Wednesday, August 30, 2006

When Idealism Attacks

You know, the only thing worse than random uninformed citizens who think teaching is easy and that teachers are well-paid is power-tripping administrators who think teaching is merely a matter of crowd control and data analysis and that teachers are idiots who need to be reminded to push in their chairs at the end of workshops on such tricky topics as how to take attendance.

I may have mentioned ten or twelve or a hundred times before that I love my job. What I meant was that I love the TEACHING part of my job: I love the hanging out with kids part, and I love the doing good part. I also love the advocacy part of my job; you can't be a good teacher without being the kind of person who reflects on what works and then advocates for policies that support or facilitate good teaching. You might be effective in your own classroom, but the title teacher -- at least to my way of thinking -- implies an investment in and passion for the overall process, regardless of whose classroom you're talking about.

It's the advocacy part, more than anything else, that kicks my ass. It's fairly easy -- although not in the way people who say teaching is easy mean it -- to walk into your classroom, close your door, and teach the children well (I'm simplifying. Some days just trying to do THAT makes me cry). But eventually you come out of your classroom and you hear other teachers talking about how they don't need to cover the Harlem Renaissance because it's not on the state test, or administators assuring teachers that their problem students will eventually drop out, and you feel compelled to remind people that that's not why we're here -- that teaching is about helping kids make meaning and instilling a love of learning, and that you do that with whatever fucking topic you can (bitches!) regardless of whether or not the state has deemed it important, that instead of crossing your fingers and hoping that problem students will drop out you should be trying to determine what the problem student's problem is and FIXING it, or at the very least fucking emphathizing with it.

I've been back at school for a mere three days now and I've attended a total of seven meetings. In my notes for each of those seven meetings, I've written somewhere "think about getting out of teaching." The first couple times I wrote it as sort of a silent sardonic response to something discussed in the meeting -- my oh-so-important obligation to confiscate cellphones, IPods, hats, COATS, and do' rags despite the fact that they almost never interfere with my ability to teach, or the likelihood that the assessments I've created for my class will soon be replaced with standardized assessments provided by central administration (and, incidentally, that those assessments will SUCK). But I'm up to seven "think about getting out of teaching"s in just 60 hours because. . .you know what? Things are FUCKED UP.

My department is short two teachers at the moment. (And, oh, by the way, school starts in five days. TOTALLY snuck up on us again.) We've hired nice, motivated, focused -- but unqualified -- long-term substitutes to temporarily fill these positions. From an administrative perspective, these are warm bodies. End of story. From a teacher/advocate/mentor perspective, these are warm bodies with potential who are going to be teaching kids and who need LOTS of help. And when I wasn't in a meeting, helping was pretty much how I spent my day. It's how my friend Steve spent his day, and how our friend Jess spent her day, and how our friend Mike spent half his day (the other half he had stupid football practice). Which means that none of us got anything done for US today, although we did attend a shit-ton of pointless meetings.

And this is how the advocacy thing kicks my ass. Because although you can't be a good teacher without being an advocate, if you spend all your time advocating you'll have very little time left for actually being a good teacher. And then you start getting crazy. Hell, Steve and I have already resolved to skip lunch tomorrow in an effort to catch up.

I needed to drop a few pounds anyway.

Plus I plan to make up all those calories (and more!) in Hoegaarden tomorrow. It's Cogan's Thursday! Which basically means that it's Thursday and I drag all my friends to my favorite bar (Cogan's) for some serious drinking. Cogan's Thursday is such an institution that when Jess registered for a Thursday night grad class, her husband looked at her schedule and said, "You're taking a class on Cogan's Thursday?" and Jess said, "Shit" and then promptly dropped the class.

That's how I ROLL, bitches!

Also how I roll is that my bulletin boards aren't done and I'm not quite sure what I'm doing on the first day of school. If you have thoughts on either feel free to stop by Cogan's after 6PM. If I'm not relaxing on the patio with a pitcher of Hoegaarden, I'll be in the back laughing while Steve totally kicks my ass at air hockey. On his quarters, hopefully. I need mine for laundry.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Read This Book!

I know, I know, you're already reading 25 other books. I don't care. Add this one to your stack. Don't be put off by the chick lit-looking cover. I don't know why her publisher did that to her. This is definitely not chick lit.

Bookstore Meaghan recenty recommended it in our e-newsletter and wrote

Julie Powell needs something to break the monotony of her life. So, she invents a deranged assignment: She will take her mother's dog-eared copy of Julia Child's 1961 classic, "Mastering the Art of French Cooking," and cook all 524 recipes in the span of just one year. Begun as a blog documenting her daily cooking adventures, its popularity grew to such large proportions that it had to be made into a book. Her reward for all her work: not just a newfound respect for calves livers and aspic, but a new life -- lived with gusto.
When I emailed Meaghan to point out that she'd forgotten "to mention that Julie & Julia f-ing ROCKS!" she responed that "We are a FAMILY newsletter. However, if I was reviewing it on, say, your blog, it would be something like, 'The best fucking book on cooking and life this fucking year, bitches. Now eat up, motherfuckers!'" which I guess is a nice way of saying that I have a slight tendency to overuse the f-word. Or perhaps that I've been jumped in to some strange book-reviewing gang.

No matter. Read the book. What you can tell from the cover and the jacket copy -- that "new life lived with gusto" bit -- is that this is a touching story about a woman who finds meaning in the simple act of cooking. What you can't tell is that this is actually a deep book whose beauty lies in its exploration of the universal quest to find meaning in life. You also can't tell that Julie Powell is witty as hell or that by the time you get to chapter six you'll wish she'd invite you over for a gimlet or five. Nor can you tell that her heartwarming homage to Julia Child and joie de vivre is both hip and hilarious.

And best of all? Julie Powell fucking loves the f-word.

Monday, August 28, 2006

School? It's Just Right Across That River Styx Over There.

Today was the first day of school for teachers. Incidentally, it was also 96 degrees in Norfolk and the air conditioning at school was broken. Oh, and my classroom is on the fourth (i.e., top) floor. My day pretty much involved wondering if it would be inappropriate to remove any more of my clothing than I already had. Answer: yes.

