Well, in honor of Oct. 7, I showed my freshmen and sophomores "The Wrong Trousers" today.
Those of you who have not seen "The Wrong Trousers" should mosey along until you have done so.
Gromit, I must say, is the greatest silent actor of this generation. Isn't it fascinating that we have two characters, only one of whom talks, yet we pay little attention to what he says because we are riveted to the silent partner?
And the penguin! Greatest silent villain of the last half century?
(Apology: My freshmen used the film as an exercise in looking at character development and my sophomores to look at dramatic and situation irony, and setting. Unfortunately, a cursory glance suggests they all did a great job and there is nothing hilarious to report. If you're looking for student-sown hilarity, go here again.)
Anyway, I watched it four times today and loved it everytime. My favorite moment is when Gromit confronts the penguin and the bird pulls a gun on him. I swear, if that doesn't make you laugh....
Point: Wallace & Gromit are terrific. We're considering taking the Big O to the theater to see it--he already likes them so maybe it's time to give him a chance.
Those of you who are missing out (who, come to think of it, I already sent away...) need to repent.
I have been accused in the comments of another's blog of being falsely unaware of male beauty. While it is true that I rarely notice the lovely physical points of my own sex, there is one notable exception:
Now, maybe it comes of spending hundreds of hours in front of the mirror making faces*, or maybe it's objectively delightful, or maybe I'm blinded by optimistic self-love, but I think I have a very nice face, thank you.
Of course, any of you may feel free to disagree with me, and by no means am I suggesting you all should call me Adonis and fall at my feet. Just wanted to say that I am happy with me.
Having said that, I do worry that there is something unhealthy or unrighteous or prideful about this.
I worry because, for instance, yesterday, buying French bread and ice cream, the fellow behind me had a face covered with a birthmark or a burn scar or something. I don't mean to say he was ugly, no, but his complexion isn't going to put him on the cover of GQ.
I didn't think, "Hoo! Glad that's not me!" but I have had, oh, three? bitty panic attacks in my life where I worried that something would happen and I would become a little less pretty.
In theory, I think physical appearance is about as meaningful as the length of my appendix, but underneath that conscious thought, somewhere deeper and more primitive, I must feel a need to be attractive. I never worry about it because I look terrific and it would take an ax removing my nose and jaw to get me to rethink that opinion--however....
Has anyone read Chuck Palahniuk's "Invisible Monsters"?
I wonder if we are addicted to our beauty.
1. They smell.
2. They're wet.
3. They're subversive (haha!).
4. They're scaly.
5. They live in an environment inhospitable to me.
6. They make dumb expressions.
7. They don't get jokes.
8. They lack proper play initiative.
9. They're prone to gender confusion.
10. Salvador Dali
(I'm pretending linking to Master Fob's copy of the instructions counts as following the instructions.....)
Of course, being a man and spending six to eight hours a day laughing at such trivialities as pain, I find all this bemusing at best.
Boy. I don't like how that makes me look....
If I counted the ones I never did post but still exist as unpublished drafts we get:
(Post did not have five sentences.)
(I guess that means I'm unredeemable....)
In my freshman classes, we have been talking about flat and round characters. I mentioned that one sure sign of a human being (and thus a rounded character) is contradiction.
Thus, in support of my own humanity, I present the following elements of my budding reputation here at Bedrock High:
Mr. Theric is fun.
Mr. Theric is boring.
Mr. Theric doesn't have a sense of humor.
Mr. Theric has a great sense of sarcasm.
Mr. Theric is mean.
Mr. Theric is too nice to last.
I was stuck for a while on what to call myself in the above post.
On this blog I go by either Theric or Thmazing, although most people refer to me by th. However, not one of those appellations is or has a last name.
Anyway, as you can see, I settled for Mr. Theric.
pps: spellcheck just rejected "blog" which I find amusing
I was speaking to one of my students today. She is bored by everything. Nothing in this life interests her. Nothing.
Somehow, when I am talking one-on-one with students, I become a master of metaphor. For instance, you've heard of rose-colored glasses. I accused this girl of wearing boring glasses.
She said she is slow.
I said that doesn't matter because it isn't who gets around the track quickest, it's who does it right. That's crap of course, but that's the sort of genius idea my brain and I can come up with on short notice.
Just think! If I keep doing this for forty years, I could make a best-selling $18 chapbook! I could call it....Life Is High School, High School Is Life: Observations of a high school English teacher.
