Friday, February 29, 2008

Tanks A Lot

In the midst of a declaration of cutting the state's education budget by ten percent, our governor is offering a brilliant new incentive to keep inner-city kids in school: He wants to give them rides in his tank. An Austrian Army Tank.
Most of the time I try not to think too hard about the implications of having The Terminator for a governor, but in this case, it just makes my head swim. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a native of Austria, said he plans to offer the rides to inner-city children in the Los Angeles area as a reward for staying in school, avoiding drugs and working hard. I have almost gotten used to the amusing way that he pronounces the name of the state he governs. I have almost forgiven him for "Conan the Destroyer". I am working hard to understand the disparity between California's per-student spending (we currently rank thirty-fourth out of the fifty states), and the need to cut the state's education spending. But this?
Schwarzenegger said he had offered trips to his movie sets as an incentive to kids, but since he became governor and stopped making movies in 2003, he hasn't had anything enticing to offer. He said children just aren't that excited about a tour of the state Capitol. I can only assume that an armored assault on the Capitol would bring kids out of the woodwork.
The irony on this one is about as thick as the armor plating. If kids flunk out of school, they might be looking for a way to be all that they can be, and they could wind up driving their very own tank - right down the middle of Mosul.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Halpin Hand

I have a favorite recording of a Barenaked Ladies show from a few years back where an audience member is asked up on stage to play drums with the band. He was holding up a sign in the crowd, and Ed, the lead guitarist told him to come on up. Their drummer, Tyler, politely made room behind his kit, and "this guy" counted them into their song "Alternative Girlfriend" just like he'd been with the band for years. This turned out to be a good thing, since, as "this guy" was making his way to the stage, Ed encouraged the crowd to give him a big hand if he was any good at all, but if he was bad to "really let him have it." When it was over, Ed and Steve (the lead vocalist) were amazed that anybody with a little bit of talent and access to some Bristol board and some magic markers could find themselves on stage with a rock and roll band.
Many of these same thoughts must have gone through the head of Scot Halpin, all those years ago. Scot passed away on February 9 at the age of 54, but it was thirty-five years ago when he made his leap to the fifteen minutes of fame. Scot didn't expect to play drums with The Who when he showed up thirteen hours early for the show at San Francisco's Cow Palace. He just wanted a good seat. Halfway through the opening set, under the influence of animal tranquilizers Keith Moon fell off his stool, and even though he made a brief return after a cold shower and a cortisone shot, he slumped over somewhere in the middle of "Magic Bus". After making it through a Moon-less "See Me, Feel Me", Pete Townshend asked the crowd, "Can anybody play the drums?" He repeated the question, adding forcefully, "I mean someone good!"
Scot's friend got the attention of Bill Graham, the show's promoter, and got him up on the stage. With a shot of brandy to fortify him, he played "Smokestack Lightning", "Spoonful" and "Naked Eye" to close out the show. Halpin credited The Who's stamina, admitting "I only played three numbers and I was dead."
Sadly, like so many other members of The Who, Scot has now joined the list of "ex-members" of The Who. But for those three songs, he was a rock and roll animal (without the benefit of tranquilizers).

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

A Real American Hero

Senator John McCain is, by most definitions, an American hero. After serving two terms in the House of Representatives, he has represented Arizona in the Senate since 1986, and has run for President of the United States in the past three elections. Add that to his twenty-two year career as a naval aviator and the six years he spent as a prisoner of war, and you've got quite a nice little national service resume. His web site will tell you, "He is a common sense conservative who believes in a strong national defense, a smaller, more accountable government, economic growth and opportunity, the dignity of life and traditional values."
So what's wrong with that? At the very least, this guy's credentials are far and away more impressive than the Pinhead who has the job right now, so why wouldn't we elect him? Hindsight is an amazing thing, since back in 2000, John McCain beat the once and future Pinhead in his Pinhead Senior's back yard: The New Hampshire Primary. This was back in the day of the original "Straight Talk Express", the bus that rolled from poll to poll as Senator McCain weighed in with his candid views on issues of the day. Remember, this was before the events of September 11, and before our invasion of Iraq. In response to McCain's surging popularity, the Pinhead cabal launched one of the most extreme and brutal dirty campaigns in recent memory, including such memorable tidbits as flyers claiming most famously that the Senator from Arizona had fathered a black child out of wedlock (the McCains' dark-skinned daughter Bridget was adopted from Bangladesh; this misrepresentation was thought to be an especially effective slur in a Deep South state where race was still central) but also that his wife Cindy was a drug addict, that he was a homosexual, and that he was a "Manchurian Candidate" traitor or mentally unstable from his North Vietnam POW days. It was at this point, just before the South Carolina primary, that the Straight Talk Express started to lose momentum. He changed his stance on flying the Confederate flag at the state capitol from a "very offensive" "symbol of racism and slavery" to "a symbol of heritage." It was at this point that John McCain became a politician.
In 2004, he stood grim-faced beside "our commander-in-chief", as the Pinhead was re-elected for his record of managing the "war on terror." John McCain showed himself a good soldier once again, and he waited his turn. He announced his candidacy for President of the United States again on the David Letterman show. He showed himself a good showman. In the intervening eight years, he has cozied up to the Christian Right, speaking at the 2006 Liberty University commencement, run by the man he referred to six years earlier as "an agent of intolerance." Recently when a questioner said, "President Bush has talked about our staying in Iraq for 50 years." McCain responded, "Make it a hundred. We've been in Japan for 60 years, we've been in South Korea for 50 years or so. That'd be fine with me as long as Americans are not being injured or harmed or wounded or killed. That's fine with me. I hope it will be fine with you if we maintain a presence in a very volatile part of the world where Al Qaeda is training, recruiting, equipping, and motivating people every single day."
Upon careful consideration, I suggest that Senator McCain stick with the short version of his resume. I liked him better eight years ago.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Attitude Adjustment

