Monthly Archives: December 2011

10 punchlines

1. Is the bar tender here ?

2. I got it at J C Penney . It doesn’t fit in the back either .

3. What , was that the wrong answer ? [ alternate : Should I have said DiMaggio ? ]

4. Well , I’ve been a lawyer for fifteen years  too , but you don’t see me doing this all the time do you ? ( physical joke )

5. It’s only twenty-one thirty now .

6. Sorry , Father , I thought you said goat .

7. Well , you heard him . He’s an incorrigible liar .

8. No , you ride the camel into town to find a woman .

9. No , that’s okay . The smartest man in the world took my backpack .

10. I have an American for a neighbor and you have an Indian for a neighbor .

Bonus ( 11 ). If Princess Margaret were here we could’ve saved the Rolls .

2nd bonus ( 12 ). It quacked up.

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masons morning

Ada and I sat at the otherwise empty table like orphans all dressed up . I wore a black double-breasted suit thinking that I should get a new suit one of these days and wondering why we gussied up so much given that the expansive meeting hall was almost unoccupied . There were ten or twelve large tables and  John the  principal who had invited me sat at one table with ten or twelve of the school’s students . Far in the back at a couple of tables were five or six people who ,  as far as I could tell ,  had  come only for breakfast and were unaware of the award ceremony about to occur . They were separated from us be a sea of tables so far away that they might as well have been in the next county .

I was to get an award from the masons : Educator of the Year . I didn’t know you were a mason , friends of mine would say . I’m not .

When Ada and I arrived we went over to the principal’s table . He had saved no seat for us so we sat down at the next table . There were plenty of tables , all empty , around us . This wasn’t quite what I had expected . I had told Ada in the car on the way over I hope this isn’t going to be too embarrassing . Now we were sitting by ourselves at a table in an almost empty room , abandoned by the principal who had invited me . He was enjoying himself tremendously at his student – filled  table  . Ada repeated my statement about not too embarrassing . It still might prove to be .

We were served a somewhat soggy breakfast of eggs , hash browns and toast , and we talked to each other , making conversation like film extras waiting for the next action , watching a man try to get a microphone set up and working . The principal , meanwhile , was taking the students on a tour of the lodge . Turns out John was a lodge member . Now Ada and I and the man struggling with the microphone were the only ones on that side of the room . And my coffee was cold .

I was entertaining thoughts of leaving , calling it a day , better luck next time . Maybe next time a few people might be invited to the ceremony to occupy some of the tables . This morning it didn’t work . If anyone was invited nobody came .  Okay. These things happen .

And then the leader of the lodge sat down next to us at our lonely table . He was about forty , had shoulder-length hair slicked back in the old duck’s ass style from the fifties . He  wore a gold hoop ear ring  . When he smiled he showed broken front teeth . He had a pleasant  smile though . When I called him Grand Wizard he explained that he wasn’t a Grand . Then he complimented me to the sky . He told me what exceptional work I was doing . I’m so extraordinary !    Despite the fact that he looked like an outlaw biker ,  he was welcoming , warm , and sincere . And we appreciated the fact that he sat with us .

You’re the greatest educator I’ve ever met , he continued . And that’s why we chose you for the award . I’d never seen this guy in my life before and he’d never seen me .  There had been no process to achieve this award , no competition , no requirements , no judges .  Nothing . Very fishy . There was  a  piece of the puzzle missing . Maybe a big piece .

How do you like the breakfast ? , the friendly wizard biker asked .   Just great , I said . Have some more coffee . As soon as we get that mike working we’ll start the ceremony . Great .

Any secret handshakes I should know about ? ,  I asked . He laughed .

And we’re giving the school  500 bucks , he said .

Oh . Look ! Look , Ada , look ! There’s the missing puzzle piece .

This lodge donates money to a school every year , he said . But we had been giving money to schools in South Pasadena .  John convinced us that your school needs the money more than South Pasadena .

Yeah , we need it , I said . What I was thinking was that I now had found  two missing pieces of the puzzle : 1.  John was a Mason and  2. he had snookered his lodge brothers ( is that what Masons are called ? ) into giving him  five hundred bucks for his school .

