Sunrise Hall of fame

Sunrise Hall of fame
Just another sunrise?

The pond

The pond
Filled at last

Hurray for da bees!

Hurray for da bees!
HappyDay Farms bees.

Iria and Daffy-bff. Who'd a thunk it?

Iria and Daffy-bff.  Who'd a thunk it?
My good friend, Iris and Daffy.

At the wharf in San Francisco

At the wharf in San Francisco
Mark and Annie

Blue Rock

Blue Rock
One day last winter...

My Shrine to baseball

My Shrine to baseball
Bring on the Dodgers. We're in a bad mood!

Biggee Fats gets patriotic and joins the army.

Biggee Fats gets patriotic and joins the army.
Private Fats, Biggee, reporting for duty, Sir! Can you direct me to the mess hall?

The mustache...

The mustache...
Be careful what you wish for...

Mahlon Masling Blue

Mahlon Masling Blue
My friend and brother.

Mark's E-mail address

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Scraps of Tin Foil

Scraps of Tin Foil

I graduated from high school in 1970, was drafted into the US Army sixteen months later, and relocated to NorCal after I had served my two-year sentence in the Big Green Machine. In fleeing the San Gabriel Valley and eventually ending up in the northern-most section of Mendocino County, within hiking distance of Humboldt, I left a lot behind, most of it intentionally.

Mixed in there, though, were a couple of treasured possessions, if friendships can be considered as such. I have often reflected on that adage which proclaims that if a friendship lasts seven years, it will last a lifetime. I have many acquaintances but few friends in my life, but one friend I do have is John, with whom I went to high school. 

We were classmates as freshmen and sophomores-acquaintances only, really-and then we became friends. The summer following my second year of high school, I expanded my social horizons, and I joined a group of acquaintances who started informally gathering to play baseball. Sometimes there were plenty of guys, sometimes as few as four or five, so we would play Over the Line.

A huge factor was that our friend Eddie had gotten his driver’s license, and could chauffeur us around in style, in his parents’ Buick Electra. Eddie had made the varsity football team as a lineman and he had his license, but it never went to his head. 

And he smoked cigarettes, as his dad did. He smoked a lot. He was intelligent, witty and courteous, and now he’s gone, one of the few friendships I had that was swallowed up in that forty-five-year gap.

The single, thread-like strand that still attached me to SoCal, was the annual Christmas card that arrived each Holiday Season with a vibrant picture of John and his family and the briefest of synopses of the previous year.

Sometimes I got it together to respond and sometimes I didn’t, but the process remained intact and eventually the 21st century caught up with us and I hooked up with John’s better half, Brenda, through Face/Book.

I was baffled in my earliest attempts to reconnect with my SoCal brothers and sisters, to find that there appeared to be a complete indifference to the social medium, upon which I had come to rely so heavily. My attempts proved futile except for the most perfunctory of responses, bland and distantly polite, as though I were possibly a family member of a former spouse, with whom one had to be tolerant, but certainly not effusive.

However, once I was on f/b with Brenda, it was pretty natural that John and I would exchange emails. He tried to talk me into going down to the desert a year ago March, for spring training, so that we could talk baseball and reconnect.

I was cautious, perhaps too much so, and warned him that there was some significant gappage between the north and the south-that is-of California, more’s the pity. How much would it bug him, I asked, when I stepped out back of the motel/stadium every couple of hours, to take my meds, aka hitting the bong?

John worked with numbers his whole life, and retired three years or so ago, except during tax season, after being informed by his smiling spouse that she was fine with it, as long as he still left the house every day at seven, and returned around five.

Brenda has such the sweet smile.

Heck, I never would have figured John for numbers ever since we were sophomores in geometry and he orchestrated the great tin foil caper. Mr. O’Dea had found it necessary to leave the room for some reason and John quickly distributed little scraps of foil to all willing participants. Oh, we were so willing.

Upon the instructor’s return and given the discreet signal from John (a broad smile, slowly rotated as many of the 360 degrees that his neck would allow), we ALL smiled, revealing tin foil-covered teeth, reflecting back the glare of the banks of florescent lights in a merry sort of fashion, if you looked at it from the miscreants’ perspective.

