Clear Channel: Clearly Corrupt

On my commute to work, I hear a lot of local morning radio talk shows. Most of the programs are insipid, particularly since they share the same on-air personalities. One such individual named Valentine (a not-so subliminal message to love him) started on 102.7 before moving suddenly to 98.7 at the beginning of 2007 and then this past week or so moved to 104.3. That means Valentine's been on three of the area's major radio stations in the span of less than a year. I figured I was observing a minor scandal with a wayward disc jokey disregarding loyalty and jumping between rival stations for increased pay and notoriety. When I researched the matter, however, I found out these were hardly rival stations. The reason Valentine is able to bounce so easily between these stations is that they are all owned by the same evil corporation, Clear Channel.

Chances are that if you hate mainstream radio, it's because of Clear Channel. Clear Channel owns over 1,100 radio stations across the country and runs them poorly. It takes the corporate approach to providing entertainment in that it seeks profits above all else. It has such a monopoly on the industry that it can do what it wants, including using its multiple stations in a given area to eliminate any competition. Clear Channel is widely known for utilizing payola, a system where wealthy record companies pay the stations to play their music. Though this practice is illegal in its simplest form, naturally there are plenty of loopholes that allow both parties to perpetuate their illicit business deals. If you've ever wondered why radio stations play the same crappy songs so frequently, look no further than some manipulated form of payola. Clear Channel makes money off of providing sub-par music. And it gets away with it, to boot. You can confirm that Clear Channel owns the worst stations in your area by searching its website here.

Though I've loathed the conglomerate for a long time now, I briefly worked for Clear Channel four years ago. The place I was interning for had formed some sort of loose partnership with Clear Channel as a means for promoting one another. For two days when there was nothing particularly pressing to do at my regular internship, I was relinquished to Clear Channel to assist. On the first day, I did menial tasks like hang signs. I did it poorly, I assure you: I hung them crooked and used such tiny pieces of tape on the back that they were bound to fall.

On the second day, however, I had the opportunity to distribute promotional materials with another intern on the the main street of Hartford. Clear Channel had a lot of Pop Tarts to give away for one reason or another, so my job was to distribute them to passersby. It wasn't that difficult, most people were more than happy to accept free Pop Tarts. Things proceeded swimmingly until word spread amongst the homeless community of Hartford that Pop Tarts were being handed out for free. The homeless were an aggressive clientele, but I understood that these people were hungry, so of course I didn't mind giving them Pop Tarts. Clear Channel minded, though. The supervisor came out and told us that we were to distribute Pop Tarts to "radio listeners only," which was a vaguely politically correct manner of saying that homeless people don't own radios and to not give them the product.

Right. You try giving Pop Tarts to just the people who look like they've bathed recently. It was hellish. I watched the Clear Channel intern struggle to abide by the rules and attract the ire of the homeless. On the other hand, I continued to give Pop Tarts to everyone who approached me, most of whom did appear to be homeless. My excuse was that "I couldn't tell for sure if the person was homeless," which I think is pretty legitimate, it'd be pretty discriminatory to make a snap judgment based on appearance. Besides, what were they going to do - fire me from a job I didn't really have? 'Tever! Within half an hour, we were swarmed with homeless people, which naturally kept all the "radio listeners" away from our area. As I kept handing out Pop Tarts, the other intern relented too, I suspect mostly out of fear.

The supervisor finally came out again to shut down our operation. The goal was not to make Clear Channel look like a homeless shelter, so they took away the Pop Tarts. Instead, we were given shoddy radio station keychains to distribute. Even the "radio listeners" weren't interested in accepting these. Unfortunately, the bat call was already out, and the homeless population continued to come to inquire about free Pop Tarts. The first few times I tried to offer a keychain as a consolation before realizing how ridiculous this freebie was. When you don't own a house or a car, you probably don't have use for a keychain.

Frustrated with the situation and Clear Channel in general, I told the other intern that I had to return to my other job for a meeting. Since my other job was not really expecting me, I just got in my car and drove home. I did not listen to the radio on the way home that day.


Say Hello to These

I'm pretty into this photograph taken by Andrew at a Margarita Monday a few months ago. I look like an idiot, which is always fun. What am I doing exactly? My left arm is contorted in such a way that I look mentally ill, cheering for who knows what. The redeeming aspect is Heather, laughing maniacally. That is unrestrained laughter in photographic form; if she can get her mouth open any wider, I'm afraid to see it. My whole deformed arm could probably fit in there.

Michael Michael feels the picture reminds him of that time on Arrested Development (AKA favorite television show ever) when the narrator demonstrates that Kitty does everything just like her boss, George Sr., including laughing like him, as evidenced by this photo:

Let's do a side by side comparison:

Yeah, I'm convinced. Heather=Kitty. In order to illustrate the point further, I would offer a similar comparison of both Kitty and Heather flashing their breasts while announcing, "Say good-bye to these!" but I'm afraid that Heather's dad would have me murdered.


Perverted Students

My ninth grade students are utterly perverted. Truthfully, I was too at their age (and I'll save you the trouble of commenting that I still am - shut up,) but I never put my teachers in a situation where they were forced to acknowledge this fact.

Since I'm in a new classroom, there are still some drawers that I have not yet opened. When a student asks for paperclips which I do not have, I decide to check some of the other nooks of the room as I have previously found other supplies left behind by the room's former occupant. Opening one drawer, I see nothing but two pieces of a shredded napkin and a long hair. I comment to the student that the drawer's contents are "weird" and the student replies with a suggestive, "What have you been doing, Mr. [Kevin]?" It occurs to me that this might be some sort of masturbation reference, but my honors student wouldn't possibly say such a thing to eir teacher. "What is that supposed to mean?" I say, giving em a chance to clarify. Without a sense of fear, ey says, "Oh you know..." For crying out loud, it is a masturbation reference. "That's gross," I say and walk away.

This incident is not isolated. When I have my students write extended metaphors or similes for life, one of my respectful students volunteers, "Life is like sex: good when you're with the right people." I remind everyone what kind of subjects are school appropriate, then take the next volunteer: "Life is like Flaming Hot Cheetos: it's good." Hmm, I might prefer inappropriate to stupid. I ask the student to push it further and make the comparison deeper. "It's... crunchy?" "Well, explain it. How is life crunchy?" "Um... okay, nevermind. Life is like an orgasm." Exasperated, I tell the student, "No, no, no, let's stick to Cheetos."

In my class for students still learning the English language, I have a student, "Ned," who emigrated from Cambodia a few years ago. Ned is adorably innocent compared to eir peers, a class comprised of mainly Mexican and Mexican-American students. When we discussed the concept of something being more valuable when it is rare for context in a story, I used baseball card as an example. Since then, not a class has gone by where Ned doesn't try to sell me eir one worthless baseball card, confused as to why I won't give em thousands of dollars for it. In our last class, I grew so tired of it, I actually check Ebay to demonstrate the card's real worth. Ned is unimpressed with the going rate, unwilling to go below a few hundred dollars.

For one assignment, I break my students, including Ned, into groups to design a review game for the short stories we've read. The Latino students decide they want to make "this Mexican game where you take a donkey and put a tail on it." Evidently, they feel Pin the Tail on the Donkey is too cultural for me to be familiar with it. I approve the game, so long as they incorporate a trivia aspect into it somehow. Ned is placed in charge of drawing the donkey; it looks more like a deformed dinosaur. As I circle around the room, I spy Ned cutting construction paper into tiny penises. I inquire what exactly ey is doing, and Ned replies that ey is making donkey tails. Oh right, donkey tails, though Ned's rendition of donkey tails is about as phallic as one could get without drawing veins on it. Rather than contributing any assistance, Ned's group mates just laugh at em, though Ned clearly doesn't get it. This much is evidenced when Ned places the "tail" between the dino-donkey's hind legs as an example of how the game will work. I have to continue "monitoring other students" so that I don't burst into laughter.

Later, I see the donkey idea has been scrapped in favor of a turkey, easily drawn by tracing a hand. You're all familiar with the classic game Pin the Tail on the Turkey, right? One of the main components of the game is to write clear instructions for the game for others to follow. The instructions that Ned writes are pretty much incomprehensible, except for the objective portion. "You win if you stick the tail up the turkey's butt." Apparently, putting the tail (which looks like a penis, remember) up the butt is what distinguishes Pin the Tail on in the Turkey from its lesser donkey counterpart. Upon discovering this peculiarly phrased rule, I cannot contain my laughter, a hearty, unmanageable chuckle which Ned questions. "I'm just... it's... it's an amazing game." Ned's response? "Does that mean you'll buy my baseball card?"

If any of my ninth grade students are going to be perverted, it better be by accident.


