Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Human Sausage Grinder


After another exceedingly long silence, it seems I am back -- only to talk about the same thing. How dull. And yet it is undeniably true that my life at the moment somehow revolves around food and musical genres which do not help the digestive process. So there you have cookouts and Hall and Oates (sorry to those of you who couldn't view it... well, I'm not really sorry.... it was probably for the best) and here you have congealed chicken and prom (and later "Morning Massacre" and Disco Brunch). Tell me you're not curious.

While my few American readers will have an excellent (if not first-hand and pang-inducing) knowledge of what "prom" is, my even fewer international readers may not. Let me enlighten you. Based on one's geographic location within the US, prom has small variances, but overall, it's a very formal dinner and dance party for teenagers, usually those in 11th and 12th grades. Here on the East Coast, students tend to eat together in one big banquet and go right into dancing at whatever location they have chosen (harbor cruise ships, museums, colonial mansions, etc...). The price is steep, up to $80.00 per student (depending on how diligent their class was about raising money). The boys rent tuxedos, the girls buy dresses and typically spend a fortune on having manicures, pedicures, and their hair styled in complicated, painful "up-dos."

I chaperoned prom last Friday night. Oh my (fanning herself violently). It wasn't the students, really. They were well behaved, they looked and smelled nice (for once). It wasn't the food (a typical prom meal is usually some type of "prom chicken" -- most often Kiev (stuffed with ham and cheese)) -- it was, indeed, slightly cold Chicken Marsala with lots of roasted veggies sitting in a puddle of hardening goo (butter? oil?). It was the dancing. I'm going to sound very middle-aged here, but I have never seen, nor do I hope to ever again see, 100 teenagers gyrating and grinding each other to bastardized, heavy-techno versions of DOA's "You Spin Me Round" and Soft Cell's "Tainted Love." So, like my teenager years... but so not...

The above photo is what it looks like (these are not my students, by the way... just random teens I found on google). A few things I would like to point out: they huddle together like nursing bunnies -- what this photo does not show is the 20 square feet of empty dance floor they are not using. We had a tiny dance floor -- and there was plenty of room for the ostracized and slightly creepy/embarrassing faculty dancing (which I'm proud to say I took part in). Secondly, can you imagine how great it is to be a teenage boy these days?! One of the faculty noted that as a teenager he couldn't even imagine walking into a dance at a gym and not getting an erection, much less having the opportunity to rub and grind up against every half-clad girl in the class. Note especially the couple on the right (yeah, the tubby guy giving the Heimlich to the girl in front of him). This was what amused and confused me the most. At one point, I was doing a rockin' version of "The Microwave" with a female student when a boy came and asked her to dance. And do you know what she did? She turned her back to him, he sidled up behind her, put his hands on her waist and started grinding her! Instead of punching him, she was grinding him back!

The one thing I will say for this kind of dancing is that it encourages more of the boys to dance, and if you really hate your date, you can still get some pleasure without having to face him/her. Also great for kids with bad breath.

Kids today -- they're just so lucky.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Easy ready willing overtime

I was at a cookout today and this song came up on the playlist. I haven't heard it in years. I don't remember having strong feelings about it either way at the time, but for some reason I loved it when I heard it today. I wonder what it is he (they) can't go for (no can do)? Is it possible I'm becoming nostalgic? Oh god. Anything but that.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Patergarory



Okay, so I decided to do it. To be fair (or REALLY unfair), I've included two samples of student work. These excerpts/essays are from their final exam in World Literature. These students are seniors, 18 years old. I have left the essays exactly as they were written. These students will both be attending accredited American colleges in the fall. After 12 years of language arts (in their own language!), this is what they can do. I love the idea that I was the last one to "teach" them -- like the thumbprint of God, it is. Tell me you're not impressed with my young scholars.

(Context: the exam question required students to explore the larger cultural implications of the importance of fate and free will as demonstrated in three different works we read over the course of the year.)

Sample One: (one-paragraph excerpt from a four-paragraph essay)
"Although in the story The Inferno, some have the choice to either go to heaven or hell, and others do not. These specific "others" were born before Jesus Christ and must go to hell either way. The people who did have the choice were categorized in cantos. Those who were not sure where they would end up went into Paturgarory, which is where people wait if it is undecided, and how the decision is made is if the people make a name for themselves. In this story, it is a matter of freewill and fate, depending on who it is."

Sample Two: (entire essay)
"I will start this with a quote from the very talented rapper Immortal technique. "I believe man made god out of fear and Ignorance." This shows that humans have complete control of their life I didn't honestly read any of these stories this year but I can tell you that the characters made all their decisions and choose their actions on their own. These storys never actually happened so I dont think this essay question is legit. Its all just made up by a guy who was emo and bored and got lucky that people for some reason cared about their works. Sorry for never paying attention, don't take it personally."

Now, here's a quiz for you. It is multiple choice. You may refer to the above passages at any point during the quiz. The penalty for cheating is a lashing with my ruler. Good luck.

1. The student in Sample One believes:
a. Purgatory is a place where one makes a name for himself.
b. Ms. Ana does not actually read the final exams.
c. those who predated Jesus got the eternal shaft.
d. sinners are sentenced to cantos.
e. all of the above.

2. The student in Sample Two believes all of the following EXCEPT:
a. capitalization rules are for pussies.
b. authors and epic poets are men who work hard at their craft.
c. punctuation is optional.
d. apologies are best followed by imperatives.

3. Which word best describes the writer of Sample One?
a. decisive
b. outraged
c. noncommittal
d. lighthearted

4. Which word would you NEVER use to describe the writer of Sample Two?
a. polite
b. arrogant
c. opinionated
d. long-suffering

5. If I were a teacher and I had worked very hard all year to learn these kids right proper and if this were the final exam I had to grade, I would:
a. give them all A's for trying.
b. join them in the bathroom for a hit off the bong.
c. chain smoke (cigarettes) every day on the drive home.
d. call their concerned parents and work out a plan for their future success.
e. become an alcoholic.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Survey Says...

