A Boring Rundown of My Schedule

It’s been a rough adjustment.

The work is fine.  The people are great.  Super welcoming.

But the commute has been brutal, not because it’s especially long, but because I do have motion sickness issues, and for the distance I have to go, it just takes too long.  It’s not an efficient use of my time, so I may have to take that friend up on her offer and accept her old car.

There’s no “may have to” about it, actually.  Especially not if I want to do the other things I want to do.  Bus riding kind of sucks, but I don’t mind it sometimes — especially since I see it as kind of a penance for smashing my last car, in an accident that could have killed someone if circumstances had been slightly different — yet when you have more than one thing going on in your life, the time situation just doesn’t work.  Not with my situation, anyway.

I know I haven’t really talked about the job itself yet when I did promise details.  Tomorrow.

They give me a choice of three schedules: 7:30 to 4:30, 8:00 to 5:00, and 8:30 to 5:30.  I asked for the first week to try different routes to the office to see what works best, but I kind of knew I would ask for the last schedule, since if I need leeway anywhere, it’s really at the start of the day, not having anywhere to be at any specific time in the evenings and all.

But this is a mistake, and I’m going to ask next week to switch to the earlier schedule.  Because the best use of my time is to get up at 5, leave the house at 5:40, and get to campus between 6:30 and 7:00 depending on the buses.  The express I take comes from rather far away, on the freeway, so if traffic is gnarly on the freeway, I get to campus closer to 7.  If things are smooth, I get there just past 6:30, which is a ridiculous swing.

So right now, I’m packing breakfast and lunch every day, having breakfast at my desk and settling in before I’m officially on the clock.  Then I leave the office in time to catch the express bus back into town at five minutes to six.  This gets me back in Kalihi at 6:30 where I walk around for a bit before I take the other bus home, getting back to the crib just after 7.

Then before I get all lazy and stuff, I make dinner and the next day’s lunch, pick out my clothes, and make sure my bag is ready to go.  I say this as if it’s been a routine when tonight is really the first night I’ve successfully done all that stuff with a little bit of time to hang out before turning in at around 10.

The truth is I’ve been horribly, depressingly sleep-deprived.  Because I’m still figuring out these darn clocks.

But now it is 9:30, and I’ve done everything I need to do except wash the dishes and brush my teeth, which I will do right now.

I’m Coming Home; I’ve Done My Time

And now, a little story I shared in G Chat this evening.
i was on my way home from work.  walked from the office in manoa all the way to chinatown (about 3.6 miles), then took a bus into kalihi and waited for my transfer bus home.

i was listening to a podcast, and this guy came up from behind and asked if i knew where this address was, holding up a slip of paper.

i took out my earbuds and recognized the place immediately.  it’s the ywca downtown, kind of where i just picked up that bus.

i said yeah, i know exactly where that is.  are you walking?

he said yeah.  i said it’s about a 45 minute walk.  he said that was fine.  i said, it’s past chinatown and on the edge of downtown.  he looked at me cluelessly.  do you know chinatown?

he said no, i’m not from here.  i don’t know where anything is.  i said, okay, if you’re walking, just stay on this street, king street, and keep walking.  you’ll know chinatown because all the lights are out on both sides of the street.  next is downtown, the business district.  keep an eye out for bishop street; it’s the main cross street downtown.  the next street is alakea street–

he interrupted.  alakea street?  is that where the courthouse is?

i said yeah.  the ywca is on the block between alakea street and richards street.  if you see iolani palace, you’ve gone half a block too far.

i said if you have $2.50 you can ride a bus right to it in ten minutes.

he said, i just got out of prison.  all i have on me is my clothes and this bible.

he had a shaved head and was wearing a thin tank top.  i could see chest tattoos.  he looked pretty young.

i said you just got out of prison today?

he said i just got out of prison now.  twenty years.

i held out my hand, and he shook it.  congratulations.  i looked him in the eyes and said with complete sincerity, i hope you have a good rest of your life.

he said, i will.  i will.  thank you.

he showed me a slip of paper with two phone numbers on it.  can you call one of these guys for me?

i handed him my phone and said hey, you can call them yourself if you’d like.

he just stared at my phone like he didn’t know what to do with it.  duh.

