Under the Sea for E&A, Part 2


Part Two

El Deonte flipped on his belly and went down, down, down, deep into the water, past the AFL, past the NFL, past majors and minors, 20,000 leagues under the sea. He stopped to snatch a snack from the octopus’s garden and paid a call on his friend Nessie, who was very shy and refused to let herself be seen. El Deonte took them to a pineapple under the sea where we all had a sponge bath and felt very refreshed. We met creatures and crustaceans, anemone and abalone, sharks and sashimi. We swam through tunnels and through caves, over underwater volcanoes and under overwater…well overwater nothings, because we were trying to get to the bottom of the ocean. It was a lot of fun, but HOOOEEEE, were we tired. I was just about to give up, and I think Finn was, too. He had taken to singing nothing but Louie Prima songs and counting to 100 by fives, which can be fun, but after awhile it gets really annoying.
Finally, just beneath us, we saw it, glowing gently from the light of a thousand electric eels: The ocean floor! It was beautiful!

Grasses swayed. Corals reefed. Bright, unexpected colors emerged and then blended together, swirling and changing. There were hills and valleys, an endless landscape of enchanted beauty. Finn and I were so impressed that we couldn’t speak, until finally he sighed, “Awesome,” and for the first time, I thought I understood what that word really meant.

“Well, see ya!” El Deonte did a dorsal dance and with that, he was gone. Just like that.
Finn and I looked at each other and then out over the ocean floor. It was so still, so quiet. I have to tell you, I got a bit frightened, and I felt very lonely. Finn looked like he had seen a ghost.

Slowly our eyes adjusted to this strange, new world. As we became able to focus, and grew more familiar, we began to see all kinds of marine life, camouflaged, and hiding in plain sight! Finn threw back his head, which is to say he did a backflip, as he has no real body to speak of, and took off after a catfish. I hopped on a friendly seahorse and followed. Oh the fantastic sights we saw!

We whisked over a beach where the sand was so white it looked like sugar and saw Scarlett Poyntz, superstar, catching a few rays – gamma rays, I think they were.

We saw a fish who said that if we followed him and did whatever said, he would hang out with us forever. I thought he was a sucker, and so we moved on.We saw cheerleader fish with pompoms on their noses…

There were model fish in bright designer dresses, running away from phishtographers …

There were crazy, vibrant colors and whooshes of sound and sparkle. We saw things I couldn’t name and could never have imagined.
I saw a pointy spine fish….

Albino amphibians playing leapfrog…
…and cavorting crawfish, creeping and crawling.

The bottom of the ocean was AMAZING!
But what about the oil spill? Could it cover our deep-sea paradise like a cloud of black smoke?
Would fish of the future have to mutate and evolve in strange, scary ways?Or perhaps, will fish have to find smaller, new places to live?Finn doesn’t believe any of that will ever happen. I’m going to agree with him. After all, how many talking dogfish heads do you know? He is as wise as he is strange. Still, I’ll never forget this journey. My memories will always make me laugh and wonder at the beauty and diversity of nature. Finn and I are going to take care of our earth and figure out ways to make sure that it is safe and protected. Stay tuned for our next adventure!
P.S. for E.: POOP! I think you are groovy!
P.S. for A.: Almost time for a ride around the lake! I can’t wait!

From the “Truth is Stranger” Department…

One of the problems in fiction writing is that of credibility. Up to a certain point, a reader will willingly suspend reason and cheerfully allow himself to be manipulated by the author (I would actually pay extra for a little manipulation from an author! I like those intellectual types! ) After this point, however, if the story is simply too implausible or outrageous, trust between writer and reader is broken, and the reader resents the writer for wasting his time and being deceptive, or worse still, incompetent.

