Category Archives: Education

Mr. Tritt’s Parent-friendly Guide to Why Teaching Didn’t Completely Suck

I taught for a long time. I don’t want to get into it. It depresses me. Yes, all you students who still write me, call me, see me, visit me – it depressed me. It affected my voice, my habits, my health mentally, spiritually and physically. Hell, I even ended up with a bladder infection because we, students too, were thought so much as mechanisms that we had to pee by the bells. See, that’s how much I hated it. You have never heard me use the word pee before. Now I’ve used it twice.

It’s ok the students know that. The students who still write me, call me, see me, visit me were generally depressed too – thoughtful, curious, intelligent, sharp and kind. People like that tend to get depressed when treated like mechanisms.

I have written about it before. Suicides, mementoes, workshop trips, field trips, those special students. I have taught classes of one hundred and thirty at a time, had an attempt on my life, been told by a principal he was tired of teachers who thought they were artists and our job was to surround, capture kill and destroy (Yoo-hoo, Mr. Johnson, how come the website blurb next to your picture, as of this publishing, is outdated by three years? ) and by other principals that Shakespeare and Homer were being removed from the curriculum because a classical education would do the students no good if they could not pass a standardized test. You have to be able to run a frialator.

I once had a high school principal, Andrew Taylor of Piper High School in Ft. Lauderdale, mandate all poetry being taught needed to have parental permission slips. Seriously. He would call teachers to stand during faculty meetings and dress them down using such language as “coward” and “useless” coming withing inches of their faces with his wagging finger. Seriously. Not long after, he abruptly resigned after the married fellow was found to have several “inappropriate” relationships with members of the faculty. But I’ve written about all that. I’m much better now.

You see, it was never the students who I had problems with. Not even the one who tried to kill me. Administrations, on the other hand, that’s another story. Really, that’s the whole story. The only story.

Still, after a while one begins to doubt oneself. This one did.

Once in a while I peruse the Internet looking for folks who have co-opted my writing. I find bits of me here and there and usually let them know they are using it without permission (which they know) and what the copyright rules are (which they usually don’t know) and that I could sue them (which I have never done but that is also something they don’t know) unless they remove it or send me something or say please and thank you. Sometimes I even find my work non-cited. I ask for that to be removed. Fair is fair.

This week I found the work copied below. It is from a school at which I taught eighth- grade Honors English. This was the school at which I taught six week workshops to the entire eighth-grade and then the entire seventh-grade all while teaching my normal classes. State assessment scores went up remarkably. I was told I could no longer do this as it was not duplicatable. It upset the department head who could not write an essay even if she were being paid to do so which, essentially, she was. When I asked her for one, to share with the students as an example that everyone writes, she balked. The principal caved. You should have seen their scores the year after that. Flushhhh…

So slow is their movement, so high their inertia or so great their apathy, I still have my web page there even though I have not taught there in two years. In the midst of state assessments, we were required to learn to make web pages on Macs. Stop everything. Build a page. And so I did. Prostitution is prostitution. They want a page, they get a page.

And it is still there. So I read through it. It was good for me. Very good for me, in fact. I’ll let you read what I found before I tell you what it means, as far as I am concerned.

Mr. Tritt’s Parent-Friendly
Field-Guide to 8th Grade
Choice team Language Arts

Ok Mom and/or Dad/and/or Legal Guardian, you are confused. No problem there at all. I understand. Like you, I’m a parent too so I spend a fair amount of my time confused as well. My son is fifteen so I also find myself addled, perplexed and confounded. Some of this is just because he is fifteen. Much of this is over his classes and what their requirements are. While I can’t belay my own confusion, maybe I can alleviate some of yours.

In the next few minutes we can answer most of your questions as long as those questions are about writing and Language Arts in the Eighth Grade Choice Program at Stone. If your questions are about anything else, we’ll see what we can do but I won’t make any promises.

First of all, let me introduce myself. I am Adam Byrn Tritt. I have a bunch of initials after my name. Some are of consequence to teaching, like my masters in Education and my masters in English and in Communications. Others aren’t. I am a writer who teaches and am a published author, essayist and poet so you know and, more importantly, your student knows I practice what I teach and teach what I practice. This adds up to an authentic workshop and class experience for your student where they learn how it is really done (no matter what the ‘it’ is we are learning).

Books. We use plenty of books. But we don’t use textbooks very much. I prefer the students pick books they are interested in and get as deeply into those as possible. I’ll check them for difficulty and appropriateness, of course. We want subjects that can be discussed openly and have literary merit. We also want to make sure the books will develop the students ability to recognize the use of literary devices and themes, have a vocabulary that will allow your student’s minds and brains to stretch and grow, question and reach.

I provide ample opportunity for this with novel suggestions as well as shorter works. Your student can choose among essays old and new, collections of short stories, plays and poetry. Many of the more meritorious of them are worth more points. When I say that I don’t mean the longer ones. Some short essays are worth extra points as well. Have your student ask.

What are they to do with these? Read them, examine them, enjoy them (we hope) and struggle with them. Most weeks they students will prepare a reading log. It consists of five entries and each entry has what book was read, how many pages, plot summary (Colonel Mustard was killed in the parlor with a candlestick. Scooby Doo is on the trail.) New vocabulary, what the student thinks it means from context and what it means when your young’n looks it up in his or her favorite dictionary. The last part is a small portion for notes of whatever your student found was of interest or even a statement of how much they like or, sometimes, dislike the book. Perhaps it mentions writing style, devices used or word choice. In the end, this reading log makes the creation of note cards and the literary analysis a breeze.

I give the students some suggested forms but they make their own. If typed, I give them extra credit for them. If they are for an extra credit book, they get even more credit on top of that.

Five entries per week from whatever novel or essay or collection he or she is reading. If there are no new words one day, this happens. If it happens more than a few times we know the book material isn’t stretching your student. Time for harder material.

Once a month we’ll be doing a literary analysis using the material your son or daughter read. We’ll start off oral with note cards. Oral presentation is mandated by Sunshine State Standards. After a few the students will have a choice to do this orally, on video, by PowerPoint, in writing or in any other creative way s/he can think of as long as the points on the rubric are covered. Of course they have the rubric and we practice hitting each point first. All this gets them ready for the FCAT and Pre-AP English.

Speaking of books, we don’t make great use to the Literature textbook, which most students appreciate. We also don’t make great use of the Grammar text. Do we use them sometimes? Sure. When we see specific difficulties in the writing we address them in small groups or mini-lessons.

We study grammar in a real-life context; in the context of writing and communications. Studies show we can give grammar instruction and tests but, when given a writing assignment, the tested material does not translate into correct use in writing. So we learn grammar while writing.

If your child doesn’t need help with comma use, we aren’t going to waste her or his time with work on comma use; we’ll save that for the students who do need that instruction.

Likewise, the Literature text is used selectively when we want a specific story or poem to illustrate a point or device.

So what will your child be bringing home? Writing and plenty of it.

We will be working on the ability to format our typed papers in any number of ways. The ability to follow a format means your student will learn his or her way around a word processor and will be able to fulfill the requirements of any class. It means he or she will be able to follow directions, enter contests, publish in the newspaper, submit essays.

Your student will also be learning how to revise and proofread and we hope we can count on your help to support this. Please read your child’s essays out loud so s/he can hear them. Help with grammar is you are able. Look at transitions and check of elaboration, organization, clarity. I have one hundred and twenty little darlings and I could sure use you to check their work at home since we often can’t check them as thoroughly as we’d like in school.

I have provided plenty of guides for your child to use as tools and add to his or her notebook. Don’t throw these away at the end of the year. I assure you your student will find these of great use next year and the years after. You can use these as well when helping your son of daughter proof essays. He or she will have sheets on transitions and transition use, on words to use instead of ‘very’ and other weak words, sensory words, color words, words to use instead of “said.” Verbs to use instead of adjectives and adverbs. S/he has rubrics and evaluation guides so you an look at the work and see, ahead of time, what sort of grade it will get before the paper is turned in. In other words, your little one has tools-a-plenty and, at home, you can help make sure he or she uses them.

Reading the essays out loud to your son or daughter will allow him/her to hear what the writing actually sounds like to the reader. This is invaluable. I assure you, if that is all you do it will be an immense help.

What will your student be writing? Essays to start. Essay after essay after essay. FCAT mandates essays. Our school has the students write at least one every week. Many of these are timed and check as first drafts.

We’ll be writing essays on surprise prompts, essays on literature, essays for Science, essays for Social Studies. Some essays will be for contests in English and we’ll be writing essays for Science contests as well. We write for FCAT and we write for real life.

We practice many kinds. We write some which are descriptive to get use to describing carefully and accurately, we practice using verbs to describe instead of adjectives and adverbs, just alike Twain did. We practice sentence combining and transition use.

We write expository essays to explain, expose and express. We write persuasive essays to convince and persuade. And all the while we practice better writing overall.

We have a monthly week-long writing workshop where the students learn not only to write, revise and proof better, but why we do this. We learn techniques, we learn reasons and we practice again and again. We even learn about the brain and how words affect us physically. We are, after all, a science program.

Students also learn the essay was, originally an art form and we treat it as such, rewarding chances taken and skills learned, creativity as well as accomplishment.

