Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Student Quotes 2010

It's been damn near a year since I posted something on the ol' blog-a-roo, but with the school year over I feel like it's only fair to give up the goods on student quotes. Many of you who have read this blog over the years have read it for little else.

In case you're wondering why the hiatus, it's because I'm swamped with work for HOOPSWORLD and FreshScouts and L2T. I'll try and be more productive now that it's summertime, but considering I've got a little baby (and a very cute one at that), keeping this thing updated is proving to be a significant challenge.

For bite-sized entertainment on a more regular schedule, follow me on Twitter.

Enough plugs. Let's get on with the quotes!

First day of school, five of my homeroom girls (now sophomores) came running up to me before class looking very excited. When they got about four inches from me they slammed on the breaks and just sort of stared at me awkwardly. “You guys want to hug me, don’t you?” I asked, reading the looks on their faces. Kalli, leading the charge, said, “Yeah, but we don’t know if it’s illegal or not.”

Me, to my first-block English 2 class: “I hear the football team might actually win a few games this year—is that true?”
Alex: “Who knows. Whatever happened to their ‘Turning the Corner’ theme from last year?”
Ashley: “They turned the wrong way.”

Traci Manning (art teacher): “What holiday are you making a card for?”
Travis: “June.”

Me: “How old do you guys think I am, just out of curiosity?”
(Kids throw out random numbers, but nobody guesses correctly).
Me: “Man, you guys suck at this game. I’m actually 27.”
Seth: “Wait! You didn’t let me guess, yet.”
Me: “Well it’s kind of late now, but what would you have guessed?”
Seth: “27.”

Me: “If you can’t see anything with your glasses on, why do you wear them?”
Allie: “Because my dentist said just to keep wearing them until I got used them.”

A couple gems from the introduction of Alissa’s persuasive essay:

“Satan laughs as the mothers abort their babies because they have the ‘freedom of choice.’”

“Abortion is inhumanly.”

Me: “Do you guys remember what state Morrie (from ‘Tuesdays with Morrie’) lives in?
Jacob: “Connecticut?”
Me: “No, but you’re close…”
Allie: “London?”
Me: “Seriously?”

Izzie: “I have no problem with gay people, I just hate lesbians.”

From Aaron’s test essay about Puritans: “The Salem Witch trials were bad because those little girls accused them to death.”

Alex spent about five minutes today trying figure out why his paper wasn’t coming out of the printer. He kept printing and printing and wondering why his essay wasn’t coming out. When he and I finally went to figure out what was happening, he asked why I was walking in the direction I was walking. I told him because this was where the printer was. He looked longingly back at the copy machine and uttered a quiet, “But…” before realizing his silly mistake. There, in the actual printer, were five copies of Alex’s essay.

One from Traci Manning’s art class: “Ummm….Mrs. Manning? I was looking at the sketch assignments and like, seven weeks from now we’re supposed to draw an ice cream sundae and I don’t like ice cream, so what should I do?”

Sara: “I'm not sure if I wanna go to BYU in Utah.”
Mr. Hewitt, the Drivers Ed teacher: “Why?”
Sara: “Because they’re D1 athletics and I don’t want my whole life to be about sports. If I go there it will be all sports and no social life.”
Hewitt: “You don't even play sports in high school!”
Sara: “Yeah, I do. Soccer.”
Hewitt: “Oh yeah, soccer. Has any college even contacted you about playing soccer?”
Sara: “No.”
Hewitt: “I think your social life is gonna be ok. Try intramurals.”

Me, at the beginning of a silent reading day in advisory: “Alright guys, get your books, get comfortable, and get reading. It should be silent now.”
Kalli, a chatty sophomore, is lingering at the door and talking to someone in the hallway instead of doing what she was supposed to do. So I call her name: “Kalli…”
She ignores me and continues talking to the person in the hallway, so I continue: “Kalli. Kalli. Kalli. Kalli. Kalli…” I must have said it six times before she responds impatiently, “What?” after finishing her hallway conversation.
Me: “Please sit in your desk today instead of on the floor with your friends.”
Her: “Why?”
Me: “Because you just ignored me for like 30 seconds when other people were trying to read!”
Her, legitimately pissed off: “I heard you saying my name, but I was in the middle of the conversation. You were really rude.” Then she pouted and stalked off to her desk.

Nick, writing an original sentence to go with the word “tangible,” which means, “something that can be physically touched”: “MC Hammer was intangible.”

The P.E. teachers got a note from our assistant principle about a student that’s been having stomach pains:

“I have received 2 calls from Mrs. M—guardian of Joseph—he has an enlarged spleen and they ran several tests at the doctor today (Tuesday). They will have the results back in a week.

“In the mean time---HE is NOT to participate in any contact sports---he is NOT to be punched in the stomach area. We are to receive a doctor note regarding PE activity on Wednesday, October 21st.”

Following that email Mr. Stine, a math teacher and coach who had been forwarded the email, replied, “Do you think that she’ll get back with us when we can start punching Joe in the stomach again?”

From Wesley’s test essay about whether or not Timothy Treadwell (aka The Grizzly Man) is a modern-day transcendentalist: “Just because you go out in the woods and wipe your rear end with leaves and sleep in squirrel crap does not mean you are a transcendentalist.”

An overheard conversation in the hallway between a couple of sophomore girls:
Girl #1: Why do we call it a fire bush, anyway?
Girl #2: Because its leaves turn red.
Girl #1: Oh. That makes more sense. I always thought it was where we were supposed to meet in case there was ever a fire.

Me: Whenever I’m in a new city, I have to check out the thing that city is known for. But I’ve never been up the Sears Tower. It’s like in St. Louis, I’d go and see…
Student: The Arch!
Me: Right, and in Philadelphia I’d go see…
Another Student: The Liberty Bell!
Me: Exactly, and in Boston I’d have to check out…
Alissa: Massachusetts!

One from Traci Manning, the art teacher:
Juslee: “Today is my dad & step-mom’s anniversary.”
Traci: “Oh, how many years have they been married?”
Juslee: “They’ve been married ten but they’ve been together for 17. I’m only 16, so that tells me something.”
Traci: “Yes. I think I know why your parents are divorced.”

I read something inappropriate on a student’s computer screen from a few seats away and called him on it. From there we had this exchange:
Wes: “How can you see what I’m writing from there?”
Me: “Wes, I’m only two computers away. I can see everything fine.”
Wes: “But you wear glasses—aren’t you supposed to have bad eyes?”
Me: “You do know how glasses work, right?”

The English 4 Life kids were doing an exercise where they had to think of different musical instruments starting with specific letters. For “A,” Seth thought of the alto sax, but this is how he spelled it: “Alot Sex”

“When the Caucasians, also known as whiteys to the Native Americans, came to America they slowly started taking over Native American land.”
- from Sarah’s frontier paper

“If you were a Native American, westward expansion meant that more white men would come and steal your stuff. Also this meant that the perils of alcoholism would soon be cast upon your tribe.”
- from Vincent’s test essay

Jessi, describing her first day in Art class: “Mrs. Manning told me my stick people suck. I’m screwed.”

Sasha, after having a brief discussion about how “tyrant” is the root word of “Tyrannosaurus”: “Are there any other origins of dinosaur names that you’d like to know?”

From Hewitt: Dylan just swam a lap in the pool with full National Guard fatigues on. He is exhausted. To quote the D-Train, "I am NOT going into the Army!"

One of my test questions: “List three hardships the King of England imposed upon the people of America, as mentioned in the Declaration of Independence.”
Kyra’s response: “Two hardships that the King imposed upon the people of America was tea and molasses.”

