Wednesday, March 30, 2005

A lost lady and a (not) dead cat

As my friend Dino dropped me off after another humiliating basketball defeat, a car drove up and stopped in the middle of the road--a middle aged lady needing directions.

I told her to pull to the side of the road. And she did--sort of. She was looking for the San Rafael Bridge which was so far away I had no idea how to get her there at first. Plus, the lady was not very smart, so I knew my directions would have to be more detailed than they might be if I was talking to a smart person.

Just then my friend Dino ran into the middle of the street. A cat had just been hit by a car.

"A cat has just been hit by a car!" I told the lady. "I'll be right back."

The cat didn't look like a cat anymore. It was black, and it's legs twisted up in the air unnaturally, like it's spine had been twisted. It's mouth was the only part visible of it's head; the jaw was open in a smiling grimace. We watched as it twitched and my wife, Jake, came running out.

"Call the police!" Dino said

"Or animal control!" I said. "And how do you get to the San Rafael Bridge?!"

Too late. Jake had gone inside. The cat lay in the middle of Broadway, a long busy street. Dino and I stood over the cat waving frantically at cars speeding towards us. Cars eventually stopped and then crept around us, but each time there was a scary moment as if we too would join the cat as some distracted (or angry) driver struck us.

Jake came outside again. "I called the police! Animal control is closed." Apparantly, animals do not injure themselves after business hours.

"This cat's dead," Dino said.

Leaving Dino to fend for himself--and the dead cat, a rushed back to the (somewhat) parked car of the middle-aged lady.

"Is the cat okay?" she asked.

"It's pretty messed up," I replied.

"Oh, that's too bad. I don't know how I got here. I was trying to get to 880..."

"You want to turn around and go to 24..."

"But I don't want to go to 24."

"That's how you get to the San Rafael Bridge. Jake! How do you get to the San Rafael Bridge?"

"Hey, this cat is moving!" Dino cried, a car downshifting to a stop just before him.

"It's off of the 80!" Jake shouted from the porch.

"Look," I told the lady, "Go to 24 then to 80 west and from there you'll see signs for the Bridge."

The lady looked at me like I had just given her a receipe instead of directions. "Well how did I get here?"

"Just go to the 24..."

"This cat is moving!!"

" the 80. To the Bridge."

"There was a split, and I took one way.."

"24. 80. Bridge."

And with that I ran off into the middle of the street to see the remains of the dead (dying) cat. The cat had indeed moved. It's legs were now under it and it's head was moving around. One eye was bloody but looked intact. We couldn't tell how badly it was injured. But surely it had broken bones.

And then it got up and walked off into the bushes. It was like the Terminator, pulling itself back together and moving on just as strong. Well, maybe not--it lay down in the middle of the sidewalk as if these were the last movements of a dying (injured) animal. We watched apprhensively: me, Dino, my brother who had joined the scene, my wife, and the middle-aged lady from the car (who was talking to herself).

Then the cat got up again and wobbled off. We followed it, and it ran across the front of the middle-aged lady's car; she had turned around to head to the 24 on-ramp. She did not hit the cat.

The cat wandered up the street and disappeared down an alley way between houses; somehow there was a remarkable resemblence in the way this cat and the car moved out of sight, drunkenly, as if both were in fact not dying nor drunk nor defeated but merely confused and slightly or severely fucked-up by the sudden crashing of the world around them.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Over the Hill and Through the Lane

I am eighteen years old. I could swear to Jeebus I am.

And then I walk on to the basketball court. I am gaurded by some plucky youngster, maybe twenty or so and I think:

I can take him. He thinks I'm old. He thinks I'm 37 years old. But he's wrong. I'm thirty-six, and, really, deep down in the marrow of my bones there are the latent red cells of a teen-ager waiting to be manifested. I am like some athletic Bruce Banner and once I get the ball in my hands I will explode with speed and stamina. Plus, I have experience on my side. I can toy with his mind, let him think I'm feeble perhaps even semi-retarded...and then I will strike, and his spirit will be crushed as I swoop to the hoop with the grace of an exotic dancer.

What happens is this: I clank a 15 feet jump shot, and then chase a fast-break the other way, guard the ball-handler who takes three steps past me before my first step begins to form and then cuts back outside to drain a three pointer. The entire process takes a few seconds. In that space of time I am thinking: MOVE LEGS!! WHY DON'T YOU MOVE?! HE'S MOVING RIGHT PAST YOU! CAN'T YOU SEE HIM?! RIGHT THERE!! NO!! THE OTHER WAY!! YOU LOOK LIKE A FOOL!!

For some reason, the humiliation is not enough to dissaude me; I actually believe that this moment was a fluke. The next time down the court will surely be different. I buy some new shoes. I tug my two knee braces tighter. I play Street Basketball on Play Station 2 and watch college basketball.

And the next week, the guy I'm guarding dunks on me. To be more accurate, he dunks OVER me.