When Mr. O’Dea fled to find the dean, there was a flurry of silver streaks as we all disposed of the evidence. Mine went into one of my shoes, and my ruler, protractor, and sharpened pencil were readily at hand, as I contemplated our pending fate. 

When the door burst open and Mr. O’Dea, he of the beet-red face, came hurtling into the classroom, accompanied by Father Luke, there was nothing but the sight of bent heads to be seen. To a man, they were industriously groping with spatial relationships and shapes, hands furiously scribbling cogent notes and numbers for the sake of posterity, if not for the homework basket.

Asked to give him our undivided attention, we all complied, and when he asked about the tin foil, all we could do is shrug our shoulders collectively, and slowly shake our heads no, we knew nothing.

Oh yeah, we all smiled.

Next: “The Time Capsule

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Failure to Comply

Failure to Comply

I have been “terminated” by the bigwigs at fansided, meaning that I will  not be posting on Around the Foghorn any longer. I had a philosophical difference of opinion on a series of requests from the brass, and refused to carry out their wishes. When the bosses say jump, and you don’t ask, “How high?” then the time has come to depart.

I feel bad for the new editor who just came on board, because there are a lot of logistical questions that arise that need answers. Unfortunately he will have to contend with the issues on his own. I had promised to lend him my support, but I can no longer access the dashboard.

My conflict with fansided began last summer when the bosses sent out a demeaning email to all writers, specifying that a certain rule that was in place, was not being followed. In the future, the email warned, failure to comply (a favorite fansided phrase) would result in the piece of writing being immediately pulled from the site.

The tone of the message was pejorative and I took umbrage at being addressed as though I were some sort of subservient entity. Writers are not paid and that’s all well and good because they choose to do so. Nonetheless, being talked to condescendingly does not do anything for me.

Recently, one of the bosses informed me that he had an “interview” with Buster Posey that he was going to post on Around the Foghorn. When I checked out the article, I found it to be nothing more than a blatant ad for a sports drink, thinly veiled as an actual article. I was dismayed that this was posted on Around the Foghorn; I felt it was a slap in the face.

Then on March 27th, all editors were told to post an article on a March Madness promotion, which I refused to do. The demand came a second time; I ignored it. When the third email came out decreeing that I “comply” with this demand, I wrote back telling the bosses that I was not posting something on college hoops on a San Francisco Giants site.

I assumed they were going to terminate me, so I told the rest of the ATF staff accordingly. They responded in a surprising way. Instead of just being sympathetic to my cause, one of them suggested to my surprise, that we should branch off and start our own San Francisco Giants blog. This writer said that she was tired of all the negative emails also.

I was flummoxed. Before I could say China Basin Chatter, one of the staff had set up our new blog, twisted all sorts of knobs and dials, and gotten all of the logistical stuff in place. We launch this Saturday and it is all good in the ‘hood.

The experience at ATF has been exhilarating and I would not exchange it for anything. I love to write and am passionate about the Giants, so it’s the best of all worlds. As for the management at fansided, it’s their loss.

Besides, yesterday I received an email that demanded that all editors post an article on...”Game of Thrones.” Some sort of promotional, I assume.

I take comfort in the fact that had I not already been fired, I certainly would have been after I got done responding to their most recent ridiculous request.

That’s just the kind of guy I am.

Monday, March 16, 2015

More Brain Than Brawn

More Brain Than Brawn

I took a step backward this week, or forward if you choose to look at it that way, by taking up my carpentry tools again, working by myself, and siding the “new” wing of the workshop with Hardie Board. The project was not necessarily one which required brawn so much as brain, and fortunately, I have more of the latter than the former.

For a year now I have functioned as the maintenance man on the farm, a role I embraced from the moment it entered my life, much the way a person would grab ahold of a lifejacket while thrashing about in deep water. In terms of aging, sixty-two is getting out there over one’s head, as far as being able to rely on sure footing, as I continue to make my way through life.

The going gets more precarious as I age, making me appreciate more, those accomplishments I can still achieve.

The brain part of this project involved figuring out how to do a job by myself, normally done by three guys of the genus known as young. OK, one of the guys is a sawyer, so right away, scratching him or her off the list was easy. Two could also do the job, just not as efficiently.

