Monday, July 26, 2010

School Daze

Long ago, in another life, I thought it would be a good idea to try to make this world a better place. I realize it’s tough to view me as a young, empathetic, go getter with idealized visions of grandeur considering the bitter, cynical rantings you’re used to reading in this space but this dude really did exist.

I used to be a teacher, you see. One of those cool, relate to the kids as only a guy fresh out of college could do. Unfortunately, for me and my sanity, the school I taught at was one of those ‘alternative’ schools. In this case a school that took all the students no other in our city wanted: The truants and trouble makers, the druggies and losers who couldn’t or wouldn’t fit into a regular classroom.

We had the kids even the other troubled kids stayed away from. There were padded rooms in which we would throw those students that were having ‘a bad day’, which usually meant thrown furniture or fists. There were weekly visits from the police checking up on students or walking them into squad cars. There were daily complaints from neighbors not wanting ‘those types of kids’ in their neighborhood.

Every day was a grind. For six loonnnnng years I taught at this school. I was burned out after three and spent the next year going through the motions before deciding on another line of work. I aged in dog years.

It wasn’t a total loss, though. I met my current wife when she was hired on to teach the junior high class (no, she wasn’t an emotionally disturbed 15 year old). I had the high school class next door, we would hang out between periods and I would provide the muscle when things got too hot with her kids.

I also learned quite a few life lessons. For example...

- How to break up fights properly: take down the kid that’s losing because he’ll be the angriest.

- How to tell if someone is high on heroin or coke. Hint: the pupils give it away.

- Sports really do help get aggressions out.

- Most kids are just looking for guidance and respect. The way they view those two things can be wildly twisted, though.

- If you want to know why a kid is the way he/she is, just meet the parents.

- I want to do anything other than this for the rest of my life.

And the most important lesson: Teachers make no difference. None.

I know that is a piss poor attitude to have, but I’ve found it sadly true. If you’re teaching in a regular school, there is a good chance your students have a fairly stable family life that is the backbone of their well being. If they don’t have a solid support system, they’ll be shipped to that ‘alternative’ placement where everyone – social workers, police, teachers – will try to salvage some semblance of normalcy for the kid.

But it’s a lost cause. Best case scenario is delaying the inevitable, for when this child leaves his classroom he goes right back to the family and friends that reinforce all the dysfunctional bullshit that’s making them so difficult to manage in the first place.

Don’t get me wrong, most of them are decent kids who know nothing else. Home is abuse and drugs and freedom from consequences. They do what they want because nobody is there to tell them otherwise or the ones that are there make their lives so miserable that being in jail or out until 3 am is preferable to being home.

We tried, of course, to help. Some of us actually thinking we had some ‘successful’ students emerge from our program and possibly we did. But those successes had parents backing up our plans and genuinely caring about making their children well adjusted and capable members of society.

The others ended up as expected: in jail, on welfare, or worse.

So far four of my former students have died from various means.

One was stabbed to death after wising off to the wrong guy in a local bar. He was apparently so reviled that the other patrons dragged him out of the bar and dumped him on the sidewalk where he bled to death. Nobody called 911.

One was murdered in prison while serving 10 years for assault and battery from a drug deal gone wrong.

One died of an overdose.

The latest one was just shot to death in her own apartment by Somerville police after she stabbed three officers who were simply asking why she was trying to light her boyfriend’s clothes on fire. She was already well known to the force having been arrested multiple times after kicking and spitting on them. There is some question as to why three male officers couldn’t subdue a petite woman, but if you stab even one officer they have earned the right to put holes in any part of your body. That three different officers suffered wounds means they showed restraint.

I suppose I should feel some sort of sorrow or shock that most of my student’s lives turned out so poorly, but frankly nothing I’ve learned has ever surprised me.

That, my friends, is the depressing part.

Today’s distraction: Some invisible cat pictures to brighten the mood around here. Man, who brought everyone down??

Monday, July 19, 2010

Mental Assortment

Some left over thoughts from the past few weeks.

