Saturday, April 08, 2006

Ramblings for the Morning (03/8/06)

Ah the quiet of Saturday morning. My wife is asleep, my cats are off eating, and I can sit here and write for a little bit.
Ok, here we go.
So, without further ado: FOUR LEGS GOOD, TWO LEGS BAD!
Killer Food:

My sister sent me
this story. The gist is that a national symbol of Sweden, disgusting as it may be, has been BANNED from plane flights. The reasoning? Well, it's two-fold:
1. It's in a can, which, under pressure, could explode (Look out, Tuna, you're NEXT!!!!)
2. The other, and to me more viable reason, is the smell. Apparently it is one of the worst smells ever in the recorded history of humanity. Take rotten fish. Good, your nose already hurts, right? Now, put it in the sun for say... a month. Now, can it and then serve it. Yum-O (as Rachael Ray would say)!
Still, the part I'm going to be curious about is the Swedish retort. They say banning the fish is, "culturally illiterate." We, in America, have allowed many things because of the cultural heritage or meaning. Will Sweden bend to pressure? Is anyone else shocked that there is a "Swedish Surstromming Academy" which promotes the fish? (Though I will admit they have a point about stinky cheese and Champagne....)
What does this academy look like? Is it a small shack on a lake where a bunch of Swedes gather, drink themselves silly, then eat the fish?
Not to beat a dead horse, but I also have this vision from The Deer Hunter of people around a table spinning a plate and getting the fish in front of them. As they steel themselves up to eat it, a man slaps them and yells, "MAO, DIDDY MAO!!!"
You have to love those crazy Swedes.
They Shoot Bloggers, Don't They?:
What's happening to all the bloggers I read?
Meridita? Left. Worm? Considering quitting. Sopheava? On hiatus. (I remember when they said Arrested Development was on hiatus...that's gone.) I don't want to even think about Slanderous (which I will NEVER remove...unless a court order comes in and says, "Remove it.") There are some still writing, but the ones I read everyday are starting to remove themselves back to real life. Sigh.
Luckily there's always the
Gonerick Hotel caption contest. Go, have fun. I'm done venting about this now....
Inside Man Review:
I went and saw Inside Man the other day. It wasn't bad. The acting is pretty good, so is seeing New York (a staple in Spike Lee films), but the story...well. Look, I love mysteries. This film has a good mystery, but when you hear the semi-twist in the first few minutes, you know right away who the "Inside Man" is. If I have a gripe about this film, it is the writing. Sometimes you can just hear the writers thinking as the film goes.
"Man...I'm tired. I've been writing this forever. Ok, I got nothing for an end, so.........Uh......Let's just have this happen, they'll meet, he'll do this...sure, that works. Ok, T.h.e. E.n.d. Great. Where's my money?"
Seriously, the script dies at the end of the movie. There's a false ending, and it just keeps going and going. Still, I liked the film, and I recommend it.
That being said, a guy I went to college with is in the movie, which was really strange to see. He was an actor and wanted to be professional, but the last I heard he had quit and started teaching English in St. Louis. His only other credit had been as an extra on That 70's Show. Now he's playing Redheaded Detective. Good job, Ken, you've got lines now. Keep up the good work, and you might equal Johnny and his stint on Scrubs.
Moving...on a Friday Afternoon:
I helped a colleague of mine move yesterday. He called me because he NEEDED my truck. I never put a single thing in my all fit in his rented moving truck. There were a few of us doing the work: Two other teachers and two of my colleagues kids.
It was...interesting.
We got everything done in three hours, which was great, but I was close to killing one of my colleagues. Here's a tip, boys and girls: You NEVER talk smack about a guy's wife when you have 1. never met her, and 2. are yourself single and thought to be gay by the world around you.
This guy crossed a line, and I called him on it. While the rest of us actually moved the furniture up and into the building, he stood in the truck and "organized" everything. Sure.
He got mad when we were in the elevator, and the gal who rode with us ignored him and talked to me.
He got upset when there was no beer.
But my absolute favorite was when he thought it would be funny to CRUSH me against a wall using a couch.
"Oh, look out Leab...wall." Then he shoves me and the couch as hard as he can into the wall. That move, which he did twice, snapped my sunglasses in half. IN HALF!! I loved those glasses, but they're toast now.
There's an old saying, "Too many chiefs, not enough indians." In our case it was, "Too much schmuck, not enough moving."
My colleague owes me big time now. I don't know if he'll ever pay, but he owes me.
And finally:
End of the Line:
Spring Break sadly comes to an end on Monday. We have to return to school. I was enjoying the time off, and my wife told me that yesterday morning (before she left for work) that I was finally looking relaxed. It only took a week.
Have I missed the students? Some of them.
Am I looking forward to the next nine weeks? Some of them.
We start Romeo And Juliet on Monday. I will be curious to see how it goes. I need to get through that, The Odyssey, and some poetry in the next nine weeks. Teaching, don't fail me now!
Have a great weekend!
Oh, and here's a fun picture of a colleague of mine playing one of his first video games....Good stuff.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Quick Note (4/7/06)

