Three Old Poems From Las Vegas

I saw this page in a now-defunct alt-weekly sixteen years ago, and fell in love. I don’t often like new poetry, but I really enjoyed all three of these. I tore out the page and put it up in my classroom. It’s followed me from school to school since. Sometimes I’d refer to it, sometimes students asked about it, usually it just sat among the detritus that teachers collect year after year.

Last summer, I came across it while doing some decluttering, and took these pictures of each poem, and here they are, preserved now in Internet amber.

I like these because they each tell a specific yet oddly relatable slice-of-life story, told in vivid language, but not at all flowery. These are unadorned decorations on small moments, as most of my favorite poems are.

I just Googled the titles and authors–none of these poems are available elsewhere online, it seems (indeed, none of them seems to have been collected at all), though the authors all seem to still be writing, with some professional success. That makes me quite happy.

IMG_20170810_102322710IMG_20170810_102341876IMG_20170810_102352193

Advertisements

Throwing Away Essays

Yesterday I read an essay by a college freshman that began with the paragraph below.

“Alright class, pick up your pencils and write me an essay about something that will bore you to death”. Those are the words that my sophomore high school english teacher told us one day when he had nothing planned for our class. The entire class was in shock, but that statement was only the beginning. Each one of us wrote our essays and when that sweet sound of the bell rang, we threw our papers onto his cluttered desk and ran off, escaping the torture of listening to the clock go “tick tock” for fifty-two minutes. Two class periods later, I witnessed something I never thought would happen. I watched my teacher throw a pile of paper into the trash, but it wasn’t just any pile of paper, it was our essays we wrote just two hours ago. It was at that moment when I felt that teachers really didn’t care about our creative minds and our writing talents. It was at that moment when I felt that writing was just a waste of time and that teachers made us write boring essays just to keep their job.

There are at least four big red flags here: the unprepared teacher, the callous nonchalance with which he or she appears to address students, the nonsense assignment itself, and the almost immediate disposal of nearly an hour’s worth of student work.

I get the impression from the student’s lack of surprise that this kind of thing was not uncommon.

I’m completely stunned. This is outrageous. I sent this paragraph to the principal of the school in question, to deal with or not as he or she sees fit. I won’t say what high school this student attended, but I will tell that it is one of the relatively newer, richer schools in the valley.

I’ve mentioned before a department meeting I attended about a decade ago where an older teacher freely admitted that she refused to read student essays. I think that’s a deal breaker, and anyone with such an attitude does not belong in the classroom.

Yes, it’s incredibly frustrating and time consuming, but bottom line, it’s our job.

And using essay writing as time wasting filler and then simply discarding it is nothing less than education’s version of malpractice.

And the student’s “lesson” learned at the end of that paragraph…it’s just absolutely heartbreaking. I teach writing because I love it and I know it’s important. Too important and lovely to be screwed up like that.

I hope I can help this student have a redemptive experience with writing instruction and practice this semester.

My Favorite Light

light

On the way to take my wife to see a movie tonight, we waited at a red light and I had to get a quick shot of this impending sunset. It’s not a great picture, and it’s far from a gorgeous sunset, for that matter, but this is actually a good example of my favorite kind of light: the kind that streaks across the sky and creates sharp silhouettes.

There are lots of small mountains to the west of Las Vegas, but they usually appear to be just a drab, uniform row of jagged rocks. But, at the right time of day, at the right time of the year, the sun sets at an angle just right for sending its rays through the gaps between them, reminding us that they’re actually layered silently and dozens of miles apart.

In the picture above, starting in the middle and looking left, there are four distinct mountains visible, each highlighted by a unique brilliance of sideways light; a different quality of sunlight slides down diagonally through the spaces separating them.

Light shows us the size of the empty space that was invisible before, while giving each of the pieces of mountain stacked side by side over there its own personality.

“Well, duh!”

My local newspaper, the Las Vegas Review-Journal, had a couple of droll headlines of the “No kidding!” variety this morning:

RJ

I should hope the police have some questions when they find a dead body!

Actually, if you live here, you know that this is hardly news at all; it’s “dog bites man” stuff. A more interesting headline would be the opposite: “No dead bodies found in desert yesterday.”

The humor in the other headline is even darker.

Twin Lakes Memories: Dr. Greggs

This is the second in an occasional series of memories about my elementary school in the 1980’s. The first post is here.

