Friday, November 30, 2007

Stepping Out of the Light

This is it. Break time.
For the next six months, this blog will be dark. I have a new blog, and those who have written me will soon get a link to this new vision of mine.

I should apologize for not posting before this, but I've been busy with finals this week.

So what do I say before I step out of the light? I thought about talking about my Turkey Day, but that seemed to selfish.

I had a post talking about the unfortunate nature of the modern teenager, but I don't want to get fired (and Big Brother is watching).

So what do I end with?

Well, I just want to thank you, dear reader, for being a part of this journey for the last two years. Though my stories may seem incredibly odd, or even maybe narcissistic, my hope is that my trials, tribulations, and experiences have helped you to learn something.

The world is an odd place. The more you experience people, the easier it becomes to read them. Go out and meet people. Talk to people. Don't be afraid.

Frank Herbert said, "Fear is the mind killer." It's true. People have so many fears, and it cripples them.

Don't be afraid. Don't let the possibility of looking foolish stop you.

I wish you peace, happiness, and love. If you really need some Ironic, please look over my posts from the last two years.

Namaste, and I'll see you in a while.


Thursday, November 22, 2007


What I'm thankful for:

I'm thankful for a wonderful, understanding wife, and though we may not always agree, she is one of the reasons I'm still alive.

I'm thankful for my son, who reminds me that I must continue to make the world a better least for his sake.

I'm thankful for my sisters and parents. They are the reminders of what I came from, and regardless of good or bad, I know that we need each other and will be there for one another at any time.

I'm thankful for my job. Sure, it has its negatives at times, but I enjoy (for the most part) the kids and adults I work with on a daily basis.

I'm thankful for my health (for better or worse). I don't need a wheelchair, I don't need someone to wipe my butt, and I can still eat corn. That, to me, means I'm ok.

I wish you a blissful Thanksgiving.


Saturday, November 17, 2007

Ramblings for the Evening (11/17/07)

I find it fascinating that as I prepare to return to anonymity, more people want to get to know me and want to read the blog. It's Murphy's Law: you tell people they can't have it or won't get it anymore, and they desperately need it. Keep it there, and no one cares.
Let's get to it.
So, without further ado: REXIE
Around the Interweb:
When I get Insomnia, which is frequent, I start searching around the web for interesting facts, tidbits, and sites to read.

I don't use
Twitter. There are a few people I know (including some readers) who Twitter constantly.
However, I can see the value in it.
That's why I present an interesting link to the Writers' Strike.
You can get an interesting look at how things are going from
this link.
Otherwise, you can find some resources for the strike

Let's say, however, that the whole shutdown is not your thing. Maybe coffee is your thing. In the modern society, people have begun to stop going to coffee shops and make just single servings of coffee (The Leab Lair currently has a
Keurig). If you want more information about the machines and coffees available, then I recommend The site gives you reviews, recipes, and everything else you might need.

Finally, I recommend
DVD Verdict. This site has reviews from viewers like me about DVD releases. The best part, however, is they tell you whether or not you should buy the DVD. For example, as the holiday season approaches, movie studios are putting out shiny new versions of already released films. The reviewers will tell you honestly if the upgrade is worth it.
Do You Hear that Cliquing Sound?:
I am a very reasonable person, but I find it fascinating that Cyberspace is almost exactly like real life: people get into cliques and have a really hard time getting out of them.
Look at
MNSpeak, for example. If you're part of the clique, then more links appear to things that you write. If you aren't, then you're nothing more than a lurker or a troll. I've been a part of the site ever since Rex put me on a link, but if I comment or try to post, the piece is either ignored (including a wonderful comment of "Who the hell is this guy") or it turns into a stupid troll fest where the end point is nowhere near what was mentioned.

It's sad but true that life is really like high school. You will fall in with like people, you will have a group that you shun or shuns you, and people are afraid of ideas that challenge their beliefs.

I find it fascinating that many of the MNSpeakers take shots at Hipsters...and then act just like them. It's the kids who get bullied and then when they have power...bully other people.
Look, I like the site alot, but if the point is to not only get information across to the public, but also bring Minnesotans together, it's failing. The originals are starting to abandon the site.

And as I finish this piece, I would bet someone from the site will read it and bitch. Maybe I'm wrong, but it had a different feel only a year ago.

And finally....
It Burns:
Warning: the following story is not for the faint of heart or those afraid of the dentist. If you are either of those, skip this piece all together.

You've been warned.

I had to return to the dentist to have the tooth from the
last time I was there checked on by the doctor. It pretty much hasn't stopped bleeding since the root canal, but that's not the point right now. It needed to be checked and a filling needed to be put in on my rear-most tooth.
As a surprise, everything was going well, though it looks like I will need to schedule a second surgery for July (along with another surgery for myself that I'm not going into right now).
So the dentist finishes the tooth and all looks well. Now the hygienist steps in and begins that final process of making sure the bite is even. If it isn't, she has to grind the tooth down. This is what was happening as the problem occurred.

The dental light was tipped too far forward, so the heat was not able to escape and went right at the bulb. As the bulb gets hotter and hotter, the heat inside needs to be released. If the air can't go up and out, it cooks the bulb until it literally breaks.

Or in my case, it explodes. This is what happened as I lay there.

I warned the woman that something was wrong, I could see smoke wisping out. I pointed, but it was too late. The bulb exploded and glass showered down over me and the hygienist...and it burned.

Worse still, the hygienist had to cover herself, which means she jerked and the grinder/drill went into my cheek.

So, my head is burning where the glass landed, and my cheek has been twisted by whatever tool dug into the flesh. The other hygieniest, who happened to be passing by in the hallway, freaked out and ran to get a wet towel. I almost think that she (and the rest of the office) were afraid that I was badly burned and would sue.

Honestly, I felt worse for gal working on my mouth. While I just had hot glass on my head and arms, she got some down the back of her neck. Not so easy to shake off. I hope she's ok.

It just goes to show you:

1. I'm not supposed to be at the dentist. Bad things keep happening to me there, and

2. Sometimes when a client not in the know tells you something is wrong, be prepared.
Of course, what do I know? I don't listen when a student says, "I'm too dumb to get this." I could be wrong.
Thirteen days.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Ramblings for the Evening (11/13/2007)

The countdown continues. Roughly seventeen days until this blog goes dark...kind of like Broadway, but that's another story.
Let's get to it....
So without further ado: BOOGIE!
The Cost of Politics:
By now everyone knows the story about Stephen Colbert and his attempt to run for President in only South Carolina.
What I find fascinating is the immense difference in the filing fee.

Democratic filing fee: $2,500
Republican filing fee: $35,000

The almost $33,000 difference illustrates the problem with modern politics: he (or she) with the most money will almost always win.

Now maybe this will be wrong, but so far I believe the last few elections have worked this way. Examples of cash can be seen here.

So, if the race is truly about money, here's my idea: do away with the whole election process. The electoral college is unbalanced, the whole "absentee" and "electronic" ballet issue means it's easy to cheat, and most people don't like to wait in line in order to decide. With the writers on strike (more on that later), I propose a 13 episode reality series along the lines of Project Runway (which my wife is anxiously awaiting with bated not so much). This can go one of two ways (and this is all copyrighted, so no stealing...Hollywood...I'm watching).

1. We get 12 candidates: 5 GOP, 5 Democrat, and 2 Independent (numbers work this out right). Each candidate has exactly thirteen weeks to raise as much money as possible through a series of challenges. The first challenge could be actually walking the street and trying to get money from the people. Businesses, however, cannot dump huge chunks on these people (sorry Oil, Special Interests, and such). Each week, a candidate is released after he or she fails to raise enough money (lowest goes..and so on). In the end, there will be two candidates, and here is where America gets to decide. This can be done in one of two ways as well.

