Saturday, February 09, 2013

Weathering The Storm

I haven't blogged in a while. Partly because in this day and age of instant Facebook status update gratification, actually taking the time to write a lengthy missive seems quaint and outdated. Partly because I have been too busy to pen such a lengthy missive. At present, I find myself grounded at home because of the massive blizzard, Nemo, that has paralyzed the region. (Since when did they start naming winter storms? And since when did they start naming crippling winter storms after Disney fish?) Under normal circumstances, the storm may have been a welcome diversion. After all, I got Friday off and I spent the day cooking, cleaning my place, catching up on leisure reading, doing laundry, and patently ignoring the Matterhorn of grading I brought home with me. Sounds good, right? Wrong. You see, I should NOT have been doing my best impersonation of Martha Stewart this weekend. What I should have been doing is molesting my girlhood-to-womanhood crush, Jon Bon Jovi. Let me explain. About three weeks ago, my sister, Lauren, called me, completely out of breath and seemingly on the verge of a breakdown. I thought she was about to tell me that somebody had died or been seriously injured. So, I braced myself to become the pillar of strength one knows one should become in the face of devastating news. I encouraged my sister to take a deep breath and tell me whatever she had to say. Eventually she recovered her breathing enough to tell me that she had won tickets to see a dress rehearsal for a Bon Jovi concert on Friday, February 8th at Mohegan Suns Casino. This was a promotional gig, open only to 500 ticket winners, of which we were two. Plans immediately went into effect. I would take a personal day for Friday. The concert would be general admission, so we would need to use our considerable height to our advantage. We'd just have to step right on or over people, causing bodily injury if necessary. We've done it before and were fully prepared to do it again. Those of you who have never seen Bon Jovi in concert may not understand our willingness to inflict injury on innocent souls. Those of you who have been within groping distance of Jon Bon Jovi's walnut-cracking ass will fully understand. (I hope there are Bon Jovi fans on a jury if my sister and I are ever charged with Jovi mayhem. We'll win acquittal for sure.) Wardrobe choices needed to be made accordingly. I bought us both small cross-body purses, and we agreed that sneakers would be our best stomping-other-bitches-to-the-ground-to-get-closest-to-the-stage sensible footwear. And because life is never easy.... Predictions of snowfall on Friday began to fill the media airwaves. At first there was passing mention of a few flakes. Then a few inches. Then a substantial snowfall. By midweek, there was talk of apocalyptic snowfall. Undeterred, we agreed to leave Boston late Thursday evening. And then reports of closed roads, shut down casinos, shuttered hotel restaurants, and roofs unable to bear the load of the girth of the anticipated snowfall arose. And so we had to back out and forego the chance of a lifetime. Skunked again.
So as I spend the weekend digging out my car and contending with gale force winds and thigh-high snow banks, I'll seek warmth in dreaming of what could have been.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