Luck Be a Liability

I used to never win things. Well, that's not actually a fair statement, as I've won plenty of things: an award for my graduate thesis, a bowling trophy, $250 at karaoke, a couple of scholarships to colleges I chose not to attend, and for two consecutive years in elementary school I won free games of miniature golf when I guessed the correct (or closest) amount of golf tees in a jar. But all of these things are based on merit. (And don't tell me that guessing about golf tees isn't merit. After years of sucking at estimation games, I realized I was far under-guessing, so I learned to always double whatever my instinct was then throw in an extra handful for good measure. Strategy.) Merit is good and all, and perhaps more important than winning something via luck, but I want prizes based off games of chance. Just once, I wanted to win something by random draw. Technically, after my senior prom, I won free miniature golf games (a reoccurring theme), but my mom was in charge of the prizes. For the record, it wasn't an instance of nepotism, but by the time the prizes were being handed out, most people had left, presumably to get drunk, so she ended up handing out prizes to anyone still there, so I don't think that counts.

Every month at work when we have staff meetings, there is a raffle. We're contractually obligated to attend, so it's not as if these raffles are a motivating factor; instead they serve to spread good will. At the beginning of my first year, each time the raffle occurred, I would tell the coworkers seated around me how I "never win" these things. For a while, the main give-away was literacy posters. Once when one teacher won the same literacy poster two months in a row, ey publicly gifted it to me, saying, "Kevin says he never wins these things" effectively passing off possession of the dumb thing and looking like a good person in the process. Apparently, this gift was enough to set the wheels in motion and turn me into a winner. Since that occasion, I have won the raffle 7/8 times. In these victories, I've amassed a second literacy poster (at which point the principal recalled that I had received the first one and inquired why it wasn't yet on my wall, meaning I was unfortunately obligated to hang it), an extra tube of chapstick, a shirt with a corporate logo, a hat, a generic and unhelpful book, a coupon to a fast food restaurant, and two dozen free digital photograph prints.

Here's the thing: I am not interested in even one of those items. It's all pretty much crap. I don't need it, I don't want it, I can't give it back, either. I tried with the shirt for example, saying "oh, I won last time," but the principal asked, "You don't want it?" in such a way that I would seem ungrateful for not accepting it.

What's worse it that I'm noticing it's starting to build up some resentment, too. You can't help but start to resent someone who is consistently lucky, even when the prizes aren't too desirable. I feel that my coworkers are more likely to remember the amount of times I've won rather than taking into account that it was just a tube of chapstick. They'll make snippy comments, even in jest, but when I try to offer/insist on sharing the wealth, they always decline, undoubtedly because it's not about the prize anyway. I would stop putting my name in the running, but the slips are how the administrators conduct attendance at the meetings, so I'm essentially bound to play.

Though I've been a fortunate person in a lot of ways, throughout my life I've always wanted to be lucky in the more traditional lottery-winning sense. But not now. With approximately 5 prizes given and nearly 100 people in the running, the odds of winning 7/8 times are, well, I'm no math teacher, but I'd say nearly astronomical. I'd like to have the ability to beat those odds on something with higher stakes or more worthwhile, but instead it's happening in this entirely unimportant, actually irritating situation. To have my unprecedented amazing streak of luck occur in this fashion makes me feel downright unlucky.



Pitzer College built a new dormitory, celebrating its completion with a ribbon cutting ceremony yesterday. Indeed, the construction has come a long way since being just an unconventional outlet for pervs. I had some friends attending the event, but it was a Monday, so of course I had better, more margarita-y plans in mind. Besides, if you've ever seen one ribbon cut, you might as well have seen a whole ribbon factory impaled, you know what I mean? (You shouldn't, that doesn't quite make sense.) On my ride home from work, I was hungry and not in the mood to make dinner, so when I found out Pitzer was serving free food for this event, suddenly my mind was changed. Yes, Pitzer, I will attend or your ribbon cutting ceremony, or rather, yes, I will eat the food you provide then leave before the ribbon cutting ceremony.

I met up with Christine for the meal. At first glance, I was surprised by the food, it looked fancy, and as I expressed to Christine, "I thought it would be, well, you know..." (Outdoor meals at Pitzer are notoriously underwhelming.) Rest assured, though it appeared snazzy, it tasted bland as ever. Still, a free dinner was better than one I paid for, even if it includes quasi-cooked carrots. (Overheard: "Are these raw?" "I can't tell, but they're wet.")

Notably, a lot of people were moved to stay because of the speeches, two of which were notably delivered by Robert Redford and Ed Begley Jr. As of late, Redford has been a total fop (Friend of Pitzer, and yes, I made that up) after filming part of Lions for Lambs starring Mr. Katie Holmes and some up-and-comer by the name of Meryl Streep, an upcoming movie that he directed. I was also displaced temporarily from one of my grad school classes so they could film an interior classroom scene, so I'm definitely going to have to see this movie. Check out the trailer, and get excited. The first three scenes shots are of Pitzer (excluding the roaring lion, of course):

1. Look, there's pretty Pitzer and the clock tower. I've rode my bike there, too.
2. Look, there's Mead Hall where I once lived. There are fliers on the door where I once posted fliers.
3. Look, there's the hall director's office. I've half-heartedly promised to stay sober while others consume alcohol in my dormitory suite there.
Obviously, there is much more aesthetically-pleasing footage of Pitzer to be found than certain news outlets would lead you to believe.

At any rate, these celebrities came to speak in order to commend the school for constructing buildings "pursuing the highest level of green [environmental] certification." Still, I was not interested. Don't get me wrong, I'm proud too, but the green on my mind then was that of the tint of margaritas. And with that, Christine and I bounced to "greener" pastures: Margarita Monday.

It was a good choice. Sure we missed the "light show" at Pitzer (what is Pitzer, Disneyland? A four-year-old's birthday party?), but as usual, a great time was had by all. Spencer spent a long time pondering whether to have a third margarita because he had to finish his last grad school paper, then suddenly found himself drinking his sixth, which I'm pretty sure might actually be dangerous. I'd be interested in reading this paper. Personally, I limited my intake as I vowed to last week after a gross next morning. Even having two, however, can cause problems. When Michael Michael asked how my day was, I told him that I spent nearly an hour trying in vain to plunge our clogged toilet. The alcohol clearly clouded my judgment, since as I said this fact, the guest (who I love) who had clogged the toilet was sitting next to me. Everyone instantly recognized this faux pas, as did I about two seconds too late, and reacted. Wouldn't you know, the only person not to hear my toilet comment was the clogger emself. So then the person asked me to repeat my comment, I hesitated but owned up to it and thankfully it went over well. I made sure to make it clear that the toilet breaks/clogs frequently (which is entirely true), calling it a "shitty toilet" without recognizing the pun. It is at this point that Passed Out Patty, who I was going to drive, insisted on driving me instead. I agreed, provided she leave me in charge of unlocking the doors. Burn!

So we wound up back at Pitzer for the alumni-only after party. Yet again, it was a reunion I never expected to go to until I actually went. As much as I don't like being on my old campus anymore, this event was one I could enjoy as everyone there was at least a bit out of place. They served a lot of free booze, but I stuck to my vow and abstained, though insanely Spencer, not even an alum, didn't. I chatted up the lead singer of 90 Proof and spouse, which is always pleasant. I also saw old familiar faces and recounted with them the places on campus where I pooped outdoors. Erica, a current Pitzer senior, crashed the festivities temporarily, so I made a point to throw appetizers on the floor in front of eir while screaming about how I was wasting eir tuition money. There was talk of an after-after-party, but as a responsible teacher, it was time for me to turn in. Besides, I was nearly out of poop stories anyway.


Beeing Smart

I'm trying to teach something, but I have one student trying to distract me just for the sake of being a nuisance. After repeated attempts to get me off track, the student says, "There's a bee near you." I ignore this statement. "It's on your head," the student tries again, which I also ignore. Another, more trustworthy student chimes in, "There really is a bee on your head." At this point, I can feel the bee on my head, but I will not be derailed. "Well, a 'B' is still higher than anything any of you have in this class, so pay attention."

I receive scattered applause and laughter. The bee lingers in my hair. Sometimes, teaching is fun.


Learning from YouTube

My alma mater Pitzer College has received a wealth of media attention recently for a class called "Learning from YouTube." It is the first college class in the nation with the popular video sharing website as its subject, with all of the assignments and classes also occurring on YouTube. Inevitably, the class, and in turn the college as a whole, has been criticized for its lack of educational value and essentially rendering it a joke.

Is YouTube not a worthy subject for study? The world watches more than 100,000,000 videos on YouTube daily, making it a media phenomenon without parallel. Media Studies is a discipline that critically examines our media, making it a crucial entity for its students to study. To me, the real joke would be to not investigate YouTube, to not question its implications. By giving something a free pass as something that doesn't warrant our critical attention, particularly something so huge, we give it the freedom to behave as it chooses without repercussions. Let us not forget that YouTube is a corporately owned enterprise. As easy as it is to consider it some sort of utopian by-the-people-for-the-people website, it is actually a privately operated entity that easily conceals this fact because of its ubiquity, much like Google. Wait, Google owns YouTube? Maybe there is something to this subject.

There are so many questions to put forth to this emerging form of media. Why do we YouTube? Why do we do so much of it, no less? How has it changed the media and the way we look at the world?

