Helping You Get the Most Out of Your Misery






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Tuesday, October 30, 2007


Then You Have to Kill a Cow

Part of my teaching schedule this year--which, so far, does not include forced relocation to the Land of Perpetually Delinquent Juveniles--is one period every other day of "push-in". Which sounds like it should have to do with Lamaze or something, but doesn't. Instead, it means that I'm in the room while another teacher is teaching and I kind of help kids who need extra help and do my best to keep the class quiet, usually by means of an electric cattle prod.

What it meant today was that I got to bear witness as students gave presentations on their culture. These consisted mostly of a brief, stiff listing of foods which are eaten where they (or their parents) come from, with the occasional mention of a holiday or dance move.

Except for one kid from Bangladesh.

I should mention here that I teach in a school whose population is a wonderfully diverse mix of kids whose families are from all over the place. We've got a lot of Dominicans and Puerto Ricans. We've got Jamaicans and Haitians. We've got African-Americans and Mexican-Americans and Asian-Americans. Our kids are a potpourri.

So there are two kids from Bangladesh in this sixth grade class. One is the younger brother of a girl I've got in my 8th grade class. This is my third year teaching her and she's one of my favorites. She went from knowing practically no English to writing the most sophisticated papers of all of my students. Just a really hard-working, sweet kid. And her little brother, let's call him "Banshi", is cut from the same cloth.

But Banshi wasn't the kid giving his report. It was the other kid from Bangladesh in this class. We'll call him "Rajiv".

Rajiv gets up and he's supposed to have brought in some kind of visual representation of his culture. Pictures or a flag or something. But he apparently didn't. Instead, he's got a copy of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. As he steps to the front of the room clutching Year 3 at Hogwarts, I'm wondering if there was a Bengali character in the series about whom I'd forgotten. And I'm not quite sure how it's all going to tie in.

So Rajiv starts to go into his spiel. He talks a bit about religion in Bangladesh, but he never says the word Islam. He says that some women in his and Banshi's country wear clothes that cover them up because they're not supposed to be seen. He illustrates this by showing a picture of a Dementor. He continues, informing the class that, sometimes in Bangladesh, villages are attacked by wolves. At which point he holds up a drawing of Professor Lupin in werewolf mode. Then he sat down.

Now, this would have been enough to make my day. But he didn't stop there. A little while later, after a few other students had presented, he realized that he'd forgotten something. So he got back up and talked about Eid ul Fitr, the Muslim holiday that marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan.

He's sharing his version of it, and he's saying, "So for a whole month, you're not allowed to eat. Even if you get sick or anything, you can't eat. And then on Eid, you have to go see everyone you know. Like I'd go see Banshi. And you give presents." A kid calls out, "So wait. For a month, you can't eat? At all? You can't eat anything?" Rajiv soberly shakes his head. "If you eat, you go to hell."

Banshi, at this point, is rolling his eyes and looking like he'd really appreciate if Rajiv would stop fucking lumping the two of them together.

The other teacher eventually draws from Rajiv the clarification that you don't actually have to go a whole thirty days without food, but that you're fasting from sunrise to sunset. Then Rajiv sits down.

Until about four minutes later, when he realizes he forgot to mention one more thing. "Oh, yeah! So there's another holiday called Eid ul-Adha. And on Eid, you have to kill a cow. You have to cut its head off. It's messy and blood gets all over the floor, but you have to do it or you go to hell. And one time, this guy didn't didn't cut the head off right and the cow ran around like crazy and killed the guy. You have to take the skin off the cow and chop it up. And then, like, my family would bring chopped up cow to Banshi's house and we'd eat cow."

Banshi is burying his head in his hands and wishing he was from Sweden.

The kids, of course, are fascinated by the mandatory cow killing. They want to know what happens if you can't get a cow in the Bronx. Do you have to go to Bangladesh and get a cow and bring it back? Rajiv dodges this one a bit and just reiterates that the cow killing is required to avoid going to hell.

