Thursday, July 28, 2016

Still More Tales of CTY Summers

And still more tales of CTY Past...

Pi Day: It has long been said that three weeks of CTY is like a year of school. Based on that theory, the first weekend is Christmas vacation and the second weekend is Spring Break. Taking that one step further, for many years the math classes (joined by the Writing & Imagination and Drama classes) would celebrate Pi Day on the second Friday.
Each student in the math classes would have a number taped to his or her shirt and, when in a proper order, they represented pi to however many digits they were able. (The most coveted spots were the decimal point and the "..." at the end.
In the afternoon, the math classes would sing "Oh Number Pi" (to the music of "Oh Tannenbaum"), the Writing classes would present their Pi-Koo poetry (poems about math that had 3 syllables, 1 syllable, 4 syllables, 1 syllable, 5 syllables, 9 syllables) and then the instructors and TAs would put on a performance of Sir Cumference and the Dragon of Pi. Despite having played the title roll for a long stretch of years, I never managed to learn my lines. Well, except for "Pie with an E is for eating; pi without an E is the name of the number for all things round!"
And then we all ate pie!

"How old were you when you were 16?" I am sure that I am not the only one among us who has had the students trying to guess their age. These days the kids just Google me and read the Wikipedia page, but before they had ready access to the internet, it made for an amusing guessing game. One class, determined to figure it out, tried by asking the question at the beginning of this paragraph.
  For many years, I told the kids that I had charged up San Juan Hill with Teddy Roosevelt back in '98. They assumed I meant 1998 and it did not seem to bother them when I would say, "Yup, he became President and I came to CTY." 
One year, a students was skeptical and said, "Mr. R, if you were really at San Juan Hill, what did you see there?"
"A lot of Spaniards with rifles," I replied. 
"Hmm, maybe you really were there!"
I finally stopped telling that story after I mentioned it to the parents on Opening Day and one mother said, "Really? That must have been something!"
  Since then, I've told the students that I was the one who told Thomas Jefferson to buy Louisiana because, "Tom, we've gotta get those Frenchies out of there." Tom said we didn't have much money and I said, "Yes, but they're having a war, so I bet you can make them a crazy low offer and they'll take it." And they did. And that's how we got Louisiana.
As usual, there was one skeptical student, who asked, "Mr. R, was it really your idea or were you just in the room?"
"No, it was my idea. If you doubt it, remember that one of the states in the Purchase was named in recognition of my part in working the deal:  The French called me 'Missour R'."


Merry Crabmas: Back in the days when not every meal in the dining hall consisted of chicken and potatoes, the Crab Fest was a night shared by the entire CTY community, including all the kids. Some of the kids who came from the area knew what a treat the crabs were, others were willing to try, and some just took a couple and dropped them at the table where their instructor or TA was sitting. 
  Well, in 1999, there was a bushel box of crabs left over and, since CTY had paid for them, site director Tim decided to stash them in one of the instructional dorm refrigerators. Whether he never mentioned them or the people he told just forgot about them has never been established, but they remained there until the final Friday night of the summer. Now, despite refrigeration, after ten days or so, these were no longer something anyone wanted to eat.
  Enter Lincoln, the Science & Engineering instructor, better know to us as McGyver. He is the one who took apart and reassembled his car engine in the parking lot on Intersession Saturday. He is also the one who used another car engine for a lesson, had it put into the storage unit, and wanted CTY to ship it to him when he was teaching in California the following summer. (They didn't.) Confronted with this large and pretty smelly box of crabs, Lincoln had a brainstorm and said, "Does anyone have any dental floss?" Once he had obtained a roll -- cinnamon-flavored, by the way -- he dragged the box of crabs from the dorm all the way to the crosswalk on the county road that bisects the campus.
  Once there, Lincoln proceeded to create a diorama of crabs, crawling from the box, down the sidewalk, climbing the pole to push the crosswalk button and lined up waiting to cross. (He even added one stuck on the yellow line in the middle of the street.) While he was doing this, his comrades-in-crabbiness proceeded to string crabs and sprigs from the evergreen bushes across the walkway, giving the festive occasion its name. Then, once the diorama was complete, the staff members wandered back to their dorms.
  All the while that this was going on, one of the campus security guards was sitting across the street on his bicycle watching. Once everybody walked away, he went into a nearby dorm, where the residential staff was having their own party (blissfully unaware of what had happened outside) and yelled at them!
  Finally convinced that the res staff had no idea what was going on, the security guard pedaled his bike over to the dorm where Ted, the site coordinator from Baltimore, was sleeping. (It was, by now, about 1:30 in the morning.) Lincoln and company, back to sitting outside their nearby dorms, realized that the guard was going to wake up Ted and moseyed over. Ted, totally baffled by the guard's tale of crabs in the crosswalk, looked at the staff members and said, "I don't know what you did and I don't care who did it, but go clean it up." 
  Lincoln and company made their way back to the crosswalk and, now under the watchful eyes of two security guards, dismantled the entire scenario. (There were photos taken at the time, and they are probably still out there somewhere in the ether but, alas, search attempts have been fruitless.) Once all the crabs had been deposited in a couple of large trash bags, the staffers were escorted to the dining hall dumpster so that it could be assured that the crabs had been disposed of. 
   And that, my friends, is the story of Crabmas. Oh, and by the way, in the aftermath of the event,  an unwritten rule was made that leftover crabs were never to be given to CTY staffers again.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

