Connecting Disparate Dots

As an only child, when I was sick or we were on a trip, my family always loaded me up with the latest and greatestdottodot CTDcaptainkangaroo in interactive toys of the time: puzzle books.

Yeah, that was my time – 1960’s, B.T. (Before technology.)

The books I favored the most featured a lot of word searches and brain teasers and word puzzles usually a couple of grade-levels above my chronology. I enjoyed them all, but even though they were the easiest pages in the book, I always had a thing for connect-the-dot pictures. Most of the time you could figure out what the picture was before you placed pencil-on-paper going from black-spot to black-spot to black-spot on easily torn newsprint, but oftentimes I was surprised at what the resulting picture really turned out to be, in detail. Especially while cruising some highway in the backseat of my parent’s Oldsmobile station wagon with my grandpa sitting next to me, this was not always the cut-and-dried, simple activity it may have appeared on the gas station magazine rack.

A new school year is beginning, and I’ve been thinking a lot lately about connecting the dots of my life; how I ended up an English teacher in an inner-city, high school classroom. It is not a linear, algebraic equation.

I am a teacher in what has been, historically, one of the poorest performing cities (new Orleans) in one of the lowest-performing states (by most educational measures) in the country, Louisiana. My wife and I came here nine years ago as part of an influx of educational reform and general societal and infrastructure rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina had devastated the area – though the problems in education here predated the storm by decades. I have seen some notable improvements in our years here; I have also encountered a huge number of folks who came here for many of the same reasons.

microphoneThough to date, I am the only classroom teacher who began their professional life as a radio announcer.

Start with that dot.

I joined a one-year program at Brown Institute of Broadcasting in Minneapolis, immediately following my high school graduation from Denver (Colorado) South High School.  There are lots of dots I can connect leading to the front of a New Orleans classroom. To be sure, the picture turns out more Salvador Dali than Norman Rockwell – to the naked eye, sans connecting lines, the picture dots would not come into focus at all.

I may need to sharpen an extra pencil.

I am about to begin my tenth year as a teacher- time to take stock. Also, with one son having finished his senior year of high school, and my elder son entering his senior year of college, getting from point ‘A’ to point ‘B’ and beyond has become a conversational focal point around here; it has also sparked some discussion as to how we even got to this stage in life as a family.

Eyebrows frequently become cocked and locked.

Objectively, I get that.  Analytically, maybe I can provide some inspiration to others also choosing a less-than-traditional path. In my days as an employment counselor, I was adept at helping people identify their ‘transferable skills’ – things they knew how to do, and could perform in other environments,

This a Readers Digest shot, working backward from now to then. Starting at the end was much the same approach I used so many years ago with those puzzle books in the backseat of the family Oldsmobile, so why not?

I first came to Louisiana in 2006 as a corporate trainer, helping the company I worked for in Minnesota get their Louisiana operations back on track following Katrina’s onslaught in August of 2005. I enjoyed training folks and helping them succeed, traveling all over the state – a unique experience.  My wife and I had long discussed getting out of the corporate rat race and doing something more meaningful with our lives, so when sitting in an IHOP Restaurant in Alexandria, Louisiana one night, reading a newspaper article about the TeachNOLA program recruiting folks to come to New Orleans to help rebuild the city’s long-distressed school system, it was a sign that my wife and I both took seriously.

We both applied, and were accepted for the 2008 TeachNOLA cohort.

I was dramatically changing everything:  locales, to be sure, and going from training adults to teaching inner-city teenagers. Logical, to a point, but I had become a corporate trainer only after I was laid off from my position as a job search trainer and employment counselor for the state of Minnesota – who had hired me away from my position as a county financial-aid (AFDC, food stamps, medical assistance) case worker and job coach in Minneapolis – all of which gave me great insight in dealing with my new students and, just as importantly, their parents.  (Dot, dot, dot.)

thanksamillionI had come to the county job after having spent a very rewarding year working for a millionaire philanthropist/newspaper columnist named Percy Ross – who gave away money to folks in need via the column.  A logical stretch from that job to case management, when you think about it: I was still helping people in need. (More dots linked.)

Mr. Ross had hired me after the children’s radio network I had been working for as an assistant business manager went out of business.  That had come at the end of a ten-year run in the hotel business, which I had grown weary of only due to the twenty-four/seven nature of the beast…which was why I had originally phased out of the radio biz. But that’s another story.

My last hotel gig was at a four-star hotel in St. Paul where I assisted the night manager. One night, a situation required me to remove an intoxicated gentleman from our crowded lobby. As a rather exclusive property, our management wanted such things handled unobtrusively. Jeff, our restaurant manager, was so impressed with my subtlety and tact in getting the drunk guy out without notice, he wrote it in his nightly report. That prompted the hotel general CTD5manager to instruct my boss the night manager to have me train new security personnel in how to handle delicate situations without confrontation. (Direct-line-dot-dot-dot to the corporate trainer gig.)

My skills at low-key, tactful, drunk-removal-with-dignity, I had picked up from Dennis, our night manager at a Holiday Inn I worked at previously. Dennis liked the way I handled people, and had also witnessed me training newcomers to the hotel. I remain grateful for his tutelage.

These big dots are directly connected to eventually training new security folks in St. Paul, but what I learned from Dennis also helped me greatly in working with the county and then the state.

I had begun my hotel career after ending (so I thought) my professional radio work, moving back to Minneapolis and deciding to go to college for the first time at the age of thirty. Three years at the University of Minnesota didn’t result in a degree, but by the end of my freshman year, I had been hired as a teaching assistant, thanks to one of my professors, Dr. Yahnke. Via that gig, I also did some work as a tutor in the computer lab of the U of M’s General College. You can draw a direct line (with heavy lead) from those dots directly to today. Bob deserves as much credit for where I am as Dennis.

My first stint as a college student came on the heels of a dozen years of bouncing around small-market radio – not often a financially lucrative endeavor. That was why I became quite adept at supplementing my income corelationdotswith side jobs. Through the years, I moved pianos, and did construction. I had stints as a convenience store clerk, racetrack security guard, and census taker, to name a few.

