Sunday, April 29, 2007

Just When I Finally Start Getting Unemployment Checks!

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has selected me to participate in Pennsylvania's Profile Reemployment Program. This is not optional. If I don't go to the PREP Orientation/Assessment session, I might actually lose my benfits.

Here's the deal: I've been on the PA CareerLink website. They don't exactly have the kinds of jobs that I'm looking for. At all. A basic search for jobs in "Arts, Design, Entertainment, Sports, & Media," in Philadelphia, at the minimum salary I can make, actually yielded:

Job Search Results

Your search returned 0 matches.
Please click on 'Modify Search' to change your search criteria.

Similar results in the two or three other "occupational categories" that seemed like they might have jobs I wouldn't hate.

It might be pretentious of me. Hell, I know it's pretentious of me. But I graduated from one of the top schools in the country. With honors. And I somehow doubt that this PREP Orientation/Assessment is going to be much more than a waste of time.

But wait, there's more...

Because I've Had Enough Depressing Content Up...

Thanks, Reuters. Tell me something I don't know.

"Survey shows what not to wear to work" (Reuters: Oddly Enough, April 27, 2007.)

But wait, there's more...

Friday, April 27, 2007

Eulogy for a Great Man

I just finished writing my grandfather's eulogy. If it seems a little slap-dash, it's because my grandmother told me forty-five minutes ago that people were speaking tonight at the viewing, not tomorrow at the funeral.

For Opa
27 April, 2007

When I was three years old, I went skiing for the first time. To be perfectly honest, I kind of remember hating it at first. The first time I ended up with my face buried in the snow, I was ready to quit. My poor, exhausted parents handed me over to Opa at some point that day. And that’s when I became a skier.

Opa didn’t only teach me to ski. He taught me how to ride a bicycle, how to play tennis, and how to drive—although the success of that last lesson might be considered questionable. At the Amigo Air Show, Opa taught me why you saw the airplanes before you heard them. I may have been the only six-year-old at Western Hills to consider “sonic boom” part of her vocabulary. One summer in Ruidoso, Opa sat my sister Lindsay and me down to teach us about good oral hygiene. When he thought we weren’t listening, he popped out his bridge and said: “See? This is serious stuff I’m telling you.” I haven’t skipped brushing my teeth since.

When I was a teenager, Opa could still beat me downhill on skis or on the obstacle course on one of the hiking trails in Lincoln County. He could do my high school math and science homework better than I could, even though he was fifty-plus years out of high school. We talked politics and philosophy and religion. After I left for college, we didn’t see as much of each other as we once had, but whenever I was home from my pristine Ivy League university, where they make you think that there are no people in this world who are smarter than you are, I still marveled at how amazingly brilliant my grandfather was. If I live to be half as smart, or half as worldly, as my Opa was, I’d consider myself luckier than most.

A year ago, I turned in my honors thesis at the University of Pennsylvania. It was a 142-page endeavor, called Mosaico: a book filled with my love for El Paso, Texas, a place that had seen generation after generation of Iveys. Opa was very much a part of that work. He’s almost pervasive in it—even when he’s not mentioned explicitly. But one story was about him, especially. It was about his love of flying, and his love of airplanes even after he stopped flying them. When I was looking for a title for the story, I came across Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem, “The Ladder of St. Augustine,” and that’s where the eventual title came from: what better way to honor my amazing, airplane-designing grandfather, than by calling the story “The Heights by Great Men, Reached and Kept”?

The poem is beautiful, and I’d like to share the last few stanzas of it with you now, if I may. I can’t think of a more fitting tribute to Opa, who is now doubtless soaring at heights higher than even he could have imagined:

We have not wings, we cannot soar;
    But we have feet to scale and climb
By slow degrees, by more and more,
    The cloudy summits of our time.

The mighty pyramids of stone
    That wedge-like cleave the desert airs,
When nearer seen, and better known,
    Are but gigantic flights of stairs.

The distant mountains, that uprear
    Their solid bastions to the skies,
Are crossed by pathways, that appear
    As we to higher levels rise.

The heights by great men reached and kept
    Were not attained by sudden flight,
But they, while their companions slept,
    Were toiling upward in the night.