A. Each person gets one phone call. Whoever has the most calls, wins. No phone banking, no repeat dialing. Or...

B. Everyone in America gets to donate $1 to the candidate of choice. Whoever has the most money, wins.

Now if this ideas doesn't sound pleasant, let's try...

2. A la Project Runway, we have a panel of ex-presidents, presidential candidates, and respected journalists (such as Bill Clinton, George Bush, Ross Perot [the sassy voice on the panel], and Walter Cronkite). We then follow our candidates through a series of challenges and debates. One could be talking to a room full of people registered for the other party, for example. In the end, three candidates are left (here it's preferably a GOP, a Democrat, and an Independent, but you never know), and they face off in debates, and a big challenge: convincing their worst enemy or political foe (for Democrats, Bill O'Reilly and Ann Coulter; for Republicans, Al Franken and Bill Maher) that the candidate is the right man or woman for the job. The panel then picks the winner, and we have the next President of the United States.
It would work. If only we could work in Tim Gunn....
Seven/Ten Split...or Strike:

Both ends of the spectrum are on strike. In Hollywood, the writers have walked out. At the same time the stagehands walked off the job. Again, this seems to be happening at the right time for certain shows and horribly wrong time for others. Let's start in L.A.

The writers walk, taking some actors with them, and now many of the networks are spinning up cheap replacements in the form of reality shows. What's interesting is that many of the networks seem to want to use these reality shows. It's pretty easy to see why:

Advertisers have already bought the ad time, so the networks have the money. With the shows on hiatus, the networks have cheaper replacements that cost little to make and have high revenue. No wonder Newscorp keeps vetoing any contract talks. They want the money.

Just look at some of these shows:

Celebrity Apprentice: "Stars" compete for Donald Trump's thumbs up.

Amnesia: Dennis Miller (why?) asks contestants to recall moments in their lives.

Farmer Wants a Wife: (My favorite) A farmer gets to choose a city gal to be his betrothed.

American Gladiators: It's back...with Hulk Hogan. Woot?

Do You Trust Me?: Ironically enough, the host is Tucker Carlson...oh and the show is about contestants having confidence in each other.

It just keeps going. Personally I love this strike, because it means that bad movies will be on hold, TV shows can take a moment to think about the scripts instead of rushing them, and maybe now...people will read more...or maybe go to the theatre...WAIT A SECOND.

On the opposite coast, the stagehands walked out of most shows. There are only eight still going:

1. “Cymbeline”

2. “Mary Poppins”

3. “Mauritius”

4. “Pygmalion”

5. “The Ritz”

6. “Young Frankenstein”

7. “Xanadu”

8. “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.”

What a boon for these shows that they have a separate union contracts and can continue. As for the rest...well...many people have been getting refunds, and after a few days, Broadway is asking for financial help.

Now as a techy, I see why they're striking. They want better pay and new work rules that keeps them safe. Isn't that what everyone wants? Good pay and a safe place to work. How could that be wrong?
Two (Sadly) Down:
Two people that I admire died recently.
The first, though it may sound funny, is Robert Goulet.
The second is Norman Mailer.
Goulet was one of those guys who really had no problem making fun of himself, and he was a genuinely nice guy. For the modern generation he'll probably be remembered as nothing more than the guy in those Emerald Nuts commercials, but he had quite a voice.
Mailer is different. He may not have been the nicest person in the world, but he wrote one of, if not the best, World War II stories: The Naxed and the Dead.
If you haven't read the book, do it now. Stop reading this, and go pick up the book.
Mailer, in the fiftieth anniversary of the book, mused on Tolstoy and explained his reasoning behind creating characters that struggle to retain dignity in the face of war:
"Compassion is of value and enriches our life only when compassion is severe, which is to say when we can perceive everything that is good and bad about a character but are still able to feel that the sum of us as human beings is probably a little more good than awful. In any case, good or bad, it reminds us that life is like a gladiators' arena for the soul and so we can feel strengthened by those who endure, and feel awe and pity for those who do not."
How can I possibly follow that up?
Seventeen days.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Ramblings for the Evening (11/4/2007)

Interesting things are afoot.

I find it truly fascinating that now that I am going to be taking a break (again, Michael Jordan 1993-1995) I have well wishers and readers again. How utterly Ironic.

So...without further ado: GET IT ON!
Heartbreak Hotel:

Over the course of this week, several of my students have been dealing with breaking up, leaving relationships, dumping, and being dumped. Maybe it's the pressure of Halloween, or maybe it's the change in weather, but love has been in and out of the air of the school.

At one point I watched as one of my students wrestled with the emotion that comes from having to tell someone, "I don't like you in that way."
What was fascinating was that she was taking harder than he was. Indeed, I thought she was going to either cry or vomit...or possibly both. I wasn't sure which it would be.
Rare is it that you see the dumper taking it harder than the dumpee.
It's also strange to watch relationships in high school. When two 15-year-old kids proclaim their undying love for each other, you have to wonder if they truly understand what they are saying.
How many high school romances that are for "all time" end the second graduation is over?I had one couple who said, "I love you" to each other everyday for a week, and then the next week, they had broken up and had to be separated. Still, those couples are fun to make be Romeo and Juliet.
Sometimes, however, you get to see some really fun couples. And by really fun, I mean couples that make you go, "How is she with him," or, "How can they be a couple," or, "Eww...that's just wrong...isn't it?"
Those couples are more the norm when dealing with a high school. One of my colleagues, for example, had a junior boy and freshman girl couple in one of his classes. They would decide, at random times, to make out during the class. It was so bad at one point that the teacher was considering buying a water pistol and treating the kids as if they were bad kittens. Sometimes that works.
And yet love is a crazy, complicated thing. I have discovered some things over the course of time. I've been the dumper, and I've been the dumpee. The last time I was dumped (a story you may or may not recall), I took it hard. That was the second time I had been dumped, too. The first time really wasn't bad. In fact, I was kind of glad she did dump me.
As for dumping someone, it can be harsh, but I would argue it's easier to break a heart than to have a heart broken (but what do I know? Go ask Alexis).
In all honesty, here's what to think about when dumping somone or being dumped. I could also talk about what to do when someone you care about dies, but that's for another time.
1. Break ups are hard. Don't forget that. This is not supposed to be easy, roll-off-your-back stuff.
2. It takes time. If you've been in a relationship that's lasted over the course of some time, you don't get dumped or dump someone and feel great the next day. It takes time to deal. Don't be Superman or Wonder Woman. Just relax and take the time to heal.
3. Hang on to your friends and use them. They know you well. Hopefully you were smart and didn't alienate them when you started this relationship. And don't try to poach friends. If your Ex had them as friends first, don't try to make them stick with you. It's not fair to them, and it doesn't really make you look good. Still, hold on to your friends and go to them for what you need to hear.
4. Don't go to deep into reasons. Some people have the ability to read too deeply or to over analyze situations. Usually this leads to the "If Only's" which is when you start saying things like, "IF ONLY I had bought her that movie she wanted," or, "IF ONLY I'd done (Fill in the Blank) with him." This isn't helpful and ignores reality.
5. (If you dump) Be Honest. If it's them, be honest. Don't pull punches, but don't be overly critical or harsh. Just like everything else, keep it simple and honest.
6. Take the proper amount of time. You CAN feel bad, but after some time passes, it is time to get on with your life. Mourning too long is not healthy. This leads to the final tip:
7. Take care of yourself. Look, you can feel bad, and you can have some alcohol, or ice cream, or whatever terrible thing makes you feel better, but do it in moderation, and don't do anything that will cause you to be in serious trouble (law or health wise). You need to do something that will make you like yourself (and gluttony or alcoholism won't do that).
Think about this the next time this happens.
Me and the News Guys:
They say that you attract a certain type of person, and this seems to be true when it comes to friends as well.
I was lucky to get Superstar Jason DeRusha as a regular reader of the blog before he became Superstar J.R. Great guy.
Recently, my son's daycare had a Halloween party. My wife and I attended, because we thought it would be fun.
So I'm sitting at the table while my son chows on some "Dirt Desert" (which I didn't want him eating, but he should try sugar...I guess), and the guy sitting next to me has his daughter (I assumed) with him. She is wearing a Supergirl outfit. I think that's cool, so I made a comment. "Her costume is awesome."
"Thanks," Father and daughter reply.
The guy and I start talking about comic books (among other things), and we discover that we have similar senses of humor (much to my wife's chagrin).
Later, as we're leaving, he and I start talking again and he asks me, "So, what comic books do you read?"
"Well," I reply, "I love Green Lantern."
He pauses, while holding his daughter's hand, and says, "I think I have a man crush right now."
My wife laughs.
"We should exchange numbers at some point," he comtinues.
"That'd be great," I reply.
"Great. Get my number from Lisa (the director)."
The next day my wife calls me as I'm on the way home from work.
"I talked to Lisa," she tells me. "Do you know who the guy you were talking to is?"
"He's Keith Marler," she says.
"He's the morning Meterologist for channel 9."
That's right, ladies and gentlemen, I get the news people. They just seem to like me.
First DeRusha and Shelby, now Marler and Passolt. Heck, I've even had dealings with Tim Sherno...but that's another story.
Of course what do I know? I'm a demographic. Maybe that's what they see. I could be wrong.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Ghoulishy Geeky Parent

