Holding Your Applause

After fifteen years, I am learning when to go on auto-pilot and turn things “off” when I need them to be so.  Today was no exception, except it was an exception.  I was slapped back to reality by one of my students, S. who raised his hand after flyers from the city were passed out.

“PANCAKE BREAKFAST”, it advertised.  And “DIABETES TESTING”.

S., pleasingly quickwitted in a manner that’s already gained my attention in the young school year, is openly questioning the efficacy of such a morning.  I laugh, whetherappropriate or not, because he gets it.  And so do I.  Auto-pilot has been shut off, I realize that the class is running late.  But because auto-pilot is off, I start thinking about it–if the sponsoring charity doesn’t quite get the implication of linking a pancake breakfast to diabetes tests, then what about the implication of going to a major school function with nary a camera on sight to record what is about to take place?  That realization suddenly strikes me as similarly disconnected.

Over the summer, whether due to far too many repeat viewings of Inception or not, I am in what I immediately identify as a dream.  Actually, I don’t, a former colleague, who arrives a la “Mr. Charles” in the film, is calmly, as is her way, telling me I am dreaming.  She is trying to keep me from wasting time gearing up for another year of not working on my school’s yearbook. She makes legitimate and valid points, the most important being is that there are no yearbook advisers left at my school.  A huge chunk of my teaching life for 9 years has gone;  I am not going to lie when I admit that I feel like my connection to my school feels so much looser than it once it did, as the work on yearbook represented the one positive contribution that I know I made to each school year.

We finally arrive at the school’s multipurpose room to listen to speeches from candidates for Student Council offices.  Once there, we’re instructed to “hold our applause” often, but glancing around as my students get situated, I can see that what’s not being held are cameras.  There are none there to document the event.

Once upon a time, I would have had kids recording the event, because it was significant for the kids taking part in the event on the stage.  Having also once been a student council adviser myself, I half-pay attention, but I try to go back on auto-pilot, because the reality is that I am watching an opportunity for good photographs being missed.  Even one of my colleagues, who often rescues student functions by photographing everything, therefore providing some historical record, had either forgotten her camera, already taken her pictures before my class and I arrived in the multipurpose room, or just chose to sit this event out.

I wonder, if a school event takes place, and no one is there to record it, does it really happen?

As a yearbook adviser, I preached the notion that “you can’t have a year, without a yearbook”.  The school still has one to sell each year, but if the intent was to make money, the difference in cost between what I had done and what is sold now is marginal, at best. School yearbooks can’t really be true fundraisers and we learned to be happy when we broke even.  But somehow, when it’s felt that a profit needs to be made, in my mind, it begs the question as to whether or not it is now even more important that the significant events of a given year needs to have someone there to record it on film.   I learned, early in the process of creating school yearbooks, that the photo is even more powerful that any words we could add to support the photos.

By training and outlook, I view things as a historian might.  Working at a school that wasamongst the first in the district to be built after the Second World War, working with a colleague who had the longest tenure in district history (50+ years), becoming a consistent part of the larger community outside the school boundaries are things that I find important, as do a number of my colleagues.  In my room, I have boxes of old print photos from my early teaching days at the school.  In our school library, we have boxes of old yearbooks and class photos, some dating back to the late 1940s, in deteriorating cartons that demand proper preservation.  At one time another colleague and I proposed trying to preserve so many elements of our school’s collective memory, various reasons prevented us from moving forward, not the least of which was the limits of the technology that we had on site.

This obsession with photographs on my part isn’t a nostalgia kick, it’s preserving what’s important.  To see a former student use her experience with me to become editor of her high school yearbook, or to see another former student’s website with original photographs she’s taken, or even still another’s photos on her Facebook page, is to be reminded of the learning that went beyond the books we opened or the papers we wrote in the classroom.  Literacy can be measured in so many ways, and in failing to value the visual literacy that the exercise in publication/journalism provides, we’ve allowed students to miss out on those experiences that opens doors for them in an outside world were too many doors are closing rapidly as it is.  Over the summer, Eileen Reynolds, in The New Yorker, commented:

I wouldn’t argue that yearbooks are nearly as important as either math classes or marching bands, but isn’t it possible that there’s something about them that’s worth salvaging? Some teensy weensy shred of educational value?

If there is one, it’s that the yearbook, along with the high-school newspaper, provides one of the very first opportunities for the budding journalist to try her hand at publishing. There are stories to write, pages to lay out, ads to sell, and, of course, photographs to take. My own middle-school yearbook was a slim, shoddy mess, full of grammatical errors, misspelled words, and even a few unidentified portraits. High school brought the opposite: a sleek, carefully edited and meticulously indexed volume that, with two hundred pages of ads, was as thick and hefty as a phone book. I didn’t work on the yearbook staff at either school, but I like to think that the students who did learned something about the staggering amount of work that goes into putting together a large-scale publication. Finishing on deadline is one thing; feeling proud of what you’ve made is quite another.

The irony of Reynolds’ comments though, are that they appear in a larger think piece about declining sales of school yearbooks in general.  Sales are declining, and in the middle of recession, it’s even harder to justify to ask parents to pay for something that seems like a luxury in the face of belt-tightening.  In other words, sales were difficult enough for our yearbook staff when the economy was in the housing bubble;  now, in a recession approaching a double dip, how can we ask parents to help the school make a profit through selling yearbooks?

And, even if something is sold that’s meant to make a profit, wouldn’t a parent be desiring a quality product that represents the entire school year?  Not just made from photos taken right before publication deadline?  Ultimately, the photographs are what my wife and I discussed last week about what might be taking place at her school, where the cost of buying a yearbook has to be factored in to the reality that, in most cases, a yearbook would only feature a particular student once, twice, maybe 3 times, if they were in multiple organizations at the elementary school level, in order for the book to feature as many other students as they could.  (That was a standard that myself and my yearbook partner adhered when we worked on it.)

This article explains some of the choices of the type that my wife has steered me to consider for the 2012-2013 school year, and to give my opinion.

Come late March, e-mails will come begging to photos for events that, once upon a time, I would have had my staff cover as they were happening on the campus.  Events like today, for instance.

“Hold applause, yes”, I share out loud to no one in particular, as I look around to see if anything is getting recorded.    But it’s not my call any more.   In the long run though, as the articles decrying the yearbook’s death suggest, perhaps this was inevitable?  Certainly the reality (as well as bad dreams over the summer) are making me face this reality, auto-pilot or not.

I returning to the moment in front of me on the stage–all that work, the angst, the fear, and the emotion that went into the speeches, unrecorded.  It’s a shame for the Council advisers and their young charges both.

