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.

10 November 2013

XXX: Two-thirds Full

Lots of people told me to enjoy my final year of teaching as it would "go by fast." With the Monday Veterans Day holiday, Tuesday the 12th of November is the 60th work day on the calendar. That's exactly one-third of my work year of 180 days. Only 120 left! I've been thinking a lot about the speed of time, and I find my anticipation about June 6th, 2014 has caused my days to crawl by. I feel like I look up from my desk at the government-issue utilitarian analog clock on the wall and it keeps saying 10:30 a.m. over and over again. This year is definitely NOT racing by! I'm not complaining, a day should take a day, should it not? A week should feel like a week, right? I've always been a "glass half-full" sort of fellow, and as I look at my calendar I see that two-thirds of the year remains, not that one-third is done. I'm tired all the time, and feel harried and a bit abused on the job, but I always manage to center myself and take a few deep breaths and remind myself "LAST time I have to do THAT." Believe me, that's a huge help. Still, when I finally trudge home I feel like a squeezed-out sponge. My brain is spent, and all I want to do is drink whiskey and pass out on the couch. (My lovely bride bears the brunt--I'm sorry, sweetheart. Zombie Mark will soon be a distant memory.)

Wednesday the 13th is my birthday, number fifty-four. I started this gig when I was a mere lad of twenty-four. I remember those early days really well--it's the stuff in the middle that's all jumbled up. The last few years have been particularly intense, I'm not sure why, and the time has certainly not flown by. It's been a grind, nice and slow, like a glacier. It makes the wait for the big date a little harder, but I don't want to see my days disappear in a blur. Einstein convinced us that time is not absolute, it goes fast or slow depending on the observer. My ninth-graders told me on Friday that their freshman year of high school was "flying by." Isn't that funny? Nine more work days and it will be Thanksgiving Break. I think I can make that.