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A typewriter, a teacher and a teenager . . .

During my tenth year of schooling I enrolled in a typing class. I would like to say that my interest in typing was an effort to hone my writing skills and perhaps follow in the footsteps of the great authors, giants such as Hemingway, Steinbeck, Twain, Orwell, Vonnegut and lesser lights. I would like to say that but I will not say it because it would not be true. I had a rather strong ulterior motive to learn how to type.

There were several typing classes taught by different teachers, and I chose the class taught by the one that was said to be the best teacher of the group. No, belay that. I can’t say that because it would also be untrue, and I cannot tell a lie, at least not in this instance. This is a WordPress blog and I do have my standards.

I chose a specific teacher’s class because she was quite young, unmarried and exceptionally attractive, and the rumors that swirled around the campus of the original Stephen D. Lee High School in Columbus, Mississippi in that stellar year of 1948 were that she had been known to dally with some of the students.

Well, actually, the talk in the restrooms reserved for male students was that she—well, it was not only talk but it seemed to be confirmed by some of the writings on the walls of the stalls—the talk intimated that she dallied with students, and in fact some of the images depicted such dallies, crudely of course but rather effective. Walls of the stalls has a solid resonance, don’t you think? Quite expressive, and also quite masculine!

Well, actually, the rumors and the writings and the crude images drawn indicated that she not only dallied—she was said to have actually diddled some of the students. The writings and graphics were routinely obliterated by the janitors but mysteriously re-appeared, often on the same day they were removed.

I attacked that state-of-the-art upright finger-operated non-electric Royal Standard typewriter with all the fervor a fifteen-year-old lad could muster, and after three or four weeks I was typing 65 words a minute, and that was after taking off 10 words for every error made, regardless of its nature, whether a misspelling, a wayward comma, a failure to capitalize or missing a period—hey, that last error has a double meaning!

I felt in my first week that the rumors might have a modicum of truth—judging from my observations there was definitely some meat on those bones—the rumors, that is. I know, I know, that term could apply to the typing teacher and in fact did apply to the typing teacher, and it was distributed in all the right places in the right amounts. Before the second week ended I had convinced myself that the rumors were probably true, and I had also convinced myself that the teacher was perhaps considering me a possible candidate for diddling purposes.

That quite young, unmarried and exceptionally attractive typing teacher was a hands-on instructor—literally. She would often stand behind students, both males and females and reach across a shoulder to point out errors and perhaps to demonstrate how to retrieve the carriage to start another line, with the other hand on the student’s other shoulder to help maintain her balance—the teacher’s balance, that is. I believe I made many, perhaps most, of my errors while she had her hand on my shoulder.

I was a cutie at fifteen and I can prove it. One day when I was around 10 or 11 years old I was with my mother at a grocery store, and I can vividly recall a remark made by the check-out lady. She asked my mother if I was her boy and my mother replied in the affirmative. The lady then said, “He’s a real cutie. He’ll be a heart-breaker and a home-wrecker when he grows up.” Don’t bother to ask whether that prophecy came to pass. I will stand on my rights under the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution and refuse to answer on the grounds that it may tend to get me into all sorts of hot water and incidentally, of course, would tend to incriminate me. Also incidentally, the image on the right is not me—that’s Michelle Pfeiffer, a gorgeous lady that realized her true calling while working as a checker at a California supermarket. I used this photo to simulate a grocery checker—Michelle probably dressed differently at work.

That heart-breaker and a home-wrecker remark had the same effect on me that I felt several years later when a young girl out in west Texas told me I looked just like Van Johnson. I blogged that incident, and that posting has a lot more than that to offer—it’s worth the read, and you can find it by clicking here.

On a fateful Friday I made my move, and in doing so I made a fatal error. I dawdled after class until I was alone with that quite young, unmarried and exceptionally attractive woman and then I made my bid—actually it was a proposition—I proposed, provided that she was amenable to my proposition, to share some time with her over the weekend. Exactly what I said and how I phrased it is enshrouded in the mists of time, but I’m sure that it was concise and to the point and could not possibly be misunderstood. Actually I blurted it out, and I could see that she was transfixed by the proposition. After a long meaningful stare, she answered thusly, each word enunciated slowly and distinctly:

I do not want you in my class. Do not return to my classroom on Monday. Find another typing class or a different subject to fill this period. Is that clear to you, or should I repeat it?

The mists of time have also shrouded my response to that measured order. I have a feeling that my only response was to vacate the premises as quickly as possible. I probably squeaked out something similar to Yes, m’am, it’s clear to me and no, you don’t need to repeat it, and immediately made my exit, out of the class and away from that ugly broad—I mean, I made my exit away from that quite young, unmarried and exceptionally attractive woman.

On Monday morning I fully expected my homeroom teacher to tell me that my presence was urgently required in the principal’s office. However, she called the roll and then released us to head out for our classes. I waited until the others left and told her that I was not doing well in my typing class and needed to replace it with something else.

