a faint clicking from inside my VAIO.

I just replaced the hard-drive back in September, I thought. But whatever, I had to do so again. I typically back up my data every couple weeks, but I did lose some stuff: an entire week's worth of lesson plans, my fourth quarter grade book (a major loss!) and a few new iTunes downloads (The National, The New Pornographers, Vampire Weekend, an old Traffic LP, and Brandi Carlisle's latest, not to mention Ray LaMontagne's first, which I had just downloaded to replace a CD which got ruined in my car). So I'm out about $50 worth of music just purchased, argh.

Now I'm home with the new drive installed and the VAIO is telling me the new 500 GB disc is "too small or non-existent" for me to load up the operating system. Argh. I need this shit right now like a hole in the head. I have interviews every day and need access to email and printing so I can land a job for next year. The old Dell I'm using now has faulty USB ports and some weird HP glitch so I can't print anything and I can't use my flip drives to transfer files to a machine which does print. I'm sure my car will blow up next.

I spent today rushing from school to an interview to Best Buy and back and then I had to recreate the three lessons I lost and now I was hoping to get my new hard drive loaded and running and it doesn't work.

Let's just say I'm fucking closer to the edge every day, and computer woes are the last thing I need to finish out the year with. I'm trying to teach the kids, to keep them learning and active, while others show movies and play board games in class. Give me a break and let my laptop function again, oh great wheel of karma!

Sunday, May 16, 2010


I read Love, Medicine, many years ago and though I somehow never got around to it, I always had in mind the idea that Louise Erdrich was really good and I needed to read her again.

The Bingo Palace is every bit as good, if not better, than Love, Medicine, and features some of the same characters. Yes, North America's European descendents have lost touch with the natural world and we suffer interminable angst as a result--but at least we chose to cut ourselves off in exchange for better technology and comfort and easily obtainable porn. The Native American characters in Erdrich's books feel the same disassociation, but far more keenly, and find themselves with one foot in the world of heavy metal and pimped-out vans and another in the spirit realm. A fantastic book about luck and loss and perserverance.#17

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Day -24

The day began with a fellow educator informed of my birthday via Facebook yelling "Happy birthday" to me in the hall. This unleashed all the boys in school to get in their "birthday licks," pummeling me in the stomach, the legs, the back, the arms 41 times each. What else is new? Today is also Stephen Colbert's birthday, and Stevie Wonder's, and Harvey Keitel's. Three I'm proud to share a birthday with!

I'm standing outside my door during the stressful last period class change when I hear beefin' up the hall. I see 6th-grade Candice, a loud-mouth filthy piece of work running down some 8th grader's hair, shoes, mother, coat, purse, belt, and lip gloss. The 8th grader talks smack right back, and then like a storm cloud twisting into a tornado I see the slow forming of the crowd into two packs of slavering bloodthirsty face-bashers.

In front of me is Ms. C, a diminutive Filipina science teacher. I just have time to say to her "get out the way! Here we go!" when Candice turns her back and storms toward my door and I see the 8th grader raise her hand up like John Brown in a cataclysmic painting. The 8th grader charges straight at Candice and I get between them but there is already hair-pulling and kicking and punching and I am in the middle. Because I know Candice has a big crew I get the 8th grader spun around to my doorway, I get my hands around her wrists and I pry them out of Candice's weave (most of which rips out like a bloodless scalp) and I push her back into my room. Then I bar entry to the seething mob of Candice's crew. The only one punched in the brawl? Me. I was so intent on protecting the girl from a beat-down that I pushed the school cop away from my door when she tried to push in past me.

Fun stuff.

Then I went to the job fair for an hour and saw many fine teachers from shitty schools trying to lock down a position at a quality well-run institution. Unfortunately there aren't many of those in the City.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


In Homo Aestheticus, Dissanayake broadens her arguments from What is Art For? She continues her argument that art is not an artificial, impractical group of objects created by bored individuals who are fortunate to be part of a leisure class. Art, in her view, should be regarded as a behavior, and she's pretty convincing when she argues that art has been an intricate part of humanity's successful evolution.