My son wathes the next game. We are beaten by a lot. A lot of three pointers. I take three shots and manage to hit one of them. The shot is enough to convince me that deep inside me remains the most incredible basketball player to never play in the NBA. Just because I am six feet tall (if I wear thick socks) and kind of chubby and not all that fast is no reason to suspect that I cannot stay with any player of semi-pro caliber.

After the game my ten year old son says, "Don't worry, you did better than I could have...or Mom could have." It is only at this moment, when my son is patronizing me--not in a mean way but in a very caring way, trying to make me feel better (like a nurse telling an old man that it's okay that he just crapped his pants)--that it sinks in.

I suck at basketball. I am not eighteen.

He lists off all the people who couldn't have played as well as me. What he is saying (or at least what I hear) is 'here are all the people who suck worse than you'. He lists off his ten year old friend and his friend's five year old sister, our dog, his grandmother.

"Plus anybody who's dead," I say.

"That's right," he says. "Like Elvis. Plus he died sitting on the toilet."

"And armodillos!" I say. Ha ha. This is funny. Really.

"Yeah, and Mrs. Strange." That's his 4th grade teacher. We continue on, and I smile, starting to think about when it would be fair to start playing one-on-one with the kid.

The worse thing? By next week's game I will actually believe I am eighteen again.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005


Sun-baked boy
Sapling legs and arms
Skin brown leaves
Yours are not the fawn's wobbling hooves
Nor the cub's oversized paws;
They are the steps of the ghost of a man.

I see you sometimes listening
Mouth agape, eyes unfocused on this world,
Gazing at a far off place
I call your name, always twice or thrice,
Calling you back;
I want to ask you what you hear
Instead I tell you to learn about things
To swim, to add, to clean, to sit,
To play, To hug me

If I could leave you alone
I think you would lower your ear
To the ground
And hear what the earth says.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Urban Iditarod

This past week marked the 11th annual Urban Iditarod in San Francisco. I was not a part of this silliness, but I offer this confession: I have been part of the silliness...twice.

I'll refrain from a detailed explanation of the Urban Iditarod; a concise description is as follows: you, your friends, dog costumes, beer, running, a shopping cart, and more beer. Go here for a more thorough look:

I'll also refrain from telling you in which two years I was involved as to avoid any legal action which might otherwise occur. However, a friend recently pulled me aside and said, "Did you hear about this? We gotta do this! We really, really gotta do this!" So I tried to explain I had done this and why everybody is immorally obliged to participate at least once.

The starting line: I'm dressed as Underdog: red, one-piece pajamas, floppy ears, a black nose. My buddies are Krypto, Dyna-mutt, a wrecthed looking Scoobie Doo, Mister Peabody and Huckleberry Hound. We have a shopping cart filled with two cases of beer, ice, a CD player cued to blast various dog-themed songs, two bags of (Scoobie) snacks and some extra rope. The rest of the rope has been tied to the cart and made into loops which will be "harnassed" to our teams of dogs.

The start is a chaotic mess. At some point, somebody, possibly the event organizer, is giving a speech from atop a cement pylon. Somehow, I have ended up beside him and have decided to invent sign-language to help aid our hundred plus viewing audience. I am drunk and it is not yet noon. Soon thereafter somebody yells "Mush!" and we are hurtling forward, a horrid wave of dogs and assembled sleds. One sled is a fake dog the size of a one-story building. Another sled has an almost comatose female riding inside.

It seems as if we have just started running when we have stopped again, just outside a bar. The sounds of beers being cracked, assorted barking and baying noises and the cheers of humans-dressed-like-dogs-for-no-good-reasons ensues. A pack of svelte looking "bitches" is actually a group of cats posing as dogs. Also, this team has a limosine (smart kitties). I notice another Underdog and think about offering to rumble, but suddenly everybody is moving as if by insticnt or by the fact that policemen have gathered.

We run through traffic--through all of the traffic that San Francisco has to offer--down Market, acorss Market, zig-zagging through terrified motorists who must think that New Yorkers have finally invaded. Our shopping cart bumps awkwardly over the cable car tracks, threatens to tip over, and then rights itself with the help of Mr. Peabody's expert guidance. I notice that virtually everybody is running with at least one beer in hand. Another team (French poodles) passes us on our right and I throw some ice. They laugh and strike back with French obscenties. The police seem stuck. There is little chance of them stopping this fleet even if they tried. We stop at another bar and our team, along with others, is huffing. We've lost Scoobie. Only when we are about to start running again does he find us. We rejoice without the sniffing of crotches.

We are running again, and this time we've smartly located ourselves at the head of the pack, just behind the "lead dogs". As we hurtle through Union Square--I mean straight through it--through the displays of arts and crafts--we hear some patrons shout with glee "a parade!" and then some disgruntled cursing as they are jostled aside. One artist stands boldly in front of his wares shouting "You break it, you buy it!" Through Union square, we push up a steep street which separates the weak from the strong. We are definately not the strong, and by the time we've reached the top our team is decimated. Nobody wants to haul the friggin "sled" anymore. Scoobie has been lost again, and our beers are so shaken that every can opened is a blooming flower of foam. But we're at another bar...with police and people dressed like dogs and a sled that contains a giant fire hydrant and we quickly recover our enthusiasm.

