My wife found three pairs of prescription glasses in my son's desk drawer-- he claims to have found them "in the middle of the road" and "on the path in the woods," which makes sense, since both of my children will pick up anything they find on the ground (last week, my son picked up someone's mouthpiece off the turf . . . yuck) and so if anyone on the South Side of Highland Park has lost a pair of glasses, we might have them (my wife was annoyed with the two of them and said they should have knocked on doors near where they found them in an attempt to return them, but I definitely couldn't see my kids ever doing something that compassionate and logical).
On Monday, I started my fortnight of health: no weekday beer drinking, no junk food, and -- paradoxically-- no sports or heavy exercise . . . I'm trying to get in shape for Spring Break, as we are going to Vermont to do some snowboarding and skiing, and if I'm sporting a gut, then it's hard to bend over and latch in . . . and I'm also trying to stay uninjured between now and then, so no soccer or basketball . . . my Achilles tendon is sore from playing hoops, and my hip is sore from making a kick save (and a beauty) last week at indoor soccer; but, hopefully, in two short weeks, I'll be slimmer and my muscles will have regenerated, so that I can re-injure myself on the slopes and re-gain the weight I lost (in the form of delicious local Vermont beer).
For the doomsayers, events like 9/11, the latest financial collapse (and the solution to the latest financial collapse . . . three trillion dollars of quantitative easing) and the melting snows of Kilimanjaro indicate the imminent decline and fall, but I believe that God is in the details and for a simpler proof of the apocalypse, they need go no further than the coffee section at QuickChek, where the great minds of chemistry have spent their valuable time designing a drink with the flavor of "layers and layers of moist chocolate cake surrounded by a sweet marshmallow filling" . . . . the great and ominous signifier is "Whoopie Pie" coffee.
At soccer practice last week, the wind was so strong that when we took the balls out of the bag, they all blew away and ended up across the track against the fence-- and then the portable goals blew away, and then cones blew over, and then the little discs blew away . . . and then, two days later-- on the first day of Spring, it snowed six inches and it didn't melt . . . so I am proposing that youth basketball season needs to be a month longer.
Harry Bosch investigates two cases at the same time in Michael Connelly's The Drop . . . a cold one involving a sexual predator and a serial killer and a hot one: the possible suicide of a powerful City Council Member's son . . . the hot case leads to political conspiracy and what Bosch calls "high jingo," which is his term for high-level political manipulation and gamesmanship-- something he and I both abhor-- which is why Bosch will remain a detective and I will remain a teacher . . . neither of us wants anything to do with the world of bureaucracy, administration and "high jingo," and while this means you can't have as broad an effect on the system, it also means that you don't have to compromise your values as often (but you can still use violence and intimidation once in a while to coerce a confession . . . that's just good fun).
Not only did I teach the kids a bunch of stuff at school this week, but I learned three things too:
1) one of my students has a sister with something called Hashimoto's disease . . . I had never heard of this but it has to do with your thyroid;
2) the same student (and a number of other students in this class) experience something called Raynaud's phenomenon . . . this is where your hands turn yellow or white because of an excessive reversal in blood flow due to cold or stress;
3) and then, finally, I learned one thing on the way to school while listening to Gary Walker on WBGO . . . he pointed out that only was Steve Turre a fantastic trombone player, but he was also a "master shellist" and I thought he said "master cellist" but he really did say "shellist," because Turre-- long time trombonist with the SNL band-- can play the shit out of a giant conch shell (check out the video).
