A circus tent

by cheri sabraw

A tall handsome man with grey hair, nice teeth, and a positive attitude arrived at my house this morning to turn off our propane so that a fumigation company can tent our house (and kill all of my Boston Ivy vines that I have been enjoying for 16 years).

Although the fumigators are supposed to arrive any minute, they have not arrived.

It’s funny how once you know the heat cannot be turned on, you become conscious of the cold. You wish you could start the dishwasher or  do a load of laundry. You wish you could chop kindling and make a fire in your little stove. You are cold.

You wish you could make a cup of hot coffee but then remember the coffee is packed up and sealed in a gas-proof bag.

You mosey to the pantry for an almond or two or three. Or a cracker with peanut butter. But then you remember that all your foods in plastic packages need to be sealed and packed in a gas-proof bag.

Yep. Ten gas-proof bags hide in the pantry, the refrigerator, the freezer and even in my bathroom.

You  might be developing a headache, just thinking about the future unpacking, cleaning, and sorting all of the food, medicine, liquor, olive oil and anything else that could possibly become contaminated and kill you when you return to your home.

But the aspirin is packed in a gas-proof bag.

Your dog is off property.

When the gas enters the tent, your plants around the house will die, along with their friends the vines.

All of this because you saw a 1-inch piece of evidence that dry-wood termites “might” be in your tower on the second floor.

“Cheri, why are you dragging your feet and not calling the termite people?” the Man of the House asked over 1.5 years ago.

” I don’t want my vines to die,” I grumpily answered, taking a drag on my cigarette (just kidding).

“OK…let’s evaluate  your logic…your vines or structural damage to your home? Which is more important?” he questioned in a rational tone.

With my hands on the Sunset Garden Book, I swore to God and my country “My vines!!! and ran to the couch, sobbing (just kidding).

Today is the day.

The vines die.

And so does the one termite that is probably living in our tower.

 

 

 

 

Posted in Life | Tagged , | 12 Comments

The Emerald Rancho

p1070146by  cheri

The rain pounds the East Bay hills and continues its drumbeat to this very moment.

The drought is over.

Moss tells me this is so.

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This rock wall has been on our property for over 60 years. I have never seen a moss fest as lush!

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On my way back to my fire, this branch insisted that I stop and photograph its latest green tattoo.

So much for global warming!

 

Posted in Nature photography | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

My late night at the Fillmore Auditorium

by  Freedom Dancer

Entering  the iconic Fillmore Auditorium on Friday night, looking hip with a colorful peasant blouse cinched by a thick leather black belt, along with jeans and boots, I put up with a required frisking as we entered the historic venue. Even Bill Graham would have raised his eyebrows to learn that in the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s, an East Bay chic like me had never visited the concert hall, so rich with the history of the Bay Area music scene.

A Lebowski-ish bearded mellow man with a ski cap asked me open my tiny purse to make sure I wasn’t bringing drugs in to see a bluegrass band concert.

Horseshoes and Handgranades were opening for the headliners, The Infamous Stringdusters.

Drugs? You say? Why I am one of the only people I know who didn’t try marijuana in the 60’s, I said, straightening my babushka and looking at him square in his swollen irises.

Well, you are really missing out, my dear,he responded lovingly.

It’s not good for your brain or your health or your lungs,I said sweetly and softly.

What? are you, a doctor?

Yes, I answered,  a neurologist, so I know what I am talking about.

And with that, I entered a world of yore and lore–the Fillmore in the Fillmore.

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The Poster Room

All the musical names of my youth had played the Fillmore: Jefferson Airplane, Tower of Power, Johnnie Cash, Janis Joplin, Led Zeppelin, the Grateful Dead, the Doors, Credence Clearwater Revival, the Allman Brothers, the Who and other groups known for psychedelic tripping to the light fantastic.

And groups not of my youth but of my kids’ youth stood on the stage and wailed or blasted or whined or hooted: the Dead Kennedys, the Smashing Pumpkins, Queen Latifah, the Mother Hips, Jefferson Starship and Counting Crows.

We headed up to the Poster Room where colorful posters of most of the headliners lined the walls like a super-sized stamp collection.

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What I didn’t know was that I would have to stand for the entire show.No seats!