And at this point, it struck me that most religions sound equally ridiculous, whether they're explained by a professor with a doctorate in theology or an eleven year old kid who thinks Dementors wear burkas. Thank Xenu my Scientologist beliefs make more sense.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007


Good TV Gone Bad

I've got a new theory. It goes a little something like this: there's a finite amount of good television in the universe. All of the programs in existence are sharing the same amount of goodness. So, if a show gets much better in the second season (like, say, season 2 of the American version of The Office) another show starts to be just a little bit lamer (for example, My Name Is Earl.) In other words, television goodness can neither be created nor destroyed, it can only be redistributed.

I came up with this notion three weeks into the current television season, when I realized that, while I was getting totally caught up in Journeyman, I was having to force myself to watch Heroes.

This baffled me. Last year, Heroes was my absolute favorite show. Yes, I'm enough of a geek to realize that the vast majority of their storylines were ripped off from classic comic book arcs of the past, but I still enjoyed the living hell out of it. Now, though...blerg.

Parkman and Dr. Suresh have become a gay couple and adopted the moppet whose power is Superbad Acting? Hiro is starring in a road company show that combines the worst elements of Shogun and My Favorite Year? Peter lost his memory, moved to Ireland and took up with a gang of thieves so pathetic they induct a naked American dude into their club after knowing him twenty minutes? Don't even get me started on the uber-repetitive X-File Wonder Twins or Micah's even lamer cousin who can magically slice tomatoes.

This show has suffered a more precipitous decline than Lindsay Lohan's career. If it doesn't stop sucking so much ass in a hurry, I hope to god an NBC exec has the balls for a mercy killing.
Meanwhile, all the television goodness that used to reside in Heroes seems to have drifted an hour later. Journeyman--while sporting a premise at least as old as the Meeno Peluce/Jon-Erik Hexum one season wonder Voyagers (which I, sadly, didn't have to look up)--is actually kind of interesting. Oh, it's far from perfect. But I love it, if for nothing else, for the simple fact that it looks on the ability to randomly travel through time as a giant pain in the ass which threatens to tear one's life apart instead of as a great gift from Baby Jesus. Additionally, it stars the dude from the late, lamented HBO series Rome. So it's got that going for it. Which is nice.

To sum up, then: Heroes bad; Journeyman good. The balance of television goodness has been maintained.


Ax Me No Questions

I hate the local news. I hate the local news in a box. I hate the local news with a fox. I hate it here and there, I hate it everywhere. Except that, every once in awhile, you get that kind of news story that, while the polar opposite of the insightful analysis you might find on, say, The News Hour with Jim Lehrer, is nonetheless quite compelling. Stories like this.

For those linkophobes among us, I'll summarize thusly: a petite Long Island convenience store clerk fought off an armed robber by swinging at him repeatedly with a huge fucking axe.

There are just so many different ways to look at a story like this. First off, I guess, y'know, good for her. I guess I'd be proud if I nearly lopped somebody's arm off. From another perspective, though, do I really want to shop at a store when I know they keep a huge fucking axe behind the counter? I don't know precisely how tightly wound these people are. What's to stop them from going Code Red with the tree-slicer when I try to pay for a pack of gum with a fifty? You've also got to feel at least a little bad for the robber, don't you? Went to all the trouble to procure a gun; chose a nice mask; next thing he knows, some tiny little Turkish girl is pulling a Paul Bunyon on him and he's the butt of all his friends' jokes.

I wish she'd had something a little cooler than an axe. Like maybe a trapdoor that opens onto a tiger pit. Or a spring-loaded boxing glove hidden in a can of peanut brittle. Even, like, a trained attack llama would be a little more likely to get my enthusiastic support than a huge fucking ax.
I'll admit, though, that ax would come in handy the next time some little sixth grade smart-ass decides to throw a paper ball.

Monday, October 22, 2007


How I Felt Last Night

Today, I've been able to put things in perspective a bit. They had a great season. They're young and they should be kicking ass again next year. And I still wish to hell they'd change their fucking name/mascot.

