Teacher Of The Year

May 22, 2012

Miss Chisolm is the teacher of the year, so sayeth the plastic-letters on the marquee of an elementary school I pass each morning on the way to work.

I don’t recall any of the schools which I attended awarding such an honor.

The students, of course, had teachers who were deemed as favorites.

Mrs. Winston in seventh grade was popular as she was young, good-natured, and the closest any of us had ever gotten to a woman who could have been one of Charlie’s angels.

Z was held in high regard with us as freshmen and sophomores in high school. He was a lanky cat in his early thirties with a well-played moustache who was a coach for some of us and entertained all of us with his irreverant attitude, colorful language and affection for rock and roll.

Not surprisingly, the young and the hip were often among the top draws.

There were, though, veteran teachers who, as the result of years of service, teaching generations of the townsfolk, were beloved.

Mrs. Sulley was amongst that group and was retiring at the end our freshman year in high school. She was kindly enough that the worst thing we did was blow soap bubbles in the back of class.

After several days, Mrs. Sulley finally decided to come back to investigate, leading my buddy Beej to suggest that the bubbles had emanated from his socks which he had pulled from a soapy washer that morning.

(she seemed amused by his inventiveness)

At the other end of the spectrum was Mr. Haynes, an emaciated doppelganger of Gene Shalit, clad in plaid polyester pants and sweater vests who taught senior English.

He had the reputation of being a bully.

Me and my friends were bright, bored, and creatively disruptive when we had Mr. Haynes for senior English.

It had all the makings of Thunderdome.

The year was devoted to Greek mythology and Mr. Haynes did indeed seem to relish his power.

And we drove hard to the hoop, antagonizing him as much as possible, daring him to follow through on his threats of impossibly difficult tests.

(as an added bonus, some of our classmates – some of the insufferably studious types – genuinely feared the threats which proved to be mostly bluster)

By Christmas break, the antics from both he and us were more like performance art than mere classroom shenanigans.

By the time the school year ended and we graduated, we would occasionally pop in on Mr. Haynes at home.

He was a bachelor in his ’60s living in an apartment complex. One of our buddies was a neighbor and he’d gruffly let us in when we’d show up at his door. Then, he’d gruffly question us on what mischief we were up to that evening before we’d make our exit to get started on finding some mischief.

Years later, home from college, my brother’s girlfriend recounted that Mr. Haynes – whose class she was taking – spoke often of me and my friends and how much he’d enjoyed the banter we brought to his class.

Yeah, he had been a bit of a bully, but it seemed he more so that he was simply bright, bored, and lacking in creativity.

Here are four songs that I know (or suspect) some of those teachers from the past might have enjoyed…

Stevie Wonder – Send One Your Love
from Stevie Wonder’s Original Musiquarium I (1982)

I had few music classes in school as a kid and not so much as a single class in high school. I’ve recounted the impact of the music that I heard in Mrs. Winston’s homeroom class in junior high school.

And I remember another teacher that same year, Mrs. King, had brought in Stevie Wonder’s Journey Through The Secret Life of Plants and played it to us over the course of a few classes, having us be still and simply listen.

I recall being spellbound, though I haven’t heard the album in thirty years aside from a few stray tracks. Journey Through The Secret Life of Plants was the soundtrack to a little-seen film on plants and though the album was apparently a musical curveball in 1979, it seems to be rather well-regarded in retrospect.

Swan Dive – Moon River
from June (2002)

I could certainly imagine Mrs. Sulley, the teacher who saw soap bubbles, enjoying the lighter AM pop music of the early ’60s. She likely shook her head at the racket of The Beatles.

She probably grooved to Henry Mancini’s Moon River, but, instead, I’m opting for Swan Dive’s version from forty years later because anyone with a yen for lush, ’60s-styled pop should check out the breezy and brilliant catalog of Bill DeMain and Molly Felder

Golden Earring – Twilight Zone
from Cut (1983)

Now Z was about fifteen years older than we were in 1983, so he likely would have dug Golden Earring’s Radar Love which would have been a hit when he was not far removed from being a high school student. But, a) I vividly recall him being a fan of Twilight Zone, and, b) if you turn on a classic rock station right now, you probably would hear Radar Love within the next twenty minutes.