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In a Green Field, Under a Moon

In baseball, you get disappointed a lot. There’s usually not much difference among the top half-dozen teams, so many people in several cities raise their hopes of a championship to the highest level. They do it realistically. The Orioles truly could have won the World Series this year. Baseball gives you more hope, but more heartache.

If you don’t enjoy the process of baseball, then you probably shouldn’t be a fan. If it’s just the result you’ve after, then the rewards aren’t going to be enough to hold you. If you invested yourself in watching the Indians beat the Orioles for the American League pennant, yet now feel cheated, then you probably shouldn’t re-up for another hitch next season. There’s no ride like baseball. But the destination is extremely uncertain. And, sometimes, unfair.

— Thomas Boswell, Washington Post, Oct. 17, 1997

The Orioles had just lost a painful American League Championship series to the Cleveland Indians in 6 games.  15 years ago.  On my hard drive, an fellow Oriole fan has sent me archived copies of our fan base’s mailing list’s comments during that stretch run of a season that saw the Birds fall just short of the World Series.

It was pretty much the last time the franchise mattered to baseball at-large.  Without even a single winning season since that year, with few exceptions, Autumn tends to be left for following college football.  As an organization, the team has collapsed.   A loyal fanbase remains, but it’s gone into deep sleep.  When one my friends at school asked me the other day about the number of ball caps I own, I honestly answered that the Orioles caps were strictly for the month of April.

This year was supposed to be the beginning of a new paradigm.  Energized by a new manager, promising young pitchers, and veteran players who appeared to have a bit left in the tank, the Orioles spent the first 9 days of the season atop the American League’s Eastern Division, ahead of the vaunted Yank-mes and Red Sox, as well as the Tampa Bay Rays, the division’s dark horse (and, in my opinion, the best team in the AL East) who had begun the season in a terrible funk.  Then the Orioles lost 8 in a row, and struggled to keep within sight of the division leaders.  This struggle continued for the bulk of April and into May.  The team lost its lead-off hitter and clubhouse leader, its second baseman Brian Roberts to a concussion by mid-May, and then, finally clawing and scratching, they reached the break even mark again right around Memorial Day, the bottom fell out.  The team was 10 games out of first place by mid-June, and then went 2-15 during a stretch from mid-June to early July that basically finished off the team’s hope of mattering, in any way.  The young pitching was in a shambles.  While Zach Britton showed promise, Jake Arrieta battled bone spurs in his elbow that he tried to pitch through before calling it a season.  Brian Matusz, the team’s defacto ace at the end of last year, completely lost his mojo, partly because he didn’t pay attention to his off-season conditioning.  Brad Bergesen and Chris Tillman saw their stock nearly collapse.

Meanwhile, the hitting had its moments with centerfielder Adam Jones, shortstop J.J. Hardy, and first baseman/third baseman Mark Reynolds all producing as it was hoped during Spring Training.  Even catcher Matt Wieters, widely heralded when he arrived from the minors as one of the best prospects in baseball during the 2009 season, started to provide production as well.  But the two veterans who were signed as stop-gaps and leaders for the young team, Vladimir Guerrero and Derrek Lee, sucked up at-bats during an increasingly lengthy summer.  Nick Markakis, the teams’ marquee player, struggled to hit with any authority for any stretch of the season.  Even their best hitter last season, Luke Scott, went down with shoulder issues that put his season to an end–a season where he had exposed himself as a bonafide “birther”, questioning the President’s right to hold the office.

Despite making it a point to take Katelyn to her first 3 baseball games this summer, personally, I was now spending most of my time waiting for football training camp to open for my Cal Bears.  I had pretty much weaned myself from following the team as regularly as I had planned, given how badly they were playing.  It says something that their best pitcher, Alfredo Simon, had spent most of his winter and early spring, trying to fight murder charges in his native Dominican Republic.  

former Oriole great Mike Flanagan

Then came the suicide of a member of Oriole royalty, Mike Flanagan.  A former Cy Young Award winner in 1979, 20-game winner, a member of the 1983 World Series champions, once one of the team’s general managers as well as a game announcer, Flanagan was a link to the teams that had won the hearts of so many Oriole fans a generation ago.  He had been despondent for some time, and the rumors were rampant that he felt responsible for the franchise’s epic descent into failure.  Whether true or not, his death was a symbolic nadir for the organization, especially coming in the middle of the team’s longest winning streak of the year in late August.  

In my mind, this was a fitting insult to a year of only disappointment.  Whereas the 2010 team was bad, it had the promise of youth.  The 2011 team showed that the promise of the team’s young players had likely little backing in performance collateral.  Now that a link to better times, Flanagan, had seen fit to end his association with the team in such a tragic manner, it only made sense to simply back away from the team, and lick wounds over the winter, hoping for the best out of bad situation.

To their credit, the team didn’t do that.  From August 22nd to the end of the season, the Birds went 21-16, 15-13 in September, but, even more amazingly, 11-6 over the final 17 games of the season.  Impressively, this final stretch of good baseball came against Tampa Bay, the Angels, Detroit, and, as witnessed over the past three days, the Boston Red Sox.   While the Tigers had effectively clinched their division, the Orioles did beat up on 25-game winner Justin Verlander for one win in that series.  They took 2 of 3 from Tampa, finishing the season series with the Rays at 9-9, thus making Tampa’s playoff run that much harder.  And after the knuckleheads on local radio station AM830, the Angels’ flagship station in Los Angeles, had predicted an Angel sweep of  Baltimore in their (ultimately futile) chase of  the Texas Rangers, the Birds took the first two games of their 3 game series, giving Texas enough of a push to forge ahead to their division title.

OOPS!

But nothing could match what the Orioles ultimately did to the Red Sox.  The Boston Red Sox, one of MLB’s (and ESPN’s) “flagship” teams, and a preseason favorite for baseball’s best team, the Red Sox had entered September trailing the New York Yank-mes, but with a clear 9-game advantage for the final playoff spot over the other American League teams not leading their division.  The Sox, however, were stumbling, and collapsing.  By the time the Orioles had reached Fenway Park in Boston on September 19th for a doubleheader, Boston’s once large lead had virtually vanished, thanks to a collapse of the team’s pitching and inconsistent hitting.  The Orioles, having just embarrassed the Angels (and their Angel Talk followers here on AM830 in Los Angeles), took 3 out of the next 4 games from Boston.  When this past Sunday rolled around, the Red Sox were now tied for the final playoff spot with Tampa.  Boston had to go into Baltimore, while Tampa Bay had to play 3 with New York.

