Sunday, August 30, 2009

Watching And Thinking About Blueberries

On Saturday and Sunday mornings I wake up relatively early, by about 8 A.M. I make my coffee, grab my beloved Plain Dealer from the front porch, and sit on the end of the couch to read it in the quiet. From my perch, I can also glance outside my front windows and survey the neighborhood, which is usually absent of any activity.

For the past several months, however, I have been on Tish Watch. I anxiously wait for her big silver Buick to pull up into her driveway across the street. I am hopeful that, this time when she climbs the front steps and goes into her house, it will be to stay. Thus far, I remain disappointed.

Tish and Barrington Cash--I am using aliases, of course--owned the white Georgian-styled house across the street from us when we moved in 25 years ago. We were at least half their age then: she had been Rick's kindergarten teacher! Members of our town's elite, they were part of the Country Club Set, "had money," and had standing golf dates every weekend. She never called her husband "Barry"--always referred to him as "Barrington." They wintered in Florida, the neighbor did their yardwork, and they always drove a huge Buick that almost skimmed the sides of their absurdly small garage.

When we moved in with Jared as a baby of four months old, Tish walked across the street at some point to welcome us. She carried in her hands two pints of fresh blueberries. "I wanted to welcome you to the neighborhood!" she said brightly, and smiled brilliantly. "I know that a pie is customary, but I don't bake. But here are some lovely blueberries. You can bake your own!" And she laughed, made a fuss over the baby, and then talked about having had my husband in kindergarten--how very quiet and shy he had been. "He never, ever talked!" she said. "I had to call his mother and ask if he even knew how!" After a few more pleasantries, she stepped back across the street and that was pretty much it.

But we were cordial and neighborly. We waved, said hello, offered important information as needed about neighborhood things. She was kind to our children always. We watched in amusement the comings and goings of Tish and Barrington's high class friends and their many golf outings. We knew when they left each late fall for Florida, and we could tell by instinct each spring when they'd be back.

Then came the terrible summer when Barrington had his heart attack. Tish was back and forth to the hospital alone. And then she was all alone, period. We wondered what would happen. Would she stay at home in that big house? Would she move in with her married child, who lived nearby? We did not presume upon a relationship that we did not have. We worried from across the street, but if Tish had asked for our help, we would gladly have given it.

Little by little, Tish resumed her old life, but without Barrington. She lost weight dreadfully, but old friends showed up in her driveway to take her out to the golf course and to brunches and to dinner. The lights flickered on and off in her house across the street, and her big silver car began to pull in and out of the driveway regularly again. After a modest period, gentlemen even began to visit. Rick and I would smile and say, "Wonder if Tish is having a little spend-over tonight?" My heart would gladden every time I'd see her stroll around her yard and inspect her bushes and the flowerpots on her front steps. Pretty soon, I stopped glancing over across the street. Things were going to be all right.

But this past spring, our street had a major water project done on it and all of our driveways were affected. I suddenly noticed that I hadn't seen Tish pull in or out of hers for quite some time. Maybe she's stayed in Florida a while longer this year, I reasoned. The weather has been hideous. But May and June came and went, and there had been no activity across the street whatsoever. Our neighborhood has changed so much that there was no one on our street to ask, either. I started to keep my vigil.

Finally, one morning, a concrete crew showed up. Tish was getting a brand new driveway, it seemed. I despaired. Was her house going up for sale? What was happening? Is she okay? A few days later, her children showed up to inspect the work. A few days after that, Tish herself arrived. I anxiously watched as she pulled up, then got out of her car. She seemed to be moving about all right. She walked up the front steps without any difficulty, it looked to me. She went inside. After several moments she came outside, got into her car, and left. I was gratified that she was all right--that she seemed to be healthy and, since she was able to drive, still herself. But why isn't she at home?

And so it has continued to this day although her visits to her home are more frequent. You probably wonder why I am so interested; wonder if I have too much time on my hands, or if I am one of those nosy neighbors who should mind her own damn business.