I forgot to mention.
Happy Birthday to my beautiful neice, Maddie.
You're two now, and you have a license to be terrible. Have at it.
May your next year be brilliant and healthy.
Your uncle.
So, for your birthday, here's a dancing monkey from your Uncle Monkey.

Niagara's Training Wheels

Day Three
Still couldn't sleep. Part of it was the Sexympics going on next door, but part of it was due to what had happened
the previous day.
I don't normally drink coffee (it was just never my thing), but I needed coffee this particular morning. At breakfast, aside from the food, I found myself being made fun of by my colleagues. Why? Well, first there were the two ladies who sat at our table. I made pleasantries (I'm not a nice person normally, but I was told to network, which I was doing). The two girls smiled and started talking to me. When they left to get seconds, the crew I was with was merciless.
"They LIKE you...oooohhh."
"Look at you getting girls to come after you...."
Etc, etc, etc. They were merciless.
It got worse.
The gals from Florida saw me and came to my table.
"Heeeeey, Leab! How are you?"
"I'm good, ladies, how are you? No hangovers I hope?"
My colleagues stared at me in amazement. I could tell that one of them, probably the best looking of the bunch (in my opinion), was thinking "How the hell is it that this short, fat, Jewish-looking New Yorker is getting all the girls? I'm hot stuff dammit!"
I talked to the Florida Posse for a few more minutes, and, even though I introduced them to the other guys, they never stopped talking to me.
"Oh, and happy birthday, Jenny."
"You remembered?! That's so sweet! Well, we're going drinking again if you want to go with us...."
I excused myself at that point.
The training that day was a little better. It was...more practical (and kind of fun actually). The best part? One of the trainers came up with a system titled DIDLS (it's a way of looking over passages by looking at Imagery, Language, etc). However, she didn't realize that DIDLS (pronounced diddles) had another meaning. Everytime she talked about "DIDLing a passage," we all laughed. She turned bright red when we explained it to her, so she changed the name to LIDDS. Awesome.
It was a gorgeous day. During the break I went for a walk. The sun had finally, FINALLY come out. I went by the Falls for a final look and saw not one by TWO rainbows shining in the sun. It was awe-inspiring in some ways. It made me think a great deal about the beauty of nature.
Lunch that day was interesting. My school sent four guys. Two white (including me) and two black. One of the black guys is very in Middle-Eastern brown. He joins the other white guy and myself as we head to lunch. Now the white guy and I do not have our badges on, neither does our colleague. We start to walk into the lunch area, and we are not stopped by anyone. Our friend, however, is not so lucky. Remember, he's walking WITH us. The waiter (or maitre'de or whatever he is) grabs my colleague and pulls him aside.
"You badge, sir. Where is it?"
He digs it out and shows it.
"Do you need to see mine?" I ask.
"No," he says.
Anyone who doesn't believe in racism has obviously never seen a situation like this. It was appalling. My colleague took it in stride ("I'm used to it," he told me, "It happened at the border too, remember?"), but it was still angering to see. Why didn't the guy need to see MY badge?
We took off and went to eat outside the conference (the food served at lunch wasn't good). During lunch, one of my colleagues and I discussed the nature of God and the universe. He's devout, me...not so much. Our conversation was so outrageous and passionate (yet never angry or denouncing in anyway) that people gathered around us to watch and listen. That's how you know it's a good conversation.
The rest of the training was uneventful. Several people started leaving on Sunday after lunch. The gal who sat next to me ended up giving me her room number and asked me to call (I didn't). At the end of the class, I went over to the shops to buy my sister a present (her birthday is on the 16th). I walk in, and what happens? I feel that familiar pinch on my ass. I jumped so high, I knocked over a rack of shirts. It was Jenny.
