Saturday, September 30, 2006

Go Lords!

Does this not look like the kick-assingest football game ever? And the good guys won!

We interrupt this Saturday night grading session...

to list three Google searches that recently led people here. One is bizarre, one is lame and creepy, and the third is kind of cool. Three totally different moods--all leading to my page.

1. An individual asks for "The meaning of the song Let's Go Crazy by Prince." Whoever you are: I am so glad you asked. As an Honors English graduate, magna cum laude, from one of the most noted English departments of the twentieth century, I can tell you the deeper meanings of the song lyrics are as follows: The poet, Prince, wants to party hardy. He wishes to get nuts due to the brevity of life.

2. Another individual creeps me out by asking: "what hapened to the people that were in the world trade center on 9/11." Huh? This necessitates a question? I think there's an answer from the Reuters report on the story: "A person who answered the phone on the trading floor at interdealer-broker Cantor Fitzgerald, located near the top of the World Trade Center, said 'We're fucking dying,' and hung up. There was screaming and yelling in the background. A follow up call was not answered."

3. I'm honored to be a hit for "Overheard in a restaurant," which yields several interesting conversations. Check 'em out.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Another reason the media sucks...

My heart goes out to the family and friends of the victims of the shooting at Platte Canyon HS in Bailey.

My ire goes out to the media for orgasmically bringing up Columbine comparisons.

Littleton is a big suburb of Denver. Bailey is a small community in the mountains.

Columbine is a big school. Platte Canyon is significantly smaller.

Columbine fell victim to a pair of evil teenagers. Platte Canyon fell victim to an evil middle-aged transient pervert.

For the media to mention one in the same breath as the other, other than to point out their differences, is irresponsible.

This, like any tragedy of its sort, shouldn't happen anywhere and could happen anywhere. But I must admit that, when I first heard about it, one of my early thoughts was to wish that, if this had to have happened, it could have been in a different state. I love Colorado, and this crap impacts what the world thinks of it.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Response to former Bellevue Footballer

(This post started as a response to a Bellevue Football player in the comments here. It got so long that it deserved its own post.)

Anonymous Former Bellevue Footballer,

I do appreciate you stepping up and giving your side of the argument. I have several responses.

You talk about the "life lessons" that coach Goncharoff has taught you. That's wonderful, and I don't doubt that's true. Is the football field the ONLY place that such life lessons can be taught? Heck no. Those life lessons go on at Bellevue High every day. They're taught by the swimming, golf, and cross-country coaches. They're taught by the coaches of the debate team and the math team. They're taught by the AP Literature teacher and the remedial math teacher. Just because you didn't learn them in those places doesn't mean they're not taught. In fact, if you gave me a week, I could locate an alumnus as enthusiastic about the lessons they learned from those individuals as you are about Coach Goncharoff. So--to return to my post's original question, which you ignored--why does your coach deserve $55K more than these people? Why is football more important than these other activities?

You say that coach Goncharoff works many unpaid hours. I know he does: all coaches in all sports do, as do all activity advisors, as do all teachers. The way to solve that is to increase pay for everyone, not to exorbitantly award one person just because he coaches a successful team in a popular sport.

Your statement that Bellevue football is "perhaps the only reason certain academic and other athletic programs exist at the school" is completely unbacked. What teams have been born due to the incredible success of the football team? The Bellevue debate team, as of when I last saw them, didn't appear to be any larger than it was before Bellevue started winning all of those state championships.

Why does Bellevue deserve an excellent coach more than, for example, Interlake does? Why should well-off parents get to gain an unfair advantage for their team by paying their coach twelve times more than the coaches at other schools in Kingco 3A make? Shouldn't the playing field be equal? Why reward the rich at the expense of the poor? Wouldn't coach Goncharoff make just as much of an impact on students of lesser means than those at a relatively well-off school like Bellevue?

If Goncharoff taught you all of these life lessons but went 4-5 every year, do you think the parents would be paying him $55K? I sure don't. I'd bet a big chunk of cash that life lessons matter a lot less to the booster club than Bellevue's four state championships.