It's Halloween, and Little Leab was out and about in our tiny neighborhood.

He wasn't thrilled (he's tired, doesn't feel well, and was on a sugar low...thanks daycare!), but he still went to a few houses.

Though I am no artist when it comes to picture taking, I am sure you'll enjoy this lovely shot.

Happy Halloween and namaste.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Death Clock

So here's the deal:

In a month, I will be moving on from Ironic Teachings.

It's not that I don't like to write.
It's not that I don't have enough readers.
It's not that I don't have anything to say.

The problem is that anonymity is gone. Too many people (students, colleagues, higher-ups) are sharing the site name with each other, coming along and reading, and then complaining or are just worried about what is being said.

There is a real fear. And with fear comes threats and problems. So, in order to avoid anymore problems, I am retiring this blog for a short time. Think Michael Jordan in the early nineties...except I won't play baseball, I'll just write somewhere else.

If you are interested in knowing where I will be, you can contact me through email. Though it sounds bad, if I think you should be allowed to stay on, dear reader, I will give you details.

So there it is. The countdown is on.

Let me make it clear to those of you who read this: I love this blog. I will be back to it one day, so it isn't going away, just me.



Saturday, October 27, 2007

No Longer A Big Deal (A Singular Rambling)

There is a weird deal in our culture when it comes to birthdays.
As cynical as it might sound, we make them into way too much of a big deal.

There is a truth we ignore: Once you have turned 21...birthdays are overrated.

You were born on this earth 23, 31, or even 75 years ago? Good for you. That doesn't mean that you get a free pass to do whatever you wish.

Other than to your family and friends, you are just another being who will spend a cosmically short time on Earth, help some people, harm others, do (hopefully) something worthwhile along the way, and die with a few people remembering scant and vague memories about you.

And yet, when it is your birthday, you truly hope that those around you who you care about, who you have helped, and who you love will remember and say those simple words that are like chocolate to a child: "Happy Birthday!"

I say this with a form of clarity in my mind. Today was (or at least is for the next forty minutes) my birthday. It should be a big deal. I'm entering my final year of twenties, which seems to frighten so many of my generation, but I don't care.

My day? I woke up with my son at 7. My wife looked tired, so I decided to let her sleep in and had breakfast with Poozer. Later on, my wife awoke. We both got ready, got Little Leab ready, headed out to lunch. Nothing fancy, just a meal at Noodles so my son could have some Mac and Cheese. Then my wife went shopping while I walked around with my son. Next came grocery shopping. Then home so my wife and son could nap while I cleaned up the fountain in the front for winter storage as well as washing down my son's high chair for storage. Dinner was fish sticks, tater tots, and yogurt (all for my son) and then we played until he fell asleep. With Poozer tucked in, I graded. My wife looked over her work email. That's my birthday. Now my wife and son are asleep, and I sit here alone. Just a normal Saturday. The only difference is that 29 years ago, I was cut out of my mother.

And so my next birthday is my thirtieth...and it seems like no big deal? So what?

To me, birthdays stopped being a big deal after I turned twenty-one. My now-wife/then-fiance threw a surprise party for me, which was nice...and had a Halloween theme. People had a great deal of fun.
However, every birthday after that has been nothing more than another day.

And this is where the problem starts for me. The Taoist in me says, "Yes, it is your birthday, but it's also just a Saturday. So it's just a normal day. No reason to get excited. Some people are glad you're here, but some are not."
At the same time, there's a little eight year old Leab in the back of my mind saying, "It's your birthday. Everyone should be celebrating. You should get to party and have fun and let go."

I should point out that I'm not a huge fan of eight year old Leab as he has had a hand (nice alliteration) in getting me in trouble in the past and present.

Let me be clear: I don't want a giant party where I'm the center of attention. All eyes staring at me makes me uncomfortable (which is ironic as I am a teacher and have students staring at me all the time). What I want is my family members to call me and tell me they love me and wish me a joyous day of my exiting the womb. I also want my wife to give me a hug, tell me she loves me, and wish the same tidings. That's it.

I don't need presents.
I don't need billboards.
I don't need people to show up at some restaurant and toast me.

That's just not me.

You have to understand, my in-laws forced me to create an Amazon wishlist (and unlike some of my colleagues, I won't be linking to it), because they feel that gifts are the main way of showing you care about someone on their birthday.

The unfortunate idea, however, is one that I also had to explain to Sister #1 today. She is currently in the process of sending me a gift for my joyous Uteral Exit day and feels bad that it will be late. I tried to explain to her the same sentiment: it's not about the gift. She doesn't have to send one. All I require is a phone call or an email saying nothing more than, "Happy birthday." That's it.

My generation has unfortunately created some major problems on the birthday front. It is the people around my age who have children and want them to have AMAZING birthdays that create these outlandish and overdone parties and give overpriced and overdone gifts so that they kids come to expect it.
Parties where kids are flown to other states.
Crazy Sweet Sixteen parties that cost more than my house.
Presents that have a price in the range of my zip code (starts with 55, folks).

There's even a fear of giving the wrong birthday present to someone. God forbid....

And yet this is where my hypocrisy and split nature comes into play.
Again, I don't want a huge party, nor do I care about what gifts are given to me, nor do I really want people fawning over me. When I turned twenty-one, I didn't tell most of the bartenders that it was my birthday. I had stopped being carded long before that, so it wasn't a big deal to me.
When I was a kid, my parents threw me a really nice party for my tenth birthday. The school I was at had an auction, and my parents won (ratherly cheaply my mother told me) a party at a local movie theater. So I invited my class (all eleven of them) and we watched a movie, had some pizza, and had a nice time.

