They Got Me On This April Fool’s Day

My kids are very into April Fool’s Day. My oldest can handle things on her own, but my seven-year-old still needs an assist. Last year I helped her out with some tricks on her mom. This year her mom got some payback against me.

I recently bought East of West’s latest volume from Amazon. My wife knows that money is my greatest weakness. Imagine my surprise when I noticed the following …

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Could this be possible? Did a $5 bill somehow slip into the book during production? Did someone at the warehouse pop it in as a “pay it forward” kind of thing?

Nope …

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It’s April. And I’m the fool.

Well done to my wife and child. Well done, indeed.

Are You a Parent Feeling Overwhelmed By Remote Learning?

In the span of twenty-four hours, I have received no less than fifteen emails from my children’s schools, several recorded phone calls, and “suggestions” that they utilize six new e-learning programs. (By the way, my kids are eleven and seven years old.) We are getting messages from principals, superintendents, food services, music teachers, art teachers, homeroom teachers, science teachers, math teachers, social studies teachers, literature teachers, physical education teachers … it’s overwhelming.

By the way–I’m a teacher.

Not to sound pompous, but my wife and I are both veteran educators, have our Master’s degrees, excellent bandwidth, numerous devices that can access the Internet, three levels in our house for privacy, and are absolutely feeling overwhelmed. We are in about as good of a situation as possible, and yet we are feeling overwhelmed.

For example, I had a Zoom meeting this morning at 9:00 a.m. for work. My eleven year old had a voluntary Google Hangouts meeting at 9:30, and my seven year old had a voluntary WebEx meeting at 9:45. That word “voluntary” is kind of tricky. We are overachievers, so nothing is really “voluntary.”

Here’s the thing–I have never doubted for a minute that my children’s schools love them. They have always made our children feel important, special, and loved. Yet, even though I’m sure this was not their collective intention, I felt like they were overburdening us. I can only imagine what it must feel like for disadvantaged families or for families that cannot take time away from work to help their kids navigate six new computer programs all in one morning.

Maybe you feel this way, too?

I want you to remember that, in nearly all cases, state superintendents are mandating that schools do no harm. Illinois’ own State Superintendent of Education, Dr. Carmen I. Ayala, has directed that “Remote Learning Days embrace the principle of  ‘no educational harm to any child … ‘”

So what does this mean? It means that you and I should relax. Our schools want our children to remain engaged. They want them to keep learning. However, they also want them to maintain mental health, and they want that for you, too. Overachievers like us have to make peace with the fact that there may be days when we just can’t help our children get their work done. I promise you, the world will keep turning, and your child will not fail out of school as a result. No matter how much it seems like the teachers are throwing at your child, they want the best for your child and they will ultimately do right by your child. 

Take a breath. Do what it takes to keep your job. Help your students as much as you can, but, most importantly, love them, give them security, talk to them, and let them be kids. If it comes down to choosing between a hug or homework, pick the hug.

We’re all doing the best we can.

Stay strong. Stay healthy. Love your kids. Love yourself. We’re going to get through this, and we’re going to do it together.

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Mute – A Movie Review

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Mute is a sequel of sorts to Moon, which you may remember I enjoyed quite a bit. Ducan Jones wrote and directed both, so it makes sense that they exist in a shared reality.

I have to admit that I did not enjoy Mute nearly as much as Moon. Mute has a run-time of two hours and six minutes, and because it felt every bit of that, I found myself drifting away. The movie is very slow to start and features Alexander Skarsgård in the beginning, which also contributed to my disinterest. In Mute, he plays the protagonist, and a mute hero at that. Skarsgård is a fine actor, particularly when he plays a villain, but he just can’t carry a movie as the star in my opinion.

The plot features a man living in Berlin in the near future. He grew up disconnected from technology and suffered a terrible accident in his  youth, which led to his muteness. He’s now a bartender, and when his troubled girlfriend goes missing, he desperately tries to find her. As he searches, he becomes mired in all kinds of villainy.

Like I said, the first half of this movie is rather slow. However, when Paul Rudd and Justin Theroux begin to dominate the second half of the film, it really picks up. In fact, I thoroughly enjoyed the last thirty minutes. Rudd and Theroux play former military medics, men who seem decent enough, but as the movie progresses, their depravity becomes more and more apparent. I enjoyed the end so much because I’ve never seen Rudd play someone quite as edgy as “Cactus Bill.” He fully committed to his role, and he mesmerized me much like Sam Rockwell did in Moon. In fact, had Mute featured only Rudd and Theroux, it would have been far more captivating (though it obviously would have needed a different title).

