Summer is over. Indeed, all 79 of your consecutive days off are gone, and you’re going to meet all your students tomorrow morning. You know it’s hard for most who are reading this to sympathize. You’ve grown used to the protestations after twenty years, to the point where you don’t really even hear them anymore. It is an ungodly amount of time to be free from the strictures of work, and even more unbelievable when you don’t have a wife or kids to consider when it comes to considering what you’re going to do with your time.
So what did you do with your time this summer? Nothing, really. You didn’t take a class or anything. No need to. Your license isn’t up for renewal; nor do you need the graduate hours. You may have mentioned in a previous post that you’re now at the top of the salary scale and don’t need to take summer classes anymore. That didn’t stop you from taking a pretty significant workshop last summer, but that’s not something you’re planning on doing every summer. But not taking any classes? Unheard of. So much so that you have to stop and think for a long time about the last time you didn’t take a summer course. You think it was 2005, though you’re not entirely sure.
But there were trips, right? Like the time you went on the cruise. Or when you went to China. Maybe you took a few weeks here or there, or a long weekend? Nope. Nothing more than a pair of single-day trips out of state, and a few day straggling back from a family event the very first weekend of summer. Aside from those, you never even left the Chicagoland area, except for a trip to Milwaukee for a soccer match. That, too, is unheard of in your life.
Didn’t it get boring, hanging out at home all day every day? No. Had you actually done that, you imagine it would have been pretty damn boring. But you were so completely active that staying at home got to be a sought-after pleasure.
So, what exactly did you do? For starters, you exercised to a degree you’ve never exercised in your life. You had set a goal to get your weight under 200 lbs. and to maintain that. That resulted in exercising 64 times since June 2. You again ran a bunch of 5Ks. Those will keep you structured and organized near week ends so you can do your best.
You had a handful of home projects to complete, such as cleaning out a file cabinet that had documents in it dating back to at least 1990; most of which you hadn’t looked at in years. You shredded enough paper to fill three kitchen garbage bags. There were two closets to clean out, too. You still don’t know how one person can collect so much clutter. And the damn closets only reinforce the “out of sight, out of mind” philosophy that you’re sure you’re not the first person to complain about. And just now you’re in the middle of a huge kitchen makeover. Why not save the biggest one for last?
You spent a helluva lot of time sitting on the balcony reading. That’s a frequent lament in the cold months, that you can’t sit on the balcony and read. So you did a lot of that. And writing, of course! You got in the habit of making yourself work on writing on Wednesday afternoons at a nearby restaurant that has a nice outdoor patio. And the beauty of Wednesday afternoons in the summer? Ain’t nobody else there!
So what else? You have a regular summer tutoring gig that helps keep your teaching mind straight and provided you with a quantum of adult structure. But then there was Netflix… MLBTV… and so much USMNT and USWNT soccer that you couldn’t quite believe it.
To most people, this all adds up to “nothing.” You can’t argue that. But it also all added up to one helluva lot of exercise and rest. So much rest, in fact, that by mid August you were over-rested. It can happen. It happens every year when the calendar turns to August. All of a sudden there is some kind of panic that you didn’t cram in enough fun and slacking off, so you stay up until 2AM, sleep until 10AM, and take a two-hour nap in the afternoon.
Who wouldn’t love to have your problems? Anybody who wants them can check back with you in four months and tell you if they feel the same way. If so, you’ll talk.
continued from yesterday…
We retrieved the boomerang and I gave it a try. I mimicked Joel’s form, including the low-slung arm, and watched the boomerang skim through the air and quickly drop to the ground. Maybe I had held it upside down. I looked to Joel. “That sucked.”
Undeterred, he said we’d keep practicing. I tried again with the same results. He tried again, and it looked like I had thrown it. That went on for six or seven more turns. The thing refused to fly in any manner we expected from a boomerang. It looked so easy on film, so why couldn’t we do it?
We tried throwing it over-armed like we would a baseball but only drove it into the ground. Joel thought to twist his wrist counter-clockwise on release and got the boomerang to fly a little further, but that was it. I tried the same and got nothing different except a cracking sensation in my wrist. We tried throwing with a sweeping motion across our bodies, like a frisbee, but any force we mustered wasn’t enough to make it fly more than thirty feet.