i called the number.  hey, is this joe?  i have a guy here who wants to talk to you.  hang on.

the guy had a short conversation with the other guy, asking him to call “mom” and ask her to meet him at that place where she goes.  

i said tell her you’re about 45 minutes away and that you’re in front of farrington high school right now.

he repeated the info, gave me back the phone.  i apologized and said i would totally give him bus fare but i was completely broke.  it’s true; i’m down to my change jar until next monday evening, and i HAD three bucks in my pocket, but i’d just spent it on two cans of tomato paste and a bottle of water.  i couldn’t even call him a lyft because i’m down to two bucks in my checking.  ugh.

but i shook his hand again, repeated the directions, and wished him well.  he thanked me and headed off.

i walked the rest of the way home because my transfer bus had come and i’d waved it off — the driver knows me and waved as he pulled away.

it’s faster to walk than to wait for the next bus.  

as i walked home i took a moment to text joe, just saying i didn’t catch that guy’s name, but if he sees him, tell him i’ve said a little prayer for him.

i’m grateful that i was able to give him a little bit of a connection and a little bit of kindness.  i wish i could have done more.  

Friday 5: Questions to Make Your Hands Clammy

From here.

  1. Who’s been a ray of sunshine lately?
    The writing partner most recently.  She’s in the middle of some big stuff that’s taking away from her goals as a novelist, but she’s adjusting, and we’re going to approach the partnership differently for the coming year.  We had an encouraging talk yesterday and I think we left feeling as committed to our partnership, even with these different needs, as ever.
  2. When do you next expect to be stuffed to the gills?
    I haven’t had a regular paycheck in over a year and a quarter, so as soon as I get paid from the new gig, I’m going to take myself somewhere naughty for dinner and eat one of everything.  No idea where yet, so stay tuned.  I’m sure I’ll document the gluttonous adventure when it goes down in about ten days.
  3. Among people you know, who can really tell a whale of a tale?
    I’ve got this friend, the pastor of a local church and a director (or something) of the campus ministry we were in together when we were in school.  He’s maybe the most charismatic person I know, and he tells a great story.  I confess that more than once when I was in college, I found myself on the verge of doing something dangerous, mischievous, or dangerously mischievous (such as stealing my pastor’s wife’s BMW when the friend who was house-sitting for her wasn’t around and I was left alone in her house with the keys to her car), and as I hestitated, I thought about how it would be a story to put me in this friend’s storytelling league.  I was never courageous or rambunctious; I was just envious of another person’s stories.
  4. What’s something you’ve been herring good things about?
    I’ve been herring good and bad things about Manchester By the Sea.  Since a lot of the good has come from Ann Hornaday, and since I (generally) roll with Ann, I’m going to give it a try, hopefully soon.
  5. Which of the S.S. Minnow‘s passengers or crew do you think you’d get along best with?
    How is anyone going to answer this with anyone other than Mary Ann?  We’d get along so well we might populate the island.

I’ve been a bit quiet in this space lately.  The new gig is throwing my routines off, but I’ll get it down soon.

Friday 5: We Can Work It Out

Holy moly what a week.  I’ll recap sometime this weekend.  I need to pound this out and get myself to bed.

