Monday, November 30, 2009

Substitutions Allowed

OK, so last week was my first week of substitute teachering, as I alluded to before. Having done children’s ministry since I was about 17, I have over 20 years cumulative experience with people younger than me. I am also the father of three daughters and have had extensive experience in observing the behaviors of all sorts and ages of girls and the occasional teenage boy. And, believe it or not, I too, was a teenager once. But that was way back in the 1970s.

Substitute teachering is an interesting choice of work; I know of no other job where one can have such a variety of “co-workers” in such a short space of time. Some of them are in the fourth grade, some have doctoral degrees, some are snarky teenagers. From my vast three days worth of experience though, I have seen that there is seldom a dull or predictable moment.

My first foray into this business was on a Monday morning. Luckily I got an Art class for half a day. Some of the kids were really talented but not motivated. Some were talented and motivated, some were untalented but motivated, and a lot of them were untalented and unmotivated. I was actually able to help some of them with their projects, which gave me some confidence in my new gig. They all commented on my size, and I think that may be an advantage, because when I walked over to see what they were doing, they mostly did what they were supposed to. Of course, I had no idea when classes began and ended, but I only had to survive until about 12:15, as I later found out.

Just before I left, I met some of the other teachers breaking for lunch. They asked how it went and I told them that it went OK. One gal told me that I ought to play the part of the “crazy sub”, the one that just might snap, maybe today, maybe now. It seemed a little early for that advice; I think she just wanted to say it to see if someone would actually pick up on that role. I assured her that although I wouldn’t implement that strategy right away, I would likely keep it in my lexicon.

The next day was filling in for the “Reading Teacher” at a nearby elementary school. I was met with vague instructions, a helper that knew little more than me, and the realization that these were the “troubled readers”. Without revealing too much, suffice to say I was exhausted by three o’clock. I had spent the entire day standing, prowling, nudging, reading, and at one time when a kid pretended to shoot a neighbor with his finger, I took his pretend gun and pretend bullets; eject pretend magazine, eject pretend round in pretend chamber, pick up pretend ejected bullet, lock back pretend slide. He just stared at me in amazement.

The last gig I filled in was on the Thursday before the Thanksgiving holiday, which was to be an entire week. It was at Alvin High School, and was a German language class. My initial reaction when I saw the opening was, “Can I do this?”. But then I realized that the students would probably be able to speak pretty good English. The kids were all pretty much typical high school muttonheads, a little smart aleck and funny, but also a little intimidated by my size and moustache. Every class had a comment about my size, and I always downplayed it. My first speech, which included my name on the board, was usually about cooperation and getting along. I told them, “I am a substitute, not an idiot”.

The second most asked question was if I was German myself, due to my last name. HA, NOPE, I’m of Swedish descent from Texas City. They asked if I spoke German, I answered nein. They asked how tall I was. To that, I would hold up my hand level with the top of my head, pause and say, “uh, THIS tall…”. A couple of times my answer was “five foot eight”, and when they expressed incredulity, I would reply, “I just talk bigger”.

In each class my very clear and spelled out instructions from the regular teacher instructed me to give the students worksheets and then show a DVD of a made-up German teen-soap with German subtitles. Tanja and Christian and Julia and Hasan had minor relationship drama, with cleverly inserted counting in German, directions, ordering orange juice or soft drinks or traveling to Amerika or even riding their bikes down the Strasser. The copyright was about 2003, so the clothing and music wasn’t so bad. At the beginning of the episode while the students were still talking and milling about, I encouraged them to be quiet, since I had grown to like the music, suggesting that I wanted to download it to my iPod. That got a laugh. Once I even encouraged them in my best Hank Hill voice, “Just watch the danged vid-ya…”. They got it. One kid allowed that, “It’s rare that we get a sub with a sense of humor”, to which I replied simply, “Yeah, same here…”.

If it weren’t for the fact that every day when you walk out of the school, you’re out of work again, I would say that sub-ing, as they call it, would be a pretty good way to make a living.

Except in the summertime, what the heck happens then?

Monday, November 23, 2009

A Stranger in the Bed

A conversation the other night sparked this forgotten (some might suggest “suppressed”) memory.

There was this party at our house several years ago, our oldest was graduating from high school and we were celebrating that milestone. All went well; the teenagers left our house standing, albeit devoid of anything edible.

A couple came over that used to live down the street from us, and since we hadn’t seen each other in quite a while, we had a lot of catching up to do. Oh, they also brought the woman’s aging mother, who was even then exhibiting signs of Alzheimer’s. Well the late hour, about two a.m. was getting too much for Mom and she needed to lay down. My wife led her to our room and suggested she lay down on the bed and our friend could come get when they (finally) left.

Along about 2:30 a.m. our friend got a call from her daughter, who as a child spent many afternoons at our house. The suggestion was made by our friend that the girl “come on over” to the Soderbergs’ house, we’re having a great time. Yeah, between increasingly obvious glances at the clock, watch, sundial, hourglass, and insinuations about how exhausted we were from cleaning our home to look like nobody lived there. For two days.

Alas, to no avail. This gal was intent on catching up.

The evening eventually drew to a close, even for our guest. Relieved, my wife went in to wake up “Mom” and was greeted by the lady in our bed, covered up to her neck with the comforter, sound asleep. She gently shook her, “N----, it’s time to go home…” As the covers came off, it was revealed that she was lying there in our bed in just her blouse and her underwear.

My wife, in shock, came back into the den and retrieved our friend. She told her that her mom might need some help getting ready to go. Meaning, get-her-dressed and out-of-here-as-quick-as-you-can. That actually happened, eventually, and the second the door closed, I was instructed to change the sheets on the bed.

