Tuesday, July 13, 2010

A Pretty Package for a Penis

I painted over the penis today. 

It was on my walking path.  Teenagers and spray paint:  A bad combination.  They painted a penis right on my walking path!

I'm retired now and making good on my promise to take a walk every day.  And there it was --- so annoying.  Sometimes I stepped over it; sometimes I stepped right on it.  Either way it did not feel good.

It's hard to measure the impact of such a negative gesture.  Once you know it's there, resist as you might, your eyes are drawn to it.  Damn it!  For those few moments every day I had to think about a penis I didn't want to think about.  Totally uncool. 

What's in the mind of a kid who paints such a thing on a path like that?  Here's a penis for all to see!  Hahahahaha!  (That's a feindish laugh.)

Old ladies, little girls!  Looook!  A PENIS!

Or maybe it's territorial, like a dog peeing judiciously as he goes:  I've been here!  This little square of pavement is MINE all MINE!  Again with the laugh.

Do penis painters go on to other crimes?  Yikes!  I shudder to think.  What's the next logical step?  Wagging it?

Once, at the school where I was principal, I came onto campus at 7:00am to find a kid had painted a giant penis on the asphalt quad over night.  It was easily twenty feet long in yellow paint.  Appropriate somehow.

I imagined that the kid was mad at me for some disciplinary action I had taken.  Quid pro quo.  You suspend me, I paint a penis.  But in this case, I couldn't think of any student who had reason to be mad at me---a rare circumstance for a high school principal! 

Nothing else to do but call Maintenance.  I asked if they would come out and paint over it before brunch time. 

Our District had a very good practice of painting over graffiti and tagging immediately, so it wasn't too long at all before I could see the maintenance crew first standing with their hands on their hips, staring down, and shaking their heads, then bending over the asphalt and painting.  When I looked again a few minutes later, they were gone, leaving a set of cones around the area to protect us from walking on the wet paint.

But then, when the bell rang for brunch and I headed toward the quad to supervise the students, I saw half a dozen of them standing around the edge defined by the cones, looking and laughing.  I joined them to find that the maintenance crew had indeed painted over the yellow paint.  Very carefully, with black paint, distinct on the greying asphalt, they had re-painted the outline of the penis.

"Mrs. Plath," a football player feigned serious concern, "what do you make of this?"  My turn to shake my head. 

Maintenance had to make a second trip out that morning to paint a twenty foot black box on the quad.  Only a hand full of kids and I know what's in the box.

So this morning, I carried a can of my own spray paint to the scene of the crime on my walking path and went to work quickly.  My only regret is that I didn't have concrete-colored paint. 

But let me assure you, my enigmatic silver box is much nicer than its contents.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

A Note to Mrs. Grant

I'm about to be extremely presumptious.  Some will no doubt be disgusted.  How dare I?

If my own son were dead on the platform, I don't know that I could do what I'm asking.

Still, I just wish Oscar Grant's family would come out with a statement for a peaceful response to the Mehserle verdict, whatever it is.

I'm not saying no demonstration.  I'm just saying a peaceful demonstration.

The imminent protest after all is for an end to violence, isn't it?  We abhor violence. 

It seems to me that Oscar Grant's family is in the unique position to enlighten and educate folks on both sides of this terrible issue.

For his family (based on the media reports), Oscar's death is a blatant act of racist violence.  I believe they want an end to racist violence.  But in their grief, they seem focused solely on punishing Mr. Mehsele. 

Things were desperately wrong on the platform that day, no question.  Oscar Grant should not have been killed.

Will the harshest sentence be sufficient to right the wrong?  Will all who are watching and listening be edified by Mehserle's imprisonment?  What will be learned beyond crime earns punishment?

If the sentence is not sufficient to address the issue, will a violent riot help?  Will the oppressed and wounded be uplifted in their own eyes by a riot?  Will those they rail against learn the desired lesson?

Sorrowfully, no.  We will not learn enough from Mehserle's sentence.  And we will not be enlightened by a riot. 