After an hour of trying and failing to duplicate Joel’s initial success, we were no closer to achieving boomerang prowess than we had been to effectively throwing tomato stake javelins two years prior. Our spirits were deflated, and the tendons connecting my forearm to my bicep burned. It felt like my right arm was hanging two inches lower than my left, and my wrist still smarted,
“One more heave,” Joel decided. He measured the wind, but this time stood facing it. He intentionally flung the boomerang high, trying to affect its trajectory and return, ever hopeful that he could still find dominion over the cheap piece of wood. It sailed high, but when it reached its peak, a gust of wind grabbed it and pulled it far over our property line into the tall, thick weeds on the land owned by our hippy neighbors.
We looked at each other and shrugged. We walked to the edge of the property, and then tromped into the neighbor’s jungle to where we thought we’d find the boomerang. It wasn’t there. We expanded our search radius, but no dice.
“I’m gonna be pissed if we lose that damn thing,” Joel said. He pointed to where he wanted me to look, and continued to guide our search for twenty minutes until our shoelaces and pants legs were full of burrs and our hands and arms were scratched from pulling apart thickets and brambles.
We never found the boomerang. We returned to my parents’ house dejected. There was a void in our thinking that we could sense but not quantify. We couldn’t grasp the immutability of the physical universe, and couldn’t verbalize our lack of understanding. There was no explaining why we couldn’t accomplish something that looked so easy or how the boomerang completely disappeared. The idea that something could be so absolute didn’t fit into teenage heads stuffed with gray matter and gray areas we were fated to perpetually negotiate. When I told my brother about our misadventure the next day, he laid out the concrete truth that we could grasp: A boomerang that doesn’t come back when you throw it isn’t a boomerang—it’s a stick.
My local public library offered a writing seminar a few weeks back: Memoir With Panache. It was a good opportunity to connect with some local writers and force myself to go in a different direction with my writing and thinking. I had a bit of fun working on my piece and thought I’d share it here. ~ Jeff
by Jeff Burd
One cool, sunny fall day when I was a teen, my friend Joel showed up in our driveway with a boomerang. He explained that he thought it would be fun to see if we could throw it. It wasn’t much of a surprise; we’d spent the last two years on my parents’ five acres in northeast Indiana determining the fun inherent in an arsenal of weapons. It was small-time at first but had escalated quickly—tomato stake javelins to a slingshot to bow and arrow to bb and pellet guns. Somehow my parents allowed small-caliber pistols and rifles, and then shotguns. I also had a secret go with my brother’s .223 bolt-action hunting rifle and was left with a half moon scar over my right brow from the scope. The idea of a boomerang was a huge and unexpected step in the opposite direction, but I couldn’t think of a reason not to give it a few throws.
“Where should we try it?” I asked.
Joel looked around the yard and overhead, where cumulus clouds had been bumping into each other most of the afternoon. “Somewhere where there’s not a lot of wind,” he decided. “Or trees.” It wouldn’t be the front yard because of that last qualifier. The back yard was too wide-open and windswept, and there was no guarantee we could keep the boomerang out of the pond. So it was the side yard.
We walked to the other side of the house and down a short slope. Joel handed me the boomerang. It was light and flexible, and the wing tips had been painted blue over the natural beech of the wood. There was a red stamp on one side: “100% Balsa”.
“This is gonna be like The Road Warrior,” Joel announced, which was enough to get my mind racing. The film, which we slavered over, prominently featured a boomerang in several scenes; albeit a heavy chrome one with razor edges. At one point, it is buried halfway into the brain of one of the bad guys; a few second later, another villain loses most of his fingers on one hand trying to catch it. The differences between the cinematic boomerang and the one we had didn’t register with us. If we could learn how to chuck that thing, we would be cool like most everything in the post-apocalyptic wasteland of The Road Warrior. And there was novelty, too. Most everybody where we lived was shooting guns, but hurling boomerangs? Not at all.
Joel took the boomerang back from me and found a spot in the side yard. He put his back to the wind, planted his feet wider than his shoulders, and declared, “Here goes.”
