Thursday, October 31, 2013

Advice for Young Teachers From the Experts

This fall my third grade class had a wonderful experience with my wife's graduate students.  It was truly was Heidi calls Curricular Heaven.  We have had our respective classes connecting over the years.  Back when Heidi was teaching young undergrads in Elementary Education, my former students were pen-pals with hers, developing strong relations through writing.  I just reposted a story about that.

For the past several years, Heidi has taught her language arts methods classes right on our school campus.  We pair our students up for a semester long project we call Tall and Small Teachers.  We read together, write together, hang out and get to know each other.  All of these literacy engagements are perfect for a lot of reasons.  My students get to know an adult who listens and coaches and cares.  Heidi's graduate students, who will be doing their full-time student teaching next semester, get to really know how a third grader thinks and reads and writes.

Our final visit was last Tuesday.  The Tall Teachers created unique books for my students.  They are treasures.  The small teachers wrote letters for  their adults.  My suggestions were to share some memories, thank them for the good times and to give them advice.  After all, who better to give advice to a future teacher of young kids than a child?  I told my students as they got ready to write - Heidi and their university instructors can tell them what is important.  I can give them some ideas about how to teach well, "But you are the real experts.  You are the ones they will teach when they have a chance.  You know, more than the adults who are their teachers, what kids need in an effective teacher."

So they wrote.  The sound of their pencils pushing across their papers was just about all one could hear in our classroom for half an hour or forty minutes.  Most of the children took this responsibility very seriously.   Some of what they shared was very personal.  They remembered special books, jokes, when we had a picnic outside for lunch.  They remembered when the Tall Teachers helped them edit their animal articles and when they gave them written feedback on the memoirs they wrote in class.  And the advice the children wrote to their Tall Teachers was priceless.

I have published similar posts in the past where I posit that kids are wiser than grownups often give them credit for.  Hey, I work with these guys.  They are my best friends.  I have been doing it for 33 years now.  And my mom did it before me.  Even if you are not a teacher, you will probably think that this is some sage advice...

Don't act like you know everything and be honest.  Bond with your kids and have a good relationship...  Don't blow your top and yell at your kids.  Don't get aggravated with your kids...  Balance out teaching and fun.  Spend lots of fun time with your students.  Play with them at recess...  1st step - Be yourself.  2nd step - Don't tell a lie...  If a student doesn't understand something, take your time to teach them.  Try to be funny with your students.  When one of your students is sad, try to make them happy...  Write songs.  Do fun science things with your students...  Try not to be selfish or confusing...  Be fearless...   When you teach you should laugh when something's funny.  Or you should giggle.  Teachers should care about their kids and they should like their students.  Make interesting voices when you read stories...  Sing with your kids if you have the time...  Don't crack weak jokes - crack funny jokes...  Reads lots of books to your kids.  Answer the kids' questions.  Have animals in your classroom.  Play chess with your kids.  Eat lunch with your kids.  Love on your kids...    For your classroom you should have good books for the kids to read.  You should be prepared for anything otherwise you could have some hard times...  Be exuberant!  Know if somebody needs help...  Go deeply into any topic...  Be understanding about kids' feelings.  Remember that kids repeat the things that you do.  Treat your children the way you want to be treated...

I think we all need this advice from time to time.  Not just if you work with kids, for kids are people.  I mean we ALL need to be reminded to be kind every once in a while.  We all should remember the golden rule and how important play time is.  We should all laugh out loud and be ourselves.

And we should all be fearless.

We have magnificent brains, but we use a great deal of our brilliance to keep ourselves stuck and ignorant, to keep ourselves from not shining. We are so afraid of our beauty and radiance and brilliance because it scared the adults around us when we were children.
Patricia Sun 

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Notes From Kids

At the end of a lot of days in my 3rd grade classroom I am a little disappointed in myself.  I have a tendency to rush things.  I know I shouldn't, but often, we work just a little too long.  I read a story for one extra page, let the kids work on a project just one more minute than I should before pulling the plug and getting the room cleaned up, chairs up for the custodian, pencils off the floor, books put away.

