Archive for July 2012

A Lifetime of Drills, and Not the Tool Kind   4 comments

One of the many articles I read in  aftermath of last week’s tragedy in Colorado posed the question

“Are the days when we can just walk up to a movie complex,  buy a ticket, and go to our seats without passing through any security nearing an end.”

The author went on to say probably not if we consider the measures taken following Columbine serve as a gauge.  Some schools went so far as to install metal detectors but the passing of thirteen years dulled the vigilance and all that remains are lock-down drills which vary from school to school.

Just what is a  lock-down drill?

At a couple of school in the Denver area, when the alarm bell rings   students  close the doors of their classrooms, draw the blinds, and cover any glass door-panes with black construction paper, then proceed to the farthest corner to hunker down until the all-clear bell. Reading about it sent chills down my spine. But then I have a history with drills.

Air raid drills

The word drill, when partnered with Air Raid, is a nightmare of a memory. It  the mid -50’s , (OK, the early  50’s ). The Korean War occupied the nightly news. Film clips of planes and soldiers filled our 10” TV screen,

and President Eisenhower gave speeches about the evil Russians and bombs.

The Cold  War was just starting to brew (freeze?) And I was an impressionable six-year-old .Air raid drills were a regular part of the school year.  The bell in the hall would ring and Sister Anita would announce “Air Raid Drill. Get under your desks.” Now, from my advanced adult status, I ask you –

What good would getting under your tiny wooden first grade desk do?

Mark the spot where your tiny body would be found in the rubble of bricks?

But back then I’d think

Oh no, Daddy’s at work? What’s going to happen to him. And Mommy and my new baby brother, I’m never going to see them again.

if a plane just happened to be flying overhead…… well, I was a mess, then.

Fire drills

didn’t bother me back then. After all, you could see there was no smoke. However when I was on the other side of the desk (as we teacher types refer to our profession), fire drills, if not the bane of my existence, came very close

First off, I had no warning when one would occur but when it did you could bet it would be  one of those rare and precious moments when I had the rapt attention of every one of my Kindergarteners,  that glorious teachable moment I’d been striving  toward all year. The alarm would sound and those still  little forms would erupt in a frenzy, filled with cries of “Fire Drill!  Fire drill!”

I’d   designate my most dependable student to lead the line and follow the preceding class down the steps to the street. I’d bring up the rear, close the door behind me, start down the stairs and remember. Oh @#!%!!  the attendance book! This called for a rapid about-face to retrieve it from my desk.

You see, God forbid it’s the real thing, the teacher must take attendance when the class is in a safe place, for you  must account for each child, and  in the confusion and panic you would not want to go searching for a student who was absent that day. I’m not sure if it’s law but I’ve taught in New York and California and the practice was mandatory in both states.

Speaking of California, there we had  …..

 Earthquake Drills .

Also called Duck and Cover, these drills were identical to the dreaded air raid drills of my own early days. While living in California in 1989 I experienced the famous Loma Prieta earthquake. Baseball fans remember it  interrupted the World Series. The 7.1 quake resulted in the collapse of a freeway, toppled chimneys, and houses  destroyed when they slid off their foundations. Tragically, a couple of people lost their lives.

The quake also changed the drill procedure, and even its name. Luckily enough it occurred at 5:04 PM, after most schools were closed. But college and Adult Ed classes were in session so the students ducked under their desks and covered their heads with their arms to wait out the shaking which seemed like it was never going to end. But when it was finally over and the all clear call was made, they were no longer under their desks.  The temblor’s vibrations had set the desks skittering away.

And so Duck and  Cover Drills became part of history. The alarm still sounds and students still duck but they don’t cover. They hold on to the desk legs to keep their desk from “walking  away. The edited drill is now called….

Duck, Cover, and Hold

So there you have it – so many drills, and not  a single hole!

One Word Can Make A Big Difference   6 comments

I was driving south through Florida last month, surfing the radio stations and came  upon a station that covered the widest range of classic rock I’ve ever heard. However, their catch phrase, “we play the songs you know every word to.” is a bold-faced lie.  Are they denying the fact that most singers are graduates of The Bob Dylan School of Diction?

Singers like Mick Jagger, Tom Petty, and Stevie Nicks. Nobody knows every word of a rock song. How can you know what you can’t understand?

The station is very fortunate that I cannot recall their call letters because if I did I just might have reported them to the FCC. Why? Because it’s dangerous to propagate false confidence. When you’re sure you know the words of a song you have no hesitation singing aloud.  And that just might lead to a rude awakening.

Take Jack S, a guy I knew at the Jersey Shore. It was 1969 and he had heard this great song by the Beatles.

He just had to sing it for everyone, “Hey Dude!”

And then there was Mrs. S, the mother of a friend and no relation to Jack S. It was 1974 and Disco was in full swing.

She loved to sing the anthem of the dance floor, “Do the Hot Dog.”