Around 1:30 I had a visit from some of the students who have been calling me all summer. I told them last week to stop calling me and get a life, so I guess they figured if they couldn't call they'd just stop by. Not exactly in keeping with the "get a life" approach to life, but whatever. At least they're respecting the "stop calling me" part of the plan.

Anyway, I was dripping with sweat and definitely not dressed appropriately for greeting ANYONE, let alone 16 year-old male students, unless you consider an exposed midriff appropriate teacher attire. One of these boys wrote "you are my dream woman" on the VERY first assignment he turned in to me last year and then got progressively creepier until parental and administrative intervention was required. Today his only comment on my appearance was to ask, "Hey, where's your necklace? You always wear a necklace."

So see, we've made progress.

Actually, I do pretty much always wear a necklace, and to notice that is still a little creepy. But to look at your dream woman's bare midriff and note only that she is missing her signature accessory is indeed progress.

And I was so impressed with this progress that when he asked me if I needed help with anything, I handed him my car keys and sent him and my other kids out to my car to unload some boxes of school crap that I'd taken home over the summer. He looked ecstatic. He looked like he was up to no good. There are all kinds of legal issues involved in giving kids the keys to your car and asking them to go get you something. I know this. But it was a hundred fucking degrees and I really needed those boxes.

"Do NOT get in my car," I stated emphatically. "I have a license!" he whined. "No. Look at me. This isn't like the time I said 'do NOT order pizza and have it delivered to class' and you did anyway. This is like dead serious. Do NOT get in my car." I raised my eyebrows and put my hands on my hips for good measure, and I'd long ago covered up my midriff. "Okay, okay," he conceded. And then as he was walking out the door he said, "I'm gonna have to, like, reach in there though. You know, to get the boxes out?" "If I see you get in my car. . ." I threatened.

See, this is my big downfall as a disciplinarian. I can never think of anything good after. . . .

Fortunately he didn't get in my car. He did, like, reach in there though. You know, to get the boxes out.

Friday, August 25, 2006

So I Didn't Call An Ax Murderer

Remember last month when my hairdresser called me and wanted me to go out with some random guy whose hair she'd cut? Remember how I decided not to what with the possibility of his being an ax murderer or whatever?

So today I went in to get my hair done and the first thing my hairdresser said to me was not her usual, "Are we doing the same thing?" (PS, I think my hairdresser would about DIE if I answered no at this point. Change is SO not my thing.) but, "Did you call that guy?" I pretended I didn't know what she was talking about. "What guy?" I asked innocently, as if I couldn't possibly be expected to keep track of all the guys I'm supposed to be calling.

"Un-fucking-believable!" she responded. And then she proceeded to lecture me about how cute and nice and smart and just generally wonderful the guy was until the OTHER hairdresser appeared and said, "You suck. I'd have gone out with him if I was single. He was cute!" "What the hell do you two know?" I asked, "the guy could have been an ax murderer." "He was NOT an ax murderer!" they shouted in unison. And then they started in again on how awesome he was.

Now, ordinarily you would not want a woman who is angry with you to be cutting your hair. My hairdresser, however, is quite adept at giving you a kick-ass haircut while berating you for not calling a guy who may or may not have been an ax murderer.

And the more she went on the more I felt bad for not calling him. Not so much because I really felt like I'd missed out on a great guy, but because, let's face it, refusing to go out with random strangers on the off chance that they may be ax murderers -- or, worse, Republicans -- is no way to find true love.

"That could have been your future husband," my hairdresser admonished as I rolled my eyes and made for the door, "and he seemed like the kind of guy who'd be good in bed, too."

But not, apparently, like the kind of guy who would hack you up into little bits afterwards.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Seen On An OBX Bumper. . .

When Jesus said, "Love your enemies" I think he probably meant, "Don't kill them."
Can I get an amen?

Livin' In A Powderkeg And Givin' Off Sparks

Believe it or not, last night's short and simple post on happy music took me fuckin' forever to write. I blame it on Bonnie Tyler.

Some background: The other day my pal Meaghan and I did a little CD swap and I scored, among other things, a sweet 80s compilation that includes "Total Eclipse of the Heart." Now, I have loved "Total Eclipse of the Heart" since it first came out in 1983. I even had it on 45 -- my sister gave it to me for Christmas when I was 8 and she was 6. (I gave her "Eye of the Tiger," also a good song.) Anyway, last night I threw a few CDs in the CD player, pressed random, and sat down to do my internet thing. You see where this is going.

So I was just sitting here, typing away, when "Total Eclipse of the Heart" came on. I started to sing along absentmindedly, but then I realized "Hey! 'Total Eclipse of the Heart'!" so I turned the CD player up almost as loud as it would go -- which is pretty fuckin' loud, as it turns out -- and continued with my singing and typing. I also added a wee bit of swaying. It soon became rather difficult to type, as Bonnie's 11th "turn around" had prompted me to grab the CD player's remote for use as a microphone and I was concentrating on not dropping it while flinging my abundant hair around as I sang. By the time Bonnie got around to "and I need you now tonight," I was out of my chair with microphone in hand. "Together we can take it to the end of the line" found me clear on the other side of the house, right in front of the drape-less sliding glass doors, in fact. As Bonnie screamed, "I really need you tonight," I relinquished my remote/mic to free up both hands for the lifting of hair and the always necessary above-head hand motions. And if you think when the song ended I sat right back down and commenced typing, without pressing repeat even once, you obviously don't know me very well.

It's a good thing nobody was around. Except the cat, and she's no stranger to such performances.

A detective examining my recycling bin might conclude this was all the result of a now-empty bottle of Tanqueray, but truth be told, the gin had nothing to do with it. This is just how I was brought up.

And even though I was also brought up not being allowed to watch MTV, here's the "Total Eclipse of the Heart" video. Just don't tell my parents I let you watch it.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Ten Songs That Make Me Happy

Chris over at Some Guy's Blog wrote yesterday about how Louis Armstrong's music makes him happy and invited his readers to comment on the music that makes them happy. I like talking about music almost as much as I like talking about books, so I tried to think of a particular artist that consistently makes me happy. I couldn't come up with a thing.