Jessi: “My dad uses the Ab Lounger when he works out.”
Ashley: “My dad has one of those! He puts his laundry on it.”

Sasha: “I’ve been having weird dreams lately.”
Me: “Oh yeah?”
Sasha: “Yeah. Last night, I dreamt that my dad shot my voice box out.”
Me, suppressing laughter: “Really…”
Sasha, starting to giggle: “Yeah. Then he realized what he’d done and tried to take me to the hospital, but it was too late. Then I became an undead.”
Me: “That’s ridiculous, Sasha.”
Sasha, laughing hysterically: “And the really weird part was that at the end of the dream, my dad built me a house out of granite.” More hysterical laughter.
Me: “I see.”
Sasha: “My family’s kind of weird.”

Alex, yelling to someone in the hallway: “Are you still pooping blood?”

Me, asking the Creative Writing kids driver safety trivia questions for the student council: “Okay, how often are you supposed to change your oil—once a year, twice a year, three times a year, or four times a year?”
Several students: “Four times a year.”
Meghan: “I thought you were supposed to get it done every three months.”

Meghan, on the phone trying to sell yearbook ads: “Hello, this is Meghan with the Olympia High School yearbook. I’d like to talk to you about bringing more business into your… Um… Oh…”

And then she hung up the phone and cried.

Me, being the lovable mentor I am, came up behind her and said, “Allow myself to introduce… myself.” Deep down, she thought it was a pretty good joke.

Jonathan, from his persuasive essay about lowering the activity fees at Olympia: “If you know anything about the ghetto you should know that the ghetto is a very hard place to live in.”

Me: “So what stories have you read by Edgar Allen Poe before this class?”
Alexis: “Isn’t there something about a black owl?”
Me: “You mean The Raven?”
Alexis: “Yeah, that.”

Lindsay: “Are you good at multi-tasking?”
Jesslyn: “Hang on, let me finish typing this…”

From Traci Manning: We are doing a design using either the students’ first or last initial….
Chris C.: “Do I have to use my first or last initial?”
Me: “Doesn’t really matter, Chris. Yours are the same.”

The first few sentences of Nic’s slave narrative (Nic isn’t known for putting much effort into things. Actually, the fact that he turned this in on time was a small miracle in and of itself.):

“I am Samuel Jackson. I was enslaved for 20 years of my life. My master was named Kernol Sanders. He made the finest chicken in the south. My mama always said she worked inside, so she would always get to try his chicken. She said he had the secret recipe that was full of all kinds of secret herbs and spices. In my opinion, I had the greatest master ever.”

Taylor: “I heard that if you swallow your gum it can get stuck in your lungs and you can die.”

Students were asked to define “deprecate” on a vocabulary quiz. It actually means “to insult or put down,” which they should’ve known had they studied. A couple of kids came comically close:
Devan: “When your car loses value.”
Jeremiah: “To poop, to release waste from your bowels.”

The kids were picking out a banned book to read for a project we’re doing in English, and Sasha picked out “Annie on My Mind,” which is about teenage lesbians. Jeremiah in response to this selection: “Is it a picture book?”

From Patrick Hewitt:
Sasha in reference to Austin: "One time in elementary school, he punched my brother so much that he puked! Other than that, he's a pretty nice fellow." I laughed hysterically and said, "That's not really funny."

Alexis: “Does this look like a tumor?”
Me, looking at a nickel-shaped scab on her foot: “No, it looks like a callous or a wart or something.”
Alexis: “It’s actually a burn.”
Me: “Okay.”
Alexis: “Can tumors grow under burns?”
Me: “I really don’t think it’s a tumor, kiddo.”

Devan, asking for clarification of a question on an American Literature test: “Mark Twain’s the black guy, right?”

Skyler, God bless him, is a horrible speller, but to his credit he’s very good at spelling things out phonetically. Still, his attempt at “ohbitchuary” left me chuckling.

Bryan: “Mr. Brigham, I’m having a hard time coming up with ten books that I like. Help me think of some, because I’ve only got seven here and that includes the three that I’ve actually read.”

Jesse (a student notorious for being “undersized”), to Mr. DeLoriea: “Don’t look at me like that. I’m not allowed to go on the computers anymore.”
Mr. DeLoriea: “Okay. What else can’t you go on?”
Me: “Most rollercoasters.”

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Vintage Student Quotes, 2004

I had a former student ask what happened to the quotes from his freshmen year of high school, which was something like five years ago, so I dug them up and here they are. These are my first ever students, who will always hold a special place in my heart. But man, did they say some stupid stuff.

In fact, looking back at this I can say with relative confidence that these classes were some of my favorites. These kids rocked in just about every way possible. So, so funny.

So, without further ado, student quotes from Fall 2004 through Spring 2005...

The following quotes are from a discussion regarding surveys my students filled out on the very first day of school:

Me: “So you had an imaginary friend named Theodore the 3rd? What did he look like?”
Eric: “He was a bike.”

Me: “Your imaginary friend’s name was Mr. Harrison. Was he an older man or something?”
Zach: “He was a P.E. teacher that ate all the people I didn’t like.”

Me: “You said that your dream date would be Pamela Anderson.”
Robert: “Yeah. Well, that was before the kids and diseases and stuff.”

In our discussion about EA Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado,” I asked my freshman students whether they thought Montressor’s killing of Fortunado was justified. One girl said no because it was illegal, and this is how Katie responded to that: “Yeah, but this was olden times. People couldn’t get arrested for killing and stuff back then.”

Amy later added, “I think Montressor earned it. He worked so hard to do it all perfectly. So, killing someone is alright as long as you’re really careful and you do it the right way.”

In my American Literature class, the students and I were discussing what things make us uniquely American, and some of the kids started mentioning different foods. These included things like hot dogs and apple pie, which were obviously very reasonable, but while I was writing these on the board, one student (I’m not sure who because my back was temporarily to the class) added an interesting one: “What about French Fries?”

Mitchell: “Hey Brigs, have you had the Tenderloin here?”
Me: “No.”
Mitchell: “Oh my God, they’re awesome. They’re the tenderest of loins.”
(I have since had many a tenderloin. They are, in fact, delicious)

Nate, researching his ancestry: “Where’s Wales?”
Me: “Somewhere far, far away. I’m sorry, geography was never my strong suit.”
Nate: “So should I just say that I’m half-Whale?”

Cory, recently moved from Florida, sneezing like a maniac: “I hate allergies.”
Me: “What are you allergic to?”
Cory: “I think it’s the corn.”
Me: “Man, you’re screwed.”

“Wait… the Bulls are from here???”
-Becca, after finding out that the full moniker of the team is the Chicago Bulls.

In our discussion of the short story “The Most Dangerous Game,” one character named Zaroff hunts people instead of animals. I asked the kids if they thought he was civilized:

Mason: “He’s civilized because he has a house and good food and stuff.”
Me: “Yeah, plus he wears clothes I guess, so he has to be at least a little civilized, right?”
Katie: “No, he just does that to make the people feel comfortable so he can kill ‘em!”
Me: “So he’s just pretending to be civilized while people are there, but when they’re gone he runs around naked, wearing tribal face paint?”
Eric: “That sounds like me on weekends.”

“Bats are for the United States only.”
-Katie. Even out of context, it’s ridiculous.

From class discussions surrounding “The Scarlet Ibis:”

“I didn’t think we had pigeons in Illinois.”

Abbi: “Wasn’t Doodle paralyzed?”
Me: “No, he wasn’t. He could walk, remember?”
Abbi: “Oh. That makes sense, because the whole time I was reading that story, I was trying to figure out how he could walk if he was paralyzed.”

