Saturday, March 31, 2007

Step Right Up

Step Right Up. Perhaps it's because I spent the better part of five summers as a carnival barker specializing in weight guessing that I like this song by Tom Waits so much. Perhaps it's because when I was in college, I played the 1976 album Small Change by Tom Waits and this song was a guaranteed crowd pleaser.

Last week, my nephew who works as a producer on a Virginia based radio show called "
With Good Reason " used this song to sign off. I hadn't heard it in quite some time. So I emailed him and asked him if he had something to do with the choice of this classic. He told me that he and another producer were looking for a song to fill the end of the show and the other producer stumbled upon this song. He really didn't know the song, but thought it fit perfectly.

It kind of makes me want to test out some of my weight game and other game business tags.

"Hey good looking, why doncha let me guess your age or weight?" [wink wink]


"I'll guess your age or weight. Age within two years or weight within five pounds. If I don't guess your age or weight within two years or five pounds then you get a prize from the shelf that you picked prior to my approximating your approximate age or weight within the boundaries we established right here at the Weight Game. So come on over and give it a try. Right Now!

How about

"Hey! Come on over and try the Birthday Game. Put a quarter down on the month or holiday of your choice, toss the rhomba-kasa-quadeccahedral into the box. If it lands on your month or holiday, you win a stuffed animal of your choice. Step right up! Give it a shot!"

Bagains Galore!

Step Right Up

By Tom Waits

Step right up, step right up, step right up,
Everyone's a winner, bargains galore
That's right, you too can be the proud owner
Of the quality goes in before the name goes on
One-tenth of a dollar, one-tenth of a dollar, we got service after sales
You need perfume? we got perfume, how 'bout an engagement ring?
Something for the little lady, something for the little lady,
Something for the little lady, hmm
Three for a dollar
We got a year-end clearance, we got a white sale
And a smoke-damaged furniture, you can drive it away today
Act now, act now, and receive as our gift, our gift to you
They come in all colors, one size fits all
No muss, no fuss, no spills, you're tired of kitchen drudgery
Everything must go, going out of business, going out of business
Going out of business sale
Fifty percent off original retail price, skip the middle man
Don't settle for less
How do we do it? how do we do it? volume, volume, turn up the volume
Now you've heard it advertised, don't hesitate
Don't be caught with your drawers down,
Don't be caught with your drawers down
You can step right up, step right up

That's right, it filets, it chops, it dices, slices,
Never stops, lasts a lifetime, mows your lawn
And it mows your lawn and it picks up the kids from school
It gets rid of unwanted facial hair, it gets rid of embarrassing age spots,
It delivers a pizza, and it lengthens, and it strengthens
And it finds that slipper that's been at large
under the chaise lounge for several weeks
And it plays a mean Rhythm Master,
It makes excuses for unwanted lipstick on your collar
And it's only a dollar, step right up, it's only a dollar, step right up

'Cause it forges your signature
If not completely satisfied, mail back unused portion of product
For complete refund of price of purchase
Step right up
Please allow thirty days for delivery, don't be fooled by cheap imitations
You can live in it, live in it, laugh in it, love in it
Swim in it, sleep in it,
Live in it, swim in it, laugh in it, love in it
Removes embarrassing stains from contour sheets, that's right
And it entertains visiting relatives, it turns a sandwich into a banquet
Tired of being the life of the party?
Change your shorts, change your life, change your life
Change into a nine-year-old Hindu boy, get rid of your wife,
And it walks your dog, and it doubles on sax
Doubles on sax, you can jump back Jack, see you later alligator
See you later alligator
And it steals your car
It gets rid of your gambling debts, it quits smoking
It's a friend, and it's a companion,
And it's the only product you will ever need
Follow these easy assembly instructions it never needs ironing
Well it takes weights off hips, bust, thighs, chin, midriff,
Gives you dandruff, and it finds you a job, it is a job
And it strips the phone company free take ten for five exchange,
And it gives you denture breath
And you know it's a friend, and it's a companion
And it gets rid of your traveler's checks
It's new, it's improved, it's old-fashioned
Well it takes care of business, never needs winding,
Never needs winding, never needs winding
Gets rid of blackheads, the heartbreak of psoriasis,
Christ, you don't know the meaning of heartbreak, buddy,
C'mon, c'mon, c'mon, c'mon
'Cause it's effective, it's defective, it creates household odors,
It disinfects, it sanitizes for your protection
It gives you an erection, it wins the election
Why put up with painful corns any longer?
It's a redeemable coupon, no obligation, no salesman will visit your home
We got a jackpot, jackpot, jackpot, prizes, prizes, prizes, all work guaranteed
How do we do it, how do we do it, how do we do it, how do we do it
We need your business, we're going out of business
We'll give you the business
Get on the business end of our going-out-of-business sale
Receive our free brochure, free brochure
Read the easy-to-follow assembly instructions, batteries not included
Send before midnight tomorrow, terms available,
Step right up, step right up, step right up
You got it buddy: the large print giveth, and the small print taketh away
Step right up, you can step right up, you can step right up
C'mon step right up
(Get away from me kid, you bother me...)
Step right up, step right up, step right up, c'mon, c'mon, c'mon, c'mon, c'mon
Step right up, you can step right up, c'mon and step right up,
C'mon and step right up

