A Little Cream in the Coffee

Mike: Maryland is for… lovers. Bumper sticker?
Sue Claussen: Virginia. Virginia is for lovers. Maryland is for crabs.

Management (2008)


The other night I attended a Crab Feast that was held over at Martin’s West.

This is notable for a couple of reasons: first, because it was the first time that I’d attended this annual event, since it was the first time that I was a member of the school system’s administrators’ union; and second, because I’d never been to Martin’s West before. This, for some reason, surprised many of my co-workers. Then some of them decided that it was because of my skin color.

Maybe it’s because I’ve never been invited to an event that large since I moved down here. I will concede, however, that I did feel a bit like the inside of an Oreo.

I got to the event and, despite getting there only about ten minutes after the scheduled start, the place was hopping. There were lots of principals and several of my counterparts there, and there was a DJ up front playing music. Let me tell you about this DJ: he was terrible. If I’d been in a crappier mood, I’d have gone up to him to get his card specifically so I could tell you “Don’t hire this guy”.

Believe it or not, I say that rather reluctantly. I used to be a mobile DJ and I know what a tough job it is sometimes, especially when you get groups of varying types of people. When I did, say, birthday parties? No problem because everyone’s the same age and has similar tastes in music. But when you get those multigenerational groups, you get complaints when the music is too modern, or when it’s not modern enough, or the older people think it’s too loud and the younger people think it’s not loud enough, and you wind up playing the same few songs at these events and it just makes your brain hurt. So I know it can be a tough gig.

However: when you have a group like this, who are mostly of similar demographics, the job becomes stupidly easy. From that standpoint he did okay, but he had no sense of being able to go smoothly from one song to another (dude, it’s called a “segue”). He also found it necessary to play several songs more than once. I was only there for about two hours or so, and in one case I heard the same song three times. I’m kind of pissed off that my union dues paid for this guy.

For those of you who are white have also never been to Martin’s West before, it’s a pretty typical big Wedding Factory kind of place. Big, gaudy chandeliers, columns all over the place, sweeping staircases, heavy draperies everywhere and relatively dim lighting. On the other hand, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a catering hall with a terrazzo floor before, so there’s that.

The food wasn’t bad: it wasn’t just crabs that they served; there was an assortment of non-crab food out there, and they had a kind of “crab station” where you picked up your crabs three or four at a time, set up whatever condiments you liked for them (e.g. extra Old Bay, drawn-butter-flavored grease, etc), and an array of desserts, plus hot and cold beverages, including beer (which, everyone knows, goes fabulously with crabs).

The most amusing part to me, however, was the little tent cards that were propped up pretty much EVERYWHERE throughout the place:

PLEASE UNDERSTAND OUR PROBLEM: Our food is served continually and the amount is unlimited as long as you eat it here. PLEASE DO NOT ATTEMPT TO TAKE ANY FOOD OR BEVERAGE OFF THE PREMISES. ALL BAGS WILL BE EXAMINED

One of my co-workers saw that and remarked, “That’s so ghetto.” I don’t know if it’s that, but it’s certainly something. For what it’s worth, I left with a cup of hot tea in my hand and nobody challenged me.

Sixty-to-One Ratio

First Soldier: Are you suggesting coconuts migrate?
King Arthur: Not at all. They could be carried.
First Soldier: What? A swallow carrying a coconut?
King Arthur: It could grip it by the husk!
First Soldier: It’s not a question of where he grips it! It’s a simple question of weight ratios! A five ounce bird could not carry a one pound coconut.

Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)


When I was in college and working at the now-dearly-departed WBAU Radio, I got to be pretty good at producing short pieces for broadcast. I had a slightly different approach to the task from that of my colleagues, however: while most of them would create several discrete pieces and then piece them together into a coherent whole through editing (and remember, this was the days of magnetic tape, razor blades and splicing tape).

I was very good at editing tape, but I didn’t like to do it if I didn’t have to. So my approach was often to work with as little editing as possible, doing everything as though it were live and on-the-air, but with the safety net of knowing that I was not, in fact, broadcasting.