So, after traffic circle, I am the one who puts the chairs up and picks up pencils and paper scraps.  Occasionally though, there is gold there.  I the last week, I found these four little notes on the floor.  I am sure there is a large back story for all of these, but I think they stand well by themselves as well.  

The names were changed to protect the innocent...

Steven, you are a good friend to me.  You are too cool for words.  Want to play at recess?

Dear Brianne,
You are not annoying.  
I like you.
Not like like.
But as a friend.  
From Terry

Dear Beth,
I am so sorry that your friend died.
But remember she will be in your heart.
Your BFF

Dear Corey,
I am sorry that I was leaving you out.
I was not trying to.  It's just that I was playing a fun game and I wanted to play that game again.
But I could have played with you instead of playing that game.  If you are feeling left out or not happy that I am not playing with you, tell me if you want and I will understand.  I will play with you if you want me to play with you today.
Your friend, Dara Lyn
P.S. Not trying to make you feel bad, but I did not like how you were mimicking me, not listening to me and saying that I did not hear anything.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Basic Skills - A Teacher's Story

Basic Skills - A Teacher's Story

In 1986 I moved to Columbia, SC from southern Indiana.  I admit there was a bit of a culture shock.  I had never really traveled south of Indiana before except a day trip to Kentucky and flying in to Florida for a spring break once while in college.  I flew down to Columbia, SC to interview, flew back home, then drove down with all our stuff to live here.  Since this is a teaching story, I feel compelled to say that it was NOT all goodness and light in Indiana.  I worked with a principal who had lost track of what was important.  My last year there I team-taught with a teacher who really seemed to hate teaching.  There were some rough spots in my first job in SC.  But, like all things related to teaching, it is the children who make teaching what it is.  Not the administrators, not the teachers down the hall...  the children.  I wrote this story a few years ago in my classroom for writer's workshop.  

Part of being a non-fiction writer is like being a photographer.  If it works, it is often because of being in the right place, at the right time, with the right equipment.  Being a teacher makes me blessed.  I am always at the right place to witness and share in the wonder and drama of living and learning  with a bunch of wonderful people.  
One of the amazing things about writing to me is that is helps one to recall.  When I started this story, I didn't know how much would come back.  It happened 25 years ago, after all.  During the process of writing this piece, Antwan and Bridget and Mr. Litton and others all came swimming back to me.  I can recall Antwan's shining eyes like I saw them just yesterday.  Bridget's radiant, crooked-toothed smile and her pony tail bouncing as she jumped as I turned the rope at recess - it's like these 25 years have vanished and I am there with them.  They would be 38 or 39 years old now.  I don't know if I would recognize them if I saw them walking down the street or in line at the grocery store.  But those 11 year old faces?  I would recognize them in a heartbeat.

For my first year teaching in South Carolina I was a Basic Skills Instructor. I worked with small groups of kids in two different schools. These were children who tested in the bottom quartile on the Basic Skills exam. These were typically kids who didn’t get their homework done, didn’t finish class work, often spent their recess time “on the hill” trying to complete workbook pages and handouts. These were the kids who never caught up. Often they were discipline problems. They were the ones sent to the office for behavior referrals. A lot of them were paddled.  School for these children was a constant mountain of unfinished papers, tests they couldn’t do well with, teachers they didn’t get along with, work that was too hard. They were the unmotivated, the outcasts, the disruptive, the students other teachers didn’t want to teach. It was my job to pull these kids out of the classroom and put them together in small groups for short periods each day. These were the Basic Skills kids and these were my students for the year.

I worked with groups of four to six kids for a half an hour at a time. Of course I had to get them to and from their classes so we only had about 25 minutes to work together each day.

At first the children came with workbook pages they hadn’t finished in class. The teachers wanted me to be sure the work was finished. They wanted me to be their enforcer.

I tried this for a week or so, nagging the kids to do the kind of work I disagreed with. The kids were pretty harsh with me in return. They saw me as an extension of their own classrooms where many were already failing. They saw me as another authority figure trying to make them do work which they saw as worthless, work they hated. They saw me as the enemy.

I resented the role as well. I was used to writing curriculum and lessons with kids. I wanted our time together to be interesting and worthwhile. I wanted the Basic Skills time to be important. I couldn’t take being the “workbook dragon” day after day, insisting that kids fill in blanks on workbook pages or drawing lines from questions to correct answers. The system wasn’t working for them. It seemed like a waste of time for the students and for me.

