Wednesday, August 31, 2005
As worried as I was about a month ago, I've got to admit (again), that everything worked out for the best and that this seems like it was always supposed to be the plan.
Still living the charmed life and not caring that the other shoe might someday drop.
In regards to teaching, the big thing that I'm feeling this week is exhaustion. Most of my colleagues are feeling the same thing; it's like we're not in teaching shape yet. It takes a lot physically and mentally to stand in front of a group of kids for hours on end. I'm finding this exacerbated by floating from classroom to classroom. I feel funny about sitting at other teachers' desks, so I don't sit for four hours in a row in the morning, then for another couple hours in the afternoon, finally relenting for my planning period. I'm sure this, combined with increased cardio workouts in the morning, is contributing to the soreness in my legs and back.
In addition, the first days of school are so anticlimactic. I'm so excited about them for so long, and then I realize that the first couple of days are days filled with a lot of teacher-centered instruction. In other words, the sound of my voice. Droning on and on. I'm bored to death listening to myself after the fifth or so time, so I can just imagine what the kids feel. You've got to do it, you've got to go over the syllabus and the course expectations, but it's not that fun. It was nice today to finally get to some real content, as the kids got into groups to pull out some characterization methods used in A Lesson Before Dying.
Because of my exhaustion, I surrendered and took a nap yesterday when I got home, sleeping between 6pm and 7pm. Big mistake. Because of that stupid nap, I couldn't fall asleep until 2am, and when the alarm clock went off at 5am, I just reset it for 7:15. That means I missed the morning gym trip, which was a bummer. I've felt great after doing them on Monday and Tuesday and was disappointed to miss today's. I've made it my goal this year to go to the gym in the morning 170 out of the 180 days of this school year, giving myself ten sleep-in days. This was one of them. I did go in the afternoon but I'm not letting myself off the hook.
Tuesday, August 30, 2005
Wiffleball on Monday or Wednesday nights.
Dodgeball on Tuesday or Thursday nights.
Class at Towson on Thursday nights.
This is in addition to waiting tables three shifts a week, teaching 160 ninth graders, having a new principal and department head, floating from classroom to classroom, unofficially mentoring a new teacher, organizing the Outward Bound trip, organizing department book club, losing twenty pounds, and (now stagnated, but I still have hopes for the half) marathon training.
I'm going to be a busy guy. That's okay.
It's also god awful hot in the school. It feels like a rainforest, like the upper level of Baltimore's National Aquarium. I become caked in sweat every few minutes, and my shirt is soaked by the end of the day. I thought today would be better because of the lack of sun, but it's so humid that I was pretty miserable. This is compounded by the fact that there was no water anywhere nearby. We have to drink water out of water bottles because of lead in the running water, and they're always empty, including today. I heard a rumor that the school is out of water. I also heard that the kids were told by someone of importance that water is not allowed in the classrooms, and that, if they're thirsty, they should swallow their spit. Woah. I'm going to confront that person.
And, after five straight very nice, even meek, classes, my 5/6 class today seems like they'll be a challenge. It's the first day of class for them in my class, yet girl over on the side decides it's okay to compliment my tie while I'm giving instructions, and boy in the back decides it's okay to put his head down twice in the same period and random kid who I don't know decides it's okay to hum (which I have to ignore because I don't know who it is and then it stops).
To top it all off, a colleague made this comment to me today: "You know, Epiph, you look really old today. No one's going to mistake you for a student this year, that's for sure."
But I don't mean to be whiny. Tomorrow's lesson will be a good one, and today was just fine overall. The new dh made lasagna for us for lunch. I got a solid three hours of planning in after my last class. Another great workout this morning, and I think I'm heading back tonight to lift weights.
Monday, August 29, 2005
Can't wait until next Monday.
It was a strange day, though. This was the new principal's first first day of school, and while I enjoyed a lot of the things - his presence in the halls, his opening remarks - the day had some organizational problems. The first period combined with homeroom for two and a half hours with the same group of kids. At the end of the day, when they finally organized the bus tickets together, they called back that group of kids to hand out the tickets. For some reason, they left 35 minutes for that. In other words, I was given three hours and five minutes with one group of kids. I won't mess around, it sucked. But if that was the biggest hurdle, that's pretty good.
One kid who I had in the morning and then again in the afternoon raised his hand in the afternoon and asked me to bend down, saying he had a personal question. He then asked me if I smoked weed. I was shocked and told him it wasn't an appropriate question to ask, and then he told me that my eyes were really red in the morning and that he thought I'd come to first period "baked." I was taken aback still but then had to give the speech about my eye surgeries and the lack of tears my eyes produce which cause them to be red often. I didn't even have any irritation this morning so I wasn't aware that my eyes were even red. I did in fact give that speech in the beginning of last year to squash any rumors of that and I just had forgotten to this year. I won't tomorrow.
The second funny - this one not wildly inappropriate - moment was this one girl who, as I was walking around the room explaining schedules, asked me what my scent was. I asked her to repeat herself, and again, I heard, "What is your scent?" I was embarassed, as I had just come from a pretty intense gym workout, and I thought to myself, "Uh, that stuff at Bally's that doubles as both shampoo and body wash..." But I just said, "I'm not sure." She looked surprised, then repeated her question louder. "What," she rpeated, "is your descent? Is it German or Italian, or what?" Ah, I got it then. "Polish," I answered.
Overall, I was happy with the quality of student that I saw on the first day, other than the weed kid. Lots of hand raising, lots of insightful comments. I have a good feeling about the dh now, too - or at least, better. She was running to and from from rooms and seemed to have a calming presence. I still don't know how she could have planned a worse first meeting than she had with us on Friday, but I'm getting a little more optimistic.
The best part of the first day of school, though, is seeing the old kids. I got so many hugs today, kids would run up to me and throw their arms around me (the girls) or come up to me and do that half-handshake/half-arm wrap thing (the guys) even though I was a sweaty mess. It's so great to see them again, seriously. So many of them sprout up six or seven inches the year after freshmen year, it seems, and I found myself looking up to them rather than looking down to them. Others look the same now as Juniors or Seniors as they did as 9th graders, just with a little more age in the face.
I am exhausted, though, so I'll be headed to bed within the hour, unless I decide to immerse myself in that new show about the prison break out, which is getting really good press and I'm desperate to get into some TV shows this year to get my ass away from the computer.
Sunday, August 28, 2005
Afterwards, it was off to a baby shower. I received the invite a few weeks ago, and I asked the organizer if guys were supposed to go. She said that it wasn't a baby shower just for the mother, but also for the father, and that they want everyone to come. Because otherwise why would they have sent it to me. So I went. A lot of good friends were there.
But I had no idea to bring a gift. And it's not like a wedding, where you can just ignore the gift table and get a gift for the bride and groom later because you have a year. There's actually a gift opening ceremony at a baby shower. I felt like there was a spotlight on me for not bringing one. I played with the baby someone else brought to make it seem like I was less of a jackass. When the baby started crying, I moved on to the dog. See, I had no idea to bring a gift. This is one reason I really need a woman in my life.
I had an alright time, though. I had a couple glasses of wine to help me get to bed nice and early tonight. I'm nodding off as I type this, so that's a good thing.
My dad told me afterwards that it was alright for me not to bring a gift, because they eschewed the rules already by inviting males to a baby shower, so all the rules are off. Thanks, Dad.
The mother, who I've taught with for the last three years, told me to have a good day tomorrow, that she's living through me vicariously as I start the school year. I'm likewise living through she and Joe vicariously as they enter parenthood.
Rebecca put her arm around me today and said, "You know, Epiph, you and I are part of a dying breed now. Everyone's getting married or having kids."
"Bue we have more fun," I said.
But I didn't mean it. Nights like this make me feel lucky for all the friends I have but they also make me feel lonely for all I don't have.
Tonight's not the night of a whiny blog entry, though. It's the eve of the first day of school! I still remember the first first day eve, at a friend's backyard barbecue. There was one holdover from that one at the shindig tonight, and we reminisced. She remembered what I had brought to eat - Baked Beans - that night. I specifically remembered a veteran teacher saying she still gets nervous the night before the first day of school, and she never can sleep. She probably never waited tables on a hectic Sunday brunch the day before the first day of school, though. I should have no problem sleeping tonight. In fact, that's my cue.
I am nervous, though. A good nervous, I assure you.
Saturday, August 27, 2005
Yup, I'm excited. I've also been practicing my introductory remarks to my classes. I'm going to be watched a lot more this year by my colleagues, as I'm floating into four different classrooms, and I'm a little nervous about that. I also want to really focus these kids from day one on the importance of getting to school on time every day. Last year, out of the 27 9th graders who failed my class, 16 of them had chronic attendance/tardy issues. There are few things upon which folks in education agree, but one of them is that a kid needs to be there to learn. They're going to fail if they don't.
