Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Wow, I used to be a teacher.

I forget sometimes that I used to grind away the precious moments of my youth teaching unpleasant and oily teenagers about empires and countries that I'd only heard about in the funny pages of Ziggurats & Janissaries magazine. Just kidding! No such magazine exists. But ziggurats and janissaries surely do, and lucky for me I've forgotten almost everything I taught about those two weird ancient human phenomena.

And lucky for you that I am a chronic insomniac and my tossing and turning can only be alleviated by the best soporific ever: my old journals! In my trolling I found something from almost two years ago, when I started "co-teaching" at a shitty, shitty middle school in the Kingsbridge section of the Bronx. My God, was this place a school-shaped rat turd. The infrastructure sucked: we had two huge industrial fans that cooled the subtropic school to a barely tolerable, wilting 95 degrees but produced a baritone throb that drowned out all instruction. Most of the students were decent kids who had fucked up in school somehow. But man alive! My "co-teacher," a woman who proudly showed me pictures of her "shorty" 5'3" husband, with whom she had taken a two-week honeymoon the last October--yes, that meant that she had deliberately planned two weeks of vacation during the second month of the school year--and whose utter disinterest in teaching translated into her half-hearted attempts to read lesson plans aloud verbatim, including the parentheticals that only teachers are supposed to read, silently, like, "Solicit responses from students on the following question: 'What did Michael Jordan learn from playing basketball?'" This woman was so fucking lazy that she just sat in the back of the classroom and read children's books while the majority of the class lay their heads on their desks and panted from the heat. Wow.

Below is a "field observation" I wrote for one of my grad classes that summer. I've diplomatically changed the teacher's name, since she is now a high-ranking White House librarian. This is what I used to do:


My field observation #4 for Mercurio’s class:

This observation is not a direct response to a specific argument made in the Ryan book, but rather it is a series of related notes that respond in general to Ryan’s ninth unit, on inclusion.

Today was probably the worst day I experienced thus far in summer school. There were individual and classroom-level discipline problems, and I had to bear the brunt of it because my cooperating teacher left the room for ten minutes to sharpen pencils – an act which, by the way, I resented because it left not only an uncertified and therefore illegal teacher in the room, it also left someone in the room who could not command authority with the kids. I am seen in the classroom as something of a colorful appendage, an occasionally helpful voice but definitely a subaltern to the grand mistress, Mrs. Linda.

Specifically, my frustrations began when the two most troublesome kids in the classroom, Damien and Tyonna, sauntered in at roughly the same time, both about 90 minutes late. Damien has been in summer school three times – and this for a class that has met for four weeks already! That’s an attendance rate of 18%. Both Damien and Tyonna routinely brag about how they prefer to smoke marijuana before coming to class or miss class entirely. They are friends and scofflaws in arms. Because both have missed so many class days, they were not able to participate in the group exit project, which everyone else was working on. Thus, I was left with the onerous task of setting two notorious fools to work.

However, when I approached Damien, I realized that I was singularly without any means of motivating him. You’d think this wouldn’t be the case for a summer school, where the natural incentive is promotion. When I made this case to him – that he wouldn’t be going to high school unless he passed the class – he rebutted me by saying, “The Board of Ed told me that I don’t even need to be in summer school. I just need to pass the Regent’s exam.” I confirmed this with Mrs. Linda, and it’s true. He does not, in fact, need to be in school at all. I could not help but think, Why is he in school? On those rare occasions he does attend, he spends the class hours either 1) scowling menacingly and bullying the other kids in the class, who for the most part are decent workers willing to put in some effort or 2) hanging his body out the classroom door, setting a terrible example for the other students and inviting disorder or 3) wandering the hallways unchecked. Tyonna, his lackey, is in a similar situation (doesn’t need to be in summer school and so only causes trouble in class.)

I found it difficult to level with these two kids, not only for their insolence but also because I didn’t know how to impress upon them that summer school work was important, when in fact, it is not important at all. Mrs. Linda has given up on these children, and she does nothing to stop Damien from cruising the halls. (Not much can be done, anyway. Sometimes I really begrudge the legal injunction on touching children, because nothing short of a Silence of the Lambs-esque straitjacket will keep Damien from the hallways. I followed him out and asked him to speak to me, but he responded by walking away. I was left in the disgraceful position of either following and haranguing him and his deaf ears, or walking away without having asserted power. I chose something in between, and ended up only angry and unheard.) Mrs. Linda tells me she won’t try because they won’t try. She tells me that I can’t reach all of them.