I watched our school nurse try, unsuccessfully, for twenty minutes to try and capture the attention of my class. She certainly showed up with the goods: each student received their own "Too Good For Drugs" activity book, and she had a bushel of colorful pencils to hand out for prizes to those who distinguished themselves. Perhaps I should be more clear about her expectations. She only hoped to be able to speak to them without being interrupted. Alas, this is not a skill that my class practices on a regular basis. They are part of the hyper-media generation after all, and a coloring book that doesn't explode or turn into a robot had better jump off the desk and start doing the old soft-shoe to capture the wicked short attention span of the kids in my room.
So after those twenty minutes, I decided that it was time to pull the lever and move on. "Thank you, Nurse Battle for your time, but I don't think my class is ready for your presentation today," I said and then turned back to my students, "Take out your math journals."
"Nooooooo!" they howled as I went to the board and began writing the lesson objective. More grunts and whines and moans. I kept writing. When I finished and turned around, I saw that there were a few who had yet to get their journals out, while others were making a grand show of just how unhappy they were to be writing their math lesson objective instead of tormenting Nurse Battle. There was a time when a wave of guilt would sweep over me and I would cave in to their sad little faces and try to give them some other way out, but no more. Not with this group. I have this group to thank for helping me find my inner Hitler.
This class has been a scary reminder of the creepy sense of entitlement that most kids find at some point, but I find that fourth graders have in spades. They have little or no understanding of how their behavior connects to their consequences. Or perhaps more to the point, they don't give the appearance of that understanding. Simple actions such as "if you stop talking, we can go to lunch" cause their brains to lock up, creating only paradox after paradox. "We're always late to lunch! Shut up! Why don't you shut up? See? We're always late to lunch!" The world is, sadly, against them.
Or so it would seem. I have told them that if they improve their behavior, I will allow them to compete in the kickball tournament on Friday. Many of my students have already begun their chants of doom. "But Mister Caven, if we don't play, we forfeit, and if we forfeit, we lose!" And with a flash, they turned on me, "If we lose, then you lose too. That makes you a loser." For the briefest moment, I felt the need to respond, and then I let it go. I may not end up with the best kickball team, but I will have the best-behaved.

Monday, February 25, 2008

My Son's Hang Ups

I was wondering, as we meandered through another evening's dinner discussion, "When would be a good time to teach our son to hang up on telephone solicitors?" We have raised, to our own credit and his, a very polite and inquisitive boy. He is very courteous and meets strangers with the same forthright attention and concern that he gives to his intimates. This is a blessing and a curse.
This evening, he "confessed" to us that he had hung up on "some guy doing a survey." The fact that he is aided by the technology known as caller ID made this all the easier to swallow. I have brushed off the temptation to go back and check to see from whence the call originated, since he took the call, he is more than capable of deciding its termination.
Truth is, it has only been in the last year or so that he has felt comfortable answering the phone at all. Many was the time that my wife and I were up to our elbows in some household project, or simply sitting in a spot across the house from a telephone and his world would allow a phone to ring six to eight times right next to his head without it making the slightest effect. Oh, sometimes we were alerted that "the phone is ringing", but it never occurred to him that his opposable thumbs allowed him the chance to be part of the telecommunication process.
These days, however, he has become much more familiar with answering and maintaining phone calls. This is no doubt in preparation for his stay in the teenage years, and it is eerie to watch him saunter about the house with our cordless phone, carrying on conversations about video games and all manner of important pre-teen discourse. He has the good sense to ask us before he dials long distance. I am also grateful that we live in an age when accepting collect calls is no longer a regular inconvenience. I'm sure that he would accept those charges, because he is, after all, a good boy.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Who Invited You?

As I read the news of Ralph Nader's announcement, in the background my computer was playing the Donna's song "Who Invited You?" I found this a fairly aggressive bit of irony, and so I decided to go with it, especially since the next song up on my random cue was "Running On Empty" by Jackson Brown.
Ralph Nader is running for President of the United States - again. He has run in the last two elections, and there are those who still hold that his campaign siphoned off just enough votes from Al Gore's base in 2000 to allow Pinhead to slither in on the side. Just as he did in 2000 and 2004, Ralph is criticizing the top White House contenders for being too close to big business and he pledges to "shift the power from the few to the many."
"You take that framework of people feeling locked out, shut out, marginalized and disrespected," he said. "You go from Iraq, to Palestine to Israel, from Enron to Wall Street, from Katrina to the bumbling of the Bush administration, to the complicity of the Democrats in not stopping him on the war, stopping him on the tax cuts." He also criticized McCain, Clinton and Obama for not fully supporting Medicare and not doing enough to stem the bloated military budget. His third party campaign will only accept money from individuals.
I don't blame Ralph for being disenchanted. I don't blame him for Al Gore losing his election, or stealing the presidency from John Kerry four years later. Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, speaking shortly before Nader's announcement, said Nader's past runs have shown that he usually pulls votes from the Democrat. "So naturally, Republicans would welcome his entry into the race." Thanks for the support, Mike!
Hillary referred to Nader as "a passing fancy", and Barack Obama said, "In many ways he is a heroic figure and I don't mean to diminish him. But I do think there is a sense now that if somebody is not hewing to the Ralph Nader agenda, then you must be lacking in some way." But, as most of the other candidates agreed, it is a free country, and at 73 years old, Ralph meets at least one of the criteria for being President of the United States. He has been running for the office, off and on, since 1992. Is there any reason to doubt his sincerity?

Saturday, February 23, 2008

The Load Out

I'm tired now. I got up a little earlier than I had hoped to this morning, and now it's the middle of the afternoon and for the first time in years I feel like I could use a nap. It probably has something to do with feeling more than a tad wistful. I'm closing in on the end of an era, and I don't have an official response just yet, but I'm working on it.
This will be my last year running the Variety Show at my son's elementary school. I am somewhat certain that they would happily accept my help if I were to return next year, but it would only be in an advisory capacity. For the past five years, I have been the creative and organizational force behind the annual parade of student and staff talent. Now it's time to pass the torch, or at least lay it carefully on the ground to see if anyone is interested in picking it up.
Because that is the true nature of volunteer work. When my son was in kindergarten, I went to a meeting of the Dads' Club. They were looking for someone who wanted to take over the reins of the show business arm of the organization. That responsibility was primarily aimed at gathering acts for the show and lining up advertisers for the program. The bonus for me was that there was an all-dads act as the traditional show closer. I offered to write a little skit, a spoof on Harry Potter that ended in a cream-pie fight. It was a big hit.
The next year was a little more comfortable, and I took over the job as Master of Ceremonies in addition to writing and producing. Each spring after that has offered me my own tiny show biz flurry, and now it is coming to a close. I made a mental note of the last time I opened the sound system for the auditions. One of my secret joys has been having a great big stereo to blast into my own personal multi-purpose room. I set out a few chairs for parents and sibling. I took an extra moment with each of the acts to encourage them do everything just a little bit bigger, just a little bit brighter. It will be their time to shine.
And then, after three hours of auditions ("tryouts" for those more sensitive parents), it was over. I unplugged the microphones, turned off the spotlights, and locked up the sound system. I'll be back in a couple of weeks to rehearse, but the clock is ticking. Happily, my fifteen minutes of fame have stretched out for six years. Not a bad career, all in all.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Six Degrees of Chip Diller

