Current/Recent Reading List

29 December 2007

I've Had All the Family I Can Stand...

...I can't stands no more! Well, not really, as we had a very nice, and relatively (get it?) stress-free Christmas/grandparent gatherings of doom/travel across the state week. But, even after the best of hostings and visitings, one is happy to be home and unencumbered. For some reason I feel like I wrote almost the exact same thing last Christmas, but I'm too lazy to check right now.

Anyway, a few back-in-town nuggets for you:

1. Our church's Christmas Eve candlelight service was majestic. Right now our church does the big holy day services about as well as they can be done, I think. There is just the right mix between the theatrical and the contemplative, between the joyous and the sober, and between the personal and the communal. And the music, again, was outstanding, including the Handel. I love Bach's oratorios, but not knowing German, there is no way to fully, fully appreciate them. If you are an English-only speaker, I don't see how you can resist picking Handel's "Messiah" as the oratorio. Can we make sure to keep sprinkling "Messiah" throughout Advent, as we did this year, please?

2. Speaking of music, our minister's wife is a sublime soloist - don't know enough to judge whether or not she could have done opera (maybe she did), but if not she has to be darn near that caliber. I have never before seen (and heard, obviously) someone nail the ending of "O, Holy Night" - you know, the high notes no normal person can approach - so well, and yet so effortlessly. It just seemed so easy for her, with no strain at all. She could just as well have been filing her nails while finishing that one off, or so it seemed.

3. I just finished eating a plate of plain rice and green beans, and I feel like never eating anything richer than that for several weeks. I am sick, sick, sick of big meals and heavy food. And all those great holiday Food Network specials from last week? Don't make me gag.

But come to think of it, there are some yummy chocolate-covered peanut butter balls in the kitchen right now...

4. Wyfe thinks we are the only family without three children whose car trips devolve into three-way, every- man-for-himself wrestling matches (driver, perhaps dangerously, included). I doubt it, but perhaps not every family tops the fight off with a Ric Flair "Whoooooo!", as we sometimes do.

5. Both arms, and my lower back, are sore as a consequence of our first three days with a Nintendo Wii. The main culprit? Wii Sports baseball, which I've had to avoid the last two days until I heal up. Next time I think I'll ice down in the trainer's room after the game.

6. Tonight I will finish Helprin's remarkable Winter's Tale, and will report on it either tomorrow or Monday (I almost promise).

20 December 2007


Let me just say that the beginning of the Christmas vacation break from school never ceases to bring joy and merriment - practically, it feels just like it did when I was a kid, with a little less pure giddiness. But only a little less.

I've known for a while that the past few days were going to be a tough gauntlet to run, and I wasn't counting on catching yet another cold virus, or my son catching yet another fever/tummy virus just to throw in the mix. Last Saturday we all drove three hours to South Carolina for the Wyfe's extended family gathering, then drove back Sunday. On Monday I had to stay at school until 6:30 in order to help with the presentation of graduation projects. On Tuesday and Wednesday nights my son and I drove thirty minutes into, and out of, Raleigh because Wyfe was helping narrate a short nativity play at church (and because I thought I had another church obligation which had been canceled, unbeknownst to me), and on top of this have been all the usual school duties. You know, yelling, fretting, losing planning periods, meeting yearbook reps., cramming in reading assignments, piling up things to sift through and grade - all the fun stuff.

So, I am mighty pleased to be officially off the clock for a couple of days. I have just taken a long nap, blown my $30.00 iTunes gift card, and brought my Mark Helprin novel into the den with me. I'll take it.

Give me a day or two for some school-related ruminations to bubble up. Right now I'm blissfully decompressing.

14 December 2007

Suuurprize, Suuurprize (My 38th)!

(With apologies to Gomer Pyle)

So yesterday my yearbook girls told me I "needed to find somewhere to go for 10 minutes." When I pressed them on it, they said, "It's a girl thing. We can't talk about it with you in here."

"What possible girl things could you talk about that I haven't already heard this semester?"

"Trust us. It's bad. Really bad."

So, I wandered off to eat lunch in the lounge, and it took me about two minutes to figure out they were planning some kind of birthday surprise, since tomorrow (or today, if you are reading this on Saturday) marks my 38th.

This morning before first bell I pretended to avert my eyes or look busy as yearbook kids kept surreptitiously sneaking in the room and heading toward the back - particularly towards the refrigerator. And once third period started, I dutifully went to my computer and turned my back to them - noticing that a couple of them conpicuously darted their bodies back and forth in an effort to run some sort of interference in front of the food assemblage. No, not at all obvious, kids, that you are all WAY quieter than usual. Then, finally, they broke out into song ("Happy Birthday", if you can believe it) and I was able to do my best PoMo/Faux/Ironic "Oh, I'm so surprised!" routine.

Well, what a bunch of sweethearts. And, it was a great spread. I didn't eat much yesterday due to a bad allergy-cough attack, so today I felt at liberty to gobble down two portions of lasagna, some pasta salad, two pieces of cake, a brownie, a cupcake, and a cookie. So there.

Remarkable, really, that they would have remembered my birthday like they did. I mean, I'd only been dropping heavy hints for, oh, 11 days or so.

12 December 2007

Three Positives

Since I've depressed reader Kathy with the last post, and since this has been a really good week thus far, it seems incumbent upon me to find some positives to report. And really, some have fallen in my lap the last two days.

At my old school, I was always enthusiastic about having a yearbook class because I dreamed of the wonderful crew of kids I was bound to have in there. In reality, there were always a small percentage of wonderful kids, and a large percentage of lazy, melodramatic big mouths who weren't the worst kids in the world, but didn't deserve to be in the class. Mostly this was a function of scheduling issues and a small pool to choose from.

But now, the staff I have is exactly what you would expect: great kids (not angels, mind you, but close) who have earned their ways in, and basically will do anything asked of them without attitude. So, there is Positive #1.

Now, in this class (as well as in my first period English class) is one of the best kids I've ever taught, a hard working, cheerful, All-American girl type if there ever was one - I would adopt her in a minute. For the last eight months, she has been dating a guy she really likes, but yesterday he rather unceremoniously told her some things that made her realize she needed to break up with him. This all happened between 2nd and 3rd periods, so she let her friends know about it after yearbook class started. She got a little weepy for a few minutes, and was certainly depressed, but already she had a calmnss and spirit about her that I've rarely seen out of high school girls in such situations. She had, believe it or not, a sense of perspective about the whole thing, and it wasn't long until she was laughing with those trying to make her feel better. The best I had to offer her was the only piece of chocolate in my desk, but I think that helped as well. Today, she seemed fine - still talking it out a little, but taking things like a champ. So, there is Positive #2.

Of course, in that class of 14 girls, I've had to hear a lot of "Sorry Mr. P's" following all the "men are scum" comments the last two days. I've just kind of camped out at my computer in the corner.

And finally, there was this today, from a conversation among five of the girls in there (ranging from senior to sophomore): talk of a New Year's Day party with everyone in agreement to keep it as mum as possible, because all the kids who drink will try to crash it and ruin everything.

WHAT!!!??? Party talk among in-crowd kids, with the idea being to EXCLUDE those who would bring alcohol? Somebody pinch me. That's definitely Positive #3.

09 December 2007

The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

Our sophomores are supposed to do a mini-research project which helps prepare them for ever-larger research projects as they move up the ladder, until they ultimately get to their big bad senior projects (which are now required in this state for graduation). So (unsurprisingly), all the sophomore English teachers, including moi, are rushing to sneak this project in before the semester is over.

On Friday, I started canvassing my classes on what topics each person was interested in, approving/disapproving the topics and/or giving guidance. Many of them had wonderful ideas which even excited me. One little group of suspected stoners all wanted to do something about Woodstock, or The Who, or some such nonsense. And then there were the black kids.

I know, I know - this gets me into certain territories that dare not speak their names in polite society, but here I go anyway. In my first period class, I have three black boys, and three black girls. Of the boys, one is really an exceptional student, one is middle of the road, and one is, unfortunately, and athlete stereotype who is barely surviving the class. I haven't yet spoken with the first two of these, but the latter kid only knows he wants to do his project on something involving gangs - surprise, surprise. What really intrigued me were the choices of the three girls, all of whom are really bright and the kind of students colleges would be dying to offer scholarships to (one is a little more exceptional than the other two, and might really go far). Well, guess what they want to do research on? Yep - gangs! gangs! gangs! Or, in one case, Biggie Smalls! or maybe Tupac!

I shot down (no pun intended) most of these ideas, only allowing one which was at least formulated into a legitimate research question. What they kept saying in response was, "But this is about RE-A-LITY, Mr. P!"

I didn't have time to debate with them, but if I had, I might have wondered aloud about at what point RE-A-LITY keeps being RE-A-LITY because it is a self-fulfilling prohecy: keep telling yourselves you are all gangsters, or surrounded by gangsters, and maybe you will eventually think you should be gangsters. Here are three intelligent girls with potentially bright futures, yet they watch the same media romanticizing of gang life as the real gang-bangers do. And I could hear in their voices a sense of pleasure in describing the awful RE-A-LITY of gang life that infests so many black communities. Sure, they would deplore it if forced to, I suppose. But that would deprive them, a little, of something they have come to keep a little too close to their hearts. Yes, of course it's real, but it is reality tinged with mythos at this point, and an endless loop of rap/hip-hop lyrics, videos, websites, and magazines both feed and are fed by the romance of the myth.

