Read about the misadventures of a sped high school teacher in Savannah, GA as he sails through the exciting seas of committment, marriage with step-kids, some tour guiding while he attempts to break into the world of professional storytelling and the occasional act of piracy.
Living in Savannah has
afforded me many opportunities that I somehow was missed back in the Atlanta
days. I actually get to teach in the same county where I reside, I met my soul mate
who also had to move to Savannah too for this happen, and I have gotten to meet
three of my top five authors. Last was number two, Neil Gaiman.
I first mentioned Mr. Gaiman's impact waaaay back in a previous blog. A very old friend who would quite
literally run away and join the circus first introduced me to him back in 1989
with a comic called The Sandman. The
well paced story telling combined with smart writing quickly made this my
favorite read every month. Soon, Mr. Gaiman would expand to writing books which
I read voraciously. Neverwhere, American
Gods, and Stardust are just a few
of his works that I was willing to shell out 20 bucks or so which was a lot for
just graduated college student. Needless to say, big fan here.
Last night, Gaiman was here in Savannah performing on a
story telling tour called Unchained with several other very interesting people. Kim and I bought
our tickets last month for the chance to see Gaiman. He was amazing. I even go
to meet him and shake his hand. We spoke for a few brief moments. It’s always nice
to see someone whom I admire turn out to be a nice guy.
We had tweeted back and forth a few times over the week.
I am teaching Brit Lit with my esteemed colleague, Paul Sidney. (Check out Paul’s blog. It rocks) Gaiman wrote the screenplay to Beowulf and we had hoped to get
him in to speak to the kids. Gaiman tried but his schedule just didn’t match
At one point, Gaiman even tweeted back when I mentioned
several kids in my class wanted to come but were underage. He replied that I was
18 and over advisory. I am proud to say three of my students were front row and
to the right. Melissa, a huge Gaiman fan, even sat about five feet from the Brit
author at one point but she never knew because she was mesmerized by all the other
storytellers who performed.
is how the night went for us. Several of us where there because Gaiman was
speaking. About every fourth or fifth person in the rows was holding a Sandman
comic or Neil Gaiman related item. Gaiman did well. He is a skillful
storyteller or raconteur as they liked to be called. Yet, I found myself
enjoying the other raconteurs just as much and in some ways, even a little
much in fact, I was moved to start writing this blog at three in the AM when
all of this came together. See way back before Kim and the kids, I started
writing The Tide to work on storytelling skills. It’s my dream to be a
published author and professional storyteller but life keeps happening and I put
this dream to the side.
sat mesmerized by hearing these performers spin their craft and was a little
jealous too. They were good. Really good. Dawn Frasier told a story about her
twin with Down syndrome and how he displayed the ultimate act of sportsmanship and
kindness at the Special Olympics. It made me cry, dammit.
Edgar Oliver, a Savannah native but now Ney York transplant, had the most unique
voice I have heard while he shared a hilarious account of his days as an
officer at Benedictine Military School.
It started out as a tale about getting down
and dirty with his girlfriend, yet somehow Peter Aquero masterfully made it a
beautiful account of what love is.
was all put together by another Savannah native, George Dawes Green. He has
authored several books and started up NPR’s The Moth which promotes the art of
storytelling. He changed it up a bit and actually preached a sermon about the
evils of the internet which I hate to admit was right on target. “Switch it off
he said, and open a book especially one bought from a local book store.” I ‘m
paraphrasing but you get the idea which is quite a valid one in a time where
kindles and I-pads rule.
Neil took the stage. Peter Aquero Emceed the event and I loved his introduction.
Mr. Aquero simply stated how Neil Gaiman is “just a guy.” Oh, and he wrote a
book about some sand.” The audience erupted with laughter. But he was right.
Mr. Gaiman came out quite unassuming then shared a beautiful story linking how
circus elephants are taught to embrace their chains rather realizing they can
fight them and how he carried his own chains which prevented him from being
came for Neil but somehow found so much more last night. It is my honest belief
in which everyone has a story to share. Last night I watched five people not
only do that but also openly express to the audience something very personal,
at times humorous, and even a little dangerous. It was a pretty brave thing to
do and I walked away hungry to figure out this art form.
