Dozer, the Bulldog

Dozer, the Bulldog
Feeling the "Bern"

Ellie Mae

Ellie Mae
No time for gates...

Ollie Mac

Ollie Mac
My cooking assistant

Ollie and Annie

Ollie and Annie
Azorean grandmother


38 years on this mountain, come May 31st...



Papa and Ollie Mac

Papa and Ollie Mac
Priorities, Baby


Annie, my Sweetest of Apple Blossoms

My first portrait

My first portrait
"Mr. Farmer"

Mahlon Masling Blue

Mahlon Masling Blue
My friend and brother.

Mark's E-mail address

Wednesday, February 29, 2012


The Kaiden referred to in this piece of writing is the not-quite-one-year-old son of Jamal Andrews, who was taken from us an indescribably long time ago.  We cannot go back, but we can certainly look ahead.
The subject of Kaiden’s College Fund comes up incessantly, and I have been giving the matter some thought.  A lot of thought.  I am not sure exactly what the status is, but I think this is an admirable time to clarify things.  I am a huge fan of the clarifying question.
There are undoubtedly some people who will simply open up their wallets, and peel off the Ben Franklins, until their wallets are empty.  Man down!  There is nothing wrong with that step, per se, as long as long as someone helps that downed man get back on his feet.  When the wallets empty out, then I think we need to get a process in place, where we set out to methodically hammer away at the projected college fund, for a young man, who is slated to begin his college career, in the year 2030.
It will cost a lot more in 2030, to attend four-make that five-years of college, at the university of his choice.  We are not going to be able to net that in a bake-sale out in front of Geiger’s.  How about a huge auction?  We could scour the hills for trinkets to display, and ask people to bid on these trinkets, with all proceeds going to Kaiden’s College Fund.  
[There are those words again that just keep gyrating in my head.  Kaiden’s College Fund.  They will NOT desist.  You’ve heard of KFC?  Almost the same:  KCF.  Kind of catchy.   K.C.F.         K.C.F.      I fear  hope and pray those words will not desist until we have that aforementioned figure.  By the way, I added that fifth year in there, because it’s better to have the loot and not need it, then need it, and not have it.  That would be the presence of Pauline, my revered mother, in me, hollering out.]
OK, that’s fine too.  But one auction?  Maybe more than one?  Maybe a huge annual auction, until we hit the goal?  I don’t know.  I am just thinking aloud, which is the next step after talking aloud to myself.  After that, you’re still talking, but the microphone is turned off.
I can feel all of those intellects out there kicking into gear.  After all, this is not diagramming sentences.  Now I posted a funny little snippet on FaceBook today, centered around my favorite coffee shop, Poor Girls, right here in Laytonville, and it got me thinking.  There are a few of you out there who sat through novel after novel, as I read to you.  Maybe one or two would like to relive that experience for a 47-minute period of time, while I read something aloud.  I am not presumptuous enough to suggest something I have written, but there are an awfully lot of selections, from which to choose.
Now, obviously, I am not interested in charging money, for what would amount to a pleasurable experience, but we might place a “hat” at the entrance of Harwood Hall, should someone feel that a contribution to Kaiden’s College Fund  is in order.  
So that’s what I have for you.  If people just sat down and gave it some thought, I bet we could generate a lot of enthusiasm for this cause.  All I have to do is see a picture of Kaiden, in Jamal’s arms, to get me all pumped up.  How about you?

Bowsers Revisited *

Bowsers, Revisited *
Dogs are cool people.  I was raised in a household with nine kids, but no dogs.  We had a dog all right, but not in the “house”hold, only outside.  My folks figured there was enough chaos as it was, without throwing critters into the mix.  So, even though we frequently joined our bowsers outside for the night, our doggies were not allowed to reciprocate, and join us under the same roof.  After all, the temperature at night, in SoCal, was far more inviting outside, than inside, back in the pre-air conditioned 60’s.
When we moved up here to Bell Springs Road, my sistah gave us a mixed breed Australian Shepherd named G’Day.  She was the sweetest little hound that ever you did want to be around, but she was an eighty-percent-outside dog, allowed in only at night, when the temperature outside, created the need for refuge.  Even then, I trained G’Day to remain within the five or six feet radius of the door.
When G’Day took that final trip Down Under, we acquired Hazel, our golden retriever.  She also remained within the immediacy of the back door, only she probably spent half of her life inside, most of the winter, and even times in the fall and spring, when things were dicey (Remember Dicey seventh graders?).  Of course, the boys thought I was inhumane, because Hazel was not allowed to roam within the house, but I just had my childhood attitude about dogs in the house, getting in the way.
Then came the current Australian shepherd, Clancy, no mixed-breed he, but a pure-bred merle, who is exquisitely beautiful.  He broke the kitchen door barrier, and became a full-time resident in the house, until such time as his thick fur jacket, makes it imperative that he seek the shade of the north-facing side of the house, where he burrows into the cool soil along the foundation, and snoozes.
And for the grand finale, we have Dozer, our English Bulldog.  He actually belongs to Lito, but when he first arrived, he brought the series of lightning strikes, known locally as the 2008 Mendocino Lightning Complex, with him.  Talk about an entrance!  There were 129 fires in Mendo County alone, half of which I am sure, Lito and Benny extinguished on their own, but that would be the dad in me.  I admire people who risk their lives, so that maybe my house might stand to see another winter.  Allow me to assure you, when one of those 129 fires started near Leggett, and headed for us over the course of those long June days, it left us slightly off-balance, with a lingering sense of doom.  Nothing brings on that impending sense of doom, like ashes falling all around you in the blistering summer heat.
Dozer not only roams the house as he pleases, he also-gasp!-sleeps on our bed at night (and whenever he darn sure wants.)  How that happened, I don’t have a clue, he boldly lied.  Actually, when he first came, he was still a pup, and well, he, uh, whined and howled, and whimpered and did what puppies are programmed to do, and our hearts went out to the little guy.  He ended up on the bed.
That was when he was this cute little butterball.  Well that butterball has become a lard-butt.  Fifty-three pounds of dead weight, often strategically located between the two of us, :( , as he snorts, snuffles, snerts * and snores his way through the night.  Trying to  wrestle enough of the blankets away from under him to cover me, is a battle I would rather leave to the Marine Corps.  I know it leaves me battle-fatigued.
As the paradigms continue to shift for me, after emerging from the mist of my 48 years of panic attack syndrome, * dogs have transmogrified from “dogs” to “pals.”  I would venture to guess that most of you already place “dogs” in this category, but I am a recent convert.  I now view my two bowsers as pals.  To not walk them up to the top of the driveway each morning, about a twenty minute round trip, spitting defiantly into the throes of a hurricane, should that be necessary, would be heresy.
You know all those years I read “Where the Red Fern Grows” to you guys?  Well, as much as the story sells itself, I had to feign enthusiasm for Old Dan and Little Ann, as “dogs.”  I remember a revered colleague of mine, relaying her inability to keep from crying when, well you know when.  I never had issues with that, while reading aloud to every sixth grader, who fell into my clutches.
Well guess what?  Recently, the new me went to my pool room bookshelf, and snagged one of my copies of WTRFG, and I did another read.  And I have to tell you this.  I could NEVER read that book out loud to you again.  I would be crying like a baby.