It's probably a sad commentary on my life that I so often return to the same pop culture resources in times of national or international distress. These touchstones range in complexity from "Caddyshack" to "Animal House". Today, my reference comes from John Landis' epic struggle of good (Deltas) against evil (Omegas), and my current event to rub up against this backdrop is the escalation of Turkish troops in Iraq.
I remember, near the end of "Animal House", as the Deltas have begun to wreak havoc on the Faber College Homecoming Parade, Omega pledge and ROTC recruit Chip Diller pleads frantically with the screaming crowd, "All is well!" With each successive cut, we find young Chip becoming more exasperated, then hysteric. It reminds me, as the clock continues to wind down on the Pinhead Regime, that all is not well, in spite of what Defense Secretary (and former Omega pledge) Robert Gates would like us to believe.
This is the first confirmed ground operation by the Turkish military into Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion that removed Saddam Hussein. It also raised concerns that it could trigger a wider conflict with the U.S.-backed Iraqi Kurds, despite Turkey's assurances that its only target was the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK. So, while everyone is busy watching the parade we call our presidential primaries, another front is opening up on a war that we "hope" to be drawing troops from in the next twelve months.
And there's poor Chip Diller, pulling his hat down over his bright red face, screaming hoarsely, "All is well!"

Thursday, February 21, 2008

For Your Viewing Pleasure And Enlightenment

I know what you're thinking: Another top ten list? Isn't that just a little too easy? Well, not this one, because it comes from the folks at Mensa. You know Mensa - "The society welcomes people from every walk of life whose IQ is in the top 2% of the population, with the objective of enjoying each other's company and participating in a wide range of social and cultural activities." This would include such frivolous activities as watching TV. Well, how about that?
The friendly brains over at Mensa named their top ten brainiac TV shows, and here's what they came up with: "Frasier", "The West Wing", "Boston Legal", "Jeopardy", "Cosmos", "House", "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation", "All In The Family", "Mad About You", and "MASH". For those of you keeping score, NBC and CBS each had three shows in the top ten, Fox had a couple, PBS and Carl Sagan had one and so did Alex Trebek in syndication. ABC went bugger-all for Mensa's top ten. Maybe they could turn that to their advantage in their Fall ad campaign: "Thank you for watching ABC, the network that won't tax your brain."
Aren't you wondering where all the science fiction went? "Twilight Zone", "Star Trek" or "Doctor Who"? What about "Monty Python's Flying Circus"? I was routinely sent scurrying to the library to find out why a "summarizing Proust" competition would be so hilarious. "Larry Sanders" and "Sportsnight" were both very hip and very funny, but not worthy of the Mensa stamp of approval. Go figure.
I'm proud to say that I was a fairly loyal viewer of a number of those shows while they were on, and I still enjoy a good Jeopardy-fix every now and then, but since I have never had my IQ measured, I may not know what subtleties I am missing in "House" and "CSI". As far as "Cosmos" goes, I always thought that was Carl Sagan's way of "dumbing down" the universe for those of us clinging to the double digit realm of our intelligence quotient.
But "Mad About You"? I admit that I spent the first few years of my marriage hoping that my relationship would be as cleverly scripted as Paul and Jamie Buchman's. I also confess to a fondness for Paul Reiser that dates back to "Diner" and a minor crush on Helen Hunt that dates back to the seventies when she played Murray Slaughter's daughter on an episode of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show". I suppose that I might have gone along with this pick if the show hadn't ended up in the realm of "the invisible baby". Once these two finally procreated, they didn't really seem like they knew what to do with it (the child, that is). The friendly folks over at "Jump The Shark" dot com tell us that an overwhelming number of viewers agree with me, that the arrival of "Mabel" constituted the effective end of the series.
But I guess you don't have to be a genius to know that.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Electoral College

I just got an e-mail informing me that the University of Colorado has named Bruce Benson as the twenty-second president of that august institution. I was so pleased to be informed of this that I set about scratching my head trying to remember who was president of the University of Colorado when I was actually attending the University of Colorado. A quick trip down Internet Way told me that there were actually three different presidents during my years of study: Arnold R. Weber (1980 - 1985), William H. Baughn (1985) and E. Gordon Gee (1985 - 1990). I didn't stick around for all of E. Gordon's term, but I do recall that when he left, he blew out of town, exchanging his buffalo bow tie and suspenders for a set of buckeye braces when he landed at Ohio State. I suppose I learned not to become too awfully attached to the President of the University from that experience.
Or maybe it was simply because I had no concrete notion of what the President of a University might do. Would it involve declaring wars on other institutions of higher learning? Would they be pardoning turkeys on the lawn in front of the library just before Thanksgiving? Would they attempt to force their vision of education on the poorer schools of the world? One thing is certain: They would have to be intimately involved with the finances of their institution. My marginally personal message from the University of Colorado Alumni Association informed me that "He (Benson) has clearly articulated his goal to further develop the substantial support needed to increase funding for CU and his critical role in raising funds to support the university's work."
And in the case of a hostile takeover of Ohio State University, I'm pretty sure our buffalo would seriously stomp that little buckeye. Take that, E. Gordon!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Snow Job

There were a number of people who, when they heard that I was taking a day off, wanted to know if I was "going to the snow." Was I leaving my urban setting for one more bucolic, or perhaps more tranquil? That was certainly my hope, and yes, I expected to find some snow there. But it wasn't my main reason for going.
Don't get me wrong, I've always had an appreciation for snow. It's a very functional bit of precipitation. It can provide hours of amusement for those who are mildly creative, or the slightest big combative: Snow men, snow angels, snow forts, snow balls, and snow ball fights. This always sounds like such a lot of fun. It always sounds like such a lot of fun as you pull on your extra pairs of socks, a second or third sweater beneath your jacket, a pair of gloves and a knit hat. As you prepare to leave the protection of your airlock and step out into the harsh reality of winter, some of the fun drifts away. But not all of it. There will always be a few fun moments before the first kid gets pasted in the one square inch of skin left showing on his face. Then the fun stops. Abruptly.
Once the apologies have been made, and the disarmament takes place, a substitute activity has to be found. Why not try sledding? That's a lot easier to deal with, until the kids figure out that there are only two sleds that go really fast, and the rest are just annoying chunks of polystyrene. More negotiations ensue, and a system that gets put in place to ensure that every child gets at least one turn on the really cool sled gets undermined as siblings ignore one another and different deals are cut at the bottom of the hill, negating those made at the top.
Still, there were a lot of smiles and laughter, and after three days, most of the truly egregious behavior came from the adults who may have stayed just a little too long inside the cabin. When I felt my own inner child on the verge of having a tantrum, I went out for a run. As I stepped carefully around the slush at the side of the road, I found myself fascinated by the thin, clear layer of ice that had formed on the surface of the puddles. I could see gray air bubbles making round art near my feet. My first instinct came from my youth: to step on them to hear the pop and crunch of the sheet of ice under my shoes. Then I remembered all the puddles I had cracked on my way to Columbine Elementary, all those cold Colorado winters ago. So I let them be, as I felt my smiles return. Maybe this trip to the snow wasn't so bad after all.

