For Rent: The House I Grew Up In

There is a street in Burbank, maybe the shortest one in town, that connects Pass Avenue to Hollywood Way.  On that street is a house where my family lived for seven and a half years, from April 1969 until the fall of 1976.

That may not seem so long, but for my family it was a lifetime for that was the one residence where we lived at the longest, and where life’s obstacles tested the strength of our familial bonds.

Back then, the rent was $175 a month.  Right now, it is for rent again . . . for $3,075 a month.

I found that out by happenstance when my wife and I took that shortcut while running errands the other day.  The colorful flags out front caught my attention, the “open house” sign compelled me to stop.

Walking into the house I was struck with how small it was, barely over 900 square feet.

The tiny living quarters seemed like a gigantic dollhouse.  If one person was washing dishes in the kitchen, another person could barely squeeze in between the sink and the refrigerator and stove.

And the lone bathroom was less than half the size of the kitchen.  Imagine one bathroom for five people.

Yet we did it without any complaints for that was the size of all the houses that we rented:  two bedrooms and one bath.  My sister being the only female child always had one of the bedrooms.  My parents had the other, while my brother and I shared the den.

At this house, however, my parents had the den, while I had the smallest bedroom.  For the first time since he was a toddler, my 20-year-old brother had his own bedroom in the converted detached garage.

We never felt that we lacked anything.  All the credit goes to our parents who despite minimum financial means, always made sure we had food to eat, new clothes each school year, and presents for birthdays and Christmas.

When I entered this house I was still in elementary school; when I left, I was attending UCLA.

This was the house when my family got our first color television.

This was the house when I got a blue Schwinn Stingray bike for Christmas.

This was the house when a stray cat had a litter of kittens in a drawer of my parents’ dresser.  From that litter, we kept one who ended up living for 18 years, keeping my mother company when she eventually lived alone.

This was the house when my Dad was stricken with lung cancer, dying within a year.  When I began living in the house I had a 50-cent weekly allowance; when I left I was receiving Social Security survivor benefits.

How ironic that 14 months after my father passed away at UCLA Medical Center, I was hospitalized at the same facility for one month, my body attacked by psoriasis.

When we moved into the house in 1969, we were a family of five.  When my mother and I moved out in 1976 after my brother and sister left, we were only two, moving into an apartment for the first time.

In that period of time the nation witnessed the first moon landing, the end of the Vietnam War, Watergate, President Nixon’s resignation, and the Bicentennial celebration.  Locally, the 1971 Sylmar earthquake reminded Angelenos of the ground’s instability.

I entered that house a boy and exited a man, with too much growing up in between.

It is a cruel reality that people cannot grasp sense of their lives as they are living them.  It is not until years have passed that allows us the perspective of our narrative, to look back over the entire tapestry of experiences, and to think:  my God, how amazing it was that we lived in that house and still remained a close-knit family weathering the storms that banged at the door of our domicile.

 

Later start times for schools benefits students

7:00 – “Good morning, Mike. Time to wake up and go to school.”

7:10 – “Mike, get out of bed.  Your breakfast is getting cold.”

7:20 – “Mike, get up now, you’re going to be late for school.”

7:30 – “Mike, if you don’t get out of bed this minute, there is no video game playing tonight!”

How often has a parent gone through this script morning after morning, urging a child to wake up and go to school?

Such a ritual may soon be a relic from the past due to Gov. Gavin Newsom signing a bill on Sunday mandating that middle schools begin no earlier than 8:00 a.m. and high schools no earlier than 8:30 a.m.

Districts have three years to implement the later start times.  It is probably the only bill of the 70 he signed that I agree with.

Allowing children especially adolescents to sleep in matches their natural biological clocks.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has long supported later start times since teenagers tend to stay up later thus requiring more sleep in the morning; 8 to 10 hours of sleep per night is recommended.

Students attending school so early suffer from sleep deprivation interfering with their performance in school.