So, the problem is, how far can one go without losing the audience? How much are people willing to believe? At what point does the reader just throw the book off the bed and hiss, “OK, now you are just pissing me off!”?
For example, I am writing a story about a fictitious urban school district in a modern American town. Like all school district, this one professed to be “all about the kids”, and so, in order to better itself and its schools, this district- let’s call it BSISD – hired a very expensive consulting firm to measure the morale of the schools it ran, on the grounds that happy workers are productive workers who will churn out a quality product, which in this case is a well-educated, college-ready kid. The consultants generated charts and graphs in four colors and powerpoints with background music and short, humorous film clips that were both entertaining and enlightening. They developed questionnaires and methods for scrutinizing the validity of both the questions and the answers of the surveys, and then created MORE charts, graphs and powerpoints, using more colors, music and film clips to showcase the data that was collected. This took approximately three years, and then the consultants set about analyzing the data using a variety of criteria and comparisons that would determine if the Operational Health of the organization – the school- was healthy or not. This cost billions of dollars, but BSISD had long ago decided that expensive consultants were the best kind, and that the more they charged, the better the results proved to be.
Five years later, the firm had enough data and colored charts to create an Operational Health Index (OHI), in which a deliriously happy school would score 100 points. The BSISD was so concerned with getting data for the OHI to find out if the teachers and students in the schools were content, that the administration of the district had long ago stopped accepting complaints from the teachers and the students who voiced discontent for any reason. The theory was that they would get the chance to express their opinions on the well-researched questionnaires, which would then be dissected and analyzed be well-paid professional consultants. Then and only then could the results be disseminated and understood.
All of that was just background to the story. Exposition, if you will. Are ya still with me? It gets better…
CHAPTER ONE: Once upon a time there was a little elementary school in a large , urban school district called the BSISD. At one time there had been a happy faculty there, who lovingly taught adorable little kids how to color, count with beans, settle down for story time, tie their shoes, play the triangle or cowbells, and take naps. They sang lots of songs and performed plays about Thanksgiving, and they celebrated each others birthdays and Valentines. Some of the classes had a bird or a hamster or a goldfish, and everybody learned about responsibility by taking turns feeding the pets and cleaning their cages. The pets were usually named “Sunny” or “Fuzzy” or “Mr. Wiggles.” For the children, it was a great place to start their education, and every day, they skipped eagerly, hand in hand to the classrooms with their tiny chairs and cubby holes. When they graduated from the third grade, they knew how to read, write, add, subtract, multiply and divide, color inside the lines, the Pledge of Allegiance, that the policeman was their friend, and that even though Charlotte died, she had lived a good life and would never be forgotten.
However, times had changed.
OK, so Chapter One seems pretty likely. Nothing impossible here. I like the idea of a fish named Fuzzy.
CHAPTER TWO: The little elementary school was no longer a happy place. Someone had decided that the kids should all be the same, with all the same skills, talents and goals, and so programs had been cut in order to make way for classes that molded and restructured them. No more recess or nap time. No more arts and crafts; only worksheets, and only coloring INSIDE of the lines. Mr. Wiggles died and was never replaced. Students were instructed to walk only on the right side of the halls, no talking, hands to themselves. They wore little uniforms, and had a prescribed amount of homework every night. Some of the reading classes were taught from a script that the BSISD issued to the teachers every month. The script had segments for group snapping and clapping, and students and teachers were judged on their timing and adherence to the instructions on the page. There was no music. Parties were strictly forbidden, due to a lack of educational value, and plays took way too much time.
If a child wouldn’t fit into the mold, more rigid molds were created, as experts decided that all kids could be the same, if only they were motivated properly. Blind kids can learn to squint, and a good teacher never gave up on a child’s ability to master what had once seemed impossible. It was up to the teachers to motivate the children properly. This was stressful, as some students still insisted on being themselves. Teachers received training, and then more training. The training was always the same. It started off like this: “You are here because you are a bad teacher. Regardless of your years of experience or personal victories, you have always been a bad teacher. You must change. If you don’t change, you will be fired. You will become acceptable by copying data from computer screens onto spreadsheets, folders and stickers. Now let’s make some foldable graphic organizers to illustrate what we’ve learned.”
The teachers were sad, too. Many were scared, for themselves, yes, but also for their students, who they loved.
Chapter Two is getting a little out there. We live in a free society, and this is downright Orwellian. Nobody would believe that all kids are the same! That’s just stupid. That part about the teacher training is preposterous, too. What the hell is foldable?
Should I even go on? I know how this story ends up. Have I lost you already? Too ridiculous? Let me know if you are interested in Chapter Three, though I think I already know what your response will be – nobody really cares about the public schools, especially when the story is long, complex, unbelievable and depressing.

Three Things You May Not Know About Me: #s 2 & 3

Hi-dee-ho! I have received several comments from busy readers who say that my posts are too long to read. Normally I’d advise them to piss off and learn how to take time to observe greatness, but as it is the last day of the new year, I decided to post two more tiny tidbits about me in a second entry, to make it a little more bite-sized for you of the internet generation who have the attention span of a gnat. As the sign said over my grandparents’ toilet, “I aim to please.” Of course, that was followed by, “You aim too, please!” Ah, punctuation! You slay me! Anyhoo, without further a doo-doo -I couldn’t help it, since I had already started with the toilet humor- here are two more things about me:

#2: Knot Hot – Yesterday, all day, I wore I neckerchief tied in a fetching knot because I thought it looked jaunty. In the evening, to look a bit more festive, I wore it in a band around my head. This tells me I am officially too old for hip things, like my aforementioned kicks (see previous post for more than you ever wanted to know about my kicks.) Modern cool kids don’t even know what a neckerchief is, never mind the joy of a jaunty, fetching or even rakish accessory. I am only cool if you have a fetish for Braniff stewardesses circa 1962 or for Daphne from Scooby Doo.