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The Man Who Wears the Star

The Man Who Wears the Star

When I was a kid back in the 1960’s, I’d beg my father to let me go to the gas station with him whenever he went to fill up our fleet of Chevys. While he rarely did, I always wanted him to go to the Texaco station at the corner of Cove and Hershberger Roads in Roanoke, Virginia. Texaco was a sexy gas station for me because I knew that inside that station’s office were piles of fire helmets. Some were silver “Sky Chief” helmets and others were red “Fire Chief” helmets. I’d practically jump out of the car just to rush in and see them, but most of the time my father would instruct me to stay in the car.

Back in those days, gas stations provided full service, and that means “the works.” As soon as we’d pull up to the pump and trip the bell, an attendant, smartly dressed in his pressed army-green Texaco uniform, would march out to start the fill up. While the gas was pumping, he’d proceed to the hood and check vital fluids there, adding a little of this or that. Then he’d come to the driver’s window for payment. My father would give him a $5, and he would use this really clever change dispenser attached to his belt to click out the exact change required to complete the transaction.

That kind of service and innocence died a long time ago in America. It was swallowed by speed and greed…almost.

About five years ago, I don’t really know exactly when, we received one of those annoying business flyers in our newspaper box. You know the kind. They all go something like this: “Bob’s Tree Removal…Give us a try!” This particular flyer was for a non-steam carpet cleaning service and it seemed different than most. It had an honest, sincere lyrical poetry to it, as if the business owner was speaking directly to me, even though I knew his message was in every newspaper box in the subdivision. Being that it was summer and that we had a horribly dirty carpet downstairs in our family room, we decided to give the guy a call.

With an appointment made, we waited patiently for A&R Cleaning Service to arrive.

At exactly the appointment time, Richard Barnes, owner of A&R, pulled up to our home in his white van. Out he popped from the vehicle wearing a Texaco-like uniform and a clipboard tucked under his arm. Over the next half hour, Mr. Barnes gave me a carpet education. He showed me the unseemly seamy, fibrous world of carpet. By the time he was done educating me, I was begging him to clean our carpet. So I set up a cleaning appointment for the next day.

True to his word, Richard Barnes arrived exactly on time and began working on our soiled carpet. When he finished, I was amazed at how good it looked. Most amazingly was Mr.Barnes’ bill for services. He charged us almost nothing. I questioned him about that thoroughly and his response was that he was building his business, and he realizes that he needs to establish relationships with his customers to keep them coming back for years to come. He did ask one favor of me, and that was for me to spread the word of his service to my friends and relatives.

The last time I saw Richard Barnes was about five years ago, but that’s not the last time I heard from him. That old basement carpet lasted another two years before we finally decided to replace it with a Berber carpet. We haven’t yet had that carpet cleaned. Mr. Barnes hasn’t ever forgotten us either. Each month over the last few years, he sends us his special newsletter. It’s the most unique piece of literature I’ve ever seen.

The newsletter is a four to six page document which he mails out each month. It’s loaded with small bits of trivia, mostly unrelated to carpet. After some simple Google searching, I discovered other carpet cleaners across the world with his exact same newsletter which led me to a company called Piranha Marketing. Apparently Mr. Barnes uses this service to assist him in marketing his business.

Richard’s newsletter is genius. I’m amazed at its choice of information and even more amazed by the writing style, a cross between passion and grammatical flaw. Here are a few excerpts from his latest newsletter.

Ballpoint Pens!

The manufacture of economical, reliable ballpoint pens resulted from a combination of experimentation, modern chemistry, and the precision manufacturing capabilities of 20th century technology…

Outstanding Client of the Month


Leroy Lark

Every month I choose a very special Client of the Month. It’s my way of acknowledging good friends and saying “thanks” to those who support me and my business with referrals, word of mouth and repeat business…YOU might be my next client of the Month!

