Saturday, October 31, 2009

"Lower your expectations."

I just listened to an interview with Nathan Rabin on an old NPR podcast.

The podcasts I download are like my New Yorkers -- I get to them when I get to them. It's not like they expire like milk or soap couples. :)

Anyway, he wrote his memoir, The Big Rewind, detailing how he survived growing up by tying into pop culture. His impoverished upbringing, both economically and familial, sent him seeking comfort elsewhere. He did a stint in a mental hospital as a teenager, his parents abandoned him (mother to death, father to serious illness), and his friends were freaks and misfits who introduced him to the world of pop culture; for him, he concludes was a type of "flotation device."

Rabin made an interesting comment about Catcher in the Rye and how Salinger understood "teenage psyche." --- a book that a lot of my former students in the last years, particularly, found "whiny" and "lame." --


Rabin said that because of his upbringing and life he has never trusted happiness or contentment. :(

Now apparently, he writes for the Onion's art section and has the successful sales of his memoir; he quipped, "Now I see what you humans mean by contentment."

This made me laugh out loud .... *grins*

His girlfriend's mother's advice to him:

"Lower your expectations."


Friday, October 30, 2009

Remember the crappy papers?

I went over to KMHS today because I said I would.
Dr. Parrott was having food, and it was Friday. That's a really good day in public school. :)

BTW: Dr. Parrott? Did we ever find where "food day" is in the Georgia Power Standards? I think they must be under GPS 456. A, Section 4, Line 9, Gastric awareness?


I checked into the front office , signed my self in as a visitor, and placed my yellow sticker visitor's pass in a prominent place on my jacket. I didn't wish to be hit with a stun gun or tackled by an administrator in the cafeteria since I would be "strange adult on campus." Administrators get all kinds of itchy when they can make arrests.

*tee hee*

Imagine this:

Administrator 1: 84 to 85 ?-- Strange adult crossing cafeteria. Please 10-4.
Administrator 2: 85 to 89? -- Should I delay "strange adult" passage through hallway? Arrest? Detain? Give Saturday School? [salivates at the thoughts of paperwork]
Administrator 3: Am I 89?
Administrator 1: This is 84. Where are you 89?
Administrator 2: Do I Delay? Is this a code 3? Arrest? [please, please, please?]
Administrator 3: [finishes Sonic hot dog] I'm Yes, I'm in my office.
Sonic carhop: Here is your route 44 lime mountain slushie. Will there be anything else?
Administrator 1: What's that in the background? Are you questioning a student?
Administrator 3: *coughs, coughs* Yes. I'm in the middle of a 567.
Administrator 1: Let me know when you have completed the paperwork. We could use you in the cafeteria.
Administrator 3: Sure, sure. *clicks off walkie talkie and cranks car*

I stopped my Mr. Woodall's 2nd period British Literature class. Other than Kara Smith who screamed out "GILLHAM" like I was her collie, the kids were all kinds of "eh."


I loved you too.

When I went back later, I got a couple of words out of Erika, a shrug from Josh, a "hey" from Michael, a hug from Jamie, and a pretty much "IGNORE BUTTON" from the rest.

It makes the old adage -- "out of sight, out of mind" pretty accurate.

Loved you too, morons!

Woodall and I discussed the state of the school. It's still in the same state. :)


As I was leaving Woodall's classroom, Emilee H. shouted "Gillham" from the hallway -- and then pointed to her forehead and then to my forehead like we were whales, telepathically communicating --- as if, she somehow knew I was in the building....

*rolls eyes*

I then met up with Maegan, Monica, and Becca who apparently had escaped from A lunch in search of me since "word" was out that I was around.


We greeted each other.
I walked with them to the cafeteria where Jess met me in a dead run in the 45 degree hallway -- and she ran at me like she was in slow motion.

I felt like I was in a perfume commercial or underwater.

She hugged me, and then the four of us went into the cafeteria where I was greeted by Carly, Manross, Emilee H (again), Kara (again), and Little Otto -- where we huddled up like we were about to sacrifice a chicken ...

We giggled and snorted --

Emilee H: We look really cool.
Kara: *does little dance*

We were talking so quickly and so fast that I hardly caught what they were saying.

At one time I thought Jess had screamed, "I want to be fixed. I want to be fixed."

I've been out of the classroom a few months, so I don't have the hearing I used to... but I thought she wanted to be fixed. There was so much giggling and guffawing that I don't know what she said.

Maegan: I want you to come back.
Me: And do what?
Caitlin: Teach us. Teach us.
Me: I did that last year.
Jess: Do it again. This time I will listen.
Monica: Come back, please, I miss you.
Me: I miss you too, but that's it.

Those girls all made me feel good, and I missed them so --- and if I could go back and teach, have them in my classroom, and I didn't have to grade their crappy essays, I just might go back to teaching.

Only not.

Then I slid into the media center to see my favorite trio -- Nan, Trudy, and Sherry -- we yukked it up a lot, they listened to my stories, and it was just like old times -- except they told me I looked "rested."

That would have never been said about me when I taught school.



Then I went to see Betty Garner, now known as Lil' B since she's lost a million pounds. She looks great, and it was lovely to see her... she always makes me feel so good. Muah.

I stopped to see Artigas in my old room.


I saw my old walls, my old carpet (ick -- are the termites still there?), and for a moment, I was like "awww.. my old room, my old roommate" and then I was like...


Remember the crappy papers?

I stuck my head in Mixon's room to see Jessica, Laura, Amy, and Marjorie.

We did another EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE, but this time it was answered by a boy across the room of unknown origin.

I answered him back with an EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE.. and then we were done.

