Monday, December 31, 2012


Another year over...

Here's what I liked about 2012. (Here's what I didn't like about 2012.):
* Meeting Penny. (People have the wrong idea about pit bulls.)
* Bailey's graduation. (I miss Bailey.)
* M's career excellence and accomplishments. (My temporary career setbacks.)
* My relationship with my parents. (My relationship with C and J.)
* Moving to New England. (The actual move was scary and hard.)
* The election. (The leadup to the election.)
* The SCOTUS decision on ACA -- thanks Justice Roberts. (Scalia and Thomas.)
* Parting with some Internet "friends." (Parting with some Internet "friends.")
* Seeing Radiohead and My Morning Jacket perform. (Only seeing them once.)
* Yale at Harvard. (Bobby Petrino and aftermath.)
* My first time to substitute teach. (Newtown happening the same week.)
* Optimism about career prospects here. (Pessimism about career prospects there.)
* Paying down debt, being smarter with money. (Accruing debt in the move.)
* Anne Shelley. (Not enough people are like her.)
* Wayne Ryder. (Not enough bosses are like him.)
* Johnny Football. (Josh Hamilton. Tony Romo. Lamar Odom.)
* Liz Warren and Tammy Duckworth. (Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock.)
* The "47 percent." (That other 47 percent.)
* Togetherness. (Divisiveness.)
* Writing more often. (Not feeling always good at it.)
* Snow! (Shoveling snow.)
* Losing some weight. (Needing to lose some weight.)

Here's what I hated about 2012:
* Aurora. The Sikh Temple. Newtown
* The NRA and other gun nuts' response to Aurora. The Sikh Temple. Newtown.
* Sandy and Sandy Hook. Bad year for Sandys.

I have great hope for 2013. It's been said that no matter your circumstances, you can always choose to have a positive attitude. Sometimes I have a very negative attitude, but I feel that the coming year will be a great one. That isn't to say that I personally, or us as a nation, or as citizens of this planet, won't have difficult days and challenges ahead. We surely will.

But each difficulty provides a chance to weigh everything we've experienced and learned up to this point and choose solutions. Usually, there will be many paths you can take. And you may not take the best one. I hope you do. Regardless, you've got to keep pushing.

The slate is clean. What will you make of it?

Saturday, December 29, 2012


About 14 or 15 months ago, I started writing something that would try and describe all the emotions and feelings that I have for my daughter, who was about to turn 18.

The concept of "writer's block" is real, but that's never stopped me. I figure you can always power through somehow.

But it didn't work in that case. It's not that I couldn't have polished off something and posted it, but it wouldn't be adequate.

I have that problem still today, when Bailey enters her final teenage year.

Children change your view about the entire world. In a way, even if you aren't with them, they are always with you. Every experience, every event is filtered through a prism of considering how it effects them.

I guess my daughter is one of the children of 9/11. For her and millions her age, that horrible day is one of their first big memories. And although the aftermath probably hasn't been quite as telling, since they were very young, they've always been part of a nation at war.

This may have a terrible impact at some point. How could this not skew their views? They've been raised in a climate of fear and hate. I feel bad for them.

Of course, Bailey has also been the child of a broken marriage. I remember too clearly those things, and wonder how it has changed her life. Few children escape unscathed from their parents' divorce. I carry a lot of guilt about it, for how it may have hurt her. As she matures fully into adulthood, I wonder if we will have a chance to talk about it. Not being the custodial parent, I haven't had as much of an opportunity to answer those questions.

There has been an appreciable physical distance between us for eight years now. It's been made more substantial by moving to New England as she moves through her freshman year of college in Texas. We don't get to spend much time together, and I miss her, a lot.

She's a beautiful, tall, smart young girl groping her way out of the cocoon. Even from a distance I am able to tell that she is facing the typical issues someone her age must overcome: those first tentative steps into the real world. I worry about her.

As I've gotten a little older, I've become less of the crier that I have been in the past. I'm not sure this is a good thing. The thousands of dollars I spent with Dr. Quack talking about the ugly nooks and crannies of my mind yielded mostly resentment and did not save my marriage. If anything, that bullshit hastened its demise. But a few good things came from it. One was an appreciation of the role of my parents and their foibles. Another was a comfort with my own tears.

I used to spend most of those $150 hours in tears. I hated it. One day I lamented that it seemed that my expenses were simply dissolved in the practice of crying.