Question: would it be cruel of me to post something one of my students wrote? It is not personal in any way and actually only points to my apparent failure as a teacher. I need your opinions on this.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Word to your moms -- I came to drop bombs


So, obviously, the past month or so has been both wonderful and trying. My rival's disappointment in not getting the job made things very difficult for both of us -- in many ways. That's all I'll say, except that things seem now to be on the mend.

But in the meantime (and perhaps as a result?!), there's been a disturbing development in my musical preferences. There's no way to ease into this, so I'll just come out with it: I am obsessed with 90's white boy rap. For the last month, all I want to listen to is House of Pain's "Jump Around," Cypress Hill's "Insane in the Membrane," and just about anything by the Beastie Boys, but especially "Body Movin'" and "No Sleep Till Brooklyn." What the fuck, I ask?!

To know how funny this is, you have to imagine the whitest of the white girls you know and then make her whiter. I'm an English teacher -- that should automatically put me somewhere near the top of your nerdy scale. Moby Dick is my favorite novel (those who know me know what this means -- it is severe), and don't even get me going on the Metaphysical Poets -- I might have an orgasm.

Why, then, do I find myself cranking the bass every single time I get in the car, sitting slightly lower in the seat and leaning way too far to my right, wrist-steering and turkey strutting my head to the above tunes? I especially love the songs that deal with some kind of rap off, in which bustin' rhymes replaces poppin' caps (e.g., "Feel it, funk it/Amps are a junkin'/And I got more rhymes than there's cops at a Dunkin' Donuts shop" or "You know I don't take a dulo/Lightly/Punks just jealous `cause they can't outwrite me/So kick that style: wicked, wild/Happy face nigga never seen me smile") Yo, it's all about rep, man. Don't get on my poetic turf; I mess you up good, mothah fuckah.

So, here's the deal. It's fine to go to a wedding, hear these songs and tear it up on the dance floor in a fit of nostalgia, but actually listening to them repeatedly? Why do they make me feel so good? I kid you not when I say "Jump Around" HAS to be playing on my iPod when I pull into work every morning. And that's just sad. I never even liked these songs when they came out. Is it possible that I'm getting dumber as I age? That it takes less and less to make me feel alive? Am I reliving some part of my youth I think I may have missed? All I know is that it's a slippery slope ending with a fatal crash into Vanilla Ice. A wobbly-headed infant couldn't even drown in the shallows of my intellect these days.

So, I leave you with the thoughts that run on an unending loop in my head all day long.

1. "I'll serve your ass like John MacEnroe/If your girl steps up, I'm smacking the ho"

and

2. "I got to get my props/Cops/Come and try to snatch my crops/These pigs wanna blow my house down/Head underground/To the next town/They get mad/When they come to raid my pad/And I'm out in the nine deuce Cad'"

Peace out.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Be careful of what you wish for...

It's a bit late for ecumenical resurrection talk, but I'm back. So it took me more than three days... I'm no Jesus, that's for sure. Thanks to my mad scientist, Bev, and a little reconstructive surgery, life seems back on track (to completely mix my metaphors... I'm in a hurry here. My apologies). And I am a stronger, if not a slightly more evil, version of my old self.

I've been reading all your great blogs and posting comments when I can. I hope to join in again very soon.

There's a thunderstorm coming. I'm off to charge up.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Pink Eye, or Glass Half Empty



This week has been one big suck. It all started Sunday night when my eye started itching painfully and filling with an unsightly substance. Yeah, as my title has already indicated, the dreaded pink eye (a.k.a., conjunctivitis, a term which actually references the nature of the effluvium that quickly accumulates in the eye socket). I'll let it be known right now that I have never had pink eye; as a matter of fact, I've never had a single problem with my eyes. So you can imagine this came as a disgusting shock. I called the doctor to get the ointment (another unpleasant word) to cure myself, but she told me I had to wait another day, in case it was viral. As we all know, it's easier to get a gun permit than a prescription for an antibiotic these days. And this gatekeeper wasn't about to give me access to the goods until I had suffered long and hard.

It wasn't until I woke up the next morning that I actually realized how unbearably loathsome this ailment is. After I decrusted my eye, I was left with a swollen, bloodshot orb that could not be calmed with ice or make up. Great. So off to work I went, oozing and pussing, to face the 100 students I teach every day, fully prepared to be ostracized in the manner only teenagers are capable of. Thankfully, the school secretary (another gatekeeper) saved me that humiliation by sending me home immediately after she got one look at me (as she simultaneously took three steps back from her desk, an incredulous look on her face. Didn't I know this was a high school? What the hell was I thinking?). The rest of the day was spent trying to get that eye salve, which I eventually did after hours on the phone with the covering nurse who, I am convinced, thought I was trying to obtain it to sell it on the underground market. Jesus.

The next day, cream in eye, I actually made it into the school. Sure, I was still hideously ugly and everyone avoided me, but I made it in. I was experiencing a momentary spike in optimism when I found out that I had been overlooked, yet again, to give the faculty commencement address. And worse, the man who had been chosen is the same man who is going "against" me in a bid for the department chair position next year.