Speaking of disco, Eddie, the Best man at my wedding, couldn’t understand the story behind one of the songs from Saturday Night Fever. There’s John Travolta dancing under the disco ball with his sometimes dance partner, a woman with a full head of disco hair.

So why he wanted to know, were the Bee Gees  singing

“Bald -headed woman, Bald-headed woman to me.”

And since people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones,   I’ll fess up. I recently heard my favorite Bruce Springsteen song, Born to Run, delivered directly into my head via an  iPod  I was on the tread mill, lip synching along until Bruce and we came to the part where we’re  exhorting Wendy to come with him, flee New Jersey, start a new life and I nearly came to a halt. What? What was he saying? Tramps?  “Tramps like us, Baby we were  born to run.”   You mean it’s not champs? Champs are born to run, not tramps!

Maybe I’ll write my own song, about the dude who meets a bald headed lady and they dance the hot dog and when they’re through, they jump on a freight car with all the other champs who were born to run, and they’ll all be wearing their gold medals and blue ribbons.

OK, it’s your turn. What songs did you think you knew? Use the comment section to share. Nobody will laugh, I promise.

Flipping Out All Summer   7 comments

They say summer 2012 arrived on June 20 at 7:09 PM. But it all depends on which they you listen to. In the United Kingdom, the British they proclaimed its arrival at 23:09. However down in the southern hemisphere  in places such as Argentina, Australia, and South Africa, they see things altogether differently. There they say June 20 marked the start of winter and that summer won’t be here until December.

And then, there’s the House of Mars. I am the resident they and I say summer 2012 bounded onto the scene on June 30 at approximately 5:00 PM. Why so late? Summer does not begin for me until I have bought my first pair of cheap, rubber, easily blown out flip-flops. And when I say cheap, I mean $1.00 as in the Dollar Store.

Most years, starting in May, my friendly neighborhood  Dollar Tree has a table piled high right by the entrance, and just in case you miss them, or you didn’t find the color you wanted, more are hanging by the checkout. But this year –  nothing. I was checking every Saturday and was beginning to fear I’d have no summer this year.  I was getting dangerously close to my temper tantrum threshold. I needed my flip-flops. With one day left before July, I tried again. My visit didn’t start on a high note. Solar lights occupied the flip-flop table, but there by the checkout – there they were.

Sure I could have bought a pair at Wal-Mart or Payless. I even saw some in CVS. But it had to be Dollar Store.  Why? Because that’s the closest thing to F.W. Woolworth in today’s world. I guess I have to go back to my childhood to explain.

My family used to rent a small beach cottage in Cape Cod each summer. We’d arrive at the end of June and while  my parents unpacked  we’d run down to the beach to see if anything had changed over the winter, then  check  out the other cabins to see if there were any new kids.  But while we were finally in Cape Cod, we weren’t officially there yet. That would have to wait for  the next day when my dad drove us  to the Woolworth’s on Main Street in Hyannis– to get our flip-flops. Although in those days we called them thongs, this being decades before underwear usurped the word.

Clad in the sneakers we’d soon be shedding, my two brothers and I would walk (because our mother had just told us not to run) to the aisle where the flip-flops always were. We’d come to a screeching halt halfway down the aisle. There on the left spread out in multi-colored, multi-sized disarray was a jumble of flip-flops. We’d go through them carefully. This was an important decision. We’d be wearing these all summer (unless we blew them out Jimmy Buffet-style.)

Yes, every year we’d ponder, hold-up, try on, and finally when my mother had come to the end of her patience, and make our decisions.  And each year we’d  make the same decision: brother #1 would choose green, and brother #2 would  choose yellow which left  me with blue or red. Usually I got blue.

Looking back I don’t know why we felt we had to get different colors. We were not going to get them mixed up. Five years separated me from brother #1 and he was five years older than brother #2.. If Goldilocks ever wandered in to our cabin and saw them lined up she’d assume they were Papa Bear’s, Mama Bear’s and Baby Bear’s.

This year, I was really drawn to a bright purple pair, a color never available back in the 1960’s. But on closer examination I notice the thong strap was twisted – a sure sign of premature blow out, and I don’t need any help in that department.  My choice was made for me. They only had one color in my size – colossal ten.

So for 2012, I am wearing brother #1’s flip flops


I got them not a moment too soon. On July 1, I was taking the garbage down to the garbage can. I hadn’t broken in 2012’s flip-flops and had slipped into an old fancier version of flip flops I’d been wearing around the house and yard. Oops, I tripped on a tree root. Coincidentally I’d  bought them during a visit to the Cape nine years ago. Yep I got nine years out of them.  Don’t believe me?

See for yourself.

July 2, while walking in  the city, in a strappy version of flip-flops, I tripped on a crack in the sidewalk.

Man! I’d just bought them last year! 

Do you think I should go back to Dollar Tree and get a spare pair?  The summer is still young.