  1. What’s a real-world lesson you learned from your first job?
    My first job was putting books on shelves at Aiea Public Library when I was in ninth grade.  I made $3.85 per hour ($4.10 after six in the evening — it was a state of Hawaii thing).  A good lesson I learned is that small children make a lot of work for people in service positions.  The worst part of my job was easily straightening shelves in the easies.  There was nothing easy about it.  It took me forever to get the easies in order, but there was this girl (actually, she might have been in college, so girl may not be the right word) who seemed to do it really quickly, really well, and without complaint.  She just got down to business and got it done, and maybe that’s another real-life lesson I learned there.
  2. What was pleasantly unexpected about your current (or most recent) job?
    Speaking of libraries, I discovered this week in my new job (about which, more later) at the state’s largest university that I have borrowing privileges in the library.  I have yet to exercise this privilege, as it’s taken me every ounce of waking energy just to do what I have to do, but I have taken a few moments to look up a few things in the online catalogue, and I have to say it’s all very exciting.
  3. What are some identifying tools of your trade?
    I have two trades: writing and teaching.  For writing, I’ll go with my idea board, which is basically a bunch of stickies stuck to a wall.  For teaching, the easiest answer is a gradebook, but I haven’t had a physical gradebook in a million years, so I think I’ll go with dry-erase markers.  I’m particular about my markers, and I still carry some around in case I’m ever called upon to write on a dry-erase board.  This hasn’t happened in half an eon, so this behavior may fade away, but among the first things I put into the top drawer of my new desk at my new job were several Expo bullet-tip dry-erase markers of many colors.  These are, by the way, my second favorite.  They don’t make my favorite anymore, the Avery Marks-a-Lot markers with the liquid ink in the reservoir.  They were so juicy!  You could do neat stuff with them, like make ink splatters by whipping them in the direction of the board.  I haven’t had occasion to look for some alternative, and it wouldn’t surprise me if someone has filled the niche (there are still liquid ink highlighters out there, so I don’t see why not).  I still have one somewhere, the last of a dead breed.
  4. What’s something a job required that you thought was far outside your skillset?
    Counseling frustrated parents of teens.  I didn’t get into teaching because I have decent interpersonal grown-up skills.  I don’t.  But when confronted by unreasonable parents, I’ve learned how to listen to them and somehow talk them down, and get to what was really bothering them (it was seldom about me, no matter how the conversation began).  Just listening to someone goes about as far as you need it to.
  5. Robert Frost wrote, “My object in living is to unite / My avocation and my vocation / as my two eyes make one in sight.”  To what degree have you united your vocation (your job) and your avocation (your hobby)?
    For most of my professional career, I was all about this.  I ache every day with longing to be back in the classroom.  But somewhere in the ridiculous demands of that glorious, wonderful, humbling work, I forgot that I memorized, in eighth grade, the last stanza of this poem because I wanted to write.  I’m not quite there yet — the type of writing my new work requires isn’t quite it, but I feel I’m getting closer, and it’s why I’ve pursued an opportunity like this (about which, more later).

Almost.  The.  Week.  End.

Friday 5: Animate

From here.

  1. In what ways are you like an ox?
    I always imagine that oxen are quiet and thoughtful.  I don’t know how quiet I am, but I am something of a loner and I consider myself thoughtful.  So I guess that.
  2. In what ways are you like a rabbit?
    I don’t know a lot about rabbits except what I read in Watership Down, a novel in which rabbits are pretty much impossible to stereotype.  Still, they go on kind of a long, focused journey, and I’ve done a bunch of long, focused walking this past year.
  3. In what ways are you like a snake?
    My favorite football player of all time was nicknamed Snake.  I guess that doesn’t help much for this question.  The serpent in the Fall of (hu)Man story went after Eve first.  That’s pretty much my move as well.
  4. In what ways are you like a goat?
    Are goats kind of solitary and mind-their-own-businessy?  Or am I putting characteristics of sheep (which I have recently been calling my spirit animal whenever someone asks) (although I’m changing that to an okapi now) on goats just because they make similar sounds?  I also eat a lot of junk.
  5. In what ways are you like a rooster?
    I do like my hens!


Review: Election

Election (1999)
Matthew Broderick, Reese Witherspoon, Chris Klein. Written by Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor. Directed by Alexander Payne.

I first saw Election before I was aware of Alexander Payne as a director, enjoying it for what I considered Reese Witherspoon’s breakout performance and Matthew Broderick’s almost Willie Lomanesque portrayal of a well-meaning teacher who lets things get away from him. I was also only a few years into a teaching career and too green to relate as strongly to Broderick’s Jim McAllister as I do now.

What strikes me most now is how despicable each of the main characters is, with only Chris Klein’s Paul Metzler truly acting with best intentions. A football star injured in a skiing accident, his prospects for a great senior year seem wrecked until history teacher (and Student Council advisor) McAllister encourages him to run for student body president. McAllister’s reasons could pass for sympathetic and encouraging if not tainted by a dislike for the only declared candidate at the time, Witherspoon’s Tracy Flick. Tracy is the classic overachiever, driven by some desperate need to be excellent and successful according to all the usual academic metrics. She pretty much owns the student council, and Paul is reluctant to set foot in her territory, but at McAllister’s urging, he cluelessly gives it a go. Paul’s sister Tammy (Jessica Campbell) is furious with Paul because he’s dating the girl she loves, so she launches her own campaign for the presidency, delivering a speech in which she promises to abolish the student council as her first act.