The clock is ticking down on yet another school year. My 17th to be exact. Well, I guess if you really want to get technical about it, it's my 35th. I've been living on a September-June academic calendar since I started "Project Smile" at the age of 3. Elementary school...high In my world, the concepts of last year, this year, and next year have absolutely nothing to do with January 1st. For me, "this year" is over on Wednesday, June 20th and "next year" starts in September. Every teacher is familiar with the envious quips that non-teachers start making at us at around this time. "You're so lucky," is probably the most familiar refrain heard by teachers 'round the world as we near our summer holidays. I like to remind people that they too can be as lucky as I am by simply enrolling in the Graduate College of Education at UMass Boston, completing the 36 credit graduate school program, student teaching for 6 months, compiling a massive teaching portfolio, and then dealing with the bureaucratic monolith commonly referred to as the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. And all this can be theirs for a mere $25,000! Yes, that's right. Anybody can be as lucky as the teacher friends they so envy. But seriously, folks. There is something to be said about this teaching thing. And it IS great work if you can get it and if you can do it. Every year at this time, I start to prematurely wax nostalgic for the outgoing 8th graders. They're still with me for another few days, but I'm already starting to miss them. I know people say middle school kids are oppositional, complicated, argumentative, confusing, and unpredictable. But the thing is....who the heck isn't? I'm pushing 40 and these things can just as easily be said about me! The last few days of the year are the most hectic and the toughest to get through. This past week, for example, we had a Duck Tour field trip on Monday (sounds lovely, but try herding 65 kids on foot from our school to the departure point at the Museum of Science), a district-wide project presentation on Wednesday AND the middle school banquet on Wednesday night, the 9-5 Field trip to Canobie Lake park on Thursday, and a crop of surprise meetings on Friday that resulted in my having to fly solo with 80 kids for all but the last hour of the day. On Monday we've got the 7th grade graduation in the morning, 8th grade Cake Boss competition right after that, and 8th grade graduation in the evening. And on Tuesday...well that's when we say goodbye to our 8th graders. And there will be tears. Lots of them. And not all from the kids. My colleagues and I have our cluster of kids for two years. It's really difficult to say goodbye to them after all that time together. Yesterday I took the kids out for a 7th v 8th grade kickball game. Usually the entire team of teachers goes out for this, but as I said, I was alone with the kids, so it was just me. One the way in to lunch, one of the kids said, "Thanks for taking us out. It was fun. I don't mean to complain, but it wasn't the same without all the teachers. You know, you and Mr. K (8th grade homeroom teachers) are supposed to play on our team and trash talk Mr. D. and Mrs. L (7th grade teachers) when they play on the 7th grade team." How sweet was she to make sure to start off by thanking me before voicing her "complaint" about how she regretted not having more time with her teachers at this activity which is a traditional end of year rite of passage? I assured her that wishing all of the teachers were there to enjoy the moment could hardly qualify as a complaint. If the worst thing a kids says to a teacher all day is, "Hey, I wish we had more time to spend with the teachers because you're really fun," the teacher in question is having a great day. And more than a great day, it's been a great year. I guess when it really comes down to it, I am lucky.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Officially Over It.

I don't do B+. At least I never have done B+. I guess now I do.

I am taking a hellish class at UMass Boston. It's a semester-long (13 week) class. In that time span, we have to read 13 novels, write 5 papers, do 3 presentations, and take a final exam. In addition to that little nugget of work, I have my full time teaching job to deal with every day. Oh, and somewhere in there, I have to try to squeeze in a personal life.

Last week, I had two papers and a presentation due. Yes, all in one day. And in order to prepare the work, I had to read a 200 page Samuel Beckett novel, and read the lengthy attachment articles the professor floated along every day. Did I mention that I had one week to get this work done?

I got both papers back tonight. I got B+ on both of them.

It was like somebody punched me in the gut. I don't get B plusses. I don't even know what the hell to do with a B+. I'm supposed to be an A student.

Or maybe I am a B+ student now. Maybe I WAS an A student. Maybe I need to update my verb tenses.

The funny thing is that I KNEW full well, at the outset of this class, that I was going to be, at best, able to phone in the work. I took one look at the syllabus and kind of knew that taking this class would be a major mistake, that I'd never be able to give it the full effort that it would clearly require. But I forged ahead, reasoning that it would be better to just get the damned thing over with.

I know...I know...a B+ is a decent grade. It doesn't make me feel any better.

I am not taking a class next semester. There's no way. I'm already living for December 8th, when this thing ends.

I might not care if these classes didn't cost 1700 a pop.

Hey, James Joyce....eff you!!

I am SO, SO, SO over this graduate class crap. I HAVE a masters degree. I have had it since 1999. I am done with studying, researching, reading crappy books, preparing research papers, doing group presentations, and paying out the nose for useless crap classes. I'm done. I really, really, really am!!!!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Canobie Lake Park...The Family Fun Spot That Time Forgot

Today was the day that every 8th grade student anticipates with joy and delight. From the time they show up at kindergarten registration, the seed of the idea of today is planted in their heads, and incubated over the course of the next 9 school years. It is the stuff of legends, the anchor that keeps many of them in school, the zenith of their k-8 education.

It is Canobie Lake Field Trip Day!