Standing on what too long we bore
    With shoulders bent and downcast eyes,
We may discern—unseen before—
    A path to higher destinies.

Nor deem the irrevocable Past,
    As wholly wasted, wholly vain,
If, rising on its wrecks, at last
    To something nobler we attain.

But wait, there's more...

Thursday, April 26, 2007

For Opa

My grandfather died yesterday. There is so much that I want to write about that. But before I do, I wanted to share the part of my thesis that he inspired. As I was re-reading it, I noticed some edits that needed to be made, but I'm not making them here; I'm almost ready to revisit the whole work to try to get together a book proposal, but for now, you're reading it as I submitted it when I was graduating. It's really long, so I've put it all after the jump (unless you're reading from the permalink, in which case, I apologize, but you're gonna have to scroll). (From Mosaico: Piecing Together El Paso, Texas, copyright 2006)

My grandfather’s legs are shiny and hairless. That’s the first thing I notice when I get to his house. He’s going through his weekly physical therapy treatments, and Kelvin, his therapist, has pushed Opa’s sweatpants almost to his knees so that he can massage and stretch my grandfather’s calf muscles.

It’s been eighteen months since Opa had a series of strokes, and I’ve taken enough cognitive neuroscience courses to know that the left-side neglect he’s suffering from won’t ever go away. When Kelvin asks my grandfather to bend his left knee and raise his leg, he holds his hands up to show that he won’t help. The average human leg weighs (?) pounds, but my grandfather grunts and groans and makes it seem like a thousand. There are tears in his eyes by his second repetition. “Only eight more,” Kelvin says.

The person I’m looking at is not the same person who taught me both how to drive and how to ski (and who skied himself until he was over eighty), who hiked with me and beat me on obstacle courses and at tennis. His legs were always moving, and unassisted. I know he doesn’t like to be seen as the man he is now, so I leave the room and run into my grandmother, who is coming from the opposite direction. She knew I was coming, but she acts pleasantly surprised to see me.

“How long have you been in town, honey?” she asks.

I lie because if she knows it’s been awhile, she’ll be angry.

She offers me a drink, which I decline because I brought a bottle of water with me, and food, which I decline because she’s a horrible cook. There is a reason my Aunt Mimi always called Oma the “Queen of Slop.”

“I was hoping I could ask you a few questions while Opa’s still in therapy.” It’s a statement, not a question; asking her a question gives her the chance to say no.

“Of course, honey, but I’m not dressed.”

I was expecting that answer. My grandmother never appears in public without carefully styled hair, meticulously applied makeup, and well-selected jewelry. She is currently in a housecoat and slippers. It’s not the way she likes to be seen by the outside world. “It’s an audio recording, Oma. Nobody’s going to be able to tell what you’re wearing just by hearing your voice. And besides, nobody will hear this but me, anyway.”

I have been recording her for about a minute before she tells me to shut the recorder off; she says something embarrassing or honest, but I don’t remember what because it’s not on the recording. Oma knows that recordings can be incriminating. She loves attention, but only the positive kind. When things get too personal, she gets uncomfortable. The recording picks up with my voice, and I chat with her for some time before my grandfather’s therapy is over, but not about anything important. “Would you look at that? See how well he does?” My grandmother is looking down the hall, over my shoulder. I look behind me and know that she’s successfully deflected the attention from herself.

Opa is walking down the hall, supported by his walker and by Kelvin, but walking nonetheless. It is the first time I’ve seen him walk more than a step or two since his stroke and the only thing that keeps me from jumping up and running to hug him is the fear that I might knock him over if I do.

Kelvin helps Opa to his wheelchair and leaves the room. Opa looks so small, hunched over like that. I notice that his paralyzed left hand is secured to the armrest – to keep him from injuring his arm, I’m sure – but it upsets me. I remember the summer I was taking tennis lessons, and he took me out to practice, and encouraged me to use both hands if I was having trouble with my backhand, then showed me where to put each hand on the handle of my racquet. He couldn’t demonstrate that now. He looks old, and I realize that’s because he is; he’s afflicted by something that only happens to old people.