I went to John Litton, my new principal to see what could be done. When I entered his smoke filled office (this was in 1986 – before smoking was banned from public buildings). I told him about my problem. I didn’t think I was serving the students very well by making them do worksheets and workbook pages. I said that my time would be used more appropriately if the students were doing real reading and writing and math projects. He listened carefully to my lengthy complaint and philosophy of education. When I was finished with my monologue he smiled broadly, his white beard yellowed from years of cigarette smoking. He smushed out his cigarette in a butt-filled ashtray and said, “Sure. No problem. Whatever. Only YOU get to tell the teachers about your new role.”

I took the coward’s way out. When the kids came to me with workbooks I sent them back with the same unfinished work. I never told the teachers directly but soon they got the message that the Basic Skills kids were going to learn different kinds of basic skills. They didn’t know what yet, but the 3rd, 4th and 5th grade teachers at R. Earle Davis Elementary became accustomed to not sending worksheets. They would have to trust me for my little half hour, three times a week.

It took a while for the other teachers to get used to what we were doing. For one thing it wasn’t what you would called joyful school. It was dark in almost every sense of the word. The walls were dark. The carpets were filthy. It always smelled of cigarettes smoked by the office staff and the cigars smoked by the head custodian, Mr. Steverson. The windows were dirty, grudgingly allowing in dim and dusty daylight.

Many teachers hollered constantly… “How many times do I have to tell you?… I said SIT DOWN!... What on earth is WRONG WITH YOU?” I do not fault them. It was just their way. It was how they grew up as teachers, as though the only way to get through to kids was to bring the volume up, to speak sarcastically and to threaten the students into doing their work. It may never have occurred to them that perhaps the kids weren’t working very hard because they saw no real reason for it.

For most of the children, writing was a series of exercises: drawing lines from questions to answers, filling in a blank with a word from a word bank or answering comprehension questions about a story they could barely read.

When they passed by our door the teachers would hear us laughing (sometimes hysterically), writing and acting out plays, reading and writing responses to pen pal letters, listening to chapter books, videotaping plays we had written, etc.

Ours was a motley crew. While these children were considered to be “low end” academically, they were actually quite bright. Most had never gotten along well in a pencil and paper system. Some were still struggling to read and do basic math but many demonstrated great ability in other areas. One student, Antwan, was a child with an amazing sense of humor and a sunny disposition.

He and his best friend Bridget usually came in giggling over some private joke. Eventually they warmed up to me. They got my jokes, shared my love of story and, although neither was a tremendous reader, they loved it when I read aloud. They were expressive and energetic kids. They invented unusual names for me including “O’Theif”, “O’Boy”, “O’Man” and “O’Teeth”.

Antwan was hard for me to get to know at first. He wouldn’t look me in the eye when he spoke to me. He was a nice kid but I felt like I didn’t know him well. Once on the playground I was turning the jump rope for Bridget and others. “What’s up with Antwan?” I asked her.

‘What you mean?” she answered.

“Why do you think he doesn’t like me?”

“It’s not that, O’Teeth.  He just doesn’t trust you is all.”


“You don’t know much about Antwan, do you?”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“You don’t know what happened to his family?

“Why don’t you fill me in?” I said.

She motioned for me to follow her away from the others. “He stays with his grandparents, right?” I answered that I had heard that. It wasn’t uncommon for many of my students to live with family members other than their parents. “Do you know why he stays with them?” Her beautiful black eyes never left mine.

“No, why?”

“His daddy’s in jail. His mamma’s dead.  His daddy killed her.” I paused, not really knowing what to say. “It don’t mean nothin’ now. You just need to know is all.”  We went on with our routine and eventually Antwan began to open up to me as a friend and not just his teacher.

Pen pal letters were the favorite project of all of the groups. My wife is an instructor at USC. At the time she was teaching undergraduates, mostly young women, how to teach reading and writing to elementary children. It was the perfect match. Heidi’s undergraduates exchanged letters with my Basic Skills kids once each week. The kids learned the real purpose of writing. And they were getting to know some neat people through their letters. The USC students were coming to understand writing development for third through fifth grade students. They were also forming bonds with young people most of whom had never written a letter to anyone in their lives. It was what Heidi called “Curricular Heaven”.

