Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The SF Redemption, Part 2

Good hair on the Pacific
In the month of July I was able to set foot on both the East and West Coasts of the country. Not a huge feat, maybe, but, hey, I think it's kinda cool, and I'll take whatever small accomplishments I can get. I wanted to, and I did. I win! Right?

On the morning of July 31st, I went to the Atlantic Ocean to complete the second half of my coastal double bill. It's only about 10 minutes away, so this part was especially not a great accomplishment... though it did take me, probably, a good whole two minutes to find a parking spot and then walk to the beach. Once I finally got to the beach, I walked in the sand for a minute, sweated through my shirt, dipped my feet in the water, and sat down on a bench to read. I couldn't focus, though; I couldn't retain what I was reading and, though I noticed it, I couldn't truly appreciate the warm saltiness of the tropical air or the crystal blue of the morning ocean. My mind was somewhere else.

At the beginning of the month, when I had had my hands (it was too cold for feet) in the Pacific Ocean, my mind was nowhere else. I wasn't thinking of a thing other than what was on that beach, and maybe what I was going to eat for dinner that night in San Francisco. I was breathing deeply, listening intently, and definitely appreciating my chilly, gray, gorgeous surroundings.

So, what was the difference, besides a few weeks time, a few dozen degrees, and a few thousand miles? Well, on the morning of my visit to the Atlantic (and most of each day for the last week) my mind was preoccupied with, even fixated upon, the looming appointment that was recently added to my calendar. I have a job interview. It's for an actual, full-time teaching position. Things just got real and my brain is reeling.

My mind cannot stop. Will not stop. The beach could not quiet it. Sleep has not provided respite. My mind endlessly turns, turning over the simultaneous problems of, A) how to have a good interview and get the job, and B) how to be a successful teacher on the chance that I actually get the job. Problem B is really the more troubling of the two. I think about it, I dream about it, I worry about it, yet, so far, I have diligently avoided coming up with any helpful answers. My interview is later today. I'll keep you posted.

But, for now, I find a writing window has briefly opened, and my mind wanders through it, back to Ocean Beach, the cool summer Pacific, and part two of my vacation in the city...

Days 2 through 11 - As Seen Through a Thin Film of Butter

The next week and half of my return to SF was a blur of movies, friends, walking, and eating. I had come to San Francisco with but one absolute must-do: I had to pay a visit to what many (hipsters) would call the bread capital of at least the city, if not the country. I had to go to Tartine Bakery & Cafe, in the Mission. The cookbook from the owner of this place is the one that gave rise to Morty, who has become more than a mere hobby to me. In truth, Morty is like an adopted son from a foreign country, and going to Tartine was like visiting that country in order to learn more about my son's roots. Tartine is the motherland.

Someday you will all be mine! Muahahahaha!
Arriving at Tartine for the first time, at about 11am, I was too excited to take pictures of the outside. All I could think to do was get on line and wait, menu in hand, mouth watering. It all looked so good, and I had not eaten breakfast; I was thinking I might have to order everything in the pastry case and everything on the bread counter. But, I had come for the bread and I did my best to stay focused. I ended up with an open-faced croque monsieur spicy turkey sandwich, a croissant, and, my coffee beverage of choice lately, an Americano. I got my food and, since it was standing room only in the small dinning room full of cool people, I ate it standing by the front window, looking out at the ever growing line out the door of cool people. I attacked the croissant first, all flaky goodness on the outside and creamy, buttery euphoria on the inside. I was in my happy place. A good croissant, to me, is not only one of the perfect foods of the earth, but also one of the prettiest works of art you're likely to see in real life; and this was the best croissant I've ever had. The sandwich was righteous, too, especially the thick cut of country bread it was served on. This is the type of bread I make at home with Morty, and I was pleased to see that I had been doing a pretty good job! Morty looks and tastes mighty close to what I got at Tartine.

Buttery outside
Buttery inside
So, I stood there, savoring my baked goods and coffee, watching the crowd of regulars and food tourists alike roll in, each in their turn awed by what they saw and ate. By the time I was done and got to taking pictures of my surroundings, the lens on my camera phone was greased from the butter on my fingers. I rather liked the effect... Tartine will always exist in my memory, soft and ethereal, as seen through a thin film of butter. This is as it should be, I think. I went back again several days after my first visit. The crowds were the same, the brioche bread pudding with plums was awesome, and I left fully satisfied and newly inspired to bake, bake, bake. Now, a buttery gallery of my memorable meals at Tartine:
Bread for lunch and dessert
Pure bliss inside a croissant
Bread pudding. There's bliss in there, too.
The crusty underbelly of Monsieur Croque
Morty in Cali
Finally, a picture of my own San Francisco baking project. Morty survived the cross-country trip in my suitcase and was raring to go on the other side. In fact, I let him loose on the town without protection and he got exposed to some new California bacteria. Since he's a bread starter and not a person, he felt pretty good about himself after that and performed beautifully. I think Danie and Jesse each got a pretty good loaf. When I left, I left California Morty behind for Jesse to experiment with... that's right: I left my wild-yeast-sourdough-bread-starter in San Fran-ciscooooo. Doesn't have quite the same ring to it, but, rest assured, wherever Morty goes, so goes my heart. Besides, Florida Morty was home patiently waiting for my return.

Well, let's see, when I wasn't shoving carbs into my face, what else was going on? Oh, movies! We watched lots and lots of movies; from mainstream and completely mediocre (or worse); to indie and quite good; to cult and pretty terrible (in an ironic way, of course). In short: if you are thinking of seeing The Trip, do it, ya British comedy nerd! If you are thinking of seeing The Last Airbender, shoot yourself in the head instead! If you are thinking of seeing Jonah Hex, go ahead because it's only, like, 20 minutes long and will be over before you can even load the gun. If you are thinking of seeing The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension, do it only if you can see it in a movie palace as beautiful and transporting as The Castro, and only if you think Jeff Goldblum is hilarious, and awful movies can be so bad that they're good.

