Sunday, December 27, 2009

Leiken's Top 10

Here's my top 10 films of 2009. Let the arguing begin.

10. The Hangover
9. Up
8. Taken
7. I Love You, Man
6. Inglourious Basterds
5. Star Trek
4. Watchmen
3. Hurt Locker
2. 500 Days of Summer
1. Up in the Air

Five Films You Might Have Missed but should check out.

1. The Tournament (30 assassins have 24 hours to kill each other to win 10 million! Kelly Hu, Ving Rhames, and the champion of Free Style Running...what's not to love?)

2. Black Dynamite (He doesn't have a catch phrase, but he's 100% black, and he's taking down the man!)

3.) Tyson (True he likes to bite people's ears off, but this is a fascinating documentary.)

4.) Zombieland (I admittedly have a weakness for Zombie films, but this one is pretty damn funny.)

5.) Coraline (Written by Neil Gaiman, this is a children's story but like all good stories is by turns both funny and scary.)

The three worst films (I've seen) of 2009.

1.) Max Payne (Oh the pain, the pain.)
2.) GI Joe (I got this for free online, I lasted 15 minutes.)
3.) Transformers 2 (I got this one for free online, I lasted 10 minutes.)

There are many more bad films, Confessions of a Shopaholic, Whiteout, All About Steve: Skipped them. Benefit of getting old.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Happy Hanukkah!

There is a war on Christmas.

According to Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, Fox News, the Christian Coalition and Stephen Colbert, "someone or something" wants to take out both Santa and Jesus. It's subtle, this war on Christmas, but with the proper education and awareness you can report this cultural terrorism to the proper authorities.

Bill O'Reilly on Fox News.

Whenever someone wishes you a "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas" - it's a War on Christmas.

When a store will display stars and cresents, menorahs, and holiday wreaths but not nativity scenes - it's a War on Christmas.

When stores like Target, Wal-Mart, and Sears don't use the word "Christmas" in their holiday advertising - it's a War on Christmas.

None of which matters because technically I'm Jewish.

I use the word technical because while half my family is Jewish, the other half is Greek Orthodox, so I'm something of a religious mutt. (The polite word for this is Unitarian.) However, as a smart, funny, well educated white guy who can't play sports - I am Jewish.

My Jew card is a little torn, its edges are frayed, the ink is badly faded. It has its uses though, because whenever white men get blamed for all the worlds problems....

Hey, sorry man. I'm Jewish.

I'm on third and La Cienega, just south of the Beverly Center when I spot traffic backed up past San Vicente, which is unusual because its almost eight 'o clock. The police have blocked the intersection for a caravan of SUV's and Hummers, roofs covered in four foot tall seven branched electric menorah's. One in four of the SUV's is hooked up to giant speakers - a Kabbalah melody reverberates down the street.

A driver stuck in traffic sticks his head out his window. "What the hell is going on!" he screams.

A recorded message blares out from the speakers:

"From the Jewish community, in the spirit of religious tolerance and diversity,
here is wishing you and yours a Happy Chanukah!"

An orthodox Jew in black hat and coat takes photographs from the sidewalk while bearded Jewish men run along side the menorah laden caravan, passing out dreidels as they wave their hands at passerby.

"Happy Chanukah!" they cry, bags full of dreidels clinking.

"Buddy, we got to get to work!"
"Could you get the hell out of the way?"
"Jesus Christ!"

The menorah caravan extends north down La Cienega as far as the eye can see. The Jews should be passing out Snickers, because clearly, no one is going anywhere for a while.

The Hanukah holiday music continues, followed by another loud recorded message.

"From the Jewish Community, in the spirit of religious tolerance diversity, here is wishing you and yours a Happy Chanukah!"

One driver starts honking his horn, and then like a virus, it spreads. A dozen cars start honking their horns. Fortunately the Hanukah music is louder.

A Jewish man rushes past me. "Dreidel?"

I hold up a hand. "I'm good."

The caravan continues. I soon lose count of the number of Menorah laden vehicles - fifty, sixty, a hundred? Eventually the horns quiet down. People now just sit in their cars, simmering.

Americans as a rule are tolerant of anything, unless it blocks traffic.

Then it doesn't matter if your Mother Teresa, Gandhi, the Pope, or even got to get out of the way.

People got to get to work.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Stand Up Biology

Third block biology is a bitch.

The class has improved slightly from the first two weeks, when the freshman capered about like wild spider monkeys as they devoured their sole source of nutrients, small orange bags of red hot chili nachos. At first they dropped the refuse into the two foot deep lab sinks, treating the wash basins like trash pits.

Now they just stuff waste in the cabinets beneath the counters. I found close to sixty empty nacho bags in one of the back cabinets, complete with candy wrappers, plastic gatorade bottles, and miscellaneous junk food trash worthy of Homer Simpson.

