TSA: Pull laptops out of carry bags at airport or God kills a kitten or puppy

After all the hype about heightened airport security for Thanksgiving weekend, I was kind of disappointed at how easy it actually was to smuggle dangerous stuff onto an airplane.

I’m kidding. I followed the law to the letter. TSA officials, if you’re reading this, please don’t put me on the No Fly List!

But I WAS expecting it to be tougher to get through security. Maybe it’s because I left my burka at home, or maybe it’s because I look like the quintessential American girl next door. Or maybe it was because I was traveling with my parents way past the age when I should have been, but apparently I don’t look remotely threatening.

Which, as a teacher, I find surprising. I’m pretty sure I can be way more frightening than your average person.

I was pleasantly surprised, however, to find that the guy expediting the x-ray lines at Dulles airport on Thanksgiving morning had a sense of humor because A) I thought it was illegal to joke about ANYTHING at the airport and B) if I had to be working Thanksgiving Day, I’d be blaming anyone who crossed my path for making it necessary for me to be there. But at 7am, when I’m normally anything but cheerful, the guy running the security line had me cracking up.

Completely deadpan, he loudly informed everyone in line to remove all laptops from carry bags and to put each laptop in a separate tray to be scanned. “Each time anyone forgets to take a laptop out of a carry bag,” he bellowed, “it slows down the line and God kills a baby kitten or puppy.”

Because I’m a smartass, I asked him if there was any way to control if it was a kitten or a puppy that died. If it was a puppy, I’d definitely pull out my laptop, but a cat? I’d hide that sucker at the bottom of my suitcase with a dozen full perfume bottles!

By all rights, this probably should have been enough to sentence me to the dreaded scanner machine, considering that you can be arrested for saying the word “bomb” at an airport.

 No joke. I went to show my dad a link to funny photo bombs on The Huffington Post and the SWAT team came swinging in through the windows to throw me into a dungeon.

And if I’m being totally honest, I kind of WANTED to get put in the scanner, just to see what all the hype was about. And I REALLY wanted to see the picture of what I looked like in it. But apparently they won’t show those to you. And my dad said that if I asked to go in the scanner, he would kill me Dexter style (which apparently you ARE allowed to say at the airport, because the SWAT team was still hovering to make sure I didn’t say “bomb” again in any context and they nodded their approval when my dad said that). So I didn’t mention the scanners, just stared longingly at them as I put all of my stuff on the X-ray belt.

“No,” the security guy told me, still completely deadpan, “God picks whether it’s a kitten or a puppy that dies.” Then he began listing items that couldn’t go through security with us and what we should do with them. “If you have a cup of coffee, finish it. If you have a bottle of water, dump it out. If you have tequila, share it.”

I kind of wanted him to be my new best friend.

Sadly, despite setting off the metal detector twice with my jewelry, I was cleared once my hands, wrists, and neck were naked and avoided the full body scanner.

I took my time putting my shoes back on (I’d worn boots entirely because I thought they might give me a better chance of getting picked for the scanner), hoping to see if ANYONE had to go through it, but no one did while I was there. Which I think is kind of irresponsible of the TSA. I mean, I’d forgotten that I had a lipgloss in my purse that WASN’T in my little plastic baggie. If I did that unintentionally, what were people bringing with them intentionally? I TOTALLY could have had a chemical weapon in my bra or something. I didn’t. But I COULD HAVE. (But I wouldn’t. Again, TSA, I promise, I’m not a threat!)

But alas, I wasn’t meant to go through the full body scanner.

My experience was the same on the way back, minus the sense of humor. In fact, I was pretty sure that if I joked about leaving my laptop in my bag with the security guys in LA, I would have been dragged into a back room, beaten within an inch of my life, then shipped off to Guantanamo, Harold and Kumar style.

But they must have sensed my desire to be targeted for some additional screening, because right after the flight attendant scanned my boarding pass, I was pulled aside by a TSA crew seated at a table just inside the jetway and told to display my palms.

Of course, I had no idea what was going on, because I hadn’t heard of this particular type of screening, and thought they were going to say my suitcase was too big to carry on, because after Black Friday shopping in LA, it was stuffed far beyond the allowed size limit and was in peril of bursting, spewing clothes, shoes, and makeup over everything within a sixty mile radius.

 So I panicked, knowing that my dad would murder me and throw my body out of the exit row door somewhere over middle America if we had to wait at baggage claim (and in that moment it dawned on me that THAT is the precise reason why he insists on exit row seats, not the extra leg room).