Monday, February 18, 2008

A Twenty-Eight-Year-Old Miracle

We're coming up on a anniversary. On February 22, it will have been twenty-eight years since "The Miracle On Ice". The significance of this event is primarily one of coincidence, but like most coincidences, it is sure to create a good measure of perspective.
1980 was an election year. A recession was looming, and the current president, Jimmy Carter, fought off all manner of negative press and dismal approval ratings. Iran had taken fifty-two American hostages and held them in our embassy there. The Soviet Union had only recently begun what would become a ten-year occupation of Afghanistan. Gas prices were rising fast and in some places people were paying more than a dollar per gallon. All of this tumult occurred as the United States prepared to host the Winter Olympic Games in Lake Placid, New York.
With the looming suggestion of a United States boycott of the coming summer games in Moscow, the Soviets decided to go ahead and send their team to the U.S. to compete. Their hockey team was considered by most to be one of the greatest ever assembled. In an exhibition game thirteen days earlier, the Soviets had beaten the U.S. handily ten to three. That is why the U.S. team of amateurs and college players was never mentioned in any serious talk about winning any sort of medal. But they did. On February 22, 1980 they pulled off what amounts to the greatest upset in sports history. The U.S. still had to come back and beat Finland to secure the gold, but the world will always remember that night in Lake Placid for the incredible surge in national pride and the miracle that their hockey team brought to them. It truly was a miracle.
Fast forward to 2008, and imagine a comparable scenario. The U.S. has begun "allowing" its professional athletes to participate on its Olympic teams, and expectations for success are constantly tested by perceived "underdogs". The U.S. has troops in Afghanistan. Gas prices are even more ridiculous, and the looming recession became official when President Pinhead asked us all to accept his gift of cash money to go out and spend. Sadly, these were also his words of wisdom in the wake of September 11, when he urged us all to take a stand against the evil in the world by going shopping. In hindsight, he probably wishes he would have told us to take up hockey.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Miss Match Meet Mister Ection

There are a lot of "Top Ten" lists out there, but this one really caught my eye: "The Ten Most Mismatched Movie Couples". All of us have spent time wondering, usually on the sullen drives home from some ill-fated cocktail party or family reunion, how two people managed to find one another in the sea of all that is human relationships. But this is worse, since it took a number of highly paid executives and an even larger number of expensive lunch meetings to come up with some of these pairings. Hollywood is supposed to be the land of "meet cute", not "meet market", but finance seems to be the main idea behind most of these duos.
How about Nick Nolte and Julia Roberts in "I Love Trouble"? Would you believe that Nick was selected People's "Sexiest Man Alive" in 1992? Certainly Julia will always be remembered as America's sweetheart, at least for a time, but the two of them together? I have two words for you: Puh-leeze. I would just as soon gloss over such obvious mistakes as "Bennifer", since the price the two of them paid privately must have been just as awful as what we, the public suffered, but I'm not willing to watch "Gigli" to find out.
When we bought out DVD player, we received "Six Days, Seven Nights" for free. The grating combo of Harrison Ford and Anne Heche made me reevaluate my feeling about getting something for nothing. There are a few other notable scary couples, including Woody Allen "and any actress twenty plus years younger than him", but I reserve my utter disdain for my least favorite romantic duo of all time: Hayden Christiansen and Natalie Portman. Who would have thought that becoming the Dark Lord of Sith or dying in childbirth would be considered a relief?
Feel free to make your own list, and share it with someone you love.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

This One's Got It All

By the time they successfully lower Charlton Heston down to the crippled 747 on a tether, you know that things will probably work out. The first guy may have been a Major in the United States Air Force, and an expert in rescues of this type, but he was played by Ed Nelson, who may have been a star on TV, but wasn't a big enough star to land that plane. No, once Chuck Heston was on board, it was time to get that baby on the deck and roll the credits.
"Airport 1975" is one of the most amazing and amusing movies I have watched for many months. I remember seeing it the first time, when it came out in 1974 at the Boulder Theater. Most of my disaster-film experiences took place there, including the sensory overload of Sensurround felt in "Earthquake". But "Airport '75" (as the insiders call it) stands as the epitome of that time. The wardrobe alone is worth a second viewing: the wide ties, Heston's canary yellow turtleneck, and all that purple everywhere.
Watching this movie is like taking a beginner's course in parody screenwriting. One can almost see the scribble marks of the Zucker brothers as they lifted entire sequences from "Airport" to "Airplane" without having to change a word. And then there's the trivia. I am sure there is a drinking game associated with this movie, where the object is to name as many of the stars as possible as they flash across the screen. One particular row of seats includes the talents of Conrad Janis (Mindy's father on "Mork and Mindy"), Jerry Stiller (Ben's dad and George's dad on "Seinfeild"), and TV funnyman Norman Fell (God res his soul). I expect that you could probably get good and drunk right along with Myrna Loy with her boilermakers.
And, if all that star power wasn't enough, you can treat yourself to a few minutes of the in-flight movie which is, as it breaks just before Sid Caesar's alleged cameo, "American Graffiti". In the end, the miracle isn't that they got poor sick Linda Blair to the hopital in time, but Karen Black was able to vavigate that 747 through the Wasatch Mountains with those wacky eyes of hers.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Substitute Me For Him