We also do journals. The students will have specific topics and will have to answer, in writing and within a short timeframe, specific questions or write to a prompt or quote. No help is given. This is graded on how well they applied themselves and stuck to the instructions (just like the FCAT) not content.

Let us have a word about homework. I dislike homework. I have to give some. After all, our classes are just 45 minutes long. But it will be minimal. If you help your student with time management and organization, it will be a breeze. We have our reading logs. That means reading a few nights a week and filling in the log.

Sometimes they will have an essay to revise and proofread. As I asked before, please help them with this even if that means only reading it so they can hear how it sounds. Rarely will homework be something they must have back the next day. Most assignments are long-term. I expect about an hour to hour and a half of homework a week.

And speaking of homework and assignments, the work due is listed on the board in our room often more than a week in advance. The work is also listed on StudyWiz so it can be accessed by your student or even by you from any Internet connection. Since your child is probably on the computer typing away in IM, just ask him or her to pull it up for you.

If there is ever a problem with an assignment, please write an email note (best) or send a note with your student. I know things happen and emergencies come up. Late work can be accepted with a note as well. If there is even a problem with a printer at home, just bring the work to me (in the morning) on a disk, flash, thumb, floppy or send it in an email and I’ll happily print it out for your darling.

In the end, no matter what your student chooses to do academically, she or he will be better of, will have the skills to write what he or she needs to, the flexibility to do so for and under any circumstances and the confidence to know he or she will do it well. With your help, we can make their grades reflect the new skills and confidence.

Holy cow. This was the teacher I wish I had. At any point. Middle school, high school, college. Anytime.

I was told once we teach the way we learn. In this case, I taught the way I wish I had the opportunity to learn. And I did my best to bring that to my students. Among them are many in Harvard and Yale and other ivy league school, the youngest Discovery Award winner on record, several students who published in magazines while still in my class instead of just writing for a grade.

Reading this I remember something important: I did good. I did the best I knew and then worked to do better than that – for my students. Because they deserved much better than just ok, deserved better than I got, deserved the best possible and I worked to the end of my strength and ability to give that to them.

I was the teacher I always wanted.

Bless them for that opportunity.

As far as Stone Middle School and their still using my material on their webpage, I get five cents a word standard. You know where to send the check.


Posted by on November 27, 2008 in Culture, Education, Poetry, Social, Writing


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Graduation Speech

I graduated massage school this week. I was asked to give a speech at the graduation.

So here is what I said on Saturday, August 16th, 2008. Three minutes and fifty-two seconds.


Good afternoon.

I have never attended one of my own graduations before. Primary, secondary, high school. None. College. None. Confirmation of neither graduate nor postgraduate degrees ever moved me to attend a graduation. Never have I desired to attend a graduation. Not until today.

Twenty-six years. That is how long I have waited to arrive at this point. While some of these students have seen the ink barely dry on their GEDs, some of us have had one, two or even three careers before coming to this point. For some, this has been a dream a long time coming.

In my case, I had spent a quarter century in public service as a social worker and, then professor and teacher. As an eighteen year old I sat with my wife dreaming about when we would have a practice together, a holistic center, not knowing what our roles would be, but knowing what we wanted to do there. Then came work and children. Actually, children first. I got degree after degree as they became useful or increased my income or opportunity. But none did I want for the sake of my soul.

And so, twenty-five years later, by a fortunate turn, by hard work, by the grace of my wife, who, without doubt or exception, is the single most incredible woman this Earth has ever been graced to see, I was able to enroll, finally, in a program that, in her words, made my heart sing. The thought of practicing massage therapy did make my heart sing. So I cast my die, said goodbye to teaching and picked up study instead. I set my sights to get through this program. That was it. The first day I was asked who I was and to tell a bit about myself. I answered thus. I am asocial, not terribly nice and I am here to learn. Leave me alone. My classmates may agree with me, depending on who you ask.

A year later. Twenty-six years total waiting, and I am a hair’s breadth from working with my wife in our own practice. A dream we have had for more than half our lives. I am of more use than I have ever felt, more settled in my body than I have ever been and, closer to realizing our dream than ever before.

Further, I have discovered an interest in and have been exploring indigenous and shamanic bodywork practices and plan to continue studying and using then in my practice. Why? Because it is healing for me. Because I believe it healing for my clients. Because it makes my heart sing.

Now, each day I wake I can look forward to a short ride down the street, to being with my wife in a practice we dreamed about for so long and so long ago. That is what the last year has brought. That is what this school has helped bring to me. It is now up to me to take this and do something grand. Something that makes my heart sing.

I suggest you all do the same.


My wife referred to it, over and over, as the white trash show. Tears were flowing everywhere. There was hooting and hollering. I was congratulated, by Craig for the skillful way I kept my eyes from rolling. Lee and Craig kept each other company, and sane, during the proceedings.

I was called to speak. Before I could I had to remove the box of tissues from on top of the lectern as I could not be seen behind it. Jennifer was not there, which emptied part of the meaning of the graduation for me, but I would read the part written for her anyway. I owe her that much, at the very least.

I spoke. But so did anyone else who wanted to and at great length. One kept referring to palpation but defining palpitation. Still, I am not sure what either was doing as the topic of a graduations speech. The last speaker was autistic. I am not sure what she said but it involved quite a bit of breathing.

There was theme music. “Brother Can you Spare a Dime” and “I Got Plenty of Nothing.” That is still beyond my ken. The owner of the school gave us each an extended Christian tract.

Midway through I left the students and joined my wife. The entire affair took nearly two hours.

Afterwards, I had a beer.


Posted by on August 17, 2008 in Culture, Education, Family, Social


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House of Books

I had the illusion I was brought up a in house of books. I had that illusion in the same way I had the illusion my mother went to Harvard. In reality, she went to Harvard in the same way she knew the Kennedys. I discovered in my early twenties my mother had attended Harvard Secretarial School, rather near the University of that name but not quite that university, and she lived some blocks from the Kennedys; neighbourhoods in Boston can change rather abruptly.

My father had attended college as well. He would tell us stories of his five-year quest for his associate degree at Sam Houston Institute of Technology, later to have changed its name to Sam Houston State Teacher’s College. We disbelieved the tales of bull riding and jerking cars into reverse at eighty miles per hour to drop the transmissions. How believable are such tales told by a man who was a teen on a farm in upstate New York who was a boy born on the streets of Brooklyn?

Some time in my late teens we traveled to Texas for an Amway convention. We stopped in Hunstville, Texas to visit the folk he lived with while in college. They lived in a small home off a main street in the small town near the prison. It was a home numbers with a half numeral, full of knick-knacks and smelling of old-stuffing in the chairs and that nothing could be moved except to be dusted and put right back again, same place, measured and maintained.

While there, I was told tales of bull riding and jerking cars into reverse at eighty miles per hour to drop the transmissions. I was told how, after four years he was told by his parents he had one year to complete his two year degree. A year later he was called to come home and back to New York he went, his back having be rodeo-broken twice, the college bank having been closed by the parents. And back up to the big old stone house he went, no degree.

Such people do not normally fill a house with books.

I had the illusion I was brought up in a house of books. It’s just most people had fewer books than we did and that was a bit of a shame because we didn’t have that many. We had a few books of poetry, rather old each. A book of children’s verse contained my favorite poem, “The Duel (The Gingham Dog and the Calico Cat)” by Eugene Field. An old copy, quilt covered, of Tales of the Wayside Inn, a huge red book of games, and a few more books of varied sorts. My grandmother, living with us from my earliest memory, had some books but I was not to look at them. One was Valley of the Dolls.

I remember my father attempting to throw out the history books en masse exclaiming they were old, the information had changed and they were of no use. He failed until the year after I moved. Then, out they went.

It appears, the books in the house grew out of my desire to read, not anything genetic. I learned to read at the age of four; not exactly the age of prodigy. It hurt. My first book was Duck on Truck. I later read Curious George and various Dr. Seuss. My mother taught me to read. According to the docs I was supposed to go blind. I had just learned to walk a year earlier. Now I was reading and crying about it but, cry as I did, I read and read more. I read no matter how much it strained or how my head ached. Little has changed.

Reading seems to be the thing to do. I had little eyesight for sports and less desire for it than sight. The TV was on constantly, tuned to Hee Haw or the Dukes of Hazard or The Jeffersons. Music was on when the TV was not and we listened to 30’s and 40’s pop, big band, classical or country. I had nearly no experience with Rock and Roll until high school. “My Sharona” was hardly a song to draw me into a life of loud music and the common corporate pop-culture.

And so, against this I pushed with my books. I am a solid proponent of Drive Theory.

Later on, The Eagles and Pink Floyd would grab me, The Kinks would shake me but never hard enough to dislodge John Denver. The first 45 I bought was The Archies singing “Sugar Sugar.” The first 33 was an EP of “Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head” by B.J. Thomas. My first album was by Helen Ready. My second? Read on.

I collected “Big Little Books” and poetry books. Soon I had books in my room on the night table and the floor and on the dresser. This is about the age of seven, or so I am told and, thus, my recollection of living in a house of books.

It seems we sometimes had more books than food. I have verified this as a fact wanting to make sure my memory has not played tricks on me. I would ask for a book and, if it meant not having a particular food item, we ended up with the book. Why not? I still grew older and overweight. I carried this tradition on when, in my early twenties and a struggling young married fellow, I picked up a leather-bound copy of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance when we had no money set aside for milk and bread. I discover, later, we were allergic to both milk and bread so, in the long run, we were better off. Besides, twenty years hence, still we are here, still is the book as well and where would the bread be?