But no, they just rubbed a cloth over my hand and analyzed it to see if I’d been handling any chemicals. Which, boringly enough, I hadn’t, so they sent me and my ready-to-explode suitcase on our merry way.

So even though I didn’t get to experience any extreme security measures, at least I made it to California and back in one piece over the busiest travel weekend of the year. Which I guess means that whatever the TSA is doing, it’s working. Even if they ARE leaking almost naked pictures of people on the internet.

Which, if it happened, would probably be good for my writing career, publicity-wise.

I’m so wearing an “Everyone Loves a Muslim Girl” shirt the next time I fly.

Although knowing my luck, I’d get a security guy with a sense of humor and be waved straight through. Oh well.

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The real cause of zombies? Black Friday sales!

It’s finally here. The day I spend all year hiding from, pretending it isn’t coming, hoping that if I ignore it, it’ll go away.

No, it has nothing to do with the Christmas season starting (despite how much my newspaper kids will try to tell you that I’m a Grinch… but that’s really just because I keep unplugging the sound on their computers when they’re blasting Christmas music instead of working—if they played Springsteen Christmas music WHILE they worked, I’d leave them alone), and it has nothing to do with facing a scale after Thanksgiving.

It’s Black Friday.

You’d think that I would love Black Friday. I mean, I’m a champion shopper and, being my mother’s daughter, I’m genetically programmed to sense out any bargains that are occurring within a two-hundred mile radius of wherever I am. (Although I’m not at her level. She’s the Jedi master and I’m just the apprentice. Stores practically pay her to take their merchandise. I still haven’t figured that one out.)

But I don’t.

I fear Black Friday the way normal people fear public speaking and death. The way students with poor grammar who haven’t done their English homework (should) fear me. The way Rosie fears my hairdryer. We’re talking massive, emotionally crippling, panic-attack-inducing fear here.

Why?

Because all humanity disappears as soon as holiday sales begin. It becomes complete and utter anarchy, with people turning into zombies—but not the slow moving, Night of the Living Dead type of zombies. Oh no. That I could handle. I’m talking about the scary, running at full speed, ripping limbs off, and infecting people immediately through any form of contact, 28 Days Later type of zombies.

And I honestly don’t understand it. Why kill each other over a sweater from the Gap? I mean, I don’t even know anyone who wears anything from the Gap anymore, but I know at least three dozen people who would tear someone’s head off and bathe triumphantly in their blood to wrench that sweater away from anyone else who wanted it on Black Friday.

I also don’t understand the people who are willing to wait outside stores in the middle of the night to be there at 4am when they open to get the first pick of the Black Friday deals. The sales last all weekend, people!

And I hate to break it to you, but they’ve got more merchandise in the back. They’re going to restock after the first round of flesh-eating zombies descend on the store. They have to. Otherwise all the other customers would slip in the spilled blood of the fallen.

This year, Hanukkah begins crazily early, so I ALMOST understand why the Jews would be in full-out panic mode to buy presents. Plus, we die if we pay full price for anything. I didn’t think this was true, so I tried paying full price for something one time. My mother appeared out of nowhere and began strangling me. So it’s true. If you pay full price, my mother, or some other Jewish woman (because I’m pretty sure it’s not limited entirely to MY family), will pop out of the woodwork and murder you.

But for all the non-Jews out there, YOU HAVE A MONTH LEFT! If you don’t stuff those stockings now, you STILL HAVE TIME. And there WILL be sales between now and Christmas. Some of them will even be better than Black Friday sales.

All you’re doing by shopping super early is giving your family more time to figure out what you’ve got them. Because children of early-present-buying parents have an almost supernatural ability to figure out what a present is based on examining a gift-wrapped package. It’s true. My brother and I had the senses of a drug-sniffing dog when it was present time. My parents (aka my mother, because my father never has any idea what’s going on present-wise, except for the time he got me a power drill…which I actually was really excited about) thought they were being SO clever by hiding our gift-wrapped presents in suitcases in their closets (which, had we not possessed supernatural x-ray vision to see through to where they were immediately, WOULD have been a great hiding place, because my brother once described my mother’s closet as looking like the shoe room at the Holocaust museum… but scarier and with a LOT more shoes).

But no. Within an hour of discovering our presents, we knew what every single one of them was without even peeling back a single wrapping paper corner. Which we would have done if we had to. I was prepared to go buy a teakettle just to steam the presents open and then re-wrap them. But it was way more fun without unwrapping them. And I’m pretty sure I’m the only person on the planet who can tell the color of the sweater inside a wrapped box.

