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Baby Doll Brawl – From Bach to Iggy Pop June 28, 2009

Posted by alwaysjan in Entertainment.
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rollerderby

“Girls, fishnets, track slapping, heart stopping ACTION!  Could there be anything more American?  Red, white and bruise!”  How’s that for a promo? That’s how I came to be standing in one very long line on a hot Saturday afternoon in East Hollywood outside The Doll Factory.  Just the night before, we’d driven to Claremont to hear my niece play Bach on cello in a picture perfect setting.  What a difference a day makes.

“We’re roller derby virgins,” the woman ahead of me announced.  She had a husband in tow and a couple of kids.  No visible tattoos.  Not at all what I’d expected.  “Me too,” I volunteered. “Do you think this means we’re going to be sacrificed to a volcano?” From the rumbling coming from inside The Doll Factory, this seemed a distinct possibility, as the DJ had the bass cranked up.
This was my friend Kelli’s (aka Kocoa Krunch) skating debut with The Baby Dolls, the up and comers in the L.A. Derby Dolls.  I’d been hearing Kelli talk about roller derby for almost a year.  At 39, she’s a little long in the tooth to be an up and comer, but she’s also got long legs that stretch to Cleveland, her hometown.  An actress (and sometimes substitute teacher), Kelli may be the only person I know who can pull off wearing silver lame hot pants.

The Doll Factory is an airy warehouse.  Instead of a mirrored disco ball, there’s a mirrored roller skate suspended over the banked track.  For $10 you get standing room only tickets and a trip to the porta-potties outside. We’d sprung for the $20 VIP tickets so we could sit on bleachers and use the VIP bathroom.  (It’s VIP because there’s only ONE toilet.)

Inside it was loud – like being  trapped inside a pinball machine.  There was a Vendor Village where you could buy everything from pizza to organic enchiladas (Hey, it’s L.A.!) and the Beer Garden where you could swill Tecate while watching the action on a big screen. During the Skate Out, when the players warm up, they really crank up the music.  But it set the mood which was fun and raucous.  And somewhere in the middle of Iggy Pop’s Lust for Life, my stuffed up ear from my summer cold blew out.  Suddenly, life was good  - and much LOUDER.

Roller Derby is an American sport (the only other being basketball), so we were asked to stand while Jes-sicka Rav-edge sang the national anthem (and did a bang up job).  Two periods.  Lots of action.  Kelli had a very vocal contingent and her husband, Kap’n Krunch, got a shout out.  She spent some time in the penalty box, but since I’m a newbie, I figured that was because she looked too good in those hot pants.  But I have lots to learn. Kelli’s team, the Meteorfights, came from behind to beat the Scars and Stripes then took a victory lap around the track.

A sampling of the skater’s names:  Marina del Rage, Queen Elizadeath II, Wanda B. Onya, and May Q. Holla on the Meteorfights and Tilda Whirl, Eat-It Piaf, Got MILF?, and Helen Surly Frown on the Scars and Stripes.  Everybody has a name, including the referees (e.g. Charlie Frown), who in their black and white striped shirts, were referred to as “zebras.”  The official photographer wore a shirt emblazened with “Stalkerazzi.” I think the only person on the track who didn’t have a name was the EMT.  He needs to get crackin’ before the bones do.

Since everyone I know seems to have The Cold, I thought I’d put up the cure (not to be confused with The Cure).

Playground Posse June 22, 2009

Posted by alwaysjan in Teaching.
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badgetset

 

 

As a “highly qualified teacher” it’s only fitting that I’m expected to do Yard Duty for 15 minutes twice a week. (Andy Warhol had the math wrong – It’s 15 minutes of fame 2 times a week for an entire school year!) This job is just too important to be left to amateurs, although my posse includes minimum wage employees.  

This year we got to “choose” the days we wanted had to do yard duty along with the times.  I signed up to do the “before school” shift, not because I’m an early morning person, but to get it out of the way.  

I lucked out and got assigned to the climber and back basketball court. Whew!  I managed to dodge the most dreaded of all Yard Duty assignments – Supervising the restrooms. That’s where the real action is.  But assignments change each year, so I’m not counting my chickens.