Yet so many ASSUME we will have a riot.  Businesses are boarding up; commuters are avoiding the trains.  Children are watching and listening as we brace ourselves for violence, maybe racist violence, as though it must be expected as a response to this deplorable circumstance.

There is some logic to the anticipation afterall:  violence breeds violence breeds violence.... 

But violence doesn't seem to breed thoughtful growth.  Violence doesn't prompt the urge in one person to take on the other's experience or views.

Still, we are about to be caught in the cycle again.  We know it well and we're gearing up to repeat it.  If we do have a riot, some will no doubt call at some point for an end to it, having never learned that we each in our roles stoke and restoke the fire.
We all know the rage.  We are all enraged that we must face again the avoidable loss of a healthy young man.

We all want to lash out and issue the same pain we are dealt. 

But if Oscar Grant's family called out for peace, we might have peace.  We might stop and think and learn something new.  We might listen to his family's pain and grief and strive to break away from such horrible cycles and stunted growth. 

Oscar's family has a unique opportunity.  They might actually have the power to ensure Oscar's death bears fruit for the living. 

There will be no winners, that's clear. 

But some might hang their heads and learn.  Others might hold their heads higher, with courage and dignity, if we are forced by peace to reflect.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Grammar Rant

What has happened to “pled”? You know, pled, as in, “The suspect pled guilty to the charges.” Nowadays, the suspect “pleaded” guilty. Pleaded! It feels stupid just to write it! Since when did pled become pleaded? Sounds like something a sheep would do.

As far as that goes, when did suspects quit pleading guilty at all? Even when they did it they don’t plead guilty anymore. They’re all claiming innocent regardless of eyewitnesses, prior confessions, fingerprints, and DNA! But I digress.

Pleaded! Really!

And what about helping verbs in the news? Where have they gone? Every night we’re assaulted with at least one half-baked grammatically feeble headline sort of faux sentence. To wit: “Families asking tough questions as the hillside deteriorates.” Or, “Hot weather creating problems for the elderly.”

No! Families ARE asking tough questions, and hot weather IS creating problems! Oh! I see. We’re avoiding the passive voice by speaking and writing in fragments! Wonderful. Why not make it active: Families ASKED tough questions. Hot weather CREATED problems.

But everything is present tense now, too. Have you noticed? “In 1956 he marries his high school sweetheart.” How can he do that? How can a person in 2010 marry in 1956? I say he can’t! Either he married her then, he marries her NOW, or he will marry her in the future. Conjugate, damn it!

And please, commas within the quotation marks! Oh. My. Gosh! Even Alex Trebek puts his commas outside the quotation marks now! Nothing is secure! Nothing is sacred. If Alex is doing it, who’s next? The Queen?

Apostrophes are up for grabs. Any old “s” can claim an apostrophe. “On Sale Today! Shoe’s for Men, Women, and Kid’s!” Usage lesson’s of the past fall by the wayside as student’s mind’s retain like sieve’s.

It’s and its are virtually one and the same. People do not know the difference. Write it however you like! Its raining! Put everything in it’s place! No one notices! No one cares!

You’re and your? Might as well throw in yore! I got a card from a student this year,  “Dear Mrs. Plath, thank’s for everything. Your the best!” God love her.

Next, we will have the blurring of there, their, and they’re. Here it comes! All you stodgy old grammarians get out of the way! There new rules are there way of saying their is no more time for Standard English!

This is unacceptable license with the language. And it’s rampant! Don’t people have dictionaries any more? Or, more to the point, don’t they ever use them?

I use mine. In fact, to prove my point, I’m going to use it right now, and look up “pled.” Ah, here it is, “pled (pled), colloquial or dialectal past tense of plead.”

WHAT?!! “Colloquial or dialectal?”

First, I thought it was dialectical---and besides that, how dare they? What are they implying? That I am quaint?

Well of course, that’s the easy way, isn’t it? Out with old, the correct, and the proper. Fine.

Put me on trial, and what’s the case against me?

• In 1966 she buys a Webster’s New World Dictionary.

• Dictionaries creating new usages for careless speakers and writers.

• She pled not guilty to grammar snobbery.