Ya buy ’em books…

An elementary school I drive by daily is emblazoned with signs announcing their ongoing book fair, and I will admit to a bit of nostalgia.  An only child, books were my constant companions, and book fair time at Horace Mann Elementary in Minneapolis meant my usually-not-overly-indulgent parents were willing to drop a few bucks at my behest.

Good stuff, Maynard.

I tried to indulge my own kids to an extent every time a bookfair rolled around, but those were different affairs – much more than books available for purchase.  Now, as a New Orleans teacher for the past nine years, I have encountered even more of the whole Scholastic book-selling-cases-on-wheels operation. A few years back, I was working at a K-12 charter school.  One afternoon, the delivered carts and cases full of books and related paraphernalia was pretty well in place in our school library, and I got to browse a bit. Many of the young adult titles and series looked familiar, and it was nice to see that many of the various series I remember from their younger days are still around, with new some titles in the series, to boot. (The gang from Click, Clack, Moo: Cows that Type are still going hilariously strong – bless ‘em.) There was also an admirable selection of classics.

As I roamed our makeshift Barnes and Ignoble, one of the selections on the ‘Adult Bestsellers and Cookbooks’ table caught my eye. It was a cookbook entitled “9 x 13:  The Perfect-Fit Dish – More than 180 family favorites to fit America’s most popular pan.” For the record, had I been asked ‘name America’s favorite pan’ I would have answered, “Sauce”.

Only in America: a cookbook predicated on a specific size of pan.

Sorry, but I couldn’t see this in the same vein as crock-pot cookery, or Dutch oven cooking like we did in Boy Scout days. This is something else entirely. The phrase ‘lame gimmick’ came to mind.

The blurbs on the back cover of the book are intended to be, one supposes, enlightening. To wit:

“A 9×13 pan can do everything from roasting a chicken to baking brownies!”

Really?

But there was more…

“Feast on comfort foods you grew up with, including Beef Stroganoff Casserole and Tuna Noodle Casserole.”

Sure, let’s recycle the gastronomic 1950’s – only in the correct sized pan! Let’s also salvage the word ‘casserole’ from the culinary dust heap. (Personal, two-part aside: 1. I hail from the Midwest, where the term ‘hot dish’ reins supreme over ‘casserole.’ 2. I know of very few people who would make a hot dish in a 9 x 13 pan.  That is what ‘casserole’ dishes are for, Chucklebunnies.)

So continueth the back cover hype:

“Revel in new flavor twists such as Cajun Mac and Cheese and Chocolate Chipotle Brownies.”

Chipotle brownies? Last guy I knew who put spicy herbs in brownies ended up getting two years probation.

But there was additional hype – and we haven’t even left the cover of the book yet:

“Dig into potluck pleasers such as Smokin’ Tetrazzini and Herbed Chicken and Orzo.”

‘Smokin’ Tetrazzini’ falls somewhere between ‘Cajun blackened’ and ‘left under the broiler too long’ while Chicken and Orzo is shorthand for ‘chicken-and-schizophrenic-starch.’  Is it pasta? is it rice? Is it crawling around your plate?

Then there are the recipes – no! Wait! The cookbook opens with a helpful ‘Pan Comparison’ page in which they compare 9×13 pans, covering various and sundry pluses and minuses.

‘Glass or Stoneware’ 9x13s have more pluses than ‘Metal’ 9x13s – but also more minuses; ‘breakable, cannot withstand sudden temperature change’ among them. (Pyrex or Corning Ware anybody?) Chief plusses include ‘Clear glass makes it easy to monitor browning’ and ‘Shows off beauty of gelatin or layered salads’ (except for stoneware, I guess) and then my personal favorite glass-or-stoneware ‘plus’:

“Some pans come with lids.”

Golly, what will they think of next? And why haven’t those pesky metal 9×13 manufacturers gotten on this ‘lid’ bandwagon? They don’t have it listed as a metal ‘plus,’ so one wonders.

And we can’t forget our third category of 9×13 pan, the ever popular…

plastic?

Plastic pans? Containers, maybe. Vessel, receptacle, canister, holder are all reasonable possibilities. But plastic pans? As we like to say in our household, “I don’t think so, Tim.”

The authors state that while plastic 9x13s are ‘good for no-bake recipes, refrigerator salads and freezer desserts’ they do allow in the minus column that they ‘may not be used for baking.’

