Archive for the ‘Coffee Stains’ category

A Merry Lego Santa Claus Family Portrait

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Familiar friends at the Lego store The first 15 minutes of the Lego® Store on Michigan Avenue in Chicago is fairly entertaining; anything beyond that becomes a form of Chinese lead torture.

It’s what they love now, Legos®, and both Evan and Colin arrange much of their living space around the mighty investment into the building brick sets. Evan counted up how many pieces are dedicated to the Lego® Star Wars® sets and the number is approximately 11, 561.

We have a lot Legos® in our house.

And I think we can justify the purchases on the idea that both Evan and Colin still play with the Legos®. They might rebuild the set or might morph together sets and create new vehicles for Luke or Yoda or Darth Vader to do a flyby over Luke the cat. And as parents we like the idea of the boys creating stuff from bricks; it’s the good stuff of play. And it’s really hard to break the little things and no batteries are required.

But they do burn…or melt as I found out in 3rd grade.

The story is sometimes still in dispute, and is probably as controversial as the fire alarm story. In the fire alarm story (and I’m not kidding, my brother who is 5 years my senior and I still “discuss” it) I am the victim of a coercive brother. In the fire alarm story (it’s amazing how much of our childhood had some type of pyromania in them) Mike and I are at Yulupa Elementary School and it’s summer. And we’re roaming the hallways of school and around the corner from the water fountain by the bathrooms was a red “Pull for Fire” object about 4 feet up the wall. I’m watching Mike and he says (at least from my version of the story) that nothing happens when you pull it and he pulls it (or at least it appears that he has) and nothing happens. Then he says, “Now you try it.”

You cannot turn off a school fire alarm by banging your shoe against it. Apparently you need a key. Also, it is difficult to run across an uneven field and across a busy road with a shoe on your left foot and the other shoe in your hand: it just isn’t efficient in trying to make a quick get away when you hear the fire trucks coming to the school where you have just pulled the fire alarm. Lastly, it’s amazing that you might know that your brother has tricked you into doing something bad, and yet you still will be at his beckon call when he tries another stunt on you.

But that wasn’t the case with the Lego® house that we built when my mother was away. It was a group project: Mike, Steph and I are digging through the basket of Legos® and we’ve decided we’re building a mansion. We use the large green plate pieces for the foundation and then begin the two-story structure. We give up a strict color scheme on the second story when we run out of red bricks, but we’ve finished the house. It has windows, a door and a chimney.

See where this story is headed?

Again, I maintain that it was Mike’s idea, but perhaps we all wanted it and Mike lit the paper that we stuffed through the top of the chimney and I think I remember running for some reason (as if that would save me from the nasty burning Lego® house that was all of one foot high). The fire (or smoldering) was put out and we quickly cleaned up the mess and I even think we did the cartoon whistle-with-hands-behind-backs strolling about the house toward the door to the back yard.

Mom was not happy when she found out. It wasn’t the melting plastic from our realistic Lego® 2-story, but perhaps she even swore something silly when we sat down to eat dinner sometime later (that day or week or perhaps a month) and she saw the burn stain in her beautiful oak table.

Later, I was playing with the Legos® and found that some of the melted pieces didn’t make it into the garbage. I might have even used the evidence against Mike or Steph, but more than that, I didn’t have enough pieces to build whatever structure I was making at the time.

My sons haven’t discovered the wonders of fire but their lives do encompass Legos® and building and creation. I’m sure (and I know…I’ve heard it) they try and make their creations real: through battle sounds and often tossing the plane or ship into the spinning blades of their bedroom ceiling fan.

The big guy and the family And it continues to amaze me that when we go to the Lego® Store in Chicago around Xmas that we will inevitably stop by the Lego® Santa Claus, in his sleigh, with his reindeer. We will gather around the big guy in Red Suit (lots of red bricks) and get a picture of our entire family much like a family picture during Thanksgiving in Schamburg or during the summer in Pennsylvania.


Coffee Stains: The Five People you meet in School

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

I’ve just finished emailing a former student and saying that I couldn’t attend her wedding reception in a few weeks. And it’s got me thinking about a previous comment that I’ve made to a student when they asked “Do you like all of your students?” To which I replied simply “No.” And I think that conversation then pushed the limits of typical classroom scripting when the same student asked “Are there teachers here that you don’t like?” And I simply said “Of course.”