What went down over these past three days are easily covered in detail elsewhere.  All I could add was that while others are convinced that the Red Sox blew it, the Orioles still had to show up and play those games.  Not many are tossing credit to the manner in which the team held its own against Boston, especially how the Birds nearly won Tuesday’s nights game against the Red Sox’s relief ace Jon Papelbon and then beat Papelbon the following night after he had the Orioles down to their last strike and final out.

Truth be told, starting with the Angel series, I was suddenly following the team again.  The Orioles were causing all manner of chaos with the playoff hopes of the teams hoping to advance.  On Tuesday night, unable to watch the game while I sat with my little girl trying to get her to sleep, I followed the ninth inning of the eventual 8-7 Oriole loss on my phone.  It was then I noted that the Orioles had made Boston’s Papelbon throw 28 pitchers, including ten in the final at-bat to Adam Jones.  Somehow, I told myself, the long outing on Tuesday might pay off in spades on Wednesday.

So last night, hoping to follow the game again on my phone while Katelyn settled herself down, I discovered the game was on hold in the 7th inning due to rain and lighting in Baltimore.  The long rain delay meant I had a choice to watch the game on TV, or choose the alternate path of following the comments on an Oriole fan website, Camden Chat.  I chose the latter.  Earlier this season, during the terrible stretch in May, I had turned on the TV to watch the Orioles and Red Sox play, only to see the Orioles blow a lead in the 9th and lose.  I wanted to spare myself that fate on this night.  So I chose the comment boards (which was a tactic I also used during the College World Series this past Spring during my Cal Bears’ wild run).

Suffice to say, I wasn’t disappointed.  And neither was the team.

It’s a day later, and virtually 24 hours after last night’s win.  The Oriole fan diaspora has quelled somewhat, as it seems that folks are coming out of fan lurkdom to share a measure of satisfaction at even the tiniest of triumphs.  We’re all, more or less, proud of what went down the past couple of weeks, and really happy about the team making its mark in 2011 after such terrible events earlier this season.  Nevertheless, the Orioles aren’t going anywhere this October;  the playoffs are where they haven’t gone since 1997.  Nearly a generation has passed since success has come to Baltimore, and there is a psychic cost involved with respect to what it does to those who choose to, in words I’ve even used, “catch Oriole Fever–and die.”

This afternoon, while taking a mental health break, I came across this blog post on Camden Chat.  For all the nice words I received about the recent post about my mother, this post here, on the Oriole blog Camden Chat, is even more eloquent in the manner in which it tries to connect the generations…even the comments are heart rendering.  But it encompasses what it means to be a fan, not just of the Orioles, but of baseball.

I had contemplated writing a post about why I was not going to see the film Moneyball, much in the way I shared why I was choosing to skip The Help.  But I think the events of the past week demonstrate why Hollywood can never quite get baseball “just so” on the big screen.  It needs to simplify its stories, by design.  And the most interesting of these stories are never the same for every baseball fan, since baseball holds its attraction for so man of us in the smallest of details.  Movies can’t capture that.  Also, Brad Pitt can be the hero in as many films as he’d like, but how often will someone like the Orioles’ Robert Andino be given that same opportunity?  I got more than my money’s worth of drama last night.

Of course, there are those who learn after the first few times. They grow out of sports. And there are others who were born with the wisdom to know that nothing lasts. These are the truly tough among us, the ones who can live without illusion, or without even the hope of illusion. I am not that grown-up or up-to-date. I am a simpler creature, tied to more primitive patterns and cycles. I need to think something lasts forever, and it might as well be that state of being that is a game; it might as well be that, in a green field, in the sun. — A. Bartlett Giamatti

My Little Commie!

The little princess has had her share of drama this week, giving us an early preview of the adolescence we hope we’ll never see.

This afternoon’s Greek tragedy involved Katelyn’s leotard for gymnastics.  As she’s shown us that she wants to stick with this discipline (as opposed to her time in Dance Class—another subject), if you know my wife, you’ll realize how important the “cuteness” component happens to be in terms of what our daughter wears to her extracurricular activities.  As a result, we’ve begun to replace her t-shirt/short combo with more leotards.  And after a family friend gifted us leotards her kindergarten daughter has outgrown, Katelyn has more choices in terms of what she can wear to gymnastics class.

As I left the house this morning, Kate had three choices as what she could wear.  Tuesday happened to have her in a leotard covered in pink and purple hearts, and given how many compliments her coaches gave her, I was not surprised when she asked to wear that leotard again when the time came to change her clothes in the preschool bathroom.  Except that wasn’t one that I had packed.  Now the duel began.  I pulled out a plain blue one that Kate initially rejected followed by a black one, with the letters ‘USA’ in the front of the outfit.  Kate couldn’t make up her mind immediately, and then, blurted out she wanted the black one after all.

And then she didn’t.  Except that I was already putting it on her.  As that was happening, she was now taking it off.  Now it got comical:

“I DON’T WANT TO WEAR SOMETHING WITH USC ON IT!”

“Um, I would NEVER put you in something with USC on it!  It says USA!”

This argument thread went back and forth for about a minute.

By now Katelyn was out and out bawling as we came out of the bathroom and moved towards the main preschool room and the exit.  I was gambling that compliments from people other than me would win the day.  There were a few people milling about the student signature check out as we walked.  All of them noticed Katelyn melting down.

One parent, with their own preschooler, tried to intervene and pump up the USA leotard.    She shared with Kate that she had a USA shirt, as did her daughter, Kate’s classmate.  No luck, Katelyn was fixated on the blue outfit that was still in my bag.    Kate’s preschool teacher also tried to step in.  (Side note:  Katelyn’s preschool teacher is a “Bear-ent”, i.e. her son is a sophomore at Cal.)  Both the mom and Ms. O both laughed when I relayed to them that Katelyn was under the misimpression that her leotard said “USC”.  Still, no luck.  Even while she was crying, at least Katelyn was walking with me, and we moved to the preschool lobby door.  Meeting us there was the preschool director, who had been hearing Kate’s screams when she was in the bathroom.  Ms. O also followed behind.

“Katelyn, calm down, tell me what’s wrong…”

“Daddy is making me wear this and it says USC on it! (complete with sobs)”

“No Katelyn, it doesn’t.  You know your letters, it says USA…”

Ms. O, standing at the preschool lobby’s dutch door agrees, “I guess we’re going to work some more on our ABCs next week…”

“But I don’t want to wear this…”

“Katelyn, do you know what the USA is, it’s where you live.  You know that Daddy would only put you in clothes that say ‘UCLA’!”

Ms. O (loyal Cal mom that she is) and I, simultaneously:  “HEY!”

“(toward us) You’re right, sorry.  (to Katelyn)  Daddy would only put you in things that say ‘UC Berkeley’…”

“But, Mrs. V…”

“Katelyn, you go and have a good gymnastics class, and a good weekend, OK?”

