Scenes from St. George’s, Part VI: Teacher Quality/ Senior Year I

Don’t get sued.

My Readers

Author’s Note: This is Part VI of Scenes From St. George’s. You can find the earlier parts here: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V. I want to make just a few comments here about the direction of this series. I had originally planned to do only five of these pieces, and this is already number six. This is mostly because of the positive reception the pieces have gotten, which has been great, and I have been prompted by the many pieces of feedback I have gotten from readers to expand the scope of the series slightly. Nonetheless, the narrative arc of this series is nearing a close, and I don’t expect to write more than two more of these.

High School Chinese History Class, High School Computer Class

In this series I have already talked a bit about teacher quality at St. George’s, as well as suggesting that student quality, for lack of a better term, is also related to the perception of teacher effectiveness. For example, I wrote that E.T. was a “mediocre” science teacher, however he was in fact a good science teacher for students who wanted to learn Physics. He just wasn’t the best at controlling a large science lab where only 20% or so of the class had an interest in learning on a given day. In contrast, I wrote that C.F. was a good teacher for 5th graders despite being somewhat lazy. I’m not sure the lazy part of this is fair or not actually–all in all he managed to control what I’m sure was a pretty unruly classroom and left me with some memorable learning points, so maybe he was actually a good teacher until he peaced out. In any case, teacher quality is often pretty subjective. However I think I can state unequivocally that Betty Barber was a good teacher, and that this guy called J.G. was a bad one. Both Betty and J.G. taught me in high school; Betty taught Chinese History as a senior elective and J.G. taught English mainly I think, but I had him for computer class. Overall, Betty’s Chinese History class was the most important I ever took and was central to establishing my life course, and J.G.’s computer class was an unmitigated disaster.

Let’s start with the bad. J.G. was a pretty young guy, bearded, who had a serious hippie vibe. He came to school as part of a “teaching couple” with a woman called V., however I don’t believe that arrangement lasted very long. A lot of schools like to hire teaching couples; my own experience leads me to suggest giving them a miss, by and large. J.G. told us he had walked through Japan on foot with next to no money staying with people he met all along the way, and overall he seemed like an alright dude. However, his computer class was terrible.

What I recall was, we had basically one assignment all term which was to make a white ball that was sitting at the bottom of the screen move and bounce off the other sides of the screen. It was like we were re-making the game Pong or something. In order to make the ball move, we were supposed to do some coding, I guess. And this might have been possible, however J.G. gave us no instructions, no hints, no information or data of any kind about how to move the freaking ball. This was around 1990, so it wasn’t like we could cruise over to You Tube and figure it out. So we would ask J.G. “hey there J.G. dude, could you give us some pointers on where to start with this here ball movement?” And J.G. would answer “no. That’s the whole idea of learning something. You have to figure it out for yourself.”

Now I don’t know a lot about learning theory, but I know a little bit, and I don’t think this is really right. The learning theory that makes the most general sense to me is called “The Zone of Proximal Development.” If you are in education, or even if you are not, you might be familiar with the Zone of Proximal Development, or ZPD for short. In this theory, there is stuff the learner can already do, stuff they can do with help (that’s the zone of proximal development itself), and stuff they currently are not going to be able to do (stuff that is developmentally non-proximal so to speak). So in computer class in 1990 stuff we students could already do might include: turn on the computer and open an application, or whatever passed for an application in 1990; play a video game; and probably compose an essay or report on a writing program. For me, in any case, stuff I could handle most certainly did not include coding a white ball to bounce around. I had literally no idea where to start, not even the hint of a “coding language” or anything from J.G. there.

So, if a student such as myself is bouncing-white-ball-challenged, ZPD theory says they need to be shown the way toward acquiring the new skill through scaffolding. Scaffolding is just what it sounds like; it is giving the student sufficient steps to be able to get to a point where they can expand their ZPD like a balloon and incorporate the new skill in their repertoire. For the bouncing white ball, in my estimation, this would at an absolute minimum have required showing us how to access the coding section of the computer or program or whatever we were supposed to be doing, giving us some information about what kind of code we needed to write, and giving us some of the elements of the coding language. At a minimum. I mean as a freshman in university I took Latin, and my first semester Latin teacher had us reading Cicero by October, which was ambitious, but at least he gave us six weeks of verbs first. I can’t speak for others, but I needed six weeks, or at least six days, of coding language to begin to move the ball. But we didn’t get it, so after about 30 minutes of messing around with the computer the boys started to do other things such as compose dirty limericks and make jokes about other people’s mothers. The girls, I am sure, were more productive. I mean, what else were we supposed to do in the face of such incompetent instruction? Here is one little ditty I composed at the time–I apologize in advance, but it does contain some American History knowledge:

A pious reformer named Mather

Was frequently known to blather

About the great judgement hour

But the word from the shower

Was that Mather knew his way around lather

This should not be in print. In any case, eventually, some student figured out how to move the ball and told everyone else, and J.G. just sat there and watched, and we all passed the assignment. Was this the point? Was this all some elaborate exercise in collaboration? Here are the possibilities as I see them, from most generous to least generous to J.G.:

i) J.G. was giving us a lesson in working together when faced with a hard problem and the class went just like he intended.

ii) J.G. actually gave us a little more information than I am recalling, and it was enough for the better computer students to work things out and we all learned by osmosis. Sort of a ib) actually.

iii) J.G. believed in the learning method he stated–namely that the point of learning is to do everything yourself. Although I believe this to be an ineffective learning theory most of the time, it is at least a theory.

iv) J.G. had no idea how to code the ball to move either and was just hoping a student could solve it. In the meantime, he knew the challenge would take a while, and was killing class time so he didn’t have to teach any more computer.

v) J.G. resented having to teach computer class, which, as a penniless hippie, he knew nothing about, and intentionally sabotaged the class.

All and all I’m guessing a combination of iii) and iv) that was in play here, with maybe just a bit of ii). But I legit do not remember him teaching us a single thing or me learning a single thing in a whole term of class. So I’d have to say, he was a pretty bad teacher.

Betty Barber, on the other hand, was a great Chinese History teacher. Prior to taking this as a senior elective as I mentioned, I had taken World History from Betty as a sophomore or junior. I did pretty well in this class, but my maturity level was still only slightly higher than that of Mason Anderson, so Mason and I would take turns trying to steal each other’s wallets from the pocket of our letter jackets for much of the class. Pick-pocketing, I am sure, is one of the world’s oldest professions, and I’m sure my skills in this arena exceeded my computer skills, but still I didn’t exactly distinguish myself. In Chinese History, things were different. Betty had taken student groups to China in the very early 1980’s, just after the country opened up for tourists after the death of Mao and the Gang of Four era, and had a deep knowledge of the topic. Most of our high school teachers, I would say, were competent enough in their subject, with the notable exception of J.G., however Betty was really an expert in Chinese History, and I don’t use that term lightly.

Part of what made her a good Chinese History teacher for me and the class a good class was undoubtedly that it was an elective. In other words, I was there by choice. The second thing was, she knew the subject in great detail and relished sharing it with us. And third, as I mentioned above, she had been to China at an absolutely critical time in history in the early Deng Xiaoping era and had a view of events informed by real life knowledge and experience. She told us that she expected us to take the class seriously. We read a range of challenging texts, delved deeply into pre and post-WWII Chinese politics, and I personally was finally mature enough by this time to grasp and respect the depth of Betty’s knowledge and passion. As a result, and for the first time in my life, I worked my ass off. I wrote a super long, properly researched, if rose-colored glasses influenced, paper on The Long March, and developed a desire to visit China and Tibet (I eventually made it to China, though have yet to get to Tibet, which is just a little more challenging even though I have ample Yeti theory all ready to go). When it came time to chose classes at university, although I was an English Literature major, I gravitated to classes in Asian Art, Asian History, and Asian Politics, and ended up with the much coveted (or at least somewhat unusual) Asian Studies minor. And within ten months of graduating university I was living in Asia. There is no way any of this would have happened if it hadn’t been for senior year Chinese History.

So Betty was a good teacher because she just was, but also because I was a good student. Was J.G. a good teacher to someone who just happened to crush the Pong reboot? If you dear reader are that student, please do get in touch. But I seriously doubt it. I think J.G. sucked. (Don’t get sued Matty baby.) One way to look at the matter is, how would the respective teaching strategies hold up today? Well, the white ball issue would be solved in 10 minutes on someone’s phone, while Betty could teach the exact same class and it would still be excellent.

I could say a lot more about teachers, good bad and in-between, however I have probably commented more than enough on the professional skills, or lack thereof, of people who may be in my extended Facebook audience, so I will desist. And Betty if you happen to see this, thank you dude. You rock.

The School Credit System and My Senior Year Part I:

One odd feature of SGS in the early 90’s was its very generous credit system. Private schools generally have less oversight on their credit system, less oversight in general much of the time, and either no administrator there chose to focus on the credit system or something had just slipped through the cracks, because my senior year classes, in their totality, included: English Class, Chinese History, Knowledge Bowl. That was it. I also took statistics at night a few times a week with K.R. and J.S. at a local college for college credit.

(K.R. and J.S. and I had been in the advanced Math class since 7th grade with one other student, and we had had John Nord as our teacher from 8th grade through junior year of high school. How I was placed into advanced math, I have no idea because although I could hack the algebra alright, I was a poor geometry student and an even worse calculus student. I passed junior year calculus only because K.R. gave me her, beautiful, notes (thanks K.R.), and I just faked it on the basis of these notes. Anyway, I got a 1 on the Calculus A.P.–the worst score–yet this was still good enough for Mr. Nord to vote for me for student of the year, based on the fact that I read Catch 22 in my spare time. As much as I appreciated the confidence, Joseph Heller didn’t help me a whit with derivatives.)

The odd thing is, I think my senior year class load was only slightly lighter than my classmates, as some of them still had in-school math to complete. As a result, we had tons of time to mess around, play street hockey, skip school because of trick knees, regional basketball games, or any other excuse, etc. The credit system was really bizarre, and I wonder why.

I’ll tell one story here that probably happened senior year because my friends all had drivers’ licenses already, and which I incorporated in my essay on good and great talkers. When I was in high school my friend Kelly Rudd and I were both big fans of Larry King’s radio show. For those who don’t remember, King had a late night radio show for years before, and briefly concurrent with, his TV show on CNN. I liked Larry’s CNN show, however the radio show was way better. There were a couple of features of the show that I especially liked. The first was that King famously did no preparation for his guests. He knew a huge amount about the world of course, however he never read the guests’ book ahead of time or anything like that.

Now, this might sound lazy, but King explained that it was because he wanted to come in totally open. He’d say “if my guest is a firefighter, my first question will be ‘so what’s it like to be a firefighter?’” This was his style—open-ended and non-directive. King was perhaps a “lazy” interviewer, but in the best possible sense. By making the guest do almost all the work, King got himself out of the way, and as a result guests might go in any direction and the show became “eventful.” Another thing I loved was, after the main guest left King would take questions on absolutely anything. Most of the time he would give full, generous answers to his listeners, however sometimes a caller would be really weird or inappropriate. In these cases, King would fall back on a singular phrase. He’d cut off the conversation by saying “cold compress ma’am” or “cold compress sir.” Basically, he was telling them to lie down and ice their head. Which is hysterical.

Anyway, Kelly and I loved Larry, and Kelly even lent me Larry’s books, which were, predictably, about talking. King’s show was broadcast in Spokane from around 9 PM Pacific time and then re-run immediately after, and I would listen to him before falling asleep only to wake up in the middle of the night with the re-run playing. (Like many male teenagers, I had trouble sleeping, and still do). And then, all of the sudden, King’s show was dropped from the AM radio station in town. Now, you might think this was something we had no ability to do anything about, however Kelly didn’t see it that way. He proposed we drive down to the radio station and stage a protest. This seemed to me just bizarre enough to be exciting, so I said sure, let’s go. So Kelly and me and another friend piled into Kelly’s car, skipping out of school mid-morning, and drove the 45 minutes or so to the station. We had no appointment, and were just three high school kids with no leverage of any kind. When we got to the front door it was locked and there was a kind of intercom. Kelly, naturally, nominated himself to do the talking, and started to explain over the intercom why we had come.

“Do you have an appointment?” they asked?


“Who are you?”

“We are high school students and we are Larry King fans. We think it’s outrageous that your station recently cancelled his show and we want to talk to someone about it.”

