Sleepless in Vancouver

It's past midnight. I've been in Vancouver for four days and have lots of adventures to report, but for now I'll just put a quick link to a handful of photos I've done and get to sleep. I can only post from their 'Business Centre', and it smells like an apricot in here. An aggressive little apricot. An apricot that is pushing its way into my poor tired nostrils, screaming, 'APRICOT!!!' Why do people insist that the world smell like rotting leaves, flowers and fruit constantly? Maddening.

Oops, got a bit sidetracked by my rant. Here's the link. It's just a beginning. Couple of posters I did on the plane, few from various tourist spots. The most exciting photos for me by far have been taken right outside my hotel window, but more of that later. Take a peek.

en route

I'm in the sf airport, sitting through the three-plus hour wait for my flight to Vancouver. I managed to sleep deeply door-to-door on the two-and-a-half-hour bus ride to the airport, except the couple of times I woke myself up snorting in my sleep. I needed this vacation.

Did the automated computer check-in, the assembly-line security check, and shlepped to the gate. It was quiet for all of two minutes, and then a toddler and a cellphone drone appeared simultaneously and began to make unpleasant noises. No problem, I thought, as I got my headphones and iPod out. Wrong.

Looks like I have a dead iPod for the second time in two months. Grrrr. And what a time to die. I have an eight hour trip, and I need to shut out all those petty annoyances, someone else's children behaving badly, idiots who haven't yet figured out that we don't want to overhear their phone conversations, a million little sound bytes that grind away at cranky travelers like me and make us much, much crankier.

I plugged the headphones into my laptop, but I knew it would never last if I didn't find a place to plug in. Picking up my bags I started to wander the terminal. Plywood boards blocked off an area, and cheerful signs on them announced that this would soon be a sushi restaurant, and this would be Peet's Coffee, and this would be a chi-chi bistro. But not now. Now it was just plywood. Let them eat plywood.

I poked my head into a deserted shoeshine booth, now closed for the evening. A small extension cord dribbled along one wall. I plugged in, and yup, we had power. I climbed into the weird customer chairs that put me several feet off the ground and worked away with headphones blocking out the world around me.

Looked up to see a sixtyish man removing his loafers. He wasn't wearing sox. His lips were moving. Seems he wanted me to shine his shoes.

Now I'm sitting here, high in my strange perch in the shoeshine nook, typing away. The harshly fluorescent lighting is like something out of an interrogation room. I've just noticed a sign saying, 'Shoe Shine, $5. Spit Shine, $7." I guess they charge $2 for spit around here. This little roomlet is an island of shabbiness in the slick, modern terminal. There is a tall wooden box, obviously homemade and painted blue with a cheap hardware store lock on it. Its edges are worn and chewed up, and there are scrapes and stains on the top. The wall is stained with splashes of shoe polish, and a piece of blue stripe running at eye level along the wall is torn off, revealing brown dried glue that once held it in place. The seats are upholstered in a textured gray vinyl that looks like something last manufactured in the 1930s. Despite efforts to the contrary, some evidence of humanity lingers here.

The world passes by on the carpeted walkway in front of and below me, on their way to who-knows-where. No one is coming near me with their germs or noise or cel phone soliloquies or shrill two-year-olds. Occasionally someone happens to glance in my diretion, but they're hurrying somewhere, and this is not on their itinerary.

Time to descend into the milling humanity once again. More news as it happens.


the Hieronymus Bosch painting that is my neighborhood

Crows pluck chicken bones from neighboring trash and retire to the trees in front of my house to pick the remaining flesh off them. Having removed the last specks of carrion, they rain them down onto the carpet of ground-cover below. This suburban food chain continues when my dogs wriggle free from the grasp of the front door and scramble to find these prize bones before I capture their tuck-tail butts and drag them back inside, crunching madly, trying to swallow before I can force the splintering prize from their jaws.

Next door the El Salvadorans have reverted to their old ways, storing up all manner of trash in their front yard while the city-provided bin goes unused. A child's mattress, crumpled happy meals, bits of this and that. At least there are no longer soiled diapers. Their children are older now. Time to call the authorities again to give them the hint that our customs are different here.

Across the street, where headless plaster geese peer through the cyclone fencing and the dead lawn looks like it contains the entire contents of a garage sale gone terribly wrong, a tiny bald Phillipino woman, newly widowed, lives with ghosts and demons. She is highly superstitious, (as are many Phillipinos according to one of my adult students, also a native, who remembers being told that demons would try to pull her down the toilet.)

Since her big gruff American husband dropped dead on a jaunt to Las Vegas a few months ago she has been afraid to be in the house. She wears mismatched clothes because she's afraid to go into their bedroom so she takes whatever is in the laundry and puts it on. She spends most of the day sorting through the jumbled mess in the trunk of her car so she doesn't have to face going inside. She's become a bag lady despite the real estate. Her sons and their families live up the street and drop by to check on her every day. She won't live with them. I don't know what will become of her.