More Tales Of CTY Summers

  Some more of the stories of CTY summers past...

July 4th: Many instructors had students ask if there is class on July 4th and be quite surprised to learn that we do work on the holiday. As I have explained to my classes, "It's not like we can call your parents and tell them to take you home for the day!"
  During our orientation that I mentioned to Shirley (our liaison with Washington College) to please make sure they programmed the air conditioning to be on in the classrooms on Monday. Some years back, when the 4th also fell on a Monday, the system was set for a summer holiday weekend (meaning, basically, "off"). Unfortunately, it was not a mild weekend like we've been experiencing, but one of those hazy/hot/humid 90+ kind. Needless to say, on Monday morning the classrooms were somewhere between sauna and pizza oven; despite it being 90 degrees outside, we went out to cool off. It was not until 1:00 that Washington College got someone to show up and turn the a/c on, by which time we'd all abandoned our classrooms and were holding classes in such places as the dining hall, the office, and the basement in one of the dorms. (The Bay Ecology classes went on a field trip down to the river, as I recall.)
  And, finally, the Chestertown fireworks are a July 4th tradition, with the students being taken to the stadium stands to sit and watch. One year, when the 4th was a Friday, the dance was interrupted so the students could view them, prompting one bright lad to ask, "Are the fireworks outside?"

Who Has the Kids? While my daughter Sammi was visiting over the weekend, we got to talking about memorable CTY incidents. She reminded me of one during her first year on staff, when she was an RA, and she had the girls from my class on her hall. The father of one of said girls was coming at lunchtime one Tuesday to take his daughter to a doctor's appointment. Sammi happened to walk into the office shortly before lunch.
Lucille (the office manager): Sammi, Mr. Jones is coming in shortly to pick up Sally.
Sammi: Okay, but I don't have her now.
L: Well, where is she?
S: My father has her.
L (puzzled): Your father?
S: Yes, he's got all my girls.
L (becoming distressed): What?! Why does your father have all the girls? Does the administration know about this?
S: Lucille, my father is Bob!
L: Your father is Bob?! Really? Well, I guess maybe you look a little alike.
Just to make sure Sammi wasn't making it up, Lucille checked with me that afternoon that she was indeed my daughter.

"Don't start no mess, won't be no mess." Those were the sage words of advice from Miss Joy, our very first Office Manager (both at the Goucher site and then in Chestertown). In her third CTY summer, those words were emblazoned on a sign in the Main Office and continued to hang there every summer she was with us.
In my second year, I had a girl in the class who was particularly accident-prone. She got poked in the eye by a tree branch, she cut her arm on a fence, she broke her ankle playing a game. It seemed like every other day she was going to the doctor. One evening, I walked into the office and Miss Joy was on the phone with the hospital. Turned out that my student, who had just been at the hospital that morning, was back there again. 
Whoever Miss Joy was speaking with was giving her a hard time, saying that they did not have the girl's paperwork and so they could not treat her. "Now don't you tell me you don't have that child's paperwork," said Miss Joy, "because I have sent it over to you at least four times this week!... Yes, I think you should go and look for it!... Her name? She's sitting right there in front of you!... It's Farthington. Farthington!! With an F... as in..." There was a very long pause and then Miss Joy said, "Firetruck!"
When she had hung up the phone, I said, "Miss Joy, 'firetruck' wasn't the first word you thought of, was it?"
She just smiled at me and said, "Mister Bob, you know that I am too much of a lady to say what I was thinking."

