Thursday, September 29, 2011

I'll have a Tang...make it a double

I’m fine.  No, really, I am.

A little embarrassed.  But that’s just empathy.  It can’t be a good morning for Francona, Pedroia and the rest of the gang.  For one thing, some of them will be wondering where the next paycheck will be coming from.  There’s the houses to sell in Newtonville, Marblehead or whatever upscale suburb the Red Sox players and front offices gravitate to.  Weston?  Boxford?  Gotta be one or two in Boxford…

But I’m fine.  No open houses for me and I don’t even have a resumé to dust off.

Am I going native?  It’s true, I don’t even mind the Yankees.  At least, not these Yankees; Jeter, Rivera and Posada.  They’re just not Nettles, Hunter and Munson.

No comparison.

A-rod?  Hate him but so do most Yankee fans.  It doesn’t really count.

I don’t even hate those nutty kids from Tampa Bay.  Can’t really blame them for being hungry.

Enlightenment?  Have I reached a higher plane?


But I have another theory.

I don’t want to sound like I’m crowing but as a Boston native (yes, I call myself that) I have had a really good last decade with the Patriots, Sox, Bruins and Celtics.  In fact, I’m pretty sure that Boston fans will never have it so good again.  It was nice while it lasted and if it lasts a little longer, cool, but I won’t cry if it doesn’t.

Here’s the thing.


It was great but…

As hard as I tried, I couldn’t make it feel as great as I thought it would be.  It exposed the myth, you see.  Like the wizard behind the curtain, your team winning it all is cool but it does not make you any better looking, bring world peace or make you a better lover.

What I learned was that the high you get from winning is not as low as the low you get from losing.  Bucky Dent in ’78 was a much lower low than Damon’s flare and Roberts’ sweeping slide across home on that crisp October evening (full moon, too).  Those Bruins.  When they blew the 3-0 lead to the Flyers?  That was horrible and I could not believe that the sun rose the next morning but when the very (almost) same team did the very same (almost) thing in reverse to the hated Montreal Canadiens…
They just don’t balance.

They don’t balance because…

Well, they just don’t.

Here’s an idea.  When Mr. Dent lofted Mike Torrez’ one-and-one pitch into the screen that used to sit on top of the Green Monster, I cried.  I cried because I knew that I would have to wait at least another year before I could taste that sweet fruit of victory that seemed to hang so low for my Yankee-fan cousins.  They teased me.  But then I drank of the nectar and I discovered…

Dang, it’s Tang!

Ordinary.  Better than a cold bath.

So, as much as I would have liked for the Boston Red Sox to have won just one or two more games out of the 162 they played this spring, summer, and fall, I know that even another blingier-than-bling World Series ring on David Ortiz’ meaty paw would be kind of, well, great but not any better than great.
I was talking to my brother the other night.  My brother the Yankee fan.  It was before the boys of summer played their last regular season game of 2011.  He had a proposition for me.

“Let’s root for the same team,” he said.

Go Manchester United!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Coffee, doughnuts, angry girl

I remember this feeling.  The same one I had every day of my first year of teaching.  What have I done?  Can I do this?  I don’t think I can do this?  When will it get better?  If I’m so smart, how is it that this little posse of 7th-graders can have me so tied in knots, struggling to make it through the day with a thimble-full of sanity left in the tank?

I walk down the hall to my classroom and flip the lights to chase the gloom.  I hang up my coat and unload my backpack into neat piles on my desk; graded papers here, lessons in the manila folders there, laptop.  Another morning and another attempt to impose order on the day.

I visit the main office to check my mail and, there, on the counter is a Dunkin’ Donuts box of coffee and a tray of a dozen doughnuts lying open.  Boston Cremes, jelly, glazed, all my favorites. Teachers love doughnuts.  More than cops, teachers love doughnuts.

I had half a mind to flop down in the chair and spill my guts to anyone who would listen but my principal was already deep in conversation with someone.  Her back was to me but I she was nodding and I could tell they were both smiling.  Old friends? 