I was the fall guy . I gave a short thank you speech to an almost empty room after John and the wizard praised me hollowly to the back walls and presented me with a plaque that the wizard told me a lodge member , a brother mason , makes . He ‘s got  a trophy shop further down the block . No one took pictures except  Ada , who shot one or two of me at the microphone wearing my black double-breasted suit and feeling just a little bit  like an undertaker .

On the way home Ada said they should have given you the five hundred dollars and they could keep the plaque . That would have been nice .

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the burning of washington

This is a Catholic school story again .

I liked to have my classes make flour-and-water maps . A little geography . A little history . A little fun . There’s less and less of that kind of thing going on now in these days of testing , teaching to the test , and testing again . No test for flour-and-water mapping  !

This particular year the students each  chose a state . They made a dough shape of their state and I put the little dough states in an oven in the teachers’ lounge at a low heat to dry out .

In Catholic elementary schools , on Fridays , the school troops over to the church for noon Mass . So we were sitting in the church . One of my students said to me : Do you smell smoke , Mr. H ?

No , I didn’t .

I think I smell smoke , another student said .  I didn’t . I figured that they were grasping for any little distraction . Concentrate on the Mass , I said .

And then there were sirens . A fire truck .  Then more sirens . Fire trucks . Close by .

And then the light bulb went on in my head : I left the states drying in the oven !

I rushed out into a mass of firemen scooting around with extinguishers , walkie talkies . The school was surrounded . Fire crews were unravelling their hoses . It’s just smoke from the oven , one of them reassured  me . No ignition .

No ignition , I told the principal as she rushed into the building . Black smoke billowed out the door as she entered . Open the windows , she said . You did this ? she asked matter-of-factly .   She knew .

It was Washington , I said . It still had cardboard on the bottom and the cardboard caused the smoke .

Washington ? she said .  She looked at me with an unexpectedly tolerant stare . Help me get this smoke out of here , she said . And she was done . She never said another word about it .

The fire department always sends everyone when it’s a school , the pastor said to me as he passed me in the hallway . He was carrying a fire extinguisher . I wonder what happened ? he said to the principal .

It was Washington , she said to him . He looked at her briefly as if he should know what she meant , and then he sped away with his extinguisher .

Good one , Mr. H.  ! , one of my students softly whispered to me later . You burned Washington .
There was a fathomless measure of collegial sympathy in his conspiratorial gaze .

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4th grade fart

I woke up this morning with the image of those yellow carnival ducks in the shooting gallery at carnivals quietly slipping forward in a row , one after another after another . There’s a lot of noise around : guns popping , hundreds of voices in high exhilaration in a free-for-all clash , carnival barkers barking , sometimes their distorted voices humming on bad PA systems .  The Octopus ride is turning overhead full of teenagers and the kiddie roller coaster is grinding up and down tiny slopes and it is  surrounded by parents who mirror the excitement on their child’s smiling face .

Most are smiling . Always there are one or two little ones who wear anxious expressions and are holding on for dear life . The parents are there trying desperately to coax a smile .  When the ride finally stops after that endless two minutes of terror the parent will ask Did you like it ? and the grave expression will change to a wide smile . It’s a I’m finally back to earth and happy to be alive smile . The little body has relaxed and the little being’s  little heart is beating  again .

Yes ! says the recently terrorized child passionately . Yes !

Looking way back to elementary school I think that I was one of the ducks , faithfully following in line , not really knowing where we were all going . I say faithfully following , but the truth more accurately is that  there seemed to be no other option . That was the system of  school : You were there , you got in line , you went along .

In my case there was a strong sense of and a fear of the chaos around . Maybe there was safety in numbers , or more likely a sense of safety in going along to get along . Leave your personality at the door and get in a straight line . Get right behind the guy in front . So the ducks lined up , I got in the line , and we went . There wasn’t much to it , once you gave in . You could settle in and do exactly what the other ducks  did . That was what was expected . And , as I said , in my case I figured that at any rate there was no other choice . There was comfort in that .