I am mostly here to ask Opa how his family got to El Paso, and to learn about his history designing airplanes during the Second World War. The way my dad always told it, Opa managed to avoid active duty by going to work for Douglas Aircraft. I remember my grandfather would talk about building planes, but never about flying in them. I also remember going to the War Eagles Air Museum, out in Santa Teresa, New Mexico, with my father and grandfather, and having them point out the plane Opa helped to design. I was more interested in the plane with the shark painted on its nose. Dad and Opa said the Japanese were afraid of sharks. I didn’t think that anybody would be afraid of a flying shark, but I’d seen enough movies to know that the bad guys could be silly about these things.

Opa keeps getting distracted when I ask him about the planes, and Oma isn’t helping. Talking about the past means acknowledging she’s got one, too. My grandmother hates that she has gotten old; it’s no secret. She remembers the war, so talking about it means admitting that her memory extends at least sixty years. “John,” she says, “tell her about Shep. John?” She’s trying to get my grandfather to focus on something that isn’t so closely related to her memories: if she wasn’t there, she can’t say how old she was. In many ways, my grandmother is like a child; she doesn’t realize that the choices she makes can hurt others, namely, me and my thesis. Opa tells me about the pet pageant in which he and his six brothers participated as boys; awards were given for “the biggest, the smallest, the ugliest, and the prettiest” pets, the latter of which Shep, my grandfather’s German shepherd, won. It isn’t the story I’d come for; I wonder if my grandfather even remembers that his life may have been saved by Douglas Aircraft.

It is getting late, and tomorrow I fly back to Philadelphia. I still haven’t packed. I leave my grandparents’ house with unanswered questions and leaving untold stories that I know are still somewhere inside my grandfather. But the mechanism with which to convey them has been lost to clogged carotid arteries and hemispheric neglect, or blocked by my grandmother’s innocent vanity. Only family lore is left intact. I will have to create what is absent.

Heights by Great Men, Reached and Kept
John has been home for less than a week when the man in uniform visits him. “Son,” says the officer, “we understand you’ve switched to studying chemical engineering.”

“That’s right, sir,” says John.

“Here’s the deal, son. You’re graduating soon. Really soon.”

“Yes, sir,” says John.

“And you know about your forty-five days.” John nods. As a member of the Aggie Corps, he has about six weeks to enlist in the military or get assigned to it.

Beside him, John’s mother gasps. Two weeks ago, America got involved with the war in Europe and Japan.

“Oh, not to worry, ma’am. We want to make sure that he doesn’t go to Europe.”

“Mother,” says John, “maybe you’d better go get us all some iced tea.”

John’s mother, Marie, retreats into the kitchen, and John leads the officer to the parlor. “I’m a little confused, officer.”

“Well you see, son, whenever the number of a college man comes up, we do a little bit of research. To see if we could put him to good use. Safe use.”

“Are you planning on growing alfalfa in Italy?” John asks.

The officer laughs, but John didn’t really mean it as a joke. He had recently made the decision to switch from aeronautical engineering back to chemical engineering. “No, son. The army doesn’t need farmers. The farmers serve as infantry. But we hear that you’d been studying airplanes, John.” It is the first time the officer has called him anything but “son.”

“A little, yeah,” says John.

“And we hear that Texas A&M has one of the only aeronautical engineering programs in the country.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Well, John, Uncle Sam would like to make you a deal. Switch back to the airplanes. Do it for us, would you? Go back to studying airplanes and leave all this farm business behind?”

“But, sir, the farm –“

“Son, let’s put this another way. A way your family might not be so angry about. You keep learning about airplanes, you graduate from college, you help design fighters for the United States military, and we make sure that nobody’s breathing down your neck about officer’s school. You keep learning about farming, you start basic training in June and you’re in Europe by the Fourth of July. On the front lines.”

“How soon do you need to know?” asks John.

“Douglas wants to know by the end of the week. The mucky-mucks don’t work on New Year’s Day, you know.”

It is Wednesday. “I’ll ring you Friday morning, then.”

John is not the oldest son, but he is Marie’s favorite. He was born in a tent on the land that his father sharecropped. The family built the big adobe house when he was six and his father could afford to buy the land he’d farmed on. John’s father was a good farmer, and he did well for himself and his family. It looked as though all seven sons would make it to college, and John would be the first to graduate.

