Friday, February 20, 2009

No Matter How Miffed I Am, I'll Watch 'Em Anyway

It's time again for the most self-congratulatory 232 minutes of the year! I'm obviously referring to the Oscars, since my obsession with movies knows no bounds. Since I feel like absolute ass--we always get sick on our weeks off, don't we?--I'll keep this short and to the point. Here are my picks and my Dark Horses:

Actor in a Leading Role: This is remarkable close to call. Rourke and Penn both turn in powerhouse performances here...but Milk isn't going to win Best Picture so they might give it Best Actor. And Penn's got himself a BIO-PIC!! But Rourke has won the other major awards and everyone loves a comeback...
Winner: Sean Penn
Dark Horse: Really not so dark and I think he deserves it more; Mickey Rourke

Actor in a Supporting Role:
Winner: Heath Leadger. Duh.
Dark Horse: I have a better shot at winning this award than the 4 other nominees.

Actress in a Leading Role: Here's where those politics come in. Hathaway is dynamite in Rachel Getting Married and to watch Streep do anything on camera is to watch greatness incarnate. But can the Academy deny Kate Winslet any longer? And no nomination for Revolutionary Road?
Winner: Kate Winslet
Dark Horse: Ann Hathaway

Actress in a Supporting Role: I didn't see Vicky Cristina Barcelona! Everyone seems certain Cruz will win!? What to do!?!? The two performances in Doubt are stellar. Tomei is really quite good in The Wrestler as well. I'll just throw it out there...
Winner: Viola Davis
Dark Horse: Marisa Tomei

Animated Feature Film: Sigh. Here's where the Travesty Alert! begins. Wall-E shouldn't be in this category. More on that later.
Winner: Wall-E
Dark Horse: nada.

Art Direction: I haven't seen three of these nominees. I know, I know. I'm calling my own Film Geek credibility into question. The two I have seen are really, really good. But there's a period piece nominated! You know what that means...
Winner: The Duchess
Dark Horse: The Dark Knight

Cinematography: The cinematography of Slumdog Millionaire actually works against the movie for me. But no matter; it'll more than likely win.
Winner: Slumdog Millionaire
Dark Horse: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button which really should win this award.

Costume Design: PERIOD PIECE!
Winner: The Duchess
Dark Horse: Who knows. Let's call Milk because everyone loves the 70's.

Directing: The fact that Christopher Nolan is not nominated for this award shows how badly the Academy dropped the ball this year.
Winner: As much as it pains me to write...Danny Boyle
Dark Horse: David Fincher; again, who should win.

Documentary: I haven't seen ANY of these, feature length or short. Which is unlike me.

Editing: Because Academy voters get carried away...
Winner: Slumdog Millionaire
Dark Horse: Milk; the editing here (and direction) is what sets this film apart from standard Bio-Pic fare.

Foreign Language Film: None of these played in the Buffalo area, which is a bummer, since I really want to see The Class.

Makeup: Anyone else notice the Academy screws this award up a lot?
Winner: Hellboy II; even though this won't win, I have to pick it
Dark Horse: The Curious Case of Bejamin Button; which will win

Score: This is probably the only category I actually like Slumdog for.
Winner: Slumdog Millionaire
Dark Horse: Wall-E

Song: Again, ball=dropped. How is Springsteen not nominated?
Winner: Wall-E; Slumdog splits its vote!
Dark Horse:

Sound Editing:
Winner: The Dark Knight
Dark Horse: Iron Man

Sound Mixing:
Winner: the Dark Knight
Dark Horse: Wanted

Visual Effects:
Winner: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Dark Horse: Iron Man

Adapted Screenplay: I'd love to read that Fitzgerald story Button is based on.
Winner: Doubt
Dark Horse: The Reader

Original Screenplay:
Winner: Milk
Dark Horse: Wall-E

Best Picture: Oh, my, my, my. What a load of crap this category is. I am floored by how WRONG this list is. We all know the most overrated film of the year--I'm talking to YOU, Slumdog Millionaire!--is going to win. Problem is, it shouldn't have been nominated in the first place. THREE of these films shouldn't be on this list. Slumdog Millionaire, Frost/Nixon and The Reader, while all good films, have no business being here. Those three should be replaced with Wall-E, The Dark Knight and The Wrestler. Maybe even Doubt. Crap.
Winner: I can't bring myself to type the title...
Dark Horse: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Hrmph.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Rude Awakening Number 478: Caffeine Really Doesn't Hold All the Answers

If you're here looking for a list of all 478 Rude Awakenings, please look elsewhere. You gotta live a bit on your own and figure them out for yourself. Which, I suppose, is much the point I am trying to make.

Oh, damn. I've gone and stated Blog Entry Thesis Number 329. Yes, I have no less than 328 other ideas I'd love to blog about, but that accursed thing called Real Life gets in the way more often than not. That and having a career and a home and...oh, wait. Those all fall under the purview of Real Life, don't they? Pfffft. Stupid, troublesome Real Life.

I met a former student for coffee tonight, which was nice for a whole variety of reasons. Nice because I really miss a lot of former students and truly enjoy seeing them and hearing about how their lives are going and what not. Also nice because this one in particular is a really intelligent and intellectually curious (yeah, yeah I know--they're often the same thing) person who has the added benefit of possessing a big heart and a good soul.

I know what you're thinking. You're clearly screaming--or at least emphatically mouthing the words to your monitor--"Wow, ETE--you must really think highly of this person!" I sure do. And as enjoyable as it was to catch up a bit, I can't help but feel a bit bad.

"Whaaaat?", you say? ETE feels bad about a teacher/former student interaction? Doesn't that last "E" stand for "Extraordinaire"? Sure it does! You see, however, said former student is really hating post-high school life. They're also coming to the sad realization that other people, no matter how much you trust them and value their wisdom and life's experience, don't always have all the answers.

A lot of kids come to me to talk and ask my thoughts/advice about things in their lives that are outside the typical student-teacher interaction. This is one of the things I'm very proud of; I view it as kind of a sacred duty. I believe a lot of kids really need an objective, tolerant adult opinion. Someone who isn't their parent or their teenage friend, someone that can look at a situation and just share an honest opinion and not say what they think they should or tell the student what "they want to hear".

So why do I feel sort of bad, you ask? Or maybe you're just bored of wading through my trite musings and wish I would get to the point and quit channeling Henry James or Charles Dickens? Trust me; I'm nowhere near as verbose as those boys. Reading James is akin to pouring Frank's Hot Sauce on a paper cut between your toes. Caution!! Broken Transistion Ahead!!

On the one hand, our chat was an ordinary conversation, the kind of talk you'd have with someone you're comfortable with that you haven't seen in a while.

On the other hand, I feel kind of bad because I feel as if I let this person down a bit. As if they were looking for some sort of catch-all "Hey, life will get better because..." kind of answer. This is a person who would come to me when things were a bit dicey and ask for my thoughts. I always just told the truth and hoped that I helped out a bit. I'd like to think that I did.

Tonight, I think Former Student started to realize that no matter how smart, over-educated, generous, kind and magnanimous someone is, there comes a time when you just need to figure things out on your own. No matter how cleverly someone can sneak a blatant ego-inflating sentence into a blog entry, sometimes you're smart enough to listen to other people...and then draw your own conclusions.

Obviously, I could be misreading all of this. Maybe Former Student just wanted to vent about College Adjustment 101 and wasn't looking for any of my trademark profundity.

If, however, they were, and they didn't get it...maybe they've finally learned to go deeper. To question the answers they thought they knew. To ask for more information before they made up their mind. To do, in short, the only thing I've ever asked of any of my students: to think on their own.

If that's the case, I'm awfully proud; I've got at least one success story to brag about the next time someone mocks my salary.

Maybe caffeine really does hold all the answers.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Quick and Dirty...Just the Way You Like it, Pervert

I haven't updated for a while. The new school year has begun, so I'm rather busy attempting to remember names. Actively pining for some of the folks that have left takes up a bit of time too.

Some nifty tidbits to hold you over until I feel inspired (read: bored with a few drinks in me) enough to tailor another brilliant entry.

Educational Irony of the Month: Students at the University of Texas at San Antonio wanted to write an "honor code" that banned plagiarism and cheating.

So they used someone else's they found online.

Classy, U of T kids. Classy.

Educational Quote of the Month: "We can't make the cows heavier by weighing them more often."

North Carolina Governor Mike Easley, on the utter pointlessness of the constant standardized testing of students. Gee, ya think someone else would notice that we test kids more than we teach 'em. Good job, Mike!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

What Did Horses Do Before Horseshoes? I Guess They Just...Had no Shoes...

