Category Archives: Contemplative

These Are a Few of My Favorite Things…

Tonight I was sifting through files I created when I was student teaching. I discovered a collection of writing prompts that I generally used to start each class period. I took great care to ensure that the exercises helped foster connections between the students’ experiences and the lessons’ content.

For example, if the day’s class dealt with Poe, at the start of class students were asked to detail a vivid nightmare. For Thoreau, I asked students to consider various “desert island” scenarios- the familiar “if you were stranded on a desert island, you would wish for ____”. Packing to live in Florida and safeguarding personal property during the threat of hurricane are only two instances of many in which I have considered what is most valuable and most sentimental to me. I also think about this when I watch “Pawn Stars” or “Storage Wars”. As a North American, I am obsessed with things. It is flogged into us as children. The economic climate reminded me that the people in my life are more important than possessions.

With that in mind, in the interest of self-exposition, here is a list of my ten favorite things. They are not necessarily my most expensive, collectible, useful, or flashy; they just hold the most sentimental value, presented in no particular order.

1. Green Army-Style Old Navy Shirt

There are many men with a favorite shirt, and I am no different. I have owned this shirt since I was sixteen years old- eleven years as of this writing- and it will stay with me until it disintegrates. I bought this shirt with some of the first money I ever made. I think I wore it on most of my first dates. I know I’ve worn it to most concerts. It doesn’t choke me around the neck, make me too hot or cold, make me itch, nor is it too tight nor loose. I love this shirt.

2. Bicycle

I am still very much learning all sorts of things about how a bicycle is built and how to care for it. Riding keeps me alert of what’s around the corner and makes me slow down to appreciate the scenery. It is often the only chance I get a few uninterrupted hours to listen to a new album. It strengthens many muscle groups without destroying my knee. It keeps mileage off the car and gas money in my wallet. I may not know half of everything about bikes, but I do enjoy mine.

3. Optimus Prime 25th Anniversary G1 Reissue

I traded many old, miscellaneous toys for the same Optimus Prime I wanted as a six-year-old; all he was missing was the box. I watched the cartoon as a child, but didn’t follow the spinoffs and only saw the first two Michael Bay movies. I’m not a diehard Transformers fan, but this truck is as neat to me now as it was all those years ago. I didn’t take this picture and I forget where I found it, but mine has nice straight smokestacks and you get much better clarity in this shot.

4. Ayotte 12″x7″ Snare

What I don’t know about bicycles I make up for in drums. I could make an entire post solely on Ayotte, but a long story short it features some neat hardware and offers things even the local custom shops still can’t duplicate. This size is just right for my smaller stature, and there’s lots of beautiful snares out there that sound fantastic. However, in this I have the drum I want to come home to, use every day, and consider it to be my Excalibur.

5. Little League Baseball

I have baseballs that the coach gave to me as a momento for being the MVP of the day. I scribbled the team names and score on each one, but can’t remember anymore which team I was on. My favorite is actually a blank ball of the same type. This sat on my desk in Florida and is something I still toss to myself and use as a stress ball. Sometimes I pretend I’m Tim Lincecum or Dustin Pedroia. It’s cheaper than buying the T-shirts.

6. Adore, The Smashing Pumpkins

If I have to pick a favorite album this is a surprising one to many who know me well. Jimmy Chamberlin is a respected drummer and one I admire, and this is the group’s album on which he does not play. So why do I like it so? That also could be a post in itself, and maybe later it will be. For now, I really enjoy the loose narrative of love, loss, and mourning, and enjoy the solid but not overpowering playing from all involved. This album sounds like it was the one that involved the most thought, but the group claims it was actually the most rushed of their releases. This also isn’t my photo.

7. NECA Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Donatello

I did faithfully watch the cartoons as a child, as am very familiar with the plotlines of the first two movies. Donatello was the one that came to Florida with me. Not my photo either, but Talyn from FLICKR already made a perfect shot.