Music is an integral part of my life, but the type of music likely to make me happy at any given moment very much depends on the mood I'm in at said moment. At one point I swore by Motown music as the cure for what ails ya, only to decide a year or two later that there's nothing quite as day-brightening as a bit of loud, angry punk rawk. These days I prefer a mixture of the two genres, with lots of stuff in between. So here, in keeping with my summer "ten songs" posts, are ten random songs that always make me happy no matter what my mood.

  1. "Angel" by Bob Dylan
  2. "Dyslexic Heart" by Paul Westerberg
  3. "I Want You to Want Me" by Cheap Trick
  4. "Man in the Mirror" by Michael Jackson
  5. "Me and Julio Down by the School Yard" by Paul Simon
  6. "Night Flight" (a Zeppelin tune) by Jeff Buckley
  7. "Redwood Tree" by Van Morrison
  8. "Rocket Man" by Elton John
  9. "Sit Down" by James
  10. "Uncle John's Band" by the Dead
If there's a common theme, I damn sure can't figure it out.

Free For All

In the interest of fairness, here is where I live:

In the apartment building, not the beautiful house with the wrap-around porch next door. Feel free to make fun of it. I'll start: um, it's across the street from a parking lot. . .how charming.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Is That A Dragon In Your Backyard Or. . .?

Welcome to another edition of "Talkin' Shit About Architecture," where I take pictures of other people's houses and then make fun of them (the people and the houses). Am I qualified to pass judgment on architecture? Not at all. But I have read The Fountainhead quite a few times.

Okay then. Let's get started, shall we?

Here we are in rural Maple, North Carolina, which is situated along the Currituck Sound and consists mostly of corn fields, Baptist churches, and roadside vegetable stands.

But behold! In the distance!

Is that a red UK-style telephone booth I see? It is! Would you like to ring your mum? Too bad. You can't. The door is locked and there's a little sign that reads "not a public phone." Not a public phone?! Then what, pray tell, is the point?

Also, why have an electronically controlled gate that one can easily walk around? You're not keeping out the riff-raff. A gate is supposed to, like, connect to something. Something like the rest of the fence. But I guess if you're gonna have a red (!) phone booth that serves no purpose you might as well throw in a gate that serves no purpose. Go crazy.

The real architectural mishap here though is yonder castle.

I mean, really, a castle? In North-freakin'-Carolina? And it's not even a good castle. That castle is all over the place, architecturally speaking.

As I mentioned above, I'm not an expert on architecture, but I don't think that entrance really works for a castle. Even a fake castle. Maybe without the railing. I don't know. Also, what's up with the lattice-work on the windows? They live right smack dab on a beautiful body of water and they put criss-crosses all over their windows? On purpose? Bad move. And that satellite dish has got to go. How do you think the court jester feels when they sit down to watch American Idol?

Okay fine. How much fun can you really make of a fake castle as undeniably ugly as this? Let's all just point at it and laugh.

Seriously though, what kind of furniture do you think they have in there? And, more importantly, where the fuck is the moat?

A Brief Note To The AP

I do not care what John Mark Karr, the suspected killer of JonBenet Ramsey, ate for lunch on Sunday or that he may have been contemplating a sex change operation. For future reference, I am also not the least bit interested in knowing what his favorite color is, whether he prefers cats or dogs, what kind of music he likes, or if his shirt's tucked in. Just let me know when you have some real news.

Monday, August 21, 2006

The Thomas Jefferson Nerd Barometer

If you decide that the three different collections of Thomas Jefferson quotations you stock at the bookstore are woefully inadequate, then special-order yourself the definitive 576 page Quotable Jefferson and eagerly await its arrival, then spend most of the day it's due to arrive repeatedly asking Meaghan, "Is my Jefferson book in there?," "Did you find my Jefferson book yet?" as she unpacks the shipment, then snatch up the book and hug it once it finally appears, then hunker down with it for hours saying "Huh?" and staring blankly at people when they try to talk to you, if you later force another friend to peruse the Jefferson book until she finally pronounces it cool and tells you that all her friends laugh when she tells them she knows someone with a favorite president, and you hear yourself saying, "No no, Thomas Jefferson is my favorite founding father, but FDR is my favorite president" in an effort to correct her, there is absolutely no doubt that you are a nerd.

If you are looking forward to a major reorganization of your bookcases that will involve devoting an entire shelf to Jefferson books, you are most definitely a nerd.

If you frequently find yourself engaged in debates about whether Thomas Jefferson is cooler than Abraham Lincoln, or opining about how unfortunate it is that Jefferson got stuck on the nickel and Alexander Hamilton, who sucks and wasn't even a president, gets the $10 bill, you are also a nerd. (I know, I know, Hamilton founded the National Bank. I don't care. He still sucks.)

Even if you think Lincoln is cooler than Jefferson, you are probably still a nerd.

If you can name more than five Jefferson biographers off the top of your head, you are most likely a nerd.

If Thomas Jefferson's name evokes Monticello, UVA, the Louisiana Purchase, Sally Hemings, and Paris, you may be a nerd. Or you may just have been raised in Virginia.

If you actually attended Jefferson's UVA, you are probably a nerd. Unfortunately, there's also about a 90% chance that you are a pompous, pretentious collar-popping and/or pearl-wearing jerk.

If your knowledge of Jefferson does not extend beyond an association with the Declaration of Independence, it is doubtful that you are a nerd.

If you believe George Allen when he claims to be a "common sense Jeffersonian conservative," you are not only not a nerd, you are also very stupid.

In Response To A Letter To The Editor, Vol. V

To the Editor:

Re "Fed up with the GOP" (letter, Aug. 15) by Roland:

Let me remind you that the #1 goal of all Islamic radicals is to kill all freedom-loving Americans, period. Please also keep in mind that fighting these radicals in the Middle East keeps the fight over there and allows you, [Roland], to live peacefully in the United States of America.

Terrorists seem to become more radical each day. We live in a different time and it may become necessary for us to continue our presence in the Middle East to ensure our freedom and way of life.

Don't blame the president or the Republican Party for wanting to destroy these radicals who want nothing more than to destroy us.