While the PARCC test itself doesn't seem to be too grueling for students (although some kids have been "clicking through" and others have been "napping through" and I heard rumors that one kid wrote his essay in French and another wrote the lyrics to "Bohemian Rhapsody") the actual administering of the test has been a logistical nightmare for my high school-- you've got kids coming and going at all times of day, classes that start with eight kids and then kids return two at a time until you've got a room full of thirty, classes divided by the kids taking the PARCC, the kids opting out, and the kids who don't have to take it because it's not their day-- teachers aren't supposed to give quizzes or tests for the two weeks of testing and then try to "spiral back" over curriculum that test-taking kids missed -- and this could be anyone because there aren't enough computers to administer all the tests at once, so some kids take it in the AM and some kids take it in the PM, sophomores take it one day, and juniors another, and all the different math levels take different tests, many teachers (including myself) have to proctor at times when they normally grade or plan, and many teachers (including myself) have their classrooms changed for the duration of the test, so kids are wandering all over the school, trying to find their classes . . . the loss of instructional time is enormous, everyone-- teachers, students, and administrators-- has been completely disrupted by this thing, so unless the inherent value in taking the test and the data collected from the test (which is getting more and more skewed by the day, as smarter kids decide to opt out so they don't fall behind in their classes) so unless the experience of this test somehow proves more valuable than all the time and education lost, then I don't think it's going to last very long without some major changes (and-- perhaps because of all the anxiety and frustration produced by the major changes in schedule, there have been two hallway puking incidents during the test . . . yuck).
My English class was discussing the fourth scene of Act IV of Hamlet, when Hamlet talks to the army Captain and-- as he watches all these brave men in uniform march off to battle over a "little patch of ground"-- Hamlet laments that meanwhile, despite the "imminent death of twenty thousand men" and "examples gross as earth" spur him to revenge his father's murder, he has still done nothing about King Claudius . . . and I was explaining that Shakespeare really needed this army on stage (or at least the suggestion of an army) as a gigantic prop to make Hamlet feel guilt and shame and regret over his delay, and what a pain in the ass it must have been to stage this-- because Hamlet usually views the army from afar while delivering his "how all occasions do inform against me" soliloquy and one of my students asked me (sincerely) if "they used little people or toddlers as the army so that they would look like they were really far away from Hamlet" and while I've never heard of this being done (and there might be some problems with proportions-- especially if you've got an army of midgets crossing the stage) I told her that if I ever made my production of Hamlet (in which Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Siamese twins) that I was definitely going to do the scene her way, with a bunch of kids and little people in uniform, marching across the back of the stage through some manufactured fog while Hamlet beats himself up over his procrastination.
Drones have officially become "toasters"-- which, in economic terms, are technological items that are so cheap to produce that it's hard to make a profit on them -- and I know this because not only did my friend Alec purchase a drone, ostensibly to take pictures of difficult to reach places in theaters (he designs performance spaces) but mainly to be creepy and have fun, but my son also received one for his birthday (and I had to take a phone-call right after we assembled it and so he rushed into the backyard to try it out, unsupervised, and almost got it stuck in a tree but then I was able to convince him that a better place to fly it might be the basketball court at the park . . . and though it only cost sixty bucks, it works . . . in fact, it works so well that you can even fly it in the house).
If you like hard-boiled mysteries and you like bones, than Michael Connelly's City of Bones is the book for you-- Harry Bosch gets to the bottom of the mystery surrounding a young boy's skeleton, which was found by a dog on a Hollywood hillside-- the boy died from a blow to the head and, according to his skeleton, he suffered severe abuse before he was murdered; the book has it all: detailed police procedural stuff, a tragic romance, action, violence, noir, and even a historic parallel . . . the La Brea woman, a 9000 year old fossilized human found in the La Brea tar pits: her cause of death is a blow to the head with a blunt object, and she's known as L.A.'s first homicide.
Radiolab's Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich usually nerd it up each week investigating something scientific, but they've recently done two fantastic episodes on sports; La Mancha Screwjob uses professional wrestling to discuss reality, illusion, and the fascinating meta-reality that lies somewhere between the two; American Football visits the brutal ghosts of football past and speculates on the future of the sport . . . including an interview with a football mom who is firmly on both sides of the concussion issue, and her talented and gigantic eight year old son who decided to eschew the game in favor of soccer and wishes he could do some "synchronized swimming" . . . his mom's reaction to this revelation is priceless . . . both episodes are awesome.
All the great bands have a song with "monkey" in the title . . . Brass Monkey, Monkey Man, Monkey Gone to Heaven, Shock the Monkey . . . so Slouching Beast has followed suit (and I'd like to do a video for this song, so if anyone has a pet monkey I can borrow, please let me know).