In a University of Washington study of students attending later start schools, researchers discovered an increase in student achievement.

Those opposed to this measure are concerned about its negative impact on students’ extracurriculars mainly sports since several games begin before or immediately after 3:00 p.m.  Depending on the sport, some kids already leave class after lunch in order to be at a game.  With a later start, those kids will miss even more school.   Such an obstacle can easily be resolved by starting the games later.

For parents, dropping off children later may interfere with their work schedules, meaning child care issues.  However, where I work, I often see students as early as 7:30 a.m. hanging out on campus; no big deal.

Starting school later would also benefit employees.  It is challenging for a teacher to be fully alert by 8:00 a.m. to work with 35 children.  For decades I have trained myself to rise no later than 5:30 a.m. just so I could perform my duties at an optimal level. I would prefer a 9:00 a.m. start so I could sleep in to 6:00 a.m. when there is more sunlight than darkness.  Plus, I would see more of my family before heading off to work.

In addition to starting school later, I would tweak school hours even further by extending the school day by an hour, from 9-5.  American students traditionally have less time in school than other industrialized countries.  An extra 180 hours of instruction over the course of a year could benefit them tremendously.  And, it might even decrease the amount of homework since some of it could be done within the extended school day with the assistance of the teacher right there for help.

My only concern about this new law is that Sacramento legislators felt compelled to mandate this statewide instead of allowing individual school districts to poll their principals, teachers and parents to make an informed decision.   That is why former Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed it last year.

This is just like the law Newsom signed last month dictating that local districts no longer suspend disruptive students even when they defy their own teachers.   The people in a community should retain control over that community without Big Brother imposing its will.

Still, parents should welcome this change.  With the recent release of middling state test scores in math and English, school children could use any little advantage to help them be more successful.

Teaching Opera with a Little Help from a Friend

Before this school year began, I planned experiences for my students outside the classroom walls that would expand their knowledge of literature, history and the arts.

First on that list was to see a production of Puccini’s La Boheme by the Los Angeles Opera company at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

For years, the education arm of L.A. Opera has funded programs for students to be introduced to the splendor of a live opera performance for free, quite a gift considering the best seats in the house go for over $300 a piece.

Back in the last 1990’s when I discovered this program, I would apply to it each year by submitting lesson plans and attending Saturday workshops in order to bring dozens of students to see a matinee performance.

Year after year, students and parents told me how much they enjoyed the experience, but year after year I became increasingly exhausted.

Without clerical support, I had to call the bus company myself to make all of the arrangements, collect enough money from students to pay not only for their transportation but to cover the cost of those who could not afford to pay, solicit parents to serve as chaperones, and fill out several school and district forms.

It also didn’t help that some teachers did not approve students going on the field trip.  One actually called me to ask if my students could miss my class the following day in order to make up for the lost hour due to the opera.

By the end of this century’s first decade, I decided I was done.

Until this year when I resurrected this event for my 10th graders.  After all, L.A. Opera was producing my favorite, La Boheme.

When I first taught opera, the L.A. Opera League would schedule guest speakers to visit each school participating in the program.

One of these speakers was Leslie Einstein.   She came armed with full-size posters of not just the opera but of history and literature.  Ms. Einstein wanted the students to be immersed in the time period, turning the classroom into a French café by passing out cups of apple juice and plates of home-baked madeleines.

She enjoyed interacting with my students so much that she proposed starting an after-school opera club.

Think about this.  A woman living in Pacific Palisades driving to a school in Glendale to fund an opera club where students learn about opera, then go see the actual performances.  In addition to the donated tickets, Ms. Einstein treated the students to a formal dinner beforehand.

So before I began my opera unit on La Boheme last month, as a shot in the dark, I contacted Ms. Einstein after 18 years.   Luckily, I found her phone number on a fax cover sheet dated from 2001 in a folder in the bottom drawer of a filing cabinet.

