Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving Y’all!

I guess I’m ‘outta-da-loop’ because I thought the latest craze this Thanksgiving is deep-frying the bird.  My aunt informed me they’ve been sizzling the poor fowls in oil for years.  
Anyway, thank god it wasn’t the “in thing” when I managed the park or we could have very easily had a situation like this one:

I got hell from various halfwits in the park when I tried to enforce the “no open flames” and 
“no unattended fire” regulations.  Boy, they were pissier than a DMV worker on a Friday afternoon.  They’d mutter under their breath something about civil rights and this being America and too much control and dictatorship, etc. etc.  as if I were Hitler himself or some female Machiavellian dictator who didn’t give god damn ounce about their safety; rather I got off on controlling their lives every little chance I could get.
According to the Western Manufactured Housing Committee Association, aka WMA, and the California Codes: Health and Safety Code Section 13000-13011, and summed up nicely by yours truly, it’s not only illegal to have unattended and/or open flames in a modular home park, it’s f*#king dangerous.

I remember when space 5 had one of his monthly Latin shindigs and half the town of Castroville showed up…


I got the call around midnight when space 2, the “bee-otch” with the little rat-face dog, could no longer take the techno/rap/Latin/hip-hop/ jive music coming from 5's yard.  I, wearing only my jammies and a sour disposition, jumped in my Bug and headed over the hill to “that” side of the park; only to find Jaime drunk off his ass, and a bonfire the size of those they used to have at Texas A & M during homecoming week, blazing out of control under the roof of his carport.
No one gave a damn about the 8’-foot flame.  Actually, no one gave a damn about anything except the tequila.
I’m irritable.     
I hate dealing with inebriated Latin men who feel the “fiesta fire” is an extension of their manhood and a cultural phenomenon, with roots buried deep down in the heart and earth of Mexico; stretching from there to the great beyond and all the way up the 101 to the hills of Prunetucky. 

When he finally does focus and notice me standing there, his breath reeks of Patron.
Baalaria! …?Waz ‘up?

“Jaime, you gotta put this out, man. It’s muy dangerous.”

Okay…okay…Baalaria.   I put it out…No promblemo.”   He continues to slowly swirl his hips to the music.  We’re not talking Kardashian here... more like Rico Suave only “off.”

I leave knowing I’ll be back and sure f*#king enough, I get another call from unit 2, 20 minutes later.  I return with an ultimatum.

“Jaime, you either put this god damn fire out or I’m calling the sheriff and we’re gonna shut it down, baby!”

When necessary, I’m a barracuda.

It’s humorous though because space 6, 10 and 28 also felt like the not allowing of an open flame was a violation of their civil rights.  Now wouldn’t this be more of a violation of sort:

For me, Thanksgiving is a diabetic nightmare.  It’s carb and sugar hell and you might as well handcuff me now(wink) as I must practice enormous restraint.  
It’s a holiday that my achy breaky heart pains for the turkey as well, so I usually eat my dinner in my own private guilt.  I baked a Tofuki one year, with all the traditional sides, hoping the stuffing, mashers, and gluten-free pumpkin pie would disguise the fact that the entrĂ©e wasn’t the real deal.  My guests tried to remain polite, best they could, but soon they began gagging 
in 5-second intervals.

The numbers vary depending on the source, but according to wiki.answers, over 45 million turkeys, about 15 % of the population, were slaughtered for last year’s “Honor the Native Americans” holiday.  That number is considerably low according to several national animal rights organizations.
Don’t panic, my faithful, I’m not gonna ruin your upcoming meal... 
So, on a happier note, here’s the “pardoned” one:

The tables that are set on this day vary, depending on how and where you grew up, or how determined you were to shed the “how’s and where’s” of your childhood.  Mine was the meat and potatoes, t.v. trays and football. The meal was served at halftime and you could only converse with one another during the commercials.