Mrs. ETE (that's Mrs. English Teacher Extraordinaire, for you slow ones) and I were drinking some wine and watching Silverado a few nights ago. It's a nifty resurrection of the Western by Lawrence Kasdan and company, starring a whole bunch of people you'd know if you saw the movie. It's a lot of fun, so by all means see it if you haven't. Regardless, as we're watching Scott Glenn ride across the rugged beauty of the American southwest, Mrs. ETE turns to me and says "What did horses do before horseshoes? I guess they just...had no shoes." You see, after a couple of glasses of wine, the wife is really fun for about 10 minutes. The 10 minutes before her narcoleptic tendencies kick in and she lapses into catatonia.

And what did we do before certain pieces of technology infiltrated every aspect of our lives and became ubiquitous? I'm thinking about the Internet in particular. The Internet used to be so damn useful. Back in the Halcyon Days of the mid-nineties, the Internet was a lean, mean Information Super-Highway, full of useful sites! It was like a trip to the mall with a man: get in, get what you came for, get out.

Then, it all began to change. Slowly. Inexorably. Akin to the Eighth Plague of Egypt--the "Web 2.0" revolution began. Note my use of one-word sentences to create tension and foreboding. Ya like that? Would you like to see more literary technique in future posts? Discuss.

What's that, you say? Web 2.0? What new devilry is this? The Internet seems the same to me! Yeah, I hear ya. When this nonsense began, I had to look up the term. Web 2.0? Huh? There's been no major technology change on the 'net. One of my uber-nerd friends would have told me! It refers to a change in the way people use the 'net, not the Internet itself. You might be saying to yourself: "Self, that just sounds like a piece of jargon to me, this Web 2.0 tomfoolery." And you'd be right. It is a piece of jargon. We can't just say "People are using the Internet differently these days." Oh no. Now we have to coin a snarky phrase so we can create confusion and seem all "with it" and hip when we toss it around in conversation. "My Web 2.0 application is really streamlining the way the blind virgins of Nauru get their phosphate paintings into the hands of collectors. It's really a boon to the art world." Pffft.

So, c'mon ETE, what's your beef with Web 2.0? Can't you see the glaring irony that you're using it to rant about it?

It's not all bad. There are some really, really useful collaborative sites out there. Like eBay. And Craigslist. But now the Internet's like a trip to the mall with a woman: get in, forget what the hell you were there for in the first place while you wander aimlessly and buy shit you don't need. So let's talk about our favorite time-wasters on the Internet...

1. Let's get it out of the way, the Grand Poo-Bah of Uselessness: YouTube. You know I'm right so cut it out with those raised eyebrows and jutting chin. Look at the tagline: "Broadcast Yourself". Sure, sounds nifty in theory. The problem becomes evident in practice, however: the vast majority of "Yourselves" are brain-dead twits who think that the world is interested in seeing yet another toothless dolt lip-sync the latest hip-hop song into a web cam. Nay, nay, NAY! Not that everything on YouTube sucks, but for every Chad Vader: Day Shift Manager there's 642,985 teenage girls mindlessly hip-hop "dancing" to the strains of the latest schlock that's rotting the brains of our Nation's Youth. How many times have you hopped onto YouTube and become lost for hours, only to suddenly come to your senses and navigate away, feeling the same type of dirty, profane shame you did the first time your dad caught you dropping stomach pancakes.

That last comment was directed specifically at my male readership. I have no idea what happens if a dad catches his daughter auditioning the finger puppets. It's gotta be really awkward. For him. Or do only mom's catch daughters jilling off? Anyone care to comment on that?

In closing: Hey YouTube, screw you for wasting hours of my life.

2. Social Networking Sites. MySpace, facebook--I'm talking to you. But, ETE, you have a facebook account! Well, I only joined to see the fan club a student made for me. Which is damn funny. I even stole my pseudonym from it. Thanks kid-I-won't-name-because-I-don't-write-names-on-the-Internet! Don't even pretend you don't read this. You Internet-Stalk like you're trying to earn an Eagle Scout medal for it. I digress, let me be a bit more specific; I don't think social networking sites are totally useless, even though there are a myriad of other ways to accomplish everything they have to offer. It's more those accursed facebook "applications". You log on to check how your pal Johnny College-Friend is doing and then you're trapped for hours "Using your Hero Ability on 'Friends with Abilities'", trying to think of creative ways to generate Wrestler Bucks and joining Groups that serves no other useful purpose beside giving you a chuckle (or maybe even a guffaw!) the first time you see the title.

In closing: Hey facebook, screw you for wasting hours of my life.


3. Tracking Shipments Online. This isn't useless, just profoundly frustrating. You get an email, click on the link...and then get angry that FedEx doesn't drive faster. I bought a new rig (that's a new PC for you slow ones) a while ago and have been waiting for it to arrive. It's not a bleeding-edge system that will make me the envy of the tiny-penis, deep-pocket "Check out my new Skulltrail rig with two QX9775s at 3.2, 9800GX2s running in SLi, 16GB of DDR2 and 4 WD Raptors running in Raid 0+1!" crowd, but it's a rock-solid mid- to high-end rig.

Wow. I think that was the nerdiest sentence I have ever written. Ever. You can check your nerdiness with this simple test: if you know what 3 out of those 6 things are without using Google then you, my friend, are a nerd. Embrace it. I have.

Back to tracking. I find myself clicking my tracking link incessantly. I can't stop. Do I really think that FedEx ground will have gone from City of Industry, CA to Buffalo, NY in the seven minutes since I last clicked? Really, ETE? Did you forget about those pesky laws of physics? I know they're really fucking up your week off, but...

Jesus. I really have WAY too much free time. I gotta go do something productive.

PS: Hey, those of you who pester me to update--my posts are LONG. Doesn't that get me some latitude when it comes to frequency of update? A little? Please?

Sunday, February 24, 2008

And the Oscar Goes To...

Last night I returned home from six days in Paris, which will be the subject of a longer post when I am once again soaked in vin rouge and longing for the City of Light.

Although that will probably be in about 15 minutes, I won't be writing that post today. Sorry kids.

Today it's all about my favorite exercise in self-veneration: The Academy Awards! Teaching a film class has allowed me to wallow even more completely in the frivolity that is the awards show to end all awards shows. Seriously people, what other broadcast allows you to watch people whose income surpasses the Gross National Product of Poland mutually masturbate one another for 267 minutes? What's not to love?

Picking Oscar winners isn't about what the best films in each category are. Oh no. You've got to factor in lifetime achievement, how well-liked the nominees are in Hollywood circles, how good the ad campaign for the film is, how many times the individual has been nominated without a win, and, of course, actual artistic merit. All in all, picking the Oscar winners is much akin to picking winners in any high school election. Why people campaign based on their qualifications for a job is beyond me. I wish a kid would just grow a set of balls and put what they all want to on their posters: "Johnny Student for Class President--Quit kidding yourselves, I'm more popular and you know it."

Here are my picks for the 80th Annual Academy Awards, followed by my "Dark Horse" choice (also known as my "Hedging-my-bet-so-I-can-say-I-told-you-so" choice):

Best Picture:
Such a good year for films! For once I agree with every nomination, and I've got a tough call here. Ebert is sticking to his guns and calling Juno the honest-to-goodness best film of the year. But he certainly isn't dumb enough to pick it to win Best Picture. As much as I enjoyed Juno there ain't no way it can compare to No Country for Old Men, There Will Be Blood or Atonement. I honestly cannot decide which is a better film, No Country or Blood. Atonement was everything the Academy used to love in a film--a period piece with elaborate set-pieces, a sweeping love story and strong performances--but it ain't going to happen this year. Juno is this year's "Hey, look! We're still hip!" nomination. And poor, poor Michael Clayton. Such a great film. Such great, great performances--but the competition this year is stiffer than R. Kelly's dick in a middle school.
Winner: No Country for Old Men
Dark Horse: There Will Be Blood (of course, if this film wins, it'll change picks for other major categories...)

Best Actor: Daniel-Day Lewis. Period.
Dark Horse: Seriously?

Best Actress: Will the Academy be turned off by that chilly acceptance speech by Julie Christie? Will they feel bad that Blanchett was nominated twice and didn't take home any gold? Uh-oh, Cotillard was in a BIO-PIC! Nah, Christie's strong performance and lifetime work will prevail.
Winner: Julie Christie
Dark Horse: Ellen Page. And I would totally love it.