* I did a piece from Ireland, entitled Bowsers, which chronicled my encounter with Nell, the village dog You can reach it here:   If you were to hunt for it on my blog, go to September.  In the twelve days I was there, I wrote 34, 500 words, to attempt in some willy-nilly manner, to convey the depth of my emotion, at being in this tiny jewel of a magic kingdom.
* Don’t try this on your own, folks, but this word just fits perfectly here, even if I can’t find the stupid thing in any dictionary in my house.
* I wrote about freeing myself from panic attack syndrome, in a piece called "Six Days a Week."  It is the first thing posted on my blog. I wrote it in a day, last March, and have since written everything on my blog, more than two hundred and fifty pieces, many of them 25  or 30 pages.  

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

It's A Boy!

It’s A Boy!
The All-Terrain Vehicle, upon which I am currently strapped, continues careening, erratically down Bell Springs Road, destined to end up on Highway 101, with or without me.  Right now, it’s a fifty-fifty proposition.  What I mean is, I’m not going anywhere physically, but emotionally and psychologically, I am ping-ponging back and forth, from the 20th century to the 21st, and one of these trips is going to find me finally clutching the railing, along the InterNet Highway of Life.
Lito is my mentor, so you’ll have to take up any objections with him, though until this point, my welcome has been overwhelming.  I have been proceeding cautiously, with my gallop into Facebook.  I have been sending out about a dozen friend requests per day, and receiving those, plus a few in return.
All of the connections are meaningful to me, because I have an intense interest in how my former students are progressing through life.  This is a unique opportunity, unparalleled in our history.  In the past, students left the classroom, and for the most part, never revealed their travels to their former teachers, leaving them simply wondering.  Maybe a class reunion allows a snapshot every decade or so, but not the day-to-day reality of life.
Not seeing Randy posting picture after picture of his new baby, announcing to the world, “I am a proud Papa!”  Not hearing Travis muse that today seems an unusually negative day on Facebook, and I feel guilty, because I have been airing my frustration with the Editor(s) of the Ob****er.  Not  finding out immediately, that April showed an ultra-sound picture of the baby, and there were 58 well-wishes, before I even got there.
This is all new to me.  I have still got one of my feet planted on top of a copy of the Ob****er, something that is concrete, something that you hold in your hands, at the breakfast table (OK, not up here.  I have never had a newspaper at the breakfast table, because who drives into town and back, before breakfast?), something that has substance.  But really, how much substance is there?
Facebook has color, vibrancy, warmth and entertainment.  It has friendship, camaraderie, support and love.  There is a lot of love out there.  When I request a friendship, I never take anything for granted.  I never make the assumption that anyone would welcome back a teacher from a time period, which many find to be infinitely forgettable.  So when I do get an invite into someone’s space, I am always appreciative.
I friended a dude, who had been in my class for the first portion of his seventh grade, but who had then shifted to independent study, because of behavioral issues. We had gotten along pretty well in the middle school, but he had still ended up deciding to make the transition, at some point on his journey through the year.  Now I chilled, while I waited to see if he would accept my friend request.  
Would he hold this transition against me?  Not to worry.  When we connected, I expressed this concern, and he told me that he had liked me as a teacher, but that he had been going through a hard time, because his pops was sick, and he acted out; he he told me he didn’t know the appropriate way to control his emotions, or express the way he felt, and that was the result.  Our re-establishing of ties, has been a high-point for me.
No discussion of renewal of old ties would be complete, without mentioning my connection with Marianne.  We taught together at the middle school for a decade and a half.  We worked together on the restructuring of our school district; we maneuvered our way through the whole saga of Complex Instruction; and we immersed ourselves in the scintillating world of standards and effective assessment. 
That’s a lot of collaboration outside the classroom, and resulted in my building a deep, and lasting appreciation and respect for an individual who did as much-if not more-for our school/district, as far as bringing technology to us, than anyone else.  Partially because of Marianne, we now have former students, who are conversant with technology, comfortably maneuvering their way around the InterNet and Facebook, as though it were elementary.  And for them, it is.
For me it is anything but that.  I keep hitting the return button on comments, and then having to do a second comment.  I keep posting in what I think is the right spot, only to have it end up somewhere else.  And posting a picture?  Michelangelo had it easier than I.  All of that notwithstanding, I am continuing to make my way through this new-to-me technology.  I am riding the crest of a wave of emotion and satisfaction. 
Words do an injustice to my attempt to convey to all of you, how much it means to be welcomed back into my community.  Your response has been overwhelming and heartwarming.  You tell me things that a teacher spends his or her entire career, hoping to hear just once.  And I hear it again and again.  That wave of emotion is swelling up behind me again, threatening to carry me at breakneck speed, right onto the shore.  But that’s OK, all I do is friend another dozen or so old friends, and paddle my board back out to sea, and wait for the next wave to come along.  There you go.  Terra Jean, my laptop, just cooed, indicating an incoming message.  Gotta go, this looks like a good wave.

