Schoolyear Homestretch: They Know Not of What They Speak. Or Write.

The discussion in my predominately black, tenth-grade classroom was focused on racism.

We have been working our way through the book A Lesson Before Dying, a wonderful 1994 Pulitzer nominee about a rural Louisiana black man sentenced to death for a crime he didn’t commit. Set in 1947, the story pre-dates the Civil Rights days of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King (the only such benchmarks my students really know) by a decade, and chronicles the effort to see that the accused man dies with a sense of dignity.

Racism is a dominant theme of the story, and a concept that many of even my brightest students tend to incorrectly think is something in the past or, more sadly, not a huge part of their present.

During the discussion on where racism really ‘comes’ from, a black student stated firmly that racism is generally learned from one’s parents – ‘Even black racism.’ This idea was met with murmurs and nods of approval from those that are inclined to jump so forcefully into a discussion like that, but I wanted to point out that that might be a little over-simplified, noting that what parents think or believe doesn’t always transfer to a child and asking my students to think of things they disagree with their parents about. I told my students that I know of plenty of kids who aren’t racist even though their parents seem to be.

This idea was greeted with a few moments of silent indifference until one of the few white kids in the class chimed in proudly with an affirmation of my concept. “I’ve got proof of that, Mr. Lucker!” the kid said earnestly. “I’m supposed to be a fifth-generation KKK Klansman…

….but I’m NOT!”

“That’s…..good, Darren. Thank you for, umm…sharing that.”

The class stared at me, a few with quizzical looks that I can only assume were a reaction to whatever facial expression I had as I stared at Darren* for a moment. Aside from a few nods of agreement, nobody had a thing to say in response, and at first I was more surprised by the lack of reaction than I was the initial comment.

But I’m not. Just another day in the front of my classroom.

My students have a propensity for being obstinate – like most teenagers – but they will dig in their heels ferociously and adamantly defend their version when their take on a turn of phrase is challenged. Two examples from this year stand out.

The first was a sophomore who wrote about an essay commenting on her sister’s positive attitude, and the inspiration the sister provides her younger siblings, including Brenda, my student. She lauded, in worthy prose, her sister’s ‘self of steam.’

Even with provided context, I still had to read it a few times to understand what ‘self of steam’ meant for Brenda.

Discussing 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. Still, she contemplated, paused, looked at her paper and the dictionary, then looked up at me standing over her and said, distinctly, and with a definite correcting me tone of voice: ”Yeah, it’s her SELF. OF. STEAM, Mr. Lucker…how good she feels about herself.”

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

Maybe that’s what my students mean when they say, “Mr. Lucker…you’re blowin’ me!”

But I’m not.

The other top curious turn of phrase also came from a sophomore girl, who noted that when talking about literary point-of-view, it is not third-person-limited and third-person omniscient you need to understand, but rather ‘third- person limited and third person ammunition’ point-of-view.

She too, was left unswayed by logic, or the class handout on her desk we had been reviewing and discussing, or the textbook on her desk, all focusing on ‘third-person-omniscient’ narration.

Carlene was steadfast in explaining ‘third-person-ammunition’ point-of-view – which she actually did quite well.  If you overlook the fact that ‘omniscient’ and ‘ammunition’ are not synonymous. If you do that.

Even in New Orleans, I’m not sure ‘third-person-ammunition’ is a viable legal defense.

And finally…

I had a good chuckle to wrap up the last full week of the year with Ms. W, our school’s lead librarian. (The librarians love me because I bring all my classes there at the start of the semester to teach them about the library; apparently I’m the only English teacher who does that. Plus, I actually assign book reports – hence the initial library-orientation visit. They then know where to go to find the books for their book reports.)

Seems a student came into the library on Friday to return a book that he had checked out in October and found only now while cleaning out his locker. Aside from any pangs of guilt over depriving some other poor student of a book, the return of said tome also probably removed a financial hold from the kid’s record. Fortunately, the fines cease when the fine amount reaches the cost of the book; $16 in this case.

As Ms.W clicked away on the computer showing the book as returned and getting the kid’s holds removed, she said the running dialogue continued as follows:

“Well, at least I hope you enjoyed the book.”

“Eh. It was o.k. Mr. Lucker made us read a book.”

“But you liked it.”

“It was alright. Mr. Lucker made us read a book.”

