Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Dating LA

Dating in LA is notoriously difficult. People who move here often go for years finding no one, then move away only to discover a "soul mate" and marry six months later.

It's a paradox. How can a city known for its youth and beauty, a city crammed full of party loving singles, a city like LA, be so difficult for finding love?

The problem is the nature of LA herself.

LA is not a person, but a goddess. She is the daughter of Apollo and Lilith, forever chic, eternally young, phone glued to her ear as she veers down the freeway in an SUV for one. Like all gods, she goes by many names: Hollywood and Tinseltown, she is the American Idol.

She's attractive, even beautiful, the essence of desire; to have LA laughing on your arm is to have the shadow of every aspiration fulfilled. Her silhouette covers the city in sequined glamour. People who look in the mirror do not want to see themselves - they want to see her gazing back at them with longing.

She's elusive, this woman. Her whims are fickle. She wants everything but promises nothing. Countless millions come to LA seeking her, yearning for her approval to kiss their ears or to smolder in her radiant gaze. She is mesmerizing, Narcissus reborn; those who seek her unable to tear themselves away, hoping, praying, even begging for the briefest hint of her acknowledgement.

She is terrifying, this goddess. Those lucky few who bask in her glory often get too close to her divine flames, burning up, enraptured by all that she offers. Those who lose her interest are the wash outs; has-beens who frequently debase themselves on game shows and reality TV in acts of public self-flagellation, all in the vain hope of regaining her approval.

Within six months most who come to LA realize she doesn't exist, no more real then a mirage, no more edible than a bowl of Renoir fruit.

Reach out to touch her and your hands won't come away with an apple but a bruised canvas, coated with oil and paint.

She is untouchable, but her captivating splendor remains.

It is because of this goddess, this siren of desire, that dating is impossible in LA. No one wants to date who they are with - they want her. She is the collective consciousness of the modern world's dreams, a broadcast perversion of mass marketed fantasy. LA is lust and passion, wealth and romance, ecstasy and bliss. No mere mortal can match up to the promise of LA; no one person can fulfill all the dreams and endless possibilities with which she provides.

It is only after becoming numb in the land of collagen enhanced bodies that realization dawns - not even LA can satiate all that she promises. No matter how much you are with her, LA leaves you hungry and desperate for more. More fame, more success, more praise, more self-adoration.

LA doesn't bequeath dreams, LA bestows hallucination.

Natives born in her womb are impervious to fever induced charms. Birthed with immune systems incapable of substance, LA natives accept her artificiality with a zen like Buddhism that mystifies outsiders. For the natives do not date, they "hook-up." For them, it is enough to have a look and the appearance of a relationship.

For true initiates of Hollywood the image is the person, what you look like is who you are. They accept that when you are in a relationship, you aren't just a boyfriend or a girlfriend, you're an accessory.

In most places, it's what you bring to the table. In LA, it's not what you bring, it's who you bring to the table with you. In LA, an image isn't skin deep because there is nothing beneath the skin.

Dating in LA isn't about love or commitment. It's about creating an image, all in an attempt to be closer, to be closer to her.

It's why as a broke writer I did better dating than an employed teacher - a writer has the potential of launching a career, catapulting an individual into her hands.

A teacher? A teacher might be able to add you to their PPO.

It's why people in LA can have one night stands, but are incapable of sustaining a relationship. In a relationship, your image might not be compatible with theirs.

People often say to me, "Leiken, you are too picky. You won't bend, you won't compromise. You expect too much. You don't put yourself out there enough and you get discouraged too easily. You won't change your look."

To date in LA you have to find your niche, you need to have a look.

Because when you are dating in LA, you are dating two women. The girl you are with, and LA. One I can handle, the other can never be satisfied.

That's LA.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010


"We need to stop paying lip service to public education, and start holding communities, administrators, teachers, parents and students accountable. We will prepare the next generation for success in college and the workforce, ensuring that American children lead the world once again in creativity and achievement." - Barack Obama

7:45 AM

Gerado enters 11th grade English late. Smirking with surliness, he tosses down his backpack with practiced nonchalance before whipping out a nub of a pencil. An instant later he starts talking.

"Gerado," the teacher asks, "could you please stop talking?"

"Why don't you stop talking?" he snaps.

"Gerado, please don't give me attitude."

"You're the one giving me attitude." he snarls, cursing her under his breath.

"Gerado, please step outside."

"This is bullshit!" he cries out, leaving in a huff. The teacher gives him a minute to cool off, but when she exits to check on him, he's gone.

"Five years ago, we rose above partisan differences to pass the No Child Left Behind Act--preserving local control, raising standards in public schools, & holding those schools accountable for results. And because we acted, students are performing better in reading and math, and minority students are closing the achievement gap." - George W. Bush

8:10 AM

I'm outside, looking for Gerado, when I stumble across a student wandering the courtyard. He's a round faced kid with a wisp of a goatee, wearing pants cut off at the knees. I don't know him by name, but I recognize him from my home room class.

"Why aren't you in class?" I ask perfunctorily.

"I'm feeling sick, Mister." he replies. "My stomach hurts."

"Why aren't you at the nurse?"

"I was, but sometimes I just come out here and walk around."

"Who is your first period teacher?" I ask.

"I don't know."

"It's March, how can you not know?"

