Archives For October 2013

It’s 8:30 PM on a Monday. I graded a Science test while preparing dinner, which was oddly fancy for the beginning of the week. Steak, potatoes, and a Caesar salad. This was a rare Monday where I wasn’t completely exhausted due to lack of sleep. I actually got a (somewhat) decent night’s rest. So I’m riding the wave as long as I can.

Here’s a picture of that working telegraph machine I mentioned last week. I took the batteries out, but it really works! It’s darn impressive for a fifth grader, but this student is a bit out of the ordinary. Kinda brilliant, he is.
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We have to welcome a new blogger to the fold. One of my old Limelighters is giving this a shot, so give a big welcome to Ben “Pinky” Colwell and see what he’s up to over at BenPinkes.

He earned the name Pinky from his debut show in 2008: Harriet the Spy. I subsequently cast him in a small role in Heroes and Villains that same summer, and also named the character Pinky. Here he is a year later playing Howie in Ramona Quimby, one of my all-time favorite shows to do. Loved working with the new group of young actors that were coming up through Limelight’s ranks, and of course the Beverly Cleary stories hold a special spot in my heart.

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Aside from wrapping up First Quarter grading, I’ve got a Halloween costume to worry about, and as usual, I’m having problems. I want to do something that the kids recognize, but also want to avoid doing anything too easy or, God forbid, repeat myself. But there’s never any time to really put the work into it, so some years you wind up with a lame costume like this:

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All I did was wear a rainbow wig. I stole the Luna Lovegood specs for the photo. Lazy, I know.

This is perhaps my finest moment, though. One year I had a kid who adored the Indiana Jones films. Every day he’d arrive at school and we’d trade quotes. “Asps. Very dangerous. You go first.” “Again, we see there is nothing you can possess which I can’t take away.” And so forth. So that year we teamed up and went as the Professors Jones.

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We tried our best to recreate this photo from the third film. All in all, I’d say we did a pretty good job with our costumes.

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So now the pressure’s on, folks. And it’s a busy week. To paraphrase Indy himself, “Report card week. Why did it have to be report card week…”

Tara and Brian

October 20, 2013 — Leave a comment

Last night I headed over to Tara and Brian’s, friends of mine who had a baby a couple of months ago. Since I was all sick and stuff for the past month I didn’t think it best to be near a newborn, but yesterday I felt normal enough to head over there to catch up with some good friends, and to see their new baby and whatnot.

I love kids, don’t get me wrong. But I’m horrible at the whole “It’s a new baby!!!” thing. I’ll let others buy the cute little jammies and booties and whatever else babies wear, and I’ll just be the wisecracking single friend that reminds everyone of their single years. I’m hoping this is considered part of long-term bachelorhood. Does Clooney buy baby booties for his friends’ kids? Or does he just smile and wave and then jet off to Italy for six months?

But seriously folks, I’m really happy for them. I’ve known Tara a long time, and she’s one of my closest friends, and seeing her happy and married and now a new mother means a lot to me. And her husband Brian is a great guy. Bought a car from him and everything!
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Tara and I used to teach fifth grade together at East View, before I jumped ship for the AT program in 2004. Many of us on that old team became good friends, and we even used to vacation together up to Door County once upon a time. This is where the now-famous “Apostrophe Catastrophe” running joke began. Everywhere we went we found signage that had made horrible, horrible errors in punctuation.

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That’s my all-time favorite picture of her, by the way.

Now Tara and I are co-workers again, sort of, but she’s off work until January, raising that little baby and watching a lot of television. Looking forward to having her back in the building, so we can joke around and commiserate together, just like the old days.

And for my loyal readers, one more picture, from December 2003. I present to you, Hipster Mr. Fauth. Enjoy.

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Wise Sam

October 19, 2013 — Leave a comment

Now that I’m feeling back to almost-normal, I’m beginning to socialize again. Caught up with some friends tonight, and saw their new baby, but I’ll save that story for tomorrow. Tonight, I’ll tell a quick story about my lunch with Sam.