Because our time was so short, I had the letters on the tables as the kids came in. The computers were on for kids who wanted to compose their letters at the keyboard. This was our busiest and most fulfilling time together. The kids were unbelievably focused. They tore into their envelopes, helped each other to read, shared funny parts, laughed and wrote. These were the days when my job was easy and gratifying. All I had to do was to put out the letters and writing supplies and get out of the way.

By January we were in a comfortable routine. Wednesday was pen pal day and the Basic Skills kids were in their second set of USC friends for the year. We had only exchanged a couple of letters with the new group when Bridget’s group came in one cold day without Antwan. Bridget took me aside to let me know what was going on. There was no smile in those bright eyes. I had never seen them so solemn, so sad.

“What’s going on?” I asked. “Where’s Antwan?”

“He’s at home. So’s his sister. Their grandpa died yesterday.”

“They were close, weren’t they?”

“He loved his grandpa so hard, Mr. O. His grandparents took care of him, you know?”

“I remember,” I said softly.

“When his mama died, his grandparents took Antwan and his sister to live with them,” she reminded me. “They was the ones raisin’ them. They was really old. Now he’s only got his grandma left.”

“I’m so sorry, Bridget.” I knew Antwan and Bridget were best friends – not boyfriend and girlfriend – just best friends. They had been since they were little kids.  In some ways they were closer than boyfriend/girlfriend.  They were life friends.  I knew that she was hurting too. “What can we do?”

“How 'bout we just save the pen pal letters for him when he gets back?”
That’s just what we did. The day of the funeral the Basic Skills kids listened to me read a short story and we discussed it. Bridget was with her best friend in his time of sorrow and need.  The group was subdued. There was no kidding around, little teasing and laughter. It wasn’t the same without Antwan and Bridget. We had friends who were hurting and we were feeling some of their pain.

The next day Antwan and Bridget came in with the rest of the group. I remember it like it was yesterday. In some ways it was a day that changed me as a teacher.

Antwan had on his parka with the hood zipped up all the way. I couldn’t see his face. It was a cold day outside but rather warm in the room. I wanted to comfort Antwan, to tell him that I was sorry for his loss. He wouldn’t look at me as he plopped himself into the usual chair. His arms were crossed. His head was down.

Bridget looked at me expectantly. I told everyone that we saved the pen pal letters for today so Antwan and Bridget could be here. We all were a little jumpy and tense but gradually busy noise filled the room. The usual kids chose to work at computers while the others plucked pens or pencils from the can in the center of the table. Antwan and Bridget sat side by side at the computer work stations. Bridget kept looking over at Antwan. He hadn’t budged. Just over a week ago Antwan tore into his letter with delight. He had received a photo of his pen pal, Monique, and she was a beauty. He had delighted in the ribbing he received from the others. Now his letter lay unopened on the table next to him.

I approached cautiously. The Antwan I knew as a happy little cut up, who laughed easily and who teased me mercilessly was not there. The joking, smiling, laughing Antwan I knew was somewhere deep inside that parka. As I scooted my chair up to him tears fell from his hood. I slowly put my arm around his shoulders, something I had never done before. “I’m so sorry about your grandpa, Antwan.” I couldn’t think of anything else to say. His life had just changed in the saddest way imaginable. I couldn’t begin to understand his pain.

“Yeah,” he muttered, still not letting me see his face. “He was a good guy.” More tears fell.

There was an awkward silence as I thought of what to say, what to do for my sad little friend. “Do you want to write to Monique about it?  I think she’d like to know what’s going on with you and your family.”

He didn’t answer but instead picked up Monique’s letter, tore it open and began to read. I moved on to the other kids. I didn’t want to make Antwan any more self-conscious by hovering over him.

I looked over from time to time. He was slowly composing his note, one letter at a time with his right index finger, his left hand in his lap except to capitalize. While I couldn’t see his face (his parka hood was still up) tears leaked out and dripped into the keys of the computer.

