Thursday, June 30, 2005


Before I became the awe-inspiring teacher I am today, I used to work at the Minnesota Tobacco Document Depository. It was extremely odd (and that's honestly the best word to describe it). First of all, there's the space. Imagine the warehouse at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark and add nasty flickering fluorescent lights. You know the buzz one of those lights makes when it's close to dying? Imagine hearing that noise no matter where you went. It could drive you crazy when there was no music or noise.
The oddest aspect, however, was the staff around me. I can remember a day where everyone was supposed to bring in canned food that would be eaten at lunch. We ended up Spam,
Potted Meat, and Anchovies. Put that on a cracker with Spray Cheese, and, apparently, you have a meal. It was as disgusting as it sounds, and it took a great deal of mental discipline not to throw up.
Beyond the canned food incident, there were just an odd assortment of people (names have been altered). There was Tanya, who once corrected me for asking her about her kids. "I do not have kids," she told me, "I have children. Kids are baby goats." She also like to tell me about how I had a guardian angel on my shoulder that only she could see. That was creepy, but it might explain my shoulder and neck pain when I worked there.
There was Suzy, who came in shortly before I left (or escaped). She liked to tell everyone about every little thing they were doing wrong using the power of Minnesota Nice. "Do you really think those shoes go with that shirt?" she once asked me. She also like to talk about her boyfriend who was a mechanic of sorts. I never really got it.
How about Randy, who was an aspiring director (along with John) and like to ask the most random questions. "You're on a deserted island after your boat sinks. During the destruction of the ship, you've had to lose a limb. Which one and why?" It was odd.
The only person I really got along with Patty. She was a cancer survivor from Africa. She was always very sweet and always had a cheery disposition. Patty was the only one of the staff that I would really let work near me, because she wouldn't tell stupid stories, she wouldn't criticize, and she had great taste in music.
The most ironic thing about working at the Depot, however, was the fact that aside from myself and one or two other people, the staff all smoked. That's right, they all smoked! Even though we had bags of blackened lungs, and even though we read documents on a daily basis that talked about chemicals, and risks, and such, they would all go outside (even in the dead of winter) and smoke. It was extremely odd, and very ironic. In some ways, I think it's the very definition of ironic: people who work with information about the dangers of smoking all smoke. That's very funny to me.
I have a great deal of stories that came out working at the depot. I'll try to share more over the next few days. There was indoor golf, chair races at Site B, the other trial I was assigned to, my own "office" and much, much more! Stay tuned.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005


We're into our third day of summer school, and I am feeling stressed....already. Why? Oh, for multiple reasons:
1. I've never taught reading before. I'm literally flying by the seat of my pants. I asked one teacher for help with the curriculum and discovered that he, too, had never done reading before. So the two of us went to a third guy for help. Did he help us? No. He apparently guards his curriculum like a lion with its cubs.
2. My first hour class is awesome. They try, and, even though they complain, they actually work. The second hour class, however, has been shuffled so that I have new kids who do not work. The first thing out one of their mouths today was that they couldn't learn from me, because "You're a white boy, and I'm not. We have nothing in common, so I'm just gonna sleep now." That's pretty much par for the course with that class. My favorite was the girl who went off on a rant about homosexuals, because there was an article in the paper (I make them read the paper) about "Canada and Gay Marriage." Hey, I'm glad you have your standards, but don't interrupt my teaching so you can spout anti-homosexual rhetoric. Most of them like to tell me that they don't need to be there and hate the fact that they have to be. I am also really tired of hearing that reading is not important. Look, to anyone thinking about becoming a professional basketball player (as most of my second hour thinks it will be): There are around 100 schools taken seriously in basketball (not including high schools). Each school has 12 players, though maybe only 4 or 5 (if that) are pro-caliber. That's four to five hundred people vying for sixty spots. If you assume 500, then you have only a 12% chance of getting on to a team. Most of these kids don't have the skills to make it, but they think they do. It's kind of depressing.
3. There is never enough time. Between work, and school, and life, there is never enough time to get everything done. I am slightly OCD, so I not only compartmentalize, but I also plan out my time very carefully. It's not that I can't be spontaneous, I just don't like down time. It's a thing, I know. So not having enough time, to me, means that I am failing in my planning. Yesterday I was in an educational setting (as a teacher or student) for a combined eleven hours. That's fine, but I also need to get aspects of my life in order around my house, and such. I feel very behind.
Man, I hate venting, and this is what I feel like I'm doing. Sorry. I promise my next post will be funnier.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Where's Alice Cooper When I Need Him?