It looks like an 8-track, but it usually only held two tracks and was better designed. This one looks pretty short, maybe about 20-30 seconds in length. So I’d set up the music on turntables, reel-to-reel deck, instant-start tapes (called “carts”, short for cartridge), and I’d mix the whole piece as I went along, starting and stopping music or sound effects while reading my script into the mike. This wasn’t always easy, especially working with the carts, which were usually designed to fast-forward in order to re-cue themselves. When they did that, they’d often stop with a THWACK that the microphone would pick up. This meant that I had to stop the carts manually as I started something else. And, if I screwed up my recording, I’d have to wait for the carts to re-cue before I could take another pass at recording. Not a huge pain, but a pain nonetheless.

I was also remarkably self-critical when it came to my broadcasting work. Often I’d record over thirty takes and then settle on number seventeen as the one that “sucks the least.” But one rule that seemed to hold true was that, no matter how long the piece was that I was recording (unless it was an entire show for later broadcast), I maintained a 60-to-1 ratio of time expended-to-air audio. So, a thirty-second piece would take me a half-hour to cut. A sixty-second bit would take me an hour. The 60:1 Rule seemed to be immutable, or at least tolerated only small variations.

Flash-Forward to this century:

A couple of weeks ago, Wife wanted to work on a project with some of the students in her school. The theme was War, and she wanted to make a video. I wasn’t sure what kind of video you can make that would involve a bunch of sixth-graders, but I had a few suggestions for her, including something that looked like this:

This, specifically, would be a little ambitious for ten year-olds (especially the French at the end) and obviously you couldn’t use the same gags, but you get the idea. Wife liked the idea of doing some kind of lip sync, however, and started looking around for songs that she could use. Some of the songs she thought about were John Lennon’s “Imagine”, Edwin Starr’s “War”, Garth Brooks’ “We Shall Be Free” and the Black Eyed Peas’ “Where is the Love”. She showed the students a set of lyrics for each song and they selected “Where is the Love”.

Over a few days’ period, she put together some kind of concept for the video: that it would start with a news broadcast, that there’d be a mock UN Summit, war protestors, kids getting drafted and a few other odds and ends, interspersed with images from historical conflicts. And anything that wasn’t an historical image would feature the kids lip-synching to “Where is the Love”.

Ah...no. Different kind of Flip Video. Better, thank you. She then borrowed a Flip Video camera and shot the students in these varied situations, often letting the same place stand in for assorted locations. For this four-minutes-and-change video, she shot most scenes twice, about forty clips in all. With that, plus the historical footage, there was plenty for us to work with when it came time to edit the video.

The big problem was with several of the kids who, despite knowing that they wouldn’t be heard on the finished project, wouldn’t sing. Not at all. There’s no lip synch if there’s no lip movement at all, you know? And at the point where Wife brought her raw material home for us to work on a couple of evenings ago, there was going to be no opportunity for reshoots or pickup shots, or inserts, or anything else. Whatever we had as far as the kids, was what we had.

So Wife and I sat down and downloaded the clips to my laptop. Then, using the Windows Live Movie Maker, we stitched together a video that, in most places where the students are on camera, they actually look sort of like they’re singing.

We started working at around 9:00 PM. A little after 1:00 AM, we had a finished video. 3:49 for the song, 12 seconds for the intro and outro video. Total elapsed time including breaks: just a shade over four hours.

The 60:1 Ratio lives on.

Home Stretch for the Consent Decree

Lawyer: Principal Skinner, "The Happiest Place on Earth" is a registered Disneyland copyright.
Principal Skinner: Oh now, gentlemen, it’s just a small school carnival.
Lawyer: And it’s heading for a great big lawsuit. You made a big mistake, Skinner.
Principal Skinner: Well, so did you. You got an ex-Green Beret mad.
[Skinner finger-thrusts the first goon in the Adam’s Apple, then kicks the lawyer in the chest; they both go down groaning; as the second goon runs away, Skinner picks up the lawyer’s briefcase and flings it; in the distance, it knocks down the goon]
Principal Skinner: Copyright…expired.

