Two Teachers, From Sir With Love

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How did I end up here? So many years spend meandering through paths ,so many detours, and now I sit with a handful of accomplishments that have long ago worn out there welcome and a plethora of stories to tell. Not much else. True every once in a while I get another flicker of brilliance, a new recipe here, a great idea for a short story there, but overall nothing lasting. Now instead of looking to see what’s up ahead in the path I find myself peeking backward noting where I may have chosen a path better to have avoided, or another better to have taken. That’s the lament of aging, reflecting on where we’ve been and where we may have gone, and how we ended up where we are now.
The times I do look in my rearview mirror the most inspiring image I see is two teachers who attempted to direct me along a path they believed not only was I suited for, but a path that was suited for me. During my hours of reflections of my life I often pause and take some time to consider these two women, two adults during my formative years, that were perhaps the only ones who truly believed in me back then. I don’t dwell on what may have been but I do often regret I hadn’t given them as much consideration as they gave me. I can’t go back, no redo, but what I can do is seize the opportunity to give props to two extraordinary teachers. Mrs. Kirshenbaum, and Ms. Kitty Lindsey, though I never showed it you were both a major inspiration to me. This then is for you, with much love from me.
While in the sixth grade my teacher, Mrs. K., told me I had a creative ability and I should consider pursuing a career in writing. But it was sixth grade, I had recently discovered that not only do girls not have cooties, but kissing them was pretty awesome. I had my first steady girlfriend and career was the farthest thing from my mind. Not to be stifled Mrs. K published an essay I wrote in the school paper, The School Bell. The Bell was a four to six sheet newspaper that went to every household. Mrs K. asked the class to write an essay on what we expect of the move from elementary school to junior high school. I titled my essay “Great Expectations”. I hadn’t read the book but saw it in the library and I dug the title. Although filled with misspellings and grammatical miscues it was an intense view of what I expected when we left the confines of elementary school and braved the new world of junior high (middle school to you younger readers) Nothing about Mrs. Habersham, no Pip, that would become required reading much later, but in my Great Expectations I explored the benefits and dangers of going from the comfort of a single classroom to the unknown experiences of numerous teachers in numerous rooms, in a huge school with way too many dark nooks and cranny’s. Not to mention big kids! Mrs. K was blown away, the principal agreed, even Mom liked it, but no one other than Mrs. K mentioned anything about a future associated with writing.
When seventh grade came it was even more of a challenge than I expected and I learned even more about girls which became an obsessive distraction. My writing career was quickly forgotten and remembering locker combinations and girls names became far more important. Halfway into the year I was introduced to another distraction, marijuana. I had been drinking the occasional beer, hanging outside a store until someone of age could be finagled into buying some for beer or Ripple wine for us, but weed opened up a whole new culture. New skills had to be acquired, cleaning the pot, rolling it into joints, getting the red out of our eyes, self control when something seemed so funny I wanted to burst, and maintaining in class. That meant putting my best face forward to look as straight as possible so nary a soul could tell I had smoked weed. Now I had two major forces in my life, girls and weed. Not to brag but I was getting pretty good at both. The school itself performed its expected task, to prepare me for the world I would be thrown into after school is over. They hired guidance counselors to talk to us in 9th grade that would help take our recently shaped minds and steer them towards the area that we were best suited for in “real life”. Good theory, but in practice they met with our parents to discuss where they wanted our fertile minds steered. “He seems to be pretty good in math, maybe a career in the stock market” “Maybe he should take business math, lots of work for accountants.” After tossing around a few ideas they finally asked me what I wanted. By this point I had been smoking weed and was no longer a virgin. I was obsessed with rock and roll, as well as its subculture of Hippiedom. At first I mistakenly believed my parents cared about what I wanted, “Well…..I think joining the Peace Corps would be cool”. The counselor stared blankly, Dad glared angrily, but dear ole Mom was in denial, “Oh he’s just kidding, aren’t you honey? Tell us which of the careers we chose you like the most.” The time had come, “What I want is to choose my own path, not have you guys tell me which way to go. I want to help people, I like being with people and the Peace Corps does great things and helps lots and lots of people. That’s what I want to do. I’ll keep a diary of my travels and maybe someday write a book about it.”
This was the first of a long string of awkward silences I would share with my parents. Finally my Mom laughed, “Oh JT, stop now! That’s not what you really want.” Dad weighed in quickly, “Don’t be a fool JT, there’s no money in the peace corps, just a bunch of dirty hippies, Mr. Gunther has given you some great ideas of what you can do and you’re going to listen to him and decide which one you want!” It was clear I wasn’t needed in the conversation anymore so I just sat there and listened. They proceeded to shape my life for me as I daydreamed, wishing I had a joint in my pocket. When the meeting was over they were all feeling very positive of my future and I had been instructed to read the stock market pages of the newspaper each day. I went back to class discouraged.
