Tuesday, August 29, 2006


Four days down, two more to go. The weather has been crappily rainy and cold, except for the two hours yesterday when it got Africa-hot and we were swarmed by mosquitos (the ones that had been breeding in the puddles and were now awake and hungry for geeky band-flesh.) We start rehearsals at 10 AM and go until 9 PM - essentially eleven hours, give or take an hour for a meal here and there.

I have to say, the kids have been AMAZING. Were I a kid in this band, I probably would have quit on Saturday. But they have an incredible work ethic, and a seemingly endless amount of energy. So many times I've just wanted to sit down and/or start crying because I'm tired, cold and wet. But then I look around and realize I haven't heard one kid complain -- and then I feel like a wuss.

I have gotten very used to working with middle school kids. I've learned that their attention spans are about 23 seconds, max. And as a result, I've gotten used to teaching in a sort of rapid-fire way to keep them engaged. Working with high school kids - especially ones as hard core as these - has been a shock to my system. I forgot how GOOD they can sound, and how they are able to really pay attention to detail. Truthfully, it's been a little intimidating for me.

I guess I can make it through two more days. It's probably good for me. Maybe I need to raise my own bar and the bar of my own students a little higher this year.

Monday, August 28, 2006


So I woke up this morning
the rain was coming down.
The idea of fifteen miles
did make me wanna frown.

I thought just for one second,
"Fuck it - I will not go."
But then a bigger voice piped up,
"You're not gonna melt, you know."

And so I donned my sneakers,
and took off on my run.
And soon enough i found my pace.
I didn't miss the sun.

I went through several phases:
from "Doing great!" to PAIN.
Running is so mental -
A workout for the brain.

Around the seventh mile,
my stomach stirred a bit.
And by the time I hit mile twelve
I totally had to shit!

And when I thought I couldn't
hold that poop inside my body,
fate stepped in and saved my life
in the form of a Port-A-Potty.

I ducked on in and emptied out.
I felt so light and free!
The rest of the miles were easy as pie,
and I sailed through the final three.

Through this book I've been a-skimmin'
(Hal's the author's name)
he talks of "personal records"
being more valuable than fame

If that's the case, I'm lucky
for on this one morning's run
I achieved TWO "PR's"
and two is better than one.

Not only did I cover
more miles than I had never,
I also crapped in the middle of nowhere -
I'll remember THAT forever.

Thursday, August 24, 2006


Last night I had a dream I was back in college. Or maybe that I'd never left? Regardless, it was a pretty cool dream.

I had a lot of fun in college. Being a Music major is probably different from being a Business or Engineering major. Although I did have to take some general ed. classes during undergrad (English, math, science, etc.) the bulk of my coursework was music-related. So while my peers were busting their brains doing stock analyses and the like, I was tooting away on a bassoon and singing solfege syllables to nursery rhymes.

To you peers, I simply say: Ha.

College was so fucking awesome. I had a great group of friends, and we only left the music building to eat, sleep or drink. And actually, we did most of those things there as well. When we graduated, we went our separate ways, but lots of us stayed local and we see one another at the annual music teacher conferences and state band auditions.

Next week I'm teaching a band camp (go ahead and say it...) Band camp is the week at the end of summer when the marching band kids learn their "field show" (aka: the intermission during halftime when most people go buy their hotdogs.) I like working with high school kids... in small doses. And since our district's high school doesn't have a marching band, I have to whore myself out to other towns.

This one is at a big high school nearby, with three band directors: one with whom I went to college; one with whom I went to high school; and one with whom I taught for a couple years. The two other guys - directors in the district's two middle schools - are also friends from college. In short, the week promises to be one big, dysfunctional family reunion -- and I can't wait!

Aside from the chaos and fun that's sure to transpire, I think it will help me to get back into "teaching mode" after a long summer of sloth. And perhaps our zany collaboration will inspire other youngsters to pursue careers in music so that they may be left with the many fond memories (and dreams!) as I have.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006


Ever have one of those mornings when you wake up and think, "Hmm.. Maybe today I'll go buy some paint and cover the white walls of my classroom with cow spots?"

Me too.

Monday, August 21, 2006


On Friday, my friend L and I travelled back in time. The dial on our silver time machine (which bore a remarkable resemblance to L's Jetta) was set for 1986, and what a year it was...