My lower back and feet grumbled upon learning this news, but hey!, I’m Cheri Block, hipster from the East Bay, yeah…Gramma Hipster with a glass of respectable Chardonnay, yeah…

My short-girl survival instincts told me to hustle to the front of the stage as fast as I could or I would see nothing. That move proved to be genius.

Flanked by my 13-year-old musical grandson, my 6’2″ son-in-law, my daughter (who earned several yellow cards and one red card in her high school soccer career) and my husband wearing a very cool cap and who is not to be messed around with when things get tense–I felt, well, safe.

By the time the headliners were in full throttle,  it was the 60’s. People with grey hair (Class of 68), beards and hippie shirts, young Appalachians and Alaskan-looking fishing and hunting men chugging one craft beer after another, solitary weirdos doing their version of the bluegrass hokey-pokey by themselves in the corner,  lots of clean-cut folks  having a good ol time, and yes, baby boomers vaporizing weed and blowing it into the air (for all of us to breathe)–so much for checking for DRUGS at the door.

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Horseshoes and Handgranades

The New Orleans dinner we had at the Elite Cafe, about as heavy as an anvil in my stomach, proved to be a sustaining fact0r throughout a curious blast through the past.

How lucky was  I to have been to my first Fillmore concert at the age of 66 with my 13-year-old grandson?

On the way home in the BART car, I put on my doctor hat and discussed Mary Juana with him. He is a jazz musician with a great brain and good judgement, so I think he listened.

Right on, you groovy dudes!

Posted in Places | Tagged , , , , , | 13 Comments

Flow

 

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by cheri

Here in California the water continues to fall from the heavens. Reservoirs overflow their dams, waterfalls heave over their rocks, and our babbling creek boasts her widening waistline.

Flow.

As with  many words in the English language,  the word flow can evoke diverse images and feelings, making way for imagination and creativity.

The flow of conversation, the flow of music, of dance, of physical expression. The flow of syrup onto waffles, of olive oil into a decanter, of wine into a glistening goblet.

And then there is blood flow.

Blood flow, unlike water flow, is not subject to political debate.

Blood flow determines tissue, respiratory, and sexual health.

Perhaps the most important area of blood flow is to the brain–for  without adequate infusion of blood, the brain malfunctions. Memory fogs.

Although some of us concern ourselves with fading muscle tone (and push-ups), the most significant reason to exercise is to stimulate blood flow to all parts of the body.

Especially to the brain.

To that end, I am now doing 50-100 jumping jacks a day. Not all at once, mind you.

I challenge you to increase your blood flow and brain function by doing the same.

Just try it for a week. See if your brain works better.

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Alaska, 2016

Posted in fitness | 11 Comments

The NEA protects incompetent teachers

 

 

 

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by cheri block sabraw

Are you going to be buried or cremated when you die?

You can make that choice now, or let your relatives make it for you.

Whatever choice they make doesn’t affect you any more anyway.

But In the marketplace of goods and services for the living, most of us have choice.

One of the most important decisions many of us have to make concerns health care. Which doctor will operate on our knees? Our hearts? Which doctor will administer chemical therapy?

Many of us conduct research about medical centers  and doctors, ultimately choosing the place and the person whom  we believe we can trust with our lives.

Who will care for our teeth? Who will service our cars? Who will cut our hair? And draw our blood and package our food and cut our nails?

But when it comes to public education, we do not have a choice about who will teach our child. We cannot do our research and then choose the English teacher in whose classroom our high school student will sit in for 180 days. Most of the time, the computer chooses our child’s teachers and schedule.

As students ourselves, we have all had that one magical teacher who inspired us, maybe, to pursue a course of study. Some of us have been lucky enough to have 3-5 magical teachers.

Alas, we have all experienced more than one terrible teacher from whom we learned nothing.

Our children and grandchildren, those raised in the 70’s until the present time, have had a few great teachers, some good teachers, and many bad teachers.

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You do not have a choice because of the powerful and member-driven teachers’ unions, which stymie school choice at every corner of every street in every town across this country.

Their  predictable narrative emerges:

Poor black urban children will not be afforded the educational opportunity they deserve.

Good teachers will lose their jobs to teachers to those at charter, private, and religious schools.