I didn’t know what to expect when I called, but after hearing her voicemail greeting, I knew she was doing well.

When we finally spoke over the phone a couple of days later, it was as if we had just recently talked to one another.  Amazing to think that the last time we spoke was before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.  How much in the world had changed since then, but not Ms. Einstein’s enthusiasm.

Not only did she agree to drive out to Hoover to be a guest speaker for my students, she was going to do two presentations as well as bring the apple juice and madeleines.

It was nice that so many of my students enjoyed studying opera and seeing La Boheme, and even more special that they had an opportunity to know Ms. Einstein.

Today’s world could use a few more kind souls like her whose charity brighten and enrich young people’s lives.

 

 

Defiant Students Rule

If you have ever thought of becoming a teacher, beware.

No one has your back.

Not administrators, district officials, or, more assuredly, the state of California.

Last week, Gov. Gavin Newsom made sure of that by signing into law SB419 which further undermines the authority of teachers in managing defiant students.

After three failed attempts under former Gov. Jerry Brown, State Sen. Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) succeeded in having the more liberal governor ban “willful defiance” suspensions in all public and charter schools grades K-8 ensuring that unruly students remain in the classroom except for only the most egregious infractions; defying the teacher is not one of them.

Teachers are no longer permitted to send out bad kids even if they continuously disrupt the learning of others, giving them carte blanche to continue interfering with the education of the good kids.

Often cited are statistics showing suspension rates among minority children are disproportionately higher than other groups and therefore a violation of their civil rights.

Special interest groups point out examples of children being suspended for such minor acts as chewing gum in class as proof that the predominately white teacher population is racist.  However, economic issues may play a larger role in determining child behavior.

Now the anti-suspension needle has moved all the way to the point where the message to teachers is quite clear:  keep all students inside your classroom no matter what.

The other message seems to be that teachers are not to be trusted in handling students in a classroom.   Politicians in Sacramento know what’s best.

In recent years, anti-suspension programs such as restorative justice and PBIS (Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports) have infiltrated the agenda at faculty meetings statewide.

Since then, suspensions rate have declined, but how does one know if it because of  these programs or because teachers under intense pressure know that they don’t have the option of removing troublemakers?

Keep in mind that misbehaved students receive a disproportionate amount of attention from teachers who have to spend time reinforcing behavior matrices, scheduling restorative circle time, documenting everything, contacting parents, etc.

Teacher time is better spent on designing lesson plans and evaluating student work than serving as pseudo-therapists.

State Sen. Skinner said in a statement that “ending willful defiance suspensions will keep kids in school where they belong and where teachers and counselors can help them thrive.”

However, by keeping these kids in classrooms means that the other kids, those who always behave and obey authority figures, won’t thrive.

Just keeping a misbehaved child in class does not mean that student is listening or learning.

It is the good kids who get trapped in toxic environments with kids who come from unruly households where there is no discipline.  Where is the ACLU’s defense of their civil rights?

The system has to bend over backwards to accommodate the hooligans instead of the hooligans having to learn how to modify their behavior.

Gov. Newsom, would you want your children attend school with these disruptive students?  Of course not.  That is why the people who make the laws send their children to private schools which don’t have to abide by the laws they make; his children attend a private Montessori preschool.

The best support for a teacher is to remove the disobedient child so instruction can resume for those who are obedient.

All teachers know this including the former governor.

After vetoing a similar bill just last year, Brown said that “teachers and principals are on the front lines of educating our children and are in the best position to make decisions about order and discipline in the classrooms.”

Those who do not work in classrooms should not impose their will on those who do.

To Drive or Not to Drive

No teen’s life is complete without a trip to the DMV office.   And that is where my son, Max, and I went recently for him to take the written driving test en route to his learner’s permit.

