Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Brill-o: The Ultimate Punishment

Not his actual tattoo
      In March 1993, a month before I turned 21, I got a tattoo with my best friend Michelle.  This was back when having a tattoo was a relatively unheard of thing unless you were a biker or a pirate, back when every person didn’t run out on their 18th birthday and get some inspirational quote tattooed on their neck, back when it was still a rebellious act.  It was even more so of a rebellious act considering I knew I would have to hide it indefinitely from my Gram.  Years earlier, my uncle had gotten a quarter-sized panther head on his calf.  
He proudly showed it to my Gram, who responded by grabbing him by the back of his neck and the seat of his pants and throwing him down a flight of stairs.


Again, not my actual tattoo
I did not want said fate to happen to me, so I had my tattoo placed on my right shoulder, where I could hide it forever.
      I did so successfully in March, April, and May, while I was still in college.  When I got home, I made sure I never walked around the house in a towel for fear she would see it.  I got through June, July… and most of August.

Staten Island Mall 
It was an unbearably hot day and Michelle and I were heading out to the Staten Island Mall to soak up the free air conditioning.  Gram was going to a wedding (I’m going to assume it wasn’t a family member, because I wasn’t invited.  Maybe it was family and they just didn’t like me, those bastards).  She was getting dressed while Michelle and I sweated in the kitchen and plotted out our coping skills for dealing with the Staten Island guidos and pitying poor Gram in her purple dress and panty hose.  
Type of people we were trying to avoid

      It was so hot, and I decided to wear a baggy shirt that sometimes slipped off a shoulder. I had my tattoo for a whopping five months, and so I got careless.  When Gram asked me to get her corsage out of the fridge, I bent down and my shirt predictably exposed the tattooed shoulder in question.
      Now normally, Gram didn’t see so hot.  She wore glasses
Hypothetical bathtub with my clothes... on fire
and didn’t much pay attention to my outfits and often threatened that one day I would come home and find all of my clothes in the bathtub… on fire.  Sometimes she would switch it up and say “covered in bleach.”  She was spiteful like that sometimes.  She never did it, but the threat was always there.
      I reached down to get the corsage which of course was on the bottom shelf, nestled between cans of Diet Pepsi and some mozz’. Her usual not-so-great sight suddenly became eagle-eyes.
Damn corsage!
“What’s that on your shoulder?”
      Michelle, the queen of subtly, threw her hands in the air and proclaimed loudly, “I don’t know anything, I don’t know anything!” and ran to the bathroom where she locked herself in. 
      Quick thinker that I was, I tried to play it off.  “Oh, it’s one of those temporary tattoos, Gram, no biggie.”
      Gram was not convinced.  In 2.5 seconds, she sprinted out of her chair (she was 63 at the time) and pulled me by my ear to the kitchen sink, grabbed a Brill-o pad, and began scrubbing my tattoo with it and scalding hot water.
      Granted, it was healed, so it wasn’t like she was scrubbing a brand new tattoo, but still, having a angry Italian woman scrub your back with Brill-o like it’s burned on sauce at the bottom of a pan HURTS!
Not recommended for removing tattoos.  Excellent tool for forcing a confession out of your granddaughter.
      (all this while, Michelle is still in the bathroom yelling, “I don’t know anything, I don’t know anything!”)
      “IT’S! NOT! COMING! OFF!” she yelled, scrubbing harder.  At this point, she undoubtedly knew that it was not a temporary tattoo, and was Brill-oing me for the sheer enjoyment of it all.
      “Okay, okay!  It’s real, it’s real!”
      Gram threw the Brill-o in the sink, picked up the nearest dishtowel and began hitting me with it.  “You’re an asshole!” she said, “Does your mother know about this?”
      I explained that everyone knew about it, everyone except her.
      Michelle, assuming the cat was out of the bag, came out of the bathroom.
Not Michelle's tattoo
      “Do you know about this too?” Gram asked her.
      “Yeah, I got one at the same time.”  Michelle then proceeded to show Gram her twin dolphins holding up the world.

      “Well, then you’re an asshole too.”
      She went to the wedding, we went to the mall, and it wasn’t talked about again.
* * * * *
      I wish I could say that Gram learned to love and appreciate tattoos, but she did not.  I’m planning on getting a memorial tattoo for her in the next few weeks.  I know somewhere in Heaven, she’s looking down calling me an asshole right now.
Up there, she's calling me an asshole

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Who doesn't?

Did you ever meet someone who, when asked what they are into, replies, “I like music.”

Um, hello vague.  That’s like saying, “I enjoy food.”

Who DOESN’T like some sort of music?  Who can honestly say that they detest all music and never listen to music ever? I think the answer is no one.

Of course, there are different levels of “liking music.”  Some people play.  Some people compose.  Some people have extensive collections.  Some people attend concerts like it is their job.  Some live with ear buds permanently attached to their ears. (Ahem, my daughter).  Some fit into all the above categories. 

Students often ask me the type of music I’m into.  Sometimes they assume and sometimes they guess.  They are usually wrong. 

No, I don’t like metal.  I never did.  I don’t like any modern bands and don’t listen to the radio other than NPR.  In fact, I don’t think I have fallen in love with a new song in many, many years.

I’m boring.  I still listen to the same music I have listened to for the past twenty plus years.  I still like the same artists I did in high school.  My top eleven (I tried ten, but I couldn’t decide) favorite songs really have not changed in the past twenty-five years or so.  Sometimes the order changes, but that’s about it.  Maybe that’s lame.  I told you, I’m boring. 