On top of that, let me give you a few quick questions:

In spite of Bellevue's excellent academic record, nearly 25% of their 10th-grade students didn't reach state standard in math on the WASL. For $55,000, the booster club could hire two instructional aides for an entire year to tutor them--including struggling football players--for the retake. What's more important, students' graduation or state championships?

For $55,000, the booster club could have paid tuition for two needy Bellevue students--football players or otherwise--to attend the University of Washington for four years each. What's more important, that or the team's won-loss record?

Do you see where I think that the priorities are off here? I'm not anti-football, anti-sports, or anti-Goncharoff. I'm anti-excess. And $55K for a high school coach is both misplaced and excessive.

The saddest part of all of this, at least as I see it, is the damage these few misguided parents will do to the reputation of both Bellevue High School and its football team. Before, the team was admired for its skill and work ethic. Now, fairly or otherwise, the team is perceived as having misguided priorities and an unfair advantage over its competitors. That perception casts a shadow on everyone associated with the school and the team, and that's a shame.

(I'll leave the bigger equity arguments to MCMC's comments, which are on the money. It's awful that the rich can afford to uneven the playing field both academically AND athletically.)

Sunday, September 24, 2006


I suppose that the head of the booster club at Bellevue High School's highly successful football team has a constituational right to do what he wishes with the booster club's money.

But paying $55,000 to the head coach is disgusting.

The stipend for a football coach at Bellevue is a little over $5,000. The coach is good and the parents want him to stay. So they pay him more than I make in a year (that's with nine years of experience and a master's plus 45).

Bellevue High School has many excellent teachers. I know several of them. They bust their asses to teach kids to read, write, calculate, and think.

I am not anti-HS-sports. I believe that the time and effort I spend volunteering for my school's teams and officiating all over town proves that. And I appreciate the work that a coach puts in.

Nevertheless, I would like--DESPERATELY like--for a member of Bellevue's football booster club to look me or any other teacher in the eye and explain why the football coach deserves this money more than an actual teacher does. If he/she can do that with a straight face, I'd be tempted to crooked that face up a little bit.

What a hopelessly messed-up group of people.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

If you're in your mid-thirties, please respond

Are you starting to forget words? It just took me two whole minutes to come up with the word "organic."

What's that damn word...natural? close, no, that's not it...[smack my head]...wait...germane? not's some word involving plants...germinate? shit shit...[hide under my shirt collar] [smack my head again]...what the FUCK is that FUCKING WORD????...god damn's almost there...the word is...germane! no, I've already thought of that...shit...oh...I've got's like's...germane...NO! it's something else...ahhh. Organic.

Please tell me I'm not alone on this one. It legitimately scares me, and it only started happening about a year ago.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Sick day

Well, my teacher immunity isn't foolproof.

I've got this little flu-like thing that's been going around. It's not terrible...I went to school with it yesterday. But I wanted to go home by halfway through the day. The sore throat becomes body-aches with too much effort.

Today is open house. 6:30 PM to 8:30 PM. Since parents don't know to go home afterwards...this ain't conferences, guys, set up an appointment for individual TLC...I'm often at school from 6:30 AM to 9:30 PM on this day. I'm afraid that, if I tried that, I'd get myself much, much sicker.

So, while I'll go to Open House tonight (since I enjoy remaining employed), I slept in and am trying to kill off this thing with naps, juice, blogging, and blog-surfing.


--BloggingRef is into it with an intelligent (and, dare I say, attractive) reader about the Oklahoma/Oregon game.

--Jim is obsessed with me. He's mentioned me twice recently.

--My wife is suddenly prolific. (Posting-wise, of course.)

--A buddy of Batgirl's does a funny sendup of Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried about the Minnesota Twins. In the comments, I try my hand.

--Geez. The last three (and, one could argue, four) highlights involve me directly. How self-obsessed am I?

Now, to drink more grape juice...