I feel that a lot of the public flack comes from the portrayal. It's very simple to describe the class as something where students are watching and posting YouTube videos without getting into its complexities and academic content. If all I heard was someone dismiss the course in such a manner, I too would think the professor, students, and college were idiots. And yet, that's exactly the problem. The mainstream media gets away with stating uninformed opinions as facts and dispersing these opinions to the masses. Media Studies scholarship exists to look critically at the practices of media institutions and question/critique its power and products.

Though I rarely watch television news, I often see promos which frequently feature YouTube related stories to attract interest. One such example I remember is when a local news program promised a story with the star of the YouTube video "I Got a Crush... On Obama." (Personally, I find the premise of the video to insipid to watch more than a few seconds of it, but I'll link it for your perusal.) Obviously, the program directors thought they hit gold by combining sex, politics, and an Internet phenomenon, and heck, maybe they did, but I do not consider this news. Hence, it comes as no surprise to me that the mainstream media works to put down the field of Media Studies, as it better enables it to get away with a variety of things we as the media-consuming public should not allow it to.

I'm particularly intrigued by this news clip that demonstrates no qualms about ridiculing its academic merit:

Prior to reporting on Pitzer, it airs a tribute to the Regis & Kelly talk show while also including an advertisement as to what time you can watch the show, not so coincidentally on the same channel. What makes that story newsworthy? Where is the journalistic integrity? They go out of their way to make Pitzer look ridiculous, rather than showing any number of the pretty locations on the campus, they instead show footage of the new dorms under construction. Also, the comment from the newscaster about the students enrolled in the class being lazy and incompetent is completely ignorant. It is my experience that all places of learning, with students of all intelligences, there are some who take their studies seriously, and those who do not. The newscaster outed himself as one in the latter group, and as someone who took college (well, my undergrad anyway) seriously and as an opportunity to expand my mind, I resent the implication that a scholar of Media Studies is lazy from someone who probably majored in broadcast journalism and learned nothing critical toward his own form.

You know who should host the news? Katy. Before the media attention, I first heard about Pitzer College's YouTube class from my housemate, Katy. While she was working for the PR department of the school, without warning, Katy was asked to tape the college's first YouTube press release. As someone with dyslexia, Katy's biggest fear is reading in front of people, so doing it on tape was all the more frightening. Fortunately, she did great, and the best part is when you can see her unscripted smile of satisfaction at the 1:07 mark after reading all the words correctly.

Good job, Katy.

Maybe my confidence in the quality of the class stems from my knowledge of the class' professor, Alex Juhasz. I had the privilege of taking two classes, both of which were academically driven, with her during my years in the Pitzer Media Studies department. Juhasz is a socially conscious individual who uses media as an avenue for her activism, someone who participates more often on the fringe of mainstream media rather than in the thick of it. For that reason, I can understand how awkward it is for her to discuss the merits of her scholarship with such venues as CNN to people who are either clearly missing the point or at least choosing to do so.

That said, Juhasz does a good job of explaining her course here:

Indeed, there is a lot that can be discussed with this development in media. Juhasz outlines the intriguing concepts of the democratization, pedagogy, access, expertise, control, limits, and censorship of YouTube. The class is largely student driven, based upon student discovery and participation on YouTube. Juhasz is the first to admit it is an experimental course that has potential to fail. Still, education is a journey, and even failures can be learned from. I think it's a mistake to assume that all classes should have a set plan and concrete objective. My most profound learning experiences were never clear from the start, but instead have been part of a more fluid path. Discovery, or failing that, the search that yields perhaps no discovery, is where true learning occurs. I'm confused as to why so many people seem to think that something that has not been studied before is not worth studying. On the contrary, I feel that those are the things most appropriate to study, in a sense examining the unexamined.

What worries me are some of the contributions from the students. One of the unique aspects of the class is that all of the classes are taped and posted to Youtube; the students' assignments are as well. While I don't have the time to commit myself to observing the class as closely as desire to, I have begun peeking in on the project, especially in light of the media attention. I keep hoping for the dialogue to be pushed to a more profound level, and while some students are taking it there, it seems that others perhaps did sign up in the hopes of getting credit for watching cute videos of cats yawning. It's early yet, so the level of discussion still has plenty of time to elevate to superb academia, and again, you have to expect some floundering to occur in courses that rely so heavily on experimentation, so I assure you that I'm hardly dismissing it.

Another unique thing about the form of this course is that, if I chose to, I could participate in it. Anyone can, really. There are certain aspects of YouTube not yet broached, and though I can silently hope that the class winds up there, I also have the ability to respond and take the discussion there. While I should feel empowered to do so, the very thought frightens me. Although I can blog endlessly with little fear of the information I put out there, no matter how incriminating and self-depricating, my insecurities prevent me from transforming myself into a talking head. But it's something to think about anyway.


When 2 + 2 Doesn't Equal 4

I love the act of critical thinking and pushing my students to think further. I almost don't care what they're thinking about, as long as they're doing it, since, in my professional opinion, teenagers are fairly adverse to the act. The instant response to when I assign something that requires legitimate thought rather than performing a mindless task is for them to complain that it's "unfair" or "makes [their] head hurt." When my students fail to see the value in thinking, I am pained. To me, education is about activating those muscles, learning and practicing how to think critically later in life. I will consider my job successful if I've produced students who are capable of thinking and questioning at higher levels outside of academia; ultimately, whether or not they've developed an affinity for Poe is irrelevant to me.

In class, I will often state multiple times that there is more than one correct answer so that my students won't settle for the first correct one I hear. It's disheartening when I see a student erase their equally correct answer for the example I provide, as it shows that these kids see no value in a response of their own. Still, no matter how hard I work to champion an individual's input, ey'll always abandon eir own creations for the one I told eir neighbor was correct.

This fact doesn't dissuade me from trying. On Thursday, after I repeated yet again that multiple answers would be acceptable, a student asked "Is there ever a time when there isn't more than one answer?" I smiled when ey asked me, because I relish any opportunity that a student challenges me to think beyond the realm where I have a ready answer; it probably has something to do with the fact that I enjoy learning more than teaching. "That's a really good question," I said while pausing to think. "I suppose there's often only one answer in math." My reply sat for about five seconds before the student retorted that that wasn't true. Another student that antagonizes the first student said, "When does 2 plus 2 ever equal anything other than 4?" The first student retorted, "Well, you could also say 2 + 2 = 6 - 2." The student was absolutely right, and I was consequently floored. I told the student that I agreed and appreciated em provoking me to think. Though it was entirely sincere, I'm not sure most of the students grasped that, since being made to think is not a worthwhile pursuit for most of them. The second student jumped back in to ask, "Okay, if your math teacher asked you what is 2 + 2, and you wrote down, 6 -2, would that be correct?"

Well, no. But yes. Yes and no, really. The idea that one answer might be inherently more correct than another is an interesting concept; while I can't deny the validity of the first student's answer, there is much truth in the second student's retort. Their brilliant perspectives have given me something to ponder a lot since then, and it excites me again to see that they are capable of thinking.


Turn Around

It's been a while since I've performed karaoke; as I've mentioned in the past, my interest in the sport tends to wax and wane. This past weekend, about ten of us went into LA to a place with a bar, karaoke, and a bowling alley. Needless to say, that was the place to be -- what more could you ask for? Alas, that meant plenty of other people were there, too, so the wait to perform karaoke was ridiculously lengthy. During that time, Anna and I debated what song would be most ridiculous to perform, when I had an epiphany: "The Monster Mash." Bad spoken word with dumb background vocals would make for one of the more intentionally lame karaoke experiences ever. Alas, the song was not an option within this KJ's selection, so we decided to save this brilliance for another time, particularly a time of the year that would be even less seasonal.

Still, I would not be deterred from my mission to sing, and branching off from the monster theme, I selected one of my all-time favorite songs "Zombie" by the Cranberries. When it was my time to perform, I felt as randy as I ever have on stage and was pretty theatric about the whole thing. I asked the audience to "be prepared to cry," expecting that I would perform it in a soulful, despairing way. Ultimately, I found rage in me instead, and essentially screamed the whole thing with a lot of violent head thrashing and zombie movements. It wasn't quite singing, but it was definitely a performance, perhaps my best to date. Judging from my friends' facial expressions, the performance definitely shocked and pleased my friends. I couldn't help but look mostly at Jessica's coworkers, however, because they were looking at me without expressions of enjoyment, but rather strange stares of "what the hell?" that oddly inspired me to keep doing my thing. At the end, I spontaneously sputtered, "Thank you for paying respect to the living dead!" Normally, I limit my laughter toward my own jokes, but that escaped my mouth without any real consciousness, so even I couldn't even help but cackle a bit at that.

Later in the week, in honor of RJ's last night in southern California, we headed to the lesbian bar, The Hook-Up for some karaoke fun. It was significantly less crowded than my previous excursion, but still featured some amazing singers and, again, a disproportionate amount of Melissa Etheridge songs, including one endearing yet perhaps cliched parody of "I'm a Lesbian" sung to the tune of "I'm the Only One." Said the KJ at the song's conclusion, "Thank you, Captain Obvious." The other thing I like about the bar is that most of the singers change the pronouns used in the songs to queer them; if I ever return, I'll probably break out the gender neutral pronouns and rock their respective worlds.