That’s news you can really use, though there is not a word said about lids and plastic nine-by-thirteens. The authors need a Tupperware intervention, stat!

A bargain at $16.99, even without reading the actual recipes.

Just out of curiosity, I wondered what the book sold for elsewhere, and clicked over to Amazon, where I found not only the edition of the cookbook that we will be selling, but also this rather curious entry:

9 X 13: The Perfect-Fit Dish (In Memoriam Volume III Exclusive Edition) In memoriam?
Volume III?
That is a lot of commemorating.

I kid you not -new and used editions available…but that’s all on-line. Curiously, no mention of just who is being commemorated via cake pan.

Though $16.99 for a 9×13 pan cookbook seems pennywise, but pan foolish.

Hey, it’s all for books for the kids, right?

Onward

Faded are July’s warmth, summer’s cheers. Supplanted now by sundry, encroaching hints of cooler days; forgotten expectations, procrastinated chores now mothballed, he can only now muse without dwelling on what won’t be. Could-have-beens and maybes aren’t statistically meaningful; they never po2really were, except to others in relation to their expectations and dreams on his behalf.  The math was never his thing – nebulous nature of those with good intentions notwithstanding.  Regret is not something that taints him; he does not feel his talents wasted. He recalls every crucial moment as it was, for what it was.

Unburdened by excuses, unwilling to pass blame. Treasured character trait; a gift not wasted.

It was what it was, nothing more to be read into any of it. Done with. Droll, philosophical meanderings passé. He did what he had to and could – more than expected, less than some feared – and it has all come down to this: seasons of joy, of youth, of expectations – dwindled. He takes energy and solace in their uncertainty of numbers. Youth cannot serve that master. He revels in coming autumn and finds it no burden as winter creeps in to bury and renew. Spring will be welcome, but no more or less than its brethren. Seasons, as is their nature, gladly provide strategic resets.

No, it was not always this clear.

Memories are not sustenance; this he knows for fact. Cheers he once accepted have faded, substitutes and replacements have taken his place on various stages. He knows as many have forgotten as remember him. The field of honor which he once ruled by force and triumphant jousting he now benevolently maintains, in supportive peace. The thought occurs that maybe the soul is autumn grass; wearily vibrant, going wearily dormant by design. Ingrained need of a respite.  The patriarch emeritus he imagines smiles in triumph, allowing for sly winks to various fates.

He zips his coat, turning its collar turned upward against the gathering, refreshing winds of fall. He leans willingly, comfortably into the loving embrace of the breeze, securing  his resolve. The air is quiet, save the wind. He is at peace with the simple knowledge that spring will, someday, for whatever it’s own reasoning, return.

But for now, time is pleasingly in his comfortable grasp; he now understands its tenuous and uncontrollable nature. Time can be tucked safely away like a pocket watch in a vest, allowing him to stroll through the lovely, dark, and deep woods without fear of reprisal from any promises not kept.

– Mark L. Lucker
© 2016
http://lrd.to/sxh9jntSbd

Disguised as good ideas

It is Halloween season, and as always, I hope to be invited to a costume party.  So far, my mailbox remains Charlie-Brown-on-Valentine’s-Day empty, but I am hopeful.

Just in case, some costume ideas are in order – if not for me, maybe someone else can get some costume_party_iiiideas.  This being a political year like no other, I’ll stay away from any of that craziness.  That whole scene is scary enough without my participation.   If I do end up getting invited to a costume party, it would be in concert with my wife, so  it would seem that a couples costume of some sort would be worth considering.

She would probably cast a more dubious eye on the concept.

There are a world of possibilities that go far beyond renting Yogi and Cindy bear costumes (too old school)  Antony and Cleopatra (too pedestrian) or Grant Woods American Gothic (too dangerous, see: pitchfork) plus, I  am not shaving my head, so that’s another nada.  F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald have potential, but Scott was clean-shaven and I don’t think I want to go there, though I could see my wife Amy as Zelda.

Maybe if we still lived in (their and our) native Minnesota
Maybe is we still lived in (their and our) native Minnesota
250px-grant_devolson_wood_-_american_gothic
The pitchfork would be a party liability, safety wise, though it would be handy to hold multiple hors d’oeuvres

In the past, Amy also shot down going as the best couples costume idea that I have ever seen.