--Scott, Portsmouth

To Scott:

Did BushCo* pay you to write this little ditty? Or are you just a brainless twit who actually believes all this bullshit?

I know our current president said that the terrorists hate our freedom, but he was lying. It's what he does. Terrorists obviously want to kill us, but they don't give a rat's ass about our freedom. They're out to destroy us, not our freedom.

Let's be clear: the only threat to our freedom -- since 1776, for the love of god-- has come from within our own country, usually from conservatives like yourself. From the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 to the McCarthyism of the 1950s to today's Patriot Act, NSA wiretapping program, and ever-blurrier line between church and state, our constitutional rights have been threatened not by outsiders wishing to do us harm but by fellow citizens hoping to make us more secure.

The founding fathers were pretty fucking clear on the topic of liberty vs. security:
"They who would give up an essential liberty for temporary security, deserve neither liberty or security." --Benjamin Franklin

"A society that will trade a little liberty for a little order will lose both, and deserve neither." --Thomas Jefferson

But I know you Bushies think all this founding fathers crap is overrated. They were radical, after all.

And I'm not exactly sure what you mean, Scott, by "our way of life." I can only assume this is some sort of euphemism for "our addiction to oil." Although I appreciate being able to drive myself to the grocery on a rainy day, I don't enjoy it nearly enough that I'm willing to send my beloved students to the Middle East (or anywhere else) to die procuring me those last few drops of black gold. I'll just gather up my canvas bags and walk. Oil is over, buddy, and you'd be hard-pressed to find someone who isn't Dick Cheney arguing otherwise.

Lastly, this whole "all" thing (as in "the #1 goal of ALL Islamic radicals is to kill ALL freedom-loving Americans") is something you and your propaganda team might want to revisit. Even my 10th-graders know that "all" is the harbinger of stupidity and dishonesty. It's why they do so well on standardized, multiple-choice tests; if it says "all," it's obviously the wrong answer. No person with a brain gives any credibilty to what comes after "all."

We do, as you said, live in a different time. It used to be Americans gave a shit about their constitutional rights. There have even been points in our history when political discourse involved more than regurgitating the same line of bullshit the politicians feed you.

Watch all the Fox "News" you want. I, for one, am going to continue to blame both the president and his Republican Party for systematically destroying our civil liberties while using freedom as their rallying cry.

--Megan, Norfolk

*BushCo is a clever term Vikkitikkitavi uses and may very well have coined. I stole it from her. I needed it. Nothing else works as well.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Sleeping Arrangements

Okay honey, here's the deal. There's my side of the bed and your side of the bed. I know you can sleep damn near anywhere, but I can't. I don't sleep well on your side and I don't sleep well when you're on my side. Usually you're pretty good about this, but over the past few weeks you've been slowly encroaching on my side. Until early EARLY this morning, when I rolled over and discovered you had completely taken over my pillow, leaving no room for me. And I know I pushed you and whined, "get back on your own pillow" as you yawned and stretched, and I know that was pretty bitchy. But did you have to get up and go sleep on the couch?

I was so lonely.

Friday, August 18, 2006

This Is Unacceptable!

With two weeks to go until Labor Day and the unofficial end of summer -- not to mention an entire month before the autumnal equinox and the official end of summer -- the delicious Sam Adams Summer Ale has been replaced in the grocery by the merely decent Sam Octoberfest. As I explained to the guy stocking the beer aisle, I am not okay with this.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Dude, What Is UP With Crocs?!

No, not these crocs.

These crocs.

I know this whole crocs fad has been building for quite some time, but suddenly crocs are ubiquitous. Everywhere I look I see crocs. On everyone. I don't get it. I mean, I'm sure crocs are comfy, but GOD they're ugly!

Look, here's the deal with crocs:

Crocs on little girls. . .cute. Very cute. If I had a little girl she would definitely be rockin' some crocs. But only if she wanted to.

Crocs on kitchen staff. . .very practical. Good thinking. Pick a color that makes you happy and be sure you take them off once your shift is over.

Crocs on wait staff. . .also practical. Only in black. Usually it's dark so we can't tell anyway. Don't wear them out for the inevitable post-shift partying.

Crocs as beach shoes. . .reasonable, although I thought flip-flops were working just fine.

Crocs on grown women. . .not good. Not good at all. Attractive, willowy women can sort of pull off crocs. The rest of you cannot. The rest of you look like you have enormous and very colorful feet. Also, I feel like your feet must be really really hot in there. I'm sad for them.

Crocs on men. . .no no no no no no no! Men, what are you thinking?! Please, put your black socks and loafers back on and cut it out with all this getting in touch with your European side crap.

Crocs on teenagers. . .hey, anyone notice that teenagers aren't wearing crocs? It's because crocs are totally not cool.

You know what's cool? Chucks. If you insist on wearing brightly colored shoes, get yourself a pair of Chucks. High-tops, low-tops, slip-ons; they are all cool. You can even design your own.

Just, please, stop with the crocs.

I'm It!

Maritza over at Jump in the Ocean tagged me. When she first told me this, I thought "uh-oh" because she recently mentioned something on her blog about a list of favorite movies, and I am so not a movie person. Thankfully this tag (is 'tag' a noun too in the blogosphere?) is about books. And, conveniently, I have already written extensively on the subject of my favorite books.

Senator George Allen, Jackass Extraordinaire

I may have mentioned once or twice how much I dislike Senator George Allen and his right-wing Republican politics, and I'm sure there are a lot of people who think Virginia's a little backwards and that it stands to reason we'd have a guy like Allen for senator. But seriously, this guy?! And he wants to be president?!

Allen said he was sorry. Well, actually what he said was, "I do apologize if he was offended by that." As in, "Wow, what a silly thing to get upset about. It's too bad he's stupid enough to be offended by something so trivial." A few days later Allen explained that he meant to call the guy "mohawk," in reference to his hairdo. Yeah, because that sounds a lot like "macaca." Plus, the dude has a mullet.

I guess we shouldn't be surprised given Allen's track record. I mean, we're talking about a guy who opposed the creation of Martin Luther King Day and whose idea of tasteful office decor involves a noose dangling from a tree.