It may have been the nicest party I've ever had, but that's not why I'm a hypocrite.

No, the hypocrisy comes from wanting my family members, especially my wife, to say those words. None of them ever have to send me or give me gifts. I don't need or really want a party. They just have to call.
This is why my heart is hurting a little tonight. With only a few minutes to go before October 28th sweeps into existence in the Central Time Zone, my wife has not said those words. And though I rarely ever admit it, this is one time that my feelings are actually hurt.

Thus, it becomes easier to lower your expectations for what people will do.

Indeed, I thought about totally screwing with people this year and sending them gifts for my birthday. Hey, I turned twenty-nine. Happy birthday to me; here's a new Nintendo Wii for you!
That would totally blow their minds.

There's also another aspect to it: ever since I was fifteen, I have a had dream about dying on my thirtieth birthday. I'm sitting at a table, and a faceless woman who I know is my wife brings me a birthday cake. I make a wish that my friends and family are prosperous in the next year, and then as I blow out the candles, I die of a heart attack. The dream comes to me a few times a year.

I am also a hypocrite, because my wife will turn thirty in a few weeks, and I will throw a huge surprise party (and I can write that here because she'll never see this. Three years of writing, and she's never looked once). Her friends will be there and possibly her family as well. Because to my wife, her thirtieth birthday is a huge deal. I don't know why.

Well, I sort of see the deal.
The day you're born is supposed to be your day (though with 6.5 Billion people on the planet, it's hard to believe it's YOUR day). It's the one day where everything feels about you. No matter how small you feel, no matter how bad things may be going, this is supposed to be your day.
And we are told that certain years are important:
First birthday (technically 2nd): You have achieved a year on the Earth.
Thirteenth birthday: You have made it to Teenager.
Eighteenth birthday: You're now a technical adult (helllllo, Army and voting).
Twenty-first birthday: You're now a real adult, Pinocchio.
Decade birthdays (30, 40, etc): You're getting older.

But why do we care so much? This could lead me to go off on on the useless holidays for which we suddenly have to buy gifts. National Teacher Appreciation Day? Really? It's as if we as a culture are saying we can't show love without a physical representation in the form of a materialistic good.

Off topic...moving back.

Maybe I'm just too cynical, maybe I'm just a bad person, or maybe I'm just hurt that as the clock strikes midnight, my wife has not said those words yet, but I think we do make too big a deal out of birthdays. Parties and gifts and such are for children. This is not an indictment, this is truth. The look on a six year old's face when they rip open the paper is priceless, but at the same time I wonder if they would feel the same way if they were unaware of the materialistic goods out there.

Because this is the bottom line for me: I ask for gift cards...then I turn around and buy things for other people using them.

So what have we learned in this silly rambling?
1. Apparently I'm narcissistic enough to believe that I can write about myself, and you'll learn something.

2. Birthdays are fine until after you're twenty-one and then it becomes just another day.

3. Birthday parties and such are really for kids, but we have to be careful about what we do. Too much and kids become spoiled; too little and kids wonder what they did wrong.

4. That even though birthdays are just another day, the people whose birthday it is want a hug and want to be recognized.

5. Don't forget a loved one's birthday. If you have a memory issue, write it down. And say the words. Say them or write them, but let them know that you know.

6. I may have only a year to live....

Of course what do I know? I'm just a narcissistic cynic sitting alone at the end of his birthday wondering what will happen to me in the next 365 days. I could be wrong.

Namaste...and happy birthday John Cleese, Roberto Benigni, Dylan Thomas, Roy Lichtenstein, and Teddy Roosevelt.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Won't Lift a Finger

Every once in a while, an event happens in your life that scares you pretty deeply.

I recently had this event.

About a week ago, I started to have a sharp pain on my side. It felt like I had pulled a muscle in my lower back or maybe one of my obliques. Now, unfortunately for me, I had to work the Homecoming dance, so, even with pain running through my body, I went to work.

The dance was pretty quiet except for two girls passing out from heat exhaustion (you have to be careful) and two kids having to be separated for being macho idiots.

In separating the kids, I thought I had pulled the muscle even worse than before. When I arrived home, my legs were hurting, and the pain was so bad in my back and side that I almost couldn't sleep that night. Verge of tears kind of pain we're talking here.

Sunday morning the fear starts to creep in a little. The pain is now throughout my whole body. My legs are hurting all over, my back is barking, and even my arms hurt. All very badly. I can't even pick up my son. That's how painful it is. Somehow I manage to help my wife with my son. Poozer was no amused when "Da-Da" couldn't lift him up.

Years of experience have taught me that muscle pain (if it is muscle pain) needs to be taken care of with heat. So a hot bath and a heating pad were on the menu. Unfortunately, the pain didn't get any better.

Monday morning I have to drag myself down the stairs to shower and get dressed. The pain was really bad, and I had a really hard time buttoning the shirt I was wearing. The pain had moved from my back to my arms and legs. It was so bad, that I had to...uh...remove the contents of my stomach. My wife was worried.

"Don't go to work."

"I have to," I replied.

"Why?" she asked.

"Because I don't have everything set up for a sub."

After a moment of staring me up and down, my wife quietly said, "You're an idiot...but I love you."

It would get worse. I had a fever (101), and my left hand would go numb after my first period class.

With no options left, I went to the nurse and asked her for advice.

"Well, you have a fever (which I already knew), but your blood pressure is fine. So I have no idea why you're hand is numb."

After leaving the nurse's office, my right hand would begin to cramp up and go numb. The pain was so bad, I couldn't even hold a pen. This led to three problems:

1. Couldn't hold a pen, which meant I couldn't really grade.

2. Couldn't hold a piece of chalk, which meant I couldn't write on the board.

3. Couldn't type, which meant no entering of grades (or blogging).

I figured I needed another day, so I finished the day out and went home. Again, couldn't hold my son, couldn't walk, couldn't do anything. I could not, however, take Tuesday off. The kids were turning in journals, so I needed to be there. Plus, if I was going to go to a doctor and sit in an office for hours on end, I wanted something to read.

Maybe it's the German in me, but efficiency is key. I may have been sick, and I may have been in pain, but that doesn't mean I can't work.

As the son (no, not a misspelling) rose on Tuesday morning, I was in a bad way. The numbness and pain were still there, but now I had muscle fatigue. This is how bad it was:

Imagine a handshake. You grip the hand all the way around, but primarily from the bottom. I couldn't do that. The top part was ok, but the bottom wasn't. It felt like muscles in my arm were just hyper tense all the time. I would later find out that the problem area was also known as the Ulnar Nerve.

The issue with the muscle fatigue was that the mundane was now hard.

I couldn't open my car door with one hand; it took both hands.

I had to manipulate my body in a new way to get doors open, hold books, and more. I couldn't even hold a pen or type on a keyboard (hence the lack of posts for a while).

And yet I really did not want to see a doctor. Not because I was afraid of what it might be, but because I never have a good visit to my doctor. I never leave feeling satisfied. Still, with the pain and numbness getting worse, I had to go. So I begrudgingly took a sick day. Of course, before I would miss any work, I made sure the students would have work to do. Yes, Virginia, I am that mean of a teacher.

In the past I have talked about my doctor's office. Aside from making an appointment with him, however, I also made an appointment with a chiropractor. This would cover both bases. Either it was a misplaced disc or nerve, or I was really sick.