Still, each uncut plank of Hardie Board is twelve feet long, and must be be carried on edge, otherwise it snaps [roughly] in half. Especially after the entire length has been predrilled and prescrewed, to have this happen is disheartening. On the other hand, it takes only one instance to reinforce the principle thoroughly.

As each board is affixed to the plywood already in place, it must be meticulously measured so that the planking marches up the side of the wall evenly. That means that there is one guy on one end, template device in hand to ensure that exactly seven-and-a-quarter inches exist between the bottom of the current piece, and the top of the section most recently fastened to the wall, and a second dude on the other end.

This is where the brain comes in. While walking with Annie up to Blue Rock last week, and reviewing the job-at-hand about to take place, I ran several possible ideas up the flagpole, just to look at potential ways of circumventing the lack of not only three guys, but two. 

How was I going to get a twelve-foot-long piece of heavy, cement-infused Hardie Board up against the wall, while on a ladder? At the same time, I will have to have the impact driver handy, even though both of my hands will be occupied with the plank. And then while holding the heavy plank with both hands, also drill the screws home with the impact driver?

The answer is to begin by designing a “hanger” made out of wood, so that it could be screwed into place on either end of the where the next plank is slated to go. It must match the seven-and-a-quarter inches needed to keep the boards even on both ends, and it must be tight enough against the wall that I could slide the three-eighths-inch-thick Hardie board through the hanger and up against the corner trim board.

While it was thus firmly in place on the left end, I could then drill home the screws already predrilled, on the right side, moving across after first making sure that all was well on the far left end where the hanger was. So the hanger was a simple, t-shaped device, with the longer side of the tee extending upwards so be fastened to the wall.

Simple and efficient, albeit slow, I was then able to first cover the walls with tar paper, and attach the window trim and corner boards, using three in long screws, and then to commence to side the building. I worked from whenever I got out there around 8:30 or nine, and worked until four or 4:40. 

I indulged in my medication liberally, as I methodically went about the job, stepping into the house for access to not only my bong, but fresh cold water, my other drug of choice these days. The project went very well and after thirty or so hours, I am only a couple-three hours away from beginning to think about painting the whole thing. Compared to hanging twelve-foot sections of Hardie Board, painting seems somewhat tame, but I will try and cope. 

After all, I can’t do the job of three men every time I take up my carpentry tools or they will expect it every time out. 

Sunday, February 1, 2015


This is Episode 30, and the last installment, in the story of the formation, rise and fall of the little education collective that used to exist up here on our mountain. I wrote and posted this account three years ago on my blog and then pulled it off because someone whose name I had not changed, objected. Now I have changed both the name of the little school itself, and the names of everyone who might be negatively impacted, and plan to re-post the story, one episode per day, until all 32 are again on my blog.

Having described the bust of July 23, 1985, in “It Came Out of the Sky,” I now ask, “What does this event have to do with Bell Springs Education Collective? This event took place two full years before we even joined the collective, in 1987, and it has everything to do with Bell Springs Collective. I was new in the neighborhood, having been on the mountain for less than three years. I had owned my property for ten years, but had only moved up in May of 1982.

When the helicopter “camped” on us, we were on our own, in the sense that it was my name on the deed to my land and the federal government had seized it, but we were not made to feel unsupported. Our friends and neighbors were outraged. Will wrote a lengthy letter to the Laytonville Ledger, run by John Weed, in which he described observing the federal thugs invading my parcel, and hearing “sounds of multiple items being smashed.”

Our community’s outrage was reflected in the simple fact, that if it could happen to Annie and me, then it could happen to anyone. It was even one thing to raid property for cannabis plants, it was quite another to toss women and children into the street.  One interesting component is that I never spoke to an authoritarian figure and I was never charged with a criminal offense.  I did get returned the nine hundred clams they stole from me, that I had received from Michael for carpentry services, but I was left holding the other rather expensive bag, to the tune of $17, 500 for lawyer’s fees.  Kind of funny how it turned out to be such a nice, round figure.  None of this $17,486.27 business. 