Dr. Quack pointed out that crying was a very accurate reflection of true emotional distress. Dr. Quack asked: "If none of this affected you and you didn't feel it, would that be better? Would you rather just be cold to it?"

For one of the few times, Dr. Quack was right. Crying means you're still in touch with your emotions. As painful as it is, it's a good sign.

So even though I don't seem to cry as often as I once did, missing Bailey can turn on the tears in a flash.  It takes a fight to hold them back as I am at this instant.

There's 2,000 miles of physical distance, and that makes me sad. But for me, Bail-O is always here. And that makes me happy.

Anyway, happy birthday, sweet little girl. Your dad loves you. Now where's the goddam Kleenex?


Thursday, December 27, 2012

Jobba, the Hunt

Yes, lame pun attempt.

When I got laid off in 2011, and having been down that path before, I hit the job search hard. Before landing a part-time job that I was grateful for but the chief requirement of which was being able to withstand six straight 12-hour overnight shifts, I must have applied for 500 jobs.

Most of those were in NWA, but many were not. I applied for jobs all over the U.S., including Hawaii and Alaska. I also applied for jobs in USVI and Europe.

Nothing. All that effort netted a total of only a few solid interviews. I applied for countless jobs at the Beloved State U., and only got a single phone interview for one of them. It certainly didn't make me feel the degree I had gone back to get in 2008 had exceptional value. I mean, if the U didn't think enough of it to hire me, what was anyone else going to think? I also had applied for the job the football coach wound up giving to his chippy (and hence leading to his firing), so maybe my "skills" weren't what was marketable.

Anyway. That was then. Now I'm in Boston, and the market here is astonishing. It's so encouraging.

Less than three weeks here, I had an interview arranged for a substitute teaching job. (I tried to do this in Fayetteville, and couldn't even get a callback from the district.) On Dec. 10, I was working for them. I worked two other days, too, and could have worked another... however, I had another job interview that precluded that opportunity.

That interview is going to yield work; I met with a placement firm and they've got more positions than people to fill them. Starting next week, I expect to have even more options.

Today, I sent an application for a great job. Maybe I'll get it. But, I found it simply because I was interested in the organization and looked at their careers site. And I see usually more than one job a day that I am qualified for. And the best part is, there are so many possibilities that I can be a little choosy. I don't have to apply for *every* job I see. This is liberating. I can now work, hopefully, for a company or an organization that I respect and that has a compelling future.

In Arkansas, that was pretty much the U, and not much else. Of the few truly stable companies there, they each have issues that gave me pause. But, I still went after jobs there because I had no choice.

Now, in theory, I don't have that problem. I can pursue opportunities that pay not just a living wage, but  also are personally rewarding. It's exciting.

Monday, December 24, 2012

So This is Christmas

Christmas is a family time. That's what sometimes makes it blue for people.

But even if your family is unusual or very different from what it once was, my advice is to embrace the season as much as you can.


I don't remember much about the holiday before I was a teenager. I remember that my mom used to make the holiday very festive. She would decorate the house in an amazing way... of course a beautiful real tree and a variety of ornaments and lights. Then she'd hang wide satin ribbons from the ceiling and hang ornaments from those as well. Cards sent by family, friends and well-wishers were throughout the house.

Mom also sent what seemed to be 200 cards to people on a big list. She hand-wrote notes in each card. Quite a task, but mom's a determined sort.

When I was 11 or 12, we began a tradition of annual visits to Michigan to see my beloved aunt Becky. My brother and I usually flew up on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. It was a huge treat for us.

I know for a fact we flew up there late on Christmas Day 1971. There was a historic overtime football playoff game that day that I remember listening to the finish on the car radio as we headed for our flight.

I don't recall us ever being deprived, gift-wise, at Christmas, but other than the year I got both Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here" and The Who's "Quadrophenia" albums, the trips to Michigan were the best presents. Well, there was the year I got "Songs in the Key of Life," that was pretty great.


In my college years, coming home was a big treat. But like most kids that age, I was a fairly clueless dumbass. I didn't appreciate it as much as I should have. For my family, the big "can't miss" holiday was Thanksgiving, so Christmas was special but different.


Over time the dynamic changed again and I had a family of my own. Christmas then became something  different again; it was about the children. My daughter was born just days after Christmas. Right before she turned two, she didn't know what the holiday was about other than an opportunity to tear up wrapping. It was charming... the gifts were great, but clawing off that pretty paper was the most fun ever.