Monday, September 18, 2006

That feeling...

A little something in the back of my throat. I'm not sick, but this feeling says "You'll be sick in 48 hours."

Hate that. HATE it.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

I hate thinking I could do someone's job better than they do,

because I hate it when people do it to me. (And nobody hears about their screw-ups more often than teachers, refs, and poets, at least in poetry workshops.)

But when Jim and his lovely bride were kind enough to give my wife and I tickets to the WSU/Baylor game this past weekend, the end of the game featured a last two minutes with very, very bizarre coaching decisions. I believe I would have done a better job on either sideline.

Baylor led by 1, 15-14. WSU drove down the field. Baylor burned its time-outs (too quickly, I thought), and WSU wound up with the ball first and goal from the 2 yard line with 1:40 left.

If I'm Baylor coach Guy Morriss, I think I let them score. Seriously. I'd rather have 1:40 on the clock and a 6 or 7-point deficit than a 2-point deficit and no time on the clock. Anybody can make a 19-yard field goal, right?

So then I'm thinking, hey, if I'm WSU coach Bill Doba, I'm going to anticipate that strategy and kneel. Why risk a fumble? I trust my kicker on a 20-yarder. Just center the ball, run the clock down to 3 seconds, and kick on 4th down.

Here's the bizarre stretch:

On first down, WSU ran a QB sneak. Baylor did not let them score. The QB fumbled. Unbelieveable. But WSU recovered.

Surely WSU and Baylor will wise up on second down as the clock approaches a minute.

On second down, WSU ran another QB sneak. Didn't score.

The clock approaches 30 seconds. The Bears really, really need to let them score now to have any kind of prayer. WSU should simply kneel.

On third down, WSU ran another QB sneak. And yet again, Baylor stopped them.

Now, it's all over. WSU just needs to call a time out with three seconds left to kick their game-winning field goal.

Inexplicably, they called it with 15 seconds left. Why? Did they want to give Baylor a chance?

The kicker booted a 17-yard field goal, the shortest I've ever seen, and WSU took a 17-15 lead.

But 9 seconds remained on the clock. Which meant Baylor could still have a chance.

They made the most of that chance. A Baylor Bear very nearly broke it with what would have been the bizarrest finish ever. He busted through the first two lines of defense and was just clipped from behind past midfield.

Game over. And my mouth was agape.

Still, kinda fun.

Amazing Race 10 First Episode

--I suspected I'd like the woman from Kentucky in spite of her and her husband's matching T-shirts. I do.

--I like how many teams took the time to learn "thank you" in Chinese.

--Dag. Climbing up the Great Wall of China on a rope. That's hard. I have no upper arm strength and no ability to eat strange foods. This show is not at all for me.

--My picks are already shot to hell. Two teams were eliminated: one "in it to win it" and one "middle departure." And my pick to win it all, the triathletes, don't look good for the title. I admire the hell out of their athleticism, but I'm afraid that Sarah just can't win a footrace. I expected her to be as fast as any athlete, but she hobbles along quite laboriously on that prosthetic leg.

--Could be an interesting, discussion-provoking bit coming from this season. The single moms from Alabama are already pissed off that Sarah takes advantage of pre-boarding for passengers requiring special needs/extra time while trumpeting how she doesn't want to be treated any differently. Not sure where I fall on this issue--I didn't like the way she told a Chinese cabdriver that she was in an emergency and pointed at her leg--but then again, in the race, you should use whatever advantage you have, be it athleticism, charm, boobs, or, I suppose, a disability. But this might boil over.

--My wife will no doubt blog more about this.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Student blooper du jour

"When I write, I don't always know where to put the comas in."

The Amazing Race 10 Predictions

I've been off in recent incarnations of the show, but I will not shirk from continuing to make predictions.

I've just spent an hour looking at all of the teams' videos. The season looks promising. I think this is the way to do diversity in reality TV. Are you listening, Survivor?