When I’m on yard duty, I’m basically back on Sixth Grade Safety Patrol. Throw in a little Mall Cop and the LAPD’s “to protect and to serve” motto. You get the picture.  A lot of school districts hire people just do to Yard Duty aka Playground Supervision, but not my district.  This is not a job that just anyone can do. 

Case in point.  When my husband was in art school, he got a lunchtime job working as a Playground Aide at the local public school.  He was fired after two weeks when he kicked a kid in the butt, after the kid spit on him.  Unlike my husband, I take pride in my ability to maintain a cool demeanor when spittle is dribbling down my face.  A police officer once told me, “I couldn’t do the job that you do – not without my gun.”  That’s why us teachers get paid the big bucks.

Monday Morning.  “Hey you!”  I yell.  “It’s Monday.  First graders only on the climber!”   “But I AM in first grade,” the boy protests.  I look him over.  This kid is HUGE.  Freakishly huge.  But several other first graders assure me he is indeed in first grade.  Geez Louise.   When Tyrano-boy runs across the bridge, the entire structure shudders.  I decide to keep an eye on him.  “I’m watching you,” I say, just to let him know I’m nobody’s fool.

I spend an inordinate amount of time standing at the bottom of the slide repeating the mantra.  “We don’t go UP the slide, we go DOWN it.”  I say this so often and to the same kids, that someone suggested we just have a recorded message.  Hey, I came up with an even better idea.  You know those metal spikes that puncture your tires when you drive the wrong way? 

I also do a lot of conflict resolution which usually culminates with rock, paper, scissors or an insincere, “I’m sorry.”  Every day it’s the same kids who get in trouble.  Hmmm, I wonder.

And there’s always a small group of junkies students who huddle under the climber snarfing Flamin’ Hot Cheetos.  NPR did a great segment called Kids Love Hot Cheetos But Schools Hate Them.  We teachers know the signs.  Red encrusted lips and the insatiable need to drink water.

At my old school,  I was on Yard Duty on day when I got a report of illicit activity in the girls restroom.  I slipped into the girl’s restroom and could hear the telltale rustling of the bag in the last stall.  There I found three Latino girls standing on the toilet sharing a Family Size bag of Hot Cheetos. “You are so busted!” I said.  I like to use that line of Kevin Spacey’s from American Beauty.  In fact, I like it so much, I actually look for opportunities to use it.

Wednesday Morning. “Hey you!” I yell. “It’s Wednesday. Third graders only on the climber!”  Since I teach third grade, I can easily sort these kids out. Third graders have typically graduated from Flamin’ Hot Cheetos to cell phones.  

Personally, I don’t have a problem with kids having cell phones, as long as they keep them in their backpacks.   But kids seem to have this need to show their phone to friends.  They Show and someone Tells.  That’s when I step in. “Oh, you are so busted!” I announce, as I confiscate the phone.  What they don’t know, is that when I walk away, I can’t help but smile.  Hey, I’m nobody’s fool.

C is for Chaos June 19, 2009

Posted by alwaysjan in Politics.
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grafitti

The writing is on the wall, but can you read it?

 

 

When I got up this morning (Ahhh, first day of summer vacation) my husband was reading the newspaper.  “It seems like it’s on the verge of exploding,” he said.  I thought he was talking about my school district. Turned out he was talking about Iran.  

What a colossal mess the state of California has made.  And who’s going to pick it up? Us. The people. And teachers, of course.  We’re good at picking up messes (primarily messy parenting).  

Friday, after teachers had packed up their classrooms for summer vacation, emails arrived from our union.  The RIFs (Reduction in Force notices) keep a comin’.  Bottom line: Thirty-four MORE elementary teachers in the district are to be RIF’d.  Also included in the cuts are a smattering of English, History, and PE teachers at the high school level.  

My district isn’t huge, so that’s a lotta people.  People who have children. People who have rent and mortgages to pay.  People who are still paying off their student loans so that they could become a teacher.  An updated seniority list is to be released next Wednesday, so everyone’s on edge.  It reminds me of the classic movie Lifeboat.  Supplies are running low and everyone’s looking to see who’s going to be thrown overboard next. (What’s that scent you’re wearing?  “Chum?”)  The sharks are circling.

For the record, my job is not in jeopardy, but those of many of my colleagues and friends are.  It’s not like the students are going anywhere.  If anything, we’re starting to see a slow exodus of students arriving from private school whose parents can no longer foot that bill. 