The first appointment was the chiropractor. I regaled him with stories about the pain and problems in my arms and legs.
It's never good when the guy looks at you and says, "I...I don't know what this could be." He started talking about "Bi-Lateral" and more. The entire time he kept staring at my arms as if they were encased in gold. As he took his little hammer and tapped my leg, nothing happened.

"Huh. That's strange."

He started tapping harder. Finally, after a few more tries, he looked at the knee, cocked his head, and said, "Oh. I've been tapping in the wrong place. Silly me."

He then tapped again and the leg spasmed.

"Lie down on the table," he said sweetly. "I'm going to adjust you...but I think this is viral. Honestly it looks like Lyme. Go to a doctor."
Then the cracking started. It didn't help.

The next stop was the clinic. I have explained before how I feel about doctors. So there I am sitting in the clinic waiting to see the doctor and get blood tests and I feel totally out of place. Everyone around me is an old person waiting to get a flu shot.
After a forty minutes of grading and waiting, the nurse comes up and mispronounces my name (not a shock at this point).

Five minutes in the small room which inlcuded getting weighed and chit-chat about random things (really, do I need to hear about your dying cat?), and I'm off to have blood taken.
Now this is an easy process. You sit in the table, they tie off your arm and stick the needle in, and then you wait while the blood flows.

The nurse was still telling me all about how her cat is dying and how her child is so upset. I politely nod. Unfortunately her mind is distracted, so she misses the vein the first time.
I guess it was supposed to hurt, but I didn't feel it. There's a bruise a little larger than a quarter on my right arm from her missing.

Three vials later, the nurse gives me that strange, "Hmm."
"What's wrong I ask?"
"Your blood is flowing really slowly. It might be a problem."

She takes the fourth vial which is the slow flowing one to the back. While she's in the back, a nurse comes by looking for my doctor.
"Have you seen him?" she asks.
"He's in that office," I reply.
She goes to talk to him. Though I couldn't hear it all, I caught the end of the conversation when he yells at her, "Figure it out! That's your JOB!"

My nurse returns. "I have to take two more vials. The last two apparently won't work."
"Ok," I reply. I don't really have a choice.
Again she puts the needle in (though she doesn't miss this time) and takes more blood. Again the blood flows really slowly.
"That's so weird," she comments.

Now, if you've ever donated blood, you know that there's a point where you can become dizzy. No food, no water, and blood being taken equals a woozy Ironic.

Time passes. I know I sat for a few minutes gaining my wits, then I left.

It wasn't until today that I got the news. My white blood cell count is down, so is my Vitamin D. It's not Lyme.
I need more sun, and I had some sort of virus that hit my nervous system.

The main issue with the doctor's office was my actual doctor. I was in the same room that I once dropped trousers in and was stared at from the parking ramp. My doctor listened to my story and just stared at me.
"Been bitten by a tick lately?"
"No," I replied."
"Hmm. How long have you been feeling sick?"
"Since Sunday," I said.
"And you're just coming here now?"
He sighed, finished his notes, and went into the hall.
Not completely muffled, I hear, "What the hell is this guy thinking? Why didn't he come in earlier? Why are some people stupid about health?"
I'm not feeling well, and I'm nervous, but this comment angers me, so I say out loud, "I can hear you, doctor."

Silence, then the swishing of pant legs moving quickly away from my door.

As you can tell from this post, I'm ok now. I still have some fatigue, but nothing too serious. I do need more sun, however.

It just saddens me how the medical world has changed. I honestly blame insurance companies and the modern idea of speed. We want a quick diagnosis so we can move on to the next thing. If a doctor tries to be personable, we become uneasy.

That which does not kill me can only make me stronger. Unfortunately, it can also makes us madder.

Then again, what do I know? I'm the patient in 305. I could be wrong.


Monday, October 15, 2007

Why I Don't Grade at Night Anymore

This is why I no longer bring reams of work home. My insufficient cellphone camera took a snapshot of Poozer (or Little Leab) preparing to cheer at the Wild home opener. This is another reason. Look at how happy this kid is to see his dad.

So if you want to know why all your grades aren't in, this is why.


Friday, October 12, 2007

Red Dot Country Store Confusion

I like Target. I really do. Sure, it may have union issues (just quieter than Wal-Mart), and it is putting "Mom and Pop" shops out of business, but there's just something nice about being able to get everything under one roof.

Need groceries? You can get them.

Need baby clothes? Just a couple aisles over.

Need an air mattress for that cousin coming to stay with you? Right this way.

It's wonderful and horrible at the same time. You can get everything you want, but it also makes you become dependant...and slightly angry when the materials you want aren't there.

There is another issue, however, that seems to occur to me all the time: People think I work in the store.

You see the school I work at has red as one of its colors. The first Tuesday of October, as part of Homecoming Week's "Jersey Day", I wore a red shirt underneath a red Minnesota Wild Jersey. My wife, son, and I needed to head to Target to pick up some groceries (diapers, bubble bath, etc...I like a clean kid...moving on). I took the jersey off and sported a nice, red polo shirt and khaki pants. This is otherwise known as the Target Uniform.

I knew it from the second I walked in to the store. Eyes immediately turned to me as if to try and figure out what I could do to help them.

I turned to my wife.

"I have to take off my shirt."

"What are you talking about," she replied.

"I'm wearing khakis and a red shirt. I can't lose the pants so I need to lose the shirt," I said and began to take the polo off.

"Leave it on." She was on the edge of being mortified as her husband was stripping in the middle of the store. "No one will bug you. Just LEAVE it ON!"

And as soon as the final syllable has left my wife's lips, the first questions start.

"Where do you guys keep the shampoo?" an older woman asks me.

"I don't work here," I replied. A second passes as her face let's this sink in.

"Oh...sorry. You just you work here."

"I know. Sorry...and shampoo is right there by the sign that says 'Shampoo', ma'am."

This woman shuffles off, but still others are starting to make way toward my wife, son, and I. My instincts tell me to get away, so I step on to the cart, push hard with the other foot, and begin gliding away. Imagine a two hundred pound man squealing like a small child as he flies past children's clothes.
You're probably smiling. My wife was not.

Throughout the next half an hour (who knew shopping took so long?), I was pulled aside many times for help. However, three of the times were by employees, which was fascinating and funny.

Employee 1: She pulled me aside to ask me, "Why aren't you wearing you're radio? It's a team job, you know?"
I smiled politely and said, "I don't work here."
She shook her head. "I've heard that before. Go to the back and get the hand cart."
I held up my hands. "No, I really don't work here. Look." And I reached into my pocket and produced my school badge to prove I was a teacher.
"Oh," she said, " you want a job here?"

Employee 2: My wife is looking at Halloween costumes for my son. (FYI: He will be a dinosaur this year. Yes, I will post a photo.) I feel a hand on my arm and suddenly I'm spun around by this guy.
"Where are you supposed to be?" Number Two asks obviously annoyed.
"I don't work here. I'm actually a shopper."
This news sinks in for a minute.
"Can I see your id?"
"Why?" I ask.
"Verification," he replies.
I show him my school ID. He takes it, picks up his radio, and calls someone.
"Yeah, Jerry. Do we have a 'Leab' on staff?"
"What are you doing?" I ask.
"Making sure," he gruffs.
My wife rolls her eyes and says, "You had to wear red?"
The radio squelches. "There's no 'Leab' on staff."
A moment of silence as Number Two and I lock eyes.
"My ID, please," I say while pointing at the badge.
"Sorry, just had to make sure," Number Two says. He starts to turn and then adds, "In the future, sir, you shouldn't wear red in the store."