- Since you’ve probably all been waiting for my take on the LeBron thing I will give you my point of view from a variety of perspectives.

NBA Fan: Pissed and disappointed. The most talented and unique player of our lifetime abandoned his hometown (more on this in a second) and basically admitted he doesn’t have the competitive drive to compete against the best players from other teams. In more than one way, he quit.

LeBron Fan: I always thought LeBron was a fairly intelligent, well spoken player who knew his place in history and his own potential. He also seemed to be painfully aware of what it’s like to be a Cleveland fan. Following his After School Special titled ‘Why Humility Is a Good Thing’ that image is gone forever. He’s just another ignorant, self absorbed athlete. But at least he had boys and girls sitting in the background, shifting uncomfortably as Cleveland burned. That was fun.

ESPN: I get that this was a scoop everyone wanted, but the aftermath was just as big a disaster with Michael Wilbon (someone I normally enjoy) starting off what I thought would be a tougher interview with ‘First, congratulations on making your decision’. Yes, well done on making up your fucking mind, even if that decision left your town and team in ruins. Lost opportunity, ESPN.

Celtics Fan: I’ll admit, when I heard Paul Pierce opted out of his contract I had this thought progression: Huh, with Pierce and Ray Allen’s contracts off the books, the Celtics could offer LeBron over 30 million a year. Lebron, a one legged Garnett, and Rondo? Maybe Ray Allen would take a cut to stick around for a bit. Yeah, I would enjoy watching those guys play.

Instead I have to watch LeBron and Wade come into town and (probably) kick our asses twice a year. Good times!

Quick note: Why everyone is so googly eyes over Chris Bosh is beyond me. I’ve seen him play many times and have never been impressed. He’s a power forward with no power. Yeah, he gets rebounds and can shoot fairly well, but he’s been playing on a team with nobody else and I have yet to see him even attempt to play defense. Maybe getting better team mates will bring out his best, but I’m betting he’s cashing in his checks and hoping to be pulled along by the other two.

Cleveland Fans: Look, I get that you think LeBron stabbed you in the back of the head with an ice pick, but it’s tough to argue that he was even a Cleveland sports fan. Hell, he even admitted to loving the Yankees and wore his NY cap when they came to play the Indians. Sure, he kept saying all the right things while he was there, but actions speak louder than words and we all know he feels no obligation or loyalty to Ohio.

Besides, you can cry and bitch all you want but deep down every single one of you would bolt for Miami if you got the chance. Cleveland or Miami? Is it really even a choice?

Vegas: Can we please get odds on how soon one of the new Miami hundred millionaires gets nabbed on a DUI charge? February? March? I’d bet on one of the winter months.

- Watched the Home Run Derby with my ten year old last week. We were listening to A-Rod babble on about his man crush on Nick Swisher when one of the announcing trio congratulated A-Rod on passing somebody or other on the home run list. My ten year old turns to me and asks ‘Didn’t A-Rod use steroids?’ ‘Yep, he did, but I guess everyone is just pretending none of that happened.’ Fittingly, David Ortiz won.

- When we were in the Cayman Islands we rented a Suzuki something or other for a couple of days. The thing was supposedly brand new, but was a piece of shit. The AC leaked INTO the car, soaking both front floor mats while barely keeping us cool.

It was also a British car. Everything was opposite. Since CIs are a British colony, they drive on the other side of the road. Surprisingly, that wasn’t too difficult a transition. The car was, though. I kept going to the wrong side to get in, the gear shift was on my left, I kept turning on the windshield wipers when I meant to use a turn signal, reaching the wrong way to grab the seatbelt. Ever sit in one of those desks designed for left handed students? It was like that. Only you’re driving 50 KPH (yeah, kilometers) in a half ton hunk of steel.

- Went on a booze cruise Friday night and have several observations and conclusions to pass along:

1: I’m fucking old.

2: Most of the young ladies have very little self awareness when it comes to their bodies. Size 14 bodies stuffed into size 10 dresses and leaving very little to the imagination. Normally, I would be perfectly happy with this, but please note the sizes I’m talking about. Not left to the imagination were the rolls of fat. No thank you.

