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written Monday, 8/4/2008
May 23 was the last day of school for teachers. The morning of May 24, I boarded a plane to head back home to the Bay Area. It wasn’t so much a vacation as it was a “business trip.” I needed to get rid of all the crapola that I had stored in Mom’s garage and help her sell some of her larger possessions in preparation for her upcoming move to Arizona. When I left California three years ago, we both assumed that I’d return within a few years. As it’s turned out, I’m hangin’ in New Orleans for longer than expected and Mom’s persistent health troubles are bringing her to move to an assisted-care facility near her sister in Tucson. Over the course of my nine-day visit, all my furniture and other worldly possessions that occupied half of her garage space needed to be un-owned one way or another.
Selling the furniture was easy. Getting rid of the personal items was anything but easy. Aside from allowing myself the space of one suitcase to bring some of it back to New Orleans, all the rest of my material past had to go. I hadn’t seen some of that stuff in over a decade, yet I cringed as I sorted everything amongst sell/giveaway/recycle/trash piles. Hundreds of photos, if not over a thousand, ended up in the garbage. Many of them were from times that I don’t even particularly care to remember (high school, college), yet throwing away all these artifacts still proved painful. At least modern computer technology allows the scanning, electronic duplication, and storage of photos. As such, this web journal entry serves as the closest I’ll probably ever come to making a scrapbook, primarily comprised of select photos and creative projects from earlier days.
Trying to hold on to the past in such a manner may be futile. In coming years and decades, computer publication and storage technology will undoubtedly change drastically, and the formats of all these files will become obsolete if I don’t take the time to update them. Throwing away (or more likely, losing) a storage disc someday might actually turn out to be less painful than discarding boxes of tangible relics. Maybe that’s not such a bad thing. Like the traveler under a tree, someday I’ll be forced to leave it all behind whether I like it or not.
Shoot. I guess I’d better start compiling my history before I decide not to even bother.
Yeah, I was frikkin’ adorable for a minute. I really don’t remember posing for most of those pictures, but Mom swears they’re of me. While it’s generally not advisable for schoolteachers to post nude pics of themselves on the Internet, I’ve included the obligatory bare-bottom shot in this collection. My favorite is #9, which is a fitting visual metaphor for how I would go on to stumble wide-eyed and clueless through some of my later years, bracing myself on the supports around me. Plus, the line of drool hanging from my mouth is a nice touch.
My grandpa was the first man I ever wanted to emulate. Picture #5 shows me donning his work gloves and cane, as I would often do when visiting my grandparents.
In my fourth grade class photo (#8) there’s an unmistakable gap between myself and the girl seated next to me. Most girls were still yucky, yet I developed my first schoolboy crush that year. I found Michelle, seated two down from Mr. Baldwin, to be undeniably cute. Accordingly, I walked up to Michelle one day and punched her on the shoulder, causing her to cry. My romancin’ skills have improved a bit since then.
I enjoyed playing sports (baseball, basketball, and soccer) for about three or four years in there before obnoxious Little League fathers diminished too much of the fun. In eighth grade I quit all three sports, and the world lost an above-average athlete.
High School J
High school wasn’t that bad – it was just mostly forgettable. Rather than hang out with peers or date the cute little chickadees, I spent most of my free time with pets, origami, and math. There were a few boys at school who I called “friends” since we sat together at recess, but upon graduating from Lynbrook in 1991 I never corresponded with any of them again. I did have a few wonderful teachers though, whose influence on my life has lasted well beyond graduation.
I am forever indebted to my Geometry teacher, Mr. Halliday (#6). I don’t remember exactly what he did to build my confidence and get me to love math for the first time, but I hope I can positively affect some of my students at least half as much as he’s affected me.
In Spanish I, Mr. Stride (#7) used to keep me after class and give me “be a man” talks. He forced me to look him in the eye and speak audibly. He often suggested I partake in push-up exercises and/or military service. I initially wondered why he picked on me so much, although I eventually realized that he genuinely cared about me. I thought of him frequently a decade later when I finally joined a gym, and started doing some push-ups.
During the summers after my junior and senior years I volunteered with Amigos de las Américas, vaccinating animals against rabies in Ecuador. Many details from my time in Pichincha Province (1990) and Guayaquil (1991) have faded. As a middle-class American teenager amidst third-world poverty, I was mostly concerned with my own little discomforts. I appreciate Ecuador so much more in retrospect than I did in the moment. Today I have twice as many years behind me, yet I still frequently think back on those experiences as a reminder of the many good fortunes I enjoy in health, education, sustenance, shelter, and opportunities in abundance.