I looked for Mr. Mixon. He was no where to be found. Good thing I wasn't an administrator.
Then I'd have to call in a Code 6749999 also known as teacher gone AWOL. There is no class that runs more amok than the yearbook staff unless it's the magnet program.


I finally made my way back to Parrott's room where Caitlin and Cori were waiting to chat with me, but I got back too late.

They were sad. I was sad. I love those two girls. :)

Parrott had to give a vocabulary test, school had to return to normalcy, and I, yes I, got to leave by the back door --- and I got to leave with no regrets and no crappy papers to grade.

Pssst. Brian G? I think the answer to number 1 on Parrott's test was AB -- but I'm out of practice. The only word I can truly define these days is "REFREAKINTIRED."

Good to see you, all my friends.

Keats sniffs the jacket with the visitor's pass.

Keats: [smells school] hisssssssssssssssssssssssssssss.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Children of the Book

I just finished Children of the Book by Geraldine Brooks. A fascinating story that covers five centuries of history, the novel follows a Hebrew haggadah, an illuminated manuscript, that was fearlessly defended by an odd cast of characters in history -- for example, a Catholic priest during the Spanish Inquisition and a young Jewish girl during the Nazi occupation of Sarajevo.

This was a complicated story -- the central character Hanna Heath, an Australian rare book expert, gets a look at the manuscript in war torn Bosnia and determines to unlock the mysteries of the book's travels. Within the historical document, she comes across wine and blood stains, a butterfly wing, and cat hair. She seeks experts in the field to help determine what these particular articles tell about the book's travels.

The parallel stories involved the "children of the book" -- as Brooks writes, "The different hands that had made it, used it, and protected it." These stories highlighted the "children" who had been a part of its journey and participated in its ultimate rescue.

Brooks is a master storyteller. I enjoyed it thoroughly. :)

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


Last Thursday, I spent two days with Wingate at my mountain house.

We laughed.
We laughed.
We laughed.

Why is that?

I took Tallulah with us so that we would have some entertainment other than ourselves. Tallulah had no trouble being the center of attention as she fetched thrown paper wads and slam dunked them through the hole in the table on the screened porch---the hole where the umbrella goes -- if I had bought the umbrella-- but I don't need the umbrella -- it's a screened porch -- never mind. Tallulah was a regular Lebron James.

We threw the paper wads, and she returned them to us like a golden retriever... and she returned them by putting them through the hole. Was quite funny -- she carries the paper in her mouth like it's a chipmunk she found in the yard.

Other times, Tallulah was bad. She had to be pried from the window screens like she was some kind of sucker fish. She would jump on the screen, four legs spread, and then look coyly over her shoulder at me like she had just performed the perfect stunt.

BTW: As of yesterday, Tallulah is in heat. She's purring like an incinerator and making cat calls that start with a trill and turn into a howl.


It's pretty funny, but it must be all kinds of uncomfortable to have your uterus ache and feel the need to rub up against the corners of magazines.


I googled "Cat in Heat" on the Internet.
Got some good information.
Only not.

*tee hee*

Cat in Heat sounds a little like Dr. Seuss. Imagine The Fish comments in that story. :)


Oh yeah, I was talking about Wingate and me in the mountains. We sat on the porch and talked books, former students, public education, apples, the end of the world, tractors, Blake Tipton, philosophy, Hemingway, Dara Satterfield, God, essay writing, dogs, death, Lagrange College, how youth is wasted on the young, good chicken recipes, character education, fruit smoothies, the Eagles, prostitution, old boyfriends, "Leave it to Beaver," carousels, music, aches and pains, the New Yorker, pine trees, the magnet program, Pakistan, our own parents, the Depression, power windows, the book of John, Dorothea Lange, history, asphalt, AP tests, how much fun we had team teaching, the Chinese, peanut M&Ms, Fox News, sunsets, Key West, Jeff Bettis, candle scents, the inanity of lesson plans, crepe myrtles, and how much we loved retirement. [I'm sure I left out something...]

Love retirement.

You know how you know you are retired?
You don't know what day it is.

I called David on Thursday convinced that it was Friday, and I accused him of changing his schedule to go in later because I was out of town.

Me: So, I thought you were gonna call me on your way to work.
David: It's not time to go to work.
Me: I thought you had to be at work at 9 on Friday.
David: It's Thursday.
Me: Oh.

Wingate and I went to Highlands, NC, to shop. The drive up was like driving through soup. It was foggy, rainy, and scary to drive. We wove around the curves and couldn't see anything, and the defroster in the Volvo was working like it was made by Mattel. I had to put on the air to keep the windshield clear.


It poured down rain, but it didn't keep Wingate and me from shopping. We parked, upped the cheap umbrellas that didn't work half the time, and made our way to Dutchman Designs, our favorite shopping hole. We walked through puddles and allowed rain to drip down our backs, all in the pursuit of a bargain.

When we got back to my house in the mountains, we put in for the night with some good music... and at one point, we were singin' "Son of a Preacher Man" and talking 'bout the 70s. We love to reminisce...

On Saturday, we drove the long way home in order to have lunch with Dr. Parrott. The drive was gorgeous even with it being a partly cloudy day.

The oranges, reds, and vibrant yellows dotted the mountains on 76, and when we crossed Lake Burton and saw the contrast with the water -- we saw God's hand. As Wingate likes to say, "It was magnificent."

I love it when Wingate says "magnificent."


Coming out of Clayton, Ga, we headed over the mountains to Hiawassee and 515 which would take us to Ellijay to have lunch with Dr. Parrott.