There were those who wanted to buck the line . Dusty Wooten was one of those guys. Dusty was  in my class . He  had too much of a sense of humor to be content there . It probably bored him to death to follow along . He was a saboteur . He went down to the dime store and bought fake vomit  and fake thermos bottles filled with spring loaded snakes that would with a sudden and fantastic  ferocity jump at the teacher’s face as she opened the thing because Dusty had pretended to be unable to do so and had begged her with Lawrence Olivier’s talent to please help him . Please , teacher ! As she was doing her good deed , twisting the thermos lid and sealing her fate , Dusty was placing the rubber vomit  right under her chair .

He was good , Dusty . At sabotage and doing his own thing . He was the Thomas Edison , or the Steve Jobs of the fourth grade . And he was always in trouble , of course .

And now we get to my story of the fourth grade fart .

I should say first that Dusty was a friend of mine . But , when in a pinch , and all you are is a little yellow in-line ducky , you don’t know any better . You’re just a one dimensional yellow thing thoughtlessly gliding along the moving belt of life ready to be shot down by anyone at any  time . It’s a duck eat duck world in fourth grade . All things being equal , you want another duck to be shot down , not you , if it comes to that .

I felt a fart coming on just before recess . I saw the big classroom clock , the oversized clock that every school puts up on the front wall of every classroom to torture students . It’s brilliant strategy ! It’s the big lie . It’s just a clock . Everyone can know what time it is . It’s just there . It’s centered up there on the front wall , large enough to be seen by ships at sea , loudly ticking , big minute hands leaping from number to number .

What do you mean it’s ticking your fourth grade life away , stealing your play time , making you ache for the next break and ultimately  for end of the day  dismissal  ,  relentlessly taunting . So ?  It’s just a clock .  Marquis de Sade invented clocks in classrooms , for despairing students to stare at so they are forced to  see their freedom stolen , sliced away ,  bit by ticking bit .

Dusty didn’t let the clock bother him for two reasons : 1st .  all day was playtime for Dusty anyhow , and 2nd.   Dusty never had bothered to learn to tell time .

But my fart in fourth grade was building far down there somewhere in my bowels  . I didn’t have much experience with farts as a fourth grader . They were rare events in my young life . So I didn’t know that I shouldn’t try to hold one in for five minutes when the gas was building with such rapidly increasing pressure . I was young .

Just four more minutes until recess . Now just three . Now two and a half . Has the clock slowed down ? Two  minutes to go until I am out on the yard and free to let it rip  . Hold it just a minute more ! You can do it . That clock should go a little faster . Any time now . Just another minute . Get ready !

And then it happened . Of course it would . The loudest fart possible from a fourth grader . It filled the classroom . The teacher , about to dismiss the class ,  froze in her tracks . She looked down my row . Everyone turned . There were forty of them , at least . The boys all had that irreverent smirk on their nasty little mugs . They were , each and every one of them , ready to do emotional mayhem on the poor fartist . Not mealy-mouthed at all in  cases like this , a chorus of Good One ! came along with the mischievous stares . It was instantly clear that the teacher would assume that the farter did the noisy deed on purpose . Sure ! Just before recess . A conveniently timed fart with an escape route in mind . To disrupt the class and then slip out . The accusation was clearly plastered  on her face . The boys’  vicious noise was confirming her suspicions . The girls were beginning to join in on the merriment .

I was caught . Every face in the room was turned toward me .

But I realized that I had one out . I sat second to last in my row . Who do you think was last ? Yeah . He sat right behind me  , last guy in the row . An evil devious plan popped into my tiny fourth grade brain . Every duck for himself in this case !

So I turned and joined my fellow fourth graders looking back . I turned around in my desk and looked directly at Dusty . I cold-bloodedly stared him right in the face .

It was him ! he said .  It was him !  I said nothing . I didn’t need to . It was Dusty of the fake vomit behind me. It was Dusty of the snake-spiked thermos . It was Dusty . I didn’t need to say a word .

Dusty ! said the teacher . You stay when I dismiss the class for recess . But it was him ! , Dusty pleaded . No , Dusty , we all know it was you . You always do things like this .

Now you’ve gone too far , Dusty , I heard the teacher saying  as I followed the other kids  out the door on their way to  recess .

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beard stubble & student

I had an eighth grader once at Virgil Middle School who wanted to help me out .

I was growing my beard again , from scratch . I had about a two week growth going when he came up to me as I stood by my classroom door greeting students . Is everything alright ? he asked . Sure, I answered .

