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Bluebird

The first science article I remember reading was about Thor Heyerdahl. In the 1940’s, the Norwegian ethnographer and explorer postulated the Central Pacific islands were populated by South Americans who drifted from Peru to their new homes on rafts. This article, on a stiff card, came from the box in the back of the classroom. This was, I think, second grade.

There were four boxes back there. Maybe eight inches cube, maybe a bit longer than wide, they were named after birds. Each contained cards with articles and stories plus reading comprehension questions. Bluebird was the highest of the four levels.

If that was second grade, then four years earlier was when I learned to read. And five years earlier was when I learned to walk and when my parents were told learning to read would be out of the question for me..

Heyerdahl was wrong, it turned out – South Americans did not drift to the Central Pacific. He was terribly eurocentric and felt the migration could not possibly have come from east to west due to lack navigational skill and instrumentation. That the Pacific islands could only have been populated by accident. His son, an academic, said his father did everything backwards – came up with an idea, then made the facts fit it. Genetics, some seventy years after his voyage, would prove him wrong.

But I didn’t know that in second grade. In second grade I could not get enough of Thor Heyerdahl, or anything else that came from the Bluebird box.

You can’t have bluebird boxes today. See if you can follow this. I can’t, and I’m a professional.

Having boxes the kids move through and up from is now considered tracking. This is like having a college track and a technical track in secondary school. Even though the kids can progress from one box to the next, it still separates the kids into groups. But teachers are supposed to differentiate. They get reviewed for, receive scores for, differentiation. Differentiation is when a teacher recognises students have different skill levels and adjusts the work for those differing abilities. That isn’t tracking. When I taught ESL, recently, we used a computer program that tested the student’s reading skills, took articles and adjusted the lexile (reading level) of the content so it was a just difficult enough to make the students stretch their abilities, but could still read it, and then gave them a series of reading comprehension questions, letting them move up through the levels of difficulty at their own pace. That isn’t tracking. But boxes are.

When I was reading from the Bluebird box, computers were more true to their name – they computed. They performed complicated functions with numbers. They counted people and trajectories and helped send men to the moon and took up entire large rooms. They didn’t fit on a desk, adjust articles for kids from Honduras, China and Syria, and then fold up when not in use. Maybe it’s just that boxes are bad. He boxes were simple. The boxes were tactile. I liked the boxes.

I walked proudly to the Bluebird box for another article every chance I got. I devoured them. Anthropology. Botany. Zoology. Mineralogy. Physics. By mid-second grade, I had moved to articles that weren’t in boxes, and then books.

My first book inspired by the Bluebird box was Kon Tiki by Thor Heyerdahl – the story of his 4, 300 mile trip across the Pacific on a balsa-wood raft. Then Leakey and his discovery of Lucy. Once I read a card from the Bluebird box, whatever it was about, I wanted to read more. More about bees. More about volcanoes. More about of trees. More about Aborigines. From the box to the books..

I read anthropology. And archeology. I was fascinated by them. And myths. Lots of myths. In sixth grade I read book after book of Aboriginal and African myths. From there, Philosophy. In eighth grade, I read The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran, Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Bach. Realm of Numbers and The Planet that Wasn’t, essays on mathematics and Physics, respectively, by Asimov. I read the collected works of Carl Jung. I read Also Sprach Zarathustra by Nietzsche. Zen Flesh Zen Bones by Paul Reps. Tao Te Ching, translation by Feng and English. I read the biographies of Steinmetz and Tesla. I read The Book: On the taboo against knowing who you are by Alan Watts, and started the ABCs of Science Fiction – Asimov, Bradbury and Clarke. I eventually made it to Zelazney, though I am not a fan.