I am already scheduled to some storytelling at
Oatland Island for their Harvest Fest on Nov 10th. Please mark on
your calendars and come out to this. It’s awesome but more about in a later post. I
think I am ready to get back to working on my craft, if I may steal line from Robbie
Rankin, my old theatre director. And I will.
was also a powerful night in another respect. I knew I’d be writing about this
night before it even happened. My assumption was I’d be talking about the
lovely chat Neil Gaiman and I had. (We did and it was AWESOME!) Something else
happened and I have to share because it moved as much as the raconteur fire
which was lit inside of me.
know all about the tweets between Neil where I invited him to teach Beowulf.
When my turn in line came this was the approach I took.
man, I am the teacher who has been tweeting you all week. Thanks for
considering visiting us even though it didn’t work. We all got a kick out it., “I
said with a shaky voice.
Gaiman smiled and said in a lovely British accent, “Ahhh yes, the teacher doing
Beowulf. Sorry about that but wish you luck.” We shook hands. Coolness for me.
had a moment and seized it. “Mr. Gaiman, I want to introduce you to my
students. This is Melissa, Jordan, and Holiday. Also very big fans and thank
you again for coming to Savannah. It’s been amazing to hear you and your fellow
Gaiman continued being a delightful individual and spent a few moments with my
students. All three looked like those girls form the news footage of the teeny
boppers watching the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show.
moment was over and Mr. Gaiman moved on to the throng of fans waiting for their
moment too. I was on Cloud Nine and even spent a few moments with that Peter
Aquero fellow asking ways to get into racontuering. He hugged me when I
complimented on his velvet burgundy jacket. He was a big guy but I can respect
when a large man like me is willing to show emotion so I happily hugged back.
Neat guy. He talked like the northern version of my good friend and mentor, Tony
Daniels. Just that alone, makes Mr. Aquero cool in my book.
and I mingled. We said some hellos to our various friends from all our circles.
Kim even got in line to have Mr. Gaiman sign my old copy of Stardust which I gave Roni back in the
early dating days. I watched the proceedings from a far and wasn’t the least
bit jealous when Neil Gaiman gave Kim a big smooch on the cheek. Ok, maybe a
and I walked out into a one of those evenings in downtown Savannah where the
humidity was fighting with the oncoming Fall chill. We were passing Mellow
Mushroom as I got lost in my thoughts about those days of being a ghost tour
guide when we came up on Holiday and Melissa. I asked if they needed a ride but
they said they were fine.
of fact, Holiday had to come over and show me the Neil Gaiman book she bought
from the Blue bus (Please click onthis link. Gaiman talks about their bus and it's very cool) which transports the Unchained players and a Salvador Dali
book she bought for one of my school’s art teachers. They started talking to
Kim and I got distracted by a group of SCAD kids.
was a pack of about five-six students and they definitely had that “I’m here
for Gaiman Punkish Goth look. One of the guys who sported a variety of face
piercings came up to and asked very politely,” Excuse me, sir, are you a
almost burst out laughing. Robby the professor? I visualized myself in front of
an Oxford style classroom wearing that fancy corduroy jacket with the little patches
on the elbows. More stifles of laugher. Then the notion of getting some round
gold glasses where I’d look like Professor Indiana Jones. I began to realize I
could get used to that notion. Whip crack!
shook hands as I replied, “Sorry to disappoint, guys. Just a high school sped
young lady with alternating shaved designs and dyed teal places on her head
spoke up. “It doesn’t matter. Either way what you did was an inspiration.”
It was the only word in my head. Rather than vocalize, my face said it for me.
first guy goes on. “We watched you take the time to make sure your kids got to
meet Neil Gaiman. It’s not many teachers who’d bring their students to something
like this and make sure they met their hero. Man, we need more teachers like
you out there.”
am always amazed at our abilities at how we humans can be so destructive to
each other yet so uplifting at the same time. This pack of crazy looking Punk
rock Goth kids said the very words I needed to hear to remind what it is that I
do and why I put up with the fucking bullshit to to do it.
