Wednesday, March 21, 2007

¿Qué Pasa?

The schools I work at are rather diverse because the neighborhoods they serve contain a large mix of ethnicities ranging from Hispanic, to African American, to Asian. There are even a few of us pale types of European ancestry kicking around, and the number of primary languages spoken in the school district numbered 101 at last count. To be honest, though, I rarely give this sort of thing much thought, and I don’t think most people around here do, either. We’re all, quite simply, just part of the landscape that makes this area what it is. However, my view of how I am perceived here received something of a jolt today. Literally!

I was walking down the hallway after hours. As is often the case, a commotion was emanating from the cafeteria as the after school program was in full swing. I was passing by the opened doors when my peripheral vision detected, too late, a small blur of movement heading in my general direction. One of the runners rammed straight into me and bounced backward from the impact. Her friend narrowly dodged the falling body but tripped over her, and I had the presence of mind to catch her before she wiped out as well. While the rammer appeared momentarily bewildered, her rescued compatriot looked instantly ‘busted’ for having been caught running on campus by a grownup.

I looked down and saw, clearly, two little Hmong girls (very cute), perhaps second or third graders. From their perspective, they were peering back up at a blondish, marshmallow-shaped white guy (impeccably dressed, of course). One stepped back as the other rose warily to her feet and dusted herself off before gazing back up and me with wide eyes. The whole thing lasted less than 5 seconds, and before I could utter a word, they broke the silence in unison. “HOLA!”

What the… I don’t look the least bit Hispanic, and they thought I spoke Spanish!? I was stunned. Then they were off at the same breakneck pace as before, no doubt trying to put good distance between us so I wouldn’t have a chance to scold them about running at school. I recovered from the shock. “Nyob zoo!” I called after them just as they were rounding the corner.

Nothing but a single head popped back around the corner… horizontally! The girl wore an expression of open mouthed shock as she looked me over once again. Re-assessment result: A blondish, marshmallow-shaped white guy (impeccably dressed)… who speaks Hmong!!?? She shared with me a huge grin that lit up her whole face. Then her head once again disappeared from sight. Poof! I guess it’s true: We never are what we appear at first glance (or first collision).

Monday, March 19, 2007


If you are not a close family member, you may mark this day as the one on which my wife was to blame for your being able to read this blog! Until now, I was very careful to ensure privacy and count on the safety of family loving me 'anyway' to be able to stand what I've written...

Well, upon spending considerable time reading blogs from old acquaintances over the weekend, she informed me that I had nothing to fear. Her words were something to the effect of, "Honey, why are you being so secretive and hiding your blog from the public? Now that I've read what's out there, you have NOTHING to worry about. Your stuff is so boring, nobody's gonna read it anyway." So, there you have it. Enjoy! :)

Friday, March 16, 2007

Golden on a Diamond

No one has ever accused me of being conventional when it comes to attempting to engage children, students, clients, or patients. And for at least one more day of my life, it appears as though this shall hold true. Today I managed to be a father AND an expert all at the same time, and the results were truly dynamic.

Tommy’s annual IEP meeting is to be held next week. Because of some of the goings on in the past year, we are taking active steps to ascertain what he can do so that we can steer his services in the best possible direction to meet his needs at the meeting. Thus, following in the footsteps of my esteemed wife, I dropped by his class to witness him in action and attempt to win buy-in from the staff through my excellent skills and intimate knowledge of all things Tommy.

Opportunity knocked during P.E. time during a particularly unique game of Tee-ball. One intrepid Hmong warrior with Down’s Syndrome clearly grasped the concept of competition, as everything he did was with 110% effort and, for him, with supreme focus. Very quickly, I discovered that with Tommy this was not so much the case. He appeared quite disinterested in the whole concept of team sports, preferring instead to alternate randomly between gazing heavenward in wonderment, introspectively inspecting his fingernails, and clapping simply because he likes the percussive sound of it. Great, so much for interaction. Then the brilliant P.E. teacher asked if I would like to take a turn at the tee to see if Tommy could be enticed into taking part a little more conventionally. Would I! Ha!!!

I strode confidently up to the plate, and a relative hush fell over the field. Yep, it looked like most of the other students were in awe of me (Hey, how often does a parent come to spend time with them at school?). “Hey, TOM!” I yelled out to the 2nd base man, who hadn’t noticed the change of atmosphere and was presently inspecting each of his fingernails with the concentration of a monk. “Yo, look over here!”

His hand slowly dropped and his eyes rose to the familiar voice. “Shelby?” There we go. “Yeah, look over here. I’m going to hit the ball now. GET IT! Okay?….. OKAY?” …. After a long pause, he responded in his sing song way. “Okaaaay.”

It was my intention to get the ball near to him so that he would be forced to engage in the activity. In this case, ‘near’ turned out to mean pegging him squarely in the chest from 50 paces! It’s a GOOD thing that wasn’t a regular baseball, let me tell you!

