The Class

March 17, 2011

Heard from a good friend today about some students I used to teach.  Some are doing well, some are falling off, the usual trajectories for 13-14 year olds.   Working with adults is fun and challenging out here, but teenagers are a subset of humanity that can drive you mad with joy or rage.  I briefly forgot that.  As a teacher:

You identify with students.  A girl in New York used to read Harry Potter when she was bored during my classes.  Close friends and family know that this was a painful dilemma for me.   What really is more important, I thought, factoring binomials or allowing a child to experience Ron Weasley’s wit?  My ego was bruised that x2 – 9x + 14 being equivalent to (x – 7)(x – 2) wasn’t enough, but you know, I understand.  The last sections of Goblet of Fire are incredible.  Do I suppress her imagination or allow her to openly disrespect me?

You get angry with students.  A lesson went wrong or you’re behind on grading or you just feel off.  Irritable. One of the all-time great kids once brought drum sticks into my algebra class.  Unstimulated by our class discussion about example 42 on page 321, he started playing a mean solo in the back row. We’re talking about multi-step linear equations and he’s freaking out with these sticks.

Knock it off, please, I said. Ok, he said.  He’s a kind young man, generous in heart and spirit, but no kid worth anything can resist making a teacher fall into the abyss of insanity.  Five minutes later we’re on example 44 and I hear those drum sticks again, this time with whispering vocals.

Knock it off or I’m going to break those off my kneecap and throw them out the window.   As I said this, a blood vessel popped in forehead, or at least it felt that way.

Ok Mr. G, ok.

You respect the students.  There’s this one girl in Chicago who we called ‘Ice.’  A total killer in the classroom.  Worked hard, was always prepared, rarely showed emotion. Type of student that was so good you didn’t quite feel worthy- like your lessons were not commensurate with her character and intelligence.  I still speak with her through email, and her tone is the same: business, stoic, appreciative.  She’s straight A’s of course- but also professional and tough.  I would compare her to KG, but I’ve already done that 8 times on this blog.

Like any family, you see each other’s best and worst traits.  One kid gets a 48 on the exam and it’s like, buck up, work harder, come on.  Another gets accepted into Northwestern or wins the Science Fair and you’re infused with pride.  Someone’s mother gets sick and he’s off all day and you’re like, I’m sorry.  A kid who was always good does something bad. Gets caught with weed or cheats on a test or something.  You feel it because now they’re grown-up and not ready for it.

I don’t know.  It’s not an easy racket, but I highly recommend it.


Madrid Football Soccer

February 14, 2011

Lover of moderation David Brooks recently wrote something about ‘whoosh’ moments, or how people experience intense elevation when at a sporting event or a concert.  He was saying that this how the modern man seeks fulfillment in place of church or prayer.

David Brooks also has a strange NY Times picture.

No city seems to understand the ‘whooshing’ effect better than Madrid, where people gather in crowds of fifteen just to have coffee.  Life is appreciated, small moments are made large, family time is valued, whatever.

With that in mind, I could not wait to go to a football soccer game here.

right before game time

Football Soccer is the Spanish deporte of choice and Madrid sports two professional teams.  One- Real Madrid- has worldwide popularity and a bank account that rivals the Yankees.  The other- Atletico- has more devoted regional popularity and a field that feels like a bigger McCoy stadium in Pawtucket, Rhode Island.


On Saturday I landed at an Atletico game, which I lucked into by befriending someone with enchufe, or connections.

It didn’t disappoint.  Although they lost the game, the fans support their team with aggressive devotion. No one was late. No one was on a cell phone.  A few guys nervously chain-smoked throughout the game.  There was anger- real and unbridled- when things weren’t going well.  There was also joy, people hugging and sharing sunflower seeds.  It felt like an activity designed for solely for Madrid, an excuse for everyone to get together and experience something communally .

I was with James, who has season-tickets, and his little brother Louie.  Both are bilingual and were able to translate some of the profanity we heard.  Always fun to hear old guys cursing at referees.  ‘Cabron!’ (bastard) seems to be a local favorite.