Supporting Actor: Sorry Phillip and Tom. I really am. You two were so damn great. But Javier Bardem was a force of nature with a bowl-cut. Here's what I "call it, Friend-o"
Winner: Bardem
Dark Horse: Wilkinson and Hoffman both deserve one, but they won't win

Supporting Actress: Tough call here, and the category I'm least sure about. Could be Blanchett because she was great in Elizabeth, but the movie was blah. I'm going to go with Tilda Swinton for Michael Clayton. C'mon, the movie got THREE acting nods. It's gotta win something, right?
Winner: Tilda Swinton
Dark Horse: Amy Ryan

Best Director: Don't you people watch the Oscars? You know how rare it is for a director to win this and not Best Picture?
Winner: Joel and Ethan Coen
Dark Horse: Paul Thomas Anderson

Best Screenplay: It's got all the momentum and is a very good choice...
Winner: Diablo Cody for Juno
Dark Horse: Tony Gilroy for Michael Clayton. It's a fabulous script--and a bit more "true" than Cody's. And the Academy might be feeling bad for Michael Clayton...

Adapted Screenplay: Some good adaptations this year. But...
Winner: Joel and Ethan Coen, No Country for Old Men
Dark Horse: Paul Thomas Anderson, There Will Be Blood

Achievement in Cinematography: Man, Deakins is up for this award twice! Superstar! He deserves it for The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, but he'll win it for...
Winner: Roger Deakins, No Country for Old Men
Dark Horse: Robert Elswit, There Will Be Blood

Achievement in Editing: Well now, someone who doesn't exist is nominated this year!
Winner: Roderick Jaynes, No Country for Old Men (I really want to see who accepts this!)
Dark Horse: Christopher Rouse, The Bourne Ultimatum

Art Direction: The Academy is a bunch of suckers for elaborate in this category. Thus...
Winner: Sweeny Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Dark Horse: Atonement

Costume Design: See above...
Winner: Sweeny Todd
Dark Horse: Elizabeth: The Golden Age

Original Score: It's a fucking travesty they disqualified Johnny Greenfield's absolutely amazing score for There Will Be Blood.
Winner: Atonement--that typewriter-based score was pretty damn awesome.
Dark Horse: I don't even remember the other nominees!

Original Song: Does anyone care?
Winner: "Falling Slowly" from Once. This is a really beautiful song. And the scene in which they play it is really touching, too.
Dark Horse: Those three nods for Enchanted should cancel each other out.

Best Documentary: No End in Sight

The rest...

Animated Film: Ratatouille
Makeup: Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End
Visual Effects: Transformers
Sound and Sound Editing: I never, ever get these picks right. So I 'm not even going to bother.


There you go, kids. See you at 8:30!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Best Films of 2007--Redux

Just a quick update this time.

Saw There Will Be Blood this weekend. Without question, it belongs on my "Best Films of 2007" list. It's an epic, brilliant, unremittingly bleak film that stands among the finest achievements in contemporary American filmmaking. Daniel Day-Lewis gives one of the greatest performances I have ever seen as Daniel Plainview, a brutal, unstoppable force of greed (and perhaps Capitalism?) that will stop at nothing to crush anyone and anything that stands in his way. This film is a quintessentially American story, a look at how the desire for profit and victory can destroy family, spirituality and lives. It richly deserves its 8 Oscar nods...but how in the hell could Oscar snub Radiohead's Johnny Greenwood with no "Best Score" nomination? That score was unlike anything I've ever heard--which may explain the snub, I suppose.

Anyone who even pretends to enjoy cinema needs to go out and see this movie. Now.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

"Alien Life Form Pulverizes Manhattan: Film by Vapid Twenty-Somethings with Indestructible Camera at 11"

It should be obvious what "movie" I saw just before writing this entry. Frankly, if you don't know what this post is about--navigate away. Now. Especially since there be spoilers here!

So, as anyone with a brain knows by now, I saw Cloverfield tonight. Maybe I should replace "saw" with "sat through", because most of my time in the theater was spent turning to my wife to share a mutual, muted "guffaw!"

Now don't get me wrong. I know the "monster movie" genre. I know it takes our generational, cultural fears and amps them up; it makes them tangible and turns them loose on an unsuspecting populace. Like, the population of Manhattan! A city that has clearly never known a catastrophe that resulted in shattered buildings and shattered lives. Apparently, because NYC hasn't been a real-life victim of a plague of locusts or a tsunami, it's ripe for alien conquest. Dammit, Mr. Reeves--didn't you see Independence Day?!

But you wouldn't know who "Mr. Reeves" is, because the marketing department is so busy plastering J.J. Abrams' name all over the project that you'd think he directed it.

But that's all besides the point. You're probably wondering why I think this movie could suck liquid out of a camel's ass. Unpleasant image, I know. But here you go. Oh, Cloverfield. How do you suck? Let me count the ways...

I think the title of the post explains a bit. Who the fuck are these people being shot by handicam? And why the should I care about them? To answer those questions in order is to say "I dunno" and "I don't". The first 30 minutes of the picture is about "establishing" character--but it does nothing of the sort. All it does is set up the fact that you'll be watching a movie through the lens of a remarkably inept amateur cameraman named "Hud". Oh! How witty! Hud!!!!! Like the acronym for "Heads Up Display", or what you see through a cockpit or a range-finder or *GASP* what any first-person shooter uses as a visual to simulate an interface!!! More on that later...

The fact of the matter is, you MUST buy into the central conceit of this film to have a marginal chance of enjoying it. And the conceit, to put it in terms that are simple, is this: some asshole named Hud, realizing that there's a major catastrophe of biblical proportions afflicting Manhattan, decides to film it instead of survive it. Does he film the monster's rampage through the City? Does he film the military response to it? Of course not! With all the journalistic acumen of The Penny Saver--and all the self-absorption you'd expect from a card-carrying member of the "Me" Generation, I might add--he decides to document his friends' desperate attempt to flee Manhattan.

Huh? You're kidding, right? Some twenty-something Manhattanite who spends the first act of the film worried about who "had sex together" (yes, they actually use that phrase) with who is concerned about films for posterity? Billy and Sarah "had sex together! Can you believe it!?!?!" How the FUCK do you have sex apart?!?! Who talks like that? But there Hud is, walking around Rob's going-away party, telling every guest he can find about who Rob "had sex together" with. Oh, I totally buy his altruism. No, really, I do. Even though I've never taught a single teenager who used the phrase "had sex together", I can totally believe a twenty-something would use it. Really, I can. Character development=nonexistent.

But who bothers with such minutiae as "character development" anymore, right? This movie's all about blowing the shit out of Manhattan! So let's do that! But wait! Let's have our intrepid cameraman NOT FILM IT. Nay, he's more interested in making snide comments and filming his friends climb over debris than actually FILMING the attack. There's a great scene where the group is on a rooftop and fucknut Hud films Rob and some girls scrambling over some rocks...while the EBE (that's Extraterrestrial Biological Entity for you non-X-Files fans) is destroying the City and being bombed to shit by the USAF. Hmm. Which of my astute readers can tell me what makes for more compelling viewing?

Not to mention...

Hey kids. If it were you--if the End were near, and it was time to cash in the chips...wouldn't you PUT. THE. FUCKING. CAMERA. DOWN? Seriously. Wouldn't you? Wouldn't you be more concerned with surviving than "documenting"? Especially if all you were going to document was your friends jumping over rocks? Ironically, the only effective shots in this film are the ones when someone...wait for it...puts the camera down. There's about 3. Don't blink. You might miss them.

And why is their camera the ONLY camera in Manhattan? Every fuck and his mother has a camera phone or a camcorder or a Blackberry or a...you get the idea. How is this the footage that came out of the city? Oh, I know! because their camera CANNOT BE DESTROYED BY CONVENTIONAL MEANS!! I know this because it survives a helicopter crash, an attack by an extraordinarily hostile EBE and a bombing run on a bridge. Seriously, it does! Apparently, they invested in the "Force-Field" Warranty from Best Buy. I gotta get me one on my iPod.

My wife could give you a whole dissertation about their travel methods through Manhattan, as she once lived and worked there, but that's a bit beyond my scope. The film gets big points for an attempt to re-invent the "Monster Movie" for the YouTube Generation, and it has a wonderful sense of immediacy through the lack of music and strict adherence to handheld as a mode of shooting...but here's the thing:

If I were a member of the YouTube/Film it Myself/Time Magazine "You: Person of the Year" Generation, and this if how people thought of me--as a brain-dead fucking mook willing to swallow anything and everything as "Wow! They blew up the City!" Entertainment--I'd be insulted.

And I hope you are too.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Happy Freaking New Year!

Well lookee here! My first post of 2008. I know most of you have probably been dreaming about this moment; waiting, wondering, gazing at the Heavens shouting "When, God, when?!?!?!? When will he post? Doesn't he know that I base my entire value structure upon his musings? My moral compass cannot find magnetic north without him! Make him write, dammit!" Fear not, gentle readers, I am alive and well. And my New Year's Day hangover didn't even last more than 22 hours. I know; I must be slipping.

So what's it going to be, you wonder? What shape will this First Post of 2008 take? Will it be perspicacious social commentary? Scathing observations about the peccadilloes of the 14-18 demographic? His trademark elitist prick snobbery given the veneer of erudition in order to make it sound "cultured" and less like, well, elitist prick snobbery?