Then again, it wasn’t exactly a challenge in my family. Because we would be dragged Black Friday shopping every year, forced to pick out things we liked, wrestle them away from the blood-thirsty zombies, then wait in epic line that stretched around and up through three different floors, like the lines for rides at Disney World, while our mother continued decapitating zombies in the store to find more things to buy for herself.

Then we were supposed to pretend we hadn’t seen the purchases that we had just battled to the death for until Hanukkah rolled around.

This year, because I’m in LA for Thanksgiving, I’m hoping that Black Friday will be a less traumatic experience. Maybe it’s all that legal medicinal marijuana, but people in California tend to be more laid back, and I can’t really picture them turning into rage-filled zombies over random holiday presents.

But if I’m not back at school on Monday, I didn’t survive. Luckily, most of the people who fight off those zombies in movies LIVE in LA. So as long as Will Smith didn’t leave town for Thanksgiving, I think I’ll be okay.

And if you’re going shopping today, remember, do NOT start decapitating zombies left and right. To kill them, you have to kill the head zombie.

And if you manage to survive all that, buy me something nice.  Remember, Hanukkah starts next week!
(Hint: my shoe size is 8 1/2! :-p)

I’m leaving on a jet plane… if I make it through airport security in time for Thanksgiving

Ah, Thanksgiving. Everyone’s second favorite holiday.

It would be everyone’s FIRST favorite holiday if we got to eat like pigs AND got presents.  But without presents, it tends to come in second place.

I’m actually pretty excited about Thanksgiving this year though, because my family is going to LA for my brother’s first Thanksgiving as a California resident. So I’ll be a guest Thursday night instead of the forced slave laborer that I usually am when my parents host it.

A normal Thanksgiving for me starts about a week in advance, when my mother tells me what I’m expected to bake (aka all desserts, bread products, and usually about six other things that I’ve never heard of, but am expected to have recipes for anyway).

Then the epically futile search for a non-horrible, non-dairy cornbread recipe begins. My parents keep kosher at their house, so none of the things I make can have even a hint of dairy in them. I’ve tried soymilk cornbread (horrible), non-dairy creamer cornbread (not so bad), chicken-broth cornbread (drier than eating chalk in the Sahara), and vegan non-dairy/no-eggs cornbread (AVOID AT ALL COSTS).

My parents aren’t super kosher, so they have no problem with dairy products making a cameo appearance in the desserts, but after the debacle a couple years ago when my Israeli aunt ran around making her children spit out my cookies because they were made with butter and regular chocolate chips instead of the paerve ones from Trader Joes, I now have to make my desserts completely non-dairy as well (or at least lie and say I did). Which means margarine instead of butter and no store-bought pie crusts.

The Wednesday before Thanksgiving is always a big reunion night, as everyone who’s back in town goes and hangs out with their old high school friends. But I can only do this if I’ve gotten enough of the baking for Thanksgiving done. Which, short of taking the entire week off of school and renting out sixteen extra ovens, is not humanly possible. So instead of me going out, my friends tend to descend on my place before THEY go out, not to see me, but to sample the goodies I’ve been baking. Which means I have to bake twice as much as I would otherwise.

This year, nothing is expected of me at all as long as I get myself to California. Which, because my dad is morally opposed to waiting in any line ever, is always an interesting experience. We’re not allowed to check bags when traveling with him.

Even if we’re going somewhere for six months. It’s strictly what we can carry, because if we have to wait for baggage claim, he’s going to leave us at the airport and we’ll never see him again. True story. I’m an expert at Charles de Gaulle Airport because I was abandoned there for a week while my dad enjoyed Paris. In fact, the movie The Terminal was actually based on my life. You’re welcome, Tom Hanks.

And because there could be nothing worse in my dad’s world than facing the lines inherent in traveling today, we’re leaving at the crack of dawn tomorrow morning instead.

My parents will be staying in a hotel, but I’m staying with my brother, which should be fun, because I haven’t seen him since he moved to Santa Monica in July to do his residency.

I’m NOT, however, looking forward to staying with his cat. If it looked like Hitler, it’d be one thing, but it doesn’t.

And I don’t care how cute he says it is, cats are evil. Even The Simpsons made a statement about that this week.

And nothing that’s on The Simpsons could be wrong. Just like no one who speaks German could be an evil man, right Sideshow Bob?