Today at 9:00 AM, the yellow busses rolled out of the school parking lot and headed to that fried dough and teen body odor scented heaven in Salem New Hampshire.

I will not blog about my students, save to say that they were awesome. They were fabulous on the bus trips to and from the park. They enjoyed themselves responsibly at the park. They all showed up at the designated departure time and place as directed. They were great.

What prompts me to take to the web to chronicle my experiences at Canobie Lake Park is the fact that, once you step through the entrance turn styles, it is as though you've left 2011 behind and walked straight back into 1983.

The twice-life size statue of Michael Jackson sitting immediately in the entrance definitely sets the tone. I'm not sure what's going on with the statue's feet. Today, for the first time ever, I noticed that MJ's feet are about three times larger than need be for a statue of this size. Was Michael Jackson known to have suffered from the gout? Was he club-footed unbeknownst to me? Was he abusing podiatric steroids? All's I can say for sure is that this shit's disturbing.

The music issuing forth from the loudspeakers does nothing to dispel the myth that one has gone back about 28 years in time.

Tears for Fears. Duran Duran. Oingo Boingo. Thomas Dolby.

Rhianna? Beyonce? What's that?

At first, when I saw people decked out in Skidz...

or sporting neon mesh half shirts....

I thought for sure that there must be some specially designated 80's day that I hadn't been informed of. Damn, if only I had dug out my "Choose Life" t-shirt for the occasion! I was all set to approach an obese man in an ill-fitting wife beater with a decal of Don Johnson and Phillilp Michael Thomas in their Miami Vice roles and pat him on the back for his obvious good sense of humor, but then I saw a guy with a bad porn 'stache and a permed mullet and I knew this couldn't just be some ruse to elicit a few laughs at Canobie Lake Park. Who would intentionally groom themselves in this manner to garner a few chuckles? Clearly this man was SERIOUS and he thought he looked good. This was an image he'd been cultivating for some time...on purpose.

I refrained from approaching these "good sports" once I realized that this was, in fact, their current day style. New millennium (sorry, I can NEVER spell that word correctly, but you get my drift) be damned.

I want to wear my Quiet Riot fringed half shirt and damn you to hell if you don't like it!!

I saw all kinds of questionable characters today, including the following trademark Canobie Lake Guests:

The mom carting around a 2 day old baby in a papoose, not because it was more practical to manage the baby's diaper bags and other infant-related paraphernalia (another word I have NO clue how to spell, but use all the time), but to facilitate her chain smoking and ceaseless text messaging.

The guy with the two broken legs charging through the line of the Ultimate Frisbee ride and insisting that they could just attach his wheelchair to the ride with the standard office-issue rubber band he'd brought along for the occasion.

An elderly woman with National Geographic body parts sporting short shorts reading, "Hot Buttered" across the sagging derriere.

So, yes, you can enter Canobie Lake Park and feel like you've re-entered the fold of your own middle school experience without missing a beat.

The only difference, of course, is that Canobie Lake is not as "broke" as it used to be in the past.

Memba when the biggest thrill ride there was the Caterpillar? Or when their idea of landscape architecture was to fashionably place a trash barrel in the middle of the park?

Well, now Canobie Lake Park has found its way to 2011, even if its average guest has not.

Case in point...

They have just unveiled their new roller coaster, Untamed. And let me tell you, for a small piddly-arsed park in the middle of nowhere, NH, it's a pretty respectable roller coaster. I'm no Stephen Hawking. (My number sense is pretty much limited to knowing that a #1 G'Ranimal shirt matched a #1 G'Ranimal pair of pants), but I am pretty sure that the incline to the first hill is 90 degrees, and that the first drop is even more acute or whatever the hell you math people call it. I just call it straight up scary. And I don't need a slide rule or a compass to tell me that!

It's a pretty good coaster. OK, so I had to ride it next to a guy wearing an acid washed jeans jacket with a Kix patch ironed onto the back. So what?

