teaching life in a virtual world
"Do not take my Vegemite "
In the past six weeks we have gone through eight airports with their security checks: Dalian, Beijing (three times), Newark (twice), Atlanta, Albany, New York, Kula Lumpur (twice), Adelaide (four times), and Melbourne (twice).
Narda bought a jar of Vegemite and a jar of Promite at Woolies (Woolworth's) in Adelaide after we had packed our check-in luggage so she placed it in our carry-on. No worries, we went through customs at Adelaide and KL. After a short night's sleep at Metro Park Lido in Beijing (we arrived in Beijing at one AM and got to the hotel at 2:30 AM, up for breakfast five hours later and to the airport in time for our fight to Dalian which we just discovered has been delayed four hours. Most flights in China or out of China are delayed by many hours.
Customs @ Beijing Domestic was brutal. We had to take almost everything out of our carry-on bags then they took the jar of Vegemite and Promite from Narda’s bag. Narda was far from ‘she’ll be right mate’.
Vegemite ad from the 1960s “We're happy little Vegemites
As bright as bright can be.
We all enjoy our Vegemite
For breakfast, lunch, and tea.
Our mummies say we're growing stronger
Every single week,
Because we love our Vegemite
We all adore our Vegemite
It puts a rose in every cheek.”
The customs agent chick walked off with the two jars in her hands with Narda close by saying ‘give me back my vegemite’. Good grief. I shoved all my bits and pieces into my bags – three carry-on bags because we were overweight for check-in plus Narda’s carry-on bags and ran after the jar carriers. At some desk in a corner of the terminal the customs lady was trying to open the jars which Narda was trying to take back from her. Narda kept saying that it was food and that every other airport allowed it through. Finally Narda opened the Vegemite jar, the woman sniffed it and started to look up on her computer monitor but Narda had the jars in her hand and we were off to our gate. I think the smell was a bit OK as it looks and smells a bit like something that could have been created out of soy bean paste. Narda was still upset but we had the stuff. Granted I remember seeing a few tubes and jars of it at home in our pantry but I suppose there never can be too much of one’s comfort foods. It is like Dutch Salty Liquorice, we always have a bag or two near at hand; well Narda does and I will have a salty drop now and then. Her parents always have a box of them next to their driver seat so whenever we go someplace there is the Salty Liquorice. Most people hate it and will spit out the liquorice right away though I do not mind them. I wonder if we would have had such an ordeal with customs if they took away Narda’s salty liquorice.
We did get out of Beijing though several hours later than we were scheduled to. Standing in front of us were two new teachers at our school and their sons from Peru, though at the time we did not know that. We saw them a few days later when school started and I said to them that I was standing behind them in line on the way to Dalian.
As always our true and faithful driver, Jack was there to meet us at the airport and we instantly felt like we were back at home. Being back in our home after six weeks flying around and rescuing vegemite from the grasping hands of officialdom was a nice experience. Our plants had been watered by the cleaning ladies and our home with all our crap was there shaking with excitement at our return.