During some of those missing periods between being a young dumb twentysomething and a married guy, or being a divorced guy and unsure of the future, the holidays could seem bleak. In both circumstances, a time associated with family hurt a little, or a lot, when it seemed like there was no family any more.

This happens to people all the time, and it's perfectly understandable. People can get blue recalling what they no longer have from childhood, or what they no longer have from adulthood.

But that's actually the wrong approach and the wrong way to feel.

Because Christmas isn't about what you don't have -- it's about what you DO have.

And for those "Ghosts of Christmas Past," what I have are special memories of people, places and events. My high school girlfriend getting me a cereal assortment. My brother and I throwing Christmas boots through a wall in a fight, then banding together to cover up the crime. Going to ornate Midnight Masses with the Catholic side of my family, and the crazy, hilarious "White Elephant" gift exchanges we had. Traveling with high school friends to see the amazing Christmas lights in Highland Park or this house somewhere off Military Parkway. The breakfast sandwiches Justin and I used to plow through.

All those things are gone now, and there used to be holidays when I felt sad that they were gone.

But right now, despite many uncertainties, I find myself in a new town, far from my original family. And I have M. And I have three mangy dogs. And I have a place in the thoughts of many people.

And I really have... everything.

I'm not gonna lie, of course there are melancholy moments of missing certain things, but it's better to treasure what that was and embrace what is now.

Along my path, during a previous time of great upheaval and worry, M told me to stop freaking out and accept what I had wrought. To embrace it.

It was typical excellent advice. If you don't enjoy your life as it is now, you're doing something wrong.

I don't want to be blue. I want to live and love and make every day I have here a good day.

There are a lot of people with legitimate reasons to be sad right now. I'm thinking particularly of certain families 150 miles from here in western Connecticut, but many people have real hardships in their lives.

And really, I don't have ANY hardships in mine. I've freaking got it made. No full-time job? No big deal. That's my worry? Really?

Nope. Every little thing is going to be alright.

Merry Christmas. Happy Holidays. Peace on Earth, Good Will toward men. And women.

Monday, December 17, 2012

School, Pts. II-III

Plans to sum up my first days actually teaching were kind of ruined by the terrible news in Newtown Friday.

But I want to remember.

I opted late on Monday, Dec. 10 to be a teacher's aide again at the same place I went that day. They had some teacher openings but my plan all along was to learn the ropes a bit from the sidelines and then dip my toe in the water when I felt ready.

Last Tuesday morning I went to check in to the school office. Ms. I, who more or less runs things, greeted me as I came in.

"You've been promoted!"
I think I said something witty, like "Huh?"
"You're teaching first grade."
"Unless you don't want to..."

How can you say no, right? Ready or not, here we go.

I had spent some time the day before in the class I would inherit. And I had seen that teacher's name as one who needed a sub. I had passed.

No luck. I was now a teacher.

The reason I hadn't opted in, other than not feeling fully prepared for the job, was that Ms. C's class had a hardcase in it. Granted, these were first-graders, but two of the kids were challenges, and a third also had struck me as someone who I didn't have the requisite experience to manage.

No matter. It was time to man up.


The classroom has a grad student assistant, a young woman who is earning her Master's in Education at Lesley. She's two years away from the degree. While in my mind, she was infinitely more qualified to lead the class, she instead would hold my hand through the process. Ms. R was invaluable that day.

I had met her the day before; she arrived at the office a couple of minutes after I did. Once the situation was determined, we headed upstairs to the classroom.

There, we had a detailed lesson plan left by Ms. C. Ms. R and I game-planned the day, and I expressed my worries.

And then it began. And it didn't take long for an issue to arise. Two of the challenging-case boys almost immediately had a spat. One had drawn a "book" but both boys wanted to possess it. It quickly degenerated into a tug of war and I didn't solve it. Ms. R stepped in and got it under control. So already I felt like I had underperformed.

Fortunately that got better. The class began and soon they were working on assignments. But within an hour, the same two boys had another issue.

This time, I did much better. I called them both to an impromptu "conflict resolution court" at a back table.

OK, boys, we're going to figure out what the problem is. I want each of you to tell me what happened, and then we're going to sort this out. E, you go first.

E: I want A to go first.

OK. A, tell me your side of the story.

A began to explain and within moments, E interrupted. I cut him off.

E, you wanted A to go first. He's telling his side of the story. You have to wait and then you can tell your side. (i.e., Pipe Down.)