Now, my first impressions:

Bilal & Sa'eed: Buddies from Cleveland in their late thirties. Blue collar types. Affable, if a little flat. Relatively well-traveled. Props to them--they want to present a positive portrayal of Muslims. I wonder if they'll have an advantage in Muslim countries? Probably not. I don't have much leading me either for or against them ability-wise.

David & Mary: A Kentucky coal miner and his stay-at-home-mother wife. They're wearing fairly insipid matching T-shirts, but I actually grew to look past that and like them in the midst of their interview. I'm impressed that Mary, who "can count on one hand the number of times she's been on a plane," has really prepared for the unexpected boon of being on the show (she didn't try out...Amazing Race called after David made callbacks for Survivor). She's lost a bunch of weight and has learned to say "please," "thank you," and how to hail a taxi in 6 languages. They might be a sleeper if he can handle the physical stuff.

Duke & Lauren: A Rhode Island father and daughter, working to fix their relationship--they were estranged for a while after she came out. Although they seem able, and although I like her (but I dislike anyone who would not speak to their daughter for being gay, even for a while, although I give him credit for getting over it eventually), parent/child teams never do well on the race. Too many power issues. Plus, why go on a TV show to mend their relationship? That's just weird. Try counseling or PFLAG or something. More effective and totally private.

Dustin & Kandice: Roommates at the last Miss America pageant. Kandice is a Rockette. There's something just a hair bubbleheaded about her eyes. Dustin seems a little more with it, but I don't see any skills that can get them too deep into the race. Still, nothing wrong with a little eye candy. Dustin especially.

Erwin & Godwin: San Francisco brothers. Harvard educated, good sense of humor, fairly well-traveled, and Godwin appears to be quite buff. They mention an earlier trip together that resulted in them not speaking to each other for a while, but I think I can chalk that up to youth. They're old enough (29 & 32) not to do stupid things. I think they've got to be considered one of the favorites.

Kellie & Jamie: Former co-captains of the University of South Carolina Cheerleading squad. More eye candy. Jamie appears to be the positive stereotype of a cheerleader: sweet, outgoing, infectiously enthusiastic. Kellie gave me the negative-stereotype-of-a-cheerleader vibe: mostly silent, had a bit of a smug look about her. Also, Kellie wants to go into sports journalism, but she's not nearly well-spoken enough to pull that off at this point. Does she think her (admittedly stunning) looks will make her a sports journalist? She's mistaken. Jamie is brainier (an advertising major), and Kellie looks like deadweight. At any rate, they're 22 and not very well-traveled. I can't see them as competitive.

Lyn & Karlyn: Nice women from Alabama--mothers, friends since high school, 32 years old. I like the vibe I get here, but I don't anticipate they'll be able to run with the others physically. At some point, there's a footrace. Always.

Peter & Sarah: Athletic studs with a little travel experience. She's the first woman ever to complete the Ironman Triathlon in Hawaii with a prosthetic leg, and they trained alongside each other. He's 35, she's 31. All I don't know here is their relationship...they're friends who have worked together in the past and train together now. They say "We've been on business trips together, so we know we travel well together." Well, I doubt it. Flying to Dallas and staying in separate rooms at the Hampton Inn isn't preparation for the rigor of the race. But still, they've got a heck of a lot going for them, and I get a relaxed vibe. This just feels like another challenge rather than "opportunity to mend relationship," "chance to prove myself on TV," or "greatest thing ever in my life." They'll be around at the end.

Rob & Kimberly: Dating bartenders from Los Angeles. They've just started shacking up together, and this is the "testing their relationship" bit. He is terribly inarticulate, and I don't think they've done much traveling. Physically, they're strong, but I'm afraid that's about it. They'll go quickly.

Tom & Terry: New York gay couple, together for two years. They're 39 and 45, and they're not going to be able to keep up physically (if you're bragging about preparing by "walking to work," well, I'm afraid the triathletes have a distinct advantage over you). They don't tell us that they've traveled a lot. Oh...and they DRESS ALIKE. I HATE the teams that dress alike. Nice guys. Fun guys. Cannon fodder.

