The Jerry Seinfeld Blog Post

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Yesterday morning I sat next to my son at the orientation for middle school and tried not to get into trouble for heckling the administrators. Yeah, I know, dad is supposed to set a good example for the kids so heckling the people who were boring us to sleep wasn’t really a good thing to do.

The good news is that said heckling was imaginary. It only took place in my head, but had I actually shared what I was thinking I am sure I would have gotten a lot of laughs.

In the interest of full disclosure there were two reasons why I didn’t heckle these fine folks:

  1. I didn’t want my son to be stuck with the consequences of my actions. I am prepared to live with what I do, but that is my choice.
  2. I wanted the damn thing to end sooner than later. Heckling wasn’t going to help.

The teenage boy who lives inside my body wants to know when he turned into an old man. He has fond memories of the days when we were a class clown and I suppose that the old man does too.

But my son is not me and I am good with that.

I never had a problem being the center of attention. I never had a problem raising my hand and answering questions. Sonny boy (that sounds kind of silly) would prefer not to be called upon…ever.

He doesn’t want the attention, but it is not because he doesn’t know the answers. During school conferences his teachers have always said that he is an excellent student who follows along and provides the correct answer when called upon. They also said they would like to see him participate more.

Great Googly Moogly

Great Googly Moogly, I have a kid going into middle school. I am not nearly old enough for this to be the case. My driver’s license says that I am 43 but I swear I am around 19. Ok, maybe not. All I have to do is look in the mirror and I can see I am not.

Curse you 19 year-old metabolism for running away. If I ever catch you I am going to kick your ass…twice.

While I sat there listening to the school administrators discuss policy and procedures two things came to mind:

  1. I like the school and feel good. I think my son will do well there.
  2. Some policies were written by rabid monkeys who were high on crack. WTF were they thinking.

I won’t lie and say I am not nervous about middle school because I am. I won’t say anything to my son about this because I know he is nervous and I want him to be confident. I am confident about his ability to adapt and am sure he will be fine, but sometimes dads worry.

First Impressions

It was a big day here today. Fans of Being A Mom linked to A Letter To My Children-2011 and as a result this joint got a significant bump in traffic. I am grateful for that, but I admit that it reminded me a bit of the old days when I would get unexpected visitors at my apartment.

I am not a slob, but people only showed up on the days when the apartment looked like it belonged to a single twenty something year old man who used paper plates, had a refrigerator filled with cold pizza and beer and a bed that never seemed to get made.

The difference between then and now is that I am far more cognizant of the impact that first impressions can have. Back then I would have laughed it off and said that people can like me or dislike me. It really doesn’t matter.

In many ways I am still that guy but the difference is that I am working towards something now that will have a significant impact upon my life and my children.

My goal is to use this blog to help me become a writer who supports his family through the words he publishes. The goal is to publish novels and to take the stories that are being written over here that can be used for something more.

So when the traffic spike hit I was excited but part of me was frustrated that I couldn’t pop in and tidy up so that I could make the sort of first impression I wanted to.

Middle School Then And Now

After orientation ended we took some time to wander around the school and get a feel for it. It is not the school I went to but it looks just like it. My son asked me what I remembered about my time in middle school and I told him about how back then I wanted to play centerfield for the Dodgers. I was sure it would happen, but sadly it didn’t.

I asked him if he knew what he wanted to do when he grew up and he said no. I said that it was ok and told him that sometimes it takes a bit longer to figure out what we really want to do, but I left out the part about ow it took me 30 years. If he asks I’ll tell him, but I don’t think he’ll be hurt by not knowing that.

Am I really old enough to have a kid in middle school, damn.

The Problem With Public School

“Jack, you can’t send your children to public school. It is not like it was when we were kids. The schools were good then, but now they aren’t. They are scary places where gangs roam the halls, kids get high and there is sex in the bathrooms.”

That is not an exact quote, but it is pretty damn close. At least I think it is, but who knows what I really remember from the days before my son entered kindergarten. What I know for certain is that more than one person said it to me and at the time I agreed with it…in concept that is.

That was before we made the decision to sell the house and search for greener pastures. Of course that first house was never supposed to be anything more than a starter home. I was making a boatload of money then but decided that the smarter move was to buy a smaller place just in case things changed.

I figured that it would help protect us and that if things happened and income changed dramatically we would be protected. Well, things happened. 9-11 happened. The recession happened. The housing market exploded. I changed jobs. My partner stopped taking his pills and went crazy (that is a true story, not exaggerated) and I had to adjust the plan.

oodnata

That house was great, albeit small, but the neighborhood school wasn’t good enough. Not enough parental involvement, too many kids who didn’t go to preschool and a host of other reasons were enough to push us in a different direction.

Private school.