I also have my gym bag packed. There are 180 school days and I'm determined to go the gym before school for at least 170 of them. I can't be using up my afternoons with a gym trip. I'm also going to refocus my gym trips for a while to start with sixty minutes of cardio rather than starting with weights and getting to cardio when I get to it. I've packed on some pounds this year and want to rid myself of them.
Great band at ze restaurant tonight. Tons of people came and I made some good money. Life is good, but I'm pretty exhausted and am off to bed.
"A bet on what?"
She looked at me directly for the first time. She had large eyes, brown and kind. I could see traces of tears that she had tried wiping away.
"You can't get him ready to die."
"Henri Pichot didn't take that bet, did he?"
"I left them in there talking. Mr. Louis say he got a whole case of whiskey he can bet on."
"He ain't betting 'gainst you. He aint' betting on you neither."
Inez looked at me sadly. I didn't know if it was because of my cynicism or the task I had facing me. She went back to the stove...
I arrived at Thirsty Dog yesterday about 45 minutes before everyone else, an arrival necesitated by my surprising dismissal from the restaurant job (in favor of working tonight instead). I chatted a little bit with the Palmino-esque redheaded bartender, the one who is always there, then I realized that I had nothing to read or do while I waited. I returned to my car briefly to grab A Lesson Before Dying, which I still haven't reread this summer. Kids will come in on Monday with the book all finished, and they'll be taking a quiz on it right away. We spent the first ten or so class periods discussing the book and writing an essay, among many other things. So I've got to have it fresh in my mind.
So I sat at the bar, drinking blueberry beer and reading the book. It was a bad day yesterday, and losing myself in this book was the best thing I could have done. From the opening line - "I was not there, yet I was there" - I was reminded of the power of the book, and I started getting nearly nonstop goosebumps from the last line of the first chapter ("Death by electrocution. The governor would set the date.") I read about ten chapters sitting there at the bar, allowing Ernest Gaines's minimalist prose to pull me into the powerful story.
It was the passage above, though, that made tears form. Grant is a teacher, one crippled by feelings of cynicism and worthlessness. He feels that he cannot affect change, that no matter what he does, the students will never change and will grow into the men and women that they were always going to be. I cannot imagine being a teacher with that belief system, but I can relate to the feelings. Every teacher has days where he or she feels ineffectual. I don't think it can be avoided. It can just be combatted. Grant cannot combat it, and succumbs to it.
Inez's reaction to Grant's statement - and Grant's thoughts that her sadness might have been generated by his cynicism - resonated with me. It's going to be very easy to become cynical in the upcoming weeks. I've been at the school for five years and there are a lot of changes coming, and at least a few that seem to be at great detriment to the department and the students. If I see that happening, I must speak up, and loudly. But I will not roll over into a cocoon of cynicism and whininess. Because, like Inez knows, there are few things more sad than a cynical teacher.
Friday, August 26, 2005
I got cut from my job early in favor of working tomorrow, and I met up with a few of them for drinks at Thirsty Dog. It felt good to debrief. We had to admit that the new dh did have a calming presence, and maybe she should be given some benefit of the doubt right now. But the shock that someone could take such a boneheaded approach to the first meeting of new department isn't wearing off.
I've rarely felt this stressed out in my teaching career. It feels like a hurricane is beginning to blow through the department that will tear what we've been doing apart.
I'm also exhausted, which exacerbates the feeling of stress. So I think I'm going to go to bed right now and wait for the new day to come tomorrow.
I had to remind myself today that this isn't teaching. A bunch of shitty meetings directed by people who don't know me, the school, or the students do not make up this job. The job starts on Monday, when I'll have 28 young men and women in front of me, waiting for lightning to strike in their brains. It'll be the moment when I introduce myself, tell them my name, tell them I love my job, then tell them that the expectations are high and that I expect them to be met. It'll be the moment when I see all my 9th graders from last year walking down the hall, their smiling faces greeting me after a long summer.
I asked a veteran - 29 years teaching, 21 in the school - how she does it. How does she keep going at it year after year in this sytem, which is fraught with people who come in and try to change everything all the time, filled with people who bring you two steps back after it seems like you've just taken a step forward. She smiled, and said, "Oh, you know, they pretty much disappear once the year begins."
And she's right. That's when the year begins, not now.
Today, a new dh came in and basically told us that what we've worked on over the last four years, developing a skills-based curriculum in an urban school that could be a model for other similar schools, is in disrepair and needs to be fixed. Actually, she had no idea that we had spent years developing and modifying said curriculum. It's going to take some Saturdays to get it fixed, she says. There's a lot of work to do, she says. It was one of the most disheartening meetings I've ever attended, and I was ready to bang my head against the wall afterwards. I've never been so incensed at work, and, looking around at colleagues, I see they felt the same way. Woefully unprepared for the meeting and without a sense of what the department was, she steamrolled in and had the worst possible first meeting that anyone could have. Subsequent conversations with her afterwards made me feel a little better, but I'm still worried. Everything I believe in in education is at stake right now, I feel.
She even mentioned word walls. For the love of god, she mentioned word walls.
A friend recently reminded me that according to Neil Postman, a teacher should change schools every five years. This is my fifth year at this school. We'll see.
Urban schools reaching low-income students that work are so rare that I shudder at the thought of a job search. But maybe I could find a school that issues attendance books and manila folders, one that might even allow teachers to have a computer in their classrooms. Or, heck, even have enough classrooms for all the teachers.
I'll feel better about this all on Monday. I hope, I hope, I hope.
Waiting tables tonight. Unfortunately, I'm much more in need of a happy hour than to make a few bucks on shitty tips.
Thursday, August 25, 2005
Anyhow, he's all over the place right now, staring back from every magazine rack I pass. His followup to College Dropout, the first hip-hop album I ever loved (I've since gone back and can say I consider some albums by A Tribe Called Quest and de la soul to be classics, maybe The Black Album and The Eminem Show as well), is coming out next week. That first album of West's is classic because the production and lyrics come together in rare form; West is a master at both. Lyrically, I love his uncertainty, his clashing personalities, and his humor. His songs are moving and funny and his questioning of the world around him has an everyman quality that makes me really relate to his struggles.
Personally, I haven't been this excited about a new album in a long time. He's got big tracks to follow, but from the reviews I've read so far about the new one, it's exactly what I'll be looking for - bold and over the top, flawed but brilliant. I can't wait. I hope this album doesn't have skits, though. They were terrible in the first album, and I just don't understand why so many hip-hop artists put them on CDs.
Big music month coming up - new albums from Kanye West and Tracy Chapman (I wonder who else is anticipating that particular combination...), concerts by Melissa Ferrick (9/12) and Todd Snider (10/21) in Baltimore, and Chapman (who I haven't seen since 1996, my first real concert) in DC (10/17, I think). And a house concert at my house on Friday, September 23 with Sam Shaber. I wish I could link to the website but I've apparently wounded it again somehow because it's gone. Dean is a patient guy, but I'm sure he's beginning to wonder about me.
Didn't feel well this evening and took a nap. A gym trip later, now I'm wide awake and wondering how I'm going to get to sleep now.
On a positive note, class sizes appear to be low. I've got something like 25-25-27-22-23-27-22 in my six classes, which, while still giving me a fairly large teaching load of about 170, gives me a low per-class average. Numbers may change a bit in the upcoming days, but I'm pretty happy about class size right now.
I'm up and down about floating. I walk by my old room, where a new teacher is setting it up with art she's getting from local museums, and feel a pang of remorse for when I was doing the same thing. She's a cool chica and is fine with me calling her a classroom thief (in fact, she invented the term for herself), and she's coming to me for advice all the time, and that helps. But seeing my old classroom fuels the negative part of me, the one who answers, "Yeah, I'm being punished for teaching here for five years" when asked about floating. I mean, it's clearly my turn to float, but I still think it sucks that anyone has to in the first place, particularly someone with six classes, two preps, 170 students, and as many extracurricular activities as me.
On the other hand, I'm sure it will help me stay better organized, and there are certainly some freedoms to not having a classroom. An older staff member who floated a few years ago, someone who always says the nicest things, told me today that she loved it. "It's going to be so nice for you, Epiph. Floating made me feel like a college professor. I would just whisk in with my materials, and then whisk on out afterwards, my job done in there for the day." This is a far cry from the helpful, but less positive, comments like "It sucks, but here's how to deal with it" advice I've gotten from other Former Floaters. This woman always says the right thing.