The entire public school system will be stripped of the funding necessary to educate United States citizens, (and a number of illegal aliens), leaving our country at risk.

Be clear about one thing: teachers’ unions exist not to protect the educational rights and opportunities of students; rather, they exist to protect their  members—the teachers—the good, the bad, the incompetent.

For twenty-six years, I worked at all levels of public education—elementary, secondary, and adult education. During that time, I met about 20 teachers who were just the type I would want for myself, for my son or daughter or my grandchildren—positive, smart, engaging, dedicated, and instructive.

The others, well, they varied from the average to the fair to the poor to the incompetent.

Choice—and thus, competition—is the only option left which has a chance to provide a quality education to those who might not be afforded one, especially poor kids in urban ghettos.

Choice will not take away the jobs of competent teachers. This is the weakest argument made by the union. The evaluation procedures conducted by public schools administrators are laughable.

Choice might get rid of bad teachers simply because we consumers will go elsewhere.

The terrible irony of the new Democratic Party is that it purports to be the party of the people but by protecting lousy teachers, the people , especially those who are poor and underrepresented, are poorly served.

Let’s give Betsy DeVos and School Choice a chance.

Why not?

What do you have to lose? (Same comment Trump made regarding Chicago)

 

Posted in Politics | Tagged , , , , | 17 Comments

Reading the Green

by cheri sabraw

To attend any major outdoor sporting event these days takes the will of a wolverine, the shoes of a marathoner, and the sunscreen of a swimmer.   I had all three last Thursday which, if this vignette were about baseball, I would call a home run. It was, in a few words, an eagle of a day.

No lob shot. No slice or hook. No divot or bogie. Everything I had imagined about attending the Phoenix Open Golf Tournament went 17 under par. Splendid. And so did the eventual winner, Hideki Matsuyama of Japan.

Showering early that morning, in an effort to beat the 100,000 other fans who were expected to jam the venue in the Valley of the Sun, I visualized myself strolling alongside golfers Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, and Louis Oostheizen as they walked down a lush fairway   250-275 yards from their tee shots, a  trio of young gladiators dressed in white slacks and pastel shirts.

As for me, one fan of 100,000? In an effort to be spotted in the crowd,  I wore a red wide-brimmed hat, black tight golf pants, and a long-sleeved Puma top with UV protection in the fabric. If I weren’t “spotted” in the crowd, at least my husband could find me among the masses.

When we arrived in Scottsdale,  we parked miles away and waited for one of dozens of  shuttle buses, lined up like  dutiful pack animals. A woman with a security wand made sure we had no hidden weapons and off on we were herded with 60 other sober (at the moment) fans—only to be dropped off into a sea of golf fanatics.

Told that Thursday was the only day to go—if we didn’t want to party with thousands of drunk millennials on Friday and Saturday—we obeyed and were rewarded with as polite a crowd as any professional golfer could desire.

What a day!

The weather was perfect (mid-70’s); the fans, polite; the company, magnificent (my husband, sister, and brother-in-law); the golf, incredible; the venue; challenging, not only for the golfers but also for us fans, who walked up and down the Bermuda grassy hills and dales in this stadium course, one designed for fans. Most of the holes had hills on which to sit as in an amphitheater.

In our search to find Rickie Fowler, Bubba Watson, Matt Kuchar, K.J. Choi, Hunter Mahan, Phil Mickelson, and Jordan Spieth, we parked ourselves at the 8th hole and waited for them to pass by us. Seeing these guys from ten feet away was a rush.  More interesting was watching their idiosyncracies–how they anchor their feet, dig their heels in first right and then left,  wiggle their back ends, place the head of their drivers by the side of the ball, wind up in a relaxed (or not) back swing, release in a robust revolution , and launch a small white ball into the air like a satellite.

Some of the golfers were all business; others (probably under the care of a sports psychologist) laughed and joked with each other.

After a dog and a beer, we made our way to the 7th hole. I stood by the pathway where the golfers advance to the next hole when they have finished putting the previous one. When Hunter Mahan and K.J. Choi walked three feet from me, I said, “ Hunter!” and he looked right at my large red hat and said, “ How are you?” I said, “Great!”