Now, there is a small percentage of white kids who get swept up in the romance of it all as well, and we all know some of the unsavory names that are given to such folk. But exceptions aside, in describing my reaction to my students, I'm describing racial divides between us. But the racial divides of the 21st century, are, from my perspective, spawning from different sources than from the old days. There may be relationships between the divides of the past and the present, but something new, and nasty is at work these days, and it is affecting us all. I would put it this way: as more and more black youths fulfill the self-fulfilling prophecy of RE-A-LITY, more whites find it easier to write blacks off as "never going to get it."

That is not fair, because there is a prosperous black middle class. But the black middle class isn't being romanticized on music video channels, or showing up on the nightly news.

05 December 2007

Life Not Imitating Art

So, we finished our romp through The Tempest yesterday, with lots of fanfare from Mr. P. about bridging the Unseen and the Seen worlds through self recognition, forgiveness, mercy, love, etc.

While this was going on, another tempest has been gathering within the class itself. The class includes the only sophomore who was elected to the homecoming court, and she fits so many, many stereotypes, from the overuse of make-up, to the "my need to socialize trumps your need to teach me" attitude, to the paranoia about others "hating on" her, to the soulful singing style well-honed for talent portions of pageants. In addition, the boy she was dating at the beginning of the year is in the class, but he broke up with her early on because "she was crazy!"

Up until now, Miss Priss (who can be sweet, and smart, when she so chooses) has had a couple of stalwart buddies in the class, but something has happened. Last week she was gone four days in a row with a "stomach bug", and while she was away the stalwart buddies, I noticed, were no longer stalwart-seeming when I asked if they had heard from her. And sure enough, this week, she is being roundly shunned by her buddies. We are working on a final Tempest project, and while they all sat on one side of the room, she was conspicuously alone on the other side.

I'm sure whatever she did, she deserves what she's getting. But, ahem, what about that mercy and forgiveness stuff, ladies?

One could point out that, in the play, there is no repentance without pain being inflicted first, so I guess I shouldn't hold my breath over a reconciliation for a while. Or, I could just give in to Wyfe's notion that teenagers are fundamentally pure evil.

02 December 2007

A Void

After spending much of last week sick, and then not sleeping well because of the speed-in-disguise decongestant I was prescribed, I've been spending the weekend in various states of napping, errand-running, helping get out Christmas ornaments,and lackluster grading/test making. Motivation has been low, as you might expect, for all but the napping. Really, I've got nothing much for you blog-wise, either.

Well, o.k.,some quick reading blurbs: I continue to make my way through the delightful Song of the Line (I'm a slow reader of poetry), and have picked up Mark Helprin once again, this time with Winter's Tale, which some consider his best. So far, it is quite promising, what with the murderous gang leader who's obsessed with pure, vibrant colors and the thief protagonist whose rejected-immigrant parents set him adrift as an infant in New York harbor on a stolen model sailing vessel. Both books have something immediately apparent in common: an interest, indeed a joyful preoccupation with, eccentrics. Explains a lot about me, I'm sure.

27 November 2007

Sick, Sick, Sick (and Jessica Alba)

Hope that got your attention.

Not exactly the way to finish off Thanksgiving weekend - coming down with bronchitis and sinusitis, throat hurting too much to even talk, coughing up phlegm that turned increasingly darker shades (I loved sharing the latter detail in class today). It was all enough to force a vacation extension, if you will, for a day.

I know this is bizarre, but I do have to say that one of my favorite places in all the world is the little Quick-Med doc-in-the-box we have down the road. For all intents and purposes, the docs there are my real family physicians, because I've seen them far more often over the years than I have my real doctor over in Raleigh. The nurses and staff are ever so cheerful, and the rotation of doctors do the best two-minute diagnoses you'll ever see. I'm strangely comforted to be asked the same old questions and have my vitals taken in the same old way, and get the same old antibiotic and decongestant prescriptions a couple of times a year. Go figure.

The one thing I don't like is that they've recently added a television in the waiting room, so it is harder for me to concentrate on whatever book I've brought with me.

So, yesterday morning I was surely annoyed, having to deal with Regis and Kelly while waiting my turn, but then... then... ahhhh... an angel in the guise of Jessica Alba came on the set for her interview, and she was giving details about the (no doubt) delicious stuffing she makes for Thanskgiving, and all seemed right with the world, and perhaps I even heard, somewhere in the distance, a heavenly choir singing the most serene music, and...

Then the nurse called me in, right in the middle of the interview. Dammit.

20 November 2007

Please Explain to Me

...why, last week, as I was leaving the house in the morning, Wyfe's alarm clock came on playing "Feliz Navidad"? Or why, yesterday as I was putting gas in my truck on a balmy 68 degree afternoon, the gas station's ubiquitous outdoor speaker system was blaring "Let It Snow" and a folksy version of "O Come All Ye Faithful"?

Never before has "O Come All Ye Faithful", always one of my favorite Christmas hymns, inspired the wish that I had a Green Arrow-style bow and a quiver full of exploding arrows, which I could have used to take out the 31 speakers before tearing off my receipt and leaving the station in the usual hum-drum manner.

Granted, that is a bizarre wish, but justified, I believe.

Happy Thanksgiving, but not Merry Christmas. Yet.

18 November 2007

Occupational Hazards

Being a yearbook advisor has many consolations, and as long as you are conscientious, it is hard thing to screw up. Of course, there are headaches (as I've mentioned before, English teachers are not the first group you think of for natural businessmen), but in the big picture they are relatively minor.

Since, at the high school level, girls tend to be more conscientious students, and since,for some reason, it's mostly girls who seem interested in yearbook, one of my consolations is that I tend to get good core groups to work with. However, having an all-girl class can be tricky for me from time to time. One of the reasons is that conversations in the yearbook class are not bound by subject matter the way they are in normal classes. Seems anything goes, so long as it isn't completely lurid. And so, I have to be circumspect about which matters to offer "I'm-old-enough-to-be-your-father" opinions on, and which ones to pretend not to have heard at all. No matter how careful, though, there is a subject I seem to often accidentally step into which involves... er... female biological functions.

Usually it starts when I innocently ask one of the girls who looks deathly ill if they are o.k. So it began on Friday, after one girl came in class and immediately dropped her jacket and proceeded to lay out flat - incommunicado - on the cold, dirty, hard floor. Another girl, sitting at the computer near me, also let out a weary groan from time to time. Soon, in some telepathic manner, my editor has figured out and announced that four of them are , um, having the same experience on this day. As I checked yearbook pages, I heard snippets of conversations about the wonders of Midol, or about personal stories their mothers tell, etc. Can you say "sticking out like a sore thumb"?

Look, I've been married 11 years, and I helped the doctor and nurses bring my son into the world, so I'm no wallflower. But on days like Friday, I can't help but have that same icky feeling I had in fifth grade health class. And seventh grade health class. And ninth grade health class.

15 November 2007

An Older Issue Than I Expected

So what is the point (or perhaps main points) of having an education in a democratic society? What constitutes educational success? We've discussed this here before. Clearly, the party line (from all parties) leans toward the view that education exists to help us all "get ahead." Suffice to say, you'll never hear a politician or education bureaucrat speak about much of anything other than the most tangible practical skills acquired, so that we can compete in the modern international economy, etc., etc. What good does it do, however, if we are also turning out moral morons with no taste for exploring why we live, and why we ought to live in certain ways (check out some of the best and brightest in Tom Wolfe's I Am Charlotte Simmons sometime)?

The latest The New Criterion is a special issue marking the 20th anniversary of Allan Bloom's The Closing Of The American Mind (I've read Bloom's book just once, but am feeling the urge to return to it). I've just gotten started on the special issue, but loved this quote in the opening article, taken from a book Robert Hutchins wrote in the 1930's:

"The people [education academics] think that democracy means that every child should be permitted to acquire the educational insignia that will be helpful in making money. They do not believe in the cultivation of the intellect for its own sake."

Because, of course, there are no fixed truths available for cultivation anyway - right?

12 November 2007

This and That and The Tempest

I'm in what should be a relatively blissful time of the school year. For one, no jury duty call has materialized yet, and with only seven more days of eligibility left, the odds are in my favor (I call again tomorrow evening) At school, we have a four-day week this week, followed by a two-day Thanksgiving week, so students and teachers alike should be better rested and full of the milk of human kindness, right?

Uh, doubt it. I detect more than one serpent in the garden right now, particularly because in my experience the next six weeks or so bring with them much apathy, recalcitrance, and grumpiness. "Hey, Mister - Target's running Christmas commercials and you expect us to pay attention and do our work? Who do you think you are?"

Well, to paraphrase one of the minor, but vicious, outlaws in Lonesome Dove, "Mr. P's feelin' bloody today, ain't he?" And I am indeed. For once I believe I am well organized and already prepared for the next few weeks to come, which means stocking will be filled with lots of quizzes, tests, and essays until December 21st. Of course, I have to grade all this, but I'm undaunted, for now. When it's Thanksgiving Day and I need to grade my appointed five essays for the day and feel absolutely no motivation to do so other than the fact that there are 30 more where these came from, I'll be reminded of the folly of such big talk. And like Prospero in The Tempest, perhaps I'll take pity on the kiddies after I consider the suffering I'm orchestrating and directing upon them.

Actually, no chance of that, but I needed a segue, so work with me, please.