Oh yes. I should hold off on any dreams of literati until I put out that bad boy.
In order to teach literary ideas, I have tried incorporating some songs this past week. Songs by King Missile, Beautiful South, Marcy Playground, and Ryan Shupe & the Rubberband. Songs with a high potential to offend and thus, I hope, grab students' attention. Songs that include some of the following lyrics:
Love is beautiful
Like the sunshine
And the dancing wind
Love is not ugly
And tobacco snot
Love is beautiful
The perfect kiss is dry as sand and doesn't take your breath
The perfect kiss is with the boy that you've just stabbed to death
And all the whores on Blecker Street
They wear the blissful grin
Caused by the drugs they take
To relieve them of their sins
the best looking girls I see are driving in the fast lane
because I don’t find out that they’re obsessive, psychotic insane
the best looking girls I see,
oh my yes
because I don’t have to deal
with their PMS
(I hope I don't get fired.)
By popular demand, here comes some student writing.
My juniors read a bit of Benjamin Franklin's Autobiography (his arrival in Philadelphia and his list of attributes to improve) and some aphorisms from Poor Richard's Almanack.
The textbook also included a section from Robert Fulghum's All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.
Since next year is the tricentennial of Franklin's birth, we imagined a B. Franklin Tricentennial Committee. I assigned them to read the page of Fulghum and then to write a letter to the committee for one of two purposes:
1. The committee is considering Fulghum to speak at the festivities and the letter is in support of that idea because Fulghum is his intellectual heir.
2. The committee has chosen Fulghum to speak and the letter is recalling a change of mind because Fulghum is simply not an appropriate choice.
The students were to pick whichever scenario fit their feelings and write a letter, using supporting quotations from the text.
Here are two of those letters.
To whom it may concern
Hi. My name is [...name...] and I am writing this letter to let you know my opinion about Benjamin Franklin and Robert Fulghum. I think Benjamin Franklin should be voted for the parede thing. The reasons why I picked him was because he is in the one-hundred dollar bill. The other reason is that he is a smart person, so is Robert Fulghum but picked Franklin cause he's in the bill. I heard alot of things about Franklin. I read something about Fulghum and I like some things in the story like how to behave. Thank you for reading my letter.
Dear B. Franklin Tricentanial Comitee,
I think you shouldn't hire Robert Fulghum. Why? Because he sounds cynical. He thinks that life is about cooperating with rules you learn during kindergarten. He doesn't know that everything eventually changes. Also not everyone in this world is kind. There will always be a bad person. So you can't expect the whole world to hold hands. We can't all take naps in the afternoon cause there is more important stuff in the afternoon than any other time. These man is probably mentaly retarded. With the mind of a 6 year old kid. It would be a mistake to hire. So think about it really good. Benjamin Franklin has really discovered other, more important things, so he is so much better. On the other hand, B. Franklin is so much better cause he understands that if we wanna get civilized, we need to change. Get mature. Then he also added that lightning is electricity. He made many theorys & he made them facts. He discovered a lot of things. He also knew how to speak in kindda of a riddley way pretty good. Thanks for the cooperation.
Yesterday afternoon after dropping Lady Steed off, the Big O and I heard on NPR a story about the Ruby Slippers and how they've been stolen. Very sad, I'm sure.
Personally, I have never really liked The Wizard of Oz, but I was suddenly in the mood so when we got home I put on the DVD for the Big O (equals Bad Parent).
I started it up and Dorothy opens her door on Oz. O loved it. Loved it loved it loved it. Until the Tin Man was oiled and began to move and talk. Then he screamed and began to sob and came running to me. He collapsed in my arms and I had to take it out.
To console him, I put in Wallace & Gromit, The Wrong Trousers, the action-packed train sequence, on repeat.
The Big O loves trains. He'll be two in December, but already, I've had to take him train watching a number of times (lucky we live in Tehachapi). He plays with his wooden toy trains. Whenever we're in a toy store or waiting room with a Thomas the Tank Engine set he goes nuts and will not leave. His favorite things to watch right now are:
1. Casey Jr. singalong from the Dumbo DVD (on repeat).
2. The above mentioned scene from Wallace & Gromit (on repeat).
3. Old, old, silent footage of trains on our Intolerable Cruelty DVD's extras (on repeat).
And our home is filled with the constant sound of a little boy saying "Tsoo! Tsoo!"