Kate and I finally move out the front door towards my SUV.  I am promising her that we can get her favorite pizza for dinner.  Kate still remains crying as we walk, finally blurting out that she “HATES the USA!”

Mrs. V has followed us out, ostensibly because she had a errand to run at the school’s administration building.  She catches up to us at the chain link fence as I prepare to put Katelyn into her car seat.

“Hector, tell Amber that IS a cute leotard.”

“Well Mrs. V.,  some would say that Kate IS ready to go to Berkeley…she just told me she hates the USA!”

Carry On

It’s Mom’s Birthday today.

While it was my father whose name I share, I feel that it’s fairer to liken me more to my mother.

In me is her innate stubborness, and outspoken outlook on the world, along with the need to poke a finger at something that’s not quite in sync with our specific world view at the time.  That’s certainly not my dad.  It was my mother who ostensibly wrote out the license that made me who and how I am–for better or worse.

Now even though Kate knows her other grandmother, and great-grandmother, she will not meet still another grandmother, my mom.  As a result, as she has gotten older, and has found her place amongst my side of the family, it is not for a lack of trying that she is getting a chance to know her.  I am seeing to that.   I can’t conceive of Katelyn knowing me without including my mom somewhere in that narrative along the way.

At first it was little things, like bringing home one of mom’s old seat cushions that she used to use to sit up in her bed to watch television.  It was telling her stories about how my mother used to put me to sleep when I was little, wrapping me “just so” in a blanket, that guaranteed to me conk out quickly.  So successful was this story that Katelyn started to demand the same with her favorite blanket, and specifically asks for me to wrap her “like Grandma Mary”.  And, just like that, Katelyn began to ask more and more questions about my mom, who, despite having been gone now for 4 1/2 years, is starting to earn a place with her granddaughter.

It was partly because of “Up”.

The Pixar film, for so many of it’s virtues, has managed, in the manner in which it confronts life, death, and grief, to convey to a 4-year-old what it means to have loved and lost, as well as how to carry forward.  Because while she can’t ask Carl Fredericksen how he felt about losing his beloved Ellie, Katelyn can ask my father, her grandfather, what it was like to have known her grandmother.  And he would know.  For whatever reason, in the film’s brilliance, Katelyn now has the scaffold to pursue a relationship with someone, under other circumstances, would have come to be an important presence in her life.

Suffice to say, a late August trip to the family cabin in the local mountains brought numerous opportunities for Katelyn to ask my dad about Mom.  Her pictures, thanks to my sister, were in the hallway, along with photos of us as our younger selves.  But for me, there were also little touches and small items that could only be my mother’s handiwork. Unlike my parent’s home, which has come more to resemble a home for a neat elderly bachelor, the cabin still betrayed my mother’s presence.  I got the sense that Kate felt it also, and the overall experience only added to her genuine curiosity to know someone who would have loved her dearly had she been given the chance.  Which, coincidentally, is something my father actually told Kate out loud at around the same time.

Bringing my mom to life for my little girl has helped me–at last–close out my own grief process;  finishing the “steaming bowl of sadness” (in author Ralph Fletcher’s words) that seemed to be a companion for far longer than it probably should have been.  It’s still not gone completely.  I don’t know if it ever does leave all the way.  But Katelyn is now getting to know her.  And, most importantly, Katelyn wants to do so.  I think it’s a birthday present that Mom would have liked.

Puerile Dysfunction

I sold my soul to the devil that’s a crappy deal, least it came with a few toys like a happy meal. — Kanye West

Most of the time, the term “innocuous” describes what I find in Katelyn’s Happy Meal toys.

Right before school, Katelyn scored some mini plastic Skecher shoes that lit up;  these quickly became trinkets on her preschool lunch pail.  (And we didn’t mind the 30% off coupons at the Skecher store…)

Of course, earlier this summer, we got this one (at Left, below):

Pure Scary! Pure Scary!

Suffice to say, it looked like something that escaped from a bad horror film.  Beyond that, mere words fail me.  Not only did Katelyn doth not protest when the disembodied doll head was disappeared from her room, but the wife and I slept a lot better at night.

Most of the time, as I noted above, the toys are innocuous, and quite harmless.  If nothing else, the promotional tie-in with the movie Rio has enabled Kate to wind up with 2/3 of the film’s main characters, and endless imaginative play opportunities in the bath tub.

Yes.  I am trying to put a positive spin on the fact that perhaps my little girl has seen more than her fair share of Golden Arches in the greater Metropolitan area.

Which brings me to this most recent Happy Meal toy she got last week.  Apparently, it’s a promo tie-in with Nickelodeon’s show “iCarly”.  I don’t watch the show, so I have no idea what a daschund has to do with the show.  In any event, you press the tail, and it spins a response.   Katelyn is amused by it, and often forces the wife to repeat the sayings it spouts out while her hair is getting done in the morning.

Here it is:

That's right, it came with an instruction manual!

I only noticed the instructions after Katelyn had grabbed the toy and was running around the house repeating the toy’s inanities.

Perhaps the larger lesson is that we’ve become a country where companies felt we even needed instructions to accompany the toy.  If that’s the case, that’s sad, to say the least.

Sigh.  On the other hand, maybe it was a good thing the disembodied head didn’t come with an instruction sheet.

First Day’s Collateral

First day of school.  Show time.  Pack the kid into her car seat and turn on the ignition.

One of my rear tires likely has a slow leak.  “Grrrrr”, I think to myself as I detour to the gas station down the block.  Kate, in the back seat, notices we’re not headed to her preschool and asks if I’m taking her to my school instead.  It is her first day back as well.  I reassure her that I just need to fix the tire.  We turn into the parking lot, and there, slightly blocking my access to the air compressor, is a man doing Lotto scratch-offs on the hood of his pickup truck.

I chuckle to myself, thinking if I’m going to have any sort of luck today.  What I can’t predict is that today won’t be about today.

With Kate finally deposited at her preschool, I head down towards school, past the landmarks that will mark my daily commute for the next 10 months.  I turn off the main drag towards my school, an omen appears that I fear could well mark my day.  The street is packed nearly to the end of the block, and cars are taking forever to get into the parking lot.  I curse to myself that my earlier decision to make a quick stop at the ATM, along with the need to get air in my tire, will likely make me late for school.  But somehow, I get onto the parking lot.  It is packed.  Teachers are dueling parents who are taking up staff parking spots.  One parent is leisurely checking his engine fluids while my friend, Mrs. B. is asking where she can park.

“I don’t need this,” I think to myself, not realizing that what I want for the day is not what I will get.

