Hey homeless guy: I’ll give you money if you DON’T pee in front of me next time!

On Saturday, while I was doing my part to help stimulate the economy (aka shopping for crap I don’t need), I saw a homeless man on Rockville Pike.

Which is really sad.

And because I’m a sucker and tend to feel enormous guilt when I’m driving past homeless people in my little red sports car while I’m out shopping for stuff like texting gloves and the ONE shade of Stila eyeshadow that I don’t have yet, I usually give homeless people a dollar or two.

Which means that when I drive up to a corner, homeless people flock to me like a scene out of The Birds.

Or like that South Park episode about homeless people. Well played South Park, well played.

But the guy I saw Saturday did not get any of my hard-earned (though usually spent on ridiculous purchases) money.

Because he was too busy peeing on Rockville Pike to be focused on his panhandling.

I couldn’t make this up if I tried.

Well okay, I could. Because I’m a writer. But I didn’t. He was actually peeing.

I mean, okay, I guess when you’re homeless, the world is your toilet.

But it’s also your bed and your dining room. And I feel like you shouldn’t pee in either of those places.

I guess the point of what I’m saying is that even homeless people should follow certain etiquette rules. In fact, they probably should follow them more strictly than non-homeless people, because homeless people, like Blanche Dubois, have always depended on the kindness of strangers. (How many of you just read that sentence in a southern accent because I threw the Blanche Dubois reference in there?)

Of course, homeless etiquette differs vastly from non-homeless etiquette. But because I’m the sap who usually DOES shell out money to them, I feel it’s my duty to create the etiquette guide for homeless behavior. So here goes.

Homeless etiquette rule #1: Look the part. I mean, honestly, if you’ve got a sign that says you’re a homeless veteran who’s supporting six kids and you’re wearing a Rolex, I’m not all that sympathetic. But if your watch is drawn on with a magic marker, I’ll stop to give you money.

Rule #2: Don’t let racism get in the way of your panhandling. This one is a true story—my mother stopped to give a man a dollar one time and he asked her if she was Hispanic. My mother (who is of Russian Jewish descent) said, “What if I am?” And the man shook his head and gave her back her money in distaste. I mean really dude? No wonder you’re homeless!

Rule #3: Don’t lecture the person who’s giving you money. Another true story—I stopped and gave a man a dollar one day. He asked if I had accepted Jesus as my personal lord and savior. I said no, I’m Jewish (and thought about telling him that I was on my way to Lord and Taylor because I love shopping, but thought that might be in bad taste). And unfortunately, I didn’t realize I was stopped at the world’s longest traffic light. Because I got a 12-minute lecture on the importance of accepting Jesus and being saved.

At which point, I asked for my dollar back.

(Not really. But I wanted to. And I’ve seen him since then and just keep my eyes straight ahead and my windows rolled up if I’m stopped at a light near him. I don’t need the Jesus lecture AGAIN.)

Rule #4: Have a sense of humor. I know, I know, you’re homeless. It’s not funny. People shouldn’t laugh at your misfortune. But think of it this way: if you make someone laugh, you’re not panhandling, you’re entertaining! And there’s far less shame in busking than there is in begging.

My two favorite examples of this were both spotted in Venice Beach. One was a man who was peacefully sitting on a blanket with a hat out next to a sign that just read “F*** You” (minus the asterisks, of course). And that guy had more money in that hat than I had in my wallet. (Which isn’t surprising because we’d already passed several homeless people and they were trailing behind me like baby ducks hoping I’d throw them another crumb at that point.) But the sign made me laugh. So he got a dollar.

My other favorite example was spotted in Venice Beach when I went to visit my brother for Thanksgiving this year. A man was walking around singing a song he’d written. I mean, it wasn’t exactly going to win a Grammy, but it was catchy and funny, so I’m pretty sure he was raking in the dough. The lyrics? “Jingle bells, jingle bells, help me get drunk,” repeated over and over all day. Honestly, I kind of wanted to go buy him a fifth and be like, Merry Christmas.

Rule #5: Don’t pee on the freaking road and then expect people to hand you money! I mean, come on! I’m not giving you cash if you give my car THAT kind of a car wash! Hand sanitizer? Sure. Money? HELL no.

Following these simple rules will make homelessness far more pleasant in this country.

Wait. Most homeless people probably don’t have internet access and therefore aren’t going to see these rules.


Oh well.

In that case, here are some of my favorite homeless signs from Google images… enjoy!

The State of the Union is more fun when it’s segregated like a middle school dance

Last night was kind of like my Super Bowl. Because once the Redskins are out of the running, my interest in football dwindles to the approximate level of my interest in Nascar, tennis, bowling and golf. (Although I have to admit that this year, I was quite relieved when the Redskins’ season ended because it meant I was being put out of my misery… it’s been a painful few years.)

Don’t get me wrong, I like the commercials during the Super Bowl and all. But I’m a total news junkie (which is probably a good thing considering that I teach journalism) and I’m kind of a political junkie as well. Which means that when I watch the State of the Union, the noises coming from my apartment sound like when I’m watching Redskins game.

