Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Guinea Pig Mitzvah

It's hard to be sure when you're doing the right thing most of the time, especially when you teach. You know, the moments when you are pretty sure you're doing the best thing for the child, and the child is screaming "This stupid class is ruining my life!"? Those moments. But I feel fairly sure that by the guinea pig I did a mitzvah, and that's a good feeling.

The guinea pig entered my life yesterday at about four o'clock, when I wandered into a conversation between Mrs. Trumbeldor and Mr. DiMarco, the dean of discipline. Here is what had happened:

Mr. DiMarco's father-in-law, under the influence of what, we are not sure, decided that it would be a cool idea to get guinea pigs for all of his grandchildren. He has three children who have so far produced offspring, so he bought three guinea pigs, and began to deliver them. I don't know what kind of reception he got at the other homes, but when Mr. DiMarco was shown the guinea pig he was firm (if incorrect). "That's a rat," he said. "We do not have rats in my home."

I should mention that Mr. DiMarco is a bit of a clean freak. You know those little Zen fountains you can get for your office? His runs a 25% bleach solution. His office is jammed with potpourri, essential oils, Febreze, you name it. Not a rodent man. He refused to keep the guinea pig. "Why doesn't it stay at your house?" he asked his father-in-law. "That way the children can play with it when they come over."

"Hell no," said his father-in-law. When I entered the picture, the guinea pig was in the garage at Mr. DiMarco's home, since it was not permitted in the people areas, and he was insisting that he would turn it loose in the hills behind his house.

Mrs. Trumbeldor and I put a stop to that right quick. "Bring it into the school," we said. "We'll find a home for it." Mrs. Trumbeldor had already talked to Perl, who might be willing to take the guinea pig home. I promised that I and the Fella would take the pig for some time if needed. We threatened him with the SPCA if he didn't bring the pig out of the garage and let it stay in the warm house overnight.

Today the guinea pig and its cage and accessories were brought to Mrs. Trumbeldor's office. Cute little guy, all black with orange streaks, which we thought might appeal to Perl, whose hair is approximately the same colors. But she wasn't sure about keeping it, and the day wore on (and the guinea pig spent about an hour sitting in the lap of our biology teacher, being groomed and petted), and I decided to take matters into my own hands.

"Does anyone want a guinea pig?" I asked in the locker room, as the freshmen girls swarmed around me. "Go see Mrs. Trumbeldor if you might want to adopt a guinea pig."

By four o'clock, the guinea pig was on its way off-campus, in the capable hands of Mushkie.

I learned later that Mr. DiMarco, concerned about the state of the guinea pig's cage had taken it apart, cleaned it with bleach, then lemon juice, put the pig back inside, then burned the gloves and shirt he wore for this operation.'

I hope the pig will be happy at Mushkie's. I certainly think it had a narrow escape when it comes to Mr. DiMarco.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Lights Out

So, yesterday the lights at St. Dymphna's abruptly went out for about two hours, due to amazing stormy weather.

I had an 80-minute study hall during that time, during which I fielded complaints from disappointed teenagers who had assumed that the power going out meant they could take the day off. (The Balabusta was also a little disappointed.)

"How can they make us stay here?"

"The heaters are off!"

"Why can't we just go home?"

"Can I call my mom and ask if I can go home?"

"What about lunch?"

"I won't be able to heat up my food!"

"Do you realize that no one who didn't bring lunch is going to get to eat?"

(After the principal assured us that the cafeteria kitchen runs on gas, and hot lunch would be available...)

"Oh, so we have to eat that food that's been rotting in the refrigerator, huh?"

After the complaints died down, there was a period of quiet, and then Yaakov turned to me. "What if the building catches fire?"

I blinked. "We would evacuate the building according to plan."

"And go where?"

"Outside. To the parking lot. Like the plan says."

"In the RAIN?"

Now, it's coming down pretty good at this point. "Yes, in the rain."

"That's stupid!"

"What would you suggest, Yonkie?"

"I'm not leaving the building if it's RAINING."

"OK, Yonkie. You're sixteen, you can choose to stay here and die of smoke inhalation if you so choose. I will be exiting the building and taking your more sensible classmates with me."

"We should go home."

I love teenagers.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Dark is Rising

Last night, I finally got around to seeing The Seeker, a film adaptation of Susan Cooper's young adult fantasy novel, The Dark is Rising. I am a longtime Cooper fan, and highly recommend the books. The Dark is Rising is part of a series that also includes Over Sea and Under Stone, Greenwitch, The Grey King and Silver on the Tree, based on British folklore and Arthurian legends.

The Seeker is not bad at all. I was worried when I learned the protagonist was now American rather than English, but the movie itself is set in England, and I think the change was made simply to accomodate the star's own accent. I enjoyed it a lot, and can see why it was made now. I imagine that this might be an appealing storyline for Harry Potter fans, and hopefully it got some of them interested in the books.

Some Pros:

1. It looks beautiful. The English countryside is used to good effect. The film is visually very lovely.

2. Since much of the plot revolves around Will, the Seeker, being the seventh son of a seventh son, he has a large and rather interesting family.

3. The Old Ones, the semi-immortal Druidic order Will was born into, are hilarious as a series of odd older English village folk.

4. In the original series, Will's powers manifest when he turns eleven, in the movie this has been rolled forward to fourteen. I think this make the character's behavior and abilities seem far more realistic.

A few quibbles:

1. OK, OK, I get it. He's going through puberty. The telekinetically dancing butter knife between two salt shakers was still a bit over the top, symbolically speaking.

2. The addition of a seductive older girl who's in league with the Dark Rider adds nothing (except to point out the puberty bit), and is so cliched it makes your teeth hurt. It should be illegal for a sinister fantasy bad guy to have a minion with no back story who he addresses contemptuously as 'Witch!'. It should also be illegal for the temptation he offers this minion to be eternal youth--and of course, when she fails to seduce Will, and take the movie's magical McGuffin from him, she is immediately punished by becoming old, and claw-y and un-hot. There is no excuse for this nonsense.

3. The addition of a complex back-story about the mysterious disappearance of a twin brother adds nothing. In the book, the child simply died young, which complicates the plot much less, and adds a touch of real tragedy.

4. Similarly, after one of the Old Ones has apparently died, to his friend's obvious deep sorrow, and their leader solemnly tells Will 'our enemy is merciless', he just sort of pops up again after the final battle. Great. The stakes are so incredibly high, that...no one can actually die fighting for them? Undercuts a good plot point.

Other than that, very good, and extremely creepy in a feel-good, happily ever after way.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Back To School

Back to school, with a new class (taken on from a teacher who is now on maternity leave), and great plans.

Yesterday, we had a staff retreat, and I heard the story of how the Salesian Order first arrived in the United States. (St. Dymphna is a Salesian school). Unlike most religious orders, the Salesians didn't start in the East, their first project in the U.S. was San Francisco's North Beach, where they founded SS Peter and Paul church.

First, of course, they had to get there. Apparently, sometime in the 1890s, a young Italian immigrant wrote to the Salesian order, asking if Salesians would come to America and begin schools here. He received a letter back from the head of the order, letting him know that five Salesians would be arriving in New York shortly--and that he was in charge of getting them to San Francisco. When they arrived, the young man bought train tickets and accompanied the Salesians west, eventually becoming a brother in the order.

Sounds like a Catholic version of "The Frisco Kid", doesn't it?