Employee 3: It's checkout time, and the Leab family is scanning its purchases. The gal behind the counter is quite jovial and is laughing at my jokes about the weather and such. She even guffaws when I pull out my signature line (not sharing that won't laugh when you see me). As we finish ringing up, she hits all these buttons on the register and goes through screens I've never seen before. After a few seconds she says, "Your number?"
As I'm still in "smart-ass" mode, I say, "eight."
She punches in eight. "And the rest," she says.
"Oh you were serious," I say. "Numbers for what?"
"You're employee discount number," she says.

A moment passes in which a scene from My Blue Heaven plays in my head. Steve Martin's character (Vinnie) is supposed to give Rick Moranis' character (Barney) a social security number. He starts giving random numbers until Barney says, "Wait. That's too many numbers," and Vinnie replies: "Take off the 5."
I wondered if I could give numbers until she told me I had too many.

Of course I didn't even try. My wife and I laughed almost simultaneously. "He doesn't work here," my wife said.
"Oh," Number Three says. "It's just the red shirt and khakis. No one outside of Target employees usually wears...that."

This leads to one of the more interesting issues of our world. Regardless of the advice of NOT judging a book by its cover, we find it so much easier to truly look at someone and say, "I know you."
I'm guilty of it on certain levels. The way a kid dresses can tell me a lot about the group they hang out with on a regular basis, the kind of mindset he or she probably has, and how I should talk to him or her.
Kid wears all black, a Pantera shirt, and has tousled hair. Metal head. Will play video games and act weird for the hopes of attention.
Kid wears expensive name brands, is eager to announce his or her use of money, and plays a high profile sport. This kid wants the name recognition and is very competitive.

I could go on and on. Remember, I can read people, for better or worse, but we, as human beings, are about slight and quick judgements.
You never get a second chance to make a first impression we've been told. Why are first impressions so important? Because more often than not that's how we figure out what we will think.
I walk around Target in a red shirt and khakis, and the assumption is (and in some ways MUST BE) I work there. We are trained to see it, but we also make the leap.
Each of the employees I talked to only talked to me for a short time, but I can look at each of the three conversations and come up with a first impression.

1. Tired of dealing with lazy colleagues.
2. Unhappy and angry.
3. Good natured, but annoyed at ignorance/idiocy.

We would love, as human beings, to believe that we don't snap judge, but it's a way of life. It's why people are afraid to be near other people in dark alleys, why we avoid homeless folks, why we gravitate toward trusting good-looking people, and why we tend to move away from those we deem unattractive. This is why newscasters are supposed to be good-looking. We trust them from our snap judgements.

It's why teachers will wear suits on the first days...and why we aren't supposed to smile.

Then again what do I know? As a first impression, the adjective most likely to describe Leab is crazy. I could be wrong.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Ramblings for the Evening (10/1/2007)

Ah, the beginning of October is here. Soon the leaves will be gone from the trees...then the snow will come. Oh yes, the snow will come.

Moving on.

So, without further ado: GONE, BABY, GONE!
Dental Hell:
Last Wednesday was killer for my mouth. I ended up laying in a chair in my dentist's office for three hours. Three hours!

That's not the bad part.

I ended up having to get a root canal, because he made a mistake.

Still not the bad part.

The office's music got stuck on the best of the Bee Gees. I listened to Andy and Barry Gibb for close to three hours.

That's Hell, ladies and gentlemen.

When I die, I will have a really nice condo in Hell. A ton of space will be available to me. Then I will leave everyday to go to a pit where I will sit in a chair and listen to the Bee Gees for all of eternity. That's Hell.

Of course this is if I go to Hell, which my wife says I won't. How nice of her.

I was at my Dentist's office because I have a dying tooth. It's called Resorption. Essentially the living tissue in this particular tooth is being sucked back into the body. It's making the tooth hollow. At first my dentist said, "We'll probably have to pull and replace with a fake tooth."

This was not a good option in my mind. The thought of a screw being pressed into my jaw and a fake tooth being put on top of it made me...unhappy.

So I was in the chair as he began to drill. After a few minutes of high whirring sounds and the smell of burning, my dentist stopped. "I think," he said, "I can actually just put a filling in....If I can just stop this bleeding."

There are a couple of issues that hit at this point.

1. Blood pouring into the back of my throat from my gums.

2. My dentist quietly cursing under his breath.

3. The fact that the Novocaine was wearing off. (This would happen twice and would require more shots.)

It turns out that the dentist drilled too far and hit the root of the tooth. This would mean I would need a root canal.

So here I was lying in the chair, listening to "Staying Alive" for the fourth time, and raising my hand because my dentist nicked my toungue with the drill and it both hurt and bled.

While I was in there, I started to contemplate a few things. If dentists want to truly make patients happy, here are some ideas for the office.

A. Do something interesting with the ceiling. This is what the patients see most of the time. Whether it's for cleanings, surgeries, or exams, the patients stare up at the ceiling the whole time, so do the following:

* Paint an intricate picture. Have it be multilayered so we can truly contemplate it's depth and meaning.

* Put interesting quotes and sayings up there. We can contemplate life.

* This is the most gauche, but place a projector going up so we can look at ads or movies or different pieces.

We can't talk, and we can't move, so give us something.

B. Have a system that allows patients to bring their own music. Again, we have to sit there. You get to concentrate on working, so you shouldn't care. Let us bring music to calm us down.

C. Don't talk to us. I like talking to you. We can share some interesting ideas, but I can't talk when my tongue is being tied down and sharp instruments are in my mouth. It' Don't ask me my opinions or ideas about something when I cannot answer. It makes me feel bad that I can't truly answer for you. Then again, I could write. Give me a whiteboard and a marker, and I'll talk.

This is what I contemplated as I lay there.

My jaw hurt when I went home. I was no longer numb when I left the office. In fact, because I just wanted to get it over with, I never told the dentist that the Novovaine had worn off while he was putting the filling in my mouth. It was a new pain. I can now say I've felt it.

The other issue is that I didn't need the root canal at first. He nicked it, so I had to get it...and I had to PAY FOR IT! I had to pay for his mistake. I thought it was slightly unfair.

Dentists do get a bad rap. Most people will go to a doctor, but you talk about a dentist and people wig out. Heck, just the sound of the drill can put some people in the fetal position. I don't mind the dentist. They think I'm cursed, but I don't mind them.
My mouth still hurts, however.
Burn, Baby, Burn:
So the guy in Anoka burned a cross into his own lawn? Because he hates his neighbors? Wow, that's gutsy.
It gave me some ideas.

Maybe I should paste some yellow stars on my house and lawn and say my neighbors hate Jews.

Maybe I should TP my own house and say that they hate teachers.

Maybe I should smash the windows on my car and say they hate foreign cars.
I could go on and on.

It just amazes me the lengths that some people will go to in order to get attention or revenge. This event also saddens me. It shows how evil humans can be (sure, it also shows how stupid they can be, but that is neither nor there).

I also find it fascinating that no one is really talking about this.

This story also illustrates why people are so cynical about the world. Man cries out that he's been wronged. That he's been a victim of a hate crime...but he lied. How you can trust anyone when they keep crying wolf? It's no wonder that so many crimes and cries are not taken seriously....

And finally....
It's All About...Us?
Have you seen these commercials for ESPN V-Cast?

