Saturday, February 10, 2024

Don't Do the Magic If You Can't Face the Tragic

 Welcome to "The Gods Aren't Bored, At Least in My Classroom!" I'm Anne Johnson, and I have been teaching nothing but Greek literature since before the winter break. This means I have had to wrestle with the stories of the Greek pantheon through the lens of modernity. It's been interesting.

Today, however, I have a serious and stern lecture for those of you young striplings who are thinking of doing magic workings.

It's fashionable these days to think one can hex and spell and bane with impunity. I'm here to tell you, that's not the case. When you set out to do a hex on that person who is making your life a circle of Hell, be very careful how you word your spell. I mean, very careful. Also, choose your deity helper wisely. Some deities don't like to be "used," particularly by careless moderns who don't pay proper, culturally exact, respect.

There is a person who continues to make my life a circle of Hell. Last spring I started a bane spell on her, and I didn't set out the proper parameters for the outcome. Mistake.

After starting the spell, the following things happened to me:

1. Andy N. Condor died suddenly of unexplained causes. I flew all the way to Salt Lake City to meet him in 2019, and I promised to return in 2029. Now they're making a statue of him.

2. I met the closest neighbor to my sweet mountain property only after he drunkenly accosted me on a dark, deserted road, with a German shepherd in tow, taking particular umbrage with my New Jersey license plates. Not feeling so safe on Anneland anymore.

3. Brooks Robinson died. Okay, you had to be there, I suppose, to see little 10-year-old Anne idolize this particular saint of a human being. He was the favorite athlete of both Mr. J and myself, old, yes, but still. Losing two of my heroes in as many months was a blow.

4. The person I'm doing the bane work against had control of my schedule at work and gave me the worst students in the school. This has been one of the hardest years of my teaching career, and the loathed supervisor is still there.

5. Again completely unexpectedly, my cat Gamma developed severe weight loss and was diagnosed with aggressive lymphoma. We had to send him across the Rainbow Bridge.

6. Breast cancer scare. Forever more I will be on the mammogram fast track.

That's a heaping helping of bad juju there for just a five-month span. And yes, it might all be a coincidence. But dang. All that stuff at once?

This is where you would expect me to offer the free advice to quit the bane work. But I haven't done that. I have not wavered. The only critique I have to give myself is the wording I used when I initiated the spell. It was too strong. And if you haven't noticed, it's hard to re-word a spell once you've set it into motion. It's not like editing a blog post, let me tell you.

When we choose to work magic, we have to be prepared for blowback. The spell I chose to work didn't have any verbal instructions, just physical ones. Left to my own devices for the wording, I employed too much hyperbole. I took the work too lightly.

Don't take magic lightly. But do it all the same. It's a tool against the oppressor, a tool that is ancient and holy.

In lighter news, my Mummers club won the 2024 championship! Follow the link to see our routine. I appear onscreen at around the 3 minute mark briefly as the club frolics around the street cameraman.

Two Street Stompers 2024: West Side Shipping

Sunday, November 19, 2023

New Birds in the Yard

 If they gave out awards for trash picking, my daughter The Heir would garner the gold. But if you think about it, championship trash picking is intrinsically rewarding. You come home with better stuff than some stupid trophy.

Yesterday we had a little pre-Thanksgiving get-together here at Chateau Johnson, since the Heir is going to Harrisburg to have Thanksgiving with her significant other's family. When Heir and her s.o. arrived at our house yesterday, I head a little hubbub in the front yard. Then she came to the door and said, "Mom, there's someone here to see you!"

EXHIBIT A: Someone

It was a breezy afternoon. The birds were teeter-tottering back and forth, and their wings flap too. The unit still had its sale tag (although not the price).

Heir trash picked this from in front of a house in Germantown. It was in a plastic garbage bag at the curb. She lugged it all the way to West Philadelphia before she unwrapped it to see if it was damaged. That's a bus and a regional rail line and another bus.

It works perfectly.

EXHIBIT B: L'Oiseau en Up de Close

If I had stacks and stacks of cash, my whole yard would be covered with such wonderful things. But this is far sweeter than buying a dozen silly metal lawn ornaments. This one was free!

EXHIBIT C: L'autre Oiseau

This is the happy outcome of teaching your youngsters to sift through other people's discards. Both of my daughters learned trash picking at my knee, but living in the city they can elevate their achievements to new heights.