Why is McAllister so resentful of Tracy? The reasons he offers—that she’s the sort who does anything to get what she wants, and that she should learn before she graduates that this is no way to behave—are weak, and seasoned educators like him should know that what he proposes never works. He’s also obviously bitter about the career-ending affair his best friend and colleague had with Tracy, even going so far as to suggest she was complicit in his friend’s downfall. She is, but she’s a child, and no reasonable teacher blames the student in a situation like this. The dismantling of McAllister’s career and marriage are not the results necessarily of bad thoughts by a bad man: I can certainly sympathize with his impulses in both areas. He is despicable because he cannot rise above these impulses and act as his better self. I imagine that in marriage, as in secondary education, one must be able to do so every day.

Payne does excellent work with this film. A lot of the playfulness is gimmicky, such as the voice-overs by multiple characters, but it works really well, especially with the freeze-frame effect he uses as his narrators break into the action to explain things. His fondness for casting non-actors in supporting roles lends super believability to the world in which the film is set. Teachers, students, and support staff move, talk, sit, and dress the way they do in a real school, and Payne’s decision to film in a real school during the school year is another plus. McAllister drives a blue Ford Festiva, a tiny car for a small man, but shoot. He’s a teacher, and that’s a reasonable car for anyone living a teacher’s life. I know, because I drove a red one.

As he does with Hawaii in The Descendants several years later, Payne offers views of Nebraska that we don’t see in most films, the everyday boringness of a strip mall or roadside motel, for example. When McAllister drives from home to work, the scenery behind him is dull, flat, and concrete, like the stuff most of us see every day on our own commutes. Black comedies tend to be somewhat outrageous, and Election qualifies, but because it’s rooted in so much realness, it feels a lot less fantastic and a lot more believable.

While it has a lot going for it, the film falls just shy of greatness because of one thing it doesn’t do well at all: sympathize with Tracy Flick. There is a short moment near the end, where during a voice-over, Tracy gives us a hint of what her relationship with her former math teacher means to her. It’s not enough, though, and through most of the film, it’s too easy to see her just as a hyper-ambitious, self-serving annoying young woman. We sympathize with everyone else throughout the film, but Tracy only gets that brief instance when she reminds us of how a grown man who was supposed to keep her safe instead took advantage of her, and how her vulnerabilities might have something to do with her behavior. Nobody seems to weep for Tracy Flick, which is how she would want it, but she is the real victim in this story full of victims.


Friday 5: Forward

From here.

  1. What are you looking forward to in your personal life in 2017?
    Although I don’t really have an idea of how this will look, I’m hoping to be slightly more social this year than last.  I also would really like to finish the next draft of this long writing project I’ve been workingon for the past couple of years.
  2. What’s something you’re planning ahead for?
    The new gig is going to make it tougher and easier to hit my weekly step count goal.  I’ve been playing around with different ideas for the commute in order to address this.  The most appealing solution might be to ride a bus part of the way and walk part of the way, in each direction.  Last week, I walked the whole way from home to the new office, and it was about a 2.5 hour walk, but that was at night when it’s cool and when there’s far less street traffic.  It’s five miles or so, however, and that’s a good number.
  3. How intense is your to-do list for the last days of the year?
    Pretty intense.  I have a lot of work to do, for two clients, and I’m behind on my reviews for books and movies.  Need to get some groceries, too, and do some housecleaning.
  4. What’s something you’d like to jump past, between now and the end of the year?
    Almost all of my podcasts are on vacation, so I would like to jump past the vacation part, if that’s possible.  How do you jump past a non-happening?  Meanwhile, thanks to Julie, I’ve recently discovered the Judge John Hodgman podcast, and it’s super smart and super funny.  I’m working my way backward through that, and it’s been helpful, but I still miss my regular stuff.
  5. How will you ring in the new year?
    I’d like to see a movie in the theater and then spend the rest of my time quietly, at home.  Maybe with a DVD or two.  That’s the rough plan, anyway.

