On the Street Where I Lived: McKeever

I grew up on McKeever street in Granada Hills in the San Fernando Valley in the same house for 23 years. The epitome of a Valley suburb, our street was as idyllic as any and held the hopes and dreams for all of us.

We were a young neighborhood. I think there were 15 neighborhood kids within a year or two of my own age, so birthday parties were packed. Everyone got along, at least until puberty.

McKeever street rested between Amestoy, a larger avenue and nestled between Index and Donmetz. There was only one outlet. McKeever street was gently bowed, like the cord on a bow and arrow pulled back taut. It ran from Amestoy up the street for 19 houses, where it then took a sharp 90 degree right turn to a stub of a street with 4 houses on one side and 2 on the other, called Aldea. Thus there was no proper end to McKeever. It jumped several main roads and picked up again in spots.

Our section in Granada Hills had ranch style house, 3 and 4 bedrooms, that, when we got a little older, we realized were actually all slight variations of the same models. Some had attached garages, some had detached garages, some had sliding glass doors that gave way to patios, some had enclosed patios, and some had patios that had been turned into another room in the house. Some houses were L-shaped one way, and then next door, the house was a backwards L-shape, but the same floor plan. All of the houses sat on lots with brick fences keeping the yards apart on three sides. They were all set very close together.

We walked to schools and back along McKeever street. We kicked rocks, raced boat ticks in the gutters when it rained, looked for the plus signs in the corner of the cement slabs that made up the sidewalk. If you stepped on the slab with a plus sign on it, your buddies got to punch you in the arm.

I lived in the 5th house on the south side of the street from Amestoy. My bedroom window looked out over McKeever Street. At the end of our driveway was a street lamp which we used for night time games of tag and hide and seek. My window looked out directly into the center of Wish Avenue, a cul-de-sac opposite our home with 6 houses in it of varying quality.

Many times I looked out my window through the dark brown stained shutters and wished for many things to happen along Wish Avenue.

We knew everyone, and they knew us. The manhole cover in the middle of Wish Avenue was home plate for our famous games of baseball. Until we were young teenagers, we could pull together a game of street ball with a tennis ball and a whiffle bat or sometimes a real baseball. A tree served as first base, we usually set down a paper plate or a piece of cardboard for 2nd based, a metal flip cover for the water main shut off for one of the cul de sac houses was 3rd base. By the time we became young teenagers, we were routinely hitting tennis balls over my yard and house into the swimming pool in my backyard. We had to switch to pure whiffle ball, and even then, my house served as the warning track because we had grown so adept at hitting the ball.

The corner lot of Wish Avenue opposite our house had the largest yard, and it was gently sloped, so we could play football during football season, mostly 2 on 2 Nerf ball.

McKeever street changed over the years, but mostly everyone kept their yards neat and clean, and there wasn’t a party house in sight. There were bullies up the street at the crux between McKeever and Aldea, which we ran past as fast as we could. Later, immigrants from Nicaragua moved in and I overheard parents talk about depreciating property values – people I had never thought could be racist at all.

But for the most part, everybody shared each other’s house. We could walk in to the house of our good friends without knocking, just as our swimming pool was designated a McKeever street community pool for friends.

We also saw our share of tragedies. On the corner of McKeever and Amestoy, an eccentric woman we named Witchiepoo lived alone. She would rarely wear anything but a nightgown, and she’d let herself into people’s homes in the morning to borrow sugar and sit and have a cup of coffee and smoke her cigarettes. One time following a night event at the local elementary school, my dad and I were walking home and the street was blocked off my police and fire engines. Witchiepoo had caught her house on fire smoking in bed and perished in the fire.

Also, in the middle of the block, a young man named Bruce sat on his short brick retaining wall at the end of his driveway playing his guitar. He was probably 6 or 7 years older than me, pleasant and kind, and not disposed to drama. He’d play most of the day. I don’t know if he worked, but he always had a song, a smile, and a kind “hello” for all of us. He rode on the back of a friend’s motorcycle one day. They were riding on Amestoy, which had a middle gutter that grew moss on it most of the year. The motorcycle slid in the moss and Bruce was thrown from the motorcycle and hit his head on the curb, dying almost instantly. He wasn’t wearing a helmet.

Finally, across the street and down two doors from my house lived the Brooks family, my second home. They had 4 daughters, including one my age, and a son, Lonnie, a few years older than me. One day shortly after 4th of July, Lonnie tried to make a firecracker out of a CO2 cannister and some gunpowder from his father’s bullet making machine. He lit it and the cannister exploded. A piece of the metal pierced his heart. People yelled and the mother of my best friend, who was a nurse, came out to calm everyone down. She took one look at him and his fluttering eyes and yelled for someone to call an ambulance. Lonnie was 15 when he died. His parents were on vacation and we had to track them down to tell them to come home to that tragedy.

