Dawn Reader

Dawn Reader
from Open Door Coffee Co.; Hudson, OH; Oct. 26, 2016

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Lottery ... Schmottery ...

Yesterday, I went to the local Acme store to mail a letter to my mom (yes, snail-mail).  But I had to wait in line for about fifteen minutes to buy a freaking stamp because--can you guess?--throngs of people had arrived to throng near the counter to buy lottery tickets.  I'd forgotten that it was Mega-Millions day and that the jackpot--A FRONT-PAGE STORY IN THE AKRON BEACON-JOURNAL--had reached some obscene amount, enough perhaps to dulcify Scrooge without any spectral visits or to fund a few months of a run for the presidency.

I haven't bought lottery tickets in years--not since the Ohio Lottery commenced with 50-cent tickets.  I never won a dime but lost lots of dollars.  In the days when I couldn't afford to do so ... still can't ... so I don't.  I have lots of friends who play all the time and one, I fear, who's an addict and has lost a small fortune over the years.

In the Beacon story yesterday, there were interviews with all sorts of folks talking about what they'd do if they won.  There was no mention, in the coverage I skimmed, of the odds.  I looked it up today: about 1 in 176,000,000. That ain't good.  In fact, the odds aren't all that good in any line at the counter--1 in 20 or so?  The only lottery I ever won was in the school where I was teaching, a raffle among the faculty for a turkey at Thanksgiving.  I won it during a most impecunious period when I was wondering how we were going to buy a bird for the holiday.

Now, I know better than to rail against other people's vices.  It's pointless.  Our own vices are not vices.  Everyone knows that.  Our own vices are habits.  Or hobbies.  Or entertainment.  Just for fun.. No harm, no foul.  Other people's vices--they're pretty bad.  Destructive.  Demeaning.  Pointless.  Corrosive.  All those cool words we use for others.

But I can't help thinking about 1 in 176,000,000.  So I think of an image.  Let's say you rounded up 176,000,000 dodo birds (I know: they're extinct ... just saying).  And let's say that you lined them up on I-80, from New York to San Francisco--and you gave each one of them a foot of space to stand there.  And let's say that you gave every one of those 176,000,000 dodos a name--no two names the same.

How far would the line of dodos go?

Well, 176,000,000 feet divided by 5,280 will give us the number of miles.  Let's do the math.  33,333.33 miles.  Oops.  That's a bit farther than the 2900 or so miles between the two coastal cities.  More than ten times farther.  In fact, the circumference of the earth at the equator is a bit under 25,000 miles.  So our dodo line, at the equator, would circle the globe--and then some.

But let's stick to I-80.  We want to use a car for this activity.

So we'll line our dodos up, 10 or so deep, along the entire interstate--New York to San Francisco.  And remember--every dodo has an individual name.

Then we'll drive along that road, potentially all 2900 miles, looking at all the dodos.  176,000,000 of them.

And let's say that one of those dodos is named  Fred.  Just one, remember.

Fred is standing somewhere out in Nebraska, the fifth dodo back in his line of 10.

Your chance of winning the Mega-Millions is the same as if you left from New York City, passing stacks of dodos, 10 deep every foot of the way, stopping the car in Nebraska, walking back through a stack.  Picking out Fred.

Well, yesterday, when I finally got to the counter at Acme to buy my stamps, I joked with the clerk: "Lotto fever, eh?  I'd forgotten." 

"Want a ticket?" she asked.

"Buying a ticket is the same as making a bonfire of dollar bills out in the parking lot," I said.

She looked as if I'd slapped her.  So I laughed, smiled, groveled, simpered.

But did not buy a ticket.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Let's Get More Elitists in the Classroom

This morning, I began reading (for a review) a book about the American presidents--and at one point the author made an obvious point (but one still in need of much repetition) about the Founding Fathers: It is "well to remember, he writes, "that there were few more elitist gatherings than the two groups who met in Philadelphia in 1776 and again in 1787."

These men were among the best-educated people in the Colonies--and they valued education so much, of course, that they kept it entirely to themselves.  No women, slaves, Indians, poor, etc.  But that's another story ...

Flowing along with the river of American history is an undercurrent of resentment.  We don't often gleefully celebrate those who are better educated than we--though we have no problem, it seems, filling ballparks to cheer those with greater athletic gifts.  (But that's another story ...)  Every now and then in our history this resentment abandons its "undercurrency" and floods to the surface.  Some no doubt remember Richard Hofstadter's Anti-Intellectualism in American Life?  That book did not appear last week; it was 1963.  It won the Pulitzer Prize for Non-Fiction in 1964.

Hofstadter traced the impulse historically--and saw evidence everywhere of its lingering effects and influence.  His most damning chapters are about schools.  He attacked what he called "the mediocrity of the teaching profession" and added this blast at the career I've loved: "In so far as the teacher stands before his pupils as a surrogate of the intellectual life and its rewards, he unwittingly makes this life appear altogether unattractive" (312).  And he goes on.  And on and on.

Today, of course, the impulse is once again surging.  Political candidates hide their academic credentials--even apologize for them.  (Newt Gingrich was a professor for a while--but was denied tenure.)  President Obama can not stand up before an audience and talk fondly of his days at Harvard Law.  It would be an act akin to suicide.

Sometimes the source of anti-intellectual sentiment is surprising.  Novelist (and winner of the National Book Award for Fiction) John O'Hara (From the Terrace, Butterfield 8, etc.) never attended college and carried in his psychological backpack a heavy load of inferiority--and resentment--as a result.  In a 1961 interview he told a reporter who'd asked him about the literary awards he had not won (the Pulitzer, the Nobel): "I've never been a pet of the intellectuals, the eggheads" (An Artist Is His Own Fault, 211).  He said much the same often in interviews--and was even more bitter in his letters.

The solution to all of this is not easy.  We are currently a virulently anti-intellectual society.  We celebrate actors, musicians, athletes, stars of "reality" shows--but we often disdain and disparage those who studied deep into the night to become scientists, mathematicians, historians, and so on.  We attack teachers, as if they were the cause of the corrosive culture we've created.  We're now a people who equate education with a test score, who see all education as worthless if it is not directly vocational.  (Liberal arts colleges struggle to survive in such a world--but that's another story.)

