Baltimore Ave.

wpid-20150522_091546.jpgThat’s it. Baltimore Ave. It was never really a destination, but it was certainly along the way. I used to ride the 34 trolley along the tracks from City Hall, or from 40th Street, all the way down the line to 58th or 60th and Baltimore Ave. every day on my way home. Home was Southwest Philly, a run down home we didn’t even own, but it was home so in the pantheon of memories it is a nostalgic one, full of happy tears and walks from that trolley down the way to Broomall.

Once I fell asleep, rocked by the rhythm of the vehicle, the sing-song scraping of the trolley’s bars against the ancient track, and I woke up at the end of the line, four stops past 60th street. The conductor actually woke me up with a shove and told me to get out. “That’s it. The end of the line. Baltimore Ave. Last stop,” he said, and I tried to argue, but I ended up walking six long blocks back. I tried not to be tired on the 34 trolley anymore after that because I knew the consequences.

Then there was the blizzard of 1997, or was it 1996? Regardless, I was on a train coming back from New York City at the time it started, and by the time we got into City Hall it was coming down hard, all this fluffy whiteness that looked pretty but had pretty much bogged down most of the city of Philadelphia. Trolleys were few and far between, and I knew service was soon to stop altogether, and I would be stranded downtown, so when the next 34 came I made sure I was on it. We came out of the tunnel at 40th Street to a wall of white, and it was slow going from there.

Before we had made it to 48th street it had become impossible, impassable, so a few of us guys got out and began to push the trolley, to try and extricate it from its predicament, from the slush that had looked so pretty as it had fallen from the sky, as it continued to fall from the sky. And even that only got us another 3 blocks before it was obvious we were going no further. So I walked from there through knee deep drifts of snow without snow pants. I was a block of ice when I got home.

Those are some of my Baltimore Ave. memories, but more often than not it was a quiet stretch of avenue with old men begging for change, young men selling everything from tapes to hats from ragged tables, and women in curlers pushing groceries in stolen carts on their way to the crack house, or somewhere closer. But one thing that Baltimore Ave. always had for it was character, a sense of place and time that remains even now.

Sam

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This Endless Refrain

friday-night-storm

These storms come heavy
Moody like jazz
Fat drops in rhythm
Pounding down steady
A slash of lightning
Brilliant as day
But only for a moment
Before thunder booms
Like a pounding bass
Echoing for miles
Desperate to get home
But lost along the way
This Oklahoma swoon
Shackled to night’s shadow
Haunting in its familiarity
Giving up the ghost
That shuffles down stairs
Into the street-slick city
Calling my name
A staccato beat
That drums like rain
This endless refrain.

Sam

EDU 524

inspirational-education-quotes-nelson-mandelaWell, I am officially a student again, 10 years after I thought I had left for good. It’s funny how the future comes full circle back into the past and then forward again. It all started (again) a few weeks ago when I realized I hadn’t done any sort of professional development for nearly 3 years. As a holder of a professional certification in teaching, I am required to complete 175 hours of professional development every 5 years, so you can see why this was a problem as my 5 years is up late this summer. So I got busy figuring out how to get it done.

First, I looked into professional development courses through BOCES, and through other teacher outlets, but this is the wrong time of year to try and find those resources, and i figured out pretty quickly that it wasn’t going to be the way to go. Not since I still needed 120 hours by summer’s end. Luckily I ran into another teacher friend of mine at my job, and after hearing my dilemma she gave me the advice to take a graduate course (or 3) because they are intensive and are worth 3 credit hours (which translates into 45 professional development hours) apiece. Bingo.

That’s where it got tricky, though, because I had to first find a college, and then enroll in courses that would count in an education program toward my professional development. I scoured the web for universities that would fit the bill, and a host of them showed up, but I needed a place with online courses available THIS SUMMER. My primary problem: online summer courses at pretty much every college have been available since late March and most are full. Ouch. So, I finally found a school in-state (out-of-state schools generally cost more money, even as an on-line student) that had an extensive education program with a variety of summer online courses, some of which were not full.