While I’m frustrated with Mrs. Linda’s opinions, I’m also reaching my breaking point with these two students. Tyonna is less of an asshole, and, if sternly pressured, she will dolefully and insouciantly chicken scratch her barely literate and nearly incomprehensible answers on a worksheet. Damien, meanwhile, is impervious. He fancies himself a badass and thus answers to no one. But who could make him answer? Even the Board of Ed condones him. I can’t stand letting Damien bring the whole class down, which is effectively what he does. When he is in class, he disrupts and bullies, and the other students respond to him by disrupting and bullying each other. I can’t be his friend, and I can’t be his mother. What the hell do I do?

I thought this might fit into Ryan’s framework because Ryan exhorts us to include all students, especially those in need of extra assistance or special education. But what is there to do when the student is so stubbornly and violently resistant? I can’t stop the kids from walking out of the classroom. I stand in front of them, but the walk around. I turn my back, and another one slips out the door. I didn’t come here to literally be a gatekeeper. Sometimes I just want to smack the kids in the face; Damien worldview seems to include the belief that respect is only due to those who can physically dominate others, and sometimes I want to slap him in the face, rip out his eyes, spit down his throat, if only to humiliate him and get that one ounce of thug respect. I hate this attitude, and I hate what it makes me do. Today, as he walked away from me in the hall, I had the displeasure of shouting after him, “Well, Damien, you were just complaining that a teacher was yelling at you, and now that a teacher wants to talk to you, you walk away. That’s just the way it’s going to be for the rest of your life.” I wanted to lock him in prison, because that’s how I foresee his dismal, criminal, pathological future. I’m also tempted to tell him to go away and not come back, especially now with the revelation that summer school is utterly perfunctory. Why bother? Let him stay at home, smoke his brain away, and let the other students learn. Ryan’s platitudes are lovely in the book – love everybody, try to include everyone – but when it comes to the classroom, Damien’s presence is actively annihilating the learning potential of everyone else in the room. Let this one go, Society, this is a kid who will never amount to anything but a potential murderer, rapist, thief, petty criminal.

I hate this attitude, but days like this provoke this kind of reaction.

Marzipan Bra


The Harvard College Class of 2002/Palo Alto High School Class of 1998 is on a train to its “senior trip” destination: the River Why. It’s as if we are in India: there are thousands of us overloading a colonial-era British train with ten cars, each following the engine car in a seating hierarchy. Air-conditioned and windows closed is the first car; hot gusts of air off the plain flooding the caboose.

At the river, Laura and I venture off on our own. Most people sign up for expeditions, like river-rafting or inner-tubing. Some follow the river downstream. Laura and I go upstream. There are shallow puddles into which we dip our heads–my hair has grown long so I whip the water from it and suffer mild whiplash–and still deep pools into which we effortlessly dive and disappear, like shooting stars. We go upstream for half an hour, and there’s a natural land bridge damming up the river. Just beyond it the river turns into churning rapids flowing the wrong way. We hear the engine’s whistle and know it’s time to head back.

Everyone boards on the third or fourth cars and then squeezes and pushes to get back into their assigned cars. A stranger hands me a red tea kettle, filled to the brim with boiling water, and asks me to shepherd it to the last car in the train. I burn my hands against it and wrap it in a sweater to keep the heat away. I’m now in a wheelchair, so I put the kettle in my lap and push toward the exits.

I’ve accidentally gone the wrong way and ended up at the first car. It becomes immediately obvious that God is conducting the train and the first car is the first two books of the Bible. That is, the heavens and earth are in the first two rows, then Adam and Eve, then all the way to Moses and the desert at the rear of the car. I beat a hurried exit and rush toward the last car with the tea kettle.

The last car is a thirty by thirty foot banquet hall with food laid out near the exit. Ilana or Yuan-Ming, one of the two, or perhaps a blend of both, takes the tea kettle from me and whispers conspiratorially, “C’mere.” I follow. She says, “These pitchers, these glasses”–and points at the drinks table–“Would it be bad to take them?” I say, “Yes,” then hesitate, and say, “It would not be honorable.” Ilana/Yuan-Ming shows me a brittle newspaper clipping but I can’t make out the words. I see that its meaning is more metaphorical than literal anyway, so I say, “If you take the pitchers, one of two things will happen. Either you will feel bad about it, or it’ll be like this clipping. It will be brittle in a few days, and then everything will disintegrate. Polvo.” I mean this to suggest that all bad feelings fade in due time; instead I suggest mortality.