On a whim and a phone call, we stopped off at Young Harris College to see my nephew, and we ran into a former student on campus. The student was shocked to see us as we were to see him -- it was like seeing the preacher in the wine aisle at Kroger -- you knew him, but you didn't expect to see him.

Tomorrow, I will blog about Deli Junction, Dr. Parrott, chocolate pie, and "ring that bell if you liked the service."

Hard to get kicked out of a deli, you know.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Sassy? I like it.

I have taught (32 years) and lived (all my life) in the same area. One of the drawbacks to that life fact is that I never, I mean, never know when I'm gonna run into someone I know --

When I see a face I recognize, my Rolodex of memory begins to scroll, and my mind asks these questions:

Do I know you from church?
High school?
Grad school?
Are you a bitter parent?
Bitter student?
Did I teach you when I was 12?
Did you pass?
Who are you?
Are you still stupid?

I'm sure a mathematician could figure out the probabilities, but I'm just guessing that any place that I happened to visit, my chances of running into a former student or parent or someone I know is 1 in 3.

At Costco one time, I ran into 11 people I knew. I thought I would never get out of there.

Today at lunch the waitress who waited on me was a graduate of KMHS, class of 2003.

When I saw her face, I knew I knew her, but I couldn't recall her name, but I was pretty sure she was a former student.

Which high school was it?
What did I teach her?
Did I like her?
Was she stupid?
What kinds of stupid things did I say?

She comes running up to me in the restaurant.

Me: Hey. Hi. How are you? EEEE. [sweats a little]
Her: [face falls a little] You don't' remember me?

Me: I know your face. I know I taught you. You're gonna have to just give it to me, or I may never be able to retrieve it. Don't make me wait. I'm old now. Retired. I have limited time.
Her/Waitress: Julie.

Me: Yep, British Literature - -you sat in the last seat by the door, and that crazy girl sat in front of you.
Julie: Diana. How did you remember that?

Me: 90 minutes every day for 90 days -- some things are burned onto the brain. Names not so much, but where you sat, what I taught you, crazy things that happened or were said comes rushing back like an acid trip. I never forget that part -- but names, for some reason, elude me.

Julie: When I saw you walk in, I told the other wait staff that you were my teacher, and that I bet you didn't remember me.
Me: I hope you bet a lot of money.
Julie: I told them that you were the best teacher I ever had.
Me: Tell me more. :)

[I love it when they lie like that -- ]

Julie: Seriously, the first day I walked out of your class I thought "Is she really a teacher? Are the gods messing with me? She's all sassy and stuff."
Me: Sassy? Really.

Girlfriend who was with me: *chuckles* I can't imagine. [dripping with sarcasm]

Julie: Yep, I loved that class - I had come from an English teacher who was a dour as a grandmaw, and I came into your class and there you were -- live, sassy, and funny as hell.

Me: Did you ask really if I was a teacher?
Julie: Yep, you were just all kinds of crazy, and I had never had that before.
Me: All kinds of crazy? I know that was a good thing.
Julie: Totally a good thing.

So, Julie was my waitress, now a graduate of Shorter with a BA in Drama. She is saving money to get married and move to Chicago, where her fiance will go to graduate school.

Aw. Young love. The promises of life.

I love running into former students who aren't homeless, crack addicts, or holding up banks, and watching General Hospital... it makes me all giddy when they are successful, hopeful, and setting goals.


This time -- I loved that I caught up with Julie, who is smart and vivacious with the whole world ahead of her, and she called me "sassy."



I like it.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Matt and Tallulah

Today was one of those fall days when you are glad to be alive and retired. Heh.

David and I ate lunch outside at Theo's. We sat at this wrought iron table, the sun warmed my back, and we drank ice tea and ate gourmet sandwiches. I told him I felt like I was in a movie, and that I wished he was Matt Damon.

David: Uh, his women don't fare too well in his movies.
Me: Good point, but, up until their death, they are pretty happy.
David: *rolls eyes*

This is what Tallulah did. Her hardest problem is staying awake.


I mean this blog can't always be about something.
Sometimes, it has to be about nothing.


Friday, October 16, 2009

Yep. Nope. Ow. Ow.

I took a time out on the Key West review to read some -- which is always good for the brain that is retired -- and now I will finish Key West in one swoop.

David and I went to the Hemingway house. It's a beautiful two story house with a pretty secure brick wall around the perimeter. The top floor has a balcony that runs all the way around. On the top of the brick wall is a little barb wire -- I'm assuming that this is a security measure, and that Hemingway himself was not phobic of the locals.

Lots of men were standing around outside, sporting the Hemingway look, and trying to sell something .. one guy did sketches of Hemingway's house, another guy did tours, and a third guy who did look like he could impersonate Hemingway would let you take his picture for a dollar or a picture with you and him for two dollars. I'm not thinking this guy was a millionaire, but it might keep him in his cups at Sloppy Joe's, Hemingway's favorite bar.

We paid $12 to get in. Is it worth it? Totally.

The Hemingway house wreaks of historical preservation money. Newly painted, the whole house shined like a brand new shoe. The stark white walls contrasted with the verdant green of the porch, and the glass windows, wavy in that old way, shone with the reflection of the light.

The grounds were well-kept -- palm trees healthy, fronds and ferns green and clipped, and the 45 cats, some of them six-toed, appeared fat and sassy as they slithered around like snakes coming out of the flora and fauna to surprise you or sleeping on the tables, their "ignore you" button on high. Some of the cats were friendlier than others -- their names very appropriate -- Gertrude Stein, Groucho, Emily Dickinson, and Archibald Macleish to name a few.