"Well, well, well. How are you?"
"Good to feel you again. How's your birthday?"
"It's great. See my crown?"
She was wearing a large crown that said "Birthday Girl" in big letters.
"Very nice."
"Do you have a present for me?" She asked.
Very forward. Have I been out of the dating game for so long that I don't realize how forward most women are? Seriously. I get women. I get dating. There are things I can tell you about women and men that are always right (for example, a woman can lick her lips in a non-provocative way and men will always stare). I get these things, but I don't remember ever really being as forward as this gal.
With no alternative, I gave her the cookie I had bought at the Hershey's Store.
"Here you go. Eat it in good health, and happy birthday."
In retrospect, that was a mistake. A big mistake. She would go and tell her friends about it, and I would end up in trouble later.
That night my colleagues and I would head to a fabulous Chinese restaurant (and we would be the only diners there). The food was great, as was the conversation. I would learn that one of my colleagues used to be a fisherman, that another, who is a narcoleptic, married a woman with ADD ("It balances out," he would tell me), and that my third colleague hadn't touch a drop of alcohol in 25 years. It was a fascinating night.
After dropping off my other three colleagues, I decided to go for a walk.
As I made my way up Clifton Hill, I felt a hand on my back. Now, I don't know about you, but I am not big on people touching me. If I allow people to touch me, it's usually a sign of trust. There are friends of my wife who try to hug me, and I will always back away. It's just my thing. So when this hand touched my back, I immediately reacted by grabbing it and starting to twist. It was Jenny again. I felt bad.
"Oh God, I'm so sorry. Are you ok?"
"What the hell was that?" she asked.
"I really don't like to be touched."
"That's because it hasn't been done right," she said coyly. This girl was not going to give up. I commend her for her passion, but sheesh. There is a limit, right folks?
"No, it has. I've been married for five years now," I said with emphasis on the time.
"Would you like to join us over at the Casino?"
"No thanks, I'm just taking a walk....Clearing my mind and such."
I started to walk off again, but she followed me. SHE FOLLOWED ME. Sigh.
Short of hitting her and running, I didn't think there was anything I could do, so I allowed her to walk with me. I talked to her for about 40 minutes as I doubled back to my hotel.
I learned she had been married to her high school sweetheart at 19, but he had broken her heart and run off. She also lost a child, which can be traumatic. All this, and she was only twenty-five. I allowed her to spill her guts to me as we walked. I don't know if what she said was true or not, and to me, it doesn't matter. If she was using it solely to try and get me to bed her, it didn't work. If she needed to empty her soul and such on her birthday and talking to a stranger did the trick, then I gave her a good birthday present, I guess.
On a final note for day three, Jenny was staying at the same hotel I was (I was shocked to learn). She wanted to know if I wanted to go to her room for a drink. I politely declined.
"Don't you like me?" she asked. "Am I unattractive or something?"
This is one of those scary situations where you want to comfort, but also be frank, so I tried to split the difference.
"Jenny, you're a great gal, but I'm happily married. Five years. I love my wife, and, before you say anything, I can't cheat. I can't do it. I was cheated on, and it broke my heart. I can't and won't cheat on my wife. EVER! Do you understand? If you really need to be with someone, I'll give you the number of a good-looking, single guy I met here. He's from Canada, and very sweet. Better looking than me to boot. Do you want the digits?"
She declined. I would see her one more time.
With the excitement over, I headed to my room to try and sleep.
Day Four
The end. I skipped out early and went for a walk to the far side of the city. They trainers even admitted they had nothing for us.