The children worked steadily for about 15 minutes. Antwan had barely shown his face all morning. He was hidden deep within his coat, deep within himself. When the period was over the kids handed me their letters on their way back to their classroom. Antwan printed his letter out on the old dot matrix printer and handed it to me without a word. Before he walked back to his classroom I reached out and touched him on the shoulder. “I’m sorry about your grandpa, Antwan.” He pulled his hood off and our eyes met. His were red and puffy; his cheeks wet with tears. “My grandmamma said that it was just his time, that he lived a good long life. He's with God now."  He paused, and then, "He was a real good man, O’Keefe. Real good. Nothin's gonna be the same without him.”

That moment is etched in my mind. The others were out the door. Antwan and I stood there, both of us so sad. He because he would never look into the loving eyes of his grandpa; his protector, his guardian, his provider and friend. I was sad because Antwan was being forced to grow up too fast. He already had a life filled with too much violence, too much sadness. Now, at 11 years old, he would be the man of his little family.
I asked him if I could copy his letter for his file. He said OK and turned away without another word.

I had the next period free for planning. Antwan’s letter was left on the computer monitor. As I read his simple and sincere note; my tears joined his as they fell into the keyboard.

Dear Monique,
It was nice to get your letter. Did you have a nice time in Atlanta? I hope you feel better. I will dream about you. In my family my grandpa died. He took care of me. He was my best friend. Now I will not have no one to hug. No one to kiss. No one to TELL THINGS TO. No one to love and give things to. I will still go to see him but I will not dig him up because I am not that kind of guy.
Your friend,

He had never met Monique before. They had only exchanged letters a few times. They had barely established their friendship before this tragedy hit Antwan’s family. Antwan bravely poured out his emotions to Monique although they were really only acquaintances. He used writing to explain feelings that spoken words could not. I had never truly realized the power and potential of writing. I knew that the pen pal correspondence was an important part of our time together. I knew it was a real reason to write. At the same time, it was not much more than a great project or activity. I knew that it was important to write to communicate to someone but I didn’t understand the true significance; the true potential.

Antwan told Monique something he had never told me. That single, most powerful word was love. Writing allowed him to cross the barrier, to express himself in important clear ways, to be open and honest. It freed him from the boundaries of face to face communication. Through writing, Antwan was able to explain his complicated emotions; to let out some of the saddest feelings he had ever had. He connected to Monique in his letter. I am still awed by his frankness, inspired by his honesty.

Later that semester, after exchanging at least 15 letters the USC pen pals came to Davis Elementary to meet the Basic Skills kids. Like most of the others, Antwan was shy when he met Monique. His words were few and quiet. But his letters were always friendly, newsy and personal.  He and Bridget and most of the other Basic Skills kids were dressed in their Sunday clothes.  Antwan had on an ill fitting suit and Bridget wore uncomfortable shoes and a pretty, if worn pink dress.  Bridget's hair, always in a loose pony tail, was braided into tight cornrows.  She told me they hurt.  But those two shined bright that day.  All the kids did.  

I have long since lost track of Antwan but his face stays with me along with his humor and feisty spirit. His shining black eyes look back at me through all of these years. In my mind he will always be eleven. In my mind he will always be that fragile little boy - my friend just for a little while, a long time ago.  And one of my greatest teachers.

Monday, October 14, 2013

The Best Defense

To paraphrase a friend of mine, if you go to all of the effort to shut down the government because you don’t get your way on the Affordable Health Care Act (the MOST vetted law ever probably, having survived 41 votes by Congressional Republicans to weaken it or repeal it), then you don’t get to decide which parts of the government get to stay open

At this very moment, the US is suffering from the efforts of the “right wing of the right wing” to escape reality.  These people are so out of touch that even fellow Republicans are becoming worn out by their fantasies.  While driving home the other day I heard conservative pundit David Brooks on NPR’s "All Things Considered", call Senator Ted Cruz “stupid”.  Twice.  It’s hard to disagree. 

