AoD almost ready for show

I’ve been working on a round of edits for Angel of Death. I say “I”, but the lion’s share of the work was done by my mother-in-law, Sharon Davis. As if I wasn’t indebted to her enough. Anyway, I intend to have the novel up shortly as a full file.

Since I was under the hood anyway, I’ve gone through and switched it from 21 chapters to 70. These chapters breaks were mostly obvious. I noticed their need when I went back and read the whole novel as I would any other book. When I wrote AoD, I structured the novel around 20 different chunks of text, each about 5k words long. But when I went back and read the book, these divisions were neither clear, nor necessary. Now the chapters are much shorter, and cleaner; most are under 2k words, with two just a few paragraphs long. All the breaks, save two, come at natural points in the story. The two additional chapters break up some fairly long scenes (3500 words of more), and happen at points where some sort of a gap should work. Mind you, I’m guessing here; I have a strong sense of what works as a voracious reader, but I’m not anything like a professional editor, and will not take on that mantel to suit my own selfish needs.

The best part of working with Sharon was sitting down with her, and trying to figure out the proper spelling for “pinche pendejo”, and “culo”. Its not every day one gets to use such words around their mother-in-law, and get away with it.

Part of a tribe

The other day, some idiot drove though the crosswalk to my son’s school.

Now this is not that unusual an occurrence. The crosswalk is on a busy street (Burbank Blvd), and the cars, especially in the morning, are not particularly focused on their surroundings. What made this episode unusual was the amazingly level of blindness performed by this driver. Really almost a Herculean effort. And then when this driver actually had to deal with his epic level of fuck-upidness (is that a word?), sadly he failed.

Let me start at the beginning. The crosswalk is fairly big, in crosswalk terms. There are flashing yellow lights (3 each way), large yellow reflective signs (2 each way), big fat yellow lines, etc. In addition there are signs for the School Zone, and others that say “Reduced Speed 25 MPH when children are present”. On top of all that, there is a crossing guard, whose name happens to be Mali (really the nicest of guys). Mali wears a bright yellow vest with a reflective orange stripe, and carries a very large red stop sign.

These are the hints, the subtile, and not so subtile, suggestions which all drivers are expected to observe and follow. From experience, I’d say about 1 in 10 morning drivers are not up to the level of introspection. The unexamined driver is NOT worth following apparently. At least on Burbank Blvd.

Every morning when I walk my son to school, we have to look out for these bozos, and make sure we are not in the crosswalk when they decide to not see us. Like I said, 1 in 10.

Anyway, my story starts with me crossing back over, after dropping off my son. The South side of the road slightly more congested with parents dropping off their kids. The crossing guard, hits the button, causing those big orange lights to flash. The traffic slows on both sides, and we begin to cross. A eastbound car stuck in the middle of the T intersection, attempts to turn North from Burbank onto St. Clare. A guy in a black car, going the other way (westbound) barely stops in time for the guy to make his left turn, laying on his horn to let everyone know how unhappy he is. By this time, every other car around is stopped, as in NO MOTION. Mali and I are halfway across Burbank, heading North.

So now there is, in addition to all the signs and lights noted above, the fact that every single other car around is completely stopped, and there are people in the middle of the street. The guy in the black car starts to drive forward. Remember he had to come to a complete stop to let the car turn left in front of him. So now he hits the gas, and moves forward. Several people including myself yell very loudly at this time. (Let me tell you, I know how to yell. When I yell at something, it stays yelled at. For hours.) This apparently has no effect as the guy continues to drive, and drives right in front of me.

That was when I slammed my arm down, and hit the top of his rear corner panel with an open palm. Bamm. I’d love to say I can slap a car as good as I can yell. I’d love to say that there were paint flakes in my hand because I hit that car so hard. Alas, I did not damage the car at all. However, I did manage to do something no one else had been able to do that morning; get through the thick skull of the idiot behind the wheel.