Fibula Rasa

Christmas was mellow.  I got most of my shopping done Friday, with one or two last things to pick up Saturday, and that always puts me in the mood for Christmas.  I have a low shopping tolerance, but not when I’m Christmas shopping, which I genuinely enjoy, even under trying circumstances.  It’s not as much fun in leaner times, for sure, but I’m mostly past those days when I just didn’t have enough money to get something decent for my closest relatives and friends.

Had a nice breakfast before taking the bus to see the folks.  We watched football and chatted.  I did some work (I had a deadline Monday).  The nephew and his girlfriend came by, we had a nice meal, we watched some more football, the niece came by.  I never saw my sister, so I sent her gift along with my nephew.

As has become my routine, after the last football game, I walked to Pearl Kai (it’s about two miles) and picked up a bus home to Kalihi.

The Raiders keep winning, but they lost Derek Carr to a broken leg, a terrible injury that pretty much wipes out any chance Oakland has to make it to the Super Bowl.  He’s regularly cited as the main reason the Raiders have returned to respectability, and it’s difficult to conceive of their advancing very far into the playoffs now, although with the level of competition so bad this year, I wouldn’t rule it out.

As I have been saying all season, I’m just happy with the winning record.  The fact that they’ve won twelve games is gravy to me; the playoffs is more gravy.  If they go out early, I’m fine.  They can come back next year with greater expectations.

I walked more steps last week than in any week since I started keeping track (about three years ago).  More on this next week, but it’s giving me some problems about next year’s resolutions.

I’m pretty sure I have more to say, but I began this at 7:30 last night and it’s ten hours later and I still haven’t posted it.  So I’m done even though I’m not done.

Review: About Schmidt

About Schmidt (2002)
Jack Nicholson, Hope Davis, Dermott Mulroney, Kathy Bates, June Squibb. Written by Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor. Directed by Alexander Payne.

I’ve often said About Schmidt is an utterly forgettable movie, mostly because although I saw it in the theater in 2002 when it was released, I could remember almost nothing about it. There were a Winnebago and a naked Kathy Bates in a hot tub, but if a third plot element were the question in Final Jeopardy, I’d have gone home a loser. So in my review of (and catchup on) Alexander Payne’s directorial oeuvre, I was looking forward to this one because it seemed almost like seeing something new, while also not looking forward to it because I was pretty sure my not remembering it was precisely the correct response.

I was right on both expectations. By itself, it is a forgettable film, setting up some kind of emotional equation it never solves, like those reactions in tenth-grade chemistry you have to balance, connecting this oxygen atom to that hydrogen atom and making it all even out. Examined as part of Payne’s filmography, which was my intention this time, it’s a lot more interesting. Although plot-wise it has almost nothing in common with Election, the film Payne directed just before it, or Sideways, the film he directed just after, it has interesting thematic and film-making similarities.

Primary among them is Payne’s interest in representing his home state of Nebraska in a way that seems to be uniquely his. The opening shot is mimicry of the first moments in Citizen Kane: from a distance, across a vast, flat cityscape, we see a lone high-rise. Subsequent shots bring the building closer, seen from different angles but always with the tower occupying the same place in the frame, growing larger and larger, until we are inside the building and see a bored Warren Schmidt (Jack Nicholson) at his empty desk, watching the second-hand of the clock tick off the final moments of his professional career. Omaha is no Xanadu, and Warren R. Schmidt is no Charles Foster Caine.

Matthew Broderick in Election, Paul Giamatti in Sideways, and Jack Nicholson in About Schmidt all play small men living small lives, the first two in the middle, and the last near his end. We drop into Jim McAllister’s life just as he’s making his idiotic choices, into Miles Raymond’s sometime after, as he’s still dealing with the consequences, and into Warren Schmidt’s as he discovers that his mistakes were made long ago, without his being aware of them, as he earned professional success only to discover that a life’s work has amounted to nearly nothing. It’s a good idea, but I have difficulty understanding Payne’s intention. How am I meant to feel about Schmidt’s journey and destination, by the time this film concludes?
(spoilers in this paragraph only)

Schmidt expresses his concern about his daughter’s marriage, in a well-done scene with Hope Davis, where she says something like, “Oh, now you care about my decisions?” We don’t know exactly what’s come between her and her father, but it’s easy enough to imagine that it’s the stuff that happens to many of us in our own families. So far, so good. But then Schmidt offers a toast at the reception, at first a bit awkward, but then gracious and seemingly heartfelt. Are we supposed to take his words at face value? It’s difficult to tell whether he’s had a change of heart or is merely playing a part. Cut to the final scene, where he’s sitting home alone at his desk, certain that his life has amounted to nothing. He’s been writing letters to Ndugu, a young boy he’s sponsoring through one of those charities, and there is a letter from his teacher, telling him how much Ndugu has appreciated his gifts, along with one of Ndugu’s drawings, a crude representation of a man holding hands with a boy. Schmidt begins to sob, and the film is over.