Well, okay that’s a little misleading. With Obama in office, it sounds like when I’m watching a game that the ‘Skins are winning. When George W. Bush was giving the State of the Union, it sounded more like the most recent season, with me yelling “NOOOOO!” “COME ON!” and many less appropriate sentiments as well.

Of course, last year had one of those moments with the lovely, “You lie” incident, at which point I enthusiastically told Joe Wilson EXACTLY what he could go do with himself in far too graphic detail to print in this blog and still keep my teaching job. Let’s just say it caused Rosie to go hide under my bed.

The State of the Union causes me some stress though. Because it’s REALLY hard to decide what network to watch it on. I mean, I have picture in picture, which I tend to use exactly once a year for this event, because I LOVE seeing what Fox News says about it compared to what every other network says.

This year, I chose to watch it on NBC, mostly because I adore Brian Williams. Partially because he’s a huge Springsteen fan and his interview with Bruce when the Darkness box set was coming out cracked me up, but mostly because his cameos on 30 Rock as himself are my absolute favorite. There’s something about someone who’s THAT deadpan when they’re funny that I love. So even though the State of the Union isn’t typically funny, I still love Brian Williams’ introduction of it, monotone voice and all.

But I have to admit that Fox News is my favorite for oh-so-many reasons. I just love the ridiculousness factor. Granted, my favorite Fox News moment of all time was right after the Indonesian tsunami. I was in line at the dry cleaners and they had Fox News on. And there was this cute little blonde reporter covering the tsunami from Indonesia and she had her serious reporter face on and her serious reporter haircut, and she explained that while scientists had one explanation for the tsunami, “most people here do believe that the tsunami was, in fact, the wrath of an angry god.” And underneath her on the screen, Fox News flashed the message “Tsunami: Wrath of Angry God.”

I don’t think I’ve ever laughed that hard in my life. Nor have I ever gotten such weird looks while I was in line at the dry cleaners. Wait, that’s not true. I was on my cell phone with my grandmother one time and was trying to explain why you can’t use your computer’s cd-rom drive as a cup holder. I think I got weirder looks that time. But I digress.

Fox News declares the President’s speech a failure before it even happens. Which I find hilarious in a year like this year, when Obama’s speech didn’t go out to the networks in a finalized form in advance. How do they know it was a failure? Easy. If a democrat said it, it was bad. If Glenn Beck or Sarah Palin said it, it was good.

God help America. I think we need it.

The reason I love watching on a split screen though is because the different networks all show different people reacting during the speech. Most of the news networks do a mix of people loving it and hating it and make an attempt to show a fair and balanced mix.

Fox doesn’t bother with that. They just show Republicans. Which makes sense. Because except for me, they’re the only ones watching the speech on Fox. But if you watch Fox News, you’d think no one stood or applauded during the speech.

The big issue leading up to this year’s State of the Union wasn’t what Obama was going to talk about, it was the bipartisan seating. Now in theory, it’s a good idea. And it makes it a lot harder for there to be idiots like Joe Wilson yelling stuff out during the speech. Because I’d like to see him try that with Nancy Pelosi sitting next to him. Did you see the look she gave him last year? If looks could kill, he’d be deader than I think my neighbor is! And I mean, if she was next to him, she’d just stab him. I saw her in the pit at a Springsteen show one time. She may be little, but she’s tough.

I understand that the bipartisan seating presents the image of a unified front, but I like the State of the Union audience the way that I like a middle school dance—with opposing forces as far apart as they can get. The reason for this is simple: it makes it easier to see who the jackasses are when they’re sitting with the other jackasses. It’s hard to yell at half of the house when they’re mixed in with the half that I like.

Although I did think it was a little funny that John Kerry and John McCain were next to each other. It was like Loser’s Alley there. All they needed was Al Gore next to them. But he isn’t allowed to sit with them. Because his name isn’t John. And because he probably technically won the 2000 election. But that’s another story.

I had to finish this before the vultures descended to pick the speech apart (because some of us have to go educate the youth of America early in the morning—which Obama DID say we need more people to do), so I’ll leave the other bloggers out there to discuss the specifics of that, and I’ll end on this note:

Who’s impressed that I made it through a whole thousand word blog post WITHOUT making fun of John Boehner’s name?

Yeah, he’s never going to become President with that name. Can you imagine introducing “President Boehner?” I mean, I’d cry too if that were MY last name!

Damnit. Okay, well I made it through the FIRST thousand words without making fun of his name. Which, considering that I spend all day with teenagers, is a pretty big accomplishment.

Guns don’t kill people, I do. With my mind.

I think my next-door neighbor died.

Now before you get all, “aww that’s so sad,” on me, I should warn you, he was basically Mr. Heckles from Friends.

But meaner.  He was mean and cranky and used to slip anonymous and insulting notes under my door saying that my tv was too loud and he was going to report me. Of course, I got one of those notes when I hadn’t even been home for several days one time, so I so don’t think that my tv was actually that loud.

He’s also the reason why my dog, Rosie, had to wear a bark-control collar that shocked her when she barked. He’d left a note under my door saying that he was tired of listening to her crying in the morning after I left for work and if I didn’t do something about it, he was going to report me.

I went out that day and spent $100 on a shock collar, then left him a note saying that I’d taken care of it. The next day I got a letter from the condo association saying that I needed to get Rosie’s barking under control.