I always tell people that when it comes to school, I expect chaos, so I’m never disappointed.  That said, I’m disappointed.  In the state.   In the city. In my district.  I don’t have enough fingers to point.  

We’re not the only district in trouble.  The Los Angeles Times ran a story today about how teachers in that district have “accepted a new contract that includes no pay raise for last year, this year or next year, but will allow them to take formal contract grievances public.” According to the story, “more than 2,500 UTLA members could be laid off as of July 1.”  Ouch!

Freezing salaries opens yet another can of worms.  I start a master’s program (along with two other teachers, one who’s been RIF’d) next week. I’ve already paid $1400 for the first quarter’s tuition.  I don’t mind telling you that I’m getting my master’s for the salary bump. If salaries are frozen, where does that leave teachers like me?  

This is not a script with a happy ending  - Not for those teachers laid off, or for those left to manage herds of children come September. 

My son Taylor forwarded me the following email.  Food for thought.

In a small town in the United States, the place looks almost totally deserted. It is tough times, everybody is in debt, and everybody lives on credit.
Suddenly, a rich tourist comes to town.
He enters the town’s only hotel, lays a 100 dollar bill on the reception counter as a deposit, and goes to inspect the rooms upstairs in order to pick one.
The hotel proprietor takes the 100 dollar bill and runs to pay his debt to the butcher.
The butcher takes the 100 dollar bill, and runs to pay his debt to the pig farmer.
The pig farmer runs to pay his debt to the supplier of his feed and fuel.
The supplier of feed and fuel takes the 100 dollar bill and runs to pay his debt to the town’s prostitute that in these hard times, gave her “services” on credit.
The hooker runs to the hotel, and pays off her debt with the 100 dollar bill to the hotel proprietor to pay for the rooms that she rented when she brought her clients there.
The hotel proprietor then lays the 100 dollar bill back on the counter so that the rich tourist will not suspect anything.

At that moment, the tourist comes down after inspecting the rooms, and takes back his 100 dollar bill, saying that he did not like any of the rooms, and leaves town.
No one earned anything. However, the whole town is now without debt, and looks to the future with a lot of optimism.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how the United States Government and the State of California are doing business today.

Computer Says No June 15, 2009

Posted by alwaysjan in TV/Film.
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SORRY to say that the video has been taken down by YouTube. Looking for a replacement. Jan

My friend Bev in England introduced me to British comedienne Catherine Tate when she posted a link to one of her sketches on Youtube. (You’ll find it in comments on Seeing Red.) Tate has appeared on Little Britain and The Catherine Tate Show. Whooies know her as Dr. Who’s most recent companion, Donna Noble.

When I mentioned Catherine Tate to my English friend Lesley (who I think could do a spot on impression of Tate’s cheeky Lauren Cooper character), she told me her favorite bit from Little Britain is “Computer Says No.”   Comedian David Walliams plays Carol Beer, who provides the world’s worst customer service.  In the first season, Carol worked at a bank, then at a travel agency, and most recently at a hospital.  These sketches are so well known in the UK, that “Computer says no” has become part of the lexicon.

In each sketch, every inquiry from a customer is answered with the “computer says no,” which is followed by a cough.  There are probably a dozen variations of this on Youtube, and in each one the cough comes at a different point, which always keeps you guessing.

Lesley, who manages the local library in Framlingham, England, relayed this story.  A 95-year-old woman came into the library and asked if a book was available.  Lesley typed in the title and couldn’t help but say in her most deadpan voice, “The computer says no.”  The woman paused for a second and then said, “Aren’t you going to cough?”  Enjoy.

The Party’s Over June 13, 2009

Posted by alwaysjan in Politics, Teaching.
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donkey2

 

 

The notice was put in the teachers’ mailboxes today (Friday afternoon).  The bottom line – Due to the state of California’s severe budget crisis, the gates of Hell have been thrown open. We’d already been told that class sizes in September were going from 20 to 22.  But today we were informed that class sizes could go to 25, or as high as 31.   Oh, and that there could be layoffs of teachers as late as August 15th. There was no Happy Hour today.   The mood amongst teachers was bewildered, even somber.  