I felt better anyway.  Hot black coffee and a Boston Creme are magical together.  Spanish was in full swing by the time I headed back to my room and, not wanting to interrupt, I wandered down to see the English teacher and pick her brain about how we should approach our first Peer Relations class.  I had brought in a cooperative game consisting of two joint compound buckets, about four-dozen tennis balls and sixteen lengths of sash cord.  It’s called Nuclear Waste.

I’m not sure how the conversation shifted to her first year in the alternative program.  Maybe she could read my mind but she said that the kids circulated a petition to get her fired.  It was rough, she said.  There was this one girl she remembered being especially tough.  Perhaps she was the one who started the petition, she didn’t know, didn’t remember.  But this girl had a real temper.  So angry.

There was this one day when the girl just flew off the handle, throwing desks, ripping things off the wall, yelling, screaming, and like a twister, she left and rolled down the hall spinning as she went all nails and hair.  She went into the bathroom and continued to destroy everything in her path.  The mirrors, towel dispensers and, one by one, the stall doors.  She ripped them from their hinges and sent them pin-wheeling into the hallway.  One, door, two doors, three doors…

And then she stopped.  Behind that third door, there was a little kid.  A girl from the day-care program had gotten lost and gone to the wrong bathroom.  And there she was, staring back at this cyclone of anger and destruction, an innocent kid, mouth open, frozen in wide-eyed fear.
“That’s it!”  The angry girl yelled as she rolled back down the hall through her own trail of discussion.  “That’s it!”  Kicking the door open to the classroom she had left and slamming it behind her.  “We need to have a meeting.”  She opened the door again, this time in quiet control and explained to the faculty and onlookers that had gathered there that she knew she was in trouble but asked if she and her classmates could have a few moments for a team meeting.

“It’s over,” she began.  “We can’t do this anymore.  I’m scaring little kids, now, and that’s not cool.”

She and her classmates spent the better part of an hour talking and when they finally opened the door, they had drafted an apology for their behavior and a plan to make it up to the little girl they had frightened.  It was almost Halloween and they suggested a costume parade.  The angry girl and her classmates would be the judges and organize everything including the prizes.

When the day of the parade arrived, everyone got a prize.  “Everybody deserves to be recognized,” they said.

“And the rest of the year was better?”  I asked.  There was a long pause.  It was still a long year.

“But that coffee in your hand?” she said.  “That angry girl brought it in.  It was a ‘Thank you’ from her.”

Thank you.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Catherine started it

Catherine started it when she came back from a weekend in Ithaca.  She had one of those  save-the-date postcards for an AIDS benefit ride around Cayuga Lake.  It was her way of saying that it wouldn’t be such a bad thing if I lost a few pounds.
But I thought it sounded like fun: one hundred miles around a pretty lake on a crisp fall day.  Nice, right?

So, after letting the card sit on the kitchen counter for the better part of a month, I signed up, raised a few hundred bucks, and trained all summer.  And when September came, I cranked out the hundred miles and all I could think about was riding more.  Since then, I have spun my skinny bicycle tires over thousands and thousands of miles of roads both dirt and paved.

This past weekend, I struggled to 18th place in the Tour of the Adirondacks and, if my thumbs and fingers are correct, that slog marked my 10th race.

Now, there are a lot of bike blogs and, as a cyclist, I find more than a few of them interesting for a variety of reasons that only other cyclists understand.  Cycling, to be sure, is one of the many subsets of subsets of social groups that exist in the world.  And as much as this blog is all about me, I do have some empathy towards my dear reader (hi, Jane).  So, after my 10th race, I would like to share a few observations that I have made about bicycling, bicycles and bicyclists.