The Simpsons, “Lisa the Beauty Queen” (10/15/92)


With neither a bang, nor a whimper, it was more like a whisper around the Puzzle Palace today.

First there was the rumbling of rumor, then the email went out to everyone, which also involved a link to a press release. It was over an hour before it appeared on the Sun’s website. (The Inside Ed blog still hasn’t picked it up yet. Nice job, guys. Where the hell is Sara Neufeld when you need her?)

The short version: the Vaughn G Consent Decree is over.

The longer version: it’s almost over. If City Schools can keep its nose clean for another two years, it’ll be over for good.

garbisThe Consent Decree, which got started back in 1984, came about because there were allegations that the Baltimore City school system wasn’t providing for Special Education students. Some students weren’t getting their services, some students weren’t getting identified in a timely manner, and so on. So a lawsuit was launched, and a Consent Decree was entered.  Under the Decree, which has been monitored by Judge Marvin Garbis, the Court would monitor Special Education activity until the school system met with a set of “Disengagement Outcomes”.

Only twenty-six years later, everyone agrees that there has been “great improvement and collaboration” among the parties, and an agreement was hammered out that will end the court monitoring as of July 1, 2010. The Special Master’s office will be dismantled, and the City will have to answer only to the Maryland State Department of Education, as all districts in Maryland do. There are still a few issues to be dealt with, such as discipline (suspension of students with disabilities), supplementary aids (always a hazy topic) and make-up of missed services, but from where I stand they’ll be fairly easy to address.

HQ before the news was announced HQ after the announcement. Can you see the excitement?? It was kind of weird, but somehow I expected something—I’m still not sure what—to happen at the Puzzle Palace. But everything was quiet. Maybe even a little quieter than I’m used to.  It was business as usual. This, to me, was pretty monumental, and maybe that was the problem. It’s been part of the status quo for so long that nobody really knows what to do with it yet. I mean, look at the picture on the left. That one was taken before the news was announced. Now look at the right: that was taken after the news was announced. Can you see a difference?

I did a little research and, so far as I can tell, it’s a rare school system in the US which has completely exited its Consent Decree. New York City has been under one since 1972. That’s not a typo; it’s been thirty-eight years. Chicago got out of one last year related to segregation; that one went for twenty-nine years. San Francisco had one that started in 1983 and was allowed to simply expire in 2005, so that doesn’t really count as “exiting”. Washington, DC, is just getting underway with one that started in 2007. Los Angeles is going on fifteen years, now. Hey, these things take time. I’ve always thought it was kind of like Moses and the Israelites wandering the desert: we had to wait for the previous generation to die off before things would change enough to make it work. And it was practically like that: most of the people who were working in the system when the Consent Decree began are long retired.

If nothing else, this is going to mean Big Bucks for the system. City Schools had to pay for the Special Master, had to pay for practically everything for both sides—including the attorney fees—whenever a Consent Decree-based lawsuit was filed, had to pay gazillions in Compensatory Services (which will probably still happen, though at a greatly reduced rate of incidence), had to pay for the extra audits and whatever else it’s had to deal with. This is literally millions of dollars that don’t need to be spent anymore.

So, it’s Kudos to the Special Education teachers, to the related service people, to the IEP Chairs, to the people in the Special Education office, to the parents who advocate for their children, to the principals who supported all these efforts, and to just plain everyone for a Job Well Done.

Teachers Pet, But They Don’t Let Students

Dr. Kennedy: And how do see your place in this family?
Dewey: Well, I’m the favorite. You know, the one everybody loves the most. The cute one, the one everybody looks out for and gives presents to. And sometimes they even make the birds sing to me or the clouds spell out my name.

Malcolm in the Middle, “Clip Show” (4/28/02)


If you have a license to teach in Maryland, and you’d like to keep that license, the state requires that you take some courses in Reading every now and again. With all the time I spent working on my Administrator I endorsement, the reading courses fell by the wayside. In fact, I completely forgot about them until I submitted my paperwork for the Admin I. It came back with a note, telling me that I couldn’t get the endorsement because I hadn’t completed my Reading requirement. What’s more, my license was about to expire. But, no worries: the State has magnanimously given me a two-year extension to get the reading coursework done.