Tyler & James: They knew each other after high school, when one was the other's drug dealer. They met again in rehab and became legitimate friends. Then, they got into modeling. Hell of a cool story, actually. They're in their late 20s, physically fit, down to earth, and have traveled a lot. They're a major contender.

Vipul & Arti: Married couple in their late 20s from Orlando. She grew up in South Africa and moved to the US when she was 17. He was born in India but has lived in the US since he was 3. They've traveled in India and South Africa, and know a number of foreign languages (number and which languages unspecified). Married couples typically do better than dating couples, and they look like they're in decent shape. They're strong.

Now, full predictions of order. Exact order is a guess, but the groups are where I'm more confident.


12. Tom & Terry
11. Kellie & Jamie
10. Lyn & Karlyn
9. Rob & Kimberly


8. Duke & Lauren
7. Bilal & Sa'eed
6. David & Mary
5. Dustin & Kandice


4. Vipul & Arti
3. Tyler & James
2. Erwin & Godwin
1. Peter & Sarah

Tough call between the top 3. I pick the triathlon people with the unknown relationship factor over the brothers because the brothers' relationship may have one-upsmanship issues that could cause conflict. But I could see any of ht etop three winning.

I do wish there were a female team that could win it, but not this year. There's also not a team here that I'll instantly dislike, which means it'll be an eminently watchable year. I'm very optimistic.

Can't wait for Sunday. Let's get this show on the road.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Overheard at the car place today

As my car's oil was changed at the dealership today, I sat in the waiting room grading papers. The receptionist picked up her cell phone, and I heard one end of the conversation.

So, was it a boy or a girl?
Was it a boy or a girl?

At this point, I'm smiling. It's great to hear somebody so joyful over a friend's news.

There's a pause. She dials her cell phone.

Guess what???


Monday, September 11, 2006


Since Joe and Jim have weighed in today--Joe on his memories of 5 years ago and Jim on what his students had to say today, I'll weigh in. It's not like you can walk up to people and say "Here's what I did on 9/11/01," but I have so many distinct memories of the day, and an anniversary is a chance to share them.

My clock radio wasn't set to music that was set to the M's station so I could listen to the last of the Monday night's M's/Angels game in bed. So I woke up to news. I was out of the shower and changing when the news guy said "A plane has hit the World Trade Center. The pictures are quite amazing."

So I turned on CNN. They were. Accident, I figured.

Then the second plane hit as CNN was talking to a man on the street. He went nuts.

OK. No accident.

Time to start figuring out what the hell I'd do in school.

By the time I got to school, I had scared kids outside my door. Everyone was saying "Have you heard? Have you heard?" But everyone had heard. I turned on the TV in my room and saw the Pentagon. What the hell?

We had an emergency before-school faculty meeting to figure out what would happen. "I would like to go home. Is that a possibility?" asked a math teacher. No, it wasn't.

And then came the attack that wasn't.

As we met with our homerooms to say we'd be going to classes that day, but there were counselors available, etc., I saw CNN's crawl announce that a bomb had gone off at the State Department.

My sister worked at the State Department. I said out loud: "That's where my sister works." I immediately got on the work phone to my parents.

"Have you heard from Kathleen?"

"Yes. She called."


She said when.

"Because CNN just said that there's been a bomb at the State Department."

My mom sounded not sad or scared, but very tired. She simply said: "Oh, shit."

Kathleen called my folks again about 10 minutes later, and they in turn called me. Turns out CNN's report was inaccurate. Thanks, CNN!

The first class of the day was Debate. We were going to go to the library to work on our philosopher presentations, but I didn't want to force the kids to work. Nor did I want to force the kids to watch coverage. So I postponed the due date for the presentations and told them they could work if they wanted or watch if they wanted.

All 26 of them went to the library and sat silently in front of the TV for 100 minutes.