Or will it be something weighty and profound?

Fuck no.

Actually, I'm going to do something that most people who know me are probably wondering why I haven't done before. It's time for me to discuss what I believe were...wait for it...

The Best Films of 2007!

Yep, your stalwart English Teacher Extraordinaire is going to throw himself out there and list his favorite films of the past year. I was going to do one of those "Year in Review: 2007" sort of posts, but then I realized that I drink far too much and there's no fucking way I'd be able to remember anything from last January. Don't gimme that look. Only cops and stevedores drink more than teachers.

I must preface this by saying that this list is, obviously, limited to the films I have seen. I haven't seen There Will Be Blood yet because it hasn't been released in this area, so don't freak if that isn't on my list. And I missed Into the Wild too. Sorry! So here, IN ALPHABETICAL ORDER are my favorite films of 2007:

300 -- THIS! IS! SPARTA! 'Nuff said. Hyperkinetic, homoerotic and over the top in every way that works, this endlessly quotable film was one of the best times I've had at the movies. You wanna stick political allegory into it? Fine. Me, I'm there for the glory.

Atonement -- The words "heart-wrenching" and "tragic" don't even begin to describe this film. Wonderfully acted, beautifully filmed and quite possibly the saddest movie I have ever seen. If anyone thinks the ending of The Notebook is a tear-jerker, go see this film. I don't believe I have ever been so devastated as the credits rolled. Ever.

Before the Devil Knows You're Dead -- Isn't Sydney Lumet a wonder? The man's older than dirt and he turns out this masterwork? A dark, nasty, pressure-cooker of a film, full of unpleasant people doing unpleasant things to one another--and WHAT an ending.

Eastern Promises -- I don't know if there's anyone working who can explore the question of identity better than Cronenberg. Here, he reunites with Mortensen in a sort of companion piece to the brilliant A History of Violence. See it.

Juno -- A sweet, heartfelt ode to self-discovery and growing up, with a (hopefully) star-making turn by Ellen Page. When Bleeker spoons Juno after the birth--I don't think I've ever seen a sweeter image of innocent teenage affection.

Michael Clayton -- This is a serious film, with some serious performances. It's always nice to see an adult drama not afraid to be an adult drama. And to be reminded why George Clooney is a movie star.

No Country For Old Men -- What a return to form for the Coen brothers, and what a stunning motion picture. Bardem gives one of the most frightening performances I've seen in ages and I've never heard silence so deafening in a movie. It creeps in, gets under your skin and just...unsettles you. Amazing film. Strangely, everyone I know under the age of 25 doesn't like it. They're probably still confusing "enjoyment" with "good art". Fucking kids. What do they know, right? ADDENDUM--OK, so a few have risen above. Thank God. I guess a few "get it". Huzzah! My work is not wasted! Spread the word, my faithful, spread the word.

No End in Sight -- Yeah, how often does a documentary make a "10 Best" list? Alright, fine. Fairly often. You want to be enlightened and enraged? Look no further than Ferguson's devastating expose.

Superbad -- Huh? Toilet comedy makes your Top 10 list? Sorry boys and girls, but it sure does. Not because of the humor or the sex or the neverending series of penis drawings--but because of the real deal behind this film. It isn't about getting laid or getting drunk; it's about kids being scared of life after high school, about not knowing if your friendships can stand the test of time or distance. Where I go to work every day, that shit matters. And if you look past the "dirty" comedy, you'll see a real sweetness to it.

Zodiac -- What? Did anyone even see this movie? I sure did. It may have been two hours and thirty-eight minutes of dialogue but DAMN was it riveting! My wife even managed to stay awake through it. Part police procedural, part period piece, part exploration of the nature of obsession, it's a shame more people didn't get to see this film.

Honorable Mention -- For sheer adrenaline you can't beat The Bourne Ultimatum; I had a wonderful time seeing Enchanted and Stardust; Transformers allowed me to have that pre-teen wet dream I've been holding on to since age 9; Bug is one of the most troubling films I've seen in some time with a couple of dynamite performances; and Waitress parlays a luminous turn by Keri Russell into a great feel-good film.

So there you go, kids. Here's a great time to leave comments and tell me how much of a crack-pot I am!

Have a great 2008 everyone!



Sunday, December 30, 2007

I Now Fear That My iPod Will Judge Me

For Christmas this year, I got one of 'dem new-fangled Nike+ thingamabobbers for my iPod. If you're not familiar with what I mean, it goes a little like this. You buy some special "Nike+" shoes that have a small cavity under their insole. In this small cavity, you can store things like, oh, a dime bag, a few grams of cocaine, 3-6 MDMA pills, whatever you need to get the party rolling. Let me tell you, it's a lot easier to make friends when you're never without recreational drugs handy!

I digress; you place that funky oval-looking thing with the swoosh and apple logo on it in the cavity in the insole. That's the transmitter. It's pretty much an accelerometer dressed up in a snazzy orange and white case with some uber-recognizable corporate logos attached. You then plug the receiver into your iPod Nano and voila! the "Nike+ iPod" menu option appears on your Nano. After some brief setting up, such as entering your weight and telling Mr. iPod menu if you'd like miles or kilometers; female voice feedback or male; etc--you go running! You can even set up a "Power Song"!! This is a song that automatically plays when you depress the center button on your iPod. I suppose it's supposed to be for the last leg of your run, when your ass is dragging and you need some motivation. Or, in my case, when you're being pursued by large, poorly controlled dogs intent on rending you limb from limb. Just for shits, I made my power song Imogen Heap's "Hide and Seek". Ever try working out to that song? Don't. Unless your workout consists of eating 'shrooms and staring at the sky, I don't think Imogen is much of a motivator. Although you'd probably have a riot inventing some interpretive dance for that song.


Now, I don't own Nike+ running shoes. So I had to be slightly creative with my transmitter placement. Take a look. Yes, I have merely crammed the accelerometer underneath my shoelaces. I suppose I could buy one of those clips made by various third-party vendors to carry the transmitter...but what fun would that be? How would I proudly display on my corporate logos with the damn thing in a case? Labels define us, people!

So there we have it, you set up your Nike+ Sport Kit and hit the road. It tracks average pace per mile, distance you've gone, time you've been working out and even calories burned! Then you come home, plug your iPod in and sync the data with the Nike+ website! And here's where the trouble begins.

You see, I don't run. I walk. Running hurts my knees something fierce. I don't like running. Anyone who knows me knows that I only run when chased. I log onto the Nike+ website and there it is, staring me in the face. My shame. An average pace of 16 minutes 8 seconds per mile? Hey, I'm faster than that! It's like, 15 minutes 4 seconds per mile! Am I "That slow fucker" in the Nike+ community? How do I tell people that I'm not running?!? I'm walking! It's slower than running, honest!

You can also set up "Goals" and "Challenges" for yourself, which Nike+ will track. It's actually quite an ingenious website--it totally allows you to visualize your workout history and functions much like a personal trainer. A personal trainer is way more exciting, though. There's really no possibility that you'll end up fucking the Nike+ website. Kinda puts a damper on the whole relationship. Regardless, I set up a "Challenge" for myself--my one year goal, from 12/26/07 to 12/26/08, is to travel 1000 miles. I even gave my "A Thousand Miles" challenge a witty description: "Vanessa Carlton will be so proud". Chuckle, chuckle, right? I didn't "share" my challenge. But there it is--there are TEN other people in my challenge. I didn't invite them. How the fuck did they get there? And why is one of them beating me?!? User name David_Zen is 10 miles ahead of me! His last run was 10.1 miles. What the hell? And he's from fucking Belize! It's always sunny in Central America! I'm in Buffalo, for crissakes! There he is, in Belize City, drinking beers with his runner pals mocking the "slow fucker from Buffalo". He's even got a "Power Song" by Prodigy! I'm totally going to give my Nike+ to my teacher friend who runs every day. Take that, Central American Arthur Lydiard!

Seeing that I needed some affirmation, I created a "Goal" for myself. These are totally private, and you even get a spiffy ribbon for your Nike+ "Trophy Case"! I made a goal "To Burn Calories". The default is 900 calories in, um, 4 weeks. Which is pretty fucking sad, if you think about it. 4 weeks? I think if you walk to the fucking bathroom twice a day you'll burn 900 calories in 4 weeks. So, in 4 days I burned 2280 calories. Yeah I got a ribbon. I'm so fucking bad-ass.

And the creepiest thing about this Nike+? Lance Armstrong lives in it! No shit, when I ended a workout yesterday, all of a sudden, my iPod said to me, "This is Lance Armstrong. Congratulations, that was your longest workout yet." Does anyone else note the irony here? Lance Armstrong was a professional cyclist. Don't think he ran those seven Tour de Frances...