The sound.  I had never ridden in a pack or peloton before.  I, like other casual watchers of the Tour de France, had heard it again and again: riding with a group is faster and easier than riding all alone.  Well, what can I say?  It’s true.  What I didn’t understand was that it is more like flying in a swarm of bees than riding a bike.  Not all that many people have heard the sound of ten or fifteen pairs of wheels each with 20 or 24 spokes each ripping through the air and each with a narrow tire inflated to impossible pressures working the grain of a country road.  And this is something I think about when I am riding with the club or some other group:  how lucky I am to hear this sound, to hurtle inches from other bodies all doing the same as me, trusting the others to keep from crashing and bringing the whole thing down like bowling pins.  It’s thrilling.

The pain.  We, as people, can’t remember pain.  We only remember that there was pain but the actual feeling can’t be stored or recalled…or so I believe.  Now, I’m very sure there is some pain in cycling.  I know it.  But as I write, I am hard-pressed to give it the respect it probably deserves.  When I am driving to the race, I completely forget the pain and visualize myself laying big patches of smoking rubber as I attack relentlessly on the hills.  But when the race begins and the peloton flies over the first few little climbs or ‘kickers’ I begin to remember the pain.  It’s really more like a low-level insurrection at that point but half way up the first major climb and the insurrection has become an all-out rebellion.  Those imagined attacks on the climb?  Long gone.

The beauty.  Earlier this spring I was riding with two other guys and a storm was brewing as we headed out over the broad, lush flats that drain the foothills of the Taconics.  When the storm hit, sheets of rain lashed us like movie-set waves washing over the decks of a crippled vessel.  But as quickly as the storm was upon us, we popped out the other side to see a golden sunset set the hills on fire and the hayfields turn to molten gold while the storm, a dark gray ball of cloud, sent streaks of lightning dancing over its surface in the west.

Thanks, Catherine.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Usual suspects

It was funny.  Wasn’t it?  Sure, it was funny.  And, besides, the kids were laughing as the skinny boy with the buzz-cut unzipped his pack to reveal a fat bundle of pens, pencils and other stationary.  OK, he had stolen it all but you had to be impressed by the size of the haul.  Even the kids he had stolen it from nodded their heads in approval.  There had to be sixty or seventy all bound neatly with several rubber bands also stolen.

She can do the angry voice, this teacher.  I’ve only been teaching in the alternative program for a week but I have heard it once or twice already.  I’ve seen her look over her glasses at some girl or boy during DEAR when a giggle or snicker breaks the silence and all their eyes return to reading.  But, now, she smiles sweetly and tells him to spread the loot on another kid’s desk.

“Find what’s yours!” she says.  I watch, expecting a frenzy of payback theft, but there is none.  They take what is theirs and return to their desks.

A period later, she waves me over and points to her laptop.  She has the local paper on her screen.  A mugshot of a man with a familiar-looking buzz cut stares glumly out at us beneath a headline that reads, “Local Jewelers Hit Twice, One Arrested.”

It’s the pencil thief’s father.  The article was posted only an hour ago.  The kid doesn’t even know.

When I left at the end of the day, I checked in at the main office to let the principal know I was leaving but he was on the phone ordering a pizza.   Next to him, elbows on his knees and head in his hands, was the pencil thief.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

My room part II or Do desks deserve tenure?

It was a symbol.  Not a desk.  Not a collection of wood and nails and laminated oak paneling.  A symbol that I had disassembled without the use of tools and slid neatly out the fire window.  And, although my mouth has spewed several apologies since then, my heart was glad.
Had I shown somebody up?  Was it, therefore, a symbol of someone else's ineffectiveness or incompetence?
But I began to think of it as a symbol for something that has been on my mind for a while; tenure.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I have tenure and my status as a tenured teacher allowed me to feel secure enough in my job to rid my room of a dangerous eyesore.
But tenure is under attack.  Seen by most as a guarantee of continued employment for bad, lazy and incompetent teachers, it is in the crosshairs of many politicians and a cocktail party punch line.
But this is what I was thinking.  That desk did not have tenure.  No law protected it and still it remained very much like one of those lazy, stupid teachers that nobody can seem to get rid of.  So, perhaps, it is not tenure that protects.  Maybe it’s a system that protects.  A system in which nobody is really responsible or, more accurately, several people are responsible.
Fact; administrators can fire teachers who aren’t doing a good job.  All they have to do is document the teacher’s shortcomings, make recommendations and follow up.  If that teacher still has not managed to fix what was broken, that teacher can be dismissed.  Will the union challenge the dismissal?  Of course!  But if the administrator has her ducks in a row, it’s a bad day for that teacher.
But that would mean administrators would have to observe classes in their schools.  In nine years of being a tenured teacher, I have never been observed in the act of teaching by any administrator.  The fact is that they are too busy dealing with the myriad other tasks a principal has to deal with;  disciplinary stuff, leaky roofs. and, yes, teachers who commit savage acts of demolition in their planning periods.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