A word about this man, whom I will refer to simply as "my rival." As rivals go, he's one in a million. He's actually just about perfect. My rival is an incredibly creative and demanding teacher, he has a wicked sense of humor, AND he's good looking. Oh, and his wife is a good friend of mine. As you can imagine, the discovery of the new feather in his cap left me (the pariah) feeling more than a little worried about my prospects even as I congratulated him heartily on his newly received honor. And THEN, today, he threw a surprise baby shower for a woman in our department during a meeting. My rival is playing hardball. He even bought her a bottle of gin -- there's that goddamn sense of humor I was talking about -- which tickled everyone to no end. For a moment, I felt like marching myself down to the office and pulling my application. Interviews will be held in the next two weeks, and I thought maybe I could still get out of this with some of my integrity... Is it really better to try than to never know? Smashed egos can be fixed, or so I've heard, but I have this vision of spending the rest of my career being the department loser. On the other hand, I do get to buy a new drop-dead suit for the interview, and Bev has already promised to take me out and get me smashed if I don't get it. What's the worst that could happen? A vomit-covered suit and two more bloodshot eyes?

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Pedigree



When my father was seven, he dug up a dead body.

What?

I know.

But when he was five, he also stole some cigarettes from his father, who blamed the hired hand, who was fired on the spot. And my dad never said a word about it.

This is the gene pool from which I spring. Which is why, I would imagine, I took the family car for a joyride (which ended in an unfortunate crash) when I was four and set ten acres ablaze when I was five. I stole my first cigarette when I was eight, but, fortunately, nobody lost his livelihood as a result.  However, when I was five I did leave my "boyfriend" lying on a cold rock after he took a nasty 20-foot fall from a bluff we weren't supposed to be climbing.  I thought he was dead.  I simply walked home, ate my supper, went to bed, and hoped he would be on the bus the next morning.  He was.  Phew.

Graverobbing, thieving, lying, joyriding arsonists. What a lovely family crest I could hang on my wall.

C'mon, then, make me feel better.  What's in your closet?

Friday, March 20, 2009

Prognostication



Last weekend Bev, my sister, and I went to a psychic for a tarot card reading. As is my usual experience, the results were half horrifying accuracy and half laughable miscalculation. In the "Accurate" column: there will be future upheaval at work, I have two brothers, one of whom is estranged from the family (and apparently in some kind of trouble), my oldest son is a gem, my youngest, the devil incarnate. Under "Laughable": I want to spend more time at home with my kids, there is supposed to be a third child (not on your fucking life!), I'm an intuitive. The rest was pretty vague and only came out after a little too much questioning on her part.

On one hand, visiting a psychic is fun, exciting, and a little emotional. Although I try to remain sceptical, it honestly is creepy when they hit the occassional nail on the head. Precisely for this reason, I always end up leaving feeling a little uneasy. What if she really can see/sense my past and my future? What if her lackluster divination proves true after all? When the bell sounded which marked the end of my reading, she insisted that I stay a little longer due to the large number of sword cards I had drawn from her three decks -- apparently a matter of some concern. She tried and tried to figure it out but could come to no solid conclusions (big surprise, right?). When I got home I made the sorry mistake of looking up the meaning of the card shown above. Why do I do this to myself? I think tomorrow I'm going to observe the flight of a crow then shoot it and read its entrails.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

"All faults may be forgiven of him who has perfect candor."

(Warning: this will be an exeedingly long post. If you are familiar with Whitman's poetry, feel free to skip the samples of his work and go directly to the parody. If not, please read them! I can't help but love his astounding egotism; at least he encourages us all to be equally self-centric. That said, the parody best brings out all that is laughable in this man of many faults.)

If the above disclaimer didn't send you running to blogs you'd rather waste your time on, I guess you're along for the ride. Thank you for joining me and be not afraid! I think you'll find it worth it. Directly below, in blue, is a sampling of Whitman's work which best represents the references in the parody. If you read only one bit of it, make it the last bit about the 28 men swimming. My all-time favorite.

From Leaves of Grass:

I CELEBRATE myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.
I loafe and invite my soul,

I lean and loafe at my ease observing a spear of summer grass.
My tongue, every atom of my blood, form'd from this soil,

this air,
Born here of parents born here from parents the same,
and their parents the same,I, now thirty-seven years old in perfect health begin,
Hoping to cease not till death.
Creeds and schools in abeyance,

Retiring back a while sufficed at what they are, but never forgotten,
I harbor for good or bad, I permit to speak at every hazard,
Nature without check with original energy.
****
Stop this day and night with me and you shall possess the
origin of all poems,

You shall possess the good of the earth and sun, (there are millions of suns left,)
You shall no longer take things at second or third hand, nor look through the eyes of the dead, nor feed on the spectres in books,
You shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things from me,
You shall listen to all sides and filter them from your self.
****
The little one sleeps in its cradle,

I lift the gauze and look a long time, and silently brush away flies with my hand.
The youngster and the red-faced girl turn aside up the bushy hill,

I peeringly view them from the top.
The suicide sprawls on the bloody floor of the bedroom,

I witness the corpse with its dabbled hair, I note where the pistol has fallen.
The blab of the pave, tires of carts, sluff of boot-soles, talk of the promenaders,

The heavy omnibus, the driver with his interrogating thumb, the clank of the shod horses on the granite floor,
The snow-sleighs, clinking, shouted jokes, pelts of snow-balls,
The hurrahs for popular favorites, the fury of rous'd mobs,
The flap of the curtain'd litter, a sick man inside borne to the hospital,
The meeting of enemies, the sudden oath, the blows and fall,
The excited crowd, the policeman with his star quickly working his passage to the centre of the crowd,
The impassive stones that receive and return so many echoes,
What groans of over-fed or half-starv'd who fall sunstruck or in fits,
What exclamations of women taken suddenly who hurry home and give birth to babes,
What living and buried speech is always vibrating here, what howls restrain'd by decorum,

Arrests of criminals, slights, adulterous offers made, acceptances, rejections with convex lips,
I mind them or the show or resonance of them — I come and I depart.
*******
Twenty-eight young men bathe by the shore,

Twenty-eight young men and all so friendly;
Twenty-eight years of womanly life and all so lonesome.
She owns the fine house by the rise of the bank,

She hides handsome and richly drest aft the blinds of the window.
Which of the young men does she like the best?