Big hair. Reebok hi-tops with the velcro straps on the top. Def Leppard and Poison blaring from speakers. And the piece de resistance: airbrushed bajas.

How did we manage to travel back 20 years and still make it home before midnight, you ask? Simple. We just hopped on the Garden State Pkwy and headed SOUTH.

Ahh... SLEAZ-SIDE Heights - the Jersey Shore's finest. May I never forget my roots.

Saturday, August 19, 2006


My long run reached 13 miles last week. I found a great route that takes me down country roads (yes, we do actually have those in New Jersey) and past several farms.

Not only do I get to see standard horses and cows, I also pass by alpacas, miniature donkeys and peacocks! It's like being in my own little Disney film.

I usually do my longer runs while plugged in, but this morning I decided to savor the serenity of my 10-miler and forego using my iPod. And it was going FABULOUS (normie) for a while until a verse from the 1980's Salt 'N' Pepa rap "Supersonic" lodged itself into my brain on a repeating track.

It was the part where Salt and/or Pepa break down the word 'super' like an acronym. And I easily remembered that:

S is for Super
U is for Unique
P is for Perfection
E ...
R is for RAP ("so tell those motherf**ers just to stay the hell BACK")

What I could not remember is what E was for.

So for 10 miles, it ate away at me. And it occurred to me that this may be what drives people to mental breakdown. I envisioned myself sitting in the corner of a room in some asylum, silently rocking back and forth, clutching a ratty Cabbage Patch doll. I'd be mute, except for the sound the drool made as it trickled out the corner of my mouth. The acronym would play over and over in my head (minus the E) until I finally hung myself with my shoelaces.

If anyone out there remembers what the E is for, please help me out. Perhaps you'll spare me (and those lovable state psychologists) from such a hideous fate. Thanks.

Thursday, August 17, 2006


Children -- so fragile.
Mere lumps of clay.
We shape them with actions,
not just what we say.

By being there for them,
their trust we do earn.
They're safe when they're with us,
we help them to learn

that if they get weary
or life gives them a scare,
our shoulders are strong,
their burden we'll bear.

We teach them it's okay
to depend on "others" -
For children, this usually
means fathers and mothers.

So that when they're older
the dependency moves
from early role models,
to the partners they choose.

They won't have the walls,
or in bitterness drown.
No looming expectancy
of being let down.

It's harder to learn
how to love now, I'm older.
That it's really "okay"
to lean on a shoulder

of one who is unlike
the model I knew.
As a kid, I grew up
with one model - not two.

And so I learned early
that it's better to stay
alone, with my guard up -
I'd be there anyway.

Never knowing a strong man
to stand by my side,
I built up my fortress
and hid deep inside.

Its rooms are so empty,
its floors just grow colder.
I'm no little kid,
and as I grow older

I'm starting to realize
the thing I want most,
is what I never got
from my father, The Ghost.

To terms I have come
and I feel like I'm ready
to let go and let HIS hand
be what keeps me steady.

If you have your own child,
or one dear to your heart -
remember these words:
Teach well, do your part.

So then they can grow up
with hearts in good health,
knowing love is by far
the greatest of wealth.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006


A few weeks ago, my friend P.McQ's daughter "Brat" got a pair of rollerblades for her 9th birthday. One evening she was dying to try them out, so we geared her all up and got her rolling. Within ten minutes, she was practically a pro. I thought to myself, "Hmm. It looks so easy, I really should dig my blades out of the closet and give it another try. Maybe it won't be anything at all like the last time...."

[Cue 'dream sequence' music]

I'd bought a pair of rollerblades one summer when I was in grad school up in Rochester, NY. My friend James was a doctoral music theory student and a Canadian. He was also very good on rollerblades (the Canadian thing, no doubt) and inspired me to give it a go.

And so I did and it was fine. We spent many a weekend cruising along the scenic Eerie Canal path which was flat with grassy edges.

Did I mention it was flat? That's an important detail because, due to the path's flatness, I never quite learned how to stop.

When I came back down to NJ, I decided to go out for a spin in the parking lot of a local college. This was a very fancy, multi-tiered parking lot with lots of hills. And I was by myself that day.