That’s really the main issue I have with Mute–it’s almost two different movies in one. One movie features a silent man looking for his missing girlfriend, the other features two men who are very likable but also really quite awful. Eventually their worlds collide, but only because they must.

If you want to see Paul Rudd do something drastically different from his usual fare, I highly recommend Mute–his charisma is no less potent even as a morally ambiguous miscreant. However, if you’re just looking for something to stream on Netflix, I wouldn’t settle on Mute. Pick Moon, instead.

 

Knives Out – A Movie Review

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I saw this quite a while ago but never got around to reviewing it. However, now that I see it is available on demand, and because quite a few of us have a lot of extra time on our hands, I thought I’d share my thoughts.

First of all, if you’re looking for a compelling grown-ups movie, a movie that a couple might enjoy for a “date night,” this is the one for you.

It is funny, mysterious, thrilling, and–best of all–endlessly entertaining.

The general plot revolves around a famous author dying unexpectedly at home while his entire family happens to be visiting. Each member of the family stands to benefit from his death, and each is a suspect. They, consequently, believe that his home health care assistant–Marta Cabrera–could be at fault. Daniel Craig enters the movie as Detective Benoit Blanc, a seemingly inept investigator. He doesn’t even know who hired him, but he means to get to the bottom of this mystifying case.

The acting in this film is a hoot. Daniel Craig utilizes a ridiculous southern drawl that doesn’t take long to become charming. Chris Evans is at his absolute best when he’s playing a cocky jerk. Ana de Armas loses every ounce of glamour as Marta which makes her all the more sympathetic. And those are just the main players! The film also has excellent performances from Michael Shannon, Jamie Lee Curtis, Don Johnson, and Christopher Plummer.

The writer and director, Rian Johnson, reminds us that movies don’t have to have huge special effects, CGI, or muscular people in tights to be great. This movie thrives on an irresistible mystery, quirky details, and superb acting.

Like I said, if you need a movie that will appeal to a variety of grown-ups, you can’t go wrong with Knives Out.

The One True: My Short Story Of the Week

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I had about two hours before my first session, so I decided to grab a coffee. When the cab dropped me off in front of my hotel, I noticed a Starbucks across the street. Sure, I’m in Chicago, and there’s probably some great coffee places pretty close by, but I’m not exactly from the city, and let’s face it, Starbucks is really good.

Some Chicagoans gamely played Frogger with the traffic, but as an out-of-towner, I figured I’d better go the safe route and use the crosswalks. My death would probably disappoint the hundreds of misguided educators planning to listen to me deliver a speech pathetically titled, “Be a Hero To Your Subjects.”

I originated the speech for a School Improvement Day, mostly because the principal asked me, and since I’ve been disappointing her for years, I figured I’d better take the opportunity to shine. I made it as sappy, clichéd, and pandering as possible. Just as I knew would happen, the administrators loved it. Unfortunately, my plan backfired to a degree. Sure, I regained my principal’s faith, but she made a point to share a video she took of me with her peers. (She did so without my consent, by the way.) This resulted in some fairly generous offers to visit other schools and deliver the same speech. Before I knew it, I found myself in great demand across the Midwest. Finally, the most lucrative offer yet arrived—an invitation to speak at the Illinois Educator Association’s conference.

Intended to be a play on words, my speech encouraged teachers to really focus on why their particular subject is super cool. I suggested they find heroes within the field and focus on that person. Try to recreate what those luminaries did—whether it be a scientific feat, a groundbreaking work of art, you know, whatever. By allowing the students to imitate the hero, they become the hero themselves, connect more deeply with the subject of study, and may even feel inspired.

Of course, I’d taught for twenty years, so I believed none of that would actually come to fruition, but my bosses ate it up, as did the more optimistic among my coworkers. People are paying me well to give the same damn talk over and over, so it must be striking a nerve with somebody. I’d feel a bit hypocritical, but my wife and I have always dreamt of finishing our basement, and this whole fantasy is making our dream a reality.

As I approached Starbucks’ door, a … mumbling person sitting on the sidewalk next to the entrance of the coffee shop extended his hand to me.