A finished. Then E told his side. It was of course a non-issue and by the time we got to the end of it, it seemed as if both of them had run out of steam.

But the important takeaways to me were that I was fair, they both got over it, and best of all, the class got to function without these two being distractions.

I'd have challenges with these two throughout the day. Not knowing exactly their backgrounds, it seems clear to me that there are problems beyond the classroom. I felt the same way after observing them Monday.

As the day proceeded, I felt like I had some success with A. I think we started to build a little relationship and I was thrilled by that. He didn't cause many problems the rest of the day.

E was work all day. He's clearly a bright kid but hasn't mastered the structure of the classroom environment. Both boys seem to crave attention, but E has some anger that worries me. At one point in the day, a girl in the class tripped and was crying on the floor. As I approached her, E did too, and raised his foot as if to stomp her.

I was mortified and wanted to push him away. I did raise my voice. The incident troubles me. Is this kid OK? What's causing him to act out so frequently?


Overall I felt like I did not crack down as hard as I should have. Although after lunch, I had to raise my voice a bit and try and command some order.

I had some wins and some losses. I made so many mistakes doing things that Ms. C (I would learn) wouldn't have allowed.

A couple of kids were just angels. One boy and one girl particularly worked hard and the boy seemed intent on helping me. I actually appreciated it; he told me a lot about class processes!

But the bottom line is teaching kids this young is a lot harder than you'd think. Definitely a "herding cats" kind of vibe at times.


Friday I decided to be an aide at the middle school. I wanted to see how I meshed in a different age group. The middle school has grades 5-8.

Once again, I got promoted. Entering the office expecting to be an aide, I found scrambling administrators (some who would wind up teaching classes themselves) trying to plug four substitutes into various vacancies.

I became a 6th-grade Language Arts/Social Studies teacher.

I loved it.

In LA we had a fun writing project where the kids chose random numbers from 1-10 for a character, a setting, a time and a situation. Then they were given a sheet that plugged in those values and assigned to craft a story.

Writing? Yeah, I can help here.

It turned out to be enormous fun. Some of the kids wrote really good things, others struggled. I reminded them that there was no way to fail this exercise as long as they included the elements.

For SS they read a bit about the Mayans and then answered questions. It was fun. Naturally I asked if they'd heard about the Mayan prophecies and most had. And there was a girl in the class named Maya, so I advised them that if the world ended, they could blame her. Much merriment.

At the end of the day, I walked out with a big smile on my face. I really like this world.

Of course, then I turned my phone on and started getting updates about Newtown.

Friday, December 14, 2012



How could this happen again?

How could it happen to kids this young?

This week I started substitute teaching. Something I'd never done before but something I had always thought might be fun, stimulating, interesting, rewarding.

My week began with a pre-dawn phone call to go to a school serving K-4 students; the same ages as were victimized by some inhuman being in Newtown. Now my week ends as I leave a school for a third day with a smile on my face and a feeling of being a part of something special. I lit up my phone after the day was over and as I walked to my car. That's when I learned what had happened.

Hundreds of thousands of words will be written about this. The coming days we'll be inundated with teary memorial services, words about all of the victims, speculation about the shooter, funerals, heartbreaking stories about the holiday gifts that will never be opened. Stories about how the kids will deal. The school may be torn down.

There will be lamenting, rending of garments, gnashing of teeth. And then it will fade. And we'll forget the whole thing until it happens again. After all, since the Columbine horror of 4/20/1999, there have been 31 other school shootings in this country.


One of the kids I interacted with this week is troubled. I met another today, who, in a writing project, revealed a sad glimpse of a broken family.

In that same writing project, violence emerged as a theme in many of them. How can it be that kids no more than 13 years old have such a grim view of existence?

Kids are like works of art: they reflect the mores and values of society.

What do we value? Well, these kids have never had a memory that didn't involve a nation at war. It's not as in their faces as it is for kids living in the Middle East, but it's still there. If war wasn't enough, we can always look to the things we see on TV... written programming deals with violent crime, loose morals and dysfunctional families. Crime procedurals make it seem as if murder and sex crimes are daily occurrences. They've come to look at this as normal.

Because it is.

This country is filled with murders, sex abusers, criminals. We're the most incarcerated nation on earth. It's not even close. And we're among the leaders in the world for nations who execute people, trailing only China, Iraq and Iran. Is it a coincidence that those nations figure so prominently in our lives these days? We're allegedly "exporting democracy" to Iraq. We'd love to export some death to Iran. And China basically owns us. I dare you to look at the percentage of shit you own that's from China and feel good about it.