Monday, February 27, 2012

That About Wraps It

I wrote this letter as a way of expressing my frustration at the callous approach that the Editor(s) of the Mendocino County Ob****er display to the people who generously donate their work, in an effort to better keep our community informed.  I would love to discuss the matter with them, but they are reticent to explain sufficiently in person.
That About Wraps it 
An open letter to the Editor of the Mendocino County Ob****er,
What we have here, is a failure to communicate, and I would like to resolve this situation, once and for all.  I feel there is a hidden agenda, about which I know nothing.  I offer to you, a commodity which is generally appreciated by editors: something to put in your paper.  If you want to publish my stuff, then I think a few concessions are in order.  If you do not, then that makes life simpler for me, so it’s a win-win situation.
I have been contributing my work to the Ob****er for a while now, though I get no compensation from you.  I do not assume that my work helps sell newspapers, because I have no evidence to that effect, but by the same token, I do not assume that my work discourages sales, either. The only thing I do know, is that people seem to want to mention to me, that this piece of writing, or that, really meant something special to them.  I do not solicit opinions on my work.  
I asked on December 18th, in an email to the Editor of the Ob****er (it is still unclear who that is) that my name be added to the list of contributors.  The list seemed a little outdated, since many of my favorite contributors were not represented, and Jon Spitz’s name was still included, even though he had publicly declared that he was giving his articles a rest.  I thought maybe all of the contributors’ names might be included, and I suggested as much.  The person who responded wrote, 
“For starters you can change your subject line from ‘Letter to the Editor’ to ‘OpEd-O'Neill.’  As to ‘contributor’ watch for your name on page two box, left side bottom.  The Irish editor decides who has the high honors.” 
Was it meant as a mean trick?  I honestly do not know.  Why would this message be sent to me, if there was to be no follow-up?  What this situation produced in me, was annoyance.  What had been simply a whim before, became more pressing.  I think it became more important for one reason only.  Why shouldn’t my name be listed as a contributor?  I work to create my pieces of writing.  I do it in addition to my employment.  And the bottom line is, it doesn’t cost you a plugged nickel.  Your eventual response to me, that there were just too many contributors to list them all, is ludicrous.
I must assume that you like my work. When I submitted the piece on Jamal, you told me it was “beautifully written,” and when I gave you the piece on Pam, you said, “I love it.”  If you do not think my work is any good, why would you tell me it was?  And if it is good, why will you not acknowledge that, by listing my name as a contributor?
I began a blog last July, and have posted on it daily since then.  I have 28 followers," with more joining every day.  Now my readership is hitting 100 page-views per day.  Guess what?  I need the Ob****er, like I need a drum stick shoved up my nose.*  It gave me some sense of satisfaction to show my former students that I could put words together on paper, just as I asked them to do, for so many years.  But now they have seen that, so I no longer care.  
And I think that all contributors should be acknowledged.  I do not care about listing the Ukiah Journal as a contributor, or those police reports, but the local people who contribute their work, should be acknowledged.  After all, they do not get paid either, so why shouldn’t they have recognition?
Twice now, I have attempted to keep the community informed about the upcoming court appearance, that takes place on the 1st of March, and twice it has not appeared.  The first time I said, whatever.  I know it must be terribly challenging to put out one edition, one day a week, but come on, people.  The second time it occurred, was unconscionable.  I will not continue to look like a buffoon.  I am committed to keeping the community informed, but you are defeating my attempts. Of course I can post the information on-line, but not everyone has access to the internet, so I wanted to include this information in your periodical.
So now on consecutive occasions, I have been made to appear inept.  First, before I would ever consider submitting something again, I would need a public explanation, that included you taking responsibility for being incapable for pulling off the publication of the Ob****er, without botching it.  Use whatever words you like, but remove the cloak of incompetence from my shoulders, and don it yourself.
Next, while on the subject of what it would take to convince me that I should continue to submit my work, I may as well bring up that I do want those names listed as contributors, once again.  That would be a must.  No possible way to ignore this stipulation.  It is bogus to suggest there are too many.  Add another page to the paper.
Thirdly, I think you should give serious consideration to how much money the Ob****er would like to donate to Kaiden’s college fund.  If there is not a college fund for Kaiden, then maybe you could initiate it.  Think very carefully how much you wish to contribute, because this is important.  Too little would be an insult. Too much would be acceptable.  And may I add, that this gesture on your part will be viewed as very generous, so you may thank me in advance?
That about wraps it up.  Only you know whether or not my essays help sell papers, and since I don’t care, the ball is in your court.  Let me know when all three of these stipulations have been carried out, and then I may consider re-evaluating my opinion.  I did not say I would capitulate, only that I would consider re-evaluating things.  Meanwhile, as I said the other morning on Facebook, don’t hold your breath waiting for me to send something your way; it could be hazardous to your health.
                                                                                                            Mark O’Neill

* I stole that line from the film, "Some Kind of Wonderful."

Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Right Spot

The Right Spot
Matt Cain is all right with me.  He has been the anchor of our pitching rotation, since his arrival on the scene in 2005.  In his first start, as a San Francisco Giant, he went five innings, giving up two earned runs, and took the loss, in what was a glimpse into what it would be like to be a Giant.  Great pitching, not-so-great offense.  Or let’s put it this way, selectively great offense.  We got 21 runs in the first two games of the Series, against the Rangers.  I have to admit, if you aren’t going to do it all that often, it’s nice to pick the right spot.
Fortunately, in his next start on my birthday, September 4th, 2005, he threw his first victory against the D-Backs, and followed it up in his next start, with a complete game shut-out against the Cubs, allowing just two hits.  By 2006, he established himself as a workhorse, going 13-12, with a 4.15 ERA.  At one stretch there from August 12-September 14, Cain went 5-0 with a 0.21 ERA, giving up one run in forty-two innings.
His unblemished World Series ERA is mute testimony that Matt Cain rises to the occasion.  He is unflappable.  He is one of those stoic Southern farm boys, who seems to feel that because he is big, and can throw the ball past you, that he deserves special consideration.  I have to tell you that I agree.  I saw the way Drysdale and Koufax throttled the National League, back in the sixties, and it was a thing of beauty, even if the thought of the Dodgers does make me want to, well never mind.
Don and Sandy, meet Matt and Timmy.  I am not suggesting that they are similar pitchers, nor am I suggesting that one pair is better than the other.  What I am noticing is that two are still in the game, and two are not.  And the two who are still in the game, happen to be San Francisco Giants.  So that’s too bad for the Dodgers.  They have their own duo in Kershaw and Billingsly.  What are you going to do?
I’ll tell you what I think we ought to do:  I think Brian Sabean should sign Matt Cain, most rickety tick, to a five year deal, comparable to the one that of Cliff Lee, who signed with Philadelphia, for 120 million dollars. I think this because Matt Cains do not grow on trees.  He might grow into a tree, but we are not going to find another as readily as the one we have.  And even if we did, he wold cost just as much.  So why would we risk losing a known commodity, for that of an unknown, who is going to cost just as much?
Fans who are clamoring for a “big bat” should get a grip.  They should grip their resentment by the throat, and stop to think what will happen if we get that big bat, and lose our superior pitching.  We will be like all the rest of the teams that are struggling to establish an identity, that’s what we would be like.  We would be like the Rockies and the Padres and the Reds and like just about every other National League team.  They are all looking for young, talented pitchers.
Because pitching and defense beat big bats and home runs, especially in a ball park such as AT&T, where they have a special alley in right-center field, designed especially to bedevil opposing outfielders.  We need to take advantage of what we have, and use it to establish the pace over 162 games. That’s all it takes, because with a pace you can start to pull away and then the other teams have to pick up their pace.  That creates pressure, and that causes mistakes.
Let’s use our rabbits to maintain pressure on the base-paths, and keep the opposition off-balance, long enough to get ahead of the pack.  Then the pack can just watch our back, which is not the same thing as having our back, but what the hack?  We don’t care, because we’re going to have another World Series Crown, and with that Crown on our head, we’ll have all of NorCal to watch the Giants’ back, and the parade too.  I love a parade, especially one in downtown San Francisco.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