Because he told on me the same day he issued the warning.

Clearly, he was not my favorite person in the world.

In fact, whenever I talked about him, I usually would conclude with something along the lines of “God, he’s so awful, why doesn’t he just go die already?”

Which is why I felt pretty bad when I came home from school three weeks ago and saw ten paramedics who weren’t in a hurry and who all took the time to talk to me and pet Rosie before going into his apartment. They didn’t tell me what happened, and I didn’t want to be creepy and stand out in the hall, but logically, if the paramedics were going to someone who was alive, they A) wouldn’t need that many of them, B) would be hurrying instead of flirting with me, and C) wouldn’t want dog on their hands.

Ergo, he is dead.

And the worst part is that my first reaction wasn’t to feel bad. It was to assume that Rosie had tunneled through the wall Shawshank Redemption style and killed him to retaliate for the bark collar situation.

My second thought was that now I can watch tv as loud as I want. Which was pretty fantastic. Because it was a Tuesday.  Glee was on.

THEN I felt bad.

And I realized that I’m pretty much going to hell.

I’m also not looking behind any of the pictures in my apartment in case Rosie DID dig a tunnel through the wall. If she’s guilty, I’d rather not know.

But I started thinking about it. I’d spent a lot of time and energy wishing him dead. So if Rosie DIDN’T kill him, it means I did. With my mind. Which, if I can channel that power, would be awesome. I decided to test this theory out and spent a few minutes concentrating on the thought, “I REALLY wish Bruce Springsteen would show up at my door.”

Unfortunately, that didn’t work. I think I need to practice with this power if I want to use it for good (or for evil—muahahahaha).

But until then, I’m never saying that I hope anyone dies ever again, even when I’m kidding.

A lot of people have been asking me why I don’t just go knock on his door and see if he’s alive. Which I would probably do if he wasn’t such a crotchety old codger.

But right now, my desire to not have any interaction with him is slightly greater than my desire to know if he died or not. So I’ve been trying to come up with passive aggressive strategies to see if he’s alive or dead. 

Strategy 1: Look for an obituary. Negative. But in the five-and-a-half years that I’ve lived in my current house, I’ve never seen anyone other than him go into or out of his apartment. So who would have put an obituary in if he DID die? That was therefore inconclusive.

Strategy 2: Run to the door and look through the peephole anytime anyone walks by. The laundry room is right across from my door, so if he’s alive and wants clean clothes, he’s got to pass by there sometime. But no luck… which points toward him being dead because not only do dead men tell no tales, they also don’t need clean underwear or socks.

Strategy 3: Find a phone number and call him with my number blocked. No luck. If he has a phone, he’s not listed. Which makes sense, because why would a mean old man want people to be able to find him? Again, inconclusive.

Strategy 4: Stick a camera on a pole and hold it out over my balcony to take some pictures into his house and see if anyone was moving. One of my students came up with this plan, and I liked it, but it has two MASSIVE flaws: 1) if he IS alive and caught me doing that, I’m pretty sure he’d press charges (and an arrest record is frowned upon when you’re a teacher… even if it’s NOT for doing something super shady), and 2) what if he IS alive and is one of those sick, twisted individuals who walks around his apartment naked? I’d have to gouge my eyes out, Oedipus-style and then kill myself. I mean, it’s fine if I walk around MY apartment naked, but I’m not an old man. And my desire to not even take ANY chances that could result in me having to gouge my own eyes out is FAR stronger than my desire to see if he’s still alive or my desire to not talk to him. So that plan was out.

Strategy 5: Engage in all the activities he usually complains about. I’ve been cranking the volume on my tv every night, fully aware that if he IS alive, he would DEFINITELY complain about the noise, but I haven’t heard from him. Which, other than the paramedics and the fact that I haven’t seen him since before Christmas is my strongest evidence that he’s dead. Because threatening me seemed to be his sole source of entertainment in life.

I thought I lucked out on Wednesday night, because the condo association put notes on everyone’s door about some construction that’s going on. I figured that would be useful, because dead men can’t take flyers off their doors. And when I came home from school today, his flyer was gone. But so was the flyer on the door of the empty apartment down the hall. So again, inconclusive.

Of course, as several people pointed out (because I’ve been live tweeting my attempts to find out if he’s alive or dead), if he IS alive and reading this blog/my Twitter updates, I might wind up being the dead neighbor. But I’m not scared of him. Unless he IS dead AND is reading this, in which case, I’m very, VERY frightened.

But the moral of this story is simple: don’t piss me or Rosie off. Because one of us might have the ability to kill you. I just don’t know which one yet.

"If God is a DJ, life is a dance floor, love is the rhythm, you are the music"

Saturday night was about as perfect as they come.


Because for only the third time in my concert-going life, I got to see Bruce play in Asbury Park. And in my world, that is truly as good as it gets.

If you’re not one of my fellow Bruce fanatics, I know that you don’t understand the significance of this. And you’re probably rolling your eyes and saying, “Here she goes, talking about Bruce again.” But hear me out, I’m going to try and explain it.

Wikipedia defines religion as “a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of life and the universe, especially…human beings’ relation to that which they regard as holy, sacred, spiritual, or divine.”