Also, there is a section in the stadium where people sing for the entire ninety-minute game.  It’s not exactly chanting- it has more rhythm- and it is very strange to the outsider.  I’ve seen passionate fans.  I’ve been to Celtic playoff games.  Even went to the NCAA tournament once.  Fenway definitely has people who treat sport like a religion, but I’ve never seen people so committed to their fandom that they felt the need to sing for 105 straight minutes (including halftime) in an effort to boost morale.

They didn’t sound like Aaliyah, but it was still pretty good.


TV Phone Home

November 7, 2010

Recently we’ve watched a few network and non-network television programs.  Keeps us in the loop.

For anyone who can stomach amateur criticism:

1.  I’ve joined a fringe part of society that watches and enjoys Grey’s Anatomy.  They hooked me where this dude had a medical condition that made him look like a tree.  That was the funniest thing I’d ever seen on network television.

-We got a patient.

-What’s wrong with him?

-His arms are growing branches.

-gurgle hahaha spit milk gahhhh-  I started dying, only calming down when told that’s it’s a real condition.

Props to all people afflicted.

I have been hooked ever since. How about when Karev saved a little girl’s life, growing a homegrown trachea like it was 11th grade AP Biology. Who knew that a trachea looked a strawberry shortcake from Chelo’s?

I’m learning what it means to be a doctor.  Sandra Oh, in particular, has taught me so much: Be in a relationship with as many colleagues as possible, don’t be likable, and if your best friend’s husband gets shot, operate on him at gunpoint.   Also don’t be a good actress and make people wish your character didn’t survive.

2.  Avon Barksdale is the best.

B’s friend Courtney was in town for a week, with nine episodes of Season 3 of the Wire on the IPod Touch.   It can be sickening to read takes on The Wire.  ‘It’s so real’ I say, with no proof that it is, having never set foot on the west Baltimore beat.  It seems like the less dialogue I understand, the more authentic it becomes.

Still, its greatness inspires, especially when re-watching.  Heartbreaking in retrospect: when McNulty and Keema realize Avon it back on the streets after just a couple years.

‘Big f-ing joke,’ McNulty says. Cut to Keema throwing a trash can across the room, closing the episode.

‘Big f-ing joke.’  Who working in a (school, hospital, police station, government agency, non-profit, etc.) hasn’t heard or said that?

Also: the scene when String admits to Avon that he had D’Angelo killed is the least ‘real’ scene in a series predicated upon verisimilitude.  The sequence actually belongs in a museum.  It’s too beautiful.   The dialogue (‘I look at you and see a man without a country’) is better than anything in The Social Network, a film with handcuffs on the zeitgeist for reasons I don’t understand.

Watch that three minute scene and see the 135 minutes of The Social Network swallowed whole.  David Simon, pathological about remaining true to the street, lets himself go here.  There is nothing less real and more perfect, taking the hardened poetry of thug-life and making it sing.  Stringer saying that the detective ‘is not wrong about that.’  Kills me.

At its core is that longtime friendships and business partnerships are probably mutually exclusive.  Also that Avon’s minions are crafty with sutures.

3.  Mad Men did it this season.  Criticism for the impulsivity of Don’s marriage proposal seems warranted, but wasn’t it the best?  I mean, he proposed to Megan while he was still in the middle of a much more serious relationship with another woman.  It was an unhinged man doing something transcendently unhinged.

What made him do it?  I think the scene in the restaurant.  Don’s daughter spills a milkshake and Megan doesn’t flip out.  Don has never looked more impressed with anyone in his life.   Everyone knew his old wife Betty would’ve held her daughter at knifepoint if she’d been there.  So as wild and irrational as it was, maybe the man was just looking for something different.

Cue the hilarious engagement ring scene with Don at his sentimental best and Megan speaking French to her mother.

This season – and the series – had a much more cinematic feel than say, cinema.  I loved every part of that finale, including Joanie keeping it ‘Avon’ with the pregnancy.

dan and sophie on skype

September 23, 2010

Tonight we declared war on the mouse. I saw him slither under the apartment door and take his place near the washing machine. A few minutes later I opened the cupboard and he hopped out of the trash can! The mouse looks like he has let himself go since the last time I saw him. He is almost as big as a stick of butter. I guess the trash can has worked out for him. Tomorrow we are setting up the mouse trap and putting some peanut butter on it to lure him in. I hope Sean finds him dead before I do.