Saturday, October 20, 2007


My Body Hates Me and the Feeling's Mutual

When last we left my leg, the orthopedic surgeon who saw me for all of ten minutes had diagnosed my leg pain as being a relatively mild hamstring strain and ordered some physical therapy. Turns out Dr. Brieflook may, in fact, be full of shit.

The PT who took my case at the exact same facility that my pal Deni went to some months ago gave me a far more thorough going-over than Herr Doktor and concluded that I actually have a disc bulging out from between my vertebrae and bumping up against my sciatic nerve, causing pain severe enough to make me cry out like a kid whose parent takes the Count Chocula out of his hand at the grocery store.

Hearing this from her brought a whole bunch of thoughts to my mind. The first was that it made a lot more sense than the explanation that a simple little three mile run had basically incapacitated me. The second was that my distrust of certain members of the medical field is actually somewhat well-founded. And, lastly, there was a very loud "Aw, well, shit."

A strained hamstring seemed to be a relatively simple thing to deal with. Sciatica, on the other hand, is a much bigger pain in the ass. And leg. And back. From what I gather, there's no quick way to knock Sciatica out. It's main cause is 37 years of shitty posture. I have to remind myself every ten seconds or so to stand up straight. I need a rolled-up towel propping up my lumbar area whenever I sit or I'm in agony. And I have exercises to do all throughout the day.

The exercises all involve me being on the floor, which is confusing as hell to our dog, who assumes I'd only go down there for something canine-related. So, while I'm trying to do some half-assed yoga moves, I've got Mortimer poking his nose in my crotch or, worse, dropping his saliva-laden chew toy on my legs as some sort of Welcome-to-My-Level gift. I fucking hate that chew toy.

Anyway, that's what's going on. Plain ol' sciatica and the long road to recovery and better posture. Still in pain, still can't run, still getting fatter. But at least things are going well at work. Oh, wait, they're not. Shit.

Friday, October 19, 2007


Doctor Feelokay

When my wife and I left the house this morning, I told her that I felt I'd kind of hit a nadir in my life this week. Then I confessed that I was confused as to whether the proper pronunciation of that word sounds like the failed Green Party presidential candidate for whom I voted in 2000 or if it's meant to rhyme with "gay beer". (I'm fairly sure it's the latter, but I wouldn't bet my pinkie toe on it.)

As evidence of this bottoming out, I presented my ongoing pain issues (about which I promise I'll write an update soon), my current problems at work and our infertility issues, which are heading toward a really shitty kind of three-year anniversary.

Oddly, I'm not depressed enough by any of this--or by the combination thereof--to start drinking heavily or seeking solace in Our Lord Jesus Christ. I'm not overly depressed, I'm just recognizing that I've got some craptacular things happening in my life right now.

Now, about eight-and-a-half hours later, I'm actually feeling a whole lot better. And it has to do with the reason I was with my wife at nine in the morning instead of standing in front of a roomful of kids, attempting to get them to improvise something more meaningful than a scene based on their love of the movie Saw III.

We had an appointment this morning with Reproductive Endocrinologist #3. For anyone not in the know, an R.E. is basically the doctor you go to when things ain't working out in the procreation department. They do blood tests; they do thorough scans of reproductive parts; they prescribe fertility drugs; they do in vitro and those sorts of things. We saw our first R.E. last summer.

R.E. #1 was a nice enough guy in a very fancy-looking Upper East Side office. In our initial consult, he focused a whole, whole lot on our family histories. He grilled us for, like, an hour and a half on all of our relatives dating back to roughly 1885. He seemed to know what he was talking about, even if he seemed, to me, to look like the type of guy you wouldn't be surprised to run into at a swinger's club. We didn't end up working with him long, though, as my wife was working out on Long Island at the time and needed someone closer to her job so she could keep appointments.