We began The Tempest in first period last week, and rather than try to give a ten minute lecture on the mental preparations I would like the class to make, which no doubt would have been ignored by most of them, I wrote them a letter, with the instructions to read it once in class on Friday (most did), and once more at home before we return on Tuesday. Here are a couple of excerpts:

In preparation for our study of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, there are a couple of things I would like you to think about. Remember at the beginning of the year I mentioned that all forms of art, and specifically literature, invite us to enter, through our imaginations, another world, where we start to identify with the characters there. As we do this, we begin to judge their thoughts or actions. By doing so, we are also holding up a mirror to ourselves, as we measure ourselves against them. We ask the question, “How would someone judge my thoughts and actions in a given situation?” Through this process, we are really judging ourselves (whether we realize it or not). In this way, experiencing (and struggling with!) art helps us to have a higher vision of life...

...Most of all, have fun with this play. There are many funny scenes and characters, and many interesting questions to ponder. It is one of the last plays Shakespeare wrote, and though it ends happily, it does so only after we see human beings in their worst possible light. But the key is, it does end happily, which tells us quite a bit about what Shakespeare was trying to communicate to us.

Hugs and Kisses,

Mr. P.

07 November 2007

The Clarity of All Saints' Day

Last year after my grandmother died I wrote a eulogy piece which made mention, in part, of the All Saints' Day service that had just passed.

Well, here I am returning to that service, and day, 2007 version. I don't know if this will be a regular annual post, but maybe it should be.

All Saints' Day may be my favorite day of the church calendar. Perhaps no other service offers the clarity of reality - every bit of it, or as close as we can get to it - as this one. During this year's service, though I only tangentially knew one of the departed persons whose name was read from the roll, I once again grew increasingly weepy with each bell that tolled. The familiar John Rutter "Requiem" piece that followed never fails to utterly shake me, and for a while, at least, I felt that I saw myself for just how rotten, and yet loved, I am. And then, at the end of the service, when a small Dixieland ensemble led us out with "When The Saints Go Marching In" (also, for the past few years, a staple of this particular service), I felt as alive as it is possible to be.

It never occured to me how allegorical the service is, the Christian story in microcosm. Even the presentation of "When The Saints..." fit this bill, moving from up-tempo to downcast to ecstatic. Plus, we had the added benefit of celebrating Communion on this same day. Our minister's words struck me as perfectly descriptive: (paraphrasing) "We've all just experienced a little foretaste of Heaven itself. There are no bitter feelings between us, and no burdens right now. This is how it will be."

Growing up Southern protestant, I didn't even have a concept of special days on the church calendar except for Christmas, Easter, and maybe Pentecost. But over time many Methodist churches (and others) have sought to re-align themselves (to varying degrees) with certain traditions that all Christians share in their heritage, though that are mostly associated with Catholicism in the contemporary mind. Fortunately my church has embraced much of this, but it seems strange to most non-Catholics around here. Interestingly, for the last couple of weeks my parents had been talking about the upcoming All Saints' Day service at their church (the church I grew up in) as well.

Three cheers for the old becoming new again, and for the pain and joy of All Saints' Day.

01 November 2007

Here We Go Again

Damn jury duty eligibility notices, again. You'll recall I was served with notice back in the spring, and after they told me to not come in the first two weeks, I received a dismissal for the third week of eligibility due to Easter and spring break. So, I'm off all summer with nary a thought about being summoned again. And then, just when it was good and out of my mind, I received a new notice of eligibility a couple of weeks ago. My new three weeks begins Monday, and I have to call tomorrow to find out if I really have to show up then.

And, guess when the third week of eligibility falls? Yep, Thanksgiving week - how is that going to work, if I was actually on a jury by that point?

I'm irritated. That's about it, but sometimes (especially by the end of the work week)that can be enough.

29 October 2007

About Those Breasts

Got your attention, huh?

At the end of last week I was helping first period explicate some sonnets, and for homework I gave them Shakespeare's Sonnet 130, which begins (in case you've forgotten) thusly:

My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips' red:
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.

Now, our principal, who I'm judging is about 65, likes to make the rounds in the mornings, and pop his head into random classrooms, standing at the door for a while. He happened to pop in just as the kids asked me to read the poem to them, since it helps their comprehension when I do this. I did so, and then we began talking about the physical comparisons in the first two lines. Things were going well, and they were enjoying being outraged by the narrator's apparent rudeness, and I guess the principal was enjoying it too (he was smiling), so he continued hanging around. No longer holding the poem in my hand, I innocently asked the following:

"What is the next comparison? It's the hair, right?"

(Class) "No! It's the breasts!!!"

"Oh (checking peripherally). Are you sure?"


"Oh. Well, o.k. - the breasts. The first thing you need to understand is Shakespeare is not trying to be pornographic..."

And from there I tried to explain the ideal of alabaster skin, etc., as quickly as I could without stopping giving the kiddies a chance to butt in. We moved right ahead, and soon the principal, like Batman, had disappeared without notice.

After he was gone I got this: "Mr. P., you totally tried to skip over the breasts on purpose, didn't you?"

I denied it and denied it, but they weren't buying this. I suppose I'm busted, though if they busted me, I think it was the part of me called my subconscious.

I don't suppose it would have helped to have replied, "No kids, trust me. I never skip over the breasts."

24 October 2007

The Schizophrenic Day

That's the reality for me, each and every school day. My first period is wonderful, wonderful, wonderful. Not perfect, mind you, but as good a class as I've ever had, taking behavior and aptitude into account. Then I have a planning period, which is usually harried and far from relaxing, but at least offers some alone time. My third period is yearbook, which provides for publishing-related headaches, but is peopled by a small class of exceptional kids. Can't complain there.

And then, there is fourth period, a class as frustrating as any I've ever had. Both first and fourth have about five kids too many, but when around 12-15 of those kids are difficult and/or seriously unmotivated, then the game is up - at least according to the standards I try to set, which are not too unrealistic, I think. It is unbelievable how much time I spend policing, or waking people up. Some of this can be chalked up to it being fourth period, but, when I vented to a couple of the decent students in there about my frustrations, one of them simply said, "What do you expect? Take a look around at who's in here."

So, my mood swings wildly, usually from up to down, each day.

I'll take suggestions.

21 October 2007

Memo To Ms. O'Connor

Dear Ms. O'Connor,

Since I'm certain you are still writing perfect short stories at your home on the Big Farm (where I'm sure you are keeping a much less troublesome pea fowl coop), I thought I would pass this along for your use. I overheard it at the North Carolina State Fair today:

"Step up here and play, folks; there is a guaranteed winner every time. Hey, what would Jesus do? I'll tell you what He'd do - that Guy would step up here and turn one ticket into a thousand tickets. You know He would."


A lowly, not-humble-enough fan.

18 October 2007

The DRK's

One peer group I had forgotten about since my own high school days in suburbia is the Disaffected Rich Kids (DRK's, heretofore) crowd. Sure, at my previous teaching location there were disaffected rich kids, but while there were some similarities (heavy partying, academic ambivalence, and the penchant their parents have for buying them off), those rural kids were mostly big louts who rode around town in their new trucks, raised hell, and hardly made a secret of it. Many of them will have burned themselves out by age 22, and will have burned themselves into the stuff of George Jones tunes. And they don't try to hide much at all from their eye-averting parents.

The DRK's I refer to are a different breed - wealthy, generally not natives to the area, lingering at the intersection of skate-rat, emo, hip-hop, and Goth Streets. They are generally academically smart - though not motivated - and much more under the radar when it comes to the drinking, drugs, and sex they are involved in. They talk about it all, but you have to really have your ear tuned right to hear it. Their parents tend to be divorced, possibly re-married, and again, they've bought the kids off, except with PlayStation 3's instead of cars and trucks. Many of them are well-behaved in the classroom, but they always strike me as being on the verge of some sort of breakdown - they write on themselves with pens, and laugh too hard and loud, and try too diligently to be conforming non-conformists. They are more likely to be achievers, but also likely to spend time in rehab or psychotherapy (not that the rural Bubba's wouldn't be prime candidates as well - they are just less likely to go). Again, this is a type I can remember from way back in the late '80's at my school.

Well, in the back of my room, near my computer, sits a special little DRK who likes to write about how he doesn't have any real free speech, and how he hates cops, and other charming stuff. I wonder when he's ever seen a cop in the neighborhood I'm told he lives in. He makes fun of the way others smell, and of one girl's local accent (I set him straight about that in a hurry, you mite 'a guessed). His mom used to check up on him periodically, but has stopped, I notice, since his behavior has worsened. Last Thursday he started going on and on about how his grade had improved to a 78, and though I thought that sounded too high, I didn't stop to ponder it too long. The next morning, someone who rides the bus with him told me he was bragging about changing his grade on my computer; I looked, and sure enough there was a 100 where a not-yet-made-up test should have been. The grade went back to 73 quickly.

So, he sits in suspension for a couple of days, having denied everything, of course. Bet you can't wait until he hits the working world, huh?

16 October 2007

What She Said

Well, Wyfe beat me to the punch on this one, but I probably couldn't do the subject the same kind of justice anyway. My post was going to be titled, "T-Ball Assistant Coach Agonistes".

I can report that tonight I was liberated - I got to pitch because the usual dad wasn't there (and I was more accurate than he usually is, natch). As for poor Wyfe, she can't remember anything about the actual game, since she was too busy peeling children off fences again.

14 October 2007

Song of the Line

Back in August I sang the praises of both artist and writer after I read a great Oxford American profile of Henryk Fantazos written by Jack Gilbert (both fellow North Carolinians for many years now, btw!).

Well, it turns out the two of them have been friends for many years now, and have just collaborated on a new publication, a collection of Gilbert's poetry and ten new copper engravings of Fantazos's, entitled Song of the Line. I am now in proud possession of the book, and have just gotten started with it, but I'm having a blast with it so far. Gilbert's work fits my idea of poetry: accessible, but open to new discoveries on each re-reading. And the Fantazos engravings are mesmerizing, full of abnormal yet recognizable characters who are mysteriously dignified. Both men, it seems, have the good grace to be humorous in their seriousness.