There are a lot of reasons that I cringe in the anticipation of having a substitute take over my class for a day. Even though it has been some time since I have taken a personal day - okay, make that never - but I have always imagined that I would rather be there on my worst day than having a stranger come in on their best. That's a little paranoid, and just a trifle conceited, but it's the thing that has made me the "Iron Man" of Horace Mann. I schedule my medical appointments for Christmas and Summer breaks, and I still find the startling frequency of school holidays adequate to rest my worn psyche. Up until now, it has taken something like a kidney stone or jury duty to pry me out of my room, both of which turned out to be much less satisfying experiences than spending a day with my students.
That said, there is one other reason not to send a substitute in to take my place: I know the kind of torment that children are capable of piling on a fresh new face. It is essentially a no-win scenario for the short-term substitute. If they push too hard, the kids will mount a counter-insurgency. If they play it too light, they will be overrun before the first recess bell. I know this because I, myself, was a serial abuser of substitute teachers when I was a kid.
Not when I was a little kid, mind you. When I was in elementary school, I maintained a steady state of fear and respect for all of my teachers, even my sixth grade teacher who insisted we call her "Kitty". It wasn't until I reached junior high that I began to see the vicarious thrills that were available to those willing to make the slightest effort to pull pranks on our teacher's stand-in. Junior and senior high are especially geared for this, since your average substitute will see the average student for about fifty minutes and won't have enough time to create any lasting animosity or, more importantly, any kind of personal recognition of his or her tormentors. On those rare occasions that our band director was out sick, pity the poor schlub they sent in to keep an eye on the concert band that day. We sneaked out to the cafeteria and then came back and ate our Hostess cupcakes behind our music stands. We traded instruments for the day. "Hey, have you ever tried the French horn? No? Well I've been dying to be a percussionist."
I know the daily torment that a classroom teacher must endure, but for me it's part of a continuum. If you're only going to be in the room for six hours, you get a much shallower sense of time. You count down to recess, to lunch, and maybe you take the kids out for a little extra PE at the end of the day. It's not that they're desperate, they're just short-timers. I know this because back when I was the computer teacher, I was frequently pressed into service to fill in for a variety of different grade levels. I know what it's like to be the "fresh meat". At least they never asked me to fill in for the music teacher.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

True Love

"Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something." You probably know this quote from "The Princess Bride." I find myself referring to it regularly when I hear the whine of approaching ten-year-olds. The sentiment is generally lost on them, but for me it is central to the story of true love. The ad campaign for the film suggested, "Scaling the Cliffs of Insanity, Battling Rodents of Unusual Size, Facing torture in the Pit of Despair. - True love has never been a snap."
Pain, misery, and heartbreak: We spend vast expanses in our lives suffering through what we hope will become the love of our lives. We wear things we never wear again. We sit through movies that we will wish we could forget. We eat things with a smile that cause us to gag in the most polite way possible. And we buy things. We buy lots of things. For love.
The Beatles may have tried to warn us, but I don't think I ever fully heeded their advice: "Money can't buy me love." You can certainly make the case that money can buy physical sensations that might in some cultures add up to love, but the actual emotion? Well, that's a different matter. Remember the lessons of Mother's Days long past. Giving your mother some expensive trinket never had the same impact as the handmade card with the personal crayon scrawl on the inside. You're always better off when you're giving from your heart, rather than your wallet.
And so we return to the concept of fairness. Is it fair that the person that you have lost sleep over for the entirety of eighth grade feels that you are always going to be your "good friend"? Is it fair that Julia Roberts married Lyle Lovett, and then divorced him? Is it fair that there is no statute of limitations on a broken heart? No. Life isn't fair. Anyone who tries to tell you differently is selling something, and it's probably a box of chocolates or a fistful of flowers. Still, in the end even embittered old Miracle Max had to surrender to the force that is True Love. He revives Westley from "near death" for just such a cause. That and "humiliations galore" for the evil Prince Humperdink. Now is that fair? You betcha.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Possible Retention

The meeting with Nelson's mother had been postponed for a week already, and when she showed up on time first thing this morning, I dropped everything and rushed up to the office to sit down with her. The reason for the meeting was nominally to check in on Nelson's progress since we had gotten together to discuss his first trimester report card. Nelson has been doing better. That is to say, he has been coming to school. He had missed almost a full month out of the first three months we had been in session. I had checked all the boxes and done all the preliminary work to put a big old X in the box that said "possible retention." That box is generally more for show than anything else, since by fourth grade we would rather do whatever intervention is necessary to keep the kids moving along, rather than staying put another year and getting more stuck and potentially more surly.
Nelson is bright enough, but he's shy. And he's sensitive. And he's spoiled. Most of the days he missed back then were simply days that he didn't feel like going to school. In the meantime, the fun bus we call fourth grade has kept chugging right along. As I mentioned, Nelson is clever, and he has been able to make up a lot of ground in his reading and language arts, but math has been a different story. Without the month or so of steady drill on division facts and procedures, fractions and decimals now confront him most unhappily. It is no wonder that Nelson doesn't like math. When it was suggested that he should attend math tutoring after school two days a week, a tear came to his eye. His mother asked our principal if there wasn't something that she could take and work with him at home. Our principal didn't flinch. When it became apparent that Nelson would be required to attend math tutoring in order to pass fourth grade, he launched into what my mother might refer to as "a hissy fit." And to Nelson's mother's credit, she signed the papers, and she moved on out the door, leaving Nelson in a sobbing, snarling heap in the principal's office.
Fast forward to this afternoon: Nelson's first day of math tutoring. I went by to be sure that he had found his way. He found a friend or two, and he was making himself at home. As it turns out, the after school program was not staffed by winged demons or child-eating crocodiles. He lived through it, and with any luck, he'll live through the next four months and learn how to do long division. And he'll move along to fifth grade.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Herding Cats

It really is a "heat of the battle" kind of thing. When I am standing at the front of my classroom at eight thirty in the morning, there is still a day full of infinite possibilities and discovery. I look out at my students as they take off their coats and pull their books from their backpacks, and I see that there are some that have obviously misplaced or forgotten certain elements of their homework. But that's okay, since they still have another chance to get it done during morning recess. Some of them sit down and get straight to work on the assignment on the board, others wander toward their seats, or the pencil sharpener, or the friend they haven't seen since they were out on the playground six minutes ago.
Then my job starts. I know from lengthy experience that every single kid in that room is seeking some kind of approval, and it is up to me to validate each and every one of them before the day is done. The challenge comes when those especially needy souls start to feel ignored. That's where the "acting out" comes from. Way back here at the end of the day, I can easily imagine ways that I could defuse most, if not all, the conflicts that occur in my room. They are children, after all. Even though they have some pretty scary adult-sized traumas in their lives, they are still kids, and would benefit from the attention of an interested grown-up. Finding a way to keep twenty-five egos free from the crush of embarrassment and confusion that fourth grade brings is a little like being one of those plate spinners on Ed Sullivan. Just about the time you get that last plate spinning, you have to rush back down to the end of the line and make sure the ones you started with haven't crashed to the floor.
And then you have to teach them. With very few exceptions, fourth grade is hard for my kids. Many are learning a second language, and even those who grew up in this country need a ton of reinforcement. It makes those fragile personalities even more likely to crumble at the slightest touch. I am finally starting to learn to remove myself as much as I can from the interaction. Offering them calm, rational responses is the way to make a difference.
If I make it to three o'clock and no one has been sent home or left the room in a crying fit, then I did all right. If I didn't, well, there's always tomorrow.

