Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Pitch It

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored!" Anne Johnson here, for the Awesome Jersey Shore!

Hi, I'm Anne Johnson! Are you tired of household chores that never end? Tired of trudging the same old streets around home? Get away! Have some fun! Leave your troubles behind!

Look at this. Doesn't this look enticing? This is the fabulous, Awesome Jersey Shore! Try it for an overnight, and you'll say Wow every time you use your beach towel!

Look what the Jersey Shore can do for you:

1. Drop quarters by fistfuls into arcade games you can never win! But hey, it's fun to play!

2. Ah, the food, the food! Corn dogs, cotton candy, funnel cakes, french fries, taffy, fudge, pizza, ice cream! This is a diet-blasting destination, folks! Food makes you feel good, so eat up! Life is short.

3. Shop till you drop for stuff you don't need! Trinkets, bracelets, t-shirts, hermit crabs, postcards, the inevitable hoodie that you forgot. Just think how you'll stimulate the economy and provide jobs for all those hard-working college kids who would rather spend the summer at the shore than clerking in Dad's law office!

And last, but not least ... certainly not least ....

4. Oh, just LOOK at that GORGEOUS OCEAN! What a vista! An unbroken swath of water as far as the eye can see, ending in rough surf and interesting "beachcomber items" at the shoreline! Can you imagine a better way to spend the day than dodging breakers, listening to squeaky kids, digging up debris, brushing the sand from between your .... ummmm .... WELL ANYWAY, THE JERSEY SHORE IS GREAT! TERRIFIC! I CAN HARDLY WAIT TO GET THERE!

This vacation destination is yours for three small payments of $133. Yes! You can spend one night in Ocean City, New Jersey, for just three small payments of $133! (I hope.) What a bargain for memories that will last a lifetime!

Don't wait! Call now! Our operators are standing by! Tell them Anne Johnson sent you, and you'll get a free, yes FREE seashell! So, you'll get one night in Ocean City, New Jersey ... food ... arcades ... rough surf ... unique debris ... yawning vista ... PLUS A FREE SEASHELL!

New Jersey and you. PERFECT together! The number is on your screen. Are you getting this, camera guy?

QUALITY JERSEY SHORE OVERNIGHTS: 1-800-FLEECEME

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Monday, June 28, 2010

Return to Us

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored." Sometimes we search for a topic. Sometimes a topic appears on our plates.

I am greeted today by the feed from my hometown newspaper. Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV) has died in office. He was 92. No senator in history has served longer.

Those of us with West Virginia ties used to joke that, even after he died, we would elect his corpse to the Senate. As leader of the Appropriations Committee, he steered gazillions of dollars into one of this country's most impoverished states. Pork barrel projects? So be it. West Virignians need to earn a living wage. Without Senator Byrd, this will be more difficult to do.

My dad didn't like Senator Byrd. Dad thought Byrd was arrogant. I didn't particularly care about Senator Byrd's personality. He brought jobs and strong leadership to a state that needed both.

Once, about a decade or so back, I was out driving with my sister and her husband. We passed a humongous construction site, nearly in the middle of nowhere.

I said, "What the heck is that?"

And my brother-in-law said, "It's a new headquarters for the Coast Guard."

I said, "You're kidding me. West Virginia doesn't even have a coastline!"

And my brother-in-law said, "Yes, but it has Robert Byrd."

When people think of West Virginia, they think of coal. And most certainly Robert Byrd was friendly to the coal industry. He wanted the people of his state to have jobs. But imagine for a moment: Today, as you read this, people are working on behalf of the Coast Guard, in West Virginia. These people are making good wages and paying taxes to West Virginia. They live in West Virginia. They buy stuff in West Virginia, which means the state needs stores and people to run them. And a Coast Guard facility isn't going to rip down a mountain.

Yes, yes, Byrd was briefly in the Klan. He was against the Civil Rights legislation of the 1960s. He later openly regretted both decisions. What dumb thing did you do when you were young that you wish you didn't have to own up to now?

My moment of greatest pride in Robert Byrd came when our former president sent our nation's troops into Iraq for no good reason at all. At a time when many people were still being convinced by the bogus claims of WMD, the pictures of missile sites, all of those BIG FAT LIES, Robert Byrd would have none of it.

The speech below occurred in 2003, when Senator Byrd was well into his eighties. Don't you wish we had listened to him? Me too.

Faeries, please do not yet escort Robert Byrd to the Summerlands. We need his return. If I live to see a U.S. senator described as "Robert Byrd all over again," I will be overjoyed.

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The Iraq Invasion Archive-Robert Byrd-I weep for my country

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Coming Soon to a Big City Art Cinema, and Nowhere Else

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored!" Would you rather be trapped inside by blizzard conditions or by a heat wave? Anne votes BLIZZARD! And not just because it sounds like "buzzard." I hate hot weather!

Smack dab in our nation's mid-section there's a snobby clique-ish artsy smartsy Master's degree program called the Iowa Writers Workshop. It's the toughest academic writing program to get into, and many many of its graduates wind up getting something in print. Most of the work that comes out of the Iowa Writers Workshop is not to my taste. I saw the same kind of stuff at Johns Hopkins: long, erudite stories about the academic community or about high-achieving, fucked up middle class misfits.

Daniel Woodrell is the exception.