Sam was a member of my theatre company, and was my leading lady for my last few shows. She was a great Olivia* in Twelfth Night for my final show with Limelight, and stuck with me through the difficult production of All These Will Be Worthless. And she’s recently returned from a semester study abroad in France.

Marty and Co. out for a night on the town.

Marty and Co. out for a night on the town. (Sam’s on the left with the awesome stink-face.)

Had I been living in Dublin last spring I could have shown her around when she came through for a visit, or I could have bopped over to France to see what life in Angers was like. (Side note: for as cultured as I think I am, European-travel-wise, I really don’t know my French pronunciations.) That’s one of my bigger regrets of not being able to live over there the full year: I never got to have any visitors. Plenty of people I know were in Europe last spring, and I know others had vague plans to come over and see me. Le sigh.

I hadn’t seen Sam for almost two years, and back then she was a high school kid, so there wasn’t much conversing beyond casual chit-chat in-between rehearsals and performances. But she’s a seasoned European traveler now, and deep into her studies at school, so we had a long, long conversation about our travels, the experience of living in another country, the cultural differences, and the truths and falsehoods in this New York Times article.

Whenever people ask me about my time abroad, they’re usually happy with a couple of sentences and then they’re ready to move on. And I get it. While everyone else was busy working and raising a family, I was off having adventures and learning theatre from some fairly legendary people. But they were transformative experiences, and sometimes I’m just dying to talk about them, in detail, and what they all meant. And Sam’s the same way, so it was comforting to be able to open up and really talk about it with someone. We could look each other in the eyes, after telling a story, and we understood. And the one thought that kept forcing its way to the front of our conversation was always, “When are we going back?”**

*I was lucky enough to have two wonderful actresses named Sam play Olivia in Twelfth Night; I’ll talk about the other one another day.

**I will admit, there are many days where I feel like this guy…

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Personal Matters

October 18, 2013 — Leave a comment

This week wrapped up two rather stressful events at school. One was our fundraiser, and the other was the annual “puberty” talk for the fifth graders. Both necessary evils, and both get the kids all wound up and distracted. I am very, very glad this week is done.

We actually have two puberty-themed events. The first was held earlier in the week, where representatives from the Robert Crown Health Center come and give a presentation about how life begins. Boys and girls together, and while it’s informative, its certainly a bit embarrassing for the kids as they process all this new information. We normally have this happen later in the year, but due to costs going up we scheduled it for October. Fifth grade teachers sometimes see the Robert Crown talk as a watershed moment. There’s how your kids act Before The Talk, and there’s how your kids act After The Talk.

Today was the day where the boys go in one room, and the girls go in another, and they watch a video, and they get a chance to ask questions about personal matters. And there’s no need to go into the details, as this is a student-friendly site, but we’ve all been there, and as a teacher who’s done this around a dozen times or so, I thought I had heard every question that could be asked by a fifth grade boy.

Except today.

After the video, kids could put questions into a bucket, anonymously, and then our presenter would read and answer them. Questions like, “When will my voice start changing?” “When do I start getting taller than the girls?” And so forth. But here’s a new one:

“Um, when do I start shaving my chest?”

The Manscaping Era has come to elementary school, folks.

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Now the weekend is here, and I’ve stuffed my belly full of bad frozen pizza, and I shall read for a bit before firing up the TV. I’ve just discovered seven seasons’ worth of Rick Steves’ Europe on Hulu, and that’s all I’m able to watch right now. He’s my favorite nerd ever.

On closing, I present some fresh fifth grade art, which is the second best part of my job. We’ll discuss the best part another day.

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Today was, on the whole, a good day.

We had the first proper presentations of an invention project I had my kids do in class. Not as brilliant as Joel’s weekly invention exchanges on Mystery Science Theatre 3000, but since the kids were learning about the Industrial Revolution I thought it might be a good idea to have them research proper inventions like the telegraph, rockets, and even Segways. (We learned what “ironic” meant when one presentation erroneously stated that the inventor of the Segway died by falling off of his and down a cliff. Tomorrow we get to learn what a “retraction” is.) One student built a homemade telegraph machine that actually worked. I’ll get a picture of it for later, because it’s incredible.