Whatever yours was and whatever it is today, I wish you a spiritual awakening that fills your soul as much as the turkey fills your belly.  I mean it.  If there’s one thing that Thanksgiving brings out in most of us, it’s gratitude.
And gratitude is exactly what I have for each one of you buckaroos.
Enjoy this last ‘little ditty.’  It amuses my trailer park heart and it will yours too.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Ode to the Selfless Saints

This week’s blog is dedicated to all who teach in the public school system in the United States of America; especially my close pals, who, if you’re still standing after a long day at school, kick your heels up and enjoy!

Let’s look at that career to end all careers; second only to the esteemed profession of Trailer Park Manager: The Kindergarten Teacher.

I have 3 close pals who teach kindergarten. God love 'em.  I tried one time in the 90’s. YOWZA! It’s Barnum Bailey meets Mr. Rogers and the neighborhood’s not sprouting up roses, people.  I remember when I was placed in a bilingual class in 1997 (made since because I did know 3 words in Spanish).  During the first week,
I said,“!Recojer, por favor!” which loosely translates as “Clean up, please!”  All the sweet little Latina chickadees quickly and obediently started picking up the toys, wiping the tables, looking for brooms…while the little boys, after wrestling for 5 minutes, took their places on the carpet, waiting for the girls to finish cleaning. 
Clearly, those little guys didn’t know who they were dealing with.

And you might ask, “How could cute, innocent 5 year-old little munchkins become reckless, blood hungry Godzillas in the blink of an eye?” and I say to you, “How could a demure, John Denver-loving, gift-giving resident call your land line 12 times in 5 minutes, leaving twisted love messages on your machine?”  Same deal.

I watch my friends who teach this wondrous grade begin each year jolly, positive and energetic, but by April, each one becomes The Bride of Chucky. This year, for teachers in all grades of public school, due to the state of our public educational system, the burnout of April is now hitting in mid-November.
Two of my kinder pals are room partners this year, which means the fun is doubly delightful.  They tell me stories weekly about the trials, tribulations and escapades of Room 1.  (This makes it excruciating for me to not want to renew my credential and jump back into the circus.)

When you teach on the frontlines in a town like Salinas; in schools now labeled “Program Improvement Schools,” (Thank you very much George F** Bush for your ingenious plan, which I commonly refer to as No Child Left a Dime and All Teachers Left Behind) you have only a couple of options:
1.   Give it all you got.
2.   Fake it till you make it.
3.   Drink heavily.
Option one leads to crash and burn; while option two, the most popular and sought after method of practice, leads to artificial smiling till it hurts, lying to the parents, faculty and the children themselves and cheating on standardized tests.   
Option three, also a favorite amongst many teachers, is the best in my opinion, though I wouldn’t recommend starting before 2:45pm on weekdays.
In teaching, just like in park management, I opted for all three.
Here’s an important 41 seconds that’s a ‘must view’ before proceeding.

Each year the stories get better and better. But the fact is our nation's public schools are no laughing matter; especially those designated as program improvement ones. More and more have closed their on-site libraries, eliminated the arts, sciences, and physical education while increasing class size to 28-36. 
No aides. No creativity. No nada.
Oh! Wait! Testing!  Yes, there is testing!  A GINORMOUS amount of testing.

This year’s kinder kapers, however, are amongst the best I’ve heard of late... 

Important background information:
Roberto’s parents think he’s pure genius.  The first week of school they approached my friend, his teacher, to tell her so.  They also indicated their concern that their son’s feelings got hurt that day because she didn’t call on him when he raised his hand.
Today, during center time, my pal looked up and noticed “the genius” sitting on the floor, gripping one of the legs of a table.  With the intense motion of a piston engine, ’cept moving horizontally, he was rocking back and forth in a continuum of rapid speed and force; moaning and freaking out, which disturbed the other 28 in the room.
The teacher’s thoughts explored the unthinkable, as you might imagine. 
She quickly left her table to assist Roberto.  Kneeling down beside him, she was relieved that her initial thought wasn’t the case, but shocked to find Roberto had intentionally torn and tied the elastic waistband of his pants to the leg of the table and was stuck. 
Trying with all his might to free himself, the teacher stepped in. 
Of course, when she cut him free, he had a minor problem to deal with…his pants wouldn’t stay up.  As harsh as this sounds, my friend, showed him where the belt loops were on his trousers and encouraged him to hold onto them for the remainder of the school day. 
Whew!  Those teachers are big, bad meanies in kindergarten.