Cool, says I. I’ll take them this summer and all will be well.

UniversityCap_Diploma Then the other shoe dropped. While the state was willing to give me two years, the City wasn’t. My boss told me that, according to Human Resources, I needed to have that coursework in-hand by July 1 or else I was going to lose my position. Nothing personal, it’s a city-wide requirement for certain level positions. The really bad news was, I learned all this in early January, so I not only had to get registered for class, I had to register for TWO similar classes for the same semester.

I started calling schools but kept running into obstacles, most of them related to the fact that the first week of January is a pretty crummy time to call a college. CCBC, Morgan, Coppin, BCCC, and a couple of others all added up to nothing that day. Either nobody was answering the phones, or the people I needed to talk to were unavailable. (To be fair, two of them did call me back later on but neither one could help me this semester.)

img_notre For whatever reason, I’d been avoiding calling the College of Notre Dame of Maryland, perhaps because I’d just finished there and just wanted to go elsewhere. I like the idea of going to different schools as a means of keeping one’s education from getting too inbred. But after all these No-Go phone calls, I caved in and called CND. Naturally, they answered the phone AND the person I needed to speak to was right there.

Bonus points: the courses were both open and, because I’d last attended in May, I was still considered an “active” student. So, no application fees or any of that rigamarole. However, CND is a relatively pricey school and the courses were going to be about $1200 each. I went in to register, and the registrar’s office, under the impression that I’d get a 50% reimbursement, took $1400 off my hands (including a couple of unavoidable fees) and let me attend the classes. I did get some reimbursement, but I also got a bill for $900 in the mail a couple of days ago. Booger.

Now, over the past couple of years I’ve heard complaints about these courses, about how they’re a waste of time and such. Not surprisingly, these complaints are coming from the same people who paid $75 to take the course on the fast-and-dirty track. I’m actually doing some work here, baby.

I’m not a shy guy in class. I do like to particpate and I’m one of those folks who actually enjoys going to school. But in one of my classes, most of the group is pretty quiet, so it sometimes seems like I’m the only person who’s participating. The teacher asks relatively simple questions and they all look at her like it’s a trick question. So I’ll pop up with the (obvious) answer. Lately, I’ve noticed that I’ve become the teacher’s “go-to” guy for answering some questions. She’ll ask the class as a whole, then call on me specifically. Tonight I got that feeling like I was monopolizing the conversation, and finally started burying my face in my notebook, taking copious notes which did little more than parrot the handouts we’d just been given. (This sort of activity helps me remember things, but still.) No eye contact means maybe I won’t be the guy who drags the rest of the class into the conversation.

At the end of the class, as we started to break up, the woman who sat behind me called me back to her. I leaned in to see what was on her mind. She asked me, “Have you had Dr. X before?”

I said, “No.” Then it hit me what she was getting at, so I added, “I don’t know why she’s calling on me so much, either.” She smiled. “I don’t know!” I repeated.

Just a few more weeks of class, and then…I don’t know. I need to figure out my next steps, educationally.

Head Line

Bart Simpson: That place is weird. A man in the bathroom kept handing me towels, until I paid him to stop.
Homer Simpson: [holding a stack of towels] Should have held out longer, boy!

The Simpsons, “Scenes from the Class Struggle in Springfield” (2/4/96)


Restaurant This evening, when I got home, Wee One told me that tonight was No Cooking Night.

“No Cooking Night” is a fundraiser for her school. Each month, a different restaurant in the area sponsors a No Cooking Night for the school. The idea is, the family goes out and has a meal at the restaurant, and the restaurant in turn kicks a piece of its take for the evening over to the PTA. It’s a pretty successful program, and it’s allowed the PTA to do some nice things for the school.

Wife was upstairs with a headache, so it was going to be just Wee One and me. And, because Wee One has her tumbling class, we had to leave right away. I didn’t have time to take off my tie, change into sneakers or much else. Back out the door we went.