Without questions or comment she scheduled me to a second hour of biology, sentencing me to two hours, back to back, under the tutelage of a well-past-middle-aged woman that dressed in multiple layers of clothing, wore heavy black stockings rolled down to midway between knee and ankle and had a face remarkably resembling a turtle—in fact that’s what the students called her—old lady turtle. Actually, I thought she was kinda cute, but of course I have a soft spot in my heart for turtles—in fact, I once had one for a pet.

That’s my story about a state-of-the-art upright finger-operated non-electric Royal Standard typewriter and a class taught by a quite young, unmarried and exceptionally attractive woman who turned out to be an ugly old unappreciative toad that I wouldn’t touch with a 10-foot pole—not that I had anything that resembled such an item.

My only regret concerning this situation is that neither she nor I will ever know what we missed—well, I’m pretty sure I know what I missed, but I can’t speak for her. In the words of the poet John Greenleaf Whittier, For all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these, it might have been.

The poet had another saying that had I known it then I would have told that typing teacher this: The joy you give to others is the joy that comes back to you. With that included in my proposition my weekend might well have been remarkably more memorable.

Where ever she is now, whether she is still in this realm or has left it for another realm, I wish her well.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

 
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Posted by on May 21, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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Betty and Super Suds . . .

Betty lived with her mother and father in a Carry Homes duplex in Suitland, Maryland, the same duplex in which I lived with my brother and his family. The units were identical with living room, combination kitchen and dining, two bedrooms and one bath. I was an underdeveloped lad of barely fourteen years, and she was an overdeveloped lass of twelve, but well on the way to thirteen. She had black hair and blue eyes, with a face and figure that—well, let’s just say that she was twelve going on twenty-one.

She spoke with a pronounced lisp, and I teased her unmercifully about it. She seemed to tolerate the teasing, but at some point I went too far with it—that is the subject of this posting.

A fateful day came to pass in my relationship—make that my friendship—with Betty, a day during which I learned an important lesson, namely that if one pushes another too often and too hard something bad may happen, similar to the adage that tells us that even a rat will fight when cornered.

My sister-in-law asked me to go next door and see if our neighbor, Betty’s mother, could spare a cup of laundry powder. I dutifully went next door, rang the bell, stepped back and sat down on the hip-height railing of the small covered porch. Betty came out, slammed the door behind her and told me forcefully in an angry tone, “My teacher thed I do not lithp, tho there!”

I was taken aback by her tone and the words but I recovered nicely, and mindful of my assignment to borrow washing powder I said, “My thister-in-law wanth to borrow thum Thuper Thudth,” and Betty hit me. I never knew whether she slapped me or used her fist, but it made no difference. I flipped over the railing and landed on the ground, shaken but unhurt, extremely remorseful and mortified knowing what a spectacle I made. I looked around carefully but my discomfiture had apparently gone unnoticed. I told my sister-in-law that nobody was home next door.

It took some time to restore my friendship with Betty, with me making all the overtures, but after awhile she forgave me. Her forgiveness was based on my cross my heart and hope to die statement that I would never again mention her lisp, the one that she did not have. We even managed to tolerate each other through a full-length black-and-white movie starring a Hollywood cowboy that many years later would become president of the United States. This would be our one and only sojourn away from the watchful eyes of her mother and father.

Yep, we saw Ronald Reagan in one of his better appearances on-screen—King’s Row, a film in which Reagan is crushed by a boxcar and loses both his legs, amputated needlessly by a surgeon that hated him. Cutting the legs from under Ronald Reagan was quite an accomplishment, something that the Democrats could not accomplish in the eight years that Reagan was president, and they tried very hard over those eight years.

But I digress—Betty wanted to see a certain movie, and my brother allowed me to use his Chevrolet two-ton dump truck to take her to the theater in downtown Washington, D.C. A full-grown dump truck—a really romantic touch, huh?

Thinking back on that evening I am reminded of a little ditty my brother used to sing—I have forgotten the last line of that little ditty, and I can’t think of a word that rhymes with front, and that’s probably a good thing. This is just one stanza of a very long string of stanzas of the same ilk—I’ll share others whenever the opportunity arises. One of them involves an elephant at the circus—that’s one of my favorites.

I took my girl to the movies,
We sat away down in front,
And every time the lights went out,
I’d grab her by the (I’ve forgotten the last word).

Tickets for children under thirteen were half price. I bought two half-price tickets, gave Betty hers and we entered the theater. The old grouch taking tickets inside asked me how old I was, and I said twelve. He sneered and said something on the order of, Yeah, right, twelve years old with a voice like that, sure you are. However, he halved my ticket and returned the stub. He obviously had no problem with Betty’s age, although he lingered long in looking at her, then took her ticket and halved it without comment. The old fellow was obviously biased in favor of young females.