So, I figured I’d share it.  I hope some of you have heard of at least one!  I have even included some of my favorite lines.

I would love to make the music video for this…  I mean a real one.

"Do you remember when
You laid beside me?
And you said you'd marry  me?
And not deny me?"

I heard this for the first time when I was taking a year off from NYU.  I remember watching it with my brother Kenny.  At one point, the entire band was in a tree.  It was gorgeous.

"Some say I'm vague
And I easily fade
Foolish parade of fantasy...
Drink in your eyes,
Drink in your sighs,
Grass on my thighs,
My aching legs."

When I hear this on Pandora, I rock out.  I don’t care who is watching!   Favorite lines,

“I’ll read to you, here, save your eyes.
You’ll need them, your boat is at sea.
Your anchor is out, you’ve been swept away.
And the greatest of teachers won’t hesitate
To leave you there by yourself chained to fate…”

That’s deep shit, yo.

I remember playing this on repeat when I was decorating my dorm room at USM.  Carrie Mae, who I didn’t know at the time, sat opposite my door and just listened.  I  knew I liked her for a reason.

Favorite line “Post nubila, Phoebus.”  It means, “After clouds, sun.”

Gorgeous, gorgeous song…

"Won't you stay? Won't you stay?
You were in my head today.
I closed my eyes to try to make you stay."

6. “Destiny” ~ Zero 7 (especially the acoustic version!)

This features Sia who is uber popular right now when she was with Zero 7.  I LOVE this song. 

"The journey's long and I feel so bad
I'm thinking back to the last day we had.
Old fades into the new
And soon I know I'll be back with you.
I'm nearly with you.

When I'm weak, I draw strength from you
And when you're lost, I know how to change your mood
And when I'm down, you breathe life over me.
Even though we're miles apart, 
We are each other's destiny."

"When I lay down my head,
At the end of my day
Nothing would please me better
Than to find that you're there
When I wake."

At one point, my mother forbid me from listening to this because she thought it was pro-suicide.  Um.  No.

"We eagerly wait to feel the labors of love...
Maybe life isn't what it seems...

Beneath a grapefruit moon, we would roll in the grass
You said these times must never pass.
I know in love is where you wanted to be,
But when I ran, you didn't follow me."

"Let me in, let me in, I'll give you candy.
Let me in, let me in, I'll give you avocados.
That's much more than most people have to offer."

Radiohead is always deep, but this is INTENSE.  It's trippy as hell.  Tell me what YOU think the lyrics mean:

"Everything, everything, everything, everything in it's right place.
Yesterday I woke up sucking a lemon.
There are two colors in my head.
What was that you tried to say?"

This has been my number one song since February 1987.  I’m not kidding.  I was a freshman in high school and the then love of my life, Harry Lupo, and I were on the phone.  He asked me what I was listening to and I said “War” by U2.  I had just gotten the RECORD (yes, RECORD) in the mail from one of those record clubs (remember those?  Do they even exist anymore?) 

He asked me if I had listened to “Drowning Man” which was the last song on the first side.  I hadn’t yet since I had just put it on. 

“Well, I want you to listen to it.  It used to be my favorite song, but now I’m giving it to you.” 

I laughed.  I wasn’t about to have someone ELSE decide what my favorite song was. 

After we hung up, I listened to it. I mean REALLY listened to it.

Take my hand

You know I'll be there

If you can 

I'll cross the sky for your love.

For I have promised

For to be with you tonight

And for the time that will come.

Take my hand

You know I'll be there

If you can 

I'll cross the sky for your love.

And I understand

These winds and tides

This change of times

Won't drag you away.

Hold on, and hold on tightly.

Hold on, and don't let go of my love.

The storms will pass, it won't be long now.

This love will last, this love will last forever.

And take my hand, you know I'll be there.

If you can I'll cross the sky for your love.

Give you what I hold dear.

Hold on, hold on tightly.

Hold on, and hold on tightly.

Rise up, rise up with wings like eagles.

You run, you run.

You run and not grow weary.

Hold on, and hold on tightly. 

Hold on, hold on tightly 

This love, lasts forever.

Now this love lasts forever.

I was hooked.  I think I listened to it fifty times in a row.  “Give you what I hold dear?”  “The storm will pass?”  These words have sustained me for almost thirty years.  I believe they will continue to do so.  

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Student Work

It should go without saying that my students are brilliant, funny, and just freakin' awesome people to be around.  I am always impressed by their academic work, but sometimes their creative work really blows my mind.

Advanced Placement Language and Composition is NOT a particularly creative class.  I give them a teeny tiny window to express their creativity... and they run with it. 

Here are some particularly fabulous ones.

Kailee and Evan's Catcher in the Rye trailer

Dailey, Daisy, Kay, Kelly, and Vivian's Glass Castle trailer

Berina and Ajla's Catcher in the Rye trailer

Adis, Ajla, Berina, Dzevida, and Ish's Scarlet Letter video

Bails, Emma, and Neila's Catcher video

Alanna, Natale, Chris, and Leonely's Two Trains Running video

Alex's SUPER creative book interpretations:

1.  The cottage from A Thousand Pieces of Gold made out of CUT cardboard

2.  Holden Caulfield's head -- one side is his 16-year-old side and the other is his childlike nature MADE ENTIRELY OUT OF SODA CANS!

Here is also the newly formed Young Filmers Club award winning recycling video!