This also meant that, by the time we got to the restaurant, I had to use the rest room. But since time was tight, I had to wait until after we’d ordered our meals. At that point I finally made the proverbial beeline for the Men’s Room.

At first, I was in there alone, using the only urinal in there. Shortly thereafter, a young boy came in, perhaps in the third grade. “Hi,” he said. Now, as it happens, I spend a lot of time in Wee One’s school, so I thought that maybe he’d seen me go into the bathroom and knew who I was. Plus, I was still wearing my ID tag from work. So I simply replied, “Hi there.”

Then he said to me, “My name’s Bobby*, what’s yours?”

I said, “I’m Mr. Call.”

Bobby went into the bathroom stall and said, “Hi, Mr. Call.”

I asked him, “Do you go to "[Wee One’s school]?”

He said, “No! I’m going to the bathroom!”

Made my night. Thanks, Bobby.

*Not his real name, of course.

Steve Winwood Wasn’t Here

Annie: I was so unpopular in high school, the crossing guards used to lure me into traffic.

Community, “Introduction to Statistics” (10/29/09)


Last Tuesday we got the word that school was going to be open for the rest of the week, but because of the snow still on sidewalks and such, the schools would open on two-hour delays each day. So my boss dispatched everyone in the office to go to the schools and offer up whatever support they needed: if they were having problems with heat or snow removal, we were supposed to report it in so they could get a crew out there. If the cafeteria didn’t get food or milk to replace the stuff that might have gone bad during the snow days, we were supposed to make sure that it happened before the youngsters arrived. And if they needed an extra body somewhere in the building, we were to find a way to help out.

The word went out Tuesday afternoon to the principals and, of the six schools to which I was assigned (two per day), only one really took the time to think about what he might need someone to do: he was down a secretary so he was hoping someone could man the phones for awhile. He needed help with traffic control (literally, as in cars) during the beginning and ending of the school day. His school was having trouble with the Internet, so getting someone to run data reports would be helpful. A little assistance in the cafeteria would be nice. And so on. It was good to have a list of things to choose from.

This didn’t mean that the other schools I visited didn’t need me; but my assistance was more of an “on-the-fly” thing. One of the schools I visited in this capacity I’d seen earlier in the day, and there was all kinds of snow along the curb that the kids had to climb over to get to the sidewalk. By the time I returned later on, that snow had thankfully been removed. But the principal indicated that she still needed someone to assist with traffic control.

Lost In America: "Don't call me Retardo." The school is on a two-lane street and the view from the parking lot’s entrance was partially occluded by a big pile of snow, so that was my destination: waving cars in and out of the parking lot and handling the bottleneck there. In the best of weather this school can get a little crazy at pick-up and drop-off time, so they were probably glad to have someone handling traffic. Most of what I did was run interference for the cars that wanted to do something stupid, but you quickly learn that there’s always someone who’s going to thwart you, and sure enough I found someone.

One gentleman was pulling in toward the curb and, finding his way temporarily blocked, stopped in front of the parking lot entrance. I gave him a wave and said, “Hey, you’re on a driveway.” He looked around him sheepishly and then crawled forward to get out of the way. Shortly after that, a minivan that was parked in front of him turned out hard left, then began to back up. This genius was making a three-point turn, in front of a school, across a double-yellow line, with only a lane and a half available (because they hadn’t cleared all the snow from the far side of the street)! The guy who’d just moved hit his horn. I called out. Too late: she backed into the guy.

She pulled forward to separate the vehicles (no damage, thank goodness), then started to get out of the minivan.

The minivan that was still running and was now parked across both lanes. “Whoa whoa whoa, you can’t leave your car there.”

“Well, I backed into the guy, I gotta go talk to him. The road’s all messed up, you know.”

“It’s messed up everywhere in the neighborhood. That doesn’t mean you can make a U-turn over a double-yellow line in front of a school. Just go around the block, already. Meantime, park over there and then talk to him.”