Before I was ten I had a collection of folktales and myths. I had devoured all the poetry I could find and had a collection of Campbell, Jung, Erikson and, strange for my age, Richard Bach. My second album was Richard Harris reading Jonathan Livingston Seagull.

At some time in my late single-digits I happened into a golden-age science fiction novel. I was a goner. It was probably Asimov. It might have been Clark or an early Heinlein but, for the sake of the argument I am having with myself over this, it was Asimov. I have three shelves of Asimov, one shelf of Clark, one of Bradbury, and on it goes. As I said, I was a goner.

I remember putting in an order for a copy of Foundation’s Edge weeks before it was due to come out. I thought that would be the only way to get one. The year was 1982. I was nearly the only person in B.Dalton Booksellers in the now defunct Skylake Mall. There was no line. Just me, at seventeen, putting in my bit of cash and my mother putting in the rest. School ended the illusion other kids read. Pre-ordering Foundations Edge ended the illusion adults read.

I remember the moment I decided I was going to write. I recognize it as a single instance which, while reading, I realized I wanted nothing more than to write and, at the same time, knew I did not. I was reading “There Will Come Soft Rains” by Bradbury from The Martian Chronicles and thinking I could never, no one could ever, write better than that. I had thought so of Poe. I still know this to be true, but here was Bradbury, a live human, writing better than I could hope to, writing beautifully, in words with melody and meaning and sound and sight and I could never write as well as he. Poe was dead one hundred and forty years but Bradbury, he was a live person. Why try?

And I read Teasdale, Levertov, Benet, Snyder, Frost, why try? Cummings (I never know what to do with the initial letter in his name) stopped me cold. I could never write as well, never write as well as they. And I was correct. I knew that. I still do. I can never write like they did. But, I also realized, I didn’t like everything, each and every bit, they wrote. Some things I did like better than others. There. There was my opening. Skill or no skill, some things I liked better than others. Some poems, some stories struck, resonated, made sense to me where others fell, thudded and laid still no matter the skill employed.

I can never write like they can, but I can write like I do. And some of my work will fall, thud, lay still on the soil, decay. But some, some may resonate, strike, make sense, germinate, grow in someone’s soul. Some will live for the reader. It might not be the writing I think it should be. Who am I to judge an unfinished work since, without the reader, what work is complete? If some of my work sings with melody and meaning, sound and sight, just some, then I have done something. I have done what Bradbury did. One day someone may listen to my work and think never, never could they write that well.

Once more I had that experience. Once more I knew I could never write that well. While riding one late-past-midnight, headed home from a full-moon revelry, my wife and I down a twenty-mile road from Jonesville to Gainesville in Florida, we turned on a non-existent, according to the FCC, radio station playing from Gainesville. Music, commentary and, right now, poetry. I listened to the poem being read and found myself at full attention. The sound and the rhythm, music and meaning. I thought, what is that? Who wrote that? My wife must have seen my face. She nudged me. “Don’t you recognize that?” I didn’t.

“That’s yours. You don’t recognize your own poetry?”

And it was. It was mine and I recognized it then as my own. It was “Recognizing Kali in a Young Girl,” I was the writer and I was the reader or, in this case, the listener. I completed my own circle. Had done so unknowingly. One day someone listened to my work and thought never, never could they write that well. One day, it was me.

I can’t write as well as some but I can write as well as me. If I work hard, practice, listen, learn, read and write, some day, they will be the same.


Posted by on June 11, 2007 in Books, Education, Family, Poetry, Writing


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Condom Commando Slays School Board. As seen on YouTube

Condom Man Slays the Brevard County (Florida) School Board on Sex Ed Policy. Proud Papa. I guess we raised him right.

Check him out at Brave New Films, the people who brought you “Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price,” “Outfoxed” and “Iraq for Sale: The War Profiteers.”

Alek is speaking about sex ed in our county – abstinence-based, not allowed to mention condoms except for their failure rate and the booklet used which is happily provided by a faith-based organisation that has no problem pushing a pro-church, anti-choice, homophobic agenda.


Posted by on May 23, 2007 in Culture, Education, Family


The Diffusion of Memory

I am trying to remember my daughter. At the age of five. Then eight. Ten. I cannot. Not fully. I have memories of events, trips, ways of being and things we did. I have memories of how I felt, diffuse and drawn. But to none of these are attached any visions. I remember taking pictures but not the pictures themselves save the presence of those on our walls.

I try to remember my son. Again, I recall pictures but none of these exist in my head, only in albums and frames. I know how I feel, how I felt, how we were. But our time together is a recording with audio only. It is not like an audio tape though, which, as it is, stand full and complete. It is a video-tape running blank and black and I listen, wondering where the picture has gone.

Should I feel badly? I don’t know, but I do – as though I have lost something precious. I don’t want them to know I can hear them through the ages but cannot tell anyone what they looked like in middle school, playing in the band, at aikido, twirling in a swing, watching the water drop from a height. And a sadness settles in on me of a distinct kind. It is a sadness of loss continuing.

It is a sadness that all I have is now. I have read this. I know this. I know all I have is the clarity of this very moment and then it is gone. Even a memory is experienced ‘now.’ My children at ten are gone. My daughter dancing is gone. My son lying on the grass is gone. All that is continuous is my perception of myself and the sadness. And, someday, I know, the sadness will be all that is left.

It is my lunchtime. I take a walk. Out behind the school and there is no break in the chain-link for me to get to the field. There is a track and I do not enter as the area is full of students. I do not wish to walk with them. I do not wish to walk with anyone but my children at ten, at twelve. But they are sixteen and twenty-one and that cannot be.

I walk further on and find an oak. If I were more use to experiencing now in clarity, perhaps this would not bother me so. I have not meditated in weeks. Life. Life. And what has it gotten me? This sadness born of realization. It is a realization brought on by meditation and only meditation will render it clear, transparent; ok. The only way out is in. I remove some dried grass and sit.

My eyes close for a moment and I hear voices – Mr. Tritt, Mr. Tritt. What are you doing? Are you meditating? Do you like sitting under trees? – It continues without cease. There are five students. Then ten. Others arrive I do not know and tell me they are annoying and will be annoying me next year. They will not be. I will not even remember them. Only how it felt.

They talk, ask questions, play at the fence as some leave and are replaced by others as they yell, “Look it’s Mr. Tritt.” Then they are called from the fence by the coach, the bells rings and again, all is quiet. I could have left when they had first discovered me. But why hurt feelings? I have but a few moments of solitude remaining as I sit and all becomes still.

Another bell rings, I rise, knowing at this point in my life I am ruled by bells. As I walk back to my class, I think of my wife. Can I remember her? Video with the picture gone. A TV with only sound. But her, I will be seeing tonight, part of my present, my now. And I should take more care with that. It is all I have.


Posted by on May 7, 2007 in Education, Family, philosophy, Poetry, psychology, Social


Rejection Slips

Some rejection letters are treasures, some are trash. I just got a treasure in the mail.

Someone once challenged me to get to one hundred rejection slips and they’d buy me coffee. I’m notoriously frugal so I immediately set out to spend a ridiculous amount on stamps and envelopes so I could get a free cappuccino. I never got to one hundred. I never got to twenty. All I got was published. She bought me my coffee anyway.

I’m easy to trick like that.

I teach my students to send in their work. Anywhere and everywhere. What’s the worst that could happen? Rejection. The odds are against them but what is the cost for failure? Not even stamps, in some cases. The most it can cost is some time well-spent learning to revise and reformat.

And if a piece is accepted? Time to look at what the editor has said about your work. What did they suggest? What do they want? Changes. And with any of their suggestions you can do one of four things:

One: Just make the change. Sometimes the editor is right and when you see the comment you slap yourself in the head a la the V8 commercial and wonder how you missed such a bonehead, obvious error.

Two: Make the change. This is not a repeat. You think you are correct but you make the change anyway. Why? Is your writing making you money or bringing you fame sitting in your computer? Probably not. Is the edit one that changes the meaning of your work? Does it damage or degrade it? No? Then why not change it to the likes of the magazine and get it out into the public?

Three: Don’t change it – fix it. Explain why you are correct and the editor is not but that it is your fault. It happens. The editor suggests a change, perhaps one of word choice or punctuation and you believe it affects the meaning, feel or sound of the piece. Explain why it needs to be the way it is and take the blame for the editor’s confusion. Take the blame? Yes. Explain that if you were clear in your meaning it would have been clearly communicated, clear to the editor and clear to the reader so, if the editor did not get it, it must be your fault.

Why? The editor is your gateway to being published, for one. Don’t yell at your editor. Be kind. Also, it probably is your fault. If it read in a way that a word seemed wrong or another word seemed better, you are probably not getting your meaning across. Isn’t that what you want? To be read and understood? So, explain why the word or phrase needs to be there and then tell your editor you re-worked the section so the purpose and meaning were clear. Take the blame and make the fix but not the change.

Four: Tell her to take a hike. I don’t suggest this one. Your editor is the gateway reader. They stand in for the general reader of the magazine and, if they are any good, they read it the way their readership would. If they think a change should be made it is most often for a good reason. Think about it seriously.