Another thing that Canobie Lake has done to "keep with the times" is locate hand sanitzer dispensers at regular intervals throughout the park. This is much appreciated, especially since the restroom soap dispensers are frequently empty. However, I'd like to ask Canobie Lake park administrators to acknowledge that rancid body odor, as quaint and retro as that might be, is just not charming. Perhaps they could put automated deodorant dispensers alongside the hand sanitizer ones in order to eradicate the pervading odor of Teen Spirit from lingering on every breeze wafting through the park.

Anyway, I have to go rub some aloe on my Canobie Lake Chaperone farmer's sunburn.

Yes, I used sunblock, and lots of it. But there's only so much Neutrogena factor 55 can do in 6 hours of direct sunlight.

Hey, I could have gone all out 80's and used Hawaiian Tropic "SPF" 4 baby oil. But, in this day and age, a girl's gotta rub some intensive coverage under her off-the-shoulder Flashdance inspired sweatshirt!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

And the Academy Award Goes To...

I'm trying to convince Stephen to go see Black Swan with me today. Not because I really have any burning desire to see it, per se, but because it will be a great procrastination tool to further derail the plans I had to get to my pile of grading I've been staring at for the entire vacation week. Why Black Swan and not one of the other nominees? Simply put, I've heard of Black Swan. That's enough to pique my curiosity.

Mistaking my "interest" in the movie for a desire to keep current on this year's Academy Awards race, Stephen went in and put on an episode of NPR's "On-Point" in which the venerable Tom Ashbrook moderated a discussion about this year's film nominees. (In the entire time I've known Stephen, I don't think we've seen a single movie together. In fact, I think my last foray to the movie theatre was to see ET...the original, not the 20 year re-release. So I'm not sure why Stephen thought I was so enthralled with the subject of the Oscars, but hey, if listening to the show meant further procrastination from grading, who was I to argue?)

"We're" in the process of painting the kitchen (I've drifted in there a few times to tell Stephen it looks good, so I guess I can say "we're" painting the kitchen. So he's done all the work and I've supervised. I think that's a pretty good working dynamic, don't you?), so Stephen didn't want to break momentum to head to the theatre. I am trying to coax him to see a later show. I'm sure if I pressure him enough, he'll abandon his paint roller and step ladder.

This Academy Award episode of "On Point" showcases various movie experts weighing in on what films and actors are likely to pick up the coveted little gold man. They talk about potential surprises and upsets. Typical fodder for this kind of broadcast.

What I think is missing is commentary on what can reasonably be expected as predictable Academy Award happenings. We all know that the following will happen...

1. Some over-the-top and performance by overrated hosts (I have never even heard of the two people hosting this year's show.) The comedic value will be lost on me because I've seen none of the movies being referenced. However, I will recognize the telltale signs of the hosts thinking they are the greatest things since sliced bread, and basking in the self-congratulatory glow of their wit and brilliance.

2. Frequent shots of Jack Nicholson, the denizen of the front row center seat of the Academy Awards audience, wearing the same tired old sunglasses and flashing that overexposed "Batman Joker" grin.

3. Joan Rivers and her hideous daughter Melissa interviewing stars on the red carpet, asking them what designers they're wearing, and then conducting post-mortems on the celebs the next day on some "E Fashion Wrap" show or some shit. I wouldn't mind, but Jesus, the "experts" who comment on Joan Rivers appearance are employees of the Boston-based McCourt Construction. It takes that level of knowledge to comment with authority on the extensive reconstruction she's done to what used to be her face.

4. Women refusing to refer to themselves as "actresses", instead using the term "actor" to promote and engender equality in the acting world. (Gag) Meanwhile, though, if they win the academy award for "Best Actress" they'll suddenly embrace the term.

5. Some young female "actor" winning the academy awared over a vaunted and veteran actress and then tapping into method acting chops to feign humility at having even been nominated alongside said veteran actress. Usually the lines, "It is such an honor to even be considered in the same company as Merrel Streep, Shirley McLane, Judy Dench, Cloris Leechman, etc.", factor into the stunned starlet's speech. This year, I predict Natalie Portman is practicing sticking toothpicks in her eyes to force tears at winning over "the amazing" (Portman's inevitable words, not mine) Annette Benning.