Never mind that they both have jobs they like, jobs that make a positive difference in their communities. Never mind that they both have amiable gentlemen as partners. My kids can trash pick. Say what you want, that's a skill.

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

In Which I Ponder the Ultimate Fate of My Altra Lone Peak 6 Trail Runners

 Wow! Look at the length of that title! Might be a Gods Are Bored record! Long story short, I'm at a crossroads with my beloved Altra Lone Peak 6 Trail Runners. It's decision time.

A little background information first.

My feet are the part of my body that scream "She's a witch! BURN HER!" I have bunions, hammer toes, and fallen arches. Between 2009 and 2021 I didn't have one single pair of comfortable shoes. I had to size up two numbers to find anything that would fit over my gnarly feet.

Finally, in desperation, I went with The Fair to R.E.I. to look at their shoes. If there's no R.E.I. in your hood, let me introduce you: It's an outdoor goods emporium that manages to be rugged and bougie simultaneously. Not my kind of shopping experience, necessarily, but desperation will do that to you.

Fair and I went to the shoe department, and a nice outdoorsy kinda guy listened to my foot woes and disappeared into the stockroom. He returned with a box. When he unwrapped the goods inside, Fair exclaimed, "Ew! Don't buy those, they're hideous!"

Undeterred, I tried them on. It was like Dorothy landing back in Kansas with Toto in her arms. Ugly they might have been, but Altra Lone Peak 6 Trail Runners were the absolute tits.


Fair wasn't lying. They aren't things of beauty. But they are joys forever.

Altras are lightweight and arch-support-free, with zero drop and roomy toe boxes. The price point is competitive. The colors are a bit ... umm ... intense, but oh well! When you have witch feet, you'll settle for any hue.

And boy, did I settle. I settled right into those Altra puppies like I was born in them. I was such a satisfied customer that I joined the Altra fan page on Facebook. There, when I wistfully commented that I wish I could get Altras in black leather, I was led to Altra Torins. In shiny black leather. The best old lady teacher shoes ever.

So I had a pair of Altra Lone Peak 6 and a pair of Altra Torin 5. Then I bought a second pair of both. Then, in an uncharacteristic burst of self-indulgence, I bought the Altra Lone Peak waterproof hiking boots. For Anneland, and boy oh boy are they perfect.

This is where the Ultimate Fate part comes in.

It's November. That time of year when the Philadelphia Mummers Parade is coming into view.

Last year one little thing marred my Mummers Parade bliss. My feet hurt. The shoes I bought at the thrift store and painted gold might have been two sizes too big, but they still bit my bunions savagely.

My first pair of Lone Peak Trail Runners have given me two good years and are still rocking on. But I need a pair of gold shoes for the parade. Once I douse the trail runners in gold spray paint, they won't be good for daily use anymore. But they will give me many awesome struts on Broad Street...

It's a quandary.

I have until December 31, 2023 to make a final decision. I'm inclined to sacrifice the daily use of my first pair of Altra Lone Peak 6 Trail Runners on the altar of having a super comfortable pair of golden slippers to strut in during every Mummers Parade for the rest of my life.

Sacrifices, sacrifices! Let no one say Anne Johnson doesn't sweat for her art.

Friday, November 10, 2023

In Which I LARP

Welcome back to "The Gods Are Bored," if you've kept the faith all this time. My name is Anne Johnson, and I talk to book case brackets and bored deities. Not necessarily in that order.

It's no secret that I've been struggling at work since September. Mightily. But this here girl knows her some struggle. That which does not kill me only makes me more stubborn.

One gambit that has always worked for me when I'm struggling is to veer off into a fantasy world. And knowing this about myself, I have to wonder: Where has LARP been all these years that it took me so long to find it?

Since I myself didn't know what LARP was until about 2019, I'm going to attempt to define it for you. LARP stands for Live Action Role Play. Basically you join a group, create a character for yourself that fits the parameters of whatever game that group is playing, and you go off into the woods to be that character for a weekend with lots of other people doing the same thing.

Like, dang. This was my entire childhood in the 1960s. 

There is, of course, a big difference between pretending a fallen log is a dragon and riding it while your buddies slash the underbrush with sticks (1965) and attending a modern LARP (2023). LARPs are, so far as my limited understanding goes, based on rules that have descended from Dungeons & Dragons. In other words, the whole thing is complicated. It's almost akin to going to an exotic foreign port as a tourist who knows a few basic phrases of the language and nothing else.