We run again, and the pace is furious. We hit a down-slope, and dogs have to leap out of the way as some of the more fierce competitors jump on thier sleds and ride. I follow suit, and I'm hurtling down the street (avoiding cars by sheer good fortune) when the cart hits a cable car track and we (I have come to think of my sled as a friend) topple over spilling beer and ice and CD player and snacks throughout a major intersection. My team catches up and scrambles to save the beer. We leave the remains of the CD player behind and rush on to rejoin the race. As we sprint past a crosswalk, a spectator cries "What are you protesting?" She is immediately met with a flurry of replies: "Sobriety!" "You!" "I just sharted!" And then there is more barking.

The next bar is a blur of beer and war stories already being formed. And then we are off on the next leg which, thankfully, has no hills. We are running on love now. Ahead of us, a dog pulling a large cooler on wheels makes a sharp turn; his cooler zips in a wide arc and explodes as it hits a parked car. There are screams of terror and jubilation, and somebody starts barking. My cape is tangled and upsets my otherwise world-class speed, and I have lost an ear. We are trading off pulling and pushing our slightly bent sled (now empty), truly working as team that is out of shape, drunk and worried that the beer is almost gone. We pass a slumped body on one of the sidewalks--he's probably dead. The police are now blocking off intersections on our route giving us free play in the streets.

The last bar comes and we rest for only a moment; we decide that cheating is not just the only way to win--it's the best way. Before the rest of the teams have finished the rest period, we trek off down a side street and soon become lost. We backtrack to the bar and try to cheat again, this time heading straight down the last leg of the course as non-chalantly as men dressed like dogs can. We push and pull our sled up the longest hill in the entire universe and cross into the finish area, a verdant field of grass where dogs can fall down and rest weary beer-soaked bones. Two other teams are here already having cheated better than us; we overlook their treachery and proclaim ourselves champions.

When the rest of group finishes, we mingle, sharing our stories of our brilliance with all who will listen. Scoobie shows up with a pack of scantily-clad doggettes and Mr. Peaobody throws up. Krypto and I try to hitch-hike back to the starting line, but nobody will stop to pick us up. I scream at them as they pass by, laughing, shaking their heads:

"But I'm Underdog!"

Friday, March 04, 2005

Academic Blunders and Stretchmarks: the Rantings of an English Teacher

It's been a while since I've posted. Why? I've been busy attending preparational meetings for a WASC visit to our school--and it's my year to be evaluated as a high school English teacher.

Maybe Arnold (the Governator)is right. Maybe we do need to destroy the public school system.

An administrator just walked into my class for an "informal observation". Luckily, my class kicks ass (informally).

Here is the form I am supposed to fill out (to show that my classroom teaching adheres to the proper formula):

Post Informal Observation Information Sheet

Teacher _______________ Date Informally Observed ______________

Period _______________ Class ______________

I. Lesson Objective as Stated by Teacher

II. List the content (academic) standards and benchmarks used in this lesson for the students.

III. List professional teaching standards incorporated in the lesson.


IV. List schoolwide student goals (SSG’s) addressed in the lesson and briefly explain connection.

Thank you for your input.

What this means: for my lesson I should have three different sets of standards in mind as I teach. Presumably, for every lesson I teach I should have three different sets of standards bulwarking my otherwise feeble lessons.

I will confess something to you; other than this one lesson, I will not have a clue as to how these standards apply to my classroom on a daily basis. I am embarassed by this confession. I can feel you wondering whether or not my students are mastering Standard 3.5. Some of you are shaking your head, realizing that when it comes to professional teaching standard 1.4 I am a joke. I also must openly admit that I do not understand all of the SSGs (originally, I thought an SSG was a gastro-intestinal illness).

Teachers are supposed to hang a large copy of the Standards and Benchmarks in our class, which I have dutifully done--right above the garbage can. Any of my students can crumple paper and throw a bank-shot off the large laminated sheet. Yes, it is laminated. It is the only thing laminated in my classroom, as if to protect it from sudden hurricanes or madmen attacking with buckets of water. It hangs like the Declaration of Co-dependence.

Here is a 9th grade standard: "Applies knowledge of Greek, Latin and Anglo-Saxon roots and affixes to draw inferences". Apparantly, this is supposed to be quite clear to each freshmen student who marches past it each day.

"Mr Donohoe?" says a cheerful student. "What are we going to do today?"
"Today class, we are exploring Standard 1.6!" I reply, and I step aside so they can see.
"Mr. Donohoe? What are affixes?"
"Easy, my cheerful student! Those are the end-parts of words! Not to be confused with 'prefixes' which we won't be doing as they are not part of the standards and benchmarks."
"Mr. Donohoe? How do you draw inferences?"
"Well, you make a conclusion or reasonable guess based on the information you have."
"You mean we're not drawing pictures?"
"Nope! Not part of the standards!"
"What's an Anglo-Saxon?"
"A large, bearded man who used to roam the earth pillaging villages so he could leave us words!"

And then the bell rings without my having the time to explain just how we are supposed to "apply knowledge".