Saturday, January 24, 2015

Skunk in Estrus

How I wish that the above title had the qualifier "Saturday Poetry:" in front of it.  But it doesn't, which means that what I am about to tell you has no redeeming literary value, that there are no inherent metaphors, no larger lessons to be learned.

I have a problematic relationship with animals -- those I babysit, those I eat, those I share a homestead with.  On my watch dogs and/or cats have died, gotten pregnant, become incontinent, and showed signs of severe neglect.  I've had fish burn to a crisp in my oven, baby possums walk into my kitchen, and now I am resigned to living atop of a skunk family.

This is not Pepé Le Pew and the missus I'm living with, folks.  These skunks burrowed in last year having realized that they'd found digs underneath my office, a 12' x 16' heated "cabin", not to mention that Mr. Softee next door puts tons of food out for the feral cats and so there you have it -- luxury digs and a 5-star eatery one yard over.  They hit the jackpot these skunks did, and now the female is in heat, the feral cats are getting on her nerves and about every other day, if I'm in my office long enough I hear the hiss-thunk-hiss of an interspecies battle to the death, count to 10 and then wait for that first whiff of mad skunk as it evaporates its way upward.  The office stinks.  I stink and b'leve me when I tell you that the stink sticks.

Cuthbert, lover of all things gun, has been sighting the skunks from our bedroom window which faces the back yard.  Only problem is that he's not certain the scope is set right, and I've told him not to do anything fancy, especially, particularly if I'm in the office, because godknows where the bullet will end up.  Even if he hits the skunks from 20 feet (a nice little trig problem), if he wounds and doesn't kill, well, imagine what the skunks will do.  So, then he decides to move the .22 down to the kitchen, and stand behind the curtains like he's in a skunk blind and wait for the little bastards to head out to Le Kibble, and then shoot them.  But, I suspect they just hauled a SubZero into their burrow and neither Cuthbert nor I have seen them make a noctunral trip lately.  So, that plans on hold.  Them someone else said, er, you should bait some fishline with meat and follow where they take it and then what?, put foam insulation or boiling water in the burrow?  Yeah, that sounds like fun -- as they drown or boil they spray like hell and then decompose underneath my office, and the next thing I know the UN Commission on Genocide is knocking on my door.  So, that plan's a non-starter.  It's time, we realized, to call in some pros.  The conversation will go something like this:

Cuthbert:  We need 2 skunks trapped before Valentine's Day which is when She Skunk starts to breed.

Skunk Trapper:  No problem.

Me:  Oh!  Do you release them in the wild so that they can live happily ever after?

Skunk Trapper:  Whatever you want, ma'am.

Cuthbert and Skunk Trapper exchange the whatevah look men exchange with each other whenever there is the opportunity to kill something.  A contract is signed.  I stipulate that it be done when I'm gone.  And as soon as these tenants are removed I'm putting barbed wire around my office.

Other than that, life's great.  Et toi?

Thursday, December 25, 2014

25 December 2014

So many things going on.  So much on my mind.  And like almost everything else I'm responsible for these days, I lose track of it, i.e., my thoughts, in a matter of minutes.  Oh.  Well.  Merry Christmas to those for whom it still matters.  I've been up since 2:30 this morning, a consequence of a changed schedule (the university is closed through New Year's) and too much contact with other human beings.  This is what happens to introverts when their social quota is exceeded.

Anyway, here's what I find interesting:

1.  It would be a good idea, at least in these United States, to put a moratorium on receiving gifts by the age of 40.  That way, you have (hopefully) a couple of decades and change to give them away and you don't have to rush.  I've owned (and lost) more than I either need or want for a long, long time.  Lately I walk around with a mental Post-It tagging who should get what.  The sentimental items are the hardest.  I don't want my family to be asking each other why I saved one pecan in my mementos box.  (A love story.)  They can understand the Jesse Jackson for President 1988 button, and I expect them to get a good price for it on e-Bay.  But, some of the other stuff, all they'll say before they throw things in the dumpster is:  what was she thinking?  So, to spare my feelings after death and to spare my family work they won't want to do anyway, I often wish that I had fewer things to decide what to do with.  In our family we've gone the quick and dirty route before (see Annals of Marriage, 2009:  Cuthbert Burns Down the House Because He Didn't Want to Clean the Bathrooms).  But, you can't do that too often.  Anyway, file this under First World Problems.

2.  Ray and Janay Price.  I finally get it, after reading about the longer version of the Killa-from-Manila tape.  Those two met when what, they were 15?  They complete each other; two halves who make a whole.

3.  Today is quiet.  Eventually my niece and her mother will come over to exchange gifts and eat.  The grown kids are doing their thing(s).  The brothers, theirs.  We'll all see each other when we see each others.  A few phone calls to friends and family far and wide.  I wonder when time management self-help books are written if anyone thinks to advise one that if you just omit Christmas you probably gain about 24 more hours in the year.  No shopping.  No card writing.  No travelling.  Plus, real life stresses me out enough; I'm old enough (and wise enough) not to add this kind of artificial stress.  I got deracinated of Christmas slowly over the years.  Part of it was estrangement from my parents (so going home was not an unalloyed joy) and much of it was poverty.  Once you decide that you can't keep up with the Jones' -- could barely keep up with myself -- some of us just let go.  If that doesn't work move into an orthodox Jewish neighborhood.  Christmas, what Christmas?

