Monday, November 28, 2016

Thanksgiving in the hood VS Thanksgiving in the sticks

Thanksgiving 2016 was the best Thanksgiving I've ever had.  Instead of just one day, this year's holiday was spread out over a four day weekend.  It began on Thursday on Chicago's Southside (where I was the only white person everywhere I went) and continued through Sunday where my soulmate Lillian, my two munchkins and I hung two and a half hours south of Chicago in rural Groveland Illinois (where Lillian was the only black person everywhere we went).

Here are some of the highlights from Thursday in the hood:

- I met Lillian's 80 year old mother who is in the final week of her radiation treatment against cancer. She was so cute and sweet that I wanted to pinch her rosey little cheeks. Instead I gave her a nice hug and told her how glad I was that I finally got to meet her.  Her sweet demeanor masked her humorous ornriness however.  As we piled in the car at the end of the night there was a begger with his pants nearly falling down loitering beside our car.  Lillian's mom commented, "you should honk the horn and scare him" as she started to giggle.

-Picking up a relative in what looked like a crackhouse surrounded by barren lots polluted with abandoned metal boxcars beneath the L tracks. It was pitch black out and this was no mans land - not another car in sight.  Then as we parked in front of the crackhouse, a shadowy car pulled up right behind us, just inches from our bumper. I turned around and kept my eye on the male wearing a hoodie in the drivers seat as Lilian started digging in her purse for her mace. The hooded man didn't seem to want to get out of his car and our staring contest continued until, out of nowhere, a pimped-out ghetto cruiser with four or five gangbangers hanging out the windows drove by, zigzagging from one curb to the other and revving its engine until it dissapeared into the darkness of the night.  The guy in the hoodie seemed to take this as his cue, and he got out of the car then walked into the crackhouse just as the relative we were picking up came out.

-Watching and listening to a half dozen women in their 60s laughing and drinking and singing and dancing to a bunch of 80s hippity hop music with lyrics like "back that thang up" and "get that freak on!"

Here are the highlights from Saturday in the sticks:

-Six of us piling into my mom's SUV and seeing the festival of lights in E.Peoria where my mom found it appropiate to do her anal rendition of "Silent (butt deadly) Night" causing me to immediately accuse Jack: " Oh come on Jack, that smells disgusting"
"It wasnt me," Jack protested so I turned to Lucy: "Lucccccy???"
"It wasnt me!" she declared. So then, eventhough I hadn't smelt or hearf Lillian fart once in the six months since I met her, I turned to her in accusation asked, "Lillian? How could you?"
But just then I heard my mom giggling in the front seat, which was as good as a confession, "I couldnt help it," my mom cried "It was the crannberry sause from dinner."

-Getting all the sludge/water out of one of Terry and Ruby's fishing boats so I could drag it out of the lake and up to the shore. (What fun is a holiday visit to your folks if you cant throw your back out and get your brand new pants caked in mud?)

-Jack protesting against going to church with Ru Ru, Terry and Lucy. I let him stay back with Lillian and myself, as all three of went for a jog.  Afterwards we came inside and I had a beer as I watched football games on the TV that I had bet on.  When Lucy returned I asked her what she had learned in church.
"That cheating is a sin," she informed me. 
I nodded, noting to myself that drinking beer and betting on football aren't exactly behaviors that put you on the fast track to sainthood either.

©2016 Rockism 101. All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Looting, shooting and polluting: Or why Cubs fans should root for them to lose

chicago cubs jose cardenal photo: cubs - jose cardenal - 1970 - baseball card josecardenal.jpg
There are two very good reasons that true Cub fans (I'm not talking about the bandwagon Johnny-come-lately variety who call themselves Cubs Nation) are actually rooting for the Cubs to lose against the Cleveland Indians in the 2016 World Series.  The first, most obvious and immediate reason is because that a Cubs win (in a city that has so much gun violence that it has been dubbed "Chiraq" by Hollywood film maker Spike Lee) means death and destruction.  Plain and simple.  Shots will be fired, windows will be broken, people will get mugged, cats and dogs will be having nonconsensual sex in the streets.  Which is all pretty typical for a autumn night in Chicago, but all these atrocities will be exacerbated (big word, I know - I had to google it) to an alarming and dangerous degree.

