Wednesday, August 30, 2006

J. Willie--Math Teacher Extraordinaire

Got this in email today. J. Willie Brown, as we knew him, was the math teacher we all loved and feared at Woodrow Wilson High School. He died today. He taught at Woodrow for five decades and inspired generations of students with his wit, his dedication and his love of math. Here's a write-up from the director of the nursing home (located just blocks from Woodrow) where he spent his final years:

Jay Brown, A Teacher Of Life
“Being a teacher is a good profession,” said Jay Brown, Jackson Living Center resident. Brown taught for more than 50 years, with 35 of those at Woodrow Wilson High School, just a few blocks north of Juliette Fowler Homes. The odds of him running into someone he taught were great, especially in this East Dallas neighborhood.

Brown, born in Hugo, Oklahoma, traveled across Texas with his parents picking cotton. At age 6 his job was to pick 150 pounds of cotton before he could go play with the other children. At age 18 he was valedictorian of Wichita Falls High School.

When it was time for Brown to graduate from high school, he didn’t have enough money for a suit. A neighbor bought him a suit for $2.50 and a pair of Florsheim shoes for 89 cents so he could accept his valedictorian award.

Brown repeated this act of kindness years later when he assisted a young Fowler resident [note: the Fowler Home is an orphanage]. The young man shared with Brown that he could not walk across the stage and receive his diploma because he did not have a suit. The Woodrow Wilson PTA gave Brown $50 toward the cause and the teacher and student drove downtown to James K. Wilson [men's store],where the young man picked out a suit, shoes, shirt, tie and socks. Just as they realized that the $50 was not going to cover the cost, James K. Wilson himself walked in and covered the bill.

Brown graduated from Southern Methodist University in 1937, majoring in math, history and Spanish, with a minor in English. He had actually started teaching school in 1936 and taught graduate classes at SMU while still an undergraduate.

In 1952 Brown came to Woodrow Wilson High School and would teach in room 104 for all but one of those years. Thousands of students passed through his classes, many from the Fowler Home. He was known as Mr. Math to all, including a future Rhodes Scholar, a Heisman Trophy winner and three generations of students.

After teaching all day, Brown would host student after student in his home, tutoring them in his living room.

Brown married Muriel Erickson in 1948 and soon joined East Dallas Christian Church, where she was a member. Together they actively participated in Christian Women’s and Christian Men’s Fellowship. They joined the Sanders Class and were joint Sunday School Superintendents for the Primary Department. They became the first husband/wife team of Elders at EDCC. At age 90 Brown continued to serve EDCC as the Sunday School Superintendent and Elder Emeritus. “I like to go to church as often as the doors are open,” said Brown.

Brown and his wife Muriel adopted their daughter Julie in 1956. She and her husband Mark Alexander have given him three grandchildren, Brandon, Amanda and Caroline.

Julie is proud of her father’s legacy. “He taught his students more than just math--he taught them character,” she said. “He knew what was going on in their lives. We can’t go anywhere without someone recognizing him and sharing with us just how important he was in their life.”

Brown was a resident at Fowler for almost three years. He was an avid sports fan and was always looking for someone to watch football with or with whom to play a game of dominoes.

EXTRA NOTE: I remember J. Willie as the faculty sponsor of the "Senior Pub," a wickedly satirical magazine that made fun of each member of that year's graduating class at Woodrow. Filled with jokes, anecdotes and cartoons, the "Pub" lampooned kids, faculty and all things high school. As I recall, I was "outed" as someone who shaved her toes, the better to be shod in '70s sandals. Great guy, Mr. Brown. Long career, long life, long shadow.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Bad Interviewing Techniques on The Today Show

And this is why I can't stand Campbell "Can you hear my lisp?" Brown. Meredith, you can't arrive too soon.

Friday, August 25, 2006


Sometimes 105-degree heat day after day is the least of it. But for those of you not in Texas, let me tell you what a stretch of 42 days of 105-degree heat is like. Schoolkids baked cookies on an SUV's dashboard this week and it made all the local newscasts. It's been so long since we had rain and it's so unrelentingly hot, one area lake dried up, leaving flat, cracked ground littered by bare tree stumps. No one's allowed to water their lawns anymore. At our place, the west-facing back door swells up so much in the afternoon sizzle, you can't open it from the inside.

The heat also can lead to horrors like this.

On the one afternoon that I spend trying to solar-burn the top layer of facial dermis that contains the crow's feet, I discover after just a few minutes by the pool that the glue on my new Elle magazine's binding has melted, sending all 500-plus pages of fall fashions fluttering to the pavement. That's seriously hot.