They illustrate the egotistical nature of American culture today.
Each of the commercials, if you haven't seen them, deals with guys (and it's always guys) talking to a "sportscaster" about how they were able to use the phone in a public place. One guy, for example, talks about hiding behind his buddy at a wedding in order to check his fantasy scores. There's another one where the guy talks about hiding his phone at a funeral.
These commercials are supposed to be fun, but they come off as childish. They aren't the only ones.
Many commericals today deal with bandwagon propaganda. Everyone's doing it, so you should too!
Maybe it's just me.
Of course, what do I know? I'm the new pitchman for Tide. Get it out. We good? Where's my check? I could be wrong.


Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Antic Disposition

There's no easy way to put this:
Most people think I'm crazy. Not in the wonderful way, not in the bizarre way, and not in the impractical way (though that's a relief to me).

No, many people think I'm the mentally deranged, insane kind of crazy.

I don't blame them.
When I was in college, I had a Psychology professor who once told me, "If you ever think that you are nothing but completely sane...that's when you've become crazy." His words made complete sense (and in a side note, it was also apparently an old test in Psychology that if you believed you were totally sane then something was wrong.
We all have our moments that show our intricacies and our quirks.
Superstitions, for example, could be considered a form of insanity.
Can't step on a crack? What's wrong with you?
The papers have to be exactly square to the desk? Now we're getting somewhere.
You get the idea.
I confirmed this diagnosis at two points today. The first came while I was talking to a favorite student of mine. The other came during a department meeting.
The student came to visit me in my "office" while I was grading papers, and we began talking about the world (Ok, it was life, liberty, and the inane...shush!) at large. As the conversation continued, it turned to her and her life. Now I've known this student for a few years. She is not now, nor has she ever been, an open book. Much like me, she's very guarded. Yet, I can read her very easily. Unfortunately for her, she asked me what I know, and I told her my perceptions. As I went through my thoughts, I could see this look begin to build on her face. This is not a positive look. It's that moment when the brows knit together and the mouth begins to open a little. It's the moment when a person suddenly realizes that their soul, their true essence even, has been seen. I was given this look, and was asked simply, "How?"
The answer is the hard part. I read people VERY well, and it is really hard to explain. I put it this way. I can look at a person as well as listen to them and a tic list begins to form. As this person moves about their day or around me, the list continues to compile. My brain is not truly actively doing this, but it continues. As I look upon people, all I see (beyond them) is the tic list surrounding them. It makes crowded rooms difficult.
Let me give you an example of what I mean. There is a gal I went to college with living out here in Minnesota. I see her every once in a while when I'm in downtown Minneapolis (she works for Theatre de la Jeune Lune). Over the course of nine years, we've had many conversations, and I've been a part of many events in her life (not necessarily by choice). So when I see her, I know her body language. Her stance speaks to me, and the placement of her arms tells me her emotions. Beyond that, however, I see her issues and life surround her as we speak. When she talks relationships, I see all the information about the boyfriend who dumped her, the guy she cheated on, and more. It's weird, and it can really freak people out when you can remember this stuff without being prompted.
And then there are my colleagues who never see the true, calm Leab. In fact, unless I'm frantic with energy or bouncing around, they constantly ask me, "What's wrong?"
Few people have seen me as I really am . In some ways I turn into Hamlet when I'm work.
"Here, as before, never, so help you mercy,
How strange or odd some’er I bear myself
(As I perchance hereafter shall think meet
To put an antic disposition on)
That you, at such times seeing me, never shall note
That you know aught of me."
I am a believer that Hamlet fakes his insanity throughout the play (and causes Ophelia's true craziness), but that's neither here nor there.
When at work, I am energetic (when I can be) and slightly over-the-top (for lack of a better term). Partially I have to be (ever work with Freshmen?), but mostly it's because, like Hamlet, the crazy guy gets the ears. Sure, Mark Antony can give a rousing speech, but that crazy guy mumbling on the corner gets your fascination over the eloquent.
As for me, I admit that my antic disposition helps me greatly. Unfortunately I have stories to back up the perception of my madness. However I'm lucky that almost everyone I went to college with cannot find me.
When you're crazy, people will listen. It helps if you're loud too. My wife says I'm a foghorn in a library when I want people to listen to me. I also speak through my thoughts. An example:
If I start with Great Expectations, I can truly push the kids...but then I also set them up for failure. Yet I'm also underestimating them. That's silly, Leab, it makes sense. Does it? (Mind you this would be me talking out loud to myself and answering myself. Fun to watch, harder to comprehend.
The bottom line, however, is, as Norman Bates famously said, "We all go a little mad sometimes." We all have a bit of craziness in us. There are varying levels of course.
Some hear voices.
Some charge into Karaoke without a second thought.
Some can speak their mind (though most aren't Minnesotan. It's true, get over it!).
Some believe Abe Lincoln lives in their armpit.
And we all wear masks. The true essence of who we are scares us, so we feel it will scare others. Thus we act one way with family, another way with our spouse or partner or significant other, and even different way with friends, or colleagues, or etc. The hard part is when our masks begin to meld (like when a loved one meets a colleague).
It also doesn't hurt that most people believe that crazy and genius go hand in hand. If people think I'm brilliant, then I can accept being thought of as crazy. Only you (dear reader) know the truth. Keep it quiet, or the platypus on my shoulder will eat you. Just kidding...or am I?
Then again what do I know? Abe Lincoln, Jack Kerouac, Marie Curie, and I play Bridge on Tuesdays. I could be wrong.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Sad State of the World...and My Mind

William Smythe is a buddy of mine. Recently he wrote a post about how common courtesy has been forgotten.

I didn't really think twice about what he wrote.

However, the more I think about it, the more I realize that he is right. Common courtesy is dying. Americans...check that...humans do not truly know what common courtesy is anymore.

About a week before school started, my wife and I took advantage of a business trip she had to take and now we are out on the East Coast. This, of course, meant traveling by plane.
Airports and air travel is insane now. Security pushes you through faster than a fast food joint, though they are just as surly. My wife was attempting to get her shoes off (and her belt...that was a new one) while holding our son. I was putting our bags (and her computer, which has to be pulled out and put in a bucket) on the belt. The TSA officer kept telling my wife, "You must go faster, Ma'am. You MUST go FASTER." If you're ever tried to do anything while holding a toddler, you know it's impossible to truly go faster.

I, meanwhile, am being talked about by the woman behind me.
"Could this guy TAKE UP anymore space?" she asked snarkily.
I let that one go. I was more concerned with my wife and son.
"I fucking hate people who just don't know how to fly," her friend says.
Let that one go too.
"Look at the woman with the kid," Snarky now says while indicating my wife. "I bet I sit near that bitch and her brat."
That's where my courtesy ends.

It doesn't take much to look like what I call a "flying idiot." As Snarky started to put her stuff behind mine I positioned my stuff at a slight angle. Then, when the conveyor belt started to take my stuff, I would have to reposition it. If you do it right, then the repostioning forces the first thing behind it to fall off the belt. In this case, her shoes and jacket plopped over the side into dust bunnies.

However, the real issue of common courtesy came at the gate. My son is now walking. At the time, however, he was still learning, so he needed to hold our hands for help. Being that we had a small child, we decided to board early for the first time ever. The three of us heard the call and walked up toward the gate with my son leading the way. Suddenly, a woman with a large stroller cut us off and knocked my son down. Then, as she wasn't paying attention, she ran over his hand. He started crying. The woman who knocked him down turned, looked at him then at my wife and I, and said, "Do something. He's upsetting my daughter."

I lost it.