And you can probably see where the script goes from there…well actually this is more improv stuff as we’ve strayed from some point about Sentence Patten 2 and making sure that the verbs are in the same tense to create balance. It’s the stuff I like about school: the unscripted things.

“What teacher or teachers don’t you like?” he asks and before I can answer he says, wisely: “You said we can ask anything…you said that you are looking for us to ask honest questions…”

(I hope you can envision that smiling, smart alecky senior boy, trying to use the teacher’s words again him). It’s a double-dog dare moment and I still answer him truthfully in front of the class.

Nope, not going to tell you my response because you didn’t ask the question. But I think it may be safe to say that teachers are as much students in school as the students are.

My mom tells me that she simply couldn’t find me and that the office would call her and say “Mrs. Judson, your son is here at the school. Will you be picking him up?” The son was me and I was 4 years old. I wasn’t in preschool and I wasn’t enrolled. And here’s how I remember it:

When my mom wasn’t looking, I would simply walk down Washoe Court, turn left on Neotomas Ave, cross Tachevah Drive and walk across the amazingly large field to Yulupa Elementary school. You’d run into the original playground first (the one with “all things metal-tubed”: monkey bars, balancing bars, swinging bars and lots of kid-smashed sawdust). The community chipped in a couple years later (I think the National Guard even showed up) and built a huge playground to the southeast out of recycled tires. Anyway, from the playground you crossed the blacktop and headed through a corridor and I decided to turn right and opened the door in the corner.

No one saw me slip in and so I waited a moment, closed the door and saw that several classes were spread out this enormous open space (California was still playing with the open classroom concept). I scouted the groups, found one that seemed interesting, and simply plopped myself indian-style (as we called it then…now it’s “criss-cross apple sauce,” so my sons tell me) and listened to the story being told.

I’m not sure how long it took, but eventually (I think it was about an hour) I was asked a question by an adult (such as “So what is your name?”). And I remember her looking at me with that look. I think the expression was a cross between the look that Julie Vogel gave me after our first kiss and the look that Lois gives me when I say something in which I am trying to cross a social line. And I think it was my response that prompted the look, because, I’m told, I had a speech problem. Apparently, as my mom reminds me, I was inarticulate and what came out of my mouth sounded more Chinese than English.

[Insert way-too-obvious student quip here such as: “Not much has changed, eh?”]

The adult then walked me to the office (sort of that “lost boy in the big mall thing” scene) and I was greeted by soothing and understanding tones (yes, I could understand English…I just couldn’t speak it very well). The secretary (that’s what we called them back then) called my mother while I got to do “real school work”: color. Mom arrives, nervous smiles/apologies/thankyou’s, driving away in the 1968 Ford Galaxie.

I don’t think she yelled at me, but I think I remember some type of “You had me worried” thematic explanation. What I do remember is that I couldn’t wait to go back…and so I did–a year later–sort of legally. My mom’s gift to me was to sort of fudge my birthday date so that I could be in school a bit earlier than originally planned. And that was okay by me, because I couldn’t wait.

And I have to say, most days I still can’t wait to get to school. And I find that what I like and hate about school is about the same as when I was a student. Under the “Things I like” list, and at the top, is one of the reasons why I keep coming back. Sorry, it’s not students. They’re probably second or third. But really, it’s the same reason why students come to school: their friends. I like the people I work with. We drink coffee and occasionally go out to breakfast and, yes, we might even sit by the same people at lunch. We have stuff in common and we know each other and they let me hang around with them. Yes, students are a big part of my day, but frankly, you people don’t stick around for very long. I’m not sure if you realized this, but we get you for maybe an hour or two a trimester and then you’ve graduated. The constant in my work are the people I work with and that’s what brings me back.