My room

This year is going to be different. I have been saying this for pretty near two months now but after today, I am sure it’s true.

I am in room 5. It’s the first time since my internship twelve years ago that I have had a room. Back at the high school, they were shared properties; communally decorated and maintained and, sometimes, defiled by upwards of five inhabitants.

But now I have a room. One room. For my students and me.

It’s typical, I suppose, in a kind of public school, ground-level, looks-out-on-the-puddled-parking lot way. Yes, a giant garbage pail collected a tea-colored liquid that dripped steadily from the sodden ceiling tiles above and, yes, there was a sadness to the room that turned the walls a depressingly mediocre hue of yellow, but what really caught my attention was that…THING!

What was it?

“Oh that!” said the veteran of a decade of teaching in the building. “That was for training bank tellers. See the cameras?” She pointed to the corners of the room. Indeed, video cameras of varying antiquity stared at us from every direction. So the town police had constructed a mock-up of a bank and used this room to train bank tellers. And that aforementioned thing? That monstrosity of gold-flecked Formica and oak wood paneling? That, she explained, had been the desk behind which the tellers had stood awaiting the entrance of their assailants. Presumably, a policeman had posed as a bank-robber and, in something that instantly made me think of Monty Python skits, burst into the room yelling, ‘Stick-em up!’ or “Gimme all the dough!’

“Can we get rid of it?” I asked.


She confessed that she had tried but the building maintenance staff had stopped her fearing that she would electrocute herself.

“It’s not wired, though” she said. “There’s no power going to it.” She had, in fact, made a pretty good whack at destroying the beast to the extent that it’s flimsiness was exposed for all the world to see as well as several, snaggled ten-penny nails that protruded nastily from both its ends.

So there it was. And there I was.

I examined the structure and then, carefully, lifted the countertop a cautious inch just to see what would happen. I met no resistance at all and soon I had the thing in pieces and out the fire window and half of it stacked neatly in the parking lot next to the maintenance truck.

And then the trouble began.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Same as it ever was...

I’m firing up the blog again. Kimbob is back. When I started the blog the first time, it was in anticipation of a trip to Mongolia to teach civics. When the trip ended, so did the blog. Simply put, there wasn’t a whole lot I thought anyone wanted to read about so, I reasoned, why write? And, truthfully, I think it scared me to see no definite end-point.

So, you may ask, since I am blogging, does that mean that my life is about to become more exciting again? I may hope so but in reality, no. Yes, another school year awaits and that is on some level exciting to me but I am not planning any trips to far-away lands. OK, we (that means Catherine, Chloe, Marcus, and Jane, my mother-in-law) wedged ourselves onto an Airbus A-who-put-these-seats-so-close-together and went to England to check up on my relatives and see a few castles. That was pretty exciting. Maybe I can put together some words worth reading on that. And, since my return from Mongolia, I have taken up cycling which might be worth a few posts particularly if I crash. And I have also discovered that I love cooking and now you are saying to yourself, “Not another Goddamn food blog with all those artsy, backlit food pictures,” but, yes, that’s exactly what I intend to provide. You can skip those ones. I understand.

My plan is to have some kind of plan to writing. Perhaps readers should expect three posts per week. One on cycling, another on cooking, maybe one on teaching and, wait, that’s four right there.

Organization was never my strong point.