In classic American idiot fashion, our young driver pulls over, and gets out of his car. He is mad now. Someone has touched his car. Out of the Blue! or so I’m sure it felt to him. So he gets out, and starts to curse. I wait for him at the corner, and he comes walking over, eyes aflame.

And it is at this particular moment I realize I am part of a village. The idiot comes over to confront me, and suddenly another father, and the crossing guard are at my side. A third father is on his balcony of the apartments above us, yelling for the guys license plate number as he is on the phone with the cops. The other father, (Lee, whom we also happen to know) and I are attempting to out yell the idiot driver. The crossing guard is yelling to. I’m fairly passive, trained as I was to stop situations like these from escalating (special education teachers are good at this), but Lee is having none of that passive crap. He is mad. Mad and tall. He looms over the young man, and suddenly the idiot is realizing he might be in a situation over his head. The idiot’s excuse, “But I didn’t see you,” sounded especially lame.

Moments later, our intrepid idiot, suddenly turns heal and walks to his car.

And you know the best part about all this? That very morning when he got to work, I know exactly what that idiot said to his co-workers: “Hey guess what? Some asshole hit my car today. For no reason.”

There’s an old writing adage that goes, “Every villain is the hero of their own story.” I can tell you, it is true. So very true.

How to make a difficult job even harder

As I dropped off my son at school today, I got handed a handout from one of the staff members of the school. It was a sheet telling me that LAUSD is not standing up for education, and it throwing their teachers to the wolves.

My first thought was, of course the teachers union is going to characterize it this way. They obviously have an axe to grind. Being told the new LAUSD Superintendent gave himself an $80k/year raise just confirmed my opinion.

Mind you, this was handed to me by an employee who works less than 5 hours/day so the district doesn’t have to pay for her benefits. She is very energentic, and involved, ALWAYS helpful, and acts as if this is her dream job. So it was a bit of a shock when she told me, “oh no honey. This isn’t my bread-and-butter. I have to work somewhere else for that.”

So with these mixed signals, I came home, and started doing some research. What I found was a Lawsuit settlement, a failed district policy for dealing with layoffs, and a newspaper which also had an axe to grind. It’s also true that the district which is firing a large number of teachers for next year, did in fact raise the salary for the newly incoming super from $250k to $330k.

For a short run-down, read this. The comment at the bottom, attributed to Scott Folsom on his blog 4LAKids seem to be spot on. Everything I found this morning in my research, supported his contentions. Of interest I found the link on the bottom of his comments about the NYC school troubles (the largest school district in the US) to be especially insightful. It appears LA is not the only place where big does not equal beautiful.

I’ll be looking into Scott’s blog, and see what he is like, but so far, his is the only voice that doesn’t trigger my BS detector.

I actually do favor the use of “value added” as an objective metric to measuring teacher performance, BUT (and that is a big but) it should not be THE ONLY METRIC for measuring teacher performance (for instance, to be labeled a special needs child in the state of CA, one needs to have several metrics to determine if that child is indeed “special”. One test alone will not cut it), and if teachers are going to get paid based on this performance, then the kids taking the test should be equally judged on their performance. In other words, everyone needs to have some skin in the game. You fail this test, you fail the grade.

Mind you, I’m not a big fan of standardized testing. I am, however, a big fan of treating or teachers with equality. I don’t know about anywhere else, but in our local school, the teachers bust their butts to try and deliver a quality education their their charges. The entire staff, without exception is professional and passionate about their work, Seeing them have to work harder in an already difficult job, and yet expecting them to give the same performance is crazy.

And to the new Superintendent, John Deasy, my message is this: If you want my support, you better have some skin in the game too. If you’re cutting 5% of your staff, I expect at least a 5% pay cut from you, AND EVERY SINGLE ADMINISTRATOR on staff. No exceptions. You expect them to do more, with less, and you expect me to swallow that, then you better be doing the same. The Spartans got it right. The leadership position is in the front of the army.

Cool story idea

This morning while crossing the busy street with my son on the way to his school, I yelled as a car for like the thousandth time. The street is a busy one, and the cars simply do not stop. There are big yellow lights flashing, huge “School Crosswalk” signs, the whole works. Still every time we cross, at least one idiot isn’t paying attention. Short of a stop light, I don’t think there will ever be close to 100% compliance.