Kelly’s approach was pretty brazen, and at first it didn’t get the job done. We remained shut out of the station. However he kept going, and going, and sooner or later the person on the other end caved. “OK,” she said, “we’ll send someone down.” Sure enough, the station manager himself came down and let us into the hallway. Kelly pleaded his case, and I backed him up to the best of my ability. The station manager, to his great credit, heard us out. “I understand you guys were big fans, and I’m sorry about the cancellation. We love Larry too, and we’d like to bring him back.” And so on. The station manager was BSing us, of course, and we knew it, however it was nice to get a hearing. We left after a while, knowing we hadn’t changed policy but that we had, at least, given it our best shot. Then we drove back to school.

By the time we got back to school it was after lunch and we were late for English class. The teacher eyed us as we walked and said something like “there’d better be a story.” And Kelly said, “why yes there is,” and proceeded to recount the whole incident in his patented comic manner. This was obviously more than enough for the teacher who laughed and folded us into the class. King never came back on the Spokane airwaves, and his radio show gave way to TV pretty soon after in any case, however I learned from Kelly that day. What I learned was, social “rules” are often pretty fungible with the right amount of conversational lubricant. As I understood it, Kelly was essentially creating his own reality by “re-framing” the Larry King situation. We kids had no standing to protest the show’s cancellation, however his insistence that we were passionate fans and therefore deserved a hearing carried the day. Likewise, although we were late for class, Kelly delivered a funny story that won over the teacher and gave us a little grace.

The Larry King incident was just one in a senior year full of off-the-clock shenanigans and foolishness. I would drive out with friends to the dog tracks in Idaho, possibly during school time, with the idea that I could use my hard-won statistics knowledge to “beat the track.” Yeah right. Dog track odds are stacked against you, just in case you hadn’t guessed. But I never would have figured that out if the school hadn’t given me so much time to undertake an independent study in dog racing, so I guess I owe SGS a thank you there. Thanks dude. You rock. Ish.

to be continued…

Scenes from St. George’s, Part V: Free Range Culture

St. George’s Free Range Culture:

Thus far in this series I have alluded a number of times to what my high school classmate Dyche Alsaker has referred to as the “free range” nature of St. George’s in the 1980’s and 1990’s. Free range is exactly the right phrase here, and a number of factors contributed to the free range, sometimes free-for-all, nature of the times. In no particular order, here are five incidents or examples which I feel exemplify something of this culture. I wonder if readers who didn’t attend SGS will find these strange or more or less normal given the time period.

The Smoking Shack:

When I was first in the lower school around 1981-83, there was a smoking shack for high school seniors just behind the high school building. Seniors, and perhaps juniors, essentially earned the right to smoke on campus by virtue of age, and the smoking shack was deemed official, ordained even, by the school itself. The smoking shack was not just an area, it was a physical structure as indicated by the name, potentially purpose-built for students to smoke in.

Even as a small child, I found this interesting, because by the 1980’s smoking was not as common among adults, at least on a regular basis, as it seems to have been 20 or 30 years earlier, a fact I somehow intuited. The smoking shack was torn down shortly after this time, probably in the mid ’80s, and smoking on campus was no longer allowed (although students would still smoke cigarettes, and other items, in some of the more discrete and far-flung areas of the campus environs). By the time my classmates and myself became high school seniors, we too had a senior lounge, a smallish two-room shack also behind the high school that I believe was once the headmaster’s office. We didn’t smoke there; instead we played mammoth games of Risk and Diplomacy, watched Seinfeld, and played street hockey against Mason Anderson who would do his best Ron Hextall impression. It amazes me to this day that smoking seniors were not only tolerated, but actively encouraged, during my time at SGS.

The Janitor Hangs J.T. and I Up by Our Necks

Way before sugar cubes, pithing needles, or any other of this sort of action, J.T. and I set out to bedevil the middle school janitor. As I mentioned above, both of our fathers coached sports, and therefore we were at school until 6 or 7 PM most days throughout the year. This left ample time for us to get into trouble, which first involved stealing the bucket and mop of the janitor (a tallish bearded dude as I recall) and hiding it, thereby preventing him from doing his job. Naturally we thought this was hysterical. He disagreed, and would curse us, with semi-good humor, as he located and re-secured his equipment. This was when we were in second or third grade I would guess.

One day, after weeks of bucket hide and seek, the janitor had seen enough. He decided to take drastic action. The boys bathroom of the middle school had a set of coat hangers about six feet off the ground, and these must have been pretty sturdy because this dude hung both of us up by the backs of our sweatshirts and left us hanging there as he completed his cleaning rounds. This, as I recall, was pretty unpleasant, and also worrisome–how long did he intend to keep us there? To my recollection this only happened once, and we hung for 15 minutes or so before he let us down. I went home and complained to my parents–the janitor hung us up on the coat hangers! Well, my parents said, did you do something to him? We just hid his bucket like always, I replied. That seems like fair treatment then, said my parents, maybe next time don’t hide his bucket.

Even at the time I actually felt this was a reasonable response on the part of my parents. I mean, we knew we were looking for trouble, we knew we were inconveniencing the dude–getting a reaction was the whole point. So, mission accomplished, although I think we did back off the janitor after this incident. He had made his point, and established himself as a worthy adversary. Respect my dude, respect. It is a little hard to imagine the hanging of children just flying under the radar like this today, but at free range St. George’s in 1983 it was simply par for the course.

The Phone Room:

When my classmates and I were in fifth grade we had a homeroom teacher called C.F. At the time, I thought he was a great teacher. Looking back, I reckon he was probably just super lazy, but also just a little creative in his laziness, a pretty good combination for 11 year olds. Whole lessons would be given over to thought experiments like “imagine you are stranded on a cliff with a sheer drop on either side with one friend. How do you get off the cliff?” Every suggestion was met with dismissal by C.F.–nothing would work. We would go on and on to no conclusion, and then class would end. Or, he would just play the Beatles for the whole class. Stuff like that.

C.F. was pretty even-tempered most of the time, but from time to time he would get mad at a student. This was usually not me, although on a few occasions it was. When he would get mad, he would put the offending student in the “phone room.” The phone room was just what it sounds like–a very small room with a phone that dialed off-campus. This was in the mid ’80s, and cell phones were not yet a thing. The phone room had a single chair, the titular phone, and various phone books. I have no idea if the phone room was ever used by a teacher–certainly I never saw this. Instead, it seemed to exist solely for the purposes of punishment.

C.F. would stick students in the phone room for the length of a class sometimes, but other times he would leave them there all morning or longer. A really bad student might spend 4-5 hours chilling in the phone room. Now today, I believe, this is considered really bad practice. Just locking a student up for hours on end for supposed recalcitrance is not a recommended method for student discipline and rehabilitation. But again, this was the ’80s and things, as I hope I have made clear to my younger readers, were just different back then.

However, the funny thing about the phone room punishment was that off-campus calls from the phone room’s phone were free, and there were phone books. So naturally students with nothing to do and hours at their disposal would make prank call after prank call, calling pizza delivery, other businesses, and, in a precursor to E.P.’s dirty calls to mothers, parents of classmates. I don’t know if C.F. or the other teachers knew about these calls, but all the students did, and some may even have looked forward to a stint in the phone room to operate the phone and raise a little hell.

C.F. ended up having an affair with another teacher and checking all the way out of his job a few years later, before leaving the school and moving to Idaho. Before this, however, we graduated from the lower school to the middle school, and one day I bumped into him and said hello. He said something to the effect of “I won’t talk to you anymore because you and your classmates are bluebirds who have flown away.” What he meant was, I guess, he had done his job and we were someone else’s job/ problem/ business now. Fair enough, perhaps, but still a little odd. All in all, C.F. was a good teacher because he was different and took chances, although his methods would not even begin to stand the scrutiny of a modern school, at least I wouldn’t think. And I never did figure out how to get off that f*** cliff.

Pithing Needles in the Biology Room:

In high school we had two main science teachers. The first was J.T.’s dad E.T. who taught Physics. E.T. was also the assistant baseball and girl’s basketball coach for my father, who was the head coach. E.T. passed away recently, so rest in peace to a mediocre science teacher, an excellent first base coach, and an awesome right hand man.

The second was our Biology teacher, an older woman who had taught, perhaps right there at SGS, as far back as the 1960’s. She would tell us stories of how in the 60’s she would tell the class “any of you who are on acid, just take the class off and go outside,” so she’d seen it all I guess. Nonetheless, we managed, sans hallucinogens, to vex her on a regular basis, and when mad she would cross her arms, stare at the ceiling, and repeat the phrase “bad words, bad words, bad words,” a reasonably inventive way to avoid telling her students what they could do with themselves.

Now, she was probably a perfectly competent Biology teacher, but we were not, as 10th graders, a very receptive group. To be honest, Biology was boring. But one thing the biology room had that held potential were the pithing needles. Pithing needles, for those who don’t know, are thin, very sharp, needles about three inches in length which are attached to a wooden handle. They are, I believe, intended for use in dissections, however J.T., Kelly, and myself found other uses for them. We would sneak back into the Biology room after school and, holding the needles by the handle, fling them up at the ceiling, which was made from soft plaster board or some such material. With the right touch we could stick the needles in the ceiling, and although I only remember doing one dissection (the fabled frog dissection) in biology class, there were copious needles to throw. After a couple hundred attempts, we would manage to stick fifteen or twenty needles in the ceiling, which was quite high up, maybe 20 feet or so. The next day in Biology class the teacher would point out the needles, say her bad words, and threaten us with retribution if we were found to have been involved. What we were really waiting for was if a needle would get loose and fall down during Biology class, which would have been a bonus. (We were not bad kids; Biology was just super boring–what can I say?)

In any case, after weeks of needle flinging the pithing needle supply was pretty much exhausted and the teacher, possibly with some other adult backup, singled the three of us out (she would have known the responsible parties all along of course).

“Alright boys, you are going to climb up and get those down.”

“How are we expected to do that? They are way up there.” No protestations of innocence, just practical objections to the task at hand.

“I don’t care,” she said, “you put them there, you get them down.” One way or another, perhaps with a borrowed ladder, perhaps with a long broom or something, we managed to clear the ceiling of the deadly needles. All in all, sure we stole sugar cubes and ammonia packets, broke and entered into the headmaster’s house, and filled the biology lab’s ceiling with deadly projectiles, but at least we were sober. So, we had that going for us.

We Graduate with Blank Diplomas and Miss Prom:

Like many schools, SGS sent us seniors on a senior trip just weeks before graduation. Senior trips, through normal enough, are invariably a bad idea because students will, nearly without exception, attempt to drink on the trip. And so did we, however our experience was a little different as our drinking was directly facilitated by one of the three adult chaperones on the trip. And yes, we got punished, losing prom and graduating with blank diplomas, which might have been fair in some circumstances but hardly in these specific ones.

I won’t enumerate the exact circumstances of the alcoholic consumption on the trip because I don’t wish to engage in any under the bus throwing, even at this remove, however suffice it to say liquor was provided through a large legal purchase by said chaperone. Another chaperone discovered the drinking after some of my classmates were, let’s say, less effectively clandestine than myself and my own little group (we were trained in spy craft from way back), and the matter was reported to the then headmaster who was called George Swope. George Swope was no George Edwards, despite the shared first name, and was in fact pretty ineffectual in all areas. He called us all into a room with another administrator as backup and lectured us about drinking.

“What I think is fair is we take prom away for all of those who have admitted to drinking, and also you will graduate with blank diplomas. You will have to work off your debt to the school after graduating as well.”

Now really, this was some bullshit. The prom ban was fair enough, but the idea of working off some supposed “debt” after graduation was ridiculous, and I, with my big mouth, said as much in the Swopester’s little meeting.

“We accept (I began with the royal we, because why not) the prom situation, but you can’t take our diplomas away from us. And anyway, the booze was supplied by a teacher, as you well know.”

It didn’t matter. Some of us graduated with blanks, and I looked through the rolled up paper dramatically on receiving it, just to be a d***. Our valedictorian, Matt Carpenter, who always claimed never to study, which I think was also B.S. (although he was super smart so who knows), was under strict orders not to mention the incident in his graduation speech. As I recall, he did a perfect job of alluding to it without saying anything provably related. I was proud of him.

Why would a teacher supply booze to students? Well, because he wanted to be liked. It’s not that complex. Again, if this happened today I imagine the parents of the students in question would raise holy hell, and the teacher would be terminated. None of this happened; his involvement was swept under the rug, and life moved on. J.T. and I did expunge the “debt”, which, karmically, I guess was pretty fair given our earlier transgressions, by clearing a bunch of logs from the river while I played Dylan on a boombox with an extension cord (not the same boombox or extension cord my brother Mike played Richard Marx on). Some of the richer students (I’m just going to call it like it was, and almost everyone there was richer than J.T. and I) dodged log clearing duty to no consequence. That’s the class system–fuck that, by the way.