We also saw a stone patio where the Hemingway cats have their own graveyard... and a pretty elaborate cage high rise that looked like it could hold twenty or thirty cats.

It takes full time person to care for them each day. David and I chatted with the woman as she cleaned a bowl.

Me: So, it takes you all day to fill the bowls and clean up after the cats?
Woman: Yep.
Me: Do people try to steal the cats?
Woman: Yep.
Me: Do you have to put the cats up at night?
Woman: Yep.
Me: Is it hard to catch them all?
Woman: Yep.
Me: Do they have special food?
Woman: Nope.
Me: Do you have a vet on staff?
Woman: Nope.
Me: Are the cats fixed?
Woman: Yep.

She was informative, wasn't she? Maybe it was my line of questioning. LOL

The Hemingway house was interesting -- from the writing studio to the modern bathrooms (for Hemingway's time) to the windows that rose from floor to ceiling in every room -- it was a historical house that I'm glad I visited. I could imagine Hemingway with all of those doors and windows open, and in the light that only Key West has -- so bright, so vivid, so different from other places, typing away at one of his novels. Hemingway lived in Key West only for 10 years, and then he moved West to meet his demise of choice.

I think I know why he left. That place is hot -- there were fans humming in every room, and the place was still stifling.

The other thing that we did was snorkel at the Zachary Taylor National Park. We packed some sandwiches that we bought at a New York style deli -- a great sandwich in fact, and we headed with our picnic and equipment to the park.

It sports a little rocky beach and a reef that attracts beautiful, colorful fish. For eight bucks, you can spend all day at the beach or touring the rather boring Fort Taylor. Fort Taylor was this ugly concrete battlement that managed to have little of interest: one historical sign, three or four sets of stairs, and a couple of huge hinges that must have supported some type of artillery. It was hard to get a feel for what it looked like -- that particular fort can be skipped if you're ever on tour of Key West.

Laura had bought us snorkel equipment, and the most hilarious part was us trying it on for size and comfort. The packaging for the equipment was made by the CIA -- it took us forever to cut though the plastic (as thick as a rhino's skin ) to get to the equipment. I eventually had to ask a park ranger to cut it with his knife.

David and I were lousy at the snorkeling. David is not much of a swimmer [as a kid he never had swimming lessons], and I could not get comfortable with the breathing apparatus. Just as I thought I had the hang of it, water would pour in from the tube, and I would come out of the water like a killer whale. David was laughing so hard, he cried. We all laughed. We looked like aliens as we tooled about in the water like three year olds in the kiddie pool.

The shore itself was like a torture walk. Rocks, shells, and very little sand, to walk down to the picnic area was to hear us each mutter and spew, "ouch, ow, yikes, ouch, ow, damn, ouch, ouch, ow, ow, ow." Once you got down there, we weren't scurrying back and forth to the picnic basket. I wore a pair of fins down the second time -- and my walk with those sent the rest into raucous laughter.

The water is clear there -- when I did get my head under I saw blue fish and yellow fish (so Dr. Seuss) and the underside of the ocean is an unusual thing -- Joe took off like Lloyd Bridges -- and several times we said, "Where's Joe" and we see his little snorkeling tube above the water like a toy submarine.

I told Laura and Joe and David that I wished I had practiced ahead of time in a pool.

They looked at me, as always.

Not sure I will ever snorkel again -- I looked too good.

I only finished this blog so that I could post the picture that Laura took of me. I promised her that I would not publish the one of hers -- and hers is funnier. If I did post it, she would kill me, and she usually makes good on her threats.

Would I go back to Key West?

Am I glad I went?

BTW: On the third night there, we finally found a fabulous restaurant called Seven Fish. The food was excellent, the service superb, and the other diners -- well, let's say -- they aren't the same people on Duval Street.

Muah. Thanks for reading.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Bang the dish....

I just finished The House on Fortune Street by Margot Livesey, and one of her main characters was writing his dissertation on John Keats' poetry, a project that he gave up on after seven years worth of work. For some reason, I thought of "To Autumn," one of Keats' most beautiful odes.

Wait. I can't say that. I love all of his odes -- all are beautiful.


I reread the poem a few minutes ago and realized that the autumn Keats wrote about is not the autumn that we are having today -- the autumn we are having today is rain. I feel like I live in Bangladesh. Is it still called Bangladesh? Makes me think of that George Harrison song that we always thought sounded like he was singing, "bang the dish."

Never mind -- back to Keats.

Keats wrote in the first stanza:

SEASON of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.

Is there anything there that is slightly like today? No, this autumn is beautiful -- warm, maternal, capable of plenty -- a celebration of life right before winter. If I ponder on this much, I may turn this in to a commentary on mortality.

Eh. I can see all of my former students rolling their eyes as I launch into poetry interpretation, Gillham style.

"To Autumn" is one of Keats' simplest poems -- and I read once, a long time ago, that it was the most frequently published poem in the English language. That was before the Internet. Now I think the most highly published words in the English language are Miley Cyrus's Twitter.


I hate that I know that she has Twitter.

That's all I got.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

"That's bleak."

Today I met Natalie and Shelley for lunch at Figo, a pasta place on Howell Mill Road. Natalie and Shelley are both graduates of KMHS and attend Ga. Tech.

I drove 22 miles to have lunch with them. 22 miles?

I told them that we have Chick-fil-A here in the "burbs." :)

I love going out to lunch, and I would drive pretty far to have lunch with "some" of my former students.

Not Chris. Not Zaid.

But these two -- indeedy.

I was early because that's who I am.
They were late because that's who they are.
If they were essays, I could have taken off 25 points.

I waited out in front of this little "hoppin" in town eatery and watched the crowd.