All she could do relating the story to me was laugh about the kid’s ongoing ‘Mr. Lucker made us read a book.’ I shook my head and said ‘So, I suppose I should wear that as a badge of honor?

She continued laughing as she headed for the door, “Why not, Mr. Lucker? Why not?”

All this time I thought I was teaching English, not eastern philosophy. But I guess if the mantra “Mr. Lucker made us read a book” is the primary result of the year, maybe that will enhance someone’s self-of…Eh. You know what I mean.

Eh. You know what I mean.

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Synonym or Symptom

Pet phrases. Most of us have at least a few family idioms; odd turns of phrase they use on a regular basis due to the fact that they have been indelibly imprinted on the brains of said family members. Usually, these expressions are frequently uttered without conscious thought or awareness of the speaker.

Use of these phrases in and around domestic situations have a wide array of side effects, including, but not limited to or mutually exclusive of any combination thereof; amusement, annoyance, bewilderment, exasperation, confusion, disorientation. Family catch phrases can also result in bemusement, confusion, and occasional outright hostility.

Mostly, they are great familial touchstones.

From time to time I have dropped some of these sayings from the Lucker household into some of my blogs and articles. While I usually attempt to put the phrase into some sort of context, I frequently asked for further clarification or, in some cases, where it came from.

Here, for the first time in one locale, and for future reference for grandson Felix,  are some of the key phrases the Lucker family has, continues to, and will hopefully, in generational perpetuity, use and nurture. Each entry includes approximate date of coinage with etymology noted. (I am an English teacher.)

FAAAreee? Did some-body say FAAAree?” entered the Lucker lexicon in the early 1990’s when I was co-hosting a Saturday morning radio show about casino trips (whole other story) with old buddy Mike Iverson on a radio station in suburban St. Paul. It was the early days of Native American casinos in the Midwest, and in their frenzied competition, offered cheap bus rides with loads of enticements to get people to go to their casino. (Rolls of slot quarters for the slot machines, free steak dinners, etc.) Mike would begin explaining what your ten-dollar bus ticket would get you; upon his utterance of the word ‘free’ I would respond with “FAAAreee? Did somebody say FAAA-reee?”

The phrase has morphed from its intended use into an all-purpose phrase whenever one encounters something being given away. Has waned a bit, but is still very popular with daughter Lindsay.

Etymology: WLKX radio Saturday Morning Casino Show      First recorded use: circa 1993

“Hey, buddy! Only one shade of green in this town!” is a situationally limited phrase for use when you are behind someone at a red light, the light turns green, and the vehicle in front of you doesn’t move. There is some flexibility here as it can be used by either driver or passenger. Lindsay, now 28, discovered that this phrase had been imprinted in her temporal lobe in her high school days, when she found herself blurting it out while riding with friends.

Once in state of dormancy, this phrase has taken on new life with the now ubiquitous problem of people checking text messages at stop lights.

Etymology: Family car trips with my father      First recorded use: Early 1960’s

“I hear ya’ cluckin’ big chicken!” is a flexible phrase that can be used to show agreement, support or congratulations. A big part of its flexibility is in how simple inflection changes and tone can convey empathy: any enthusiastic version shows excitement, while a more melancholy take can show agreement and empathy with someone’s disappointment.
Someone: “That was the worst ninja ballerina movie I have ever seen!”
You: (In your best Eeyore voice, head nodding in agreement) “I hear ya cluckin’, big chicken.”

Etymology: unclear or not remembered      First recorded use: Mid 1990’s

“Its Mexican restaurant weather; chili today, hot tamale.” is actually a variation on a phrase uttered frequently by an old Swede that I knew growing up. Hot weather would cause him to take off his hat, wipe his balding dome with a bandana, and say, repeatedly “Hot tamales, hot tamales.”

In the early days of my radio career, I modified the phrase for occasional use in weather forecasts for days when the weather was changing from cold to warmer; “Chili today, hot tamale.”

Etymology: Ivar Andren, Old Swede      First recorded use: Original ‘hot tamales’ early 1960’s; present version, early 1980’s

“It’s warmish” is a fairly recent addition to the family thesaurus, only coming into use when we moved from Minnesota to New Orleans. Subsequently, northern visitors have commented on the summer heat and humidity with pointed exclamations like ‘Geez, it’s hot!” to which the mind-over-matter counter to any perceived meteorological discomfort is an acknowledging, “It’s warmish.”