It is the height of narcissism to share one's dreams. No one cares that I was in Denver only it was Des Moines only we were going to Mars. And yet I am now going to share a dream. It was not a scattering of random images, but had a definite narrative structure. And it disturbed me greatly.
I was standing at a street corner in an indefinite American city. A mother was in her SUV with her children. A large green pickup with a white sign on its door squealed around her and left a huge dent in a rear fender. I ran to the edge of the sidewalk to see the license plate as the truck continued down the street, but it had no plate.
I jumped in my car and took off after it.
I hit a red light. When the light turned, I drove through the street slowly, looking down both directions. I could not see the truck.
I continued to the next light where the street ended and I would have to turn right or left. I wagered right and, as the UPS truck ahead of me moved, I could see it parked at a Korean market just a short ways down the street. I pulled in and went to the truck. It had no license and a white sign on the door, so I knew I had it. The sign was magnetic and had a phone number in the corner so I peeled it off and started to roll it up.
An old Korean grandma who was at the market came up and started hitting me with her purse because I was stealing the sign. My Korean ain't so hot these days so it took a while just to get her to understand that I was speaking Korean. When she did, she heard my story and supported me.
Then, above us, we heard a sound. We all looked up and saw three lifeflight helicopters falling strangely above us. The disappeared behind the building, there was a sound like glass bottles tinking together, and three distinct explosions as they hit the ground about a mile from us. Followed by the sound of machine gun fire.
Then another lifeflight copter fell in the same way, along the same path. The sound of glass knocking together. An explosion. More guns.
It occurred to me that the tinkling sound might be an oil refinery, the huge steel containers banging together.
Then another helicopter, this one at least ten times the size of the other Hueys, came into view. It was on fire and twisting sickly in the sky. And falling, very
I woke up at this point.
My feelings were not of relief nor gladness at the thought that it could never happen in America.
I felt like I knew what it was like to be helpless, a citizen in a war zone. I knew that whatever had shot ambulances out of the sky would spread and I would not be same, the Korean grandma would not be safe, the mother and her children would not be safe.
And I also felt a sense of inevitability. A sense that there was no way to prevent this from occurring. Eventually.
And now, hours later, I still feel a dread pessimism--someday we will face death and mindless violence and mortal uncertainty and fear.
What a pleasant thing to spread around.
Today, desert rain.
Scores of students were delayed getting to school, a major highway was blocked by an accident, my last class of the day was missing a third of its students. I haven't heard any weather reports in some weeks so I have no idea where the rain came from, but here it is and it's not taking no for an answer.
What you just read was a rather generic and falsely clever description of rain in the desert.
Here's another, inseparable from a thousand other vignettes:
I remember as a child coming back from Utah. After passing through Vegas and as we came into California, we hit the most ferocious downpour. It was like driving through a bucket / a car wash / a mongo garden hose. Traffic slowed and wipers were worthless. It was like driving through a shallow lake. If the lake were crawling over you.
Another, in a different climate:
When I was in Korea, I remember one Saturday morning, lightning. Our house was rock-throwing distance from the ocean and out on the water, flash, flash, lightning reaching down and stabbing the water and the roar of Thor rattled our sliding door. For 180 degrees, lightning was striking, faster than it could be counted. I tried to record the thunder with my tape recorder but it failed to capture the majesty.
Also while in Korea, in Chinhae, during the falling-water season, I remember walking with an umbrella at all times. Whenever the rain would stop, I would leave my umbrella on a bus and get caught without it when it started back up again. I developed a system of when to open and when to close the umbrella, ie, when the volume of rainfall was worth the bother and when it wasn't. My shins, which ventured out from the safety of the umbrella's canopy, were always soaked. When the wind blew, I was lucky to keep anything dry. Walking miles in a drenched suit is a fine way to spend an afternoon.
My friend MyM and I were in Idaho, fleeing a camp site as a thunderstorm moved in. We skittered down the dirt road in my Dodge 600. A branch ripped off the passenger side mirror. Back on the highway, a bright bolt of purple lightning slammed into the road ahead of us, maybe maybe 100 feet away, its breadth the same as the highway, turning the world an electric violet.
Rain. It's too universal. No matter how unique an experience seems at first, ultimately, it's just another clichéd rain story.
My alarm went off at three this morning and I arrived at work around the time I usually am kicking myself for not already being gone.
I was accompanied into the desert by sky-splitting sheets and daggers of lightning.
I stopped to wait for a train, turned off the car, tried to sleep for ninety seconds but at every change in sound quality I opened my eyes to see if the train was ending.