So, I started Summer School today. I don't mean my Master's class (which I can't stand, but whatever). Nope, I mean the school I am teaching this summer. Didn't Alice Cooper say, "School's out for summer," in his most famous song? And if you've never taught school in the summer, it's, well, hellacious. The students do not want to be there. The teachers do not want to be there. One of my colleagues explained that he was only there, because he really, REALLY, needed the money now that he has a kid. He kept telling me, "it's only 24 days, Leab. It's only five weeks."
Still, it honestly made me miss some of the kids I work with during the year. In the "Reading for Standards" classes I am teaching, I had to give out a test today. One kid just looked at it, put it down, and waited out the time. He handed it in with no answers given, and when he was asked, "why didn't you do anything," he responded, "I don't know. Maybe I'm just stupid." Talk about giving up before the race even starts. He doesn't care. He apparently has a job waiting for him the real world, so why does he need high school? In typical teenage fashion, he refused to listen to my reasons. It reminded me of another student of mine. She's brilliant, but she never listens. Then, having not listened, she exclaims, "No one understands or tries to help." You have to love the teenage frame of mind: No one gets me, no one tries to get me, but if they try to understand, it's an invasion of privacy. Awe-inspiring, isn't it folks?
So, for the next five weeks, I will toil through curriculum I don't really know (and I admit that as I have never taught reading before and was told it would be Math) with students who don't want to be there in a school with no air-conditioning and not enough fans. So If you see a post like this (see below) in the next few weeks:

ARRRRRRGGGGGGHHHH. Hebba Itouilky. Brain melty, mushy. Fly, Walker, fly!

You will know why. Hopefully I can make a difference for one of them (I was supposed to have a total of 70 today and got only 18).
Oh, and one more thing. Shameless plug alert!!! Go check out little (haha) Meridita's Site (also known as Meredith). If you go, don't mention me, you just might get banned. Now, go hug something you care about and think happy thoughts, children. Tomorrow is a brand new and (hopefully) better day. Ha ha, desperate cynicism...

Some Grief....Some Joy....