A native of the Ozark Mountains who joined the Marines at 17 and didn't even start college until he was in his twenties, Woodrell has a knack for writing and a subject matter of interest. I cannot imagine how this talented individual got into the Iowa Writers Workshop, or why he even bothered to attend.

If you are looking for a good summer read, try Woodrell's Tomato Red, or maybe Give Us a Kiss. They're both short, well-written, and funny as hell.

Of a more serious nature is Winter's Bone. Set in the Ozark Mountains, it's about a teenage girl who has to find her bail-skipping dad before her family's property (and its timber acres) are forfeited to the bail bondsman. The dad in question cooked meth. As do most of this girl's family members. Of course no one has seen Dad, dead or alive.

I read Winter's Bone when it first appeared in 2006 and loved it. Now it has been made into a movie. Like all movie treatments of novels, the film skims where the book dips deep, but the movie is still terrific. So terrific, in fact, that it won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival this year. See if you think it looks good. You can watch the trailer at http://www.wintersbonethemovie.com.

Now, here's the bitter irony, dear readers.

If you actually want to watch Winter's Bone in a theater, you had better live in or near a great metropolis. This one ain't showing at your neighborhood cineplex. Want to see some computer-generated animation or a badly-acted vampire flick? Oh, lucky you! Six screens, all hours of the day and night, right up the street! Winter's Bone, a superbly-acted piece with flawless cinematography and a great story, suitable for serious adults? Fly to Philly. Boat to Baltimore. Two screens in Manhattan.

Heir and I took the El to Philly last night to see Winter's Bone. Heir had just finished reading the book. We both loved the movie, and our quibbles were minor. I didn't like the fact that the houses did not have threatening dogs and geese. Heir thought that the meth lab was located too close to a road. Other than that, we were impressed.

I will have more to say about Appalachia and meth labs in future posts, but today's sermon focuses on cinematic entertainment. When a theater has 24 screens, how hard would it be for it to reserve one for documentaries and art flicks? I don't mind going into Philly, but if I lived in, say, Lancaster, I would not have gotten to see Winter's Bone.

In conclusion, you may have to settle for Edward and Bella on the big screen. Ick. But thanks to modern purchase and distribution options on reading material, you can obtain the written works of Daniel Woodrell quite simply with the click of a mouse. Do please buy retail in this case, thereby supporting the rare Iowa Writers Workshop author who deserves to earn his keep by writing.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Figures It's Not Men

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored," summer edition! We are fiercely dedicated to providing you with more of our ground-denting, earth-splattering commentary this summer! It's been a long, cold, lonely school year -- and is sure to be a long, grueling, workshop-filled July and August -- but damn the textbooks, full speed ahead!

Are you a weather buff? I am! Like my grandfather before me, I could sit and watch the Weather Channel all day, even when it's bright and sunny.

Of course, it's always more interesting to watch the Weather Channel when there's a line of tornado-laden thunderstorms moving in from the west, or a pink/white rain/snow line inching ever closer to your home. Admit it. You love Doppler radar, don't you? No? Then don't ever start looking at it! You'll be a Doppler junkie in no time. Seriously, I do my Doppler check before even opening my emails.


If you know that NOAA is not a dude who built a big boat that couldn't hold dinosaurs, you're like me. Addicted to frontal boundaries!

We weather junkies have been speculating about atmospheric conditions relating to the Gulf oil spill. A good portion of the East Coast's precipitation comes from moisture gathered into the clouds over the Gulf of Mexico.

News is just in from credible sources like the Huffington Post (search Raining Oil) that Louisiana is already getting oily rain that leaves behind a sheen on blacktop and other smooth surfaces. Of equal concern is the chemical dispersant Corexit 9500, currently being used to break up the spill. Oil may not evaporate easily, but what about Corexit? And what is in Corexit 9500 to begin with?

"The Gods Are Bored" is a blog, not a sharp piece of professional investigative reporting. But if I was one of the few remaining investigative journalists with a salary, I sure would be researching this. What is in Corexit 9500, and what will it do to us when it rains down on us?

Thank goodness for fine professional work like this blog, huh? I know exactly where to turn for every answer.

The Oracle at Delphi predicts that Oil Rain and Corexit Rain will begin polluting large portions of the United States as soon as hurricane season arrives. Come winter, Oil Snow and Corexit Snow will blanket the East Coast.

Wow, that's going to look beautiful -- snow with a rainbow sheen! And think how zippy your sled will be on it! I don't know about you, but I'll be watching the Weather Channel more than ever, just waiting for that Oil Snow!

America, America. God shed His grace on thee. And look at the results. I'd rather worship a buzzard.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Laugh or Go Nuts

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored!" Canape, anyone? No? How about some pickled pigs' feet?

Today the students at my school sprinted out to their buses, headed for summer vacation. I too thought I would get a little reprieve, in which I intended to read up on teaching skills, create models for my classroom, etc. And of course I was looking forward to blogging and reading your blogs and all that! Teaching is known for its summer vacations, after all.

Instead, at 8:00 in the morning of the final day of the school year, I learned that I will be expected to attend seminars three days a week, beginning July 7 and lasting through the rest of the summer. I will be paid for these seminars, but they are not open to negotiation. I should have been told about them two months ago, but my division supervisor (who was fired this spring) never mentioned them to me.

