Archive for April, 2015

Really, Bubble Guppies?

I care for  a preschool aged child a couple mornings a week.  A tv program the preschooler likes to watch is Bubble Guppies.  If you don’t know what the tv show is, don’t worry, you’re not missing much.  It’s a cartoon where the viewer has to throw logic out the window.  It is about  a group of half-fish, half- child creatures, more like “mer-children” instead of true guppies, that swim around in their undersea location, and they learn lessons about life: sharing, caring, some educational lessons once in a while, at their school taught by their beloved teacher, Mr. Grouper, who is an actual fish character.  He does have a catchy song that he sings to get the class to line-up in order to go outside and I do find myself singing along to that tune once in a while!

Bubble Guppies

A week ago the show happened to be on while I was folding laundry, my preschool charge enraptured with the episode.  I noticed that the episode was all about Mr. Grouper, the guppies beloved teacher being absent for the day and their being a substitute teacher in their classroom.  “What’s a substitute teacher?”, one guppy nervously asked another guppy.  After the definition was given, in swam the substitute teacher.  He was the blandest colored fish the show has ever shown.  He had a frowny face, and his voice was a boring monotone!  To every question from one of the cute, colorful guppies, he gave a negative answer:”No, we cannot go outside, it’s too cold.” “No, we cannot get out the puzzles, they’re too difficult.”  “No, we cannot paint today, it’s too messy.”  On and on this nonsense went and I became a bit teed off at this show aimed at preschoolers!

I have been a substitute teacher.  When mu husband was laid off for 16 months, I dusted off my teaching certificate and was hired to substitute for the Hazelwood School District.  It’s not at all easy being a substitute teacher and I resented a silly preschool cartoon show making fun of substitute teachers.

Hazelwood had their subbing system nicely set up online for the planned teacher/staff absences they knew they’d be having for each upcoming week.  One could stipulate in the subbing contract if one was willing to sub at only the elementary, middle, junior high, or high school level, or if one wanted to sub at all the grade levels.  However, I often got a call the night before a job when a teacher had become ill, or even an emergency call to come in half an hour before a school day was to start, or a call at 11 am to come in for an afternoon, for an emergency reason.

The teachers would have a folder for me in their desk, outlining the day, tips were given for handling the class, and the assignments were usually planned out.  Also a note to  not use the “Smartboard” which usually made the students groan as they liked to play class games of Sudoku on it.  I subbed for regular classroom teachers, resource teachers, pe teachers(a fun day!), inschool suspension teachers(really shocked me that an elementary school had inschool suspension, but it did), preschool aid, aid at the special needs school, and librarian( my favorite subbing post-all of those books to explore!)

When subbing, you are mostly unknown by the rest of the staff so lunch time is a bit lonely.  Eating in the teachers lounge as sort of the person non grata; the other teachers talking amongst themselves about various topics, but not including you as they don’t know you.  The students, most behave themselves, but the typical troublemakers, you know, the Usual Suspects, will be especially sure to misbehave.  Then there are the rules one has to follow in the school and make sure the students follow them too, and for an independent minded homemaker like myself, I had to watch myself and not make comments outloud about rules that I found confusing or nonsensical.

It’s not an easy job being a substitute teacher, and one bonus is that I didn’t have to take home all of those worksheets and grade them!  So, hey, Bubble Guppies, stop airing the episode that denigrates substitute teachers!  Stop putting nonsense into preschool tots heads that substitute teachers are downer, negative individuals to be feared.  Stick with the lessons on caring and sharing, colors, counting, and the ABCs.  I can ignore the illogical premise of your program, but I can’t ignore the recent disparaging of substitute teachers!  I challenge any of you that make this tv show to try subbing sometime, go on, I double-dog dare you!!