But being around these kids this week, even those who are struggling to develop an identity and understand the unknowable dynamics of human relationships, was inspirational to me. I've been seriously underemployed for about a year and a half. This job just for a paycheck could feed my psyche, but being a part, even a teeny, tiny part, of helping these kids grow feeds my soul.

And this weekend, they'll ask horrible questions. On Monday, at school, they'll probably be told evacuation and emergency procedures a lot more likely to happen than a fire drill.

When was the last time you heard of 20 kids dying in a school fire? I can't recall a single instance. Surely it's happened.

So kids now need bullet-dodging drills.


We talked about the Mayans today. In the review portion, we wanted the students to report what the Mayans ate. One boy asked if they ate pigs. I said "it's possible, but then again, some cultures won't eat pork because they think it's unclean." He said "My family won't. We're Muslim." I told him that the Jews won't eat pork, either. He then went to ask a Jewish kid about it.

A Muslim kid and a Jewish kid talking about something they have in common. How about that?


What none of these kids should ever have in common is being a survivor, or a victim, of the deranged act of an evil person.

It's hard for me to give the shooter the benefit of a doubt and hard for me to not see him as deranged or evil. Hard not to believe that. Because to me, and to most of us, killing kids is certainly evil, and if it isn't spurred by malevolence, then it must be some sort of brain malfunction that made him deranged and therefore mentally ill.

I want to hate this shooter. I want to be happy he's dead, either by his own hand or the hands of a police sharpshooter. Maybe he was just a miserable little nothing who had to do something horrible to get noticed.

Maybe he was a troubled kid who needed someone to reach out to him and help him connect with people in a constructive way. Who knows?

But what we do know before we find out more -- and the murders happened just 8 or so hours ago -- is that the system broke down somewhere. Something went wrong with this guy. He obviously had a troubled family life, at least in his mind. Could someone, or something, have saved this guy? And as a consequence, save us all from the shame and embarrassment of another horrible day?

And isn't it time we had some sensible gun control laws that make this sort of thing more rare? I support the second amendment. I cannot support the shady shit that the NRA and its adherents use to justify an "anything goes, Wild West" atmosphere that makes it OK to have assault weapons so easily obtainable.

No one needs those kinds of arsenals. They just don't. The second amendment couldn't envision the firepower out there today. None of those kids at Newtown, Columbine, Jonesboro, Virginia Tech, Aurora, Tucson... God, how can there be so many?... None of those kids were killed by musket fire.

This week I was lucky enough to be a part of a world that made me think about the great possibilities before us.

Today I was reminded about how far we still have to go to attain those great possibilities.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

School, Part I

Education is the way forward for humanity, and certainly for the country. That might sound a little too lofty, so I'll put it in more simple terms: There is wayyyy too much stupid in this world.

If you can help fix the stupid problem, you should. So in mid-November I applied for a position as a substitute teacher at the local school district. The district is fairly well-respected in the Boston area. The application process asked a lot of questions about my background. I was brutally honest: I've taught classes before, but never in a formal "education" environment. It's one thing to conduct a seminar; another to have responsibility in some measure for a piece of the future.

Nevertheless, the day after I applied, I got a response: Come in Nov. 27 and talk to us.

So I did. Four of us interviewed in a big, old conference room at the school administration building. Two of the interviewees had teaching certificates and Master's degrees.

Heady stuff. I was clearly at the low end of this food chain.

And then I waited. But last Thursday, Dec. 6, I got mail telling me I was in. I had a bunch of paperwork to fill out and return. I could have lazed through the process, but instead I put it together and took it in the next morning to the district.

The process to actually fill an opening is to obtain a Web ID and password for an online service that is pretty coordinated. If an opening comes up, it's logged into the system. If you've got a skills match, either a district representative will call you, or a robocall from the service will call.

I figured that it would probably be a while before I was called.

"A while" turned out to be a 6:30 a.m. Monday morning. A local elementary needed an aide for its first-grade classes.

I jumped.

This caused a little stir, as schedules had to be juggled. The students' day starts at 8:50 and runs until 2:55.

I needed to be there by 8:25. I was there by 8:15.

There were five sections of first graders, with (I was told) a student:teacher ratio of about 25:1. My day would bounce among all of those sections, including one twice.


I looked up directions to the school. It's a modern building, shiny, even on a damp overcast morning.