-a word invented by Becca, used in lieu of “suffocate.”

“It’s like… get a job, you bum.”
-Amy, expressing her sentiments towards Madame Loisel, main character in the story “The Necklace.”

“I’ve got a headache in my eye.”
-classic Katie

We were reading a story about an old Native American man who died, and once they did, the people in his tribe painted his face with tribal makeup.

Me: “So why the face paint?”
Katie: “ I thought they were like, joking around with a dead person.”

Stephanie: “Can we use that little thing with the dot?”
Matt: “What? An exclamation point?”
Steph: “Yeah!”

Me: “I’m now going to drink water and talk at the same time.”
Stephanie: “Don’t do it, you’ll choke! I’ve tried it.”

Me: “If you sink, you’re floating.”

Me: “Whoa, one of the Texas Rangers got in a fight with the fans!”
Jenny: “What, you mean like Walker Texas Ranger?”

Alicia: “If something tastes more like a banana, would you say, ‘this tastes bananier?’”

Kandace: “Hurricanes start in the water, but they don’t come up onto land, do they?”
Katie: “No, you’re thinking of earthquakes.”
Me: “What are you talking about?”
Katie: “Earthquakes start in the water, don’t they?”

Abbi: “Is Romeo and Juliet where the guy pulls on her hair and climbs up a wall?”

Katie: “Aren’t time capsules like, time machines where you get to go to other parts of the world? I always wanted to see Abraham Lincoln.”
Kelsie: “What about your grandma?”
Katie: “And my grandma.”

Katie: “Aren’t Spartans like, Indians or something?”

Stephanie: “Whenever you say ‘Caucasian’ it reminds me of Japan.”

Stephanie: “You’ve got to be 18 to get into Chuck E. Cheese.”

Me: “I’m an awful cook. I don’t make Macaroni & Cheese; I make Macaroni & Powder.”
Grace: “Just add more liquid.”
Me: “You can do that?”

Me: “At age 18, Shakespeare married a woman named Anne Hathaway.”
Katie: “Isn’t that the same name as the girl from the Princess Diaries?”
(a few students nod in agreement)
Kandace: “Really? Shakespeare’s wife was the girl in that movie?”

Katie, upon seeing a picture of Shakespeare’s Globe Theater in London: “Isn’t that where they had the first Olympics?”

Kandace: “What’s ‘his stories?’ Oh, histories.”

The class and I were discussing the section of the Declaration of Independence in which Jefferson makes his complaints and justifications towards King George III of England, and this is the interesting turn taken by the conversation:

Stephanie: “If the King did all this bad stuff, why didn’t they just leave?”
Me: “Well that’s why it’s the Declaration of Independence, Stephanie.”
Steph: blank stare.
Me: “Okay, we’ll try this. What’s the root verb in the word ‘Declaration?’”
Steph: “I don’t know… ‘deck?’”
Me: “I can’t believe you just said that.”
Steph: “Well how am I supposed to know? How do you declarate something, anyway?

Matt, commenting on my tiger-print Dress-Up Day garb: “Where do you get something like that, Kids ‘R Us?”

Me: “So, when you’re reading, keep in mind that Juliet is 12 and probably doesn’t have a very concrete idea about what love actually is. For example, when my little sister was 12, she was in love with Justin Timberlake.”
Eric: “I still am.”

Me: “Since Juliet is so young, she’s extra-impressionable. It’s like this: girls, what happens in your heads when a guy tells you he likes you?”
Erin: “You start liking them back.”
Me: “Exactly, the wheels start turning and…”
Mitchell: “That’s not the way it ever works out for me and my crushes.”
Me: “Really? These girls know how you feel and still nothing?”
Mitchell, kicking Katie’s chair in front of him: “Yeah… Damn you, Katie!”
(It was hilarious, but he did get in trouble for cursing).

“I can say English in Spanish!”

“The Rock is the wrestler who always said he cooks.”

“I went and saw The Forgotten this weekend at… um… I forget.”
-Adam, and yes, it was inadvertently ironic.

Corey, trying to guess what “frail tenant” lives inside the snail-like shell of a chambered nautilus: “I don’t know. A turtle maybe?”

Stephanie, commenting on the VERY old television used in class: “That TV looks like the ones they give away on the Newlywed Game as prizes.”

Katie: “I forgot what you said it means when he says he wanders lonely like a cloud. Does that mean he’s on top of the world, except there’s dandelions up there? I mean daffodils. Like, he’s the God of Daffodils?”
-Discussing Wordsworth’s “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud”

Ashley: “Mr. Brigham, can I use the word heck in my poem?”

Me, discussing Langston Hughes’ poem “Harlem”: When Hughes asks his reader if a dream “explodes,” what dream might he be talking about as a black person in the 1920’s? What does Hughes want?
TJ: “To be free?”

Me, discussing EA Poe’s The Cask of Amontillado: “Montressor has faced some sort of insult at the hands of Fortunado. Now, we don’t know what he actually said to Montressor, but it must’ve been bad. I mean, it could’ve been something like, ‘your mama’s so stupid, she thought MCI was a rapper.”
Kandace: “He is a rapper, isn’t he?”

Mitch, making his point that “black” doesn’t necessarily mean evil in the poem “Eating Blackberries”: “Black doesn’t always mean death. If we were talking about Deathberries, but they were actually pink fluffy clouds of delicious candy, that wouldn’t be evil.”

Me: “What should I be for Halloween?”
Zach: “You should dress up as Waldo and have somebody be policemen who are looking for you. They’d have the Where’s Waldo book for identification, and they could be like, ‘Have you seen this man? Hang on, he’s in here somewhere.’”

Billy: “Mr. Brigs, have you seen Harry Potter 3 and the Prisoner of Azkaban? Hermoine is HOT in that movie. She’s so stuh-fisticated. I’m not sure what I just said, but I know it’s supposed to start with an “S” and end with a “cated.”

Zach literally brought in toast with his haikus written on them. We were all quite confused by this:
Justin: “Why would you do something like that?”
Zach: “Because I’m artistic.”
Jarrid: “More like autistic.”

Zach Williams’s haikus:

"Go Mario"
Mario is small.
Hurry! Run for the mushroom!
Mario is big.

"Where’s Waldo"
So where is Waldo?
Why do we want to find him?
Does he have money?

Me: “Do you guys know what spot research is?”
Eric: “Research about Dalmatians?”

Me, reading a Laffy Taffy wrapper: “Hey Billy, what does a cow use for math?”
Billy: “A pencil… no hang on… a moo-alculator?”
Me: “A COW uses a ‘moo-alculator?’”
Billy: “Oh! A cow-culator!”

Zach: “One time, I tried to make my butt look big by putting two wallets in my back pockets. It kinda worked.”

Stephanie: “When I get really mad, I just get real quiet and don’t say anything.
Dan: “Well then you’re never mad.”

Kandace: “Do bald people still wash their hair?

Katie, noticing the English II notes on the chalkboard: “What’s that word?”
Me: “Transcendentalism.”
Katie: “Does that have to do with going to the dentist?”

Me, explaining religion to the children: “A sin is like getting your name on the chalkboard in grade school, and God’s just waiting to keep you inside for recess.”

Stephanie: “Don’t the Ukranians speak like, Canada language?”

Steph, again: “What does the FBI stand for? Federal Bartering Agency?”

Grace: “Sometimes in class you use words that are too big for us to understand.”
Me: “Yeah, but you get the gist, don’t you?”
Grace: “What’s gist?”