Moms Weekend & the TSA

In January I discovered that Ohio University, where our oldest attends college, was hosting their annual Moms Weekend in April. I announced to husband and our oldest, a son, that I was going to attend! Son urged me to stay in Missouri and not attend;hubby began to figure out the costs of gas if I drove. He decided that it would actually be cost effective if I flew to OH for this fantabulous experience so the ticket was bought through Southwest Airlines and the date was circled on the calendar. I was going to Moms Weekend!!

I don’t fly a lot and airplane travel makes me nervous. I know, I know, it’s safer to travel by a plane than to drive in one’s car, I’ve had those statistics recited to me ad nauseum. While plane travel is faster than driving oneself somewhere, there isn’t as much hassle in the travel process if driving oneself. Pack your gear, throw it in the trunk of the car, have funds for fuel and food and overnight accomodations, and off you go!

To make my flight to Columbus, OH I had to rise early, 4:30 am, to be ready to drive to St. Louis’s airport by 5:15 am.  That morning I missed the days when we only lived 20 minutes from that airport! Appreciate how geographically close you are to that airport, North St. Louis Countians!! I arrived at the airport and found the long-term parking lots. I was feeling confident at this point for I had driven in from Rolla in pouring rain and successfully got the car parked in the correct lot and had my parking ticket, and found the correct shuttle which whisked me to Terminal 2 and Southwest Airlines.

Upon entering the Terminal I checked my suitcase in order for it  to be put into the luggage hold of the plane. Hubby had counseled me to just take it on the plane with me and place it in an overhead compartment but I honestly didn’t think I’d be able to gracefully lift that suitcase over my head and place it into an overhead compartment so I opted for the baggage handlers to deal with it! I am glad that I did!

After the suitcase was on its journey,  I glanced to my left and my mouth fell open. The long line that I saw made me gulp-it was full of fellow travelers, all looking bored, or stressed, or both, and I had to join them in that line to await the TSA checks. I was really shocked by how long that line was. I noticed that the TSA agents at Lambert-St. Louis don’t smile. They all had those electric royal blue uniform shirts on with black vests and blue examination latex gloves on. I watched passengers ahead of me so I would know which forms of ID the first agent was wanting to see. Then I got into the next line and saw the travelers ahead of me all had taken off their shoes and put their laptops, purses, carry on bags, etc. into bins so I followed their example. I had purposely worn my Nike tennis shoes in case I had to run from the plane or airport in case a disaster struck. Now I was mentally upbraiding myself for not wearing my flip-flops! As the traveler in front of me was entering a scanning booth I moved to be the next person to enter the booth when the TSA agent near the booth’s entrance barked an order at me:”Madam, attend your purse!” I looked at him and froze, with a deer in the headlights look on my face. Again he barked at me:”Madam! Attend your purse!!”, getting louder and glaring at me. I still didn’t comprehend what he was asking me to do. Was my purse moving around? Why did it need attending? As I was about to say that I didn’t understand his order, he changed his choice of words and said, “Madam, please stand next to your purse.” I immediately jumped away from the scanner booth entrance and stood next to my purse only to have to jump back again as it was my turn to enter the booth. From there on I was the perfect traveler and gave no other TSA Agents a reason to bark at me. Note to TSA Agents at Lambert-St. Louis, when giving nervous travelers orders, use the simplest vocabulary possible, okay?

On my trip back to MO, I noticed that the TSA Agents at Columbus’s airport were much friendlier, more relaxed but still on guard. They also announced several times that travelers ages 75 or older could keep their shoes on. “How considerate and nice!”, I thought. TSA Agents operating with common sense!

Ohio University, not Ohio State as some friends in MO always think that’s the school our son attends, is located in Athens, OH. The  Appalachian Mountains are very near as West Virginia is only 30 minutes away. I grew up in the flatlands of NW Ohio so a trip to Athens is always a revelation to me that there really are such gorgeous areas of OH. The University had a lot of activities planned for visiting Moms and the dutiful college students who would be the hosts escorting their Moms around campus. My son, after his initial reluctance about my visit, was very glad that I came. Luckily for me, my dear mother-in-law also lives in Athens as does husband’s older brother, his wife, and a married niece and a nephew, so a visit there is also a bit of a reunion, which is always a plus. My son took me to his on campus office, Veterans Affairs, which suits him to a t as he is a veteran.