I know this.  We need the fill our classrooms with curious teachers who know things and who never want to stop learning.  I remember reading, years ago, in what I think was Summerhill that the students of that very experimental school were interested only in visitors who knew things--not in people who came to talk about educational theories.  Those kids--all kids, I would say--want to learn about the bugs in the bushes, the objects in the sky, the things we can see, the things we can't, the words on the page, the ideas behind the words ...  I saw this for decades in the schools where I studied, the schools where I taught.  My favorite teachers--the best teachers--were invariably the ones who knew the most.  The nerds.  The perpetual, unapologetic nerds.

I don't know what we can do to reverse or diminish this ugly anti-intellectual current.  Sure, some educated people are snobs.  Arrogant.  Elitist.  But in my experience, most--by far--are not.  They are among the most interesting people I've ever known.

We need to grow more nerds in school, encourage more nerds to become teachers, pay nerds better to enter the profession, get out of their way and let them be fabulously nerdy in every classroom in the country.  Maybe then we'll become what we ought to be--a society that prizes its intellectuals as much--or more--than its other accomplished folks.  If we fail to do so (as we are failing now, and grievously so), we are in a most desperate place.

But that's another story ...

Thursday, March 29, 2012

"Who's the leader of the club ... ?"

A couple of word-of-the-day words lately have reminded me of The Mickey Mouse Club (1955-1959), a half-hour show I watched every afternoon in my boyhood in Enid, Oklahoma (I was 10 when it debuted).  I especially loved the serial "Spin and Marty" about a dude ranch for kids; Spin (played by Tim Considine) was the experienced rough-n-ready kid; Marty (David Stollery), a spoiled rich kid who just didn't "get it."  (Surprise: later, he "gets it.")  Class warfare on the prairie--what could be more exciting?

Okay, but what--whom--I really loved was Mouseketeer Doreen.  I really liked Annette and Darlene better--but I knew I had no chance with them: They were too gorgeous for the likes of me.  (I did tell my gullible fourth-grade buddies that I was Annette's pen pal, a patent lie they either believed with a sweet pre-adolescent innocence--and called for no evidence whatsoever--or disbelieved with such profound certainty that they did not even bother to challenge or scoff--as if I'd claimed kinship with Zorro or Davy Crockett.  They reacted the same way when I told them I was related to Daniel Boone--you know, the "Daniel" part.

Doreen, you see, is cute.  Looks like an Oklahoma girl, actually.  Someone who would see in me a soul-mate.

Or so I thought--no, believed--in 1955.

The one thing I did not like about The Mickey Mouse Club was the adult on the show--Jimmie Dodd.  (No one I ever knew spelled "Jimmy" like that--and "Dodd" rhymes with odd, which is weird.)  He would always pop up just as I was getting some good looks at Doreen, and at the end of the show each night he would come out and sing and talk seriously with the Mouseketeers (and us) about Life.

During one of those treacly talks I remember he coined a word for us--a word, a virtue, something we all should possess and display: stick-to-it-tivity.  Don't quit stuff, you know--stick it out.  I found that advice, later on, of no value whatsoever.  I quit basketball in college (I sucked); I quit playing piano (ditto); I quit trying hard in upper-level math (ditto).  It's very human, you know, quitting when you suck. Focusing on activities in which you have no suckery.  It's also called wisdom.  It's probably why we survived.  If our prehistoric ancestors had employed stick-to-it-tivity with things they sucked at, we'd actually be living The Planet of the Apes right now.

Anyway, in recent weeks a couple of words popped up on my computer, courtesy of the various word-a-day sites I subscribe to.  One was on 13 March--from the Oxford English Dictionary--bouncebackability.  The venerable scholars at the OED traced that one back to a 1961 sports article--about the Cleveland Indians!

The other, from Wordsmith, was preantepenultimate--which means fourth from the last.  If you finish in that spot, you probably suck, and ought to quit, Jimmie or no Jimmie ...

Wednesday, March 28, 2012


Last night I finished--via Kindle--the first of the Hunger Games books.  I'd not really ever intended to read it--but I finally succumbed to all the hype, to the massive lines I saw at the movie theaters last weekend, to the desire, I guess, not to be culturally illiterate.  (The same impulse sent me to Harry Potter and Twilight and The Da Vinci Code; I think I might have been the last person on earth to read the Dan Brown blockbuster.)

So what do I think?

Well, lots of things.  First of all, everyone knows that there's a very tiny correlation between what's popular and what's valuable, right?  (Exhibit F: Jersey Shore.)  I don't know that too many people out there would argue that THG is great literature--just great entertainment probably.  Many of the posts I've read about it are about its high can't-put-it-downability factor.  I've read snack-food analogies.  (A book--a series of books--can definitely be a bag-of-Mini-Snickers experience.  I know: I read series mysteries with a druggy's frenzy.)

Second, I sort of admire what Collins has done to attract both genders: a young girl for a hero (one who pauses now and then in her homicide/self-defense to talk about her hair and complexion--and boys) yet lots of gore for that other gender, too.  She also has an Evil identified--"the guv'ment," of course (a bogeyman in recent decades).  And she has other gamers who are big and stupid and cruel (and so, of course, deserve to die, right?).  And she mixes into her pasta of anti-war sentiment (sending our young to kill one another!) some red sauce, very spicy at times. Young people explode, die with broken necks--a spear into the body of a little girl!  (Let's pause for a page to cry, then get over it and go for revenge!)  Some dawning sexuality, too, never hurts--chaste, though, ever chaste (so far).

She also gives us a first-person narrator, a device, since Poe perfected it, that draws readers in immediately.  And she uses the present tense, too, to keep us in a bit of suspense about our hero's survival.  (Not really ... but I'm sure that was the intent.) 

Collins also scores well with readability.  I measured the first two paragraphs--I got (depending on which instrument I used)--scores ranging from third through sixth-grade reading level.  The last three paragraphs--from third through eighth.  So ... lots of people can read the book. Smart move.   I would estimate that the overall level is probably about fifth grade, especially in the middle sections where things are moving quickly.

And like many narratives aimed at a YA market (TV shows, movies), it features adults who are, for the most part, corrupt, incompetent, cruel, ineffectual, burned out, whatever.  The Cosby Show this ain't.  It's not a good time to be an adult in the YA world (Karate Kid notwithstanding).

And of course, it's also derivative--Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery" and Richard Connell's "The Most Dangerous Game" (stories that were in about every high school literature anthology for decades) come quickly to mind, and do all sorts of other people-doing-harm-to-other-people-for-entertainment films and stories.