Is this a moment of despair, or is it a moment of redemption? I could tolerate not knowing if there were evidence enough to support either conclusions, but there isn’t. I suppose the stronger case can be made for despair, but there’s been enough good interaction during Schmidt’s trip to imply that he’s got a lot of interesting living to do, if he decides to live it. Another possibility is that Schmidt is finally taking a moment to grieve properly, but I think he has his moment the night he sleeps on the roof of his RV, and our last image of him should be more positive.

Now that I’ve seen this film three times (once in the theater, twice on DVD) I’m much fonder of it than I once was, but it’s really no better a film. Seven years ago, when I first set up my Criticker account, I ranked it 66/100; I think 60 is more like it now.


Friday 5: Something’s Afoot

  1. What’s the nicest pair of shoes you’ve owned?
    About fourteen years ago, I bought a rather expensive pair of shoes.  Or maybe they weren’t so expensive.  I’m kind of cheap when it comes to shoes, so I don’t know what expensive shoes are.  These were a nice pair of black dress shoes from J. C. Penney and they were about a hundred and twenty-five bucks.  They look good; I still have them.  They are in need of a good shine, though, and I haven’t worn them in maybe five or six years.  When I wear them, I usually get complimented on them.  They’re okay for what they are, but I don’t wear them unless I really need to.
  2. What’s likely to be your next shoe purchase?
    Almost certainly some athletic shoes for walking around in.  I just bought a really, really cheap pair of all-black Avias at Walmart for fifteen bucks, and they’re a lot better than I’d have expected.  They look pretty good, good enough to wear to my job interviews this past month, and they’re confortable enough.  My right foot has been a bit achey lately, and I’m wondering if it’s the shoes.  The right shoe’s been noticeably loose, but I tightened up the laces last night and it felt a lot better.
  3. Where’s your favorite place to get shoes?
    For my entire teaching career, I wore all-black Vans to work.  Teaching really dictates athletic shoes over dress shoes, no matter what they tell you about appearances.  The same is true of jeans, but both schools where I taught have been slow to embrace this fact, because apparently appearances mean more than practicality, despite very few people ever actually seeing me teach except my students, who didn’t care what was on my feet.

    So all-black Vans were a nice compromise.  They’re comfortable for most of the moving around I did, and you’d have to look closely to notice they were really skater shoes.  There used to be a Vans outlet nearby, down at the old Dole Cannery, but when it opened a new location in Waikele, where all the outlet stores are, it closed shop in town, so my go-to has been Famous Footwear.  But I do prefer the Vans store when I can get out there.

    I once bought a pair of running shoes from ESPN, back when they sold gear from the website.  They were marked down quite a bit, and I was running five days a week after work, so I kind of thought this would be the most hassle-free way to keep myself in decent shoes.  I’m thinking I will go back to online shopping for shoes in the near future.

  4. When did you last swap out the insoles or laces on a pair of shoes?
    I get insoles almost all the time now.  Since the budget dictated really inexpensive shoes this time around, I bought some gel insoles that cost about the same as the shoes, so call it about three weeks ago.  So yeah.  I’m gellin’ like a felon.  I haven’t bought laces since high school.
  5. What were the last shoes you got rid of like?
    I wore all-black New Balances for almost the whole year.  I bought them for the office when I was working in Chinatown.  They looked great, but then I no longer worked in Chinatown and didn’ t need to get dressed up, but by then I was really used to them, and they were built for activity anyway.  I Shoe-Gooed them twice to get a few extra miles out of them.  Finally had to toss them when the hard rubber sole actually wore all the way through to the foam-rubber cushion beneath.  I conservatively estimate that I put 2500 miles on them.