Wednesday, November 28, 2007

A Teddy Bear Named Jesus

Boy, it's a good thing we live in the good ol' Ewe-Ess-of-Ayy, where we can name our stuffed toys anything we want, and not worry about getting arrested. Yep, it's good that we don't have governments who impose ridiculous punishments on school teachers because of a high degree of intolerance.

Because this is America, and we don't want the government to do something if we can do it better ourselves:

The parents of a freshman student whose teacher resigned after he gave her a sexually explicit illustrated book said Wednesday their daughter has been the target of harassment from fellow students, and they want the school district to do more to clarify the issue with other parents.

The girl’s father, who asked that his family remain anonymous because it has already been the target of criticism, described the graphic novel that English teacher Nate Fisher gave the student as “borderline pornography.”

Here's the story: A teacher in the Guilford (Ct.) School Disctrict gave his class a reading assignment at the beginning of the school year. One kid decided to not do the assignment. The teacher, trying to come up with something she could read over the weekend (because he didn't want the girl to fail--remember that), grabbed a graphic novel called Eightball #22, by Roger Clowes. The book, while adult in nature, was not really sexually explicit, although it did have sexual references in it.

The father of the girl (who, remember didn't think it was important to do the original assignment) complained to the school district, who, immediately, without thought, suspended the teacher, and made it clear to him that he should just go away and never come back. The local paper made sure to play up the salaciousness of the story (without, apparently, actually reading the comic). According to the New Haven Advocate:

Register reporter Rachael Scarborough King shorthanded Clowes’ complexities by reporting that the comic “includes references to rape, various sex acts and murder, as well as images of a naked woman, and a peeping tom watching a woman in the shower.” Shocking stuff—though the sex and bloodshed aren’t in fact depicted, just talked about, and the nudity is part of a poignant and decidedly non-titillating scene in which a sensitive young woman is afraid her lover will leave her because of an unsightly birthmark. In any case, graphic acts of sex, murder and voyeurism can be found in countless classic works of literature, by such acclaimed writers as Charles Bukowski, Truman Capote, Allen Ginsberg, Ayn Rand, Leo Tolstoy, Gore Vidal, Nick Hornby, Theodore Dreiser, Sam Shepard, Alice Walker, Cormac McCarthy, Jack Kerouac, D.H. Lawrence, John Cheever, Thomas Hardy and Sylvia Plath.

All those writers, as it happens, appear on the official list of 2007 Summer Reading suggestions presented to students by the Guilford High School English department. So do disgraced sex-and-drugs-addled memoirist Augustyn Burroughs and bestselling erotic mystery novelist Janet Evanovich, most of whose books have a hot sex scene within the first few pages. It’s an enlightened, engrossing, wide-ranging list that might actually attract more young people to read.

This was a guy who, rather than let a student fail, gave her a second chance and grabbed something she thought she could read over the weekend. In other words, a caring teacher. And we can't have that. Next thing you know, he might bring a teddy bear named Jesus to class.


Monday, November 26, 2007

Stone Soup

Two weeks ago Sunday, I got a call. "If you've got any apples left, why don't you bring them to me? I'll bake you some pies for Thanksgiving."

In our marriage, the kitchen duties were pretty clear-cut: My ex baked pies, cakes, and cookies; I did everything else.* Truth be told, I was probably as good a baker as she was, but I deferred to her in the baking arena simply so that there could be something in the kitchen she would do.

So I was planning on baking as well during this, my first truly solo holiday in decades. In fact, I was heading out with my daughter to the local cider mill to get some apples when the phone rang. But since she offered, I thought: 'why not?.' I dropped off several pounds of apples with the kids when they went over for the weekend.

One week ago today I got a call. "Could you let me borrow your apple peeler? I don't have one." I could have told her to just use a knife, but after getting assurances that she would indeed return the utensil to me (since it's also my potato peeler), I thought: 'why not.' I would drop the peeler off with the kids on Wednesday night.†

Six days ago I got an email. "Could you go to the store and buy me a peeler? The kids will want to help, so I'll need two. Also, could you pick up some cinnamon and nutmeg? I'll pay you back." By this time, we had already eaten the remaining apples, and I'd already agreed to so much, that I figured it would be easier to go along, so I decided: 'why not?'ª

So, on Wednesday, I drop off the kids, two apple peelers, and two spices to go with the apples I had already delivered to make our Thanksgiving pies. At least I won't have to bake them, I thought.