It's difficult to assail something popular--especially in this time when charges of "elitist" land hard upon the head of anyone who dares admit to having read a classic novel, gone to an opera or Shakespeare play, understood a scientific issue, watched a film with subtitles (and not needed them).  There's a man in the coffee shop where I go in the morning who gives me a hard time now and then about all the reading I do.  (He considers his ugly ideas "humorous," of course.)  I know, certainly, that some do not wear their learning lightly; they do act as if they are "better" than others who have not had their education, their advantages.  But I really think there are far fewer such folks than some think.  And I'm all for making "educated," once again, a term of praise rather than opprobrium.  But that's another blog topic ...

For now?  I'll cop out.  I still think, pretty much, that reading something is better than nothing.  I still think that reading-for-fun is highly valuable (I do it, so it must be valuable!)  And I still think that there is a continuum of entertainment that runs from, oh, The Ultimate Fighter to Finnegan's Wake.  And we should recognize that there are types of entertainment--physical (we jog, workout, walk, play tennis), purely emotional (movies we know will make us cry--or laugh--or scream--or all of the above), intellectual (learning new ideas, challenging ourselves to read or do something that's not easy--but valuable).  And there are other sorts, too.

Most of us do not dwell at either end of that entertainment continuum all the time (though we may go for a visit).  We all know where Moby-Dick lies on that continuum--and Jackass III.  And Hunger Games?   I bet you know where it fits, along that line, somewhere.  And Suzanne Collins knows perfectly well, too.  It is what it is; it ain't what it ain't.

Now, where did I put that bag of Mini Snickers?

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Dyer's Deportment Department

I yell at people when I drive--or counsel them, if you prefer.  I'm sure all of us bellow at the beefhead who cuts us off or executes some other mindless maneuver that prompts us to cry out (from the safety of our enclosed car)--The FUCK are you DOING?!?

I was once riding with my uncle, a seminary professor, and we arrived at a four-way stop.  Another car arrived about the same time, perhaps a wisp of a moment before us, perhaps not.  My uncle started out into the intersection; the other car did too, then stopped when he saw my intrepid uncle was not going to, and the other driver presented us with his rather large middle finger and cried out some silent words, one of which, I was pretty sure, started with F and the other sort of rhymed with grassy knoll.

I  snorted (an adolescent, I was not good at not snorting), and my uncle asked, What did that man do just now?

I (uncertain how to describe this to my seminarian uncle): He, uh, gave us some sign language.

Well, said my uncle in all his professorial pomp (which he could muster when he needed to), maybe I'll show HIM some sign language!  I wasn't sure what that meant and decided not to ask.

So ... we all bark at other stupid drivers who do stupid stuff that brilliant drivers like you and me would never do.

But it's not that ordinary sort of stuff I want to write about.  It's the things I see pedestrians do that make me growl and howl as well.  And it's not always the common stupidities--like walking across the street with your freaking cell up against your ear, ignoring the torrents of traffic swirling and splashing around you.

No, it's often more matters of ... style ... that annoy me, that elicit the kind of bark that alarms my wife, Joyce, and makes her wonder about that decision she made about me years ago.

For example, you power-walkers.  I know: It's good cardio.  But, please, some of you look as if you're hurrying to the bathroom, about to burst.  And when there's more than one of you doing it, well, that's just weird, all that simultaneous bladder trauma.

And you guys on bikes?  You might want to check a full-length mirror before you head out into public in all that spandex.  If Bob Evans saw some of you, he'd send a sausage truck after you.  (I, of course, look noble on my wheeled steed--noble, yes, even sexy, to be honest.)

I could go on.  And do, all the time.  The other day, riding along with Joyce, having just delivered a comment on a cyclist we'd just passed--a text to rival in length and gravity a papal encyclical--I declared that I was going to open a little lemonade-like stand on a street corner, call it "Dyer's Deportment Department," and make all pedestrians and cyclists stop to get some lessons, before proceeding, on dress and demeanor.

I think it would be popular.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Dick Cheney's Heart

Business Week had a piece online today that dealt with the issue--Who gets hearts for transplants?  Is Cheney too old (at 71)?  Here's the quotation ... (in red: you know--blood and all?).

Medical advances have made it increasingly common for older Americans such as Dick Cheney to receive heart transplants, extending their lives. The trend may make it more difficult for younger patients as aging Baby Boomers compete for available organs, top cardiologists say.

All political questions aside (like easy comments about Cheney's lack of heart--or musings about what his co-pay was for the surgery--and what his health-care coverage is like--and whether he was "in-network" or not), I'd like to think a bit about this whole notion of end-of-life decisions--and who makes them.

A few years ago, Christopher Buckley wrote a satirical novel (Boomsday) about a plan to grant incentives for baby boomers to off themselves (all for the public welfare, of course--i.e., the welfare of younger folks).  I met Buckley after a talk he did in Cleveland in November 2009 (he was signing some books for me!) and later I wrote to him about an earlier novel, Anthony Trollope's The Fixed Period, that had a similar idea.  (He didn't reply.)

Trollope's novel--which I read in 2006--was published in 1882 and was one of the last books he lived to see published (he died in December that same year).  It's a novel unlike a lot of his other works--fanciful and futuristic and dark.  In it, a group of idealistic colonists decide to populate an island where they will live in harmony.  Until age 67 (my age now! the "fixed period" of life).  At which time, the person would go into a facility (a pleasant one) and at some point ... gently ... be dispatched.  The people were New Zealanders who relocated to the island of "Britannula."

Well, everything goes along just great--while everyone is young.  But as the first folks begin to reach the termination of the fixed period, well, they had trouble my friends, right there in River City ...

All of this, of course, deals with a significant public moral issue that we'd rather not talk about too much: how much, medically, do we do for older folks?  How much should we do?  And what is "older," anyhow?  A certain age?  A "fixed period"?  We've all known people who were "old" at 50, "young" at 90.

So far we've been unable to come up with much but nonsense about "death panels" and cautious comments from politicians, who know that older people are not only old; they love to vote.

Perhaps Cheney's transplant will nudge the issue forward ... perhaps not.

But I'll leave you with an image: my 92-year-old mother, unable to stir easily from her chair, reading a new novel, thinking about it, talking about it ... laughing and crying and transported by words.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Time I Saw Gloria Steinem (and Robert B. Parker)

Writer's Almanac tells us that today is the birthday of feminist icon Gloria Steinem.  I once took some middle school kids to see her at Booksellers in Cleveland ... here's a couple of brief excerpts from my Kindle book Turning Pages: A Memoir of Books and Libraries and Loss ...  The first deals with taking kids to see mystery writer Robert B. Parker (the Spenser series and others); the second, with Steinem ...