Then I found out I had to apply to the school. I don’t know why I didn’t think of that before, that in order to take graduate level courses I would have to be an actual member of the learning community. But applications take time not just to fill out but to get responses on, time that meant those courses that weren’t full before were becoming tighter on “seat” space. Oh boy. Not to mention some of the courses had quick start dates, so I filled out the application in record time, found my transcripts to send along, wrote a letter of rationale, and prayed to god they would let me in, and quickly. A week later I was in, but two of the courses I had wanted to take were now off the board. Eek.

That’s when the begging and increased scouring began in earnest. I emailed every single instructor of every single Education online summer course, and got put on waiting lists. I contacted my newly minted advisor and she tried to help me wade through the issues that were facing me. Before the next week was out I was signed up for two online courses that fit the bill, but I needed a third. And none were making themselves obvious, so I was starting to freak out. But then my wife came through with the answer, as she usually does.

I applied for an actual course, not one that is online, but one that meets for an entire week from 9-5, an intensive course that takes advantage of the odd time to help people like me achieve what we need to achieve. But signing up for this course meant I would have to step foot on a college campus again, 10 years after last being on one as a student, that I would have to interact with others students who are 10-15 years younger than I am. But I’m trying not to be fazed by it. I’m just going to go there and do my work. And hopefully come out unscathed.

We shall see. Now if I can just find my pencil case.

Sam

300 Writing Prompts: #59

“What do you love doing that you wish you could get paid for?”

blogIf I could get paid for blogging I most certainly would, and in a heartbeat, but the way bloggers get paid these days is usually by selling their souls. You know what I mean, either allowing ads on their blog or making it so hyper-focused on popular culture that it loses something of its personality. As much as I love my personality I don’t think I would be able to do what is necessary to change my blog accordingly.

But what if I could get paid for blogging without changing anything at all about my blog? Maybe there’s somebody out there with a truckload of money who wants to support a blogger who journals out loud for the whole world to read.

Wait, though. I have three other blogs, all of which are much more specialized than this one, and I have quite a few followers in two out of the three. If I spent as much time on those as I do on this one perhaps someone would be willing to finance me doing it full time. Another option, of course, is visiting Freshly Pressed every day and modeling the themes of each blog entry on the ones that have somehow found their way there.

Regardless of anything else, though, I would have to make sure I still loved creating my blogs as much as I do today. Otherwise, what would be the point?

Sam

In Mourning, In Memoriam

ituneslibraryI never realized how much I relied on my iPod until it deleted all of my songs. For years I had stored songs just on my iPod instead of in iTunes because I had run out of space on my external hard drive and I figured, “I will never remove these songs from my iPod anyway so why waste the space?” I figured out rather abruptly last week the answer to that question: “Because any Apple product will inevitably fail and cause painful realizations.” So when my iPod display read, “No Music” I sat there staring at its little screen while a part of me died.

First I set about figuring out how much music I had legitimately lost. Luckily for me I kept CDs from my favorite groups/artists and I was able to copy them once again into iTunes, but for some others, some of which are rare tracks/albums I have no recourse to get them back. A few years ago I copied my entire iTunes to a series of data CDs that were supposed to guarantee that something like this never happened, but of course since then I’ve added nearly 60,000 songs to my library, oh, and I lost the discs anyway, so it was of absolutely no help.

At first when I look at my library it looks normal, every song in its place, every album meticulously detailed and digitally shelved in alphabetical order. But then I look closer, and I click on a song, then hold my breath. Because I’ve learned that it’s not about appearances, but about whether or not the song plays. If the song doesn’t play after I click on it then I know that it’s a ghost, and I can begin the period of mourning.