But it did make me think of an idea. The FBI enters a trained ninja into their witness protection program. To give the man a job (although I guess it could be a woman protagonist too) they start the ninja as a crossing guard. Because the ninja is low man on the totem poll, he/she get the crummy corner, the one where no one stops.

That is, until the ninja starts the job. The first car that fails to stop gets a shuriken ripping it’s tire, and a crash. The second driver gets the shit kicked out of them. Very soon every driver passing that way is VERY CAUTIOUS.

On another note. I got in a second day of work on a longer short story. The first day, last Friday, felt like pulling teeth. I knew something was wrong, but could not see it, so I kept plugging away. Man it was brutal slogging work. I even got to the point of thinking I couldn’t write a short story. Silly, I know, but there it is.

Today, in contrast, I cranked it out. I had to rip apart half of what I wrote, and about 1000 words will probably have to be jettisoned, but I managed to beat the story into some kind of shape. I’m a little over 4k words in, with most of that from today. Not bad. On a hunch, I’d guess the story will hit around 10k words. I’ll know more in a few days.

I’d still like to have a slightly more exciting beginning on the story. Right now it smells a little pedestrian. I’ll have to read it again when I’m done with the whole things and see.

The novel is still in editing right now. As soon as my mother-in-law is done with her corrections, I’ll put it up as a complete file. I’ve been reading it myself, and found a few stray spots, but for the most part it’s holding up well.


When I was young, I remember reading about auguries, which were a way of foretelling the future based upon things like watching birds fly. This fascinated me. There was this other way of looking at the world, a language of fowl flight, that if one read it, one could understand the future. What a cool idea.

I mention this because I am always looking up to the sky, and always noting what the birds are doing around me. It’s not out of some need to guess what the future holds (as it happens, I have a pretty good handle on that, within reason), but because I just like to watch birds. I also like watching airplanes, and look up whenever one audibly passes by, but that is not quite the same as birds.

I know my position on this is unique. I know most people don’t think watching birds if great fun. And the funny thing is, I’m not a bird- watcher. That hobby holds almost no interest to me. What I like is to see how birds interact with each other. How they fly.

For instance, if you have ever seen one bird attack another, then you see some real drama. I’ve seen this lots of times, everything from a Coopers Hawk trying to take out an equally sized dove (like watching a WWI dogfight sped up 20 times), or two crows working a single raven (like a chess game where either party worked hardest to get above the other), or even a murder of crows work over a hawk (always a treat). But my favorite bird to watch fly is a Mocking bird. While other birds will come close to their attacker, a mocking bird will strike them, multiple times, and do this with élan. A mocking bird so out flies any other bird that it really isn’t fair. You can almost hear them say, “Listen up punk. School’s in session.”

Anyway, as I got off the exercise bike this morning, and walked back towards the house, I looked up and saw a hawk circling. I think it was a red tail hawk. He was up and over the nearby grocery store, maybe 300 feet up, and turning lazy circles. Any glider pilot worth his salt could tell you he was working the meager lift provided by the roof of the store. A slight breeze pushed the warm air north, and slightly east, so as he circled he got closer to our house. He  was up high enough that the other birds didn’t see him. I could tell because they didn’t react. If they knew he was there, they would have ducked and run. I’ve seen this happen enough times to know their reaction. They also shut up when they’re afraid, and they were yapping away this morning to beat the band.

So this hawk worked the lift, and circled maybe 4-5 times nearby. I guess he found nothing, because I could see his wings getting shorter as he started to stoop. Soon he zoomed right over our house, and headed for my son’s school at a speed about 10 times faster then he was going when circling in the thermal.

Watching him go, I wondered what was the augury for this? What did it mean? A hawk circled on my right, and then zoomed over me crossing to my left. Does that mean good things are going to happen to me today? I thought so. So far, it’s been a good guess.

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