We were watching “The Birds,” and we couldn’t help but make a few off-color comments:

A child in the movie: “Are the birds going to eat us, Mom?”
Me: “Yes, son.”
Zach: “Now eat your taters.”

TJ, after the birds leave and dead people are lying all over the streets: “You just got Punk’d!”

Me: “Have any of you noticed that despite the fact that thousands of birds have attacked this town at one time, there hasn’t been an ounce of bird poop anywhere on the ground?”
At that moment, the little girl in the film asks: “Why do the birds want to kill us, Daddy?”
Me, dramatically frightened: “Because they... can’t... poop!”

Katie: “Is that blood on her hands?”
Adam: “No, that’s finger nail polish.”

Katie: “Mr. Brigs, I don’t have my homework done because I didn’t understand it, and I forgot to dress up for my speech today, and my first block teacher thinks I might have mono .”

Nate: “Hey Brigs, tell me if this is sweet or stupid: [my girlfriend] and I were at a huge Christian convention and were watching this pretty big Christian band playing. Well, I got the lead singer to devote one of the songs to Devon in front of like 3,000 people. So is that sweet or stupid?”
Devon, while I ponder my answer: “He’s forgetting to tell you that song that got devoted to me was about breaking up!”
Me, after a brief pause and a blank stare: “Yeah, that was stupid.”

Dan: “We convinced Katie she had mono first block.”
Stephanie: “Couldn’t she just poop it out? I mean like ringworm. Can’t you poop out ringworm?”

Corey: “Hey Brigs, poverty isn’t in the dictionary. I can’t find it.”
Me: “It’s in there, I promise.”
Corey: “Wait, which comes first, W or V?”
Me: “Are you serious?”
Corey: “Well I was thinking V came between W and X.”

Matt: “I want to move to Kentucky someday.”
Jess: “Why Kentucky?”
Nate: “So he can marry his sister.”

Stephanie: “Oh my gosh, I was scared! I thought I was dying because I was looking at you and then you just weren’t there!”
-This said immediately following a short blackout.

Jesse, trying to tell a story after a long day of short jokes made at her expense: “When I was little…”
Austin Meyers: “How about ‘When I was younger…’”
-Collective laughter ensued.

Jesse: “My dream is to build one of those houses… you know, the ones in trees?”
Lydia: “You mean ‘tree-houses?’”
Jesse: “No, I mean the ones made out of wood.”
Stephanie: “Aren’t all trees technically made out of wood?”

Me: "How does Scout describe her Aunt Alexandria?"
Mitchell: "He says she's like Mt. Everest: cold and just sorta there."
Kandace: "Where is Mt. Everest?"
Katie: "Isn't that the one with the president's faces in it?"
Darci: "No, it's in Canada; it's the one with the waterfalls."
Me: "NO! It's in TIBET! Katie, you're thinking of Mt. Rushmore and Darci, the waterfall in Canada is Niagra Falls! What is going on here???"

Me: "Captain Ahab really believed that it was his fate, his destiny, to kill Moby Dick."
Jesse: "Isn't that kind of silly?"
Me: "I don't think so. We all have causes that we fight for every day, you know? We all have our own 'whale,' so to speak."
Nate, referring to his girlfriend Devon, who sits right next to him: "Devon's MY whale. Wait, I mean... I'm not saying you're fat! It's just... oh crap."

Me: “So what did I say was the word that embodies the whole point of this book?”
Amy: “Empathy!”
Me: “Right, so what is Mr. Cunningham doing?”
Kandace: “Empath-eye-ing?”

Me: “The Klu Klux Klan doesn’t like a lot of groups of people. Irish Catholics? Nope. Jews? Nope…”
Zach: “Crunchy Cheetos? Nope.”

Kandace, noticing a hole in the back of Jarrid’s pants: “Hey Jarrid, you’ve got a hole in your butt.”
Zach: “Don’t we all have holes in our butts?”

Me: “Okay, here’s the game plan for today…”
Stephanie, excited: “Ooooh, we’re playing a game today?!?!”

Zach appeared to be disheveled this morning in class, so I asked him what was wrong. I should never have done that. He replied, “Last night at speech team practice, I kept getting nervous when I was up in front of everyone, so someone told me to picture the audience in their underwear. I think I concentrated too hard because I went straight to naked, and now it won’t go away. Stop the naked!”

Justin, upon finding out he had a test in my class the day before Christmas break: “Man, now I have three tests on Friday!”
Me: “Well, do you guys know why teachers assign tests on the Fridays before breaks?”
Amy: “I just always assumed that it was because if the kids did poorly on them, they wouldn’t be able to just walk into school the next day and shoot everybody up.”
Me: “Okay, yeah… I guess that would be a good reason, too.”

A group of ridiculously-dressed Spanish students stopped in my room towards the end of second block, requesting a picture of their wild garments. Apparently, they had to do a presentation in which they identified each of their articles of clothing in Spanish. Playing along, I got out the camera, held it up, and said, “Okay, now say ‘queso!’” The three Spanish students looked at each other confusedly, when finally one replied, “what’s that?”

Jenny: “When I was little, my dad would make me watch Chucky movies as punishment because he knew how scared I was.”
Me: “That’s horrible!”
Jenny: “Yeah… and then that night, after I was done watching the movie, he made me sleep with my brother’s My Buddy doll.”

Jesse: “When I was a kid, I’d set up a bunch of chairs and pretend I was an airplane pilot, and I’d set up the plane into three sections: the cool people, the losers, and the children. But I’d crash the plane on purpose, and I’d run all over the place and knock chairs over. First I’d kill the kids, then all the losers, and then finally the cool people, too.”
Me: “You did this when you were all by yourself, didn’t you?”
Jesse, smiling shyly: “I was the only survivor.”

Me: “So you guys remember my friend Gates? He’s the really good black tennis player.”
Stephanie: “Bill Gates is black?!?!”

Megan: “My cat’s gay.”
Jesse: “Actually, one of my neighbor’s dogs is gay. Both of them.”

Katie, watching the movie version of “To Kill a Mockingbird”: Atticus looks like a computer nerd.”

Friday, September 04, 2009

Top 5 '90s One-Hit Wonders I'd Still Go See in Concert

Writing about the Blessid Union concert got me thinking about some of the other great one-hit wonder bands of the ‘90s, and today’s Top 5 List is about which of those groups I’d actually still take the time and money to go see in concert. Of all those bands, these are the ones I think have the best potential to still put on a fun show:

#5 – Tonic – “If You Could Only See” – Back in 1997 this song just sort of spoke to me in ways other alternative ballads did not, and even now the lead singer’s smoky baritone paints a lovely musical picture. As far as a concert is concerned, I’ve actually seen them, and it was apparently right before the group went on a five-year hiatus. It was back in 2004 (I think) at DePaul, and they were actually really good. Of course I bought their first two albums and enjoyed them immensely. The song they did for the “American Pie” soundtrack was what kept me interested. That wasn’t a huge hit by any means—not like “If You Could Only See”—but still a good track. And a pretty good show, too.

#4 – Sister Hazel – “All For You” – As far as harmonies go, these guys are awesome. And yes, I’ve seen them live, too, at Milwaukee’s Summerfest probably six or seven years ago. It was a beautiful night and everyone in attendance was absolutely into the music, dancing and having a great time, so it was hard not to get swept up in that mood. There from Florida and I think my buddy Kevin said they one of them went to his high school or something. I don’t know. In any event, they rock (still), and put on a really fun show. A lot of their other songs sound familiar, and I’m not sure why…

#3 – Fastball – “Out of My Head” – Technically I’m not sure we can call these guys one-hit wonders since “The Way” earned two Grammy nominations in 1998, but “Out of My Head” was their huge hit, and it still holds up. Considering I heard the new song from these guys recently and enjoyed it very much, I can only assume that they’d still be a pretty relevant and fun group to see live.

