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Entry date: 3-5-2024 – Sad Tale of Cocaine Baby – Letters to My Friends

Dear Friends,


Wow. Yesterday was one of the saddest and hardest days I’ve had in the classroom. I’m so glad I have this outlet to share it on. I can’t imagine how my fellow teachers who have similar situations in their classrooms cope with this stuff without a safe way to release their tensions.


I’ve been reading a lot about teacher burnout and why people walk away from the classroom. People talk about money, or discipline issues and I get that. I would also say, though, that as someone who has been in training roles and middle management in other parts of my non-kid related career, I don’t make that much less money. The reality is that no one really wants to pay a guy like me who helps people believe in themselves and be better at school (or their jobs) a whole lot.


If I were a shameless self-promoter or a religious charlatan, I could probably be some sort of self-help huckster, but I’d rather teach. Would more money be nice? Sure. Would more accountability for students and a few of my peers be great? Hell to the yes, but again, I love what I do.


The thing is, people quit this profession because you eventually realize there is nothing you can do for a kid who doesn’t have any support at home and has become comfortable in his situation as an asshole, a failure, or both. That kid is going to do his or her best to ruin your day either every chance they get or when it suits them.


It is painful to the soul to feel as if you are at the whim of a tiny sadist.


Monday was a day that I fully expected to be rough. The week before a break (next week is spring break) emboldens students to push all the buttons. During our morning time yesterday, a few students asked about the basketball club one of my fellow teachers is offering during the fourth quarter. Cocaine Baby’s ears perked up.


“I want to do that,” he said.

“I’m sorry, but you can’t,” I replied.

“Why not?”

“Your behavior. Mrs. McGillicuddy (not her real name) specifically said that she wasn’t taking any students with discipline issues. You have lots of discipline issues.”


Cocaine Baby gave me a look like, “Whaaaaat?”


“Remember the fight you got into on Friday?”


He nodded.


“Remember the three fights the week before?”


He nodded again.


“You have not behaved well lately.”  This was an understatement, but why pile on.


He looked hurt, so I called him over and explained, once again (maybe the 40th time) that his choices were going to cause him a lot of problems in his life if he didn’t start making better ones. I told him that I believed in him and that he could make good choices.


He talked with me quietly and said all the right things. He looked like he understood and appreciated what I was telling him. He seemed humble. I told him how I worry about him and don’t want him to have a hard life.


Then, after PE, he decided it was time for the Cocaine Baby show. For much of the next couple of classes, I spent more time redirecting him than teaching. He loved that shit. He was dancing around and laughing and getting everyone’s attention as much as he could.


I finally decided to move his seat over by my desk. He hates sitting right by me, so I thought that would nip it in the bud. Instead, when I turned my back to write on the board, he pretended to shoot me by point his finger at me as if it were a gun.


Several of my students were unnerved by this. I was, too. It got to me.


I decided to take a break from him and moved his desk into a corner of the room where he could sit by himself. I also sent him to the in-school detention office for ten minutes or so before lunch. I needed him gone.


When he got back from lunch, we called his dad. That was a joke, but it worked to get him on the right page for the rest of the day. I decided that I will call his dad every day if need be. Dad is going to get sick of seeing the school number pop up on his phone.


I think I may have given up on him. He went out of his way to fuck up the class, fuck up my day, and show me that he doesn’t give two shits about anything except himself. He helped me build a wall between us yesterday and I don’t have any desire to tear it down.


Maybe after spring break…




I diverted myself by thinking about the Suns a bit yesterday. I came to the conclusion that Kevin Durant needs to accept that he doesn’t have the athleticism he once did. I think he can re-invent himself and still be one of the best scorers in the league for a few more seasons, but it will require change.


Time will tell.




I have to believe that it was the fault of KEDJ that I fell in love with Duncan Sheik’s debut single, “Barely Breathing.” It was in a fairly constant rotation in those days, and I listened to the EDGE a lot while I was working at Courtesy Chevrolet. There was no such thing as Spotify then and it was a pain in the ass to carry around tapes and CDs, so there was the limited Phoenix radio to listen to while driving cars around or pulling alarms at night.


The life of the lot jockey/alarm installer was one that was made much more pleasant when a good song came on the radio. If you’ve ever been in a situation where “hurry up and wait” was part of your daily routine, you can appreciate this. When I lived in Berkeley, for example, and was doing deliveries, it was great to be able to toggle back and forth between KUSF and KALX.


Phoenix has never really had a good “College Radio” station, though. I don’t think ASU has ever one that you could hear if you weren’t in specific spots on main campus. So, KEDJ in the mid-90s was what I had to occasionally get some decent new music on during the workday.