Meanwhile the weeds grow, and the bag of golf clubs, dried up potted plants, fading plastic knickknacks, odd bricks and wire clothes hangers festoon the yard.

On the opposite corner lives the man I call Grumpy, and his long-suffering wife. He looks like Mr. Wilson from Dennis-the-Menace, only much, much older. Mr. Wilson's grandfather. He emerges from the house every Tuesday morning to put the trash out, wearing that charming precursor to the wife-beater, the undershirt. Sure it looked great when Clark Gable stripped down to it in a movie and caused a sensation, but seeing as how Grumpy is about the same age as Clark would be today, and several pounds heavier, he should not be seen in public that way.

His temperament has only two speeds; surly grumbling and obscenity-spewing rant. We've all learned to ignore him when he's on a roll, standing on the corner, shaking with rage, shouting fowl threats at those annoying buzz machines helmet-less neighborhood teens use to careen illegally around the streets here.

And yet this neighborhood is in California, on the Central Coast. Tropical plants grow outdoors here. It never snows. When the night is finally still I can hear the Pacific Ocean pounding into the shore, and if I get in the car I can be on a beach in less than five minutes. The worst house on this hellish street populated by bus boys and laborers (and this public school teacher) would sell for half a million dollars quickly. I could retire to a palace in the midwest. Yeah, I think about it often as I curse the noise and trash of my neighborhood, feeling trapped, surrounded by ignorance and filth. Just biding my time, checking out my options, paying off my mortgage.


lazy person's photo gallery

Yet another attempt at non-specific ego gratification. I've joined a free online photo gallery so I can post photos more easily and frequently. Boy, is their page ugly, but oh, well. Click here for the grand opening. If it works, I'll have more, and newer photos soon.

Oh, and by the way, I love getting comments, so please leave one if you're so inclined.


Dogs in Elk

For any dog owners out there, the ultimate dog story is here.

Prepare to laugh. Hard.


Class Party

This morning, the last day of school before the holiday break, I left the house before seven to rush and buy cookies, milk and eggnog for my students. For various reasons having to do with my own snobbish vanity, I am incapable of buying cheap, lousy stuff, so I spent $60 on fancy cookies with the word 'chunk' in their names. Got to school and set out the diabetic's- nightmare-of-a buffet as the kids flooded in.

I opened iTunes on my computer and set it to play random music from the vast mishmash of tunes in my library. It was a few minutes after that that the earthy, raunchy tones of Bessie Smith rang out, singing 'Empty Bed Blues' for all she was worth, and I overheard one boy tell another it was Ella Fitzgerald. An immediate sense of outrage washed over me, and I couldn't help correcting him. He insisted that they sounded the same. I pointed out that they sounded about as much alike as Mendelssohn and Metallica, but I could tell he was convinced that they were sonic twins, and that was that in his mind. Teenagers—gotta love 'em.

The Big D

Local TV reception being what it is, we don't get any channels at all without paying a monthly fee for cable or satellite. Since I don't do this, my TV is just a glorified VCR, and I only get around to watching things if I hear from dozens of rhapsodizing friends that some show is a must-see, and then usually only several years after it has left the airwaves. Even then I have to be avoiding work to motivate me to rent or watch anything.

Just that sort of procrastination is how I ended up spending almost the entire weekend watching every episode I could get my hands on of 'Six Feet Under.' if you haven't seen it, each episode begins with someone dying. Some of the deaths are poignant, some gruesomely funny, some horrendous, some poetic justice, some tragically unfair. Some are mundane, some freakishly outlandish. All are beautifully set up and staged in a minute or two, small gems of storytelling.

As a result of this front row seat on so may deaths all at once, several times a day now I feel as though I'm a player in my own little end-game vignette, and the ax is about to fall in some surprising way before we cut to a station break.

I just hope I don't end up rotting unnoticed for weeks until the neighbors complain about the smell, like the 'invisible woman' of a recent episode. In my case, my dog Mrs. Beasley would probably figure out how to use my credit cards to order food online and have it delivered, and they would only come snooping around when she failed to pay the monthly bills for long enough to elicit a visit from a collection agency. At that point she would owe for 214 cases of 'Wet 'n' Beefy' dog food, 75 pounds of pig ears, 107 pounds of soup bones, 5 sides of beef, 537 BarB-Q'd chickens, and several dozen assorted variety packs of beef jerky, not to mention the massage therapist three times a week who thought the house smelled funny, but didn't want to say anything.