While I wanted the kids to learn about inventions, the project was really assigned to gauge their adeptness at technology, research skills, and public speaking. And it’s interesting to see what they know and what they don’t know. Now that tablet computers and smartphones are (increasingly) the only digital device kids use, their knowledge of how to run desktop PCs and software like Word and Power Point is really starting to decline. Which may not be a bad thing. Do I really want to train kids to just give presentations? I’m not trying to train a generation of market analysts, you know.

After the end of a long day I got to spend a couple of hours catching up with a former student from my last class. He’s a seventh grader now, and we hadn’t had an opportunity to tell stories and crack jokes in a long while. He’s a great kid, and one of those students I’ll probably keep in touch with for a long time. Now that he’s older he’s into Doctor Who and Arrested Development, so it was a mad quote-a-thon for a while. (“There are dozens of us!!! DOZENS!!!!!!!!!”) Right now he’s obsessed with the Freemason mythology that has surrounded American history for a while. This is one cool kid.

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He’s admittedly not much of an artist, so he enlisted his sister (in my class this year) to do some drawings for him.

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Before I close, I should really just embed this Invention Exchange and let others enjoy it. I’m so thankful for YouTube’s treasure trove of MST3K-related videos.

Is it wrong that I credit Joel Hodgson as one of my main influences, as far as teaching goes? That might explain my tendency to (gently) mock and (slightly) distrust most things I come across.

What do you think, sirs?

Red Shirts

October 16, 2013 — Leave a comment

This morning I had a student say to me, upon seeing me for the first time that day, “I like your shirt!”

It was just an ordinary blue button down Oxford shirt, but it was a long-sleeved shirt, see. The first I’d worn all year. Your basic Hal Gurnee outfit. Up until now it’s been nothing but the same 5 or 6 polo-style short sleeve shirts I own. Over the past year I had pared down my wardrobe, for travel purposes, and I’ve been slowly replenishing the work shirts since I got back. And so, since the year started, it’s been a simple uniform of khakis and polo shirts. I’ve had these weird skin sensitivities lately, but I recently discovered these shirts, and they’re fabulous. They’re pretty much all I wear.

Anyway. Why am I writing about shirts? Because yesterday, to coordinate with our Boosterthon Fun Run®, I wore the second of two red polo shirts I own. I wore the other one on Friday. Actually, I wear the red shirt every Friday, because it’s “spirit wear” day, and I get to wear blue jeans. Simple pleasures of life, people. So another student catches me in my wardrobe faux pas, and says, “Why are you wearing a red shirt? It’s not Friday!” I guess, according to him, I end the workweek like Tiger Woods does a golf tournament.

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Hopefully I’m less expendable than these guys.

 

The point of all this is not about shirts, or the lack of variety in my sartorial selections, but about what kids remember. I could complain that some spend more time remembering the oddball details, instead of putting proper punctuation at the end of their sentences, but that’s a losing battle. Kids remember weird stuff. (My former student Liz still busts out stuff I said in class 14 years ago like it was yesterday.) This causes many of us to develop that very cautious, rehearsed voice, where every word is chosen very slowly and deliberately. You never know what kids will remember, so sometimes its best to choose your words with caution and care.

I am not very good at this. I talk to them in a regular voice, and I try to avoid that “teacher voice” as much as possible. Our daily Boosterthon visitors to our classrooms have very rehearsed, affected voices, and I don’t think the kids like it. I think they take offense when you talk to them like you’re a textbook, or a game show host. Show them some respect, recognize them as proper individuals, and use your own voice when talking to them. That’s what I do, and I hope that’s something that they remember.

Oh, and the first time I wear a sweater, it’s gonna blow their minds!

Untitled

October 15, 2013 — 1 Comment

Today I did something I hardly ever get to do anymore: I went to a store and bought physical music. Not at an actual record store, because I don’t think those really exist. But I wanted to do something enjoyable and real, and so I wanted to buy a couple of CDs and take them home and unwrap them and look at the liner notes and place the CD into the tray and then hit play and turn the music up loud.