Monday, February 11, 2008

The Heist

Art thieves made off Sunday with one hundred and sixty-four million dollars worth of paintings from a Zurich museum. What was the haul? Four paintings, one each form Degas, Cezanne, Monet, and van Gogh. Three men in dark clothing and masks, one of whom spoke German with a Slavic accent, forced their way into the museum and made off with the paintings in a white car, police said.
"Spoke German with a Slavic accent?" Of course he did! He's an international art thief, for goodness sake! No doubt he has a telltale scar on his right cheek, a remembrance from an over enthusiastic young ladyfriend he met somewhere in the south of France. I am sure that one of them, the big one, is mute. Though he was born without the power of speech, he is skilled in both martial arts and high explosives. Then there's "Face", named thus because of his ability to charm both women and men with his easy smile and non-threatening good looks. Certainly these characters can't be that hard to find. The reward of one hundred thousand Swiss francs should be mine, I tell you.
But really, what do the thieves hope to do with their loot? Any reputable dealer or collector would shy away from any lunkhead showing up, waiting to sell these masterpieces. I slept through a good portion of my art history class (it was an early, and I hadn't adjusted my hangover clock to freshman standard time), but I know all four paintings stolen: Cezanne's The Boy in the Red Vest from 1890, Degas' Viscount Lepic and His Daughters from 1871, Monet's Poppies Near Vetheuil from 1880 and Van Gogh's Blossoming Chestnut Branches from 1890. These guys won't just unload them on the closest "Starving Artists" sale, where sofa-sized paintings are only ten dollars a foot.
So what's going to happen with all that art? It will probably sit around some bad guy's warehouse for a few years until it is recovered in some equally daring dawn raid. But come to think of it, they might just end up on somebody's dorm room wall - some really nice, dorm room wall.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

You're A Good Man, Linus Van Pelt

One morning I woke up and realized that I wasn't Charlie Brown after all, I was Linus. This came as somewhat of a shock, since I had lived my life prior to that moment believing that I was a blockhead, incapable of effectively giving and receiving love. I spent a good deal of effort and time constructing various "little red-haired" girl scenarios, only to have my prophecies fulfilled. I even owned a yellow shirt with a black zig-zag around the middle. "Good grief," I sighed, "I'm doomed."
Then I had my awakening: I wasn't Chuck, even though it would have been convenient since that is my middle name, but I was Lucy's little brother, Linus. In fits and starts, Linus is every bit as insecure as his pal, but he spends much more time reflecting on his limitations and finding ways to make them work in his favor. He didn't waste his nickels on his sisters "Psychiatric Help". He was looking for ever more profound answers to the meaning of existence. Even his biggest possible impediment, his trusty security blanket, becomes at various times a disguise or even a weapon in moments of duress. This doesn't make him any more available for relationships, as he finds himself constantly at odds with the affections of Charlie Brown's sister Sally. And lo and behole, I ended up marrying that little blonde-haired girl.
Truth is I should have made this connection way back in elementary school when I had a poster of Linus on my bedroom wall. On a fuchsia background, he pontificates in a word bubble: "No problem is so big or so complicated that it cannot be run away from." Words to live by, and now that I am free to embrace the wisdom of Linus Van Pelt, I shall endeavor to do so.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Sleep Over

The dog woke me up this morning - again. This is not new. She is regularly the first willfully awake creature in our house as the rest of us struggle to remain at rest. But this morning was different. Once we coaxed her back to her bed next to our own, quiet returned to our little house. This was unique, since our usual Saturday routine allows for just a few moments of peace before we hear the padding sounds of our son's little feet. In order to maximize the fun and adventure that can be had on any given weekend, a ten-year-old boy must rise before dawn to begin negotiating the possible number of hours playing video games.
This morning there was no such negotiation because our son was on his way to Legoland in San Diego. He had spent the night at a friend's house and they were all piling into a car then piling into a plane before piling into Legoland for a day of interactive amusement park-type fun. Aside from the obvious enticement of visiting the headwaters of all the multi-colored plastic bricks in North America, this was a monumental occasion because our son spent the night away from home. By himself. To be fair, he had an assist from his mother, but she came home before morning, and the record will show that a successful sleepover attempt was made.
Yes, the odds were stacked in his favor, but I understood the depths of his fear. At the ripe old age of forty-five, husband, father, and teacher of fourth grade, I still get anxious when the sun starts to go down and I am far away from my own bed. I have learned to embrace the feeling of being someplace different as a sort of thrill ride, immersing myself in the details of my surroundings. I have taught my son the joys of searching out the ice machine in every hotel we stay in. The adventure overwhelms the anxiety.
This morning my son continued his own adventure, and I listened to the quiet.

Friday, February 08, 2008

A Complete Sentence

The Nebraska Supreme Court ruled Friday that electrocution is cruel and unusual punishment, outlawing the electric chair in the only state that still used it as its sole means of execution. Since Nebraska still has a death penalty on its books, it would seem to leave a good deal up in the air. For example, just what sort of death penalty would not be considered cruel and unusual punishment? Lethal injection is the preferred method in most states, and nine states that still allow electrocution use it only as an option or backup.
I confess to being an opponent of the death penalty in general, and the idea of having "options" seems ugly beyond description. The whole thing begins to remind me of Monty Python bits, like the obsequious centurion checking off prisoners in "Life of Brian": "Crucifixion? Good. Line on the left, one cross each." Or maybe "Meaning of Life" where "In a few moments, now, he will be killed, for Arthur Jarrett is a convicted criminal who has been allowed to choose the manner of his own execution," and then it is revealed that he has chosen to be chased by a gaggle of nubile young women clad only in roller derby helmets and pads off a cliff. What a way to go.
Maybe Monty Python is the wrong place to look for inspiration. Instead, let us turn to the works of Lee Marvin. In "The Dirty Dozen", twelve American soldiers who were sentenced to death were given one last chance to serve their country. It was a suicide mission, an no one expected them to come back alive, not even little Trini Lopez survived. It stands to reason that since manpower for our armed forces is being stretched to its limits that we should consider sending some, if not all of the three thousand or so convicts on our death row prison cells into harm's way. If it costs us thirty or forty thousand dollars a year to keep a prisoner on death row each year, my guess is that we'll end up saving money along the way. I'm not sure if that's cruel, but at least it's unusual.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

What's A Meta For?