I’ve begun a list of all the songs that are now ghosts, lost in the digital graveyard of not enough storage space. The list includes a Neneh Cherry album, half of my Foo Fighters songs, the Frank Sinatra songbook, a little known group called Seven Nations, and Bobby Brown, among so many others. I clicked on Mariah Carey and only two albums were saved from the absolute carnage. You’ll always be my hero, Mariah. Kanye West has been spared, but apparently my iTunes is not a fan of Beck. *Sob.*

album-girl-next-doorThis has been a sobering process indeed. You see, a lot of the music I lost could be characterized as impactful when it comes to moments in my life. Sheryl Crow’s “Strong Enough” got me through some hard times, while “Dre Day (And Everybody’s Celebrating)” kept me sane back in college. Saving Jane’s “Girl Next Door” was an anthem for us misunderstood and overlooked kids everywhere, and “Enter Sandman” by Metallica was my classic headphones song, the one I cranked up and just blissed out to.

I have begun the process of picking up the pieces, but it hasn’t been easy. Every night I spend about an hour upstairs trying to find backup files for the songs and albums I need most, like Ed Sheeran’s “X,” Sammy Hagar’s “Marching to Mars,” and Lionel Richie’s “Dancing on the Ceiling.” I wonder why Hole was spared while my N*Sync catalog got decimated. Was it the universe’s way of saying that my musical priorities are all screwed up? I guess I’ll never know, but that won’t stop me from guessing. It has been painstaking to find and re-copy music, but I’ve been somewhat successful doing just that. And the library will help me with some more.

So, while Matchbox Twenty won’t be revived anytime soon in my iTunes library, I can now once again listen to Better Than Ezra, Shania Twain, The Rolling Stones, and Robyn, and I’m only a few days away from bringing back Sia, Robin Thicke, Jason Mraz, and the soundtrack to Mockingjay, Part I. Until then I’ll keep piecing together what I can, and continue mourning those I know I’ll never find again unless I’m extremely lucky. And I’ll keep clicking, and hoping.

Sam

Dear Journal: Stick Figures

stickfigureDear Journal,

I used to draw these stick figures, you know the kind, with the huge heads and tiny bodies. They looked like they would tip over more often than not if they were 3-dimensional. I always drew the bodies first too, so they looked like Jack Pumpkinhead when his pumpkin head got knocked off in Return to Oz. Sometimes I would leave them like that because either I wasn’t in the mood to try and draw a perfect circle or it just looked cool or something, like an infant tree that had lost its way.

Eventually, though, more often than not, I would draw that circle to top off the piece, and most times it wasn’t symmetrical, but I figured that was okay. People’s faces aren’t symmetrical, and if they were then they wouldn’t be true to life. In fact, they would probably be a bit creepy. That’s what I told myself anyway. Then, once I was as satisfied as I was going to be with the circle I would start adding features. An eye here, then erase it, and put it higher. A nose there, but it’s too bulbous so erase it and replace it. That was my favorite part of the process: erase it and replace it.

The mouth was always a dilemma because when I draw open mouths it always looks like they’re Dracula without fangs, they’re always open just a bit too wide. And don’t get me started on lips. I tried the thin-lipped look but that only works on models, not on stick figures who are fighting hard not to gag at their own appearance as it is. But big lips just make the whole thing appear clown-like, and I can’t have that. So no lips, and an O of a mouth that looks more like surprise than anything else. I find that a closed-mouth line just shows disdain for the whole process.

Then to add hair or not to add hair, that is the question. The bald-headed stick figure has an element of the classy, devil-may-care attitude, but it also shows off the lazyness of the artist. The “big hair” look just evokes the 80s, and not the “good” 80s but the “bad” 80s and everything that entails. Flat hair that comes down just seems limp and also lazy. So usually I just went for the cool guy/girl look with spiky hair that went off in every direction. Yeah, that showed I wasn’t lazy, that I put thought into the personality of the stick figure. Which is important.

Last but not least, I had to draw a caption for the piece, which generally involved my stick figure saying something demeaning about himself/herself, something like “At least my head is buoyant,” or “Turn me sideways and watch my head float in midair.” Yes, most of what I came up with was derogatory, and usually about the size and misshapen aspect of the head, but it was all I had to work with. It wasn’t quite New Yorker quality cartoons, and that was okay. It was a stick figure.

And I was okay with that.

Sam

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