Please tell me we are not going to re-elect this guy. Please.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

23 Out Of 187 Ain't Bad

We got a new little gift/humor book into the bookstore the other day: 187 Men To Avoid, which tells you about, um, 187 kinds of men you should avoid. Below are 23 of them I have, sadly, not managed to avoid.

Men who live with their mothers.
Men who insist on ordering for you.
Men who say, "Have a good one."
Men who play Nintendo.
Men who don't wear underwear.
Men who stir-fry.
Men with "issues."
Men who drink generic beer.
Men who "just want to be friends."
Men who say the last thing they want to do is hurt you.
Men who pretend they know what they're doing when they smell the cork.
Men who eat breakfast cereal for dinner.
Men who know more than 10 slang words for breasts.
Men who believe the McDonald's McLean is health food.
Men with vanity plates like BMW4DAN or OKGUY.
Men who bring their telephones to dinner.
Men who keep a condom in their wallet. . .just in case.
Men who watch the pre-game show.
Men with car stereos worth more than their cars.
Men who are too cool to dance.
Men who own dogs that are smaller than cats.
Men who won't eat quiche.
Men who wash their cars more than once a week.

Some of the above are men I don't necessarily think need to be avoided. Take the stir-fry guy, for example. I enjoy a good stir-fry, all the more if someone else has made it for me. Eating breakfast for dinner? What's so wrong with that? And some men do know what they're doing when they smell the cork. Of course, those men are to be avoided as well.

Some men are not included in the 187 Men to Avoid book but should be:

Men who are rude to wait staff, especially if this rudeness involves snapping.
Men who take longer to get ready than you do.
Men with a confederate flag anything.
Men who take themselves too seriously to laugh.
Men who drive a Hummer.

Feel free to add your own men to avoid to the list.

Update 08.17.06: Oh, and by the way, this book is by Dan Brown. Yes, that Dan Brown. The guy who wrote the god-awful Da Vinci Code. Apparently before he made it big, he wrote tongue-in-cheek self-help books for women under the psuedonym Danielle Brown. In which case, let's add:

Men who pretend to be women.
Men who write crappy books.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

In Response To A Letter To The Editor, Vol. IV

To the Editor:

Re: "Higher earning?" (front page, Aug. 6) about how teachers fare better than many other professionals:

The plump salaries and benefits enjoyed by public school teachers are the one undeniable success of our public schools. In fact, the success is far greater than it might first appear, for school systems provide employment leading to a secure, middle-class lifestyle to many who might otherwise face daunting challenges. Let me illustrate: Applicants for graduate study in education administration, tested between 2001 and 2004, had a combined mean total GRE score of 950 (verbal, 427; math, 523). That is sixth from the bottom of 51 fields of graduate study tabulated by the Educational Testing Service. The mean total GRE score across all fields was 1066.

School systems are, in essence, employment programs for adults. They serve that purpose well. Now, as regards the education of children. . .that's a different problem. It will take a different solution.

--Tom, Lenoir, NC

To Tom:

I am one of those lucky public school teachers who might otherwise be flipping burgers if this whole teaching thing wasn't so damn easy and cushy.

Let me illustrate: Although my contract is based on the presumption of a 37.5 hour work-week, I typically work a minimum of 60 hours a week, as does every last one of the quality teachers I know. These hours are spent planning captivating lessons designed to invest students in their own learning; grading papers and providing meaningful feedback that students can use to grow; contacting parents, counselors, coaches, and colleagues to discuss students' progress; holding after-school tutoring sessions; coaching teams or advising clubs; counseling students about problems in their personal lives; and generally doing whatever is necessary to reach and teach kids effectively.

As for your insinuation that the low GRE scores of applicants to administrative graduate programs suggest that all public educators are morons, well, this is what people who are not morons call a red herring argument. Actually, you've got a double red herring thing going on here, which is a pretty impressive logical fallacy. First of all, the mean score of applicants to a certain program doesn't tell us much about those who were ultimately accepted to that program. Your real problem, though, is that you've given us the scores of applicants to administrative programs in the hopes of convincing us that teachers are dumb.

See, these are the kind of critical thinking skills you pick up in school.

I don't like to brag, especially about something as silly as test scores, but since you brought it up (and called me stupid!). . .I have never scored below the 90th percentile on a standardized test in my life. I can't tell you how I scored on the GRE because my graduate school required the MAT, but I scored in the 92nd percentile on that. I'm a pretty smart cookie. I hold a BA in History from a fairly prestigious East Coast liberal arts college. Trust me, my salary would be a lot plumper had I chosen a different career. Hell, my salary would be plumper if I waited tables, and you don't even need a degree for that.

The truth, Tom, is that I love my job and I would do it for less. The only time I complain about my salary is when idiots like you insist that I'm well-paid. Some public school teachers, the kind who put in only the required 7.5 hours a day, are well-paid. But I and many of my colleagues -- given the hours we put in, the emotion we invest, and the work we do -- are not well-paid.

To trot out some warmed-over version of the old "those who can, do; those who can't, teach" argument trivializes education itself and belittles those educators who continue to do their jobs well, despite the lousy pay, simply for the look of wonder that flashes across a student's face when he connects classroom learning to real life or for the light in a child's eyes when she realizes someone cares about what she thinks.

Moments like those, my friend, are the one undeniable sucess of public schools.

--Megan, Norfolk

Monday, August 14, 2006

You Are The Lyrics Queen, Young And Sweet, Only Seventeen

I heard "Yellow Ledbetter" on my way home from the grocery this evening and, for the bajillionth time, wondered what the hell the gorgeous Eddie Vedder is saying in those five minutes of musical brilliance. When I got home I typed "yellow ledbetter lyrics" into my Google searchbar and had my answer in seconds. Some might laud this as progress, but I think we've lost something by making lyrics so accessible.

I have always been obsessed with lyrics. As a teenager, I fastidiously maintained a three-ring-binder with separate sections for songs and quotes. The quotations I mostly stumbled upon while reading, but the lyrics were tougher to come by. Back in the days before Google and, the only way to learn the lyrics of a song -- aside from liner notes -- was to figure them out for yourself.