When Pearl Harbor was bombed, Marie was afraid that any of her sons, but especially John, would be drafted. John was in the Corps at school. She didn’t know of any way of avoiding seeing him off.

“You’ll do it,” she says to John as soon as the officer leaves.

“But the farm –“

“You have five younger brothers who aren’t in college yet. One of them can learn how to make fertilizer, too. After the war’s done.”

John still feels guilty. All good Catholic boys do, sometimes. “I’m supposed to help out. I promised daddy…”

“John, your daddy doesn’t want you dead in some ditch in Poland. I promise you that. He’ll understand if you keep studying airplanes. I’m sure you’ll remember enough chemistry to make fertilizer when you come back.”

John grabs his coat and kisses his mother on the forehead.

“Where are you going?” she asks.

“I need to think,” John says. He walks out the door and puts on his jacket.

John likes taking long walks around the cotton fields. Sometimes, he’ll even run. In high school, the track team would occasionally practice distance running around John’s family’s farm. Father Mike, the track coach, said that if you could run in the newly-plowed fields without turning your ankle, you could run on a track no problem. The others on the team didn’t mind the furrows so much as the dust, but John grew up breathing it in. He was convinced he could tell how much sulfur was in the soil by the taste of it in his mouth when he inhaled it while running. That’s one of the reasons he decided to go back to studying chemical engineering. He could tell when the soil was best for cotton, when for pimentos, when for alfalfa, by something as simple as smell or taste, or by something as complicated as collecting a vial of soil and adding chemicals to it and then looking at the result under a microscope. John has spent hours at school, learning to refine these skills. He loves playing with chemicals in the A&M labs. He’d always said “anything but farming,” but now he’s thinking he wants to come back here and make the family farm the best farm in west Texas. Giving up such a newly-formed idea won’t be easy.

After a few minutes, John’s brother Paul joins him outside. “Have you been drafted?”


“Are you going to the war?”

“I don’t know yet.”

“Who am I going to watch airplanes with, if you go?”

“I’m hardly here now.”

“You’d be here less then.”

The two brothers are sitting on the fence on the far side of the field when a plane flies overhead. John recognizes that it belongs to the Army; sometimes, new pilots will fly over the Lower Valley when learning new maneuvers. The Army says it’s safer out there: fewer people on the ground if something happens. Nothing ever does. John has been curious about airplanes for as long as he’s known that they existed, and he’d gotten Paul interested, too. The plane is making slow circles around John’s family’s farm, but just as the sun begins to disappear, it makes a sharp turn to the right. The wings are almost perpendicular to the fence, and they block the sunset for a minute. On the ground, the plane’s shadow looks like a giant crucifix.

The two remain perched on the fence until the plane has disappeared completely and it’s nearly dark. They can hear their mother calling them in for dinner.


It’s June now, and John is spending his first day at Douglas Aircraft in California. “If you’re going to build airplanes,” his boss, Ray Camm, tells him, “you’re going to need to know how they fly. All the new guys start flight lessons next week. Including you. Don’t matter how good of an engineer you are if you can’t fly the damn things. Meantime, I need you to learn everything you can about wings.”

“Wings?” John asks.

“Stick ’em on the side of a plane to make it fly?” Ray says. “You’re going to start designing wings. Anyway, the library’s that way, the bathroom’s behind you, and the cafeteria’s downstairs. Find me if you need anything. And welcome to the safe side of war.”

John has acquired two hobbies in California: flying and skiing. He’s now licensed to fly fifteen different types of planes, and he skis the steepest slopes as if he’s been doing it all his life. He’d also been promoted to chief designer on the dive-bomber Douglas was manufacturing. The youngest chief designer Douglas ever had. Turned out Bill liked what John learned about wings, and he put him in charge of the whole plane. It’s a lot more work for no more money, but John’s just bought himself a secondhand pair of skis, and a very old car. On weekends, he’ll drive up to the mountains with some of the other young engineers, their skis strapped to the roof of the car.

Now that the designs are finished for the bomber, John is spending a lot of time in the factory. It’s different from the drafting rooms. The engineers are all well-educated men who had gotten out of service by going to work designing airplanes; they were all too smart or too old to fight. But the factory workers are all women, many of whom have husbands and sons in Europe or the Pacific. It makes John a little uncomfortable to be in that room, he feels he’s intruding. He had six brothers. No matter how much he learns about planes, he’s not going to understand women.