At breakfast, which was continental (read: no REAL food), I saw the Florida girls for the last time. I was sitting talking to a colleague, when, from across the room, this collective shout of "Leab" was heard. We looked over, and sure enough it was the Florida crew. They all waved, then they left. It was embarrassing. I blushed...and got made fun of...good stuff.
I went to the
Fallsview Casino Resort to look around and see what I could see. It was a brand new facility. Imagine taking the Mall of America and placing a large casino where (the former) Camp Snoopy is. Then drop a hotel on top of the whole building. Now you have the resort. Oh wait, I forgot: Add random stages throughout the casino where cover bands play. ONLY cover bands.
I walked around the complex and through the casino for an hour. I stopped at the bar to get water (the casino was NOT a smoke-free facility). I'm sitting at the bar, sipping my water, looking at the Chinese guy on one side of me, and an Indian woman on the other, and my first thought is, "Wow, how Benetton." Then a guy with a headset comes over to me.
"Excuse me, sir."
I'm thinking, "Damn. They know I have a camera in my pocket, and I'm in trouble. There's going to remove me."
"Sir," he says again, "Can you please sign this?"
He puts a clipboard in front of me.
"What is this?" I ask.
"Release form. You just walked into a commercial and that was our best take. You're in the background. Sign this form so we can use you please."
"Excuse me? What?"

He explains it again.
I sign the form, and he hands me a $25 chip, saying, "Here's your payment."
Looking around I told the guy next to me they need to fuzz us out in the background. There were these four BEAUTIFUL people as the main characters (two guys, two girls), then in the background is me, Yao Ming, and a not-so-good-looking gal. It was an interesting dichotomy, but you don't see me and think, "Wow! Hip people go THERE! Honey, LET'S GO!!!!"
So, if you're on the east coast, looking for the short, fat guy with brown hair and a goattee in the background of a Fallsview Resort commerical. I'm at the bar.
The rest of the day sucked. The bus ride to the airport was infuriating. I was trapped in front of the two most bitchy people in the world, who talked crap about all their colleagues and complained about one of them talking about them. (Ring, ring....Hello? Hypocrisy? Haven't heard from you in AGES!) I finally asked them to be quiet, and they turned on me. I wasn't having it, so I answered back. We ended up having to move seats to be separated. Good stuff.
The flights back were quiet. Once again I sat alone away from the other guys. I wrote a test on the way back, they slept.
In the end, I got home later than I wanted and headed to work early the next morning (big mistake).
If this trip taught me anything, it's that when people get a change of scenery, they can get a change of personality that may not be for the better.
I enjoyed the trip, but I liked being home again with my lovely and understanding wife.
As for IB. I say no more.
"I'm a bad, bad man."

Thursday, April 06, 2006

No Power, No Post

Hey kids.
My wife and I were out tonight as we had no power. My lovely neighborhood seems to lose power alot. It's annoying and quite frustrating.
So, that means no post tonight (I promise there will be a post tomorrow about the last two days of the conference).
Hope you'll stop in and read. If you don't, hey, I understand.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Dating and Mating in Niagara