Keeping in mind the one infallible tenet of the universe that Wikipedia is NEVER wrong, I think that music can fall into the category of a religion.

Go with me on this. Picture music as a religion. I mean one of the big religions, not some little weirdo one like that church of body modification (it’s real… bizarre, but real) or a cult like Scientology or Jews for Jesus, but as a real, legitimate religion.

(Note: if you’re easily offended by people mocking religion, you probably don’t want to read the rest of this post… And if you ARE easily offended and DO read the rest of this post despite my warning, please don’t post your comments about how I’m a heathen because I’m just going to delete them. Yes, I have that power. Which I suppose makes me the god of this blog. Insert evil laughter here.)

Obviously Bruce is at the center of the particular denomination of musical religion that I practice, but just as Islam teaches that Jesus was a prophet, I can see the inherent value of other musical messiahs.

So okay, if Bruce is the deity-figure (I’m going to refrain from calling him Jesus—partially because I think that’s going to offend everyone but the Jews (I’m not as worried about offending Muslims because I’m an American Jewish chick… they’re not reading this anyway and if they are, my very existence is already insanely offensive to them) and partially because I’m Jewish and calling him Jesus just gets too confusing), that would make the members of the E Street Band his disciples. If I had better Photoshop skills, I’d do a version of the Last Supper to illustrate this. But my Photoshop skills are, unfortunately, somewhat limited and I don’t feel like wasting that much time. You get the idea.

Then there are the prophets. These are the other musicians who are heavily influenced by Bruce. (And you could probably make an argument that since Bruce was heavily influenced by Elvis, Bob Dylan, and Chuck Berry, among others, they could figure into some Father/Holy Ghost type analogy, but I don’t know enough about Christian theology to really flesh that out.) So in that group would be the Gaslight Anthem, Jesse Malin, Tom Morello, Eddie Vedder, Social Distortion etc. All of them are ABSOLUTELY worth going to see in their own right, but their music/styles contain some elements of the Bruce gospel.

We also have the scholars, who, like biblical scholars, interpret the word of our deity and pass these interpretations on to the masses. Some, like Chris Phillips and Dave Marsh, are established as being the authorities (love them or hate them, the Bruce camp has cemented their position by giving them super exclusive interviews), whereas others learn from these teachings and put their own spin on what they’ve taken from Bruce. You can find these scholars in many places, from BTX to Greasy Lake and everywhere in between. Some are strict and believe that only their interpretation is legitimate, whereas others are more welcoming of new points of view. (Think of the difference between ultra-orthodox Jews and reform Jews—you find the same kind of argument about what makes someone a “real” fan on BTX pretty often.)

I, as someone who has written a book in which the characters meet following Bruce and as someone who blogs about his importance in my life fairly often, fit into the scholar group, although I’m still a novice by most standards. My father was the one who introduced me to Bruce and he was the one who started taking me to shows, and it is a pretty male-dominated scene among the heavy-duty Bruce fans. And in my debut work, Beyond the Palace, I told the story from the point of view of a guy.

Which, of course, makes me Yentl.

(No one but my mother laughed at that, but it amused me. Papa, can you hear me?)

But the best part about travelling to our Jerusalem (Asbury Park) to worship at the holiest of holy sites, isn’t even that Bruce showed up. (Don’t get me wrong, that was absolutely unreal.) No, the best part is the feeling of community among the true Bruce fans at a show. Because I don’t care what people on BTX say makes you a real fan versus a fair-weather fan; when you’re at a show in Asbury Park and the lights have dimmed and there’s even the slightest whisper in the air that Bruce could be there that night, you’re with your family.

That feeling struck me several times Saturday night, well before Bruce took the stage. I had conversations with a whole bunch of different people who had been at the same shows I’d been at, who had the same bootlegs, who loved the same other musicians, and who felt the same things that I felt being there that night. And that sense of community and belonging is the reason so many people go to synagogue or church week after week. It’s to feel a part of something bigger and to be with people who believe in the same things you believe in and have faith in the same things you put your faith in.

No, I don’t literally worship Bruce. I’m actually a fairly observant Jew, and I understand that comparing music to religion is a stretch for those who don’t feel the way that I do. But the reason that I think it’s an apt comparison is that it has given so much to my life and to who I am as a person. And Saturday night at the Paramount Theatre was where I truly felt that I was home. And I can only hope that all of you who read this have a place where you can feel that same sense of acceptance and belonging.

And I REALLY hope that 2011 brings a new tour. Because I’m already eagerly anticipating my next religious experience.

I’m tired of hearing about Sarah Palin… in other news, I’m a Leo now!

I have officially turned to Twitter as my primary source of news.

But Sara, you’re a print news junkie! The Washington Post website is your homepage.

True. But until all this Sarah Palin crap blows over, I’m avoiding all mainstream media. Seriously. I’m done. I’m all for demonizing her and am considering changing my name just because she ruined a perfectly good first name by being an idiot, but what happened in Tuscon isn’t her fault.