It was hot. Of course, I am always hot. It comes with the territory, but I remember how it was to dress for work in the am when it's cool, and then for the October day to heat up to 80 or 85, and when I came out of work in the afternoon, I would look at myself and think "I wore a sweater today.It's hot. I can't believe I have on socks. It's hot. I'm sorry; I thought it was October."

Many of the people who came to dine at Figo came out of office parks or work situations. Men were in long sleeved shirts, women in boots, scarves, and sweaters. Twas humorous to me -- who can wait to dress when the sun is up, and the day has set to its temperature.

One of the many freakin' benefits to being retired.

I should make a list so that those who are "skeered" to retire will see all of these perks.

Natalie and Shelley arrived, we stood in line to give our order, all of us giggling and laughing and happy to see each other.

We ordered the special cause it was a deal -- a panini and a salad and tea for $5.95.

We took a table on the patio, which was sunny and chic. I felt like I was in a movie and doing cool things with my friends; I kind of was...

We chatted about everything from Shelley's wanting a MRS Degree so she doesn't have to take this job in Cincinnati and move.

Shelley: I love Atlanta.
Me: Cincinnati is a big town.
Shelley: But my family is here.
Me: You will have a job that pays you money. You can come home. You are not in prison.

We discussed Natalie's indecision about her major.

Natalie: I hate these courses I have. They are boring. The lectures are boring, and then I go home to read the textbook, and it is boring. Then I have to study boring. Do you know how hard that is?
Me: Of course, I do. I read educational theories and teenage narratives and journals. I have met boring. I know his evil.

We chatted about good teachers, bad teachers, Georgia Tech, its positives and negatives, their experiences, their friends, life, goals, fears, love, hate, bible studies, how their other classmates from KMHS were doing, and even why we like each other.

That last one was never answered. LOL

Natalie: I just don't know what to do. I thought I wanted to be pre-med, but I just don't know anymore, and I have to decide. It's so hard to make these decisions.

Me: Sometimes you just work to work. If you have the luxury of loving your work and it being your passion, then you are blessed, fortunate, and lucky. I was blessed. I loved literature, and then I loved teaching, but my job was my job -- I had other interests. I know people who have jobs that pay well that they can't wait for Friday, can't wait to walk out at the end of the day, but they have accepted it and have learned to find things about that job that they do like. You have to be in charge of that. Find the people you work with interesting, but find something about the job that is good. Then seek passion and love in other places. It just can't be your end all. Find courses you enjoy -- find things in them that are rewarding, and if you are blessed when you graduate, you will end up in a job you like, find satisfaction in, and can do for a living.

Natalie: That's bleak.
Me: Bleak? LOL -- sounds like you are describing a hilltop or a winter's day. It's a word from Dickens.

Natalie: I have never read Dickens.


Natalie:My mother is appalled too.
Me: You have to read Dickens. It's like necessary.

Then we drifted off to other subjects, drank four glasses of tea each, and then parted ways.

How many of my blog readers have never read Dickens? Confession time. I love to hear and know if you have or haven't and what book you have read if you have.

Meanwhile, Shelley and Natalie -- muah! Thanks for making me laugh and making me drive.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

"The World Famous Conch Train"

One of the things about Key West that jumped out at me was the availability of jobs there. If you need a job, there is employment in Key West.

Everywhere you looked; people were working.

Tourist traps just generate jobs --- hotels, restaurants, museums, souvenirs, boat rentals, tours, and yes, maintenance.

The t-shirt industry alone takes a round the clock crew, seven days a week, fifty two weeks of the year employees. Laura and I went into one shop that had all of these “sketchy” but employed twenty somethings clapping their hands and yelling every twenty seconds: “Five Dollars. All Five Dollars.” We were amazed that you can hire people to to do that, and then that they would do that -- without a cattle prod and medication. We ducked out pretty quickly since the music pulsated in that place -- like a disco with an agenda. We only went in there because it was pouring down rain. :)

With Key West getting so much harsh weather -- salt, sea, sand, heat, wind, rain, and hurricanes, there is something to paint, repair, and clean all the time.

Activity everywhere.

I didn’t’ say the jobs were dream jobs; I just said they were everywhere.

As we walking down Front Street, a guy was ten feet up in the air hanging on a light pole and scrubbing the traffic light with a toothbrush.

Joe: That’s got to be the worst job on the island.
Me: Uh, I dunno. The guy at the hotel who rescues the beach chairs from the wake is a pretty bad job.
Laura: How about the girl who stands in front of Cowboy Bob’s and says, “Tequila -- two for the price of one. Come on in,”then hands out a ticket to everyone who passes by?
David: I feel for the guy who has to monitor the topless beach. Phew, that’s a job.

On Monday, we took "The World Famous Conch Train" tour of Key West. [Thank you, Wingate for suggesting it.]

Tommy was our tour guide, and he was informative as well as funny. Not as funny as I am, mind you, but he had some good lines -- most of them were “conch” puns, but he had such a good attitude for a man who drives tourists on a kiddie train for ninety minutes at a time through the weirdness of Key West.

Me: I would hate this job. The same stories. The same jokes. Day after day. Week after week. Season after season.
Joe, Laura, and David look at me.
Me: Okay, it does sound like teaching without the train.
Joe, Laura, and David look at me.
Me: My jokes changed. Really. If I had a train to drive, I might have stayed in teaching another year.
Joe, Laura, and David look at me.
Me: I always wanted to drive the train at Disney World.


On our 10 o’clock tour, there were eight of us -- an older couple, a couple our age, and then David and me and Laura and Joe.