Have your own copy of the work. In that, make editorial changes you agreed with and, otherwise, leave it alone. That way you have a solid, improved copy just the way you want it for publication later.

And the rejection letters? Print them out. Post them on the wall. They are your proof you are active. Richard Bach got rejected and so did e e cummings. Hemingway and Orwell. You too can be rejected. It means you are submitting. You are active. Celebrate every rejection slip.

I celebrated this one:

March 3, 2007

Dear Adam,

Thank you for your submission, “A Day at the Beach,” to Literary Liftoff. Unfortunately, however, its subject matter and its style are not suitable for our magazine. Because we are oriented toward a general audience, we are looking for stories and essays that are more conventionally structured and more suitable for family reading.

Because of its unconventional, free association style, I think you might be more successful in pursuing literary markets that are looking for more experimental work.

Thanks again for your submission, and I wish you luck in placing your manuscript elsewhere in a more suitable publication.

Revisions editor, Literary Liftoff

I love it. I sent this reply:


I LOVE that rejection letter. I sent it to six people and they immediately wanted to read the essay. If it doesn’t fit, I don’t mind a bit. I fully understand. In the meantime, it’s great advertising.

Thank you,


And, if you go here, you can read it too.


Posted by on March 27, 2007 in Books, Education, Writing


Final Exam

Today I have one fewer students. Jacob has committed suicide.

He had never done well, spoke little, responded rarely and seemed, forever, to be looking darkly into a distant space. Rail thin, sullen, his long black hair would sometimes sway and uncover the circles under his eyes. He would tell me he was ravenous always, that his headaches were constant. He wrote this to me in a note.

On a bit of paper, written in short, matter-of-fact fragments, he told me his home was small, loud, had no space for him to study that did not have a TV blaring, parents yelling. He wrote me he could not see though the pain in his head, spent his time eating, eating, eating.

Grades? How was I to convince him grades were important? In the face of such pain, how could I lie and tell him, more important than his suffering, were his essay scores? While I tried to help him with his work, I had not recorded grades for him in weeks. What would a zero teach him? The value of labour? That failure brings more failure and suffering more suffering?

I shared his note with guidance, asked he be checked into, checked out, checked up on. Spoke with his teachers, his mother. That was a month ago.

Today the news was delivered to me in a note folded into my mailroom box. On a half sheet of paper, a scrawled missive said the administration had decided I was to not count zeros for the last few weeks he was in class. That his final exam would still have to be counted and recorded as a failing grade and he be given an F for the term.

And that is how we said goodbye to Jacob.


Posted by on December 15, 2006 in Culture, Education, Social, Suicide


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I’m Not getting Stuffed on Thanksgiving Day

It is Thanksgiving morning and I am lazing on the couch. At nine in the morning, I have given up on exercise for the day. It is in the seventies outside. I had anticipated cooler weather and the rise in temperature and humidity has wrung the run right out of me.

My son, rising at ten-thirty, informs us he has been invited to Thanksgiving dinner at a friend’s house. A bandmate, a former student of mine, and we are delighted. The house will be quiet and calm and he will be with friends, happy, well fed, while we are here. Where I am right now is where I plan on being the remainder of this day. Rocky I through V will be on TV. What better is there to be doing?

Apparently, what better there is to do is eat. Then eat some more. Then still more. I am supposed to stuff, gorge, cram and glut myself on any and all available comestibles in honour of the season, the Pilgrims, the Indians, Corn, Turkeys, Ben Franklin, George Washington, The President, Squanto, Tonto, The Lone Ranger, My Friend Flika and Rin Tin Tin. I am supposed to eat birds and beasts and breads and then, for some reason I fully fail to fathom, watch football.

Yes, this is the season of the curmudgeon coming into full colour and plume. But I come by my cynicism honestly and it is a family tradition. Nor do I chase people down to tell them just how I feel. No, they search me out and then I tell them just how I feel. I get to tell them just how well I like the season and all the accoutrements. You are reading this by choice, yes?

We have been invited to friends’ houses too. This late afternoon. We have, for the first year, declined, choosing not to choose. You might think I don’t get many invitations to holiday dinners but, despite the sentiments of the previous paragraph, I am apparently sparkling company. Go figure.

We were also invited to a Thanksgiving dinner, starting around noon, at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship hosted by Rev Ann Fuller, a crazy-smart, fun to be with, great-to-talk-with lady and her chef husband, Jamie. We’re not going to that either. We’re staying home. I’m not making Thanksgiving dinner. I’m not making a turkey. I have veggies in the crock, a filet of salmon defrosted and a flank steak for my wife which I will grill later. No rolls, no potatoes, no sauce, gravy, pies, ambrosia, wines, cakes or casseroles.

I attribute this to laziness. As high-achieving as I am, as active as I normally manage to be, sometimes I just want to lay and read, lay and watch, lay and snooze, lay and stare at my wife as she watches, reads, snoozes. I just want to be. Today is that day. I have chosen to be lazy and I am not procrastinating. When I am lazy, I mean it and I do it well and efficiently with the utmost diligence. When it comes to being lazy, I spare no effort.

The day moves, it cools as the sun rises. I have always liked days that get cooler as they age. To me, these days seem backward, magical, mysterious and amazing. I revel in them, in awe and wonderment. I walk outside every hour or so to feel how the temperature has dropped. By one in the afternoon the air is cool and the sun is hot and this too is a tactile combination which has always felt like the paradox of the world – cold wind through hot sun.

I dress and go for a walk. I know, no matter how lazy, I will get my exercise in. I will walk because, if I don’t, I won’t feel I can eat today. And so three miles it is. Out of habit, I take my phone. Everyone is busy and no-one will call. I take it anyway.

Don’t tell anyone.

While I am walking, taking the long trail through the Turkey Creek Sanctuary near my home, my daughter calls. Sef is twenty-one, smart, stunning, funny, independent and calls either Lee or myself several times each day. I take odd days and Lee gets evens.

It is from her I received the best compliment I have ever, from anyone, been given. Even better than when Valerie told me her friend said I needed to be cloned twice. Even better than when Craig told me I was a god. Even better than when an old woman called me a mensch. Seffy told me she wanted me to live forever.

My brother is going to the home of his in-laws. My parents to their neighbour’s home. Alek to a friend’s house. She is going to her boyfriend’s home for Thanksgiving dinner. What am I doing is what she wants to know.

Staying home. The vegetables are nearly done. The fish is ready for the grill. Don’t you eat those things most of the time? Yes. Nothing special today? No.

Of course you don’t want to go to anyone’s house for Thanksgiving. She has figured it out. It’s a food holiday, she says to me. Too much pressure.

Indeed. It is a trial. Holidays can be a trial. Food can be a trial. Too many times hosts are insulted if I don’t try everything, take a taste but not a plateful, eschew certain delicacies, sweets, cakes, breads.

I have lied on occasion saying I was allergic to whatever it was or they were. Allergic to all these things? Yes, poor me! I once told a host I was diabetic and was watching my sugar carefully. But say you are simply watching what you eat and suddenly they are expert and assuring you can take a day or ten off. Oh, a diet, yes? But it’s a holiday so calories don’t count. It’s shabbas and there is no fat in anything the brucha is said over. Relax, it’s a holiday. If I were an alcoholic, they’d be inviting me into the bar and offering me Long Island iced teas and gin slammers. That would be insane. But insist on cake for someone who has worked tirelessly to lose a person’s worth of weight and you are a good host.

I insist I am there for the company and camaraderie, not the food. The reply?

“Have some donut holes.”

“No thanks.”

This is an event of recent.

Several minutes later, the same lady. “Just one or two.”

“No thanks.”

A minute or two later, “You can have some you know. It’s ok.”

“No really. It’s ok not to have some as well. No thank you.”

A few minutes later, “Just a few.” Shoving them in my face, chocolate in my nose.

“No thank you “

“Why not?”

“Because I don’t want to die fat and young like you are going to.”

There was applause.

A party for a guest at school. A long line at the trough. I am taking vegetables, greens, some beans. Skipping over the double-tray of grocery store fried chicken, I move on to the green beans. Behind me, the track coach, six foot, over three hundred pounds, half a person extra hanging over his belt, taking three pieces of chicken as he says to me. “You can take some Mr. Tritt.” He wasn’t even supposed to be there. He came for the food.

“Of course I could.”

“So take a piece.”

“Nope. Don’t need it.”

“Come on Mr. Tritt. It won’t kill you.”

“Mr. K… I am heartened you are so well acquainted with my physiology as to know what is and what is not good for me. Now, if you will excuse me, unlike you, I wish to live.” He has since lost quite a bit of weight.

My daughter doesn’t force food. Bless her. Craig does not. Bless him. Evanne does not allow such at her house from anyone and I gladly attend festivities there. One party a guest insisted I eat pizza. Once, twice, thrice I refused and finally the offending guest, who later, in an unrelated incident, hit me in the back of the head with a hardcover edition of War and Peace, was taken aside and spoken with about leaving the guests to do as they liked. After that, while generally skittish about accepting party invitations, I happily accept invitations there. No forcing or stuffing allowed. That, and I get to play Brit Ekland when we watch “The Burning Man”

My grandmother taught me the joys of stuffing myself and eating what I neither wanted nor needed. This is not among the things for which I am thankful. She would put double portions on my plate. Just eat what you want, she would say.