As a community, we faced a lot, but McKeever street was home to us all. I think the Brooks family stayed the longest. I loved my house and neighborhood so much, that I made my parents tell me if they were going to sell the house so I could buy it and keep it. When it came time for them to sell it, following the 1987 stock market crash, I was in no position to buy the house. My dad called me and said, “So I’m telling you that we’re going to sell the house, and wanted to let you know.” I told him that of course it was his house and it was okay. He said, “Good, because we already sold it.”

That ended my time on McKeever street. I have so many stories from my 23 years in one house on that street, and I will be spending the next 23 years telling them all.

Give My Regards to Broadway

A memory and a tribute to healthcare workers in New York City

Today’s Discover Prompts is about “song.” I’m remembering a duet I used to play with my dad on the piano, “Give My Regards to Broadway.” I’m also thinking of the healthcare workers laying their lives on the line during this pandemic. I’m thinking of you and everyone affected and your great city.

I grew up in the quiet suburbs of the San Fernando Valley north of Los Angeles during the late 60s and 70s. Thus, I rooted against New York and was actually afraid of New York, the crime, the brashness, the ballsiness of it shown on television. We were more laid back in sunny Southern California back in those days.

My how things have changed. I moved away from Los Angeles before the big population explosion and the deterioration due to crime and freeway traffic. And I finally got my first opportunity to visit New York in 1999. I was terrified. But what I didn’t know was that as Los Angeles was falling into disrepair, New York was cleaning up its act.

I had planned a birthday trip for a surprise to see Phantom of the Opera. Once I bought the show tickets, I had to figure out how to get there from Kansas, where to stay, and how to travel between airport and city and within the city, all without a credit card. But once I arrived, I was completely caught off guard by how nice and helpful everyone was, how the city truly does never sleep, and how much I missed city life. Of course, I still have my home grown allegiances to the L.A. Dodgers, but as I was a bit older, I could understand the appeal of a cosmopolitan city like New York. Oh we saw our Broadway show, but we also did plenty of touristy things in the short 3 days we were there, like visit Washington Square park and go to the top of the Empire State Building and walk around Times Square.

I now live in the East and I’ve been to New York city several times and enjoy it more and more each time. When this blog grows up and I’m a famous writer, I’m sure I’ll look back at this time when I’m sucking up to New York as the pivotal moment when I made it.

As the youngest in my family, by the time I was 10, my brother and sisters had all moved out to get married, start families, and/or go to college. My sister Lisa was the last to leave, which left me with my mom and dad to myself. I spent a great deal of time playing the piano without having to fight for it with my sister. My dad played often, especially when he got home from work. He’d sit down and relax, smoking his cigarettes and playing songs he knew by heart on the 1/4 grand cherry wood Chickering piano we had at the time. So in our bonding time, we started playing duets from our piano books.

He could play anything that he heard once, with a riveting “oom-pah” bass and a deft right-handed melody. He had his own style, a cross between 40s and 50s standards and 70s lounge player. I could pick out melodies but had a tougher time with bass progressions. So he usually played the bass and I played the melody. We settled on the song “Give My Regards to Broadway” that we found in one of the piano books.

I think we chose that song because it was familiar to me, mostly from hearing my sister Lisa play it with my dad. The bass was easy and he kept speeding up, especially at some key points where I fumbled to learn the notes. At first, as we were learning it, I was aware that we played ploddingly, like a child learning to read his first books. At 10 years old, I could play piano better than that, but I wasn’t that skilled in the art of duets.

But what I lacked in skill, I made up for with perseverance. One day, everything clicked. My forearms relaxed, I knew the notes, and I could keep pace with dad’s rhythmic bass. He even began to improvise here and there and I’d stay on track with the melody. And then one day, we just let it go. I set the metronome to see what the projected speed was according to the music, and it was much faster than we had been practicing. But we tried and we persevered. Before too long, we had mastered this song. We could play it slowly, with feeling, or we could rip through it loudly and animatedly. And fast. We kept time with each other and could follow each other’s lead. It was truly music in the making every time we sat to play “Give My Regards to Broadway.”

When Lisa returned home from school during break, I was glad to have someone to talk to nad fight over the piano with. But dad and I had cooked up a scheme for her. Lisa always had a bit of a competitive streak with me, and she had several years head start on me in playing the piano and was 7 years of age older. So while I was always baby brother and the kid, she was the grown-up teenager and then college student. Which is to say, she often didn’t take me seriously. But dad and I would surprise her.

I said, “Lisa! Lisa! you have to listen. Dad and I have been practicing, and we can now play “Give My Regards to Broadway.” So we sat down to show her. We played just as painfully ploddingly as one can. One note (pause) one note (pause) one note (pause) Give (pause) My (pause) Re (pause) guard (pause)…….. we played extra slow, and we didn’t miss a note, as if I were a 2 or 3 year old proudly reciting for the first time his ABCs for his big sister. She kinda giggled nervously and said, “Oh, that’s good Lee,” in that big sisterly patronizing way she had.