No Strings Attached

No Strings Attached
Not too long ago, I wrote a piece entitled “Thank You, Dr. Jill," detailing my seven-visit therapeutic journey, to rid myself of a lifetime affliction, panic attack syndrome.  I gave a few anecdotal details, and sketched out my recovery process.  I also described how I suffered for so long, because I just did not know what was up with me, and had no idea others suffered the same malady.  Stop me if you have heard this before.
What kinds of things used to rock my world?  I told students every year, that I found it difficult to be in the midst of crowds; ironically, going to San Francisco Giants games is extremely taxing, though I can now do it.  I always had to sit in the back-left of the theatre, sit on the aisle, and have an escape route outlined, if I should have to exit, stage anywhere, outside.  I was always fearful of the unexpected, either sudden loud noises, or startling events.  Then my heart would be going into overdrive, and the blood would be draining from my head.  If I were unable to escape, I would end up blacking out.
There are millions of people in this country, who suffer from anxiety issues.  I was so petrified that I was going to have an attack, while in public venues, that it skewed my ability to enjoy any type of social event, that placed me amidst others, in any setting.  That makes for some limiting vistas.  
Being required to meet as a staff in small locations was very challenging.  After the new high school was built, the entire district met in a room that was so small, I think it was normally used as a storage closet.  I was petrified to do anything except hover on the fringes.  Paul was so very patient with me.  Meeting in the multi-purpose room was good, because I could always be assured of getting a chair in the back of the room, or join those standing in the back.
Teaching was never an issue, because the parameters which limited social interaction did not, for the most part, exist.  Even when everyone was jammed in the MPR, I could still sit where I wanted, or more likely, stroll around pretending to act like a teacher.  You know, go harass some poor student, who was obviously minding his own business, when I have to go rousting him out.  That was my job, you know, giving kids a hard time.
The hardest thing about the MPR was having to sit through the educational films, which were graphic in their directness.  As educators, it made sense that we be knowledgeable in these matters, but rational thought does not enter into the equation when it comes to the blood draining from your head, your breath coming in fits and starts, the sweat suddenly dripping down your face, and your feet suddenly feeling as though they are weighed down by four of those eighth grade US History books.  Those doggoned dental images and all those needles, not to mention blood, just left my knees all wobbly.
On the other hand, I have had to deal with approximately twelveteen hundred instances of students having those sorts of difficulties, with no ill effects.  It is all in the circumstances involved.
Being inside a bus did not bother me, because there were too many responsibilities, and my mind was focused on the task at hand.
OK, in a nutshell, what’s the answer?  How does one get rid of panic attacks?  Mind over matter.  The power of the mind is awesome.  Everyone can do it.  A therapist will guide the process, but I had to get the paper and pencil out.  I had to record my specific anxieties, as trivial as they seemed.  I had to keep the mood chart, and figure out what it meant.  I had to do it, or remain a victim.  
I did do it.  I escaped.  I spent a winter building and thinking.  I sat down in March, not even a year ago, and I wrote out an account called “Six Days A Week.”  It is not warm and fuzzy, but you do not have to read the whole thing to find out what I was going through.  You do not have to read the step-by-step process I went through, but it helps.
And it may help someone in need.  A friend in need, is a friend indeed.  I have a lot of reawakened friendships, and someone out there may know someone who could still use a reading assignment from me.  If so, please pass on the word.  No strings attached.

Friday, February 24, 2012

The Fall of the Fineline Salon

Dateline: Blogland, February, 24, 2012.  it is with a heavy heart that I announce the unexpected downfall of the Fineline Salon.  With the approaching baseball season, I will be doing a daily piece on the Giants, in addition to my regular piece, and I will be returning outside to the world of construction, albeit, possibly in a wheelchair, which is OK, because the sawyer doesn’t need to walk much.
I take my blogging responsibilities seriously, so I will not expect you to feel compelled to continue to visit my site.  Of course I will continue to monitor your sites, just not leave comments.  I am also excited about the link between the blogging world and Facebook.  I am excited at the prospect of picking up a new reader or two.  So good luck in your writing endeavors, and may you never be at a loss for words.  Markus

Sitting in the Bleachers

Sitting in the Bleachers
When my boys scatter my ashes at AT&T Park (no, not on the outfield-up in the bleachers, on the cement-so that I get to sit with them when they come to see the Giants), I will have no complaints about this here Disney ride called Life, with a capital L.  I will have done all that I set out to do, and then some, with a feather or too for style.
What are my life’s achievements?  Besides surviving my own antics growing up?  I persevered though twenty-one months of military service, bitter and resentful inside, but placid and accommodating on the exterior.  What else could I do?  What I really wanted to do, was flee to Canada, but that took a lot more courage, than simply saluting, and saying, yes, your sergeantship, or something like that.
I earned an Army Commendation Medal, for-I know you’ll find this hard to believe-developing a new filing system for the 199th Personnel Service Company’s redeployment unit.  Yes sir, I did have those ABC’s down cold.  I earned a Good-Conduct Medal, which just means that I never got caught doing any of the things, about which I take so much delight in writing.
I have only filled out an application for one job in all my life, and I have never been fired from a job.  I do not list that as an accomplishment of note, merely as a piece of trivia.  I have never rescinded on a debt.  I even make sure I take the empties back to the recycling center.  I have only purchased one vehicle in my life, and I’ve never driven a motorcycle on the street.  I hated the thought of airplanes for the first 58 years of my life; now I would get in a plane tomorrow, to fly to Ireland, and revel in every second of the experience.
I have worked with Annie to raise three sons, and agree with her that it was probably best that we had sons.  By her own admission, Annie just never did get the hang of the hair thing, though I think her hair is splendiferous.  That could be construed as a deal-breaker, that there one.
I have to tell you, I didn’t set my sights any higher than that.  Along the way, in an effort to help facilitate the boys’ education, I went back to school to get my Credential, to keep the little Well Springs School open. That led to another path, down in town, a path that led among other places, through a door in the wall into Renaissance England.  There I discovered that my students could do that, which I was no longer able to do: memorize the words of the Bard himself, and bring them alive on stage, for Laytonville, whether or not it was ready.
If there was ever anything I enjoyed more than hearing one student explain to another, why one word was emphasized in a line, over another, to express meaning, I do not know what that would be.  Maybe to hear cast members patiently giving a synopsis to younger siblings’ friends, attending a night performance in the classroom.  Cast members did not have to explain the play to their siblings.  Ha!  That had been going on for five months, so now siblings were able to explain it to others.
There was a climate at the middle school which embraced the whole concept of the theatre.  It helped to have the influence of Black Oak Ranch, when it came to promoting that climate, because of all that goes on out there at Camp, in the summers.  We tried to get everyone involved in one capacity or another, in the productions.  
We had student actors, designers, painters, musicians, dancers, singers, sound-track makers, back stage directors, a lights crew, and a special costume designer and manufacturer, behind the scenes in Annie.  We did a lot with a whole generation of talented individuals.  What more than that could I have accomplished that would be worth bragging about in the Eternal Bleachers in the Sky?
Did I make a lot of money?  As a teacher?  Heck yes, at least when compared to a MacDonald’s worker, but who’s keeping tabs?  Did I get my name in lights?  Well, I tried recently, but will have to settle for the name-tag on the mirror in the bathroom that says, “Hello, my name is Mark O’Neill.”