We alight in Central Park. Laura and I leave to walk the loop. It’s the park but it’s not, because there are 200-foot tall redwoods everywhere. One has fallen across a stand of a few more, and it’s balancing precariously. A boy jumps up and down on one end of it while his parents snap photos of him and the fallen tree creaks ominously. I say to Laura, “Book it! We don’t want to get crushed when this stupid ass kicks the tree loose.” We race up the hill and notice a beautiful bouquet. There are daisies with no petals, surrounded by baby’s breath. I say, “This is the most beautiful flower I have ever seen.” Laura pokes one of the flowers with a spatula and says, “This is made of baby corn.” She looks even closer and says, “It is made of marzipan shaped to resemble baby corn.” We wonder who has made this delightful scene, and notice that just beyond it is a farmers market. The first booth in the market bears a sign that says “Mrs. Peters’ Marzipan.”

Laura chitchats with Mrs. Peters while I ogle the verisimilitude of her marzipan concoctions. On her table, there is a basket filled with real green peppers and a handful of green marzipan that has not yet been shaped into green pepper form. I steal half a handful of green marzipan and half a handful of yellow and then drag Laura into a room in a nearby convention hall and sit her at the twin-sized bed that happens to be in it.

A small audience gathers as I sit her in front of me on the bed and take her shirt off. “I’m going to make you a marzipan green and yellow pepper bra,” I say. I spend a half hour diligently sculpting the marzipan into shape, using my thumbs to press out the bellows of the peppers. I make half a green pepper and half a yellow pepper and push them together into one, and then apply it somehow to Laura’s ribcage. She stands up after I take my hands away and shows off her new bra, to great applause from the scattered audience. It is a beautiful bra.

But a closer examination reveals that this bra has virtually no marzipan on it at all. I look at the clasp. “I spent half and hour and all I supplied was the clasp?” I ask. But even the clasp is plastic, not almond paste. I look into the folds of the bedsheets and realize that the marzipan has fallen off Laura’s chest and that Laura is modeling the bra she had been wearing all day.

I woke up to the high-pitched whine of a dog that needs to pee.

Friday, May 20, 2005

How metaphorical

BLOATED, to open the game, for 72 points.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Emor abbcelrS bginos!

That is, "More Scrabble bingos!"

A few nights ago: MILLIONS for 86 points with the triple word score.

How hot am I?

Some have complained that I only post MY top scores, and none of my opponents.

That is because my opponents are WEAK (10 points) compare to me. And because though my opponents have boards in front of them that spell REBUKES (for 92+ potential points), they are not adept enough to play them.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Garbage Tragedy

Last night: wrote a whole big fucking long blog about the bridge and tunnel bitches who flashed their perky tits on the dancefloor at Webster Hall's classy Thursday night act: Playgirl's GIRL'S NIGHT OUT celebration. Full of snark, wit, and shit, but then, with one mistaken keystroke, Blogger gobbled it up and I never saw it again.

So instead of trying to recapture all my witty titty ditties, I spent five hours transferring files from my old computer to my new computer.

(You'll never learn about how Laura and I ushered at the Astor Place Theater and saw Blue Man Group for free, where the only revelation of the night was that they throw shit at you. (Are they Gallagher ? I mean, what the fuck? It is "whimsical" and "well choreographed" and "subversive of audience/participant delimiters," and all that $69/seat neo-dada crap that it pretends it is, but really, they ought to advertise their greatest draw on their posters: you get to watch busloads of Ohio pre-teens get their plastic ponchos sprayed with gelatinous orange coagulations. I mean, gelatinous orange coagulations in addition to the gelatinous orange coagulations that already cover their pubescent pores. I went with Laura and we spent the first hour exchanging "Thank GOD we didn't pay for this shit" looks and the second hour sniffing around our seats, trying to find the source of the poop smell that emanated down our row.