Ironically, the good looking women were dressed very simply. Jeans and a top and they were still looking fine. Keep it simple, ladies. And covere if it should be covered. Please.

3: I can’t figure out if the younger generation goes out to actually have a good time or to prove to everyone on Facebook they have a social life. People spent more time taking pictures of themselves and their friends than they did socializing and having fun.

4: My faith in the younger female generation was restored when a group of six young guys with creative (read: queer) facial hair and highly gelled 'dos – I quickly dubbed them Team Douchebag – spent the night prowling around the boat. Every single one of them left alone. They kept trying, but were rebuffed with extreme prejudice by everyone with a vagina. It was glorious to behold.

5: I may be old, but I can still out drink most of the newbies out there. One dude actually puked into a trash barrel, straightened up and proceeded to cut into every female dance crew he could find. I’ll give him credit for not letting it slow him down, but would not want to be him the next morning.

- Mondays suck.

- BP finally stopped the oil leak and we’re all supposed to be happy about this? How fucking long did it take? 90 days? Longer? Fuck you, BP. I hope this ruins your company.

- I got back from the gym on Saturday, had some lunch before heading upstairs to shower. It was at least 90 and I was looking forward to some relief. Unfortunately, I went to turn the shower on and got nothing but a trickle of scorching hot water. I checked the other taps to make sure our cold water was working and everything was fine.

Well, fuck me. I took apart the faucet to see if something was going on and found that there were rubber washers that were broken. Only I couldn’t figure out how to get them out. I had the manual and tried everything it suggested, but things weren’t coming apart as they should.

I managed to get the shower working for approximately 1.2 minutes before water started shooting out in every direction. I mean fucking everywhere. Did I mention it was scalding hot?

I run downstairs and shut off the main water to the house, but the damage has been done. Water is cascading down the walls of our newly remodeled kitchen, running through the new light fixture and dripping down from the ceiling. I mentioned this is all new, right?

Since it’s Saturday, I have to call the emergency line of our plumber. He calls and tries to walk me through a few things, but it’s no use. I do manage to get the water to stop leaking through the ceiling but now the upstairs shower won’t shut off. I look at wifey and say ‘Feel like going to the beach tomorrow?’ We spent the day in Maine, showered there and I had to get ready for work at the gym.

Houses suck sometimes.

- In the midst of my cursing (the boys learned some new words), my oldest comes up and says ‘Dad? What’s this?’ He has his shirt up and red blotches are all over his chest and stomach.

Why that would be poison ivy, my boy! And it looks like there is some around your eyes, too. Let’s go to the doctors. Yes, right now!

He’s now on steroids and convinced he’ll hit a home run in his next game. I’m not telling him differently.

Today’s distraction: Boston is in the midst of setting up free Wi-Fi for the entire region. You can get signals up near the State House and City Hall, but today they unveil it on the Rose Kennedy Greenway, which is a beautiful new string of parks and eating places that has been put where the old, elevated expressway used to be. Boston really is turning into a beautiful city. It’s nearly unrecognizable from 10 years ago.

Monday, July 12, 2010


Walking up the stairs from the subway; jostled and bumped by too many people trying to cram into too little space I was hit by a harsh realization.

I’m part of the cattle again.

Some refer to it as ‘The Rat Race’, but I’ve always viewed commuters as part of a herd. Being pushed and prodded towards individual seven by seven foot cubicles until some soundless whistle blows at which point we get pushed and prodded back to our homes.

Sorry. I guess transitioning back into the real world is tougher than I expected.

Let’s focus on some fun things. Like me! And I suppose my vacation. Let’s break it down old school, shall we?

Place: We stayed at the Marriot Beach Resort which is just as relaxing and fun as it sounds. Since we booked some special package through Expedia (DOT COM!!), we had all of our meals and drinks paid for. If you know my drinking problem and super human tolerance you also know Marriot lost on that deal. Lost big time!