Before getting into the hotel biz, I was a data courier – daily picking up and dropping off huge reels of computer tape for transcription and storage – for a company that, when I applied, asked if I had ever had a security clearance. As I had been working in radio in Iowa during the presidential primary season of 1980, I had gotten Secret Service clearance, which turned out to be an important dot to the data folks, as they had contracts with big name defense contractors and other security-minded firms. I not only got the

I not only got the job, but the higher paying, preferred, high-security routes. Dot, dot, dot…

This came in handy during my hotel days in St. Paul, where we hosted a number of V.I.Ps – which sometimes required staff to get security clearance.  Mine aways came through first, as I was already on file, which again got me preferred shifts and duty assignments at the hotel.

Again, not a linear progression, but a solid gathering of a wide range of transferrable skills, all leading me here.

Each of those dots that I have touched on represent a number of different things; professional and personal experience, new skills, different CTDCTDperspectives, increased understanding of and empathy with folks covering a wide spectrum of socioeconomic America.

Experiences that continue to serve me well.

Which is why I feel pretty comfortable and confident in standing in front of a high school classroom of inner city New Orleans kids as their English teacher, trying to get them prepared on some level to take on the world, trying to relate to them all how what you do today has an impact on everything you do tomorrow in some way. In so many ways that are hard to convey, I tend to ‘get’ them (and their families and various situations) on levels that others may not.

Time to crank things up for one more year in the classroom.




Since we are on the topic of words and phrases (you are reading a blog) and since both words and phrases have a sneaky tendency to come up in daily life, they need more attention and nurturing than they gply69barracudablue30enerally recieve. Your vocabulary, like your car, needs regular care and maintenance to function properly and last a long time.  Change those sparks-of-brilliance plugs, make sure your cliché-carburetor has the right gas/air mixture.

I am here, locution lug wrench in hand.

Words and phrases are odd creatures; people tend to overuse certain favorites, regularly mangle and misuse others simply because that is how they learned them, and most fail to increase the workable volume of useful and more colorful words and phrases available, which makes one dull and peanutsstillnot listenable to others.

Like the adults in a Peanuts TV spectacular.

We need to be vigilant to keep our vocabularic skills fresh and interesting by adding, discarding and modifying on a regular basis; shedding tired clichés like translucent snakeskin.  Plus, vocabulary building and repair has also been proven to keep minds more nimble and pliable, creating brain space and making it easier to absorb, store and utilize new linguistic concepts.

Dude. Its true.

Each of us has multiple vocabularies; the typical American possessing roughly six different, distinct lexicons.  There are the sets of words and phrases that we use in our jobs, vocations, and places of worship to name a few; most are very distinct from each other and while there is always some basic overlap, they are  also very demographic specific.  To drive home this point, I usually ask my inner-city high school students if they speak the same way to their moms and dads as they do to their friends.

“Ohhhhhhhh, nooooooo, Mr. Lucker.”

Family dynamics often revolve around a specific, DNA-linked dialect; most families have at least a few phrases or words – some entirely fabricated – that any outsider would be totally oblivious to.  Assimilating new members into rosettastonethe brood via most any means usually requires the newcomer to have to go all solo-Rosetta-stone on their new krewe.

My family has a distinct patois, featuring one phrase that stands head and wings above the rest.

In our household, when you are in vehement agreement with what was just said, you might respond, with considerable vigor, “I hear ya’ cluckin’, Big Chicken!”

That’s a good, gets to the heart-of-the-matter phrase to start vocab restoration with. Try it. Use it liberally in daily conversation with a hearty dash of enthusiasm – you’ll be surprised at how quickly this versatile little catch-phrase catches on:

“I hear ya’ cluckin’, Big Chicken!”chicken1

It’s also used a complimentary and validating phrase, as you are actively, positively acknowledging the opinion of the person you are agreeing with – you just need to up the enthusiasm and inflection in your voice a bit – emphasis on the possessive ‘I’.

“Iiiii hear ya’ cluckin’, Big Chicken!”

Moving on to more vocabulary repair and rehab while Big Chicken stews in your mind a bit.

A native of Minnesota, I longer go apoplectic when I hear people say ‘frozen tundra’ – must be a sign of maturity on my part. While that repetitively redundant phrase still irks me, I’ve moved on to more pertinent matters.

To wit…

The drink is ‘espresso’ NOT ‘expresso.’ Expecially when people who work in the coffee shop say ‘expresso’ I want to….espress to them my disappointment in their ignorance of the artistry and verbiage of their own craft. Which leads me to another familial-frequent turn-of-phrase:

“Buuuuuut, that’s just me!”

That one we stole outright from Spongebob Squarepants.  If he sues for royalties,  based on overall usage, we’re screwed.

And then there is the word pom-pon. Teaching high school, I get the chance to use this one (correctly) fairly frequently.

This one has bugged me for years, probably because I had a severe crush on a pom-pon girl when I was in high school, and I took umbrage at people disparaging her craft and the tools of her trade with one pathetically misspoken word.

Pom-pon. Pom-PON!

Some misguided dictionary editors now apparently recognize the second ‘pom’ as a legitimate and approved option.  Sigh. Language is a living, breathing thing, I know and champion that ideal, but sometimes…well, you just gotta draw a line: pom-pom = dumb-dumb, dumdums.

I had to take a morpheme to dull that pain.

Someone in my family should now intone: “I hear ya cluckin’, Big Chicken!”

Or not.

One other word quirk that comes in (less) handy. Years ago my mother gave me a nice red, cable knit sweater for Christmas. I unwrapped it, took it out of the box, held it up in front of me, then read the label – something I hadn’t seen before and haven’t since:chicken1

‘100% Virgin Acrylic.’

Make up your own punchline.

Okay, one last time before we take the training wheels off and let you use it on your own:

“I hear ya cluckin’, Big Chicken!”


Leaps and bounds

This past year, gift wise, I got the Christmas I should have had when I was twelve: a pogo stick, and a guitar.

I am fifty-six years old.

The guitar has gotten little use as yet – I am awaiting getting a friend to get it tuned properly, and the book/CD set I ordered on ‘how to teach yourself to play the guitar’ turns out to no longer be available.

Groucho1There is, however, I similar book available via Kindle that references YouTube videos. We’ll see how THAT goes.

The pogo stick, on the other hand, has become my sticking-with-it-in-spades workout regimen.

And pogoing has turned into a real head turner in my New Orleans neighborhood.

Full disclosure: the SuperPogo 2 that my wife and son got me for Christmas is the first pogo stick I have ever owned – only the second, maybe third I have ever been one; this is NOT Citizen Lucker’s ‘Rosebud’.