But overall, I don’t mind the idea of traveling. I’m kind of interested in seeing what all the fuss is about with the full-body scanners. Although if I get selected for that, I might just pick the pat down. Not because I really care if anyone sees me naked, but because it’d be the most action I’ve gotten in awhile.

I also happen to REALLY like airports. I know, I know, I’m weird. But I like people watching. Which is why I’m kinda bummed that we’re flying tomorrow, when it’ll be less crowded instead of today. That’s why I hate the terrorists so much. Not because of all of the new security regulations (honestly, if they want to dig through my bag, I don’t care that much. I can’t fold to save my life anyway—if they rifle through it, it’ll probably be an improvement on my packing job—although it IS annoying that I can’t bring a bottle of water or Diet Coke with me and have to pay six times as much to buy one after security… fail), but because I used to like going to pick people up at the airport so that I could sit at the gate and people watch.

Now, people watching at an airport is boring, because the only people at the gates are the people who are actually flying. And if they’re not greeting people or saying tearful goodbyes, it’s just a lot of staring at people as they flip through magazines, bang away at their laptops, and sip coffee. Watching paint dry is more fun than people watching at an airport these days.

I’m excited to see my cousins in LA though, and I’m looking forward to being a guest for once.

The redeye Saturday night flight home, however? Kill me now.

But I’ll worry about that when I get to it.

Have a happy Thanksgiving everyone!

And if you ARE having deep-fried Turkey, try not to burn your house down.

Because I don’t care if it’s the holiday season, you’re not crashing with me unless you cook and clean, in which case, you can move in as soon as I get home Sunday morning.

Need a psychic reading? I’m your girl! Need accuracy? Look elsewhere…

When the school that I currently teach at opened, I was surprised by how small the Jewish population was. Growing up in Montgomery County, Maryland, I kind of always thought that we were everywhere, so going to an area with so few Jews provided me with a bit of culture shock.

And having a Jewish teacher provided my students with even more culture shock.

Of course, there were a handful of Jewish kids at my school. Like the one who came in during Passover and proudly displayed a baggie full of macaroons. Then he pulled out and ate his ham and cheese sandwich. On Wonder Bread. Yeah.

For the most part, the kids’ understanding of Jewish culture comes from two main sources: Fiddler on the Roof and Borat. In other words, as far as they’re concerned, I’m a singing cockroach who can be distracted by cash.

Okay, it’s not REALLY that bad. Yes, whenever I mention my grandmother’s ring that I wear every day, they quote The Hangover and say, “I didn’t know they gave out rings in the Holocaust.”

But they don’t say stuff like that to be rude; they really just haven’t been exposed to Jewish culture.

Which works to my advantage sometimes.

For example, a kid was describing an odd dream that she’d had during my newspaper class one day, and, being funny, I quoted Fiddler on the Roof and said, in my best Yiddish accent, “Tell me what you dreamt and I’ll tell you what it meant.”

The kids all got very quiet all of a sudden. “Can you do that?” one of them asked.

I could have confessed that I have zero training in dream interpretation. Or I could have told them that no, not everything that happened in Fiddler on the Roof is accurate for every Jew.

But I didn’t.

“Of course,” I said. “All Jewish women interpret dreams. Didn’t you know that?”

Thus began the era of Miss Goodman: Jewish psychic.

 To be fair, the first thing that Madame Marie’s granddaughter said to me when I sat down to have her read my tarot cards was that I was psychic (I laughed and said, “My parents will say you meant ‘psycho,’” which they did as soon as I told them about it, PROVING that I AM in fact, psychic). Not that I believe any of that stuff. Especially because when I do it, it’s just me making up crap that sounds believable to mess with people’s heads.

Which just happens to be one of my favorite things in the world to do.

So now, whenever my newspaper students have a weird dream, they come to me and ask me to interpret it. And I do. Wildly inaccurately. But the awesome part about claiming any kind of psychic powers is that, no matter how bizarre it seems, if you act like you know what you’re talking about, people will believe you. They’ll say they don’t. But they secretly will.

Like last week, when a girl told me that she had a dream that a tiger was attacking her. She tried to shut the basement door to avoid it, even though in real life, her basement doesn’t have a door. But it broke through and was attacking her and no one came to help her.

That was an easy one.

I nodded and looked very wise and told her that she was trying to control her future by closing the door, which represented her college applications, but in the end, factors outside her control were going to determine her destiny. And it was a tiger mauling her because she was worried about what was going to happen. But she didn’t die in the dream, which meant that she would overcome any obstacle that she faced. 