When K.J. Choi walked by in his dark pink shirt and crisp white pants, I said, “K.J.!” and he said, “Hi! Are you having fun?”

Their kindness to a dorky fan in a red hat must be why they didn’t win. Perhaps the focus of Matsuyama (who also walked by but did not make eye contact with any of us) was the reason he won the tournament.

After lunch, We entered the famed stadium rebuilt yearly for 16 thousand fans around the raucous 16th hole. The noise was deafening as we waited in line in a tunnel. For a moment I thought of the Coliseum in Rome and wondered how Roman  gladiators might have felt in the shade of a tunnel before bursting into an arena, cheered on by drunk and crude men and adorned by loose women dressed in nothing. The bright light at the end of the tunnel ended my reverie.

Hot. Loud. Different.

We could only stay in our seats for 30 minutes before I said, “ Let’s get out of here,” but not before two drunk young guys insisted we fist bump them as we filed out. They slapped my hands, but when I considered that they had slapped the hands of 300 other people exiting, I headed for the hand-sanitizer stations.

We saw every golfer we came to see, enjoyed the spectacle of it all, and left, rather tired,  to catch a shuttle bus.

The next day on the 13th hole where I was playing golf, I hoped that some of what I saw had magically made its way into my drive, my chip, my putt.

It was not to be. I shot a 108.

But, I did feel good in my red hat.

 

 

 

 

Posted in golf, People | Tagged , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Beep! Beep!

p1060888by cheri sabraw

For twenty years I have told the story about what a sharp-shooter my father Hugh was.

Why, as the family lore and legend go, while in the military at White Sands Proving Ground, New Mexico, in 1954–when I was just a little squirt, following him around like a  obsequious duckling–he shot and killed  a road runner which was traveling over 20 mph.

The Army awarded him a plaque and certificate documenting his feat.

So you can imagine my delight the other day when one ran into my eyesight and stopped to evaluate his options.

I was in my robe; the weather was cold; I grabbed my camera and handed it to my husband, who is an excellent shot himself. ( I mean he took an excellent shot…)

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Beep! Beep!

As he, the roadrunner followed by a man with a camera, proceeded along his way, what should be lurking down the way, but Wile E. Coyote, licking his chops.

p1020965Mee–Meep!

p1060895The Road Runner always wins against Wile E. Coyote but just to be safe, he headed south, toward the dry creek.

I was tickled, not only by the splendid pictures, but also in the calling up of a memory that reminded me of what a grand person my father Hugh was.

But then.

I remembered.

I had been telling the wrong version of the story and had been corrected my brother Steve.

“Dad did not shoot a road runner. He shot a jack rabbit, Cheri.”

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Posted in My childhood | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

Our Committee

by cheri sabraw

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White Sands Proving Ground, New Mexico, 1953

Within our minds, like a corral full of transhumant donkeys and their shepherds,  a committee resides.

The committee is influential, detrimental, and experimental.

Not everyone has the same size committee. The more members you have, the harder it is to shut them up.

This committee is full of stubborn, negative, limiting, and passive-aggressive voices–like those  whiny timid ones I heard at faculty meetings that complained about everything from attending parent conferences to supervising student dances.

The goal for those of us who strive for mental, emotional, and physical health is to pare  down our committee  as the years go by until  all members have hung up their spurs and left the premises.

Until that happens, be aware that:

Your committee has dynamic and vocal blowhards (strike that… I meant members) who have been with you for a long time– from your childhood until the present moment. Other committee members have raised their voices during your work life, have offered romantic and sexual advice, and often have weighed in on your body and how it looks.

We usually do not seek professional help until the committee’s edicts become so dominant that they begin to limit how we interact with others, and most importantly, with ourselves.

When young, I had a committee the size of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir but today, my committee is down to three members: one who supervised all the career and business decisions I have made and make, one who was one of my husband’s committee members and somehow has entered my blood-brain barrier, and one who weighs in on my body–its health and its appearance.

These three committee members still feel the pesky need to chime in every now and then. Oh. They rattle and babble about prattle.

Am I meeting expectation?

Am I still attractive?

Am I making the right decisions?

With practice, I have taken charge, for the most part, of my committee members and their limiting edicts.

But every now and then, usually after the fact, I recognize that my committee has influenced my behavior.