On the note of all our crap… as if I have joked/complained/explained in the past it is scattered: in a house in upstate New York, in a shed in upstate New York, furniture in our Jersey City home, a piano in our Adelaide home, of course our home in China with even closets filled with boxes from years ago that we dragged here from the States two years ago and our furniture and now a storage bin in Adelaide full. We get exhausted just thinking about all the material belongings we have and I wonder how I managed to spend decades with just a bag of things when I was in my 20s and early 30s and traveled the world. The stuff in Adelaide has been moved about for more than a decade from being in the parent’s shed to Narda’s son’s shed then he moved and now into paid storage. Our firm confirmation, including a handshake, was that we would go through each box and toss what we did not really really need/want. We had left Adelaide in 2002 bound for New York with the belief we would be back in one maybe two years. Now eleven years later we have made the decision it will be one more year overseas then back home. So what we stored twelve years earlier we have managed to live without and therefore no longer would keep. Narda wants to sell everything and buy a live-in vehicle and travel around Australia for years as normal retired folks would which would mean all the more that we need to dump stuff. When we were in upstate New York a few weeks ago we went into one of those large bus-homes that Yanks trawl the USA, staying overnight in Walmart car parks in. It was ten years old, had pullout sides and would have suited us fine and we considered purchasing it on the spot until reason reared its ugly head and we realized it was not only impracticable but we did not have the money or place to store it not to mention that we have no intention to live in the States again. Nevertheless we got ourselves all psyched up and went to the storage bin with a whole day in front of us to do nothing but go through all our stuff and put it in a locked bin. At the moment it was all sitting outside of bins until we arrived to dump and store. We opened two or three boxes realized we did not know whether we wanted to keep the stuff within or not, resealed the boxes and put them into a storage bin. So hopefully a year from now we will move into our house in Adelaide or get an RV with less worldwide possessions and hit the road. We are following the grey nomads, an Australian site, http://thegreynomads.com.au/ that are blogs of folks that live and travel around Australia in their vans.
So my word for the summer is ‘letters’. Firstly, I found a box of letters from my brother Robert that he wrote to people in the 1960s and 1970s (he died in 1994). I found a box of letters from ex-girlfriends but we won’t tell Narda that I slipped that box in between other boxes I kept and then there are the most important discovery of the past ten years for me.
When my son, Leigh, was playing baseball in South Africa for the Australian National Team in 1999 he met Jackie. I would find her name in his belongings years later. I contacted her once in about 2005 and said I found her name and could she tell me anything about her meeting with my son. I also told her that Leigh committed suicide in 2003 a few weeks after turning 20. I set up a Facebook site for Leigh which has hundreds of people who knew him on it. A year ago Jackie contacted me via Leigh’s Facebook page to tell me she had moved from South Africa to Perth in Western Australia and that she had a pile of letters that Leigh had written her. I do not check Leigh’s Facebook page much as it is too difficult for me. I see all his friends, most of whom have children now, including Jackie. I usually check on his birthday in July and read the wonderful tributes his friends write him on that day. I told Jackie I would be in Australia last month and she sent me his letters. There were seven of them, some ten pages long. He had written them in late 1999 when he was in Adelaide and early 2000 when he moved to Florida to play in the LA Dodgers organization. They were love letters. I had never known that he had met someone in Africa. He had a girlfriend in Adelaide and as I was a single parent with him and his brother I thought I knew all that was going on. I never knew he was having problems in his mind until I read his last very long email to his girlfriend in Australia written August 10th (my birthday) 2003 in which he said he had known since the age of ten that he would kill himself. What am I supposed to do with that?
His letters to Jackie did say he was having problems but he never said what they were and I always thought that he was at the top of the world being chased by six or seven major league teams since he was 16 (1999). His brother and I lived what I thought at the time was a fairly happy life.
I wrote my hand-writing analysis friend two days ago; he is a world authority and works with the FBI and police in the States and has written several books on the subject and I asked if he would look at Leigh’s letters. He wrote straight back that he would. I scanned and sent off several pages. So this is why the real word in my mind to describe the summer holiday was ‘letters’. Today is my 66th birthday (August 10 – see? Leo all the way) but that is not the significant day of my life. August 13 2003, ten years ago, Leigh flew to Sydney without notifying the Dodgers; met up with his ‘girlfriend’ at the time, not Jackie (story at http://neuage.org/Idol-star.gif click on the image to enlarge) and the next morning he was at the bottom of his fifteen story balcony at the Novotel Hotel Olympic Park across from the baseball stadium where he had practiced for the Olympic team that was to play in Athens. I did not even know he was in Australia.