Of course, it’s COMPLETELY her fault that she jumped into the middle of all of this the day that the President was speaking in Tuscon and used a hugely controversial phrase (which I’m convinced she didn’t understand. I mean, come on, if she doesn’t know “refudiate” isn’t a word, she doesn’t know the anti-Semitic history of “blood libel”), but she only was able to push her way into the limelight because the media let every nut who wanted to blame her for the shooting have a soapbox to stand on.

As a journalism teacher, what I see is particularly disheartening. I strive to teach my journalism students that they need to be fair and balanced in their reporting and get a variety of differing opinions for their stories. But how on earth are they supposed to learn to do that when they’re bombarded by news sources that consider a report to be balanced if their version of diversity is interviewing a right-wing extremist and a left-wing extremist?

In other words, you can balance out Sarah Palin’s craziness by also interviewing Bob Brady, who is proposing legislation making it illegal to use violent rhetoric. They’re both idiots and neither is actually representative of America. At least I really, REALLY hope they’re not.

And it’s a REALLY bad sign when Twitter has become a more reliable than any news network. I mean, it’s like trusting Wikipedia: anyone can say anything they want there. (Although whoever hacked the Wikipedia entry for “blood libel” and put Sarah Palin’s pic up, call me. I want to be your friend.)

So because Twitter is now my primary source of news, I was able to deduce that the biggest story of the day yesterday was the change in astrological signs. Apparently, by spending my whole life up until yesterday as a Virgo, I was living a lie.

I have to admit, I always suspected as much. I never really felt like a Virgo.

(Shut up, it has NOTHING to do with Virgo being the virgin. Jerks.)

But now I feel like I’m having an identity crisis. The first thing I do every morning when I wake up is make my bed. But that’s a Virgo, control-freak thing to do. So when I got home from school yesterday, I went immediately into my room and unmade my bed, because no self-respecting Leo would make her own bed—we’d believe that someone else should show up to do it for us because we’re the center of the universe.

Which kind of sucked last night when I had to sleep in an unmade bed. But I think that only bothered me because I had so many years of thinking like a Virgo and needing everything to be neat and organized.

Although now that I’m no longer a self-conscious and overly-worried Virgo, I seem to have overcome my lifelong battle with insomnia. Damnit astrologers, couldn’t you have told me I was a Leo years ago? I’m pretty mad when I think of all the sleep I could have been getting if I’d just known that I wasn’t ACTUALLY a worrier!

I also no longer have to stress about being late for everything. As a Virgo, I always felt great anxiety when I was running late, which, let’s face it, is ALL the time.

But now I understand my chronic lateness! It’s because I was misdiagnosed as a Virgo. Leos believe they are the center of the universe and therefore aren’t worried about how valuable anyone else’s time is. So instead of rushing like crazy to get to work on time, I’m just going to take my time and get there when I get there. Besides, Leos like to make an entrance. (I’m kind of curious to see how that works with my boss. Like if I walk in ten minutes after first period starts and just announce, “School can start now because the most important person in the universe has arrived!” I probably won’t have a job much longer. But that’s okay. Because I’m a Leo now and that means people should just pay me for being awesome.)

I was going to write more, but now that I’m a Leo, I think it’s time to go admire myself instead. So to sum up:

Sarah Palin = bad

Blaming Sarah Palin for stuff she had nothing to do with = usually good, but in this case bad

Extremists on either side = worse

Twitter = reliable source of information

Leo = a good night’s sleep in an unmade bed

Being me now that I’m a Leo = awesome

Astrology = total load of crap

Tricks to ensure a snow day–Warning: ONLY use these for school days!

The news yesterday was pretty bleak and ominous.

And I’m not even talking about the horrors that happened in Arizona over the weekend.

I’m just talking about the weather forecast. Snow developing sometime today into tonight, with small accumulations of about one to three inches.

In other words, my worst nightmare. Because it’s going to start while I’m at school but not be bad enough to get us out early, and it will probably end too soon to have an impact on school for tomorrow.

But it’ll be just enough to ensure that the kids are COMPLETELY insane.

Because kids, when snow is in the forecast, lose all sense of sanity, reason, and humanity. I usually hide under my desk until the threat of snow is over, but I decided to make this weather forecast into a teachable moment for my students. So today I plan to teach the one lesson that high school kids will be able to focus on and learn from once those flakes start falling from the sky: I’m going to teach them how to make it snow enough to get us out of some school.

Because yes, I know how to control the weather. And I’m going to share my secret with you, as long as you PROMISE to only use the knowledge for good snow that will get us out of school, NOT snow that will ruin weekend plans.

Do you promise?


Some of the tricks, you probably already know. For example, everyone knows that you’re supposed to go to bed with your pajamas on inside out and backwards the night before you want it to snow. If you’re JUST wearing them inside out, it’s not going to work. Inside out AND backwards. And if you don’t normally sleep in pajamas, DO IT ANYWAY. I mean, it’s winter. It’s cold out. Like I told the kid who showed up at school in shorts yesterday, PUT SOME CLOTHES ON. Just do it inside out and backwards when you want snow.

However, JUST wearing your pajamas inside out and backwards isn’t going to get you out of school. Literally. Even if they’re calling for a blizzard, if that’s all you do, you’re going to school tomorrow. On time. And staying for the full day. Trust me.

In order to guarantee a snow day, you have to do ALL of the following things. The order, in general, doesn’t matter. But if you skip a step, you WILL have school.

