During the eighteen months or so that I worked on the Historic Ships in Baltimore, my favorite assignment was USS 423, the submarine Torsk. I do love the Constellation, but since my interest in military history is all 20th century stuff, Constellation is pretty much a giant piece of floating furniture.
I had the very good fortune to work with a man who'd been in submarine service and was obsessed with subs and their history. He was a very good resource for actual information (much of which the museum's management did not know) and interesting stories about submerged life.
My favorite little fact is that, at least on Tench-class submarines (of which Torsk is one), the sanitary tank can be blown or vented through the boat's horn. Let me make that blunt: you can clean the shit tanks by blowing their contents out of the horn. My esteemed colleague always followed this tidbit of information with the tagline "Now that's a shitty sound!"
In the past week I have discovered the latest teenage "thing." Remember how "hella" used to be the thing to say? At least, if you're either a teenager, really ghetto, or live surrounded by teenagers? (If you don't, it's a superlative. Pizza is hella good, that test is hella hard.)
"Hella" is verba non grata these days. Now it's "shitta." Which, I suppose, raises the concept a notch or two since "shit" is a naughtier word than "hell," but unfortunately it sounds even more idiotic--mostly because it sounds like you're saying "shitty." So, when discussing shoes (an eternal touchstone in the eye of the American teenager), one might compliment a friend by saying "He got shitta shoes." To the casual observer over seventeen, however, it sounds like the speaker is making a reference to either the cleanliness or the quality of the shoes in question. I wouldn't find it flattering if someone told me I had shitty shoes--I'd try to remember if I'd just walked across the median on Monument Avenue, which does tend to be a dogshit minefield.
I predict that the next logical development will be "fucka" except that's already in use. Still it will need to happen, so the linguistics of the Clearasil set are apt to become very interesting in the next year or two.
As the school year kicks off, I find myself in the same boat with every other teacher in the nation. This, sadly, is not a big Cunarder or a Compagnie-Generale-Transatlantique liner. It is a boat filled with rocks to sleep upon, gigantic waves trying constantly to founder it, and nothing resembling edible food.
You see, no matter how carefully you may have planned during the summer, your plans won't happen. Your administration will decide that you should teach something else instead. The city or county or whatever system under which you are in thrall will employ some drastic new "technique" that you must obey, never mind that its software doesn't actually work. You are going to spend the first month in a weird limbo where everything almost makes sense, but doesn't quite.
In other words, you can throw your normal life out the window. (Two codicils: a)don't actually throw your life out the window--think of the indignity when THAT hits the Times-Dispatch. b)One thing that doesn't change is happy hour. If it weren't for the Charles Village Pub and Joe's Inn, I'd have been at the bottom of the James years ago.)
There is never enough time in this first few weeks to approach normal food for yourself. Sure, you can eat at restaurants (you're probably already there for happy hour), but that gets rather expensive. You have probably stocked up on real food, but then, you will do as I did last week: look at all of the real food in the fridge, waiting to be turned into something wonderful, and then say "oh, screw it" and eat a bowl of Cheeri-Os.
Thus, I offer this analysis of some basic "convenience" "foods." Why the quotes? In the grand scheme of things, they're rarely too convenient, and even more rarely are they food.
a)Hot dogs. I love hot dogs. Always have, always will--they're tasty and even if you nuke them, they make you think of baseball games and county fairs. They're also nature's perfect food. Why? Because there isn't a damn thing in them that's natural, so you're saving the environment.
b)Box O' Mac-n-Cheese. Here's where I question the "convenience" part. You know, it's not too damn hard to make actual macaroni and cheese. You boil the macaroni, add grated cheese and butter and some milk. If you want to get crazy maybe you make a white sauce and then blend the cheese in. Get crazier, you then add some chopped onions, some bread crumbs, bake the whole mess. Still, it ends up taking maybe fifteen minutes. But no, you want it easy, so you get the box kind. You still have to boil the freakin' macaroni and then you add the powdered cheese stuff which, I have come to realize, is salt that has been dyed orange. The whole process still takes nearly ten minutes. Damn, dude. Just do the real thing. (Oh, yeah--but the Box O' Crap costs 33c.)
c)Prepared sandwiches from the grocery store/S'leven. These are invariably as dry as Cleopatra's coochie and probably have less flavor. The cheapo mayonnaise they include, if they do, doesn't help because it's not Duke's but always Bob's Tas-T Mayo or something. Also they put lettuce on them. Lettuce does not do well when it's been wrapped up on a sandwich for several hours; it's like a slice of pool-table felting.