Bit of a nasty shock. Until I took stock and recalled that I have a job. It's not the "Tab A fits into Slot B" perfect job for me, but it's a job. So I get one week off and then go back to work in the "Rigor and Excellence" workshop for first-year teachers.

Why am I feeling like I'd rather go to the "Rigor (Mortis) Is Excellent" workshop for buzzards?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Hello, Goodbye, Big Purple Bear

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored," saying so long to friends on this first day of summer!

Three more foster kittens have come and gone. We had them about six weeks. They were rowdy. I took them back to the shelter this afternoon.

Today's sermon, however, is about Big Purple Bear.

You know how you get something, and it just becomes part of life, and you never think of taking a picture of it? Big Purple Bear was like that.

About three years ago, Heir, Spare, and I were going to the local supermarket when we passed one of those big bins for donated clothes. Sitting in front of the bin was Big Purple Bear. He was one of those enormous stuffed animals that take up half a double bed when you prop them on it.

Spare has a queen sized bed that she inherited from Mr. Johnson and me, so we brought Big Purple Bear home. For three years he kept Spare company on her bed. Then she turned 16 and decided she didn't need him on her bed anymore.

Trouble is, the dude was huge. Where do you keep a Big Purple Bear? We tried him in my home office, but he took over.

So we paid him forward.

We took Big Purple Bear back where we found him in the first place -- the used clothing bin at the supermarket. We left him sitting in front of the bin, just where we found him.

This afternoon, while driving home from school (yes, I am still teaching school ... after Solstice!), I had a nasty shock. I saw three boys, middle school age, lugging Big Purple Bear up the street. Well, I had paid him forward, but, but, but, three middle school  boys? Visions of stuffed bearicide flooded my brain. What possible use could a trio of pubescent boys have for a huge stuffed bear, other than to torture it?

I pulled over to the side, and I rolled down my window. I said to the boys, "I left that bear in the grocery store parking lot. I paid him forward. You take care of him. You pay him forward just like you found him."

They looked at me like I was nuts and kept dragging Big Purple Bear up the street.

When fostering kittens and stuffed animals, one must be an optimist. I've had more than 60 kittens come and go through Chateau Johnson. Most certainly some of them have not found good homes. I can only act on my faith in the shelter where I volunteer, my friendship with the people there, and my trust that they are careful when they send animals out for adoption.

The same sort of optimism must now animate me with Big Purple Bear. Perhaps one of those young chaps has a little sister. Or maybe they're just going to sit Big Purple Bear in some space they share. At any rate, Big Purple Bear, and three kittens named Ariel, Cinderella, and Princess (not my names) have gone out into the world. Luck be with them on this new summer's eve.

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Monday, June 21, 2010

Longest Day

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored Here in the Northern Hemisphere!"

I don't know about you, but I feel very blue on Summer Solstice. The light has reached its peak and now will dwindle again. First we must endure a long, hot summer. I'm 51, and I can tell you -- summer was not this hot in the 1970s.

My only consolation is that the sunshine returns to my friends in Australia and South Africa. They've been waiting for it. Friends, here She comes!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Very First Druid I Knew

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored," Father's Day Edition 2010!

This is a portrait of my father in his younger years. Honestly, can you believe this is my relative? I mean, do I ever behave this way?

Apple. (points at self) Tree. (points at picture)

Most of the time when people think of Druids, they think of holy leaders. In fact, so far as I have been able to read and research, "Druid" was a class of people within the ancient Celts. If you were a teacher, a poet, a lawyer, a healer -- basically working middle class -- you were a "Druid."

Only after he waltzed away with the faeries did I realize that my dad was a Druid.

I always knew he was an Alchemist. (See his wizardry, below.) I never gave much thought to his philosophies until after he passed and I didn't hear them anymore.

Being a scientist, Dad felt pretty strongly that life ends with death and that nothing -- no soul, no spirit -- survives. And yet he spent almost every Sunday of his life at church, teaching Sunday School and singing in the choir. He was profoundly ambivalent about Christianity. You see, being a Sunday School teacher, he actually read the whole Bible. He found a lot of it unsettling -- and that includes swaths of the New Testament that most Christians lap up with fervor.

Uninspired by visions of eternal life in Heaven, Dad pursued a philosophy of self-sacrifice and moral courage. He was what you would call an "upstanding man." I'm pretty sure I'm the only person who knew he didn't believe the Bible, didn't buy into Christianity's salvation agenda, and yet embraced the portion of the religion that encouraged people to do the right thing even at pain of death.

When my father married my mother, he was warned that she was "high strung." He witnessed it himself. Nevertheless, he wed a woman with a near-fatal case of bipolar disorder and spent his life caring for her, even though, day after day, she abused him verbally and sometimes physically for his efforts. Without his support, my mother would have become institutionalized. Instead she was able to keep her place in society. (Admittedly, most people avoided her company if they could.)

Once I asked my father why he didn't divorce my mother before I was born. He said, "When I married your mom, I made a vow. A vow is just that. A promise. I wasn't going to break my promise."

Well well. A college-educated science teacher and avowed atheist Promise Keeper. This puzzle piece, my dad, does not fit easily into any tableau unless you consider "Druid" to mean a class of person and not simply a religious leader.

Taking Druidism as a caste system, my dad's piece fits. He was a scientist. A singer. A teacher. A parent whose favorite way to spend an afternoon was hiking in the woods with his daughter and showing her all the mountain's secrets, so that she would never fear that which needn't be feared. My dad knew justice, loved justice, and found divinity in all existences. Like both his brothers and his own dad, he was interested in everything. I never saw him bored, ever.