I've never had to follow so many students outside of class wearing my Parrot costume, usually it's an effective deterrent. Embarrass one kid, and the rest fall in line out of fear of the same happening to them.

By the seventh or eighth victim the class finally catches on that I would follow each and every one of them to their next class, squawking and chirping while flapping my wings, calling out their name at the top of my lungs in a squeaky parrot voice.

I've never had to follow the same kid twice.

Even then we had to call in the Dean and threaten to expel five of them.

And 90% of them had to fail the first half of the course before it dawned on them that they would have to repeat the class again.

So now its better, if by better they (mostly) remain in their seats and they (mostly) do their work, even if that means copying from a friend.

I'll take it. When I enter the class now there is a smattering of catcalls, mostly "LEIKEN" followed by two minutes of me making the rounds. Every boy, and some of the girls, want me to acknowledge them with the "ghetto" handshake of pounding hands.

"Mr. Leiken, I've got an important question! Who would win? Iron Man or the Hulk!"

"The Hulk." This is part of our tradition. I've got four boys who are obsessed with super hero match ups. So long as they do their work, I placate them.

Plus I really like talking about superheroes. If John, Steven, Vinnie, or even my roommate Christopher were around I'd be way out of my league, but the kids don't read comics. They only know movies, so among them I'm like a trivia genius.

"Okay, who would win, Superman or the Hulk?"

I grimace. This is going to take a while. "I told you before, Superman. He can fly, and they had a special Marvel vs DC crossover where the two fought and Superman won."

"Okay, who would win, Batman or Superman?"

"Batman." Four boys immediately begin protesting. How the hell can Batman beat Superman? I cut them off. "Batman cheats. He would trick Superman, and failing that use a kryptonite Baterang."

"Okay, who would win? Iron Man or Batman?"

I pause. That is a good question. "I'll tell you.... after you finish this worksheet."

The boys let out a collective awwww.

I make the rounds around the room, talking with students in clumps of twos or threes. Sometimes we can discuss biology, sometimes we go off topic. What can I do? I'm lucky to get them to pay attention for even a few minutes.

"Mister Leiken, Mister Leiken!" one of the girl's calls out. "I've been calling your name and you've been like ignoring me for the past five minutes!"

"There is one of me and forty of you. What is it?"

She thrusts the worksheet out in front of her. "I don't understand it!"

I put it down in front of her and have her read the first paragraph. It's about the water cycle. After we read it I ask her the first question. She answers it.

"Did you even read it?" I ask her.


"Why not?"

She actually looks embarrassed.

"Hey, Mr. Leiken! Yo Momma so fat when she gets on a scale, it says to be continued!"

I look at the clock, five minutes until the end of class. I should yell at him, I should give him a stern lecture, I should do a lot of things.

But I can't let that pass. My mother's honor must be satisfied.

"Oh yeah," I snap back, "Yo Momma so ugly that when they put a bag over her head, and she looks in a mirror, it still breaks."

The class cracks up and lets out a giant oooooohhh!

Unlike the kids, I've got fresh material. I think of yo momma jokes on the way home.

Don't ever mess with a writer.

"Yo momma so big," I continue, "they had to put in a double wide garage just to let her in the house!"

The class is laughing hysterically. Another, another, they cry! I give the kid a chance to make a come back. If you don't use original material the kids will call you on it. You can't repeat an old yo momma joke, that earns you no respect.

Time to move in for the kill. "Yo momma is so fat, when she steps on a dollar bill, you get back change, minus fifty cents!"

My heckler is silent. A chorus of boys in the back begins to chant Cu-ler-o! Cu-ler-o! This basically means "girly man," or "pussy".

Who knew that my years of stand up would someday come in useful?

Saturday, December 5, 2009

The Bully

There are no more bullies, only the emotionally disturbed, or ED.

ED is short hand for any and all kinds of student misbehavior: attention deficit disorder (ADD), social maladjustment, hyperactivity disorder, childishness and immaturity. In the old days when you acted like a jerk you were an asshole.

In 2009 the LAUSD school system has no classification for asshole. Today, any and all misbehavior is called ED.

If you think that ED is just another attempt by our society to rationalize bad behavior as a medical symptom rather then force people to admit fault - you are probably not a latte liberal.

Last week, ED John was transferred into my room. I sit down with ED John and we have a long talk about why he is having trouble in his other classes. He promises not to pick on any of the other kids, and we work out a system where if he is feeling irritated with another student, he should ask to leave the room.

When I announce to my class we are getting a new student, they perk up. When I tell them its ED John, there is a collective groan.

Please, mister? Does ED John have to be in here? He's terrible! Nobody likes him! He's mean to everyone, boys, girls. He even picks on the retarded kids. Trust me, you don't want him in your room mister. He's a bad person.

I quiet them with an ugly glare. "I don't want anyone in herItalice to pick on ED John. Leave him alone, if anyone has a problem with him, bring it to me first."