I arrived at Bedrock High and the wet ground did not smell pleasantly of grass or rain or negative ions, but like the sky had taken a piss over the landscape. I was apalled. What in the world kind of rain falls in the desert?!
I let myself into the school and began entering grades.
Just as first period began I was wrapping up.
I have not entered one class.
Over half their assignments have vanished.
Grades are due tomorrow.
And so I swung back my arms and walked into the air and set my stacks of books on a passing breeze and stretched. and yawned. and slept.
I had No Idea that grading was such a draining, time-consuming, soul-sucking, life-draining, hour-dissolving pursuit.
I think I now know the real reason some schools do away with grades in name of students' self esteem.
And it has all to do with teachers' social lives.
I don't know about the rest of you, but when I get in my car to go home after work, I'm excited to hear NPR's hour-long wrapup of the Judge Roberts hearings. I'll miss them now that they are all over.
But on my way to work today, I realized they have a relevance in my own life that I had not yet appreciated.
Roberts likes to talk about being a modest judge. I realized this morning that I am a modest speeder.
Yes, I drive well above the "legal limits." However, I don't behave as some speeders, acting like the road belongs to me. I figure that since I am the one disobeying the law, I should always be the one to yield. I should be polite, avoiding passing on the right or hogging the fast lane from those even quicker. I strive to be the most exact in legal obeisance when it come to things like using my blinkers or coming to complete stops at stop signs.
I, Theric, am a modest speeder.
I'm testing the option Blogger proffers of posting from an email
account. I'm curious to see how well it all works.
For purposes of this test, I will be discussing that essential
American experience, sexual harassment training. You know, where you
watch a video filled with awkward actors necking or putting
pornographic calendars in their workspace only to get recommended by
the <a href="http://www.SeniorDatefinder.com">Kindly Old Manager</a>.
Actually, having just joined the middle class, this was my first time
to be sexually harassed <a
a video</a>. In the past, I have had to make do with reading a long
list of stimulating but forbidden activities and signing away my right
to engage in them on company property.
I knew the video was going to be awesome from the getgo because of
this exquisitely written opening line:
You have probably heard of the term 'sexual harassment'.
(complete change of pace)
From reading <a href="http://eatsshootsandleaves.com/esl.html">Lynne
Truss</a>, I have learned that the Brits follow the punctuation rules
regarding commas and periods and whether they should go inside or
outside what they preciously call <a
that I invented for myself and followed until I allowed The System to
drag me down and force to adapt what I now know to be a purely
American form of noninstinctual punctuation.
I apologize for that sentence.
Here's what I mean. When I quoted the video, I put the period outside
the quotation mark. That seems appropriate to me, as the quote only
refers to the two words enclosed and not the terminal punctuation.
Brits allow that. We Americans are not so tolerant.
Today I received a memo from the district saying that a student I have never met has left the school and that I should not give her a grade to take to her new school but I have to contact the district and tell them I am not giving her a grade.
By the end of the day.
Using a program I do not have access to yet.
I just posted and the new post is hidden for some reason. If you hit the archives for this month, there it is, right on top. But it doesn't appear on my front page for some reason.
This is a test to see if this post will appear atop Tehachapiltdownman and, if so, if it brings the last post with it. If not, I guess My Loyal Fans will have to hit September 2005 to read the post....
We humans have certain physiognomic needs and, given the fact that we can express complex thoughts, our basic, physiognomic needs are quite easily expressed.
We have a physiognomic need for food and, when that becomes urgent, we can express that need with a single adjective: hungry.
Some of the basic, vital, survival-level needs that can be expressed with one word include the following:
Each expresses with exquisite brevity a basic lack.
I bring this up because in my Vast Vocabulary, I am missing one of these adjectives and if anyone knows it, I would appreciate the information. It's really going to help my epic poem on the fulfillment of my animal self.
That missing adjective is the one that expresses the need to relieve oneself of waste.
I need to ingest food. (I am hungry.)
I need to get some zzzs. (I am tired.)
I need to sit on the crapper to dispose of that burrito that's been bugging me all day. (I am ...?)
It has only just now come to my attention that BYU is the fittest school in America.
Good for you (meaning those Cougars who stop by Tehachapiltdownman).
When I was in Provo, I was deliriously unfit. My last year I had to cram in all sorts of physed classes to graduate. So I suppose it is good I'm gone, else perhaps you would not now be the toast of Men's Health.