Sometimes, when John walks into the factory, one or two of the young women will smile at him. John tries to smile back. He knows them because they’re always at the club where he goes dancing on Thursday nights, but it’s easier to smile at them when he’s there. When he’s at work, it’s all business. He’s helping to win a war, and he doesn’t have time to wink at pretty girls.


The war has been over for five years by the time John Junior is born. John might have stayed in California after the war if his sister-in-law hadn’t introduced him to pretty Rosalie Blackwell while he was visiting El Paso one Christmas. But Rosalie’s family would never have let her marry a man who lived anywhere but El Paso even if he was doing quite well for himself on the coast. And so John moved back to the farm he’d never really thought he’d leave and married the girl that every man in El Paso County wanted to marry. Rosalie doesn’t like the farm, but John built a new stable for her horse and he takes her dancing in Mexico and does his best to show her that farm life isn’t all bad. And now with John Junior – Johnny – Rosalie has at least stopped complaining a little.

And finally, finally, John is using his chemistry again. His father, K.B., started up the Southwest Fertilizer and Chemical Company while John was on the coast, but it hadn’t been doing too well; John stepped in and now the company’s doing great, with John retooling all the chemical compounds. John even used company funds to buy retired Army biplanes and convert them to crop-dusters. He sold the crop-dusting part of the business, but he kept one of the planes for himself, a Stearman, identical to what he learned to fly on. It’s painted white and red and sometimes he’ll take Rosalie up in it and then fly upside down, just to scare her.

But John is on the road a lot. The business is growing and it seems like he’s in the car more than he’s home. Rosalie wants to have another baby, even though Johnny’s birth was hard on her, but John’s always tired or preoccupied. The other day, when he came home, Johnny tottered up to him and asked when he could fly in the plane again. John is tired, but he tells Johnny that they’ll fly soon, that someday, John will even teach him how to fly.

The Mexican-American Road Race runs two thousand miles from El Paso to Mexico’s border with Guatemala. John is taking time off from the company for the duration of the race to follow the it with Johnny and Rosalie. He is flying, slowly, over the racers. Johnny is on his lap, complaining that he can’t see.

John gently tilts the airplane toward his left. “I still can’t see, Daddy,” says Johnny.

John tilts the plane until it is at a forty-five degree angle to the ground and continues to fly along the race’s path. When the path curves, John repositions the plane so that the cars below remain visible. Rosalie is used to flying with John, and the constant change doesn’t bother her like it used to, but Johnny is looking a little green.

John removes his hat – a red felt fedora that he wears everywhere – and places it in front of Johnny’s face, all the while keeping the plane steady. The toddler vomits into it, then crawls into Rosalie’s lap and falls asleep.

“I’m sorry about your hat,” she says to him.

“Someday,” John tells her, “he’s going to be flying just like this, and his son will ruin his hat, too.”


Paul learned to fly when John bought all those planes to make crop-dusters. When he and John set up a farming enterprise in Pecos, Eagle Pass, El Paso, and Los Moches, Mexico, they decided it made sense to fly between their farms. A few years ago, John decided to sell Paul his interest in the farms. It was nothing personal, but what with three kids and Rosalie now looking to adopt, John just wanted to stay closer to home. And now, he’s moving away from the valley farm, all the way to the mountains, in El Paso proper. Rosalie finally got her way about farm living.

Paul’s mostly been in Pecos these days, but he’s flying to Los Moches today, and earlier he stopped in El Paso for fuel and lunch with his favorite brother. The flight to the Los Moches property isn’t a long one, and Paul’s done it a few dozen times, so John’s surprised that he hasn’t heard anything from him. He’d definitely asked Paul to call him and let him know he landed safely. Of course, Paul is forgetful, and he’d seemed busy, so John’s not too worried. He’s sure Paul will phone when the family is all sitting down to dinner. His timing has never been good.

The day after Paul left for Los Moches, John still hadn’t heard from him, and he started to worry. He called the Los Moches farm, but nobody there had seen him arrive. The airstrip didn’t have records of his landing, nor did they remember talking to an American man on the radio. It’s been six months since John had lunch with Paul when he gets a phone call from a man his parents had told him to hire to look for his brother.