As far as my group of friends went, Stacy went first and earned many fans for her rendition of Donna Summer's "On the Radio." I followed with "The Freshmen" by the Verve Pipe. Stacy warned me not to do it, as it wasn't in the spirit of the bar, but I thought that singing a melodramatic tale of suicide to a group of people out to have fun would at least be amusing to my friends and myself. As it turns out, Stacy was right. It kind of fell flat because who really wants to hear The Verve Pipe, besides me, I suppose. Oh well. RJ followed with Elvis' "Suspicious Minds" which is one of my favorite songs of all time, and we all crowded and loved on him at its conclusion, the proud and devoted friends that we are. We'll miss him, the little sucker.

Before we left, Stacy and I went for a duet, Fleetwood Mac's "You Can Go Your Own Way." Midway through the song, Stacy and I each found ourselves with a lesbian accompanying us, sharing the microphone. In some circumstances, a drunk stranger trying to share your spotlight is unappreciated, but in this circumstance it was very much appreciated, just as it was later when we also had the opportunity to close out the night with "Total Eclipse of the Heart," thus fulfilling a longtime karaoke fantasy of mine. At first, Stacy wanted us to just sing it all, but I insisted on going for the duet, the hysterical call and response of:

"Turn arounddddddddddddd
Every now and then I get a little bit lonely...
Turn arounddddddddddddd
Every now and then I get a little bit tired... "

Turn around, RJ. Turn around.


A Mythical Creature with Rabies

On Monday, I mentioned that I hoped to kill the foul taste of ant death in my mouth with some alcohol from Margarita Mondays. Unfortunately, it worked too well, as I ultimately ended up with the taste of vomit in my mouth instead while teaching the following morning. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Last year, after some experimentation, I came to discover that the pitfalls of Hungover Tuesdays sometimes outweighed the joys of Margarita Mondays and that moderation was the key to happy, functional teaching. Since I go for the social element even more than the beverages, having one or two margaritas is plenty. In these first few weeks since returning to work, I've been a responsible Margarita Monday attendee. This past Monday, however, I bought my two drinks upfront, then had a drink purchased for me by the restaurant, took a tequila shot I couldn't finish in honor of RJ's last Margarita Monday (thanks for the assist, Shea), and then was talked into "splitting" a margarita two more times toward the end of the night. This was fun, but excessive. I couldn't help it though, the event was blissful; I thoroughly enjoy the company of everyone who attends' and just smiled the whole way through.

Recently, we've taken to hitting the basketball court after our margarita session. Inevitably, it's a largely pitiful, unskilled game. Hustle is limited to stumbling, and a lot of us seem to think we can hit three pointers that really amount to air balls. And yet, it's a hoot. Last week, a member of our party climbed up the hoop and sat on the backboard, where upon he exposed his penis. Slam junk! This time around, everyone kept their pants on, but after some sweaty play, some shirts came off. The trouble didn't arise until it was time to come home and Shea couldn't find his nice work shirt. I can't imagine someone stole it, but it definitely went missing permanently, meaning he had to walk back shirtless. I wasn't part of his traveling pack, but apparently on his journey, he adopted the name Shirtless Man and climbed trees, ran head first into a stop sign, and caught a mouse with his hands. The last part I'm pretty sure came immediately after I received a call from Michael Michael wherein he asked where I was, then screamed something about seeing a "mythical creature with rabies" and hung up. As Shea later recounted, he thought he was trying to catch a toad, and was of course taken by surprise when it wound up being a mouse. If none of that makes sense, it's because it shouldn't. Shea arrived home without his shirt, covered in dirt and blood. I think I stayed up long enough to laugh and lightly interrogate him for explanations he couldn't articulate, then passed out.

It was not a pretty Tuesday morning. I acted as chipper as I could muster so as not to raise suspicion, but I really thought I might vomit in class. That night's homework was for me: moderation.


Laps in Judgment

In addition to my regular classroom duties, my administration has mandated that I supplement my pre-existing joy for my profession by "volunteering" at student athletic events every so often. Today, I "volunteered" to work at the cross-country running meet because I figured that with a long distance activity, I wouldn't be expected to pay attention the whole time, unless they wanted me to literally chase behind them, which wouldn't be fair, because I didn't sign up for a heart attack.

Before the race, the coach gave me the lowdown on my duties. I would stand out in the park's parking lot as the kids raced through that portion of the course in order to move cones and "use [my] body" to block the traffic and prevent the students from being hit by vehicles. Essentially, I was a human cone. Frankly, with the teacher shortage in the state, you'd figure they'd be more willing to risk the lives of a couple of the millions of students rather than put the ass of a "highly qualified" professional on the line, but my district is pretty antiquated, so the mentality is probably still "women and children first" or some bullshit.

I asked for an estimation as to how long this would take. The coach told me, "Well, the slowest girl on the other team looks like she could be pretty slow. I haven't seen her run, though." So ey was just assuming, just like ey was assuming when ey pointed to a guy from the other team and said, "I bet he'll be fast, though. I haven't seen him run, but you can tell." Apparently, you can tell because he's the African American on a team of Latinos. I still never got an approximate time, but if the students ran as quickly as their coach made sweeping generalizations, it would be over in no time.

Seeing one of my new students, I said hello and "I didn't know you were on the cross country team." Ey asked, "Who did you come to cheer on?" I found this question cute, and I wish I could say I'm one of those supportive teachers who came to root for my students rather than being forced to do so, so I lied. "I came to see you." Then I remembered that I just said I didn't know ey was on the team, so I had to amend my statement, "... And Minnie*, really." Minnie was one of my favorites last year, until ey advocated killing people for being gay, an issue on which we don't exactly see eye to eye.

My duties were fairly simple, but not without some complications. I quickly discovered I was less of a human cone and more of a pin monkey, frequently assembling, de-assembling, and reassembling the cones as the runners ran by so that I could keep letting traffic in and out when gaps permitted. My second worst student from last year passed by the park in a car and heckled me, so I gave him a fake smile and wave. Within five minutes, he drove around the block again, so he could curse at me further. The darling kid proceeded to do exactly that twice more, clearly having nothing better to do (I'm sure he has homework he should be busy with, not that he'd ever do it), which served as an unnecessary distraction from my daunting task of moving cones.

I initially figured that there wouldn't be that many cars trying to enter and exit a small park, but this assumption proved incorrect. A lot of people were irritated with my presence, and I understand why since I looked like little more than a person who set up cones without a real purpose unless a student was running by at that moment. My first truly awkward encounter came from a person driving an ice cream truck. When I made em wait, the driver screamed out the window at me, "This is my business, get out of my fucking way!" I wouldn't expect someone who sold ice cream shaped like Sponge Bob and whose vehicle emitted the songs "Turkey and the Straw" and "Do Your Ears Hang Low?" to be such an asshole. Later, a stream of runners kept someone driving a Hummer from exiting the park for an extra couple of minutes, and so ey honked their horn as I just stared em down, ready to be that human cone that would undoubtedly be crush under such a massive car. I can't lie, I took pleasure in holding up someone who is such a gas-guzzler, so it didn't phase me when the driver passed by me and said, "This is not a good place for them to be running." I must admit, I would agree with this opinion, but similarly, the earth is not a good place to be driving that pollution machine. If only I had thought of that retort at the time.

As the kids ran by, I did my best to clap and look excited, but I didn't even fool myself. I quickly realized who the aforementioned "slowest girl" must be -- the overweight one. Indeed, she was bringing up the rear. Notably, however, the black student who "looked" fast was also toward the back of the pack. Once the last student rounded my portion during the last lap, I picked up the cones and headed home. I didn't even watch to see who won. If anything, I suppose I was cheering for the fat girl to pull off a come-from-behind victory, even if she was on the other school's team.


In Bed

After inheriting the California king size mattress, I similarly inherited a set of red sheets from a friend. Up until that point, I was merely wrapping myself in a blanket atop the mattress, so the sheets were much appreciated. The sheets' material, however, was undesirable in that it attracted and retained an unnatural amount of dust and hair. At first I thought it occurred because I am particularly dirty, but I learned that some fabrics are wont to have fuzz and the like gather on it more than others.

Periodically, I would wipe the sheets, only to have the dust accumulate again within the day. Having dogs didn't help the matter, as they would shed all over the place. A month ago, I bought a big lint brush and Katy and I spent nearly two hours rubbing the undesirable material off my sheets, resulting in the dust ball pictured above. Within two days, you wouldn't have been able to tell we had ever de-linted the mattress.

Today I finally had enough of sleeping in such a grimy environment and decided to treat myself to brand new sheets. Though sheets aren't particularly expensive, when you buy a set for a California king mattress, they run at about $100 a pop. As I roamed the linen store while mentally preparing myself to spend that amount, I found that certain colors and styles were severely discounted. Ultimately, I located a set of nice sheets at nearly 70% off, most likely because they are a strong solid brown color. I was attracted to them for three significant reasons: they're ugly and thus funny, they're the color of poop (no visible skid marks!), and, duh, the price.

