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 Arch-Nemesis

September 21, 2011

For a good decade or so, I have had an implacable foe, an entity which I have formally and officially declared to be my arch-nemesis.

Making this struggle more complex is that my arch-nemesis is the brother of a good friend.

In truth, I don’t know David very well. I’ve been buddies with his brothers for close to twenty years, but I’ve been around David no more than a handful of times.

Our rivalry has no origin other than a decision I made to declare him my arch-nemesis.

(it actually was encouraged by his brothers)

But David is a good guy, so this confrontation has gone no further than our mutual understanding of the conflict and our verbal acknowledgement of it on the rare occasions that we do meet.

Our relationship lacks the cold war sizzle that existed with my previous arch-nemesis –

The Dutch.

I had never had an arch-nemesis until a half dozen or so of us who were drinking buddies and worked at a record store together suddenly began hating the Dutch.

(it happened during an evening of drinks)

We took to the idea with enthusiasm, blaming the Dutch for all of the ills of the world several years before it was chic to blame Canada.

We would shuffle into the back room of the store, muttering expletives directed at the Netherlands under our breath after dealing with difficult customers.

If our usual barkeep at our favorite watering hole was not working and the music being played did not meet our approval, it was a plot originating in Holland.

But our distress over the Dutch was inexplicable.

I had assumed – for some reason – that it dated to the 1994 World Cup, which we had followed that summer.

One evening, during the 1998 World Cup, I asked one of my buddies why we hated the Dutch.

He proceeded to tell tale of another large record store where he had worked and a customer visiting from the Netherlands who threw a tantrum over some perceived grievance, bellowing to all who listen that his mistreatment was because he was Dutch.

“I figured that we must have some long-standing issues with the Dutch and I wanted to do the least that I could do,” my buddy said with a shrug. “It would have been unpatriotic to not hate the Dutch.”

Of course, we didn’t really hate the Dutch. We just enjoyed having an arch-nemesis.

Here are four enemy songs since arch-nemesis is a bit cumbersome to use in a lyric I suppose…

Swan Dive – Sweet Enemy
from Circle (1998)

Swan Dive’s music has been described as bossa nova pop.

Sweet Enemy is light, breezy, and sophisticated stuff, but its just a hint of the wonderous sounds made by the duo of Bill DeMain and Molly Felder.

The Waterboys – Be My Enemy
from This Is The Sea (1985)

This Is The Sea was my introduction to Scottish band The Waterboys. I’d been prompted to purchase the cassette after hearing the glorious The Whole Of The Moon before school one morning on a rock radio station out of Dayton.

(it might have been the only time I’ve ever heard the band on radio)

I was immediately smitten by their “big music” and the tape spent a lot of time in my Walkman that senior year. The rollicking Be My Enemy clatters alongs with a dizzying urgency that caught my attention and made me hit rewind a time or two.

(which, of course, drained the double-AA batteries rather quickly)

Roger Hodgson – Had a Dream (Sleeping with the Enemy)
from In The Eye Of The Storm (1984)

If you have followed my babbling on this site, you might be well aware of my affection for Supertramp (at least Breakfast In America). By 1984, founding member Roger Hogdson had left the band for a solo career that didn’t exactly pan out.

Had A Dream (Sleeping With The Enemy) got some airplay on some of the stations to which I was listening at the time. In truth, it could have been on Breakfast In America and not sounded out of place.

Rage Against The Machine – Know Your Enemy
from Rage Against The Machine (1992)

I didn’t immediately gravitate to Rage Against The Machine. I thought their politics to be somewhat half-baked. However, seeing them live, opening for U2 – a band for whom the same accusation could be made regarding politics – made me a fan of the sheer sonic force of Rage’s music.

A few friends and I bumped into the band before that show at a vegetarian restaurant. The might have made some angry music, but the band members and crew were quite polite and friendly.