Ah, I can see the smart alecky kid ready to ask about the things I hate and to that I will list the usual suspects (and, btw, some of these are fairly universal along many career lines):

  • A seemingly endless amount of non-classroom things-to-do that simply lack cohesion, for the purpose of trying to show something that the organization is not. (Busy work)
  • A loss of vision of what we are really here for and in its place check lists from outside experts who are not even practitioners of education. (Vision)
  • A underlying, smirky and patronizing attitude from the people that make the decisions– that don’t acknowledge the teacher as professional. (Respect)
  • A society that has given into the notion that one can effectively, efficiently, and accurately quantify learning. (People as numbers)
  • A belief that all people learn the same way and the same pace and that a moving target called a “benchmark” is the trump card for whether a student passes or fails. (No achievable goals)
  • A notion that education is the magic bullet for all of societies ills. (“We can always do better”)
  • A belief that students are simply not as smart as they were back when and that schools are simply watering down the basics of a good education.
  • And, my favorite: A “commonsense” notion that education’s purpose is to turn out better workers in society (say nothing about living and thinking).

I simply hate and abhor those things; some are out of ignorance and most are simply not true.

And I take a look at the list of things that I like and the things that I hate and I think “Not much has changed from when I was a student.” I have about five or so people that I really like and, I have control issues. And, I still sometimes show up in the classroom simply speaking something Chinese…oh, that’s for next year.

Coffee Stains: Bet your bottom dollar

Wednesday, 5 December 2007

Annie was my second cassette purchase; The Muppet Movie, the first.

Sure, I had owned several LPs (mostly from the soundtrack genre), but when we got our first tape recorder, our view of music changed forever. We could, you see, record one of our records onto the tape and then hit the REWIND button and listen to that song or songs whenever we wanted. And this gave way to the concept of making a tape for someone. I did it for my friends and later for Lori when we were courting.

I think we still have the tape and…well, hold on for a few moments, let me get it (I think it’s in the impossible-to-open drawer below the built-in china cabinet thing). It might be… (Oh, and by the way, “It’s a hardknock life” is playing..yes, it’s the Annie soundtrack). Be right back (Oh, now she’s singing “Tomorrow“…warm feelings…”clears away the cobwebs and sorrow”…and “say, oh!”)

[Steps away from the eMac for moment]

Okay, I’m back and I couldn’t find it: I think it’s upstairs. I did find the following tapes: My Songs: Evan (one of those tapes where the singer inserts your name in the song), American Pie (Don McLean–1988), and Lori’s first cassette tape: You Light Up My Life (Debby Boone–1977). We get into these conversations when remembering the good old days of our music, often. Recently it began with my telling Lori about my trip to Martin’s:

“So,” I say, ” I got the creamer and coffee and the sandwich rolls and then made my way over to the Starbucks.”
“Did you get me anything?” she asks.
“No,” I say. “I thought you wouldn’t want anything.”
“Oh,” she responds.
“Anyway,” I ,because I want to tell the punch line. “So, the bartistaperson is making my latte thing…I know, I wanted something different. Guess what she’s humming?”
“No!” she says.
And then I hum, which isn’t a super reliable way of getting music across to another human being, but for some reason that’s the mode I went with…and she got it.
“Yep! Uncanny, eh” I say and then we start singing/humming the words/tune of “Maybe” from Annie.

Then I remind Lori that my second cassette purchase was the soundtrack to Annie; The Muppet Movie, the first. She mentions the Debbie Boone tape and perhaps she sings (with great emotion, mind you) “And you, LIGHT up my life…

We both like music, and I wouldn’t claim that we’re eclectic (which is a common response to “what kind of music do you like?”); no, we’re pretty predictable. She was listening to the radio during the early ’80s while I was amassing quite a soundtrack collection (which was started with The Muppet Movie and Annie). And so, it’s no surprise that I would make Lori a tape for our first year anniversary of courting (yes, I know it’s dating…courting sounds a bit more formal).

It’s roughly 90 minutes of my favorite songs of that time with commentary between each song (yes, it is dreadfully painful to listen to…simply cruel to anyone who hears it). And I think Lori listened to the whole tape once (until we found it 10 years later and abandoned the tape’s second listen). The title of the tape: “365 days with Lori Bickel.” And no, I will not digitize the thing; it really needs to be put out of its misery–or ours.