No wonder Peter Pan came for him, called to him, and led him to the Summerlands! My dad, my friend, my inspiration in weirdness. My first Druid.

Eternal youth be yours, Dad. Now, go take your beaker and blow up the whole doggone pirate ship!

Below, one of my favorite episodes of "Principles of Combustion." That is my dad, Daniel Johnson Jr.

Principles of Combustion 3: Putting Out Water with Fire

Friday, June 18, 2010

How Does Your Garden Glow?

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored!" This is not your grandfather's Oldsmobile nor his garden. This is faerie, faerie, quite contrary ... how does your garden glow?

This year I decided to plant some flowers. The groundhog kept eating my tomatoes, so what was the point?

My grandmother was the queen of flower gardening and quite proud of her zinnias. With Grandma in mind, I set out to purchase a few zinnias for my brand new flower garden.

Just like everything else, though, these modern, 21st century zinnias have been genetically engineered to have blooms as big as apples and as bright as clown suits. Even the snapdragons I planted are suspiciously vibrant in their hues. Grandma would be astonished by these hyper-plants.

Have you ever read that H.P. Lovecraft story called "The Colour out of Space?" If you have, you will understand my qualms about these plants I just put in the ground. They're too pretty. Too perfect. Too large. Where are the spindly little zinnias of yesteryear?

These flowers don't look real. It's like I've spent my lifetime playing with mutts, and someone just gave me a Great Dane with a big red bow around its neck.

My usual way of dealing with this dilemma would be to let the aggressive flora in the rest of my yard just gnaw into those leafy marvels of enhanced DNA. But it's kind of nice having some neon flowers near the back door. So today I began my Very Marvelous Cheesy Garden Project.

This project will combine flea market ceramic houses, a handful of Rat Finks, and whatever other weird stuff I can find, with the too-perfect blossoms. My quest is to create a miniature village that will turn the sublime into the subliminal.

I don't know about you, but I think this is a swell idea. Why doesn't everyone mix flowers and cheap ceramics? It's all colorful, and at least the ceramics won't need to gorge themselves with Miracle-Gro.

If I get enough weird ceramic stuff, next year I might not buy any flowers at all. Just think! A garden that grows all year long, never needs water, and keeps the neighbors at bay. Perfect!

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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Updating the Endangered Deities List

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored," where downsized deities come to chill! No pantheon is too obscure, no praise and worship team too small, to gain our respect and regard!

With all this sad news from the Gulf of Mexico, it's a good time to bring your attention to something uplifting. Actually, this is great news! Just recently, some bored gods and goddesses have been moved from Endangered to Protected status by the federal Bureau of Assessment of Deities. BAD has lifted the Endangered category from the following:

1. Celtic deities. The rise of Wicca, Druidism, and the ongoing international passion for Faerie has swollen the praise and worship teams of the ancient Celts to a break-even point. The Internet has been a huge help to these deities who, 100 years ago, were clinging by their fingernails to a little bit of literature in the British Isles. Hat tip to William Butler Yeats for getting the ball rolling.

2. Scandinavian deities. Boy, was this crowd ever sore when all the press they got was in Marvel comic books! The ever-growing ranks of Asatru have restored Thor! All hail, and drink a horn of mead!

3. Greek deities. They've had it up to here, being called "myths." To Hades with "myth!" This crowd now has a praise and worship team again! As well they should. Many a great thinker worshiped Athena. She is way overdue getting some more.

4. Mayan deities. Still considered Endangered, but in better shape than in the 20th century. The whole 2012 business has brought needed attention to some awesome Meso-American gods. What They will do in 2013 is up to Them, but by that time They'll be up in praise and worship numbers significantly.



5. Vulture worship. Hate to pat myself on the back here, but hat tip on this one goes straight to "The Gods Are Bored!" A handful of people are starting to look at buzzards and see more than just ugly birds with bald heads and bad diets. Job well done. Sacred Thunderbird, Peace Eagle, You fly again!


Of course there's always some bad news behind the celebration. In a nutshell, the fruitful labors of archeologists are unearthing ever more forgotten and discarded deities. And so, if you are seeking a very rare praise and worship experience, possibly being the only person on the planet to give prayers to a particular deity, all you need to do is keep current with your Science Digest. Almost every month they've got a new "myth" from some culture so far past gone that even your DNA has trouble remembering the details.

Yes, the ongoing "Gods Are Bored" agenda of restoring faded pantheons continues. It's just nice to see a bit of progress here and there. Personally, we here at TGAB were feeling quite burdened by the need to promote the Celtic deities. With so many other people hard at it, we will be able to catch up on all those back issues of National Geographic and the aforementioned Science Digest, without shirking our duties to Thunderbird.

Life moves on.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Stan Goes to High School

Hi, my name's Stan, and I'm Anne's Velociraptor. Today she took me to work.

Being a reptile, I really liked the classroom temperature, especially in the afternoon. I think it topped out at about 95 degrees. Everyone else got listless, but the heat made me more frisky. I don't see why Anne is complaining. She had no beef with the school calendar when she got all those snow days.

Being of carnivorous bent, I scouted Anne's class for the tastiest-looking victim. Would you believe she told me HANDS OFF THE STUDENTS? I'll bet if her darling buzzards went in there with her, she would hum a different tune!