My first day of school generally and traditionally follows a pattern of introduction.  This is true of most teachers I know, each in their own way.  These kids, particularly this year, know of me, but don’t know me.  I have prepared a small slide show of things I intend to use to introduce myself, and among them is a photo that I snapped years ago, a group of kids from my classroom that particular year, many of whom have now begun their freshman year in college as I type this.  I go back in time to that year in my head, even while I am, out loud, telling this new group of students of how this current year will go.

In the office though at recess break, again I am taken back in time.  It was from that group of kids from that school year that the conversation will return.  Earlier in the week, I had shared with the school secretary about a traffic accident that took the life of a former student of my old teaching partner, along with the former student’s mother, also injuring his fiance and their unborn child, as well as a family cousin, not to mention the driver of the other car in the collision.  The dead boy’s brother was in my class, as was his fiance, classmates of the kids whose picture I had shared with my new group of sixth graders not an hour before.  Our secretary has found the article detailing the traffic accident on a local newspaper’s website and is filling me in.  I had learned about the accident from a former student via Facebook, and I had spent all of last week watching the extended circle of friends privately mourning their loss on their walls.  I had sent my own messages off, feeling terrible myself, and backed away and allowed them to work through their pain, which was considerable.  That group of kids, which was close knit then, has, for the most part, stayed close now.

But because it is the first day, and this type of stuff gets discussed, the accident becomes a topic of conversation.  I had told a couple of my teaching colleagues already, so they know the sketchy details that I had learned.  By the time I wandered into the lunch room at lunch time, I can see that old school yearbooks come out to look and see who these kids are, as teachers need that memory refreshed.  (“Irony that”, I mutter to no one in particular…)

So since we have climbed on the time machine, I decide to seize the controls.  I walk over to the collective group of teachers and office staff and begin sharing.  As I noted, the boy’s brother had been in my class.  A true character, he was a “naughty” type who I never saw get mean, and by the time he was in my fifth grade class, he had taken on a positive attitude despite any academic struggles he was having.  And one of my favorite school memories involved him…

At the time, on that day, it was before school, and the kids were lining up.  I was standing towards the head of my classroom line, watching the students dragging themselves in from the playground or parking lot. I see my friend, Mrs. B., walking quickly and purposefully towards me, with A. (the boy’s brother) and J., both my students, sheepishly following behind her.  Generally a good-natured lady, on this morning, she’s not happy.  I walk up to her, afraid to hear what my two boys had done.

Side note:  that year, in the primary grades, there were two boys, both brothers, who were extremely active, and, to be polite, got into trouble a lot.

Both A. and J. had been on their morning rounds before school when they spotted these two brothers beating each other up.  A. and J., trying to be good fifth grade role models, decided to step in and stop the fight.  The part about stopping the fight is what they tell me after Mrs. B. has dropped them off, frustrated.  I turn to them for an explanation.  A. talks first.

“I swear teacher, we were trying to stop the fight!”  J. nods in agreement, then says, “they started hitting us!”

“What?”, I step back in amazement.

“Yeah,” A. chimes in.  “We stepped in and tried to separate them, and they turned on both of us and started slugging away!  That’s what Mrs. B. saw.  I swear, we weren’t fighting 1st graders!”

Both boys had been victimized trying to do the right thing.  Two 5th graders, both nearly as tall as me already and as big, had been getting pounded by two first grade boys, simply because their little fraternal fight was getting interrupted.

I end the story to my colleagues, by sharing about how, later on, these same 1st grade boys would lead classmates in an impromptu assault upon another student wearing the costume of our school mascot.  Hearing these anecdotes, our school secretary points out that the two 1st grade brothers had truly been a handful, and my two students had simply gotten caught up in their whirlwind that morning.  But given what she remembers about A., she’s not surprised that he was trying to do the right thing and break up the fight between two little kids.  He just had no idea who he was dealing with.

I smile at that thought.  As a group, my wife, who had visited my classroom a few times that year, once said that my class that year was one that she would let our little girl play with.  They were all good kids, and all were growing up to be good people.  Sadly though, even good people make mistakes.

I head back to my classroom for the rest of the lunch time, and, curious, find the newspaper article online.  Reading the complete details myself for the first time, I can only shake my head and get even sadder than I had been before about the news. Truly, it is tragic.  But at least I have had my good memory.  I decide to hang on to that.  The reality has already been enough.

The First Staff Meeting…

So we wound up looking at test scores today.  Sure enough, the data made clear to the staff, what I already knew myself, that one of our subgroups, those classified as being among a Lower Socioeconomic Status (SES), were the one key reason as to why our test scores, while not enough to meet our school’s required Annual Yearly Progress (AYP), was enough for us to make what is called “Safe Harbor”, the status many schools have as a fallback, given how draconian the punishments are starting to become under the federal No Child Left Behind Act for public school accountability.

Basically, for lack of a simpler and more elegant explanation, the “poor kids” done held us back.  But given poverty definitions in the neighborhood around my school, there’s not much the school can do about the area’s income, educational levels, or occupations, save the small city somehow annexing land, or bringing in business a bit larger than a skating rink.  Focusing upon our school’s major ethnic groups though, while it might, in theory, make sense, also tends to pigeonhole the school.  We wind up in a situation that sounds like something out of the Archie Bunker early-1970s, where the ethnic groups were the ones to make up the lower economic statuses.  It also stereotypes students and their families by their skin color vis-à-vis their home lives.  I mean, white kids can be poor too, no?

I found this online, while trolling for some other information to support this posting.  This part proved most interesting:

The following factors have been found to improve the quality of schools in low-SES neighborhoods: a focus on improving teaching and learning, creation of an information-rich environment, building of a learning community, continuous professional development, involvement of parents, and increased funding and resources (Muijis et al., 2009).

Getting into specifics about my school situation might be the most efficacious, yet it’s not necessarily the most prudent for my circumstances.  On the other hand, my inadvertent failure to drink my daily dose of coffee led to my general annoyance and ranting that produced the bulk of yesterday’s posting.  I nevertheless want to somehow link my rant yesterday with the main concern I’ve had of late, building upon a summer of vitriol that has driven “educational reformers” to paint teachers and their unions as impediments to student’s academic success:

The complex answer might lie in the social and economic conditions that bring many children to schools, regular and charter, unprepared to take sufficient advantage of what even the most dedicated and inspired teachers can offer. Brill and his heroes have no patience for discussions of, say, children with barely literate parents who rarely read aloud to them, or with unemployed parents too stressed themselves to offer real support, or with untreated asthma that kept them up the night before, or with no place to study because they are now homeless or doubled up with relatives. For the reformers, these are union-inspired excuses, so addressing America’s vast and growing inequalities has no place on their agenda. It’s clear that more flexible union contracts would indeed be a good step, but unless other obstacles to high achievement are addressed, it isn’t likely to make the difference Brill hopes.