The next class was my junior American Lit class. What the hell was I supposed to do with them? The lesson plan called for us to read Patrick Henry's speech. But I called an audible. I circled them all up and asked them to get out a piece of paper. I said to write their name at the top, and the date. The date, I said. Be sure to write the date. Write 9/11/01. You'll want to keep this one, and you'll want a piece of paper with that date on it.

How do we handle a tragedy like this one? I don't have an answer, I said, but sometimes it helps to write about it. Just write about what hapened today, what you're thinking, what you're feeling. Just write.

They did. I don't remember much of it. I marked it not with pen, but with sticky notes so they could tear my comments off and keep their unmarked writings if they wanted.

But the last class of the day is the one I'll remember.

After lunch, I felt like we were tragedied out, so I decided they could handle the lesson plan (with the caveat, of course, that anyone could visit the counselors if needed). The kids seemed to welcome a chance to not talk about the events of the day.

Patrick Henry. We read the speech out loud.

And I was totally freaked out by a line in there.

The kids were reading along with the texts. A couple of less-attentive students and I were staring off into space and listening when these words of Henry's were read:

If we were base enough to desire it, it is now too late to retire from the contest. There is no retreat but in submission and slavery! Our chains are forged! Their clanking may be heard on the plains of Boston! The war is inevitable--and let it come! I repeat it, sir, let it come.


Now, the kids who read didn't notice. But the kids who were staring into space and I shuddered at the same time and looked at each other. Because where Henry had written "plains of Boston," we heard "planes of Boston." And in that context, it was terrifying and bizarre, like Patrick Henry had travelled through time to tell us we needed to fight for freedom.

I'll never forget that.

For the rest of 2001, everyone in our nation would have done help out. And all our President said was "go shopping." For those couple of months, every country in the world outside of Afghanistan were with us. Arab newspapers ran headlines like "We are all Americans."

And now that's all gone.

This evil could have made us better as a nation and a world. Freer. Patrick Henry seemed to tell me so. But we lacked the leaders to make it happen. Outside of the losses of so many people, nothing makes me sadder about 9/11/01 than the lack of positive change in the world that followed.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

The NFL Network: Working to Make English Teachers' Lives Hell

Archie, Eli, and Peyton Manning do a bunch of wacky football-related things in a mildly amusing commercial for

At the end, we get the following caption:

"The Manning's are ready for the season. Are you?"

I'm ready to use apostrophes correctly. Are they?

For the love of God, it's NOT THAT HARD!!!! It's a damn PLURAL!!!! NO POSSESSION!!! NO APOSTROPHE!!!!


Wednesday, September 06, 2006

TRP's Fearless 2006 NFL Predictions

Based on very, very little homework. It's all been focused on the fantasy team. (Which still has a very strong chance of sucking.)


Denver 10-6
Kansas City 10-6
San Diego 9-7
Oakland 5-11


Pittsburgh 10-6
Baltimore 8-8
Cincinnati 8-8
Cleveland 4-12


Indianapolis 13-3
Jacksonville 11-5
Houston 6-10
Tennessee 4-12


New England 11-5
Miami 10-6
Buffalo 6-10
New York Jets 3-13


Seattle 12-4
St. Louis 10-6
Arizona 7-9
San Francisco 5-11


Chicago 12-4
Detroit 7-9
Minnesota 7-9
Green Bay 3-13


Carolina 11-5
Tampa Bay 10-6
Atlanta 6-10
New Orleans 5-11


Washington 10-6
NY Giants 9-7
Dallas 8-8
Philadelphia 6-10

Whoa! This added up evenly the first time I did it! No little adjustments necessary...that adds up to 256-256, yo!


AFC WILD CARD: Pittsburgh over Miami, Jacksonville over Denver
AFC DIVISIONAL: Indianapolis over Jacksonville, New England over Denver
AFC CHAMPIONSHIP: Indianapolis over New England. What the hell.