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Pin-Point Precision

Pin-Point Precision

The first day of Spring Training should be a national holiday.  But then, so should Opening Day, The All-Star Game, and the Fourth of July.  Huh?  Oh, yeah.  Anyway, every time that Tim Lincecum duels Clayton Kershaw, we have fireworks, or rather the fire-hose that dispenses groundouts and long fly balls, that speedy outfielders track down.  Because that’s what it’s all about: pitching and defense.
Guess what?  Brian Sabean knows this.  He is trying to field another contending team, and he is tailoring it to the confines of AT&T Park.  In reading the comments from the site, I see that there is great clamor for the “big bat.”  And that is so far off the course of what the Giants team is predicated on.  AT&T Park is built for screaming liners that either get past to the wall in Triples Alley, or right down the line, because the opposing right fielder was trying to prevent a triple.
Nate Schierholtz plays right field like Father Aiden, my ninth grade English teacher, played that wide leather strap of his, that he used to bring down on the back side of my hand, as it was palm-down on the desk: enthusiastically and with pin-point precision.  Nate can not only cut that screamer off, he can gun the runner out at second base.
And the other Brandon, our shortstop until he loses it to The Riot, Ryan Theriot, is key to strengthening this defensive effort.  Brandon Crawford will prevent far more runs from scoring with his glove, than any shortstop could knock in with his bat, so the Giants are already ahead of the game there.  I just don’t care what he bats, and neither should you, because when everybody stops worrying about it, so will he.
Sabean went out and acquired Melky Cabrera and Angel Pagan, a couple of those swift outfielders I was just talking about, and it does not matter which plays center, and which plays left.  One will lead off, and the other will probably bat in the five spot, but those are the fine points.  The individual components that comprise a contending team are falling into place nicely.
There is a lot of conjecture as to whether Buster Posey can come all the way back.  He would have had the best surgeons in the business, working on those ligaments, and he has a lot of heart.  Do not underestimate the importance of heart.  And Freddie Sanchez has been on course for recovery all winter.  I get so tired of Freddie being criticized for being “frail.”  If the dude didn’t launch himself through the air like a soccer goalie so much, maybe that wouldn’t be such an issue.  And maybe some of those one run victories might become one run losses.  It’s all about defense.  With Pablo Sandoval at third, and the best of Huff-Belt at first, we are set.  
And oh yeah.  Our pitching is OK too.  
The thing is, getting a proven home run hitter makes no sense, when so many of those long fly balls are run down on the track, more than 400 feet away from home plate.  Better to get a guy who can place it in the right spot in AT&T, and then go to the races.  With our newly acquired rabbits setting the pace, our offense will improve to the degree that our pitchers can relax, and not have to throw a shut-out each time out, in order to get a victory.

Facebook Is Not a Test

Facebook is Not a Test
Bear with me.  I’m a kid in a toy shop, with vast unlimited games at hand.  You see, what I play with is words.  It’s an addiction, I’m afraid, and it started a long time ago, when I was about five or six.  Being the fourth of nine kids, I was always up for a little attention, not all of it of the positive nature.  Therefore, I was frequently under the parental magnifying glass, especially in the car.  
I found solace in books.  I could bury my entire self within the book covers of Little Men, or The Swiss Family Robinson, or Jules Verne’s The Mysterious Island.  My trainers found me more manageable, all through the power of words.  Arranged in certain orders, words transported me to a world of unimaginable heights.  And it didn’t cost a dime.
As I went through high school, I found that the rules of the English language seemed as easy to acquire to me as rules of baseball, only a few more.  There were unlimited games I could find within the English language, to make a 1500 piece jigsaw puzzle. seem like a knock-knock joke.  The trick was to convey my enthusiasm for the mechanics of language to students, just as I conveyed my enthusiasm for baseball.
I mean, I could post the scores of each of the games of the 2002 World Series, on front and back windows of my classroom (facing outward, of course) and everyone got so into it.  At least that was my perception. After all, I could have had signs reminding them that it was pick-up-after-you-eat, or eat-in-the-MPR, by order of KT.  They seemed to like the baseball messages a little more.
Now I have discovered face-book, which to me is the best of all worlds.  Words abound!  They’re everywhere, and I am now a part of it all.  I can carry on a conversation with Erin, overseas, as casually as texting.  I can convey information at the click of a key, and move on to the next thing.  I know this is all old news to you, but it’s still sparklers and bottle rockets for me.
If I were going to try and pinpoint the most significant feature of Facebook, it is that I have a time capsule in the form of my brain, which has thousands of hours of film footage from the hours I spent with so many of you.  I have a tricky memory, in that I can remember the names and faces of everyone of my first homeroom, and most from that point onward, even though I may struggle with what you told me last Tuesday.
And now that I have access to Facebook, I see how the transformation has occurred, from thirteen-year-olds to adults.  I see how  time has shaped and molded these individuals into what they have become, and see that they are as tight-knit now as they were when they were in school.  Words are the tool and no one worries that writing is such a pain, and we’d rather do anything than write.
Are there spelling mistakes on Facebook?  Errors in usage?  Is there always subject/verb agreement?  I wouldn’t know.  As I told Sabrina, I am deprogrammed to notice these things. I don’t know how it happened, but anyone who thinks that I am going to look down my nose, at someone who reaches out with words, because he or she has the unmitigated gall to misspell a word, had better think again.  As I said to Annie, “I spent sixteen years editing these guys’ writing; now let me just coast, please.”
And Annie monitors my tech progress, attempting to ride the roller coaster that is me, as I continue to clamber up onto the crest of the 21st century, instead of being towed along behind, like a dingy behind a yacht. What I lack in knowledge or efficiency, I make up for in enthusiasm and diligence.  It will take a while to get completely in synch with the whole process, but I am having the time of my life.
Just remember, if I post the same photo twice, or accidentally click like on my own stuff, just chalk it up to inexperience, and we’ll call it a draw on any minor irregularities when it comes to the English language.  After all, I know you know the rules; I taught them to you.  But this isn’t a test and we don’t need any number two pencils, just a desire to reach out and say, “Howdy.”