In other news, on first instinct, I do not much like the new P, but am staying in the mindset that I don't have to like him as long as the school is run well. And, from the sounds of it, it will be. All talk so far, but I like a lot of it, even if I dread heading to another meeting.
Wednesday, August 24, 2005
My throat is killing me, which is why I got the popsicles. I've noticed that for the last few months, the days after I'm in a smoky bar, I'm hurting. It makes me want to move to New York City or Florida where I can go to a bar without breathing smoke. I think the culprit here was the Polish Girl at Thirsty Dog the other day. She was just a foot away from me and puffing away like a chimney.
Gargling with salt water now.
This is my 5th post of the afternoon. Simply ridiculous.
So today was the first day of school for teachers. We have a new principal, a new department head, a new Assistant Principal, a ton of new teachers, and a ton of new rules. One of the first memos I get is that English teachers can only give tests on Thursdays to lighten the burden on the kids. (Math gets Mondays, Science gets Tuesdays, etc.) Now, I teach on an A/B schedule, so I teach the same thing two days in a row; if I give a test, I give one on one day and one on the next to a different group of students. We brought this up to the principal, and he said, alright, you're right, you can have Thursdays and Fridays. I was impressed with this. He had a plan, he was met with a logical disagreement, and he readjusted. Good.
Lots of up and down feelings, though. My friend devised a rubric for principals' meeting leadership that had separate scores for (A) Use of Anecdotes; (B) Use of Cliches; (C) Sensitivity to Time; and (D) Audability. This guy passed on B (he had a lot) and D (he was plenty loud), but not on A (they weren't very good) or C (Lunch was supposed to be at noon, and the meeting lasted until 12:40).
Yeah, this is my fourth principal in just over two years, so I'm a little cynical about it. And I hate being cynical, so my optimistic side is trying its hardest. It definitely seems like this man has a vision for the school, and that's something that was totally missing last year. He seems like he's going to be tough. He's already planning on school uniforms, for example. He wants the school to the best on the east coast. I love the lofty goals. But so far, it's all talk, and I've heard similar talk last year. Granted, this man is ten times as impressive as that guy was.
I'm starting to feel back in the swing of things already. I set up my computer, my cubicle (sadly, not my classroom), my first unit, and I'm ready to go. The new department head hasn't shown up so hopefully she doesn't take up too much of the preparation time tomorrow.
On the way out, I caught up with my Assistant Baseball Coach. He's an older guy who doesn't get paid, but it seems like he's been scouting all summer for me. He coaches in the Northwood League, and told me all about the good prospects that I'll be getting this year on the team. I'm really hoping that this new principal will be supportive of a JV Baseball Team because that's what we really need to compete in the years to come.
There I go talking longterm again. Silly, silly me.
Very tired. One shouldn't be out until the wee hours of morning before the first day of work. Although I haven't felt tired until just now. Mostly because I had to go to the bathroom all day and couldn't because I was in meetings where I felt bad to get up and go. That will keep you awake.
He wants to play until he's 50. Go for it, man. I remember watching him when I was under ten. Makes me feel young to see him still playing.
Pretty great time to be a Tiger fan. Maybe it's because it's after a decade plus of diminishing returns, but they're on a hot streak right now, beating up on the Red Sox, the Blue Jays, and now the A's. They're almost to .500 and I'd love to see them end with a winning record. Carlos Pena, my favorite baseball player who the team has horribly mishandled this year in favor of the aging and bloated carcass of Dmitri Young, has hit five home runs in his last thirteen at-bats since getting called back up. Kick-ass. They're also just 7.5 games out of the Wild Card. Crazier things have happened...
My dad and I have always had a more stickier relationship, but lately we've been doing really well. I think I said some things to him recently that made him want to be nicer to me, and he's sent me e-mails and phone messages lately that said how proud he is of me. For no reason. One almost made me weep. I'm calling him more and vice versa. I feel closer than I have with him in a few years.
This newfound kinship with my parents has me thinking more about what they gave me and how I turned out the way I am. On the surface, I'm quite different - I'm an eastcoast liberal living in a big city, they both abhor big cities and are pretty conservative. But they gave me a lot and I got the feeling that I should write them down a while ago.
The five most important things my parents gave me...
1. Service: My dad's a cop, my mom's a nurse. They both volunteer for non-profit organizations. It's pretty clear to me that my job is a direct result of seeing how they live their lives.
2. Love of Reading: I don't know if my dad's ever really read a book, but my mom could rarely have been seen without one when I was growing up. She read to me all the time and I could read by the time I started kindergarden.
3. Hard work: My dad has a Quaker-like work ethic that sees him put in tons of overtime and rarely sit still long while at home. My mom is similar; most of my childhood, her work schedule was four 12-hour days at the hospital, sometimes five. I've carried the torch with my 80-90 hour work weeks throughout the school year.
4. Value of education: It was always clear that grades were important and that going to college was important. I never felt undue pressure on me and always liked school, but their support helped. An example I remember is them going to parent teacher conferences every single time, all the way through high school, even though I was a straight-A student. Now, as a teacher, I'm mystified that I only get about 15% of parents in to see my on Back to School Night or Parent/Teacher conferences. And whenever I have the parent of a "good" student come in to see me, sometimes they'll apologize because their kid has a 92 or something, and I always tell them about my parents and what it meant to me.
5. Car care: This is minor, but I know how to take care of my car. I can change a tire, change the oil, wash/wax/detail a car, etc. I also know how to drive, in all types of weather, and my twelve years of near-flawless driving is something I owe to my father, who was oh-so-picky about how I learned to drive. He also used to take us to the junkyard to see brains splattered on dashboards of accidents he had worked; this was his way of inspiring us to wear seatbelts. And, you know what? I still always wear my seatbelt. Every single day.
6. Listening to music: My parents listened to Motown, Harry Chapin, Carole King, The Beatles, and Stevie Wonder, and I have multiple CDs of each in my collection now. They helped teach me that lyrics were important, and helped foster my love of songs that told stories.
I could complain about some things. We rarely travelled, and I'd never been south or east of Florida or west of Chicago before I was in my mid-twenties. I wish they would have sat me down and learn to play music of some sort, like guitar, because, gosh, I'd love to be able to play right now. I wish they had taught me about credit cards before I learned the hard way. But, overall, I feel pretty lucky with what they gave me.
Not sure what inspired this post exactly, but it's a big chunk of what I thought about on my way back from North Carolina.
However, the acting in To Kill a Mockingbird is superb (except for the kids, but whatever). It's impossible to think of anyone besides Gregory Peck as Atticus. Collin Wilcox is pitch perfect as Mayella. Robert Duvull is perfect as Boo Radley. And, most impressively, Brock Peters took the tiny part of Tom Robinson and made it central to the film. His courtroom scene is portrayed exactly how I imagined it in the novel, and is heartbreaking. After all, he was just going to help her break up a chiffarobe.
Brock Peters died yesterday.
Luckily, he'll live on for centuries to come in 9th grade English classrooms. Even though I don't really even like the movie that much, I never go a year without showing the courtroom scene after we've finished reading the book. Because, that scene they got just right.
I'm sorry I left without paying for my Guinness. I didn't realize it until I hit 95, and by then it was too late to turn around. Guess I'll have to force myself to go again sometime soon and pay you back for that one. Oops. My sincere apologies.
So concluded a pretty great night. The restaurant was busy and I made some good $$, and was joined late by a crew of Baltibloggers for dessert and drinks. They cajoled me into meeting up with them at the aforementioned Ale Mary's after I closed up. In attendance at that point were Snay, Zenchick, Fool, Jason, Team Moose and Squirrel, and Textureslut.
I'd tell more, but, it's 2am and I have my first day of school tomorrow. Going to bed.
PS: I agree, Snay, she was hot.
Tuesday, August 23, 2005
You can forget about my earlier whines about being so ready to get back to school. Yeah, it'll be nice to be paid again, but the summer slipped by with me only accomplishing about half of what I set out to do. The week in NC found me enjoying summer vacation a great deal, and a good reminder that a well-planned break is much better than an on-the-seat-of-you-pants vacation. I wish I had engaged in more of them over the last few years, including this summer. I will enjoy getting back to a regular schedule, but can't help to think that I could have done a little better this summer.
Monday, August 22, 2005
Subject: Bad News
8/22/2005 12:55 am
You were asleep when I returned, so I thought I'd send this in an e-mail.