Then there’s Beatrice, who has a severe speech impediment.  She’s as cute as a bug, follows directions, shares the toys, makes it to the bathroom “on time”, knows how to write her name, and never is disruptive. 
Her speech is challenging for the teachers and children to understand though, and all have to lean in close to hear her and often times, ask her to repeat herself.

Room 1 has a daily ritual that is oober cool: Barnaby Bear.  
Each day a different child gets to take Barnaby home with her/him.  They have a little 'kinder essay paper' that they can color and write what they and Barnaby did together.  Because they’re only five, most dictate the experience to a parent or guardian and that individual documents for them.  The next day they sit in front of the class, Barnaby on their lap, and share about the fun they had together. Then the other kids get to raise their hands with questions.
Beatrice begins calling on kids and calls on the boy in the back row, who happens to be sharp as a whip…
“Yes, Retardo.”
“WHAT?!” Ricardo shouts out, totally understanding his new name.
Quickly the teacher encourages the conversation in a different direction.

There are lots of “special” kids out there.  Ms. C (we’ll call her that to protect her dignity) had a kid last year that was that rare “interesting special.”
All year, August through June, each and EVERY DAY, he would sit close to her at circle time, gaze up into her eyes and ask the same damn question, 
“Ms. C…Are you a policeman?”
“No, Justin.”  She would reply.  “I’m your teacher.”

I remember my first year teaching sixth grade…I thought I was going to pull a Samurai and just end the misery quickly. To this day, I blame that class for my having to dye and highlight my hair.  Anyway, I looked out my door and saw both the principal and vice principal walking toward my room with very serious expressions on their faces.
In my principal’s hand was a black and while journal. It belonged to one of my students.  As they opened the book to a page filled with cartoon-like figures; all with “talk bubbles” above their heads, I felt my stomach drop to my feet.
At the top left corner of the page was an explicitly drawn picture of a naked woman; voluptuous bosoms and anatomically detailed. (How my student saw voluptuous bosoms out of these babies, I'll never know.) The figure had my name scribbled below it and above my head, the talk bubble read:
“I WANT TO HAVE SEX WITH DR. SCHMIDT.”   Then there was the character labeled Dr. Schmidt, naked and quite large in the genitalia region, staring at me with these wild, heathen eyes.  
His bubble… "LET’S DO IT!”
I found it difficult to make contact with Dr. Schmidt for several months.

It’s a toss up: the life of a trailer park manager vs. the life of a school teacher. 

This is Susan J. Lundeen and this is what she has to say about teaching

“The world is a wondrous place where there is always a new adventure or finding around the corner.”

Susan’s not on the up and up with us, and we all know it.

Here’s Chris Chi, who wrote a blog titled: Endangered Species-Smiling Teachers

Here’s Chris on a Friday night after a week in public education

I’m formulating a compare and contrast thing right now between two settings: 
the trailer park and the classroom, and I’m here to tell you I’ve been bitten, flipped off, tortured, laughed at and hit by flying fruit…
Thank God the classroom was a little less brutal.  

Ode to the Resource Teacher sung by a classroom teacher.
I think you’ll dig it!

Here's to all my friends who teach…Damn.
I dig you and believe you’re all just selfless saints or crazy.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Way

I quite possibly need a disclaimer for this blog:
I am in no way advocating the consumption of or over-indulgence in alcohol.  Any conclusions of this sort, drawn from reading my words, are merely the little demonic thought mongers who live inside the person reading.