OK. That’s all I have. There are many, many more examples of free range culture at St. George’s, however my memory and creative vein are tapped out for the time being. If you attended SGS back in these days I hope these reminiscences bring back memories, on the whole happy ones. If you are reading and didn’t attend SGS, does all this sound pretty out of control, or pretty much normal? Leave a comment either way–I’d love to hear from you.

to be continued…

Scenes from St. George’s, Part IV: Mason Anderson’s Seven-Step Method for Picking Up Women

Author’s Note: This is installment four of our scenes from St. George’s (SGS). Part I is here, Part II is here, and Part III is here.

Mason Anderson Fails to Pick Up Chicks

Classes at St George’s were not so large; I think our class graduated around 28 or so. The school is a private school, and relatively expensive for Eastern Washington, but I don’t believe it was that expensive, so I wonder what the school’s budget was like. I bet it was tight. There were a handful of students, including J.T., Kelly, our friend S.C., his younger brother Ben, L.W., and a few others, who were there from lower school all the way through high school. Others, tragically including N.C., left, while others still joined later on.

One student who joined I think in 9th grade was Mason Anderson. Mason’s had a younger brother named Mark whom Mason called “Marky J. Muffin” for some reason. Mason and Marky J.’s parents were divorced and they lived with their mother who Mason called Robbie A. (A for Anderson.) My sense is that Robbie A. was working pretty hard to keep everything organized on the financial front. Mason’s dad was a big churcher, and I don’t think Mason saw him all that much. Sometimes Mason would report that his dad had given him some money, but overall I think his dad was too busy churching to provide much oversight. As a result of all of this, Mason was pretty much left to his own devices most of the time. Also, whatever the family situation, Mason didn’t do much to keep things together because although he’s a great guy and totally hysterical, he was, and still is, chronically lazy.

Lazy as he may have been, Mason actually had a job at a sports cards shop called Chalmer’s. I guess Chalmer’s was owned by some guy called Chalmer, and this dude thought it would be a good move to just leave the shop in Mason’s hand for extended periods of time so he could enjoy the sweet life of a successful businessman. This, however, was not a good move at all, because Mason stole all his baseball cards and all his money and Chalmer’s had to go out of business. Mason never stole from his classmates as far as I know, but he felt Chalmer was fair game.

As I mentioned, our class was pretty small and John Innes, who joined in middle school, and I got to know Mason pretty quickly. High school life can be a little repetitive and it’s good to break things up with a little humor. Mason may have been a lazy thief (or perhaps more charitably an indolent appropriator) but in the humor department he was a solid addition to the school. Mason had a particular way of speaking where he would add emphasis to certain words to make them funny, and he also loved the words “total” and “totally.” My own speech and writing has been totally influenced by this habit of Mason, an influence apparent on this blog. Mason also liked to abbreviate noun phrases.

All these quirks came together in Mason’s favorite term, which was “total babe,” or more commonly, “TB.” He would use this appellation dozens of times a day to describe various girls in our class and the classes above and below us. Although SGS classes were small, there were definitely some TBs running around, and some regular old Bs as well. My own tastes in this area were less for the TBs and more for the SBs (“sneaky babes”). I like sneaky anything, sneaky babes, sneaky favorites, sneaky staircases, the whole deal. Probably my theory was that TBs were already out of my league, and SBs were just more on my level. Also, I just thought SBs were cuter than TBs. I still think I’m right about this, but Mason disagreed. He was into the TBs, the totaller the better. Now one thing about TBs, obviously, is they can be super selective. Craig Finn says “boys go for looks/ and girls go for status.” I’ve found this to be pretty true, and TBs also like money as well as, I think, funny guys (or gals depending on a given TB’s particular orientation). Although he played on the baseball team, Mason was not exactly “high status,” whatever that consisted of back then, and although he had the Chalmer’s money he certainly wasn’t loaded. He was very funny, and should have leaned into this with the TBs, but for some reason his method for TB intriguing didn’t quite see him leaning into his strengths.

Mason’s interest in TBs was not limited to mere expressions of appreciation; instead he would work out elaborate TB seduction campaigns in his head, which he would describe to John Innes and me at great length. Mason was, for some unknown reason, a huge fan of the professional hockey team the Philadelphia Flyers and their goalie Ron Hextall, and he had one, or maybe several, Philadelphia Flyers pins that he would wear on the outside of his jacket. His TB pick-up plans always revolved around the Flyers’ pin and associated Flyers paraphernalia. I am not going to be able to do justice to the complexity of Mason’ campaign plans, however they would have gone something like this (I don’t believe he has taken the time to patent this method so I think this is fair use):

Step 1: Select a TB to approach.

As mentioned, Mason would choose one of the biggest TBs, a girl who was obviously completely out of his league, and start putting together a sequence of moves.

Step 2: Name the campaign.

Mason’s campaigns would be named after the first initial of the TB’s first name; thus if the TB was called “B…” the B campaign would just be “Plan B.”

Step 3: Pick a location to approach the TB.

Mason would specify a certain spot where he planned to initiate his campaign, say at the TB’s locker, while waiting for the bus before a basketball game, or when she first came in the door of the school in the morning.

(As a side note, John Innes also employed the locker move when in 9th grade he offered me 10 dollars to switch lockers with him so he could have the locker next to a certain TB called S. I agreed, but John Innes didn’t really have any money because his father had spent it all on his political aspirations, and I don’t think he ever paid me. That was a bad deal on my part; I should have stuck with the locker.)

Step 4: Lead with the Flyers’ pin.

Mason would design the first actual contact with the TB to center on the Flyers’ pin, as noted above. In John Innes’ and my opinion, this is where the plan started to wobble. Mason would specify exactly what he would say to the TB as an opening salvo. This would be something like:

“Hey there B, I couldn’t help but see you hanging out by your locker here. I wonder if you’ve seen my new Philadelphia Flyers pin?“

Now I don’t know a huge amount about hitting on women, but I know a little bit, and I’m just not sure this is the right first move. Guys who are really good at picking up women (I’m not referring to the super sus subculture of PUAs, but to individual guys who just happen to have a lot of game) usually start with something a little more open-ended, and also maybe focussed on some aspect of the girl, not one of their own accessories. I mean I don’t know, maybe this can work—can you picture a guy at a bar approaching a woman and saying something like:

“Hey there, I don’t know you but I just wanted to let you know I bought this new scarf today. Isn’t it something?”

The more I look at it the more I lean no. The Flyers’ pin opener was not, however, the biggest issue with Mason’s approach. The biggest issue was that he expected the TB to come back with a very specific, indeed exact, reply.

Step 5: Elicit a specific TB response.

After Mason had asked the TB to check out his Flyers’ pin, she was supposed to come back with the right answer, which is this case would be something like:

“Wow there Mason Anderson. I didn’t know you had a new Flyers pin. That’s a pretty sexy pin you got there.”

Now I respect the effort that Mason put into his plans, but I’m sorry, this is just all wrong. First of all, this is a pretty unlikely answer for a TB. I mean, something like this is theoretically possible; however there are a lot of other possibilities that Mason was not accounting for. You see, he needed the TB to stick pretty much exactly to the script in order to get to his next move. But the problem was, the TB didn’t have the script in advance. I mean imagine you’re a TB and some medium dorky guy comes up to you and flashes his new Flyers’ pin. I think you might respond in one of the following ways, ranging from more to less promising:

i) “I haven’t seen your pin. Where did you get it?”

ii) “Who are the Philadelphia Flyers?”

iii) “Why are you showing me this?”

iv) “What are you talking about?”

v) “You’re weird. Go away.”

My theory is that Mason really needed to be prepared for all of these possible responses, and many others. He needed, in other words, to build a little flexibility into his plan. And John Innes and I would tell him this.

“I don’t know Mason, I mean the Flyers’ pin is great and all, but I don’t think you can count on her telling you it’s sexy. She might come back with something else you know.”

“No,” Mason would reply. “She’ll come back with what I have planned. It’ll work.”

But she wasn’t going to come back with what he had planned. She just wasn’t. John Innes and I knew this, but there was no talking Mason out of it. Plan B was full steam ahead.

Step 6: Get to the end game.

After the TB came back with the right Flyer’s pin response, the next two items in the plan would be designed to get Mason to the close. This would go like something like this:

Mason: This is a sexy pin. But it’s not as sexy as you are.

TB: Oh my god, you’re so charming and funny.

Now, the dialogue is approximate, however the idea remained the same—the conversation had to go exactly this way. In military circles there is a saying that goes something like “no battle plan survives the first shot fired” or whatever. The point being, once a campaign kicks off there is no telling what the actual sequence of events is going to be. A good plan, in war, with TBs, or just in life in general, needs to be adjustable. Or, in NLP terms, the planner needs to understand that the map is not the territory. Mason had the map, but his map was not going to get him safely though the territory.

In any case, by this point Plan B would be pretty far advanced. It was time to seal the deal.

Step 7: Close.

This stage, obviously, was where Mason would throw down his final zinger and the TB would be won. The last part of Plan B would have Mason saying something like:

“I know I’m charming and funny. I guess I just can’t help it. Hey I’ve got a great idea. Why don’t you and me get together and call ourselves an institute?”

And the TB would swoon into his arms.


Now, we have already identified a number of holes in Mason Anderson’s Seven-Step Method for Picking Up Women. And these holes are significant. But the biggest hole in Plan B, or Plan C, and any of his other plans is that he never tried to implement any of them even once. All of this, the casual approach, the Flyers’ pin, the elaborate conversational sequencing, was entirely theoretical. Mason would talk about Plan B incessantly, workshop it with us, and generally refine and tinker with it, but he would never actually put in to the test. I don’t know why this was. Was it because Mason knew the TBs were out of his league and just enjoyed fantasizing about his campaigns? Or did he actually intend to put Plan B into practice sometime and just never had the nerve to try it? Or, perhaps, the plan was never totally good enough in his own eyes and just needed that last little tweak to get it perfect? I don’t know, but man were Plan B and Plan C entertaining.

Today Mason lives in the tri cities area of Washington State where he messes around with nuclear energy or something, believe it or not. In his free time he makes a lot of pizza and instagrams about it. I believe he has also had some success on the Tinder there—John Innes told me he was mixed up with at least one women of that ilk a few years back. I’ve never met any of Mason’s Tinder connections, and I don’t know if they are TBs or not, but I know one thing. Deep down Mason still wants to lead with that Flyer’s pin.

to be continued…

Scenes from St. George’s, Part II: Scorekeeping, the Sandhills, and a Would Be Yearbook Heart

Author’s Note: This is the second installment of scenes from St. George’s. The first installment contains a little more context about this series. Joan Dideon says that a writer is always selling somebody out. I’m not sure I agree with this exactly, but I have taken the liberty of using some real names and some realish initials. These scenes are written with love, however if I do seem to be selling anyone out I guess I feel like the statute of limitations has pretty much expired.

Gary Leinhart and My Father Forget How to Count

Gary Leinhart was another one of our middle school teachers and he also coached boys basketball for a time. He was no Mr. Dreyer, however he was a decent teacher and pretty well liked. He was not a great basketball coach, but he did like to play a little himself. I guess Gary was in his early to mid-thirties around this time but I’m not really sure.

A few miscellaneous things about Gary:

i) he was minus a finger, I think a pinky, from an accident with a saw one time, but you never really noticed it. I guess you don’t really need your pinkies all that much.

ii) he once made a citizens arrest with his friend who was also a teacher at SGS.

iii) After SGS I believe he moved to Alaska.

Now when Gary first came to the school he and my father (who I think was still teaching in the middle school at that time) seemed to get along fine. In fact, my father and I played in Gary’s fantasy baseball league where I was assigned to be the commissioner. Fantasy baseball is impossible at the best of times, and pre-internet it was super impossible, so the league was short-lived. Nonetheless, things were fine there for a while.

As I mentioned above, Gary was the high school boys basketball coach, and my father coached the girls. At some point there must have been some issues, because Gary and my father started to seriously dislike each other. I don’t know what was going on actually, but I’m guessing it was basketball related. Like I said, Gary was a good, if easy-going, teacher, maybe just a bit lazy. My classmate L.W. recently reminded me of some story involving Gary, an air raid siren, and J.T., but I don’t really remember this. The point is, Gary seemed to me be a pretty good guy, except on the basketball floor where he became hyper-competitive.