Anne has three freshmen classes. The two classes in the morning watched "Romeo and Juliet." The class in the afternoon (last of the day) was so rowdy they didn't do anything at all. (Don't tell anyone!) That's where I got my name -- Stan. One of Anne's 9th period freshmen named me. Anne was calling me "Cuddles," which was not amusing.

Lunch was great! Today's special was fried chicken. When I finished that, I ate the Culinary instructor. So then it was nap time.

Anne had reserved an air-conditioned computer lab for her afternoon classes. Don't ask me why. Her regular classroom was a terrific place to take a nice, long nap full of dinosaur dreams. When I woke up I had missed the three sophomore classes altogether. Anyway, Anne's school seems like a nice enough place. I brought home a great new name for a souvenir.

As long as I have this forum, I would like to tell you Homo sapiens types that you don't know everything about everything. All the dinosaurs were destroyed in a flood just a few thousand years ago. Noah couldn't fit them on his ark. He had too many fleas and ticks and scorpions to accommodate. But that flood didn't reach everywhere. Some of us dinosaurs have survived. We live in the tunnels under Manhattan and in all the abandoned bomb shelters from the Cold War era. Those places can be downright cozy, especially in the wintertime. Oh yeah, and stop worrying about the doggone plastic that covers everything in sight! We post-Jurassic dinosaurs eat plastic when we run out of sewer rats and stray cats. Which is often. We're hungry critters.

If you don't have a Velociraptor in your life, let me know. I can arrange a match for you. Remember, dinosaurs are just like elephants, except with sharp teeth and bad tempers. Can't you use a pet like that in your daily stroll through this vale of tears?

Anne's operators are standing by to take your call.

ROAR, and all that. Whatever.

FROM STAN THE VELOCIRAPTOR

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Bring Your Velociraptor to Work Day

I should have posted this sooner, but Monday, June 14 is Bring Your Velociraptor to Work Day! Mine is already in the car, seat-belted in. Her name is Cuddles. She may be shy at first, but I'm sure she'll soon make many friends.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

My Very Awesome Experience at the Firewalk Gala

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored!" Just remember: Here at "The Gods Are Bored," there's no guarantee that Tab A will fit into Slot B. Or that you can get there from here. We say what we mean, but we don't always mean what we say. You get the pitcher.

There's a recurring theme in my life, and my Very Awesome Experience at the Firewalk Gala fits into it perfectly.

For many months I had planned to spend Saturday, June 12 at a public Firewalk. The event was scheduled with a 6:00 p.m. start, and I got there a few hours early. In the life of Anne Johnson, either you arrive very much earlier than planned, or you wind up lost in the wilderness and arrive an hour or more late.

Upon arrival at the Firewalk site, I was told that the non-public portions thereof had not ended. So I went off in search of adventure in a part of Pennsylvania I don't know very well.

For those of you who have never been to Pennsylvania, well. It's the best state in the United States. Don't argue with me. I will beat you.

Just two hundred yards from the Firewalk location, across a metal bridge, lay one of Pennsylvania's innumerable Cute Little Creek-side Parks. The whole state is crawling with these charms. Usually they consist of a babbling brook, two or three picnic tables, a trash can, and a "public park" sign. This was one such park.

Another feature of Pennsylvania's Cute Little Creek-side Parks is that they're usually empty or nearly empty. This park was empty. And it had the prettiest stream I've ever seen east of the Appalachians. Trouble was, the bank was a little bit steep. You couldn't sit on the bank and dangle your feet in the water.

It was a hot day.

What a theological dilemma! To which element does this day belong -- fire or water?

I guess they don't call me The Merlin of Berkeley Springs for nothing. Before you could say, "Anne, you don't have any other clothes packed along," I was dancing with the Nixies and the damsel flies in a fabulous, wonderful stream.

A pretty stream indeed. I wish it was closer to my house, not separated from me by the notoriously nail-biting Sure Kill Expressway and its sister in mechanical death, the Northeast Extension of the Pennsylvania Turnpike. In short, this was my one-night stand with a gorgeous creek.

Splish, splash! Soaking wet. Took a nap, wrote a letter to a friend. More splashing. Then squishing back to my car. Wistful kiss toward the Cute Little Creek-side Park, and back to the flat lands.

I set out for a Firewalk and wound up in the water. So typical. Send me out for a gallon of milk, I'll come home with cotton candy and cat food.

Never can resist the Nixies. Never.

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Friday, June 11, 2010

Romeo and Juliet

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored!" But soft, what light from yonder window breaks?

It be Juliet, and she chippin.

All teachers approach required curricula with their own philosophies. I am charged with teaching my freshmen "Romeo and Juliet," and I have a philosophy about it.

I studied the works of William Shakespeare for two semesters at the Johns Hopkins University, during which we read almost every play except "A Midsummer Night's Dream." We dissected the noble bard's great soliloquies and sonnets, his masterful plays on words and his lunatic characters. I recall that the professor told us he couldn't bear to lecture about the scene in which King Lear plucks out his eyes, so we skipped that scene. Onward and onward we went through an impressive body of work.

When I looked at the recommended notes for teaching "Romeo and Juliet" provided by my school district, I found a document more than 100 pages in length. There were enough lessons there to stretch  the play through an entire marking period.

I don't operate like that.