#2 – Cake – “The Distance” – One of the weirdest styles I’ve ever heard in a band, but Cake does some really cool electronic-sounding stuff. Remember “Short Skirt Long Jacket”? There’s a newer song of theirs called “No Phone” that I love, too. I guess these guys aren’t quite as obscure as other folks on this list, but other than that one hit they really haven’t been topping charts since the mid-90s. I still love them, though, and would be completely content at a Cake concert. Also, goats go to hell.

#1 – Silverchair – “Tomorrow” – They were like 16 when this song came out and rocked the world, but the combination of fame and anorexia for the lead singer sort of put a hamper on how well things went from there. Their “Neon Ballroom” album saw some moderate success with “Ana’s Song,” but the next album, “Diorama,” barely got out of the gate and went pretty much unknown despite it being, in my humble opinion, their best work. They’re sort of fallen by the wayside the last decade, but they rock. No amount of time can change that. Just ask BB King (the blues musician, not my cat).

Honorable Mention:

Fiona Apple – “Criminal” – One of the only rocker chicks I could ever really get into. Did some cool experimenting with rhythms and stuff, which I always dug. Plus, deep down, I always thought she was kinda hot.

Duncan Sheik – “Barely Breating” – I think the only other Duncan Sheik song I’ve ever even heard is “Half-Life,” but that’s okay because I liked that one, too. Clearly I’ve got a penchant for singer-songwriters, and Sheik fits that mold.

Blessid Union of Souls – “Hey Leonardo” – Obviously I just saw these guys and had a great time. They inspired this whole list, so how could I not include them?

Eagle Eye Cherry – “Save Tonight” – The son of jazz artist Don Cherry has a voice born for folk music. This song made him hot in the U.S. for a short time, but none of his newer stuff caught on here. Over in Sweden (the motherland for him) and other parts of Europe he’s huge. Most recent album came out in 2006 but didn’t even sniff at any charts, domestic or international. I hope he doesn’t suck, having put him on my list of honorable mention candidates. I have the feeling his shows would be relatively worthwhile.

Cypress Hill – “Insane in the Membrane” – Something about the way B Real raps just gets me excited. And boy was he great on the “Space Jam” soundtrack, right?

Did I miss anybody? Keep in mind that I’m basing this off which groups would put on the best overall show, not which groups had the best overall songs. Add in your two cents, gang. It’s always welcome…

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Nice to Meet You #20 - Blessid Union of Souls

My students asked me on Friday if I was planning on going to the first football game of the season, and I told them no. It had nothing to do with the fact that my high school’s football team has not been particularly successful the last two or six years (honestly, it didn’t), but that I already had plans to attend a free Blessid Union of Souls concert that evening.

“Who?” my students asked.

“Blessid Union of Souls,” I said, and then sang a little sample of “I Believe” and “Hey Leonardo” thinking that would be enough to snap them into understanding. The melodies were entirely unfamiliar to the lot of them. Blank stares across the room, maybe one or two admitting that the second song sounded kinda familiar. I started to get upset, but then remembered that most of my high school sophomores were born in 1994, which was after “I Believe”became a humongous hit.


My buddy Kevin, who was responsible for bringing the band to his venue, had similar issues with his workers, most of whom had never heard the songs, either. They were all born between 1988 and 1991, making it slightly less excusable but infinitely more depressing that they’d be completely ignorant of two mega-hits like those. The one-and-two-hit wonders of my era are falling by the wayside, ladies and gentlemen, and this means that I am officially old. Do you realize how huge “Hey Leonardo” was back in high school? It literally was that song you couldn’t go 30 minutes tuned into a top-40 radio station without hearing it seven times, and there I was in the second row of a free concert by these guys.

I remember working at Dairy Queen and hearing that song all the time, either while I was assembling burgers in the heat of a busy lunch or later on in the evening, when all us employees would be wiping things down and putting foodstuffs back in the cooler. At that age—at any age, really—we envision the bands making hit records for the radio as some untouchable gang of golden gods sitting atop throans of fresh fruit, golden goblets, and nude women somewhere in Hollywood. And if you’re Aerosmith or Green Day that’s probably true. But for all those other groups—not just Blessid Union but Lit, Stroke 9, Papa Roach, and scores upon scores of others—life is probably only like that for a year or two. Three if you’re lucky. Then the hype dies, their new songs get lamer, and the mass public stops caring. When that comes to fruition they’re just guys like you and me.

And that, I think, is part of why I enjoyed the free concert so much. I worked in that venue as a sound guy for two-and-a-half years, so it also sort of felt like home to me. The warm and fuzzy ambiance of that room always appeals to performers, which means that music shows always are excellent. “I Believe” was flawless, folks. Eliot Sloan (the lead singer) hasn’t lost it one bit. He’s lost the dreadlocks to late-30s male-pattern balding, but the voice is still there. Just him and a keyboard and 400 people listening. Very moving.

I learned on this night that he wrote that song at 3 in the morning, still awake and upset because his old gal-pal Lisa had recently dumped him because her father sort of made her. The last verse he sang live—which I hadn’t heard before—implied that it had something to because he was a black guy from the streets. The song itself is so positive, and that’s why it’s easy to get behind these guys as a band. It’s all good stuff. She likes me for me, and so on…

They’ve got a song called “The Light in Your Eyes” that has always been my favorite tune of theirs, which they slowed down a little in a live setting (it was an acoustic set, after all), but I didn’t care. It was a gorgeous version. They closed with “Hey Leonardo,” which Sloan said was written to be a ballad. At first it was intended to be this slow, lovely love song, but the producers had the idea to speed it up and make the beat a little more cathcy. The band—Sloan specifically—fought that idea to the “bitter end,” as he put it, apparently still upset that the song wasn’t what he intended and now he has to close every damn concert he ever does with it, but admitted he had a hard time being too made because the end result was a top ten record that probably accounted for about 40% of the money those guys have ever earned as musicians.

I had previously heard three of the 20 or so songs that Blessid Union performed that night, but it was a really nice and intimate show. Definitely worth my time (especially considering the football time got crushed by four touchdowns), even if only for the music alone. But what would a “Nice to Meet You” piece be without an actual meeting?

After the show Kevin hooked me up with a poster and a silver Sharpie, and all four guys in the band signed autographs for me. I definitely felt like I was twelve hounding some annoyed celebrity for the signature, but whatever. When am I ever going to see those guys again? Took a picture with the gang, too, and the guys were all very nice. Especially the bassist, who if I’m being honest had this creepy raper face all during the show, but he ended up being the most amiable of the bunch.

My little brother, who worked for Kevin too once upon a time, met Blessid Union at a showcase conference once, and he and Craig mentioned to these guys that they were going to do “Hey Leonardo” for a cover band contest. They were really pumped out it and actually checked their tour schedule to see if they’d be in the area around the time of the show. They apparently were considering stopping by to help Kyle and Craig with their performance. I’m pretty sure they won anyway, but I have to think that certainly would’ve solidified it.

And Kevin, who’s worked with Blessid Union on a couple of occasions, relayed to me one cool story from when he accompanied the guys to a bar after one year’s showcase. Sloan, the lead singer, asked the karoake DJ to pop in the instrumental version of “I Believe” and then tore the place up. Because most people have no idea that the lead singer of Blessid Union is a black guy, nobody made the connection that it was actually him. There more than a few comments, though, that went something like, “Boy, that guy sounds just like the real dude!”