It's not that as serious as the subject implies, but I found out today that I have to work on Tuesday and tried unsuccessfully to get out of it. It's my own fault because I forgot to put in a time off request before I left. I didn't prioritize it because I hadn't worked at night in so long, but now that school is starting that's the only place they can put me (and it's way better than workign [sic] the day). I tried switching, but no one can do it except Polish girl, and, if she did, it would mean she would have to work a double and I can't let her do that.
Anyhow, I can get there by 11:05, I'm sure, but they often dissipate by then, so I'm not sure what to do. I know this is ridiculous because I'm supposed to be *co-hosting* it and all, but I don't know what else to do. What do you think we should do?
That pretty much sums it up. I won't be there tomorrow unless you all will be there after 11. The restaurant is about two blocks from the bar, so I can get there quickly to have a drink with those of you who remain. School starts the next day for me, though, so I can't go crazy. Maybe I'll have to pre-drink during my shift.
Anyhow, feel free to stop in at ze restaurant on the way down and say hi. (And get one of our excellent Tuesday night specials!)
Go here if you've forgotten the details about the Monthly Baltimore Blogger Happy Hour. Basically, it's tomorrow (Tuesday) at 6pm at Red Fish in Canton. Red Fish is part of the Can Company, right next to Outhouse Steakback and Kiss Cafe. It has a really cool sign and is a beautiful corner building.
"Uh, Epiph, I've seen the department schedule, and I don't think you should go about doing that."
Yes, this year I'm "floating," going from classroom to classroom on a cart with all my materials. It's clearly my turn to do it, after four years of having my own classroom, but it was still a surprise. It's going to make things a lot different for me, but after the initial shock, I'm okay with it. My laid back personality is one that would seem to mesh with floating more than some of my more highstrung colleagues, and I like hanging out in the room that will double as both my office and the lunchroom.
Now I have all these quotes and no place to put them, but other that that annoyance, it's sort of nice to have no classroom setup to finish this week. I'll just have to develop an entirely new style of nomadic teaching, that's all. I'm telling myself that this will make me a better teacher because it will force me to grade more quickly and be more organized.
I'll try to forget about my much-sharper-than-I-am colleague who swears that floating last year was a huge factor in her decision to leave the teaching profession this year to go to get a Master's in Library Science.
With my afternoon suddenly free, I gave Bobby a call. I had promised him last week that I'd take him out sometime this week and get his summer reading books. I actually found both of them - the curious incident of the dog at night time and The Things They Carried - on my shelf and gave them to them, so I just decided I'd take him to Staples and foot the bill for some school supplies for him. He's going to be a senior this year and is taking advanced courses for the first time, and he's a little nervous.
This week is the one-year anniversary of his older brother's murder on the streets of Baltimore. Since that time, he went through a spell when he looked like he would be following the same dealing and hustling path as his brother. He was looking to escape, though, and, seemingly, he has. He would hide money for his addict sister last year when the heating bills were looking like they'd be turned off, and he wasn't proud about where he was getting the money. He was arrested and put on probation, the best thing that could have happened to him at that point. It's worked. Now he's got an after school job, he made the Honor Roll last year (including a 98 in my class), and got back into wrestling. In the spring, Bobby was talking about going to College Park, and had been told he was a candidate for a conditional wrestling scholarship to go there (conditional on his wrestling performance his senior year.)
It's also the week of his birthday, so I wanted to see him. The kid doesn't really have anybody, and I've known him now for going on five years, and feel closer with him than with any other student I've ever had. So I picked him up after the short drive from my house - he's practically my neighbor, even though the world of his street is far different than the mayoral world of my street - and we headed out to Staples. But I had to take a detour to the restaurant first to get my tips from Sunday, and talked him into going in and getting a fancy lunch. He had a salmon club and a piece of cake with a birthday candle, and he tried to pay but I refused. We then headed out to Staples, where I told him he had a $40 spending spree to get whatever he thought he would need for the year.
He asked me why I was doing it for him. I told him that this is what this day is about, getting him ready for school and celebrating his birthday. What I wish I could have told him is the following:
Because, Bobby, no one's success will mean as much to me as yours. Because, Bobby, you wrote me a teacher-gram last year that was one of the most moving things ever written to me, and I have it on my refrigerator right next to my Emerson magnets so that I see it every day. Because, Bobby, you've had to go through things that I could never have imagined when I was 16 and 17, and you may not know it, but you're a special, smart kid, and deserve every small leg-up you can get, even the modest help I can give from time to time. Because, Bobby, I want you to see that there's a world outside of Baltimore and want you to get there somehow. Because you're the walking embodiment of why I became a teacher, and of why I teach where I do.
I also think I'm going to drag my computer in today. Hopefully someone will unlock things for me. The attitude I've mostly gotten from my school over the last few years for wanting to come in early is annoyance, but I think it's because I've been talking to the wrong people.
Sunday, August 21, 2005
Afterwards, I went to the gym and then headed back to Fell's Point to pick up the dog, who had stayed at the Polish Girl's house during my vacation. She loves dogs and even made tongue-in-cheek rumbles of wanting to keep him past the week. When I picked him up, she convinced me to go out with her to Thirsty Dog Pub, where she bought me a belated birthday dinner even as I insisted that I should be the one taking her out to eat for taking care of my dog. She told me that she would pay me to take care of Holden, and I let her win an argument that I wouldn't have let her win during the school year when I was getting paid.
It's nothing new for me to rave about the food at this place, but I'll do it again: I have no idea how this place even makes money, it's so cheap, yet the food is amazing. Their Hearts Afire palm salad is the food of the gods, and it costs $6.50. We split a salad and a pizza and had a couple of their very good beers, and Holden was his dashing self. My "girlfriend," the longtime waitress who works Sunday nights, gave me a hug when I arrived and was her usual charming self (even though I felt less special about the hug when I saw her give about five more throughout the course of the night).
Dinner with Polish Girl was great. She's witty as hell, never failing to make a joke at the expense of her heritage, me, or the dog. Since I heard about the Polish Girl and the Chef, there's an elephant in the room when I talk to her. Nothing has been mentioned, and everything's still hush-hush to the point where I wonder if maybe I was too drunk the night I heard for it to be true. She keeps talking about a "friend," though, one that she's going on vacation with and one who helped walk Holden, and I'm pretty sure it's got to be him. And they're both good people, so I'm happy about that.
Today, for some reason, I was struck by the fact that I can talk with her and joke with her more than with just about anyone, and this is no small feat since she's one of the most beautiful women I've ever seen. Today, for example, I told her a very long and convuluted dirty joke in which I have to use a German accent, and I'm one of the worst people ever for picking up on an accent. It was, I'm sure, horrendous, but I was comfortable enough to tell it and she laughed and laughed at it. I'm not sure why I can talk with her without getting tongue-tied, yet cannot seem to strike up a conversation with other pretty girls. I try to remember how our friendship started, and what it was like to talk to her when I didn't really know her, and how our friendship progressed, but I can't rememember the details. I've always been a little infatuated with her, so it's not like this is something that developed over time. I don't know, maybe I had more confidence two years ago than I do now, or maybe because I know she's seen me at my lowest (post eye surgery bloody gauze and eyepatches, for example) that makes me feel we're close. Basically, I wish I could get where I'm at with her with others that I might have a better chance of developing something more than just friendship.
I also think I need to take Holden to Thirsty Dog some more. Women were flocking all to him like moths to a flame.
By the way, tag this one under the ironic title of "Baltimore's Most Eligible Bachelor" as well.
Saturday, August 20, 2005
Anyhow, I was intrigued by this recent message from a 26-year old woman in Rosedale. I don't know where Rosedale is, but I bet it's close since I've heard of it.
Hey, I know this will be a weird way to start a conversation, but I read Life of Pi recently, too, and would love to chat about it to someone else who's read it. I couldn't put it down, either, and I laughed out loud in a few place. (Swim, Richard Parker, swim! No, wait, go away! Get away!) I also have some questions -- like what was the island with the trees supposed to be?
As you probably guessed, when I did the profile, Life of Pi was the most recent book I read that I could think of at the moment I was filling it out, and I figured it'd be a good book to put on a profile because people either love it or hate it. However, that was a long time ago now, almost two years I think since I read it, and I remember little about it, and definitely don't remember much about the questions she asked. I'm so intrigued by this girl who actually writes about a book in her message to me, though, and asks questions about it, that I feel I should re-read it and give her an actual answer to these questions.
If Blogger had categories, I would tag this one under the category title of, "The Memoirs of Baltimore's Most Eligible Bachelor." And that title, of course, would be an ironic one. Or perhaps, "The Emotional Adolescence of a Teacher of Adolescents" would be a good category title for my whiny posts about being single. Hmmm. Well, no category titles needed since there are no categories on blogspot.