That night, in the middle of my job, I get a call. "It's an emergency." My heart skips a beat. I imagine my son getting cut on a knife, my daughter getting burned at the stove. "I need light corn syrup."º

I don't know about any of you, but for me, there are very few instances where the phrase 'I need light corn syrup' should ever follow the phrase 'It's an emergency,' unless, perhaps (and only perhaps) it is followed by the phrase 'so that you can lick it off my supple, nubile body.'

This was most definitely not one of those instances.

But, I had already supplied the apples, the peelers, the cinnamon and the nutmeg, so I thought: 'fuck you.'

However, that's not what said, so after the game I went to the store, and purchased the light corn syrup, a product which will now forevermore be linked with the phrase 'supple, nubile body' in your minds.

While at the store, I had one of the few moments of what could possibly pass for clarity in this whole sorry episode, and I called my ex-wife on the phone. "I've got the light corn syrup,ˇ" I said, in a moderate, well-modulated tone, "is there anything else that you need?"

"Umm...yeah. Could you pick up some pie crusts?"

I ended up baking them myself on Thursday morning.


*including the dishes.

†our divorce agreement stipulates that she has the right of first refusal to watch the kids whenever I have freelance jobs in the evening--and I had such a job Wednesday night.

ªIt was at the store that I discovered that the only real difference between nutmeg and gold is that one of them tastes good in pie. Price-wise, there's not much separation.

ºIn case the culinary of you are wondering, she also planned on baking us a pumpkin pie as well.

ˇsupple, nubile body.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Just Another Canadian Thursday!

In Canada, this day is celebrated as the day that occurs between the third or fourth Wednesday, and the third, fourth, or fifth Friday of November. I'm not Canadian myself, but I stand with my brethren to the north on this day, and observe the traditional Just Another Canadian Thursday ritual of bemused head-scratching at the antics of most Americans.

Because here in the Ewe-Ess-of-Ay, we celebrate our own unique holiday--called Black Friday Eve--where we all gather together, and between mouthfulls of turkey, stuffing, gravy, and pie, we strategize our assault on retail centers in the coming days, and then watch football.

It's a weird holiday, but then, we're a weird group of people.

Also, I'm fairly certain that my spotty attempts at blogging will become even spottier for the next month, due to my aforementioned paying gig. If, however, you're jonesin' for a bit of balloonpiracy, you may follow the daily antics at The North Pole Times.


Monday, November 19, 2007

Five Figures.

Here's something I never thought I'd write:

Ten thousand dollars isn't really a lot of money.

Well, it is. But it isn't.

Not that I'm ungrateful for it. Don't get me wrong: being handed a check for ten thousand dollars is, by any way you look at it, a whole hell of a lot better than not being handed a check for ten thousand dollars.

But still.

I suppose I should give you the backstory: For four years earlier in the decade, I wrote, as a favor to a friend, a series of stories for his Christmas-based website. Little 'newsy' blurbs about the goings-on at The North Pole. They ran from Thanksgiving until Christmas Day. The stories were fun, and funny, with a real 'serial' quality to them--there was always some sort of crisis that called into question the viability of Santa delivering the goods on Christmas Eve, but--whew--the crisis was averted in the nick of time, and all pulled together and made it The Best Christmas Ever.

It was fun, but it was work--creating an interesting 32-episode story arc, taking into account that our readership dropped by 60% on weekends, and making it simple enough for seven-year-olds, and fun enough for their parents (and teachers--which we think explained the weekend readership drop) ain't as easy as it sounds.

I did it for free, because he's a friend--who also wasn't making any money from the deal--and because he kept almost getting sponsorship. After the fourth year, we stopped, partially because we were discouraged, and partially because my life was pretty much in the shitter for a while. The site went dark for two years, and last year, my friend told me he was thinking about reviving it. Would I be willing to write again? For a lot of reasons--the lack of compensation being a large, but by no means not the only reason why--I declined. However, I suggested he dust off one of the old story lines, and see how things went.