Over the years I have come to suspect that Betty was born to her parents out of wedlock, at least three years before they married—well at least two years and nine months—so they waited almost three years before they started counting her age. Given that supposition, that would make Betty at least fifteen years old when I knew her.

Hey, it sounds plausible to me—I have not seen another twelve year old girl in the ensuing sixty-four years that could hold a candle to Betty in grown-up looks. Evidently the years between twelve and fifteen are quite favorable to the female of the species—the same span of years did very little for me.

More on Betty in a later posting, a rousing tale—so to speak—of the monthly physical exams to which she was required to submit, examinations performed by her father—I’ll bet that got your attention!

Stay tuned—I’ll get back to you later with more details, but just as a teaser, had there been a child protective service in those days the family would be broken up, leaving Betty with her mother and her father in jail.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

 
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Posted by on September 21, 2010 in Childhood, Family, friends, Humor

 

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Cheap tomatoes—si, o no?

This posting is one of an e-mail I received recently from a family member. A quick check of http://www.snopes.com/politics/immigration/tomatoes.asp shows that the truth of the letter is undetermined. The Snopes article references a June 2006 e-mail, purported to be posted to the Internet by the husband of a woman that teaches at a large southern California high school.

That husband’s original e-mail has undergone various changes wrought by its sojourn over the Internet over the past four years, including the changes I have made prior to posting it on my blog. Please trust me—the changes I made dealt strictly with paragraphing, sentence construction, subject and verb agreement, spelling, punctuation and other rules of good grammar. I also deleted unnecessary capitalizations, exclamation points and other superfluous treatments that battered and bruised the message rather than helping viewers injest and digest its intended purpose.

I neither challenged nor changed anything that would either dilute or embellish the original e-mail I received. In addition to such necessary changes, the original e-mail had garnered the usual >>>s and other junk picked up by the original document on its trip through the vast regions of space and time.

This should drive everyone, not to drink but rather to think, whether Democrat, Republican or Independent, and including the multitudes not politically oriented to any particular ideology.

From a California school teacher (ostensibly):

Tomatoes and Cheap Labor:

As you listen to the news about the student protests over illegal immigration, there are some things of which you should be aware:

I am responsible for the English as a second language department at a large southern California Title 1 high school. That title designates a school that peopled by students whose families that on the average are in lower levels of income and socioeconomic acceptability opportunities.

Most of the schools you are hearing about—South Gate High, Bell Gardens, Huntington Park and other Title 1 schools are schools where students are in the protest mode. Such schools are on the free breakfast and free lunch program. When I say free breakfast, I’m not talking about a glass of milk and a roll. I’m talking about a full breakfast and cereal bar with fruits and juices that would make a Marriott Inn proud. The waste of this food is monumental, with many trays being dumped in the trash uneaten. I estimate that more than 50 percent of these students are obese, or at least moderately overweight.

An estimated three of every four students have cell phones. The school provides day care centers for the unwed teenage pregnant girls—some as young as 13—so they can attend class without the inconvenience of having to arrange for babysitters or having family watch their kids.

I was ordered to spend $700,000 on my department or risk losing funding for the upcoming year, although there was little need for anything—my budget was already substantial. I ended up buying new computers for the computer learning center, half of which one month later had been decorated with graffiti by appreciative students that obviously feel humbled and grateful to have a free education in America.

I have had to intervene several times for substitute teachers whose classes consist of many illegal immigrant students, here in the country less then three months. Those students raised so much hell with the female teachers, calling them putas—whores—and throwing things that the teachers were reduced to tears.

Free medical benefits, free education, free food, free day care, ad nauseam—it’s no wonder that they feel entitled, not only to be in this country but free to demand additional rights, privileges and additional entitlements.

For those that like to point out how much these illegal immigrants contribute to our society because they like their gardener and their housekeeper—and because they like to pay less for tomatoes—let’s spend some time in the real world of illegal immigration and see the true costs of tomatoes. Higher insurance, medical facilities closing, higher medical costs, more crime, lower standards of education in our schools, overcrowding and new diseases—as for me, I’ll pay more for tomatoes.

Americans, we need to wake up!

The current flood of illegal immigrants has everything to do with culture. They constitute an American third-world culture that does not value education, that accepts children getting pregnant and dropping out of school by 15, a culture that refuses to assimilate, and our historic American culture has become so weak and worried about political correctness that we don’t have the will to do anything about it.

Cheap labor? Isn’t that what the whole immigration issue is about? Business doesn’t want to pay a decent wage, consumers don’t want expensive produce and government claims that we Americans don’t want the jobs.

The bottom line is cheap labor, but he phrase cheap labor is a myth and a farce. It’s a lie—there is no such thing as cheap labor.