And then we did it. I looked at Dad and said, “Hit it!” And then we really played it. We played it to tempo and added every flourish we knew and sped off to a grand finale. By this time, we didn’t even need to look at the music. It was all in our heads and in our fingers. I saw Lisa laugh again, nervously in a different way. When we were done she said, “Oh you two!” and stomped off.

We got her, Dad. Yes, we got her.

I’ve had a lot of tragic events in my life. And during times like this unprecedented pandemic, there are a lot of people suffering but also a lot of people helping others, which reinforces my belief that people are ultimately good. It’s hard to see that through the daily partisan fighting in this country, but I’m glad to see so many people come together to battle this horrible pandemic. I’m fortunate to have memories like this one about a key song in my life, about family, about gentle sibling rivalries and good relationships with parents. And I miss my dad greatly every time I think of the piano and of Broadway.

Now in my 50s, I’ve had the opportunity to see shows on Broadway and walk the famous street under the bright marquees. And once our world has found a way to combat this disease, I look forward to once more visiting to “Give My Regards to Broadway.”

Wide Open Sea

When I was 16 years old, I sailed on the Trimaran Columba from Ventura, California to the Hawaiian Islands with 11 other people. The captain was our high school football coach, and the rest of us were high schoolers and a few beginning college students.

I had a love/hate relationship with the water. In every part of my life, I had intense motion sickness. I ruined every car my family ever had, I couldn’t ride any amusement park rides that went in a circle, and I had earned the nickname “King of the Barfers” from how often I got motion sick. My parents loved to fish, especially deep sea over night trips. As the youngest child, I often had to accompany them. I loved the adventure of it all, but the movement of the ocean combined with all the smells of fish, diesel fuel, and cigarette smoke left me holding onto the rails and puking my guts out. With a bare hook and nothing else to do, I always caught my limit in the well-chummed water.

Being out to sea with the land in the far distance, I was always amazed at just how slowly sailboats travel. We could see land, and from that point, it was always about 24 hours of sailing before we made it to shore. It was faster on a motorized vessel, of course, but my love was for sailing – the slow rocking of the boat, the sound of the waves flapping or making the wind whistle through them, and the tinkling of the shrouds, the creaking of the hull, and the slap of the water against the hull held a magical fascination to me. Here we were – with wind as our only propulsion, going from point A to point B, not in a straight line, but with a plan and science.

On the trip to Hawaii, I was camped out in the back of the boat for 5 days, seasick out of my mind, unable to swallow pills or medicines of any kind, hoping to die. Finally, I got a seasickness pill down and some coca-cola syrup. This remedy did the trick and I slept fitfully for about 36 hours. When I finally woke up, having missed many watches, much to the chagrin of my shipmates who had to cover for me during this time, I made my way to the center of the boat and looked all around.

There was no land in sight at all. It was the first time I had sailed in which land was completely gone. All I could see was blue – a vast blue sea, somewhat calm, and a bright blue cloudless sky. The weather had warmed already and we were surfing waves pleasantly as we had found the trade winds which would take us in to Hawaii.

I had never experienced such openness in my life. I saw where we were on the nautical chart, far from anything, so small in the grander scheme of things. And yet, this boat, all I knew as home at that moment, didn’t feel like an insignificant speck in a vast universe. The sky, the ocean all of existence was wrapped up as if our boat was encapsulated and had become the whole world. That vastness of everything was like looking through a telescope – we were magnified and made bigger by the emptiness. And without any land by which to catch our bearings, the surface of the ocean became alive. I saw the ripples and small waves, the rivulets of current, every piece of foam course and flow with texture and shape. The minutiae of detail grew out of all proportion until seeing itself was all there was left. Gradations of blue filled the sky rather than a complete monochromatic blue.

The world became both smaller and bigger at once. Openness like this can drive some people made, while for others, they can see the far reaches and curling edges of the universe. For me, blue in every direction guided by the invisible wind upon which we played lightly with our sails and floating home, this openness became a way that forever after I would live my life – free from common strictures, free from conventional thought, always looking for a less common understanding and finding a way out of life’s closed-in spaces.

All I need is a glimpse of sky and a small boat on the water to achieve a peace like I’ve never felt anywhere else.

Later in my life, I lived on a sailboat. My greatest joy was to leave the workday behind, motor out to San Diego bay and turn off the engine and float, listening to all the nautical sounds and the seabirds while bobbing gently in the light winds on the water at sunset. Stress would melt away quickly, and I felt more at peace then I ever had before.

Someday, I will have a sailboat again.

Tank You, Tank You Very Much!

For yesterday’s (April 1) Discover Prompt, I’m retelling one of my favorite longish jokes from elementary school. I love this joke so much! It tickles me every time. You be the judge if the pay off is worth it.

Once, this young man joined the army. They were glad to have him. When it came time for rifle drills, the drill sergeant passed out broomsticks to everyone. He said, “Men, due to a shortage of supplies, we’re going to have to use broomsticks for rifles. So when you see the enemy in your sights, just hold the broomstick up as if you are aiming a rifle, and say, ‘Bang! Bang!’ The enemy will fall down dead.”