Gotta work a Sunday brunch tomorrow. Tired, bed soon.
This trip, though, was relaxing. I'm tanned and relaxed right now. I took Highway 301 down on Sunday - bypassing 95 - and had a pleasant, scenic trip nearly the entire seven hours. When I got there, my friends all had been there a day, but I quickly got into the groove. Days were spent on the beach, neck deep in Haruki Murakami's The Wind Up Bird Chronicle (astonishing, spooky, strange, and the narrator reminded me of myself to an amazing degree) and then The Kite Runner (about what I expected - a well-constructed story that gets a little preachy but is powerful). Plenty of alcohol was consumed and lots of board games played throughout the nights. Rob took out his guitar every night as we tried to stump him with songs. I slept in every day and went to bed when I got tired. I barely thought about anything other than what was in the moment.
I swam in the ocean, the water feeling warm after an initial shock, the waves pushing me around like a bully. I loved giving myself over to the waves; so much of my life is spent with my thoughts and words in restraint, and losing total control of my body as the waves sucked me under and beat me to the sand below was exhilirating. I closed my eyes tight and made sure the waves didn't allow my neck to hit the ground in a dangerous angle, and just let them do their will. The undertow was so strong that I worried about getting farther out than chest deep, and the waves so relentless that I couldn't turn my head. Playing frisbee in the water was like playing a game of basketball in which the waves were the world's best defenders; you had to throw to someone open - away from an impending wave - as well as make sure your throw was cleared the oncoming waves.
One night, we went out to the ocean after a few drinks. The moon was full and hanging over the sea like a balloon, the reflection across the glowing water one of the most beautiful sights I've ever seen. To our right, we saw Jupiter and, less visibly, Saturn, both looking like lights on boats over the harbor. The days were just as picturesque. One morning, I laid alone on the beach on a Detroit Tigers towel. I couldn't put down my book - I was on around page 450 of Murakami's 600-page book - until I noticed that the sky was one of the bluest colors I'd ever seen, just like my grandmother's eyes, and completely cloudless. I stared up for a while, thinking that it was one of the most beautiful colors I'd ever seen. The sound of the water crashing upon the shore made the scene even more memorable.
The friends were three couples (one I know very well, one I know pretty well, and one I didn't know at all), two sisters, and three single people (one of them the brother of one of the couples). It was a good amount of people, because there were few enough so that I didn't get sick of anyone, and enough single people where I didn't feel like a loser for not being coupled up. I'm really into one of the girls who was there, but I don't think she's into me, and because I'm pretty much still in middle school, I don't think I'll pursue anything there unless she decides to give me more visible signals. But, otherwise, the trip was drama free and internal struggle free. I didn't check my e-mail or go online once for seven days, which was nice. Because school is coming up, I had a bunch of school year dreams every night, but that's also a function of sleeping well, and that's good too.
The last nice thing about the trip, besides the relaxation and the company, was the price. I didn't do any of the organizing, just paid my $200 back in January and showed up at the place. Throughout the week, I spent only the $85 in tips that I made on Saturday night - and that was including gas. Part of that was going out to eat on my birthday (my friends wouldn't let me pay for my own dinner), and not going out any other days except for an afternoon happy hour. The rest was all just my share of the groceries and beer, and gas, and all that just wasn't much at all. I probably would have spent more if I was here in Baltimore. This is the perfect sort of vacation to have if you're on week 8 of 10 weeks between paychecks.
It's good to be home, and I've been checking e-mail and making some posters for my classroom. It's August 20th and I still don't know what I'm teaching, but I've heard rumors that are unsubstantiated but better than anything I've gotten thus far. I'm planning on all ninth grade - four classes of Honors, and two classes of College Prep. It's sort of a strange schedule, but I have a feeling they did it to me to give me 7th period planning for coaching, and, if that's the case, I thank them. I think it will be interesting to set up the same course for two different kinds of kids, and look forward to the challenge despite a few misgivings.
I have to stop this post before it gets too long and boring. Oops, too late.
Sunday, August 14, 2005
Apparently Hurricane Irene is off the coast down there and could make its way to the banks. North Carolina has not seen a major hurricane in nine years, so they're due. We'll see.
I'll be back next weekend. Hopefully no blogging in the interim. I've been posting way too much lately, if you ask me, and a little break could be a good thing.
In addition, I'm finding it incredibly disturbing that it's August 14 and I have no idea what I'm teaching yet. Just got a big letter from the new principal with our agenda, but still no freaking schedule. As a friend said, maybe I should go contract on their ass and demand to know. (By contract, we're supposed to know when we leave the previous school year.)
Saturday, August 13, 2005
The Juliana Hatfield show was very good. It was the first time I'd seen her since 1998 or so, and the seven years have not detracted from the power of her performance or the enjoyment I get from it.
This was my third time at The Mojo. I'd seen Mary Lou Lord and Gingersol there about a year and a half ago, and then Patti Rothberg a couple months ago. For the former show, there was a nice sized crowd, but for the latter, only about five people were there - and it was so hot it was hardly bearable to stay. I didn't know what to expect.
But I walked in the doors at around 9:15, fifteen minutes after the doors open, and there was already a good crowd. I made my way to the front of the stage, and was a little dismayed to learn there was two, instead of one, opening bands. The first band, Durden, was terrible. An indie female-fronted rock band that is usually a five piece but was a three piece acoustic on this night (usually places have rules where the opening band cannot be any bigger in size than the headliner), which they used as an excuse a few times. There was nothing to recommend about what I saw. The guitar playing wasn't bad, but the songs were so tuneless and the singing so jarringly off that I had to leave. I snuck around back, where The Mojo was showing Kingpin in a little courtyard behind the bar. I found out they do this every Friday night, show a movie for a free outside and have drink specials for $2 and dollar burgers. That'd be a fun thing to do some night. It wasn't crowded and I stayed for a few minutes while I waited out the end of Durden. I don't feel bad about badtalking them, either, because during Juliana's set they were upstairs chilling instead of downstairs watching the show. Pretty classless.
Celia Kipp was next. A tattooed solo acoustic act, she was funny and had some good songs. She was giving her CD away for free but I never found the woman who was giving it away. But I'd like to hear it; she was good. Here's her picture:
Juliana Hatfield took the stage at 11pm and played for 90 minutes. By eleven, I was getting restless, and wasn't sure how much I'd enjoy the show. I went alone, and didn't have anyone to talk to. There was a cute girl who was also there alone, but I swear she was scared of me because she kept leaving to "get a drink" or whatever whenever I approached her. I was pretty happy that the crowd was a good mix - pretty even guys/girls mix, pretty even young/old mix. Juliana has been at this for about fifteen years so her fans run the gamut in age, but was worried that some of her older fans wouldn't come out to this seedy bar and that I'd be there with a bunch of 20 year olds. I was wrong. I saw people in their forties and older, and kids in their teens.
Hatfield opened with "Daniel," a song from her album Beautiful Creature, a poppy album she released along side the noise rock album Juliana's Pony. She followed up with "Sellout," a song from her ep Please Do Not Disturb, an ep she was promoting the last time I saw her live. I knew both of these songs well, and liked them a great deal, and immediately was hooked into the show. I mean, I guess I am a pretty big fan. I've got a couple Blake Babies albums, all of Juliana Hatfield's albums except for the latest which was released this week, plus albums by the Lemonheads, Mary Lou Lord, and Aimee Mann that she's appeared on. At Captain Larry's the other night, I played the song "Make a Killing" by Aimee Mann simply because Juliana Hatfield does the backup vocals. So even though I was worried because in recent years I haven't listened to that much Juliana Hatfield, I shouldn't have been - it was a short drive to return to these songs, and oh so worth it.
In general, I think girls enjoy Juliana Hatfield because they want to be her, and guys enjoy her because they want her. I mean, yeah, she's certainly one of the most talented songwriters of her time, crafting great rock songs with unescapable hooks, smart lyrics, and evocative vocals for well over a decade now. But it was clear that the guys in the audience really wanted her. Every break in between songs was filled with shouts of "I love you, Juliana!" and "Will you marry me, Juliana?". Her combination of shyness, intelligence, toughness ("Little white boy, won't you be my slave?" from the tongue-in-cheek "Houseboy"), and vulnerability ("I don't look at faces, I look at my feet" from her song "Ugly") makes her seem approachable. She's a ball of contradiction, just like her hit "My Sister." And, not to be sexist, but she's really cute when she's mad. She still looks like she's 25. All these things, plus the great songs, made the show great.