Day Two.
I didn't sleep at all the prior evening.
The hotel gave me what I call "Hellaciously Perfect Placement." On one side was the ice machine which would, at random times, make loud noises and rattle. In front of my room was the elevator, which dinged on every floor whenever someone pushed the button (I don't know why). Behind me was the wall of the casino...not so loud, but it bounced the sound of the Falls right into my room (that wasn't so bad, actually). And then there was the other wall.
Now, the walls of this hotel were quite thin. With a toilet so loud you could hear it down the hall, I was embarrassed to flush it. My neighbors felt no such compassion. They were either newlyweds or just really happy people, because all I heard that first night was the thumping of a bed on a wall and loud screams. That's right, I was privy to the sounds of the beast with two backs, to the music of the Horizontal Mambo, to the background music of most Cinemax movies. You get the idea.
Let me tell you, it makes hard to sleep when your wall is bouncing your bed (I ended up moving my bed away from the wall. I had to....)
With little sleep to speak of, I headed out to breakfast.
The IBO was giving us breakfast, which was nice, but they didn't have enough tables for all the attendees. If you got there late (I did), you were either standing or eating in the hall. Now I got lucky in that the other guys got up earlier (that's what happens when you sleep in the hotel where the conference is being held) and grabbed me a seat. The food was quite good. I was shocked. The last time I went to a conference, the food was terrible. That was a pleasant surprise.
I noticed there was not a ton of intermingling between schools. The guys and I talked amongst ourselves, the other school at the table only talked amongst themselves. I tried to bridge the gap (I'm a uniter, not a divider...), but they weren't having it.
With a flash of the lights, over a thousand people stood up and went off to their meetings.
I was lucky in that my group (the English teachers) were to be in the basement of the hotel in which I was staying (yeah, take that Sheraton!), which meant I could drop off my stuff during the breaks.
IB training. If you have never experienced it, it can be hard to explain. In the case of the English teachers, we had two older and VERY southern (from Texas, y'all) women. They did not really agree with each other (which would be a problem the whole weekend).
A student asked me to discuss the IB training. I'll give you bits and pieces. The biggest issue started right up front. We began with question and answer before any training. One of the guys I was there with posited a question about the "elitism" of IB. If you don't know, you have to be a very hard worker to do well in the program. In most schools the GAT kids (Gifted and Talented) are the ones who end up in the program. The concern raised by my colleague was the fact that the program is dominated by Caucasians and Asian-Americans. The response was slightly troubling (at least to me). The ladies were proud of the elitism, because it meant that only the best students will come out of the program. I don't know about you, but when I heard that, my first reaction was, "That's great and all, but what about the regular students? The ones who work really hard, but are unable to keep up. What about them?" I didn't voice this concern to the two ladies, but later I would talk to the other guys who came with me and discuss this issue further.
Back to the point, IB wants kids to be able to work at a very rigorous pace and to be able to take any passage from any book they have read and be able to discuss it's meaning, placement, etc without any problems. Now, I'm simplifying it tremendously, but that's the gist: students write the way IB wants (there is a rubric) and students talk the way IB wants (there's a rubric for that too).
The rest of the training that day was ho-hum. We got introduced, etc, etc. What was more fascinating to me was the guy with the welding torch outside the window. We would see these blue flashes now and then.
The other aspect of the whole weekend began to develop during that first session. Because we arrived late, the four of us were split up around the room. I ended up next to a girl from Colorado. I didn't think anything about it at the time (remember: little sleep, just ate, and not sure what to expect). During the entire first session, this girl would not stop talking to me. I just thought she was nervous. One of the other guys later told me I'm an idiot.
This is the seedy underbelly of the conferences and the training: the meat market aspect. When lunch came around and the guys told me about how that gal was flirting with me, I thought they were picking on me. Then we were joined another school from Minnesota (I'm not saying where, but the school is close to Minneapolis. That's all I'm saying about it). We got to discussing, and then one of the teachers from this other school asks me, "So, you been hit on yet?" I went a little numb.
"Yeah," I replied. "I have. You?"
"From the moment I got here. That girl over at the you see her?"
"The one in black?"
He nodded.
"That's Lily (name changed just in case). She's usually so quiet and reserved."
At this point he droned a little bit about how quiet she is, how he asked her out before and was rejected, and how she had talked about how much she was looking forward to this trip.
"So," he continues, "We get here yesterday and go to the Hard Rock Cafe. She's slinging shots like they're going out of style. Next thing I know, she's in my lap sucking on my ear."
At this point my B.S. meter is ringing.
"Come on...." I retort.
"It's true," says the guy sitting next to Earlobe. "We all saw it. She was not the same person. That's what these things (he indicated the whole room) do to people."
"See, Leab," One of my colleagues says, "That girl does have a thing for you."
It's at this point I start to blush.
Earlobe continued. "People get here and consider it a free pass."
At this point, Colorado Gal comes by, places her hand on my shoulder and tells me, "I'll see you back there, Leab."
I blush even harder.
Fast foward to that night. The boys and I decide to eat on the other side of town, so we take the long walk over. Though I won't say what we discussed about, I will say that my favorite line had to do with a bridge, kids drinking underneath it, and one of them exclaiming, "Give me your hooch, bitch!"
Dinner was uneventful except for one moment. A couple sitting next to us forgot their camera. It was a nice Nikon Digital SLR (around about $1,000). I noticed it, so did one of my colleagues. He ran out to get them, I grabbed the camera and followed. Five minutes later, after we had ordered, a man and a woman came up to us and said, "That was mighty nice of you. Most people aren't good today, so it's nice to see someone do something nice. There's not many good people anymore."
Dinner went off without a hitch, though we did discover that the menu was misleading. It had a "One Pound Steak Challenge." I asked the waitress.
"There is no real challenge," she told me. "We just call it that so people will order it."
"Good marketing, I guess," I retorted.