I recoiled, saying, “Sorry, guy, I don’t have any change.” After I spoke, tiny puffs of vapor hung in the frigid air, refusing to dissipate, much like my shame.

The … person … okay, I’m just going to call him a bum. He was a bum, right? I know that’s not a polite term, but there’s really no other way to describe him. He had long matted hair, a scraggly beard full of crumbs and grime, a long overcoat that looked like it came out of a dumpster, and boots with several toes poking out.

Anyway, the bum kept his hand outstretched as he gazed straight up into my face. His eyes were blue—a blue unlike any you’ve ever seen. This blue evaded the boundaries of time, space, and reality itself. I instantly recognized this man as something … unique.

I took his hand and lifted him to his feet. “Who are you?”

“It is I, the one true King of England.”

I shook my head, saying, “But this is Chicago. We’re not in England.”

“Impossible. All the world is England,” he muttered with eyes squinted.

“Hey,” I said, “look, is there someone I can call for you? Do you need help?”

“Indeed I do,” the man said. “I am in need of knights. You will be my first.”

“Um … I’m not sure I’m really qualified.”

“What is your name?”

My every instinct told me to walk past the man, to go get my coffee, to head back to the hotel, to set up my space in the conference hall, and to leave this crazy situation behind.

Instead, I said, “I’m Lance. Lance Dulac.”

The man’s electric eyes blazed. He whispered, “A sign!”

“I don’t think so,” I said while waving my gloved hands back and forth and shaking my head.

The man took one of my hands. He pulled me in close while proclaiming through rank breath, “It is I—Arthur! Do you not recognize me? All is forgiven, my friend. We have been given a second chance! We will bring peace back to the Kingdom—together!”

I forced Arthur to release me, backed up a step, then said, “Look, this is a little crazy, okay? There is no Camelot. We’re not even in England. This is Chicago, Illinois. You know, in the United States.”

“I know of no such thing,” he said. “Is this the same world it has always been?”

“Well … yeah, I guess,” I stammered.

“Then the Heroic Age begins anew!”

“Um, Arthur, really, can I help you get in touch with family, or …?”

“You look different,” Arthur said to himself while nodding. “I look different as well. You need proof. I would expect no less.”

Arthur pulled open his overcoat to reveal an enormous sword hanging from an old leather belt. I won’t pretend to be an expert at swords, but I’ve never seen anything so beautiful. The craftsmanship of the hilt, the pureness of the blade … it did not strike me as a weapon so much as a … spirit.

Doubts flooded my mind. Rationally speaking, I knew King Arthur grew from myth, that no actual man by that name executed the adventures of such fantasy. Of all the legends surrounding the figure, the magical sword proved the most unlikely.

And yet … when Arthur held the sword above his head and pointed to the heavens, the gray clouds parted and a beam of light showered both the man and his sword in gold.

I felt a smile spread across my face as I lowered to one knee.

But then someone yelled, “Holy shit! He’s got a sword!”

Another shrieked, “Terrorist! He’s gonna kill us all!”

People scattered in every direction as screams erupted. I fell flat on my face when the panicked crowd knocked me to the ground.

“Be not afraid,” Arthur bellowed. “I am here to restore peace, honor, and chivalry!”

“Drop the sword!” a voice demanded.

Still prostrate upon the sidewalk, I glanced to my right and saw a police officer leveling his gun at Arthur. His expression guaranteed not one citizen would suffer a beheading on his watch.

“Arthur, put down the sword!” I implored.

“Are you a knight?” Arthur asked the police officer.

I looked through Starbucks’ windows and saw people cowering beneath their tables with their cell phones held aloft. They recorded the unfolding horror.

The police officer finished calling for backup, then said, “Drop the sword now, or I will shoot you! Do you understand?”

Convinced bullets were about to fly, I scrambled away from Author while begging him, “God almighty, Arthur, put the sword down!”

Arthur instead assumed a battle stance, and, while staring at the police officer, said to me, “Why do you withdraw? Join me, my friend, for together we will help the people achieve glory!”

“I don’t want to kill you,” the police officer said. “Put it down—now!”

“And I don’t want to hurt you,” Arthur responded. “Within your eyes, I see a brave warrior, a man worthy of my crusade. Join us!”

Oh, shit. Sirens blared, tires squealed, doors slammed, feet pounded, guns clicked.

“Please, Arthur, give up,” I groaned while scooting back on all fours. “You’re delusional. What you’re trying to do … it’s not the way the world works anymore.”