Some years ago, I was at a costume party with some friends, and there was a young couple there that nobody could quite figure out at first. The young man was about six-one, dressed in a tight-fitting, dark brown body suit; the woman was a good foot shorter, very petite, and was wearing a snug white body suit stuffed with foam rubber. They each had a rectangular piece of cardboard with dots on them attached to their backs, and periodically they would have people stand back so they could run to the center of the room and embrace. They were, of course, a s’more.

Ehhh…no.

Back on the literary front, I could try to talk her into going as the Venus de Milo and me as Ernest Hemingway, her biographer, billing ourselves as the “Original Farewell to Arms” – though the Venus get-up would probably impair her ability to easily partake in any culinary delights or  libations.

We would probably  just have to go as separately costumed folk, sans connective theme. In fact, Amy might just prefer that.

There are options, of course.

If I could find a pair of grey long johns and some knee-high red wool hunting socks, I could glue dollar-store Barbie dolls all over me and go as a chick magnet – though with recent political events being what they are, I think I’ll file that one away.

I do have an old, red, shortcut tuxedo jacket that passes as a matador’s uniform – though I would need some sequins or a Bedazzler. That could be fun as the evening progresses and people get a bit more…loosened up. I could walk by with a swoop of my cape and a pseudo-Latin dialect,  telling  pretentious-sounding people, “That is bull! Ole’!”

Probably not.

Contemplating costume ideas, I took a good look at myself in the mirror and that’s when it came to me: Sigmund Freud! Let the beard grow out a little bit, add some gray, get a big cigar, a pocket watch and a nice vest from Goodwill, then brush up on my best Viennese dialect. I can walk around introducing myself: “Hell-lo. I am Doctor Zigmund, Freud. I understand you are having zum trouble vith your zex?”

There is your conversation starter.

This seemed workable, so I dug up a picture of Freud and then went looking for one of myself to use in this blog post. Taking most of the family photos leaves me out of most of them, so my pickings on the ol’ hard drive were rather slim, and none too complimentary, save one.  And there was my costume idea:

Mardi Gras Sigmund Freud. freud-2

Vest, cigar, Viennese dialect – I could wear crinolines instead of pants; very southern in a Freudian slip sort of way.

Or is that mixing too many costume metaphors?

This whole thing is still a work in progress, so I am very open to suggestions. Please act now; this operator is standing by.

Travelogue

Six summer weeks on the road, traveling from my New Orleans base back to my Twin Cities home turf. Let’s call it a ‘working vacation’…that I now could use a vacation from.

The trip itself was mostly a success, but while living in the south, sometimes a return to my Midwestern roots leave e scratching my head. Vice versa upon my return.

I was able to document some of the quirkier things I ran across. Maybe it is because I have spent the past eight years in a region where the odd is commonplace and celebrated, but some of these things I encountered seemed misplaced – especially some of the gastronomical quirks.

IMG_20160624_173647For example…barbeque hummus? Yeah, a Midwestern take on Middle Eastern staple that even I would think thrice on before trying. For real overkill, I suppose you could use barbeque flavored chips for your dipping/sopping option.

Even in the barbeque-happy south, grilling peas seems a cultural mismatch. It is also mildly disquieting that there is a certain ‘that aint kosher’ element to this little snack.

In downtown Minneapolis, I pulled up alongside a food truck – not unusual. The cuisine? That’s different.

In Minnesota parlance, where fishing is almost a faith, I used to refer to sushi as ‘lure on a plate’ which was usually IMG_20160602_131031greeted with a nod of acknowledgement. Now I guess the saying would have to be ‘bait on a tortilla’.

Or in true Minnesotan, ‘Minnows on lefse’.

Speaking of fishing, there is a small, family-run hardware store right by my mom’s new apartment, and as I frequently needed hardware items or tools to fix something at her old house, or prep something at the apartment, I became something of a regular. My first stop, the window signage caught my eye, but it wasn’t until my next-to-last (73rd but who’s counting?) stop that IMG_20160629_145402I said something almost pithy about ‘duct tape and nightcrawlers’ to the clerk at check out.

She sighed, glanced over her shoulder at the ‘live bait repair’ window paint job, with resignation and said,  for what sounded like the ninety-sixth time,“Yeah, they didn’t think that one out very well”.