Most of my students won't ever see or read a Shakespeare play when they leave high school. Hey, most of us don't! So why not present Shakespeare as entertainment? That's what he was intending when he wrote the doggone plays, wasn't it?

Make a barnyard noise if you think William Shakespeare sat at his desk and wrote plays, all the while thinking to himself, "I bet some intellectual college scholar will give 40 lectures on this stuff 400 years from now!"

My students are zipping through a simplified version of "Romeo" and watching the 1973 movie stocked to the plimsol line with gorgeous teenage actors and actresses. And after watching a sword fight, the students are peppered with such thought-provoking questions as, "Why are they wearing tights?" and "Raise your hand if you think parents should arrange your marriage."

But you know what? When I roll the play, and I look out at a classroom full of freshmen from Camden, New Jersey who are actually caught up in it, even if they don't get every double entendre (or know what one is), I feel like I'm doing Bard William a good turn. It's what he would have wanted. Not the stuffy lectures. Just the teenagers, watching and connecting ... and asking for clarity when they don't understand.

You can teach Shakespeare if you want. I'd rather make it a play.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Bye bye, Bigwand!

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored!" Put on your dancin' shoes, cuz tonight we're gonna party like it's 1999!

Night school is over! I have bid farewell to Mr. Bigwand on the stoop of his McMansion, after attending the mandatory last-night-of-night-school barbecue there. I think I can speak for the other inmates ... errr ... night school students when I say we were all happier than landfill buzzards!

I have endured ... errr ... learned (not) from Mr. Bigwand since last September, in search of a teaching credential that I need to teach what I'm already teaching. In September I was kind of in the YKMR (You're kidding me, right?) stage. Late in October, when he began to brag about scaring the piss out of little kids on Halloween, my minor annoyance turned to righteous wrath. At Christmas, when he said, "SO, WHAT DO YOU WICCANS CELEBRATE AT THIS TIME OF YEAR?" my wrath turned to the white hot loathing of a thousand galactic stars.

But spring has sprung, and I have come to look on Bigwand with the sort of resigned indifference one bestows on an elderly uncle who can't stop gushing about the glory days of Ronald Reagan. In other words, my parting with Mr. Bigwand was cordial. I even paid him the ultimate hypocrisy of thanking him for his hard work on behalf of our class.

I hate to say it, because it shows that I can be small-minded, but I loved watching him admit he doesn't like to take his beloved boat into the Chesapeake "because it's only a single engine." Whatever that means. I've been in the Chesapeake with just my arms and legs, and have seen every kind of boat besides. It is comforting, though, to know that I'll never be tucking into a dozen hard shell crabs and a pitcher on some dock, only to see him and Mrs. Bigwand tootling toward shore with worksheets in their hands.

It is customary for a student to reflect upon what he or she has learned in a class in order to pass a final examination. What I learned from Mr. Bigwand that is useful is this: Teaching is like salesmanship. If you don't hook the students in and get them excited about what they're going to do, you might as well whistle into the wind. Also, it's a good idea to close each lesson with a teaser for the next day, so the students will want to come back for more.

How long did it take you to read that? Okay, I spent 9 MONTHS LISTENING TO THIS ADVICE, AND PAID $1600 FOR IT!

Might as well get something for my money, eh?

Readers! Guess what? Tomorrow I'm going to teach you how to ward off boredom and hex people who use sacred holy days as a reason to frighten children! So come on back now, you hear?

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Tuesday, June 08, 2010

One Theme Retires, Another Returns

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored!" Ah, what a beautiful early summer eve! So glad you could stop by. Watch where you're stepping, there are faeries about!

This evening I spent some time tending my little Shrine of the Mists. I noticed that my daughter The Heir had added some items to it. New offerings include little pieces of geode, sea glass, random chunks of semi-precious stone that had once been on a necklace, and even some jacks. Everything that brings joy to the Shrine of the Mists brings peace to my little yard.

I took a moment from my tending to show the neighbor boys a fossil from the farm on Polish Mountain that is also in the Shrine: unspeakably ancient brachiopods, turned to stone by a couple hundred million years of burial. I used to think fossils were magical. I still think so. Not magical in the Young Earth Theory respect, but just sort of miraculous. Our planet has kept pretty good records of its history. The miracle part is that we find the stuff on mountainsides.

One chapter of TGAB comes to a close on Wednesday. It is my final session of night school. Oh, goodbye, Dear Mr. Bigwand! I'll try not to spray you with gravel as I drive off into the sunset! And yes, Bigwand is not going into the Great "Gods Are Bored" archives without a swan song. He mandated that our final meeting be held at his house, where he will heave hamburgers and hot dogs at us, along with his usual lengthy, self-aggrandizing sermons.

I may get misty-eyed. It's allergy season.

The good news is that the end of night school heralds the return of the enriching sorts of activities that have also been recorded here in the annals of TGAB. My, but it has been months since I even mentioned the Monkey Man! Next week is his annual birthday bash in Camden ... an event that dependably becomes rowdy because the booze is cheap and plentiful. Someone will read a haiku. Someone will sing a bawdy song. Sometimes we have a puppet show. Then we stumble out into a charming urban landscape with our heads full of poetry and our throats hoarse from laughter.

When I think of all the people I know and call "friend," I'm sure the world will never become boring to me.