Around this time I was the lead scorekeeper for the high school basketball games. This involved running the game clock and the shot clocks and keeping the game score correct on the score board. It was a pretty involved job, and I loved it. I threw myself into being every day and in every way the best scorekeeper I could be, and it was a pretty big responsibility for a young fellow. J.T. was my assistant; I think he did the shot clocks. Our school played in a league with schools from all over Eastern Washington, and there were a few schools up near the Canadian border that were a bit rough. Their fans, parents of players mostly and some others, would drive down and there was a visitor section and a home section, as with most gyms. One day some dude from up north must have come to the game a little lit, or a lot lit, and after the game (which SGS won at the last second) he came charging over to the scorers’ table. He started accusing me of cheating by giving the home team extra seconds at the end of the game (e.g. not starting the clock when the ball was inbounded). I had done no such thing; and he was drunk, which I helpfully pointed out to him. I think he wanted to punch my lights out, and probably some adults had to intervene.

In any case, I was a good scorekeeper and one day my father and Gary Leinhart were playing basketball against each other with mixed teams of other teachers and students. They had chosen teams I guess and the teams were pretty balanced. My father has never been a great basketball player, but once upon a time he could play a little, and Gary was also decent. The students were all on the basketball team so the game should have been close. And it was. I should know because I was keeping score. However for what was essentially an intramural game we were not using the scoreboard, and I think I was just using a piece of paper or keeping score in my head. The game began, and both teams started scoring. As I recall, the score was 14-12 in favor of my father’s team when the trouble started. Gary’s team scored a basket and he took it on himself to try and usurp my position.

“12-0 us,” he called.

Now this was completely ridiculous because it was a two point lead for my father’s team, not a 12 point lead for Gary Leinhart’s. Before I could correct the score, my father yelled back:

“It’s not 12-0. It’s 15-2 us!”

This was equally ridiculous. As I have made clear, the score was 14-12. As any pick-up basketball player will know, it’s totally possible to lose track of the score of a game as you are playing and miss a basket here and there. This is why, as a matter of fact, there are scorekeepers to begin with. So I did my best:

“Hey guys,” I called, “the score is 14-12 red team.”

“There’s no way they have 14,” said Gary.

“There’s no way we are only up by two,” said my father.

“Yeah, the score is 14-12.”

But unfortunately my efforts to settle the matter were for naught. Gary and my father started screaming at each other and fighting about the score like little children. This was awkward and after a bit people just sort of checked out of the game space and the game ground to a halt, never to be re-started. I guess there was no way to bridge the collective 25 point gap in score perception.

Looking back at this incident, it still boggles my mind. I’ve played quite a bit of pick-up, and I’ve never seen anything quite like this. I wonder what the core issue was.

The Sandhill and Points West

Back in the day SGS had something called “the Sandhill.” There were actually two Sandhills, which were predictably called “the Little Sandhill” and “the Big Sandhill.” These were conjoint, and located behind the baseball field at the back end of the school property.

The Sandhills, especially the big one, were super tough to climb, but they were both great for jumping off. With a running start, one could fly twenty or thirty feet in the air off the Little Sandhill and land safely near the bottom. When I was first at the school the Big Sandhill actually had a rope swing attached to a tree at the top, and you could run, grab the rope swing, and fly way out in the air. This was a much larger fall than jumping off the Little Sandhill, but it was basically safe. It was also a blast.

In addition to the Sandhill swing, the school had another swing which swung over the Little Spokane river. This is the river that the fabulist John Innes claims I used to throw people in. In any case, the river swing survived longer than the Sandhill swing, because a few years after I first got there the school took the Sandhill swing down. Too dangerous. This was basically a terrible decision and was probably made by someone who had never been on a swing in their life. School bureaucracy sucks.

So although many of my future classmates at the school never got to experience the glories of the Sandhill swing, there was plenty more to explore back in the woods up behind the Sandhill to the west. Several hundred meters back there was a set of rocks which had little climbing routes naturally built into them. These were not hardcore rock climbs by any means, but they were sufficiently testing for us students and generally pretty good action. Our school had a cross-country team, and the cross-country course turned around just before these rocks. One day a female student who was a few years my senior was running the course by herself and came across a guy on a bicycle completely nude just chilling by the rocks. She came back and reported the situation. What did you do, she was asked? I just turned around and kept running, she replied. Smart move.

There was all kinds of action, both good and bad, up in those hills. My friend J.T. and others whom I will not name would go up into the hills and start fires. Now I understand that young boys like to start fires—it’s an age old pastime—but I was not that into fires. First, they seemed dangerous, and second, more importantly, they just seemed unnecessary. I was in the minority on this point though; fires were set.

One day I went climbing on the rocks with my friend Kelly and his half-brother who was a few years older. Kelly’s father is Art Rudd, and he had had two children with his first wife over in Seattle or something before moving out and coming to Spokane. Kelly’s older brother was interesting and I got the feeling like he had already seen a lot in his life. Art Rudd was a dentist, and was in fact my dentist. Art Rudd was a garrulous individual and also tried to talk to you when you were in the dentist chair as if you could just chat right back. Overall, Art Rudd was an OK dentist I guess, but I also think he was running a scam. And this scam is not, I think, unique to Art Rudd. I think this scam is widespread, insidious, and bad.

I didn’t have serious dental issues, but I did seem to go to the dentist a lot, which may have been its own scam, however when I was twelve or thirteen Art Rudd suddenly started talking my mother into the concept of me getting braces. Now braces may be important for some certain people with teeth that are like seriously out of alignment, however that was not the case with me. My teeth were totally fine. Nonetheless, the braces conversation was initiated, and kept up, until my mother caved and I was referred to an “orthodontist” friend of Art Rudd’s. “Orthodontists,” I believe, are all basically scammers, and I am totally sure that Art Rudd was getting kick backs there from this “orthodontist.”

I went to see the “orthodontist,” who was a portly and cheerful fellow (he ought to be with all his braces money), and he said sure enough looks like you need some braces. Now I was attuned enough to BS even then to know that this dude was full of it. But I was stuck on a train I couldn’t get off of. I ended up getting braces, which did nothing, and then they came off. Scam, all the way.

Anyway, that’s beside the point. The point is, the Sandhills were awesome and whoever took down that swing is an asshole.

I Fail to Draw a Heart in R.s Yearbook

I wrote in the second scene of this series about drawing a solid sun for N.C. when I was in the lower school. What I didn’t mention is that there were actually two lower schools—the one up on the hill for Grades 1-3 and another one down by the river for Grades 4-6. When I was attending the second lower school a new girl joined our class. She was called R. Now I didn’t have a crush on R. of anything like the intensity of my crush on N.C., however I did kind of like her, and at the end of 6th grade when students were writing in each other’s yearbooks, I resolved to make my big move. I would sign her yearbook, I thought, and draw a nice little heart as well. My successful sun drawing was in the books and everything, and I thought the heart would be easy.

Sure enough, R. asked me to write something in her yearbook, so I wrote something anodyne, and then went in for the heart move. I had practiced this in my head several times, because when you get nervous sometimes you mess stuff up and I didn’t want to choke and draw a bad heart. So I took a deep breath, and went for it. And I couldn’t get close. What came out looked nothing like a heart, nothing like a sun, it looked in fact like some kind of undefinable blob. This was bad, and I had precious little time to salvage the situation. In fact, I had no time, because R. must have seen the heart coming, and she asked “what’s that?” in a fake innocent voice that made it clear to me that she knew exactly what was going on.

“Nothing,” I replied. “Just drawing something.”

I tried to improve the heart to no avail, and then scratched it out and tried again. No luck. If anything the second heart was worse than the first. I had no idea how to draw a heart, had no idea at all what one was even supposed to look like. Suddenly, I was the Steve Sax of heart rendering.

“Never mind,” I said finally. “Just read my message.” My message was not the point though—it was the heart that tied the whole presentation together. And I had blown it, badly.

Thinking back on it, it was probably inevitable that I would choke on the heart for R. I mean, this was the last day of lower school and here I was attempting a heart for a girl other than N.C. I was a faithless individual, a turncoat, and the heart was never going to materialize as my own heart was still back up on the hill with N.C. in Science class. And, come to think of it, it still is.

to be continued…

Scenes from St. George’s, Part I: Erosions, First Love, Headmasters

Author’s Note: This is a series of “scenes” from St. George’s (SGS), the school in Spokane, Washington I attended back in the 1980s and early 1990s. Although this was all a while ago and I forget all kinds of stuff, I remember a few things. SGS was a good school in many ways, but it was also a pretty loose environment. I’m sure it’s changed now, but back in the day a lot of pretty wild stuff happened. These piece will collect a few incidents as I recall them; the scenes at best loosely connected; most are funny—a few are maybe a little serious. I plan do a few installments in this series, so if you like this one stay tuned. A last note: I make no claim to my memories being authoritative in any sense. As with all memories, these have been colored, and eroded, by time. However, I will try to write only about things I witnessed first hand, or things that I have on what I believe to be pretty good authority.

My Brother Mike Looks for Erosions

When I was in the lower school (elementary school) at SGS I had a teacher we will call L.K. In the lower school each grade had a main teacher, what you might call a homeroom teacher, and students also had classes with other specialist-type teacher such as Science or Music. L.K. was an OK homeroom teacher for me, not very memorable, but not terrible either. However a few years later when she was serving as the homeroom teacher for my brother Mike, things changed.

By the time Mike was in her class, L.K. was apparently in a little entanglement with the headmaster at the time called George Edwards, whom I believe was separated, or separating, from his wife. The headmaster of SGS always lived on campus in a fancy house called The Davenport House, and I guess the action between himself and L.K.’s was pretty widely known. It must have been if even I, as like a fifth grader, was aware of it. I think this relationship, whatever it consisted of, must have been on the rocks though by this time, and there may have been some bad action. In any case, L.K. was totally checked out from her job. Now teachers sometimes totally check out, and this can go unnoticed for weeks or even months. Teaching is an important job, but it’s not like flying a plane or something; a checked out teacher generally doesn’t put students’ lives on the line.

Anyway, L.K. was way checked out. SGS was, and presumably still is, situated on a very large piece of property down there by the Little Spokane river and was surrounded by wilds that were not SGS property, but that students could explore. The lower school in particular was set up against a hill that went for a mile or so up above the school building. So there was a lot of space. However, there was also a basically bounded playground and lower school students would also play on the large lawn of the Davenport House, so there was no need for them to be foraging way up on the hill. Except in L.K.’s class though, because she developed a kind of genius strategy to do no teaching at all for my brother’s class. What she would do was, at the start her assigned homeroom teacher block, let’s say it was three periods in the morning, just tell her students to “go look for erosions.” The students must have learned about erosions in Science class or something, because Mike knew the word as like a second grader. The students would go up on the hill on their own and scout around for erosions, of which there were many, all morning and come back for lunch.

Now, a day of looking for erosions would have been one thing— a little erosion location could easily be justified as a Science class extension, ideally supervised—however L.K. didn’t just pull out this move once. In fact she pulled it out day after day for, I believe, a matter of weeks. Everyday Mike would come home and my mother would ask “what did you do today?” Mike would reply “went looking for erosions.” Like most parents, mine probably didn’t pay super careful attention to the ins and out of what was going on with our schooling, however after some weeks of this my mother started to find all this erosion action a bit strange.

“You went looking for erosions again?”

“Yup,” said my brother. “More erosions.” I think Mike was totally fine looking for erosions all day, as I would have been, however my mother had heard enough.

“That’s too much looking for erosions. It’s been weeks and you’re still looking for erosions. I’m going to talk to somebody.”

I believe my mother did talk to somebody, because L.K. changed up her all erosion all the time strategy. I think she was still checked out, but maybe made an effort to disguise it a little better. She left the school at the end of that year as I recall and I don’t know what happened to her after that.

That’s the funny thing about teachers—they are often remembered by students for the strangest thing they did. I don’t remember a single thing from L.K.’s class or anything else about her really, but I do remember that she loved her some erosions.

Drawing a Sun for N.C.

As I mentioned, SGS had the Davenport House, which was right across from the lower school, and one of the rooms of the Davenport House was used as a classroom when I was there. We had Science class in this room for a while. One day, the teacher asked us to draw the solar system or something like that, and I started by drawing the sun. Now I had always seen the sun depicted with like pointy rays of light coming out of it—you know, the sun looks kind of angular most of the time. So that’s how I drew it.