Friends and neighbors expressed their sense of outrage, by donating hard, cold cash to our defense fund. At first we were so flummoxed, we accepted the help without question. Eventually, I developed a very keen sense of communal responsibility, when it came to finding a way to demonstrably make reparations. Simply repaying money, which was donated to make a statement of support, was not feasible, nor expected.

However, when Karen made the decision to sever connections with the school district, as a result of Misha’s lack of academic growth and the potential legal ramifications, the little collective was left without that district liaison. I have indicated earlier, that the collective was not interested in the money, per se, that came from this position, so much as the curriculum which allowed our kids up on the mountain, to remain aligned with the kids attending school down in town.

The goal was to be able to transition kids from the mountain to the school, without having this transfer be academically any more difficult than necessary. By maintaining the district liaison, we hoped to be able to render this relocation of the kids’ academic setting as painless as possible.

So I could not right the scales of community support, with money, but I could with my education. I had earned my degree already in Humanities, from San Jose State University, so I applied at Dominican College, at their off-campus facility in Ukiah and was accepted. Of course, that act of applying at Dominican unleashed the fury inCorrine Rose Chintz and she wrote the famous letter, described in “Two Can Play the Same Game,” the ninth episode of Bell Springs Collective.

By the time the fallout from all of the legal maneuvering finally settled down, the collective was dissolved, the kids were down in town and I was employed by the district, as one of the language arts teachers on staff.  At least then, I was the first to teach some of those students, making the jump from the mountain to town.

That sums up the events and turmoil that comprised the fall of the Bell Springs Education Collective. Out of chaos comes order.  Corrine Chintz created her share of chaos, whether in a misguided attempt at attaining equality for her daughter, or a sense of wounded pride at being ousted from the collective, something that will never be determined.

What we did determine, is that communication and unity combined to create the battering ram we needed to burst through the legal wall that Chintz created, and that having done so, we provided for our kids the best possible combination of one-room school charm and fervor, with the pragmatic availability of education in town.  

Well-played, one and all.

Friday, January 30, 2015

It Came Out of the Sky!

This is Episode 29 in the story of the formation, rise and fall of the little education collective that used to exist up here on our mountain. I wrote and posted this account three years ago on my blog and then pulled it off because someone whose name I had not changed, objected. Now I have changed both the name of the little school itself, and the names of everyone who might be negatively impacted, and plan to re-post the story, one episode per day, until all 32 are again on my blog.
It Came out of the Sky!

A boom-box booms. and a skill saw shrieks. An ice-jammed blender happily clamors for your attention but a helicopter swooping in over your home, is ear-splitting, cacophonous pandemonium. It thunders out over the landscape, intimidating and terrorizing every living creature, including pregnant Annie and toddlers Casey and Benny.  

The date was July 23, 1985, and by the time this attacking barbarian had retreated, one of the goons who had debarked from this invasive intruder, and come surging up the slope to use the heel of his steel-toed boot to desecrate the bejeweled gates of my homestead, had left a document behind.  Upon this mangled portal, the trooper had posted a message mandating that my home and the accompanying twenty-acre parcel of land, were now the property of the United States Federal Government.  We had been “camped” on.

There were thirty-three cannabis plants confiscated, and though I can provide for you the salient details, they did not belong to me. My number in the draft lottery, held in 1971 for men born in 1952, was lucky number thirty-three.  If I were looking for a fifth number to complete my lottery numbers, and 33 were the only number left, I would pass on it. It has never proven lucky for me. 

Who did they belong to? They belonged to my 63-year-old father, who had moved up on the mountain in 1977, as conservative of an individual as far as cannabis is concerned that you will ever meet. A neighbor showed him the ropes early on about the way he could supplement the income he earned doing carpentry and masonry in the area, by growing a few cannabis plants. 

Having spent the previous twenty-five years working in a steel factory, welding, Papa was only too happy to shift his attention to the outdoors. He grew them in the middle of the manzanita and I did the hard labor of digging and hauling materials.

Papa had begun in 1979 and they had been grown on my twenty acres for the obvious reason that no one lived on that parcel. When Annie and I did move up onto the property in May of 1982, there were already plants being grown on my land and there really nothing that I wanted to do about it. With all of the commercial grows in operation in the area, who was going to care enough about thirty-three plants grown in the manzanita?