Ah the homeliest of them is beautiful to her.
Where are you off to, lady? for I see you,

You splash in the water there, yet stay stock still in your room.
Dancing and laughing along the beach came the twenty-ninth bather,

The rest did not see her, but she saw them and loved them.
The beards of the young men glisten'd with wet, it ran from their long hair,

Little streams pass'd all over their bodies.
An unseen hand also pass'd over their bodies,

It descended tremblingly from their temples and ribs.
The young men float on their backs, their white bellies bulge to the sun, they do not ask who seizes fast to them,

They do not know who puffs and declines with pendant and bending arch,
They do not think whom they souse with spray.

And now, for the parody. Please, somebody, tell me you find this as I do, hysterical.
FIRST EDITION, 2008
1.
O, I also enjoy singing about America
When I am in the shower O song-O awesome song,
O the mouth-song that comes out of my mouth,
Like food when I don't feel good.
O-hi-O, Cleveland is your capitol.
O, how this pen fits in my hand,
Like a magic microphone or something.
When I write, the words just plop out of it,
Out of me,
Me the poet.
I am a poet.
2.
I contain multitudes.
My poem is so incredible that if you don't love it,
You are probably mentally retarded.
Whatever you like in life, that's me,
Except I am better.
I am like a flying ice-cream cone
Surrounded by cute puppies and Webkinz.
I am a sunriseUnless you are blind,
Then I must be a beautiful noise.
I am that scene in the Goonies when that large kid hath to do
The Truffle Shuffle.
Remember when stamps only cost 29 cents?
That was me.
3.
I am a singing butcher and a tire maker and a quality inspector
And a street vendor and an RA,but not the lame kind that yells at you and takes all of your beer.
I am a convenience store clerk, singing about Things,
I am a financial analyst.
I am a philosopher-I explain platitudes.
I am a singing robot maker and that guy on the infomercials with a moustache
Who sells Oxy-Glow-I display multi-tools.
I am a farmer and a banker and a knight.
"But that's not possible," you say.
"How can you be all of those jobs?
You must be totally awesome.
But tax-time must suck."
4.
Washing and shaving is for faggots.
Don't worry though.
If you don't like that line,
I'll take it out for the definitive 2021 edition of this poem.
Just let me know.
5.
One time I saw a bunch of naked guys bathing under a waterfall like Niagra
My pants began expanding, like I'd taken a Viagra
I stood behind a window and couldn't look away.
I must've been thinking of Kathy Ireland or something, because I sure ain't gay.
Watching bathe multi-dudes.
6.
Hey Cap'n, get up, this is awesome.
No seriously, you're going to want to see this.
7.
I am the words in every book ever.
Even in ones from other languages like French or Irish,
And Klingon.
I am in every song on the radio, even the really bad ones,
Except for "Who Let The Dogs Out?"
But I am in every other song.
One refrain, many tunes.
I am on the walls of cavemen, and I am all over the internet like that Numa Numa guy.
And I will be in whatever technology comes up next,
Like a datachip that you eat like a potato chip.
But for now, if you want to read this on the subway
You can always download it and put it on your
Blackberry
Blackberry
Blackberry.
Sent as a joke to PoetryAmerica <http://www.poetryamerica.com/> , this poem is the 2008 winner of the Wergle Flomp humor poetry contest sponsored by Winning Writers. Author Benjamin Taylor Lally received a cash prize of $1,359.

About Benjamin Taylor LallyMr. Lally teaches high school English in Massachusetts, and wishes to dissuade his creative writing students and poetic ramblers from imitating the style found here. His less ridiculous poetry has been accepted by The Formalist, the Illinois State Poets' Society and Troubadour, and has been rejected by many, many other places. He is exceedingly proud to be the 2008 Wergle Flomp Contest winner. It just goes to show, it pays to make fun of Walt Whitman. And handsomely. He would like to thank the editors at Winning Writers for encouraging such wonderful lunacy, and his wife for the exact same reason.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Question of the Day

What's for dinner?
(As you can see, I'll be enjoying live peacock to the mind-benumbing tunes of my minstrels. And my friends will all be standing around watching me eat. I'm the lady in the Cat in the Hat hat on the left. Oh, and one of my maids-in-waiting (see top left) is carrying on an illicit affair with the court astrologer. Either that or she's plotting my death so she can move into the marriage bed and wield power from behind the scenes; my husband always was a sucker for a woman with a star-shaped halo. )

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Plaything of the Gods


She prayed then to whatever power may care
In comprehending justice for the grief
Of lovers bound unequally by love.
Virgil, The Aeneid, Book IV, 720-722

Monday, March 2, 2009

Diplomacy



Another 12 inches of snow, another day at home. Will the madness never end?

While aimlessly surfing the web this morning, I made my usual online newspaper stops and found this article on America's brilliant plan to open diplomatic relations with Iran -- by sending our actors and directors to soften their hardened, intolerant hearts.

On one hand, this seems like a great idea. We are obviously too distanced at the moment to sit down and talk politics, human rights, and nuclear bombs, so a cultural approach makes some sense. I just don't know how successful this can be when one of the delegates, the director of Field of Dreams, begins his visit by saying, "Today is my birthday, and I cannot think of any other place I wanted to be other than here." He is either a.) lying, or b.) the most desperate and pathetic has-been to be nominated to an "official delegation." Shouldn't we be sending Oliver Stone or Martin Scorsese? Or how about Tim Burton? I can just imagine the conversation:

TB: Um, yeah, we're here to stitch together the jagged, bleeding edges which separate our nations.

MMA: This meeting is over. You insult us with your careless grooming habits and your general demeanor.

Wouldn't it be funny if some sort of serious international incident arose from all of this? Like if Annette Bening got her head sent home in a box? Or if Phil Alden Robinson were to be impaled on a baseball bat? Imagine the ironic possibilities!