The kid shrugs. "I've been sick a lot."

I escort him back to the nurse.

"We have made education a high priority, focusing on standards, accountability and choice in public schools, and on making a college education available to every American." - Bill Clinton

9:15 AM

During 2nd period I co-teach world history. The teacher asks her students to get out their books to take notes.

There are about 30 kids in the class. Only twenty take out their books.

I make the rounds, asking kids why they didn't bring their books.

"I left it at home."
"I didn't know we'd need it today."
"My locker is jammed, so I can't get it."

I stop before one of my students. He's bright, but lackadaisical. "Why didn't you bring your book?"

"I don't know, I left it at home."

"Why don't you leave the books in your locker?"

"I forgot the combination, so when I asked for a new one they wanted to charge me a dollar, and that's like a rip off."

My irritation is masked behind a facade of unflappable indifference. "Why not carry them?"

"Carry them? Those books are heavy!"

"We're on a block system. You only have two academic classes."

"C'mon, mister! Carry books? That would make me look like a nerd!"

"We will insist on high standards and accountability because we believe that every school should teach and every child can learn." - H.W. Bush

11:00 AM

Special Ed has been called out for a meeting with our administrators. They want to know why more of our students haven't been "mainstreamed" into General Ed, and why more Special Ed students aren't graduating. We promise to do a better job tracking students and keep tabs on their present levels of performance.

Speaking of performance, only one in five of the General Ed students at our school tests at advanced or proficient.

No one mentions that Special Ed fits right in with the other 80% of the school who test from somewhere below grade level to beneath the Earth's crust.

That would be impolite.

No one mentions that only 55% of our student population graduates high school, or the droves of them that drop out of community college after one semester.

That would be rude.

Clearly what we need to do is let parents decide where to send their children to school, break up the teacher's unions, allow for more state mandated testing, send more money for books and technology, put teachers through a more rigorous training process, allow charter's to take over, encourage more diversity, make students wear uniforms, reinstate school prayer, and make sure parents are fully involved in their children's education.

I could tell you that none of those are going to work, but I won't.

Because that would be rude.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Subbing AP

AP is short for Advanced Placement, for students who not only plan on attending college but want to get a head start - high school AP courses are often worth college credit.

AP is for the organized, the studious, the diligent; AP is synonymous with the staight A student, the self motivated go getter, the "teacher's pet". There aren't many AP students in the hood.

Much like the tiger and the bald eagle, AP students are considered something of an endangered species.

In my world, the special ed world, AP students are a rumor, a myth; they walk by me every day but exist in a different universe.

I once stumbled into an AP student in the hallway and thought I had stepped on a dodo bird. Kids who do their homework and want to go to college? You might as well tell me you were teaching leprechauns and unicorns.

So on Monday when I'm asked to sub for an AP class, I'm more than a little surprised. Subbing is an onerous chore, as soon as students spot a sub they see a mark and know they have a golden opportunity to misbehave.

If you hope to be an effective sub, your personality defaults to tyrant.

As the AP class files in, they are both quiet and subdued. There are no cat calls, students attempting to switch seats, whipping out cell phones, or any one of a hundred other teenage shennagians subs typically have to deal with. It's a small class, but to me they seem the kids seem more like scholastic monks than students.

The bell rings. They are all seated, attentive. I pull out a typed lesson plan. "Today ladies and gentleman, the teacher has asked that you finish your story questions for The Importance of Being Earnest. She would also like to remind you that you need to finish Pride and Prejudice by the end of the week and that your essays are do tommorrow."

I move to write the days agenda on the wall, but stop myself. The kids all have their notepads out, busy writing everything I say down.

What the hell?

"Is that all Mr. Leiken?" one of the students asks.

I blink. "Did I mention my name?"

The girl points to the board. "You have it written up there. Plus, we've heard of you."

"Good or bad?"

"Do you remember Emily? She took a class with you and Duran and said the two of you should be teaching AP history."

"Your that guy that dresses as a pirate."

"And you ran the comedy club."

"Don't you do those crazy announcements?"

I nod. "Yes, yes, I do those crazy announcements. You all know about Oscar Wilde on his death bed?"

The students shake their heads, rapt.

"Oscar Wilde was dying in a cheap hotel in Paris, and he couldn't stand the drapes. So he told his friends, Either those drapes go, or I go. Then he died."

The class laughs.

I ask the students take out their books and start working, fully expecting to repeat myself.

I don't have to repeat myself. The students pull out their binders and start quietly working, opening up their books as they write down their answers. I stand at the front of the room for a few minutes, dumbfounded, fully expecting someone to ask for help or to have a question.

No one does. For the first time ever, I don't have to do anything.

I go to the back of the room to finish up an assignment. The students talk quietly among themselves, but after about twenty minutes I can see a few of them aren't on task.

"Excuse me," I ask in a normal tone of voice, "I'd just like to remind all of you that the questions are due at the end of class."

The students put their heads down and get back to work.

God damn it. Why won't they do something? What is wrong with these kids? I see a couple of them reading Pride and Prejudice, but when they get stuck, they pull out dictionaries to look up words.

Kids thinking for themselves? Should I call someone? Why aren't they asking me for help?

I've been teaching the bottom of the barrel for so long I can't even remember what a "normal" class looks like.

Special Ed has ruined me.