For me Senior High started in tenth grade. After three years of building schoolyard creds and being king shits, we were thrown back at the bottom to be tortured and humiliated by the juniors and seniors. Even the janitors picked on us. I learned quickly that my skill of acquiring weed was a fantastic equalizer, and within a month I was accepted into the fold of the older kids who bought weed from me. Also in tenth grade I met the one teacher who, had I allowed her, would have hand led me down a path of writing. In her English class she had us write a short story without boundaries, whatever turned us on. I had two idea’s I wanted to do so I handed both stories to her. The first was a kind of science fantasy, in which the biggest traffic jam in history caused a dome of carbon monoxide killing near everyone. A post apocalyptic before I had a clue what that meant. The second was a tragic love story, kind of my hip version of Bonnie and Clyde that starts out with a young couple in love waking up after a night of heavy LSD tripping outside a stolen cop car. They wake up confused and still stoned at a reservoir that supplies the town below with water and planned a scheme to fill it with liquid LSD. I then went into a few households and described the effects of tripping It was crudely written with not much finesse but jam packed full of twisted imagination. I had drawn on my recent experiments with LSD which at that time had amounted to a half dozen trips. I wrote it in a somewhat rebellious attitude. Mrs. Lindsey, or “Kitty” as she had her students call her asked me to stay behind after reading it.
My original fear was she would chastise me or turn me in for writing about drugs, but to my pleasant surprise she praised the concept and creative spirit and implored me to sign up for her creative writing course. The second influential person in my life assured me I had a talent. I was pretty blown away, I have a warped imagination, but that’s not a talent, that’s a personality trait. Regardless, Kitty felt if I was given instruction I could write, all I needed was to learn sentence structure and grammar, and for someone to unleash my creativity. I thought it was worth a shot so I promised to sign up. Writing was the one thing I had always enjoyed. I had a spiral notebook of poems, observations, and story concepts I titled “Ramblings.” I never let anyone read the notebook because I had the self esteem of an earthworm. Still, I couldn’t wait to get home and give Mom and Dad the good news.
One persons good news is another’s persons complete waste of time. “What the Hell do you mean become a writer? Writing isn’t a real job, you want a real job.” “Dad, you have no idea what I want because you never listen to me. I hate the godamn stock market, I hate business, and I am never going to be an accountant, that’s not what I want.” Mom just cried but Dad wasn’t finished, “I know exactly what you want JT, you want to sit around on your lazy ass all day and watch TV. You think anyone will pay you to do that? No! I’m telling you what you’re gonna be and you will listen young man. You WILL read the stock market everyday, and you Will take business math. I don’t care what this teacher of yours says you do not have any talent and even if you did you’ll never make a living from it. You can tell this Mrs. Lindsey of yours you won’t be in creative writing you’ll be in business math. Kitty! What the hell is this teacher doing having her student call her by a nickname anyway, what the hell are we paying taxes for, for your teacher to be your friend? You will take business math and get this writing crap out of your head now!” That discussion would define my relationship with my father for the next 30 years. After that day I didn’t miss any opportunity to piss him off. I grew my hair, I wore an American flag bandana, I bought red whit and blue sneakers, I spoke of protests and rallies, signed petitions, attended sit ins, and let him know where I was during those anti American moments. I read very profound books, Aldous Huxley, Herman Hesse, Ayn Raynd, Kurt Vonnegut. I read political and hip books by Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, Jack Kerouk, Tom Robbins. I defiantly took creative writing and went to class high.
A little too high, with an imagination that did not connect with any of my classmates. I was too “out there” for them, they wanted to be serious writers, Steinbecks or Dickens, and resented me an everything I stood for. I was in a class loaded with hitters, or straits, kids who followed every rule, seldom took a chance, and only saw the principals office on official business, never for disciplinary action which was what I went there for on a weekly basis. I was alienated and withdrawn in class, then started cutting. First a day here or there, then a few in a row, until I stopped attending altogether.
From there I took a myriad of path turns, none of which involved writing. I went from pot sink suds buster extraordinaire at a local restaurant, to line cook at Windows On The World, worked my way up to a B level chef in NYC, then ultimately a chef/owner. I left my dreams of writing packed away in an obscure box gathering dust in the attics of my youth. Until now! I have literally turned a page and gone head first into writing, a blog here, a published story there, an hopefully before my flame of creative energy gets to too dim will have a collection of short stories or perhaps that great American novel that has been hiding out for so long. Never give up on a dream, don’t let other people define your limits. Your imagination never rests and loves exercise, so exercise it daily. No matter what you enjoy pursue it before it passes by you. I work every day now on writing something, an I truly believe I have at least one good novel in me to finish. If I do, I know exactly who will be in the dedication, my two teachers.