Here are my thoughts on exercise:
It will only kill you faster (note especially the knees).
It is generally unpleasant.
It is something to do only to do it with no benefits outside the doing of it (catch that?).
It is addictive.
I don't much like it.
So! I have learned that I did the following things to the kid who stormed out of class yesterday:
1) Slapped him
2) Threw him across a desk
3) Slammed him against a wall
4) Punched him
5) Choked him
It will not surprise you to learn that student rumors also say I am getting fired.
Which is good of course. We don't want teachers that strangle their students.
The English Department had a meeting during lunch. Everyone sat around and complained about how the administration is screwing us over.
Then the department chair said, "Whoa now, hold on everybody. I just realized I haven't introduced our thmazing new teacher, Theric here."
And then she told them about how I don't have a classroom; teach freshmen, sophomores and juniors; and a few other choice elements of my current condition.
The moral of the story? We teachers may complain, but at least we don't have it near as bad as that guy.
Which was weirdly comforting. In a martyriffic sort of way.
I don't know what the deal is with breasts--
Let me take that back. Sure I do. But I don't know what's going on with the way breasts are clothed here at Bedrock High. Too many wires and straps and plunges and not enough cloth, I can tell you that much. I have seen more 14yrold breast the past two days than I ever even suspected existed. And teachers' breasts! And administrators' breats! Everywhere a chap turns, breasts on display! What is going on! Why wear a shirt if it protects you from neither gapes nor elements? Why wear a shirt at all?
Anyway, I find it amazing. Is there some clothing shortage? Are they all politically active? What's the deal?
As a final note, I had two kids storm out of class today because I insisted on their silence. So as a whole, I would say everything is going very well.
Well, I woke up every half hour last night, afraid I might sleep too long. Ended up getting out of bed at 4:04. My only clean pair of pants that a) doesn't have a hole in the crotch or b) doesn't look way overdressed is in San Francisco (of course).
I put on a dirty pair, but immediately smelled like I had just escaped a 40.45-acre wildfire.
So I decided to go with the hole in the crotch, which meant I blew a lot of morning looking for a safety pin.
Anyway, I drove to Bedrock, which takes over an hour, was falling asleep on the way (it's only the first day!), but arrived on time.
I have first period prep, allelujah, so I spent that time getting keys and textbooks for my 9th and 10th grade classes.
Now, I don't have a classroom, so each of my classes takes place in another teacher's classroom on their period off.
I'm happy to say the kids were glad to finally have a regular teacher. Though, behaviorally, they obviously have been inflicted with muy subs. One class has watched Forrest Gump over and over the past two weeks. Others have been watching the Ring 2. So educationally at least they're fine. Just behaviorally....
I had the classes write about their previous English classes, what worked and what didn't, and what they wanted out of this class. And most of them expressed a desire to work and to learn. So that was good. Now I just have to deliver.
Third period, I showed up and the class had miraculously changed from freshmen to juniors.
So now I need to go get more textbooks. (For me.) I still haven't had a chance to even look at them. And it kills my wrist to have, literally, probably 12 or 15 pounds of books per class.
Don't tell my students, but I have no idea what I we'll do tomorrow. But it had better be good....
Anyway, time for me to either leave or try and find out some more basic information (eg, can I have a class roster?).
And then, with any luck, I'll stay awake the entire drive home.
So I had the thrilling opportunity to think I was getting away with something when I paid "only" $3.09 for gas yesterday on my way back to the Bay (again).
It looks like switching insurance from our current idiot carrier to a new company will septuple our costs.
Last night I finally buckled down and watched Night of the Living Dead. And boy, wow, what a disappointment.
Let me back up.
I scare easy and hard.
After I first say The Sixth Sense, I went home to my apartment and stood staring in the mirror for a long, long time. And the longer I looked at myself, the more I looked like that ghost girl who vomits on Haley Joel Osment.
I slept with the lights on.
Psycho freaked me out on a sunny day.
I even screamed out loud at The Haunting (1999)!
So last night I decided to watch a film with a reputation as being one of the most frightening ever made. One that is wildly beloved by horror aficionados. I watched alone. In the dark. With a meat sandwich sitting beside me.
George Romero's Night of the Living Dead.
The scariest parts were the sudden cuts to inanimate objects.
Yes, the guy eating the liver was kind of gross, but it wasn't that bad. And I didn't have any trouble sleeping.