My first post in this series was about a beloved principal. This second one is about a terrifying teacher.

Dr. Greggs taught third grade, and she is without a doubt the person whom I’ve been more scared of than any other in my life.

First of all, she insisted, always sternly, that we address her as “Doctor.” I’ve wondered since then just what drives a woman to demand such recognition from eight-year-olds. It’s like in the Austin Powers movies, when Dr. Evil corrects people who call him Mister: “I didn’t go to an evil university for ten years to be called Mr. Evil.”

Continue reading

Fast Food Reviewed: The Habit Burger Grill

img_20170113_175732513_hdrMy wife and I tried out the new Habit Burger Grill on Decatur and 215 a couple of weeks ago. They had just opened and were having a fundraiser that night, so it was super busy, but I was super pumped, because I’ve heard such great things.

Sadly, it was fairly underwhelming.

The most important thing is the burger itself. It was good. It was decent. Not especially disappointed here at all–it was a solid entry in the market. Definitely worth the price, and enjoyable.

But not great. Not special. I found myself thinking, why would I come here for this when I could be at Five Guys or Fatburger and get something that’s even better?

My wife pointed out that the big burgers weren’t heavy, though–you don’t feel stuffed afterwards. That’s a big plus.

But besides the very-good-but-really-just-so-so quality of the main course, there were some other things holding back the Habit: they had a small drink machine with only a handful of choices. Doesn’t every new place now have one of those awesome machines wth 100 options?

Next to that, though, was some fantastic flavored lemonade.

But the fries sucked. Just terrible. Onion rings were only OK.

I suppose all this might be because the cooks were still being trained and the busy night made them work at a really high volume. I suspect if I went back after things have both settled down and settled in, it would all be much better.

Still, even on a super busy night, the staff was remarkably friendly. Great atmosphere there. They must have had one heck of a rah-rah meeting before opening that day.

It’s not bad, and I still have high hopes for it, but for now the Habit Burger Grill only gets a B-.

 

Fast Food Reviewed: Flippin’ Good Burgers & Shakes

Here they are on Yelp. This place is on the southeast corner of Fremont and Las Vegas Blvd, right off the Strip. Great spot: big screen TV shows sports in a clean space, and the basic menu is somewhere between Five Guys and In-N-Out, both in price and quality. Closer to Five Guys, though.

My wife and I loved their stuff, but the sizes ran a bit small–order a bigger burger; you won’t be sorry. The fries were solid, and there are some great jalapeños you can add. Fry sauce is available! We didn’t try the shakes, because it’s cold, but we look forward to it another time. Definitely worth trying this place out if you happen to be around.

 

Nevada in 2042

Nevada had always been a magnet for kooks. Misfits, outcasts, miscreants, mavericks–the malcontents, the fantasists, the seekers of shortcuts. Born of mining boom and bust, the economy was founded on vice: prizefighting, loose women, drunkenness, gambling, and marital fecklessness. Even before going it alone, the state was an outlier, making it all too easy to get married, easier still to divorce. Alcohol was plied twenty-four hours a day. A lenient relationship to prostitution well predated the era in which Savannah was able to earn an accredited community college degree in stimulation therapy. Real cigarettes–or giant, smelly cigars. for that matter–were legal in casinos. A prohibition against state income tax was enshrined in its constitution. In 2042, Nevadans had merely formalized that they were a people apart. 

–Lionel Shriver, The Mandibles: A Family, 2029-2047, page 382

My Speech To The School Board

At our school board’s meeting on Thursday, the controversial sex ed opt-in/opt-out issue was on the agenda, and I went there to speak. My remarks actually elicited a surprisingly mixed reaction from the room, but I’m proud of it. As soon as I heard about this meeting, I felt compelled to say this, and I stand by it:

Good evening. I’d like to thank the school board, district leaders, and every parent and community member here for all their service and sacrifice for the good of our community’s children. Everyone here works hard, and even if I disagree with some of you, you all deserve appreciation and respect.

I’m both a parent and teacher myself. I’ve been with CCSD for 16 years now. I also have a child who has graduated from CCSD, four more who are currently enrolled, and two others who will be here in a few years. I might be one of the most most invested stakeholders here tonight, and I do have thoughts about the sex education issue, but I’m not here to argue for or against any position being discussed.