Much of the book is an inspired attack against post-modern theory, which argues that art is meaningless in comparison with language, which is itself empty of significance. Dissanayake thinks we've priviliged literacy too much in our modern age, and that we have lost touch with other forms of mentation which cats like Howard Gardner have only lately begun to re-discover. She also believes that the removal of Art from the hands of Everyman--and its association with a class of experts and academics and critics who judge what is Art or what is mere ornament--has rendered a grave disservice to mankind.

Again, a challenging and interesting read. I particularly liked her discussion of recent research which suggests a symbolic relationship between particular sounds and concepts which seem to imbue all languages. It was very much akin to ideas in the esoteric traditions, which regard sounds and the manner of producing them as sacred and evocative of forces. For a while I thought she might be espousing Schwaller de Lubicz's Symbolique...

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Day -25

So on my planning time today I had to pack up my laptop, my LCD projector, and some dry-erase boards and markers. I drove a quarter-mile up the street to a school in the middle of Clifton Park for a second interview. The process was simple: teach a 20-minute demo lesson to a sixth grade class, then get interviewed by students, then get interviewed by staff at the school following a presentation of another lesson plan.

As I was packing up my stuff the kids started whispering. "Yo, he quittin'!" They got very quiet. "You leaving Mr. G?" they asked. "I'm only going to another school for an hour. I'll be back later." "Yo, he quittin'," I heard again.

The school I applied to is a charter run via Americorps and there were no kids in the halls running amuck. I saw plenty of hall monitors and there were a half-dozen volunteers on every floor moving around. I taught a group of sixth graders who were respectful, engaged, and curious. A couple of special ed kids in the general classroom had one-on-one paraprofessionals sitting next to them. There was another full-time special educator in the classroom as well (all of this is supposed to be the case at my school). I was observed by a couple of teachers as I used art and texts to teach the concept of literary tone. The kids wrote their responses on dry-erase boards. One girl asked "Can you be our teacher next year?"

I rushed through the next parts of the process and out the building so I could get back to the March for last period. Kids ran up and hugged me and said "we heard you quit after second period! We're so glad you're back!" Then they proceded to drive me up a wall for 45 minutes. At the end of class Nerdra asked me if I was leaving the March for next year, and I said "probably." She said "You just gonna dump us like that?" I said I needed to go somewhere where the kids want to learn, where I don't have to yell over them all the time. She replied: "You just need to see the beauty in that, is all."

Monday, May 10, 2010

Day -26

Hoarse from yelling. Deaf from banging on the desk with The Noisemaker. Ears ringing from blowing the whistle.

Man, I hope I can get into a building with some leadership and vision next year. There were HERDS of 8th graders stampeding the halls all day today, throwing footballs, kicking doors, pulling stuff off bulletin boards. The Big Cheese was AWOL for like the 5th time in two weeks. Can't say as I blame her. If I was being retired against my will, I'd use some of that 4 decades' worth of sick time too...

Five weeks remain in this interminable school year. That's about four too many.

Saturday, May 08, 2010


I'm a fan of the original Bad Lieutenant. I'm also a fan of Werner Herzog. When I heard that Werner Herzog had helmed a re-imagining of Bad Lieutenant set in post-Katrina New Orleans, I thought "well, I kind of have to see that."

I wasn't too disappointed. Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call has all the elements of the original, and in some ways is more artfully done. But it is nowhere near its predecessor in terms of sleazy, gritty intensity. The missing piece is Harvey Keitel, who as an actor is totally superior in every respect to replacement Nicolas Cage.