See? Easy. Of course, with that particular kid, I would have given her that answer even if she’d said her dream was about eating a giant pile of bananas while tap dancing on a cruise ship.

Another kid told me that she dreamed that her dog had turned into a giant purple talking poodle, but no one in her family could hear it talking except her.

Which obviously meant that her family didn’t understand her. Because the poodle didn’t represent her dog, it represented HER, and it was purple because she felt underappreciated. She was stunned by the accuracy of my interpretation.

Of course the area where my psychic abilities truly shine is in the tarot card readings that I do for my friends. Which is utterly ridiculous because I know NOTHING about tarot cards, and I don’t even have a deck, I do it with a normal deck of cards. But if I SAY that I know what I’m doing, the kids all believe it. So I’ll have them shuffle and cut the deck, then I’ll lay out the first nine cards. (I don’t even think that’s the right number, but they don’t know that, so who cares?) And I’ll make up random BS that could apply to any high school kid and watch their reactions to see where to go next.

In other words, no matter what cards they deal, I say that they’re facing drama in their personal lives (because let’s face it, that’s true of ALL high school kids. And all high school teachers for that matter). Then I say the next one represents the feeling of being misunderstood at home. Again, true of every teenager. Then I throw in something about how they’re destined for greatness to stroke their egos a little bit. And after that, even the most skeptical of skeptics are convinced of my fortune telling skills.

Because I’m Jewish. And that’s the moral of this story after all: all Jewish women are psychic. So don’t mess with us. Or we’ll put a gypsy curse on you. And you’ll need to find a leprechaun to undo the curse.  And they’re not real.

Just ask Madame Marie’s granddaughter. She’ll tell you. Just like how she told me that I’m psychic. And clearly, psychics never lie.

A band I listen to MORE than Springsteen on a daily basis: The Gaslight Anthem

Every time a new Springsteen album comes out (or an old one is re-issued, as was the case this week), I get asked the same question over and over again by everyone I know: Do you listen to anything OTHER than Bruce?

No. My music library, which is 22.2 DAYS long, is comprised entirely of Bruce Springsteen music and songs that Bruce guested on. That’s all I listen to. Ever.

Come on.  Bruce may be my all-time favorite, but I have almost 300 artists in my iTunes library. And when there isn’t a new album monopolizing my stereo, an average day usually sees me listening to other artists far more than Bruce.

Sacrilege, I know.

But even the best classic rock albums start to feel stale if you don’t give them a break and mix it up with something new. Which is where one of my relatively new favorite bands, The Gaslight Anthem, comes in handy.

Bruce fans were introduced to the Gaslight Anthem after he played with them on one of their songs in London in 2009. I had heard of them from that, but despite Bruce’s endorsement, I didn’t download any of their songs until I caught “Old White Lincoln” on XM radio and LOVED it. And unlike Bruce’s music, which I didn’t really get into until college even though it had been in the background of my life since I was in utero, it was love at first listen.

So if you’re not already listening to my second favorite New Jersey group, here’s where to start and why you should:

Album to start with: The ‘59 Sound.
The '59 Sound

While I think there are arguments for all three (and a half) of their albums, I think their second full-length album is their most accessible for someone who isn’t familiar with their music yet. The others are equally awesome in different ways, and my vote ALMOST went to their first album, Sink or Swim, because of the song “Wooderson,” which has a Matthew McConaughey-style “alright alright” in the chorus and therefore cracks me up.

But I still think that The ‘59 Sound is the best place to start.

The tracks to start listening to:

“Great Expectations”—I’m not a big Charles Dickens fan (as I explained last week), so I was a little skeptical when I saw the name of the album’s first track, but I was impressed by what Gaslight did with it. Because the song only touches on the novel as a symbol for a failed relationship and the inability to trust after a lover leaves. The narrator, like Great Expectations’ Pip, is writing poetry about Estella, but he also poses the question that I think all people have asked themselves at some point, “Everybody leaves, so why wouldn’t you?”

“The ’59 Sound”—It’s hard to have an upbeat song about a friend dying in a car crash, but in this case, it works. We get another Dickens reference in this one, as the narrator hopes he doesn’t “hear Marley’s chains we forged in life” when death comes, and instead is hoping that his lost friend heard his favorite song at the end. This is the one that Bruce played with the band in 2009, and, despite the serious subject of the lyrics, I can’t watch this video without smiling at how happy the whole band looks to have him out there with them.