The tape recorder that evening in a dorm room in Winona Lake, Indiana was my way of creating a thing for Lori. And back in the 1970s when we got our first Panasonic Tape Recorder (it was red plastic with a black handle) my sister and I would create a wide variety of stuff. Most were silly little skits that always seemed to end with some guy falling off a very high cliff into a very deep valley floor (I think it was usually the Grand Canyon…we’d seen the two-part Brady Bunch vacation enough times to know what it looked and sounded like…though no one fell off the cliff).

And here’s how it’s done:

You’d start with a high pitch “Ahhhhhh” and slowly descended to a lower, more intense and louder “Ahhhh” and a the last moment you’d take you thumb and “squish” the built-in microphone. It was a really cool sound and we really thought that’s what a body impacting the Grand Canyon floor sounded like. We were suckers.

And we all are, aren’t we: suckers? We’re predictable as much as we say that we are “an individual.” We will hum some silly line from some silly Disney film or some silly Broadway song. And sometimes I have to catch myself, because I might just enjoy the moment too much. Someone might see or hear my silly humming song, that might break out in a full-blown “The sun will come out, tomorrow!”

Okay, well, I need to pick up the boys. Looking forward to listening to the “Xmas Music for the Van, volume 2.5” CD.


Coffee Stains: Revisiting Original Writing in view of recent events

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Perhaps you might consider it cheating (me creating something new each week and using something that I’ve written a couple years ago) but it’s on my mind. It’s a part of a much longer piece that I wrote at the (get ready, lots of initials and capitalized words coming your way) Indiana Teachers of Writing National Writing Project Advanced Institute (or, ITW-NP AI) at Notre Dame University back in 2003. My goal for the week was to write 10,000 words–good or bad– personal narrative stuff and lots of experimenting and playing with language (which could be another way of saying: “Eh, it may just be crap”).

This is not a good thing to say in evaluating your own writing, but this is my favorite passage from the summer. I say that with some reluctance because the general rule or wisdom within writing is that if you really love it, cut it out. You are no longer objective about your work and you have fallen in love with your words. You simply can not judge the relationship between nouns and verbs and the syntax and tone and pacing with any clarity: your mind is cluttered with smiles and self-congratulations.

And I know that, but I still like it.

Here’s the setting: I’ve just written about how my father and mother got divorced and that he is now restricted to his car when he picks us–Mike, Stephany and me–up for the court-okayed visits. I begin this section my father’s car and the joy of getting it washed, then, the part I like at Bodega Dunes.

I do, though think of Bodega Bay with my father after the initial divorce proceedings. He’d pick us up in his white Cadillac equipped with power windows and an 8-track player. I remember Neil Diamond most of all and hearing “Sweet Caroline” when he took us through the Bubble Machine car wash located off of 4th Street in Santa Rosa. This wasn’t like the car wash on Steele Avenue where you had to get out of the car and watch it move through brushes and various stages of the washing process. No, in the Bubble Machine you stayed in the car and viewed the water and soap and cleansing from the inside. And Preston would say, “This is just like being the submarine” and I believed him. His service in the Navy had him stationed on a sub for some months and who was I to argue with him. He was my father and father’s always right, isn’t he? I find that when we are in the van and the boys are strapped into their seats and we’re beckoned to pull forward into the car wash at the Phillips 66 station by Goshen Middle School, I’ll smile. Invariably I tell the boys with giddy delight, “We’re going through the Bubble Machine” and they’ll laugh not so much they know the reference but because dad has said something funny.
Preston took us to the beach one Saturday or at least he had told us the last time that he dropped us off that we’d be going to the Dunes the next time. It didn’t look good with the grey clouds and 65-degree weather in town. And we knew this would be a problem because the coast, like the City (San Francisco) was always 15 degrees cooler than Santa Rosa. We heard the honk and followed the wave (he was confined to staying in the car during this part of the divorce process). We loaded into the back seat and headed for the coast by way of Highway 12. He assuaged our fears when he told us that though it looked grey, we were still going to the Dunes. We were going to fly a kite.
Sebastopol, apple orchards, windy roads with steep inclines, the town of Bodega where some of The Birds was filmed, the graveyard on the right side where we had played on the tombstones when we got a flat tire last year and then Highway 1. Highway 1 is the epitome of Northern California coastal driving. It’s the romantic, drive with the top down, leisurely wind the car up the coast with curves and hairpin turns that made you one with the Pacific Ocean. The Bodega Dunes is the first major beach you come to and we made the left-turn into the long gravel road to its parking lot.
Grey, windy, salt misty cold, a divorced father with his divorced children making an outing of the day. He said that we could add string to make the kite go higher and we chorused for the extension into the heavens. He was kind to us and he seemed to be focused on our gathering, of our flying of this kite. Perhaps we laughed and were giddy like the way my sons get excited about something we all do together that has that sense of awe and newness about it. It’s that moment that completely takes you over and take a clear, focused snap shot of the wide-angle image of the time and place and emotion and snap!
The sting broke and the scene stops and we look to Preston and Mike is running after the line but it remains out of reach and Stephany is upset and we look to Dad with questions and he looks and says that it’s lost.
We are back in the car. No 8-track is playing or at least I can’t hear it now but I am looking, searching out the window for our kite. We turn onto Highway 12 and still no sign of the kite or back in the apple orchards and I think I might have been asking the question aloud or maybe he saw me through the rearview mirror because he said, “It must have floated somewhere far away.” I still look out the window for the kite when we visit Bodega Bay. Maybe it’s out of habit or maybe it’s out of hope.