The students shake their heads. "You'll see, mister. You'll see."

I speak with his other teachers. They can barely stand him.

Oh boy.

The first two days, everything is smooth. ED John doesn't want to do much work, but he cooperates and keeps to himself. He prods the water a little bit, testing me for weakness, but I remain firm and everything appears to be cool.

On Monday I come into school in a foul mood, worried about my sister. After a few minutes, I apologize to the class explaining why I'm being overly strict. They listen with rapt attention, both fascinated and empathetic about my sister's breast cancer.

I glance over and spot ED John, fingers flashing over his PSP.

"John," I ask, "what am I talking about?"

John shrugs.

Emotionally, I'm somewhere between irritated and wanting to pulverize his face. Yet the laws in this country would insist I'd be the one to go to jail!

Instead I ask for his PSP. ED John refuses. I ask a second time. Little hand held electronic devices are a strict no-no at South East. John refuses again. I give him a minute to think about it.

John still refuses. I warn him that now I'm going to have to call the Dean and have the PSP forcibly removed. John looks up from his PSP, startled. "Okay, okay, okay! What about I give it to you and you give it back to me at the end of class."

"We're past that point, kid. Hand it over to me, or the Dean."

"Then I'll wait for the Dean."

The Dean comes and escorts ED John out of class. A few minutes later a crestfallen ED John enters, apologizing and asking if he can remain for the rest of class.

I wave to his seat.

The rest of the period passes without further event, until about a minute before the bell, when ED John looks up.

"Y'know Brian," he smirks, "I'm not sure you did such a good job teaching today."

This kid is good. If he had called me by my first name after class, I could have ignored it or let it go with a warning, but because he did it in class, he's made calling me by my first name an issue.

"Sit down!" I bark. "You can stay two minutes after the bell. I want you to tell me why it's not appropriate to call me by my first name."

ED John apologizes, says he's sorry, promises not to do it again. It rings with the authenticity of a practiced salesman who has made the same pitch to a thousand customers.

I let him go, no need to make a bigger deal out of it. ED John turns as he exits. "See ya, Brian!"

I follow him. ED John walks to his next class. I stare at him, imagining his head exploding into a thousand gory bits. I say nothing, I don't smile, laugh, smirk, growl, grimace. My face is a mask. After a minute ED John starts to get nervous.

"Stop staring at me!" I ignore him. "Stop it! You know that you are just looking stupid." After another minute he looks up. "When are you going to stop!"

"When you apologize for what you did."

Again ED John apologizes, all with the same practiced inauthentic sincerity. I don't care, I've made my point. As I go to leave he calls me by first name again. "See you tomorrow, Brian."

I turn around and stare. This time it goes a whole three minutes before he panics and leaves the room. I follow him, he wanders down the hallway and then roams outside. When he goes into a jog, I keep pace. I say nothing, I give nothing. Just a hard stare.

"Leave me alone, leave me alone!" he screams. "Brian, Brian, Brian!"

"Whenever you call me by my first name, I'll stare at you for one minute."

"Aggggh!" ED John sits down at a table and I look at him. He tries to match my gaze but he can't, looking at the ground, seeking some kind of escape. "Can't you just stop?"

"I sure can."
ED John looks up, hopeful.
"In another three minutes and eleven seconds."

ED John gets up again, I follow him. We're now well into 2nd period, but Duran's kids can wait.
"If you don't leave me alone, I'm going to hit you!" he snarls. "I'm going to knock your head off!"

"You know that's verbal assault." I reply, calm. "I can have you suspended, maybe even arrested for that."

"Okay, okay, okay. I'm sorry. Please, just stop staring."

I escort him back to class. This time as I leave the room, he's quiet.

I ask ED John's other teachers if he has threatened them. They all answer yes.

I decide to report the incident with the school police.

They tell me they can't do anything. Evidently ED John's threat was conditional assault, because he wasn't going to hit me if I left him alone.

I lean back in my chair, looking at the police officer. He stares back.

If a student brings any drugs to school, even an aspirin, they are immediately suspended because of a zero tolerance drug policy.

If a student says they are going to bring a gun to school, they are immediately taken out of school and given a psychological profile or threat assessment. I once had a student joke about bringing a gun to school and they took him out in handcuffs.

If a student says they are going to commit suicide, they are immediately taken to the school psychologist and closely monitored, frequently being sent to a psych ward.

But if a student threatens a teacher....nothing.

If I threatened a student, I'd be fired. Possibly brought up on charges.

The officer looks embarrassed. The law doesn't protect teachers from students, only students from teachers and other students.

I'm not even angry. After 6 years this is par, a typical response from the school system for atypical behavior. We'll get rid of ED John eventually, but first I need to document all of his misbehavior with daily logs, get written statements from his other teachers, and keep him in my class for a few more weeks until we can hold a "change of placement" meeting.

No matter how bad this recession gets, no one wants my job.