Speaking of irony, the missus and I went to see The Great Debaters last night. It's an enjoyable movie, with strong performances from its leads and a great message about the power of education. None of that is ironic, however. You see, the film is also about racial inequality and the need for tolerance, etc. As far as I could tell, the wife and I were the only white audience members. Until the film ended and I stood up and began to leave the theater and noticed--there were a whole bunch of whites there. In what is probably the most delicious irony I've seen in years, every white audience member but the wife and I had sat in the back of the theater. Priceless.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Well, There Goes My Meth Lab. What Am I Going to Do for Extra Cash Now?

If there's a list of "100 Great Things to Wake Up To", I'm sure your garage being on fire ranks pretty low. Like maybe at 98--right in front of your house being on fire and someone nailing a six-inch spike through your penis into a board. Ouch. There's an unpleasant thought. Could you imagine waking up to someone nailing a spike through your penis while your bedroom was on fire? Talk about a bad morning.

As you may have guessed, I've had an interesting week. I get out of the shower Thursday morning and there's a huge cloud of smoke happily sailing down my street. You know what they say about "where there's smoke?" Well, turns out the fire was in my garage. I run downstairs to see my neighbor in my driveway hosing down my garage with my garden hose. Best. Neighbor. Ever. Don't worry; we bought him two bottles of wine. We then let the professionals take over. Just look how efficient they are.

Yep, check em out just standing around. At least they got to make holes in my garage. And they got to use the fire hose!

You think that guy there with the hook is just looking for another place to damage something? I can't be too hard on the fellows, though. They DID extinguish the fire, after all. Not really sure how it all started, but almost all my students suggested arson. Perhaps I've overestimated the amount of good will I have in this school. Maybe they really hate me after all! But if that's the case, you think they'd burn down my house, not my garage.

Then again--teenagers aren't much known for their masterful criminal plans.

There's some substantial damage in there, but all things considered we were extraordinarily lucky. Check out the nifty inside view!

Nice, huh? Luckily, that which matters escaped the inferno unscathed:
Woot! Now I can still play Kan-Jam in my husk of a Meth Lab.

And that's not all, folks! Oh no, the excitement continued Friday with about 400+ students absent from the middle and high school. That's just about over a third of our entire student population. No, they weren't all out helping me "raise a garage" Amish-style. Although that would have been nice. Loads of kids stayed home because of "the threat of gang violence" at our school. Now, the school I work at is NOT one where "the threat of gang violence" and "our school" should be in the same sentence. But there it was. Nothing happened, and some kids stayed home just for the freebie day off, but I gotta say I was pretty damn proud of the kids that came in. It reminded me of the days right after September 11th, when the huge rumor about terrorists blowing up malls on October 31st started circulating. People stayed home! Me, BAMF that I am, actually went to the mall even though I didn't need to buy anything. I went because I firmly believe that the moment you give in to fear and begin to alter your life, the enemy has won. I love the fact that a lot of kids came to school, even if they were afraid and just put on a "tough" face, because it shows that they aren't about to have their lives dictated to them by hearsay and rumor. We didn't have any teachers out, either. Go us!

Really though, this whole situation would be a helluva lot better if people would just leave each other the fuck alone. The moment people stop exchanging insults and trying to one-up each other as to whose got the biggest dick (here's a hint, teenage boys: it's the one who lets shit that don't matter GO) life will most likely go back to normal. Yes, that's right boys and girls! I'm advocating a cease-fire!! It's pretty simple math here and it's been a staple of classroom management since the dawn of teaching: students that crave attention will try anything to get it. Ever hear the saying that "there's no such thing as bad press"? Same with attention--negative attention is STILL attention. Think about it; if there's some wa-hoo (yes, I wrote "wa-hoo") in a class who is constantly disruptive, and the teacher constantly stops class to deal with it, doesn't that kid continue to be a disruption? You betcha. If we ignore blatant, attention-seeking behavior, it *GASP* stops! Sheesh, I never thought I'd yearn for a return to exceedingly cliquey behavior when groups don't intermingle.

So, students of mine who anonymously blog-stalk me, I'm talking to you! Leave each other alone. Just let it go. Hang out with your friends. Be TEENAGERS, for chrissake. Have some fun before you gotta worry about a career and a mortgage and waking up to your garage being on fire!

Here endeth the lesson.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

We Now Return You to Your Regularly Scheduled Programming

Given that my last post proved to be such a lighting rod for soul-searching discourse and heartfelt sympathy, I've decided to revert to my flippant, pointless blogging that says nothing of any import. Feel better? I know I do.

Ever take one of those silly little online surveys that is supposed to distill your entire essence as a human being into a catch-phrase that begins with "You are..."? I sure have! Want to know which novel epitomizes me? Read on!




You're Watership Down!


Though many think of you as a bit young, even childish, you're actually incredibly deep and complex. You show people the need to rethink their assumptions, and confront them on everything from how they think to where they build their houses. You might be one of the greatest people of all time. You'd be recognized as such if you weren't always talking about rabbits.

Wow! Go me! Creepily, I used to love that novel as a kid. And watched the movie over and over. Even more creepy--check out this post...

Intrigued? Want to know more? Curious to know what type of animal I am? Fear not, gentle reader! I took that quiz too!



You're a Komodo Dragon!

While many people like to talk about running off to be the vicious dictator of a small distant island, you feel that you have more potential to follow through on this plan than anyone. Big, strong, muscular, and a teensy bit vindictive, you feel you could overpower anyone who tried to question your authority. When not taking over the world, island by island, you enjoy sunning yourself on the beach. You have an absurdly long tongue.

This is really funny. Last year, a couple of students in Yearbook Photoshopped--look! Another computer program that become a verb like Google!!--me, holding a bumper sticker that read "You Will All Bow Down Before Me!", into various world locations. One of the last pictures they made was a Time Magazine cover that read "[My name] Achieves World Domination!"

Oh, the absurdly long tongue? Chicks dig it, my friend. Chicks dig it.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Lasciate Ogne Speranza, Voi Ch'intrate

If you've come looking for a chuckle or a little pick-me-up, point that browser elsewhere, my friend. The post title should tip you off to that little fact. If you've got some misery and it's looking for a bit of company, read on.

I never paid much attention to the whole concept of "workplace morale". To me, morale only mattered in situations where you might live or die; where flight was a viable option. Anyone who knows me knows that I'm a very private person about certain things, that I'm a big fan of the "Shut the fuck up and do your job" school of thought. After the first couple weeks of this school year, though, I'm not so certain anymore.

I've never seen employee morale so low in a workplace before. The feeling has become almost palpable. It's manifesting itself in anger, frustration, sometimes even apathy. And these aren't slackers I'm talking about; these are talented, dedicated, intelligent, caring people. These aren't only teachers; these are educators--yes, there's a difference. Many of us are getting the message that we are unappreciated. Not underappreciated, but simply UNappreciated. Not undervalued, but UNvalued. Teachers don't work for the money. Even the village idiot knows that. The best of us do what we do because it matters to us. We certainly have our perks, but the fact of the matter is that 99% of teachers in America are underpaid. I believe John F. Kennedy said it best when he said


"Modern cynics and skeptics [...] see no harm in paying those to whom they entrust the minds of their children a smaller wage than is paid to those to whom they entrust the care of their plumbing." -90th Anniversary of Vanderbilt University, May 18, 1963

Rampant hypocrisy only exacerbates the issue; how many times will we have to listen to people say how "important, essential and valuable" we are while refusing to deal fairly with us? There's a powerful emotional undercurrent in the building right now. It's almost as if Howard Beale might show up on the morning announcements at any time screaming "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore!!!"

It's so powerful that that the students, who are much more attuned to our rhythms and moods than we give them credit for, are asking about it.

And what am I supposed to tell them? I can't fathom the truth because I can't fathom what the "other side" could possibly be thinking. I can't speak for all of my co-workers, even though I know in a general sense how they all feel.

And what are we supposed to do about it? What can we do about it? Pretty much nothing. Any of the tools that unions use to pressure their employers has been deemed illegal by that piece of shite Taylor Law. You know, that awesome law that strips unions of all their bargaining tools and places no pressure whatsoever on their employers to negotiate.

What now? Do I refuse participation in any extracurricular activity that I'm not paid for? Do I stop showing up at 7AM and start showing up when my contract tells me I have to? The thing is, there's only one group that suffers when teachers start doing that sort of thing: the students. Am I supposed to use them as some sort of pawn in the labor game? Regardless of how bad things get, I honestly don't know if I can bring myself to deny help--of any kind--to those kids who ask for it.