If I ate it all, more would be put on it. If I didn’t, “just one more bite,” she would insist. Just one more. Now one more. Just another. One more. No? Why? Don’t you like it? Didn’t I cook it good? What’s wrong? Nothing. Then why not eat? Fine, children starve but you, you don’t want. Fine, I’ll throw it out.

My grandmother boiled chickens. Made Minute Rice. It’s a shame she didn’t at least use the chicken water for the rice. When the chicken was boiled, she would taste it and, if she could find any detectable flavour, she would boil it some more. When finally the last dribbings of chickeness had been dissolved into the water, Grandma would pour the water down the drain. Then she would make Minute Rice. This is what I would be given double helpings of.

Family events didn’t mean different food. Holidays didn’t mean something delicious or unique, it simply meant there would be even more of the food we normally ate. How much boiled chicken can one kid stand?

Of course, sometimes my father would choose the holiday meal and we would bring in cold-cuts or Long John Silvers or KFC. Later he got fancy and would bring home Popeye’s Chicken. How festive. At least it wasn’t boiled.

To be fair, my wife tells me my Grandmother made kuggle incredibly well. Kugle, kigle, kichel, not kegle, all of which are different names for a noodle pudding which was baked, sort of solid and my Grandmother would put pineapple into it and pop it upside down when done. How this came to be traditional Yiddish food I still can’t grasp. The last word is a pelvic floor exercise. Of the four, I prefer the last. I goes better with pineapple.

The world is full of my grandmother. It seems she is everywhere and she loves parties. People have glopped food onto my plate out of courtesy, I imagine, or duty or habit and then were upset it was not eaten. Grandmas like mine are legion.

So I have tended to stay away from food oriented gatherings.

It’s not like supermarket fried chicken or even a roasted turkey is something I have never had before. It isn’t like I have traveled to a foreign land and have told my hosts I’d have no part of their hospitality, do not wish to sample the local cuisine, don’t want to be part of the common culture while I am a guest in their land. At the local Thai Buddhist temple, if the ladies put something in front of me, I’m going to try it. There is no stopping me. Delicacies of a new nature, fresh experiences for body and soul. An enrichment of life. It is not that I avoid gustatory delights and taking part in life. No. I do not avoid all things savory and palatable. A Transylvanian restaurant? Choose for me and let me at it. Yes, that one too. And I’ll try that as well. It was soaked in lye and buried underground for six months? Yes, please, I’ll take some of that. Beanie Weenies? No, I don’t think so.

And if hamburgers and hot dogs truly brought me joy, maybe I’d indulge in those as well but, if not, why?

It has been suggested my counting what I eat causes me to pay more careful attention to what is within and what is without. It is a practice. It is mindfulness.

As I am mindful of how I treat myself and feed myself, it is a meditation on experience and needs versus illusion and desire. Such mindfulness makes the act of eating sacred. It moves my body slightly more in that direction.

One does not, after all, poison the well. One does not throw stones in the temple. One, at least, isn’t supposed to, that is. We humans poison our wells all the time but as a good idea it certainly needs some work.

I understand food is part of our culture. That is part of the joy and festiveness. But in our time of plenty, feasting is becoming more and more a norm. Birthday parties, office events, holidays, dinner-parties. If our ancestors feasted this much, I don’t think the words feast and fast would look so much alike.

Sometimes it isn’t as much fun, or as tasty, but I do my best to remember such gatherings and festivals are not about the food, but the event and the people, the family, friends and love. Not the hotdogs or cake or beer, turkey, pudding or pie. Certainly not the kuggle. But sometimes it is hard to do and, just sometimes, it is easier, kinder to myself, to stay clear.

And now, back from my walk, I am sitting quietly at home, writing, watching Rocky beat the crap of a Russian. I realize I missed my favorite part; the training scenes in the Siberian snow. While Rocky was out, so was I. We were both paying attention to what we needed to do.

In this time, quiet, I feel I can sit here and think about what this holiday means. What I am thankful for. Right now, I am thankful I’m not at a party. I have fish ready to go on the grill. But first, I can hear the sound of boiling water in the kitchen and, in the pot, there is a chicken leg-quarter calling my name.

Maybe later there will be some kegle.


Posted by on November 24, 2006 in Culture, Education, Food, Social


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I am Easily Distracted by Shiny Objects

I am easily distracted by shiny objects. I grant that. The placement of those objects can either increase or decrease my incidence of distraction. I just made that up. Incidence of distraction. The degree to which, given a standard level of shiny, placement results in a differential distraction in a given individual. It’s scientifically proven. It happened in my class today.

My class is made of two curling rows of tables, each following the same curve. This means no student is far from me or the front of the room and the front row can just take their chairs and turn them around to work in groups. The curl is like the end of a French curve and one fits into the other. It is reminiscent of the waves our surfing-town is known for. I’m very proud of it.

It was designed by my friend Evanne, she of stage set design fame. We did this the week before school started when I arrived and discovered, a few days prior, all my furniture, newly delivered, had been stolen by other teachers. Teachers live by larceny. It’s that or they’d never have a thing. We got the tables from the trash.

Our school has dress codes. They are clear but have holes one could drive an elephant herd through. I can’t say I pay much attention to dress codes. For the most part I find them silly. Straps on shirts must be no less than three fingers wide. Shorts and skirts must be no shorter than the fingertips as one’s arms hang loosely. No foul or hate language. No language or pictures suggesting illegal acts or substances. I must admit, the hate language and illegal acts makes some sense. So does the ‘no flip flop’ rule. In crowded walkways the backs of the floppy shoes get stepped on and result in falls. Open toed shoes result in injury too. Such is the case in a child warehouse.

There are those holes though. Ladies in shirts that are long enough and do not have exposed tops but a slash across the chest so there is no doubt about the developmental status of the student. Not covered (by cloth or dress code). Against the spirit of the law but certainly not the word. The shorts are long enough to qualify but have the word luscious or bootieliscious across the backside. Personally, I’d rather they be shorter but not have the writing. Students will wear the illegal clothes and then put jackets over them. In the summer, jackets. They will then complain the classes are too hot but they can’t take their jackets off. Turn the air up, they ask. I have no trouble telling them their choice of dress isn’t going to inconvenience me. It’s summer. Dressing in a way that requires a jacket or sweatshirt isn’t going to gain my sympathy. Like the student in the short white skirt the day she knows we are going to be sitting out in the grass writing. The idea is it will get her out of it. The idea is mistaken.

The rules state how short skirts and shorts can be and that bare midriffs are forbidden. But because it says nothing about low-rise pants we have students who, half the day, are pulling their shirts down and spend the other half pulling their pants up. Does that call the attention of others? You bet. Boys and girls are equal participants in this.

Remember, this is eighth grade.

One of our teachers had a better way of putting it. When a student complained she had been brushed by a boy in an inappropriate place, the teacher pointed out, in a crowded school setting, it might be a good idea to use the rule that, if it isn’t a place I’d want touched, it’s not a place I’d want exposed.

It doesn’t matter to me, for the most part. I don’t care if a boy’s pants are so low I can tell them, each day, as they walk into the class, the color checks on their boxers. “Blue plaid today, Mr. S?” Mr. S. would never wear a belt and insisted on no-rise jeans. My talks with his father were not academic but more pleas for him to buy his son a belt. He did. With an LED buckle that read, in bright scrolling letters ‘CANDY’

Or if a gal wears her skirts so short her underwear is exposed when she sits. What do I care? That is a positive thing about tables, now that I think about it. Greater coverage.

Last year we had a student who insisted on low-rise skirts and thongs. I did my best to not walk around behind her. I had already been called by her parents and told her friend in class claimed I had looked at her. Not looked at her funny, but that I looked at her. (“Didn’t do your homework again, Ms. C?” Staring over my glasses as teachers have done since Franklin and even managed to do well before there were glasses.) She was going to lodge a complaint that “I looked at her.” Then the parents of the friend, having heard of the conspiracy from their daughter, spoke with her and explained it was the teachers job to look at all the students and the less work she did the more she’d get looked, and then, stared at. That was my job. Moreover, they explained this was far too serious a charge to make about a male teacher just because they didn’t like the class. Meanwhile, the low-rise girl had guys going out of their way to walk behind her to the pencil sharpener. Things would suddenly, continuously drop next to her so she would reach down to pick them up.

On one particularly clumsy day when more erasers were dropping than I thought were in the class and no pencils seemed to be sharp enough, I followed the rout the students, mainly boys, were taking to discover more of her than might be appropriate for public school and quite an ampling study in shadow and light for interested pupils in our class. Since the parents knew she was prone to this I called them. She was coming to school dressed in more than this and changed once at school. That ended. I’m teaching English. Just let me teach.

Another child in class liked glitter. She would rub it all over her. One day I noticed more than a few stares her way from the boys and giggles from the girls. She was actively rubbing glitter on her chest, pulling her shirt out a bit, rubbing it in, pulling it down, blowing on herself so it would dry. I was teaching transitions at the time and she was supposed to be revising her last essay for transition use.