Some headlines…

Bananas Fight Heartburn and More

Eating Apples Protects Your Memory, Heart& More

Serendipity and the Slinky

The newsletters are very entertaining; however, Richard stepped it up a notch this past December with a special room cleaning promotion letter.

Dear Friend,

This is Richard Barnes owner of A &R Cleaning Services. You’ve won one room up to 200 SF of carpet cleaning absolutely free. No strings attached. No teeny, tiny little print. One room free. A coupon is enclosed for you to redeem.

I Miss You!

You’ve gotten your carpets cleaned by my company before but you haven’t in a while. I miss you.

Don’t you remember how your carpet looked when we cleaned it last time?

It looked practically brand-new! Clean. Fresh-smelling. Crisp. It was fantastic…

When I didn’t respond to his first letter, Richard sent me a “2nd Notice” in January.

Dear Friend,

Hi, its* me, Richard Barnes again. About 2 weeks ago I dropped off a letter to you telling you that you had won.

You’ve Won One Room of Free Carpet Cleaning

I can’t believe I haven’t heard from you! In fact. I’m shocked.

But you’ve probably been super busy. Being pulled in 63 different directions at once. You barely have time to eat, let alone think about your ‘carpet’. I know I feel that way too BUT….

Your Prize Expires on February 15th

I can’t reserve your free room of carpet cleaning forever. You need to call me today at xxx-xxxx.

Because on Feb. 15th I don’t want to do this but you’re forcing me to.

But its not too late yet. If you call me today, I still have reserved for you:

One Room of Free Carpet Cleaning


A Free 15 min. Carpet Audit…

When I didn’t respond to his second notice, Mr. Barnes sent me yet another notice.

Walked On. Stomped On

Run Over.

Your Carpet Needs Your Help!

Dear Friend,

This is Richard Barnes Disappointed.

I’ve dropped off 2 letter for you telling you about the prize you’ve won~

One Room of Free Carpet Cleaning


A Free 15 Min. Carpet Audit

I’m truly saddened I haven’t heard from you.

Your Carpet Needs Your Help!

If you’ll take just 15 minutes of your time, your carpet will be forever grateful! And it won’t cost you a cent!

You have until Feb. 15, 2007 to claim your one room of free carpet cleaning and get a Free 15 Min. Carpet Audit…

*All grammatical and spelling errors were part of the original documents.

Folks, you just can’t buy this kind of service and entertainment any more these days. Richard Barnes is a gem. He’s a guy who wears a star in my book. I sure hope he keeps sending me his newsletters and offers.

A& R Cleaning Service

Sunday, March 25, 2007

White Glove

White Glove

When I married my wife, I found myself with a new extended family, a mirror image of my own family in some ways. My wife and I are the same age, although she would say that since I was born in May and she was born in November that I’m a year older than her most of the time. My wife and I both grew up in seven member families. Our siblings were almost the same ages. As I began to visit them all more regularly before our marriage, I found that they were all a lot of fun to be around. In fact, I didn’t even realize that her parents were staunch Republicans until many years later. Of all the people I became acquainted with in her family, the most intriguing to me was Great Aunt Pearl.

Aunt Pearl was a very curious bird. In fact, she sort of looked like one. By the time I was introduced to her, she was in her late seventies with snowy almost blue hair and a hawk’s beak nose. I always thought her dark eyes were piercing me, instantly knowing my character. Hampered by age, she toddled slowly here and there with a cane. Whenever my wife and I would visit her small two story brick 13th Street Arlington home, we’d head to the living room while Pearl would make us a cup of tea.

I always thought she was such an elegant lady. Sipping tea with us, she’d regale us with story after story of times far gone. Pearl had lived much of her adult life with her sister right there in that very house. Neither she nor her sister had ever married. Unusual for her time, she held down a government job at the Department of Agriculture offices in Washington, DC. She was so proud of that job and her independence.

“I used to love to travel all over the world,” her voice would shakily scratch. “I’ve been all over, but I remember a great adventure I took in 1928. Back then one didn’t just go off around the country or world by oneself as girls do these days. I had decided to take a vacation from work to visit Florida. You certainly could not fly there and traveling by automobile would take far too long. The only real way to travel was to take the train.”

My wife and I listened carefully. We were already sucked in to her tale. Her voice cracked, rising and falling at special moments in her story. Her eyes looked through us to a place far away and a time still very real to her.