You'll never learn how the Playgirl party, which I thought would be fag heaven, was actually an E. 11 th street extension of Bergen County, where the non-lesbian women call their friends "girlfriends" and drink green tea cocktails and wear varicose-vein-squeezingly-tight white jeans and hoop earrings and no bras and crepe-paper smocks, and the men are not homosexuals but merely poorly-rendered metrosexuals, all hair gel, ribbed t-shirts and pectoral muscles in various states of roid-deflation. Laura and I were like sensibly-shod Jacques Cousteaus descended upon the wonderful world of lampreys. The poor gay bartenders and their admirable sangfroid in the face of their own toplessness and tiplessness (cheap-ass Jersey girls, snapping up free drinks but not leaving a thing for the men who poured them); the free issues of Playgirl (FLACCID PENISES! HAIRLESS CROTCHES! I want my money back); the hurried rush to the exit (careful to make no eye contact); sandwiching Playgirl into the latest New Yorker so I could read it in shame on the train.

Next Thursday night: same party time, same party place, different party clothes. Going high femme, lipstick and wigs and all. Free entry and free drinks. Free anthropology. Anyone else who wants to join, write me.

You'll never learn about these things, no, because instead of re-writing my blogpost, what I did last night was far more shameful than a thousand Thursdays of Playgirl's GIRL'S NIGHT OUT. What I did was like getting caught by your dad, who is bringing you tangerines that he peeled himself, looking at straight porn on your computer when you are 22 years old and back in Palo Alto for winter break and he thinks you're working very hard on your senior thesis at Harvard University, a prestigious place where your prestigious thesis, about the cult of "objectivity" in news reporting, requires diligent late night effort, when actually all you are doing is examining the various positions of heterosexual coupling profiled on SEXXXYSLUTZ.org, and he drops off the tangerines and looks up and sees the screen and blurts out, "It's all sex!" and backs out the door in a hurry and you don't even turn your head to look at him because your face is the color of nasturtiums in bloom.

Oh, a digression. What I did last night was nearly so humiliatingly bad. I got suckered by myself into reading about myself. I'm an obsessive documenter (Duh! Welcome to my blog! Today I ingested 67.5 ounces of tap water and excreted 2.3 pounds of refuse, and then I thought manly thoughts of self-sacrifice at 2:43.32 p.m. before patting my dog's head 14 times with a gentle but firm counterstroke) and a complete narcissist (Duh! Here I am, here are my innards, this is my colonoscopy webcam, here is every pearl of wisdom that has issued forth from the divinity that masquerades as my lips). I started my first journal in 1986 and still have it somewhere. So I have kept everything I have written since I was in 8 th grade, all neatly tucked in to "My Documents" on my computer. This now-massive folder has undergone four computer changes seamlessly.

So last night, as I transferred files from one laptop ("Gluey") to the new laptop ("Jondalar"), I delved into a long-fallow file folder: "Old Emails." There were about two hundred files in this folder, all email transcripts from my fas.harvard.edu account, long dead. And what do I do? I click on the one that's bound to create the most heartache and scroll through all 200-some emails, 1998 to 2003, learning all about lovelorn lornlost lost lusting lackluster listing labyrinthine love from the perspective of someone who I haven't heard from in two years and who hasn't listened to me in three or four years. Crap. There was lots of cringing, some laughter, some heartthrobbing. Man, it was like a good movie. Man alive, whoo, oo.

Okay, I find now that I have nothing interesting to say about that at all, since I'm not willing to disclose the gory details of our protracted breakup or the motes of affection that made the hardest words seem tender, because I am a sentimental couche-tard. I am as gummy-eyed as a Precious Moments drawing; thinking of foie gras production makes me teary. I get all riled up thinking about lost things, just because they are lost. Taking out the garbage is an everyday tragedy because of that.

Not sure why I'm writing this now. There's my 1970 Pontiac Firebird. The car I always wanted and now I have it. I rule!

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Best word from last night

FECUNDITY, for so few points that I can't even bear to recall it.

I guess the fact that I'm lackadaisically posting about Scrabble gambits tells a lot about what I am (or am not) doing in my life.

April showers bring May doldrums: reading classic screenplays at work for fun, trying not to let cramps kill me, eating Chinese eggplant by the bucket, idling about. Also, lying: "Spiderman 2" doesn't count as a "classic screenplay." Ffffbbbt. Gaaaahhh

Sunday, May 08, 2005

A better bingo

Credit where credit is due. Al played the best two consecutive Scrabble plays to date:

1) FRUITION: a bingo for 66 points
2) QUARK: with a triple letter and double word score, 58 points.