I walked over to her and saw the problem. The glitter increased the deeper into her cleavage it got. She had formed an arrow from her neck pointing down between her breasts. So I am rather oblivious that it took stares and giggles to make me notice this. I knew better, however, than to point this out to her and, instead, called the teacher, a lady, from the class one over. She walked in, noticed her immediately as the beacon she was, and called her out of the class to talk. The female assistant principal was called and she dressed a bit more appropriately after that and sans glitter. Then, a few days later, the AP tells me the mother had a fit, asking how it was I had noticed this in the first place that I knew to call in another teacher. In other words, why was I looking at her daughter? A guy teaching school has his own set of problems. It is not the real world in any way.

Today, we had a cell phone difficulty. Cell phones must be off and out of sight. Not visible. Put away and off. If they are noticed by administration and we didn’t do anything about it, we are asked why we didn’t follow the rules. It is like that with dress code violations. If the end of the day comes and a dress code problem is noticed by an administrator, he or she will want to know why it was not reported first, second, third periods and so on right through the day. Did I mention I just want to teach English?

I have a student who is constantly fixing herself. She reaches her hand into her top, not surreptitiously, but with flow and show and flare, to readjust herself. This is continuous and occurs regardless of what sort of top she is wearing. This is punctuated only by her pulling her shirt down if not enough is showing over the top, then pulling it up the minute she notices boys staring at an area not her face, then pulling it back down because puling it up has pulled it above the waist of her pants and another view has just been presented. This is a constant hand and clothing dance. Does she care? Is it on purpose? Is she conflicted? I have no idea but am certain it could be fixed with a big ‘ol t-shirt.

“Ms. C. Checking to see if they are still there?”

“What?” the low neck of her shirt is pulled forward and she has her nose hidden by the collar. She is obviously looking for something in there. I’m explaining the notes on the board for the next Literary Analysis, and she is taking inventory.

“If you would look up here now, I’m sure they will still be there later.”

Today Ms. C had on something significantly smaller, lower, shorter and thinner. There was also something glinting each time she reached her hand into her top, round the objects kept not too well hidden to readjust. She’d pull it up a bit and the glint would disappear. A moment later, in my eye, a glare as the light from the window behind me bounces from something shiny and my attention is caught. Her shirt has tightened itself down again and something is shining.

The sequence plays again. As the shirt re-inches lower I again notice the object. It is a cell phone. Her phone might have been off but it was certainly visible. And it was poised to be noticed, noticed often and noticed well wedged, as it was, into her cleavage.

I remind you, this is eighth grade.

As far as drawing attention to oneself, this certainly accomplished it. Distracting. High incidence of distraction. But I said nothing. Nothing, that is, until after class as I walked out with the other students. Catching up to her I asked what her class next was. Art. I called down to the teacher after I got back to my class. Yes, she will look. No, it would not surprise her as she has spoken to her mother before and she is making a habit if calling attention to herself. She looks over as Ms. C. enters the room, or so I surmised as Ms. Art Teacher exclaims, suddenly, “O My Heavens.” Sure enough, that was it.

Ms. Art Teacher is amazed it took as long as it did for me to notice but tells me it was wise of me to not say anything. Have a female teacher point it out. Is that safer?

Did I mention I just want to teach English?


Posted by on November 3, 2006 in Culture, Education, Social


No Ma’am, I am not Gus Grissom

2:31 am: My head is on the pillow, all is still. Blessed exhaustion and quiet but for the hum of the fan. The house is quiet and, finally, so am I.

2:28 am: Stargate is on…again. The same episodes as earlier today. Yesterday. I’m halfway through the show and I’ve had enough. I’m going to try again. Off to bed.

1:13 am: At this hour I should be sleeping in my bed but every time I close my eyes my room spins instead.

I’m hungry. I have waited two hours since last I ate and can barely believe I’m still wanting food. But I go to the refrigerator and find a container of brown rice, fill it with chicken broth and put it, along with a baked chicken leg, in the microwave. I put it on low so the circuits will not blow as the air conditioner is on in the conservatory and, in our Lisa Douglas fusebox, the air conditioner and the microwave equal more than ten.

I feel funny eating so late. I’ll regret this. I know, but I must assume physical stress causes hunger. Extreme physical stress seems to have caused extreme hunger. I want protein and protein and more protein. I tell myself tomorrow I’ll be careful, eat better, eat lightly but for now, I want meat and bulk. I want something that will hold me down.

12:10 am: I don’t know why I am waiting to go to sleep. Normally I’d be up late on a Friday night, but with my stomach upset, with my head hurting from side to side, perhaps I should have been in bed sooner. I’m stuffed, fatigued, in pain, still hungry (how can that be?) and every time I close my eyes I see a screen, black on either side and my head swims. Enough. I’m going to bed.

9:39 pm: Home. I’m headed to the fridge. I want more meat. I can barely believe it but I do. Chicken. White meat. Diet Pepsi I brought back with me. On to the couch. Lee is watching Stargate, as I would expect and I can’t really think of anything I’d like more right now than to lie on the couch, a near mirror opposite of Lee, and watch bad sci-fi with her. I’m queasy. My head hurts. My shoulders hurt. My neck hurts. Everything just plain hurts. Sore muscles. Physical stress? Emotional stress? Fatigue? But it feels great to be lying here, picking at the chicken, watching my sweetie watch Stargate.

9:18 pm: Our plans did not quite work out. Jack is quiet, watching TV. I could spread myself on the couch, splay myself on the carpet. I could but I will not. I feel welcome but tonight I feel a bit extra. Since I do not normally feel this way at their home, I figure something is up and, perhaps, feeling uneasy, queasy and unsteady I figure it is the right choice to go home. I say my good-byes and take my leave, driving home in the extra-sub-urban darkness. I later found Jack’s grandfather had taken ill.

7:43 pm: I arrive at Evanne’s, Jack’s and Beth’s home. Jack is not home. How is my day? I tell the truth as I have been asked but do not wish to sound whiney. I leave out a bit but tell how I feel. My stomach has calmed a bit. It still is not right, but it is no longer playing twist and shout and I am grateful for the improvement. Jack comes in some minutes later, seems tired. This is understandable. He sits on the couch, is asked by Evanne if he wants to play Changeling, he states he is not quite in the mood, is tired. This is why I had come here tonight. No that I ned a reason to visit with these fine people, but, tonight, I’d rather be sitting at home, quiet, watching television, still. So very still.

7:13 pm: I am leaving for Evanne’s. It is Jackanalia, Jack’s birthday week and I have been asked to come over and play Changeling as a surprise for him. I said I would go and on any other day I’d have no doubt about going, but I feel so terribly unwell, I do not know how I will drive there, sit there, play there. But this is his birthday and what he wants so off I go. On the way I stop for a bottle of diet coke. They are on well water and I am not use to drinking water that tastes of sulpher.

6:42 pm: Thumping wakes me. Not my heart but a larger drum from outside. My son’s bass drum. He must be practicing with friends. It is ok as I need to wake up anyway. I rise, dizzily. I am supposed to be at Evanne’s at 7:30. I am going to be late.

Lee says she saved some dinner for me. Dinner? Yes, I could eat more. A small piece of flank steak, about four ounces, the size I would normally eat. An ear of corn from the co-op. It is a rarity Lee cooks and this is wonderful. The corn is barely done. It is wonderful anyway. The steak is barely warmed and it is wonderful especially. It is covered with garlic salt which means Lee had this on her plate. Especially incredibly wonderful.

4:12 pm: I arrive home. Woozy. Nauseas but the aching in my head is beginning to subside in some remote locations. As I make my way to the door I hear the high commands of Invader Zim so I know my son is home, on the couch, and, as I enter, approach, I ask him to please, oh God please in all that is holy and right and proper in the world, if you have any compassion and decency and humanity, turn it down. It sounds like this. “Volume, please,” except that it is muffled and slurred. He looks at me and asks if I’m ok, that I don’t look ok. I answer “Bus, seventy kids. F-14 simulator. Headache. Nauseas and… Hungry?”

Yes, I am hungry and no-one is more surprised than I am. I want protein. I want something dead that use to get around on its own and decide its own fate. I want meat. I eat the contents of a can of salmon. I eat some turkey. Beef jerky. I see a piece of chicken from the other night and it is gone. If it walked , flew or swam, I want to eat it. This isn’t right. I think of the volume of food, of the calories, the effect. I wonder if physical stress does this, if this isn’t the right thing to do, give in to this as need and not gluttony. I am still nauseas but no more so and still hungry and not less so.

My wife arrives home, looks at me and puts me to bed.

3:50 pm: The bus pulls up in front of Stone Middle School. I get off last as I am in the back, walk wavering, slowly across the parking-lot to my truck. People wave, say goodbye, ignored. School isn’t out for ten minutes. Teachers cannot leave until 4:15. I should get the CD from Susan. I looked forward to that all day. I don’t care. I can’t. Not about that. Not about the time. I drive slowly home. No radio, windows open in the ninety degree day.

2:38 pm: The bus is loading and I am asked to get on first and do what I did this morning; sit at the back and not let the kids do the same. I do so, nearly lying down. It is noisy as the kids load. I am out of discipline. Maria takes care of what needs taking care of while sitting next to me. We talk a bit on the way from NASA to South Melbourne as the kids get louder and louder.

Sean is poking girls, complaining they are talking about him afterwards. A kid next to him keeps shouting how he is a crazy white nigger. Crazy and white, I have no doubt. Stephanie keeps trying to sit upside-down. She is wearing a skirt and this seems to be just a bad idea all around.