“Barely Breathing” is the third track on Sheik’s self-titled debut. When I picked up the CD at Tower Records, and I had to go there because the people at Zia and Eastside where I usually shopped new me a little too well, I was shocked by how much I liked the whole thing. “Barely Breathing” is a really great song and I still enjoy the hell out of it, but I was pleasantly surprised by what an accomplished and thoughtful songwriter this Duncan Sheik guy turned out to be.


It's not the happiest record. The opener, “She Runs Away” is bit on the sad side and sounds as such. The instrumentation, though, and arrangement is top notch. There is a reason that Sheik later went on to write the scores for Broadway plays. The guy knows his way around the studio.


The guitar part that starts “She Runs Away” hooked me right off the bat. It wasn’t too long after getting Duncan Sheik that I was singing along with all the songs and not just the hit single. “Ooh, darlin’, don’t you know/The darkness comes and the darkness goes,” starts off the pre-chorus and, which is catchy as hell, and fucking Pino Palladino does the bass line on the song.


Yes, Pino Palladino, who also has played with Nine Inch Nails and The Who, among others, played on four of the tracks. I had no idea of this until I looked it up. Howard Jones even plays a piano part on one of the songs, too. But, I digress.


“In the Absence of the Sun” has a really lush string arrangement that kind of makes the song. It’s really beautiful and kind of maudlin, too. “We don’t talk about it/We just become shadows of ourselves” is a pretty great line. Sheik is an excellent lyricist and has a great voice, too.


I remember being so happy that I enjoyed the whole record and didn’t just buy one of those records where you like one song. I’ve got a few of those in my collection and won’t be writing about those this year if there is any justice in the world. “Barely Breathing” is catchy and kind of different, too, for a pop song. It’s got a really cool slide guitar line by Fran Barish that goes along with the guitar that Sheik played.


I met a dude from Brophy who is friendly with some folks I know who did a few tours with Sheik. I remember him saying that the songs were fun to play, and that Sheik was a good dude. He told me a few other things about him, as well, that I will just keep to myself, but I have a good idea of why the ladies love him.


I only saw Sheik once when my ex-wife and I drove down to Tucson to see him do a radio station promo thing. He didn’t play Phoenix too much until after she and I divorced, and she got custody of Duncan Sheik in our final settlement.


Not really, but I didn’t want to cramp her style, so I never went to see a proper concert.


He and I talked a little bit, though, as I was the only obvious punk rock dude at the radio station thing, and I think he was curious what I was doing there. He seemed very pleased when I told him I was a big fan of his work. It made the ex kind of mad, too, that we had such a good chat while she was too nervous to say shit. Win-win.


“Reason for Living” is a nice little pop song, too. It starts off a bit sad like a few of the others and then becomes a bit more helpful as it progresses. It fades nicely into “Days Go By” after Howard Jones’ fantastic piano outro. “Days Go By” is definitely a sad one, but it’s got another nice string arrangement. “Well, I know it’s not fashionable to be this hopeful…well laugh away” is a great opening line, too.


The guitar that opens “Serena” is kind of reminiscent of “Barely Breathing” but the song has some seriously great guitar hooks that are beautifully mixed into the song. I should probably mention that Stephen W. Tayler’s mix of the record is fucking killer. Listen on a good sound system and you’ll see why.


“Out of Order” is another sad one at the start that grows into something bigger. Palladino provides a really cool bass line that makes this one another favorite of mine. It’s a little bouncy but hugs the rhythm with Jean-Michel Biger’s drums and allows Sheik to get a little jazzy with the vocals.


As the album starts to wind down, it’s a bit of a slow tempo affair. “November” is a song I can live without, to be honest, but it’s not a bad song and has another moving string arrangment. I’m a bigger fan of “Home” but it’s probably way too sappy for most of my friends. In fact, as I write this, I realize that I may get punched in the balls by a few of my friends just to make sure mine are still intact.


“Home” is a song that anyone who has missed their significant other can identify with, though, and as I listen now, I’m reminded of how it feels when I’m in Arizona and Rhondi is in Maine. It sucks.


“The End of Outside” has some almost Pearl Jam-my guitar in it, but Sheik takes it to different kind of height. There is also a really cool chorus that is punctuated by more great string stuff that happens and takes you into a fun bridge. Sheik’s voice soars really wonderfully before settling into a cool little falsetto run. Between the 2:45 mark (or so) and 3:30 is just terrific.


The last song on the record is called “Little Hands.” I’m realizing that I stole this title about eight years later or so for a Pinky song title. I kind of like our Pinky song a bit more than this one, but this one will do in a pinch. Like “November,” it’s not my favorite song on the record either, but I think it’s a bit more infectious than “November.” For one thing, the piano is really nice on “Little Hands” yet understated.


I have the next couple of records Sheik released, too, but they don’t measure up for me in the same way as his self-titled debut. If you like this one, though, you’ll like the others. I wish he would put out something new soon.




See you tomorrow.

Embrace the pig.

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