d)Hot pockets. These things are just vile. Worse, they are incapable of being nuked evenly, so you will always have one bite that's volcanically hot followed by one that breaks your teeth because it's still frozen.
e)Lunchables. Wow, I remember when my Mom was feeling really lazy and gave me bologna and cheese slices and crackers for lunch! Wow, Mom could be EVEN LAZIER now because the Kraft people or whoever have done the same damn thing, except that it's all encased in plastic and costs ten times as much. Seriously, y'all. Bologna, cheese and crackers. It is not difficult to accomplish this on your own.
f)Spaghetti-Os. What, even, IS this shit? the tomato sauce may involve a little bit of ketchup somewhere, but as far as I can tell it's just red sugar slime. Take out the O's, which are the consistency of recently-deceased mealworms, and you pretty much have cherry Jello that hasn't set up right.
g)School lunch. NOPE. Nope, nope, nope. Did that way too often as a teenager, not doing it again. I can perfectly well hold out for the free munchies during happy hour.
Thank you for tuning into this week's edition of Cranky Teacher Follies.
Stupidification, you say? It's a perfectly cromulent word.
I especially chose a word that doesn't actually exist because that's precisely what is going on in the world of education. It's been going on in some fashion for years but it's hitting a crisis level.
When teaching stopped being a profession of those who loved a given subject matter and became the province of people with degrees in "education," the book was closed forever on actual instruction. Everything became a "best practices" exercise. I am specifically reminded of a spelling "program" that was foisted upon me as a fourth grader. There were eighteen levels of expertise and because I am one of those freaks of nature who can spell easily, I passed every last one. I was the only kid in the class who could and the poor teacher--who had doubtlessly grown up in cute little Baltimore County Maryland and went to Baltimore's cute little teacher's college on cute little York Road and now taught at a cute little Baltimore County elementary school--had no bloody idea what to do, because she'd been indoctrinated in the wonders of The System. Throwing up her hands in frustration--literally, I watched it--she went to the principal who gave her a spelling book from the 50s to use with me. It was just as ludicrously easy as the System that had been developed by a Team Of Experts, but I'm sure the principal then thought of herself as a Problem Solver. The sort of frightening aspect was that they were both actually angry at me because I fried the system.
Although I have great students this year, I really don't get to actually teach them very much. I need to use so many various aspects of "technology" that I have no time to cover actual material. These are every bit as foolish as the spelling program, but they're all electronic.
Let me point out that my county does not actually have a curriculum. It has a "framework." This supposedly gives the teacher considerable freedom; you can pick your own works of literature, for instance--but very little guidance. The framework says "We expect you to teach this concept. Now go find something to teach it with." If you ask what works of literature should be used, the usual response is "Oh, there's all KINDS of stuff online!!!" (I'm hoping that you can picture the perky face of the person saying that.)
Here's a breakdown of all the things I'm expected to use on a daily basis. I have eighty minute long classes, so you do the math and figure out how much time is left for actual instruction.
--Attendance must be taken online. The same program ostensibly functions as a gradebook but doesn't seem to work very well, yet.
--Each student is issued a chromebook. The county mandates that students participate in twenty minutes of "SSR" daily. (This stands for Self-Selected Reading. Acronyms apparently embiggen us all.) They are held accountable through a live Google form. Google docs are the darling of the county.
--County-wide use of vocabulary.com is mandated. I'm being tracked to make sure I'm using it.
--There's a different application that helps students with writing. It actually isn't a bad thing, but once again, I'm being tracked to make sure it's being used.
--One class is an entirely scripted reading program. I pretty much just press "play" a lot.
--Yet another beast called "Edmodo" is supposed to function like an academic version of Facebook. It's about as user-friendly as a demonically-possessed chainsaw but I'm supposed to post all of my assignments on it.
--I'm supposed to be using a system called Edmentum that provides tutorial lessons and assessments. Some of its information seems to be pretty good, but I'm not entirely sure because I only get to see a dummy version of it--so I don't actually know what it's telling my kids. I helped one student with an assignment on this thing and the test answers were wildly incorrect.