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Tales of CTY Summers

   I am in the midst of my 23rd summer stint in the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth program, teaching the Writing & Imagination course to a group of gifted 11- and 12-year-olds. Because of my (very) senior status among the staff (the person with the next-most years has 10), I am also the unofficial historian and "cruise director."
  This past week, in addition to keeping my fellow instructors informed on such things as when we are playing volleyball and what's at the theater for our Tuesday movie night, I have been regaling them with tales of past years. To wit:

  * Okay, so last night I went back to my room and wanted to take a shower. Took off my lanyard, was taking off my shirt and then realized I needed something from my car. Grabbed the car keys, closed my bedroom door, walked out of the suite and, halfway to the car, realized I had just locked myself out because the lanyard was on the desk. Twenty-three years of this and there's still the opportunity to do one of the things I always tell people not to do: Don't leave without your lanyard! A call to the WC Security office and I was back inside
  Anyway, I was reminded of the most famous lock-out in C'town lore. Way back when we were first in these western shore apartments (a.k.a. the previous millennium), one of the instructors walked out his bedroom, pulling his door closed behind him, and went to take a shower. Takes his shower, comes out of the bathroom, and realizes he has locked himself out of his room. Looks to his roommates to get one of them to call Security, but all three have gone to breakfast. So he decides he should try one of his across the hall neighbors. He walks out of the apartment... and the door locks behind him! His neighbors are gone as well, so there he is, standing on the "balcony," yelling down to a passing CTYer from another building to please call security for him. What makes this story so legendary? Well, as I said, he came out of the shower. All he was "wearing" was a not-very-large towel.
  And that's why you should never forget your lanyard.

* Beginning with our first year at the site and until he retired, Dr. John Toll (for whom the Science Center is named), the President of the college, would join our Opening Ceremony and welcome the students and their families.  His speech was always the same: "Washington College was the first college established in the United States of America. Now, I know what you're thinking, what about Harvard and Yale and such? Well, they were established before there was a United States of America..." He would then go on to explain the history of the school.
  In 2002, Dr. Toll was unavailable to make his speech and it fell to Lowell, who was the liaison between WC and CTY, to speak. Lowell, while very capable in his job, had no interest in public speaking and was, in fact, in a near panic about having to do it. So, I offered to help him out.
  The opening ceremony began and when our site director Tim introduced Lowell, he stepped to the mike and said, "I have asked someone to help me out with this." I walked up to the microphone, with Tim and the rest of the admins looking at each other and saying, "What is he doing now?!"
  I proceeded to deliver Dr. Toll's speech verbatim. The instructors and TAs, recognizing the speech because we had all heard it so many times before, were laughing hysterically. The parents and kids, of course, had no idea and probably thought the instructional staff was just crazy.
  And that is the story of how I delivered the Washington College Address.

* Way back in 1996, when CTY first arrived at Washington College, there was no movie theater in town. In fact, the nearest place to see a movie was Dover, and few people wanted to make the drive to see a flick. When the Chester 5 opened in 1998, CTYers were a ready and willing audience.  Admission at the time was only $5, but since we were a group of 30 or more each week, I was able to secure a Tuesday night special of $4 for anyone wearing a CTY lanyard. With a couple of small price increases along the way, this 6-week summer discount continued until 2013. At that point, the theater owner decided to make Tuesday a discount night year-round for everybody.
  Over the course of the past seventeen summers, we've seen a number of blockbusters, along with a number of clunkers. (Eight-Legged Freaks comes to mind i the latter category.) And while there is a wide array of films that might be voted the best one, there was little doubt about the worst movie. A vote of long-time staffers named 2003's Legally Blonde 2: Red, White and Blonde the worst CTY movie ever. Miami Vice in 2006 ran a far second.