Remember Leonilda?  The resident at the park, who a year ago, left a voice message asking the rules and regulations with regard to spray-painting her trailer. She expressed concern she might accidently spray one of her neighbors' units in the process… 
I returned her call, after pouring myself a strong, bubbly one and she answered after 4 rings. 
I was polite, professional and steady.  (I’d only had a couple sips.) 
After giving her a well crafted, polished pitch, she replied,
"Valerie, I gotta go.
 Could you please call me back at another time because I’m drunk right now."

Why certainly, Leonilda.  I wish to hell I was, but it’s only 3:15 on a Tuesday afternoon.  
You might’ve already conjured up a “judgment talk-bubble” above your head right about now, but look friends, the hard cold truth is that Leonilda has to spray paint her own house because she can’t afford to hire a professional painter to do the job.
Leonilda also drinks cheap booze, quietly in her trailer, because, one, she can’t afford to go out on the town and get liquored up at some high-class bistro, snazzy restaurant or wine bar and two, she most likely has agoraphobia and is scared to death of the world.   Millions of Americans fall into this plight.   And you may ask of me, “Where does your judgment lie, tpg?” and I must tell you, “It’s certainly NOT with Leonilda!”

My judgment lies at the corner of Hypocrisy Avenue and Greed Lane.  Plain and simple.  
Black and white with not an inch for gray. Everybody drinks.  The whole damn world drinks.
And if you are in the minority who don't partake; my guess is that you once did.  People drink to elude pain.  People stop drinking because of pain.  People drink to feel good.  People stop when they feel just a little too good…people drink to avoid things, and those sober folks, who don’t avoid things, chain smoke and cry all the time.  People drink to loosen up.  People stop drinking because they get so loose, it lands them in prison.  People drink to expand the horizons of their creativity.  People stop because the expansion of that horizon put them in bankruptcy. 
Folks drink because it’s a prerequisite of watching the NFL, NBA, NHL, NCAA,WWE, and PGA just to name a few.
It’s an accepted national pastime much like gabbling at “Indian Casinos” and yet, Lord forbid and strike me dead as roadkill, if we should legalize weed. 
I remember my dad mumbling some gibberish when I was in my teens about “all the low lifers hooked on pot” all the while pouring himself his 4th or 5th glass of Scotch.  And I remember a friend’s mother once saying,  “Don’t give homeless people any money.  They’ll just spend it on alcohol.” And then we’d go out for a glass of $8 Cabernet.

I often give $5 bucks and hope the homeless person does buy some comfort.  I mean, I would if all I had to my name was one torn flannel, a pair of ragged sweats and worn-out shoes and all of my life’s possessions fit in a single shopping cart?  Hell, we all might buy a beer in that situation!

All this talk of drinking prods me to a different tangent.   Now this wasn’t a “drinking flick,” per say, but there was a helluva lot of wine flowing in the film I saw last night called The Way.  
Pretty much wine and open road in just about every frame.  Of course, that’s ok because it takes place in Spain.
The Way is written and directed by Emilio Estevez and stars his father Martin Sheen.  Some have said it depicts a “spiritual journey” and had I read those reviews prior, I would have bought a ticket to The Ides of March.  Luckily, I didn’t read any reviews, including the one written by Pastor Rick Warren who LOVED the film as much as I did. 
The Way is about a ragtag quartet of seekers who walk the 800-mile pilgrimage along the Camino de Santiago; a trek from the Pyrenees to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Spain, the burial place of St. James.
It’s filled with dusty country roads and lots of vino.  But it’s also filled with revealing, moving dialogue and intentional silence that still has me pondering it 24 hours later.

Not being of the Southern Baptist persuasion like Pastor Warren (Although, I did dabble a bit in the ‘70’s) and not being Catholic like the multitudes of peasants and gypsies who shower the travelers with wine and wisdom, then bless them with a “Buen Camino” and send them on their journey…I must admit, I was spiritually moved by the film.