I have just always wanted a pogo stick.

When I first started out, I figured it would take me a while to get the balance part down, but figured since I still ride a bike from time to time, there should be nothing vertigo-inducing – so far, so good on that count.  I also figured that since I was going to feature pogoing (pogo sticking? pogo-stick-jumping seems redundant, but I can find no grammatical consensus, so I stick with pogoing) I was going to have to work into getting my legs – specifically hamstrings, calves and knees – back into more functional order.

I never considered my thighs to be the most pogo-abused part of my anatomy.

For the most part, no issues with the legs themselves. Being a teacher, and spending all day on my feet in front of a classroom, I think is a huge plus in that area.  But the thighs – oh man. As my workouts have intensified in length POGOand rigor, the old upper legs have had to get up to speed.

On the plus side, the old gluteous has fared pretty well. Aside from one big spill on day two, and one a few weeks later, I have mostly avoided major spills. In fact, the clean, land-on-feet dismount was the first thing I mastered. Though I have yet to get anything above a 6.1 from the East German judges.

Oh, and I have discovered that pogo is great DIY-chiro: after a stressful day in class, nothing loosens up the neck, shoulders and lower back better.  Who knew?

Sitting here on the verge of February, I have stuck with this exercise regimen farther into the new year than any other attempt I can remember. In fact, I think I have developed a bit of an addiction. There are times at school where I have made note of how long it was til the end of the day, and mentally started plotting out in my head the schedule for picking my son p at school, getting home…and should I start dinner, then go pogo, or pogo and then start dinner.

I am hooked.  And getting much better – regularly stringing together sixty, and seventy pogo sequences. I can break a good sweat and get the old ticker rate up there with a solid fifteen minute workout.  Which brings me to that ‘head turning’ bit I mentioned earlier.

By the time we get home, and I get changed and get out to the street in front of my house, it is usually around four-thirty in the afternoon.  We live on a nice residential street that doesn’t see a ton of traffic – until my neighbors start arriving home from work.  There have been some rather, eh, interesting encounters to date.

One afternoon, just as I got started, our thirtyish neighbor arrived home with her daughter. They are always friendly, she waved ‘hi’ and hollered from a house away, “So – you got a new toy?”
“Always wanted one. First workout regimen I’ve stuck with this far into the new year!”
She nodded. “My father loves to pogo. My cousin got a pogo stick for Christmas and my father basically stole it from him. You can’t get him off the thing.”
“If I may ask, how old is your father?”
“Oh, I want to say…sixty six.”
“He’s got ten years on me!” Catching my breath, I added, “If I do say, your father is a great man!”
She laughed. Her kindergartenish daughter looked perplexed. They waved, went inside. I went back to work.

A week or so later, I had a rather intense, broke-a-decent-sweat, multicultural twenty minutes of neighborly encounters.

Well, fifteen or so, anyway. I must have killed five minutes chatting with…

A white guy in his late twenties, maybe thirty, named Ben who had been jogging through the neighborhood stopped by on his third lap, said “hey, man – that is cool. Is that one of those that they do backflips and stuff with?” I laughed and said, “No, I don’t think so. This is one of the stripped down, basic models.”

Admiringly he said, “It’s cool. Do you have a record set yet?”
“Yeah, eleven.”
SP2-1“Why pogo?”
“I’ve always wanted a pogo stick, so for Christmas, my wife and son sprung for one.”  You want to give it a try?”


He did, and ripped off a couple of fairly high five-pogo runs, then handed me the stick. “Nice workout plan.” We exchanged pleasantries about where I really feel the burn (the thighs more than hamstrings thing he found of interest. Fellow health nut) he said “Oh, I get that. Thanks again!” I asked him if he lived in the area and he told me that he was ‘staying with his parents, up the street’ for a while.

As Ben started to jog away, our Hispanic, twenty-something, neighbors drove up, started getting stuff out of their car. The husband says “Hey, Friday afternoon workout! Great!” and gives me a big thumbs up.

Pogotracker MON 01 18 16
Imagine if a FitBit could track pogo…

Then our mail carrier, great guy, African-American, early sixties, drives up, delivers to the house across the street, then starts walking to the next house, stops. He looks at me, peers over the top of his glasses and dryly offers my favorite pogo observation to date: “The minute I see YOU on one of those hoverboards . . . I’m HEADIN’ for the hills!”

Building middle-aged street cred, I am.

What I didn’t think about until long after y workout was young Ben returning to his parent’s house, and what the conversation might have been like:

MOM: “Hi, Ben. How was your jog?”
BEN: ‘Oh, nice. I met a new old kid down the street who let me try out his new pogo stick!”
MOM: “Oh. Well that’s, um….nice? I guess, dear….?”

Five bucks says there was some variation on that conversation at Ben’s temporary domicile.

But my favorite encounter (from afar) was just this past week. I have gotten pretty consistent, and have also begun IMG_20151229_222000actually pogoing in the direction I wish to go, instead of just random hopping around. This past week, I was out on the stick, pogoing toward the end of our block. The cross street, Filmore Avenue, is fairly busy, and also has a lot of pedestrian traffic. As I am boing-boing-boinging up the block, I catch a glimpse of a boy, seven, maybe eight, from a local elementary school (recognized the uniform) with a backpack that was at least the size of his diminutive torso. He was running at a fast clip, eager to get home, when he caught a glimpse of me bounding his way…

About two strides into the street, he slows, but his overloaded backpack weighs him down, forcing him into a bit of a crouch, and he slowly covers the rest of the street bent-over, looking like some demented, walking upright turtle, until he reaches the opposite curb, which he almost stumbles over. He then straightens up, keeps on walking out of my line of vision, headed for home, probably with a story to tell HIS mom.

I’m just waiting for the day when I am not out there, and someone comes to our door and asks “Can the pogo stick guy come out and play?” If that does not happen before April first, I’ll owe my wife twenty-bucks.

my dog has fleasNow that I am getting more proficient (and addicted) to my daily pogo routine, I will have to be more creative in working the guitar into the mix: MY dog HAS…has..FLEAS. Fleaaas.

This one may take a little more time.

Pogo on.