One of the requirements any potential California driver needs to meet is 25 hours of classroom instruction.  However, this instruction can be done at home on a computer.  Do you know how to spell f-r-a-u-d?  Anyone can illegally answer questions for the participant.  If there is any kind of education that should be taken in person it is driver’s education.  No wonder so many drivers drive poorly.

We waited three months for an appointment in Pasadena since Glendale’s office had none available due to overwhelming demand for the Real ID even though the law does not kick in until October of 2020.

The pressure was on Max to pass this test the first time since who knew when we would be able to schedule another appointment, adding to his anxiety despite taking several practice tests online.

Meanwhile, I had my own worries making sure that I was bringing all the requisite documentation for a learner’s permit, the poorly designed and written DMV website more a hindrance than an assistance.

While the appointment method is far superior to the walk-in option, it really only gets you past that first line, similar to a Disneyland Fastpass.  After the initial check-in, everyone, appointment or not, gets put into the same queue so I made sure that I brought along a book to pass the time.  A physical book.

As I sat there opening this heavy hardbound 600-page biography on Bing Crosby, I sensed I must have looked like a museum exhibit.  No one else in the crowded DMV office had a book.   And even if they had, I doubt anyone would have been reading one on Bing Crosby.  And how many in that room would even know who he was?

After being issued a letter and number (why simplify the ordeal?), you need to pay close attention to both a TV screen and a PA announcement.  God forbid you zone out and don’t see or hear your letter/number.  You quickly discover that logic has nothing to do with when you will be next because “H12” may be called before “F5”.  Since my concentration was frequently interrupted, I barely read a handful of pages.

Twenty minutes later his number was called.  He hesitated going up to the counter alone, but I encouraged him that he could handle it.  After a few minutes, he turned back and looked at me and I thought to myself, “Kid, you have to learn to do things on your own” until I realized why he was looking back at me:  for money.

Heads up—DMV does not accept debit or credit cards.  Luckily, I had enough cash for the $36 fee.

He then disappeared into the room in the back where his photo was taken and he sat at a computer station to take the test.

Thirty minutes later, Max appeared before me with a smile on his face telling me all I needed to know.

Now the real worry begins when he’s on the road among drivers who ignore everything he learned in his training, speeding and running red lights.

Maybe getting his driver’s license was not such a good idea.

 

“Good Boys,” Bad Filmmakers

Last year we had the #MeToo movement about respecting women and condemning sexual harassment of any kind.  Now it is time for a #KidsToo movement that calls for respecting children.

Adults, especially those whose products permeate our lives, need to be the guardians of the little ones.  Too much material is inappropriate for children to see and hear.

Recall the five-minute viral video last month where family members were shouting expletives and throwing punches in front of complete strangers at Disneyland?  That such barbaric behavior would occur in front of innocent youngsters at a place that is supposed to be a buffer to ugliness demonstrates something deeply troubling about people.

Just last weekend the film “Good Boys,” assigned an R rating “for strong crude sexual content, drug and alcohol material, and language throughout—all involving tweens,” opened number one at the box office, proving once again that the bar for raunchiness keeps dropping lower.

Like e-cigarette companies who target young people with colors and scents to get them hooked into vaping, Universal marketed “Good Boys” at 12-year-olds who are the age of the characters.  One wonders how many tweens gained access to seeing it.

In his negative review of the film, The Hollywood Reporter’s John DeFore said that “you may simply be no-laugh disgusted when a string of used anal beads are given to a 12-year-old girl to wear as a necklace.”

No thank you.  I don’t need to pay money to see that.

Knowing that the filmmakers’ resume includes “Superbad” and “Sausage Party” tells you all you need to know about the craft of these “artists.”

I wish writers would exercise more self-control.  Not every repulsive thought that enters one’s mind needs to be aired or shared.

Comedy doesn’t have to be filthy.  Jim Gaffigan and Jerry Seinfeld are two comics who have had successful careers without resorting to a tsunami of scatological references.