Actually, Daphne’s still pretty hot.

#3 – Cheese, Glorious Cheese! There are few things more satisfying on a cold winter’s day than cheese and cheese -based products. Cheese is the little black dress of food; it can be dressed up or down, depending on the occasion. It goes smoothly from: “Wine and cheese, monsieur? Can I interest you in an amuse bouche of baked brie and pear?”; to: “Hey, Loritia! Don’t be hoggin’ all the nacho cheese with yer finger! I gots to have some left fer my chip!” or, “Fire Hot Cheetos rocks my world, yo!” Cheese comes out of a cow, sheep, goat, soybean or a can. It’s ubiquitous. It represents nations (Swiss or American); home (cottage cheese); love (nothin’ speaks of a mother’s love like home made mac & cheese), and a beautiful melange of the elements (tuna = sea, melt=land and sun, the way I inhale a tuna melt= air.) Cheesecake, Cheezey Poofs, Cheese burger, Queso, Fromage, cream cheese, Cheese logs, Broccoli Cheese soup, Stuffed Jalapenos, Fried Cheese, Blue Cheese, the stinkier the better, cheese, cheese, are you ready for your close-up , I say cheese, I LOVE YOU CHEESE!

That was the third thing about me. I really like cheese.

Here is a picture I took of cheese in France. It has gray fur on it and oozes a beige, pus-like substance. I still ate it. That’s how much I like cheese.

Like I Always Say, or “Whatchu talkin’ bout, Willis?”

School is in session. In the words of countless 6th graders across our great nation, “School sucks.” Be that as it may, I was pleasantly surprised this week when one of my favorite students, Cristal, used a C.S. Lewis quote in her introductory writing sample: “It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad.” What a great quote! Lewis also said, “Eros will have naked bodies; Friendship naked personalities.” Classic. Also kind of hot, in a 6th grade kind of way.

Personally, I love a good quote. I like what they say about the person who speaks them, how they effect and are interpreted by the listener, truths they tell, and lies they spread. Andy Warhol said, “Art is what you can get away with.” Carl Jung stated, “What we do not make conscious emerges later as fate.”

Music inspires many good sayings. Huxley said, “After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music,” while George Bernard Shaw observed that “Hell is full of musical amateurs.” Elvis Presley said, “I don’t know anything about music. In my line, you don’t have to.” My friend Reed defined his own work as ” just another 3-chord, hate-filled song.” This band of truly skanky girls I saw -I think their name was “Screamin’ Lez”-opened their set with, “This song goes out to your asshole!” They went into their ballad, ‘Sadness and Sorrow’, which had the haunting refrain of “Eat my crusty heart.” They had me at ‘asshole’. My friend Pat said, “I’ve thought about this for years, and the best name for a band I can come up with is ‘Awesome Boner’. First impressions are key.” Paul McCartney, famed lyricist, had a huge hit with these words: “Someone’s knocking at the door. Somebody’s ringing the bell. Do me a favor – open the door. Let him in.” Truer words were never spoken.

Sometimes I don’t understand quotes, but I like them anyway. Regina Spekter warns, “Beware of the weak; they’ll inherit your legs.” Dorothy Parker, a woman I usually find to be utterly sensible, wrote, “While there are hands above the table, there’s hope.” Hope of what? I can only speculate. My four year old niece says that “women are ladybugs; boys are fungus.” She may have a point there. My mom once gleefully proclaimed, “I was an oyster and the world was mine!” Bravo, Mom! You are the Alexander the Great of oysters, no doubt! I wrote down this quote by my friend Scheleen: “My mind’s all full of hog; I can’t think!” Swine Flu? Mad Pig Disease? It probably made sense at the time, but even if it didn’t, I like to use it in casual conversation whenever I can.

