Thursday, October 19, 2017

Springsteen On Broadway

You want to know how you build a memory? You see Bruce Springsteen on Broadway. That's a good start.
They say the neon lights are bright on....

As you can guess, there's a story behind this one.

To begin with you have to go back to this spring. Actually you could go back to the summer of '72. Since the tickets were a birthday present for my dear friend Howard you could start with the day I first saw him at the University of Maryland, Go Terps!, way back then.


You could start with the May dinner I had with his wonderful wife and also my dear friend, Barbara. At that dinner she came up with the idea.  She was here for a board meeting and since they live in New York,  I was lamenting how I hardly get to see Howard now that I'm in Orlando. She listened, smiled, and said, "Let me see what I can do."

That was the genesis.

Cut ahead to a week before his birthday, October 5th, and she texted me with an idea that I had to sit down for. For his present she would get two tickets to Bruce on Broadway, and get this, he and I would go. She would fly me up and I would stay at their apartment while I was there. The next sound you heard was my jaw hitting the floor. Thats a heckuva gift for him, a heckuva gift for me, and a heckuva gift for me and Howard.

And she made it look easy peasy.

You know how they yell, "Surprise!" for your birthday? This was a real, ya got me, ya got me, didn't see that one coming, surprise when she pulled it on him at his bday dinner. I saw it all on  videotape. It was preceded by my video singing Happy Birthday and for the first time Howard heard me say he was going to see Bruce and I was going to be his date. That right there was a moment in time.

And that's how I found myself on Delta heading north to see Manhattan, The Boss and The Gruffermans.

Great, not good but great, times were ahead.

I got there on the Wednesday after his Thursday birthday and Howard met me at LaGuardia. It was great seeing him. Compound that by the fact we were going to see Bruce that night and you had two giggly boys on your hands. Saw and hugged, hard, their daughter Sarah. Had a wonderful plate of spaghetti and meatballs and then off we went to the William Kerr Theatre.

As we were settling into our seats we found ourselves looking around at faces just as excited as we were. And then the lights went down and there he was.

Mr. Bruce Springsteen.

There were two mikes on the stage. One at front and center so he could play guitar, and sometimes harmonica, to accompany him.  The second mike was next to the other main prop onstage, a baby grand piano that he also played while he sang.

What surprised me was how much he talked and how funny he always is. Most of the dialogue was directly from his book, Born to Run, and that dialogue helped to tell the story. Did I say funny? I'll give you an example...He pointed out that he's never had a legitimate job in his life. He's never worked 9-5. Yet he said, "I've been wildly successful writing about the working man."

Everyone laughed including me.

After talking about the young Bruce and the young Bruce's household the first song Bruce played was "Growin' Up."

Magic, people.

Back to funny, he said he spent his whole life trying to get away from his hometown and then wryly mentioned that he now lives 10 minutes from it.

Back and forth he went between acoustic guitar and piano. One time, as he was singing "Tenth Avenue Freeze Out" at the piano, he went into an extended tribute to the no longer with us, Clarence Clemons. He said some glorious things about his friend, The Big Man. There wasn't a dry eye in the house.

I had gotten a little misty already when he did "Thunder Road" earlier. When he sang the opening lines, "The screen door slams Mary's dress waves," I had a lump in my throat the size of Denver. I was in college when that came out.

I still know all the words.

It was a true one man show. The only man was him. Then all of a sudden after a warm and loving introduction someone came out and surprised all of us. Still a one man show the person was a woman. Patti Scialfa, his wife. And the place went nuts.

They played some songs together which included "Tougher than the Rest" and one of my favorites, "Brilliant Disguise."

"God have mercy on the man who doubts what he's sure of."

She left and it was wrapping up time. Bruce told a great story about the book Born on the Fourth of July and then went into a searing, stark version of "Born In The USA."

Or as he put it his protest song.

He told a few more stories, played a few more songs and ended the night. This was not a concert, this was a Broadway show.  The last song?

"Born To Run."

And then Bruce was gone.

I've seen some great shows, this was Special. And all the people in the theater thought the same way. Howard and I were grinning from ear to ear as we left.

The first of two epilogues.

Outside, the security had set up two metal barriers with a driveway between them. On the edge of that driveway was a black Ford Expedition with tinted windows. Just idling. I bet you know where this is going. No sooner had Howard said, "Hold on a minute," when out come Patti and Bruce. He got up on the step of the Expedition and waved to the crowd. The roar coming back shook Broadway.

And then they got in and were driven away.

Second epilogue.

