Other Stuff: Silly Bandz I’d Like to See

(Note from Kevin: I am writing some humor columns this week. Just … because.)


Near the end of the school year, a student of mine dropped a Silly Bandz into my hand and said, “a gift for you, Mr. H.” I untangled the thing and it took the shape of a saxophone. Now I get it! This Silly Bandz was cool (unlike all those others). So, I started thinking, there must be some Silly Bandz brain trust somewhere that thinks up the shapes of these fading fads.

What if I were in charge? What Silly Bandz  would I invent?

  • My dog making ME dinner. For a change. He’ll have this little doggy chef’s hat on and a spatula in one paw. Although you can’t see it, there will be a steak grilling in front of him. And he won’t take a bite, either. It’s all for me.
  • The perfect snowflake. This will be a tricky mold to make for the folks in the back room, as every snowflake Silly Bandz will need to be different and unique. But I am sure they will figure it out. They’re engineers, right? That’s why they get the big bucks.
  • A classroom scene in which the students are teaching the teacher. I can see their silhouettes hovering over the adult form of the teacher, who seems confused. The perfect gift for the colleague down the hallway who can’t seem to stop lecturing all day, every day, all year long. Of course, this kind of teacher is probably immune to the fad of Silly Bandz and was one of the first in your school to ban the things from their students. Chances are, you won’t reach this teacher with a Silly Banz, but you can try!
  • My wife. So she can be with me all day. I just take her off my wrist, give her a little flip and there she is. Perfect. Of course, this is not a design for anyone else. Just me. I don’t want you looking at my wife, even if she is reduced to a piece of colored elastic.
  • Bass Clef. Because the bass clef never gets respect. It’s always “treble clef this” and “treble clef that.” I realize this is a musician’s inside joke, so it could be one of those bracelets that sells for thousands of dollars on eBay someday in the future. You can’t go wrong with the bass clef, man.
  • Lawn mower. Or maybe a vacuum cleaner. This is one you pawn off to the kids as a reminder that they have some chores to be done. Of course, your wife or husband or significant other might also slip it onto your wrist when you aren’t looking, so be careful what you wish for.
  • A replica of the Internet. I have no idea how they would make this mold but it sure would be fun to watch them try. Them, meaning those engineers again. Which makes me wonder: how do you explain to your mom and dad that your engineering degree is going to good use … making Silly Bandz? I’d lie about what I was doing. I’d say I was working on the underground SuperCollider project or something, even as the wads of cash was falling out of my pockets. I think I just went off on some tangent here.
  • Rotary phone. Just to confuse the kids. Make sure the circles for your fingers are really big, too. I mean, monstrous circles.
  • A psychiatrist’s couch. For those moments when you find yourself talking to yourself. Bonus: no hourly fee or judgmental questions from the shrink. In fact, the shrink here is a verb, as in the couch has been shrunk to fit your wrist. If it helps to have a little psychiatrist on your wrist, too, we can probably do that for you. That would be found in our new “doctor’s pack” of Silly Bandz (which includes the rare Brain Surgeon bracelet to impress all of your friends).
  • A brain cell. I don’t know about you, but I could always use a few extra during the day.

Oh, the possibilities are endless, although I imagine the fad is already sputtering if I am writing about it. Maybe instead of coming up with ideas that piggyback on the last thing, I need to imagine the next fad in waiting …

Peace (in the silliness),

Other Stuff: Dear Authorized Guest Blogger

(Note from Kevin: I am trying out some humor pieces. This one was inspired by a colleague who wrote a piece for an established technology-education journal, only to find out they wanted her to pay to be published. It got me thinking about all of the guest blogging that goes on, and what if the guests had to pay to blog.)

http://media.torontolife.com/dynimages/features/guest1_img2__.jpg Dear Authorized Guest Blogger,

Thank you so much for agreeing to write for my blog while I am away on vacation. Right now, as you toil away at the ideas you’ve graciously pitched to me, I am probably sipping blender drinks on the porch overlooking the ocean, with a book in my lap. I wish you were here. Not. If you were here, that would mean that my blog didn’t have any writers and my site is all about the traffic flow. Cha-ching! Don’t worry. I am checking my Google Analytics each night to make sure that you are keeping up as my Authorized Guest Blogger. I’ll be in touch if things start dropping.

I read your last note to me and I understand your confusion. I needed your Paypal number because for every word that you write and publish at my blog while I am away, you have agreed to pay me $1. Don’t worry. There is a $100 maximum payment for each day that you are my Authorized Guest Blogger. That’s just one of the benefits of being my Authorized Guest Blogger. Unauthorized Guest Bloggers have no ceiling at all. I’ll remind you that this financial agreement was right there in the user agreement I sent you. You clicked “I’m All Set To Write,” didn’t you? You’re not one of those people who just clicks boxes everywhere and has no clue what they clicked, are you? I am hoping my Authorized Guest Blogger is more savvy than that. Maybe that’s something you could write about? Just an idea. Five weeks of guest blogging is a lot of writing, so you may find yourself one morning, wondering what to write.

I may have forgotten to mention that you can feel free to ignore the 10 flashing advertisements on the banners of the homepage when you are writing. While some people find them annoying, I happen to enjoy all of the dancing critters and explosions on my blog. Plus, it brings in some cold hard cash. If you don’t mind, I’d appreciate it if you could go down to the town library a few days a week and click on those advertisements. It’s better if you make your way from one computer to the next and then go through the clicking cycle each time. You are encouraged to ask your own friends to click on the ads, too.  In fact, you should demand it of them. They’re your friends. They owe you one, right? It’s great entertainment for all ages, I assure you.

I should mention a thing or two about some “regulars” at the site. First of all, Hopscotch is a pain in the ass. All he does is complain, complain, complain about everything I have written. It will be a small victory if he ignores you during your time as Authorized Guest Blogger. I’ve tried many times to put him into the Spam filter yet he always finds a way to crawl out. I’m starting to think that Hopscotch is my brother-in-law but I can’t prove it. Simone likes to leave comments that have no relevance to the post. I think she just likes to see herself write. I ignore her and I suggest you do the same. Whatever you do, do not engage Rascal in a conversation. He’ll suck the fun right out of your life. If you feel the urge, bring him to your own blog and dance with him there. Wait. I take that back. I don’t even want you thinking about your blog while you are my Authorized Guest Blogger.

Finally, please be sure that you’re monitoring the blog at least twice every hour. It’s OK to set up an alarm clock for the night. Even better, bring out your sleeping bag and set up shop for the next month in front of your monitor. I am sure that five weeks will fly by. I know it will for me. I can already feel the sand in my toes. Being a blogger has many benefits, including the use of Authorized Guest Bloggers like you. I wouldn’t be able to enjoy, or afford, my tropical vacation without you.

Thank you and have fun!



Other Stuff: Speaking of Comic Strips

(Note from Kevin: I’m taking a break from writing about teaching in order to do some different kinds of writing, with an aim towards humor. Here, I try out the monologue technique with the silent partner. And today, you can listen as I podcast a reading of the piece.)

http://www.arcamax.com/images/pub/amuse/comics/mothergooseandgrimm_t.jpg Listen to the podcast.
Hey, come on in. Ignore those comics. Just move them off the couch. The floor is fine. What? They’re my kids’. Really. Maybe not THAT comic. But the others, for sure. Yeah, true, I was reading this Mother Goose and Grimm when you walked in. It was close enough to grab and you were running late, remember. But really, they’re my kids’ comics.

That’s true. I do turn to the comic page first in the newspaper. You remember that, eh? It is a bit odd for a former journalist who spent so many years as a political junkie. You would think that the front page would be the first thing I would read. What’s that? You read the sports first? So, there you go. I’m not the only one who jumps to what interests them.

Why comics? Why not? Don’t give me that look. I know you hate it when I answer a question with a question. Hmmm. Why comics? I suppose … there is something interesting about the art. No, that would not explain Dilbert. It’s the writing. But … not always. Maybe you’re right. Maybe it has to do with remembering Sunday mornings as a kid. I did get up early. You, too? Before the rest of the family? Yeah. Particularly when I had my newspaper route. I’d come home from that, my hands all grimy with newsprint, and after I’d wash up, I’d sprawl out on the ground, on my belly usually, with the Sunday comics like a canvas before me and a bowl of sugary something at my side. Too bad they don’t give paper routes to kids anymore.

What? My kids do read the comics. Yours don’t? That’s odd. Sorry. I should have said, that seems odd to me. I’m not being judgmental. Honest. So, what do they read? What do you mean, nothing? You can’t be serious. Books? Magazines? Nothing? Here, take this home. If Calvin and Hobbes doesn’t elicit a chuckle out of them, then nothing will.

What’s that? Ha. Yeah. That is a funny one, isn’t it? That Calvin is always up to something. Here, let me show you my favorite comic in this. Let’s see .. ahh, here it is. I knew you’d like it. Calvin reminds me of you. Just a bit. In a good way. Maybe that’s what I like about comics. They peer a bit into who we are, and all in just a few frames. No, don’t worry about it. The kids won’t miss that book. I’ve got another stack in our bedroom upstairs they can read. Let me know how it goes, will you? I’d hate to think that your kids are just sitting around, not reading anything. Not when there are plenty of great comics around. See ya.

Peace (in the silence),


Other Stuff: Radio Tug of War

(Note from Kevin: I am taking a break from writing about learning (well, sort of). Instead, I am trying out a few pieces that use humor and life outside of the classroom. Thanks for reading.)


I remind him that we used to enjoy Raffi together. He’d be in his car seat, all strapped in with a juice box or animal crackers. Raffi would start up, singing about Beluga whales and bananaphones and all that, and we would hum and sing along with Raffi. It was a joyful noise, if you don’t mind me saying.

But he doesn’t remember Raffi. Or he is trying to forget Raffi. At the very least, he won’t acknowledge the Raffi years. Whatever the case, I don’t even have the keys in the ignition of the van when I notice his index finger is already at the “eject” button of the tape his five-year-old brother is listening to (it might be the same Raffi tape — some things never change), ready to take control of the music as soon as the power light goes on. He’s a 12 year old on a mission to DJ the van ride, in style.

I pause and he stares. It’s like a scene from a movie right now, or perhaps some fine work of art capturing the “modern surburban family,” with my hand holding the keys frozen in mid-air and his finger pointing towards the stereo on the dashboard. I relent and concede the power temporarily to him. The tape is ejected. Soon, Lady Gaga is droning on with her Middle East-inspired chanting.

It didn’t used to be like this. I think the musical tug of war began when we finally let him sit in the front seat of the van. The proximity to the stereo, coupled with a gift of an iPod and periodic access to iTunes (damn you, Steve Jobs!), suddenly added a musical sensibility to our 12 year old that we didn’t really know even existed. The radio jockeying began in a way that I couldn’t argue against. We’d listen to the local rock and pop station that I always listened to, anyway. It just made him feel in control when we let him turn the radio on.

I barely registered a change in all of this when I noticed one day that we were now listening to another station more frequently. My rock was gone. This new station featured Top 40 (is there such a thing anymore?) hits of the day. It wasn’t so bad. They still played Green Day, Sheryl Crow and others that I could enjoy and it gave me some pleasure to know I was hip enough to drop names like Pink and Black-Eyed Peas and know what I was talking about. My own ears, taught to love music by the likes of Led Zeppelin and AC/DC, cringed at the electronic drums and over-produced songs (is auto-tune used in just every song or what?), but I could live with it.

One day, I noticed that we were onto yet another radio station. This third selection seemed a bit edgier in themes and yet, less musically sophisticated. Lyrics streamed in about parties late in the night, about leaving your boy/girlfriends, and hints of other things that might make me blush to write about. I became protective of my son’s ears (not to mention his younger brothers). I also noticed that my issues of Rolling Stone magazine began to disappear on the day they arrived. He pirates them up to his room, reading profiles of the artists in pop culture. This  made me look a bit closer at the magazine, which often features provocative covers. Some sort of shift had happened right beneath my feet. How in the world did that happen?