 

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Nova Scotia 2009

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Life, People | Tagged , , , , , | 9 Comments

How to live a real life, revisited

by cheri block sabraw

Five years have passed since I wrote How to Live  a Real Life, the post that every year since has been read  more than any other post I have ever written.

Upon revisiting this post this morning, I am surprised by the honesty in it.

First, for those of you who have not read it, I re-post:

How to live a real life

by cheri block sabraw

For the first forty years of my life, I operated on automatic. Whatever needed to be accomplished, I did. Serious problems–financial ruin, death, divorce, betrayal, disease–only occurred in the rich literature I was teaching to my high school students and in the lives of other people.

I began to reflect about the meaning of life when lung cancer forced my father to drop out of the earthly life experience, but even then, I was busy, so I jumped back into my English saddle and cantered on my rocking horse. I continued to produce, to meet the needs of others before my own, to base my worth on my work and my appearance.

About five years ago, my handsome husband took a new exciting job far from our home, at the same time I was hitting menopause. I began worrying about how I looked, dressed, and appeared to him and to others. Thoughts that had never entered my mind, did. For the very first time, I realized that I was aging and would look different from the person that others had been attracted to for my figure, my face, and my enthusiasm. What would be left of the essential Cheri if her face looks old, her figure sags a bit, and her enthusiasm wanes on occasion? Would I still be attractive in a different way?

All of these questions terrified me.

Then my mother moved to town and had two strokes within one year, leaving her a changed person. My mother is alive but is not the same person I knew. This grief I shared but didn’t fully process.

Joe died last year and with his death, I lost a husky male friend who could help me understand what older men might be experiencing themselves. Our conversations were rich with authenticity.

My friends, many of them, moved away.

All of these events forced me into a deep contemplation.

Deep contemplation at the Rancho is possible because of the silence here.

I stopped talking so much and started listening to my inner voice.

I stopped jumping through every hoop in a childish need for approval.

I stopped trying to control the comings and goings of my family members.

I  stopped cheerleading (after 40 years of it).

I started thinking of important things in life that had nothing to do with me, my happiness, my appearance, or my ego.

Then, I enrolled in a class at Stanford that helped me integrate many of these feelings into one paper entitled How to Live a Real Life.  I got an A on that paper but it wouldn’t have mattered if I had gotten a B+. 🙂


I’m going to post the criteria I included in that paper before I post a few selections from it.

Criteria for living a real life: A cumulative list

  1.  Reflect.  We must be willing to examine the truth about our lives and to change, if necessary.
  2.   Listen. We talk and interrupt. We miss messages sent from the self, from other human beings, and from Life (God, Divine Mind, Higher Power, The River).
  3.   Simplify. We must be willing to clean out clutter from the external self—things and obligations, for example—that contribute to the preoccupation and distraction that camouflage the present moment.
  4.   Move away from vanity. Modern culture worships youth, skin, breasts, hair, and clothing. While looking our best contributes to self-esteem, making physical appearance more important than spiritual and moral development is self-destructive.
  5.    Let go of control. We can control very little in our lives. This realization and practice removes some of the stumbling blocks to being authentic such as anger, narcissism, and fear.
  6.    Set others free. Although a by-product of #5, choosing to set our spouses, children, siblings, parents, and friends free from our controlling thoughts releases both the captive and captor.
  7.     Accept loss. As we age, we lose people we love. Some of us lose parts of our lives that we naively hoped would last forever: physical health, sexual attractiveness, professional acknowledgement, personal freedom, and intellectual acuity.
  8.    Practice intimacy. When we love and share our thoughts and fears, we create connection, that which we desire the most.
  9.   Be better than you really are. We are imperfect but we can transcend this imperfection, if for only a moment.
  10.   Become a Mensch. If we practice the first nine criteria, we will be able to devote our time to other people and their needs. We will be righteous, unselfish and honorable. Our nature will be to think of others before self.

If you would like to add or amend any of the criteria, let me know. I’m open.

Thornton Wilder’s Our Town is perhaps one of the greatest plays ever written. I cried unabashedly when I read it as a high schooler and could never teach it without breaking down several times (this became an urban legend at the high school where I taught…).