By now the road was pretty well backed up in both directions, so when she moved out, I had to let a lot of traffic through. This woman was still determined to turn around mid-block, so her newest tactic was to back up toward the parking lot entrance and then cut the wheels so that she essentially backed into the lot, then turned out of the lot. Not too awful an idea, except that there were cars waiting to come out that had to scramble out of the way. Plus, she nearly hit ME with this maneuver. Also, by doing this she essentially swung the nose end of the vehicle back out into the lane and just sat there, once again blocking one lane. Finally I really had no recourse but to stop everybody so that she could make this dumbass move. At least she was gone for the day.

The next day I was assigned to a different school, but it was still one that needed some traffic control at the end of the day. This time around, the problem was that the popular street for pick-up/drop-off was a small side street that ran up the side of the school and terminated at a traffic light. Compounding this situation was the extra snow (lost a lane) and a big truck down near the traffic light that couldn’t park straight and created a bit of a bottleneck down there. Fun!

I was stationed at the end of the block opposite the traffic light, near the front of the school, and I directed cars into the intersection as I saw spaces opening up, and helped kids cross the intersection. Again because of the snow, they had no choice but to cross diagonally through the intersection, so I ran interference for them. Nobody got hit, but there was one woman in a tan minivan who insisted on honking her horn to get people moving. I pointed out to her that the light was red and therefore nobody was going anywhere, but that didn’t matter to her: a car about two hundred feet away pulled into the school’s parking lot, thereby creating a space for everyone to move forward one car’s length, so to her (I swear to god this was her logic), the horn-honking got everyone to move. “See? Everyone moved down, so it must be working.” HONK.

Fun times!

Getting Faced

[In Frank’s wedding video, Frank is about to cut the cake]
Trapper:  Look, even then he didn’t know how to hold a knife. [Laughs]
Hawkeye: [Laughs] Watch the cake die of malpractice.

M*A*S*H, “There is Nothing Like a Nurse” (11/19/74)


Kim Lewis is one of the Bigger Wheels in the Baltimore City school system, and while I don’t work in her department, I do work with a lot of the people who are. Ms. Lewis will be participating in the Polar Bear Plunge this weekend, which raises money for the Special Olympics. Her goal is to raise $10,000, which will allow her to take the plunge 24 times in a 24-hour period. She’s pretty close to her goal, and it wouldn’t be too tough for you to help push her over the top.

Today, as part of her fundraising efforts, a bake sale was held at the Puzzle Palace. Among the goodies were cupcakes, doughnuts, homemade cookies, and, of course, cakes. One cake in particular was the centerpiece for this whole thing, but I’ll come back to that in a second.

As you probably know, money’s been a little tight since September, but Wife and I do our best to help out with some charities here and there. And since Special Olympics is rather close to my heart, I did want to contribute to Kim’s cause, but I wasn’t sure I could really afford it, what with it being post-Christmas and all. However, after doing my taxes this past weekend (what? Shut up), I decided that I could afford to kick in a few bucks to the cause.

Now, there are a few ways to help out if you work in the school system. You can go to the second floor and hand some money over to one of two people delegated to collect on Kim’s behalf. Boring. You can go to the website and do the electronic thing. Easy, but also kind of impersonal, especially inasmuch as I work in the same building with her. Or, I could do something a little weird at the bake sale, like buy an entire pie or something.

So there I am at the bake sale and they’re maybe two hours into the thing, so there’s definitely not as much on the table as there was the first time I looked. The centerpiece cake, however, was still mostly intact. The reason for this is that it was one of those half-sheet size cakes which had a photo on it. I’m sure you’ve seen that type. The photo on this one, of course, was a picture of Kim Lewis standing in front of a poster for the Plunge. For some mysterious reason, the ladies who were serving out food were cutting around the picture. This, of course, became my target. How could it not?

I came in close to the table and greeted the ladies. Then I said, “I want some cake.” As she started to make the cut, I said, “No, no, no, no. I want her face.”

They were actually a bit taken aback at this. They looked at each other and looked unsure, as though there was some kind of rule that would be broken. I persisted: “I’ll pay extra for it.” Now, I was going to haggle with them a bit. I had a set amount in mind that I was going to spend altogether, but I wasn’t going to give it up easily. One woman said to the other, “He will pay extra…” The other woman said, “Twenty bucks.”