Recently, my sister visited us and we both ran in the Grand Rapids Marathon (great race, by the way). On our way home from the South Bend Airport via the 20 bypass, she mentioned that she and Mike had been in contact with Preston in the past year. I haven’t heard from my father since the last court-ordered support check in 1987. He didn’t respond to my college graduation card, nor my wedding invitation, nor Evan’s birth (I think we gave up and didn’t bother sending a birth announcement for Colin). I was, surprised at the news.

And it’s at this point where I am supposed to reflect on something heavy, about all of the issues that I’ve struggled with stuff because I haven’t had contact with my father in 30 years. But that won’t happen. I think I understand why he didn’t maintain contact and I think that sometimes we just need to leave people to their private lives instead of making it into something that is truly about us and not so much them.

I still like what I wrote, though.

Coffee Stains: Let the rocks be rocks

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Inuksuit overlooking the bayI’ve just finished a proposal for a grant that would allow me to be in Nunavut, Canada for over a week to see the the bare landscape of “Arctic” Canada and an incredible section of Baffin Island where Inuksuk are plentiful.

I’ve been taken by these stone structures and find that I often build some makeshift Inuksuit (Inuk-Sweet) when we are on vacation or about or when we visit Lori’s brother and his family in Wisconsin. This trio were built this last month.

I suppose I could say that I’ve a history with rocks: I grew up near Bodega Bay, California and near the impressive Northern California coast (where the Pacific Ocean is not so much to swim in and sun bathe near but as to look at and admire and write somewhat bad poetry about). I think of my literal impression of rocks during a 6th grade outdoor education trip to British Columbia, Canada.

We’re into the 4th day of our trip that began at school in Santa Rosa, California and we were now into the northern part of Oregon. We had various responsibilities on this trip (mine was on the “planning the route” committee) and since the tents were all set up, many of us went to the lake. And where’s there a lake, there are rocks.

I need not explain nor describe the amazing skill and art to the skipping of rocks on a smooth lake: this knowledge comes from the very thing that makes us human. Smooth, flat, sidearm and a flick…yes, it is all in the wrist.

And so we’re skipping rocks and being in the moment and something thumps my on the head.

Any guesses on what?

So, I grab my head, and I don’t think I’m crying as much as slightly annoyed that my head now hurts and someone walks me to the nurse.

No one wanted to see the nurse, mind you. On day One, I mentioned to Todd Eberlee that I thought I didn’t feel good and that maybe I should see the nurse.

Todd shook his head and said “I don’t think you should do that.”

He read the “why?” look on my face and responded “I hear that she’ll make you drink prune juice…no matter what the problem is, she’ll make you drink prune juice.”

And so, upon hearing this, my ache went away. Later that night Russ verified that prune juice claim.

So you might see why I didn’t want to see the nurse, but after drinking the prune juice I realized that I really hated the taste and that it really is as bad as its name.