I'll have more to say after I finish the book, but in the meantime check it out for yourself.

08 October 2007

My Day As A Celeb

The final Mr. P-led yearbook came out at my old school on Friday (remember, a rare fall delivery book), and acting upon previous discussions, I was asked to come down and read the dedication at the afternoon assembly held in honor of the dedicatee. I worked it out so that I could get a half day off, and rode down to hog-farm country one more time. Yes, I was nervous and cheerfully anxious about seeing former students and colleagues, and I had only practiced in my head what I was going to say. But, frankly, my nerves vanished after I looked at the assembled and realized - already - just how tiny the group seemed. It almost seemed like I was in the classroom instead of on the stage.

So, when I was introduced I got a nice, hearty round of applause and many screams, and I sort of felt like a mini-Beatle, which I'll admit was flattering. I told everyone I missed them and I loved them, and heard a few "We love you toooooo, Mr. P!"'s in response. Then I told a couple of folksy stories about the dedicatee, a friend of mine (while I'm bragging, I was on my game, because I got lots of laughs), and read the words written in honor of him. After the ceremony I signed yearbooks for an hour, gave and got lots of hugs, and shuffled off back home.

It was a satisfying day, but I also realized pretty quickly something else that made me feel good. It was clear, upon leaving, that I had made the right decision, and that indeed it was time to move on to something bigger and more challenging. I felt more like I was visiting a friend's place, rather than a second home I'd been pining away for. Given the anxieties I outlined yesterday, this was comforting. Now I find myself really looking forward to getting to work tomorrow. Probably this is a sure sign that something crappy will happen, but hey, there a certain amount of those days I'm destined to have anyway.

Thanks old school. New school, I'll see you tomorrow.

07 October 2007

Up and Down, Up and Down

There's a reason I hate change. Oh, I know the only constant is change, and we can't grow except through change, and blah blah blah-dy blah blah. But change - unless it is the change from something catastrophic to something heavenly - chafes me something awful.

The reason for this, probably, is that I am not patient. All summer I told myself that the new job would involve many adjustments which might take me a year to make, and this was just the beginning of what will hopefully be a long stay, and that it would take a while to find my niche. So what's the problem? Well, the problem turns out to be that all that stuff is TRUE! WHO KNEW?

So my mental state is very day-to-day right now. One day I love my first period, and the next I'm changing their seats, and then they are angels again. Then the next day my fourth period - which will never be great - resembles a jungle, and it appears I've never set foot in a classroom before. So, I call parents, make referrals, etc., and then they seem fine. One day I feel like the yearbook staff has accepted me as their leader, and the next I feel like they want me to leave them alone. One day I feel I've settled in to the particular faculty culture, and the next I feel quite lonely. And on, and on... On Friday I left on a high note, especially because I heard some complimentary things from my department head. But who knows about Monday?

The good news? My first observation went well, and my colleagues (unless I'm totally misreading the signs) have already accepted me and determined I am an asset and an enjoyable colleague. The bad news? Regardless, it will take more time for me to truly feel at home, and there is just no remedy for that but, well, time. I guess I just need to admit defeat on that front and live with those fun feelings of uncertainty.

I may be slightly paraphrasing, but I believe C.S. Lewis wrote, to himself, that "there is nothing to be done about suffering except to suffer." He was speaking of something much worse than job change, but the point is well-taken.

01 October 2007

Feeling More Like Home, In More Ways Than One

Well, last week was the first full one where things at the new school just seemed like home - right down to the petty things (lost planning period time) that all high schools seem to engender, and that seem designed merely to piss off teachers.

But really, it was a good week, and I can feel my confidence level rising with the kids, and can tell that - like my old kids - they like me and like the class. That is, if they have to have an English class, mine seems fine to be in.

I was all prepared to gush about this toward the end of last week, but lack of time and 28 essays intervened. And then, on Friday afternoon right at the 4th period bell, I heard the dulcet strains of, "MR. P., THERE'S A FIGHT IN THE HALL!"

My first reaction to such news is always a) a barely suppressed "damn!", and b) heading toward the fight in a kind of "I'm trying to look concerned and in a hurry and in control while not really wanting to be in too much of a hurry, and not liking any of the alternatives actually open to me." So I tried to make my way through the throbbing crowd of shameless teenage onlookers, and saw, through the perfect circle they had formed aroung the festivities, two black girls beating the living snot out of each other. I have never seen a fight of such ferocity, and before I could get near them, one had flung the other through another teacher's doorway and into her room.

What I will always remember is the rush of students who immediately converged on the doorway, horrid little vultures ready to follow the fight into the classroom, and the fortunate circumstance that the teacher was standing close by to stop them. If she had not been there, I swear there would have been 100 kids in that room in no time. My view of human nature at that moment bordered on Mark Twain-esque pessimism (boy could he have written out that scene). Eventually I helped grab one girl and hold her away from the other, trying to hang on tight without actually breaking her lower ribs.

Some people leave a scene like that and shake for a while after. I didn't, but I marvel at how quickly such a situation focuses your entire being on one thing so sharply. I remember every detail of what I saw perfectly, but can't remember much about my own movement, or exactly how I made my way to the fight and helped break it up. Once you are sucked in to something like that, you are sucked in for good until it is long over.

27 September 2007

Conversation With An Indignant 10th Grader

"So, you say you are taking Web Design? That doesn't happen to be the same class Kirk is in, is it? He's in my 4th Period."

"Oh. My. God. Yes! He is soooooo annoying. And, get this (eyes narrow). He lives near me and rides my bus. I can't wait to get my license - I sit in the back of the bus, and I'm the only girl, with like six guys around me.

"Wow. I hope you have a mean streak."

"God, they are so annoying. I'm nice to them, but you wouldn't believe it. Do you know what they sit back there and talk about?"


"Star Wars!"

"Really. Well, that's popular in my household right now, too."

"Yeah, but your son is four!"

"Well, actually six."

"And they talk about Yu-Gi-Oh!

"Um... yeah, I can't defend them there."

"I mean, please grow up!"

"This reminds me a little of an old t.v. show called "Freaks and Geeks". But you probably weren't even born when it was on the air. Anyway, when do you get your license, again?"

"November 6th at 2:45. 2:55 at the latest."

24 September 2007

Please Don't Hate Me

I'm sorry, folks. The heart is willing, but the body is too tired or busy for meaningful, or heck, even non-meaningful posts right now. Let me get beyond tomorrow night's round of t-ball and Senior Night yearbook presentations, and maybe Wednesday will be fruitful. I have many good things to tell, I promise.

Two quick reports from today: I entered the building at 6:50 this morning and found out the stifling atmosphere inside was due to a broken air-conditioner which had been out since Saturday. And it's been in the 90's here the last two days. You can figure out how the day went from there.

I also got to listen to a junior quite innocently tell other members of the yearbook staff about her father's three cars, which don't include her mom's vehicle, or her own BMW. And there is the Paris trip awaiting her after graduation.

Well, I'm no hater of the rich, but I'm not a big fan of the gauche (innocent though it seems).

19 September 2007

Same Ole', Same Ole'

Open House was last night. Mostly it's the parents of the good kids who come, though I did have one parent of a struggling student show up, and she was very upset with her son for the report I gave her. Still, one reliable indicator of a good student is whether or not the parents come to open house - I'm guessing 90% of these kids will be A-B students.

The old yearbook advisor, who is now working half-days, shares my room with me in the mornings. He has been teaching for 30 years or so, and he told me he one of his good buddies was on the school board for years. His buddy's opinion is that you can pull a student's first grade cumulative folder and his socioeconomic/family records, and pretty much determine his future as a student from there on out. That is pretty stark - and deterministic - and yet it is probably true.

But some of the exceptions to that rule sure make for wonderful stories.

16 September 2007


Well, with two birthday parties, t-ball, in-laws in town, the Wyfe's birthday (not one of the parties) - and, oh yeah - school, I'm not over last week yet, and here a new one is upon us. Alas, little blogging time.

But I will mention that, since the in-laws were in town, we got to have one of our 2-3 movie nights of the year (I think this is #2 for '07). What did we see?


Get the picture (wink, wink)?

12 September 2007

Freakin' Bizarre

That would definitely describe my former high school of employment - which is part of its charm, by the way, and also part of its curse.

I have discovered, this evening, that the school has been all over the blogosphere - and certain news sites - because of the principal's decision regarding what kind of shirts with what kind of flags represented on them could be worn on a certain important date that just passed. The answer: none, including American flags. The reasoning: they are having big problems with Mexican flag shirts, and the like, which include gang insignias on them.

Now, it feel like the twilight zone to me, because I know the principal well, have worked under him, have played sports with him a couple of times, have had meals with him, and really like him. And this flesh and blood person from my life is getting ripped on by bloggers right and left (ACLU-types). Do I think his decision was sound? No, not in principle (no pun intended). But look - this guy is a country boy from rural NC, and as red-blooded American as you can get. He went out and got American flags for all our school rooms last year so that we could properly say the Pledge of Allegiance each day. I don't believe he made a decision based on namby-pamby respecting-others-feelings-pc baloney. He did it because of the real gang problems they are having there, and probably wanted to avoid conflicts that would distract school business.

