Thursday, July 24, 2014

Everything's a Writing Prompt

When I moved into my classroom for this summer's installment of teaching Writing & Imagination at CTY, I noticed that someone had left a fork and spoon sitting on the window sill. Not the plastic variety, but the stainless steel kind they have in the dining hall.
Jennie, my teaching assistant, asked if I wanted her to take them back. "No," I replied, "there's a writing prompt here somewhere."
And so there was two weeks later, as the students came up with tales ranging from one about ghosts dining in the classroom to another in which my grandson Alex brought them to the classroom to play with.

A rather persistent fly took up residence in the classroom, buzzing around and landing on desks, notebooks, and even the student's heads. He proved to be quite adept at avoiding being swatted and eventually became something of the class mascot. Buzzy's fly's-eye view of what was happening in the classroom and the people in it made for another round of interesting tales. "Why do these guys keep chasing me away?" he moans in one. "I just want to see what they are writing."

Just this week, two different lessons contributed to create another writing prompt. One, which we call "Squeeze the grape," has the students adding a word or short phrase to those original three until we have an often outrageous, yet still legitimate sentence. This time it expanded to include the description of "Oliver's Dad," who had an orange uni-brow with pink highlights and a neon yellow mustache with rainbow sprinkles.
When I was explaining the "hamburger theory" of writing a five-paragraph essay, I used a green marker to draw a lettuce leaf on the whiteboard. Turned out this marker was the "wet-erase" variety rather than the "dry-erase" version so, when I erased everything else, the lettuce leaf remained.
Long story short, that lettuce leaf turned into the mouth for a rather scary-looking version of Oliver's Dad. We joked about him showing up in the dorms and I added a word balloon to the pic: "Sleep well, children." And thus was born the prompt for "A Visit from Oliver's Dad."

Meantime, our class has been regularly disrupted by the group in the classroom upstairs who are constantly moving the furniture around, dragging it back and forth across the floor. Can you guess what this morning's prompt is going to be?

Wednesday, June 25, 2014


Functionary: A person employed in a bureaucracy who carries out simple functions and has little or no authority

Flunky: An assistant who does menial work; a toady

Flunktionary: A low-level employee in a business or government agency with minimal authority and an over-inflated sense of self-importance

Your company is doing a multi-million dollar project and you have submitted an invoice. Also required are a variety of waivers, affidavits, and forms. In many cases, the first stop for your paperwork is the desk of someone whose job it is to sort through and make sure everything is there, perhaps also distributing parts to various other people or departments. 

On one of the forms, you neglected to put in the date of the invoice or the title of the person who signed it or perhaps the zip code. Logic would dictate that the person who notices it fills it in, perhaps sending you a note saying, "Hey, just a heads up that you forgot to do this."

Flunktionaries do not do that. 
Flunktionaries call or email you and say that you have to redo the forms and resubmit them. (If you try to ignore them, they will bombard you with emails and voice-mail messages asking where the resubmitted forms are.)
Flunktionaries advise you that your invoice will not be processed until the "error" is corrected.
Flunktionaries believe that he or she has every right to do this because they have complete authority over you, the work your company does, and whether or not you will be paid at all. In fact, they have none.

Some people are actually cowed by flunktionaries and do whatever is demanded, further enabling this behavior. 
Others just don't want to be bothered dealing with them, so they redo whatever is necessary, regardless of the waste of time and expense. 
A few will actually confront the flunktionaries and threaten to go to their superiors. This will sometimes get the flunktionary to renege, but there are also times you actually do have to call their boss. But if you are going to call the boss, do it quickly because you can bet the flunktionary will be running down the hall to let the boss know that you are overreacting and that your paperwork really, really, really is incorrect.

Occasionally, you can be successful in your dealings with flunktionaries. More often than not, however, you will just be frustrated by them. Often, you will wish there was some way to send a zap charge through the phone.

Unfortunately, flunktionaries never seem to get fired.
In fact, sometimes they get promoted.
And then you're really flunktioned!

Monday, June 23, 2014

Slice of Life

  A man asked me yesterday if I wanted to buy a power drill.
  I was sitting in my car, waiting outside a supermarket for Laurie and Chuck, when he walked over and asked if I needed one. Last weekend we actually did, as Chuck's got misplaced in the move and he had to buy a new one. Not so any more.
  He walked over to a few others who were also sitting in their cars, but found no buyers.
  Having exhausted his pool of potential purchasers, he came back to me and asked, "Are you sure you don't need a drill?"
  When I assured him that I was, he asked, "Want me to wash your car?"
  This struck me as an odd idea, since there was nothing he could use to do it anywhere that I could see. I smiled and told him no, thanks.

  He told me he'd been down on his luck. That he'd had a job at a nearby condo community for eight and a half years, but when he took ten vacation days off to visit his ailing mother out of state, he came back to find out that a new supervisor had taken over who told him he was no longer needed.
   He said that he was successful in a suit for unlawful termination, but it got him a cash settlement rather than his job back. That money has since run out and his quest for new employment has been fruitless. "My wife is a good woman," he said, "but it's tough. And," he confessed, "I've been drinking, probably too much sometimes."
  And so, here he was, in a supermarket parking lot, trying to sell his drill and offering to do any odd job (like wash my car) to make some money.

  I wish I had the power to create work for people who want jobs but can't get find one, like this man seemed to. Life shouldn't be so tough here in the greatest country in the world. But it is...
  I gave him a couple of dollars and wished him luck. He thanked me and walked off in search of someone who needed a drill.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

San Diego Comic-Con (or Comi-Con)

  USA Weekend has an article titled "The Best of Summer" and it includes the "10 Best Reasons to Go to Comic-Con." Directly under the title, it says "Comi-Con [sic] is July 24-27 in San Diego." We'll ignore the lack of proofreading along with the fact that there are plenty more comic book conventions around the country.
  Among their reasons to attend are the chance to see movie trailers and TV pilots as well as buy exclusive collectibles featuring Star Wars and My Little Pony. Also, you can wear whatever you want (including your homemade superhero costume) and take Instagram-postable pictures of others in costumes. They advise that it is generally okay to say hello to any celebrities you come across, either on the convention floor or at the hotel bar and that even if you don't have tickets to the actual con, there are free events and nightly parties that you can attend. (That last one is important because, if you don't already have tickets, you aren't getting in; they have been sold out for months.)
   Oh, and in case you were wondering, "Frame-worthy art awaits. Pack a sketchbook and visit Artists' Alley, where many folks are happy to draw whatever your heart desires." Hmm, seems to me that most, if not all, of those "many folks" are comic book artists. And comic books are what give Comic-Con its raison d'etre. Or, at least, they did once upon a time.
   These days you would never know. You might think Comic-Con got its name because Don Rickles, Jerry Seinfeld and Joan Rivers used to hang out there. Trying out their new nightclub routines, showing trailers of their new movies and sneak peeks at their TV shows.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Alex Comes for a Stay

Chuck and Rebecca are moving into their new home this weekend, so Alex is staying with us for as couple of days. This evening, he showed "Gappa" how to do a couple of puzzles...