So yeah, my students have no idea who these guys are, but does that change the awesomeness that they represent in my own life? I mean, I’ve got absolutely zero appreciation for Prince and The Police from a pop culture standpoint because I was either too young and not alive to have experienced it. I think I know “When Doves Cry,” but I wouldn’t recognize any other Prince song, especially if my English teacher tried singing it for me. You know, if I had an English teacher.

I’m old now. So what? It was going to happen someday. Now I get to look forward to having children of my own that grow up and listen to crap I’ll never understand. Meanwhile I’ll still be bumping Blessid Union and all the other delicious music from the ‘90s that the next generation won’t care two squirts of pee about.

They’ll be like, “Dad, have you heard the new song by the Silver Monkey Weasels?”

And I’ll look back at them blankly and ask, “Who?”

Friday, August 07, 2009

Joel & Amy Across America, The End

Day 5:

Walden Pond – To be a transcendentalist was to be, in a lot of ways, pretty friggin’ awesome. If my general readership is anything like my American Literature students, the term “transcendentalist” might as well be in a foreign language for how much meaning it holds. But for guys like Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, the original transcendentalists, it was a way of life more than a philosophy. In Thoreau’s case, it took him out into the woods for two years.

One of the cornerstones of the transcendentalist philosophy is a love for nature, so in 1845 Thoreau built a little cabin on a patch of woodsy land owned by Emerson so that he could spend some legitimate time with nature. It had, he thought, lessons to teach him about simplicity and beauty. After two years out there he got what he wanted to get out of the experience, and returned to real life in Concord, Massachusetts, just a short distance from the Pond where he’d been living.

That pond was our first stop on the way home, and immediately Amy and I could tell how Thoreau could learn about beauty here. Walden is just a small kettle hole surrounded by trees, but the water itself some of the clearest I’ve ever seen. There’s a trail along the outskirts of the pond, and about a half-mile back is the location of Thoreau’s cabin. Considering it was built from questionable wood a century and a half ago, the actual structure is long-gone. In its place now are small concrete markers that show the general dimensions of the one-room structure, as well as where the woodshed would’ve been out back.

About ten yards to the left of the cabin site is the area believed to have been the cabin site for years before a professional came in and found the real thing. I’ve got to admit that for a wild guess they did a pretty good job. At the incorrect cabin site are stacks and stacks of stones that people bring from all over the world to place there, some of which were marked with people’s names and birth/death dates. I’m guessing the families of big-time Thoreau fans would bring those stones and place them there as a final sendoff to a loved one. Considering it just so happened to be Amy’s dad’s birthday, she added a small stone to the pile as well.

On the walk back we had an issue with a broken walkway that resulted in relatively wet feet for us travelers, and we bumped into an overweight skinny-dipping soprano loudly humming some medieval melody. We were sort of in the area furthest from the entrance, but yeesh! Those were breasts I could’ve died perfectly happy having never seen.

Like Thoreau, we had seen what we’d come to see, and it was time for us to head to Concord. Having only been on the road for a little over an hour, we’d already seen way more than our fair share of beauty for one day.

Sleepy Hollow Cemetery – No, not that Sleepy Hollow. The cemetery used as a backdrop for Washington Irving’s famous story about the Headless Horseman is actually in New York. But that doesn’t mean this particular Sleepy Hollow doesn’t boast its own little claim to fame. Up on Author’s Ridge are buried four legendary American authors: Thoreau, Emerson, Nathanial Hawthorne (author of “The Scarlet Letter”), and Louisa May Alcott (author of “Little Women”).

Click HERE for More Concord Pictures!

The difference between Thoreau’s and Emerson’s headstones was almost laughable. Thoreau has a tiny traditional marker about the size of a school textbook, with only the word “Henry” etched in the middle. Emerson, on the other hand, lies beneath a five-foot-tall slab of what appeared to be (I’m no geologist) quartz, with an impressive metal plaque at eye level. These two guys were like best buds, but clearly Emerson had a little more cash to deal with his postmortem living quarters.

Alcott and Hawthorne have stones similarly modest to Thoreau, with Alcott’s being nothing more than a small brick with her name on it laying even with the surface of the grass. What was cool to see was all the trinkets left at these graves. Thoreau had a little wooden fife, Hawthorne a silver cross necklace, and Alcott a number of different flowers and pens.

It may not have been THE Sleepy Hollow, but it brought up the rear very nicely on our weeklong tour of famous graves. At the end of it all, the list looks like this:

Ben Franklin
Betsy Ross
John Hancock
Samuel Adams
Paul Revere
The Five Victims of the Boston Massacre
John Hawthorne (Witch Trials Judge)
William Bradford (Plymouth Governor) and other Pilgrims
John Adams
Abigail Adams
John Quincy Adams
Henry David Thoreau
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Louisa May Alcott
Nathaniel Hawthorne

I wouldn’t say we’re obsessed with dead people, just interested in sharing the same space as some American legends. Damn, that’s a list, isn’t it?

Homes of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Louisa May Alcott – The night before Amy and I had discussed the possibility of making a stop on the way home. It was going to be an awesome stop, but in order to have time for it we’d have to cut some things out of our original plans in Concord. The Awesome Stop happened later that day, but it came at the expense of the Emerson and Alcott homes.

Emerson’s place is, quite simply, an old white house kept in immaculate condition. We peeked in the windows a little bit but really didn’t spend too much time worrying about it. Inside, Emerson wrote “Self-Reliance,” “The American Scholar” and a host of other essays that made him the 19th Century’s most famous thinker.

Down the road is Alcott’s Orchard House, where she both wrote and pressed “Little Women.” Personally, I never liked the book, being a man and all, so we just took a quick little walk around the grounds and scooted. Would these tours have been historically worthwhile? Probably. Was spending time there more important than the Awesome Stop we’d hoped to visit later in the day? Nope. Not a chance. So while we would’ve loved to get more out of these places, we didn’t, and I refuse to regret that.

Old North Bridge, Site of “The Shot Heard Round the World” – Unofficially, the last stop of our vacation in Massachusetts, the Old North Bridge wasn’t as easy to find as I thought it would be. For some reason I was under the impression that we’d drive over it, but that wasn’t the case. After doing some walking we found our way to the place where the first shots were fired in the American Revolution.

As a result of those shots a battle ensued, which the American Minutemen won. We know how the rest of the war panned out. USA! USA! USA!

North Bridge spans the Concord River, and on one side is the famous Minuteman statue meant to commemorate the “Shot Heard Round the World” that happened at the spot where it now stands. On the other bank is a memorial to the British soldiers who died, as well as an obelisk commemorating where the bridge stood before it was rebuilt in 1875. It’s been rebuilt three other times since then, the most recent in the 1940s. So the bridge that’s there isn’t the real bridge, but you can’t fudge the history. In some ways, it was in that spot where the United States of American got started. It was also in that spot that our vacation ended.

Well, sort of…

Baseball Hall of Fame – There was no way Amy and I were driving 18 straight hours back home, so we’d made plans to stay the night about halfway there, in Erie, Pennsylvania. I made the reservations on Priceline for some ridiculously low price, so whatever we did the rest of this day we just needed to make sure we’d make it to Erie by bedtime. After breezing through Concord all morning, Amy and I decided to take a very small detour to Cooperstown, New York, home of the Baseball Hall of Fame.