Sometimes life drops a great big metaphor in your lap that makes the rest of your life, or maybe just the edges of it, make more sense. Last night the sink in our bathroom stopped draining. I was frustrated because it was already past my bedtime, and I had already spent a good deal of time fussing with the sink earlier in the week. I had cleaned the faucet, and it was as shiny as a twenty-year-old fixture could be, and I had taken apart the plug to eliminate the black and grey spongy mass that had collected at the top of the drain.
Now it still looked fine, but it wasn't draining at all. I tried some of my favorite home remedies. My wife patiently stood by and even went outside to get the tools that I insisted that I needed to make the water flow. I plunged and poked and took the trap off and ran a snake back into the wall, and all I succeeded in doing was making a pool of black water in the sink that would not go down the drain. It was approaching midnight, and my wife gently urged me to leave the standing water and go to bed.
I didn't sleep well, partly because of the drain, and partly because of the looming day ahead of me. When I finally dragged myself into the bathroom as dawn approached, I found that the sink was dry. There was a crust of sediment clinging to it, but it was dry. I needed to give it time.
This is why teaching is like that sink: All the things I did helped get the drain moving, but the most important element was time. I could not make the water go down any quicker than it would. I also know that the sink is not "fixed", rather it is getting clear and will require further attention and more regular maintenance. I cannot make it work. I can facilitate it, but I cannot make it. As a matter of fact, the effort I put in may have made it harder for the sink to drain.
When everything is wiped down, it still looks pretty, but the insides require more attention.
All of this occured to me as I was taking a shower this morning, where the water flowed freely. But I know that I can't ignore it, since that's a metaphor that's just waiting to happen.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Nothing Succeeds Like Succession

The pages of the calendar keep falling away, but Pinhead still maintains a residence on Pennsylvania avenue. In the wake of yesterday's Superawesomespectaculargiganticimpressive Tuesday Primary Elections and Caucuses, my son asked a question about succession of power. He wanted to know what was going to happen when Pinhead stopped being president. Would Dick Cheney take over?
This is a kid who has only really known a world with a Pinhead president. He was surprised to hear that, in the days before his political landscape had fully formed, Al Gore had run for president against Pinhead. In hindsight, it certainly seems like a ridiculously easy choice, but somehow we managed to mess that one up. He was much more aware of the contest between John Kerry and the already ensconced Pinhead. He seemed more or less resigned to that outcome, but he was still concerned about the looming spectre of the Vice-Overlord.
There's no reason to drag Al Haig into his consciousness just yet, but I wanted to assure him that there was a logical, step-by-step process for just such an emergency. That's about the time my wife chimed in with her observation that maybe the reason Pinhead had stayed in office so long was to keep the flesh-eating cyborg that is our vice-president from moving into the Oval Office. Maybe she didn't use those exact words, but that was her sentiment.
Then we moved down the line to the Speaker of the House. Nancy Pelosi has remained, ironically enough, firm in her convictions against moving for impeachment of President Pinhead. Either she really doesn't want the job, or she too fears the reign of "Dick". But my son wanted to know more. He wondered if the chain of succession would eventually wind its way down to "the head of the school board". Initially I glossed over his suggestion, considering that our local school board has been under state control for several years now, but then a new vision formed in my head: Those nightmare scenarios of California sliding into the ocean, or Earth versus the Flying Saucers might allow for such radical transitions. With this in mind, I decided that I should be paying more attention to whom I award such lofty office. You never know when that lizard-crab-insect from "Cloverfield" is going to come crawling out of the bay and shake everything up for real. Or was that our Vice President?

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Early Exit Poll

When I rode up to my polling place this morning, a lady asked if she could hold the door open for me while I wheeled my bike inside. I thanked her and rolled in behind her as I quickly glanced around for signage that would point me to the right station. I had read many of the sundry pre-election materials and recalled from my prior trips to the polls that I would be voting on "the B side". Because I place a good deal of pride on voting early, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the woman who had helped me get my bike in the door was a volunteer, not a voter. This meant I had fewer people to wait behind, and more people to wait on me.
As it turned out, I needn't have worried, since the volunteer to voter ratio was approximately twelve to one. I was the one. I got to see the wrapper come off a stack of ballots, and there was still a good deal of logistics to iron out before the first rush came. I was not the rush. I stood patiently as the precinct captain showed his crew how to find an address, check the name, and finally I was asked to sign on the line. As I was handed my ballot, I listened to an interesting discussion about what to do if there was some doubt about the true identity of the voter in question. Ah, voter fraud! This was getting dicey. But not really. The volunteer was told that they only needed to check identification if there was some conflict with the address.
It occurred to me then that the number of registered voters versus the number of people trying to sneak in to vote would create a ratio of even more impressive magnitude than the one previously mentioned. I felt that democratic surge I often get when I realize that I live in a country where we are encouraged to vote, and now we need to get all the people who can vote to get out and exercise that right. I was struck, not for the first time, that I was on the verge of an historic moment: a major political party in the United States will almost certainly run either a woman or an African-American man for president. It was all I could do to keep myself from bursting into a chorus of "America, the Beautiful."
When I had finished carefully marking my paper ballot, I walked back to the table, where I offered to tear the tab off the top myself in the midst of a crew that was still being introduced to the basics. Then I fed my ballot into the scanner and watched the number change from 001 to 002. I wasn't the first, but I was still plenty early. I thanked everyone for their time and dedication and rode off into the chilly Election Day morning.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Once A Knight's Enough