I remember the first time I listened to Hatfield. I was in high school, and it was 1994 and 1995, and I was listening to a lot of Green Day, Smashing Pumpkins, and Nirvana. I'd heard Juliana Hatfield's name mentioned in the same breath as many of these artists, and decided to give her album Only Everything a try. I was fascinated by the way her vocals - sweet, almost little girl-ish - seemed at war with the hard driving guitars. The power pop catchiness of the music never caught on in a mainstream way, mainly because of the past and current sexism in rock radio, and I always hoped it would. But I guess if she'd had more than a few college rock hits and minor radio hits, then I probably wouldn't be able to see her in a crowd of 60 at a seedy bar in Baltimore. And from listening to her lyrics and reading stuff like her new album diatribe, it's probably better for her that she never got to sell out arenas even though she's got more talent in her little finger than most of the hit artists both in the mid nineties and today.
Seeing live music has long been about moments for me. Moments that transcend into a spiritual goosebump experience, where you feel a connection with others around you, and artist, and a validation that life is incredible. I remember the first one, when I saw Tracy Chapman play in 1995 in Ann Arbor (my first concert that I went to on my own), and I heard her turn the melody of "Fast Car" inside out, and the moment I realized what song it was, and the whole crowd did, too, and exploded in applause, that was one of those moments. Or the time that Dan Bern screamed "Fuck this!", ripped the cord out of his acoustic guitar, and came out into the audience, singing "I've got big balls" from the song "Tiger Woods." Or the time Elliot Smith started playing the chords to "Between the Bars" in Detroit's Magic Stick and I was with a real pretty girl and we danced and touched and listened to sad and sweet Smith wanly coo the lyrics. Or the moment The Verve Pipe launched into "The Freshmen" at MSU's Auditorium, and everyone in the audience knew it and sang along at the tops of their lungs. Or the first time I saw Melissa Ferrick, when she shouted to the sound people at this tiny auditorium at K College in Kalamazoo, "What? You think this is a fucking folk show or something?" and then proceeded to become a sound avalanche with just her acoustic. Patti Rothberg and Freddie Kane launching into "Treat Me Like Dirt" in my own living room last spring. Similar moments have occurred in shows by Todd Snider, Brenda Kahn, 19 Wheels, and Sinead O'Connor.
There was a moment in this show, too. Juliana Hatfield closed with the song "My Enemy," a song I didn't know too well, but recognized from her second-to-last album, In Exile Deo. Quieter than most of Hatfield's music, it ends with a repeated, beautiful wail of "I still love my enemy." Over and over again. I know Hatfield's music is not political, but it was impossible for me not to put a larger context on this song, or to extrapolate it to people I've loved and lost, or to my feelings on the world in general. She was screaming towards the end, her voice becoming off-kilter and more powerful, her guitar work more and more frenetic, and I was transcended beyond the sweaty bar in Baltimore to another, more beautiful place.
I need to go to more concerts.
I do live a charmed life. I need to remind myself of this more often.
Juliana Hatfield rocked my world tonight. Pictures and a writeup coming tomorrow, if your heart can stand it. I've got to dump the pictures off my camera before the vacation, so I don't have much of a choice.
God, my eyes hurt. Please, Maryland, join the 21st century and eliminate smoking from inside bars and restaurants.
Friday, August 12, 2005
Ended up at Captain Larry's last night with Rob and Michelle. As they said, the "pitcher and a pound" deal is one of the best in Baltimore. It's a pitcher of beer and a pound of shrimp for $10, and, let me tell you, I ate an incredible amount of shrimp last night. Mmmmm. With their top-notch jukebox and great food prices, I now have another great Federal Hill bar to go to, although I probably wouldn't choose this place over Thirsty Dog.
I leave for vacation on Sunday. An already paid for vacation. When I return, I'll have to go back to school in three days. This means I've made it through the summer without going broke. In fact, I daresay I'm proud of myself for what I've accomplished. Knock on wood, of course, since the next paycheck doesn't arrive until mid September. But this is the first summer when I haven't felt a noose tightening around my neck as the two and a half months of no pay wear on. I saved this year. I deposited into two accounts - a "summer savings" account and a "savings savings" account (not including my retirement account, which is set up into a 401-B).
I've used up most of the former, but still have enough left for my last car payment and rent. I haven't touched the latter, which is an account I set up for possible house down payments or washer/drier purchases in the future. I'll probably always feel a little broke in the summers as long as I work in a district that doesn't have a 12-month pay option, because it just sort of sucks to have go a quarter of every year without any fresh money coming in. But it's a feeling, not a reality. And this year I finally learned how to deal with it without losing my savings or sanity. I've had to engage in a little bit of credit card usage, but that's what emergencies (my car getting hit, my eyes appointment, my lack of getting reimbursed yet for my trip) are for, and there will be no balance on that thing (which only has a $1200 limit) by October.
Lots of errands today. I'm going to get started.
Thursday, August 11, 2005
2. I had a letter to the editor printed in today's State News. It's all about my former colleague and old friend Adrian Butler who was just killed in Iraq, and I cut and pasted nearly the whole thing from this blog.
3. Welcome back, Rafael Palmeiro, you liar and cheater.
4. If you were a teenage guy in the early to mid nineties and you listened to "alternative" rock music, then you probably had a crush on Juliana Hatfield. Tomorrow, I'm hoping to go see her play at The Mojo Room, which is very close to my house. If I go, I hope she plays "My Sister," "Sellout," and "Universal Heartbeat." I'm on call at work, though, so we'll see if they need me.
Wednesday, August 10, 2005
Finally, the willowy woman left the counter and the young girl walked up to it. Her mother, who I hadn't noticed before since she was standing a little behind the girl and was actually shorter than her, spoke. She said, "Hi there. I believe you have a book her for my daughter. A special order for Thomas."
The guy behind the counter looked, but there was no special order for Thomas. So the girl then timidly asked, "Um, well do you have book A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines?" Her voice was soft, unsure, cautious.
The man referred them to the help desk, who had referred them to the counter before that. I interrupted from my seat while the guy checked with the Help desk. "So, are you about to start school at ____________?"
They both sort of looked at me puzzled, so I explained that I was a teacher there.
Upon hearing that, the girl's face became flushed and she grinned, while she retreated behind her mother just a little. I told them I recognized the book title as our summer reading book for 9th graders, and that I knew because I'm the one who had made the assignment. I introduced myself and told her how good the book was. The girl asked me what I taught and I told her English I, that I just might be her teacher, you never know. They thanked me and I left.
When I was walking away, I saw both of them at the Help desk, again waiting in line to get this pretty common book. I walked to the G section of the shelves, grabbed it, and handed it to the girl. She got that shy grin on her face again and thanked me. I then told her there's a good movie version of it, too, starring Mekhi Pfieffer and Don Cheadle, but not to rent it until after she'd finished reading it. She was smiling the whole time, and seemed genuinely happy to be talking to me. I wonder if the prospect of high school is making her nervous and now meeting this teacher in his grubby, sweaty t-shirt (I was in between cardio and weights workouts at Bally's) made it more palatable. Or maybe she was just being polite. Either way, she said how nice it was to meet me and that she'll see me on August 29, and I was again reminded how excited I am to be getting back to school in a couple weeks.
It was nice meeting you, too, Brianna.
Tuesday, August 09, 2005
Sigh of relief.
I'm going to keep looking at HUD homes but now I'm not in a huge rush to do it.
Elle is back. Hopefully for good this time. She's one of my favorite bloggers - an incredible writer and mom in Baltimore City. And I should know she's a good mom, since I taught her kid - and the kid's a special one, as I reminded when I ran into her at school yesterday. A senior now... wow, that's hard to believe. I taught her in the ninth grade during my second year of teaching and it seems like yesterday in many ways.
My new debit card was declined at Trader Joe's today. Pretty embarrassing. I hadn't used it yet, but had been sure to activate it. The PIN number comes separate from the card and came today, and I had that right. I also have money in the account, so everything on my end was alright. it made me mad. I called card services and they referred me to the credit union, but not before telling me a bad batch of new cards had recently been sent out and mine might be one of them. The credit union was closed despite it being 4:48. How can banks get away with closing before 5? So, no groceries. I'm eating almonds and canned spinach for dinner because the debit card is also the ATM card. I could go with a veggie burger if I wanted to, but I've had one a day now for every day of the summer and don't think I want to do two in one day after having one for lunch already.