In college, a silly bike prank earned my first and only visit from the police. The only parties I ever attended were the Halloween parties where I got to conceal my identity. I put on a little weight. Actually, a lot of weight. The origami fetish was in full swing. My dorm rooms served as my private laboratories. Can you find my rat Pudge in picture #6? There was a lot of cool stuff in those rooms (photos #8 and #9), yet they tended to be overrun with clutter. I’m sure that’s a metaphor in some way. The last photo is actually of my bed sty during the years immediately after college. If I ever get married and my future wife accuses me of being a slob, I’ll show her these photos so she can appreciate how far I’ve come.
Friends of J (nonhuman)
As a strong believer that pet ownership makes one a better person, here are some of the critters from my younger days that contributed to my present state of awesomeness: Rascal (#1), Lucifer (#2), Feister (#3), Chips (#4), Bumpers (#6), Homey (#8), Pudge (#9), Smudge (#15), and Cranky (#16). I learned a lot from all of them. Seriously.
Friends of J (human)
In college I met Kathy and Fabiola while working at the dining hall. I consider them to be my first “real” friends, as I actually stayed in touch with them long after the convenience of proximity ended. Virginia was my first girlfriend. Not even speaking each other’s native language fluently, I’m surprised that we were able to stave off the inevitable breakup for nine whole months.
Dang, those are the only friends contained in those boxes.
Thankfully the past decade has been much more fruitful for social activity.
Jeromemark® cards & stamps
During my junior year, I received a letter from the Registrar’s Office demanding that I declare a major, or I wouldn’t receive my grades. I signed up for Mechanical Engineering, intending to switch to something better upon receiving divine enlightenment of my life’s ambition (Still waiting). Although that selection was half-hearted at best, over a period of three months that year I designed “paper engineering” greeting cards during much of the time that I should have spent studying. The content of the cards is… ummm… unrefined. However, these cards are special to me for their technical achievement. Starting with a most-basic pop-up in card #1, the paper mechanisms get progressively more intricate. All of them still function today, 14 years later (except the plumber in #6, who no longer crouches). I felt more like an inspired mechanical engineer during those few months than I did during most of my subsequent years at Lockheed Martin.
Pop-ups and paper-engineering are probably less appreciated by today’s youth due to the ubiquity of computer animations, to my dismay. On the other hand, Photoshop and Flash software have ever-so-kindly allowed me to recreate those paper animations and present them here in electronic form.
The last image/link shows a couple of the rubber stamps I also made during my college years. I must have carved about a dozen stamps out of thick linoleum, although I only kept these two.
In 2000 and 2001, several years after my undergrad years finally ended, I took some graphic design and studio art classes after work at Mission Community College in Santa Clara. I tried a variety of media, including acrylic paint on canvas (Clint Eastwood), charcoal on paper, white ink on black board, colored pencil on paper, and oil paint on canvas paper (Richard Pryor). I really wanted to like creating traditional art and I was pleased with the results, but my perfectionist tendencies made the process painfully un-fun. I’d like to think that someday I’ll try it again, and learn to relax and enjoy it.
So this all adds up to…
While continuing to prepare for her move, Mom found some worksheets I completed for a “career unit” in 8th grade. Upon completing the activities, I had concluded that the occupations I would most likely enjoy were (1) veterinarian, (2) engineer, and (3) architect. The occupations I would most likely not enjoy were (1) road construction worker, (2) garbageman, and (3) high school teacher.
Wow. How prophetic.
I’ve admittedly felt like an aimless wanderer during many of life’s travels, yet I am finally starting to see some patterns emerging from the stops along the way. Ecuador instilled a sense of obligation to assist others in some manner. My favorite high school teachers led me to view teaching as a worthy means of doing just that. My loner years bring me to empathize with those awkward wallflower students, although I still don’t know quite how to reach many of them. Engineering confirmed that money alone is an unfulfilling goal. Teaching math allows me to hold on to the parts of my prior career that I enjoyed. The artistic dabblings provided skills that hopefully make my classes more interesting.
Two weeks ago I attended a workshop for AP Calculus teachers. I chose to travel to the institute in Austin so that I could catch up with my Geometry teacher Otis Halliday and his wife Carol. They live in nearby Georgetown, and graciously allowed me to stay with them for the four evenings of my visit. Twenty-one years ago I had the good fortune of learning in his class, and now I was still trying to gleam some wisdom from him. I bet every conscientious teacher must have some students who will never forget them. By the time I left Texas, I almost felt ready to return to my classroom. Almost.
Could life be making sense right now? We’ll see how it feels this Thursday, when I have to report back to work for the 2008-09 school year. If this year doesn’t work out, I’ll quit teaching and become a garbageman.