Not only that, these LARPers really know their stuff. They have fabulous gear and deep understanding of the process. They camp overnight at the LARP property from Friday until Sunday! Again, dang. Hats off. This is serious fun.

Several times before the pandemic I attended this LARP and gave it up as a botch. I just couldn't get it at all. It didn't help that I was clearly at least a decade older than the other "older" players, and basically old enough to be almost everyone's mom.

But last spring, this group of LARPers started a whole new campaign. I went down a few times to help spruce up the property, and I got to know them. They, in turn, took me under their wings and helped me fit in. Since everything was new in a fresh campaign, I was a little less lost (only a little).

This fall, LARP has saved me.

My character is Feather. She has an arcane shield and direct knockback, level five wing it, arcane restore, and umami blood type. She has joined a monster-fighting vanguard as a healer. If that makes no sense to you, I totally get it. Still wrapping my own noggin around it.

The LARP is held on a private property near the Pinelands. It's part piney woods and part Christmas tree farm, all tucked away from the world of public education and highway upgrades. The people are smart, funny, cheerful and youthful. There are golems, and basilisks, and hydras, and zombies, and booby traps, and lava pits, and then dinner is served.

I have attended three events since school started. The game is held once a month.

When I set off for LARP last weekend on an early Saturday morning, I was so beaten down and dispirited that I mulled just driving to the beach instead to spend the day pacing some lonely stretch of boardwalk. Instead I went to the game, and it totally breathed life into this withered brain of mine.

You want to get LARP in a nutshell? I was with a group of players, and a vulture happened to fly overhead. I launched into my whole Sacred Thunderbird prayer, which invariably draws strange looks, and instead of those s. l., the whole group that I was with dropped their gear and started praising the Sacred Thunderbird without really knowing what they were praising. When they discerned that it was a carrion bird, they praised it with all the enthusiasm of true Vulture believers!

I think I have found a new tribe.

Readers, I'm still wading through the Gods Are Bored archives, excising spam comments. It's a herculean task, but heartwarming to see all the great comments left on this site by so many of you, over and over again. May the bored Gods bless you, early and often!

Sunday, October 15, 2023

Huge Housekeeping Chore

I'm going to make this quick because Blogger just ate my more polite post.

My blog comments section, going back years, is full of bad spam. There's no easy way to delete the bad comments. I'm going to have to look at each and every post and hand-delete the spam.

I have begun this project because the stats reveal that half my readership is in the nation of Singapore (?) and I'm getting thousands of views a day on a blog with less than 250 subscribers.

And so I have turned on moderation (already caught a dozen spammers), and I'm going back laboriously through each blog post and deleting the spam.

In August 2020, a single spammer put a comment on every single post I wrote in 2019.

I don't even want to think about the thousands of blog posts I have written. They all have to be checked. I'll look at it like climbing a mountain: one batch at a time. The last thing I want is to wake up some morning and find that Google has excised "The Gods Are Bored" because of criminal activity through its comments section. This blog is my life's proudest work, and I'm going to get it all cleaned up and protected from further pollution.

Thank you for your patience while I perform this essential task.

There is a future for "The Gods Are Bored," trust me. Wait until you hear my plans to host the entire Greek pantheon in my classroom for a whole marking period!

Sunday, September 24, 2023

Dark Night of the Soul

 The bored Gods know I've been through some things and have had some dark times. This is one of those times.

On or about August 7, I got a call from the schedule director at my school. He told me I had been moved from freshmen to seniors for my entire school schedule. In 15 years I had never taught seniors. I have always made it abundantly clear that I like freshmen.

Not only do I have seniors, I have all the seniors who don't qualify for Honors or Advanced Placement. Our school also sends our best and brightest seniors to the junior college. So the seniors I have are mostly male and mostly cashed out already. I gave them a questionnaire about their reading habits (or lack thereof) and only one of 76 students reported liking to read.

Two teachers of seniors quit last spring. The only other teacher of seniors this year has all the Honors and Advanced Placement seniors. She is starting her sixth year, while I am starting my 15th.

Rarely does my reality match my anxieties about what might happen, but the first two and a half weeks of this school year are coming damn close. Students who flounder academically are more likely to act out. They are more likely to have poor attendance. And if they have perfected any skill, it's manipulating the system.

