I apparently cannot teach without wifi
In praise of analog English
Part of why I hated quarantine was it was Class Always On Computers. I used to embrace the Smart Board, but now I’m more into dry erase markers and an easel. I was encouraged to put my class online even before the pandemic, but I resisted. I like analog English class. Pencils and notebooks and markers and scissors and tape and paper bound books.
They hadn’t yet invented goofing around on the internet when I was in middle school, but these kids grew up on internet rabbit holes, games unblocked by school, and wherever they’re sourcing memes from. Plus, I’ve had a smartphone long enough to know: screens consume your entirety. I make kids stop typing when I need to talk to them because I know what it means to half-participate in a conversation — from both ends. Not in the classroom.
I’m semi-digital. I like my quizzes and exit tickets on computer because I’m a sucker for a good spreadsheet, color-coding the results, sharing with co-teachers. Oh, the data! And in 2023, you really should write paragraphs and essays on a computer. It’s the real world writes, the kids have to learn it sometime. Good thing they pick up tech super easy.
So when the district experienced a day-long internet outage last week, I was wholly flummoxed. Plenty of days I’d be fine, but my whole lesson that day was, Get on the computer and write your essay. Analog writing and teaching got me through 45, we took a break to stall, and then I reverted to the life-long English Teacher Plan B: Let’s read. I thought kids would be upset, and a few couldn’t settle. But by and large they were into it. Analog English class is great.
The Urban Blah
Back in 2009-11 I collaborated with the brilliant Vee to make a webcomic that failed to become syndicated across the globe. I am pro-recycling.
I love this comic, and Lovisa’s details are sublime. The Onion in 4, the Wife in 5 — actually both in 5. And the progression of the sandwich! I half-recited this one to the Real Life Wife recently after she we had a similar exchange and we agreed how these comics show how little I’ve changed in some ways.
Also, Vee has a substack, you should subscribe!
Jam of the Week
I love discovering a band that’s been around forever but I had no idea. The Mountain Movers have been putting out records since 2006, but I just discovered their most recent, 2021’s World What World. It’s almost like a instrumental-heavy Built to Spill, but noisier, janglier, and even heavier on the Neil Young, if possible. Meandering drone-based guitar adventures, it burrows deeper into my soul with each listen. I also love that they leave the catchiest track for last, closing a la “Train in Vain.”
My Back Pages
Karma Coffeehouse in Hollywood briefly had an email newsletter and I thought there should be barista profiles. I doubt this actually went out; my draft was two and half pages. From Meet Dan Tobin, ‘New Guy,’ early 2005.
So, you’re the latest Karma barista?
The latest and the greatest. No, let’s leave it at the latest.
Did you have coffeehouse experience?
No, not explicitly.
No. I had no experience of any kind of plicity.
So how would you recommend someone land a job the way you did?
Well, once they’ve identified the coffeehouse they want to work at, first I would tell them host a comedy night there every week for a year and a half. Then try to befriend the owner of the coffeehouse when he’s in high school. Finally, arrange for the regular employees to take vacations at times when nobody else can cover their shifts. It’s a 15-year process, but when you count up those $7 in tips at the end of a nine-hour shift, you know it’s worth it.
Fair encapsulation of how it happened. LA’s coffeehouse scene in the early aughts was totally my aspiring writer jam. I felt cool writing on a laptop between long stretches of not-writing on a laptop. I fell hard for coffeehouse culture, and when my friend opened his own, I wanted in. But I only joined as an employee in my final act. Also, that plicity joke foreshadows my career as an English teacher, no?
Okay, I should just cut to the chase here: why do you get a profile written about you?
Yeah, I was proud of it.
Well, the profile is about me mostly because I’m the guy in charge of writing this section.
So... you’re writing the questions and the answers?
Or you are. I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together.
Goo goo g’joob.
I love the format of conversations with myself, it’s a good way to get back into writing. I argued a lot with “myself” in my journal this summer. Helps me think things out linearly.
What’s your favorite drink to make?
I like making cappuccinos — I foam a good milk. Also, I’m trying to develop a Laurinoccino to reflect Karma barista Michael Laurino’s Italian heritage. It’s one part espresso to three parts marinara; a “Dirty Laurinoccino” is that plus meatballs. And a shot of caramel. So far it’s still in the prototype “joke” phase, but I think with the proper funding, it can go places. Perhaps it can one day be a funny joke.
Is it racist to say Italian people like Italian food? I hope not. You might remember Mike from his role as the villain in the Adhesive Avenger trailer, or from his recent sell-out out to Big Orange Juice.
At the end, I went kinda sappy.
Do you feel closer to Karma now that you work there?
You know, I’ve thought of Karma as “my place” for a long time. I knew the owner from way back when, I’ve put on 67 comedy nights there, I helped plan and host the first anniversary party, I’ve had a mailbox for more than nine months. Karma was MY place, man. Now I can see how Karma belongs to a lot of people, and at first I wanted to dismiss them. After all, deciding a place is yours is just selfish; the only person who can rightly say it’s their place is Mike Duffy because he built and nurtured it. But really, Karma is everyone’s place. It belongs to anyone who performs at the open mic, to the guy who buys a small coffee every Sunday after the farmer’s market, to the homeless kid who needs Internet access, to the comics with Comedy Central specials who like the vibe of the room, to the regulars who chat up the counter help and the regulars who don’t. Karma wouldn’t exist without Mike, but it really wouldn’t exist without the people who love it and embrace it.
I love the vague humble-brag about my comedy booking. This was the peak of my obsession with coffeehouses, and Boston has some good independent ones, plus a bunch of Starbucksand Cafe Nero. I’ve since outgrown coffeehouse culture and have reverted to my Boston form, worshipping at the altar of Dunkin Donuts. Some have signs that say NO LOITERING. Different vibe, but I’m feeling the coffee.