Two random notes

1. I think I’m addicted to Tony Hillerman novels. I’ve read three of them in the past week.

2. I have decided that I need to own a steelpan. I’ve wanted one ever since Sesame Street aired this video when I was about 5:

I spent a good bit of my childhood wishing somebody would leave an empty oil drum in the vacant lot across the street from our house so I could roll it to some guy’s shop and get him to turn it into a steelpan for me. For some reason, it never occurred to me that my small, Midwestern hometown might not have at least one artisan capable of turning found objects into handcrafted Caribbean percussion instruments. I just figured that sort of guy was one of the “people in my neighborhood” that they were always singing about on Sesame Street.

Truth be told, I secretly want to live on Sesame Street. Since I can’t, I’m just going to buy a steelpan. Maybe I can figure out how to play “C Is for Cookie” or “We All Sing with the Same Voice” on it….



I just remembered that I never got around to posting these photos I shot on my trip to visit my family in July. Oops. Better late than never, right?

The highlight of the trip was the day Mom and Dad rented a big van, loaded up all three of us kids and all the grandkids, and took us to St. Louis to have lunch at Union Station and play at the City Museum, which is basically what you’d get if I had an unlimited budget, a seven-story building, and altogether too much time on my hands.

Jamie and Hazel feed the fish in the koi pond at Union Station in St. Louis while my dad looks on.
The kids really enjoyed feeding the fish.
I have no idea how these fish are not morbidly obese.
Jamie and Ollie visit with the trained circus dogs at the City Museum.
Protip: The iPad cat video game app will keep a toddler busy for a good 20 minutes.
Hazel explores a playhouse at the City Museum.
Our friend Kayci and her son, Gruvis, met us at the museum.
Mom entertains Ollie while Grace and Kayci chat with Gruvis.
Dad inexplicably let this lady talk him into letting her paint his head.
Here's her glittery, fire-breathing handiwork.
Jamie totally dug the skate-free indoor skatepark.
Ollie thought it was hilarious when Geoff pushed his stroller over the ramps.
Watching a performance by a pack of trained dogs, Ollie squealed and clapped and waved. Somewhere, Mom has a picture of his namesake uncle at this age, reacting in precisely the same way to a herd of trained elephants at a circus.
I'm totally making one of these for the kitchen.
I keep saying this, but one day, I really WILL cover my ceiling with chicken wire and strips of shredded fabric.
When I get around to redoing the bathroom, I am stealing this idea.
This is the roof of the City Museum. Love the giant praying mantis.
I have GOT to make one of these for my classroom ... except I think it's going to have the quadratic formula or something on it instead of "art city."
I want a giant turtle like this in my living room.

Hope your summer was full of love and inspiration.


Back to school

Once again, I find myself apologizing for my silence. School started last Monday. I had a good week, but it didn’t leave much time for blogging, as I had commitments to attend to every evening and most of the weekend.

The fact that I am still conscious at this point may have something to do with the fact that I can see a soft blue light shining at the end of the tunnel.

My kids are watching Field of Dreams in class. Daydreaming New Mexico, I understand Moonlight Graham’s line: “Once a place touches you like this, the wind never blows so cold again.”

If I close my eyes, I can almost feel the hot, dry wind stirring the high desert air, twisting my hair into a mass of careless tangles, whispering peace and the land’s ancient incantations into my ear as I rest on an old metal lawn chair, drawing strength and inspiration from the eerie songs of distant coyotes and the familiar hum of neon transformers, storing New Mexico in dreams like mental Mason jars to open and devour when life becomes too complicated and I need the scents of pinon and sage and green chile and magic to drift through my mind like tumbleweeds and send my spirit soaring through a cobalt sky somewhere above a timeworn alignment of Route 66 in the land of Baca and Anaya and Hillerman.


Cubs win! Cubs win!

My fellow Bleacher Bums, our long National (League) nightmare is over. Hendry is gone.

On a related note, the Cubs just beat the Cardinals 5-4 in the bottom of the 10th with an RBI single by Colvin.

Come on, Quade. You know what you did to get this job. If you do it again, you might just get to keep it. Do we still have enough games left to make up an 18.5-game deficit? Of course we do! Go, Cubs!


Fragments of eternity

Sitting in my parents’ living room a few weeks ago, I had what I can only describe as a moment of existential clarity, during which I finally wrapped my head around the concept of time and its passage in a way I never had before.

We’re always in the midst of history — each moment of now providing a brief, tangible link between our past and our future, tying us to all that came before and all that will come after — but I’m seldom conscious of that while I’m scurrying through the hassles and adventures at hand. (This may or may not explain how I managed to find two decades of my life in a pack of vintage baseball cards I picked up at a shop in Broken Arrow last fall. I’m not sure I even realized they were missing until I found them, wrapped in wax paper and tucked between a smirking Steve Garvey and a stick of stale bubblegum. But I digress.)

It is perhaps their rarity, then, that makes those moments of awareness so very precious.