I have poured vast amounts of energy into engaging these students, and the best I can say is that they are not openly defiant. But I am dreading each and every morning and coming home exhausted every afternoon.

No worries! Only five more years to go after this one! [Sarcasm]

It's not clear who made the decision to put me in this position. The man who called me on August 7 blamed the woman upon whom I had already initiated banework. She, in turn, told me to my face that she had no hand in the schedule.  It could have been the principal himself. He only cares whether or not the students are wearing their uniforms and IDs, which is an easy ask with freshman but impossible with seniors.

I could have been placed with 76 students who hate school simply because I had success keeping my freshmen in their uniforms and IDs.

Or, more likely, it was yet another vindictive act from someone who bears me ill will and can lie with a straight face as well as any cheap politician.

Either way, I have ramped up my work for the union. Our steward has noted that the chronologically oldest teachers at both campuses have suddenly been given seniors for the first time.

Yes, I have initiated my banework, using multiple tactics.

The only consolation I have in this dark night of the soul is that I have so many great connections with the support staff in my building. I know all the janitors and security guards and enjoy warm, friendly relationships with them. They don't blink an eye if I ask them to unlock an office door or point out a parking space. This is my only blessing in the workplace just now.

I have so little energy at the end of the day that I can't even contemplate writing an amusing blog post. Best I've been able to do so far is drag myself to the gym to exercise, but I'm not sure how long that will last when it starts getting dark earlier.

Last week I took a plate of fresh scones and a pot of tea to Sisyphus, just to ask for a little good advice. He said I should go review The Exile and the Kingdom by Camus and adjust my enthusiasm to match my students'. Sounds like a plan.

Here's hoping this Equinox finds you in a patch of sunlight with a soft cat on your lap. Don't give up on "The Gods Are Bored." I'm a stubborn someone. I'll be back.

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

How I Met My Anneland Neighbor: A Horror Story

 Trigger warning again from "The Gods Are Bored": The story you are about to read is pretty horrifying, especially since it's true. If you don't like to be scared, stop here.

The estimable Oscar Wilde once said, "When the Gods wish to punish us, they answer our prayers." Not gonna argue that one, Oscar. And I've met lots of Gods and Goddesses.

I bought a 4 acres of undeveloped, off-the-grid property in 2021. It's about a half mile from where my great-grandparents are buried, and it's all wooded. It was a longtime prayer I offered to the Gods, to let me have a little piece of ground in the land of my ancestors.

When I bought the property, my family (and some of you too) were worried about bears. There are bears around in those mountains, but I have only ever seen one in all my 64 years. I wasn't particularly worried about bears.

But I was worried about people.

My family in New Jersey found this baffling, especially when I said that the biggest problem I would have in the area was my New Jersey license plates. This observation met with wide ridicule in the bosom of the fam. Who looks at license plates? Ridiculous!

Hmmm. Not like I grew up in the mountains, and they didn't.

Anyway, just lately I went to Anneland for a long weekend. The weather turned out absolutely splendid. Instead of being hot and humid, it was breezy and cool, more like September than August. This allowed me to do some serious trailblazing to make it easier for me to get up and down the hills.

On Saturday evening, I parked my car where I could see it and decided to stay to star-gaze. The Perseids are sort of over, but the star-gazing is just fabulous on any given clear night in the mountains.

First I watched the sun set. Then I listened to the katydids as they geared up. The twilight was lovely, and the insect symphony was gorgeous.

Just as the sky was turning from deep blue to black, a big white pickup truck passed my car on the road. The truck drove really slow. It took me about five minutes to decide that I'd better scrap the star-gazing and mosey along. (I overnight in a nearby campground with cabins.)

I had just reached the car and had my hand on the door handle when a very tall man with a very large German shepherd emerged from my property, raging about "motherfuckin' New Jersey tags." I literally didn't even have time to hop in the car before he was in my face.

It was dark. He was drunk. The dog didn't bark.

I said, "Hey, hey, hey. I own this property, I bought it from Charla. Are you B*** P*****?"

(The said B.P. is the nearest neighbor, living off the grid and unseen across the road.)

He said, "What are these goddamn Jersey plates?"

I said, "I live in New Jersey, but I grew up around here." I then began to go down a list of all my relatives, living and dead, in the township. I dropped the names of my three second cousins that I was sure he knew.

He said, "What do you know about the fire ring up on the state land?"