So they all went out to the shooting range and tried it out. The soldiers pointed their broomsticks and yelled out “Bang! Bang!” and the enemy fell down as if shot. But some of the enemy got too close and were able to get at the soldiers.

The drill sergeant said, “If the enemy gets too close, use your broomstick like a rifle with a bayonet on it. If you can see the color of his eyes, jab at him with the broomstick and say, ‘Stab! Stab!’ The enemy will grab his gut and fall down dead.”

They went back out to the shooting range. Things went well. They’d yell “Bang! Bang!” And the enemy would fall down as if dead. If an enemy got too close, they’d use the broomstick as a bayonet and say “Stab! Stab!” and the enemy would grab his gut and fall down as if dead.

Things went on like this, when a soldier spotted an enemy far off. He pointed the broomstick and said, “Bang! Bang!” Nothing happened. He thought, maybe he was too far off. He waited until the enemy got closer. He tried again. “Bang! Bang!” Again, nothing happened. “Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang!” He got frantic because nothing was happening and the enemy drew closer and closer. He got too close. The soldier wielded his broomstick as if it had a bayonet attached. He thrust it at the enemy and said, “Stab! Stab!” And just at that moment, the enemy bowled him over, just as if he were a football player tackling him.

A bit dazed, the soldier lifted himself up to see the enemy keep going and hear him say, “Tank! Tank! Tank! Tank!”

Recent Articles on Medium – January and February 2020

I’ve been writing articles on Medium.com. So pop on over there and take a look. Here is the list of my most recent articles, including one featured on the Better Humans publication. Please share with your friends. I’ll be getting back to my Hawaii series soon. There’s more to come!

For now, enjoy!

How to Master Critical Thinking By Using a Strategy for Critical Reading (Feb. 11)

Grammar Rules Not to Live By (Jan 28)

How to Be an Endless Idea Factory (Jan 26)

How to Let Go of Perfectionism in Writing (Jan 21)

These Are the Comma Rules You Are Looking for (Jan 12)

Adventures in Sailing, Part 8 – Nighttime at Sea

Photo by Johannes Plenio from Pexels

Adventures in Sailing, part 8

Nights on the Pacific Ocean were absolutely fantastic. The stars shone brighter than I had ever seen since the sky was free from any city light pollution. We practiced taking sights with our sextants. We were under strict orders to always wear our life jackets and to attach our hooks to the lifelines and always keep one hand on the boat, basic boating safety.

One night, on a late watch with the captain’s daughter, I could not keep my eyes open. I was so tired, partly because my bunk was used as the dining table through the day so I never had a comfortable place to nap. The deck was too hot and too noisy with the day’s activities. We had two hour watches and I remember not being able to keep my eyes open. All of a sudden, I got a slap across the face. It startled me awake and I turned to Christy, thinking she had hit me to wake me up.

In the cockpit was a flying fish. It flopped around at the bottom of the cockpit and I saw its wing-like fins. I had thought flying fish were just a myth, something adults tell kids. But here was one, saving me from embarassment as I was falling asleep on watch.

Another night, I was finally getting a good night’s sleep when I heard the ship’s bell calling everyone on deck. The wind had whipped up and it had grown cold. Our boat had far too much sail out for the strength of the winds, and we needed to act fast to reduce sail and manage the boat in these rough seas. The captain said this was merely a small squall. To me, it seemed like a mighty storm, the ocean turned to angry gray-black monster ready to swallow us up and dash us to pieces.

We worked as a team to pull the jib down, which landed in to the water, making pulling it on deck all the more difficult. The mainsail was much bigger but since it was in the middle of the boat attached to the main mast, it was in less danger of blowing around. Once we got the sails down and in their bags, the sailboat slowed. We still made 3 knots with just our bare masts, but it felt as if we could better control the ship. At the time, it seemed as if this storm would never end, but it only last a few hours, after which the seas seemed relatively calm. We put the sails up, reefed in case the storm returned, which was unlikely, and we began surfing the waves again.

I wasn’t the strongest kid, with my skinny arms, but I had great leverage and was able to pull my weight during this mini crisis. The activity made me forget about seasickness, and my adrenaline kicked in. It was definitely a highlight of the trip, though I can still remember feeling scared having never experienced a sea squall before. Later in the trip, we would be challenged again when making the 24-hour trip from the big island to Maui, but all in due course.

Oh to be on the water again, under those clear skies and those bright stars, in that warm air. The sea becomes a part of every sailor, and even though I was beset with challenges throughout this trip, the sailing bug crept into my soul and has never left.

West vs. East – Part IV – A New Hope

Photo by Lynnelle Richardson from Pexels

I’m a hopeful person. I try to see the good in people and situations. But that has led me to being taken advantage of, to not seeing people clearly who were troubled or narcissistic, or worse. It means that I grate against cynics and half-glass-empty people.