I have fallen out of love with teaching. It has become mired down in the
stupidity our elected officials have instituted to get re-elected (This is not
a conservative v. liberal issue. They are all guilty) piled with some many jobs
that I rarely get to actually have the opportunity to connect with a student in
an academic manner. I could give examples but it would just take away from the
point these wild looking SCAD students reminded me.
love teaching and I love my students. It’s OK to hate the outside forces that
reign down on me to make my job all the harder. This is where I am supposed to
be right now. I helped three very awesome and unique kids have an experience
that might be the catalyst which gives the world the next great author, artist,
or something great. I did what a teacher is supposed to do. I showed those kids the world was little bit
bigger last night the same way Mrs. Clark and Mr. Oliver did for me back at
Union County High School in 1986.
dream daily of being in front of an audience where I regale all with my anecdotes of being that hopelessly dorky
kid growing up in the mountains of North Georgia the marshes of Savannah with
his unique family. I’ve had some amazing shit happen to me in my lifetime and
the best part is I am finally finding my voice where it all ties together to
make a good story. I dream of putting all this on paper and this is also slowly
"You've got big dreams......"
the same time, I recognize I may have hit a point where I can respect and
appreciate the moment I am living in. It may not consist on hearing the
applause I dream of but, thanks to a motley group of SCAD kids, I have been
reminded that I did take a stand made a mark. I believe this is the best thing we
can achieve as human beings.
get there. I am hungry for it but at the same time I have a responsibility to
some kids over at Jenkins High School.
It’s been a busy few weeks since we last leaned on the
fence and chatted about what’s on my mind. I’ve gone begrudgingly back to work
after the end of the Summer of Kim. The kids and my amazing wife threw me a
fantastic birthday. I’ve learned a bit about the enormous difference between
going back to school as an employee and as a parent.
Something else has happened which has had a larger impact
on me that I want to admit. I have spoken of my friend/mentor/adopted big
brother, Capt. Tony Daniels before. The Capt, as we like to refer to him and
his family has had an enormous impact on my life. I went to Young Harris
College with Tony. After he graduated, I met his sister, Dawn and the
friendship blossomed. His parents were often around in those days and other
periods of my life so I felt like I really know the Daniels pretty well. Matter-fact,
when I think of my window at YHC, I realize the Daniels were a major part of it
It hit me pretty hard when I found out on the Facebook
how their mom, Mrs. Daniels, lost her battle to cancer.
I’ve spent the last week trying to figure out what to say
or how to say something to maybe help with what they are going through. I got
nothing. Except that I love them and I am here. Then my birthday came and
something happened that rocked my world so hard, it has taken me bit to process
it so I could write about it.
I realized it was time to finally share the Hawk story.
A few hours had passed since Mom, Mary, I and our
entourage had returned from Hillcrest Cemetery to lay the Big Guy at rest. I
had set up shop on the deck staring at the marsh and heavily trying to
self-medicate on Camel lights and anything in a bottle.
Our neighbor, Ron Bebee, (as mentioned in the last blog)
dropped by to pay respects and say hello. As is custom with Ron, he walked up
nursing his obligatory bottle of Bud Lite in one hand with a spare in his
pocket even though we always offer to share our coolers with him.
Rags, Gid, and a few others sat in silence on the deck as
we all tried to find words to get something started but no one really spoke much.
Some grief is just too thick.
Ron finally broke the silence. “Shit, Rob. I don’t know
what to say but I am so sorry. Bob was a helluva guy.”
I nodded, faked a smile, and lit another Camel. I put the
pack on old wire spool we always used as a table.
Ron went on. “Sherry and are sorry were missed the
service. We showed up late due to traffic and didn’t want to interrupt. We just
stood off to the side and waited. “
“Thanks, Ron. Means a lot that you guys would even come out.
I know ya’ll got work.” I forced myself to keep it together.
“The funny thing, Rob, is that something wild kinda
happened so I am glad I had to sit off to the side.” Ron popped the second Bud
Lite. “We were watching the service when I noticed this large bird fly up and
land on the power lines over by where your daddy’s plot was.
I didn’t think much of it at first but after a few
minutes I began to pay more attention to that bird and I realized it was a red
tail hawk. That bird sat there on that power line and I swear to God, I wouldn’t
be surprised if it was Bob’s service he watchin’. When the service was over and
ya’ll were leaving, the hawk flew away.
It stuck with me the whole way over here and I remembered
how much your dad used to love to watch all the hawks we have out here. He used
to talk about those birds all the time when we’d catch up out the yard.”
