Sunday, November 15, 2009


I want to thank anyone who reads my blog regularly or even infrequently. I am taking a sabbatical from blogging, perhaps a long one.

Thanks again to anyone who took the time to read.


Monday, November 09, 2009

Silenced Truth

I have a fourth grade student who is, without a shadow of a doubt, the most reluctant learner I have ever met in twenty years of teaching elementary school. This could be caused by the numerous and bitter complaints her grandparents had about me, their granddaughter's new teacher, just a week before school. However, her cum folder suggests otherwise. Horrible work habits and a lethargic attitude toward school have been the hallmark of this girl's school work for three years.

She refuses to write. It had been two weeks since she had written anything, making a total of about five hours of totally wasted class time. I told her to write her name on the board for me so I could remember to keep her in for recess.

This nine year old girl went up to the chalkboard and wrote her name. I have to give her credit for that, but her name was only two millimeters tall. The other students pointed it out to me when recess time arrived. They tattled, and they ratted on her. I talked to her about writing more and sent her on her way. Then I went to the chalkboard. It was so small it was not really a name.

I don't know what it was like teaching in the fourth grade in the 1950's, but I know what it was like being a student, and I don't think I ever saw any child with the hutzpah to try deceiving the teacher by writing in miniature.

I want to worry about her, but I can't. The monkey is not on my back, and it's not my life. It's not my education. I will try my best to motivate her, but the only real writing I have ever gotten from her was a three sentence letter to her father in prison. I am quite sure her mother refused to mail it for her.

No Child Left Behind puts the pressure on me to develop better curriculum at her instructional level, a more appropriate instructional style that best suits her individual learning style, and increased individual attention.

What a shame that the truth can't be spoken anymore.


Our fourth grade class won a pizza party provided by the PTA for having the highest percentage of parents to join their fine organization.

During the party I was talking to Mikalea about all sorts of things and the subject of the fruit roll-up snacks came up.

"Mikaela, look at the ingredients list on the back of the package."

"Mr. W., what's proplylene glycol?"

"Propylene glycol is anti-freeze. Car engines have water that surround them to keep them cool. Propylene glycol is a poisonous chemical used to keep the water from freezing in the winter, and it serves other mechanical purposes."

"Oh. What's corn syrup?"

"Corn syrup is a sweetener that is a liquid. It's made from corn rather than from sugar cane, and so that way the maker of the fruit roll-up can claim that the roll-up doesn't have any sugar. It actually doesn't have sugar. It is sweetened a whole lot with corn syrup."

"OK. What's monostearate and phosphoric acid?"

"I don't know exactly. Some sort of chemicals used to keep the fruit roll-up, which actually has no fruit, from going bad after many months."

"Eww!" Mikaela said with a face full of shock and horror.

"Ewww!" I said with a grimace.

No sooner than this exchange took place, Mikalea took a big bite of her fruit roll-up and said, "Mmm. They're good."

I couldn't bring myself to say it.

Thursday, November 05, 2009


I love diving boards, and a swimming pool with a diving board is a real treat. However, I had one bad experience with them. When I was thirteen there was a younger boy in the neighborhood whose name I have forgotten. Some people will say, after reading this story, that I repressed his name, but actually he only lived in the house two doors down for a couple of months. Or, maybe I did repress it. The more I think about that kid, the more I want to punch him.

For one thing, he loved to debate. "Let's debate," he would say. A topic would be chosen. Then, as soon as you said something to argue back, he'd say, "You're losing control. I win!"

I'd say, "I'm not upset!"

"Yes you are," he'd reply with an evil grin, "And I win 'cause if you are so good you make the other guy lose control, then you automatically win. I win 'cause you got upset!"

"Well I'm upset now, you big buttwipe," I would cleverly add. Then he'd walk away mockingly saying, "You're gettin' really upset now. I definitely win!"

He also would go around telling everyone that it was a sin to masturbate, and if you did it, you were going to Hell. Then he'd look you in the eye and say, "I can tell you've done it! You're going to Hell!" Now this was when I was in the seventh grade, so let's be honest; he'd caught me and every other boy in the neighborhood. Except himself. He swore he had never done masturbated. Jim next door agreed with him once when he added, "You're probably right. Your peter is probably too short to grab a hold of." I loved Jim, and I still remember his name. He didn't live there very long either.

This kid never exercised. He never played football, baseball, or even rode a bike. No one ever saw him even run. I figured he wasn't very athletic.