First of all, you need to do a snow dance. This one is tricky. Because doing the wrong dance moves could, in fact, cause other weather phenomenon and/or your neighbors to videotape you and put your horrendous moves on YouTube. In which case I will laugh at you, and be very angry at you for not doing a proper dance that will ensure a day off.

There are a ton of videos of how to do this incorrectly on YouTube. Here are some of my favorites:

However, the ONLY proper snow dance is the following:

If you’re doing it any other way, you’re doing it wrong and when we have school, it’s YOUR fault.

The next thing you need to do is get as many ice cubes as you can. Take them into the bathroom and flush them, one at a time, down the toilet. I don’t know why this one works, but it does.

Note: I take no responsibility for any damage this does to your toilet and/or pipes.

I don’t make the snow rules. I just tell you how to follow them.

Next, take a spoon and stick it in the freezer for an hour. Then place the frozen spoon on your windowsill and leave it there overnight. You also need to find a white crayon and leave it in your freezer overnight. Failure to follow these steps will result in a full day of school.

However, there’s really only one thing that you MUST do to guarantee a snow day. You’re not going to like this one. But if you ignore this step, I can promise that you will have school, no matter what, every time. DO ALL YOUR HOMEWORK BEFORE BED.

That’s the trickiest step. I don’t know how the snow gods know if you did your homework or not, but they do. And if I have to go to school because YOU didn’t feel like doing your homework, I WILL find out and I will be very, VERY angry with you. Which, considering that I think I killed my next-door neighbor with my mind, is NOT something you want. (We’ll get to that one once I figure out if he’s actually dead or not.)

And if you have a job that isn’t in a school, you still have to do your homework if you want a day off.  Spend at least 20 minutes on math problems and read three chapters in a book to help your teacher friends out!

Now go practice your snow dance. And remember, if it’s not the OFFICIALLY SANCTIONED SNOW DANCE, it’s not going to work and I’ll direct my mental death ray at you next. Because I need a snow day. Right now.

What time is it? It’s T-SHIRT TIME!

It’s the most wonderful time of the year!

What? You don’t think the time between New Year’s and Martin Luther King Jr. Day is the best time of the year?

Then clearly you don’t know that it’s…


Oh yeah! Jersey Shore, yeah! (To be said in a Pauly D voice of course.)

Okay, I know what you’re thinking (because I’m psychic, remember?). You’re thinking that Mark Twain is rolling over in his grave even more than he was over the news of the last few days at the idea that my last blog was about Huckleberry Finn and this one is about the trashiest people/place on earth.

But I would make the argument that just as the “n” word is necessary to show the extreme racism and intolerance of the antebellum south, Jersey Shore is necessary to show future generations the idiocy of our current society. Because really, how else will people be able to justify things like Twilight, Snuggies, Scientology, the war in Iraq, Mel Gibson, the Shake Weight, and Pajama Jeans in 150 years if they can’t see the cast of Jersey Shore?

That’s right. I’m saying Jersey Shore is our generation’s Huck Finn.

No, not really. I’m just trying to justify how much I love it. Because I do love it. A lot.

With that said, I think this season is going to be worse than Ronnie and Sammi’s relationship. Which puts it on the Dyson level of sucking, because like Ronnie and Sammi, a Dyson NEVER loses its suction power. (Yes, I watched the Jersey Shore marathon when I was sick over winter break. Yes, it lowered my IQ, hence the vacuum cleaner joke. Sorry. I’ll go read some Shakespeare this weekend to restore some of my mental abilities.)

Not that I think it’ll be the last season. Oh no. MTV is going to milk this goose that lays the golden eggs for as long as they can. Wait. That’s not right. Milk this money tree? Stupid Jersey Shore! Me were not dumb before yous.

I am excited to see what this season brings, but I think they already covered everything that they could in the first two seasons. Every possible heterosexual hookup combination in the house has happened. All of the girls have gotten into hair-pulling fights with each other (resulting in hair extensions and broken acrylic nails everywhere. Oh the humanity. Although Ronnie’s description of Snooki as fighting like a T-Rex with the tiny little arms qualifies as one of the funniest moments in all of television history).

All of the guys have gotten into screaming matches with each of the girls and then been punched/slapped by each of the girls. Angelina has left the show early. Twice. We’ve seen J-Woww’s boobs (sorry honey, I love you, but pasties don’t count as a shirt. Even at the strip club), we’ve seen Snooki’s crotch, we know about Pauly’s special piercing, and we’ve heard Snooki’s description of Vinny’s—um—appendage, and if the Situation ever robbed a liquor store and people were looking for him, everyone in America could describe his abs well enough to a sketch artist that he’d be caught within about 30 seconds.

I mean, honestly, unless they get into same-sex hookups, start shooting up heroin on camera, or go on a massive killing spree, I can’t imagine this season providing us with anything new.

But don’t worry MTV, I have ideas that can make sure this trainwreck keeps jumping the rails.