When I moved from San Diego, California to New Haven, Connecticut with the girlfriend, it was with high hopes of something new and better. She was off on an adventure, a new chapter in her life, and I willingly took a supporting role with the hope of forging a new path for myself as well. After a rough few years in San Diego, a change of scenery was just what I needed.

But my first 15 months in New Haven, Connecticut have been more of the same. I’m trying to evaluate everything evenly, not jump to conclusions, take things as they come, not attribute any malevolent force to the universe. I don’t consider myself a hard-luck case. But it’s becoming harder and harder to find an advantage, to forge that advantage, even when I put my best self into the world. Here are examples of what has happened since I’ve moved to New Haven – a list:

  1. Landed a job teaching at Southern Connecticut State University, as I drove across country without a job.
  2. Once in New Haven, I looked for more teaching jobs and was turned down for one I had been angling for for 6 months back in San Diego. I landed a different assignment at Norwalk Community College.

    (Those were the good things – sort of. They at least provided monies to help me get started. But then the world shifted on its axis.)
  3. Commute to Norwalk turned out to be 90 minutes to go 30 miles at 9:00 am. The last 5 miles took 30 minutes in Fairfield County, CT – New York bound traffic. It sucked!
  4. Teaching position was a glorified babysitting position with an unfair curriculum the didn’t allow students to learn. Director was an egotist who didn’t help when true problems arose (such as, I didn’t have access to the faulty intranet for the first month, and he wouldn’t take the time to help. Such as, evaluating students without a rubric, saying “I just don’t feel it.” How professional is that?)
  5. Teaching position at Southern CSU was better, but I had one posse of three students in one class who were disruptive and a hostile student in another class. The institution would not back me up with regard to the hostile student and let back in the class. Absurd and dangerous.
  6. When parking one day near my apartment, a guy was crossing the intersection as I was waiting to turn right into that street. He was looking over his shoulder away from me, eating a sandwich from a wrapper. When he turned and saw me waiting for him, he yelled “fuck you, buddy!” Really? Welcome to New Haven. I should’ve hit him.
  7. On my commute to Norwalk CC one morning, I behind a car that hit a deer. Traffic screeched to a stop. No one was hurt, but the deer sat in the road, its legs buckled under it, while one of its hoofs dangled at the end of his broken leg. Heartbreaking. I regularly saw about 5 deer carcasses each morning on my 3 day a week commute.
  8. The teaching assignments were so awful that I developed chest pains, trouble breathing, anxiety, and vertigo.
  9. I had a work injury to my thumb, which I reported the day I left California for Connecticut. It took three months to get approval for physical therapy, and when I finally got to PT, I had trouble arranging a visit with the orthopedist. Two cortisone shots later, my thumb was not improved and it was decided I needed surgery. It took another three months to get through to the worker’s comp office in California to get approved. Once approved, I had a job that I couldn’t leave to have the surgery as the surgery would have taken me away from work for more than 2 weeks for healing. If I had gotten that approval sooner, I could’ve had the surgery while I was unemployed. Fortunately, my job at the library helped my thumb injury. While it’s not completely healed, it is better than it was while I was getting PT.
  10. I had to pay for my health insurance (1/3 of my monthly earnings), from which I would receive 70% back 3 months after I stopped that health insurance coverage. I found a doctor who didn’t really listen to me about my worries and prescribed me Ativan!
  11. Christmas break in California with the girfriend, meeting some of her family for the first time. It went well, but I was sick most of the time.
  12. I was down to one class (earning less than $500/mo) in the Spring 2019 semester, waiting for my health insurance refund, and applying for unemployment. I was denied for a special appeal based on an extreme change of income. Found out 5 weeks later that the appeal was denied, but that a regular unemployment disbursement was approved, but no one had told me. I started receiving some unemployment compensation.
  13. Because I lived in California part of the year and Connecticut part of the year, my taxes were complicated. I barely made any money and still had to pay an exorbitant amount, almost a third of my income for the year for California taxes. They billed me later and I’m on a payment plan. I still think they miscalculated.
  14. I got Husky Health, Medicaid, because I had practically no income. I had a battery of tests done and everything came out negative. I am fit as a fiddle – stress was the major issue.
  15. Once I got unemployment figured out, I no longer qualified for health insurance. Unemployment counts as income and priced me out of any form of free health insurance. And the lowest costing plan, even with the Affordable Care Act, was too much for how much money I was bringing in. So I couldn’t afford health insurance for a while.
  16. I applied for a job as an Assistant Manager with a luxury pet kennel company, looking for a change of careers. I had two interviews, which both went very well. I called when reviewing the job terms, and found out that they didn’t offer medical insurance. They would pay for half of it – you present a bill each month and they write you a check. A tax professional said what they were doing is illegal, for them, not for me as a potential employee. My experiences fit exceptionally well for this job and I was excited for this opportunity. They complained in the interview about past candidates being offered the position and then never following up with them, just disappearing. After my interviews, they said they’d call me the following week. I waited…and waited…and waited. They ghosted me.
  17. I signed up for a job placement service at New Haven Works, which takes some follow up to get enrolled in. After the initial sign-up and conference, one is assigned a job coach. My job coach seemed active and engaged, and I had high hopes of being placed into a temporary position rather quickly (I have 33 years of higher education experience in management type jobs, as well as classroom teaching in college.). I even found a typo on their PowerPoint Presentation materials, which impressed them. But then, my job coach missed three straight meetings, one of which I walked to their office over a mile in the snow to attend. On the third missed meeting, I waited almost a week and then called my job coach. She answered the phone, “Oh you. What?” I was astounded. SHE should have called me back and apologized for missing and tried to reschedule. But evidently I was an inconvenience to her. We were in the middle of revising my resume based on recommendations from Employee Services/Recruiting at Yale University, and a month had gone by. I was livid. I wrote the executive director of the company and explained the situation and requested a new job coach. They wanted to mediate a discussion between me and the previous job coach, but I declined. There was no need to try to continue working with someone with that level of contempt. She had her chance.