While only about a half hour out of our way, the drive was long and winding through the rain, and as we got further and further away from the tollway I found myself wondering where the hell we were going. Sure, there were signs for Cooperstown the whole way, but the drive is like 50 miles of two-lane highway through Nowheresville, New York. At one point Amy asked me why the Hall of Fame was even located in Cooperstown. I had to admit that, at the time, I didn’t know.

Click HERE for More Cooperstown Pictures!

Turns out that a committee in the early 20th Century was put together for the sole purpose of nailing down where the modern game of baseball was invented. The final consensus led the committee to Abner Doubleday and Cooperstown. So there you have it.

In any event, finally driving into Cooperstown was like entering an entirely new dimension. All of a sudden everything was beautiful and green and quaint, with the Hall right smack dab in the middle of Main Street. We quickly parked (for free, by the way), and headed inside to the place where baseball legend goes to live on.

Amy was most enamored with the Babe Ruth section, but not because it housed his uniform or the bat from his 60th home run or the bat from his called shot homer, but because it had a book he signed the night he died, certified by a letter from the nurse on duty that night. Just like a woman to find the sentimentality in a building filled with manly baseball stuff, right?

Some of my favorites included Hank Aaron’s record-breaking home run balls, the mitts of Ty Cobb and Shoeless Joe Jackson, and the No-Hitter wall, which spans an entire end of one room with the baseballs and photographs of every no-hitter in baseball history. For Nolan Ryan, who threw seven of them, they have an extra display with his game hats.

For Barry Bonds, who broke Aaron’s all-time home run record in 2006, they’ve got a case with memorabilia from that memorable season. The fan that caught the ball, however, sent it to the Hall only after having an asterisk emblazoned in the leather. For those unfamiliar with baseball, Bonds is very, very likely a one-time steroid user, meaning his prestigious home run record is questionable. The asterisk thing was awesome. Not only did the guy have the audacity to put that symbol on there, but the Hall of Fame actually put the thing on display.

The place is just littered with baseball history—memorabilia from Stan Musial, Micky Mantle, Ernie Banks, Joe DiMaggio, Roberto Clemente, Ted Williams, Lou Gherig, Cy Young... it just goes on and on and on. It wasn’t the Field of Dreams (which I’ve also been to), but it was just as magical an experience. Any baseball purist needs to make the trek out east because it’s totally worth it. People wear the hats and jerseys of their favorite team and the gift shop alone is worth the trip.

I, of course, wore a Sox shirt and Sox hat and took pictures with the old pinwheel from the original Comiskey Park scoreboard, as well as the hat Freddy Garcia wore the final game of the World Series in 2005. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the Chicago stuff, right?

We had a great time, not just at Cooperstown but for the entire trip. We went home absolutely exhausted, but this was a sight-seeing vacation, not a sit-by-the-beach-and-drink-pina-coladas vacation. Besides, as teachers we’d get plenty of time to relax when we finished the rest of our drive home.

The only problem we’ve got now is, since we did so much in our week out east, how much history is there left for us to discover?

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Amy & Joel Across America, Part 9

William Bradford’s Grave – Bradford’s “On Plymouth Plantation” is probably the most famous and most detailed primary source we have of the Pilgrims’ early experience in the New World, but we don’t credit this guy just for being an interesting author. He was also the governor that held the new settlement together through some ridiculously tough times.

He’s buried in the town’s oldest cemetery, Burial Hill, which overlooks Cape Cod and the rest of the town of Plymouth. Fittingly, he’s got one of the largest headstones on the grounds, but even that doesn’t come close to showing the sort of appreciation he deserves. For goodness sake, the tallest gravestone we saw all trip was for the parents of Benjamin Franklin. And they didn’t do anything but give birth to the guy!

As for Bradford, it was never the plan for him to become governor of Plymouth, but when the man who was originally appointed died within the first year, Bradford was the logical guy to take over. This was a guy who, despite being devoutly religious, was able to put out some pretty violent orders to maintain the safety and stability of his colony. His wife died before she even got off the boat. Perhaps worst of all, at least to Bradford, what had started as a strictly religious colony became less and less so as more Anglican Englanders made the trip over.

The guy had guts, though, like a lot of these early settlers, and his job was the farthest thing from an easy one. You’ve got to wonder how things might’ve been different were he not there to hold it all together. Would we even have a Plimoth Plantation and Mayflower II to visit today? Maybe, but probably not. But possibly. Most likely. Or not…

The Adams Family Tomb – On the way back to the car, Amy and I plucked a decent-sized stone from the Plymouth shoreline to take home with us. Why would we do such a thing? To display Plymouth Rock prominently on our bookshelf. Okay, so it’s not THE Plymouth Rock, but it’s definitely a rock from Plymouth. We had fun doing it, okay?

On the way back towards Boston we made a stop at a church in Quincy, which is where John Adams, Abigail Adams, John Quincy Adams, and Catherine Adams all are buried. We were absolutely wiped out from a long on foot in the sun, but this was right on the way and seemed like something we should do. It ended up being the most solemn experience of the week.

Click HERE for More Pictures!

Walking up to United First Parish Church you’d never guess that it houses a family tomb that includes the bodies of two presidents. Inside it’s a beautiful old church, and there were a couple of older docents there giving tours. We had come towards the end of the day, so while the older woman was talking to a group in the actual church, we chatted up the kindly old gent who waited with us to get things started. After having asked about our reason for coming we told him we were teachers with voracious appetites for history and how almost the entire vacation was devoted to taking in as much of it as we could before going home.

He sort of looked at the other tour group in the church and finally said, “I’ll just take you down to the crypt.” So that’s what we did. The thing about our tour guide was that he took his job very seriously, and I’m positive that had a strong effect on how seriously Amy and I took the whole experience as well. He told us that every morning he’d come down to the tombs and thank to second and sixth president for the opportunity to do what he does. This guy was extremely solemn and patriotic fellow, so we did absolutely everything we could to be as respectful as possible.

The tomb is just a little room with four gigantic granite boxes that hold the caskets of the Adams. We found out that earlier that day some direct descendants of the family had been there to celebrate John Quincy’s birthday. President Obama had personally sent a wreath of flowers that was now sitting atop JQ’s tomb. We were, to say the least, pretty bummed we’d missed out on that, but just being in a room with two dead presidents was in itself emotionally overwhelming.

On the way out, the docent offered Amy a flower from the presidential wreath. He wanted us to share the experience with our students, and for Amy to show the flower to her students. It was an extremely benevolent gesture and we of course accepted. We’ve got no idea where to put this flower, but how do you turn down something like that?

When we stepped back and looked at the long list of graves we’d visited over the course of the week it was difficult not to label these particular ones as the most memorable. Few people had as much to do with shaping early America than John Adams, and his wife Abigail was one of the first real feminists. John Q. was no hack, either, so just being there, in a church no less, was about as solemn as a tourist attraction gets.

Brigham’s Restaurant – My family comes from Massachusetts. There are Brighams spread out all over the country, but probably the strongest concentration of them is out East, where the original Brigham set foot on American soil a long, long time ago. As a result there’s a really famous Brigham hospital in Boston, as well as almost a full page of other Brigham’s listed in the Boston phone book. Perhaps the most famous of all, though, is Brigham’s Ice Cream.