* Even though it's still very early in the session, most of the admin staff has been in to visit my class. They quickly found out that if you come into my classroom and we start a writing assignment, you are expected to do it too. 
  Some years ago, we had a site director named Joe and he was a fairly frequent visitor. However, when I would tell the class to take out a piece of paper, he would suddenly look out the window, announce that he was needed elsewhere and run out of the room. The class, well aware of my policy, were quite upset by his actions. So we set a trap. The kids came up with an assignment for Joe and I said that the next time he came in, as soon as he sat down, I would stop whatever lesson I was doing and we would get him to write. (The assignment was "Where does Joe rush off to whenever there's a writing assignment?")
  In he came a few days later and = boom = he was trapped! The kids had a great time watching him try to talk his way out of it, but we didn't let him. They, of course, also wrote their versions of where he went... and they had a great time doing so.
  And speaking of visitors, one time back in the early days, a contingent of folks from the Baltimore "mother ship" came to visit the site and dropped in on various classes. Mine was one of them. In walked four swell-dressed folks who just smiled and said. "Don't mind us, we're just here to observe." 
  "That's what you think," I thought. A few minutes later, as I finished the lesson, I told the class to take out paper and a pen. The guests in a back sat calmly; I suppose they thought they would just watch the kids write for a few minutes and then go. "That means you folks as well," I said, as my TA handed them paper and pens. Funny thing, I've never had a Baltimore contingent visit my class again...


Friday, June 10, 2016

"Driving" Mr. Alex

  It is fairly safe to say that Alex has never been in a car when he wasn't in a car seat. Further, he has never been in the front seat of a car. And certainly, he's never been in the driver's seat.
  His fascination with trucks has grown into one for cars as well. to the point where he has told me that one of the cars he wants to have is a red convertible. He is well aware that I still have my Sebring but, until today, he has never been in it.
  This morning we decided to go for a pretend ride. We got in the car, put down the top, and then went for a "ride" around town. We also drove to Jersey City and back, because he knows the route. "We go in the Holland Tunnel, then on the Manhattan Bridge, then on the Kosciuszko Bridge, and the Long Island Expressway." (It is always entertaining to see the looks on people's faces when they hear him say "Kosciuszko Bridge.")



  I let him sit on my lap in the driver's seat. and after a few minutes he said, "Papa, let's change seats." So I moved over to the passenger side and the future driver took over. He asked about the dials, the buttons and everything else on the dashboard and steering wheel and then said, "Okay, let's go to the store."
  During the course of his "driving lesson," I taught him the hand signals for a right turn, a left turn, and slow/stop. So, every time I gave him directions to make a turn, he stuck his hand out the window and signaled. (Do they even teach the hand signals in driver's ed any more?)

  He enjoyed it so much that after dinner he wanted to go for another pretend ride. This time, we went to the barber shop, McDonalds (to the drive-thru, of course), the library, and the ice cream shop. But then we had to drive home because it was time for his bath.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Monkee Business

  As my 65th birthday present, Chuck and Rebecca got me tickets to see the Monkees in concert. Well, half of the Monkees, since only Mickey Dolenz and Peter Tork are featured in the promotions.


  It was an entertaining evening, as Mickey and Peter performed lots of old favorites along with a couple of songs from their newly-released album. The onstage performance was backed by a giant video screen that included clips from the old TV show, concerts, home movies, and other performances. These continued through the intermission and even included some commercials for Kellogg's Rice Krispies that appeared on the show.
  Fellow Monkees Davy Jones and Michael Nesmith were represented as well. Tracks from the 1960s of Davy, who died in 2012, singing "Shades of Gray" and "Daydream Believer" were combined with the live performance. The latter became a singalong for the audience as well.
  To bring Michael in as a part of the show, they had quite a clever gimmick. They called him on Skype! From the comfort of his home, Michael joined his fellow Monkees for a song.
  It is hard to believe that I first heard many of these songs fifty years ago. Peter, commenting on the fact that they debuted in 1966, said that the equivalent to this concert back then would have been people going to see an act that was popular in 1916. Enrico Caruso, anyone?

Hey, hey, they're still the Monkees...