Adamantly not skeptical

‘The scientific method is a way to ask and answer scientific questions by making observations and doing experiments. The steps of the scientific method are to: Ask a Question. Do Background Research.’ –

Apollo11 modelGrowing up as a kid in the sixties and seventies, I was enamored with science – the space program and geology were youthful passions. For Christmas one year I got a subscription to a National Geographic space club of some sort. I got a monthly, TV Guide-sized magazine (and cool storage boxes to keep them organized in my bookcase) and once in a while I got to order a model of some sort to build: a lunar landing module was a favorite, though getting the legs glued on straight vexed me for quite some time. As for the geology part, I have always loved rocks, and would pick up cool ones, encouraged, to my parents later chagrin (ask my mom about the eleven case of rocks they had to dispose of when they sold our house) by my Gramps, who at least feigned the same curiosity as I in all things mineral, and encouraged me filling my pockets with favored specimens at every turn.

Science was cool when I was a kid.

While I was always inquisitive and curious and did ample scientific experimenting on my own – other Christmas and birthday gifts I treasured were my Skill Craft Chemistry set and my microscope – science was not my strong suit in school. Still, like most kids of my vintage, I soaked in every televised moon launch and landing (big, box TVs on skillcraftchemlab2rolling stands in the hallways at school for every Gemini and Apollo liftoff and splashdown, oh yeah) and just generally enjoyed exploring nature and the world around me.

Which is why I really don’t get all the folks who, vocally and publicly, shun scientific ideas like global warming and the dangers of fracking, to name two. Did these folks never get introduced to the scientific theory in school? I did and I can put it into very easy-to-understand concepts why these things don’t strike me as odd but opposition to them does.

Global warming doesn’t seem logical to you? Think on these examples for a few minutes:

So the world has been humming around for millions of years (even if you are among those of a faith-based belief that the world is just a few thousand years old, same rules will apply here) and just going about its planet thing without much in the way of human screwing around to foul it up. At least until the industrial revolution gets rolling, then we Minneapaolis 1906start digging up, pumping up and burning up more and more stuff from the earth that cities start getting bigger, and most get soot covered and grimy because of the stuff we dig, pump and burn. Pretty basic cause-and-effect stuff here, hard to deny any of that – there is plenty of historical and literary record.

So why then is the idea that after millions/thousands/a-whole-big-bunch-of-years of pristine air and water being fouled by a few hundred years of spewed gunk seem so illogical to so many?

Ahh, here is where the scientific method comes through as always! Don’t believe in global warming? Let’s gather our materials, kids! You’ll need a working stove, a frying pan, and a pound of bacon. Ready to experiment?

Here we go!

First, unwrap your bacon, put it in the frying pan. Put the frying pan on the stove, get the burner going and cook the bacon. Then keep cooking the bacon. More. Keep cooking the bacon until it can’t be cooked anymore or until your baconsmoke alarm goes off. Then keep cooking the bacon.

The soot stains and smell of burned bacon will have permeated your ceiling, and will likely remain until you repaint it. Now, multiply the same basic scenario about 986 billion times and tell me that the concept of global warming is far-fetched.

And before you even go there, don’t be the idiot who shares this post and proclaims me the idiot who blames global warming on over-cooked bacon. And for the record, I’m not big on the cow flatulence theory, but have no real desire to put that to the test.

I could also give you the details about cleaning the tar off the walls of the apartment my two-pack-a-day, widowed grandfather occupied for twenty years, but that’s probably better saved for a post on why I will never be a smoker.

Now about that fracking stuff being just hunky-dory. Kids, don’t try these at home.

People who think that there is no harm in displacing millions/billions of tons of rock by means of hydraulic pressure strike me as really naïve or else they have always lived in places with level, even sidewalks. Like in Steppford, or something.

The house I rented when I first moved to New Orleans was nice, but when they started to demolish the house next fracking4 fracking2door, cracks started to appear in the foundation. They did street work out front and the cracks got bigger. A friend of mine in Minneapolis had the city repairing multiple foundations in his neighborhood after a year’s worth of street work created small cracks in foundations and walls that then became bigger cracks and structural concerns.

My mom’s stepmother’s house was on a primarily residential street that got a fair amount of truck and bus traffic; every time a truck or bus rumbled down the block, the stuff in her china cabinet would rattle like crazy. Eventually, her house got cracks in the front steps and foundation. I can cite numerous other, similar incidents.

Full disclosure, here: I am a Christian, a man of faith, but also a logical thinking guy who doesn’t see things in terms of pure black-and-white. I know that a lot of people of varying faiths don’t believe in global warming, or the dangers of fracking, or a lot of other things that have a lot of evidence behind them; I also know of a lot of others see that these things do happen, but who say it doesn’t matter, because G-d gave humans dominion over the earth, so anything Copernicusgoes. This goes directly against the concept of stewardship (a biblical term that refers to a manager who is responsible for the goods and property of another) my readings and understanding of scripture put me solidly in the stewardship camp.

Just one note for the we-can-do-whatever-because-God-made-us-the-top-of-the-food-chain folks: ‘dominion’ is mentioned juts six times in the Bible, while stewardship is referenced over sixty.

Though this is one idea I can’t back up with scientific theory, I am quite certain that G-d meant of us to take care of the world – not obliterate it for selfish means.

Guess you could say I’m kind of a frying-pan-Copernicus.

A Teachers Summer on the Road; Episode 2

Random (like the weather) thoughts.

spirographoriginal tattooTattoos are all the rage.  Personally, I have never had the urge to get one, and the more I work with inner city high school kids and with twenty-somethings adorned with them…

I really don’t care for the idea of somebody using my body as a Spirograph.

Walk into a tattoo parlor and ask the artist this: “What is the most common question you get about tattoos from new customers?”  Their response?  Almost universally, it is “What’s your most popular design?”

Ahh, America. You, you…you rugged individualists, you.

I have been spending the summer off from my New Orleans classroom in my hometown Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, and have been doing a lot of temp work. It has been a few years since I have been consistently among a modern, corporate environment, and while it is enjoyable, I am ready to be back at work in a classroom setting.  Much has changed, much is very different in the decade or so since I prowled the Skyways, hallways and streets of an urban downtown as a worker bee.

filecabinetTechnology is the biggest change – no real shock there.  One thing it took me a few days to realize at the downtown Minneapolis firm I spent a week at as a temp is that file cabinets have gone the way of the De Soto.  It was my third or fourth day at this firm and I was walking from floor-to-floor of nice apportioned office space-slash-cubical farms when I realized that there was not a file cabinet to be found.