I like that the coloring of the NECA figures evokes this image from an old calendar I had.

8. Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck

I brought somewhere in the neighborhood of twenty books to Florida, and of all of those and the ones I read in high school, this is still my favorite work of recent/20th century American Fiction. For me, Steinbeck elicits a strong emotional impact and enduring characters in a plainspoken manner. His writing I find much more enjoyable than Faulkner’s, for example.

9.  2011 Hot Wheels Back To the Future DeLorean Time Machine

This would have been a runaway favorite toy of mine had it been around in my childhood. I had many Matchbox and Hot Wheels cars, but I remember still being all jazzed up when I got my hands on the Micro Machines DeLorean in the latter half of the 1990s. I remembered being a kid again when I saw this at the local Stop & Shop, and promptly removed it from the package and made it zoom around the coffee table when I got home. I bought two, actually. This isn’t my photo either, but blog-twentythree.blogspot.com uses a much better camera.

10. Dave Barry Is Not Making This Up, Dave Barry

This is a book I’ve read many times and still find amusing and inspiring. I was very interested in offbeat news as a young teen, and this is exactly what the book offers. Dave Barry’s humor is family-friendly without being too corny, and since he writes largely  as a columnist, it inspires me to express myself in writing more frequently.

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On Hurricanes

My most recent post documented how I was affected by Tropical Storm Irene. Given the severe flooding in Vermont and continued Foxboro area blackout (save Gillette Stadium, the controversy of which is further discussed here), I and those I care for escaped the storm largely unscathed.

Ever since I was nine or so I have been interested in hurricanes and general emergency preparation. I can vividly recall tracking hurricanes on data sheets available for free at the local drugstore.

 This chart used to come folded up as a pamphlet, which also featured some general tips and lists of items to have ready. This information is very similar to this resource.

Hurricanes I found fascinating and suspenseful. The Northeast is generally safe (not immune) from their destructive force. The fact that there are days of notice continues to make the forecast a compelling gamble. When I was young, the meteorologist’s main role was to deliver the exciting news that school had been closed for a snow day. Hurricanes gave them authority and my rapt attention as the summer drew to a close.

I recall riding out Hurricane Bob in Hyde Park, where it was just a lot of rain and some wind. The broad damage to the Cape Cod area was sad but largely irrelevant to me, as I nor anyone I knew lived there then.

My interest in hurricanes was a natural evolution from my interest in dinosaurs and whales. Dinosaurs hold a nearly universal appeal to small children due to their exotic appearance and hyperbolic power and proportions. My interest passed to whales for these reasons, with the exception being that they still roam the oceans. Severe weather also wields the immense power, but with it comes a tangible impact and game of chance. I don’t gamble, but living on or near the coast inherently involves risk.

I remember watching Hurricanes Andrew and Katrina with equal horror. When I made the decision to live in Florida for a time, the fact that the time did not fall within hurricane season was very important.

While I have long found hurricans interesting, I have always held a deep, primal fear of tornadoes. Hurricanes, at least in the modern day, afford several days preparation. Tornadoes can appear not within a week but minutes. Their destruction is seemingly random and wrought with quick, frantic strokes. Although the collatoral damage of a hurricane far exceeds that of any tornado, the hurricane’s winds are of a far longer duration, a generally lesser intensity, and thus strikes me as more plodding and deliberate- as irrantional it may be to ascribe such qualities to atmospheric disturbances.

Ultimately, hurricanes are empowering- there are things you can do to minimize property damage and loss of life. Tornadoes are much more chaotic, with stories of them destroying one home, skipping a block, and touching down again. Hurricanes are somewhat more systematic, more predicatable.

Notice I said somewhat. Hurricane forecasting is still dicey at best, as all the meteorologists will remind the viewers. Several models are used to get a rough idea of where a storm may impact. These models are more advanced than what early detection systems exist for tornadoes, but both are still imperfect.

I was greatly disturbed to learn that hurricanes can and do spawn tornadoes.