The steel-bladed mammoth mosquito had put down in the field below and to the south-west of our home. Therefore, an abjectly terrified Annie gathered up two small children and herded them the opposite direction up our driveway, coincidentally aimed in a north-easterly direction.  When she got three-fourths of the way up the driveway, she cut across the top of three parcels, parallel to Bell Springs Road, and labored across treacherous expanses to reach my parents’ home. Situated above the action, overlooking in the distance the field where the invaders had touched down, it provided a balcony and from this vantage point, she and my folks were able to observe the carnage.  Lito was born four months later, almost to the day.

Where was the man of the house? I was straddling the rafters of the home we were building for Jeff and Carol, installing the blocks below the eaves when the call came in.

“Mark, a helicopter just landed in the field the next parcel over!” Annie sounded agitated.

“Did you ask them what they wanted?” I didn’t know what else to say.

“NO, I DID NOT ASK THEM WHAT THEY WANTED! I was running too hard and I’m worried about Ben. He’s struggling.”

“And Casey?”

Quick snort. “Casey thinks it’s pretty fun. He asked if he could go for a ride in the helicopter.”  Casey was two years, ten months old, to the day.  This was the same time period when I was standing in line at the checkout counter at Geiger’s, Casey leaning to the left over my shoulder, a foreshadowing of his left-handedness, when the following dialogue took place. 

“Hey there, little guy. Are you helping your dad?” As always, the clerk at Geiger’s was friendly and upbeat.

“Hmmmm...”  Casey was uncharacteristically quiet.

“Do you like riding in Daddy’s backpack?”


Latching on to a deli item, he picked it up and said, “Can you say liverwurst?” He waited expectantly, beaming.

That got midget Casey’s attention.

Smiling radiantly, he burst out with, “Braunschweiger!” The head-beams on the clerk’s face dimmed momentarily, but quickly returned. True story, as with this entire narrative.

There were six of the rogues dressed in military apparel, physically conditioned, and obviously passionate about their industry; they seemed to derive great pleasure from their work. With machine-like precision, they were seen going about their destructive mission, producing green blurs of obvious goodness, cut down in the prime of life. Sigh. It was hard  as my family watched from their back deck, resting their forearms on the railing, the snapdragons and petunias creating the false impression that the setting was light and breezy. Unfortunately, the members of this gallery were not having that much fun.

Now it was all over. We were back inside the demolished front gate, reading the posted edict stating that our home and property had been seized by the federal government, for the reprehensible crime of growing thirty-three cannabis plants.  “You!  Take this man out-and have heem shot!”

In addition to the destroyed front gate, the trespassers annihilated Annie’s hope-chest.  Exactly what did they think they were going to find in my Apple Blossom’s hope chest, that would irrefutably link me to an illegal cannabis grow, of fabulous potential, in terms of lucrative reverberations?  

Let’s face it; the perpetrators of this dastardly deed, growing cannabis, were obviously clutching greed’s throat, determined to be able to include a vacation in Acapulco with the ill-gotten gains of this latest caper. Thirty-three plants. I don’t even know whether they were Indica or Sativa, the only two designations for cannabis, in the pre Train-Wreck/OG Kush/Blackberry Kush days.  

The trespassers stole nine hundred dollars of mine, that I had been paid by Michael for carpentry work that was not even rendered yet. I had to work ninety hours after the bust to break even, before I could start registering hours/dollars in the black. There were no job security issues. I had been working with Michael for a while now building an addition, refurbishing a redwood deck constructed back in the thirties, and building a deck to encompass the new addition. 

The trespassers violated the sanctity of my home and that of Annie and my sons.  And there wasn’t anything I could do about it, except hire a lawyer. We paid an introductory visit to the law offices of Ron Sinnoway, and he lent us his attention, having come into the office on an off-day, cradling a toddler within his slender arms. He gently rotated his chair so that the child would be content to listen to her daddy use big words, in a comforting tone, while Annie and I emptied out our pockets. 