Actually, I have made a couple of other people’s quotes my own, but they are mostly nasty. Queens of the Stone Age sum up a feeling I know all to well when they say, “Ain’t no glory this side of the hole.” A friend of mine told me a story about something David Lee Roth said at a gig before launching into a famous Van Halen cover song, “Ice Cream Man.” I forget the quote exactly (that happens a lot), but it goes a little something like this: “There are only two flavors of ice cream: vanilla, and dick!” (That’s pretty funny, but now that I write it down, I think I may have gotten this one mostly wrong. Whatev! Who reads this much of the post anyway?) This leads me to my next favorite quote that I have stolen. In the tv show ‘Weeds’, Kevin Nealon’s character is upset because he is faced with doing some serious jail time. Worried, he begins to think out loud. “I can’t got jail,” he moans. “There’s no sushi in jail – unless you count dick!” Maybe I just like to say the word ‘dick’.

The only quote I use that I actually made up myself is: “Life may not be long, but it sure can be wide.” I think it’s real deep.

Anyhoo, here’s the third Writer’s Challenge: SEND IN YOUR QUOTES! They can be famous or infamous, yours or someone else’s, inspirational, profound, enigmatic or ridiculous. If you don’t send some in, I’ll write more. I got a million of ’em.

BONUS: Check out the “Blog of “Unnecessary” Quotation Marks, which is where I got the picture at the top of this post, and then used “by permission”. http://www.unnecessaryquotes.com/

Things I learned, saw & heard at school

I work at an inner-city high school in a sprawling, mismanaged district. We perform poorly on standardized tests, are under-funded, and are plagued by all the problems you see on the news: gangs, drugs, apathy, hopelessness, teenage pregnancy, abuse, neglect, etc. Nevertheless, I am always amazed by the myriad things I learn there on a daily basis. Sometimes I’m shocked, sometimes touched (though I have learned that it is absolutely always wrong to touch back!), sometimes moved to tears, and sometimes enlightened, but mostly, school cracks me up. Here are some things I learned, saw, or heard this week:
1. Our school district, which sucks, has enrolled in a program called “We Achieve” that is designed, in the words of the district, “to enable us to become the best urban school district in the nation by 2010.” This goal is, of course, preposterous. I get the “dare to dream” concept, but really, if you knew our district’s track record, you would know that sometimes it is beneficial to deal in the realm of reality and truth, on account of wishing doesn’t always make it so. Just to illustrate, let me point out one of our school’s objectives versus the reality of the situation: While this year, only 1% of our students who took the SAT or ACT scored high enough to be considered “College Ready”, our goal for next year is 60%. Clap your hands if you believe, children! Anyhoo, imagine my surprise and pleasure when looking up at our school marquee, looming grandly above a busily traveled downtown street and visible from the highway, proudly announcing in big, capital letters: “WE ACHEIVE CUMMUNITY!” I felt blissfully satisfied and had an odd desire to light a cigarette, scratch myself, and take a nap.

2. Your neck is half the diameter of your waist. Therefore, if you are at the mall and you want a new pair of Dickies but don’t want to try them on, don’t unbutton the pants, but put them over your head, around your neck. If they fit comfortably around your neck, they’ll fit comfortably around your waist. I don’t know…

3. We have been studying the Holocaust in class. I learned a lot from my students’ research projects, but here are some things that stuck out in my mind: Zyklon B, the cyanide based poison that was used to gas six million Jews, was invented by a Jewish man named Fritz Haber, who was a Nobel Prize winner. Ironic, huh? The kid also told us that cyanide occurs naturally in cassava, lima beans, soy, spinach and tapioca pudding, but we probably won’t be eating enough of these things to cause death. Quite the relief, non? He said the primary way earthlings (his word, not mine) ingest cyanide is by smoking cigarettes, and that he heard on the news that in the 70’s a man put cyanide into Tylenol and that it only took five grains to kill a person.

Mental note to self: watch this kid, and don’t take any of his drugs or creamy desserts, even if he gives them as Valentine’s Day presents. Fun and delicious, but not worth the risk.

4. The Crips (or is it the Bloods?) have adopted the Star of David as their symbol. Weird, huh? I have always been a little suspicious of Sammy Davis, Jr., and am going to do some further research on him and his crew.

5. The word ‘mocco’ means ‘booger’ in Spanish, though I think only if it is a masculine booger. I also learned that anything you can spell with a ‘c’ is cooler if you spell it with a ‘k’, like ‘koffee’ or ‘kaka’. I learned this when someone tagged (oldsters: that means “performed an act of vandalism, specifically graffiti, in the effort to gain acknowledgement or claim territory”) the front of our school with enormous MOKO’s on the steps and on the windows of the principal’s office. Skool is kool.