The title comes from a great song. It also is probably the best way to describe my weekend in Beantown. I had a great time tooling around America's Walking City. So if Boston was so great (though it had some down spots) where did the "grief" mentioned above come from? Yup, my Northwest flights.
On the way to Boston, the only real bad part of my flight was the woman sitting in the window seat in my row. See, Caroline and I couldn't sit together as the plane was full, so we both got aisles, and I sat behind her. I thought it was no big deal, but this woman thought it meant the end of our marriage. Whatever, anyway the flight from Minneapolis to Boston is about two hours and fifteen (maybe twenty) minutes. From the moment we sat on the plane, until we finally got off the plane, this woman (I call her cathy, because she's so feaking chatty) talked the entire time. She tried to talk to me, but I had a book that I buried myself into, but the pilot (deadhead for those in the know) sitting next to me had no such luck. I tried not to listen, but at one point she was talking about a sex workshop she and her third husband (Gary) went to in South Africa. The pilot kept looking over at me for help, but I wasn't going to be sucked in. No, no, no, no.
Boston, itself, was great. It was, however, wicked hot. Saturday was 95, and Sunday was 94. The news stations were almost pleading with people to wear sunscreen. "We here at Fox 25 don't want you to get cancer, so please: where sunscreen." It was sad and funny at the same time.
The city, if you have never been, is really compact and features some amazing history and some fantastic restaurants. I found it sad that this one Canadien (or Canadian for the Quebec-ers) couple told us they hadn't had any seafood while in Boston (about a week). There were no allegeries (so they said), they just chose to not eat seafood. Honestly that's like going to Kansas City and not having Bar-B-Q (or barbeque for you spelling Nazis). That's not right.
Anyway, the city is gorgeous. Perhaps the oddest portion of our trip, however, was the trolley tour guide we had. We decided on Saturday to hop on one of the trolleys for a driving tour of Boston. Besides the fact that he sounded and looked like
Cliff Clavin (from Cheers). I think he was also drunk, because half of what he said made no sense, and the other half was more personal anecdotes. I mean I love hearing about the best pub in town, but did I need to hear about losing your virginity in the back booth? I don't think so. Stick to the history and trivia. He also got surly if you didn't leave a tip. Here he is chasing down a 70 year old lady, because she got off the trolley and didn't drop a buck. The funny part is that I don't think he saw the pepper spary in her left hand. She never used it, but it was ready.
New England Aquarium was alot of fun, though I never realized how angry and evil penguins really are. I always thought penquins were like Opus from Bloom County. I was very wrong. As the aquarium volunteer cleaned the habitat, she was attacked over and over again. Her wetsuit took the brunt of it, but she did get one finger caught, and she yelped. Penguins are great, but would be terrible pets (think of the most psycho cat and make it shorter, meaner, and wetter).
The Black Rose Pub may look quaint on the outside, but inside are some serious drinkers. Caroline and I ran into two locals (Neil and Tom) who wanted us to drink away the rest of the day with them. I embarrassed my lovely wife by slipping into a Boston accent about ten minutes into our conversations. I can't help it, I pick up accents really fast. Neil, a landlord, tried very hard to convince us to move into one of his apartments next Thursday. Somehow, I don't think we can move that quickly. Still, Mrs. Leab really wants to move to the east coast sooner than later, so we'll see.
The other annoying part of the trip was the flight back. Once again, I wasn't sitting with my wife, but that's ok. No I was more annoyed at the woman in front of me. You see, the guy sitting next to me was Swiss and was having a really bad day. He had been traveling for fourteen hours and had one more flight to go after he made it to MSP. He was tired, his English was slipping, and he needed to get to the bathroom. I was on the aisle, so I stood up and moved out. The woman in front of him was leaned all the way back and had made it hard for him to get out. In order to move, he had to push off her seat. She, of course, flipped out. After cursing him out, she then told him to apologize. However, she was talking to fast, and he couldn't keep up, so he smiled, said, "ok," and kept going. She (we'll call her 31 E) wouldn't leave him alone, and refused to move forward to help him get out. I told him (in German) to wait and asked her politely to move (in English). Now, I'm a semi-reasonable man. You act polite, so will I. You cross me, I'll bury you. It's the way of the world (in my mind). She told me to, "mind my own fucking business. Who do you think you are?" My new neutral friend looked like he was going to pee his pants, and she was being unreasonable, so I leaned forward, over the guy in 31 D (who had taken out someone else's bag from the overhead bin and said, "my bag won't fit in here while your bag is here.") and said in a low rumble, "I'm the guy who's going to break your seat and fold you in half unless you move forward. Now stop being the ugly American, make us look good, and move forward." Apparently, I must have gotten through to her, because she zipped forward. She also ended up changing seat with a friend of hers further back in the plane. Could I have gotten in trouble? Sure, but the guy was having a really bad day. I knew she wasn't, because she told her friend she gets what she wants. Oh well.
So, if you need a place to vacation or visit for just a weekend, I recommend Boston. Of course, I would say go to New York first (that's my hometown, folks), but Boston is great. The history alone is enough to fill a week. So get out there and travel.