“It’s warmish” had its first use was in response to repeated commentary on June heat and humidity by our college age friend Stephan Immerfall, who helped us drive down here on our relocation. He took to the phrase, and brought it back north with him. Though ‘Warmish” has fallen mostly into disuse in Minnesota, we still utilize it regularly here in New Orleans. Especially when explaining weather to visitors from out-of-town.
Visitor: “Man! Its 97 degrees with 83% humidity! This is crazy!”
Any relocated Lucker: (nodding in agreement) “Yeah, it’s warmish.”

Etymology: Moving & transitioning  to New Orleans      First recorded use: 2008

“Oh yeah, bay-bee grammmaw!” was uttered by my youngest son Sam, now thirteen, when he was a toddler. He had been running around saying, “Oh yeah, baby” and one night we wanted him to say it to his grandma Mickelson, who was on the phone. The resulting, “C’mon, say ‘oh yeah, bay-bee’ for grandma” came out of Sam’s mouth as “Oh yeah, bay-beeee gram-maw!” and the phrase stuck.

To this day, even grandma Mickelson uses the phrase “Oh yeah, bay-bee grandma!” as a gleeful expression, such as when drawing the cards that give her a win in a card game, for example.

Etymology: Son Sam, who picked it up at daycare and modified it      First recorded use: 2001

“Somebody get that, it might be a phone call.” is a phrase my father used from time to time, much to my mother’s chagrin and annoyance. I picked it up (the phrase, not the phone) and used it in much the same way as my father (when a telephone would ring) much to the annoyance and puzzlement of most people.

Lindsay also found this one had stuck in her head while working her first job as a teenager, in a video store. She was stocking VHS tapes on a shelf at the far end of the store when the phone at the desk rang, prompting Lindsay to pop up and loudly proclaim, “Somebody get that, it MIGHT be a phone call!” This caused store customers to stop their browsing and look at her quizzically, as her coworkers did likewise.  This phrase is among the most frequently used in the Lucker lexicon.

Etymology: My father to me to Lindsay to Will and Sam      First recorded use: Early 1960’s

“Well don’t that just curdle yer milk!” is a general purpose show astonishment or incredulity at something incomprehensible; usually the behavior or utterance of another person. I picked up this little gem during my first job in radio in little Nevada, MO, from my friend and co-worker Jeff Tweeten.

This phrase had a longer shelf life and higher recognition factor when living in the rural Midwest, but can still elicit the ocassional nod of agreement from bystanders.

Etymology: Hanging out with Jeff in rural Missouri First recorded use: 1978

“What’s that got to do with the price of eggs in Cleveland?” is simply a more workable, Lucker family version of the traditional ‘What’s that got to do with the price of tea in China?’ retort to an irrelevant suggestion. Especially for the younger generation, eggs are more easily relatable as an analogy than tea, as Cleveland is more graspable as a concept than China.

While other foodstuffs and geographic locations have been improvised here, in the Lucker household eggs/Cleveland prevail. Though we all eat eggs, none of us have ever been to Cleveland.

Etymology: South Minneapolis Workforce Center      First recorded use: 2001

“While you’re up…” is a dinner table phrase used when everyone is sitting down and eating, and someone either needs something that wasn’t brought to the table or the dogs need to be let inside, or the fan turned or…? This is a functionally ironic term as it is used only while everyone is sitting down.

“While you’re up…” has occasionally been used in a pique of pure laziness in other rooms in the house and at times other than dinner, though that behavior is generally frowned upon.

Etymology: Family dinner table      First recorded use: Early 21st century

“Who would do that?” is a phrase daughter Lindsay came up with in her teens in collaboration with her stepmother Amy, and is usually used to poke fun at me for some perceived foible, misstep or oddball idea. Inflection varies and greatly alters the trajectory of meaning; “Who would do that?” is the more emphatic version, though “Who would DO that?” is the far more commonly used version.

The phrase has become a staple of family verbiage for all members.

Etymology: Custodial weekends      First recorded use: Mid 1990’s

“You young kids and your crazy ideas!” is a typical Lucker family response to something inexplicable or just plain weird. It is usually uttered in a tone of faux-condescension, mild sarcasm or gentle, tongue-in-cheek scolding…though at times in complete exasperation. It is typically spoken mostly by the two youngest members of the family and directed at either their parents or, once in a great while, at each other.