Then I started chickening out. My large concern was that this purchase would be stupid since this brown color wouldn't match anything. It didn't take me long to remember that I've never attempted to match or establish a color scheme in my entire life. Furthermore, there is no decor in my room for me to even worry about matching, aside from Brandon and the Mariachi Sundays sign.

So now I have new, comfortable brown sheets. Come poop on them, if you'd like.


A Bug's Life

Bugs have invaded my life again. My home, the Kremlin, has been overrun with ants. In the past, the hippies that we are, we've learned to coexist peacefully with insects, but once it got to the point where the ants probably owed more in rent than us, we resorted to poisons and traps to annihilate them to varying degrees of success.

At work last week, I discovered that my classroom also has an ant problem, which is all the more aggravating considering I can't seem to catch a break from them. I left out a box of crackers under my desk and within an hour it was infested. The ants aren't the only bugs frequenting my classroom: a large spider made a visit, too. One student screamed about a huge spider; I assumed it was a case of being over-dramatic. I'll be damned, however, if it wasn't the thickest, grossest spider I have ever seen (and that's saying something) in the flesh, or whatever type of hairy outer-layer spiders have, unless that expression refers to the seer, in which case flesh does apply to me - covered in clothing, mind you.

Some students screamed while others teased them, until the teasing students moved closer to inspect and became freaked out in their own right. People told me to "be a man" and step on it, but I was too terrified to do it. This wasn't exactly a daddy-long-leg: If I stepped on it, it would ruin my shoe more than I would ruin it. Knowing class couldn't resume until the situation was under control and that I did not have the guts to do it, I offered five dollars for someone to remove it from the classroom. Suddenly, a student who was screaming about the spider earlier was not interested in earning the money and took care of it fairly quickly, though not without additional screaming.

Later, I thought we were fine, resuming the lesson, only to have a pair of bees fly in through the door and terrorize the students. "It's like A Bug's Life in here" quipped the $5-richer student. I almost mentioned "and you haven't even noticed the ants yet!" but figured that wouldn't win anybody points, so I kept it to myself.

Today, as I taught the same class of students, I periodically sipped from a bottle of water I left at work over the weekend. It tasted a bit stale, and made a mental note to refresh my water supply at the next break. On what was probably my fifth sip, I felt something weird on my tongue and scraped a dead ant off of it. I made a face, then looked at my bottle. I don't know how I could have been so unobservant previously, but that's when I discovered that there were no fewer than two dozen ant corpses floating in my bottle of water. Being so freaked out, I couldn't hide my disgust, and had to confess the situation to my students. They were more grossed out than I was. "You have to do something!" "Rinse your mouth out with Raid!" I told them that it wasn't my fault and that those ants were stupid for going on some sort of suicide mission into my water, but the students then chastised me for drinking "old, nasty water" in the first place.

All day, no matter how much clean, fresh water I've had, I still can't rid the taste of death from my mouth. I know that's something that's more so in my mind than a legitimately lingering taste, but it sure feels real. Fortunately, I'm about to head to Margarita Mondays. That amount of alcohol will certainly kill anything that ails me, or at least help me to forget about it anyway.


The Cask of Amontillado

On Friday night, when I used the word "flambeaux" instead of "torch," Stacy responded, "Somebody's been reading Poe." It's true, and it's one of my favorite times of the year. A year ago, I detailed how I described the weirdest attributes of Edgar Allan Poe in order to stir up student interest. I'm not too proud to admit that I've resorted to such measures again this year.

I didn't read "The Cask of Amontillado" until college, and even then I had to reread it before understanding it, because it's pretty intense. Hence, I find it fairly shocking that 9th graders are expected to grasp the short story in all of its fucked up glory. I let them read it themselves first and fail miserably, then walk through it step-by-step in a way that is not necessary for most reading assignments. Ultimately, the creepiness resonates with the kids who are perplexed by the narrator's motivations (well fancy that -- just as Poe intended!) Inevitably, a student in each of my five classes asks, "So wait, this is a true story?" It's a bit early to expect the students to understand that there's a difference between the author and the narrator, and it probably doesn't help that I previously described him as being twisted enough to do so.

One aspect that always needs addressing is the issue of reverse psychology. They figure Montresor must not really want to kill Fortunato if he keeps encouraging him to turn around. To illustrate reverse psychology, I fabricate a tale of how my parents used to tell me that vegetables were "only for grownups" so that I would want to eat them and do so in secrecy. The kids love this story, but it's not true. I don't care, it's all in the name of education. I do remember that once my mom convinced me to open my mouth and close my eyes in order to fool me into eating a piece of celery, which I have never forgiven her for. I flatter my students by explaining they're much too smart at their age to fall for reverse psychology anymore, which is also a lie. I still use it with them all the time.

I want the students to find the irony in the deceased Fortunato's name. They find the "fortunate" connection, but I'm most in love with one student's observation that "at first he was fortunate, but then he was nat-o." When I try the same with my lowest level class, they seem to think Fortunato's name has something to do with the name Nelly Furtado. Rather than shutting it down, I acknowledge that it does have a similar sound and point out the other, better connection. Except that it's the Nelly Furtado aspect that sticks with them, and as we discuss the story further, they continue to refer to Fortunato's character as Nelly Furtado, not in an attempt to be humorous, but out of genuine confusion. As if the story weren't confusing enough.



Kevin: Ooooh! Tacquitos!
RJ: They're egg rolls.
K: Whatever! Same thing, different country.
R: Yeah, except one is thin and filled with meat and one is thicker and has vegetables.
K: Okay, way to "defend your culture," RJ. You know that China and Mexico are practically the same thing.
R: Uh-huh...
K: If we were to use a Venn Diagram with Mexico and China, that section where the circles intersect would be full of similarities. Full of 'em. And nothing on the outside.
R: Sure, they're exactly the same except for an ocean between them.
K: Right! Those outer portions of the circles are nothing but oceans. Oceans empty with differences... 'cause they're exactly the same.

Truthfully, since these countries are seperated by an ocean -- the same ocean -- it's not really a difference and actually is yet another similarity. Take that, naysayers.

If you'd like to book Kevin for your company's Cultural Sensitivity training, please send three rum and cokes.


Never-Ending Bowl of Pasta

Internet advertising does not typically appeal to me. Last week, however, an ad for a $8.95 never-ending pasta bowl (plus unlimited soup or salad and breadsticks) at the Olive Garden appealed to both my love of noodles and monetary deals. I immediately put out the word to Madison, my former housemate and one of the few people I know who enjoys pasta as much as me, and we made a date of it. I hesitated to invite other people along because it's the Olive Garden and I don't have too many friends who'd be particularly keen on eating at a massive chain. I realize that's how the majority of America eats when they dine out, but I certainly don't hang out with the majority of America. When we eat out, we usually hit smaller, locally owned restaurants with better, cheaper, individually prepared food where our money supports the little people rather than fuels national corporations. It's not as if this decision is ever articulated, but no one ever even suggests going to Chilies for example, though I'm sure if it was, it would be met with confusion. When I went to Applebees with my coworkers last year, I confessed that I had, at least to my recollection, never been to one previously. Everyone was shocked, apparently most of these teachers went to Applebees regularly. One teacher looked at me, completely seriously, and said, "You need to get out more." That might be true, but it's fascinating that Applebees of all places would be some sort of barometer for social activity. Not on my scale, anyway.

At any rate, I was surprised when a few more people tagged along to our Olive Garden excursion. Though I had been once before and Madison went every year for her grandma's birthday (her grandmother enjoys the breadsticks and flirtatious waiter), Jessica, Phoebe, and Kirsten, were all first-timers. On the way there, they exclaimed several times, "I can't believe we're going to the Olive Garden," which was an honest sentiment, but one not many people would understand.

In a way, this trip was a cultural experience. Our first lesson learned was that you can't just show up at an Olive Garden and expect a seat. In fact, it was an hour wait. An hour wait? For the Olive Garden? We used the opportunity to walk to all of the other chain restaurants conveniently located in one area in order to expand our horizons. We peeked into the windows of Applebees and Macaroni Grill like some sort of crazed tourists or anthropologists, observing what we could until it was finally our time to eat at the Olive Garden.

We sat and down and everyone was looking at the menu as if they were going to get something other than the never-ending pasta bowl special, which was fine, as long as Madison and I followed through on our pact. Then Phoebe called the special a meal "for fatties" which, interestingly, offended me more than any comment I've heard in recent history. Once I found out that Phatty Phoebe would be ordering the same thing and wasn't nearly as judgmental as I thought, my offense subsided.

We went into the experience with big eyes and stomaches, talking a big game about how much pasta we could eat. The never-ending pasta bowl offered six different shapes of pasta with seven different sauces that you could switch around for reach round we ordered. I intended to try at least three different combinations before I began. I kept shoveling the pasta in my mouth (clearly this was not a meal for fatties, Phoebe), I watched my friends slow to a halt on their first bowl. What? You can't do that! I got offended again, since this deal was only really a deal if you ate so much pasta that the Olive Garden regretted ever offering this special in the first place. It might as well not have been a never-ending bowl if you didn't even take them up on a refill.