There was a girl in my class we’ll call N.C. I don’t know if anyone else from SGS back then remembers her because she wasn’t there for too long, but I do and I had a huge crush on her. In fact, I thought about her all the time. We would play tag games on the lawn on the Davenport House, “freeze tag,” and “television tag,” (I don’t remember the rules) and I would always try to tag N.C. just to be close to her. Anyway, N.C. was in Science class with me, and I showed her my sun, which I thought was pretty solid. Then, another classmate, a boy whose name I forget but who was a bad seed, interrupted my little chat with N.C.

“That’s not what the sun looks like. The sun doesn’t really have rays like that. It’s actually just round. Look at my paper, I have it the right way.”

Sure enough, this little brat had drawn the sun like a big red circle. Now I suspected at the time that on some level this guy was probably right, and that the sun as an actual mass or whatever didn’t have physical rays. But his sun looked super ugly, and also he was putting my drawing down in front of N.C. and just basically being terrible. So I turned to N.C.

“What do you think N.C. Which sun do you like better?”

And N.C. just smiled at me and said “I like your sun better.”

That was all I needed to hear. N.C. was on my team, and the little brat could stick his sun where…well you know. I was elated by N.C.’s appreciation; my sun had carried the day. I was totally in love with her, more than ever, after this sun incident.

A while back I tried looking N.C. up online, and although her name is not super common, I found four or five people who could have been her. I was hoping to send her the sun story and say thanks, but I didn’t want to just fire this anecdote over to a bunch of random N.C.’s, so I held back. If you do know who I’m talking about and you know where she’s at, let me know. Maybe she remembers my pretty solid sun.

More George Edwards Action (with a cameo from the Manimal, Kenneth Faried)

I mentioned above that when he was headmaster of SGS George Edwards was entangled up with L.K. And this is true. He was headmaster for a while though, so he also did some other stuff.

All in all I would say George Edwards was a mediocre headmaster. He looked more or less the part, wore a mustache that was less Frenchy than my middle school French teacher Mr. Dreyer’s, and generally didn’t intervene too much in school matters, which was a positive. He was a decent public speaker, and put on a good showing at the annual auction and things of that nature. On the other hand, he was not especially inspiring, and as we’ve seen, had some stuff going on in his personal life which distracted him. He was from Texas originally and when he first came to the school his wife came with him, but I think this was just for show because she was out of there pretty soon after. Like I said, he was at the school for a while and I actually took a class from him in high school. More on that in a second.

I was at the school a lot because my father taught there and also coached basketball and stuff into the evenings, and myself and my friend J.T., whose father also taught at the school, kind of had the run of the place. J.T. somehow got copies of the master keys to the middle school and upper school made and gave me a set, and we would just open up the buildings whenever we wanted and go wherever. J.T. and I would sneak into the faculty lounge in the high school and pinch sugar cubes from the teacher’s coffee area, and later on we snuck into the science room to appropriate some ammonia packs from the first aid kits. I think someone eventually noticed that the first aid kits were always running out of ammonia. Yeah, that was us. George Edwards was gone a lot, and we would also go on into the Davenport House, which somehow was just open, and poke around. We probably even did this a few times when George Edwards was staying there, which is admittedly a little bizarre. The Davenport House had a kind of servants’ area as I recall, and a back set of stairs which was really cool.

Anyway, because I was always around, George Edwards asked me one time to babysit his daughter when he was off doing something. I was probably in middle school at this time, and his daughter was about 8 or 9. His daughter is probably a lovely person today, but at the time she was known to be a bit of a handful. In addition to the L.K. factor, George Edwards was, in my recollection perpetually, going through a divorce and things may have been a little tense on the Edwards family front. I didn’t know his daughter too well, but I said sure, I’ll babysit. Good he said, you can do whatever you want but just don’t let her dance on the roof.

This seemed like a very specific instruction, and I wondered what he meant. Was he just giving me a general example of a bad idea, or was she an inveterate roof dancer and I’d somehow have to try to control this tendency? It turned out to be the latter. The babysitting was going fine for a while, until she said:

“I’m going to go dance on the roof.”

“Uh, I’m not sure that’s a good idea. Your dad told me not to let you do that.”

“Yeah, I’m going to go dance on the roof. Are you coming?”

Now I was bigger than her, and a guy, but still it’s not exactly easy to corral an 8 year old girl hellbent on roof dancing, and I clearly wasn’t going to be able to talk her out of it. So, I thought, the best thing to do was to go with her and keep an eye on things. The “roof” was actually not the roof of the house exactly, more like an open patio area that a window on the second floor opened on to. It didn’t really have any railings or anything around it, and all in all it was not the safest spot for dancing. However, it was medium big and looked kind of OK. Also she was clearly a veteran roof dancer, so I figured she had it under control.

She danced for a while and I watched, and then we went back inside. I had a pretty nice day with her as she was actually pretty cool, and then George Edwards came home.

“How’d it go,” he asked. “She didn’t dance on the roof did she?”

“No sir, nothing like that at all. We just stayed inside mostly and read books and talked.”

“Good job. She does like to dance on that roof. I’m glad you handled her today.”

I told George Edwards a fib, it’s true, but I felt like I earned my money you know. Roof dancing had occurred, but it has also been contained. You’re welcome there George Edwards.

One day during the George Edwards era when I was poking around the Davenport House for reasons passing understanding I came across a soft-core videotape in the TV room on the second floor. There was a picture on the box of some frolicking beach babes and it had some kind of suggestive title. Interesting, I thought, George Edwards likes himself some beach babes. More interesting than that though was the fact that he just left this lying around. Maybe George Edwards needed a couple of lessons in headmaster trade craft. Or perhaps he didn’t expect that J.T. and I would just be cruising around his house uninvited. In any case, I would get a different kind of glimpse into the person behind the role via a story my classmates related to me which happened one day when I was staying home with my trick knee.

What is a trick knee? Well, the trick knee was the patented move of a Seattle Seahawks defensive lineman called Joe Nash back in the day. Basically Nash, and sometimes his teammates, would fake an injury (thus the “trick knee”) to stop the clock late in the game. In American Football it is super important to stop the clock in late game situations; this is why you always see players trying to get out of bounds in these spots. Joe Nash and the Seahawks found a loophole in the rules, which at the time didn’t prohibit the fake injury move. I believe the rules have now been adjusted.

I found an article from the South Florida Sun-Sentinel by one Sharon Robb from 1989 that talks about this. (The South Florida Sun-Sentinel has some super organized archives by the way.) Robb is talking about the 1988 AFC title game between the Seahawks and the Cincinnati Bengals. “Clarke” here is Ken Clarke, Nash’s fellow defensive lineman.

Seven times Nash (five) and Clarke (two) took turns faking injuries on third-down situations to enable the Seahawks’ nickel defense to get onto the field. After the third time Nash went down, the crowd of 58,560 caught on and started booing. Cincinnati coach Sam Wyche and his players were livid, complaining to whatever official was within earshot. The fourth time, Nash went down and feigned injury without ever getting hit, and walked off the field under his own power.

I remember watching this game and marveling at Nash’s trick knee move. To me this was an example of exactly the kind of player I liked. Nash was probably not the best lineman in the league, but he did what he had to to try and help the Seahawks win. I played basketball for a while at SGS and later on as well. As a basketball player I had strengths and weaknesses, but was never going to be the go to scorer. So I developed other skills, especially offensive rebounding. This was my specialty, and my favorite NBA player of all time is the Manimal Kenneth Faried. Like me, Faried wasn’t a great scorer, but he made up for it with his dominating offensive rebounding. He stuck around the league for a while because of just this one skill.

When I was in graduate school in Arizona in my 20s I played a lot of pick-up at the gym there. Pick-up is interesting because players mostly don’t know each other and just have to kind of fit together on the fly. This process is pretty hit or miss; however I was a good pick-up teammate because I could score if need be, but was just as happy to try and dominate the glass on both ends, especially the offensive glass. Most pick-up players don’t rebound all that hard, so by just going all out in that aspect of the game I could pretty much control it a lot of the time. One day I was matched up against a slightly older guy and I was kicking his ass on the glass. I was pulling out all my moves, and he basically had no chance. He started getting mad and began pushing me in the small of the back when I was going for a rebound. In basketball a little pushing and elbowing is acceptable but pushing your opponent in the small of the back is bad form. I let him know his play was out of line and told him:

“Hey dude, you can push me all you want and I’m still going to eat your lunch on the boards.” This was the last straw and my guy said something I’ll never forget:

“You aren’t a real basketball player. You’re just a fucking garbage man.”

What he meant was I was just picking up all the rebounds and loose balls like a garbage man picks up trash. He intended it as an insult, but I took it as a huge compliment. I am absolutely a garbage man, me and the Manimal both.

Anyway, I loved Joe Nash so I copied his trick knee move. Not on the football field though, my trick knee would flare up on days when I didn’t feel like going to school. “My knee hurts,” I’d tell my mother, and she’d let me stay home. I didn’t pull this move out much because I basically liked going to school, but once and a while my chronic knee condition got the best of me. One day in what must have been 1990 (just a bit after Joe Nash’s epic playoff performance) I was trick-kneeing it and missed George Edward’s class, which I recall was some kind of government class or something. The fabulist and video game loser John Innes will remember.

The reason that I know this happened in 1990 is because this was when the First Gulf War was kicking off. It turned out that George Edwards had once upon a time been in the military, or more precisely I think he was at the time in the military reserves. The gulf action must have made him feel nostalgic or something, because the next day after my knee had healed I went back to school and my classmates told me something extraordinary had happened in government class. What was that? I asked. George Edwards had us go outside and march, they told me. March? What kind of marching? Military marching, they told me. He had us do military marches and gave this big talk about the military and he was actually crying.

Now this all sounded pretty odd, and I felt like my trick knee had worsened on just the right day because I sure wasn’t up for any marching.

“What was going on with him?” I asked.

“We don’t know. He was just getting super emotional and he made us march on the road all class.”

Although I was glad to have missed it, I found this story interesting. To be fair, this was not an L.K.-like move where George Edwards just didn’t feel like teaching that day. He was out leading the marching, apparently. He wasn’t a great government teacher—as I said above he was not that inspiring a fellow in general—however after I heard about the marching I liked him better. This incident, I felt, provided a little window into the real guy, the Texas native who liked beach babes, didn’t want his daughter falling off the roof, and felt a deep connection to the military reserves.

One thing I wonder about is if any other teacher at the school was aware that all this marching was going on. I think they must have been because it apparently took place right on the road in front of the school. I wrote in my Mr. Dreyer piece about how back in the day teachers would just do questionable stuff and nothing happened. George Edwards was the principal, so he probably had carte blanche on the marching front in any case, but did no one ask him, “hey there George Edwards, everything OK out there today? Maybe we should chill a bit on all the marching” or anything? It can be really tough to tell principals what to do, although I’ve gotten pretty good it in my own career. Anyway, I wonder.

George Edwards moved to Seattle later on and got another head of school job. My brother Mike ran into him over there and says he’s a really good guy. As for his daughter, I hope she’s still out there, dancing her little heart out.

Dedication: For N.C., wherever you are.

to be continued…

On Good Talkers and Great Talkers (featuring my friends Kelly and Marc Campbell)

I think I’m a pretty good talker. But I’m not a great talker. The reason I know this is because my friend Kelly is a great talker. And I can’t hold a candle to him.

In this piece I want to explore what makes a good talker good and a great talker great. Here, our conclusion can be partially stated upfront: a good talker will almost always also be a good BSer. Everyone knows what BS is, of course, and the term is usually used pejoratively, more or less, for example in phrases such as “oh that’s a bunch of BS,” or “come on dude, cut the BS.” However, BS is clearly also an essential element of the talker’s toolkit (from now on we will simply use the term “talker” unless specifically delineating between a good and a great talker). BS alone though does not a great talker make. There has to be something else involved. Let’s see if we can figure out what this might be.

We will start with an example from my professional life. I work in a high school in Japan, and it’s a fairly complex place. Although a Japanese school, it also features two different international courses and over time we have welcomed a wide variety of visitors from around the world for various reasons. A few years back, we hosted a group of educators from Abu Dhabi, including at least one representative of the Abu Dhabi Ministry of Education. My boss at the time was a Japanese gentlemen who spoke decent, but not phenomenal, English. He was set to give a welcome speech to this group, and my boss loved, absolutely loved, networking and hosting visitors at our school. It was his singular passion. The higher ranked or more “prestigious” they were the better. A visiting teacher from Elton College would be treated like the Pope, accorded all of the pomp and ceremony of a royal visit. Although an inveterate networker, my boss was not a natural public speaker, and he was uncomfortable making such an important speech in English, so he asked me to write something for him. Some people might have found this request to be annoying or even insulting, but I relished it. The role of the ghostwriter is one I greatly enjoy, because it gives me a chance to slip a few little things in there just for me. I have a bit of a weakness for inside jokes.