“I loved the train. The way it bumped over the tracks and the trees rushing by. Handsome male attendants would offer me food and drinks all day long. Sitting there in my comfortable seat, all I would have to do was raise my white gloved finger and they’d all come running to me. They looked so elegant in their pressed uniforms.”

Aunt Pearl paused, obviously personally visiting that scene with more depth and clarity. Her eyes were twinkling and a smile turned up on the corners of her ruby red lips. She went on for some time describing the individual stops, the towns through which she passed. Through her hawk eyes, I lived on that train with her.

Her story took a surprisingly personal turn when we were snapped out of her painting and in to a new scene.

“Early on the second afternoon, I was sitting in my seat staring out the window when a gentleman stopped by and introduced himself to me. He said his name was Harold Meador, and he was traveling by train on business. Without a doubt, he was the most handsome and polite man I had ever met. He was tall and trim, dressed in a fine suit and tie. He asked if he might join me for a conversation, and of course I motioned for him to sit. Over the next few hours we passed the time talking about anything and everything. Time passed so fast; he was so interesting and thoughtful. Before we knew it, the train had arrived in Florida. He stood to leave, grasped my gloved hand gently in his and wished me well. Then he walked away, and I never saw him again….”

Her voice trailed away, and she sat there frozen for a moment.

Our visits with Aunt Pearl were always like that. She’d make us sit down, bring us the tea and then launch in to a story.

As more years passed, Aunt Pearl found it more and more difficult to get around. It became obvious to my wife’s parents, Pearl’s unofficial caretakers, that she needed someone to live in her home with her. So we weren’t surprised to find on one visit that Pearl had a new live-in helper named Koula. Within moments of meeting her, we knew that Koula was a delightful person and a perfect match for Pearl. She was from Greece and carried a thick accent. While Pearl fancied herself a demure and cultured princess, Koula was a gregarious, unbridled soul. She could also really cook!

Our visits remained much the same after Koula joined Pearl except it was Koula getting us the tea. With a tasty twist, she’d serve it with rich baklava that would just melt in your mouth. After some chit-chat, our attention would settle and the Pearl story would begin.

“I used to love to travel all over the world. I’ve been all over, but I remember a great adventure I took in 1928. Back then one didn’t just go off around the country or world by oneself as girls do these days. I had decided to take a vacation from work to visit Florida. You certainly could not fly there and traveling by automobile would take far too long. The only real way to travel was to take the train....”

We visited Pearl every chance we got whenever we visited my wife’s parents. We’d trek over to 13th Street in Arlington and get our pastry and tea, then sit down and listen to Pearl tell her story.


As Pearl got closer to the end of her time, the story was always the same. It was always 1928, and she was always riding the train to Florida. She would always meet Harold and her heart would always be broken. However, the last time we visited her, it all went a little differently.

“I used to love to travel all over the world. I’ve been all over, but I remember a great adventure I took in 1928….”

Suddenly Koula jumped in at the top of her lungs-which is how she always talked- “Pear-r-r-l, enough! You tell Tom and Jackie the same story over and over every time they visit. Enough already!

Pearl would not be sidetracked though and her tale picked right up from the beginning and was told to the very end…

“…He stood to leave, grasped my gloved hand gently in his and wished me well. Then he walked away, and I never saw him again….”

“Honestly Pear-r-r-l, why do you do ‘dis to Tom and Jackie? Dey don’t want to hear ‘dis story no more Pear-r-r-l!

You can learn more about my wife’s family by visiting JacktheSMLaker. This blog, created by my wife’s father last year, is a collection of family memories and squirrel stories.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Spring Peeper Season

Peepers. I heard them the last few nights. Busy doing what they do best in spring, finding each other.

Peepers are little frogs that live by small bodies of still water, also know as ponds. I don't really understand the biology completely, but I believe they burrow into the mud in the winter and then emerge when nighttime temperatures are warm enough to allow them to pump blood effectively. They have a distinctive chirp that is relentless and drones on all night. It's somehow intoxicating.

Peepers out and about means it's time for me to get my garden growing. About a month ago, I got out my rototiller and churned up my garden, the first step in preparation. Also over the course of a few weeks I started six flats of tomato and pepper seeds. Each flat has 72 slots and I generally try to plant two seeds per slot. That's a possible 864 plants. Out of that possibility, I probably have about 550 to six hundred baby plants right now. Ironically, I'll only use about 30 tomato plants, and about 30 pepper plants. I'll sell and give away the rest.