‘YYKAYCI’ is frequently used to highlight parental use of an archaic phrase or recounting of some childhood recipe or food like. Usually by  youngest son Sam.

Etymology: Sam Lucker, solo    First recorded use: 2011

There you have it; a short compendium of Lucker family verbiage. As we hold no copyright on any of the phrases listed above, have at them without fear of legal retribution. Print a copy and keep this guide handy if you’re coming to visit or planning on any verbal contact with the family. This guide can also serve as a good template for getting your own family’s linguistic quirks recorded for posterity and future generation’s edification.

You’re welcome.

Jottings from a pocket notebook

Another week of high school in da’ hood is in the books. Some interesting odds-n-ends from the week.

First, let’s look at the stats:

I subbed for the same teacher on Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday this week – a teacher who had requested my services, was well prepared and even gave me a call during my stint to make sure had what I needed. Nice gig.

It was a rather wild place on Thursday, apparently. When I came back on Friday, I was given the schools ‘do not admit’ list – students who for whatever reason should either not be in class, or who need to be in detention. Between leaving Wednesday afternoon and returning Friday morning, the school racked up 7 out-of-school suspensions and 6 expulsions. Add in 3 mandatory parent conferences and 6 lunch detentions, and the disciplinary staff had a pretty busy day. In asking a staff member what went on Thursday , she just shrugged and said “Nothing unusual. Why”?

Just another day in the RSD.

***

I had one of my stock sub-student exchanges three times this week:
“Mr. Lucker…you aggrivatin’”!
“I know. What can I tell you? It’s a gift”.

***

A class I had on Wednesday was actually getting some work done, and we were in the midst of some decent discussion time, and I tried to interject a little humor into the mix. Class wasn’t buying it. One kid says to me, “Mr. Lucker – you a L-seven”.
I said “An ‘L-seven’? Guess I don’t know what that means”. Kid feigns disgust.“Write it on the board.” I drew an L then a 7 next to it. “Now push them together” the kid says. I did: L7. “See, Mr. Lucker – you an L-seven…a square”.
“Interesting” I said with a smile, “but if you draw the seven correctly, it’s closer to a parallelogram”. Kid shakes his head sadly, looks around at apathetic classmates and simply says, “See”?

***

Moving right along to…

Mark’s rhetorical question of the week: what kind of shot in life does a kid have when his parents name him ‘Lucifer’.

***

If you know anything about New Orleans, you know what second-lines are; the dancers you see leading most of the parades and jazz funerals. Second-lining is a big deal here, and kids are trained from a young age to learn the steps and twirl the parasols, etc. One of the security guards at the school I was at this week must second line: she strolls the hallways during passing periods with an authoritative, rhythmic movement, saying softly, “Less talkin’, more walkin’…less talkin’, more walkin’…” as she gently herds kids toward their classrooms.

There is nothing affected about her gait or patter – I would be willing to bet she is not even aware that she is doing it that way.

By my second day there, I was bobbing my head to her beat whenever she walked by my classroom.

***

One of the classes I had this week was an ACT prep class – seniors and a few juniors, a cut above the typical students. They were working in pairs, doing an exercise involving looking up some definitions in the dictionary. A young woman flipped the page in her Webster’s and found a small, round, smaller than a quarter, Band-Aid stuck to the page. “Eww. Look at this Mr. Lucker – a nicotine patch”. I looked down and chuckled. “I think that’s just a Band-Aid”.
“Uh-uh” said the young man she was working with, “that’s a nicotine patch, not a Band-Aid”, poking at the edge of it with his pencil.
“Naw, it’s too small to be a nicotine patch” I replied, adding after a pause, “…unless it’s one of those new, junior size ones…you know, kids size”.

Both of them slowly raised their heads, staring at me while they processed the concept. The young man got a bit of a frown as he looked at me and said, quite seriously,

“Mr. Lucker…you aint no comedian”.

***

One of things I truly enjoy is student’s complete earnestness in making out-of-the-blue inquiries and non-sequiturs. My favorite this week came during some independent study time as I was roaming around the room. As I walked by her desk, a girl looked up at me, light-bulb nearly visible above her head, blurting out, “Mr. Lucker! I just figured out who you look like”!

“Oh yeah? Who”?

“You look just like Tom Hanks…you both have high, white-guy forehead”!

Me and Tom. Who knew?

***
Like I said, just another week…