In the mid-1990s I drove a group of my eighth-graders up to a local book store for a Parker signing.  I was excited.  I’d read every new Spenser novel at the moment of publication—and even owned some of his early non-Spensers (like Three Weeks in Spring, co-written with his wife, Joan).  I’d met Parker at another signing, some years earlier, but the store had been so crowded that I’d barely been able to say “Hello.”  (In those days—the first time I met him—he was still signing Robert B. Parker; later, he scrawled just a plain RBP.)  I’d told my students about Parker’s novels and about Spenser, the private eye, and was surprised that they did not remember the mid-eighties’ TV show Spenser: For Hire.  I told my students to meet me at school early that evening so we would beat the crowd.  But a kid or two were late, so we arrived about fifteen minutes after the scheduled start.  I was dreading he equator-length line we’d face.
But no one was in the store.  No one but Robert B. Parker, who was wandering around in the stacks looking at books.  My students and I talked with him for nearly a half-hour before anyone else showed up.  On the way home, no one was so unwise as to ask me why I thought a crowd would be there.


I once took some eighth graders to Cleveland to see Steinem when she was touring with her latest, Moving Beyond Words (1994).  There was an enormous crowd, one that would have given Robert B. Parker a deep dose of line-envy.  During the question-and-answer period, one woman held up her toddler and asked, What can you tell my daughter about the life she has ahead of her?  Steinem instantly replied: It’s going to be fan-fucking-tastic.  My students yelped with pleasure; their teacher blushed; the crowd erupted with applause and laughter.

And yes, oh yes, oh yes--I got their autographs!

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Vets Leave, Rookies Suffer, Part IIIb

On field trips, teachers smoked on the school buses.  Think of it ...

When the Aurora Middle School was born in the 1965-1966 school year (the year before I started), the principal, Ray Clough (kluff), wanted to establish overnight school trips as a part of the curriculum. And so the sixth graders went camping; the seventh graders on a two-day tour around Ohio; the eighth graders, three days (or was it four?) to Washington DC.

On my first Ohio Trip (spring, 1967), we zoomed around Ohio--Schoenbrun Village, Zoar Village, Dover (to the Warther Museum--the old master wood carver was still alive then; he died in 1973), Columbus, Lima (where, in a private museum, we saw an albino crow), Toledo (the glass museum).  We stayed somewhere down in southwestern Ohio, an old-fashioned motel with upstairs rooms opening onto a continuous balcony that overlooked the swimming pool.  Late that night--very late--some gentlemen who'd been enjoying some late-night liquid returned to their rooms--loud, obnoxious, singing ribald songs--that sort of thing.  It went on and on and on.  Everyone was awake.  Management finally calmed them down.

Our trip organizer, Mrs. Judy Thornton, plotted her revenge.  The next morning, we were up early (got to get going!), and we all--the entire seventh grade + chaperones--paraded, single file, by the men's door, the kids singing is high pre-adolescent soprano (and glee!), "We're from Aurora, mighty mighty Aurora ..." and pounding on their door.

They did not emerge.



Jim Wright was in charge of the Washington Trip, organizing it as if it were a Marine landing on a South Pacific island.  He carefully drew up blanks to use for the bus lists--and we were using them long after his suicide.

The trip in those days was not just Washington.  We went, as well, to Mt. Vernon, Monticello, Gettysburg.  On the steps of the Capitol we met our congressman, William Stanton, who always posed for the picture.

Jim cared about the trip as if it were one of his children.  He owned it.  (And didn't like to hear too many suggestions, either.)  The kids knew where they were going--and why--and what minute they would arrive at, and depart from. each site.  And one of the first stops in the city was always the Marine Corps War Memorial, which we saw not by the dawn's early light but illuminated at night.

We also saw the usual places you can imagine + the FBI building, the Islamic Center, the National Cathedral ...

And, yes, the teachers smoked on the chartered buses.  Jim was a smoker--so were many of the rest of us.  No one thought about second-hand smoke.  I remember being concerned only about the example we were setting ...

Jim also made sure he packed a bottle in his suitcase--yes, that kind of bottle--and after the chaperones had made sure all the kids were down (shows how little we knew!), they (okay, we) went to Jim's room for a little, uh, refreshment.

So much of this, again, is unthinkable today.  Smoking, of course, is banned about everywhere ... but our culture was still pretty Mad Men in the mid-1960s.  Public places everywhere were heavy with smoke.  And alcohol on a school trip?  A capital crime.  As it should be.  That tradition, I know, stopped with Jim's death in 1977.  And I was relieved ...

Friday, March 23, 2012

Vets Leave, Rookies Suffer, Part IIIa

A few more thoughts and stories before I leave--for now--these visits to the dawn of my career.  First, another excerpt from Schoolboy, another moment from the fall of 1966 when the Aurora (Ohio) Middle School found itself with a minor crisis on its hands ... and what those amazing teachers decided to do about it.  At the moment, we were sharing our building with the high school, whose students would not move into their new facility until about six weeks after the opening of the school year.  The high school had the building in the morning; we, in the afternoon ...

September 1966.  Aurora Middle School.  Aurora, Ohio.     

At one of our first faculty meetings of the year, our principal, Mr. Clough (I never, ever, called him Ray, always Mr. Clough), surprises us with this announcement.  There’s a problem with the buses.  (I will learn in the ensuing years that bus-schedule problems are endemic to schools.)  When the high school moves out, Mr. Clough continues, we’re going to have to keep our kids thirty minutes beyond the end of the regular school day.  There is perfect quiet now in the room.  I’d rather not just try to supervise them during that time, he says.  Or have study halls.  I think we should get together and plan some activities for them.

Now here is the real surprise.  Just about all of us (and maybe, indeed, every single one of us) think Mr. Clough’s idea is a great one.  Most of us are young—still in our early twenties.  A handful of us are beginning our first jobs.  We have no idea that this proposal is an outrageous one.  We’re already teaching five to six periods a day.  Forty kids per class.  Supervising lunch periods.  Supervising kids as they arrive and depart.  And now we have another thirty-minute period to plan and teach?  For no extra money?

But no one—not a single person—objects or complains or suggests a salary adjustment.  Instead, we are eagerly writing down our ideas for Mr. Clough, who has passed around some slips of paper for that purpose.  I am writing newspaper and drama and student council.