They went well. This year, he found a backer, and I'm going to get paid. That was where the last post ended. Friday night, he told me he needed to see me. I was working a football game, but told him I could stop by after it was over, so at 10:30 in the evening, the whole ten grand check thing happened. The backer not only wanted to sponsor the site, he wanted to own it. And my friend negotiated a deal, and got the money, which he could have kept for himself. But instead, he designated me as a 30% stakeholder in the enterprise (he gave himself the same cut, and divvied up the remaing 40% among half a dozen other helpers and his lawyer).

So now I've got an extra ten grand sitting in savings. And that's a good thing. Especially if one is financially secure, and already with a sizeable bank account. But that's not me. I've got waay more than ten grand's worth of things I would like to do with it. There's so many different ways I could spend it, and justifiably so: I've got an eleven-year-old car with a leaky head gasket and nearly 170,000 miles on it, my home is decorated in an eclectic mix of Late Relative and Early Curb, and I can't remember the last time I purchased clothes for myself, other than underwear.

And there's other things, too.

True story: Friday morning, while I was meditating, I asked God to help me with my son's education. He really wants to go to the Jesuit High School his oldest brother (Lt. Trouble) went to. The school's annual tuition? Eight grand. How, I asked God, would I be able to afford that? Sixteen hours later, God said 'Keep the change.'

Actually, there probably won't be change. There's taxes to pay, and depending on how my friend sets it up, the bite anywhere from fourteen to thirty-nine hundred dollars. On the other hand, even with this windfall, I'm sure I'll be eligible for financial aid at the school.

But still.

Here's the thing--and it's something that's just as improbable for me to write:

I want some of it.

Some of it for me. Not my creditors, or my kids--me. To buy something nice. Something fun. Because I deserve it.

That last sentence took a lot out of me. I may have to lie down.

There's a voice in the back of my head that tells me I don't deserve this--that success is for other people, not me. I spent a lot of my life listening to this voice. It took me a long time to even admit it was there. Now, I'm doing my best to ignore it.

Saturday morning I called my Mother and told her the good news.

Emerging from bankruptcy, getting additional income, and now this--all good things, wouldn't you think?

Mom's take on the subject: "You'll just blow it."

Seriously. That's what she said. Of course, she prefaced it with "It's none of my business, but..." so that makes it OK.

Thanks, Ma. I thought I recognized the voice.


Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Financial Times

Some interesting tidbits from the pocketbook of my life...

1) I'm about to be a paid writer. I just got a call from a buddy of mine who used to run a Christmas-based website. I would write a daily story chronicling the happenings at the North Pole. A few years ago the site went dark, at around the same time my marraige was doing the same. Well, he's bringing the site back up, but this time with financial backing, and how much would it cost them to have me write for them again? I named my price, he said yes, and if all goes well, I'll be getting a check that would be a decent downpayment for a good used car out of this.

2) It looks like I'll be emerging from bankruptcy more than a month ahead of schedule. According to my most recent quarterly statement, I had less than $1,000 left outstanding on my debts. I had made two additional payments of $249 since that statement had been printed out. I make one more on Thursday. My last payment should be November 29.

I've been scraping by for a very long time. Now, I'm about to get a little breathing room. I'm not sure what I'm going to do, but I do know that I'm not going to ever get myself into this situation again.

It might be a very merry holiday season, indeed.


Thursday, November 01, 2007

So many things

I've been a bad blog buddy.

My postings list has a half-dozen drafts of posts unfinished...
about halloween...

about a fascinating conversation I had with my kids on the history of language and how I think we're on the verge of the next great shift in recorded language...

about a terrific lunch I had with Cadbury and Smitten...

a tale of how I'm so very grateful to have a flat tire at 8:45am on a Saturday morning...

and even a short story.

But I'm unable to find the time to finish them. By the time I get all the stuff I need done in the day, it's bedtime. Hopefully, I'll be able to finish up one or more of them in the near future. Until then, here's a picture of my spooky house. The little skeleton guy is sound-activated. He'll wave his arms back and forth and say stuff like 'Boo! Did I scare you?" In a very child-like voice. Everybody loves Boo, and lots of the older kids like to lean over him and shout to watch him do his thing.

Hidden behind the indian corn on the post is another sound-activated device--a big black hairy spider that drops down on a string. It's nowhere near as sensitive to sound as Boo, so you need to be very near it for it to activate. As it so happens, you have to be at just about the height you would be if you were shouting at Boo to make it drop...