You could have heard a pin drop in the grass; everybody (including myself) was shocked. Mind you, for different reasons. Staff were thinking, “Oh no! Is he hurt?! Is this parent gonna sue us for letting him bat?? But it’s his own kid…” I, on the other hand, was thinking more along the lines of, “Wow! Not bad for my first at-bat in 15 years. I never knew I could do THAT!!” (Tom was clearly not hurt; that ball was so light I’m surprised it even made out that far)

Now I REALLY had Tom’s attention. His eyes jolted wide open, and he stared at the white orb in front of him in puzzled wonderment as if to say, “How the heck did that get there?” Improbable circumstances had conspired for the perfect opportunity. “Hey TOM! Pick up the ball and get me OUT!” I yelled as I made a mock effort of sprinting to First base at the pace of a land tortoise with a Benadryl overdose.

Tom’s head raised at my familiar voice, then slowly lowered back to the ball as his voice trailed off, “Out?….” … It wasn’t working. Suddenly he came to as the whole field erupted with cheering, yelling, and kids jumping up and down. His eyes brightened. “OUT!!” he yelled. Then he snatched up the ball, barreled over to me in the midst of my tortoise impression worthy (I’m convinced) of an Oscar, and did just that. He was clearly proud of it, too.

It was the first time he’d ever done anything besides hit the ball and go around the bases randomly. Conventional? Nope, but name me anything else have worked that well?

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Jacks Discoveries

Much knowledge in the world can be acquired with relative ease by those who have little else than a keen perception of the obvious. SG, 2007

Very true this is! For example, I’d wager you find the following things to be self-evident even though you may never have read about them before or even had thoughts of them flicker across the screen of your celebrated mind:

- A waist is a terrible thing to mind

- 99% of all Eskimos could care less about Ben&Jerry’s newest ice cream flavours.

- Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt

- Very few complain about the sound made by one hand clapping (even in church!)

- Tahitians don’t play ice hockey very often (something about grass skirts and unseasonable winter temperatures)

- Death is, generally speaking, almost always terminal.

See? This is a very short list of examples, yet clearly you get the picture. However, I do not wish to spend further time talking about these types of situations. For in contrast to these, there are times in which it takes a very shrewd mind combined with the execution of extreme measures to unlock factoids far more obscure and mysterious!

Take my wife Leonie and a recent experience she had, for example. Those who take the time to get to know her can (and do) unanimously attest to her sharp intellect, her creative talent, and her exceedingly prodigious ability to figure almost anything out. Well on this fine day, it possessed her to fill up the BUV (Big Ugly Van) with 9 teenage and young adult Hmongsters and transport them to and from San Francisco, some 350 plus miles all told. The City by the Bay boasts the largest Chinatown in the Western Hemisphere, and they are currently celebrating Chinese New Year. Yes, the Year of the Pig is upon us, and off they all went to soak up the sights and sounds of 3rd world America as well as relieve the shops & boutiques of various and sundry doodads and trinkets.

Now, the concept of a Caucasian woman taking a group of Southeast Asian young men to a distant Chinese celebration so that they can make purchases of such authentic items as Japanese Swords no doubt bears some intriguing study. But that is neither here nor there as it is not my focus at this time. (Another day, perhaps.) The REAL truth of discovery was made before they even reached the above hallowed site of celebratory revelry. The setting in question was in actuality along a lonely stretch of Interstate 5. There they were, careening down the broad and level path toward Sodom by the Sea, no doubt enthusiastically exchanging boastful lies about accomplishments unlikely attempted and experiences with maidens never met, when IT happened….

The tread on one of the tires came off. To Dodge’s credit, the 15 passenger van was not known as a “Ford Explorer.” If it were, it would likely have instantly turned sideways and rolled over 20 plus times. (and if movies are to be believed, would have blown up with such force that it would have left a crater two thirds the size of Delaware). No, the truth is that something just didn’t feel quite right, so they pulled off after a mile or so to see what it was all about. Also to Dodge’s credit, they issue a full sized spare tire in case of emergency rather than the typical bicycle or go-kart tire that most companies gleefully mount. So fortunately, it was just a matter of super Leonie getting out the tire and using her superlative supervisory skills in employing some of that young muscle to mount the spare one. It is here that the discovery was made: DODGE DON’T KNOW JACK!!!!! (or more accurately, DODGE DON’T KNOW VAN JACK! aka. DDKVJ)

Seriously! The jack Dodge provided, when fully extended, was still one foot too short to even reach the hard point let alone raise the van so the wheel could be removed. This was the next worst thing to DODGE DON’T (HAVE) NO JACK!!, but only barely (and mostly not at all). That the quest for a foot of solid material was ultimately successful and they were able to continue on their way does not diminish this oversight. I mean, what the heck would the Saudi Arabians have done?! (being surrounded by nothing but sand and all...)

A subsequent search of Dodge’s manual archives by an anonymous researcher revealed their rationale for the provided hardware:

RE: The jack being 1 foot too short to be useful:

This really is not a problem as we have provided you with the bonus of a full sized spare tire for your shiny new BUV! Just lay the spare down on the ground, place the jack on top of it, and crank it up…

Further searches were unable to reveal the implications of the spare now being held down by the weight of the van when you wished to replace a flat with it. Nor was there reference anywhere as to WHY one would wish to jack up their BUV if not to replace a tire with the spare.