    17. I got a temporary 6-month appointment for a very physical job at the Yale University library. I love it. My appointment was changed to a limited duration appointment, which qualifies me as an internal candidate. I have applied for a few jobs, but I haven’t landed anything yet, though I don’t know why. I’m waiting to hear back on a promising position for which I had an interview on Nov. 12. This job is perhaps the lone good thing that has happened since moving to New Haven, other than getting our dog, our now 1 year old Dachshund named Herman. While it’s certainly not a career job, I have the best boss I ever had, a work environment that values me, an inspirational place to work (Sterling Memorial Library), and no grading to bring home at nights. My time is my own, and I can write before or after work. I’m surrounded by books every day! My appointment ends at the end of February. I am still looking for jobs and hope to land something permanent before I lost my internal status.

    18. I had a major car accident that has left me with a car for the first time since I was 16 years old. I walk to work, about 0.3 miles, and I live downtown, so everything is within walking distance. If we have to drive anywhere, the girlfriend has a small car that we can use. But my beautiful Toyota RAV4, the first car that I negotiated with and fully bought on my own without a parent or spouse to help, was totaled at the stupidest freeway onramp ever. At the top of the ramp is a yield sign and a road coming from over the driver’s side left shoulder. A car was stopped at the yield sign, and I remember saying, “you gotta go! you gotta go!” and before I even reached him, I was rear-ended so hard, and then pushed into the stopped car. The person behind who rear-ended me hardly had anything wrong with his car. The person in front had back bumper and gate damage, but both cars were drivable. Mine was smashed in front and back and had to be towed away. It was a total loss, for which GEICO paid everything off in a week. Fortunately, the girlfriend and I were completely unscathed, though we were curious as to why the airbags did NOT go off. We were lucky – so losing the car wasn’t such a good thing, but one good thing is that we weren’t hurt.

Am I a magnet for bad luck? I don’t think so. Do I think the world is out to get me? No, not at all. I do think there is a great difference between living in California and living in New England, and I can see where a more cynical person could drown in New England. The beauty of the fall scenery is not enough to make up for the incompetencies and outright awfulness of many of the people.

I’ve done what I can on the job front, I’m revving up my writing career with a blog here and on Medium.com. I’ve made great progress (250+) pages on a memoir over the course of a year of writing. I’ve got a great girlfriend, a fantastic puppy dog, an enjoyable job that allows me time to live my life, my health, a centrally-located apartment, and enough money to pay my bills and food to eat. But this is still life on the edge.

I take care of what I can everyday, and I don’t overly worry about the future. There are times when I worry, when I can see that I’m not getting anywhere substantial, and I’m not getting any younger. But as long as I keep focus on my integrity and not doing anything to betray myself and my values or to hurt those I love, then…….. every day is a good day, I hope.

Recent movies and books

Photo by Obregonia D. Toretto from Pexels

Over the Thanksgiving holiday, I had the opportunity to watch a lot of movies that I normally wouldn’t get the chance. The gf went to California to spend the holiday with her family while I stayed in New Haven with our Dachshund, Herman, to celebrate his 1st birthday.

I had been looking forward to the quiet so I could read and write and just chill for a while. And I had been looking forward to seeing The Irishman. I know quite a bit about movies, and Scorscese has always been near the top of my list of great directors.

However, I absolutely detested The Irishman. Apart from Joe Pesci and Al Pacino’s performances, I thought The Irishman was a bloated, uninteresting, slow, and lumbering elephant of a movie. The acting was stilted, except for Pacino’s, and the choices for shots were uninspired. Slow motion was used but it was for no good effect or reason. Calling DeNiro’s charter kid, while he was driving the truck that breaks down near the beginning of the movie, was laughable – he looked like a pasty-faced 50 year old kid. The de-aging technique was interesting but it didn’t de-age anyone. DeNiro was fine as an actor, but the character never really went anywhere. We didn’t see much motivation other than a willingness to carry out crimes when needed. There was no passion, just a going about business. I was highly disappointed in the film.