Quite simply, I have an awful lot invested in Tish. She is me. I am rooting for her because she is what I hope I would be like under those circumstances. That I would be able to come back home, live on my own, pick up my life, and go on. That I would live independently and well, and that I would be okay...or even better than okay.

I need her to come home soon. And when she does, I am taking her a fresh, homemade blueberry pie.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Is Anybody Out There? Anybody At All?

Let me just say one thing right off the bat: I am operating under a whole new Priority System here. Priority One--remain vertical. Priority Two--maintain coherence. Priority Three--remember how it used to be and use that for incentive.

I can no longer count higher than three, nor can I remember anything more complex than three things at a time.

It was...exhausting last week. Trying to teach in 90+ degree heat was taxing enough, but add the noise of heavy construction vehicles about thirty feet away; the fatal shootings of two students in the neighborhood after hours; constantly changing class rosters (which means that no gradebook or attendance can be accurately kept yet); schoolwide picture day (students are walked down to be photographed from English classes, of course); a fire drill; heightened alert because of widespread text messaging that there would be retaliatory shootings at the school; and we are running at over 2200 students with more adding every day.
Friday could not come soon enough. Today was the first day I could scrape myself into some sort of coalesced blob capable of cogent thought and return to this space to explain myself.


Having said all of that, let's not talk about it anymore. I'm all fired up about other stuff, and before I can't sit up straight any longer, I want to share.

But first, Thank You, Brian Williams, for taking a nice vacation this past week. Your timing is impeccable. There is no possible way I could have even focused on your tie, let alone verbally embroidered a Tie Report a single solitary day. Naturally, this made a severely negative impact upon my Sitemeter, but honestly, big effing deal. It's not like the Jay Leno Show ever called me back or that each hit means ten thousand dollars. Feh.

A bigger hero in my life right now is Barney Frank. If the Dept. Of Nance was a television show, I would be all over myself booking him as my sole guest. Period. Forever. Right now, I am declaring him as my Smackdown The Stupid Mascot. Please tell me that you saw this wonderful performance by Congressman Frank of Massachussetts, in which he did what every single intelligent human being should do when confronted by these moronic shills for the Party of No when they start obfuscating the issue of healthcare reform with their baseless scare tactics. Why even begin to talk to these people? As far as I'm concerned, no more "Town Halls." It's clear that the Lunatic Limbaughean Fringe have co-opted these once vibrant and legitimate venues for sane discourse and turned them into the equivalent of a coffee klatch for kooks and crazy-peddlers. Self-respecting public servants, republican and Democratic alike, should simply say, "That's it. I am no longer disrespecting my office and my true constituency by appearing at these media feeding frenzies. My people know how to reach me to air their concerns. I anxiously await their feedback regarding healthcare via letter, phonecall, or comments via my website. I am eager to serve them, as I was elected to do, without media interference in this important debate." What a lot of bullshit.

And while I'm at it, I have a little message for President Obama, and this it is: BE THE LEADER. This sort of laid-back, make-nice, No Drama Obama is exactly what I was afraid of. You don't take a bigass thing like Health Care Reform and a nest of Pit Vipers like the sore loser republicans and say, "Okay, everybody, take a whack at this and see what you come up with and get back to me later. I'll see what I think and take it from there." Are you kidding me? THE REPUBLICANS WANT YOU TO FAIL SO THAT THEY CAN TAKE BACK A MAJORITY IN THE MIDTERMS. They don't care what you fail at, as long as it's something big. They don't care if it fucks up the entire country, either. They already did that, remember? Do you see them caring? Dear Barack--Come back from vacation early and smack some people around. Call in the Blue Dogs and remind them who is the President. And you'd better call in Howard Dean and have a conversation that matters. It's way past time for Big Talking with Big People. --Signed, Me, One of Those Who Had the Audacity to Hope for Change. Now bring it!

Another reason I thought I was in Hell this week--Two people who are still in the news and I still don't understand why: the hapless woman with eleventy billion children, the Octomother and the revered singer who died two months ago, MJ. (Can you tell I'm trying not to actually mention their names and add to their google hits?) How slow is the news, really, that these individuals are still part of it?

And, finally, come on--Brett Favre. Again. This "I'm retired--just kidding" bullshit is getting old. I hated it with Magic Johnson and, as a Cleveland Cavaliers fan, you know I hated it with Michael Jordan. Add to that the fact that fans and sportscasters alike act as if Favre is, well, a deity in a facemask just makes me sick. So, for those of you who need a reminder one more time, here. And, just so you know: once I retire, I will stay retired!

My vow to you.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

In Which I Pathetically Beg For Sympathy

Just a brief word to let you know that (insert heavy sigh) I've already started back at The Rock. I know--so early. Tell me about it. Not my choice, believe me. But we are all Victims Of The New School Construction Schedule. Pawns, as it were, of The Master Building Plan. I am surrounded by scaffolding, dust, noise, and hardhatters. What, didn't I tell you? The New School is being built on site around our existing school as we are conducting school.

Because That's How We Roll.

Oh, and the forecast for Monday, our first day with students? As usual, 91 degrees, sunny, high humidity. Whether or not I can even have windows open remains to be seen.

All of which is to say, this space may be static for a time. Pity me.
Oh, pity me.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Time Flies When You're Having A Super Time: The Dept. Turns 4 And Feels Fantastic

Dear readers, a few days ago An Auspicious Occasion sneaked right up and subsequently passed me by unnoticed and without commemoration by anyone, even the vast web of the Internets. On August 6th, the Dept. of Nance turned four!

And They said it wouldn't last. Ha!

Though I have not become a Blogging Success Story with a book deal and appearances on a myriad of television shows, my foray into the online writing world has been pretty much what I'd looked for when I set out on August 6th, 2005: I wanted to practice what I preach to my creative writing classes, that writers write. I wanted to see if I had the discipline to stick with writing on a pretty regular basis. I wanted to toss my views out there and see if anyone wanted to talk about them with me. I wanted to improve my own writing style and skills in order to keep my voice fresh.
It's been fun, and I've been happy with what I've published here.

In honor of the Dept.'s Fourth Birthday, I've settled on the theme of The Fantastic Four. I'll choose four representative posts from each of the four years and link back to them, based upon the character from the Marvel Comic series. Hope you enjoy this retrospective, and, if you're a new reader to the Dept., then you're getting...five posts in one!

Are you lucky, or what?

Mr. Fantastic--The leader and smartypants of the group, he can stretch his body into incredible lengths and shapes. In this post about Christmas falling on a Sunday in 2005, I took a big risk for a new blogger looking for a readership when I smacked around the hypocrisy of right-wing fundamentalist religious zealots. Honestly, I think it is smart. But it was a big stretch for me as I tried to find my niche.

Invisible Woman--She can bend light around her body, rendering herself invisible while generating powerful force fields. Boy oh boy, did I ever feel like my blog was doing this while I waited for comments to start appearing. So frustrating! But in 2006, I finally saw comments begin, and some posts' comments even broke into the double-digits. I have a feeling about why this post got so much traffic, though. The title and the illustration, though, may have rendered my actual writing...well, invisible. Sigh.

Human Torch--This superhero can fly while surrounded by self-generated flames. In the words of that great 21st century philosopher and heiress, P. Hilton, "That's hot." (Sorry. That hurt me just as much as it did you. What I do for laughs....) Anyway, in 2007, I got all fired up about what, exactly, the Dept. of Nance would do if it were, in fact, an actual Government Department. This post outlined very clearly what I would require and where my agenda would begin. It is my strenuous opinion that I am still greatly needed in Washington, D.C. I can start immediately.