“Old White Lincoln”—This was the first song of theirs that I heard. It’s not as deep as the rest of the songs on the album, but it’s a fun, upbeat rocker. And when I’m listening to an album, that’s the first thing that usually gets me listening to it long enough to appreciate the full value of the album. It’s a great song to blast on a nice day with the windows open in your car.

“High Lonesome” and “Meet Me by the River’s Edge”—Because I’m a music nerd, I got all excited the first time I listened to these songs. Why? Because they reference two of my other favorite musicians, Springsteen and the Counting Crows.  Listening to these songs made it click why I felt such a strong connection to the Gaslight Anthem’s music. Yeah, the band members are covered in tattoos and don’t seem like they would have much in common with an English teacher from Maryland, but these guys grew up loving the same music that I love. And they accomplish the same thing with their songs that makes me love Bruce Springsteen’s music: their songs feel like they could be about my life, which forges a sense of connection and shows me that I’m not alone in what I think and feel.

“Cassanova, Baby!”—I’m warning you now, this WILL get stuck in your head. But unlike the Cee-Lo song that Gwenyth Paltrow covered on Glee this week, you won’t WANT to get this song out of your head. (Seriously.  I NEED to get that song out of my head.  I’m going nuts here.  Stupid Glee, I wish I didn’t love you so much!)  It’s got a slight “Born to Run” vibe, with the idea of running all night and dancing on the architecture, but it’s more about having fun than needing to escape. And it’s a great workout song when you need to get motivated.

“Here’s Looking At You, Kid”—This song is absolutely gorgeous. It’s another one about lost loves, and really drives home the point that some of those relationships never really leave you even after you leave them. All I can say is that if any of the girls in this song are based on real people, they were idiots to leave anyone who could write a song like this about them.

“The Backseat”—this is their concert closer every night, and with good reason. This song is a tough act to follow. Live, it’s epic in a way I can’t really explain unless you’ve experienced it. Like a lot of the other songs on this album, there are references to Springsteen songs, which, growing up as musicians in Jersey, I think are hard to avoid. But the references in this song are thematic more than lyrical. It’s a summer song, reminiscent of the feel of Born to Run (the album, not the song), with a hint of “Sandy” in the line “if you never let me go, I will never let you down.” In concert, I think it’s a really good thing that these guys are now headlining shows, because I would hate to be the band that came on following this song. It’d be like sending another band out after “Born to Run” (the song).

Listen to this album. And when you love it, which you will, check out their other albums as well. Everyone I know who has listened to the Gaslight Anthem, from my students (whose tastes tend to be limited to Lil Wayne, Justin Bieber, and Taylor Swift) to my parents, has wound up loving them. And if you start listening to them now, you’ll be able to say you were listening to them BEFORE they were huge. Which they will be. Because they’re THAT good.

And they have more songs on my current iTunes playlist than Bruce does right now—even WITH the new Darkness release. And in my world, that’s the highest praise there is.

My “little sister” Lynnlee, Gaslight Anthem lead singer Brian Fallon, and me in Baltimore, September 2010

Happiness is a new Springsteen box set

Yesterday was an exciting day. It started like every other day. My alarm clock went off at 5:20am, and I promptly invited it to go do something inappropriate to itself. I took Rosie out, I got ready for school, and I went to work, where I spent approximately eight hours torturing—I mean teaching—the youth of America.

Then when the bell rang at 2:10, I dashed out of school as fast as I could to get to Best Buy.

Because yesterday was the release of the long-awaited box set re-issue of Bruce Springsteen’s Darkness on the Edge of Town.

In general, I’m vehemently opposed to album re-releases. In most cases, it’s a transparent ploy by a greedy record label to get more of my hard-earned money, and in several cases, it’s made me wind up hating the band when the “special features” that are included wind up being a different album cover and a free mp3. (Cough Linkin Park’s Reanimation cough.)

Even Bruce has been guilty of this in the past. Before iTunes made everyone’s life easier, if you wanted the song “The Promise,” you had to buy 18 Tracks in addition to the Tracks box set. And if you lurk on the Bruce message boards, there are a lot of people who are still bitter about that one, even twelve years later.

I know all of my non-Bruce-fan readers have either stopped reading by this point or else are asking, “Sara, why on earth would you spend $80 on an album from before you were born that you already had? Especially when you’re so Bruce obsessed that you already had most of the outtakes that were included with it!”