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Kicking and Screaming

Kicking and Screaming
I used to prattle on about teaching until “they” came for me, but that they would have to drag me, kicking and screaming, from the classroom.  Well, I was kicking and screaming, all right, when the time came, but it was because I could not get out the door fast enough.  Allow me to assure you, it had nothing to do with teaching, and everything to do with what we were supposed to be teaching.
As teachers, we were (are) under a lot of pressure to improve student test scores.  Exactly how much benefit is derived from STAR testing is up for debate.  Unfortunately, test scores are recorded in black and white, and shades of gray need not apply.  Paul and I attempted to duplicate a more realistic classroom, with multi-graded class lists, so that 6th, 7th and 8th graders were in the same classroom. Only in schools are  people grouped according to age; otherwise, in the workplace, people work side-by-side with each other, regardless of age or background.
Now that I am retired, I reflect back on my work life, and wonder how pasture life will agree with me.  I find the same dilemma still confronting me, that the bills will continue to come in, ignoring the fact that I no longer have a steady job.  Well I have one, but I have advanced as far on the pay scale as possible, and frankly, working with a scissors, with an assembly line mentality, got old years ago, but no one is paying attention.
I have worked in five different areas of employment in my life: five years in the grocery business, two years in the military, (where I worked as a file clerk for sixteen months), eight years in the auto parts business, eight years in the trades, and seventeen years in the classroom.  But I’m “only” fifty-nine, and what I lack in the gas-tank, as far as energy goes, is balanced by what I have in my brain, impatiently awaiting relocation to my lap-top.
Becoming familiar with the blogging world, has resulted in my settling into a routine of writing every day, not the great American novel-no interest there-but, rather, essays that range from 750 words to a thousand or so.  My range of topics varies from the subjects that I pick up in my blogging travels, to events of community interest, to matters pertaining to the roller coaster ride which constitutes life.
Now, I have ventured out into the new world of face/book.  I have resisted until this point, because I simply was not ready, but have taken numerous steps to ease my way out of the 20th century and into the 21st.  I didn’t want to rush the process, but a dozen years is long enough.  Now that I am interacting with those of you who I have taught over the past twenty or so years, I am delighted.
The degree of comfort is unsurpassed.  Folks out there are  welcoming me as an old friend, and making me feel as though I belong in the midst of them, no longer hovering on the fringes, wondering what the whole thing is about.  Lito has been so helpful, answering my questions, and offering snippets of assistance, as I need it.  He advised me to simply make friend requests as I encountered old friends, and that it would come together just fine, as opposed to going on a spree, and requesting 500 friends at one time. 
I like this approach, because I am trying to touch base with everyone, as I go along, and this makes it more feasible.  The thing that amazes me the most, is that people who have moved out of the area, remain as engaged in the community flow of matters, as ever.  To me, it seems so much more effective than the old-fashioned exchange of snail-mail letters.  There might be eight or ten comments on any given post, and each represents an attempt by someone to reach out.
It’s a brand new world out there, and I am ready for action-ready for danger.  I am ready to climb any paths, to any heights.  Just make sure that the entryway is wheelchair accessible.  My brain is going to make it farther down that path than my knees.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Twice Times Zero Is Still Zero

Twice  Times Zero Is Still Zero
I may not be submitting a piece of writing this week to the Observer, because it seems I have asked for the unobtainable.  You are probably thinking to yourselves that I am getting greedy, and it did occur to me to ask for my salary to be doubled, but twice times zero, is still zero, so that seemed an empty gesture.
It has occurred to me that I might like to see my name in lights, so I asked the editor, Susan Shields, if I might not have my name included on the list of “contributors” on the inside of the second page of the newspaper.  After all, I do contribute my words each week, I am not paid, and I would like acknowledgment for that effort.
Now, effort is a relative term; I do not generally, sit down and write something for publication, as opposed to looking through a stack of already completed pieces of writing, and selecting one that meets my fancy.  But that is beside the point-I do submit a piece of writing, and I would like to have that work recognized.
Where is the impediment?  Is someone angry at me, but does not communicate that energy?  Am I off target, as far as my range of topics is concerned?  I do not know.  In December I sent a message, requesting that my name be added to the list of contributors, and received this response:
“For starters you can change your subject line from "Letter to the Editor" to "OpEd-O'Neill." As to "contributor" watch for your name on page two box, left side bottom.  The Irish editor decides who has the high honors.”
Now there is kind of a mystery presented, in that I assumed she was the Irish Editor, but I do not know that for a fact.  All I know is that I have subsequently asked twice more for acknowledgment, and been ignored both times.  If it weren’t for the fact that I was told initially that this was not an issue, I wouldn’t bring it up, or if the rule is you must submit ten thousand pieces before you are afforded the dubious “Honor” of being recognized for your writing, then fine.  I keep watching for my name, but I have not seen it, and I feel like the whole thing is a joke.  Well, I am done laughing.
If someone sees the flaw in my logic, I would appreciate your filling me in.  Otherwise, those of you who have indicated that you enjoy my writing, are going to have to struggle on without me.  I know that there is so much quality writing packed into the Observer each week, that it must be difficult to squeeze my offering in, but it does not seem as though that is going to be an issue any more.
In any case, I still post daily on my blog, so those who are interested can continue following.  I know that you would prefer to plunk your money down and purchase an Observer, but that won’t be necessary now.  Help yourself, and in case you are wondering, that last name is spelled with two “L's” thank you very much.