As we continued to eat, at a much slower pace, each person eventually getting a refill, we invented a concept for a reality show wherein people would all sit down for a never-ending bowl of pasta and be eliminated when they could no longer keep up and eat. The show had drama, intrigue, and sex - like when I unbuttoned my shorts in order to continue eating and when Kirsten got marinara sauce down her cleavage. Our server, Valerie, was friendly and funny, the perfect host for such a show. We very much enjoyed (and gorged) ourselves; as it turns out, the Olive Garden isn't half bad.

Everyone claimed to be stuffed, but then they all ordered dessert except for me. Seems like some people didn't give the never-ending bowl their all. Now that we've had this experience, however, we chalked this one up to a practice round. We're going back, and we're going to hit those balls hard. We'll be there when it opens, and we'll still be there when it closes. If anyone else wants to participate in a ridiculous pasta eating challenge, let us know.

As I exited the crowded restaurant, I ran into a bit of trouble when I realized that I hadn't re-buttoned my pants. This oversight proved problematic when my shorts slid past my waist and started down my legs. I was literally losing my pants altogether. I stretched my legs wide to prevent them from dropping lower, hiked them up as best as I could, but couldn't really zip and button them without drawing an excessive amount of attention to myself. As embarrassing as it was, I had to keep moving, pants-be-damned. Phoebe walked immediately behind me to shield the view, which helped a bit. Finally I rushed out the door and zipped/buttoned the shorts, only to realize/remember that there were plenty of people waiting outdoors for a seat who could see it all.

Maybe the real reason I don't go to chain restaurants is that I know I'm bound to be banned from them.


Home Schooled

Since graduating from college, I think of my friend Joan frequently. Fortunately, every other month or so, Joan and I participate in a conversation ritual made possible by cellular telephone.

The thing you need to know about Joan is that she is hilarious. What's more is that even when she's not trying to be hilarious, she can be unintentionally hilarious, hence making her one of the funniest people I know. So much so that a conversation that we shared two summer's ago about her job working at a homeless shelter still comes to mind.

Kevin: Are the people there nice?
Joan: No, not really, they're usually grouchy.
K: Oh, that's gotta suck.
J: It's okay, they're just grumpy because they don't have homes. I'd be grumpy, too, if I didn't have a home.
K: Well, sure, but does it make you grumpy having to be around them?
J: No! Because I have a home!
K: Haha, of course.
J: Whenever they make me feel bad, I just say, "At least I get to go home in two hours!"


The Blue Lagood-golly-this-sucks

While walking through the living room, Phoebe and I catch one of my housemate’s watching naked teenagers on the television screen. Naturally, Phoebe questions my housemate as to what ey is doing, and ey answers that ey is watching The Blue Lagoon, a “classic,” and that it only looks wrong when out of context from the rest of the film. I actually jump in to defend em; though I haven’t seen the movie, I’ve heard about it and figure I can vouch for it as legitimate, not pornographic, cinema with a plot that extends beyond nudity. Phoebe becomes intrigued with the premise, so we vow to watch it later.

Returning from dinner, we prepare to watch The Blue Lagoon. I’ve heard that friends of mine (Angel? Linda? I’m guessing and don’t quite remember) played a drinking game with the movie in the past, so we look up the rules on the Internet, but can’t find them. The best we can find is some former Pitzer student’s Livejournal which references the game with no mention of the rules; evidently, it’s a community tradition rather than a worldwide phenomenon. Hence, we decide instead to make up our own rules based upon the snippet of the film we witnessed earlier. Phoebe excitedly exclaims the first suggestion, “Group swimming!” I’m not sure how to articulate the statement’s full hilarity, other than that it just is. Maybe it’s the way she said it, or perhaps the fact that she called it “group swimming” rather than simply “swimming.” Either way, I do not anticipate this event happening too frequently. Other ideas we brainstorm are sipping any time there is a wild animal, nudity, an expression of sexuality, someone eating, or the characters are ignorant to something they would have known if they didn’t grow up on the island.

As it turns out, The Blue Lagoon, starring an underage and nude Brooke Shields, sucks more than a vacuum. One person in the viewing party claims it’s the worst movie ey’ve ever seen. Now I’m embarrassed that I ever defended it. Having experienced it firsthand, I can confirm that it is little more than child pornography. You know who calls this movie a classic? Pedophiles. It’s not artistic, it’s not deep, it’s just a pair of naked teenagers on an island. Nothing else happens. I’ve been teaching sequence of plot this past week, so perhaps I’m hypersensitive to the issue, but The Blue Lagoon has no plot. Two kids are stranded on an island and show off their nubile genitals until they are finally discovered. Even the conflict isn’t clear. I suppose the obvious answer would be that they’re stuck on an island, but they are so content to be there that they avoid ships passing by in fear of being rescued. In fact, the movie does such a good job of convincing us that these teenagers have an amazing life just fucking and “group swimming” that I don’t see a conflict at all.

What’s missing from The Blue Lagoon is something we in the biz call “rising action”: the events that lead us from the inciting incident to the climax. The only climax I can recall is a sexual one. No exaggerating, most of the film consists of the kids becoming increasingly confused and hormonal. It takes more than half an hour of nothing but sexual tension from the point you realize “oh, they’re going to have sex” to the actual moment when they finally stumble into figuring out what to do. The whole time, I keep screaming “just do it already!” As much as I’m not one to cheer for copulation between underage kids, it’s clear that the movie is going to go nowhere until they finally do it, so I just wanted them to get it over with. I hold out hope that the sub“plot” about the island’s primitive cannibal natives, albeit offensive, will come to fruition. Alas, despite a couple scenes establishing danger, the teens and the natives never run into one another even though they share a small island for about a decade, making its inclusion entirely worthless.

The only thing that keeps me watching is the drinking game aspect. There are plenty of scenes featuring eating, animals, and yes, even group swimming to keep us sipping. And to think I initially laughed under the assumption that group swimming wouldn’t be a frequent occurrence. Plus, I remember that group swimming is good advice, too: Don’t forget to use the buddy system for safety.

Later, I confront my housemate about eir affinity for The Blue Lagoon. Ey attempts to call it an epic, comparing it to Romeo and Juliet. While you can find a couple of parallels, insisting that something lacking a plot and any real significance is quite similar to a Shakespearean work is a blasphemous comment when directed at an English teacher. This same person once claimed that Friends has more intelligent humor than Arrested Development, so I know to take it with a grain of salt. My housemate then promised that Return to Blue Lagoon has a real plot and that I would like it better, as if I’m interested in giving it a try. I’m so glad they saved the “real” plot for the sequel made eleven years later.

I wrote all of the above earlier today, and just now, I’ve passed through the living room, finding the housemate watching The Blue Lagoon again, for the third time in as many days. I can’t help but grill em again. Justifying watching the movie again, ey says, “We’re all responsible adults here. Well, except for Brooke Shields.” Again, ey insists it’s not about the skin, but ey just thinks it’s a “really good movie.” Frankly, I’d sooner admit to being a horn-ball than copping to that.



Just when I thought I'd heard it all, today I received two new excuses for missing homework assignments.

"You're not going to believe this, but my dog ate my homework. And while I was waiting for it to pass through, he got hit by a car."

I then felt compelled to tell my students that if their dogs were to ever eat their homework, I wouldn't accept it after its been pooped out anyway. Next period, the stakes were raised.

"I couldn't finish my homework because I was at the hospital all night -- my sister turned inside out."

I promised to excuse the work provided ey brought in a photo of eir sister having turned inside out.


Young at Heart

I aspire to be one of those people who can describe an elderly person as being "eighty-three years young!" without a hint of irony.


Passed Out Patty

Though Margarita Mondays is always a hoot, some are more eventful than others. At a recent MM, we had a swell time, but the real adventure began when our crew hit the parking lot. Earlier in the evening, Patty*, a first time MMer, found herself so overcome by the powerful punch of these margaritas that she decided to excuse herself to take a nap in her car. Though Patty insisted she was fine, I thought I was being responsible by sneakily following her to the car and watching as she reclined the seat and went to sleep rather than drive away. Apparently, my foolproof plan had failed when I returned to wake Patty up and found her firmly passed out in the car; when I went to shake her awake; when I went to shake her awake, I found her car door locked. No problem, I thought, I'll just bang on the window. And bang I did, louder and louder, to no success.

I ran to my friends entering their respective cars to ask for some assistance. Together, we pounded on the car, screamed her name, and still accomplished nothing. Passed Out Patty was indeed passed out. After catching our breaths, we pounded and yelled again. And again. And again. Next, we tried a new strategy, shaking the car. It started with a couple of us, but soon all of us were shaking the car as vigorously as we could. Indeed, Patty swayed along with the vehicle's movement, even striking her head against the door a couple of times, which still failed to wake her. We attempted this action multiple times, leaving the car positively disgusting covered in hand prints. If it weren't for the fact that we could clearly see her breathing, we would have called an ambulance.