I am not dissing on the revered Mr. Sinnoway; he accomplished the task I hired him to tackle and I paid him the 17,500 dollars he asked for with a brilliant smile. It was money well-spent. $17,500 in 1985, does not represent the same hit on your wallet, as it would today.  Just think of it as one thousand seven hundred fifty hours of construction, at ten dollars an hour.  It’s easy to do the math, when zeros are involved. Even this retired language arts teacher knows that. 

We were on that blistering seat for nine months exactly. I was at Corrine Rose Chintz’s home working on the oak paneling inside her kitchen, when Annie called and Corrine fetched me to the phone.

A bubbling Annie exclaimed, “It’s over! They’ve given up trying to pin it on us. There’s not enough evidence, and there are several connections being made, between the grow site and a neighbor’s home, on an adjacent parcel.”

I never had to speak with any law enforcement personnel, I never had any connection with anyone but my lawyer and there were never any charges filed. Papa’s name never surfaced and the matter simply faded away. One comment that I made the night of the whole sordid affair has stuck with me all of this time: “Hey Annie, it all seems pretty bleak right now, but in ten years we’ll look back and laugh.”

And all this turmoil for what?  Thirty-three plants.

Double or Nothing

This is Episode 28 in the story of the formation, rise and fall of the little education collective that used to exist up here on our mountain. I wrote and posted this account three years ago on my blog and then pulled it off because someone whose name I had not changed, objected. Now I have changed both the name of the little school itself, and the names of everyone who might be negatively impacted, and plan to re-post the story, one episode per day, until all 32 are again on my blog.

Double or Nothing
Heck, there were only thirty-one of those seventh graders in that two-period block of student-teaching, and I didn’t even have to handle them for the first two weeks. All I had to do was sit in the back of the room, watch and listen. Ironically, there was a pleasant young man sitting at a table behind everyone else, a smaller version of the tables at which the other kids were sitting. There was a chair for a second student beside him, but the chair was empty, and I had made that my base of operations.

I was student-teaching for Marianne and she had told me that I could sit anywhere, and maneuver my way around the class, in any way that I felt comfortable doing.  She said I should feel free to interact with students in any way I wished, and that there were two weeks to get acclimated, before I would begin delivering particular lessons, or directing the reading of the literature.

As I sat next to this nice kid, he filled me in on the basics, including the fact that he was the “new kid” Woodrow, and had only moved to Laytonville a couple of months earlier.  There were the maximum thirty-one kids in this class, with the addition of this kid, which seemed like a lot. He told me that the kids were pretty cool, and that his grades were OK.  His hair was fashionably long, and he had an earring. There was nothing in his demeanor to indicate, that he would take his place amongst the eighth grade, in a most unforeseeable manner.

Meanwhile, I got the opportunity to cruise around in the back of the classroom, and check out who the trouble-makers were, and what their technique was. I don’t know if I gained a lot during this time, but a couple of interesting things took place, that were to come back to visit me, especially when this same group, dropped by my classroom the following year for fourth period, just before lunch time. 

I was pretty invisible, rarely making my presence known, and therefore, the kids tended to forget I was around.  So when that nice “Hildegard” sent a note over to her friend, she forgot to send up her periscope first, to check that the coast was clear.  I was standing behind and to one side, and she extended her arm off in my direction, without looking to see who would take the note, so I simply accepted it. Not until her friend looked over and gasped, did Hildegard realize her error.

I had slipped the note into my back trousers pocket, without looking at it, and was staring, transfixed at Marianne, as though her words meant everything in the world to me. When Hildegard attempted to get my attention, I casually sidled around to where there were a couple of kids with their heads bent over something that was not visible from my position in the room. They quickly stashed it, as I approached, and I walked past them and into Marianne’s office behind the classroom, and moved out of view of the glass window, so that I could examine what I had snagged from Hildegard. 

The paper indicated that the girls had been making good-if not appropriate-use of their language class. It was covered with messages in two distinct sets of handwriting. The messages covered a wide range of middle school girl topics, but the series of comments that I zeroed in on, were the ones referring to cannabis.  These girls were discussing some fairly sophisticated adult activities, with a casualness that belied their age.