Speaking of so bad it's good. Reality TV. Danie is a fan, I'd say, and she coerced me with the force of her fandom into watching way too many hours of Hoarders, a show that almost immediately hurt my heart. Yet, I couldn't look away. I don't think I've ever been so simultaneously angry and sad at someone, as I was with these hoarders. It's hard to sit on the couch watching, unable to do what I inevitably felt needed to be done so desperately; namely, slap some sense into these people and then cry it out. They're all just so broken, each with some awful story that has brought them to this point in their lives, each with a good reason for acting so unreasonably. The people on Hoarders just happen to have been broken in such a way that manifests in a particularly vile, filthy, infuriating way, but they deserve no less empathy than the rest of human kind, each of us walking around everyday with our own personal accumulation of emotional garbage in our metaphoric houses. There are just so many broken souls walking around in the world, and if you ever stop to think about it, if your friend ever makes you watch the saddest show on TV, you might become so heartsick about it that you'll not feel like going on. Then you'll watch another episode; shit is addicting.

Danie looking at the
"stupid hipster girl and her stupid,
never-ending bag of elaborate, organic snacks."
An approximate quote.
There were many much happier times remaining during my trip, though. For instance, a free Neko Case concert at Stern Grove! Free! Neko Case! Beautiful park with big trees and a shady log for Danie and me to sit on! This is the kind of thing that happens in big cities, the kind of thing you don't end up taking advantage of enough when you actually live in one of these cities. It's always much easier to not go, but I've always been glad when I have gone. Crowds can be annoying, but, you know, that's the cost of doing business. And, it so happens in this case that I love Neko Case. Really, I've found I love female singers in general ever since a 16-year-old coworker at my college job at The Museum of Science and Industry told me about Sleater-Kinney. From there I went to the Heartless Bastards, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Fiona Apple, Regina Spektor, Sharon Jones and The Dap Kings, Janelle Monae, Wye Oak, Beach House, and many other groups discussed on NPR. I fall in love with their voices, and then, since they're girls, I can comfortably worship them without the gay panic associated with being a fan of a male rock star. Although, it does feel a little weird singing along with their lyrics sometimes. But, their voices are so good and I am secure enough in my manhood to sing about all the troubles I'm having with the men in my life.
Neko Case is on the stage. I promise.
Later - or was it before? Who can say. - Danie and I took the ferry to Sausalito. It's like the Staten Island Ferry, except cleaner and not free. I was excited because this was the first time I had actually been out on the Bay. The weather was perfect, and, of course, it was very classically, San Francisco beautiful. Look! There's the Golden Gate enshrouded in fog! Gotta take a picture of that shit. Sausalito was a nice little rich person/tourist town, too. We walked the docks amongst the many, many yachts and sailboats. We got some famous salt water taffy. We got back on the boat and returned to the big city.  

I did lots more, but, really, enough already. Let me sum up: Ball game! Garlic fries and Ghirardelli ice cream sundae! Beers are 9 fucking 50! Sat next to 45-year-olds on a date. She was an annoying, drunk, baseball-ignorant Padres fan. The guy shot me a look, as if to say, "Hey man, I know. Sorry, but I'm doing what I have to do to get laid. Someday you'll understand." Got myself my favorite souvenir t-shirt ever; it truly was the Dia de Los Gigantes! Fulfilled my California In-N-Out requirement. Ate amazing Mexican food, Indian food, and Thai food. Went on an Irish pub crawl of Union Square with Jesse's Dad and Mom. Had giant plates of roasted meats at two separate SF legends: Lefty O'Douls and Tommy's Joynt. Put up a shelf (barely), and helped establish a "study" in Danie's redecorated apartment. Walked my feet raw. Got diverted to Oakland for my departing flight. Had the time of my life.
"The fuck?"
The Jensens
The shelf!
The park
The End

Yesterday, midday: I'm walking through Staples, now Target, I see the "back to school" section, I am sick to my stomach. Queasy. Want to vomit. Is this good nervous or bad nervous? I guess I'll find out soon.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

The SF Redemption, Part 1

Fair notice: This post is the first of two about my recent summer vacation to San Francisco, but I cannot bear to just give a straight recap. I mean, who really gives a shit, am I right? I know some people care, and I appreciate that you do, but for me to be motivated to write about the trip, I gotta come up with a way to fit it into the greater scheme of things. Don't get me wrong, I had a GREAT time and I'll definitely share some highlights, but I'm also gonna do a little of that introspective contextualization of the trip in the system of my mind thing. It has to be done. Well, no, it doesn't have to be done, but that is how I'm gonna do it.

Prologue - Nothing so Loyal as Love!

Last night, after falling asleep, hard at 2am, I awoke an hour later in a panic, knowing I had been having an intensely real, intensely emotional dream, but, still only semi-waking, not able to process any real thoughts. Until, from out of the fog, from seemingly nowhere, came memories of Anna. Anna, the girl in my 7th grade TV production class with the really big... dimples. OK... boobs. She had tremendous boobs and she was really nice and I was really in love with her. And if I hadn't been such a dork, I think I could have had a chance. In my recollection, she actually liked me for a brief, shimmering moment, and I have always regretted not seizing the opportunity. In any case, whether I had been dreaming about her or not, Anna popped into my head as I awoke, and in the next instant came the sudden, startling realization that that 13-year-old girl in my memories is now approaching, or is already, 30. Fuuuuuuck. Somehow this is even more shocking to me than me being nearly 30. Sure, I'm getting older, that's natural, but the people and places in my memories have remained unchanged. To think of her as a real person, existing in the real world, aging like the rest of us, sent a cold shiver down my spine and sobered me right up. Now, at 3am, the fog had cleared and I was totally awake.