“Then this world is doomed,” Arthur groaned.

“Last warning,” the original officer yelled.

“Don’t do this!” I screamed to Arthur, to the officers, to myself.

“I bow to no man!” Arthur declared. “I serve God, and through Him, I serve the people! I will never put the sword down, for the sword gives me the right—”

The lead officer made the shot. It hit Arthur precisely in the chest. The sword fell. Arthur fell. Everything fell.

The police officers gathered me up and took me in so that I could make a statement. My speech had to be canceled. The media got hold of all the cell phone video and somehow twisted my actions into that of a hero. They said I tried to help the police by talking the man down. As a result, my speech became more popular than ever, for I appeared more authentic than ever. Truthfully, I grew rich from it.

I’ll never forget those eyes as they dimmed.

While in the precinct, the officers were kind. When they realized I only meant to grab a coffee, they offered me one.

It did not taste good, but I drank it anyway.


Copyright © 2017 by Scott William Foley

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

All rights reserved. No part of this story may be used or reproduced by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping or by any information storage retrieval system without the written permission of the author except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews or articles.

Netflix’s Tiger King – A Few (Introductory) Thoughts

I’ve seen a LOT online about a documentary on Netflix called Tiger King. Even so, when I would notice the “poster” on Netflix, I always thought it looked ridiculous. It appeared as some sort of a mockumentary–I assumed it couldn’t be real.

However, I listen to a radio program called The Dan LeBatard Show with Stugotz and they could not stop talking about how absolutely nuts Tiger King actually is. I generally agree with LeBatard on a variety of subjects, so his opinion motivated me to give it a chance.

I’m only three episodes in, but this has got to be the wildest show that I’ve ever experienced. I simply cannot believe it’s real, yet it has to be due to all of the actual news footage included–decades of legitimate news footage. I’m pretty cynical about these kinds of things, but they show local news vignettes, appearances on late night television like Jay Leno and David Letterman, actual legal documents, newspaper clippings, real magazine covers, archived Internet footage. It’s quite convincing.

The documentary essentially details the lives and “zoos” of several different people that have a particular fondness for big cats. After three episodes, I’ve come to realize they are all insane in their own way, they are all criminals in at least some capacity, and they all yield the strange charisma of a cult leader. Two of them are obsessed with destroying the other, and it certainly seems like they are on a collision course.

Listen, this is not high art. While I do believe the documentary is well made with excellent pacing and superb edits, this is an absolute circus. It’s pure spectacle.

I have no idea where this train wreck is going, and I can’t look away.

If you’re looking for a new binge, I haven’t seen anything else quite like this.

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The Mandalorian – A Few Thoughts

This is probably my favorite show of all time, so there is no excuse for just now writing about it months after it debuted.

By the way, yes, I’m a Star Wars fanatic. And, no, I’m not capable of being objective when it comes to Star Wars.

However, even with that being said, this is still a phenomenal show for the following reasons.

First of all–it’s got heart. You can tell that the creators of this show wanted it to be great. It looks great. The acting is great. The costumes are great. The story is great. The action is great. They are trying very, very hard to make a great experience for the viewer, and it shows in every way.

Secondly–they nailed the characters. The Mandalorian himself is incredible. We virtually never see his face, yet we care about him. We care about his beliefs, his motives, and his well-being. Obviously, a young character appears that depends on The Mandalorian for safety, and this is partially why we care so much about The Mandalorian himself. A bond forms between this other character and The Mandalorian, almost like that of a father and child, which causes us to see The Mandalorian in a completely different light. This child, by the way, is the element that will capture the hearts of even those who don’t count themselves among the Star Wars faithful. I know this because I saw it happen on several different occasions with people who couldn’t care less about Star Wars or science fiction in general.

Thirdly–this feels like a Star Wars story. Sure, you can absolutely watch it without knowing anything. It stands on its own as a self-contained series. However, if you know Star Wars, it feels like it belongs to the original trilogy from the Seventies and Eighties–it’s got that kind of magic.

Finally–if you are among the enlightened and enjoy Star Wars in all its forms, you will revel in the tiny references, the brief cameos, and the clever in-jokes.

Whether you’re a Star Wars fan or not, this series appeals to everyone. As we’re all stuck at home due to the outbreak, I would put this at the top of your “must-watch” list.

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