NFC WILD CARD: Washington over St. Louis, Carolina over Tampa Bay
NFC DIVISIONAL: Carolina over Seattle, Chicago over Washington
NFC CHAMPIONSHIP: Carolina over Chicago

SUPER BOWL XLI: Carolina 27, Indianapolis 20

NOTICE TO ALL READERS: If you plan on ridiculing me come January, you'd damn well better publicly post your predictions by Sunday. Otherwise, you'll be a eunuch critiquing porn star's moves. (Yup. Just metaphorically made myself a porn star. My mother would be so proud.)

Yeah, it's a meme.

Because I'm still short time (gotta study up for the fantasy football draft for the whole first week of school and finish my big article and then periodically work on the baseball site), but I know how desperately my public needs me, I borrow this fairly time-efficient meme from Kaphine:

The One Word Meme

1. Yourself: relaxed
2. Your boyfriend/girlfriend: wifealicious
3. Your hair: boring
4. Your mother: techno-savvy
5. Your Father: reader
6. Your Favorite Item: Twix
7. Your dream last night: vanished
8. Your Favorite drink: Mudslide
9. Your Dream Car: limo
10. The Room You Are In: family
11. Your Ex: ick
12. Your fear: solitude
13. What you want to be in 10 years: daddy
14. Who you hung out with last night: wifealicious
15. What You're Not: short
17. One of Your Wish List Items: jackpot
18. The Last Thing You Did: dine
19. What You Are Wearing: robe
20. Your Favorite Weather: crisp
21. Your Favorite Book: various
22. The Last Thing You Ate: chili
23. Your Life: fun
24. Your Mood: relaxed
25. Your body: slouched
26. What are you thinking about right now: meme
27. Your car: Malibu
28. What are you doing at the moment: blogging
29. Your summer schedule: history

Monday, September 04, 2006

To the trouser manufacturers of America

Dear trouser manufacturers of America,

I am a 35 waist and a 33 inseam. What the hell do you have against me?

The waist I can handle. With three well-placed shoe horns and a deep inhalation, I can get into a 34. If I take a belt and really squeeze the pants together, I can get into a 36 (it'll give me a lovely hourglass shape).

But why the hell do you only offer odd-numbered inseams? You're leaving me a choice between the hems hanging well above my shoes, or else bunching the suckers up around my ankles.

Why? Why do you hate me so? What have I done to you?

Friday, September 01, 2006

Buying my grandmother candy

Last month, I saw my grandmother for the first time in four and a half years. In those years, she has aged from 87 to 92. Also in those four and a half years, she has lost almost every shred of memory she ever had.

Grandma and Grandpa lived in a house in the Colorado mountains for 11 years--basically for my second decade of life. That house is one of my favorite places in the world. Located only 2 hours from my suburban childhood home, my siblings and I would head up there every month or two to hang out with Grandma and Grandpa, walk through the national forest next to their house, eat several hundred of her toll house cookies, and sit in their hot tub at night, ducking from the cold mountain air beneath a billion stars. They were fantastic grandparents, driving up for all of my high school plays and concerts, pinch-hitting for my parents when they'd travel. Then, they'd host us for most holidays. It was a really wonderful situation.

When Grandpa died at the end of my junior year, their mountain house was suddenly too quiet and remote, so she moved back to her native Illinois, and set herself up in a wonderful little retirement community not far from her other son. She held onto her apartment and lived independently for a dozen years. As she made it through her 80s, her mind showed some signs of wear--for instance, I had staunch instructions from my dad to examine the expiration dates on everything I ate, which turned out to be great advice. But things really went downhill about 3 years ago. I last talked to my grandmother then, after my dad's big heart attack. Like the rest of us, she was scared for my dad's life. Now, she doesn't know who my dad is.

Although my big trip last month didn't take me very close to Illinois, I felt I had to drive up there to pay her a visit. My Uncle Ed--her most frequent visitor, and now one of a handful of people in the world she recognizes, if not the only one--drove me out there with my cousin, another of her grandsons. I knew she wouldn't remember me. I wasn't visiting for her, I was visiting for me. I need to understand what her world is now.