I also learned about primary sources. I found I preferred reading first hand material rather than second hand accounts. Why have someone tell me what a bunch of other people said when I could read it for myself? After that, my disdain for textbooks was obvious. This often drove my teachers to distraction as I would raise my hand and say, “actually. . . ” and quote exactly what the inventor, explorer, or author said, instead of the paraphrase which was, often, to my understanding, watered-down, misinterpreted or wholly incorrect

In ninth grade, I had heard about pep rallies. They sounded like monstrous things and I dreaded even the idea of them. I’d rather read and didn’t want to participate in anything that wasn’t academic. So every time we students were supposed to be in the gym, I was hiding in the library with a book. I succeeded in avoiding pep rallies until I was found with Oedipus Rex under a table and was removed from the library as I protested that I was learning, which was the function of school, and saw no point in the pep rally, let alone forcing me to attend it. I recall citing Dewey regarding the Pragmatic philosophy of education as I was lead down the hallways and into the gym. Kids were stomping and screaming. I collapsed in the bleachers. Fell on another student. They never made me leave the library again.

That is not entirely true. Once I was asked to go back into the gym.

I don’t like dissection and I took part in only one. A frog. The smell of formalin was terrible, and I did not slice it open myself. I was paired with another student who did the slicing and who was, unfortunately, not Grace Barcia. As I was watching him poke around inside I, popular as I was, felt something  wet hit my head. Then my face. I was soon being pelted with livers and lungs and other airborn ampbianalia. The teacher had a rather loose concept of classroom management, especially considering we were in a lab with organs, scalpels and chemicals. So I walked out. I never took part in a dissection again.

Thus, when welcoming the incoming ninth graders with a gym-full of tables displaying all our school had to offer, I was a strange choice to put in charge of the table displaying our menagerie of dissecta. It had the usual jars of fetal pigs, frogs and other animals, none of which I had ever personally taken a scalpel to. One notable object on the table was a (If you are squeamish, please skip down four paragraphs) cat. Skinless, four furless paws adhered to a board, one could examine the surface musculature in detail. I was left, behind a table covered in dissected animals, with a skinless cat, a gym full of high school students, and I was in danger of being bored.

So I sold the cat.

I hawked that cat to everyone who walked by, billing it as the perfect pet. “You’ll always know where it is, you never have to clean up after it and all it takes is a little bit of dusting now and then. Plus, it is guaranteed never to shed!”

I finally sold it for nine one-dollar off Frito-Lay’s coupons. I knew better than to accept actual money. That might have gotten me in trouble.

I don’t know what happened to that cat. It was the morning, and it wouldn’t fit into a backpack, or into anything but a fully empty locker, so I imagine it was hard to not see a student walking around with a skinless cat glued to a wooden plank, but it would not be the first obvious thing missed at my high school.

Another obvious thing missed at my high school was the relatively vacuous state of our library, and our local public version wasn’t much better. The large, full, beautiful library was too far away, in downtown Miami, so I spent quite a bit of my time at Waldenbooks in the Mall at 163rd Street or Arts and Science Bookstore in North Miami. There I read the bulk of Freud, Heisenberg, and as much Alan Watts as I could find. Through the next years, right through college, and still today, I found the use of secondary sources was only to lead me to primary ones.

In college when we came to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, I went to the original for a more full understanding, reading Toward a Psychology of Being and finding it so much more meaningful, making much more sense. Reading the original took Maslow’s work from a theory in a textbook to something whole, deep and complete. Once I read his own words, I could see his theory played out everywhere in daily life. That is not something I would have ever gotten from the textbook, no matter how much it cost.

Having Marty Fromm as a teacher in Human Relations, I read the works of her lover, Gestalt psychologist Fritz Perls. Then Erich Fromm’s The Art of Loving, and Erik Erikson’s Childhood and Society, then Rogers and more Rogers. Having read Adler’s Understanding Human Nature, as well as other essays by the famed psychologist, when I had the delight of meeting, and spending an extended amount of time with, Margot Adler, author, activist and NPR journalist, we were able to discuss her grandfather’s work, at length, with an understanding of the original texts. Luckily, I had read her books as well.

I read Piaget from Piaget, not a textbook. I read Assagioli and Ellis, Harlow and Groff. I read Milgram from Milgram, Zimbardo from Zimbardo, Allport from Allport and Kohlberg from Kohlberg. In education classes, I read Jefferson and Mann and Dewey, Skinner, Hegel, Kant.