I said, "Nothing, because it's not on my land, but I don't like it there. It's too small and surrounded by dry leaves - a forest fire waiting to happen."

Then I went back to the "Who's Who," and he began to confirm that he knew these people. The guy was blotto, but some of what I was saying began to filter through. And then, as drunken men in the backwoods will do, he began to tell me how the government was buying up all the land around there, and -- yes, this sounds like a conspiracy -- they had plans. That's why he was concerned about the New Jersey plates. "I took a picture of them when you was up on the state land," he said.


So in my most soothing voice, throwing in a little accent for good measure, I explained that my grandfather's farm got sold, and I just wanted a little piece of ground, and I was lucky to get this tract from Charla at a good price, and I had no plans to build anything on it, and he could hunt it to his heart's content.

At this point he introduced me to his dog, who sniffed me politely and let me pet her massive head.

But that's when it got really terrifying.

So convincing was I with the genealogy, the name-dropping, and the "pity poor me that I even have to live in New Jersey," that he got flirty. He wanted to know if I was married, and where my husband was. He wanted to know why I used my maiden name, which he reassuringly pronounced "Jawnson." As I answered these questions he began to address me as "milady" and started apologizing. He wanted to know how old I was, and when I told him he said I didn't sound that old (this whole conversation took place in pitch dark). I said he would know my age if he could actually see me, but I didn't open the car door or turn on my flashlight.

The nearest house to my property is about 150 yards away. And it's around a bend. Only about three cars use the road during an entire 24-hour period, so there was about a ten percent chance another driver would come by.

The convo continued, self keeping it light as possible, and it did run on, because the dude was in his cups in that effusive way that would put your hair on end if you were sitting in a crowded pub. Finally after about 20 minutes the tension was mostly diffused. Then I politely bade him good night, saying I had to phone up the husband at a certain time. With a few more "milady" and a "blessed be," he stepped aside. I got in my car and waved to him and his oddly benign dog as I pulled away.

I have never been more terrified in my life.

Safely ensconced in my tourist cabin, I mulled what to do as my heart rate very, very slowly came down from mortal peril to red alert. Then I decided. I couldn't let this man scare me off my land that I had waited so long to obtain. I had planned to go back to Anneland in the morning. I determined to enact that plan. To hold my ground, so to speak.

After a sleepless night I put on my big girl pants and went back to my land. I plopped in my folding chair and read my book. Sadly, instead of being soothed by the fabulous forest, I was on hyper alert, fully realizing that the Gods were punishing me by answering my prayers. But it was quiet, and I did a little more trail blazing, and then at about 2:45 I started back for my car, which was parked at a pull-off just beside my property that is on state forest land.

As soon as I got to my car I saw the white pickup truck coming. He must have been waiting for me, but he made it look like a coincidental encounter.

He stopped, rolled the window down, and said, "I'm sorry about the ruckus last night."

We shook hands and chatted a little bit about how he had Jawnsons in his family tree, and we were most definitely related somehow. I repeated pretty much the spiel I'd given him the night before, figuring he probably didn't remember much of it. The dog was in the passenger seat.

We chatted about 15 minutes, and I wish I could tell you that, in the sober light of a Sunday afternoon, he was a changed man.  Well, he wasn't combative, and he wasn't flirty, but he had way too much to say about government takeovers, and how the state police had violated his rights on more than one occasion. He inquired about my profession, and I told him about teaching at the Vo-Tech.

Chillingly, he asked, "Anyone in your family in the military?"

I replied emphatically in the negative.

After some parting pleasantries, he drove off and so did I, in opposite directions.

Did you ever notice that, when buying a house or a property, people will ask dozens of questions but never inquire about the neighbors -- what kind of people they are, and if there's ever been any problems with them? I sure didn't think of it when querying the property seller about the surroundings. She said merely that her brother lived off the grid, down over the hill, and that she didn't really talk to him. This family's surname is quite known and respected in the vicinity.

Call it a lapse, or wishful thinking. I just didn't account for a paranoid hermit just a few years younger than me. The mountains have always hosted people like this, but just as with everything else, the Internet has stoked a whole new level of anxiety.

The "ruckus" happened four days ago, and I still haven't recovered. I'll never be comfortable staying on my property after dark. And the bear spray Yellowdog Granny sent me will be in my pocket at all times.

It'll be like forest bathing with a snapping turtle in the tub.