The second reason, and less obvious reason, is that a large part of the charm and appeal of the Cubs has been the "lovable loser" archetype they represent. Cubs and especially Cubs fans are unique. They have been loyal to their club for over 100 years despite the losing seasons, despite the groundballs between the legs of tall goat-teed first basemen, despite the interference of the Bartmans, despite the curses of goats, and despite the predictable late season collapses that have earned them the acronym Completely Useless By September.  And the result has been that baseball has taken on a meaning of something greater than just winning or losing on the North side of Chicago.  No, on the North side baseball is about the experience. Its about the fun and the life and humanity. Its about Jose Cardenal tipping his toe on home plate as he scores a run -as if he is an old woman testing the temperature of a hot bath. Its about Ernie Bank's enthusiasm for playing two in the middle of the long hot, dog days of August. Its about a beer-stenched, speech slurring Harry Carry singing Happy Birthday to Bill Buckner's mustache in a vain attempt to keep a rally alive. 

And all of that changes if the Cubs win.  All of it.

©2016 Rockism 101. All Rights Reserved

Monday, June 13, 2016

Why I let my 5 year old son say the world "Bullshit"

bull shit photo: no bull nobullshit.jpg
***This entry has been re-posted due to popular demand.  Its original posting was in 2010.

Before you pelt me with molotav cocktails, hear me out. A few months ago I was in front of a so-called "progressive" Cook County circuit court judge trying to convince him that I should have expanded visitation with my two preschool aged children. The judge looked down on me from his perch and asked, "How much do you pay in child support?"

"330 dollars a month," I replied.

"And you have a Master's Degree? You can do better than that," he informed me.

The implication was that if I want to have more time with my kids then I need to make more money. The word "Bullshit" instinctively popped into my head - a word that was introduced into my vocabulary sometime in the mid 1970s - but I bit my tongue before the word had a chance to formulate past my lips.

If I was on the ball I might have tried to explain to this judge that as a grade school teacher in a school district that has 20% of its population living below the poverty level I don't get paid a whole hell of a lot of money. I suppose I could take my Master's degree in writing and apply to a marketing firm and write magazine ads that convince teenage girls that they are fat and ugly and that unless they purchase Whatever corporate cosmetics/diet pills, etc. that I'm peddling then they will always remain fat, ugly and worthless.  If I did that then I could make ten times more money than I do now, so would the judge consider me to be "doing better than that" then?

But I wasn't on the ball, the only word that came to mind was simply "Bullshit!"
Bullshit because I'm stuck in a legal system that promotes the practice of "buying parenting time".
Bullshit because if being a good father was solely based on how much money you make, then Saddam Hussein would have been fricking father of the year!
And Bullshit because the judge knew I was a good father. He proclaimed such in our Custody Order. He declared that he could tell I was a good father from my testimony during the custody trial.  I produced 5 witnesses who testified on my behalf (not to mention the several letters from friends and family I presented). Even my ex-wife's lawyer admitted I was a good father. In fact the only one who didn't seem to know this was my ex-wife.

The word "bullshit" actually comes to my mind quite regularly. If you ever spend any length of time with me, say 24 hours or so, you will certainly hear the word "Bullshit" from me--or possibly "Horseshit" or maybe even "Goatshit". Recently I spent 8 consecutive days with my kids, just them and me (plus two days with my parents). I don't know how many times I said "Bullshit" in front of them. Probably at least a dozen times. The first few times I caught myself immediately and then used distractions to divert attention away from the word. But after awhile, I just let it roll. Most of the time, this word came out up while I was watching an NFL game and a commercial a mind-numbingly stupid commercial would pop up - for instance those psychotically gay sing-along commercials for TJ Max which look exactly like the psychotically gay sing-along commercials for some airline, where people are skipping down the streets with acoustic guitars and doing backflips because the consumer product they are touting is so fucking great. I mean honestly, how am I supposed to watch this interuption without grunting "Bullshit"?

So... on Christmas day, my five year old son Jack opened up some Star Wars flying dragon action figure thing-a-ma-jig and immediately wanted to play with it. This toy had some weird clear plastic shrink wrap material around it that most toys seem to have nowadays. This impenetrable packaging product (most likely developed by NASA) was stapled to a thin cardboard display to keep the cheapass action figure from moving around too much (presumably so that it won't breaking during shipping). Okay, but then there was also all of these tiny thin rubber bands holding the action figure even tighter in place.  And then, on top of that, were more plastic things that had screws in it which served no recognizable function what so ever. I tried wrestling with this thing for a second or two, then a second or two more and then after about 3 minutes I must have looked like I wanted to smash this plastic piece of shit against Santa's fat ass.  I looked at my son and said, "I'm gonna need a knife to open this."