I was waiting in line at the Autozone to buy some stuff so I could do some work on my car (I needed to refill the washer fluid reservoir, which is right smack in the middle of my wheelhouse as far as car repairs go) and I came up with a brilliant sniglet for the trash you throw on the floor of your car . . . CARBAGE . . . but when I checked the internet, I learned that this term has already been coined . . . so the moral here is that the internet robbed me of my happiness because I had honestly never heard of the term before and thought of it on my own and believed it was equal to my other amazing sniglet: TUPPERAWARENESS . . . but now my self-esteem has been lowered a notch, whereas in a pre-internet world, I could have reveled in my glory, told my friends my new term, and maybe even suggested it to HBO and gotten Rich Hall to read it on Not Necessarily the News.
I always use my mouth to start peeling a clementine-- doesn't everyone?-- but a student saw me doing this and she advised me that "23 different people touch your produce before you buy it" and so I shouldn't be biting into anything I haven't washed, and while I dismissed her as crazy and explained that my immune system was stronger than anything that could live on the skin of an orange, apparently she's right.
Slouching Beast presents "Evil Circus," complete with its own live-action music video; I guarantee it's some of the most evil evil-circus music ever recorded . . . but I'm not quite as keen on the video, which might be more aptly named "How to Make a Three Minute Music Video with Thirty Seconds of Film" but despite the lack of material, I think I got the most out of my son Alex's creepy Halloween mask (and the clown's weapon is a rock-pick, in case you were wondering).
My zealous fans know that the only thing I love more than pontificating about skewed data is ranting about Daylight Saving Time and now-- finally!-- this Monday morning these two topics will collide in a perfect blend of peanut butter and chocolate when students across New Jersey take the PARCC test . . . some students started taking the test last week, but the snowstorm prevented them from finishing, so they will finish taking the test after "springing ahead," which is always devastating to high school students, who don't get enough sleep as it is . . . and some kids completed the test before "springing ahead" while other kids will take the entire test this week, as sleep deprived zombies . . . and while the time change won't affect elementary kids quite as much, it will affect their parents, who will be crabby and running late, and that will affect the kids . . . so Pearson either needs to find a way to correct the scores for this anomaly or --better yet-- with all the cash they rake in from their testing and data analysis, they should wage a campaign to eradicate Daylight Saving Time once and for all-- because Daylight Saving Time skews the results of the PARCC! do you hear that Pearson? your data is skewed! . . . this is not a threat, it's the truth-- so get rid of Daylight Saving Time for the sake of our children (and for the sake of testing our children, and for the sake of producing reams of unskewed data about our children so we can rank and place them appropriately).
I highly recommend this documentary . . . almost as much as I highly recommend NOT being black in Gainesville, Florida when the police are out looking for a murder suspect (fans of the podcast Serial will love this . . . and Murder on a Sunday Morning has a unambiguous and satisfying ending, I promise).
Once again, I am at the heart of another miracle . . . several weeks ago I misplaced my favorite ceramic coffee mug (green, 20 ounces, embossed with coffee beans) and after angrily searching the school for it, I determined that it was either lost or stolen . . . but then, miracle of miracle, my friend and colleague Liz returned it to me Tuesday morning-- she showed me the mug and she asked "Is this yours? We all think it must be yours," and the reason she thought it was mine was because it had been sitting by the staff sign-in sheet for several weeks with a post-it on it that sad "Lost Cup, Please help me find my way back home" and not only that, but an e-mail was sent out with a picture of the cup, explaining that it was left in the Counseling Department, and the picture was printed and put on the announcement board in the main office-- so every day I was signing a sheet inches from my cup and staring at a photo of it . . . but because I don't really see things (or look very carefully at my e-mail) I never noticed my cup . . . and Liz and the other teachers decided that the only person in the school that would NOT notice their cup when it was on such prominent display was me, and so they brought the cup directly to me, correctly assuming it was mine (and while I was mildly disturbed by the inadequacy of my observational skills, there was a silver lining-- this was an excellent opportunity for me to allude to the classic Edgar Allan Poe story "The Purloined Letter" and thus, I am categorizing this happening as a genuinely wonderful and miraculous event, one step below Moses parting the Red Sea, but several steps above seeing an image of Jesus on a tortilla).