“I’ve used every last resource. As far as these people are concerned, your brother never existed.”

John thanks the man, hangs up the phone, then dials the flight school in the valley to cancel Johnny’s first flight lesson. For the first time in twenty-five years, he is wishing he’d just gone into the Army like the other guys in the A&M Corps.

But wait, there's more...

Sunday, April 22, 2007

I Am Healthier Than I Thought!

"Fruity Cocktails Count as Health Food, Study Finds" (Reuters: Oddly Enough, April 20, 2007)

I'm hittin' the bar!

But wait, there's more...

Monday, April 16, 2007

Today. Virginia.

At some point during the day of April 20, 1999, my high school went into a momentary panic. Not only did they have their hands full trying to weed out stoned students (seems that a lot of proud Coronado Thunderbirds loved them some 4/20), but the administration had just received word that a high school in a small town in Colorado had just been shot up by two students. I remember there being a fear that the shooting happened on Hitler's birthday for a reason. A fear that there would be other shootings in other schools. We didn't go into lock-down. In fact, we still transitioned between classes without so much as a glance over our shoulders. But the teachers stopped teaching. We just turned on the televisions and waited for updates. How many casualties? How many fatalities? It was over sooner than we realized, but everything seemed to change that day. The next day, our teachers still didn't teach. We talked. We journaled. There was a brief assembly, during which the school guidance counsellors said to go to them if we needed to talk. (Nobody at Coronado had any ties to Columbine, but knowing my classmates, a lot of people showed up in the counselling center just to get out of class.)

The day after that, my geography teacher, a Vietnam veteran named Mr. Hunt, revealed his escape plan for us, in case a shooting happened while we were in his classroom. Coronado, you see, is made up of a number of individual buildings, two of which with large central courtyards, that you walk through and between to get to class. Our classroom had a long support beam running between one of its windows and the roof of the gym building. And Mr. Hunt's idea was that we all file out of the window and crawl along the beam until we reached the gym. Nevermind that the gym didn't have roof access. Nevermind that, if a shooter was standing on the roof of our building, the gym, or any of the other buildings, we'd be exposing ourselves. That was Mr. Hunt's plan, and by god, we were going to stick with it.

After revealing his brilliant plan, Mr. Hunt decided it was soapbox time. "This was a terrible tragedy," he said, "but at the same time, there were signs. These kids were saying they were going to kill someone."

And of course, fifteen year-old wise-ass Jill raises her hand. "Ummm, Mr. Hunt? Do you mean to tell me that you've never been so upset or frustrated with a person that you've said 'I could kill him'? I mean, I failed a science test the other day. And I could say that I'm so upset with Mr. Crofford that I could just kill him. But that's just an expression. I wouldn't mean it." The conversation went on, the bell rang, class was dismissed.

During third period of the next day, I was sent for by the Assistant Principal's office. "Do you know why you're here?"

"Frankly, sir, I don't have a clue."

"Do you know what you said in class?"

"I participate in all of my classes. I say a lot of things." Really, I wasn't trying to be a wise-ass this time. I was genuinely confused. "Which class do you mean?"

"Mr. Hunt's class, Jillian. Do you know what you said in Mr. Hunt's class?"

I didn't, really. Not at first. The class discussion had pretty much washed over me. And apparently, Mr. Hunt had very selective hearing, because at this point, the AP picked up his notes and read: "'I'm so upset with Mr. Crofford that I could just kill him.'"

"With all due respect, sir, that was taken completely out of context. I was giving an example."

"An example?"

"Yes sir. I was trying to explain why making a statement like that doesn't automatically mean that a person is going to go crazy and start shooting people. It's a common expression when you're frustrated. That's all."

At this point, it was probably pretty apparent that the petite blonde honors student whose most subversive trait was an ability to back-talk was not a threat to the student body at Coronado High School. "You can go. Just be careful about what you say around here."