I experienced such a moment a few weeks ago, as I was sitting in my parents’ living room with an old friend from high school, her husband, and their two daughters, listening to Daddy tell Carterville stories.

As Dad drew my favorite story to its hilarious conclusion, I was overwhelmed by a sense of deja vu. Had I been here before? I knew it was impossible, but …

I closed my eyes for a second. It was another time, another house, and the casting was different, but yes — I had been in this moment before. I had been in this moment nearly three decades earlier, when I was playing the role of the child rummaging through the toybox, while Grandpa — not Dad — was the raconteur in the recliner, holding court before an amused audience.

This is eternity, I thought, and although that seemed much too simple and understandable to be right, I knew instinctively that it was.

Eternity isn’t some golden thread shining through the vague, indiscernible mists of infinity. Eternity is a grandfather sitting in a recliner in his living room, telling his own father’s old, familiar stories to a daughter who recognizes them as the precious inheritance that illuminates her connection to the vast forever.


Deductive reasoning

Last night, a guy on Facebook announced that he no longer feels safe in my hometown — population 12,000 — because the Gangster Disciples are taking over. He knows, because they marked their territory by throwing a pair of tennis shoes over a power line near the high school.

Actual conversation, complete with atrocious spelling and incoherent grammar:

ME: Are you talking about that same pair of shoes that’s been hanging from the power line at 11th and __________ since the Carter administration?

GUY: no this are newer.

ME: Ah, well. Nothing lasts forever. I suppose even the most durable items wear out and have to be upgraded now and then.

GUY: and they are not on 11th street are even close to it. they are in be twine 10th and 9th.

Oh. Between 10th and 9th. Well, that’s different. If they were at 11th, they would simply be a continuation of something that’s been going on since 1979. But a block and a half east? Oh noes! Lock up your women and children, because what we have here is clearly no ordinary bully decorating the power lines with shoes he stole from the dork he beat up in gym class. We are obviously dealing with a well-organized band of professional criminals WHO HAVE COME TO KILL US ALL!!!!1!!!!!ONE!!!!!!!!!

Ah, but fear not, good citizens: Our oh-so-articulate friend has proposed a solution to the problem: “i thank we need to put up the old sighs that said don’t let the sun set hit you in the ass as you live.” (sic)

I can’t decide which is more embarrassing: The fact that signs like that actually existed at one time, or the fact that in 2011, there are still people in my hometown who approve of them.


P.S.: If you don’t get it, click here.

Ask the Hippie: Teacher Pay

Technically, no one asked the hippie this, but it’s a popular question, and it came to mind the other day during a conversation about the relative value of various professions.

Q. Albert Pujols makes $14.5 million a year, and all he does is play baseball. Why aren’t teachers paid the same as professional athletes?

A. This argument comes up every time somebody mentions the subject of teacher pay, and it always makes me cringe, because I live in fear that some cynical politician will hear it and do the obvious.

Unless you honestly want to have another frustrating conversation about merit pay, you probably shouldn’t bring up ballplayers’ salaries. Alfonso Soriano notwithstanding, professional baseball is all about merit pay. If you understand how this concept works in baseball, you have a pretty good idea of why teachers’ unions oppose it.

Albert Pujols makes $14.5 million a year. He also has a lifetime batting average of .328, a .619 slugging percentage, two Gold Gloves, six Silver Sluggers, nine All-Star appearances, and a 10-year average VORP of 86.37. This is the baseball equivalent of walking into a Title I school and getting 95 percent of the kids to score at or above the 97th percentile on their End-of-Instruction tests for ten consecutive years.

Unless you are the Albert Pujols of professional educators, you can’t reasonably ask someone to pay you $14.5 million a year. But even ordinary Major League Baseball players are an elite group. If my numbers are right, at any given moment, the maximum number of MLB players is 1,200 — which means less than 12 percent of all professional baseball players are actually knocking down six figures or more.

With that in mind, what would it look like if teachers were paid like professional athletes?

Let’s pretend you’re a young, unproven teacher, fresh out of college. You’re drafted in the 20th round and sent to single-A. Your starting salary is $850 a month, which works out to $10,200 a year. If you play well, you could be promoted to Double-A ($1,500 a month) or even Triple-A ($2,150 a month), where you’ll still be making less than the current starting salary for teachers in 47 states. But hey — it’s worth it if there’s a chance you could get called up to the majors, where the minimum salary is $414,000, right?

Maybe. But who will be evaluating your performance, how well will they understand what you are trying to accomplish, and what kind of pressure will they be under to keep payroll expenses down? I have a great boss, but what happens if he quits, and his replacement turns out to be the Larry Himes of school administrators? Unlike MLB teams, school districts can’t raise revenue by selling tickets or licensing collectibles with the star player’s face on them, so even if you’re the second coming of Jaime Escalante, you’ll be lucky to get to The Show at all.

Welcome to merit pay, rookie. And quit that sniffling. There’s no crying in baseball.