Wednesday, August 27, 2014


It seems like just yesterday that I was on summer vacation, sleeping late and swimming in the river with my kids every day. We relaxed and watched very nearly every World Cup match, did day long marathons of Cake Boss on Netflix, and took impromptu overnight trips to visit my mom in Shiner, sometimes during the middle of the week. What did it matter what day it was? For two amazing months we allowed ourselves to shed the trappings of time and timeliness. We did what was needed, but mostly what we enjoyed. We even finally got around to taking the dogs for morning walks around town, changing our route daily to follow our whims. The days were long; the lid of my grill almost always warm to the touch. It was a fine time. At least it should have been if not for one thought constantly nagging me, dragging me into a profound state of anxiety.

You see, I am now unemployed. My final paycheck from the district arrived on Friday. I probably should have seen it coming when I turned in my letter of resignation over three months ago. I suppose that I could have spent the summer searching for a job, embarking on a new career, and reinventing myself. But I really needed that time off. I earned it. I only wish I had been better at enjoying it.

I was a teacher for over ten years. Most of that time was spent in the field (trenches really) of severe behavior. It was difficult, generally thankless work that took a toll on my health and on my very sense of being. I don’t really want to talk about it very much except to say that I was initially chosen for that line of work because I was seen as being creative and open minded. The experience wore on me, leaving me feeling cynical and conventional, not a person who I want to be.

It is not quite accurate to say that I did nothing practical over the summer. I applied for several teaching jobs in my district. These were for academic positions, still stressful, but somewhat out of the line of fire, safer feeling. I had interviews and perhaps naively assumed that I was a shoe in for one or another of the jobs. That I was passed over twice still stings like an insult, but it is quite possibly the best thing that has ever happened to me.

It should not be a surprise that they didn’t take me back. In one interview I described my resignation as jumping from an airplane. “About half way down I realized that I had not packed a parachute,” I told the interview panel earnestly, “But I don’t even care. I just know that I had to get out of that plane.” In my other interview I told them that the only way to save special education was to abolish it. I think I used the word “crap” twice. Remember when Joquin Pheonix went nuts a couple of years ago and said crazy things on all the late night talk shows? I was sort of like the elementary school teacher version of that.

Now I am free. Well, that is to say that I am as free as one can be with a mortgage, car payment, multiple bills, and a family to support. I am nervous as hell and more than a little bit desperate, but I’d be a liar if I told you that there wasn’t something really cool about the prospect of being unemployed - no boss, no schedule, nobody trying to bite me or thinking of suing me. Probably the best thing about unemployment is that I don’t have to go to work in the morning. It is a little thing, but marvelous. I could get used to this if I weren’t certain to run out of money in a month or two. 

Still, it is liberating not to be a public school teacher. I feel compelled to finally be open about my political and religious beliefs, to draw cartoons with controversial topics, to use profanity on facebook, perhaps to quit writing under this goofy pseudonym, to no longer labor under the weight of having to be a role model for anybody else’s kids, or conform to the lunacy of public school.

So I am committed to enjoying this new time, this weird uncertain time. I don’t know exactly what will happen, but I am opening my mind again, crawling out of the box. And outside of the box, where I belong, it seems that there are prospects. I think I just sold my first essay yesterday. So I will rejoice and move from one adventure to the next, blessed and confused - maybe just a little crazy, but inspired.

Monday, August 18, 2014

The Name Game

She told me to meet her at the new Chinese buffet, the one by Weiners. To the best of my knowledge, there has never been a Weiners in San Marcos - well at least not as long as I’ve been coming and going. But I knew what she was doing. I knew the game we were playing, the game of ‘let me show you how long I’ve been in San Marcos’.

The rules of the game are simple. Always refer to any building, business, park, or even personal residence by the name it had the year you arrived, or were born, in San Marcos. If played well, it will solidify your relationship with your San Martian contemporaries and provide you with ample opportunities to feel smug and more settled than more recent immigrants. 

Like many college towns, San Marcos residents can be roughly divided into three groups: those who have always been here, those who are passing through, and the ones who came and never left. This last group, the ones who came, generally for school, may or may not have ever graduated, but they never got around to moving to Austin. These are the people who mostly play the game. They tend to take more pride in the town than even the people whose families have been swimming at Rio Vista since the Alamo was besieged. But like so many adoptees, they harbor a deep need to belong and to reinforce their relationship with momma San Marcos. And so they play.

The most commonly changing businesses are bars and restaurants. These places also tend to loan their personalities to people who identify them with a particular time in life. As such, people who came to Southwest Texas in times of yore, still refer to the large music venue on the square as Deveraux, with little regard to an ever changing marquee  that has claimed so many names. Others, who came later to Texas State, may fondly remember eating a burger in the same place, only it was called Gordo’s.

Extra points are awarded for using particularly colloquial names from specific times. Let me give you an example. The little HEB was an AppleTree from the late eighties until the mid nineties. It is a smallish store, located very close to campus and has always been heavily patronized by students and younger folk. It is traditionally a place that could be hard to visit without running into a friend and feeling obliged to chat. A quick trip for a frozen pizza and ice cream could take an hour for a social type. And so it became known as ‘the Appletrap’. Using this term now will either befuddle or amuse whoever you’re with. Even as I write this, my wife leans over my shoulder and smugly says, “Oh, are you talking about the Safeway?” Well played, spouse, well played.

While the San Marcos River is generally simply called ‘the river’ by young and not so young alike, various banks and parks along the river have multiple names. Across from Rio Vista Dam, is an area many refer to as ‘the girl scout camp’. Deep behind tangles of grape vines and poison ivy is an old, rectangular swimming pool that has filled to the rim with dirt. If there was ever a girl scout camp here, it was really long time ago. Most people forgo this part of the park, never thinking about what it might be called. At the other end is a fantastic swimming hole where Spring Lake cascades into the top of the river. This is a very popular spot for many generations. As such, it has quite a few names. The area is called Peppers, ‘the headwaters’, ‘the top’, The Salt Grass, or even ‘the forbidden’ zone depending on who you ask and when they arrived. 

So she wants to meet near the Weiners, eh? Not wanting to be beaten by my slightly senior San Martian, and remembering that the new Chinese buffet is on the highway near where the Blanco and San Marcos Rivers converge, I decide to break the rules a little, to pad my San Marcos resume. I responded in my best 1800‘s Comanche dialect, “Oh, you mean the one near Paa Tosaybita (Blanco River)?

But she was quicker and older than me, shooting back, “Yes, Ligai Koh“ in what certainly sounded like fluent Lipan Apache (circa 1750). I am bested once again.