I think it was the glaring realization that a part of myself was in each individual trekker: 
Tom’s resistance and deeply rooted anger… Jack from Ireland’s internal struggles with writer’s block and self-doubt, which go disgustingly hand in hand…Joost’s outward veil of kindness and innocence…Sarah’s sharp tongue and sarcastic armor. 
Emilio Estevez, as if peeling a ripe orange, slowly and artfully strips away layer after layer of each characters’ skin until we are left looking, not only at them, but more importantly, 
at our own self in the mirror.

This leads me to a point and that’s always a comforting destination to reach, isn’t it? 
I find this almost essential if we are to live a true and genuine life:  Taking a hard look into that mirror each and every day.  While standing there, naked and vulnerable, we must relinquish all masks and allow for the peeling away of layer upon layer of the bullshit.  If we can bring all of our vices, all our truths, all our ironies, hypocrisies and imperfections to the surface and make eye contact with only our self, we might truly find the way to some sort of grace.  Because it is there, in front of our own individual mirrors, that we admit to our imperfections as humans; 
no better or worse than anyone else.  Then and only then, can we accept the Leonildas, the mothers of friends, the Rick Warrens, the dads who drink Scotch, the homeless on our streets, the dude who puts you down each day… 
And when we truthfully do this, we benefit and in some way, the world does too.

Oh boys and girls, it’s beginning to sound like a pulpit, so I’ll step down!
Check out The Way.  Maybe consider hiding a small bottle of your favorite libation in your backpack to go along with the buttered popcorn.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Dorothy, You Ain't In Austin Anymore

    When you’re a non-Texan trying to explain Texas and Texans to others, it’s awkward.
But leaving the “nation” of Austin and driving south on the 35, passing the interesting sights of cattle, cattle and more cattle, one realizes, like Dorothy, that you ain’t in paradise no more.
As Molly Ivins (Texan and renowned columnist) once wrote,
Texas is big sky country because there are no trees.  Texas is not a civilized place.  Texans shoot one another a lot and they fight in the bars all the time.  You can get 5 years for murder and 99 for pot possession in this state.”   
And here’s the clincher to that:
They are darn proud of it all.  
Ivins goes on to say, “ Texas is an un-self-conscious place.  Nobody is embarrassed about who he is.  Rich folks aren’t embarrassed.  Reactionaries aren’t embarrassed.  Rednecks aren’t embarrassed.  KKKers aren’t embarrassed.  Even liberals aren’t embarrassed because they all see it as their callings.”

    While driving on the open highway, I was recognizant of the many billboards and church marquees that plentifully line the roads, cow pastures and hog pins… 
I’m told this has been the biggest drought since 1952 and that the farm animals are in dire straights.
The Baptists, a large majority in these parts, thank the Lord Jesus anyway.
Churches and dance halls are everywhere out here and they don’t give a jackshit about separation of church and state.  I have it from a very reliable source that the Baptist preacher and his flock, who have the best seats at Shiner High School football games, all pray out loud before, during and after the National Anthem.  Consequently, the Lutherans and Methodists, though Texan to the bone, don’t sit on the 50 yard line. 
     I didn’t actually attend a church service, so of course what I’m about to offer up is 100% pure embellishment, but you know you’re in a Texas church when the preacher asks Bubba to help collect the offering, and 5 men and 2 women stand up.

     Shiner Texas is rich in history and though it’s older than the hills, it made it on the map in 1909 when Kosmos Spoetzl opened what today is The Shiner Brewery.  Shiner Bock is the beverage of choice and let me tell you it’s chosen from sunup to sundown.
You drink Bock at picnics, football games, church functions…at dance halls, family gatherings, bank ‘meetins’, booster ‘meetins’, girl scout ‘meetins’, cub scout ‘meetins’, baby showers, engagement parties, and ‘christenins.’ 
You even drink ‘em while you shop. 