These kids come into my classroom. They sit where I tell them. If I'm halfway decent at my job, they do what I say, and if they don't, they sit there quietly and don't bother any of the other kids who are doing what I say. They listen to me. They pretend my jokes are funny so they don't hurt my feelings. They smile at me in the hallways. They spend their free periods with me. The best of them open their minds, hearts and lives to me. They let me in, let me be a part of their life inside and outside the classroom. They let me know that what I do isn't a total waste of my time, energy and intellect.

At the very least, I owe them the same. I believe I owe them more. These kids have done more for me than they can possibly understand. How can I work solely in my own interests when the Class of 2008 gave me a reason to come to work every day last year? How can I turn my back on a group of kids who are the prime--probably the only--reason I still work in my current district? Next year may be a different story, but I've promised myself that I'll see this group walk that stage, no matter what happens.

It's funny to me that people always focus on the "teacher's impact upon the student". We read countless essays, articles and human interest pieces about "The Teacher that Changed my Life!" It's all good--but it's only half the story. What about the kids that kept that teacher teaching? What about the kids that make us come to work every day?

Hopefully, things will get better before they get worse. In all honesty, I don't think they will. I just hope I never have to choose between my livelihood and my students.

Take care of yourselves.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Post Something Original? Me?

Fuck that shit! Pabst Blue Ribbon!! OK, now that I've managed to work in a quote from a David Lynch film, I can proceed to the actual content of this post. Whenever I feel like posting something and can't think of a topic, or I don't feel like posting something personal, I check good 'ole "mine". I just know she'll have something fun for me to steal. And she does!

So here it is, my list of career suggestions from www.careercruising.com...wait. Before I get into this list. Career Cruising? Cruising? Cruising is a phrase meaning, among the younger set, to "drive around and scope out possible developments". According to a Wikipedia citation, what differentiates "cruising" from "driving" is that cruising has no real destination; the object is to be seen by one's peers. Kind of like "Hey! Look at me! I'm in a car! I have a license! And no friends! Which why I'm driving around looking for people!" When I was younger, we used to refer to randomly driving around looking for people as STALKING, and avoided the tools with no life who couldn't pick up the damn phone and MAKE PLANS, thus eliminating the need for "cruising". But what do I know; I'm 32, which pretty much makes me a fucking fossil to these kids.

I'm really more concerned with the more traditional meaning of the word "cruising". This should be of special interest to my younger readers. "Cruising" is traditionally associated with trying to pick someone up for anonymous gay sex. You know those creepily respectable-looking middle-aged guys who hang out in the restrooms of public places? Probably cruising. Really. Ask any guy, when it comes to public restrooms, we're in, we do our business, we're out. Unless you're bumping up with some complete stranger--Alert! Alert! You may have a problem!
--the pisser is pretty much a "get in get out" ordeal.

So...Career Cruising...I don't think there's much money in cruising. Sure, you might find a Glory Hole or two....but a career? I'm thinkin' no.

Regardless, here's my list, with a few comments from yours truly:

1. Director of Photography
2. Set Designer
3. Costume Designer
4. Professor
5. Clergy (HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA)
6. Family and Consumer Scientist
7. Music Teacher / Instructor
8. Foreign Language Instructor
9. ESL Teacher
10. Special Effects Technician
11. Desktop Publisher
12. Animator
13. Cartoonist / Comic Illustrator
14. Computer Trainer
15. Actor
16. Fashion Designer (They weren't kidding about cruising, huh?)
17. High School Teacher
18. Child and Youth Worker
19. Special Education Teacher
20. Elementary School Teacher (How long ya think I would last? 3 days?)
21. Director
22. Teacher Assistant
23. Chef
24. Anthropologist
25. Early Childhood Educator
26. Social Worker
27. Recording Engineer
28. Addictions Counselor (These would be interesting conversations...)
29. School Counselor
30. Graphic Designer
31. Comedian
32. Artist
33. Musician
34. Critic
35. Casting Director
36. Computer Animator
37. Activist (Huh? They pay these people?)
38. Writer
39. Print Journalist
40. Website Designer

Apparently, I missed the boat, as I should have pursued a career in film. Oh well.


Friday, August 10, 2007

I'll Most Certainly NOT Keep you my Dirty Little Secret

How the hell do I get roped into this shit? Probably because everyone has a little bit of showboat in them. And I get bored easily. And I like putting off shit I actually have to do.

So here it goes....

1. We have to post these rules before we give you the facts. The sad, sad facts that we should hide from all humanity...
2. Players start with eight random facts/habits about themselves. Wait...players? More like victims. "Playing" implies winning or losing. This all seems like losing to me.
3. People who are tagged write their own blog post about their eight things and include these "rules". Strangely...here I am..
4. At the end of your blog, you need to choose eight people to get tagged and list their names. Don’t forget to leave them a comment telling them they’re tagged and that they should read your blog. Wait...since I'll be violating this "rule", does that mean that I'm automatically going to Hell? Oh, wait. Too late.

1. I sometimes load up random MySpace pages to listen to people's music while I do whatever it was I was doing online. Yep. You read that right. So score some sweet music and hope I stalk your page. I'm doing it right now, too.

2. I have a deep-seated hatred for people who drink White Zinfandel. My hatred is entrenched, and I nourish it daily. This goes for all people who refuse to drink dry wines. This also covers people who drink "wine products". Not because they drink them, mind you. Drink whatever the fuck you want. Only because they incessantly refer to them as "wine". Please stop producing beverages, Arbor Mist. You're ruining a generation of future wine-drinkers.

3. I also have a deep-seated hatred for people who use words/phrases they have no understanding of. At this point you may be wondering why I've misspelled "deep-seeded". If so--I hate you. The phrase has nothing to do with where you fucking PLANTED shit. It's about how things are SEATED in your consciousness. This goes for all you fuckers who wear t-shirts and don't understand what they mean. I'm talking to all you "Atticus" assholes who don't know why there's a dead bird on your shirt. Fuck you.

4. Every SINGLE year at my current job, I've wondered if I've made the right career choice. Sure, I can rationalize about how AWESOME my retirement will be, and how it's great that I have every weekend and holiday--and a bunch of other days--off. But does that really ameliorate the shit salary; the daily drudgery of a bunch of little fucks who squander the greatest gift God, or whatever you believe in, gave them; the sense of entitlement some kids have handed down from their parents; or the administrative bullshit we have to endure? Do you even know what "ameliorate" means? Shit, I gave you a damn link...

5. I've learned that sometimes, one single student can justify and reinvigorate your entire existence as a teacher. It's even better when there's more than one in a single year.

6. If I had the choice: die in my bed 90 years from now surrounded by many, many grandkids and a family guaranteed to carry on my name for all Eternity -OR- willingly sacrifice my life in a great battle where the fate of the World hung in the balance...there's no question that I would go the way of the Spartan.

7. I'll cry for movies and novels...but not for real life. I can't remember the last time I cried because of something that happened in the real word (that's a big, fat lie. But it's none of your business, Anonymous Blog Stalker). But I sure can remember when I last cried for a fictional character. This raises some interesting questions...

8. I hate surveys like this. Mainly because they force me to think about issues I WILL NOT write about on a public forum like the Internet. Who reads this thing? I know students do...but I don't know exactly which. Or do I? Is it the fact that I know PRECISELY who reads this that leads me to not write about certain things? Or is it the fact that I don't know who reads it? Or am I worried about my adult readership? It's all a wonderful game, isn't it?

So...the tagging part. Well...here's the issue. Who the heck can I tag? The only two blogs I have bookmarked have already done it. Is there some mad glut of students, inspired by my rush of honesty, who are willing to post their blog URLs as comments and beg to be tagged? Hardly. Shit, if they listen to half the crap I say in class, they've already hidden their blogs as "private", available only to "friends". Bummer--there are some I'd LOVE to read. If they even have them. So I got nothing.

Just the hope that someone out there gets something out of my rantings.

Monday, August 06, 2007

"Mean Girls" May Very Well Hold Our Chance for Salvation

Everyone reading this (all two of you) need to know that I am drinking single-barrel bourbon while writing it. Which probably explains a lot. But it's also a caveat in case this comes off as total bullshit. Oh, wait. Most of my posts do. Never mind.

Why bother with that kind of detail? Well, duh. Look at the fucking title of the post. I mean...really. I just pinned the hopes and dreams of Humanity on a Lindsay Lohan vehicle.

Why would I do that? Why would a man possessed of such terrible learning as I do such a thing? Perhaps because I am possessed of such terrible learning? It's easy to dismiss a film like Mean Girls as popcorn fodder. As a shoddy attempt by Tina Fey to move beyond the realm of SNL. The fact of the matter is...we can't. Dismiss it, I mean. Frankly, because it's a very well-written, well-made film. And well-acted, I might add. Anyone who thinks Lindsay Lohan is (dare I say it?!!?) a no-talent drunken ass-clown is simply incorrect. Plus, she's awfully hot, drugs and alcohol and all. But all of this is secondary to the message the film carries.