The Slate.com article from which the above was taken makes a point that students in Texas, where teachers are non-union, do as well as students of unionized teachers in New York State, accounting for socioeconomic status.  Even more damning to the reformers’ cause, as pointed out by Dana Goldstein in the The Nation (link was down as I worked on this), is that it is ignorant to oversimplify school reform to a labor-management question. Goldstein argues that states with unionized teachers routinely academically outperform right-to-work states.  In addition, most of the nations who are kicking our kids’ rears internationally (Finland, Canada, France) also have unionized teachers.  Goldstein’s concern is that educational reformers stop seeing the role of schools as one of preparing students to be active and contributing members of a democratic society, but as test-score-producing machines.  Self-appointed school reformers like Steven Brill might argue, Goldstein continues, that the effects of poverty can be beaten back by good teachers, while ignoring a consistent body of evidence that while, at most, teaching can account for 15 percent of student achievement outcomes, socioeconomic factors account for 60 percent.  (Gee, sounds like the point that Stephen Krashen was making in the post I linked yesterday…)

But because we know, without a doubt, that family poverty exerts a crushing influence over children’s lives, it is no small thing when standards-and-accountability education reformers repeat, ad nauseam, that poverty can be totally ‘overcome’ by dedicated teachers.  Of course, we all know people who grew up poor and went on to lead successful, financially remunerative lives.  Many of them feel grateful to educators who eased their paths.  But the fact remains that in the United States in 2011, beating the odds of poverty has become far less likely than ever, and teacher quality had less to do with it than does economic inequality–a dearth of good jobs, affordable housing, healthcare, childcare, and higher education.

Ultimately, what is damning about Goldstein’s conclusions is that she makes a point that is the elephant in the room–that if we made changes in schools to give poor kids a fair shot, then we wouldn’t have to feel so bad about the fact that every thing about our society these days is inherently unequal.  That low tax rates and loopholes that help the superrich, helps keep the poor in their place, except when we need the poor kids to pull a school out of program improvement.   Let’s also not forget that it’s no secret that part of the impetus that drove the punitive nature of the NCLB punishments was the intent to push more and more children out of public schools and into the for-profit charter, private, and parochial schools.  But as the growing scandal amongst the Green Dot charter schools in Los Angeles is showing us, educational focus has become so narrowly focused upon the test results, with less and less focus upon the real process of what it takes to truly learn and make the progress necessary to go to college and find employment success beyond a minimum wage service-sector job.

It is ironic when I see teaching colleagues making fun of people who are on any sort of public assistance, in particular, when I realize that these butts of their Facebook jokes are the real “interest group” of my profession, given the neighborhood where I teach school.  I can’t afford to make fun of the people whom I serve.  These kids are my job.  These kids will take up the bulk of my focus for the next 170+ days over the next 10 months, even more so than my own little girl.  I will do my best to try to make a difference, but even then, it will not be enough.

Dis-Interest Group

I understand why politicians want to see labor as the cause of most of our societal and economic problems. It takes the focus off the banks, the corporations, the military-industrial complex. But public school teachers? I guess they really are sort of greedy and grabby — not to mention rich. Especially those greedy-grabby public school special ed teachers. My younger brother is one of them, and boy, is he raking it in. Talk about take, take, take.

The above is from author Anne Lamont’s Op-Ed in the LA Times this AM.   I read it over breakfast and began to ruminate over my last day before school starts.  It is Labor Day.  A cough that Kate can’t shake is keeping us close to home.  With school starting for me this week, we are missing out on a chance for her to see her godmother, who is my cousin, and, by extension, her godmother’s new baby, i.e. my new 3rd cousin. But family tree aside, It’s just as well.  Today’s Op-Ed is a reminder that some of my family members, who are confirmed, or borderline, dittoheads, actually don’t like what I do for a living, even if they would never say it to my face. I mean, c’mon, aren’t I, and my wife, to blame for the budget mess?

My colleague at school, while we both working to get our rooms ready last week, caught me as I walking back up the ramp to what I call my “FEMA” portable, and out of the blue, she was musing about why she ever decided to listen to the screaming and recall California Governor Grey Davis.  I withheld serious fire, but I did point out to her that my wife and I did predict what ultimately transpired to California, under Schwarzengger, even while in-laws had accused us of not knowing what we are talking about at the time. Nevertheless, the resultant mess has never been laid upon the feet of those most responsible, instead, I still hear, especially with the union-busting that took place in Wisconsin earlier in the year, that I belong to an interest group.  That politicians who are “concerned” about what I do for a living, are more concerned with figuring out ways to get me fired (and that fact, sadly, thanks to Education Secretary Arne Duncan, means it is coming from both sides of the political aisle) rather than to recognize that if I work for an interest group, it’s not necessarily for the adults in the the room with me, it’s for the kids who will file into my room on Thursday morning.  Unfortunately for these kids, they aren’t the ones who get to decide what will ultimately happen to them.  As little of a voice I might have, they have none.

Tomorrow morning, I head into school for what promises to be a morning of “fellowship”, even though I know, that in a several instances, it will quickly devolve into the sort of canned comments that reinforce the misconceptions about why most of us became teachers in the first place.  All I can do is roll my eyes.  I didn’t become a teacher to have summers off.  I wish the school year was longer and there were more hours in the school day.  I wish that if standardized tests are to be used to grade teachers, that they ultimately figure into student grades as well.  And I wish that any number of my colleagues would stop voting against their own self-interest when they support candidates that seek to undermine not just these colleagues’ teaching careers, but also the home lives of their young charges, for whom school is just a myriad of circumstances that needs to be dealt with on a daily basis.   But in discussing the year-end results, these children get reduced to bar graphs of red and green, small pie graphs, and indistinct numbers, all of which serve to de-personalize the experience I felt trying to get them ready for those high stakes tests in the first place.  It was that struggle, far more than the end result the test results purport to represent that made last year’s class memorable.  But aside from a class photo I snapped shortly before school ended, those figures on a spreadsheet are what remains.

We will likely spend time looking at those figures.  At my school, in the neighborhood where I teach, there’s an obvious reason why a particular subgroup struggled on the recent state testing.  Sure enough, strategies will likely be suggested to ameliorate the circumstances over the coming months of the school year.  Rather than trying to focus upon raising that subgroup’s test scores, it would make more sense to follow Stephen Krashen’s advice that he offers.  Even better, such a strategy would help to eliminate the existence of that subgroup in the first place.