So you see? Not all knowledge is obvious. If Leonie has solved this conundrum (that of why Dodge doesn’t know jack), she certainly hasn’t told me about it yet… I’ll probably have to ask. Until such time, I will have to conclude that...

Saturday, March 3, 2007

A walk in the Park, and Ignimony on a Country Lane

Spring had clearly arrived. The sun was warm and inviting, and the old homestead park beckoned alluringly with it’s many ancient stands of trees and wide open spaces. The natives were restless at home, with the youngest three alleging that they were near death from boredom, and Tommy itching to “Go Ride? Bike! BIIIIIKE!!!” On a Sabbath afternoon such as this, who WOULDN’T want to go out for a playful jaunt with the family? So it was that we found ourselves rubbing shoulders with God’s glorious nature on a day that was destined to be memorable.

Transportation came in the form of our BUV (Big Ugly Van) because of the numerous participants and the fact that we wanted to bring Tommy’s (almost) adult sized tricycle so that he could ride around on the numerous roads and paths in the park. Some concern about the fact that we had not fueled up earlier because BUV was riding the “Big E” was soon averted when I managed to find about 4 cups of petrol at home. “That ought to do it just fine.” I reassured my wife, with as much confident a paranoia as I could muster. (I didn’t want to put up with Tommy’s protestations about going without that ‘bike’)

The park was very nice indeed. Na and I played with a basketball as we walked. The dogs enthusiastically and quite vocally enjoyed the new sights and smells. Leonie and the rest of us got plenty of exertion when Tommy discovered that he WAS actually able to haul ‘gluteus maximus’ on his tricycle! This discovered as he moved from one new bathroom block to another in a relentless quest to find one that was not padlocked this fine off season. (Normally, Mr. Snail just keeps us at a brisk walk as he starts and stops randomly to look at something or other… or nothing).

Later, Mai Ying and I were separated from the rest of the group as she decided it would be fun to gather a collection of photos of herself posing in front of and FROM numerous strangely shaped trees. She’s quite a fan of pictures now that she has her own digital camera. I have to say this was probably the most meaningful and enjoyable personal time we’ve spent together that I can remember. For a while, she forgot she was auditioning for the title of “Most withdrawn, idiosyncratic, and egocentric teenage rookie of the year.” Miraculously, so did I… For my part, for a time I forgot that I was the “Somber guardian appointed by law to instantaneously undo a lifetime of underprivilege and replace it with a well adjusted & productive society member.” And miraculously, so did Mai Ying. I might be reading too much into it, but perhaps it was even a turning point.

So all told, a great time at the park was had by all. On the way home, however, Na, in his trademark fashion, asked, “So, are we just gonna go STRAIGHT HOME now?” The implication being, of course, that that’s where death from boredom lurks unchecked. (Gah! We can’t win for losing.) I flippantly responded that yes, this was the plan. “Unless, of course, something else dramatic or unexpected happens.” He didn’t get it.

Prophetically, not one mile down the road from the utterance of the above comment… we ran OUT OF GAS and drifted to the shoulder under some shady trees. Only the sun was setting, so there wasn’t exactly need for shade. I enjoyed a good inner laugh at the irony of our predicament whilst also kicking myself in disgust. It was going to be a long walk home.

Then Leonie, in what appeared to be an entirely honest attempt to be helpful (at first blush, anyway) piped up with one of the most ludicrously ridiculous suggestions I’ve ever heard. “YOU could ride Tommy’s trike home and bring more gas, honey.” I was incredulous. “Would that actually be better than jogging?!” “Oh YES, absolutely!” she reassured me. … Uh huh. Like I would fall for that!

The rest is somewhat of a blur. I DO recall breaking world land speed records for a Tricycle… for that particular 1.7 mile stretch of Belmont Avenue. It was the discovery of an amazing new way to meet people, as cars full of curious and encouraging onlookers pointed, waved, honked, and laughed as they passed by. I swear I saw some of the same cars go by more than once, each time seemingly with more people in them than the last. Oh, the celebrity of it all! For my part, I made sure they didn’t come to the conclusion that I was a low watt bulb by smiling and waving back to them! And after the first couple of times of taking one hand off of the handlebars to wave, I didn’t even run clear off the road.

Just to give you an idea of how much fun I was having: About half way along this homeward journey, I passed a house of acquaintances. They were even outside and stopped what they were doing to gawk in my general direction as I blazed past. I could have stopped and asked for a ride for the remaining 1 mile home, but at the time I was busy keeping my head down and being fascinated by whatever happened to be on the other side of the road from their house! *

To make a long story short, I reached my destination and was able to return with gas before Na succumbed to a sudden ravenous and unquenchable thirst. And while my fondest memory of the day was of spending some real and meaningful quality time with my precious youngest girl, Leonie’s is of another: That of Hubby in hasty retreat from the setting sun, pumping furiously and courageously down the country road on a tricycle too small for him. With head a-bobbing, wheels a-weaving, piggy legs a-churning, and knees a-smacking his armpits so hard that they left bruises! Go figure… I KNEW men and women were different from each other.

(*You can stop
snickering now, dear reader. Bloggers have feelings too, y’know?*)