There are about 450 students there in grades K-4. I was nervous. Very nervous. When I got there, I pulled into a parking lot, and asked an emerging teacher if it was OK to park. Yes. First hurdle cleared.

Checking into the office, I was told which wing upstairs was for the first graders and sent to a teacher for more instructions.

Ms. N has 14 years of experience, a calm demeanor and clearly knows the ropes. I went to her room and she cooly wrote out a schedule I would have as a Teacher's Aide. The schedule was a little unusual in that the times varied from place to place. But off I went on this adventure.

Ms. L's class would be first. I got there about 10-15 minutes before the first bell. My approach was "whatever you need." In her case, she really needed about 30 copies of various items that would be distributed to students throughout the day: reading materials, math work, writing projects, drawing projects. I was more than happy to do this even though it was totally administrative... it would allow me to chill out a little.

The copier was in a nicely presented library (or as it was labeled, a "media center") down the hall. But when I got there... no paper. So then I had to find out where that was. I made the copies and returned them, and Ms. L expressed surprise that I had completed the task quickly. My first gold star!

However, it was a long process, and at 9:30 I was off to Ms. B's class. Things got real real fast.


If my job was to consist of making copies and being a presence, this was going to be easy. The big objective I had was to observe and take notes and try and see how the day proceeded, its rhythm and flow. Hopefully I could do this a while and get a feel for how to do the job on this temporary basis.

I haven't been in a first grade classroom much in the last few decades. And when I was in first grade was no reference point. It wasn't exactly "one-room-schoolhouse" stuff but it was pretty different. One of the biggest differences then, at least to my memory, is that the subjects were taught by specialists. Looking back I may be completely wrong about this and probably am. But it seemed like at least a few of the elementary years experiences were with instructors who taught just math, or just reading/English, or just history/social studies.

These classrooms are inclusive. The students do almost everything in the same room. That makes the teacher's job even more of a challenge.


As I entered the next classroom, Ms. B motioned me to her desk. She handed me six copies of "Biscuit Goes to the Big City." And, five kids.

We were going to a breakout room down the hall to read. She gave me some instructions but honestly, I was a little in shock and can't remember specifics. The book was very simple. The students took turns reading pages. We talked a little about the things Biscuit the dog saw and I asked them if they had been downtown. Settling in, I asked them about the things they would see, like Biscuit saw. I asked them if they had pets. I got through it.


Back to the classroom, and it was time for recess. The students lined up and the classes trod to the playground. I met a few more of the teachers and asked for tips; the recess job is basically making sure no one gets killed. I spoke to one woman closer to my age and noted that our playground setting was probably damned dangerous by comparison... especially the Death Wheel. I mean, the Merry-Go-Round.

If you think about it, a Merry-Go-Round must have been designed by a sadist. Kids who get on the thing spin till they either puke, almost puke, or become so disoriented that they could get seriously hurt by either getting wrapped around those upright steel bars or flung off like a scythe wiping out all kids in their path.

The kids hanging on at the edges or running in a rutted dirt circle along the perimeter are also in danger of becoming bowling pins or puke receptacles from the kids on the Death Wheel, or falling in the rut and getting trampled by the other kids running in a dervish.

And, of course, we haven't even begun to talk about the Monkey Bars...

At 10:15 we were back to the classrooms, and I was off to Ms. T's class. Another breakout reading project. This time the book was a pun-laden work called Commander Toad and the Space Pirates. The puns were very Bill Scott. This isn't what I want for American Youth.

However, the book had a lot of bigger, tougher words, like scourge, copilot, salamander, guide. That was a challenge, as was when a boy slipped in his chair and hit his mouth on the table. A wee bit of blood, and a new dilemma for me. I should have had a student walk him to class, instead of me. The remaining students were to continue reading page by page.

The scrape was minor, and I was soon back. Round 'em up, and on to the next class.


Ms. C had a handful in her class, including three boys who each posed problems. E and A constantly act out; H does a little but it seems as if his issue is just being a bit easily distracted.

A was not having a good day. He just didn't want to participate. Ms. C had to go on with the lesson and got A toward the back of the group work and tried to minimize his disinterest.

I felt bad for her. How tough it must be to teach with a noisy distraction in the mix. I felt bad for the other kids... how difficult it must be to focus on the work with that going on.

And I felt bad for A. What triggered this behavior? There has to be a way to get him to participate in a constructive way.

I would think about Ms. C's class a lot.