The Abu Dhabi visit was in early April, just in time for cherry blossom season in Japan. A few places around the world, including Washington D.C., celebrate cherry blossom season; however, in Japan it’s huge. People come from around the world to see the blossoms, and there’s even a special type of event called the hanami where folks from salarymen to universities students and everyone in between will set up tarps or blankets by the river or in a park under the cherry blossoms and get blasted. The Japanese refer to the cherry blossoms as sakura. So, I thought, what would be more natural than to open the speech with a reference to the sakura?

I don’t remember much about the speech, but I do remember the first few lines. They went like this:

It is my great pleasure to offer you a very warm welcome to Japan and (school name). We are deeply honored to receive such a prestigious group from the wonderful country of Abu Dhabi. And indeed, you have fortunately come at the perfect time to see the famous Japanese cherry blossoms, the sakura.

Now this might not sound too out of the ordinary, however for me the genius lay in the last comma. In my head I heard a deep and pregnant pause between “the famous Japanese cherry blossoms” and “the sakura.” As I like to say, it was funny to me. I sent the speech to my boss and we didn’t really have time to go over it, so I just hoped for the best. Now my boss wasn’t much of a writer, but he was, in his own way, a showman. He had clearly spent time practicing the speech, and when he spoke these first lines his delivery exceeded even my wildest expectations. Not only was the pregnant pause there, it was deeper and more profound than I had dreamed. He has perfectly grasped the import of the comma. This guy f***ing nailed it.

What does this have to do with BS? Well, when I wrote the lines above, in my own way I was BSing. I knew my boss’s taste for VIPs ran deep and so made sure to lay it on pretty thick (“great pleasure,” “very warm welcome,” “wonderful country,” etc.). Also, the comma, in its own way, was total BS. And the fact that my boss killed his delivery meant that he not only understood BS on an elemental level, he relished it too.

Later on during that same meeting with the Abu Dhabi folks my boss presented about some English vocabulary system our school was using as part of the English curriculum. This was a software program designed by my boss’ buddy that the school had paid an absurd amount of money to lease. It was, predictably, a piece of trash. However, my boss built it up as the greatest piece of educational tech since whatever, and showed a little of it on an overhead screen. The visitors were no dummies though, and one of them asked a sensible question: “why did you decide to go with this essentially handmade program where there are a lot of well-known and tested commercial programs available?” My boss wasn’t going to touch that one, so he turned it over to me. Now, I knew this thing was complete garbage; however, I also recognized, in addition to the need to save face, the opportunity to lay on a little BS. So I said something like:

“Well, that’s a really good question (always start with this when BSing an answer because it gives you time to think)

we chose this program after looking carefully at the alternatives (not true—we had looked at no alternatives)

and we felt in the end that this program best met the very specific needs of Japanese learners (also total nonsense—there is nothing so specific about Japanese learners that a software program needs to be so tailored).

In all our experience working with Japanese students, we felt like we needed something bespoke and fit-for-purpose, and we are really happy with our choice… (when BSing it is advised to throw around words like “bespoke” and “fit-for-purpose” in the hopes of throwing your listener(s) off the scent).

I probably went on some more, but you get the idea. The questioner thanked me and we moved on, however I knew that I had not in fact thrown him off the scent. He knew that I was BSing; I knew that he knew that I was BSing; and I like to think that maybe he knew that I knew that he knew that I was BSing. If so, he played his part in our little production to a T as well.

How did I feel about packing so much BS into one afternoon? I felt great about it. In the long history of bullshit corporate communications, the exaggerations and white lies I told that day rank pretty low down the list in terms of negative externalities if you will, and our visitors went away feeling welcomed and catered to, BS vocabulary programs aside. I guess in this instance I was a “pretty good talker.” However a great talker needs to do more than smooth over an awkward question in an education meeting. A great talker needs to prove it when there is substantially more on the line. To explicate this point, let’s take a look at an incident where my friend Kelly talked some dude out of murdering us.

My friend Kelly is a great talker. Ever since I’ve known him, he’s been a serial exaggerator, however, far from being a limitation to his conversational ability, it’s a huge asset. This is because, unlike another type of exaggerator who exaggerates their own role or place in a story (let’s call this the “narcissistic exaggerator,”) Kelly instead downplays his own role while simultaneously boosting usually one other player into comic, even mythic heights (let’s call this the “comic exaggerator”). Kelly is a lawyer, and if he’s telling a story about a country lawyer he’s run across, for instance, this fellow gets built up and built up, his every mannerism and turn of phrase turned up to 11, until we have not just a comic figure, but a heroic one. As for Kelly’s own role in whatever drama he is recounting, that gets dismissed with an “aw shucks, I was just kind of there” wave of his metaphorical hand. Kelly has had this ability forever, and has honed it to an art form. I have good reason to think that his abilities as a talker are instinctual, rather than learned, however, because of an instance where he had to draw on skills far different than his normal style.

One time my friend Kelly and I decided (well he decided and I went along) to walk from suburban Spokane where he lived all the way up to a kind of resort/ lodge place high up on Mount Spokane. The walk was about 20 miles, and would take all day. Now, a 20 mile hike is one thing—that’s pretty long—however hikes can be quite pleasant for those so inclined. This was not a hike though, as the whole thing was on public roads, most of them out in the middle of nowhere. All in all, this was not the best plan Kelly ever came up with, however we set out and were about 10 or 12 miles into the trek, outside of town, when a reddish car came flying down the hill in front of us. The driver saw us and swerved right at us. This, unfortunately, is something that sometimes happens in the U.S. for reasons passing understanding. This dude though didn’t just swerve toward us a bit, he full on tried to take us out. So much so in fact that his car went perpendicular to the road and halfway into the ditch and got stuck.

This seemed bad, and my instinct was to run with Kelly into the nearby field. Kelly, however, had other ideas. The guy got out of the car and started yelling at us: “you f***ing kids…, f*** you…, etc.” Not very creative, but still pretty worrying. Kelly though had the situation in hand from the get-go. He walked right over to the guy (who was at least 10 or 15 years older than us) and started talking to him:

Hey buddy, what’s going on? You having a bad day man? Anything I can do? Looks like your car get a bit stuck there—that’s OK, my friend and I will help dig you out.

Now I knew Kelly pretty well and knew he was a good talker from way back as mentioned. But this was another level. And the effect on the irate driver was incredible. In no time at all the guy was apologizing to Kelly, telling him his woes, and asking how we could get his car out together. Sure enough a few minutes later we were all three pushing and pulling his car out of the ditch and he went on his way.

What was going on here? Kelly must have realized somehow that the driver didn’t bear any specific ill-will toward us and was just engaging in a little road-rage because he was an angry about something or other. Also, the guy’s car was truly stuck, and neither Kelly nor I are small dudes, so he might not have liked his odds if it came to a fight. But there was just something about the way Kelly approached and disarmed him so quickly that I couldn’t really wrap my mind around. I realized then that my friend Kelly was not just a good talker, he was a great talker.

Although I’ve never seen anyone else pull off what Kelly did on that day, the general form of what he did I have seen before. In fact, a very similar, but slightly lower-stakes, incident happened when I was in university and attended a fraternity party. I was not in a fraternity and didn’t want to be. I did go to some fraternity parties just because that was what people did. Occasionally these parties could be creative, but mostly usually they were every bit as cliched as you might imagine—bros broing out and trying to get laid, women doing whatever the female equivalent of broing out might be, drunk billiards in the basement, people passing out on jungle juice, etc. Not only do these sound like terrible parties now, they were pretty terrible even back then. Nonetheless, I was at one, along with some friends from my dorm including Marc Campbell. Marc is maybe not the purest form of great talker that Kelly is, but he’s pretty darn good. While Kelly’s style is often oratorical (and BS laden—more on that in a moment), Marc’s style is smoother and has more of a cool jazz feel. Where Kelly goes for the comedically dramatic exaggeration, Marc stays more in the realm of gentle patter. Both talkers though achieve a sort of hypnotic effect through their respective styles, and Marc’s patter came in handy at this particular party.

We were a group of about five, and had barely entered the door when some guy I didn’t know came up and started getting in our face for no apparent reason. He was directing his attention to another member of our group—maybe they had run into each other before? It wasn’t clear, but what was clear is that this guy was itching for a fight right out of the gate. Now I have been in plenty of situations where I have had to try to defuse something or someone from kicking off, and have some skills in this arena. However, most people’s instincts, my own included, still tend to be a little defensive. Most people, even if committed to defusal, might say something like: “hey dude, settle down. There’s no need to be so aggro man. Just chill.” This kind of approach can work, however there is no guarantee that it will. Sometimes people who are looking to pick a fight will fall back on a kind of bizarre and unwarranted self-righteousness, coming back with something like “I’m not gonna f***ing chill man—don’t tell me what to do. You wanna see aggro, I’ll give you aggro.” So the “dude settle down” approach is a bit hit or miss. Marc Campbell could do better.

Instead of telling the guy to chill, Marc Campbell pulled out a Kelly-like move. Although he was not the direct object of the guy’s ire, he went right over to the guy and stuck his hand out. “Hi I’m Marc,” he said “nice to meet you. What’s your name?” Just like that. Marc didn’t even reference the fact that this guy was acting like a total ass-clown for no reason at all—in fact he acted like he didn’t even notice it. The effect on this guy was exactly the same as with the angry driver. The guy calmed down immediately and he and Marc started rapping. In no time at all the situation was completely defused and everyone was friends.

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On the Between-Song Patter on the Bob Dylan Bootleg Record “Peco’s Blues”


Behind any work of art, pretty much, there is some kind of “process.” The scope and complexity of this process differs across art forms, of course. The writer’s process is rather different than that of, let’s say, the magician David Copperfield. I find all artistic processes fascinating, and am drawn specifically to what happens “backstage.” Backstage is a world unto itself.

In the early 1970’s, the film director Sam Peckinpah was making a film called Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, and he asked Bob Dylan to do the soundtrack. He also offered him a small role in the movie, a character called Alias. Dylan hadn’t really done a soundtrack before, nonetheless he headed down to Mexico to work on the film with Peckinpah. Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid the film is ok; it’s not my favorite Peckinpah by any means. (That is reserved for Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, with the one and only Warren Oates in the lead role. Oates around this time also starred in the film Cockfighter, which features the greatest rejected tagline of any film even “he came into town with his cock in his hands and what he did with it was illegal in 48 states.”) The Pat Garrett soundtrack in many ways transcends the film, mostly because this is where we are first introduced to “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,” which would go on to become one of Dylan’s best known songs, and is a really good soundtrack overall, however I am more interested in an extended set of outtakes from the sessions which are collected on a bootleg record called Peco’s Blues. Peco’s Blues features a number of alternate versions of the best known songs on the soundtrack, including Heaven’s Door and “Billy,” however the most interesting part of Peco’s Blues is the black and forth patter between Dylan, his sound engineer Chuck, and his band. This patter, I suggest, opens a fascinating and unique window into Dylan’s working methods and general approach to art. In what follows we will look at each incident of patter or conversation in the order they occur. All of the instances occur within the first 20 minutes of the nearly 70 minute recording as Dylan, his band, and the engineer endeavor to get on the same musical page.

Patter at the End of “Billy 2,” around the 7:34 Mark:

Dylan (D) wraps up a lengthy take of Billy 2 and asks his engineer Chuck (C):

D: Was that any good?

C: Pretty good Bob. What happened was was you hit the mic twice when you were moving around out there and we had a couple of clunks on it.

D: That’s too bad (…) Shit, I wish Sam was here. He’d know what to do.

C: That mic’s just a little more sensitive than the Sennheiser’s and I’m getting a little…

D: That’s too, uh…that’s…

C: And I’m getting a little puff of wind sometimes when you get real close to it when you sing.

D: That’s too sensitive.

C: Let me move it back a little for you Bob.

D: I think we must have got it though Chuck.

C: (with what sounds like a pencil in his mouth) Oh I recorded it, darn tootin’. I had a little puff from your voice once and you knocked the mic twice.

D: Well that might have been alls that we need.

C: You wanna, you wanna hear a playback on it?

D: Yeah, I would.


We see right away here that Dylan is the boss and that the engineer is walking on eggshells a little bit. This is made clear by Dylan’s reference to “Sam,” who he obviously thinks is a better engineer than Chuck. We have more than a little sympathy for Chuck, as it wasn’t he that knocked the mic and he is trying his best to give Dylan the relevant information.