"Apologize," I said.
"Excuse me?" she said.
"You ran over my son's hand and hurt him. Apologize for what you did."
"No. You should have had a better grip on him."
"You cut us off," I said.
"I was here first. Make him stop crying."
"Apologize or I will make a scene so crass and loud that people here will think you kicked him in the face."
She turned to the attendant and said, "Do something. This man is threatening me."
The attendant looked at her and said, "You did knock down his child. However, sir, you need to stop or I will remove you from this flight."
I took a deep breath when the attendant put her hand on my shoulder.
"Sir, you, your wife, and your son can board first since you're sitting away from this family."
We boarded, but it was a hollow victory. The woman felt no shame about knocking down an infant that wasn't hers.

The lack of courtesy is not just in the airport either

My wife and I took our breakfast from IHOP one morning last week. A woman paying her bill as asked if she liked everything. Instead of saying, "Thank you for asking but I didn't enjoy everything," she called over the manager and started to talk about how (and I quote), "The server is obviously retarded, the food tastes like ass, and your cleanliness is bad." The server asked what she could do to help, and the woman said, "You should quit, because you suck."
We waited a little longer and watched as a guy walked in and took a booth without permission. When the server asked him to move, the guy merely said, "Make me."

There's always the issues with cell phones. A guy in Barnes and Noble was screaming across the room tonight while on the phone.

I love going to the movie theatre, but I think I'm at the point where it's cost and the lack of courtesy from the people around me make me want to stay home.

People rarely hold doors anymore, and today's kids almost never show good manners and common courtesy. Hmm, maybe that's not fair. Some do show it, but most don't.

Then again maybe my issues with the world also stem from myself. I've been feeling like a lousy parent ever since school started back up last week. I have 200 students, so I have to grade. Unfortunately it means my grading has to come home with me. That means a few hours of work at night. My son looks to me to play and be with him, and I can't. That frustrates me.

It's hard to explain. Maybe it's just me. I don't know. I'll try to come back with a stronger, happier thought in my next post.


Tuesday, September 11, 2007

I Have Dreamed a Dream

"Some say life is hard....
That's just talk.
In fact, it's good to be alive.
It's...exciting." - Kurosawa in Dreams

In 1990, one of the greatest directors in cinematic history released a film that followed his life and polarized many critics.

Some truly loved the film. Others called it overly self indulgent and weak compared to some of his other works (Ran, Seven Samurai, The Hidden Fortress).

The film is a set of eight vignettes that follow the life of a character with no name. He is supposed to represent not only Kurosawa but all of us. Throughout the film, his name is never given, but he is essentially "I".

The first two vignettes ("Sunshine Through the Rain" and "The Peach Orchard") deal with the young version of the protagonist. It is also in these two pieces that the audience sees how much the director loves nature and the environment. The sadness of the dolls in "The Peach Orchard" is due to the loss of their trees. The dolls even blame the boy for the clearing and scold him for his part. However, just as the boy shows remorse for not listening to his mother in "Sunshine," he also is able to convince the dolls of his love of the orchard. They reward him by showing him the way things used to be. These two sections have dual meanings. The first is to show the viewer the beauty and tribulations of childhood. For every perfect moment, there is an equal moment of understanding how the loss of naivete can alter memories.

At the same time, Kurosawa is warning the viewer about nature and the environment. Minor abuses, such as clearing an orchard or disturbing the animals' natural courses, can be forgiven, but those occurences do change the course of our lives.

Time passes in life and in the film. "I" becomes an adult and the next two segments of the film become depressing and deep. This is not unlike how humans, as they become adults, no longer meditate on the simplicity of life and concentrate on the dark side.

"The Blizzard" deals with a group of men (one of which is "I") become lost in a blizzard. They are on the verge of death and want to stop. Only "I" realizes they must keep going or be lost forever. It is here that Kurosawa adds a touch of Japanese mythology. After being separated from the other men, "I" runs into a siren on the mountain. This may, in fact, be the Yuki-onna (a woman who attempts to lead men to their death while in blizzards). "I" does not succumb, however, because he knows he must live, and because he answers her call, she lets him live (the spirit is known to do this if the reason is just).

While "The Blizzard" deals with overcoming one's own death, "The Tunnel" deals with overcoming the death of others. "I" is returning home from the war (we can assume it is World War II) and after walking through a tunnel on the way to his village, he is approached by the ghost of one of his men. "I" finds it hard to explain to the man that he is in fact dead. The ghost leaves only to return with the whole platoon. "I" is left with no choice but to live with his survival guilt and send the men back to their graves.

Kurosawa is very careful to change the tone of the film for this section. The vibrant colors of the world are replaced with harsh tones of blue. It is obvious that M. Night Shyamalan borrowed his color ideas for The Sixth Sense from Kurosawa. Blue represents the spiritual world, and in most cases it is negative.

"Crows" enters the middle age portion of the life of "I". Now an art student, he enters into the work of Vincent Van Gogh (here played by Martin Scorcese, who won't win any acting awards) to talk to the painter about his work. As "I" walks through various painting by Van Gogh, he finally finds the painter only to discover what his hero's (also a hero of Kurosawa) drive was.
"I paint," Van Gogh tells him, "because the sun compels me to." Kurosawa's Van Gogh also goes on to explain that he cut off his ear, because he could not get it right in the painting. As "I" chases the artist, he starts heading through the Van Gogh's rough sketches as the painter was approaching the end of his life.

It is here that Kurosawa attempts to use one of his heroes to put forward his own views on life and art. Kurosawa feels he MUST make art. He is, however, also making a commentary about middle age. Humans will begin to feel compelled to do all the things they must before they die. Van Gogh cannot stop because of the sun. Once the sun sets, his life will end. This is what Kurosawa is telling the viewer about life here in the middle of the film. The sequence also returns the viewer to the beautiful imagery before losing it again.

The next two stories return to the grim nightmares of the director. "Mt. Fuji in Red" deals with nuclear meltdown as a power plant on Mt. Fuji goes critical. The director paints the sky red and sets the power plants behind the mountains as if the volcano, not the reactors, are ending lives of the people of Japan. This returns to the directors feelings about the arrogance mankind has about the environment.
"The Weeping Demon" is Kurosawa's attempt to scare those in charge about the dangers of Nuclear war and holocaust. "I" has survived, but he's discovered that nature has been turned upside-down (literally), dandelions are huge, and humans are dead except for those responsible. Those people have become horned demons. The more responsible a person is, the more horns he has. The multi-horned demons must also eat those with fewer horns. Along with immortality, these former humans are now doomed to forever be in this Hell on Earth. While the imagery can be quite powerful and haunting, the director sermonizes a little much. The overall idea of these two sections could also be the time after middle age before old age. The body is unable to work as well as it should (or could), and those unable to adapt may truly live the rest of their life in a difficult landscape.
Kurosawa, however, ends on a positive note. "I" happens upon a village where the people commune with nature by attaching watermills to every home. This way they are not dependent on the nuclear power plants shown in the "Mt. Fuji". By passing on modern technology, the people of the village are happier. "We have chosen to have," the man tells "I", "the health of our spirit instead of convenience." As the film closes, "I" hears joyful music and sees people celebrating. When he asks, he is told that this is a funeral. Living to old age and working hard is celebrated instead of mourned. This is a message from Kurosawa about the end of life. Humans should celebrate what each of us has accomplished in life instead of mourning what will be missed.
The cycle of life begins with the lovely colors and wonder of childhood, and mankind returns to that wonder in the end. The middle may be full of hardships, but the journey is worth it.
While it may not be Kurosawa's best work, Dreams truly gives the viewer an insight into the journey of life as well as the director's mind.
It is exciting to be alive and though the journey may be difficult, it's never boring.