As hokey as the train was, and it was cheesy with its horn, little seats, and bright yellow sides and orange and blue awning, the tour was very informative. It covered many aspects of Key West including history, architecture, famous landmarks, as well as anecdotes of other incidents on the island.

Each of us was handed what my mom called “funeral home” fans, and Tommy drove us up and down the streets of Key West. At one point, he pulled the horn chain and scared the pants off a supervisor talking to his road crew.

We all waved our fans in front of our faces even though the rousing 10 miles hour speed of the World Famous Conch Train gave us a gentle breeze, but remember, it is hot in that town.

The information was a lot to take in --- and since he lead into his particulars with lines like “Up there on your left with the white picket fence, you will see Key West’s oldest structure… blah, blah, blah…" and then give quirky little facts... as well as hard history ... it was a combination Key West infomercial and useless information.

The biggest problem was keeping up with which side of the road and which white picket fence. The place was full of white picket fences.

David and I laughed out loud at one point when we passed two local teenagers throwing a Frisbee in the street; the train cut between their game, and one of the teenagers bellowed, “Look at the happy campers on the morning train.”

It was funny because I am sure we looked grumpy and staid and touristy and silly to two “cool “ teenagers. It was a kiddie train.

*toot, toot*

When we finished the World Famous Conch Train, we ate some lunch and then headed back to our rooms. This was my favorite afternoon and evening.

That afternoon, I put my feet up on the balcony of our hotel room and dug into my novel and New Yorkers. Laura did the same as she was reading Angela's Ashes.

BTW: What a contrast -- Angela's Ashes and Key West. Yowser.

In fact, I could see the back of her head from my balcony. Occasionally, I would yell at her to look at a boat or a jet skier, and we watched a fellow fish from the dock and catch pompano (we think that's what he's catching) over and over and over….

The topless beach was to the left and the right of the balcony -- when David wasn’t’ watching the boats, he was …. walking around and checking out all the buoys. :)

That night, we headed over to Mallory Square to see the famous Key West sunset. The square was packed with all kinds of people -- I mean, one of every flavor so to speak…. And there was all kinds of things to see before God’s contribution -- glass ornaments, jugglers, fire-eating, old sats sitting in the doorways, and a man who had trained his dog to take one-dollar bills from the hands of tourists while he drunkenly sang Lynard Skynard songs.

[David, Joe, and I at Mallory Square.]

The sunset was majestic…. Absolutely fabulous -- I took more than forty pictures as it sank into the Gulf of Mexico.

I felt insignificant. Small. Blessed. For a moment, I forgot the nutburgers of Key West -- this was pretty power.
Real pretty.. like you can't believe it pretty.


Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Survivor: The Conch Republic

Our rooms at the Pier House Hotel in Key West were fabulous. We have an excellent view of the harbor, where in the afternoon sun, the boats, tugs, yachts, and jet skis were skimming the water and scurrying back in forth in only that lovely way that water does that. The view from the balcony will be my favorite part of the trip.

We pile our stuff in the room, and then head out to Duval Street to see what the locals are doing. What they are doing is a big disappointment to me. They are walking up and down Duval, ducking into bars and hawking cheap t-shirts with pretty “lame” and “insane” messages blazoned across the fronts. I will not repeat any of those slogans -- my blog is rated PG-13.


None of the merchandise appeals to me -- and since the streets are packed, we walk six blocks, comment on how “freakin’ hot it is,” and decide to wall up in the hotel room until dinner.

I like this idea cause there is nothing that cools faster than those window units set on “high cool” in a hotel room. When we get back, I hang my head over the cooling vent, a position that I will take many times in my next three days in the hottest place I’ve ever been. In fact, in Key West, I was never comfortable -- it was hot outside -- and cold inside -- I liked it best when I sat on the balcony with the sliding glass doors open with the air conditioner on high.

Green friendly. No.
Me friendly. Yes. The only way to get me that way is to get my temperature right.

Laura took charge of our trip -- she checked with the concierge about good places to eat -- she told her to give us some suggestions that were near by -- the concierge’s suggestion -- The Conch Republic. Other than sounding like a place for Survivor, we were game [no pun intended] to their fare.

We took a left our of the hotel, walked about two block in front of a long pier with boats of all sizes -- from small fishing vessels to a yacht that David and Joe speculated could have cost as much as 40 million, and turned right into the Conch Republic Restaurant.

We hesitated, but we were hungry. I get grumpy when I'm hungry.

A friend of mine recently drawled in the prettiest Paulding County accent: "Peanut butter crackers can save your life and the life of your grandmaw who likes to shop on vacation and not take time to eat."

Word to that, PC.

The first sign that the Conch Republic was lame: the couple at the front of the place, amplified by mikes on steroids, were strumming a guitar, playing a synthesizer, and belting out Captain and Tennille.

Love, love will keep us together Think of me babe whenever Some sweet talking girl comes along singing her song Don't mess around, You gotta be strong Just Stop [stop], 'cause I really love You Stop [stop], I'll be thinking of you Look in my heart and let love keep us together

And why do I happen to know these lyrics? I have all kinds of song lyrics, not by choice and not on purpose, stored in my brain’s file folder labeled appropriately -- What Hours of Listening to the Radio Will Do to Your Memory.

Also stored there:

There's a port on a western bay And it serves a hundred ships a day Lonely sailors pass the time away And talk about their homes And there's a girl, in this harbor town And she works, laying whiskey down They say "Brandy, fetch another round" She serves them whiskey and wine The sailors say "Brandy, you're a fine girl What a good wife you would be Yeah your eyes could steal a sailor From the sea."