About an hour into our unsuccessful operation, MM's manager brought a flashlight which we shone straight at her eyes. It should have been painful, even to a person fast asleep, but she didn't even stir. Then we tried a multifaceted attack: shaking the car, banging, yelling, and shining the light in her face simultaneously, but still: no soap.

Concerned, Spencer went home to fetch a wire hanger in the hopes of using it to break into the vehicle. While we waited, I got antsy and scaled a dumpster so I could peek into the window of the kitchen. MM used to have some health code violations that we conveniently chose to ignore, figuring that the margaritas we drank had such a high alcohol content it would kill any germs. Still, I wanted to see what the kitchen looked like with my own eyes, and I'm pleased to report that I have no complaints. Now in a climbing mood, I proceeded to explore an abandoned school building, walking around inside then climbing a sketchy ladder on to the roof. Some might call it trespassing, but I call it a success. I may not have been able to break into a car, but a dank building was no problem.

It was a long time before Spencer returned, apparently he got caught up in a dance party. These things happen. We bent the hanger and jimmied it through the window; though we couldn't get it to unlock the door, we could use it to poke Patty. For about half an hour, we poked. We poked her arms, poked her boobs, scratched her forehead, shoved it up her nose, stuck it in her ear, fish-hooked her mouth and tugged at her lip, used it to dig into her neck so hard that it left marks, and still, nothing worked. At this point, we all grew immensely concerned. We didn't want to resort to calling Patty's parents, in fact, we tried for more than two hours trying to avoid that, but we exhausted all other options. We called Patty's friend to, in turn, call Patty's parents. They promptly left with another set of keys to free their child.

Wouldn't you know, just a few minutes after her parents were called, Patty started responding to our stimuli. Though still mostly asleep, Patty grabbed the hanger, bending it and rendering it useless. We still tried to prod, and she kept swatting it away, content to sleep. Nevertheless, this movement was a relief, confirming she could reach some state of consciousness. Within ten minutes, she finally consented to opening an eye and unlocking the door, a move met by wild cheers from the rest of us. Patty seemed embarrassed and confused, but was in good spirits, until we told her that her dad was on the way. This news caused Patty to freak out and she screamed repeatedly, "Do not call my Dad!" No matter how many times we told her it was too late, she just kept repeating her mantra until her dad finally arrived. Spotting him, Patty angrily screamed a now classic line: "I can't believe my dad's so drunk I came!" At that point, all of us who had been trying so hard to coax her into being calm but couldn't help but burst into laughter.

In the end, the good news is that Patty got a much-needed ride home, slept it off in a much safer environment, and forgot everything that happened. The even better news is that she is not mad and even promises to return to MM. Hooray!


Blogging Blogs

When I first started blogging, I didn't know anyone else in the real world who did, except for Kim, whose blog, Always Tardy, was an inspiration. Once she went MIA, I felt like a total dork. Recently, though, a lot of friends of mine have taken up blogging, which is awesome, because it makes stalking that much easier. Here's a brief run through of said blogs:

Later this month, RJ heads to NYC to be a teacher (borrrrrrrring - who does that?) At least ey'll be blogging about... well, it's really too soon to tell entirely, but the first two posts are about Pavarotti and burritos, so that's promising, right? The blog is called Modernity Is a Complicated Bitch, inspired from a quote by a quirky Pitzer professor who warrants eir own post one day.

Linda also just moved to NYC to teach (how original) and shares eir crazy city antics at Adventures in NY. As an added bonus, Linda is a preschool teacher, so prepare yourself for tales of soiled pants.

Heather recently moved to NYC as well, and I forgive eir for leaving me just enough to share eir blog, Change in Corporate America: Thoughts and reflections on working for the man. There you can see how Heather has coped in switching from attending a hippie college to gaining employment at a major corporation. For proof of Heather's radical transformation, look no further than the Dilbert comic strip Heather posted.

And in "everyone moves to NYC but me" news, Jamilah also made the jump. Jamilah operates grits & eggs, where Jay and pals consisting of (mostly?) women of color sound off on socially progressive issues. Basically, it's just like The View. Of course, I'm kidding, since it's actually intelligent and relevant; even when I don't entirely agree with the content, it's always thought provoking.

A trend I am more fond of is people who are moving back to California, like Jocelyn. At Moop, Biduo, Jocelyn states, "i blog only because kevin blogs." Hmm, that's a lot of pressure.

Also back from abroad is Bianca. Bianca is hilarious and told anecdotes at Bianca's Krazy Korean Kapers, and I imagine/hope ey'll continue now that ey's back in the states. I can think of at least one good recent Bianca story worth telling...

Currently in Korea, Caitlin of Caitlin's Blog is experiencing the culture and encountering a "teenage boy... wearing the Curves for Women shirt." I wish she was not in Korea, but in California, because she's hilarious. Like when we hung out at the reunion, and she intentionally ruined as many photographs as she could by inserting the middle finger. I didn't even notice at the time, but in retrospect, it's quite funny:

According to eir blog, however, Caitlin doesn't want to go back to California, ey wants to go back to Ecuador.

Speaking of Ecuador, Kat is there now. Two months ago Kat introduced me to eir friend Sasha (who might resent the term "friend" being applied to their volatile relationship), who in turn introduced to Ubu the Shit. Since posting about this abysmal play, I've received no fewer than ten hits off of Google searches for the show's title; since no one except the people involved cares about this play after its run has ended, I'm afraid the director might now know the full extent of how I feel about it, so maybe posting that was a bad idea. At least it's not as bad of an idea as Sasha has at This Was the Worst Fucking Idea. Sasha's recent post about changing doctors had me laughing out loud.

David is also in South America, doing all sorts of cool things, which you can find at Car vs Tree.

Apparently, going abroad is the equivalent to going to NYC, since everyone's doing it, including Dan. Dan's in China, or as ey says, Into the West.

Lexi will be in Georgia, the country, not the state, meaning ey will also be abroad at sharing Tales of Tbilisi. There's actually no content as far as I can tell as of yet, which I suppose makes sense considering the first word I think of when I think of Lexi is "unambitious." In all seriousness, I'm sure as soon as Lexi is in Georgia, you can expect manifestos.

And when you're tired of reading all of these, Preston gets straight to what you want with music and pictures at ForSure.


Back to the Grind

The school year has begun, so I'm back to teaching again. It's off to a pretty good start, too. I'm only teaching 9th graders this time around, so, by law, my class sizes are only half the size of the classes I taught last year. There really is little downside to this situation. Smaller class size offers me less students to manage simultaneously, less grading, less of a chance that a terror of a child will end up in my walls, more individual attention I can provide to each student, and a more personable classroom environment. Plus, as ninth graders, my students aren't too jaded yet. They really take to whatever tone I set for them, as long as I say matter-of-factly that "this is how high school is." My tenth graders last year entered with senses of entitlement. "We didn't have homework last year!" "We didn't have to write essays last year!" etc. Yeah, well, that's why you're pretty damn stupid, I always wanted to retort. It was a battle I was always on the losing end of. Sure I could fail them, and often I did, but it didn't actually help educate them. For the most part, my new crop are stepping up to the challenge.

I felt a bit fucked over by my school. At the end of last year, they told me my course load would be all honors, but a couple days before this new school year began, they shuffled everyone's schedule and I ended up with just one honors, three regular classes, and one for students still learning the English language. This switch was greatly upsetting to me since I spent so much of my time this summer lesson planning so I could be a good teacher this year. If I'm being entirely honest, I was kind of disappointed to lose my honors students. I like the smarties and I can relate best to the smarties. Plus, you can pretty much get them to do anything without having to stress about whether it's engaging enough.

I decided, however, rather than feel duped and be sour about my assignment the entire year, I might as well just embrace it, look at the positives, and make the best of it. So, yeah, I am basically making up what I'm doing as I go again, but it comes from a more experienced perspective, so at least I have that going for me.

My students are cute, funny, and, with some notable exceptions, reasonably well-behaved. My language learning class will undoubtedly be my real challenge. I wish I could have known about this in advance, so I could have prepared for it. Having not worked much with this type of student before, I don't think I have the skill set to provide for these students adequately. I'll do the best I can, but it's hard when the regulations for this class contradict themselves. I'm supposed to spend twice as long teaching the material to ensure understanding, but still cover the same amount of material as a regular class. If you can figure out how that's supposed to work, please let me know.

My 10th graders from last year, now 11th graders, swarm my classroom every day to visit me. Even, nay, especially the ones I had major issues with, they drop by like we've always been buddies and want to hang out. It's kind of funny how that works out. I've actually made it a goal to befriend some of my former low-achieving students this year, to see if I can offer them more as a friendly mentor figure rather than a teacher/disciplinarian. We'll have to see if that approach has any value.