It was true, Out on the property, we have a quite the menagerie
of different animals that pop up from time to time including to alligators,
deer, and a few families of red tail hawks that live somewhere across the creek
on Isle of Hope. On many occasions, the Big Guy would come and find us to drag
us from whatever Mary, Mom, and I were doing to point out what the Hawks were
doing. It was almost a passion of his.
One time, Dad tore us away from Mary and I’s late brunch
to share Momma Hawk teaching her baby how to hunt. All of this was in our front
yard. Momma Hawk stood big enough to carry off a hobbit. The damn thing could
have easily come up to my waist; it was a powerful image and the moment where I
fell in love with them too.
By this point, we were all sitting on the edge of our
seat. Ron had our full attention. I only looked away so I could better grasp
the plastic cup I was drinking bourbon and cokes out of. Ron wrapped up his
story,” Guys, it wouldn’t surprise me to find out that bird was your daddy’s spirit
watching over all that to say goodbye but you can take this anyway you want.”
And I have. Mary, Mom and I have noticed that at many
junctures in our lives, a hawk shows up at moments when we need it. I have come
to take it as the Big Guy saying, “Hey, I may be gone but that doesn’t mean I
am not going to stop watching over you guys.”
It is not an unusual occurrence where one of us will be catching
up and the other mentions how they were going to work or doing something then
look up to see a hawk watching them. We have gotten to where we refer to as,
Hey, I saw Dad today.”
Week before last I coolest thing to happen to me where I
called Mary and shared. It was my birthday and half way through preplanning ant
school. I was working on some US History test prep with my buddy, Billy Walker
when Dave Westbrook came running in.
Dave was elated to share, “You guys are not going to
believe this. There is a hawk out next to the shrubbery. He just standing there
is doesn’t seem to be afraid of people. We had six people standing around it
and it had no fear.”
Billy and I go out to see this and sure enough, out on
the walkway was a red tail hawk. He was about a little over two feet tall and
just standing there. At first, I thought he was hurt because we got pretty
close and nothing occurred, Until I stepped forward by myself.
I could hear Billy off in the background saying to be careful
but something inside of me told me I would be fine so long as I approached
carefully. I was about three feet away
when the hawk turned his head and peered at me. Our eyes locked. As weird as
this sounds to say, I swear I felt as if that hawk was looking inside of me
instead of “at” me.
I am sure it was only a few seconds but after what felt
like an eternity to me, the hawk leapt up and flew to a low hanging branch on
the live oak I often admire as I walk to class. We spent the next hour or so
watching him bounce around the front of the front of the school. All said, it
was a pretty impressive afternoon.
My good friend, Paul Sidney took this with the school camera
These were with my cell phone
In spite of all this, I consider myself an individual
with above average intelligence and very analytical mind when it comes to
processing information. I am well aware there are very logical explanations to
everyone of these occurrences. I have read up enough on these hawks and have a
pretty good base of information on how animals act to make plausible explanations
to why these hawks show up
It doesn’t change the fact of how much comfort
I get when one of these beautiful creatures pop into my life and reminds me
that I am not alone. As I drive deeper in middle age, I find myself taking life
pretty responsibly. If I want to allow myself my one moment of acting like
Shirley MacClaine for the sake of comforting a devastating loss then I will. I
don’t think anyone can fault for that if they do, fuck ‘em.
Tony, Dawn, and Mr. Daniels, I am so sorry for your loss
and wish I could be there as the hard part begins. Moving on. I wrote this over
the past few weeks in hopes of that maybe it would be of some comfort but also
to remind you that Gloria is not gone so long as you find ways to remember her.
As I type this, I can’t stop thinking of the creativity you guys have and I
realize that Gloria is going to be immortalized in many ways. I look forward in
hearing about you guys finding your voice on this.
For some reason, it always go back to Pat Conroy and a
crowded parking lot at way too many Buffett shows when I think of you guys.
This quote just feels appropriate so please indulge me.
white porpoise comes to me at night, singing in the river of time, with a
thousand dolphins in radiant attendance, bringing charismatic greetings from
the Prince of Tides.”
I crank up the blender to toast the memory of your Mom, I hope, that in some
way, you guys discover your own white porpoise. We found ours and it has made
life a little less empty. Now if you’ll
excuse me, I have a lady to go and toast.