For starters, her surroundings are quite good. There were a good number of volunteers in front of a large congregation of wheelchairs, trying to get the residents to play some kind of word game. My uncle remarked that there's been very little turnover in the staff there, which is wonderful and rare in retirement homes.

I was expecting there to be nobody home in that wheelchair...that Grandma was gone. But she's not, and that's what's strange. My uncle introduced my cousin and me as friends of his. "Oh!" she said. "I'm so glad you guys came!" We asked her if she knew why the blinds were pulled down. No answer. We told her it was because it was 100 degrees. She said "I'm so glad you guys came!" My uncle asked her if she knew where she was born. She scrunched up her eyes a little. "Decatur?" she asked. She got it right. We then asked if she'd lived anywhere else. She couldn't remember.

"Streator?" we asked. She spent most of her first 50 years there.
"Oh, yes. We lived in Streator."
"Ottawa?" That was the 1970s.
"Oh, yes, we lived in Ottawa...but I don't know why!"
Much laughter.
"Colorado?" I asked, eager to have her remember some of the best memories from my life, even as she was losing most of hers.
"Oh yes, we lived in Colorado."

I later realized that, to be sure, I should have asked her a "no" question too, to make sure she wasn't just being agreeable. There's a chance that she'd have said "yes" if I asked her "Did you ever live in Timbuktu?"

That's when Uncle Ed surprised her a little. "Well, these friends of mine are your grandchildren. Two of your nine grandchildren! You have two children and nine grandchildren!"

A long pause followed. Grandma processed.

"Well, it sounds like I was better at having grandchildren than at having children!"

A joke! Grandma did have a pretty good sense of humor sometimes. She made the best observation of the Gary Hart affair I ever heard, simply saying "Well, Republicans get all the money, but Democrats get the women."

So her sense of humor was still there, and I was hopeful that she had a memory. Not a memory of me...I knew that was too much...but a memory of the Colorado mountain house we both loved.

"Grandma, I loved visiting you in Colorado. Some of my best childhood memories are there. I loved going up there and eating your toll house cookies."

"Oh! I'm sorry I didn't make any cookies for you. I didn't know you were coming."

That's about when it hit me...Grandma's not gone. She's still Grandma, with the same personality and temperament--the sense of humor, the kindness, the desire to be a great hostess. It's just that her memories are gone.

And that's weird. Can you still be who you are without your memories?

How much of who we are is what we remember? And if we don't remember something, does it happen to us? I mean, it happens, but does it happen to us? If I was guaranteed to have an absolutely wonderful day tomorrow (surrounded by people I love, filled with intellecutal stimulation, a meal of lobster and Fannie May Trinidads, and topped off by fantastic sex), and if it were guaranteed that I would not remember a bit of it later on, what the hell would be the point of bothering with it?

When the time came to say goodbye, I was aware this was likely the last time I'd see Grandma alive. I therefore made sure to put an arm around her (no hug...she doesn't know me now, so that's a little forward) and to tell her I loved her. She said "Thanks so much for coming to see me."

By the time we pulled out of the parking lot, she had surely forgotten I was ever there.

I'm told Grandma really responds to two things these days: chocolate and coffee. (Neither of these is a surprise to anyone who has ever known her). I forgot to bring her the chocolates I said I would, and since I'll likely never see her again, I thought I'd feel sad about that. So I just sent her a package of Fannie May Trinidads--a gift she sent our family many, many times. I sent her a card saying how happy I was to see her.

She'll be reminded she had grandchildren again. She'll forget.
She'll eat the Trinidads and enjoy them. And then she'll forget.

I wish there were some way to feel about this. I'll feel silly about feeling happy to make her happy, and I'll feel callous if I focus on how damn fruitless it is.

But I guess my feelings aren't relevant here. Grandma's still here, even if her 92 years of accumulated memories is gone. For that, I'll send her Trinidads twice a year until she's no longer able to eat them. I want her to be happy in whatever way it's still possible.