Years ago I worked in an office at Johns Hopkins. My boss was a woman who thought of herself as being very tech-savvy (and grotesquely enough actually used the word "savvy") Unfortunately her actual knowledge base had pretty much stopped with ENIAC so what she usually accomplished was the creation of a complete mess. The concept of shared drives was completely foreign to her but she loved the idea of them. She ended up sending files all over the university because she just couldn't get how it worked.
Education has disintegrated to a similar point. Everyone at higher levels is in love with the idea of technology but they don't really understand how it works, or in many cases, that it doesn't. We are, in effect, trying to use a Pianola to replay .mpg files. Technology can be a wonderful tool, but simply throwing it at teachers and students for the sake of being able to say it's being used is rapidly destroying our children.
creature. You don't want him back. You didn't want a dog.
You said that a dog would just stink up the apartment. You don't
love him and you don't want him. You just want to take him because I
“Be that as it
may, I'm going to take him. Don't make me take steps.”
“Take steps. You
She hadn't even
turned around. She stood, still looking out of the window, while she
told me that she expected me to give up my dog. Like she might have
expected me to give up my alarm clock, or my orange juice pitcher.
Another accessory. I'd managed to close my jaw, but now I stood
working it, not able to find anything to say. I looked around. At
her desk. The chairs that were just upholstered enough that you
wouldn't mind sitting in them, but that wouldn't allow anyone to be
comfortable. And she still wouldn't turn around to look me in the
“If you've left
the key, you can go. I think we're through, here.”
I was looking at
the award, or whatever it is, from the bar association that sat on
her desk. It was one of those lead-crystal diamond-shaped things
that seem to be on everyone's desk, these days.
Carolyn. You're through here.”
I picked up the
lead-crystal diamond and, with her award for legal brilliance, caved
her skull in. I don't know if she saw it coming, but I hope she did.
She didn't scream or protest or threaten a suit. She did have a
surprised look on her somewhat-damaged face, surprised that I'd had
the audacity to kill her. There was a gout of blood and she fell
forward, almost noiselessly, slumped against the window. From the
size of the bloody dent in her mean-spirited head, there was no
chance she'd survived. A smear of blood,where she'd slid down, was
already drying on the glass, thanks to the efficient air vents
I ran out of the
office and there was the elevator waiting for me, and then there was
the earthquake, and there I sat almost an hour later, waiting for
them to come and get me. And then for them to really get me.
voice on the other end of the intercom came back a couple of times to
check on me. I was still fine, I reassured the voice. And I was,
more or less. I had to pee and I had just murdered my
recently-turned-ex girlfriend, but I was fine. Just when the
emergency light was starting to grow dimmer, the voice came back. It
seemed that the building's systems were safe enough to run and the
power would be coming back on. Thank God for that,
I thought. This whole mess was bad enough without having to sit in
the dark. The lights flickered back to life and—damnit--so did
the piped music. Outside, I heard voices and a variety of noises
that sounded, I suppose, like rescue workers doing their job. The
elevator moved downward a little bit, probably only about fifteen
feet, and the doors cranked jerkily open.
was a group of people outside the elevator doors, waiting for me—some
maintenance types, fire and rescue workers, and three Richmond city
cops. I was trying to decide what I should say. By this time,
somebody had to have found Carolyn. My guilt was obvious. But the
cops said nothing. Once I was out of the elevator, they lost
interest and walked away. I overheard one of them saying “OK, that
guy's out. I think we've still got a couple of people trapped
upstairs, let's get this rolling.” An EMT walked up to me and told
me where to go so they could check me out for any injuries. I
reassured him that I was fine, just fine. He looked a little
skeptical, so I told him that a staple had poked me in the ass on the
elevator floor, but really I hadn't been hurt. He told me that I'd
have to sign a waiver, though, in case anything seemed wrong later,
that I'd refused emergency care, and waved me toward the front desk,
which seemed to be their command center.
The woman handling
the paperwork was still wearing her gear and was clearly exhausted.
I told her that I was fine but that I was supposed to file a waiver.
She gave me a couple of triplicate forms. I asked her how bad it was
outside. She told me that it looked worse than it was.
“It's damn lucky
this happened on Saturday, or it would be hell out there. Every
window in this building blew out.” I looked outside and, indeed,
the lobby windows had shattered. There were a couple of ambulances
on the street.