For me, this involved sprawling out on the floor, chin resting in one hand and legs suspended in the air above me, a pen in the other hand and my binder turned to a clean page; placing my box (of the boom variety) on the floor next to me; popping a tape -- usually recorded hastily from the radio after a mad dash to the record button when I heard a beloved song begin -- in the tape deck; pressing play; listening carefully; frantically jotting down the words as they were sung; pressing pause between lines to record the lyrics; and rewinding and replaying when the words were fuzzy, pressing my ear up against the speaker to make sure I got it right. Play, pause, play, rewind, play, pause, play.

And somewhere along the way the song became a part of me; it went from being just a song to being my song. I think this is why I still play songs I love over and over again -- I'm internalizing them, getting to know them, making them mine.

A Google lyrics search can't do that for you. A Google lyrics search is like somebody else handing you their song -- it can't ever really be yours because you haven't engaged with it (teaching and learning are a lot like this, but that's a-whole-nother story).

So, even though I found the lyrics to "Yellow Ledbetter," I didn't actually read them. Instead I think I'll pop in the "Jeremy" single (on which "Yellow Ledbetter" is featured) my brother and I bought at an indie record shop in the Ocean Beach section of San Diego when I was in college and he was in middle school, curl up next to the CD player with a pad of paper and a pen, and try to figure it out for myself.

You can have it either way. Click here for instant gratification. Or. . .cozy on up to your computer with some paper and a pen, click 'play' below, and get ready to welcome another great song to your life.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Three Thoughts On Fascism, Islamic And Otherwise

  1. Am I the only one who finds it ironic to hear our current president, who's a bit of a fascist himself, sanctimoniously declare that "this nation is at war with Islamic fascists," as if Mr. "I don't do nuance" is suddenly able to detect non-existent nuances between Islamic fascism and his own brand of Christian fascism? I know Islamic fascists are bad because they're constantly trying to blow us up, but how 'bout 40,000 civilian casualties in Iraq? We're blowing people up too, and what the fuck's the difference?

  2. In a recent column about combating "the Islamofascist plague," FOX "News" favorite Cal Thomas asserted that "it is long past the time when we [the US] need to start 'playing' the equivalent of smash-mouth football with these people" and drew the following analogy:

    Health officials respond to plagues by isolation and eradication. Their objective is not only to control the spread of a disease, but also to kill it so it won't infect others. If that is an effective method for combating a plague, why is it not also a good strategy for combating the islamofascist plague?

    Well, Cal, because no medical professional with half a brain would expect to eradicate a disease without identifying its causes and figuring out how to make sure people don't contract it in the first place. So either your analogy is stupid or you are. Also, I'm really not sure why you put those quotation marks around 'playing.'

  3. Lastly, and just for fun, here's a cartoon about Ann Coulter, that fascist bitch.

(via Non Sequitur)

Thursday, August 10, 2006

My Family Is Fucking Weird, Vol. II

Main Idea: Not OJ

Supporting Details: A few months ago when I was at home visiting my parents, my brother filled an empty orange juice jug with filtered water, wrote "Not OJ" on the outside of the jug to avoid confusion, and placed the jug in the fridge to keep the water cold. However, my family is not the type of family to just leave it at that. Which is why, if you look in our fridge, you will find a variety of items that could not possibly ever be mistaken for orange juice sporting the sharpied label "Not OJ."

Note, by the way, the conspicuous absence of any actual orange juice.

And, yes, the photos are staged, but only in so much as I artfully arranged all the "Not OJ" items before taking the pictures. Ordinarily we do not keep our pickles next to our milk. We keep them next to our dog's allergy injections.


My mom, who will be visiting in a week or so, called me today. When I answered the phone she said, "I'm about to go in the package (liquor) store. Do you need anything besides Tanqueray?"

I would simply like to point out that I have the kind of mom who A) calls me from the package store to see if I need anything and B) views my need for Tanqueray as a given.

No you can't have her!

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Wow, Caring About The Environment Really IS Inconvenient

Just as I was closing the bookstore tonight, a lady came in with her two little girls. Five minutes later they brought their purchase up to the counter: An Inconvenient Truth. I chatted with the lady as rang her up and waited for her credit card to go through.

Lady: I didn't realize this was a book too.

Me: Really? Have you seen the movie?

Lady: No. I really want to but I live in Richmond. Have you?

Me: I haven't had a chance.

Lady: Do they show it down here?

Me: (laughing) Um, no.

Lady: Well people are a bit more liberal here than they are in Richmond. It's supposed to be a great movie.

Me: I've heard it's very powerful.

Lady: Apparently once you see it you want to run right out and start recycling or something.

Me: Yeah. (looking at the book) Poor Al Gore. He has such a good heart but nobody really pays attention to him because he's such a nerd.

Lady: I just love Al Gore.

Me: Me too. Do you need a bag for that?

Lady: Yes please.
See, Al Gore called his truth "inconvenient" because after you learn it you're supposed to modify your life in ways that make it, you know, less convenient. Like maybe not carrying your book on environmentalism home in a plastic bag.

I SO hope she recycles that bag!

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Ten More Songs I Will Play Over And Over And Over Again If Nobody's Around To Stop Me

I have this really annoying (I'm told) habit of putting a song I love on repeat. For hours at a time. I once took a two hour road trip and listened to nothing but "Rocket Man" the whole way. If I can get away with it, I'll also turn the song up really really REALLY loud. Loud enough that I bet I wouldn't hear the smoke detector if it went off.

Here are ten songs I have never managed to listen to just once, each of which could easily see me through a two hour road trip on its own.

  1. "American Music" by the Violent Femmes
  2. "A Praise Chorus" by Jimmy Eat World
  3. "Blue" by the Jayhawks
  4. "Breakin' Me" by Jonny Lang
  5. "Here Comes Your Man" by the Pixies
  6. "Mr. Brightside" by the Killers
  7. "Rescue Me" by the Alarm (I know, I know, the Alarm is SO not cool)
  8. "Sit Down" by James
  9. "The Warmth of the Sand" by Dashboard Confessional
  10. "Wait" by Huffamoose

Note that none of them are by women. There's really no accounting for this, except that most of these are songs for the car. Women are heavily represented on my at-home repeat list.

