Wednesday, October 31, 2007


On occassion, someone at my school will ask me to do something that's out of their technological realm. "Print out the lyrics to this song", "what's Gmail?", "Can you find info on my ex wife," etc. But there's this one fellow who asks me to make little videos for him. He brings in clips from home and I arrange them in iMovie. I don't mind!

I made one from clips he took of his new house in the Poconos. Nice crib. Ya know, just clips of the gym in the basement, the basketball hoop outside and him posing with a shotgun. Nice! But today he brought in clips of his daughter and him playing tennis, going to the arcade and bowling. I don't mind!

Glad to do it.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Ah, Halloween: You're a Thorny One

The leaves are orange, you wake up when it's still dark out, girls become sexy pirates or nurses and a few Christians feel marginalized because the secular realm doesn't view the carving of pumpkins as the literal conjuring up of Satan himself: it's Halloween!

I had a pretty fun pre-Halloween weekend. It's my favorite time of year- no doubt. My lesson today called for the kids to carve virtual pumpkins for a Halloween greeting card. It's normally well-received, but one teacher who came to my room started saying "Glorious god almighty, beautiful pumpkins for pumpkin pie, not carving..." while one of the students was "carving" it. Ummm...ok. No speaking in tongues yet, so that's fine.

So the student finished and created this:

Say your prayers and exorcise your demons! I find nothing too offensive about this, but then the teacher started saying "Ya know, not everyone celebrates this holiday and I don't appreciate it being pushed down my throat!" Ok, I understand. Your pastor told you, Ms. B, that Halloween is indeed the day when the devil harms this world by giving kids candy and adults the excuse to dress up and get crunk. I'm with that.

We settled things fairly. I told her I understood that she doesn't recognize this holiday and that she didn't have to participate, but that she could do something for Italian Heritage Month with a few kids if she wanted. Fair enough - Italians aren't eveil.

But I'm curious as to how we're going to teach Thanksgiving next month. Probably with this guy:

What should it be celebrated with?

Friday, October 12, 2007

A Little Papoose on Friday

I've been into the artist Papoose for some time now and wanted to drop a little on you today. I'm not totally feeling his music, but he reps Brownsville and had a wild track called "Alphabetical Slaughter" back when.

Other hits: "50 Shots" about the Sean Bell murder that cited an article in the NY Post. Step yer game up, Pap! Don't cite that tabloid. Another song gave a little hope to some Katrina victims. He aiight -- he says some whack stuff once in a while like "I drink so much I cry liquor/smoke so much w33d, I fart w33d smoke."

Step yer game up, Pap!

But I got into him after seeing him in this former pizza place once:

It's going to be a cafe soon, but it once had some good pizza pie. But here's a little video of Papoose rollin around the hood at the Betsy Head Pool, three blocks from my school. Check out Pap rockin' the Fila shirt like he's hard up on cash :

I had my lunch from this vegan juice bar called Denzil's on Rutland. Wild spot. Betsy Head stay high!!!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Scopes Monkey Trial Revisited

Two years ago, I spent a little time in the town of Toledo in Spain. I was staying with a friend in Madrid for a week and then traveled around for a bit. I had a wild time: I went to see all the museums, I got crunk with calimocho and I learned how to make tortilla espanol. All things grand.

I usually pack a pretty weird reading list on my trips. I recently went to Savannah and brought along with me Medical Apartheid by Harriet Washington. One person I met saw the book and quipped, "Apartheid was man's greatest invention." But he was's still actually a racist. But in Spain I took an odd pairing: Jonathan Ames' "What's Not to Love?" and The Court Cases of Clarence Darrow. Oooh -- Pulse racing.

I've been a big supporter of Clarence Darrow since first learning about the Scopes-Monkey Trial back around 7th grade. What a guy! He grilled William Jennings Bryan and Fundementalism on the stand and ushered us into a new era of enlightenment. I also admire how he fought and won against the death penalty in the Loeb and Leopold trial. I even listed him as one of my Heroes on Myspace.

So I was thrilled this morning when I went into the school office and saw the following quote:

"Just think of teaching a child not to doubt." - Clarence Darrow

WOW. First, I thought that it's wonderful that my hero is giving me a morning greeting. Morning, Clarence. Then I think that I really don't understand the quote. I was thinking that they may have left off an ending. Something like "...and I'll smack you" or "...and turn in your resignation."