“A lot of
thank the Lord. One poor guy down Main street, he got hit by a big
chunk of marble that fell off the Mutual Building. And oh dear sweet
Jesus, the marquee on the Empire Theatre collapsed and crushed a
bunch of poor souls just waiting for the bus. Lots of people hurt by
flying glass but nothing too serious. One in this building though.
There was a woman who must have been looking out of a window when it
hit, she was way upstairs. When the windows blew out, she fell. She
must have been pretty far up, because...well, there's not much left.
Poor thing...bless her heart.”
who knew who it was, did not bless her heart at all. I finished
filling out the waiver and walked out onto 10th
street. I had to get home and take Rusty for a walk.
been in the elevator for, maybe, half an hour when the intercom
crackled on. It made a little popping noise and reminded me of the
walkie-talkie set I'd had when I was a kid. It always made this
little pop and then crackled, and after that you could hear the other
person's voice. Then you pushed a button, and you could talk, but
couldn't hear the other person until you were done. I wondered if I
was supposed to push the button again. Just to be sure, I did, and
said “Hello?” I felt a little dumb for saying “hello,” but
then if there was any particular etiquette for being trapped in an
elevator, I didn't know about it. A voice came on. “Sir? This is
building security. Are you in one of the elevators?” No,
you dumbass, I thought, I'm
in the Twinkie aisle at the Winn-Dixie.
“Yes, it's stuck.” “Which elevator are you in?” “Umm...the
one that's stuck?” And I'd thought saying “hello” sounded
dumb. “Sir, if you look above the indicator lights above the door,
you'll see the number of the elevator.” “Umm...it's B-4.”
“How many people are there with you?” “It's just me. What's
going on? Did we have an earthquake?” “Yes, Sir. There's been
some major damage to the building, but you should be safe where you
are. Do you have any injuries?” I thought about telling him that
I'd been poked in the ass by a staple but figured that humor wasn't
really a wise option now. “No.” “Well, um, if you're not
injured, Sir, I hate to say this but you aren't the first priority
right this minute. They'll be getting to you soon. Hold tight.”
Why was this guy telling me to hold tight? I was pretty definitely
not going anywhere.
was an earthquake. I could hear sirens, quite a lot of them,
muffled by the walls around the elevator. As if I didn't have enough
on my mind, I started worrying about what was going on outside. What
did the guy mean by “major damage?” I wondered if there were a
lot of people hurt. If my apartment house was even still standing.
If my dog was allright. Hell, this was Rusty's fault anyway. Dude,
don't blame the dog! I told
myself. It's not like he told her to pull this stunt.
only reason I'd been in the damned building in the first place was to
give Carolyn my key to our apartment. Her apartment. Since she'd
made me move out a week ago, her
apartment. She'd given me an ultimatum the Friday before: move out
or I'll throw your stuff on the street. I spent a couple of nights
with a buddy. It didn't take long to find a new place. While she
was at work I went back over to the old apartment, got my clothes and
some books and Rusty, and left. I wanted to trash some of her stuff,
but that time at least, good sense won out. Carolyn was a lawyer. A
fairly powerful lawyer. And a vindictive person. It wouldn't take
more than one broken lamp for her to file suit. I don't know squat
about law, but I knew Carolyn well enough to know that if I so much
as left the toilet unflushed, she'd come after me.
Carolyn about two years earlier. We had mutual friends who'd just
gotten engaged—I was one of his friends, she was supposed to be one
of her bridesmaids, and they were having an engagement party. As it
turned out, she wasn't one of the bridesmaids because she had some
kind of fight with the bride-to-be a week before the wedding, and
refused to participate in it. Which made things plenty awkward when
the wedding rolled around, and I had to go because I was one of his
friends, especially because Carolyn tried to talk me out of going.
I pointed out that I couldn't very well not go, and she said that I
owed it to her, since they had been rude to her. I mentioned that he
hadn't been rude, and that it wasn't really his problem, only her
friend's problem (“Former
friend,” she said). That got me two days of silent treatment.
we dated for a few months and then moved in together. Other than the
spat over the wedding that she wasn't in, things went pretty well.