So hot the squirrels have roasted nuts. So hot Starbucks is selling freon frappuccinos.

So maybe it was the heat or maybe it's because I've just had it, but nothing seemed to go right all week.

First, the computer crisis, which kickstarted a Mercury-in-retrograde series of personal mini-disasters.

I find coffee stains on the right thigh of my one flattering pair of white jeans.

I look at the schedule for the next few weeks of theater assignments and see that I have to sit through Death of a Salesman AND Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (Throw in Waiting for Godot and you'd have the critic's most dreaded trifecta of long, depressing plays.)

The abyss widens.

One of my steady sources of writing income emails to inform me that all freelance fees are being cut 50 percent, but they value my work and hope I'll continue writing for them. Yeah, right.

Two more emails tell me of the deaths of two people I know. One was the TV critic in Memphis, a swell guy with a wicked wit. The other was someone I knew in college. He was most recently a prof in Tennessee. Both died in their 50s after horrible illnesses.

Desperate for escape, I medicate with food and shopping. Having skipped two weeks of Weight Watcher meetings (after 10 straight weeks of weigh-ins and the loss of one roll of hard flab around the midsection), I blow off another and go to the mall. Four skirts. Dressy Chinese Laundry sandals. Buy-three and get-two-free lacy underthings. Four headbands. Everything's a markdown, but still.

Foodwise, bacon and cheese replace leafy salads and 1-point dessert bars. Taquitos, cookies, popcorn, Triscuits. It's carb-crack big-time.

I sit through Little Miss Sunshine trying to get why it won the Sundance awards and find myself dreaming of digging my fists into a barrel of peanut M&Ms, which I usually detest. I don't buy any, but the next night I devour a mountainous plate of hideously oleaginous nachos with my pal Angela as we watch a play at the neighborhood dinner-theater.

Professor Lunch-Guy reappears after a monthlong absence. I pick him up for a lunch date (having been downgraded back to daytime assignations again after one lovely and rather smoochy dinner back in July). He doesn't seem particularly glad to see me, just sort of...bemused. He is eager to show me photos of the dead bodies that he saw on a trip to chronicle genocide sites on the other side of the globe this summer. Lots of dead bodies. Worse than you can imagine.

We're in a restaurant and he's flipping 8-x-10 glossies of corpses at me. I start to cry. He doesn't say, "Oh, is this upsetting you? Let me put these away." He seems instead to be almost sadistic in his insistence that I look at photo after photo--as if it's a test of my moral fortitude.

Lunch is ruined. Who could eat? He can, no prob. And not that I don't need to miss a meal, but golly...have a heart when a girl's going wobbly. Those photos. God in heaven.

Dropping Lunch-Guy back on campus, I feel tears puddling up again. He doesn't notice. I blurt out the news about my two friends who died this week. He's silent. For foreign populations under the rule of brutal dictators, he can express loads of compassion. For me, not so much. He gets out of the car without offering a word about seeing me again anytime soon. He's back in the rhythm of school and he's away most weekends on lecture trips and meetings of various boards and charities.

He does say, "I didn't have a social life before I met you." And I think, "This is a social life?" I have more personal interaction with the nice man who delivers my mail. I know more about the inner thoughts of Amanda and Jeff, the baristas at my favorite Starbucks. And they also seem happier to see me.

Lunch-Guy can be sweet. He has a brilliant mind and a dedication to righting the ills wrought upon humanity. He's got a pretty rockin' bod, too, which I wouldn't mind taking on as a longterm research project. But one-to-one, boy-to-girl, he doesn't grok the relationship thing. After almost a year of...whatever this is...there's little holding us together. That makes me sad but after all the salty snacks I've had this week, I'm too dehydrated to cry.

Yeah, it's 105 outside and our glue is melting.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Reality Show Millionaires! (Not Quite)

From today's Reality Blurred comes an explanation of the small print on the big prize won on Treasure Hunters by the three students from the university up the street. It doesn't take a genius to see that the prize isn't quite the hefty windfall the show made it out to be. Still, congrats, kids! Spend it wisely. Here's the top of the story:

Geniuses win $3 million on Treasure Hunters

The Geniuses lived up to their name on the Treasure Hunters finale, taking home the treasure, although not by much. While the Geniuses were initially far ahead, the Southie Boys and Air Force caught up, and they were all inside a little set that looked like an ancient pyramid version of the Big Brother house, with cutouts in the stones for the cameras to shoot through.

None of the teams could figure out the final clue; on the Genius team, Sam fell asleep, but then Francis had a vision and figured out the cryptex: FSKEY, for Francis Scott Key. That eventually led them into a small chamber with a pile of gold.