Which is how we found ourselves seeing R.E. #2. Also a very nice guy and, no doubt, a very effective R.E. for some patients. Not so much for us. He always seemed to have forgotten exactly who my wife was when she went in to see him. Understandable, given that he probably has a large list of patients, but not a character trait that leaves one to believe that he remembers every detail of your case and considers all of them when making his choices. Additionally, he seemed very cautious in his approach to our problems. There are some things that my wife wanted to pursue that he felt weren't guaranteed to work and, therefore, were best left alone.

Today, we had our first meeting with #3. This guy works at one of the Brand Name hospitals in town. He was on a Top Ten List my wife had read and he was recommended by a number of bloggers with problems similar to ours whose blogs my wife reads regularly.

It certainly seemed to us, on first impression, that he lives up to the hype. Personally, I was most impressed by the fact that he can write upside down. Let me say that again: This dude can write upside down! You're sitting across the desk from him, with a piece of paper in the middle, and he's writing things for you to read! It's like a fucking superpower!

It wasn't, though, solely this amazing chirographical skill that won our approval. My wife, you see, is a lawyer. Which means that she's got one of those minds that works really well. She likes to get as much information about a subject as she can and see things from every angle. Myself, I prefer the pamphlet version of things and get confused by medical words more complicated than "tummyache". R.E. #3 addressed a majority of my wife's concerns without her having to bring them up. He went through a list of avenues we might be considering in the near future that her previous R.E. had dismissed. Both of us left his office saying, "I like this guy" repeatedly.

So, while our apprehension about the future is far from laid to rest, I think both of us at least feel very good about the guy who's going to be helping us navigate our way through this maze that is infertility. And I'm feeling a bit further away from the bottom of the life-pit.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007


Where Have You Gone, Snidely Whiplash?

Sometimes, when two people love each other very much, they're forced to put up with each other's taste in television shows. Which is why my wife has to suffer through the play-offs when she completely and utterly fails to see the appeal of grown men swinging a piece of wood at a ball.

It's also why I occasionally have to spend time in the proximity of shows like The Biggest Loser. I understand, to a degree, the appeal of the show. It is, actually, nice to see people trying to take control of their lives and effect some sort of change. And seeing the end result is interesting in a vaguely freak-show sort of way.

What I cannot understand is the reason the producers deemed it necessary to have one of the trainers be the "evil" trainer. Her team is the Black Team. Whenever they do a weigh-in, they cut to lots of shots of her scowling. She yells at the poor, quivering masses of flesh under her charge. She's a "hard-ass".

Are we as a people so completely fucking dense that we can't handle even a shitty reality show without a clear-cut villain? It's not enough that these people are trying to stave off inevitable heart-attacks by repeatedly waddling up hills, we also have to have some moustache-twirling trainer to hate?

To me, this is the most retardedly unnecessary villain since the "evil" tornado chasers in Twister. I'm going to just throw out the suggestion that we would be much better off as a country if we didn't feed this need for black-and-white villains. It might even keep us out of Iran.

Hey, how about a reality show where Mahmoud Ahmadinejad inspires fat people to deny the Holocaust? We could call it The Biggest Anti-Semite!


Suspension of Disbelief

Every once in awhile, when life is getting you down, the universe will throw you a day that's even shittier than the one's you've been having, just to kind of rub your face in it. Kind of the cosmos's way of saying, "There is a God, and he's a massive dick."

I've been gimping along for months now, not getting any relief from that. We're still floating miserably through our fertility problems. And then this morning, my principal says, "I need to meet with you for few minutes this morning." Which is never what you want to hear. Because you never show up at the meeting and hear the principal say something like, "I made you this cheesecake! Enjoy!"

So I was not taken aback by the absence of cheesecake when I limped into his office this morning. I took a seat while he finished his phone call. Sitting there, I ran through my year so far and I knew that I hadn't done anything that would merit a "calling on the carpet" moment, so I wasn't nervous or anything, just wishing that I could be in my office, sipping a delicious cappuccino while composing a tune on my grand piano. I have neither a grand piano nor access to espresso drinks, but let's leave that complaint for later.