The hotel was right on Seven Mile Beach, had a pool three feet from said beach and a turtle lagoon that ran through the center of the courtyard. The two boys spent countless hours trying to lure them to the side with fake food so they could pick them up.

Look, a turtle that now fears boys from Boston

While that was nice and all, what really made my week was the service people who would come up and take your drink orders. On the beach! That’s right. We just sat on our lounge chairs and lovely ladies would bring us drinks right to our chairs. There were even gents walking around setting up umbrellas for shade if you wanted.

Wait, I’m not done! There was a bar right by the beach, so you wouldn’t have to wait for the waitresses if you thought they were too slow or too busy to bring you a beer every 10.2 minutes. One 30 second walk would bring you to the Sol Bar which had a plasma broadcasting either the World Cup, BBC News or Wimbledon. There was also a sit down, outdoor veranda where we could saunter up in our bathing suits for a sit down lunch.

And did I mention it was all included? I mentioned that, right?

Extras: Since there were many families Marriot provided some kid entertainment. There was a parrot named ‘Echo’ (other requisite name would have been Polly) who liked to perch on any and all children’s arms, the previously mentioned turtle lagoon, untold numbers of iguanas and lizards roaming all over the island (including a favorite we named ‘tripod’ due to his missing front leg), and a kid’s ‘club’ that would have daily activities like arts and crafts and feeding the turtles in the afternoon.

'S'up, amigo?'

But that all pales in comparison to the glorious morning when Sir Spongebob Squarepants made an appearance. Look, I even have photographic proof:

His pineapple is now owned by Marriot

We got pics with the boys hugging Spongebob which my youngest is still talking about.

Food: I’ll admit that when I heard all our meals were included, I was skeptical. I thought we’d be eating hamburgers and hotdogs or mac and cheese all week. Not that I would have had a problem with that at all.

Instead we had not one, not two, but three different places to eat. The Red Parrot in the lobby, the Sol Bar by the beach and Solstice which was the veranda overlooking the ocean. And they all had different menus. Red Parrot was a hoity toity Italian place, Sol had pub food, and Solstice had a higher end every man’s menu that included my favorite meal of the week: Surf and turf. Buttered and grilled lobster tail with a six ounce New York sirloin. I had it three times in six nights. Fucking fantastic.

But the highlight of the week was a desert from Red Parrot. It was chocolate mousse on top of a white sponge cake which in turn was on top of vanilla pudding. It was served in a large martini glass and could be the best friggin’ thing I have eaten all summer.

In a completely related note, I gained about 5 pounds in one week. None of you should blame me one bit.

People: Let’s face it, you could be on the most beautiful place on earth but it would be wasted if the people around you were assholes. Fortunately, Grand Cayman has the most pleasant, non drug induced happiest people this side of…wherever there are really happy people.

They smile, come from all over the world (we met people from India, Argentina, Brazil, Spain, Portugal, and this strange land called Texas), and are willing to talk to you about anything and everything.

The hotel staff bent over backwards to make sure your stay was trouble free and cleaning staff would leave little treats for the boys once in a while. This included mints, chocolates and stuffed turtles that were quickly named ‘Bob’ and ‘Turd’ and spent quality time fighting each other.

What's refreshing, though, is how the residents actually welcome the tourists with open arms. The taxi drivers will wave and ask if you need a ride, then good naturedly haggle with you on the price. One of them bet another guy $100 he could get all twelve of his friends into his cab with my family already in it. The driver won. Easily. The gift shop owners all greet you like long lost friends and will help out by going into the back room for different sizes or colors. They are very customer oriented without the smug condescension you get from other islands (Looking your way, Aruba).

Quick sidenote here: We met three different couples from New York City and every one of them apologized to everyone after admitting they were from the city. As in ‘We’re from New York….Sorry….’ I finally asked the last guy ‘Why does everyone apologize when they admit they’re from New York?’ which drew loud laughter from everyone else listening. The guy meekly mumbled ‘I was just trying to be nice’ which I didn’t understand until I notice my oldest boy was wearing his Red Sox hat.