Not one. At least, not that was visible.

I discovered that each cube had one…in the small closet on the outer edge of the cube. Are those paltry two-drawers even used? Oh yeah. For storing lunch bags and purses.  And walking shoes for use during lunch breaks. And snacks, teabags, umbrellas, baseballs and Kuerig Coffee pods.  Papers?  Files? Anything officially work related? Not so much.

When I return to my classroom next month, I will look upon my old file cabinets with a new perspective.

Not that I am some sort of Luddite. On the contrary, one of the oddest thing about temping in an office is this summer is that my business casual attire of khakis, button down shirt and tie, just as in my classroom, I have had brief moments of panic and/or discomfort when I realize that I have forgotten to grab my flashdrive and I.D. lanyards.

My ‘teacher bling’ that is indispensable during the school year is not needed as an office temp.

flashdriveAs someone who worked in the corporate and for profit world for many years before moving into the classroom, I am truly a guy who straddles two communication eras. As a writer and artist, I favor good-old-fashioned paper – in files, or preferably, in ring binders. As a teacher in a contemporary classroom, I rely on technology. Virtually everything I do and work with at school is contained on the flash drives that dangle from my neck each day.  Unlike many of my older teacher colleagues, I am very at home with my younger teaching peers when it comes to sharing ideas and material with the simple “Hey, can you put that on my flash drive!”  I share as many resources and materials as I ask for, especially with younger, newer teachers that I help mentor; documents, videos, Power Points, stuff I find on the Internet that I don’t have a use for but think they might – you name it. It is very free-flowing.

But this summer, in shirt and tie? I feel naked without my flashdrives.  I will be okay, but I do remain committed to being  tolerant and forgiving of my Luddite  brethren. (cough!) Paul.

From the things that make you go “Hmmmm…” department:

My recent temp gig at a higher education institution had me working on making classroom materials accessible to students with disabilities. As a teacher, I found it interesting to get a different view of educational accommodations. And it was kind of fun. Of course, as a matter of course, proof of a disability needs to be provided to legally allow for such things as adapting copyrighted text, etc.  They school I worked at has had a rash of people claiming they need accommodations for dyslexia or other reading disorders, but when asked for the requisite documentation, many claimed to be self-diagnosed via ‘tests’ on the Internet or articles and websites they had come across and said, “Hey, that’s me!”

Just thinking out loud here: if you can take Internet tests, and read up on disorders to the extent that you can self-diagnose yourself with a ‘reading disorder’…

Do you really have a reading disorder?

I am not trying to be disrespectful. Just askin’.

heat-index-chartOne almost final note, all about perspective. Everything is relative, really. Like humidity.

A native Minnesotan, I have always liked humidity, which the upper Midwest claims to have a lot of due to all the lakes. Living in New Orleans the past six years, I have experienced humidity in new and spectacular ways. And I still prefer humidity (even ‘excessive’ humidity- which I have yet to encounter anyplace) to…not having humidity.

An unseasonably cold and brutal winter in the Midwest his given way to the other extreme; humidities in the (gasp!) 50 – 60% range with temps in the low 80‘s that pushes heat indexes into…the mid to upper 80’s.  Wowsers. Minnesotans whining and moaning about weatherhow ‘humid’ it is.

This amuses me immensely. Not once in my time in Minnesota over the past month-and-a-half have my glasses fogged up making the transition from air-conditioned house/vehicle to some other environment. There is no condensation on the windows in the morning. And my favorite…

The ‘Feels Like’ designation in on-line or newspaper weather forecasts in Minnesota have rarely differed by more than three-or-four degrees.  In New Orleans, the gap this time of year regularly triples that.

It’s all relative, though I am not related to any of them.

And finally, in keeping with our old/new, Ludditetonian theme….

AmishbuggyLast Saturday I drove the sixty miles from Rochester to Minneapolis, using a stretch of highway I have driven for years, happily noting that not much has changed. One of the familiar sites is a large business just off the highway – an Amish Furniture shop/warehouse that has been there for years.  What caught my eye and shoved one eyebrow skyward this trip, however, was the huge banner outside the establishment:  ‘BARSTOOL SALE.’

Time for one of those cheesy Facebook quizzes: ‘Just How Amish are You?’

Jottings from a pocket notebook

Photo2596 (2)Yes, English teachers get spring break, too. A few days in to mine, all I can say is that the bulk of the items on my ‘to do’ list are not getting ‘too done.’

RobertBurns‘The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft a-gley, [often go awry]
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promised joy.’

Robert Burns must’ve had a few spring breaks like mine, but I don’t look great in a kilt.



Sometimes, people…

I understand the appeal behind the idiom of ‘beating a dead horse’ – (figurative) beating can be very cathartic.

But continuing to yell “Giddyup!” while doing it?

Dude, you got issues.


Lessons learned and re-learned

potholesSometimes the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Me? I tend to be the guy with the shovels full of hot asphalt filling pot holes on a cul-de-sac.

On the plus side, I don’t need GPS to get back out quickly.


Kids, DO try this at home:

Rogets thesaurus“Umm…what?”

Favorite recent not-understood-observation-by-my-students on their classroom decorum, usually delivered following a deep sigh on my part: “An entire shelf of thesauruses over there, and yet – there are no words.”

Sometimes, there just aren’t.


‘Thank you for your support and concern’ department:

“Mr. Lucker! What’s up?!”
“My blood pressure.”

This is a not uncommon exchange in our school hallways during passing periods. Usually, it is at the start of fourth period, as my third period class of 35 seniors can be a real group of peasant’s donkeys; my fourth period seniors know this, and most empathize.

BPUsually the kids just shake their heads, smile, walk into class. But, once or twice a semester, one kid will actually HEAR
, and stop, a look of concern crossing his face (it’s always a male student, oddly) and some form of the following ensues:

“Mr. Lucker, your blood pressure really bad? You should see a doctor about that. My granddad had high blood pressure. He had a stroke…and died!

“Same thing happened to my grandma.” chimes in student number two, equally concerned.

“Thanks, guys. Nice to know that someone cares. My blood pressure is going back down, but now I’m really depressed.”

“Ummmm? You’re welcome?”


Like, in an elevator, and you can’t place the tune…

I recently heard a cover version of a common wedding and graduation song played by a Mariachi Band; they called it Photo2594 (2)‘Tacobell’s Canon.’