A few years back I had a dream where a slashermovie-style killer was trying to get me. However, when he finally caught me, no matter how hard he tried to splatter me across the dreamscape, nothing happened.
In my dream I thought, It is because I have never seen a slasher movie. My mind has no raw material to draw upon.
It's because I have always been too scared to watch such movies.
What have I been scared of?
It's almost six o'clock and for some reason I'm still here at the News. When I leave, I will no longer be an employee.
I always stayed as far away from journalism as I could, convinced I would hate it. But although it's not a great match for my personality, it actually has been my favorite job to date. I mean--without a press pass, how could I have ever met John Cleese?
This may also be an end of an era for me as a blogger. I don't know what my internet access is going to be like in the coming weeks, so I'm warning all you Theric addicts out there, you may be in for some jonesin'.
Lady Steed and I have decided it's time to join the 21st Century and get some homebound broadband, but who knows when that'll start up.
At Bedrock High, I am not going to have my own classroom, so I doubt I'll be hanging in the blogosphere on my prep period. It's weird. A month ago I still okie-blowed at blogs and now I'm nostalgic for the goodoldays of sitting in front of the computer most of the day.
Anyway, no jokes or scintillating political commentary or mindblowing links that no one'll look at today. Just more of a public announcement I suppose.
I smell like smoke, my hair is gritty and I have black streaks on my Dockers where charcoaled brush scraped past me.
There is construction on the main thoroughfare to my apartment and it is backed up a good half hour. So even though I haven't eaten since my breakfast toast and it's now almost seven, I am going to tell you a version of the Alpine Forest fire that won't be in next week's Tehachapi News. Why? Because it's my own personal story as the reporter covering (trying to cover) it and not so much of the fire itself.
I heard of the fire second hand at first. BJ at the Tehachapi Cummings Water District called my editor and told her of the fire. She called a freelancer who's good at this sort of thing, but he was gone. Then, nearly an hour later, S at the sheriff's department called and said it was in Alpine Forest.
Many people are priced out of Alpine Forest just because they can't affort the fire insurance. It's grass and brush and trees and so on. Fortunately, much less brush these days because the county has "fuel crews" that spend the year thinning it out. The grass that grows in its place does burn faster, but it burns low to the ground and it's easy to cut a line in.
Anyway, my editor told me (the only reporter on staff) to go see if I could get a picture.
I said But wait! I am supposed to go take a picture of the crazy driving at Tompkins Elementary as school gets out!
As I said it, I realized how stupid it sounded. The idiot parents are there everyday, after all. After this fire, dozens of homes might not be.
So I grabbed my pad and camera and headed out to the fire.
In Tehachapi, there is a freeway that skirts the northern edge of town. South of the 58: civilization -- for a while, then empty land forever. The north side starts with the empty land and just keeps on going and going.
Anyway, in between the two lanes of the freeway I was getting on, was another fire. So I pulled off the side and took a picture of the city crews fighting the little fire in the median as, behind them, a huge plume of smoke rose from behind the hills. I got back on the freeway, took the next exit and
Got stuck in the construction traffic I mentioned earlier. It took me a long, long, long time to get even to where the sheriff deputies had the road blocked. (Plus I had had to keep pulling over as more and more emergency vehicIes screamed by.) (But I did get to watch a dust devil about two hundred feet high dance on the other side of the valley. Just what we need as a fire is threatening homes: the famous Tehachapi wind.) When I did arrive, I parked my car and walked over to the deputy manning the roadblock. I asked if I could get by.
Nope. He didn't have the authority to let me by. Though he somehow found the authority to let people by who said their children were in "danger" or whatever.
But he did give me a number that I could call.
Problem: I don't have a cell phone.
I walked down the lane of parked cars and each driver was talking frantically to someone they loved. Somehow I cound't find it in me to interrupt.
Then, one woman leaned out her window and asked me what was going on.
I told her they didn't want to let anyone close because they didn't want a helicopter knocking them down the mountain with a load of water. (This is what the deputy told me.) She said thank you and continued talking.
I stood and waited.
When she finished, I asked if I could use her phone. Then I called the number I had been given.
They told me to call county fire.
They said they couldn't contact their man on the ground but I could page him. I said I don't have a phone. They said when they get him, they'll send him down. Meanwhile the giant column of smoke is blowing just to the south of us.
Then, abruptly, the deputies start letting traffic through again. I run to a new deputy on scene, JC, a friend of mine, and ask him how far I can drive. He tells me where the new roadblock will be and I head for it. By the time I can get to my car and manuever it through traffic, the roadblock is set up. I park, talk briefly to a deputy, and start running down the road.
