Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Greetings from Costa Rica

So Cahuita is definitely a frontier town. The roads are gravel or dirt, the ganja dealers are more bold than the policia turistica, and a ceiling fan in your room is a luxury. But so be it. The jungle is beautiful, the beaches amazing, and a week before the season open there is nobody here.

Yeah, we got mugged our first night in town. We walked a few yards down from our cabin to the playa negra and saw the sunset. just after the sky darkened I felt a little skeevy about things, so we started walking back to town for dinner. Almost immediately fast padding feet came up behind us, and I turned to see two guys on either side of my wife, faces hidden by T-shirts around their heads. I quickly pulled her away, intending to get her behind me, but I pulled so hard she flopped onto the ground. This startled the muggers, who jumped back and seemed unsure what to do next. I bent down and made sure Cha was ok, then took a step toward the nearest guy and put my arm out. ¨Back off, man,¨ I warned. He said ¨We want your money.¨ He was brandishing a little wooden stick with a blade on the end. I took a step toward him, figuring if he was nervous after my wife fell down, he probably had little stomach for violence. Sure enough, he jumped back again. Cha screamed ¨no!¨ and jumped up. ¨Let´s go,¨ I told her and she yelled ¨policia!¨ as we ran one direction and the muggers ran the other.

Obviously they were kids, and rookies. I´ve dealt with a few teenagers in my day, and lets just say these guys weren´t quite Thug Life material. But they got Cha´s camera, which fell out of her pocket and we didn´t know until later. They cut her purse strap but didn´t get ít because she has a death grip on the damn thing. I had a money belt with beaucoup dollars inside, so I´m glad we weren´t hit by pros.

After that we had a very pleasant dinner at Coral Reef. Yesterday we hiked a bit in the rain forest, but mostly slacked on the vacant white sand beach. The water is a delicious emerald color, with gentle waves. It´s bathwater warm too. Our cabin is about 20 meters from the beach, and we have a porch with a lovely garden and a hammock. The local pets all come visit us in the evening.

Today we hiked 9 km through the rain forest. We saw a few serpents, including an impressive boa, several basilisks, a crazy racoon thing which walked right up to us, sniffed disdainfully in our direction, and then continued on his way. We saw howler monkeys have a conference in a tree; there was a big ass howler monkey and he started yelling, and then all the male monkeys from other trees came over and joined him. Each time a new monkey joined the group they´d set up a racket to welcome him. Then, when all the males were gathered, they started shaking branches and yelling down at us. Meanwhile in another tree the females were tending a little tiny baby. We also saw capuchins up close, and spider monkeys. A tapir was almost as bold as the weird racoon thing, strolling right up to us on the path and circling around us before crashing back into the underbrush. In all my travels I´ve never hiked a rain forest before. It was a special privilige to do so. We ended the hike exhausted and out of water, and realized the trail didn´t circle around as advertised--it dropped us rather 6 miles outside of town. There was a closed bar/restaurant combo out there in the woods, but the expat Italian owner kindly cooked us a meal and served up some Imperial ale. He was a trip. ¨Ï live here 21 years,¨ he said. ¨Italy is the most beautiful country in the world, but I can´t stand it because it is full of Italians.¨ His angelic son, half Costa Rican, drug me off to look at their litter of pups. As we ate his cats and dogs begged for scraps while humming birds danced around us. Poison dart frogs clambored the benches where we sat.

Tomorrow we snorkel the coral reef, then Friday we´re riding horses up a mountain in order to zipline the forest canopy. Sunday we white water raft the Pacaure river, and thence we´re off to Arenal to hang out on a volcano and dip in some hot springs. But all that is down the road. I still have a lot of nothing to do here, too. I enjoy just lying in that hammock and listening to birds. I could do it for hours every day. I mean EVERY day. I´m dangerously close to buying a lot down here. Le Fe restaurant has some delicious coconut sauce.

There are lizards on the wall behind the computer monitor where I´m typing this...

Friday, June 24, 2011

Book #19

Holy shit, I've just read the War and Peace of fantasy novels! If you thought the first volume was a maze of competing factions and dynasties, wait 'til you get into the Lord's bannermen and their holdings and shifting allegiances. Martin manages to keep the conspiracies and counterplots moving right along through 970 pages of shifting viewpoints, and tops off volume two with an epic battle. Now on to volume 3, which tops 1000 pages, and will likely take me the rest of June to finish.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Day #179

So we're still in school this week because of a delayed opening. The rest of Bmore is done and on vacay. It's been chill--a few kids here and there, but mostly meetings and planning for next year and tearing shit down and boxing it up.

I'm already in summer mode. Saturday I plan to do a major house-cleaning, including windows and fishtank and detailed floor scrubbing, and then Sunday we're off to Costa Rica for 10 days. I should really do some more planning for that trip, but I don't care if I sit in a hammock on the beach for the entire span.

