20 April 2014

XXX: Easter Break

It's my last Spring Break. Our school district always takes Spring Break on either side of Easter Sunday and I was a Catholic school kid so it is 'Easter' vacation for me. If Easter is late, which it is this year, we take the week before, which we called 'Holy Week' back at St. Dominic's. If Easter is early, we take the following week. This year we get Easter Monday off as well--that's a holiday in Canada, the UK and much of the Commonwealth. Our district builds in a snow day in case a blizzard cancels school. I think it has only happened twice in my 25 years of teaching here in Yreka. This winter we had so little snow that neither of our local ski parks opened.

The last off-day left on my school schedule is Monday the 26th of May which is when the nation celebrates Memorial Day in 2014. Added all up, Graduation Day included, I've got 33 work days left. So, this is my last vacation! Once I retire from teaching I will have to schedule my own vacations. My job has always scheduled them for me. I must say that will be a weird feeling.

Saturday the 7th of June is Commencement at YHS. That's my final professional obligation. That afternoon my good friend Tad is throwing a retirement party for me. If you are in Yreka at 4:00 p.m. on that day, come by the White's at 211 Henig Way and join the fun. If you are reading this, you are invited!

06 April 2014

XXX: Appointment in Redding

I'm not yet ready for Samarra.

On Tuesday I'm playing hooky from school. Monday afternoon my lovely bride and I will head the 100 miles or so south to the Northstate metropolis of Redding where we will spend the night. The next morning I have an appointment with a representative of the State Teachers Retirement System at the Shasta County Office of Education on Magnolia Street. We are to finalize my retirement papers and set the wheels turning in Sacramento so my name can be added to the roll of pensioners. After thirty years of paying forward into the system I'll start drawing on it this summer. I could have opted for a phone conference with a helpful STRS counselor, but after over 5000 classroom days I wanted some face time. I want to see it all happen with my own eyes. Afterwards we will scoot home on the interstate in plenty of time for the Giants opener at 1:35.

My next milestone will be my final Easter Break which will start at 3:05 p.m. on Friday the 11th of April. I'll give you an update sometime that week while I'm enjoying my vacation. School resumes Tuesday, the 22nd. We get Easter Monday off this year as it is our built-in snow day, and we all know there wasn't a lick of snow this winter.

And I'm going to start reading John O'Hara's Appointment in Samarra.

27 February 2014

XXX: 99

Ninety-nine bottles of beer on the wall . . .

Just crossed the threshold of 100 days before I retire. Countdown is now at 99. At noon on Graduation Day (Saturday 7 June), I'll be done. Then I turn into a pumpkin. Anyway, I hope to turn into something. Just not sure what yet. Mostly I'll no longer be Mr. O'Connor. So that's addition by subtraction!  The very fact that I won't be something that I was means I will be something that I wasn't. No wonder they made me a math teacher.

Alas, it is still a lot of days, and the anticipation has made a mess of me. I had no idea it would be so hard. I thought I'd cruise through these last few months. I don't mean to complain, and I deserve no sympathy, it's just weird. I didn't expect to feel so worn down. Not just tired but mentally spent. I feel like a squeezed-out sponge slowly drying, down to its last few drops of water, aching for a cool dunking.

If one of those bottles should happen to fall . . .

10 February 2014

Remo Went Rogue

Plot summary:

Remo is a big-shot lawyer.
Remo is an asshole.
Remo has evil scumbags for clients.
Remo fucks over said scumbags.
Scumbags go looking for said asshole.
Chaos ensues.

Mike McCrary writes with a brisk, jabbing style reminiscent of Ken Bruen, and combines it with a visually-rich descriptive power that makes Remo Went Rogue a hell of a read. My lovely bride and I like to read books out loud to each other, swapping chapters. You find out pretty quickly which writers are suited to the spoken word. Crime fiction, in general, works wonderfully. (I hate to label anything. "Crime" fiction is just another box to to put a writer in--I'd rather just have a "good" box and a "bad" box. Or perhaps "more of this" and "less of that" boxes.) Mr. McCrary sounds great out loud and he sets a blistering pace that keeps you turning the pages. Remo Cobb is a particularly repulsive character, but the degenerate Mashburn Brothers that are his antagonists are even more heinous, and so you find yourself rooting for him despite his panoply of character flaws. A wildcard--one of the Mashburn gang that changes sides, sort of--is also part of the mix and plays a key role in the explosive showdown near the end of the story. Said showdown is written with a clinical precision that makes you feel like you are right in the middle of the hail of lead and spray of blood. Without giving away too much, Remo gets his chance at redemption, like any good noir anti-hero ought to, and the book has a satisfying sense of closure. McCrary doesn't tie up all the loose ends, though, and you are left with a tantalizing bit of unfinished business. Sequel, anyone?

Remo Went Rogue is a new title in the ever-increasing catalog at my favorite publisher, Gutter Books. This one is labeled as an Out of the Gutter release, a new imprint under the GB banner. Everyone talks about the decline of the independent business, and the ever-increasing hegemony of the corporate machine, but nobody does anything about it. Am I right? You want to do something about the hard-working little guys? You want to fight the big guys? Then support independent publishers and authors! I know a great place to start: Gutter Books.

23 January 2014

XXX: 1, 2, 3 . . . Ready, Set, Go!

