30 January 2008

Aunt Ethel's Sweater, Mary Poppins and the Gold Fish Scale Purse

Tonight I find myself dressed in my favorite winter wear as a child: stretchy long underwear-type pants, a long underwear top and ski socks. Because I'm a grown up and my sensible self knows the thermostat should not be set above 66, I have added a big Irish knit sweater, one my great aunt Ethel ("Aunt") knit for my mother when I was eight or nine, and which I took over during my college years. Aunt was funny, a wonderful pianist and knitter, and the woman who patiently allowed me to throw up on her kitchen carpet during Easter vacation when I was seven and my parents were running errands, and then helped me to the bathroom.

Slightly pilly and missing two buttons, this sweater has survived various moves, formula stains, the 'late 80's and early '90's when I insisted on wearing it three seasons a year as my all-purpose outerwear, and most recently charcoal, chimney flue dirt and my dog's antiobiotic residue. It is a beautiful sweater, probably my most important piece of clothing ever. I should replace the missing buttons.

My Mary Poppins spoon (circa 1964) sits on a shelf in my dining room where I can always see it. The one time I lost sight of it, she (of course it's a she) disappeared for 15 years until I finally found it at my parents' house, in, of all places, a silverware drawer. Since then, I've kept her in plain sight in case I need her. My mother ordered her for me when I was four with cereal box tops I think because I used to sing all the songs from the movie, loudly and badly, on my swing set. Plus Dick VanDyke always reminded me of my father.

When I was in college, my grandmother, Aunt Ethel's sister, started giving me my "inheritance" while she was still alive. I acquired salt cellars, a pair of little opal earrings, a mother-of-pearl manicure set, a tiny clasp for attaching my bra and slip straps together so as not to embarrass myself with visible straps and my favorite, a little gold purse, like a change purse, covered in what looks like gold, hexagonal fish scales. It is surprisingly cold and heavy. Inside is salmon-colored cloth and a tiny oval metal box. Inside the box is an even tinier plastic key. I picture Gram getting the little plastic key at an arcade and storing it carefully inside the gold purse that is not even as big as a deck of cards.

In lieu of a cheesy conclusion, I will end by resolving to look for replacement sweater buttons this weekend.

29 January 2008

Random thoughts from my seniors

I expected today to be quiet and peaceful. My students were to be writing persuasive arguments about Things Fall Apart. Instead, in between fielding questions about concession paragraphs and whether Okonkwo is really a tragic hero, I found myself quietly addressing the following:

1. Whether I use a lot of hand lotion because my skin looks so soft.
2. Whether I agreed that the best part of the cereal is the last little powdery bits in the bottom.
3. Why I need to have permission slips for them to see R-rated movies even though they are 17 and 18.
4. Whether I thought Quintel had skin cancer on his wrist where his skin was slightly darker and slightly less sensitive (he told me) than on the other part of his wrist.
5. Whether I thought Eric had skin cancer on his arm by his tattoo.
6. Why SUNY Oswego would send Roger a letter complimenting him on his essay without sending him an acceptance letter.
7. How Ramon liked reading Walden (his own choice) when he was in the hospital during Regents week.
8. How silly it is for anyone to lease a car instead of buying one.
9. That the general consensus of the class was that I did NOT need botox even though they make me squint my face in funny ways when they ask bizarre questions, which causes a frown line on the right side of my forehead.
10. Why they were not going to collect money in order to fund my botox injections.
11. Why there are so many American Pie and Bring It On movies.
12. Katie's announcement that she has a very short attention span.
13. Whether it would be better for my husband to come in to visit or whether I should tape record them secretly so he could see first-hand what they were like.
14. Why my mouth twitches when I try not to laugh.

28 January 2008

3 minutes as the world passes my door

Slam, thunk, dull metallic thud, shit! no way! what? naw, he did not say that! I've heard of him, whisper whisper whistle he was in the hospital bang slam shriek hall sweep! what? AB2? hell no! electronic walkie-talkie voice all right! she don't know what she's gonna do today blah blah for next week blah blah voice from the ceiling today's inspiration choir meeting is canceled let's go man get movin' it don't mean shit metallic slam drone drone drone solid wooden slam see my girl? that study hall is whack scuffle rattle static-y buzz all right scholars drone drone blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah drone drone blah blah blah blah blah drone

27 January 2008

Backyard Rink

Mmmm . . . skating . . . it's exercise AND fun. As a kid, I spent more time skating in my backyard rink than doing anything else. At least this is how I choose to remember my childhood in snowy Rochester, New York. I probably spent at least as much time fighting with my sister and reading (both non-seasonal activities).

I had an invisible friend, Clare, who would skate with me, and I particularly remember convincing a neighbor (pretty easily, I might add--more a reflection of the age of the neighbor rather than of my talent) that I was training for the 1972 Olympics. I have no idea why I needed an invisible friend to skate with, especially since I reveled in skating alone, the entire rink (such as it was) to myself. Nevertheless, I had Clare and I guess she became my audience.

It was about this time that I wrote a poem that received much acclaim in my 5th grade classroom. Go figure. It is, as I remember it, as follows:

The sun peeks through a sky of gray
a sliver sending rays
to unlock us from a world of gloom
and make it a happier day.

I probably called it "Untitled." Oy.

Today Geof and I went skating for the first time (in my estimation) in ten years. For about 45 minutes we skated on the pond in our little Central Park, down the street from our house. It was amazingly fun, particularly when we spun each other around corners trying to keep holding hands. Clare was not with us.

26 January 2008

Books so far

Rotten: No Irish-No Blacks-No Dogs, by John Lydon with Keith and Kent Zimmerman
An interesting if disjointed look at the life of John Lydon and the rise and demise of the Sex Pistols.

Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes from the American Indie Underground 1981-1991, by Michael Azerrad
Began this book about a year ago. This is no comment on the book's quality or my appreciation of it, however. I've read this book in pieces, trying slowly to absorb the many levels of detail that chronicle the history of bands from Black Flag to Beat Happening. It is funny, depressing, fascinating, dense and, as Chuck Klosterman tells us at the end of Fargo Rock City, "serves as the perfect antithesis" for his own book. Yup. Definitely.

Currently reading David McCullough's 1776. It's about time I got to this one, but I was too tired the night I began it this week, so "currently reading" is probably a too-optimistic designation; I should begin it anew.

23 January 2008

Lately, my poems are like an old picture of me at age 12, when I was homesick and hadn't eaten much of anything for about 10 days . . .

I'm wondering about my non-prose writing lately. It's become quite skinny and broken, hunching along, jerky and painful. When I was young and feeling a similar inclination to write, my lines were Whitmanesque; my poems usually tripartite. Oy. Nevertheless, I'm embracing this strange ride for a while. Perhaps what is on my mind deserves to be presented in skinny, broken, hunching, jerky, painful lines.

22 January 2008

Reading, Writing, Sipping, Peeing

Because it is the first day of Regents exams, school is strangely peaceful. I can sip my coffee. I can read my email. I can go to the bathroom at 8:43 if I need to. The only question anyone has asked me so far is whether I'd like a copy of today's newspaper. Yes. Yes, I believe I would. I have stacks of work waiting for me, research projects, Hamlet essays and study guides, piled neatly on the table behind me; for now, however, I can read and write and sip and pee. The work can wait, at least until I remember that this is the only chunk of time available to me this week for such random pursuits. After this morning, my time is as heavily scheduled as it is during a normal school day. Ah well.

21 January 2008


John Sayles, graduate of this high school, and his partner/producer, Maggie Renzi, visited us on 18 January to discuss his new movie, Honeydripper. My students were part of a group selected to watch the movie on Monday and participate in the discussion on Friday. Although some of the questions the kids asked were less than insightful, JS answered each with kindness, thought and great detail. Overall, a very satisfying and pretty cool experience.

I place Honeydripper with other JS movies I enjoy that are more tightly edited and cohesive, such as Lone Star, Eight Men Out, The Secret of Roan Inish and Matewan. Tim, who met JS after the showing of Honeydripper at Proctors on Friday night, has highly recommended Brother From Another Planet, so I must watch that soon for another point of reference.

The two JS movies I find the most frustratingly meandering are Silver City and Sunshine State. I sometimes think that I want him to be a different kind of storyteller, that my criticism is unfair and that I should try to appreciate his occasionally loose style on its own merits. I have more patience with novels that take a long time for exposition than I ever will with movies. Must be because I can put a novel down and I must watch a movie in one sitting, even those I see at home.

When I watched Roman Polanski's Knife in the Water last night, I had the same feeling, that it was 98% exposition.

As I write this, I'm reminded of my words to my students last week about reading Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart: Try to be patient! The first third of the book is exposition, and it's essential for understanding the rest.

O, irony. It rules my life.

19 January 2008

Books so far

The Ice Master: The Doomed 1913 Voyage of the Karluk, by Jennifer Niven
About one of my favorite subjects, doomed arctic expeditions. I appreciate doomed antarctic expeditions as well.

Water for Elephants, by Sara Gruen
Sideshow freaks, a 93-year-old narrator, illicit love: What more could you want? A quick and easy book.

Isaac's Storm, by Erik Larson
Another one of my favorite subjects, freakish metereological events. No pictures though.

Song of Solomon, by Toni Morrison (revisited after 20 years)
Reminded me anew of why I don't enjoy Toni Morrison.

Currently finishing Chuck Klosterman's Fargo Rock City. My favorite passage so far follows:

In "Fallen Angel," a teenage girl makes an announcement at supper: "I've decided to move [dramatic pause] . . . to California [longer dramatic pause] . . . and I want to leave on Friday." A few seconds later, she gets off a bus in L.A. and immediately becomes a whore. . . . At the conclusion of the video, another small-town girl gets off at the same bus stop, and one assumes she is destined for the same slutty future. Actually, this video may have been a form of subliminal marketing for the band. It seemed to be delivering a peculiar rock message: "Stay with your parents! Never go anywhere! Stay in your bedroom and listen to more Poison tapes!" It's kind of like the ending of The Wizard of Oz.

To borrow Erin's expression of appreciation: "Ahh. Chuck Klosterman!"

17 January 2008

They are

The talented one who never hands anything in.
The thoughtful one who disappears for three weeks.
The arrogant one who misses all his college application deadlines.
The dedicated one who agonizes alone at 3:00 in the morning.
The outrageous one who antagonizes or sleeps.
The funny one who kills himself.
The lazy one who finally chooses to work.
The curious one who wants to know how to be happy.
The tired one who sleeps wherever she can find a spot.
The hot one who wears tank tops in New York January.
The smart one who decides senior year is too long.
The pregnant one who wants someone to love her.
The rich one who thinks it's not clear how he gets his money.
The mother one who cries in class because she's so tired.
The sad one who misses her father.
The lucky one who figures it all out.
The friendly one who has no one to listen to her.
The angry one who is suspended from school for a year.
The heavy one who doesn't know how beautiful she is.
The despairing one who returns with rows of scabs on her arm.
The insecure one who calls his teacher Mom.
The lonely one who wears black and thrives in college.
The dangerous one who tries to write his paper in jail.
The deluded one who knows he will never be caught.
The cute one who believes a smile solves everything.
The desperate one who tries it all.

16 January 2008


does all
my poetry
as if
were meant to
be read
by William
Shatner and
more importantly
don't I