6. Some star using this venue as a totally inappropriate forum to voice his/her out-of-touch political or environmental views. Sure, Matt Damon, I'll go out and buy a 17 million dollar energy efficient home in the Hollywood Hills.

7. Alternating audience shots of Brad and Angelina and Jennifer Aniston.

8. Some inexplicably hideous fashion statements.

9. Some embarrassing moment when some celeb gets called for an award, but is in the can or hitting the bar or something.

10. Some celeb proving his/her illiteracy as he/she struggles to read the 1 syllable words on the presentation speech from the teleprompter.

11. Some horrible dance-moderne presentation to a medley of all the best song nominees.

12. Every celebrity thanking every person they ever met in their entire lives as they ignore the "shut up" music.

13. Me shutting off the show three minutes into the broadcast and hearing a recap of the results on the radio tomorrow morning.

Any other Oscar Predictions?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Boston "T" Party

It's no secret that I HATE the damn MBTA. Late busses. Surly drivers. Dilapidated equipment. Uncouth fellow passengers. For those of you unfamiliar with the ins and outs of travel on the MBTA, that's a basic snapshot of what goes on during a typical commute.

You know how they say that if you locked a chimpanzee in a room with a typewriter for 20 years, he would eventually be able to type out the entire canon of Shakespearian oeuvres? Well, I have a theory that if you lock a chimpanzee in the command center of the MBTA for 3 seconds, he could eventually run the entire system more efficiently and effectively than it is currently run by its "human" overseers.

A couple of weeks ago, when I caught wind of the MBTA's contest for a rider to become "General Manager for a Day" I decided to enter. I was asked to write a 150 word essay stating why I would like to step up to the position. Basically, I said, "I think any idiot could run the T better. Let me try." I did not win the contest, but a few days ago, I got an email from the T, saying that I had been one of the 10 finalists, and that the finalists were being invited to participate in a 10 person roundtable discussion with the General Manager of the MBTA. The goal? To provide suggestions as to how to improve T customer service.

Naturally I accepted the invitation.

I reported to the MBTA Central Operations Center on High Street today in Boston. In the invitation from the T, there were no directions (T or otherwise) as to how to get to the location. I went onto the MBTA website to get the directions. The trip time was estimated at 53 minutes. I left myself about an hour and 40 minutes to make the trip. I got there just in time. Not bad, Team T. The estimated time was just 47 minutes off. Oh, and the walking directions from South Station to the address were entirely wrong. Typical T.

I arrived at the appointed hour and found one other participant anxiously awaiting the beginning of the "T Party".

Let me just say that as a middle school teacher, I'm pretty good at picking out troublemakers. My radar was beeping like crazy when I saw this jackass. People, he was a totally neurotic (bordering on psychotic) geek. He started loudly and boisterously complaining about the T while I was trying to sign in and get information from the front desk guy. We rolled our eyes at each other. The front desk guy said, "Sorry. This is gonna be a looooooong day for you". Then he went back to his Boston Herald and effectively tuned us out.

We got to the meeting room, located above the very impressive command center for the entire subway system.

(This is my own picture, yo!)

Psychopath booted up his laptop to reveal a freakin' Power Point presentation that he had prepared. The take-no-prisoners, very imposing T command officer shut his ass down with that nonsense, but she could not stop him from barraging her with annoying, repetitive, and obscure questions. He asked why, when the train is delayed, the conductors don't give an estimated wait time. (A good enough question). she explained why that cannot happen. Her answer seemed valid, but he kept pummeling her with the same question over and over.

As she supplied information, psychopath kept sprawling out all over the table to write in his notebook. The T employee suggested that might want to take a seat. When he refused, she basically threw his ass into a chair. Normally I'm not in favor at excessive force at the hands of a T employee, but I nearly applauded the woman in this case.

Psychopath hammered away at the Commuter Rail operator when he took us to their command center, as well. He supplied the same answer, but psychopath was on a mission.