I made it about halfway through Paul McCartney’s new album before I fell asleep. That’s not a knock on the new songs; it’s pretty good, actually. No, I was just exhausted. All I did last night was violently toss and turn in my bed, and only had a few hours of uninterrupted sleep, if that. So I had a short nap after work, if you can even call it that. I still remember listening to the whole album, and even noted when a new song came on, but all I did was sleepily wonder, “Is that the nostalgic song he wrote about being a kid in Liverpool?”

(I love Paul, but you can’t swing a dead cat around one of his albums without coming across a song describing his early days, more often than not “with John,” because he seems to feel people will turn on him if he doesn’t constantly look back and make semi-fond recollections about life with John. But hardly ever George, which is a darn shame. George was the best.)

But now here I go waxing nostalgic about buying physical music and about how it’s all changing and nothing’s the same. Well, yes and no. I probably buy most of my music off iTunes now (legally, I might add, to any students out there who think it’s okay to just steal it off the Internet.) Due to budget reasons, I’ve spent most of the past year listening to music on Spotify. I at least pay for the premium service, but I know barely any money goes to the artists. Maybe Sir Paul doesn’t have to worry about new money coming in, but other, smaller bands do, if they want to survive. So listen up, members of The Head and the Heart: I bought your CD too.

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I felt like honoring ritual today, knowing that I won’t have much time left to enjoy it. We’ve gotta be in the final years of buying physical CDs, right? Or will they (and vinyl, and cassettes, even) trudge along, available for those who want them? The days of browsing record stores are long dead, and even places like Best Buy are down to barely anything decent. And it’s the same with bookstores, and I know I’m not saying anything original or revelatory. They’re just rituals that I enjoyed, and it’s something enjoyable from my younger days. Back when a drive from Peoria to Madison, Wisconsin, just to look for Pogues or Smiths imports was a day of fun. Now it’s all on the internet, everything you could ever want to listen to, and none of it has the meaning like something sought for long and hard, and then found. No. It’s just not the same.

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I’m tired, folks. I’m tired of having this cough for the fourth week now, tired of being unable to sleep like a real person. Tired of only wanting to stay home and surround myself with those hunted-down books and movies because I’m too worn-out and broke to do anything else. Tired of not feeling like I’m alive. Which is an awful thing to say, as too many people I know are in real fights for their lives. Too, too many people.

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The new album by The Head and the Heart is great, though.

Time to grade a Math test.

UPDATED: I’ve listened to this whole album now, and I’m a bit underwhelmed. Maybe I just need to give it a few more listens…

ANOTHER UPDATE: My copy, courtesy of Target, had three extra songs on it that Target didn’t, for only a dollar more than iTunes. Physical media!

Thundercrack

October 14, 2013 — Leave a comment

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Woke early and enjoyed a third morning of being able to read and drink coffee at my leisure. Graded papers until around noon, then decided to take a long drive. Followed Rt. 71 westward, the cool autumn air whipping around the inside of my car as I listened to Dylan’s Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid soundtrack and the first album by The Head and the Heart. Same albums I played over and over again during my various winter trips across the eastern half of the United States.

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Sun shone through the cornfields, glowing in the afternoon light. Pictures never do it justice, the way the fields look this time of year, contrasting against the blue sky and the deep green grass lining the roads. This is the Midwest at its loveliest, and I wish it could just stay this way forever. Not looking forward to the long six months of brown and grey and dead everything.


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Drove through Newark and Norway and a surprisingly vibrant-looking Ottawa. Used to drive this route all the time twenty years ago, back and forth from school to home and back again. I gas up and I hear a group of farmers chatting. Gas smell on my hands is pleasant, makes me think of the short time I did farm work myself.

Jump back in the car, now a time machine, continuing all the way to Starved Rock, last refuge of the real Fighting Illini, according to legend and a somewhat sketchy oral history. Obscure Springsteen tracks pour out of my stereo as I wind through a canopy of orange and yellow and russet. Take a short walk in the state park along the Illinois River, careful not to aggravate the various ailments plaguing me. Only thing I’m good for these days are sitting with a nose in my book, or driving in my car.