I have all kinds of tomato and peppers growing. Soon, I'll have my annual catalog posted online so people can view my stock to place orders. This year, I moved my grow lab to my basement family room. So now, I don't expect the police to be as suspicious of my high intensity light system that stays on all night as they were when I used to keep the grow lab in my dining room. It's always been kind of fun watching cars slow down to try to figure out what those strange lights are coming from my house. I was initially worried that having the seeds started in the cool basement family room would cause me to lose some germination, but they seem to have sprouted well. I am struggling with giving them the right amount of light.

A couple of weeks ago, I started a row of Black Seeded Simpson loose leaf lettuce, and it's coming along nicely. I'm probably about two weeks away from first cutting. At the same time, I dropped in 10 asparagus roots. I had a small, mature patch, but I love asparagus so much, I wanted more. This past weekend, with the peepers encouraging me and the moon waning, I decided to go ahead and put in my main spring garden. I started with five pounds of kennebec potatoes. Once quartered with solid buds, they yielded about about four ten foot rows. I also put in a couple of rows of sugar snap peas, radishes, carrots, and more loose leaf lettuce. Deer Tongue, Pinetree Mix, and New Red Fire were several of the varieties I used.

Hopefully the garden will really take off this year, but I am leery about the long term weather forecast around here. We've already seen signs of drought. Rainfall has been sporadic so far and the subsoil structure is very dry. It won't take much in the way of heat/sun combination to suck away all life.

Global Warming.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Every Now and Again

Every Now and Again

March has always been one of my favorite times of the year. The birth of a new season brightens my glum personal winter. For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved getting outside during this time of year and visiting the earth.

Back when I was twelve years old, I was especially close to the wilds of my neighborhood. I lived in an established post WWII war boom development. Our street, Garstland Drive, was gridded-out of a larger tract of rolling farmland. Ranch Road was directly to our east and Lynnhope Drive was immediately to our west. Surrounding these three streets were fields of empty pastureland, scrub trees, and briars.

Each day after school, I’d venture outside into this almost wild world and explore new and interesting corners. Sometimes, I’d take my new dog, Wags- a stray that followed my brother home one day. Together we’d run and run through the thin shafts of waving grass. In March, before the poison ivy claimed the scrub land, we’d run and run until we’d both just drop to the ground panting. Sometimes, I’d just lay there on the ground and let the wind roll over me, watching the clouds glide by. They always had somewhere they wanted to go and sometimes they would be in such a hurry to get there. I imagined shapes in the clouds; planes, animals, and even people.

In one particular piece of wild bottomland, a tall, hollow weed grew and hardened over the winter. Sometimes I’d pick that weed and chew on it. With a secret book of matches, I’d even try smoking that hollow weed. My friend, Jimmy Grosso, was an expert at that. He swore that it tasted great, but every time I tried it, it burned my mouth and made me cough.

Wags used to love to chase rabbits, so about once a week or so, I’d take her out to a particularly wild area; loaded with briars, weak and smelly paradise trees, rampant honeysuckle, and tall, tangled grass. She’d sniff around a bit and then go off into the gnarly brush. Moments later, I’d hear her yelp and then spot her dashing off on the heels of a scurrying rabbit. I’d run to keep up, but she’d soon leave me in the dust. Eventually, she’d loose the trail and return back to me, smiling and happy with dog delight.

My friends and I would play “war” in that same tangle. We had an elaborate game where we divided up into sides and played a version of hide and seek while carrying sticks instead of guns. When we spotted a person from the other team, we fired at them with our imaginary weapons. Once killed, you got to lie on the ground and stare at the sky and those wheeling clouds. I loved that part best of all. It gave me time to dream on the sky.

I found that I had a talent for climbing inside briar patches. When coming to a patch, I would stop and just study it carefully for a few minutes. Then I’d choose my entry spot, a narrow, almost invisible opening in the fortress of branches and belly my way inside. Once safely past the outer wall, I’d find myself inside a thorny, hollow hut of sorts. I imagined this place as my rabbit’s lair, a place of safety and protection. Who was going to get me here? The winds of March weren’t even any match for it. Yet I had discovered that once inside, the briar walls and soft earth made a very nice nest.

Around five o’clock…maybe 5:30, I’d call Wags, and we’d run home as fast as my legs would carry me. Each stride seemingly shook the entire Earth as we rolled home. In my mind, I imagined us running in some great Olympic distance event or perhaps bolting over the green dandelion-filled pastures of Ireland. (Do they have dandelions in Ireland?)