We had a meeting scheduled with Rich Davey, the T General Manager, at 11:00. I kept glancing at my watch. We were still standing there in South Station at 10:50, and we had to get all the way to the Arlington St. Stop by 11. Of course we were poised to be late for the T meeting. (Not to mention, they were calling the 11:00 AM meeting "The Noon RoundTable").

(General Manager Rich Davey, picture on the right. Although Wally could probably run the T just as well)

Rich Davey was lovely, charming, friendly, and well....funny. I was seated right next to him at our meeting. He went around the table and I raised some concerns about the bus service on the 86. Namely, the bus shelter in Harvard Square has schedules for four routes that do NOT run through Harvard Square, but NO schedules for routes that do run through Harvard Square. He asked when I'd be out there again. I said I'd be there tomorrow night. He promised that would be fixed by then. I'll let you know. He also found it very when I said that my travel plans are always "86'd" by the 86. You have to give him credit for laughing at that crap, right? He also promised to put plain-clothesed MBTA employees on the 86 bus within the week to track the bus to see if it is being driven efficiently, and/or, whether the schedule needs to be changed to reflect the reality of the schedule. (He also chuckled when I referred to the 86 schedule as a great work of literary fiction.)

Everybody pretty much had a chance to raise a gripe or two. Davey listened to all of us, and promised that each and every problem would be investigated. It's hard no to find the guy affable and friendly. And I have to give him credit for trying to reach out to passengers. The psychopath kept harping on the tired old question, to the point that he was taking time away from other participants. Finally, losing my patience with his ass, I called out, "Look, you're beating a dead horse here. You got an answer. You didn't like it. Beating the dead horse isn't going to make them change their answer!" Mr. Davey laughed out loud...king of a barking laugh that he promptly disguised as a cough, but it was a definite laugh. It made everybody else laugh, too.

The above photo shows a typical red line commute. I hope our meeting with Mr. Davey helps improve T service.

Next time you see accurate bus schedules at Harvard Square, give me a silent shout out.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Snow Days

Let me just say that New England is not fit for human habitation. And yet, here I am. When I walk around tempted to call other people idiots and morons for their various transgressions, I'm going to try really hard to remember that I reside New England...where winter lasts for 11 months, 3 weeks, 6 days, 24 hours, and 59 minutes, and 59 seconds a year.

I continue to live in a place where, when my small white car is buried beneath a snow drift, a perspective shoveler will scratch his head and ask, "I'm sorry....where is your car?"

I voluntarily call a place home where, upon waking up in the morning, I am greeted by the radio newscaster announcing, "It's almost 5:00 AM and zero degrees on this Monday morning".

I do this of my own free will. I haven't been sentenced here, much like hardened Russian criminals are banished to the far reaches of Siberia. At least when those jackasses are slipping and sliding around on a layer of permafrost, they can take comfort in knowing that at least they're not dumb enough to actually want to be there. I have no such excuse. My life in New England is not the result of court proceedings or a sentencing hearing.

We're looking at our 4th snow day tomorrow. This is going to extend our school year until June 28th. Has anybody reading this ever tried to keep an 8th grader engaged in learning beyond June 1st (or ever)? Let me tell you, I can predict now, with a certain confidence, that there will be no earthshattering scientific discoveries issuing forth from our middle school science lab on June 28th.

I used to look forward to snow days when I was a kid. It was GREAT to get up and hear the weather guy announce that there was no school in my community. I'd roll over in bed, catch a few more hours of ZZZZs, and then take to the sofa to put a serious dent in the daytime TV lineup.

These days, however, I dread snow. Yes, the occasional snow day is a welcome retreat from the rigors of a full work day. It gives me time to catch up on my grading and to catch a favorite weekday gym class. But at this point, I'm just straight up sick of it. I HATE digging my car out (or shoveling out money for somebody to do it for me). I hate the prospect of having to be in school straight on through the summer. Yes, our contract prohibits the district from having school beyond June 30th, but there's nothing in there to protect our Feb or April vacations. And at this point in my life, I just hate being cold and slipping and sliding all over creation when I open my front door.

At this point, I'm probably going to be making up 2011 snow days until I retire.

Summer.....where are you?