We call this extended time from 3:00–3:30 “Activity Period.”  Some activities meet only once a week, some two or three times.  But all of us are doing something: leather craft, reading, tutoring, debating, photography, newspaper, science, cooking, knitting, fencing (yes, with foils), riflery (yes, with .22 rifles donated by parents), chess, science club, woodworking, drawing.  The kids sign up; we lead the activities; and for many of us, students and teachers, Activity Period will be the most fun we have all day. 

That year, the Drama Club and I wrote a comedy called The Founding of Aurora; or, The Grapes of Wrath.  Patently similar in style to my old collegiate Follies-Alamo script, it tells a satirical story about how our community was founded.  In the spring of 1967 my students and I produced the play for the school and for the parents.

One of the seventh-grade students who wrote that script with me, John Mlinek, has become a life-long friend.  Now well into his fifties, John has been involved with local and educational and professional theater groups his entire adult life.  The Founding of Aurora was his first performance.  A couple of years ago, John found his copy of the script, duplicated it, and brought it over to our house during Christmas break.  He, his wife, Joyce, and I read it aloud, taking parts.  As we sat there, we could not imagine what we could have thought was so funny back in 1966–1967.


My friend Jim Wright--whom I wrote about yesterday, the ex-Marine--supervised the Rifle Club.  Kids brought in .22 rifles (he stored them in the faculty lounge!), and after classes ended, he took the kids down to the lowest level in the building, by the gymnasium.  There was a crawlspace below the floor there (for some kind of maintenance access?), and he and some kids would, well, crawl down in there, set up their targets, and fire away ...  Jim taught them firearm safety, proper (Marine!) technique, the gravity and responsibility of holding a deadly weapon in your hands.

Jim Wright with Rifle Club, 1966 Yearbook, Aurora Middle School
I'm trying to imagine this today.  But can't.  It's far beyond unthinkable in most (all?) public schools today ... though Western Reserve Academy and any number of other schools field riflery teams ...

TOMORROW: one final entry about Jim Wright: his creation of--and devotion to--the 8th Grade Washington Trip--still occurring, I think, with Aurora 8th graders ...

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Vets Leave, Rookies Suffer, Part III

I've written about two veteran middle school teachers who were so important to me at the dawn of my career in 1966--reading teacher Willetta Thomas, science teacher Eileen Kutinsky.  The third--Jim Wright--was very unlike the others in many ways.  But also like them at the core.  (In the 1966 yearbook photo, Jim is the last on the page.)
This is a little excerpt from my memoir Schoolboy, which I'm going to be uploading in the next few days to Amazon/Kindle.  It's an account of the day I realized how the kids felt about Jim; it was the first "official" day of my career, the first day the kids came to school in the fall of 1966.  Before classes begin, the kids, grades 5-8, gathered in the gym for an assembly ...

In the picture below, I am the last on the page ...

With some of my new colleagues I stand in line along one wall.  I know that in just a few minutes I will be heading toward my classroom where I will somehow have to begin my career.  I am very afraid.  I glance into the packed bleachers where the students are arrayed by grade.  There are so many—nearly 550.  Some of them seem bigger and older than I.  And tougher.  One monstrous boy who looks thirty is staring at me with the intensity of a jungle cat.  He already knows he can take me.  I know it too.

Mr. Clough [the principal] is now introducing the faculty.  He calls names; people step forward and wave.  He begins with the fifth grade teachers, moves on the upper grades.  Many of us are new.

Whenever Mr. Clough reads the name of a veteran teacher, there is a reaction among the older students—generally applause, especially for two women, Willetta Thomas (Reading) and Eileen Kutinsky (Sixth Grade Science).  Later, I will learn why: These are two of the best teachers in the world.

But when he announces my name, and when I step forward and wave, there is silence, broken only by a few snickers, some muttering, some sporadic clapping from the grade-grubbers already launching their campaigns.  I step back, feel the ignition of a blush.

Mr. Clough continues: Teaching eighth grade math … Mr. James Wright.

The eighth-grade class explodes.  Many leap to their feet.  They stomp and pound and clap and cheer and whistle and scream and make every sound of approbation and affection available to human beings.  James—Jim—Wright steps out, waves, his lips creased only by a thin line of a smile.  He is blushing, too, but for a much different reason.  The demonstration goes on and on until Mr. Clough has to use the microphone to ask for quiet.  It still takes a while.

Jim Wright.  I look at him.  He is a lean, erect fortyish man, about 5′ 7″or so.  His flat-top haircut is going grey.  He wears a white short-sleeved dress shirt and a tie, grey slacks.  He looks firm, friendly, confident.

How did he earn that? I wonder.  Why do they feel that way about him?

I look at Jim and Willetta and Eileen and a few others whom the students have greeted so warmly.  And I know right then, my first minutes of my first day: I want to be like them.


As the years go on, I learn a lot about Jim.  He was an ex-Marine (he always made a big deal of November 10, the Marine Corps birthday); he loved to camp and fish and hunt--and was always absent the first day of deer season.  He was extraordinarily generous with me.  When Joyce and I moved from our first apartment to our first (rented) house in Kent, he was there, helping us move, hooking up appliances.  Being a friend.

I learned from Jim that if you're demanding with students, they will still like you--they might even love you.  I remember observing his math classes now and then.  They were on task, focused.  But he would often stop to laugh, to tell a story, to connect.

Once he got in trouble.  He had a boy at the blackboard, doing problems, and the kid just wasn't getting it.  Jim grabbed the kid from behind the head (these were the days when teachers touched kids--all the time) and, playfully, said Just look at it!  Somehow, the kid wasn't putting up any resistance and his forehead smacked into the blackboard.  A red knot appeared.  His parents weren't pleased.

Later--at our Christmas gift exchange--someone gave him a rectangular piece of sponge rubber, stained black with some math problems on it--a cushioned blackboard, especially for math class.

After a few years, Jim moved into administration, became the assistant principal.  The kids still loved him, though I always thought he lost that intimacy with them that the classroom provides.  It just wasn't the same.

His family life was falling apart, too.  A divorce.  A new relationship.  And then that one fell apart, too.

One night in mid-February 1977, Jim called, came over to visit.  He was in Kent seeing Dr. Gordon Vars; Jim was about to begin a Ph.D. program and wanted to talk with me about it.  He'd already visited with Dr. Vars that night.  I knew Jim was desperately unhappy about the relationship that had just collapsed; we talked a little about it.  I tried to encourage him.  I showed him all the research I'd done in my own doctoral work--my piles of dissertation note cards and so on.  I was horribly unaware of Jim's despair, was focused entirely on my own work.  I was blind.