The project that I got to help in was the students had to describe a "How-to" activity... it was decided to be "How to prepare for school" and had to be at least three steps with an illustration.

The aide floats around the tables and pitches in where they can. I decided to sit with H and work with him, as he was stumped. My mischief crept in. He wanted to start with drive to school. We backed up the process. "First, you wake up, right? Then what do you do?"

H looked to be thinking it over. I said "Do you go to the bathroom?"

Bingo. Big smile/giggle. Project rolling.

Fortunately before he could get to the illustration part, it was time for another recess and lunch.


Something had clicked with me and some of the kids in Ms. C's class. As we headed for the playground, H gave me a sticky note with his name on it. J tried to trick me with a sort of "knock-knock" type joke. D showed me the stuffed animal, a little puppy, she carried with her.

Soon it was time for lunch. I asked about the menu. "What's good?"

D: The nuggets!
Me: Do they have anything to dip them in?
D: Ketchup!

10 minutes later, she was slathering the delicious nuggets in ketchup. And washing them down with chocolate milk.

During the lunch, I helped a kid open a package of mini carrots, and another untie a knotted shoelace.

From 12:30-1 was my lunch, but by the time I helped herd the kids back to their respective classrooms, I had less than 20 minutes. I hadn't eaten all day but I was still fueled by adrenaline.


I had two more class periods, capped with Ms. N's group. She read a book on Hanukkah to the students. That was a pleasant surprise, since a multi-culture approach is pretty rare in my neck of the woods.

The school has a nice mix of cultures: I interacted with white, black, Hispanic, Middle Eastern and Asian kids. A melting pot, as it were.

And then it was over.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Workin' for a Livin', Pt. II

Well whaddya know?

I've passed the audition to be a substitute teacher. This is exciting!

And, terrifying. I've taught classes before but not in a "school" setting. Teaching has always been something I was intrigued by, and think I might be able to do. Having said that, there's a very real chance I'll get the opportunity to show up and do this some day soon.

I've got a few professional teacher friends. Any words of wisdom for me?

Massunderstood at the RMV

Or DMV, as we call it back there...

So I've been waiting for a variety of reasons to switch over my Driver's License. For one thing, it's expensive: $100. That seems crazy to me, but they don't call it Taxachusetts for nothing.

Be that as it may, this week the schedule worked out to conduct this business, and the experience was remarkably pain-free. This was a bit of a shock for me since the Registry of Motor Vehicles office was packed. I fully expected a wait of 45 minutes to an hour at the least.

Instead, I checked in at the information desk (more on that in a side note), took a number and that number was called within two minutes. I went straight to the desk of a helpful young man named LaDarrell Higgins, and the whole thing was over in perhaps 15 minutes. Painless.

My experiences in Arkansas had been easy in these matters, and this was equally simple. Very encouraging.

The process here is a little more involved. There's a bit of advance paperwork required, and you have to bring certain documents along. I imagine if you just traipse in expecting it to start when you get there, you're going to be clustered.

But this was simple. LaDarrell even offered to re-shoot my picture. But after the photo-taking experience of last week, I just decided to move along. I've given up hoping to look like Brad Pitt.

Massachusetts also has "motor voter" registration, which I like very much. So I'm a big step closer to being "official."

I opted into the organ donor program. Unless you need your body parts after you die, I urge everyone to do this.


I think it's time to start a new feature. I'm going to call it "Massunderstood." I'm going to use this designation whenever I run into a specific case of confusion brought on by the occasional inability to understand exactly what the fuck someone here is saying.

The first Massunderstood word I heard here was typical, and I actually did understand it, but it was amusing nonetheless because it perfectly fit the stereotype. When we visited in October and I was scouting locations, a renter told me that the property was built out of a 150-year-old bonn.

He meant "barn" -- I think.

At the RMV, an elderly woman asked me what I was there for, and I explained I had recently moved to Massachusetts from out of state and wanted to transfer my license.

She somewhat snootily asked me something I couldn't translate. "Do you have [garbled]?"

Me: "I'm sorry?"

Her: "Your PALM."

Now I was really confused. Was I going to get stamped like going into a club? I opened my hand toward her. She looked at me like I was an idiot.

Her: "Your FAHMS."

Ah! Yes! My FORMS!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Workin' for a Livin'

One thing that excited me about moving here from the 'Ville is the robust job market.