But something irritated me more than that metal tasting prune juice: being used as an object lesson. Adults are good at this: using a real-life example of an obscure concept. The concept was during the devotional time that evening. Remember, I said this was a private school and so religion was mixed with education as being a positive combination. And one of the adults is talking about anger and tempers and then he says “Much like what happened to Chris tonight.”

All eyes turn toward me.

“When he got hit in the head by a rock, he didn’t swear or say anything bad or hurtful to others.” And then the application went to a bit more discussion and then to a time of prayer (“with all eyes closed and no one looking around”).

I was annoyed with being used as an example for someone’s religious talk because I didn’t think it was accurate. My not swearing nor saying bad things had little to do with religion; I didn’t swear because I didn’t have a temper–Less to do with a higher power, more to do with just who I was.

There is a social norm that says that students listen to the adults and do what the adults say because (fill in your favorite answer). There is a wall of separation, a very thick line, between you the student and me the teacher. Perhaps there’s wisdom in respecting those lines. But, isn’t there value in telling anyone, even it they’re a teacher or an adult on an outdoor education trip with a bunch of 6th graders?

No, I didn’t say anything to the guy who used me as an illustration, mostly because I didn’t think it was my place (it only affected me and thus I would just a whiny outdoor education 6th grader).

And it’s because of this idea, I encourage my editors and students to not take what I say as truth: they should challenge my ideas (for they could be misrepresentations). Few take me up on the offer, many simply smile and nod.

The student publications class which I advise didn’t have an editor-in-chief, nor a managing editor nor any of the traditional hierarchy that seemed to organize my staffs in the past. I was faced with choosing between 5 or so highly-qualified applicants for the editor job and I went with a newer more unconventional way of doing publications. When I told the now disappointed applicants that I was doing away with traditional structures in favor of spreading the responsibilities to all applicants, I explained that this was an experiment that could be a fantastic failure (or some phrase like that) or really be a good way of doing publications.

Tonight, as we finished recording a TalkShoe session with some of the editors, I realized that I’m chalking this idea as a fantastic failure and I am incredibly happy that we tried it.

It’s like a thump on the head, isn’t it?

Coffee Stains: A Haiku Moment

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

I’m going to avoid a nifty post about how sometimes students’ papers are much like “flaming bags of poop”; partly because my last “Coffee Stain” was about plumbing, but mostly because it’s the humor that my sons really like.

So, instead, I’d like to tell you about what prompted Spencer to ask (or retort):

“So, you should be practicing what you preach, eh?” Or something like that.

I think I blame much of the bad writing in student essays and papers on the film Dead Poets Society. It’s that notion that if one just takes all of that angst and emotive power and focuses it into a poem or a writing, that the “feeling” will overshadow all of the “plumbing” of writing (mechanics, usage, grammar) and a thing of beauty will be called into existence.

“Carpe Diem!” Mr. Keating shouts and now you have the confidence to ask the girl out and act in the play on the heels of “sucking all the marrow” out of life.

Actually, I think what was born in that edenic moment were occasions for Xanga and MySpace.

You see why I wanted to write “flaming bags of poop”? But, I resist.

Spencer was responding to my “working through the editing process” that we English teachers talk about in our classes. For some reason, the last three weeks has had me writing three formal pieces: a conference proposal, an article for an educational writing journal and a grant proposal. All of the writings are done (yes, I met my deadlines) and have been sent to their various locales. The most difficult one was the grant proposal as it took more time than usual to figure out the form of the writing.

At one point I think I actually said to the screen “I hate you.”

I had the “stuff” or the details of my proposal, but the way (or, yes, the rhetorical strategy) I was presenting the case for my grant just wasn’t happening. So I did what I usually do in these situations and found an audience who could hear me out (this conversation usually begins with “Hey, I wanted your opinion on this…”). Of course I don’t want the listener’s opinion as much as hearing my voice talk through the options.

The reason: I want to avoid the “flaming bag of poop” type of writing that sometimes comes across my desk.