That night he went home and took his own life.
He'd been planning it.  There were notes, checks to be cashed.  He'd thought of everything.
The news silenced the school.  We had a memorial assembly for him at the end of the day.  I threw some remarks together, at the principal's request.  I said what I really felt--Mr. Wright believed in us so deeply that it was easier for us to believe in ourselves.
I think about him still.  All the time.  He was a master teacher.  A committed administrator.  A devoted friend.  How I wish that we--all of us: friends, colleagues, students--could have seen his heart more clearly, perhaps saved his dear life.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Vets Leave, Rookies Suffer, Part IIa

A quick Mrs. K. story before moving on ...

Eileen Kutinsky, the magnificent middle school science teacher whom I wrote about yesterday, did have a monkey in her room for a while.  In an old school newspaper (I'm a pack rat) from December 20, 1968, is a little story about the critter, Oscar, who was a "gift" from a student's family.  (I picture the moment: MOM: Get that damn thing out of this house right now!  KID: Where will he go?  MOM: Mrs. K!  She'll take anything!)

Oscar liked dog food, we learn in the paper, not bananas.  (I prefer quite the opposite.)  The waggish student writer noted that Oscar liked The Monkees, too, and believed TV was "stupid and only for people."

Well, one day after school ...  I was in Eileen's room, talking.  And in came another colleague, a man who'd become very bitter because he believed he should have been named assistant principal that year--but was passed over.  The rest of us tried never to mention it because it usually occasioned a nasty explosion that went on for a while.  His face got red as a monkey's rear, you know?

Anyway, that day he went over to Oscar's cage, opened it, removed Oscar, cradling him like a child in his arms.  And the "child" promptly defecated all over our colleague's white shirt.

"That's been happening to you all year, hasn't it?" I said before thinking (I'm good at that).

Detonating another spectacular fiery outburst ...

By the way--that same student newspaper noted that "Oscar" was only a temporary name.  The paper was holding a contest.  With rules.  Rule #2 (no kidding): "You can NOT name it after a teacher."  (Sparing me some embarrassment.)

And tricky Mrs. K was also requiring that the winning name have a "k" somewhere in it ...

PART III in this brief series--tomorrow ...

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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Vets Leave, Rookies Suffer, Part II

Another word about my wonderful colleague Willetta Thomas, before I move on.  My first paycheck (we were paid in the 1st and the 15th), after taxes, etc., was $168.42 (annual gross salary: $5100 in 1966-67).  That didn't go too far.  My rent was $75 + utilities; my car payment (a used 1965 blue Karmann Ghia; it did 0 to 60 in about a week), about $60.  I didn't eat too well, to say the least.

Anyway, one day in that first year, I was up in the teachers' lounge talking with Willetta at the table.  It was payday.  Her check was on the table (no direct deposit in those days).  I peeked.  It was something like $325.  I was dazzled.  Could I even spend that vast sum in two weeks?  Oh, to be that rich!


The second great inspiration of my early career--and far beyond--was sixth grade science teacher Eileen Kutinsky (still my FB buddy!).  "Mrs. K," as everyone, kids and colleagues alike, called her.  (You can see her in the 1966 picture: second row, far right.)  I would come to call her "the best teacher in the world," though, to be fair, it was probably a tie between her and her sister, Vivian LoPresti, who taught kindergarten in the district.  When I was in grad school, I shadowed Vivian for a week, and by the time it was over I was simultaneously inspired (oh, was she wonderful!) and depressed (I will never be anywhere near that good!).

Eileen brought to her class, every day, a creative energy, a fierce love of her profession and of kids, and a wacky sense of humor.  I've often said that kids could learn more just sitting in her room and looking around than they could in most other classes.  There was stuff, living and dead, everywhere--plants, snakes, a monkey (no kidding), a cow (ditto--okay, the cow was outside, but it was there, and the kids milked it).  Once I popped in her room during her class and she chased me right out the window with a huge water gun.

She started a week-long camping program with the kids, pioneered the first Earth Day celebration in Aurora (although the huge trash pile outside the school soon earned the name Kutinsky's Folly).

Kids were always doing stuff in her class.  That's one of the things I learned.  Not just sitting there.  They were up and about.  Outside looking at stuff, roaming around the hallways measuring things, trying things, testing, experimenting, figuring them out.  God, she was great.

And what a heart.  My second year I had no place to live for a few weeks (long story).  Her solution was simple: Move in with Eileen and her family.  Who took me in like the prodigal son.

I taught all three of her sons, all great young guys, all supremely different from one another.

I once left a goat with her (she had a rambling farm near Streetsboro).  That animal tested the limits of our friendship.  The expression like a goat has many meanings ...

I saw her prepare for soup a huge snapping turtle from her pond, saw her pick corn for supper from a neighbor's field (hmmmm), watched her bake bread (I've been doing it myself ever since) and the best peanut-butter cookies in the galaxy.  (I know: I've tried them all.)

I have an endless supply of Eileen stories, one ever at my lips when I need to come up with an example of unconventional excellence.

Today's curriculum would stifle Eileen.  Kill her.  She was the most wonderfully improvisational teacher I've ever seen, could ever imagine.  She did more good in a day than many of us do in a month, a year.

One day, early that first year, I went to her.  I was feeling bad.  I'd lost my temper with a class.  She listened (she's good at that), then said, "Well, if you don't ever lose it, the kids won't think you have one."  Tension flowed out of me like water from a fire hydrant.

Another thing she said one day when I was grousing about a kid: "You know, Dan, most kids are doing the best they can."  Oh my.

And one more: I was celebrating the absence that day of a particularly noxious kid.  "My worst," I told her.  She laughed.  "Someone else will play the role today."

She was right.  Again.  As usual.  Hell, as always.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Vets Leave, Rookies Suffer

In her recent review "How, and How Not, to Improve the Schools" (New York Review of Books, 22 March 2012), Diane Ravitch notes that experienced teachers in America are rapidly leaving their jobs.  Ravitch says it's "in response to the test demands of No Child Left Behind, which reduce professional autonomy."

Probably.  It was certainly the principal reason I retired from public education in 1997.  It was getting less and less fun, every year.  I watched helplessly as the curriculum constricted more and more, narrowing its focus onto a few "measurable objectives" that the test-creators could handle.

But Ravitch makes another point about the flight of the vets: "we are losing the experienced teachers that students and new teachers need."

When I started teaching seventh grade in the fall of 1966, I had very little idea what to do.  How to act.  Each class period seemed endless as I desperately sought ways to keep the kids occupied, to make sure they believed that I knew what I was doing.  If I could convince them, you know, maybe I could convince myself?