I started out pretty confidently - perhaps a little TOO confidently - and figured I'd just 'whip down' one of the hills to the next tier. And as I was 'whipping', I remembered having never learned how to stop. And I was really picking up speed and starting to get scared, as there was nothing but asphalt all around me.

Suddenly I had a brilliant idea: "Maybe if I drag one foot against the curb, it will slow me down enough so I can regain control!"

Yeah, I know. But it seemed like a great fucking idea at the time. And when I connected the side of my right foot with the curb, my foot DID stop. But the rest of me kept going. And I spun down to the ground and rolled about 20 yards.

Now that I think about it, it probably would have been cool to see -- kind of like a stunt woman. But at the time, I pretty much thought I had broken every bone in my body (save for my wrists, as I was wearing wrist guards. JUST wrist guards).

So I dragged my bloody self back to my car. I peeled off the cursed wheel-shoes and threw them into the closet when I got home. Which is where they've been for the past 7 years.

That is, until today.

HE has a pair that have gone unused as well, and we've been discussing the idea of trying to rollerblade together. So this afternoon, I dug out my [bashed up] rollerblades and drove over to the local elementary school's FLAT parking lot. I put on my long socks and donned the skates (and wrist guards), and I cautiously stood up.

I clomped about 3 ft. into the lot and said out loud, "Screw this, " then promptly removed them.

I think I am still a bit traumatized. Rollerblading simply does not feel natural to me. And I've got nearly 250 miles invested in this marathon training, and about 250 left. A broken leg might throw a bit of a wrench into all that.


You win again, rollerblades. Back to your comfy old closet. But don't get too cocky or I may have to leave you out in the rain.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006


This cereal rocks.
Two boxes for a dollar?!
WalMart's greatest carb.

Monday, August 14, 2006


What if Junior Mints are really just little chocolate-covered blobs of toothpaste?

Friday, August 11, 2006


Thursday, August 10, 2006


TO: Dog Owners
FROM: The Pensive Turtle
DATE: August 10, 2006

This morning during my run, I was nearly assaulted on three separate occasions, by three different dogs. None of these dogs were on leashes.

Owners, are you BEGGING for lawsuits? Are your lives really so empty and your pockets so full?

The first dog was one of those stealthy, shepherd types. I didn't even know it was there until I was about ten feet from it, at which point it sprang to life in a barking frenzy. Luckily I knew what to do in a situation like this: scream my ass off and run faster. Which, in turn, caused Kujo to go even crazier.

Finally I heard the owner (who sounded like a 90 year-old, chain-smoking waitress) bellow from inside her screen door for the dog to back off.

The second incident occurred about fifteen minutes later. This dog I heard and felt, but did not actually see. It had a deep bark and was on the other side of a wooden fence I was passing. It followed me the distance of the fence and all I could do was pray that its owner had latched the gate.

Owner, you're damn lucky.

By this point, I'd had enough. My adrenal glands were running dry. But just for spite in the last leg, the third and final dog - an Irish Jack terrier - decided to add its two cents. It came careening down the driveway at me and while my initial response was to kick it back up to its house like a soccer ball, I refrained. Jacks are my favorite dogs.

Bottom line: Owners, please leash your mongrels. For the sake of all involved.
Thank you.

PS: Please note that this memo was not directed toward the two men standing in their driveway watching the [unleashed] pit bull sparring with the Doberman. Fortunately the dogs were way too consumed with killing each other to notice me.

And fellas, your instigation of such a grudge-match (and obvious delight) is twisted enough to warrant your own memo, forthcoming.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006


Ever see something that needs doing and think, "Eh, someone else will do it?"

Like an overturned garbage can - "Someone else will pick it up." Or an empty roll of toilet paper - "Someone else will replace it." I know I've certainly left a lot for 'someone else' to take care of.

Maybe that's part of what's wrong with the world today: a lack of accountability. It's easier to walk away from something - tell yourself that it will somehow remedy itself.

But what if that 'someone else' never comes along to do it?

This morning I was out running and made a painfully disturbing discovery. About a 1/2 mile away from returning home, I came upon a tiny kitten that must have been hit by a car, lying dead near the sidewalk. Having had many cats in my lifetime, and having lost more than a few to cars, this really hit me hard. I got home and showered, but the image of the kitten stayed in my head.

Several hours later in the day, I was driving home from being out and about and passed by the same spot. The kitten was still there. My initial reaction was, "Someone else will take care of it," and I continued home.