It captures the essence of my list.

May your holidays be introspective. The cold winter is a perfect time to do this.

 

January 14, 2017

Reflect: Although nostalgia does wick into the watercolor of my life, I now try to experience memory as a positive force, not one that somehow makes me feel that something pleasurable has left and then replaced by a drab foreboding of the future.

Listen: I still talk more than I listen. Oddly, most of what I hear bores me. I find myself only listening to people who interest me. This type of selective listening is dangerous.

Simplify: My life is simpler than it was five years ago. I allotted an inordinate amount of space in an already busy brain to worrying about my mother and her daily life challenges. Now, every morning, I meditate on the memory of my magnificent mother and try to seize life as she would have, minus the worrying about whether I am meeting expectation.

Vanity: Aging is a steamroller. However.  I still buy products…

Let Go of Control: Five years have brought tremendous progress to me in this category. I am much more content not trying to control the weather, how Europe is doing, how fast my roots grow out, or my husband’s work schedule. In these areas, I am finally free.

Set Others Free: A Buddhist truth: the more you grasp at something, the more it eludes you. I have found this, above all other truths, to be the most instructive. Just remember that the harder you squeeze the soap bar, the greater the chance it will fly out of your hand and on to your toe.

Accept Loss: Time strips us of so many things we desperately want to hold on to: the people with whom we so adored social engagement, the pets whose love and eyes brought us solace when human words were inadequate, the world as we hoped it would progress and myriad other expectations. I now accept these losses because I have to.

Practice Intimacy: Now, I am intimate with those people who want to me intimate with me.

Be Better Than You Really Are: This criterion is the most challenging for me now. I shall devote 2017 to being better than I really am.

Become a Mensch: Most thoughtful and reflective people know when a mensch is in their midst. A mensch-aura is subtle, humble, and quiet. The problem is in listening past the din in modern culture, the selfie in self, and the humility in bravado.

This year, I am going to read Our Town without crying.

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Posted in Life | Tagged , , , , , , | 16 Comments

On teaching

by cheri block sabraw

In between learning how to oil paint, trying to take off the 4 pounds I put on during the holiday season (pasta, enchiladas, Chardonnay), and coping with a pesky Labrador retriever beset with acute cabin fever, I have been reviewing my essays, all 400 of them on record here on the blog.

I am organizing, revising, and entertaining myself. Whoop-de-doo!

Entertaining oneself with one’s own painting and writing certainly speaks of something either juvenile or vastly mature.

It also bodes well for that time in my life in which I will be alone, perhaps in assisted living or solitary confinement.

So here is a piece that I wrote in 2009:

THE WIND IN MY PILLOWS

The average tenure for a high school journalism advisor is three years. I lasted fifteen. Those were my dancing years. The role of a journalism advisor is akin to a dance in which the right to free speech leads, while the fear of libel follows. But where does poor taste fit in?

As one might guess, I encountered many a frisky reporter over the years. My students were smart and capable and precocious. I was capable and precocious, so it worked.

Aspiring journalists, graphic artists, and photographers started hanging around Room N-9 as early as their sophomore years, hoping to make an impression on the advisor.

“Good Morning. I’d like to welcome you all to Journalism I and II, home of The Smoke Signal, our award winning student newspaper. My name is Mrs. Sabraw. I will be your instructor and advisor, roles which put me into an inherent conflict. My maiden name is Block, but that does not mean I am a square. {New students laugh.}

In reality, I was a square.

In this room, language and how we use it, matters. How we report the news, matters. Headlines we choose, matter. Photographs, political cartoons, columns, and captions, matter.

Your finished pieces, artwork, and photos I will grade. {New students’ expressions change from happy to serious.}

Regarding language in the high school classroom and paper: There are ten words we do not use in this room. You can hear these words out in the quad, in the music and movies that entertain you, and at the mall but not in our stories or in Room N-9. These words are not descriptive, unless for example, you stub your toe on a metal coffee table in the middle of the night. Then one of these words might help blow off pain and steam.

What are these words, Mrs. Sabraw?

I am not going to tell you because I do not use that language in my classroom. {New students look disappointed.}

If we don’t know which words not to use, how will we know not to use them? {Rhetorical question}

And so the dance began.