My message tonight isn’t about the issues, it’s about us. There will be a lot of serious disagreement here tonight, and that’s OK, but if we’re really going to help the youth of this community, we need to show them that we can be united despite our differences. Too often, these discussions are hindered by hostility. My plea is to all who will speak or listen tonight—let’s be civil to those who disagree with us. Everybody here is trying to help, everybody here is doing the best they can, everybody here has the interests of children at heart. Let’s not assume the worst of each other.

Imagine if we all tried to understand before being understood. Whatever the best decision here is, civility and empathy are the most likely ways to find it and actually get it enacted—kindness is in everyone’s best interest. I’d like to ask everyone here tonight to refrain from insulting anyone whose opinion differs from theirs, either verbally or just mentally. We can disagree, and we can and should debate, but we shouldn’t debase anyone’s humanity while doing so. Thank you.

Remembering The Huntridge

We took the kids to the Nevada State Museum this summer, and one area was dedicated to remembering the Huntridge theater. It really had a fascinating history. I saw plenty of concerts there in the 90’s, including Nine Inch Nails just as The Downward Spiral came out. I had to take some pictures of these displays, as they brought back some great memories. Strange that I never think of this stuff–I work only a block from there and drive by it all the time.

IMG_20160630_153123685

Look at all these forgotten 90’s bands! Hemlock, Dinosaur Jr., Suicidal Tendencies, The Ataris, Dance Hall Crashers, KMFDM, Save Ferris, Voodoo Glow Skulls! I used to save these little fliers and put them on the wall of my bedroom. I wish I still had them–there were dozens just plastering the whole thing.

 

IMG_20160630_154746525

I used to have that exact KUNV shirt in high school! I just checked eBay, and nothing, sadly. The “Rock Avenue” slogan on the right refers to the legendary overnight show that radio station used to play–the DJs there knew everything and played the most amazing range of stuff.

Stolen From The Library

I was just looking at my library district’s web page to see which branches have copies of some movies I’m looking to check out over the long weekend. One of them is The Expendables 3. Below is a screen shot of part of the results page for that one.

This is hilarious. Look how many copies were checked out and never returned! (Those are the ones marked “billed.”) Between this and the other branches shown on the rest of that page, there are dozens of copies borrowed and kept forever.

I’ve seen this note on other movies before, but never in quantities like this.

So, what is it about The Expendables 3 that makes so many people check it out and keep it?

library

Twin Lakes Memories: Mr. Bass

This is the first in an occasional series of memories about my elementary school in the 1980’s. 

Mr. Bass was principal for all but the last of my elementary school years. He was a wonderful man: friendly to us kids, committed to the positive environment of the school.

I say he “was” wonderful because as I look him up for details now, I find that he died in 1999. Reading there about how race was a major factor in his life reminds me of a comment my 4th grade teacher once made about him to our class. She said that when she first met him she was surprised to see that he was black. When she’d spoken to him on the phone before, she’d assumed he was white. She told us this as a compliment about his speaking. Nobody thought anything of it. This was in the mid 1980’s. I don’t suppose such a comment would pass innocently today.

My main memory of him now is from one random day during recess. All the kids were running around and I was in the big sandy area with the swings and monkey bars. Suddenly a girl screamed. She had fallen off the monkey bars and gotten hurt–it turned out later that she had broken her arm. As she wailed and cried, someone went to the office for help.

Mr. Bass came running out and went right to that girl. Quickly and calmly, he took off his suit coat and wrapped her in it, then gently picked her up to carry her to the nurse. It’s not just what he did that day, but how confidently and caringly he did it–that was a lesson in real leadership.

An elementary school named after him opened here in 2001. That’s also wonderful.

Vegas Skies

Some more recent local sky views:

IMG_20160330_063010381

Sunrise just started touching the mountains to the west.

IMG_20160411_190201561_HDR

Sunset 4.11.16 part 1 of 5. Thomas Cole could have painted this.

IMG_20160411_190150067_HDR

2 of 5

IMG_20160411_190346277

3 of 5

IMG_20160411_190556283

4 of 5

IMG_20160411_190951533

5 of 5

IMG_20160404_182401939_HDR

A sunset last week, by Aliante Station

IMG_20160331_180422479

Heading east on Cheyenne, late afternoon sun catches one small mountain.

IMG_20160330_183425301_HDR

Darn you, Savers sign! This was almost epic.

Continue reading