Sara sits in front of me. She seems protective. She has come to me in the past wanting help with poetry, writing, wants to see my books.

It is a huge bus. It waves and sways around curves, on entrance and exit ramps, corners. As it rolls down Palm Bay Road, it rocks and I feel once more and I will lose anything in my stomach. Everything.

Maria is still talking, Sean is still poking, I fight sleep. Chaparones are not supposed to sleep. My eyes close and I am woken at the school.

2:30 pm: We exit The Astronaut Hall of Fame and Space Camp and head to the bus. The heat feels wonderful. I have never been so happy to be so hot. It is delightful, comfortable, embracing and life-giving. I want to vomit. I want my head off but at least I am warm.

I am walking, not too steady, to the bus. Beside me a mother of one of the students. She looks at me, asks if I want Tylenol. I say bless you and accept two Extra Strength Tylenol. Who needs water? We mill at the bus waiting for the signal to board.

2:24 pm: Last stop. The conference room. I am shivering. It is the same sixty-two degrees in there it has been throughout the rest of the complex. There are rows of chairs facing the front table. On it, shuttle tiles, torches, vices. I walk to the back of the room and sit on the blue carpeted floor thinking it more stable than the chairs. Under me the floor twists and heaves. I ride it.

The students are told of all the wonderful jobs available in space and science. What they can do for NASA. How they will be the next astronauts. What amazing opportunities they have living as close to the world’s spaceport and how, with education, they can take advantage of those opportunities.

Tiles are heated on the front, glow red and furious bright. Students tough the back of the two inch thick blocks. They are amazed it is cool to the touch. The front becomes cool enough to touch within seconds of removing the flame. The students line up to touch. One calls me and I go, holding on to whatever is available as I wait in line.

When the line is done, we file outside. Outside.

2:04 pm: The door swings open and light, bright and painful, enters. I turn away and my head swims. My body seems to move the opposite way as my head feels as though it is continuing to turn. The old man walks to the opening, looks at me and says, “You need to sit a bit. The next person can wait.” He is right. I do. But soon, not more than a minute, I get up, grab the doorway, pull myself out. Walking into the bright light, toward the glass door, steadying myself. I do not want the students to see me ill. I’m not sure I have a choice.

Mr. Science Teacher looks at me closely, “O Man, you don’t look so good. Are you ok? If I had any idea it’d do that to ya.” He would have what? Stopped me? I should have stopped myself. I lean on the railing. Ms. Ramirez is heard in the distance and she tells us it is time to round up the kids and head to the conference room.

1:57 pm: I have waited an hour. Perhaps a bit more. The glass door opens and I am ushered in and to one of the small booths. Inside, it is no more larger than the space needed for a small chair and the person sitting in it. The chair faces front and toward a small screen. Next to the screen, one on either side, are two handles facing up. I sit within and fasten the seabelt. Below is a floor and an up-slanted foot rest joining the floor to front wall. It is made of dimpled metal and my feet rest comfortably there. A moment or two passes, I look ahead and see a sign above the screen: Keep eyes open at all times. I look ahead and below the screen and next to it, a large red button. “In case of distress or ailment, press this button and the simulator will slowly come to a halt.” Next to this was the same list of ailments I read outside. I have none of these? Why should I not ride? The door closes and it is a solid darkness.

The screen lights up and voices are heard. I had not noticed the speakers. It is a radio-voice from a virtual f-14 pilot and I hear we are about to take off and, jerking, not smoothly, I move. I spin, I know, but spinning this did not feel like. I reach forward and grab the handles and they do not give, do not move.

I feel consumed by the screen as the voice tells the tower he is ready for liftoff and the ground, which does not look remotely real in the monitor, falls away as the sky becomes wider and takes more of the screen. I feel as though my stomach has left me, choosing to attempt a stay on the round whilst I rise into the air. Unfortunately, my stomach did not make it out and I am more than astoundingly aware of it.

I do not listen carefully to the voice. For a moment I tried to loosen my grip on the handles. I could but felt them move toward me and decided I might not be able to get them back on and so left them, tightening my grip. It says something about a mountain and it comes into view, about not being able to avoid it and it comes closer and then lurches down and to the side. I am stamping the floor against the four G’s, plastered against the wall , beating it with my shoulder, elbow, voice as I discover I am making noises quite unbecoming, quite undignified.

This continues. The fake sky spirals as the ground circles coming closer and I can feel my head spin, hear myself whimper, still beating the right wall, the floor, the surface behind my head.

Six minutes, I think of hitting the red button but do not, cannot, will not. Six minutes long and I decide I will stand it, must stand it but will pay or this and the sky opens wide again as the ground fully falls away and I hit the back wall with my head again and again and again.

I have no idea what the voice says. I do not remember a thing of what happens on the screen and do not pay attention with my mind but my body accepts every fiction and reacts despite my knowledge of slow rotation and slight temporary tilt. I do not know what happens but I am panicked and ill and sorry and sore and want out, an end, stillness and quiet and light and all I have is noise and twisting and nausea and brightness in the solid claustrophobic dark and then I see the ground come close and level and coming fast and then slowing and then the screen image is still and something is different though I am not sure but I believe we have stopped.

12:43 pm: These kids keep cutting in line, but they are my kids, kids I’m in charge of and, of course, it is they who should ride so I let them in. They are not sneaky; some even ask. The sign says the ride is six minutes long and it takes two people at a time. I count the people in front of me. Eighteen. Nine times six and I can see I might not get my chance. I wait patiently and talk with my partner in chaperonedom, the science teacher, he of the mid-thirties and sixth career, ninth professional job, ex-cop and E.P.A. inspector. We move forward the distance of two middle-schoolers at a time. Our speed: twelve middle-schoolers and hour.

12:40 pm: I have spent a half hour or more in the museum. It is not that large and I have been here before. It is a static exhibit and nothing has changed. What is different is the time I have and it seems there is plenty. I walk toward the one exhibit I know, in my heart, in my gut, I should be walking away from. I tell myself it is jus because most of my young charges are there, in line, waiting patiently, well behaved and calm. It is a glass enclosed room about fifteen by fifteen. Within is a whirler of industrial proportions with a computer in the center, a pivot above that allowing for spinning and at either end a small fully opaque chamber big enough or a person in a chair. The chambers are on servos that allow them to rock out and in as they spin around the center as dictated by the program. The device spins slowly. It is the F-14 Simulator.

The sign says it produces four Gs. How much can that be other than four times the pull of Earth’s gravity. It’s spinning so slowly. It is nearly mesmerising. It looks calming. People go in and six minutes later they come out and no-one looks worn or upset or any worse than upon entering. People say it was fun, enjoyable, cool, neat, and I’ve nothing to do and find myself in line.

12:30 pm: Lunch is over. The students are given time to investigate the museum on their own terms and I, with my twelve kiddies and my teacher-partner enter the dim from the bright through corridors and doors and find ourselves in a hall of spacesuits, faces in monitors, touch-screens and hands-on science. Two small halls of exhibits. I read what there is to read. Make a spaceman balance in the center of a small tank of water, play a virtual game, learn of the Apollo One mission, read about Gus Grissom and how he was scapegoated by NASA, then died, burned alive inside the Apollo 1 capsule, along with two others as a result of a failsafe device to prevent the very mistake he was supposed to have made in his earlier flight. In short, they made he door so it would not open from the inside. Later his ‘mistake’ was found to be a design flaw which had nothing to do with him.

Grissom was an engineer who, even after that event in the mercury capsule, went on to create designs that were used and are still used in spaceflight. He is the reason NASA stopped naming individual capsules and named only overall missions and gave flights numbers. He called his 1961 capsule Liberty Bell Seven not because of his love for liberty but because he said the design would cause it to sink like a giant iron bell. NASA took a dim view.

His Mercury space suit is on display in the hall while a battle rages over who gets to own it. His family wants it to tour the country. The Smithsonian and NASA want it to stay just where it is where it can be seen only by those who can afford the pretty pennies. Forty years and Grissom is still making waves.

You go Gus!

12:00 pm: Lunch. Out of various coolers come lunches, all packed in their clear bags. Each with a name. The children sit on the bleachers in the room we have been in all morning. I don’t see the need for the coolers. Sixty-two degrees.

These kiddies are eating monstrous things. One has brought nothing but a bag of Cheetoes and another a bag of Fritos. These both had to be, of course, in large plastic bags. A bag in a bag. Cokes, Gatorade and cookies. A few have sandwiches and fruit.

I have my bag. I eat my apple, my carrot. I drink my bottle of water and then have my Cliff Bar. I walk my empty bag with it’s empty bottle, empty wrapper, apple core and carrot end to one of the two fifty-five gallon trash barrels which are the only reason, both I and the children have been told, a student may move from the bleacher and the shame of their terrible lunches is even greater as the barrels fill further and higher with huge quantities of food untouched now become trash.