That night the Yankees were playing the Cleveland Indians in the playoffs. They had been down 2-0, this was to come back and even the games at 2-2. As we went across town after the show you could hear cheers from the Yankee fans, gathered around a TV in a raucous saloon, whenever the home team did something great. We'd pass one cheering bar and then go on to the next cheering bar and the next.

They ended up winning that game and that series.

Thank you Barbara. Thank you Howard. Thank you Bruce. Thank you Yankees. Thank you New York.

And that's how you build a memory.

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Saturday, October 7, 2017

I'm A Substitute Teacher

"We've got a substitute."

Those words have brought grins to students' faces for a long, long, time.

I remember doing the happy dance back in school when I heard that. It's different when they start dancing when they see you. 

Before I tell you about my experience as one let me tell you about a couple of things I've learned along the way.

You might think that elementary students, younger students, would be easier to deal with. You would be wrong. It was bedlam, chaos, nuts, any word you want to use, in their classrooms. Why? When they're young it's hard-er to reason with them, hard-er getting them to listen to you.  They're busy hanging from the lights, they're at their desks upside down, they're making goofy faces, they're doing things they shouldn't be doing.

Just being a kid.

I prefer high school students but sometimes they come with some extras.

Blue hair, mohawks, and nose rings to name a few.  Plus, all of a sudden the "Can I go to the bathroom?" and the "Can I get a drink of water?" requests go way up.

If your thoughts about a substitute revolve around mayhem and repeated attempts to bring quiet and order to the classroom, you would be right. Partially. There are good students who are polite, nice, and are fine with doing the work their teacher left behind. Great kids. And then there are the other students.

I've met both.

First of all when you complete the application process they advise you to go to the schools you would like to use you. To show your face and say a little, "Howdy," so they know who they're dealing with.

So I did.

Middle schools, elementary schools, high schools. I went to all the schools in my area expecting it to be a slow response.

Boy was I wrong. The phone has been ringing off the hook.

Early phone calls. Like really early. When you say hello into the phone that early you try to disguise your voice so you don't sound like what you were.

Sound asleep.

The day starts with me and the dog being the only people awake in the house.

Clothes laid out, coffee being made, and walking on your tiptoes are the order of the morning. I've learned to eat breakfast, for me oatmeal, and pack some fruit and a nut bar for later energy. I kiss my wife goodbye and then me and my backpack beat feet for the door.

Driving to school in the dark I was shocked at just how many people were up, driving or jogging or walking their dog. See, when you're rarely out at that time things like that surprise you.

First time up I didn't know what to expect but the kids were very nice. I gave them my speil about their teacher being out and me being their substitute. They actually applauded when I told them it was my first time.

Very cool.

Students are different nowadays then when I went to school, for one thing they all have cell phones. These work for them in a variety of ways. Cell phones help them with their work. They have calculators on them, a dictionary, plus the internet is a valuable source of information.

Also when they have a sub, students spend a lot of time watching videos and listening to music in class with headphones on. Here's something else I didn't know: when they ask to go to the bathroom, they take their phones with them and, not all of them but some of them, take extra time to text someone when they do.

When I mentioned that they were gone a long time to my twins one of them said to me, "When they use the bathroom have them leave their phones on your desk." Great advice. I wouldn't have thought of that one.

I read the roll taking care to say their names correctly.

The students like that and their smiles when you hit the nail on the head are small but huge. The reason I do this is all my life people have been saying McEwen incorrectly. McKeewan, McCowan, Ewing, McEring, every way you can think of, so I work extra hard to get their name right. I know what it feels like when someone gets your name wrong.

Now, the why I substitute.

I get to tell them things.

Like instead of knowing what you want to do right away it may help to decide what you don't want to do. That process of elimination can help a fuzzy picture get clearer.

I tell them things like when they decide what they want to do with their life there will be naysayers.

I tell them not to listen to them.

I tell them to listen to themselves. I tell them to listen to their heart.

I also tell them that education helps you.

I tell them that school and homework and tests may feel like a pain right now but they will pay off.

I tell them that education helps you to make more money, helps you to get a nicer house, helps you to get a nicer car.

If you don't want to take education seriously, I add, McDonald's is hiring.

I tell them what my Mom used to say, "Be sweet."

That and manners have helped me so much in life. If a boss has to choose between someone who's smart but hard to handle or someone who's smart and easy to get along with, I ask them what do you think will happen?

I tell them that "Yes m'am, no m'am, please and thank you," also go a long way.  I'm sure it sounds corny to students but they say if you can reach one person...

Those are some of the things I tell my kids.

Those are some of the things I tell them as a substitute teacher.

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