For example, season four shouldn’t be in Seaside Heights or Miami. Been there, done that. I want to drop the cast off in the Andes in winter and see who survives. Okay, it’s a little predictable, because clearly they’ll kill and eat Snooki first. Unless Angelina was there. They’d kill her first–not for food, because I’m pretty sure she’d be poisonous, but because she’s awful. And I’m pretty sure that Pauly D is indestructible because his hair serves as a permanent helmet, and J-Woww is more plastic than human, so I’m not sure she CAN die. But I think people would tune in to watch that.

Or make them be homeless for a season. I’m not going to lie, I’d absolutely tune in every week to see how they’d get by living in a cardboard box under a bridge. And Snooki wouldn’t have to complain about the tax on tanning if she lived outdoors. Have you ever taken a good look at homeless people? They’re the only ones with a darker tan than the Jersey Shore cast.

Wait, scratch that one. Homeless people have it hard enough without dropping that kind of drama bomb on them.

They’ve got the right idea with adding a new cast member, but I don’t think Deena is going to work out. Because after just one episode, I already think deserves the death penalty. Literally. I didn’t think it was possible to get worse than Angelina. Thank you, MTV, for providing me with proof that humanity is doomed.  Although I’d still take her over Sammi any day… what is WRONG with that girl?

I want to see Samuel L. Jackson living in the house with them next season. Think about how mad he got about those m#$*%#$@#&ing snakes on that m#$*%#$@#&ing plane. I would pay good money to see how he handles the current cast members when they get drunk and start fighting.

Of course, at most, there are only going to be another two or three seasons. Not because MTV will ever cancel the show, but because all of the cast members currently have book deals and I still don’t. Which is indisputable evidence that the Mayan prophecy WAS, in fact, correct, and the world will be ending in December 2012.

Repent now, my friends. The end is near.

But until then, the cabs are here and it’s T-SHIRT TIME!

The Disney-fication of Huck Finn: An American Travesty

When I got home from school yesterday, I was greeted by some disturbing news on Twitter. No, the disturbing news isn’t that the trending topics on Twitter are now my primary source of news (although I DO immediately Google anyone who’s trending to see if they’re trending because they died). It was something far more disturbing to an English teacher and a writer.

New versions of Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn are going to be printed substituting the word “slave” for the much more controversial “n” word that is used approximately 220 times in the book.

On the surface, this change is long over overdue and a step in the right direction. No student should be subjected to a word that is so unapologetically racist and hurtful in any classroom, and I appreciate the idea triggering people who protest against novels that contain that kind of language.

But as a writer, I’m appalled. And as an English teacher, I think this is a huge mistake and a far more offensive move than anything that Twain wrote.

I know that sounds strange. I’d like to preface what I’m about to say by explaining that I do not tolerate students using that particular racial epithet in my classroom, nor do I tolerate students mocking or belittling others based on race, religion, gender, or sexual preference. Under ANY circumstances. And when I’m teaching a book that has the “n” word in it, I personally am not comfortable saying the word, even in the context of reading aloud from the book.

With that said, however, I do teach Huck Finn. And I think it’s an important part of the curriculum and an even more valuable teaching tool to a generation of students who have largely grown up thinking that the “n” word is appropriate slang amongst friends.

If you haven’t read the novel, or haven’t read it in many years, I’ll outline the issue for you. Huck Finn takes place before the Civil War in Missouri. In other words, the blatant racism in it is absolutely appalling. Huck refers to Jim using the “n” word without even beginning to comprehend that there’s any problem with that. And Huck often, particularly at the beginning of the novel, views Jim as less than a person. And even though I’m a white woman writing this 150 years after the action of the novel takes place, I find a tremendous amount of what’s in the book to be grossly offensive.

Which is exactly the point and why it NEEDS to be taught.

Because a huge amount of what happened in this country WAS grossly offensive.

And I’m not even just talking about before the Civil War. Electing Barack Obama by no means heralded the end of racism in America. But to remove accurate historical elements of the atrocities that occurred is, in my mind at least, far more offensive than teaching about it could ever be.

It’s easy to dismiss Twain as racist if you’re not familiar with a lot of the context of the novel. He was a southerner who grew up before the Civil War in the deep south. It’d be pretty much impossible to come from that environment without being a racist.

Which is why Twain is so celebrated. The most amazing thing about him isn’t the quality of his writing. It’s the fact that he was able to come from the background that he came from and write such a powerful anti-racism novel. Because the use of language in the book isn’t there to belittle or degrade. It’s there to show just how bad things were in the south for a black man.

My students just wrote their research papers on this exact topic. And the point that they made, again and again, was that if Mark Twain wanted Huckleberry Finn to be a racist novel, he failed miserably in that task because Huck goes from being an ignorant child, who sees Jim as nothing more than property, to a young man who is willing to defy society and give up his immortal soul for the “sin” of helping Jim escape from the life of slavery that he was born into. Huck knows that he’s breaking the law by helping Jim, and he has been taught that freeing a slave was equivalent to stealing.  And he has countless opportunities to turn him in and even make money off his capture. But by the end of the novel, he understands that Jim is a person, just like he is, and that his own freedom is worth no more than Jim’s. Which, for the time period that the novel was written and set in, was an absolutely revolutionary concept.