I did something to my ankle - twisted it, or maybe just strained it somehow - by sitting on it wrong and now my running is all messed up. I've been elipticaling it for a week now and it's just not the same as running. Plus it's getting boring. Tomorrow I'm going to swim and hopefully loosen up my muscles a little bit. Sometime before the sex with Jennifer Aniston dream last night, I had a dream about the ocean, where I'm going next week at Nag's Head in North Carolina's outer banks. I dreamed the water was very warm and I swam in it for hours. In reality, I'm a pretty weak swimmer and am a little scared of it because of all the serious problems with my eyes and minor problems with the ears in recent years. And the pool at the gym is always full of little kids who I don't want to deal with when I'm trying to get my workout on. But tomorrow I'm going early since I work at the restaruant and hopefully it will be kid free.
On the competitive softball team I'm on for the Herring Run league, I think I'm in danger of losing my #5 spot in the lineup. After a home run in the first game, I had another game today of not hitting the ball hard once. I did have a bloop single to right field that scored a run, and fielder's choice that scored a run, and then scored a run later on a ball that was a fielder's choice, so I wasn't totally unproductive. But I'm not feeling comfortable up there, which is a bummer because I crushed the ball last night during my non-competitive softball league game. I think I get it into my head to hit to right field, and the end up being weak grounders to second base.
What in the heck are they doing to Lake Montebello? Anyone know? I was going to take pictures sometime today but forgot and now it's too dark. Lot of work going on there, though, like they're tearing out all the cattails and marsh grass so you can see the lake from the track. Or maybe they're doing it for non-aestetic reasons. I'm not sure. They've just made this strange parking lot for taxi cabs on the west end of the lake, and I don't understand that at all either.
I cannot wait for the Rafael Palmeiro press conference later this week. Rumors are swirling that the Orioles are going to release him, and that will be interesting as well - although I am looking forward to seeing how the crowds at Camden Yards and around the league react to him when/if he does return.
CD of the week is Wilco's Being There. Great album. Like Radiohead, I prefer the early version of that particular band, before they got all arsty fartsy. I also have really have songs 4 and 5 ("Faithful" and "Testify") of Common's CD Be and can't stop playing them. The album's not as good as the hype, but it's pretty darn good. Update: I've just put Boys for Pele in and wow, I miss the old Tori Amos.
Juliana Hatfield plays Friday at the Mojo Lounge. I haven't decided for sure if I'm going, but I should, because I always miss her when she's in town for whatever reason. But I don't really want to spend any money so I'm going to see if any of my connections can get me on the guest list. I can't believe she's playing at such a small venue but I guess when you haven't had a hit single in ten years that's what happens. I saw her live once in Detroit in around 1997 and then again in Pontiac in 1998 and haven't seen her since. But I think I have all of her CDs and still dig her pissed off lyrics, saccarine vocals, angry crunchy guitars, and poppy melodies. Anyone want to go? I think I need a motivator.
I can't believe how much free time I have right now. It's really pretty ridiculous. I'm trying to remain useful, but instead I blog or surf the Internet or watch Tigers games or hang around school or sit at Barnes and Noble and read. Tomorrow at least I work at the restaurant so that will use up eight hours of the day. This is another reason I don't like to have two months off in the summer. I'd kill for this sort of time in, say, the end of October or the end of April (two furiously busy times teaching), and would much rather the time off be spread out. I'm ready to get back; the batteries are recharged and the brain rested.
I don't want to directly link to it, but if you want, you can head to www.zemeanb(removethis)eancafe.com. I celebrated my two-year anniversary of working there the other day. I don't really want googlers to find the restaurant through here, nor do I necessarily want the owners to come here and find me complaining about cheap tippers, but I figure this is pretty risk-free. And I don't really care that much; I think I advertise pretty well for the place.
Anyhow, you'd be hard pressed to find a better restaurant in Baltimore, seriously. There's a reason I continue to work there despite shitty tips in the summer. And it's not just the Polish girl, or the fact that it's pretty laid back and a good second job for me to have as a teacher during the school year. I believe in the place and genuinely like it. They're good people who own it. It's also pretty cheap if you get pierogi or something like that. Brunch is also way too cheap, as far as I'm concerned - the food and amount of food you get is greater than other brunch places, yet the price is significantly lower. (I've campaigned to raise all brunch dishes by $2-$3 to make it closer to other brunch places, but they haven't gone for it. So take advantage!)
Things I recommend about the place without reservation:
1. Anything fish. I especially like the almond encrusted snapper and the sashimi grade marlin, which tastes a bit smoky. My favorite side is the smoked scallop quinoa, but the seafood risotto is also excellent. The chef usually has a fish special as well that I'd recommend because that means it just came in fresh. The chef is a young guy, but incredibly talented. He's so good that despite only paying cooks $8.50/hr, it's worth it for them to work alongside this guy because it's almost like an apprenticeship. His presentation of dishes is pretty spectacular, and things taste so fucking good. Feel free to ask the server if the head chef is working. (He works 90 hours a week, so chances are, he is.)
2. The Berry Salad or the Marlin Salad. Both are around $10, and both are terrific. I actually like all the salads a lot. Don't get the boring old house salad, though - for just a couple bucks more, you can get a pretty decadent one.
3. All of the slavic dishes are very popular. The only one I can eat is the pierogi, which are sauteed and filled with sweet cheese, potatoes and cheese, or saurkraut. A lot of people don't like saurkraut and ask to just get the other two kinds. On occasion, I've been known to just get saurkraut, though - to each his own. I also love the red cabbage that comes with the pierogi, but I like it cold better than warm. Go figure. Pierogi is certainly one of our trademark dishes.
4. Hriby dip. This is the mushroom dip of the gods. It's so simple yet so good. And only $7.95.
5. I've never had any of our meat dishes, but people love the goulash (and it smells good) and the chicken kiev. I wouldn't recommend getting the holupki, if only because I think my grandma's looked so much better than the restaurant's.
6. My beer recommendation is Okocim or Utenos. For a cheap white wine, I like the Oremus Tokaji (a Hungarian wine) or the George DeBouf Pouille Fousse. Jason and Fool like the Stonegate Sauvignon Blanc, which I don't think I've ever tried. I'm much more a red wine person, though, and love the Blackstone Merlot as a cheap one to get. For just a little bit more, the Rutherford Hill Merlot ($40/bottle) is my all-time favorite so far. The owners got it for me for Christmas a couple of years ago (along with a wine calculator that's pretty cool) and I loved it. I also like the Tasmanian wine, Ninth Island, a lot. I'm not a big fan of the Louis Latour Pinot Noir; upgrade a bit if you want a good pinot that's not too harsh. If you don't want to drink alcohol, some of the coffee drinks are really good, especially if I'm the barista. This is something else I feel like we should charge more for (we're cheaper than Starbuck's), so I would definitely recommend them.
7. As for brunch, get a pierogi appetizer and then an eggs benedict. I've honestly never had a better hollaindaise sauce than the one there at the restaurant. All the omelets are good and stuff, but those benedicts... mmmm.
8. A lot of other stuff looks really neat when it comes out - things like the boar chop, the raspberry filet, etc - but I've never had them since I'm a pescetarian. I'd recommend any of those as well.
9. The Slavic Sampler is a great buy and a good thing to share as an appetizer.
10. Lunches are cheap and good but almost no one ever goes for lunch for some reason. Not enough offices around Fell's Point or something like that. If you go for lunch, expect excellent, and grateful, service. Especially if you come this Wednesday, because I'll be working the dreaded 10-5 shift.
11. Tuesdays are the best day to go, if you have a choice. On those nights, you can get a three course meal with wine pairings for $29.95 (without the wine, for $19.95), and it's really fancy and really good. Or, the other deal on Tuesdays is to get two chef specialties and then get any bottle of wine for half off. This can be an incredible deal depending on what wine you get. Of course, remember to tip your server based on the amount it would have been before the discount.
12. Thursdays are also good because you get pierogi or holupki (but, again, I recommend the pierogi over the holupki, although a lot of people really do like them) plus a bowl of borsht for $9.95 total. The Polish girl works Thursdays so you'd have the privelage of having the most attractive waitress in Baltimore, as well.
2. Made our way through a bunch of pitchers of Miller Lite, and played two rounds of Guess-the-next-artist-to-be-played, for which we put $1 in each round. My picks of Eric Burdon and the Animals and The Police were never played. U2 and Rolling Stones ended being the winners.
3. Got kicked out of Outhouse Steakback for someone in our party stealing beer (the waitress wsa distracted from the storm), and we headed next door to Red Fish. Cool place.
4. Talked with Fool about Red Fish being a perfect place for a Happy Hour, and she chatted up the bartender and came up with this. Please head on over to her site and post a comment about the best night for a Happy Hour this month.