I guessed it was time to start writing. Anna and her big, luscious, bouncy memory (What did you think I was going to say? Luscious and bouncy are totally appropriate adjectives to describe a memory. Ya perverts.) had shook me from my sleep, and from my post-vacation stupor.

Day 1 - Good Friends and Graveyards

It has been nearly two years since I packed my crap in the back of my Hyundai and drove from New Jersey (how had I ended up there, anyway?), across the fruited plains, and on into San Francisco, CA. It has also been nearly a year and a half since I repacked my crap and left San Francisco with my tail tucked between my legs. You can't win 'em all. At least I tried... a half-assed, community-college-at-best try, perhaps, but still. I don't regret the attempt. In the intervening months I have progressed pretty well on the career front, less well on the living-independently-like-a-near-30-year-old-should front, and pretty much not at all on the finding-love-or-even-just-a-date-with-someone-I'd-care-to-see-again front. It's a three front war and sometimes I feel I'm losing. But, I take comfort in knowing I'm not the only combatant out there, and if I take one battle at a time, I still believe I - nay, we all - can overcome the odds.

On the career front, though I am not a full-time teacher, yet, I feel it best to prepare for the life of a teacher by doing what they do. Namely, taking summer trips as far away from the school, and other peoples' children, as possible. If not for summer vacation, I think the mental institutes would be entirely full of teachers, just muttering to themselves about how they get no respect. So, when I caught a decent price on JetBlue to San Francisco (via Boston, naturally), I decided to act like a teacher and get the hell out of Dodge.

I wanted to go back to SF as much to see my friends again as to revisit my feelings and exorcise any remaining demons of doubt about the path my life has taken. I love the city, but the fact is, I didn't make it there and ran away in shame. The decision to move there, and my inability to make it work, has sent my life in the direction it is going now. What would it have been like had I been able to stay? I'll never know, and probably shouldn't ask. What would it be like to go back there, now, strictly as a visitor? That, I could find out for myself. Also, not for nothing, getting out of Florida and my parents' house for a little while couldn't hurt.

Danie! Good to see your smile, again, friend.
After some "Wait, what color is the parking garage you're in?" confusion, this is the face that greeted me at the airport. I was pleased, she looked great! And she had a ZipCar! Actually, it was the generic version of a ZipCar, that I am now too lazy to find the name of! Either way, I much appreciated the late night airport pickup, and the drive in from SFO to the city gave us a chance to pick up our old conversational rhythms, which we did in no time. Danie has always been one of the easiest and most fun persons for me to talk with, ever since the first time we met, at work in my editing bay in Las Vegas. She laughs a lot and makes me laugh even more. Aww, Danie, you know I love ya.

In fact, my favorite moments of the whole trip were the many really good late night conversations I had with both my friends. With Danie on her couch (the selfsame couch I slept on for 6 months) and with Jesse on our way to and from the casino or a movie. Just like old times. We are all approaching 30 and it is affecting us in similar, and different, ways and, well, shit, we just had a lot of catching up and hashing it out to do. It was fucking great.

"I've been pretending to know things
about classical music since the '50s, man."
But back to the first day back in the city; it was a busy one. It began at a hipster breakfast with Danie, Lucy, and Lucy's friends, and ended at a casino with Jesse. Along the way there was a stop at the symphony and a long walk through a Jewish cemetery looking for a decidedly gentile cowboy... more on that later. First, the symphony. You couldn't see it, but when I typed "symphony" I made a face like an old rich white person. You know the face. Symphony face. Not that there's anything wrong with the symphony, per se, I'm just not much for pretension and classical music seems to come with a lot of pretension. People were dressed the fuck up! At 2 in the afternoon on a Thursday! But, I do appreciate the skill and the beauty, and blah, blah, blah, of the music, and a free second row-center ticket to the all-strings matinee (courtesy Jesse's girlfriend, and new blog character, Kenzie) could not be refused. I love going to new buildings, hearing live music, and not spending any money! Everyone else was working, so I went by myself and tried to stay awake as long as possible. It was difficult. The building was beautiful, the crowd was entertaining in their ridiculousness (see picture), the conductor was playing a nearly 300-year-old violin, but the music was just a little too... soothing. Gorgeous, but - what with pancakes slowly digesting in my belly and jet-lag doing a number on my brain - nap inducing. I stayed for an hour but left at intermission, not wanting to be rude and start snoring in the second row.

After getting all cultured and shit, I took off to meet up with Jesse. He was looking well, too! We drank a beer on the roof of his building and began ruminating on life, the passage of time, and what constitutes a really good deli sandwich, amongst other topics dudes talk about. I think we both knew where the evening was heading, though. There was really only one place it could lead. Whenever the two of us get together, it's inevitable. We look into each others' eyes, read each others' body language, we know. We try to resist, leaving it unspoken for as long as we can stand... until one of us just can't take it any longer and finally says the words we've both been thinking since we first saw each other... "Fuck it, let's go to the casino." And so it was, and off we went to take the train to Colma and the Lucky Chances, our old California card room stomping grounds. Less than 24 hours in San Francisco and we had already devolved into our old degenerate ways. I guess you can take us out of Vegas, but you can't take Vegas out of us.