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Monday, June 07, 2010

Free Advice from Anne for When Your Kids Are Flunking a Class

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored!" A warm thank-you to all who helped The Spare with her French story about dragons! She turned the project in today, on deadline. Debra, She Who Seeks offered assistance, but I have to say THE Michael's brilliant idea to run the thing through a translation program (see Comments) was uplifting. And the ever-helpful Yellowdog Granny shortened and simplified the tale in ways calculated to warm the heart of any French teacher. Well, maybe. Okay, maybe not. But I liked it!

The Spare has had the very devil of a time with French. There's been ongoing antagonism with the teacher practically since Day One of Spare's freshman year.

As with anything else in this world, you can learn valuable lessons from having to deal with an unmotivated student and a stubborn teacher. I've taken the scenic route to this lesson, so I'm going to give you the short cut.

The short cut is this: If a teacher sends home a failure notice, don't freak! Teachers expect parents to freak and wig out on the kids. Especially in Snobville, where every single brat goes Ivy League or is branded a Failure for Life.

Try this approach instead. Tell the teacher to go ahead and flunk your kid.

What? No grounding? No extra chores, no withheld allowance? No speech about High School Setting the Scene for the Rest of Your Life?

Who needs such aggravation in the household at the end of a long day?

And so, last year when Spare got a letter home that said she might flunk French, I wrote back to the teacher thus:

Dear Madame,

If Spare flunks French, that means that Spare has not mastered the material. She needs to take the year over and really master the material. So if you feel she has not learned French, then flunk her till she learns it.


Spare passed.

See, many of these dire teacher letters are -- how shall we say this -- penned with an ulterior motive. "Your daughter may fail French" translates from teacher-ese to parent-ese thus: "Your daughter isn't paying attention and doing her work, and I want you to punish the crap out of her."

Worst punishment I could think of would be to flunk French and have to take it over. And rare though it is for a teenager to agree with a parent, Spare felt the same way. Spare picked up her game a bit and never missed a single trip to the thrift store.

So here's my free advice. If your child is about to enter high school, have them take Latin, or some other useful language. And have your kid start at Level 1, unless you've got some future Mensa genius under your roof. Those years playing with foreign languages in Middle School? Useless! Spare had two years of French in Middle School, and all she learned was that she likes quiche but not escargot.

I will reiterate for clarity:

FREE ADVICE ON LEARNING A LANGUAGE IN HIGH SCHOOL by ANNE

1. Pick a useful language.
2. Start at Level 1.
3. If the teacher sends home a failure notice,
     A. take a new language at Level 1, or
     B. call the teacher's bluff and let the kid fail.

And now, if you'll excuse me, I have to pick up the unfinished dragon drawings on my office floor. Don't get me wrong. I'm all for foreign language classes. I hope some day to journey to New Zealand to learn English.

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Sunday, June 06, 2010

Le French Fractured: Can Vous Helpez?

Dear Friends,


My daughter The Spare must turn this little bit of French into a picture book before bedtime tonight, Sunday. If you are willing to edit it into readable French, please copy and paste to an email, luvbuzzards@yahoo.com, by 5:30 p.m. Sunday, June 6. Anyone who helps out with this will receive a fabulous care package from "The Gods Are Bored," chock-a-block with goodies!

Il était une fois, il y avait une famille de dragons dans un magasin d'animal favori. Chaque dragon était robuste à leur façon. L'un pourrait lancer un grand rocher avec sa queue, et un autre pourrait souffler un trou par un mur avec le feu. Ils très ont été tout aimés à cause de leur force, sauf un dragon. Ceci est l'histoire d'un petit dragon qui ne pourrait pas faire beaucoup de et n'était pas très fort mais a eu un grand cœur.

Tous les autres dragons ont été adoptés par les gosses et ont obtenu toute l'attention, mais le petit dragon n'a pas fait. Il s'est assis juste dans sa cage et pleuré. Quelques fois un gosse viendrait et le regarde. Le gosse attendrait le dragon pour faire intéresser de quelque chose, mais le dragon était très timide. Si personne ne l’adopterait.

Un jour, un petit garçon sur les béquilles est entré regarder les dragons. Ce garçon était aussi timide. Il est devenu effrayé des dragons qui étaient robuste et grand. Le garçon a voulu un ami qui était petit et timide comme lui. Tiens, il a vu le petit dragon.

Tout de suite, le petit garçon a aimé le dragon et le dragon a aimé le petit garçon. Le petit garçon a demandé sa mère s'il pourrait avoir le petit dragon. Sa mère a dit non, parce qu'ils n'ont pas eu assez d'argent. S'ils sont partis le magasin sans ayant acheté le dragon.

Le garçon s'a pleuré toute la nuit. Il a manqué le dragon il était devenu avec des amis. Le dragon a manqué aussi le petit garçon. De tous les jours le garçon est retourné au magasin et a donné le bonbon au dragon. Ils sont devenus des meilleurs amis.

C'était Noël matin et le petit garçon est descendu l'escalier pour trouver le dragon effrayé et séance sous l'arbre. Quand ils ont vu, le dragon est devenu très heureux et a fait si le garçon. Ils ont embrassé. Pour le jour entier qu'ils ont joué. Alors ils se sont endormis à côté du feu chaud.