"That's some bullshit," he replied.

Immediately I understood that he was right - it was some bullshit, especially from a 5 year old's worldview. But also from mine because if the corporation that mass produced this plastic piece of shit spent half as much time trying to make a quality product as it did shrink wrapping the packaging around it, then there would be no need for this see-through plastic shit in the first place. So it was bullshit. But 5 year olds (technically he was still just 4 years old at the time, since this was two weeks before his 5th birthday) aren't supposed to say words like "bullshit". Right?

So as a father it was my duty to explain to him why it was wrong for him to say 'Bullshit'. But then I paused... for I knew I'd also have to explain the "why" to him. Why is it wrong for a 5 year old to say the word "bullshit"?

Jack, like most 5 year olds who are trying to figure out the world around him, has a heightened curiousity about how and why things work.  He always asks for an explanation for everything and I've encouraged this curiousity, from the day he was born. So I feel a responsibility to provide him with workable answers to his questions. And this is where things get complicated.

cheap toys photo: toys toys.jpgThere was an incident that happened a few weeks earlier, while I was subbing for a 7th grade Math class, when a young lady who was being pestered by the boy sitting behind her said in a rather monotone manner, "Will you leave me the fuck alone?" within earshot not only of myself, but the teacher's aid who was also in the classroom. I looked at the aid to see if she heard this and she looked at me the same way. So I quietly asked the girl, "What did you just say?"

Over my two years of substitute teaching I have found it handy to create a list of 8 rules that I write on the board of every classroom I teach. Rule #4 is "No Disrespectful Language". Whenever a student breaks this rule (or any of the others) I will have them write out the rules on a piece of paper, sign it and then hand it to me. But the policy for dealing with students who drop the "F" bomb at the particular school I was at on this day was to send the offender directly to the office - where they would get in-school suspension for the rest of the day.

The problem was that, this kid who was pestering this girl had come in late, then he made some smart ass comments, refused to do his classwork and was basically disrupting the class non-stop. This girl on the other hand was fairly mild-mannered and well liked with the other students. In fact, when I asked her "What did you just say?" and she inevitably answered "Nothing," three or four students around her came to her defense.  "She didn't say nothing" they repeated (totally disregarding rule #2 on Mr. Wagemann's Classroom Rules which is "No lying").


Part of the torment I go though in deciding how to father my kids comes from the fact that while growing up I never had a father to set an example. My own father left when I was 3 years old. I didn't see him again until I was 9. He rolled up to our apartment one day in a red VW Beetle talking about baseball and promising to take my younger brother and me to McDonalds for a frickin' Happy Meal. My Brother started crying and my father left again. Over the next ten years my father marginally popped into our lives in bi-monthly intervals, but I never thought of him as a father. I never called him dad. I called him by his first name, and I still do.

Instead of getting my notions about what a father is from my actual father, I mostly relied on TV sitcoms from the 1980s. The ideal father to me was a cross between Michael J. Fox's father on Family Ties and Bill Cosby on The Cosby's. The thing that made these two examples of the "ideal" father was simply that their kids knew that they were always there for them. By this token, this definition, I currently am Not an ideal father. I have visitation with my kids every other weekend, plus every Wednesday afternoon. As it stands now if my son gets picked on by a bully on a Thursday morning, I will not be there for him until possibly Wednesday afternoon. Similarly if my daughter is feeling left out or unpopular at school, or having difficulty with her classwork, I might not ever know about it. I certainly won't know about it any sooner than the next time I see her, which could be a week later. Not only is this restrained visitation make it impossible to be an ideal father, it makes it impossible to have any real clear idea about what is going on in my children's lives. So when a so-called "progressive" middle-aged Cook county circuit court judge tells me he is denying my kids the right to have an involved father, and engaged father, because I don't make enough money, there really is only one word that fits: "Bullshit!"


Since I work with kids everyday, I'm not oblivious to the argument for not letting kids say cuss words. Using cuss words in many cases is a form of being disrespectful. And I certainly don't want to encourage that. But at the same time cuss words do exist. The word "Bullshit" DOES exist. And it is a word that I myself find rather handy at times. Cuss words--or curse words--have been developed by societies and cultures to help us express ourselves more accurately and communicate more efficiently. Today, in our current age of information, expressing yourself more accurately and efficiently is more important than ever. So why should we censor a word that can actually help people better understand one another?