Word from the wise: Song lyrics will come to you twenty or thirty years later, and you will wonder why you know this song? Yeah, that’s why.

What was I blogging about?

The second sign: The waitress wouldn’t give us a table next to the water because “the waitresses were on a rotation.”

David: Excuse me?

Third: The waiter, Michael, pulled up a chair to our table to give us the specials.

Joe: Always a bad sign when the waiter feels like he wants to chummy up next to you -- I was afraid he was gonna give us name tags.

Fourth: It was an open air restaurant. As in -- open to the water... and did I tell you that Key West was hot?

Me: They have no air conditioner? Are you sure? Are we in a Third World Country?

*sweats as I think about sweating*

The place was loud and cheap and hot -- not a good combo unless you are looking for a date.


Were we tourists? Well, the folks in this place and we four had little in common -- other than our chance encounter in a restaurant.

Talk about Survivor. This would be a great show for the reality set. Put them in a place like the Conch Republic Restaurant in Key West with lousy food and wait staff and that two piece band who have been lost at sea for twenty five years and see how long they last. Yeah, and no beer.

I ordered a salad that I picked at as I tried to hear the table conversation over poor renditions of “Superstition,” “ You’re So Vain,” and “Free Bird.”

Okay, maybe they didn’t do “Free Bird,” but they sang some over tired and cliché songs that made tone deaf karaoke appealing.

No one liked their food. We all played with it.

So, for the second time that day, we were disappointed.

We left the Conch Republic, complaining about its tourist kitsch and thinking about tomorrow and the better food that we might get…..and we will get better food. It will get better each day; we just had to learn where to find it. :)


David and Joe at the Pier House.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Destination: Mile Marker 0

On Sunday at 11:00 am, Laura and Joe picked us up at the Miami airport right on time.

We hopped in their SUV "like the Secret Service" as David likes to say. It's a black Suburban. Tinted windows -- bells and whistles, including a GPS, of course... and it's big. Real big.

Joe was driving out of the airport and refused to listen to the GPS, which Laura calls Agnes Moorehead.

Joe: I don’t think we need to go this way.
Agnes: *ding* turn left .2 miles ahead.
Joe: This can’t be right.

Ignores GPS. Drives straight ahead.

Laura: She knows what’s she’s doing.
Agnes: *ding* Make a legal u-turn at the next intersection.
Joe: I’m not doing that.
Agnes: *ding, ding* [resets] Proceed 1.4 tenths of a mile and make a right.
Joe: I need an aspirin.
Laura: Trust Agnes.

And so it goes.

David: I’m hungry.

Laura scrounges in the cooler and throws salami and provolone cheese at us -- we grab it like we hadn't eaten in days and follow it with bottled water.

Agnes takes us out of the Miami airport, south through Homestead and Florida City to mile marker 127 where we pick up US Highway 1 to Key Largo and on to Key West.

Me: What is that song about Key Largo? -- sings "We had it all... Just like Bogie and Bacall
Starring in our old late, late show... Sailing away to Key Largo."
David: Bertie Higgins.
Me: How do you know that?
David: [shrugs]

Laura: Don’t be writing down what I say.
Me: I need it for the blog.
Laura: [frowns]

We head down Highway 1 watching the mile markers click off from 116 and hoping to catch lunch in Islamorada at mile marker 81.5.

Highway 1 is mostly two lanes -- and folks poke along on a sunny Sunday afternoon. I mean poke.

A sign along the way tells us: Patience pays. Only three more minutes till you can pass.”

Me: [flips through guide book and reads]

Henry Flagler, born in 1830 and educated only to the eighth grade, became a well respected businessman through buddying up with John D. Rockefeller and Standard Oil. In 1885, he purchased a short line railroad between Jacksonville and St. Augustine with big plans to extend it to Miami, a small settlement on the tip of Florida. By 1904, his railroad was completed to Homestead.

His vision went beyond Miami -- he wanted to extend it to Key West.

Known as Flager’s Folly, he wished to construct the railroad across 128 miles of rock islands and open water. Since all the keys could offer was mosquitoes and sand flies, every item had to be brought in by steamship -- cement, sand, gravel, crushed rock -- and fresh water -- . His idea seemed ludicrous at best.

Me: Men. Always got to be puttering...
Joe: Look my I-phone can tell me whatever I want. Look -- it's showing me the water on either side of us right now.
Laura: Like Agnes?
Joe: Not exactly.
Me: Google Henry Flagler.

By 1908, the first segment was completed to Marathon, Florida, aptly named by Flager as he at one point called the building of the railroad to this point. After that, up next was a 7 mile gap of water….

And so it goes…

By 1912, Flager, at age 82, rode his railroad from Flager to Key West. He changed the course of the Florida Keys forever.

As the four of us ride the Overseas Highway to Key West, it’s hard to imagine the construction that went into a project of such magnitude. It’s great to have men with vision --- who understand the need for forward progress.

I would have taken one look at that -- and said -- hmm -- I think I’ll stop here while I have land.

Me: Hey, bartender? Pass me a mojito.
Laura: Light weight.

We headed down Highway 1 in search of lunch.

We passed Shell World, Tarzan’s Tree Service, Theater of the Sea, and other things all Florida like. One sign read Adult Super Store -- and we all laughed.

David: No doubt what you can get there.

We all glance sideways at David who is gazing out the window at the water.

The sun blazed, the water surrounded us -- blue, green, light yellow -- the boats were everywhere -- being pulled behind trucks, on the water on either side, under tarps, high up in the air on dry docks, and being repaired in little garages and marinas.