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Traffic is slow in spots as cars queue up behind a combine or a grain truck lumbering their way to the side roads. For some reason I spot no less than three abandoned cars along Rt. 71. For a moment I wonder if I’m heading towards some apocalyptic disaster, and the cars are the only remainders of those who tried to flee.

Then “Thundercrack” comes on and I forget all about the apocalypse.

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Sunday Baseball

October 13, 2013 — Leave a comment

I had to ask myself just now, “Did the Bears play today?” And then I remembered, no, they played the Giants on Thursday. Not that I would have watched the game. I try, I really do, but I just can’t get into football, and I know that makes me quite possibly an awful America-hating liberal elitist wimpy book-reading snob who hates America and who probably caused the government shutdown just because he hates America so much.

No, I don’t hate America, and I don’t hate football, but I just can’t get into it. I grew up during the heyday of Da Bears and Da Coach in the 1980s, and that was fun, but that was almost 30 years ago. I turn on the TV and it’s all bombast and commercials and all of these loud brash things that I don’t really like.

Then we had Jordan and the Bulls, and I watched a lot of those games, and for a while I could tell you the starting five players for the Fighting Illini. But that was a while ago. Derrick Rose is “healthy” and the Bull should be a real contender, so maybe I’ll give them a shot this year.

I’ve never watched a Blackhawk game in my life. Never liked hockey as a kid, ain’t gonna jump on that bandwagon now.

The sport I’ve been the most loyal to would be baseball. I played a bit of it as a kid, although I wasn’t any good. But I grew up a Cubs fan, and if you gave me a minute I could probably tell you most of the players on the ’84, ’89, and ’03 teams. That old blog I started ten years ago has as its first entries a few mentions of the infamous 2003 playoffs, when we were five outs away from the World Series, until You Know What happened. I had been flirting with becoming a fan of the Red Sox for a few years at that point, and it was around then that I more or less gave up on the Cubs. The next year the Red Sox won the World Series, and that was fun, although I can’t say I stayed a consistent fan. I’ve got the Red Sox-Tigers game on right now, but as I look up I notice that Detroit scored and I don’t even remember that happening.

Still, being a Cubs fan is part of who I am, even though I don’t really watch the games any more. Even though it marked me immediately as a Yanqui devil, I wore my Cubs hat proudly while in Dublin. Needed a bit of home while I was away. But now they’re owned by the Ricketts family, which makes me…conflicted with some of their beliefs. But being a Cubs fan fits my overall personality, if you know what I mean. That Bill Murray-esque weary-with-the-world thing, hoping that something great happens, but enough of a realist to know that it probably won’t.

So, in the end, I’m just not a sports guy, and that can make you a very lonely person in a sports-obsessed culture like ours. I can fake it for about 10 seconds, but that’s about it.

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Leaving Connolly Station, 2012.

 

Now, if anyone wants to talk about European rail travel, or the plays of Brian Friel, or thin crust vs. deep dish pizza, or how awesome The Head and the Heart is, then I’m your man.

A Saturday Evening Breeze

October 12, 2013 — 1 Comment

It rained off and on today, so I spent most of the day sleeping in, drinking coffee, and reading Holes, a novel for kids I should have probably read a long time ago, but never got around to it. The setting and premise were interesting, but I thought the ending had way too much of the ole “Everyone Gets Everything They Ever Wanted.” Maybe that’s part and parcel with kid lit, but I don’t know if I really get why it’s such a well-loved book. Maybe I just can’t read books for younger readers anymore.

The weather cleared up and so I ran out to get a few things for the house. Still rebuilding and restocking the new place, even after living here for three months. I may not have any dressers, but as of today I am the owner of a Crock-Pot. Ran into a few people I know, which happens more often now that I’m living in Oswego again.

The windows are open and there’s a nice breeze moving through the house. It’s Saturday night and the sun’s going down. Leaves are already falling off the trees, but we haven’t hit peak color here yet. Weather’s finally starting to cool off, hopefully for good. I’m just not made for the hot weather, and the fact that it’s mid-October and I was still running my air conditioner as of yesterday just makes me shake my head. Quite the toasty world we’ve got these days.

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