I was well aware that the school district grappled with the complexities of an underground culture, that made its collective living by growing things above the ground, things that proved a safety net for many of the impoverished inhabitants of the region.  Many’s the denizen of our hallowed hallways, who was accompanied each morning to classes by unwanted baggage. There was no way to determine for sure, who the players were, and to what extent they were impacted.

I thought fast as to what to do about the note and more importantly, its contents. If I turned it over to Marianne, thus garnering an “Attaboy,” the girls were simply dead meat. Sirens would go off; they would take their respective places on the hot seats of life. I could ignore the note, leaving them in limbo, or I could address the subject matter with them.

I took the time to reread the note, as the last few minutes dissolved and the bell rang for lunch. Clearly Hildegard was the frequent flyer, no pun intended, and the other girl, an interested party. The note was infused with questions from the one, and responses from Hildegard. She seemed pretty familiar with the topic.

As the bell rang and the kids were gyrating their way out of the classroom, I caught Hildegard’s eye, which was not hard to do, because she was obviously stressed, and simply motioned with my head for her to join me. The chaos within the classroom contrasted with her silence, as her caught-in-the-headlights countenance betrayed her thoughts.

“Am I in trouble?” was what she asked.

“Oh, I think only you can answer that,” I responded. “There’s a lot going on in this note.”  The class was now empty, except for Marianne, sitting at her desk, copying the results form an assignment into her grade book.  She looked inquiringly at me for a second, but I waved dismissively at her and she returned to her grades.

Obviously not what she expected to hear, Hildegard asked, “What is that supposed to mean? You’re the one who writes referrals.”

“I mean that there are different types of “trouble” that you might get into, and some are more important than others. If I write a referral and your parents are informed, then that’s one type of trouble. However, you are probably thirteen years old, and you are messing around with something that can cause problems in the big picture, and I see that as a different sort of trouble.”

“Yeah, but one will get me thrown off the basketball team and the other one won’t.”

“Are you sure about that second part? All I am saying, is that you need to make wise choices and by becoming too dependent on something like this, you do not give your own personality an opportunity to develop. As an adult, you are in a better position to decide whether or not to partake.”

“Does this mean you’re not going to write me up?” I had been twirling this question around in my head but had not formed a final decision.

“Technically, writing a note is not worth a referral and the content of the note, whereas it is serious, is not an infraction since you didn’t bring any with you.” That may or may not have been true.

“So, no referral?”  I saw the advantages of having this knowledge without divulging it to the staff. I was well aware of Hildegard’s family situation, and Hildegard’s knowledge in this area would come as no surprise. If I were going to survive this student-teaching experience, I was going to need some allies.

“I think I am going to play double or nothing with you. That means if I never hear your name in connection with cannabis again, then end of discussion. However, if you bring it to school or are connected in any way with it, then I produce this note, and it gets tossed into the mix for you to explain. Does that sound reasonable?”

I did net that ally. In fact, the following year, when I was to teach this same class as eighth graders, the two kids I mentioned in this excerpt ended up as two of my five anarchists. We did well together during that eighth grade year, the seeds of communication and trust, having been sewn in this, my inaugural experience with them.  I have always felt that Hildegard reaped more gain from this decision, than she ever would have, if I had written the referral.

It allowed me to know that open and honest communication could be a two-way street, and that as we approached intersections, there was a better possibility of avoiding collisions, if I could continue to foster this sense of trust.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Big Bucks

This is Episode 27 in the story of the formation, rise and fall of the little education collective that used to exist up here on our mountain. I wrote and posted this account three years ago on my blog and then pulled it off because someone whose name I had not changed, objected. Now I have changed both the name of the little school itself, and the names of everyone who might be negatively impacted, and plan to re-post the story, one episode per day, until all 32 are again on my blog.

The Big Bucks

I served as the contract teacher the last year that Bell Springs Collective existed, meeting weekly with the three groups of students, first at the little school until it was red-tagged, late in the year, and then at the different residences in which the three sections of the school took place.  
I was attending Dominican full time that year, taking classes that met on Tuesday and Friday nights and all day Saturday. By concentrating efforts for what amounted to twelve hours per weekend, I was able to complete the process in one calendar year. The student-teaching part of the school year took place beginning the last couple of days of January, and extended fifteen weeks into the second half of the school year, ending in the middle of May.