5. Had a dream I had sex with Jennifer Aniston. She needed comforting after her recent marriage breakup.
No news on the house right now. Super Lesbian (who, by the way, is also a super softball player, I was reminded again last night) has made the offer. They're considering it. I head out Thursday with a real estate agent. I'm not opposed to renting again if I don't find a good, cheap house.
Monday, August 08, 2005
I was also very civil to all parties. No matter how mad I get at someone, I can only grin and bear it. Actually, there's really no point in calling the real estate agent a lying bitch. She knows it, I know it, the world doesn't become any better if I say it out loud to her. It's not even like I yelled it into an ocean inside myself, either. Writing it out over the last few days has made me feel better. That's, frankly, why I blog.
I am yelling within myself at the fact that I've gone into the school three days in a row and the scheduling lady has not been there. All of my colleagues have found out what they're teaching because they've run into her, but I haven't. I've only heard rumors that I'll be teaching something other than just ninth graders. This is a disappointment, unless it means I'll have 7th period planning (coaching is very difficult without this). I was looking forward to being the only ENG I Honors teacher this year and doing a lot of what I want to do in there on my own. Instead, it looks like I'll be sharing the course with someone. This is a little selfish to feel this way, but I was pretty excited, and the opposite US History Honors teacher (who would get the same kids) and I had already planned a lot of co-curricular stuff. Now, all that will be for naught. And the kids will compare their work to the other teacher's work and complain to me that they're doing so much more in my class.
Either way, I want to know what I'm teaching so I can begin planning. I've already rearead A Lesson Before Dying and will have to re-read a bunch more books if I end up teaching a different course. I'm in the middle of Murukami's The Wind Up Bird Chronicle, and love it, but probably shouldn't be spending my time with that if I've got to teach new books for a course I'm not prepared for.
It was still neat to go into the school today, even if I didn't find the person I was looking for. The building is full of incoming ninth graders and that got me pretty excited about the upcoming school year. Lots of rumors are swirling - school is a hotbed of rumors - and so far I've heard that we're getting 2 new assistant principals, a new department head, and a new scheduling person. We've been sort on AP's for a couple of years since the big layoffs in 2003, so I'm very happy to hear this news.
Gotta go to the gym. I'm glad I don't work at the restaurant for a few days, because working at a fancy restaurant doesn't help the waistline much. In the last week, they've had this summer fish stew that is incredible. It's mostly good because smoked scallops - one of the best foods in the world - make up a big part of the ingredients. But the soup has cream in it and I'm sure all the ramikins of it I've eaten in the last week haven't been good for me. The chef also sent a container of it with me home the other day, and I just had it for lunch. So good, but probably so bad...
Sunday, August 07, 2005
If it happens, this buys us time as I plot my next move. If not, at least I know others were given a chance to get it. I'm not sure why this makes me happy, but there's something so backroom and underhanded and possibly illegal about this deal as is - a house selling for $20,000 - 30,000 under its market value in the span of three days without being listed, a sale catalyzed by a possibly scam-artist lead inspector - that to expose some light on it in any way at all makes me feel like justice is being served at least a little. Really, anything to wipe the smugness off the real estate agent's face in knowing that she's screwing over the 80-year old owner of the house makes me happy. My sense of justice is feeling replenished.
A quick timeline:
The last four years: I've lived in the house, been a model tenant. About a year and a half ago, she asked me if I'd like to consider buying the place. I said yes, but I wanted to get myself in a better spot financially. Later, my old roommate approached her about buying the house. He backed out, and after that she promised me she would never sell the place out from under me and give me first dibs on it when I wanted to buy.
Monday: She calls me to tell me that the EPA sent her a letter saying that the house needed to be checked out for peeling lead paint, and that she and an inspector would come in on Wednesday to check it out. I'm in Michigan. She also asks me my plans for the house. I said I intend to stay for the school year, at least, and still enjoy living there, and that I would probably be able to buy the place in October.
Wednesday: She calls me, and says that the inspector wants to buy the house and that they're going back to look at the place the next day. The inspector tells her that to get the house up to code, she would have to invest thousands of dollars, and that he would offer her $80,000 cash to buy it on the spot.
Friday: The inspector didn't call back, but another real estate agent in the office of the owner's real estate office overheard talk of the purchase of the house for $80,000. He says he's got a couple interested in it, and the couple looked at the place at 3pm. They want to buy it. Meanwhile, Mrs. Cohn is "shocked" at the condition of the house, even though it's pretty much exactly the condition it was when I moved in, only there's more peeling paint.
The weekend: I get approved not only for an FHA loan, but also get preliminary approval for a 100% financing loan in which I would only have to put down $500. Still, both loans require an inspection, and Mrs. Cohn's (I frankly don't care about not using her name anymore) real estate agent doesn't think it would pass any inspection and wants to take the cash up front.
Meanwhile, I have two friends who offered her more in cash for the house than $80,000. I have one friend I play softball with who looked at buying the house in the spring who said she would pay $100,000 for it, today. However, the real estate agent is wondering how this buyer came out of the "clear blue sky" and is leery. It could still happen, but the contract is being drawn up today.
This house has not been listed, and is going to sell at more than $40,000 less than any other house in the area. It's not in the best shape, but it's certainly livable, and has gotten a new garage, a new roof, a new drainage system for the basement, a new hot water heater, and a new furnace since I moved in four years ago. Mrs. Cohn, the old lady who owns the house, is being taken advantage of, and her asinine real estate agent is giving her very bad advice that she's following.
It looks like I'll be kicked to the curb by September 30.
1. Buy a HUD house in the teacher-next-door program for half off. But the list is looking pretty bare at this moment. I like this option because at least it means that sitting on this good deal for the last four years turned into another good deal because of my job. Still, I don't exactly have a lot of time on my hands to fix up a place so I would need to be able to move in by October.
2. Buy a nicer house for around $100,000 somewhere in the city. I'm going out with my real estate agent this week to start looking. I don't really have much clue where I want to buy at this point, and hate to do something like this out of desperation.
3. Find another sweet rent deal like I've got now, one that can accomondate a large dog, a cat, and a roommmate.
4. Put stuff in storage space, find someone to watch the dog for a couple months (The Polish girl would absolutely love to do this), and find someone - a friend - who will let me live and rent a room in their house for a few months while I houseshop and save. This lesbian couple I'm close with just offered me this, but they don't move in to their teacher-next-door purchased home until probably October.
5. Curse loudly to myself.
So far, I've only accomplished #5.
I'm also considering how I might go on the offensive with the landlady. I'm madder than I've been in a few years, and would love to just stop paying rent to her. First off, I'm pissed and want to get even in what little amount of power that I have in this situation. Secondly, I now know that I can't trust her as far as I could throw her, and am worried about getting my $950 deposit back. If I call and cancel my August rent check, then not pay September, I wonder what could happen. I definitely have a case of living in hazardous conditions if the lead paint scenario is as bad as the inspector says (tenant rights in Baltimore state this explicitly). Plus, the roof leaks (despite it being new... the roofer hasn't come back to fix it yet), the upstairs faucet doesn't work, my stove doesn't work - there are plenty of violations that would at the very least be reason to open up a rent escrot account if I wanted to go that route.
I also don't think they've done all they need to do for the right of first refusal law, but the code is worded vaguely and I'll check on that tomorrow when I go to the Baltimore City Tenants Rights group that's on St. Paul.
Lastly, I don't blame Mrs. Cohn too much for all this. She's an old woman who is being taken advantage of. But her real estate agent, Diane Marsiglia, is a horrible person. What I hate most about her is the way she patronizes me, acting as if she's doing me a favor when she says that she's going to give me 55 days or is going to give me my deposit back. She's being an unethical bitch (I've caught her in two lies so far), and she's giving her client bad advice. For the life of me, I don't understand how she could get two offers to sell the house for $80,000 in three days - when the house was not even on the market - and think she's has to take the deal despite the fact that just a few calls from me around town to people I know netted an offer of $100,000. This place is a goldmine that someone could flip for a $50,000 profit with just a little bit of work.
Yes, that sound you hear is my student loans not being paid off because I was too chicken to jump on the place earlier. Oh well. Learning experience, I guess.
I'm still hopeful that something will work out. Maybe this buyer will drop out of the picture. Maybe my friend's $100,000 offer will be accepted. Maybe a friend of a friend's offer of $80,000 cash will be accepted and we'll be able to stay longer.
Meanwhile, I think I'm at the point now where I need to be on the lookout for housing options around. I'd appreciate if any of you Baltimoreans could pass them along to me if you come across them.