I love how Dylan here, while implicitly criticizing Chuck, also picks up on Chuck’s framing of the microphone situation and agrees that “that’s too sensitive.” However, the relative sensitivity of the mic is not Dylan’s main concern. Dylan, famously, likes to work fast. For some of his records that has been a positive, on these the sound and performances come across as organic and coordinated, like all of the players grasped their roles and just ran with them. On other records, Dylan’s preference for speed let’s him down, and songs, and especially the production, can feel rushed, even a little sloppy. Dylan famously warred with Uber-producer Daniel Lanois, who had produced U2 and Peter Gabriel among others before Dylan asked him to produce 1989’s Oh Mercy. Oh Mercy sounds great and was Dylan’s “comeback” album after a mixed, to say the least, mid 80’s period, however Lanois’ sonic fingerprints are all over it. Too much so for Dylan, who wanted a faster, looser approach. Lanois is no pushover, and held his own with Dylan. We get the sense that Chuck is no Lanois.

So, despite the knocks on the mic and the puff of wind, Dylan is going to be fine with using this version on the record. Chuck, of course, is going to want Dylan to play it again. Chuck, or someone, would win this one because the extended take of Billy 2 here is not the one used on the final album. The little tussle between Dylan and Chuck ends in a draw as they agree to listen to the playback.

Patter at the Beginning of “Turkey,” around the 8:40 Mark:

D: Hey Roger, when I stop, when I stop, you stop. I’ll do something else and you figure it out. So it might go like this (Dylan starts playing and the band fills in a little hesitantly behind him).

D: Say Chuck, Chuck?

C: Yeah

D: Let’s take this down and mark it under, uh, Turkey…We got a buzz in the amp.

C: I’m not picking it up.

D: OK come on now.

The band plays on the instrumental Turkey for about a minute before Dylan stops.

D: OK, this is under Turkey.

Dylan begins again, and this time the band fills in much better, the song sounding fuller and tighter in all ways.


This is in my opinion the most illuminating of Dylan’s comments and gives us a window into his way of working throughout his career. As mentioned above, Dylan works fast and expects his musicians to do the same. Thus he instructs Roger that when he Dylan stops, Roger is to stop, Dylan will “do something else” and Roger needs to “figure it out.” Dylan’s instructions may not sound very fair to poor Roger, but I think they actually are. A musical team is in this case not unlike a sports team, say a basketball team, where even if an offense is running a designed play or “set,” players need to figure out what’s going on and adjust their own position and movements constantly and on the fly. There is no playbook, not set of absolute rules about how to accomplish this any more than there is a set of rules about how to follow Dylan musically. The musician, like the athlete, just has to work by feel, take in all the information around him or her, and figure it out. If they can, they will keep their job; if not, not.

Patter at the Beginning of “Billy Surrenders,” around the 18:10 Mark:

D: Let’s see now. You know, you know what we want when Billy starts (laughs) this guy Jerry Fielding’s gonna go nuts man when he hears this (laughs). You know what we want when like Pat Garrett comes down from the hills right, and all these guys come out like one by one. And Billy comes out, he’s almost standing in a circle you know, so like (indistinct) one by one and then there’s like a big pause and he stops and there’s silence. You know those big organ notes, those scary things (hums organ notes) (laughs). Can you get behind that? (Dylan and the band laughing.)


The recording of the Pat Garrett soundtrack was pretty complicated, in large part because Jerry Fielding, Peckinpah’s usual composer, was relegated to a supporting role and apparently resented it. Accounts differ as to whether Fielding quit, walked off set (and maybe came back), actually did try to advise Dylan as requested, or some combination of the above, however the history of the film makes clear that there was friction. Dylan is clearly aware of the tension with Fielding, and makes a joke about it in a place where it doesn’t even seem relevant. Dylan seems to almost revel in the conflict, setting up Fielding to his band as a “suit” who is not in the field so to speak, and who Dylan enjoys winding up with his musical choices. Whatever the exact situation with Fielding was, the issue is clearly a live one at the time of recording.

My sense is that Dylan is mostly talking to his band here, as there are a number of people in the background laughing along with Dylan through this monologue. Despite his reputation for playing fast and loose most of the time, Dylan shows a pretty good grasp of particular scenes in the film and clearly knows what he wants. The “big organ notes” he mentions do indeed feature on the soundtrack, however maybe not to the extent Dylan wanted. I have to laugh at the very 1970’s question “can you get behind that?”


Overall, Peco’s Blues provides a fascinating window into Dylan’s working methods and expectations for his crew. Of course not every musician works this way; many will give much more precise instructions I am sure, and in the era of computer aided music Dylan’s approach on Pat Garrett is certainly a old-fashioned one. But I like it. It is absolutely worth listening to the entirety of Peco’s Blues to get a sense of Dylan’s working methods as well as how a band, here playing together live and recorded live, “figures itself out” and gets from sketch to finished product. I am myself not a musician but a writer, and the writing process, although never exactly easy, is perhaps a little less complex, mostly because most writers write by themselves, with an editor or editing team looking over the work at a later date. There is nothing in writing quite like “I’ll do something else and you figure it out,” and it is the shifting, quicksilver like nature of Dylan’s approach to music making here that continues to interest me and draw me in.

Why It Is So Hard to Get Breakfast in Japan (with a dream cameo from the Gemini Donald Trump)

I live in Kyoto, Japan, and have over the years here traveled pretty widely, most especially in the greater Tokyo area. Traveling in Japan is pretty easy, as long as you have just a little spoken Japanese and can read a train map. Japanese trains are famously efficient and connect a great portion of the country, including all the major cities. I have not driven a car here for more than fifteen years, and don’t miss having a car at all. Trains and taxis get the job done just fine. Overall, I enjoy traveling in Japan, love exploring Tokyo, which contains worlds within worlds, and have no complaints about Japanese travel. Except for one. It is nearly impossible to get a good breakfast, or really any breakfast at all, when you are traveling.

Now, it is not true that Japanese people don’t eat breakfast. In fact, the archetypically standard breakfast of rice and miso soup is as well known in its way as the “full” English breakfast of sausages, toast, and beans. But the Japanese breakfast is most often eaten at home. For the traveler, the basic options are only really two, or two and a half.

I. The Hotel Breakfast

Mid-price and nicer hotels will have a breakfast option, usually a buffet with “Japanese” (e.g. rice and miso and maybe fish) and “Western” (bread and jam, possibly eggs) choices. Except in the very nicest hotels, these buffets are uniformly overpriced and also basically bad. The traveler is lucky to get away with an ¥1500-¥1800 (15 dollars or so before the recent yen devaluation) price and often has to pay north of ¥2000 for a pretty partly showing. And, budget hotels will often not have any breakfast options at all. Overall, Japanese hotel breakfasts are among the weakest I have encountered around the world, and I believe this to be symptomatic of the fact that Japanese people just do not care about breakfast when on the road, or really at all.

II. The Convenience Store (“Combini”) Breakfast

When I have raised the issue of the lack of decent breakfast in Japan, Japanese people will usually refer me to the convenience store. And, it is true that one can purchase food and coffee at any of the ubiquitous combinis, Family Mart, 7/11, Daily, Lawson, etc. Most combinis are open 24 hours a day, and they do stock a range of food items that theoretically could pass as breakfast. Hard boiled eggs, yogurt, rice balls, steamed buns, fried chicken, sometimes bananas, and hot and cold coffee are usually available in the early hours, and I have certainly been in a position to have to fall back on the combini for breakfast when traveling. And this is OK, to an extent, however most combinis don’t have places to eat said items, and in any case you can’t really call a combini breakfast “nice.” But most Japanese folks seem to regard a combini breakfast as just fine and dandy, desirable even. It is possible to admire the low expectations to a certain degree while still wishing for more.

III. Starbucks or a “Local” Coffee Shop:

Starbucks are pretty common in big cities and usually open at 7 AM (if you are lucky) or more commonly 8 AM. The food selections are overpriced and really Starbucks has never figured its food out, which is baffling; however one can grab a few combini items and smuggle them in to Starbucks, or settle for a 4 dollar piece of quiche with your Americano. I would not classify Starbucks as really having breakfast per se, however they are pleasant enough to sit in and one can create a simulacrum of breakfast there.

Then there are the local coffee shops. These, fortunately, often do open at 7 AM or even earlier, and serve strong coffee, often hand made at the counter with a drip filter, and breakfast which nearly always consists of a piece of white toast and an egg. White toast, egg, and handmade coffee with old guys reading the paper around you is, I have to admit, at least an approximation of breakfast, and I have certainly had this sort of breakfast while on the road. However still, it’s not really what we are looking for if we want a hearty and balanced breakfast. Here is no French Toast, no fruit bowl, no omelette, only very occasionally a piece of bacon, none of the staples of what we might expect in a decent and full breakfast.


And that’s about it. You can also find 24 hour beef bowl restaurants, however these are cheap as and really not the most appetizing start to the day. Other than the above options, most restaurants don’t open until 11:00 or 11:30 for lunch. The concept of brunch, dicey at the best of times, doesn’t exist outside of the swankiest of upmarket hotels. It is just really, really hard to find a good breakfast in Japan outside of one’s own home. And this, to me, is pretty strange. I mean, I acknowledge and accept that most folks in Japan have their rice and miso at home or settle for the convenience store, but metropolitan Tokyo, for example, has like 30 million people. None of these 30 million wants a full breakfast around 7 or 7:30 AM? This just seems incomprehensible. Incomprehensible as it may be, this appears to be the case. There is just no market for breakfast in Japan. I mean I’m in the market, but apparently I am not the demographic, or at least one man does not a demographic make. Go figure.

Now, I have covered the issue of Japanese breakfast, or lack thereof, to the best of my ability; however I want to say a few more things that may seem unrelated. Let’s see if we can get them to connect. Because the truth is, I dream about getting breakfast in Japan, and a number of these dreams feature the Trumpster. More precisely, they focus on the fact that the Trumpster and I share a birthday (June 14th) and are therefore both late Gemini. Late Gemini, I have good reason to believe, are uniquely dangerous and slippery, but in my dreams the Trumpster is not dangerous, and in fact he shows up in my dreams as basically an empty suit.

Trump/ Breakfast Dream I:

I am at a breakfast buffet in Japan. This is at a hotel that I am not staying at, and I may indeed be attempting to crash the buffet while masquerading as a hotel guest. Trump is there with an entourage, and he sees me staking out the buffet. I make a comment to him that we are both late Gemini, and he nods, curtly but with some minimal consideration. He sees me trying to steal the breakfast, does not care, and would probably provide cover if it came to that. He and I are not aligned, but nor are we enemies.

Trump/ Breakfast Dream II:

I am outside in the morning, standing on a dock or something of that nature. I am looking for breakfast, and not finding it. There is a commotion above me to the east, and I realize that Trump is being rolled out, literally on like coaster wheels, for a speech. He is on some kind of sliding seat and when this seat hits the balcony he stands up and postures about like Mussolini. I am watching and he sees me watching, but continues with his Mussolini act. I realize quickly that this is a total act and that he doesn’t even want to be there. He is not dangerous in this moment or in this speech, just faintly ridiculous. Still, no breakfast.


What do Trump and breakfast have to do with one another? I’m not sure yet. But I do know that Trump, although maligned by nearly everyone I know (I know a bunch of liberals), and apart from being an egotistical, mafia-adjacent, easily flattered, shape-shifting sociopath, is also pretty funny. Before I lose half of my readership, I’ll just nod to the comedian Shane Gillis, who made this point several months after Trump left office.

Has enough time passed that we can admit Trump was funny? Can we finally admit that he was funny? (…) He was funny (…) I saw it. I’d show my friends I’d say look at that. They’d be like “what?”

“It’s funny.”

“There’s nothing funny about Donald Trump.”

I don’t know, during Hurricane Dorian he was like “maybe we should nuke it” (…) Like that was a real suggestion from the President (…) “Hey we got a big storm coming, you want me to blow it up?”

They were like “no, what the fuck are you talking about?”

“I don’t know, I fuck around dude. It’s what I do.”

“I fuck around, it’s what I do,” is a great summary of Trump’s whole approach to governing. Now, is there anything funny about his terrible immigration policies, his attempted pressure of the Georgia secretary of state to “find” 1800 votes, his total disregard of democratic norms? No, not really. But is there anything funny about his speculation that maybe a little light and a little bleach could cure COVID? Why yes, there is. Is there anything funny about his noting that Frederick Douglas is getting bigger and bigger these days? Yes indeed. Is the way he pronounces “huge” funny? It’s funny to me anyway. And in my dreams, the two above being part of a series of about four or five total Trump breakfast dreams, he always shows up as semi-defanged, basically neutered, and non-dangerous. I think this is because, as a fellow late Gemini, I kind of have Trump’s number. It takes a late Gemini to know one, and I know this guy. In fact, I see right through him, to the extent that I know he’s not even there.