Before returning to class, I called my parents to tell them what had happened. Just in case Mr. Hunt tried to call them. And also because I thought it was kind of funny. But my dad didn't. "My daughter is not a psychopath!" He called the school as soon as I hung up and arranged a joint conference with Mr. Hunt and the AP. I don't know what happened in there, but he must have gotten Mr. Hunt good, because I couldn't get an "A" from him for the rest of the semester.

It's been eight years since Columbine. Things have changed. My senior year of high school, our school even hosted a "crisis drill." Fake shooters took over the buildings, while class was in session, for almost a full day. Five SWAT teams were dispatched for the drill. I have video somewhere. Kids are getting in trouble for airing their frustrations on MySpace. Metal detectors are more and more prevalent in the entries to public schools. Things that were once allowed on campus now are not. And the presence of cell phones is generally politely ignored—just in case.

These are all the things I think about when I get the news that there's been another shooting at another school. These were the things that I thought about today when I first heard about the mass killings on the campus of Virginia Tech this morning. As I write this sentence, The New York Times is reporting at least thirty-one fatalities, plus the shooter. It is, and I quote, "what appears to be the deadliest shooting rampage in American history." I'm nowhere near Virginia. Don't know anyone at Virginia Tech. And I'm still horrified and a little scared, and I don't want to turn on the TV because I know that I'll burst into tears. I just don't know what possesses a person to wake up and say "today, mass homicide." The Times says that the shooter was looking for his girlfriend. He sure choose a funny way to find her.

Phillyist's sister site, DCist, is keeping abreast of the story, but we've had some server errors today, so you might have better luck just checking your favorite news sites. I'm not sure whether I'll be updating this post any further. I don't know that there's any more to say...

But wait, there's more...

The Word on the Street, No. 3

This one happened some time ago, but it's too good not to post. (I don't want to forget it...)

A very drunk man standing in front of a gay sports bar (seriously) around the corner from me: "Hey sexy!"

Me, looking at the rainbow flag flying ten feet over his head (to which he was obviously oblivious): "Ummm... Do you know what neighborhood you're in?"

Him: "This is Hollywood, baby! And I'm going to make you a star... in my bed!"

But wait, there's more...

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Kurt Is Dead. Long Live Kurt.

I found out a few hours ago that Kurt Vonnegut died. he was 84, but it's still a little shocking. I hope to get my thoughts together soon and put something up about him. In the meanwhile, go read "Harrison Bergeron"—it's one of a handful of stories that made me want to be a writer.

But wait, there's more...

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

How to Ruin an Evening at the Theatre

This happened a few weeks ago, and as soon as it did, I announced to my friend/witness to the incident: "I am so blogging this." And then I went home, reviewed the play I'd just seen, wrote a column, wrote an event preview, found a video post, and went to bed. The following weeks were consumed by Phillyist, job hunting, and (possibly too much) alcohol. I never forgot that I wanted to write this up. I just didn't have a moment, until now. (My lunch plans have been cancelled.)

You see, I was at a performance of Caroline, or Change at the Arden. The show is staged almost in the round: if I were to get really technical about it, I'd call it an octagonal thrust, maybe. Anyway, the thing with performing on a thrust stage is that, often, the audience is just as well-lit as the actors are. When you're the one onstage, it's damned distracting. And apparently, when you're in the audience, it can be, too.

Enter Ken.

At intermission, a fortysomething guy approached my friend/witness and me at our seats. He looked familiar, and was so direct in his approach, that I just kind of assumed he worked at the Arden, saw my press kit sitting on my lap, and was coming to "check in" on me. Sometimes, theatre folk will do that. It's obnoxious and sycophantic, but I'm seeing a play for free, so I put up with it. Anyway, from the moment he opened his mouth, it became apparent that Ken did not, in fact, work for the Arden. Opening line: "You'll have to forgive me for staring across the stage at you during the first act."

Ummm... It was a damned big stage. There was a lot going on on it. Even if you were sitting directly across the stage from me, I shouldn't have been that distracting.

He continues: "I'm sure we've met."

Me, because at this point, I need to close my mouth and stop staring. "Yeah, you look kind of familiar, too."

Him, oblivious of my discomfort: "Yeah, I was thinking how familiar you looked, and then, about two songs in, I saw you yawn, and I was like, 'Yep, I know her.'"

What. The. Fuck. Is this guy coming into my apartment at night to watch me sleeping?