What? I was so tired, I literally couldn’t see straight. As I stripped the bed, my spouse gathered fresh sheets, which we quickly and sleepily re-made the place of repose. The whole time, she was going on and on about that lady being in HER bed in just her underwear. She couldn’t sleep like that! How could she?

As I drifted off to sleep that night, and maintain today, I was convinced that had it occurred on my side of the bed, I would have not heard a word about it.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


Yeah, I know my last post was about Halloween, and we've long since eaten all of the tiny Milky Way, Snickers and Twix bars. The cheap bubble gum remains intact, but other than that, the night is but a dim-ish memory. Oh yeah, I could read my last post and sorta remember it...but everybody wants something new.

And this is the apologetic, aw shucks-ing, you'll-see-something-soon post.

I have started substitute teachering, so there may be some stories soon!

Thanks for checking in!

Wednesday, November 04, 2009


This Halloween had a different vibe to it. In the weeks leading up to the event, I anticipated waves and waves of trick-or-treaters swarming for hours and hours through the streets in search of free candy and sartorial trickery.

The knowledge that the observance was to fall on a Saturday was instrumental in the assumptions that I and probably every seller of candy and/ or costumes held this year. How could it NOT be huge?

Well, the spooky economy might have had something to do with it. I know it did around our house, since my economy got involuntarily collapsed. But I think other people may have held back a little, too.

Saturday evening, as the sun began to set, a couple of little grandkids escaped their custodians and bolted to our door. They hollered the requisite "TRICKERTREET" and got the desired result.

My youngest and her little buddy from down the street awaited a call from some friends who were going to go "somewhere" to trickrtreet, with "somebody" and would be back "sometime". Not the kind or amount of information to make an informed decision about your high school freshman's night out. They decided to opt out after the concerned parents (us) conferred with one another about the situation.

Instead, I made the short, two-block loop with my girl, her friend, her parents and three year-old sister. The two older girls didn't even participate in the "gimme"; they just escorted the little cutie to her destinations. That got old after the spookhouse with live (chainless) chainsaws with their metallic whines and blue smoke filling the street. The little one was a bit put off by the hubbub and everyone agreed it was time to head back home. No protests from anyone, so back we trudged, relieved to be done before eight.

The night was beautiful though, clear and cool with a giant full moon, and I sat on my neighbor's tailgate with him and passed out his candy while my girl and her sidekick distributed our offerings. As us old guys (he's older than me, thankyouverymuch) analyzed the situation, the tides of beggars ebbed and flowed on our street.

There was the usual parade of little kids imported from other neighborhoods wearing store-bought transformer costumes, witches, fairies, ninja turtles and myriad other standard off the rack costumes. There were also some original assorted zombies and convicts and axe murderers. Nothing unusual, except for the odd collection of adults, completely un-costumed carrying pillow cases and tromping up unapologetically for a handout of free candy. I have seen one of them before, a (probably former) Walmart employee, along with a scruffy 20-something kid with a scraggly beard, and an old man, a real, live old man, looking to be in his late 60's at least sporting a fairly long, gray beard. He was a wizened little character and looked fairly hard-pressed to keep up with his companions (or captors). Maybe they were stepping up their efforts because there was a high number of houses with their porch lights off.

Most of the activity lasted only until about nine, at which time the Suburbans and Tahoes started collecting their cargo and blasting out of our subdivision at top speed. There still being a scattered few die-hard candy-addled children wandering the streets and I was compelled by my geezerness to step out into the street and yell at the speeding SUVs with scowling dads at the helm. I guess the sight of a large man glowering at them from the middle of the quiet suburban street, impeding their hasty exit ruined their evening. I can only hope the thought of killing a small goblin would have done more psychic damage than my visage, but who knows.

Between the episodes of two tons of roaring metal and "guests", my neighbor reminisced about a particular Halloween night many years ago and a trick he and some other ne'r-do-wells that he hung out with had perpetuated. Being country boys out in the country, he and his cohorts decided to dismantle an old guy's wagon and reassemble it up on said old guy's barn roof. With much effort, they accomplished the task, and upon their descent to terra firma, were surprised by the farmer sitting on his porch rocking chair, 12 gauge across his knees. He casually intoned, "OK boys, you've had your fun, now put it back, and don't break it." They obliged, and I suppose that all of the surviving members of that outing were relating it as well on this past Saturday night.

The strangest epilogue to this year's gimmefest came on Sunday morning as we were eating breakfast getting ready for church. The doorbell rang, and after exchanging puzzled glances with the family, I went to answer the call. When I opened the door, a small Spiderman stood with his hood off and upstretched to me as he said "trick or treat". The mask hung heavy with candy as his older sister, herself perhaps ten, stood nearby nonchalantly. I put the candy in his makeshift swag bag, and then handed some to the girl. She casually dropped it in his hood/bag and chirped, "Thankyou..." as they retreated to the next house. I am sure every door held the same looks of shock and stunnitude that I had exhibited.

This year beats all I ever seen on Halloween.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Don't Give Up on Me Just Yet

Yes, I know it's been a while since I posted, thanks to all who commented and commended my actions on the fake watches. I haven't been back to see if they are still available. I'm sure that if they are as yet unclaimed, that I could easily be the proud owner of two new targets.

I have a post about the most recent observance of Halloween, in true geezer form, after which I'll ask for your favorite spooky memories. So think now and be ready. Maybe tomorrow.

Or the next day.

So sue me.