Update from the Trenches

Sincerest apologies for the lack of postings in the last week or so, I have been plenty busy. Now that I am completely employed at the local high school, finishing the year out as a full-time English instructor, I have had my work cut out for me. The unfortunate reality of the situation is that the school did very little in preparation for anyone taking over for the teacher I am replacing. From tell of things, the administration was in denial about her departure. Thus, there was very little in the way of material ready for me to take and execute. All this means that I have spent the last week and a half trying to figure out how I am going to cover the curriculum in a meaningful and deep way.

Also this week, it seemed as though every night presented me with additional requirements. I have been teaching a basic computer class for adults at the Charles River Public Internet Center in Waltham. This soaks up my evening every Monday. Plus, Ali roped me and her sister, Keri, into participating in the human rights committee for her company. Since she works with adults that have an assortment of mental illness, it is important that they have people outside the company to be their advocates. Well, this week Keri and I had to visit one of the residential programs for the company. Add a concert for Ali’s beloved Glen Phillips and suddenly there was very little time to throw any tales into the digital realm.

Speaking of the concert, the show was great. The greater Boston area is jeweled with a number of quality smaller venues for entertainment. The former front man for 90’s indie-rock band Toad the Wet Sprocket, played the Paradise solo with nothing but a single acoustic guitar. The club is steeped in a history of countless acts that have played there before jumping to the stadium circuit. It is an intimate setting and in front of a couple hundred people, I got to meet Ali’s imaginary fiancé. While the introduction had a certain aloofness, things went reasonably well and as luck would have it Ali did eventually go home with me. Anyone that knows my girlfriend well has been indoctrinated into her grand delusion. However, many are unaware that Ali has long harbored an obsession with Mr. Phillips. So great is her fantasy that prior to our reunion she staged a faux wedding complete with an elaborate home reception. Never mind that she is a licensed mental health professional; all of her associates are in on it. Once more, Glen (we’re on a first basis) is happily married with two small children in Southern California. I am sure that Ali will conveniently block the last sentence upon reading.

On the Verge of Molding Young Minds

With the beginning of this week, I found myself teaching English at Waltham High School. Currently, I am in the probationary phase of what may become my full-time gig for the remainder of the school year. Since a lovely young teacher was on the verge of bursting with baby, the local school desperately needed a replacement. In the kind of strange happenstance I recently found lacking in my life, I stumbled upon this fabulous opening.

So often, life is strange alchemy. This situation was no exception. I responded to an advertisement, but went that extra mile. Being unsure of whether I would be considered as a permanent substitute for the aforementioned maternity leave, I sought the daily grind of subbing wherever the district would have me. This guided me to the district coordinator and she was to become my biggest advocate. She pressed the English Chair to interview me, because I needed to speak with someone even before I could substitute on a daily basis. So, I was pursuing both opportunities all at the same time to cover my bases and earn some desperately needed bread. Fortune gazed kindly upon me.

Before I knew it, I interviewed on a Friday and was asked to come back Monday to observe. That Monday I was in the classroom getting a crash course in everything from what is being taught to where the bathroom is – which required a key incidentally. A day later, Tuesday, I was front and center and leading six classes of adolescents as their English teacher.

While I have been working towards this inevitability, I had now idea it would happen in such a dramatic fashion. As it stands, things look imminently good. Barring some unforeseen calamity, I will be molding young minds for the remainder of the year. It has been a remarkable journey in a short span of time. Now all I have to do is construct a long range plan and schedule to stay a step ahead of the students while working the classroom at the same time. Welcome to teaching, I guess.

Most ironic of all is that in the two and half months I have been in New England all my previous inquiries for employment had fallen on deaf ears. Then, in less than twenty-four hours, I found myself with three scheduled interviews and my current probationary offer. Two of the calls came within five minutes of each other while I was preparing for the interview that got me the current gig. To say that this was a turnaround is an enormous understatement.

Nevertheless, I still have to prove my mettle and lock up a chance in the classroom. This time next week, that should be the case.

And, of course, Happy Birthday to my main mate Dave. Look out Indy, the geezer’s on the loose and leaving a trail of broken boards and knuckles in his aging wake! Good Luck under the knife.

I’m Sorry I Don’t Understand…

Last night, there was an amusing report on the news related to the more idiosyncratic elements of life in New England. Most people, particularly those outside the Northeast, are aware of the “Bahston” accent. To be sure it is a dialect that, contrary to what my beloved Ali claims, exceeds Southie (South Boston) and reaches well beyond the city limits. Like most places the way people speak tends to be driven more by socio-economic class than anything. It is no different here. Although, there are a variety of subtleties; to the untuned ear a Kennedy sounds pretty much like Tommy or Norm from This Old House. The whole region does, however, have some distinct characteristics which Chicagoans got a taste of when Nomah came was traded. According to the news report the New England dialect is “wicked hard to understand.”