That joke is obviously Baroquen.

Yeah, I know. There are no words.

2012 Leftovers: Scraps, tidbits and what-thas…?

100_3851The ever-present-in-my-back-pocket Notebook of Niftiness (NON) becomes something of a Rubbermaid tub throughout the year; while many of the ideas and tidbits make their way into a post on either this blog or into a full-fledged poem for my poetry blog, some just languish there, out of sight, out of mind, but safe in the tub for future use. Or not. Many will never see the light of day again.

Some the notes in NON are tantalizing tidbits to build upon, some are merely interesting quotations I ran across during the year. Some were shorthand notes that made little sense days, weeks or even hours after I jotted them down. Some were interesting or amusing at the time I jotted them down, not so much after-the-fact. Some of the hasty chicken scratches I can’t even read.

Sometimes NON is more than an acronym.

Time to empty the tub. Or at least, rummage through it.

Wile-E-Coyote_fallingYear End News Item #1: ‘Congress reaches a short-term deal to avoid the fiscal cliff’.

Why do I continue to get mental images of Wyle E. Coyote and the word ‘ACME’?

Prime Misconception of the Year 2012: So with all the hubbub about the end-of-the-world via the Mayan calendar, even though it was well documented that the Mayans failed mayancalendar1to account for leap years and Monday holidays, many people were still fixated on the prognostication skills of a vanished culture that couldn’t even foresee their own demise.

The real reason the Mayan calendar ended with December 2012? Impractical design. Made of chiseled stone and measuring three feet or more in diameter, the damn things kept ripping the nails out of the Mayans adobe garage walls before the calendars crashed to the floor in pieces.mayancalendar2

That, and the sacrificial virgin pin-up pictures weren’t much to look at.

My 1st Prediction for 2013: Having moved to New Orleans nearly five years ago, I have become well acquainted with hurricanes, having had to evacuate for one twice in that fifty-some month span – including this past August for Isaac. The naming of hurricanes is curious. Something called the World Meteorological Organization (think ’10 o’clock news weather guessers in super hero tights’) have come up with the list since 1953, only adding male names in 1979. There are six lists that continue to rotate. The lists only change when there is a hurricane that is so devastating, the name is retired and another hurricane name replaces it. Interestingly, 2013 seems to have a decidedly more ethnic flavor; Fernand, Humberto, Ingrid, Lorenzo, Olga and Pablo standing out.

bookieMark my words: somewhere along the line, some elected idiot will somehow work this year’s hurricane names into the national debate on illegal immigration.

My bookie is standing by to take your sucker bets.

MarkTwainNotable quote seen…somewhere/Affirmation:
“In the first place, God made idiots. That was for practice. Then he made school boards”.
– Mark Twain

In addition to the new state testing procedure were are now in year two of teaching toward, this year we also began the implementation of the new national Common Core Curriculum (don’t get me started). Oh, and this year our district is also adding mandatory ACT testing and the associated…uhm, teaching? It’s less ‘teaching to the test’ and more teaching ‘which test is which, again’?

Conclusion? Twian’s faith was grossly misplaced.

Year End News Item #2: Twenty percent of Americans who admit to making New Year’s resolutions say that ‘spending less time on BLOG in Portugese (2)Facebook’ was one of their main decrees to self. The Facebook proclamation came in third after ‘quitting smoking’ and ‘losing weight’.

As long as ‘reading blogs’ stays in the single-digits as a resolution, I’m jiggy with the whole ‘resolve to give stuff up’ approach. Good luck with that Facebook thing, by the way.

Things come in threes…

Early last fall, I wrote in this space about a sophomore who wrote an essay commenting on her sister’s positive attitude, and the inspiration the sister provides all of her younger siblings. She lauded, in worthy prose, her sister’s ‘self of steam.’

surprised-lady steamDiscussing her paper with her, I was met with a puzzled look as I tried to explain that what she meant was her sister had a lot of ‘self-esteem’ – even going so far as to having her look up ‘esteem’ in the dictionary. She paused, looked at her paper, looked up at me standing over her and said, distinctly, and with a definitely-correcting-me tone of voice: “Yeah, it’s her SELF. OF. STEAM, Mr. Lucker…how good she feels about herself”!

The young woman’s ‘self-of-steam’ stayed that way in the final draft.

Toward the end of the semester, we had some more writing to do that focused on sense-of-self and self-awareness. Sure enough, ‘self-of-steam’ once again reared its pesky head…not only with the girl who originally coined the phrase, but in the papers of two other classmates as well.

This episode reminded me of my first teaching gig a few years back. On a district social studies test, much to the amusement of our social studies teacher, three of my homeroom fifth graders used the same, oh-so-unique answer on a question about the effect that iron tools had on irontoolsthe new world: “When they got iron tools in the new world, people didn’t have to take their clothes to the dry cleaners no more”. Much as with my current sophomore, they could not be swayed that their answer was not perfectly logical and correct.

Maybe they could all get together to use some self-of-steam to press their uniform pants.

goodtimecharlierecordHey, it could always be worse. With apologies to Danny O’Keefe: “…sometimes it pours…sometimes it only sprinkles; Good Time Charlie’s got the periwinkles…”

A final thought: School cafeteria food raises the intriguing question, “Haute cuisine or hot food?” If you answered neither, you are correct.

Happy 2013.

Signs of the times

Oh, sign, sign everywhere a sign
Blocking up the scenery, breaking my mind
Do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the sign
Five Man Electrical Band, 1965

Oh meme, meme, everywhere a meme
clogging up my Facebook, beating on my mind
animals, politics, cutesy kids clogging up the scene
everything’s a statement, everything’s a meme
Me, 2012

Memes. We all get them, many of us have made them. Facebook, emailed, texted them. Memes are everywhere; cute, political, sarcastic. Pictures with a message, many that ‘go viral’ in our Internet age and end up coming to you from half a dozen different folks in far-flung corners of the world. Or Detroit.

I am not putting any memes in this posting. In the spirit of D.I.Y. and not being an enabler, I am offering you the raw materials to make your own meme(s). The supplied pictures are all from my phone, having been snapped, filed away, and rediscovered as I was trying to download new pictures on my phone and was accosted by the ‘Memory Full – Delete Some Items’ warning from my dumbphone.

Dive in, have some fun. See what you can come up with.