You sure everything’s alright ? he asked again . Maybe he wanted to annoy me . But his face wore a sincere expression . I wondered what was going on inside of  his teenage mind . Yeah , I’m fine , I said . Thanks for asking .

I mean at home , he said . When he said this he put his hand up to his face and stroked an imaginary beard . It took me a moment to catch his meaning , but  it was clear . The poor kid thought that I must be homeless , living in my car or something , probably kicked out of the house . No place to shave . Or no will to shave . In the dumps .

It was nice of him to check . When he said I mean at home and stroked his imaginary beard stubble he had lowered his voice and leaned in just a little closer , to keep the whole exchange confidential . He was concerned about his old teacher probably fallen on hard times like maybe my life had got away from me .

I assured him that I was okay. I was just growing my beard out again . Nothing to worry about . I had to convince him that I was really okay . That took a few minutes . Okay , he said , eventually satisfied with my statements . Thanks for asking , I said .

That was twenty-five years ago  and I can still see the concern on his  face . I remember that one  event in that one specific moment in time so long ago and have forgotten an eternity of  others in my life .

I wonder whatever happened to that kid .

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update

Readers may notice that my blog has changed quietly from   “uplifting” stories to simply “stories”. And reflections.

The uplifting aspect didn’t seem to show up . Maybe bits of my posts , with some good will and generous imagination , could be considered uplifting . But the “uplifting” word began to taunt me .

So I am just writing stories , put down on the page with a picture if possible . Just random stories taken from my brain’s attic or cellar mostly . Some more immediate and more of those to come , I think . This blog seems like it will take me there .

Funny about having a blog . My friend Joe has an intelligent one , literary , called The Coming of the Toads . I wondered how he wrote such intricate , researched , and sensible posts so often . One day he suggested I start one and call it Tangential Meanderings . That idea distilled in my head for almost a year , I guess . Then I thought : why not ?

So I’ll let the blog take me along wherever it wants to go . If you read it from time to time thanks !  I hope that you find it entertaining if not uplifting or instructive .

Maybe you should start a blog . If I have a blog then anyone can have a blog .

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christmas jesus

Jesus , it’s Christmas .

Born of the virgin in a manger . Joseph the carpenter is the father . Sort of .

God the Father . God the Son . God the Holy Spirit ( a.k.a. Holy Ghost ).

Who were those three men who could tell by the stars that a king ? a savior ? was to be born ?  Wise men . They brought gifts : gold , frankincense , and myrrh .  The frankincense and myrrh were , perhaps ,  a little redundant . But it’s the thought that counts . And the gold seems to have gone pretty quick . As far as I know it was never mentioned again in the New Testament . Did Mary and Joseph save it for Jesus , or did they have to spend it on rent for the manger , or donkey food , or travel expenses ? How much gold was it , anyway ? Does the bible say ?

Focus on a peaceful manger , a little baby , a little gathering of caring attentive people . Baby Jesus lying on his back holding his tubby little arms out wide as if practicing to be a preacher . He does that in all the pictures and in all the little plastic mangers. He does that in the larger wooden and ceramic and plaster ones in churches and front yards and in Palisades Park in Santa Monica .

Meanwhile , back in town , things were not so calm . Herod was worried . Soldiers were running around killing babies on orders of the evil King Herod . It was a matter of national security . He’d heard that a rival king had been born .

Jesus outlived Herod , I guess .  Jesus and his folks had to live on the lam for awhile until things died down . Or until Herod died down .

Then there was a wedding party years later and Mary told Jesus to do a miracle , change the water into wine . Jesus was no imitator , so he made better wine than was already there .  It was a big hit .

How about telling me the story of the manger again , Jesus asked Mary .

Okay , she said ( in Arabic , I think ) , but you know the whole story already.

Jesus was thinking : Yeah , I know everything . But he didn’t say that out loud . And , when she’d retell the story again , as she did religiously each year about this time of year , he never asked what happened to the gold , because he really didn’t care .  She always mentioned that he’d held his little infant arms out as if he were practicing to be a preacher , and that kind of stuck in his mind . And angels were singing , she would always say , and it felt like all was right with the world .

Merry Christmas and Peace on Earth .

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