Besides the mouse situation, the apartment search has been a challenge. We have to leave our current place by Oct 3rd and aren’t exactly sure which neighborhood we want to move to. Our efforts to find a place has been humiliating. Imagine calling a number to ask if an apartment is still for rent- You have a few key sentences on your computer screen from google translator in order to communicate the points you think will be important. unfortunately a conversation is a two way street and it requires you to understand the answers to your questions. You find that you have lost control and a bead of sweat collects on your forehead. Your priority shifts and all you want is to get off the phone as soon as possible. You hang up not knowing if you made an appointment to view the place or if you promised your first born child. Yikes.

Our TEFL program at Ttmadrid is winding down. We have one more week but quite a bit of work before it ends. The experience has been challenging, fulfilling, and exciting. The students who are learning English are the best; they are so patient with us. I wonder if they ever get together after class and talk about the newbies (“hey, did you see Bethany’s hands shaking? did you see when she dropped all of the papers on the floor?”) I have taught 5 out of 6 of my classes and Sean did his 4th tonight. When the program is done we will have to get jobs to sustain our posh living (studio the size of a closet + mouse roommate pitching in).

Country for Old Men

September 20, 2010

A few months back, Dan G. introduced me to a necessary art: not caring when taking someone’s photograph.  In our family it’s understood that if he feels like snapping your picture, your objections are irrelevant.  His longtime girlfriend Soph bears most of this burden.  He just kind of walks up to you and starts at it: click, click, click.

And it’s not just family: strangers receive less mercy.  He injects himself into situations as they’re unfolding.  He pretends that what he’s doing is perfectly natural.  Once it was a family trying to enjoy a ride at Navy Pier in Chicago.  Dan loved how absurdly unhappy they looked on the (admittedly awful) ride.  Adding to their gloom was the tall, skinny photographer stoically capturing it.

He’s a punk but you need to respect that.

He also plays aggressive full court man-to-man defense.  Great ball pressure.


I’ve seen some subjects react in unflattering ways.  I think one dude threatened to jack his camera.  Another cursed him out.  Danny boy just walks along, neither confirming nor denying he’s doing anything wrong.

Madrid would be a perfect city for him.  There are always scores of people out, many of them older.  Couples in their seventies having a little stroll in Sol, hand in hand.  Geriatric girlfriends shopping in a chic clothing store.  Groups of them out for a drink at 2 in the morning, dressed with style and verve.

But, alas, older Madrilenos do not exactly love being photographed, either.

Some of these guys look angry.

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yesterday we finished packing, cleaned our apartment, and loaded all we own into a cat-pee-smelling 10 ft budget truck. we made one last stop at argo tea and got our favorite drink- the teapachino. sean drove out of the city because i was afraid i would knock off a car’s side mirror, like i did the last time i drove a moving truck through chicago’s congested streets. it was 1:55 pm when we passed museum campus. sean said “it doesn’t seem like we are leaving for good”.

an hour outside the city, the rented GPS stopped working. sean called the rental office to complain and request a refund ($60). we bought a map and decided to navigate the old fashion way (as a side note- on the second day we discovered that the GPS actually did work but we had it plugged into the wrong outlet, we didn’t pursue the refund after all). sean and i drove in 4-5 hour chunks and stopped for the night when we reached pennsylvania, due to rain and windshield wiper issues. we followed a sign for a campground at a state park. the grounds were vacant; there was not a single tent, person, or car. we slept in the locked truck (front seats) because of the spooky factor and not knowing how to find our tent without a flashlight. the campground made me think of something my dad said when he helped me move to chicago 5 years ago. looking down the alley at 1130 pm, while old electrical wires weaved overhead, he said “now this is a good place for a murder”.

at 5:45 am we awoke and drove away from the site as fast as our truck could take us; neither of us were well rested but we were motivated to keep moving. the rest of the ride was relatively uneventful. we pulled into sean’s parents driveway at 3:00 pm. the total trip was around 17 hours. we were a bit worn, but quite pleased to be home.- b

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The photography of Daniel Geraghty: