Nostalgia: Saturday nights with Morgus the Magnficent Friday, Jan 30 2009 

morgus_bb_00008aI listen to WWL radio (New Orleans station) most of the time when I’m driving just to keep up with what’s going on in the city.  (I now live a little over 150 miles from New Orleans, but I grew up in the region, so I like to stay in touch.)

I’ve been hearing some promotions for the rebirth of the career of  Dr. Morgus, the bizarre mad scientist who hosted the Saturday night scary movies on one of the New Orleans TV stations in the sixties and maybe into the seventies.  Morgus and the monster movie came on at 10:30 after the news, so I endeavored to stay up through the movie to see Dr. Morgus’s side plot that broke in for a few minutes at each commercial break.  Since he was such a comic character, his break-ins often provided comic relief from the more realistic terror or horror of the monster movie that was shown.

The original Dr. Morgus was played by a New Orleans radio and TV personality, Sid Noel.  I remember Mr. Noel well when I was in high school and working at the A&P supermarket in Covington.   He  shopped every weekend at the store.  I think he had a home or retreat on the North Shore (across Lake Pontchartrain from New Orleans).  He was always friendly and engaging when I’d bag and carry out his groceries, and while I’d talk to him about his DJ work, we never got into discussions of his role as Morgus.  He was such a regular-looking, clean-cut, neatly dressed character in person that imagining him as the scruffy, dissheveled, and homely mad scientist was difficult.

The promotions on WWL that I’ve been hearing feature interviews of Dr. Morgus himself.  I doubt if it’s still Sid Noel, but whoever’s taken on the role does a darned good impersonation of the original.  He sounds perfectly Morgussian.  I’d like to find out more about what’s going on.   Maybe some keyword-searcher who’s got an ear to the ground on what’s happening with the Celebrating Fifty Years of Morgus event will read this post and tell me more.

Yep, Morgus the Magnificent and his hooded lab assistant and inane sidekick Chopsley–worth staying up for on Saturday nights back in the days of my young adolescence.

As usual, the Wikipedia article on Morgus has some really interesting history and details about Morgus.

Rod Blagojevich and the “Me Worry?” Kid: A MAD Connection Tuesday, Jan 27 2009 

180px-mad303Yesterday, a friend asked me if I didn’t agree that Governor Rod Blagojevich resembles a brunette version of the Mad Magazine mascot Alfred E. Newman.  I thought about it a moment and agreed, “Yeah, he sure does!”  I resolved to check out the resemblance at Wikipedia next time I had a chance.

So this afternoon in an idle moment of distraction, I looked up “Alfred E. Newman” and found even more than I suspected I would find.

Indeed, if the “pompodorous” governor were red-headed, he could pass for Alfred E. Newman’s cousin, at least.  But what dazzled me the most when I scanned the Wikipedia article was the more amazing resemblance the Governor bears to a 1920’s precursor of Alfred E. 150px-alfred_e_neumann1Newman, the “Me Worry?” kid (Remember Alfred E. Newman’s motto was “What?  Me, Worry?”).

In this bizarre real-life political story, these resemblances between the real-life governor and this silly-looking cartoon character from 80+ years are almost fitting.  Even the “Me Worry?” motto suits the unflappable, ever-denying-the-obvious Blagojevich.  But best of all,  I  find some peculiar illustration in these resemblances that supports the old adage that “Truth is stranger than fiction.”   The facts of the Blagojevich saga are, in fact, strange to the point of incredulity.

But alas, as bizarre as the tale appeareth, so truthful it seemeth.


Grandparents’ Delight: Payton Patooter Scooter Saturday, Jan 24 2009 

Another theme of this blog, revisited this evening: The joys of grandparenting.

Our little granddaughter is spreading her wings . . . or shall we say, her fond-fond . . . as she learns  from day to day how to navigate on her own, preferring the scooting motility in this phase of her development.  Honey and Papa, of course, find  the little squirt’s exploratory pursuits to be so terribly endearing.

The teacher’s teacher . . . more humble rewards of the profession Wednesday, Jan 21 2009 

This is a topic regular readers of the blog will recognize–I return this evening to the “humble rewards of the profession” theme that I visit from time to time.

teacher-mentorIn 1986, I broke into teaching on 150+ eighth graders in five noisy sections of junior high English.  Or should I say, they broke me in.

I was unschooled in the craft of pedagogy, and looking back on it, I was learning a lot more in those days than my pre-pubescent charges.

Certain mentors did show up from time to time, and one of them was a gracious lady from the central office, Marie Renaud.   I photoed Marie (above) this evening, over 22 years later, teaching an adult night class for our continuing education program at LSUE.  I was walking through the building a little after six on an errand for another class, on my way home at the end of a long day.  But when I recognized Marie’s voice, I was drawn into the room by a magnetic attraction.

I first heard her voice in about the second six weeks of that 1986 school year.  She was a master teacher for the school district, and she was assigned to make rounds at my school.  Maybe the principal told her I was struggling–I really don’t remember.  But anyway, she introduced herself to me on a break in the teachers’ lounge and offered to teach a model lesson.  “Sure,” I agreed, immediately.

A little later in the morning at fourth period, she came in.   Right away, I surrendered the floor to her and watched . . . and listened.  I remember marveling at the way she led those little eighth graders in a pre-writing activity.   She glided among them, moving around the room, engaging their little minds on potential topics they could write about.  She actually get them to respond to her questions as the students behaved as willing captives.   I had never seen them so focused and interested.  And what really got me, they actually seemed likeable!  I was so used to struggling with them that I never imagined they had a likeable side.

I believe that was my first lesson as a teacher in the sense of someone else showing me the ropes.  I had received advice before from other teachers, but Marie “showed” me rather than “told” me.   I was a better writing teacher almost immediately, and the influence of that demonstration has become part of my own teaching style, even after moving on from junior high to high school and finally to the college composition classroom.

When I came in her room this evening, she stopped teaching for a moment and introduced me to the students as her “boss” as I found an unobtrusive place to sit and watch.  I have to laugh every time she says that, because there’s no way I’ll ever regard Marie Renaud as a charge under my supervision.  She’ll always be a mentor, and I’m just glad now that we’ve been able to draw her out of retirement to teach a night class or two for us.

I also noticed this evening that she has the same motivating sway with the adults that she had with my eighth graders, testimony to the pedagogical principle that any good teaching strategy is adaptable across grade levels and age differences, and a good teacher is a good teacher, then or now, hither or yonder!

Yes, that was nice way to end my work day.  I’ll have to remind Marie of that truth about the humble rewards of our profession: “A teacher never knows where [her] influence ends.”  Her influence has certainly never ended on me.

Yea, these are the moments we treasure about this craft of teaching.

God bless President Obama! Monday, Jan 19 2009 

I started to entitle this post “Good luck, Barack: You’ll need it!”  But I backed off.   Someone who doesn’t know me might perceive the tone as cynical,  and I’m certainly not.  I also decided to use the more formal last name with title as opposed to the casual first name because hey, this guy is going to be President!  If I ran into him on the street, I don’t think I’d saunter up to him with a greeting like, “Hey, Barack ol’ dude, what’s up?”  Nope, even though I’m older than he (boohoo), I was raised with enough manners to know that you don’t call the President of 225px-official_portrait_of_barack_obamathe United States by his first name (unless he’s a close relative, perhaps.  None of mine are likely to make it, at least in my lifetime).

Of course, it’s true that he’ll need some luck, too.  That’s not a cynical wish at all.  We’ve never been this deep in murky muck in at least a couple of generations.  Actually, he/we will need the stuff of prayers more than we’ll need luck, so Lord, send us blessings instead of luck!  I changed the title of the post to that effect, as well.

I recall the first time I heard Obama’s name on the eve of the national election returns the year he was elected to the Senate.  Before I saw him or how his name was spelled, I wondered if this was a Chicago Irishman with an odd first name.  (You know they dye the River green in Chicago on St. Patricks’ Day.)  But when I saw the name spelled, I wondered, “Hmmm, what have these big city folks come up with?”  I wondered, also, what kind of accent he’d speak with.  Later, when I saw him and heard him as he gave his victory speech on TV that evening, I was a little surprised that he looked and sounded awfully normal.  As a matter of fact, I even detected a likeable charisma as I heard him speak.  I thought, “Hey, this guy seems to be OK.”

Fast forward the years, and here we are.  I really like the civil tone that’s set in in the aftermath of the election.  From Obama to McCain to Bush, everyone’s been gracious, the bitterness of the recent campaign set aside.  I like that spirit.

Hey, we can get along without the acrimony!

Anyway, hope blooms eternal on every inauguration eve.  So may it be!  And since I prefer blessings to luck, I’ll pray to that end rather than simply wish for luck.

Anal-retentive, or Anal-effusive? Saturday, Jan 10 2009 

When I was in college, most of my professors went to graduate school in the era of the fifties and sixties when Freudian psychoanalysis was practically a fad.  Of course they would never have agreed that Freudianism was a fad, because the Freudian principles of analysis were accepted as gospel and applied across disciplines outside of psychology to explain just about everything: for instance, characters’ motives or authorial intent were psychoanalyzed in Freudian terms in literature, Freudian explanations of historical figures’ behavior was popular , and so on and so forth.  That generation believed Freud explained everything.  225px-sigmund_freud_life-1

But it turns out it was kind of a fad, because by the time I went to graduate school in the early 1990’s, nobody talked about Freud (pictured to the right, photo courtesy of Wikipedia).  By this time, the Freudian fad had been supplanted by fashionable scholarly preoccupations with feminism and gay/lesbianism.  As for what happened to Freud, if you ask my college-aged daughter or her brother who graduated several years ago about Freud, they’d probably say, “Who?”

Just like if you’ll ask my daughter’s or son’s kids a generation from now about feminism, they’ll probably look at you blankly and say, “Huh?”

Anyway, we oldtimers remember Freud. So in a moment of jocularity with one of my academic associates last week, someone we knew whom we characterized as “anal-retentive” came up in the conversation.   I couldn’t resist posing the question, “What’s the opposite of anal-retentive behavior?  It must be ‘anal-effusive’.”

We laughed at that.  Anal-effusive is not a Freudian term, but it’s fun to imagine what kind of behavior would deserve that label.  Here’s the explanation of Freud’s anal-retentive from Wikipedia:

“Freud theorized that children who experience conflicts during this period of time may develop “anal” personality traits, namely those associated with a child’s efforts at excretory control: orderliness, stubbornness, a compulsion for control,[1] as well as a generalized interest in collecting, possessing, and retaining objects.”

OK, if that be anal-retentive, here must be the opposite anal-effusive:

“Personality traits associated with a child’s lack of effort at excretory control: messiness, stinkiness, incontinence (including fondness for noisy outbursts of public flatulence), a compulsion for undisciplined speech (as in “potty mouth” and “diarrhea of the mouth”), as well as generalized interest in getting rid of, giving away, and letting go of objects (but only worthless, objectionable, or disgusting objects).”

Does this describe people you know???  If the label fits, they must wear it.

Why Ohio State can’t beat teams from down South, followed by an outlandish suggestion Tuesday, Jan 6 2009 

 150 years after “the War,”  Southerners remain a peculiar sectional lot.  I know, b/c I’m one of them.  Who else, for instance, would comment on Ohio State’s perennial inability to beat teams from Southern climes in big Bowl games? 

Three years ago, Florida took the highly favored Buckeyes to the woodshed in the national title game.  Last year in the big show, LSU kicked them around the Super Dome to take the championship .   Last night in the right-below-national-title Fiesta Bowl, our neighbors across the Sabine, the Texans, had the honors.

One argument out there is the Big 10 Conference (Ohio’s home conference)  is simply overrated nationally, and as a result, their teams’ reputations during the season  turn out to be grossly inflated, as evidenced by the way the conference representatives get beat up in the post-season games against top teams from other conferences.   (There’s statistical credence to this argument: I think the Big 10’s record in Bowl games this year is a not-too-impressive one and six).

But I have another  hypothesis.  Ohio State’s problem is Head Coach Jim Tressel’s wardrtresselobe!  He shows up on the sidelines every game wearing a red or gray sweater vest with a tie.

Back in the 60’s, maybe such attire would have looked cool.  All of  the coaches in that era wore snazzy suits and sports coats (and don’t forget Bear Bryant’s trademark hound’s tooth hat).  If those old dudes would have slept in their clothes Saturday nights after the games, they would have been ready for church Sunday morning without having to change.

But in the contemporary era, that dapper look on the sidelines simply appears nerdy.   So how is it fitting that a rock ’em/knock ’em/down-and-dirty championship football team be led by someone who looks the part of a nerd?  It’s a contrary image.  It’s incongruent.  It’s contradictory.  It must cause some measure of embarassment to the players, potentially leading to the kind of demoralization that results in uninspired performance.  Ergo, they lose!

Truthfully, this hypothesis is not terribly plausible.  But it is amusing.  And if Coach Tressel is superstitious at all, and if he’d look for any common denominators in the past three Bowl games that he lost, one detail he could certainly change in hopes of breaking the spell is his wardrobe. 

How’s that for an outlandish suggestion?

The latest addition to the family . . . Sunday, Jan 4 2009 

Make no mistake–people come first in this household, followed not too terribly far behind by puppy dogs.  But the family computer exerts some character of its own as a medium of interpersonal connection and social networking (for ex, could my wife and daughter live without Facebook?), as well as an indispensable tool for staying connected to work, both for me as an educational administrator  and teacher and Ann as a student.  So yes, the family computer does rate some “personhood”  in the mix.  payton-on-the-imac

The viable life expectancy of these electronic critters, I’ve concluded, is about four years or so.  After four years, the software doesn’t keep up with the latest technologies and the machine is more prone to mechanical failure.   

So, on Christmas day, after my daughter hooked her new iPod Nano up to the old Mac and found that the version of iTunes on the old computer would not work with her new toy (and the operating system would not support the latest iTunes), and after this past semester when I couldn’t open students’ papers produced in Word ’07 because of similar out-of-date software limitations, I did what I had to do.  I went online to the Apple store and ordered the latest iMac.  It came several last week and we’ve all been tickled with the improved features: the impressive 20 inch flat screen, the built-in iCamera, the latest version of the traditional Mac applications, etc etc.  

I think getting a new computer is comparable to getting a new car!