Honestly, I did not see the upper-pane labeled ‘screen and window’ until at least the fifth time I passed by.

Off-beat signage always interests me, though this theatre marquee in Minneapolis is spot-on, local language wise.
IMG_20160623_084516

 

 

On the other hand, I don’t know the genesis of this little gem I saw posted behind the counter of a neighborhood café where I was having lunch with a couple of old friends, but it definitely has a New Orleans/Mardi gras vibe
IMG_20160603_114359

But this t-shirt? Definitely a Midwestern thing.IMG_20160628_122559

 

 

 

That hopefully stays right where it is.

I need to get back to my unpacking. More on-the-road shenanigans hiding between the dirty laundry and stolen hotel towels. So…

Later, kids.

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?’

A Teachers Summer on the Road; Episode 1

My first Monday back in my hometown of Minneapolis.Hire Me computer key

Reupping with an employer you haven’t worked for in over ten years is a bit like having dinner with a former lover. You start by discussing your separate, mostly unknown here-and-now’s before you move on to on shared pasts, getting each other up to date, filling in some blanks. Sometimes it is smooth flowing conversation; sometimes it’s a bit clunky.

Then you get a bit more comfortable, relaxed.

You also begin to remember all the good things you liked about each other ‘back in the day’ and why the relationship was so mutually beneficial…while also realizing why the relationship came amicably to an end, and just why it probably wouldn’t work for the long-term, then or now.

Or would it?

The folks at my favorite old temp service, Pro Staff in Minneapolis, have been gracious and helpful, and I am now officially back in the fold for the summer.

I can use the work, and I can do it. Jack-of-All-Most-Trades, master of a goodly percentage of them, proficient at the rest. A freelancesummer work fling would be just the ticket, with them or someone else.

If you need a writing or other creative project accomplished in a pinch, let me know. I am not a monogamous guy when it comes to earning some extra cash. If you are in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, and have some other sort of job or project you need handled, and handled well…hey, you know where to find me. I have wheels,desire, talent.

Have skills, will travel.

Hey, I won’t even expect you to buy me dinner first.

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.

Hard to disguise

For like only, ummm….maybe the third time in my adult life, I am invited to a Halloween costume party. A real, honest-to-goodness, grown-up, sophisticated-folks costume party.

Ahh, what to wear, what to wear?

A colleague of mine, Ms. Smith*, is throwing this little soiree, and extended the invite to my wife and I verbally a few weeks ago just to make sure I didn’t schedule anything else on that Saturday night before Halloween, so it seems like kind of  big deal. Last week, in passing, Ms. Smith told me that the party would feature a pomegranate martini fountain. This week, I received the formal invite: printed, with their own envelopes. Very nice card stock, not a cheap, clandestine-school-copy-machine summons.

The pressure is on.

Not only is it one of the rare times I have actually been invited to a real, grown-up costume party, it’s a New Orleans costume party. That can be a pretty big deal here; between Mardi Gras, and the general theatrical nature of the town, people dress up in costume a lot. That might sound silly or odd to someone not from here, and I won’t even try to explain it. Suffice to say, Mardi Gras permeates life in New Orleans twenty-four-seven, three-sixty-five, and I would be willing to be there are more costume shops per capita than most anyplace else in America outside of Hollywood. Maybe even including Hollywood.

I need a good costume, so does my wife.

I don’t see us going the costume shop route, for budgetary reasons, but there should be enough creative gumbo in this household to conjure up some sort of outstanding masquerade mojo. Ms. Smith is a fellow English teacher, and knowing her, I’m pretty sure this bash will feature a pretty literate, fairly eclectic crowd, so even a little more obtuse costuming concoction will probably be well received.

That allows some creative…flexibility.

This also opens up a world of possibilities that go far beyond renting Yogi and Cindy bear costumes, Antony and Cleopatra (too pedestrian) or Grant Woods American Gothic – I am not shaving my head, so that’s out, too. F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald have potential, but Scott was clean-shaven and I don’t think I want to go there, though I could see my wife Amy as Zelda.

Amy also shot down going as the best couples costume idea that I have ever seen.