My first year of teaching was in 1997, when the state had just reduced the class size in grades K-3 to 20 to 1.  Oh, the stories the veteran teachers could tell – of teaching 35 of those wiggley, “I’ve got to go to the bathroom!” first graders.  And they were still standing (the teachers that is).  I’m afraid that 20 to 1 is all I’ve ever known.  I did a stint of student teaching in the fourth grade where the class size is typically 30+, but those kids are big and can sit in a chair (okay, most of them).  It took me three weeks just to memorize all of their names.

I’m not worried about my job.  This is my fifth year with the district, but other colleagues, who are also my friends, aren’t so lucky.  When the first round of RIFs (Reduction in Force notices) went out on March 15, teachers lower in seniority were put on notice.  In years past, this was always a formality, and they were hired back come September, when the classes filled up.  But these are strange times.

According to the local paper, 160 students at a local Christian school are leaving due to their parents’ own budget crises.  I’m pretty sure those kids will be coming to a school near me,  and it will have the word “public” in in. But, how this will sort itself out is anybody’s guess.

It didn’t help that the news came after a long day of trying to pack up the classroom while keeping the students busy engaged.  I believe I am the only teacher in history to accomplish this without showing the students a movie.   A group of boys constructed an Amazonian forest in a huge cardboard box, while another group of students was busy “stitching” on their burlap flags. Stitching is not to be confused with “sewing,”  which is a girlie pursuit.   I fashioned “needles” out of paperclips and the kids went to town and did a surprisingly good job.  Only later another teacher informed me that there were in fact real big plastic needles the kids could have used.  Oh.  I’m big at reinventing the wheel, 

I only mention this because none of these activities would be possible with 30 plus kids in the room.  Someone literally might poke their neighbor’s eye out with that paperclip due to lack of elbow room.  Come September, space in my classroom could be disappearing as rapidly as the rain forest in the Amazon.  

This gives a whole new meaning to June Gloom in Southern California.

Photo credit:  The Unruly Birthday Party  by Jan Marshall.

Seeing Red June 5, 2009

Posted by alwaysjan in Personal.
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ginger

Better dead than red. That was my mother’s take on red hair. So it was my misfortune to have been born with red hair (as was my mother’s). There are gorgeous photos of my mother in college, but alas they’re all in black and white. So, there’s not even any hard evidence that my mother ever was a redhead.

My mother always felt that her red hair made her stand out, something she was loathe to do. As a child, I watched her mix the magic solution that changed her hair to a color that can best be called basic brown.

She mixed two shades of Nice ‘n Easy hair color to get just the right color for me. I called it “House Mouse Brown.” Can hair actually look beige?

Many people assume that with my red hair and green eyes, I must be of Irish ancestry. But my ancestors were from England, Wales, Scotland, and Germany. Scotland actually has the highest proportion of redheads with 13 percent having red hair and 40 percent possessing the recessive red hair gene. Even my father had reddish sideburns that emerged in middle age and remained red long after his hair started going gray.

While my hair was strawberry blond, my younger brother’s hair was carrot red. My mother tried to talk my brother into dying his hair too, but his defiant “stage” outlasted mine.

What I didn’t know (and what my mother didn’t tell me) was that for centuries “red hair was thought to be a mark of a beastly sexual desire and moral degeneration.” Hey, that’s me to a T!  To learn more, check out Redheads: Myths, Legends, and Famous Red Hair.

In college, I let my hair revert back to its natural color. And I finally quit trying to straighten my hair. I had a virtual mushroom cloud of golden red curls and, for the first time in my life, I was okay with my hair. In fact, I actually quite liked it.

My friend Lesley in England is a gorgeous cheeky redhead, and she’s joined a Facebook group called “Ginger – It’s not a hair colour, it’s an ethnicity and a way of life.” That’s where I got the photo above. I had fun reading through the group’s invitation to “live the ginger life.” (I’m still adjusting to this “ginger” thing.  It didn’t help that they did an entire episode on South Park on “gingers.”)

I keep my hair cut shorter now. I tell my hair stylist to think of my hair as a native shrub – low maintenance. There are entire weeks where I simply run my hands through my hair and that’s that.  But now I know – better red than dead!

Out of the ash
I rise with my red hair
And eat men like air.

Sylvia Plath

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