Split Enz – I Got You
from History Never Repeats – The Best Of Split Enz (1987)

I’m going to cheat here as I can’t imagine Mr. Haynes liking anything much but classical music and the little I own I’ve not taken the time to rip to mp3 form.

However, during that senior year, our buddy Streuss took an instrumental from Split Enz’ True Colours album called The Choral Sea and recorded lyrics about Mr. Haynes over the track, including his famous declaration “I don’t care what I said last week and it has no bearing on what I’m doing today.”

I don’t have The Choral Sea, but I do have I Got You, Split Enz lone US hit, which also originally appeared on True Colours.

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The Zap

October 22, 2008

It wasn’t the cleverest of names, but it was so generic that it now strikes me as endearing. It could have been any arcade in any small, Midwestern town in 1983, but it was all ours.

Our town wasn’t unlike the one in the movie Footloose (undoubtedly a major reason why that flick was such a mammoth success). Of course, we did have a bowling alley, a public pool, and probably a dozen bars – the ratio of places to drink to our population had to be equal to the average town in the UK. Any (all) of those establishments might have been verboten in Footlooseville.

For the couple of years during which The Zap existed, though, it was pretty much the hub of my friends and my world. It was the dingy command center for our plots, plans, and schemes in a minimally remodeled building that had housed a beauty salon and an auto repair garage

Not that we required much. The Zap had refrigerated air and concrete floors, providing cool in the humidity of summer (although it also was frigid in the winter). It had video games and pinball machines. And it had a jukebox.

The jukebox is one rite of passage that I’m grateful I am old enough to have gotten to experience. The jukebox was common to us all, but there was also specific etiquette of which you were familiar if you were a regular.

It also had to be one of the earliest financial dilemmas we faced as kids – burn through your limited funds playing Defender or Robotron or selecting a few more songs on the jukebox.

I think I usually opted for more music. So, here are a few the songs that emptied my pockets and kept me from notching stratospheric scores on Asteroids.

The Pretenders – Back On The Chain Gang
I didn’t know much by The Pretenders aside from Brass In Pocket and…maybe that was it. But it was easy to fall in love with this song. It was wistful yet defiant. It sounded so hopeful, but it was a hard-earned hope.

Golden Earring – Twilight Zone
As classic rock hadn’t been invented in 1983, I’m not sure if I was familiar with Radar Love, but we all knew Twilight Zone, the song by Golden Earring that wasn’t Radar Love.

But my friends and I certainly loved Twilight Zone. The whole dark undercurrent of the lyric welded with that driving music made the song a universal favorite at The Zap, cutting across all social lines and musical divisions.

Chris DeBurgh – Don’t Pay The Ferryman
My friend Brad used to go spend a couple weeks with his father in Arizona every summer. Upon his return, he would awe us with cassettes of songs he had taped off the radio stations “out there”(it was quite an exotic trek to us). There was a lot of New Wave and songs which we wouldn’t hear on our stations ’til often months later.

Anyhow, I remember hearing Don’t Pay The Ferryman on one of those cassettes. Like Twilight Zone, it had a mysterious, dread-filled lyric. As for DeBurgh, I always thought he kind of resembled Dudley Moore which gives the song a slightly comical bent to me now.

Billy Squier – Everybody Wants You
During my junior high/high school years, Billy Squier was a rock god to most of my hometown’s kids. Of course, he was toppled from that exalted position as minor deity by the infamously bad video for Rock Me Tonight. (I’d include a link, but if you’ve read this far, you know the video)

But when Emotions In Motion came out, he was still cool and Everybody Wants You was constantly playing from a radio or car stereo. In fact, DJ Mark Sebastian from Q102 in Cincinnati played the damn song repeatedly one night on his shift (like for an hour or something, I can’t exactly recall). There was considerable water-cooler talk at school the next day following that stunt.