"...That nothing's so sacred as honor,
and nothing so loyal as love!"
However, before we got down to the business of poker, there was some sightseeing to be done. The casino is situated among acres and acres of lush rolling hills. Rolling hills that are taken up almost exclusively by graveyards. Not the best omen for gambling, perhaps, but it so happens that the cemetery closest to the casino is home to one of the most famous figures from the old west. Wyatt Earp, the old O.K. Corral shootouter himself. Well, Jesse and I had to see this. Seems ol' Wyatt married hisself a Jew-broad and the two of them are buried together in the Jewish cemetery. So, as we walked through the graveyard for some 20 minutes searching for him, we passed countless dead generations of California
-bergs, -steins, and Schwartzs. Frankly, it was a little weird for me... I'd never met any of these people or their families, yet, somehow, I felt a connection and I got a little sad. So many dead people, people of my particular minority group, and they all ended up here, underground, with elaborate tombstones and mausoleums above them that they will never see. The grounds were beautiful, there wasn't a cloud in the brilliant blue sky, but my mood was turning dark. We're all just on this earth for a short time, then we all die and what did it all mean, anyway? Maybe this wasn't such a good idea, walking through here to gawk at a dead cowboy's grave. I was thinking we better find the fucker soon or I'd be in no mood to gamble at all. But then Jesse spotted him and, hell, it was cool to see that big "Earp" banner on the headstone. This is a man whose life has inspired at least a dozen movies and even more TV shows. A true American legend, from the time legends were made, outlaw and sheriff alike. And Wyatt was a little of both... and, if the quote on his headstone and his depiction in movies like Wyatt Earp and Tombstone are any indication, he was also a romantic who fell in love with a Jew at first sight. I liked thinking of the romantic in him. I liked thinking of him sharing a long life with the woman he loved. I'd like to think that's what gave his life meaning.

When we made it back to the casino, we were both tired, but we'd come to get in the action and weren't about to leave without doing just that. Alas, after two hours of play, with nothing terribly exciting going on, we were both out of gas, if not money. I took my $7 profit and got some BBQ pork chow mein at the killer Filipino/Chinese restaurant in the casino. I inhaled the shit out of it and off we went, leaving all the other gamblers behind, just where I had left them nearly two years ago, and just where they'll be for as long as California is still attached to the mainland. Just like all the dead Jews out in their graves, the people at the poker tables never seem to change.

And that was the end of my first full day back in the city I had fled those many months ago. It was good to be back. A lot had changed, more had stayed the same. I had changed; but, I had also stayed the same. I still had ten more days to go. On the agenda: movies; a trip to Morty's homeland; a free concert in the park; a ballgame; lots more hipster food; Irish bars; the Pacific Ocean; Sausalito; more movies; and more long walks and talks with the people that matter most, the people who live both in my memories and in real life.

Damn, it was good to be in the city!
More on this beauty in part 2.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Boynton Beach Memoirs: June

Today I woke up to the sound of torrential rain fall - a morning cleansing of South Florida leaving in its wake clean cars, wet, cinematic pavement, and the fresh smell of mother nature. Also, this being Florida in the summer, it will surely leave behind humidity, a tremendous amount of oppressive, suffocating humidity. Therefore, I will not go outside, and cannot actually verify the clean cars or fresh smell thing. No, no outdoors for me this morning. I am content to grab a cup of coffee, put some brown sugar in it just to be different, and sit down here at my desk, indoors, to write a little something. And here we go with the Song of June:

The school-year ended and I think it ended well. All my 8th graders passed their final exam and will be continuing on to summer, high school, the rest of their lives. The principal was very careful to remind them that they had not "graduated" anything, yet; they were simply continuing on. For my part, I did my best to send them off with good grades and maybe even a little bit of knowledge. Knowledge I'm sure they'll forget completely over the summer, but still, knowledge. I hope it serves them well in high school. I hope I have a job next school year. I hope teaching will be a fulfilling career. I hope. (Have I made that Shawshank Redemption reference before? I think I have. Oh, well. Get busy quoting or get busy coming up with my own lines... ) In the meantime, I can take solace in this message, left for me on the white board in my room on the last day of school:
Teenager internet slang, for the win! I don't think it was sarcastic, either!
I was also informed that I have "swag."
Concurrent with the end of the school-year is the beginning of mango season in South Florida. In our neighborhood, in the heart of Hypoluxo, the mangoes fall from the trees in mass quantities, waiting to be harvested by humans or eaten by rats. I don't think the mangoes care which, as long as they don't go to waste. So, so far, we've made: mango cake, mango bread, mango salsa, mango cocktails, and, the pièce de résistance, Mangoluxo Jelly ©. Mmmm... mango-y! We even made labels! Coming soon to a store near you??
Mangoluxo from Hypoluxo.
Very nice on a piece of toast.
TRI-Rail: Two levels and two tracks,
 you figure it out
One day, not long after the mango harvest, I awoke with a desire to ride the rails. I used to commute on trains all the time when I lived in New York and New Jersey, and I have missed it. There is just something romantic and old-school about taking a train. Plus, you know, CHOO-CHOOOO!! So, I took the local commuter train, the Tri-Rail, down as far south as it goes, to Miami International Airport. MIA. Wait, seriously? Missing in action? That's the name of the airport? Eesh. Anyway, I had a nice train ride and a nice café con leche at the airport. Then I bought the traditional overpriced airport Toblerone and got back on the train and rode back home. Weeeee! Along the way I found out that train conductors in South Florida carry sidearms. As in guns. They are like train conductors/rent-a-cops, apparently. I wasn't sure if this made me feel more or less safe. I was just confused as to why they were not using their guns to shoot the people blasting their Cuban electronica music on the train. Come on guys, with great power comes great responsibility... to shoot people playing annoying music.