Punny You Should Say That (An Owed To Joy)

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I heard someone say that puns are the slowest form of humor yet it takes a remarkably quick wit. Actually I think I may have heard slowest wrong but after being stalked by corny jokes for so long my ears hear colonel when its really kernel. I get it, they really said it’s the lowest form of humor but I’m still in limbo as to how low to set that bar. At any rate, puns are a play on words that can make a kid kid another kid or make a grown man groan so I want to pay my respect. I normally write in my boxers but I’ll try to keep this in brief.
When I was all of six years old I discovered the power of a pun. We had a gas station named Citgo and one day in the car, with Dad driving, Mom in the front, my little sister between them in babyseat and me squished in between my four older brothers and I made a bold statement. I said “Hmmm, Citgo, where you can sit and go.” Meaning getting gas I raised my arms to pantomime driving. Apparently my driving imitation looked more like someone moving their bowels and the family roared with laughter. That’s when I realized I could use English language to get noticed by pretending to have irritable vowel syndrome if I really pumped up the the puns I could keep them giggling consonantly. I had discovered the lowest form of humor and it lifted me up.
If puns are low its because they are the foundation of clever of humor. They’re black and white and read all over, they’re the reason the chicken crossed the road having its intentions come into question, It’s why it takes three pole dancers to erect a light bulb, and the basis of the omnipresent schoolyard knock knock jokes. All great comedians are pun practioners and are adept at sailing double entendres at triple warped mind speed leaving us land lubbers rolling in the Isles. Whether it’s a three act play on words, a homophone, which as it turns out is not a gay cellular device, or just a simple unmarried Miss direction puns take sharp and fast tongues to verbalize a stream of consciousness quick as a lick. Many punsters, myself included become almost obsessed, trying to twist everything they hear. Someone introduces me to Isabelle and I hear is a bell and feel combelled to chime in with a ringing endorsement about jingle jangling word association. A Pavlonian response that has me salivating at the a peal of making someone smile. If there is a low form of puns it cums from the perverse endless sexual innuendo punster. Those who chuckle and plan at the mention of such easy target words like woody, erect, hole, or the mention of Master Bates. It’s a favorite of that uncle who continues to play pull my finger well past its age appropriateness. For me sexual in your endo jokes are just too easy, like your mom was last night. But it will always have a place in punditry because like splinter religions, sects sells. A truly great pun takes an extraordinary amount of cleverness and thought using one ability to instantly see verbal connections where others see mere words and plugging the pun in before it sinks in. Great puns are like hand grenades because you pull the pin and wait for it to blow up. That’s why I pay homage. That and the fact that I still owe Homage a lot of money. I’m a self proclaimed lover of all things punny. Puns are a part of everyone’s daily life these days and no news story is complete without slinging some puntastic zingers.. Here’s a somewhat exaggerated example:
This just in from Know News is Good noose:
FRUIT LOOPY
A cereal killer is believed on the loose in General Mills campgrounds and campers experiencing in tents fear. Police canvassing their tented community in search of the frosted wheat whacker who is making the campers snap, crackle, and pop. They believe the perp is Cuckoo for Cocoa puffs so The Cap’n is putting the crunch on by running background Chex on all adults using hare brained tricks because every bunny knows that Trix are for kids….

But news stations really do use puns to make their point as in headlines such as “Chickens Cry Fowl” or “Locksmith Plays Key Roll In Bakery Break In.” Another area often engaging in punnery is just about every TV show and movie ever made. The best bantering between actors are scripted with artistic puns. It takes an artist to draw laughs from sketches. Without puns the artist draws a blank but looking around in a room packed with punsters the artist can draw a crowd. So much for a low form, it takes a highly evolved mind to come up with such clever comedy. Dimwitted humor pales in comparison. Slap stick falls flat, bathroom humor smells, and I suck at self deprecation. Sarcasm can be a little bitter, but not much better.

Today puns are significantly more evolved than the early days. I grew up with lines like “Take my wife. Please!” or “I just flew in from Baltimore and boy are my arms tired.” Today it takes much deeper thought because once jokes are use they become less funny. Ten years ago we had Bob Hope, Johnny Cash, Eddie Money, and Steve Jobs, and today all we have this worn out and tired old joke format. Take my wife is now I married Miss right, but I didn’t know at the time her first name was always, and flying in from Baltimore gets morphed to I can’t leave because I was on the third floor of the airport with someone else’s stuff and came down with something. There are a lot of people in the airport so I hope its not terminal or the only thing flying out of here will be rumors. Anyway, IMHO, like rock and roll the puns colors are true so punnery will never dye.
Thanks for taking the time to read this pun praising piece. This thoroughly enjoyable (for me) excursion was inspired by a high school English teacher of mine whom I have had the fortune of reconnecting with on social media. Professor Jim Zeitler shares my profound love of the English Language and our abilities to twist, invert, dissect, misdirect, turn inside out or upside down the words that make up our language to make others smile, laugh, or most important, to think. Jim sent me a book by John Pollack called “The Pun Also Rises” which delves into the history of puns and its impressive how deep and rich the history of witty wordplay is and how long it has been an art form. I dedicate this post to him because while my high school daze are way behind me his dedication to instructing and constructing minds is still going strong and I assume he will forever teach many of us new things. He has once again taught me things dispelling the age old cliché “You can’t teach and old dog new tricks.” And trust me, this old hound dog learned things he can sink his canines in and I’m not peeling the bark off the wrong tree. Okay no more, I’ll stop, I’m bushed anyway! Thank you Jim Zeitler, your wit an wisdom continues to reach out and inspire minds both young and old. … PEACE