Consider this: An illegal alien with a wife and five children takes a job for $5 or $6.00 an hour. With those earnings and six dependents he pays no income tax, yet at the end of the year if he files an income tax return he is entitled an earned income credit up to $3,200—free.

He qualifies for Section 8 housing and subsidized rent.

He qualifies for food stamps.

He qualifies for free—no deductible, no co-pay health care.

His children get free breakfasts and lunches at school.

He requires bilingual teachers and books.

He qualifies for relief from high energy bills.

If anyone in the family is or becomes aged, blind or disabled, they qualify for SSI. If qualified for SSI they can qualify for Medicaid. All this is paid for by legitimate American taxpayers.

He doesn’t worry about car insurance, life insurance, or homeowner’s insurance.

Taxpayers provide Spanish language signs, bulletins and printed material.

He and his family receive the equivalent of $20 to $30 per hour in benefits,entitlements provided by our benevolent government. Working Americans are lucky to have $5 or $6 per hour left after paying their bills and his.

Cheap labor?

Yeah, right!

Sure!

Not!

These are the facts and the questions we should be asking of the congressional members of both political parties, and when members of either party lie to us we should exercise our right to replace them via the ballot box. The outcome of upcoming congressional elections is critical for working Americans, for our economy and for American culture and heritage.

A special Pee Ess:

Hey, I didn’t write this article and I offer no mea culpas. Please do not excoriate or execute me—I’m just the messenger. Feel free to pass it on or trash it—it’s your choice. In fact, you don’t even need to read it, and I’ll understand.

That’s my story and my excuse, and I’m sticking to both.

 

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Note to sign painters: Head for West Virginia . . .

Letter to the editor

San Antonio Express-News

P.O. Box 2171

San Antonio TX 78297

Your editorial in the Metro Section on Monday, July 19, 2010 entitled, Renaming dorm at UT proper, recounts the changing of Simkins Hall’s name to Creekside Hall, an action taken because of the scholarly research of Tom Russell, a former UT law professor and inquiries by the Austin American-Statesman. In what appears to be a rewrite of history, William Stewart Simkins is now considered a racist because of his association with the Ku Klux Klan, and therefore not worthy of having his name on a student residence named in his honor some 56 years ago, in spite of the fact that he was a longtime popular professor and considered a great legal scholar and teacher.

The article states that, Once that past was uncovered, it was clear Simkins’ name was inconsistent with the mission of a public university and an affront to UT Austin’s more than 2,000 African American students.

This letter is not meant to criticize UT for renaming the student hall. It is a matter of no consequence to me, nor should it be to anyone else, including your editorial writers and the 2,000 black students enrolled at UT. The student residence is UT’s property and subject to any name they prefer, for whatever reason. Nor will the renaming affect William Stewart Simkins—he’s been dead since 1929.

However—and this is a big however—it should affect the sovereign state of West Virginia. West Virginia is morally bound to follow in UT’s footsteps. They must follow UT’s lead and rename everything in West Virginia that carries the name of Robert C. Byrd, the late United States senator from West Virginia. The state should also rename everything that carries the name of Erma Byrd, placed there by the senator in honor of his long-time wife.

A member of the Democratic party, Byrd served as a West Virginia senator from 1959 to 2010, and was the longest-serving senator and the longest-serving member in the history of the United States Congress.

Why, you may ask, should the people of West Virginia rename all the places that sport the senator’s name? My answer is because it’s the right thing to do, the honorable thing to do. West Virginia should take the moral path and remove the name Robert C. Byrd from any and all public buildings and areas—parks, streets, highways, bridges, monuments and history books, and from all local, state and federal institutions and offices. While at it they should also remove and rename all the locations and institutions the senator named in honor of Erma Byrd, his late wife. Married for 69 years (1937—2006), one can reasonably assume that she was aware of his association with the Ku Klux Klan.

In 1944, Byrd wrote to segregationist Mississippi Senator Bilbo: I shall never fight in the armed forces with a Negro by my side … Rather I should die a thousand times, and see Old Glory trampled in the dirt never to rise again, than to see this beloved land of ours become degraded by race mongrels, a throwback to the blackest specimen from the wilds. Click here to read the complete Wikipedia article.

Over the coming years, beginning with his first campaign, Senator Byrd did a complete about face—he renounced and denounced the Ku Klux Klan and embraced the black population of the United States, or at least the voting population of West Virginia, and was re-elected to his seat for the next fifty years.

Does that redeem him? Will his record in the U.S. Senate nullify the feelings he expressed in his 1944 letter to Theodore Bilbo, the segregationist Mississippi senator?

Perhaps—and perhaps not.

Listen to the You Tube video below, an interview with Tony Snow in 2007—the senator starts out fine, but manages to step on his pepperoni before the interview ends, so stay with it to the end to hear his apology for his comments. Did he really change his feelings? Remember that  this interview was conducted in 2007 following decades of professing far different feelings toward blacks—a slip of the tongue, perhaps?