I was a public school kid and had never thought about private school for my children, but things change and we adapt. There wasn’t as much money in my wallet as there had been but there was enough and education is of paramount importance. So we sent Little Jack off to private school and marveled over the education he received.

Time passed and he was joined by his little sister. It certainly wasn’t any easier but I just tightened my belt and fought harder to find ways to make it happen. In between I wrote posts about the struggle to keep it going and searched for alternatives, but didn’t like the options.

The housing market was still crazy and though I had plenty of equity it wasn’t enough to get us into a house that offered bettered opportunity, or so I thought. Since the overwhelming majority of the family lived in town we didn’t want to leave. Two sets of grandparents, great-grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins- all here.

But things happen and you have to adapt.

Middle School Approaches

The boy who at birth weighed an even eight pounds is more than ten times that now and almost finished with 5th grade. Middle school starts in 6th grade. Decisions have to be made.

His current school only goes through sixth grade so at best he has one more year there. But the thing is that I don’t know that I have the cash to keep it up. Not to mention that I have his sister to think about too.

I want her to get as much as he has gotten. I want her to have the same opportunities. I want to be fair. But I am not sure that I can make that happen and the guilt weighs upon my conscience.

There are decisions to be made and I don’t really know what will happen/.

A couple of good contracts and all is good. A couple of deals and I can put them both through another year but I don’t know if that makes sense. I am tired of fighting this battle year after year.

If I was a boxer and private school were my foe I would have a winning record, but I would be battered, bloodied and bruised. And for what?

Good Public Schools Exist

Good public schools exist but if you don’t live in the district there aren’t any guarantees that you will get in. It is a lottery and though the odds may be better than the state lotto there aren’t any guarantees.

We can move but…

Good public schools drive up the price of homes in the area. Rents are affected too.

I ask myself what I would do if money were no object and I have an answer but it doesn’t make me happy…

Los Angeles Is Breaking My Heart

Dear Los Angeles,

Remember me? I am Jack, a native Angeleno. Yeah, that is right- I am that rare breed the L.A. Native. I showed up on the scene 42 years ago at Kaiser Sunset. I lived through the Sylmar quake in ’71 and the Northridge quake in ’94 not to mention a host of smaller and lesser known quakes as well. I was 23 when the LA Riots broke out and drove through some interesting events on my way home from Vermont and 6th to the Valley.

I have seen, experienced and or read about floods, fires, landslides, high speed chases, car jackings and more. I have lived and died with the Dodgers and the Lakers. I am a graduate of your public school system. I know your streets Los Angeles because I have walked and or driven through the city and I do mean all of the city. Westside, South LA, Koreatown, the Valley and more- I know them all. I am the white Jewish kid who wanders into little holes in the wall to in search of great food and we have a lot of it. I’ll match our restaurants famous and otherwise against any other city in the world.

When I got married- it was in Los Angeles. When I bought a house it was in Los Angeles. When we started our family it was here in Los Angeles. Even though there were other cities that offered cheaper housing we stayed because Los Angeles was home. I have long been a staunch defender of the City of Angels. Ask around Los Angeles and you’ll see that I have gone toe-to-toe with celtic fans in boston and argued with wannabees from detroit. I have slammed cleveland more times than I can count- which really isn’t fair because…it is cleveland.

But lately Los Angeles has been killing me. My oldest child is more than half way through 4th grade. He is enrolled at a private school and has been his entire life. I am losing sleep trying to figure out how to keep him and his sister at their school. My goddamn hair is falling out and my stomach hurts because we have a dysfunctional public school system. I am killing myself to take care of these kids because I don’t trust LA Unified. There is something very, very, very wrong with this. I know a million success stories that all started out at public schools here.

Because I grew up in a time when our schools were admired and it made sense to send your kids there. But now, now it is different. Now my friends that are teachers tell me that there are good schools for my kids. They tell me that they exist and they even name some- but they aren’t in my neighborhood. And the neighborhoods that they are in aren’t places that I can just pick up and buy a house in.

It makes me angry Los Angeles. I want to run through the streets screaming What the Fuck. I want to grab people and shake them. I want to take some of you, punch you in the nose and then hold a mirror in front of your face so that you can see the blood. I want you to see yourself bleed so that when I say that the city is bleeding you have some sense of what that means.

When I read columns like this one I want to scream again. Read the entire column and you’ll scream too. Why are our firemen not being given the proper equipment to use. Why are they using air compressors to fill the tires. Why are they not fully staffed. Tell me that this excerpt doesn’t make you angry and I may beat you over the head with a blunt object.

The air compressor isn’t a critical piece of equipment, but it’s emblematic of the effect of cuts both big and small. In a money-saving move, the Fire Department uses”rolling brownouts”,putting trucks and crews out of service on a rotating basis. Mike Eveloff, an alternate board member of the Westside council, jokes that at any given hour in the same fire district, you don’t want to be the second person to have a heart attack.