We were on our own starting at 8:30. Two of the guys went to go to sleep. One went to go grade papers. I decided to walk around town some more. Near my hotel was a Planet Hollywood. I hadn't been in a Planet Hollywood in years. I decided to check it out and see if it was still as garish as I remember (Oh God, it was).
I went to the bar, sat down, and ordered a Molson Golden. I don't normally drink beer, but my brother-in-law is always going on about how Molson Golden in Canada is SO much better than in America because of the different brewing techniques. I wanted to see. I still think he's full of it as I didn't taste a difference.
As I sat at the bar, I felt a hand on my shoulder. It was one of the ladies from the Florida that I talked to on the bus ride up.
"Hey, St. Paul right?"
"Yes, but most people call me Leab."
A slight (almost fake sounding) laugh.
At this point, the rest of her crew strolled over. I was surrounded.
"Hey there," Carol says to me. I attempt not hit her with a bottle for what she did at the border.
At this point I'm trapped. I listen to stories about students, being in Florida, etc. I talk very little. I tell the occasional joke here and there and make witty comments, but I mostly keep to myself. At one point, Jenny (not her real name) says her legs are tired from all her walking she did that day. Being a gentleman, I gave her my seat. That was a mistake. I stood next to her, and she grabbed my ass. I tried not jump as it was a shock, but I slammed my knee into the bar. That hurt, and it left a bruise.
The culmination of the evening came when Jenny told me her birthday was the next day.
"Oh," I said, "Well, happy birthday in advance. Let me buy you a drink."
"I don't want a drink," she said. "I have an idea of what I want for my birthday, and I usually get what I want."
Now, remember boys and girls. I'm a guy, and most of us are idiots. So I, of course, ask:
"And what do you want?"
All four of the ladies are now looking at me. I can see out of the corner of my eye that Carol, of all people, is shaking her head. The other three ladies start moving down the bar.
"Any thoughts on what you want?" I ask again.
"Well, I can think of one thing," she says and squeezes my arm.
Now I get it.
"Oh...OOOOhh. That's really sweet," I say, "But I'm married. Five years." At this point I show her my hand.
She's quiet for a moment, takes a drink, and then says, "Well, you don't have to be. She's not here is she?"
I shake my head.
"Well, you could have a free pass. What she doesn't know...right?"
I was shocked. I don't know if my face showed it, but my brain almost melted trying to comprehend what this woman was telling me. If my wife doesn't know, it won't hurt her. Wow. I smiled, laughed a little, and then finally said, "I'm sorry, Jenny. You're beautiful, but I'm married. If I wasn't, then that would be a different story, but I am, and I love my wife."
"That's ok," she tells me. "There's no harm in trying."
Again, my brain screams as if having an aneurysm. Hey, it's ok, I just tried to make you cheat on your wife, but no worries.
I bought her another drink. She called down the bar to her friends. "He said, 'no,' girls." Immediately, I hear the responses.
"What? What's wrong with you."
"She's gorgeous! How could you?"
"She's only 25 and throwing herself at you!"
"Look, ladies," I began. "I'm married. Five years. Quite happy. Sorry."
"Well she's not here is she?"
"Why is that the popular response?" I ask.
"Because that's what happens at these conferences," I'm told. "A teacher at our school slept with a married woman at a conference in New Mexico. There was no trouble there."
I left not long after that. Jenny did grab my ass again, but I think it was more as a goodbye. I can't really explain it.
I would see those ladies again the next two days, but more on that later.
Am I the only one troubled by this? Am I too old fashioned in the modern world? The average marriage now lasts only five years with sixty-five percent of the marriages in America ending in divorce. It's no wonder if people treat large gatherings, such as conferences, as meat markets. Instead of "Welcome Educators," maybe the banner should have read, "Let's Get It On!"
I would hear more on day three about all of the hookups. I would also be propositioned twice more. Once by an English teacher, and, sadly, once more by the Florida crew.
Like I said, everyone said this was typical. It kind of saddens me that this is true.
More tomorrow.
"What about the kids, fool?!"