He reached his arm back and flung the boomerang side-armed like a sub-marining baseball pitcher. It spun in furious clockwise circles three feet parallel to the ground and was thirty yards away within two seconds when for reasons unfathomable to us it cut at a sharp upward angle, practically perpendicular to the ground. I guess we had expected the boomerang to take a long ovular loop and return to us. Instead, we watched it climb and then suddenly cut back in our direction.
“Aw shit!” I yelled, ready to run.
“Wait,” Joel commanded me.
I froze. The boomerang whirred over our heads and landed safely behind us with a soft thud.
Joel exploded. “Holy crap! Did you see that?” He wore a grin so wide it was falling off the sides of his face. I was mystified. Joel was a bulky, vague mass of a kid, but he was a decent wrestler, could run a few miles, shoot a basketball quite well, and suddenly seemed to have instant facility with a boomerang. How was all that possible?
Press Release: Police Report (downloadable) by Jeff Burd
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: (date mm/dd/yyyy)
On (date mm/dd/yyyy) at (time) A.M./P.M., at (location),
(name of random poor or minority citizen) was observed
by Officer(s) _____________ engaging in (identify
criminal act observed or suspected + criminal code number
[minimize / hyperbolize as needed]). When officer(s)
approached the scene, the party appeared to be
(circle all that apply)
- drunk and/or stoned
- concealing and/or reaching for a weapon
- unwilling to soothe the officer(s) ego(s)
- indifferent to the fact that police risk their lives every minute of every day
Officer(s) were unable to de-escalate the situation because
(circle all that apply):
- they feared for their lives
- they had not yet met their ticket quota
- the citizen didn’t appear to know his/her rights
- “de-escalate?” Are you serious? That’s rich.
While it is unfortunate that (repeat name of citizen above)
was killed (circle one)
- at the scene
- in transport to custody
- under legitimate circumstances while in custody
officer(s) will not be (circle one)
The actions taken have been found to be lawful, justified,
necessary, and in compliance with departmental policy by
(circle all that apply)
- other officer(s) at the scene
- the direct supervisor who mentors the officer(s)
- the chief of police who hired the officer(s)
- the mayor who once saw the officer(s) at a local high school football game
- the prosecuting attorney whose (circle all that apply)
was killed by someone of the same (circle all that apply)
- ethnic group
- social class
as (repeat name of citizen above).
The issue is now closed. The __________ Police Department
remains committed to effective policing strategies and building
positive relationships with the community.
Yesterday’s post about longevity and mortality brought to mind a poem I wrote last summer when I was in Iowa. I may have mentioned the trip herein.
I filtered my thoughts through baseball, which is almost reflexive at many points in my daily existence. I was pleased with the results, though I haven’t done anything more with it than publish right here, right now. Jack Ridl inspired me.
The Veteran by Jeff Burd
We’re down a few
there’s one out
my line is K and ʞ
but skipper thinks I’m still OK
now the ancient ritual:
restrap my gloves, twist my fists
feel heat on the handle
my plant foot practically in mud
and patience patience patience now
my sole remaining gift
the first pitch a strike
the second a ball
know your zone, know your role
third pitch is the high heat
damn these eyes, damn you meat
fourth one a foul down the line
fifth another straight behind
sixth is number two’s twin
good eye! good eye!
are you sure about that?
seventh: the mistake
big as a grapefruit the rookies ride
to second or third
a croak of the bat
a bloop over six’s head
I take a pro forma lead; no sign
run hard on contact
play it straight; play it smart
Brains win this game ninety percent of the time
skipper preached or I argued
a BB pushes me to second
a deep can of corn gives me third
someone else sacrificing for a change
one last fling
now my lead is leverage
a PB or WP and I’m diving
headlong into the dish
a hit is the safest bet
but I’ll take what I can get
this late in the game
I decided this year that I want to live to be at least one hundred years old. I’ve always had an interest in extremes—walking outside at -20°F windchill, taking the elevator to the highest floor, exercising 19 days in a row, watching all ten episodes of Band of Brothers in one day—so reaching one hundred feels like another link in the chain. A link mighty far down the length of chain, albeit, but another link nonetheless.