It wasn’t until the last few seconds of the live finale that they learned its actual value: $3 million. It’s the largest single cash prize given on a reality show, although ultimately each team member gets $1 million, although that’s still better than The Amazing Race. There was, however, some fine print that the Geniuses will learn about later; we saw it in the closing credits that basically says they won’t get all of the treasure today:
“The $3,000,000 prize is payable in the form of a monthly annuity payment to each winning team member paid over 25 years totaling $1,000,000 or any winning team member may choose to receive a cash prize equivalent to the present cash value of his/her annuity.”

Monday, August 21, 2006

Party or Purity

MSNBC explores students' opinions of party schools vs. sober schools. Here's the story.

At the nearby campus where I formerly was employed, they started the fall term this past Thursday. Now, Thursday being the most popular swilling-of-liquor day for the under-25 set, that meant Friday's classes (for the departments that still have them) were populated by bleary-eyed young adults nursing the first awful hangover of the semester. Lunch picker-upper: Subway sandwich and cold beer.

Talked to one of my favorite profs today. I asked how many students he has in his three classes this term. One has more than 50 enrolled. That's too many. "I'll have to be scary the first day," he says, "to run a few of them off."

You know that we do this, right? When there are 30 desks in the room and 38 students signed up, the tried-and-true technique for profs is to be really dour and strict the first day. Play up the number of papers and tough exams. Harp on the massive amount of reading and the no-excuses-accepted attendance policy. By the next classtime, the number has been winnowed down to a management size. Drops galore. That's good. Nobody has to sit in the lefthanded and/or busted desk or drag a folding chair over from the closet down the hall.

And, no surprise, suddenly some of those quizzes and extra readings disappear from the sked. And the prof actually cracks some jokes.

You do what you gotta do.

Sunday, August 20, 2006


When Windows crashes, every previous moment of your life suddenly seems less important than what you'll do in the next one. My first instinct was to cry. Second, to find that bottle of Vicodin my mom had after her surgery two years ago. I know it's around here somewhere.

Right now I'm trying to "reboot" everything and not lose 70,000 words of the world's greatest wit-lit novel, plus two years' worth of theater reviews and about 50 freelance projects and teaching notes.

The abyss opens up and tries to swallow you. But friends who know computer things reel you back from the edge.

Back soon with updates. And for those of you starting classes in Dallas in 106-degree heat, please stay hydrated and save a few of the close-in parking spaces for old coot professors.

Back-up, back-up, back-up. I know.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The Art of the Interview

Oprah, Larry King, Mike Wallace--bad interviewers? From an NPR story on ESPN's interview coach:

"Sawatsky's rules are simple, but he says they get broken all the time: Don't ask yes-or-no questions, keep questions short and avoid charged words, which can distract people. In his seminar, Sawatsky points to Mike Wallace of CBS' 60 Minutes and CNN's Larry King as examples to avoid. In Sawatsky's illustrative clips, King favors leading questions that generate curt answers, while Wallace's rapid patter fails to get a subject to speak candidly.

"Sawatsky says Wallace and the others are better at theatrics than journalism, and that they often trip up their own interviews -- by thinking they should be the focus of attention."

To read the rest (and hear audio clips), go here.

Monday, August 14, 2006

The "Geriatric" video diary

I'm in love with this wonderful old guy in England who's been posting his life story in short video chapters on YouTube. What touches me most are the sweet comments from kids all over the world, thanking him for his video chats. A reminder, perhaps, that kids don't have access to grandparents the way they used to. He's a phenom, this guy. Watch him work before the Big Media eat him up.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Make way for the Bush Library

Though the school STILL hasn't made the official announcement--waiting until it will help November elections, no doubt--here's more proof of where the George W. Bush Presidential Library is going to be erected. (The biggest erection in this dude's life, that's fer damn sher.)

Some irony in it, as the land purchase now displaces the school's official bookstore (where course texts are sold).

Blame it on Lindsay Lohan...please

The Normal Heart is a play about gay men dying of AIDS in the 1980s. I reviewed a fine production of it at the Uptown Players in Dallas last week and what I now remember most about the evening was not the sensitive acting, deft direction or powerful message about love, loss and acceptance, but the little "beepity-beeps" of the two young men sitting to my right who spent the first act texting their friends on their cellphones.

Little blue screens lighting up their faces, the guys kept at it. Maybe they were bored by the talky script or just doing that thing where they're trying to be macho by not paying attention because it's gay stuff onstage. Whatever. They were rude as shit and it bugged me.