But most of all, I wish that when teachers get demonized as an “interest group”, I would ask if those doing the demonization, most of whom have an expertise about school that extends to only the fact that they once attended school, are willing to step up and do my job if I, or my friends amongst the staff that I will enjoy seeing tomorrow, weren’t around.

I didn’t think so.

Bear Territory

With College Football kicking off its season this weekend, today was College Colors Day. 

Normally, I’d put Kate in the colors, and trot her somewhere into the backyard and take photos of her to post on Facebook and what not.  But with my classroom still not ready, and my sister and my niece and nephew wanting to belatedly celebrate Kate’s 4th birthday, we never got around to a photo-op.

But that doesn’t mean Amber wasn’t doing her part earlier in the week.

When my wife had to do some school district duty at a breakfast at the local hotel, one of the featured guests at the luncheon was Congresswoman Linda Sanchez.  Forewarned about the seating arrangements (i.e. that not all the district’s administrators would be able to sit with or near the Congresswoman), I decided to literally tap into some prior knowledge.  You see, Congresswoman Sanchez is an Old Blue–Cal class of 1991.  I suggested to Amber that one way she could meet the Congresswoman was to use that basic connection.  The wife agreed.

Katelyn already had the Cal mini helmet atop her television.  Amber’s trip to Michael’s the weekend prior to Rep. Sanchez’s visit garnered us a golden ink permanent pen.  As she left the house Monday morning, Amber stuffed both pen and helmet into her purse and hoped for the best.

Sure enough, Amber wasn’t seated at the Congresswoman’s table.  But if you know my wife, she doesn’t give up so easily.  As the event unfolded, Amber watched Rep. Sanchez for any sign that she might be leaving.  Ultimately, her patience paid off when she spied one of Sanchez’s aide whisper to her and the Congresswoman made ready to leave the event.  Amber was already on it.  Using a bathroom break as an excuse, Amber had helmet and pen ready, and headed into the hotel’s hallway and waited.  When the Congresswoman came out, Amber turned total fan girl.  She got a photo from the Congresswoman, who even agreed to also sign an autograph for Katelyn.  But then Rep. Sanchez saw the helmet.

“Go Bears!” was her reply.

Indeed.

Frank and the Never Mind Dodgers

Sharky and Bones, from Disney Junior's "Jake and the Never Land Pirates", throw out the first pitch of the Dodger/Rockies game, Saturday, August 27, 2011

I made it my mission this summer to avoid last year’s errors in terms of planning activities to keep my preschooler, Kate, busy on a more or less regular basis.  For instance, I vowed start taking my little girl to baseball games.  I posted elsewhere about her first ballgame, a trip to Los Angeles  Anaheim to see the Angels.

A nice "get" for this 4-year-old!

One of the things that I’ve enjoyed at ballgames, dating back to my early years of baseball fandom, was checking out the souvenir stand for any available swag.  My girl scored a retro-Angel cap from the mid-1970s on that trip, in addition to a souvenir bat.   Then, later on, when we got together with family friends down in San Diego, not only was it Padre Mini-Bat Day down at Petco Park, but she also scored an extremely cute little pink Padre cap–exactly the sort of thing that makes the wife happy in terms of accessorizing.

Had we the time to get into the team store, I am convinced I could have found many more random items to start turning my little I bribed the girls to get this photo!girl into a Padre fan before we’d even left the stadium.  Of course, this is notwithstanding that, much like our earlier visit to Anaheim, I had to get Kate to pose photos to get any sense of even “feigned” interest by our kid in what was actually taking place on the field (at right, for instance…).  But, without my own ancient allegiance to the Orioles, Petco Park alone, would have made me a Padre fan.  Not surprisingly, given that both the O’s and Pads could claim some lineage of sharing Larry Lucchino, former team President/CEO for both franchises (and now the same for the Boston Red Sox) and the man often credited for the unique look of both teams’ home fields, the shared DNA between the ballparks in Baltimore and San Diego might have explained the attraction.  I know for a fact that if we lived in San Diego, or were closer, I would consider some sort of ticket package to get me to that ballpark far more often.  I attended a few Padre games at Jack Murphy Stadium (now Qualcomm), and this experience was far, far superior.

Earlier in the summer though, Katelyn had expressed a strong desire to see the Dodgers.  I think that part of it had to do, somewhat, with her former preschool teacher, herself a big Dodger fan, who shared pictures of her family in Dodger gear, and talked enough about the games that Katelyn would have absorbed that information.  In addition, I also know my daughter, who often prattles on in her random fashion, tends to answer questions similarly, i.e. if you ask her the same question in rapid fire succession, you’re likely to get different answers.  Thusly, Dodgers became her “first choice”, followed by the Angels.  (The Padres never figured, if only because going to one of their games hadn’t been yet on the radar in the early Spring.)

But then came Bryan Stow.

Given circumstances, I felt that wannabe Los Angeles Anaheim was a better choice for a mid-week game with my little girl, given that I would be taking her by myself.  Petco Park was a family affair.  Finally, when my best friend and I decided to try to get together, the idea of taking our respective daughters (he has a 9-year-old) to a Dodger game seemed like a logical conclusion.  Once, he and I had shared a block of games from a package of season tickets.  Now, with our own respective families keeping our focuses inward, the chance at baseball games together has dwindled to 1 or 2 a season, if that.  With the Dodgers home towards the last weekend of August, that became our likely game target.  Interestingly enough, both were giveaway days, and, even more interesting, the Colorado Rockies were in town–just like they had been the previous month in San Diego.  After deciding that a “Jake and the Never Land Pirates” bandanna was somehow more attractive than a Dodger lunch box, I basically had my ticket marching orders.

Off to Stub Hub.  If you’ve never used the site, it’s a worthwhile visit if you’re ticket shopping.  Going through the team gets one full-priced tickets, and not necessarily in the best locations.  The Angel game, with seats in the Terrace level, was only $10 per ticket for $28 seats at an Angel/Ranger match-up.  Petco Park’s Toyota Terrace Pavilion seats ran me $20 per ticket for $26 seats.  Given the needs of a preschooler’s attention span, I wasn’t necessarily looking for the most expensive seats for a day game, especially considering that sitting in the shade would also be a priority.

But I wasn’t prepared for the 94 cent tickets I found.  Granted, it was Top Deck seating (normally $6-$12) but I’d sat there before, and unlike the View Level in Anaheim, I’ve liked the seats. The entire Stub Hub experience this time  recalled a search for Reserve Level tickets from a June column by the LA Times’ sportswriter Bill Plaschke: 

“Two dollars and fifty-five cents!”

The price was giddily shouted by my son as he scanned the computer, and I quickly scolded him for joking.