As a massage therapist, I read my textbooks, but I also read Alexander, Feldenkraise, Ling and Rolf. I know that made it difficult to have conversations with me, but if you knew the other students in my class, you’d see that was certainly a plus.

As a teacher I’m an absolute fiend when it comes to source reliability and the use of primary sources in research. Just ask. It’s ok, kids. You can tell them the truth.

Today, though I read less now that my eyes are often problematic, and sometimes listen to books, I’m still likely to read an article, see the study discussed, regardless of the field, and then immediately go to find the study. I am always appreciative of the nuances of the original which seldom translates into the paraphrasing and description found in secondhand accounts.

And, regardless of what I’m reading, and right now I’m reading The Tibetan Yogas of Dream and Sleep by Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche, and Humans of New York by Brandon Stanton and The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut, I think, believe it or not, nearly daily about the Bluebird Box. and what it did for me. Shallow enough to be beautifully wide and varied and deep enough to provoke an interest from a that has lasted my entire life, with neither dulling nor diminution, in a child who was never supposed to be able to read. The Bluebird box is still the best box. You can quote me on that.

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Posted by on March 23, 2017 in Books, Culture, Education, philosophy, Social

 

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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.

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

 

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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. I 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.

 
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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 dilligence. 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 Thursday, November 23, 2006
I may be a Turkey (but 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 and follow the suppzoo diet pill guide.

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 dilligence. 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 ediion of War and Peace, was taken aside and spoken with about leaving the guests to do as they liked. After that, while generaly skittish about acepting 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 Weanies? 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.

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 Weanies? 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.

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

 

Tags: , , , , , ,

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.

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

 

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Austin CIty’s Limits Day Five: The Final Day

I have mixed feelings about today. I have enjoyed myself here, walked myself silly, had wonderful food, seen things I’ve not seen before and could not see anywhere else. Yet, I miss home. I am a homebody. I think of this as I rise. It is 5:15.

I spend a half hour exercising, as I have each morning, and then get ready for my day. I have some time left. I’m packed. I travel lightly. So I go out for a walk.

At seven I meet the gang at the lobby. Judy has asked we go back to the Driskill for breakfast. It’s a great place, I’m sure. But it is more expensive than Las Manitas Cafe. I’m not sure about finding food there either. But she was a trooper about the bats, went where I wanted for bar-b-que, walked and walked and walked and… so off to the Driskill we went.

It shined in the new morning. It glowed bronze through the expansive windows, showing it to be mostly empty and we entered and found seats to the left of the extensive dessert display; the centerpiece of the café. It is 7:15.

I found nothing healthy that appealed to me and nothing inexpensive I liked. In the end, I simply decided it was my last day and I would get what I wanted. Ten dollars for eggs and cheese, jalapeño biscuit with chorizo gravy and grits. It’s my last day, this place makes Judy happy, it’s only four more dollars and I’ll fore-go the coffee.

The food came late and we ate faster than I’d have liked. Still, we didn’t rush too much. We thought, and correctly so, most people would be late for conference this morning, checking out, settling bills, getting to breakfast late at the last chance to go to the Driskill.

The grits were ok. Nothing special. Instant, perhaps. Loose, the consistency of quicksand, mucilage. I find food is rarely worth what I pay for it or the cost later. This bodes no different.

The eggs were ok as well. Just ok.

The biscuit was, however, stupendous in taste, tremendous in texture though not size and, at this point, I was thankful for the diminutive quality. The gravy was heavy, dark, flavorful, savory, smokey, incredible.

We ate to the scent of coffee and croissants, chocolate and baking cakes. We settled our bills and we were out the door to the softly voiced, and it is a rarity Judy speaks softly, “Thank you.”

We walked fast, not quickly. Nearly skipping. We arrived fifteen minutes late. We arrived to only half-full classes and people trickling in.

It was expected we would leave early and little was happening. It was 8:15. We were to meet at 10:00 in the convention center lobby.

I decided to leave at 9:30 and go back to Sixth Street for a belt I saw two days prior. A two inch belt instead of a one and a quarter. A stretch for me. I’d need a buckle. They were large and I think of myself, especially now, as small. It was a chance I felt I was taking with my self-image. It felt dangerous. Like it would bring attention to me and such is always unwelcomed but, why not? Maybe I deserve some attention now?