One more day: a literacy meeting, a data meeting, and likely a look at our MSA results. Then: freedom, terrible freedom!

Congrats to some poets I know: Dan Bouchard got a poem in The Nation, and Pattie McCarthy won a PEW Fellowship. Both are fellow Temple alums, and both did time in the Borders book mines as well.

Congrats are also in order for blogger extraordinaire Steven Hart, who just published his first novel:

Lucky followers of his blog got to read an online draft of this book a while back. Now you can read the finished product, and I recommend you grab it before you head to the beach this summer.

Saturday, June 18, 2011


I first saw bits and pieces of this when I lived in Philadelphia back in the early '90s. Their PBS station showed good stuff. Cha and I watched the entire series over the past couple months, following Bruce, Tony, Neil, Suzie and her friends, Paul, etc. from age 7 to age 49. The 1st documentary began with the suggestion that you can already see the eventual adult in the 7-year old child. Every 7 years the filmmakers made a new doc with the original subjects who chose to participate.

Class and education play a big role in the series: can people in England change social status? How important is education in determining eventual success? You get to follow some blue-bloods through boarding school to Oxford, and a few tough East End kids through public schools. Some of the results are surprising, some are not. My favorite bits happen later in the series, when the subjects begin to critique the manner of their presentation. Occasionally they break into outright rows with the producer/interviewer over editing or narrative choices.

If you watch these, you will choose favorites to root for. Someone should make a documentary about people who watch these documentaries, and which characters they are drawn to. I find them all interesting, but I'm particularly drawn to Neil, the restless intellectual who becomes homeless and nearly goes mad, and to Paul, who grew up in a shelter for boys but who moves to Australia with his mum and dad and forges a new life and identity--or Bruce, who read Maths at Cambridge and chose to teach in public schools in the East End.

Hopefully there will be a 56 Up--it should arrive soon by my calculations. I'd like to know how everyone turns out.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Predatory Towing

Baltimore's got a problem with corrupt towing companies--sometimes in league with police officers--taking vehicles hostage and holding them for ransom. Last night we were hit by the car thieves at Quick Response Towing, based in Cherry Hill.

For our anniversary, Cha had purchased an evening adventure package via Living Social. We gathered in the parking lot of a Wal-Mart down by the Harbor and boarded a bus for a rope course. On the agenda? Nighttime navigation of high rope elements and ziplines, followed by Fed Hill carousing. It was a bit terrifying to be 25 or 30 feet up in the dark, hooking oneself onto safety lines by the light of a glowstick bracelet. But it was also great fun, especially the ziplining at night!

We were having a good time and had crossed three elements and a couple quick zips when word came to the woods that all the participants' cars were being towed. Because lightning had begun flashing around us, Living Social decided to cancel our event and take everyone back to Wal-Mart.

About a third of us had our cars towed before a Living Social rep called the police and showed them the signed contract for lot usage. Wal-Mart didn't request the towings, Quick Response simply took it upon themselves to remove a couple dozen cars. Living Social took us on the tour bus to the impound lot where we were forced to get $300 out of the on-site ATM and pay cash to liberate our vehicles. Quick Response knew they'd towed contrary to an agreement, but they didn't care. They rudely proclaimed that only a "supervisor" was allowed to release the cars without payment. Living Social pledged to reimburse our cost until they could collect from Quick Response.

What a joke. I'm writing to Senator Pugh and Mayor Rawlings-Blake about these clowns, but have little doubt they'll still be taking cars hostage. Although the police did stop the towing when confronted with the parking contract, they were reluctant to do anything outside jurisdiction to help citizens get their vehicles. But an officer did show up at the impound lot, obviously there to prevent an angry mob of night-time adventurers from tearing Quick Response's headquarters down with our bare hands.

Thursday, June 09, 2011


Summer's not quite here yet but Baltimore bakes in its second extreme heat wave this year. The temperature cracked triple digits today, God knows what the heat index is, and schools closed at noon for the fourth time in two weeks due to extreme heat conditions.

My class room was intolerably hot at 6:30 this morning. By the time the kids arrived at 8:30 the principal ordered me to take them to the slightly cooler cafeteria to do some work, and thence to the air-conditioned science room out in the pod behind the building for second period.

Most of the kids have stopped coming to school, and we still have a full academic week and a conference week to go. By the time I get to break down my room, sometime around June 23rd and 24th, the City will be broiled.

I wouldn't come to school either. By the end of 1st period I'm drenched in sweat, the kids are surly and lethargic and apathetic. We're not being productive at all.

In a bit more than 2 weeks, however, we're off to Costa Rica for white water rafting, rain forest canopy touring, coral reef snorkeling, volcanic cone hiking, cabin on the beaching, and hopefully at least four or five days of absolute downtime as well. It still seems an eternity away, but I know I'll be flying home from San Jose in a flash....