Yes, all this is another way of saying that a few gangbanger hispanic kids are holding the school hostage, in a way. Yes, that is something that should be stood up to, conflict be damned. But I'm just pointing out that this is a really good guy getting bludgeoned here.

What's also interesting to me - and this is a topic for a longer post down the line - is how at my current school so many things like this just wouldn't be issues. The kids as a whole simply don't push the envelope in the same way regarding dress code, gang wear, etc., and when they do they get cracked down on quickly. Is it simply a matter of who your population is, or is it the culture the school has passed down from administration to administration?

09 September 2007

Pied Beauty

As a general rule this is not a blog about my religious thoughts or experiences, but today is different. There are moments when a cluster of people or experiences, seemingly random, suddenly make sense in a way both instructive and, perhaps more importantly, sublime. The Christian among us describe this as Grace, something we are offered all the time, but rarely are smart enough to see, or receive. Today I had one of those moments, while at church, though I was hardly prepared for it. But suddenly the up and down nature of the past week, the potentially miraculous and the depressingly imperfect, came alive for me in a new way.

The optimism from Week #1 at school seemed to slowly dissipate all during Week #2 as the pressures of too-much-work-not-enough-time became reality (typical for this point in the year), poor behavior and absences already started to become manifest, and the oppressive heat/drought conditions continued here, with no relief in sight. On both Wednesday and Thursday afternoons my fourth period was difficult to get under control, and I was down on myself for poor classroom management. Gilgamesh hasn't exactly been revving my engines, or my students', up (this is the first, and maybe the last time for ole' Gil and me in the classroom). My planning periods are shortened due to homeroom, and my grading load was piling up. I wasn't getting enough sleep, and my son's t-ball team, for which I'm assistant coaching, was even lethargic and apathetic during Wednesday evening's practice (the chubby kid - there is always one -kept telling me how much he didn't want to be there).

Friday morning was the low point for the week. A homeroom student asked if I prayed, and told me his grandmother was dying of brain cancer. I told him I did, but didn't truthfully qualify it - I pray poorly, on-the-run, or sleepily with the lights out. Another homeroom kid who normally seems sweet completely threw me off kilter when she angrily snapped at me for calling the "band move" she was demonstrating a "dance move" ("It's not a dance move, its a band move!"). Later I was mad at myself for not upbraiding her, at least in private, or retorting sarcastically (I'm not above it), but I was actually too stunned to respond. Then first period was a mess - I made a joke that fell flat, and suddenly felt self-conscious. I was uninspiring and even sweating, and just didn't feel in command until late in the period.

Yet, the day, had its triumphs that I was happy to ignore at the time. Fourth period, which is full of so many distractions, was good, even sweet. They are never going to be great, but I expected much worse on a Friday afternoon. Both English classes got into a word brainstorming exercise, and yearbook continues to be fun - a diverse group of personalities so far working well together. I had a nice talk with an asst. principal at lunch duty - the guy will probably be the next principal, and seems the right kind of person for the job: steady-as-she-goes, friendly but stern.

And during the week I started hearing from some of my favorites from school #1 via e-mail. Aside from hearing about two fights in one morning before the bell even rang, I had this from a senior who is as close to my heart as any student has been: "I'm very glad to hear that your liking where you are now... 'cause you know it would be a shame to leave where people absolutely ADORE you, and not be appreciated now."

The miraculous, and the imperfect. Today we were late for church, as usual, and got in just in time for a flawless sermon on Paul's Epistle to Philemon, something I've never stopped to notice, I think: Paul and a runaway slave are incarcerated in a dirty jail cell, and discover that the slave's master is a convert who Paul himself evangelized. The short letter Paul writes to the slave's master, on behalf of his cell mate, is a "love letter", perhaps the greatest "love letter". But the sappy, 1967-ish hymn after the sermon is a huge letdown - redeemed only by the bell accompaniment (I wish we could have just heard the bells). While we were listening to the sermon, my son quietly pouted - bottom lip jutted out, angry eyebrows - for being told to keep quiet. Periodically I coax him closer until he finally sits on my lap for the morning prayer. During the offering, the choir, with winds accompaniments, sang a rousing rendition of an American classic, "Simple Gifts". The choir director's son, three or four years old, trotted out in his tiny Sunday suit and, during the chorus, tapped the glockenspiel on the off beat - losing his timing only once, and then picking it back up. The past few days seemed transformed right there, and all the week's emotions found their way to my eyes and throat.

It was our turn during Sunday school to serve the special adult class for those afflicted with Down's Syndrome and other illnesses and retardations. Some are loud and disruptive, some restless, some obsessive - most are barely intelligible in their speech. My son loves when we do this - he loves to come in and help us serve snacks to them, though he's not quite sure what to make of them. One day I'll tell him, these are the ones at the top of the heavenly-leading steps in Flannery O'Connor's story "Revelation". From imperfect to miraculous.

When we got home we heard, coming down the street, the unmistakable tones of an ice cream truck - the first we've seen here all summer. Oh, and the forecast (at least for now) is calling for blessed rain by Wednesday.

05 September 2007

Amen, Brother.

Joseph Epstein has a mostly depressing take on "The Literary Life", circa 2007, in the current The New Criterion. Depressing, but probably on the money, for the most part. I do love the end of this passage from the piece:

Some while ago I was asked to write about (Richard) Russo’s novel Empire Falls and a novel by Jonathan Franzen called The Corrections, which is steeped in hatred for the middle-class from which Franzen derived. The comparison between the two novels reminded me of an essay Matthew Arnold wrote about the difference between Anna Karenina and Madame Bovary, which was that Tolstoy, the larger-hearted man, came to love his heroine and Flaubert never veered from his loathing for his. A good heart remains the first requisite for a great novelist.

So true, so true. It's also a first requisite for great teachers, I've noticed. And for most other worthy endeavors.

03 September 2007

Week 1 Retro - The Specific

My room is at least 50% larger than my old haunts, which helps because of all the yearbook computers and affiliated gear. I love the extra space, but I think a room never feels as much like home as it does during the planning period, where one can unwind and exhale in safe environs. Unfortunately, I have to camp out in the work room and media center during planning so a roaming teacher can use my room for 2nd period. There is a plus side here - there is less chance I'll waste planning/grading time when I'm not all cozy in my room.

So, first period is (right now) 28 kids, and thus far only two of them give me worries - not about conduct, but about passing the class. One is already convinced he'll be playing ACC basketball in three years, and has been sleeping and uninvolved thus far. The other told me he flunked last year because of absences; he's been sleeping too. A majority of the rest of the kids, I swear, would be potential honors kids at my former school. I haven't had to raise my voice above the noise in this class yet. Thus far, I looooooove first period.

Third period is yearbook, and while I'm certain there will be many hours of sleep lost over the yearbook, the class is thus far out of sight. At my old school the biggest problem I probably had was in having complete say over the staff, which led to a lot of dead weight, and personality conflicts. Some of this was my fault - I wasn't as insistent as I ought to have been about such things - but the class was never given the privileged status it ought to have been. Now, I have 14 kids who, while displaying slightly varying work ethics, all seem to be at least acceptably motivated, and cooperative. As the new guy coming in, I would not have expected to be accepted as readily as I have been (again with the "knock, knock").

If I have tension at the end of the day, fourth period is most likely to be the culprit. There is an irritating little group of mall rat/skate rat types who are hyper, immature, and sassy. However, even after moving a couple of them and having some post-class discussions, I can tell they like me so far. That doesn't mean they will automatically straighten up, but it can't hurt. And, they have not disrespected me when I've disciplined them, which is refreshing compared to past experiences. There are also 28 in this class, and it definitely is not going to be as fun as first period. They bear watching, but I'm not dreading them (yet), and there is something to be said for that.

On to week two, in which our intrepid author will no doubt learn all his first impressions were completely wrong...

02 September 2007

Week 1 Retro - The General

Let's start with some general observations from my first week of school in my new environment. First, it was probably the best first week I've ever had as far as all three classes running smoothly and efficiently. Some of this is due to my own improvements; most is probably due to having fairly good kids (knock, knock). Tomorrow I'll do my retrospective on some more specific details, but for the moment I'll report satisfaction that my classes and I will at least be able to "do bidness", sometimes cheerfully.

Second, I had no idea how it would feel to be in the midst of 2,000 students when I used to be in the midst of 550. The answer is, not much different, because I don't see all of them all the time. In my little corner of my building, I'm basically just seeing segments of the school population each day, so it doesn't feel overwhelming. Granted, when I took my junior homeroom to its class assembly with the principal, I noted that the entire junior class, gathered on the bleachers, looked like the whole student body of my former school.

Speaking of the assembly, the principal (rumored to be retiring this year), said "Good Morning," and then stood in a pose of stoic defiance, as if he were staring at each individual eye to eye. The kids got quiet in a hurry, except for one smartie who let out a "Whooo!" Minutes later, two girls were led out by a history teacher. The rest of the time the kids were completely attentive (well, at least silent), though I know they didn't want to be. But by God, they were, and I never saw that happen at my old school.

The teachers at my old school were almost all wonderful to me, and willing to help with almost anything. But, partially because there were only four of us, members of my department there rarely collaborated or came up with skeletal gameplans for how certain subjects would be approached. None of us would have refused to help each other, but we were content to all do our own thing, for the most part. Some of this was also due to the knowledge that one of the four was, sad to say, an embarrasment who nonetheless posed as a know-it-all.