The reason my principal wanted to see me is our Suspension Room. This is the purgatory to which we consign our problem kids for brief periods of time. They go there for a few days to do their work away from their classmates and to reflect on the behaviors that landed them there. My principal wants to scrap my theater program and have me run the suspension room instead.

So what this tells me right off the bat is that, to my principal, my program is sort of the appendix of the middle school. It fits in with everything else and it's okay, but everything is just fine without it. I've never labored under the illusion that he gave a teaspoon full of rat turds about what I do, and this just puts a nice shiny bow on that fact.

And he gave me all sorts of "We want you to do this because we know you can handle it" type of bullshit. Which made me want to ask him if he'd ever, in fact, seen me trying to get a line full of eighth-graders to shut the fuck up as we walk through the halls. He also told me that this would only be for the next ten week session and then some other cluster teacher would take over. See, this is a straight-up lie. I do this, I'm going to be stuck in that miserable fucking room until the end of the year. And the fact that I'd still be allowed to do a drama club for free after school just doesn't balance that out.

What, then, am I to do here? I could throw myself on this grenade and do this job so none of my colleagues has to. This would cement my reputation as a Team Player and elevate me to Really Super Guy status in the eyes of my administration. Never mind that it would make me want to down a gallon of Drano on a daily fucking basis.

On the other hand, I could politely, but firmly, decline, letting him know that I'm willing to go to the union if he forces the issue. This gets me out of prison guard duty, but earns me his eternal enmity. This is just a lame fucking situation.

I already know what my choice is, of course. On Saturday, I took the first of the two tests I'll need to become a certified theater teacher, which means I can look for a job in any high school. I did not sign up to sit in one room all day with the kids other teacher's didn't want. I deal with most of them already in the classroom and, I can tell you, fifty minutes of their company is plenty, thanks all the same. I'm sure this will go over well.

Saturday, October 13, 2007


"I'm 37. I'm Not Old." *

Who are my real friends? Who can I count on to be thinking about me on those special occasions? Who lets me know how much they care? Apparently, random websites that have snared my information.

Two birthday messages awaited me when I got online this morning. One was from a comic book message board I go on whenever I feel a little too socially normal and want to be reminded that I'm actually part of a subculture half a notch above those who are conversant in Klingon. The other was from a match-making site called OK Cupid! What better birthday present could one ask for than to get the opportunity to explain to your wife that you have not, actually, signed up for any match-making services and are perfectly content, despite the fact that you're getting birthday greetings from one.

Anyway, despite evidence to the contrary--in the form of my mentioning the occasion at all--I'm not trolling for birthday greetings here. As Patton Oswalt says, 37 is not a special birthday. It's far enough away from 40 to avoid the impending mid-life freakout and it's far enough from 30 that you've grown tired of over-the-hill jokes. It's just the right age to start kind of ignoring your birthdays. If only those goddamn match-making sites would let you.

*Bonus points to the first person geeky enough to recognize the quote.

Saturday, October 06, 2007


Who Do the Voodoo?

I confess. It was me. I was nervous last night as the game dragged on and the Indians just didn't seem like they were capable of scoring on the Yankees. I couldn't bear to see them lose at home. I couldn't stand to listen to the dipshit announcers on TBS who'd seemed so sure from the first inning that the night would belong to New York.

And so, reluctantly, I spread a plastic tarp on our floor. I concocted a mix of graveyard dirt, Jorge Posada's hair and bottle of Burning River Pale Ale. I poured this down the throat of a chicken. Then I sacrificed the chicken and asked the dark spirits to confound the Yankee's pudgy middle reliever. Which they did. And how.

You may have noticed that Fausto Carmona had just as many bugs around him as Jabba the Schmuck, but they didn't seem to affect him at all. That would be thanks to my skills at chicken-sacrificing.

Next, I'm going to see if I can use a goat-head to give George Bush a giant boil on his ass. Maybe I'll do that the next time he decides to veto health care for poor kids.

Fuck the Yankees!