I still won.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Best Scrabble word ever?


Alas, for only 33 points.

I guess using two blank tiles to make the word doesn't help.

It doesn't even come close to Laura's winner last year: REZONING.

Bingo with a triple letter score. 68 points.


Monday, May 02, 2005

The Case Against Marriage

A friend of mine recently got hitched, not for romantic love or money, but for friend love. What do I mean? She wanted her friend X to be in a place where he could be happy and financially secure. X had found such a place: America!

But there was a slight problem: X was not American. So my friend and X traveled back to X's country, got married, and moved back to America, where X could continue to pursue his American dream with his girlfriend (not my friend) without fear of deportation. There was no money, duress, or pressure involved; all my friend got out of this marriage was a few hundred international bureaucratic loopholes to navigate and a loud wedding in an EU country.

My friend and X will have to stay together for three years before X will be granted permanent residency. At that point, they are free to divorce. Before that point, the INS will badger my married friend and her legal husband to prove their love for one another. They'll have to show pictures of them recreating together--the longer ago the pictures were taken and the more affection their poses in the picture, the better. They'll have to submit to a series of humiliating questions about each other, designed to entrap them into betraying their ignorance about each other's habits (and therefore betraying, presumably, their immigration fraud). They may have to do obligatory "couple" things--living at the same address, opening accounts together, etc. All of these charades just to convince the INS that they are in a truly committed relationship to one another.

I'm thinking about this. At what point--short of my friend writing "I have married X solely for the purpose of giving him U.S. citizenship"--will the INS definitively say that an international marriage was immigration fraud? If my friend does not know which toothpaste brand her husband prefers, wouldn't an American wife of an American husband be excused for not knowing the same thing? If the INS found out that X was actually dating another woman, couldn't X point to the gazillions of American husbands who carry out extramarital affairs? If my friend had taken money for the marriage, can't my friend just say that plenty of husbands give their wives gifts? I'm not certain where the boundary falls between a marriage like my friend and X's and a "real marriage" like the kind that millions of stupid, incompetent, ugly, boorish, haggard, artificial, creepy American breeders have.

I mean, marriage is a juridical relationship, right? Married couples in which both spouses are American never have onus to prove their commitment to one another in the same way that married international couples have to prove. Would the INS declare an American marriage null and void if Dick and Jane couldn't produce pictures of themselves in front of Epcot Center smiling at a camera because they would rather stick golf tees into each other's philandering eyes than be forced to spend any time together? Or if Dick didn't live in the same state as Jane?

Of course not. So not only do we have a system of marriage that flat-out excludes people who love people of the same sex, but within this system there is a hierarchy of partnerships. Some partnerships can be purely juridical--the partnership of an American man and an American woman--with no romantic love whatsoever. Other partnerships, on the other hand--between an American and a non-American--must prove affection, commitment, feelgood, and lovingkindness.

I can understand if the government wants to prevent real marriage fraud, like the woman who married 27 non-Americans for money. But what's wrong with an unmarried American marrying one unmarried non-American, even if there is the exchange of cash? Can't you just call that a dowry? Isn't that what a diamond engagement ring is?

Somebody who wants to explain this two-tiered marriage system to me is welcome to do so.

Meanwhile, I think this just exposes marriage for the bullshit that it is. I'm thinking of starting a movement against civil marriage--no one should have it. Marriage, if the Christians are so concerned about preserving it, should be purely sectarian. The state should have no interest in regulating "romantic" relationships. In the place of civil marriage ought to be domestic partner registries for all people--het couples, queer couples, two elderly friends who live together to save on expenses, a widow and her best friend, three adult siblings living together and raising one of the sibling's children from a previous marriage--so that the government could give appropriate tax breaks and benefits to the real family units that constitute American society. This is the correct rejoinder to all the crows on the right who fear that gay marriage will lead to polyamory and incest: families are about mutual support and caregiving, not the romantic feelings of penises housed in vaginas. All families should be recognized--and yes, including those families that include more than two heads of household or siblings, as in the cases mentioned above--not just those that churches recognize.

(This from a woman who will be not-so-legally wed to her same-sex stick in three months. Don't get it wrong: it's not about the marriage. It's about the big ol' party that follows it.)