These folks are like the bad-sport-playground-bullies I remember from my childhood.  If they don’t get to make the rules, they’ll take the ball and go home.  They blocked the routine resolution to fund the government if they don’t get their way in defunding Obamacare.  And they are blaming the President for not negotiating?!  As Maureen Dowd put it, “They have done the impossible. They have made Americans look back at the Bush II era, the most reckless wrecking ball in American history, with relative nostalgia.”  
Republicans are bearing the brunt of the responsibility for the crisis: A new Associated Press-GfK survey released Wednesday shows that 62 percent of adults surveyed online mainly blame Republicans for the current shutdown. About half said Mr. Obama or congressional Democrats bear the responsibility. These numbers echo a Washington Post/ABC poll released Tuesday which showed 70 percent of Americans disapproving of how the GOP is handling the budget negotiations, compared to 61 percent for Democrats and 51 percent for Mr. Obama 
So, while Republicans are tanking in the polls, there is this faction that is beating their chests and chanting WE WILL BE VICTORIOUS!  They are betting on the United States forgetting their petulant little tantrum and shift the blame to our duly elected President and the Democrats who passed his legislation fair and square. 
So, check out their new strategy for keeping America dumb.  They are becoming outraged in a really public way about the government shutdown.  Unbelievable as it seems, there was a protest in Washington D. C. yesterday featuring Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, Senator Mike Lee of Utah and Sarah Palin (former governor of Alaska and currently… I’m not sure).  Yep, they were protestors at the WWII Memorial on the National Mall. 
These are the same folks who refused to keep the government operating unless Mr. Obama defunded his healthcare plan. 
Mr. Cruz had the gall to ask, "Why is the federal government spending money to erect barricades to keep veterans out of this memorial?"

"Our vets have proven that they have not been timid, so we will not be timid in calling out any who would use our military, our vets, as pawns in a political game," Palin told the crowd.

One speaker at the WWII Memorial “protest” urged revolution.  “I call upon all of you to wage a second American nonviolent revolution, to use civil disobedience, and to demand that this president leave town, to get up, to put the Quran down, to get up off his knees, and to figuratively come out with his hands up,” said Larry Klayman of Freedom Watch, a conservative political advocacy group.

How about the Confederate flag being flown at the “protest”?  In the background was a sign that read, “RESPECT OuR VEtS” [sic].  The confederate flag seems like a pretty bizarre way to respect our vets.

 I can only think that they believe the best defense is a good offense.  And you know what? It will work for a pretty big chunk of Americans with Obama Dementia.  The same ones who think Obama is not a citizen, that taxes and the national debt are skyrocketing, that he is a Socialist/Muslim, that under Obama voter fraud is a serious threat or that he wants to take everyone’s guns.

But I’m guessing that most Americans will see that their best defense is just offensive.

Thursday, October 10, 2013


Here's a little heads up. This post has some cu$$ing in it. It can't be helped. The first section is an essay about modern communications, but the second part is about one application of the cellphone. In that true encounter the main character does a lot of cu$$ing. If you are offended by foul lang&*ge, then pass up this p*$t. But I h&pe th@t you c#me ba*k.

TMI - Part One
Isn’t it amazing how quickly our society has become accustomed to cell phone technology? In some ways we are dependent on cell phones. When we first moved to SC in 1986 there was a single area code for the state – 803. Now we have three area codes to accommodate all of the new cell numbers. Almost every adult I know and every teen I know (and I am acquainted with many since we have 20 and 21 year old sons) have their own cell phone numbers. In my family we have 5 phone numbers. There is the number for our old landline, which has been the same since 1986, and four cell phone numbers.
People routinely talk on the cell phone wherever they are: in the grocery store, waiting for an oil change, in the checkout line in stores, on the road while driving, etc. Everywhere.
Thumbnail for version as of 23:15, 8 November 2009 
I remember when Heidi got her first car phone (aka bag phone). It was an amazingly large device compared to today’s cell phones. It hooked into the cigarette lighter in the car. We still called them cigarette lighters back then. The term accessory input came later. She said that she would only use it for emergencies since the cost per minute was outrageous. It started out that way too. She would call the police to report stalled vehicles on the roadside. That kind of thing.