Some kids can’t wait to grow up. I never thought that way. In fact, I was quite the opposite. I never wanted to grow up. I wanted to stay twelve and for it to stay March for the rest of my life. Most of the time these days, twelve seems as far from me as a trip to the moon. So many pressures, events, and ideas have moved in to my mind. It gets so crowded in there. But every now and again, I’m twelve, and it’s March. And all is right with my world.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Catching the Wave

Photo by

Catching the Wave

The Professor was just sitting around one lonely afternoon on the castaway island working on turning his AM radio in to a two way communication device when Gilligan came by, huffing and puffing; obviously out of breath,

Professor: Gilligan, what's wrong with you?
Gilligan: I've been exercising.
Professor: Why?
Gilligan: So I can die healthy.

Why was Gilligan exercising? Easy. A visitor had just been brought to the island by massive tsunami. While I’m not sure why the tsunami didn’t rake over island drowning the castaways, it did deposit a sexy shirtless surfer named Duke, dressed only in a loincloth, onto Gilligan’s fishing line. With glitter-eyed Ginger and even the most moral Mary Ann flipping out over Duke Williams’ physique, Gilligan became jealous and decided to try to instantly sculpt his body into a surfer dude’s body in a few short, easy exercise sessions. Little did he know, however, the futility of his pain. Because no matter how much he tried, he never seemed to look any better than Dobie Gillis.

Just as Gilligan’s Island, there’s a tsunami approaching our mainland. It’s moving rapidly across the sea, radically altering the seascape and reconfiguring the landscape, too. It’s unstoppable, speeding up, and growing exponentially.

If you were able to observe it from above, you’d immediately see that there is a growing group of cowboy surfers tangling with that wave. Some get the royal dunking, but others have managed to make it to the curl and are being propelled through the most massive tube ever imagined. It’s hard to predict just where the ride will end.

I’ve just returned from Raleigh, North Carolina and the NCAEACTTEATACIC Conference at the Research Triangle Sheraton Hotel and Convention Center. I must say that my experience at this technology conference was most illuminating. Over the course of the two days, I camped myself in the auditorium and heard presentation after presentation by two leaders in harnessing the power of the Internet for today’s learners, Will Richardson and David Warlick. Both of these gentlemen are strong proponents of education by conversation and collaboration using something many call “The Read/Write Web.”

I’ve been around in the education profession as a classroom teacher and now an instructional technology resource teacher for the past 25 years. My whole view of my profession and world was radically altered when Education Secretary T. H. Bell released the staggering report, A Nation At Risk, back in April 1983. That report is most famous for the following passage…

Our Nation is at risk. Our once unchallenged preeminence in commerce, industry, science, and technological innovation is being overtaken by competitors throughout the world. This report is concerned with only one of the many causes and dimensions of the problem, but it is the one that undergirds American prosperity, security, and civility. We report to the American people that while we can take justifiable pride in what our schools and colleges have historically accomplished and contributed to the United States and the well-being of its people, the educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a Nation and a people.[emphasis added] What was unimaginable a generation ago has begun to occur--others are matching and surpassing our educational attainments.

This stunning document wasn’t really analyzed in depth on the blogosphere back then since the Web was only a twinkle in the bitnet. Walter Cronkite really didn’t have time to delve in to it on the CBS Evening News. The New York Times probably looked at it closely, but no one in rural Greene County, Virginia had access to that big city paper. All I got from it at the time was that our educational system was failing with “a rising tide of [scary] mediocrity” and I felt like everyone thought it was all my fault.

If the Internet were available to me back then, easy access to the full body of the text would have awaited me. Had that happened I would have uncovered an amazing document that carries a message for us today as we attempt to surf a rising technology tsunami.

Three key points leapt off the screen at me as I reread the document from the government’s handy website. It stated that we needed to reaffirm our country’s overall goal of demanding genuine high standards.

Our goal must be to develop the talents of all to their fullest. Attaining that goal requires that we expect and assist all students to work to the limits of their capabilities. We should expect schools to have genuinely high standards rather than minimum ones, and parents to support and encourage their children to make the most of their talents and abilities.