On another day, I took Foxy in to get new shoes. See, shoes are what I call tires and Foxy is what I call my car... I got new tires for my car is what I'm saying. I mention this only as an excuse to mention how much I love the smell of new tires. Mother nature can keep her fresh morning rain smells, I'll take the smell of the tire aisle at Costco any day. I don't know, I just love the smell of fresh tire rubber, always have. Now you know. Also, new shoe smell. That's rubber and leather together! Intoxicating. You know, I really don't think I would be all that unhappy to work in a shoe store. Wait, what am I talking about? Of course I would; it would be horrible. But at least I could get high on sneaker smell every day... when I wasn't busy getting high on the actual drugs it would take for me to get through a day working at a shoe store.

To round out my June means-of-transportation-trifecta, I will be taking a plane ride to San Francisco at the end of the month... that's in like 3 days! I found a pretty cheap flight on JetBlue and am looking forward to blue potato chips, animal crackers, and seeing my friends, Danie and the Jensens. Plus, in San Francisco I think I can get away with wearing corduroy. It's just too hot and weird to wear corduroy in the summer in Florida. But I still do sometimes... I can't help it, I think I only feel truly comfortable when my legs are draped in soft, brown, velveteen ridges. Now you know.

Love and Death:
Then there is the case of love, death, and the creation of the universe. Ya know, the small things. These topics are on my mind because a) I am jobless for the summer and have too much time on my hands, and b) I recently saw two movies that took on these topics: The Tree of Life and The Seventh Seal - one new, one old; one ponderous, one entertaining; both daring to tackle the core, fundamental, extremely serious questions of human existence. I didn't come to any ground breaking conclusions after watching these movies, but they did make me think and that ain't nothing.

Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life was extremely beautiful to look at, and there were dinosaurs in it (!), but it took itself just a little too seriously for my taste. I mean, it was just sooooo sincere. I can appreciate the ambition, craft, and originality, but, Jesus, it was just not a movie you'd want to watch again, really. The Seventh Seal, probably the most famous of Ingmar Bergman's classic films, on the other hand, is one of those old movies, like Casablanca, that really holds up. The premise is obscure and weighty, but the dialogue and characters are consistently entertaining and the pace is snappy. Who knew playing chess with Death could be so funny? And because it is funny, I think it ultimately addresses the human condition better than The Tree of Life... really good humor can be, and, in my opinion, usually is, more insightful than drama. I guess that is really the lesson I learned from these two movies. Give me some good, deep comedy (and some semblance of plot) any day.
Your move, Death. One of the most iconic images in film history.
Well, it's raining cats and dogs in buckets again, and that must mean it's time to wrap this up. I am going to go wrap myself in corduroy and take a nap. Tomorrow is a baking day; one last round before Morty and I pack our bags for the pilgrimage to his motherland. Of course Morty is going to San Francisco with me, don't be silly.

The rain in Hypoluxo falls mainly
on the pelican statue.
PS. I actually wrote most of this post two days ago. Since then I actually did go outside... see the following pictures from the Palm Beach Zoo. I think my dad wanted to go as preparation for seeing Zookeeper with Kevin James. I think he thinks he can get a role in the sequel.
This peacock had a thing for my mom.
My mom was interested, but ultimately noncommittal.
Living lawn ornaments!
My friend, the mud turtle.
If that tiger was pissed off,
do you really think that fence would be sufficient?
Let the eagles soar, like they've never soared before! Happy early July 4th!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

That Old Deluder Satan

1647, Massachusetts:

"Kids today, I tell ye."

"I know, no respect."

"It's that damned old deluder, Satan. He hath got hold of 'em."

"That's it!"


"The young are clearly being misled by the Devil. He must be stopped! And the children must be controlled."

"But we already force them to go to church three times everyday. If the bible doesn't scare them back in line, I don't know what will."

"Aye, and we already beat them..."

"When we're not making them do hard labor."

"So, what's left? What hathn't we done to them?"

"What if there were some place where we could send all of them for the day... some small room they can't leave all day? Somebody there to take them off our hands for a nominal fee?"

"But what'll they do there? They can't even read..."

"Precisely! We will educate the little shits!"

"Hmm... all of them?"

"All of them."

"Even the Negroes and the Indians?"

"Oh. Well, no, don't be silly. Obviously not them. But everyone else!"

Look at those little heathens!
Thus, the Old Deluder Satan Law of 1647 was born and with it the foundation for public education in these United States of America. As it was written: It being one chief project of that old deluder, Satan, to keep men from the knowledge of the Scriptures, as in former times by keeping them in an unknown tongue... It is therefore ordered that every township in this jurisdiction, after the Lord hath increased them to fifty households shall forthwith appoint one within their town to teach all such children as shall resort to him to write and read...

This law really was historically significant as the beginning of public education in America. Each member of the township was required to contribute to a pool of money used to pay for the schoolhouse and teacher, all in an effort to ward off the Devil by way of literacy. I just love the phrasing... That old deluder, Satan. It's so quaint! Fucking 1647, man... there were people then!

Now, in the year of our Lord 2011, I stand in front of a class full of jaded, skeptical, end-of-the-school-year-big-guys-on-campus-attitude-having 14-year-olds. I need help! They are staring at me... waiting... waiting... waiting for me to entertain them. Waiting for me to amuse them in some way. If I can, I might live. If I can't... well then, it's all over. They will rise-up and turn on me en masse and that'll be the end of me. They won't even remember I ever existed. They might have some vague memory of a beard and glasses, but it'll be as if those things were floating around in the ether, not attached to a person. "Mr.Kodish?" they'll say, when asked about my whereabouts. "We have no idea what you're talking about. That name sounds made up. Haven't we been alone in here for the last few weeks? There was a teacher in here? I don't think so. I think we would have known if a teacher was in here. No, it's been just us 14-year-olds. Pretty sure we're the only people alive on the planet right now."