Some twenty-odd years ago, I was at a costume party with some friends, and there was a young couple there that nobody could quite figure out at first. The young man was about six-one, dressed in a tight fitting, dark brown body suit; the woman was a good foot shorter, very petite, and was wearing a snug white body suit stuffed with foam rubber. They each had a rectangular piece of cardboard with dots on them attached to their backs, and periodically they would have people stand back so they could run to the center of the room and embrace. They were, of course, a s’more.

My wife immediately said exnay on the white body suit thing.

Back on the literary front, I could try to talk her into going as the Venus de Milo and me as Ernest Hemingway, her biographer, billing ourselves as the “Original Farewell to Arms” – though the Venus get up would probably impair her ability to easily partake in the martini fountain, so maybe not. We may just have to go as separately costumed folk, sans connective theme. In fact, Amy might just prefer that.

There are other options, of course.

If I could find a pair of grey long johns and some knee-high red wool hunting socks, I could glue dollar-store Barbie dolls all over me and go as a chick magnet.

I have most of the components of a Charlie Chaplin costume my dad used back in the late 1950’s – most importantly, the vintage black derby. That also opens up the possibility of Stan Laurel, but then we’re back to the clean-shaven thing. I once played Groucho Marx and have the mannerisms and dialogue down, so that has potential; I could temporarily chuck my goatee and simply overdo the grease paint moustache.

I also have an old, red, shortcut tuxedo jacket that passes as a matador’s uniform – though I would need some sequins or a Bedazzler. That could be fun as the evening progresses and people get a bit more…loosened up. I could walk by with a swoop of my cape and tell pretentious-sounding people, “That is bull! Ole’!”

Yeah. Probably not.

Contemplating costume ideas, I took a good look at myself in the mirror and that’s when it came to me: Sigmund Freud! Let the beard grow out a little bit, add some gray, get a big cigar, a pocket watch and a nice vest from Goodwill, then brush up on my best Viennese dialect. I can walk around introducing myself: “Hell-lo. I am Doctor Zigmund Freud. I understand you are having zum trouble vith your zex?”

This seemed workable, so I dug up a picture of Freud and then went looking for one of myself to use in this blog post. Taking most of the family photos leaves me out of most of them, so my pickings on the ol’ hard drive were rather slim, and none too complimentary, save the Mardi Gras get up at right. And there it was:

‘Mardi Gras Sigmund Freud’.

Vest, cigar, Viennese dialect – I could wear crinolines instead of pants; very southern in a Freudian slip sort of way. Or is that mixing too many costume metaphors?

This whole thing is still a work in progress, so I am very open to suggestions. Please act now – this operator is standing by.

The Five Scoops of Grief

Recently, a good friend of mine (I’ll call her ‘Carly’) just starting an elite PhD program, posted the following lament on Facebook: ‘School wins and the rest of my life is going away. I’m ready to accept that I need to go through the five stages of grief over this. Which stage allows me to eat a lot of ice cream?’

‘Carly’ is a thoughtful, logical and normally self-assured woman in her mid-twenties. Such a serious inquiry on her part deserved, I felt, an immediate and not flippant response.

‎”’All of them’. With five different justifications, of course.” I told Carly earnestly on her Facebook wall, knowing full well that to be true, as I had once taken a psychology class in college where I had used this exact subject as the basis for a term paper.

She then replied, “I would love to hear your ice cream justifications for all five stages of grief. Especially since right now I can’t recall what the stages are… but I am sure that all of them require ice cream.”

As Carly’s PhD research focuses on the field of public health, I thought this could be useful on both a personal and professional level. I was happy to dig out my old paper, and add-on some updated Internet research to give her a more complete response. The more I read, the more I realized that this material, neglected as it is, is important enough for a wider audience, as the majority of us will, at one time or another, need to grieve via ice cream.

Most of us have at least heard of the Five Stages of Grief; what most don’t know is the real story behind them – the original Five Scoops of Grief.  What most psychology textbooks promote as ‘Kübler-Ross Model’ really began as a study of people and their ice cream eating habits by Edith Keebler-Ross, who began her ground breaking research and development of her grief theories while working at an ice cream shop during college, where she hand-rolled sugar cones. Her initial findings and related research were initially derided as lacking ‘scientific sustenance’ based on ‘questionable statistical models’ of ice cream eaters – and the sticky finger prints she left on many pages of the early drafts.