Like most applicants interested in obtaining a clear California Credential, I had to perform my student teaching at two different levels of education, in  my case, the kindergarten and the middle school.  I walked into the kindergarten, the day after the Niners had just won Super Bowl, on January 29, 1991. I was exuberant, though nervous as I made my way around the classroom, interacting with the little munchkins in a reasonably comfortable mode.  

Little kids are easy to engage. I read stories to them, got them to read stories to me; I helped them get organized with this little game, or that set of crayons with paper to boot. I listened to their comments and guaranteed that I was well on the way to garnering my first kid-related cold, by keeping the box of Kleenix handy for wiping their noses. I learned how to monitor their progress out on the playground, recognizing how critically important it was to keep an eye on every one of the little dudes, so as not to misplace them.

I was standing on the playground one early March morning, as the wind swirled around me, bundled up in my olive-drab green overcoat retained from my military experience, and donned as a protection against that wind. Our principal Mr. Matlock came ambling toward me, stepping carefully along so as to not appear fazed by the wind. As he approached me, those expressive eyebrows, dancing merrily, his smile radiated across the blacktop, warming the cockles of my soul, if not necessarily the rest of me.  As he stepped up beside me, he put his hand gently on my shoulder, those eyebrows tap-dancing wildly while he stated eloquently, “This is what we pay you the big bucks for around here.”

I swear the man was giggling like Ebenezer Scrooge on Christmas morning, as he went on his way, leaving me to wonder at the irony in his message.  I don’t know whether he was laughing because even if I were a full-time teacher, I was still not getting enough to make it worth while, or the fact that, as a student teacher, I wasn’t paid at all.  I just know that he was enjoying his little joke immensely.  (My first year teaching had a base annual salary of $18,312.00)

I was more than happy to smile radiantly back at him, as if to say, “Who needs to get paid, when you are having so much fun?”  As I used to say to my students every year I ever taught, “If you think I am in this racket for the money, I got news for you. There a bridge for sale in San Francisco, and it’s made of gold.  I’ll sell it to you for a song. I know you’re interested, because anyone who believes teaching is a money-making proposition, is also likely to believe that the Golden Gate Bridge is for sale.”

The reality was, I was beginning to make the connection that if the Bell Springs Collective was going to dissolve, then I would be interested in applying to the District for an available position in the fall. It was to my advantage to cultivate a working relationship with a person who was undoubtedly going to be on the hiring committee for any position that was being filled at either the elementary or middle school level. I had been hearing reverberations of an unhappy situation at the middle school level, involving one of the five homeroom teachers who anchored the middle school staff.

It seems as though the class which she had as her core class, which meant she had them for at least two classes daily and probably three, had been seriously rocking her world. They were doing the kind of stunts that clearly announced to the world that the element of basic respect was missing from her homeroom class. This resulted in spillover to the other areas of the school, which tends to happen when they are allowed to run amuck for a couple periods a day. The teacher ended up quitting in early spring, and a long-term substitute teacher was hired to complete the year. This is one of the classes I would be student-teaching reading and language for two periods a day.  Knowing in advance what was in store for me was good and bad.  

It was good because I hate surprises; it was bad because, knowing what was in store for me, I stressed out over it.  Fortunately, I spent seven weeks with Susan Bradley before I had to face the middle school. Though the little kiddies went home at 2:30, I was there every day until five-thirty or six, sweeping, talking, cutting, sorting, learning, listening, and gaining a foundation for what it was like to be a full-time teacher.

What I learned from Susan kept me afloat through more turbulent waters to come, and there were several times when I went back for an infusion of her enthusiasm. There was no shortage of support from Susan; there was just a shortage of time.  Whereas I probably would have been content to stay in the kindergarten forever, that all changed when I did finally go to the middle school, where I found to my delight, that the little monsters intrigued me.  Thus began a sixteen year sojourn in the grade levels that best describe me. How appropriate.

Before that could happen, however, I had to survive my student teaching, and that meant facing that class that had driven their regular teacher right off the premises.  Oh boy for me.