I run only about half a mile, but I have not run half a mile in half my life, so it's impressive, trust me.
Then, just before I get to a second roadblock run by a CHP officer, he pulls away and drives fireward.
Now I'm left with a dilemma---
Do I follow the road? It seems like only a matter of time before someone else stops me. Or do I hop a fence and cross the hill in front of me, the hill that blocks the flames from view?
In other words, do I risk getting arrested or risk becoming the idiot journalist that gets surrounded by a wild brush fire and becomes the evening's news?
I decide to stick to the road. If I survive the flames, maybe I'll get knocked with a $35,000 charge for rescuing me.
Then the CHP officer returns and tells me to turn around.
He doesn't offer me ride.
Near his roadblock is a turn off into the water district's offices. Behind it is Bright Lake where the helicopters are picking up water to dump on the fire. I fantasize grabbing onto its hose, but I realize I'll never have a safe opportunity to get off.
(I never follow up on any of my fantasies to hop onto passing emergency vehicles. I thought for sure I could get on the flatbed carrying the bulldozer, but the CHP guy was right there.)
I head for the district office and ask to use their phone. I call the FD again and get the information officer's pager number.
I page him and wait.
He calls a few minutes later. He's in Bakersfield. He's the wrong info guy. He gives me the right number. I call it and wait.
I'm talking to BJ and he's showing me the pictures he took of the fire and the helicopters.
I'm feeling frustrated.
As I walked into the office the smoke was noticeably lessened. I'm glad the fire seems to be dying, but I want to get some decent photos at least. I'm supposed to be covering this fire!
BJ notices a fire truck pass by and we walk out. It's the local public info officer. He's been looking for me. I tried to page him and he's looking for me. Figures. I've lost at least half an hour.
And the fire's over.
He takes me up to look at the forty or so acres of black and I take some pictures.
Here's something I never knew about fires:
The fire is only barely out, smoke is rising from the ground, larger pieces of vegetation are glowing red even thought the sun is out, and the ground is crawling with bugs.
And here's something else. They like people.
They're jumping onto me and the PIO, and while he has good, protective gear on, I don't. They're getting down my shirt (along with the floating ash) (some of which is still hot) and what's worse, they're biting me.
Not all of them, not all the time. But I'll feel a pinch and I look down and some beetle's got his head burrowed into my arm.
Where did they come from? Did they weather the fire? Did they go underground? Did they flee and are now returning? Is fresh ash where every creepy crawly longs to be?
I don't know. But leftover hitchikers keep biting me for the rest of the time I'm up there.
I get to interview some firefighters next -- but all that'll be in the paper. Visit it online Wednesday when I'm at Bedrock High.
But! My camera.....
I have a longstanding hate relationship with this camera anyway for several reasons and what happened today is not entirely its fault, but that wouldn't make me less happy to smash it with a sledgehammer.
Today, among other things:
I had several opportunities to get pictures of the water falling from helicopters onto smoldering ground. Close up. The camera failed me each time. And after each attempt I was bathed in a wind of ash and steam. I could see it rise and come at me.
I took some pictures of successful protective space around one home. The fire burned the wild grass to within feet of the building, then it stopped, because they had cut it. Good job!
Incredibly, the firefighters lost no structures in this fire. And this one house really was mere feet from the flames' edge. Perhaps ten. And their propane tank was even closer.
As I was "taking" these pictures, the camera kept dying.
The battery. The battery. The [.....] battery.
Then the PIO took me to where the fire had started. An Air Force man, coming home from the East, drove off what the emergency personnel cheerily call Death Curve and flung down four or five hundred feet and hit a tree. Incredibly, he only has minor injuries. But when I got to the scene, there wasn't much left of the car.
I was able to get a picture of the car from the road to show how far it had gone. Then I went down the, oh, 80% embankment to the car. By myself. Everyone else thought I was nuts.
I worked my way down through the ash and floating pages of a complicated math book, hoping the soles of my new shoes weren't melting (thankfully they weren't, but my feet were awful hot, I can tell you that).
Just before I got to the car, my sweet hat (which puts me on the coolness meter somewhere between Bogie and Jimmy Stewart) blew off. I spun and reached and, incredibly, grabbed. Hooray for reflexes!
I arrived at the car and oh, what a mess.