If you ask me, we should just settle this by celebrity cagefight. (If I knew any current Iranian actors, I would give a list of contestants here, but on our side, we should definitely include Brangelina, Lindsey Lohan, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Fat Britney.) If our side wins, they must disarm, stop trying to make H-bombs, and just become nicer people in general; if they win, we'll just bomb the shit out of them anyway ('cuz that's the way we roll, sucka...) and then take over their film industry. But at least we could say we tried.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Hump Day



So, I haven't "written" anything in a very long time. I've actually had a pretty good week so far.


It should be noted that I spent the entirety of last week trapped inside my house with one sick child and one child itching to get out. Oh, and my brain. I was trapped inside my house with that, too. It wasn't very much fun.


But on Monday, I went back to work and had completely forgotten that I had agreed to chaperon a fieldtrip to a prison! Aside from the hassle of getting together subplans and rearranging meetings, I was pretty excited. I mean, I might have felt like a prisoner last week, but I was about to meet real detainees, and the prospect thrilled me. So, on the bus we went. Fortunately, a coworker who had chaperoned the trip the previous year informed me that the prison would not be feeding us so I wolfed down a Dunkin' Donuts triple chocolate muffin and a coconut coffee (cream, one sugar) before we left. (Seriously, wouldn't you think they would have a culinary arts program inside a prison?! What are these people supposed to do upon their release?) The bus ride was the typical noisy riot, but upon arriving at the prison, and the entrance of one of the guards, Mr. Santiago, the 43 students (all of whom are 17 or 18) became entirely mute. He was a hardass; he told us we would be yelled at (teachers included) and to just get used to it because that's the way things are done in (fuckmeintheass) prisons. So, off the bus we went. I was (appointed) first to lead the charge and I was so nervous that, sure enough, I got yelled at by the security officer, whose job it was to scan our coats and metal detect us. I had forgotten to take off my dangly earrings. "For Christ's sake!" he yelled. "I know he just told you to take those off on the bus! Don't you people listen?!" My students thought this was very funny -- until it was their turn, and the confiscated cell phones, studded belts and hair scrunchies all went into the bin marked "retards from ** High School." Yeah, who's laughing now?! Assholes.
We were then taken into a confined area, told about the bulletproof glass, the weaponry onhand should all hell break loose, and the thickness of the walls. They were nervous. I had calmed down considerably since Major ----- (a 6'3" 62 year old man of steel, but also a hardass) told the other chaperon and I to take it easy and consider it a personal day -- the kids wouldn't be giving us any trouble today. So we went into yet another confined area (the prisoners' visiting room), were shown flashcards of all the canines (some of whom apparently only speak Dutch or German), and were allowed to ask questions, which, not surprisingly, all of us were too afraid to ask until we got yelled at about that, too. So the questions came and then, suddenly, we were divided into two groups. While one group sat through more forced reversed questioning, the other (mine) was taken into the cell block. On the way, we had to pass between buildings well guarded by the Dutch and German speaking dogs and their handlers. They barked incessantly. One looked like Satan's own hound. According to the flashcard, that was Argos. That cracked me up.

We went up into a "tower" that was made completely of bullet-proof, mirrored glass. We looked at the prisoners. It was like being in a zoo. Although we were assured they could not see us, we were later told by the prisoners who would speak to us that they knew we were there because they could hear us. I was mesmerized. There were puny guys, big guys, white guys, Hispanic guys, old guys, black guys, braided guys, glasses-wearing guys, middle-aged guys, kids, and lonely guys. There were two televisions on in the "common area." One had on a Hispanic channel, the other the Discovery channel. (On Sundays, the third TV has sports apparently; a risk, as it can cause fights.) They seemed bored. Some would wander in and out of their cells or chat with the guards, while others lounged in the Naugahyde chairs. Those in orange were awaiting trial; the tan-clad were serving time. Their shoes were exceedingly white. We were then taken back to the visitor area while group two went into the "hold." As we waited, the guard in charge of us confessed that he thought Major --- was a hardass, that his approach was more mild. We tried to ask questions, but in the face of his pussiness, we didn't really feel the pressure to do so. Say what you want about hardasses; they get what they want.
Finally, the "prisoners" (OMG!!!) came in to scare our suburban teens "straight." I have to say, it worked -- on them and "us" (the two thirtysomething chaperones). Here it is, two days later, and I still can't stop thinking about them. Do you know what? It turns out you can make just one bad decision and you can land your ass in prison. Fuck. And do you know what else? If you go to prison, your mommy is the only one who will go visit you (if she's still alive, that is, because you haven't killed her by putting your sorry self in prison). No shit. All five of them confirmed it.

They spoke to us for over two hours, sharing the darkest and most intimate moments of their lives as we looked upon them in horror. Apparently this was some sort of privilege for them. I just felt bad -- for them, because their lives seemed irretrieveable fucked up; and for us, almost out of shame (even though this is, by far, the best learning experience our students have on any field trip in their young lives -- and that includes Plimoth Plantation). Our stomachs rumbled (and then convulsed when they sent around the lunch tray to show us what a prisoner gets to eat every day -- two slices of slimey bologna (the kind with chunks of peppercorn in them), four slices of bread, two cookies, a packet of mustard and an apple). As we sat and listened to them, I wondered what they were thinking of our gorgeous 18 year old female students, and when we shook their hands, I wondered how it felt for them to be able to touch a female (which they can't even do during visitor hours if anyone shows up to visit them). Did they want us to pat them on the back or maybe rub their triceps as we shook their hands? I found myself wanting to do that.

And then we left. That was it. They went back to their cells, we got on the bus and went to Burger King. Then it was back on the bus. We belched our self-satisfied Dr. Pepper indigestion all the way home to our safe little suburb by-the-sea.