But I got up to my room and Googled the quote:

"Just think of the tragedy of teaching children not to doubt." -- Clarence Darrow, italics mine

Big mistake. Should I tell my princiPAL? It totally changes the meaning of the quote. The one written on the board in the office is horrible! Sorry, Clarence. Your wise words shouldn't be dragged through the mud like that. The tragedy is putting people in authority who are simple.

I'm going to list him as a hero on Myspace once again. Is there a higher honor?

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

A Tale of Two...uh, actually, it's only one damn city

Empathy. I've got it. There are certain people I feel bad for again and again. There was once a guy without his legs on the 3 train shaking a cup, grimacing and eeking out "it ain't easy for me.." That's experience has been indellibly etched into my brain and I think about it every time I see someone asking for money.

I also feel bad for the children of celebrities. I imagine that it's pretty traumatic having scumbags (Page Six, tabloid folk, etc.) covering your every move and then having it considered front page news. Even the left-leaning headline blog the Huffington Post considers it top priority:

It ranks four stories higher than this one:

Get your dang priorities straight, Ms. Huffington! But I get caught up in it a little too. As much as I respect the Pitt-Jolie child's privacy, here's a little bit of what that little bloke eats at the Lycee Francais de New York School:

Monday: Tomatoes Florentine, Baked Rotisserie Chicken, Mashed Potatoes, Steamed Baby Carrots, Fresh Fruit
Tuesday: Chicken Noodle Soup, Eggplant Parm, Sauted Spinach with Olive Oil and Garlic, Chocolate Cake

Now check out what my school is servin' up this week:



Meals are now being universally served at low-income schools, but is it really healthy? Pizza and burgers are loaded with unnecessary fats. The kids are no longer hungry, but they've filled them up with trash! They're still never going to get the same chances that other students will.

In 1969, that vile enemy combantant group the Black Panthers initiated a breakfast program in Oakland that fed up to 10,000 a morning. These "enemies" thought this was necessary to give black children the same advantage in school as their white counterparts. Roll in that grave, Uncle Sam!

These Breakfasts include even nutrient that they need for the day. For too long have our people gone hungry and without the proper health aids they need. -- Huey Newtown

Do you think they were serving pizza and burgers? No! They're not out on a second date in high school; they need legitmate nourishment!

It is a beautiful sight to see our children eat in the mornings after remembering the times when our stomachs were not full, and even the teachers in the schools say that there is a great improvement in the academic skills of the children that do get the breakfast. At one time there were children that passed out in class from hunger, or had to be sent home for something to eat. But our children shall be fed, and the Black Panther Party will not let the malady of hunger keep our children down any longer.

Ms. Agnes: "I dunno, the kids eat it."

Cost of tuition at the Bradgelina School:

1st Grade - 5th Grade $ 14,900.00
6th Grade - 9th Grade $ 15,800.00
10th Grade - 12th Grade $ 17,600.00

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

If you're round my way.

If you're 'round my way & hungry, check these spots out:

Dominican Food Truck - Rockaway and Strauss

Fried pork or chicken with rice and peas, plantains, and tostones for $4 or $5 (Small or Large). I check this spot out if I'm decidedly not eating healthy that day. They set up at around 8am and are still there when I'm leaving at around 3;30. The truck says JJ Snack Bar on 181 Dean St, so I imagine that there are a few others around the city. Have you seen one?

Napoli Pizza - 1712 Rockaway Ave

You can get a $1.75 slice and it's the best in the neighborhood. They don't have paper plates! They only serve slices on a tray with a piece of waxpaper on there. It's also the only place to grab a Cherry Coke 'round there.

It's also the sanctuary for some cops in the neighborhood. Around lunchtime, you can see them playing PSPs or reading the Daily News. If you're lucky, you might get to listen to them talk about all the "animals" in the neighborhood, which they call the "zoo."

Monday, September 24, 2007

So you can actually find milk:

Family Dollar on Mother Gaston between Belmont and Pitkin. They Got it:

Family D got Milk!

I've been spending my lunch breaks here:

Brownsville Bike Shop

Hoping to record a whole CD by January there. More info to follow. Brownsville stay high ^ ^ ^

Friday, September 21, 2007


My health class in high school was taught by a woman with a whole mouthful of false teeth. I guess that’s not so odd considering the existence of husky gym teachers and brutal irony, but it still lead me to believe that she didn’t know what she was talking about. She gave us the basic food pyramid thing and lamented about the importance of a good breakfast, but no real insight one would expect from a health class.