Monday, February 20, 2012

A Pleasant Sense of Well-Being

A Pleasant Sense of Well-Being
Yesterday, I introduced the topic of an elephant wandering loose in the community, and I had an agenda.  Whereas the elephant on the prowl may seem intrusive and potentially unsettling to guests, this particular elephant is much more comfortable here in California, possibly, than any other place.  Personally, I adhere to all of the components of yesterday’s post, except the first.
I believe that people are capable of determining for themselves, which of those six blind men, best represents them.  If someone falls into the first category, that of rejecting outright, any thought that cannabis might be viewed as acceptable in their eyes, then more power to them.  No skin off of my nose.  I do, however, object to having people dictate to me, how I should view the topic; I like to think I can work these details out on my own.  This prompts the question, “How much say (read that, control) should one person have over another, if both are adults, when it comes to determining whether one should indulge or not in the mighty-juana?
Does this change if one is half of a relationship, and wishes to impose his/her position on the other?  [*obligatory disclaimer]  Does a partner-for-life have a/the right to dictate policy in these matters?  I do not pose the question for any other substance than cannabis.  
Regardless of occupation, and with ingestion during any phase of working never a consideration, does a mate have the right to say, “I am uncomfortable with your use of cannabis, so please desist?”  Of course, one cannot know for sure all of the reasons a person might have for either use, or for this sort of request, but certainly the legal versus moral issue arises, in many instances.  Legally, unless one has a medical prescription, obtainable the way any other prescription is available, it is a misdemeanor to possess any amount.
But aside from this issue, without diminishing it, does one person’s level of discomfort, give her/him the right to assert that cannabis is off-limits to the other?  I think a couple of qualifying parameters might be established: first, use is occasional, and need not be done in the presence of the unwilling participant.  Secondly, the herb is a gift to the partaker, so how it came to be present, in the first place, does not play a role.
Let’s assume that the person indulging has a stressful occupation, feels the need for relaxation, of an evening, or Saturday afternoon, and recognizes that alcohol or other available options require too much excess baggage.  On the other hand, cannabis produces a pleasant sense of well-being, allows the partaker to feel as though life is a little more approachable, and allows for these problems to be confronted and articulated, so as to appear somewhat less threatening.  Would that be such a bad thing? 
The other factor that I feel applies, is the fact that the culture in which we live, has long since embraced this benign plant, whole-heartedly.  Therefore, the person who pursues his/her relationship with cannabis, may have been a frequent flyer for the first many years of her adult life, with a respect and devotion for this herb.
If I may, I would like to present a couple of examples from my own recent history, that reflect not only my philosophy, but allow me to demonstrate how I choreograph my own actions in relation to reefer.  When I first contacted my friend Mahlon, last March, he had been battling cancer of the esophagus for two years.  He had all of the accompanying negative side effects, including loss of hunger, and struggles with keeping his chin up.
I asked if he were interested in some of my home-made, gluten-free, oatmeal cookies, with the raisins and almonds in them.  By the way, I substitute an oil, for the butter, in which I steeped marijuana, for twenty-four hours in a crock-pot.  I do have a medical marijuana prescription, and can therefore not only possess it legally in the first place, I can convert it into a substance that is healthier to ingest, than more conventional methods.
Mahlon was highly interested, and when I was able to figure out the perfect way to legally whisk, first cookies, and then small amounts of oil itself,  back to North Carolina, both he and his family expressed appreciation.  That made it all worth while.  I will not bore you with the litany of medicinal uses I derive from the use of reefer.  Just the fact that I was able to phase out the anxiety drug, Lorazapam, and replace it with reefer, legally, was very rewarding.
The other example, is that I recently read someone express the thought that, if this commodity had been available recently, for a sick loved one, this person would have made it available, with the premise being that anything that helped ease the pain of another, was a good thing.  
I leave with the thought that millions of people use this substance, nationwide, and corporate America, including the alcohol and prescription drug companies, does not approve.  Which faction is more likely to make campaign contributions to politicians: the medical marijuana community, or the alcohol/drug companies?
As to whether one person should be able to monitor another’s actions in this regard, I think basic respect and common sense should prevail.  Sneaking around seems juvenile, but imposing one’s will on another seems dictatorial.  “Out of sight, out of mind” is my idea for compromise.
* Please, please do not think this is some less-than-obscure skewer, upon which I am roasting Annie.  She does not partake, but for me, she prefers reefer to Lorazapam, hands down.