Monday, March 31, 2014

When I Was a Kid: Music Edition

When I was a kid my mom would play Henry Mancini's Pink Panther album when I would go to bed.  I was  a restless sleeper, with an overactive imagination and for whatever reason those familiar sounds put the monsters and ghouls outside my window to sleep for the night.

I had forgotten all of this until Pandora gave me "Moon River," which I'm fairly certain was on that same album.  And then it all came back to me.  Funny how somewhere in my brain all those memories were locked away, until that song came and triggered them.  And then, like it was yesterday, I could visualize laying in my bed, looking out my door, snuggling with my cat Figaro as the music played.

Music is weird like that.  Music is as mysterious as the ocean depths.  How and why a series of sound waves resonating at certain frequencies can stir the human soul and trigger such long lost memories is far beyond my understanding.  I believe we are wired for music, for whatever reason.  And I'm glad some things in the world are still mysterious.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Would You Rather: Titanic Edition

I just returned from the Titanic Dinner, an epic recreation of the first class meal served on the night the RMS Titanic struck an iceberg and went down.  That 13 course dinner in-and-of-itself deserves a blog post, but I don't believe my palette is so well defined as to do it justice.  If I may sum up: I ate a lot, and had a great time.

Part of the fun is museum that accompanies the dinner.  The story of the Titanic resonates, even without Jack and Rose.  That ship epitomized an age of wealth and optimism.  It embodied the idea that man could control and shape their own destiny, that the old rules didn't apply.  Hence: the unsinkable ship.

Ultimately though, its a story of man's limitations and mortality, and a warning against hubris. (Spoilers ahead)   Of course, the Titanic did sink.  And while a million fascinating stories survive from that fateful night, the tale of Bruce Ismay fascinates me.

J. Bruce Ismay.jpeg
A man of impeccable mustache
Bruce was the managing director of the White Star Line.  He inherited his daddy's company, and by all accounts did quite well.  The Titanic was his dream child, a ship of unparallelled size and luxury that would dwarf the Lusitania and Mauretania of the rival Cunard Line to shame.  Indeed, many witnesses recount him urging the Titanic's captain to increase his speed, in hopes of notching a record trans-Atlantic crossing time.

When the Titanic hit that iceberg, Bruce encountered a difficult dilemma.  You're a rich gentleman in the prime of your life.  There aren't enough lifeboats for everybody.  What do you do?

Use your status and power to secure yourself a seat, knowing you'll forever be called a coward?

Or perish, sacrificing your life that women and children might live, and burnish your legacy for all eternity?

Some, like billionare Benjamin Guggenheim handled death with surprising grace.  Guggenheim put on his formal dinner attire to meet death like a gentleman, saying "No woman shall be left aboard this ship because Ben Guggenheim was a coward."

Same goes for Isidor Straus, of Macy's Department store fame.  When offered a seat on a lifeboat next to his wife, he firmly refused.  His wife then refused her seat saying "as we lived, so we will die, together."

John Jacob Astor, the richest man on board, asked for a seat and was refused.

And Bruce?  Bruce of the too-few-lifeboats and the full-speed-ahead-damn-the-icebergs?  Bruce got in.a lifeboat, the highest ranking White Star official to survive.  Some say he helped load women for an hour before taking a seat.  Some say he dressed like a woman to secure himself a seat.  The truth is likely in between.  What is for certain is this: Bruce Ismay became a villain in the American and British press.

They labelled him a coward.  They called him a brute.  His suffered cartoons and poetry, editorials and articles, all mocking his manhood.  And ridiculed and ashamed, he lived 25 years longer than all the other men I mentioned, dying finally in 1937.

So if I could ask any of those dead men anything, I'd ask, would you want to trade places with one another?  Would Ben Guggenheim trade places with Bruce Ismay?  Would Bruce trade places with Ben?

If we all must die, should one not cling to desperately to life and choose to die well?  If life is short and finite, does how people remember us after we're gone matter?  Would you pay for 25 years more of life with shame and ridicule worldwide?

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Best and Worst Teaching

As a teacher I get the unique privilege of interacting with young people on a daily basis.  I think I'm good at teaching.  I know my content.  My kids test scores blow the state averages and district averages out of the water.  Kids usually like my class.

Yet, teaching is so much more than what I teach, I've come to find.  It's who I teach.  There are 125 very unique souls I see every day, each with their own hopes and dreams and fears.

After 7 years, I find that on my best days, I focus on the kids.

On my average days, I focus on the content.

And on my worst days, I focus on myself.   

Wednesday, March 19, 2014


Like any true American, I love the Office.  It arrives at gut-busting funniness through the perfect blend of relatable and off-the-wall.  Somehow along the way, these people become friends in a frighteningly real sense.  I care for them.  Watching Jim and Pam's wedding again on Netflix recently, I thought to myself, "only on this show not only do I accept this crazy nonsense, but I love it so much it makes me want to cry."

This is what brings a 30 year old man to tears.

Of course, nothing we do in this world is without consequences, good or bad.  Unintentionally, my dog Winston--who never leaves my side--has been exposed to hours of the Office and has irrevocably absorbed elements of the show.  In particular, the Michael-Toby conflict.

If you know the show, you also know the unexplicable Michael-Toby animosity that ranges between awkward and hilarious.  Winston has watched this behavior, and is mimicking with out neighbor dog: a slightly doopy brown lab named Toby.

Toby isn't neccesarily a bad guy.  He's about a year older than Winston, and much smaller.  He was Winston's best friend.  Nothing delighted him more than running over to Toby's yard to wrestle and play.  He wouldn't even come when called, I literally had to drag him away..

Thing changed slowly.  Winston grew bigger than Toby, and Toby started complaining that Winston played too rough.  Toby responded by passive-aggressively sneaking onto Winston's porch and eating his food whenever he could.  Winston lost a lot of respect for Toby, and felt that sickening disappointment that comes when we realize our heroes are not who we made them out to be.    Watching the Office, Winston suddenly related to Michael Scott as he dealt with his own Toby.  This one.

I actually like Toby.
While I take a more nuanced approach to Toby's, Winston was fed up.  He howled furiously at the door whenever Toby came by.  The days of romping happily with Toby in the sunlight and green grass were gone, forever.  Now, whenever Toby prances by preening like an oversized weiner dog, Winston raises his hackles and barks. 

A shock collar and an electric fence keep Winston in my yard, and Toby knows this.  He will go right up to the line, taunting Winston.  As Michael would say, Toby is the worst.

How Winston saw Toby before

How Winston sees Toby now

Monday, March 17, 2014

Keeping the Ship on Course

Every now and then I navigate back to this blog, which has been discarded and is bobbing aimlessly like a 2 liter pop bottle in the ocean.  I'm sure there is some depressing stat out there for blogs like there is for small businesses, "9 out of every 10 new blogs will fail and be forgotten by their authors."

So it goes with this blog.  I once aspired that this blog would achieve greatness.  I read blogs about great blogs

I am smack in the middle of life.  Frankly, it's quite good.  Job?  Good.  Finances?  In order.   Dog?  Love him, my best investment ever.

It's all going so fast, so smooth, so comfortable.

Sometimes I marvel at my life in North America.  I teach history every day, and read it for fun.  The story of man is violent and filled with plague, famine, war and death.  And yet somehow I'm living inside this remarkably peaceful and prosperous place known as the United States.

I try to appreciate it.  My favorite thing to do?  Take my dog to the Silverton Resevoir.  It's only five minutes away, and at this time of year when I go I feel I have the place to myself.  I'm not sure that even if I had a billion dollars I could find more satisfaction than tossing the ball into the water and watching my dog go and get it.