But then I started thinking about the kitten's owner. What if it was a little boy like Bean and he was the one who found his kitten lying there? That's something he'd never forget. Or what if it belonged to an elderly woman? Maybe her only source of companionship, and she was left to discover it as she teetered out to get the mail?

I'll never forget the heartbreak I experienced as a kid when Louie, my favorite cat of all time, got hit in front of our house. He didn't die right away, and we found him and had to have him put down. That pain did something to me from which I've never quite recovered.

Then there were our other cats - Baby, Bear, Maggie, Pumpkin - that got out and just never came home. And while part of me is pretty sure they met similar fates as Louie, it's somehow more comforting NOT to have that closure. Maybe it gives me the hope that they just found a place to live that served better food than I did.

More than likely, 'someone else' had picked up those other cats from the side of the road. For the same reasons I needed to go and take care of that kitten. And so I did.

Because today it was my turn to be 'someone else.'

Tuesday, August 08, 2006


I had a little visitor come have breakfast with me yesterday.

His Mom dropped him off Sunday afternoon. When I got back from Philly, I took him to the playground by the lake. He's becoming a real boy (that sounded very Pinnochio). He runs around and climbs like a rabid monkey. When we got back home, I had to give his stank ass a bath.

Yesterday, Mom and I took him up to her friend's house in Bumblefuck, PA. Her friend's daughter was visiting from CA with her 3 year-old little boy and Mom wanted the two grandkids to play.

Funny. At first all they would do was hide behind grown-ups' legs. Then one pulled out his toy horses and the other his Matchbox cars and - POOF! - half an hour later they're the best of friends.

Why can't life be as simple now as when we're 3? When the simple act of waking up in the morning is an amazing experience? Just thrilled by the potential of what each new day can bring?

Bean's learning so much every day. New words and phrases. New concepts of how things work in this great, big world. Being a role model for a nephew like him is both a responsibility and an honor. I want so much for him to grow up to be a good man.

And in the process of teaching, it seems I'm the one learning so much more from him.
1 + 1 = 1

Friday, August 04, 2006


This morning I ran the twelve miles
of tomorrow's long run - today.
'Cause tomorrow I'll be in a car, en route,
and figured there's simply no way

To run such a distance, to cover such ground -
along roads that were both flat and hilly,
then sit for some hours in a car getting stiff
while I travel with HIM down to Philly.

HIS old college pal is tying the knot,
it's an elegant black-tie affair.
So HE'll wear HIS tux, and I'll wear a dress
(Hell, I may even shampoo my hair!)

Today's run was good, the weather was better -
the humidity's dropped quite a bit.
At the end of the run, I felt nice and strong.
Could it be I'm becoming more fit?

I'm psyched for tomorrow - our first formal soiree,
and some of HIS friends I will meet.
It'll be nice to dance, but lots I must drink
so I don't feel the pain in my feet.

Thursday, August 03, 2006


My daily quote today says:

"The one predominant duty is to find one's work and do it."
Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Okay. What if you've found your work and you do it, but you're not sure it's the work you're supposed to be doing? What if you're just doing it 'cause they hired you, they pay you, and you don't hate it?

Sometimes I wonder how I even wound up teaching Music. I remember being in high school, and when the time came to figure out what I should go to college for, I kind of stopped and thought, "Well hell -- what do I like doing?" And at the time, I was a pretty big Band geek, so I guess I figured, "Maybe I'll just be a Band geek for a living?"

Music itself was never a huge 'passion' for me like it is for some. It was just something I enjoyed, mainly because of the people who were involved.

But that was it. I went to college and majored in Music, and met people like me. Then in grad school, I met even bigger and better Band geeks. And before I knew it, I was a Music teacher.

Don't get me wrong - it's a great job. I'm lucky to be in an awesome district with great colleagues. But I can't help wondering: what if I'd set off in a completely different direction back in high school? Where would I be? Would I be happier? More fulfilled?

I often wonder how different people end up where they do in their lives. Like, how come I didn't opt to become a real estate agent or a veterinarian? How is it that my one brother became an architect, and the other sells water softeners?

I guess a lot has to do with where and/or what you're born into. And I suppose your role models play an important part. I could definitely say that my strongest role models as a kid were my teachers.