And so, the tug of war of the radio began. I am now on full alert to the landscape of lyrics, knocking Kesha and Jason Derulo off the speakers. Still, every time I leave the van for a second, or whenever there is a commercial break on another station, there we are, right back in the mix of electronic drums and bass and dancing a bit too close. I switch it back , or turn it off, and deflect the “look” by reminding him whose van it really is. Heck, kid, I sat in the front seat long before you were even born, man! I realize that in engaging this radio control, I am now the “old man, “ even if I do have an electric guitar at home and play(ed) in a rock band for  the years. My cool quotient is dropping (if it was ever even high to begin with).

I know we are beyond the days of Raffi, but I’d still like to offer some protection from the encroaching world. I know it is fruitless to think I can filter out music from his life while still hoping that he finds his own soundtrack to his youth, just as I did. Part of loving music is loving music that your parents don’t like.

Now, where is that recent Rolling Stone anyway?

Peace (in the soundscape),

Other Stuff: At the Movies

(Note from Kevin: this another diversion of writing for me this week as I move away for a bit from education and slip into other important stuff: like watching movies, or watching the crap that comes before the movies. I hope the sarcasm drips into your RSS . I added an audio of the essay, too.)


Listen to the podcast

I was so blissfully happy the other day to have found myself in a cold movie theater, just in time to watch the commercials. Back in the day as kids, we would scramble to the 99 cent movies early so that we could not only glimpse coming previews but also the periodic “short” movies that only Pixar seems to create these days. In place of those little bits of entertainment, we are urged to relax in our comfortable chairs, dark and cold on a hot summer day, and soak in product endorsements. You would think that a seven dollar ticket would buy you just the movie! But no. We get some bonus minutes, too. They are just too kind, those corporations with my own interests at heart.

I laughed with everyone else as some hip-hop hamsters danced and rapped about “this” and “that.” I knew it was a car they were selling me and I was buying, except the popcorn, candy and water sucked the green out of my wallet. Instead, I swayed my head to the song and relished the day when small furry animals might be able to make music along with the rest of them. It never occurred to me until later that there might have been people in those costumes. Now that’s what I call entertainment.

The Coca-cola commercial was just as interesting.  Some dude was calling on scientists to figure out the time travel that we have always been promised in our books and movies. Darn right, I wanted to shout at the screen. What good is a man in space? I want to see the future. This fellow wanted to travel back in time to woo his girlfriend. All I wanted was a cold drink of sugary soda that I seemed to have forgotten at the counter. Is that so bad?

Down the hallways, the movie “The Last Airbender” was underway, but wouldn’t you know it? We got ourselves an inside look at the video games that come with the movie. On a screen as large as the one in front of us, and with the sound cranked up, it was as if I were in the game itself. I almost left the theater right then and there to rush out to the nearby game store to buy the Wii edition. I didn’t, but you know, I wanted to.

As the commercials ended, I almost got up to leave, thinking I had just gotten my money’s worth and completely forgetting that I was there to see a movie. I sat back down, sitting through eight previews, and then could not help noticing some very helpful product placements in the movie itself. Man, when they talk about synergy of media, this is what they mean, right? I was so thankful to be part of that experience. There’s nothing like a hot summer day to get bombarded with advertisements. And to pay for it, too? That was just icing on the cake.

Peace (in the dark),

Other Stuff: Breakfast Cereal Bags

(Note from Kevin: It’s summer. Time for me to take a break from writing about learning and technology and all of that. I am going to try to write some short humor columns about other things over the next few days. One of them might evolve later into something to submit to our local newspaper. Or not. I’m going to call this series “Other Stuff” because I am feeling very wordy creative right now. Honest. Today’s piece is inspired by my realization that they just don’t make cereal bags like they used to. )
kevin flakes

Here’s what I imagine: in some factory somewhere, as loads of Captain Crunch or Rice Krispees or whatever cereal you like is being pumped into boxes by some machine, some worker is using a massive glue stick to close up the plastic bag that is dropped into the box by another worker farther down the line. I know this is some false idea of the breakfast cereal factory, probably inspired by some distant memory of Laverne and Shirley or I Love Lucy. The reality is more likely robots doing the work.