Note to all New Yorkers: Just because people are from Boston doesn’t mean we hate all New Yorkers. We just hate your Bronx team and – to be completely honest – we don’t even hate them all that much anymore since 2004 and 2007. Winning two World Series titles has taken the sting out of our seething, emotional despising. Let’s keep that between us.

Weather: While not perfect (cloudier than usual due to some strange effects from the hurricane in the Gulf and numerous low pressure systems rolling through), it was still beautiful and warm and tropical and lovely. It was actually nicer down there than it is in Boston right now. Since we got back it’s been hot and sticky and nasty. Too bad we don’t have a beach four feet from our back door.

Pardon me while I sob for a few minutes.

Sorry, not done yet.

This helps. That's a beach, btw, not a pool. Feeling better now.

Attractions: We took a few trips outside the hotel to the North Side of the island, the Turtle Farm and Hell. Yes, Hell, which the boys loved and got a hat and t-shirt from. I think it’s simply because they like saying Hell over and over and getting away with it.

If you’re wondering, this is Hell. It’s just the name of a town on Grand Cayman which strange rock formations that – yes…look like Hell.

Oddly, you lose interest in Hell fairly quickly

The biggest draw for everyone was the reef right off our beach at the hotel. Wifey, the boys and I spent many lost hours snorkeling the area enjoying the company of colorful fish which we let the boys feed now and then.

If you were wondering they love Goldfish crackers which struck me a bit as cannibalism. To each their own, right? Besides it made for great snorkeling when every fish from the area swarmed around us in a friendly feeding frenzy.

Good times.

Bad Things: All was not sunshine and flowers, though. My oldest got sick with a vicious cough after sitting in front of a little girl with the same cough on the flight down. Yeah, that’s right. Bring your sick girl on an enclosed metal tube that circulates the same air so she can cough all over the place and get everyone else sick. Thanks a fucking lot.

Interestingly, we had to go through immigration and customs when we arrived on the island and the little girl was hacking like a lung cancer patient while waiting in line. Only the immigration person never questioned why this girl was laying on the tiled floor or what illness she had before allowing them to pass on through. I’m no health expert, but what if she had the swine flu or SARS or some other as yet undiagnosed, highly contagious disease? What if she was a walking pandemic? Nothing? Not even a ‘can we let our doctors take a quick look at her before we let you into the general public and spread your filthy contagion all over our country’?

You can bet I was cursing that family when number one son woke up sounding like a 50 year smoker on Tuesday morning.

I was also cursing the reef in the ocean that morning because I broke my toe on it my first full day there. I was attempting to walk around the visible, man made reef the hotel had put in place after Hurricane Ivan swept through a few years ago and destroyed the natural one already there when I smashed my foot against a sand colored piece of it. Didn’t even see it. Just walking along when BAM! I went down instantly, hobbled back to shore and examined my bleeding, mangled toe. It was ugly and I wound up limping around the rest of the week. It’s still not right. Something is squishy and out of place, but it doesn’t hurt any more.

My youngest son also stepped on a sea urchin which led to much crying, a visit from the medic on staff and a 20 minute foot soak in the hot tub. If you ever step on one, do not pull out any pieces that may be in your foot (as I attempted to do with my son). That just releases more toxins and makes it feel worse. Instead soak your foot in very hot water or a vinegar and water solution for about 30 minutes and the stinger will fall out by itself.

I considered peeing on it, too, but fortunately remembered that was for jellyfish stings thus preventing an embarrassing and premature end to our stay there.

Bottom Line: Just a great, fun, relaxing, booze fueled stay on one of my favorite places on earth. Highly recommended. Just bring plenty of sunscreen. 50 or above should do it.

Today’s distraction: Learn more about Hell, which is really where we should go upon dying. That or Cemetery Reef about a mile down the street. Yeah, I could do that. By the way, one of the attractions of Hell is the local Post Office where you can send postcards; complete with the ‘Sent From Hell’ postmark on them.