Following years of more rigorous, academic research, Keebler’s initial Five Scoops study was revised to the more generic, and more flexible for more situations, Kübler-Ross ‘Five Stages of Grief’ promoted today in most psychology textbooks and self-help workshops. Here now is recap of that original research.

The Five Ice Cream Scoops of Grief, popularly known by the acronym ICDABDA:

Denial“I feel fine.”; “This can’t be happening, not to me.” “Incomplete?  I did all the research he asked for!” Denial is usually only a temporary defense for the individual. In this scoop, ice cream is problematic in that most any flavor will remind the griever of someone/something else they are giving up, or have already given up. In the denial scoop, people frequently choose ice cream flavors associated with past romances or other awkward social situations in which ice cream played a prominent role, even if the connection seems illogical. If a past love always ordered combinations you found odd (“I’ll have a triple scoop of Rocky Road, Rainbow Sherbet and Butter Brickle in a cake-cone, please!”) the griever will now order the same combo, even if it has been years since he/she thought of it, or of the old flame.

It is not uncommon as a defense mechanism, even though the griever might find the concoction distasteful. During the denial scoop, it is best for the griever to stick with the basics: Vanilla, Strawberry, or in small doses, off-brand Chocolate Chip. And no toppings during the denial stage. Keep it simple.

Anger“Why me? It’s not fair!”; “How can this happen to me?”; ‘”Who is to blame?” “This research I’m using is crap!” Once in the second scoop, the individual recognizes that denial cannot continue. Because of this anger, the person is very difficult to care for in group outings due to misplaced feelings of rage and envy. For example, when at an ice cream shop and noticing other people indulging in exotic things like seven-scoop sundaes or in a more private setting noting that every member of the group has a different flavored pint than he/she does.

In this scoop, the problem becomes one of volume more than flavor. A pint of Ben and Jerry’s on a Tuesday evening can quickly escalate to a half-gallon of Blue Bell by Friday night, when the anger is only exacerbated by the fact that you are sitting around on a Friday night with nothing but research homework and a half-gallon of Blue-Bell. This anger can manifest itself in different ways: grievers should avoid banana splits, oversized ice cream sandwiches, sundaes, and Eskimo Pies. Especially Eskimo Pies and Dove Bars. (During the anger scoop, wooden sticks are definitely to be avoided for the safety of all concerned.)

Those grieving should stay with only pints or, as a small compromise, feel free to indulge in some light toppings (sprinkles, Maraschino cherry, nuts) – but only one topping per bowl/pint.

Bargaining — “I’ll do anything for a few more hurricane/snow/earthquake days.”; “I will give my life savings if…”  The bargaining scoop involves the hope that the individual can somehow postpone or delay what they are grieving. Usually, the negotiation for an extended life is made with a higher power in exchange for a reformed lifestyle that limits chocolate consumption in ice cream, candy and baked goods. It is during the bargaining stage that one can begin to illogically justify, for example, exotic six-scoop/three chocolates (light, dark, hard shell) topping sundaes over a simple bowl full of ice cream, or doubling up on such things as shakes and malts – avoid BOGO ‘specials’.

Flavor wise, in this ice cream stage of grief, you begin to rationalize your combining Dutch Chocolate with Chocolate Espresso with Chocolate Peanut Butter Fudge for example, on the logic that ‘one kind of chocolate is good, three is great’.

Psychologically, the griever is saying, “I understand I will die from the work I am doing on this seemingly worthless project, but if I could just do something to buy more time, or just eat more kinds of chocolate ice cream…” People facing less serious trauma can bargain or seek to negotiate a self-compromise. This often includes substituting Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough for an outright chocolate variety, for example. This  is the ice cream equivalent of saying, “Can we still be friends?” when facing a break-up.

Bargaining rarely provides a sustainable solution, especially when you begin involving cheaper brands of ice cream, or even the inexplicable ‘ice milk’ or ‘soft serve’ products. This stage hopefully abates before the dreaded ‘frozen yogurt spiral’ kicks in, in which case an immediate, professional intervention is strongly recommended.