He introduced me to his co-workers and revealed he might be in a student made film about a veteran who is a college student feeling the pull to go back overseas to rejoin the war. My son said the student filmmaker wants to shoot a scene at OU’s Veterans Affairs office and  my son might be in that scene with others trying to talk the college student out of his idea to return to the war. I also toured the “Chocolate Fest” on campus: local bakeries and candymakers selling their wares and giving out samples. I have to give a shout out to the Athens Bread Company-a local bakery that made the best ginger snaps I ever had-very gingery and full of “snap” as the proprietor told me; it had taken many batches for him to get that just right ginger snap taste. My son and I also toured a state park that the OU students like to visit for hikes, fishing, etc. My husband’s sister-in-law went with me to a Native American Art and Jewelry Show held at the nearby The Ridges-a former Ohio State Hospital for the Mentally Ill that was built next door to OU’s campus and is now not in use. The buildings on the property are stunning, a bit eerie as one can see the bars on the windows; the numerous buildings standing  high on a ridge overlooking Athens and the campus. If any fledgling film maker needs a new setting for an eerie movie, The Ridges would be a perfect setting! I also made the requisite visits to two college bookstores to buy OU stuff for the family back in Missouri, sister-in-law expertly guiding me around the downtown.

Fast & Furious 7OU logo

Wide shot of Ohio University

Wide shot of Ohio University

Ohio University

Ohio University

 

 

My son may have been at first reluctant for me to attend Moms Weekend at OU because over the past 10 years, some of the moms who attend don’t act very “motherly”. They use the visit as an excuse to try and look like college girls and to hit the downtown bars and get rip-roaring drunk;cougars on the prowl!! I reassured my son that I had no plans to visit any of the downtown bars and the first night, as I was relaxing at my mother-in-law’s home, we heard police sirens go by and she said, “Uh oh, I bet their going to arrest someone’s mom!” OU also hosts a Siblings Weekend and a Dads Weekend but for some reason, Moms Weekend has grown in local infamy.

Another reason to visit OU was to finally meet our son’s girlfriend. This was an entirely new facet of the mom-child paradigm for me and for my son. I was admittedly a bit nervous to meet the young lady who has caught his eye and his heart but once I met her, I could see why he loves her. A very nice, kind, and sincere young lady. I couldn’t have been more pleased to meet her and to put her at her ease as I am sure she was probably very nervous to meet me. With this texting age, after our first meeting at lunch, he told me what his girlfriend thought of me and vice versa: all good opinions we had of one another. The next evening, I also got to meet the girlfriend’s mom, who had also decided to attend Moms Weekend. The four of us had a very nice dinner at a local Mexican restaurant and again, our texting college students let the other one know that we mothers had a mutual like of one another. Phew!

I would sum up my OU visit as very nice and it was beneficial for my son to tell me several times during my stay that he was very glad that I did attend. That was worth the nerves I endured in flying in for the weekend, dealing with one grumpy TSA Agent, and meeting his girlfriend and her mother. Onward and upward, to next year’s Moms Weekend at OU.

The Great Villain Blogathon: A Look at “Ma Jarrett” in White Heat

Those wonderful classic film loving bloggers: Speakeasy, Shadows & Satin, and Silver Screenings are once again hosting this fun and interesting look at villains in classic films.  My post today is one of many for this, the last day of their blogathon.  Please be sure to stop by their sites and read about other famous movie villains and the incredible, and possibly indelible performances by the actors and actresses who performed those infamous roles.

White Heat, made in 1949, a Warner Bros. production, is a tense crime noir film.  It starred James Cagney, doing what he did best, playing an evil criminal.  However, what makes his portrayal of Cody Jarrett different is that this time, Cagney’s criminal is crazy, aka psychotic and a lot of it is due to his overwhelming attachment to his “Ma”.