I feel like I have the genes to do it. Nothing chronic in my family except longevity, though my radar is tuned to glaucoma and diabetes. My father will be 78 this year and is wearing it pretty well. His mother made it into her eighties before her heart gave out. All my siblings have been relatively healthy (get it?), except for lifestyle choices. I’ve led a pretty healthy lifestyle thus far and don’t have plans to slow down too much, though I realize that I might not be the one who makes the decisions about slowing down.
If my running is an accurate gauge, I should be able to make it. I’ll limp across the finish line… hell, I’ll drag myself across the finish line, but I should be able to make it. It seems that dragging myself across the finish line is pretty much how running is going these days anyhow, so when the time comes I should at least be used to the idea.
And speaking of running… the sun is setting on my running career. I think I knew this as far back as five years ago, and have been trying to delay the inevitable by running. Circular logic, I know. But I think it’s working. The sun may be setting, but I’m keeping it pretty far above the horizon still. I’m about to enter a new age division for most races (the 45-49 age division), and I’m actually looking forward to it. In fact, I’m attacking it. I’ve done nothing more than work out this summer to lose some weight and make like Stella. The results have been fair to midlin’. I can’t deal with humidity anymore, which I started to realize three years ago. The heat just takes it out of me. It was so humid in a race I ran last week that I actually walked. I didn’t feel like I could breathe, and rather than gut it out, I cut back. There’s still that cross country runner inside me that is shamed when I do that, but that cc-er is still only 16. He wasn’t thinking about still doing this at forty-four. It might be time to change that mindset. So if my ability to deal with humidity is any indicator, the sunset is looming.
There’s a dark side to all this, too. Living to one hundred will inevitably mean attending a lot of funerals. What’ll it be like to see most of my family and friends cross the border of the undiscovered country? Dunno. Guess I’ll find out. That’s a big part of life anyhow, finding stuff out. It’ll probably inspire some kind of writing at some point.
There’s the fact, too, that I’m stubborn. I can’t see giving in easily when the end is near. I don’t see myself signing things over and slipping away. I can’t think of too many times in my life when I’ve done that anyhow, so I’m not sure I’d know how. How bad will it get? How much pain will there be? Again, dunno. Guess I’ll find out.
So I’ve been thinking these thoughts for the past year or so. I figure now is as good a time as any to get them out there since my birthday is tomorrow. Just last spring, I was having these meditations when the following poem showed up on The Writer’s Almanac. Seems fitting for right about now.
a song with no end by Charles Bukowski
when Whitman wrote, “I sing the body electric”
I know what he
I know what he
to be completely alive every moment
in spite of the inevitable.
we can’t cheat death but we can make it
work so hard
that when it does take
it will have known a victory just as
I’m halfway through the third season of Orange is the New Black, the Netflix original series that has garnered little less than full praise from, well… almost everybody. I can’t argue with a lot of what comes up in reviews from sources I respect and trust: The idea of a women’s prison drama is unique, the show offers authentic marginalized voices to what would otherwise be an apathetic public, the ensemble cast is a powerhouse, it has pathos galore… and let’s not forget the lesbian sex. A lesbian that was in the poetry workshop I attended last summer cautioned me that, “It’s not even good lesbian sex, except for one particular scene.” She didn’t explicate further than that, and I didn’t rewatch anything to see if I could find the one she meant. I don’t think the lack of verisimilitude with the lesbian sex is keeping anybody away from the show.
The show on the whole is worth watching, and I’ve been surprised at how much I have liked the third season thus far. I was skeptical when the second season ended with an extended episode that was little more than a farce. The major antagonist escaped the prison, and despite being a hardened criminal, made a ridiculous decision to place herself along a busy road… where she was, of course, run over by another inmate who made an escape in a prison van in one final glorious joy ride before succumbing to terminal cancer. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the crooked Executive Assistant to the Warden was exposed by an aspiring subordinate, and the sexual act between the two of them was nothing short of ridiculous.
The show has been categorized as a black comedy, which I don’t necessarily agree with. There was plenty of grit in the first two seasons to make it a full-on drama with some memorable lighter moments or quirky characters that kept things lighter if not interesting. And as far as “interesting” goes, forget about it with Piper, the point-of-view character. Hers in the least interesting story line in the show, mostly because who really gives a crap about what happens to the privileged white chick? She’s gonna be outta there and back in her staid lifestyle soon enough because she’s a privileged white chick. I don’t really care how neurotic, desperate, selfish, and manipulative she is finding herself to be—it’s the minority characters who are the most interesting.
Unfortunately, OITNB runs backwards far too often. It’s annoying as hell. You can’t get more than two or three minutes into any particular episode without a flashback showing what a particular character did to end up in jail, or what his or her life was like before prison. The majority of the characters are marginalized and minority women, so guess what? Their life circumstances were pretty much shit before they got pinched for whatever crime. They were either responding to the environment, or made some profoundly poor decision that led to their prosecution. Or, through pure ignorance, they felt above or beyond the reach of the law. It’s pretty much the same with all of them, but for some reason the writers need to club the audience over the head with the same idea. What’s worse is there seems to be some kind of contest going now regarding who can write the most interesting or unexpected backstory for whatever character—but it’s pointless because it all comes back to “character x” committed “action y” and is now in prison. I don’t need or want to know that Chang was a mail-order bride before becoming shady Chinese underworld figure; I don’t need or want to know that Big Boo was a temperamental diesel-dike who ran an underground gambling ring. I don’t need or want to know that Pensatucky killed a nurse at an abortion clinic for disrespecting her, or that her mom hopped her up on Mountain Dew to get more welfare money. What I’d rather see is things unfolding moving forward. For instance, Pensatucky is a helluva lot more interesting when she’s talking about how she didn’t kill the abortion worker for religious convictions (a pro-life group paid her attorney fees), but for a selfish, short-sighted, immature reason. Her dialogue in season three completely nullified the need for her flashback in season one. It was really no surprise—a character’s actions and dialogue speak volumes about her and develop her more effectively than slamming on the plot brakes and showing what happened back in ’88 or ’94 or just six months prior. The whole show can’t run on forward momentum at this point, but they could be doing a lot fewer flashbacks and achieve a greater effect. The risk of so many flashbacks is that they become irrelevant or unnecessary. You need look no further than the flashback for corrections officer / counselor Mr. Healy. It’s enough for us to see that he’s frustrated in his marriage to a mail-order bride, that his initiatives in the prison are short-sighted and shallow, and that he is incredibly sensitive and insecure. All that is a bunch of interesting stuff that the actor portrays effectively. Instead of continuing with him moving forward, we got to see an episode from his childhood so absurd and ridiculous (and cliche) that it looked like the producers had hired David Lynch to direct the flashback and insisted that he make it some kind of tribute to “The Yellow Wallpaper.”
My fear is that the flashbacks will continue to dominate the show and diminish the drama and grit that has made it worth watching. It needs to be itself, with it’s own voice, and not make such heavy use of the same contrivance that makes Family Guy so hilarious. It seems that everybody now is slavering over more backstory for the character Crazy Eyes. I didn’t even want to know what we were already told about her privileged upbringing in an adoptive white family who couldn’t seem to manager her anxieties, social awkwardness, and temperamental outbursts. I don’t want to delve deeper into her background. I want to see how she continues to struggle with her issues; I want to see her failures and rejections and delusions and her violent attacks on other inmates. That’s far more interesting than the ho-hum thread that the writers will eventually develop for her to explain how she ended up in prison.
Despite this, the show is still worth watching. I hope it remains so. It makes for compelling viewing with an interesting umbrella conflict. As trusted friend Bo remarked, the women in Litchfield are overall trying to maintain a balanced, manageable environment under circumstances that no person would ever consider balance-able or manageable. Their struggle is epic, and certainly worth watching. They have to establish and develop the very skills they lacked outside the prison walls in an environment in which most everybody is lacking those skills; where lacking them can have great consequence and further their predicament, and where there are no role models for how to develop those skills. The biggest surprise for me this season is that the show has subordinated the main (and even interesting supporting) characters frequently to focus on how the prison is run. It’s a very current issue as even The New Yorker this week took a look at prison reform and hinted about the privatization of prison management. If OITNB is an indicator, letting corporate America take over rehabilitation and reform isn’t going to work too well.
In the ideal world, I guess I’d like to see season four unfold in real time over a thirteen-hour period inside the prison. It would be a tremendous feat of writing, but one that would make an equally tremendous impact on what television can be. And there would be no flashbacks. Is it possible?