The calendar on the wall at Station 92 shows that for the next 12 days, one truck crew will be idle, and staffing will sometimes be at half the full force of 12. Last weekend, members of 92 were covering for a station in Woodland Hills and stopped into a Home Depot to investigate whether they could speed up the paperwork required by the city for the purchase of the air compressor.

It is infuriating and it is just one story. I don’t have to work hard to come up with more. I should provide links to stories about potholes and sewer lines that explode, but I just don’t have it in me to sift through some of that now. In part because I am foaming at the mouth mad with Frank McCourt the so called owner of the Dodgers. He and his ex-wife Jamie took a proud franchise and have turned it into a joke. It is not just because these self absorbed, greedy assholes took more than a $100 million from the team for their own selfish needs.

They own the team and they can use that money how they want…I suppose. And I am sure that there are lots of other people whose own stories are worse than what you read about dear old Frank. But they don’t own my Dodgers. Yes, I said my Dodgers because I grew up during a time when ballplayers spent most of their careers with one team. Garvey, Lopes, Russell and Cey- that was my infield as it was for millions of other Angelenos. I love the Lakers but I remember a time not so long ago when the Dodgers owned Los Angeles.

I remember a time when people didn’t want to walk up to Frank McCourt and say Fuck You! It wasn’t that there weren’t problems or hiccups with the team. The O’Malleys and Fox have things that they had to answer for too, but this assault upon a Giants fan is incomprehensible to me.

Look at this:

Dodgers owner Frank McCourtcalled it “tragic” that a San Francisco Giants fan was beaten and critically injured in the Dodger Stadium parking lot on opening day, but McCourt said he was satisfied that the Dodgers have done everything they can to make the stadium as safe as possible.

“You could have 2,000 policemen there, and it’s just not going to change that random act of violence,” McCourt said Saturday.

Read that whole post and you’ll see that McCourt never reached out to the injured fan or his family. Why not Frank. Why didn’t you send a card, flowers or offer to pay for his medical bills. Is it because you are afraid of a lawsuit. I can’t imagine why, especially when your former attorney is suing you.

Los Angeles- this isn’t how it is supposed to go. We are supposed to make movies about drama- not star in them. It is not right. It is not too much to ask for our city leaders to do more than fiddle while Rome is burning.

Los Angeles, you are breaking my heart.

A Father’s Failure

Father and Son

Life is about changes and transitions. Endings are beginnings and beginnings are endings. It sounds like the sort of new age claptrap that makes me crazy but I believe it to be true. There have been endless conversations between my father and I about this. They are all tied into my being slow to unwilling to accept change. I don’t like change. I am a creature of habit and when I grow comfortable I am usually happy to stay in my comfort zone.

Yet this is balanced against the double dose of wanderlust and a desire to explore that lives inside me. A friend once described me as being consistent in my inconsistencies and this I believe to be true. So I have a lifetime of experiences in which the urge to resist change fights that desire to embrace it. Time has taught me that I am far more adaptable than I sometimes think of myself. Time has taught me that when I don’t paint myself into a corner I find it relatively easy to roll with the punches and just go with it. I know and understand these things- but it doesn’t mean that I have to like or accept them.

And now while I collect my thoughts here are the last five songs that played on iTunes:

On the Road Again– Willie Nelson
Join Together– The Who
Behind Blue Eyes– The Who
Love Reign O’Er Me– The Who
Mansions of the Lord- West Point USMA Cadet Glee Club

Transitions are often hard because when we aren’t gifted with prescience you can’t see through the mists of time and ascertain whether the change will be good or bad. As a parent it is hard because you look at your children and want to be certain that you don’t do anything that will hurt them. You don’t want to cause issues that will stay with them throughout their lives or do anything that will stunt their growth. Sometimes the fear prevents us from making changes that are important, significant, meaningful and good for them. Sometimes we forget that children are resilient, far more so than most adults.

I fight hard to keep these things in mind. I fight hard to try not to make my issues into their issues. Case in point.

I went to the same elementary school from kindergarten through fifth grade. It was the neighborhood school. As a first grader I joined a number of the neighborhood kids and walked there and back every day. I have vivid memories of these walks and the things that we used to  do on them. We played tag, had dirt clod fights, wrestled and just acted like kids. Very different from the experience that my kids and so many others who are driven to school have.

Somewhere around late May the school would provide the sixth graders with special privileges. They had the sixth grade lawn and “underclassmen” who walked upon it risked being stuffed inside a trash can as punishment for their transgression. Naturally the sixth grade boys encouraged us to try and we did. They never did catch me. I was either too fast or too strong to hold onto and I got away. It was great fun and I looked forward to being a sixth grader and enjoying that privilege and others, but it was not to be.