When my son looked at his Star Wars action figure things imprisoned in that plastic packaging and uttered, "That's some bullshit," his instincts were right. Telling him that he was expressing himself wrong could have sent him the message that his instincts were wrong.  In other words, by trying to censor him, THAT would actually be a form of bull shitting him. And I don't want to bullshit my own kids. I mean some bullshitting is okay of course, like telling him there is a Santa Claus and an Easter bunny and a tooth fairy, but...

When I was a kid I could not have gotten away with saying 'fart' to an adult, let alone 'bullshit' or heaven forbid the f-bomb. So I had to create backhanded ways of expressing the impact of these words without actually using them. I'll never forget my eureka moment during a 7th grade Social Studies class when our teacher introduced the class to the term shiite muslim. Shiite? That sounds almost like shit! It's even almost spelled like shit! And it dawned on me that, Ah-hah, I can say the word shiite when I actually want to say shit and technically--technically I couldn't get in trouble for it. So that afternoon during baseball practice, with a group of a half dozen adults mulling about behind the dugout, when a team mate smacked a long drive into right field and the ball nearly bonked another teammate on the head, I shouted out, "Holy Shiite Muslim--heads up Skippy!" The gaggle of adults actually laughed. This just might work, I reasoned, and from then on the term "Holy Shiite" became a regular part of my pre-teen venacular. Today, many moons later, I see the pre-teen kids I tech doing something similar, calling each other "Little Fockers" after the popular movie of the same name. Maybe the lesson is this: Kids will always find a way to say cuss words (or at least find a way to torment adults).

©2010 Rockism 101. All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

4th Grade Kids Using 'Trump' As A Synonym For 'Bowel Movement'

There are 4th graders at the school where I teach who use the word 'Trump' to describe a bowel movement. For instance, instead of saying "I have to take a dump" they say "I have to take a trump".   I first realized this phenomenon one day last week when I asked one student where another student was. 
"He's taking a trump" the student told me. 
Huh?  I thought the student meant to say 'dump' but then I heard two other students that same day use the term 'trump' instead of 'bowel movement'.  One kid was laughing at another kid as he declared, "Oh man, I almost trumped my pants!"

This was a head-scratcher.  I decided I wouldn't say anything for the time being.  However, the next day I realized that this trend was really catching on.  I actually heard a dozen or more second graders using trump in this way at well.  Like most things kids pick up now days, I figured they had gotten it from TV or you tube, so during my lunch break I started googling to see if I could find any examples of this.  And sure enough, there were hundreds of videos in which 'trump' was being used as a synonym for 'shit'.  I doubt that the grade school kids I teach know a whole lot about Trump or about politics in general, but it made me realize that as they get older, down through the years, they would always associate his name with shit.

So the question I asked myself was, "Is that a good thing or a bad thing?"

Just a week earlier our school had a bullying awareness assembly where we encouraged kids to deal with bullying in various ways.  Teachers were shown videos of kids being bullied which we could show to our students.  As I thought back to the videos I realized how similar these videos were to
video clips of Trump's rallies and interviews.  I did another google search and found a video of Trump making racist remarks, then several videos of him making sexist remarks.  There was also a video of him making fun of a handicapped person.  There was a clip of Trump having working people thrown out into freezing temperatures as he screamed 'steal his coat' at them.  And then of course there was the infamous clip or Trump degrading American veterans by declaring that he doesn't respect those people who get captured.

After watching these clips and mulling over what to do about the situation, I realized that the fact that 4th graders equated Trump to a bowel movement made perfect sense.  As a teacher and a father I have witnessed numerous occasions where children see straight through the facades that adults create much better than adults do.  Kids have a way of immediately getting right to the truth of a matter. And when they see some arrogant tan-in-a-can, hair-plugged asshole on the nightly news and you tube clips spouting out racist comments, sexist comments, kicking people out into freezing temperatures without their coats, making fun of handicapped people and telling war heroes that they dont deserve respect because they got captured then yes, it is VERY appropriate to equate that to human excrement.

So I decided I would just let it go.  And that night I went home, had a nice meal, then retired to the restroom and took one of the most relaxing trumps of my life.

©2016 Rockism 101. All Rights Reserved