One of my most memorable dancing partners was a kid named Evan.

That Evan carried a blanket around school with him at the age of 17 was not a problem for me. After all, I was his teacher, not his parent.

That he refused to prepare for vocabulary tests, reading quizzes, or any other symbol of the Man wasn’t a problem either.

That he sat on the back couch in my room as my teaching assistant, swaddled in his blanket while correcting student quizzes didn’t faze me.

Evan was needy. He was also brilliant. And he cracked me up.

When I told Evan that his quips from the couch, while I was teaching English, made us a funny team, he smiled and asked if we were like Johnny Carson and Ed Mc Mahon or Groucho Marx and George Finneman.

He read widely and wrote well. People accepted him for his smarts and humor.

In journalism, Evan became a columnist and in that role, he found his calling. He and I danced around the First Amendment in a West Coast Swing. We debated a Supreme Court Ruling called Hazelwood.

You know, Evan, First Amendment rights for high school journalists are different from those of professional journalists.

Evan had a problem with this distinction.

One day, Evan decided to write a trashy fable about the administration. It reminded me of a poor copy of The Wind and The Willows. Here is the beginning:

“Along the banks of Mission Creek lived three furry critters—Rat, Mouse, and Beaver—and an insect—Gnat. If truth be told, they were wholly feckless. Especially Beaver. Defying her genetic predisposition, Beaver spent her days grooming her tail, wondering about her reputation, and eating Triscuits. Rat, whose given name was Dick, amused himself by scavenging through the trash cans at the local high school. On many of his trips, up the creek bank, across the student parking lot, and into the N-Wing, he collected copies of the student newspaper, The Smoke Signal, lying scattered all over the grounds. He had taken to reading a brilliant column, Through the Looking Glass, written by an insightful person.Since many other creatures inhabited the creek, all of whom depended on the leadership of Rat, Mouse, Beaver, and Gnat, the Four busied themselves attending meetings and issuing edicts.”

The column continued in a sordid way with Beaver and Dick, the lascivious rat.

Even the dullest member of humanity could see that the four critters were the principal, the vice-principal and the two assistant principals.

But Beaver and Dick presented an editorial conundrum.

Evan loved the entangled sexual mystery unfolding in his column and was sure that I, as the provincial square, missed the joke. So, I let his pleasure cure, like a pickle.

First drafts of all stories were due on Monday morning by 11:00 a.m. and went to the editors for review. Evan met with Elizabeth, the Editorial Editor, about his column. Elizabeth loved his piece and called the Features Editor over for back up. Should this column stay or should it go?

It should stay, definitely. So the column, entitled The Wind in My Pillow, found itself ready for review, on my desk. On the square’s desk.

I called Evan over for the perfunctory conference.

This fable seems symbolic. Is it?

Mrs. Sabraw, really, you have made your life’s work finding symbolism, even in rocks. Good job. Yes, an allegorical element resides in this fable.

Well, Evan. This fable is tasteless and crass. There are other ways to make your point about administrative failure than in this way.

The following week, the routine repeated. Thursday arrived. Evan sat on the couch wrapped in his blanket with his fable. The newspaper deadline was one day away.

Elizabeth convened an editors’ meeting on the south side of Room N-9 again, far away from me. They were puppies up to no good. Evan arrived with his fable, newly named, The Beaver in the Office. All systems were go. Evan got the green light {He remarked later how Jay Gatsby had seen the same green light at the end of Daisy’s pier.}

Evan and I met. {Again}

Funny how things got quiet that morning in the journalism room.

Here’s the final draft, Mrs. Sabraw. I think you’re gonna love this one.

I reread. {Editors and reporters, alike, smirked in the superior knowledge that this square, this bastion of banal bull, was getting snookered, big time.}

Evan, this isn’t going in the paper.

Mrs. Sabraw, give me one good reason why my words, assembled with creativity in my fable, full of humor and symbolism, aren’t being published? This is censorship. I am calling the ACLU. Mrs. Sabraw?

Atmospheric pressure in Room N-9 plunged that day with the utterance of THAT word. {Censorship}

The humming room became as quiet as a courtroom before the verdict is read.

Evan, I may be a square, but I know what a dick is.

Oh.

 

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