It was my great fortune that year to be on the faculty with some wonderful veteran teachers, people whom I greatly admired.  I wanted to be like them.  I wanted the kids to feel about me the way they did about them. I wanted my classes to be as much fun as my colleagues' seemed to be.

This was a revelation to me--that classes could be fun.  That teachers could laugh a lot.  That kids wanted to go to those classes.  That they learned there.

There are three people I want to write about the next couple of days--the three Aurora Middle School veterans who showed me a variety of ways to be a good teacher.  This was another revelation--that there was more than one way to do things, to be successful, to be a highly effective teacher.  These three people were temperamentally very different from one another.  But they shared a passion for the job, a profound affection for kids, an enjoyment of the hours they spent at school.

The first--Willetta Thomas (her picture is above from our 1966 yearbook).  Mrs. Thomas.  I'm not sure I ever called her "Willetta."  Maybe I did, but certainly not at first.  She had about her a dignity that commanded respect from all of us--students and teachers alike.  But she had a wicked sense of humor, as well.  Loved to laugh in class, in the teachers' lounge.

She was our reading teacher.  She worked mostly with kids who had reading problems (the rest of us were supposed to teach "reading skills" to the other kids; I was never sure what that meant and just sort of muddled along).  In her room she had set up a number of stations where they kids did various tasks (worked with machines, in some cases), then moved along.  Always--always--Mrs. Thomas was with them.  Teasing, laughing, encouraging.  She hugged weeping children, talked quietly with angry ones.

I watched her classes sometimes.  The kids came in; she spoke with them calmly about what was going to happen that day; she might share a story she'd read in the paper--or seen on the news; she asked about what they had learned since the last class.  Then off they went--right away--doing what they were supposed to do.  I was dazzled.  Why couldn't my room be like that?  My classes like that?

It didn't take me long to figure out the obvious: Those kids loved Mrs. Thomas.

And soon ... so did I.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Paul Auster and Ancestors You'll Never Know

Paul Auster
A few years ago, I fell in love with the work of Paul Auster, novelist, memoirist, screenwriter, translator, etc..  It was kind of an accident.  I'd read something about him; then the Plain Dealer let me review his new novel Brooklyn Follies in January 2006.  To prepare for that review, I read all of his previous books--and since then have pretty much kept up with him (and reviewed a couple of them, as well).

I've also seen the films he's directed--here's an IMDB link to those: Auster films

And last week, Kirkus sent me his new memoir to review--Winter Journal--a book which I loved.  He's getting older (about my age!) and is beginning to have winter thoughts ...

Anyway, a number of his sentences went straight from the page into my heart, but this one reminded me of something I've thought about a lot.  (Note: the entire book is in 2nd person--not something you see every day.)  "You can go back only as far as your grandparents, with some scant information about your great-grandparents on your mother's side, which means that the generations that came before them are no more than blank space, a void of conjecture and blind guesswork" (115-16).

Occasionally, I used to do an exercise with my students.  "How many of you can name both parents?"  (Duh.)  "All four grandparents?"  (Quite a few hands.)  "All eight great-grandparents?"  (Rarely ever a single hand.)  "All sixteen great-great-grandparents ?"  Never a hand.

And that is only a few generations back.

And what objects in your home belonged to any of them? (Most went back only a generation or so.)

 I have my great-grandfather's cuckoo clock and quite a few things from my grandmother, including her favorite wicker rocker, its arms worn smooth and white by her arms.

I knew three grandparents, two great-grandparents, and I "know" others from family research.  It's easier to do that, these days, what with Ancestry.com and so on.

But think of it: from sixteen great-great-grandparents to thirty-two great-great-great grandparents, and the numbers accelerate with the doubling as you move back through time.  Soon ... vast, unthinkable numbers.

But consider the vast improbability of your being here.  The prehistoric creatures who survived natural disasters, illness, injury, war ... infancy.  ALL of them--all those countless thousands, every single one of them--had to survive for you to be drawing breath this lovely Ohio late-winter day.  Pieces of them are in you, anonymous microscopic pieces that may account for your eyes, your temperament, your height, your hair, your intelligence, your cruelty, your sense of humor, your compassion, your selfishness, your ability to play the piano, pick up a scorching grounder, draw a face, love and be loved.  At least one of those pieces is a ticking time bomb, the one that will send you to join in eventual anonymity those numberless nameless thousands who made you possible.

Isn't that a happy thought?

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Saturday, March 17, 2012


Yesterday, I posted a notice that I'd uploaded to Amazon/Kindle my book Turning Pages: A Memoir of Books and Libraries and Loss.  I thought I'd whet (or dull?) your appetite with a little excerpt from the book, a passage about a period of my life--junior high--when I pretty much quit reading altogether.

And since every good blog needs a photo ... here's one of Richard Greene, who played Robin Hood on the eponymous TV series in the 1950s--a series I talk about in the passage below.

And on a crass, commercial, mercenary note ... here's the link to my books on Amazon:

Amazon Page

“Do you ever read any worthwhile books?”
“Some,” George answered, although he really didn’t.  He had tried to read a book or two that Sophie had in the house but found he was in no mood for them.
— Bernard Malamud, “A Summer’s Reading,” 1956
“I don’t read.”
— Monroe Stahr, in The Love of the Last Tycoon, 1940, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
 Not long after we moved to Ohio in August 1956, I commenced my long stumbling stagger through the slough of adolescence.  And by the time I entered eighth grade in the fall of 1957, I’d pretty much stopped reading books altogether.  I recall no moment of decision, no Martin-Luther-moment when I nailed to the door my one thesis: I ain’t gonna read no more fucken books!
I don’t remember that I made any decision at all.  What I do remember is that I quit reading books.  And I remember my parents’ deep concern when they noticed the change—and my brothers’ be- and amusement.
What are you reading? my folks would ask me in the evenings.
Aw, I dunno.
Aren’t you taking a book along? they would ask when we left on trips.
Dick and Davi have their books.  (Grinning gleeful brothers witnessing—enjoying—my discomfort, waving their books on high.)
You know that reading is important, don’t you?
You need it for—and here came the evil word, the word that became a refrain in our house during my period of voluntary illiteracy—BACKGROUND.
Sure, I know.  Background.  (Thinking: Fuck it!  Who cares?  Books are boring and people who read them are assholes!)
Soon, discussions ended.  No one saw any point in them.  I would sit sullenly in the living room, staring, while everyone else was reading, and Mom or Dad would see me there and just chirp, with an annoying cheery lilt, that single fucking word BACKGROUND!
And so I resolved to be ignorant for the rest of eternity.  As I entered eighth grade, my reading narrowed to the sports pages of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the latest issues of Superman and Superboy, the photographs in Life, and the back of the Cheerios box where I followed the adventures of the Cheerios Kid, who regularly rescued Sue from danger.  I wondered if, later, he fucked her.
But what was I doing instead of reading?
For one thing, watching more television—Cleveland had an amazing three stations!  Because my parents carefully monitored our TV viewing, I often rode my bike up to the house of my friend Johnny to look at his penny collection, or, better, much better, to watch pro wrestling in his room.  He was the first kid I knew who had his own TV set—a little black-and-white job with rabbit ears.  His mother was weird, but she stayed in her own room most of the time, so Johnny’s house was a haven.  No one judged me there.  Asked me what I was reading.  Chirped Background! at me.
Sometimes I played outside, bonding with Sooner, our dog, who also refused to read.
Or I’d just run around in the acres of woods nearby, playing Robin Hood, cutting stout oak staffs, thwacking imaginary foes, shooting arrows at birds, trying to found or find a new band of Merry Men.
Why Robin Hood?  In my reading days I’d always liked stories about him—all the way back to The Anthology of Children’s Literature.  I loved the old 1938 Errol Flynn movie that occasionally ran on television.  And recently I’d been under the thrall of a TV show, The Adventures of Robin Hood (1955–1958), a weekly half-hour series starring Richard Greene in the title role and the creepy Donald Pleasence as Prince John.  It was filmed in England, starred English actors, and was often written, I’ve only recently learned, by blacklisted Hollywood figures Ring Lardner Jr. and Ian McClellan Hunter.  Each episode began with Robin’s notching an arrow, then firing it at a distant tree, where it stuck, quivering loudly.
Not long ago I watched again some old shows on that DVD I’d bought at that Elmira Wal-Mart on my Golden Summer quest.  I was struck by the poor production values and pure implausibility of one of my favorite boyhood shows.  Sherwood Forest had more fake plants than the lobby at a cheap Florida motel, and Richard Greene, though he had a perfect name and spoke English from the proper side of the pond, did not fit my conception of the dashing, athletic Robin—he was no Errol Flynn, that’s for sure.  Still … some Robin Hood was better than no Robin Hood, so I watched weekly with a devotion I did not display for, say, school or church.  Or books. 
And then there was the Maid Marian question.  Despite my fundamental, adamantine belief that cowboys and my other heroes of film, TV, the printed page should never kiss girls (especially on the mouth),  I’d always liked girls myself.  Always.  I had a girlfriend in first grade—Sue Ellen.  I probably had one in nursery school, too—I just don’t remember.  I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that in my infant’s crib I dreamed not just of milk but of a girl’s milky skin.
I had several official girlfriends in elementary school.  Back at Enid’s Adams School many of us Dicks and Janes established ordinal rankings for our opposite-sex friends.  Among some old school photographs from the 1954–1955 school year (fifth grade), I found some pictures of girls in my class.  I’d written 3rd in the top white margin of Linda’s picture, 4th on Judy’s.  My list—a very fluid, highly changeable one—went as far as six or seven at times.  Likewise, I appeared on the lists of others—usually at number two or below.  All of us did this. It was no disgrace to be a two or a three—or even a four.  What was a disgrace was to be a zero.
The demands of these relationships were slight, the romances for our idle hours only.  I would have never invited a girl on a neighborhood adventure—or kissed her on the mouth while I was on duty, the way Hoppy, that gender traitor, had.  My friends and I would do little more than show off to girls at recess, pair off with them while square-dancing during music period, rank-order our Valentines.  Number One got a big fancy one with doilies and a gooey message; Number 7 got a little generic thing, with tiny, tiny hearts and a mere Be My Valentine.  But my male friends and I didn’t need girls, understand … we just … you know … it’s complicated …
But now, as I entered … junior high school … the boy-girl choreography was much more intricate, more dangerous.  When I explained the old Adams-School sex situation to some of my new Ohio friends, they looked at me as if I’d just told them of some bizarre coming-of-age custom on an isolated South Pacific atoll.  You’re fucken kidden, right?  Yeah, I was.  Just fucken kidden.
Guys in Ohio were serious about girls.  They battled one another like other young male mammals—and trained for the violence they expected and even enjoyed.  I saw serious fistfights at lunch.  With loud profanity.  And blood.  (No more rolling furiously on the playground and waiting for someone to cry Uncle!)  Big guys practiced punches on smaller fry in the hallways and locker room.  I was a smaller fry.  And one humorless behemoth used to wait for me between classes so he could pound me in the shoulder as hard as he could.  No matter which stairway I chose to descend or ascend, there he was, the Thor of the school, and I could do nothing, nothing, about the imminent blow.  Any retaliation would have brought down upon me the full tonnage of Thor’s Hammer.  I always smiled grimly at him afterwards, tacitly congratulating him on the viciousness of the punch, letting him know that he had achieved perfection.  He really didn’t need any more practice.  (Now, I realize, smiling at him was probably not such a good idea.)
At night,  I fell asleep to the rhythm of throbbing shoulder muscles.  And next morning, my stiff arms ached so much I could hardly pull a T-shirt over my head, or brush my hair.  So I suffered.  Endured.  And Thor eventually tired of me and moved on to other anvils.
Back in Enid, one of my favorite songs on the radio had been “Ape Call” by a guy named Nervous Norvus (real name: Jimmy Drake).  The song was one of his two big hits of 1956 (the other was “Transfusion”), and KCRC played it, or so it seemed, about ten times an hour.  It was a song about how women, all through history (and prehistory), have made men go crazy, made them become animals, made them roar like apes.  I quickly memorized the lyrics and delighted my uncle Ronald—an ordained Disciples of Christ minister and seminary professor—with the verse about Adam:
Adam was the first boy in the land,
A big malaroony daddy with an iron hand.
But when little Eva said, “Hi ya, Man,”
Aaaaah—eee—yaaah!  [a sort of Tarzan yell]

Ape call, doodly—ah-bah,
Ape call, doodly-ah-bah,
Ape call, doodly-ah-bah.
Don’t be a cube, rube.  Go ape!

Well, in Enid the song had been a joke—a novelty.  But in Hiram it was a way of life.  The guys were swinging through the trees, crying aaaah—eee—yaaah!  Going ape for the girls.