We are filling out observations, reflections, evaluations. Around the room we discuss strategies, methods and, at 9:15, we are set for a Socratic seminar. I tell the leader I must leave. She knows this. I tell her I want to leave before the seminar as, once a part of it, I could not extricate without causing difficulty to the group. She agrees and I leave at 9:17 heading, with backpack, for Sixth Street.

Before leaving, several teachers want to talk with me. Move, stay, we need teachers. In Florida we are told there is a shortage of teachers as well. Yet, pay is low enough teachers leave for other jobs, schools actually ‘record’ the shortage and then combine classes to save money. The schools in Florida churn out the teachers but I know many who are not finding work yet Tallahassee has stated they may have to import teachers from Puerto Rico. I thought the teachers I spoke to from Austin, Dallas, Colleen, El Paso and San Antonio were splendid. They spoke of the state test the way we do of it here and of the shortage the same way. Burnout was rampant. Many told me they no longer had curriculum but all taught the same thing, the same day, (within subject area, of course) and it was directly related to the end test. Their plans were handed to them. Many are looking to leave. This has happened to me in some Florida schools as well. I’ve heard enough. Off I go.

In the shop I ask for a black belt in size 32. I ask if I can take mine off and try theirs on with some buckles. Sure, why not?

It is the smallest belt they have and I put it on. I look at the only buckles there I like, not bothering to pay more than a cursory glance, as the night before at the array of biker, suggestive, rockband, etc…

Two dragons in a circle, each feeding into the other. It is the design on my next book, except it is two dragons instead of one being a phoenix. Still, close, very close.

I try it on. It fits. Even with the size 32, I have only one hole left on the belt. The buckle fits; it touches no overflowing stomach, no paunch. How things have changed. Perhaps neither I nor the buckle are as large as I think?

I try to look at it with a hand mirror, aware of how self-conscious I feel holding a hand mirror toward my belt-line, staring. But, it is 9:30 and the shop is empty save the Asian shopkeep: a young lady of mid twenties of thirties. She is use to this.

I decide to take a chance and keep it on. It is inexpensive at $14 for the belt and $11 for a pewter buckle. I put the belt I came in with in my pack and, as I pay, the shopkeep asks, “Are you Buddhist?”

She asks me questions and I try to answer them, she’s telling me her professor at U of T told her explaining Buddhism is too difficult. She wants to know of her heritage and she is asking me, my white, nearly transparent, European self.

We talk for fifteen minutes, discussing Buddhism’s forth wave, engaged Buddhism, the development of the differing types, the core common to it all and the central experience which needs no explanation. I tell her where the temples are in town.

I am aware I have an appointment to keep and stay later than I should. I apologize and leave, nearly running back to the center, through the doors, up the two sets of escalators (the stairs are for emergencies only, silly as that is) to find two ladies approaching the designates spot. I am arriving just in time.

Back to the hotel. Up to the room, toss the few extra things in I need to, and grabbing bags, head back downstairs. Everyone meets and the van soon arrives.

The ride back is a different route it seems and I see things I’d have visited had I a vehicle. It is a faster route and I mention this. I am met with disagreement. The difference, I’m told, is, on the way in, I was quiet, I knew no-one, was watching each second pass. Now, I’m chattering, listening. I was with a crowd then and now I’m with friends and time moves differently in that more fluid medium.

At the airport, in the terminal, tickets verified and, with everyone else in Austin being as friendly as they were, I am not surprised by the jovial manner, the jocularity of the security, x-rayers, friskers and checkers. Thanks for playing, I’m told.

Lunch. I still am regretting breakfast. It is a small airport and there is nothing but meat I can find. A hamburger joint has been suggested and I rationalize this as it is the last day, I can undo anything done, I can start anew, I can eat better, tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow.

I reiterate – food is rarely worth it. Can you make the french fries extra well done? They usually are. Usually? Yes. Well, can we make sure they are THIS time as well? Yes sir.