Very soon the first true cell phones came out. Large by today’s standards. Simple too. It wasn’t long before they replaced pagers and people started calling everybody for everything. “Hey, where are you?” are the first words of almost all cell phone conversations nowadays. Back in the day you KNEW where the person was. At home, probably in their kitchen or bedroom since that’s where the phones were.
There are ringing cell phones wherever you go now: at the movies, at concerts, in church. You used to only hear the phone where there were phone jacks – at home and at the office. And there used to only be one ring. Now people’s ringtones reflect their personalities, their favorite songs. Such variety.
Phones are also a sign of status, right? How many megapixels does your camera have? How many gigs of memory? What’s the keypad like? How many apps? Now you hear questions you never heard just a few years ago… “How many bars do you have?”
A couple weeks ago I was stuck in traffic on my commute home and the drivers of the cars in front of me, behind me, to the right and to the left were all on their phones, I’m sure complaining to someone about the traffic snarl. Last weekend I was driving through Lexington. There was a woman next to me with her phone cradled between her shoulder and ear, applying mascara while looking into the mirror on the inside of her visor while she was driving. Now that’s confidence.
Think of Captain Kirk’s communicator from the old Star Trek series of the 1960’s. Only one ring tone, no pictures, no camera or video, no texting or email capability. He had to flip it open (at least he didn’t accidentally make butt calls). No GPS, no blue tooth, no other apps and Kirk only talked to Chekov or Scotty. The message was pretty much the same too – “Beam me up!” It was extremely limited by today’s standards. He might as well have been using Morse code and a telegraph for all that he could do.

TMI - Part Two

So it’s not surprising when you overhear a conversation as people talk on the phone near you. But many people are not used to old-fashioned phone manners. They are so accustomed to speaking on the phone wherever they are that they are oblivious to those around them.

For example, I was standing in line on Friday to pay taxes on our new used vehicle. The line was moving very slowly. Just behind me a woman came in talking on her cell phone. She was young and blond and pretty and had on a tight green t-shirt with the words Ask Me Again After You Get Me Drunk silk-screened on the front. Hmmm – an odd sentiment for such a public place.

She was speaking loudly, much louder than she needed to. But she was in her own world. The phone had cut her off from the rest of us in the room.

“I don’t give a f#$k what he said! That b*&ch is a f!@#ing wh*%#!”

Uh oh. It’s not like I am a prude. I didn’t have to cover my ears, but I really didn’t want to hear it.

“There is like NO WAY I am staying with Kevin,” she went on. He said I could like stay there. Can you believe it? He’s such an a@*hole. He said he’d even give me a break on the f*%#ing rent! That bas*#rd!” Now he is like f*@#ing someone else and he wants me to stay in the same house?! Well, he’s got another f@*%ing thing coming!”

Another guy, a graybeard like me, came in and stood behind her in line. “I’m like there is no way in H#%& I was staying there! And she’s all like sweet-faced like it was no big deal or nothing!”

Pause while the other party answered. “I know, right?”

Now she was gesturing with her free hand for emphasis. “And she’s all like, ‘No big deal’, and I’m all like whatever...” Pause to listen. “She must take me for a total loser!”

And in my mind I’m all like switch off the phone or like text message or something!Like spare us!

More people came in to wait in line behind us. There were no little ones so I didn’t say anything. The graybeard behind her caught my attention and rolled his eyes.“And she’s all like, ‘You can totally stay if you want to. I’m not like mad’. I’m like,“Whatever, b*#ch!’ It was all I could do not to punch her f@#*ing lights out! I’m like, ‘I’m outta hear!”

Blessedly, the person ahead of me in line had her problem straightened out. “Next in line please,” said the woman behind the counter. My business took less than a minute. Then I was off to the DMV.

There I had another fairly long wait. While I was filling out forms Graybeard came in. We smiled at each other knowingly. It’s funny how you can bond with a total stranger over a shared experience. “Well,” I asked. “Do you think she moved out of Kevin’s place?”

Graybeard grinned, “Whatever! Like of course. Do you think she was like a moron or something?” We exchanged a few words of camaraderie about the overheard conversation.

I love how easy it is to communicate in this new age. I do. I misplaced my phone and was without one for a couple of weeks and I found myself in many situations where I wish I had it and all of my stored phone numbers. It is convenient to get a call reminding me to pick up something at the store; comforting to just check-in after work.

But, honestly, along with this new freedom comes the baggage of being too much in other people’s lives. OMG! Just TMI!