Imagine, if you dare, the faces of
23 disaffected youths staring blankly in those desks
But, no, they have not been alone in that room. Believe me, I have been there everyday. Oh, have I been there. For I am their 8th grade English "permanent sub" for the last weeks of their middle school careers. I have been there about five weeks already, now there is just under two weeks to go in the school year. Their real teacher fell off his roof and messed himself up pretty good. He's OK... but not OK enough for teaching. At least that's the official story. Is it crazy to suggest that his "fall" was really a push? That one or all of his students were up on that roof with him? I'm telling you, these kids are put on the earth to push out the old (figuratively at least, literally if they can) and they know it. Put nothing past them! It's a teenage wasteland! We're all wasted! Only a matter of time... 

Alas, however, my own survival instinct has remained one step ahead of the teenage horde so far. I have managed to fend them off and maintain some modicum of sanity. I wouldn't go so far as to say that I am a good teacher. Heavens, no. Don't be ridiculous. In fact, looking back, I think I have fooled every person who has ever hired me, including the principal of this school. I am expert at faking it until making it. But, while I'm faking it, I am learning... learning more than the students, for sure. And I refuse to let them win. They may be younger, bigger, better looking, and more popular, but I still have my wits about me and can go toe-to-toe in the ring of the classroom with any of them. I'd love for it not to be a me-against-them situation, but it seems that is the way most of them want it. So be it, I am prepared to meet them on their own battlefield. I am prepared to mix my metaphors to the death!

Notice the movie posters.
That was my "big idea" attempt to engage the students.
Actually, it really hasn't been that antagonistic. I'd even say a lot of them like me, and I like a lot of them. Some of them, sure, are total assholes. Some may even be, in fact, possessed by Satan. But most aren't. They're just, ya know, 8th-graders. I forgive them that weakness. Plus, do you remember how you felt during the last couple weeks of a school year? Did you give two, or less than two shits about schoolwork at that point? I can certainly remember being mentally checked out and expecting nothing but parties and watching movies during the last week. Well, now I am on the other side of the equation and can tell you that the teachers feel the same way. But, we're still obligated to try to educate up until the last bell rings... and I already have a constant, newbie-teacher guilt that I am not actually teaching enough. I mean, how much do they expect me to teach, anyway? How much can you teach a brick wall? For that is what the kids are at this point... a brick wall with eyeballs and a Justin Bieber haircut.

The author and former teacher Frank McCourt (of Angela's Ashes fame) expresses all this in words better than my own in his memoir Teacher Man. Outlining his 30-year teaching career in New York City high schools, he describes what it's like to be in a classroom as a new teacher much better than I have, or probably could. So, let me stop ripping him off and let him sum up this post in his own words:

Facing dozens of teenagers every day brings you down to earth. At eight a.m. they don't care how you feel. You think of the day ahead: five classes, up to one hundred and seventy-five American adolescents; moody, hungry, in love, anxious, horny, energetic, challenging. No escape. There they are and there you are with your headache, your indigestion... You still have that bag filled with the papers of the one hundred and seventy-five students, their so-called compositions, careless scrawls. Oh, mister, did you read my paper? Not that they care. Writing compositions is not how they intend to spend the rest of their lives. That's something you do only in this boring class. They're looking at you. You cannot hide. They're waiting. What are we doing today, teacher? The paragraph? Oh, yeah. Hey, everybody, we gonna study the paragraph, the structure, topic sentence an' all. Can't wait to tell my mom tonight. She's always asking how was school today. Paragraphs, Mom. Teacher has a thing about paragraphs. Mom'll say, Very nice, and go back to her soap opera.
I was more than a teacher. And less. In the classroom you are a drill sergeant, a rabbi, a shoulder to cry on, a disciplinarian, a singer, a low-level scholar, a clerk, a referee, a clown, a counselor, a dress-code enforcer, a conductor, an apologist, a philosopher, a collaborator, a tap dancer, a politician, a therapist, a fool, a traffic cop, a priest, a mother-father-brother-sister-uncle-aunt, a bookkeeper, a critic, a psychologist, the last straw.
If you bark or snap, you lose them. That's what they get from parents and the schools in general, the bark and the snap. If they strike back with the silent treatment, you're finished in the classroom. Their faces change and they have a way of deadening their eyes. Tell them open their notebooks. They stare. They take their time. Yeah, they'll open their notebooks. Yes, sir, here we go opening our notebooks nice and easy so nothing falls out. Tell them copy what's on the board. They stare. Oh, yeah, they tell one another. He wants us to copy what's on the board. Look at that. Man wrote something on the board and wants us to copy it. They shake their heads in slow motion. You ask, Are there any questions? and all around the room there is the innocent look. You stand and wait. They know it's a forty-minute showdown, you versus them...
Here they come.
And I'm not ready.
How could I be?
I'm a new teacher and learning on the job.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Procrastination Tango

Last weekend I made a little road trip to Tampa. Ordinarily, for a seasoned road traveler like myself, this measly 4 hour trip is nothing to write home about. But, this time, there were two reasons to write blog about: the occasion for the trip was extra momentous, and, along the way, Foxy the Hyundai Accent had her own very special moment.

Good ol' Foxy crossed the 20,000 mile mark! She's in her 20's! "You and me, 20g!" is what I said as I caressed her dashboard, took a picture, and shed a tear. Lost in reverie (I mean, focused on the road... defensive driving... 10 and 2), I missed the actual moment the odometer clicked over to 20000, but 20006 is close enough, right? Anyway, I was emotional because, in a lot of ways, Foxy's been my best friend for the last couple years. We've seen a lot, her and I. She held me safely and comfortably in the front seat and carried a heavy burden of my crap in the back as we drove across the country twice in her first year. She got me through mountains and snow, rain and wind, the desert and the Midwest, good times and bad. She came from Jersey, survived West Virginia, and waited patiently for weeks on end in the parking garage of a Safeway in San Francisco. She starts up every time, with pep in her step and NPR on her radio. She is the longest-term commitment I've ever had... When she crossed 20,000 miles, I was proud of her, and of me.