Reward Time

For most teachers, the real rewards are small moments when you actually see that you've made a positive mark on another human being, or recognize that special instant when someone gets something, sees something that they're never been able to see before and they're excited and changed by it. It can be as small as hearing a student mutter, "Oh, NOW I get it..." or seeing their face light up as they realize something new or use the tools you've shown them to create something wonderful.

I haven't had too many of those rewards this year, but Monday brought a whopper. A while back a man had asked my beginning design class to create a logo for a local girls' softball team, and he came back Monday to announce the winner, picked by the girls, and present a hundred-dollar check to the student who created the chosen logo.

Much to my surprise, they picked a very traditional design, but the minute it was announced, I saw that it meant more to that particular student than it would have to any of the others. It was a huge deal to him.

At the beginning of the year, when they first walked in, looking like young Brandos in Streetcar Named Desire, all swagger and bulging muscles under their tight T-shirts, I thought he and his buddy were thugs. I was right about the friend, whose surliness and quick temper made it a sad relief for many of us when he dropped out of school after a few weeks.

But this other boy defied my preconceptions and became a fairly good student, working hard and occasionally liking some of the things I taught him, playing with Photoshop and Illustrator, making things he thought looked cool. There was still a 'something' under the surface, but I didn't know what it was.

Later I mentioned the award to the vice-principal, and she suggested I call and tell his dad, insinuating his dad needed to hear good things about him. I tried to call, but the number was dead. Hmmm. I called the home number, and got a woman who told me she was his guardian. Seems he's living with his best friend's family, and his dad is, well, let's just say he has problems of his own, and isn't able to parent or care for anyone, including himself at the moment. Not even a mention of a mom. The boy had no money, and no real way of making any.

So for one afternoon there was a Santa Claus, and I remembered why I teach.


Purple Heart, er, I mean teaching credential

In a quiet, anti-climactic moment, I opened the manilla envelope that arrived in the mail and found my professional clear teaching credential. The official one is an ugly thing on green patterned safety paper, and looks something like an over-sized check. Also enclosed was a fancy-schmancy, suitable-for-framing one, with swirly borders and faux calligraphic writing.

If I had designed it, it would have looked a bit different, to reflect its real significance. It would have looked like it was crumpled into a ball and then smoothed out again, spattered with blood, LOTS of blood, torn, dog-eared, bullet holes through it. There would have to be a soundtrack too. Maybe it could have one of those little pull-strings on it like they put on the backs of talking dolls, and when you pulled it, it could speak edu-babble words like, "Hegemony, paradigm, rubric, authentic assessment, standards, AAaaaaaaaaarrrrrrgggggg!"


Talk about cool and gutsy

Among my students there are a brother and sister, twins, both handsome and stylish and very, very smart. Both nice and cool, but I didn't realize just how cool until yesterday.

The boy, who tends towards somberness and self-containment, is in my web design class, and there he was, working away, and I was helping other students, and suddenly I turned around and he was standing up and only then did I realize that he was wearing a long black—skirt.

And damned if he didn't look totally natural and right in it. It sat low on his hips and flared out into a full skirt down to his ankles. It had subtle black appliqued trim on it. Seems that he woke up with a yen to wear an intensely yellow shirt he had, but couldn't find anything to go with it until he came across his sister's skirt. At least I think it was hers.

Weird thing was, he looked totally masculine in it, and dignified, elegant even. And the other great thing was that no one made a big deal about it. No snide remarks from any of the boys, just business as usual. All very matter-o-fact. How amazing for a high school senior to have the confidence to pull that off. I'm in awe.


canine cane caper

Last week I made one of my rare appearances at the local Tuesday farmer's market. I mean to go more often, but things always seem to get in the way, or the day comes and I forget.

It was just before Thanksgiving, and the stalls were piled high with produce. One stall, selling various Asian vegetables, had thick purplish black, bamboo-like stalks of sugar cane for sale. They were beautiful objects, and only a dollar each. I wondered if maybe the dogs would like them for chewing on like bones, only sweeter. Why not?

The woman at the stall bound the stalks together using a plastic bag, twisting it into the semblance of a rope to tie them near each end, and then fashioned a handle with another twisted bag, tying it like a bridge to both end bindings, a very practical, charming and thoroughly Japanese packaging solution.

I got them home, and they looked so beautiful I didn't give them to the dogs right away, but just left them on the counter so I could enjoy seeing them there, and there they sat for ten days.

This afternoon I opened the door, and it looked like someong had chopped down an oak, put the entire tree through a shredder, loaded the chips into a huge garbage bag and onto a helicopter, flown over my house, lifted the roof off and dumped the chips in from a great height.

Every inch of floor, bed, and couch was covered in chips and splinters of sugar cane. There were telltale muddy paw prints on the counter where she had reached her 15-inch self to the grand height of 32-inches to grab the cane by stretching with all her might, and maybe even giving a little hop. And the answer was a resounding yes. YES, dogs do like sugar cane.