Being a man who lives in the world that Mean Girls conveys--I can speak to it. And it's spot-on. Sure it's a bit exaggerated and stylized..but it's there. And all the BS "hit-you-over-the-head" messaging is there too. The lessons Cady learns are very real.

Nay--before you mock me, hear me out. The wife and I talked about this, albeit briefly; she was close to sleep mode. We saw some (that shall remain nameless--public blog!) students of mine in the characters in that film. The high school "culture" that is satirized in this film is VERY real. And as I watched it I also saw kids of mine that have been shaped by it. Not the satirized culture, but the message the film conveys. It was nifty watching Cady come to the same realization some of my kids have come to this year. It was nifty watching some of my kids vicariously through Cady. Watching this film now I realize that the character Cady has shaped more than one of the students I had this year--and it made me happy.

Cady's a good person. Well, she would be if she were real, but you get my drift. If you don't--why on God's green Earth are you reading an English teacher's blog? She's engineered as a character who had no concept/understanding of modern high school. As such, she's a perfect vehicle to explore it. She's tabula rosa. We come to understand the system as she does--and we rebel against it as she does.

And so do my kids. They don't always realize they do--but more power to 'em when they see it.

So, yes. In Mean Girls may be the key to our salvation.

If only the rest of us old fuckers had the sensitivity of teenagers.

Friday, August 03, 2007

I Prefer to Think that God Is not Dead, Just Drunk

I was going to write a very deep and profound post about spirituality, fulfillment and the use of religious texts as control. I was going to draw on my considerable experience working with people and studying literature to raise thought-provoking questions about who we are and why we do the things we do. I'm not ready to write that post yet. I think it's still gestating in my head. Instead, I'll write something flippant and vaguely amusing...

Those who know me know that, for the second time in my illustrious teaching career, I have picked up a dread "Summer Job".

Most people view teachers as whining ne'er-do-wells and malcontents who are underworked and overpaid, biding our time during the 185 day work-year until we collect our (admittedly) fucking fantastic retirement benefits. This is not the case. Frankly, most teacher salaries are so abysmal that we are forced to find other ways to subsidize our meager existence: organ theft, sales of oxycontin (helps when you have a ready-made customer base of over 500 teenagers you see every day), weekend dominatrix work, killer-for-hire, etc. While I may have a booming trade in contract killing, I decided to lay a bit low this summer.

Yes--I work in retail.

Of course a man can't stray too far from his roots, so I conned a kid into having her dad hire me. At a liquor store. At a HUGE liquor store. With a rare room that I sometimes wander around in while touching myself. Well maybe that part's an exaggeration. Maybe not.

Working in retail seems to me a huge step backward. People ask me if I have plans for a certain day and I actually have to respond with "I dunno, I have to check the schedule". I don't italicize in conversation, I just added that for emphasis. But really. I haven't "checked a schedule" in like eight years. Sometimes I have to work a bullshit 5-9 shift. 5-9? What is that anyway? It's like I'm held hostage the entire day. I wake up and think about all the things I could do that day (all right, so maybe most of them have to do with broadband Internet porn and alcohol), but then I realize I've got to go to work at 5PM. For the past 7 years I've worked 7AM-330PM. Dammit, I'm a creature of habit.

Working in retail has also helped me more deeply entrench my belief that people are fucking idiots. Anyone who works in retail, or in a job where you have to deal with people (as in "the public", ass. Not just your office-mates), needs no further explanation of that statement. If you need it explained you won't understand. So I'm not going to bother. Nyah.

I've also learned that the vast majority of people will believe anything you tell them about wine provided you sound really confident while doing it. That's probably true about any subject area, but it seems especially true about the more esoteric, such as the mystical beverage known as wine. They come in and ask a bunch of questions and for your recommendations; you spend 15 minutes trying to understand their tastes; giving them information about grapes, terroir, dry versus sweet versus fruit-forward styles; matching their wine-drinking history to some new (to them) and exciting wines. They then proceed to buy the same bottle of cat-piss they buy every time they're in there. I swear it's the only way Yellow Tail is still in business.

The problem is exacerbated by the fact that most people are exceedingly cheap. A woman came in the other day and asked for Cakebread Cellars Chardonnay, a very nice wine that resides in our Rare Room and comes in at a $48.99 price-point. She immediately blanched at the dollar amount and asked me if I could "show her something comparable". The asshole in me (you know, the only side of me that ever comes out while blogging) was tempted to show her some of Gaja's 2000 Sori San Lorenzo which comes in at a bargain-basement $449.99, just to fuck with her. But I figured if she asked for Cakebread by name she'd at least know the difference between a red and a white. I asked her what price-point she'd like to be at. I usually say that instead of "how much do you want to spend?" Not that it matters, they're both just euphemisms for "How fucking cheap are you?" Anyways, she replies, "Well, what can you show me comparable for about $12?" I deserve an Oscar for not laughing in her face. I managed to say, very politely and with decorum, I might add: "Nothing." I wish I had a camera so I could post a picture of the look she gave me.

I'll close with a blinding flash of the obvious: I am an elitist prick. :-)

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Men are From Mars, Women are Bitches

OK, maybe that title's a little harsh. I can't even claim credit for it; I stole it from another guy's website. But I've decided to post about some of the, well, differences that make men and woman so, at times, incompatible.

All right. Differences my ass. Here's the real deal:

Things Women Do That Men Hate, Volume I:

One of the main sources of friction between woman and men is that men, generally (note the use of this word, ladies! It means I'm not making a broad, sweeping statement of fact!), mean what they say. Let's take this conversation, a permutation of which probably occurs at least once a week in any long-term relationship...

Her: "Honey, I'm thinking of getting Tommy and Lisa a 10" fry-pan for a shower gift."

Him: "Sounds great. Go ahead and do it."

Her: "It's on their registry too."

Him: "Can't go wrong with a gift from the registry. Pick it up whenever."

Her: "Yeah, and Lisa loves to cook eggs in the morning. And maybe she can use it to make crepes or some of those caramelized onions Tommy likes to put on his burgers."

Him, becoming perturbed: "Hon, I said go ahead and get it. Sounds like a good gift."

Her, blathering on: "I mean, a fry-pan is so versatile. I don't think any kitchen should be without one."

Him, wondering to himself "Why the fuck is she still blathering on?", decides silence may be the best course of action.

Her, giggling at her own stroke of wit: "Oh! And if they get into a fight she can hit him with it!"

Him, in desperation: "JUST GO AND BUY THE FUCKING THING!"

Her: "God. You don't have to yell. I was just asking your opinion..."

You see what's going on here? She asked a question. He answered. Why is she still talking? If the man needed any more information or justification to answer the fecking question HE WOULD HAD ASKED FOR IT. So, ladies. When a man says "Sure, honey", leave him the fuck alone. He probably means it.


Does anyone else's ladyfriend hate eating something if they've had it in the last, oh, 96 hours? If you had grilled chicken on Monday, don't even think of suggesting it again until Saturday at the earliest. What happens in the meantime? Your fridge fills with leftovers. That you don't eat. And eventually throw away. What if we used this logic on women?

Her: "Baby, I want you."

Him: "What, sex? With you? Didn't I fuck you last night? I need something new. I'm going to go pick up some drunken twenty-something."

Yeah. Something tells me that wouldn't go over to well.

This could go on for decades, but I should probably do something with my day. Maybe I'll come back to this in the future. If I'm not in jail for murdering my wife.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Eli Roth is a No-Talent Ass Clown

Every movie this hack has ever made has sucked. Cabin Fever? What the hell was that movie supposed to be? A horror film? A comedy? A surrealist commentary on the survival instinct?

Oh, no. None of the above. It's just a rotten piece of schlock horror that is too busy being derivative of far better films to bother coming up with something unique for itself. And those "comic" asides are so utterly ridiculous they border on Kafka-esque. Not that Eli Roth even knows who Kafka is. I'd be surprised if the fucker can read.

Let's move on to Hostel, shall we? One of the most mind-numbingly awful films I've ever seen. There's actually a gang of street urchins in this film that accosts people. For candy. Yep. For candy. And then they beat someone to death (!) at the end of the film. Hostel is a movie in which high-fiving and school-boy giggling passes for character development. I can only imagine the conversation Eli had in his head as he wrote the film.

"What am I going to put on screen before the violence gets moving?"

"How about we fully flesh out the characters so the audience is emotionally vested in them, which makes the horror of what's going to happen to them all the more intense?"

"What, are you fucking nuts!? I don't know how to write characters!! I'll just throw a bunch of tits in front of the camera."