And last weekend, of all things, we were on our way to my real best friend's wedding. This was the momentous occasion for going to Tampa. My friend Mitch was getting married. MARRIED. HOLY SHIT. Now, that's a real commitment. I love Foxy and all, but at the end of the day I don't have to share a bathroom with her.

So it was I arrived in Tampa. Ready to celebrate my friend's joyous day and to do justice to the long, proud tradition of drunken groomsman. I hadn't been part of a wedding since I was a 4-year-old ring bearer carrying a pillow with a fake plastic ring tied to it. I was pissed at my Uncle (it was his wedding) about the fake ring then, and I'm still pissed about it now. I could have been trusted with the real ring dammit! I was a responsible little kid! I felt like a shmuck walking down the aisle with a fake ring... but I digress.

During this ceremony, all I really had to do was wear a suit and a yarmulke, and walk one of the bridesmaids down the aisle. Mitch and Amy stood under the chuppah, the Rabbi said some things, Mitch broke the glass, as Jews are wont to do, and all rejoiced. It was a beautiful day as two lives became joined as one.

The reception began with the ceremonial lifting of bride and groom on chairs, as seen in the Fiddler on the Roof clip linked above. Watch that clip! I was on groom chair duty and was apparently almost crushed by the bride's chair, to the horror of helpless onlookers. They tell me I was a hair's breadth away from a concussion. I'm just glad I didn't drop him, given that I had no advance warning there was going to be heavy lifting involved. I hadn't limbered up!

After this bit, the DJ started in with the line dancing songs and I suddenly knew why groomsmen needed to be so drunk. Or, why this particular groomsmen needed a few good drinks, anyway. I wanted to enjoy this party, and for better or worse (till death do us part?) booze was going to be necessary. So, I started in with the cocktails and was eventually putting vodka in coffee. Not bad! Well, it did the trick anyway, and even got me out on the dance floor a few times... By the way, what the hell does it mean to "do the Charlie Brown"? Nevermind, I don't want to know. I'm happy I don't know those kinds of things.
Awww.... Look at them. They're happy! And I'm super happy for them. I know this is what Mitch has wanted for a long time. It's weird though, isn't it? We're getting married now, huh? We're at that time in our lives? When the shit did that happen? I sure don't feel like I'm there, yet. I mean, getting fuckin' married?! Yikes. I can hardly imagine. Oh sure, I want love and I want a family... someday. But, it's awful hard for me to imagine doing that, like, today.

After all, "why do today what you can put off 'till tomorrow," right? I am pro-procrastination! Just say no to anti-procrastination! Follow?

In fact, this blog is a public display of procrastination. And I procrastinated privately before getting to this procrastination (Mitch's wedding was actually two weekends ago). But the point remains: if I wasn't writing this, I could be doing homework, applying for jobs, volunteering at a soup kitchen, learning to play guitar, curing cancer, or finding a woman with whom I might procrastinate or procreate with, whichever came first. (Insert coming first joke here) (Insert insertion joke here)

To me, though, there is a beauty in procrastination. If done correctly, it can transcend mere laziness to become an act of defiance essential to restoring elements of our humanity that the rush, rush, plugged-in, workaday world slowly robs us of. It's my belief that we need down-time, that we need to be able to make the conscious choice to not do something. We need to be able to free ourselves from the nagging feeling that everything has to be done right-now-this-second.

Sure, I will eventually do the thing, but right now? No. No, I don't believe I will. I am going to choose when the hell I do that thing. I will get to it when I am good and goddamn ready. And, when I am ready (mentally or physically), and I do do the thing, I will inevitably do it better. Procrastination is a gathering of energies integral to my creative process.

Or, I'm just a lazy ass. Yeah... definitely could be that.

But, I don't think so! According to the theory I am espousing in this post, procrastination is a noble enterprise. A mind-freeing exercise in alternative thinking. To me, it's like dance. In order to dance well, you need to be able to free your mind of its conscious inhibitions. You have to break your body free of the shackles of the mind. I am not a dancer, but, as I said, I was forced into a dancing situation at Mitch's wedding... comfortable, I was not. However, after enough vodka-coffees, I was at least able to get out there. Procrastination is the vodka-coffee of my everyday life, freeing me up to do things I might not normally do.

It is my way of communing with god, or the universe, or nature, or whatever. As much as I'd like to pretend that, like Thoreau or Whitman, I get deep insights and inner-peace from a walk in the woods, I do not. When I walk in the woods all I get is bug bites and Deliverance derived anal rape paranoia. And I don't like getting dirty. No, I'm not a "nature guy." But, procrastination is my substitute. When I procrastinate, I am stepping out of humanity in order to restore my humanity. You won't catch me on a nature retreat, but you will often find me busily at work not working.

You buying this shit? Didn't think so. But you sure killed some time reading it! Congratulations!
And Mazel tov, Mitch and Amy! Like Foxy and me, may you always enjoy the journey.

Happy anniversary Foxy!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Spring Bake

Everyday takes figuring out all over again how to fucking live. - Calamity Jane on Deadwood.

One of the things I like least in life is retracing my steps. If you ever see me looking annoyed and acting impatient it is likely because I have had to do something over again. Be it drive back and forth between two points more than once in a day; or retype an email because my computer froze; or repeat directions five times in less than a minute because the little bastards aren't listening (that's a substitute teacher-specific example).