To All The Ladies Feminists In The House

If you enjoy reading (who doesn't?!) and are interested in women's issues (who isn't?!), I highly recommend The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe v. Wade. This book will simultaneously break your heart and make you angry. It will also remind you to be vigilant about efforts to return us to the dark days when women received almost no sex education beyond an exhortation to abstinence, had little access to birth control -- especially if they were unmarried, and could not safely or legally terminate their pregnancies. Read it! And be vigilant!

Monday, August 07, 2006

Where You At Bitch?!

Last week's gangsta rap neighbors have been replaced by a younger crowd, and while the absence of gangsta rap is refreshing, this week's neighbors are actually worse. For the last two days, I have awoken to the sound of a child repeatedly yelling, "Mom?" from outside his house. This goes on for ten minutes at a time while I lie there wondering A) why the hell the kid doesn't just go inside and find his mom, B) why the hell the woman doesn't come outside and tell her kid to shut up, C) what the hell he wants so goddamn early in the morning, and D) where the hell people leave their brains when they go on vacation.

Because you know if I can hear the kid inside my house, his mom can certainly hear him inside her house. And she's really starting to piss me off. Answer your kid lady!

This morning I got so irritated with the kid yelling, "Mom?" that I actually sat up and opened my window in preparation to do a little parenting by shouting, "Hey kid! Stop screaming!" But he'd already gone back inside, presumably to find his mom.

Later though, as I was reading the paper, he started in again with this incessant and ineffective attempt to locate his mother. After about ten minutes of, "Mom?" I thought, "What the fuck is wrong with these people?!" And then I thought, "Maybe this kid is retarded or autistic or something and that's why his mom is ignoring him."

So I stepped out onto the deck and looked next door to assess the situation. I didn't see a kid anywhere, but I could still hear him calling, "Mom?" I stood for a minute listening to him yell, "Mom?" and waiting for him to show himself.

He didn't. But as I was waiting, I noticed something strange on my neighbors' deck. A cage. With a parrot in it. And when I yelled to the parrot, "Hey parrot! Shut up!" the parrot yelled back, "Mom?"

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Rethinking The List

Two years ago, when I was in the process of calling off my wedding, I briefly saw a therapist. I was raised Catholic and have some, shall we say, guilt issues. Add my standard-issue guilt to the fact that my fiancé's only job was a part-time internship, that his cancer was kept in remission by a drug that retailed at $1500 a month, and that his health coverage was scheduled to expire shortly before we were scheduled to get married, and you come up with a girl in serious need of therapy.

To help me sort things out, my therapist encouraged me to make a list of qualities I required in a significant other along with a list of qualities I wouldn't accept. Friends later reported that this is basically the first step in eHarmony dating but I, despite my penchant for list making, had never really thought of it before. I loved the idea, and it totally saved my mental health. I was able to look at my list, determine that my fiancé was lacking several of my must-haves but totally cleaning up in the dealbreakers department, and get on with my life. Magic.

I thought this list thing was like the greatest thing ever. Love, quantified. I talked it up to my single friends, insisting I never would have gotten myself into this mess if I'd had the list before, raving about how everyone should do this and jotting down my girlfriends' lists on cocktail napkins at bars as I quizzed them about their dealbreakers.

Although I haven't had much luck in love over the last two years, I hadn’t considered reevaluating my position on the list itself until this weekend.

Take, for instance, this must-have from my list: similar religious and political beliefs. Seems reasonable, but what good is it really doing me? Not much, as last night’s conversation with my sister and her (relatively) new boyfriend revealed.

Mark: So let's say you were dating a guy who was absolutely perfect in every way and then you found out he drove an SUV?

Me: Um, what kind of SUV?

Laura: A Hummer.

Me: No way. He's done.

Mark: What about a Tahoe?

Me: Hmmmmm. Is it an old Tahoe he's had since before he started to care about the planet or did he just buy it?

Mark: It's brand new.

Me: Yeah, I don't think so. That's pretty environmentally irresponsible.

Mark: What about a Trail Blazer?

Me: I could maybe see my way clear to a Trail Blazer.

Laura: What if he drove a new Tahoe but he worked for a dog rescue organization and he needed the SUV to haul the sick doggies around?

Me: Shit.
So I'm starting to think this list thing is kind of silly.

Plus, the list can't account for all sorts of case-by-case issues. Take my sister, for example. Three months ago she called to tell me about a guy (Mark) she’d gone out with a few times. She listed a bunch of cool things about him and then said, “The only thing is he’s divorced and has two kids. Do I really want to get mixed up in all that?” “Um, no. Absolutely not,” I replied without even really thinking.

But she -- to her credit -- did get mixed up in all that, and now she’s dating the most awesome guy she’s ever dated and is happier than I’ve seen her in at least ten years. And his kids are awesome too -- they even like Shark Week!

Lucky for my sister she didn’t listen to me and my stupid list philosophy. Because, let’s face it, the list is stupid. It’s a good starting point, frame of reference, rough sketch, roadmap. . .whatever you want to call it. But the idea of accurately describing your elusive soulmate on paper, of quantifying love and somehow getting it right, of a Chevy Tahoe as a dealbreaker is HOLY FUCKING STUPID BATMAN.

So the list, in all its rationality, takes the backseat to intuition from here on out. Who knows, maybe that Republican with the hunting license and the slight cocaine habit and the taking really good care of me was the one after all.

Just to be clear, though, a Hummer’s still a dealbreaker.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Gangsta 4 Life, Or At Least Until Something Cooler Comes Along

It was 8:30 this morning and if I hadn't already been up, the mellifluous sound of gangsta rap drifting up to my bedroom window would certainly have done the trick.

I say "drifting" because we all know that's what mellifluous sounds do. We also all know gangsta rap isn't mellifluous. So it wasn't drifting. It was more like pounding on my window. It was actually an awful lot like some motherfucker kicking down my door and shouting, "it's 8:30 in the morning, I'm up, and I don't give a fuck about the rest-a-ya'll."