I am, however, grateful for some of the lesson I learned by watching Hostel. Like if you take a welding torch to an eye, the eye won't sizzle and burst, as I long thought it would! It will actually HARDEN AND PROTRUDE FROM THE SKULL!! My God! I've been wrong for all these years! How could I have been so stupid? And the optic nerve cannot be severed by a flame that is about 3,480 degrees Celsius! Man, I've been poorly educated.

Have we seen Hostel II? I have. Sweet Jesus help me, I have. It's pretty much the exact same movie as Hostel. But that Eli is pretty crafty, so he switched genders of the protagonists. It's like a whole new movie now! In this steaming pile of cinematic dog shit, three US girls (a nerdy girl, a hot/bitchy girl, and a rich girl--that's about the extent of their characterization) are *gasp!* kidnapped and auctioned off on the Internet! There's a great little sequence where an international cadre of power-executive types bid on one of the girls through their mobile devices. Wow! Social commentary on the immoral uses of technology and money! You're so relevant, Eli!! Oh, wait. Is Eli even that smart? After sitting through three of his scripts, I certainly don't think so.

In this film, a man shoots a child in the head. We don't really know why. To get a rise out of the audience? Um, the demographic for this movie doesn't give a shit about a kid getting shot in the head. Unless it's on camera and they can see the brain matter flying. Maybe Eli can make his next "film" in 3D.

There is a characterization (or, what passes for it in a Roth film) reversal in this film that is so profound I actually laughed out loud in the theater. And it happens instantaneously. For about 80 minutes this character is one person and then...he's someone else. For no apparent reason.

Frankly, the only things that frighten me about Eli Roth films is the fact that this fucker is making movies and hundreds of talented people are out of work in Hollywood.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Curiosity May Have Killed the Cat But No One Can Prove it in a Court of Law

Much obliged to the so-hot-I'd-give-up-seven-of-my-fingers-if-God-would-let-me-nail-her (never mind with the obvious comments) Lysa for putting up with my more-than-likely-alcohol-induced senility and RE-sending these questions to me. And much obliged to anyone who is still reading, as you have put up with more hyphenated adjectives than most human beings see in their entire lifetimes. Lysa has provided me with a nifty inciting incident--English term for the day!--to get my creative juices flowing. I'm far too lazy to inspire myself.

The way this works is that I commented on Ly's blog, and Ly sent me five questions. If you comment and request that I interview you, I will send you five profound and probably invasive questions that you must post the answers for (along with this lengthy and rather pointless explanation) on your blog or whatever other forum you use to spew your insipid ramblings into the ether.

Got all that? Good, there's a test later.

1) Has your favorite color changed over the years? If so, what were the other colors, and if so, what has your favorite color been?

My favorite color? This is the first question she poses to me? And here I was thinking she knew me. I think, like most boys with a frightening evil side and frequent desires to commit murder most foul, my favorite color at one time was black. Then some prick of an art teacher probably told me that "black isn't a color" or some such nonsense so I had to find a new one. I'm currently a big fan of red. Perhaps it's got something to do with blood.

2) Can you remember the first time you slow danced? What was it like?

Ah, youth. The first time I recall that I slow danced was, shockingly, not at a school dance. We were in the basement of her house. It was before Junior High, so I hadn't actually been to a school dance yet. I can't remember the song so don't bother asking. I do remember that this girl was also the first girl I kissed, which did not take place in her basement, but while the two of us were sitting in a tree. I know, I know--what a sickening piece of Americana. "Sittin' in a tree, k-i-s-s-i-n-g..." But, since the question doesn't ask about the first kiss, I ain't tellin'. Besides, it's rude to kiss and tell.

3) Is there a place you used to go as a child that you miss? Is it a place you could go back to now?

Well, since I don't know at what point we officially stop being a "child", I'm going to go with a spot I used to go in my mid-to-late teens. See, when you're 16ish, you don't often have a solid place to go and drink. So my friends and I decided to take some beers and go to the playground at the end of the street I grew up on. There we sat, feet in the sandbox, drinking Miller Genuine Draft, Keystone Light, Busch Light or any number of other beers that resemble urine in all but serving temperature. It got to be a semi-regular hang-out spot. We even named it: The Sandbox. After a few too many, we'd start to talk about what we were going to end up doing with our lives and invariably one of us would suggest the idea that we open a bar together. And call it "The Sandbox".

In retrospect, it seems a little pathetic: a bunch of guys sitting in a sandbox drinking beers because they're too young to do it legally over someone's house. But, in actuality, it isn't pathetic at all. It's pretty emblematic of being a teenager: time spent with friends, rules being broken, pushing the social envelope to find out what kind of person you really are, wondering about your future. Could I go back today?

Probably, provided the playground is still there. But that WOULD be pathetic. And probably creepy and illegal.

4) What fictional character do you most respect?

This is just unfair. Asking an English teacher to pick one character. How about the first one I can think of: Samwise Gamgee.

5) Who is the cruelest fictional villain?

I repeat my objection; see above. This one is much easier: Iago. He's the freaking man.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Rumor Has It: I Own!

I had my final observation this year. It was of the "unannounced" variety, where one of our illustrious administrators comes into our classroom *gasp!* without a pre-observation conference. We of the staff refer to this as the "pop-in" observation, due to the fact that the administrator just "pops-in" to your classroom. Get it? Pop-in? Maybe it's just not as funny as we imagine it is. Hey, leave us alone. We hang out with teenagers all day. You expect wit or something? Half these little shits think watching a guy jerk a horse off in Jackass II is the pinnacle of art house humor.

You see, the Unannounced Observation strikes fear into the hearts of nontenured staff. Some, quite simply, because they have no skills and can't teach and are worried that a principal will walk in and see them fumbling around in front of the classroom while their students read magazines, talk about who's pregnant, text message their pals or masturbate. Yes, that's right. Masturbate. Don't think it doesn't happen in classrooms. I would have done it too--if only I could have figured out a way to do it without the messy ending part.

All right, men. Let's band together and figure out a way to make masturbation clean. Think of the perks! Boring staff meeting? Rub one out. Hot chick steps on to an elevator in front of you? Time for a quick tug. Long drive with no one to talk to? Shake hands with the unemployed. Maybe this is the trade off: men can piss anytime, anywhere; women can masturbate with no mess. Maybe they did get the better end of this deal. And I hear their orgasms are more satisfying, too. Ladies? Any insight here?

Wait a minute. I just totally got sidetracked. Back to work.

I dislike the Unannounced Observation; not because I have no skills and suck at like, but because I gotta, like, write stuff in my planbook! I must constantly worry about that whole dog-and-pony show that is a formal observation. Earlier this year, when I had the Assistant Superintendent in for an observation, my future adopted daughter whispered to me "I don't like fake [if you're reading this you already know my name]".

So my principal pops-in this past Monday. Which, mind you, is a shitty day for her to come in. It was the first day back from a break, we had a suicide in the district the night before and the Virginia Tech news had broken about an hour previously. Yeah, great time to get observed, right? Luckily, she comes in to 10th period, which is my best class. They did a bang-up job and made me look good. Well, I mean, it's tough to make me look bad, mind you--being that I own.

Yeah, you read that correctly. I own. Normally, many would consider that to be a pompous, arrogant statement. Pompous? Arrogant? From me?!?!? Never. But I've got supporting evidence! Really! Here are some excerpts from my post-observation evaluation, along with my cynical translation for the non-educators among you:

"Mr. [me!] has an exemplary understanding of the standards for English Language Arts"
-I can totally bullshit anything and make it sound intelligent and profound.

"He mixes up his instruction to create interest for all types of learners"
-Sometimes I throw chalk at the little fuckers who don't work.

"...is upbeat and very engaging with his students"
-I need to stop snorting cocaine.

"...expects students to figure this [the learning objective] out along the way"
-I don't give a rat's ass about kids who don't want to think a little bit.

"...models enthusiasm and high energy throughout his class"
-I really need to stop snorting cocaine.

"...prompts thoughtful interaction in regards to social issues"
-I am consistently terrified at how culturally bankrupt and unaware of current events students are.

"...is continually monitoring his instruction to measure the success of his students"
-In order to make myself look good, I inflate grades on a regular basis.

"...High School is fortunate to have a teacher with such instructional capacity as Mr. [me!]"
-I couldn't find a better-paying job.

So ya see? I really do own! It even says so on my Facebook "Just for Fun Fanclub". Get this:

"Mr. [insert my name] is a english teacher at [insert name of where I work] and pretty much owns at teaching, life & everything you can own."

Note the so-thick-I-could-choke-on-it irony here. I'm the greatest English teacher ev-ah! And yet my students have made no less than two grammatical errors in that sentence...

And so, on June 12, 2007, the Board of Education will vote to approve my tenure. Provided, of course, none of them read this post.

One of these days, my smart-ass snarkiness is going to get me into trouble. But everyone who reads this knows my sense of humor, right?

Right...?