In fact, I will go far out of my way not to go back and forth, out and back, over the same road. The shortest distance between two points may be a straight line, but if I see that straight line more than once in a short period of time I will become apoplectic. As such, I always plan my trips as circles, going out on one road and coming back on another. That is, if I have to come back at all. My real preference would be to travel in one direction at all times, never circling back whence I came. One-way trips, in which I am propelled into some new unknown, with no reassuring promise of a return to the comforts or familiarity of home, get my blood flowing. Not that home is bad, or that I don't crave home just as much as all those points unknown. It's just that I get "itchy" when I think about making the return trip itself. Home as a destination, a place to rest my head, is great, but the road home bores the shit outta me.
Here's me as a baby. I needed something to break up this big block of words.

To be clear, I am speaking literally and figuratively. Very literally, I hate driving the same road twice in one day. Metaphorically, this applies to just about everything else in my life. As I said, I don't like doing things more than once in short order, especially if I feel I have already "gotten it." I am compelled by equal parts boredom and restless intellectual curiosity (OK... more boredom than curiosity) to keep trying new things. Sometimes, I even feel like the more I do something, the more I try to get better at something, the worse I actually get. I start to get too much in my head, over-thinking the thing, whatever it is, to death. If you think long, you think wrong. So much for self-analysis and self-improvement... clearly, attempting those things will just make me a worse person. Yep, I checked, that statement follows the logic of the one before it. It's all perfectly logical.

But, then again, after a day has passed, I'll probably be able to stomach seeing that same old road again or doing that same old thing again. Maybe I'll even be able to stand a little self-improvement. Like Jane says, each day becomes new again. Each day presents new problems to be reckoned with and provides new perspectives from which to fucking reckon.

I quote Calamity Jane because recently my Deadwood obsession has been rekindled. It was back over Thanksgiving 2009 when I watched the first 7 episodes in North Dakota with Danie and Jesse and Jesse's family. I mentioned in the blog at the time that the show became the melodramatic, curse-filled soundtrack to our trip. I had been dying to see the rest of the series, but until recently I hadn't had the chance. Finally, HBO on Demand made the whole series available to stream online, and over the last two weeks, my dad and I watched all 36 episodes. He was as immediately hooked as I was when I first saw it back in NoDak. There is just something about hearing the word "cocksucker" over and over again that makes grown men giggle. Between the musically vulgar language and the constant background din of an Old West camp, I think the sounds of the show really kind of hypnotized us. Once we started, we had to finish. We each sat in front of our respective computers and watched the cocksucker till our eyes bled.

Some things are like that. Some things you have to see through to the end, quickly and without stopping, if at all possible. Watching a show in this linear, one-way, non-stop fashion appeals to my always-moving-forward, anti-retracing-of-steps nature. With a similar compulsion, I am still working my way through the Tartine baking book. All the recipes sound so good, and Morty the Bread Starter is so strong and healthy, that I don't want to rest until I have made them all; and I don't much want to go back and do any of them over again until I've tried all the ones I haven't done.

So, last week I finally made the croissants I had been threatening to make since the beginning. It's a fairly laborious process of "laminating" butter and dough together, so I had to be committed. Turned out to be a fun day of beating butter and dough with a big stick. The smell reminded me of my professional baking days in San Francisco. I handled very many croissants in my time at that job (2 whole days). Anyway, how were my homemade ones? Well, they came out looking pretty pretty, but... they weren't as light and flaky as I would have liked. They were layered beautifully, but not flaky. So, I was a little disappointed on the first day. However, it turned out that their heavier, crustier nature was perfect for sandwiches the next few days. And when I say perfect, I mean just that. Amazing freaking awesome sandwiches.... no matter what you put on 'em. These rolls made everything delicious.
I could have popped open a can of Pillsbury crescent rolls and
accomplished this in significantly less time
"I like bread and I like butter, but I like bread with butter best."
Three Rolls and a Fistful of Butter, starring my dad
This week it's Spring Break, so I have some (more) free time on my hands. I already did one big batch of bread and plan on doing another. With the first, I did something I spent the first half of this blog saying I don't want to do. I repeated. But I had to return to rye bread since my friend Mitch is getting married next week and I am bringing bread offerings to all the Jews in Tampa. At least this time I was making a double batch, so that kept it interesting. Also, this time I put the caraway seeds inside the bread, as well as on top. It was insane! Ended up I made five loaves, each with a slightly different character. Those receiving these breads will get the one that I deem best suites them. Or the first bag I happen to grab, whichever.

At the same time I was making my ryes, my dad made a challah. Spring Bake 2011 was in full effect! There was no wet t-shirt contest, but we were waist deep in Jewish carbohydrates. I don't know what that means! 
Can you see the face of Old Man Rye? He's squinting.
Corned beef on rye, mit pickle
The biggest rye on the block
Inside the Baker's Bakery
Action shot: Challah getting beaten
I'm going to try making a polenta and rosemary infused loaf next. Why not! For now, I am going to go "take the air," as they say on Deadwood. I'm going to walk around the neighborhood sipping casually from a mug of coffee, sort of overseeing my territory. Inspired by Al Swearengen on Deadwood, I now love walking around outside with a mug of coffee (a regular ceramic mug, none of these fancy, citified mugs with leak-proof tops). I'm telling ya, it really makes one feel quite in control of one's domain; like the boss. 

And when I get back from my stroll I'll probably take some shots from the giant bottle of whiskey we bought. My dad and I cannot handle our liquor like cowboys and gentiles, but we sure like to pretend. 

And then, tomorrow, I'll figure it all out all over again...