Today I turn in my letter of resignation, thus making my retirement official. I like the date: 1/23. It seemed propitious. I was going to wait until the 31st, but 1-2-3 ready-set-go appealed to me. The timing matters, actually. I get a retirement bonus if I inform the district of my impending departure by the first of February. My colleague across the hall is also retiring this year, and we have had a lot of fun with goofy draft retirement letters and other "I'm outta here" stuff. I even created a flowchart that everyone had a good laugh about. In the end I wrote a respectful, professional note--the Catholic school boy in me is just too strong. I want to walk away with good feelings and the relationships I've cultivated intact. I feel like yelling "fuck this shit!" every damn day. So many times I just want to walk off and not look back. But those are urges, nothing more. They aren't the real me. I've worked too hard over the last twenty-five years building mutual respect and trust with my colleagues and co-workers. Even though I don't expect to go back to the school district in any capacity, including substitute teaching, or even go back to public education at all, I like having the feeling that the doors are still open. I want people to think well of me even if they never see me again. Some of those folks will, of course, see me again. One, it's a small town. Two, many of them are my dear friends.

I've only 88 more days to be "Mr. O'Connor." To some of my former students, I will always be "Mr. O'Connor." That's cool. I'm fortunate to have some nice connections with former students. That's a side benefit of the job I never really expected. But "Mr. O'Connor" feels more and more each day like a part I played on a long-running TV show. Imagine being a soap opera actor having the same gig every year for decades. That's me! (They aren't cancelling the show, just writing me out.)

One, two, three . . . GO!

20 December 2013

XXX: Last Xmas Break

Today starts my final Winter Vacation or Christmas Break. After June 7th, 2014, I'll make no distinction between work days and holidays. I suppose the notion of vacation will lose a bit of its luster, but I've no doubt we'll still take them. After all, life will not be without work. There will be chores and shopping and yard work and that sort of thing, and hopping in the camper and heading for the coast will certainly be a break from that. Writing is work, and I'll be doing much more of that, so I'll still want down time and goof-off time, but I'll just have to make my own vacation rules. I've always worked for someone else or something else and had to rely on them or it to decide my holidays. School systems, I reckon, are better described as "its" or "things" even though they have real people as bosses. After all, the school calendar is set by custom and tradition (Summer Vacation, Spring/Easter Break, etc.) and not by any particular person. I think one thing I'm looking forward to more than any other is the ability to take a trip any time of the year. Teachers get a lot of holidays, but they are always at the same times of the year. A vernal and/or autumnal adventure sounds quite exciting to someone who is used to July journeys. Noircon 2014 is in Philadelphia at the end of October and that sounds like something we ought to do, don't you think?

People keep asking me how I feel about my impending retirement and I tell them it hasn't quite sunk in yet. Oh, I've been planning this date for the last 15 years, don't get me wrong, and the anticipation has played hell with my équilibre, but the reality of the thing is still off in the misty distance. When January rolls around and I'm back in the classroom shoving algebra and chemistry down the throats of reluctant adolescents, I'll start the countdown. It will be 98 work days at that point, out of 150 total. Not that many if you put it like that, eh? I hope I can keep it all together and not lose my cookies before then. Be a shame to blow it when I'm so close! Wish me luck--every little bit helps.

14 November 2013


I love thrift stores. We have a few here in Yreka, and as I had a little time after work today I decided to go a-thriftin' for things I like. What do I like, you ask? I like CDs. I'm old school--I like the full, rich sound you get from an actual disc, which is much better than an .mp3 file. I like LPs, too, just in case you were wondering. So, I spent ten bucks at two different stores for four CDs. Yeah--ten bucks for four CDs. The first one is a Dave Brubeck/Gerry Mulligan live collection called We're All Together Again for the First Time which features performances from a 1973 European tour. Yes, it includes "Take Five" as well as the Mulligan tune "Unfinished Woman" and their take on the classic "Sweet Georgia Brown." Good stuff. The next is Ornette Coleman's The Shape of Jazz to Come from 1959, which is exactly my own vintage. It was considered avant-garde at the time, but 54 years is a long time! Joe Jackson's I'm the Man was a big hit when I was a college kid, and I remember listening to his music quite a bit back in those days. All three of those discs, despite the battered cases, are in perfect shape. The last one is Nancy Wilson/Cannonball Adderley, a compilation from the early 60s that was released by Capitol (Blue Note) on CD in 1993. The disc itself looks pretty bad, but all the tunes played just fine. I never listened to jazz singers much until I discovered Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald, since then I've learned to appreciate that music. I'll say it again: four CDs for ten bucks.

I saw a genuine US Navy pea coat in 40XL for five bucks that I almost bought on principle. I certainly don't need another winter coat, but this thing was gorgeous. The wool and lining were in great shape, the buttons were original and intact, and it fit surprisingly well except that the sleeves were a little long. It weighed about ten pounds and came down past my butt like a top coat. A beautiful thing, man, but I'd have to make some serious room in my closet! I remember working at Acme Surplus in Oakland when I was a young lad, and we sold coats like that for a minimum of fifty bucks and often as high as seventy, and that was over thirty years ago. A coat like that is a classic--but not really my thing. I hope some poor working stiff on a budget finds that treasure and keeps himself warm all winter.

Oh, and I picked up a nice long-sleeve shirt for four bucks. My size (15-1/2 by 34), Van Heusen 60/40 cotton/poly broadcloth, white with very thin longitudinal stripes of blue and brown. Dressy, with a spread collar (I have too many of those, I was hoping for the button-type), but will work great as a casual shirt. Not bad for an hour after work.