Lastly, while in Florida I did not get the chance to see homes such as these that were designed to tackle practically anything that nature could throw down.

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On Goals, Maturation, and Pragmatism

This could easily be the basis for a few “Important Things With Demetri Martin” shows. For those who may be unfamiliar, Demetri Martin had a show for a little while on Comedy Central that was very organized. Each show would have a topic, and the skits and their jokes would be reasonably related to the overall concept. Some shows were more coherent than others. I didn’t laugh as often as I would during other comedy shows, but it was more intellectually engaging to me than anything else the channel offered. I digress.

With the new year many people make resolutions. I tend to only have one recurring resolution, and that is to read fifty books a year. Some years I’ve come dangerously close, but I haven’t been able to accomplish it.

I’ve been thinking more about goals overall recently, and I can attribute this to three prompts. First is my overall goal for a career choice. Given that fact that there are so many people having trouble finding work, I’m lucky to have even largely seasonal employment, and also lucky that my licensure is valid for five years of professional long-term contracted employment, not five calendar years. The best I can do now is look, try to further improve my writing through practice, both formal and informal, and do what I can to make myself as well-rounded an individual as possible, and further my knowledge in my chosen academic field.

The second thing that has me thinking about goals involves music. I feel that this directly relates to maturation. I have hit a point where I feel I will not considerably improve as a drummer, lest I do nothing but practice for multiple hours a day. I can only play rolls so fast before I plateau. Maturation tells me that there are other ways I can improve besides increased speed and volume. It also has helped me to recognize what is best suited to make me better at my hobby versus whatever some person in a glossy magazine ad is telling me is the best thing to buy. I have before and could easily again dedicate an entire post to drum construction and my thoughts on why I feel I can design something better than what the market offers right now, but I’ll save that for later.

Pragmatism has struck me because when I was younger, the first thing I thought of when I came in to unexpected money was to look at my drumset and find an area to improve. Currently I’m looking at pooling Christmas and birthday money to get a hard-shell cymbal case. The one I have now is soft nylon, which does keep them organized and scratch-free, but a topple or fall would prove fatal. To my chagrin, it seems like every case I can find with wheels has the wheels integrated into the main compartment. This means sand and the general muck around New England in winter is siphoned and gently sandblasting the $1,000 worth of metal I’m trying to protect.

I’m starting to think the entire industry is incompetent.

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My Winter Plans and When the War Came

First, I should announce that I have decided to remain in Massachusetts for the time being. This is where I belong for the time being, and I will find a way to make things work. So I shall look forward to seeing you intermittently over the next few months.

Second, those of you with good memories will recall an entry some months ago about people purchasing abandoned missile silos and converting them into living quarters. I recently came across this article, originally published by USA Today .

In the event the link expires, the article is about the resurgant interest in fallout shelters, originally popular during the Cold War. In my travels I have come across only one building that expressly advertises having such a facility. There is an extensive facility built into the Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, intended to defend Congress until recently. What really piques my interest is that if the government has relinquished control of such a facility, they must have either extensively upgraded (which is my inclination) or they have deemed such a place wholly unnecessary.

The article does address the fact that this is another form of class warfare (literally), and there are some specifics that would need to be clarified prior to investing in such a service. The comment section, normally a lawless, tribal land, uncharacteristically stays on topic and further develops issues the article both raises and overlooks. Notably, how self-sufficient are such units? What type of diagnostic equipment do they possess to determine if the surrounding environment is hospitable once more? More importantly, would the cultural elite be able to independently rebuild society? I don’t even change my own oil. I can’t even drive a stick. Would I trust myself to be a farmer, or to design a waste management system?

It’s no wonder some commenters desire a quick exit.

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Odds and Ends

I am either still cheeseburger-drunk from last Monday’s trip to Eagles Deli in Boston or reading forty pages of Pride & Prejudice & Zombies may have damaged my cognitive faculties. I apologize in advance as I anticipate frequent stops and starts ahead.

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I was greatly surprised to learn that the Charlie Card/Ticket stations return change in dollar coins without forwarning. I like taking the T, and it would be worth investigating extending service further south to the Cape. I would have certainly used it in college.
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Speaking of education, I feel cheated, and I take solace in the fact that it is not just me. Ever since high school I have listened to stumping for my age group to look into teaching, that Massachusetts would even reimburse the cost of your education to become a teacher. A massive retirement wave was brewing, they said. If I have learned nothing else, it is to ignore the talking heads.

If I went for a highly specialized trade, say to be an air traffic controller, and still did not have a job in my field by now, I’d be furious. However, I’m reading various articles that whole classes are graduating in the supposedly red-hot field of healthcare and not a one can get their foot in the door anywhere.

I am very grateful that I have no debt and that there will always be a core need for teachers, as well as police officers, firefighters, medical personnel, culinary artists, and general recreation. I don’t like the idea that it’s nigh impossible to get into the field at this stage and to have no job security whatsoever. But, so far I think things have worked out fine. I cannot look at my life thus far with dissatisfaction.
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The local music scene, which happens to be populated with people I went to school and played with, has eroded considerably since I left for Florida. I will preserve their anonymity out of respect and a wish that they improve. There were two bands that were highly enjoyable to watch at the close of last summer. Several line-up changes have sullied both, who have been quite dull and/or meandering. The enthusiasm, the love for what they do, is absent. I understand you must play to the bar crowd a bit. But both of these bands snuck in a few songs that they liked, and in turn, it livened up the atmosphere and drew a larger crowd. The band that cast the longest shadow was visibly disinterested in the songs they were playing in the area’s largest town in probably the most accessible venue, and with the state of the economy, this is the time for a band to go and shine their brightest-not stumble through songs I’ve seen them dominate time and again.

Yes, all good things must come to an end. But presently there is no apex predator; just half-hearted attempts on three fronts.

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Visitors and May Baseball Mess

I am currently working on the next installment of my trip to the Georgia Aquarium, but in the meantime, I’ve had two consistent distractions.

The first concerns “Visitors” in the extraterrestrial sense. I assure all of you I have not checked out completely and claim to have seen something in the skies or have woken up where I should not be.

I raise the topic as I have seen it consistently in the past few weeks. I can go months without thinking of this subject. Do not be alarmed.

I read an article about Stephen Hawking recently which, if nothing else, made me question if Stephen Hawking has finally seen “Independence Day”.

Upon returning to Massachusetts I had the chance to watch a “documentary” on the History Channel that considered the hypothesis that many religious belief systems could be founded on the mistaken supposition of extraterrestrials as divine beings.

Lastly, I watched a show on Discovery last night, “Alaska’s Monsters and Mysteries”. It roamed between Bigfoot, some crazy large fish, and various UFO sightings, the most interesting of which occurred with a Japanese cargo plane in the early 1980s.

As an advocate for critical thinking, I am hesitant to dismiss things without due process. Given the expansion of scientific understanding, over the last 500 years the Earth has gone from flat to round, to rotating around the sun rather than the other way round, and is now in a spiral arm of the Milky Way.

Do I believe in “Visitors”? I believe in the possibility, certainly. Do I think any human government could keep something like that secret? Not a chance. I certainly believe that their is microbial and/or bacterial life elsewhere, and possibly highly-evolved organisms. Hawking and Emmerich are correct- highly-evolved organisms could be roaming for resources, as we inevitably will be, and may introduce deadly diseases, or be killed off by something we’ve long eradicated.

The thought of malevolent “Visitors” is undeniably terrifying.

My second diversion has been the underwhelming 2010 season for the Boston Red Sox. While every spectator would lke to see their team do well year in and year out, it would be good for all Boston fans to see this team have a fire sale at the trading deadline and settle for third or fourth in the AL East this year.

I can explain.

Presently, this is the most expensive team that Boston has ever fielded. As constructed, it will also take the dubious distinction of being one of, if not the, most expensive teams to miss the playoffs. Tampa Bay is too young and playing too well to not at least pick up the Wildcard. New York has deep pockets and if it can kick Boston in the ribs while they are down to buy a quick player or two for another title, then they will.

Boston’s problems have a lot in common with New York’s in some ways: reliance on an aging core. Posada, Pettite, and Rivera are no longer spring chickens and are starting to rust up. Sounds like Wakefield, Varitek, and Ortiz/Lowell to me.

New York also brought in new blood that has hit the DL: Granderson, Johnson, and although not injured, Vasquez is not really effective. Boston can relate with Cameron out (why was it a good idea to pick up a 37 year-old center fielder?), Ellsbury on the DL, and Beltre committing error after error (and the press was wondering if Marco Scutaro would hold down shortstop- no news is good news on his front).

Both New York and Boston have positives- Hughes as an effective starter, Joba as the closer for now for New York, while Buchholz has progressed nicely and Daniel Bard is gaining major league experience.

The thing is, the disdain of the Yankee fanbase is that they expect to win every year, and it is an injustice if they don’t. With their payroll, I’m not sure I can villify that sense of entitlement.

Boston has had more success in the past five years than in the past ninety overall. This is a spoiled time for us. We’ve been graced with Pedro Martinez. We’ve seen the David v. Goliath upending of New York in 2004, and Ortiz and Pedro led the charge. But neither is what they once were.

Taking the title again in 2007 and appearing in the playoffs in 05, 08, and 09, it’s probably in the best interest to have a rebuilding year. The goal is not to become New York. That is selling out and hypocrisy.

Tampa Bay will take care of New York handily this season, in the standings if not in head-to-head competition. Boston has a wealth of players past their prime and a wave of young talent that will be looking for the chance to burst on in. Let the sellout streak come to an end. Let some of the high-price guys go (Ortiz, Lowell, Varitek, and Lugo will be off the payroll this year, and Papelbon already makes no mistake he wants the most money-trade him). Let Youk play third and have Lars Anderson and Aaron Bates come up. Boot Cameron out and let Jeremy Hermida and Josh Reddick roam the field. Give the kids a chance and cut ticket prices back a wee bit, eh?

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A Migrant Worker Once More In Eight Days, and a Smattering of Other Topics

Article I: My Departure and Travel Plans

My last shift here is April 27th, and there is no sense in delaying my return north (we are allowed three days following the conclusion of our employment to vacate). I will first venture to Atlanta to visit the Georgia Aquarium, the largest in the world. They boast two Whale Sharks, the largest species of shark, as well as extremely large Manta Rays, one of the largest observation windows, and a magnificent observation tunnel that is not motorized (unlike the one at SeaWorld which whisked the visitor through the poisonous fish without adequate time to appreciate them).

I cannot in good conscience have made the six-hour trip to SeaWorld Orlando but pass up the opportunity to experience this:

After I make this stop, which is a solid nine and a half hours one-way from my current location, I must make a choice: I can either venture north through Tennessee and rejoin 81, the route which I took south, or, I can head east and take 95. I feel 95 is longer, and being more of a busy corridor inherently carries more risk. I am curious to see the extended roadway that lies either off the coast of the Carolinas, Virginia, or Maryland, I forget which it is. I also suspect I’ll have to deal with New Jersey and New York City, both of which I’d like to avoid.

Seeing as I am returning home by myself, I am inclined to take it safe and stick with 81.

Article II: The Impression I Made On My Superiors

We were given our end-of-season evaluations recently; I was deemed extremely polite and friendly to the clients. Fear can bring out the best in us, sometimes. The arrangement is modern-day Feudalism.

They are amicable to my return next year, should I desire. Thankfully I do not have to tell them now. It is nice to leave this door option as an “If All Goes Wrong” option. I have been able to live frugally these past few months.

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