4.  Still enjoying my work enormously.  Complex, diverse, challenging and creative.  This upcoming semester will be a test of whether I can manage it and another math course.  In preparation I made sure I have a very very short haircut so that when my hair starts to fall out from stress alopecia the contrast won't be so severe.  You can't say I don't plan ahead!

5.  Don't mistake the absence of any remarks about Mike Brown or Eric Garner or Tamir Rice for a lack of interest.  (After all, I started this blog because I was incandescently angry about the controversy over the "Ground Zero" mosque.)  But, for now I work on the margins of resistance to violence, and if ever I can say something comprehensive about it, I will.  This I will say:  It's the first sixth of the 21st century and here in the US of A we have to articulate that Black Lives Matter.  For me, and many of those my age, that reveals a stunning loss of ground.

When I first envisioned writing this post, it was a lot more interesting and free-rangy.  But not wanting to make the perfect the enemy of the good, I said to myself, get something out because you never know when you'll be back here.  (This blog is like a seldom visited room in my house.  I scarcely know what's in here.)

Ciao, bella.  See you when I see you.



Sunday, November 2, 2014

I've Been Across the River

It has been almost 6 weeks since I've been here.  Even for me that's a surprising absence.  This time I can't blame it on mathematics -- I'm in school, yes, but taking an educational foundations course, not a come-to-Jesus math course.  So, that's not it.  But what is, is that I am now working for somebody else (part-time) and I haven't figured out the line between impolitic and sometimes profane discourse (this blog) and my job responsibilities.  This will be the first of many attempts in real time to do so.

As I said before, I turned 60 this year.  It's been glorious and I may well celebrate it for the entire 365 days I'll be this age.  Husband, son-in-law and daughter conspired to throw a party in Brooklyn that was Absolutely Fabulous™ what with friends long- and short-term, great food, dancing, my own personal 60 crown with feathers and glittery pipecleaners, and a kick-ass pair of false eyelashes which I'm conspiring to wear again.

I returned to Planet New Haven to resume a life of studying American education, and enjoying a wonderful job that is both a continuation and an extension of some of the public health work I've done here as a citizen-activist.  Both in school and at work I am overwhelmed (in the best sense) by what I'm learning.  I feel myself to be fortunate indeed.

Of course, in times like these, I barely write.  So, once again I'me struggling with the paradox of being stimulated by so much that is new and being energy- and time-delimited from trying to turn it into fiction.  At best, and as far as I'm concerned it's a nourishing best, I will write some for my course, "The Child in the American Culture".  The title seems innocuous, and godknows, American education courses get dinged all the time for being content-lite, but I'm getting a lot out of this one.  The professor is a kooky pro and students, as they will, mistake her kookiness for a tolerance of mediocrity.  But she's sly:  she'll let a student get as much or as little out of the class as they want.  She asked us after a few classes how we wanted to conduct the remainder of the course.  Currently, we have a dense chapter a week to read and then a student has to present on the assigned chapter; and we've been given a few independent research assignments.  She wanted to know what else we wanted to do, and as she polled I kept hearing:  I find the textbook (American Education by Joel Spring) hard to understand so I'd like to discuss it in class ...

Now.  I gotta tell you that 1) even state school tuition's expensive and I am always conscious of paying for this 3 hours, once per week course that starts at 7:30 in the evening and  2) the textbook is hard to get through because in a typical chapter the author can cover decades of  Supreme Court decisions that altered American education, educational theory and contemporary movements in education, and an analysis of the impact of No Child Left Behind on say, bilingual education.  In all fairness to the other students, a majority of whom are in their early to mid-20's, the book's not easy and the hour is late.  But, goddamn.  The people in this room are, for better or worse, going to shape generations of American minds, and if there's one thing I know about learning it is if you can't demonstrate that you've learned something, you can't teach it.

So, when she rolled around to me, I was bloody, but I was quick.  I simply said that I was about 25 - 30 years older than most of the other students in this class and frankly, I don't know how much value I'll get out of classroom discussion (although I did say that I could be surprised), and that some of what Spring writes about I've lived, that many of the Court's decisions I read as contemporaneous accounts, I've raised kids, I'm a writer and I'm used to writing and so, in addition to in-class discussion, I vote for having to do a research paper.  Or, as I put it to friends:  Oh hell no I'm not paying to show up for 3 hours at night to hear some 20 year old talk about their feelings (largely because they're so incurious and ahistorical that although they are probably going to teach in public school they've never heard about Brown v. Topeka Board of Education, or Dred Scott, or how Loudon County Virginia closed it's public schools for years as opposed to desegregate, or the genesis of charter schools and magnet schools in Connecticut).

And so the course is a hybrid of class discussion as before, and a research paper where the first draft is to be shared with a partner to critique (a suggestion of yours truly) before the final version is written.  People, a little rigor here, please?

One friend said to me that the others will appreciate what I did later.  Don't know; don't care.  This is the minimum I demand of myself.

Tomorrow I leave for New Orleans (pronounced Nawlins) for a national meeting.  I haven't been there in 35 years since I graduated from college.  Loathed the place back then -- much of what I learned about the enduring trauma of racial oppression I learned in Louisiana -- and will probably see very little of it this time what with being consumed by presentations and meetings.  Didn't gloat when Katrina happened, it made a profoundly unjust culture exponentially worse, but am not sentimental about the place or its cultural roots or its food.  But, as in the case of my 20 something classmates, I may be surprised.  One can hope.

So, until the next intermittent dispatch, au revoir.