It's hard to imagine that anything would be going on in the world of sports the day after one of the biggest upsets in the history of the Super Bowl, but here goes: Bobby Knight, the winningest men's coach in major college basketball, has quit his job. His boss, Texas Tech chancellor Kent Hance, told The Associated Press. "I think Bob is through with coaching. I think he got to the point where it wasn't fun for him."
This is kind of interesting to me. Coaching is no longer "fun" for Bobby Knight. He arrived at Texas Tech in March 2001, six months after being fired by Indiana for what school officials there called a "pattern of unacceptable behavior." This behavior included hitting a policeman, throwing a chair across the court or being accused of wrapping his hands around a player's neck. One wonders just how "fun" playing for Coach Knight might be.
Still, he never gets in trouble for breaking NCAA rules, always has high a graduation rate and gave his salary back a few years ago because he didn't think he'd earned it. Bobby Knight's first NCAA title came in 1976 when Indiana went undefeated, a feat no team has accomplished since. In 1984, he coached the U.S. Olympic team to a gold medal in Los Angeles. From 1971-2000 his Indiana Hoosiers team went 662-239. If winning is the currency in sports, then he should feel good about what he has accomplished. If verbal and physical intimidation are just bonuses, then he can certainly go right ahead and rest on his laurels.
If he was unable to reach the NCAA tournament with his Red Raiders, and if he was unable to get away with the kind of aggressive, monomaniacal behavior he had made a practice at the University of Indiana, then maybe basketball just isn't "fun" anymore. But now it's time to put his legacy to bed, and why not use a few of his own words to send him off into the sunset? "If rape is inevitable, relax and enjoy it," he once told a somewhat mortified Connie Chug during an interview. If you don't care for that one, there's always this: “All of us learn to write in the second grade. Most of us go on to greater things.” Yes, and some of us coach basketball.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

All Tomorrow's Parties

This is not completely true for me, if you count my membership in the Oingo Boingo Secret Society and Club Devo. Over the years I have offered up this quote from Groucho as a refrain for my misanthropy. If it was good enough for Woody Allen, it's good enough for me. I like to think of myself as a loner, a rebel, and again, if it was good enough for Pee Wee Herman, it's good enough for me.
But the truth is, I would love to belong. In those moments of community that I allow myself, I am quite happy. The challenge is getting me there. I have been described as shy, introverted, curmudgeonly, even snobbish. All of these are apt for moments at a time, but they fail to get at the screaming undercurrent of fear that I have for being anywhere near the center of attention. I compensate for this mightily by crafting a persona that holds up quite well on stage, and can be quite charming. This was never more true than back in my "beer years", when "The Dave Show" was a regular feature of the seemingly weekly parties held at my apartment. I am told it was a lot of fun.
Since my retirement from the high life, I have spent more time with less people. I have some very interesting links to a large number of good friends, but nothing that would qualify as a "club". I don't belong to any professional associations, and my hobbies are best suited for groups no larger than will fit inside our five-seat car. I am always pleased when someone from my past reaches out and reconnects with me. I got a most amusing phone call from a past-Bookperson and confidante last night. He was a little drunk, but wanted to ask me a "burning question" about the connection between Stephen King and Richard Bachman. We both used the opportunity to vaguely acknowledge the time and distance between us, but kept it light and funny. It would have helped to have knowledge of our history, but you'll have to take my word for just how witty we both managed to be over the course of a fifteen minute phone call.
That's when I remembered how I used to stay in touch with the list of friends that I acquired over the years: As a bachelor, I would spend hours on the phone with anyone who was polite enough to answer the phone. What they got was a few laughs and intermittent sincerity. What I got was a feeling of belonging.
Now I belong to my family. I am secure in my spot on the south side of the kitchen table, and we have room for the occasional guest or two. Every so often, when I feel up to it, I brave the occasional social setting, keeping my inner Charlie Brown in check, and looking for a quiet place for me to stand and, if the mood strikes me, to hold court. At the risk of sounding like Dick Cavett, Groucho also said, "Those are my principles, and if you don't like them... well, I have others."

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Bundle Up! It's A Cold One Out There!

I have never been fully clear on this whole Groundhog Day concept. If Punxsutawney Phil crawls out of his hole and sees his shadow, then we are fated to have another six weeks of winter. If he doesn't see his shadow, then spring is just around the corner. My naive mind suggests that if the rodent were to see his shadow, then the sun would be out, causing the shadow to be cast in the first place. Wouldn't a sunny day be a better indicator of the change of season?
I want there to be some science to it. I know that cows either sense the moisture in the air and are making sure they have somewhere dry to lie down or their poor knee joints are stressed by the change in barometric pressure, the latter makes sense in a conventional way to me and my surgically repaired knee that throbs when the weather changes. A more amusing story about squirrel tails suggests that if they are very bushy or the squirrels themselves are collecting big stores of nuts in autumn, then a severe winter should be expected. There isn't a lot of scientific evidence to support this, but if they are myths, they have a grain of practicality to them.
The forecast from General Beauregard Lee, Punxsutawney Phil's counterpart in Lilburn, Georgia was just the opposite. The fact that these two municipalities are almost eight hundred miles apart, or twelve hours' drive via the Interstate, might have something to do with their differing projections, but the reliance on their abilities in this counterintuitive measure seems foolhardy and vague.
Or maybe I'm just bitter because the occasion didn't coincide with yet another three day weekend.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Thank You, Masked Man

My mind drifts back to Lenny Bruce's bit about the Lone Ranger. It's all about how the Masked Man never stuck around for a "thank you", until one day: "What'd you say son?"
"Thank you masked man."
"Say it again son, I like the sound of it."
"Thank you masked man."
"Well now. I think I'm going to get me one of those every goll-durn day."
Appreciation goes a long way, and sometimes you might even have to dig a little for it, but it's worth it. I've been struggling with my classroom management for the past few months, and over the last couple of weeks I have been making progress. I've been consistent and strict. I've been gaining the kids' trust while building my own. The light started to shine through two Fridays ago when my class beat the other fourth grade class in a kickball game. It was the first sign that I had that they could do something cooperatively.
Since then there have been fits and starts. Some days have been better than others. Even today had its struggles, but at the end of the day I had finished off all of my "must-do's" for the week, and it was clear sailing for the last hour. I purposely left the "Math Quiz" on the board for our afternoon schedule, then announcing, "I have decided to let you take the math quiz home for homework this weekend." Huzzahs and squeals of joy. "Since this is the end of the semester, we can go straight to our auction." More happy noises. "If you have all your homework in for the past eight weeks, you can come up and pick out a candy bar." These were not the "fun-size" abberrations either. They were the full-size-out-of-a-vending-machine variety. "Remember you have to save your candy until after school."
I know that rewarding kids with sugar is probably not the best plan, but since I don't make a habit out of it, they seemed to understand just how special this was. Then we went outside for the last ten minutes of school to play a little four square. Just before the bell rang, I gathered my class around them and told them to have a good weekend, and by the way, "Who's your favorite fourth grade teacher?"
"Mister Caven!"
Sure it was contrived. It was bought and paid for, but we all deserved it. I want to get me one of those every goll-durn day.