Ordinarily I wake to the sound of birdies chirping, so I was curious as to who was kickin' it P-Diddy style at such an ungodly hour. I looked out the window.

I should have known.

Look, I know being gangsta is all the rage these days, but if you're a 15-year-old white boy from Delaware, it's unlikely you are gangsta no matter how many Spike Lee Joints you've heard people mention on MySpace. And if your family is dropping 5000 Washingtons a week to rent a vacation "cottage" in Corolla, there's a distinct possibility you are not gangsta. Most importantly, if you've gotten up at eight-fucking-thirty in the morning to float around your own personal in-ground pool on a Sponge Bob raft, you are almost certainly not gangsta. Gangstas might dig Sponge Bob, but they sleep late -- they've been up all night doin' crazy-ass gangsta shit and pouring a little out for their homies.

Next time, try a little Jimmy Buffet. I won't like it any better, but at least it will make sense.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Message From My Students

Received 12:31 AM, 07.03.06
(background party noise)
girl's voice: Miss [my last name]. . .
different girl's voice: Miss [my last name]!
1st girl's voice: It's Megan and Brendan. . .and Megan
(giggling, then background party noise)
guy's voice: Why are you asleep?!
(lots of laughing and yelling)
different guy's voice: It's game time, bitch!
1st girl's voice: I'm just kidding! You're not a bitch! We love you, [my last name]!

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Zach Attack!

I sort of got someone fired at the bookstore. I say "sort of" because the person in question, who we'll call Zach for obvious reasons, has spent the entire summer almost getting fired. Those of us who are not Zach have spent most of our spare time at work trading Zach stories and asking each other "Why don't we just fire him?"

After Zach nearly ran over the owner's entire family while driving 45 mph down the hole-ridden dirt road that leads to the bookstore and still didn't get fired, it became clear that our question was merely rhetorical. But we kept asking it anyway.

I personally asked it first thing yesterday morning, but with a new twist. As we put away the 50 or so new books Zach hadn't felt like putting away the night before -- despite the fact that that's his job -- I whined, "Why don't we just fire him? I mean, on principle."

So we did. Or rather, Bill the owner did as result of Meaghan's impassioned pleading.

Since I'm the only employee who's ever sent anyone to the principal's office, which is apparently almost exactly like sending someone upstairs to get fired, I was charged with the task of delivering the cryptic "Bill wants to talk to you" message when Zach arrived for his shift at 1:00. Then I went and hid in the bathroom until he was gone.

What, you may be wondering, was so bad about this Zach character? What could one possibly do to get oneself fired with only 9 shifts remaining before one's return to college?

I'm not exactly sure what made Bill finally decide to fire Zach, but here are some things I do know.

  1. He never let us listen to The Very Best of UB40.
    In addition to selling books we also sell CDs -- mostly classical music and smoooooth jazz, with a handful of adult contemporary artists thrown in for good measure. I know UB40's not the greatest band ever, but if your choices are Tchaikovsky, Dianna Krall, the same Jack Johnson CD you and every other store on the beach have been playing for the last week, or UB40, you choose the goddamn UB40. C'mon, cherry oh cherry oh baby?!

  2. Premeditated pigeon theft.
    I have it on good authority (he told me and Sara himself) that Zach was plotting to steal our beloved pigeon. "That pigeon would look great in my dorm room," he said, "if it's still here when I leave for school, I'm taking it." "You mean buying it?" we asked. "Taking it," he clarified.

  3. Excessive snacking. And not on carrot sticks.
    The first time I worked with Zach, I courteously asked -- as I usually do -- if anyone wanted anything at Winks (a convenience store) when I went on my break. Sometimes people request a soda or a bottle of water or a small bag of chips. Zach presented me with a list of the following items: a frozen cheeseburger, a bag of chips, a candy bar, and two Vault sodas.

    When I returned to the store and handed Zach his stuff, I sort of expected him to save it for later seeing as how he'd just arrived at work. Instead, he immediately microwaved the frozen cheeseburger and devoured it -- along with the chips, candy bar, and one Vault soda -- while sitting behind the counter. Oh, but first he complained that I'd gotten him Vault Zero (diet Vault) instead of regular Vault. Three hours later he petulantly announced that he hadn't taken his break (!), left the store, and returned with an ice cream cone. Which he proceeded to eat behind the counter while attempting to ring up customers.

    As it turns out, this was not an isolated incident.

  4. He hates people. And horses!
    It's bad enough that Zach always sighs as loud as humanly possible when customers approach him with a question or, god forbid, to purchase a book. Or that whenever you work with him you feel like you're in some weird good cop bad cop routine. But what's worse is when he actually tries to engage people in conversation.

    As he was ringing a customer up one day, he announced -- apropos of nothing -- that there were two things that could make him leave the country: if Roe v. Wade was overturned and if they passed an amendment banning same-sex marriage. Dude, I totally feel ya, but you don't go around picking fights with customers at work.

    Remember that day a guy came in wearing a t-shirt with a picture of an aircraft carrier and the caption "here comes 90,000 tons of diplomacy"? Remember how I just found him a book about F-14s and sent him on his way without throwing even a single bucket of blood on him or forcing him to look up "diplomacy" in one of our many dictionaries? That is the appropriate way to behave at work.

    The not-so-appropriate way to behave at work is to routinely tell customers who drop spare change into the Corolla Wild Horse Fund donation jar that the public library is much more deserving of their coinage and that horses are only good for glue.

  5. Did I mention that he doesn't put the books away? Or that when he does, he deliberately puts them in the wrong place? Or that that's really fucking annoying?

So Zach is no longer with us. I'm mostly happy about that, except for the fact that my mom says it's not nice to make fun of people -- as I just did -- coupled with the possibility that I'll have to start taking out the trash now.

Just When You Thought Bastille Day Was Over

Last night I went up to Norfolk and hung out (by which I mean drank) with some friends, one of whom was Steve of Bastille Day party fame. The friends wanted to know when they could expect to see Bastille Day photos on the blog. "Bastille Day was like three weeks ago. You want me to just throw some pictures up there now?" I said. "Uh, yeah!" they answered. So here they are. Photos courtesy of Steve and Bob, since I was camera-less at the time.