In closing, allow me to repeat UT’s reasoning for renaming Simkins Hall:

Once that past was uncovered, it was clear Simkins’ name was inconsistent with the mission of a public university and an affront to UT Austin’s more than 2,000 African American students.

I submit to you that the same rationale should be applied by West Virginia residents regarding the plethora of places that are named in Byrd’s honor. Click here to read the 51 places that have been identified, plus nine named to honor his wife, a total of 60 and counting—the authors do not claim that the list is complete and are soliciting any that do not appear on the list.

The following editorial statement should appear in the Charleston Gazette and every other newspaper in West Virgina:

Once the past was uncovered, it is clear that Robert Byrd’s name and the name of his wife are inconsistent with the mission of the various edifices and other locations that bear their names, therefore they must be renamed—the present names are an affront to West Virginia’s population of some 52,000 African Americans.

An important footnote: West Virginia is home to some 52,000 African Americans—that’s 50,000 more than were supposedly affronted by William Stewart Simkins’ name on a residence hall at Austin’s University of Texas campus. I wonder if an effort has ever been mounted to rename even one of the 60 plus places in West Virginia that bear the Byrd name?

A final note: In the interests of full disclosure, I must admit that I did not submit this letter to the editor. Over the years I have accumulated numerous rejections from that worthy, some of which—but not all—may have included a thought, or thoughts, that could possibly be considered criticisms of the paper. I don’t handle rejections well so I decided to appeal to a wider audience—the highly erudite and always perceptive readers of my postings on Word Press.com. As of this posting I have never been rejected—not once—by Word Press.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

 
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Posted by on July 19, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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What I did on my summer vacation, by . . .

Does anyone remember the return to their classroom on the first day of school following the summer hiatus, a return to the unwilling pursuit of an education under the tutelage of teachers toiling at the elementary level? On that first day at my beloved school, every child in every grade (first through sixth) was privileged—nay, ordered—to stand in front of the blackboard, facing the class and disclose some or all of whatever they did on their summer vacation.

Some of my classmates stood stiffly throughout the delivery with arms held rigidly at their side. Others stood with hands in pockets or clasped behind their back, and in some limited cases, especially for the boys but occasionally for one of the girls, with hands covering their crotch, concealing that area of their anatomy. Whether that pose was an effort to divert from, or perhaps attract attention to that area, the “hands covering crotch” was limited by the teacher to a very few seconds, with the remonstration being made before the speech began and sometimes repeated during the presentation.

The title to each speech—the preamble, so to speak—was given rote and was identical for each student except for the name. My speech to my classmates began with this:

What I Did On My Summer Vacation, by (fill in first and last name)—as if the rest of the class didn’t know my name!

Everything that followed that ominous start was extemporaneous, a wandering recitation filled with numerous ands, uhs, thens, wells, ain’ts, mispronounced words, poor sentence constructions, conflicting subjects and objects, misuse of adverbs, long looks at one’s feet and even longer (and longing) stares through the classroom windows to the outside world.

Most errors were caught by the teacher, with the resultant corrections and reprimands. If anyone wonders how we got through the first day, just remember that we didn’t change classes during the day—our heinies were glued to our seats all day—we had more than enough time to finish.

A few of our What I Did speeches were mercifully terminated early by the teacher. A classic example of such action was the speech to which we all looked forward, that of a classmate known only by the initials W. A. It isn’t that I’ve forgotten his last name. I remember it well, but I must admit that, for some odd reason, I remember more names of girls than names of boys among my fellow students in elementary school—in fact, I am hard put to remember both given name and surname of any boy from those years (none other than W.A., of course).

W.A.—the boy and his name—is prominent in my memories of elementary school. A unique and very special person, I treasure his memory and could never forget him.

W.A. stuttered—not a slow, drawling stutter one would expect from a Mississippi stutterer but a staccato stutterer, a rapid-fire stutterer, one that soon had the entire class in tears, howling with laughter while our teacher faced away from the class with her gaze apparently fixed on something interesting outside the building.

Although she made no sounds while gazing, W.A.’s speech was apparently so effective that it made her tremble with pleasure—in fact it affected her composure so strongly that she invariably terminated his speech well before he finished. When she told him “That was very good, W.A., thank you,” W.A. always returned her thank you with his own, obviously heartfelt thank you, although it took awhile to return it. Once he got past the tee in thank, the you followed quickly and W.A. could then return to his seat.

We had ample opportunities to develop and perfect thespian skills in our elementary grades. In addition to individual performances in various holiday presentations such as Easter, Halloween, Independence Day and Christmas, we also appeared onstage as a group in the school auditorium, an area that daily doubled as our lunchroom. Each class went onstage en masse, and each student performed—each had a speech to give, a poem to recite, a song to sing, a story to tell, etc.