Thing--this is the odd-looking being who possesses superhuman strength and endurance, due mostly to his organic stone-encrusted flesh. (Okay, yuck. Isn't there a really good lab-created moisturizer for that? I'm just saying.) Longtime readers here know that I routinely explore/exploit a few themes, those things which consistently irk and irritate me. This post is representative of those bothersome bugbears which I am doomed to perpetually endure and thereby lament every so often in this forum.

A word: I think the downside of being a Longevity Blogger is that perhaps newer readers never see some fun, good stuff I wrote back in the earlier days. That's one of the reasons I included the LinkWithin widget at the end of each post although it doesn't crawl very deeply into my archives, and to be honest, I'm befuddled at the so-called relationship it finds between the existing post and the past three it suggests.

So to celebrate my own 4th birthday, I'm going to start randomly grabbing an archival post from other bloggers' sites and read something from their Time Troves. I think it could be...well, Fantastic.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

...And Don't Say, "Blueberries" Because They Really Aren't Blue, They're Purple. Think About It.

What is with all this blue crap around to eat and drink? Blue Kool-Aid, blue cotton candy, blue gum, blue Jell-O, even. It's hideous. The final straw for me in this whole Blue Coup was the introduction of the blue M&M. I blogged about that indignity back in 2006, and I still hate how the blue M&M has screwed up the aesthetics of the basic M&M collection.

It's not that I have anything inherently against blue. In general, I'm cool with blue. (I used to have a nice blue bathroom.) But when it comes to food and drink, let's leave blue out of it. It's just not natural. There is no organically blue food.

Tons of weightloss research (now there's a pun!) has been done regarding the effect of blue; it's no accident that blue is off-putting to the appetite. Of grownups. Kids and teens, however, go ga-ga over blue stuff. Witness how popular blue sports drinks are. I've noticed in my own classroom how often students bring in blue drinks, even when there is the aftereffect of a blue tongue. Years ago, I started my own campaign with a very dire warning:

Me: Hey. You need to stop drinking that blue crap. All blue crap.
Kid: Why?
Me: What if someone switched it up and gave you Windex? You wouldn't know it until it was too late. Then you'd really be in trouble.
Kid: Wha--Oh, Mrs. D. You so crazy.

Whatever! Guess what happened?

Oh, just this, and I quote from the lead paragraph: "Ten children at a day care center drank windshield wiper fluid after a staffer served it from a container mistaken for Kool-Aid and placed in a refrigerator." Guess what color it was? BLUE! Each of the tots drank about an ounce of the toxin before realizing that it "tasted funny," according to another source.

An isolated incident of sheer stupidity that could never, ever happen again? HA! If only! Guess what is now banned at the Sedgwick County Zoo in Kansas. Blue Sno-Cones. Now guess why. Because an employee put blue degreaser on the treats instead of blue sugar syrup. According to the story, "A Sedgwick County Zoo employee could not tell the difference between the two and it nearly made four people sick."

I have, I believe, more than made my point.

Only to be foiled by my boyfriend, Fie on you, Fie on you for posting this story--and its adorable accompanying photo.
If you look closely at this little mousie, you will notice something unusual about it. Its tiny ears and paws Blue from its Miracle Drug Treatment of...M&M Blue. Sigh. Yep. Scientists have found that the same dye that makes blue Gatorade and M&Ms (Brilliant Blue G) has a valuable therapeutic effect in the treatment of spinal cord injury when tested on laboratory mice. So far, the only side effect is the temporary blue discoloration. Which is, dammit, cute. On a mouse, at least, although if a person were to turn blue, then probably not cute. At all.

But let's leave blue in the science labs and cleaning products where it belongs. Let's not mix it in with the groceries and candy stores and concession stands, okay? Can we agree on that?

I'm Not A Fan Of Blue Food. Blue Medicine, of course. And Blue that might be a Blue Innovation I can get behind. Temporarily.
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