Still …

The glue stick — the one being held by that worker — is super powerful. In fact, the glue stick is probably something designed by NASA for plugging up holes in the International Space Station and somehow, the owner of this factory knew the director of NASA’s glue stick center (maybe they went to kindergarten or something and, ahem, bonded over glue).  It’s so strong that maybe BP should give them a call and mention a little hole that needs plugging up. Anyway, the glue gets rubbed on by the worker at the cereal factory, the bag gets closed, the bag gets dropped into the box, and then the entire thing is delivered to the store where I go out and buy it and bring it home.

That’s the chain of events. So far.

Oh. I forgot something. Something important. The plastic for the plastic bag. Unlike the glue, which is clearly an incredibly adhesive, the plastic bag that holds all of those particles of cereal is made of such poor quality that I imagine it being concocted by some strange scientists who are trying to outdo each other on who can make the weakest bag possible. They have daily “bag tearing competitions” in which they determine which bag design rips the quickest and with the biggest tear. That design is awarded some trophy. Maybe the trophy has an emblem of Captain Crunch on it or something. I’m really not sure.

So, here I am, the mild-mannered consumer at home the next morning (or maybe it’s dinner, if I am a bachelor with no one to smirk at me for having a bowl of cereal for the main meal of the day), with my box of cereal that features the combination of the most powerful glue in the world coupled with the weakest plastic pouch in the world.

Listen: I remember being a kid, and perfecting the opening of my morning cereal. I could, in fact, do it all in one seamless tug, right along the seam, so that the top of the bag opened just the right amount. Sort of like a little mouth. When I tipped the box, the mouth would open up and out would pour my breakfast.

Not anymore.

Now, when I try my patented rip method, the entire bag splits open from the sides, cereal pouring out like the Mississippi in spring. The bottom of the cardboard box becomes now filled with cereal. I want to leave the cereal pieces in there, probably out of laziness if I am being truthful, but if I do, then I will have to contend with the possibilities of either stale cereal at some later date or an invasion of ants into the cupboard. Or maybe a scolding from my wife. Take your pick. So of course I pull the plastic bag out of the box, and dump the spare cereal from the box into my bowl. The rip in the plastic bag, of course, takes on a life of its own, moving like the vertical fault line of an earthquake as it gets bigger and deeper. The bag completely splits, the cereal spills and the dog is at my feet, munching away at the debris.

Somewhere, a raving scientist is shaking his fist in celebration. But not at my house. In my house, I am left holding the bag. Literally.

Peace (in the  crunch),


Testing with Errors

It’s almost a bit too easy to take a shot at this, but I saw this short news piece in our paper this morning in which the superintendent of the largest school district in 0ur area admitted that a standardized test given to high school students was riddled with grammatical and spelling errors. (See AP story)

I’m resisting the urge to create a comic about it. Resisting ….

What I wonder is how many students caught the errors  and then wondered if the errors were part of the test? Maybe one error might make you think, that was a mistake. But 100 errors? That becomes like some Jedi mind trick, don’t you think? And who are the “district proofreaders” and what were they doing when they should have been reading the test?

Sometimes, in novels, I stumble across an error and it always makes me stop and wonder about the editorial process, and the layers of proofreading that go on (we went through it with our Teaching the New Writing collection) and still, that one erroneous werd finds its way in there like a worm in the ear.

Peace (in the proof),

PS — Yes, werd was intentional. I hope you caught it. If so, give the Springfield schools a call. They may be searching for some folks.

Even though …

my wife is a Boston Red Sox fan, I still love her (we have a bit of a Yankees-Red Sox rivalry here in our house, in case that is not obvious.) I forgive her because she is such a wonderful mother and friend and wife. Plus, it helps that the Yankees are kicking some Red Sox butt this year.

Peace (in the comic world),


Making fun to make a Point

Check out this video satire of the budget cuts (thanks, Elyse). “That’s why so many of us end up in prison,” one girl says sadly to her friend, as Megan Fox tries to figure out where the teacher has gone (laid off) and why the room is packed with kids. While the video is about California’s budget woes, adjust the lens a bit for any of our states.

Peace (in the dark humor),