If you’re asking that, you need to go listen to the album. Right now. Stop reading and go listen. I don’t care if you do it streaming somewhere or if you pay for the album, but go listen. I’ll wait.

You so didn’t just listen to the whole album right now. I’m a teacher, you can’t fool me.

 Fine, I’ll explain why you need to.

When anyone asks what my favorite album is, my standard answer is Born to Run. And I stand by that choice. But it’s only a partial answer that I give to people who I know won’t get why I have to list two albums. The REAL answer is Born to Run AND Darkness on the Edge of Town. Bruce has often described his albums as a conversation that he’s been having with his audience for the past almost forty years now, and these two albums are a perfect example of this. I tend to rank Born to Run above Darkness when I’m giving the short answer of what my favorite album is, because I love the optimism and hope found on Born to Run. It’s an album full of potential and possibility and the idea that if you want it bad enough, anything is possible.

Darkness is a continuation of that album, but it’s what happens if the characters from Born to Run DON’T make it out of that town that “rips the bones from your back.” If they can’t pull out of that “town full of losers” to win. It’s a more mature album. It still has a lot of the optimism from Born to Run, but it’s a more practical type of optimism. The characters from Darkness have felt more pain than the characters from Born to Run. They’ve tried and they’ve failed, and (despite the advice that Homer Simpson would give) they’ve lived to tell their tale and then pick themselves up and try again.

But in case you still don’t get that this album is one of the most amazing albums ever made, here’s my explanation of why I love it so much:

The opening track: “Badlands”—The only album opening track that’s even in the running to compete with this one is “Thunder Road.” It sets the tone of the album and makes it clear that Bruce is going to make no apologies for anything. It’s a highlight of any live show, no matter how many times I’ve seen it, but especially on the Rising tour in the wake of September 11, it was cathartic, because Bruce was reminding us that “it ain’t no sin to be glad you’re alive.” The song tells us that yeah, life is hard and doesn’t always work out the way you want it to, but it still can be okay, as long as you can keep faith, and hope, and love alive.

“Candy’s Room”—In the documentary “The Promise,” which is part of the re-release package, Bruce’s wife, Patti Scialfa, said that there isn’t a love song on Darkness. Patti, I’m a big fan of yours too, but I beg to differ. It’s a gritty love song, but still a love song. (No Reno jokes, please.) Candy isn’t perfect, and you could interpret the song as her being a prostitute in the Holly Golightly sense of the world’s oldest profession. And the narrator knows he’s not her best choice because he can’t provide for her the way other guys can. But that’s not going to stop him from trying because he loves her. What girl DOESN’T want that? (Minus the potential gold-digging aspect of it… although to each their own.)

“Racing in the Street”—A personal favorite of mine. And I’m still convinced that whoever wrote the score of Pretty Woman owes Bruce money for ripping off the intro to this song for the music when Julia Roberts and Richard Gere actually wind up kissing each other in bed. Start watching at a minute and 17 seconds. Not that Bruce needs more money, but cut the man a check if you’re going to steal from him!

But Racing in the Street is flat out amazing.  It’s an absolutely gorgeous song, but more than that, it’s about finding something to put some meaning in your life. Because some “guys they just give up living, and start dying little by little, piece by piece.” But some guys “come home from work and wash up, and then go racing in the street.” Love it.

“The Promised Land”—Bruce has often said this is his favorite song of his, and it’s one of mine too. And it’s why I say Darkness IS an album with optimism in it. Because it’s not an upbeat song. In a lot of ways, it’s an angry song. Life isn’t going the way the narrator expected it to. But it’s about getting past all that and finding “somebody itching for something to start.” Because unlike the characters from Born to Run, this narrator explains that he’s not a boy, he’s a man. And he believes in a promised land. And when Bruce tells you he believes in that, it’s impossible to not believe in it yourself.

I could probably write a full length blog post for each of the songs on the album, but I’m not going to (mostly because I want to dive into the dvds from the box set). But if you’re not familiar with the album, go check it out. And if you do already know it, the new box set is epically worth the price tag even without taking all the dvd footage and outtake cds into account. Because the remastering job on Darkness itself is incredible. This is how this album was meant to sound.

And I don’t care how much it’s going to piss off my next door neighbor, I’m listening to it at the volume it should be heard at. And you should too.

Things your teacher never told you: I want to grade your paper less than you want to write it!

I spent a large chunk of my Sunday afternoon performing the single worst, most tedious, soul-destroying task on the planet.