There was absolutely no way I was going home without tasting the stuff, so our last evening meal in Massachusetts took us like 30 minutes from our hotel to find the nearest Brigham’s. It’s sort of like a fancy Culver’s, with burgers and fried goods and, of course, ice cream for dessert. We ordered whatever and did the ice cream thing, which was good, but we definitely had more fun taking pictures of and with everything labeled “Brigham” in the entire building. The poor teenagers working the till must’ve thought we’d escaped from some sort of mental facility. We probably could’ve pulled the name thing and gotten some free stuff, but we didn’t want too many people asking for autographs and all that. The girl didn’t even blink when I busted out the Brigham credit card. So much for celebrity. And, as it would happen, so much for Boston. We’d be leaving in the morning, but not after a few more stops on the way home.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Joel & Amy Across America, Part 8

National Monument to the Forefathers – Our last full day in Massachusetts took us an hour down the coast to Plymouth, which is where the Pilgrims eventually settled after coming over to America on the Mayflower. It’s one of the most fabled stories in our history, and that’s why someone built an 81-foot monument in the middle of a huge grass park hidden towards the back of modern-day Plymouth.

As far as monuments go, this one is friggin’ ornate. The centerpiece is a toga-clad personification of “Faith,” which is flanked by four smaller figures meant to represent Freedom, Morality, Law, and Education. Higher up are two huge lists of those aboard the Mayflower etched in marble, and the many other small details are too tedious and too many to spend more time on.

Built in 1888 it was originally designed to be almost twice as tall, but the whole point was to have it face Plymouth Harbor and be dedicated to those men and women that braved the Atlantic Ocean to start a colony in the New World. For us it was a precursor to the rest of the day in Plymouth, which would prove to be one of the coolest things we did all trip.

Plymouth Rock – What better place to head next than the most famous stone in America? Growing up both Amy and I were taught that this rock was the place where the Pilgrims first disembarked to start their colony. So what if that’s not exactly true? This was Plymouth Rock, people! A rock!

Okay, I’m being a little facetious. It really was pretty cool to stand right at the shore and look out on the water, knowing that almost 400 years ago the Pilgrims stepped off a boat and decided that this was the place they’d live for the rest of their lives. When they landed in 1620 they had almost no idea what was out there, other than the Natives who very likely would make things as difficult as possible for them.

A few times on our trip I would be inspired to stop myself and just imagine the history happening before me, and this was one of those times. Granted, nowhere in Plymouth governor William Bradford’s “On Plymouth Plantation” does he mention a rock, but it’s been generally accepted that the rock has always been there. It might not have been the first place they landed, but it was a landmark for incoming ships looking for Plymouth Harbor.

The Pilgrims didn’t even land at the rock and then immediately set up shop. The first land they saw was the tail of Massachusetts, and then they spent a month on the boat while search parties scouted the area for a desirable settlement location. Bradford’s wife, for example, lasted the boat trip over from Holland, but died before Plymouth was chosen as home base.

So yeah, Plymouth Rock isn’t quite the icon some history books have made it out to be, but it was still a cool moment to stare out at the cape and imagine the Mayflower moored somewhere out there. Then to turn around and see the high sloping hill where the colony was started… well, it was just a cool moment. And it was free.

Plimoth Plantation – The replica Wampanoag village and Plimoth settlement a couple miles down the road was not free, however, but despite the relatively steep price (nothing was more expensive on this trip except the Red Sox tickets), it was absolutely worth the price.

Set up exactly three miles to the south of where the real Plymouth colony was founded, Plimoth Plantation is essentially a living museum meant to resemble that colony as closely as possible as it would’ve been in 1627. We were told that the English village was actually built in 1950s and is about one-third as big as the original would’ve been. Actor/Historians come from all over the country to be part of this project, so not only is every building and tool and food item on site totally authentic to the era, but the “colonists” who reside there (from 9am-5pm) know what the hell they’re talking about.

These people stay in character the whole time, so any question they’re asked they come back with an answer pretty close to what a Pilgrim would have actually said. For example we asked one guy what he was cooking for lunch, and he looked at us as if he’d never heard the word. Because he never would’ve heard the word. Back then it was called dinner, so when I corrected myself he was able to answer me properly.

Then, trying to catch him with a question that would throw him off, I asked about religion. Because I teach this Puritan stuff to my American Lit students, I tossed out a little diddy that went something like, “What’s it like living in a Puritan community considering you didn’t come here as a Puritan?” Then I sort of leaned back and smirked. That will show him.

Except he went off for like seven or eight minutes on how offensive it was to call him a Puritan instead of a Separatist, and then explaining why he feels the way he does and how much the religion has helped him and philosophically how the whole thing works for the people at Plymouth. It was nuts. When it came time for my rebuttal I was like, “Cool. Enjoy your dinner,” and Amy and I just sort of nodded and left. Dude wasn’t rude or anything, but he definitely showed me. I dare him to talk me about basketball, though.

The other cool thing about this place was the Wampanoag home site, where the Native people that wear authentic garb and spent their days doing authentic Nativey things, actually are descendents of the area’s Wampanoag people. They dress the part, but don’t have to stay in character the way the Plymouth actors do. You just ask them what you’re thinking and they answer. The guy we talked to new literally everything about the area and its history, so we spent about thirty straight minutes chatting him up. It would’ve been a great place to take kids for a field trip. It’s only an 18-hour drive. Totally worth it, right?

Those two things combined kept us busy for a solid four hours, and if we hadn’t been starving it’s very likely we would’ve stayed longer. When we found the whole place is a non-profit facility and the only thing keeping it going was the steep admissions price, we didn’t feel so bad. Still, we could’ve spent the day at Six Flags for that kind of bread. But this wasn’t a Six Flags sort of vacation. It was about learning, and dammit, we certainly did plenty of that.

Mayflower II – After lunch at a seafood place back in Plymouth, a lunch in which I demolished my first entire lobster for the low, low price of $18, we walked to a replica of the Mayflower moored at State Pier, available for self-guided tours.

Anybody can build a boat that looks sort of old-ish and boat-ish, but to create a faithful reproduction of the Mayflower, which was a well-used boat even when the Pilgrims got to it in 1620, requires a lot of research and specialized builders. Built all the way back in 1955, this particular replica was done the right way.

Plimoth Plantation had wanted a replica of the famous boat for some time, and actually had commissioned a specialized ship builder to put together blueprints for one and start building it. The guy they hired did meticulous research about ships of the era and combed primary sources for any information about the original Mayflower, then he combined all that information and made what would prove to be the most accurate replica blueprint to date.

What P.P. didn’t know was that an English organization wanted to build a replica Mayflower as well and actually recreate the journey across the Atlantic. They just didn’t quite have the funding to do it, and had no idea where they’d permanently moor the boat when the voyage was over. Naturally, this group, called Project Mayflower, joined up with Plimoth Plantation and made it all happen.

Before sailing across the ocean, as the Pilgrims did, Project Mayflower had to make the blueprints into a tangible boat, and they did so as authentically as possible. The accuracy of this vessel went down to every minute detail—carefully chosen English oak timbers, hand-made nails, hand-sewn linen canvas sails, real hemp cordage, and exactly the sort of Stockholm tar used by ship builders in the 17th Century.

Today, the boat is still seaworthy (it sailed to Rhode Island in 2002), but it’s mostly just used to educate people about the Pilgrims’ journey to America. Just like at Plimoth Plantation there are costumed role-players on board telling all sorts of stories and answering all sorts of questions. Seeing the way the crew and passengers slept and ate was more than a little remarkable. To think of 120+ people shoved into that tiny a space for two months was a little overwhelming, but those original Americans were under no illusions that the trip would be an easy one. It was a heck of a lot easier for Amy and me; we just walked up a ramp, looked around for about a half hour, then walked down a different ramp. Our journey to America was a can of corn compared to what the Pilgrims must’ve gone through, but that’s the advantage of being born in the 1980s, I suppose.