White Heat poster 1

In researching the background for White Heat, I found out that it was first an original story by Virginia Kellogg, who had been a reporter for the LA Times and may have been influenced by actual criminals she heard about while working for the newspaper.  There was also a theory that she based her criminal Cody Jarrett and his Ma on a real life crime family of the 1930s, Ma Barker and her sons.  While the FBI claimed that Ma Barker was an evil, criminal mastermind some of the people who knew her said she couldn’t organize a family breakfast so there were some doubts as to how much she was involved in her sons’ criminal activities.  Ma Jarrett, however, in White Heat, is in on the robberies, doesn’t blink an eye when Cody decides to “plug” someone,  and is  full of advice as to how he can avoid the “coppers”.

We first meet Ma(remarkably played by Margaret Wycherly) as she is fixing some food for Cody and  his gang.  They’ve just gotten back to their hideout from a train robbery-yes, a train robbery in 1949!-that has made the national headlines.  We also meet Cody’s stunningly beautiful wife, Verna(excellently played by Virginia Mayo) as she is snoring in one of the bedrooms.   In a foul mood, she gets up when Ma asks Cody to order Verna to help her.  We immediately see that the two main women in Cody’s life don’t like each other.  It’s not a loud, shouting match form of dislike but an icy relationship with bickering between the two women.  Suddenly, Cody begins to whimper, grabbing at his head, and stumbles to the floor,  Verna and the gang watch helplessly but Ma knows what to do.  She quickly gets Cody up, gets him to a bedroom, has him lie down on the bed, and begins to massage the back of his neck and head, murmuring to him all the while to be still and to calm down.  Ma’s care does the trick, and Cody comes out of his severe attack.  He even sits on her lap like a small boy would do, but the censors had that scene cropped to only shoulder and head shots of the Wycherly and Cagney.   Ma pours him a shot of whiskey which he drinks.  She toasts him  as he drinks that shot, “Top of the World, Cody!”  That toast becomes a catch phrase  throughout the entire movie.  Here’s a clip of Ma caring for Cody during his attack.

More of Ma in the film:  after the gang has moved to a Motor Court to live at, and despite Cody ordering none of them to leave, Ma  disobeys by driving to a Farmer’s Market to buy her “baby boy” some strawberries.  Her car is spotted by an undercover cop who is in contact with the Federal authorities stationed in LA and he puts a “tell”, a white rag around the back bumper of Ma’s car, so the Feds and local law enforcement will be able to follow her back to Cody and the gang.  What the cops don’t know is that Ma is very sharp-eyed and soon knows she is being followed.  With a lot of  turns and using her wits, she is able to dodge the police.  However, they eventually find the car at the Motor Court and there is a shoot out as Cody, Ma, and Verna escape in one car, leaving the rest of the gang to scatter.  At a drive-inn movie, Cody hatches his plan to escape the cops, and with Ma’s agreement, he flees.  Ma takes over when she and Verna are interrogated by the Feds, feeding them the pre-planned false alibi to keep Cody out of jail for the train robbery.  One key thing I noticed in this section of the movie is that Verna, eyeing a suitcase full of train robbery cash, coos to Cody how they could spend that money and that she’d love a full-length mink coat.  At the Motor Court, when we see Verna again, she is admiring herself by standing on a chair, in order to see her full self modeling her mink coat.  Cody comes in and asks her where Ma is.  Verna flippantly tells him that Ma is out shopping for strawberries for him.  For her snarky answer, Cody shoves Verna off the chair!  Fortunately she lands on the bed, shocked he’d do that to her.  Then we see Ma at the market and she too, is wearing a full length mink coat!  How telling that the one thing the bad guy’s wife wants he also gets for his ma!

Verna, Ma, and Cody making final plans while hiding out at the Drive-In-note Ma always sits between her son and his wife.

Verna, Ma, and Cody making final plans while hiding out at the Drive-In-note Ma always sits between her son and his wife.