One other salient piece of data, there is an indie rock band called Japanese Breakfast that is getting bigger and bigger these days (they tell me “sir, this Japanese Breakfast is getting bigger and bigger these days, and I say look at that, wow, this Japanese Breakfast is really getting huge”). I don’t know them well, but they sound like the kind of band I would like. I do wonder though if their name is not an ironic nod to the fact that Japanese breakfast is not a thing. Is the band name self-effacing, or even self-erasing? Does Japanese Breakfast the band exist at all? Does Trump? There is a way in which the Trump presidential term has come to feel like a fever dream or collective delusion, a set of events that cannot really have occurred as we recall them. In this sense, the Trump presidency may in the future be subject to Phantom Time Hypothesis speculation. And he and his handlers have already played right into this speculation what with their first lady doubles, the totally unhinged press conferences with the ubiquitous helicopter waiting in the wings, and the classic Trumpism, “we’ll see what happens.”

Here is what I think. Japanese Breakfast as a band exists. The Trumpster exists, but his wife spent most of her time in the White House being doubled. Trump and I are dream doubles, and I have his number. Japanese people don’t care about breakfast. And I am always starving at around 9 AM when on the road in Japan. Someone should look into the matter. I hear the Trumpster is free these days, maybe he’s the guy for the job.

Zombie Dream

Author’s Note: I dream sometimes. Maybe you do too. And I had this dream, or this dream had me, several years ago, around 2013 as I recall. I have a pretty good idea of what it means. However communication is what the listener does, so if you have an idea feel free to post it in the comments.

I am scheduled to compete in the world wiffle ball championship match against the Chinese national team. I am batting second. The game takes place in a large indoor hall with rafters, etc. The pitcher is a regular looking Chinese man in his early 20s.

No audience is technically visible, but there is a lot of light on the situation. I am somewhat nervous. Before the first batter steps up to the plate, I sneak into the bathroom, taking an artificially long time to avoid having to bat. However, I sense that the game is waiting for me, and eventually return to the field of play. Shift scenes, and I am still competing in the wiffle ball championship but now instead of a large open space I am batting across a table like a ping pong table. There is about 5 feet between me and where the pitcher will stand. There is no pitcher. I swing my bat and try to look composed.

From the far end of the hall, a new pitcher emerges. He is clearly Chinese, but his face is swaddled in bandages. He wears a grey cloth cap with ear flaps. What little of his face is visible is snowy white. He is a zombie. The new pitcher is flanked by military men who prop him up to some degree. It is clear that he had been disinterred only for this occasion. Grey from head to toe. He takes his place across the table, but before the first pitch one of the military escorts tells me that the pitcher wishes for me to kiss him. This seems like an unnecessary form of gamesmanship, but not wanting to offend I agree.

The pitcher rounds the table and raises his left arm high in the air. He is wearing a grey T-shirt. The area where I am supposed to kiss turns out to be a kind of bumpy lymph node. It is fully revolting. Two hecklers behind me suggest that the lymph node is coated with cyanide. I try to ignore this suggestion, feeling that this is simply more gamesmanship. The zombie pitcher lines up to pitch. I dig in and focus. The pitch comes, and I hit it toward center field.

Suddenly, the zombie transforms himself into the most beautiful woman I have ever seen. She is also Chinese, but an archetype of all women. She fields the ball herself and tries to tag me out as I reach for second base. Too late, and I double. But, she clearly could have tagged me if she wanted to–this is clear to both she and I. Nonetheless, I am relieved. I’ll take the double. The zombie is nowhere to be seen, but a sense of unease lingers. The archetypal female is also the zombie. This is unsettling.

People are looking at me as if in expectation of some kind of comment. I have nothing to say.


The lingering image from the dream is the grey cloth cap and the white face. The zombie is both terrifyingly composed and also a little pitiable as he clearly serves such a narrow function for the glory of the state. And, I doubled off of him/her.

The Thin Man in Rome, Part II: At the Jazz Club

My baby’s gonna pay for me.

The National

Dateline The Jazz Club: November 5th, 17:54

The thin man met Grey in the lobby as promised where Grey handed him several hundred Euros as well as some American dollars. “Just in case we get separated,” Grey said. The thin man could take care of himself ok at a poolside party in Singapore, however tonight’s action already felt a little different. He wondered if Grey was carrying a gun. Happy as he was to have the cash, the thin man hoped Grey would not stray too far afield. The driver had the car ready, and they drove the 20 minutes to the jazz club.

Once inside (the doors had actually soft-opened sometime before 18:00) the thin man takes the place in. It’s a pretty large club with a stage area in front, a bar to the left, and a sound booth in the middle with aisles on each side so that patrons could feed back into a lobby area where another bar is set-up, as well as space for the “merch table.”

There are already 20 or 30 people inside, drinking, talking, smoking. The thin man decides to buy a pack of cigarettes–cigarettes are a great ice breaker and the thin man will need to break some ice later on. He asks for American Spirits, yellow, and the bartender hands them over.

“Who’s playing tonight?” asks the thin man in English.

“The Peter Andreessen Trio,” replies the bartender in the same language. “They are pretty popular, and a little far out.”

Far out, thinks the thin man. Far out is good. I can work with far out. He sees Grey across the room, sitting with two younger men. Neither of these looks much like a senior vice-president. The thin man starts to move toward the group but Grey shakes his head, almost imperceptibly. Guess we don’t know each other, thinks the thin man. Makes sense. He recalibrates mentally for a second–he’s just here to take in a little jazz and maybe hit on some women. Or one particular woman perhaps.

He orders a white lady, gin and Cointreau, on the rocks. The thin man is a dabbler, in life and in alcohol, and white ladies are there to be dabbled in. He starts to circulate, moving easily, just looking to make conversation. One of the men Grey had been talking to is at the back bar and the thin man approaches.

“Hi, I’m Jack.”

“Hey Jack,” says the man, “I’m Philip. You here for some jazz?” Philip has what sounds like an American accent, and the thin man guesses he works for Company X in some capacity.

“Sure am,” says the thin man. “I’m a big jazz fan, but I don’t know these guys tonight. Do you know anything about them?”

“Yeah, I saw them play before here in town. They’re from Norway and they’re pretty far out.”

“Cool,” says the thin man, “sounds like fun. Where are you from Philip?”

“From the USA man, Kentucky originally. But I’ve been living here in Rome for about two years.”

“What do you do?”

“I work for a company called Company X. I’m in the marketing department, and I report directly to a vice-president over here. It’s a pretty good gig.”

“Company X huh? I think I’ve heard of them. Aren’t they in talks to buy the Green Group or something?”

“Yeah, that’s right,” replies Philip. “You’re up to speed on the business news.”

“I dabble,” says the thin man, “but I don’t know much more than that. Is anyone else from your company going to be here tonight?”

“There should be a few of us, yeah. I think my boss is coming too, with his new girlfriend.” Philip leans closer to the thin man and says quietly “you gotta check this chick out man. She’s got it all going on. She’s called Maya and she just arrived in town like three weeks ago. My fuckin’ boss moves fast man.”

“It’s good to be the boss I guess,” says the thin man.

“Yeah man,” says Philip. “What ya drinking?”

“It’s called a white lady. You should order one too.”

“Maya’s a white lady too I think. Not really sure. I think she was in Eastern Europe before somewhere. Anyway, I should stop talking about Maya, it’s bad form I guess.”

The thin man laughed. “Not bad form at all. I’m interested. What does she do here in Rome?”

“I’m not really sure. She’s living at the Plaza, probably on my boss’ dime. I think she’s in corporate in some way. You can ask her yourself, she should be here soon.”

“I’d like to meet her,” said the thin man. “If you would be kind enough to make an introduction.”

“Sure thing. I’m not sure you’re her type but you never know. She likes action, and money.”

“Well I don’t have any money,” replies the thin man, “but maybe I can generate a little action. Let’s see how things go.”

The thin man and his new friend chat a little more, before a woman who looks to be in her early thirties comes in with an older man in a suit with no necktie. The suit looks sharp, maybe not as sharp as our driver’s outfit, but sharp, however the man inside it looks like he’s got some things going on. His hair is slightly out of place and he looks around the club rapidly. He’s a little jumpy. The woman is dressed in a stunning black dress with a fur coat on top, low-cut heels, and a necklace with a ruby inside. Philip waves at them and they wave back. This must be Maya, thinks the thin man. Very intriguing.

As Maya checks her coat, the VP approaches the bar.

“Good to see you Philip,” he says. “Maya was running a little late as usual and I was afraid we’d miss the first part of the show. What are you drinking?”

“It’s called a white lady,” says Philip, “he turned me on to it.” Philip gestures toward the thin man who has already turned slightly to face the duo. The VP offers his hand to the thin man.

“Alan McKnight,” he says, “white ladies eh?”

“Jack Bishop,” says the thin man. “Yes sir, there is nothing more satisfying than a white lady after a long day.”

“I have no doubt,” says McKnight, “but I think I’ll just have a beer. Maya might try one of those though, she like her fancy cocktails.”

His beer arrives as Maya comes over to join the group. She glances at the thin man before turning to McKnight.

“Buy me a martini darling. Two olives.” She speaks with the absolute assurance of someone who never has to pay her own way.

As the bartender is mixing her martini a few notes from a saxophone drift back from the area of the stage. The band is setting up, testing instruments.

“I won’t even have time to enjoy my beer before the show starts,” complains McKnight. “I wish you didn’t take so long to get ready honey.”

Maya turns up her nose–McKnight’s salvo doesn’t even merit a reply. The thin man still hasn’t been introduced to Maya, so he comes one step closer and says “hi I’m Jack. I was just chatting with Philip before you guys came in. Philip says you’re new to Rome?”

“This time around, yes,” she says. “I used to live here though, so I know the city.”

“How long will you be staying?” asks the thin man.

“As long as he’ll have me,” she replies, turning to McKnight. “Right darling?”

McKnight is not paying attention. “Uh, right, uh huh.”

“I said you’re going to keep me around aren’t you?”

“Of course I am.” McKnight has regained his focus. “You know how much I treasure you honey.”

The thin man finds all this talk pretty banal, but it does provide some insight into Maya and McKnight’s relationship. McKnight might well treasure her, however he is also clearly unhappy with certain aspects of their relationship. In addition, he is continuing to look around as if he was expecting someone or something. The thin man wonders if McKnight has a suspicion that all was not what it seemed with Maya. He might realize this on an instinctual level without guessing, for example, that she might be a corporate spy.

“Shall we go up front? The show’s about to start,” says Philip.

The group takes their drinks and moves past the sound booth to get a good view of the stage. The thin man looks around surreptitiously but sees no sign of Grey. He does see the driver however, leaning against the inside bar and smoking a cigarette. The thin man makes a strategic decision to separate temporary from the Company X crew. If he’s going to make a move on Maya tonight it’s better that he approaches from a more oblique angle anyway.

The thin man walks across to the bar and stands next to the driver. Although Grey had indicated that the he should act like a stranger, the room is filling up and he feels like a little chat can’t hurt anything. He keeps his voice low though, just as a matter of tradecraft.

“I didn’t get your name before,” says the thin man. “Mine’s Jack.”

“Ali,” says the man. “Making any progress?” He is apparently entirely up to speed with this evening’s operation.

“Hard to say. I’ll need more time. Do you work for Company X as well?”

“Not I,” says Ali in perfectly inflected English. “Grey doesn’t either, really. We’re contractors.”

“I see. Have you worked together long?”

Ali looks at the thin man and pauses. For just a second the thin man sees something flash in the man’s eyes, something close to sadness. Then it’s gone, and the man says matter of factly, “I’ve known Grey for thirty years. We’re partners.”

All of the sudden a tallish women comes on stage and, without a word, begins playing what looks to the thin man like a mini-theremin. The keening notes of this unusual instrument fill the room, and Ali looks at the thin man with a slight smile and shrugs. Mini-theremin may or may be not be Ali’s cup of tea, but he’s a gamer, and the thin man feels warmly toward him. The theremin player starts ramping things up and a second musician joins her on stage and, again without a word, begins playing the saxophone, loudly and erratically. The show has begun.

to be continued…