One more thing: Realizing that just the pictures might not be enough for some of you, there are also some random comments included – meme prompts, off sorts. They are not etched in stone. As food packages frequently read, ‘SERVING SUGGESTION’

Speaking of food…

I encountered this ‘Express Lane’ signage array in a Missouri grocery store last winter. Really befuddling for those with grocery-cart-approximation issues or general math anxiety, sweaty palms territory for the OCD crowd.  The outright indecision (1 -15, ‘About 20′) is definitively Midwestern.

This store does give you multiple options for ticking off the people in line behind you. Always nice to have choices.

My wife (who found this one and sent it to me) knows that the whole canned food/can food issue continues to bedevil me; in the Midwest, where I grew up, it is ‘Canned Food’ – presumably because it is canned. Or jarred, which is still referred to as ‘canning.’  In New Orleans, it is ‘Can Food’ – because, so I have been told, ‘Because it is food in a can.’ Admittedly not as compelling as the ‘pop’ versus ‘soda’ vernacular debate, but curious nonetheless. At this particular New Orleans grocery, the indecision is palpable.

Or not.

This sign is really indicative of nothing; it’s just the street I live on and I enjoy being able to tell people that (or in this case, write it) using a French dialect: “I leeeve on LOUeee zeee four-teeeze Street!”

I found this one last spring in a Mississippi gift shop. Nice reminder, as long as your kids aren’t yet old enough to read. I would take this particular warning to heart; the proprietor of the shop had a certain, ominous Deliverance quality to her.

And they serve the espresso there in Mason Jars…straight up. Buyer (or parent-shopper) beware.

This New Orleans billboard conjures up all sorts of interesting interpretations: costumed ushers, Kool-Aid and graham cracker communion, aw-shucks-and-brimstone sermons…

“I luv YEW….yew love MEEEE…” with Barney the Choir Director.

This is just a cool sign you will see all over New Orleans – phrase copyrighted by the artist, Dr. Bob. They are ubiquitous in public locales and in very high demand. Just a very cool sentiment.

‘Be nice or leave.’ 

I saw this one a few years ago at a campground in southern Mississippi and it made me laugh simply because of the placement of two seemingly unrelated signs. Then again, in whatever context you might read them, its decent advice.  I mean, you get a couple of shots of schnapps into your typical gator, and..

As my old friend Mark Preston put it, ‘Hey – “Gators Gone Wild.”

Conversely if you have a few, and you see a cute gator…just don’t.

F.Y.I.  – Do not ask local game wardens for clarification on the topic, “But what if the gator comes right up here to your tent?”

Finally, this bumper sticker. And if you have read this blog more than once, now you truly do!

Boring is in the Eye of the Beholder, or: ‘Forgive him, for he knows not what he says’.

Favorite shirt. Good night to wear it.

During his sermon the other night at church, our pastor, Eric, made quite an observation. He said “Baseball is boring” and he said it with me sitting in the audience. It was good I was on hand to help set him on the straight-and-narrow path of what isn’t boring (baseball) fortunately, I was on hand and (I don’t believe in ‘coincidence’) I was wearing my favorite baseball-print shirt, so I had the street-cred when setting him and a few others straight.

“Baseball is boring” he said. This from a man who sometimes plans ahead to watch…basketball.

Basketball. Is. Boring. Basketball is played on uniform wooden courts; painted rectangles augmented with a couple of painted arcs and two free-throw lines. Basketball consists of a bunch of people in shorts and ugly tank-tops jogging up-and-down the length and confines of aforementioned rectangular wood where they do the same thing over and over and over. They go down the floor, throw a large, leather ball into an orange steel hoop, retrieve said ball, go back the other direction, throw the ball into the orange steel hoop at the other end, retrieve said ball, go back down to where they just were, throw the ball back into the orange steel hoop… etcetera, etcetera, etcetera ad nauseum.

Unless of course their attempt to get the bloated leather ball into the orange steel hoop fails, in which case the other team grabs the ball and heads back to the other end of the court, to try to throw the ball back into their-end orange steel hoop, where the other team again retrieves the ball, then goes back down to where they just were, throws the ball back into the orange steel hoop again….

Curly was never boring.

Or not.

The only real variable here is getting the ball into the hoop or missing the hoop – in which case the trip back down the court to where they just were is expedited because a rebound of a missed shot at an orange steel hoop is quicker than having to start all over again every time someone makes a shot into the orange steel hoop requiring everyone to stop and retrieve the ball and then begin another trip back down (up? across?) the shiny rectangular floor.One key caveat here: all ‘basketball is boring’ talk needs to include ‘except for the Harlem Globetrotters.’

Baseball is not played on a court. And aside from the infield diamond portion, a baseball field is not symmetrical and is not artificially confined to painted parameters; baseball action can (literally and figuratively) cross the line at any time, hence part of its unboringness.

Tennis is yet another, similar, boring sporting example of Freudian repression.

On yet another sort of rectangular, painted line court (this one usually green, but sometimes made of red clay – pottery class, anyone?) an individual or a ‘team’ of just two uses a round racquet with a handle to strike a small, fuzzy ball over a net, where the individual or team on the other end of the court/other side of the net uses his/her/their racquet(s) to hit the ball back over the net, where the other individual/team uses its/their racquet(s) to hit the little fuzzy ball back over the net, where the other individual/team uses its/their racquet(s) to hit said fuzzy ball back over the net to the other individual/team….unless the fuzzy little ball hits outside of the painted limits of the playing surface or hits the net it is supposed to go over.

In basketball, ‘nothing but net’ is a good thing; in tennis, ‘nothing but net’ is a bad thing. Nets come in handy in a fishing boat (not boring). Baseball has no net, unless you count the screen behind home plate that keeps spectators safe from foul balls.

At least they don't keep their blinkers on.

Even more boring than basketball or tennis is NASCAR racing. People race cars around a usually/mostly symmetrical track where, at 200 miles per hour, they drive straight for a few seconds, then start a wide, gradual left turn that culminates in going straight again for just a few seconds before they start another wide, gradual left turn that culminates in going straight again for just another few seconds before they start another wide, gradual left hand turn…

And they sometimes do this 200 times or more in a single race!

Baseball players are also noted for making mostly left hand turns, but there is a fair amount of variety in how they do it and when – plus a lot of suspense as to when they do it and strategy to how they do it – unless somebody has just hit a home run, in which case they get to circle bases laid out in a diamond formation to the cheers of the crowd.