My current department is much more collaborative, and everyone is much more active in asking the new guys if we need help. Case in point: after cobbling together some writing and short fiction lessons to get through week one, on Friday I needed to sit down and really plan out my next couple of weeks, especially what I'm going to do with Gilgamesh. However, due to homeroom my planning period has been pinched all week, and I had to attend training on how to set up a web page. Ordinarily this would have added up to leaving later on Friday than I would have liked, but all I ended up having to do was check with one of the other 10th grade teachers, who keeps the "10th Grade Notebook", a massive compilation of lessons and activities in oh-so-neat page protectors. Within thiry minutes I've got next week's Latin roots activities and quizzes ready to go, as well as vocabulary lists, Tuesday's lessons on Ancient Mesopotamia and its literature, and enough Gilgamesh stuff to choke a goat.

What I can't wait to do later in the semester is add to that notebook with my own variety o' cool lessons for The Tempest, La Commedia Divina, and "The Metamorphosis". Of course, I'll probably have to borrow the page protectors off someone - neatness isn't really my thing.

30 August 2007

Yeah, I'm Here

I've had something going on the last two nights, and time has not been a friend to my blogging. Things should settle down a little now, and I will give fuller reports about school week #1 this weekend. Suffice to say that it has been a fairly smooth week, periodically mottled by a few spasms of loneliness. It is not easy to start a new job, but as these things go I'm having a smooth time of it.

One tidbit: a sweet student has already brought me a gift. It is a chalkholder, which she said would help me look cooler than when I was writing with the large, pink piece of sidewalk chalk. And indeed it does.

More coming soon.

26 August 2007

These Are The Times That Try Men's Souls

I hate the first day of school, but I hate the day before the first day of school even more. It's impossible not to be nervous, and nearly impossible to sleep, minus medication which I don't take. I haven't had much last-second planning time this weekend on account of two birthday parties for one son, and a little assistant coaching for t-ball practice. Perhaps these activities have been good for me - taking my mind off things. That is, if Putt-Putt/Go Karting on a sauna-esque evening, and ball practice in Mespotamian summer conditions can ever be good.

Where to start when reporting on school happenings and new job trauma? I don't know - let's throw out a few random thoughts, and hope I survive the coming week, gradually finding the ability to put together cogent blog posts with available time (ha!):

*My room is barren and sad compared to the immaculately decorated rooms of the other English teachers. Hopefully I'll have a few years to refine things, but I've always had a disadvantageous man's touch with such things.

*No one thought I was weird for wanting to teach The Tempest to non-honors 10th graders. But for my troubles I have been put in charge of organizing a unit on potential activities, projects, etc. in case others want to incorporate it into their own curriculum.

*I'm in awe of some of these teachers - many of them gave workshops on Friday, and they have their stuff down pat. I have strong knowledge and the right demeanor (and attitude) I think, but as a teacher and classroom manager I still have a long way to go before I'm on some of their levels.

*In my five years at my former school, I didn't cumulatively hear the words damn, hell, and sh*t out of the mouths of teachers as much as I did in one week of workdays at my new school. I also heard the "f" word fly out of a science teacher's mouth twice in one conversation. Interestingly, the main perpetrators were almost all teachers/administrators nearing retirement.

*I didn't get my first lesson plan written until Friday afternoon at 3:15. Let's hear it for procrastinators.

*Our Open House night was cut short by a wicked thunderstorm that knocked the power out. So instead, we had to stay until 6:00 the following two days to give parents a chance to come by. Speaking of tempests, what kind of omen was that?

*However, no one is really checking up on us - we don't have to sign in or out (except workday mornings), or punch time cards, and it is assumed we are doing our work when and where we are supposed to do it.

*Did I mention I will never sleep well tonight? Yeah, I did. Well, what sleep I get will be harried by bizarre, frightening dreams that could keep a Jungian in business for a year (that was Jung, wasn't it?).

*I hate the first day of school. Pray for me, folks.

22 August 2007

Not My Night

Ralph Ellison lost the manuscript to the second novel he was working on in a house fire.

I just lost an entire, medium-elaborate post because I didn't read the "temporary problem, cannot save post" message before navigating elsewhere.

Close enough to the same thing, no?

Too depressed to start over now - I'll try again tomorrow if I can.

20 August 2007

Yes, I Survived...

...Day 1.

Yes, I did feel tiny and insignificant when I saw that my old faculty would have fit on 1 1/2 of the 12 full tables my new faculty needed for a mass assembly.

No, I wasn't feeling too sure of myself for most of the day.

Yes, I'm still in shock over the volumes of information fed to me as we were processed through seven separate break-out sessions to hear various asst. principals on various portions of The Complete Novels of Victor Hugo the faculty handbook.

No, I don't like the morning parking lot duty I've been given.

Yes, the day ended on a high note after I got to talk shop with some fellow English teachers, and they were friendly with me.

Yes, I love the World Lit. textbook we have - even though Shakespeare is usually bypassed in 10th grade books, this one includes The Tempest!

No, I don't have much time to fix my room, plan, etc., b/c of highly structured workday schedules (re: meetings, meetings, meetings).

Yes, I guess I'll show back up tomorrow.

19 August 2007

'07 Summer Wrap-Up, Part I (The Reading)

We are back from the beach, with minimal sunburn, and now I go into the frying pan tomorrow, so I have little time for - well - anything. But, in the fine tradition of this one year old blog (see here and here), I must review the summer what was, and putting it into some kind of context.

First to the reading. I rarely go into the summer with some kind of theme that my reading will fall under, but instead have a few books in mind, and let the reading gods guide me in whatever whimsical direction they will. And yet, a certain theme, or commonality, always seems to emerge. Last year much of my reading was Italian-flavored, especially from reading Dante and Mark Helprin's A Soldier of the Great War.

This summer brought me back home, which was appropriate considering that I am leaving behind one era of my working life, and entering a new one. Most of my reading was of southern fiction, and most of that was re-reading. At the beginning of the summer I re-read Fred Chappell's magnificent four novels about the Kirkman family of the North Carolina mountains (I Am One of You Forever, Brighten the Corner Where You Are, Farewell I'm Bound To Leave You, Look Back All the Green Valley). Loosely (sometimes very loosely) autobiographical, these novels work much the way the mountain musicians in them work - by weaving in and out of each other's music effortlessly, each performing its own virtuosic solo, and yet able to fall back into the warm harmonies and rhythms of the same song. These novels are by turns hilarious, strange, other-worldly, philosophical, devastatingly sad, metaphysical, and genuinely good-humored. Pretty swell for a poet. Then again, his poetry is pretty swell for a novelist.

Next, I returned, after a number of years, to two of the very best by the Dixie Limited himself, Faulkner. I read both Absalom, Absalom! and Go Down, Moses for the third time each, and never more enjoyably. When I was a very young man, reading Faulkner was a gateway into a world I didn't know was so vast and accomplished: the literary South, in particular that neck of the woods known as the Southern Renaissance. This was an occasion for both a sense of great pride and of belonging - and it also led to two other things: a lifelong devotion to literature, and a lifelong lack of high-paying jobs (Thanks, Faulkner - sincerely, the Wyfe).

In reading Faulkner over the summer, I was reawakened to how relevant and universal he remains, and also to his ability to simultaneously love and criticize southerners and Americans as a whole. We have plenty of criticism still around in contemporary writing, but where is that love which best validates the criticism to begin with?

Briefly, here are the other reading highlights of the summer: two classics that I had somehow missed up to this time - Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man and Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front; a handful of Flannery O'Connor's essays; Peter Taylor's wonderful short story "A Spinster's Tale"; two from my self-declared British mentor Roger Scruton, An Intelligent Person's Guide to Modern Culture and Culture Counts (more about this one soon); and Frank McCourt's melancholic, sobering, and ultimately affirming ode to his career as a teacher, Teacher Man.

Part II coming soon.

10 August 2007

Whistling Past the Graveyard

At least that is what it feels like I'm doing, going to the beach for a full week of fun and frolic while assiduously ignoring the fact that I START MY BRAND NEW FREAKING JOB a day and a half after I return. But what, me worry?

Well, the end of the week did bring lots of new school info. to digest, which is what I get for going over there early to get yearbook computers set up. For one thing, I know what I'm teaching: all 10th grade, but unfortunately no honors classes this year. Also, the a/c in my room does not yet appear to be working (I'm cold-natured, but even I would struggle with that for a full day). And best of all, because of overcrowding issues in the town, it seems there aren't enough buses available to handle the high school, two middle schools, and three elementary schools (and the county's other schools are too far away to provide much cover). So, it appears a staggered schedule between the schools will be in effect, and my school draws first blood by starting each morning at - ta da! - 7:05! Which means I will have to be there by 6:50! Which means I'll have to wake up before 6:00! There are plenty of cows hanging out about a mile from my home, so maybe I'll stop and milk them, in addition, while I'm on my way to work.

School will get out at 2:00, however, which might be nice.

I lied earlier in the week - the promised summer review post won't be ready until next weekend (hopefully). No idea if we will have internet connection at the place we are staying in North Myrtle, but if so it may come a little earlier. Then again, I may be too busy all week lapping kids at the NASCAR go-kart center.

See y'all next week!

09 August 2007

Henryk Fantazos (Wow!)

Other than the rotting-corpse stench coming off Hal Crowther's opinion piece in the back, the latest issue of Oxford American (which I'm only now getting to) looks quite promising indeed. The issue is already worth it for me because of the profile done on Henryk Fantazos, a Polish painter who settled here in North Carolina a couple of decades ago and decided to use the region as his medium. His comments about the South are wonderful- he speaks of his motive "to honor the proud individuation of all objects in view" - and place him squarely in the same camp as Faulkner and O'Connor. And these paintings? Wow! Like Flannery's stories put to canvas! Please watch the short slide show on his southern work at the bottom of this post.