Every year, I get kids who complain that we’re reading “another book about racism.” They feel it’s been done to death, and I can definitely sympathize with that feeling. And so each year, I tell them the following story:

When I was a kid, I remember complaining to my parents about having to learn about the Holocaust every year in Hebrew school. It was depressing, and I felt that the topic had already been covered in such depth that it was overkill to hear over and over again about what happened in Germany. And my parents (whom I respect tremendously for the fact that they never once in my childhood gave me the answer “because I said so”) gave me an answer that really stuck with me. They sat me down to talk to me and explained that it IS, in fact, necessary to learn about the Holocaust because educating people about it is the only way to prevent that kind of horror from happening again.

I feel strongly that this concept applies in the context of Huckleberry Finn.

And honestly, if they do this, where do the revisionists stop in their desire to Disney-fy history? Will The Diary of Anne Frank end with a passage saying that the Germans took all the Jews to a farm upstate somewhere so they could run around and have more space, like the lie that parents tell children when they don’t want to let them know that their dog died?

If we gloss over the horrors and racism of slavery, we’re dishonoring the memory of both the people who suffered through it and the people who fought and died to end it.  And even worse, by ignoring the issue and refusing to teach it because it’s controversial and unpleasant, we’re opening the door to allow that sort of atrocity to happen again.

Who gets sick over winter break? Oh wait, me… but it’s Delaware’s fault!

Two weeks ago, I felt like I was coming down with a cold. No big deal, I thought. People get colds all the time. This was on Monday.

By Tuesday, I was running a fever and was pretty sure I was going to die. But again, I figured it was just a cold and that I could tough it out until the end of the week, then take winter break to recover. I’m not a big fan of using my sick days unless Bruce is touring, at which point I tend to come down with a mysterious ailment that flares up whenever he’s playing anywhere on the East coast, clears up at the end of the tour, and returns as soon as a new tour starts.

Unfortunately, Bruce wasn’t touring and it wasn’t a cold. I had contracted the dreaded flu.

Which makes ZERO sense, because I got a flu shot.

Of course, I get a flu shot every year, and it makes no difference, because I seem to get the flu every year.

My uncle (an ER doctor) told me that the reason for this is that the flu vaccine only contains the most common strains of that year’s flu, so it’s not uncommon to get the flu even after getting a flu shot.

But I’m not buying that explanation. I know the truth.

Well, okay, I don’t KNOW the truth. But I have several very plausible conspiracy theories that make better explanations.

Theory #1: It’s a plot on the part of my students to punish me for assigning them a research paper on Huck Finn. I don’t think they actually have their acts together enough to perpetrate germ warfare terrorism on this level, but when I thought about what group of people had the strongest reason to want to punish me, my students ranked high on the list. And it wouldn’t be all that hard for them to do. They’d just have to find sick people and get them to sneeze on their papers. I then handle the papers and boom! I’m sick. But kids, if it WAS you, please remember that I HAD to give you that paper. The county says so. Trust me, I’d rather write one Huck Finn paper than grade sixty of them! It’s not me you should be punishing!

Theory #2: Montgomery County has figured out that the majority of my absences coincide with Springsteen tour dates and decided to make sure that I got sick during a break so that I couldn’t use the break for anything fun. Basically they could do it the same way the kids could: infect a paper then give it to me as a memo or something. Again, unlikely, however, because I doubt the county has time to check my absences against Bruce’s tour schedule. And I’m 99 percent sure that if they can’t afford to give us raises, they’re not funding germ warfare.

Theory #3: Government Conspiracy A. This one really only applies if a lot of other teachers had the flu over break too, which I’ll find out today and get back to you on. Because what if the flu shot doesn’t REALLY do anything, and you need to GET the flu to be immune to this strain of it? I could see them infecting all the teachers during a break when we’re already going to be home and therefore saving money on substitute teachers. Think about it. It’s actually a smart plan!

Theory #4: Government Conspiracy B: The government is responsible for spreading the rumor that the flu shot makes you sick because they don’t actually have enough to inoculate everyone who would get it otherwise, and when they read my blog post about the flu shot NOT getting you sick, they realized I had to be stopped, so they infected me to keep me from blogging (which was actually quite effective for those couple weeks if that IS the case).

Theory #5: It’s Delaware’s fault. Right before I got sick, I went to New Jersey for a concert. Now I KNOW New Jersey didn’t get me sick, because I love New Jersey. I mean, if I’d been in Seaside Heights and contracted an STD, then it’d be a Jersey Shore thing, but I’m pretty sure Asbury Park isn’t spreading diseases. But I DID have to drive through Delaware to get to New Jersey. And stupid me, I stopped at the rest stop there to go to the bathroom and get gas. Which means that if Delaware WAS trying to silence me because of my blog about how much I hate their state, they definitely had the opportunity.

My best guess? Theory #5. Because when in doubt, I choose to blame Delaware. In fact, I’m pretty sure that the South Park movie would have been FAR more successful if the song was “Blame Delaware” instead of “Blame Canada.” Just to be safe, next time I head North, I’m keeping my windows tightly up and not stopping until I’m safely out of the state. I’m onto you Delaware, you’re not going to get ME sick again!

Two weeks later, I’m finally feeling mostly better. But I WILL find a way to retaliate Delaware. You’d better start sleeping with one eye open.

Just saying.