In the most recent Bureau of Labor Statistics rankings (for October), Massachusetts has dropped a bit but still stands tied for 16th among the states with a 6.6 unemployment rate.

And these are not just jobs, but good jobs. I've already applied for a number of them, including two this morning. Some of you may be visitors from my previous discussions on looking for jobs. Arkansas' rate in October was 7.2 percent, but most of the jobs there are service industry and/or low-wage.

I don't need to make a ton of money. But I need to make SOME money. Massachusetts provides these options. Best of all, there are jobs in my field(s). I am optimistic.

Of the two I looked at this morning, both are with a well-known employer and both suit me at a match above the 90th percentile. It's encouraging.

In Northwest Arkansas, the best jobs were either with Wal-Mart corporate HQ, Tyson HQ or the University of Arkansas. Everything else was kind of in the "just a job" category.

So my mood matches the sunshine of the day. Since I've never been here before, it's hard to know for sure but the weather seems unusually pleasant for this time of year. It's light for the path ahead.  

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Viva Mexico

Mexican food in New England.

Would I ever find anything decent? The Tuesday before Thanksgiving, I ventured to Chelsea to check out a recommended grocer, Market Basket. Near there was a Taco Bell. I went, if only because it was the first Mexican food I'd had (not included what we made ourselves) since being here.

It wasn't awesome. It was Taco Bell! But it was close enough.

Last night we Yelped a place in Arlington called Ixtapa. The reviews were pretty good, so we decided to splurge and check it out.

It was shockingly pretty good. The service was a little slow and erratic; we never got a requested refill on our drinks, for example. It was very crowded and it was Saturday night, so I'm giving them a temporary pass on that.

But the salsa was fresh and original (big plus), they also had a habanero sauce that was fiery and fresh, and the basic stuff I ordered was as it needed to be. My combo plate had a beef taco, chicken enchilada and a cheese chile relleno. The poblano was a bit small, but acceptable, and the chicken enchilada wasn't covered in cream sauce with verde, but that's OK. I ordinarily wouldn't even have ordered a chicken enchilada, I just wanted to see how they make it.

We will definitely go again. And Arlington seems charming. Turns out I've actually been there... it's where we had to return the moving truck. I had forgotten but M recognized some of the streets and eventually I did too. Another example of how this place often folds around itself.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Month Two Begins

Snowing today. Nice big flakes. The ground is too warm for it to stick, but there's more than a little dusting on cars and trees.

It's not going to last, because the temperature the next several days is projected to be in the mid '50s. But it's nice to look at.

Last night, because the nearest Sam's Club is an hour away, we opted to join Costco. I'd never been to one before. The store is very similar, although perhaps not the same items that I'm familiar with from Sam's. The customer service experience seems to be an upgrade, however.

We're stocking up, not because of the snow's reminder that winter is speeding toward us, but because we're being strategic about money.

I hate having to be so mindful of a budget. This is something the rich or even the upper middle class don't seem to comprehend: when you are capable of getting into a financial bind, if you're sensible that never leaves your mind. But my perception of people who are relatively well-off is that they never worry about it. They can be frivolous. The rest of us don't have that luxury. We have to always think larger, about how spending must fit into what's coming down the road.

It's a big reason I get pissed off at the attitudes of some people at this time of year. Automobile manufacturers who have these commercials showing people being surprised with the gift of an expensive vehicle... it's gauche. How freaking great would it be to be able to go spend $60,000 on a gift for someone? Well, maybe it would be great. But I don't know anyone who could do that. So it sets an unreasonable expectation of many things. It's kind of like the beer commercials populated with models. Most of the people I know who drink a lot of beer don't look like that.

Am I a failure if I don't buy M a Lexus for Christmas? Are you, if you similarly do not make that buy for a family member?

Part of what's gotten American consumers, and the nation in general, into financial trouble is this "spending equals success" approach. Our collective credit debt is ridiculous. We spend money we don't have. If we don't, we're looked at as either "not playing ball" with the system, or some sort of fiscal nerd/egghead, or just "unusual."

Why is that? Because my crappy, beat-down, dog-haired, paid for POS 2000 Ford Contour will drive me someplace just as surely as that spiffy new Lexus or Buick or Range Rover will. Better gas mileage, too!

And I don't think that buying a charm bracelet with the "red-hot love beads" (ewww) makes me any less of a good person, either.

Who really needs this shit? As Tyler Durden said, "The stuff you own ends up owning you."

Maybe I should get in the holiday spirit by watching "Fight Club" again.