In my estimation this point alone has sent our schools spiraling out of control. It was shortly after that statement began filtering through political channels that reform movements began in my home state of Virginia. At first, the reforms began as teacher initiated curriculum development tanks but over the following ten years they gradually devolved into a political football. In Virginia, the 1994 gubernatorial election where Senator George “Macca Man” Allen was elected radically changed the direction of education reform. Swept in with him was his vision of education reform that looked only at the high academic standard component of A Nation At Risk. He squashed the incredible collaborative “World Class Education”(p.27) initiative that had been in development for years in favor of a test driven standards based program. It was like two dimensional instruction in a three dimensional world, like trying to surf a wave off of Myrtle Beach when it’s the tsunami that is coming ashore. While the organizational structure mandated by Allen was welcomed by educators, the content fell prey to petty politics. The General Assembly began dictating content, and the art of teaching began to be repressed. Free thought and collaboration were squeezed out. Our children became individually wrapped Little Debbie Oatmeal Cakes. Same every time and sometimes a little squashed.

The report makes the strong case for equal opportunity.

We do not believe that a public commitment to excellence and educational reform must be made at the expense of a strong public commitment to the equitable treatment of our diverse population.

At the time, schools were still bombed out in many inner cities. I remember in 1985 driving past a neighborhood school in Bridgeport, CT. It was surrounded by a high chain-link barbed-wire fence, surrounded by a broken glass playground, and framed by peeling paint and boarded windows. Not a single window was unboarded. I thought the place was abandoned, but later learned that was not the case. What kind of opportunity was that? Today, I suspect that form of child abuse still exists. Denying technology to these already impoverished schools only magnifies a growing social and economic disconnect.

Yet buried in this document was the most amazing gem, often forgotten and left by the wayside. I’m moved by it every time I read it because it’s a pure vision of what should be in education. If it had been accepted, our educational system would have been in position to ride the technology tsunami with which we now struggle.

In a world of ever-accelerating competition and change in the conditions of the workplace, of ever-greater danger, and of ever-larger opportunities for those prepared to meet them, educational reform should focus on the goal of creating a Learning Society. At the heart of such a society is the commitment to a set of values and to a system of education that affords all members the opportunity to stretch their minds to full capacity, from early childhood through adulthood, learning more as the world itself changes. Such a society has as a basic foundation the idea that education is important not only because of what it contributes to one's career goals but also because of the value it adds to the general quality of one's life. Also at the heart of the Learning Society are educational opportunities extending far beyond the traditional institutions of learning, our schools and colleges. They extend into homes and workplaces; into libraries, art galleries, museums, and science centers; indeed, into every place where the individual can develop and mature in work and life. In our view, formal schooling in youth is the essential foundation for learning throughout one's life. But without life-long learning, one's skills will become rapidly dated.

Those words are just as powerful and relevant today as they were a quarter of a century ago.

The Professor found a way for Duke to catch a return tsunami back to Hawaii, you know…like a five o’clock train. Again, I don’t understand why the tsunami didn’t rake over the island or how the professor even figured that the tsunami would boomerang back across the Pacific, but that’s what happened. Gilligan stopped exercising. Lifting coconut dumbbells had been just a waste of time anyway.

Ten more years or so passed when one day a Russian satellite crashed onto the island (Return From Gilligan’s Island-1978) which somehow prompted the castaways to lash their huts together to make a raft and set sail. Gilligan, always overeager to help out, managed to burn the raft huts down as they were bobbing in the ocean, but a military helicopter saw the smoke and rescued them. They returned to Hawaii where they felt ill-at ease. Times had changed. Technology had progressed. It was no longer an AM world; FM had taken hold.

Fifteen more years passed and each of the seven former castaways were growing increasingly unhappy in this world that they didn’t really understand. That’s when an insurance company settled with the Skipper for the loss of the SS Minnow. Celebrating his good fortune, Skipper invited all seven to take another three hour cruise. As fate would have it, another storm arose from the sea, the tiny ship was again tossed. If not for the courage of the crew that night, the Minnow would be lost again. It struck ground on the shore of the very same deserted isle, Gilligan’s Isle. Fate had taken them back exactly from whence they came.

They were rescued again in 1979 ("The Castaways on Gilligan's Island"), but found the world even more confusing before they voluntarily returned to the island to open a Fantasy Island-styled resort. They were even visited by the Harlem Globetrotters in a bizarre development in 1981 ("The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan's Island"). To the best of my knowledge, the resort failed, and they were left to live their lives in peace and tranquility. They live there to this day, I suppose, completely disconnected from a world that passed them by in a tsunami-like rush.

We need to know more than just how to surf. We need to know how to catch the big wave.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Reflected Thoughts

Reflected Thoughts

This evening, I’m strangely contemplative. So many events in my life recently have caused me to sit back and think about what I value and treasure. These thoughts have prodded me to revisit once again places I hold in my memory where I have felt an unusual closeness to my true self. All too often, I allow myself to proceed through life at breakneck speed with little time for thoughtfulness and introspection. Yet in times of melancholy, I seem to be able to quiet my inner storm and focus more clearly than usual on things and places that are special keys to my heart.