Seconds before I jerked the phones out of their hands and walloped them over the head, the young men got out of their seats and lumbered out the door. It's a small theater. The actors had to have been aware of the commotion. I felt bad for the actors, trying to maintain concentration while the shitheels with the need to send misspelled missives to their pals got a pass.

I see stuff like this all the time. Why are people so awful in places where they should be nice?

My fave blogger of the moment, Dave White, sums it up nicely here.

He blames the current wave of rudeness in public on certain celebs. What do you think?

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Flying sans shampoo (more)

Here's my question: If British, American and Pakistani intelligence forces were working on this blow-up-planes-with-liquids plot for an entire year...and if they arrested the 24 alleged terrorists earlier this week, thus foiling the plot...why do they NOW ban liquids, food, iPods, laptops,cameras and other stuff from carry-on baggage? Doesn't it make more sense to have banned it WHILE THE PLOT WAS IN THE WORKS? And don't you think terrorists are just as happy to pack explosives from now on in their checked luggage?

Having once been stuck on a tarmac in a hot, busted plane for more than 9 hours at DFW airport, I can't imagine not boarding a plane from now on without water, some food, eyedrops and contact solution and other necessary items. And since when is toothpaste considered a liquid?

Call me a bitter skeptic, but it all smells to me like a too-convenient Bush/Rove/Rumsfeld/Cheney-style scare-em-good reaction to the Lieberman defeat and another way, just before the Labor Day/Back-to-College airline crush, and in plenty of time to influence November elections, to control the populace and make us behave like docile little sheep as we're herded through the airports. Don't think so? Read this from Ms. Huffington.

Every single time I hear the word "freedom" come out of Mr. Bush's lips, I feel less free. We're now safer than before 9/11, he says. Sorry, now we're not even safe enough to take a fucking water bottle, a lipstick or a tube of Crest on a commercial jet. (And other than 007 movies I've never seen any proof of terrorists using those items to blow anything up.)

All over talk radio today I heard poor sods uttering sorry sentiments like "I don't mind giving up civil liberties if it keeps us safe." Line up, folks, and march right into the re-education camps.

People weren't smart enough to take to the streets over $3 gas, the atrocities in Iraq or the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. So we're getting what we asked for. And it makes me sick that mass stupidity has reached epidemic levels.

I'm all fumed out tonight.

Meanwhile, I await word of sweet, lovely Professor Dinner-Guy, who is due to return from Central Africa this weekend. He's supposed to fly through London. Put him on the prayer chain, please.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Do not cough near the gorillas

Thank you for your patience as I try to get back to blogging more often. Lots of work these days. And school doesn't start up again for me until after Labor Day and I'm taking advantage of these last weeks away from campus.

So I'll share this for those of you intrepid readers still clicking over here once in awhile. Remember Professor Lunch-Guy? Well, he recently graduated to Professor Dinner-Guy. Then he promptly left the country (just my luck). Right now he's somewhere in Central Africa near the beautiful hills and lakes that are home to the last few hundred mountain gorillas left on the planet. I looked up tourism info on the place and here's what I found.

Rules for a gorilla visit:
1. Spitting in the park is strictly prohibited, especially when close to a gorilla group.
2. Once with the group should the occasion arise that you need to cough, please cover your mouth and turn away from the gorillas.
3. When with the gorillas, please keep your voice level low and only talk in whispers.
4. If you get stung by a nettle, please refrain from crying out loud and try not to make any rapid movements that may frighten the gorillas.
5. If a gorilla should charge or vocalize at you, then do not be alarmed. Stand still and look away and certainly never run. The guides may ask you to move slowly away if necessary.
6. Never make any rapid movements and do not disturb the vegetation when with the group; there may be a gorilla hidden behind the leaves.
7. Please do not leave litter anywhere in the park.

Now, maybe it's just me, but if I get stung by a nettle and I forget to refrain from crying out loud and because I've made a noise a gorilla charges at me, I AIN'T STANDING STILL! I'm becoming alarmed! I'm running like hell and screaming like Fay Wray with her ass on fire!

Maybe that's why I wasn't invited along on the trip.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Critics Camp Diary: The Finale

It's finally over! Read about the two best days of camp here on the Observer's Unfair Park site.

Those last two days almost made up for the previous 12--but not quite. I did learn a valuable lesson: I will never, ever again be intimidated by the "New York critics."

We're all the same brand of slob--too homely to be actors, but too in love with theater not to keep falling in love with the art of acting over and over again.

I know I did.

Mow-down prof's conviction overturned

Remember the law school prof who knocked a cyclist over with her car? And did it again to a pedestrian in a crosswalk? Her conviction's been overturned on a technicality. Here's the story from the Dallas Morning Snooze.