NASCAR is high blood pressure-inducing road rage; baseball is a leisurely drive through a friendly town where people stop and wave to you when you are at a stop sign (base).

Baseball is boring? Basketball, tennis and NASCAR have all the spontaneity and unpredictability of properly operating windshield wipers.

Unless, of course, you are an inherently violent person hoping for a ‘worst case’ scenario and bodily injury. But aside from a Three Stooges short, when was the last time you saw someone actually flip over the net during a tennis match?

After the service I was explaining to Pastor Eric and a small crowd of fellow congregants the error of his ‘baseball is boring’ ways. (For the record, we all agreed to keep football out of the equation, as we all agreed football is good. Hockey wasn’t brought up, and as I currently live in New Orleans; ‘puckishness’ only comes up during Mardi Gras. Hockey is good, too.)

In Eric’s defense and still grasping to the suspect agreement of ‘baseball is boring’, our youth pastor, Erik-with-a-K, proffered up this desperate pleading for the ‘baseball is boring, basketball isn’t’ argument: “But…basketball has the slam-dunk!”

Visual object lessons are always valuable tools – especially in church.

I grabbed a nearby trash can and an empty cookie package and coffee cup from the coffee area, walked back to the assembled throng, and placed the trash can on the floor in front of me, then with both hands, slam-dunked the cookie package and cup  into the garbage.

“Yeah” I noted dryly, “That’s exciting.” as the crowd laughed, some nodding in agreement, and the pendulum lid of the garbage can slowly swung to a stop

Definitely NOT boring

In a vain, last-ditch effort to salvage his original argument, Pastor Eric (with a ‘c’) added a plaintive, “Baseball on boring! It’s like watching bowling on t.v.!”

Sometimes desperation makes people say strange things.

Somebody in the crowd offered up that ‘In baseball, all you need to do is wait for the ball to be hit and then go to where it is and catch it’ – which couldn’t be further from the truth. As I explained to Eric-with-a-C and Erik-with-a-K, et al, baseball is a thinking person’s game; you always have to be looking ahead a few steps, taking into account all of the variables that could occur with every single pitch.

Anticipating where the ball may or may not be hit on any given pitch is a graceful and delicate art form based on the varietal factors -not the least of which of who is doing the pitching and who is doing the hitting. You also need (on every single pitch) be cognizant of what sort of pitch may be thrown, what kind of hitter is at the plate, what sort of pitch the catcher calls for, what sort of pitch the hitter might be looking for, Don’t forget to take into account how many balls and strikes the hitters has as the pitch is made; is he two strikes in the hole or is the pitcher about to walk him with a fourth ball, or is it the first pitch of the at bat? Who else is on base? How many outs are there? All of these factors and more need to be taken into account, and they all change from pitch-to-pitch, thus negating any of the ‘you just react when the ball is hit’ malarkey.

"Oops. We left a basketball game on in the patient's room."

And that all happens before the pitch is even thrown or hit. The options increase exponentially from there.  Every pitch in baseball is an ‘if this/then that’ flow chart; basketball, tennis and NASCAR are flat-lines on an EKG monitor. I hope that helps set the record straight.  Good thing I was on hand to preach the baseball gospel.

Now as long as in future homilies Eric doesn’t come up with something crazy like ‘blog reading is boring’.

Then we’d have to have an even more serious post-sermon discussion.

Random thoughts and sporadic observations

‘Huh, whatttayaknow!’ category, take 1:

I casually learned something recently about one of my favorite types of bread: In Italian, “ciabatta” means ‘an old worn-out slipper.’ I get where the name came from; coming out of an old Italian oven back-in-the-day, it’s what they looked like.(see pic above) Now I like ciabatta bread, so this just made me chuckle. Then…I got to wondering about other bread-type things and how they got their names.

My curiosity thus piqued, I looked it up: ‘Wonder Bread’ in Russian is ‘хлеб интереса’ – which is pretty much how it tastes; like a Sunday paper cartoon expletive.
хлеб интереса!!

WARNING: Rant Alert!

My primo pet peeve ( I may have touched on this before) is the alleged ‘Cookie Cake.’

You know, those big, pizza-sized chocolate chip cookies you see in most grocery stores. People refer to these giant cookies as ‘cookie cakes’ and most stores have the gall to label them as such.

Any self-respecting baker will tell you: cookies are made with dough, cakes are made with batter. These things are giant cookies made from cookie dough, regardless of what some Nimrod grocery store ‘baker’ labels them. When I worked at a grocery part-time this past year, I had the opportunity to spend ample time in the bakery area, and dealt with many boxes of the frozen cookie dough we used. They boxes were labeled, by the manufacturer, ‘Large (12 inch) Chocolate Chip Cookie’ so I feel vindicated and don’t need to belabor this point any more than need be, though for most I already have.

But it got me thinking about other baked curiosities. Such as cheesecake. Cheesecake is made with a batter, but is usually presented on a graham cracker or some similar-type crust, which begs the obvious question:

Why isn’t it called cheese pie?

Just sayin.’ More appropriately, just askin.’ I guess as long as they make real cheesecake with ricotta instead of acceptable but certainly not authentic cream cheese, I won’t complain.

Not that I am a purist, or anything. But…my late grandfather once owned a bakery, though I never met him (he died before I was born) or saw the bakery. It’s a family honor sort of thing.

‘Huh, whatttayaknow!’ category, take 2:

America continues to take the whole ‘super-size me’ mindset to odd heights, as I stumbled across this disturbing tidbit: Life-size chia pets?
The traditional, original, window sill-perching Ram isn’t good enough in these modern times. It wasn’t bad enough when they branched out to Chia Presidents – now we’re going life-sized…?

I’m not paying full retail, I’ll tell you that. I’ll wait until I see one at a garage sale.

I guess if you want a Chia Michelangelo’s David, go for it. Just be careful when you’re pruning it. Especially if any of your , um, more socially conservative neighbors are watching you garden.

Speaking of sales, I recently saw this chiropractic visit-inducing double take:

Turns out it’s a non-profit store, ala Goodwill, that benefits a local animal charity.

Some Saturday morning, yell out “Honey! I’m going to SpayMart to drop off a donation!” and see what kind of response you get.

And, just because it’s been a while since I have blogged about beer-drinking dogs: 

Til next time, then.