Personally I have always been bothered whenever I hear young actors say obscenities.  It immediately takes me out of the movie, my mind thinking about the kind of parents who would allow their children to say foul language just for the money and glory of being in a film or TV show.

What’s shocking is when you see a movie which has little to no profanity such as “Yesterday,” one of the best films I’ve seen this year.  A fantasy film that depicts life without the music of the Beatles, this sweet-natured and well-acted tale retains its charm without the foul language.

The New York Times recently reported on lewd display ads on the New York Subway trains including one for the “At Home with Amy Sedaris” TV show picturing her holding two piping bags right where her breasts are, squeezing them with an expression of orgasmic delight.

Another ad depicts an erect cactus that promotes, you guessed it, an erectile dysfunction product.  Think of the young children riding the subways through the New York city boroughs and having no choice but to see this barrage of inappropriate material.

Parents and teachers have a tough enough time as it is modeling proper language and behavior.

Not all consumers have sophomoric mentalities.  If a person chooses to make money in the public marketplace, that individual has a civic responsibility for the material that is published.   People used to be cognizant whenever children were around, toning down their actions and words.  Create work that is sublime, not subhuman.

 

 

 

Moon landing unity is needed today

While the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing by Apollo 11 occurred a few weeks ago, I didn’t want that momentous time to pass without comment.

Around 8:00 p.m. on a Sunday night, July 20, 1969, my family watched Neil Armstrong walk on the moon, all five of us huddled around our 19” Emerson black and white TV set.  I vividly remember running outside, looking up at the moon, and feeling amazed that men were on that orb.

It remains the most significant historical event I have ever witnessed in my life.

Which is why the main TV networks—ABC, CBS, NBC—missed a golden opportunity to jointly re-air the video feed from the moon at the exact same time when it originally happened.

Only the NASA channel did so.

Imagine how special of an event that could have been, providing a glimpse of what it must have been like to have seen it live in 1969. at a time when Americans no longer watch TV shows at the same time.  Only sporting events and breaking news stories provide that bond today.

Nowadays we are sharing fewer and fewer common experiences that connect us.  Too many of us float away on our own individual islands where our cell phones provide whatever entertainment we want whenever we want.

A remarkable thing about the whole space program is how it galvanized the nation.  Oh sure, life in the late 1960’s was not ideal.   There was the generation gap, protests against the Vietnam War, fears that the USSR would start a nuclear conflict, political assassinations.

And yet, when Armstrong descended down the steps from the lunar module to place man’s first footprints on the moon, all troubles paused.

In his telephone call to the astronauts, President Nixon earnestly stated that “for one priceless moment in the whole history of man, all the people on this Earth are truly one.”

The recent theatrical documentary “Apollo 11” using only archival footage offers viewers a chance to relive a period of time when people were proud to be Americans.

Of course, you would have to be 55 years old or older to have witnessed this history first-hand and have that primal exuberance reawakened with the anniversary remembrances.

It is hard to believe a half of century has passed since that time.  If would be like commemorating the 50th anniversary of the end of World War I in 1968.

The sad truth about the human condition is that we are all trapped in the era in which we are born:  life on earth begins the day of our birth.  Unless you actually lived through historical milestones, the best you can do to get a feel of what the experience was like is to watch documentaries and read biographies.

Astronaut Gene Cernan, the last man to walk on the moon on Dec. 14, 1972, eloquently summarized the poetry of what he experienced.

“When you look at this Earth and all its beauty, and all its logic, and all its purpose . . . there’s too much purpose to have happened by accident. . . .

It doesn’t make any difference what your God is… somebody up there who put together the most beautiful spectacle a human being can ever conceive, much less have the opportunity to see in real life… that’s our home, that’s our Earth.”

At a time when it seems there are more differences than similarities, when we appear more like strangers than neighbors, let us hope we will soon find common ground in the pursuit of a noble goal that unites our collective identity, healing the ruptures in our culture’s DNA.  If it was done before, it can be done again.