Also wonderful are the comments of Jack Gilbert, who wrote the profile. I especially love this section:

But he does not paint ideas or propaganda. His works are free of defeat and guilt, of the knots and gnawings of poverty and status and family and wealth. Free also of progressive dreams and nightmares, free of any New South programs (which remind him of bureaucratic octopuses in the Poland of 1970).

In the “Face of the South” cycle, Henryk affirms such Southern legends as “fragrant overabundance,” courtesy, and friendliness.

But he eschewed the progressive ideology that, from the 1950s, I witnessed and, mea culpa, took part in; it was an intellectual program for a new Reconstruction that was implicit in jokes at the faculty club, in lectures, novels, movies, and newscasts. What were we pushing? Great educational leaders, sociologists, journalists? Having made a beginning of the end of racial discrimination, what next?

A funny bunch of notions: to remove the restraints on lovemaking, now called “sex,” pregnant with meaning (why all the energy spent for an activity well able to mind its own occasions?); to undermine devotion to concepts of honor or personal integrity (antisocial they are); to do the same to love of country or region or tribe; to correct (with the confident help of a humane intelligentsia) the erratic distribution of wealth; and, less honestly than Mao, to embrace quietly the prejudice that religion is poison, especially if it makes any difference.

06 August 2007

A Happy Confluence

So here's my question: If a play like "Lear" lends itself to such diverse and contemporary approaches, why is its author so widely derided in certain progressive-minded circles as a Dead White European Male who has nothing of interest to say about the way we live now?

This from a short piece by Terry Teachout , in which he references two who belong to my personal Pantheon: Shakespeare (natch), and Roger Scruton (from whom I've been drinking deeply the last several months). The occasion? Scruton's new book, Culture Counts, which just arrived at my home a few days ago, and is set aside for beach reading next week.

Looking Ahead

We just returned from an out of town family birthday celebration over the weekend, and as Wyfe has pointed out , August is probably our busiest month on the calendar. Next week we go to the beach (prices drop after this week!), but in some ways that will be inconvenient, since I could use that week to get some of my classroom ready, prior to my start date on the 20th. I'll be over there a couple of times this week for yearbook purposes, so I will do what I can.

In the meantime, this week I will get my act together and start giving my parting thoughts about the summer break that was (including the summer reading that was), and the most interesting fall that is to come.

By the way, my seasonal terminology is skewed by the school calendar. Try telling anyone here in the Old North State that summer is approaching its end, and you'll get some strange looks. Nothin' but hot, humidity-fueled air hanging around this place.

02 August 2007

A Well-Placed Shot

Whatever the quality of my humor, the form of it that the Good Lord gave me is generally deadpan (works well with teenagers, by the way, but only after they've gotten to know you a bit - otherwise it messes with their minds). So, I appreciate a good stab of dry humor, even when I'm the butt of the joke. To wit, here is an example from today:

(The scene: check-out counter at Lowe's Home Improvement[again], with me purchasing six cans of spray paint and four large bags of pine bark mulch):

Girl Cashier: Would you like a bag, by the way?

Me: Uh... yeah, I guess so. For the paint.

Girl Cashier: Yeah... I'm not sure the mulch would fit in these bags anyway.

I had to congratulate her on that one, especially for her swiftness. Then, of course, I figured out where her car was in the parking lot and used the spray paint on it.

No hard feelings.

01 August 2007

Baseball And The Surreal

That is what being a baseball fan is like these days - surreal. The all-time homerun record is about to be broken, and yet many of us are anticipating Barry Bonds' pending achievement like we would a colon exam, because we know that a certain percentage (maybe 1/7 or 1/8?) of his homers were steroid-facilitated. Even though the guy is a jerk, I would still be excited to see this historical moment (I was too young to remember Hank Aaron breaking the mark in 1974) if his attitude was the only problem, because I might never get the chance to witness such a thing again. As it is, I change the channel every time the man comes to bat. I don't want to see it, and that is depressing. (One ray of hope: I heard a scouting-expert say that the prototype player coming through the minors these days looks more like a player from 1980 than from 2000, meaning much skinnier.)

From an early age, baseball has been in my veins. It was the first sport I ever played, the first sport I was ever consumed with, the first I collected cards for and memorized stats for. Other than Mid-Atlantic Wrestling, the highlights of Saturday summer t.v. for me were the syndicated This Week In Baseball (hosted by the great Mel Allen), and the saturday afternoon Game of the Week on NBC. My brother and I got some kind of super baseball card/memento set for Christmas one year, and included was a record album that narrated the great moments in baseball history, played snippets of some of the great calls. We listened to it over and over and over, and Bobby Thompson's homerun, DiMaggio's hit streak, Willie Mays' catch, and Hank Aaron's 715th were forever seared into our brains. When I started fifth grade, George Brett (still my favorite all-time player) was going for .400, and every morning my first question to my Dad was, "What did Brett do last night?"

So baseball is forever with me, and I can't give up my love for it. I object to those pundits who say, "Obviously baseball fans don't care about steroids. Attendance is at record highs. They just want to see home runs and drink their beer." Perhaps so (though I find this reeking of elitist holier-than-thou-ism), but there are plenty of us who love the game and don't want to leave it. We just want it cleaned up.

29 July 2007

Couple 'o Quotes

Lots of good stuff in the August/September First Things, but here are a couple of passages that stand out:

Harvey Mansfield, of Manliness fame, on the failure of modern-day political science to concentrate on anything but that second word, science:

Ambition embarrasses our political science because ambition smacks of greatness; it is not average enough to be the object of a science that knows nothing of individuality, hence nothing of greatness. Even the word great is unscientific because it is pretentious. But we human beings are animals with pretensions.

My profession needs to open its eyes and admit to its curriculum the help of literature and history. It should be unafraid to risk considering what is ignored by science and may lack the approval of science. The humanities too, whose professors often suffer from a faint heart, need to recover their faith in what is individual and their courage to defend it. Thumos (the part of the soul that makes us want to insist on our importance) is not merely theoretical. To learn of it will improve your life as well as your thinking.

And then this from Richard Neuhaus on the latest boom of bestselling books that attack religion, and how they should be categorized:

Hitchens, Harris, et al. are not really making the case for atheism. They are attacking the grab bag of evils and absurdities associated with that amorphous reality called religion, which is an easy thing to do. "Religion" has to do with human beliefs and behaviors that are as riddled with nonsense as any other human enterprise. Christians qua Christians, have no stake in defending "religion." Much of what is called religion is false and meretricious. The Book Expo had it right: The "atheist" books in question are a subcategory in religion. Now, if Hitchens and company want to talk about God, i.e., Reality, that would be a most welcome discussion.

26 July 2007

Celebrity Status

I remember one of the best discussions from the fast-forward certification program I attended five years ago centered on why teachers have to watch their behavior even outside of school. The main point of the discussion was that you could be seen by a student, student's family member, colleague, or county office worker at any time. Some in the program (these were all second or third career-switchers) balked at this: "Why should it matter how many beers I had at the bar on Saturday?", or "What difference does it make who I was seen with during the summer?", or "Who cares what I wear when I'm not teaching?" After a few minutes of griping, by one man in particular, the experienced teacher who was in charge of the discussion finally lowered the glasses on her face and said something to the effect of, "Sir, you are not living in Southern California."

I can vouch for the soundness of all this advice. On the few occasions I go to one of the major malls in Raleigh, it seems I inexplicably see someone from my former little-tiny school there (including my principal last December), even though it is 50 miles away. And now that I'll be teaching at a bigger school near my local community, this is bound to happen more. In fact, it has.

Six girls from my new school attended the June yearbook workshop with me. Two days later, I ran into the mother of one of them at a Chick-fil-A. I've seen another twice, as a waitress, at a local restaurant. Then, this morning I saw a former School #1 student at Lowe's Home Improvement, and this afternoon another of the six new girls comes walking into the same public swimming pool, 25 miles away, that I've been taking my son to occasionally this summer. I might as well just start expecting this every time out.

Of course, I behave myself in public, and mostly in private (wink, wink to Wyfe). But I have this irrational fear that one day a student is going to catch me lingering in front of the magazine section at the grocery store, gawking at a oh, let's say a cover featuring a scantily clad Jessica Biel (um... just to offer a completely random, hypothetical example, of course).

Watch your back, teachers.

24 July 2007

One Month And Counting

Until teachers report to duty, and five weeks until school really starts. Since I've been teaching, the second half of summers have always taken on a different hue for me (poor guy, with his summers off). No different now - already there is a slight sense of melancholy over the time that has passed (or has been squandered), and nervous apprehension about what is on the horizon. Even going in to my fifth year at my old school, where the routines were familiar and the kids were mostly known quantities, I got nervous - in fact, I was much more nervous last summer than I am this summer, though I have more reason for it in the present case. What is that all about?

Well, for one thing, moving to a better school with better students has motivated me to reevaluate myself a little more, as a person and a teacher. This is my vocation, paradoxically both chosen and, I believe, chosen for me. All my life I have been a shy, understated person, and while I'm comfortable with this (and don't wish to change my basic personality), I do think it is time for me to step forward with a little more bravado and confidence. Nervousness needs to recede in the face of more important priorities. I've been a good teacher, and think I was one of the best at my old school, but there were many areas where I was ineffective or clueless. To be a master teacher, I must continue to improve. In addition, experience convinces me that most teenagers are dying to have strong adult leaders who can be trusted. It sounds corny, but that is my charge - to be one of those leaders.