Me, mortified: "Yeah. I yawn a lot."

Him, trying to make an opening where there is none: "Oh really? Because I just thought you were tired, so I was just coming over to see if you'd had a long day or something."

I am clearly with someone. If I needed to share the details of my long day (which wasn't long at all—I think I woke up at eleven), I would share them with her.

Ken (he'd given his name by that point) then proceeds to launch into an incredibly banal, mostly one-sided, conversation about, among other things:

  • His brief career as a professional light tech on Broadway.

  • What he was going to do his Ph.D. on, and why that didn't happen, including a long sidebar on the institution's funding.

  • Cognitive psychology.

My polite, one-sentence answers to his questions was apparently all it took for him to then say: "Wow, a girl who knows theatre and psychology! You seem so cool! I'd love to get to know you better!" (Yes, they were all exclamations.)

My friend/witness proceeded to try to hide behind my shoulder to stifle her laughter. I looked at her, hoping for an out. Then, I looked around me and, mercifully, noticed that the audience was coming back into the theatre and taking their seats for Act II. "Listen," I told him, relieved. "Everyone is going back to their seats. Track me down after the show."

He seemed pleased enough, and headed back to his seat. The seat from which he proceeded to stare at me through the whole second half of the show, effectively keeping me from watching all of the goings-on on part of the stage, because if I looked in that direction, he'd do his damndest to lock eyes with me, sealing the deal with a half-nod and a little wave. Leaning over to my friend/witness, I announced that, post-show talkback that I'd been looking forward to be damned, we were booking it when the show finished.

Holy crap: final song, curtain call. I'm hardly standing before I notice Ken heading in my direction. And then, mercifully, an octogenarian with a walker steps right in front of him. It was like a movie. Friend/witness and I grab our stuff and practically run out of the theatre, and don't stop until we're a few blocks away, because honest-to-god, I half expected him to come running after me saying: "You said to track you down!"

But wait, there's more...

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

The Word on the Street, Part the Second

Yesterday, in front of a posh hotel at 12th and Market or so:

"Damn, you got a bubble! The shit that I woud do. I would do so much shit to that."

Ummm... I think the only time that "shit" should be used in reference to my "bubble" is when I'm on the toilet. And then, only by me. And only in private.

Word to the wise, dude? No girl wants to know the "shit" you'd do to her. Not unless she's into scat...

But wait, there's more...

How Not To Get a Date With Me...

Verbatim conversation excerpt with someone I was supposed to maybe go on a date with. That's clearly not happening now. (Ref. point, we were talking about seeing the Stones in concert...)

Chad: they were one of the first with hundreds of imitators
not too subjective
white people blues rock
me: beatles came first
Chad: beatles didnt play much blues rock
me: listen to the first volume of the anthology
they played a ton
Chad: ive heard it all
do you know what the blues it?
me: yes, I do; unfortunately, I also know that if I'm going to get through three hours of shakespeare tonight, I need to take a nap
Chad: no you dont
me: I'll talk to you later
Chad: I guarantee the know it all doesnt know
and no, its not subjective
I think you just liek to be trite and contrary
like the say the its subjective about the stones being a seminal blues rock band
and youre pretentious about music, but you dont know the first thing about it
youre pretentious
you think youre better than everybody yet you dont have a job
and you dont have any musical ability or knowledge ability to speak of, yet you're pretentious about it
you would cirticize someone at wawa for not being educated
but you dont even have a job at wawa
get real
me: okay, remember how I said I was going to go take a nap? I'm going now... I know quite a bit about music, which you'd know if you felt like reading any reviews I wrote... my being unemployed is my choice, and please just don't IM me again
Chad: you dont even know what the blues is!
me: goodbye, chad
Chad: how can you write about music if you dont even know how to play the blues
its one of the first things you learn

But wait, there's more...

Sunday, April 1, 2007

The Word on the Street

Ah, how I love men in this city!

Heard as I was crossing Juniper on my way to meet Katie tonight, from inside a car that nearly ran me over:

"Damn! You are a sexy beast!"

And then, in their best "Koolaid Man" voices: "Oh yeahhhh. Ohhhh yeahhhhh."

But wait, there's more...