She didn't really like my friends that much, because she hated the
bar we all hung out in--”it's just like a cave in there. A dirty
cave.” – but that wasn't a deal-breaker. She was fine with
letting me go hang out there without her, and that gave her time to
hang out with her
friends. We spent most nights at home anyway. No complaints about
sex; everything was fine there.
we'd lived together about a year, she started pressuring me to get a
new job. She'd drop some not-very-subtle hints about some of her
friends' jobs, that they had openings. “Entry level, of course, but
it's a good start.” Then, she started on me about my degree. How
it was going to waste, and surely I wanted to do something besides
work in a bar. I reminded her that I was working on my writing, and
so my degree wasn't going to waste, but I needed to work in a bar to
pay the bills. “That's just it,” she said, “that's the only
way you're paying bills. When was the last time you had anything
published? Oh, that's right—never.”
I couldn't really argue with her, because it was true. Still, it
stung. I wanted to write. I held out hope that maybe, just maybe,
I'd get something published and I wouldn't have to work in a bar
forever. But Carolyn kept pushing.
It turned out,
after a month or so of this, that a couple of her clients who had met
me at one of the firm's parties saw me at work. And that's what set
her off. It's true that the bar where I work isn't one of the most
stylish places in town. Well, to be honest, it's a dirty old place
just off Broad that caters to ancient war vets and tired salesmen and
broke grad students, but I don't think that was the problem. The
problem was that it “got back to her” that they'd seen me at work
and recognized me as her boyfriend. And it Didn't Look Good for
someone in Her Position to have a boyfriend who worked as a bartender
She kept on
needling me throughout the rest of that spring and summer until
finally, in August, she showed up at the bar right before my shift
ended. She was still wearing her gray flannel suit and black pumps
from the office. Some of my regulars had dubbed her “Miss
Corporate Look 2011.” I came down to the end of the bar, where she
sat looking like she didn't want to touch anything. I was about to
mix her usual when she gave me the infamous line, “We have to
I pretty much knew
what was coming, so I told the other bartender I was going to clock
out a couple of minutes early, and sat down with her. I'd always
wondered what she must be like in a courtroom, and now I knew. She
didn't give me a chance to say much of anything. It didn't sound
like a rehearsed speech, but she made all of her points quickly and
nastily. For a year now, she said, she'd been trying to get me to
realize my potential. And I'd done nothing. It was bad enough that
I'd given up on myself, she said, but she could see that I also
didn't care enough about her to change. She had a career to think
about. If she wanted to get anywhere, it just wasn't going to work
out to be hitched up with a bar bouncer. She couldn't exactly show
up at meet-and-greets with some dolt who may or may not have a black
eye from a bar fight. And, people in her firm thought she was just
using me for my dick. She realized now, she said, that she pretty
much had been doing just that, but that if she were going to buy a
piece of dick, she needed somebody who wouldn't be an embarrassment.
And that since I wasn't going to make any changes, she was. I'd
better be out of the apartment tomorrow.
After that little
deposition, I had no interest in changing her mind, or in ever seeing
her again. Afterwards I guess I could have told her that she didn't
need to treat me like a rentboy, that my education was just as good
as hers, that creativity is just as good as power-brokering, but I'd
gone from complacency to not giving a shit in about three minutes,
so I told her I'd stay elsewhere that night and get my stuff while
she was at work on Monday. I did. Luckily one of my buds knew
someone who had just moved to Roanoke and needed someone to sublet
his place. It's not a great apartment, but it's reasonably clean and
things can suck worse than living on Sheppard street.
Friday night, the
phone rang at the bar. I had the bad luck to answer it. It was
Carolyn, who, without bothering to say “hello,” told me that I
still had the key to the apartment, and to bring it to the office the
next day. I told her I could bring it by that night, but she said
that she didn't want me at the apartment, that she'd be in the office
never been in her office. There hadn't ever been any need for me to
go there; even when things were going well with us, I knew that she
was too busy to have visitors at work. I knew that it was on the
floor of the Jefferson Building, but that was about it. When I got
there, the firm's suite seemed empty. I called out for her. “Back
office was not big, but it did have a window looking over 10th
street, and you could see the river. It dawned on me that she really
must have been moving up in the firm, while she was giving me hell
about my non-career. It was furnished in a style that matched the
Corporate Look clothes she wore for work—gray upholstery, gray
carpeting, a big mahogany desk, chrome lamps. All very sleek, and
all of the inviting nature of a hornet's nest. She stood looking out
of the window. “You can leave the key on the desk. And I'll be
over later this afternoon to get Rusty.”
My jaw may have
actually dropped. “Get Rusty? He's my dog!”
“And I paid for
his adoption fees and his shots. Because you couldn't afford it.
He's mine and I want him back.”