“Done,” I said, and instantly plunked down a pair of ten-dollar bills that were in my hand. This, as it turns out, was what I’d planned to spend in total.

They still couldn’t believe it. “You’re really going to give us twenty dollars for a piece of cake?”

“If it’s the face, yes,” I said.

kim cake They went for it. In fact, they gave me a slice about twice as large as typical, because they had to cut way into the picture to get the face. If you look at the picture here, it’s hard to tell that there’s a seven-inch paper plate underneath that hunk o’ cake.

Neither of the women could remember my name, so I said to call it an anonymous donation. I took my cake and brought it into a meeting in the Board Room, which was right behind the bake sale table. About two minutes later, Kim came into the Board Room and said, “Somebody just paid twenty dollars for a piece of cake!” Of course, the piece was still intact in front of me (I’d just snapped the picture), so she figured it out right away. She gave me a hug and thanked me for supporting the Plunge.

Now, here’s the odd part. (Because eating a colleague’s face isn’t weird.) When I worked at Helen Keller, all of the classroom aides were Puerto Rican, and they had a superstition about birthday cakes. Specifically, you had to smear the person’s name across the cake before you cut it, so that you weren’t cutting into the person’s name and giving them all kinds of bad luck. This kind of carried with me, and now I do it. So I had to smear Kim’s face before eating the cake. My way of wishing her luck as she makes the Plunge this weekend.

And in case you missed it, here’s the link to donate once more.

When I Don’t Write

Lucy: I’ve got one foot on the accelerator and one foot on the brake. If I took my foot off the brake I’d burn rubber halfway across this country. Don’t believe all that romance about writers block. Everybody has it: butchers, bakers, writers; it just means you’ve got one foot on the brake.

Paris, France (1993)


writers-block Like so many other people who keep blogs, I get blocked once in awhile. Sometimes it’s because I don’t think I have much to say; sometimes it’s because I have plenty to say but I know who’s reading; sometimes it’s because I have a lot to say and it’s all pretty disorganized. During those times, nothing seems to really coalesce out of the cloud of stuff to write about.

Not that you care.

But the other thing I’ve noticed is that, when I’m not writing for the likes of you, Dear Reader, there’s a bunch of creative energy that needs to go somewhere. And that’s when things get a little weird at work.

In my current job, I read and write a LOT of e-mails. And when you do so much writing, sooner or later the creative bones start to assert themselves. Fortunately, as the saying goes, I know my audience and I save that sort of thing for the people who will appreciate it. My co-workers find me much funnier, for instance, than the principals.

Last week I wrote an e-mail that was laced with Communist dogma. I even found a nice Hammer & Sickle picture for the background. In other cases I’ve written e-mails as though I was Buffalo Bob from Howdy Doody, or as the leader of the Mickey Mouse Club. One e-mail I wrote acknowledged that there were only men in the office at the time, and proclaimed, “Let the swordfighting begin.”

Looking back, I’m not sure if they got that one. I’m not positive I got that one.

So if you come here and you don’t get a new dose of entertainment, well then—I must be doing my job.

Wait, that didn’t come out right.

Gone To The Fair

Don Eppes: [picks up paper airplane off floor] Who made this?
Charlie Eppes: Me. Why?
Don Eppes: Well, wings are a little thin here, buddy.
Dr. Larry Fleinhardt: Hey, wait, wait, let me see this.
Charlie Eppes: Forgive me if all my years of advanced applied mathematics take issue with that assessment.
Don Eppes: Yeah, well, you'll forgive me if all my years of high school detention say I'm right.

Numb3rs (2005)


Housekeeping Note: this is one of a few posts that I started and, for some reason, didn't finish recently, so I'm playing catch-up to get it out there.  

One of the big advantages of a school system that's in a city of some size is that there are lots of specialized city-wide programs which appeal to students of all stripes. Digital Harbor, for instance, is a technology-oriented school and most (if not all) of the academic courses are bent in that direction. Hell, the LIBRARY looks kind of like an Apple store. Mergenthaler (Mervo) has a Hospitality program, where students can learn the hotel business, or learn to run restaurants. And so on. Some schools have Junior ROTC programs, others don't, some are designed for college-bound students and others are dedicated to students who are likely to need more than four years to graduate. 