Most of these kids are surprised to see me. Apparently some rumor went around during the summer that I got a job at the local last-chance school, where they dump students expelled from my school. I find this hearsay ridiculous for two reasons: first, if I can barely handle the kids, why would I sign up to tackle a classroom full of the worst of the worst?; and second, why are the kids discussing me in the summer? Surely that piece of news was not even juicy, so why would someone make that up, let alone spread it around? I had one student rush in today to say, "Ohmguh, Mr. [Kevin], you know what happened to me over the summer, right?" She really did expect me to know, too, as though I was part of some sort of social circle that would pass on this type of information. "No," I said dryly. "Everyone must have forgot to call me about that one."

Odder still to me are the students who want to take class with me again. For some of these kids, I had a legitimately shitty class since I offered nothing in the way of discipline and the class was so often disrupted. And here these kids are begging to get into my class (fortunately they can't, they're too old) and according to the counselors, trying to switch into my class anyway. I'm perplexed. It's not necessarily a compliment either, since they probably think they can get away with misbehaving and not doing work. But when they say it in front of my current students, it makes me look like some sort of champ teacher, so I can't complain.

It's only been three days, yet I'm already exhausted.


She Put South Carolina on the Map

I'm not posting the Miss South Carolina video with the thought that I'm offering you a funny new video that you haven't seen yet. If you've even logged on to the Internet in the past couple of weeks, you've undoubtedly already encountered this travesty. It's already one of the most watched videos on the web ever. (Funny how this incident has accidentally given Mario Lopez the most exposure he has received in his entire career.) Certainly, Miss South Carolina is all sorts of dumb. And to think, I had just been trying to overcome my bias toward beauty pageant participants. Still, there's been one main criticism toward this person that I feel it necessary to address: the use of "U.S. Americans."

Far be it from me to defend this contestant, but modifying the term American as “U.S. American” is actually appropriate. In truth, it's not as redundant as it seems. There is a dispute in the international community over what “American” means. Though most people use it to reference the United States specifically, others utilize it to refer to the entire continent or even hemisphere. Much like you might call someone in northern Asia “Asian”, you might say of a North American individual residing in Mexico is “American” as well - the same applying to someone from South America. For example, many people refer to people of Latin America as “Americans,” demonstrating just how relative the term can be.

From the looks of it, however, Miss South Carolina doesn’t even know what the word “map” means, so I’m only offering this perspective up as a possibility rather than a defense. Maybe she would offer up this argument if she were able to articulate a coherent sentence.


Cannibal Style

Many Californians love their In-N-Out, believing the fastfoodery to serve the best hamburger in the world. One of the appeals seems to be the "secret menu." Though it isn't advertised, you can order special items including the flying dutchman and a grilled cheese. It's hardly a well-kept secret, however, because practically everyone is savvy to this information; at this point, it probably remains a secret in name only so that customers can feel special. The most popular option on the secret menu is to order something "animal style," which means that the food comes topped with special sauce, grilled onions, and cheese for no extra charge.

Even East Coast-native Debbie knows about the secret menu. Jessica introduced eir to the wonder of eating a cheeseburger animal style and now Debbie orders one each trip ey makes to California. On one occasion, Debbie went to In-N-Out without Jessica and attempted to order a burger "animal style," except that ey forgot what it was called, instead asking for it "cannibal style." The employee taking the order was understandably confused. "What?" "Cannibal style," Debbie tried again, to no avail. Debbie thought ey was trying to order off the secret menu, but was accidentally asking for a burger made of human meat rather than beef. Naturally, In-N-Out was unable to fulfill eir requests instead giving eir a hamburger the old-fashioned way. Still, I sort of wish that Debbie accidentally stumbled upon the secret secret menu, ultimately receiving a hunk of Larry, who fell on the fryer, between two buns.


The Amputee

Are we ready for another found photo?

Though I'm smitten with the little boy wearing the Disney's the Jungle Book tiny red shorts while giving himself the Heimlich, he's mere scenery in this photo. It's all about the girl on the right. I think what first attracted me to this photo was that the girl looks a lot like my mom did at that age, they even wore the same type of funny glasses. On second glance, however, I noticed a way to differentiate this girl from my mother: MY MOTHER HAS ALL FOUR LIMBS! Seriously, look closely. That girl has one arm and one leg. On America's Next Top Model, Tyra Banks will often criticize contestants for producing pictures that conceal their neck or the occasional foot. The angle of this photo, however, has managed to do the near impossible and present the illusion that she is missing entire major appendages. That, or she's really missing them and has a keen sense of balance. Either way, I'm pretty freaked out.


The Observation

Two months ago, Jessica and I had to hastily finish our observation hours to complete our obligations for graduate school. On a recommendation, we headed to a nearby elementary school. When we arrived, the acting principal was a bit loopy and tried to get us to commit to coming for visitations for months to come, but all we really needed was about two hours worth, so Jessica finally interrupted and politely asked if it would be possible to observe someone right then and there. Hesitantly, the principal agreed, then pondered who we should watch. The principal thought long and hard (the act of thinking was visible on eir face) and finally referred us to Mr. Somebody. Mr. Somebody's name isn't really Mr. Somebody, and for once I'm not merely trying to protect him, I just don't remember the name anymore.

So we enter the classroom, and Mr. Somebody took me pleasantly by surprise: he was a white male in his 60s, hardly a stereotypical image of an elementary school teacher. He introduced Jessica and me as college kids for his students to ooh and ahh at, though they did not seem overly impressed, then explained to us that the kids had started a logic problem and wanted to know whether we wanted to participate. Sure, we agreed. He told us that there was a prize of doughnuts on the line and that our pair was equally as eligible as any of the student teams. After years of being good at logic problems, I wanted to reject the offer, feeling that it wasn't unfair. The students, however, seemed energized to have the opportunity to compete with college kids. At that point, my plan of action was to just try, then act like I messed up at the end, so that a pair of the kids could win instead.

As it turned out, Jessica and I got really into the puzzle; it wound up being more difficult than we expected, so we put our full effort into it. Without warning, a pair of students completed the puzzle and had the correct answers. Yes, we were beat by fourth graders. (Are we smarter than a fifth grader? Probably not.) I'm not going to lie, it was slightly humiliating. Especially since when Jessica and I finished the puzzle a few minutes later, the winning team was already eating their doughnuts and also received the privilege of checking our answers. Sure, we were correct, but we were only in second place. I can still envision the shaggy-haired kid's smug reaction: "We beat you, and you're in college." He had Boston cream filling on his fingers; Boston cream doughnuts are my favorite, thus adding insult to injury. I contemplated replying with the schoolyard retort, "First is the worst, second is the best." For second place, we received candy bars, which I felt obligated to accept. While we could have denied first place citing an obvious advantage, it felt wrong to deny a runner-up prize when we had been put in our place.

Surprisingly, our defeat was not the most horrifying part of our visit. Over the course of the class, Mr. Somebody revealed himself to be a fairly rotten human being. At first I made excuses for him since he was being so nice to us, but he was rude, condescending, and had no problem speaking disparagingly of his students right in front of them. They're fourth graders, not dogs, they know when you're insulting their intelligence -- and clearly, given our loss at the logic puzzle, this bunch was fairly bright.

One conversation I still recall went as follows:
Mr. Somebody: "Have you ever been to China?"
Jessica & Kevin: "No."
Mr. Somebody: "Tina* here is from China."
Tina: "I'm from Taiwan."
Mr. Somebody: "She doesn't know English; she's been here a year."
Tina: "About nine months."

I smiled at Tina trying to convey how much I was on her team. Here was her asshole teacher knowing very little about her and putting down her English skills. Somehow, probably in spite of her teacher, she understood and spoke enough to correct his ignorance. She seemed tenacious and smart enough to not let him hold her back.

Later, Mr. Somebody told us he bought a piece of land in Wyoming so that he can move there in two years once he retires because "there's no taxes and everybody there speaks English." I couldn't even muster a fake smile. If the act of speaking English is so important to him, he's in the wrong profession, or, at least in the wrong location. Southern California has a significant English language learning population, particularly in its youth. I suppose I can envision how he found himself in this situation, however. Having taught in this affluent community for the past forty years, he probably started out with only white, English native speakers. Over time, though, as racial and class lines have blurred in the area, his classroom, with only a couple of Caucasian kids, has turned into a racially and linguistically diverse environment. Understandably, that gradual transformation would be disheartening to a bigoted person. I almost pitied him, but not nearly as much as I did his students who unjustly earned his scorn. If ever an opportunity to grant someone early retirement for the sake of the community, this one was it. Then again, considering the principal decided it would be best of all of eir staff to showcase this individual, this institution was probably either oblivious or uncaring to this situation.

Before it was time for recess and for us to leave, the kids did a math worksheet about involving subtracting numbers with decimals. Not to brag, but I rocked that one, and wanted to compare progress with the first place kids from the previous activity. In the meantime, Mr. Somebody did a sample problem, but forget that he had borrowed a one, thereby getting the incorrect answer. But he didn't notice, and if the kids noticed, they sure as hell didn't say anything, and Jessica and I sat there horrified, knowing we technically aren't supposed to say anything while doing observations. So we watched as the kids copied down the problem incorrectly, and realized why our country's students perform so pitifully at math. I'd like to think that, quietly, Tina wrote down the problem correctly, resolving to one day be a better teacher than Mr. Somebody.