Don't get me wrong: I like Nicolas Cage. I adored him in Raising Arizona, Moonstruck, Leaving Las Vegas, Wild at Heart, and even in pap like Con Air. But compared to Keitel's smoldering and believable performance, Cage's take is ham-fisted and awkward at times. The more derailed and hopeless his character becomes, the more Cage tries to create goofy physical tics in order to compensate for lack of subtlety. At times his "crackhead cop strung out" looks more like Richard Nixon doing a bad Ed Sullivan impersonation. When he tries to be Klaus Kinski late in the film Cage's performance is almost laughably awful.

But Herzog is a wise director and he's most capable with this sort of material. He manages to set the tone to match Cage's goofiness by throwing quirky and bleak existentialist humor into the mix. So: flawed, but entertaining.

I was disappointed there was no director's commentary track on the DVD, however. I wanted to hear Herzog's comments on the iguana scene, the alligator scene, and on the closing scene in the aquarium.

Shout out to my man Xibit, who not only pimps rides, but pimps out a good performance here alongside old-timers like Cage and Val Kilmer. Eva Mendes proves she's more than a pretty face as well.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Day -26

So TB transferred in from another school two weeks back and whenever I see kids transferring into a failing school near the end of the year I know what the deal is: fucking unmanageable behavior head cases who got put out of their last school and who are being sent to a school which is shutting down anyway.

Sure enough, TB proved to be a fucking unmanageable headcase. I saw her grab the hall monitor's chair today, and she proceded to dismantle it in the hallway on camera by smashing it repeatedly into the lockers. I went out and attempted a bit of crisis intervention, but all I got was a big "leave me the fuck alone cracker ass bitch." I called the office and no one answered, so I knocked on the police officer's door and he came out yawning and I informed him what happened and the Keystone cops rolled her up and put TB back in her math class. WTF?

Ten minutes later she started a fist fight and got her ass handed to her by a much bigger girl. Then she ran down the hall with a trashcan, dumping its contents and then proceding to dismantle the trashcan by bashing it against the lockers. This time when I called the office someone answered, but he told me they were too busy to worry about "random kids in the hallways" and hung up on me. Then someone pulled the fire alarm for the 20th day in a row.

6 more weeks of this bullshit. I'm going batty. I'm tempted to smash up a chair or two myself.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Day -27

Broke up three fights today--well, four, if one counts seeing a gang of girls outside the restroom standing guard and me pushing through them to knock the door open and scream "whatever it is you are doing in there stop!" and having two bedraggled and bloodied girls step forward and into the hall. I stopped that fight verbally--the others I physically got between the combatants and pulled them or pushed them apart. The biggest one was betwixt Gregorious and Dares Us, who continued punching each other with me in the middle. I pulled up Gregorious and said "you see the rosary Dares Us is wearing?" I asked. "Yup," he said. "You know what that means?" I asked. "Gang?" "Yup," I said. I spent the rest of the day chasing 8th graders wearing rosaries out of my room and out of the cafeteria. All of them were looking for Gregorious. We called his mom to pick him up at school because he isn't safe walking home now.

A visitor from headquarters came in the building today. He witnessed me breaking up a fight and doing hall patrol on my lunch break. He said "where is the leadership? this is ridiculous." I told him there were 10 teachers out today, and 13 yesterday, and that he should regard that as evidence of the state of morale in the building. "She's just riding out her last few months," he sneered, referring to the lame duck Big Cheese. Of course she's been "riding it out" since long before our school got zero-based.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Day -28

I don't need to be in class any more. I should just make a recording of myself shouting "put that down," "sit down," "get away from the door," "stop touching her," "get off the counter," "do your work," "I'ma call your house," and play it on repeat at top volume for 90 minutes at a pop. It's pretty much what my job entails at the moment.

Mr. E next door showed movies today. Other teachers are doing "fun" things like word searches, or taking sick days out the ass. I'm trying not to head there, as tempting as it is. Not sure what to do, however, if the kids don't give a fuck, if their parents don't give a fuck, and if the Big Cheese doesn't give a fuck.

During planning time I boxed up half the classroom library. We are still 6 weeks out from the end of the year, but psychologically I needed to move the terminus a bit closer. Packing up a bit helped.