Then one day I saw him at the neighborhood swimming pool. He was in a swim suit that was a brief, which shocked me. I mean, only professional swimmers wore briefs. They were triangle shaped, and the bulge of your privates could be seen. This was a sin my mother would never tolerate, so I always wore boxer swim trunks, and she bought big ones too. I'd grab a hold of those things every time I went off the diving board so I'd resurface with them still attached. This kid was in briefs, and judging by the bulge, Jim was correct.

There was a lovely angel disguised as a college girl up in an air chair watching over the deep end by the diving boards, and I had gone to the swimming pool for one reason and that was to swim the entire length of the pool underwater, thus impressing this Goddess Lifeguard to notice me, even if for a moment.

I told this kid I was in love with the lifeguard. He looked over at her and I could tell he didn't see her in the same "light" as I did, but he did say, "Let's go talk to her!" That sounded great to me because conversation distance with her would be sixty-three feet closer than I was to her already, so we both went over to talk to her.

The first thing out of this kid's mouth is, "Hey lady! You wanna watch us dive off the diving board?"

"Sure. Go ahead."

"Will you watch?"

"Sure. I'll be watching."

This was great! She was going to be watching us go off the diving board. She wouldn't be checking to see if anyone was drowning. She'd be looking right at me, and she could tell I didn't consider her a "lady." She could tell by the look in my eye that I knew she was a woman. I would never say, "Hey! Lady!" like I was Jerry Lewis.

I went first. I did a nice little head-first dive. I thought about doing a head-first Frogger where you go in head-first but you put your heels together with your toes pointed out, bring the heels up to the crotch, spread your knees as far apart as they could go, put your hands together in a prayer position, place your wrists on the top of your head with the fingers pointing straight up out of the top of your head, and dive in head-first. This was my Frogger, a unique and charming dive, but I didn't want to impress a guy. I wanted to impress the Pool Princess. This was a serious moment. I dove with a simple, head-first dive and then swam to the side of the pool.

The kid whose name I have forgotten because he only lived in our neighborhood for a month dove next. He did a perfect double or a triple somersault and entered the water without a splash. I knew it wasn't a single somersault, but I wasn't able to count the number of rotations because his body spun too rapidly through ther air to count. The Goddess Woman's beautiful jaw dropped open, and she yelled out to him to do another. He started going off that diving board and spinning thorugh the air like a top, and the beautiful lifeguard climbed down from her air chair leaving all the swimmers in danger just to talk to my little debater friend. They talked for what seemed like a half an hour.

Later he told me she had told him to come to the pool early on Saturday morning for a free, private diving lesson with a friend. I hoped it was her Olympic diver boyfriend, but I always imagined her Olympic diver girlfriend and the Goddess Lifeguard fawning all over my little hand-virgin friend.

I still like diving boards, but my diving skills will never be a source of pride. I'll never remember that kid's name, and I bet Jim doesn't either.


This is a tale about two boys, who if they had been any smarter would have had enough brains to blow themselves "to smithereens" with gunpowder.

When I was thirteen years old, my family moved to a newer, nicer neighborhood. The reasons we moved there are multiple and mysterious, none of which I will go into, but let's just say that we had moved into what I would call a "ritzy" part of town. The houses were lovely, the two car garages were detached with a spare room and a workshop, and the cars in them were nice and new.

A boy across the street was named Johnny. I won't use his last name because I don't have permission, and if he knew what I was writing about he wouldn't even want me to call him by his first name, so I'll change his name to Larry.

Larry was what I'd call spoiled. He liked to munch on dog biscuits, so his parents provided them to him. Near the back door were two bags of dog treats: one for their dachsund and one for Larry. It was his favorite flavor, and he would grab one every now and then and chomp down on it. Larry also lost a couple of fingers using his Dad's table saw, which would have been off limits to me if my Dad owned one, but not Larry. He had full use of the contraption, and it cost him a couple of fingers. Larry got to choose his lunch and dinner menu. To me that was the top of the top, the proof of the pudding, so to speak, that Larry was spoiled.

Larry was also given most anything he asked for as long as it was reasonable. Now remember, Larry's parents let him snack on dog biscuits, use the table saw, and decide his own menu. So one time Larry and I are in his driveway and he says, "I found out that gunpowder is made from sulphur, charcoal, and saltpeter."