I can’t say that I have traveled the world, but I can say that I have traveled the United States. I’ve seen my country in depth and detail twice in my life. Both times, I spent a couple of months traveling by car from coast to coast, stopping by a wide variety of small out of the way places. I seem drawn to places that are mostly forgotten by the mainstream. Those voyages and other ramblings have allowed me to build a nest of restful, close places.

The most peace I’ve ever felt in my life has been found on the Outer Banks at beach Ramp 27 south of Salvo, North Carolina. The following Photo Story highlights some of those experiences. But that show doesn’t capture the feeling I get as I stand beside the crashing surf with a surf casting rod pointed to the sea as the sun struggles to rise above the bank of morning fog far out at sea. There’s a beauty and peace in that scene that is relaxed by the reassuring march of the waves. As I watch the hungry morning birds flying in formation at wave level in search of breakfast, I allow my eyes to wander to the edge of the world. The trance I find envelops me and soothes all of my rough edges.

I guess I’m drawn to places where I can allow myself to become isolated. These places allow me to look inward for a special peace. Just west of Cut Bank, Montana on the main highway to Glacier National Park, there’s a little campground by the side of the road. It’s called Shady Grove Campground. Just down the dirt road a ways, you can walk and stop beside the barbed wire fence and catch your first glimpse of the Rocky Mountains. Snow-capped, sharp toothed peaks flirting with summer squalls, wind rushing down from the slopes and into your unguarded face; these mountains hold charm over you. I could stand in that dusty spot, transfixed in some time warp where seconds seem like hours.

Along the side of Highway 1 in Down East Maine, there’s a little seaside town named Lincolnville. This is where the Islesboro Ferry comes ashore for passengers. Along the side of the busy road is a beach park with a concrete bench. I like to sit on that bench and stare at the nearby islands and imagine sailing with full sail over to them. Right out of a Robert McCloskey’s book, Time to Wonder.

Speaking of water, you can stand on the shore of Lake Superior at Porcupine Mountains State Park in the UP of Michigan and gaze into forever. The shoreline, comprised of dark smooth slate seems to be a table top and the sea beyond is on the plate.

These are just a few of my places. I challenge you to find some of your own. Write about them here or just think about them privately.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

My Analysis

My team lost an opportunity to be in the ACC Men's Basketball Tournament Championship yesterday. On the VT message boards, people were weeping and gnashing their teeth. This prompted me to chime in with my analysis of the team. For those of you from far away places, this ACC basketball thing is a passion than borders on mania, much like World Cup Soccer/Football. For those of you reading this who don't care about basketball, I'm sorry you must be subjected to this. However, I've always believed very strongly that a writer should always write about that which they know the most about. Perhaps next time, I'll write about the time I resuscitated a fish with a straw.

Based on my observations of the players on the Virginia Tech Cavaliers this year, I feel more qualified than anyone else to speak to their on court personalities.

Zabian Dowdell:

Struggles with the mantle of leadership. A reluctant leader, Zabian emotes pointed anxiety when experiencing the pressures of team leadership.

Jamon Gordon:

Conflicted, Jamon wants to be free and easy yet his desire to not be outdone leads him to press too hard thus causing characteristic breakdowns in overall form.

Angel D. Vassallo-Colon:

Content to chew gum at times, masking his inner basketball desires.

Darren Washington:

Breathes too close to opponents. Needs to learn to control his breathing and allow it to come to him.

Coleman Collins:

“[His] words fly up, [his] thoughts remain below: Words without thoughts never to heaven go.” From Hamlet (III, iii, 100-103)

Cheick Diakite:

Cheick takes the ball and shoots it. He sees the ball and blocks it.

Markus C. Sailes:

Understands more than he lets on. Takes a global perspective.

Nigel Elijah Munson:

Hamstrung by inactivity

John Lewis Witcher II:

Waiting for moments

Christopher M. Tucker:

Saddled with a slow number

Robert Martin Krabbendam:

Must constantly juxtapose all he learned from Joe Spinks with all he has been taught by Seth Greenberg

Terrance Demitrius Vinson:

Has visions of possibility that drive his passion

Marcus Alexander Travis:

Shadowed by the ghost of Page.

Lest you believe me a fool, please understand that I am that and that I have enjoyed every moment of this season and every season that these players have given to us. I wouldn’t trade this team for any other. They’re D-Y-N-A-M-I-T-E!