Yeah, it's been a good week so far. At least I'm not in prison. Yet.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Happy Birthday, Bev (Part II)



So, I couldn't decide which slice o' heaven to honor you with, babycakes or the most incredible use of corrugated cardboard I've ever seen. Either way, I hope your day has been fabulous and that that family of yours did something sweet to reward your own sweetness. I'm bummed that Eva beat me to it, but thanks to her, I didn't miss it entirely! In spite of our stubborn refusal to remember each other's birthdays, I hope you know that I (and all the folks here at Truepenny, Inc.) count you as the coolest friend and neighbor one could ever hope for!

HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Friday, February 20, 2009

Goodnight (Sinister) Moon


Eva's "Childrin R Skary" post on Wilderness of Mirrors reminded me of this Tom Waits' piece. While it could just be the natural darkness that dwells within me, I suspect it may actually be my deep-seated resentment toward (so far only) four years of reading really boring children's books that explains my love for any childhood story gone horribly wrong.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

I Hate This Song!


HATE IT!!!!

It makes me want to shoot a cowboy, steal his spurs, and carve my initials into his face with them. I hate it that much.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Mindless

Because I promised myself I'd post today... I love this. I can't help it!

PANDA!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

An Even Dozen


I must stop this blogging every two weeks and be more consistent. Hopefully with almost a week left of vacation, I can do this. Scarlet Shutter's recent post on the 100-word story reminded me of NPR's contest two years ago to see who could write the best novel in 12 words. So I've been messing around with it. Here are my offerings. Any takers?

He drove all night. Rain and snow. Door locked. Long drive home.

She was born. She grew up. She had four kids. She died.

Husband, an electrician. Wife, trusted him. The house burned down. She inside.

It went off. Everything became quiet. Then, a laugh. Without a hitch.

They shouldn't have been in that graveyard at all. Serves 'em right.

She saw her future in her grandmother's eyes. She bought a pistol.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Leaving Jesus


Awhile back, I had started a story about how I became a born again Christian but somehow never got around to the part about how I became unborn. But the ends of things are almost always more difficult than their beginnings.

Before I can get to the actual events which precipitated my break up with Jesus, there are a few background details that I should provide. First, when I was 16, I started dating a non born againer; as a matter of fact, he was Catholic, which means he might as well have been the Antichrist himself. But I couldn't help it... he looked like the lead singer from the Thompson Twins and he was funny and smart and he liked old movies and black and white photography. He was also a college boy, four years my senior, attending the University of Wisconsin -- Madison, working at a soap store run by two gay guys. So now I had smoking and my Catholic boyfriend to feel guilty about. When I was 17, I applied to and was accepted at UW. You can see where this is leading. I remember my pastor expressing his concern about my move to Madison. It was the late 80's and Madison was often refered to as "Moscow on the Lakes." Like most college towns, it was exceedingly liberal. Pastor Paul put me in contact with the Assembly of God church in Madison long before I packed my bags. He told me that if anybody could go to college in Madison and remain true to God, it was me. He told me my faith was unshakeable. Boy, was he wrong.

My first month of college: I attended church faithfully every Sunday and Wednesday night. I went to my classes faithfully. I remained a virgin, faithfully (in spite of having my own apartment. Do you people realize the dedication this requires?!). But I started noticing things. Like the fact that my boyfriend's gay bosses weren't hideous perverts out to molest young boys. They were actually funny and very kind to me. And then there were the rallies held by the born againers on Library Mall; they were full of hate -- toward gays, especially, but in general for anyone who didn't believe. They used the same "Jesus is coming back" approach that had been so effective on me, but eighteen year olds don't scare as easily as eleven year olds; what had always sounded terrifying to me now sounded somehow ridiculous. And then there was Geology 101. Turns out the fossil record pretty much disproves the Bible. Oh shit. Discomfort. Denial. Doubt. That was my first month of college.

My second month of college: upheaval in the church! Factions, infighting, and eventually, a split. I didn't know enough about what was going on to make an educated choice about whom I should go with, so I picked the side that was closest to my apartment (the bus ride to church was over an hour long; now I could walk!). We had services in a woman's ranch-style house. She was tiny and shrewish and severe. She had owl figurines everywhere. I should have known then. I continued to pray and read the bible, but less frequently, and somehow when I talked to God, I felt like a lying child on the brink of discovery. It's hard to lie to God. But also during month two, my boyfriend blew his entire savings on two tickets for us to see Verdi's La Traviata. I loved opera. I bought a vintage black crepe gown and my first tube of truly red lipstick. As luck would have it, the new branch of my church was having a prayer meeting on the very same night as the opera. Choices had to be made. I chose the opera (only after countless hours of soul searching and even more time in front of the mirror in my new gown, mind you). When I called the woman to tell her I would not be attending, she asked me if one night at the opera with my boyfriend was really worth my eternal soul. I tried reasoning with her; surely God would not begrudge me this human pleasure? Oh yes He would, was the reply. My God was an unforgiving God, a God who could take me out of this world as quickly and with as little effort as that with which He brought me into it. I remember the tears stinging my eyes as I told her I would not be attending church any longer. I also remember the bile rising as I told her (with no little satisfaction) that she was the final straw in a decision I had been struggling with for over six weeks. I told her if I went to hell, it was entirely her fault for driving me away from God (okay, admittedly childish, but it felt really good to say it).

And that was it. I went to the opera that night. It was, to this day, one of the most beautiful nights of my life (and included the loss of my virginity! Yippee!). And I have never prayed since that night, nor have I looked to the bible for anything more than beautiful words. And I have never regretted this decision. I thought I would miss God. I didn't.

The meaning of "la traviata"? The woman who strayed.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, EVA!!!!

I wish I could take all the credit for being so thoughtful about remembering your birthday, but Bev is the one on Facebook so this is from both of us.

We wish you all the best and many, many, many more! Do you like the cake we baked for you???