Depression“I’m so sad, why bother with anything like footnotes or citations?”; “I’m going to die soon so what’s the point of this research?” “documenting stuff is for losers!’; “I miss my loved ones, any kind of social life I once had, why go on?” “Why do I bother paying for cable anymore, anyway?” “Who gives a rat’s behind about statistical models?” During this, the key fourth scoop, the person begins to understand the certainty of death by overwork from professors and craves doubles: double fudge, double double-scoops, double double-double scoops, etc. – and is primarily focused, once again, on chocolate.

Because of this, the individual may become silent, refuse visitors during ice cream times, and spend much of the evening crying and eating every variety of chocolate ice cream available and purchased from all retail locations within a five-minute drive of his/her home. The chocolate obsession process allows the dying-from-research-and-writing person to disconnect from things of love and affection, except for the chocolate.

It is not recommended to attempt to cheer up an individual who is in this stage with any flavor NOT chocolate. Under no circumstances should you even attempt to placate the individual with, say, Neapolitan, or worse – vanilla with chocolate syrup! Stick with real-deal chocolate.

This is an important time for the griever that must be processed. Feeling other-things-besides-chocolate emotions and asking a friend to bring you an ice cream flavor containing partial or no chocolate shows that you have begun to accept the situation.

Acceptance — “It’s going to be okay.”; “I can’t fight it, I may as well prepare for it.” “What is the due date on that again?”

In this last scoop, individuals begin to come to terms with their mortality as a student. This scoop varies according to the person’s very specific situation. People dying of homework and/or overwork by professor can enter this scoop a long time before the people they leave behind in their non-academic life, who must pass through their own individual stages of dealing with the grief of missing the primary griever. (Or those who have simply flunked out and may be stuck in earlier scoops.)

This acceptance scoop is commonly marked by an ability to occasionally, but oftentimes nervously, eat out at an ice cream shop with friends who have yet to totally abandon you, and who will simply smile and nod in agreement when you order odd combinations like Key Lime Cheesecake and Rum Raisin Ripple or Pomegranate….anything.

Acceptance also means advancing to point where an ice cream shop outing with friends in which you dissolve into tears, thereby watering down your ice cream and having to drink it from the bowl is the exception, rather than the rule. You have reached full acceptance when you can experience such an embarrassing and messy situation, and immediately laugh about it.

And that’s the scoop.

The whole scoop.

Nothing but the scoop.

So help me Ben and Jerry.

Good luck, Carly.*

Been there, not done that

I have been on blog-hiatus.

It was not by choice, per se, it just sort of worked out that way. The last few weeks have been teacher-hectic, getting ready for a new school year and all, but that is a rather lame excuse. ‘Writers block’ has been an issue this summer, though truthfully, lately it has been more like ‘writers-detour’ – plenty of adventures-in-mundane-fonts begun, but…

Just one of those stretches, I guess.

Even my old standby technique of going through my collection of notebooks to resurrect incomplete pseudo-masterpieces or just get a spark from something I once thought worthy of putting on a page hasn’t generated much.

I am in an un-funky writing funk.

Not that I haven’t been trying; my blog file has been filling up with a weird assortment of vague idea outlines, some interesting opening paragraphs, half-germinated seedlings of a post. My blog file in Word resembles the inside of my refrigerator door; half-filled bottles of tasty dressings and condiments with crusted on lids (secondary asides…probably not enough for a full-fledged post) some great ideas I forgot I had until I see, then gleefully grab the jar only to find the contents well past their expiration date, and a few stray odds and ends that just leave me scratching my head, wondering “Why did I ever get or save THIS?”

I can’t even coax a decent haiku about baseball or Bourbon Street out of my right-brain.

Oh well. A new school year is upon us, and in just two days with students I have garnered a couple of tidbits that should work their way under the ol’ masthead. In the meantime, I keep plugging away, seeking that creative flint that will spark…

Eh. Too cliché.

Writer’s block is just part of the deal a writer makes with the devil that is creativity. It happens. The trick is to not give up, not give in, not entertain words like failure. You need to keep plugging away, seeking that metaphorical writer’s-Viagra…

Damn. Really bad analogy.

I guess I need to keep looking for that mindless behavior to chronicle, that moronic turn of phrase to ridicule. No, I don’t do politics in this space; writing about political foibles is too easy. Its like cheating on your mistress, muse….like using a rhyming dictionary to finish a poem….like stabbing your food with a chopstick….its like…like…

Ah, the scourge of writers block. As a proctologist friend of mine used to say, “This, too, shall pass.”