At one store in the historic downtown, Antiques, Art and Beer, Beverly proudly awards you with a certificate for each bottle you consume while shopping.

     Kosmos Spoetzl had a simple marketing philosophy: A good beer will sell itself.  
So he set out to brew the very best beer he could. That done, he had to make sure that people drank it.  So he bought a Model T, and with a couple of kegs iced down in the back, Spoetzl drove the country roads that surrounded Shiner, plying the thirsty farmers with ice-cold beer.  Spoetzl produced "Old World Bavarian Draft," which was a heavy, dark, all-malt German-style lager.
     Today Shiner Bock preserves the traditions of the original brewmaster and even uses some of his original recipes.  Each vat is brewed individually. 
After tasting Shiner Black Lager, I easily gave of gin for the 48 hours I was there. 

This is the cutest webpage ever.  Check this out!

     There’s something about Shiner that makes me shout, “Charming!”  (almost)
It could be the free tokens for beer they hand out at the Brewery or the buildings from the 1800’s that still have the original tin ceilings and rent for a song, but more likely, it’s the lovely resident historian/goddess/palm reader/Dog-Eared Democrat and my friend who made me 
feel so welcome.
For some, that charm could wear off quickly though.
I certainly couldn’t wear my Sarah Palin Ignorance is Bliss tee for fear of getting shot.  And I’d have to remove all my bumper stickers, trash my peace flags and bite my political tongue hourly if I resided within such charm.

     My pal was born and raised there.  Both her family and her husband’s family have lived in Shiner for generations and so I felt quite comfortable in her company. 
I was treated darn right like a queen.  
But there is a strange cloud that lingers over you if "yur frum Cali."  
I mean, just answering the question, “Where y’all frum?” can cause perplexed expressions to form on the faces of locals. 
Texans believe that Californians either lie around and smoke weed all day, or that we are all heathen terrorists who are constantly thinking up ways to provide handouts to the illegals rather than the “real” Americans. 
Either way, you’ll burn in hell, darlings.

     I did meet some lovely folks in Shiner though, and got to ride around on
“the farm.”  My friend’s grandson, who’s all of 12, laughed hysterically at this ‘weird city gal’ as I took pictures of hay bales, dirty work rags hanging on fences and baby pigs.  Then I prayed to the Lord Jesus that he’d lie to me when I asked, "Are they all going to be slaugh…?” 
They laughed their asses off! 

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not a vegetarian, though I’m thinking of converting. 
These farmers love their animals, treat them well and even name them;
“That one over there’s name is ‘Dinner.’”  My friend’s grandson informed me. 
I just look into their eyes and want to scream,"Can’t we save them all, live happily ever after and eat tempeh burgers till the crows come home!"

     What I sensed there are two things we are so far removed from:
the connection of humans to the land and humanely raising all that we consume. 
I recall my mama’s favorite saying, “Waste not, want not.”  
All this makes good sense; even to me.
Most kids eat meat and think it comes from Safeway. 
They haven’t a clue.  And if you’ve ever driven Highway 5, then you know the livestock are crammed in small, overcrowded pens and you can bet your ass they don’t get a friendly pet on their head each morning.    Walking “the farm” made me ponder the days when my ancestors lived in Tennessee, Oklahoma and yes, Texas.  I’m a good ‘ole girl and come from a long line of country folk and yet somehow, as if to fall off the flatbed of a pickup, I ended up in some conflictive state; dangling on a fine thread between trailer trash and city vixen.  
I mean, I dig the boots and cool shiny belt buckles, but I’m a recycle freak. 

I understand the feeling of bliss when breathing in that fresh country air,
but give me a good protest in a major downtown city any day.

     Shiner, Texas is my last stop before returning to California.  I smile now when I say its name.
It’s a town rich in history, pride (possibly foolish) and cow pies.  And oh yea…beer.

All for now, buckaroos!