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Almost There

The kids are getting wild. Because our school opened a week late following renovations we have classes until 6/17 and mandatory conferences the week after that. Everybody else in the City is done classes this week and teachers clean up next week. So the kids are freaking out because they're tired and it's too hot and they don't feel like doing any more work. Especially the 7th grade boys, the ones we inherited from the now defunct Diggs Middle. They are used to doing nothing after March except running the halls or playing in class.

So today I was struggling to keep their attention and keep them on task, and I gave up after an hour. The last half-hour was pretty glorious. They started talking and wouldn't stop. Then they started getting out of their chairs and moving around the room. I parked myself in front of a chair by the door and just sat there. Kids who got too close to the door I pushed back in the room. This used to be what I spent most of my time doing at W.C. March. It is the first time I allowed it to happen at SBCS.

But I'm as done with this year as the kids. I told them as much, at 3:35, 10 minutes after dismissal time. I stayed in my chair by the door until they realized they weren't leaving until I'd said my piece. They settled down and I asked them to circle up in front of the class. "I know how you feel. You're tired. You're hot. You can taste the summer. I'm still making you do work and you HATE it. I feel you. But we're not done. We have a Socratic Seminar tomorrow. I don't think you're ready, and I was trying to get you ready, and you all went loopy on me. We're still doing the Seminar tomorrow, and it will be a substantial part of your report card grade. We aren't done. Hang in there for a few more days."

Then I made them put up the chairs and clean up my room, and I let them go.

One of the sixth grade boys called me a racist today. That hadn't happened in a while. He was yelling loudly as I was reading to the class that the girl next to him had her foot on the bottom of his chair. One of the other kids said "Will you be quiet?" and he started screaming "how would you feel if she had her foot on your chair?" While he was yelling I asked him several times to lower his voice, and then he said "You always pick on me. You never say anything to her. You a racist piece of shit."

Of course the girl was also African-American, so his logic was a bit spotty, but all I said was "You need to apologize right now or you are leaving my room." He apologized immediately and I continued reading.

Later on I saw him in the hall and we had a chat. I told him that it didn't matter to me if L. had her foot on the bottom of his chair. What mattered to me was his behavior was disrupting class, and he continued to do so, so I called him out on it. "I don't care about feet on chair. You deal with it yourself. I care about disruptions that affect the entire class. You were disrupting class, and I thought you weren't taking responsibility for your own behavior. You can blame girls all you want but you were the one yelling. I really didn't appreciate what you said at all."

He shook my hand, and I think we "cool." But whatever. Tempers are flaring. I remember my training year when Luky was my mentor and she and I were in that crazy turret room at Booker T., sweltering in June with the 8 or 9 kids who still came to school each day. I said something about the end of the year dragging and she said "I know. Aren't you just done? It happens every year. You're fucking done with it, with the kids, with the curriculum, with the building. But you have to stay until the end."


Saturday, June 04, 2011

Book #18

I've heard a lot of hub-bub about the latest HBO series, and I needed something to read this summer while trying to relax my brain, and I remembered reading some George R.R. Martin way back in Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, and then I read this post on Steven Hart's Site. And I bought the series of paperbacks.

I didn't realize they were each in excess of 800 pages. Nor did I realize that the labyrinthine cast of characters and houses and conspiracies would hardly allow me to relax my brain. But I enjoyed Game of Thrones nonetheless. Yes, there's some sword and sorcery, but not so much sorcery in this volume. Mostly it's political jockeying leading up to war. Its complexities remind me of Dune. Martin is refreshingly willing to foil expectations by killing off or seriously injuring any character at any time. Even those apparently set up as heroes for whom the reader pulls.

Aside from a dalliance with Jack Vance last year, I've not touched a huge fantasy series since the mid-'80s and Stephen R. Donaldson. It's kind of fun to dip into an old familiar well. I look forward to the TV show on Netflix, since we haven't got HBO.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Move Like Seamus

So we had a big gig last Saturday, and it was necessary to dust off instruments and build up callouses and cough up cobwebs in order to get ready. Not only did Earthdragon get the band back together, but he got all former members of the band to come out of retirment as well (excepting of course Doctor Rock, who lives in London). Seamus supergroup rules!

We had a very special night at Raj and Jennifer's wedding. We were asked back twice after we finished, because they wanted to hear more songs. How many wedding bands get asked back?

The dance floor was rocking! How could it not be, with double cello, two or three guitars, fiddle, bass, two monster drummers, and the likes of Drew Vervan and Ellen Cherry on lead vocals?

The gig blew by in a flash. As a long-time fan of the band before I joined, I must say it was an honor to jam with the original members. And it was great to play with my bandmates again as well. The Seamus United fans were ecstatic.