But I had an opportunity to watch Frances Ha and Earthquake Bird, both of which I enjoyed tremendously. Greta Gerwig was fantastic in Frances Ha, and seeing Adam Driver in an earlier movie gave me greater appreciation for his acting too. Earthquake Bird was an excellent story and the story didn’t cheat and make her the killer. I wasn’t familiar with Alicia Vikander, Academy Award winner, though I had seen some of Ex-Machina. She was great in Earthquake Bird, and I’m looking forward to seeing The Danish Girl now.

I also had an opportunity to watch the three Mike Birbiglia comedy stand-up performances on Netflix. I was familiar with the name from listening to NPR, but I wasn’t attuned to his work. Hilarious, well done! I started with “The New One,” and then watched the other two in chronological order, starting with “What I Should Have Said Was Nothing” and then “Thank God for Jokes.” My favorite was “Thank God for Jokes” though some pieces in “The New One” were brilliant.

This week, the girlfriend and I saw Parasite at the theater. So well done. And we watched Marriage Story on Netflix, equally well done. I get excited and inspired when good movies are released near awards season.

As for reading, I’ve been reading for writing my memoir again. I read Carmen Maria Machado’s In the Dream House, an innovative memoir. While it was extremely well done, I’m hoping that means my own effort will be recognized as the structure of my own memoir, which I started on Oct. 31, 2018, is very similar – and not. I don’t use the same metaphor at all, and chronology be damned. I finished Machado’s book and was perusing Amazon for my next Kindle book.

And then I discovered a collection of essays called Make It Scream Make It Burn by Leslie Jamison. We have much in common in our backgrounds, and her writing is frequently compared to Joan Didion’s, a high compliment.

That’s all for now. I’m gearing up to write more frequently on Medium. See you there!

Stories on Medium

Photo by Tim Savage from Pexels

I’ve started blogging on Medium, a place to professionalize my writing. I’ll be writing about my teaching career, posting memoir pieces, and movies/shows I’m watching, as well as reading I’m doing. I’m considering using this blog as a place for my daily blogging and Medium to post my more complete essays and polished work.

Here are two recent posts I made to Medium. I encourage you to sign up for Medium so you can see my work behind the paywall. That’s right. I can get paid if you read my work there.

https://medium.com/@lee_hornbrook/the-summer-i-became-invisible-5f2e3da41492?source=friends_link&sk=7d72786cb885f551555e324e7d485f2e

A story about my dachshunds, Herman, on his 1st birthday.

https://medium.com/@lee_hornbrook/the-first-time-i-saw-star-wars-the-end-of-an-epic-run-67cf909d83fa?source=friends_link&sk=ff2dac6c0a2ff5e0bdf0427e9ba3d310

And a story about the first time I saw Star Wars.

Enjoy!

West vs. East – part 3 – Hostile Student

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I started teaching college English in 1986, as a graduate teaching assistant at the University of New Mexico. My world changed. I was a good teacher, inspired in my own scholarship and interests as I strove to do well for my students. I immediately embraced teaching as a lifetime career choice. But what gave way was my first love – writing. With the heavy load of grading, I couldn’t afford the time commitment for my own writing. And thus, a dream deferred. But here we are.

The many experiences a teacher goes through is enough to fill, and has filled, many books. Some of my experiences were extraordinary, some outrageous, some run of the mill, experiences that most teachers have. One of the last experiences I had as a teacher helped me make the decision to switch careers and leave teaching for good.

I had moved from San Diego to New Haven, CT, leaving behind an Adjunct Professor position that paid my health insurance and gave me a stable part-time income that I could supplement with online teaching and other Adjunct teaching assignments. I landed jobs at two schools in New England, one at a community college, which I wrote about in West vs. East – Part 2, and one at a state college, two sections of freshman composition with a focus on argument writing and analysis of op-eds.

In one section, I had mostly first-year freshman, but with a contingent of disruptive students that proved more headache than not. In the other late afternoon section, I had a group of mostly older students, non-traditional students returning to school. In this section, one particular student took an immediate dislike to me. She self-identified as a veteran, and she was often late and unprepared. She didn’t understand my “academic jargon” and would wrinkle here nose and ask her classmates, “What did he say?” And they’d “translate” for her and she’d say, “Oh, that’s what he meant! Why didn’t he say so?” – All said during class and right in front of me.