Three days into sixth grade my parents moved my middle sister and I to a magnet school. I was furious. Instead of walking to school with my friends and ruling the school I rode a bus to place that went from 4th grade all the way to 1oth. I went from being a giant to being stuck in the middle. It was hard. It was unpleasant and I didn’t particularly enjoy much of it. That is not to say that I adjusted, but it took a long time.

This all comes in context of the potential changes facing my children as it is likely that I am going to have to pull them out of their private school. I mention this because they have been talking about next year, plotting and planning. I mention this because we have been thrilled with the school. I have watched them grow, mature and learn so very much.

Life is filled with much harder changes and transitions than this but it still hurts. It hurts because I feel like I have failed them. It hurts because I don’t know where they are going to go to school. I cannot send them to the local public school. It is unacceptable and I will not let that happen.

There are other public schools that are good, that are solid but I can’t guarantee enrollment in them unless we move. That is not easily done or without complications.

We will all survive whatever changes are made. We will all get through this but I’d be lying if I said this was easy. I’d be lying if I said that I don’t look at them and feel badly that I can’t give them everything they want. Sometimes heroes fail and the villain gets away. That is good for movies but not as much fun in real life.

Dad’s Dilemma- The Private School Paradox

Sometimes the hardest part of being a father is making decisions with my head and not my heart. I look at these children of mine and I melt. Don’t suppose that it is any different from most parents. Fact is biology is probably responsible for some of these feelings because if they didn’t make you melt you’d kill them. It is the only explanation that I can come up with for my still being here. I was the boy who climbed on the stove, wandered off in stores, threw eggs and stuffed raisins up my little sister’s nose. Say, did I mention that said little sister is turning forty in a few weeks.

She doesn’t read the blog but just in case she does I need to mention again that she is turning forty. Little sister, did I tell you how hard it is to turn forty. Hee hee, she may not read this but somewhere she is rolling her eyes. A big brother never stops being a a big brother, just ask my niece and nephews. Oldest nephew has learned to his chagrin not to imitate me because his mom can’t ground me.

Been staring at spreadsheets, rolling dice and asking the Magic 8 ball for more advice. It is time to make a decision about the 2011-12 school year. Is this the year that we pull the kids out of private school and insert them into public or do I find a way to get them through another year…again.

I never intended for them to go to private school. A decade ago we moved into what was supposed to be a starter home. It was going to be a brief two year stay followed by a move into a larger home in a neighborhood with a good school. Except people plan and G-d laughs. As I have blogged about a number of times we got hit by the triumvirate of challenges: recession, 9/11 and housing prices that skyrocketed. Instead of moving we stayed and enrolled the kids in a fantastic school, albeit a private one.

The education has been outstanding. They have taken my children and done everything that I could have asked. I have been blessed to watch them grow and prosper. They have made great friends and have fallen in love with learning. But the price that we paid has been severe. I have taken a beating so that they could do this. Some of the blows couldn’t have been anticipated. No one could have predicted that the country would be in such dire economic conditions. But compassion and understanding don’t pay the bills so I have done what I had to do to make things work.

In many ways this experience reminds me of my basketball game. A number of years ago I belonged to a local gym where I played ball several times a week. Most of time I played with guys who were far more talented than I am. At first they didn’t like playing with me because they felt like I took away from the game. There was some truth to that as offensively I couldn’t play at the same level as they could. But I figured out very quickly that I could use effort, size and strength to my advantage.

I went after every rebound with unbridled ferocity. I wanted that ball in my hands because that gave me some control over my fate. I worked hard on defense to become the guy who you didn’t want guarding you because I would make you crazy. I figured out whose head I could get into. If I knew that I could aggravate you I would piss you off and talk the entire time. While you were pissed off I took advantage of your lack of focus.

The point is I used my head and tried to figure out how to make the most of the resources I had on hand. Years later I still play a similar game. I say similar because my almost 42 year-old body doesn’t give me the same effort as it did in my twenties and thirties. It is hard to accept and I am fighting it. Time and pounding take their toll. Slowly I am adjusting my game again. If I play like I used I can run one night and then I spend several days recovering. But if I adjust I can play and be effective multiple nights.

More importantly it helps to minimize the wear and tear upon my body. It is smart because adapting will allow me to play for years to come. So now when I play I work on some new moves and try to do things that provide the foundation for the future.

And that my friends brings me back to the children and school. I am looking at the future. I have a Bar Mitzvah coming in a few years and plenty of expenses to come long before that. I know that I can get them through one more year of school, but I am not sure that provides the foundation for the future that I need. Unless something changes this is going to be it.

It is going to suck to tell them that this is it, but sometimes fathers have to think with their heads and not their hearts.