Before taking the class the class I knew that brown rice was better than white rice, fruit punch was not fruit juice and that candy at 7:30 am is not the breakfast of champs. Why? I come from a middle-class family and I learned these things from my nutrition savvy mother. It’s not common sense -- healthy eating is a learned lifestyle.

I relied on neighborhood coffee when I first started teaching here to give me that perk a teacher needs from 7:30-3:10. I wasn’t surprised that I couldn’t get it with skim milk, but was surprised at the bodega at 7am: kids buying every type of sugary candy they could pick up for a buck.

It seemed like a woebegone Wall Street where, instead of traders frantically trying to buy stocks of Intel or Apple, kids were frantically calling for x amount of Now-and-Laters or Swedish Fish. It’s quite a scene.


A co-worker and I once had a chat on how wrong this was and attributed it to why our kids were so wild in the morning. Of course! They get that initial rush of sugar and then crash at around 10 a.m. I don’t need some toothless health teacher to help me out with that one. It’s common sense.

But this oppressive cycle makes sense to me now. It’s easy to blame the kids or parents for this, but the NYC schools are poor models of healthy eating.

Every now and again, I’m exiled from my room (one of the more sizable rooms in the school) for parent teacher conferences. We recently had our first one of the year and I helped with the planning, which mostly involved setting up a few rows of chairs.

At the conference, the parents were served a platter of Twinkies, cupcakes, cookies and doughnuts. There was also orange juice, but the fruit platter apparently cost too much. Twinkies at 10am? SURE! Everything was gone by noon except for a bit of cranberry apple juice that I managed to swipe. Trickle down ignorance at its best.

I can give a few more vignettes about how bad it can get. If I don’t have a coffee by around 10 am, I usually wander to the vending machine to get something to keep me going. Ya know, a bag of peanuts or a diet cola or whatev.

Co-worker: Diet soda, Francis? You’re so healthy!
Francis: Not at all - just need that lil perk. It’s still bad for you. Nahmean?
Co-worker: I hear you
Francis: Truth.
Co-worker: Truth.

But once you have the knowledge of how to eat from the tree of life, come to Brownsville for some of the local cuisine.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

You can take the C or the 3 to Rockaway Ave

Between the two Rockaway Avenue stops in Brooklyn exists a stretch of road that fuses the marketplace feel of Chinatown with Dinkins era NYC, when crack wasn't understood to be so whack. Coming down the steps from the above ground 3 train, you're immediately beckoned by vendors selling $5 belts, bracelets bearing the names of Caribbean countries and untold amounts of nontraditional Yankees fitteds.

Further down on Rockaway Ave, you'll find one of the best shopping areas in Brooklyn: Pitkin Ave. Here you can get a beef patty, a weave, and a pair of Jordans all on the same block. But seeking out a place to get fresh veggies or a jug of milk might send you wandering into some uncharted Brownsville territory. Despite this unusual shortage, anyone who walks down the street will be asked if they have health insurance or not. Free Health Plus is a mainstay on the corner of Pitkin and Rockaway and there's usually a someone in a haggard looking bunny costume (the Free Health mascot) handing out free info on the policies.

may 9 011
Free Health Plus van

A friend of mine who likes conjuring up arcane and hard-to-prove statistics told me once that Brownsville/East New York had the highest AIDS rate per capita in the world -- even more than sub-Saharan Africa. I thought about it for a while and had to say "That dude's crazy," but a little research shows that it's still pretty severe. In 1996 there were 1,769 reported cases of HIV/AIDS per 100,000 adults -- the highest in Brooklyn, but not in Africa. (1)

I knew a bit about Brownsville before I started working here. I knew M.O.P. was from here and there's also a line in a Biggie song that goes "Remember them nggggs from the hill up in Brownsville?" I think that's what most people who are into hip-hop associate with Brownsville. Otherwise, people generally acknowledge that it's a pretty rough place and say "Damn, you work in Brownsville!" when I tell them what I do.

I've been teaching at a public school here for a little over three years now. Which, in teacher-speak, means that I'm a tenured professional. YEAHHH BOYYYY. Maybe that's why I didn't start this blog until now -- I am posting this at a time when I should be "on the clock" or "doing work," but my next class doesn't come in for another twelve minutes or so.

Next time I'm going to touch upon the food issue here in Brownsville. I wasn't kidding about the milk! If you want a quart of it (probably not skim milk), you better lace up those Jordans and get ta steppin'.