Ma Jarrett knows she's being followed by the coppers

Ma Jarrett knows she’s being followed by the coppers

Cody’s false alibi is to claim that he was in Springfield, IL the same date as the train robbery, and that he committed a hotel robbery in Springfield.  Cody is sentenced to 3 years in the State Penitentiary in Joliet.  What he doesn’t know is that the Feds don’t buy his alibi and have planted an undercover cop in the prison, Fallon(great performance by Edmund O’Brien) to become pals with Cody and find out about the train robbery.  Before Fallon arrives at the prison, his boss Philip Evans(John Archer) fills him in on Cody Jarrett’s mental make-up.  Cody’s father was also a criminal, went insane, and had to be locked up in a mental institution where he died.  The same fate happened to Cody’s older brother.  When Cody was a kid, he’d fake severe headaches to get his Ma’s full love and attention.  Sometime in his late teens, the headaches became real.  Ma is the only person in the world that Cody trusts and loves;she is the force in his life.

Ma makes a drive to IL to visit Cody in the stir.  She tells him that Verna has run off with Big Ed(Steven Cochran) one of the gang members.  Ma knows this info will hurt Cody, but one gets a sense that she is pleased to tell him, to reinforce her opinion that Verna is no good for her son.  Ma vows to get Big Ed for Cody, but Cody, sensing doom, warns Ma to leave Big Ed alone, but his warnings fall on deaf ears.  Here’s a clip of one of the film’s most famous scenes, when Cody, at a prison meal, goes berserk when he finds out news about his Ma.  This is a spoiler alert if you’ve not seen White Heat so skip this scene’s clip in case you want to see the movie without knowing all about it beforehand!

More Spoilers!  Two more key scenes about Ma,  though she’s not in them.  Cody reveals to Fallon, after they’ve broken out of the state prison, that he walks around a lot outside at night due to insomnia and the only thing that soothes him is to talk outloud to Ma-he feels her presence though she isn’t there.   In the film’s fantastic climax, Cody’s plan to rob a chemical plant’s payroll has gone horribly wrong, the cops have him cornered, his gang is dead, and he climbs atop one of the chemical holding tanks.  He is defiant, not caring that what he is standing on top of is flammable stuff.  Fallon  decides to be the one to shoot Cody down but not before Cody has shot holes into the various pipes fitted into the top of the chemical tank which causes flames to shoot out and upward all around him.  Before the final fatal shot from Fallon and the literally explosive ending, Cody yells, “Top of the World, Ma!”  That scene’s clip is here.

Being a mom myself, to 7 kids, ages 12-23, I feel I know a thing or two about motherhood.  Mothers develop a close bond with their babies, but over time it has to change for the sake of the kids;so that they’ll be able to succeed in the world on their own, and hopefully start up and maintain their own successful families.  In studying this film and Ma Jarrett, I saw a mom who hadn’t lessened her bond with her son.  Instead of trying to plead with him to stop his bad life choices, she joined him!  She is somewhat of Cody’s Greek Chorus in the first two-thirds of the film: telling him what he could do, warning him about Verna, the gang members, how to avoid the cops and prison time.  Cody is the only person she really displays her emotions to.  Everyone else sees a cold-hearted mom who can think logically, albeit in a criminal bent, as to what the gang’s next steps should be.  Only Cody gets to experience the loving nurturer.

Margaret Wycherly is excellent as Ma Jarrett.  Wycherly was a former stage actress, appeared in some silent films,  she is best known for two roles as moms: in 1941’s Sergeant York, where she did get nominated for Best Supporting Actress for playing Mother York to son Gary Cooper as Alvin York, and then as Ma Jarrett to son James Cagney, as Cody Jarrett in White Heat.

White Heat is often lauded as one of director Raoul Walsh and actor James Cagney’s best films.  It is available on dvd and I nabbed my copy from our local library.  It airs from time to time at TCM so keep a watch for it to be on the schedule in the future.  For a look at a criminal and his villainous Ma, seek out White Heat!!