I dunno. I sometimes feel like the world is so very huge, and the options are endless. And I think about all the places I want to go and the things I want to try, and it's just overwhelming to think of everything I could do, if I choose to.

But I don't.

Instead, I sit and blog. Or I put on my sneakers and run. Or I pick up a book and read. And then, before I know it, another day has come to an end. But have I truly done my duty?

Wednesday, August 02, 2006



As if kids running aimlessly through the mall were not annoying enough.


Let's put wheels in their shoes.


I have this pair of shorts. I got them about 6 years ago as a hand-me-down from an old roommate.

Every year, The Shorts are resurrected from the bowels of my closet. And every year, I wonder if it might be The Shorts' last summer.

The Shorts have many holes in them and have been repaired many, many times by my creative Mom.

I think The Shorts scare people, but I don't care. My sister-in-law is repulsed by The Shorts, so I make sure to wear them whenever I know I will see her.

The Shorts have been everywhere with me. From Jersey up to Maine. From the Rockies in Colorado, to Arizona and California. From Italy to Switzerland, France to England, to the peaks of the Austrian Alps and back over to Germany. They've hiked, climbed mountains, dug rocks from gardens, suffered through middle school Field Days, and relaxed on many a couch.

The Shorts represent something that I can't quite put into words.

But I love The Shorts.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006


This morning Mom had the rummage bug. Being that it's 100+ degrees outside with 200% humidity, there's not much else to do except wander around the centrally air-conditioned house. She's looking to get a new wall of sliding glass doors and fancy windows installed in the dining room. In order for this to happen however, the mountains of boxes and crap must be removed from the existing wall.

Most of the stuff was my aunt's. We cleaned out her apartment after she died (the apartment which I now occupy) and threw out lots of stuff. And saved even more than we threw out. Among the saved stuff were five boxes of vinyls that we didn't know where to put, but also couldn't bring ourselves to throw out. I suggested the basement. It's a veritable graveyard of stuff we don't know what to do with.

I decided to brave the heat for a little while and do some errands. After the dry cleaners and the bank, I headed to the post office to buy stamps. Apparently the rest of New Jersey decided to go to the same post office at the same time. I thought, "Screw this - I'm not waiting behind 50 people to buy stamps. I've got better things to do."

Sadly, I realized I had absolutely nothing better to do, so I may as well just stand there. Besides, it's air-conditioned in the post office, and you can do some top-notch people-watching. I like to imagine what these random people's lives are like - careers, family lives.

The guy ahead of me, for instance, was totally an eBay dealer. He had three crates of records and CDs, wrapped in brown paper, waiting to be mailed. Judging by his Skynyrd t-shirt and scruffy appearance, it was probably his one source of income, which afforded him a comfortable residency in his parents' basement. (Yeah yeah - glass houses...)

Behind me was an ancient little man who kept asking everyone who came in if it was "Hot enough for ya?" He told me he was finally getting around to mailing in his tax forms. "But don't worry, I got an extension." Whew!

Then there was a woman a few people ahead of me who had one of those Oozinator water guns - the package of which she was voraciously tearing apart. She looked like a five year-old on Christmas morning, ripping the cardboard off in pieces, and feverishly yanking at the plastic ties which held it in place. I looked around and noticed that most of the people in line were watching her, trying to figure out what the hell she was doing.

"You know, those things kind of twist off," eBay Guy offered.
"Yeah. I'm trying to get this open so I can mail it," Oozinator replied.
"She's gonna mail it like that?" asked Ancient Taxes.
"No idea," I replied.
"Ya know, if you're mailing that you should probably leave it in the box," eBay Guy suggested.
"Hey - do you happen to collect records too?" I asked eBay Guy. What the hell - as long as we were all friends now.
"Yeah. Is this lady retarded or what?"
"Clearly. So I have like five boxes of records to get rid of. Do you want them?"
"Yeah sure."

So I gave him the address while Oozinator bought a new box so she could overnight the gun to her 14 year-old daughter at camp.

And an hour later, eBay Guy and his wife showed up in their SUV to pick up my aunt's records. The wife was a booking agent for bands, the husband made profits off of the albums and stuff from the groups. Eh, so I was a little off. They live about half a mile from me, and the wife actually knew a lot of the people on my street. She chatted with Mom while we carted out the records, and we all lived happily ever after.