Tires gone. Seats gone. Muffler fallen off. Dashboard melted. Windows melted. Floorboard on fire.
It was incredible. Totally monochromatic. The only nonash color was the greenish hue of the melted glass and the absurdly bright green of the dashboard plastic, in a lumpy stalactite, hanging down.
The flame on the passenger side of the car made it perfect. What I had here was probably the best photograph of my year as a journalist.
And the camera absolutely refused to even turn on.
I stood there and tried every persuasive technique I could think of.
I went back up the long, steep incline, stepping over beer cans all the way.
I went with the PIO to talk to some more people, learn some stuff, take some notes. Everyone was very helpful, but the whole time my legs were shaking. I must've been burning liver tissue now just to keep moving the pen.
So I'll have a pretty good story tomorrow. I won't have many good pictures. These pants were supposed to last me one more day, but I guess that's okay too.
I'm glad no one's house burned down.
The PIO tells me that, only a couple weeks ago, he sent us all his contact information so that we could get in touch with him immediately if, oh, there was a fire. If I had had that information, I could have been to the fire maybe two hours earlier than I was. And the dried-up nostrils and the smelly hair and the oily face would have meant I was in the midst of a raging fire instead of just smokey ground.
I am glad I had this experience. But I wish I could have done it better.
Having worked here a year now, I've covered most likely stories at least once. And next time there's a fire story, I'll know just what to do, what to grab as I leave, who to call, what to ask....
Except next time there's a fire story, I'll be discussing Poe.
Quoth the raven, Nevermore.
I heard this morning on both KVPR and KCRW (our nearest NPR stations) that they are both up for license renewal.
I swear, if any Washington whackjobs succeed in shutting NPR down, I am going to stop wearing socks.
Anyway, according to a recent survey, the results of which I read in AJR, 31% of NPR listeners consider themselves liberal, 29% conservative and 30% moderate. Which seems like an extraordinarily balanced listenership.
And besides, I feel like I’m actually getting quality from NPR which is not something I feel from any other broadcast or news station, radio or tv.
Anyway, I also bring this up because I had the opportunity to listen to KPIG (one-oh-seven-oink-five) when I was up in the Bay Area and reacquaint myself with its wonderfulness. So I was thinking about the minimum number of radio stations I would need to be happy. I settled on KPIG and an NPR station.
But which NPR station?
I love KCRW’s music programs, but they play This American Life at inconvenient times and don’t carry Prairie Home Companion.
Another program I remembered they don’t carry is Calling All Pets. Lady Steed loves it, but if any program can be accused of bias, it is Calling All Pets. The vet on the program does not give equal time to all pet behavior modification theories. In fact, she has openly disparaged the beat-them-until-they-love-you methodology revered by our ancestors.
Here is an actual transcript from next week’s Calling All Pets program:
Larry: Wow. Mauling children. It’s been a long time since we’ve heard that one. What should he do, Trisha?
Trisha: Well, the first thing you’ll need to do, Steve
Trisha: is get some treats. And you’ll need some good ones for this, maybe bite-sized pieces of bacon.
Steve: Bacon. Right.
Trisha: And you’ll just keep some in your pocket and whenever Floofy isn’t mauling children, just pop her a piece of bacon and say, “Good girl! Gooooood Giiiiiirl!”
Trisha: Now don’t get frustrated. Just remember, no treats while Floofy is in attack mode.
Trisha: Just ignore her. Any attention at all could be construed as positive reinforcement for the behavior.
Steve: Okay, sure.
Larry: So treats. Huh. I never would have imagined that it would be so simple. Thanks, Steve, for the interesting call.
Steve: Thank you.
Larry: So is mauling children getting more common these days?
Trisha: It’s interesting you would ask that. The short answer is no, not really. But there’s some fascinating new research in that suggesting that visually, many breeds of dogs — and Pomeranians like Floofy are one of them — can’t tell the difference between a small child and a leg of lamb.
Trisha: So if the dog can’t smell well, say he’s got a cold, he may maul a child thinking it’s mutton. Isn’t that fascinating?
Larry: It sure is. But what can you do to keep your dog from getting sick?
Trisha: That’s a good question, Larry. Here’s what you do — and this will work with dogs, cats, pigeons — just about anything — turtles, goldfish — you just get some bacon, break it into bite-size pieces, and keep it in you pocket.
Larry: Uh huh?
Trisha: And then, whenever your pet isn’t sick, you toss it some bacon and say, “Gooooood booooy.........