Then near the middle of the semester, this student became hostile three days in a row. First, she turned in a single sentence as a “draft” of a major essay. When she placed the paper on my desk, I said, “this isn’t a draft,” and she got verbally hostile – “it’s MY draft. Who says this can’t be a draft? ….” a diatribe that went on right near the end of class as students were filing out. It was disconcerting to say the last. The next class period, she didn’t show up. As I was leaving class, she shows up with her book in hand and said, “I have the assignment. I’ll be right back.” And then she turned around to leave, saying something about the copies being broken at the library and she had to print out her assignment. I said, “class was over and the assignment was late,” which set her off. She starts yelling through the empty hall toward me as she’s practically running the other direction! I waited for a few minutes and then thought, “wait, what? No…she missed class. She can turn her assignment in like any other student during class.” And I left. She placed the assignment into my mailbox later that day. On the third day, she was late and didn’t have time to finish the quiz. She wrote on the quiz a single sentence – “I’m here not because I want to be but because I have to be.” Having worked with many students who were veterans, I understood that many of them weren’t invested in their studies but took college courses so they could receive their base housing allowance. During class, she bad-mouthed me to her classmates during group work. After class, I asked her about her quiz, and she merely repeated the sentence she wrote and then said, “I don’t like you.” I told her that was plain to see, and that I didn’t appreciate her bad-mouthing me to the other students, that if she has something to talk with me about, she should talk to me directly.” Well, that set her off.

She went into full angry mode, wouldn’t let me talk or respond and wouldn’t calm down. I put a desk between me and her because she was getting awfully close and looked like she was going to hit me. In over 30 years in the classroom, I’ve never had a student become hostile like this, especially three days in a row. Her friends tried to calm her down and escort her out. One student took video of the encounter because it was out of hand. One of my students emailed me after class to ask if I was all right because it was clear that I was upset by the encounter.

As the professional I am, I did my best not to personalize the encounter but it was clear that she had a negative influence on the class and was out of control. I contacted the Office of Student Conduct. I spoke with the Chair of the department and the Director of the writing program as well.

The Office of Student Conduct took my statement, said she was clearly out of line and would be kept out of class on the next class period, which was a Monday. He said he would keep me in the loop and contact me and let me know what he found out and what would happen going forward.

The student wasn’t in class the next Monday, but I also had not heard from the Office of Student Conduct. On Wednesday, I received an email an hour before class saying the student had been cleared to return to class. I told the director, “Absolutely not. She is not allowed back in the class.” He heard that I was serious, and he had me cancel class and contacted the Dean to see what our options were. In the meantime, we set up a meeting with me, the Chair, the Director, and the student that would occur after the next class meeting.

Before that class meeting, the Director communicated that the student would have to be allowed back in class because she had paid for it. I thought that was absurd. So I prepared to have her back in class.

She indicated that she wanted to speak with me before class. There were two minutes before class. She was immediately confrontational – “When have I ever been disruptive in class?” she asked. Sensing the unwinnable question – it’s kind of like “when did you stop beating your spouse?” – I deferred and said, “I’m about to teach class and can’t really have this conversation right now, but I’d be happy to make an appointment with you to talk about this issue.” She refused to let it go. I had to tell her three times that I couldn’t answer her question right then. She stormed into class and grabbed her books and said, “This fuckin’ Professor won’t even answer my question!” and stormed out. The entire class was witness to this latest outburst. Everyone was quiet that day, and I let them all go 10 minutes early.

The student had contacted the Chair, who showed up 5 minutes later but had missed me.

The next week, we had a meeting set up with the Chair, the Director, the student, and me. We all showed up at the appointed time, except for the student.

The Chair and Director and I, all seasoned professors, talked shop a bit, and then they told me that I had to let the student back in the classroom. I was livid. They said if I didn’t agree with this determination, that I should go to HR and file Hostile Workplace report, which I did directly following that meeting.

The student never showed up in class again. And I waited. And I waited. The semester ended.

Not once did the Office of Student Conduct nor did HR ever contact me about this issue. Never. I taught the next semester to a class that was largely mute. I kept looking over my shoulder in the halls for the student. I never saw the hostile student again. I also never saw the Chair nor the Director again, nor did they follow up with me at all.

The spring semester went by with very little in the way of drama, which was fine with me. But still, the entire situation felt unresolved.

During the summer, I decided not to teach for that institution anymore. They didn’t have my back. Inevitably, teachers will have problems with the occasional student. But in all the places I have ever taught, I’ve always had the full support of administration. Classroom instructors are in the trenches, and most administrators have once been instructors themselves and understand the hard work it is to deal with so many different personalities. And whenever a problem occurs with a student, there is a concerted effort to resolve the situation in a way that also supports the efforts of the teacher, as long as the teacher has not egregiously abused his or her position. Which I had not.

I wrote a letter to the President of the University, the Dean, the Chair, and the Director, decrying their lack of institutional support in this instance and explaining that they are opening their institution up to potential violence. I reiterated that I did not feel supported because NO ONE EVER CONTACTED ME from the Office of Student Conduct nor from HR.

The weak letter I got back from the Dean indicated that they had clear the student as a threat and that was that. He never addressed the lack of follow-up.

So I’m glad to be done with that institution. After almost 25 years of classroom teaching, and well over 100 class taught, I feel free from the shackles of teaching. No more grading. I now have time to write and pursue the dreams that I first had when I jumped into this profession.

I’ll find another way to support the efforts of students, I’m sure. But at this point, I’m enjoying my newfound freedoms.