I was finishing my PhD at the University of South Australia and we were to head back to New York after the weekend to go back to teaching. Narda came in to my office put her arms around me and said ‘Leigh is dead’. Nothing can change those words. We flew to Sydney and I had to identify him. Narda kept me together then and has since and here a decade later we are preparing for classes again. Now is not like then. We flew back to New York after the funeral and with a couple of hours sleep, incredible depth of despair, jetlag, and all the rest I was standing in front of a room of girls at Russell Sage College welcoming them back to a new year of school. I did not say “I am falling apart because my son killed himself five days ago” but instead taught that first class which was on ‘communication’ and the rest of my classes that day and my classes at the other school I was teaching at, the University of NY at Albany. I managed to appear and teach but it was just a holography of me the real me had died too.Ten years does not diminish depths it only gives it more texture. There is nothing that can be done. I still wake from the same type of dreams; Leigh has done something that has gotten him out of baseball and I am trying to get him back as he keeps asking me – then I awake… Narda hears me my despair wakes her too. I find comfort in going to the gym and lifting weights. I keep lifting more as if I can lift the burden off of me. I suppose it is better to do that than any other escape, at least it is healthy. Leigh use to life weights and spent a lot of time at the gym, maybe which has added to my escape. Leigh was big and strong, he weighed 220 pounds, was six foot four and a solid athlete. He has been reduced to a box of ashes which I still have no idea what to do with. So ‘letters’ were my theme and one word mindset. After death everything pales into insignificance, almost everything. I have a son who is happy and successful and doing stuff that is good: recording hip-hop, working with boat people who have crashed into Australia, works with youth programs involving street kids getting them into street art and hip-hop, giving their life meaning, so he and Narda - my islands and mountains and strengths and they who make me laugh and help me go forth into the day so I can believe that when I feel that all else is insignificant that nothing can hurt me ever again I can still love; my son and wife give me that, they are my two protectorates. I have become inoculated against suffering, nothing can be taken away. In a way it is a liberating feeling to know nothing more can be taken only layers and my core is not accessible by life’s activities or babbling voices that echo off the walls of my Self. I also have freed myself of beliefs that I had which too is liberating because the beliefs that we have, usually passed on to us or brainwashed into us via media or spiritual hustlers are nonsense to begin with. To stop believing is to start living. Instead of following where planets are I now look at a moment and see how that can morph into something creative. How can I storyboard a mesh-up of many different colours happening at once?
We were talking today about standards yesterday, a big focus within our school, and I said I am not following one standard, like the technology one. I am using the Language Arts Standards to create the story, the music standards, the Arts Standards, IT, maybe math and other standards – I want to use every subject in our school to produce a collaborative film. Then I want to take the story, whether written by the Language Arts, or some other department and send it to Frank and Kay who are now in Burma and have their students create a film interpretation of the story as well as my film class to do the same then we can make a composite film. We integrate technology, actually that is my job at our school, but I want to integrate creativity using every department into film making this a year of production of the parts of the whole. Something like that in simple statements. Instead of getting too hung up on grades I want to unfetter the yoke of learning and see if we can find the divine spark in each student to create not only their masterpiece but a collective community of strangers piece. To quote Jefferson Airplanes (1960s)
“you are the Crown of Creation
And you’ve got no place to go’
I would add yes they have a place to go – take it to the next realm. We quit too easy. I continued with 14 years of university under trying times; raising two children, poverty, ten homes in ten years, no family support (I was in a foreign country, Australia, which strangely enough is now my home and the USA is my foreign country. Though I am a duel citizen I no longer feel that I am a Yank I don’t care how much my wife tells me I most definitely sound like one) and when you’ve got no place to go the only way out is to be creative. Maybe it was because I was a street person most of my life and I could live in the moment which is quite a creative thing to do. Creativity to a street person is survival meaning to survive one needs to be creative. But in reality I was most not successful I failed to read my son and at the time I thought I was very tuned into my children, I thought I was psychic in regards to them I was at the top of the spiritual mountain but hey it is all an illusion. One son is now happy has a great girl friend and will soon be making a three month tour of Europe. I think he and his life is real kool. I thought my ball playing son was kool too. We threw a ball every morning and every evening, one-hundred times, I taught him to be a major league pitcher then he no longer wanted it all. He had star potential. We all have start potential.