Love, Ana and Bev

Friday, January 16, 2009

Bloodsport



Just when you think you have nothing to write about, manna falls from the heavens.

When I got home from work today, I found my house covered with little brown feathers. Initially, I suspected my son's down jacket. But then I found feathers in the kitchen sink, in the bathtub, even in the toilet... As I dustbusted, unquestioningly, I caught my youngest son out of the corner of my eye joyously stomping up and down, giggling madly, on a tiny brown object (see above).

This raises many questions. Obviously, my cats had found a sparrow but they are indoor cats. Unless one of Bev's cats made a take-out delivery, this poor little guy somehow found his way in my house (I'd like to think the holes aren't quite so gaping), seeking relief from the bitter cold, and found himself in the clutches of two very inexperienced house cats. Judging from the evidence, his must have been a most brutal demise. I found bird shit on the walls and doors, a lamp was knocked over, one entire table in my kitchen was cleared off and my mantle was destroyed (thankfully shattering one particularly horrible Christmas gift from my mother-in-law). Avian carnage.

While I feel bad for the poor little bugger, a part of me wishes I had been here to see the mayhem. I keep forgetting my cats are animals.

Again, my apologies

For so many reasons, but mostly for posting another one of Bev's daughter's youtube finds. I will be more productive in the future, I promise!!!!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

I Don't Think So



My apologies for submitting a lame youtube that isn't even a video. And my apologies especially to Bev. I know this reminds us of a certain someone we'd rather not remember, but let's not blame this perfectly delightful song.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Personal Jesus

So, it's finally time to finish my trilogy. To review: discovery in La-Z-Boy led to banishment to Montana.

I was ten years old and had never been on a jet, nor had I traveled further than Canada, which borders Wisconsin and therefore does not really count as international travel (nor does Montana, I realize, but in terms of distance, it seemed very far away). A tyro to be sure. But I had read a lot of Judy Blume and considered myself very worldly. I spent weeks planning my solo flight, what I would wear, what I would do in the various airports. I was actually excited about receiving my punishment. AND I wanted to be a veterinarian so the opportunity to work with horses was another adventure I looked forward to with unbridled romanticism. I had visions of myself in a light cotton frock, riding a black stallion, bareback, as our long flowing hair waved in the wind, in slow motion, mind you.
The trip was great. I read another Judy Blume novel (Wifey, I believe) -- right in front of everybody on the plane. I wore my favorite 3/4 sleeved rainbow jersey shirt and my blue corduroys. I carried a purse. I was something.
At the airport in Billings, I bought cigarettes from a machine and went to the airport restaurant where I chainsmoked (I'm wondering now how old I thought I looked) as I ate my T-bone steak and drank my Pepsi. I called my dad and pretended to be very scared by the whole experience of traveling alone, but I was nothing short of ecstatic.
When my aunt (whom I had never met) greeted me at the airport in Helena, I'm sure I reeked of smoke but she smoked too. Bonus! Add to my vision of independence stealing cigarettes from her pack, which I did, all summer long. She didn't smoke menthols, but I learned to love her Benson and Hedges nonetheless.
As you can see, I was a girl in need of reformation.
And then my cousin arrived, the very next day, and brought the gleaming light of God with her, a God I had never seen even though I had attended church every Sunday until I was seven years old. Beth was a blond-haired beauty. She was 21, she loved Jesus, and she wore her hair in French braids every day, with little hand-tied ribbons running the entirety of their gorgeous length. She was an intense horse woman with a vicious temper when it came to other peoples' laziness (both moral and physical). She was a rabid anti-smoker and she was a power-converter. She told everyboy they were going to hell and became irrate when they didn't believe her.
Her approach with me was a bit more tender, however. She simply invited me to go to church with her. I agreed, figuring it was the usual Lutheran service (boring but something to do). To set the stage, I should tell you a little more about my experience with religion up to this point. As I said, we went to church every Sunday and I knew about Jesus and Adam and Eve and Moses and the Apostles but that was pretty much it. Oh, and I knew it would definitely be cool to be chosen to play Mary in the Nativity play (I, unfortunately, was given the role as the back end of the donkey and that ended my career in Christian drama). For example, my notions of the "holy spirit" were so confused that my friends and I made up a game called "Holy Ghost" ; it was just like tag but the person who was "it" made ghost sounds as they chased the others around and we only played it on Sunday after church as our parents chatted with each other in the church parking lot.
So off we went to church. I remember my aunt snickering "Have fun..." when we left as she lit her cigarette and sipped at her coffee. I knew this was going to be a very different experience from the moment we drove into the parking lot. In the first place, the lot was full -- there must have been 100 cars. The church itself was very modern, all glass and carpeted staircases. As we sat down, I noticed the "pulpit" was more like a stage (with a full rock band set up behind it). There would be no organ ladies here in orthopedic shoes stumbling their way through "A Mighty Fortress is Our God." And the people... they were so... happy... about being at church. And they were huggy and kissy. I was introduced to everyone as "my little cousin from Wisconsin." "Welcome! We're so happy to have you!" was the invariable response. And it seemed like they meant it. Weird. I detected no sweet midwestern insincerity in their voices... a sound I was very familiar with.
There's really no point in trying to describe the microphoned preacher, the emotional congregation, my reaction to hands lifted in the air, people speaking in strange languages, the river of tears cried in joy. It was surreal. What got me to accept Jesus as my personal lord and savior that very day was the sermon itself. It turns out, Jesus is coming back, a fact I had never heard before that day. And when he came back, the shit was going to hit the fan. I thought I had years to make up for sinning on La-Z-boys, but suddenly my arrival in hell by other means was a certain reality; and according to the preacher, it was going to happen any day now. I was terrified. So up I went to that rock-star stage, fell to my knees and confessed myself a ten-year old sinner (which as you know was undeniably true).
And then my life split in two. I was a bible-carrying born againer of the newly-converted type during the day, but at night in my bedroom I would smoke my aunt's cigarettes, read Danielle Steele and torture myself endlessly about my weakness for the Devil's temptations. This sorry state of affairs would continue until I was 19, by which time I had read the bible eight times, accepted Jesus about fifty times (in case it didn't take the first 49), attended summer bible camp six times, was touched by the holy spirit and spoke in tongues (which I faked but could never tell anybody), learned the horrible truth that The Beatles were satanists and their records, when played backwards, spoke of sex with corpses. I became a Christian puppeteer, a Sunday school teacher, a leader of the youth group in my born-again community back home, a rabid pro-lifer, a hater of gays -- a young woman of great potential, in other words.
And while I did fall prey to all this nonsense, I can never regret my time as a born-againer. It gave me many gifts. I became a great reader and interpreter of texts, a self-policing teenager who never drank (the smoking was a different matter but I hid it well), a daughter who could be trusted by her father and a more caring individual. My father was right to have sent me and it had unforeseen benefits for him; I did all my chores without being asked, never lied, and except for my occassional attempts to convert his doomed soul, he must have been very happy he sent me.
I'll write more later on the horsey aspects of this summer. I received other great gifts from that as well, one of which was the certainty that I did not want to be a veterinarian.