On a memorable day, perhaps the most memorable in the history of our school, the third grade students’ presentations began with a song by W.A., a heart-wrenching story  about a missing cat, one that was last seen running over hill and dale with a dog named Bowser in hot pursuit. Here is the first line of the song, a line that was repeated several times in the song’s chorus:

Has anybody seen my kitty, has anybody seen my cat?

Note the letters b, d, k and c (k sound) in the line—it should not be necessary for me to describe how difficult it was for W.A. to sing that song, but I will attempt to describe the audience’s reaction to the song, a reaction that included faculty, lunchroom employees, visiting friends and relatives and every enrolled student that was fortunate enough to have attended school on that day, including W.A.’s fellow classmates.

The laughter was thunderous, but the applause was even more thunderous, a standing ovation that began just before the conclusion of the song. And for those that may be disposed to criticize the reactions of the audience, we should remember that in those days, particularly in my part of the country, very few things were politically incorrect—actually, neither were there many things that were politically correct.

In order to wrap up this posting, I urge the viewer to understand that W.A. was, without question, one of the most popular students in our school. We mocked him but we also imitated him, not to belittle but to share with him even a small portion of the laughs he garnered and the popularity he enjoyed—because of  W.A. every kid in school could qualify as a stand-up comedian. And most important, W.A. was frequently surrounded by a bevy of cute girls. That’s a neat thing, regardless of their motives—like, who cares why?

I can never know whether he enjoyed his popularity or hated it, but in retrospect I suspect that W.A. tended to prolong his stuttering and perhaps even embellished and enhanced it—but I could be wrong.

W.A., if you happen to read this and you enjoyed your popularity, I’m happy for you. If you hated it, please accept my abject and heartfelt apologies. And if you are enrolled and performing in that brightly shining elementary school in the sky I say,

BREAK A LEG!

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

 

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AOL’s “You’ve got mail!”—let’s change it . . .

I recently found the comment below on a web site that promotes proper use of the English language. I visited both sites, the one from whence the comment came as well as the one that received it. As do all such sites (including mine), both have flaws. I believe that perfection in any endeavor is desirable and should be sought, but I concede that perfection is impossible. One can always find, via the nitpicking process, something to cite and criticize, albeit constructively, as is this posting. The site commented on is seriously flawed, but I am pleased to give the teacher’s site an overall rating of excellent, simply because it is superior to many others of that ilk.

First a disclaimer: I must state, with all seriousness aside, that the following diatribe is presented in an effort to change something that is probably unchangeable. Any attempt to effect that change is comparable to a situation in which an unstoppable moving object collides with an unmovable stationary object—nothing will change.

This is the comment that prompted my posting:

escher dax Says:

January 2, 2010 at 5:47 am

Glad to have found your site! As a teacher, I’m always looking for examples of what not to do. I’ve got you bookmarked now — very useful site!

dax (http://escherdax.wordpress.com/)

Oh, please, tell me it isn’t so—I’ve got you bookmarked now?

And you are a teacher!

Long, long ago in the first one-third of the past century, in a time shrouded in the mists of antiquity, in a time during which the first six links in the chain of education were called grammar school, I was taught (forcibly) that the verb to have does not require a helper.

It accomplishes its task admirably without one iota of assistance.

I realize that I am swimming upstream in my quest to help others understand that simple statement—nay, what I am doing is hissing—oops, I believe I misspelled that word—into the wind, an act that accomplishes nothing more than soiling my clothing.

I am struggling to resign myself to accept the almost universal misuse of the verb to have,” the use of which distorts my vision and sears my hearing, but I’m having difficulty accepting it. I realize that my struggle, my battle to restore law and order to the proper use of that verb, is probably futile.

My enemies in this battle are legion.

They include such worthies as AOL (America On Line). The exclamation You’ve got mail! has resounded loudly and clearly ever since the inception of AOL—that erroneous use of the verb to have has corrupted several generations of English-speaking listeners and is still counting. The same erroneous use is reflected in the speech of our nation’s mayors, governors, senators, representatives, our president, in speech used in the hallowed halls of our ivy league institutions and even in the speech used by persons of tremendous intellect (none of the afore mentioned persons qualify for that distinction).

How can one possibly win over such an opponent as AOL? I realize that the company is presently on the ropes, but it has shown resilience in the past and will probably survive. I have little hope that it will ever change its trademark signature—You’ve got mail!

I can’t do this alone—I need help, so I am calling on our nation’s English-speaking population (including bilingual persons) for assistance. Let’s use the power of our numbers to effect this change. Let’s work to correct AOL’s misuse of the verb to have from You’ve got mail! to You have mail!

If we are successful in our efforts, its proper use may not spread rapidly but it would be a good start.