The hamburger is ok, not great. I go back for the missing vegetation I was sure to ask was included when I ordered. The fries are barely cooked. At this point, I don’t care. I should have eaten a food bar, a box of raisins, some of the seaweed packets, my own nails.

To the gate and they are boarding. One of us asks if she has a window seat. Yes. But it is a C. Yes. But C is an isle seat. Yes, it’s both. Both!?

Boarding, we walk out the door to a short ramp to a set of stairs. Where is the plane? OH! Down the stairs, to the tarmac, over to the plane, up the stairs. Everyone ducks to get in but me. I love being short.

EMB-145 is the plane type. Two seats on one side and one on the other.

As we taxi, Shammeeza is asking me questions about hypnotherapy. I think she is keeping me busy and I appreciate the kindness. It helps. I talk until the wheels leave the Earth and I can no longer speak. We lift off and the plane lurches up and up and up steeply.

It is a two hour flight. We talk the entire time about the trip, our disappointment in our country, where we might go, how teaching is not valued and then we are told we are about to run into turbulence. The plane bumps and I can see what is coming as I look out the window and all there is to the sky is an undifferentiated whiteness.

I am now regretting lunch as well.

I apologize in advance. I am nervous. If the plane drops or lurches, I say, I’ll probably grab you. I’ll find your hand, your leg. I tell her it is nothing personal and, out of reflex, I’d probably grab whoever was next to me regardless of gender, size or species.

The plane spends a half hour bumping up and down. I was on a rollercoaster once – just once – and this was very much like that ride. It jutted up, dropped how far down I can’t know, shoved abruptly from side to side and all the while, we’re fighting feeling ill. The plane suddenly shifts and I can’t tell if it is up or down but it is a shock and I grab her leg, or her hand or… how many times I don’t remember.

Later on I’m told she had done the same. We were both nervous enough, who can tell.

Another of our group says, smiling, she’s telling my wife. “Not before I do,” is my response. “This is all part of the story.”

We land still in turbulence. I’d kiss the ground but, who knows what has been on it. Just as long as I’m on it too.

Driving back home, we listen to Busman’s Holiday from Orlando to Melbourne, singing, feeling a bit as we did the night prior on the busy street, feeling alive with music. In Melbourne, we exit the car, grab our bags, no one leaves.

Everyone goes inside to use the bathroom, wait for a ride, keep the connection. Nearly everyone. I stay without. It is raining, unusually cool for the last day of June, the grass has just been cut, shoes would have to come off, I’m tired, reason, reason, reason. In fact I am keeping distance. In fact, I wish to go home.

Shammeeza exits and we leave. We listen to The Indigo Girls and discuss where we might find dinner. Lee is working and so there is no one home to feed. Rocky’s? Closed early. No matter. I thank her, as I drop her off at home, for making this trip the opposite of everything I had feared it would be. As I lift her luggage out, I know I have an ally this year at school.

I think of Austin as I drive toward the ocean. Had I visited before, I’d have thought about it as a place to live. How comfortable it was.

When one belongs no-place, visiting is hard. When one feels comfortable, one feels doubts. I make my home by where my family is. We have settled where it was best. We have work, friends, family. But my internal landscape is bare. I smell lilacs in the summer where there are none growing, feel hills where none are seen. My feet always feel a stranger. My landscape consists of time but not space, is temporal, temporary.

I am now to get re-acquainted with Palm Bay. I will compare. Ultimately, who can tell?

And so I do what is comfortable. My sweetie will soon be home. What would she like for dinner? I remove a knife from the block, the cutting board from the wall. An onion from the refrigerator. I begin to cook.

 
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Posted by on July 4, 2006 in Travel

 

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Austin City’s Limits Day Four

I made a discovery today. South Congress and 4th Street. In a small Mexican café, Las Manitas, at seven am, I discovered tacos actually are eaten for breakfast and are not a creation of the frozen/fast food industry. Go figure! It was great, filling, healthy and inexpensive. Egg, cheese, lettuce, and a patio.