"Yeah. And I asked my Dad where I could buy that stuff and he said Curtin Scientific. He's gonna take me there next Saturday."

"What for?"

"To buy some sulphur, charcoal, and saltpeter."

"You gotta be kidding me."

"Nah. I'm serious. I'm gonna buy a pound of each one and grind it up with a mortar and pestle."

"You are joking with me, right?"

"Nah. I'm serious."

"Your dad is going to let you make three pounds of gunpowder?"

"Yeah. He'll let me. Do you wanna come with me to Curtin Scientific to buy the chemicals?"

"Sure. That sounds cool, but how are you going to buy gunpowder material?"

"I'm just gonna go buy it."

"I don't know, Larry. I think if two kids go into a chemical shop and ask for the ingredients to make three pounds of gunpowder, somebody's gonna get suspicious. I don't think they're gonna sell you the chemicals to make three pounds of gunpowder. I've opened up firecrackers and there's not much gunpowder in them. I think three pounds is a huge amount of gunpowder. I think it's enough to blow us up. They're not gonna sell it to you."

"Yeah, you're right. We gotta play it cool when we buy this stuff so they won't get suspicious."

"OK then, I'll go with you."

I asked my parents if I could go with Larry to a chemical shop with his father to learn about chemicals and stuff. They said sure. Mr. Larry, Larry's dad, was a well-paid, highly respected man of some sort, so they assumed everything was on the up and up.

When we arrived at Curtin Scientific, Larry's dad stayed in the car, which I thought was unusual. Larry and I went in by ourselves, went up to a counter, and Larry asked the man if they sold chemicals. Larry did all the talking, of course.

"Yes we do. What are you looking for?"

"Well, we need some sulphur. Do you have any sulphur?"

"Sure. We have some sulphur. How much do you want?"

"Oh I don't know. How about a pound?"

"Sure. Is there anything else you need?"

"Hmm. Let me think. Do you have any charcoal?"

"Sure. How much do you want?"

"Oh I don't know. How about a pound?"

"Alright. Is there anything else?"

"Oh, let me see. How about some......I don't know. How about some magnesium. Do you have any magnesium?" This was a ruse, intended to distract the chemist from our real intentions. Johnny was a genius.

"Sure. How much do you need?"

"I don't know. Like an ounce."

"O......K. Anything else?"

"I think that'll do it."

"I'll be back in a few minutes with your order."

"OK. Wait a minute! I almost forgot. We also need a pound of saltpeter."

"You mean potassium nitrate?"

"No, we want saltpeter."

"That's the chemical name for saltpeter. I'll get you a pound of saltpeter, or potassium nitrate. Anything else?"

"No sir. That'll do it."

The man went into the back to get our gunpowder ingredients and we grinned at each other in disbelief. This was working! Suddenly I thought of something.

"Wait a minute Johnny, I mean Larry. What if this guy is suspicious? What if he comes back with the cops?"

Larry didn't say anything. We just stood there and waited and sweated in silence. Sure enough, that chemist came back with three pounds one ounce of chemicals. Larry paid the man, and we left. Furtive is a good word, and I don't use it often. That's how we left Curtin Scientific. Furtively.

We returned to Larry's house, ground up suphur and charcoal and saltpeter for hours, mixed it all up, then poured a little bit in a coffee can.

"I'm gonna light it now."

"Wait a minute, Larry. If that stuff blows up, it could hurt you. Why don't you make a trail of it from the can down the driveway and we could stand way away from it and light the trail of gunpowder like they do in the movies. Then when it hits the big pile in the can and blows up, we won't be killed."

"That sounds good. Let's do that."

Three pounds of gunpowder is a lot of gunpowder, so we had plenty, and we made a little five foot trail of it to the can, which we laid on its side, stood back, and lit the trail. It made a lot of smoke, moved much more slowly than I expected, and when the fire got to the pile of gunpowder in the can, it made a huge smoke bomb of fire impressively gushing out of the can, but no explosion.

We figured that the stuff wasn't ground up enough. More mortar and pestle work, but that didn't help much. We changed the proportions slightly. No improvement. As it turned out, we weren't smart enough to make gunpowder explode. I'm no scientist, but I think we failed to put it under pressure. In other words, if we had been a tad smarter, we'd both be dead.

I can tell you this, that last coffee can half filled with gunpowder with an ounce of magnesium thrown in was a beautiful sight to see when it went off.