Consequently, choosing a high school can be a daunting task. This is why Baltimore City Schools recently staged a High School Fair over at Poly. All of the high schools got a chance to make a pitch at eighth graders who were pondering the high school they'd be applying for in a few weeks. 

Yes, there is an application process for high schools. Some of the schools, like Poly or City, have entrance criteria based on grades, MSA scores, attendance and so on. Other schools do not, but take their students through a lottery system. Still others have no specific criteria but will take all comers. 

I was asked to help out at the High School Fair. Originally I was going to come in early, around the time the whole thing started, but I was told that bodies were needed for the late shift. This worked out well, since it turned out that Wife was also going to be working the fair, from the other end: she was escorting eighth graders from her school around. 

I was told that I'd be on the registration table, and that my shift would run from 1:00–3:00. I made plans to get there by 12:45 so that I could learn the ropes, but the traffic to the fair thwarted me: the place was thick with students! I got in at exactly 1:00. Also, they didn't need anyone for registration by then, so I was put on the exit door as a kind of bouncer. Students who hadn't registered couldn't re-enter through my door; they had to go through the entrance. 

The other bad news was that, in arriving at 1:00, I'd missed out on the food they'd given the other volunteers, AND I didn't get a High School Fair T-shirt. This is two events for which I've come in and not gotten a T-shirt. I'm starting to feel a little ripped-off, here. Also, the event only ran until 2:00, at which point schools started taking down their tables and displays. Nobody seemed to need any other assistance from me, so I was gone by 2:15. 

But the Fair itself was a huge success; about four thousand people were in attendance throughout the day, and the exit surveys that I got to see (given to me by people who'd missed the place they were supposed to leave it) were almost all very positive. I'd say I saw about fifty surveys and only one was negative in any way. So that's not bad, and the folks who organized the fair did a great job, except for feeding and clothing me. But then again, that wasn't really the point of the day, so I can just suck it up. 

And, of course, make a point of showing up extra early at the Middle School Fair in a couple of months. 

Gotta Settle Down

Rabbi Gendler: What was that?
Frasier: It was the classic Hebrew blessing Tu-ock-bok-nech!
Rabbi Gendler: No, that was nothing. It was gibberish.
Jeremy Berman: That's not gibberish, that's Klingon! Freddie's Dad just blessed him in Klingon!

Frasier, "Star Mitzvah" (11/5/02)


Listen, Children, to a story/That was written long ago…

OK, so Rusty comes up to me and he wants to take phone calls but he wants it to be with a music background and he wants it in stereo because of the music. After some figuring, and (of course) with the help of John S., we get it settled: Rusty's mike, and Steve's mike from the announce booth in CR2 will be in Audition, we'll patch the Audition feed over to the Audition channel in CR1, mix in the sound effects, plus my mike, plus the AB mike that Lisa & Jeff are using, PLUS the mikes in the studio, run all that through the delay and out again in CR1's Program channel, then patch the whole thing back over to CR2 where the Program channel will pick up the delayed audio and mix it with the music. Simple!

I'm thinking that unless you're Rusty, John, Jeff, Lisa, or a handful of others, you have no idea what I was talking about. But if you've ever worked in radio, you might have at least a little bit of a clue. This is a little bit of what I've been going through lately. 

Up until a few weeks ago, my job was different from the one I have now. Then, my position was much like the grizzled Sergeant in the old World War II movies, the guy who'd been around forever and knew exactly what was up, but was still just one of the guys. Now I feel a little more like the 90-Day Wonder Lieutenant who has a knowledge base, is a voice of authority, but isn't quite sure how to wield that power. However, with a little more practice and continued support from the other people with whom I work, I'm sure I'll be okay before too much more time has passed. It's just a little weird at this point, being a Voice of Authority and actually having the authority behind it. 

In the meantime, I've been to a bunch of meetings and staff development sessions this week, and so I have a LOT of materials to review this weekend.