I wasn’t trying to buy a six-pack of soda. I wasn’t trying to buy a bowl of soup. I was trying to buy a reserve-level Dodgers ticket for last Wednesday’s afternoon game against the Cincinnati Reds.

“Be serious!” I told him.

“Two dollars and fifty five cents!” he shouted again.

I questioned him further. He wasn’t kidding. He had found three Dodgers tickets on the StubHub resale website for $2.55 each.

The typeface was small. The message was giant. Admission to one of baseball’s most venerable stadiums for a game involving one of baseball’s most enduring franchises was being sold for the price of a pack of hair clips.

My focus for my search, given shade needs, was the Loge Level.  With list price ranging from $30-$100, I was finding a decent selection of seats between $20-$30, eventually settling for 4 tickets at $10 a piece, right by a concession stand and the aisle–key components for a preschooler who has already shown she likes to wander about the stadium during the game.

Of course, Katelyn, finally wrapping her head around the idea that we were going back to a baseball game, immediately wanted to wear her pink Padre cap.   Mindful of Dodger fans, I decided that I wanted to be able to avoid having her wind up on life support.  We left the cap at home.

And for the most part, it seemed like everyone else had the same idea.  Much as Plaschke observed himself, the parking lot entering the park was nearly deserted, and our parking spot near the LF Pavilion was, at most, 200 yards from the entrance to the Loge Level on the third base side.  It was eerie, and while Dodger fans are known for being traditionally late arrivals, we were less than hour before game time.  I couldn’t help but think that the stroller ordeal and the long parking lot walk my wife and I endured with our then-infant Katelyn at a Dodger game back in 2008 would have been made much easier with this sort of access.

For a dying franchise to be handing out skeleton logos seems almost like piling on.

While I continued to try to wrap my head around a 56,000 seat stadium with more seats than people, Katelyn was enjoying the Disney Junior aspect of the visit.  I was just more suprised to see, after a time, that nearly as many adults as kids were wearing the red Jake bandannas.  The giveaway guidlelines mentioned “14-and-under”, so I could only conclude that perhaps, given Dodger fans lately, that they were referring to emotional age in addition to physical age.

Our seats were actually better than I could have expected–far better than the same spot that Katelyn and I had sat for the Angels/Rangers matchup in July.  But the nice view from these seats also basically gave us a nice view of even more seats.

Dodger fans are notorious for late arrivals, but this was ridiculous...

My best friend and I were impressed with the seats, despite the woeful attendance.  Chad Billingsley, the Dodger starter, was matched up against Kevin Millwood of the Rockies.  The latter had been a victim of last year’s terrible Oriole team, and had struggled to make it back to the big leagues before Colorado had resuscitated him and put him into their rotation.  Millwood was pitching well, while Billingsley was not, although to his credit, Billingsley was able to keep his team in the game.  It was labored though, and every inning became an ordeal, as the game grew longer, taking nearly 90 minutes to get out of the 3rd inning.  Throughout, I kept looking to see if the seats we’d seen empty at the start of the game would fill.  They would not.  This was not a late-arriving crowd, this was a fanbase that was staying away.

Voting with your feet implies movement.  On this day, there was none to be seen.

Fortunately, having a 4-year-old who is still establishing her critical biases, meant she was perfectly happy with junk food and my decision to bring her Mobi-Go game to keep her busy over what was becoming an increasingly long game.  Once upon a time, I would have been keeping score, but even today, it would have been maddening to try to generate a game narrative with a game that seemed interminably long between pitches (Millwood doesn’t work fast, and Billingsley’s struggles made him slow down as well.) and wasn’t played well once action happened.  Mark Ellis, the Rockies’ second-baseman, in particular had trouble with the sun behind second base.  And Juan Rivera, the Dodger (and former Angel) left-fielder played his position with little in the way of urgency, although he did manage to throw out Rockie catcher Chris Ianetta at second base trying to stretch a single into a double.

As it was, the time came when I decided to get Katelyn a Dodger cap, ostensibly to go with her caps she had gotten in Anaheim and San Diego.  But as this post points out, as the writer had been at the game the night before we came, searching for a cap that fits at the Ravine is no longer a given. 

At this point, my employee friend explained that the team has been having problems with it’s merchandiser, Facilities Management Inc. You might remember that on August 10th, that merchandiser, FMI, requested protection from the Dodgers in federal bankruptcy court. It turns out, we learned after talking to a few retail salespeople around the stadium, that FMI stopped ordering new merchandise for this season three months ago. Due to low attendance (gate attendance is even worse than the Dodgers’ struggling paid attendance), FMI is not going to make back the $4.5 million it pays for the exclusive right to sell merchandise at Dodger stadium this season. So why sink money into apparel that won’t get sold?

It didn’t help that the employees appeared as indifferent as the stadium’s fans.  While the concession stands were working as hard as they could, especially given that a number of stands were closed, due to the small crowds, at the first souvenir stand, Katelyn and I waited for several minutes for help from the lone employee, who chose to shine us on while she engaged in a talk with another customer whom she likely knew.  We ultimately walked to another kiosk, where, in lieu of an appropriately sized cap–that they didn’t have, we picked up one of those silly water bottles with the electric fan.  It had been a hot afternoon, and it made perfect sense, despite the ridiculous overprice.  The point about souvenirs had been made, however.  The Loge Level stadium store had been similarly picked over.

Sadly, Dodger Stadium has used to be my favorite in terms of ballpark experiences.  The team’s season, while a losing one, is far better than my own Orioles’ had been this year.  But the enthusiasm is gone.  In some respects, it mirrors Katelyn’s observations about the stadium’s lack of television screens hanging from the level’s ceilings, much as she had seen in Anaheim.  Even she could tell that this stadium experience was different.  The Padres’ struggles, by contrast, are accepted and patiently observed.  Fortunately for me, the Disney Junior focus (Jake episodes on the scoreboard, “Choo-Choo Soul” musical interludes) did wonders to keep her happy, but by the bottom of the 8th inning, and the game approaching the 3 1/2 hour mark, my friend and I decided that it was time to go.  I had promised to take my daughter for the day, but I had meant it in the metaphorical, not literal sense.  With Katelyn having missed her nap, and her becoming punchier by the second, it wouldn’t be long before she began singing German drinking songs.

Oh yeah, the Dodgers wound up winning, 4 hours and 39 minutes after the game had started.

And, according to the LA Times today, the stadium’s numbers continue to dwindle. 

It’s been said that Comedy = Tragedy + Time.  In order for tragedy to become comedy, you need time.  Sadly, the poor attendance numbers are indicative that the Dodger situation is beyond that–the fans are not even going to give Frank McCourt the time of day any more.