Sure, I want the grant, I want the article to be published, yes, I want to present at a conference. But more than those nice things, I write for the same reason I run marathons: to amuse myself. It has little to do with “success” (what an impossible, shifty word that is) nor “fame” (though I might not “live forever” the words still hang around…maybe). No, there’s usually a little nuance or something newish that “happens” when I run or when I’m writing something for my writing group or even when I “twitter.” I sometimes refer to those little ironic times as “haiku moments” (it’s the most Oprahish I get, people).

My understanding of the haiku is just that: not so heavy on the form that we’ve restricted it to, but more how the form affects it’s function. Remember: the first two lines are some observation (many times a common place setting) and the last line grins some bit of ironic twist.

A lot of times it is something of nature that somehow crosses my path (as in Mile 17 in the Sunburst Marathon last June, when in the literal heat of the moment, a turtle crossed my path and I resisted carrying the thing across the finish line: that would be a human thing to do, wouldn’t it?). You can’t anticipate these moments, they just happen.

It’s mostly a Halloween prank, but when you really want to “get” someone down the street from you, I’ve been told what you should do: grab some of the dog droppings from the neighbor’s house, put it in a paper bag, and then place that “gift” on the recipient’s of your passive-aggressive wrath. Light bag, ring doorbell, run. The gag: the person answers the door, thinks there’s a fire and they then step on the “flaming bag of poop.”

It’s not that I’m trying to scrape stuff on my teacher shoes from the papers that I’ve received recently or that I find that writing is worse today compared to the days when students “really cared.” No, I’m merely amusing myself because the 11-year-old just saw a word on my screen and it made him smile and laugh and say with amazing glee “Poooooooooop.”

Coffee Stains: Gunk in the drain

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

Salvete, discipulae et discipuli!

Sometimes I find myself wondering how I got here. This was exactly what was going through my mind last weekend when I was unclogging the upstairs bathroom sink.

I didn’t grow up with any special knowledge of plumbing, but when something is overflowing or making gross noises, I get the nod. Perhaps it’s by proxy or process of elimination, either way it’s the expectation and I was pondering that all-important existential question as I looked down the drain and my suspicions were confirmed: months of hair and body stuff stopping the flow of water.

Most people will go with a liquid drain opener and so I did the same: poured the stuff down and waited the 15 minutes and then “flushed” with hot water. It almost never works. It amazes me that during times such as these, that I really pay attention to the details and sequence of the directions. It is as if I think that the mighty Genie of Unobstructed Drains will grant my wish and do the thing that I don’t want to do.

And it almost never works the way it is promised.

So, like millions of other folks with clogged drains, we eventually surrender to the reality of the situation and get the hands dirty. And by dirty, we’re talking about the greasegrime that stains–even tattoos–the occasion for weeks to follow. Still, the foolish ones, will get yet another brand of liquid drain opener from another store just to make sure (this, my friends, is called desperation and good marketing).

And it will not work and I speak from experience on this.

After removing the J-trap (yes, that is the term) from the sink (take a look at what’s hidden in underneath the sink sometime…it’s actual a simple contraption and is pretty cool) and the excess water will spill out (yes, you have to put a bucket under it: plumbing is all about puddles of water). Using my powers of reasoning, I deduced that the 11-month hair-skin-gunk traffic jam is between the stopper and the now-open pipe. Enter in a wire hanger: very handy for poking and grabbing things at distances and various angles.

The evolving blob got stuck on the natural hook on the end of the hanger which meant that I had to physically touch the toxic matter. (And, yes, I actually said “Ewww”).

I’m pretty good at putting things back together and cleaning up the area for normal traffic flow. And so I did and I couldn’t help but smile at a “job well done!” from the plumbing gods who were really messing with me because of the apparent “ease” of the previous week’s replacing of the seal on the toilet.

The expectation at this point is to make some connection with my little ditty about plumbing (and all of it’s ickiness) and life, but I’m not. Perhaps you’re thinking that I’m trying to point out to you that when you procrastinate, it’ll only make things worse. Maybe, I could say that after you do a task that you really don’t want to do, but know you have to do, that you actually have a good feeling about yourself and perhaps, even get a bit giddy.

Or, and probably more likely, I just want you to take a look at what the plumbing looks like under your sink.


Magister Judson