No, I wasn’t rooting for the Cowboys or teaching my grandmother to use some new form of technology. It was far, far worse.

I was grading papers.

I know, I know, it doesn’t SEEM like grading papers would be that bad.

Trust me. It is. In fact, it’s worse than that bad. I would rather gouge my own eyes out with a blunt spoon than grade papers.

Which means that I truly picked a terrible profession as my day job until writing starts to pay the bills.

It probably serves me right that I’m stuck grading papers, because I was the obnoxious student who was typically outraged that my teachers didn’t run straight home and spend their entire lives grading my work so that I could get my five page paper (which I had spent no more than an hour writing, because unlike them, I had a life) back the next day. If any of my former teachers are reading this, I’m sorry.

When my students complain about a writing assignment that I’m giving them, I mentally pause and evaluate the arguments that they’re making against having to do the paper. And their arguments usually sound REALLY good. Mostly because I want to grade them FAR less than they want to write them. They don’t know how good they have it. I would trade places with them in a heartbeat, because WRITING a paper is millions of times better than having to grade sixty papers on the EXACT SAME TOPIC.

Literally, I spent hours yesterday grading essays on Twain’s use of satire in Huck Finn. One essay on that? No problem. Sixty? FML.

I’ve discovered that I have two favorite types of students when I’m grading essays: the kids who do a flawless job, requiring me to write nothing more than “Great work!” at the top with a smiley face, and the kids who don’t bother turning their work in at all. The latter group, in fact, tends to REALLY be my favorite, because they make my job that much easier. Just put a zero in the grade book and I’m done.

Unfortunately, in an honors (but not AP) English class, most of my students don’t fall into either of those categories. And if I had to write on one more paper that the writer needed to address the sarcasm that Twain used in answering the librarian who wanted to ban Huck Finn from the children’s shelf at the New York Public Library, I was going to lose it, find a megaphone, and start teaching my lessons with that because apparently when speaking at a normal volume, my explanations of satire are inaudible to teenage ears.

But the fact that I explained in excessive detail exactly what needed to be in their papers (to the point that if they brought a tape recorder and transcribed what I said word-for-word, they’d get an A+, even if they hadn’t read the book), isn’t what annoys me most about grading. Nor is it the sheer tedium of reading the same paper sixty times. It’s not even the amount of time that grading takes—time that I would far rather be spending in ANY other way.

No, the worst part of grading is that I actually take the time to do it (granted, because I have to. If I could get away without grading at all and not get fired, I would never grade another paper again), and then the kids look at the grade and promptly drop their papers in the trashcan. Not even the recycling bin. The trash. And then proceed to make the EXACT SAME MISTAKES on every other paper that they turn in for the rest of the year.

I mean, okay, I get it, you don’t care what I have to say about your writing (even though I’m a freaking published author. That’s cool. Ignore my advice), but can you AT LEAST show some environmental awareness in your choice of disposal method, just so I don’t feel like I’m wasting my time AND contributing to the ruination of the planet?

And I thought the guy standing on Rockville Pike in the tuxedo-wearing chicken suit in the rain had a thankless job.

In college, I was the queen of testing professors when I didn’t think they were reading my work. I would screw with the page numbers, leaving out a couple of numbers when my work wasn’t long enough, or using multiples with the same page number when it was too long and I didn’t feel like cutting anything out. I would mess with the margins, font size, and line spacing (for example, most people won’t spot the difference between a paper written in 12.3 point font and 12 point font—12.4 is where it starts to look obvious). And in one case, when I was positive that my professor wasn’t REALLY reading my work, I inserted a page long explanation of how I didn’t actually read the book into a ten page paper on a Willa Cather novel.

Not a single professor ever caught on.

Now, I’m tempted to use some of the same tricks with my grading, just to see if the kids are paying attention.

For example, if they got an A on the paper, would they really notice that the comments said that it was unreadable drivel, on par with the ramblings that a psychotic third grader would write entirely in goat’s blood? Or a B that said I think the author will have a fulfilling career in miniature golf ahead of him, based on his ability to fabricate information with a tiny pencil?

I haven’t done anything like that yet, but I’m pretty sure that I could get away with it.

Although, to be honest, if a kid DID put anything super creative in a paper to see if I was reading it, I’d probably give him or her an A, just for breaking up the tedium of grading.

No, not really.   I’m going to keep grading for real in the vain hope that SOME student will someday actually learn from my comments on his or her paper.

But it would still make grading a lot less mind-numbingly awful.