La morale de cette histoire est d'accepter la diversité. Quand l'un le trouve qu'est différent que l'un ne craint pas que les ou pense qu'ils sont étranges. L'un plus apprend de la chose, et accepte leurs différences et les prend en amitié. Parce que devenir des amis avec quelqu'un qui est différent ont une meilleure issue que conformer.

S.O.S.

Does anyone out there know enough  French to give assistance to The Spare on her project today? It's a simple fable, no more than a few lines on seven pages. I could type it all in here, and you could comment in your changes. Of which I'm sure there will be many.

The bored gods of Lescaux snorted at my request.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

I Did It. I'm Sorry.

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored!" Who needs to be Catholic to feel guilty? Even Druids get the blues.

Being a first-year school teacher has insulated me from the news. I'm not home in time to watch CBS, and I don't have time to read the newspaper. Usually I sleep through "Countdown with Keith," which is fine by me. He's kind of snobby.

Last night I was awake for "Countdown." Keith trotted out the photos of oil-coated shore birds and marshes mired in crude. I knew this was happening, but you know what they say about a picture painting a thousand words.

Keith was pointing fingers. Who's to blame for this catastrophe? For catastrophe it is, my friends. Here on the East Coast, I expect next winter's snowfalls will contain oil from this spill.

It's a disaster. Can't blame any deity. So, where do we really point the finger?

It's me. I did it. I am at least partly to blame for this mammoth catastrophe, for those dead birds and reeking marshes. It's my fault.

I consume the oil that is pumped from those wells. I drive a car, air condition my house, use electricity to run appliances -- even this computer. I make useless trips to stores, drive long distances for leisure activities, and buy stuff that's encased in layers of plastic. This is my lifestyle, and is it BP's fault that they are profiting from it?

I wish I could say that I'm going to change my ways, but I can't remember a time when the places I lived had no electricity (even our farm in Appalachia had electricity by the time I was born). I can't remember a time without cars. Everything I do is based on the oil/coal economy. Granted, my drive to work is short, but it's just far enough that I can't bike it. My house has 38 windows and no cross-ventilation. Even if each and every window is open, no air blows in. Only light. Which is great in the winter, but today it's 92 degrees outside.

I'm sorry, birds. I'm sorry, marshes. I'm sorry, fishermen.

There's no need to apologize to Gaia, however. She has seen worse. Stupid schlubs like me pale in comparison to massive meteors, supervolcanoes, and Ice Ages.

That doesn't make me happy about being a stupid schlub, though. It just means I won't be driving my car to BP headquarters to protest their profit-making. If I want to point a finger at who's to blame for this oil spill, I only need to walk to a mirror. Turn on the light first, so I can see my polluting self all the better.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Forever 21

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored!" Today we are Forever 21!

Actually, "Forever 21" is the name of a popular young women's clothing shop in this area. Personally, I go there and look at the stuff, then wait for it to hit the thrift store in a year or two.

My daughter The Heir turned 21 this week. She was kind of depressed about it. She has the silly idea that turning 21 means you have to be an adult. This is only true in the necessity of having to provide for your bodily needs yourself. Otherwise, it's playtime!

Do you like to play? It's okay with us here at TGAB if you consider running five miles or playing a couple rounds of golf playing. But there are so many other ways to play! Let us count the ways to play!

FREE ADVICE ON HOW TO PLAY, FOR MY DAUGHTER THE HEIR AND ANYONE ELSE WHO NEEDS FREE ADVICE, by ANNE

1. Dress up in a costume. Wear a wig. Go to an event, any event that invites people in costumes and wigs. I guarantee you did this as a tiny tot -- and loved it -- and you're going to love it while being Forever 21!

2. Make fun stuff. Cakes, pies, clay sculptures, rock gardens, a magick wand. Construction is work. Tinkering is play. A wand made in a spirit of joy is going to rock on with positive energy.

3. Have a child or two. You'll play with them, and that will be fun.

4. Adopt a pet. You'll play with it, and that will be fun.

5. Do something naughty. Not "against the law" naughty, but just on the edge of that. Remember that great feeling of getting away with something when no one was looking? Definitely will make you feel Forever 21.

6. Ask stupid questions. When people laugh, laugh with them. If you ask intelligent questions, that's too much like school. Keep it stupid or silly. In that way you will retain your childlike innocence. Can I have some Oreos, please?

7. Root for a losing team. That'll take you back into the day, won't it?

8. Buy crayons and Play-dough. Just the smell of those things keeps you young.

9. Don't worry about your weight or your health. You didn't worry about these things when you really were young, so why start now? If you feel good in the skin you're in, you're young!

10. Invite multiple faeries to every occasion, activity, everyday occurrence, and event. Enough said on that!

THINGS NOT TO DO IF YOU WANT TO STAY FOREVER 21

1. Buy trendy clothes.

2. Put your job ahead of your family and friends.

3. Expect your house to be neat all the time.

4. Cultivate a sense of decorum.

5. Fail to giggle when you burp or experience flatulence.

There now! More fabulous free advice, a veritable Fountain of Youth, poured out for The Heir and the many, in forgiveness of adulthood!

May The Force Be with You.

Artwork: Eyeball Vulture, by The Heir

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Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Energizer Annie

My daughter The Heir turned 21 yesterday -- we had a sober dinner at a posh nosh in Philly. I want to write something special for her here, but just now I have a date with Mr. Bigwand's weekly night school service. This is the next-to-last week of night school. Oh, how I shall miss it! Oh yeah.