Suddenly reads like I'm quite the Calvinist here, with all my struggling and striving , huh? But look, even if I'm lucky and have a long time remaining in this profession, there is another sense in which three decades (more or less) is a short time. With whatever time I'm given, I don't want to feel like I was just cruising along.

20 July 2007

Nailing It

There are so many other ways to lead a successful and meaningful life that are not denominated by money or fame. Adult life begins in a child's imagination, and we've relinquished that imagination to the marketplace...

Art is an irreplaceable way of understanding and expressing the world--equal to but distinct from scientific and conceptual methods. Art addresses us in the fullness of our being--simultaneously speaking to our intellect, emotions, intuition, imagination, memory and physical senses. There are some truths about life that can be expressed only as stories or songs or images.

Art delights, instructs, consoles. It educates our emotions. And it remembers. As Robert Frost once said about poetry, "It is a way of remembering that which it would impoverish us to forget." Art awakens, enlarges, refines and restores our humanity.

If it is necessary to have a National Endowment for the Arts, then it should be necessary to have it headed up by the Dana Gioia's of the world. Take a couple of minutes to read this.

18 July 2007

Life As The Novel Of Manners

On his blog Monday Tony Woodlief sparked a lively discussion about manners and parenting by commenting about a girl whose rear end was showing in church. Tony's further points in the comment thread that ensued are tremendous, btw. And all this got me thinking about the boys in my second period class last semester at my old school.

First, this class, to be blunt, was heavily populated with redneck boys, all of whom were friends, except when they were mad at each other (a frequent occurence). One of their favorite out of class activities, judging from their conversational topics, was "rolling up" in parking lots, intersections, etc. and demanding attention by blasting bass-heavy music and revving engines. There is nothing new here, except that when I was their age such boys would have been blasting Iron Maiden instead of aggressive rap.

Well, one thing these boys definitely love doing is entering and exiting school premises in such a manner - and at this school it is easy for them to "buzz" the front office and front hall. So, the principal told them to stop, and one of the teachers on parking lot duty told them to stop, and they were threatened with having their parking privileges revoked. This had them in high dudgeon at various times during the semester, and they would ask me (an obvious authority on the proper bounds of redneck activity) if I thought this was fair. What I would usually ask them is if they thought it was fine to irritate and disturb others who might not share their enthusiasm for high-volume habits. The answer was always the same: "Well, I paid for my stuff (speakers, car), so I should be able to do what I want to with it." There's little need to further comment on such reasoning - obviously my opinion of it is low.

Some time after the first of these conversations, I had my own opportunity to be "buzzed" by one of these same students. He, in particular, loved to brag about rolling up on teachers and revving his engine loudly. One morning after arriving at school, as I exited my car and started pulling my stuff out of the trunk, I saw him coming in his blue Mustang GT, about 100 yards away. One of my special talents is being able to spot someone I don't want to deal with from afar, before they spot me, and adjusting my position to avoid them (works great in shopping centers, especially). So, acting like I never saw him in the first place, I walked toward the doors and pretended to be really focused on something in front of the main school entrance as he slowly revved himself right by me.

In class that day, the first thing I heard, in the same tone of anticipatory excitement I associate with five year-olds, was, "Mr. P., did you hear me this morning? I went right by you!" Clearly, he couldn't wait to be acknowledged for his accomplishment. And, as unflappable as a cold, pitiless assassin, I replied, "No, Joe. Really? Well, I never pay attention to what's going on first thing in the morning."

So I lied and possibly crushed his psyche - for which, come to think of it, I need to ask forgiveness. But at least I was lying in the service of promoting good manners.

17 July 2007

Yearbook 24/7

I have officially concluded business on my last yearbook for my old school, and actually finished it in a faster manner than I did the previous three. I had more incentive this time, obviously. Because who wants to be still worrying about the old job when the new job needs attending to? Hey, how did I get into this racket again?

Well, when I found out I was to be the advisor for the yearbook at my new school, I was not enthused, because by this time of year I have had it with the whole enterprise. You would think yearbook would be all peachy-keen. After all, you get to hold watch over mostly high caliber kids, and they do most of the work, correct? That is what I thought when I first became an advisor four years ago. What I quickly learned was this: you are running a small business with workers who by definition are transitory, and among whom only a small percentage will care about quality, responsibility, or deadlines. And let's face it people - on the list of all-time great picks to run any kind of business enterprise, the English Teacher is of a genus and species near the bottom. Want to guess who handles the bills at my home?

There are considerable consolations, however. For one, those few good kids who will work hard and conscientiously are worth their weight in gold, and getting to work with them year-round is a joy. Also, there is no lecture time, homework, or essays, and the atmosphere of the class is laid back. And finally, yearbook is generally considered an important enough duty in and of itself that no one will come hunting the advisor because they are looking to fill a coaching slot (cross my fingers). I love sports, but I both a)have a child and wife at home that I enjoy seeing, and b)am an inveterate and notorious homebody as it is.

The yearbook kids I've met from my new school seem quite promising and ambitious, so I am actually excited about seeing what we are able to do this year. Sure, I'll lose three or four nights' sleep over the school months, but add that up over the course of a career and it will only take a few months off my life, right?

12 July 2007

We're Off To The Blue Ridge

Mountains, that is.

It is time for our annual long summer weekend at the site of my illustrious upbring, Asheville. Only Thomas Wolfe can rival me in fame there - and when you think about it, what does Look Homeward, Angel offer that this blog doesn't?

In any case, Wyfe and I will spend the next couple of days foisting the child off on grandparenats as much as allowed; meanwhile, we may prowl the downtown area trying to look as square as possible in the sea of Bohemians.

Hey, we're nothing if not counter-cultural; we just pick our own circumstances for it. Be back Sunday.

11 July 2007

Movie Limbo

Over the past few years, two things have conspired against my formerly eager appetite for watching movies or their more ambitious cousins, films. One has been parenthood, and the other has been Hollywood. The former involves the practical matter of time, and the latter involves the 9/1 ratio of movies that make me groan or yawn to movies that were actually worthwhile. Much to Wyfe's dismay, I tend to only enjoy movies/films that aim for at least a minimum of artistic merit (this includes comedies), which leaves out the usual mindless summer fare. For instance, I absolutely refuse to see another super hero flick except maybe the follow-up to Batman Begins, which I enjoyed. Wyfe still pays in grief for dragging me to both the Superman and Pirates of the Carribean disasters last summer (to be fair, we would not have tried Superman if Pirates had not been sold out the first time). But then the trouble with so-called artistic, more serious, films is that they are usually neither, but instead are either morally-bankrupt and lifeless, or bloated vehicles that further promote already trite and boring modern-day political/social orthodoxies. So, I don't see many movies, and frankly find myself not missing them, something I never would have believed ten years ago.

And, as Wyfe pointed out last year, Netflix-type services paradoxically encourage us to be less interested in watching movies, even while we are paying to rent them.

However, I still tilt at the Netflix windmills in hopes of finding the good stuff from time to time, especially during the summer. The other night I watched The Squid and the Whale after reading about it quite by accident a few weeks ago.

Overall, I'm going to give it a B+, which is encouraging, though I have a few reservations, in particular about a couple of "ick" scenes that seemed to me unnecessary distractions (we could find out about the sexually-related cries for help of the twelve year-old without seeing actual body fluids smeared on lockers or library books). But I don't think the film was trying to glory in the dissolution of the American family the way I thought, for instance, American Beauty did. There was no sense of preachiness from the director (apparently this was at least semi-biographical), but instead just a sense of what it is like for an adolescent to slowly, painfully put together what his parents have visited upon him, and what he has in turn, already, been visiting upon himself and others.

I already know, by the way, I will enjoy the next thing in the queue . It is a true rarity - something I not only went to the theatre to see, but also loved.

09 July 2007

4th of July Musings

(Granted, a few days late).

Since I'm already off, the 4th of July week (yes, week - because unless you are a blue collar worker, I defy you to tell me you worked hard last week, if you were working at all) doesn't have the same vacation feel for me as it does for most. We don't generally go anywhere or do anything special, but we do always attend our local-yokel parade/community gathering and corresponding fireworks event.

The parade is always worth it, especially if you are the kind of person who enjoys observing the local color such events bring out. Of course, these days not even the smallest communities totally avoid the kitsch of universal media culture. Hence, at our little parade, we witnessed a little old man and woman driving a classic old tractor with a stuffed chicken attached to the front of it, followed soon by a pick-up full of poor souls stuffed into Sponge-Bob, Cinderella, and Super Mario costumes. My personal favorite was the "Buckle Up With Jesus" license plate on one of the old Chevy's that crawled by. Oh, and the Wyfe also got hit on by a WWII Marine veteran signing her up for a raffle ("Just write your name and phone number here, and I'll give you a call sometime when your husband's not home.") And truly, there is comfort (and a smug sense of "Hey ACLU-types, here's mud in your eye!") to be had in the public prayer offered up, followed by a rousing rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner. In any case, have a look:

The grand marshal carriage - that horse can't be enjoying itself on the hot asphalt, I imagine.

Our congressman, Bob Etheridge. One of our friends said, "How 'bout I run out there and ask him for his take on amnesty?"

I'll admit it - the local high school band (which really is renowned throughout the state) always gives me goosebumps when they play the usual 4th of July repertoire.

Which makes this parade more certifiably rural and Southern? The cavalcade of tractors, or...

...the requisite Junior Miss? You make the call.

This speaks for itself. Can you say 92 degrees, anyone?

Oh, if only my beloved muse was around to put such a gathering to use. It would have been right up her alley.