At the Dwight School in upper Manhattan the graduating students could choose anyone to give their graduating speech. Dwight is a prestigious school with many famous people having children at it (Paris Hilton was there up until the year before I started and members of The Strokes a popular rock band started their band while students at The Dwight School). I was just a silly person who came up with silly ideas for projects. But I was the overwhelming choice to give their farewell speech. I was going to say no but the Leo in me jumped out and said yes. I told them the story of my son – it was sad I suppose – high school students were teary eyed, maybe I am just mean but I had to tell the story. I was a bit graphic but I sure highlight the good times too. My message was simple that no matter how difficult life gets do not kill your self. My son ended his life because his relationship to his girlfriend ended. My belief is that because his mother was not an active part of his life he could not have another female reject him though I would never say that to anyone – maybe I said it to his mother at his funeral because she said mean things to me that day and told me it was all my fault.
How much more fun can one have in life than to say to some kids ‘hey let’s make some films, do some news shows, make rock videos, collaborate with students in other countries and create a film via Skype with them? The older I get the more interesting life is becoming. I goofed off and partied and did what I thought was creative stuff – like my thousands of on-line picture poems and before that I was a street artist in New Orleans, NYC, San Francisco, Honolulu, and Adelaide, South Australia where I did my last shows in 1997 when at age fifty I finally woke up and thought maybe I am too old for this and I should just go nuts on academic stuff. I found I loved doing research, I loved computers and when the World Wide Web was invented in 1990 I knew my life had just started. I probably have ten-thousand web pages; if I believed in astrology I would say it is such a Leo thing. No doubt this will be my last year of teaching but the next thing to do will be even more fun or creative or fulfilling; I have ideas but they are best kept set aside to be nurtured throughout this year.
Malaysian Airlines (international) - check-in, they have allowed us 24 kilos (any number of bags), plus 7 kilos carry-on, strictly enforced (this was 'enforced' at the Adelaide end, we were a bit over, almost a kilo, but Aussies help when they are able) and a camera bag or computer bag. The carry-on rule was not checked in KL because we were in transit and as Malaysia is touting themselves as the shopping capital of the world (forget Singapore and Hong Kong) they would not mind if we bought heaps of crap at the airport and added it to our carry-on which of course we did – oh look more stuff to put into storage and drag through life with us).
China Southern (domestic) - check-in = 20 kilos (any number of bags), carry-on - there seems to be no restrictions; we were overweight for check-in and took three bags as carry-on, all quite heavy as they would not allow our extra bag to be checked-in. They then disputed Vegemite as a liquid. Good grief!
Virgin Airlines or any Australian airline (domestic), inflexible - check their info.
USA, good golly what a mess... As I wrote a couple of blogs ago Delta lost our stuff three times for one destination (simply put it was on a flight to Newark which was cancelled after we sat on the tarmac for a couple of hours so instead of staying in Atlanta overnight and going on a flight the next day we took a flight to Albany, New York that evening and we were told our luggage was on our flight but it was not. Three days we were upstate and our stuff never arrived. After three days we said not to send our things to Albany as we were going back to Jersey City and we would collect it at Newark. When we got to Newark Narda's bag was there but not mine, it was sent to Albany hours before we arrived and it took another couple of days to get it. Though we do appreciate that Delta reimbursed the $400 we spent for ‘necessities’ we needed until I did finally get my luggage).
Basically even United International will not allow more than one bag per person unlike Malaysian Airlines.
As this is getting a tad bit long and I already have begun thinking about my next blog I need to wrap this up – I just wanted to catch up for the past couple of weeks – I write for myself so to remember stop, after all I am now 66 did I mention that already?