It looks to be a small place and I stepped in on my way to the convention center the day before. I had consumed nothing more than a can of V8. Others say they could have had a V8 but there are times I fairly live on them. I walked by at 7:15 and it was half full. I stepped in to find quick, small, dark-haired waitresses, a scent that told me I could have done better than V8 and, upon picking up a menu from a yet-to-be-bussed table, prices that told me my vegetable juice was not the bargain I had thought. One does not buy from a hotel gift-shop expecting a bargain. I told the ladies about this during lunch. They had breakfasted on overpriced Starbucks coffee and muffins and we decided Las Manitas would be tomorrow’s first stop.

There is a before-bed discussion about the time to meet. Bus-ladies say it is a five minute walk. Someone other than me responds that it would not take that long even on hands and knees and when the ladies trade barbs I back up. Bus-ladies win because it is easier and we agree to meet at five minutes to seven to be there as they open.

The day started at six as I went out to stand over the Congress Ave Bridge crossing the Colorado to watch the bats and the sun return.

Every day the sun rises and part of me thinks it’s a new sun each day. Each day a new day, a new sun and a new chance to start over. It also seems, despite the sun’s slow arc across the sky, the sun in Florida may not be the sun here and, so, I rose to watch a new sun start a new day.

And the bats slowly flitted home to sleep, nestle and hang under the bridge and await a new dusk.

It is five to seven the next morning when I arrive in the lobby to see Shammeeza and Judy waiting for me. No bus-ladies. They called and said they’d be late. They’d meet us. We walk to Las Manitas and arrive just as the doors have been opened. Entering, we are ushered though the room to the kitchen. We stop and the waitress motions for us to keep walking. Perhaps this is a do-it-yourself café?

We walk through the narrow kitchen into a lush courtyard with leaf and flower everywhere, benches, tables and laughter.

Coffee is brought, tacos chosen food comes and the bu-ladies follow. Their food arrives as we are ready to leave and I walk out full, happy, with coffee renewed in a to-go cup and I have spent five dollars including a healthy tip.

My cup of coffee in hand, a bottle of sugarfree mountain dew in my backpack (from the hotel store) and I was ready for the second half of my walk to the conference.

For lunch we headed North to the Red River District. We want pizza. No such luck and find pizza places closed that open only at night. But, we found a coffeehouse and sandwiches where I could have espresso and a vegetable sub. No complaints. Time spent in the Red River District is worth the walk. A new sugarfree mountain dew in my backpack and I headed off again to the conference, me and my buddies but, wait… what is that?

I see stairs heading down and hear the quiet murmur of water. I run down the stairs, backpack on and to the sound of Shammeeza exclaiming “That’s why I love him. He’s ten again.”

Down the steps, there are, in the river, platforms to skip across and I do, of course, and, in the river, a bed.

A creek, really; Waller Creek. It is a creek winding its way under arches, between steps, though alleys – all the way looking at first glance to be filled with brilliant billowing foam.

On a second look, it is white stone, seemingly bubbled and convoluted. I imagine, in times of rain, this is underwater but Austin has over 300 sunny days a year and today is no exception. Today, it seems solid stone foam is suddenly formed; petrified suds. In it, set central, a bed.

Seems like a place for a walk and how far can I walk, in the creek, strolling upon the foam? The answer is quite a ways. But first, a lie down in bed, in the creek, in Austin in the early afternoon.

Then to head back to the conference, stopping at stores along the way – music stores, hat shops, Mexican art galleries – and purchasing what I have been all week; not a blessed thing.

The afternoon comes and we explore. The sour member of our troop is left at the hotel and we are off. Art Galleries, shops, over the First Ave. Bridge to enjoy the creative stenciled graffiti. Dinner of Moroccan food and mint tea, vegetables and couscous.

Our waiter is tall, thin, slow and altogether reminding me far too much of a Looney Toons character. He is nice enough but seems to be lacking an essential ingredient and I suggest he must be a son of the owner. He brings the ladies their appetizers. Mine he forgets. We renew our singing of “Mr. Cellophane.”

He forgets one thing after another. He faces away watching TV. It isn’t been the World Cup, which I could understand. It is prime time TV and he cannot see us.