Monday, January 5, 2009

Cookie Delivery



Bev has assured me it is okay to post this story from our neighborhood. I'm so paranoid, however, that I'm not even going to use the fake names I already created for my characters. I'm going to use the names of trees instead.

Okay, so Elm and Apple are a couple who live on my street. They are in their 50's, a little eccentric but very nice and always stop to talk or at least wave as you drive by. Every year until about four years ago or so, Apple would deliver Christmas cookies to all the people on the street on Christmas Eve afternoon. Her cookies and fudge were scrumptious. Five years ago, the following happened.

Enter Maple and Birch, a couple who lives very close to Apple and Elm. It was Christmas Eve afternoon and Birch was out grocery shopping for a party she and Maple were going to. Maple was taking a shower. When he got out of the shower (and vigorously toweled off his dripping wet rippling muscles and blond hair, which I'm sure every woman on the street has imagined at one time or another), he got dressed and went to the kitchen. There, on the counter, sat a plate of cellophaned Christmas cookies from Elm and Apple which had decidedly not been there when he entered the shower. While pondering this anomaly, Maple jumped when the phone rang right beside him. He didn't recognize the Vermont phone number on the caller ID but picked it up anyway. On the other end of the line was an enraged man: "Did you just call my house and hang up?" "No," replied Maple. "Well, I just redialed the last number that called my house and here I am talking to you." "Listen," said Maple, "I just got out of the shower. I don't know who you are or how you got this number, but I did NOT call your house." The man refused to believe Maple and accused him of having an affair with his wife. Maple hung up on the man, still scratching his head.

Although this mystery has never been solved, it seems pretty obvious that Elm made the cookie delivery to Maple and Birch, let himself in the house when nobody answered the door, and helped himself to a long-distance phone call when he heard the shower running.

That's just creepy.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Where I Live


I have decided it would be fun (and possibly ill-advised if not downright dangerous) to write every so often about my neighborhood. Like every neighborhood, here on (long and difficult to spell Native American name) Street, there are a wide variety of personalities and a good amount of lore and legend. It has certainly kept me entertained for the last nine years. Of course, I won't be mentioning names or addresses. And some of this must be reserved for Bev (she will know which ones belong to her).

First, character names and categories: #1: Crazies: Crazy Man at the End of the Street, Crazy Man with the Yard, Crazy Drunk Mother (that's NOT me), Crazy Retired Lady; #2: Meanies: Mean Old Lady with Nice Old Husband, Mean Old Man and His Mean Younger Sister and Their Mean Old Parents; #3 Eccentrics and Miscellany: No Visible Means of Support (I probably won't write about them for various reasons), the Realtor, Hot Tub Guy and His Dad, Hot Rod Guy; #4 Widows and Widowers: There are five that I can think of; I won't write about them either. #5 Coolies: the Gardener, the Landscape Architect, the Cute Young Couple With No Kids, the Horse Lady, the Funny Couple With Kids, the Gay Guys I, the Gay Guys II. There are many others who fit in no category.

Second, the setting: imagine a three-street microcosm of Peyton Place and you get the idea. Well, sort of. It's actually not that interesting but there are eerie similarities. Tree-lined streets, homes built in the 40's, 50's and 60's, mostly Capes. Lots of kids and dogs and cats and trees and birds and wild turkeys and squirrels and chipmunks. A little slice of heaven hiding an even tinier piece of hell (like the proverbial razor blade in the apple at Halloween).

My first story is actually about two kids who used to live in the neighborhood -- until they drowned in the river at the end of the street in the late 50's or early 60's. One was a little boy (whose exact age I have never been able to ascertain) who lived in my house. The other was a little girl who lived in the house across the street (now occupied by Funny Couple With Kids). There are older adults in this neighborhood who remember that day because either they or their children were invited out to play that day by the two children who drowned. Funny Couple with Kids were pregnant at the same time as me and that's when we found out about this story. We made a pact to teach our kids to swim at a very early age, although in this case it wouldn't have mattered. It seems they were playing on the ice and fell through. The current then dragged them under the ice and they couldn't find a way back up. I also found out about this after I had the following experience. I was sleeping and woke up, my heart pounding. I opened my eyes and saw nothing but the usual darkened room but the feeling was like having someone's face very close to my own, peering intently, but not angrily, into my eyes. It happened again about three years later. You all know I believe in ghosts but I've never felt this house was haunted (confirmed by the The Duchess, the traveling psychic of these parts). I've often thought of that little boy, but I think more about his parents, especially his mother. I guess they moved shortly after their son's death. And that's all I know.