Verizon is the main telephone provider in New England and they have automated their information services (411). Problem is the computer on the other end can’t figure out what anybody is saying. Worse still, it can take five to six repetitions before anybody can be connected to an operator. Since the dreaded increase of telephone automation it is nearly impossible for anyone dialing the phone to talk to a human being. Now, fortunately for us humans, Verizon is having to use more operators than they thought necessary.

Apparently they did anticipate this, slightly. They preemptively programmed “Woostah” into the system. For those not from around here that is Worcester, a town about 50 miles west of Boston. Well at least they tried.

Now, everybody has heard about, “Pahkin’ the cah in Hahvahd yahd.” But I don’t think there is a machine available that can handle the myriad of pronunciations that seem foreign to the outsider. Some make sense, harkening back to Anglo roots. For example, the town of Reading is pronounced “Reding” not Reeding;” and Gloucester is the relatively familiar “Glostah.” This phenomenon, however, is not at all consistent.

You see Woburn is “Woobun,” losing all but the softest coloring of its “r.” The dropped “r” is famous, but there’s more. Waltham is “Walth-am,” with a flat “a” instead of “Walthum.” Of course, this is only the beginning odd gems. Like anywhere, these are the things that give a place great color and make it unique. Being an actor and connoisseur of dialects, I am endlessly fascinated by it all. Verizon might not share this opinion, but I think it’s great that they might have to break down and get rid of the automated system. Despite their continued efforts to program their system, it may inevitably be more work.

For a taste of the local flavor, give this site a listen. The site is a great bank of dialects from the world over, spoken by native speakers. Here is another Boston example, which I think is an Italian woman from the North End. I like these examples but they are fairly tame compared to some. I just wished that she was asking for directions like, “Wich road do Ahwy take to get to the Naw-uhth Shaw-uh, cuz Ahwy keep getting’ law-ust the minit Ahwy git ovah the rivah and pahst the Mystic Mawl?”

A New Look for Fritzwinkle

Finally, I have finished the fritzwinkle.com overhaul. It has taken a little over a month to fine-tune the aesthetics and collect all of the content. This version is vastly more sophisticated from both design and technical aspects. Plus, it has new features like Contact, where you can email me directly from the site. Thus, I was not posting quite as frequently. I still need to tweak some of the content, but over the next few weeks I should be able to shore that up. Of course things will continue to grow and evolve, but a solid foundation is now in place. I hope you find it appealing.

Anyway, let me know what you think. Leave comments or put that Contact page to good use.

Four More Years May Be Four Too Many

Now it is official, four more years of Bush. The man who litigated his way into the White House has actually prevailed, actually winning the Presidential Election. To say that I am disappointed is an extreme understatement. My fears about the race all came true. Rather than go down singing, Kerry played it safe all the way to the end.

What is particularly distressing is the reality that the America in which we’re living is empowered by a cadre of arrogant, self-righteous, holier-than-thou, ultraconservative, religious right wing groups. George Bush proved, as in Texas, that corralling the evangelical Christian contingent is a large enough voting block to win an election. This morally superior assemblage is a near-exact mirror, however, to the Islamic fundamentalist jihads that are currently our greatest enemies. Religious fundamentalism is still fundamentalism, regardless of which religion to which you subscribe.

The worst aspect of this fundamentalism is the resolute insistence on a single path to the gates of paradise. There is no room for debate, acceptance, or even respect. All hope for collaborative problem solving, to negotiate peaceful solutions for the increasingly complex problems of an uncertain world are constrained by powerfully insurgent forces from both sides of Abraham. With little option for cooperation, there is little room for anything besides coercion. Under any circumstance, it is a recipe for continual confrontation.

George Bush is the epitome of the superior certainty that is being embraced. By his own admission he has tightened his circle of advisors, in favor a virtual echo chamber. There is virtually no dissent in an administration that now feels flush with a newly minted mandate. More disconcerting is the fact that this president also admits that he doesn’t like to listen to lengthy reports on issues from his staff. Not only is he a sound bite President. He lives in his own private a sound bite world full of “common sense.” The unfortunate reality is that the world’s problems often require uncommon sense and slightly more than the Cliff’s Notes. Yet, any individual that questions or, God forbid, is critical of our leader finds themselves dismissed and vehemently derided, including fellow world leaders.

All of this presents an interesting irony on the term leader. Leading implies followers, and as I look around, America seems to find them conspicuously lacking on the global stage. Only in our own nation do we like to hear ourselves. Somewhere, this President has confused leadership with dominion. The result is the most secretive, unilateral, administration of conceit, Texas Two-stepping to an imperial theme of their own composing.

I guess we get the government we deserve. I only hope we can survive it. The rest of the world doesn’t seem keen on the prospects of being commanded rather than led by the nation known as US. Although, we can now rest peacefully knowing that we will definitely be protected, mainly from ourselves.