Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Next Week on This Screen! -- sequels and sadness

I hate sequels.  They have the feeling of a serial that didn't know when to quit.

I think a problem inherent in the sequel as a literary form is that, all too often, it seems to be an afterthought, and I have the distinct feeling that the last two I've read are exactly that.

The concept of the sequel is not to be confused with the extremely popular--and extremely profitable--"trilogy" genre, which seems to have taken over the world of young adult literature in recent years.  Those things aren't really sequels--the authors know well in advance that they have a longer story to tell, but divide it into partres tres for the easier digestion of their younger readers.  I suspect too that having a story in three parts is in no small part a marketing angle as well; you get to sell three books instead of one longer one, and you also get to make three different movies out of them.

The sequel was always a bad idea with movies--other than maybe, and I stress maybe, Star Wars--has there ever been a sequel (much less a continuing saga) that was worth a damn? It's not a new development; the earliest one I can remember is "Son of the Sheik," a 1926 follow up to the smash hit "The Sheik."  Valentino looked pretty great in all that fake Arabian stuff, but the original wasn't that great and the sequel was abysmal (though the presence of Vilma Banky sure helped).

I've harbored this opinion for years and so I don't know why I had to pick up the sequels to The Shining and The Talisman this year.  Really I do know why; when I'm not wearing my official English Teacher Hat (which actually takes the form of a tweed jacket with elbow patches) I love reading horror stories.  I particularly loved The Talisman when first I read it thirty some years ago.  I had already developed a fascination with the idea of alternate worlds or alternate realities, and Talisman is a definitive in the genre.  Besides its protagonist was more or less my age, so his journey through worlds really hit home.

Black House, its recently published sequel, could only disappoint.  Except that it really didn't, or it wouldn't have as a stand-alone novel.  I so badly wanted a couple of evenings' escape to the fascinating world of the first novel  that, when the sequel promptly didn't really have much to do with it, it was primed for failure in my eyes.  The young protagonist of the first book is all grown up now; what was once an otherworldly quest has pretty much turned into a detective novel, albeit a really long one that involves some supernatural crap thrown in.  Oh, it works, and it's a pretty good read--but just as Taco Bell is delicious as long as you don't try to think of it as being Mexican food, Black House is a great novel as long as you don't try to think of it as the continuation of The Talisman.

What does a ghetto classroom sound like?

This, pretty much. 

If you ever end up teaching a, let's just say disadvantaged, population, be prepared for the fact that these kids (who claim they can't afford pens and paper) will ALWAYS, and I mean every damn period of every damn day, have a plastic bag (usually from Aldi) full of sodas and small bags of Cheetos (TM) or corn chips.  It takes about twenty minutes to consume one of the snack bags because the chips are eaten very daintily, one at a time.  So there's the constant rustle, because twenty different people start eating at different times.

Just don't allow food in the classroom, you say?  You've never heard these kids whine.  It's like asking them to gouge their mothers' eyes out.  I'd spend more time telling them to put the fucking chips away than I'd ever spend teaching, sort of like the cell phone thing.  So I just put up with it.

Sadly, the chips are an example of two things.  First, as what's obviously a primary food source, they explain why these kids are invariably overweight and in poor health.  Second, they explain why the kids are stuck in an economic rut. Snack food is more expensive than real food.  Buying six small bags is more expensive than buying one big one.  Since they obviously had to go to a store in the first place, they could have gotten a pre-made sandwich for less money, which would be healthier.

Also it wouldn't make that infernal rustling. 

What to do when your internet doesn't work...or justification for Luddism.

I have to admit that I actually really love technology.  Never mind that I barely believe in science. (Oh, don’t get all weird on me; it’s not like I’m one of those people who believes the earth was literally created in seven days and is only 48 years old or something.  I just don’t really understand most science so I don’t pay much attention to it.)  I mean, I’m pretty antediluvian in my application of technology.  People who are up to date, as a rule, at least have an electric record player.  (I exaggerate—I do have one but I’m not terribly good at operating it.)

If it weren’t for technology I wouldn’t even have my trusty Grafonola, because while significantly out of date it does represent a technological advance.  Ditto electricity, which I mistrust but of which I am quite fond.  Candles are great at dinner parties but otherwise are kind of a pain in the ass (see post—“I live with retarded cats”)especially when Wally manages to catch his tail on fire. And indoor plumbing? Thanks, but I’m not about to give that up.  The past loses its romance in great part when you consider Elizabethan London, where the contents of chamber pots were usually tossed out the window and into the street.

The major downside to technology is that we are utterly lost without it.  The school lost its internet connection this morning (I’m typing this up in Word, intending to post it later).  This completely poleaxes my lesson for the day.  Fortunately my kids are perfectly happy to just sit here and read, because there’s nothing else to do.  See, we are the pilot program for school-issued Chromebooks ™ in Chesterfield.  Therefore, most kids don’t have paper, because they don’t usually need it.  I can’t see my lesson plans because they’re all online. I would resort to older, still-functioning technology and pop a movie on, but…I don’t have any DVDs or even VHS tapes in the classroom because since the ‘net is the savior of the world I usually just show stuff that’s online, when I need to use a movie.      
Most of my kids can’t really remember the Y2K panic, but I do, and I found it hilarious at the time.  People really expected airplanes to drop out of the sky. I’m sure that even hypermodern airliners have manual overrides.  I even heard someone claim that elevators would stop working and people would be trapped in office buildings all over the world.  (To be fair I suppose that would be a result of power outages, but the person seemed particularly concerned about elevators, as if the elevators themselves would be distracted by the event.)  What I never did figure out was why it was such a big deal if all the computers thought it was 1900.  I could see that it might be problematic for record keeping, but why would it make computers just up and die?  Would the computers possibly realize that if it was indeed 1900 they wouldn’t have been invented yet, and shut down in order to preserve the time-space continuum?  It didn’t happen anyway so speculation in hindsight is a little pointless. 