Let’s use the concentrated power of our millions. Let’s contact AOL and threaten to cancel our membership. Let’s bring pressure to bear on family members. Let’s contact our local friends and neighbors, our e-mail recipients, our Facebook friends, our senators, our representatives, the members of the Supreme Court and our president—in fine, let’s contact everyone that is subjected to the improper use of the verb to have (and that’s everyone), and specifically to the notice that, You’ve got mail!

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

 

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An adoption option—I could’uh been uh contenduh!

In his 1954 black-and-white movie “On the Waterfront,” Marlon Brando dreamed of being a great fighter and winning titles. He eventually was relegated to working on waterfront docks, but always maintained that with the right handling and the right breaks, he could have been a contender for national prizefight titles—thus his plaint “I could’uh been uh contenduh!”

As a young boy I dreamed variously of becoming a cowboy, an explorer, an Indian fighter, an Indian, a pilot, a continental bus driver, a soldier or sailor or airman, a policeman, a taxi driver, a husband and a father, a doctor or teacher or scientist or author of books or a combination of all those occupations. I became an airman, husband and father and a law-enforcement officer (in that order) but none of the other dreams ever came true. Because of those failures this is my plaint, as was Marlon Brando’s in “On the Waterfront”:

I could’uh been uh contenduh!

In all seriousness, I believe I could have been a contender had I been born into a family somewhat higher on the economic scale. We were so far down on that scale that my mother often said, “We don’t have a pot to pee in or a window to throw it out of.” Yep, she said that and said it often, and she exaggerated only slightly.

She divorced her first husband (my father) shortly before I was born. Yes, I know that being born out of wedlock makes me (technically) a little bastard, but I can live with that—some feel that since then I have earned the right to that term. When I was nine years old and in the fourth grade, my mother remarried. Her new husband, not anxious to shoulder the responsibilities and economics of raising two kids, dumped me and my sister (18 months older than I) on relatives. During the next seven years I was relegated to an older sister, an older brother and a first-cousin, and as you will learn in this posting, given the opportunity to be relegated to someone outside the family, someone with absolutely no connection to my family. My sister suffered similar treatment, although banished to other pastures—we were never foisted off to the same people—apparently two kids were one too many for others to handle.

I abandoned my formal education just short of finishing the tenth grade, but over the years that followed I managed to earn a BA degree in American history (Nebraska) and a BS degree in Criminal Justice (Texas). This was over a period of 22 years of study, including on-campus study at five different universities, at home and abroad. Also during that period I worked full-time and assisted my wife in maintaining a home and raising three children.

But I have digressed—back to my contention that “I could’uh been a contenduh!”

At the princely age of eleven, when I was in the second semester of the seventh grade, I was offered a path out of the poverty in which I was mired. Early one morning as I entered my home room, the teacher ordered me to report to the principal’s office. With that order every part of me puckered-up—the principal normally waited until two boys got into trouble and then had both sent to his office. He had a wooden paddle, a formidable weapon that was used on the buttocks of male miscreants. The principal did not wield the item himself—he favored a system called “swapping licks.”

The system involved one wrong-doer whacking the other across the buttocks, then submitting to the same punishment by the one he had just whacked—tit for tat, so to speak. The boys were allowed to decide which one administered the first blow. If the principal felt that either or both of the whacks lacked the proper force, he would order one or both to be repeated—that was rarely necessary. (Note: In those days, long ago and far away in a different kingdom, grades seven and eight were termed “junior high,” and grades nine through twelve were “high school.” The six grades were combined in a series of campus buildings and one official, the “high school principal,” held complete sway over the whole.

I was sent to the principal’s office only one time, early in the first semester of the seventh grade, and I must confess that I don’t remember the nature of my transgression—apparently the ravages of time have deleted it, but it was something to be remembered. Of the two boys that faced the principal that day, one was five feet tall and weighed somewhere around 100 pounds—that one was me. The other was Hugh, six feet tall and well over two-hundred pounds, a first-string lineman for the school’s football team—his name was Hugh but everyone called him “huge.”

Infused with the belief that I wouldn’t be able to whack anybody after I received a blow from Hugh, I insisted on giving the first whack. I held back very little, but Hugh made no sound when the paddle landed, although he did rub his backside a bit immediately afterward. I made a concentrated effort by will of mind to tighten up everything I had in that area, hoping to force some muscle into the soft flesh in order to better absorb the blow. What followed was a mystery to me, but it was a mystery that would soon be revealed. While Hugh was warming up to retaliate, the principal said to him, in a tone that left no doubt as to his meaning, something on the order of “Gently, Hugh—make sure you are very gentle.”

I had no way of knowing then that the principal had plans for me—I was soon to learn that he wanted to adopt me, so he was probably reluctant to take on damaged goods. Hugh was more than “very gentle.” He tapped me across the buttocks so gently that, had it not been for the sound of the paddle landing I wouldn’t have known I had been hit—phew! What a relief!

I fully expected that two people would be in the office when I arrived—the principal and another wayward boy. I was right, but the two people were the principal and my mother.