Couscous, lamb, pita, vegetables. Do I want desert? He asks me specifically. Is the Halva fresh? No, it comes from a small plastic-wrapped package like from he grocery store. I answer no and he walks away to bring us the bill ten minutes later.

I follow, explaining a lady did desire desert and I did not suggest I spoke for her. Is the baklava made here? No. Is it store-bought? No, it comes from a bakery a block away. One baklava please. Four cups of mint tea.

We pay our bill. My tip is a note stating “Slow and steady wins the race.”

And, now, back to our walk.

The Driskill Hotel is a glorious edifice of an era which is fast going away to be replaced with the expedient. But then money can buy patience if it pays well enough. People staying at The Driskill can afford it.


Elegant, appointed, dense with art, alight with the recollection of how things once were, one can go from Edwardian comfort on a setee on the veranda to cowskin, soft and furred, in the Piano bar.

We found some unlocked doors, as I am want to do, and discovered some private club rooms, banquet rooms filled with lemon towers awaiting tomorrow’s well-heeled guests, libraries and ornate landings.

I played, by request, Rhett Butler at the bottom of a carpeted, wide staircase to the wafting decent of Scarlet O’Hara, played by Judy, now transformed into a Nubian Queen. An audience gathered and suddenly, every lady was Scarlet.

We wandered the guest floors singing “Money” by Pink Floyd, “Money” by The Beatles and “Money” from Cabaret in four-part harmony. From the Piano bar we heard “Hey Big Spender” as the patrons played stump the pianist.

We wandered up the road further after exiting The Driskill and relieving their cafe of a bit of chocolate cake; small triangular pieces arranged on a plate by the café door. Up the road, we found The Iron Cactus and a band in front playing an array of strange instruments and a few not so strange. Busman’s Holiday was the name the four lads went by, ages sixteen through twenty-one, from Bloomington, on tour and a night off, and we stayed and sang with them for nearly an hour.
I purchased a CD for three dollars, turned around a few minutes later and tossed in another seven, exchanging the five song CD with the full collection. Pass it on, they tell us. Copy it, put it on the Internet. Anything so people hear us. I agree.

Music was everywhere, the streets were crowded with people, musicians, peddlers. It was 10:30.

I purchased another CD from them, the one I had just given back and, as the second set ended, we moved on full of song again.


Up the stairs to Maggy Mae’s for a rooftop view of Sixth Street. Down again, hearing all the bands from on high blend into one sound of the late night street with the cars, bikes, radios, laughter.

We were told to go the Pete’s Dueling Piano Bar and we did, as it was next door. “Bring your out-of-town guests to Pete’s Dueling Piano Bar to embarrass them” the ads said. Inside was a crowd which made movement, once we settled near the stage, impossible.

“Joy to the World” was being sung, pianos high on the stage beside us, and the crowd was being taught rather off-coulor hand gestures for the words. This is new territory for me.

It was a bridal shower crowding the bar and, as the bride was brought on stage to sing and be gestured over, the massed ladies became restless for the few males in the crowd. My male butt was save by the presence of The Nubian Queen and the Indian Princess, Judith and Shemeeza. One cannot say I don’t travel in style and good company.

Once out, I told them I had not intended on letting my co-workers get to know me quite this well.

On to the hotel. It is late and there is packing to do. We sang “On the Street where you live.” “I have often walked/on this street before.” Several times a day this week, as a matter of fact.

“When I fall in Love,” “Mona Lisa” and the Nubian Queen and I in “Unforgettable” which we sang in harmony as we entered the hotel grounds in a way, I imagined, that paid tribute to Cole. The doorman held his ears, then the door, closed, laughing. We pointed out the sign that said, “Radisson: Express Yourself” and he opened the door. We were just following the directions, after all.

He asked where we’d been drinking and I told him about the mint tea and he looked unbelieving.

“Were you singing earlier with the cashier in the giftshop?”

“Yes, I was.”

And I’m still singing now, even as I type these last lines.

Tomorrow, breakfast, out by seven, conference and out by ten (leaving early) and heading back to the airport.

And back home. Posted by Picasa

 
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Posted by on July 4, 2006 in Travel

 

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