On the other hand I am sitting here with a bunch of kids who have effectively forgotten how to complete assignments on paper (we did discover some paper).  Also: none of them know how to write in cursive.  It’s “old fashioned” so schools don’t teach it anymore.  And a bonus for today, mesdames and messieurs—today’s Thing My Students Don’t Know: “What’s a boxcar?”

Thursday, May 15, 2014


If you could merge a print of "The Scream" with a still of the Death Star exploding, that's pretty much what I probably looked like at about 7:30 this morning.  Everyone has "one of those days" occasionally but the Universe must have been saving up in its stock of "pissy, annoying little things" for a few weeks just to dump them today.  Here's a chronological review of the day, and keep in mind that it's only now 9:03.

  • Hit snooze alarm once too many times.  Proceed to wake up at 6:10 instead of 5:45, therefore lose much-needed breakfast/coffee time.
  • Drop bar of soap on foot in shower. Ow.
  • Slosh cats' drinking water on floor. Spill some into cat food dish. [Proves to actually be good thing as cats are inexplicably excited about this.  Mental note: still does not merit buying wet food which stinks.]
  • Get halfway down stairs; realize classroom key is still in apartment. 
  • Start car; cannot find lighter.
  • Stop on Meadow street for gas/coffee. Pull up at the one gas pump that is out of order.
  • Move to functioning gas pump.  Go inside to obtain coffee.
  • Realize at this point that do not have change for Downtown Expressway.  Figure this is OK and will get cash back from coffee purchase.
  • This gas station does not have a cash-back option when paying with debit.
  • Need to use gas station ATM which rapes you for two bucks because do not have time to go to real ATM.
  • Get on downtown expressway.  Somehow the $20 bill has escaped into thin air.  Have to get IOU from very pleasant toll booth attendant.
  • Still can't find goddamn lighter. 
  • Lighter is in crotch.  Discover this when shifting around and lighter pokes sensitive dude-parts.
  • Make it to school just in time for first bell.
  • Receive email from colleague saying there's a $20 bill next to my car. 
  • Have complete meltdown. Implode. Compose blog entry from a different dimension.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Welcome to my world.

Mini-post because once again the marking period is over and grades are due and mine are totally not ready and therefore I am losing my  mind BUT because I love my tiny little reader base very much, I thought I'd let you have a little glimpse through a porthole into my world.

People who don't work in education, or teach in schools that serve a more well-to-do population, really don't understand how completely out of touch our kids are.  Actually, I'm willing to bet that even kids at well-heeled suburban schools are pretty out of it, reality-wise.

When I say that my kids don't know shit from shinola, I'm not referring to their academic knowledge.  My students in Baltimore really, really didn't know anything about the world outside their dismal little four-block radius in West Baltimore.  My kids here never actually go into Richmond because they're either afraid of it or it just plain doesn't compute.  They think dinner at Ruby Tuesday's is super high class and Olive Garden is beyond the pale.

But here's a little tidbit from my 9th graders that will help you understand just how disconnected they are:

J: "I hate the First Lady."  [apparently because of her healthy-eating campaign]
T: "Who the fuck is that?"
J: "You know, the White House wife."


Thursday, May 1, 2014

Hooray, hooray, the first of May...

...outdoor fucking begins today!

Come on now. How could I not acknowledge my favorite dirty little line?  It's an old English thing too so it's allright.  A very pleasant aspect of teaching and studying the English language is that, until the famously prudish Victoria ascended, it was a very bawdy language and culture.  I love teaching Shakespeare because it allows me to be fairly dirty in class.  Real English literature isn't happy without the occasional reference to pissing or farting.

On that note, does anyone have good dirty limericks? I'm quite partial to them, so here are a couple of mine:

There once was a fellow named Sweeney
Who spilled some gin on his weenie
Without lacking couth
He added vermouth
And slipped his girl a martini.

There once was a plumber named Lee
Who was plumbing his girl next the sea
She said, "Stop your plumbing!
I hear someone coming!"
Said Lee, "No one's coming but me!"

And some notes from the trenches...

While Mencken said one could never go broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public, he clearly never taught in high school.  It was probably bad enough in his day, but WOW modern kids really don't know their asses from page eight.  One of today's hypothetical questions was "Why are manhole covers round?"  Not a single HIGH SCHOOL SENIOR knew what a manhole was.  Naturally they all think they know everything about sex so they thought the question referred to mens' assholes.  When, in fact, manholes are, you know, those things in streets.  I realize that this is Chesterfield County and there isn't a whole lot of pavement, but..really?  And there was a kid yesterday who didn't know what a chimney is. I mean, come on--these are not exactly esoterica.

I really need to start using the word "esoterica" in class more often, because kids will think I'm saying "erotica" and get all excited about English class.