Here I must again digress:

The high school principal was known to be a wealthy man. He owned and lived in one of the finest antebellum homes in town, and owned or had substantial interests in local businesses. I mention this only to stress that the reason my mother was there was to give her youngest son the opportunity to be adopted by the principal and raised as his son. Well, I suppose she had another reason, namely the possibility of relinquishing her responsibilities of raising me to another person. I have no problem with that—I accepted her reasoning then and I accept it now.

It was also known that the principal was the father of two girls (I was well aware of that). He had not been blessed with any boys, and had always wished for a boy he could bond with as a father, one that could then carry on his family name (I was not aware of that). His wish was never granted, and he was therefore willing to adopt a boy for those reasons. My mother was willing to authorize the adoption—nay, she appeared to be quite enthusiastic about it—but she made it clear that the decision was ultimately up to me.

And here I must digress from my digression:

The principal’s daughters were very popular and very pretty—not just pretty—they were gorgeous. The ninth grader was a brunette and the younger, a perky blond (whatever “perky” means), was in the eighth grade. In my admittedly untrained and immature opinion, both girls were beautiful and fully worthy of becoming my sisters. In fact—and you may call this vanity if you like—I have reason to believe that they possibly were urging their father on, perhaps even begging him, in his quest to adopt me. Hey, don’t laugh—I was a cutie back then!

Both girls were active in school activities, including band and cheer-leading and as all know, rightly or wrongly, there are no homely cheerleaders. Had the two girls—or just one of them—either one—been present at my meeting with my mother and the principal, I suspect that the outcome may have been very different.

I had three sisters in my family, all of varying mental and physical characteristics. The two older sisters were married and the younger, the one that was passed as I was from one relative to another in her early years, while bright and likable in many respects would never have won any beauty contests, neither first place nor first runner-up. She has since passed on, almost two decades ago, to a place where everyone is equal and there are no runner-up positions—no matter the nature of the contest, all are judged first-place winners.

Okay, that should be the final digression.

The principal briefed me on what he had in mind. He wanted to adopt me and raise me as his son, with the promise to guide me and support me in my quest for learning. Evidently my performance in the first semester of the seventh grade had impressed him—and that’s another story, well worthy of its own blog posting. Stay tuned.

I learned that my surname would be changed to his family name, and everything was downhill from that point. My stepfather had wanted me to change my name to his, but I refused because I did not want other kids making jokes such as, “Hey, there’s Weathers—how’s the weather gonna be tomorrow?” etc., etc. Had I accepted the adoption my new name would have garnered jokes such as, “Hi, Farmer, what are you growing now?” and “Hey, Farmer, be sure you spread enough fertilizer.” The word “fertilizer” would, of course, be replaced by one or another of less savory words.

The surname I was given at birth was bad enough—it generated questions such as, “Hey, Dyer, what are you dyeing? Your clothes? Your hair?” and “If you’re a Dyer are you dead? How long will it take you to die?” ad nauseam. Over the past 13 years I had learned to live with the die jokes (heh, heh, heh), but I was reluctant to voluntarily provide hecklers with a fresh repertoire.

Actually, the proposed name change was a minor factor (pun unintentional). I rejected the “adoption option” because I was a rather independent 13-year old lad. I had already survived several changes in life and locations in the past three years, and I was prescient enough to believe that other, perhaps greater, life changes and locations loomed in my future (I was right—boy, was I ever right!).

I felt that my independence would be severely hampered, and any inclination I may have had to accept the adoption was severely tempered by the memories of, and the presence of, the wooden paddle the principal kept in a desk drawer. I speculated as to whether he took it home with him each night, or perhaps kept one or more similar items in his home.

I also was aware of the story that he had recently become so irate at one boy that he slapped him and punched him in the eye—gave him a really significant shiner and dispelled him—that was the boy’s story and most students believed him. The kid with the black eye said he was ordered to submit to the paddling procedure and when he refused to submit, the principal lost his temper. I worked with that ex-student for a time as a drive-in restaurant car-hop, and heard him tell his story many times—he never deviated from the salient parts of the incident, and I believed him.

Bummer.

So, in a nutshell as some say, in order to wrap this posting up, I have always felt that “I could’uh been uh contenduh!” had I accepted the offer of adoption. Rather than 22 years of combining work and family with my quest for learning, I could have and perhaps would have been educated at the finest schools in the nation for a career in law or medicine or business or mathematics—oops, scratch the mathematics—or perhaps a career in politics, one that theoretically at least, could have catapulted me into the highest office in the land. Speaking frankly (and comparatively), given the nature of current events and the recent past, I could have done a more stellar job in that office than the present occupant.

That’s it. I could have been a contender for things that were denied me because of my economic status, but I have no regrets. I am completely satisfied with my contributions to society and to my country, and with their contributions to me.


 

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