Me: I’ve never seen so many boats.
Laura: Uh, if you live here, you kind of need one.
Me: Good point, but I have still never seen so many boats.
David: I like boats.

We headed into Islamorada in search of the clever name of our restaurant, recommended by friends of Laura’s from NSB. The name -- the Islamorada Fish Company -- LOL

Joe: Those people will eat anything.
Laura: They said it was good; they were here a couple of weeks ago.
Joe: I said they will eat anything.
David: Me too.

The Islamorada Fish Company boasts in the guidebook as having “an award winner grouper sandwich.”

We arrived, got ourselves a table on a huge veranda out over the water and thought -- “aww, so pretty and it’s crowded. The food must be good.”

Only not.

We ordered conch fritters and ice tea -- cause we were headed for the land of the conches --- a friendly native brought us the appetizer so quick we thought they knew we were coming.

Yeah, they knew we were coming as they had been, according to Laura, “under the heat lamps since nine am” and were chewy and inedible.

Our award winner grouper sandwiches were just as disappointing ---. After leaving our food mostly uneaten, we walked back to the car with our first, but not last disappointing meal of the day. I, however, was loving the straws.

The sun blazing on our backs we passed a group of loud young kids who were trying to hit golf balls into tin cups.

Laura: I'd rather do anything that stand in the hot sun with those people.
Me: What kind of gimmick is that?
Laura: Apparently, a good one -- look at the line.

We crossed back over a bridge where some kind of ugly fish swam. Torpor fish? Torpon? I don't think you eat them or wanna eat them.

As we headed back out on Highway 1, we saw Dolphin Research Center: Bikers Welcome and laughed out loud.

Only 81. 5 miles to Key West and mile marker 0.

Laura was driving now -- and with the Suburban humming -- we pulled into Key West at 4:00...ready for the Duval Crawl and all things Key West.

Coming up -- the Conch Republic and the Conch Train.

BTW: Conch is pronounced "konk."

A Story from Seat 23 E

I thought I would come back from Key West with tons of stories, but what I really came back with is a journalistic description of each day.

You don't want to read that, do you?

So, I'll give you this....

On the flight from Atlanta to Miami, there were quite a few interesting passengers. David sat on the aisle seat, I sat in the middle, and then a young man of unknown descent and in his early twenties sat by the window. I gave him a hard glance and observed his scruffy beard, his unkempt and unwashed dark hair, a dark blue Gap sweatshirt, with the hood up on a warm day and we were headed for Miami (very suspicious, don't you think?). So, that I could testify later -- I paid attention.

I always have to sit in the middle. *whines a little*

I am also considerate of those around me.

I asked the young man one question:

Me: You got enough room?
Young man: Yes. [in foreign accent]

As we waited for the plane to take off.....

He fooled with his backpack a lot.
He moved it around. He adjusted it.
He did not open it, but he kept it next to him.
He made sure his feet and legs kept it secured at his feet.
He shut his eyes.

As we settled into the flight,

I read my July 27, 2009 New Yorker.

I read “At the Train Bridge” about a man who was so angry at the world that he shot three teenagers to death at a swimming hole in Wisconsin. Sad. Tragic. And he was without remorse.

I glanced at my fellow passenger. Still playing possum. Feet and legs clenched around backpack. One fisted hand held the strap on the backpack; the other lay ready to help if needed.

I read “The Kindest Cut” which analyzed why some people donate kidneys to people they don’t know. In this reporter’s opinion, the donation can be either altruistic, selfish, or unexplainable. Several of the stories where the donors matched with the recipient online were both disturbing and heart warming. I don’t know how to explain it.

The flight attendant came by with her offerings of peanuts and soft drinks.

Young man never opened his eyes to acknowledge her. David and I put down the tray tables, munched a little, and I continued to read, finishing the long articles about organ donations.

I looked at the terrorist next to me.
I glanced at his backpack. He had it secure, and then he moved his hands toward it.

He began to fumble around in his backpack. First one place, then another. He avoided my eyes. I avoided his seeing me avoid his eyes.

I drew a breath.



He pulled out one of those neck pillows, a pink one, in fact, and placed it behind his neck..

I elbowed David who had flipped through a Sky magazine but had since closed his eyes.

David: Whut?
Me: Shhh. [whispering] See, he’s not a terrorist.
David: What are you talking about?
Me: Never mind.
David: *rolls his eyes*

This is how our marriage is -- I never said this to David, but I thought he would know what I was thinking anyway. He didn’t.

He should have; I was kind of scared.

Only not.

It’s just the kind of thing I do to entertain myself when I travel. It passes the time, and the ideas I come up with are quite entertaining to me, but never to David. This is why our marriage is perfect.


Then, I read “Michael Jackson’s Moves.” This entertainment reviewer came to the conclusion that it was Michael Jackson’s dancing that made him such a great performer. In his later years, she noted, he became embarrassing as he made videos that were heavy on “self-aggrandizement” and others on “self-pity.” She was happy to see that two days before his death -- he was strutting, snapping, popping, and dancing. I thought she made a good point. It was Michael Jackson’s dancing that set him apart from other performers. As I said before, I found “Thriller” period videos mesmerizing.

Then the plane landed in Miami.

And my seat partner disappeared into the Miami crowd with his pink neck pillow…. probably stuffed with something illegal. I had read an article not too long ago about people smuggling baby exotic reptiles into the country.

*thumps self in head*

He was a smuggler.

But. Wait. He was coming from Atlanta to Miami. Not from Miami to Atlanta.

Never mind.


BTW: Jessica, I know you will ask me. That picture was taken in Key West. I posted it because I don't have a picture of the plane or the guy sitting next to me. *tee hee*