11:30 am: The children have been lined up in front of a harness attached to a chain attached to four rows of three long springs each – twelve springs: three in line attached to three in line attached to…- and then a series of chains, pullies and then a winch attached to a track which runs forty feet and all this a four foot wide, six inch thick mat running under the track. Me and my twelve and Mr. Science Teacher. Our guide, Diane, shows us this will allow us to feel one-sixth gravity. She puts on the harness, much like the kind stuntmen use to fly, much like a wire-harness. She puts it on and tells us all the girls will have no trouble with this but warns the boys may find this more than slightly uncomfortable, and, as she says this she pulls a strap tight and we all see exactly what she is talking about.

She demonstrates the methods astronauts use to move in lower than Earth gravity as she sidles, hops and skips. She shows us how to pick up and object and bend in low gravity.

A boy goes first and confirms the discomfort, then a girl, then I lose track until the tallest of our group goes and there is little room left near the winch as the gears pull the chains and there is little left between the springs and the winch by the time it is high enough, taut enough for him. It dawn on me: this does not work. Most of the kids have their feet barely on the ground, touching it with their toes as they hang there. Even under low gravity, they would actually be in full contact with the surface. With a computer, they could enter the weight of the child, the compensate with the pullies for an accurate one sixth of the weight. But she just ups the child into the air until their toes dangle dragging the mat. For a half hour they flip and flop and hip and hop and bounce. The girls giggle. The boys seem to wince.

11:00 am: We sit in the bleachers in front an eight foot diameter gyroscope with a seat. We are given a lecture about the Multi Axis Trainer. We are told why it exists. How NASA was afraid a capsule could spin and twist in different axis and the astronaut within would need to withstand it and bring it under control. Thus, a Multi Axis Trainer.

The sign says if I have a heart condition, back problems, vertigo, pregnancy and some other such difficulties I should not ride. This is a ride? And I was not aware pregnancy was a ‘difficulty’ but who am I to argue with NASA?

The first child is strapped in, shoulder straps, leg straps, feet on the foot plate which is a new addition and the reason for such is without it the feet tend to fly around a bit. I’m glad Diane mentioned that. I’d hate to see the kid’s feet flying around.

We are told the way the device spins the center of gravity remains the center of the body so the abdominal area does not actually move very much. We’re told because the movement does not stay stable, because it does not continuously move in the same direction, the ears do not cause the rider to become dizzy as they would simply spinning. It appears true as the lever is pulled, the seat sways back and forward a bit, Diane walks out of the small cage surrounding the MAT, closes the gate, walks to the side and turns a throttle. The outside ring turns, the seat begins to move, the center ring begins to move as well, the seat begins to flip this way then that and spins, the inner ring turns in response to the other two and the seat moves no way more than one revolution. Hair, long and unbound, flies here and there, red flames blown by a fickle wind, the child screams. The child is smiling.

She comes off and appears no worse than when she got in. A thirty second ride. One minutes with strap-in and strap-out. The next goes, then the next all through the twelve of us and then, “Come on Mr. Teacher. Do you want to give it a try?’

I walk up, empty my pockets and a student, one I initially did not trust, takes my digital camera and tells me he’ll get my picture. All my belongings are on the bleacher but Diane is right there and I worry a bit anyway.

I enter the cage, am strapped in, I ask about epilepsy, am told it is not a problem, I ask about any number of things and am told I have only thirty second and if I want to try it now is the time and I say go ahead. Diane pulls the lever and the seat sways back, feeling like a swing that has gone too high, come back down and I say, quickly, “That’s good.”

“So you are ready?”

“No, I mean that’s good. That’s enough. It was fun. No ride. Out please.” And I realize I am about to become very much a spectacle and I also realize I don’t care and as I think this, I am being unstrapped.

I pick up my things, all still there after less than half a minute, my camera is handed back. There was no time for a picture.

10:00 am: I have six of the kids. Mr. Science Teacher has six and he is to be in another section of the Shuttle simulator. The kids have tags around their necks and have been given flight designation which tell them what their jobs are. Before coming here they have been given materials to read which helped them understand what those designations mean and what they entail.

We enter a hatch to a small room with a bank of screens. Behind us are ladders attached to the opposite walls which lead to hatches in the ceiling. Each leads the same place: the flight command center above us. Four of the kids go up there. I look up the ladder and decide to stay down here in the science center.

The other six students are in mission control in another room in this hanger.

Our guide shows the kids how to do the experiment when the script calls for it, to take the blood pressures of the flight crew, change the carbon dioxide filtration unit. The entire simulation experience is scripted and the kids each have a script to follow. Each has a microphone and an earpiece and can communicate with the others through these devices even though the space is small enough they could hear each other at a hush. I suppose, in space, no-one can hear you whisper.

I watched them follow the script right through the landing, as seen through a screen. They were proud of themselves, doing the experiment, changing the canisters, guiding the shuttle in.

While I watched them talk, crawl through hatches, ascend and descend, I had nothing to do but stand there in the six by six my eight space. I looked at the controls. I looked at the intercom. I looked at the thermostat and saw it was at sixty-two degrees. In the small box of a room, all metal and moving air, it was sixty-two. No wonder I was chilled, stiff. We were told to wear long pants but I would have worn long sleeves as well.

Later they got to see that the simulation was programmed to work smoothly but to record, as well, what the results of their flight would have been. The alternate results showed a rather large mess on the runway.

9:30 am: We pull up to The Astronaut Hall of Fame and Space Camp. As we exit the bus, we are escorted into a large hangerish room off of which all the other smaller rooms are connected, in which is the shuttle simulator, the multi-axis trainer, moon walker, space walker and other devices are.

Each child is asked his or her designation and are given a name tag and with that designation on it. Mission Control, flight crew manager one, flight crew junior, science crew, other designation I am not close enough to hear.

We are divided up and I am given my group of six and my companion, MR. Science Teacher, who has six as well. We are walked to the Shuttle Simulator and are met by our guide, Diane.

8:30 am: Our bus pulls out of Stone Middle School. I have not been in a bus this large. It rocks and sways. As we pull out the driver tells the students not to scream. Particulary the girls. Then he tells the boys not to give them anything to scream about. I sit in the back with Maria and watch them, many still tired, squirm and talk, sleep and poke.

Each turn we come to feels as though we are about to fall over. I figure this must be stable or Space Camp would not be transporting kids again and again and again. Still, it certainly does not feel that way.

Maria is talking. Curriculum, skin cancer, reading, skin cancer. She shows me her leg where the lymph glands were removed this last Summer. That’s what she did on her Summer vacation. Maria gets sick more now, it seems.

Maria is a native of Brevard County but looks like she would come from Upper Michigan or Wisconsin. It looks like the sun is not her friend. In the end, it wasn’t.
As we pull in, Maria is still talking. I have no idea about what.

8:15 am: The Science Department Chair meets me and thanks me for taking this on in such short notice but that there is no time for talking and, taking my hand, pulls me from Susan and toward the bus. I was asked only yesterday. I’m not een clear on where we are going. It’s called BLAST which stands for Brevard Something And Science Something.

None of these kids are my students, she knows. Mine are with a substitute. But the chapparones all failed to show and to go on a field trip one must be fingerprinted now, thanks to the Patriot Act. The schools board will not pay for the fingerprinting and few people want to pay the sixty dollar fee.

So here I am. I put my lunch, packed as directed, in a clear bag, in the large red cooler marked TEACHERS and mill. Ms. Pebbles runs up. She has been recruited just this morning to attend.

The bus driver is old. Rather incredibly old. Or at least he looks that way. The bus is huge and looks new and shiny white and is not a school bus but belongs to Space Camp. For some reason, they use their own buses and the cost is included in the camp or, in this case, the field trip. As we are a science school, each child gets to go. I am told this is through a grant of some kind and some other schools are involved.

Some students who are suspended had to be brought back to attend this and will be out again after the trip. Why, I ask. It has something to do with the grant and the superintendent himself said it had to be that way. Chalmers, I think his name it.

“Mr. Tritt, would you board first?”

Sure. I get in and see the back is a long bench seat from one side to the next. Prime real estate for kids to fight over, fall under, do things in behind the other seats where they cannot be seen. I walk all the way back and stand in the center directly in front of the bench. As kids come in they ask if they can sit there. Each on asks and I point to their seat. I don’t want to sit in that one, I’m told, and I point anyway. Most sit. A few I have removed until they comply. Not sitting with friends? Well then, board with them next time. Saving a seat? Nope, not this time.

Maria enters and walks to the back and I am now not alone.

There are about seventy students. The door closes and the bus starts.

8:11 am: I arrive as school, sign in and make my way toward the bus. On the way there, Susan finds me and hands me a yellow padded envelope and tells me it’s a present. In it is the first Big White Undies CD. I have been looking for this. Back in Gainesville, I use to see them play all over. I MCed a fundraiser or two with them, saw them play with Phish. I never had to pay but also never had the money to buy a CD.

I am overwhelmed as I look at it and Susan tells me she like the other one so much when she found this one she got two so I could have it.

Last week, I gave her Matter by Big White Undies to borrow. I never do that, let people borrow CDs or books, but I did for her. She loved it, telling me what I knew already, that there was not one bad cut on it, that it was formidable, concerted and tight. The songs were thoughtful and literary while the music was light and joyous. That is is an amazing recording.

Do I have something to listen to it with? No Susan, I don’t have a portable CD player and, if I did, I’d not be toting it with me on the field trip. She tells me she’ll hold it for me and I can get it from her when I get back this afternoon.


Posted by on September 22, 2006 in Culture, Education, History, Social, Travel


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